This guide is a companion to the Pregnancy Options Workbooks distributed by the Ferre Institute, Inc., and is also available online at www.pregnancyoptions.info.
Writing and concept: Peg Johnston and Terry Sallas Merritt
We appreciate the feedback of the following reviewers. However, the accuracy and opinions are those of the authors.
Charlotte Taft, Imagine Counseling
Claire Keyes, Allegheny Reproductive Health Center
Rabbi Bonnie Margulis, Director of Clergy Programming, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
Jamie Hecker, Preterm, Cleveland
Anne Baker, Hope Clinic for Women
Teresa Hornsby, PhD Drury University
Amanda Kifferly, Philadelphia Women’s Center
Rev. Rebecca Turner Faith Aloud
Laureen Batsford, Luminaries Bodywork
Rosemary W. Codding, Falls Church Healthcare Center
Copyright, 2008 by Margaret R. Johnston
Portions of this guide may be reproduced for the education of individuals. It may not be reproduced for sale or profit. For further questions, contact:
The Ferre Institute
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1. Introduction: How
to use this Guide
We often say that a decision to end a pregnancy is complex. What do we mean by “complex?” We mean that there are many factors to consider, that there are many feelings, and that it affects other people. Lots to think about!
= an exercise or reminder to be in touch with your feelings
= an example of what others have reported
= an indication this exercise may take 30 minutes or more
= a formal ritual or ceremony
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2. Post Abortion Emotional Health
Emotional health is an important part of our overall health. It allows us to cope with life’s challenges and enjoy life’s pleasures. Being pregnant can shift our perceptions of ourselves, our relationships, and the future in powerful ways, regardless of whether we give birth, have an abortion, or make an adoption plan for a child. It may surprise you to know that statistically, the risk of emotional problems is highest after a delivery (post partum depression).
Any choice can bring upheavals in our lives, strong feelings, and difficulty coping.
Some people believe that it is possible to be “traumatized” by an abortion or to suffer from what some people name, “post abortion stress syndrome.” The fact is that researchers and psychologists have not found that there is a set of symptoms after abortion we can label or link together as cause and effect. Many kinds of experience can be traumatic for a given person, including divorce, marriage, childbirth, job loss and more. Other examples of trauma include rape, physical abuse, severe illness, a war experience, an accident, disaster, or the death of someone close.
This is important too: a person who has suffered previous trauma
If you think you have a history of unresolved trauma or have trouble coping in general, it may be even more important to get help from a counselor specializing in recovery from trauma. Also, if you have been diagnosed with depression, an anxiety disorder, addiction, or other mental health problem, please seek the help of your mental health professional.
Risk factors include factors/experiences like the following that may continue to trouble you:
•domestic violence or abuse;
•prior depression, anxiety disorder or other mental health problems;
• previous trauma or impaired coping due to an earlier trauma;
•opposition to the decision from someone close to you;
•extreme lack of support, including no one to talk to;
•the ending of a relationship at the same time as the abortion;
•a conflict with previous beliefs about abortion.
Ideally, addressing these risk factors ahead of time would prevent the most severe reactions, but exploring these factors is certainly part of healing afterwards.
Healthy Coping After an Abortion; www.abortionconversation.com/php
“Pregnancy is not a punishment from God for unapproved sexual activity, let alone for mistakes, or poor judgment. If the world were that simple, being “in trouble” would not describe a fate reserved for women alone.” Rev. George Luthringer, RCRC “Considering Abortion? Clarifying What You Believe”
.EXERCISE: What are your goals?
Let’s get started by clarifying: saying out loud and writing down what healing will look like to you.
“I want to feel good again. I want to stop hurting.”
“I want to go to school and do well.”
“I want to experience forgiveness.”
“I want to feel at peace.”
“I want to feel connected again to God, Allah, Jesus, (your own religious, spiritual power).”
“I want to feel love again for my partner.”
“I want to feel normal again.”
What do you want?
I want ___________________________________________
List as many as you like:
“Making a choice about your pregnancy can be a gift of learning and growth. It is an invitation for you to develop a larger vision of yourself. It’s a way to practice compassion and loving kindness toward yourself” Corrintha Rebecca Bennett, Abortion: Finding Your Own Truth
3. Signs that Healing is needed
What’s getting your attention?
Are you having physical and emotional symptoms? One way of knowing that we need healing is that our body won’t let us “be normal” or carry on with our usual day-to-day activities. You might be having trouble sleeping, eating, or concentrating. You might be crying, “numb” or feeling panic. These physical signs can be scary, but think of these symptoms as trying to get you to pay more attention to something. If your normal functioning is disrupted, pay attention!!
This next exercise will help you see what signs and symptoms are calling for your attention.
.EXERCISE: Getting in touch
Circle what you are feeling and experiencing:
Can’t get to sleep. Wake up in the middle of the night.
Can’t wake up in the morning. Don’t want to get up.
Having nightmares. Unable to eat. Don’t have any appetite. Eating too much.
Crying a lot. Feeling “heavy hearted.” Agitated.
Anxious. Nervous. Can’t sit still. Sad/depressed.
Numb or not interested in normal activities.
Irritable or angry with others, particularly spouse or partner.
Unable to respond to my children. Fearful.
Crying or upset when I see children or babies. Distracted.
Don’t want to leave my house. Don’t want to be alone.
Don‘t want to see people, don’t feel “safe” with most people.
Hurting myself. Can’t pay attention at work/school.
Drinking too much alcohol or using drugs to cope.
If we feel “bad” we often want it to go away as soon as possible. We might think there must be a medicine that will magically make us feel better. We may even turn to alcohol, cigarettes, or other drugs to take away these feelings. Unfortunately, these temporary “escapes” from our feelings may make it more difficult to heal.
Sometimes the opposite happens. We find ourselves holding on to feeling “bad” because we don’t want to forget this experience or we are unresolved or unsure about it. If you feel “stuck” or it has been more than a few months and you are not gradually feeling better, consider getting additional help. (See Appendix B: “What’s it like to talk with someone else?”)
You may be wondering whether an anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication would be helpful in this situation. Such medications may be useful in some cases, especially if you have been previously diagnosed as being depressed or having an anxiety disorder. However, a medication will not make these feelings “go away.” You still need to work through your experience and its meaning for your life.
It is important to get enough sleep and to eat and drink, even if you feel too upset to be hungry. If these symptoms last more than a few days, ask your doctor or other health professional for some advice . Continue to take all medications prescribed for you. Please consult a doctor and/ or a counselor if you feel you need more help. You deserve peace.
Think of these feelings and physical complaints as “knocking on your door,” trying to get your attention. The more you try to ignore your feelings, the harder they try to get your attention. It can be very alarming to feel panic or not to be able to function in your regular activities. But if those feelings or symptoms get you to pay attention and start healing then they have served a good purpose. When you start acknowledging your feelings, these symptoms should improve, sometimes quite quickly.
How do you normally cope with a stressful experience? If you usually try to work it out by yourself, or “just try to forget about it,” this particular experience may be more than you can handle in that way. If you usually talk to many friends or family members about your feelings but can’t this time because you feel they will judge you, then you will have a harder time until you find people you feel safe talking to.
It may be helpful to find someone who can be a “healing partner” for you. This could be a friend, family member, partner, or a counselor. This person could be someone to talk to about all the feelings this experience and these exercises bring up for you. (See Appendix F for a “Special Note to Healing Partners”)
.Exercise : Calling on my strength
It may help to remember how you have coped with stressful experiences in the past, such as the death of a loved one, a divorce in the family, or other loss.
List some of these experiences:
What helped you get through?
Make a list here of those strengths that got you through and other strengths you have:
Make a list of what you learned from these experiences:
You may be thinking you need help getting started. One place to start is a national or local Talkline. (See Appendix B: What’s it like to talk with someone else? See Appendix A ) Another possibility is to call the clinic where you had your abortion and ask if there is a counselor available.
A Talkline, or a single session with a clinic counselor, is not a substitute for doing this work on your own or for professional counseling or therapy. However, a talk with someone who understands this experience can be a good place to begin.
Take a few moments to let all of this sit with you. Then take three deep, slow breaths and begin to think about what is now calling your attention in your daily life. You will return later and move forward. Remember, this is a process and change takes time.
“Whether we experience it or not, grief accompanies all the major changes in our lives. When we realize that we have grieved before and recovered, we see that we may recover this time as well. It is more natural to recover than to halt in the tracks of grief forever. Our expectations, willingness and beliefs are all essential to our recovery from grief. It is right to expect to recover, no matter how great the loss. Recovery is the normal way .” Judy Tatelbaum
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4. Feeling your Feelings:
Getting into the basics and a little deeper
We’ll start with an exercise that will help open up some of what you are feeling. Sometimes, we are not truly conscious of all the feelings that are swirling around inside. These next exercises will help to both identify and clarify feelings.
.EXERCISE: Feel it
This exercise will take concentration (no TV or music) for about 30-60 minutes.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, stop and come back to this exercise. At this point we are interested in naming the feelings, but not listening to any messages (Messages are things like “I made a mistake” or “I’m a bad person” or “He made me…”).
If you are having a hard time being in touch with a feeling after completing this exercise, move on the next section and then come back to the feelings exercises. Sometimes we have to explore our whole situation before we can really “feel” what is going on. And, sometimes we have to talk to someone else before we can know what we feel. Have you identified one or more “healing partners” yet?
Let’s get started.
Sit comfortably in a quiet space.
Consider each of these 5 basic emotions:
ANGRY, SAD, HAPPY, AFRAID, ASHAMED
Start with any one of these feelings. Where in your body do you feel them? Put your hand on each spot. Take at least several minutes to “feel” (fully experience) that feeling.
Repeat this exercise with any of the other feelings that are appropriate for you.
Now explore each feeling more deeply , one at a time, asking questions like the ones listed on the next page, below each feeling. To help, we have listed examples of feeling statements from other women. Fill in the blanks if they apply to your life. Or, if the examples are not exactly right for you, write what you feel.
“It’s good to tell one’s heart”. Native American Proverb
. EXERCISE: Explore each feeling
Fill in the blanks if they apply to your life. Or, if the examples offered are not exactly right for you, write what you feel.
EXAMPLES: Below each feeling, you’ll see some common responses that other women have reported. Your situation may be a little different. Circle those that are true for you. Write a little about your feelings if you like:
What are you angry about?
That you got pregnant when you didn’t want to
That birth control failed
That you can’t afford a child or another child
Who are you angry at?
Yourself, for _______________________
Your partner or spouse (name), _____________ for _______________
Your family (name), _______________ for ______________________
______________________ for ______________________________
What thoughts bring tears or make you want to cry?
What’s the hardest part of all this?
Who is being especially helpful to you?
Who is loving and supporting you?
Can you find spiritual comfort in your faith or God?
Write a little about this:
What blessings are in your life now?
Write a few words about these blessings:
What are you afraid of?
Never feeling “normal” again
Fear of being punished, going to hell
Fear that something bad will happen to you or your loved ones
Are you worried that you are a bad person?
Or that someone would think less of you if they knew you had an abortion? Who?
Do you feel you did something shameful? What?
Does the sexual experience that lead to getting pregnant make you feel ashamed?
Does sexual activity in general make you feel ashamed?
Is there shame about abortion?
About not choosing to parent this child at this point in your life?
Write a little about the shame and where you might have learned this:
Take another full minute or more to review and consider each feeling.
Remember, each feeling is a “clue” or a piece of what you need to understand.
Think of each feeling as a gift to your understanding of yourself and your life.
