Memories Unleashed

Theresa Burke
with David C. Reardon
Forbidden Grief: Chapter 9
Reproduced with Permission

The doctor wouldn't stop, even though Lee Ann had changed her mind. She pleaded with him to stop the abortion, but he insisted it was too late. Years later, the abortion continued to haunt her at every turn.

I feel like I am falling down a very deep hole, dark and damp, grungy and grimy. The sadness at work is unbearable. I want to grab that baby and place it inside of me. I feel drained, achy, violated and abused.

I freak when my menstrual blood smears my thighs, hurling me back to the gurney and the abortion. The way I knew my baby was dead was by waking and seeing the blood on my thighs.

I fall apart when I see pregnant women. I turn away when I see babies. I change lanes in the supermarket to avoid being close to them.

The Saturdays (the day of the abortion) of my life hold funeral services for my baby and me. This must explain why I feel numb -- my legs, my arms, my hands. Like my daughter they are appendages and like her they are dead.

I think when I sleep more feelings surface. Without sleep, I stay numb. I feel angry and depressed. The tears freely form whenever I am alone . . . they come out from hiding, revealing thoughts I don't yet know I have. But my tears know . . . and they come. They visit at dark. I wonder if they will ever leave.

I have terrible nightmares of throwing my baby down on the floor in the kitchen. In one dream, I chopped off my hair, a vital part of me. I also dreamt I slit my wrists . . . I have intense, uncontrollable anger and rage. I feel barren and I can't forgive myself.

The world keeps the wound alive. I am alive, just half of me, half of us, maybe. I lay on the floor last night for three and a half hours crying, curled up like a fetus.1

Lee Ann's description of her experience reflects many layers of intrusive symptoms: flashbacks prompted by the sight of her menstrual blood, avoidance of pregnant women and babies, depressive symptoms on Saturdays (an anniversary-type reaction), nightmares, and even the reenactment of crying while curled up like a fetus.

In the previous chapter, we examined how PTSD provides a framework for understanding the interrelationship between the many symptoms of hyperarousal, constriction, and intrusion that may follow an abortion. Of these three categories, intrusion is the most obvious indicator of trauma and the most reliable demonstration that trauma has occurred.2 Intrusive symptoms can be expressed in a great number of ways, often in the form of disguised reenactment of some element of the trauma. We will examine some of these forms of reenactment in subsequent chapters. But first, let's look at some of the more obvious ways in which memories of an abortion demand attention through flashbacks, dreams, and obsessive behaviors.


When a flashback occurs, women may find themselves over-responding to sights, sounds, or smells that remind them of their abortion. Joan, for example, couldn't vacuum the rugs in her house because of acute panic attacks that paralyzed her. The sound of the vacuum reminded her of the suction aspiration machine used by her abortionist. That sound alone was enough to make her hands shake, her heart race, and her head become confused and dizzy.

In the Elliot Institute survey of post-abortive women, 63 percent reported experiencing flashbacks to their abortion. Although flashbacks usually last for only several minutes, many women develop "anticipatory anxiety," which means a sense of constant fear of the next attack. As a result of this fear, they may then begin to avoid situations where their anxiety may be triggered. For example, many women, like Joan, will refuse to vacuum and will insist on being out of their house when someone else does it.

Another common trigger for flashbacks is exposure to doctors, especially gynecologists. Suzanne, for example, could not get up the nerve to visit a gynecologist for eight years following her abortion. A yeast infection finally forced her to seek treatment. While on the exam table, she began to tremble and cry. She could feel the frenzied pounding of her heart against her breast.

I remember being terrified out of my mind. I thought I was going to die. I was shaking and crying and I could hardly breathe. The doctor must have thought I was crazy. I told him I did not think I could go through with the exam and left his office. I wanted to kill myself. I felt completely berserk.

