I recently read and article from Anne Lastman. Anne lives in Australia, and specialises in grief counselling. She has many interesting things to say, especially about women who have multiple abortions and the link to them having experienced sexual abuse themselves as children. There are deep wounds inflicted on a small girl when she is sexually abused, and these wounds last for life.
Sometimes this grief is manifested in destructive behaviour, and you can’t get much more destructive than abortion and suicide. This is a digression from my usual posts, but I felt it was such an important topic and one perhaps that needs to be discussed more. If you or someone you know has experienced sexual trauma, particularly as a child, then this may be helpful.
Early Sexual Abuse and Multiple Abortions by Anne Lastman
As a post abortion counsellor of many years, I first noticed the link between sexual abuse in early life and multiple abortions, many years ago. In the course of counselling of post abortive women, I noticed certain ambivalence in relation to multiple abortions.
In my practice I have encountered women with 11 abortions, 7 abortions, 5 abortions, 13 abortions, 6 abortions, and in recent months one woman with 20 abortions and the list continues.
When I first encountered (about 14 years ago) a client who in passing said that she had had 6 abortions and was not feeling sad or remorseful about her abortions but feeling a deep sadness with the miscarriage of one of her pregnancies (and this is why she contacted me) I asked her to speak a little about all of her pregnancies so that we could establish a pattern of conception and then abortion and then why different feelings about her miscarriage.
She spoke about controlling her life, and her body and her career and her boyfriends, and her pregnancies. Her miscarriage she could not control. Control was important to her. As I listened I realised that there must have been a time when she could not control some situation and was a victim of force whether physical or psychological or both. so I asked further questions about her much earlier life and after many sessions it emerged that she had been sexually abused by her older brother over several years (with threats) and as she said and vowed, “nothing will ever happen to me again unless I say so.”
When asked why so many boyfriends and abortions she replied, “because I cut out a bit more of men every time I have another abortion. They’re not babies they are bits of men who I hate.”
Multiple abortions for this woman means “cutting out” bits of men and eventually the perception of removal of all traces of sexual abuse. It is being in control of her body where once she could not control what happened to her body.
Much experience has clearly shown that the woman who has multiple abortions does not see the abortions as her children being aborted and does not believe that she is aborting children but rather taking control of her body and cutting out undesirable elements.
Perhaps further reasons can be cited for multiple abortions following abuse, and some of these reasons can be the early and over sexualisation of the child leading to promiscuity from a young age and the ramifications of this lifestyle including allowing herself to be used and abused by men because she believes she is dirty and is not worth much. Over sexualisation of a child when the child cannot process or understand sexuality can also be called “sexual abuse” because the child is asked to understand, view, participate in something he/she cannot do or is not psychologically developed enough to process, so over-sexualisation is a sexual abuse leading to other forms of self-punishment.
Sexual abuse of anyone is loathsome, but sexual abuse of a child is particularly so because a child is unable to process the sexual information. Most damaging is the abuse which occurs in the formative years, because during these years is the time when the developmental processes are active in the developing of personality, trust, strength, courage, self-esteem. During the developmental years is the time when boundaries which begin to be established in childhood, in loving environment, for the future self-protection and judgement formation, become strengthened and developed further in readiness for healthy, functional adulthood.
Where sexual abuse has occurred these boundaries do not exist thus leaving the victim vulnerable to more abuse. Sexual abuse during the formative years, imprints within the psyche of the child, distortions about the self, their place in life, their idea of or lack of trust, a sense of valuelessness, a sense of deep loss, fear and an interruption of progressive emotional development thus leading to future adult emotional stuntedness.
Sexual abuse especially of the incest variety always touches society in a place of unease. It is the last remaining taboo. Yet it must be visited because the suffering is real and lifelong and this abuse sets up the groundwork for other self-destructive life events including abortion and multiple abortions (up to 20 abortions of one of the women.)
Again, why multiple abortions? Some other evidence seems to point to abortion as a replaying of the earlier trauma. The similarities between sexual abuse and abortion are eerily similar. It appears that traumatised individuals expose themselves almost like a compulsion to situations where their original trauma or semblance of that trauma is repeated. Freud posited that the reason for repetition of trauma is to gain mastery over the situation; however, I believe that this does not happen but instead is a re traumatisation of the victim. A further thought could be that in the re-enacting of the trauma there is a desire to self-harm or even achieve a pain threshold of the originating trauma.
The abortion also means the death of an innocent child growing deeply within her body and is a repetition of the slow death of her little self or “little person who was young and innocent too” (Andrea).
Multiple abortions following early childhood sexual abuse is also indicative of a deep secret which the victim is not permitted to tell or speak about. It is the hope of the victim that someone will ask the right questions so that she can tell that secret to someone so that in the telling that little child who was being hurt can be comforted and escape the downhill spiral of loneliness.
In the incidence of “Helen” (29 years-7 abortions) she was coerced into a pact not to tell of her abuse under threat of harm to a younger family member (sibling) if she told. “Helen” kept the promise “not to tell” but the promise resulted in scrupulosity and self-mutilation via the medium of abortion. To free “Helen” from the deep secret and the fear that if she told harm would come to her sibling, trust needed to be developed before being able to begin her healing work which required first helping the child within her inner being to painfully recover a sense of integrity and honour and sense of love and security, before beginning the work of humanising her aborted children and beginning the healing of the multiple losses she will feel when she recognises that her abortions meant the death of innocent babies. Helen’s healing must first take into account the healing of the inner “Helen” before she can begin to work through the losses which she has experienced as a result of her childhood sexual abuse. Including loss of what she called “normal life.”
Originally published in “Life Lines” May-Nov 2015 edition. Reproduced with permission.