My volunteer work at Planned Parenthood started again this past weekend. I’ve finally started doing options education with some supervision and should be flying solo soon. I was also invited to watch an abortion procedure take place.

In massage school we talked a lot about the honor of being allowed to lay hands on our clients. Here are perfect strangers who are willing to undress and allow you to touch them quite intimately. They are trusting you not to hurt them, not to mock them, and not to take advantage of them. It is a heavy responsibility; one that has been abused just enough in the past to carry a stigma with it. And yet people keep coming back and keep trusting.

Being invited into the procedure room felt like that privilege tenfold. The women on the table were as exposed and vulnerable as anyone I have ever seen. And there I was, no visible purpose, hovering at the edge of the room attempting not to look like I was trying to get a good view.

The procedure itself takes about five minutes at the most. The doctor was friendly, firm and matter-of-fact. He told them everything he was doing before he did it. He even warned them before he started to talk to to me, explaining a bit of the anatomy involved.  I watched and nodded and tried to absorb everything I could.

After every massage I was taught to thank my client before leaving the room. It’s a habit I engaged in inconsistently when I worked in the field, but I always liked the spirit behind it. Even if I didn’t speak the words, I always tried to convey through my final contact that I was thankful for their trust and respectful of their bodies.

I wish there were some way I could convey to the two women I watched how thankful I was that they accepted my presence. No one wants to be the body the new doctor learns on; no one wants to feel like their problems are on display. And yet both women, as scared and uncertain as they were, accepted my presence without question. All I could do was smile reassuringly and try to convey as much respect and non-judgement in their direction as possible.

The sense of privilege wears off. By the time you’ve laid hands on fifty bodies, the sense of the client’s vulnerability ceases to hold the same poignancy. By one hundred it is even fainter. I reached a point as a therapist where I had to remind myself to pause and recognize that I was doing something special. I expect the same will occur in medicine. It’s not necessarily a bad thing; the doctor at the clinic was reassuring in his casual manner. But as I have several years ahead of me as the  a student in the procedure rooms, I really hope I can maintain that sense of honor at being allowed to see these patients at some of the most exposed moments in their lives.

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