There are a number of studies on how abortion affects a woman’s later pregnancy experiences, and the results show that a great many women experience painful, unresolved issues or post-abortion grief during pregnancy. Did you know that 44% of all American women will have an abortion at some point during their lifetime? More than a million American women will have an abortion in any given year, but very few of them talk about it. Why is that? For Black women, abortion has historically been one of those things we label as something “white people do.” A study by the Los Angeles Times in 2001 found that 56% of African Americans opposed most abortions compared to 54% of white. But the startling statistics about Black women and abortion review quite a different picture; white women obtain 58% of all abortions, but their abortion rate is well below that of African American women. Black women are more than three times as likely as white women to have an abortion. While only 14% of the women in the United States of childbearing age are African-American, the most recent available statistics show that 35.9% of all abortions are performed on Black women. And one of the most surprising findings, married Black women have an abortion rate almost five times higher than that of married white women — this could indicate that either increased career opportunities or lack of job stability is affecting our choices about when and whether we become mothers.
Clearly, this is another taboo area in the Black community. Let’s face it: for years Black families have dealt with out-of-wedlock children by just absorbing them into our larger family. As my grandmother would say, “We can always make room for one more mouth at the table. “
Women who choose abortion are often, on some level, going against their own moral code and this is why they feel guilty afterward. It is a rare woman who can truly go through the process, put the incident behind her, and get on with life as usual. You may try to forget but just can’t. Even though we historically have a strong reliance on God and His boundless willingness to forgive, many women I interviewed spoke of a “What if?” type of lingering feeling. Residual feelings of guilt prevent hundreds of women from talking about it or getting the emotional help they need and deserve. For a number of sisters, it’s just one more thing to get over and keep it moving.
Doctors have now been able to identify a condition they call post-abortion syndrome (PAS), which is defined as an ongoing inability to:
- Process and deal with painful thoughts and emotions — especially guilt, anger, and grief – that result from one or more unplanned pregnancies and subsequent abortions
- Identify (much less grieve) the loss that has been experienced
- Feel at peace with God, herself, and others involved in the pregnancy and abortion decision
Without proper grieving, unaddressed feelings can be neatly tucked away for years, only to resurface during another pregnancy, especially given the emotional ups and downs of pregnancy. These feelings can be exacerbated and overwhelming when the abortion was a secret and you feel you can’t explain your true feelings to anyone. Anxiety ranges from an irrational fear that God may somehow punish you in this pregnancy for the previous abortion to feelings of unworthiness as a mother because of a past decision. The thought of bringing a child into the world can stir up guilt, anger, and depression over the child you have lost. Some women report pregnancies full of moments of bargaining with God not to punish them with a defective child. Even though you are pregnant, you may view yourself as unworthy because of your past decision. Psychologists say abortion can damage your image of yourself and raise questions in your mind about your ability to be a good mother.
The bottom line is that unresolved issues about a past abortion can steal your joy while you are expecting this one. It can result in more anxiety during labor, and therefore increased difficulty in labor, which may contribute to a higher incidence of complications of delivery. The mother-child bonding experience can also be complicated by past trauma. Mothers who have such unresolved feelings are known to be extremely overprotective and to be extreme spoilers, who give in to their child’s every demand, all in an effort to alleviate feelings of guilt and failure.
What to Do:
- Remember the pain. In order to heal you have to tear away the callous you’ve built up by denying and repressing painful emotions. Get help.
- If you hold any spiritual beliefs, then true healing may not occur until you feel reconciled with God. Talk to a spiritual advisor or an anonymous help hotline related to your particular faith.
- Released any anger about your decision.
The need to grieve in an aborted pregnancy is basically unheard of because it begs the question of how you grieve over something you willingly destroyed. But grieving is part of the healing process. Contact a post-abortion help center.
Excerpted from The Mocha Manual to a Fabulous Pregnancy (Amistad/HarperCollins, 2005) by Kimberly Seals Allers