Every shift I work at the hospital leaves me with many reflections on the experience of supporting women through abortions, the things I learn about their lives in the short time we spend together, the twisted way politics interferes with what happens there.
Every woman responds differently to the experience, brings a different level of energy, nervousness, calm.
This afternoon I’m thinking about one of the two women I supported this morning. She reminded me a lot of one of the first women I worked with. Both were emotional during the procedure, and when we talked afterwards, they explained how isolated and alone they felt. Both were Spanish-speaking immigrant women, both lived in close vicinity to extended family. Both talked about their partners, how unsupported and alone they felt as women–how they weren’t treated well. Me siento tan solita (I feel so alone) she told me this morning.
Often in the Latino community, we get stereotyped for being very family centered. Big families where everyone lives really close by, is very involved in each others lives. Often this is juxtaposed with the more American or Anglo family style–fewer kids, more distance between everyone, less involvement. Obviously these are generalizations, stereotypes, but I have felt the impact of American family culture in my own family–as a kid I remember spending much more time with cousins and Uncles and Aunts, grandparents, all of us together in summers and Christmas’s. Now as we’ve grown, this first generation of truly American children, we’ve scattered across the country, hundreds of miles from one another.
Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to be closer to everyone, to feel the warmth and stress and love of my blood relatives. Sometimes I wonder if we wouldn’t be better off, staying close, being more involved.
But then I’m reminded that it’s not always so simple, that it’s not always so black and white. Then I meet women like those I’ve met at the clinic, and I remember that family doesn’t always equal companionship. That sometimes, family relationships can be damaging, unhealthy, harmful. Both of these women hinted at abuse, neglect, mistreatment from their own family. This is how you come to feel so alone amongst many people.
The more I do this work, the more I think that most of my value as a doula in these moments is simply being a kind stranger who listens. I never feel like I’m doing very much, usually just making conversation, reassuring, holding hands and caressing shoulders. I’m a smiling face at the bedside without any other tasks than to just be present.
Today one of the women looked up at me during the procedure and smiled: Que bueno que estas aqui (How good that you are here). I responded: Mi placer (My pleasure). And it really is my pleasure, my delight that such a simple act might have an impact. Might make someone feel less alone and more resilient.
Before we parted ways she said to me Este trabajo que tu haces es muy lindo (This work that you do is very lovely).
I start my first shadow shift as an abortion doula on Thursday. I am nervous but I know that just being there can make all the difference to these women. It is an important job. Thank you for your posts.
“The more I do this work, the more I think that most of my value as a doula in these moments is simply being a kind stranger who listens. I never feel like I’m doing very much, usually just making conversation, reassuring, holding hands and caressing shoulders. I’m a smiling face at the bedside without any other tasks than to just be present.”
Beautiful. Just beautiful. Not just the writing, of course, but also what you do. Making an experience less alienating–that’s incredible. And I’ll never cease to be amazed by how something so simple can have such a profound effect on a woman’s experience.
Thanks so much for sharing this.
I commend ur work. It is very difficult to always remain upbeat for others when the jobs are emotionally draining. I am certain though, that the same manner in which you bless others, God blesses you. Keep up the good work! People do appreciate it even when they don’t say it.
Thank you for your work. We are all sisters.
I am so very moved by your ability to support the ends of *all* pregnancies. It is clear from your writing that you support women and their choices, their bodies, their experiences and emotions. I can imagine how comforting and empowering it would be to have you as a doula. Thank you for sharing this!
This piece really spoke to me, as someone who is very passionate about Latin@s and access to reproductive health services. I was lucky enough to be able to shadow at a Planned Parenthood clinic during an AB day a few months ago, and it was an amazing experience. The two procedures I saw were with Latinas, and I was so happy to hear the clinician offer to speak in Spanish, should they prefer. Anyways, thanks for writing this!