One of the least talked about of the various issues that bring people to counseling is post-abortion stress syndrome. This is not an official diagnosis as classified by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual that mental health clinicians use, but its symptoms are very real for those who suffer from it.
Like post-traumatic stress syndrome, symptoms can include repeated, disturbing memories or nightmares, numbness, sleep problems, loss of sex drive and depression. These symptoms are sometimes accompanied by heart palpitations, trouble breathing, panic or sweating whenever sights or sounds remind the person of the abortion procedure.
Some women report feeling anxious whenever they hear benign sounds such as a vacuum cleaner or the dentist’s drill.
Most women who experience post-abortion stress report that at the time they made the decision to abort, they had no way of knowing that such symptoms could occur months, years or, in some cases, decades later.
Some live in fear of bad things happening and a belief that they do not deserve to be happy. Others report feeling depressed each year around the anniversary of the abortion or what would have been the birth date.
Not all women who have abortions experience psychological pain, but for those who do, forgiveness of self or others involved can be very difficult. Before that can happen, the grief generally needs to be experienced and healed. Counseling can be very helpful.
Another helpful resource for healing from post-abortion stress is Rachel’s Vineyard, a ministry that offers weekend retreats for individuals who are experiencing psychological and spiritual pain because of an abortion. The weekend offers an opportunity to examine the abortion experience, identify the ways that the loss has impacted the person in the past and present, and helps to acknowledge any unresolved feelings, such as anger, sadness, guilt or shame.
The focus of the retreat weekends is not on the politics or the “issue” of abortion, but on the personal experience and the healing journey of each participant.
Rachel’s Vineyard retreats are open to couples, mothers, fathers, grandparents or anyone whose life has been affected by another’s decision to abort.
For more information, visit www.rachelsvineyard.org or call Mary at 843-540-8788.
Mary Bieda, MS, LPC is a licensed professional counselor and pastoral counselor in private practice in Old Town Bluffton.