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Testimonies

Post Abortion Stress Syndrome: Two women’s stories

By Gaylene Dempsey

Post Abortion Stress Syndrome (PASS) is not yet officially recognized by the medical community but it is a real experience for women who’ve had abortions.

I’m one of those women. I consider myself a poster child for the negative effects of PASS. By the time I was 26, I had undergone three abortions.

As harsh as it sounds, the first time I got pregnant, abortion just seemed like the logical choice. I was a child of the 70s feminist movement and with Henry Morgentaler getting all the media attention, abortion as a teen pregnancy solution was all the rage among my friends and peers. My parents were appalled at my decision and unfortunately intimated that if I had an abortion, God would turn His back on me. I was already angry because the baby’s father – a French Catholic boy I’d had sex with just once - never called but sent messages through friends about how “disappointed” he was at me even considering abortion. So I went ahead and did it and my attitude became “well then screw God and screw you all.”

I remember very little about the experience except that I recuperated in a friend’s home. I decided that I was just going to act like everything was okay and even went out and partied the next night.

Having grown up in an abusive alcoholic home, I was already a problem drinker, but that abortion turned out to have dire impact on my life to come. My drinking rose to epic proportions and with that nightly blackouts, a high level of promiscuity and unprotected sex. Before long I got pregnant once again. And since I’d had one abortion, I quickly decided to do it once again. I remember nothing about that abortion. Nothing whatsoever.

A few years later I became pregnant with my future husband, who was quite a bit younger than me. He didn’t seem too thrilled with the prospect of raising a child at his young age and although I was sober by this time, I went ahead and made the decision for us both and had a third abortion.

We greatly desired to have children together, but I ended up miscarrying three babies and I was certain it was because God was punishing me. After all I’d turned my back on Him when I was 19 and had three abortions.

My journey was both painful and enlightening. In the years after my abortions I was simply angry: I would see pro-life ads and billboards and get self righteous and livid. But once I accepted Jesus into my life and started walking towards the Lord I started to soften and it slowly got easier.

I began counseling at Crisis Pregnancy Centre, took part in a post abortion support group and attended a couple of Rachel’s Vineyard post abortion retreats. I came to accept that I had murdered three children. Some people in my life don’t like me putting that way but the truth is I did commit murder. Now if you murdered three adults, wouldn’t you experience some trauma? Yes you would. And yes I did.

I eventually realized that at the core of my abortions were life problems stemming from the fact that I never really got my needs met as a child. So I turned to boys and men to fill that void. Research suggests a strong link between abusive broken childhoods and abortion. Dr. Philip Ney is the author of Deeply Damaged, an explanation for the profound problems arising from aborting babies and abusing children. “Women who were abused and neglected as children are more likely to have abortions,” says Dr. Ney. That was exactly my experience.

It took me a really long time to accept God’s forgiveness, His love, His grace and His mercy, but eventually it settled into my soul that it was possible.

Since dealing with my abortions I have encountered many young women and their partners who are entirely blithe to the facts about PASS. One teenaged girl’s mother was entirely horrified at her daughter reaction to the abortion – depression, suicidal thoughts and cutting – and questioned her reaction. “I’ve had an abortion and so have all my friends and none of us have acted like this!” she insisted. “Can’t she just stop this?” Her boyfriend, an African young man, also suffered from a deep depression that is triggered every time one of his friends or relatives has a child.

A is a refugee from Africa who came to Canada as a 9 year old in a large family. She became sexually active with her older African boyfriend and got pregnant at age 16. Although A was entirely opposed to abortion, her boyfriend forced the issue. He knew their families – due to cultural norms – would force him to become betrothed, pay a large dowry and get married, and he didn’t feel ready. When she resisted, he threatened, among other things, to commit suicide. A gave in to his pressure and had the abortion. Before long, she started to experience many PASS symptoms: depression, episodes of sadness and attempted suicide. The relationship with her boyfriend suffered greatly, but before long they became pregnant again, which A thought would help all the symptoms. It didn’t.

A was able to find healing in a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat and subsequent post-abortive counseling at Crisis Pregnancy Centre. She found a channel for the anger she had felt since childhood and ultimately realized she was not only loved by God, but forgiven by Him. Being able to name and commemorate her aborted child was hugely cathartic. The relief she experienced was palpable and she walks in freedom today although she still struggles with some sadness. Now 19, A is currently expecting a second child with her boyfriend.

As part of A’s healing journey, she makes herself available to other teenagers and young women who are considering premarital sex, getting pregnant and/or abortion. In particular, she shares her story and the truth about PASS symptoms and urges them to make the right decision. Her desire is sincere: to save other young women and their partners from the personal hell she experienced.