Abortion survivors experience lasting psychological effects, even before they know about their experiences with attempted abortion. Some of their experiences are similar to things I experience as a former preemie.
Sarah Smith is quoted in an article about abortion survivors as saying:
I did not know of the abortion until I was 12 years old. I grew up feeling that I was the same as my friends, except for having numerous surgeries and physical complications. The only difference I felt was an incredible loneliness and a knowledge that something was missing. I never felt whole.
I battled with severe depression and found myself dying of anorexia nervosa at age 12, when my mother knew it was time to tell me the truth. She sat next to me and took my hand and looked me in the eyes and said, 'Sarah, you are a twin. I aborted your twin brother and tried to abort you. Please know I did not know what I was doing and I pray someday you are able to forgive me. I love you and need you to know that you are a welcome part of our family.'
At that moment I knew what I had been missing all my life and that I was called to something much greater than I had knowledge of. Immediately I felt the overwhelming pain of the knowledge that I should be dead.
I know that in this age of "planned parenthood," many people ask these deep questions: "Did my parents want me?" "Would they have ever chosen to end my life for any reason?" This is what happens to people who grow up in the "culture of death." We now possess technology that can save lives. My dad pointed this out to me recently while we were discussing Terri Schiavo. Two hundred years ago, someone who could not feed herself would either have been fed (if she could swallow) or died because no alternative existed. Interestingly, I read somewhere recently that feeding tubes have been used for about the last hundred years: the earliest of the "life-saving technologies." And just why did all this "life-saving technology" come into existence? I wonder, sarcastically, if it had anything to do with the impact of watching a person struggle for life against great odds. Life has a way of fighting for itself, even when it is innocent.
... Before the state gave up its legal protection of children and before contraceptives made it possible for every child to be a “wanted child,” few people questioned whether they were wanted. Now they do. Since their security rests in their wantedness, people, especially children, keep checking with each other, “do you really want me?”
Stateless persons appreciate what it is like to live an existence that depends on being wanted. It demands constant pleasantness but evokes awful anger toward those who should recognize their right to exist whether they are pleasing or not.
... With the development of prostaglandin suppositories, ... the very wish of some feminists has come true. ... Every woman can now do her own abortion in her home and attempt it at any stage of pregnancy. There will be many medical complications but even more psychiatric disorders arising from the impossible conflict of a woman trying to decide whether to flush the struggling live infant down the toilet or rush to the hospital for resuscitation.
If the government outlaws prostaglandins they will be sold by drug dealing syndicates on the black market, and they will be of poor quality. If self-induced abortions remain illegal, women will not rush to the hospital to report their incomplete abortions. For these reasons, there will be tremendous pressure on the government to legalize the sale of prostaglandins and to decriminalize self-induced abortions.
When up to 50 percent of North American pregnancies end by induced abortion, it is reasonable to consider a live newborn as a survivor. In any situation where a mother, spouse, grandparent or physician has seriously deliberated abortion, the live child has survived a carefully considered option to destroy him. In those few situations where a live aborted infant has been given adequate medical care, he has survived a highly technical assault on his life.
Both groups have survived where 50 percent of their kind have not, where they were up against forces they could not influence, where the decision to allow them to live was entirely out of their hands, and where their fate depended largely on their place of residence, sex, intelligence, physical attributes or time of existence. In these respects, survivors of abortion have in common those experiences that are the lot of most disaster survivors.
... If children who survive abortion are psychologically affected, they are victims and as such must be studied to determine what difficulties they might encounter and what special help they might require. The victims themselves should understand the unconscious factors that will influence their attitude toward those who have determined their fate (mothers and physicians), and those who may have attacked them (doctors and nurses), and those who could remind them of earlier conflicts (their own children).
Philip G. Ney writes in Conflicts and Symptoms of the Post-Abortion Survivor Syndrome:
"I should be grateful to be alive, but I should not have lived when others died."
... "I want to live, but I fear I am doomed." If they are alive because they are "wanted", they feel that they must stay wanted or they will no longer have the right to live.
... "I want to be close to my parents, but the closer I get the worse I feel." The anxious, ambivalent and tenuous attachment between parent and surviving child arises from three sources:
- Women who have had an abortion have difficulty in bonding to, touching and breast-feeding subsequent children.
- The abortion surviving child is suspicious of parents and their expression of love.
- Abortion surviving infants often emit abnormal, anxious cries when their mother is out of sight.
Life in the NICU is different for preemies now. In the 1970s, parents did not get to hold their babies in the NICU. This created significant difficulties in bonding. Upon coming home, the former preemie often has significant disabilities and health care needs. Some of these cause abnormalities in behavior, including vocalization. In my case, Blindness itself causes difficulties in learning social skills as well as interpreting nonverbal communication. Whether I like it or not, these things have had an impact on me.
Frank Pavone also questions the impact of the "culture of death in his article, Ten different Types of Abortion Survivors.
What does growing up in a society that tells you, by law and by dominant cultural thinking, that your life was disposable and your birth was subject to the "choice" of someone else, do to one's psychological landscape?
How do the young view themselves and their peers in the light of the fact that "the word person... does not include the unborn"? (Roe v. Wade, at 158). Moreover, how does being an abortion survivor affect the way today's children and young adults hear the Gospel message of God's unconditional love?
