Wednesday, December 26, 2007

"That's the pain talking"

I remember when I was in labor with my daughter. When the pain got to be so bad that I had dry heaves and was going into spasms on the bed, I begged for drugs. The midwife sat down with me and very patiently explained to me that this was the pain talking, that I -- the me that was rational and not thrashing around in pain -- wanted to try to do this without drugs.

Pam wanted to make sure that I made a rational choice about how to deal with the pain. She took the better part of an hour, using snatches of time between contractions, to find out how much was me changing my mind based on how much pain there actually was verus how much I'd anticipated. We talked about what my values were, what my reflections on this experience were going to be after my baby was born, how the pain was impacting the progress of my labor, et cetera. Pam took a lot of time, going over every pain relief option with me, and finally the rational part of me chose a small dose of Nisintil to just take the edge off and allow me to use the breathing techniques I'd learned. And the Nisintil did the trick.

Pam let ME, Chirstina, make the decision about the medication. She didn't let the pain override the choosing part of me.

Some abortion advocates often smugly gloat that many of the women undergoing abortions sob about how they never thought that they would end up on the abortion table, how abortion goes against their values, their core beliefs, their identity. But they feel trapped. They feel they have no other choice.

My choice was about how much medication to use when I was in labor. It was hardly a life-altering, life-shattering choice. But Pam remembered the discussions we'd had, the plans I'd made. I was shooting for drug-free. Pam wasn't going to stop me from changing my mind if I had really changed my mind. But she wasn't about to let the pain make a decision for me that I would regret later. And I had changed my mind. Drug-free was my ideal, yes, but I was in so much pain that it was slowing my labor. What were my options? What would the impact of my choices be on me and my baby? Pam considered it worth the time. I changed my mind from "drug free" to "something to take the edge off the pain", under careful guidance from somebody who really cared about me an about my choices. Pam prevented me from just screaming for an epidural, a choice I probably would have regretted later and seen as a cop-out, with my hippie flower-child natural-childbirth values. Pam spent the time to get past the pain to the choosing part of me.

Why aren't women weeping in the abortion clinic, about to make a life-shaking, life-altering decision, entitled to the same care and concern I got from Pam? Why is there nobody to say, "Is this really a choice that you are making rationally, based on new information? Or is this the pain talking? How are you -- with your values, your goals, your priorities -- going to look back on this choice?"

When women who oppose abortion -- be it for all women or only for themselves -- end up on the abortion table, hardocre abortion advocates then hold them up as "proof" that even women who hate abortion "need" abortion.

But is the woman signing the consent form as she wets it with her tears being served or being used?

The answer is pretty clear to anybody who has eyes to see.


L. said...

Happy new year, Christina!

As for "the pain talking," I believe in listening to what the pain has to say. Sometimes gut instincts are correct. (And yes, this works both ways -- women whose gut instinct is NOT to abort should be given opportunities to choose other options.)

I liked your "Top 10 Myseries of the Orient" a while back, too -- some of them apply equally well to Japan.

Christina Dunigan said...

Howdy, L!

By all means, take the pain into account, listen to it, but don't let it override what the person -- the whole person -- really wants and valued.

I remember when I was working in a small town newspaper, looking for farm safety stories. I came across a heartbreaking story of a father who had his two kids riding in the enclosed cab of the tractor with him while he was plowing. Somehow the three-year-old boy managed to unlock the door and fall out. The man stopped the tractor as quickly as he could, but the boy had already been run over and cut to pieces by the harrow.

The man sent the other child, a girl of about 8, to the house to tell her mother what had happened, while he desperately tried to pick up the pieces of his son.

The girl came bursting in and told Mom and a visiting friend what had happened. Mom ran out to the field. The friend? He went through the house, gathered up all the guns, and locked them in the trunk of his car. Sure enough, when the farmer staggered back to the house the first thing he went looking for was a gun to blow his brains out with.

Did he want to leave his wife and daughter even more bereft? No. He wanted an escape from the pain. But the only escape at the moment was to cause even more harm to his family than he'd already caused. His friend stopped him from doing what the pain was demanding of him.

Yeah, the friend also left him facing a lifetime of pain. You never get over something like that. But the person under all that pain wouldn't have wanted to inflict additional pain on his wife and daughter, his friends and relatives, who had already suffered such a tragedy.

Listen to the pain, but don't sit by and let it make choices for people.

Christina Dunigan said...

And I'm glad you liked the Mysteries of the Orient!

L. said...

What a horrible story! Yes, suicide as well as abortion are certainly situations in which "the pain" isn't the only consideration.

Getting back to your childbirth example, you sound very lucky to have had a wonderful midwife. I know people who faced similar situations, with varied results.

Pain drugs of any kind are typically not used at all for childbirth in Japan. I have friends who had babies over there at big hospitals in Tokyo, and spoke to their doctors beforehand about pain medication, and were told it would be "their choice." When push came to shove (literally), I know women who were denied drugs, or given only tiny, inadequate doses -- doctors said, in effect, "That's the pain talking, but I know what's best for you, so I won't be giving you any drugs because I don't really think you need any."

