Reenacting Trauma

Theresa Burke
with David C. Reardon
Forbidden Grief: Chapter 10
Reproduced with Permission

Tina looked up at me as her pale cheeks flushed a deep shade of red. I could tell that her stomach was pitching like a boat being tossed on a wave. She held her hands tightly over her abdomen, as if trying to hold fast to a floundering buoy. Six years earlier, Tina had lost her child through an abortion. The memory was so painful she could barely speak about it. At the time of the abortion, as a 24-year-old graduate student, she had aspired to become an art therapist. But after the abortion, she experienced a depression that was so unmanageable that she had to give up her studies. Tina described her problem:

I became obsessed with pregnancy after my abortion. I used to go to the maternity section in department stores. I loved to try on maternity clothes. I usually had a towel stuffed into my pantyhose to make it look like I was pregnant. I thought my body looked beautiful and I imagined what it would be like. Other women shoppers would ask me when I was due and stuff like, "Is this your first?"

While shopping I felt so happy and content. But as soon as I'd get in my car I would cry my head off. You have no idea how hard I would bawl. I'd rip the towel out of my belly to dry my tears. I'd tell myself, you're not pregnant . . . this is just a stupid towel. I thought, I am absolutely nuts! If I ever told anyone what I did, they would think I was crazy. I am ashamed of the crazy shopping sprees, but they gave me relief. It was kind of like an addiction.

Tina developed this bizarre ritual as a means to grieve her pregnancy loss and the deprivation of her maternity. This ritual was a form of traumatic reenactment. After a blissful pregnancy fantasy, the baby became the bath towel, violently ripped out of her body and used to dry her tears—the emblem of her pain and regret. The repetitive or addictive aspect of this behavior underscores that it was rooted in a traumatic reaction to her abortion.

The Mystery, The Drama, The Reenactment of Trauma

In chapter eight 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.1 Intrusion includes more than just the arousal of unwanted memories. Perhaps more significantly, it includes behaviors that repeat or reenact elements of the trauma. E.R. Parson, a leading expert on PTSD, has stated the following regarding the importance of repetitive behavior in relation to trauma:

I have been struck by the utter pervasiveness of survivors' tendency to repeat dimensions of original traumatic experiences in virtually all spheres of their lives. Much of the clinical literature on PTSD . . . tends to focus on dramatic repetitive or reliving tendencies, as in the mental phenomena such as "flashback" (dissociative states), traumatic dreaming, night terror, and other . . . reenactments. What is neither discussed nor appreciated to any extent, it seems, is the multiplicity of non-dramatic ways repetitive phenomena are replayed."2

Intrusion can involve more than simply flashbacks or nightmares such as those described in previous chapters. Memories of a trauma may also intrude through behaviors, game play, or even art forms, through which the unconscious mind seeks to express one's horrible experience, but in a veiled form.

Remember, trauma is marked by two opposing emotional needs: the need to deny one's horrible experience and the need to release one's pent-up feelings. This tension between the need to hide a trauma and the need to expose it lies at the heart of many of the psychological symptoms of post-abortion trauma.

Symbolic reenactment is one of the ways that the subconscious seeks to simultaneously satisfy both of these needs: the need to expose the trauma and the need to hide it. Reenactment allows the person to expose the trauma with the hope that its exposure will eventually lead to understanding and mastery over the trauma. At the same time, because the trauma is reenacted behind a symbolic mask, the essence of the trauma is still concealed and protected. In other words, reenactment allows the person to call for help while disguising the areas that need help. As trauma specialist Judith Lewis Herman, M.D., has observed, when a traumatic experience is wrapped in secrecy and shame, "the traumatic event surfaces not as a verbal narrative but as a symptom."

