Life Health & Wellbeing

Sunday 21 April 2019

Dear Allison: 'My son and his girlfriend are pregnant and they are going to have an abortion. I'm devastated'

Our resident therapist answers your queries about sex and relationships

"I would like to speak to them and assure them that I would offer real support." Stock photo

Allison Keating

Q My son has been dating a girl from college for about three months. I found out accidentally that she is six weeks pregnant and they are going to have an abortion. I am absolutely devastated. Even though I voted to repeal the 8th and I am in favour of women being in control of their bodies, this is my grandchild and I feel like I am grieving. I would like to speak to them and assure them that I would offer real support, but I don't know how to bring it up as I shouldn't know. What should I do?

AI suppose there is no way around saying how you feel except to just bring it out into the open with your son and his girlfriend. How did you "accidentally" find out? If you have broken a trust then you will have to face the consequences of this. Be honest and apologise if necessary. As I don't know how you found out, this may not apply.

I hear the conflict of what you are saying as you voted for women to be "in control of their own bodies". Ultimately, it is your son's girlfriend's choice - a choice you feel very sad about - but one that she and your son need to make themselves.

If we imagine you as a Russian doll, the conflict between your different roles are starkly at play here. One is as your son's mum and hence his protector, the next is as your private self, where you desire this child to be your grandchild, and the last is as your public self, who voted for the right for women to have autonomy and choice over their own bodies.

This is why life is hard, conflicting and complicated. I'm saying this as an offer of support to you and to the pain that you are feeling. What I'm hearing from your words is that you are experiencing disenfranchised grief and I certainly am not going to add to that.

This is when society presents schema (rules and beliefs) about who is allowed to grieve and how. This can add insult to injury.

Disenfranchised grief is often felt by people after abortion, miscarriage and, in your case, where it can be hard to openly express loss.

So much of grief is unspoken. We learn what is the acceptable way, time and reason to grieve. We learn who is allowed to grieve, robbing other people of their right to feel the way they do.

When the pain of grief goes unsaid, it gets stuck. Think about the last time you had something stuck in your throat, it's a pretty awful sensation. Unspoken and hidden grief gets stuck.

Up until this point, you have been agonising over this issue by yourself. I don't know if you are a grandmother yet - I can hear that this is something that you would like. I could be completely off base here, but you said you feel you are grieving the loss of this baby, and whilst I really understand what you are saying, I wonder is this triggering another grief or past loss for you?

I kindly ask you if you ever experienced a loss that you didn't speak about? Allow yourself to sit with it and tend to the pain of the loss. If you have, I am really sorry and if not, I understand your grief is over the potential loss that you are facing at present.

It is our different selves that get re-triggered by our family and the situations life throws at us. This feeling can leave many bereft and alone with their strong emotions.

In the conversation with your son and his girlfriend all you can do is to say what you've said above. Offer your support and then it will be a matter for them to decide on what they feel will work for them. I would imagine that they are also having a difficult, unsure and scary time. A time filled with questions and possible doubts, or not. They may be sure about their decision, but that can still leave ambiguous, uncomfortable feelings.

The shame, sadness and grief felt by people who have had abortions, even if they don't regret the decision, can be hugely upsetting and often disenfranchising. They can feel they don't have the same right to grieve as other people. Talking together, you can give each other the space to look at the conflicting emotions and to allow a discussion to happen where everyone is heard and understood. This does not mean everyone will agree.

Bring this back to you and what it means to you. You have a choice to allow yourself the space to acknowledge and process your feelings of loss. Connect to the pain. Comfort what is coming up for you. Kenneth Doka coined the term 'disenfranchised grief' and defined it as the "need, right, role, or capacity to grieve". Don't disenfranchise yourself - connect, feel, heal and support yourself.

If you have a query, email Allison in confidence at allisonk@independent.ie.

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