Getting the facts to help women make an informed decision in pregnancy.
Tiana is CEO of Women and Babies Support (WOMBS) International Ltd and a mother of five, who writes about human development, pregnancy, abortion and related issues. She tweets at @wombs_intl and welcomes discussions on these important topics which affect so many women and their babies.
January 22, 1973 had quite an impact on my life, even though I was not yet born. It was the day that abortion was legalized in the United States, which ended up making it easier for mom to abort in '95. But January 22, 2006 had an even bigger impact on my life, for that was the evening that mom bravely shared her testimony with us. There was instant sadness, but no tears. In part because I am really not comfortable with my emotions being visible, but also because I didn't want to add to mom's pain, which was so obvious. Despite that, she was open for questioning, leting us know, among other things, that she had named the baby Joseph Michael, as well as the date of the abortion (2/14/95). As hard as it was to hear, these details actually made things easier to handle in some ways, so I deeply admire the strength she showed.
Prior to finding out about Joey, I had dealt with numerous losses as a nursing home volunteer, and while they definitely hurt, I was able to move on fairly quickly. I assumed it would be like that with him, especially because I hadn't even known about him and the death was so many years earlier. Plus, some of it was wishful thinking, so I wouldn't have to feel such strong and painful emotions.
A decade later, I see how wrong I was. But you know, as rough as it's been, and still is at times, I don't regret going through that pain. It has opened my eyes in multiple ways for which I am so grateful and there have been some amazing blessings! :)
I will not get into all of them in this post, but one of the ones I am most excited about is that I am now an advocate! Through this blog, my facebook pages and group, etc I get to be a voice for siblings. The kind that I very much longed to find when I was first ready to find help. I was shocked by how little was available for and about us at that time, even among those who offered post abortive counseling. Silent No More (SNM), Rhode Island and Lumina were the only ones I could find, speaking up for and reaching out to others like me, but both were across the country, unfortunately. With mom's permission, a pen name of sorts (Susi O Fanabba, short for 'surviving sibling of an aborted baby'), and the encouragement of those at Silent No More, I wrote my first testimony. That in and of itself was healing, as a lot that I had been repressing came out. I sent it to SNM and to Theresa Bonopartis at Lumina, who was coordinating a retreat day for siblings, a few weeks from that time. I knew I was not going to be able to make it, but hoped that it could be read to the other siblings at least. To my shock, she wrote back with an invite to attend, and offered to help me figure out a way to get there. WOW! I was instantly nervous! Not just about traveling, but about the day itself. Could I handle being in such an emotionally charged environment? Would I be able to keep my own emotions in check or would I have a public breakdown, etc?
Despite these worries, I said yes and am so glad I did. While it was very physically and emotionally draining (no tears though), it brought amazing healing! To start with, Theresa kept it small, only 7 of us total. 5 siblings, a chaplain and her. We all had a very generous amount of time to share our stories, in a comfortable, home-like setting, with hardly any interruption or fear of judgement, mockery, hurting our parents, etc. When my turn came I imagined I would give just a brief account, especially because I was shy and worried about a breakdown, but nope!! Even more came out than what was in the testimony!! For the first time, I was with others who could relate to my loss and found it so freeing :D 5 people, from different backgrounds, finding common ground and healing together!
That day was over too quickly! But the healing and joy that came have not left! Nor have the friendships. We are all very busy with our own lives but still find time to reconnect with each other, for which I am grateful. What's rather sad to me though, is that so few post abortive sibs can relate to the healing I've experienced and I want to do my part to help them. The main ways I have done this are through sharing my own story, in the hopes that it brings awareness to our pain and issues and inspires those who can to start programs and such for us. Also, by starting and maintaining this blog, which has a growing number of testimonies, most of them anonymous, and through my private group on facebook, just for siblings. It's been such an honor to hear from some, including post abortive, that my efforts are helping bring healing and awareness!
