I've been pro-choice since I was about 10-years old. I was angrily pro-life until I read a "Letter to the Editor" my mother wrote about babies in dumpsters and children sexually and physically abused by their parents. I had an about-face and haven't looked back since. It was the only time I ever knew what my mother felt about abortion; I still have no idea how my dad feels.
Through the years, I helped friends in need and supported women as they made their decisions to terminate. It never phased me to go with them or sit with them post-abortion while they recovered or processed the experience.
Later, I worked at Planned Parenthood, listening to the women as they told me horribly painful stories of why they were choosing termination over adoption or keeping the baby. Women whispering about their own physical abuse, how they were forbidden to use birth control, yet knowing if they had another daughter, she would be fair game in the house as a sexual pet for dad. I listened as 14-year olds cried because their 23-year old boyfriends promised love and devotion, yet vanished upon hearing the pregnancy test was positive. I listened as a mom, pregnant with her fifth baby, despite meticulous use of the pill, was distraught over how to pay for yet another mouth in the house - she was trying so hard to get off welfare and make a life for her family.
Of course, knowing very pro-life folks, to them, these are still not valid reasons for terminating a pregnancy. While I respectfully disagree, they have the right to their beliefs.
My main job at Planned Parenthood wasn't as a pregnancy counselor, but as a prenatal case coordinator. I loved it and found the many levels of the position, which also included HIV counseling, stimulating and a way for me to really care for women who don't always have someone to care about them. Migrants and inner city teens continue holding a special place in my heart.
When the producers from 30 Days (a television show on F/X) contacted me about appearing on camera as a facilitator for others who've had abortions, I eagerly agreed.
I gathered together six women who'd had abortions, three of whom had had illegal abortions and three who'd had legal abortions. Some women had had more than one, one woman was in her eighties, another held a newborn in her arms. All but one had either had children before or after their abortions. It was poignant listening to the women sharing their stories of strength and desperation in a time when they felt so vulnerable. I was honored to be in their midst.
The camera crew was unobtrusive and they seemed to get some good footage. We'll see in a few more weeks as 30 Days unfolds on Wednesday nights at 10pm (ET/PT). Our show should be 4 weeks from yesterday.
After the taping, I was invited to the home for unwed mothers the woman, Jennifer, was staying in for 30 days. Run by a pastor and his wife, they house dozens of women who choose not to have abortions. I thought it would be a great opportunity to venture inside somewhere I never would have otherwise. I was in the car and on my way up to Los Angeles County before anyone could say, "Freedom of Choice."
There, I blinked, over and over, that I was standing inside a place that so despises abortion they stand outside clinics yelling at women, showing pictures that would make even the most cynical person ill (and that are NOT what aborted embryos/fetuses look like, by the way) and convince wavering women to wait and wait and wait until a choice is no longer possible. Evangelical Christian staff members quoted Scripture as did most of the walls in the very large compound.
Meeting with the pastor and his wife, we agreed first thing to not be mean to each other, to be respectful and to not bait or throw chairs. Over and over, they couldn't believe a midwife could possibly be pro-choice. I told them it was because I was a midwife and knew what birth was all about that I was pro-choice. I shared examples of situations (similar to those above) and listened as they shared equally harrowing examples of women who chose to continue their pregnancies. Neither of us changed our minds, but it was refreshing to spend time in discussion instead of the screaming so often seen in the media - and in front of clinics around the United States.
So, when someone very, very close to me came and said she wanted to terminate her pregnancy, my general reaction should have been one of acceptance and helpfulness, right? I am almost ashamed to say it wasn't. I talked with her at length, about all the three options and listened as she rationally laid out her reasons for wanting an abortion - she was making the right choice for her.
Privately, I cried.
I can rationalize it by knowing it is merely an embryo, not yet a newborn baby in an exhausted mother's arms, but I also know where that embryo would be if left alone for a few more months. I didn't expect to ever be this close to the other side of the debate.
Merely voicing my relationship with the baby-to-be allowed me to move past the sadness and into a place of support and information with the woman. I found the numbers she needed, bypassed the usual time-consuming waiting room sitting (thank goodness for Planned Parenthood connections) and the counseling by strangers and then left her to make the calls and get the assistance she needed to pay for the procedure. She is standing strong in her situation and I am proud to watch the maturity I don't always see.
She has asked me to go with her, hold her hand as the baby (okay, I said it) is removed from her body. Without crying, I told her I was there and supported her 100%. So do those around her, including her partner.
Writing this, tender tears fall, hoping the baby's spirit finds its way back into my life (and hers) at a more appropriate time. Ten years from now would be a good time.
Who knew this topic would elicit such conflicted feelings from such a die-hard pro-choice woman.
Maybe being a midwife blurs the edges more than I thought.
It isn't all or nothing anymore, is it.