So Your Friend's Getting An Abortion? Here's How To Help Her Out
The Debrief: We're not normally encouraged to speak about abortions...that's why it's good to know what to do when your friend is getting one...
The only thing more frustrating than an unwanted pregnancy is being faced with an unwanted pregnancy and surrounded by people not sure what to do about it. We're not encouraged to discuss abortions, which means there isn't a standard script for friends of a person going through an abortion looking to help her feel supported and cared for. While this might be a good thing — after all, abortion is a very personal experience requiring personalised support —it also means there are a lot of women who don't feel equipped to help a friend through what can be a crisis, a mild inconvenience, a sad time, an empowering choice, or all of the above in the same day.
As someone who had an incredible support network around me during my own termination, here are a few things I'd do to help a friend in a similar situation.
Do A Little Research
Remember: even though she won't be for much longer, your friend is currently pregnant. In addition to dealing with the emotional ups and downs of an abortion, she is also dealing with the physical and emotional changes pregnancy enacts on the body. These can differ week-to-week, and with them, your friend's needs. Do a little reading about the first trimester, and about the process of abortion. Knowing what's going on means you can offer practical support, like a ride home from the clinic, or stomach-friendly snacks like crackers and ginger ale. The more informed you are, the more helpful you can be if your friend asks you for help or advice.
This Is Not The Time For Your Politics
You can feel how you feel about abortion or pregnancy or birth control. But none of that is really relevant right now, because your friend is dealing with something that is none of your business outside of the general reality that she's going through something and might require a bit more support than normal. You don't get a say in what your friend chooses to do with her body, or how she processes what she's chosen to do with her body. Leave that stuff at the door and care for your mate the way you would any friend in a situation that required some extra care and attention.
Listen, Listen, Listen
Your friend might have a lot of concerns, questions, thoughts and feelings about the procedure. Or maybe she won't! Everyone processes an abortion differently. This sounds obvious — because duh, everyone processes all experiences differently — but abortion is a tricky area, clouded in stigma. Talking about abortion is hard, and women are mostly discouraged from doing it. Let your friend take the lead on any discussions around her current situation. Don't try to force her to talk about it, but don't stop her from talking about it either. Simply being an active listener who's open to hearing her thoughts, whatever they may be, is a really helpful and supportive step. Don't push her to share more than she wants to, but let her know you're there for her—via text, phone, or IRL—if she does want to get into it.
When In Doubt, Ask
Not sure how to be helpful to your friend right now? Want to take her to a distracting film but don't know if she's up for it? Want to bring her a snack but don't know what her stomach can handle? It never hurts to ask. While you don't want to bombard your friend with questions or put your own Stuff onto her during this difficult time, a simple check-in never hurt anyone. It's very common for women's emotions and needs around an abortion to change a lot during the course of the decision and procedure. Checking in is a nice way of letting your friend know you're there for her if she needs you, but happy to give her space if she wants to be on her own right now.
Food, Fun, Female-Centric Television
As we've discussed, everyone is different, but the Three F's were crucial for me during the week I had to wait between finding out I was pregnant and my actual termination. Having good friends over to eat crisps and watch Golden Girls with helped me feel less alone, less tired, and took my mind off things for a while. It was a perfect distraction, but I also knew I could pause the Girls at any time and have a Deep'n'Meaningful about my feelings, too. If your friend is looking to be left alone, consider a care package. For me, the feeling of being pregnant was not unlike the worst period ever, complete with cramps, hunger, mood swings, and fatigue. We've all been there, right? Think about what you like when you're getting some TLC—yummy food, nice flowers, good books, scented candles—and set your friend up with her faves.
The Dude: A Tricky Area
Basically, if the dude has been or is being a jerk, cut him out completely and focus on your friend. Ain't nobody got time for that. On the other hand, your friend's sexual partner (whether a boyfriend, friend, or just a guy who's involved now) can be a great ally in helping care for your pregnant pal. Be kind to them if they're trying to help, and cut them some slack if they're clumsy about it—an unwanted pregnancy is a confusing and often emotional time for men too, and they're processing their own feelings. If you're close enough to suggest this or they've asked for advice, maybe throw them some hints about things your friend might like from them (see: food, fun, female-centric television).
Remind your friend she's not alone
Studies say 1 in 3 women in the UK will have had an abortion by the time they're 45. Terminating a pregnancy is an incredibly common experience, and it's likely your friend knows at least one other woman who has been through it. If you have, consider sharing your story with her, being careful not to suggest that how it was for you is how it will be for her. Everyone's abortion story is different, but hearing others can be very therapeutic to someone in the thick of it.
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Picture: Francesca Allen
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