The Disenfranchised Grief of Abortion
Disenfranchised grief is grief that is not recognized by society. One MAJOR type of disenfranchised grief that I often mention is the result of stillbirths and miscarriages.
A grief for one who had no connections in life. No schoolmates, no friends, no co-workers … all of which translates to no funeral. A grief that can’t be shared.
A grief to be borne solely by the ones who conceived. A grief that is carried by the one who may now feel guilt upon silent grief because she miscarried.
This is a grief that is often carried alone. A grief that is too often complicated by guilt. A grief that is private and difficult to share. A grief for a nameless soul.
Yet, there is a movement to recognize this grief. Mothers who have miscarried call us at the funeral home and request some public funeralization for their miscarried/stillborn child. Some even request a public viewing if the child is far enough along in it’s development. This movement to have funerals — whether through a funeral home or simply in a small private service — is a movement that provides a positive outlet for the grief of the parents and siblings. It recognizes a traditionally disenfranchised grief.
So, why isn’t there a movement to memorialize/remember abortions (The book, “Liquid Life: Abortion and Buddhism in Japan” explores abortion remembrance in Japanese culture)? Here’s some reasons why abortions might not be memorialized:
Obviously, the political contentiousness of the topic doesn’t help.
There’s the idea that the fetus is not a thing to be grieved.
There’s guilt factors,
there’s shame factors (one night stands, rape, incest),
and there’s trimester factors (the fetus could have been only a couple weeks old).
And, there’s the fact that abortions are VERY private decisions, that aren’t meant for public appraisal. How much would a woman / couple be shamed, guilted, chastised and questioned if there was a public funeral for an abortion?
And yet we have this from a discussion thread at Steady Health:
I am 31 and desperately wanted to have a child with my partner. Last month I found out that I was pregnant and I was surprised to feel absolutely nothing positive about the fact. After the initial shock wore off all I felt was indifference, fear and depression. The sight of women with babies etc. provoked feelings of nausea… I took this to mean that I didn’t actually want the baby and last week i had an abortion. Now that my body is returning to its normal state I feel exactly the way that i did before I found out that I was pregnant! I don’t understand how it’s possible to feel so emotionally estranged from myself during pregnancy. Is it possible that this happened because of pregnancy hormones? I feel like my body betrayed me. I wanted that baby. Has anyone else experienced anything similar to this? It’s very disturbing…
And this was one of the nearly 100 replies — most of similar nature — to the above post:
I too have recently had an abortion and am having those same feelings of regret and grief. i have always wanted a family more than anything, am in a committed loving relationship and would even go so far as to say that I disagree with abortion – and yet, i fell pregnant unplanned, got scared at the timing of it all and the consequences of it, and before i knew it, I’d done it.I cry a lot. I feel empty inside, like there is a big hole inside of me that won’t go away. I feel the desire to have another baby, soon, after my wedding, earlier than we had ever planned. I ache all the time and it’s as though my body misses being pregnant (even though I was so sick). I’ll be having a happy day and then suddenly i’ll break down into a flood of tears, racking sobs that shake my whole body and i feel an indescribable ache in my chest.
I worry that when i do have another baby that it won’t fix the real problem of the baby that I made the decision not to keep.
One of the problems with politicizing abortion is that when it becomes part of a platform we forget that there are REAL people involved, who are parting with a REAL part of themselves and who will likely experience some type of REAL grief.
I understand that just as some don’t experience grief over miscarriages so not everyone will experience grief over an abortion. I know some woman who have celebrated their abortions.
Yet, it IS important to recognize that abortions may likely cause a type of disenfranchised grief that if not recognized will cause psychological difficulty. And if the grief goes unexpressed, may cause intense, unintended emotional consequences.
It’s time to give talk about our abortions to people we can trust. And it’s okay to grieve apart of you that is no more.