Triggers | Counseling | Therapy

Triggers

Dr. Erica , LCSW, DSW — Therapist

The abortion debate in this country has never been more topical, and more rampant. Due to recent legislative attempts to regulate women's reproductive rights, it is likely that you'll see many posts about abortion on and in the news, on your social media, and even across the dinner table at family gatherings. However, for a mama that made the heartbreaking decision to end a wanted pregnancy, the very public abortion debate can trigger your very deep personal pain. No amount of Twitter characters, Facebook shares, on Instagram posts can allow others to understand the complexity of your emotions surrounding the outcry, and the experience of feeling judgement and hatred in the aftermath of terminating for medical reasons. I would like to offer, here, some suggestions for how you can take care of yourself in the wake of this contemptuous debate.

1. Choose to disengage. There is no requirement for you to share your painful journey, or to justify why you made the decision to end your pregnancy. Whether affected by fetal anomaly or a situation where having a child was not in your plan, abortion is nobody's business but your own. Unfortunately, people's reasons for being pro-life may often be deep-seated and immovable. It isn't your job to convince them that abortion is a safe and reasonable choice for a pregnancy. Do not take on that burden, as tempting as it may be, to change hearts and minds. Instead, seek support from those in your inner circle who already know and validate your story and decision. Step away from social media, even if it means unfollowing or muting responses that tempt you to join the fray. Your mental health will likely be more taxed by reliving and recounting your trauma outside of a safe and therapeutic setting as compared with the individuals arguing with you that have never walked your path. If you really need to check your social media, consider giving yourself a time limit and set up screen time restrictions on your phone to keep you from being tempted to lose yourself in the threads of divisive conversations.

2. Write it out. While engaging in debate in person or in social media arguments can feel futile and frustrating, writing your narrative of loss is always useful, particularly in therapy under the guidance of someone you're working with in a supportive fashion. However, you can also choose to journal about what you would say to people who don't show much compassion or understanding for abortion by writing out your hypothetical responses or the story of your abortion in your own, private space. It can feel comforting to write out expletives, angry feelings, words about sadness and frustration, or just finding a place where you don't have to censor yourself and feel as though there is judgment coming toward you. Consider keeping your journal in a safe place where you can access it easily, or even password protect it on your phone. Many babyloss mamas find this to be a safe haven during triggering times. Consider answering the following prompts: What do you wish people would know about your story? How does it make you feel when people express judgment about abortion? What and who makes you feel supported during these challenging times? What would you like the baby you lost to know about you?

3. Choose forgiveness. This is a tough one and only a suggestion from my years of experience as a reproductive health advocate. Sometimes, it can feel incredibly wounding to hear hurtful opinions from people who have not walked your painful abortion path. Instead of arguing with them and allowing feelings of resentment to overwhelm you, consider taking a deep breath and sending loving kindness out to those particular individuals. A useful mantra is simply, "I forgive you". Breathe, slowly, visualizing whatever colors you associate with in love and compassion, and breathe out, even more slowly, thinking of kindness and forgiveness, visualizing the mantra "I forgive you", even more slowly. Forgiveness, in actuality, isn't completely about that other person. It's also about you, and not allowing harmful words and actions to take power over you and energy away from you. Choosing forgiveness does not mean forgetting the stinging bite of cruel words and judgement, but releasing any resentment toward them. Again, this can feel like too much of a task for you right now, so I only encourage it if you think it might be helpful to your mental health.

4. Consider advocacy. There are a multitude of ways to channel your emotions into change for the better. Some babyloss mamas have published their testimony in letters, blogs and op-eds, or political venues. I strongly encourage you to discuss this with your therapist or close, supportive family and friends, to consider if you're ready for this step. Other less vulnerable ways of advocating for women's reproductive rights includes donating to Planned Parenthood or smaller funds like the Brigid Alliance, that helps fund travel for abortion services. You can call your state representatives to have in-person discussions about your concerns, too. This website provides some useful talking points about beginning the conversation. Seeking ways to advocate for reproductive health may give you a sense of control over a situation that can often feel overwhelming and powerless.

This certainly is not an exhaustive list of ways to cope with triggers during this difficult time. Many valuable methods of self-care are important to consider, too, and these go beyond traditional "massage and spa" days. Self-care includes thinking about your own limitations, resources, and energy, and how much you want to devote to talking about, interacting with, and engaging across social media and in-person conversations about abortion. It requires you to think about the example you're setting for family and friends, as well as yourself, your morals, and values.

In my personal experience, the love and support that has radiated toward me as a result of advocacy has been heartening, but it has taken many years to develop a thicker skin to abide with some of the more hurtful judgment about abortion. Above all else, go slowly, and take care of yourself. You matter.

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