Primal Fear: The Impact of Abortion on Adult Children of Divorce
By Kevin Burke, LSW
When we think of the impact of divorce on children, there is often the assumption that if the parents work together in good faith, and do not place the children in the middle of their conflicts and relational drama, then in time the children will adjust and be fine.
Leila Miller is the editor of “Primal Loss: The Now-Adult Children of Divorce Speak.” Miller shares in an article entitled, The Adult Children of Divorce Find Their Voice, that as she began the process of compiling research for her book she was shocked at the level of pain she encountered:
“… I started asking adult children of divorce about their experiences. I eventually wrote up a brief questionnaire, appealing on social media for volunteers… I learned that not only does the pain of divorce continue into adulthood, but the suffering is not lessened even if the child experienced a “good divorce.”
…A 50-year-old wife and mother whose parents shared custody and got along well after their divorce told me:
I was devastated as a child when my dad drove away, and I will never forget standing in our front yard literally screaming, ‘Come back!’ I didn’t understand what was happening, and my three-year-old sister certainly didn’t understand…I would honestly say I ‘survived’ the divorce, but the fall-out wasn’t pretty: Lots of acting out and ‘unsettled’ behavior. It really skewed the way I looked at guys and what I thought ‘love’ was. If marriage wasn’t forever, why should anything else be?”
A 55 yr old woman shares her emotional experience of divorce:
I believe [the divorce] instilled a fear of abandonment in me with regard to all of my relationships. I developed problems trusting people to be there for me, believing that when the going got rough, people would leave me. I never learned any skills for solving conflict in relationships. As much as I desperately craved intimacy and love, the closer someone came to me, the more terrified I was of getting hurt, or worse—abandoned. I unconsciously sabotaged relationships, as I didn’t know how to receive and accept real love…”
Abortion and Adult Children of Divorce
I have worked as a counselor for the last 20 years with women and men who later regret their participation in abortion, and are looking for healing and peace. On our weekend abortion recovery program, Rachel’s Vineyard, Saturday morning participants share their abortion story. But they are encouraged to share that abortion event in the context of their overall life experiences.
Their stories reveal that some children from divorced families can be overwhelmed by their emotions when facing an unplanned pregnancy, and in the after math of the abortion procedure.
Divorce can be such a seismic emotional event for some kids, that when faced with an unplanned pregnancy later in life, they may panic and try to establish some sense of control as soon as possible – control they did not have as children.
They may have deep ambivalence about becoming a parent and terrified of losing their partner. While these feelings are common to others facing an unplanned pregnancy, with children of divorce, the level of anxiety and panic can be even more intense.
The aftermath of the abortion event is a complicated grief for the children of divorce. It seems that there is a complex emotional dynamic at work here that touches on both the divorce and abortion event. It may be helpful to look at abortion and divorce in the context of of being both victim and perpetrator.
The experience of divorce can be like an emotional abortion. A child can have the sense of being violently separated from what was previously thought to be a stable and lifelong family unit. A child who was traumatized by the experience of divorce and later participates in the death of their unborn child magnifies an already deep and complex wound.
The adult child of divorce has the experience of being both innocent victim of and later a type of perpetrator by participating in the abuse/death of their innocent unborn child. In other cases a woman or man may feel pressured to have the abortion, overwhelmed by their emotions, or have no voice or say in the matter. These feelings of anxiety, panic and powerlessness can reenact the emotional devastation of the divorce event.
The abortion experience may connect in a very toxic way with that wounded inner child resulting in depression, anxiety, anger issues, sleep disturbance, increased drug and alcohol use, and acting out this complicated grief leading to problems in intimate relationships.
Building A Foundation of Healing and Peace
Abortion recovery programs like Rachel’s Vineyard can create a foundation of peace and healing at the heart of this deep and complex wound. As women and men find healthy ways to process their abortion related pain, and grieve in healthy ways, they are reconnected in love with their aborted children.
As they reconcile with God, loved ones and their unborn children they have the opportunity to also grieve other losses in their lives. They have a safe place to share their childhood wounds, and allow their own inner child to have a voice, to be consoled and move toward healing and peace.
Women and men who have experienced divorce and abortion will benefit from developing a relationship with a counselor so they can continue to build on that foundation of healing in their lives.
Our childhood wounds need not sentence us to endless reenactments of our trauma, paralyzed by our inability to trust and find the intimacy and love we so deeply desire and need. Reach out for the help you need.
I wrote and performed the following song (produced by Henry Gennaria) and created this music video that I dedicate to adult children of divorce, and in a special way for those that suffered both divorce and later abortion loss in their lives. It affirms the loss and pain of divorce, but ends with a message of hope and healing.