The Male Volunteer

The Male Volunteer

INTRO

In our April 10th, Men’s Healing Matters webinar, Greg Mayo, Men’s Healing Strategist at Support After Abortion, discussed The Male Volunteer and various aspects as it relates to who they are, reasons they don’t volunteer more, and methods for equipping them with the necessary tools for success. 

THE DATA

“In regards to the male volunteer, the first thing we need to do is establish a little bit of context.” Greg shared a study from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics which found that women are 30% more likely to volunteer than men. The statistics also showed that volunteering among men spikes right after high school and then picks up again between the ages of 40 and 45. Greg discussed various reasons for why volunteerism is more likely to occur at those times in a man’s life. He suggested that after high school, a man could have more free time or need volunteer experience, and reasoned that between the ages of 40 and 50, household responsibilities could be lessened as children grow and become more autonomous. “What about the gap in the middle?,” Greg asked and continued by stating, “Many are working, raising families, and just busy with life.”

Greg shared the three key areas that men volunteer in. According to the data, 33% serve in religious organizations, where they take on tasks like mowing, facility maintenance, or ushering. 18% volunteer with youth or recreational sport leagues as coaches or referees, and 15% get involved with social or community service organizations such as food pantries or The Boys and Girls Clubs. Greg pointed out that the common thread between these three sectors where men get involved the most is giving their time in areas where they’re actively doing something.  

WHY DON’T MEN VOLUNTEER?

“Why don’t men volunteer? I think that’s the question probably everybody listening right now has,” Greg said. Citing an article titled, Men in Social Service Volunteering, he explained that the first reason they don’t is because they haven’t thought of it, stating, “While it sounds simplistic, men typically just don’t think about volunteering.”  He continued explaining that men are often happy to help, but according to the article, because it may not occur to them, they need to be asked directly. He noted that the article also pointed out that the term volunteering doesn’t resonate with men. 

Greg shared the second reason that men don’t volunteer is because they believe it’s too hard to get started. He stated, “When I say it’s too hard to get started, what I mean is they don’t get a response from organizations that they reach out to and try to volunteer with, or there’s a really high bar for entry into volunteering.” He described how some organizations have lengthy processes that entail assessments and various tests, and while they may be necessary to fully develop a volunteer, looking for ways to shorten the process would be beneficial to getting more men involved. 

He told a story about a man he knew who was volunteering at a pregnancy resource center. Although the man had his own abortion healing story and was passionate about the cause, he had stopped volunteering there. When Greg asked him why, the man said that he had been giving his time for over six months, but had done nothing except take assessments, tests, and classes. The man commented, “I showed up to volunteer, not to take classes.” Greg said, “When we put a lot of spikes in the road on the way to a guy getting started, that’s a barrier.”

Greg went on to say the third reason that men don’t volunteer is they tend to prioritize work. He said, “Part of that is men are taught that a lot of their value is in their work and what they provide.” According to the article, studies suggest that women generally work fewer hours than men which makes women more likely to volunteer. However, “As times have changed, so has this pattern. Make the most of more stay-at-home dads and men with more flexible hours who may work from home.” 

Another reason Greg shared is that men feel they don’t have anything to offer a program. He explained how this idea can be perpetuated when men attempt to volunteer but are met with all-female messaging and marketing, stating, “If a man goes to volunteer anywhere, we already know more women volunteer than men, if all the volunteers are women, all the materials are for women, all the testimonials are from women, it just compounds the message that Hey, you’re a guy, you don’t have anything that we need here.” Greg asserted that if that is not the message we want to convey, then we must look at how we can change it to make men feel welcomed and wanted. 

HOW TO APPEAL TO THE MALE VOLUNTEER

“How do we appeal to male volunteers and get them to stay?” Greg asked. He cited the article Ten Ways to Appeal to Male Volunteers from The Volunteer Management Report, and said that the first way is to specifically ask them. He reiterated how events, marketing, and messaging mostly appeal to women, resulting in men assuming that women will sign-up to help. He explained that men need to know their help is needed, and this can best be done by directly inviting them to come. 

“The second thing is, put them to work. When a man shows up, give him something to do,” Greg said. He explained how this doesn’t mean pushing them into something they aren’t prepared for, such as talking to a male client in the waiting room, but rather giving them something they are capable of doing right away.

Greg said that the third way to appeal to men is to avoid “recruiting guilt trips.” He explained how this is when you try to make people feel bad to get them to volunteer. He went on to say that this will not result in getting the best out of someone, which leads to not serving clients in the best way. “You want to motivate them, not make them feel guilty,” the passage stated.

“Men like to fix things,” Greg said as he introduced the next way to appeal to men. Let them solve problems. “I’m not talking about board-level problems, but give them a problem. Let them find a solution.” When men can solve problems, they feel more involved and needed. 

Another way to appeal to male volunteers is to give clear directions. He stated that most men are goal-oriented and giving them clear direction on what is needed, when it’s needed, and why it’s needed will allow them to complete the task and feel accomplished.   

“The next thing is: use high energy,” Greg said. He explained that energy levels don’t have to be phony or over the top, but they can’t be somber either. He highlighted the energy that comes from sports and action movies that “gets guys riled up.” He stated, “They want to feel that energy, that sort of Braveheart moment where they’re going to go charging off.”

Greg went on to mention that another way to appeal to men is to offer something for free such as a t-shirt. He stated that although it may seem silly, guys like to know what to wear, everyone looks the same, and guys like free stuff.  

Greg stated that giving feedback appeals to men. He shared that men value knowing how they’re doing and that “they’re bringing value.” Explaining to them what needs to be done differently or what they are doing right keeps them from wondering whether they are being impactful and effective. 

Greg shared that another way to appeal to male volunteers is to be honest and authentic. He shared a personal lesson learned from his stepfather about the value of genuine interactions. Greg emphasized how sincerity fosters meaningful connections, echoing insights from previous interactions with other men’s ability to detect authenticity. He advised against pretense, encouraging genuine communication and interactions with volunteers. While promoting positivity, Greg underscored the significance of conveying praise and encouragement sincerely.

The last way Greg mentioned to appeal to male volunteers is to thank them. He pointed out how although it’s a simple thing, many men feel unseen and invisible, and showing gratitude goes a long way. He said, “Whether it’s volunteering or working 14 hours a day on an oil rig, they don’t feel like anybody cares. If you thank somebody, honestly just thank them, that will mean the world to that guy.” It’s important to acknowledge right away that you appreciate their being there and thank them for showing up.

IDEAL QUALITIES FOR A MALE VOLUNTEER

“Finding the right male volunteers is not throwing spaghetti against the wall and hoping it sticks,” Greg said. He emphasized the importance of properly vetting volunteers to ensure they are the right fit. He stated, “The male volunteer is not only representing your organization, but he is, for better or worse, for good or bad, impacting the clients that he serves.” Greg outlined seven qualities the ideal male volunteer possesses: consistency, authenticity, ability to listen, curiosity, an ability to connect, commitment to healing, and belief in the mission. 

The first quality Greg introduced was consistency. He highlighted how important it is to find male volunteers who will show up when they are supposed to, saying, “If he doesn’t show up, and you’ve got guys scheduled to come in and talk to him, you’re failing those clients. They’re not getting the help they need, so consistency is hugely important.” 

