Academic journal article Pre- and Peri-natal Psychology Journal

The Development of Fears, Phobias, and Restrictive Patterns of Adaptation Following Attempted Abortions*

Academic journal article Pre- and Peri-natal Psychology Journal

The Development of Fears, Phobias, and Restrictive Patterns of Adaptation Following Attempted Abortions*

Article excerpt


If one looks at hospital and medical statistics, one usually finds figures for the number of terminations of pregnancies that took place either by birth, miscarriage, therapeutic abortion, etc., and estimates of illegal abortions. The possibility of attempted but unsuccessful abortion is not expressed in those figures.

However, obstetricians are familiar with cases where a woman having had an abortion, attended to with hospital treatment and evacuation of the uterine cavity, returns a few weeks later apparently still carrying a persisting, uninterrupted pregnancy to term. This implies the likely existence of a partition in the womb. The incidence of this partition, called uterine septum, is reported to be 1 in 500. The incidence of an externally visible womb partition is said to be 1 in 10,000. The physicians are also familiar with ultrasound pictures which show existence of a fertilized egg in the womb that later disappears-the socalled blighted ovum.

In such instances the remaining fetus will have been in close proximity to the events leading to the loss of a sibling fetus. It is surprising that we did not entertain suspicions before and investigated the possibility of emotional effects on the surviving offspring in such circumstances.

This paper will be a summary of traumatic experiences related to me by 48 survivors of abortion attempts. The information to be presented came from patients under hypnosis. They suffered mainly from neurotic disorders, some had schizophrenic or manic depressive illness. They were showing good progress but had residual difficulties not amenable to therapy.

Perhaps at this point it would be useful to mention how I came to realize the significance of what my patients were telling me. They provided the clues to a hitherto unsuspected association between abortion attempts and the acquisition of fears, phobic states, and maladaptive behavior.

Years ago, during hypnoanalytical investigations of nightmares, panics, compulsions, etc., I often encountered detailed descriptions of underwater coral reefs, mobile walls moving in and out, of being stuck in dark chambers and similar descriptions usually connected with fear and often panic. I often wondered where these imprints came from.

Repeating the investigation at intervals several times would bring the same descriptions, usually with additional data added until the complete experience was related. It finally struck me that the only mobile, rythmically contracting and enclosing walls I was familiar with as a physician were those of the womb.

One day, while getting a detailed description of how the fearful person felt all curled up in a soft, dark corner trying to feel safe, I asked if she was aware of her body proportions. With that question being answered in the affirmative, I asked what was the size of the head in relation to the shoulders. When the answer was that the head was much bigger than the shoulders it dawned on me that I must be listening to a prenatal recall.

I then questioned how many months the person had been in that residence. I was told three months. Later checking my embryology text, which, I must admit, I was no longer too familiar with, I discovered the given head-shoulder was accurate for the length of pregnancy; this was a fact I was not familiar with any longer when I elicited the response from the patient.

Since then, I have used these body proportions as given by the patient as a guideline to the period of life the recall seemed to cover.

My scientific difficulty to think in prenatal terms was also shown up by the same patient. Describing how she felt her body functioning after an unsuccessful abortion attempt, I asked her how the breathing was, forgetting for the moment that I was inquiring about a prenatal state and I got the answer in the typically changed voice of early life recalls, "I am not breathing yet." That taught me. …

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