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In silence a painful expulsion

Tugdual Derville, spokesman of the movements for life in France, speaks of the loneliness of women who have had an abortion

For a woman loneliness is at the same time a cause and a consequence of abortion since the experience of a pregnancy is both intimate and, in a certain sense, solitary. Her partner, even if he is present has no direct part in it. A woman’s intimate discovery of the first signs of a pregnancy is often a cause of joy, even when there are problems. It is deeply personal, as is always the case for anything concerning life or death, and is thus experienced alone. Tugdual Derville, the founder of an association that supports women who have undergone an abortion, made these comments in an interview with women church world.

Pablo Picasso, “Woman Squatting”, (detail, 1902-1903)

What kind of loneliness must a woman face before her abortion?

Where abortion is concerned there is no doubt that women find themselves alone. There are various reasons for this: on the one hand because motherhood is a female experience and on the other because the law in France has reserved this decision for women. From the legal point of view the ultimate decision rests with women. Men are not responsible because they do not know the problem and sometimes also because they are excluded from it by the law itself or by the idea that abortion is a matter that concerns solely women. Nevertheless there is a man behind every abortion and hence an immense loneliness lies behind every decision to abort.

Some people who are close to these women, believing that they are doing something good, leave them alone saying, for example, “It’s your decision, you are the one who has to decide...”, without taking into account that we are all interdependent and linked to each other and that the whole of humanity is involved in a child’s fate. Women, as John Paul ii said, are “sentinels of the Invisible” and also sanctuaries of the life which is within them. What makes the solitude even deeper is the non-recognition of humanity, in the sense of that humanity which unites us with the frailest people. It was once said: “Women and children first”, and this was the recognition of an intrinsic frailty in a pregnant woman. When a decision such as whether to have an abortion is left to a woman, as if it were up to her alone to cut the thread of life, the risk is the loss of the entire dimension of humanity which is passed down from one generation to the next through midwives, who accompany that experience of frailty and of death which pregnancy is.

As regards girls who find themselves pregnant too early, they must confront on the one hand a sense of joy and on the other the admonition that “It’s impossible”, and hence they feel that their family life and their personal life are threatened. The people close to them do not consider their pregnancy possible, for example in the name of religious or social values. These girls thus feel even frailer and experience an immense loneliness. They have to face a series of external and normative impediments which do not permit them to allow free rein to their maternal feelings.

Isolation and loneliness: what difficulties must a woman in this situation face?

The most painful aspect for the woman is that she must make an impossible choice. Because the choice is between the life and the death of the child she is carrying in her womb (however aware she may be of this child’s existence), the fact of cutting off that human destiny, is inhuman. It is the hardest thing. The great suffering – of which isolation is part – depends on the fact that she is trapped in an impossible decision. It is not in the power of humans to decide on the question of life, and even less on the life of one’s own child, but society has asked women to say “yes” or “no”.

a demonstration sponsored by Alliance VITA

The first question that gynaecologists ask women who are expecting a baby is: “Do you want it?”. I would dare to say that this is a question which kills. In fact every pregnancy is experienced in an ambivalent manner, with its share of life and death, frailty and anguish, without forgetting the importance of the environment into which the child will be welcomed. And will the woman’s partner welcome it? Thus a state of turmoil and psychological recomposition is created which psychologists have described well. So in this moment of great frailty and of natural ambivalence (there is desire but also fear, joy but also anxiety), the woman is asked to give a radical answer (which is similar to the answer of a computer: “yes” or “no”), while an intimate story is being written which is always more complex than a “yes” or a “no”. These women thus experience a dramatic loneliness and should be accompanied, not left to a “presumed” individual choice which does not accommodate the complexity of what is so extraordinary, which is created when a life is about to emerge from another, when a body is about to be moulded within another.

How can a woman who has just undergone an abortion be accompanied?

In what hear in Alliance vita I have noticed that there is without any doubt a sense of relief: in fact the “problem” posed has been “solved” by the abortion, albeit in conditions that are never simple and are sometimes very painful for women. Then, however, a very serious family secret is implanted into the lives of these women. In France three women out of 10 have the experience of abortion at least once in their lives. It is, however, symptomatic that only a few talk about it. Some have created a website where they say that their abortion went well and that they are fine; all this is to contradict those who say that they suffered after having an abortion. Indeed in France the Government conducted a survey which showed that voluntary interruption of pregnancy (vip) does not leave long-term psychological consequences; and yet the most obvious reality is silence. What shouts out the loneliness of women after an abortion in the loudest tones is their silence. Indeed, when silence stifles a woman, she criticizes herself and erases the event from a story which belongs to her alone. When she feels different symptoms within her, such as anxiety, physical pain, nightmares, a sense of indignity, she lives all this in the deep silence of the society which left her alone with her decision.

What are the consequences of the way that society sees these women?