Next Greg shared that authenticity is another important quality for a male volunteer. He stressed that the ideal person must communicate authentically and be genuinely interested in the people he is serving. 

“The third thing is: He needs to have the ability to listen,” Greg said. He explained that we can learn pretty quickly during the interview process whether he knows how to listen or not. He suggested that there are times when a person could be coached, but for those who can’t, finding things for them to do that aren’t client-facing would be beneficial, emphasizing that the wrong volunteer can do more damage than good. 

Next Greg said that another quality a male volunteer should have is curiosity. “He needs to be naturally curious,” he said and highlighted that this doesn’t just apply to curiosity with clients, but they should be genuinely curious about the organization as well. Greg explained that in addition to being curious relative to clients, a healthy curiosity about what the organization is doing, what opportunities there are for him to serve in, or how he can improve and better himself are all important.  

“He needs to have the ability to connect with the men that he serves,” he continued, “Connection, consistency, authenticity, ability to listen, and curiosity, if he’s got those first four, he’s going to have the ability to connect with men.” Greg stated that the ability to connect is a crucial element in relationship building, especially in abortion healing. He said, “If he can connect with them and gain their trust, then he has a better opportunity of helping them walk the path of healing.”

Greg shared that another important quality for a male volunteer is that he be committed to his own healing. He stated that it doesn’t necessarily have to be abortion related. Everyone, whether they’ve experienced abortion or not, likely has something they can heal from. He said that healing is a necessity for anyone who wants to be an effective volunteer or employee. “It’s a fact that the less healed we are, the less impactful we are at helping other people find healing. It’s also a fact that the more we work on our own healing, the better we can serve others,” Greg said. He cautioned that if a person is trying to work or volunteer in a setting where healing is the intent, and they are not working on themselves, they may have the wrong motives. He emphasized that healing is always ongoing and we should continually look to grow and improve. 

The final quality Greg mentioned was believing in the mission, “They need to believe in what you’re doing and they need to buy into how you’re doing it,” he said. He pointed out that individual organizations may have their own way of accomplishing their missions, but no matter their method, the volunteer must believe in the mission of the organization. He recounted a story from when he coached youth soccer and one of the other coaches was there only because his wife had told him he had to coach. This highlighted to Greg that not everyone volunteers for something because they believe in it. It also demonstrated to him that when motivation is lacking, commitment suffers, leading to a decline in the quality of the time devoted. 

TAILORING A VOLUNTEER PROCESS THAT RESONATES WITH MEN

Greg reiterated how imperative it is to put men to work. He emphasized that it should be one of the first things done in the process, stating, “Put these men to work. Most men are doers. If you give them something to do, they’ll be engaged.” He shared about his experience working at pregnancy centers and hearing complaints from other male volunteers regarding endless classes before getting to do anything. Greg reminded us that volunteerism among men picks up around 40 to 50, which means a lot of the demographic may have extra time to give, and they want to give it somewhere they feel useful. 

“Men need to know what they’re doing and why they’re doing it,” Greg said as he discussed the importance of providing clear objectives and directions. He explained how taking the time to explain in a clear and concise manner what the end goal is and any necessary steps to accomplish it will set the male volunteer up for success. He suggested that this could be a part of the training process and will result in more impactful volunteers. He encouraged providers to explain goals and objectives and then train male volunteers to ask themselves, What’s the goal? When a client comes in and he’s considering abortion or has been impacted by abortion, what’s the goal? What’s the objective? I’m going to go talk to this guy. I’m going to be compassionate. I’m going to be a good listener. I’m going to be authentic. Why am I doing that? What am I trying to get to? “And then you work with him on how to get there. When we do that, we see men that are deeply impactful.” 

The last part of the process that Greg touched on was helping the male volunteer to continue in his own healing journey. He recommended using Support After Abortion’s referral directory as an essential resource for connecting men to healing providers that best fit their needs. Greg stated that the more healing that takes place, the more effective and impactful the man will be for the organization and clients. He described this as part of the ripple effect of healing, which creates possibilities much bigger than imaginable. He explained that this is why making healing an on-going part of the process is so imperative. 

CLOSING

In wrapping up the webinar, Greg reminded us:

  • Women are at least 30% more likely to volunteer than men and men’s volunteering spikes following high school and again between 40-50 years old. 
  • Most men volunteer in religious or community organizations, or youth sports. 
  • Reasons men don’t volunteer: they don’t think about it, it’s too hard to get started, they tend to prioritize work, and they think they don’t have anything to offer. 
  • The article Ten Ways to Appeal to the Male Volunteer shows how to appeal to male volunteers and get them to stay. 
  • The ideal qualities for a male volunteer, which includes traits such as consistency, being on time, authenticity, being a good listener, curiosity about the clients and organization, the ability to connect, commitment to their own healing, and belief in the mission. 
  • Tailor your volunteer process to resonate with men:  put them to work; give them clear objectives, directions, and goals; create spaces that allow healing to be a continual process; and validate and thank them for being there.

NEXT STEPS

Click here to watch the video of this webinar.

Click here to register for the next Men’s Healing Matters webinar.

Click here to register for the next Abortion Healing Provider webinar.

Click here to access Support After Abortion’s Resource Library.

Click here to explore Support After Abortion’s services, resources, and training for Abortion Healing Providers.

© Support After Abortion

CHANGING THE WAY WE TALK ABOUT ABORTION WITH MEN

CHANGING THE WAY WE TALK ABOUT ABORTION WITH MEN

In our March 13 Men’s Healing Matters webinar, Support After Abortion Men’s Healing Strategist Greg Mayo explored best practices when speaking with men. He addressed the effectiveness of these tips and strategies when engaging with men both before and after abortion. 

HOW DO MEN AND WOMEN COMMUNICATE DIFFERENTLY?

Communication differences among men and women is a. He mentioned the Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus iconic book from the 1990s and described comedian Jeff Foxworthy’s bit about communicating with his wife after receiving a text from a buddy who was in a car wreck. This humorous take on the subject segued into a discussion of two research studies on the dynamics of male-female communication.

The first study by CareLeader.org says men communicate “through actions or the sharing of ideas, suggestions and information.” The second, a study conducted by Michigan State University stated that men communicate through “body language such as physical gestures, facial changes, muscle tensing and gritting teeth…” Greg advised watching for non-verbal cues when speaking with men.

WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES LANGUAGE MAKE WITH MEN?

Greg addressed the need to think about the language we use and speak to men in a way that resonates with them. He highlighted the challenge of finding a balance between being too “touchy-feely” and validating  emotions without diminishing them. 

He shared from an article published by MensLine Australia that said men tend to “want to address the problem that needs solving or make a point.” 

“Men don’t want to talk something to death,” Greg said. “Once they share the problem, they’re most interested in fixing it, not talking about it.” He shared how he and his wife addressed this “big communication foible” in their relationship: when one talks about a problem or issue, the other asks, Do you want a solution or sympathy? That is, do you want me to listen or try to fix it? He said this was valuable for them because “You may just want to say whatever it is you need to say, you may just want to get it out, but I want to fix it. And we’re learning that a lot of guys are wired like that.”

