I worked at the hospital this morning as an abortion doula. There was only one patient today.
After my first post about being an abortion doula, I’ve been thinking a lot about the responses I received. Some where the to-be-expected anti-choice comments about how what I do, or what I call myself, is a contradiction. Some were simply well-meaning comments about how needed this work is, or how great I am for being with women during such a difficult time.
Abortion gets so much attention as a political issue in this society that it often totally obscures people’s actual experience.
Today was a reminder of how those assumptions are often totally incorrect.
As I mentioned in my first post, it’s not uncommon for the procedure to be emotional for women. But it’s not always for the reason that one might think. People assume that abortions are about sadness.
Not for everyone.
For example, the woman I supported today was most nervous about the pain she might feel during the procedure. We talked about it beforehand, I tried to reassure her. Once the procedure had started, she began to cry, and proceeded to cry through until the end.
She held my hand tightly, I caressed her shoulder and tried to say reassuring things (you’re doing great, don’t forget to breathe) throughout. For most people, the procedure only takes 10-15 minutes.
If I hadn’t continued to sit with her for the 45 minutes she was in recovery after the procedure, I would never have known why she was crying. I could have laid all sorts of assumptions on her about her experience, about the reason for her tears.
Instead, I got to sit with her after the medication wore off, and she told me that while the procedure did hurt, what was hardest for her were the noises of the machines. They scared her she said, and made her nervous. (The noises we heard were the pulse/blood pressure monitor beeping and a little bit of suction during the procedure.)
She didn’t talk about sadness around the abortion at all.
Doing this work feels in striking contrast to the political theatre that is abortion policy these days. I spent a good portion of my weekend working on an article about the new House GOP anti-abortion agenda. When we talk about things on a policy level, they lose their human component altogether.
Anti-abortion legislation contains little compassion for the women who choose the procedure every day. Instead, it seeks to make things harder for her–make it impossible for her to pay for the procedure, require unnecessary exams and waiting periods. The list goes on. Those bills, the debates, the discussions about who should have access to what procedure are so far removed from where I was this morning that it’s appalling.
Of the ten or so women that I’ve supported so far, most of them experienced some kind of emotion during their procedure. But almost all of them experienced emotions other than sadness about the actual abortion.
One woman was distraught because of the mistreatment she faces at home from her family.
Another, like the woman today, was scared about the pain and the procedure itself.
A third, a younger woman, was mostly curious about my work, and the work of the counselor with me. She asked a lot of questions about our jobs and expressed interest in doing this work herself.
Of course, among these, there was at least one woman I worked with who did feel sadness about the procedure itself.
We need to constantly check our assumptions about what women having abortions experience. I’m glad I can be there to provide support, even if support might mean giving career advice or assuaging someone’s fears about the procedure itself.