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Do's and Don'ts for Support People

This is for partners, friends, relatives, support people and professionals who have to deal with women recovering from an abortion and/or PASS. Very few people understand how women react to and recover from an abortion at this point, and even fewer know what to say to the woman, and how to help her. This information comes from women at the message boards here, detailing what did and did not help them as they recovered from their abortion.

    Do's

  • Do ask, "How are you doing?"

  • Do be ready to listen, despite the sensitivity of this topic.

  • Do remember that you can't take away her pain, but you can listen and help her feel less alone.

  • Do let your genuine concern and care show.

  • If the mother chooses to talk about the embryo/fetus as a 'baby', let her. Don't try and argue the medical details of when it actually becomes a 'baby'.

  • Do be available...to listen, to run errands, to drive, help with the other children, or whatever else is needed at the time.

  • Do say you are sorry about her pain.

  • Do say you are sorry she had to be in a position to make that choice.

  • Do encourage positive and healing things, like counseling visits and taking care of herself, getting enough rest, eating well.

  • Do accept her moods, whatever they may be! You are not there to judge. Be sensitive, and expect frequent shifting moods.

  • Do allow her to mark anniversaries associated with the pregnancy and abortion if she wants to.

  • Do allow her to talk about the abortion, and the child that would have resulted as much and as often as she wants.

  • Do allow her to express her anger, regrets and remorse over the abortion.

  • Do extend invitations to her. Don't exclude her from baby related get-togethers in your group of friends. But understand and don't push if she declines or changes her mind at the last minute. Above all continue to call and visit!

  • Do watch for her to 'isolate' herself, and if she does, just keep reaching out to her with a phone call or visit.

  • Do notify a doctor or someone else if you notice signs or hints of suicide in her words or actions.

  • Do be alert for eating disorders or substance abuse, and encourage her to get help for them if they occur.

  • Do send a personal note, flowers or letter to her.

  • Do get literature about depression and the grief process to help you understand.

  • Do allow her the respect to grieve and be sad as you would for a mother who lost a baby through a miscarriage.

  • Do respect her privacy, and do not tell anyone else about her abortion unless she says it is okay first.

    Examples of Do helping from our members:
  • Do be willing to participate in any healing activity she requests. I had the family members I told write my child a small note pledging their love to her, that they would never forget her, etc. Some of them included bits of prayers or poetry. I buried all of these messages under the chrysanthemums I planted in my yard to honor the month of my child's conception. I then put a small plaque with her name and a loving message on it next to the flowers. This memorial activity enabled me to offer my child the ceremony and assurance of love that I needed to give her as part of my healing.

  • Two of my friends made me tea (a raspberry leaf infusion to help the uterus regain it's shape) and cookies (lots of them) on the day of the abortion and brought them over a few hours after I got home from the procedure. It was wonderful. I felt so supported and cared for. I highly recommend people doing things for friends in their hour of need.

  • One of the most comforting things I was told was also the most basic. When I made a statement that I felt my emotions, etc. were out of control, I was told "You don't have to be in control." It was a simple statement, although one I never had heard, under any circumstance in my entire life. It was almost permission to the lift the guilt of being out of control and deal with the guilt of the abortion.

  • "DO" be there, physically be there. Words are not essential, advice is not required, comfort from you is not expected at all times. A man's physical presence is utterly important to a female, especially the weeks that follow the procedure. A man does not need to have all the answers, or to provide loving comfort and understanding at all times. A woman needs to know that he is there, she needs to feel his presence above everything else.

  • Don'ts

  • Don't think that the gestational "age" of the pregnancy determines its value and impact.

  • Don't minimize her feelings, sadness or grief, by saying there must be 'something more' than just the abortion that is causing her such distress.

  • Don't be afraid to touch or hug her, it can often be more comforting than words.

  • Don't avoid her because you feel helpless or uncomfortable, or don't know what to say.

  • Don't change the subject when she mentions her abortion. Try to just listen, and hear what she wants to say.

  • Don't push the mother through the grieving process, it takes a long time to heal and they never really forget.

  • Don't encourage the use of illegal drugs or alcohol.

  • Don't ask her how she feels if you aren't willing or don't have the time to listen.

