How Will My Abortion
Affect My Other Children
and Their Relationship to Me?
"Now because of what I've gone through emotionally (and physically) I think I will be a better mother. A very good mother."
ne issue that dominates a woman's thinking concerns the effect of her abortion on her living children. The first question asked and answered lays the groundwork for the suggestions set forth in this chapter.
What is a mother?
This question brings specific perceptions to each individual's mind. I picture my own mother ¾ gentle, loving, giving, unselfish, unintrusive, and concerned ¾ she's, well, she's motherly!! The dictionary provides the technical definition: "A woman who has borne a child; that which gives birth to something, is the origin or source of something, or nurtures in the manner of a mother." Nurture ¾ that's the key word in the definition. A mother is a nurturer of the children for whom she is responsible, be they biological, adoptive, or custodial. To nurture means to promote the development, training, and rearing of someone or something. Thus, a mother is someone whose job is to promote the welfare of those for whom she cares.
When I become pregnant and people ask, "Is this your first pregnancy" can I say yes?
This is a tougher question than it first appears. If you answer "yes" you will be lying; to answer "no" opens the door for embarrassing questions.
Personally, since Leigh was not my aborted baby's father, I truthfully answered, "This is our first baby." I didn't emphasize the word "our" and people never questioned my phrasing. If you are married to your aborted baby's father, you might say, "I'm so excited and nervous about my first birth experience!"
If you believe you can emotionally handle the situation, you might say, "This will be my first living baby" or "No, this is my second pregnancy." Most people will assume you had a miscarriage. If questioned, gently tell people you have an abortion in your past. Don't be afraid to let people know you are real and have made a mistake in your past.
What sort of mother will I be when I do have a baby that I can hold in my arms?
Because I had not yet dealt with my abortion, it was difficult going through that next pregnancy. Well-meaning people gave advice and cautions about the pain of labor. Because I had aborted by saline injection, the baby was dead and my body had to do all the work. I had already endured the most painful vaginal delivery possible. Yet I could not admit this.
As the months ticked by, I listened in silence to discussions concerning caring for a new baby. During natural childbirth classes I felt separated from the excitement of other new mothers expecting their first baby. I wondered how I would ever face the day I would hold my own living child. How would I feel? Would I love him or her? Most of my feelings were perfectly normal apprehensions any expectant mother faces. I didn't know that back then. I thought I only felt the way I did because of my abortion.
Then I went into labor. The months of preparation culminated in an easy, natural birth with my husband at my side. When Michael was placed into my arms, I knew what being a mother meant and I cherished the gift God had given me.
Much has been written on bonding. It is true that guilt, self-hatred, and depression can affect the developing relationship with your unborn baby. But the problem lies within your mind because of unresolved emotional conflicts and not with your new baby. During a pregnancy subsequent to an abortion, our tendency is to focus on the aborted baby. This is so harmful. Dr. Philip Ney comments, "It is generally recognized that an unresolved loss interferes with the process of attaching to a new child." Instead, we must seek to completely resolve our abortion's aftermath. Then we will be free to focus our thoughts on the new baby ¾ the one that will be born alive and capable of loving us in return.
You will be exactly the sort of mother you set your mind to be. You can choose to concentrate on your past abortion and adversely affect both your lives, or you can choose to nurture and love your new child.
Sometimes I feel that with each child I have I grieve more for the child I aborted. Why?
It's natural to occasionally think of your aborted child. With any child who has died a mother feels sorrow. Each new child brings back thoughts of the child you lost. If you have more than one child, you know each new birth brings back memories of previous births of your other children. However, if you still genuinely grieve for your aborted baby, you need to work on accepting his death.
How may my other children respond once they know I aborted their sibling?
In the years ahead you will hear of "survivor syndrome." For instance, surviving children may wonder why they weren't aborted, they may become angry and hostile, or they may fear future rejection by their parents if predetermined standards set by themselves or their parents are not met. Children must learn to settle their negative emotions regarding your abortion just as you learned to settle yours.
Concern exists over the fact that some children play act death when they learn of a sibling's abortion. I see this as a normal response to learning about death. A child learns about weddings and play acts a wedding. A child learns about homemaking and play acts at keeping house. A child learns about truck drivers and play acts driving a truck. So with death a young child examines his feelings and expands his understanding by play acting what he has learned.
I believe children usually respond to stress more straightforwardly than adults. They haven't learned to conceal their honest feelings. One mother wrote: "My youngest child said, 'I'm glad it wasn't me.' They were shocked at the news. However, they've assured me that they still love me. I'm sure at times they wonder about that brother or sister they never knew." A child's faith is simple and complete, and, if properly nurtured, it will guide him safely through this experience.
How could my negative response to my abortion affect my children?
