In December 2016, I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Community Health Education. While I learned much about general public health during college, one of my main research focuses was maternal and child health. This surprisingly under-researched and rarely discussed topic fascinated me. Up until very recently, it was almost a taboo subject. Due to this, my senior capstone project centered on researching postpartum depression and mental illness, and then creating a program to prevent them.
Looking back on this project, I realize how much the research shaped my view of abortion and the pro-life movement. I learned more about exactly what happens to a woman when she becomes pregnant, and how mental health and emotions play a significant role in making decisions early on in pregnancy. This research led me to reflect on how the pro-life movement is lacking in some areas, and how we need to do better.
Abortion is often sought out when a woman feels like it is her only option. By doing more to support women, we can begin to correct the impression that there is only one way out. Here are three ways we can start:
1. Remove the expectation that women should always be thrilled to be pregnant.
While some people are elated to learn that they are pregnant (whether or not they planned on having a child), not everyone feels that same excitement. This can be for a wide variety of reasons, but women and men need to know that it is okay to not feel great about the news. The expectation that women should always be thrilled can cause shame for those who aren’t. It’s important for women to have the freedom to discuss how they really feel and why. These conversations help women and men feel more supported by their loved ones, which in turn helps to remove shame.
2. End the stigma around mental health issues.
Fortunately, most people know nowadays that postpartum depression is an issue. However, many still do not know that mental health disorders often arise during pregnancy. A recent study in the British Journal of Psychiatry shows that one in four pregnant women struggles with a mental health disorder. Depression and anxiety are the most common and can begin early on during pregnancy. Peripartum depression affects 10% to 15% of pregnant women and is considered a serious public health issue. These disorders are also more common in certain situations, such as poverty or cases of abuse.
[M]any still do not know that mental health disorders often arise during pregnancy.
Mental health disorders can have serious consequences for both mother and baby. Peripartum and postpartum depression can result in a lack of proper prenatal care, trouble breastfeeding, problems with mother-infant bonding, and improper infant care. We are just beginning to end the stigma surrounding mental health for the majority of the population, and now we need to end it for pregnant women, too. There are safe treatments for peripartum and postpartum mental health issues, and women need to know that it’s okay to ask for help.
As pro-life activists, we can do a better job discussing the real and difficult issues that can lead women to feel like abortion is their only way out. We can also direct women towards resources, such as a section of womenshealth.gov dedicated to reproductive health and mental health and NaProTECHNOLOGY’s research on postpartum depression.
3. Remember that hormones play a significant role in early pregnancy.
If you are someone with a monthly cycle, you know how irrational hormones can make you feel. I’ve cried before because we were out of peanut butter and I really wanted some for my apple. It’s not normally something I would be that upset about (though I do love peanut butter), but having my hormones out of whack made it seem like the end of the world.
I think we often forget that there is a huge influx of hormones during the first trimester of pregnancy, and this can intensify emotions tenfold. If a woman is already facing a stressful situation for whatever reason, hormones can make it seem like things will never get better. I don’t believe that anyone truly wants to have an abortion; rather, I believe that abortion is chosen when a woman believe she has no other option. When a woman has a solid support system to remind her that things will be okay and to show her that she’s not alone, it’s easier for her to realize that there she has other options. For a woman who doesn’t have people supporting her in a stressful situation, it’s difficult to see past the hormones and emotions to find another option. Rather than just repeating the mantas, “Abortion is murder,” and “Adoption is an option,” we should talk to women in crisis, see where they’re coming from, and support them with non-judgmental love. Sometimes, all it takes to help is a listening ear.
If a woman is already facing a stressful situation for whatever reason, hormones can make it seem like things will never get better.
There are other ways that we can improve as pro-life activists and people, but this is a start. However you choose to help, I encourage you to do something, even a small thing. Everyone needs a support system and God gives us the privilege to be that for others.