Tuesday, March 15, 2005

I'm glad somebody is braver than I am.

I ran across a link at Bitch, PhD's site called "Abortion Clinic Days". The stories she tells and the way she tells them took me straight back to the days when I worked at an abortion clinic.

Prior to that I'd been a paraprofessional at a Planned Parenthood clinic that did general and women's health care. When I started school, I needed a part-time job a few days a week; one of the clinic's aftercare people was leaving, so I took that job. And it was an experience.

An overwhelmingly *positive* experience. Let me emphasize that. Aside from the times that protesters tried to follow me home to get my address, or the time that I had to body-block a protester who started to get violent with a post-procedure patient, it was an amazing time. We were all women there, and all of us had had abortions. Two of us had had abortions pre-Roe, and one of them had been botched. I had my own abortion at that same clinic, with the same doc. That was the whole reason I ever considered working there--the women I met were so kind, so supportive, and so positive about what they were doing that I wanted to be a part of it.

Writing about those days makes my palms sweat. At the same time I was working at the clinic, I was also doing post-abortion counselling both online and in real life. But doing post-AB counselling and working at a clinic will bring two very different reactions in public. Neither are something that you'd necessarily want to announce at a cocktail party--or even in a blog--but the first, at least, won't get you harrassed.

The thing I remember most about those years is this: everywhere I went, from grocery stores to restaurants, women approached me to thank me and the people I worked with for the job we did. Once it was a woman in her 50's whose breast cancer had been discovered by a mammogram that PP paid for. Once it was a woman whose 13-year-old daughter I'd counselled about delaying sex. The daughter had quit hanging out with boys and had made the varsity volleyball team that semester. (That story made me cry; it also made me glad I'd refused a subpoena, but that's a different story.) Once it was a woman who just wanted to thank me for speaking openly and honestly about the circumstances surrounding the abortion I'd had.

It strikes me as strange indeed that one in three of us will have had an abortion by the time we hit menopause, yet talking about it is something nobody wants to do. Or, at least, we don't want to start the conversation. Even typing "I had an abortion" brings up the fear of the sort of comments I hate to see being left here. Women don't write them down on their medical histories. They don't tell their doctors or NPs about their abortions. They've even tried, in the past, to lie about why they were getting aftercare at the clinic. (Um...we saw you last week, okay?)

The reasons we don't talk are shame and fear. The fear is real, and protective: I've been followed in public, followed around the store, gotten nasty postcards from people who claim to be praying for me. Nobody wants to let themselves in for that. The shame is equally real, but comes from a different place: the straw-man idea that women who have abortions are automatically bad and wrong.

We might have been stupid at one point, or forgetful, or had some health problem that only cropped up later. But we're not bad and wrong.

And here is this anonymous woman who's writing about an experience that few of us will have. A third of us will have abortions; many fewer of us will ever talk professionally about the decision or help other women weigh it. Most of us who have done it or do it now don't talk about the work we do, except to other people in the same business. I'd bet that only a fraction of us actually come out in any public way and open the discussion ourselves.

Damn, I'm glad somebody is braver than I am. Whoever the hell she is, I wish her the strength not to fear the people outside the clinic, the ability to keep listening, and the stamina to continue her work.

Addendum: I've decided to leave comments enabled on this post.

Political discussions, if they go on too long, will be closed. As will any sort of debating. Flames of any sort will be returned to sender with a heapin' helpin' of rebound kharma attached.

Don't be stupid, friends.


Anonymous said...

I was against abortion until I had children. Then I understood the stakes much better. It's your life for theirs. So now, any time I hear a pontificating male, I always ask if they would be willing to pay for a pregnancy and adopt a baby to prevent an abortion. So far, no takers, only a self-righteous calls for accountability and punishment for those unlucky enough to be female, young and fertile. Praise the Lord and pass the Playboy.

Anonymous said...

One of the things I do when I find someone whose writing style I really like is to read their archives. So that's why I'm commenting on this one now. (smile)

Thank you for working there. I don't know where you live, or what clinic you worked, but it was you or someone like you who treated me with dignity and respect and compassion for the mix of emotions I was feeling. Each time...I've had three. (Contraceptive failure combined with a husband who only came home on occasion...minipill, regular pill after IV antibiotics in hospital, and condom breakage.) I always thanked my doctor and my nurses because it's not exactly the most uplifting job in the world, but it's necessary, and without your work, ny family would be in a heck of a lot worse situation. Again, thank you.

Janie Claypool said...

I, too, am reading your archives. Love the brutally honest portrayal of nursing. Thank you for your work in the abortion clinic. I've not been put in the position of needing an abortion, but it's good to know that for the many that do, there are good, compassionate people ready to help them through it.