Distress After Pregnancy Termination

Emotional Aftermath

It is normal to mourn after the loss of a pregnancy, regardless of the reason for the loss. In the case of an abortion this may be particularly difficult because the abortion may have been freely chosen to resolve other problems. Most women feel some relief immediately after the abortion procedure, though there is often sadness as well.

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Natural hormonal changes during pregnancy are affected by an abortion, and can cause a woman to feel more emotional than usual. Post-abortive women may experience a variety of feelings, including sadness, anger, regret, guilt, or even numbness. Women who have experienced abortion often report symptoms typical of depressive and anxiety disorders, such as sleeplessness, tearfulness, anxiety, hopelessness, irritability, and an inability to concentrate. These problems can be confounded by relationship difficulties that are often both a cause and effect of the abortion decision. When a pregnancy loss occurs in secret, this can prevent others from offering the support and guidance needed to navigate this stressful time.

Post-Abortion Syndrome

Although many women experience these problems for only a short period, many others have emotional difficulties lasting for a long period after the abortion. These may manifest as clinical depression, an anxiety disorder, substance abuse, an eating disorder, or sexual difficulties. Women who already have problems such as these before an abortion may have a worsening of symptoms as a result of the abortion. Such difficulties can last for months or even years.

In addition to these reactions, other symptoms seem to be unique to post-abortive women. These include avoidance of babies, fear of future pregnancies, or a quick attempt to become pregnant again to create an "atonement child" to replace the child lost by abortion. Women may also have flashbacks and nightmares about the abortion, and feel alientated from God. This constellation of symptoms is sometimes called "post-abortion syndrome" (PAS). PAS can be successfully resolved via individual or group counseling. Most pregnancy resource centers offer such counseling or can provide a referral.

Prevent Post-Abortion Distress

Pre-abortion counseling is critical when considering pregnancy options. Many specialists feel that all pregnant women would benefit from counseling of some sort, and an abortion decision involves unique issues that require more a careful examination. Counseling can help identify feelings and motivation for choosing abortion, which can reduce the risk of having problems months or years later. Your pastor or local Christian counseling center are good places to start. You can also aways visit your local pregnancy resource center for free confidential counseling or a referral.

Related Links

Sources: Broen AN, Moum T, Bodtker AS, Ekeberg O. The course of mental health after miscarriage and induced abortion: a longitudinal, five-year follow-up study. BMC Medicine 2005;3:18.
Cougle J, Reardon DC, Coleman PK. Generalized anxiety associated with unintended pregnancy: a cohort study of the 1995 national survey of family growth. Journal of Anxiety Disorders 2005;19(10):137–42.
Pedersen W. Abortion and depression: a population-based longitudinal study of young women. Scandinavian Journal of Public Health 2008;36(4):424–8.
Fergusson DM, Horwood J, Ridder EM. Abortion in young women and subsequent mental health. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 2006;47:16–24.
Coleman PK, et al. Induced abortion and anxiety, mood, and substance abuse disorders: Isolating the effects of abortion in the national comorbidity survey. Journal of Psychiatric Research 2009; 43: 770-776.

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