Communicating with individuals who have experienced a pregnancy loss through abortion (post-abortive individuals) is a topic I’ve been addressing for over 22 years now. For those people who want to help those experiencing abortion regret, I’ve written on the topic, spoken, taught seminars and have this blog. Sadly, few still understand how to address this topic in a compassionate manner.
Abortion holds a different impact for each person that experiences it. Depending on the amount of time that has passed, and the various twists and turns that occurred as a result, common emotions can eventually impact post-abortive individuals. Grief, regret, confusion, doubt, anxiety over fertility, lack of confidence, overconfidence, defiance, activism (at either end of the abortion political spectrum), mourning and even peace may come into their lives.
The largest abortion provider in the world, Planned Parenthood, reports that currently one in three American women will experience abortion in their lifetime. If one in three American women – and at least that many men – have this choice in common, why is it that you rarely hear someone sharing their abortion story? The fact that post-abortive people themselves don’t speak about this experience doesn’t provide an excuse for society to avoid the topic. Abortion has become a common American experience. Just because we, the post-abortive, don’t talk about it doesn’t mean it’s not impacting us.
Regardless of which point the individual is in the process of addressing this choice, there is no “right” way to feel. As part of that “one in three” demographic – and after speaking to thousands of individuals who have shared their abortion story with me – I have written the following eight points in the hope of helping you to show compassion to those whose “best choice” once seemed to be aborting a child.
Don’t Say – Your life wasn’t all that stable before the abortion, right?
There are many reasons why people choose or have chosen abortion. In processing the experience afterwards, many try to discern why they didn’t make another choice. Some have no idea that a past abortion is even part of their current emotional issues. We work actively to avoid the topic at all costs simply due to the potential for rejection and the political polarization that exists in our society. Yet life has a way of shifting as we grow older. How we felt once may not be the same way we feel today.
Please don’t try to offer any reasons why we could have made this choice. If we do share that we’ve experienced an abortion, we need a compassionate listening ear to share our past and begin to move on.
What to say instead: It takes courage to even talk about this choice. Please know that I’m listening and care for what is happening to you today.
Don’t Say – This experience is in the past. Why bring it up now?
When post-abortive people come to the point of being able to discuss a past abortion at any emotional level, they typically know why they need to talk about it. They don’t need the listener to shut them down by telling them that such a topic should NOT be addressed at all. That is a message they’ve been trying to sell to themselves for years – and it hasn’t worked! It also communicates that the listener doesn’t WANT to hear or discuss our emotions.
A large percentage of women (and men) feel clear relief after an abortion because their unplanned pregnancy has been “resolved.” Many go on for decades without even thinking about that choice. For others, that initial peace can be temporary. “Moving on” and forgetting may be impossible. Our emotions can be stuck in our throats and we simply cannot swallow it anymore. In order to find peace, we may need to talk about it with a trusted friend or family member.
Regardless of the reason we are discussing this past choice with you, know that it took a lot of courage for us to do so. Don’t make any assumptions about what we are experiencing. Let us tell you what is on our hearts first.
If we could have moved on by now, we would have. Some people see their abortion as the loss of their identity, or their child, or their chance in life. While it is important to make no assumptions about why someone is having feelings surrounding their abortion, please tell us you know how normal we are in what we are experiencing.
What to say instead: While this may have happened a long time ago, sometimes our emotions change over time. It’s completely okay to feel the way you are feeling today…
Don’t Say – If you are sad about this choice, you must be pro-life!
Emotions and political opinions rarely have anything to do with each other. Many post-abortive people can openly embrace and promote abortion as an option while others feel led to work to end abortion on demand. Regardless, few of us want to be “categorized” politically when we start sharing this pain openly. Politics are often the farthest thing from our minds!
Avoid any dogmatic discussion about either side of the “right to choose” debate when we begin to share our truth with you. Understand that we don’t fit into any definite box on either side of the political landscape. We are all individuals with timetables of healing and ever-shifting political views.
What to say instead: It is completely normal to experience unexpected emotions about this choice as your life progresses. Tell me more about your experiences.