  • Don't say you know how she feels, unless you have been in the same situation.

  • Don't (even if you are hurt and feel the need to lash out) say: "You would have made a bad mother." Or the variation "You weren't ready anyway." or any other comment that demeans her ability as a mother or prospective mother.

  • Don't tell her what she should feel or do.

  • Don't look at her situation and put a time frame on her healing, and say "You should feel better by now!" (This will only make her feel worse, "oh god, not only is she falling apart after her abortion, but she is inconveniencing everyone else by not 'being over it by now!")

  • Don't try to find something positive in the abortion, and give it her for a 'rationalization' for why she shouldn't be upset. (the time may come when she will be able to find something positive in it - but she needs to 'get there' herself)

  • Don't point out that at least she has 'other' children.(this is true, and she knows this, but it doesn't help her feelings at all to remind her of this)

  • Don't say that she can "always have another child."(this is also true, and she knows this, but it doesn't help her feelings at all to remind her of this)

  • Don't suggest that she should be grateful for her other children.(she is grateful, she knows this, and again it doesn't help her feelings at all to remind her of this)

  • Don't say "Personally, I am against abortion, or Personally, i would never have an abortion, but" - (then followed with something like "I don't hate you for it" or "It's )

  • Don't think that abortion puts a ban on laughter. Do continue to share jokes and fun things with her

  • Don't distance yourself from her. Even if it's hard for you to accept or deal with yourself. She needs your support SO much. It is so hard to work through an abortion, and its even harder if you think you're doing it alone

  • Don't pretend as if it didn't happen. It did and you should acknowledge it. You should ask her how it went or if she needs to talk about what happened. It is a very painful procedure (both physically and mentally). She needs to be supported, not to have someone act as if it never happened. My boyfriend acted like it never happened and I was devastated. I had just been through the most horrible experience of my life and he didn't even ask if I was okay or if it was painful.

  • Don't say "you did it for the wrong reasons".

  • If you pressured her to have the abortion, do not deny this later and say "There was no pressure. It was your decision in the end."

  • Don't tell her that you would have had an abortion too. It doesn't make her feel better to know what you would have done or would do now whether it was to have an abortion or not.

  • Don't tell her to "Get over it, stop feeling sorry for yourself", or "Getover it and move on!" .

  • Don't tell anyone about the abortion when you DON'T have permission from the women whose had it!

  • Don't start to lecture her on how horrible the experience was to you. or how hard this is on you because she is being so 'difficult'

  • Don't tell someone that "I'm sure you made the right decision for you, but I would have never made the same choice to terminate".

  • Don't say you understand when you don't. and never tell a woman that it wasn't a child if she thinks it was.

  • Don't say it was just a medical procedure, like getting your tooth pulled.

    Avoid the following clichés:

  • "I thought most women only feel relief after an abortion?"

  • "Be brave, be strong, don't cry."

  • It was only a blob/speck/clump of cells or any other type of invalidating statement. If the woman is grieving, it was more than that to her 'emotionally', despite what is might technically have been 'physically'.

  • (in regards to an abortion for medical problems) "It was God's will" or "it was a blessing in disguise."

  • God never gives us more than we can handle. (obviously he did, or she probably wouldn't have had the abortion!)

  • "Get on with your life. This isn't the end of the world." (To some women it is, for some of them, the pain is so intense that they don't get through this)

  • "Worry about the people who are here, not the one who never even really existed."

  • (in regards to an abortion for medical problems)"God needed another flower in his garden."

  • "At least it wasn't older."

  • "You must be strong for the other children." (true, but this statement invalidates her grief, and tries to make her feel guilty about grieving for her lost child)

  • "You're young, you'll get over it."

  • "Time will heal." (Time helps, but it still doesn't help any to hear that when you are in pain. Women with PASS are in so much pain they don't give it crap if it will get better with 'time'. They need it to get better now!)

  • Don't say, "Does that STILL bother you?"
  • Do.. hold them and let them cry. For hours if needed. Even if it is uncomfortable for you. Let them be sad, it is part of the grieving process.

  • Don't say " Well you shouldn't have gotten the abortion if you were going to feel like this"

  • Don't ignore that I had an abortion. don't make me feel crazy because i want to talk about it.

