Sunday, July 31, 2005

One, Two, Three Strikes - You're Out!

A very kind reader left me the text of a letter written by Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, which included the following statement (scroll to the comment section under my recent article about abortion and maternal bonding to read the entire text – well worth it).

“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.”

I had to stop and think: who are the specific people I want to reach? As I write these things, I tend to imagine the reader to whom I’m speaking, and I imagine the arguments this reader would make against what I propose. Lately, this voice has been asking me, “So what? So what if I (or my patient) might develop post-traumatic stress disorder? It is a necessary price for me/my patient to pay for relief from an unwanted/difficult pregnancy. It is only a chance, anyway.”

So what, indeed? So kindling, that’s what. Kindling.

If you’ve been reading these articles, you will remember Dr. Scaer and his work, “The Body Bears the Burden.” Dr. Scaer is a neurologist and psychiatrist whose research into PTSD as autonomic nervous system dysfunction arose from treating thousands of patients for “whiplash syndrome.” This is a somato-emotional disorder not unlike fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, RSD, etc., all of which likely stem from chronic stress (PTSD is a severe form of chronic stress). Other well-known stress-related illnesses are diabetes, heart disease, diseases of the immune system (such as lupus), and even some cancers.

He puzzled as to why so many of his patients had developed permanent injuries to the brain and spine even after low-speed motor vehicle accidents. A reasonable doctor (such a rarity), he decided against the irrational belief that his patients were involved in a mass conspiracy against the insurance and medical communities, and determined that since we could so easily identify a pattern in these syndromes, there must be something the medical community is missing. He is right on target, and he is supported in this by NIMH, who has encouraged medical practitioners to look for histories of trauma and emotional loss in their patients to determine if their chronic conditions stem from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Dr. Scaer started taking psychological profiles of his whiplash syndrome patients and found a commonality: multiple traumas, including the one that brought them to his office for treatment. Most of his patients with whiplash syndrome, fibromyalgia, and their kin had experienced some form of childhood abuse. So Dr. Scaer postulates that post-traumatic stress disorder stems from undissipated nervous energy created under life-threatening situations in which we “freeze.” Freezing is an automatic response to a threat when we are helpless to flee or to fight. Children are too weak and too small to do either effectively, so it is likely that freezing is the best survival technique. Mimicking death, and refusing to fight, children under attack in primitive cultures are more likely to survive (if attacked by other people, they may be taken hostage instead of being killed; if attacked by animals, perhaps playing possum will make the predator unwilling to kill and eat the prey). So children who suffer trauma are particularly susceptible to developing post-traumatic stress disorder. For the very same biological reasons, women are more susceptible than men are.

Research into just how prevalent childhood abuse is varies. The most destructive form of childhood abuse is sexual abuse, and Dr. Scaer records that “…the baseline incidence of childhood sexual abuse in women has been estimated at anywhere from 12 to 64 percent of the general female population in various studies. The average probably falls somewhere around 30%,” (page 75). Considering how under-reported childhood sexual abuse is, 30% may yet be too low. One-third of us will hear “Strike One!” in childhood, when we are most helpless. We will not all develop PTSD – at least, not yet. It is the “not yet” that brings us back to kindling, and the reason why we should not go out of our way to inflict damage on ourselves by submitting to abortions, and why the medical community should wake up and stop recommending it.

“The physiological model of kindling was developed in rats by applying a repetitive electrical stimulus to an area of the brain with specific frequency and intensity. Although each stimulus was insufficient to trigger a convulsion, if the stimuli were applied with a critical frequency, they would summate and trigger a seizure. In addition, if kindled seizures were induced in newborn rats with many repetitions, the rats would exhibit the tendency for spontaneous seizures that thereafter would be self-perpetuating, and would occur without any stimulus. In other words, these rats developed a relatively permanent change in the excitability of neuronal networks within the kindled part of their brain. The brain region most susceptible to kindling is the amygdala,” (Scaer, page 44).

The amygdala, as we’ve already discussed, is that center of the brain responsible for memory as it pertains to arousal (times of stress or trauma are states of arousal). It is where sensory input (smells, tastes, sounds, and other environmental cues that we perceive with our senses) is assessed for emotional content and meaning. It is where we learn most effectively, through fear conditioning – remembering to climb a tree when we see the tiger, as I related in previous examples.

