What to expect after you're no longer expecting
November 19, 2012 6:24 AM   Subscribe

I had an abortion two months ago, and I'm feeling isolated and struggling with the idea that life is carrying on as though nothing has happened. How did you start feeling normal again?

I got pregnant with an IUD fitted, so it was very much unplanned. I'd never wanted children, and the medication I take would make birth defects likely. This, and the risk of miscarriage if the IUD was either removed or stayed in place, made my partner and I decide it was the best option to take. I've always been pro-choice but it was still an unexpectedly tough decision.

However, I feel like I've been through this frightening and disorientating experience in secret. I don't currently live with my partner - he is in a different city, we can't move in together until next year - and I live as a lodger, and do not have the kind of relationship with my housemates that means I would discuss this stuff with them. I spoke to two friends - one offered me a place to stay if I needed it, the other responded with 'well if it were me [getting accidentally pregnant] I'd be over the moon' and then said that as I hadn't mentioned it since I told her, I didn't seem to want to talk about it. My partner is happy to talk about it with me, but I find it hard to talk about this stuff over the phone. I am in psychotherapy at the moment and have brougth it up there, but on a day to day basis I feel like I'm pretending nothing happened.

Everything happened very quickly and I go from not being sure it ever really happened at all, to having occasional flashbacks - the wallpaper, smells, the GP telling me my due date, never knowing whether it would have been a boy or a girl. I feel I want to tell people why I feel so physically and mentally drained recently, or someone to be sympathetic, but it's not a topic that's easy to bring up in the same way as, say, bereavement - I've been around my friend, or my mum (who knew and was sympathetic) and I haven't been able to even bring it up, and because it's a taboo subject I am not sure whether I can bring it up with others. It feels weirdly like someone's died and nobody knows about it, and I have no frame of reference for how to deal with this. A colleague e-mailed round her first scan this week, and I keep thinking about how I would be doing the same just now, and instead of congratulating her I had to leave the room because I was crying.

I also have the feeling that I should be 'over it' by now - partner says that given the circumstances it was a fait accompli and I've done nothing wrong, but I still feel upset and guilty at times. I thought it might be hormonal and I would relax with time, so I don't know if it is normal to still feel like this after a couple of months. I find that I'm spending most of my time away from work sitting in my room, not wanting to deal with people at all, mostly playing solitaire because I don;t have the energy to do very much at all.

Basically: is this normal? And how did you deal with it, and do things ever feel 'normal' again?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Please mail me.
posted by Yellow at 6:37 AM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm so sorry that you're dealing with this. I have no expertise or experience to qualify me to give you advice here, but here's what I would tell a friend in your situation who turned to me for help.

First, I think how you're feeling is perfectly normal.

Second, as far as I can see what you had, while technically an abortion, was basically a medically assisted miscarriage. IUD pregnancies do not have good outcomes, and as you've said, you're on other meds that would also have a bad effect. There are lots of support groups out their for women (and their partners) dealing with the after effects of miscarriage -- I see no reason why you shouldn't allow yourself to use those services.

Third, it sounds like you have one clueless friend, and another friend who is offering you support. Go to the supportive friend -- you don't need to stay with her, but maybe she can come hang out with you for an evening. Let her know if you want to talk about this (it sounds like you need to), or if you just want someone to eat ice cream and watch bad movies with. Avoid clueless friend for now.

Fourth, is there a Planned Parenthood near your area? I'm disappointed that the GP you saw didn't provide you better support, but if you call PP, I'm sure they'll have someone who you can talk to. Related to this, I would see if your therapist might be available to see you more often for the next few weeks, as you work through this.

Good luck, you can do this.
posted by sparklemotion at 6:45 AM on November 19, 2012 [7 favorites]

There is no reason you should be over it yet. It's a difficult experience. I haven't personally been through it, but I am close with a few girls who have. One was fine with it- didn't much care. The other was having experiences much like what you're describing. The difference between them is that the second had an abortion because it was the responsible thing to do, but she would have liked to have kids, and she loved the man a lot, so it was really hard for her. She had a personal funeral that was deeply meaningful to her and helped a bit with closure. It took her about a year to fully come to terms with it-everyone's greiving process is different.

I understand what it's like to have a deeply personal sorrow that you can't share with the people you think you should be able to share it with. The way I look at it is that our most personal joys and sorrows are, by their very nature, something that can't be shared or understood by other humans. That said, it sounds like you need to be comforted. Can you ask a friend or your mom to comfort you, without explaining the details why? "I've got some difficult personal stuff going on right now, and I don't really want to talk about it, but I'm feeling really vulnerable/ sensitive/ tender/ whatever and I could use a hug", is a totally acceptable request.

