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After an abortion (Not a political post!!!)

There are many reasons for difficult emotions following an induced abortion. And they don't fit into neat, fake categories that people use for political arguments. My only goal is to listen, which is rare in my business.

This is a hard post to write, but it needs to be written. One in five women has had an abortion by age 30 in the US [Click here for report]. Not many of those were accompanied by pleasant emotions. To make matters more complicated, life for these women was often unpleasant already: according to the massive ACE study, adult women with only three Adverse Childhood Experiences were more than twice as likely to have had an abortion [Click here for report, page 20].

This should not be an off-limits topic in therapy! It deserves a non-judgmental approach to emotions that are intensely personal and need to have a voice.

I came to this realization early in my career. My first supervisor, as I was finishing my graduate degree, told me she had an abortion at a young age. I related the story of a friend of mine, attempting to understand. My supervisor told me that perhaps my friend's story was true for my friend, but that I would never truly understand. My supervisor, who was (and is) very much pro-choice, told me that she regretted the decision, but would do it again--such a complex thought, but true for her! She taught me to listen to women's stories, rather than to come to a therapy session with preconceived notions.

What is true, is that regardless of whether a woman is pro-choice or pro-life, usually a lot of difficult emotions come with an abortion or a history of abortion. Therapy, especially EMDR, can help women make sense of things and move on in their own meaningful way.

Let me tell you a range of client stories to show how varied women's stories can be, stories which have taught me again to listen, and not judge.

***One woman told me that she didn't believe that having an abortion was wrong, but she held tremendous grief as she had wanted to be like her mother, and have her first pregnancy when married to the perfect husband. She felt a deep sense of loss and inferiority.

***Another woman said that she was with an abusive boyfriend who would not allow her to use birth control, and said he would kill her if she left him. Each time she got pregnant (six times), he told her that she had to get an abortion, or he would kill her and the conceptus/fetus/baby (whatever term you prefer).

***A client related the story (which is not the last time I heard this) that when she was living with her aunt after being discharged from state foster custody, she became pregnant by an gang-affiliated boyfriend. The aunt told her that she had to get an abortion or live on the street. The client chose to move out, and with no place to go, moved in with a gang-affiliated friend of her boyfriend's. This man in a fit of rage pushed her down a flight of stairs, badly injuring her and causing her to miscarry.

***One woman, who again did and does not believe abortion is wrong, regretted that her alcohol/drug use and trauma history had caused her to choose "crazy men" who she did not want as fathers to a child.

***Another client told me that abortion affected her in an indirect manner--growing up, her mother told her that she should have aborted her.

***In probably my most emotionally-loaded case on this subject, a woman had an unplanned pregnancy as a teenager. Her boyfriend and parents preferred an abortion. Her father told her that this was a time to be emotionless, and to "suck it up." Outside the clinic, she was assaulted by pro-life protestors who called her a murderer and much worse. Inside the clinic, the staff and doctors were impersonal and seemed not to care about her emotions. Immediately after the abortion, all the medical staff left the room, and she was left exposed and alone for a long time, looking at the trash can that contained what had been inside of her. She wanted to look, but didn't want to look, and this "freeze response" amid heightened emotions led to the client being traumatized by the event. Later in life she experienced a place of acceptance in a religious community. But the trauma remained, because that's the essence of trauma--it's not going anywhere. She sought help with me, and found peace and resolution.

Your story is likely very different from these stories, but my point is that every story is important and deserves to be heard in a non-judgmental environment. Therapy can help you move on in a meaningful way. It's a subject people talk about without talking about realities, so this was hard for me to write. But I care about what I do and want to be the best I can be for clients and potential clients.

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