The psychological distress symptoms of traumatized people simultaneously call attention to the existence of an unspeakable secret and deflect attention from it. This is most apparent in the way traumatized people alternate between feeling numb and reliving the event. The dialectic of trauma gives rise to complicated, sometimes uncanny alterations of consciousness which George Orwell ... called "doublethink".... It results in the protean, dramatic, and often bizarre symptoms of hysteria....3

Because these "bizarre symptoms" are veiled symbols of a prior trauma, one of the most difficult but intriguing parts of a therapist's job is to uncover this mystery, the meaning of the symbol and the trauma of which it speaks. Once the mystery is understood, the therapist can more easily understand his client. As the client sees that she is understood and that the therapist's insights are helping her express her feelings in less veiled forms, she gains confidence that she is free to share more of her feelings. What began as a mystery for both can become the key to freeing the client to tell her whole story. Once it is told, the power of the secret is destroyed, and the trauma victim is free to confront and deal with her past -- not alone, but with an ally.

Since sex and abortion are intimately connected, it is not uncommon for both women and men to act out abortion related trauma through real or imagined sexual encounters.

As an example of the latter, Rowena become addicted to "cyber-affairs" on the Internet after a traumatic abortion experience. For Rowena, cyber-sex was "safe," since it did not expose her to another pregnancy and abortion. Moreover, through these chat room driven fantasies, which involved heavy doses of sexual oppression, bondage, and humiliation, she was able to recreate themes that echoed her abortion-related trauma. Rowena's obsession with cyber-sex served as an outlet for unresolved tensions related to her abortion, while providing a "safe" framework for her to revisit and explore her feelings about being manipulated, humiliated, and treated as a sex object.

Men are also vulnerable. Peter was 17 when his girlfriend had an abortion against his will. This experience left him feeling shamed and powerless. When he later married, he kept the abortion a secret from his wife. Although he loved his wife very much, the added burden of keeping his feelings secret created additional tension in his life. In an unconscious effort to act out his feelings of anger, shame, and powerlessness in private, Peter became highly addicted to cyber-sex and obsessed with pornography. A major theme of his fantasies was female domination and abuse; this reflected an unconscious need to explore and master his own sense of shame and impotency.

Peter came for to me for marriage counseling and eventually shared his sad secret with his wife. Together they attended a Rachel's Vineyard retreat for post abortion healing, where he finally allowed her to comfort and support him. Peter's addiction to online pornography was resolved as he went through the process of dismantling his secret and grieving the loss of his aborted child. By sharing this healing journey with his wife, Peter discovered a new intimacy and trust with her which eliminated his dependence on deceit and pornography.

Another way that abortion trauma is sometimes reenacted is through financial problems. For example, one of the major fears surrounding Gail's abortion was the anxiety of how she would pay for it. She was only 17, had no job, no bank account, and was afraid of discussing her problem with her parents. She needed to raise $400 in only a few days, without anyone finding out. To make matters worse, she and her family had just recently moved to another state hundred of miles from the friends and neighbors from whom she might otherwise have secretly borrowed the money. Eventually, her boyfriend sent her a check which she was able to convert to cash. Only a few days after the abortion, however, her mother discovered the transaction and confronted Gail. It was a humiliating experience. The grief Gail had been suffering in the immediate aftermath of her abortion was exacerbated by having her secret so quickly exposed.

After this ordeal, Gail struggled with uncontrollable debt. By recklessly maxing out her credit cards, she recreated a traumatic theme which had accompanied her abortion: "How in the world will I ever pay for this?" In addition, her habit of secret spending and her fear of her parents discovering her debt problem mirrored the feelings of panic, guilt, and helplessness that were so much a part of her abortion. Fortunately, like Peter and Rowena, Gail was freed from her addictive and destructive compulsion after intensive grief work related to her abortion.


Obsessive-compulsive disorders involve rituals of repetitive behaviors, doing things over and over in a certain perfect order. For example, Vera was a cleaning fanatic. She meticulously polished, vacuumed, and washed each day. When things looked messy or dirty, anxiety and guilt overwhelmed her. The kitchen floor, the toilet, the rugs all became external symbols of something inside her that had to be cleansed. Cleaning provided a way to ritualize her need to make things look "perfect."

