I didn’t realize that I had scheduled an abortion doula shift for the weekend of Mother’s Day until the night before my shift. At that point, I wasn’t sure what impact it would have on the women I’d be supporting, if any at all. But I was prepared to face any emotional surprises that might trigger the patients, whether they might come from those crappy Hallmark commercials that always end up playing on the television in the intake room, or from the sight of small children sitting with their parents in the larger waiting rooms. Even on a weekend that has nothing to do with parenting, patients are understandably emotional before, during, and after an abortion, and their feelings are complex and intricately intertwined -- relief with sorrow, gratefulness with regret, anxiety with impatience. These thoughts, coupled with exhaustion, hunger, and a deep desire to be at their own homes and in their own beds mean that, even under the best possible circumstances, these days can be hard on anyone.
The day began like any other: procedures started later than hoped for, with only two patients in the intake room when I first walked in. But having only two patients meant the opportunity to sit down and talk with them at length about what they were going through. The first patient was adamant that she needed to go first -- she had come in first, and her patient number was 1, so there was no way she was going to wait until after patient 2. After talking a bit, it was clear that her demands were coming from a place of anxiety and exhaustion: her fetus no longer had a heartbeat, which she had found out only days after deciding she would carry it to term. It was a blow, and this was her only remaining option.
Other patients streamed in, including women that had gotten pregnant while being on the Pill, women who were trying to finish their GED/college classes/job training, women who were working jobs that required them to spend long hours on their feet. Most of them were already raising multiple children. Those that were not confided in me that they knew they would be ready for kids one day but that day wasn’t today.
All of which got me thinking about mothering and mothers. About the mothers who agreed to escort their daughters home from this procedure and take care of them while they recovered. About the women who were mothers many times over already, whose plates were so full that they would stop being able to parent to the best of their ability if they carried another pregnancy to term. About how all of these women -- as well as the staff of this clinic -- would leave this procedure and return home to celebrate Mother’s Day with their families.
We live in a country where we celebrate mothers, and all that motherhood demands, only one day a year. On every other day, anti-choice groups all over the country treat the decision to parent as though it is the easiest decision a woman can make -- finances, time, and support notwithstanding. On every other day, many of us do not stop to celebrate the strength of those who choose to wait or the insight of those for whom motherhood is not a dream. On every other day, we don’t recognize mothering for what it truly is -- a lifetime commitment to another individual and a job that can feel thankless, exhausting, heart-wrenching, and joyful all in the span of a day. This incredible work becomes devalued when the option to choose, and choose freely, is removed.
While I had prepared for whatever emotional impact Mother’s Day might have had for each of the patients I saw today, I was not prepared for the impact it would have on me, when coupled with the clinic setting. And now, as I sit and write this, I am profoundly grateful and glad that I was able to spend this day with the women at this clinic. Each of them intimately understood motherhood’s value and its necessity, and each gave her situation consideration enough to recognize that this wasn’t what was best for themselves, their existing families, or their future children. If that isn’t a choice that deeply trusts and honors motherhood, the mothers they know, and the mothers they are, then I don’t know what is.