You have spent a good amount of time on this healing work today. Stop now and begin to think about what you need to get back to in your life. Maybe you have time to have a cup of tea or a glass of water, or maybe you need begin some errands or house chores. Your healing has begun. You can return tomorrow or when you are able, to work some more. Remember, this is a process and it takes time.
Feeling your Feelings
Welcome back. Our last exercise worked on identifying some basic core feelings. This exercise will help you name and explore some of your more complicated feelings.
Remember, every person’s experience is unique. Maybe you are having all of these feelings or only a few. Work on what is yours.
Now we are going to further “name” some of these feelings:
. Exercise : Circle ALL that you feel
scared, confused, overwhelmed, confident, stupid,
uncertain, unreal, panic, numb, guilty, comfortable,
anxious, relieved, trapped, strong, embarrassed,
like crying, selfish, resolved, grieving, relaxed,
peaceful, alive, lost, disappointed, alone, worried,
other ____________ ____________ ____________ ____________
NEXT : Write down each emotion that you are having on a separate sheet of paper.
Then, on each sheet of paper, write a little more about all the things you think about when you feel that emotion. What does it bring up about yourself? about others in your life?
Fold up each piece of paper and put them in a safe place.
Some people like to collect things relating to this experience in a special box. If so, write one or more feelings on a separate sheet of paper or cardboard and keep it in a safe place.
You have spent some time exploring deeper and more complicated feelings. Sometimes, deeper feelings bring up a great deal for us to look at. If this is true for you take some slow deep breaths. Give yourself time to reflect on what you have discovered.
Now take a minute to think about what is calling your attention in your daily life today and ease back into what you need to do. Maybe you have time to sit and reflect for another minute or you just need to get going. This is a process and each step brings healing forward.
5. The Factors in Your Situation
Sorting out the complexity
What are the parts of your complex experience?
Each pregnancy decision is different. This decision was about your life situation, your past, your future hopes and dreams –all that and more. In this next exercise, you will revisit how you came to make the decision for abortion.
. EXERCISE: My Own Experience
Think back to how you made the decision to end your pregnancy. Write the story of your pregnancy decision, from your missed period or the pregnancy test until now. Include the people who were part of the decision and whether they were helpful or not. Include all the things you thought about.
Write the story of your pregnancy here.
This next exercise is longer and may take 30 minutes or more of your concentrated time. Do you have time to focus on this right now? Maybe you just have time to read over the exercise and then come back and do the work a little later. Maybe you could make an appointment with yourself for a time when you can really give attention to this exercise. Giving yourself the time you need helps the healing process.
Now, think about the individuals, life circumstances and dreams that were factors in your decision.
. EXERCISE: What were the factors in my decision?
First, to help you get started, we have listed some factors other women have considered in their decisions. Read over these factors and circle any of the sample factors below that were part of your decision-making. You may also add some factors that are not listed here.
Use your own words.
EXAMPLES: First, some examples of different factors that might have been true for you:
The “could have been” child
Sense of Self
The “could have been” child. One writer* describes how women have mental conversations with their pregnancies or the “could be” child. They talk about whether they are ready or able to care for the child, what is important to them, like school, job, other children, their physical or mental health. Sometimes they talk about how they want to be a mother when they can be more responsible, care better for a child, have more to give, etc. (*Leslie Cannold in The Abortion Myth, 1998 Wesleyan University Press)
Did you have these kinds of conversations while you were deciding? If so, what did you say to your “could be” child?
What would you like to say to that “child” now?
Partner/Husband/Boyfriend. Usually, a decision about having a child involves a potential father and whether he can commit to YOU, a family, or to another child.
How involved was this man in your decision? Enough? Not Enough? Too much?
What would have been better?
How did he influence your decision?
How was he supportive of you before the abortion?
During the experience?
Did you feel pressured one way or another by him? How? What did he say or do?
If you wanted him to tell you what to do, or accept more responsibility for the decision, how did you explain that to him?
Have you experienced violence or emotional abuse with this person?
Do you fear him now?
No one deserves to be hurt or abused. Get help. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline for resources in your community
Children. If you have children, then their needs were probably an important part of your decision. Children are a big responsibility and they need us to look after them.
If you are already a parent, how were the needs of your children a factor in your decision?
What are their needs?
Write about their needs, including medical conditions or special needs you considered?
Family. For many of us, especially if we are young or live with our parents, our families play a big factor in our decisions. Sometimes we look to them for support. Sometimes they tell us what they think, or even push us into a decision, without considering our reasons or feelings. Families are complicated.
Did your parents or other family members influence your decision? How?
Did their needs factor into your decision? How?
Who was disapproving of you or opposing your decision?
What did he/she say or do?
Who did you think might have been disapproving or disappointed if they had known about it?
Who was supportive of your decision?
What did they say or do? (How did they show you their support?)
Who did you hope would be supportive?
If they were not, how do you feel about that?
Stability. Being stable enough to be responsible for a child might mean being financially prepared or it might mean being able to be there emotionally for a child. Sometimes we get pregnant when we are too young or when we are emotionally distressed. We might have a condition like an anxiety disorder or depression or other mental condition that needs to be treated before we will feel emotionally stable. We might be struggling with an addiction like alcoholism that needs all of our attention.
What “stress” were you experiencing at the time you decided to end your pregnancy?
What does being stable mean for you?
If you want children someday what are your hopes about getting to a place where you might be able to parent a child?
Are you working with a medical or mental health professional to get more emotionally stable? What advice are you getting from that person?
Religion/Spirituality. Our religious or spiritual beliefs can be a great comfort at this time. Or, we can find that this experience goes against what we have been taught or thought we believed. Many of us turn to our faith or religious leaders and community for guidance, support and, sometimes, for forgiveness.
For many communities of faith, abortion is a difficult issue. Within your faith or religion you may have been taught that abortion is wrong, as well as sex outside of marriage, and even birth control. Many faiths teach that the conscience of the individual, with Divine guidance, is supreme. If you carefully examine your conscience and then decide abortion is the most moral act you can do, your faith may well support you. Even if your faith specifically forbids abortion, there still may be great compassion or forgiveness for those who feel that the best decision is to end the pregnancy.
The pro-choice religious community has a deep respect for the value of potential human life and an equally deep commitment to women as responsible, moral decision makers. Sometimes what we hear in our place of worship does not recognize the complexity of pregnancy decisions or match the profound love and forgiveness that is a core belief of most religions. So, it may be helpful to you to actually look at the words in your religion’s guiding writings or talk to someone knowledgeable.
If you are troubled by your spiritual or religious beliefs, you may need to explore your faith and beliefs more deeply until you can find a more comfortable place to be.
See Appendix F, Resources and www.pregnancyoptions.info/pregnant.htm#12
How do you think your abortion decision was supported by, or in conflict with, your faith or beliefs?
Did you get advice from a member of the clergy?
What did he/she say?
How do you feel connected to or separated from, your Higher Power, God, the Divine, your Creator?
Are you worried about going to Hell, being punished, suffering bad Karma or that something bad might happen as the result of this abortion choice?
What do you fear might happen?
Do you feel the need to be forgiven by someone or a power outside of yourself?
Write a sentence or two about this.
How does your religion teach you how to find forgiveness?
Do you think that you have the right to make decisions about life?
If not, who should make the decision? Write a sentence or two about this.
Are you able to see the good in yourself? Or are you worried that you are a bad person or selfish? Write a sentence or two about this and about what “selfish” means.
Do you feel that this decision supports your respect for life or means you don’t respect life?
Write a sentence or two about this.
Sense of Self. “I don’t feel like myself.” “I don’t know who I am anymore.” How do you feel about yourself? Sometimes an experience can make you question who you are, and your feelings about yourself.
Your questioning or self doubt might include some of these questionings:
• “Am I a good mother?” “An important part of who I am is being nurturing, being a good mother. Now I’m not so sure I am.”
•”I can’t believe I let this happen.” “I’m the person who always does the right thing!”
“I always take my pill on time.”
*”I try to live gently on the Earth and not harm other living things. Abortion seems wrong.”
•”I’m afraid others will think less of me if they know I’ve had an abortion.”
•”No one knows. I’m afraid I’ll be judged.” “I don’t know anyone else who has had an abortion.” “My parents/community (Name this person or persons if this is one of your self-questionings: ____________________) would condemn me if they knew.”
• “This goes against everything I’ve ever believed in.” “I used to be so against abortion. I feel like a hypocrite.” “I gave my friend such a hard time when she had an abortion. Now I feel bad.”
Do you have other concerns or self-doubts? Write them here:
It’s good to get these thoughts out of our heads and on paper so we can really take a look at them see how real they are.
. Now, What are the most important factors for you?
This last part of the exercise reminds you of the complex nature of your decision.
The “could have been” child
Sense of Self
Others I listed:
Write the 3 factors here:
As you take a look at all the factors that you considered in your decision, you can see why it is important to look at all the separate parts in order to be able to move forward in a healthy way. This is hard work. Take a minute now to think about getting back to the needs of your life right now. It’s good to take few slow breaths, drink a glass of water and go back to the needs of the day. You’ve done a lot of good healing work today.
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There are a lot of negative messages in our culture about women and their pregnancy choices. So you may have to work hard to challenge these and create messages that are both true and healing. And you probably need help and support.
You may have noticed some negative words, statements, or ways of describing you or your decision in the last exercise. These negative messages do not help you heal or move you closer to ‘coming back into your life.’ We will gradually find new messages that help healing and leave the negative messages behind.
This next exercise has 3 parts. It could very easily take you 30 minutes to over an hour to really think about and write down all the messages you might be telling yourself or hearing from others. If you have a “healing partner” he or she might be especially helpful about hearing what you can’t always hear. This is an important step because, as we know, healing happens from the inside out. You may see a need for a break after the first two parts.
As before, make sure you give yourself enough time to review and complete this exercise. If not right now, make a plan of when would be a good time.
. Exercise : What am I hearing about myself?
In this 3-part exercise, you will look at all the messages about yourself that you are receiving from your own “head” and what you are hearing from others, and then write some new messages that are more positive and healing.
Part 1: Internal Messages: What are you telling yourself about yourself?
Let’s start with the difficult and often hurtful negative messages. What are some of the negative messages inside your head?
Review what you wrote about the factors in your decision in the last section. Choose one – or more – of the most important factors. Write them in the space provided after the examples offered on the next page. Then, write 1- 3 sentences about what is troubling you in the space below. If the factors in your decision are not listed in the examples below use some blank paper to write your sentences. Your messages to yourself might be like these:
FACTOR: My parents forced me to do this.
FACTOR: I was already a single parent, struggling to care for my child.
. Now, you write out one of the actual factors you circled in the last section.
Then, write down 1- 3 negative messages you are hearing connected with that factor – just like in the examples above. If you feel like doing more, choose another factor you circled, or as many of the factors as you want. Write 1 – 3 negative messages you ‘hear’ in your head about those factors.
Messages I hear in my head:
Messages I hear in my head:
Messages I hear in my head:
Note: You may be hearing some positive messages too. If so, great! Write them down here and we will look at them in the next section.
Part 2: External Messages: What are you hearing from others?
Now, think about the messages others in your life are sending you. Maybe they say them out loud; maybe you ‘just know.’
Our society is in deep conflict about abortion right now, so there are many negative messages you might hear. Even those close to you may send you negative messages. It may help to identify the people and write the message you are hearing from them here.
Examples that other women have reported:
. Here are some sentences to finish that will also tell you some of the things our society tells us that may bring out some of the negative messages you hear.