Vera did not experience this compulsion to clean until after her abortion. Through this ritual she was able to transfer and hide feelings of anxiety and guilt about her abortion behind more acceptable feelings of anxiety and guilt about orderliness. Looking back, Vera explained:

It was so important for me to look "perfect." I never wanted anyone to know what I had done -- not even myself.

During subsequent pregnancies, a strong connector to her previous abortion, Carrie became obsessed with fears about losing her babies:

I had tons of anxiety. I constantly obsessed about the chances of having a stillborn. I imagined the cords wrapping around their necks while they were still inside me and having to deliver them dead. During every pregnancy I became so sick . . . but of course, because of my abortion I felt I deserved it. I think I drove my midwife crazy with my obsessions and worry. Every little ache or pain or cramp made me preoccupied with the panic and fear of my baby dying.

In the case of Tiffany, a self-punishing regimen of horseback riding was employed to recreate her traumatic abortion. She would ride her horse for hours without the benefit derived from wearing padded riding pants, which she would deliberately leave at home. She would ride and ride until her vaginal and pubic area bled from the constant battering. The extensive bruising that would result from these marathon rides would leave her hobbled, barely able to walk.

Tiffany had an unconscious need to recreate the wounding to the region of her body most closely associated with her unspeakable trauma. The purpose of this unconscious compulsion was to call attention to the target zone of her violation because she was unable to articulate her feelings in words. When she tried to speak about it, tears and tension would overpower her, blocking out her story. The narrative of her trauma was instead encoded in a vicious pattern of abusive horseback riding through which she recreated the wound, the bleeding, and the excruciating aftermath of her abortion, which left her unable to move forward. Fortunately, through gentle support and encouragement, Tiffany was able to deal with her trauma and grieve the loss of her child. After that, the fixation on creating injury was arrested.

Obsessed With Death

Because abortion involves the issue of death, many women become obsessed with thoughts related to death and the fear of punishment. Many experience a foreshortened sense of the future; they simply cannot imagine that they might live to old age. For one of my clients, Anne, her fear of death and punishment turned into an obsessive fear of contracting AIDS.

Anne was a 33-year-old woman who had been struggling with paranoid fears for nearly a decade. She had straight black hair that was cropped to a sharp angular point, which drove my attention directly to her pointed chin. A vertical line formed a deep furrow between her eyebrows. She was very articulate and utilized an extensive vocabulary. Her words were carefully measured and exact as she recounted her first love affair as if it had happened yesterday.

As a college sophomore, Anne enjoyed many glorious months of falling deeply in love with her new boyfriend. She was enthralled by his charm and romantic manner. He encouraged her dreams of their future together with talk of marriage and assured her she was the only one in his life who mattered. She was soon convinced that he was the man with whom she would share her whole life. Before long, Anne had given him everything: her friendship, her heart, and her virginity. But when she told him she was pregnant, he suddenly began to insist they were not ready for marriage. With her trust in her boyfriend shattered, Anne aborted the pregnancy and kept the event a carefully guarded secret. Soon after the abortion her boyfriend abandoned her for another woman.

The whole experience left Anne feeling doubly stigmatized: first because she had betrayed her child and her own moral beliefs through abortion, and second because she had foolishly believed everything her boyfriend had told her.

All of Anne's disturbed feelings were eventually channeled into the belief that her boyfriend had given her AIDS. She believed he must have lied about how many other sexual partners he had had. If she had contracted the HIV virus from him, it was only a matter of time before her sin became public knowledge.

Anne read articles, books, and journal abstracts about HIV, on topics ranging from AIDS dementia to lists of every support group available in the area. She read testimonies and autobiographies of people who suffered from the dreaded disease and identified with their pain and hopelessness. Anne envisioned how her family would reject her, hate her, and abandon her once they found out about the AIDS. When she would meet men, she would tell them that she believed she had AIDS.

By the time Anne came to me for counseling nine years later, she had a full-blown obsession. She lived as if she had the disease and focused all of her attention on death and dying, with absolutely no hope for the future. She also had survivor guilt; she had survived and her child had not. The AIDS obsession poignantly provided an outlet for her grief and the promise of retribution for what she had done.

