by Cecelia Cody, Administrative Director
One Saturday in November, I had the opportunity to participate in an online training summit sponsored by FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) entitled Save Lives U. The entire summit is available at http://savelivesu.com/summit. In this article I will be highlighting a couple of the presentations, to whet your appetite to go and view the entire summit.
Empathetic Listening – Sister Mariae Agnes Dei of the Sisters of Life spoke on “Empathetic Listening to Reach a Person in Crisis.”
If a pre-abortive mother approaches you and is open to talking with you…how do you start? What do you say? Is there a good practice to follow? A quick synopsis: She talks, you listen.
A bit of background: No woman wants an abortion. Perhaps it was said best by Frederica Mathewes-Green, former president of Feminists for Life, who said, “No one wants an abortion as she wants an ice-cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion as an animal, caught in a trap, wants to gnaw off its own leg.” Often the woman feels alone, terrified, as if her life is over. She feels it is her life or the baby’s life. Our objective is to help her get in touch with her heart, her goodness, and help her to see that her life has possibilities.
The first step is to prepare our own heart: We need to enter the conversation with the heart of Christ, full of love and centered on the dignity of the woman and the sacred dignity of the life she is carrying in her womb. Also we need a “heart of leisure,” don’t rush, this is not a “crisis, but rather a decision to be pondered with reflection and love.” Lastly we have to be ready to accompany this woman in her journey, whatever choice she makes.
Once our heart is ready (and this happens before we ever arrive at the sidewalk) as the woman approaches us, we prepare to use Empathetic Listening. True empathy understands and shares the view of the other, and listens attentively. We need to make a connection, and make sure the woman knows she is really being heard. Perhaps the most important part is WE STOP TALKING. We aren’t silent, we just aren’t doing the talking, we are “attending” through eye contact, nodding, and body language. We “follow” her conversation with brief verbal responses like un-hum, I see, wow. After she has started to share her story, we encourage her through “opening the door” with open ended questions like: Tell me about that, what was your heart experiencing when you learned about your pregnancy? How was that for you?
Once she has told her story, “reflect” back to her by restating or paraphrasing what she has said, so she knows she was heard. Be a mirror. If you hear her saying “I want to graduate from college, become a doctor, I want to settle into a career before having a baby” Our response might be “You feel like having a baby right now can’t work with your plans and dreams?” She will now feel heard and understood, and we have begun to build bonds of trust.
In summary, our goal is to awaken in the woman a sense of her own dignity, and reflect both her sacred dignity and the sacred dignity of the life she is carrying in her womb.
At the other end of the “Save Lives U” spectrum, Michaelene Fredenburg of Life Perspectives spoke on “Abortion Changes You: Creating a Safe Place for Healing.” Her premise is that fear holds women (and men) back from sharing their pain of a past abortion (and even miscarriages). People in need of healing need to know they are not alone, and there are “safe places” to seek out healing. We are those “safe places.” People watch the way we behave in general, and then they know if they can approach us with something as sensitive as a pregnancy loss.
There are three things we need to do to be that “safe place” for these people:
Be Prepared – we need an awareness, and to be an invitation to these people. Awareness includes the fact that as well as almost one million abortions a year, there are also about one million miscarriages, or 25% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. Michaelene recommended the Safe Place App: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.bf.app99b683&hl=en_US which includes lots of resources, as well as referral information.
Be Safe (Place) – present a compassionate, non-judgmental attitude, or accepting people where they are, at all times, not just when in pro-life ministry.
Be Present – much like the skills detailed by Sister Mariae Agnes Dei previously in this article, listen to the person’s story so he or she feels heard and acknowledged. Our responses might include comments like: “I’m so sorry for your loss” as well as “I’m here for you.”
These are just a couple of summaries of the talks included in the Save Lives U videos. I invite you to spend a few minutes – each talk is under 20 minutes, and can be viewed one at a time – in the coming weeks and view each of the videos. There is a wealth of information; even the most experienced of us can pick up a few pointers, and it is a good review for everyone. For the full series visit: http://savelivesu.com/summit