"Girls/Women who have abortions are___________________
Sex before marriage (or outside of marriage) is ___________________
Girls/women who have sex before marriage are _________________
Girls/Women who have sex for reasons other than having children are_______________
. Now, write what messages other people are sending to you. Include who is saying what. (If you are hearing some positive messages, GREAT! Write them down and we will look at the in the next section.)
Part 3 Healing Messages: Writing new messages for yourself
Sometimes, new words are needed. This is particularly true in coping with an abortion experience. You may not feel able to talk about this experience with others, or it may be misunderstood by some people. To resist the negative messages that we are hearing, we need to create some new positive messages for ourselves that are both true and healing.
We’re going to create new messages that remind you of your own goodness and help you to accept your own human-ness, even your own “imperfection.” In this part of the exercise, you may want to include someone else who can help you remember the good in you and help you think of new messages for your healing.
You will want to consider your own compassion. You may want to look at how forgiving you are of others. You can offer that same compassion and forgiveness to yourself. It takes strength and courage to refuse to accept the negative messages our culture often holds for women and their choices.
To get you started, we have listed some of the negative messages from the first part of this exercise and offered suggestions to create more positive messages for yourself. Try these on.
Write your own responses under the examples, if they apply to you.
Remember, as you work through these examples, everyone is different. For some, all of these and more are true. For others, only one or two seem right. And, for many, there are additional messages we have not provided an example for. These are here just to get you started. Take what you need from these examples and write your own responses based on your experience.
Take the time to think about your goodness. Positive messages will help you heal. This exercise may be the hardest - and the most important! You deserve peace.
Example: . “I feel like a bad person. How can I be a good person again?”
First of all, a truly “bad” person would not even ask this question!! So, remember all of the ways you have been good in your life. Also remember, that in making this decision you chose what you thought was best for everyone involved, including a potential child.
Does one act, even a serious one, mean that all the good things you have done and will do in the future don’t count? What do you think?
What are the qualities that make you a good person?
Do you still have them?
Example: “I did it for him. Now he’s gone and I’m left alone.”
All relationships involve some give and take. It is also true that there may be a limit to what you can do because someone else wants you to. It’s important to find your own balance of what you need and what you can give. This kind of knowledge comes from experience—knowing what you can give and what you cannot is something everyone needs to learn over and over again.
Do you feel like you gave up too much for him? Specifically, what ways do you “give up” too much of yourself for other people?
Imagine that this man was not part of the situation at all, what would you have done about this pregnancy?
Sometimes, we see that saying “no” to someone close is saying “yes” to ourself. How could you see that happen in the future?
In what ways did you agree with the abortion decision?
Is there a message you can take for the future that will help you and also shows belief in yourself?
Example: “I was forced into this decision by (person) _________.
How can I continue?”
Being forgiving toward another is not easy, especially if that person does not admit to pressuring you. Ultimately, you may need to forgive so that you can move on, but it make take some time. It must come when you are ready.
If you are totally dependent on this person you may feel that you don’t have many choices in life, including choosing to parent a child.
If this person is responsible for you, what was the reason he/she gave for wanting you to have an abortion (even if you don’t agree with it)?
How can you forgive this person for not letting you make your own decision?
What do you need from him or her?
Would an apology help? Can you ask for that?
What part of you agreed with the decision? (In the U.S. you cannot be legally forced to have an abortion, even if you are a minor (under legal age). What prevented you from leaving the clinic? Or, what made you stay?
If you are the partner, wife, or girlfriend of the person you feel forced you to have an abortion, in what ways did you go along with the decision?
What would you have lost if you had refused?
Were you able to tell him what you really wanted? Can you tell him now? Write the words you could use to tell him what you really wanted.
What was your reason for accepting the decision?
What can you learn for the future so that you don’t feel “forced” into anything else?
Example: “How can I be forgiven?”
This message often sounds like: “How can God forgive me?” “How can the baby forgive me?” “How can I forgive myself?”
Forgiveness from God: Most faiths believe in a forgiving and compassionate God or Divine. Often, speaking directly through prayer or contemplation is in order. Sometimes we can find peace with our God, but still have problems with our clergy or other people in our religious community .
How have you asked your Creator, God, Allah, Brahma or your Higher Power for forgiveness? Write out your thoughts or prayer:
Write what forgiveness might sound like coming from God or your Higher Power:
Forgiveness from the “baby”: Many women find that in “talking to the spirit of the pregnancy” they can feel forgiven. Some women say that they felt the “child spirit” understood their reasons for not bringing them into the world at this time. One woman reported that her child spirit said to her in a meditation, “It’s, OK, mommy, I am a spirit, I can come back in any form.”
Do you think that the baby/pregnancy had a soul or spirit?
Where do you think the baby’s spirit or soul went after the abortion?
Can you ask for forgiveness if you feel you need it? What words might the baby’s spirit use to express compassion or forgiveness? Write out how this request might sound:
Forgiving yourself: The hardest person to forgive is often yourself. One question to ask is: “If your best friend was in the same situation as yours, do you think she could be forgiven?”
Why do you think you are not deserving of forgiveness?
Write out how a request or intention to forgive yourself might sound:
Do you—or your friends—consider you a “perfectionist?” Can you accept that all humans, including yourself – are imperfect and make mistakes?
If only being perfect will do, you may need more help from a trained counselor to feel “good enough”, to feel “worthy”. See Appendix A, What’s it like to talk with someone?
Example: “How can I feel good about my life again?” “I had the perfect life before and now I can’t seem to get it back.”
Every major life decision changes us and challenges us to look at our lives. We often say that pregnancy decisions can be “transformative.” This means that we have to look at our lives in new ways and decide about life and whether we can be responsible for new life. In many ways you are the same person as before. But in some ways you are different.
What ways are you the same?
How are you different?
How is your ‘difference’ now a part of you, of your life, as you move forward?
What good has come from this experience?
Example: . “I’m ashamed. If anyone found out about the abortion, I would be ruined.”
37% of all women of reproductive age have had, or will have, an abortion. This 1 in 3 number includes people you know.
However, not many people talk about an abortion experience so we don’t get to see how good women can make this hard decision. When something remains a secret, it can “eat away” at us. Yet, finding a safe person you can trust may not be easy.
When it is mentioned on TV or in magazines abortion is often used as a political issue to divide people. When you are open to telling your story and listening to others’ experiences you will find that the reality of people’s experiences with abortion is very different than the way our culture talks about it.
For some suggestions on reading other people’s stories and how to start conversation, see Appendix F, Resources.
What statement (s) could you write about the courage of this decision?
About your courage?
Example: .“I have sinned.” “I deserve to be punished.”
You may find it interesting to learn that in Hebrew, the original language of the Bible, the word “sin” means to “miss the mark.” Does this feel different than “sin” as you understand it? How have you missed the mark and how can you live up to your standards in the future?
Atonement (making amends) is the word many religions use for acts that can lead to forgiveness. For instance, Catholics make confession and the priest tells them what to do to be forgiven. In Islam, it is common to fast (go without food) for a period of time. In other belief systems, you are required to find ways to “make it right” by your actions or words.
If you feel that you need to atone for a sin, how does that happen in your faith?
How can you atone (become “at-one” with your faith)?
If you feel you should be punished, what should be your punishment?
What good result would come from being punished?
How would that affect your relationships?
Write a statement of compassion and forgiveness for yourself as if you were in charge of forgiveness:
Remember when you wrote a response to:
What are the qualities that make you a good person? (See earlier exercise)
Go back and look at these and re-write them here.
Example: “I just feel so sad, like I lost something.”
Sadness can sometimes be overwhelming, until we explore it and say what we have lost. Sometimes it is not exactly what we thought. For instance, for some women who are a little older, it may be about entering a new phase of life and a new way of thinking about motherhood. For some it may be about not being able to be financially or emotionally stable enough to have a (or another) child. It’s important to look beyond the loss of a pregnancy, a baby. What else are you losing? It’s important for you to acknowledge this loss both to yourself and to others. Then, it is possible to find a way to grieve it and “honor the loss .” (see Appendix F on ritual) This might be a good exercise to explore with a healing partner.
What do you feel you have lost?
How have you grieved other losses?
Do you feel you deserve to grieve this loss?
What would grieving look like in this situation?
. EXERCISE: Your positive messages to yourself
If the above examples are not exactly what your experience is truly like, write a new and positive message to yourself. Or, review what you just wrote under the examples and pick a few messages that apply to your situation. If you noticed any messages that were already positive also write them here:
You have done some challenging work in this exercise. Look back at your list of good qualities and read them aloud to yourself. Read aloud any of your positive statements. Now it’s time to take some slow deep breaths and re-connect with your everyday life.
Take some time before you go on to the next section. You might want to write down these new messages you just wrote for yourself as separate notes to yourself. Re-read these frequently over the next few days or weeks as you continue your healing journey.
Choice is a dialogue with the being who may come to life through our body. We can do no more than to bring our awareness to this sacred conversation. Something is learned from every life and every death. Choice gives us freedom, and choice asks us to accept what we have done.” Melanie Ermachild
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If you are ready, let’s move forward to getting your new healing messages into your life.
In this exercise, you will take a look at the realities of your life in a new way. It will probably not take as long as the last exercise.
. EXERCISE: Making new positive messages part of your life
As you begin to figure out what is troubling you, and finding ways to go forward, you will begin to heal. When you start to feel some progress you will return to the good parts of your life.
Take stock of your life.
Who needs you? Who do you care for?
What is in your life now that feels good for you? What feels healing and empowering?
What moves you forward, even a little?
If you were back in your life and felt good about yourself, what could you give to others?
Look at what you wrote in previous exercises, especially those messages that are positive, forgiving, healing, and compassionate. Now choose one or two new messages to yourself that will address what is troubling you and help you ‘come back into the world’:
As a human being I am sexual and I also need to protect myself.
I can let myself feel sad about not being able to have this baby. It doesn’t mean I am bad.
I am a good person and a good mother and I made the best decision I could for my life.
God knows what’s in my heart.
Now, write down your new messages on a separate piece of paper and post it where you will see them easily and frequently. Re-read them often over the next few days or weeks. Get your healing partner to E-mail them to you or leave a message on your answering machine or cell phone. OR, try reading them to yourself as you face yourself in the mirror. Or, choose another Affirmation Word that might help you and other Helpful Healing Ideas, section 11.
You have done some great work in this exercise. It’s time to take some slow deep breaths before you re-connect with your everyday life. Look back at your list of who is important in your life. Call one of them now and tell them. Or, do something for someone who needs you. Take some time before you go on to the next section and give these new messages time to ‘set’.
“A place of refuge is not a hiding place – it is a place of self-remembering – a place where someone else sees the goodness and possibility in us before we do, and holds it steady for us, and strengthens us to be able to become it through their presence and acceptance and loving kindness” Rachel Naomi Remen, MD
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For new messages to ‘stick’, you must say them, write them, think them over and over and over. That’s how we learned our negative messages and how we will replace them with our positive messages that more accurately reflect who we really are. This is an important step toward healing. Ask your healing partner to help you hear your new positive messages.
1. Review the “new”, more positive messages you came up with for yourself in the last exercise.
2. Re-write them below, making them even more positive and simple if you can.
. Write your new, more positive messages:
3. Now, take a minute or two to think about how you feel when you hear these messages.
4. Go back to the two “feelings” exercises at the beginning (Section 4) and review what you wrote there.
Let’s look at how your feelings have shifted.