HOW CAN I BE DIRECT, HONEST, AND AUTHENTIC WITH MEN?

Greg described an approach to asking questions that can lead men to acknowledge a problem and open a path to solutions.

Being authentically interested is key. “You don’t have to tell a man he’s in a safe space,” Greg said. “He’ll know by your actions and your authentic interest in whatever he’s saying. He’ll know because he’s likely not experienced that much in life.” 

”If you come off as having an agenda or trying to drive the conversation or drive his thoughts or his actions,” Greg said, “that’ll come off as inauthentic and you’ll lose him.

Greg then described a 4×4 Method of Questioning – 4 questions wide and 4 questions deep. In this method, there are no predetermined questions. Rather, you ask one question and the person’s response will inform your next question. This process “shows authentic interest without an agenda,” Greg said. “It focuses on who he is, what he needs, and what he’s dealing with in the moment.” 

Another aspect of authentic communication with men Greg shared is not telling a man what he needs to know, but instead telling him what worked for you or what you think you know. “I know what you need,” Greg said, “is not something guys want to hear.” He recalled the earlier discussion about guys wanting solutions and to fix a problem, “but they need to be a participant in the solution.” 

This is what worked for me. This is what I do. This is what I think I know today. … Greg described these as examples of what he says and what resonate with men. “Opening myself vulnerably” in an approach that says Look, I don’t have it all figured out “gives a man the freedom to say Yeah that might work for me or I think I’ll try something different. It gives him the freedom to problem solve the next step for himself based on the options you’ve shared.

Being open and vulnerable is so important, Greg emphasized. He conveyed that in “talking to men from all over the country and other parts of the world for Support After Abortion, “when I share honestly what my struggles were and what I did about them, men are more likely to share their struggles and what they really need.” 

During the Q&A portion of the webinar, Greg did an impromptu one-man-act role play illustrating the 4×4 approach.

HOW CAN MY WORDS & ACTIONS BE AN OBSTACLE TO MEN’S HEALING?

“Hurting men stay away,” Greg said. He reflected on last month’s Men’s Healing Matters webinar that touched on disenfranchised grief and emotional invalidation. He gave a short explanation that disenfranchised grief involves discounting a man’s emotions – your pain isn’t real – and emotional invalidation says your emotions don’t count.

“When we released the white paper last year on our national research study that showed the negative impact of abortion on men,” Greg said, “we had an opportunity to publish op-eds and do interviews in several national-level media outlets, such as Newsweek, Fox News, The Washington Stand, The Washington Examiner, and others. Thousands of comments came in. I’ll share a couple of them with you: Shut up. Your feelings don’t matter. Men can’t grieve abortion. They chose it, they deserve to feel bad.” And, he shared one that was directed to him as the author of an op-ed: I hope he has a daughter and she’s raped. Then we’ll see how you think about abortion. His article wasn’t about abortion itself, but the emotional impact after abortion. 

Greg commented that being 15 years into his healing journey and talking publicly about his abortion experiences for many years, he’s become immune to these types of comments. “But, I’ll tell you all today what I thought about as I read those comments,” he said. “I kept thinking about the guy reading those who hasn’t told anybody about his abortion experience(s), the guy who’s still in his pain and is scared to talk about it because he’s been told he’s a man and his feelings don’t matter. Those kinds of comments push him further away from healing.”

Then Greg described his experience at age 18 waiting outside an abortion clinic while his girlfriend and her mom were inside. “As I was sitting on the steps, I saw poster boards on the ground. They said things like burn in hell, baby killer, and stuff like that.” He described how that impacted him as a young, confused kid. “That puts a man in a place where he literally has no idea who to talk to or if he even should talk to anybody. And that’s a very dangerous place to be.”

He suggested that the impact of these types of words and approaches toward men may be why men have never told anyone about their abortion experiences even decades later and why they can be an obstacle to men’s healing

Greg relayed that whenever he speaks publicly about the impact of abortion on men, guys will come up and say Hey, I’ve never told anybody this before, but 10 years ago, or 30 years ago – the longest was 57 years ago, my girlfriend or wife or partner had an abortion. “That’s part of what we’re talking about here,” Greg said. “How do we get guys to talk? And how do we get them plugged into the help they need?”

WHAT MAY BE UNDER MEN’S PAIN AND ANGER?

Often men “express anger first,” Greg said. “But below the anger is often fear.” He shared points from an All Pro Dad article that spoke to men’s biggest fears and applied them to men impacted by abortion.

FEAR #1: FAILING

Men facing an abortion decision often voice that they are afraid of failing as a father or provider. Men who have been impacted by a partner’s pregnancy termination often share a fear of failing recovery. They may say or think things such as, I’ll never feel better. I can’t forgive myself. God won’t forgive me. For them, it can become difficult to imagine a world without pain.

FEAR #2: BEING INCOMPETENT 

Before an abortion, Greg explained, the fear of being incompetent typically relates to a fear of not knowing how to be a dad. He said many men share that they didn’t grow up with a good example of being a dad. “I tell them you learn as you go,” Greg said. “There’s no manual for parenting.” 

For men struggling after abortion experiences, the incompetency fear often manifests as I don’t know enough. I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know where to go. Greg shared that Support After Abortion’s men’s research showed that 83% of men either tried to find help or said they could have benefitted from help. But only 18% knew where to go.

FEAR #3: BEING WEAK OR BEING PERCEIVED AS WEAK

Greg discussed the messages men receive that affect a man facing abortion are that  a strong man just supports the woman and what she wants. When struggling after abortion, men can become stoic and try to be strong with an attitude of I’m a man, I’ve got this. I don’t need help. He described how men for whom faith is a part of their life may say God forgave me. I’m fine. Moving on. These often come from a belief that asking for help is a weakness, saying I can’t do this on my own.

Greg compared this to 12-step recovery programs where the first step is to “admit I was powerless over whatever and my life has become unmanageable.” He described how rather than showing weakness, “there’s great strength in asking for help, and that’s a message we need to help” convey.

FEAR #4: BEING IRRELEVANT

This is where disenfranchised grief and emotional invalidation come into play. “My feelings don’t matter. My feelings are irrelevant. My opinion on the abortion, either before it or after it, is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter. I’m not the woman. I’m just the man,” Greg said. 

“All the vile things we see online that people say about this carries over into every aspect of a man’s life,” he continued. “A man wants to think that what he does matters and that his life is relevant, that it means something.”

“But when we look at healing, if you feel irrelevant as a man,” Greg said, “if you feel like your opinion doesn’t matter, if you feel like you’re not even supposed to have thoughts or feelings about an abortion, I don’t know how you could feel any more irrelevant. And that’s something we need to break out of.”

FEAR #5: LOOKING FOOLISH

Greg shared the results of informal polling he’s done over the years with men on the questions What does it mean to you to look foolish. One of the biggest fears men have in this regard, he explained, is crying in front of strangers, which translates into showing emotion in front of people. And if that’s your fear, “you’re going to try to hold your emotions back as best you can,” which can be an obstacle to healing.

