Living in Colour: Recovering After an Abortion
By: McKenzie Hahn – http://www.faithbeyondbelief.ca/
For those who are trying to put their lives back together months or years after an abortion, and can’t seem to get that grasp on life that they had beforehand: I understand. My own abortion 6 years ago did not get me that shiny, happy ending that I was promised in the counseling room at the clinic. I thought I would go on living as if I was, indeed, never pregnant. And I did…until I saw the abortion images two years later. The gravity of what I had done hit me like a truck, and I felt what would be described to me later as two emotions – guilt, and underneath that, grief.
Of course, my emotions hadn’t made sense immediately afterwards. I rode the high of relief as long as possible. I ignored the bad feelings and minimized them, thinking that I had aborted “early enough” to not really be dealing with anything worth grieving over. But we can only live that way for so long before we start limiting the amount of emotions we may feel to avoid feeling bad. As a result, I began to live in a neutral zone where the full rainbow of emotions and their expressions simply don’t exist. I turned off. I shut down, and lived in a grey no-man’s land, often in punishment where I became my own functional saviour responsible for the redemption of my situation.
Maybe you are feeling the same way, maybe you are a pro-life Christian now and don’t know how to not feel like a hypocrite. To you let me say: you will ALWAYS be the parent of your baby. ALWAYS. And they need to be grieved, for their sake and for yours. If we don’t grieve, we deny their humanity a second time, and refuse to live the life that Christ calls us to. Here are a few ways to do that:
1. Rest in forgiveness. At the first sound of the word grief, my hackles immediately went up. “Grieve?! But I’m responsible!”
What I needed to do was to rest in real forgiveness – not the kind that depends on what you “deserve”, you approving of abortion, excusing it, minimizing it, denying it, or feeling sorry for yourself in punishment. Rather, what I needed was to know that forgiveness was something I embraced because I was guilty. This particular presentation changed my life and understanding of bitterness and forgiveness: www.youtube.com/watch?v=SPNmzeoAWRI&list=PLNpxu2hC80H0ER5gPpzKWDKMfFhciWfk3.
Some of you may not be Christians, and in that case, I encourage you to read a lot on the Christian worldview to understand why biblical forgiveness is such a powerful truth that will free you.
2. Tell a trustworthy friend, or better yet, a counselor, what you’re going through. I fought this one – hard. And I didn’t want to seem weak or vulnerable so I tried to hide how much I was falling apart. But if you are like me, you will most likely come to a place where you cannot express what you are thinking or feeling, and you will get angry. You might think that you can fake it alone, but this means you need someone to walk through it with you. It’s better to do this early and give them a heads-up rather than spring it on someone in the middle of the deep pain. They need to be someone compassionate who’s also okay with not being able to fix someone else’s pain.
3. Have a safe space to process things, and allot time to think and grieve. Setting aside even ten minutes each day to just be safe, kept me from losing it. Doing that prevented me from melting down in a grocery store once because I knew I could curl up on my couch later. It seemed silly at first but I appreciated it later.
4. Get to know your triggers and decision-making process. A trigger is something that connects you back to your abortion experience and causes unpredictable emotional reactions. In a hurting mental state, it’s best to avoid these for the time being so you can focus your energy getting to the roots of your reactions rather than just reacting. I found mapping out my life and all its major events helpful in seeing how I react to things.
5. Kill your ego. Grieving is messy. It’s supposed to be. You will also be asked to do things in counseling that will seem silly at first which you will think are brilliant later. Stay open, and go in with as few expectations as you can manage. It will make the grieving process even harder if you resist it out of pride.
6. Find a solid post-abortive ministry. Mine was the Calgary Pregnancy Care Centre, where I met other women who had made the same decision. We worked through “Living in Color” by Jenny McDermid, which helped me grieve. While there were parts I didn’t like, and would have appreciated a bigger emphasis on objective truth, I found this incredibly helpful and healing as my understanding of what actually led to my choices (not how I wished I made them) and watched my beliefs about my abilities – and my relationship with my aborted daughter – changed and transformed.
7. Buy Kleenex, then find something physical to do to let off steam in a healthy way, and get materials to be creative. Blank paper, canvas, crafting materials, markers, pens, paint, camera. You’ll need all of these at some point.
8. Learn how to grieve. You are allowed to grieve your child. It’s that simple. This will mean relearning colors of emotions like red-hot anger, deep blue sadness, warm affection, sickly fear, overcast doubt, bright and shiny eagerness, painful hurt, giddy happiness, grey boredom, multicolored confusion, black disappointment, and heart-wrenching sorrow, and you will need healthy channels to express them. Your safe place will be a helpful resource during this time.
If you consider yourself pro-choice on abortion but open-minded, please take a look at three resources:
1. The Endowment for Human Development, a site that gives facts on human biology (www.ehd.org)
2. World-class author and debater Scott Klusendorf’s amazing website which provides a powerful secular case for the pro-life view (www.caseforlife.com). For a Canadian resource, check out unmaskingchoice.ca and
3. Abortion survivor Gianna Jessen’s address to Australian Parliament (www.youtube.com/watch?v=kPF1FhCMPuQ).
If you are facing an unplanned or complicated pregnancy, please know that there are people who love and care for you, who can give you and your baby everything you both need to get through this season. The Calgary Pregnancy Care Centre http://www.pregcare.com is an outstanding resource. If you’re outside our city and reading this, http://www.optionline.org offers contacts for support in your area.
Finally, for anyone who knows someone who’s had an abortion, the above information might be some help to you. Generally speaking though, those of us who’ve faced abortion simply need your presence – to just sit and listen, to offer the above resources when necessary, to allow us to process things and not get frustrated when we feel things we don’t have words for just yet. Oftentimes it will feel like we are a black box you cannot see into, and that’s ok. The light will shine again, and with it will finally come color.