In the flashback to her abortion, Suzanne experienced panic and a flight response for her survival; she had to get off the table and leave the office. A similar experience was reported by Carol when she saw a suction aspiration machine several years after her abortion:

Today I had to go see my oncologist because the radiologist found another "spot" on my cervix.... After the nurse left the room, I started looking around, checking things out. To my shock and complete loss of control, I saw, two feet from my left foot, a suction aspirator machine! I freaked out. I had a total flashback to the abortion experience. I began crying uncontrollably, got up, dressed, and ran into the hall, hyperventilating.... I wonder, will it ever end?3

As with Lee Ann, Evelyn's menstrual cycle was a regular monthly trigger for flashbacks to her abortion.

I have a lot of flashbacks. I find myself staring into space and reliving my abortion piece by piece. Every time my period comes around, I think I am pregnant. I feel paranoid. I feel back aches, extra tiredness, nausea. I go to the bathroom twenty times a day to check for spotting.

For Jill, one of her most powerful connectors was jelly. The sight of jelly reminded her of blood clots she passed after her abortion. Whenever she attempted to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for her daughter, she experienced anxiety, intrusive memories, and other traumatic symptoms.

For Lisa, the reexperience of her abortion was centered on her overwhelming sense of fear.

When I think about my abortion, only one word comes to mind: fear. When I think back to certain memories, I feel fear all through my body. My heart races and my stomach turns upside down. I play back the scenes over and over again. It's not something I can think too much about. Usually I just shut it off.

In addition to flashbacks accompanied by the psychological feelings of panic and terror, many people experience disturbing bodily sensations during a panic attack. These can include shortness of breath, dizziness, faintness, choking, chest pain, palpitations, trembling, sweating, nausea, diarrhea, headaches, tingling and numbing sensations, hot flashes or chills, and feelings of disembodiment.

Barbara's panic attacks began after an ectopic pregnancy. Because of the life-threatening dangers associated with such a pregnancy, doctors had to surgically remove the fallopian tube containing the embryo. This incident recreated her abortion experience. Intrusive thoughts, accompanied by overwhelming anxiety, paralyzed her with fear.

Having my feet up in stirrups, the smell of the hospital, the violation of instruments entering my body and taking a life from me . . . these things all came back to me, and I felt exactly like I was having an abortion. I cried and cried. I guess I was hysterical. The doctor had to give me a sedative. He became quite angry with me.

The fact that her life was at risk because of the ectopic pregnancy did not reduce Barbara's grief or fear. The smell of disinfectant, her feet up in stirrups, and gloved hands probing her with assorted metal devices created a vivid flashback to her original trauma. Years of repressed grief and pain surfaced like a tidal wave. Within moments, her panic attack became so severe the doctor had to sedate her. After the surgery, the anxiety and flashbacks continued. Fortunately, Barbara connected the panic to her abortion and was able to obtain the help she needed.

Dreams and Nightmares

When the conscious mind sleeps, the defense mechanisms in charge of repelling unwanted thoughts are relaxed. This is why intrusive thoughts related to a suppressed trauma often arise in the form of dreams or nightmares. Sometimes the dreams are clearly related to the abortion For example, Olivia had a recurring dream where she was in the delivery room about to give birth.

I dream I am pushing a baby down through the birth canal. I am excited and nervous and eager to see the baby. There are doctors and nurses around me telling me when to push, holding my hand and helping with the delivery. Finally I deliver a baby and it comes out dead! To my horror, all the attendants act happy -- as if it is normal to deliver a dead baby -- like nothing is wrong. I start to scream and cry and they all just look at me like I'm crazy. I always wake up from this dream crying so hard I can hardly catch my breath. It takes me hours to calm down.

Rebecca's recurring dream echoes similar elements, but with an emphasis on her fear that her family would discover her secret abortion.

I keep having dreams that I am in the hospital. I just had an abortion and suddenly my parents and brothers and sisters all come into the room with balloons and flowers. Each of them is carrying a baby in their arms. They are smiling and happy and saying congratulations. I start screaming at everyone, telling them to get the hell out of my room. I always wake up hysterical. They didn't know I had an abortion . . . and here they were all coming in to congratulate me as if I had given birth to a baby.

