Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The nature of regret

Mark Steyn strikes again: in this opinion piece in the Telegraph, he reveals the primary result of a study from the University of Oslo about the emotional legacy of abortion versus miscarriage. The study, it seems, was small, comparing 40 women who had suffered miscarriages with 80 women who had had abortions, but the salient points ought to make anyone considering an abortion take notice: many women of both groups suffered emotional distress in the immediate aftermath of their pregnancy-ending event - 47.5% of women who had miscarried and 30% of women who had had abortions. But after six months, the percentage of women who had miscarried who continued to feel distress over their miscarriage had fallen to 22.5%, while the percentage of women who felt distress over their abortions had fallen much less, proportionately - to 25.7%. At five years after the event, less than 3% of women who had miscarried continued to be distressed.

Twenty percent of women who had had abortions were still distressed, five years afterward.

These figures are all from this article from BBC News; I have so far not turned up the original study. I wish I could. Was the women's distress self-reported, or inferred through questioning or a standardized test? Was it measured in degrees, or simply Booelian? But while the methodology is important, the apparent result says something to me about the nature of regret.

I have few, thankfully. Sometimes a choice between two courses has been decided for me by events, so that even if I might suspect that the road I didn't travel would have had more interesting scenery, I can't honestly regret that I took the other road - I perceived no choice. Sometimes I have indeed made a choice, and I have indeed spent time down the line wondering what might be different in my life if I had chosen the other course - but since I can see the life I have, and can't think of much in it that I would willingly give up, it's hard to regret any choice that led me to this place. Has my life been unusally blessed?

Well, I certainly think so, and as a superstitious Irishwoman I waste a good bit of mental energy wondering when the other shoe is going to drop. But really, if we're speaking of regret, I'd have to say that a regret presupposes that the difference in your life that you imagine if you had made a different choice would have been a positive difference. In other words, one in every five of the studied women who chose to end her pregnancy has concluded after five years of living with that decision that, no matter how difficult the prospect of having a child might have seemed back then, having that child now could have been better.

I'm reading a lot into a few isolated numbers. But think about it. Try to project yourself into your own future. It's nearly an impossible exercise, but the effort alone may at least ease your mind later.

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