Sunday, March 29, 2009
When I told my Mormon mother I was going to work at an abortion clinic, I could’ve heard a pin drop. She was confused, didn’t really know exactly what to think, and was wondering what she did wrong to make me work in such a place. Mostly, she tried not to say anything about it, but occasionally she would ask me when I was going to get a ‘real job.’ She was certain I was just going through a phase. That was 16 years ago.
I could’ve never anticipated how my work would change my life, my philosophy. I went straight from a very patriarchal upbringing, landing hard and fast into a very feminist organization. It couldn’t have been any more different. Over years, I had been taught not to rely or trust my own feelings or intuition; and that in fact, my intuition wasn’t really ever my own. All of a sudden, I heard a different message: that women can and should be trusted; that as women, we know what is best for us at any given time; and that when applied to abortion work, it was never, ever our place to question a woman’s decision whether to or not to continue a pregnancy. She knew best. We were there to provide information, so she could make a choice that was in her best interest. We were not to be guides, knowing what was best for her, quietly helping her make the ‘right’ decision. We were there to trust her. To support her. To listen, and to provide a service to her. With dignity. With respect. Without judgment.
I was hired as an abortion counselor. Quickly, I felt incredibly honored to listen to women’s stories, to gain strength from them, and even have the opportunity to learn about myself. I have been privy to quite possibly one of the most private moments of many women’s life. Sometimes, no one else in their life would know about her abortion.
16 years on, I have not forgotten how special it is to be part of a woman’s abortion. What takes place in counseling is sacred ground and I am grateful to the women who have touched my life, and continue to do so, with their infinite courage and strength.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
This particular patient told me she was 6-8 weeks but actually she is going to give birth to a baby in about a month.
I find this scenario perplexing. I told someone at work about the woman and she said, “I just don’t understand, I mean didn't she get bigger as she got later?.”
Some people might argue that some women truly never show. This sounds ridiculous to me, lots of people in my life are pregnant and no matter what by week 36 they end up with more than what could be considered a beer belly. But every woman’s body is different and just because she gained some weight, maybe even in her stomach does not mean she knew exactly why. Lots of people’s weight fluctuates for all kind of reasons. This woman was definitely disconnected from what was going on with her physical body in same way. But I don't have the right to judge her experience of her body pregnant or not.
I wondered to myself if that woman would be ok, Will she find someone else to care for this child she did not want to bring into the world? Will she rise to the occasion? Or just become more lost and disengaged from world? Mostly I just hope she will figure out something that works for her and that might find a way to provide the kid with a life worth living. Adoption could be one option, except she is a brown woman so adoption would more than likely mean foster care of some kind. I take a moment to say a silent prayer for her and the child she will give birth to.
The mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual disconnection of people’s lives is so apparent in stories like these. The world we live in does not breed an environment that is conducive to holistic health and well being. An individual’s life is constantly determined by outside structures. So many people do not have the space to focus inward in order to rectify each part of their self or do any kind of healing physical or otherwise.
While trying to maneuver through the healthcare system a woman who needs an abortion may come in contact with the religious system when people protest her personal choice, she will come in contact with state laws that determine waiting periods and parental consent laws, she might be facing utility shut offs, her kids might need clothes for school and she will have to face the educational system and retail because their uniforms are just too expensive and the old ones don’t fit, she might deal with housing if she is facing eviction, or maybe she just got out of jail or the man involved is in jail and can’t give her any money. The criminal justice system isn’t about to chip in on the cause.
Each person’s life is structured based on their interaction with multiple institutions which make up multiple systems, creating a social structure. This is paraphrasing of an explanation of society found in most American sociology textbooks. Women who need abortions, particularly when they are poor, are dealing with multiple systems kicking them in the ass all at once. I guess it’s much easier to ignore a seemingly pudgy belly up until your due date when you are consistently occupied with survival. There really is never time to think about how you are feeling or what that cramp in you back is, or why your periods have seemed so light, it’s probably just from stress anyway.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Today a woman told me she had enough money to buy diapers for the rest of the month--laid-off for the past few months, homeless, living and eating with a friend, her child. The man involved is long gone. (yawn/ouch). She has sold everything she owns to make it to here. Pause.