For Helaine, her repetitive nightmare underscored her deep sense of horror, shame, and helplessness.

Three years after my second abortion I started having nightmares in which I saw myself in a baby parts cemetery and holding a dead baby in my arms and crying for the ones I lost. I was seeing myself naked in this cemetery -- much like a holocaust image -- holding a dead baby and trying to bring him back to life.

Many dreams are less obviously related to the abortion. For example, Vivian's dream reflected many aspects of her abortion dilemma in symbolic form.

My dreams are very frightening. In one frequent dream I am out at the store and I'm buying baby clothes, toys and diapers. My cart is full of stuff and I spend hours shopping, trying to find just the right things. This part of the dream feels like it goes on forever. Finally, when I get to the checkout counter, the cashier calls the police. They surround me, grab my arms and handcuff them behind my back. There are people all around looking at me. They accuse me of stealing. They tell me harshly, "You can't take those things!" I wake up screaming. It all feels so real.

Vivian had her abortion out of desperation because she felt helpless to provide for her child by herself. In her dream she spends hours gathering up provisions, only to lose them. Her self-condemnation is reflected in how she is accused of a crime and exposed to humiliation and punishment. The police in her dream symbolize the judgment of her own conscience. After waking from this dream, Vivian would cry for hours, feeling victimized, powerless and alone.

Pam had an abortion at the age of 18. Immediately following the procedure, she began to have disturbing and intrusive nightmares about dismembered babies and thoughts regarding her responsibility toward them. It came as no surprise to me to learn that after her abortion Pam had sought a job in the trauma unit of a world-renowned children's hospital. On a day-to-day basis, children come into the emergency room with horrific injuries, burns, and mutilations. Pam's dedication to her stressful profession reflected her need to "put the babies back together." Through her vocation, Pam was able to channel her energies into a form that helped address the pain of her psychic trauma.

Often, the nightmares employ symbols of death and fertility, and are marked with failed rescue attempts and feelings of helplessness and fear. Ellen's recurrent nightmare began six years after her abortion. The dream was so disturbing she became afraid to go to bed at night.

The dream usually had a little girl crying for Mommy. I hear her crying out to me. I can't get to her and I have a panicky sense that she is in danger. On some nights I see a tiny helpless rabbit. I reach out to the struggling form and then it vanishes into a sinking lagoon tinged red with blood. Sometimes I try to call out -- but nothing comes out of my mouth. It's like I'm trying to scream but nothing comes out. Then the little thing plunges down and comes up again with an urgent gasp for air. With each step I take forWard, I go backwards as blood swirls around, like waves coming in and out against the shore. I keep trying to save the rabbit . . . as I reach out there is only sand, a scarlet sand slipping between my fingers.

Ellen began to fear the dark. As night approached, she would numb herself with alcohol or drugs. If she could "knock herself out," she wouldn't have to worry about having nightmares. As Ellen described the dream to me, it was clear that she was completely unnerved by it. Tears painted streaks of mascara down her cheeks. She believed that the nightmares were related to her abortion. She sat quiet and reflective, then began to cry, "I wish I had never done it. I will never forgive myself. Sometimes I could kill myself for that. I will never be able to forgive myself."

Ellen's disturbing dreams involved a horrific reexperience of her feelings of helplessness associated with her abortion. Fortunately, she responded to this prompting of her subconscious and sought the help she needed to work through her traumatic symptoms and her impacted grief.

Periods of insomnia are a common problem among women with a history of abortion. In the Elliot Institute survey, 45 percent of the women surveyed reported bouts of insomnia that were strongly associated with repOrts of nightmares. Some women will go to great extremes to avoid the nightmares that come with sleep. For example, when Cecilia began suffering from bad dreams after her abortion, she tried to put off sleep with a spectacular nightlife. She went on lots of dates and escapades in bars and would linger until last call. Often she would bed down with the first available man -- anyone to avoid being alone at night.

