Bridging Connections Across the Pregnancy Spectrum

Grayson Dempsey

In the twelve years that I have worked as a pregnancy options counselor, no story has ever been told to me in exactly the same way, and no question has ever been so simple as to require a rote response.

For anyone who has ever talked to a woman making a pregnancy decision, there has been a moment of uncertainty. A moment in which you have hit an impasse, or when the woman’s ambivalence seems greater than her ability to take the next step. A moment when you are sitting across from someone who’s values differ from your own, or when your heart breaks for the circumstances of a woman’s life. A moment when you think that you might make a different choice, were you to be in her shoes, or that you want to hug her because her situation feels all too familiar. Even the most seasoned counselors can find themselves in these moments, the moments when they take a deep breath and say:

Tell me more about that.

Who will support you in your choice?

Do you know anyone who has made a similar choice?

Appreciate our work?

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Can I offer you some resources?

Tell me what you know about abortion/adoption/becoming a parent.

How do you think you will feel afterwards?

How are you feeling right now?

 Finding the right words when you are sitting with women making complex, life-altering choices can be an intimidating experience, especially when those of us working in this field are so committed to honoring each woman’s unique decisions. In the twelve years that I have worked as a pregnancy options counselor, no story has ever been told to me in exactly the same way, and no question has ever been so simple as to require a rote response. It has been my honor and privilege to sit with women making brave and loving choices, and it has also been my honor and privilege to sit with women making choices that challenged my most deeply-held beliefs.

When I came to this work, I worried endlessly about saying the “right” thing. I worried that I wouldn’t have all the answers and stuck closely to a checklist that ensured I met the goal of simply sending my patients out the door with the correct paperwork. As time  went on, I stopped worrying so much and began to really listen, and began to trust my patients enough to stray from my checklist and let the conversation reveal what was really on their minds. In doing so, my options counseling became less goal-oriented and more focused on creating a place where women felt empowered to find their own answers, to choose with intent, and to hold the complexities and occasional contradictions that can come to the surface when one is making a choice about motherhood, abortion, or adoption.

My ability to expand my options counseling to really meet the needs of women and their loved ones and offer the highest quality services to my patients grew from the time I spent in honest conversation with providers, colleagues, and women themselves. My fear of being caught “off guard” by a challenging question or circumstance was diminished when I spent time exploring those fears in a safe and encouraging environment. My skills in talking to women – and men, parents, and anyone else who needed support – have developed not only from years spent working in clinics and on talk lines, but from dedicated training time that I have spent with colleagues around the world. In a field that can be so emotionally-loaded, so nuanced and political, so incredibly large and ever-changing, it is essential that those of us working directly with women have the opportunity to come together to recharge, debrief, assess our strengths and challenges, and practice new language until it becomes our own. Coming together inspires us, reminds us of the power of our work, and offers new information, tools and networks so that we can continue to offer the highest quality care to all who come through our doors.

The opportunity to be a part of such gatherings is always a thrill, but especially so when the audience is broad and the goals are far-reaching. This fall, I am fortunate to be facilitating an event that will not only bring together professionals working across the field of pregnancy but will also aim to shift paradigms in thinking about the pregnancy experience – for as we know, women who have abortions, women who parent children and women who place for adoption are not separate but are often the same women at different points in their lives. Building Connections Across the Pregnancy Spectrum is a one-day training event sponsored by the Adoption Access Network in collaboration with the Abortion Care Network, Backline, Cherry Hill Women’s Center, Inwood House, National Advocates for Pregnant Women, Philadelphia Women’s Center, Planned Parenthood of Nassau County, and Planned Parenthood of New York City.

Drawing on regional expertise with goals best-suited to the unique needs of participants, the event will offer the chance to explore worldviews and personal values about pregnancy decisions, hear from professionals working in every aspect of the field, ask tough questions of one another and practice new language that we can use both in our clinics and our communities, and build strong networks with our colleagues throughout the country that will continue to improve and broaden our work with women and families. The dialogue-based format of the event has been created to draw out the expertise and experience that attendees have to offer, and to ensure that participants leave with answers to their most pressing questions and new ways of thinking about their work.  This event offers the extraordinary opportunity to engage with pro-choice colleagues not just in learning but in true conversation, and to return to your work with the skills and confidence to truly support women in all pregnancy experiences and decisions.

Please join us

Building Connections Across the Pregnancy Spectrum

November 5th, 2010

New York, New York

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