She called me with tears in her voice, the bruises on her face had only begun to swell.
She told her boyfriend she was going to have an abortion and he beat her up and took the money that she worked so hard to raise.
I thought I was talking to a grown woman, someone with kids, and years of life experience. Her voice was tired and sad. Her words were muffled, maybe because her mouth was swollen.
I asked her if she was somewhere safe now and she said, “Yes, my mom is on her way to get me.” I looked at the paperwork in front of me and realized she is 16.
I tried to carefully word my answer as she pleaded with me to help her with enough money to keep her appointment today. I promised I would do my best to help her raise the money and I wish I could make it free but I can only help with a small part of the cost.
She said, I can’t have this man’s baby, he is abusive. I agreed and assured her she would not have to. Except I can’t promise that because she will have to come up with more money on her own to get the abortion. I couldn’t say anything else though I wanted her to know that I would do anything in my power to help her get seen.
I gate-keep a fund with little room for exceptions even when a 16 year old’s boyfriend beats her up and takes her money. I am a gate-keeper because I make decisions day in and day out that grant or withhold resources from people who need them. In this case I provide assistance to women who need abortion health care and need money to access that healthcare, often that assistance and the decisions I am expected to make each day are managed within strict institutional limitations. I would love to make this young woman's procedure completely free, or help her get the procedure with whatever money her mom actually had in her pocketbook. However, I work with an organization that boxes my power in with guidelines, policies, and procedures. I work within a screwed up medical system to help people access basic health care. Sometimes I feel powerless, because I can’t help everyone and I can’t change the fact that getting an abortion often means creating money out of thin air. I can't change the fact that I gate-keep money without controlling the limitations of that money.
She was crying; her mom pulled up and she asked me to talk to her mom. I got on the phone and her mom immediately began to rehash the story her daughter had probably just called and told her. She said, I’m broke and I gave her $150 of what he stole, I might be able to scrape together another $100. Her mom was appalled that I could not help with more money. I was equally appalled at my inability to help. After a short back and forth of ideas about how to come up with money, in a rage her mom said, “so really you're just not going to help, I mean my child has just been robbed.” I told her I could try and help her locate other funds or talk to the clinic but I could not cover the money that was stolen, and then her mom got off the phone with me in a fury saying she would do what she had to do.
I could maybe get a small exception for this patient but regardless this young woman will now have to scrape together a lot more than change to get seen. She is creeping on the 12 week mark so she’s not working with a lot of time. I got off the phone and wanted to cry, I wanted to go home sick, or scream, or maybe have a cigarette even though I don’t smoke. I still want to cry.
The only thing keeping me from losing it, is that actually this isn’t the saddest story I’ve ever heard because her mom is going to do what she has to do, and this patient will have her abortion. They may go without lights or run out of grocery money but the determination in her mother’s voice verified the fact that this patient will get seen. So often the woman calling me with a swollen lip so big she can’t hardly speak, doesn’t have a mom who will do what they have to do.
I know that to do this kind of work I need to be able to leave the experience at work. Otherwise, we who believe in freedom will be burnt out and turned into ashes, who can’t help anyone, not even ourselves. The thing is so much of the experience is so personal. The women in my personal life know what I do and I get calls from my friends and extended network at work and outside of work. Women in my personal life that need information, money, abortions, and a sisterfriend to help walk them through the 400 steps to maintaining their sexual health. I am that friend to a lot of people and I love it. It makes it really difficult to leave work at work. I try to remember that at the end of the day I have done what I can to help the countless women calling me for information, money, a listening ear, or a friend.