A few women were still happy with their birth experiences overall, and glad the doctors didn't give them any drugs. But most of the women I know who were denied drugs, or given only small doses, wish they'd really had a choice in the matter, and had the birth experience they'd wanted instead of what they viewed as unnecessary pain.

In the case of abortion and crisis pregnancies, there will always be women who are glad they didn't terminate, and there will always be women who are glad they did. What I wouldn't ever want to see is a Japanese childbirth-like situation, in which a doctor says, to a woman like me, "I know what's best for you, so I won't be giving you an abortion because I don't really think you need one."

L. said...

Speaking of unnecessary pain....did you really HAVE to post that William Shatner video?????

Christina Dunigan said...

Hey, I warned you that it was even worse than I remembered!

Christina Dunigan said...

RE: Listening to the pain. The idea is to get past the pain to the patient, who may indeed have legitimately changed her mind. Or maybe not. You don't now until you've gotten past the pain. Which it can take some doing to accomplish.

If the counselor or other professional is really interested in the woman, rather than in the abortion, then he or she would try to help the woman get past the pain or panic or whatever, to find out what the woman really wanted. I don't see that happening. The one possible exception is Charlotte Taft.

Anonymous said...

Pain is something I live with every day..... I know all about pain making choices for us. But I will tell you I donna think the pain was it... no it was FEAR of MORE PAIN. And when I remember my abortion ... it wasn't the morning sickness (tho that was horrible) and it wasn't the changing things I could feel happening in my body. It was fear..... fear of homelessness, fear of hunger, fear of parenting, G*d forgive me but I had no faith. I had nothing but my own will and I was scared. Abortion promised my life could go on the way it had always gone on.... well the first time it did. It didn't. I hurt from loosing something..... I think back now and I think all those fears how silly..... it is like being afraid of an xmas present. The second time I was mostly in fear that the father who had abused me something awful would abuse that child and that I could not protect that child once again I had no faith.... there was no room for such a thing in my life I was street.... my world was the street. I still wanted that child.....I mean this time I KNEW what it would feel like ... I knew I was giving away the most precious thing anyone had ever given me.... but I was too afraid of what he would do.

Fear kept me from hearing anything all I wanted was out, panic like a trap animal.

Christina Dunigan said...

Very eloquently said, achromic. Thank you for sharing that.

Anonymous said...

thanks for appreciating it.... I tell my story here and there because... I think if we all sat in a room one thing we could agree on is that women who end up at an abortion clinc are usually in trouble... or FEEL like they are, and that this is the way out of it. If we REALLY want less abortions... heck if we really want them to be RARE then we need to hear what the women seeking abortions are feeling ... their reasons for choosing. Now I admit that my personal experance is anadotal as I have not done any any really scientific polls nor am I really trained to do that kind of thing. BUT one of the things I hear from women all the time is A)I am trapped I have no choice B) I am scared. Only a very few girls, 2 actually, so far in my life have I met that were totally proud and had no moral qualms about what they had done or what they were doing. It seems to me that we are doing a lot of needless damage and risk. And while I am still prochoice I have serious doubts about the orgnaztion that is suppose to hold this interst and proved the service to us.

Christina Dunigan said...

Achromic, David Reardon divided women who aborted into two basic camps, the "hardcore" aborters and "softcore" aborters. This was based on the woman's own hindsight assessment of how persistently she'd have pursued the abortion had it been an illegal practice, risky and dificult to arrange.

I think that's helpful on some levels, but I don't like the terms "hardcore" and "softcore", and I don't think he measured what we really need to know, which is it that the woman wants an abortion, or that she just wants to not be frightened and/or feeling trapped. Fear that your violent husband will kill you if he figures out that you had an affair may drive you to the desperation that ends on an abortion table, but it's not the abortion you want, it's not to have to be afraid of a brutal husband, for example. If this woman really believed that law enforcement would help her, that the brute would be locked up and stay locked up, she might well reject abortion in a heartbeat.

On the other hand, there are some women for whom it is 100% a choice. They could have the baby. They're financially stable, they've completed their education, they have a loving husband. It's just that their plans did not call for a baby at this point and well, the intruder simply has to go. I'd say this type of aborter is probably very rare, but then so is the aborter who fears for her life if she doesn't abort.

Frederica Matthews Green did a study, nationwide focus groups of women who had undergone abortions, asking "What would have made it possible to have your baby?" Frederica was expecting to hear about money or other practical matters. But what she heard more than anything else, to her immense surprise, was that they wanted just a little emotional support -- to feel as if there were people wiht them who would stand by them throughout the pregnacy and after they had their babies.

Such a simple thing, but so difficult to provide, it seems. Just one person to say, "I'm here for you. We can make this work."

Christina Dunigan said...

Ah -- forgot to link to Frederica's book.