I finally met my partner's grandparents a few weeks ago. They are a plane ride away, so it's pretty rare that the whole family is together. We had discussed first impressions and what to expect from them. Active in their local church, Elks Club and Rotary, as well as the local Republican party, I wasn't sure how they would react to my work. It was a pretty long walk back to the hotel, so we decided to tell them that I worked as a counselor at an ob/gyn office until we'd all had the opportunity to get to know each other better.
After dinner with Grandma, Grandpa and family friends, one of the women there asked me what I do. I explained that I worked with pregnant women and that it was work that I really loved. I talked a little bit about how most of the women that I work with don't get great support at home through their pregnancies, have pretty tough lives and deserve good care. I mentioned how hard it is for women to express any mixed feelings about motherhood, when our culture often sends the message that it's supposed to be one of the most magical times in your life. I added that many women have had difficult experiences with pregnancy, partner issues or miscarriage, and it's hard to know who to talk to about this.
"Do you see many dead babies where you're at?" Nana's friend blurted out. My partner's jaw fell open and we shot each other a look and sat in silence for a moment.
"I mean...well, you see..." she quickly started apologizing, "when I...I was twenty-five I was pregnant. It was a stillbirth. The baby died and it was...awful. I still think about it. I think it's really important that women have someone with them for something like that. I'm really glad the women at your office can talk to you."
My partner recovered faster than I did, "Nell does work like that, she's done all kinds of pregnancy work, including grief work. I'm sorry, I was reacting to the language. We're pretty sensitive to stuff like this because, well..." We locked eyes and I gave a nod, "She also does abortion counseling with women." I braced myself for what was going to come next.
"Well..." Nana started, "Good for you. How about that, Ed?" She nodded at Grandpa, who gave a 'humph' in agreement. "You know, I think our family doctor used to do them," she said. "When my mother was pregnant--I had eight siblings--dad used to tease her about her visits. He'd say, 'make sure he knows what you're going for.' It was the depression," she added, "Women had to take care of their families."
I assured her friend that I was not shocked by the language, just unsure how to respond to her question. We went on to have a great conversation about pregnancy, abortion, miscarriage, postpartum depression, stillbirth, adoption, parenting. Nana and Grandpa had been foster parents for years, it turned out. We talked about the families they'd helped over the years and about her friend's stillbirth and later single parenthood to a daughter. It was such a weight off my shoulders and I left with deep respect for everyone who was there.
I think that many of us in the abortion care field get so used to the violence and vitriol spewed out by our protesters that we forget most folks don't feel that way and that women are anxious to tell their own stories about pregnancy, abortion, adoption or mothering. We fear a bad reaction, so we keep our work to ourselves and no one hears the real stories about what we do. This was one small, very meaningful lesson for me in speaking up.