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Post-Abortion Syndrome and Me

Sometimes my abortion makes me feel sad, but I’m still pro-choice, and I think that’s all okay. Post-Abortion Syndrome or Post-Abortion Stress Syndrome (PAS or PASS) is the pop psychology term for those who experience depression and related symptoms after an abortion. It seems, when I’ve seen it tossed around, it’s a term created by anti-choice advocates to show that women shouldn’t have abortions because OMG it might make them feel sad. And pro-choice advocates seem to want to deny its existence.  (Note: The first link is from an anti-choice website).I don’t need pop psychology terms to define how I feel about my abortion, but I suppose if you want to make things neat, then yes, I have Post-Abortion Syndrome. That is if you define PAS as “feelings of depression, guilt, or sadness.  Feelings of anxiety. Feelings of numbness or denial. Fear of becoming pregnant again, but at the same time feeling like I want to have a baby immediately.” Check, check, check, and check.

I never know what is going to trigger a feeling of sadness about the abortion. Pictures of aborted fetuses lined up next to quarters as some sort of pro-life propaganda? Throw ’em at me. It means nothing. Some ridiculous anti-choice leader talking about abortion stopping a beating heart? Whatever. Don’t care. But my boyfriend talking about his curly hair will send me into a spiral of thinking about how I had curly hair when I was born and wondering if the baby would have had curly hair, and I’ll feel sad for the rest of the day.

I also find myself thinking things to “justify” the abortion. One of the major reasons we chose to terminate was because we are in a financial tough spot right now and I have no health insurance. Whenever I can’t pay my bills or I look at my mediocre pay check I think, “See, that’s why we had to abort. There’s no way we could have afforded a baby,” as though to reinforce the decision I already made. Every thought of how adorable a friend’s baby is must almost always be followed up with the thought of how stressed out another friend is with her infant. It’s like I can’t allow myself to think that a baby can be sweet without also thinking about how hard they are and how I’m not really in a mental state to handle that. That’s PAS all the way. Sometimes I regret the decision we made. Sometimes I think that maybe we should try to have a baby again as soon as possible, and then I feel guilty for thinking that, as though the first model wasn’t good enough. If we could make the decision again, we would probably do it. Time was of the essence, as I was already at seven weeks when we found out I was pregnant, and waiting much longer would have been an even bigger financial burden. I do wish we had more time to consider our options.

So there it is, pro-lifers and pro-choicers. I think I have Post Abortion Syndrome. But that does not mean, nor will it ever, that I think the right to abortion should be taken away from women. Lots of things that we do or that happen make us sad or instill feelings of guilt. Just because something has an emotional repercussion doesn’t mean it shouldn’t happen. If that were the case, everyone should still be in a relationship with the first person they were ever in love with and should never face heartbreak or disappointment. I also don’t think it’s fair on the part of pro-choicers who want to deny that Post Abortion Syndrome occurs with the intention of, I guess, making abortion seem like having a tooth pulled.

I struggle to understand where people are coming from on both sides of the issue in terms of Post Abortion Syndrome.  So pro-lifers wants to add it to their arsenal of fauxcern, as in, “We don’t want you to have an abortion because it might make you feel sad!” Nevermind the sadness, guilt, and stress that come with having an unplanned and unwanted child that you can’t or don’t want to care for. I’ve never been in that situation, but I imagine many of the feelings are the same. And then the pro-choice crew who call a fetus a “clump of cells” and claim that a woman would never feel sad about removing said clump of cells. I’m sure for some women that’s true, but it’s not true for me, and it’s almost as frustrating for me to hear that argument as for the pro-life “Don’t kill a baby!!!” one.

I would like to see Post-Abortion Syndrome framed more like how we see losing a parent or a loved one. It’s just grief. The symptoms and coping mechanisms are all the same. But there is a moral component added on, from both sides of the issue, and I wish there wasn’t. I get concerned that by sharing my feelings, (some) pro-life people can point to me as an example of why one shouldn’t had an abortion and (some) pro-choice people want to deny that those feelings even exist. Having an abortion made me feel sad, but it doesn’t mean I will ever not be pro-choice, and I will always acknowledge the variety of feelings I have.

6 replies on “Post-Abortion Syndrome and Me”

Thanks for writing this. On a broader spectrum, I see similarities between what you’ve said here and what I’ve read of other reproductive events – like a traumatic birth. When women try to talk about a traumatic birth, they’re often cut short with “oh, but it was all worth it because you have a healthy baby”,when it’s really not ‘either/or’, ‘all or nothing’, but ‘and’: “I have a healthy baby who I love, and her birth was terrible and motherhood is really hard for me at the moment” should be something that doesn’t take explaining to say, just as your feelings about your decision doesn’t mean it was the wrong one or that you shouldn’t be able to talk about it without being shut down.

A very thoughtful piece. The invention of the term PAS (important to note, NOT an official diagnosis, NOT in the DSM) was and is a very hurtful propaganda tool. By the way most prolifers frame it, I don’t think you have what they want us to think PAS is, which is a serious depression, life altering, leading to a lifelong regret and guilt that you will never recover from. You have, as you say, the normal emotional response to a significant situation where a difficult decision had to be made, and as a mature rational human being you continue to consider and question your decision as part of the process of living.

One of the most harmful effects that the flag waving around PAS has had is to make prochoicers feel like we have to go to some other extreme to claim that there is no emotional fallout from abortion. For some people there may be considerable regret. For some, it might in fact be like just having a tooth pulled. Either response is OK, and true. The more people can talk about this, lay out the spectrum of emotional response, and help others to place themselves along it, the less power the propaganda has.

Thank you for sharing this! I can’t remember what the post was, but I read a really great discussion on Feministing a few years ago about how we need to make space for women to talk about their experiences with abortion and to feel however they’re feeling without passing judgement about it, whether they’re feeling relieved and ecstatic and want to have a party, or whether they’re feeling sad and guilty. And I think stories like yours, about feeling pain even while remaining passionately pro-choice, help do that. So thank you for sharing it!

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