Here's an idea that is, I think, long overdue: doulas for women who are having abortions.
Doulas, of course, ordinarily provide support services to women who are having babies. I had labour doula for the birth of my first child, and she was invaluable: she was there to advocate on behalf with the nurses and doctors, to help make sure that things were going the way that I wanted them to go, and to provide moral support and foot rubs when my husband's energy lagged during the 36 hour labour. All things that could be tremendously useful to a woman undergoing an abortion, not least because odds are pretty good she's not going to have a morale-supporting, foot-rubbing husband at her side.
Scratch that: these services might not just be useful - they might be critical. Health-saving. Psyche-saving. Because even though some would have you believe that having an abortion is as easy as getting a pedicure, that's simply not true. For many women - for many girls - having an abortion is a profoundly difficult experience, not least because it is, even in the most straighforward case, an invasive medical procedure. It's uncomfortable at best; horribly painful at worst. But it's more than this: even a woman who is really entirely clear about her commitment to her decision to have an abortion is probably going to experience a lot of confused and confusing emotions. Abortions are hard. Let no one tell you otherwise. So the idea of doulas providing support services during that experience is a tremendous one.
LaToya Peterson at Jezebel describes the experience of a labour doula cum abortion doula as she related that experience at the website RH Reality Check. Mary Mahoney relates her experience with two women undergoing abortions in their second trimester:
"Since patients are normally under general anesthesia during this procedure, doulas spend the majority of our time with them before they enter the operating room. The first woman I supported that morning was in her early 30s, Spanish-speaking, religious, and scared. I spent my time with her holding her hand, wiping her tears, and telling her it was going to be ok and that she would be safe, in my own broken Spanish. My next client was having strong cramps from measures that were taken to dilate her cervix, and so I gave her a lower back rub and massaged a pressure point on her hand. After her procedure, at her request, I went to the waiting room to tell her husband and sister that she was fine and would be discharged in a couple of hours. The next woman I met mostly wanted to be alone, so I checked in with her every few minutes to see if she needed anything and pulled the curtain closed around her bed.
The support that she offered ranged from emotional support to the provision of basic comfort. In both cases, however, I've no doubt that that support made all the difference in the world to the womens' emotional well-being.
When I had my abortion, my mother was with me. She held me and cried with me and told me that she loved me, and this was huge for me - but I could also have used some measured support from someone who was there just to support to me, someone who wasn't affected by what I was doing, someone who cared only about making sure that I was okay and that I was comfortable and that my feet were well-rubbed. And if my mother hadn't been there? I really would have wanted someone there to hold my hand.
Check out The Doula Project for more information - or just to tell them that they are, really, doing something awesome.
We may not come to an agreement on abortion. However, it is my belief that honest discussions through experience can help make the conversation more civil.
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