Lori Gottlieb is a contributing editor at The Atlantic and a psychotherapist based in Los Angeles. Readers submit questions to Gottlieb and ask for advice and guidance.
In a recent entry entitled “Dear Therapist: I Don’t Know How to Feel About My Girlfriend’s Abortion,” a male reader writes to Gottlieb:
“About a year ago, my girlfriend got pregnant and we decided right away that we should get an abortion. I was only 19 and she was 24…”
As is typical after abortion, the romantic relationship was terminated along with the pregnancy.
The young man shares that after the procedure:
“…we were overwhelmed by a sea of emotions that neither one of us could deal with properly, and splitting up was the solution we found…A little more than a year later, we’re still friends and see each other regularly, but this subject never comes up…”
While he assures the therapist that he made the right decision and is relieved, he still wonders if he should try to speak to his former partner about his feelings – and worries about the future impact of the abortion on their lives
Gottlieb’s response is kind and in many ways helpful.
However, she reveals a common blind spot shared by many medical and mental health professionals when dealing with a client’s past abortion:
– Most are ignorant of the complex and potentially far reaching impact of being part of abortion decisions and procedures – even when there is relief and no conscious regret associated with the abortion.
– They do not understand the short and long-term benefits of abortion recovery programs for women and men.
Skating Around the Truth
This young man, while confused, understands clearly that abortion is not a simple medical procedure like the extraction of a tooth. His concern about future relationships touches upon the truth that abortion is a life-changing experience.
His letter to Gottlieb reveals that he is ripe for a more comprehensive understanding of the abortion event. While he claims to have no regrets, and consciously this may be true, there is much more going on here.
Anniversary reactions related to the abortion are very common. Many women and men have some confusing and painful abortion related feelings, nightmares, depression and anxiety around the time the child would have been born, or on the anniversary of the procedure.
This letter is written to the Atlantic psychotherapist about one year after the abortion. This is likely part an anniversary reaction.
But here is a key issue in this young man’s story that the therapist missed.
Why is the young man’s abortion related anxiety focused on his partner?
Why does he want to connect with her and talk about the abortion and feelings associated with that experience?
He wants to speak to the one person who will understand what they experienced together and share their feelings and memories about the abortion. He may be concerned for her and want to be reassured she is ok.
But, on a deeper level, he focuses on the relationship and his former lover – because their relationship is the life-line and connection to the child he lost to abortion.
In her response, Gottlieb rightly affirms the young man’s emotional experience and the challenges couples face when trying to communicate about this life-changing event.
But the therapist, in her attempt to minimize the abortion, inadvertently touches on the heart of abortion recovery ministry:
“You’ve had an abortion, but you didn’t lose a child you’ve held in your arms…”
More accurately stated, abortion denied this couple the opportunity to hold this child in their arms and share the love of a mother or father with their baby.
Abortion Disrupts an Intimate Relationship
Abortion is often presented as a contentious political and social issue, in the context of reproductive rights, or as a private personal medical decision between a woman and her health care provider.
But abortion can be best understood in the context of relationship.
Thirty years in abortion recovery counseling and ministry have taught us that deep within each woman or man there is a hidden love for the aborted child and an emotional and spiritual hunger for re-connection with their son or daughter.
Many of the conflicting and painful emotions and self-destructive behaviors that sometimes follow abortion can be understood as calling attention to this loss and a need for reconciliation and recovery.
The heart of abortion ministry is gently guiding mothers and fathers through an abortion recovery process so they can acknowledge the truth of what has been lost.
When parents go through an abortion recovery program, they are able to safely re-visit their memories and feelings about the abortion event. The special exercises and spiritual support of programs like Rachel’s Vineyard help participants come to understand, and intimately experience, a new reality.
The emotional bond of love between parent and child, often denied for many years, is now resurrected and firmly rooted in their maternal and paternal heart.
The spiritual relationship with their child in this life and the hope of reunion in eternal life to come with the Lord is a source of great consolation and peace.
This is the peace and resolution that this young man hungers for.
[Keep in mind, some women and men, often many years after the abortion, are surprised by an intense desire to re-connect with the partner of their aborted child – perhaps on Facebook or other social media. On a deeper level, this is calling attention to the need for reconciliation of that abortion experience and the development of a spiritual relationship with their aborted child/children in an abortion recovery program.]
– Drexel University Professor Arthur Shostak, Ph.D., conducted a survey of 1,000 men who accompanied wives or girlfriends to abortion centers and found the following: One in four men considered abortion to be a participation in the death of their unborn child; Slightly over 80% said they had already started to think about the child that might have been born (29% think of the child “frequently”); Many cried during the interview process. [Shostak, Arthur. Men and Abortion: Lessons, Losses and Love. Praeger, 1984.]
For more information on how abortion impacts men, resources for recovery and research on men and abortion contact the Men and Abortion Network.