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.