This section contains information and resources aimed at assisting women who may be struggling emotionally after an abortion.
Who chooses to have an abortion?
In their lifetime, up to one in three Australian women will choose to have an abortion, for many different reasons - women who come from all walks of life.
They are mothers, daughters, sisters, nieces, wives, aunties and grandmothers. They are politicians, lawyers, students, teenagers, nurses, police officers, women who 'don't believe in abortion', waitresses, doctors, journalists, and dancers. They come from many different religious and cultural backgrounds. They can be wealthy, getting by, or struggling financially. They are married, in long term relationships, single, divorced, having casual sex, or victims of sexual assualt. They usually share the belief that while the decision may have been difficult, they made the best choice at the time.
You are not alone in your choice to have an abortion. You were the best person to make the decision that was best for you, at that point in your life. You are the expert in your own life.
How am I feeling?
A woman may feel many different emotions after an abortion.
It is very common for women to have one or more of these feelings at the same time and for these feelings to change over time. Women may also experience both positive and negative feelings together.
Many women report coping very well after having an abortion. Some women feel like they are struggling with their feelings. Other women may have difficulty identifying their emotions. Often women may describe themselves as feeling confused, without really knowing which feelings are coming together to make them feel this way. The intensity of these emotions will depend on the individual woman, her beliefs and attitudes, her support systems and the particular circumstances in her own life.
If you are concerned about the way you are feeling, it is important to give yourself time and consider why you might be feeling this way.
This section may help you explore your feelings and enable you to work through your emotions.
“Afterwards I felt so relieved it was over… I felt like I could get on with my life… I could focus on looking after my children… I stopped feeling ill and my energy came back very quickly…”
Relief is the most common feeling reported by women after their pregnancy termination. They may be relieved that they were able to make a decision and have an abortion, relieved that they don't have to parent, that they have the space and time to work towards their goals, finish school/university or that they can concentrate on looking after the children already in their care.
It is realistic for a woman to feel relief after working through a difficult time in her life and achieving a resolution. Relief can also be the first step for a woman in gaining a sense of closure about the abortion experience; she can begin to look to the future with optimism and perhaps the desire to make changes in her life.
Relief also may take time to emerge as a woman gradually works through the abortion experience.
“I really wanted to continue the pregnancy, but I wasn’t financially stable… After the termination I felt empty... I felt lonely because my boyfriend and I broke up…”
For some women a pregnancy termination will mean experiencing feelings of loss. A sense of loss may come from the reasons you decided to terminate the pregnancy or from other things that happened at the same time. For example, a relationship break-up, being isolated from people who can support you, or loss of trust in friends, family and partners.
Experiencing a sense of loss may involve grieving. Grieving is a process that all people need to go through to deal with any kind of loss. Honouring the grieving process allows you to explore meaning in the pregnancy and to incorporate your abortion experience into your life journey.
Your body is also experiencing hormonal changes which may affect your emotional state immediately following the abortion. Remember to give yourself time for your body to adjust.
At first you might feel denial: ‘This doesn’t seem real’ or ‘This can’t be happening to me.’ After denial you may feel depression and anger: ‘I feel sad and angry this has happened to me.’ In time, acceptance will come to you.
It is also important not to worry too much if you are feeling sad, but to acknowledge that sadness can be a part of any major life decision. However, if sadness persists for a long period of time and continues to interfere with your daily life, it might be good to seek professional counselling and support.
“I feel selfish…I feel stupid for getting pregnant in the first place…Before this I never believed in abortion… I have let myself and my family down...”
You have no reason to feel guilty or ashamed for having an abortion and you should not feel like you have done anything wrong. You are the expert in your own life, and you tried to make the best possible decision at the time.
If you are feeling guilty, it might be helpful to look back at your reasons for choosing to terminate the pregnancy and the circumstances at the time. These reasons can tell you a lot about what you really valued at the time of your decision.
Ask yourself if those reasons still hold true for you. If they do, then you may need to explore further what feels unresolved for you. In other words, what is left over from your experience that you haven’t sorted out in your mind? Ask yourself what action you would need to take to resolve this and how you can learn from this experience. Ask yourself whose beliefs or values or standards you are judging yourself by. Are these things you stand for, or do you stand for something different?
The last step to coping successfully with guilt is to learn to forgive yourself. This can be difficult for some people and it will depend on what you say to yourself and do for yourself.
Some support agencies and people that you talk to may tell you that having an abortion makes all women feel extremely guilty afterwards. This is not true. Ongoing major emotional distress after an abortion is rare.
It is important not to punish yourself. If you continue to feel guilty or bad about yourself because of your decision to have an abortion, it may be helpful for you to consider seeking professional counselling and support.
“I feel angry with myself for not using contraception...I feel angry with my partner because he pushed me to have an abortion...I am angry with my parents for not supporting me…I feel angry with myself for allowing others to make me feel like I had no choice…”
Some women may feel angry about aspects of the complex situation surrounding their unplanned pregnancy. It can be useful to recognise your anger and to explore the underlying issues.
