Autumn Reinhardt-Simpson is an abortion doula and Ph.D. student in religious studies at the University of Alberta. She is the author of the Humanist Ceremonies Handbook (Humanist Press, 2018) and the upcoming The Companion: An Abortion Doula Handbook. You can visit her at her website www.electriceelpond.com. Here we talk about the reason for the existence of doulas like Reinhardt-Simpson.
By Autumn Reinhardt-Simpson
Louise wrote me last month to ask, “If my friend is having an abortion, what kinds of things can I do to help her?”
I’m really glad that Louise asked this question because it demonstrates exactly what I hope will put me out of commission – people just plain being there for friends who need an abortion. Seriously though, my work exists ONLY because people who have abortions don’t feel supported or that they can trust anyone. So, thanks, Louise, for jumping in to ask how you can make me irrelevant. I love it more than you know.
So, if you have a friend who needs an abortion, the first thing you can do is simply listen to them. A lot of times (but not always) people want to talk about it. Actually, they’re kind of hungry to talk about it and to have someone listen. While you may be curious about their reasoning, you should never really ask why unless they offer because it can sound like you’re second guessing their decision. My rule is always to let the patient lead the conversation. It may not sound like much but trust me, your being there and listening nonjudgmentally is everything.
The next thing you can do is to offer to accompany them and, if it is allowed in the clinic, to be in the procedure room if they need support. This can be major because it shows them that you’re ready to go all in. However, just know beforehand what you’re getting into. Make sure that you actually are comfortable going into the exam room with them.
I want to stop a moment to explain exactly what happens during an abortion, just to highlight my point. It’s a bit anticlimactic, honestly, but it’s good to know what you might experience. In the clinic where most of my patients go, the patient is first set up in an exam room with an IV with painkillers and a little something to help them relax. After the patient is all set up, I’m brought into the room to sit at a chair at the head of the table. The chair is set up to face the patient and not the doctor or the direction of the procedure. I usually hold the patient’s hand and, if they’re nervous, I go through a few breathing exercises with them. The entire abortion takes five minutes at most. Contrary to what you see on television, an abortion is not hours of bloody invasive operation but you still want to make sure you know what you’re walking into, just in case. Although it is highly unlikely that you’d see any blood, an abortion is still a medical procedure and some people get a little queasy about things like that.
If you decide not to go in with your friend, just hang around in the waiting room so that you can give them a ride home. Most clinics require that the patient be driven home by someone else and having a friend drive you is preferable to taking a cab.
One thing I do for all of my patients is to create a care package. I fill it up with things like pads, chocolate, etc. I try to put things in mine that I know can be more suited to hotel rooms because most of my patients are coming from out of town. So, I’ll put in things like Cup O’ Noodles or those awesome mug cakes but you can put other things in yours. I also include a thank you note to each patient to acknowledge my gratitude to them for allowing me to walk with them on this particular journey. For your friend you might write a note letting them know how much you love and support them.
All of the above is very important but the most important thing that I like to get across to people is that each person experiences their abortion differently. For some it can be a very simple process but others may be dealing with a mixture of emotions. Even though they may really want an abortion, they might also be a little sad or anxious. Know that this is completely normal and don’t try to talk your friend out of their emotions, whatever they are. Again, just listen. Emotions accompany all decisions and no emotion is “right” or “wrong”.
And finally, ask your friend how you can support them. It’s completely okay to ask if you don’t know. They’ll let you know what they need.
Everything I’ve included here is very hands-on but there are also other ways you can support your friend and, in fact, all of your friends. To begin with, you can get educated about abortion. Check out the Guttmacher Institute for things like easy-to-find statistics or the latest reproductive health news. Visit the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada for the same kind of information in a Canadian context. You can also make sure that you and your friends know the difference between a real health clinic and a fake anti-abortion counseling center. Learn about healthy relationships and practice good communication. But, most importantly, live in such a way that you effortlessly signal to those around you that you are a safe harbor.
I hope this helps you, Louise, in knowing what to do if anyone ever needs to confide in you about pregnancy and abortion.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
Do not forget to look into our associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular Alliance, and Centre for Inquiry Canada.
Other Resources: Recovering From Religion.
Image Credit: Autumn Reinhardt-Simpson.