As for feeling like it's a secret, I mean, it is and that's hard. But lots of things don't get talked about because they are private. But maybe you could find a support group or women's group where you could feel free to talk about this without shame?

Lots of hugs to you. I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by windykites at 7:01 AM on November 19, 2012

Normal. Whether or not you wanted this pregnancy, you are mourning a loss (and an associated trauma) -- give yourself the space and time to need the kind of recovery you'd need if you lost a close relative or friend. Here it was somebody you didn't know, but still one weighted with a host of "potential future" imaginings -- that's part of what makes your one friend's "over the moon" comment so cutting; she's dismissing the fact that you're in mourning for a pregnancy you *couldn't* carry to term, not one you strictly didn't want. (I'd imagine that this will make it hard to be cheery about other people's sonograms for a long time, even after your hormones have returned to normal, which they totally haven't yet.)

Also, even beyond the abortion/miscarriage experience, any time you suffer a big loss and the rest of life keeps on turning, you feel oddly out of place and like you're "pretending." You just have to keep (a) venting from time to time, and (b) keeping at the normal parts of your life until they gradually start feeling normal. For that matter, I think it's ok to tell people that (c) you had a short-term health issue that you don't really want to talk about but that's left you emotionally and physically drained -- that opens up some space for people to be nonspecifically supportive (at least in the distraction category, even if you don't decide to open up to everybody), which can help bridge the disconnect between your feelings and the normalcy around you. Or explain that you had a miscarriage, which I think is the right way to view this, and also helps frame your reaction in a way that people can anticipate and sympathize with.

So sorry about your circumstances and how hard this must be! I trust it will get easier with time, but that time might be measured in years, not months...
posted by acm at 7:02 AM on November 19, 2012

I'm sorry you're struggling.

One of the things about abortion is that we tend not to talk about it because it's such a polarized topic. Not talking about it can lead to feeling secretive and shameful, and I think that's much harder to deal with than either the decision or the procedure. It can be hard to get to a place where you feel strong and proud of yourself for making a tough choice and doing the right thing for your health, future and family unit. I assure you, though, that it is very possible to feel this way.

To further complicate things, there are genuinely supportive post-abortion support services where you can go to talk about this either with a trained professional and/or with other women. Services and groups also exist online. However, a lot of those resources are fronts for pro-life organisations so you really, REALLY need a personal recommendation here. (Do not Google for these services, all the top results I get are plants.) I am not in the US so I can't make any suggestions, but maybe another member will be able to.

FWIW I have had more than one abortion. You can be sad and that's totally OK, but I would encourage you to find some other emotions to identify with, too. Pissed worked for me: "Holy crap, we can put a man on the moon but we can't improve a woman's experience of exercising her most fundamental human right?" Also, saying "Fuck you, you are bullshit" to shame and instead opting to feel fiercely proud that I had been able to do a really hard thing for myself. "Fuck you, shame" also meant me being pretty upfront about having had an abortion. I don't discuss abortion rights in theory, here or anywhere else; I talk and write about my personal experience. There are millions of us and we should not be invisible.

Also consider that you may be struggling to come to terms with this: "I'd never wanted children, and the medication I take would make birth defects likely." If you take kids off the table, it's sort of a theoretical decision. Actually being pregnant takes something that was theoretical and makes it really concrete. It's OK to re-consider your previous decision, and to say "One day, I might like to have kids." And if a safe pregnancy isn't going to be possible for you, it's OK to mourn that and have it be a bigger deal than you thought it was.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:04 AM on November 19, 2012 [17 favorites]

My only concern about you framing this as a miscarriage is the possibility of your facing bitter anti-abortion sentiments from people who have been struggling to have kids or who have had unintentional miscarriages. I don't want them to make this harder for you by them accidentally making you feel guilty.
posted by windykites at 7:07 AM on November 19, 2012

So sorry for your pain. All we can do is express our sorrow and try to help you to understand that it is a very real loss, which derived in no way from fault by you or your partner. You made a difficult, sad and correct choice.

That being said, having the world go on unaware of your loss and pain is extremely difficult. In a situation such as yours you don't even have the minor solace of an obituary notice to make your loss known. Strangely, perhaps you can have the comfort of those who know you well enough that you can discuss this with them, as you have started to try, and those, such as this group, who really don't know you at all with whom you can discuss your deepest pains.

