Psychologist and family therapist Dr Reena Nath advises those who have been through an abortion to overtly mourn the loss instead of covertly brushing it away as a piece of unwanted trash. (As told to Aekta Kapoor)
Abortion is a private trauma, an emotional roller coaster. Even in cases of spontaneous miscarriages, when the foetus is a few months old, the sense of loss and depression is intense. It’s a live grief, and yet the woman is expected to just go about life being normal, as if it was just a missed period or a minor gynaecological aberration. We have no rituals, no ceremonies or memorials around abortions. It’s considered something dirty, something you have to get rid of. A certain percentage of women do come for therapy – they are the ones who are aware that what they feel is important. But there are countless others who do not voice their feelings, who do not address that unresolved grief, who have no closure or warning.
If the mental aftermath of abortion is not addressed and dealt with, any future loss gets exasperated or exaggerated by this unresolved pain from the past. It all comes flooding out in some other circumstances, leading to complications and issues in even unrelated areas of your life. Can you imagine the kind of emotional damage it must do to a woman, especially in cases of female foeticide, when the mother has knowingly conspired to snuff out a healthy baby’s life under pressure? She doesn’t even have a space to voice that trauma.
In a technique we often use in family therapy called Family Constellation Work, we create a timeline of your life, giving a name and form to even aborted foetuses or children lost in infancy. You will not believe the kind of outpouring of grief that happens in these cases of miscarriages and abortions. Both men and women feel this sense of loss but if they have brushed it under the carpet at that point, it surfaces in insidious ways later, becoming a silent grief. It could create a distance in the couple, especially if they both have different ways of dealing with it. One may choose to go quiet, while the other may try to ‘distract’ herself by being ‘hyper-busy’.
There’s a lot of guilt involved along with unspoken grief after an abortion. While this is true of women having abortions due to an unmarried status or because they already have other children, the situation is even more complex in cases of rape or assault. In such cases, there is also an intense sense of shame, exacerbated by anger against this literal and metaphorical ‘miscarriage’ of justice.
The first thing I advise women is to find someone to talk to; whether it’s your partner, a friend or a counsellor. Figure out a way to do it, and don’t try to spare everyone else’s feelings. Your feelings are important too, as is your body. The birth process is extremely meaningful for a woman; an unborn foetus is not something that can just be flushed down the toilet and done away with.
Some women say they find it easier to deal with the loss in silence by themselves, but it can turn into bitterness or cynicism later in their lives. At least speak about it to the people who matter in your life. Insist that your partner come with you to the clinic when you do have the abortion. Can you imagine how horrible it is for women whose partner or boyfriends or husbands give them money and tell them to ‘go get rid of it’? It is as if the woman’s body is unclean and this product is a piece of trash that has to be removed as soon as possible. Don’t let this happen to you.
The couple needs to mourn the loss together. Create some symbol of the baby in the house; don’t hide it away as a secret never to be talked about. Name the child and refer to it. Acknowledge this memory and make it part of your life story.
Create a ritual around the process or abortion; it could be anything, even a puja in your house if necessary. Honour the unborn. Life of any kind, or duration, is precious and meaningful.
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First published in the January 2013 issue of Atelier Diva