Dr. Ney delineates three potential reactions of our children to abortion:
1. The haunted child ¾ Abortion is mysterious to him due to lack of information. He believes something tragic has occurred, but is terrified to find out just what because he fears the truth will be worse than what he has imagined.
2. The bound child ¾ He lives a sheltered life, overprotected by parents who fear they may also lose him. The parents may remain ambivalent toward the child to insure that if something happens to him, their pain won't be as great. This child may become alienated from his parents or become overly dependent upon them. The child may also abuse his parents, who in turn, believe this abuse is their due punishment for the abortion.
3. The substitute child ¾ This is the replacement child, expected to fulfill the dreams and hopes the parents had for the dead child. Because this baby is so wanted, our expectations may be too high. We feel cheated when the child doesn't live up to our hopes, and we take out our frustrations on the child. "Thus, it is not surprising to find that the much wanted replacement child is more frequently abused."
Dr. Ney concludes: "Surviving siblings most likely to be entrapped in one of these three syndromes have parents who: (a) have not been able to mourn a death in the family; (b) have wished for a child' death; (c) are survivor's themselves; (d) are at least partly responsible for a child's death; (e) are inhibited by personal or cultural prohibitions against discussing death; (f) have a physician who cannot or will not discuss a child's death with them."
It seems clear that problems with living children can be expected if we don't resolve our abortion’s aftermath. The key to avoiding problems lies within us. Once we correct our attitudes, the child will be free to live a normal life.
How can I help my children to accept my abortion?
How you tell them makes all the difference. Hold off telling them until you have resolved your anger, bitterness, and guilt. Kids are sharp. They pick up on our vocal inflections and facial expressions more often than we may realize. You don't want to portray your abortion in a false light or transfer guilt and anger to your children. For instance, telling your child that, "Mommy really got a raw deal from some people who lied to her about unborn babies," tells your children you are angry, resentful, and casting blame on someone else. Children may not understand an adult vocabulary, but they understand with their emotions. How much better to approach your abortion with the words, "Mommy did something wrong and she wants you to know about it and understand why it was wrong." This tells your children you can and have made mistakes, that you are willing to admit them, and that you have corrected them. It's an object lesson that can't be beat!
Full and clear communication is essential in any interpersonal relationship. Honesty is the best policy. Allow your child to ask questions. Dr. Ney states: "Surviving children cannot ask questions about a tragedy when their parents won't talk about their own experience of it. . . . Parents who feel guilty may try to share that guilt with surviving children. Too frequently children readily accept the blame. They realize that to carry the blame relieves their parents' distress and helps maintain family stability, but to carry the guilt severely inhibits and depresses children."
Encourage discussion. Even though the discussion may be painful for you, it may be necessary for your child to talk it out. Allow the child to see your grief, tears, pain. Honestly express your sorrow over your abortion. Pray together. Let your child know he or she is loved unconditionally and individually by you. Spend time with your child. Hold and cuddle your child. Love is not proven by words, but by actions.
Assure your child that abortion is not something you would ever again consider. It was wrong. You didn't know it then, but you know it now.
Consider telling your children about your abortion before they reach their teen years, especially if you mention your abortion in their presence. It is far better to tell them than let them guess whether or not you had an abortion.
We must be sensitive to our children's needs. They need not only unconditional love and affection from us, but assurance that God loves them unconditionally too. Instilling in your child an understanding of and belief in his own personal value to God and to you is vital for helping him deal with any of life's problems.
Part of our responsibility as nurturers also includes instilling in our children an understanding of God's grace and forgiveness. Like you, your children have a resource for coping with death ¾ the Holy Spirit who provides comfort and peace. Young children are amazingly resilient. They easily forgive and forget because their young brains are uncluttered by years of built up hurt and resentment.
How might my abortion adversely affect my mothering?
If you allow it to, an abortion can seriously affect your attitude and behavior toward your living children. As a result, they can be devastatingly affected. Any mother can become over-protective, ambivalent, or abusive. Abuse can be physical or emotional.
The perfect mother does not exist. No matter how hard we try, no matter what our backgrounds, we are going to make mistakes. Much to my dismay, I make mistakes when I know better. My children could tell you some of my errors better than I (I only pray none of them decides to write a book on that subject one day!).
God can override our mistakes. Remember, He works in the lives of our children as well as in our lives. Your abortion will not adversely affect your mothering ability unless you permit it to do so.
Will I abuse my living children?
It is interesting to learn that contrary to popular pro-abortion arguments which say unwanted, unaborted babies are likely to become victims of abuse, studies indicate post-abortion women abuse their children more frequently than those who have not aborted.