For weeks I encouraged her to take a blood test to rule out AIDS. It became clear to me that in Anne's despair and depression she was breaking with reality. She was unable to reason that she might not have AIDS, and week after week she would not go to be tested. I watched her personality fragment, and she began to report suicidal urges. Finally, I decided that simply explaining the importance of having the test was not enough. I took her myself to an AIDS intervention clinic for testing.

When we got there, Anne broke down into hysterics and refused to take the test. She could not tolerate hearing the news of her fate. The fact that the test could be negative was not even a possibility to her. After three hours of being gently coaxed, Anne finally consented to having blood drawn.

Her test results were negative, but it took Anne several months to accept this information. Eventually the self-destructive cycle was broken. Anne was grateful that God had given her a second chance at life. But what a painful price she had to pay. For nearly a decade, anxiety and fear had tortured her.

Believing she had this illness was the way Anne punished herself for the abortion. In the framework of traumatic reenactment, her obsession with AIDS recreated all her feelings about the senseless death of her child into the irrational belief that she, too, would be killed. She had made a mistake and she would pay with her life. Her "infection" with the lifedraining AIDS virus was a powerful symbol of how she had been infected with shame and guilt that was draining away her life and joy.

Anne's case is an example of the incredible capacity of the human mind to creatively channel unacceptable emotions into other areas of one's life -- even into imaginary problems. Her reworking of her grief through an AIDS fantasy was a powerful analogy she used to process her abortion experience. Through her obsession with AIDS she was able to recreate and express the emotions she was suppressing with regard to her abortion: grief, depression, helplessness, fear, anger at her boyfriend, guilt over having had the abortion, and feelings that she needed to pay a penalty for living when her child did not.

The Adrenaline Fix

Helen began a bad habit of shoplifting shortly after her abortion. She did not steal out of need. Instead, stealing was her way of reenacting her feelings of both guilt and relief at "getting away" with her abortion. In addition, the adrenaline rush she experienced when stealing helped to produce a dramatic shift in her emotional state, bulldozing down her emerging grief. Since this did not actually resolve her grief, the pattern of shoplifting sprees became alarmingly addictive.

Every time I stole something, I would get a rush. My heart would pound, my thoughts would race. I stole all the time—stuff I didn't even need. All the while I had the terror inside me that I might get caught. Walking out the door I envisioned the police arresting me, but I always arrived home safely with my merchandise -- with a sense of relief and fatigue. But the guilt always came later, mixed with a sense of superiority that I didn't get caught.

Helen had never stolen before her abortion. But after she aborted, she saw herself as a "bad girl." What was a little stealing compared to killing one's child? Through stealing she reinforced this new self-image At the same time, her constant stealing invited disaster. Sooner or later, she would be caught and sentenced to prison. Then her guilt and shame would be exposed to her family and friends. Since there was no such penalty attached to her abortion, she recreated that risk through shoplifting Helen~s risk-taking behavior reflected her unconscious need to see herself caught and punished for her crimes.

Another important aspect of Helen's story is that stealing produced an adrenalin rush by which she battled her states of depression. Adrenaline, a chemical released by the endocrine gland, causes the heart to beat faster and provides a boost of energy which pulsates through the body, mind, and emotions. Our bodies always release adrenaline during a state of crisis, so provoking an adrenaline release is one way some depressed people self-medicate their symptoms.

This is actually very typical of people with PTSD, as Joel Brende, M.D., has described:

[A victim of trauma] feels fragmented, "not together," empty inside, a sense of inner deadness, or deep internal shame. He or she becomes overprotective or easily angered, causing further victimization behavior.

