Thursday, July 07, 2005

Abortion and Maternal Bonding

In the last two segments, I have been describing the effects of trauma on the autonomic nervous system that lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I have also discussed at length why abortion is always and intrinsically traumatic, well demonstrated by traumatized abortion clinic workers whose dreams are haunted:

“In my nightmares, I would deliver a healthy newborn baby. And I would take that healthy newborn baby, and I would hold it up. And I would face a jury of faceless people and ask them to tell me what to do with this baby. They were to go thumbs up or thumbs down, and if they made a thumbs down indication, then I was to drop the baby into a bucket of water which was present. I never did reach the point of dropping the baby into the bucket, because I'd always wake up at that point.”

~ Former abortion doctor, McArthur Hill

"She drew me aside and talked in a decidedly agitated manner of the increasingly frequent nightmares her husband [an abortion provider] had been having. He had confessed to her that the dreams were filled with blood and children, and that he had latterly become obsessed with the notion that some terrible justice would soon be inflicted upon his own children in payment for what he was doing."

~ Bernard Nathanson, Abortion Clinic Pioneer

I promised earlier to discuss the effect of abortion on maternal bonding in this third segment of a series on abortion and trauma. It may seem unrelated at first, but for one very technical and to me, puzzling line in The Body Bears the Burden, by Dr. Robert Scaer, referring to the neurological dysfunction of post-traumatic stress disorder: “The anterior cingulate serves an inhibitory gating function on fear conditioning by the amygdala, and also plays a role in generation of maternal behavior and social bonding,” (Scaer, p. 65, emphasis mine). I’m not a neurologist, or any other –ologist for that matter, so I have had to research and puzzle this out. I will do my best to describe my understanding of it.

The amygdala is a region of the brain that processes sensory input from the body: smell, taste, vision, hearing, and vestibular sensation (the position of the body as it relates to the environment). With this input, “…the amygdala evaluates the emotional meaning of the incoming information, and integrates the memory image of the event with the emotional experience,” (Scaer, p. 36). The sights, sounds, smells, and other sensory input we receive during times of trauma can become highly-charged cues for the emotions that accompany a life-threatening situation, such as fear or anger. Dr. Bessel van der Kolk has published a paper on the internet at, entitled “The Body Keeps the Score.” In his example of this physiological phenomenon, which is psychologically expressed as conditioned learning, “a rape victim may respond to conditioned stimuli, such as the approach by an unknown man, as if she were about to be raped again, and experience panic.” He goes on to say that “there are persistent and profound alterations in stress hormones secretion and memory processing in people with PTSD.” One of these hormones is oxytocin, which will be discussed again.

I briefly mentioned in the first segment on PTSD the fact that there is memory in our “primal” brain. We have two basic kinds of memory – declarative, or explicit, and non-declarative. Declarative memory comes from the higher brain functions, is conscious, intentional, and the type of memory we use to acquire information and formal education. It develops after an event complete with all of our perceptions, relevant past events, emotions, and well-developed impressions. It is the story we would tell to others. Non-declarative memory, on the other hand, also called implicit memory, cannot be expressed in words, but it is hard-coded. The body remembers what the mind cannot express. Dr. Scaer describes declarative memory as “knowing that,” and non-declarative memory as “knowing how,” because it is responsible for storing acquired skills, conditioned responses, and emotional associations. “All of the motor skills that we learn and never forget, such as musical, artistic, and athletic talents are stored in procedural memory,” a part of non-declarative memory. “Procedural memories are readily acquired without intention, and retained forever without awareness, especially if they are linked to a coincident emotional event. They are acquired and stored without the necessary involvement of conscious memory centers serving declarative memory,” (Scaer, p. 37, emphasis mine). The body does not need the conscious mind in order to remember.

The amygdala processes the emotions surrounding trauma and builds those memories. It also facilitates the state of arousal required of us in a life-threatening situation. The anterior cingulate, which Dr. Scaer describes as exerting a “braking action” on the activation of the amygdala “therefore provid[ing] a gating mechanism on the development of fear conditioning in traumatic stress,” (p. 110), is a region of the brain associated with “higher level input.” It is also where we develop social behaviors like the maternal bond and a sense of self.

