When I was in high school, I had a good friend, who I will call Cole, who was an easy-going, friendly guy who also made his living as a professional surfer traveling the world. He wore relaxed cords, flip flops and he had a heavy mop of bleach blond hair. Whenever I saw him at the beach, hanging with his friends at my house, or picking up a carne asada burrito at our favorite spot, and I asked him how he was, he answered, every, single time, “oh, I’m just fine.” He was known for this. All of his friends always, said, “That’s Cole, he always says he’s just fine.”
Which means, he never, ever, actually said how he was doing or feeling. It was never “I’m excited because I’m leaving for Tavarua tomorrow on a surf trip” or “I’m bummed that my buddy didn’t make it into the Top 10 this year” or “I’m enjoying getting to know this new girl” or “Geez, I hope I can really make it as a pro surfer. I’m worried about what will happen if I don’t.” He was always just fine. I guess you can say I never really felt like I knew him, despite spending quite a bit of time with him and our mutual friends. I wonder if anyone ever felt like they did.
Nowadays, when I go out in the world and talk about Exhale’s work to support women and men emotionally post-abortion, I get several kinds of responses. Many, many people, thankfully, just say the obvious, “wow, I imagine that is really important and helpful to people.” Some people assume the talkline exists because every woman who has an abortion is in deep emotional trauma afterwards while others can’t for the life of them imagine the need for such a thing, given the fact that abortion is a medical procedure like tooth extraction.
Yes, people do believe this.
When I get a little deeper, often with the skeptics, the “abortion is no big deal” folks, I often hear a response that sounds a little like this, “Well, I’m glad you’re there for the one person who may need to talk (because obviously their family/the Right/their Religion made them feel bad), but most people I know “felt fine” after their abortion.” When I advocate with clinics and other health providers to be more pro-active in addressing the emotional experience of abortion, I often get the “well, of course, I want to to help people having problems, but most of them are “just fine.”
According to Webster’s the definition of “fine” is related to the term “all right”, as in “whatever you decide is fine with me” or “He was ill but he is fine now”. To “feel fine” after an abortion is not a gauge of the abortions significance in someone’s life. It is a statement to say, yes “I am here. I am alive. I am safe.”
I am fine.
What fine is not, is a descriptive word that describes how people are feeling about their abortion, good or bad, or what they need for themselves moving forward.
So, what are feelings? Again, according to Webster’s, feelings are a response, partly mental and partly physical, to something, anything. And it can be positive or negative. These days, the ability to identify, understand and cope with feelings is well-known to be crucial to our overall individual health and well-being.
The website We Feel Fine tracks what people write about their feelings online. Right now, as I type this, I know that 125,155 people just wrote somewhere they feel “better.” “Better” is the number one feeling online. “Bad” is the second. Over 91,000 people online feel “bad” right now, with “good,” “right,” “guilty” and “sick” being 3, 4, 5, and 6, respectively. “Fine” is currently in 39th place with about 7,000 people claiming that feeling. There’s a lot more feelings in between “better” and “fine” and many of them will be much more descriptive for how someone is responding to an abortion experience.
Not to mention, that its pretty hard to read an email, blog post or text these days without finding an emoticon. We are all emoting all over the place, all the time, and we want people to know. Being seen and heard by others for our emotions – what we are feeling – is now a major part of our culture. It is how we relate to each other, and get to know each other.
Its why I never really feel like I got to know my friend Cole. There was never an emotion shared.
Supporting the emotions and responding to the needs of women and men post-abortion is a simple and powerful way to let them know that they are important and they matter to you. And, it will go a long way to promoting their emotional well-being in the long run.
Here is what I mean:
Are they feeling relief and need a chance to laugh? Are they feeling sad and need a hug? Are they feeling confused and need to be alone? Are they feeling hopeful and need to share their dreams for the future with you? Are they feeling lonely and need to be around their friends?
These are real feelings and real needs and this is what supporting women and men post-abortion looks like and sounds like. It doesn’t just have to happen on a talkline, or in therapy or with your priest. You can do it too. All you need is to listen, without judgment. Be there.