Strike one: as many as thirty percent of women have suffered traumatic childhood sexual abuse. This leads to early and often promiscuous sexual behavior, as women learn young to relate to the world as sexual beings. They use their sexuality to gain love, affection, and favor. They fail to understand and define themselves apart from their sexuality. As Jane Fonda says, they “shine,” and become prey for sexual predators and others with ill intent who recognize their weakness. She even noted the prevalence of childhood sexual abuse among the girls who attended a camp for troubled teens that she established at one time in her career. Jane, like all of us, isn’t all bad. She is, like me, dissociated from her own emotions.

It is difficult, at best, to reestablish the connection when conscious memory is repressed, but emotional memory stemming from the uncontrollable action of the amygdala in our brains runs wild. We are left holding a bag of emotions that stem from some thought we have pushed away. Often then, because we refuse to look at painful past events, we will search our present lives for a reason for these negative emotions like fear and anger. How many times have you heard someone say, “It only bothers me when I think about it?” as they tell you they are fine, really – just fine. It takes a lot of energy to push those thoughts away, and unresolved, the emotions linger. These who protest being “just fine” are usually not fine at all from the outside looking in. Our anger is visible in our body language, facial expressions, and in how easily we seem to over-react emotionally. We aren’t really over-reacting, though. We just can’t tell you what we are angry about, because the emotions come from an area of the brain that does not include declarative memory. We become so skilled at pushing away the thoughts, there are many times we aren’t consciously aware that they were there to trigger the emotional response. But they arise with every stimulus to our senses that is assessed by the amygdala, which never forgets.

But I have digressed, and we are still at bat here. Strike two? Take your abused girl into young womanhood, and with her easy sexuality, she is likely to get pregnant before the time is “right.” Victims of sexual abuse have learned that our bodies are not our own, and that our own feelings have no validity or power. We become one of the estimated eighty percent of women who abort who would have chosen birth if help and support were provided, because we need that support more than others. We cannot stand alone in a world so dangerous because we have been crippled in our ability to think for ourselves. We were mastered as children, and learned helplessness very early. We submit to abortions in order to fulfill the needs of others.

Have you ever heard the saying, “one man’s choice can become another man’s duty?” I do not recall who said it, but I will give credit to EWTN, because that’s where I first heard it. It was explained in the context of euthanasia. I will explain it in terms of abortion, so let’s change the gender: “one woman’s choice can become another woman’s duty.” An unwanted pregnancy is a burden on the mother, the father of the child, their families, society – take your pick. “You’re too young to have a baby.” “You need to finish your education.” “We can’t afford another child right now.” “I won’t support you financially if you have a baby I don’t want.” "You already have more children than you can afford, so you are a burden on the state." “I won’t raise your child for you.” “It is your pregnancy that is making you sick, so if you want to be well, you must terminate your pregnancy (and my liability as your doctor, thanks).”

If abortion is legal and readily available, then abortion becomes the recommended solution to the problem. “Women do it every day. So can you.” Just as someone who is terminally ill may feel compelled to select suicide as an option instead of holding on to dear life in hope of survival, the woman who is pregnant with an unwanted child succumbs to the temptation to terminate the pregnancy even against her own desires and wishes. Her choice has become a duty, to protect others from the consequences of her condition.

If so far we have managed to come through sexual abuse and abortion with no symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, good for us. Let’s don’t get happy, though, because this fire still smolders because of kindling. Strike three? Take your pick there. We live in a dangerous world, where our bodies are hurled through space at higher speeds than at any time in history. Coming to a violent stop, even at speeds as low as ten miles per hour, as Dr. Scaer found, can be the last straw that sets post-traumatic stress disorder ablaze. One look at our auto insurance rates should tell us how likely we are to be involved in even a minor traffic accident, and that is just one example of trauma that many of us will experience as part of normal life. Most of those who suffer from full-blown symptoms of PTSD have more than one traumatic event in their histories. It is the cumulative effect of undissipated nervous system energy that summates. Each successive trauma makes us more likely to develop PTSD, and there are so many events that can be defined as traumatic.

Trauma as I have used it here has nothing to do with guilt, regret, relief, happiness, or any other emotion we feel about the traumatic event after the fact. Trauma as it is used here is the equivalent of driving our skulls against a brick wall, psychically and/or physically. If an avid skydiver survives a skydiving accident, she may suffer from PTSD as a result, even though the trauma occurred while she was doing something she enjoys, and may yet enjoy again. What she cannot help or forget is the trauma that resulted from her brush with death, and the helplessness she probably experienced at seeing the ground rushing toward her in the moments before the back-up parachute unfurled.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) defines trauma as a person having “…experienced, witnessed, [or been] confronted with an event or events that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others….the person’s responses involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror.” Some examples include, but are not limited to, military combat, violent personal assault, kidnapping, terrorist attack, natural or man-made disasters, motor vehicle accidents, life threatening illness, and surgery.