In PTSD patients, PET scans show the failure of the anterior cingulate to activate. Since the anterior cingulate acts to inhibit the amygdala, we can conclude that its malfunction results in the PTSD patient being more likely to reach a heightened state of fear and arousal, and we see this confirmed in the research. Dr. van der Kolk cites the work of Grinker and Spiegel who “…noted the similarity between many of these symptoms [of autonomic nervous system arousal] and those of diseases of the extrapyramidal motor system…Contemporary research on the biology of PTSD…confirms that there are persistent and profound alterations in stress hormones secretion and memory processing in people with PTSD.” One of these hormones is, again, oxytocin.

According to Andrea Robertson, in her article entitled “The Pain of Labour: A Feminist Issue,” at, “oxytocin is the central hormone in all aspects of reproductive behaviour. In each area of reproduction (sexual intercourse, labour and birth, lactation) it works in the same way and is affected by the same inhibiting factors.” Ms. Robertson explains all of oxytocin’s actions in her article, and they include the initiation of care-taking behaviors in both men and women, and an increase in maternal nurturing behaviors.

Oxytocin is a stress hormone, also released in response to the pain of labor, acting accordingly in the anterior cingulate of the brain to facilitate maternal bonding. The research tells us that chronic and persistent stress inhibits the release of stress-responsive neurohormones like oxytocin. Those who suffer from PTSD are suffering from chronic and persistent stress, and they do not secrete the proper levels of stress hormones. As stated above, there are PET scans that show the anterior cingulate fails to act in those with PTSD, visibly demonstrating insufficient levels of oxytocin, the hormone required to activate the region of the brain responsible for maternal bonding. [Author's Note, 9/27/2005: Further research has led me to conclude that it is not the amount of oxytocin that is significant, but rather where in the brain it is utilized. In rats, the presence of adrenal steroids released in response to fear and anxiety makes oxytocin bind to its receptors (go to work) more readily, but mainly in the amygdala. If the anterior cingulate is not utilizing the oxytocin due to PTSD, the amygdala apparently is. Oxytocin is an endorphin, which has the same qualities in the brain as do opiates. We have all heard of "adrenalin junkies," but what they may actually be addicted to is not adrenalin, but the oxytocin and other neuropeptides that are released simultaneously. This opiod action on the amygdala also explains the roots of trauma reenactment, which can then be seen as unconscious self-rewarding behavior that is as difficult to control as opiate addiction.]

But what exactly is the relationship between maternal bonding and stress hormones? Pain. Pain is normally a warning sign. Something is wrong. Chronic pain like that manifested in fibromyalgia and its cousins is a malfunction of this normal neurological response, and we feel pain in the absence of painful stimuli. There is a time, though, when acute pain is normal, and not a warning that something is wrong. When a pregnant woman goes into labor, pain, a natural part of childbirth, tells her that something important is imminent.

Ms. Robertson says “the primary need for pain in labour centres around the need for a woman to know that the birth has started so she can retire to a safe place…[which is] crucial to the well being of both mother and baby, since both are immobilised and vulnerable during the event and immediately afterwards.” But pain is usually a warning sign, and it is unpleasant. We would not reproduce more than once if pain was all there was. The memory of it would cause normal women to shy away from repeating the experience, except for one thing: the unpleasant emotions surrounding pain are processed by the amygdala as described above. But in normal labor, the anterior cingulate is inhibiting the action of the amygdala, because it is being stimulated and activated by oxytocin. Oxytocin is released in response to the pain of labour. It stimulates contractions, reduces the risk of hemorrhage after birth, and increases maternal nurturing behaviors. No oxytocin in the anterior cingulate – no blocking the fearful memories being formed in the amygdala of our brains without our will or conscious thought – no bonding with the child, a warm experience that protects both mother and infant from the trauma of birth.

