Anne what exactly do you do? This question is either answered swiftly as “grief counsellor” or “post abortion grief counsellor” depending on location or even questioner because it really does make a difference. The difference is that it may take hours or it may even lead to long discussions about prolife or prochoice issues on abortion and I don’t always want to engage in this discussion.
In my work I deal with what is called disenfranchised grief. The kind of grief which is not supposed to occur because elective abortion is considered a choice for the termination to be made. While there are different views surrounding difficult issues like abortion, the grief which follows is caught up in word games of political correctness.
Abortion, which is touted as only a minor procedure, readily available, a woman’s right, a “non-event” in fact does create dissonance both internally and societal. Abortion grief is “disenfranchised” (Doka, 1989) because whilst abortion is globally available, legal, and funded it is still not spoken about. It is still placed in the woman’s peccadillo history. A woman who miscarries is supported in her grief because she is seen as having “lost” the baby. It was out of her control. A woman who aborts has little if any support because she is seen as having chosen to terminate the life of her “foetus”. Her pregnancy was not considered endangered she chose the outcome. Disenfranchisement comes from invalidation of her very real pain and sense of loss. More painful than miscarriage because the woman sees herself as the instrument of her decision.
Because abortion grief counselling is still in its early stages of development and in many cases this type of grief still not even accepted, and therefore “best method” counselling still in the process of discovery, the rigid adherence to one particular approach I believe would be unsuitable because many things have to be taken into account. E.g. counsellor’s own ideas about abortion and life matters which in cases may colour counselling and outcomes, even detrimentally.Abortion grief is not normal grief, I believe it is a complicated type of grief. Depression always follows, especially where the abortion decision is made under duress or fear. Abortion grief is exacerbated through the need to remain silent and therefore no support network present.
My role, (and the role of any really good abortion grief counsellor) which I have developed over nearly 20 years through counselling, study, reading, prayer, is to facilitate the grieving process which at times has been suppressed for many years. Perhaps the best way to explain what I do is to say that I actively give the woman grieving for an aborted child the permission to openly mourn and weep and to acknowledge the humanity of her child and the reality of the child’s death. I honour, in the person grieving, her belief that her baby was of inestimable value. I help her temporarily reconnect with her baby by helping her name the child, establish some history, establish a permanent name memorial where wanted, and in due course bid the child goodbye with a goodbye ceremony.
When an abortion or miscarriage occurs there is usually the beginning of a story, small middle but no usual ending to the story, a baby. This interrupted ending leaves the spiritual and psychological incomplete. This special grief counsellor helps to complete as much as possible the story. We support the process of grief, which has remained exposed and raw and help close the story for both mother and child in a beautiful manner as it should be.
As human beings we have a need to construct language, signs, symbols by which we attach meaning, and meaning for the human being is very important. If we can make sense or make meaning of something even very difficult, then we can cope with all manner of pain.
In this work of collecting of abortion tears, “meaning” is important because the loss through the abortion has proven to be traumatic. “Meaning” is important because the result (of the abortion) has not brought to the woman her expected outcome, that is, freedom from difficulties, but instead has introduced a new dimension of difficulty and pain, one which she had not anticipated. In this area of work “meaning” over the loss is attached to her own set of moral standards. Meaning is found in the “meaning” of these standards for her. All serious losses have “meaning” attached to them because assumptive worlds are disturbed by these losses. Her world of her normal has been shaken and nothing seems will be the same ever again.
Emotionally relocating the aborted child into a spiritual (heavenly) realm is very healing for a mother who has at times lived with nightmares or even imaginings of her “dismembered” and hurting baby. To a mother who pre abortion did not look to internet for abortion images but now is drawn to them like a moth to a light, to see the baby “whole” and well and beautiful and with God brings peace to her heart. Releasing the child willingly to God. Saying a conscious if tearful goodbye in the hope of a joyful future re union. This is painful but also most healing. It is an long journey to this place but in the area of abortion, relocating the infant into the arms of God and understanding love and forgiveness and reunion assists in the healing process. The therapist must also understand these to act as a special guide. There will be future grief, yes, as with other types of losses, but it will be grief, and not despair.
Continuing bonds with lost loved ones enables the relationship to be maintained, not as it might have been but in a new and different dimension. When dealing with love and loss, it is unthinkable that physical absence would diminish the attachment or the bond.
To forget and move on has a dimension of “use” inscribed within it. To remember achingly has a dimension of “love “and “forever” inscribed within it. To remember means that all that the baby was and was meant to be was not left behind but will be carried forward into the future, and into eternity because its history was written with Mum’s shed tears.