Aftercare and Follow-Up
Following an abortion you will receive instructions for after care. It is very important that you follow these instructions and take any prescriptions you have been given. In order to reduce the risk of infection, you may be instructed to avoid:
- Having vaginal intercourse
- Using tampons (use pads instead)
- Taking baths
Your provider will give you a 24-hour telephone number to call if you become concerned about your condition. If you develop any of the following symptoms, you will need to contact your abortion provider:
- Severe cramps
- Chills, or fever of 100.4 degrees or more
- Bleeding that is heavier than the heaviest day of your normal menstrual period, or that soaks through more than two maxi-pads an hour for more than two hours
- Bad-smelling discharge from your vagina
- Continuing symptoms of pregnancy
The provider will also give you an appointment or referral for a follow up exam within 2 weeks of a medical abortion and will suggest a follow-up visit within 2 to 4 weeks of an aspiration abortion to confirm that you have not developed any complications. In the case of a medical abortion, the provider also confirms that the abortion is complete. Even if you feel fine, you should go to your post-abortion appointment.
Some women choose to go to their regular family doctor or women’s health practitioner for their follow-up exam. You may want to determine that your practitioner will support your choice because it is important that you tell them that you had an abortion. You should also let the provider who provided your abortion know that you plan to see your own provider for the follow-up exam.
The most reliable indicator of whether a woman will experience feelings of distress after an abortion is her emotional stability before the abortion. Choosing to have an abortion is an important decision. The decision-making process may be stressful, even if the outcome is ultimately positive.
Although the most common emotion after completing an abortion is relief, there also can be feelings of loss or sadness. Some women may have difficulty after an abortion because of:
- The obstacles encountered while trying to obtain abortion care
- Feeling alone while making an important decision
- An environment where choosing abortion may be stigmatized
Some women feel grief even though they know they made the right decision. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. The feelings are real, and you should give yourself permission to have them.
If you need help coping with your emotions, most NAF member clinics provide post-abortion counseling or can provide you with referrals to pro-choice counseling services in your community if they do not.
Groups opposed to abortion claim there is a condition called “Post-Abortion Stress Syndrome” which they say is similar to post-traumatic stress disorder. This is not an actual psychological condition and is not recognized by the American Psychological Association. For more information, see Abortion Myths.
Taking Care of Yourself
These resources and activities may help you work through any concerns you might be having after an abortion. However, if this information does not fit your personal needs we recommend that you seek the help of a trained, unbiased counselor who can help you work through your own feelings.
Get a Post-Abortion Checkup
Most women feel physically fine very shortly after an abortion. Some women, however, may be concerned about whether there were any physical complications as a result of their abortion or whether they will be able to get pregnant when they want to in the future. During a post-abortion checkup (about two weeks after an abortion), a doctor or other clinician can allay anxieties of this sort and can answer questions that a woman may not have thought to ask at the time of her abortion. Many women feel relief and reassurance after their post-abortion checkup and most abortion providers encourage this checkup and offer it free of charge.
Talk to Someone You Trust
Many women are ready to put the unintended pregnancy and the abortion behind them and move on with their lives. Some women feel the need to talk about the experience and their feelings about it with someone other than their abortion provider. Talking with a caring and supportive person can be both comforting and useful. Women may choose a friend, partner, counselor, family member, clergy, or someone else who gives positive support, and does not judge the choice that she made.
Write Down Your Thoughts
Women can review the issues they faced both about the pregnancy itself and about other life issues, such as relationships, jobs, housing, family, and friends, as well as the alternatives they considered and the pros and cons they examined in making their decision. Some women find that separating all the issues involved in their decision, and writing them down or saying them out loud to themselves or a friend helps them feel less overwhelmed and better able to cope with and work through their feelings afterward.
Envision Your Future
For many women, their decision to have an abortion is related to their hopes and plans for their future. Envisioning what they want their life to be like in five days, five months, or five years, and thinking about how they want to live now in order to realize the future they most desire can help some women who may be having difficulty. By projecting themselves into the future, some people can direct themselves toward emotional health.
Stay Mentally Positive
Most women believe that they made the best decision they could at the time given their resources, their obligations, and their values. Some find it helpful to repeat that positive statement to themselves at times when they feel sad or doubtful or worried. Some people have other kinds of mantras, or poetic lines, or statements, as simple as “Peace,” that they find give them comfort and reduce anxiety when recited.
Stay Mentally Active
Most women return to their usual activities and interests very shortly after an abortion. A woman who is finding it difficult to do that may take up a new or creative activity, such as writing poetry, painting, or keeping a journal. Some women find that a creative outlet can help them work through their feelings.
Address Spiritual Concerns
Some women find that performing a ritual or some kind of “letting-go” ceremony helps them to complete the resolution of their feelings. This might involve:
- lighting a candle and meditating;
- writing down words or symbols of the loss involved and then burying or burning the paper; or
- offering a prayer to God, Nature, the Divine Truth, or Inner Spirit, as is appropriate for the woman herself.
For some, a ceremony or ritual can transform the loss so that peace and healing may ensue. For more ideas about rituals and healing, visit Peace After Abortion.
Many abortion providers offer post-abortion counseling and/or referrals to appropriate counseling options. The following resources may be helpful as well.
- Peace After Abortion: A Pro-Choice Self-Help Guide for Women and Men, by Ava Torre-Bueno, LCSW $11.95 postpaid, 1-800-352-6305 Pimpernel Press PO Box 33110 San Diego, CA 92163-3110 www.peaceafterabortion.com
- The Healing Choice: Your Guide to Emotional Recovery After an Abortion, by Candace DePuy, PhD and Dana Dovitch, PhD, $12, Simon & Schuster, available in bookstores or 1-800-999-7909.
- Unspeakable Losses: Understanding the Experience of Pregnancy Loss, Miscarriage, and Abortion by Kim Kluger-Bell $23.95, WW Norton Book Co. 1998
- “Inner Healing After Abortion” by Marilyn Gryte, MS, LPC, $6 postpaid (quantity pricing available) from the author, P.O. Box 3121, Albany, OR 97321 mgryteinnerhealing.com
- Exhale – Unbiased post-abortion counseling
- Project Voice – Stories of women who have had abortions