5. Write your own thoughts and feelings that have ‘shifted’ or changed here:
It’s hard to really believe new messages about ourselves. Our own upbringing, experiences, how people treat us, and the messages we get on TV and from society may be reinforcing negative messages. But, we KNOW our own truths and what makes us feel good about our lives and our world.
6. Copy out your essential message to yourself in a format you can put on your mirror, on your refrigerator, in your wallet or wherever you will see it everyday. Text message or e-mail it to yourself or ask others to send it to you.
This is an important exercise, so take a few deep breaths and plan out how you will spread your new message. Ask trusted loved ones to help you ‘get’ this new message.
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In this healing work, you are separating all of the many parts of this pregnancy decision to explore each factor. In doing that, you have seen that this was a complex decision, that your life is complex. There is no one simple answer. Healing is a process. It doesn’t mean forgetting or pretending you’re OK. It takes courage to face your life, to accept love and support from others and time to understand these changes. Most of all, it takes the desire to heal.
Other words for this kind of healing are:
Integrating the experience into your life
Incorporating, absorbing, taking in the whole experience
Getting resolution about a difficult decision
Atonement ‘at-one with’
An act of forgiveness, making amends
Support, encouragement, appreciation
Acknowledging both losses and blessings
Being able to talk about your experience with others.
. Exercise: What have you lost and what have you gained?
One way to “bring all the parts back together” is to take stock of what this experience has meant to you. What have you lost and what have you gained?
We offer some common examples to get you started. Choose as many of these that apply to your situation, add or write your own.
Write what you feel you have lost:
“I’ve lost a potential child, but also my sense of being a mother.”
“I feel separated from my religious community.”
“I lost my relationship and my trust in my partner.”
“I thought I was in charge of my life. Now I don’t feel the world is safe or predictable.”
Write what you think you have lost and found:
. I’ve lost:
Write what you feel you have found or gained:
“I think I appreciate life more—the good and bad, the ups and downs.”
“I used to see everything in black and white. Now I have more tolerance for ‘gray’.”
“I see strength in me I did not know I had.”
“I take my own goals more seriously.”
“I count the blessings of my children and family.”
“I know I will never be talked out of –or into--something so important again.”
“I know more about birth control now and how to take care of myself.”
Now , write yours below:
. I’ve found
Moving Forward, Remembering the Past
A wise woman said, “Once you are pregnant there is no way out without sacrifice. The point is to make the sacrifice worth it.”
One way to “honor” the sacrifice of this pregnancy is to go back to your original decision and let it guide you. Let’s check in briefly one more time with your decision not to continue your pregnancy. What was important or of value then, and how can you honor that now?
This is the starting point for figuring out how to honor this loss.
For instance, if you decided to finish school before becoming a mother, then you can honor the sacrifice by working hard to do the best you can in school.
If you are already a mother and didn’t want to “take away” from the children you have, find ways to appreciate quality time with them and have fun with them.
How can you make your sacrifice “worth it” or, in healing words, take meaning from this experience?
. Exercise : Finding your wisdom
As you look at the examples above, think about how you can both acknowledge your loss, and support your decision. In other words, how will you take what you have learned from this experience and make it part of your life? What wisdom have you gained?
Phrase it positively!
For example, say, “I will be more careful about protecting myself” or “I want the best for myself” instead of “I will never have sex again!”
Write as many phrases and sentences as seem right.
EXAMPLES to help you get started:
Some good will come from this experience if I can _______
I know I made the right choice so I can pay attention to ______
I will honor this loss by ____________
Now write your own way to honor your loss and remember your blessings:
This has been quite an effort and you have made a good beginning toward healing. You have done some hard work. Good for you! As you re-enter your life today, focus on all that you ‘found’ in this experience.
Honor your lost and your found with a symbolic bow and raise your head in a smile that accepts you as you are. Know you have done the best you knew how. Take a couple of deep breaths and smile as you resume today’s errands or life needs.
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Now that you have done some challenging work, you may have begun to see a difference and to feel things have changed a bit. You may find yourself taking more of an active role in your life. You may notice you are paying more attention to yourself and to those around you, taking more of an interest in life, and enjoying yourself again.
Some women find it comforting to find a way to mark their progress toward resolution after their abortion experience. (Other women may be uncomfortable with this process. Read on and trust your instincts.) This is most helpful after a period of thinking and talking about your situation. The hard work you have done with this Guide will help you know when it is time.
Pay attention to your feelings if they are telling you it is too soon for this step.
It is good to involve trusted family and friends if possible. This “ritual”, or in other words, an honoring observance of this experience in your life shows your readiness to come back into your life, return to your community, and resume relationships.
Rituals can be a formal way of acknowledging progress or moving from one stage of our lives to another. Familiar rituals include weddings, graduation, bar or bat mitzvahs, funerals, and baptisms. But many people observe other events as well: the blessing of a new house, burning of love letters from an ex-boy friend, and festivals that mark the change of seasons or celebrate an event or person.
If you are already part of a religious community (church, synagogue, mosque, etc.) you may want to speak to a supportive clergy member about making a plan for an observance. Many clergy, even those who might counsel against abortion, can offer comfort after an abortion. It may be difficult to know how your clergy member will react. We have included resources to offer him/her. (See Appendix B, Note to Clergy)
Even if you don’t involve a clergy member, you may still find comfort in certain prayers, songs, or attending your place of worship. You may want to light a candle or perform a certain ritual that has meaning for you, whether or not others are aware of your situation.
If you don’t belong to a religious community or don’t want to involve them, you can still create a ceremony that will help you observe and honor this abortion experience and the work you’ve done toward resolution.
Planning an observance
We have gathered a list of formal rituals from a variety of beliefs in Appendix E, Formal Rituals from Various Religions and Traditions. In your planning here are some ideas to think about what might work for you.
Gather objects that have meaning for you. If you kept a “memory box”, place these items inside. These might include:
• The ‘messages’ and ‘feelings’ notes you completed in earlier exercises.
• Any letters you wrote to the spirit of the pregnancy, to others, or to yourself at a different time in your life.
• A copy of the ultrasound if available.
• Prayers, poems, or quotes that are comforting to you or that express what you are feeling
• Songs or the words to songs
• Symbolic items that have meaning for you, like polished stones, flowers or other items from nature, religious jewelry.
Release and re-connect:
Most rituals tell the story of what has happened and what this meant to the individuals. They usually ask for the Divine to comfort the individuals and then “release” or “cleanse” their troubles so that the person can return to her life in the community. In this way, the separation (from God, community, or yourself) begins to heal. This is often done by a ritual cleansing, or burning or burying some of the objects.
As you look at the objects that represent the value of your experience and your new-found wisdom, you may have some words you want to say, a song to play, a poem to read, or a letter you have written. The ritual or observance should say out loud what you need to heal. For example, if you feel you need forgiveness, ask for that; or peace, or love. You will want to release the negative messages or the pain you feel so that you can live your life fully. You will want to repeat your new positive messages.
You may want to choose one object to keep with you.
This will become your reminder of all that has happened to you, and especially the wisdom you have gained. For example, some women have chosen a special stone and carry it in their pocket or set it on their dresser. In some cultures you would have an altar, or collection of symbolic items, such as photos, religious figures, notes, etc.
It may feel strange or awkward to create and perform a ritual yourself. But remember, even the oldest of rituals we know were, at one time, “made up” by someone. The purpose of such rituals is to help us notice what has happened, offer comfort, and return us to our regular lives.
If you feel stuck – take a look at some of the ways others have honored their experience in Appendix E, Formal Rituals from Various Religions and Traditions.
. What would you include in an observance?
Prayers, Quotes, Poems, Song Lyrics:
Where do you see this happening?
If you decide to move forward with your ritual of honor, write about the feelings this brought up for you. If it feels too hard, see section 11 for a simple guided meditation that may put you more at ease. Keep your thoughts and feelings in your journal or in the pages here for you to visit again.
Now it’s time to decide how much more resolution you need, both for you and for others in your life. You have accomplished a lot and deepened your understanding of your own life and actions. Read on to see if you see a need, or would like to take another step to resolution.
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11. Helpful Healing Ideas and Exercises
It is common to need help in gaining resolution. Sometimes, a good friend or trusted partner can make a great difference. Even then, it is helpful to make use of some of the tools that have helped so many. We have gathered a few that women have told us were helpful to them as they worked to begin healing. Like everything we offer, take what seems right for you and leave the rest.
1. Writing Letters and other Ways Women have Marked their Progress
Many women find that they are talking to the “spirit of the child”, sometimes out loud and sometimes in their heads. If you realize you are doing this, you are not alone. It may be useful to write your thoughts down on paper. Some women tell how they came to their decision. Some ask for forgiveness. Some thank the spirit for the wisdom or thoughts they have had about life. Some say how much they loved the idea or the hope of a baby.
In working out grief, some counselors suggest that you write another letter to the person you were at the time you made your decision. This may be especially useful if your abortion experience was a while ago. Understanding, compassion, and forgiveness might be part of what you offer the woman that you were at that point in time. Sometimes it is useful to imagine you are talking to your best friend.
Some examples of what other women have written:
I’m sorry I won’t get to see you and watch you grow. I feel very sad about this, but I think you are better off in Heaven. If you came now, it would be very hard for all of us. I hope that you can understand and forgive me. I will see you in Heaven. I love you very much. –Mom
To my little angel,
Although I say goodbye today, you will always be in my mind, heart, and soul. Please understand that this wasn't your time, because you are better off in the hands of God than mine at this moment. My own creation, you are, and forever will be, beautiful and pure. I smile when I think of you, even if I cry. You have given me reason to be strong and wise and responsible. You will always be my baby. I will see you in heaven, sweetheart.
To my younger self:
That was a hard and painful decision that you made, and a sad memory that you created. But I want you to know that sometimes the hard thing to do is still the right thing to do. You could not have given a little baby all that it needed to thrive back then. Other good things you’ve done since, and I will continue to do, would have been impossible. (list some of these). Many other possibilities may present themselves as life goes on, perhaps even another pregnancy. Thank you for your strength and courage at a very hard time, and for all that this has made possible.
"I never thought that I would get pregnant. I always did what I was supposed to do. I loved the Lord and read my word and believed in making the best decisions for my life. I am 19 and attend Howard University. I am very blessed. When I became pregnant, I just ignored it. I thought the Lord would make it disappear. For months I decided I did not want to bring a baby in this world but I was in [Washington] D.C. and I really had no immediate family to help me. I was not feeling like the spiritual person I thought I was. I was afraid to talk to people in school- I wasn't comfortable talking to them. So, I went back home. My family knew I was pregnant and helped me every step of the way to my abortion. The women at my church I attend even helped me in dealing with my feelings as well as my spiritual growth. These people helped me and some even admitted to having abortions. I felt relieved and blessed. I was blessed to know that God allows women to make decisions and we have people in our lives that reassure us that God is always there. I am blessed that I made my decision and decided to get an abortion. I am happy with my life." Hellen H. age 19
Poem written by woman at clinic just before an abortion:
Without Even Knowing You
Without even knowing you
Women’s Ways of Healing: These are actual stories of women who have told us how they have created a way to grieve, to mark their healing work back into their lives.
• Maria: “I collect enameled boxes. So I took my very favorite box and wrote a little note in it to the baby. Then my mother and I buried it in the garden. We both cried, but it really helped me.”
• Althea: “One of my favorite places to walk and to think is this old orchard near my school. So, I decided to plant a tree there --an apple tree. I’m probably moving away, so I can’t watch it grow, but in my mind, it’s growing.”
