Note: This blog post may feel intense or difficult to read. I encourage you to review your support system and reach out if you need to. The identifying details of anyone I worked with have been changed completely out of respect for their individual experiences and privacy.
As a volunteer abortion doula, I attended close to forty abortion procedures. I want to tell you about this time in my life, what I learned, and how it impacts my current work as a therapist.
At the time I was volunteering as an abortion doula in Western North Carolina, folks coming to the clinic for an abortion procedure were unable to bring their support person into the clinic room with them. My role was to sit with them in the waiting area (partners and support people were in a different space) and talk. It doesn’t sound like much, but if you have ever felt scared or worried or joyous, you probably know the comfort of talking with someone about it, verbally processing your feelings or talking about nothing in particular. It can be helpful to distract ourselves from our thoughts. So we talked. Maybe we talked about the weather, or what their plans were for the week, or about their kids. Sometimes we talked in detail about why they were there. A partner who was about to be deployed and wanted to make sure she didn’t “mess around” while he was gone, so he forced her to become pregnant. A complete and total birth control nightmare, a fluke accident, the first time someone had sex, ever. Someone with several children, doing her absolute best as a mother, knowing damn well that one more child would push her mental health to a point where she would not be able to function, and she would suffer as would her children. People in happy relationships, married, dating, not dating. People who were raped. Straight folks, queer folks, trans folks. People with money, people struggling to survive. Every single experience was different. The thing that was the same? None of the people I sat with wanted to be there. It wasn’t fun. It wasn’t what someone would choose to do on a Saturday morning.
Most folks wanted me to come with them into the procedure room, and so I did. Sometimes we were quiet and didn’t talk much, but I stood near their heads while they laid on the table. I held a lot of hands and wiped away tears of both sadness and relief. I encouraged deep breaths and reminded people it was going to be over soon. Sometimes we laughed with the doctor, sometimes we joked about situation or something else.
I sat in the recovery room with people, reminded them to please be gentle with their body today, and told them they could call me if they needed to talk about anything.
Navigating these scenarios can feel uncomplicated for some folks; there isn’t much questioning because they know in their bones and their hearts what is best for them. No longer being pregnant feels lighter, especially when coercion is part of the mix (and it is more common than I ever could have believed). Sometimes there is a lot of guilt, disappointment, resentment, despair, and anticipatory grief. Feelings of failure. Judgement. Loss. Isolation. And then more judgement, from themselves and from others. The judgement I felt by the protestors standing outside of the clinic early Saturday morning when I arrived was palpable. Volunteer escorts from car door to front door were a saving grace for clients and doulas. I always knew the protestors would be there when I arrived, but it didn’t matter—it didn’t make the anxiety less. They didn’t know me from a client, and to hear them question my goodness and worthiness as a person, and see them hold up graphic signs and ask won’t I just come over and talk to them, they can help me make a better choice, they can help me talk to someone who can help me raise this baby…to this day it makes my stomach churn. There are significant obstacles in place throughout society to keep folks from doing what they know they need to do to survive, whatever that looks like for them. This is one example.
Now I’m a therapist in private practice, working primarily with people in what many call “the childbearing years”. I trust people. I trust that they know what’s best for their bodies, for their lives, for their futures, for their healing. So we sit together. We process. Maybe it’s quiet, maybe they’re crying. Maybe they are sorting through deep sadness and grief and a whisper of relief that they don’t have to do this anymore. Regardless of the situation, I sit with them. I respect them. I hear them. And we navigate it together, because every person deserves to have support, regardless of the circumstances. We work through the obstacles.
At Porch Light Counseling, we are full-spectrum perinatal therapists. We support folks as they carry pregnancies to term, as their families grow; we support folks who choose to terminate their pregnancies because they need to, because one more mouth to feed would be too much or because a significant birth defect exists or because their baby isn’t alive anymore. We support folks who have been trying to become pregnant for a long time, have dedicated their lives to their fertility cycle, have scheduled sex with their partners, have paid thousands of dollars and spent hours in doctors’ offices only to get their period and start all over again. Sometimes full-spectrum healing is needed. More is being healed than what is examined in the moment. When we are able to be present with people in some of the most challenging times of their lives, we are actually supporting the healing of past hurts, too. For me, to witness these moments is one of the greatest gifts I could ever be given.