I start most of my counseling sessions in a similar way. I make a bad joke about how long the woman has been sitting in the waiting room, I compliment her on her outfit or earrings or purse, and then I hedge, "So, how are feeling about all this?" It's an open question...she may just reply that she's starving since she can't eat prior to receiving anesthesia, or she may burst into tears.
A few weeks ago, I sat before a woman clad in skinny jeans, platform wedges, a flowy blouse, and perfectly curled hair. She looked more like she was going to brunch than for an abortion. I asked her my million dollar question and she hesitated. "I feel..." she began, searching for words. "...I mean, I'm not really...I'm not really sad. Is that bad? I'm almost..." she trailed off. "You're not obligated to feel sad," I told her. You might have a lot of complex emotions, but no one expects you to feel any particular way," I continued, omitting the fact that antis certainly do want her to feel a certain way. "Some women even feel happy that they have this option and that they're making a positive choice for their life," I ventured. "Yes! She responded. "I am kind of...happy," she admitted, still hesitant about saying the word. We went on to talk about her job and our favorite restaurants. She was, indeed, planning to go to brunch after her appointment, and by the end of our session, she confided, "Maybe this will kind of be a celebratory brunch." "Dedicate a scone to me," I suggested, knowing that if I had an abortion, I certainly would be one of the happy ones, as well.
Later that day, I talked to a Spanish-speaking woman who had marked in her chart that she was Catholic and that she had no familial support. Anecdotally, this is a common circumstance for Latina immigrants, and when they seek abortions, they aren't inclined to feel great about it. They have grown up hearing how much their faith frowns upon abortion, to put it lightly. They often come to the U.S. without their safety net of a family, and women who have ingrained ideas about abortion and who have no resources for coping afterword have a bit of a perfect storm for a bit of a hard time ahead of them.
So when I asked this woman, "Como te sitentes sobre...todo eso?" ("How do you feel about...all of this?") I sort of expected to hear, "Estoy muy triste. Y culpable. Como una persona mala, pero es lo neceasrio." ("I'm very sad. And guilty. Like a bad person, but this is what's necessary.") But instead, the woman thought for just a second, and replied peacefully, "Me siento feliz y libre." "I feel happy and free."
She went on to tell me candidly, without shame, that although she already had three kids, she didn't always enjoy being a mother. Her partner had abandoned her, but that was his loss, and she refused to suffer any more for it. She didn't have much money, nor resources, but she did what she had to do, and this was simply one of those things.
That day, I left work feeling buoyed by these women. I am also extraordinarily happy that I do the work I do and have the honor of meeting and learning from so many women.