Grieving for an aborted pregnancy

Making the decision to abort a pregnancy is tough, even if it feels like the right thing to do. Some couples face a difficult time in their relationship following that decision.

Guilt

With any major life choice, it’s natural to go through the what-ifs and the maybe-I-should-haves. This can happen no matter what decisions you’ve made. People carry guilt individually but, if a decision is shared, the guilt can weigh on you as a couple and potentially lead to blame-shifting or resentment.

Grief

Some people and couples still have a grieving process to go through, even if it was their decision to terminate. The following research refers to miscarriages and stillbirths, but the lessons of grief are applicable:

In the study, most mothers and fathers struggled to understand their partners' grieving style. Fathers described having to focus on practical tasks and needing to remain strong, which meant that the way they grieved was very different to their partner’s [1].

People grieve and express loss in different ways [2] [3] and develop their own coping styles, which may not be recognised or understood by their partner. Some people are not consciously aware of their own coping style.

How can I help?

If you’re feeling upset or vulnerable after the abortion, it may be worth talking to a counsellor, or someone else you can trust. Talking through your pain is a helpful part of the healing process. Speak to your partner about how you are feeling and talk about what you might find helpful during this time. Keep in mind that your partner may be grieving too –perhaps in a different way – and try to offer support as well as asking for it.

Coping with guilt

There’s often a temptation to bury guilt or pretend it’s not there. Instead, try to recognise your guilt when it flares up, and talk to your partner about it. Talking it through and being heard may help you find some relief. Keeping the dialogue open and honest can also make things easier if it comes up again.

If you’re able to support each other and show patience, you may even find that you become closer in your relationship.

Coping with grief

If you and your partner have different coping styles, it can be a source of frustration in the relationship. Take the time to talk sensitively with your partner about how you’ve both coped with grief in the past. It might not be the easiest conversation but, as you learn to understand each other’s coping styles, you’ll find that you have more tolerance and patience for one another.

In the study, even the most bereaved parents were able to accept each other’s entirely different coping styles, and went on to become closer together in sharing their loss [4].

References

[1] Campbell-Jackson, L., and Horsch, A. (2014). The Psychological Impact of Stillbirth on Women: A Systematic Review. Illness, Crisis & Loss, 22(3), 237-256. doi:10.2190/il.22.3.d

[2] Dyregrov and Matthiesen (1987). Anxiety and vulnerability after the death of an infant. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology. 1987, 28: 16-25

[3] Gold, K.J., Sen, A., Hayward, R.A. (2010). Marriage and Cohabitation Outcomes After Pregnancy Loss. American Academy of Pediatrics

[4] Avelin, P., Rådestad, I., Säflund, K., Wredling, R., Erlandsson, K. (2013). Parental grief and relationships after the loss of a stillborn baby. Midwifery. June 2013, Volume 29, Issue 6, Pages 668–673. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.midw.2012.06.007

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