Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Abortion work is hard. Rewarding, but hard. One of the hard things about this work is that the rewards are not external. It's rare we get kudos from the community we live in; a thank you from a referring agency; and for some of us, we might not even get a big "well done" from our own employers. I was recently told by a colleague that it's impossible to be successful in this work. I still don't actually know what she meant by that, because I whole heartedly disagree.
I guess it comes down to how you measure success. I happen to measure it by the amount of time I'm able to dedicate to helping a woman. I measure it by being able to provide information and answer as many questions as possible so that the 16 year old I'm talking to can decide whether or not, for herself, she'd prefer to have a medical abortion or a surgical abortion. Usually, I feel successful in being able to simply be there for the women we serve. I think if you have a lot of other expectations, then perhaps, depending on how you measure success, this may not be your kind of work...
...Because you really aren't going to get a lot of external rewards. It's not like we make a lot of money. And it's not like we don't carry our work home with us. We do. We become part of each woman's story. Their stories about how so and so helped her with X amount of money for her abortion; or how so and so held her hand during her procedure; or, conversely, how so and so wasn't patient and kind and warm to her (hopefully we all are). After years of doing this work, I still find it difficult not to bring it home with me, if only emotionally. We think about the women we serve, just like Banana Grabber said on Sunday. She was sick as a dog, even fainted, but still felt she needed to be at work to help the teenager, who had been a victim of incest, get her abortion.
Sometimes, we're so busy taking care of everyone else's feelings, that we don't even get to appreciate the moments that make us proud. Recently, I had such a moment and though it occurred a few weeks ago, I still carry this story with me every day. It nourishes me and helps me feel so proud - ever so proud - to do the work we do. A woman called my organization to inquire about abortion services and how we could best serve her. She was 22 weeks pregnant and was carrying a very much wanted pregnancy. She was an older woman and this was her first child. There was a very severe fetal indication that perhaps could be fixed with many surgeries post delivery, but possibly not. She and her partner had the resources to fly out of state to a medical school where the top physicians in this defect worked. They met with the physicians and also with families who had similar experiences. They just couldn't make a decision, though, whether to terminate the pregnancy, or continue on. They were heart broken. The local hospital offered to perform the abortion, but required labor induction (which she did not want to experience)on the maternity floor (which she was horrified by). I was horrified for her. I could not imagine the pain she would've endured by having an abortion in the maternity ward, where women were happily welcoming their wee ones into the world, while she would be grieving the loss of her's.
Staff spent hours - hours - of their time, including personal time, with this family. Staff brought the client in, after hours, on a holiday, to talk. To give a tour. To do options counseling. To tell them everything we could offer: a private room with private entrance/exit and her own restroom; some of the highest levels of anesthesia available, even during her two days of laminaria insertions; very personalized care with the ability to have family and friends gather with her in her private waiting room. I was very proud. I was proud that my colleagues busted their ass for this woman. I was proud that they spent hours with her. We focused on her. It was about HER.
She didn't have her abortion, as far as I know. At least not with us. And I suspect she continued the pregnancy. But it doesn't matter. Some may think this was "unsuccessful." I disagree. I feel that it was an utter and complete success. We offered all that we could for this woman. We recognized her story. Her circumstances. We showed her compassion and love. We recognized this was her choice. And her choice alone. And regardless of her choice, we honored it. We honored her. We trusted her. We were at our best. And I am ever so proud.
I think of her every day. Every.Day. I send her loving thoughts, her baby loving thoughts. I wish for them peace and happiness. I hope that their child will have the quality of life they dream of. Meanwhile, I sit at the office and look around the faces of the women I work with. The strong women who keep doing this work, despite the threats, despite the backlash, despite the lack of recognition and reward. They are the warriors. The ones who will be there when the ship goes down. And how lucky am I do be surrounded by such strength? How lucky are we all to do this work, to provide all the choices and options for women so they can make their own decisions.
This is where I feel rewarded: internally. In my heart. To my toes. I am proud.