Having an abortion could lead you to experience different emotions, including grief and depression. This is natural, and healing is possible.
Grief is a natural, and sometimes unexpected, response to experiencing a significant loss. Everyone mourns differently and for different reasons. If you’re mourning, your emotions are valid.
Undergoing an abortion may lead you and those around you to feel in ways you didn’t anticipate.
Although not everyone goes through the experience the same way, it’s not uncommon to feel grief or intense and mixed emotions after an abortion.
Feeling and expressing grief is a natural response to any perceived loss.
For some people, the hormonal changes that occur after an abortion can cause emotional upheaval. This may lead to temporary feelings of sadness, irritability, and low mood.
The particular circumstances of your decision may also impact how you feel before and after an abortion. This is why everyone’s experience is different — though all reactions are equally valid.
Signs you’re grieving may include:
- unexpected changes in your mood that may go from feeling relief to intense sadness, for example
- feeling detached from the situation or from others
- irritability and occasional bouts of anger
- preoccupation with the events that led up to the abortion
- persistent sadness and low mood
- wondering what could’ve happened if you didn’t go through the experience
Most people go through the stages of grief after facing a loss, whether expected or not. But not everyone experiences these stages in the same way.
The five stages of grief are:
You may find yourself spending some time in each of these stages, or perhaps skipping some. You may also experience some of these emotions, like depression and denial, concurrently or repeatedly. Your grieving experience is unique.
Although not a rule, other possible responses to having an abortion may include:
- moments of regret, remorse, and guilt
- anger toward others who helped or motivated the decision
- anger toward those who didn’t help or supported the decision
- symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- symptoms of anxiety
- worry about being able to become pregnant again
- worry about becoming pregnant too soon
- indifference or numbness about the experience
Grief and depression are two different concepts. Grief is not a formal mental health diagnosis, while depression is.
But symptoms of depression may overlap with some emotions related to grieving. And sometimes, grief can become a disorder.
When grief lasts a long time and doesn’t resolve on its own, you may receive a diagnosis of prolonged grief disorder. This is when you experience a persistent preoccupation with the reason for your grief — in this case, the loss associated with an abortion.
Symptoms of prolonged grief disorder include:
- significant denial
- a sense that you’ve lost a part of yourself
- avoiding any reminders of the loss
- intense emotions
- difficulty functioning in the world, including in social and occupational areas
- feeling detached or numb
- difficulty getting motivated or finding a purpose in life
- feeling lonely
In some cases, you may experience both prolonged grief and depression, or you may go from symptoms of grief to those of depression.
Some signs that may indicate your grief has transitioned into depression include:
- changes in mood or intense sadness and despair
- feeling hopeless or pessimistic about life
- guilt and helplessness
- difficulty finding joy in regular activities, including sex
- intense fatigue or low energy
- difficulty focusing on a task
- memory challenges
- changes in your sleep patterns
- changes in your appetite or eating habits
- physical symptoms that may include headaches, muscle pain, or digestive problems
- preoccupation or fantasies related to dying
If you have any of these symptoms and they last longer than two weeks, talking with a mental health professional can help determine whether you’re experiencing post-abortion grief or depression.
Is there a link between abortion and depression?
This is a controversial question because there’s no consensus as to what the answer is.
While some research suggests there might be an association between abortion and depression, other studies have not found a link.
In clinical settings, experts have found that some people do experience symptoms of depression after an abortion, while others don’t grieve or feel depressed.
The answer to the question may be unique to you and your past and present experiences, which could indicate that contributing factors are key in how some people process an abortion.
Although more research is needed, a scientific review published in the journal
No matter what the research says, if you feel a certain way after experiencing an abortion, those feelings are real and valid. How you feel is important.
Again, although research is lacking, some evidence suggests certain factors may increase your chance of experiencing distress after an abortion.
- uncertainty or doubts about getting the abortion
- negative personal or religious beliefs about abortion
- a history of mental health conditions
- lack of emotional or social support
- the reasons for your abortion
perceived stigmaor feeling devalued for not meeting social expectations
In other words, if you have a history of depression, for example, you may have a higher chance of experiencing depression symptoms after an abortion.
Researchers who conducted the 2016 study also found a strong association between perceived abortion stigma and pre-abortion depression, anxiety, and stress symptoms. They suggest people who feel less stigmatized about having an abortion may have a lower chance of post-abortion mental health difficulties.
If you’re experiencing grief or depression after an abortion, it’s helpful to know that you’re not alone. Estimates indicate that about 24% of women will go through an induced abortion by the time they turn 45 years old.
But managing emotions and grieving after an abortion is possible.
Here are some ways to start your healing process:
- Acceptance. You may find it helpful coming to terms with what you feel, even if it was unexpected. Allowing yourself to grieve and giving yourself time to do so may be a healing experience on its own.
- Exploring your circumstances. Looking at your family and personal history may help you recognize underlying factors that may be contributing to your distress. Identifying previous conditions, social pressures, personal beliefs, and unresolved trauma may help you understand how you feel.
- Asking for support. You may feel like you don’t want to talk about it or you’re detached from others, but asking for help or spaces to vent from those you trust can make a significant difference.
- Self-compassion. If you’re grieving, you may at times feel inclined to be hard on yourself. It’s important to remember that you’re doing the best you can with the resources at hand. “What ifs” could take you for a ride with no destination. Consider focusing on the now and planning for the future.
- Stress management. Consider exploring ways to soothe your mind and body. Meditation, yoga, and tai chi may help. You can find free YouTube videos with different options.
- Share experiences. Finding others that share this experience can help you feel less isolated and offer a safe place to unload your feelings. If you don’t have anyone you feel safe talking with, there are support groups that can help.
Sometimes, despite focusing on self-help or other methods to manage your grief, you may still have difficulty processing it.
If feelings of grief and sadness persist longer than a month, or you’re concerned about how you’re handling the emotions related to the abortion, it may be helpful to reach out to a mental health professional for help.
Also, if you suspect you’re experiencing symptoms of depression or other mental health conditions, as well as hormonal imbalances, a professional can support you.
Everyone experiences grief differently. In the same way, having an abortion may cause diverse emotional and physical responses. What you’re experiencing is valid and natural.
Reactions like relief, sadness, irritability, denial, and sometimes depression, can arise after having an abortion. While not everyone goes through these emotions, consider there’s no right or wrong way to feel after this experience.
Whether you underwent the procedure or are a parent, friend, or family member affected by it, the way you feel is valid and real, and healing is possible.