Fragmented victims often become depressed, repetitively self-destructive, isolated, or provoke conflicts during their interactions with others, particularly those within their immediate families. To avoid numbing and depression, they often seek excitement, risky situations, and destructive danger. Not infrequently they become "hooked" on repeating stressful situations and risk taking.4

It is not difficult to understand how people may fall into this trap of provoking crisis situations. Trauma victims typically experience symptoms of depression such as lethargy, sadness, exhaustion, and fatigue. During the course of both the little and large crises typical of every life that follow the traumatic event, the resulting adrenaline rush provides them with some relief from their depressive symptoms. They feel momentarily alive and excited again, even if the crisis is an unpleasant one. On a conscious or unconscious level, many trauma victims, like Helen, develop patterns of behavior that provoke crisis situations as a means of obtaining their "adrenaline fix."

This theory is supported by a study of Canadian health care services in which it was found that women with a history of abortion were subsequently more likely to receive treatments in an emergency room for injuries related to accidents.5 It is most likely that this finding reflects a higher incidence of risk-taking behavior following abortion.

Geraldine recounts her story:

After my abortion I spent years of reckless wandering. My days and nights were filled with drinking away my anguish. I truly felt like the abortionist had ripped out my heart and my soul. It was a pain so heavy, on more than one occasion I found myself calling the Contact Hotline while contemplating suicide. I overdosed on pills more than once and ended up getting my stomach pumped twice in the hospital.

Because of increased risk-taking behavior and/or suicidal tendencies, women who have had abortions are also two to seven times more likely to die of accident-related injuries.6 Francine was one of the lucky ones who survived her brushes with death.

I cracked up my car three times, driving recklessly at extreme speeds. In one wreck, I broke four ribs and punctured my lung. My life became a series of calamities, accidents, and self-destructive benders.

Crisis Invention

Another common way in which trauma victims subconsciously seek release from their deadened emotional state is by provoking conflicts at work or at home. A depressed person may invite crisis into his or her life on a daily basis, then wonder helplessly, 'Why did I do that?" or "Whatever possessed me to allow this to happen?" For the postabortive woman or man, these questions echo the ones that haunt their abortion experience.

In addition, by provoking crises, the trauma victim is forced to concentrate on solving the crisis at hand. This distracts the individual from the self-examination and grief work necessary for healing. I'm reminded of Roberta, who was caught stealing from the cash register where she worked. She denied her employer's suspicions for six months until they installed a video camera to catch the thief. When confronted with the evidence, Roberta broke down and explained that she felt she deserved the money for all she had been through.

Roberta's traumatic abortion had left her with the feeling that her child had been unjustly taken from her. This is the theme of reenactment that encouraged thoughts of theft. Since her child of inestimable value had been "stolen" from her, she reasoned, why was it wrong for her to steal something of much less value from her employer -- after all, she "deserved" compensation for her loss. In a vague way, she felt that other people owed her something to fill the emptiness in her heart.

One obvious way in which people can provoke crisis is by creating conflict in their personal relationships. For example, several years after her abortion, Doris began to avoid her husband even though she insisted she loved him very much. She would call her husband and tell him she was working late and would be home shortly after picking up a bite to eat. Hours would pass before she would return home. Sometimes she would simply spend the time driving around in her car, or going to visit a good friend. Then Doris would secretly sneak into her home, frequently after midnight.

The predictable result was that her husband soon began to experience feelings of mistrust and a deepening rage about her behavior. Soon he began to suspect that she was having an affair. Doris insisted that she was only at work and offered regular alibis with witness testimony. Although she persisted in pledging her love and fidelity to him, her actions continued to provoke his jealousy and feelings of abandonment. Doris was bewildered and grief-stricken when he eventually moved out.

On one level, Doris was recreating the same dynamics that had traumatized her five years earlier at the time of her abortion. In this case, Doris was forcing her husband to go through the same emotions that she had gone through after her abortion when her former boyfriend began to avoid her. Then when her husband did move out, her own feelings of abandonment were reenacted and she experienced a double dose of grief.

I loved my husband, I really did. He was probably the best thing that ever happened to me. I wanted to have children with him because I thought he would be a good father. Looking back, I suppose I did not feel worthy of his love, and I felt unsure and fearful of children. I sabotaged the relationship . . . it's not like I wanted to set him up to leave me . . . but that was the consequence of my stupid behavior. So many incredible things are linked to the pain of my abortion. I never understood it while I was going through it, but it is crystal clear to me now.