Pavone identifies ten types of "abortion survivors." Some of his descriptions might apply well (though perhaps with a bit of revision) to former premature infants.
Statistical survivors. These are people who survived in countries or cities where there is a statistically high probability that they would have been aborted. They come to know that the odds were definitely stacked against them. In some parts of Eastern Europe, the chances of being aborted are as high as 80%.
People who have survived premature birth are all "statistical survivors." The odds have changed over the years, but they are generally expressed in terms emphasizing the chances of negative outcomes. "So many survive, and (or but depending on who you speak with) so many have disabilities--and so many of those disabilities are severe." Preemies will never escape the state of being statistical survivors; and while many of us wear our survivorship as a badge of honor, we are all very aware of what those statistics really mean: "Look what you escaped... Aren't you glad? We're not sure if we would have worked so hard to save you if you hadn't escaped this or that statistic." I've never known a parent to use those words; but words don't need to be spoken to be communicated. This gives the former preemie's discussions about premature birth and life in general an undertone of uncertainty and even fear, especially when the person faces the onset of an additional disability.
Threatened survivors. These are children whose parents have used abortion as a threat, even if they never considered it during the pregnancy: "You wretched, ungrateful child...I should have aborted you!"
I don't need to say a lot here--I have covered most of it in my discussion about statistical survivors. This also overlaps greatly for me with the "disabled survivor."
Disabled survivors. These are people who, because of developmental defects or other circumstances, would usually be aborted. In fact, they often wonder whether their parents would have aborted them had they known about the defects.
Disability is difficult for everyone involved. How that difficulty is handled makes every bit of difference in the disabled person's ability to feel secure and not threatened. When someone expresses exasperation over the impact of my disability on his/her life, I often feel that I am supposed to correct the problem, that I shouldn't make them anxious. It's very easy to move from there to wondering if the parent (assuming the person is my parent) ever wishes that I hadn't beaten those odds.
These questions also arise for me when I hear other people talking about disability in certain ways. I remember watching a movie in 1998--actually on my birthday--about a preemie who developed problems that increased the risk that she would require long-term life support. I can certainly understand that there is a time when the person stops clinging to life and no amount of "life support" will provide life. I actually did not have difficulty with the concept of taking the baby off the ventilator. The parents held her and loved her during her last minutes. What I had a problem with was a scene in a parent support meeting where a lady tells the parents about all the disabilities the child would face, including blindness, and how disabilities would wreck their marriage. The implication seemed to be that any of these possibilities would lower the family's quality of life, and this was justification for stopping life support. There is one justification for stopping life support in my mind, and that justification is that the person is not clinging to life! All these horrible disabilities are certainly things to reckon with, but the appropriate response is to seek out support in giving that child as much opportunity to live fully as possible. Marriage isn't designed for the faint of heart. If disability comes into a marriage, the answer is to pull together and work that much harder to strengthen the commitment--and trust in the God who joined the two and made them one!
Chance survivors. These are children who would have been aborted if the mother had been able to obtain the abortion. The abortion was prevented by a lack of money, time, permission, availability, etc.
There is a lot my parents did not know about my care when I was in the neonatal intensive care unit. They learned I had received blood transfusions after I got home at three months of age! Fortunately, I was healthy--or at least that's what we assume. If I hadn't been, would they have been informed? Many parents weren't; that's why there has been so much discussion about "informed choice" in the NICU: because babies were being provided life-saving treatment without parental consent. I'm certainly in favor of providing accurate information to parents and requiring their consent. But when I listen to debates about informed consent, I often wonder what choice my parents would have made if presented with the statistics and an experimental procedure. I know that generally they are very calculating in their choices. Mom tends to err on the side of not taking risks when a procedure is too new and the condition would not deteriorate without it. If my eye surgery at age 8 was an example, my parents also tend to be willing to take medical risks when there is a combined chance of improvement with treatment and certainty of deterioration without it. But my mom had a bit of time to deliberate over that. What would she have done as a 21-year-old if presented with a life-and-death situation and the odds that I would be severely disabled, even with treatment? When we were watching the movie in 1998, she said, "I don't think I could do that," regarding the possibility of parenting a child with severe multiple disabilities. So I fear that I know the answer to my question; and that answer terrifies me, especially as I become affected by disabilities which may be more limiting than blindness ever will be. All of these "survivors" have gotten intertwined in my life; and as our society moves more and more toward devaluation of life that is less than perfect, I find myself wondering again and again if I will "make the cut." I can't settle the questions and forget about them now that I've survived premature birth and the NICU experience. I confront questions about the security of my life every time I encounter negative attitudes about disability and especially when I deal with the topic of the "right to die" movement--and when I confront those questions, I confront again the issues related to survival of premature birth.
They are "wanted" rather than "welcomed." When one is "wanted," he or she meets the needs or demands of another. When one is welcomed, on the other hand, his or her value is acknowledged despite others' reactions or attitudes. One abortion survivor wrote, "My parents always said they had wanted me. I often wonder what would have happened if they had not wanted me? I feel I must stay wanted. Being wanted means existing."
Another wrote, "I had no right to exist. I am still a child trying to find a place in this world...wandering around, carrying the weight of something on my shoulders. I had so many unanswered questions which I could not ask because nobody would answer and besides which I could not even formulate them. All my life I have been running, running away from death, no, from something worse than death."