Supporting a culture of self-help at the community level: The Abortion Dream Team

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This month’s story series is about inroads members accompanying people’s abortions across the world. While there is a growing need for self-managed abortions to bust stigma that exists in different legal contexts or medical establishments, there is also a need to understand what building a community of companionship for abortions looks like. The members who we speak to work as doulas, companions and even comadres, roughly translating as godmothers. We have blogposts from Ecuador, Peru, Poland and USA

In the second story, we read reflections by Karolina, Justyna and Natalia of the Abortion Dream Team in Poland. Their strategy is that of practical assistance mixed with public provocation, and you can read a lot more about them in this recently published web article!

Kasia Strek,Getty Images, Harpers Bazaar

Karoline

” For me it all began almost ten years ago when I was working in an NGO. I mostly helped those who were denied services in hospitals. Always that part of my work was the most important for me. But also I was giving legal advice via a helpline. Very soon I realized that people call to ask questions about a lot more important things than just the law.

And I started learning all about pills. I knew I couldn’t let these people down and a lot of them wanted to talk right away rather that be referred elsewhere. I also remembered my own experience from a couple years before when I tried to look for information about pills and there was nothing. I didn’t want these people to feel like they called the wrong person. It was a women’s organization after all. I had to know! For a long time I didn’t believe I could do more than that. 

For many what I already did was illegal. I took the risk because I was doing a good thing. But then I started my journey towards the idea that we have to challenge this law and cannot let it scare us away from solidarity and support and we shouldn’t be quiet about it. Since a few years supporting others is still the most important thing but now I am free from the boundaries working in an NGO put on me. I can be out and proud. And I try to encourage others to this form of civil disobedience. 

What I think is most important in this activism is that I and other doulas give people radical support. Support that doesn’t ask questions that are not necessary. That people don’t have to explain and justify themselves as it was something they have to say to deserve an abortion. No. Everybody deserves a good abortion experience and I want every person who asks for help to have one. They don’t have to convince me their decision is good. I believe that they can make decisions and deal with what’s next. I don’t have to understand each one. I just need to accept it and trust the person. 

I think that is how the stigma busts. With unconditional support. A lot of people say this to me: “you are the first person who is talking so normally about this”. Yes. Because abortion is a part of our sexual life and only if we accept it as such we can build a community in which people won’t be ashamed of their choices. Regardless of their emotions that can be very different. 

I know for sure that not only abortion saves lives but also accompanying others does. We hear that a lot: “you saved my life”. And no matter what the legal situation is in many years, even if there are no abortion bans whatsoever (my dream) – there always be a need for an abortion friend. Even if that friend was a stranger a day before.”

Justyna

” I know the feeling of shame and of fear that you can’t tell anyone about abortion. I know the feeling of loneliness and anger. It all drove me to this moment I’m in now, with my activism and being a radical abortionist. I don’t want anyone to feel like me. We deserve the right to good healthcare.

Giving information which is comprehensive and non-judgmental is our main goal. We do what most doctors are not doing: saying medical abortion is safe and it is possible to be done at home. We give simple and easy instructions to people who want to end their pregnancy. We are honest with them, using simple language in order to not build barriers by using medical terminology. We do not pretend we are smarter than the people we try to help. We are like friends. People who are in contact with us think they should give us a “good” reason to justify the abortion. We just need one “I want to end the pregnancy”.

In order to create community support processes, there is no better way than showing stories about people with their experiences. You can’t discuss someone’s feelings, whether they are good or bad. But it is hard to do this because of stigma (self stigma, most of the time). Another way is to talk in open meetings how abortion looks like in real life. Demonstrating that it could not be scary experience helps normalize the emotions during and after. Also, writing articles in mainstream papers, channels and as comments to other articles about abortions and simple instructions for abortions is another tool we could use. 

I believe this kind of work will finally bring profits. There are a lot of people working in health systems, who we may not have interacted with, who feel that patients should be treated with dignity. However, they don’t know how to behave because it is not common to talk about abortions. We need more normalizing language and normalizing emotions to help increase the quality of care. Sometimes just holding someone’s hand is enough to make people feel better, but at the same time there should “instructions” or guidelines out in the mainstream. “

Natalia

” I do this work because I know what it is like to have an unwanted pregnancy, seek help and bump into walls. You are eaten from the inside by stress and shame. You only think about how it could turn into not being true, obsessively looking for a superheroine to save you from this oppression. But the truth is that you can be your own superheroine or a person like you who had been in the same situation. 

The possibility to decide about oneself, take back control and power is this enormous superpower and we should support each other – share the idea of radical support and superpower. It is important to me that a person I support doesn’t feel judged. It is constant work I do with myself and I learn from those who contact us that abortion really is common but very diverse. Just as we are different from one another. 

The best way to fight against abortion stigma is mutual support, radical standing by each other’s side without judgment, unnecessary questions, even if it’s illegal. I believe we can bust abortion stigma through radical community support. 

For me community care works better than self care. Audre Lorde once said “Without community, there is no liberation” and I think it’s one of the smartest thing I’ve heard!