Before the abortion Cecilia had been able to maintain a steady job and had been careful about entering into sexual relationships. After the abortion her world fell apart and her nightmares paralleled the horror of Freddy Krueger movies. Through promiscuity and staying awake to the point of exhaustion, she attempted to avoid her dreams. This lifestyle took a physical toll on Cecilia and exposed her to numerous risks, which perhaps also reflected an unconscious means of self-punishment.


Many dreams involve what women experience as a "visitation" from the spirit of their aborted child. In most cases, the visiting spirit is seen as benign or forgiving, but in the Elliot Institute survey, about one-fourth of the women who reported such visitations described the mood as "vengeful."

In some cases, these visitations may spill over into daytime fantasies and hallucinations. For example, Kathryn experienced hallucinations of little baby angels floating around in her backyard after her abortion. She felt they had come looking for some sort of satisfaction or appeasement, so she spent day after day tending the yard in an attempt to create a "heavenly garden" for her celestial phantoms. Kathryn would even flood her porch until the water cascaded off the edge like a fountain. Her seemingly bizarre rituals were a requiem, a memorial service to appease the baby angels.

Naturally, her obsessive preoccupation and reenactment were quite misunderstood. Kathryn was eventually committed to a local state hospital and labeled a schizophrenic. For three years she was in and out of psychiatric clinics and psychiatrists' offices and spent hours with different therapists -- without improvement. However, once in treatment for abortion trauma, Kathryn began to improve and quickly regained normal functioning.

Other women have also reported hallucinations of their dead children, especially during states of severe depression. Jenna, for example, felt robbed even of life's simple pleasures by visions of her phantom child.

Whenever I was enjoying something . . . Iike a colorful sunset, or the beauty of the ocean, I would see what I believe to be the face of my aborted child . . . up in the clouds or in the waves of the ocean. I would break down with grief and feel an incredible pain and sense of loss. It became hard to enjoy anything because the child was always there . . . always reminding me . . . always popping up all over the place.

In many cases, the hallucinations are strictly auditory. Ginny didn't begin to hear voices until she became pregnant again five years after her abortion.

I would wake up because I heard a child crying, "Mommy, mommy." I would sit up in bed and the voices would continue. I would cry for hours because I knew who was calling me. I knew it was my aborted child.

In some cases, post-partum psychosis may be linked with previous abortion trauma. Such was the case with Fran, who had two abortions before giving birth to a beautiful, healthy boy. Her nightmare began within hours of giving birth. While still in the hospital, Fran began to hear voices instructing her to kill her newborn baby. The voices were taunting and relentless . . . "You killed the others; why don't you get rid of him? He's better off without you."

In reaction to these hateful voices, Fran was afraid to touch her infant, terrified to look at him, and unable to nurse. Fran's sister volunteered to take care of the baby until her psychosis subsided. Fran was fortunate to have the support of her family. Nonetheless, her traumatic experience caused an incredible shattering of her self-image as a mother and nurturer and destroyed the normal bonding process with her infant.

While these accounts may appear bizarre, many of my clients have been prompted by such incidents to seek the help they need to process their hidden grief and guilt. After they dealt with the trauma of their abortions, these unusual visual and auditory hallucinations have disappeared.

Trauma and Memory

PTSD is, at its core, an emotional conflict with past memories. As a result, memories of a traumatic event can be either intensely clear or completely repressed. In many cases, certain memories are clear and others are inaccessible.

Roseanne remembered each particular detail of her abortion with fastidious recall. She continually played back the dialogue of everything said and done during her abortion experience. Like a record with a bad scratch, Roseanne's mind continually went over and over the same scene with all its distinct sights, smells, and feelings. They were well-defined images that she could not get out of her mind.

My memories of the abortion clinic are very vivid. I can even remember the smell of the Women's Center. I also remember the colors on the wall, the expressions on the nurses' faces and what they said to me. I remember putting on a pink paper gown and feeling it crinkle against my body. Every time I think about it I get the chills. The whole thing was horrible.

Gwen also remembered her abortion with uncanny precision.

