Some short Excerpts from Forbidden Grief - The Unspoken Pain of Abortion
By Theresa Burke with David Reardon
This section is from Chapter 10 - which explores the
subject of Traumatic Re-enactment
The Mystery, the Drama, the Reenactment of
Since sex and abortion are intimately connected, it is not
uncommon for both women and men to act out abortion related
trauma through real or imagined sexual encounters.
As an example of the latter, Rowena became addicted to "cyber
affairs" on the internet after a traumatic abortion experience.
For Rowena, cyber-sex was "safe," since it did not expose her to
another pregnancy and abortion. Moreover, through these chat
room driven fantasies, which involved heavy doses of sexual
oppression, bondage and humiliation, she was able to recreate
themes that echoed her abortion related trauma. Rowena's
obsession with cyber-sex served as an outlet for unresolved
tensions related to her abortion, while providing a "safe"
framework for her to revisit and explore her feelings about
being manipulated, humiliated and treated as a sex object.
Men are also vulnerable. Peter was 17 when his girlfriend had
an abortion against his will. This experience left him feeling
shamed and powerless. When he later married, he kept the
abortion a secret from his wife. Although he loved his wife very
much, the added burden of keeping his feelings secret created
additional tension in his life. In an unconscious effort to act
out his feelings of anger, shame, and powerlessness in private,
Peter became highly addicted to cyber-sex and obsessed with
pornography. A major theme of his fantasies was female
domination and abuse; this reflected an unconscious need to
explore and master his own sense of shame and impotency.
Peter came from marriage counseling and eventually shared his
sad secret with his wife. Together they attended a Rachel's
Vineyard retreat where he finally allowed her to comfort and
support him. Peter's addiction to online pornography was
resolved as he went through the process of dismantling his
secret and grieving the loss of his aborted child. By sharing
this healing journey with his wife, Peter discovered a new
intimacy and trust with her which eliminated his dependence on
deceit and pornography.
Another common way in which trauma victims subconsciously
seek release from their deadened emotional state is by provoking
conflicts at work or at home. A depressed person may invite
crisis into his or her life on a daily basis, then wonder
helplessly, "Why did I do that?" or "Whatever possessed me to
allow this to happen?" For the post-abortive woman or man, these
questions echo the ones that haunt their abortion experience.
In addition, by provoking crises, the trauma victim is forced
to concentrate on solving the crisis at hand. This distracts the
individual from the self-examination and grief work necessary
for healing. I'm reminded of Roberta, who was caught stealing
from the cash register where she worked. She denied her
employer's suspicions for six months until they installed a
video camera to catch the thief. When confronted with the
evidence, Roberta broke down and explained that she felt she
deserved the money for all she had been through.
Roberta's traumatic abortion had left her with the feeling
that her child had been unjustly taken from her. This is the
theme of reenactment that encouraged thoughts of theft. Since
her child of inestimable value had been "stolen" from her, she
reasoned, why was it wrong for her to steal something of much
less value from her employer--after all, she "deserved"
compensation for her loss. In a vague way, she felt that other
people owed her something to fill the emptiness in her heart.
One obvious way in which people can provoke crisis is by
creating conflict in their personal relationships. For example,
several years after her abortion, Doris began to avoid her
husband even though she insisted she loved him very much. She
would call her husband and tell him she was working late and
would be home shortly after picking up a bite to eat.
Hours would pass before she would return home. Sometimes she
would simply spend the time driving around in her car, or going
to visit a good friend. Then Doris would secretly sneak into her
home, frequently after midnight.
The predictable result was that her husband soon began to
experience feelings of mistrust and a deepening rage about her
behavior. Soon he began to suspect that she was having an
affair. Doris insisted that she was only at work and offered
regular alibis with witness testimony. Although she persisted in
pledging her love and fidelity to him, her actions continued to
provoke his jealousy and feelings of abandonment. Doris was
bewildered and grief-stricken when he eventually moved out.
On one level, Doris was recreating the same dynamics that had
traumatized her five years earlier at the time of her abortion.
In this case, Doris was forcing her husband to go through the
same emotions that she had gone through after her abortion when
her former boyfriend began to avoid her. Then when her husband
did move out, her own feelings of abandonment were reenacted and
she experienced a double dose of grief.
I loved my husband, I really did. He was probably the best
thing that ever happened to me. I wanted to have children with
him because I thought he would be a good father. Looking back, I
suppose I did not feel worthy of his love, and I felt unsure and
fearful of children. I sabotaged the relationship . . . it's not
like I wanted to set him up to leave me . . . but that was the
consequence of my stupid behavior. So many incredible things are
linked to the pain of my abortion. I never understood it while I
was going through it, but it is crystal clear to me now.
Doris's acting out served to create an emotional distance
with her husband. This was an effective way to avoid the
pregnancy which she feared. Her routine of coming home late left
little room for a romantic sex life. Their time together as a
couple was consumed by spats, arguments, and insecurities,
thereby killing any possibilities to have a child.
This is just one example of many ways in which people create
crises in their lives to distract them from their grief or
fears. Jenny's crises, for example, were always work-related.
After my abortion, I began to fall apart at work. I felt
guilty that my performance was not up to standards. I began
taking work home, and I stayed up the whole night trying to
finish it. They kept giving me more and more work. Out of guilt,
Few people I know would expect themselves or others to carry
on the tasks of a demanding job right after the loss of someone
close to them. Jenny shouldered impossible tasks because they
kept her from facing her own pain. Each midnight crisis and
encroaching deadline released a surge of adrenaline that enabled
her to finish her projects and stave off dealing with her loss.
She became a workaholic, which provided a temporary relief from
For many post-abortive women, workaholic tendencies and an
obsession with their careers also reflect the fact that they
gave up their children for their professions. Since their
careers were bought at such a high price, they become obsessed
with succeeding in order to prove to themselves that their
choice to abort was not a mistake.
The effects of a workaholic lifestyle over time, however, can
leave one emotionally and physically depleted. Jenny's career
controlled her, rather than giving her a sense of control and
balance in her life.