How does any of this relate to abortion? According to Dr. Philip Ney, a clinical professor at the University of British Columbia,, “…statistically speaking women who have had abortions are less likely to bond to their children.”
In 2002 the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry reported that “the children of women who have had abortions have less supportive home environments and more behavioral problems than the children of women without a history of abortion. This finding supports the view that abortion may negatively affect bonding with subsequent children, disturb mothering skills, and otherwise impact a woman’s psychological stability.” The Elliott Institute reports further that “abortion is linked with increased violent behavior, alcohol and drug abuse, replacement pregnancies, depression, and poor maternal bonding with later children. These factors are closely associated with child abuse and would appear to confirm a link between unresolved post-abortion trauma and subsequent child abuse.” Traumatized women cannot produce enough oxytocin during labor to develop a proper maternal bond, and the results range along the same continuum as do post-traumatic stress symptoms themselves. Some women seem to treat their children as little adults, responsible for fulfilling their adult emotional needs (“Why don’t they understand me?”). This has been called “emotional incest,” and is a sign that something went wrong with the maternal bond that would otherwise stimulate the woman to take the nurturing role. It’s not as obvious as physical abuse, but quite psychologically damaging to the child. The other end of the extreme is child abuse and neglect.

Even if we didn’t now understand the physiology behind the degradation of maternal bonding between aborted mothers and their children, we could see this with common sense. As she prepares for, thinks about, and dreams of the wanted and convenient child, the aborted mother reaches into the box for loving, maternal emotions and finds instead fear, anxiety, panic, anger, and all of the negative sensations surrounding the aborted child. Thanks to the trauma of unwanted pregnancy, and the trauma of abortion, these memories have been thoughtfully stored by the amygdala without her conscious will or awareness, associated to all things “Baby.”


At 10:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hoping for Results?
Facing Despair - and False Notions of Success
Thomas Merton

In this letter to a friend, Thomas Merton addresses a frustration every person has known, or will one day know: the sinking feeling that one's efforts (in whatever arena they are) are not succeeding or - even worse - seem wholly ineffective....

Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect.

As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. And there too a great deal has to be gone through, as gradually you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. The range tends to narrow down, but it gets much more real. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.

You are fed up with words, and I don't blame you. I am nauseated by them sometimes. I am also, to tell the truth, nauseated by ideals and with causes. This sounds like heresy, but I think you will understand what I mean.

It is so easy to get engrossed with ideas and slogans and myths that in the end one is left holding the bag, empty, with no trace of meaning left in it. And then the temptation is to yell louder than ever in order to make the meaning be there again by magic. Going through this kind of reaction helps you to guard against this. Your system is complaining of too much verbalizing, and it is right...

The big results are not in your hands or mine, but they suddenly happen, and we can share in them; but there is no point in building our lives on this personal satisfaction, which may be denied us and which after all is not that important.

The next step in the process is for you to see that your own thinking about what you are doing is crucially important. You are probably striving to build yourself an identity in your work, out of your work and your witness. You are using it, so to speak, to protect yourself against nothingness, annihilation. That is not the right use of your work.

All the good that you do will come not from you but from the fact that you have allowed yourself, in the obedience of faith, to be used for God's love. Think of this more and gradually you will be free from the need to prove yourself, and you can be more open to the power that will work through you without your knowing it.

The great thing after all is to live, not to pour out your life in the service of a myth: and we turn the best things into myths. If you can get free from the domination of causes and just serve Christ's truth, you will be able to do more and will be less crushed by the inevitable disappointments. Because I see nothing whatever in sight but much disappointment, frustration, and confusion...

Our real not in something we think we can do, but in God who is making something good out of it in some way we cannot see. If we can do His will, we will be helping in this process. But we will not necessarily know all about it beforehand...

From a letter, February 21, 1966

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At 5:55 PM, Blogger Silent Rain Drops said...

This letter was truly a Godsend, and a great gift. Thank you. I will be able to continue, now, and soon.

At 10:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are most welcome for the letter. Here is something else that I thought might be of interest to you today:

At 11:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am sorry but the link didn't seem to work. Here is a copy of the article I was referring to. It is on today's CBS news site. This pill needs to be pulled from the market!!!~

(AP)Abortion Pill Causes Deaths.