• Crys: “I had a long conversation with the spirit child that I was carrying and we decided it couldn’t be. For me, it was like throwing a star back into the sky. Sometimes I look at the night sky and think, maybe that one is my star.”
• Sharon: “It was right before Christmas when I lost my baby. So I got a Christmas ornament and every year I put it up and it reminds me of that child that couldn’t be.”
• Nadya: “I got a helium balloon and carried it around for a while. It made me happy. Then I released it and said goodbye.”
•Sharita: “When I was making my decision someone gave me a beautiful polished stone. I held it during the abortion and kept it for long while after. Then I walked down to the river one day and threw it as far as I could. I felt peaceful.”
• Courtney: “My father died a few months ago. We were very close. He always used to tell me to go down by the river and watch it go on its way to its destination, the ocean. I knew that my father was at his destination, Heaven, and that he would take care of my baby.”
• Tanya: "I had a very hard time with my decision but I thought abortion was best for me and for my baby. But it didn't mean that I didn't care. I found a pendant that had two halves of a heart. I wear one and I buried the other half to remind me that something of me was lost."
• Tran: "It was difficult for me to cry even though I felt terribly sad. Someone suggested that I take some time and just be sad. So I did. I took one whole day and wrote about my feelings, listened to some music that always makes me cry, and basically, said "goodbye". Also I didn't eat until sundown, but then my food tasted so good. Now I still think about it but it doesn't feel like I'm all bottled up."
• Suzanne : "I did a ceremony by the river. I collected some feathers and put them in a little white silk cloth, closed it with a ribbon, and threw it in the river with a white lily and a red rose. I've also sown seeds of wild flowers next to the river. This helped me feel more peaceful, to remember, but also release some of the pain, and to feel all right. My notebook also helps me."
• Shaniqua: "This may sound strange, but on the due date that would have been, I get a cupcake like it was a birthday. It's OK"
• Ashley: "I had a terrible time for about a year, then I wrote a poem to the baby and went to the highest hill around, where there would be a good wind. I read the poem out loud, then ripped it into little pieces and let the wind take it. I still grieve but it was a good thing to do.”
2. Meditation made simple:
A little about meditation:
Meditation is practiced by people in all walks of life to keep them in tune with the “here and now” and help them deal with life challenges as they come up. Mostly, meditation is finding a quiet place, sitting quietly and letting your mind rest. That’s why many people repeat a word over and over – to keep their mind from “getting busy.”
Sit comfortably in a quiet room with no TV or music on. Lace your fingers together with thumbs touching and hold them level with your belly button. Breathe slowly and deeply from your stomach, not your chest. To yourself, say the word “one” with each breath inhaled and exhaled, then “two”, etc. until you reach “fifty” or more if you want.
For healing, you may want to choose a word from the list on the previous page and repeat it while you sit quietly for a few minutes.
Guided mediations can be very helpful in understanding your situation more deeply. You may feel relaxed and more at peace. Have your “healing partner” (friend, partner, or family member) read this to you. This would be a very thoughtful and loving thing they can offer you. When reading Guided Mediations, it is important to keep your voice calm and kind.
Speak slowly and give enough time for her to feel each part.
You may want to sit quietly and extend your hands in front of you, palms facing up. Imagine each aspect of this pregnancy and abortion experience. Figuratively place each feeling of relief, goodness, wisdom, happiness that may come from being able to provide for your children or continue schooling, the smiles on the faces of loved ones who hold you in their hearts, the warmth that may come from your faith… keep remembering, and as you smile, place all such feelings into your left hand.
Now imagine the feelings you had of pain, of loss, of sadness, of other people’s opinions, of those who may also be sad …remember all such feelings that may have come with this choice. Place all such feelings into your right hand.
Breathe in deeply and as you exhale, notice your hands are able, and open, to holding all of these feelings, both happiness and sadness. And know this is true for our hearts as well. Breathe in deeply again and this time as your exhale, feel all these feelings naturally sorting themselves, as you release with honor those no longer serving you. Notice your hands are still open. So it is with your heart. And so it will be with both the joys and pains life brings.
As you breathe in, bring your hands to you heart and hold them here as you exhale.
Special Guided Meditation on Loss
Loss or grief is associated with abortion for many women. For some it may be mild. For others it may be deep. If you are having any of those thoughts, take a moment to remember how the process of deciding what to do about this pregnancy has been for you.
Can you have compassion for yourself and appreciate the love and care with which you have made this decision? You deserve understanding and comfort no matter what your choice. This guided imagery is designed to help you recognize what losses you may be feeling, and to gently release them. Give yourself permission to grieve.
Begin by getting comfortable -- lie down if you can, or at least have your head supported. Breathe deeply and slowly. Notice your breathing -- inhaling and exhaling. No need to change it.
As you breathe in, know that you breathe in everything you need to release your losses. As you breathe out, let go of anything you don’t need for this process. Notice how each breath helps you relax even more deeply. Notice how your body is resting comfortably and peacefully against the soft cushion beneath you. It is good to know that each sensation in your body helps you in becoming even more relaxed and peaceful.
Imagine a beautiful light surrounding your feet. It moves gently and gradually up and through your body and out the top of your head, leaving you feeling safe, secure, centered, and with a sense of well-being. Take your time. That’s good. (pause)
Imagine now that you find yourself in a beautiful place in nature. It may be a favorite or familiar place, or it may be a place you’ve never been before. Begin now to have a sense of this beautiful place. Notice what you see or sense around you and how it feels to be here. Know that this is your own special place Allow the sensations of being in this beautiful setting to fill your body with a joy and peace you may not have felt for some time. Just for this time, allow yourself to sink deep into that peace. (pause) That’s good.
Notice a path in front of you in this beautiful place, and begin to walk down the path. After a short way down the path it is easy to see a clearing with a campfire. Sit down in a comfortable place. Notice the sounds and smells around you.
Allow yourself to bring to mind what you have lost in this process of making this decision. You may have lost your innocence, or a relationship. That’s important to you. You may have lost trust in yourself or someone else. You may have lost the experience of yourself as a mother. You may have lost the child you chose not to have. Allow yourself to feel these losses.
Reach out and find a basket next to you. Look around this beautiful clearing and find an object that represents each of your losses. Leave the loss of the potential child for last. A loss may be represented by a feather, a stone, a branch, a flower, a leaf, or any other object you can imagine or sense around you.
Place each object into the basket. As you do that, consider each loss one by one. Take a moment to speak to each object. What is the gift that came with each loss? What are you grateful for?
Allow yourself to say goodbye and find a way to let go of each.
Release each object in your basket in whatever way is best for you.
Feel warmth as the child takes your hand. Begin to walk down the path. Feel the sun, and hear the sounds as you walk. You look down and smile. The child smiles back and you feel perfect trust between you.
You begin to speak and realize that the child understands you without words. If you need to, ask this child for forgiveness for not being able to mother this child. (pause)
Listen with your heart for forgiveness. (pause)
As you come to the end of the path, sit down in the grass and take the child into your arms. Beside you are three gifts for this spirit child.
Now hold your hands out and accept a gift from the child. It is a gift that symbolizes acceptance and forgiveness. Take this gift and place it into your heart where you can keep it forever. Now tell the child anything else you want to say. Feel the child communicate its feelings to you, heart to heart. (pause)
Now it is time to say goodbye. Open your arms and allow the child to stand, and to begin to walk away from you. Then the child turns and waves goodbye. You wave goodbye, and a blessing passes between you. The child turns again and walks down the path and slowly disappears into a bright, white light. (pause)
Feel yourself releasing the spirit of the child. When you feel complete, allow the peace to return. Touch your heart and remember the gift you have received. Gently open your eyes and sit quietly until you are ready to leave this state of relaxation and imagination. It is good to know that you can return to this beautiful place in nature any time you want to complete your healing, and you can touch your heart at any time to feel the sense of peace and wholeness you created.
3. Focusing on the Positive: Support and Affirmation Words
It is common now for many of us to choose a “word-of-the-day” that offers us inspiration or encouragement and reminds us of our goodness. You may have one of the card sets available that have such words printed on each card. Many people find it helpful—and fun—to choose a word that seems right for them. If you choose from this list, cut out the words, color or decorate them, and keep that word with you so you can view it often. Or, make your own. Place your word on your mirror or refrigerator so that you will see it throughout the day.
Grace, Wisdom, Compassion,
Forgiveness, Strength, Courage,
Self Acceptance, Goodness, Blessings,
Faith, Trust, Love,
Truth, Safety, Freedom,
Peace, Harmony, Comfort,
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How do I begin?
*Counselors, Clergy, TalkLines
It may seem that you could just talk to a friend or family member instead of a counselor. Friends and family can certainly be helpful but professional counselors are specially trained and experienced in helping people solve problems. They can help you learn new skills and understand your situation better. Also, they are separate from your everyday life and will not talk about your problems with others.
It may also seem that you don’t need to talk to a counselor—you may have told yourself that “only weak people talk to a counselor” or you can just “tough it out” or that “eventually the problem will go away.” Most people have tried to figure it out for a while before seeking help. If you have a hard time talking about feelings or personal stuff, you are not alone. It’s always hardest to get started, but usually talking to someone experienced will get you feeling better faster. This is an opportunity to get to know yourself better and to learn new skills so that you can cope better in the future. Seeking help doesn’t mean that you are “crazy!” In fact, it means you want to be as healthy as you can be. This is a sign of strength and courage, like you have shown in doing the exercises in this guide.
There are many different kinds of “counselors” or professionals who can help you with your feelings about your situation. You can expect to talk to someone in private and not to have them repeat to others what you say. This is called “confidentiality” and it is an important benefit of counseling. (The rare exception to this is if you or someone else might be in danger of being harmed. Then, a professional may have to report it to an authority to keep you safe.)
To get started, write down a short description of what’s been happening and what you hope to accomplish. An example might be: “I had an abortion. It was a complicated situation and I’ve been upset. I’d like to understand it better so I can feel normal again.” Keep this short description handy when you make the call.
Look for a qualified counselor who is skilled in “reproductive loss,” post abortion problems, or whatever you think is the most important issue. Ask for a list of counselors from your clinic or doctor, school, clergy, or a mental health agency. If you have insurance that will cover this, ask who is in their plan. You might want to talk to 2 or 3 counselors before you choose one.
A good counselor will not be biased or judge you for your situation or choices. It would probably not be in your best interests to entrust your self and your feelings to someone who does not understand the abortion experience.
Find out about the charges, and if there is some financial assistance. Insurance may pay for part of it, or an agency may have a sliding scale (like at a mental health clinic or Family and Children’s Society). There may be someone you can speak to for free at the clinic or at your school or work. Many employers have a confidential Employee Assistance Program (EAP) available.
At your first appointment you and the counselor will want to get to know each other a little. She/he will ask you some questions to get an idea of what is bothering you. “How long have you been feeling this way?” “Are you having trouble eating, sleeping, concentrating or carrying on normal activities?” ”What is your home situation? “ “Who is supporting you and who can you talk to?” In other words, they want to hear your story. Be honest and help them understand what’s going on for you.
Before the appointment ends, you can ask questions like “”How do you think you can help me?” Have you seen other people with similar problems?” “How many times will we meet?” “Should I be working on something until then?”
Eventually, your counselor may work with you to answer questions like these: “What do you keep doing over and over that is not helpful?” “How can you do something different?” “How are you living by your values?” “What do you want in life and how can you get there?” Counselors don’t tell you what to do; they help you figure out for yourself what is right for you.