Oh. That sucks, I say... But how much is that? Twenty dollars. She has twenty dollars. Her co-pay, right? :(. The surgery will cost from $250 to $7,000. No matter anything. No time. No loans. No payment plans or claims. Cash. Credit card. Money order. She’ll have to find at least $100 more than she couldn’t find yesterday and I will fall short of suggesting she offer sexual favors. Though, that solution may pass between us in silence when I tell her there is nothing left for me to do or suggest, that she’ll have to find that cash in her life amongst those she knows. Nevermind the diapers.
Suppose some abortions are meant to be. Sacrifices. Motherhood. Reflective. Not having an abortion means being a selfish mother. It's important women reclaim/frame this experience from within. The spirit.
Suppose some abortions are a tragic reminder that our society doesn't just fail some women, we burn them at the stake. Pointedly, women who are occupied with surviving--deemed unworthy of assets that float in space in their name, entangled by invisible webs lightly but chronically capturing their most basic human rights. Breaks the heart. Not the spirit.
Suppose I talk to one more woman who has less than $0 in her pocket. Suppose ground zero is different than the newscaster will tell you. Suppose I'll let you know when the recession bottoms out.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
I had a hard day at work and realized throughout this day that I hadn't really thought about how it's National Abortion Provider Day. I want everyone reading this to think about and remember all those who put themselves on the line for women trying to access safe abortion care. Doctors, nurses, administrators, receptionists, counselors - these people walk through picket lines every day. They get death threats, bomb threats. They are harassed and threatened, but they persevere.
I want to say thank you to all abortion providers, to all involved in any way in providing abortion care. Thank you to the people who post on this blog. Thank you for risking yourselves for others' health and safety.
I also want to post a shout out to clinics escorts and encourage anyone so moved to look into local escort groups in their area. You could contact your local abortion provider perhaps, or if anyone knows a website where people people can look this up, please comment.
Monday, March 9, 2009
The reality is, though, for many of us, we don't even have the luxury or time to consider who we are beyond "caretaker." The reality is, for many of the women I speak with daily, they just try to get some semblance of food on the table so their kids can eat, manage getting their kids to school and try - somehow, somehow - to obtain their abortion. Meanwhile, you'd be forgiven to think most of them got pregnant all by themselves. The "man involved" is often off, off and away...somewhere...with a change of telephone number; a change of address; change of heart; and a great, big, firm "Fuck-you-very-much-I-don't-want-anything-to-do-with-this-so-called-pregnancy." So, all too often, the unwanted pregnancy becomes her unwanted pregnancy, her problem.
Though she wasn't alone at the time of conception, life carries on as though she was. And it might've well been that way, too, because it's not like she's going to get any help from him: the him who can't even bother to spend $5 on a gallon of milk for their nine month old daughter who just had open-heart surgery; who sneakily slipped off his condom and came inside her before she even realized what happened; who just told her, once he found out she's pregnant, that he's married with children; who's incarcerated for smacking her around.
Despite all this, women usually tell me it's their own fault they're pregnant. Every day, they say:
- I should've known better and not had sex (even though in the last ten years, she had never been pregnant);
- I shouldn't have had any alcohol at my cousin's wedding (because, then, maybe she wouldn't have been raped);
- I shouldn't have had sex without a condom (even though her husband had a vasectomy);
- I should've had an abortion two months ago instead of waiting until I was 18 weeks (despite only being three weeks late because she was still having her period).
Her: (Big, long sigh.) "God. I know. You're right." (Big sigh.) "But, still." (Pause.) (Deep breath.) "I still should've known. "
And so, yet again, another large, heavy weight gets hurled onto our shoulders; onward we carry these responsibilities/burdens/guilt as though we're alone. As though it's our job. And we barely notice how heavy it gets. We barely notice ourselves.
