Today is the First Sunday of Advent, four weeks of anticipation to prepare for a birth; indeed, 'the Birth'. As such, in addition to the usual prayers at Mass today for our leaders and ourselves to walk closer to the Christ, the priest also asked us to pray for those contemplating abortion.
Mary, we of the faith believe, chose to say yes. When we pray for those contemplating abortion, it is assumed that we are also hoping to engender a yes from them. But what if they say no? What then? What in particular are the next steps for those who claim to follow Jesus of Nazareth, the god whom they believe humbled himself to come into mortal flesh, to become one with imperfect wounded humanity?
I don't have any answers myself. As fate would have it though, in the middle of this season of strife and separation, I received an email from a long-lost friend. Tamara Goesch had been a bright young student leader at the Oregon High School I attended as an Exchange Student nearly half a century ago. Naturally generous, she'd taken it upon herself to befriend the stranger that I was, involve me in the school's activities and even give me a daily ride to and from school in her big blue banger. We had lost touch. But, now, in the midst of a quarantine, she'd found me again.
Tammy would not object, I believe, if I characterized her as a daughter of white privilege. Privilege does not, however, necessarily, lead to entitlement. Tammy was always open-minded, curious, principled and, most unforgettably, kind. It didn't surprise me that she had become an Abortion Patient Support Person.
This is what she has to say about it:
"... It is not for me or anyone else to judge or second-guess another woman’s reproductive decisions. It is clear that not a single patient I have supported has made her decision lightly or without deliberation. Life is complex, and the decision to abort is complex. Life is always moving forward and we make the best decisions we are able on that forward journey. An imperfect decision is not by definition a bad decision; it is the result of life's complexity.
"... Life is beautiful, and life is hard, and I would rather err on the side of supporting my sister in her unique journey, as opposed to judging her and jeering as she stumbles. My parting words to each of the women I support are, “Be good to yourself.”
That seems like a good thought to me. Especially today.
Read on below for a better understanding of Tammy's experience:
"In 2016 my daughter in Boston urged me to get on board at the organization she volunteers with. I signed up locally to volunteer with a women’s health clinic, indicating I wanted to work as a ‘clinic escort,’ the job my daughter does each week. I soon learned that here there is little need for such escorts, as the women’s clinics in Oregon are not generally plagued with loud and unruly protestors. There is, however, a need for something that might be called an APSP, an Abortion Patient Support Person. Initially ignorant when I got an email inquiring whether I would like to interview to be an APSP, curiosity led me to respond ‘yes.’
"A few weeks later I went for my interview. I liked what I learned about the clinic organization and the position, and apparently acquitted myself well enough that they took a chance on a 59-year-old with no background in healthcare.
"That summer, I went through the APSP training. Some of it involved online education about laws and regulations; some of it was straightforward training in taking vitals; and much of it was about bedside manner, about holding someone’s hand both figuratively and literally. I was years older than all the other trainees, and unlike me the rest were nurses-to-be, pre-med, in med school, midwives, or doulas. I shadowed experienced APSPs until they, and I, felt I was ready to go solo.
"As I write this, I have had the privilege of providing support to over 250 women. By the time I meet them, they have had extensive and thorough professional counseling. I can answer many questions they might have, but rarely need to. I usually start by warmly greeting the woman in the procedure room, introducing myself and telling her I am there for her. I look her in the eye. I give her sincere and reassuring smiles. I offer her a hand to hold, or to clench, as needed. If she has a support person with her, I get his/her chair positioned and coach him/her a bit in providing support. I chitchat about the weather, traffic, nearby places to eat. I shut up if she wants to be quiet and introspective. I blot tears before they tickle her ears. I give her permission to swear if there is pain. Above all, I reassure her she is in a safe place.
"I strive to provide the type of support I myself have wanted and often gratefully experienced. Think of the dental assistant chatting about cooking shows while the dentist lines up her picks and drills. Remember the nurse giving your hand a quick squeeze during the speculum insertion at your first gynecological exam. Recall the empathy and compassion you showed your friend when she went for a breast biopsy. Most of us are apprehensive in medical settings, even during routine procedures. Our thoughts are swirling and we’re often on an emotional roller coaster. And abortion is a medical procedure, first and foremost.
"Abortion is, in fact, a medical procedure that an estimated one in four women in the U.S. have undergone. It is also a procedure that is declining in frequency because of better education and increased availability of a wide variety of safe and effective birth control methods. When performed at a clinic like the one at which I volunteer, it is a procedure that saves lives – no more back alley abortions. It is a procedure that allows women to better parent the children they already have, to raise those children to fulfill their potential. It is a procedure that allows women to finish their education so they can be productive and fulfill their own potential. It is a procedure that saves lives imperiled by pregnancies gone wrong.
"Serving as an APSP has opened my eyes to some of the fallacies and misconceptions surrounding abortion in our society. It is not for me or anyone else to judge or second-guess another woman’s reproductive decisions. It is clear that not a single patient I have supported has made her decision lightly or without deliberation. Life is complex, and the decision to abort is complex. Life is always moving forward and we make the best decisions we are able on that forward journey. An imperfect decision is not by definition a bad decision; it is the result of life’s complexity.
"Serving as an APSP, I’ve come to realize that to presume to judge the woman who chooses abortion is to deny her humanity, her individuality, her human intelligence.
"Life is beautiful, and life is hard, and I would rather err on the side of supporting my sister in her unique journey, as opposed to judging her and jeering as she stumbles. My parting words to each of the women I support are, “Be good to yourself.”
Was your heart opened a little?
What do you think?