As we sat in the room, I encouraged her to breathe, and took her through a guided meditation. We then went over the protocol for the procedure and our plan for how her husband and I would comfort her. She found chanting mantras to be soothing, so when the procedure began I chanted the ones she loved in low, rhythmic tones. As the sound of the machine used for vacuum aspiration (which is used for a surgical abortion) filled our ears, I chanted louder.
When it was over, Sara was crying. I didn’t know what to say to her. Everything that came into my head — “you made the right choice,” “now you can focus on your health,” or “don’t worry, you’ll have another baby someday” — felt wrong. So I just gave her a hug. She latched on and pressed her eyes into my shoulder. I felt her tears soaking into my T-shirt during the 10-minute period we stood there, simply embracing one another.
A week later, I visited Sara’s home on three separate occasions and sat with her in bed while she cried and said all the things that were too tricky to say to her husband. She was relieved that she could put her attention back on her health and nurturing the young son she already had. But at the same time, she raged with frustration toward the universe for allowing her to become pregnant when she obviously wasn’t in a position to physically or mentally sustain life in her womb. Each day, I would leave after she’d exhausted herself and fallen asleep.
The two of us kept in touch and now, Sara is in remission and I’m supporting her through IVF to conceive her next child.
Although I never offered abortion doula services before that experience and I still don’t have it listed on my website, I’ve had six past clients who have hired me after becoming pregnant during a divorce, finding out their fetus had serious developmental issues, discovering their teenage daughter was pregnant, or finding themselves in other unique and challenging situations that led them to consider abortion.
I’ve learned that no one-size-fits-all emotion is attached to terminating a pregnancy — every journey is different and distinct to each individual. Some women look completely empty, like a shell of their former self; others appear to be lighter, like they have refreshed hope; and some are a combination of both as they work through the full range of emotions that come with an abortion.
While there are some clients who do change their mind and move forward with their pregnancy, those who elect abortion have my services before, during, and after the procedure. In follow-up appointments, we do a lot of thought-processing and healing activities, like Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), a way to reset the energy impacting our emotions, or journaling. By this point, we’re often so connected that I feel protective of them, and I would do anything to surround them in love during this transition.
I say yes because I want to help them through what can be a very difficult time, but it’s a very intense experience for me, too. Because I set aside my own emotions — anxiety that I might not be able to offer the woman the support she needs, frustration with the bigger conversation around abortion, and sadness for the sense of loss many of my clients experience — when I offer this care, I see my therapist after each abortion to evaluate and clear any issues that come up in me. This work has been a difficult, bizarre, and liberating practice in stepping out of my own head and putting another woman’s nerves, questions, and concerns above my own. I now view my doula calling as more than supporting women through pregnancy and childbirth — I’m supporting them on their journey of finding their way into motherhood, and sometimes that is choosing to only mother their own self.
*Names have been changed for privacy.