Doris's acting out served to create an emotional distance with her husband. This was an effective way to avoid the pregnancy which she feared. Her routine of coming home late left little room for a romantic sex life. Their time together as a couple was consumed by spats, arguments, and insecurities, thereby killing any possibilities to have a child.

This is just one example of many ways in which people create crises in their lives to distract them from their grief or fears. Jenny's crises, for example, were always work-related.

After my abortion, I began to fall apart at work. I felt guilty that my performance was not up to standards. I began taking work home, and I stayed up the whole night trying to finish it. They kept giving me more and more work. Out of guilt, I obliged.

Few people I know would expect themselves or others to carry on the tasks of a demanding job right after the loss of someone close to them. Jenny shouldered impossible tasks because they kept her from facing her own pain. Each midnight crisis and encroaching deadline released a surge of adrenaline that enabled her to finish her projects and stave off dealing with her loss. She became a workaholic, which provided a temporary relief from depression.

For many post-abortive women, workaholic tendencies and an obsession with their careers also reflect the fact that they gave up their children for their professions. Since their careers were bought at such a high price, they become obsessed with succeeding in order to prove to themselves that their choice to abort was not a mistake.

The effects of a workaholic lifestyle over time, however, can leave one emotionally and physically depleted. Jenny's career controlled her, rather than giving her a sense of control and balance in her life.

Psychotic Reactions

On the day of my abortion, December 9, 1978, my life became part of hell. I had a second abortion close to six months after the first. I remember little about it. I died on the table after the first one.

I couldn't speak about it to anyone for such a long time, and if I did, they all told me I didn't do anything wrong. Or they told me that abortion was a good thing. So I went where I consider to be underground, emotionally, creating my own little space for the reality of my situation. Hence my psychotic episodes.

I had four trips to the psych ward where doctors could not figure out what was wrong with me. Some of my hospital records state that the only words they could decipher through all the screaming was, "Can you give me back my babies?"

On one visit to the "loony bin," as my husband calls it, I was tied down in leather restraints and when the nurse injected me with Haldol, an antipsychotic, I screamed, "Stop sucking the life out of me!" No one seemed to know what I was saying since I was already stigmatized as being "nuts" just by being there. A couple of days later, when I was talking to my nurse, he asked me why I had said that. I told him about the abortions, and he said then it made sense. Hurray! Someone finally understood me. I spent the next three years in severe depression, which finally lifted when I went through the Project Rachel post-abortion healing process through my church.

Diana recounted the above experience in a speech she gave in 1997 promoting post-abortion programs. Unfortunately, her experience of psychotic episodes of retreat into her "own little space" is not uncommon. All too often, I have heard women describe how they have writhed in psychiatric wards without anyone understanding the depth or cause of their pain, which is rooted in the unresolved grief and trauma of a past abortion. For example, Anna Mae told me that during her numerous hospitalizations, she only got worse:

I was not capable of dealing with the emotional pain from my abortion. The pain was too intense. In the hospital I was keeping plastic knives from meals to use to cut myself. I would use paper clips that I found Iying on the floor. I would use a sharp edge on anything I could find. I would cut myself when I wanted to feel the pain I was no longer able to feel. I would cut myself when I did not want to feel the pain.

I would also cut myself to try to let the pain out. I didn't think I could hold in the pain and thought cutting on myself would free some of it. People could not see the emotional pain I felt, so I could show them some of my pain because it was now all over my hand and arms. I was in and out of the hospital. I continued to abuse and mutilate myself. I just wanted the pain to stop. I did not know what it was all about. It seemed the only way to take the pain away was to die. I could not live in such pain and self-hatred. I hurt so badly. I wanted to go away. I felt like I had caused so much pain and I had to be punished.

