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Rachel’s Vineyard

Introductions

Rachel’s Vineyard weekends for healing after abortion are offered throughout the year in locations across the United States and Canada, with additional sites around the world.

The program is an opportunity to examine your abortion experience, identify the ways that the loss has impacted you in the past and present, and helps to acknowledge any unresolved feelings that many individuals struggle with after abortion. Because of the emotional numbness and secrecy that often surrounds an abortion experience, conflicting emotions both during and after the event may remain unresolved. These buried feelings can surface later and may cause emotional discomfort.

Recovery After Abortion With Rachel’s Vineyard

Martha Shuping, M.D., M.A. Winston-Salem, NC, U.S.A.

Those who support abortion rights may be surprised to learn that a significant number of women experience their abortion as a traumatic loss.

In a 2009 study, Seng and colleagues found that 20% of pregnant women from eight midwestern U.S. clinics had posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Women were asked to identify the single worst trauma they had ever experienced, considering five types of possible traumatic events.

The women identified two traumas as their “worst” – past abuse and reproductive Trauma.

The report specifically identified miscarriage and abortion as reproductive losses that for many women were their “worst” trauma ever.

A systematic review of reproductive losses and PTSD (Daugirdaite et al., 2015) evaluated 48 studies of various reproductive losses, with 27 of these studies including women who had abortions. This study showed that post-traumatic stress symptoms and PTSD occur after reproductive losses including abortion, though it was not possible to determine how many women experience adverse reactions to reproductive losses.

A 2013 study by Curley and Johnston of North American university students (U.S. and Canada) found all women with a history of abortion had elevated trauma scores on the Impact of Events Scale and perinatal grief on the Perinatal Grief Scale on average three years after the abortion, with about half of these women desiring treatment.

Early Attachment and Bonding

Research has shown that the hormone oxytocin, which promotes bonding between mother and child, is produced even in the first trimester of pregnancy. Levels of this hormone during early pregnancy predict bonding after birth. In addition, a number of studies have shown that for many women, bonding takes place even in cases that end in abortion.

A textbook of the National Abortion Federation (U.S.) has identified that “attachment” is a risk factor for distress after abortion (Baker & Beresford, 2009). Others have found that the degree of attachment prior to the abortion is predictive of the degree of trauma symptoms experienced later (Mufel et al., 2002).

In a Swedish study, about half the women felt a need to do “special acts” such as apologizing to the unborn child, or lighting a candle, as an attempt to have closure after abortion (Stalhandske et al., 2012). One woman stated:

“Immediately when I found out I was pregnant, I felt like a mother.  It felt like I had some kind of affinity with the child, and now afterwards, it feels empty” (p.56) and another said, “I lit a candle for the little one and asked for forgiveness.”

It may seem strange to think that women could be attached to the unborn child and still have an abortion, but research shows that many women have been coerced to have abortions that they did not desire. Studies on coerced abortion have varied widely in their results, but at least 11% and possibly as many as 64% of women who have abortions are being pressured or coerced  by others (Coyle, 2016).

Intimate Partner Violence

There is also literature showing that intimate partner violence (IPV) is associated with abortion and can affect pregnancy decisions. “In 2007, the prevalence of IPV was nearly three times greater for women seeking an abortion compared with women who were continuing their pregnancies.” (ACOG, 2013, citing Bourassa & Berube, 2001).

A meta-analysis of 74 studies from around the globe showed that abortion is associated with IPV, and is even more strongly associated with repeat abortion (Hall, et al., 2014):

“The researchers’ findings support the concept that violence can lead to pregnancy and to subsequent termination of pregnancy, and that there may be a repetitive cycle of abuse and pregnancy.”

Because of these and other factors, there clearly are many women who have abortions, who continue to think about the child they lost, even after many years. In a British study of women at the age of menopause, looking back at past abortions, all the women continued to think about the child.

Elaine shares:

“This child of mine would have been (number of years) this month, it’s the (date) of (month) which is the day I was given and I still think about this baby and I think about it at Christmas, it’s something I don’t think I’ll ever forget if I live to be a hundred…” (Dykes et al., 2010, p.12).

For some women, the grief can be unbearable. British artist Emma Beck committed suicide after a 2007 abortion, writing:

“I told everyone I didn’t want to do it, even at the hospital…now it is too late…I want to be with my babies” (Artist hangs herself, 2008).

 Helping Women Hurting After Abortion – The Value of Support Groups

Because the grief or distress can be severe and long-lasting, it is essential for counselors to understand how to help. In a book chapter titled “Abortion Recovery Counseling: Pro-choice, Pro-life, and Pro-voice Common Ground,” published literature from multiple perspectives was compared, looking for areas of consensus (Shuping, 2016b).

