Thursday, August 23, 2012

Cortney Davis Interview (with Mary Nichelson)

“I write to honor my patients and the moments we share, and also to keep harm away—not with medicine but with memory. In my writing, nursing becomes a metaphor for how we care or fail to care for one another—our families, our neighbors, our lovers. For me nursing, like writing, is that human place in which nurturing and mystery meet.” Author Cortney Davis takes her readers on this journey through the course of eleven books; some poetry, others fiction, and then there is her testimony written in booklet format. No matter what her writing style is labeled, she connects with her readers through true to life experiences and a relativity that any reader can associate with.

MN- You wrote your testimony (Is It A Baby, Or Just Some Cells) in 2007 and followed it with To Begin Again, a fictionalized medical novel based on your testimony, in 2010. What prompted you to write the fictionalized version as well?

CD- I wanted to give readers a more detailed picture of how healthcare professionals might deal with the topic of abortion, including giving graphic images of how abortions are performed, and especially relating how difficult it is to be a pro-life caregiver in today’s society.  In the booklet, Is It a Baby or Just Some Cells, I spoke of my own conversion from being a pro-choice nurse practitioner working in women’s health to being a pro-life nurse practitioner—but at some level I felt that my personal story didn’t give enough information.  In To Begin Again, I relate the story not only of Martha, who undergoes a conversion as I did, but also of other characters, some who are staunchly pro-choice.  I wanted to give both sides of the abortion debate, as seen by caregivers, letting readers travel the journey alongside Martha as she experienced her conversion to life. 

MN- Do you think readers—especially those that aren’t attached to a certain church or religious doctrine—will be open to your message in To Begin Again since it is not preachy or overly religious?

CD- Although I am Catholic and, in the book, Martha eventually returns to her Catholic roots, I wanted the book to be applicable to everyone—religious or not.  For me, the question of abortion transcends religion, and I very much wanted to avoid preaching or pushing any particular religion’s point of view. The practice of abortion is one that we must examine personally, humanly, and in the depths of our beings, regardless of what our particular faith allows or forbids.  The study questions at the back of the book are designed to bring everyone into the discussion, no matter their religion or their current belief regarding abortion.  I’m not naïve enough to believe that reading To Begin Again will bring everyone to instant conversion—although that did happen to one reader. I’ll be happy if reading the book introduces the subject of abortion to readers in a more personal and realistic way.  I think it’s easier to be pro-choice if you’ve never been in the room watching an abortion, performing an abortion, or speaking in the exam room to a woman whose grief after abortion is overwhelming.  

MN- The main character, Martha, finds that medical personnel that perform abortions aren’t necessarily bad people. In fact, they believe they are offering a much needed service to women. Have you found that ideology prevalent in healthcare facilities that you have worked in?

CD- Indeed.  Most caregivers who perform abortions fall into one of several categories, I’ve found.  The first category believes strongly that abortion is a woman’s right, that it is not ethically wrong, and that they are serving women by doing abortions.  A second category is made up of caregivers who believe that performing abortions is part of their duty as gynecologists and that women do have the right to choose. Although these practitioners do not necessarily like to perform abortions, they will. They often try to help women chose alternatives to abortion, and they do not necessarily believe in abortion on demand. A third group believes that while women have the right to chose, abortion is generally “wrong.”  These folks, like so many others, think that abortion is not for them but may be okay for others.  They more of less take a deep breath and do abortions when required to do so.  Other caregivers might engage in performing abortions initially but ultimately have to stop. Some residents feel obligated to do abortions in training but decide they will not do them in private practice.  Some very brave residents refuse to perform abortions under any circumstances.  

MN- Do healthcare providers become numb to what they are doing? Using terms such as “medical procedure” as opposed to “abortion” has to influence those giving, as well as receiving, abortions.

