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Healing and redemption for post-abortive mothers
Align/Robin Atkins

Healing and redemption for post-abortive mothers

Align interview: Robin Atkins, reproductive mental health specialist

You’re reading Align’s pro-life issue: our look at some of the different people and perspectives within the anti-abortion movement. Please also see our dispatches from OneLife LA and the March for Life; the college student’s guide to preparing for the March for Life; interviews with comedians JP Sears and Nicholas De Santoand skyscraper-scaling activist Maison DesChamps; Robin Atkins on how to talk to pro-choice advocates; and Kevin Ryan on abortion’s brutal culling of people with Down syndrome.

Robin Atkins is the chair of the mental health subsection of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists. As a licensed mental health counselor, Robin has been in practice for over 15 years with a specialty in reproductive issues, including infertility, high-risk pregnancy, traumatic birth, postpartum depression and anxiety, perinatal hospice and palliative care, pregnancy loss, infant loss, adoption, and abortion.

Last week, Robin appeared on an episode of "Girlboss, Interrupted" to discuss her work as part of the greater constellation of pro-life advocacy and how she answers the question that is frequently asked of pro-life people: Who cares about the mother? Spoiler: Robin does.

We offer this interview for an even more clear and in-depth exploration of her field, her unique focus, and her motivation.

Ask yourself: Should legislation be based on unprocessed feelings, and the narratives built up around ameliorating them, or rather on sound principles of human rights?

Align: I think a lot of people would be surprised and interested by your speciality in “reproductive mental health.” Why do you think a specialty is required for reproductive traumas specifically?

Robin Atikins: Reproduction is an endlessly complicated medical and social topic of interest, but in most states, we can't even get birth or death certificates for the children we lose during pregnancy. We as a culture are terribly confused about reproduction. Under normal circumstances, the facts of our reproductive reality are turned into fodder for commerce. If our reproductive systems are healthy, we are bombarded with endless products to minimize the inconvenience of our bodies, whether it be menstruation, pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding. On the other hand, when things go poorly, the grief and shame countless men and women in America experience around reproduction is usually processed, like so much else, in isolation.

The abortion movement hasn't helped women or men grieving reproductive losses. Terms such as "clumps of cells," "products of conception," and/or "fetus" discount the very real relationships we have with our children in utero and the biological changes we experience during pregnancy.

The truth is outside the narrative: Reproductive events are life events that change us to our core, too profound in any case to be commercialized or ignored.

Align: The pro-life movement has developed a reputation (earned or unearned) for a lack of empathy. It is said that women can be afraid of the judgment they imagine the pro-life people hold for those who have had abortions and, now that the political language has been so muddied, even miscarriages. What message do you have for women who fear the judgment of the pro-life movement?

RA: I can relate to women who fear judgment from the pro-life movement. I was pro-choice for years. I never spoke of abortion when I was pro-choice. That was the early 2000s, when the pro-abortion movement wasn't nearly as accepted as it is now, but the risk of being thought of as a "baby-killer" was too high. Even now, while vehemently opposed to abortion, I receive the most intense hatred and vitriol from self-proclaimed pro-lifers who believe every woman who has had an abortion is a harlot. That anger still exists.

Even if a pregnancy ends in loss, electively or not, a woman is forever changed by the changes that have occurred within her mind, body, and soul.

On the other hand, the pro-abortion movement exploits women's experiences (with or without their consent) in an attempt to justify the legality of abortion. The pro-choice message is designed to make women immediately feel better about their abortion experiences, without getting to the truth of the matter. Ask yourself: Should legislation be based on unprocessed feelings, and the narratives built up around ameliorating them, or rather on sound principles of human rights? That is, of course, the protection of all people to be free from unsolicited violence. My personal experience has nothing to do with whether abortion should be legal. That is an ethical issue based on biology and morality, not a "feelings" issue.

The exploitation of women like me by the pro-abortion movement and the ignorance of the hardships women like me face by the pro-life movement are two sides of the same "it's your problem" coin. Only by joining together will women (pro-choice or pro-life) change the narrative around abortion and face the truth of the matter.

My advice to women who have had abortions is to get to the bottom of things: Talk about the abortion. I am not suggesting anyone "Shout Your Abortion," as if abortion is as easy as ordering a bagel from a New York delicatessen. I am suggesting women be honest about the reality of abortion, whether it be chemical or surgical. Women need to critically examine their choice. Under what financial, emotional, and social conditions or expectations was that choice made? We need to be honest with ourselves about what the process of seeking an abortion is like: when, where, how it was done and whether and by whom they felt coerced to abort. I encourage them to consider what life is like after abortion, from the very first day to 20 years later. Recognize the trauma.

