The New York Observer recently published a gripping article about the small but developing practice of "abortion doula." We're all familiar with the typical doula -- the trained people who provide non-medical help to women during labor, delivery and afterwards. I live in well-off enough areas that I've had many a neighbor pay for a doula. I found labor and delivery to be the type of thing where I only wanted my husband around. But what if I didn't have a husband or if he wasn't going to be helpful? I was the birth partner for a friend who simply didn't trust that her husband would be in the same country when she gave birth or that, if he were, he wouldn't pass out when he first saw blood. So I was there with her. So was he. We were a fantastic team, if I do say so myself.
I also helped the younger sister of my then-boyfriend when she got pregnant as a teenager. I can't even remember what the deal was but the dad was not in the picture. She needed help and her mom stressed her out. I was happy to step in. That was actually the closest I got to being a doula because even though I was very close to her brother, I had only met her a few times. It was my first live birth so I trained hard in order to help her the best I could. I was able to be dispassionate with my comfort of her and objective with her care. The baby was precious. [tagbox tag="abortion"]
As it turns out, I would never have an abortion. My views on science, philosophy and religion just don't view that as an option -- and I've had enough scares to test my beliefs. I've been pro-life since the moment I first learned what abortion was and have only become more so as I've gotten older. Now that I'm a mother, the practice of aborting your unborn child is -- pardon me -- inconceivable.
But of course not all of my friends share my pro-life views. In fact, one of my very best friends from childhood to the present day, was raised to be pro-choice. We knew that we disagreed on the topic and our many years as roommates included plenty of conversations about it. Of course, there were other things she and I disagreed on. We once had a falling out over her use of meth, for instance, back when it was actually a new thing. Well, I guess meth has been around for 100 years. But it really took off in the early 1990s. She got on it and it caused some problems with our friendship. I even called her mom to tattle on her -- something that was unthinkable when we were in high school but was necessary. In fact, while she was pissed at me at the time, once she got clean she was downright thankful I'd intervened.
OK, so a few years later, after college, I'd moved several states away. We'd lived together for many years and she was not able to go more than a semester of college without dropping out for two. She was a bit aimless despite being brilliant and talented. Much to my surprise, she showed up where I lived. Pregnant. Pregnant with the child of her recent ex-boyfriend's best friend. As you do. It was not a good situation. Not a good situation at all.
Our friendship would be put to the test. Except that it really wasn't. We talked about all of the possibilities. I wanted her to let the child come to term so much that I offered to help her raise it or even raise it myself. Eventually, she decided on abortion. I told her I'd go with her. I will admit that this surprised her.
On the day of her appointment, we made it to the Planned Parenthood clinic. As we prepared to walk through the doors, she turned to me and said, "I know what I'm doing. I know that I'm killing my baby. But it's the only choice I have." It was one of those things where she wanted to make sure that I knew that she was fully cognizant of the gravity of the situation. She didn't even need to tell me. I knew. And I wanted to be there in case she did decide at the last minute to not go through with things. Basically, whatever she needed.
We signed in. The wait seemed to last forever. As we sat there, silently, there were several other people in there. The seats were all pretty close together. One young woman sat not far from us with her boyfriend and expressed serious reservations. His response was brusk. He was all "Come on! We've been over this a thousand times. You're not going back on your word."
I desperately wanted to intervene but I don't know if it was cowardice or just a very strong sense that my duty was to focus on my friend that kept me from saying or doing anything. I don't mean cowardice in terms of murder after an abortion refusal so much as just being scared about being impolite. I think about her all the time and regret not having said something. Anything.
I don't know if we need to go into any more details of the wait or the procedure, but let's cut to the care afterwards. My friend wanted to eat, desperately. She'd been unable to eat for days. So on our way back to her place, we stopped for what she wanted -- breakfast. We talked just a little bit about how she felt. She felt many conflicted things -- relief, sadness, surprise that it didn't hurt more but, on the other hand, some unexpected pain and cramping.
We went home. I took care of her like I'd done a few years before when she had appendicitis. We knew each other so well that I knew what she wanted. Which trashy magazines, which type of tea. She didn't have to ask for anything in particular, except for pain meds when she wanted them.
I don't think I can possibly express how sad I am that my friend made the decision she did (I secretly vomited both right after the procedure and later that night--and I'm not someone who vomits easily), but I know -- because she's told me repeatedly and her mom has told me repeatedly -- that my assistance that day meant the world to her. Sometimes she wants to talk about it and she doesn't want to talk to her husband about it. She talks to me. An abortion is a relatively quick procedure but for some women, or perhaps most women, it's one that tends to stay with you.
The short procedure might be the most intense situation, but that the time leading up to it and the decades after it can be just as intense. Doulas can be great, I'm sure, and perhaps that poor girl I encountered at Planned Parenthood could have used some impersonal support at her time of need to help her escape from an unwanted abortion. But even though neither my friend nor I changed our views on abortion after she had one, we were able to maintain and deepen our friendship. I'm not happy about her decision, and I realize I was the unlikeliest person ever to accompany a friend to an abortion, but I'm glad I was able to be there for her during her time of need. Lord knows she's been there for me.
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