Just like all of us, every counselor is different. Some like to talk a lot and some like you to do most of the talking. Some are “easy going” and some will ask you difficult questions and ask you to look at your life. After 2 or 3 times, if you are not comfortable with this person, talk to her/him about how you are uncomfortable. It’s very important to say what is bothering you and give them a chance to respond. If you’re still uncomfortable you can find a new counselor, but speaking up may be part of what you are supposed to learn.
There are many different kinds of “counselors,” some with advanced training and degrees and some with just training on this particular issue. Here are some of the kinds of help available to you:
• “Counselors” at the clinic may or may not be certified as a counselor or social worker, but they might be good people to start sorting things out. Usually they can offer one or two appointments, often for free, and can offer referrals to others if you want.
• A school or guidance counselor at your school may be able to help with personal problems as well as school issues. They won’t provide “therapy” but they may be able you give you advice and support, or a good referral.
• A talkline “counselor” or advocate is usually not “certified” but is trained in specific issues like post abortion problems. A call can be a good place to start to tell your story to someone who will listen and support you.
• A clergy person may or may not also have training in counseling. It is OK to ask your clergy person what training they have. They are best at helping you with the religious and spiritual aspects of how you are feeling. A pastoral counselor is a certified counselor who is also trained in particular religious traditions.
• A “social worker,” “marriage and family counselor,” or “licensed professional counselor” is trained to provide longer term therapy. They can help you understand your situation, make changes in your behavior, and improve your ability to cope with life’s challenges.
• A psychologist or PhD in psychology may offer counseling and is also trained in testing for mental functioning.
• A psychiatrist is an MD (medical doctor) who specializes in brain chemistry and in medications known for emotional and mental conditions. Only a licensed practitioner, including your primary care doctor, can prescribe medications.
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In several surveys it has been estimated that more than 25% of all women seeking abortion services have spiritual or religious concerns either about their decision or about the reactions of others. * Given that 1.2 million women have abortions every year (and 37% will have an abortion in their lifetimes), one of these women may approach you for help.
Generally, women, or their partners and family members, are concerned with very basic concepts such as forgiveness, God’s (The Creator, The Divine, Allah) grace, moral consequences, and acceptance of their religious community. They may not even know their faith’s official policy on abortion and in fact, they may assume that all religions are against abortion. Regardless of the official policy or your own belief about abortion, women will want to know how they can “be a good person,” “not be separated from God,” and “feel whole again.” They seek your compassion, yet fear your judgment.
This Guide to Emotional and Spiritual Healing after an Abortion may be useful to you as well as the woman or family you are trying to help. If you don’t have a complete copy of the Guide, go to www.pregnancyoptions.info. One important point that you will see emphasized is that the situation that led to an abortion is always complex with many factors to consider, including the needs of children and others. It is crucial to recognize this and to partner with other mental health professionals if there are ongoing issues for the individual or family. Have your referral list at hand.
Not every woman will want the same thing so it is important to listen carefully to what she is asking for and if this is not clear, question her about her expectations. She may need a compassionate listener, or she may want you to pray with her or even to perform a ritual for her. She will most likely need new ways to think about her spiritual dilemma and reassurance that she can remain in relationship with God and her religious community.
Many clergy report that they do not get requests like this very often. If this is true for you, think about how you “signal” to your congregants that you are open to this discussion. It may be surprising to learn that many women feel stigmatized about their abortion experience by the larger culture. Women are often cut off from their usual support people, including from their community of faith because of this stigma. Including abortion and reproductive loss in discussions among your congregants or in written material may let people know that you are open to conversations and are non judgmental on these topics. Some clergy include reproductive loss in sermons or in ceremonies on grief and loss.
The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice ( www.rcrc.org) has excellent training for clergy, seminary students and pastoral counselors available on both reproductive loss and all options pregnancy counseling. Contact your state affiliate or the national headquarters for more information.
The Abortion Conversation Project ( www.abortionconversation.com ) focuses on increasing safe places to have open conversations about pregnancy options, especially abortion. On the website, you will find helpful information, handouts and training materials available to you at little or no cost.
Please also consult the Resource list on these websites and in the Guide for additional suggestions.
* Spiritual Needs Survey 2007 The Abortion Conversation Project
STWS Chart Study 2003, 2005, Southern Tier Women’s Services, Vestal NY
APPENDIX C: Note to Counselors
An abortion experience may be a motivator for women to seek counseling or it may come up in the history of existing clients. Women have many different reactions to their experience and the decision to end a pregnancy may be emblematic of several ongoing themes in personal development, relationships, and self care. The context of a pregnancy decision is often filled with useful material about a client’s life and is usually quite rich.
Your client may present with emotional pain about her decision, serious disruptions of her normal routines or relationships, or symptoms of panic or depression. The larger context, which we discuss in this Guide to Emotional and Spiritual Healing after an Abortion, will be important material to explore. By helping her appreciate ongoing issues, patterns of behavior, and developmental events, you can return your client to normal functioning, better coping, and greater understanding of her strengths. If you don’t have a complete copy of the Guide, go to www.pregnancyoptions.info for a downloadable copy or to order several to have on hand for your clients in need.
Although there is much public discussion about the so-called “Post Abortion Stress Syndrome” or “PASS,” the American Psychological Association has not found evidence that post abortion reactions constitute a “syndrome” and there is no DSM code for such a syndrome. This is not to minimize the very real emotional pain some women experience after an abortion. The recognized risk factors for such reactions include previous trauma or impaired coping due to a prior trauma, opposition to her decision from someone close to her, extreme lack of support, including having no one to talk to, the ending of a relationship at the same time as the abortion, or a conflict with her previous beliefs about abortion.
For further discussion of risk factors, please read the works of Brenda Major, PhD and Nancy Russo, PhD who have researched this topic thoroughly. See also section 2for a discussion about Post Abortion Emotional Health.
Most women experience some degree of stigma in connection with an abortion experience. This perceived disapproval of their decision may prevent them from taking advantage of their normal coping mechanisms if they feel they cannot talk to certain people. Your empathy and non judgmental reactions will be healing for her. Encouraging her to tell her story and to see herself as a moral decision maker is a good antidote to the societal stigma about abortion.
A specialization in reproductive loss issues, trauma, and relationship problems may be especially useful in helping clients who present with a post abortion reaction. If you are not familiar with this issue you may find a values clarification assessment for professionals helpful; an online tool can be found at www.prochoice.org/pubs_research/publications/downloads/professional_education/abortion_option.pdf
The Abortion Conversation Project ( www.abortionconversation.com) focuses on promoting safe places to have open conversations about pregnancy options, especially abortion. On the website, you will find helpful information, handouts and training materials available to you at little or no cost.
Please consult the Resource list on these websites and in this Guide for additional suggestions. Important researchers in the field include Brenda Major, PhD and Nancy Russo, PhD.
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Friend, Family or Partner
If a woman you care about is having a problem after her abortion experience, you may be very important to her healing. The first thing you can do is to put yourself in her situation and try to understand how she is feeling. She may seem to have conflicting thoughts about it, or to be focusing on the negative. This is quite normal. To help her move forward, you will need to explore all the complexity of this experience with her. This may mean that you need to find ways to deal with your own reactions at a separate time with other support.
You will find it helpful to educate yourself as much as possible as this is probably the first time you have dealt with this. Start by reading this Guide to Emotional and Spiritual Healing after an Abortion. (If you don’t have a complete copy of the Guide, go to www.pregnancyoptions.info/) You may also want to speak to someone at the clinic, a national talkline, or your own counselor or clergy member. There are other suggestions in the Resource section of the Guide.
Sometimes the best thing you can do for someone who is hurting is to get them to seek help. See the section on “Talking to a Counselor.” Offer to call and make an appointment, go with her, wait for her, and listen to what she has to say afterwards. Give her information to read from the suggested resources.
The most basic thing you can offer is your ability to listen to her and to remind her that she is a good person doing the best she can. Even if she says she regrets or doubts her decision - at the time she was making the best decision she could for all involved. Help her focus on her positive reasons such as, caring for existing children or others who need her, continuing her education, caring for herself physically and emotionally.
After she has worked through some of what is troubling her, she may want you to participate in some ritual that marks her progress. (See Appendix E) Your involvement will really mean a lot to her and will let her know that she is not alone. You might read her the Guided Meditation in Section 11 to help her relax and really see her healing as possible. You can also help her get to any follow-up appointments or counseling sessions. When she is ready, consider helping her get and pay for birth control in the future.
You may get discouraged in your efforts to help her, if she is having a hard time. But remember, you are a blessing to her, and what you give her now will only strengthen your relationship with her in the future.
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Appendix E: Formal Rituals from Various Religions and Traditions
“Rituals are simply events given the ‘rich lens of attention’,
giving us mindful joy and connection to each other.”
In the following section you will find rituals from many religions, cultures and spiritual beliefs. These events help the woman and her supporters acknowledge her loss and think about it in a way that respects her and helps her heal.
These ceremonies are quite formal and a strong part of the culture from which they came. Here, in our current culture, we do not have widespread recognition and support for women as they make pregnancy choices. It’s nice to know that there are cultures that consider women as able to make good, moral choices. These ceremonies show deep commitment to women and respect for their experience.
Some of these rituals or ceremonies are quite lengthy. We may have printed only a portion here. You can find the entire ceremony in the on-line edition of this workbook. You may find one of these formal observances feels ‘right’ to you. Or, you may choose to create your own honoring ceremony from what you read. As always, let your heart guide you.
Ceremony to Release Spirit Life
Source: Taino Clan, Native American
The woman who has spirit life within also knows the responsibility of motherhood. She does not accept this gift lightly. She knows that to accept motherhood is to make a commitment to insure the nurturing needed for that life to grow.
The path of each Earthwalk is exactly as long as we need it to be. Some of us have longer paths than others. For these young lives, there is always another opportunity at another time. Life begins... life ends....life begins again, all a part of the turning of the Great Spiral.
Taino Ritual, Caney Clan, Adapted from Songs of Bleeding by Spider, p. 138-141, 1992, Black Thistle Press 491 Broadway, New York, NY 10012 (212) 219-1988 $15.00.
Permission granted . The Taino clan inhabited the island of Santo Domingo in the Caribbean when Columbus discovered the New World.
Mizuko Jizo Ceremony for Water Babies
Buddhist Ritual for Stillborn, Miscarried, or Aborted Fetus
In Japan, the mizuko jizo Buddha takes care of and represents stillborn, miscarried and aborted fetuses. Unique to Japan, the ceremonies surrounding the jizo were created and developed by women. Buddhists believe that babies who die in infancy, during miscarriage or abortion do not have a soul. They think they are in the "river that separates the world of life and death." They see them as “water babies” who need help to get to the other side. Jizo is the protector of travelers, helping the water babies get across the river from life to death, and be at peace. Over the centuries, the image of the mizuko jizo has changed, from a dignified, adult figure, to a serene looking monk-child with a Buddha smile. The jizo has a double purpose. The image both represents the soul of the deceased infant/fetus, and is also the deity who takes care of children on their otherworld journey. The ritual of honoring the fetus or stillborn is called mizuko kuyo. The word mizuko means "water child," or "deceased infant/fetus," and kuyo means "memorial service."
In Japan, water is both an acknowledgement of death and an expression of faith in some kind of rebirth. When the fetus or newborn dies, it goes from the warm waters of the womb to its former liquid state, in which it prepares itself for an eventual rebirth. Historically, mizuko were buried beneath the floorboards of houses, where they were thought to mingle with the water of natural springs, which then carried them to larger bodies of water beneath the surface of the earth, which held special significance as receptacles of life.
