While many of the topics discussed on this blog are more theoretical in nature — focusing on research studies and circumstances we as parents would like to prevent — sometimes we face very personal parenting challenges. Over the next few weeks, we’d like to address some of the tough situations that parents face, or that they may need to help their children face.
As a parent of a teen, it is likely that even if your own child dodges the worst case scenarios, his or her friends won’t all be so lucky. And if they have been lucky and safe so far, statistically, it is only a matter of time before your child will know someone who has gotten pregnant, or had an abortion, or been abused, or tried drugs, or, or, or. So this week, let’s consider what happens if your child’s friend has an abortion, and either the friend feels safe telling you directly or your child comes to you for advice on how to help her friend.
While the moral and political beliefs surrounding abortion vary widely, it is fairly safe to say that no one plans on having an abortion. The young woman who has experienced an abortion has gone through a crisis in her life — a sudden change in plans that for many people elicits surprising emotional responses. It is likely that you or your child, upon hearing about the abortion, may also experience an emotional response that you did not expect, particularly if someone in your family has strong convictions about abortion or has personally experienced an abortion. I would caution you to deal with these emotions separately from helping your child’s friend. Then, when you or your child are in a position to reach out to the young woman who had an abortion, keep the following in mind:
First, it is important to understand what emotions a teenager might be experiencing after having an abortion. Many teens can experience conflicting, confusing, and painful emotions during this time. She may feel relief: relief that the crisis is over and she can move on without any big changes to her lifestyle. Sadly, the relief she feels can be short-lived and can turn into many other emotions such as denial, depression, and anger.
Denial can come in the form of refusing to believe the pregnancy and abortion even happened. This is one way her mind can try to block out the painful experience. After the denial passes, depression or regret can cause her to feel sad and have crying episodes. Many post-abortive teens have found it difficult to be around pregnant women and babies because it acts as a reminder of the baby she aborted. Alongside depression can surface anger. Anger can occur when she feels upset at herself for going through with the abortion, even if it was her choice all along. Also, she may feel anger towards the baby’s father and others who may have encouraged her to abort, or who didn’t provide her with the support she wanted during the pregnancy. With all of these feelings surfacing, it may be compounded by the fact that she feels very alone. She may feel (justifiably) uneasy talking to others because they may judge her or openly tell others about it.
What can you (or your child) do to help? You can offer her emotional support so she knows there are people who care about her. Be understanding and tell her you will be there for her while she is working through all the emotions. Tell her it is common to experience these emotions and give her hope it will get better. Also, it is important to direct her to post-abortion support services. Locally, Avenue Women’s Center offers a program called Restore, which offers a safe, confidential, and nonjudgmental environment for teenagers to talk to professional staff and other post-abortive teenagers about their abortion experiences. This can reassure her she is not alone and help her get to the point of acceptance and healing in her life.