Another fear men shared with him is not knowing the answer. Greg described one instance of how this played out in his own life. Any time he tried to work on one of his cars and had to reach out to somebody to ask questions, “I would feel embarrassed and somehow less because I don’t know how to work on a car. It may seem like a silly example, but it’s a very real thing.” While he’s not a mechanic, Greg is a carpenter. He shared a few stories about times when he was building a deck or putting on a room edition and brilliant, professional men would make excuses for why they didn’t know how to do it. “One guy literally had three doctorate degrees, and he’s telling me how he feels bad he can’t put two boards together.”

NAVIGATING CONVERSATIONS WITH THESE FEARS IN MIND

“These fears are very real for men:” Greg said, “looking foolish, being irrelevant, being weak or perceived as weak or incompetent, and, number one, failing.” Being aware of these five big fears men are dealing with “helps us understand how to talk to them better because we can speak through those fears” using the 4×4 approach with open-ended questions and truly listening to what a man has to say.

Greg shared being afraid of failing as a dad when his wife was pregnant with their now 24 year old. And what was behind that fear? “I had a father who abandoned me at six and an abusive stepdad.” He talked about the need to navigate these conversations in a way that gets to the underlying fear and then what’s triggering that fear.

“When we approach a man like this, without an agenda, without telling him what he should do or know,” Greg said, “but with a true and heartfelt interest in where he’s at, who he is, and what he’d dealing with – well, we may be the first person who’s ever done that in his life. And that level of conversation may be the absolute difference in what helps him find a healing journey.” 

KEY TAKE-AWAYS

  • Men think and communicate differently than women, so approach men in the ways they’ll receive it.
  • Men need to know and sense that your interest in them is authentic, so stay focused on him and the conversation and truly listen.
  • You can help reverse disenfranchised grief and emotional invalidation by giving men space to share – and acknowledging – their emotions and experiences.
  • Speak encouragement to men who are facing abortion decisions and those who have been impacted by a partner’s abortion.
  • Ask authentic questions and truly listen and remember.
  • Be mindful of the five biggest fears men have: failing, being incompetent or perceived as incompetent, being weak or perceived as weak, being irrelevant, and looking foolish.

NEXT STEPS

Click here to watch the video of this webinar.

Click here to register for the next Men’s Healing Matters webinar. The topic will be The Male Abortion Healing Volunteer.

Click here to access Support After Abortion’s Men’s research and white paper on the impact of abortion on men.

Click here to access Support After Abortion’s Women’s research and white paper on the impact of medication abortion on women.  

Click here to register for the next Abortion Healing Provider webinar.

Click here to access Support After Abortion’s Resource Library.

Click here to explore Support After Abortion’s services, resources, and training for Abortion Healing Providers.

THE IMPACT OF ABORTION ON MEN

THE IMPACT OF ABORTION ON MEN

Our inaugural Men’s Healing Matters webinar on February 14 focused on our National Men’s Study and white paper on the Long-Term Negative Effect of Abortion on Men. Host Greg Mayo led the presentation and discussion.

WHY DOES MEN’S HEALING MATTER?

Greg discussed questions that pregnancy center staff, volunteers, and others often ask including Are men really impacted by abortion? Where are they? Why don’t they come forward?

To provide context and insight into men’s experiences, Greg shared a music video by the artist Dax featuring Darius Rucker called To Be a Man. The first time he watched the video “It immediately resonated,” Greg said. He has since shared it with guys in general, as well as with some therapists who shared it with their male clients. The feedback was consistently “finally someone sees me,” he said.

“As we explore how men heal differently,” Greg said, “I thought this song would be a great place to start with sharing where many men are today.”

The lyrics include these words:
I know this life can really beat you down
You wanna scream but you won’t make a sound
Got so much weight that you’ve been holdin’
But won’t show any emotion, as a man, that goes unspoken
That we can’t cry when life gets hard… we just have to play our parts
And don’t nobody give a damn about our broken hearts
It’s a lonely road, and they don’t care…

Participants shared that the song helped them to “look through the eyes of a man – what he’s feeling but can’t verbalize” and to “grow an appreciation of how hard it may be for men – how they perceive whether or not people are interested in them.”

“This is what we deal with in reaching men for healing,” Greg said. He shared that at every event he speaks, men will approach him and say I’ve never told anyone, but my girlfriend or wife or significant other had an abortion. The conditioning that what they feel doesn’t matter is an obstacle to their even seeking healing.”

Participants and Greg discussed how the video can lead men into conversation because of its transparency. “If one man sees another man share openly and honestly,” Greg said, “that gives him permission to do the same.”

WHITE PAPER ON MEN’S RESEARCH – 15 KEY HIGHLIGHTS

Greg then dove into a presentation on our Men’s Research and White Paper and offered 15 key highlights:

20 million abortions occurred in the U.S. from 2001-2021. Our research shows that 82% of both men and women don’t know where to go for after-abortion support. That amounts to 16 million people who don’t know where to find care.

The National Survey of Family Growth estimates that by age 45, 1 in 5 men experience abortion through a partner’s pregnancy termination. That study’s authors note that figure may be low because men don’t always know about their partners’ pregnancies or abortions.

There are a lot of comments in society about the role men play in abortion. Our study found that 45% of men said they had no voice or choice in the abortion decision. And 57% did not make the decision (their partner or someone else did). This mirrors a Guttmacher Institute study in which 57% of men said they would not have chosen to terminate the pregnancy if the decision had been up to them.

Men often struggle emotionally after abortion experiences regardless of their personal views on abortion itself. “Since the white paper came out,” Greg said, “I often hear people saying we must have just interviewed a bunch of pro-life evangelicals.” He explained that our study participants were split the same as the general population of men with 51% of men in our study self-identifying as pro-choice. So, the 71% who reported adverse changes and the 83% who wanted help – that includes both pro-choice and pro-life men.

Although 83% want help and 71% experience adverse change, only 7% said they would go to a clergy member for help, only 40% prefer a religious approach to healing, and over half (53%) seldom/never attend church. In contrast, an estimated 95% of abortion healing programs are religious. “It’s about context,” Greg said. “If you’re only offering religious programming, you’re not reaching the majority of men who want help.”

“Men have been minimized, if not completely overlooked in the [abortion] conversation,” according to Dr. Brian Nguyen, Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Southern California and a reproductive health researcher. Greg pointed out that this ties into the idea in the song To Be a Man that what you’re feeling doesn’t matter. “I would argue it’s worse in the context of abortion,” he said.

71% of men report adverse changes after abortion. These include depression, guilt, regret, anxiety, anger, substance abuse.

Men often experience disenfranchised grief and emotional invalidation. The Cleveland Clinic cautions that “Grief can affect every aspect of your being – mind, body, and spirit.”

Greg shared a quote from a past workshop attendee: “Just talking about men’s abortions and knowing I’m not the only one and that there is hope for healing is priceless.” Greg pointed out that this man wasn’t looking for a magic pill – he just wants to be able to talk about it and find healing.

