There is a wide variety of symptoms of abortion's aftermath, ranging from mild grief to profound reactions which may include Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is the people working in the field of bereavement who have written about the need to resolve abortion losses and recognize that this disenfranchised loss surfaces during subsequent losses.
The society, our churches, and our families do not recognize abortion as a legitimate loss. In fact, the societal message says that this experience solves a problem and that it is a non-experience. With other surgical procedures, there is an acknowledgement of the need to recover and to process the experience.
Many of the symptoms discussed are symptoms common to complicated mourning and to trauma reactions. The manifestations of abortion's aftermath are:
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- Low self-esteem
- A sense of alienation from self, friends and others
- Isolation, self-imposed actions to avoid sharing the abortion experience with others
- Anger, though this is often buried deeply. Depression and anger are flip sides of the same experience
- Difficulty concentrating
- Nightmares/"baby dreams"--these may take the form of some menacing creature attacking children, or of, as a woman described them, "dead dolls, dismembered babies, or babies in distress that can't be reached."
- Auditory hallucinations of a baby crying
- Flashbacks of the abortion experience that are triggered by such things as vacuum cleaners, which are reminders of the suction equipment; music on Muzak that was playing during the procedure; elevators which lead up to the clinic; or cookies served after the procedure.
- Sleep disorders
- Suicidal thoughts--in a study done in Ohio by Suicide Anonymous Hotline over a 36-month period, of the 4000 women who called, 1800 had previously had abortions.
- Drug and alcohol abuse--in a California study of 12,000 pregnant women, it was found that among those with two or more prior abortions, virtually all consumed alcohol up to three ounces per day during the entire time of their pregnancy. A Boston City Hospital study found that among inner city women enrolled in pre-natal care, those who reported cocaine use were more than twice as likely to report two abortions and were three times as likely to report three abortions compared to the non-cocaine using control group.
- Relationship problems--70% of romantic relationships end after an abortion. Some women also distance themselves from their nuclear family and from their closest friends.
- Intimacy problems--women often shy away from intimate relationships with males for fear of having to reveal things about herself, including her abortion.
- Physical pain--women may describe pain such as abdominal pian, menstrual pain, or back pain. This could be organic pain caused be complications from the abortion or it could be psychosomatic pain.
- Physical numbness
- Difficulties in subsequent pregnancies. This may include high anxiety during pregnancy, being fearful of another pregnancy loss such as a miscarriage, still birth, or ectopic pregnancy as well as infertility. It is possible that women will incur a pregnancy complication due to some damage that might have happened during or immediately following the abortion procedure, such as cervical damage, uterine scarring or fallopian tube scarring caused by low-grade infection.
- Difficulties in subsequent labor and delivery, such as labors that start and stop or that fail to progress resulting in Cesareans.
- Inability to bond properly with subsequent children. Women will describe great difficulty in breastfeeding, bottle feeding, diaper changing--any activity that requires intimate contact with the baby. The bond that does develop is characterized by overly protective behavior and emotional distancing.
- Acute reaction may involve fascination with or obsession with pregnancy that may result in bizarre short term acting-out behavior.
- Avoidance behavior centered on children, pregnancy, and abortion.
- Eating disorders
- Sexual disfunction or promiscuity
- Atonement pregnancy--feeling compelled to become pregnant again, often within one year following the abortion.
- Phantom pregnancy--going to physicians' offices, crisis pregnancy centers, and emergency rooms believing she is pregnant.
- Atonement marriage--marriage between partners in an abortion in an attempt to save the relationship after the abortion
- Abusive relationships--in some cases, the woman is the abusive party; in other cases, she is the abused party
- Anniversary reactions
- Over-compensation in a career--especially true for a woman who choses the abortion in order to finish college or complete her career goals
- Involvement with pro-life movement or pro-abortion movements
- Spiritual wound--for many women, this may be the first experience of "serious sin." Some women fear that God will punish them, especially when it comes to future childbearing experiences.
- Child abuse--women may have inappropriate coping mechanisms for dealing with frustration until the grief issue is resolved. The abuse may be emotional in terms of distancing, or actual physical striking out against a subsequent child. Women sometimes share that their "perfect child" was the one they aborted, and now they are left with this one.
- Increased bitterness toward men--this manifests itself in terms of being able to really trust men in the future.
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