  • Don't tell her that "she is being selfish" for having a hard time.

  • Don't try to pressure her into sex either just before or just after the abortion. Her situation may make her only TOO mindful of how she got that way and sex is probably the last thing she wants or needs. DO provide plenty of physical affection (like hugs) but don't mistake a need for physical affection as a desire for or a prelude to sex.

  • Dont's - I hated hearing, "it might end in a miscarriage anyway" or being asked, "would you rather it had ended in a miscarriage?"
  • I hated being told that any number of things could go wrong e.g. disabilities, doesn't anything go right when you have kids? And besides, doesn't every pregnant woman face those risks?

  • I hated being told that I should have an abortion "for the baby's sake". How do they know who my baby is going to be and what that would mean for me?

  • I hated hearing, "you can't give a baby back once you've had it".

  • I hated being told that the most common feeling after an abortion was relief.

  • I hated being reminded how I felt just before the termination feelings change.

  • He said to me " You'll be over it in a week or two." What a jerk!

  • Don't tell her that "Other women have done it and they dont seem to be hurt!"

  • My sister's helpful comment when I told her of my abortion and my subsequent grief was " well you wouldn't have wanted any more children at your age would you?"

  • My "guy" made statements after the procedure such as, "You made me feel bad", "I was hurting too", "Did you try to get pregnant?", "Did you sleep with anyone else?" ... He wasn't even around after the abortion ... He said that he had to take time out for himself ...

  • If a woman had an abortion for medical reasons, and you know she cannot have children, don't say, or assume that "there is always adoption." There isn't always adoption. Sometimes, there's just childlessness.

  • Don't pressure her to satisfy your sexual needs, even if she is physically better since the abortion.

  • Don't tell her "We can have another baby if that's what you really want"

    Examples of don'ts from our members:

  • The first day of my 3 day D&E procedure was the worst emotionally. I had no idea what the physical and emotional pain of this was going to be.During the extremely painful dilation procedure the first day, the assistant nurse made the comment to me as I was squirming in pain and crying,"Stay still, don't make this harder on us." I wanted to tell her to lie down naked on this table, clamp her open, and put her through the worst physical pain she's ever been through and all this to end her pregnancy and see who this is harder for. All the other women having abortions at the clinic that I talked to reacted the same way, if not worse, to the procedures. You would think the nurses would know what to expect and be a little more understanding. They chose this profession. My husband is writing a letter to the clinic expressing the insensitivity of that nurse.

  • Don't tell a woman who has just had an abortion and has no children that you are going to get "fixed" so it will never happen again. The man I was dating already had 2 children and was in the process of divorce, he said he was going to get fixed and get the procedure reversed later if he wanted children. Too much for a woman to think about at the time; like wondering if it ever can or will be reversed, or if she is wasting her time in a relationship that will probably never involve any future plans such as children or marriage.

  • Don't "check out" other women and tell your girlfriend/wife about it-- even if it's a joke, and/or it's something you always do...This can be a major blow to a woman's self-esteem, and she can be more sensitive than ever about her own personal appearance at this time. In my personal experience, being pregnant made me feel beautiful, more feminine-- aborting the pregnancy made me feel less, for some reason. I guess it was partly 'losing' something which seemed definitive of my own womanhood, and partly having pimples from excessive hormonal activity and stretch marks from my once swollen breasts but no baby to show for it.

  • Don't tell us that we weren't ready for a child anyway or that I was too young to have a baby to begin with, or that I didn't need this right now... No one knows more than me what I do and do not need.. .what I do and do not consider sacred and loving in MY life. I made the decision, and no one more than me regrets it... Don't try to be a mind reader.. just be my friend.

  • I was dating a man who was separated from his wife. He already had five children. The morning of the abortion he called and asked if I wanted him to go with me. The only catch was he couldn't get a baby sitter for his two youngest children and asked if I would mind if he brought them along. I couldn't speak. Considering what I was about to do, I just cant believe he would ask that.

  • Don't say..."It's for the best. You have so much to do in life" This just promotes resentment and it made me feel selfish. How the hell does anyone know what I'm going to do with my life? Do they have a crystal ball?

