Men's experiences of abortion
Abortion is often a highly traumatic experience for women. However, a man’s experience is seldom spoken about and can be highly distressing in very different ways depending on; the nature of the situation, current relationship with his partner, upbringing, morals, values, beliefs and attachment to the foetus. These facets can become even more important and conflictual if there is a disagreement within the partnership as to whether the pregnancy should run its natural course or be prematurely ended. It may also come as a surprise to many that regardless of whether a couple are together in agreement to end the pregnancy that future pain, sadness and heartache can also manifest itself over time.
A man who wishes to keep the pregnancy can feel a sense of complete helplessness as he is naturally unable to carry the child. He can feel a deep affinity and connection with the embryo, especially if he has seen a recent scan with his partner or has charted the growth of foetal life over time. He may well have tacit expectations put upon him to be strong and supportive of his partner, even if no-one has explicitly said this to him. This can be particularly difficult if he wishes to keep the child and the choice to terminate has brought on great conflict within the relationship.
One of the most traumatic experiences is no doubt the day of the abortion. Abortion clinics are set for the support of women with respect to before and after care. The lonely wait within the clinic waiting room can feel like a very cold, harsh environment indeed for a man who is vividly imagining what is happening inside the operating theatre. In many cases he is offered either little or no support or consideration by the clinic and feels judged, even if there is no outward judgement expressed. If that isn't difficult enough it is the painful ripples felt after the procedure that really take its toll.
The days and weeks following the abortion can be exceptionally difficult depending on the unique circumstances and relationship between each couple. A man may feel completely isolated and unable to talk to his partner about the pain he feels for fear of sparking off strong emotions in her and himself. He may feel like he's walking on eggshells, and even go out of his way to prevent her from seeing or hearing anything which may trigger painful memories of the abortion, such as TV adverts or simply going for a walk to a local park where new mother’s excitedly walk their new borns around in push chairs.
Guilt is also very common in men who often feel that they have caused the pain of the abortion despite conception being shared by both sexes. This can manifest itself in many ways, one of which is through sex. Since it was the most intimate experience he shared with his partner that lead to the abortion it has now become associated with pain, trauma and anguish so he may well avoid such intimacy. This can also be a sign of the anger he feels towards his parter if he wanted to keep going with the pregnancy.
As the weeks, months and even years go by he may ponder about the how old his child would've been, his or her developing personality and the kind of father he could've made. Ultimately, support and validation for his feelings are essential in order to understand and grow from the experience, and in the absence of clinic support individual counselling can be a powerful way of expressing locked in emotions within a safe environment.
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About Adam Day
Adam Day is trained in various approaches as an integrative therapist; these include humanistic (person centred/existential), cognitive behavioural, transpersonal and psychodynamic. He is available for therapy throughout the week from 10am to 8pm at clinics both in Romford, Essex and Hammersmith, West London. Thank you.