My memories of the abortion are distinct and clear. You could ask me about every person I talked to in that clinic and I could tell you word-for-word our conversation. You could ask me to tell you everything starting with the day I found out I was pregnant and everything would be accurate.

This kind of abnormally sharp or vivid recall is called hypermnesia and is common in many cases of PTSD. Every minuscule detail -- sights, sounds, smells, and feelings -- can be relived over and over, often through flashbacks.

The opposite of the virtual recall phenomenon is amnesia, which is the partial, temporary, or entire forgetting of an event. Partial amnesia is common among women who have had a traumatic reaction to abortion. Diane, for example, was able to remember going to the abortion clinic, but could not recall any of the conversations, the people, or the actual procedure.

I don't remember much of anything except for one scene, Iying on a table out in a waiting room -- that's it. The whole thing is quite foggy. I can't really describe it. I blocked mostly everything out. And if I try to remember, I tremble -- physically shake.

Similarly, Betty was able to recall only a few minor details of the day when she had her abortion:

The abortion is such a blur to me. I remember signing papers, but I couldn't tell you what they were about. I remember cramping afterwards and going to the pharmacy to buy aspirin. If I was in a room with the doctor who did it, I couldn't tell you who he was. That's all I can really remember. I don't remember anything about the procedure. Nothing at all -- which is weird because I never had any anesthesia. I remember wanting it though because I didn't want to be awake when they did it.

Diane and Betty experienced selective amnesia, a failure to remember some, but not all, of the incidents during a certain period of time. Another type of amnesia is called localized amnesia, the inability to recall events during a set period of time following a profoundly disturbing event. Varan's description of her abortion is an example of sharp but limited memories.

I don't even know when I got pregnant. I don't remember any of the discussions that must have taken place between my mother and me. What I do remember is being taken to the finest hospital in the city, rolled into the most sophisticated operating room, and having my baby killed by one of the top GYN doctors available. I also remember waking up and hearing women crying and screaming -- including myself. I remember indescribable pain. I remember blood -- more blood than I had ever seen. Several days later, I remember being rushed to an emergency room in the middle of the night. I was hemorrhaging and fading in and out of consciousness from a raging fever. Nothing else is there in my memory, it's all gone . . . deleted. My medical records say I was in the hospital for six days, underwent two D&C's, and was rolled back into the O.R. a final time for a complete hysterectomy. I was 16 years old. I have no memory of my life after that. Since those horrible days, this has never once been spoken of -- by my mother or myself.

Some women cannot recall a single event from the morning of their abortion until several days later. Katie's description of her experience is typical of such localized amnesia.

I remember the morning of my abortion. I remember making my bed, which is weird because I never make my bed. I remember putting on makeup and looking all over for my summer sunglasses. I didn't want anyone to recognize me. Seems stupid now, that I wore sunglasses and a hat. That's all I remember. Everything else is a blank. Kind of like it never happened. I remember being at my sister's afterwards, but I can't tell you anything about that -- just that I went there.

Several factors influence whether a traumatic experience is remembered or dissociated (disconnected). For example, if a woman has many opportunities to tell her story and receives sympathy and family support, she is unlikely to develop amnesia about the event. However, a girl who endures a traumatic abortion and is sworn to secrecy by her parents or sexual partner is more likely to have memory impairment from the trauma.

Many women have an acute memory of particular aspects of their abortions, but other portions are shrouded in a mist. In Jennifer's description of her abortion, for example, the "cold steel table" was a strong connector memory. The fear of her memories flooding out of control, however, was enough to keep most of them hidden by a fog, yet at the same time it was a memory that seemed "just like yesterday."

I don't like to think about it. When I do, it's a never-ending nightmare. I remember the pain of the "injection," the cold steel table, the nurse's matter-of-fact demeanor, the pain and the noise of the suction -- I just couldn't let it all in. The worst was when I went to have my second abortion. I remember lying on the cold steel table and thinking, "Just get up and get out of here." How many millions of times I have run that back through my mind because I didn't heed that warning.