  • Don't tell her to get up and get going when she's not ready. Many people who suffer depression feel great anxiety about even the most simple things (visiting friends, facing work/school, etc). Telling a seriously depressed person that they're "only making things worse" by putting those things off is about as helpful as lecturing an anorexic about starving children in third world countries...

  • Keep the judgements to let's say, NIL. They are beating themselves up enough as it is, don't make it worse.

  • Don't attempt to "shock cure" them. (ie--taking them to baby showers, things to do with children, babies, etc.)

  • A friend, trying to counsel me beforehand advised, "its very hard to be a single Mum - I did it but you might not be a strong enough person and you also need to be financially well off." Later, the same person advised me to "just put it behind you and get on with the rest of your life." Unconsciously, afterwards I began to find it difficult to maintain contact with the friend, without knowing why. I now know that it was her insensitivity that affected the friendship - I can hardly bear to talk to her now, and am only just beginning to understand why, four years on. I have second-hand experience of an equally hurtful comment which I heard being made to someone else as she was considering whether or not to have an abortion after splitting up with the father - she was told, angrily, that she should not "get upset about something that doesn't exist yet."

  • I think that the phrase that I have encountered the most, and have grown to hate is, "You can't change the past, you have to forgive yourself and move on". This is that hardest thing for us to accept that there is nothing that we can do to change our decision. I feel one of the main sources of pain for us is knowing how final abortion is. There is no way that bringing up the fact that a woman can't change her past can serve as any consolation, a simple hug does wonders.

  • The father of my aborted baby once told me, after the abortion, that when he had kids he could honestly tell them that they were not his first conceived and therefore not truly his 'heirs'. Another time, two days after the abortion, he said "you're like the mother and I'm like the child".

  • Men, don't run off to lick your own wounds and leave your girl alone to figure things out. My guy, whom I told of the abortion last minute (a decision I agonized over for 2 weeks), though he suggested and whole heartedly agreed to the abortion in seconds, could only see his hurt in the timing of him knowing. He deserted me. 1/28 was the day; its 2/23/00 and I have not seen him in person. It hurts like hell. (I wanted to grieve and share any resources with him that would help us get over the shock. ) Funny, that was the reason I didn't tell him until late, because if we had made a decision to keep our child, I felt I would have gone through it all alone.

  • Don't try and compare the pain of something else with her abortion, in a 'suffering olympics' way. For example don't say "My father died in a car crash - that was worse than your abortion! You should have seen the pain I went through after that!"

  • Although my partner has been otherwise supportive, I think it is important for men who have children from a previous relationship not to attempt to bring them into your "space" when you feel you are not ready. In my case, I had little interaction with my partner's kids, and the abortion seemed to encourage him to increase or want to begin to develop a relationship between the kids and myself. Perhaps this is healing for men in this circumstance, but for me it felt like more of a chore then it would've if things were different. I needed my space, and although I want to eventually have a relationship with his kids, it was too much to handle. It did not make me feel better, or more connected to motherhood. Again, I think it is more of a coping mechanism for men who do have children, and are able to deal with some of the pain of abortion by focussing more on his existing children. Again, I found this very hard for me, and something not too beneficial for my healing process.

  • After my first abortion, I got pregnant again.., knowing that I had to abort, again. When I told him, again, and he also knew that I'd have to abort again... this is what he blurted out this time: "Wow you get pregnant so easily!! Are you some kind of fertility machine or something?"

  • After my abortion my husband's mother told me I didn't need to have children of my own because I had to take care of the three he already had. That was a BIG NO NO!

  • The night before and the day of the abortion, i expressed to my husband that i did not want to go through with the procedure and he told me if i didn't he'd contact his attorney as soon as we got back to make her aware to gather papers together for him to try to get custody when the child was born and he also stated he didn't want my 12 year old son in our house any longer. Now all he says is it was my decision and he just went along with it, he didn't want me to get it done. I am just so angry with him, we have since split and i moved into an apartment with my son.

  • A few months after the ab, my boyfriend and I were laying in bed, I think just joking around about stuff, I dont remember exactly what led up to it, but I think I started talking about how we were going to get married and have a ton of kids, and for some reason he said "You're the one who gave up your child". Of course I started crying, and he did apologize for it, but I can not believe he would even say something like that to me.


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