Emotional invalidation is dismissing or rejecting someone’s thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. After the men’s research and white paper were released, articles about the study were published in national-level publications. Greg shared some of the comments that readers posted attacking men – even though the articles were not about politics. They just offered information that some men hurt after abortion and that healing is possible. Comments included: Men need to stay out of it. Quit whining and man up. Men can shut their mouths. Their hurt feelings aren’t a consideration here. Greg shared one comment directed to him that has stuck with him: I hope you have a daughter, and I hope she’s raped, then we’ll see what you think about abortion. Greg suggested the webinar participants consider the effect of reading such comments on men who may be unsure if they’re even able to speak about their pain. “I’d say it would encourage them to be silent,” he said.

Our research identified three challenges to men’s healing after abortion:
Lack of awareness
Lack of abortion healing resources for men
Lack of options for the type of healing that men prefer

What is Abortion Healing?
Similar to other losses or traumas, healing from abortion is the process of sharing stories, working through emotions, grieving losses, and finding freedom from making decisions out of fear and trauma.

Healing isn’t one-and-done. There are layers of healing. Greg discussed Support After Abortion’s six-week introductory abortion healing resource Keys to Hope and Healing. He described our Unraveled Roots: Exposing the Hidden Causes of Damaging Behaviors book and study that are a helpful next step that looks at the impact of childhood issues and traumas. He noted that the men’s version of Unraveled Roots will be published in a few months.

Greg spoke about the importance of approaching and communicating with people in a way they can receive. “The key is to meet people where they are,” he said, “and not forcing a religious message or acceptance of a religious position in order to receive help.” He quoted Support After Abortion board member, Fr. Shawn Monahan, OMV, who said, “We can’t always lead with Jesus or prayer. We need to lead with love. Our role today is to help them find hope, healing, and peace at this stage in their journey.” Greg cautioned, “If your approach is that they must enter healing only the way you think they should, you’ll lose them.”

The idea of meeting people where they are leads into Support After Abortion’s focus on offering healing options – programs for different levels of healing (e.g. introductory, intermediate, deep dive), different modalities (such as books, audio, video), and different types of healing (such as in-person, virtual, or self-guided; secular or religious; clinical, lay-led, or self-guided; weekend, weekly, or self-paced; group, one-on-one, or independent.)

“I was against virtual at first,” Greg shared. “My whole life in recovery was in-person, and I thought it was the way to go. But I’ve found men in virtual groups have been more open. Perhaps it’s because when I’m virtual, this is my space, I feel comfortable and safe.”

MY STORY OF LOST FATHERHOOD

Greg shared his personal story of experiencing abortion twice, losing his path in life as a result, and finding healing decades later.

When I was 18 years old, my girlfriend and I got pregnant. Her mom decided she would have an abortion. I protested, but was told this is what’s going to happen. So I did what I thought I should and went with them. I was inside for about eight seconds then was asked to go outside. I sat on the steps. When she came out, something was different.

That was the end of my senior year. My intent had been to go to college, try out as a soccer walk-on, and study journalism. But the experience sent me down a different road. I didn’t go to college. I couldn’t hold a job or even a thought. I became an angry person. I started engaging in adrenaline junkie behaviors and I moved around the country a lot. I was a swirling vat of confusion, anxiety, and depression, although I had no words for it at the time.

Then when I was 22 years old, a girl I had dated briefly called to tell me “I’m pregnant, but I’m going to take care of it.” I already knew how I felt after the first time, so I begged her not to. I offered to take the kid myself or get married. I wasn’t a stable guy then, so I understand her not wanting to. I said I would get in the car and be there in the morning, and we can talk. But she told me. “Don’t bother, by the time you get here it’ll be over. It’s not a baby and it’s not your decision,” and she hung up.

So by the time an average person would have graduated college, completed an apprenticeship, or served in the military, I had lived in four states, seven cities, flunked out of college, and experienced two abortions. I didn’t know anywhere to go to or people to talk to. What I had heard about Christians was a lot of judgment. I had seen the baby killer and burn in hell signs in the parking lot of the first abortion facility. It drove me further and further away.

Eventually I did have a conversion. But it was still many years later during a men’s study that I felt compelled to share my story. I was so nervous. But after I spoke that night, three other guys out of 14 men said they had the same story. That was the moment I got into recovery. I started meeting weekly with my pastor and also with a therapist. Later I became a Celebrate Recovery leader, which led me to write the novel Almost Daddy and its 12-step recovery guide.

And that’s why I’m here doing what I do – to help other men find a path to healing.

WHAT DO MEN WHO HAVE EXPERIENCED ABORTION WANT AMERICA TO KNOW?

Greg shared three final ideas related to men who have experienced abortion:
Men need to know that grief is a natural response to loss and that it’s okay to feel pain, sadness, grief, and loss after abortion.
There is an immediate need for greater awareness of the impact of abortion and healing options including secular and other resources for men and by men.
Licensed therapists and counselors need to be trained in abortion healing to meet the demand for clinical care.

NEXT STEPS

Click here to watch the video of this webinar.

Click here to register for the next Men’s Healing Matters webinar. The topic will be Changing the Way we Talk about Abortion.

Click here to access Support After Abortion’s Men’s research and white paper on the impact of abortion on men.

Click here to access Support After Abortion’s Women’s research and white paper on the impact of medication abortion on women.

Click here to register for the next Abortion Healing Provider webinar.

Click here to access Support After Abortion’s Resource Library.

Click here to explore Support After Abortion’s services, resources, and training for Abortion Healing Providers.

Support After Abortion announces new virtual men’s healing initiative

Support After Abortion announces new virtual men’s healing initiative

Support After Abortion announces new virtual men’s healing initiative

NORTH PORT, FL—Technology meets mental health in a new online program designed to help men who struggle emotionally after a partner’s abortion.

Support After Abortion, a non-profit which is building a national network of virtual healing options, launched a weekly Zoom meeting that merges anonymous group therapy practices with modern networking technology for men who feel hidden by the politics and cultural perceptions of abortion.

“We developed Base Camp to address the realities of men’s experience and capture the success model of recovery groups,” said Greg Mayo, who lost two children to abortion and leads the weekly calls. “The Zoom medium gives us the ability to welcome these men where they are, which is important because they often feel like they are alone in their struggles. Worse, many have been told their opinion doesn’t matter, so they wonder if they are allowed to feel the isolation, depression, and shame that often come from after-abortion challenges.”

Base Camp was developed in light of Support After Abortion’s nationally representative men’s survey data and supported by thousands of calls to the group’s After Abortion Help Line. More than seven in 10 men whose partner had an abortion reported adverse personal changes; and 78% of pro-choice men said they sought someone to talk to or could have used help after a partner’s abortion. But just 18% of men knew where to find after-abortion healing support.

Men may participate in Base Camp at any stage of their healing journey, and everyone is anonymous, said Mayo. “Participants frequently keep their cameras off and identities secret. The option to be anonymous is critical to creating opportunities for vulnerability, which creates a better healing experience for everyone because healing isn’t a one-and-done proposition.”

