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.