My memories, except for a few bits and pieces, are very foggy. I remember feeling desperately uncomfortable in the waiting room. My boyfriend was with me. He was supportive of what I was doing, but I look back at that whole thing as nightmarish. It is still a picture suspended in my mind.

After my abortion I was aware of a numbing denial. Looking back, some voice deep inside was crying out, "NO! Don't do this," but it was barely perceptible to me. On the conscious level, I just handled it as if I had undergone any other medical procedure. But I felt so alone.

I had emotional problems later. I saw a psychologist but never revealed my abortion. Several years later another counselor had a few sessions with me. That was more helpful, but I never divulged my abortions to her either.

It's so odd. Those abortions occurred 20 years ago, yet in some ways it's just like yesterday.

When memories and emotions are repressed, they may come back in vague feelings or perceptions, or they may surface gradually over time as the person becomes more capable of tolerating the threat of the experience. The majority of women I have seen come for counseling at least ten years after the event. At that point they may feel either that they cannot avoid the pain any longer, or that they are in a better, more stable place in their lives and finally feel up to the task of looking at their feelings and working through the problem.

Spacing Out -- Dissociation

People use terms like "spacing out" and "not being with it" to describe the detached sensations that therapists call "dissociation." For example, a student who is suddenly called upon to answer a question can sometimes experience a flash of "mini-dissociation." Oblivious to time and space, the daydreaming student is abruptly awakened and startled to realize he has no clue about what is going on in the class. This everyday experience of being jarred back into reality demonstrates that the mind has the capacity to leave one's immediate physical surroundings to wander in some imaginary, disconnected, or dissociated state.

When a person is confronted by traumatic, threatening situations, dissociation is a commonly employed defense mechanism that enables the person to survive the event. In many cases, the dissociation will persist long after the traumatic event has passed. Julie Anne's description of her abortion illustrates dissociation before, during, and after her abortion.

Being faced with an unexpected pregnancy was the most frightening thing I could imagine. The married man with whom I was involved painted a picture so depressing and destructive that I was convinced we only had one choice -- to abort. He used every pressure tactic to save his political career, his reputation, and his "family life." He even had me thinking I would lose my job and livelihood. That was when reality as I knew it changed forever.

Everything about my abortion was robotic. I remember being in the waiting room, and all of us had blank stares on our faces. After the usual paperwork, I was taken into a small room for the nurses to take blood; I fainted, but no one seemed to think that should deter me from going through with the "procedure" that day. I don't remember much of what was on the papers I signed but probably answered the same way I had felt for the few previous weeks -- in a haze -- in a dreamy state. I felt like I was watching a movie of someone else's life, that this really was not happening to me. Once I entered the "procedure room," a nurse told me to "hike up my dress" and get on the table; I felt like a zombie. The "counselor" held my hand and talked throughout the entire ordeal in order to divert my attention from what was taking place on the other end. She said it would be over in a few minutes. I remember starting to cry as the abortionist entered my body with the suction machine.... Why couldn't I yell, "Stop, help me," or anything to make them stop? I felt frozen, immobilized, the same way I had been since I learned for sure that I was pregnant and alone.

That same dazed, powerless feeling stayed with me for months as my life took a downward spiral. I was not the woman who had an abortion -- the only way I could cope was to bury it.

It is very common for women to undergo abortions in a dissociated state. The reality is so unpleasant that they emotionally exit the scene. Their bodies are there, but their emotional self is not. Consequently, a woman may remember the details of the abortion, but recount them in a numb, apparently unfeeling voice, as if talking about someone else. The emotional memory of the abortion is cut off from the narrative memory of the event.

Sometimes, a woman who is chronically dissociated will engage in self-abusive behaviors just to help herself feel something.

After two abortions I felt very alone, depressed and confused. I never knew what was wrong with me. I would cry and cry. I would cut myself or burn myself on the oven racks. I would punch and bruise myself. I was out of control, and when anyone would ask me, "What's wrong?" I honestly answered, "I don't know." I felt as if I were going insane. Who cries all the time and hurts themselves without knowing why? I was always feeling numb during the times that I would hurt myself. It was like the pain would help wake me up. I hated myself. Years of counseling did not help; anti-depressants did not help; nothing seemed to help. It was all kept pretty much a secret. Only a select few knew of my extreme depression or my abortions.

