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 changing one’s mind about an abortion.
By Autumn Reinhardt-Simpson
“Have you ever had someone change their mind about having an abortion?” – David
That’s a really good question and one that I think a lot of people are curious about. The answer is…no, but kind of. But let me start by giving a bit of a disclaimer.
I am an abortion doula, sure, and my job is to accompany someone through that process. However, I am not committed to the idea that every patient will have an abortion, even if the vast majority will end up doing so. Part of being a good doula is listening not just to the words someone is saying but also listening for the subtext. What’s behind their words? Can I detect something else going on? What is their body language saying to me? I know, I’m starting to sound like a creep but it really is important as a doula to be able to focus on and read what’s going on beneath the surface. Sometimes I might detect something I label as hesitancy. In that instance, I owe it to the patient to ask how they’re feeling about having an abortion. In most cases, the hesitancy is simply anxiety or nerves, but each time I detect it I need to check in with them. Sometimes a patient will joke that on the day of their procedure they were asked about a million times by both me and clinic staff whether they were sure they wanted to have an abortion. It might seem like overdoing it but the point is to make sure that what we’re doing is absolutely best for the patient.
So, back to your question…have I ever had a patient change their mind? I answered no, but kind of because the one time someone changed their mind, it was actually my idea. I got a Facebook message about a month ago from a woman in a rural part of the province. She’d just found out she was pregnant after leaving an abusive partner. At first, her situation seemed depressingly similar to so many of the people I encounter in this work – she was poor, she was alone, she was scared of what her ex-partner might do to a baby. But later as we talked on the phone it became obvious to me that she was hesitant about having an abortion. Where most of my patients can’t rest until it’s done, this woman seemed reluctant to move forward. Taking my cue, I asked her if she was certain she wanted to end the pregnancy. She said that she was but I caught on to something else she said, almost as an afterthought. “I wish I could keep this pregnancy but I’m too afraid of what he’ll do to a baby, just to get his revenge on me.” I stopped and asked her to repeat what she’d just said and to listen to herself. I then asked her, “If you could get legal protection for the baby, would you rather continue the pregnancy or would you still prefer to have an abortion?’ At this point she realized that she still had a few options to consider if she did actually want to keep the pregnancy and I set her up with a friend who is an attorney to talk about her legal options. When I followed up with her a few days later, she was firm in her decision to keep the pregnancy and I was happy that she’d made the right decision for herself because my work is not abortion – it’s reproductive justice. I want every person to feel empowered to make the decision to either terminate or continue pregnancies based on their own circumstances and wishes, and I want parents to feel supported in raising the children they choose to have.
One way I try to allay fears is to let patients know up front that I’m not going to abandon them if they decide not to have an abortion. Though it’s rare for patients to change their minds, it does happen and a good doula who is using a reproductive justice framework for their practice should always be attuned to changes in a patient’s demeanor. A competent doula should also always have a list handy of attorneys, therapists, social workers, food banks, physicians, shelters, etc. for patients who need a little bit more than a simple ride to the clinic. While crisis pregnancy centers claim to offer support for pregnant people, they usually want something in return such as attendance at church or bible study or some other requirement for their help so it doesn’t hurt to follow up with people who choose to continue their pregnancy just to make sure they have what they need, no strings attached.
Thanks, David, for your question. I hope I’ve been able to convey just how vital it is to keep listening to words spoken and unspoken and how important it is to simply show up for the people who need us.
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.
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Other Resources: Recovering From Religion.
Image Credit: Autumn Reinhardt-Simpson.