There are many emotions that women might experience after an abortion. Some feel relief, while others may feel a mixture of negative feelings. Post-abortion grief and stress are often experienced by women. Grief, depression, or guilt develop for various reasons. For some women, the hormonal cycle within the body changes after an abortion. These hormonal changes can intensify feelings of guilt or sadness. When a woman is mourning following an abortion, it’s important to remember that the emotions felt are valid.
Sometimes the event of abortion can leave an individual and those around them feeling lost and uncertain. Acknowledging the grief and understanding its effects can help you toward healthy coping.
The Signs of Post-Abortion Grief
Grief is a natural response to any loss. Symptoms of grief include:
- Shock and numbness
- Emotional pain such as sorrow, anger, or bitterness
- Fear or anxiety
- Intense longing and rumination
- Difficulty concentrating
- Changes to sleep, hunger, eating, or weight
- Feeling ill
It is normal to grieve a loss, but sometimes the grief following an abortion can take over women’s lives and disrupt their daily tasks, relationships, and ability to think about something other than their loss. If after a year following the abortion, you continue to experience the symptoms of grief daily in a way that interrupts your daily living, relationships, and thoughts, it is possible you are experiencing prolonged grief disorder. It is important that you seek help. You can schedule an appointment at our women’s clinic, talk to your doctor, ask family or friends for help, or contact another mental health professional.
Grief & Depression
Some women experience depression following an abortion. The symptoms of depression may overlap with feelings of grief. Clinical depression is a formal mental health diagnosis whose symptoms are felt daily, persist over time, and impact multiple areas of life.
Those symptoms include the following:
- Severe anxiety
- Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or guilt
- Increased irritability or outbursts of anger
- Extreme fatigue
- Lack of concentration
- Loss of interest in activities
- Changes in eating
- Memory challenges
An abortion can be a traumatic experience. The emotions women feel can hinder day-to-day living if ignored or left untreated. Some individuals may notice their symptoms leading to relationship problems, low self-esteem, suicidal thoughts, and/or feelings of regret and shame.
Thankfully, there are many support systems out there that can help you during the grieving process, such as family, friends, your community, and the registered professionals at our women’s clinic.
The Stages of Grief
Most people go through the five stages of grief:
- Denial: Denial is a common defence mechanism that occurs during the first stage of grief. It’s often used to combat the shock of a loss or experience.
- Anger: Some people don’t want to feel or acknowledge the pain of a loss. When pain is ignored, it’s often redirected and expressed as anger instead.
- Bargaining: This stage of grief allows one to hold on to hope. For example, a woman may start to argue with herself or others that she can return to how things were before, even if she has to sacrifice everything. Guilt is a common emotion during this stage, which fuels internal negotiation.
- Depression: This feeling is expressed in various ways and is often a response to grief. Depression is the stage after loss when someone starts facing the present reality of their situation.
- Acceptance: This is the final stage of grief. Feeling acceptance doesn’t mean someone is fine with the situation. It means that the pain or loss is acknowledged. Accepting the loss can help toward moving forward.
Some may notice that they spend more time in some stages than others, entirely skip a stage, go through the stages in a different order, or revisit stages they have experienced before. Some experts have added more stages to the five grief stages: The extended Kübler-Ross model includes two more steps: Shock and testing.
Shock has been added as the first stage. It occurs when someone feels an initial sense of fear or paralysis after a loss. Testing comes after depression and before acceptance, and is the stage when one experiments with different ways of coping with grief.
Some research from the American Psychiatric Association suggests there are contributing factors that can increase the feelings of grief and distress after an abortion.
These factors include:
- Conflicting emotions and uncertainty about the abortion decision
- Personal and religious beliefs about abortion
- Experience from a prior abortion
- Pre-existing mental health issues
- Reasons behind the abortion decision
- The lack of a support system
- The social stigma surrounding abortion
Research findings suggest that pre-existing mental health can predict whether a woman will go through a negative post-abortion experience. For example, having a history of mental health problems can be a risk factor for experiencing heightened symptoms after an abortion. However, there are treatments available, including:
- Support groups
- Lifestyle adjustments
Our women’s clinic offers counselling and support groups for women struggling after an abortion.
Common Misconceptions About Grief
Grief after an abortion can lead some women to look at what the “norm” is supposed to be. Always remember that there isn’t one right way to approach grieving and coping. The following misconceptions can arise when comparing your grief with someone else’s after an abortion:
- “I’m doing this wrong”: There isn’t one specific way to approach post-abortion grief. Coping with loss can manifest in different ways. Try your best to avoid comparing your situation with others’.
- “This is taking too long”: Every stage of grief can bring about different emotions, and many factors can affect how long it takes to work through them. It’s a good idea to avoid deadlines during the grieving process. Let your mind and body take the time they need.
- “I shouldn’t be feeling this way”: Some women may feel more angry than sad, while others may start to feel relief and think that they should still be grieving their pregnancy loss. As we mentioned, there’s no typical way of feeling after an abortion. What a woman feels is unique to them.
- “I must be depressed”: There’s a distinction between being clinically depressed and feeling depressed. Many people experience depression during the aftermath of an abortion, and recognizing clinical depression as opposed to sadness following a painful event can be difficult. Women will most likely begin to feel less intensity of sadness or other symptoms over time, whereas those with clinical depression deal with the discomfort daily over a long period of time. That’s not to say that someone who has gone through an abortion can’t develop clinical depression while grieving. If daily symptoms of depression remain the same or increase beyond a few weeks, reach out to the numerous support systems that are available to help.
Coping With Grief After an Abortion
When coping with grief after an abortion, it’s paramount that you know you aren’t alone. While each woman may feel differently about their loss, many have gone through similar experiences. Remember that managing your emotions and grieving safely after an abortion is more than possible.
Here’s how to begin the healing process:
- Acceptance: Much like the final stage of grief, acceptance plays a pivotal part in coming to terms with the abortion, even if it wasn’t your first choice.
- Ask for Support: Reaching out and asking for help is a big step in coping with an abortion. Women might not want to talk about what happened, but finding a safe space to vent and talk about your unresolved trauma is cathartic and relieving. Atwell Centre provides post-abortion support to all women with different experiences, and we’re here to walk you through the grieving process.
- Self-Compassion: Many people are hard on themselves when going through the grieving period after an abortion. It’s easy to forget that self-love is easier than self-hatred. Start by practising self-compassion and appreciation when you need it most. Treat and regard yourself as you would a friend in your situation.
- Manage Stress: Explore ways to soothe your body and mind. Some physical activities can help manage stress levels, such as yoga, running, meditation, going for a walk, and much more. Doing activities you enjoy, even if you don’t feel like doing them, and spending time with supportive friends and family are also important ways to decrease your stress.
- Honour the Experience: This process isn’t for everyone, but many women find solace in creating meaning around their abortion. Honouring the experience can be a healthy way to grieve and cope. For example, some plant a tree, write a poem, and/or say a prayer. When a loved one is lost, people often find comfort in putting them to rest. The point is to create meaning around the abortion loss and memorialize it symbolically.
When To Ask for Help
Even when focusing on self-care and other methods to deal with grief, processing may still be difficult and complex. If feelings of sadness or grief last longer than a month, it may be helpful to reach out to a mental health professional or a support group.
Facing an abortion can be an overwhelming experience, whether it’s before or after the procedure. If you require information about abortions or you’re looking for post-abortion support, contact Atwell Centre. Our registered professionals are here to help you through this trying time.