I’ve been reading the news, I hope you have as well. If you read anything at all about the issue of women’s health being the “reason that the government is shutting down” then please read this. Please read that, please watch the video, please know that Planned Parenthood is more than abortion provider. It’s the only form of accessible healthcare at all for many women and families in America. Taking a cue from Jackie Spieier, a congresswoman from CA, here are my experiences with Planned Parenthood. There are only two.
It’s 2004. I am 20 years old and I am on a date. We have a pleasant dinner together and I do consent to returning to his home for sex. “Make sure you use a condom,” I said, “I don’t have sex without them. That’s my rule.” He told me that he agreed and I watched him roll the condom onto his dick before he put a blindfold over my eyes to be sexy. I was an enthusiastic and consensual partner until I felt him ejaculate inside of me. I stopped immediately, I pulled the blindfold off of my eyes and stared at him in disbelief. He didn’t say anything. I put on my clothes in a silent rush, bolted out the door, and I went straight to Planned Parenthood where they had drop-in hours and I could access emergency contraception and talk about what I needed to do next to protect my body after someone else had committed a violation against it.
It’s 2007. I am a senior in college nearing graduation. I am in a relationship but I am not using hormonal birth control because I had been experiencing negative side effects. I was getting migraine headaches and I never felt quite like myself. My partner and I had been using condoms 100% of the time but one night it didn’t work out. I went to work the morning after at the clinic where I coordinated a free and anonymous HIV testing program. I joked with my colleagues about being a statistic and swallowed my “morning after pill” with a swig of coffee grateful that I had this option. When I did not experience any spotting or bleeding from the quick wash of hormones in the following days, I was suspicious that the drugs had not taken effect. My friends and colleagues told me not to worry, that the statistics are on my side and that those pills always fuck up your cycle any way. My period wasn’t even officially late at this point but that was what had concerned me the most: my period wasn’t due for another two weeks. I had been ovulating at the time. Then I noticed other things. My tits would ache when I would wear a bra. My tits would ache when I didn’t wear a bra.
When I started to feel nauseated in the morning I stopped sharing my concerns out loud to anyone at all and I called Planned Parenthood. I was right.
I did not want to be pregnant at that time, I did not want the vulnerability that comes with pregnancy. My graduation date was a few months down the line, I was almost there. I was taking 20 units at a time racing to finish a double degree in 4 years. I was getting 3 hours of sleep a night, at best, to keep up with the demands of coordinating a testing clinic, working part-time in retail, and keeping up with the reading and papers assigned to me in literature and anthropology classes. I was not maintaining a healthy diet, I was eating on the go. I needed a pot of coffee to get me through the exhaustion of every day. It just did not seem like an ideal set of circumstances for a healthy pregnancy and stopping my life to have the pregnancy that I very dearly wanted to have someday was not an option either.
My abortion at Planned Parenthood is a love story between me and a man I used to know. It was also a comedy at some times and sad at others. It was stressful but I never fell to pieces. I had a backpack full of studying with me in the waiting room, my abortion was scheduled for the Saturday before my final exams. I read Yoruban mythology and Derrida while women’s names were called one-by-one. Tuesdays and Saturdays were the only days that abortions were performed at the clinic. It was more efficient this way and it made for a more welcoming atmosphere. The last time you want to bump into someone you know at Planned Parenthood is when you’re getting an abortion and they’re getting a routine pap smear. I had opted for a procedure that was going to be as short, sweet, and to the point as possible so that I could get back to work. The best option for me was surgical rather than medication. They were going to give me valium and a local anesthetic. I was seven weeks into my unplanned pregnancy.
After giving me a valium, they sent me into a hallway where there was another woman waiting on a folding chair. As soon as I sat down, I heard a very uncomfortable announcement from a staff member. There had been a “security risk” and the clinic was on full lock down. The other woman and I looked at each other as we heard the door click behind us without any further information about what was happening. In those moments when you really can’t be certain how long you’re going to be waiting for anything, least of an abortion, you start talking honestly. “I have four sons,” she told me. “My first was a broken condom, my second and third came along when I was on the pill, my youngest when I was on Depo. I’ve been trying to find someone to tie my tubes but they keep asking me about how I would feel if I met a man I wanted to marry and he wanted children of his own. I have four sons. I have a long term relationship, we just don’t want to get married. I’m done having children.”