Base Camp is already impacting men. Anecdotes shared anonymously and with permission include the following:

  • “I’ve been to therapy and different types of meetings but never really talked about the abortion.”
  • It’s about healing ourselves. There’s pain that is felt and it’s real and it needs to be dealt with.
  • I shouldn’t have to fight to prove my own feelings of pain. And I won’t do it anymore.
  • I know I have to find healing and stop trying to medicate the pain and run from it.
  • “It was a relief to be told and, more importantly, to accept that I had been forgiven. What was challenging was talking about the taking of another life…my unborn child. So I stuffed it and that was a huge mistake. It just festered and got infected until I got it out.
  • “I want to share my story but I have to be able to protect my anonymity.” – participant with camera off
  • “She wanted the baby. I didn’t want to get married. But after I went into a deep suicidal depression. No one told me the abortion would affect me like that. It was supposed to solve the problem.”

Men struggling after abortion may participate in Base Camp on Tuesdays at 12 p.m. Eastern. Men who cannot participate in Base Camp may anonymously contact Support After Abortion for 1-on-1 counseling and care here.

How Abortion May Impact Grandparents

How Abortion May Impact Grandparents

Every abortion experience is unique to the people involved – the reasons that led to the termination, the emotions of the woman and man involved, who they tell or don’t tell, and the response and emotions of their family, friends, and others. We refer to this last part as the ripple effect of abortion

Holidays can be challenging for anyone coping with hard emotions, even when the holidays aren’t that well known, like Grandparents Day, which is coming up on September 10. While Grandparents Day doesn’t have the same level of national celebration as Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, it may still trigger intense feelings for those who are grieving the loss of their grandchildren.

GRANDPARENTS’ AFTER-ABORTION PAIN

These words from our clients show the struggles that grandparents may go through following a daughter’s abortion or a son’s experience of abortion through a partner’s termination. 

For some, the struggle is often two-fold: helping their daughter or son and coping with their own emotions and grief about the loss of their grandchild(ren):

I’m worried about my daughter. She had an abortion a few months back, and it’s making her mental health struggle from an old trauma worse. I want to help her, but I don’t know how. I’m hurting for my daughter and hurting from the abortion she had and the loss of our grandchild. – Grandfather

I’m not sure where to get support. My grandchild was aborted yesterday, and I’m absolutely shattered. We offered to support her if she wanted to raise the child. My son begged her to let him raise it if she didn’t want to; we begged her. I don’t know if my son will ever be okay. Please tell me what to do for him and for us. – Grandmother

My wife and daughter arranged the abortion without saying anything to me. I only found out when our daughter starting having severe depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts because of her abortion. I’m so hurt and angry about what happened, scared for my daughter, and sad about the baby. We’re helping her get the therapy and care she needs, but I need to talk to someone to help me deal with my thoughts and feelings. – Grandfather

Some are only focused on helping their children for now:

I’m not calling for me; I’m calling for my daughter. She has been suffering and struggling after an abortion for a long time. – Grandmother

I’m calling to get some information to help my daughter who recently had an abortion. She’s very emotional. I want to find help for her. I’m not yet dealing with my own feelings about the loss of our grandchild, right now I just need to help her. – Grandmother

Some grandparents struggle with the role they may have played in the abortion:

My adult daughter is struggling horribly emotionally after her abortion. Now I am living with the regret of not helping her see other options. I want to help her and also deal with my own grief. – Grandmother

Do you have any resources to help me? I’m struggling with my involvement with my daughter’s abortion. – Grandmother

Some grandparents feel isolated and alone in their grief due to their daughter’s or son’s desire for privacy. 

I can’t talk to anyone about my feelings about losing a grandchild or anything about the situation. I have to grieve in silence because my daughter doesn’t want anyone to know. – Grandmother

I’m calling to get help dealing with my emotions after my daughter’s abortion. My husband doesn’t want to talk about it, my daughter doesn’t want anyone to talk about it, but I’m hurting. She’s hurting. Our whole family is hurting. I can’t keep it bottled up. I need someone safe and anonymous to talk to. – Grandmother

SUPPORT FOR GRANDPARENTS IMPACTED BY ABORTION

Grandparents’ emotions after their daughter’s or son’s abortion experience(s) can be further complicated by parent/child relationship stressors, how they learned about the abortion(s), their own role in the abortion(s), whether or not their daughter or son is open to talking about it, whether they’ve been asked to keep it secret, whether or not their daughter or son is experiencing physical or mental health issues, and many other factors.

Regardless of what factors may apply, if you are a grandparent impacted by abortion, we’re so sorry for your loss. Know that YOU MATTER. While you weren’t the person who experienced abortion, you may experience depression, sadness, anger, regret, and other strong emotions. You deserve to get the support that you need.

WHAT IS AFTER-ABORTION HEALING?

Grief is simply a part of being human that impacts some people more than others and some people benefit from help working through their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. That’s exactly what abortion healing provides – an opportunity to work through emotions, grieve loss(es), share stories, and find closure. 

The way that looks is completely up to each individual and the options they prefer. Sometimes it’s talking one-on-one with a trained abortion healing provider or counselor. It could be a support group led by a peer facilitator using a structured program, curriculum, or book. It could be a self-guided online program. You may want anonymity, in-person, virtual, religious, secular, etc. All these options are available so that each person can receive the type of support that works best for them. Abortion healing is not necessarily one-and-done, and a person may prefer different healing options at different stages of their personal journey.

Whether you have experienced abortion yourself or have been impacted by someone else’s abortion, if you are struggling emotionally, you matter. You deserve support. 

HOW DO I FIND SUPPORT AFTER ABORTION?

Reach out to our After Abortion Line by online chat, phone, text, email, or messaging on Facebook or Instagram. We offer free, confidential, compassionate support. We can connect you to the healing resource that best meets your preferences. Check out our website for information, videos, self-guided healing, and more for women and men.

ONE GRANDMOTHER’S STORY OF ABORTION

While each person’s story is unique, sometimes it helps to hear what others have gone through. Click here for the story of one grandmother’s experience of the abortion of her first grandchild and the keys to her hope, healing, and recovery. 

 

 

About the Author

Michele serves as Communications Manager for Support After Abortion. She and her husband have experienced reproductive loss through three miscarriages and stillborn twins. They live in Greenville, SC with their three daughters.

 © Support After Abortion

I wouldn’t know what to say…Compassionate Conversation Training

I wouldn’t know what to say…Compassionate Conversation Training

 

I work behind the scenes at Support After Abortion. I don’t speak at conferences, facilitate support groups, or work on our After Abortion Line, so my role doesn’t involve conversations with clients or others who are hurting from abortion. Even in my non-work life, speaking directly with someone struggling with strong emotions or challenging circumstances is rare. One of my sisters is a nurse, another works at a homeless shelter, and my mom used to work with refugees, but me? I observe, research, write, and create materials that help others do what they do. Often I think I could never do that. I wouldn’t know what to say. It would probably be uncomfortable. What if I said the wrong thing? If I haven’t experienced XYZ, how would I relate and be able to help someone?

I recently had the privilege both in my personal and professional life to speak to people going through challenging circumstances and experiencing strong emotions. I discovered I’ve absorbed a lot more than I realized from listening to and learning from my amazing colleagues. While I was nervous, and felt ill-equipped in the moment, I was able to navigate those conversations. And just this week one of the individuals I talked to told me that our conversation a few months ago was cathartic and a step in their healing journey. That made me feel so humbled and honored to have been entrusted to listen to someone share their painful lived experience and for that to have actually helped them. 

