Thursday, March 1, 2012

The story of the time I was a dick

Why does she keep shouting ABORTION at me? 

Yesterday our guest blogger Amy mentioned that phone calls about abortion care often sound like this:

"Um...I wanted to know how much it costs?" and "Hi...I'm looking for some information about...abortion?" (spoken as a question, with the word "abortion" issued in a whisper)

And that her responses sometimes sounded like this:

"I would be happy to answer any questions you have about ABORTION! What type of ABORTION do you think you might be interested in having?"

I can totally relate. Who hasn't had this kind of call? It was one of the first patterns I noticed about callers when I started working on the phone lines.

Maybe Amy was more mature or less self-centered than me when she started her clinic work. But for my part, there was a real evolution in how I understood such callers. Initially, I felt frustrated to pick up the phone at my work and hear that the person on the other end of the line couldn't bring themselves to speak about my work. I experienced it as stigmatizing of ME, like they were attempting to distance themselves from my work even as they were asking me to tell them about it.

Sometimes they would ask with words like "terminations" or "D&C" instead of "abortion" -- maybe those words sounded more genteel or more like medicalese.

I'm ashamed to say that, early on, if someone called and said, "Hi, I need to know how much it costs," I would reply, "For what kind of services?" Even though it soon became clear that, if someone was calling about, say, a Pap smear, they simply said "Hi, I need to know how much a Pap smear costs." For a brief period of time, I believed that it was more important for the caller to say the word abortion than to feel comfortable asking about it.

At least that phase ended rather quickly. When a woman called and I heard echoes as she asked me questions, I mentioned her voice was sounding funny, as though she was in a bathroom or something -- and she said yes, she was at work and this was the only private place she could duck into. Duh, me.

Whether because they're not sure they've called the right place, they can't believe they're in this situation, or they can't risk being overheard by a coworker or family member, callers can't always discuss abortion openly and explicitly over the phone.

There will be time for that at their appointment, if they make one, when they meet with the counselor or health educator to express any questions or concerns about their health, the procedure itself, their experiences leading up to the appointment and how they will fare afterward. Usually patients can bring a loved one or support person into the counseling/education session, but a portion is also dedicated to one-on-one time with the staff person, in case the patient has something that might not be easy or safe to express in front of their companion. These sessions can be conducted as part of an abortion appointment, or prior to deciding whether or not to have an abortion. It's dramatically different from a phone call that might by necessity be taking place in public.

So now I know better. I learned to respond to "I need to know how much you charge" with something like, "Sure, I can talk to you about our different fees, but we provide many kinds of care here. Were you asking about a Pap smear, abortion, or...?" If they are asking about an abortion, they normally stop me there and say "Yes, that's it." Easy peasy. It's okay for me to do the talking, if that's what the caller is looking for.

Not that every caller is in this situation! It runs the gamut: on one end is this (or even, as Amy writes, the ones who never call), and on the other end is someone calling to set up their appointment while also ordering dinner for five from the drive-through. But that's a story for another post.

1 comment:

  1. This is so true. As abortioneers our job is to facilitate the process for women, whatever choice they decide to make, no matter their comfort level. I would say we are activists who have to hold their tongues.


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