One of the main reasons I love my job is because I love stories. Working on the phones, I get to hear the first, often uncensored version of a woman’s abortion story. So many women think they don’t want to talk about it, especially not with a stranger, but then some unexpected trigger makes it all come tumbling out. I assure them they don’t have to tell me anything, or justify anything, but some of them just need to.
Certain patterns have emerged. Women who are older than 35 tend to try to laugh it off; they think they are old enough to know better, silly to have to tell their medical information to a girl as young as I am. But they always open up over the phone, without prompting, more than any other age group. This one already has four children. That one was on the waiting list for a tubal when THIS happened. This one’s husband had a vasectomy that didn’t take. They have practical reasons, pragmatic reasons. They have balanced things out. Women younger than me (I’m 26) often have very different stories: they are struggling to get out of abusive relationships, they have tried three different methods of birth control and nothing works, they thought he used a condom; their stories are fraught with drama. They are having a hard time deciding; they like babies, they know they are expected to have them, but it’s not the right time, he’s not the right guy, there’s not enough money. Some of them laugh, but uneasily.
In the middle of that age range there are the most interesting stories: lives that are almost settled, real careers just getting started, decisions that have not yet been made about how many children, how much time and energy there is to invest. These women know about the big city, they know their rights; they are the ones who want to know why they can’t have their abortion sooner, why the clinic isn’t closer to them. They are sometimes combative. They have no time for nonsense. Their stories are not told explicitly, not by them: I like to fill in the space and guess what’s going on by the tone of their voices, by their names and accents and neighbourhoods.
A great addition to these stories is the “notes” file. On our computer system, every patient has a section for notes, where we can expand upon their medical history, medications they are taking, allergies, and potential problems with their appointment. Every day one person in intake goes through the next day’s notes and prints out the pertinent ones for the medical, counseling and security staff to see. I love doing this.
Most notes relate to the validity of the patient’s health card; I could care less about that. Sometimes it’s interesting to read what drugs people take, and for what. Now I know about Prednisone, Zoloft, Cipralex. But what I really like is the details of the phone conversations these women are having with my co-workers. “Patient’s mother said her daughter was too upset to come to the phone. Mother attempted to book appointment but was told we only book directly with the patient. Mother put patient on the phone, but then got on the other phone and continued to talk over her daughter and answer questions for her.” “Patient’s boyfriend wants to drive her but does not have photo ID as his license has been suspended.” “Patient needs to be alone in admitting as her boyfriend does not know about previous abortions.” Can there be anything more fascinating than these snippets of other people’s lives?
Every day I work, I am reminded through these stories of the great big web of human experience out there. Abortion is just a little part of each of these lives; the phone conversation I have with each woman is even smaller. What a strange thing, to be in that moment of a stranger’s life. It is an odd, inexpressible feeling that is just reason 7,672 why I love my job.