EVERYONE CAN SUPPORT SOMEONE

As I reflected on these conversations, I noticed I said or did things that I had heard my colleagues and guests in our monthly Abortion Healing Provider training webinars talk about. If you’re already a whiz at these types of interactions, maybe something will resonate with you or spark a new idea. And, if you’re like me – a total newbie and more than a little timid about engaging with someone who is suffering, maybe you’ll feel a tad more confident about tiptoeing into these waters to stand alongside someone and offer support.

4 SIMPLE STEPS

We have a great resource that offers a simple four-step process to follow when you encounter someone who has been impacted by abortion. The steps are:

  1. Examine your judgment
  2. Walk in compassion
  3. Ask if they would like to share their experience
  4. Connect them with support

That rack card talks about the importance of showing compassion, not judging, and being a safe space for someone. But what does that look like? How can we be a safe space

Maybe you’re like me and think it would be too uncomfortable, too outside your box to talk with someone going through something difficult. But the truth is, at some point all of us will have someone tell us something painful – whether it’s that they lost their job, are going through a divorce or medical crisis, or that they’re struggling after abortion. These 4 Steps can be applied toward any conversation. And the more we practice them, the more they’ll become second nature, and the more ready we’ll be for a conversation that takes us by surprise.

STEP 1: EXAMINE YOUR JUDGMENT 

In his book Tell Me More About That, author Rob Volpe lays out five steps to empathy. Just like our first step when encountering someone is Examine Your Judgment, Dismantle Judgment is Volpe’s first step to empathy. “Judgment forms a brick wall that blocks your ability to listen to and understand another person,” he says.  Being judgmental, he explains, is when “you are basing your thoughts on your own values and opinions and negatively applying them to someone else,” which he warns “can cause injury and harm to the other person.” He describes dismantling judgment as “checking in to see if I’m being judgmental, asking myself where that thought is coming from, and putting it aside so that I can connect with the individual or group I’m trying to understand.”

We have opportunities to exercise this skill all the time. When someone shares a decision they’ve made or an activity they’re pursuing or their abortion story, if our first thought is some version of why did you do that or I would never do that or I think you’re wrong, pause. Move that thought aside and make space for that person’s reality. Often our first instinct is to ask why. Volpe cautions in his book that this can put people on the defensive, shut them down, and create a wall that makes communication unlikely, if not impossible. Instead, he suggests checking our judgment and saying Tell me more about that.

Several months ago someone shared with me a life-altering decision they had made. The person said, “I know we don’t see eye-to-eye on this.” Prior to learning these healthier, empathetic ways to communicate while working at Support After Abortion, I probably would have asked why and might have tried to dissuade them or focused on why I disagreed. But I was able to say – and mean it – “You’re right, I don’t agree with your choice, but I want to be a safe space for you. And I appreciate your trusting me and talking with me about this. I know this is difficult for you.” As a result, instead of shutting down and possibly wounding our relationship, we were able to have a respectful, real conversation about their feelings, needs, and how I could support them as a person without supporting their decision.

“Taking my own judgment out of the equation helped me open up to hear what [the person] was saying,” Volpe says. “I was able to really understand their perspective and reach empathy.” He also points out that “Just because I understand someone’s point of view doesn’t mean I have to agree with them.” The key is that “empathy and respect lead to more productive conversations and interpersonal relationships.”

STEP 2: WALK IN COMPASSION

I think part of the scariness about encountering someone who is suffering is thinking that their experience and pain is so different from ours that we don’t know what to say or how to connect. 

“We’re all more alike than we are different,” Support After Abortion CEO and licensed mental health therapist Lisa Rowe frequently says. In fact, our speakers often use a slide like the one below in presentations. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They talk about how we don’t need to have experienced abortion, or the death of a spouse, or abuse to be able to have empathy for someone who has. We all have something in our lives that has caused us pain, anger, sadness, anxiety, regret, etc. And we can tap into those experiences and emotions when we speak to and support others.

5 TIPS FOR WALKING IN COMPASSION 

There are many elements that factor into being compassionate when speaking with someone. These are five that I’ve heard our team speak about and that I realized later I had incorporated into conversations.

COMPASSION TIP 1: BE VULNERABLE 

While you don’t want to make it about you, sharing briefly something relatable can help the other person. In preparation for articles I wrote for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, I interviewed three women and five men about how their abortion experiences affect them on these holidays. One of the guys messaged ahead of time asking me not to judge him if he got emotional, then he said “just joking, but not really.” I messaged him back and said absolutely no judgment, we’re all about compassion. And it seemed appropriate to share with him that while I hadn’t experienced abortion, I had miscarriages and stillbirths and had great empathy for those suffering after reproductive loss. I shared that it’s been over 25 years, and sometimes I can speak about it without a problem, other times it’s difficult and emotional, and I never know which me will show up, so I get it. He said my sharing that helped him relax and made him feel like I would be able to understand. It’s a balance. Volpe says, “Don’t overshare, but be willing to open up” so people can understand us and trust us as a safe space to share their own experiences. 

COMPASSION TIP 2: HOLD SPACE 

I’ve heard our team speak about holding space. Volpe says, “Put the question out there, see where they go with it. Let them fill in the space. Don’t fill the space with your talk. Mostly listen.” I was thankful to have heard this advice in our webinars because a couple of the men went silent after I asked a question, and I wasn’t sure if they didn’t want to talk about that question and would prefer that I move on. But I just stayed silent, holding the space for them. I wondered as the silence lingered if that made it more awkward for them. But one guy said at the end of our interview that he appreciated my patience when he had to mute to gather his thoughts and calm his emotions. I hadn’t even realized he’d muted himself, I only knew he’d gone quiet. You may have the benefit of visual cues if you’re in person or on Zoom. These were phone interviews, so I just waited and trusted the advice.

COMPASSION TIP 3: IGNORE LANGUAGE 

One man apologized for swearing. I said don’t worry about it and told him about a support group leader who talked in a webinar about his guy’s group meeting and said it’s important for men to be allowed to speak in whatever way they want to get it out, and if that means swearing, that’s what they need. The interviewee said that was so true because if he had to watch his words, he wouldn’t be able to just speak his real pain. This is true for women as well. A relative was recently telling me about a tough situation and apologized for some choice language. I told her the same story about the webinar and she said the same thing as the interviewee – that to tell her story she needed to not have to police the way she was speaking. This really goes back to “don’t make it about you.” A lot of people swear. Maybe you’re like me and don’t swear or hear it much in your daily life, but when someone’s trusting you with their pain and emotions, focus on their heart and the message they’re sharing with you, not the !#@*&% words they’re using.  

COMPASSION TIP 4: TAKE YOUR TIME 

A couple of the interviewees meandered from a question I asked and apologized, saying something like you probably don’t want/need to hear all that. I said, “You can tell your story any way you like, it doesn’t have to be just about Father’s day.” They needed to tell their abortion stories before talking about Father’s Day. I’ve heard our team say that for many people talking about their abortion experiences is freeing. Often they don’t have people in their lives they feel comfortable talking to about it and sometimes it’s easier to tell a stranger. Whether it’s a friend, relative, client or stranger opening up to you, let them speak their story in their own way at their own pace.

