By NANCY NATILSON
“Who would like to share their own direct experience of deciding to end a pregnancy?” Fred asked. He continued, “We will practice deep sharing and deep listening, without judgment and without expressing or holding on to our views. Abortion is a very divisive topic in America these days, and we need to learn how to be open to listening without judgment and to engage in compassionate dialogue, especially with those who hold views different than our own.”
The next hour of our Tuesday evening “Applied Buddhism: The Practical Application of Buddhist Ethics in Daily Life” was one of the most heartfelt, courageous sharing sessions I have heard at FCM. Women told about the circumstances that created the need to make a decision about their pregnancy. Some were in a stable relationship (and even married), but the timing wasn’t right; others were either not in a relationship, or in an unstable relationship, or with a partner who would not have been a good father. Some felt they were too young to begin a family; others already had children and felt they didn’t have sufficient resources to raise another child.
Regardless of the reason, all expressed a certain amount of sorrow about the loss – of the potential son or daughter that never was born; of the opportunity to be a mother; of the dissolution of the relationship either because of the pregnancy or over the decision to end the pregnancy.
The other common emotions expressed were guilt and/or shame – at having ended a potential life; at doing something that relatives and society considered unethical and wrong. And because of the shame, many of the women who shared had never had the opportunity to talk openly about their experience and reflect openly and honestly. They all felt they had made the right decision, but the impact lingered on.
The most poignant aspect of the evening for me was the willingness of one woman after another to bow in and reveal her experience of deciding to end a pregnancy and the lasting effects of having made that decision. One woman said, “While I had originally intended to simply be present and listen, I was very moved to speak by the sharing of others. I felt the loving support and understanding that I had longed for but did not have access to so many years before, when I had to make this difficult decision.”
Trust in the sangha allowed for sharing of previously undisclosed deep feelings. The impact of knowing that others were not going to judge them gave the women the courage needed to let what was in their hearts be revealed.
The collective sharing was healing to those who had had abortions and also very moving to those who listened to the stories. Many admitted in real time that the heavy burden of shame and/or guilt they had been carrying around immediately felt lighter. All agreed that the sharing was the beginning of their healing journey and they were very grateful for this opportunity given to them by FCM. Those who listened deeply agreed that the conversation opened their hearts; they were able to reflect with compassion and felt a closer bond with their courageous sangha sisters.
Nancy Natilson, a long-time member of FCM, is ordained in the Order of Interbeing. She has volunteered at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Tampa for many years, holding the hands of countless women during their abortion procedures.