When we first meet Sister Williams*, her hands are adorned with a Manual Vacuum Aspirator in one and a pair of forceps in the other. The room is warm, with an industrial fan drowning the moans of her patient. She is in the process of completing her second abortion for the day, with four more patients still to follow.
Sister Williams has been a practicing professional nurse for the past 25 years, having worked in numerous health facilities across KwaZulu-Natal, until finally settling in her current position as an abortion provider for the past two years.
Her day starts off early, reaching the clinic before 7am with the first abortion scheduled routinely for 7:30am. She, together with another colleague meet their patients and begin their day with prayer. Coming from a strong Christian faith background, she recalls her congregations’ first reactions when they learned she had chosen to be an abortion provider.
“They would raise their eyebrows and call me a killer, and say that all those babies would be waiting for me when I go to heaven.”
However the views of her colleagues, family and congregation since then has began to slowly change as they realised that she is helping women and girls, and preventing deaths from unsafe abortion.
Every abortion provider has a life changing moment as to why they have specifically chosen this career path. For sister Williams, her realization came during 2004 when she attended a course in advanced Midwifery at King Edward VIII Hospital in Durban. Whilst there she witnessed young women being mistreated and ostracised by senior nurses and medical stuff because of their decision to have abortions. She vowed then that she would become an abortion provider and treat women with the respect and dignity they deserve!
She also remembers the numerous times women have died in front of her from unsafe abortions ranging from ingesting cleaning agents like bleach, to ruptured uteruses from insertion of wire hangers through the cervix.
As we change the linen of the procedure bed and prepare for the next patient, Sister Williams eagerly agrees to teach us in a stepwise approach how to perform a surgical, Manual Vacuum Aspiration, first trimester abortion. She reminds us that it’s also a skill used to manage incomplete miscarriages, especially in low resourced settings, and a skill we have not been formally taught thus far in our five years of medical training.
Her compassion and kindness translates beautifully in the manner she interacts with the women she treats. She laughingly tells us that she doesn’t really consider it work, as it’s something that she loves doing, a job that’s completely stress free!
Although she is only compelled to be present at work until 4pm every afternoon, she only feels complete satisfaction when every woman in the waiting room is examined, counselled and subsequently booked for an abortion. She knows if she doesn’t do the abortion, they will be forced to execute their next option, reply to the numerous bogus providers advertisements pasted on the exterior of the hospital walls.
As we are about to leave and reflect on Sister Williams experiences and what we have experienced for ourselves, she turns to us and says that her greatest joy are the “thank-yous” she receives each day and what makes her sleep well at night. National Abortion Provider Appreciation Day occurs only 1 day a year. That leaves 364 days in a job filled with stigma and ostracism from the rest of the public who don’t understand the necessity of an abortion provider. Those individual “thank-yous” Sister Williams receives each day are her reminders that what she does is necessary and life-changing for each woman she comes into contact with. Those “thank-yous” are the reason she is passionate about her job and will continue to provide abortions for as long as she can.
Happy National Abortion Provider Appreciation Day!
*Not her real name