Thursday, August 20, 2009

Post-Abortion Care

"Do y'all just throw the baby in the garbage when you're done?"

After almost three years at the clinic, that question still jars me.  And depending on how my day is going, I sometimes struggle not to say, "Yeah, and we also store our dirty instruments in this desk drawer right here and release lists of client names to the public."  On better days, I let clients know that pathology examines the tissue/fetus/baby and then a funeral home picks it up and cremates and buries it, which is the truth.  (And for the record, the other truth is that we autoclave instruments and handle them with sterile techniques and we're the most HIPAA-compliant bunch you'll ever meet.)

When I "reveal" what happens after the suction, clients usually say, "Aww, I like that."  I don't know if it's as "sweet" as they think it is, but I like it too.  I like it because some days, I am pathology.  We rotate jobs at the clinic, according to comfort levels.  Because I have no limits when it comes to abortion comfort, I get excited when I do path.  I've always been the type to watch surgery shows on  TV and I loved dissection fetal pigs in college biology.  Pathology, to me, is nine parts science, one part humanity.  When I get home from a day in path, I sometimes have to get out my old-fashioned paper journal and write about what I saw and learned, since my friends and family, supportive as they are, don't want to hear about it.  I'm fascinated by development and abnormalities and by the fact that tissue doesn't really smell bad.  As for the humanity part, while I don't see the fetuses as "babies," I see it as an honor that I'm trusted with this most controversial and taboo element of choice.  I'm one of the few people in the world who will ever see this fetus.  And the clients who know enough or are curious enough to ask, trust me to treat it with respect.  

Anti-choicers hold up posters of what I see in pathology.  Even though their photos are larger than life, I'm not bothered by them.  But I know so many pro-choicers who are, and honestly, this rubs me the wrong way sometimes.  On the one hand, I know fierce pro-choice advocates who would never watch open-heart surgery on the Discovery Channel, so why would they really want to see this other aspect of surgery?  On the other hand, my stubborn brain wonders why they must yell at the protesters, "That's disgusting!  Why would I want to see that!?"  Because I'm pretty sure that's exactly what the antis are going for.  They're all about discomfort and the wrong kind of "humanity."  Even if you're not as comfortable around fetuses as I am, why advertise that the protesters' techniques might be working, on some level?  Abortion isn't always pretty.  I'm one of the few (I say that not self-righteously--sometimes, I wonder if I should force myself to be a little bit uncomfortable.)  who is able to counsel AND to assist the doctor in the OR.  The less glamorous side of choice is not for everyone, but freedom and an amazing clinic staff and empowered clients are beautiful.  


  1. I think there has to be room for a spectrum of comfort around abortion procedures for pro-choice advocates and supporters.

    What is equally powerful to me, in addition to being comfortable with seeing pictures (or actual) aborted fetuses, is supporting abortion rights in spite of feelings of being grossed out or just slightly shocked by the images.

    I volunteered in a clinic for about nine months, and I can honestly say I was never comfortable with it. And yet, despite that, I still stood with the women and supported them through the procedure. To think I once thought of going to med school--I never would've made it!

  2. I've always had this same issue with fetus-photo protests. Yes, an abortion probably looks really gross. You know what else does?


  3. Yeah, not just childbirth, but (as Desembarazarme said) pretty much anything you'd see on the discovery channel med shows -- gallbladder removals, heart bypass, my wisdom-tooth-ectomy which left me with a bruise! (Compared to most other surgeries, including some which people treat as no big deal, abortion's recovery time and aftereffects are almost nil.)

    Anyway, I think protesters like their posters because it looks like a "bloody baby," implying that much violence has been done to it, but your removed wisdom tooth would be covered in blood too -- your own blood! Just like on a fetus. It's not at all the same as finding a baby and beating it bloody, but they want it to look that way. Oh how I wish they'd focus that zeal on child-abuse prevention.

    (This concludes my comment about gross-looking things!)


This is not a debate forum -- there are hundreds of other sites for that. This is a safe space for abortion care providers and one that respects the full spectrum of reproductive choices; comments that are not in that spirit will either wind up in the spam filter or languish in the moderation queue.