The BLOG: Voices

Listening and learning: How to deal with a loved one’s abortion

The following are from the book “Markings of Mercy: The Story of After Abortion Helpline.”

One day, almost 40 years ago, my doorbell rang. My friend, Jane, was at the door. I invited her in and we sat down in my living room to visit. Jane began our conversation with: “I have something to tell you. A few months ago I went to another country and had an abortion.”

This was the first time anyone told me they had an abortion. I didn’t know anything about what goes on in an induced abortion. I knew “abortion” as a word for an early miscarriage. But here I was with this dear woman who was explaining to me what she did.

I just prayed silently for the grace to be a loving friend. I don’t remember the rest of our conversation, but I do remember my heart was filled with love for Jane.

This visit has been with me all these years.

If you want to prepare yourself to help a friend who confides in you his or her abortion story, here are some suggestions:

1.        Believe the truth that an abortion can be a traumatic, devastating experience, no matter what the reasons were, no matter who the person is (male, female, teenager, middle-aged,  Protestant, Jewish, Islamic, etc.) or when the abortion occurred.

A mother who takes the life of her child runs counter to who she is. As the late Rev. Blair Raum used to say: “Mothers are always hard wired with three questions: where’s my child? Who’s my child with? And is my child all right? A father’s hard wiring is to protect his child. When he can’t, he’s devastated.”

2.       Know yourself well enough to be able to walk in another person’s shoes for their sake.

3.       Reverence the other person. Do not judge the other person. That’s not our job. We are not God; we do not know their whole story or circumstances. We are to be loving, caring friends. Don’t say things like, “get over it,” or “you should be over that by now,” or “get on with your life.” Don’t minimize their pain. Honor the reality that they are stuck in a very painful place, and have much painful work ahead of them to get free. Don’t be the one who stops their healing process. Just be that good Samaritan who helps them at this point on their journey by being a loving, listening friend.

4.       Learn enough about listening skills to trust that allowing a person to just talk and talk about a problem without interrupting them, or putting words in their mouths, or trying to solve their problem, can be a big help to them. Remember that as a person talks and hears what he or she is saying, connections are made interiorly, and some things become clear. They have answers within them.

An exercise that helps one key into what good listening is, goes like this: Close your eyes and think back to when someone really listened to you. Take the time to stay with that memory and think about how it felt. What did the other person do? What were you able to do? That memory will stay with you and help you give the same gift of listening to someone else.

5.        Learn something about feelings and their degrees, such as anger, fear, and how people describe them, so you can reflect to the talker what they seem to be expressing. Example: “It sounds like you are very angry at so and so.”  This helps the talker name the feeling they expressed and acknowledge it. They might say: “OK, yes, I am angry.  I’m so angry, I can’t even deal with it.”

© Joan Pendergast, 2012

Joan Pendergast

Joan Pendergast

Joan Pendergast founded and ran After Abortion Helpline, Inc., in Rhode Island, for 20 years, and helped develop and run Project Rachel and Rachel’s Vineyard Retreats for the Diocese of Providence. Joan is the author of “Markings of Mercy: The Story of After Abortion Helpline.”