Unspoken grief haunts girls after abortion grief that haunts girls

Wednesday, July 1st, 2020 00:00 |
Brian Otieno, a counselling psychologist. Photo/PD/COURTESY

Sandra Wekesa @wekesa_sandra

When Sylvia Onamo (not her real name) got pregnant at the age of 17, she couldn’t think of anything else than to just look for a cheaper and faster way of getting out of trouble.

“My father was a staunch Christian, a pastor as a matter of fact; I couldn’t think of a way of telling him how I even got pregnant, so I opted for a way out of it,” she says.

The first thing was getting a doctor to perform the abortion professionally, and then look for a suitable day to sneak out of the house to undergo the procedure.

“Thursday being a holy day in our house because of devotion sessions, I settled for Saturday because it felt a bit safer and matched up as a day that I could get less regrets and anger, due to the fear of taking away life,” she recalls.

Getting to the doctor wasn’t so hard for Sylvia; she had mastered one of the best roads to get there.

She had a good amount of savings from her school kitty, therefore funds weren’t a problem.

However, one thing she did not account for was the regret she’d experience afterwards.

“I am so glad I didn’t have to worry about any complications because I visited a doctor I trusted.

But the constant guilt really messed me up. I just couldn’t stand being around children.

What made the situation worse was that my eldest sister had just given birth, so that made it worse for me to forget about the entire procedure,” she says.

She adds that she felt really empty, something that could have been solved by good psychological care and post- abortion procedures.

According to the World Health Organisation, about seven million girls are hospitalised each year in developing countries for abortion-related complications.

These issues range from minor ones that can be easily treated to serious and complicated ones that could lead to death. 

In Kenya, abortion is permissible in the opinion of a trained health professional, when there is need for emergency treatment, or the life or health of the mother is in danger, or if permitted by any other written law.

However, a 2012 report by the Ministry of Health and African Population and Health Research Centre showed that estimated 464,690 induced abortions occurred in the country in 2012, and 157,762 women received care for complications in the same year.

Brian Otieno, a counselling psychologist says abortion is a reproductive health service that women contemplate and actually do at some point in their lives.

Although the effect varies from woman to woman, some might report a sense of relief while some might actually have an emotional breakdown after it.

He adds that the emotional weight and tone driven from it is mostly scaled by the societal and individual beliefs.

“With the high level of stigma, abortion is still a talk in the dark and empty corridors of the society.

The society for the longest period has been the pivot of morals, norms, vices and what’s deemed “perfect” and this keeps on shifting based on who the perpetrator or the victim is.

Society’s perception on abortion is what yields the heavy condemnation of abortion and the emotions assigned to it.

In as much as the society has the upper hand in vindicating wrong from right, the individual always has the final verdict,” Brian says.

He adds that emotions pegged on abortion before and after are mostly derived from what the society would say and if one is ready to allow themselves to get in touch with their feelings and reality.

Mental health implications

“Before the procedure, fear of the unknown yields anxiety episodes that would leave one traumatised by negative thoughts and anticipated punishment.

Guilt is one of the common emotions linked to post or pre abortion. The guilt is mainly brought by the idea imprinted in one’s mind on the act and what may seem as the right thing at that time.

This guilt may eat up ones thoughts long enough, to the extent of causing trauma or depression,” he explains.

Also the trauma that come with post abortion is mostly  caused by tendencies of psychosis where an individual will report hearing baby cries, conversing with the unborn baby or having flashes of images of the unborn baby.

This, according to the American Psychological Association (APA), is rare and is mostly related to co-occurring risk factors that predispose a woman to multiple unwanted pregnancies. 

He says the APA report adds that the consequences of denying abortion are higher than that of procuring one. This not only affect women, but also men who in some instances report traumas.

He echoes that denying women an abortion increases their likelihood to experience higher levels of anxiety, lower life satisfaction and lower self-esteem.

Research has shown that, having an abortion does not increase a woman’s risk for anxiety, depression of post-traumatic stress.

“For this reason, it’s crucial that a pre and post abortion counselling therapy is done for both the man and woman if possible.

This helps the individuals to make sound decisions based on emotional and logical perspective that will cause less harm after the procedure.

The anxiety, trauma, depression and in some cases suicide pegged on abortion can be avoided if the right procedures are followed to allow therapy before and after.

Mental health implications are still tagged to abortion whether it’s procured or not,” he says.

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