Post-Abortion Syndrome

 
(PAS) is the term used to describe a woman's inability to process the feelings of fear, anger, sadness, grief and guilt surrounding her abortion experience.   Research indicates that during the time immediately following an abortion, many women experience "psychological numbing." In order to protect their emotional stability, many women employ psychological defense mechanisms to repress any uncomfortable or disturbing feelings. As a result, many emotional reactions to abortions are delayed, sometimes for more than 5 or 10 years.

 

Guilt
This is what men and women feel when they have gone against what they believe is morally right. A woman who believes that part of her identity as a woman is to protect and nurture children may find the burden of guilt relentless. Often women feel that unpleasant events which occur after her abortion have happened because "she deserved it."

 

Anxiety
Anxiety is an emotional or physical state of apprehension. It may manifest itself as an inability to relax, irritability, dizziness, pounding heart, upset stomach, headaches, worry about the future, difficulty concentrating and disturbed sleep. She may avoid things having to do with babies (baby showers, the grocery aisle where baby food is sold, etc.) In severe cases, anxiety may develop into panic attacks or agoraphobia (fear of open spaces).

 

Psychological Numbing

Many post-abortive women vow they will never again allow themselves to be put in such a vulnerable position. As a result, they work extremely hard to keep their emotions on a flat level --- without highs and lows. This greatly hampers their ability to form and maintain close bonds with others.

 

Depression/Suicide
The sense of hopelessness and utter futility, combined with the inability to find pleasure from any source, may lead ultimately to self-hatred and the desire to simply die. A few women reach the point of clinical depression, but most continue to function, while experiencing uncontrollable crying episodes, deterioration of self-image, poor motivation, some sleep, eating or sexual dysfunction, and a preoccupation with death.

 

Anniversary Syndrome

This phenomenon is a increase of painful memories around the time of the anniversary of the abortion or the projected due date of the baby annually. It is fairly common among women with PAS.

 

Flashbacks/Nightmares
A sudden disturbing re-living of the abortion episode is often reported among women who have PAS. It may be triggered in situations that resemble the abortion experience, like a gynecological exam, but some women indicate that even their vacuum cleaner, which makes a noise similar to the suction instrument used during an abortion procedure, produces the distressing flashbacks. In addition, some women may experience recurring nightmares about their aborted baby.

 

Preoccupation With Becoming Pregnant

A significant percentage of women who abort become pregnant again within one year. This desire to be pregnant again seems to represent the hope that the new pregnancy will serve as a replacement for the one which was aborted.

 

Anxiety Over Childbearing Issues


PAS may lead a woman to consider herself an unfit mother - unfit to have other children - or fearful that she may become the parent of disabled children as "punishment," or that a wanted baby may not be carried to term. She may even pressure herself to be the "World's Perfect Mother," to make up for the abortion decision, and to reassure herself she is not a bad mother.

 

Inability to Bond

A post-abortive woman may not allow herself to become attached to another developing child during pregnancy, because of the fear of loss listed above. If a woman already has other children at the time of her abortion, she may unconsciously disconnect herself emotionally from them, or, in extreme cases, abuse them because children no longer seem valuable.

 

Eating Disorders

Women with PAS sometimes develop eating disorders: large weight gain or loss may make her feel less attractive and therefore make her feel as if she is less likely to become pregnant again. A dramatic weight loss may even shut down her menstrual cycle.

 

Chemical Abuse

Alcohol and drugs often serve as a form of self-medication from life's painful realities. Unfortunately, the mental and physical complications of chemical dependency only amplify the symptoms of PAS.

 

Self Punishment

This may take the form of choosing or staying in abusive relationships, promiscuity, failure to take care reasonable medical care, or deliberately hurting herself physically or emotionally. It is possible for a woman with a abortion experience to have other symptoms such as rage, nervousness, hatred toward men or regret. Studies have found that women who abort are 25% more likely to seek psychiatric care than women with no prior abortion experience. One study noted that women have "only a 50% chance of getting over their abortion experience within 5 to 7 months." Among those who were still struggling, "none of those we were able to see at 14 months post-abortion had improved," If what you have read sound like you, or someone you know, please call us.

What percentage of women experience some form of PAS?

anniversary (54%)

regret (69%)

nightmares (30%)

suicidal thoughts (24%)

flashbacks (61%)

rage (47%)

feeling helpless (42%)

hostility toward men (28%)

depression (98%)

guilt (61%)

bitterness (39%)

lower self esteem (54%)

 

anxiety 32%)

 

replacement baby (34%)

The early defense mechanisms are very effective in keeping painful memories away, but they consume a lot of mental energy. Eventually, if enough stress enters the life of a woman who has had an abortion, she may find herself without the ability to cope.

A variety of experiences may trigger symptoms associated with PAS. The symptoms described here may not happen all at the same time, but if a woman experiences any of them, we can help.

 

"Identifying and Overcoming Post Abortion Syndrome," by Paul Reisser, M.D., and Terry Reisser, M.S. Sources: Psychological Reactions Reported After Abortion, The Post Abortion Review, Vol 2., No. 3 1995, Elliot Institute, Open Arms, National Office PO Box 9292 Colorado Springs, CO 80923 , "Psychological Sequelae of Therapeutic abortion in Young Unmarried Women," Judith Wallerstein, Archives of General Psychiatry, Vol. 27 1972

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