Don't take too much to heart your one friend's inability to help you. Some people just do not do "sad" or "difficult" very well.

As you have seen in following Metafilter, while we don't know you, there is a feeling of a caring, community of people who have experienced a good deal and who offer genuine empathy and sympathy and understanding. Please let it help. We are here.

I also encourage you to seek a more direct, in person, support group in your area. Planned Parenthood is an excellent resource both for referral to other groups and for people who will talk with you one on one as caring people. Take advantage of them.

Remember, the important thing is you being able to express your feelings. The responses you get, including this, are meant to be helpful but their only real value is to let you know other people care about you and your pain and loss and support you in dealing with them. We do.

So sorry.
posted by uncaken at 7:08 AM on November 19, 2012

Because you shouldn't feel guilty. You haven't done anything wrong.
posted by windykites at 7:09 AM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Absolutely. And yes. It's not at all surprising that you have these residual feelings, given that there was a question in your mind about whether you could go through with the pregnancy. I didn't have any question in my mind, circumstances and intentions were just NOT there, and I've been pro-choice all of my life, but still the feelings and the depression persisted. It peaked at about 6 months after the fact, so seriously that I couldn't work for a few months, so it's definitely not just about the hormones. Part of the depressing thing *is* the 'business as usual' reaction of the whole entire world to the thing they don't know about that is tearing you up inside.

People react really weirdly sometimes, but in my experience, the more people you talk to - the better, and easier it gets (especially given the medical circumstances in your case would give some staunch pro-lifers cause to stop and reconsider their righteousness). Only personal choice led my decision, and while it has clearly pushed some buttons for some of my friends, and they have clearly found it difficult to know what to say - or even if they should say anything at all, I have overwhelmingly had positive, supportive responses. The people I thought I absolutely couldn't talk to - my friend who had recently suffered a late miscarriage of a very much wanted baby, and another who was heavily pregnant - became my closest allies in this, and I'm only annoyed that I didn't think it was OK to talk to them sooner because I thought it would upset them. It's OK to not want to explain to colleagues and housemates, but do try and reach out to more of your friends - even if it's just to say - "this situation happened, I'm still finding it really hard, please eat ice cream with me now". Don't assume people will know that you're hurting, because they won't - a nurse at the clinic told me "this is as hard on you as you want to make it" - and perhaps for some people that's true, but I felt that it trivialised my very real pain and suffering. You have to tell them how you feel about the situation - if you told your friend how upsetting it has been for you and the response was *still* 'oh, 'kay, well i'd be jumping for joy', you need to DTMFA.

It gets better. There'll come a point where you'll be able to respond to strangers on the internet about these things without feeling the need to HIDE YOUR SHAME and go anon, and there'll even come a point where you'll just mention it in conversation because it's topical - this happened to me the other day and when I stopped to think about it afterwards, I nearly cried with happiness, because it didn't hurt to talk about it at all and I didn't feel any shame or guilt or sadness for the first time EVER and that helped someone else with their feelings, which was wonderful.

Also - CBT. CBT. CBT. for reals.
posted by f3l1x at 7:24 AM on November 19, 2012

It can be disconcerting and unnerving to go through, like, knee surgery alone. I can only imagine how strange and difficult it must be to go through something so potentially fraught with personal, emotional, and social significance. It's tragic that your partner couldn't be there to provide the hugs and support you need.

TBH, it sounds like you're handling it pretty darned well. But in spite of having solid reasons to go through this, situational depression here makes total sense. Please accept warm virtual regards from those of us with mostly confirmation/sympathy and little concrete advice to offer.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 7:29 AM on November 19, 2012

From the OP:
Hi. Just to confirm a couple of things:

- I'm in the UK. There isn't really as much of a pro-choice/pro-life rhetoric here, and certainly not the same atmosphere of shame as in the US - I saw no protestors on my way to the clinic. I feel really sorry for US women who have to contend with this stuff, and for Irish women who have to compound a difficult situation with a difficult logistical situation as well. I was lucky not to deal with this, but it doesn't mean that we are still more open about discussing this stuff.
- I am anon here not because I'm ashamed, but like any medical stuff (I also have bipolar disorder and I keep that need-to-know in the wider world) I'm not sure I'd want it linked to me out in the open, and also because my partner is a MeFite and I'd like to give him the option of privacy as well.
posted by jessamyn at 7:32 AM on November 19, 2012

Ah sorry - OP - I'm also in the UK, so same-same. Also the "hide your shame" bit, I was actually referring to myself - as in I would be able to respond to you on the internet, and I'm not worried about being identified. I totally understand that you will pick and choose who you disclose personal facts to in a community you are part of. Apologies for not making that clear!
posted by f3l1x at 7:36 AM on November 19, 2012

You made the best choice you could make at the time, and this was the best choice for you and your partner and the pregnancy. The world is full of people who have made the best choice they could make. No one's opinion is more valid than your action.