This society believes it helps women by trivializing vip, making it something that can be decided without any “criterion of despair”, without reflection, and which is reimbursed 100 per cent. All this induces women to remain in that loneliness and that silence which prompts them to cry out within themselves: “Am I normal? Why am I suffering?”.

I remember one woman I helped who, weeping hot tears, said to me: “I am ashamed, I am ashamed of crying, because it was I who killed him”. It is as if there were tears forbidden to women who think they are “insane”, because society reinforces an image of abortion as a trivial act, for which there is no need to feel guilty.

We have noted that unfortunately some social workers and psychologists were penalized when they sought, for example, to check on women who were drunk prior to an abortion. I also noted, listening to these women, that the psychologists and psychiatrists who were monitoring them had refused to let them speak on the subject of their abortion. There is no worse suffering than that caused by not being accepted, not being listened to and not having one’s suffering recognized. We all need to have our suffering recognized, and moreover it is there that mercy, which has a heart sensitive to unhappiness, becomes the greatest need generated by the wound of abortion. Indeed it is only mercy that completely accepts suffering without making any confusion between the act and the person. And this alone is truly comforting.

The most painful aspect in the loneliness of these women is that they have the impression that their lives are no longer worth anything, that they cannot be listened to and express their pain. A consequence of this loneliness is a diffuse sense of guilt, a loss of self-esteem, a diminished image of oneself and an inability to trust others and even oneself.

In the face of all this how can you members of the Alliance vita intervene?

Listening in itself has a profoundly comforting effect. It is the women themselves who guide the helper with their words and their silences. All they express is listened to with empathy and without any judgement. Listening is the closeness that can be offered to people who feel lonely and experience such strong feelings, it is what enables them to free themselves from their burden. Generally these women have never been listened to in their suffering and their pain, no one had listened to what they were suffering in their innermost depths. Thus listening proves therapeutic, indeed “resurrectional”, because it makes a spiritual strength emerge which enables them to open a space for dialogue and to unblock that secret which they had completely erased. The women live this loneliness in their innermost depths, it is a loneliness that is born from their guts and from their motherhood. One can say that it is a profoundly spiritual wound, beyond any religious belief. The maternal body is in some way a “sanctuary”, and it has been profaned. This is hard to accept for those who have experienced it, sometimes unconsciously. Here there is the unexpressed request for a wholly benevolent gaze.

Paul Sérusier, “Loneliness” (1981)

What closes women into the loneliness of their abortion is the fact that they have committed something unforgivable and feel condemned to a fatal suffering, inherent in what they have been through. With this I do not mean that all women feel such suffering or express it as such but I can affirm, having listened to many, that the problem exists and is undeniable. In reality the repercussions of that unresolved family secret are deep, both in the lives of the women and in their relationships with others.

At the root of this withdrawal into loneliness is the women’s conviction that they cannot act otherwise, that is, the abortion came as something inevitable, because there was no other solution. They have often experienced heavy conditioning, which is why they were forced to abort because of the frail state in which they found themselves. For this very reason it is important that they make an inner effort to understand at what moment they became responsible for what happened, and all this to free them from withdrawal, so that they may at last find clarity within themselves without sinking into a sense of guilt. This is a liberating route, for then they will be able to say: “I was not condemned to have an abortion”. Indeed, it is only by clarifying what has happened that they will be able to move on, not seeking to remedy it but accepting their suffering.

How do men face the loneliness of their wife or partner who has had an abortion?

The loneliness of women goes together with the loneliness of men. In fact abortion is a “place” which infringes on alliance and complementarity. Some men have asked for and obtained abortion for their partner. In this case for the women concerned the pain of the abortion becomes the space of a sacrificial loneliness: they have submitted themselves to a superior value which is love for their partner, and then they have lost both their child and the love of their partner. Some men after their partner’s abortion have felt a sort of “bewilderment” and have made them pay for the decision taken. In this situation men are either accomplices or excluded or left to themselves. The couple then experiences a break-up, because the unborn child often seals the death of their bond.

Abortion casts both men and women into loneliness, in a mutual misunderstanding. A man once had the duty to protect; today this duty has diminished in the face of the loneliness of the woman who has had an abortion. Abortion reunites the two evils of Western society: the loneliness of mothers and the bewilderment of fathers.

Catherine Aubin

Tugdual Derville

He holds a licence in jurisprudence and a degree from Sciences-po in Paris and from Essec. Before becoming a consultant in the medical and social sphere, he worked for the Petits Frères des Pauvres, an association providing assistance to the elderly. In 1986 he founded the association À Bras Ouverts which takes in mentally handicapped children, teenagers and young adults, thanks to the work of voluntary helpers, at weekends or during the holidays.

Since 1994 he has been General Delegate of Alliance Pour les Droits de la Vie, which later became Alliance vita. In this capacity he speaks regularly on the media in defence of and protection for life and human dignity as well as on bioethical issues. In 2013 he launched the Courante pour une Ecologie Humaine. Since 1989 he has been married to Raphaële with whom he has six children.

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