There was consensus on a number of key points:

– If women have unresolved grief, unresolved spiritual concerns, or inability to forgive herself, these are issues that must be addressed.

– It is essential for women to have social and emotional support from others, and to resolve anger if she feels she harmed by others, or if others did not support her as she wished.

The review by Daugirdaite et al. (2015) reported that attending support groups predicted significantly lower PTSD symptoms for those who have had reproductive losses.

Taylor et al. (2000) showed that women often seek support from other women as a preferred coping mechanism when they are stressed. Thus, the faith-based abortion recovery support groups and weekend retreats are a good choice for many women seeking resolution of abortion-related distress.

Faith-based support groups and retreats such as Rachel’s Vineyard offer the support of other women who have had similar experiences, and offer opportunities to resolve grief associated with the child lost to abortion, and to resolve spiritual issues. Issues related to relationships with others involved in the abortion are also addressed.

Recent research on the Rachel’s Vineyard weekend retreat (Jaramillo, 2017) utilized before and after psychological testing, assessing 39 women attending retreats in 7 U.S. states and 2 Canadian provinces. The Impact of Events Scale – Revised, and the Internalized Shame Scale revealed:

– A significant decrease in shame and trauma symptoms (decreases in avoidance and hyperarousal.)

– Significantly increased self-esteem in those completing the retreat (p<0.01 for some measures, and p<0.001 for others). Participants expressed that the spiritual aspects of the retreat were helpful to them.

In earlier research, 241 past participants from retreat sites in 22 different U.S. states had been asked to rate their experience of Rachel’s Vineyard (Shuping, 2004). Participants were asked to give a negative number if the retreat was harmful, a zero if neither harmful nor helpful, and to choose a number 1 – 5 if the retreat was helpful, with 5 being the highest. The average rating was 4.75, indicating a high degree of benefit, with no negative numbers and no ratings of zero.

The Rachel’s Vineyard program is a gentle, trauma-sensitive retreat for anyone who has unfinished issues related to a past abortion. Rachel’s Vineyard is presented by a team that always includes at least one woman who has had an abortion in the past, which helps participants to understand that there is no judging. Each team also includes a mental health professional and a priest or minister associated with the sponsoring church or faith group. However, those who attend are not required to hold any particular beliefs themselves; the spiritual aspects are available but no one is required to participate in any activities to which they object.

Participants are helped to regulate their anxiety by breathing exercises. Standard grief counseling methods are utilized to resolved grief.  Meditations based on stories from Scripture help women to resolve spiritual issues. Facilitated discussion of retreat exercises help participants to process their emotions. For those who are Catholic, the sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist are available.

Although the research cited above has focused on the experience of women, it is important to note that men also can be affected by a past abortion, and men are welcome to attend Rachel’s Vineyard.

Because of research showing benefits are experienced by Rachel’s Vineyard participants, therapists may wish to refer clients with unfinished abortion issues as Jaramillo (2017) suggests in her conclusions.

Rachel’s Vineyard is the largest organization in the world dedicated entirely to recovery from abortion, and retreat teams can be found in more than 50 different countries. More information can be found at www.rachelsvineyard.org

REFERENCES:

Post-traumatic stress disorder: the neurobiological impact of psychological trauma American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Committee on Underserved Women. (2013). ACOG committee opinion: Reproductive and sexual coercion. Committee Opinion (Number 554). Washington, DC: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Retrieved from http://www.acog.org/Resources-And-Publications/Committee-Opinions/Committee-on-Health-Care-for-Underserved-Women/Reproductive-and-Sexual-Coercion
Artist hanged herself. (2008, Feb 22). The Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/
Baker, Anne, & Beresford, T. (2009). Chapter 5, Informed consent, patient education and counseling. In M. Paul, E. S. Lichtenberg, L. Borgatta, D. A. Grimes, P. G. Stubblefield, & M. D. Creinin (Eds.), Management of unintended and abnormal pregnancy: Comprehensive abortion care. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.
Coyle, C. Coercion and pressure. In R. MacNair (Ed.), Peace psychology perspectives on abortion. (pp. 21-35).  Kansas City, MO: Feminism and Nonviolence Studies Association. Available in Italy at: https://www.amazon.it/Psychology-Perspectives-Abortion-Rachel-MacNair/dp/1530838266/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1525639143&sr=8-1&keywords=Peace+Psychology+Perspectives+on+Abortion%2C+MacNairPost-traumatic stress disorder: the neurobiological impact of psychological trauma
Curley, M, & Johnston, C. (2013). The characteristics and severity of psychological distress after abortion among university students. The Journal of Behavioral Health Services & Research 40(3), 279-93.
Daugirdaitė, V., van den Akker, O., & Purewal, S. (2015). Posttraumatic stress and posttraumatic stress disorder
after termination of pregnancy and reproductive loss: A systematic review. Journal of Pregnancy, 2015:646345 doi: 10.1155/2015/646345.
Dykes, K., Slade, P., Haywood, A. (2010). Long term follow-up of emotional experience after termination of pregnancy, women’s views at menopause. Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology, 1-20, iFirst Article (first published electronically, October, 2010). doi:  http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02646838.2010.513046 .   Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Annette_Haywood/publication/232838860_Long_term_follow-up_of_emotional_experiences_after_termination_of_pregnancy_Women's_views_at_menopause/links/53cf71fc0cf2f7e53cf7f86a/Long-term-follow-up-of-emotional-experiences-after-termination-of-pregnancy-Womens-views-at-menopause.pdf
Feldman, R., Weller, A., Zagoory-Sharon, O., & Levine, A. (2007). Evidence for a neuroendocrinological foundation of human affiliation: Plasma oxytocin levels across pregnancy and the postpartum period predict mother-infant bonding. Psychological Science, 18, 965-970.
Hall, M., Chappell, L.C., Parnell, B.L., Seed, P.T., Bewley, S. (2014). Associations between intimate partner violence and termination of pregnancy: A systematic review and meta-analysis. PLOS Medicine. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1001581  Retrieved from http://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1001581
Jaramillo, S. (2017). Mending broken lives: Post-abortion healing. (Doctoral Dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest
Dissertations and Theses (Accession Order No. 10274360). Retrieved from
http://gateway.proquest.com/openurl?url_ver=Z39.88-2004&res_dat=xri:pqdiss&rft_val_fmt=info:ofi/fmt:kev:mtx:dissertation&rft_dat=xri:pqdiss:10274360
Mufel, N., Speckhard, A. & Sivuha, S. (2002) Predictors of posttraumatic stress disorder following abortion in a former Soviet Union country. Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psych & Health, 17, 41-61.
Seng, J.S., Low, L.K., Sperlich, M., Ronis, D.L. and Liberzon, I. (2009). Prevalence, trauma history, and risk for
posttraumatic stress disorder among nulliparous women in maternity care. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 114(4), 839-846.
Shuping, M.W. (2016a). Counterpoint: Long-lasting distress after abortion. In R. MacNair (Ed.), Peace psychology perspectives on abortion. (pp. 153-177).  Kansas City, MO: Feminism and Nonviolence Studies Association. Available in Italy at: https://www.amazon.it/Psychology-Perspectives-Abortion-Rachel-MacNair/dp/1530838266/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1525639143&sr=8-1&keywords=Peace+Psychology+Perspectives+on+Abortion%2C+MacNairPost-traumatic stress disorder: the neurobiological impact of psychological trauma
Shuping, M. (2016b). In R. MacNair (Ed.), Abortion recovery counseling: pro-choice, pro-life, and pro-voice common ground Peace psychology perspectives on abortion. (pp. 115-136).  Kansas City, MO: Feminism and Nonviolence Studies Association. Available in Italy at: https://www.amazon.it/Psychology-Perspectives-Abortion-Rachel-MacNair/dp/1530838266/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1525639143&sr=8-1&keywords=Peace+Psychology+Perspectives+on+Abortion%2C+MacNairPost-traumatic stress disorder: the neurobiological impact of psychological trauma
Shuping, M. W. (2004). Rachel’s Vineyard outcome survey. Paper presented at Rachel’s Vineyard Leader’s
Conference, Greensboro, NC. (Available in Burke Burke, K., Burke, T., & Pavone, F. (2010). Sharing the Heart of Christ. New York: Priests for Life.
Stalhandske, M.L., Makenzius, M., Tyden, T., & Larsson, M. (2012) Existential experiences and needs related to induced abortion in a group of Swedish women: A quantitative investigation. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynaecology 33(2), 53-61. doi: 10.3109/0167482X.2012.677877
Copyright © 2018 by Martha W. Shuping

Have a few questions?

Read the following FAQ's for more information.

The price varies between each individual site depending on the place where the retreat is held. Most of the weekends are offered for an average of $75-$100 for the entire weekend. This price includes lodging for two nights all your meals, and all retreat materials. Financial assistance is available so that money is not an obstacle to your participation.