Sunday, March 8, 2009
You know how MSN and AOL have those little article blurbs on their front pages, Top Cities To Live In, Toddler Saved By Squirrel, Study: Men's Brains Are Bigger Than Women's? The other day there was one called Ten Ways NOT To Find Money In Troubled Times. Well, I read it -- probably because I have a peverse sense of curiosity, and I speak to a lot of pregnant women who need Money In Troubled Times.
Sadly, but not surprisingly, most of these Don'ts are suggestions that I have to give to women every day.
Or, OK, half of them: Cash Advance On Your Credit Card (if you have a credit card); Tax Refund Anticipation Loan (very popular right about now); and the old standbys, Payday Loans, Car Title Loan, Pawn Shop. Yes, the terms are very unfavorable to the person asking for money. They are unfavorable because you will get the money right away, and the payer knows how badly you need the money right away.
A couple are things I had never thought of: Cash In Your Life Insurance; Gold Parties. Apparently "gold parties" are like a reverse Tupperware party -- someone hosts a get-together, and you show up with all your gold, and they give you too little money for it.
And the remainder are things that pretty much wouldn't apply to the situations I am talking about, things that are almost laughable: Loan on your 401(k); Home Equity Line of Credit; Break A Certificate of Deposit. Just in general, if you can afford to save after you've shelled out for basic needs each month, you can probably afford an abortion. I mean, there are exceptions: if you were, say, 28 weeks pregnant or in very fragile health, you might have to be treated in a facility that charged five thousand or ten thousand or fifteen thousand dollars. But most of the time, I mean.
So anyway, I love how even when a woman finds help paying for her abortion thanks to an emergency-funds organization, we use the language of "responsibility." We remind the woman that the Women's Medical Emergency Fund of Springfield (for example) will be assisting with $50 of her fee today, and she is responsible for the remainder. Well, of course she is; but we sort of glibly toss this word at her that probably means a whole hell of a lot more to her than it does to us in this second.
A pregnant woman experiences the word responsible in so many ways at once. She should have been more responsible than to get pregnant in the first place. You shouldn't have sex unless you're prepared to be responsible for a child. She'd better be acting responsibly toward the unborn child everyone assumes she will be carrying to term (no drinking smoking cursing fucking...). And now, she is responsible for the remaining (approximately, for a first-trimester procedure) three hundred and fifty dollars of her abortion fee.
Which has been a struggle for her to find, because she is poor, because she is not financially responsible, because she had to resort to a payday loan to tide her over one month and has been paying it back with more payday loans every since. Because she doesn't read WalletPop, presumably, and doesn't know that you should not turn to payday loans for Money In Troubled Times.
If only she had read Eleven Ways To Find Extra Money NOW! Then she would have known to join Netflix, stop paying for cable, host dinner parties at home instead of going out with friends, and sell her poorly-performing stocks. Yes, really: the way to find extra money is to spend too much money on things you don't need, then STOP spending that money. Voila, free money! Duh.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
Decided to investigate my insurance coverage re: abortion. Like most women I've spoken to, it had never occurred to me just how an abortion would be paid for until it became a relevant part of my life. Sure, we all agreed that abortion was a fantastic right and if we ever needed one we'd pick up the phone and hop the next train to Abortion Land. But alas, the elusive middle-step always rears its head at the most inopportune moment: PAYMENT.
So I took a preemptive strike against the four-letter seven-letter word and checked out the internets for abortion providers covered by my insurance. Got a couple. All looked mighty fine with one group, except when I looked at their website there was no hint of the word "abortion". I checked again: maybe it was hidden somewhere so as not to offend their more upright clientèle? Nope. It was nowhere! My potential abortion doctors don't perform abortions! To make matters worse, I clicked on the link for pregnant woman to find this cheerful message: Congratulations on your pregnancy!
True Story! I will continue to investigate this further tomorrow, to see what's really going on. I guess I'll start putting away a few dollars into an emergency abortion piggy bank. Break in case of emergency.
