Self-Care After an Abortion
The emotional experience of abortion is as varied as the people who access them. You may be experiencing a wide range of emotions, even some that seem to conflict with one another… and you are entitled to all of them. You may even have feelings about those feelings, which is a lot to unpack.
You may find you are judging yourself for experiencing sadness, grief, or ambivalence around your abortion even though it was a decision you willingly and thoughtfully made. The truth is that abortion decisions are rarely, if ever, taken lightly by the persons making them. And even when you know in your gut that abortion is the right choice for you, the wide array of life factors considered in that decision don’t always make it an easy choice to make. Finances, education, relationships, availability of support systems, social and cultural expectations, health, and personal readiness are just a few of these variables.
People are often surprised to hear how common abortion is. Many people who bravely share their abortion story find that, in return, others around them share theirs.
According to the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC), “Abortion is the second most common reproductive health procedure, experienced by 31% of Canadian women. Between 1991 and 2005, roughly 100,000 abortions occurred annually in Canada.” Keep in mind, current statistics available do not account for the experiences of Two-Spirit, trans, non-binary, and gender diverse people who also access abortions. And although there are many stereotypes about who typical abortion clients are, they are truly reflective of our diverse society. A little known fact: more than half of all abortion patients are parents, who know well the responsibility that comes with parenthood; and choosing abortion often means making the best decision not just for themselves but for their family and future.
No matter what the circumstances are around your abortion decision, there are some things you can do to take control of your emotional recovery.
Feel it to heal it. There is no wrong way to feel about your abortion. You may find it helpful to label emotions as they arise as a way of acknowledging them. Journaling or sharing them with others may be helpful in processing how you are feeling. Allowing yourself the opportunity to feel emotions is a big part of healing.
Seek Support. After going through an abortion, you are healing physically as well as emotionally and spiritually. The change in hormones after the abortion procedure can make your emotions feel more intense in the short-term, making it that much more important to get the support you need. You can seek support from a trusted loved one, counsellor, or a pro-choice support line such as All-Options or Exhale.
Consider your support system. Experiencing an unplanned pregnancy and making the decision to have an abortion can sometimes give us new insights about those around us, including partners, family and friends. We may discover that others have strong opinions about our lives or abortion itself and are not giving us the unconditional support we need during this difficult process. It’s okay to distance yourself from unsupportive relationships and bring supportive ones closer during this time.
Allow your future self to honour your present self. Sometimes we doubt the decisions we make once we’ve moved forward with our lives and circumstances have changed. You might find it helpful to write down your reasons for choosing an abortion at this time in your life, so that you can remind yourself of your reasons later on.
Be gentle and compassionate with yourself. Self-criticism often shows up when we are vulnerable and hurting and seeking to regain a sense of control in our lives. Try to observe your inner self-talk and offer yourself the same compassion that you would share with a good friend.
Prioritize self-care. After an abortion you are healing on a physical level and very likely on an emotional and spiritual level as well. Whether you go back to work right away or take a few days off, make time to do things that make you feel good. Get take out and enjoy your favourite food, have an afternoon nap, get into nature, connect with loved ones, have a laugh or a good long cry. Take care of your physical needs too, by getting lots of rest, eating regular meals, and doing some physical activity when your doctor advises it’s safe (usually a few days after the abortion).
Ask for what you need. Those that care about you may not know how to support you at this time. Try to be specific in expressing your needs and making requests. This might mean asking them to simply listen when you share your feelings, without trying to “fix” or look for positives. Or it might mean asking for practical support such a having them get groceries for you or pick up your kids from school.
If you have children, remind yourself that you are a good parent and that prioritizing your and your family’s needs over having another child right now is an ethical decision and means you are a loving parent.
If you want children one day, remember that only you know when is the right time for you to bring a child into the world. If you decided now was not the time, it was for good reasons and you are very thoughtfully considering the wellbeing of yourself as well as that possible future child.
Use ritual or ceremony to help you grieve and find meaning in your experience. You might reflect on cultural or spiritual practices that have been a source of support and strength in the past, such as prayer or meditation. You may find a sense of release or closure in a symbolic ritual, such as writing a letter to your future self or planting some seeds.
Connect with purpose. An unexpected pregnancy has a way of forcing us to carefully examine our lives and consider what we want for our future, our goals and aspirations. This can be an opportunity to reconnect with what really matters in your life at this time, and live in line with your values.