Only one other U.S. death linked to the drug has been reported since it went on the market in 2000, and the cause of death in that case was different.

(AP) Federal health investigators are baffled: Why have four California women died from a bloodstream infection after using a controversial abortion pill?

"On the surface, this appears unusual," said Dr. Marc Fischer, a medical epidemiologist at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. "That's why we're investigating."

Two of the deaths — one this year and one last year — were reported last week by the Food and Drug Administration . The other two deaths occurred in 2003. All were caused by sepsis, a bloodstream infection, although the women didn't have all the usual symptoms for sepsis, such as fever, health officials say.

Only one other U.S. death linked to the drug has been reported since it went on the market in 2000, and the cause of death in that case was different.

Sold as Mifeprex, and also known as RU-486 or mifepristone, it is taken as two pills at different times. None of the women who died followed FDA-approved instructions for taking the drug, and authorities are looking into whether that may have played a role in their deaths.

The FDA said it believes Mifeprex is safe enough to stay on the market and that there is no proof it caused the deaths. However, the label will be updated to alert women and doctors in more detail to unusual, dangerous infections that are not always accompanied by fever.

More than 460,000 women in the United States have used Mifeprex since it was invented in France in the 1980s. The pill already contains a "black-box" warning highlighting the risk of bacterial infection, sepsis and death. Reports of fatal sepsis among the pill's users are rare, occurring one in 100,000 cases.

The drug's maker, New York-based Danco Laboratories, has defended the pill's record, saying there is no evidence Mifeprex caused bacterial infection and sepsis. However, the company agreed to change the warning label so patients and doctors know about the risk of rare infections.

Mifeprex is approved to end a pregnancy up to 49 days after the start of a woman's last menstrual cycle. It is a two-part treatment one drug blocks a hormone required to sustain a pregnancy and the other, taken days later, ends the pregnancy.

The FDA calls for both pills to be swallowed, but the agency says it is aware that many abortion clinics and doctors recommend that the second pill be inserted vaginally based on studies that have shown its effectiveness in ending a pregnancy.


1 | 2

Dr. Vanessa Cullins, vice president of medical affairs at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said she believes vaginal insertion is safe. Abortion clinics counsel women on making sure their hands are clean before they insert the pill to avoid infection, Cullins said.

Federal drug regulators are unsure whether this so-called "off-label use" might have contributed to the deaths, but it is one of the areas being investigated.

Health investigators also will do tests to make sure the pills weren't contaminated. Two of the infections were caused by a common bacterium called Clostridium sordelli, which can cause nausea and diarrhea, but is rarely fatal. Investigators will study whether the germ might have mutated and become more lethal.

Authorities can't rule out simple math as one explanation for the group of deaths in California: Perhaps more women of child-bearing age are using the abortion pill in the nation's most populous state. There's also the possibility that California doctors may be more inclined to file the voluntary reports of adverse effects.

Monty Patterson, whose 18-year-old daughter Holly died of septic shock after taking Mifeprex to end an unplanned pregnancy in 2003, said the pill should be pulled from the market.

Patterson has been lobbying to halt sale of the pill since Holly's death, which was the first of the four California cases to be reported to the FDA.

"This drug is not safe," said Patterson, who lives in Livermore. "Holly never thought she would take a drug that would kill her. She wouldn't have done it."

Patterson sued Danco last year for an unspecified amount, claiming wrongful death and product liability.

The other U.S. death associated with Mifeprex was a case of a ruptured tubal pregnancy in 2001. Health officials have warned that the pill should not be used in women with suspected or confirmed ectopic pregnancies.

1 | 2

At 8:38 PM, Blogger sunnyday said...

Dear Silent Rain Drops,

Pls. continue your writing. I came across your blog a few days ago, and was delighted by what I read. I have read only one post (re: Jane Fonda) so far, have skimmed the one before that, and now just read the comments here. They are uplifting, enriching and very informative. I have my own blog through which I work to promote the value of life; I sure hope you can drop in sometime. =)

Would it be okay if I add your blog to the links on my blog?



