What is PASS?
During the pregnancy process, your body is flooded with hormones that alter your brain chemistry. After receiving an abortion, your brain halts the production of these chemicals, causing a whiplash-like situation that leaves your brain in a state of confusion. This can also be compounded by the feelings leading up to the abortion procedure. The decision to have an abortion is a tremendous decision often surrounded by intense emotions, and these emotions are often handled by everyone differently. With some women or men, they are left with a state of PTSD known as post-abortion stress syndrome or PASS.
Symptoms of PASS?
Every woman’s experience with abortion is a unique story that’s filled with unique circumstances and differing emotions. However, many of these women face similar symptoms that can be seen again and again. Sadly, many women feel like they have to ignore and suppress symptoms of PASS because they fear that those around them will focus on only one aspect of their story: that they had an abortion. We currently live in a time where many mental health issues are openly accepted; we no longer shame those who suffer from depression, self-harm, and eating disorders.
So why do women suffering from post-abortion stress syndrome feel uneasy coming forward? While we live in an age of mental health acceptance, we also live in a time of extreme political division, and abortion is a hot topic and the focus of many debates. In order to make it so women are comfortable discussing their PASS, we need to set aside our political views and simply lend a compassionate ear and heart to those who are hurting silently.
Some of the common symptoms of PASS are:
Depression & Emotional Numbness
The feeling of being depressed after an abortion is one of the most common symptoms of PASS. You may begin to feel a lack of interest in what was once your biggest passions. You may see yourself preferring to stay home more and more until you’re cut off from society. It may become difficult to get out of bed and or to focus on your work.
As depression starts to affect your daily life, you may find yourself dealing with the fact that you have become numb to all of your emotions. We often hear from women we help that they have tried to suppress their feelings of grief, but what happens instead is that they end up suppressing all of their emotions and find it is difficult to reverse the process, even if they want to.
Feeling Anxious or Guilty Around Other Babies
It’s not uncommon to feel at peace with your decision to receive an abortion and then find yourself feeling anxious or guilty later on down the road. You may find that certain situations, such as seeing a mother or father with a newborn baby or visiting friends who have a baby of their own, can evoke a feeling of regret or anger. You may find yourself at the baby aisle of your favorite store and being overcome with emotions of loss and anxiety.
Anniversary anxiety isn’t always the easiest symptom to identify, but it’s a very common symptom. When you think of an anniversary, it’s typically something worth celebration, such as a wedding anniversary. But when it comes to the anniversary of a traumatic event, we tend to try and suppress any negative emotions and pretend that it’s just another day. Unfortunately, our mind doesn’t work like that; whether you realize it or not your subconscious is still processing what happened and can evoke feelings of anxiety without consciously realizing it.
Why PASS Shouldn’t be Ignored
Like many problems in our lives, if we tend to turn a blind eye and ignore them, the problem just continues to grow and becomes even harder to tackle further down the road. I think we have all either seen an episode of Hoarders or maybe seen a clip pop up on Facebook or Instagram TV. It’s easy to shake your head and judge them, but if you listen to them talk, you’ll see that it all started with them ignoring a trauma that occurred in their life.
Now, by no means am I saying that if you ignore post-abortion stress syndrome you will become a hoarder. What I am saying is that if you try to bury your symptoms of PASS, you run the risk of finding yourself buried by it and it can become harder to dig yourself out and deal with the problem head-on.
Why it’s Important to Reach Out Sooner Than Later
It’s human to compartmentalize grief and trauma. The emotional pain after an abortion can be immense and, in many cases, the outcome of suppressing trauma can cause more pain and damage than addressing the actual trauma. That doesn’t mean that addressing your trauma is easy; far from it. But by reaching out for help, you can save yourself from potentially causing more pain for yourself and, in some cases, for those around you as well.
So let’s look at some of the risks of suppressing trauma.
Drug & alcohol abuse: When dealing with grief, it’s common to find yourself wanting to escape the real world and lose yourself in drug abuse. Whether it’s the abuse of alcohol, pain killers, or the use of harder drugs, the end result can be permanent damage to your body and/or accidental overdose.
Sexual escape: Another coping mechanism can take the form of using sex to suppress grief or to find a moment of relief from the emotional pain you feel. Using sex as an escape can be common, but it leads to the risk of contracting an STD or STI and may lead to an unplanned pregnancy.
Self-harm: In some cases, we’ve seen others turn to self-harm to find an escape. Causing physical harm to the body will lead to secrecy as you try to hide it from those who care about you and ultimately creates more anxiety. Self-harm also destigmatizes yourself to the fear of suicide and can lead to hospitalization and accidental suicide.
Eating disorders: Eating disorders are often thought of as something that only affects young women, but eating disorders can often arise from traumatic events or out of grief. One such disorder is bulimia, an eating disorder in which you consume large amounts of food and then force yourself to vomit (also known as purging) to remove the excess amount of calories. Anorexia is another common disorder, in which you begin to starve yourself. In other cases, you may find yourself losing control of how much you eat; this is referred to as binge-eating disorder.
All of these conditions can lead to a life of greater depression and anxiety. By ignoring and suppressing your feelings, you can find yourself in a vicious cycle of destructive repetition that just gets worse over time.It’s never easy to seek help, but at the same time, you will never regret doing so. We know it’s not easy. It takes strength and courage, but it’s necessary to begin your healing journey.
How Can I Begin To Heal?
You may feel like you are all alone and that there is no one that could possibly help you during this time, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. You are worthy of happiness, love, healing, and forgiveness. That is the truth, however hard it may be to acknowledge it.
There isn’t a cookie-cutter cure-all way of overcoming post-abortion stress syndrome, just like there isn’t a cookie-cutter way of dealing with PTSD. Every woman’s healing journey is different, but some steps never change.
The first step may be to call our after abortion helpline (866-721-7881) and open up, admitting that this is something that you are struggling with. It is safe and confidential. Our phone coaches have been through the pain and also the healing after abortion. You want to be sure that whoever you share your pain with is safe and there is no judgment.
The next step is to reach out and get help through a post-abortion weekend retreat, such as Rachel’s Vineyard or Deeper Still. Other choices are checking out a weekly recovery group near you, or reaching out to a nearby pregnancy center that provides post-abortion support or seeing a therapist. Even during these times of COVID-19, these groups are still meeting digitally over Zoom.
H3Helpline is Here to Help
Few people are told about the pain and stress they will experience as a result of an abortion. At H3Helpline, we understand how difficult this experience can be for you. One of the most important things you can do is to seek out after abortion care and start the healing journey sooner rather than later. Not only will it help you, but you’ll connect with other people who have gone through the same experience as you, allowing you to gain help, support, and understanding from them. Give us a call today at 866-721-7881 to speak with one of our trained phone coaches & get connected to local post-abortion care resources in your area.
Erika D. Hogans
Nurse - BSN, RN
The content on this page has been reviewed and approved by our Registered Nurse Erika D. Hogans.