Similar things happen in our daily lives. You may ask a friend, co-worker, or even a stranger a question and they tell you their mom’s in the hospital or they’re going through a divorce or struggling with a major plumbing problem at home. Take the time to be present to them. Walk in compassion. You can start by saying I’m so sorry you’re going through that. Would you like to talk about it? Then listen and respond with compassion. 

I had this experience early this past spring while walking in a nature park. I live in the south, so it’s very common for strangers to chat, and we started talking about the blooming flowers. I expected a brief, cheerful conversation. She shared that she had moved from up north where it would still be snowing for several more weeks. But when I asked how long she had lived here, she teared up. She shared that she and her husband of over 50 years had moved less than a year ago from the only place they had lived, then he got sick and had just passed away a few weeks before. Wow. That changed our simple chat. I found myself saying I’m so sorry for your loss. Would you like to tell me about him? Then we had a beautiful, connecting conversation. 

COMPASSION TIP 5: PICK UP ON THEIR CUES 

Volpe encourages listening for key words people use and mirroring that same language. “It helps build a connection,” he says, “and makes the other person feel more comfortable.” One key example of this in after-abortion conversations is to listen for how they refer to the other person involved in the pregnanc(ies) that ended in abortion(s) – boyfriend, girlfriend, ex, husband, wife, partner, etc. Also listen to how they describe others in their story – for example do they say “mom,” “mother,” or “mama?” Then use their terms when you speak. 

Another important cue to pick up on is religion. When someone is grieving – whether an abortion or another loss – often people want to speak about their own faith to comfort the person. However, it’s important to follow that person’s lead. If someone mentions God or their faith – then you might choose to echo that in what you say. For example, the woman in the park talked about God and her faith. So I knew it would be a safe space for her if I did, too. But if she hadn’t mentioned God, I would not have brought it up. In the same way, if the person you’re talking to shares that they don’t believe in God, respect that and don’t talk about your faith. Or, for example, if they’re Jewish and you’re Christian, don’t talk about Jesus. If you prefer not to talk about faith or don’t believe in God, but they do, you can reflect back what they say, such as I can see how important that is to you. You can also ask about something they’ve mentioned. You might ask if they’ve talked to anyone or found support in their faith community. The bottom line is to keep the focus on them. 

STEP 4: CONNECT THEM WITH SUPPORT

For a person who has shared with you their struggle after abortion, you can say It’s common for people to need to talk more about their abortion experiences, and tell them about Support After Abortion and how we connect people who are hurting after abortion to resources that best fit their preferences. You can share our phone number (844.289.HOPE), website (www.supportafterabortion.com), and/or email (help@supportafterabortion.com).

You can also do this step in non-abortion conversations. The woman I met in the park said she was already attending a grief support group, but she was really missing the camaraderie and connections from her women’s Bible study group where she used to live. She mentioned she isn’t comfortable or knowledgeable about the internet, so I asked her if she would want help with that. She did, so we exchanged email addresses, and when I got home I did some research and sent her options that might fit what she said she wanted. It didn’t matter that we were of different faiths and her desire was a Bible study in her faith. I could help find what she needed. 

I remember a similar, albeit much lighter, connection for someone. A new neighbor moved in and mentioned that her son really missed going fishing, but she had no idea where to take him. I don’t fish, in fact the idea is rather gross to me. But, I know what it feels like to move and to feel lost without the activities you were used to. So I asked friends who do fish for suggestions, and then gave her a list and map of nearby places. They actually went to one the next day and she told me it made her son feel less homesick and more hopeful that their move would be okay.

Whether a person’s grief stems from losing a spouse, a study group, a fishing hole, or experiencing abortion, we can offer support and help connect them to a person or resource that can fill their need.

CLOSING THE CONVERSATION 

The power of saying, Thank you for sharing that with me. This can’t be an easy thing for you. can’t be underestimated,” said the hosts of one of our webinars. While I thanked each interviewee for talking with me, I’ll admit that ending the first interview felt really awkward. I’d come to the end of my questions, so normally I’d say thanks and wrap it up pretty easily. But after spending 45 minutes talking and listening to him vulnerably share his story and his pain, I honestly didn’t know what to say after I thanked him. So I just owned it. I repeated what I’d said at the start of our call – that this was my first time talking directly with someone who had experienced abortion who wasn’t connected to Support After Abortion. And I just said, “I really appreciate your talking with me and sharing so much from your heart what you’ve experienced and how you’re hurting from this. I’m so sorry for your loss. I have to admit that it feels really weird that you’ve shared so deeply and now I’m going to say what – bye, have a nice life?” He laughed and said it was a little weird for him, too. But he also said he really appreciated being be able to talk about what he’s gone through. 

I think it helps in closing the conversation to remember what Rowe says about how we’re more alike than we are different and Volpe’s suggestions for treating people with respect and empathy. Let the interaction guide the ending. A sincere Thank you for sharing with me and I’m so sorry for your loss will go a long way.

GET HELP PROCESSING IF YOU NEED IT

Sometimes you may need to talk through your own emotions after these types of conversations, while honoring confidentiality by not sharing names or identifiable details. I’ve heard our team members talk about how they support one another when they’re affected by a client’s situation and struggles. It’s part of their healthy self-care, as processing their feelings rather than just pushing through helps prevent burnout and assures they’ll be able to be fully present for the next client. Since this was my first experience hearing someone’s words and raw emotions, I was a bit emotional myself. So I called a team member who has worked with clients for years. I asked her if it gets easier. She said it does, although some people’s experiences are so painful and their grief so profound that it’s good for “helpers” to be able to process their own feelings with someone. I also told her about the awkwardness at the end and asked how she closes calls. It was reassuring for her to say that sometimes after a person’s deep sharing, closing the conversation feels awkward to her, too. Being able to talk through my thoughts and feelings after hearing about someone’s struggles and pain was helpful, and I felt stronger and ready for the next interview. 

NEXT STEPS 

The next time you find yourself in a conversation with someone who is struggling with a situation or circumstance – whether they’re hurting after abortion or something else – try the 4 Step Process. Examine your judgment, walk in compassion, ask if they would like to share their experience, and connect them with support. In showing compassion, be vulnerable, hold space, ignore language, take your time, and pick up on their cues. And if you need it, without sharing anything identifiable about the person who trusted you with their story, talk through your own thoughts and emotions with someone. While we may still feel a little nervous about engaging in conversations with people who are grieving or experiencing tough challenges, these steps can help everyone support someone.

If you have experienced or been impacted by abortion and would like to talk with someone, reach out to our After Abortion Line by online chat, phone, text, email or messaging on Facebook or Instagram. We offer free, confidential, compassionate support. We can connect you to the healing resource that best meets your preferences – that may be counseling, support group, virtual, in person, religious, secular, etc.

If you are an abortion healing provider or would like to learn more about providing after-abortion support, explore our Provider Training Center and attend our free monthly Abortion Healing Provider webinars.

 

About the Author

Michele serves as Communications Manager for Support After Abortion. She and her husband have experienced reproductive loss through three miscarriages and stillborn twins. They live in Greenville, SC with their three daughters.

 

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