Though the cutting and burning all began within two months following her first abortion, Michelle never connected her self-abuse to her abortions. The trauma of her first abortion had caused a numbing denial of all her emotions. She used self-torture to try to bring herself back to feelings of reality. When she joined a support group for healing after abortion, Michelle succeeded in getting some insight into her selfabusive behaviors. After completing her grief work, all of Michelle's symptoms were completely eliminated.

Body Tattle

In many cases, hidden memories are reflected through the post-abortive woman's body. Physical symptoms of pain or discomfort may arise when the woman is exposed to events or situations that are connected to her repressed traumatic memories. Women who felt excessive fear and anxiety during their abortions, for example, often feel the same queasiness or terror when reminder incidents arise.

All I remember during my abortion was a retching nausea in my gut. Throughout the whole ordeal I was ready to vomit. Afterwards, I felt that same feeling when I was around babies, had sex, or went to the doctor. Anything that reminded me of my abortion made me sick to my stomach.

Post-abortive women will frequently experience painful abdominal cramping sensations, upset stomachs, pelvic pain, vaginal numbness, heart palpitations, sweating, or shortness of breath when exposed to some connector to their past abortion. In Tamara's case, the culprit was orange juice.

I remember taking a sip of orange juice in the recovery room following my abortion. I began gagging to the point of vomiting. Afterwards, the same thing would happen whenever I saw a glass of orange juice. To this day, I'd get sick if I drank the stuff.

Tamara's feelings of nausea at just the sight of orange juice is an example of "psycho-physiological reenactment." This technical term simply means that the mind and the body are both involved in recreating physical sensations that are closely related to the traumatic event. In Tamara's case the sensation was nausea and the connector was orange juice.

In most cases, the association between the connector and the trauma is not understood. The woman's physical reactions are simply discounted, even by her, as strange, or dismissed as a quirk. Even what most would consider to be obvious connectors may not be obvious at all to the woman suffering from this reaction. For example, Jenna had a part-time job doing insurance billing at a local doctor's office.

I began to feel nausea and cramping abdominal pressure whenever I would enter the place where I worked. It was so uncomfortable, I often thought I would faint. Each time I returned to his office, I had the same reaction as I passed through the entrance where there was hung a poster on fetal development. At the time, I thought it was related to something I ate for lunch, or something in the air, perhaps an allergic reaction to a deodorizer. For seven months I felt deathly ill every time I entered his office. Finally, one day in a heightened panic, I said to the window clerk, "Would somebody take that stupid poster down!" She looked at me surprised as I blurted out, "It's making me sick!" I was so shocked and embarrassed but still did not connect it to my abortion.

For Jena, the link between body and mind remained unconscious. But her repressed feelings found an outlet through her body. In the next chapter, we will look more closely at ways in which traumatic memories can be reenacted in the lives of post-abortive women.


1 Vincent M. Rue, Ph.D., Post Abortion Trauma: Controversy, Diagnosis & Defense (Lewisville, TX: Life Dynamics, 1994), 40. [Back]

2 Lenore Terr, Too Scared to Cry (New York: Basic Books, 1990). See especially chapter 13 concerning examples of post-traumatic reenactment. [Back]

3 Reardon, Aborted Women, Silent No More, op. cit. (introduction, no. 1) 81. [Back]

Theresa Burke, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist and founder of Rachel's Vineyard, a post-abortion training and healing ministry that annually serves thousands of women and couples throughout North America and overseas.

David C. Reardon, Ph.D., is one of the nations's leading researchers and authors on post-abortion issues and the founding director of the Elliot Institute.

Book: Forbidden Grief
by Theresa Burke, Ph.D. with David C. Reardon, Ph.D.
Acorn Books, Springfield, Illinois