During my early nursing career I became friends with another student, a lovely girl, and we both lived in the same nurses’ home. There came a time when she started to bemoan her burgeoning weight and duly decided to start exercising. I joined in with her to keep her company but, as the weeks went by, my weight plummeted while hers continued to rise.
One day she told me that she was going home for a couple of days for a dental appointment. She returned by taxi the following evening and went straight to bed. I called in to her room to see how she was and I was worried by how pale she looked. She complained that she was having severe period pains. When I noticed that she had needle marks in the veins of her arm, she said that she had been given a general anaesthetic for the extraction of a wisdom tooth.
Later, when I told the ward sister in our hospital that my friend was unwell, she replied: ‘Watch her very carefully. Do you know that she’s had an abortion?’
Although deeply shocked, my immediate concern was for my friend; for the torment that she must have experienced prior to her abortion and for the distress that I imagined she was now suffering in its aftermath. I didn’t reveal to my friend that I knew about her abortion, but tried to make her as comfortable as possible. Later, she told me the truth and even today I can vividly recall her distress. She had been 20 weeks pregnant and had not wanted an abortion but, because of serious problems within her family, she felt there was no other option.
Although she had wanted to tell me about her pregnancy, she had been afraid of what I would think of her. She had always been aware of my pro-life views and said that she knew I would have tried to dissuade her. She had neither the physical nor emotional energy to cope with such a discussion. What she had really wanted more than anything was for me to just listen to her.
She was both grateful and surprised that I wanted to look after her, despite her abortion. I was greatly saddened that the thought I might have done otherwise had even entered her head.
Our friendship remained strong but I questioned, endlessly, the ‘signals’ I had given out about my pro-life views given that my dear friend had been unable to confide in me when she most needed to. Had I appeared so dictatorial, and so preoccupied in my campaigning against abortion, that I had, in the erroneous perception of others, eliminated any consideration for the mother’s welfare from the equation?
My friend’s tragic experience suggested to me that I had. Perhaps if my views had been more tempered, a dialogue might have begun and maybe she would have let me support her in keeping her baby. In recent times I have even wondered if, while she exercised with me, she was hoping I would realise she was pregnant, rather than, as she later confided, trying to cause a miscarriage.
Though her physical wounds healed, emotionally she was deeply scarred as she grieved for her child. Thankfully, the awareness of past mistakes and lessons learned can build a template for the present. The greatest lesson of all was that to be truly and effectively pro-life, I have to be, truly, pro-woman. Both lives matter.