Dear Patrick: Despite the fact that we were using birth control, I got pregnant in the first year of marriage. My husband and I are living in my parents’ basement. There was no space or money for a child. So we both decided I would terminate the pregnancy, even though we really want a family. I had the abortion a few months ago. It was more painful than I thought it would be, and I wish there had been some time or space to talk about how I was feeling about it all.
I try to tell myself that this is a sacrifice I made for the sake of the child. It wasn’t a selfish decision. We are having trouble meeting our basic survival needs. We are both employed at part-time work and we have no idea when it will get better. I have been crying a lot, and my mother wants to know what is wrong. I don’t want to talk about this with her because her religious beliefs are not pro-choice. So I do things like get in the car and drive to an abandoned parking lot so I can just sit in the car and cry without anybody hearing me.
My husband tries to comfort me, but being physically close to him often leads to sex. We are newlyweds and yet I find that I don’t desire him right now. I am afraid I will get pregnant again, for one thing, and I also feel that he expects me to just forget about the baby that we lost and get back to normal. How can I do that? I don’t think I could ever have another abortion.
Don’t get me wrong, I do think they should be legal. I don’t think any woman should be forced to have a child. On the other hand, I think a lot of pro-choice people are not very honest about how an abortion can affect you. What can I do? We are already in such a difficult situation. We have very little privacy. My mom sometimes treats me like an adult and sometimes like a child, which is understandable given that we are living in her house. I don’t know when we will have more independence. The future does not make me feel much hope.
Am I ever going to stop feeling so damn much regret and grief?
There is no rule about how long people should grieve. Eventually, you will start to feel better. But if you don’t want to wait and count those days, weeks, or months, let’s get you some help. Why suffer alone if another person can listen with understanding and help you to figure out how to take better care of yourself?
When people call an economic downturn a depression, they aren’t kidding. Looking at limited prospects for change or improvement in the future does something to peoples’ sense of whether life is worth living. A young couple naturally want to set goals and make their dreams come true. It can be very hard to stay together and keep the faith. I believe there are a lot of smart people trying very hard to get the economy of western nations back on track, but I also know there are a lot of idiots in power who don’t seem to care about how well average people are doing. The world has become an interdependent network of financial interests, so there is pressure to get the recession under control lest everyone suffer more than they have already.
Your abortion took place against this background. I think this might have meant that you had nothing positive to focus on. Instead of being able to tell yourself, “In another year, we will have the down payment on a house and I can paint a nursery,” you are searching for privacy in a parking lot, for God’s sake. Meanwhile, your mother is trying to help, but she has yet to really separate from you so she can see you as an independent adult. She probably wants to see you do well and have a good life with your husband. But she probably gets confused about what her role should be, since the two of you are under her roof. Keeping secrets from her may make this even worse. If she senses that something important happened, but nobody gave her the 411, she will start digging at you to get at the truth.
I have no idea how fanatical her religious beliefs are. My own mother was a doggedly faithful, conservative Mormon, but she did not abandon a daughter who left a violent relationship and had an abortion. She said that she believed the spirit of the unborn child would come to my sister when she was ready to be a mother. I don’t know if you have any spiritual beliefs that might comfort you, but this may be a good time to search your heart for inspiration in this realm.
Don’t let your depression get any worse. Seek out a low-income clinic or call a crisis hotline and get referrals. If there is a waiting list, put your name on it. Call back frequently to see if there are any openings. People who are in crisis are more likely to get the attention of an agency in these times of low funding. Just a few weeks of counseling could make a big difference. Medication also helps some people. If you have a doctor who is not a chilly alien robot, talk to him or her and get information about anti-depressants. These medications will not make you feel blissful or high. They don’t immediately wipe out your sadness. But they lift the despair enough to give you the strength to figure out what you can do to recover.
Don’t punish yourself any longer for doing what had to be done. This is probably the most difficult aspect of being a woman. Your body has the ability to create life, but the outside world can make it a dangerous prospect. You are the only person who has the right to judge when you can or cannot have and raise a baby. I don’t think any loving Creator would punish you for thinking about the best interests of the child.
Reach out to your husband and let him know you have been struggling. Tell him that you may need him to just hold you while you cry, or you may need him to patiently listen to the same story over and over again for a little while. Traumatized people often need to tell their story more than once, and each time they tell it, a little of their suffering goes away. For now, having intercourse may not be a good idea. But that doesn’t mean the two of you can’t be sexual. By not having sex with your husband, you are telling him that you no longer love or trust him. Let him know that you care about his needs, just as you want your own needs to be satisfied, but right now, intercourse seems dangerous and scary. There are a lot of things two lusty young people can do that are very very pleasurable (and intimate) without creating a danger of reproduction.
I am also curious about why your birth control failed. This absolutely needs to be addressed by your doctor. If you had a different method that felt more reliable, your depression could see a lot of improvement. Feel free to write to me again if you need to. I am so sorry that you are going through this, and I wish I could just take it away. Not every woman who gets an abortion slips into this type of depression, but your story is very moving. I understand why you feel the way that you do. And you are not a traitor to feminism or reproductive rights because you feel bad about not being able to complete your pregnancy and raise your child. You are a strong woman in a tragic situation that exceeded her strength. I hope the people who love you will come forward now and offer you their care and healing, so you can get your life back.