Dr. Scaer elaborates:

“Actually viewing these types of traumatic events or seeing a dead body may be traumatic. Learning about these types of events occurring to a family member or close personal friend also may be defined as trauma. When the trauma is inflicted by another person, is especially intense, or the traumatized person is extremely close to the trauma, the severity of traumatization may be especially profound.

Being kidnapped, mugged, raped, involved in warfare, or in a severe MVA are life-threatening experiences, and therefore potentially traumatic. Photographs of survivors of tornadoes, floods, or other natural disasters clearly reflect the shock, grief, and suffering associated with shocking and life-threatening natural events. Witnessing a graphically violent event could be perceived as shocking and traumatizing, especially if the event had personal meaning or involved another human being…. Even learning secondhand about a severe traumatic event involving a loved one generally is a source of shock to a person,” (pages 1-2).

The last straw could be anything. There are already so many variables beyond our control, and so many dangers to avoid. When we walk into the abortion clinic, we may as well ask the doctor to use his vile instruments to suck out some of our brains as well as our babies. Or give us a clean and quiet room, a loaded .44, and time to blow our brains completely out. There is no difference. When we seek out abortion, we are seeking out that which will harm us, permanently. We may experience problems immediately, as I did, or like so many women as Dr. Theresa Burke says in her book, “Forbidden Grief,” our post-abortion traumatic stress syndrome may show up (or intensify, since the symptoms range from mild to disabling) at a later time, after another significant and usually traumatic event in our lives: another pregnancy and childbirth (as explained in the maternal bonding segment); the death of a loved one; divorce; or yet another abortion.

There are people who want the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade based on new and still-developing medical evidence that abortion is more harmful to women than unwanted pregnancy. In addition, I also want to go to the source: if there were no doctors providing or recommending abortions out of real concern for womens’ health, we could put a dent in this problem. But only when the financial liability for abortion’s harm exceeds the potential liability caused by a difficult pregnancy will physicians stop using it as a medical necessity to protect themselves against litigation. And to go to the true source, I hope and pray that women will refuse to put this gun to their heads, as well, but that won’t happen until we demand better health care and honesty from the medical community about the true nature of this bullet to the brain.


At 1:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What an informative article. Thank you.

I feel as if I have recently been hit by the third strike in my life. I suffer much, but try to smile and pretend that I am fine. All the while, a storm of emotion churns up onto the shore of my mind, leaving a debris field of thoughts behind.

I am a strong Christian, but find that there doesn't seem to be any help within the church. There is too much judgement. It seems that most Christians want to sit on the Judgement Bench instead of on the Witness Stand. And we have no human advocates there to help make our case of pain known.

I do a lot of praying--not just for myself but for everyone I know and even strangers on the street. God has helped me so much throughout my life, as He has you also.

But, please tell me--where do we find true help when we are in such dire need? Do I need to go to a therapist? My third strike was a doozy that most people would never encounter. I pretend to my family that all is well--but I still hurt. My heart and mind are in tailspin mode.

To add to that pain, extended family members who know of my recent "third strike" have been quite rude to me in the wake of it all--leaving me feeling like the vulnerable abused little girl who just didn't really matter in this world. That makes me unwilling to seek out true help, because if family doesn't care, then why would anyone else?

I'm sorry to have rambled. I just wanted to thank you for your wonderful writing. I pray that we all find that place of true healing in our lives. May God bless you.

At 2:18 PM, Blogger Silent Rain Drops said...

Dear Anon,

Thank you very much for writing. I want to address your question in detail, and getting help will be my next topic. I don't really know the answer, though, so all I can do is discuss the problems. I pray there are readers who have some concrete advice who will comment here for both of us.

What I can do now though, is repeat what I have heard that has helped me: we need to keep right on praying, in addition to whatever help we might seek in the world, because ultimately all healing comes from the Lord.

Father Benedict Groeschel of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal ( has said that the Psalms are most helpful when we are depressed, and that specifically praying for others as you already do is also good therapy. I guess it takes us out of ourselves in a good way.

