"Those who have had abortions before will often share that experience, like elders passing on wisdom to youth."

Abortion nurse and essay author Samantha Tamulis won the 2015 award for this beautiful piece from the Yale School of Nursing. In this story, she mentions a heartwarming exchange involving a person having a second abortion. You can find the original posting here.

Recovered Experience

I am a nurse. When people ask me what kind of nursing I do, my answer often varies depending on who is doing the asking. If I don’t know the asker’s politics (or if I do, and want to avoid an argument): “I am a women’s health nurse,” or, “I am a recovery room nurse.” If I sense a more sympathetic ear, I will be more straightforward: “I am an abortion nurse.” The more specific I am about what I do, the more likely I am to get other rather complicated questions thrown my way: “Do you get scary protesters there?” Or, “How did you get into this?” This last question is the most difficult for me to answer, especially given people’s confusion about what a student midwife (and a mother at that) would be doing in an abortion clinic. 

She was a G1P0, presenting to the clinic at 9 weeks, 0 days of pregnancy with a singleton fetus. She was confused, hurting, afraid. She was 24 years old, and living 3000 miles away from home. She was trying to prove something, trying to prove that she could do it on her own. She was a graduate student. She liked children, but had no plans for children, no time for children, no patience for children. She was wracked with self-pity and guilt. She was a G1P0, presenting to the clinic at 9 weeks, 0 days of pregnancy with a singleton fetus, and desiring an abortion.

Surgical abortion is, medically speaking, a relatively simple procedure. Most women come through just fine, and are in and out of recovery within thirty minutes. My job, therefore, is also relatively simple: take three sets of vitals, get them ambulating, check for excessive bleeding, send them home with the birth control of their choice. The comforts I provide are simple, too: a heating pad, a blanket, graham crackers, ginger ale, Zofran. But as I tend my bar of ginger ale, water, and crackers, I am also acutely aware that the emotional experience of abortion is, for many women, far more complex than the physical one. 

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She won’t remember the ginger ale; the medicines hit her hard, and the grief hit her harder. But she will recall the kind face of the doctor who did her procedure, the gentle grasp of the nurse who helped her to the restroom. Sadly, she will also recall being alone in the waiting room of a clinic that feels more like a besieged fortress than a medical office; she had run the gauntlet of protesters on her way in, and she is dreading facing them again on her way out. She sobs, and I draw the curtain around her, making a mental note to spend a little extra time tending to her. I crouch down next to her, hold her hand, tell her it is safe to cry here, and remind her that she is still a good person– that good women have abortions. Her experience of waking up and realizing that she was no longer pregnant was clearly difficult. She mourned, and she simultaneously felt guilty for mourning, because she believed that sorrow of such magnitude couldn’t possibly belong to someone who had made a deliberate choice to end a pregnancy.

The pop music that plays in the recovery room all day belies its sacred nature: this is a place where women come to grips with a significant experience. The memory of such an experience may evoke relief, sorrow, or mixed emotions, but almost all of these women will remember it as having helped to shape the course of their lives. Many of them come to me feeling disoriented by the drugs they were given for sedation. Some are crying; still others are wide awake and cheerful. Each is a reminder to me of an important truth: there is no one right way to feel after an abortion. So many of the women I see tell me that they know they made the right choice. Even if they tell me this through tears, I believe them. I believe them when they say, “Someday, but not right now.” I believe them when they say they are sorry, when they reveal that they are religious, when they tell me they’re doing just fine. I understand when they say they feel “happy-sad,” and when they express both elation and terror at the openness of the future. I am not confused if they ask me if I have children, if they show me pictures of their own children, or if they tell me they love being mothers; abortion is part of motherhood for many women. I telephone partners, mothers, fathers, and grandparents to come pick up my patients; abortion is part of the cycle of life. And this seems to be true regardless of race, ethnicity, class, educational background, and age. There are the young teenagers, accompanied by their nervous parents. There are also those who approach middle age, having assumed they had left their fertility behind them. What they carry in their white plastic “patient belongings” bags provides me with a window into their lives. Some of these bags hold brand new iPhones and expensive purses, while others contain little more than a tattered pair of sneakers. But while the women wear the anonymous gowns of the clinic, they seem to look upon one another not as strangers, but as companions on a journey. I am  consistently moved by the way women who have never met, who might otherwise have little in common, reach out to each other. They pass one another tissue boxes and snacks, and along with these tokens comes reassurance. Those who have had abortions before will often share that experience, like elders passing on wisdom to youth (though age, in this circumstance, seems to matter little). The fundamental differences that define their everyday lives collapse in this moment, giving way to support, kindness, and understanding.

Her neighbor leans in and tells her very matter-of-factly, “This was my second time. You won’t regret it. You’re going to be ok.” This elicits a new wave of tears, and a mumbled, “Alright.” A few minutes later, I help her up to the restroom. She gets changed uneventfully, and with a quiet but meaningful “thank you,” she shuffles out the door and into the passenger side of an idling vehicle. She is somber, but I can tell something has changed within her; perhaps she has found some hope. Although she cannot yet imagine it, perhaps she knows that there will be a future for her, and that it will be ok. 

I was a G1P0 when I wandered into that clinic, presenting at 9 weeks, 0 days of pregnancy with a singleton fetus. I had an abortion. When I look back at that young woman, I feel nothing but love. I understand her grief. And I am ok. While I cannot go back and provide comfort to my younger self, I can honor her experience, and those of all the women I encounter, with gratitude and compassion. And that is why I am a nurse. A women’s health nurse. A recovery room nurse. An abortion nurse.

"I was floored by the power I felt I had to change a woman's life in the process of a 5-10 minute procedure."

On Twitter, A Physician Defends People Who Need More Than One Abortion