This is an experience that is close to my own heart. You have done nothing wrong. Memail me if you'd like to talk more.
posted by mochapickle at 7:38 AM on November 19, 2012

Just wanted to add that I'm sorry for your loss.

I agree that some friends just don't do sad or difficult well. When someone we care about faces a sad situation, some people see it and think, crap, that could be me, and shut down or withdraw a bit. That doesn't mean they don't care - frequently they're afraid of saying the wrong thing, so they back off. On the plus side, these friends are terrific if you need a distraction - cheesy movie, evening out, etc. We all have strengths and weaknesses so it's okay to recognize that one friend might not be a good listener but might be good at something else.

Don't try to rush your grief or desire to get back to normal. It's a process. That said, I'm confident that one day, it will hurt less than it does today. Take care of yourself and honor your needs. You don't need to push yourself in any way at this point in your life. Just focus on putting one foot in front of the other. It'll get easier. Maybe not like before, but easier than it is right now.
posted by kat518 at 8:19 AM on November 19, 2012

Hi OP. I just wanted to say that I had my last abortion while living in the UK, and that when I say shame, I mean exactly what you mentioned about people not being open about discussing stuff. A couple of thoughts about your follow-up post:

* Have you seen your partner since the termination? I think a serious amount of extra effort to see one another right now is really called for. Lean on your mum, your friend, some more friends and your boyfriend if you can get him there.

* You still need to be careful about sources for after-care support in the UK. CareConfidential, Crossways, and other early Google UK results are Christian charities with bias.

* You can go back to your GP or your clinic and tell them that you need post-abortion support. They will be able to refer you to services. Both the NHS and private clinics have counsellors for this.

* I am in Ireland and I'd be delighted to ring you in the UK if you want a supportive ear. Really, it's no bother - please feel free to MeMail me. You don't even need to give me your name.

I really, really wish you a strong recovery.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:32 AM on November 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

This only happened two months ago? There is really no way your hormones are back to normal, yet. Your sorrow may not dissipate after the hormones do, but you need to wait your body out before you start worrying that you've done something awful to your psychiatric state. I terminated a pregnancy about 5 years ago, and had none of the feelings of guilt and loss that you have, but I was still a weepy wreck until my body figured out what to do with itself. ("WHY am I already out of Goldfish crackers? WHY does life hate me, you tell me WHY!")

There is a culture of expected silence about abortions. You're only "allowed" to talk about them if you had absolutely no problems with it whatsoever, or if your heart was broken into a billion pieces. The more complicated middle ground confuses people and makes them uncomfortable. There is no way that that doesn't intensify your reaction, since you're forced to deal with it in a lonely vacuum.

You haven't done anything wrong, and you made the best decision with the circumstances. But that doesn't mean you aren't allowed to feel sad and pissed with life that something came within your grasp, and had to be taken away. It doesn't matter that you didn't think you wanted kids. The best thing you can do is talk about this to whomever will listen kindly, and keep talking to your therapist. And your partner needs to step up bigtime, if he hasn't already.

Your friends have pretty much dropped the ball right through the floor, and I'm sorry about that. You may find that if you confide in unexpected people, they will lend you the support you need. When I found out I was pregnant, I blurted it to a pretty casual acquaintance who seemed to have her head on straight about life, and she did a much better job of talking through the situation than people I would have considered close friends.
posted by Coatlicue at 9:40 AM on November 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

I am so sorry that you are going through this.

I agree with the post upthread about your hormones still being out of whack. Take some time to treat your body kindly; eat your veggies, drink fluids, rest.

I also wanted to say, rather than framing this as you are guilty of something or that you have anything to be ashamed of, when I read the details regarding the IUD and the meds and the fact that you do not want to be a parent, my first thought was that you actually made a very mature and caring decision. I have had to make some difficult decisions, and though sometimes I wonder if they were the right decisions, I remind myself that I had solid reasons behind them. I think again about what the longterm consequences would have been if I had gone the other route, and that usually helps me to move on from those difficult thoughts.

