“Okay, I have to ask: did you study for your interview? I mean, your answers were perfect.”
I let out a nervous chuckle at the question. My new coworker had sat in on my interview for the intimate partner and sexual violence advocacy position. Prior to the interview, I sat in the cozy living room of the women’s shelter and waited. And waited. And waited for my interview to begin. The longer that meeting lasted, the easier it was to convince myself that I was one interview too late. I had not even dropped off my resume in the right location. My interview felt short. I was asked questions about intimate partner violence (IPV) and sexual assault theory. I pretended to know that was a thing. No. I did not study. I just let my gut do the talking.
While I did indeed land the job, I felt like a fish out of water. Passing conversations with my (fabulous, love her to pieces) coworker gave me the impression that my ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ status as a pro-lifer should be just that.
I would overhear welfare caseworkers talking about clients that needed to be sterilized. Off-hand remarks to clients about how the pill would keep her out of trouble. I had been trained that advocates support client’s choices and provide information so that clients can make informed decisions, so this began to feel like the elephant in the room. What if a client came to me and asked for my help in finding an abortion provider or any number of things where I was personally morally opposed? How could I help her sort through information without bias? There were many imaginary, meticulous ‘what-if’ drills in my advocacy days.
I very clearly remember the first time abortion was mentioned in a one-on-one meeting with a client. As soon and she said the word, I felt my face flush red as I tried to just listen to her words over the voice that was screaming “THIS IS NOT A DRILL!” in my head. I felt a real pull between knowing abortion was not a cure all for her (and being furious that it was happening to her) , and trying to not get fired for handling the delicate conversation incorrectly.
I cried for her for days. She was pushed, shoved, and beaten into that corner and felt the only way to protect herself and all her children was abortion. It was heart-wrenching to see her struggle.
A few weeks after this particular client meeting, I felt it was time to volunteer for the local crisis pregnancy center. Many of the classes offered to women that came there for assistance were things that I was already doing as an advocate so it seemed an easy transition. I checked with my employer to be sure they would not view it as a conflict (as long as I was able to keep client confidentiality, there were no issues with my local shelter) I sat through a shift or two with other volunteers, and then I was able to sit down with the director to talk about the ways I could be of assistance. I had given her my resume, and I recall there being several questions about my day job and how I would handle an abortion-minded woman. I was not asked back.
I can’t really know the reasons for this as it was not long before the center closed for a myriad of reasons, but the tone of the meeting seemed to change with the mention of my job, like maybe they thought I was trying to infiltrate the crisis pregnancy center. Not long after I had asked my supervisor about volunteering, there was what felt like a pointed conversation on how to inform clients about birth control, the morning after pill, or how to direct them to abortion providers if sexual abuse or assault came up in a client meeting.
These experiences helped me to see that there are pro-life organizations that help women who do not trust pro-choice organizations that help women and vice-versa.
I was the only pro-life person that I knew in my profession. My volunteer training with the crisis pregnancy center included inaccurate information about domestic and sexual violence. I had information and skills to offer both as an advocate and as a crisis pregnancy center volunteer, but there was a palpable tension between the two that I have felt ever since.
I believe pro-life and pro-choice helping agencies have much to learn from each other, and it is time that we start building on the strengths of each to eliminate the weaknesses. We all want to help women and children.
We can advocate for victims of violence as well as for the unborn. In fact, we simply must.
photo credit: 0A77m2_DSC4698 via photopin (license)
Do you remember your middle school or high school reproductive health class? When I think back to my education about periods and “How babies are made” my memories are brief. I can remember short parts of videos or awkward condom demonstrations and disgusting pictures of STDs. Does this sound familiar to you?