In the Elliot Institute survey, 10 percent of the post-abortive women reported having been hospitalized one or more times for psychiatric care, and 20 percent reported experiencing a nervous breakdown after their abortions. According to Jane:

I had horrible nightmares . . . the same dream over and over: I dream I am at the bathroom sink washing my hands-slowly the water turns to blood, then clots of blood, then a child slips out. I would wake up in a cold sweat, afraid to go into my bathroom. Six months following my abortion, I had a breakdown. Years later, when my son was born, I remember wanting to throw him out the window of the hospital room. I suffered from post-partum psychosis. I remember thinking . . . who in their right mind would want a boy? At times I imagined that he was a devil, and all I could think was that I needed to get away from him.

In the best record-based study to date of psychiatric admissions following abortion, it was revealed that in the four years following a pregnancy outcome, women who abort are two to four times more likely to be admitted for psychiatric hospitalization than women who carry to term.7 Furthermore, in another recent study of patients who had been committed to inpatient care in a psychiatric ward for over one year, the authors observed an association between abortion and a greater incidence of psychoactive substance abuse disorder. They also concluded that women with a history of abortion may be at greater risk of rehospitalization than other women.8

One compelling example of a woman going through years of repeated admissions for psychiatric care is the story of Brianna. When she became pregnant at age 16, Brianna concealed her pregnancy for six months. When her mother found out, she immediately took Brianna to a hospital, where they performed a second-trimester saline abortion. As a normal part of this procedure, Brianna went into labor and vaginally delivered a dead baby whose skin had been burned by the saline solution. When she saw her baby, she grabbed the dead infant and clutched it against her chest and scrambled off the bed. It took half-a-dozen medical staff to remove the dead baby from her encompassing clutch, as Brianna shrieked with blood-curdling grief.

Brianna named her dead child Billy. She never forgot the event and ritualistically set up memorials to him in one apartment after another as she moved on through her life. By age 44, she had been in and out of mental hospitals and suffered from multiple personality disorder. Several of her alternate personalities were babies; one was named "Billy." Another personality was a sinister commander. Another was a helpless little girl. Like "Billy," these personalities served to recreate aspects of her traumatic abortion.

Not once in all the years of psychotherapy, psychodrama, group and individual treatment did a single therapist pay any attention to Brianna's abortion or recognize it as a trauma worthy of discussion. Her story makes me wonder: Who is more disoriented? Brianna, with all of her personalities, or a medical community that refuses to acknowledge the trauma inflicted on this young girl in the name of "choice?"


1 Terr, Too Scared to Cry, op. cit. (ch. 9, no. 2). See especially ch. 13. [Back]

2 E.R. Parson, "Post-Traumatic Self Disorders: Theoretical and Practical Considerations in Psychotherapy of Vietnam War Veterans," in Human Adaption to Extreme Stress, eds. J.P. Wilson et. al. (New York: Plenum Press, 1988). [Back]

3 Herman, M.D., Trauma and Recovery, op. cit. (ch. 8, no. 5) 1-2. [Back]

4 Joel Osler Brende, M.D., FAPA, "Post-Trauma Sequelae Following Abortion and Other Traumatic Events" Association for Interdisciplinary Research in Values and Social Change, 7(1):1-8 (July-Aug. 1994). [Back]

5 R.F. Badgley et. al., Report of the Committee on the Abortion Law (Ottawa: Supply and Services, 1977) 313-319. [Back]

6 Mika Gissler et. al., "Pregnancy-associated deaths in Finland 1987-1994Ā\ definition problems and benefits of record linkage," Acta Obstet. Gynecol. Scand., 76:651-657 (1997); D.C. Reardon et. al., "Suicide deaths associated with pregnancy outcome," op. cit. (ch. 2, no. 24). [Back]

7 Cougle et. al., "Psychiatric admissions following abortion and childbirth," op. cit. (ch. 2, no. 26). [Back]

8 T. Thomas, C.D . Tori, J. R. Wile, and S.D. Scheidt, "Psychosocial Characteristics of Psychiatric Inpatients with Reproduchve Losses," Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved 7(1):15-23 (1996). [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