Trauma begets trauma begets trauma.
That’s the story shown in “Blonde,” the controversial and graphic new Netflix movie about 20th-century sex icon and Golden Globe-winning actress Marilyn Monroe. The first major trauma viewers see is Monroe’s mother trying to drown her in a bathtub; other traumas include being abandoned by her father, being placed in orphanages and foster homes as a child, and being raped as a young adult.
Psychological literature and licensed clinical therapists’ daily experiences show there is a link between unresolved trauma and future traumas. That’s what “Blonde” shows — Monroe needed acceptance and love, but what she got were abuse and exploitation. She couldn’t even live as her real self — what began as a stage name became her “real” face, hiding the traumatized Norma Jean for decades.
Probably the most controversial part of “Blonde” is the graphic portrayal of her abortions and a song that one of her unborn children sings to her. They are controversial because, in part, like the rape and attempted drowning scenes, the movie is unnecessarily horrifying. But they are also controversial because many believe the abortions make the film political in light of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, which overturned Roe v. Wade.
But abortion isn’t political for the mother; it’s a human issue that affects real people. For example, a recent national survey of women who experience medication abortions found that 40 percent of women’s self-image changed after the abortion. About one in 14 of these women’s perspectives changed for the better, but 86 percent saw negative self-image changes. This was true regardless of their view about abortion, as 75 percent of women in the survey identified as pro-choice.
Like Monroe in “Blonde’s” portrayal, the people who attend Support After Abortion’s healing conferences and contact our anonymous After Abortion Line deal with lifelong traumas that often played a significant role in their abortion(s). Significant financial and relationship challenges are rarely one-time issues, and a 2005 Guttmacher Institute survey shows that 73 percent of women who had abortions did so because they couldn’t afford a child, and 48 percent were having relationship problems or didn’t want to be a single mother.
Unresolved traumas like sexual abuse, addiction and abandonment are often at the heart of these challenges. But while Americans accept that these traumas present themselves in our lives in ways like alcoholism, divorce and depression, we neglect to include abortion as a symptom of trauma because it is viewed as a political issue — not a problem with real people behind it.
Trauma defined Norma Jean’s life to the point where she hid behind an entirely different persona. That seems extreme — but how many Norma Jeans hide behind Marilyn Monroe faces in our churches, at the grocery store, or at Christmas parties? How often are we putting on a good face to the world to avoid condemnation or alienation or the pain of past traumas?
Abortion is a human issue, not a political one. It often comes from trauma and, as research shows, leads to more trauma. In Norma Jean’s case, the Marilyn Monroe mask only held for so long; she died of a drug overdose at 36 in what was deemed a possible suicide. It’s time to see the faces of millions of women whom research and the famous Turnaway Study find are suffering from abortion-related trauma.