At Buddhist temples and in the countryside there are Jizo statues. A woman or a couple adopts one of these statues and inscribes a name on it. Then they dress it in red "bibs" (traditional clothing for Buddhist monks) or offer it toys or presents that they make. Sometimes they pour water on it to “quench its thirst.” It’s important to them not to forget the baby that died. They may visit the Jizo statue for many years and eventually bring its real life brothers and sisters to honor its memory
The most common days for mizuko kuyo are during the three traditional holidays when offerings are made to ancestors: born in the summer and at the spring and summer equinoxes. The mizuko kuyo can be performed in different ways. Many Buddhist temples in Japan have special sections where a woman who can afford to may buy a tomb for hermizuko. The tomb consists of a stone, on top of which stands a carved figure of a jizo, generally wearing a red bib, and carrying a staff with rings or a stick with bells on top (which he uses to help the mizuko who can't yet walk). On the stone is written a kaimyo - a name given to a person after death.
These sites are not somber graveyards. In fact, they are often quite "happy" places. Some of the cemeteries are equipped with playgrounds for children. While the children play, women (and sometimes men) bow, observe moments of silence, and ladle water over the mizuko jizo in an act of ritual cleansing. At times they may light a candle or a few sticks of incense, decorate the tombs with flowers, pinwheels and other toys, drape garments over the jizo, and even erect umbrellas over his head to keep off the rain.
Another type of memorial service for fetuses involves the use of ema. Ema are wooden plaques, often with roof-shaped tops, that are hung by string in special areas of temples and shrines. Many ema carry prayers for, and messages to, aborted fetuses. These prayers and messages often take the form of Yasuraka ni nemutte kudasai (please sleep peacefully), or Gomen ne (please forgive me). Most of them are signed haha (mother), but sometimes the father, or the entire family, will sign as well.
The oldest form of memorial is maintained by women in communities, who tend to jizo shrines on street corners and roadsides. Women take turns putting out flowers, offering food, washing the statue(s), and lighting incense. Women passing them can stop for a short act of kuyo, or simply bow to the jizo.
Women can also perform the mizuko kuyo at home, in front of their ancestral shrines. First they buy a kaimyo from a priest, who will write the name on anihai, a mortuary tablet. The tablet is then placed in the ancestral alcove of the family, and given memorial services along with other ancestors. The fetus will be honored with reverential bows, and, in pious Buddhist homes, a prayer will be recited. This prayer, perhaps the Heart Sutra, the Kannon Sutra, or the Lotus Sutra, is made to both jizo and the fetus at the same time.
In Japan, abortion is seen as a necessary sorrow, a painful social necessity, and a means for protecting what are felt to be "family values." Some Buddhists worry that abortions could become trivialized, which would lead to a hardening of people's hearts. The mizuko kuyo serves a positive, therapeutic role, keeping people in touch with their emotions and their loss.
A Ritual of Remembering and Release
Source: Based on Christian and Adaptations of African-American Cultural Traditions (Used for any loss that involved a choice)
This ritual may be used after any reproductive loss involving choice. The woman should be encouraged to bring two or three people to support her – her significant other, a friend, or parent(s). Before the ritual the clergyperson should ask the woman to name 3 to 5 of her strengths that she wants to remember and affirm on one piece of paper and on another piece of paper she should write 3 to 5 painful aspects of her life that she wants to release. A plant, water in a container (a wooden bowl or cup is ideal), a white candle, a glass or metal bowl (in which paper can be burned) should be gathered for the ritual and placed on a table. As the ritual begins, the clergyperson should place the list with the woman’s strengths in her right hand and the clergyperson should hold the other list with the issues to be released until later in the ritual. *This ritual can be used with just the clergyperson and the woman. In that case, the clergy would read the parts designated for those assembled.
Clergyperson: Remembering is a sacred and time honored task. One of the ways we heal our brokenness and embrace wholeness is to remember. Beloved, as we remember, know that God remembers us also. As a sign of remembering and to bless the memory of those who have gone before us, let us offer libations.
As water is poured onto a plant symbolizing the ground, the names of ancestors are called out. The woman is asked to name family members who are her ancestors and others who are present may do so also. After each name, those who are assembled respond by saying “Amen” or “Ashe” (a-shay) which is a Yoruba term that means “so be it.” Following the offering of libations, the minister offers a prayer of thanks giving.
Prayer: God of ancestors and God who is parent of us all, we thank you for being present to us as we remember those who have gone before us. We thank you for the examples of courage and kindness and of perseverance and power. We thank you for the reminder that we are a part of the circle of life. We can learn from those who have gone before us and those who follow us will learn from us. As we seek healing and wholeness, help us to remember – to remember who we are and whose we are. Help us to remember our strengths and gifts. (Pause) Help us to remember that we are a gift and to remember the promise of God to be with us always. God remembers us and loves us. We stand in the power of our African tradition by remembering and we come in the name of Jesus asking to be remembered and to be held in love and grace of God. We pray this prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, the ancestor of us all. And so it is. Amen and Amen.
Woman: Today, I remember. In remembering, I embrace my faith and African principles that empower me to choose. I choose because God has entrusted me with the power of choice. I choose for myself thereby I am living the principle of kujichagulia, one of the Nguzo Saba (The Seven Principles of Kwanzaa). Kujichagulia means self-determination. It teaches Black people to name themselves and their reality and to choose for themselves. I am naming my reality and choosing for myself.
Assembly: We bless you as you remember and as you call upon your faith and the principles that uphold you.
Woman: In this moment, I am remembering that somebody prayed for me, somebody had me on their mind and prayed for me. I am so glad they prayed for me.
In the fullness of this moment I remember my choices and the power of my own voice.
In this moment of remembering myself, I remember those who have gone before me. I hear the voices of my ancestors. I hear their cries and their laughter. I feel their pain and their joy.
In this moment I remember my strengths – they are gifts. I remember that I am a gift and I thank God.
In this moment, I remember God. I remember God’s mercy, God’s love and God’s grace.
Assembly: We bless you for remembering. Without memory, we are left bereft of our place in the world. You are not alone.
Clergyperson: God calls upon us to remember our connectedness to God and one another. God also calls upon us to release our burdens – those challenges that would disconnect us from the peace God intends for us – those things that would weigh us down and oppress us. Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) We can release all of our burdens to God – our doubts, fears, pain, anger, sadness, grief
*(The list with the issues to be released should now be given the woman.)
Woman: I give my burdens to God. (Looking at her list) I release all things that might weigh me down or oppress my mind, body or spirit. I release all things in the name of Jesus. And so it is. Amen and amen. The list is placed in a bowl and burned.
Assembly: We bless you for releasing those things that would oppress you. For if God makes you free, you are free indeed.
Clergyperson: You have remembered your strengths, and those who have gone before you; you have remembered who you are and whose you are. Your faith and the voices of your ancestors call you to remembrance and to the freedom that comes from release and from captivity of any kind. You have remembered yourself. Continue to remember. You have released those things that would cloud your vision of yourself; you have released those things that would deceive you about your purpose and your promise. In the days ahead, should you lose focus, release anything that blocks your vision of yourself or God. In this moment, experience and hold in your heart the liberation and the love that comes from God. Amen.
Prepared for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice by the Rev. Dr. Alethea Roselyn Smith-Withers, Baptist minister, Washington, DC
Liturgy Affirming a Choice Post-abortion
Source: Background by Diann Neu
This liturgy affirms that a woman has made a good and holy decision. It provides strength and healing after making a difficult choice. It brings closure to an often intense and emotional process. It is intended to be celebrated with friends.
Place on a cloth in the center of the circle: oil, symbols such as flower petals or dried flowers, and a bowl that will be given to the woman as a gift. Invite her to choose a favorite song, poem, reading or scripture verse for the ritual.
Invite the woman who has made the decision, (if appropriate) her partner, and supportive friends to gather for affirmation.
Welcome. Let us gather to affirm (name of the woman). She has made a difficult choice and she needs our support.
Play or sing a favorite, comforting song, one that the woman likes.
Let us pray. Blessed are you, Holy Wisdom, for your presence with (name of the woman). Praised be you, Mother Goddess and Father God, that you have given your people the power of choice. We are saddened that the life circumstances of (woman's name or, if appropriate, woman's name and her partner's name) are such that she had to choose to terminate her pregnancy. Such a choice is never simple. It is filled with pain and hurt, with anger and questions, but with also with integrity and strength. We rejoice in her attention to choice.
Our beloved sister has made a very hard choice. We affirm her and support her in her decision. We promise to stand with her in her ongoing life.
Blessed are you, Sister Wisdom, for your presence with her.
Choose a poem, reading, or scripture verse that captures the message of the liturgy.
The celebrant invites the woman (and her partner) to speak about her (their) decision to have an abortion. If there is a symbolic gesture that expresses her (their) feelings, such as sprinkling flower petals, burning a rose, or sharing dried flowers, invite her (them) to incorporate it into the sharing.
Blessing of (name of the woman)
(Name), we love you very deeply. As a sign of our affirmation of you and of your choice, we give you this bowl and this oil. Oil soothes bones that are weary from making a difficult decision. Oil strengthens and heals. Oil... (add sentences that reflect what the woman spoke in her story.)
We bless you with this oil. Come, friends, take oil from the bowl and massage (the woman's name) hands, face, feet, neck, shoulder, and head. Close your blessings by embracing her.
(Name), the bowl is a tangible symbol of this day. When times are difficult and such days come to each of us, look at this bowl and remember our love for you. We bless you, (name of the woman) and promise to be with you on your way.
Close the liturgy with a blessing song like the following "Blessing Song" © 1982 by Marsie Silvestro
Bless you my sister, bless you on your way.
And we'll bless you our sister,
Text used with permission of the author:
WATERwheel, Vol. 4, No. 4, Winter 1991-92, Diann Neu, Co-Director of WATER
The Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual
8035 13th St. , Silver Springs MD 20910 USA
Phone: (301) 589-2509; Fax: (301) 589-3150
Healing From Abortion
Source: Jewish tradition
This is a lengthy ritual and is printed in full, with Hebrew text added, up on the website, www.pregnancyoptions.info
The ritual begins with one woman inviting all to take a few deep breaths. She then begins a niggun (wordless melody). Participants stand in a circle.
Creating Supportive Space
The “focus” woman, for whom the ritual is being conducted, steps into the center of the circle, with one or two women near her to hold her hand and comfort her, and says:
“Hinneni – Here I stand alone, as before, when I made my decision about childbearing in the uniqueness of my personal choice.”
All other participants approach and tighten the circle around the “focus” woman to support her.
Women say together:
You are not alone now. In aloneness you made your choice, and in community you will be sustained.
Affirming One’s Choices
One woman says: It is the blessing and the curse of being human that we have the capacity to make choices. Sometimes the choices are filled with pain, or it feels as though we have no choice at all. Nothing can make the ending of a pregnancy easy. We affirm you in your painful and difficult choice.
Women say together: Blessed are you, Creator of the Universe, who sustains us in times of decision. You have made it possible for us to consider with wisdom our lives and the lives of our loved ones, and you have granted us courage and intelligence to make choices about childbearing. As you have been with us in times of past decisions; so may you be with us today as we affirm the difficult decisions __________ [and her family] has [have] made.
“Focus” woman says: Barukh attah adonai eloheinu melekh ha’olam, asher natan lasekhvi vina lhavhin bein yom uvein lailah.
I bless you, Holy One, Sovereign Spirit of the Universe, who has enabled me to distinguish between night and day, who has given me the ability to make wise choices.
