“If I had kept the baby, I would be holding her in my arms right now. Enjoying her first Christmas.”
No one knew Ruby had an abortion except her boyfriend Jack. Immediately after the procedure, Ruby felt a period of relief. It had resolved the anxiety she felt over their unexpected pregnancy—for a while. Then, Ruby spent months trying to forget her choice and go on with her life, but with Christmas approaching, she could no longer contain the emotional and spiritual pain of her decision.
Ruby felt even more alone and depressed by the fact that Jack seemed fine with everything. His ability to brush off the abortion and move on with his life made her angry.
She wanted to confide in her sister and her friends, but she thought they would judge her and think she was a terrible person. So, Ruby put on a plastic smile and tried to remain upbeat and positive while hiding her painful secret.
The whole thing made her want to just skip Christmas completely this year.
“Will the holiday season always be a searing reminder of my decision and my loss?” Ruby thought to herself.
Silently Grieving During the Holidays
Ruby’s experience isn’t unique. Many women who have had an abortion feel a heightened sense of loss during the holidays. After all, Christmas started with the birth of a baby in a manager and has evolved into Santa Claus who generously surprises children with toys on Christmas morning. This child-centered holiday can trigger the horrible realization that there is a baby missing—and you may feel an extra heaping mound of guilt.
Every woman experiences abortion differently. Some women report having no feelings of remorse or sadness connected with their abortion. Chances are, if you’re still reading this article, you’re not one of them. If you are feeling the burden of sadness, grief, guilt, isolation, or shame, you can explore four ways to start down a path toward hope.
Stop and Take Inventory
Use this holiday as a time to take stock of things you may not have previously taken the time to think about, like:
How have you felt supported and by whom?
How do you wish you would be supported more?
What emotions have impacted your decisions?
What practical needs do you have now?
What are the blessings you have in your life this Christmas?
You can expand your inventory to include answers to questions about your feelings, upcoming decisions, your relationships, personal care, and more. The idea is to spend time evaluating your life and giving yourself space and time to think during the usual day-to-day busyness.
Express Your Emotions
Give yourself permission to grieve. One of the commonly reported feelings after an abortion is that women don’t feel they have the same right to grieve the loss of their baby because it was their choice or because of the judgment and stigma around abortion. It is important to remember that, though this loss is not identical to other losses, that does not mean it is not a valid loss. It is an experience that you have the right to grieve. It is part of you and your story and it is necessary to feel, process, and integrate every emotion that comes with that—the good, the bad, and the complicated.
Keep a journal to record your feelings. Journaling is a good way to unload what you are carrying around on the inside. Look for other ways to express your feelings as well. Talk to someone you can trust, create art, write songs—do whatever works for you to acknowledge the feelings that you’ve experienced from the moment you found out you were pregnant until now. Call the emotions by name—grief, fear, regret, shame, guilt, relief, isolation, and sadness. Identify them, work through them, and (as you are able) counter them with positive emotions like gratitude, love, hope, joy, faith, and acceptance.
Finding an outlet to express your feelings isn’t just for the holidays.
Keep in mind that different emotions may arise at different times. Some may even appear years from now. These emotions can come up for different reasons and in different ways. For example, if you had an abortion because you felt you were unable to care for a child at the time, you may experience your new emotions may surface about your abortion when you reach a time in your life when you do have the means to support a child. That’s normal and those emotions are valid. Rather than ignoring these emotions when they arise, it is important to consider that the emotions of a loss may come back up and impact you in different ways at different times in life. That is how grief works.
Develop Tangible Reminders
Find ways to remember your loss in a meaningful, personalized way. Some women think they will heal if they can just forget, but grief tells us otherwise. Instead, it can be more healing to remember. Finding a tangible reminder of your baby can help offer you a small level of comfort, hope, or remembrance. One woman shared, “Last year I bought a beautiful crystal ornament as a memorial to my child. This year it doesn’t hurt me to look at it. In fact, it is a real comfort!”
You can’t talk about grief after an abortion without talking first about pregnancy. Many women assume that the grief comes from the termination of your pregnancy, and not from the pregnancy itself. The reality is, many of the complex emotions you are experiencing now began as soon as you learned you were pregnant. If yours was an unplanned pregnancy, then fear, confusion, anger, blame, conflict, guilt, shame, isolation, and anxiety began back at that first realization.
Finding the right person to talk to after your abortion to express your grief may be the first step toward hope and healing. If you are someone who has had an abortion and are finding it hard to get through the holidays, you are not alone. There are people who understand and who want to help, especially at Christmas.
You can call A Woman’s Place or visit one of our centers where you will find compassion and acceptance, and a safe place to be heard. We will deeply listen to you with the purpose of helping you empty your heart find hope again.
Not local? You can reach out to the National Post Abortion Helpline: 888-456-HOPE (4673)
Passages of Hope
Care Net: Post-Abortion Resources
Books by Dr. Theresa Burke:
Forbidden Grief: The Unspoken Pain of Abortion
Living in Color: The Goal of Post-Abortion Recovery