At 1:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I suppose I will be the first to admit that I have not bonded with my third born and I have many questions about this topic. Let me share a little of my story and I hope to get some response. My abortion experience was very traumatic. I was forced by my parents to end the life of my 19 week baby boy. Five years later, after marriage, I had a baby girl by c-section. Three years later I gave birth to boy/girl twins by c-section. I have never gone into labor... all scheduled c-sections. I was not very bonded to my twin girl during the pregnancy... I wanted a son as proof that God had forgiven me... I prayed for him. My daughter was delivered first. I kissed her but was eager to hold my son. He was born and I did not want anyone to hold him. He kept wimpering and I knew something was wrong. The nurses kept saying he was ok but I knew something was wrong. After I left the operating room they told me my son was sick and would need to go to the NICU. He had some fluid in his lungs. I think I shut down then. I was not concerned about him anymore. I was sad that he was sick but when we were able to go home with my daughter and had to leave him I only went to the hospital to visit him one time. I focused on my new baby girl and never bonded with my son. He came home 15 days later. My husband took care of him. He cried a lot and I just was unconcerned. I tried to love him... I want to love him. The bond is just not there. I have a new baby now and have discovered that PTSD has caused me to continue to "need" to be pregnant. I can no longer have children and am bonded and love all my children except my firstborn son.
Any comments or advice is appreciated. I am a Christian and I know this is wrong... I have never told anyone this before. Did I "freeze" when they told me he was sick? Am I withholding from him in some way to protect myself?

At 7:28 AM, Blogger Silent Rain Drops said...

Dear Anon,

First, thank you very much for sharing your experience with such honesty. As a Christian myself, I want to reassure you about your feelings - your concern about your relationship with your son is a sign that your love for him is intact, so I hope you will not condemn yourself for doing anything wrong by virtue of being disconnected from those emotions. PTSD is an illness, and the Lord desires our healing, not our condemnation.

I should add that I believe the maternal bond, if damaged, can be rebuilt and/or strengthened once we understand that there may have been a problem in the initial stages of forming the bond. When we suffer from PTSD, though, we often have to admit we cannot do these things alone.

Naturally, my remarks are limited by my education and experience. But as a friend who shares your grief, I think what you say makes sense, about how you felt when they told you your baby twin boy was sick. That must have been very frightening, and a trigger reminding you of previous fears and trauma when your first child died in abortion. Then they took him from you - the separation, though necessary to care for his health, cannot have been helpful for your emotions at all, and only reinforced your fear.

This fear, especially in someone with PTSD, could have interfered with the natural process of bonding that nature helps along during labor, birth, and the post-partum period. I hope I'm not talking out of turn, but since surgery is on the list of traumatic events according to the experts, I would think delivering by C-section could also be problematic for someone who suffers from PTSD.

From what I have learned, I agree with you that "freezing," or dissociating, may have been your response to protect yourself from pain - again.

But here is evidence of your love for your son, of course, since you were afraid to lose him!

To complicate matters for you, there is the added burden you carry because you were not allowed the normal grief process when your first child was aborted. I have read that it is important for us to bond to our aborted children in order to heal. This is why the experts recommend we name them (! and miscarried children), to acknowledge their humanity and their relationship to us.

I think the best advice I can give, and I hope readers with better minds will chime in, is for you to seek post-abortion counseling. I think it is important to work through all of the trauma you have experienced that is related to motherhood, and good post-abortion programs such as Rachel's Vineyard do this (I have links at the sidebar, and there are other excellent programs as well).

In pursuing healing from your abortion and forming a bond with your aborted child, I would not be surprised to find that your relationships with all of your children will improve. I've read reports from men and women who say everything in their lives improved once they resolved their abortion grief.

I think you're very insightful, and that you are on the path to recovery because you are aware. I hope and pray that you will continue the journey toward health, and that I hear from you again.

I also want to tell you I am very sorry about the tragic death of your child by abortion, and that I understand what it did to you. It is especially difficult when the "order" to abort comes from our caregivers when we are young and vulnerable. Thank you for sharing this pain with me.


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