It's not uncommon for me to counsel women who are on the cusp of the gestational limits for abortions in my state. That means they can tell me about their "babies'" kicks and their predictions about the "babies'" sex based on his or her behavior thus far. I put "baby" in quotes because I speak the abortioneers' language of fetuses and craniums rather than babies with heads. I also have friends with infants, and as I followed their pregnancies, I found myself referring to the 24 week baby and pointing at the tiny, very human fingers in the ultrasound. Friends of friends even give birth to babies at 25 weeks, and they survive. In my state, women can also have abortions at 25 weeks. After counseling women who elect later-term abortions, I once tried to talk myself into being disturbed. I tried putting myself in their shoes and wondered whether I could talk myself out of having a second trimester abortion.
I've never had any desire to be pregnant or have kids. I can recall being 15 years old, as far from sexually active as could be, and mentioning that I knew I would have an abortion if I got pregnant. I have co-workers who would genuinely struggle with what to do if they got pregnant. Some of them draw the line (for themselves) at the 13 week (second trimester) mark. And they are all amazing, hardcore pro-choice women. But as I considered my own hypothetical 25 week abortion, all I could think of was the desperation I would feel to get my own body back. Call me selfish or call me self-aware, but the only one who really matters in that case is me, not my fetus. I couldn't manage to be disturbed a bit because I know the terror and impossibility of an unwanted pregnancy.
And then, I'm back in the counseling room, talking with a woman who is struggling with her late-term abortion, or even a woman who is struggling with her early abortion. It's easy for me to talk with the woman who says, "No way can I be pregnant right now. This was not a hard decision." But it's another thing for me to stretch my mind to talk with the woman who just isn't sure. It's not ambivalence, but it's sadness. I consider myself dangerously empathic, but sometimes the biggest challenge of my job is getting to that place with the patient. It takes self-training and on-the-job experience to learn that not everyone wants an abortion, but she might need one. And to some women, it's a baby and it's a fetus. But in the end, those are the counseling sessions that matter the most and teach me the best, and I can only thank every woman I see for risking opening up to me and opening my mind to the world outside of myself.