"Some parents become so frightened of their own rage, they withdraw from involvement with their children or leave home. Others enact that destructive rage, which may injure their children, maim or kill them. In all creatures, a signal of helpless distress from the young will invite either parental care or aggression. . . . A woman, to abort her helpless young, must overcome her instinctual impulse to attend to the little one's helplessness. Having done so once, it may be easier the next time."
When a child cries out in distress, a mother's natural inclination is to find out what the problem is and remedy it. Once a woman has killed her unborn baby, she may view anything less than murder (such as anger or physical abuse), as acceptable.
"Child abusers cannot be easily categorized. Battery occurs because of maladjusted attitudes, not because of poverty or ignorance. It is clearly not confined to any social or economic class." Maladjusted attitudes include unresolved guilt and anger in your own life. In other words, any person has the potential to become a child abuser.
That's the bad news. The exciting news is that you can beat the odds and become a loving, nurturing mother.
We once thought unborn babies were of value only to the degree they were "wanted." Our opinion of our unborn baby's value determined our treatment of him. This attitude was wrong and we know it now. Each person ¾ born or unborn ¾ has intrinsic value that is unaltered by what we think. If we view each child as valuable and precious, our desire will be to cherish and nurture him.
How can I make sure my abortion will not adversely affect my child rearing?
Accept your aborted baby as dead. Don't allow your dead baby to destroy your relationship with your living children. This is one reason why grieving must come to an end.
Seek a balance in your relationship with your living children. Understand that your children do not exist to meet your needs ¾ they exist to fulfill God's plan for their lives.
Anger toward children reflects our selfishness at not having what we expected or wanted. We may be tired or ill. We many want to be doing something other than mothering. We may begrudge our child time we must spend with him. What would our reaction be if we looked at the problem from our child's point of view?
Because I am task oriented, my tendency is to push aside my kids when I'm involved in a project. This has nothing to do with my abortion. It reflects my basic personality. I have learned to put aside my work to meet the needs of my children. It's not easy, but it's rewarding!
Philippians 2:3-4 admonishes us: "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others" (NIV). If we view each person as of higher value than ourselves and our wants, we will be not only better mothers, but better human beings.
Know your limits. Raising children is stressful. Their demands often seem to surpass our ability to meet them. It has taken me a while to understand that when I am harsh and impatient with my children, this is not a result of my abortion, but a result of my sinful reaction to a stressful situation. When I explode, they are not to blame. I am. Don't take your frustrations out on your children. Resolve your own anger before correcting your children's behavior.
Meditate on God's words regarding mothering:
Behold, children are a gift of the Lord; the fruit of the womb is a reward. (Psalm 127:3)
He settles the barren woman in her home as a happy mother of children. Praise the Lord. (Psalm 113:9 NIV)
Can any positive effect result from my abortion with respect to mothering?
We have learned much about ourselves, our God, and our close relationships because of our experience with abortion. We will continue to grow and learn. Because of this, we can become better mothers than we thought possible.
Because we understand God's great love for us and forgiveness of our sins, we are in an excellent position to show our children how much we love them. In our daily lives we can demonstrate sacrificial love that puts aside our own desires (and even our needs) to meet our child's need.
Yes, positive consequences can result from your abortion experience. Two women share their thoughts:
I now feel very strongly that every conception is a gift from God and that He would want us to treat it as such. I feel abortion is a terrible thing in this society ¾ another black area in our lives that keeps us from living the way God intended us to live. I am now strong enough in those beliefs again that I feel more confident as a mother, on how to counsel my daughters regarding sex, conception and birth control. (Liz)
I know that in bringing three beautiful sons in my life [God] gives me comfort and peace in living with my "secret" of ten years ago. I will be more caring and loving with my sons because of this. (Anonymous)
Now turn to the quotation that begins this chapter. Decide by an act of your will to make it true in your life.
Before I read this chapter, I had a question about . . .
In this chapter I have learned . . .
To resolve my post-abortion trauma, I will . . .
I need to talk to God about . . .
A verse from the Bible which helped me in this chapter is . . .
After reading this chapter, I have hope because . . .
Dr. Philip G. Ney, "The Child and Death," New Zealand Medical Journal, Vol. 96, Num. 726, February 23, 1983, p. 129.
Dr. and Mrs. J. C. Willke, Abortion Questions and Answers, revised edition (Hayes Publishing Company, Inc., Cincinnati, 1988), pp. 141-144.; Dr. Philip G. Ney, "A Consideration of Abortion Survivors," Child Psychiatry and Human Development, Vol. 13(3), Spring 1983, p. 172.
Dr. Philip G. Ney, "Relationship between Abortion and Child Abuse," Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 24, Num. 7 (1979), p. 612.
Reardon, Aborted Women Silent No More, p. 224.