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 on her website www.electriceelpond.com. Here she answers Mitch’s question from Edmonton, Alberta about perseverance.
I don’t know about you but I’m entering on my ninth week of isolation and I’m starting to miss my friends and going out to restaurants. Generally, I have enjoyed isolation since this is how I work anyway, and I don’t have a huge social life. But when it comes down to it, I really miss having my best friends to turn to when something happens or when I need a little support that just can’t be had over Zoom. Like probably everyone right now, I am learning about what I need most to function and, for me, that’s support and encouragement.
Today’s question relates to this. Mitch from Edmonton asks, “How do you keep going? Against the constant push back, threats, challenges, doing the same thing again and again, fighting the same fights over and over again, hearing the same arguments again and again, what gives you the motivation to continue? Or are you just like that?!”
The answer is – yes. In many ways, I’m just weirdly built like that. But, just as this whole isolation thing is showing me, I am not completely an island. While I have a thick skin for anti-abortion insults (I mean, they’re never very good, anyway) no one really does anything completely on their own and the Alberta Abortion Access Network is the strongest proof of that. I’ve been incredibly lucky to work with some amazing people and to have the support of lots of awesome donors and volunteers across the world. And outside of the network I am fortunate to have three things to keep me sane: good friends, a life outside of abortion work, and absolutely no fucks for what anyone thinks.
The first of these, good friends, is an obvious necessity. Abortion support work is so heavy not because it involves abortion but because it involves daily immersion into the effects of stigma, neglect, loneliness, and the systemic poverty and racism that characterize late stage capitalism. Abortion support work is not ever about the support person – it never should be. So, as that support person, I’m often taking quite a few emotional and mental hits every day as I try to show up and be present for the people suffering those horrible effects I mentioned. People who have no support from friends or family or who are ostracized by them or who simply cannot disclose to them will rely on me to be their sole source of support. I’ll have to help them navigate systems that aren’t designed for, and are often quite deliberately designed against, racialized or poor people. While my client is obviously in a much more precarious and terrifying situation than I am, I’m still a witness the pain and am affected by it too. This is why I need those rock-solid friends. Those people are the ones who are there to help carry whatever heavy shit I have going on that day, or week, or month. They are the ones who get why I do what I do, and they also know that I’m an absolute wimp who needs to bawl for a minute on their couch or just even know that someone respects my mission. My friends are the ones to whom I don’t need to recite the statistics or the horror stories because they’ve already carried them dozens of times. And I can only hope that I have been diligent enough in returning the favor.
The second thing that keeps me sane is having an existence outside of abortion support. I absolutely love what I do but it isn’t my whole life and I never want it to be. For instance, I am a PhD student studying the history of a set of rituals in early modern England. That’s my passion and it consumes an enormous part of my life and fills me with energy and excitement in a way that nothing else can. Being able to turn to my work after a tough day is refreshing and invigorating. I am one of those people whose primary source of energy comes from intellectual work and I’m able to take that energy and pass it on in my abortion support work.
Finally, it may sound flippant but what ultimately saves me is not giving a fuck what anyone thinks. I won’t pretend it is an easy attitude to cultivate, but it is worth it if you can. Maybe it’s five years spent outside of a clinic being yelled at by protesters, but people’s opinions don’t really bother me much. When you think about how subjective those opinions are, how they come through the lens of that person’s experience, how they’re colored by their own ideological commitments, etc., it becomes obvious that what they think about you really has nothing to do with you. I also keep in mind that very few people change their minds about anything, regardless of what information you throw at them. Information almost never changes minds and arguing about it certainly doesn’t. Humans are too perverse for that. People acquire their ideologies through experience and group identity and if you challenge it, they’ll only double down. It’s a sad fact that people have to have experience something, either first or second hand to really cause them to change their minds.
Which brings me to my last point about how we keep going when it’s the same shit day in and day out and over and over again. Well, Mitch, I don’t think anything can be done in any other way than over and over and with two steps forward, one step back. It’s just how humans are, and you must be willing to show up again and again and again if you really want something to change. There will always be the people who show up to a protest or two or who start Twitter battles and wonder why nothing is changing. Simply put, it’s not changing because we don’t have enough people with staying power, humility, empathy, and wisdom. We don’t have enough people showing up every day for the shitty work like calling volunteers or sweeping up after a rally. We don’t have enough people who will eschew social media commentary for a shovel. We don’t have enough people willing to put their egos to the side in order to really get deep into the gritty reality of the work, day after day after day. So, to answer your question, we must be willing to simply face the fact that it’s going to be grueling and, at times, thankless, unnoticed. But we must want it badly enough for each other to keep going and to ensure that each of us has the support they need to carry on.
Canadian Atheist 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, Centre for Inquiry Canada, Kelowna Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists Association.
Other National/Local Resources: Association humaniste du Québec, Atheist Freethinkers, Central Ontario Humanist Association, Comox Valley Humanists, Grey Bruce Humanists, Halton-Peel Humanist Community, Hamilton Humanists, Humanist Association of London, Humanist Association of Ottawa, Humanist Association of Toronto, Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics of Manitoba, Ontario Humanist Society, Secular Connextions Seculaire, Secular Humanists in Calgary, Society of Free Thinkers (Kitchener-Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph), Thunder Bay Humanists, Toronto Oasis, Victoria Secular Humanist Association.
Other International/Outside Canada Resources: Allianz vun Humanisten, Atheisten an Agnostiker, American Atheists,American Humanist Association, Associação Brasileira de Ateus e AgnósticoséééBrazilian Association of Atheists and Agnostics, Atheist Alliance International, Atheist Alliance of America, Atheist Centre, Atheist Foundation of Australia, The Brights Movement, Center for Inquiry (including Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science), Atheist Ireland, Camp Quest, Inc., Council for Secular Humanism, De Vrije Gedachte, European Humanist Federation, Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations, Foundation Beyond Belief, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist International, Humanist Association of Germany, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist Society of Scotland, Humanists UK, Humanisterna/Humanists Sweden, Internet Infidels, International League of Non-Religious and Atheists, James Randi Educational Foundation, League of Militant Atheists, Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, National Secular Society, Rationalist International, Recovering From Religion, Religion News Service, Secular Coalition for America, Secular Student Alliance, The Clergy Project, The Rational Response Squad, The Satanic Temple, The Sunday Assembly, United Coalition of Reason, Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.
Image Credit: Autumn Reinhardt-Simpson.