A guest post by an anonymous independent abortion clinic staff member.
For those of you do not work in women’s’ health, hand holder is exactly what it sounds like. I literally hold the hand of women during their abortion. Granted, there are other responsibilities involved; generally assuming responsibility for all bodily functions above a woman’s waist. I monitor her vital signs, including pulse, blood pressure, and oxygen saturation. I count her respirations, how many full breaths she takes in one minute. But all of these medical functions are secondary to my primary task; keeping her comfortable and distracted.
Hand holding can be physically challenging. I have come home with scratches on my hands from fingernails, or swollen fingers that were gripped too tightly for too long. These occurrences are rare, but happen.
The more challenging part is finding fresh but neutral points of conversation. I want to keep her distracted and entertained but dodge any potentially emotionally triggering topics. During the holidays, conversation is easy. “Any plans for the upcoming holiday? Will you be spending it with your family? What’s your favorite dish to cook? Have you started on your holiday shopping?” Then January lends itself to all of the follow up questions after these events. Summer is a great time to talk about family trips, vacation, school breaks. Mid October can be challenging, I have to search a little harder.
Asking women about their jobs and careers can be interesting. I have been a hand holder for wine distributors, concierge to celebrities, cheese mongers, and musicians. I have asked an array of questions to women I would never have met outside of the clinic like toll both attendants or public transit operators. I have learned so much from women firefighters, policewomen, and women in active military service.
Sometimes, though it is more cautious territory, women will discuss their partners; Husbands, boyfriends, babydaddies, or lovers. Sometimes they will brag about their men, or vent small frustrations about domestic cohabitation. I’ll confess: if they share an interesting detail, I sometimes peek into the waiting room to see what their prince charming looks like.
Hand holding can be emotionally draining. On days where this is my role, I usually will go home, eat junk food, and watch either an Tina fey or Amy Poehler sitcom to return me to a reasonable level of my emotional equilibrium. I want to watch something funny and silly, but still with a feminist undertone. I understand that self care is critical, and have found what works for me.
If you have the opportunity to hand hold at your clinic, I recommend attempting it at least once. It is not for everyone, but I have definitely learned more in that position than in my entire career of reproductive justice. Handholding is like a good Barbara Walters segment, it’s a soft interview and sometimes, the guest cries.