Thursday, May 26, 2011

Don't Sweat It: Abortion and the Gym

Today, while in my gym's locker room, I saw the same group of women I always do. You know the type: working moms who are trying to get fit again after having babies and eager to have coveted "me time." We usually make small talk about such and such trainer, the workout, how we're losing/not losing weight, the weather, etc. A couple of them exchanged business cards. Then I got asked the question, "where do you work?" I'm ashamed to admit that I felt nervous. I wished I had Harry Potter's magic cape that makes him invisible. I didn't want to answer and I really had no idea what they'd think about it. (I de-stress at the gym. I don't want to talk about work!) I gave my standard,"Oh, a health clinic" answer. My elusiveness was not appreciated or respected. They waited for more. (Harry Potter, take me away!) After shifting, I added (a little too quietly), "like Planned Parenthood." Enter: uncomfortable silence. I was hoping they would just move the conversation onto other topics. No such luck. "Oh, no wonder you were vague. That could upset some people," was the response. Quickly, I was excluded from the continued chat...

...about how so and so is pregnant, when they're due, how far along they are, and so on. Sadly, one of these pregnant women had been trying in vitro with no success for years. Happy news: she's pregnant! The other had just graduated from dental school and didn't have plans to have a baby, but "you know, that's just life. And sometimes you just have to take what's given to you." (Sideways glance to me.)

Okay, so I'm on my period and a little emotional, but still: I don't know what happened to me! I got this terrible urge to make it very clear I'm not a baby hater, that I lurrrrrvvvv (not in a creepy way!) kids. I piped in. Loudly. I
acted SUPER (!) excited for these two pregnant women I don't even know. (I don't get excited for pregnant women I don't know.) "Oh, how EXCITING! That's GREAT!" I exclaimed. Silence. So I upped the ante. I asked about the one who "just managed" to graduate from dental school, "Has she been sick?" Quickly, I got a scowled face stating firmly, "She's happy. It wasn't in their plans, but they're VERY happy."

WTF?? Did she think I was soliciting abortion and about to offer a discount? Now hyper worried, I said, "You mentioned she 'just managed to graduate.' I wondered if she was really sick during her graduation." Scowl face said again, "No. She's NEVER been sick. They're VERY happy." Did I shut up? No. So eager to prove to them I'm a nice girl (even though I work at an abortion clinic - gasp!), and needing to prove to them I won't try to make every girl have an abortion, I got grossly gushy about how AMAZING motherhood is, how exciting it was these women were pregnant, and how my kids are the best thing that has everevereverever happened to me (True. But it doesn't mean it's always a walk in the park!).

What did I get for this? Silence. And scowls. It was one of the weirdest experiences of my life. Mostly, because I have no clue what came over me, making me feel like I had to validate myself in some way. I had this rushing feeling that they had liked me before, but now I was going to become the unlikable abortion girl who kills AND hates babies and is a fake mommy. I just fed into the whole stupid stigma thing about abortion and I know better. I felt like I was a teenager instead of a grown up.

I'm embarrassed to even write about it because now there may be the stigma that I'm not a good enough Abortioneer. Well, I am. And not all Abortioneers have to shout from the roof tops that they are Abortioneers. I'm not a shout-from-the-rooftops kinda girl. That, I'm not ashamed of. (And none of us need to judge others as being less down with the cause for not making public announcements about our Abortionhood.) Still, I was totally "out there" and weird about the whole situation. And do I want to see those scowl faced women tomorrow? No. (Gulp.)

I know what I need to do though: stand up tall and just be myself. They don't have to like the abortion girl...


  1. Sometimes people are just weird, and trying to defuse the situation makes it weirder. Don't be hard on yourself.

    (And remember: whether they like you or not, statistically, at least one of them is going to use your services at some point!)

    Keep up the good work - and your self-esteem!

  2. :-( It's natural to get embarrassed and try to over-compensate when you think you're going to piss a lot of people off. Just learn from this experience and decide how you're going to handle it next time; don't beat yourself up. I'm very sorry that these ignorant women don't appreciate the work you do for women just like them. <3, Sara

  3. What a load of doo-doo.

    First of all, you never HAVE to take what life gives you. What kind of reasoning is that? If someone grabs your purse do you not chase after them? If you have a cold do you not pound NyQuil? Life is all about getting through the nasties and making it better for yourself. Not taking abuse and suffering consequences.

    Second, I hate the implication that Abortioneers are baby haters. I've gotten it before, albeit to a much lesser extent, but it always hurts. The same way people think that because I'm an atheist that I also hate religious people.


