Pro-lifers: the forgotten first responders
I’ve been involved in the pro-life movement for many years and I have witnessed many things.
I could talk about the babies, or the times out at the clinic, or testifying before the state legislatures, organizing events on campus, doing life chains, holding prayer meetings, talking at church, interviews with the media and on and one and on, but, this blog post is different.
Because, I’d like to talk about the pro-life people.
I think it was my friend Jill Stanek who pointed out recently in a blog post on her website that holding an abortion survivor may be causing her to experience PTSD. She was exaggerating but was she?
I have thought about this for a very long time. I am not a psychologist or a mental health specialist, but, I do know that there are very long-lasting affects to being in this culture war of abortion.
It occurred to me one day as I listened to a first responder tell about a breakdown he had. He went on an emergency call for a child who was severely injured. He had done this many times before, but, this time he said that he personally related with the young child because the boy was the same age as his own child.
The injuries were severe and fatal. After the child was at the hospital and pronounced dead, this first responder said he just could not do anything. He could not finish his duties that day- he went home and he stated that he doesn’t remember the next several days.
Days later, he eventually recovered – but – recognized that he was suffering from what he had witnessed, and he needed a support network to get through the process completely.
It was when I was listening to this that it dawned on me, this is just like people in the pro-life movement.
What we face day in and day out is traumatic. We daily choose to witness the horrors of abortion.
I, like Jill, also held the bodies of aborted children in my arms. In my case, they were in multiple pieces – the victims of suction abortion- dismembered- and a horrific sight. I describe that experience here. I can tell you, it was traumatic.
As pro-lifers, especially those of us who have been speaking out for many many years, we stood up when our convictions were not in the majority. We plugged along without giving ourselves the emotional support we needed. I mean, how could we? Who would offer such support- the church back then- rarely spoke up. In fact, I recall many lashing out against us. Now, things are beginning to change. But the reality that abortion will take a toll on us still rings true today.
I have had the privilege to speak with many pro-life activists. Some report nightmares, some anger, some have given up in a hopeless way – and others fight on but say they feel alone- isolated.
Many of these people are also strong – independent- and great fighters.
In many respects, are we not like a first responder? Running into the scene of abortion – not knowing what we will find- but determined to save lives?
First responders have now implemented what is called Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM).
An article in Psychology Today says that CISM is needed when a person is, “Caught off guard and “numb” from the impact of a critical incident… The final extent of any traumatic event may never be known or realistically estimated in terms of loss, bereavement, mourning and grief. In the aftermath of any critical incident, psychological reactions are quite common and are quite predictable. Critical Incident Stress Debriefing or CISD and the management of traumatic reactions by survivors can be a valuable tool following a life-threatening event…There are oftentimes, unusually strong emotions attached to the event which have the potential to interfere with that person’s ability to function”
‘In time, researchers began to find evidence that emergency workers, public safety personnel and responders to crisis situations, rape victims, abused spouses and children, stalking victims, media personnel as well as individuals who were exposed to a variety of critical incidents (e.g., fire, earthquake, floods, industrial disaster, and workplace violence) also developed short-term crisis reactions.”
The article also details the need for emotional support, “ventilation and validation are important to individuals as each, in their own way, needs to discuss their exposure, sensory experiences, thoughts and feelings that are tied to the event. Ventilation and validation are necessary to give the individual an opportunity to emote.”
What is needed for today’s pro-life activists is much more emotional support.
For me, I had friends who were not absorbed with child killing on a daily basis – yet- they supported me.
My friends listened and allowed me to express anger. Even anger directed at them- telling them that more people (including them) needed to get involved and do more ! Let’s face it, if we were actual war soldiers wouldn’t we get that kind of support? Would people understand our passion more if they really saw this battle as a real war?
Fr. Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, recently expressed a similar thought, while describing a new project they launched called Shockwaves of Abortion, “The basic tenant of it is very simple, abortion hurts everybody. We know it kills the baby, we know it hurts the mother. There’s been increasing awareness that it hurts the dad as well. We know it hurts the abortion clinic workers themselves and the pain and the devastation and conflict it gives to them.”
Fr. Pavone points out that even pro-lifers are impacted, “And the pro-life activists who tried to save those lives but failed. We face that every day. We’re trying to save all these lives. Much of the time we don’t save them. And, how does that impact us? Well, it impacts us very deeply. And, we’ve got to be able to admit that and to grieve that properly lest it turns into bitterness or discouragement.”
In the example of the first responder I mentioned earlier, he told the group that, after he had his break down, the only person he wanted to speak to was his partner. He said that was because she was there – she could understand what he saw and felt.
If you are a friend or a pastor of a pro-life activist, this is great information. Often, we feel we have no one we can turn to except other activist pro-lifers. The problem is that, for many of us, we have not unloaded our own grief, anger, and pain and it is difficult to take on another person’s emotions in that state.
As I write this, I think of all the wonderful people who were so passionate to reach out to women seeking abortion and to strive to save babies from the grip of death that are no longer involved. I believe the battle itself burns people out and I wish – no – I pray that support networks will arise that can help those who are so desperately needed to battle for the unborn.
Pro-lifers are strong and resilient and unrelenting. But, any professional will tell you – that battling all the time is not good. No, I am not saying that people should quit-in a war that is not an option. I am saying though, that we, as pro-life activists, need to seek out support from friends and others within the movement. We must also work on cleansing our hearts and emotions through the scriptures and in daily prayer.
It is easy to get hardened when you are seeing dead children piling up day in and day out. It is easy to allow your emotions to become embittered or to get so overwhelmed that you give-up. This battle takes it’s toll. Abortion slaughters countless innocent unborn children in the womb, it damages the women – mothers, clinic workers, and yes, pro-life activists.
So, the next time you lash out at the way a pro-lifer expresses their passion, even calling it “unkind” or “mean” recognize that abortion – with it’s long grip of death- even affects the pro-life activist. Grace and compassion MUST be extended to those who work to end the slaughter.
Earlier today, as I drove home from work, I recalled this song by now deceased Christian artist Keith Green. It brought me to tears as I recognized the hardness of my own heart in this battle. I let the tears flow, I needed the cleansing. I need my heart soft in order to please my Lord, to keep fighting, to be effective.
As we carry on in the battle for life, we ARE the first responders witnessing the horrors of this terrible war and running into it to save every precious life we can. We must protect our emotions – we must gather a support network around us.
God is our strength – we must fight on – and we must not quit – ever !