Tuesday, March 16, 2010

What Brought You to This Work?


Recently, someone asked me how I became involved in abortion care work and who or what has guided my journey in that work. After writing to her I thought I would share that story here.

As a child my mother took me to clinic defense rallies. I didn't really understand what it was were defending but I knew that it was important to my mom. I don't really remember a time when I learned about abortion or choice. Abortion was always a part of life just like pregnancy, miscarriage, or childbirth is a part of life.

I sort of fell into abortion work, or rather it chose me. I wrote a personal narrative about coming out as gay and being from a multi-racial family for an adjunct professor my freshman year in college. She encouraged me to attempt to publish the piece, but I didn't follow through. As the school year came to an end, I told her I was looking for part time work and asked if she had any suggestions. She told me she didn't know where I stood in regards to choice but she worked for a pro-choice organization while in school and gave me the information, and I pursued a job working in direct service with women seeking abortions.

The question of where I stood in regards to choice was not really a question for me. The understanding that women should be able to control their bodies and lives seemed like something very basic and unquestionable. I distinctly remember having a crush on a boy in first grade, who I then saw in the midst of a huge pro-life rally with his family. My mom and I were on the clinic defense team. At that moment my 6-year-old heart was crushed, because I knew he was on the wrong side of something really important and my infatuation with him was over. As a child, when my mom told me she had an abortion a few years before having me as a single parent, I told her it was me. I told her this because it made sense to me that I was meant to be my mother's child. It just wasn't the right time when she found herself pregnant the first time at 20 years old. I told her it was me and I came back when the time was right.

When I was hired in abortionland I did not feel particularly passionate about the work. I had just come out as gay and I was hired the week of a catastrophic disaster in my hometown, so it was really the least of my concerns. But I needed a part-time job, and I was all about helping other people regardless of how much or little it had to do with my life.

I had to have an ovary removed within the first 6 months of working in abortionland, and as time went on I was just going through the motions. I knew I was good at the kind of phone counseling I was doing, but I felt highly disconnected from abortion. My supervisor during most of the time I worked for this organization was definitely instrumental in solidifying my understanding of how abortion was important to me personally. My supervisor and the women I spoke to each day are the primary people who shaped my journey.

One day I went to my supervisor for a new security card because I had been robbed. She looked at me and said, "Your life has never been easy, has it?" I responded, "No, not really." This authority figure's acknowledgment of my personal circumstance made the work I was doing to help women seeking abortions feel more important to me.

Some of the staff and I began joking that I would win the award for having the most pregnant friends of anyone in abortionland. During the first few years that I worked in abortion care, I had several friends who had abortions and several more who had babies. I had a friend call me on my personal cell phone one day when I was at work to tell me she had been raped and she was pregnant. I was able to leave my break, call her from a work phone and attempt to assist her. I ended up lending her half the cost of her procedure from my next check so she could be seen as quickly as possible.

The many women in my family and friendship circle who have made the difficult choice to have a baby or an abortion have guided my journey too as I have become passionate about reproductive choice, health, and education. For me this work is the closest thing to what a lot of people, especially Christians, might identify as a calling.

I would love to hear others' stories of what brought you to this work, so please share.

10 comments:

  1. In hindsight, I realized that my parents never really raised me to believe in anything in particular. Church was sporadic, and mostly to appease grandparents. Grace at supper was simply going through the motions. As long as I can remember, I always thought the "story" of Joseph and Mary was just that: a story; a fairytale. They also never said negative things about minorities or comments about abortion. I was raised about as blank a slate as I think is possible. I got to make ALL the decisions myself when I became old enough.

    I don't remember when I exactly became aware that I was pro-choice, but I probably always was because I NEVER liked being told what I could/couldn't do. Thus being an anti would have never made sense to me. My first real memory on the topic was when I was about 16. I worked with a girl who was decidedly anti-choice (she was a year younger than I). I remember having discussions with her about the topic at work . One day she showed me the pictures that anti's pull out. After seeing them I made the comment that I would likely never have an abortion, but I refused to take that choice from other women, no matter what. I think she took the small victory. Thankfully, I have never been forced to make the decision, but I know now that I wouldn't hesitate to have an abortion if I were to become pregnant. But that moment stays with me. I think I can say with absolute certainty that I knew I was pro-choice from that day forward. Even though I thought, at the time, abortion wasn't for me, I still refused to take the choice away from others. I am proud of my 16 y/o self for being able to separate the choice that I was entitled to make re. my body, and the choice that other women are entitled to make re. their body.

    Since starting law school in a province with archaic, by Canadian standards, abortion laws, I have jumped into the pro-choice movement with both feet. I volunteer at my local clinic to escort patients past protesters (only clinic in Canada that has the buggers), and I worked on a project for ARCC to create a brochure for distribution in order to raise awareness about the laws so that we can create change.

    I have started to get more involved in the movement, much to the chagrin of my closest friend. I am not entirely sure if she is decidedly anti-choice, but she has made it clear that she wouldn't come with me for an abortion. Nonetheless, I will continue my volunteer work while I am local, and when I'm not, I will get involved in other ways. Also, I display my volunteer work on my resume, and if a law firm won't have me for that reason, well so be it. I know I am doing a good thing.

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  2. Would love to have this stories up at http://www.iamdrtiller.com ! Any way I can convince you to let me post them?

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  3. Much like Sparky, I mostly needed a job. But I never knew how much I'd be influenced by the people I'd worked with and the patients I'd helped. Every now an again when I think about an anti argument or look at anti propoganda, I ask myself: is it possible that I'll ever be anti-choice? And as quickly as they come, those thoughts vanish.