  4. wow, agree with anti-anti, that is some straight-up bullshit. i mean like in my head i was yelling BULLLSHITTT in disbelief :( you sound like a fantastic abortioneer AND mommy to me, and they sound narrow-minded and simplistic and just plain rude. ugh.

    sometimes i am pleasantly surprised by the "what do you do" conversation going pretty well, and then sometimes that makes me too casual in having it with other people who then turn around and UNpleasantly surprise me. i never know quite what to do.

  5. Sorry this happened to you at the gym - not a great way to "de-stress."

    I sometimes get nervous myself when I need to explain where I volunteer - usually when I don't know anything about the person who is asking. I usually go the "community health clinic" route, too.

    Good luck reclaiming your personal space at the gym. Maybe some headphones, a kickass playlist, and some focused time on the eliptical/weight machine will help. Sending you positive energy.

  6. First, I agree with commenters above. You are a gift to the women who have the good fortune to be in your care.

    Second, in my documentary work, documenting the activities outside and inside an abortion clinic, I've found that my responses to "What's your document about?" depend on the audience. If I'm talking to documentary research students in a classroom, I respond in a mater of fact tone, but use the opportunity to talk about the moral and ethical considerations of telling a story fairly when I see the crap that women must endure with the bullying protesters, when I know that providers must addresss thanks to legislators who think they know how to practice medicine and when I see how utterly critical it is for women to have access to safe and compassionate abortion care.

    Last, while I agree, in part, with anti anti that you don't owe an explanation to anyone, I do believe that all of us in the prochoice community can work toward shifting the stigma associated with abortion by talking more openly about how normal abortion is.

  7. I second anti-anti. Who cares what these women think? I mean it sucks to be left out, but if that's how they are, do you want to be included in their group. When people give me the cold shoulder when they find out about my abortion work, I figure that I'm better off.

    Perhaps they've never been in a situation where they've had to choose abortion. They're lucky. From our work, we know not to make presumptions, and unfortunately it sounds like they haven't had that lesson.

  8. The worst of the antis are picking up on this, by the way. So prepare for that. But, I wouldn't over think it too much. I struggle with the same thing about a lot of different aspects of my life. For example, I'm a loud and proud feminist, but when people at my boyfriend's church ask me what I'm studying, I get a little nauseous about saying I'm in Gender and Women's Studies. When something so close to your identity is polarizing, it's stressful to talk about if you're unsure of how it will be received. Also, I like to be liked, so when I think someone will not like me simply because of what I'm studying or where I work, I get uncomfortable.

    Oh, another example. I work for Obama for America, but if I know that I'm surrounded by Republicans who don't know me well, I will sometimes say simply that I work on campaigns. They usually don't pry, it's a way to avoid confrontation.

  9. Those women should not have treated you like that. People like them give a bad name to pro-lifers. Please understand that we're not all like that and that a true pro-lifer should treat you with the utmost respect that you deserve as a dignified human being. Thank you so much for your good intentions and for being such a loving mother!

  10. It's easy for me to read this piece and say "well, gosh, be honest about yourself & your work!" for I'm safe at my keyboard.

    ...then I remembered the few times I've been asked about what kind of activist meetings I go to, what kind of justice work I do. Do I say "abortion rights" or do I say "oh, y'know, women & children stuff"? The stakes are different when you are in the company of people you don't know well.

  11. For what it's worth, sometimes we on the pro-life side have the same kind of experience, that uncomfortable feeling of not-ashamed-but ...

    I grew up with a nationally-known pro-life activist for a father. From grade school on every time someone asked, "So, what does your dad do?" I knew I might be in for a big argument about abortion.

    I wasn't always in the mood for that conversation, so I learned to give more ambiguous answers. "He works in media and PR" (which was completely true, and is actually where is professional training lies).

    I remember one time my father came home from the barber with a hideous haircut. He and the barber had gotten to talking -- arguing -- about abortion and (intentionally or not) the barber took it out on my father's hair.

    Now I'm a pro-life activist myself, and I need a break form this controversial issue from time to time. I don't always spell out what it is I do when people ask.

    And when I do tell them, sometimes I have an experience that sounds an awful lot, in its basic outlines, like what you describe at the gym.

    I can't tell you why you cared what these women thought of you, nor can I tell you why I care what pro-choice people think of me -- why I'm eager they know I'm not some kind of conservative stereotype. I grow organic vegetables! I watch 30 Rock!

    I suppose it comes down to the fact that we're all hard-wired to get along with other people, to connect with them, to bond. Call it the social ape's evolutionary adaptation, or call it the communion of persons made in the image of God (I'd call it BOTH) -- but that's just how we are.

