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Post-Abortion syndrome is a form of post-traumatic stress disorder. The process of making an abortion choice, experiencing the procedure and living with the grief, pain and regret is certainly, at its very core, traumatic. As with any trauma, individuals often try to “forget” the ordeal and deny or ignore any pain that may result. Many simply don’t relate their distress to the abortion experience. At some point, however, memories resurface and the truth of this loss can no longer be denied. During these moments, the pain of post-abortion syndrome reveals itself in the hearts of millions of lives.
The symptoms of the post-abortion syndrome will not necessarily appear at the same time, nor is likely that any woman will experience the entire list. Some may occur immediately after an abortion and others much later. If you can identify with more than two of these symptoms, it could be that you are experiencing post-abortion syndrome.
Below are the symptoms that describe post-abortion syndrome:
1. Guilt – Guilt is what an individual feels when she has violated her own moral code. For the woman who has come to believe, at some point either before or after the abortion, that she consented to the killing of her unborn child, the burden of guilt is relentless. There is little consolation to offer the woman who has transgressed one of nature’s strongest instincts: the protection a mother extends to her young. In fact, many post-abortive women believe that any unhappy events that have occurred since abortion was inevitable because they “deserve it.”
2. Anxiety – Anxiety is defined as an unpleasant emotional and physical state of apprehension that may take the form of tension, (inability to relax, irritability, etc.), physical responses (dizziness, pounding heart, upset stomach, headaches, etc.), and worry about the future, difficulty concentrating and disturbed sleep. The conflict between a woman’s moral standards and her decision to abort generates much of this anxiety. Very often, she will not relate her anxiety to a post-abortion syndrome abortion, and yet she will unconsciously begin to avoid anything having to do with babies. She may make excuses for not attending a baby shower, skip the baby aisle at the grocery store and so forth.
3. Psychological “numbing” – Many post-abortive women maintain a secret vow that they will never again allow themselves to be put in such a vulnerable position. As a result, often without conscious thought, they may work hard to keep their emotions in tight check, preventing themselves from feeling the pain of what has happened but also greatly hampering their ability to form and maintain close relationships. Cut off even from themselves, they may feel as though their lives were happening to another person.
4. Depression and thoughts of suicide – All of us experience depression from time to time, but the following forms of it are certainly common in women who have experienced abortion:
- Sad mood–ranging from feelings of melancholy to total hopelessness.
- Sudden and uncontrollable crying episodes–the source of which appear to be a total mystery.
- Deterioration of self-concept–because she feels wholly deficient in her ability to function as a “normal” woman. Sleep, appetite, and sexual disturbances–usually in a pattern of insomnia, loss of appetite and/or reduced sex drive.
- Reduced motivation–for the normal activities of life. The things that occupied her life before the depression no longer seem worth doing.
- Disruption in interpersonal relationships–because of the general lack of enthusiasm for all activities. This is especially evidenced in her relationship with her husband or boyfriend, particularly if he was involved in the abortion decision.
- Thoughts of suicide–or preoccupation with death. Not surprisingly, in a study done by the Elliot Institute, some 33% of post-abortive women surveyed reached a level of depression so deep that they would rather die than go on.
5. Preoccupation with becoming pregnant again – A significant percentage of women who abort become pregnant again within one year, and many others verbalize the desire to conceive again as quickly as possible. The new baby sometimes referred to as the “atonement baby,” may represent an unconscious desire to replace the one that was aborted.
6. Anxiety over fertility and childbearing issues – A common post-abortion syndrome symptom in women is a fear that they will never again become pregnant or be able to carry a pregnancy to term. Some expect to have handicapped children because they have “disqualified themselves as good mothers.” Many refer to these fears as punishments from God.
For most individuals, abortion is a closely held secret. Rarely do we talk about this pain with family or friends. This is because of feelings like fear of judgment, guilt, shame and grief. In reading this article you have taken a step of great courage. My prayer is that this won’t be your first step but the beginning of a journey that will lead to restoration and healing.