    Much like Not Guilty, I was raised as a big fat nothing. Whenever I asked my parents if I was black or white, Catholic or Jewish, they'd tell me that I had one parent of each and that's that and I'd end up more confused than before I'd asked. But I think life is more fun that way.

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  4. "I ask myself: is it possible that I'll ever be anti-choice?"

    Yeah, totally think that every now and then, I even try to picture myself saying anti-abortion stuff to friends etc -- doesn't work. It just doesn't make sense in my life.

    sbherold - you can take my story if you like (would you link it back to here though?). I entered abortionland gradually. My parents never talked about it, I went to a Catholic school for years, so I don't know how it started. But I used to be obsessed with learning about how people experienced their sexual bodies -- I'd ask friends about their attractions, erections, menstruations, you name it.

    Anyway, in college I became really interested in sex ed and family planning. I spent several months volunteering in community outreach and health education projects for a local women's health center; then after college I found a job in their clinic. While I started out passionate about sexual health in general, eventually abortion stood out to me as something that I ought to focus on, precisely because many people drew the line there and I didn't. It didn't hurt that I had fantastic coworkers, a supportive work environment, exposure to fascinating clinical cases and many warm, appreciative clients.

    Then I moved around some, first for a change of pace and then for school, and each time found something even more abortiony to occupy myself with. Now that I'm in school, I'm learning about various abortion-related research projects (clinical, social, and organizational aspects) which are so cool and important. But direct service, for all its challenges, pretty much rules: every day I can help several-to-many people get something they are seeking in order to make their life better.

    It's not a super exciting story, I guess! But I can remember being in (Catholic) middle school and going with the anti-choice flow, and it seems so weird to me now. I literally can't see myself ever going back to that. Phew.

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  5. Sparky, can I post your story up at iamdrtiller.com? I'll def link it back to abortioneers.

    <3
    steph

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  6. anti-anti and placenta sandwich--ME. TOO.

    Especially after the whole hullabaloo with Abby Johnson came out, I thought to myself, "Is there someplace, deep down inside, that will be horrified to look back and know I was so [insert anti adjective here]?"

    And you're right, it didn't work. I know the anti platform, and I tried out little bits of it. At one point, I pictured myself sort of looking like Jena Malone at the beginning of "Saved!", right, standing outside a clinic and screaming at an anxious-looking woman, "Don't kill your BABY!"

    It was just so not right. I feel as though I am pretty open to the fact that someday some of my convictions might change (e.g. right now, I don't believe I will ever want children. But hell, I'm 23). But this...the right of women to make their own decisions about their health and what happens to their bodies is not one of those malleable convictions (not that even IF I changed, my "conviction" should apply to someone else's body). And this right extends beyond the right to choose abortion.

    I didn't really intend to write a novella of a comment here, but there you go.

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  7. I'd tell my story here, but it's too identifiable. Suffice to say, it just all made sense. :)

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  8. sbherold, yes you can post this on www.iamdrtiller.com I am sorry I did not respond sonner!!!!

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  9. I am a seventeen-year-old boy who has been active in abortionland for two years now, beginning with phonebanking at Planned Parenthood. After doing a unit on feminist literature in sophomore English, I remember being bored one day and deciding to google “feminism,” and the first destination I recall arriving at was Feministing. There was a post there linking to a Google Books preview of Christina Pages’s “How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America.” Obviously that titled seemed presumptuous (and if you have not read it yet, you MUST; it really shows how anti-choice organizations devote a lot of their resources to anti-contraception and anti-safer sex education causes), and I loved what I was reading. So, I ordered it, read it, got pissed, and got involved. Granted, I was pro-choice before––and somewhat strongly too––but now I am an activist. I have given money to several pro-choice organizations, spent time campaigning for pro-choice candidates, and shown pro-choice films at my school to try to get my friends more involved. The question is why is a teenage boy so involved in abortion politics?

    The answer is that there is nothing more important to me than being rational and logical. If you were to ask me what my biggest pet peeve is, without a moment of hesitation, I would tell you it is people whose emotions interfere with their ability to think logically. It drives me NUTS! I cannot tell you how much it enrages me when someone lets their emotional biases corrupt their thinking processes. When it comes to public policy, I consider letting your emotions do the decision making as form of selfishness, to be honest. Someone who is anti-choice is upset by the idea of abortion and wants to ban it. Whose benefitting from that? Let us do an analysis! Women are not, despite the antis' lies. Men are not. Children are not. And, according to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, fetuses do not feel pain and are not conscience. http://wellness.blogs.time.com/2010/06/25/report-fetus-cannot-feel-pain-before-24-weeks/. An anti may say that that fetus deserves a right to life and to come into existence. Let us examine that. So, they are saying doing something that prohibits a life from coming into existence is immoral. So, if a woman uses contraception, then she is doing something immoral? Further, if a woman at any time does not have a penis in her vagina and is not already pregnant––thus eliminating the possibility of a child to be born––she is immediately put on God’s “Hell List”? Even better, if a woman whose uterus is not yet in use is being raped, she had better just submit, right? She will then have the chance to be pregnant and a hypothetical life will be saved! Obviously, (most) antis do not believe in the above, so why are they anti? There are a variety of reasons, but most corrupt their religious beliefs (in the bible, killing a woman merits the death penalty; killing a fetus earns only a fine. It seems that many Christians have their priorities wrong) to suit their emotions. As far as I can tell, the only person who benefits here is the anti-choicer, who can sleep soundly knowing that there are women either giving birth against their will or will soon bleed to death after putting something sharp up their vagina.

    Fighting against that sentiment is why I am PROUDLY pro-choice!

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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.