You need to e-mail or phone the Rachel’s Vineyard host site in NL, Centre for Life at (709) 579-1500, toll free at 1-877-997-5433 or email counsellors@centreforlife.ca if you have any questions or requesting financial assistance. To view a listing of all Rachel Vineyard weekends click here.

Most of the Rachel’s Vineyard weekends begin on Friday evening and run until Sunday late afternoon early evening. You can ask specific questions regarding each site from the local retreat coordinator.

Each weekend is composed of a group of people who have been trained in the Rachel’s Vineyard process. They include a team consisting of a professional counselor, women and men who have also experienced abortion, loving and non-judgmental lay volunteers and clergy. Rachel’s Vineyard NL is interdenominational. These individuals volunteer their time freely, because they understand the importance of healing and recovery that maybe needed after abortion.They are competent and caring individuals who will respect where you are in the grief process and help you move into a deeper level of healing.

Each exercise in an invitation to explore your feelings and emotions. Nothing will be forced on you at any time. The process is respectful of different faith traditions and cultural heritage. You are invited to share with the group, but you can also process this experience privately within the silence of your own heart. There will be no effort to proselytize or convert you to Christianity, but simply an invitation to dialogue with your creator through a very personal and intimate process.

Rachel’s Vineyard weekend retreats typically have around 5-10 participants on each weekend. At some sites the size may be smaller or larger, depending on the facility. The group maintains a small and intimate size to allow each participant time for sharing and processing the exercises together. There is also a team of approximately 6 helpers and retreat team members who help facilitate the actual weekend, conduct the exercises, serve delicious meals and attend to any special needs you may have.

Abortion can be a very isolating experience for women or for men. Very often, because of shame and stigma, people avoid talking about the abortion and often have to expand a great deal of energy to keep the secret. It can help to be able to talk about your own experience with others who have had similar experiences , in a supportive , non-judgmental environment. The group experience ends the isolation and gives you emotional support as you go through your recovery process. You’ll experience that others who have been in similar circumstances will affirm you and not judge.

Yes. Men are most welcome to attend the Rachel’s Vineyard weekend. After abortion, men often struggle with a range of emotions that can include grief, regret, loss , and anger or powerlessness. Men who have attended the weekend report that it is helpful.  Click here to visit our Men’s Section.

Married couples often attend the weekend together. Sometimes the spouse participated in the abortion; sometimes the spouse was not involved in the abortion, but comes as a support person. Abortion can be a very isolating experience- there can be fear of others finding out, and the secrecy makes it hard to get the emotional support you need. Bringing a support person to the weekend with you, whether a spouse, family member or close friend, allows you to have some additional support as you go through your recovery process. Having someone go through the experience with you may help you later, to know there is someone at home or within your personal support network, who understands what you have been through. But many women prefer to come on their own, without a support person, and we respect your decision either way. The Rachel’s vineyard team offers support with no judging as you go through the weekend.

When men join in the healing journey with their wives it can open the door to improved communication, and an increase in physical and emotional intimacy.

Yes. When you sign up for a retreat, your name will not be given to any other individual or group for any circumstance. If you choose to be listed on a contact list for the other members of your weekend group, that is your decision. You can inquire about this program by e-mail or telephone and you can specify how you would like to receive any information. You might also choose to attend a Rachel’s Vineyard weekend that is in a different location from where you live to assure complete anonymity.

If you have any questions about Rachel’s Vineyard NL please use our confidential email counsellors@centreforlife.ca To visit the International Rachel’s Vineyard website visit http://www.rachelsvineyard.org or you may contact Dr. Martha Shuping at martha.shuping@gmail.com

After your weekend you will have met some wonderful people who may become your very best friends. Most sites offer a reunion for those who wish to participate and nearly all the Rachel’s Vineyard sites offer ongoing opportunities to address other concerns you may want to explore following the weekend.

For example, if you have a history of sexual abuse, you may decide that you want to begin working on those issues; or if you struggle with alcoholism or an eating disorder, there will be referrals given at the weekend to help you continue in your healing journey. There will be other events and meetings for those who want to stay connected to Rachel’s Vineyard.

We invite all our past alumni to subscribe to a monthly e-letter that you can receive for the first year after your retreat called Oaktrees. It is written for and by those who have been on the weekend and is a wonderful resource for aftercare. More information is available about Oaktrees.

Some women and men might feel called to get involved in other ways by helping on a future retreat team or other involvement with Rachel’s Vineyard on a local or national level.


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