On my way up the elevator back home, a sweet-looking older lady stared at my bag. I was only half paying attention when she asked me, "Which clinic?" After a few seconds I realized she was referring to the button attached to my bag, which proclaims "Jesus says this clinic stays open!" Now, I tend not to wear my beliefs on my sleeve, and I typically don't blabber about my political inclinations with people who don't know me. I wasn't quite sure what to say. Did she know what the button was hinting at? Did she mind? I'm sure it was the "Jesus" that caught her eye to begin with; maybe she was religious. I had to come up with something to tell this lady so as not to break her heart. Should I watch my step, play it safe? Meh. I decided on an answer that I rarely give to perfect strangers: The Truth.
"Oh, just all abortion clinics in general."
"Oh! Well that works, too!"
Phew! Score one for Team Abortion.
Talking to a 16-year old about her abortion still feels strange to me. Unwanted pregnancy shouldn’t be something that any woman has to deal with, but particularly not when you’re still in high school. When I think back to when I was in high school, my biggest issues were drama with my friends, acne, make-up, but not whether to have an abortion. I really do believe that’s the way it should be. Why do we have to grow up so fast?
Maybe I’m naïve, and I did go to high school with girls who became pregnant – although I only ever knew of those who carried their pregnancies to term. It just hurts my heart when I talk to a young girl struggling with whether she should have an abortion. I talk to teens; sometimes they're confused and don't really know what they want to do. I talk to them about what an abortion means and adoption possibilities. While these girls may be young, they're still thoughtful, and it's clear while talking to them that they put a lot of time into considering their options. I got to thinking that I want to do something that helps girls her age not have to be put in this position, to make decisions that should be beyond their years.
Perhaps avoiding unwanted pregnancy 100% isn’t an option, or at least not a realistic option, but can’t we do more? We need better, and in some cases, some sort of sex education in schools. To hell with political correctness. Condoms and good information on how to obtain birth control and emergency contraception should be available in the schools, as well as basic reproductive anatomy and how one becomes pregnant in the first place.
Thinking back to my high school days, I had no sex education. The closest thing that came to sex ed was one class period where my male teacher muttered about the menstrual cycle. There was no mention of how to avoid getting pregnant in the first place, evidenced by the fact that I saw so many teenager mothers roaming the halls of my high school. Abstinence-only education is also not a viable option. People have sex, people enjoy sex, adults, teenagers – they all have sex. Closing our eyes, plugging our ears, screaming at the top of our lungs hoping it will go away doesn’t work. We need to do something to recognize this reality, that telling kids they should abstain until they are married doesn’t work in many cases.
Can we please do something to stop unwanted pregnancies before they happen? Can we help these young girls put off having to make more adult decisions than they have to?
Monday, March 2, 2009
Imagine my horror to discover my reward was seventy male virgins last time I died and went to heaven. Imagine the mess. Imagine those who kill to deflower seventy virgins become your mother's backyard garden.Imagine a savior as the result of mutual and passionate love.
Thing is, the women are having different kinds of sex: consensual,respectful, joyous intercourse. One-time desire. Bored submission.Curiosity. Recreation. To not say, no. Downright rape. Occupation. To de-stress.
It is best to let nothing in the vagina for at least two weeks following the abortion. The cervix is slightly stressed and she is more susceptible to infection. No tampons, no penises, no fingers, no toys, no submerging in water. (This was a considerable challenge for a competitive swimmer in February once.) It can be a challenge for many women, scenarios spiraling around the kind of sex she's having.
These days, an all-american abortion, will rarely rarely rarely effect a woman's ability to conceive again. The contents of her uterus are removed through modest manipulation and suction, her reproductive parts oblige. Her ovaries and his sperm go untouched. Where life begins.
Some women will intend to abstain following their abortion. Ashamed. Disillusioned. Discontent with that entire realm of life. Confused. Depressed. Thing is, abstinence is not necessarily 100% effective because it's not enjoyable but some women aren't enjoying sex. Furthermore, Abstinence-only isn't preventing unintended pregnancy.
For the love of life and her beautiful working body, I will suggest she give herself pleasure. De-flower herself into a flowery field.