Dear New Shrink,

I am going through the worst time of my life trying to decide what to do.

I cannot even believe it, but I am pregnant. The situation is far from ideal for having a baby, but I really am wondering what it all means to have an abortion, what the risks are and whether or not I will be sorry afterwards. I would understand it if I were more religious, but I really am not. I just feel really scared and overwhelmed.

This is the last thing I expected because I really believed our method of protecting ourselves from this was a good one. My boyfriend supports me either way, or so he says.

Can you please just shed some light on the issue? I am hoping that it will help me decide while I am still early in the pregnancy.

Signed,

Sorry and worried

Dear Sorry and Worried,

I am really glad you wrote in regarding this issue of abortion and I know it must be difficult to discuss. Many women who have them tell very few, some none at all. Perhaps it is largely due to the sociopolitical climate these days, but my experience is that is goes way back to the days when it was theoretically accepted.

Over the years, I have worked with a number of women who have had abortions. Sometimes I am the only one to know. Not even the father is told; other times he is the only one to know.

The reactions to abortion vary and are often surprising to the women who have them. Sometimes it is actually the women who say that they are religious (not suggesting that they are not) who are the most relieved and move on quickly following an abortion. But more often than not, it is the women who say that they are OK with it, who are thinking mostly about the practical aspects of it and choose to do it because they think that it will bring relief, who suffer the most.

The statistics show that there are over 1 million abortions performed every year in the United States and that one in three women have an abortion before the age of 45.

Physically, if done by a doctor and in the first trimester, you should be absolutely fine. Very few women have complications or are injured in any way.

Some women, however, cannot afford an abortion so they try unorthodox methods to achieve it. This can be extremely dangerous.

But as a psychologist, it is the emotional consequences that I am concerned with. Few women really consider this before doing it. They tend to make the decision because they feel the pressure to do so and are considering only what they believe to be the practical aspects. The practical aspects can be very important and I would be the last to discount that piece of it. But it is very important to balance it out by thinking of the emotional aftermath. I have seen so many women who were very sad and often feeling very guilty after the fact. I have heard everything from “what if I never can have another child?” to “I can’t believe I killed my baby.”

I think it speaks for itself, but I have to say that it is extremely important that you consider who you are, what you are likely to feel afterwards and what coping mechanisms you have.

Are you prone to depression or substance abuse? Do you tend to be hard on yourself? Are you prone to feeling guilty or regretting some of your decisions because you made them in haste or under pressure?

I have seen women go into serious depression. I have seen others who feel spiritually guilty and it eats at their souls for months, or often years. I have also seen women who came to me for substance abuse that started with an abortion that they really were not prepared to have.

But as I said, some women move through it with barely a breeze.

I am not taking a position here other than to say you really need to think it through before making a decision. Think about who you are and how you are likely to feel afterwards. If you can’t sort it out from the pressure you feel, you should seek some brief counseling to make sure you are doing what is truly best for you.

Lastly, you say you thought you had a good method of birth control. I cannot tell you how many women have said this to me over the years.

To avoid this terrible dilemma, perhaps it is time to make sure we are either on birth control or have the morning after pill or know our boundaries and limits. As women we need to be more aware of this, what it all really means and to understand what we are up against.

Dr. JoAnne Barge is a licensed psychologist and licensed marriage and family therapist with offices in Brentwood. Visit her at www.drbarge.com or e-mail your inquires and responses to newshrink@gmail.com. Got something on your mind? Let use help you with your life matters.

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