Thank you again for reading and for commenting. I am so sorry for your recent difficulties, and I will keep you in my prayers.

At 5:41 AM, Blogger Emily said...

Dear Anonymous, please don't let the attitudes of your family keep you from getting better. There are some things our families can't give us. That doesn't mean they don't care, in their own (sometimes very dysfunctional) way. The fact that your family can't provide you with the care, consolation, comfort, help and attention you need right now does not mean you can't get these things elsewhere.

I'm looking forward to what Julie has to say about where to get help, but one of the things I'd suggest off the top of my head is that you do a google search to find others who are struggling with the same issues you are struggling with. People who are in recovery from the same issues are often a great source of comfort and an invaluable source of information about what resources worked for them.

At 9:55 AM, Blogger Naaman said...

Dear Anon,

In addition to the good advice that Julie & Emily have already given you, let me add my own prayers that you will find healing.

Also, and please don't allow this concern to add more stress, but it sounds like there's something wrong with your church. We could be charitable and believe that you simply haven't connected with the right people. Is there a grief support ministry in your church? Do you have Stephen's Minsters (lay counselors) who can help you?

If you've already tried all of those things, and there really truly isn't anyone in your church who wants to help you, then you might consider a new church. Christians are called to love & support each other with a passion that is almost as strong as our love of God Himself. A church is a hospital for wounded souls, not a competition to see who can be more perfect. Christians have an obligation to care for each other. That obligation comes directly from Jesus.

"They'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love...." Remember that old song? If they ain't loving you, then they ain't good Christians.

At 10:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thank all of you for your wonderful and caring advice. I haven't found anything but judgement in my church. Naaman, I believe you are right--I need to find another church.

I know that we Christians are to show the love of Jesus to all we meet. I thought I had found just the right minister to help,but in the end,it turned out not to be the case.

Thank you all again for your loving responses. I also look forward to reading Julie's next entry. May God bless you all. And I also thank each and every one of you for your prayers. Thank you!

At 12:07 PM, Blogger Silent Rain Drops said...

In the comments section under my lamentation for Mother's Day, another grieving woman has asked me, "Where do we go for help?" I posted the following response there, and want to repeat it here along with my thanks to Emily and Naaman for their help - many, many thanks.

Dear Anon,

For our emergent needs, I have two phone numbers for us. I've not called them myself, but they come from the Silent No More Awareness campaign, founded by other women like us who regret the choices we made ( They understand our pain, our shame, and our need for help because they have been there, too. I hope you find comfort and assistance, and if you do, would you please comment again to let me know?


There is also a post-abortion healing ministry that is available to all people regardless of faith (men, too) called Rachel's Vineyard ( The biggest drawback I have found to their program is that it involves a weekend retreat, and we aren't all capable of picking up stakes and going away for a couple of days. I haven't been able to do this, either, but I hear wonderful things about them. Their website has more links to resources for help.

Finding others who feel as we do is a giant step forward. I encourage every one who has been affected by abortion's harm to comment here as freely as they like - please. You help and honor me when you do, and I have hope that others will feel validated when they read of our experiences. Pro-life or pro-choice in our mindsets - regrets or none - pain is pain. We can share ours, and perhaps as Emily has suggested, we will be helped by leaning on each other. Just knowing you are out there helps me a great deal. We are not alone.

But patients who are sick need the help of those who are well. I have some thoughts on that subject, which I promise to gather and expand on very soon.

Let's keep praying for each other. And please, let's keep talking about it to each other until we get the attention we need from the "experts."

My heart goes out to you, and I pray you find healing and forgiveness. Thank you very much for sharing your grief and sorrow. It takes great courage even to write an anonymous comment.

At 4:34 PM, Blogger AngryReptileKeeper said...

You know what, lady (I'm assuming you are one)? You don't know anything. Have you ever had an abortion? Probably not, with cockamamy BS like this smeared across your blog.

Let me tell you what happened to me. I got pregnant most unexpectedly. I don't like kids. I never wanted kids. I could not (and cannot) afford to raise them. I've felt this way for 19 years of my 24 year life.

I suffered greatly during my 10-week pregnancy. Horrible depression the likes of which I would not wish on anyone, which lasted for 3 weeks. After that went away, I had the hormonal symptoms to deal with. As if that wasn't bad enough, I suddenly ended up with Hyperemesis gravidarum. Excessive "morning" sickness. When I say excessive, I mean I was barely able to get up to even go to the bathroom. Constant nausea so bad that you swear you must be dying. I went without food and water for days, while still managing to puke up stomach acid every couple of hours, before I was rushed to the ER. They had to stick me about 5 times to get an IV in me because I was so dehydrated.