Best of luck.
posted by vignettist at 10:31 AM on November 19, 2012

Every response is normal. Terminating a pregnancy is a significant decision. I never had a nanosecond of regret with either of my abortions, but I was still aware that my choice was important.

Is it at all possible for you to visit your partner (or vice versa) so that you and he can talk in person? Failing that, can you get a recommendation from the clinic for a therapist who's experienced in helping women talk through their feelings about their terminations? It wouldn't have to be a whole Woody Allen thing where you went for a long period of time, but maybe even one or two hours talking with someone who's not judgmental and who isn't bringing her own life stuff to the table would help?

Best to you. I am sorry your friends weren't able to be helpful to you around this. Not everyone is good with every challenge, sure, but I sympathize with your disappointment at their responses.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:18 PM on November 19, 2012

It strikes me that you feel unresolved, and that might continue for a while, but what can really help feelings of lack of resolution is designing some kind of ritual. When people die we have grief rituals that help us gradually process it. When this sort of thing happens it's hard to know what to do. Even though you didn't intend to have children, life put you in the position of having to make a tough decision, and of course you thought deeply about it. It may be something as simple as writing a letter to yourself that you don't even read, maybe just burn in a fireplace or toss on the water. Or maybe you want to plant a tree or flower, go for a long hike and make a stone cairn, or whatever. Allow yourself to feel the grief and do something that is real and concrete in the world that lets you interact with it a bit. You could read something, recite something, or just think thoughts in your mind, directed at whomever you like - future you, future potential child that could not be, other people in the same situation. Or draw or make something. I would just allow yourself to set aside some time to conduct a ritual, designed by you, that means something to you. That way you won't feel like life has gone on as normal. You'll felt like you stopped and took note, you'll have a memory of what you did to remember.

And a lot of people have been through similar things, so I hope you are taking MeFites up on their offers to call or email. No need to feel isolated.
posted by Miko at 1:36 PM on November 19, 2012

I have had several early miscarriages and recently spoke with someone who had also had one, and we were talking about the invisibility of an early miscarriage. You feel the hormonal changes, you're the one whose body is constantly reminding her through nausea or headaches or just a weird feeling in the first trimester that something is changing, but to the rest of the world, there's no apparent change. And then you have this medical event which can be painful and bloody and is at the very least an abrupt transition and still - to the rest of the world, nothing seems different. It's like you're Schrodinger's pregnancy.

Plus choosing an abortion is - I de facto made that choice by not going for medical treatment for one of my early pregnancies because it would have put another of my children at risk - and it was hard. I think about that loss more than the others, because I had to choose. I don't regret the choice, but I regret the loss. You had to lose a pregnancy you weren't completely sure you didn't want - it's difficult.

And it's also bringing up all the other wonderings you have about will you ever have kids, do you want them, what would it be like to be a mother, etc. It's a lot of heavy thinking centered around a very private grief.

There are miscarriage grief rituals I've read about - writing a letter to the baby and then burning it, planting a tree in the baby's honor (you could pick a gender-neutral name or just Your Name's baby), releasing lanterns or balloons, etc. I had pet cats which helped for the need to cuddle something when I was sad - I think after a loss, physical touch is enormously restorative. I also imagined them as tiny dormice, curled up in their nests and had a sort of Beatrix Potter picture that I would look at, very twee but somehow comforting.

The grief fades and becomes part of you, but it can take at least a couple of months. Expect a small return of grief around the due date.

Be kind to yourself. It's hard for other people because it's not a visible loss, but you may be surprised if you bring it up with other women how many of them have had miscarriages, and they can be very helpful just to talk and listen.

Also it is totally absolutely normal to loathe all pregnant women. They somehow seem *everywhere* right after a miscarriage, like the world has exploded in fertility. It is really normal, and it does get better. Eventually you will be genuinely happy for your pregnant friends and their babies, but right now just send a card or excuse yourself from interacting.

I'm so sorry. Memail me if you want to talk.
posted by viggorlijah at 8:01 PM on November 19, 2012

I'm sorry for your loss and your pain. Here's what helped me a lot after my abortion: time. Around the time my baby would have been born, I just totally fell apart for a few days, and then I was much better, like that cycle had been completed. Like often people's grief lightens a year after the death. Until then, though, grief is supposed to be difficult, and you're supposed to be feeling how you feel. However you feel. Lean on the people who want to be with you.
posted by melesana at 9:15 PM on November 19, 2012

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