There have been some awesome changes in the last 10 years, that I am looking forward to seeing what the next 10 bring :)
Emotional Effects After Abortion Featured
I feel concerned about women after abortion, particularly after hearing very emotional and negative experiences from women. I looked at a review on mental health and abortion by the American Psychological Association's Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion. Overall, their conclusions seem to reflect how women are usually coping and getting on with their lives. But surprisingly, this important review failed to conclude on the risks of emotional effects after abortion and effects on the general mental health of women.
The 2008 American Psychological Association's - APA Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion (TFMHA) reviewed 223 USA and International studies published in peer-reviewed journals from 1990-2007 and gave its findings in a 100 page report.1 Firstly, the TFMHA defines "mental health" using the World Health Organisation's (WHO) definition of mental health as: "a state of well-being in which the individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community." All the women I know appear to satisfy this definition of "mental health" after abortion.
Then the TFMHA explains that the question of whether abortion causes harm to women's health cannot be scientifically tested. This would require randomised trials where pregnant women are assigned to an abortion verses delivery verses adoption group and this is obviously not desirable nor ethical. So the (testable) questions addressed by the TFMHA were how prevalent are mental health problems among women in the U.S. who have had an abortion and what is the relative risk of mental health problems after abortion compared to alternatives (adoption or motherhood).
The TFMHA specifies mental health problems for an important reason - it emphasises that "mental health problems" are defined as "clinically significant disorders assessed with valid and reliable measure of physician diagnosis." Examples include, major depression, anxiety disorders or postraumatic stress disorders. Excluded from the definition of mental health problems are 'normal' negative emotions or feelings a woman might experience after an abortion and as the TFMHA states, these include regret, sadness or dysphoria.2 "Dysphoria" (psychiatry) means: a "state of unease or generalised dissatisfaction with life", or "an emotional state characterised by anxiety, depression or unease."3
So the TFMHA review on mental health and abortion was largely limited to drawing conclusions on mental health problems after abortion where mental health problems are clinically diagnosed mental disorders in women. Although the TFMHA did review papers that analysed relative mental risks (i.e. including emotional effects) associated with abortion, it rejected all the studies as being unable to provide unequivocal evidence on these, due to "methodological flaws".
The conclusion of the TFMHA was, "the most methodologically sound research indicates that among women who have a single, legal, first-trimester abortion of an unplanned pregnancy for nontherapeutic reasons, the relative risks of mental health problems is no greater than the risks among women who deliver an unplanned pregnancy".
Not surprisingly, this conclusion seems to reflect the women after abortion I know - they had a single, legal, early abortion and seem to be doing fine as capable and successful women without any psychological disorders. However these women have experienced a very deep and personal, ongoing sadness and regret after abortion. These significant adverse effects on the psychological well-being of women after abortion were not well-addressed by the TFMHA because it would not use studies that included evidence on emotional effects to make a conclusion.
The TFMHA gave a conclusion of the relative risk of "mental health problems", i.e. mental health disorders only: their conclusion does not address concerns about the relative risk of abortion on the general mental health of women, including adverse emotional effects. As I discuss in "Planned Parenthood's Misleading Claims on Mental Health and Abortion", unfortunately abortion providers and services, such as Planned Parenthood and government websites in Australia and the U.S. ignore this narrow conclusion of the TFMHA and instead use it to make claims that abortion does not cause emotional effects. This is very misleading to women considering abortion and fails to acknowledge the women who do suffer adverse affects and are in need of care and support from their health care providers and communities.
