Fatherhood That Isn’t
Around the world, abortion has been one of the most controversial societal issues for decades. But on a personal level it is always a gut-wrenching decision, which can haunt you for years—even if you’re male. By Carolina Gnad
In working with people after abortion we see how men can be equally affected as women. Abortion is treated as a clinical solution to the problem of an unplanned pregnancy but it is a deeply human and relational experience.
Abortion is part of the spectrum of pregnancy-baby loss and adjustment can be complicated.
The issue of a father’s rights and responsibilities at the time of pregnancy are fraught with social expectations, and men can feel uncertain about their role.
Some men feel unable or discouraged to express their feelings at the time of the decision-making and may be caught up in their own crisis. This often continues afterwards, too.
“I wasn’t in the room. I wasn’t even in the clinic that day. But in my mind, I’ve been there a million times since. I’ve been there watching, breaking, wanting to rescue you.
In my mind I need to be a hero… the man who didn’t flee. But I am not, I am the man I fear to see.”
1: Men tend to feel more obliged to mask or hide their pain or to “tough it out” alone. Typically, male grief responses consist of remaining silent and grieving alone. Where these responses become internalised they may contribute to self-destructive or anti-social behaviours.
In a paper on the impact of abortion on men, author Thomas Strahan wrote:
2: ‘Men have reported a large number of problems that they claim were a direct result of their abortion experience’.
‘These include broken relationships, sexual dysfunction, substance abuse, self-hate, risk taking and suicidal behaviour, increasing feelings of grief over time, feelings of helplessness, guilt, depression, greater tendencies toward becoming angry and violent, and feelings connected to a sense of lost manhood.’
The impact for fathers is influenced a lot by the role they play in the abortion. In modern society one man may have been involved in several abortions, each with a different scenario.
A man who is either not involved or supports his partner/wife, believing he’s doing the right thing to remedy the situation, may still feel isolated and angry, sad, helpless, powerless or confused around an abortion decision.
Men might agree, or acquiesce to an abortion, adopt a neutral position, support their partner or abandon her to go it alone, but they are probably not consciously aware of the significance of the experience.
Only years later something triggers buried emotions and issues surface. Commonly this happens in a subsequent relationship and pregnancy, where he views the ultrasound or the birth of another child.
But it can also be an advertisement around pregnancy, someone else’s abortion or baby loss, or a religious conversion experience that precipitates a delayed reaction.
For a man who opposes the abortion the significance is often immediate and effects can be devastating. He may become preoccupied or obsessed about what happened, struggle with feelings of powerlessness, and a sense of failure as a man and a father, even though (or maybe because) legally he has no rights and no say in the outcome of the pregnancy.
Denial of any say over the life of his offspring often exacerbates any natural anger and grief he bears, which is also denied him.
The dynamics of the relationship may change irrevocably if this happens. Her decision and possible hurts together with his own hostility, blame and anger, or attempts to cope, can compound destructive elements in the relationship.
If the man stays in the relationship there may be relationship problems associated with a recent or past abortion. One man said:
‘I was relieved after the abortion was over. When we drove home we didn’t talk about it, we were distant from each other in a strange kind of way’.
‘Something had changed but we couldn’t identify what exactly. We both knew about the baby being gone but there was something else. Still it’s not something you just talk about. Our relationship kept deteriorating – we got to the place we just fought all the time, so eventually we just broke up. We didn’t have the trust you need to keep going.’
If the partner/wife is having issues around the abortion and is dealing with these, or not dealing with them as the case may be, the man may feel concerned for her and want to help ‘fix’ things. He may also suddenly be forced to confront his own part and look at what the experience has meant for him.
Abortion invariably doesn’t resolve relationship problems. However, where couples have mutually shared feelings of regret and grief around an abortion they may draw closer. The shared experience of abortion can cement bonds in a relationship, even if the ties are negative.
If a man is dealing with drug or alcohol abuse or sexual addiction and the issue of past relationships and children is raised, then the reality of what occurred in the abortion can surface and he may be forced to confront his own pain and issues around it.
Many men reckon that failure to cope with problems means there is something wrong with them. In reality, any life-death experience is an event which can cause significant grief and potential trauma in a person’s life.
There is a normal drive to avoid psychological pain and it is a natural defence to deny or submerge uncomfortable feelings.
This is made easier where there is no validation of ,or social permission to share experiences around abortion – there is a taboo talking about it. This is not a topic of everyday conversation – it won’t be discussed openly in families, at work, in pubs or at parties. Even in the relationship concerned there is often silence.
How men (and women) respond to abortion is highly individual, and some carry on with life without giving it any more thought or ever experiencing any emotional response.
This is most certainly our stereotype of men.
But for many abortion is a secret they carry in their hearts, knowing their offspring is gone forever and cannot be brought back or be replaced. There will always be that void, with memories, possible regrets and dreams of what their child might have been.
He may feel he has failed, but a father is a father for life, whether his child is alive or dead.