Thursday, April 11, 2002



Forbidden Grief: The Unspoken Pain of Abortion by Theresa Burke, Ph.D with David C. Reardon, Ph.D.


Acorn Books, 0964895757, $24.95



Grief after abortion is neither expected nor permitted in our society, so is the claim of Dr. Theresa Burke, founder of Rachel's Vineyard, a program designed for women suffering from post-abortion trauma to seek emotional and spiritual healing. One who chooses to argue against this point may have difficultly backing it up, considering how post-abortion trauma is rarely discussed in the media, much less in public. A recent episode of HBO's Sex and the City comes to mind, where one principal character encouraged another to abort an unplanned pregnancy. She cited how she had two of her own, waving off the memory as if recalling a trip to the dentist.



The real world is not always this accurate, and few support groups, if any, match the mission statement of Rachel's Vineyard. Abortion, as one faction would have people believe, is supposed to provide "relief, not grief," writes Burke, though this does mean a woman will not experience grief or loss following an abortion. The grief, despite the pro-choice movement's determination to soften the edges of the procedure, is real, and the pain of post-abortion women recorded by Dr. Burke in Forbidden Grief reflects but a fraction of the emotional trauma a woman can suffer, as if mourning the loss of a child brought to term.



Forbidden Grief is a compassionate book, a survey of why women choose to terminate pregnancies and why they do not feel better for having done so when they were led to believe otherwise. The book is not necessarily an argument against abortion, nor are Dr. Burke's subjects berated for having made the choice to abort. Dr. Burke's book serves to examine the various cause and effect processes involved in abortion, and to inform readers that emotional support can be had without bias.



There is Tina, so obsessed with pregnancy after her abortion that she tried to compensate for the loss by fashioning a towel under her dress to give the impression that she was expecting. Barbara, having undergone three abortions, purposely became obese to the point that she could no longer walk as a method of self-punishment. There are others, some who experienced abortions in the double digits, all of whom acted out their pain in different ways. Some baffled friends and relatives with their behavior, and others chose to withdraw from the world, but all shared a common thread aside from abortion: they came to Dr. Burke for help.



Dr. Burke writes that "healing can only happen when...one's story is revealed to others who do not seek to judge or condemn." Forbidden Grief is not a how-to healing manual for post-abortive women, but it is a valuable tool in helping everyone -- regardless of whether or not they have had an abortion -- understand that post-abortion trauma is real and as such should be treated as a legitimate problem. One would not tell an alcoholic or a compulsive gambler to just "get over it," people with these problems would be encourage to seek professional help. So, Dr. Burke reasons, should any woman or man affected adversely by abortion, and it is this reasoning and Dr. Burke's desire to make this type of trauma known that makes Forbidden Grief a welcome resource.



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