Forgiving yourself after an abortion
CONTRARY to what some people may think, women who have had abortions do not always find the decision to abort easy. There is a lot of emotional pain and distress that comes with deciding to abort. This is influenced by internal or external issues that women are prone to. Counselling psychologist, Lindiwe Nhlapo, shares with Move! possible psychological and emotional effects of going through an abortion. While Gaopalelwe Phalaetsile from Moruleng in the North West shares her experience of having gone through an abortion, healing and accepting what she has gone through.
REASONS FOR HAVING AN ABORTION
Although abortion is legal, there is a lot of stigma attached to choosing not to have a baby once you find out you are pregnant. This is one of the reasons why a high number of women choose to use ‘back-door’ illegal abortions which put their lives in danger. Lindiwe says usually women consider many factors before concluding on terminating a pregnancy and this of course will vary from woman to woman. “Not being financially and emotionally ready, thinking about furthering their studies and careers, are among the reasons some women having a baby at that time would hold back their progress,” says Lindiwe. “Younger and often unmarried women fear their parents who often don’t know they are having sex and at times religion also has a huge impact in making this decision. Sometimes, women are in unstable relationships and fear raising the child alone as a single parent.” Gaopalelwe, who had an abortion, says, “I didn’t want a baby at the time I was pregnant. I had just started university and needed to complete my studies if I ever wanted to even think of being a parent.” Dr Lerato Motimele says a very significant reason for choosing to terminate a pregnancy so it’s never an easy decision to make or seen as an easy way out. “Every woman comes from different socio-economic backgrounds and has the right to exercise her reproductive rights within the limits of the law,” she says.
HEALTH IMPLICATIONS / POSSIBLE SIDE EFFECTS
Dr Lerato says, “Health implications vary because every woman will respond differently to the procedure performed and all the possible surgical and anesthetic complication that can occur should be thoroughly explained before the procedure is performed.” Some health problems include:
¦ Abdominal pain and cramping
¦ Spotting and bleeding
She says the more serious complications can include scarring or perforation on the uterus and that could result in infertility. According to Lindiwe, it is important to take responsibility of their circumstances in order to facilitate acceptance and forgiveness. “This is not an easy process as it requires introspection, insight and maturity. I would encourage getting help from a professional to assist you to deal with the feelings and thoughts that come with terminating a pregnancy,” she says.
PSYCHOLOGICAL AND EMOTIONAL EFFECTS
In her experience, Lindiwe says a common feeling that women go through is guilt. “Women may sometimes doubt that they have made the right choice by terminating a pregnancy and fear that they have transgressed against their religious and moral ideologies,” she says. “This can also lead to mental illness such as depression if the woman is confronted with constant rejection and criticism.” Lindiwe adds that consistent feelings of guilt, self-hatred and doubt are indicators that a woman is struggling to accept the decision to terminate. “They may become irritable and overly sensitive and may harbour anger and resentment towards themselves or their partners,” she says. For Gaopalelwe, it was more about the fear of condemnation from society. “We are not healing from having had abortions; we are healing from society’s attitude about abortion,” she says. “So it’s a struggle because even though many countries have legalised abortion, institutions are failing at providing access that is not judgemental and pain free available. Many women still prefer illegal abortion clinics because of that fact.” According to Lindiwe, women who often struggle to forgive themselves struggle with guilt because they have committed what they have defined as a sin or wrongdoing. “They struggle to objectively understand their situation and all the complexities that contributed to their decision. As a result, it is important to find professional help to work through some of the cognitive distortions they have,” she says.
After the termination, you may also experience the following:
¦ Guilt and regret
¦ Desperation and sadness
¦ Possible suicidal thoughts
¦ Eating disorders
¦ Relationship issues
¦ Feelings of shame
HEALING AND ACCEPTANCE
Gaopalelwe still cries when she talks about her story and this is because women who have had abortions are called murderers and because it is a painful experience to constantly live in a society that condemns women for choosing what they want to do with their bodies. “I worried about people’s opinions based on the stigma on abortion already prevalent in our society and our institutions. Stigma was my fear and worry about what people would think of me,” she says. Gaopalelwe started a private group on Facebook called Abortion Support South Africa which aims to bring women who have had abortions together.
Dr Lerato says, “The process requires a lot of emotional support from loved ones who know and a lot psychotherapy and counselling, that will help with unresolved feeling and then continuation of a healthy lifestyle is encouraged.”
¦ Get help: Speak to a professional about how you are feeling
¦ Avoid isolation: Don’t spend time alone because you might entertain negative thoughts as a result of how you might feel
¦ Talk to others: It helps to speak to people who have gone through the same experience.