*This was first published on Exhale.*
Tonight, on NBC’s hit show Parenthood, teenage character Amy, the girlfriend of Drew (the son of Lauren Graham’s character, Sarah Braverman) has an abortion. Earlier in the series, viewers watched these two young people decide to have sex with each other, both for the first time.
The character Amy is not alone. Even though we don’t see personal experiences with abortion portrayed very often on TV or in the movies, abortion is incredibly common. Over a third of women in America will have one by the time they are 45; and women are talking more openly about their abortions.
Chances are you know someone like Amy or Drew. Or, you know a parent like Sarah who is dealing with the abortion of a son or daughter. It’s still rare to talk with the people in our lives about an abortion experience, so if someone you love tells you that they’ve had one, it’s important to show you care.
When a person feels forced to keep her abortion secret because of social shame or fear of judgment from someone they love, it can hurt their emotional health. But, a woman who feels heard and understood can experience wellbeing, even if the abortion was a difficult experience or one she regrets. However you may feel about abortion, and whether you agree or not with the decision, your support can go a long way towards boosting her health and emotional wellbeing.
Use these simple techniques to show that you care for a loved one who has experienced abortion:
1. Be Open. Abortion is very common, but each person’s experience is unique. That means some people feel relieved and like they have a new lease on life after an abortion, while others can feel overwhelmed with feelings of sadness and loss. Some people can feel a little bit of everything, or nothing at all. A range of feelings and reactions to abortion is common. Understand that there is no “right” way to feel after an abortion – only what’s true for her.
2. Don’t Assume. The worst thing you can do is assume you know what your loved one is going through (even if you’ve had an abortion too), so hold yourself back and let her do the talking. You’ll find out what she’s feeling and needs by paying attention to what she says. She’ll always remember that you were thoughtful and considerate with her feelings and didn’t jump to conclusions.
3. Listen. When was the last time you felt truly heard and understood by someone? It feels amazing, right? And, all too often, feeling heard and understood is quite rare, which is why listening to your loved one at a time like this can go a long way towards supporting her wellbeing. Listening without judgment conveys you care. Use open-ended questions and invite her to tell you more about what’s she been through, how she feels and what she wants next. Reflect back to her what she’s said to make sure you fully understand.
4. Support Thoughtfully. What do you normally do for friends and family in moments like this – when a loved one is celebrating or grieving? Are you the type to send a card, throw a dance party, share a favorite self-help book or give a foot massage? Abortion may be tricky territory in politics, but it doesn’t have to be in our relationships. Show you care with your own tried-and-true practices for acknowledging good times and bad in the lives of loved ones. If you need some help, check out Exhale or this article on Jezebel for more ideas.
5. Practice Self-care. Going through an abortion, or supporting someone after an abortion, can be emotionally taxing. It’s important to take care of yourself and support your own wellbeing. Go easy on yourself and your loved one and know that everything doesn’t have to get fixed today. There are more resources for people after abortion, and their loved ones, than ever before, so give them a try. No one should have to feel alone – including you.
While Amy, Drew and Sarah are characters on TV, thousands of young people, and their families experience abortion every year. Each person’s experience with abortion is unique and yet, shame, politics and fear can get in the way of loved ones talking and supporting each other through this time. Showing you care goes a long way towards supporting her wellbeing. Your story may not end up on TV, but being a great listener will certainly make you a star in the eyes of your loved one.