CD- I think that often providers become numb to what they are doing and, in some cases, this is necessary.  It’s difficult for an oncologist to witness how chemotherapy can sicken a patient, and yet the doctor must order the chemotherapy in order to save lives.  Abortion is a different matter.  Most providers—not all, but most—have to distance themselves from what they are doing and seeing during an abortion.  I think that only the staunchest supporters of abortion can perform one without having some emotional reaction.  I’ve seen medical students and residents find all sorts of ways to convince themselves that “it’s not a baby.”  And I’ve heard nurses tell patients “it’s not a baby; it’s only a tangle of cells,” and I wonder if this is to lessen the patient’s guilt or the nurses discomfort.  I find that pre-abortion counseling is often aimed at giving the least amount of information necessary.  Before any operation, a patient is given—or should be—specific information about what will be done, including full disclosure of risks, side effects and a detailed description of why the operation is needed.  Women who choose abortion are too often given very superficial information—I had many patients who came back post-abortion angry that they were not told the details of fetal development or about all the risks of abortion.  In one job situation, I was actually told not to give a woman any information that might lead her to change her mind about having the abortion!

MN- What is the bigger challenge; persuading women not to end their pregnancy prematurely through abortion, or persuading medical facilities not to offer the procedure in the first place?

CD- The reality is that it will be almost if not totally impossible to stop medical facilities from offering abortions, whether it’s Planned Parenthood, free-standing clinics, hospitals or doctors’ offices—our society is too deeply entrenched in the belief that abortion is a “right” and that we have no business imposing our beliefs on others.  I think that the challenge we might better embrace is to educate women, one by one if necessary, about their bodies, the gift of their fertility, how their cycles reflect their health, how to know when they are fertile and when they are not fertile, how a pregnancy begins and develops, how the woman and the child are uniquely bonded, how abortion harms a woman both emotionally and physically, and how to effectively avoid or achieve pregnancy, and so on.  We need to revision our sex education and begin treating fertility as a wonder and not a disease that needs to be eradicated.  I do this myself by teaching women and couples the Creighton Model of FertilityCare, a well-researched method of avoiding or achieving pregnancy that is based on a woman’s individual cycle and is highly effective.  If only I had know about this method when I worked in traditional OB-GYN!  The key to reaching women and teaching our society about the sanctity of life is not through shouting or, I’m afraid, even through marching.  The key is educating women and men, and that is a slower process than we might like.

MN- Having, expressing and living by moral convictions is tough in a society that demands political correctness. How do we stand by moral convictions when faced with those that believe having a choice should be an option?

CD- I believe that the personal, honest approach is always best.  I can only relate my experience, my conversion, my beliefs and let them be accepted or rejected by another.  I do not believe in force feeding either religion or beliefs—I know from personal experience that conversion occurs as it will, guided by the Holy Spirit, and in God’s good time.  All I can do is sew seeds, gently and kindly, and trust that those seeds might grow.  I remember very casual pro-life remarks that were made to me when I was still wearing a “Keep your hands off my body” button or attaching “Pro-choice” bumper stickers to my car.  At the time, I shrugged those remarks off—but they played around the edges of my mind and did their work.  I now have a “Choose Life” bumper sticker on my car.  Who knows how many idling behind me at a stop light or passing me on the highway will remember those words, and days, weeks or years from now find themselves choosing life?  We change others by our lived examples, much more than through argument.

MN- In addition to penning your testimony and medical fiction, you’ve written poetry. What comes most natural for you to write?

CD- I think that for many years poetry came more naturally to me, not that poems don’t require much revision and work.  But the impetus of my writing more often took poetic form.  I find now that prose comes to me a bit more easily, and yet my prose is often leaning toward the poetic.  Now I find that one genre influences the other, and I can happily go back and forth between the two.  Although I do find that if I’m working on a poetry collection, I don’t write any prose during those weeks, and vice versa.

MN- Your single most important passion in life would be......

CD- Just one?!  I have many important passions, among them my family, my writing, my work with women.  But the most important?  I think that for me the most important passion is, as I age, to continue to discover who I am, what I am called to do, how I am called to serve, how I can rightly praise, and how I can become holy within the confines of my earthly life.

You can learn more about author Cortney Davis by visiting her website. To order any one of Davis’ books, visit the following links:
To Begin Again   
Conversion / Return (poems)
The Heart's Truth: Essays on the Art of Nursing
Between the Heartbeats: Poetry and Prose by Nurses
Intensive Care: More Poetry and Prose by Nurses 

Note: As you research the work of Cortney Davis, please verify the spelling of Cortney as there is an Irish author by the same name but spelled as Courtney.

For more about Mary Nichelson:

This interview is courtesy of The Wordsmith Journal Magazine.

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