what a week it has been! a number of the counselors i work with and i, too, have had some really challenging cases to deal with. in the process, though, we learned a lot. even though we do this work all day long, every day, and some of us have been counseling for many years, our hearts are still so strongly in our work. on thursday, one counselor, we'll call her ruth, was talking to a young african woman who was still in a state of great pain. she felt that her choices were having the baby and bringing shame to her family, indeed her whole village, because she had let them down by becoming pregnant after being sent to the US to study. she is not the first african woman to express similar feelings. the pressure to succeed and come back to aid their village are tremendous. not many are offered the opportunity to go abroad and study. the village desperately needs women like her to come back to help with the myriad of problems the villagers are facing. so to return home pregnant, having wasted tribal money and yet have no degree, to bring shame and disgrace to her family that she let down the whole village is more than she (and others like her) can imagine. suicide would also bring shame, but if it did not, that would have been her choice rather than to have an abortion. but, in fact, abortion is what she ultimately chose after many hours of discussion and exploration of alternate options. now she must figure out how to forgive herself and also how to ever get god's forgiveness (according to her belief system). we are working to get her appropriate spiritual and cultural referrals to help her with this.
today a woman who drove more than two hours to have her abortion came to the clinic, also on the verge of suicide. in her case, it was not because of the abortion but rather because her husband of over ten years just told her last week that he has been seeing someone else for two years and that woman is pregnant also. he is moving in with the other woman, leaving his three children that she and he had together. she has struggled with drug problems and hopes that this does not throw her into another round of using which will be destructive for both her and her kids and could cost her her job. she recognizes the signs, and fears her own weakness. her counselor at the clinic worked with her for hours to set up a contract that the woman would not try to hurt or destroy herself and would connect with the therapist she had worked with in the past. we'll check in with her too this week.
a third patient is fighting for custody of her three kids. she recently had a preliminary hearing in which she and her attorney assumed that the case would be dismissed since the ex-husband has a criminal record, an alcohol problem and had not been the best dad when they were married. but the judge is allowing the battle to continue. this woman, cindy, said that she is now so scared that her ex can outfight her because she does not have the money for an extended legal battle and so is tempted to continue this pregnancy (conceived through a birth control failure) so she'd at least have one child with her. but she fears the pregnancy could also cause the judge to rule against her. another tough choice.
the ability to work with women in crisis, to allow them to voice their fears, grief, and weaknesses is a true gift. not every one could do what we do. and i say that not to brag about what we do, but rather in humility that we were given this ability to "walk with women and men in their darkest hours". we do not judge, we do not run away, we do not fear to hear the unspeakable. this is the work we do. some divine power has allowed us to be present in others' lives and bear their burdens for a bit, yet still have our own lives, our own joys. it can not have been an accident that we were granted this ability.
of course there were many women over the course of the week who did not feel or suffer as the women above did. i also talked to women who described themselves as strong, resolved and pretty much they just knew what needed to be done. but isn't that the way of life? not all folks experience the same circumstances in the same way. in order to be a counselor in an abortion clinic, of course one needs to be compassionate and non-judgmental. but she or he must also be able to sit with the women no matter what pain they feel. we have to be the ones who can just listen. for it is then that the woman will hear her own true voice. we cannot push her or try to influence her. as with all of us, these women make the wisest decisions when they have ample time to think, evaluate and ponder without undue influence. inexperienced counselors have the urge to jump in, help the patient to feel better immediately with little thought to the long run. we also want her to feel better but we want her to feel that she has made the best choice after careful examination of her own life circumstances. only she will know when and what that is.