Identifying where the anger is coming from may help you know how to express your feelings and how you can then move on from the experience. A good place to start might be to consider who you are angry with, what they did that led you to feel angry, how you responded to them at the time and how things are between you now.
If you are angry at someone else, try to think of constructive ways to communicate your anger to that person, so that it is heard and understood. Being aware of your anger, and expressing it and communicating it respectfully, may ease the intensity of your feelings.
Anger can be transformed into positive, constructive emotion, or it can be held on to and continue to cause you and other people pain. Explore some ways of expressing your anger safely that ensure no one gets hurt, including you. Some women find it helpful to scream in a place where no one can hear them, to punch a pillow or to exercise vigorously. Only you will know what works for you.
If you are angry at yourself, cconsider what you might want to do differently if you face the same problem again. Identify the steps you can take now to be able to act differently in future.
Occasionally after having an abortion, a woman can sometimes think that she made the wrong choice. She may wish she had not terminated the pregnancy.
Regret is an emotion that a woman can experience more often when the decision to terminate was extremely difficult to make or was influenced by pressure from a partner or other family member. The woman might have felt rushed by others or had not given herself enough time to make an informed decision.
Sometimes regret is expressed by asking “If only I had…” While it is important to acknowledge any negative feelings that you might have, it is also important to challenge yourself: what would the parenting role really have looked like? What would the adoption process have been like for you, now and in the future? Can you think of any positive outcomes from having an abortion? How have you grown during this experience?
Think about your negative feelings, are they all in relation to the decision to have an abortion? Is it possible that some of those negative feelings are related to other issues, such as relationship problems, life changes, unsupportive family, societal stigma or difficulty dealing with life issues in general?
Seek help if you need it. Speaking with a counsellor can be one of the most effective ways of allowing yourself to accept your decision.
The decision to terminate a pregnancy can be complex and may be influenced by many factors, including a woman’s values, beliefs, relationships, work and study goals, financial stability, age, existing family size and cultural background. This decision may also be the first major decision that a woman has to make in her life, and can mean making some other major decisions about what she wants for her future and how she feels about her life so far. Such a decision can seem overwhelming and many women comment that they wish the decision wasn’t in their hands.
However, you can choose how to view the decision and its impact on your life. Rather than being overwhelming, the decision to end a pregnancy can also be experienced as empowering. You can choose to see that this decision is yours alone. Instead of this being an isolating experience, you can choose to see that it allows you a level of control over your life and your body that may not have previously existed for you.
The process of making a decision on an unplanned pregnancy offers a woman the opportunity to reflect on if she’s content with her relationships and the support that she has been given, if she’s satisfied with her work or study and how much these things mean to her, if she’s happy with the way her friends and family have treated her in the past and have supported her with her decision and if her values and beliefs hold true for her and give meaning to her life.
This process of evaluation, while stressful, can help you to make changes that can improve your quality of life. It is important to also remember that any decision regarding an unplanned pregnancy, not only a decision to have an abortion, can be empowering if the decision is yours.
The most important thing to remember is that you may experience a range of emotions after the abortion, but that does not necessarily indicate that you made the wrong decision.
Be mindful of the hormonal changes that your body is going through and how these experiences can unsettle you and make you tearful for a few days. If you are finding yourself struggling with your emotions after your abortion, here are a few tips that might help you feel better.
Telling someone you trust
Because of the societal stigma that is placed on abortion, some women choose to keep their abortion a secret. They fear judgement or believe that it is ‘only’ a personal experience. It is your choice who you want to tell and when the right time is for you to do so.
The potential benefits of talking about your experience are feeling heard and validated; receiving support in coping; finding meaning in your experience; being able to process the experience so you can move on. Not talking about your abortion might mean that you bottle your feelings up instead of working through them. If you are not sure whether someone is going to be supportive of you, try asking them generally about abortion or maybe mention a news article you saw to sound them out beforehand.
Alternatively, if you really want to keep it a secret from those closest to you an option available is to call Children by Choice or another all-options counselling service and talk in confidence with one of our counsellors. You don't even have to give your name.
Talking to a complete stranger about how you are feeling may help you release emotions or thoughts that need to be expressed and that will help you adjust and move on.
If you're in Queensland, you can call Children by Choice on 07 3357 5570 or toll-free on 1800 177 725.
Identifying your strengths
Negative feelings about an event or issue can sometimes obscure our strengths and blind us to our learnings. Try focusing on your strengths and your personal resources. Think about the ways you have used them to work through difficult life challenges in the past. See how you can apply those same strengths to your current circumstances to help you cope with your negative feelings. Ask yourself what you have learnt about yourself and realised about your hopes for the future that you did not know so clearly before.
Doing things that make you feel good
Ask yourself what is happening when you feel good. Are you alone or with people? Who are you with and what are they doing or saying? What are you doing or saying? How is this different to when you are feeling sad, guilty or angry? Are you alone or with other people? What are they doing or saying? What are you doing or saying?
By comparing your feelings in these different situations you can challenge yourself to do things that make you feel good more often. It is also okay for you to accept that sometimes you will feel down, but by choosing to take care of yourself and do things you enjoy, you will feel more positive and capable of dealing with your emotions when they arise.