You’d think working in the world of therapists – full of feelings, acceptance, warm regard and the fluffiest Kleenex money can buy – that we would be loving and accepting of all people, no matter their beliefs or religious affiliations.
But you’d be wrong.
In my limited experience in this profession (6 years and counting) I have only met a handful of clinicians who are kind and compassionate to me and my Pro-Life-ness. The rest of them get pretty hostile once they find out. I just recently had a run-in at a professional training where I got singled out and chewed out for my beliefs. It went something like this:
Setting: Warm, inviting counseling room, complete with pictures of hearts and messages of love on the walls. Also, chocolate. There’s nothing more inviting than a bowl of chocolates.
Many therapists of different specialties and backgrounds are gathered to learn about helping families cope with loss and emotional disorders. We are chatting amicably, and then get into a discussion about helping women who have frequent miscarriages. Just so you know, I have not said I am Pro-Life or anything. The most these people know about me is that I work for the Catholic Church.
Random participant #1, “The loss of a miscarriage is often unrecognized by society – a woman who mourns her lost child may not get the support she needs because people don’t see it as a significant loss.”
Random participant #2, “Yes, exactly. Many women don’t feel like they should be sad and are confused when they grieve.”
This discussion goes on for awhile, with several people chiming in about how grieving women should get to name their lost baby, recognize its life, etc.
The I jump in, “Yeah, we have curriculum for a program to help grieving women, and it includes a Certificate of Life for their baby that they can take home.”
Then the group leader gives me a look and cuts in with a frustrated voice, “I just have one caveat to that,” she looks right at me. Her face is turning red. “I don’t mean to be political, but some women come in for help and they don’t think of their miscarriage as losing a PERSON or LIFE. So that wouldn’t be appropriate for them. You need to consider that. I just wanted to make that known.”
I stare at her confused as these thoughts run through my brain:
- DUH. Every counselor who is professionally trained has it drilled into their brains that you cater your therapy to the client’s needs. You don’t need to remind us of something we’ve known and practiced for years. And not once did I say, “This is the only right way to help any woman who has ever grieved in her life for any reason.”
- We are all obviously talking about women who are seeking support because they grieve the loss of a child. That is the context of our conversation. Hence, I was speaking in context of our conversation, because that’s how you typically HAVE A CONVERSATION. Have I said ‘conversation’ too much?
- Why are you singling me out? I’m like the 5th person to chime in, and I not once mentioned abortion, pro-life or even Catholic stuff.
Instead of saying any of those things, I simply say, “Well, of course.” Group leader’s face starts to resemble a normal color, and she moves ahead with the conversation.
But I am boiling inside – why do I get verbally chastised out of all the women here? I have said nothing inappropriate or unprofessional. Is she ticked off because I’m Catholic, and therefore Pro-Life?
I want to interrupt her. Her anger has ignited my defenses and I want to get angry back, but I know that is not the right way to handle this situation. So instead, I stare at the ceiling and pray Hail Mary’s and Our Father’s on loop. (Turns out, it’s hard to say mean, cuss-word-scattered things in your head when you’re saying “Jesus” and “Mary” continuously.)
Meanwhile, the conversation has moved on to helping women who find out late in pregnancy that their babies may not live long past delivery, or as she phrased it, the baby is no longer “viable”.
I continue staring at the ceiling and bite my lip to keep from saying anything. A few brave people chime in about how unimaginable that loss would be for a family.
Then group leader has another outburst, turns red in the face and looks at me again, as if I have said something audible and hurtful, which I have not. My only crime was eating chocolate and staring at the wall behind her head trying to stay calm.
She continues to look at me and begins with, “I don’t mean to be political again… but”.
Here we go again…
She continues, “Unfortunately, in the state of Texas it is becoming increasingly difficult for women to maintain any rights to choose [she glares at me]. These poor women who find out late in pregnancy that their baby may not live long after birth, are unable to make a choice to terminate the pregnancy early. Instead, they are made to suffer through the pregnancy and have no control over the situation. So in addition to their grief, the fact that they can’t terminate the pregnancy when they want to just adds on more grief. It’s really sad, and we need to be aware of it.”
(Do I need to point out again that this training is in no way affiliated with a political group, religious group or government agency? That it was supposed to be an unbiased presentation on grief? And I haven’t said a word? No? Just checking.)
Anyway, after she says this I have to go back to ceiling staring so I don’t say something that would start an argument. But I want to, oh, how I want to! I want to stand up and tell her how dare she add on to a woman’s pain by also giving her the responsibility of killing her child! The woman will grieve regardless of when the baby dies – why add on the experience of saying out loud to someone, “Terminate the pregnancy/kill my child,” and then having to watch someone do that? What comfort is there in that “choice”?
We may say that we are putting someone out of their misery by ending their life early. But really, we’re just trying to put an end to our own misery. We can’t stand watching others suffer, and instead of being there with them through it all, we kill them so we can hurry up and grieve and move on.
That is not mercy. That is not compassion. True compassion is being willing to sit with someone’s pain – trying to ease it with love, company, and if possible, good meds – until God calls them home. Who do we think we are that we can try to control life or death? As if we are bigger than it? We fool ourselves to think that “choice” will ease our fear or suffering.
I wanted to tell her that instead of giving someone the “choice” to end a life early, why can’t we do this instead:
A grieving mother finds out her baby may not live long after birth. Her friends, family and medical team gather around her, providing love and comfort, listening to her pain, accepting her tears, and holding her suffering so that it may be lessened in some way. Then together as a group, they discuss ways to celebrate this young life for as long as it is here on earth. They reminisce with mom about her pregnancy, about the kicks and sonograms, and funny cravings. They make a scrapbook of belly photos and baby things. They make a bucket list for baby like this couple did, so they could add more pictures and experiences to the baby album. They have a birthday cake, sing to the baby, celebrate its short, but significant life.
They surround this mother and child with love and life, bringing light into a dark time. Then when the child passes, they remain with mom to grieve and to remember, knowing they did everything to celebrate life and accept death peacefully.
Sounds way better, right? Don’t women and families deserve that?
In the end, what did I end up saying to the lady who was displacing her anger at me was this:
Nothing. I was too upset to speak lovingly, so I just prayed silently. I knew that she was hurting. I knew that she truly thought she was helping women by giving them the right to choose. I knew that she sat with many women and their pain, and she desperately wanted to offer them something that might help. I knew she had also been lied to.
So how do we deal with people who are angry at us for being Pro-Life? We pray. We hope. We vent our anger (a natural response to threat) to those who understand, so that we don’t vent it onto those who are angry at us. We listen. We speak lovingly. And we pray some more. It’s a tough battle, one only love can win.
* Blogger’s note: After a helpful comment from a reader, I wanted to clarify further why I didn’t say anything in the moment. There are times to stand up and speak out – I didn’t feel this was one of those times. She was very angry, and so was I. I do not like to speak in anger because it damages the very message of love I’m trying to convey. I had to calm down before I approached this woman (which I tried to do after the training, but was unable to reach her). There are some Pro-Life warriors that are able to stand up and speak the truth in the moment, and do so lovingly and bravely. That is not one of my gifts, and I am so grateful there are people out there who make up for what I lack. All in all, it is important to reach out to others with love – and if that’s through prayer, spoken words, blogs, or relationship, it all helps the cause. Love always wins!*
Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. – 1 Peter 4:8