Are you suffering emotional effects after abortion? You can find help in your area using our online directory or guide or call now:
24 Hr Helpline: 1800 090 777 (Aus)
24 Hr International Helpline:
866 482 5433 (USA)
(exit code) 1 866 483 5433 (Intl)
1 TFMHA - Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion (2008). Report of the APA Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion. Washington, DC. American Psychological Association Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion. http://www.apa.org/pi/women/programs/abortion/mental-health.pdf
2 TFMHA. 2008. Report of the APA Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion. Washington, DC. American Psychological
Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion. http://www.apa.org/pi/women/programs/abortion/mental-health.pdf
p.7. "..it is crucial to distinguish between clinically significant mental disorders, such as major depression,
generalised anxiety disorder, or posttraumatic stress disorder, and a normal range of negative emotions or feelings
one might experience following a difficult decision, such as feelings of regret, sadness or dysphoria. While the latter
feelings may be significant, by themselves they do not constitute psychopathology."
I Just Needed To See My Baby Featured
Our baby girl was conceived summer of 2013. Our 2nd baby. We thought, wow. Our first baby – a boy. Second baby – a girl. I made it a point to keep myself active by keeping up with our 20-month old’s playgroups, etc. regardless of how heavily pregnant I got. It was the only way I could get exercise and I promised that this pregnancy won’t compromise our toddler’s activities.
But then, on my 6th month of pregnancy, anxiety slowly crept in. Countless questions started to drown me. A baby girl? How do you take care of a baby girl? I seem to have been able to manage with a boy, but that’s just one child - but with 2 children? And a girl? How? I tried to draw in childhood memories but none of them consoled me: authoritarian parents, physical work, smacking, not enough cuddles/kisses, siblings I barely knew because we were torn apart, my eldest sister having an unplanned pregnancy and eloping with boyfriend, etc.
My toddler’s Health Visitor seemed to know our family quite well. And so, at one of his appointments, she asked me, “How are you mum?” And I thought, “I have no one to talk to. I have to tell her. Now. I broke down. I told her that I wasn’t very happy. That, I was burdened with worries. That, I didn’t know how to take care of a baby girl. She was genuinely sympathetic and tried to raise my self-esteem. At the same time, she tried to dig a little into my story. She said that she can refer me for mental health support – but she kindly asked me if I would like her to handle my case and conduct the first assessment. I agreed.
After a week, she popped by our flat and we had a little chat about my family history, my childhood, my husband, and how I was managing with a toddler whilst heavily pregnant. Going through the details with her was impossible without crying. She was with us for an hour and perfectly understood why I felt that way and quickly decided to refer me to a clinical psychologist (CP).
Probably on the same week, at our toddler’s bi-weekly playgroup, one of the children’s centre staff approached me and asked me how I am and the baby. I related to her what I’ve been going through and the home visit that we have just had. She quickly told me that she can get help for me and asked me to stay for a bit after the playgroup so she can fill-out a referral form for me. I received a call from Compass Wellbeing UK after about a week or so. I was told that I would be seen by a CP. I went through an assessment with the CP and she scheduled me for weekly counselling (about an hour each) until I felt that I no longer needed it.
Early February 2014, I called my CP and told her that I won’t be able to attend the sessions anymore as I was already having difficulty moving around. She was very supportive and said to call her back whenever I felt the need to see her. The sessions with the CP were difficult as I had to unload my feelings every time. But each session taught me how to handle my emotions, gave more clarity to who I am, and the future of our new baby.
Here are some of the very important pointers that I got from her:
1. As a new parent / every pregnancy can bring back childhood memories. Both the good and the bad.
2. Do not put undue pressure on yourself and expect to bond with your baby after birthing. For some mothers, this is a slow process – but is still considered normal.
3. Your child’s life will be completely different from yours.
4. Give yourself some credit.
5. Try and sit with someone you trust, e.g. husband, partner or friend, and talk more about your feelings.
6. Go out and join groups, e.g. parenting groups / playgroups, and make new friends.
Through the advocacy of my Birth Doula (I found her through Doula UK), the consultant agreed to perform a Natural Caesarean (ironically, this was also an Emergency C-Section as baby did not engage and was swimming in three litres of water). As soon as the medical staff brought the curtain down, I burst into tears. There she was, my lovely baby girl. A few days after I gave birth, I called my CP to update her and told her, “I just needed to see my baby.”