    Eric Scheidler
    Executive Director
    Pro-Life Action League

  12. As a stay at home mother of 6 kids, I can totally relate to your feeling of being hated by women at the gym. As soon as they find out that I have 6 kids they all make some kind of not so nice smile and quickly exclude me from any further conversations. As if I am some kind of two headed, old fashioned, man has my freedom and "don't I know how all these kids got here", weirdo. But at the end I get to go home to 6 beautiful and loving kids(and one awesome husband), so I don't have to worry about what these ladies think. Every coin has two sides.

  13. I am amazed by all of the kind and supportive words written here. I feel very grateful to each of you who took the time to write. Thank you.

    Kevin, Sara, Red Spiral: thank you for your rah rah rah cheers!

    AA- love you! I, too, do not like the whole stigma that if you're pro choice, you don't like children. I find that horrific, especially since it's actually my love of children that makes me so passionate about our work (the idea of unwanted children is so terribly sad).

    R- thank you. Those conversations can be hard. I love it when I have the pleasant conversations and not the unpleasant ones!

    Serena- I loved your strategies for helping to find some peace at the gym. I will try these! I appreciate your suggestions. :)

    Bullywatch- thank you for creating your documentary. Please let us know how it goes and when it's completed! I also agree that having open, honest conversations about abortion will help reduce stigma.

    Rev Vagina- (hug) You are right!

    Katie- thanks for the head's up. I have heard there has been a lot of anti activity around this post, but I honestly don't even read those comments, get on those sites, etc. Good luck to you as you navigate discussing your work in sometimes uncomfortable situations!!

    Shannon- so true! Thank you!

  14. Eric, I want to especially thank you for your comment. I feel like you were incredibly kind and that your words were thoughtfully and respectfully written. It makes perfect sense that there may be times you - and other pro lifers - may feel that discomfort talking about work, the resistance to feeling that you may have to argue or defend yourself. It's tiring sometimes. I doubt accountants want to talk numbers all the time, or teachers talk about school all night. Your work/my work is controversial and stirs many emotions in others. It can be intense, and only makes sense we'd want a break now and then...whether that's growing organic veggies or watching 30 Rock! (Yay! And I loved you said that, by the way!)

    It is funny, isn't it...this desire to get along, to connect with humanity. Certainly, that's probably what really draws/motivates both "sides of the fence" to the work. We all want to help others. I loved what Kumiko wrote. She, too, is pro-life, but was very kind. She said to me, "thank you for your good intentions." I think the majority of people have good intentions....

    Lastly, thank you for actually highlighting the commonalities between our work. Your words felt supportive to me. And it rang crystal clear that you're not the stereotypical conservative. Thank you for sharing with us, for showing us respect, and for not debating. Truly. Thank you.

  15. Kumiko- thank you. I felt like hugging you after reading your comment. It's obvious you are a kind person.

  16. Nicole- your comment made me truly laugh aloud! You're funny! :) I'm sorry that people treat you all crazy because you have six kids. That's unfair and wrong. It sounds like you're very happy and have a wonderful family: and isn't that the most important thing?

    I can relate to how you feel loved when you go home. I had a rough day today and when I got home, my kids ran to meet me at the door, tugging on me. I love that more than anything. I kept thinking how they are the silver lining in every cloud, how they make everything better (well, except when they're fighting and screaming!! Lol!). But, honestly, even then, it's all good.

    I wish that others would show you the respect you clearly deserve for being a mother of six. I admire your patience and your obvious strength.

  17. It is unfortunate and true. Patriarchy makes everyone uncomfortable. Also, I just know of one day magical when everything is resolved and abortion (on so many levels) is understood and those who provide it are not demeaned and/or terrorized. Life is just oh too lovely when it's meant to be.

  18. @about-a-girl

    I'm sorry that I didn't see your response to my comment until today. I didn't even realize that my comment had been approved. Frankly, I've been pretty distracted this month; my 12-year-old daughter just underwent spinal fusion surgery 10 days ago.

    Anyway, I'm glad you appreciated my remarks. And I really appreciate your saying so.

    Growing up inside the pro-life movement has not only led me to occasionally want a break from the controversy; it has also made me rather disinterested in arguing or debating, which is always about "proving" the other guy wrong.

    Debating is great, don't get me wrong. But a debate is about convincing an audience that your position is right and the other guy's is wrong. In a dialog with another person -- in a conversation -- there IS no audience. There's only you and the other person. Sometimes we forget that.

    So aside from actual, formal debates, I'm done debating. I'd much rather find whatever common ground I can -- whether it's 30 Rock fandom, a shared experience of job-disclosure-discomfort, or whatever -- and build on that.

    -- Eric


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.