I was lucky, though. I had Medicaid to pay for my hospital bills and prescription antiemetic.

If that happened again, I would not be so lucky. I now live in a state that says I get too much SSI to qualify for medicaid.

Not that things would be any different. If I were to get pregnant again, I would get another abortion. I would do it a million times over without batting an eye. Such a simple, quick, painless procedure.

I cannot describe to you the relief I felt to have that parasite out of me. It had no right to be there, using me as an incubator when I did not want it there. I was handed my life back because I had an abortion. Abortion is a wonderful thing.

It appalls me that there are people like you who think that women should be forced by law to remain pregnant against their will. For what? To protect something that can't even survive on its own yet? To contribute even more to the daunting problems of overpopulation? We don't need anymore people in the world. The more people there are, the shittier things get for the rest of us.

So fuck you, whoever you are. Pull your head out of your ass for 5 minutes, and maybe you'll see that the vast majority of women feel nothing but relief after an abortion. If any women suffer trauma during such a trying time, I can assure you it's from unwanted pregnancy.

Delusional assholes like you that belittle our situations only contribute to the trauma.

EVERY WOMAN has the right to an abortion. NO WOMAN should be forced to submit her body and its functions to act as an incubator to something she doesn't want or can't afford.

At 4:56 AM, Blogger Silent Rain Drops said...

Dear Angry reptile keeper,

Why are you so angry? You should have read more throughout this blog; there's a link at the sidebar called "my testimony." Yes, I had an abortion. I was sixteen, and I was given no choice. EVERY WOMAN has a right to say NO to an abortion as well.

I am very sorry that you suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum during your pregnancy; I understand that it is seriously debilitating. However, there is medical treatment available should you ever change your mind about having children. You might want to bookmark a blogspot called "The Sicle Cell," link at my sidebar. This lady also had to abort because of this illness, and she has written a very good book, in conjunction with physicians, to describe how a woman prone to this illness can successfully bring a child to term. Just in case you ever change your mind - you might, and you might not. I never carried a child to term myself, because I wasn't all that crazy about motherhood either.

I also state in this article and elsewhere that the unwanted pregnancy is in and of itself traumatic. I don't dispute that, so I guess there's no reason to pull my head out of my ass (well, at least not for that reason). And the feelings of "relief" reported by SOME women (not the majority as you say), can be directly attributed to the release of the hormone oxytocin, which is an endorphinergic hormone stored at the base of the pituitary during pregnancy; once the pregnancy is terminated, this hormone would flood the brain, bringing the feelings you've described. Does this make them real, or is it similar to a drug-induced euphoria? I don't know, but I do know that there are many, many women who don't realize they regret their abortions until decades after the fact. It isn't always clear cut.

And finally, I don't care what the law says about abortion; you have no idea how much I don't care, as a matter of fact. I don't do anything to try to change laws. I try to reach women who feel as I do, that's all. I don't believe it is a legal issue; it's a medical one; and a social one because we women have tried to attain equality with men by becoming men, by rejecting those things that make us different, so society does not make room for us when we want to be pregnant (note how the medical care you would need while pregnant is denied you because abortion is an available and cheaper alternative for the state). Imagine for a few minutes what this would be like for a young woman who wanted to have a child.

You are 24. Right now it seems to you as though you have lived a long time, and from the sounds of your anger screaming at me from the page, you have not had an easy time of it. No wonder you feel old before your time. I did too, at your age. And I never expected to live this long, so it surprises me to find that I am now 45, and you could have been one of my own children - but I felt as you do, and never had any. Now I never will. It would have been impossible for me to see when I was your age how that would make me feel, because I just couldn't imagine being this freaking old.

Why are you on SSI, reptile keeper? You must have a serious condition if you are disabled. I am also sorry you've had to deal with that, as well. Many times, for so many people and so many reasons, life just sucks. But please don't be angry at women like me who have had abortions who don't think they are wonderful, because I am not angry at you for feeling that it was the best thing for you. We have nothing to be angry at each other about.

And whether you like it or not, or believe it helps or not, I will be praying for you - not that you will change and be like me, or that you will suddenly start voting pro-life, or anything like that - I will pray that good things will come in to your life to help you with your ongoing illness and your anger.

Please try to be at peace.


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