It is painful and sad even in the best of circumstances. Private abortion recovery groups are filled with story after story of how terrible women's experiences with abortion are, as are my patients' stories. Even women who are vehemently pro-choice have terrible experiences with abortion. If abortion is going to be legal, everyone should care about how abortions happen and care for women and men after abortion. If abortion becomes illegal, everyone should care about the healing that will be needed for those who have had abortions and the circumstances women face that drive them to consider it in the first place.

Align: In our interview on "Girlboss, Interrupted," you mention how women are forever changed by motherhood. Women often feel the transition as transformative but may not know why. How exactly are women changed by motherhood?

RA: During pregnancy, a woman's pituitary gland adjusts the levels of hormones to support pregnancy (such as progesterone) and to change the woman's perspective from self-driven to child-driven. Women biologically become mothers upon conception. Women increasingly physically, relationally, spiritually, emotionally, and financially become mothers during pregnancy. To read about some of the changes in women during pregnancy and how it impacts women's bodies, I found this article from CNN accessible and helpful. (Yes, I know. CNN. Broken clocks and all that.) Men go through their own transition largely in the six months post-birth of their child, as so expertly described by Mary Harrington on Chris Williamson's podcast. Even if a pregnancy ends in loss, electively or not, a woman is forever changed by the changes that have occurred within her mind, body, and soul. Focus shifts from self-preservation to preservation of offspring. Love changes from actions exchanged with others to actions on behalf of another. Women become the primary givers in a relationship that is inherently unbalanced. Perspectives of priorities, needs, and wants change. It truly is a love that, while not equal, can only be compared to God's agape.

Align: What kind of role can reproductive mental health care play in the pro-life movement?

RA: Unfortunately, much of reproductive mental health care, like all mental health care, has been infiltrated by critical ideologies. I am attempting to bring it back to health care based on science and research rather than on the ideologically subversive concept of the “oppressed vs. oppressor.” I have written a curriculum that is biology- and research-based with some case studies based on evidentiary accounts that refuses to promote all-or-nothing thinking regarding abortion experiences — or any reproductive experiences for that matter. I believe it would benefit the pro-life movement to embrace the truth regarding reproductive traumas and fight for better support for anyone going through reproductive events. If our society continues to refuse to recognize women's biology, we will continue to see womanhood disappear.

Align: What is the theory of REACH healing therapy, and why is it so important for thriving in the culture of sexual dysfunction?

RA: REACH Forgiveness Therapy is a therapy developed, thoroughly researched, and perfected by Dr. Everett Worthington. Dr. Worthington experienced the murder of his mother and consequential suicide of his brother. He began contemplating the intersection of justice, faith, virtue, and forgiveness as he processed the devastation of his mother's death and forgiveness of her murderer. REACH is an acronym that stands for Recall, Empathy, Altruism, Commitment, and Holding On (or, as I explain it, Healing It Forward).

When we can recall with truth and vulnerability the wound caused to us, find empathy for how the offender may have gotten to a place of committing such an offense, release the debt owed to us and the poison of bitterness attached to it via an altruistic gift of forgiveness, commit to maintaining the heart and spirit of forgiveness, and hold onto that forgiveness by growing in maturity, wisdom, resiliency, compassion, and love toward ourselves and our communities, we are free from the fear, anger, and anxiety of the wound we experienced. We gain back our agency and our power to live fully. We also cease to become a stumbling block to accountability for the offender.

In our culture of sexual dysfunction, there is plenty to forgive. Women and men must forgive the naivete of previous generations who believed the sexual revolution would free them when it tied us all to depravity, degradation, objectification, and exploitation of women, men, and children. Women must forgive men for engaging in the pursuit of degrading women via porn; exploitation and commodification of women by purchasing women's bodies for personal pleasure without accountability; violation of bodily integrity and autonomy through sexual assault and genital mutilation; and failing to fully support women's biology and using abortion as a means to escape responsibility. Men must forgive women for attempting to become men and rid ourselves of our biological right to bring forth future generations; tempting men to objectify and demean women through fashion, music, and media; violation of bodily integrity and autonomy through sexual assault and genital mutilation; and destroying millions of children while allowing for the scapegoating of our biology. On a more personal level, women and men must forgive our partners for the ways in which we attempted to divorce sex from attachment and bonding and confused or denied biological rights regarding the conception, implantation, gestation, birth, feeding, protecting, and nurturing of our children.

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