November 1, 2012

believing the whole concept

Back to Sarah* (*obviously not her real name) and our counseling session.  Sarah started the session by listing quickly - before we could even ask her any questions - all the reasons why terminating her pregnancy was the right thing.  Reasons that she - and many other woman- have cited included that her "life is a mess" and she could not responsibly bring a new life into it.  Sarah* was living with an on again/off again boyfriend who she loved, but struggled with uncontrolled and unpredictable bipolar disorder.  The two of them had been living in a van under a bridge for the past several months.  They were both having a hard time finding work.  Neither one of them had any support from or connection to family in the area, nor did they have any other resources to draw on.

She went on for several minutes listing these reasons and more.  We listened.  Then she stopped and paused, looking at us to see if we had anything to say, almost looking for our agreement with her reasoning.  But the very wise and experienced counselor said nothing, just waited.  I wasn't sure what to do, so I said nothing, and waited.  Then Sarah* said, "but the truth is, I want to be a mother more than anything else in the whole world.  Even though it doesn't make sense.  Even though it's not responsible.".

And that's when the counseling began, as the counselor started asking questions to help Sarah* work out what she thought and felt.  To help her see her situation in the truest light - without judgement, but without rose colored glasses either.

Sarah* said that she was concerned that if she terminated her pregnancy, that in several months - when the baby that would have been actually would have been - what if her life was better?  What if it was now responsible for her to bring a new life into it? What if she and her boyfriend had figured out jobs, had found an apartment, had organized their lives - would she then feel incredibly guilty and regretful that she had ended the pregnancy?

The wise counselor listened and finally said, "You know, Sarah*, no matter what you decide to do in this situation, your life will be different in several months.  And if you decide to end the pregnancy and your life is better in several months, how will you know that this decision didn't help you to make your life better? And if you decide not to end the pregnancy and your life is better in several months, how will you know that this decision didn't help you make your life better?  We just have no way of knowing how our lives would have turned out if we made other decisions, but I can tell you that this decision you are making now will absolutely affect your life over the next few months - because it will be very different if you are pregnant and expecting a baby than if you are not.  Only you can make this decision, but once you have made it, don't judge yourself for it, or think of all the other possibilities that could have been - because it will be different."

Later, after Sarah* left, without terminating her pregnancy, to think more about her decision, the wise counselor and I debriefed.  We talked about how even though her reasons for why she should not be a mother right now make logical sense to us - that if we really believe in a woman's right to choose, a woman's right to make decisions about her own body, then we cannot judge her decision, we cannot think to ourselves that she should make one decision over the other.  Our role is to help her make the best decision for her, in a non-judging, non-assuming way.

It's definitely hard, but feels incredibly important.


"A woman's life can really be a succession of lives, each revolving around some emotionally compelling situation or challenge, and each marked off by some intense experience"
-Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor (1896-1986)

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