Don’t Say – Abortion was a good decision for you because (fill in the blank)
(e.g., you weren’t ready for a baby, you needed to finish school, you were unmarried, etc.).
Whenever unexpected emotions overcome our hearts, we typically pull out a mental list of our “good reasons” for making that choice. We don’t need you to do that for us.
Most people really cannot comprehend our mindset and situation at the time of our choice. The message above communicates that there was something wrong with us at that time – which may simply not be true. The word “good” and “bad” should not be mentioned when we begin to speak about our emotions related to our abortion experience.
Many chose abortion believing they were making the most mature and responsible choice at the time. At one point, I was even proud of the independence that I gained from being able to complete my college degree before becoming a mother. It would be years later, after my first son’s birth, that I started to feel conflicting emotions relating to my career and fertility decisions. It was a process that didn’t need to be compounded by the viewpoints of others at any level.
What to say instead: Why did you make that decision? (Really listen to their answers!)
Don’t Say – I support your right to choose.
While this may seem positive, depending upon your political perspective, it can negate the emotions of regret that some women may experience. Fear of political categorization often impedes communications on this topic. This statement can end the discussion, shutting us down from ever sharing about this again.
Regardless of your political perspective on abortion, know that you may be putting your foot in your mouth with this comment depending on the particular situation of the individual. Again, conversations about the “right to choose” are not appropriate in our initial discussion of a past abortion decision.
What to say instead: Don’t be in a hurry because I’m here to listen to you.
Don’t Say – I don’t support what you did, but I’m here to support you.
This comment voices disdain for the individual and reverts the conversation back to you and your heart on the abortion issue. This can be very damaging to the individual who needs unconditional support and love from the listener.
Keep in mind that your perspective is irrelevant. Listening to our abortion confession is not wrong, even if you don’t like abortion. Comprehending that we may have no political agenda in this discussion is important. We probably have yet to make a decision on where we fit in on this hotly contested issue. We just want to express how we are feeling!
Work to put yourself into our shoes in listening as we share our journey through this choice. When the emotional work is finished – which can take more than one conversation – we may be willing to address the legality of this choice. But that will be up to us to address with you.
What to say instead: If I had been in your shoes, perhaps I might have made a similar choice. (Say it because it’s true! You don’t know what you would have done in a similar situation…)
Don’t Say – You lost a blob of tissue/baby/child/zygote/fetus/embryo.
Sharing about our abortion usually isn’t our first step in addressing this past choice. Most of us have done research. We may or may not have learned the proper terminology about our loss. Some of us have viewed graphic abortion photos or detailed fetal development videos that have horrified us as well.
Whatever term you use in the list above will outline your own political perspective which could end the communication with us. This emotional discussion cannot involve politics!
Understand that words can be difficult for us. Even the term “abortion” can be hard for us to vocalize. It can take a lot of courage to talk about this subject at all.
What to say instead: A pregnancy loss through abortion can be hard. Tell me more about what you are feeling…
Don’t Say – Do you think you are really happy now that you’ve made such a choice?
Remember that relief is the first emotion many women encounter after an abortion. The crisis is over, the choice made and now it’s time to get on with our lives. It is not your job to tell us how we feel at any point in this journey. Life tends to wind us all up and down trails to consider this choice from every angle. Depending on our life situation, other issues can be involved that either complicate or enhance the level of happiness we are experiencing.
No emotion is wrong in this process of discussion. You can’t put us into an emotional box based on your own ideals so don’t try. But understand that if we are happy now, we may not be in days to come.
What to say (depending on the emotion presented) instead: I’m glad you are talking about your feelings. Your perspective on this choice can change over time and I’ll be here to help!
In closing, please understand that a large majority of women will never confess to making an abortion decision. We keep this truth to themselves for a wide variety of reasons. Whenever you are discussing the abortion topic, realize that we are listening to you. Make sure that your points are always couched with compassion just in case we are overhearing your heart. In this way, we will know that you are approachable.
Keep my book, Her Choice to Heal: Finding Spiritual and Emotional Peace After Abortion, handy just in case someone talks to you about regretting an abortion. It was designed to help them understand their regret and move ahead towards receiving more peace in the future.