When it was my turn to answer the question, I told her that I was close to graduating and that I wanted to finish the goals and projects that were all just months away from completion. “That’s smart. I wish I would have done that. My oldest is 18, he’s starting college in the fall. I’m proud of him.”
She was proud of her son for going to college. I was proud of her.
A few hours later, the “security risk” had been alleviated and everything was back on track. I never got to hear the full situation but it involved the words “junkie” and “freakout.” I was finally reunited with my partner, I was wearing a gown, and I was sitting on the procedure table. My doctor came in and very clearly explained everything that was going to happen and asked me if I had any questions. Then she asked me if I needed a moment to say goodbye. It was a particular kindness for someone who was going to do this at least several other times throughout the day and it came from the heart of someone who understood that it was a different experience for everyone. I wish I could have thanked her, I wish I could have let her know that even though I appreciated her care for me but the drugs had set-in. I put my hand on her shoulder, I looked her in the eye, and I said with valium-induced sincerity, “Don’t worry, it’s all going to be okay. It wasn’t time for this person to be here on earth. They won’t be here until it’s Star Trek everywhere you look.”
I’m not a Trekkie but I am certain that I’m a go-to story at cocktail parties for gynecologists.
It was a strange time for my relationship. After I shared the news with my partner he sat down next to me on the couch and said that he just wanted to be supportive of whatever I wanted. If I wanted to keep the baby, he was going to find a way to support that. He would put off grad school, he could be a cop. He said that he could be happy working as a cop but that if I didn’t want to have the baby then he would support that as well. His sentences were quick, they spilled into one another, he kept looking at my face for some clue of what the magic words would be that would make everything OK. He had the flustered love of someone who just wanted to say the right thing but didn’t know what that was exactly. I told him that I didn’t want to be pregnant and that I had already set up an appointment with Planned Parenthood.
We made love together frequently in the days before my our abortion. We had never had sex without condoms before in the course of our relationship. I had only had unprotected sex with one other person before in my life. We had fucked before, we had sex, and I would have told you we had made love but it wasn’t anything like that sense that our fear of pregnancy had already occurred and we needed to be as close as we possibly could. It wasn’t like I was going to wind up extra pregnant and it was the most intimate sex that I’ve ever had in my life. He drove me to the clinic, he sat in the waiting room even through the lockdown when we didn’t have any way to communicate with each other that everything was alright, and he held my hand and he didn’t make fun of me for the Star Trek thing.
My friends had also been worried and flustered. It was obvious how much they cared and how badly they wanted to be supportive but no one had ever told them what to say to someone having an abortion. No one had ever talked about abortion out loud with them at all. They were my peers, they were all ambitious, and like myself they were all on the verge of graduating as well. “I would be doing the exact same thing,” said one friend. “If it had to happen to any of us, it’s probably best that it’s you. You’re so calm. It scares me to death that this could happen to me,” said another. My abortion had been everything I hoped it would be; quick and safe. After 20 minutes in the recovery it was obvious that I was ready to leave. I wasn’t bleeding, I didn’t feel sick, and all of my vitals were normal. I called up my friends with the update and asked them to meet me for brunch. They all came. We ate sourdough pancakes, I made fun of myself for the Star Trek thing, and then we all went back to our studies. That was the point.
I did not wind up graduating with both degrees that year but I did finish one and that is not a failure of any kind. My relationship came to an amicable end a year later. When people ask me about my abortion, sometimes I think they want me to say that it was horrible and damaged me for life but it didn’t. I do not mourn for one potential unrealized because it was neither the first nor the last time I’ve ever chosen one potential path over another. I do live my life with my future children in mind and I’m building a world for them to the best of my ability. It may not be “Star Trek everywhere you look” but it will be the best that I can offer and that was made possible because I called Planned Parenthood and someone was there to pick up the phone.