Women respond: Amen.
Sharing the Pain
One woman says: We know that there is deep sadness within you. We know that you feel loss and sorrow and regret. We mourn with you.
“Focus” woman is invited to share her own words about her grief. She may also wish to express any regret, guilt, doubt, uncertainty, or resentment that arose while making the decision to terminate the pregnancy. The intention here is for the focus woman to be heard and to “let go”.
Option A: In the event of a medically-recommended abortion, one woman says: We know the Torah teaching: When we must choose between a being not yet born and the life of a mother, the choice is very clear. The being you were carrying could not be. No human hand caused this to happen; no human act could have allowed this being to emerge in health and wholeness. Still, in the shadow of such a choice, we feel small and limited and out of control.
Women say together: We who stand with you today are witness to the terrible choice that was no choice at all. We affirm you in choosing life. You made a choice, choosing life for you. We grieve with you over the loss of this seed of life, and we affirm your essence, as a person gifted with the ability to nurture other life- within yourself, in your love for others, and in your connections to family, friends, and community.
One woman chants an adapted El Maleh Rahamim: El maleh rahamim, shokhen bameromim, hamtzeh menuhah nekhonah tahat kanfei hashekhinah, et nishmat hatinoket/hatinok shelo noldah/nolad le’olameinu. Anna, ba’al harahamim, hastirehah/hastirehu b;eseter kenafekha le’olamim, utzeror bitzror hahayyim et nishmatah/nishmato, adonai hu nahalatah/nahalato, veyavi’eha/veyavi’ehyu leshalom. Venomar amen.
O God filled with womb-like compassion, who resides in the high places, grant perfect peace in Your sheltering Presence, to the soul of this being who was not born into our world. Please, compassionate Mother-God, shelter her/him beneath Your protective wings for all eternity and bind his/her soul to the Bond of Life. The Holy One is now his/her home and will bring her/him eternal peace. And let us say, Amen.
Option B : In the event of a decision to terminate the pregnancy for reasons other than medical
Women say together: May You who share sorrow with Your creation be with _________now as she experiences the loss of potential life. We are sad as we think of her painful decision, and support her as she and we imagine what might have been.
Life is a fabric of different emotions and experiences. Now, O God, while ________experiences life’s bitterness and pain, be with her and with us, and sustain us. Help us to gather strength from within ourselves, from each other, and from our wider community. Blessed are You, Divine Presence, who shares sorrow with Your creation.
Affirming One’s Self
(After option A or B continue here)
“Focus” woman says: Elohai, neshamah shenatatta bi tehorah hi. Attah veratah, attah yetzartah, atah nefahtah bi, ve’attah meshammerah bekirbiº
My God, the soul You have given me is pure. You created it, You formed it, You breathed it into me.
I know that I am created b’tzelem elohim, that a divine spark resides within me. I know that I am free to make choices – about my body and my future. I have made my choices, painful as they may be, in harmony with the divinity that dwells within me. I affirm my freedom, I affirm my self, and I honor my choices in the face of enormous complexity and still-lingering questions.
Barukh attah adonai, she’asani ishah. Barukh attah adonai, she’asani bat-horin.
I bless You, Holy One, who has made me a woman. I bless You, Holy One, who has made me free.
Surviving and Being Thankful
“Focus” woman says : The Holy One “heals the broken in heart and binds their wounds” (Ps.147:3)
I have survived a sad journey – with peril to both body and soul. I thank You for sustaining me and bringing me through the peril in wholeness.
“Focus” woman reads or sings (Hebrew or English, as is comfortable for her) Birkat Hagomel (dedicated to Ira Silverman, of blessed memory) Hebrew and English are both to be sung to the melody of the traditional American folk song, “The Creole Girl”
Avarekh et ein hahayyim yotzerert tov vara. Akaddesh et hei ha’olam yotzer afelah ve’orah. Avarti begei tzalmavet ve’attah immadi. Modah ani lakh shehehezartini beshalom.
I shall bless the Source of Life who fashions good and evil. I shall bless the Holy One who brings dark and light to all people. For I have walked in the valley of the shadow of death. And You, You were with me then, with every painful breath.
“Focus” woman moves from her place in center of circle. All women greet and embrace her. They respond to her Birkat Hagomel by repeatedly chanting in Hebrew Moses’ prayer for Miriam’s healing, as long as the power of the chant moves them:
El na refa na lah El na refah na lah
Please God, heal her please. Please God, heal her please. Please God, heal her please.
Please God, heal her please. (Numbers 12:13)
Chanting subsides and women flow right into singing Debbie Friedman’s adaptation of a traditional prayer for healing:
Mi Shebeirach"Mi shebeirach imoteinu
M’kor habracha l’avoteinu”
May the source of strength
Who blessed the ones before us,
Help us find the courage
To make our lives a blessing,
And let us say, Amen.
"Mi shebeirach avoteinu
After a moment of silence, one woman says: “Thank you all for sharing your love and support with _______ at this difficult time.”
Rabbi Leila Gal Berner. In Lifecycles: Jewish Women on Life Passages & Personal Milestones, Vol. I, ed. Rabbi Debra Orenstein, Jewish Lights Publishing, Woodstock, Vermont, 1998, pp. 127-132 Reprinted here with permission of the author It may be freely reproduced for the purpose of pastoral counseling only.
Ritual for Hispanic Catholic Women Needing Resolution
Others who are joining you in the ritual can also wear a purple scarf over the head or shoulders. Everyone makes the sign of the cross with holy water to begin the ceremony. Recite: “We are here with _________(her name) to ask that this veil of sorrow be lifted from her and from us as we link together to release her child’s soul into the loving arms of our Blessed Mother. Mary, Holy Mother of us all, hear our friend/sister/daughter’s prayer.
Prayer to Mary
O Mary, Holy Mother of us all,
Oracion a Maria
Oh Maria, Bendita Madre nuestra.
A Pagan View of Pregnancy Decisions
(Adapted from "What would the Goddess say? A Pagan approach to Abortion" by Beth Goldstein.)
Appendix F: Resources
Readings, Websites and Groups
It may surprise you to know that there are many resources to help you with your healing process. Since everyone is different and their needs are different, some of these may appeal to you while others do not. There are many different approaches and we have tried to give you some information so that you can choose the best approach for yourself. You know what is best for you. Research and ask the questions you need answered.
There are entire sections in libraries and bookstores devoted to healing or spirituality and religion. We have gathered a starting list of books, websites, TalkLines and individuals you may find helpful. Again, take the time to look closely and make a choice that seems to fit you and your needs right now.
Books and Pamphlets
“Inner Healing After Abortion”
“Spiritual Comfort” and “Coping After Abortion”
Peace After Abortion: A Pro-Choice Self-Help Guide for Women and Men
“A Time to Decide, A Time to Heal, for Parents Making Difficult Decisions about Babies They Love .
The Healing Choice: Your Guide to Emotional Recovery After an Abortion
Unspeakable Losses: Understanding the Experience of Pregnancy Loss, Miscarriage, and Abortion
Motherhood Lost: A Feminist Account of Pregnancy Loss in America
Liquid Life: Abortion and Buddhism in Japan
Abortion Counseling A Clinician’s Guide to Psychology, Legislation, Politics, and Competency
TalkLines, Support Groups and Counseling Help
Backline www.yourbackline.org: All pregnancy options discussed including “post” feelings. 1.888.493.0092
Exhale www.4exhale.org: After abortion Talkline. Several languages available. E-cards available. 1 (866) 4-EXHALE
Emerge: Sharing our Voices, Supporting our Choices c/o Pro Choice Resources
IMAGINE Counseling www.imaginecounseling.com/ It is our philosophy that all therapy is a process of learning to do self healing. We serve as guide, support, and witness for whatever process you may need. Some work may be short term--one or several sessions pertaining to a specific issue. “We can help you uncover your own internal wisdom and power to create the peace and passion that is eluding you. You can learn skills and tools that will assist you in any of life's stresses. Our practice is primarily conducted over the phone, which allows flexibility in scheduling rarely available with an office practice. This also allows us to bring our special experience to people regardless of their geographical location.” Call (505) 757-2991 to schedule a free half hour consultation to see if we can help you find healing .
Mental Health Crisis Centers If you are feeling suicidal, unable to function or to care for yourself or others, call your local Crisis Center, a unit of the Mental Health Services in your community, usually affiliated with a hospital. Check the phone book or ask the Emergency Room at your hospital for the number.
Local Counseling Centers You might find help at a local counseling service such as “Family and Children’s Society” or the Mental Health Clinic in your area. Ask your doctor, clinic, or Family Planning or Planned Parenthood where you can get good counseling for this situation.
Comment: Although there is value in being able to talk to other women who have had abortions, the anti-abortion agenda of Rachel’s Vineyard or Crisis Pregnancy Centers may make it difficult to get the kind of help you need to heal, unless you take a political stand against abortion.
Websites and Organizations
“Healthy Coping After an Abortion,” pdf: www.abortionconversation.com/conpiece.php
www.ChoiceLinkup.com: This is a popular up-to-date guide to many websites that offer reproductive health information and services.
www.Heartssite.com is a website for women who want to leave other women a message, prayer, or wish about their abortion experience.
www.aheartbreakingchoice.com contains first person accounts and articles by parents who have made a choice to end pregnancies due to fetal anomalies and birth defects.
www.rcrc.org The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice offers many spiritual and religious resources. state affiliates of the organization may offer counseling and referrals to clergy.
www.syrf.org Spiritual Youth for Reproductive Freedom (SYRF) sponsored by RCRC has active programs young people active in their faiths.
www.cath4choice.org Catholics for a Free Choice is for pro choice Catholics and takes stands on all kinds of reproductive freedom, including abortion, use of condoms, and women’s issues. They publish the magazine Conscience as well as other helpful literature.
www.healingwell.org Rituals for all kinds of occasions including abortion, adoption, miscarriage, from a Jewish perspective.
Water Wheel Newsletter and website of Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual http://www.his.com/~mhunt
www.religiousinstitute.org Institute for Sexual Morality, Justice and Healing This organization advocates for sexual health, education, and justice in faith communities and in society in general.
www.religiousconsultation.org The Religious Consultation on Population, Reproductive Health and Ethics. A group of scholars founded by Daniel Maguire, that seeks to bring religious traditions to the world’s problems, including reproductive health.
www.AbortionChronicles.com: Women share their abortion stories
www.MomDadIMpregnant.com This is a site for parents and young people that offers good advice for improving communication and understanding.
www.compassionatefriends.org The Compassionate Friends P. O. Box 3696, Oak Brook IL 60522-3696 Phone (toll-free): (877) 969-0010 Fax: (630) 990-0246 Support for people in all kinds of grieving and loss.
www.goatintheroad.org Goat-in-the-Road monastery 1821 Shoreline Highway, Muir Beach, CA 415.388.5572 "Goat-in-the-Road" is a Place for Buddhist Practice providing retreats in Buddhist meditation, offering “A Ceremony for Children Who Have Died.” This ritual offers an opportunity to address issues such as abortion, SIDS, miscarriage, stillbirth, death after birth, life-threatening illnesses, loss, and grieving. Yvonne Rand, a lay householder priest, is the resident teacher.
Great Vow Zen Monastery P.O. Box 368 Clatskanie, OR 97016 503-728-0654 www.greatvow.org
www.babybluesconnection.org for perinatal mood disorder information, national message line for women both pregnant and postpartum.
www.menandabortion.com A thorough discussion and advice site for men affected by an abortion experience.