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Diminishing Shame


Hand ReachingI work once a week at a high volume abortion site.  When I’m there I often don’t have the chance to have much of an interaction with the patients in the minute or so that I see them before the anesthesia takes effect.  But the other day, I had a quick conversation that really stuck with me.   The patient was a woman in her mid thirties, though she looked even older.  She seemed quite distraught as she lay there getting her IV, so I sat down next to her.  “I’m feeling quite down on me-self” she said quickly, with a bit of a brogue.  “I know how that is”, I said to her, “I’ve been there, too.”  “You have?”  She looked at me with great surprise… “but this is my second!” she replied, starting to tear up.  “I’ve had two, too.”  I said.  She looked at me even wider eyes, confused about how this could be true.   “Shit happens.”  I said.  (I don’t usually use curse words with patients, especially not one I don’t know, but it just came out!)  She smiled.  “Don’t it, though?!” she said, as she squeezed my hand, nodding peacefully as she went under.

I don’t know why I still struggle a little with being open about my abortions. I guess I just have internalized a tiny bit of that shame, myself.  I froze for a moment when I found out Physicians for Reproductive Health wanted me to talk about my abortions at their public forum event around Roe v. Wade.  I had to have a good talk with myself to get past that!  And then it was fine.  It is important for younger women to know what those pre-Roe v Wade abortions were like, even the ones that were semi-legal like mine—because they were no picnic.  Still, it’s one thing telling colleagues and movement allies about your abortion and another thing sharing it with patients.  It’s a bit delicate, picking when it’s appropriate and when it might diminish what a patient is trying to share about herself, so I tread lightly.  I have to say, every time I have done it, it has been a good thing.  It breaks down myths such as “other women have it together, I’m messed up,” a central theme I find.  Or, “I won’t be OK after this” or “doctors don’t really approve of abortion.”

I’m trying harder to be more out there about my abortions.  I like to think that the cup of shame in me gets a bit smaller each time I tell someone and the part of me that belongs to the community of women who care deeply about children getting raised under the best of circumstances grows bigger each time.  Because that’s what it’s really all about: growing healthy families.

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