Thursday, July 15, 2010

Heath Educator?

Part of my job description is health education, and I totally own it. Some of my co-workers aren't big fans of counseling our teenage clients because the time that could be spent on "we recommend 800 mg ibuprofen" is, instead, spent on "your cervix is the opening to your uterus," but I particularly love teenage clients because they're eager and interested to learn about their bodies, and sometimes, I even get to meet them before they've been exposed to the idea that the vagina is gross. I also often introduce myself as a health educator whether or not I disclose the abortion element of it because it's just a cool job and a succinct description. I health educate off the clock when I get together with my middle school best friend and she genuinely wants to know how an abortion procedure works and today when I got my eyebrows threaded, as the aestheticians spoke in their native language, I caught "birth control pills" and itched to interrupt and say, "What are you talking about? Can I answer any questions? Or give you my number if you need a refill?"

But there are only 40 hours in my work week, and maybe two additional volunteer hours when the above situations arise. During my off hours, sometimes I like to pretend that abortion is just a fact of life and focus on my downtime activities of reading or working out. And mostly, the thing is that like differently-abled people don't exist to be spokespeople for how to treat someone in a wheelchair and people of color aren't here to educate the masses about what is or isn't racist, sometimes, I'm just here to do my job, not to explain to you that there's no such thing as partial-birth abortion or why it's infuriating for you to say, "Abortion just shouldn't be used as birth control." I educate about health and rights, not about ignorance and human decency. And most of all, I'm over the "Hey, I just want to have a friendly, intelligent discussion about pro-live versus pro-choice" defense. Because honestly, I would have to be on the clock and be paid a litigator's hourly wage to even begin to be able to stomach that.


  1. Just going off your first paragraph, slightly off-topic - I *love* counseling teenage patients too; I actually love it when I get to explain what the cervix is or show them a speculum! I worry sometimes that I miss those opportunities because it's a fine line between potentially talking down to a young person - assuming they DON'T have knowledge they very well might already know - versus glossing over something they don't understand because they're too intimidated to speak up and tell me. I try to preface all my explanations with "Please interrupt me at any point if you have *any* questions, or if there's anything you need explained further" but I don't know how much that really does to put all patients at ease. (Sometimes the ones who do ask a lot of questions, which I absolutely love answering, actually apologize for doing so!) How do you navigate that? Do you ask outright if they know what their cervix is, or do you wait to see a flicker of confusion, or do you explain basic things without being asked?

  2. Since you brought it up, how do you counter the statement, "Abortion shouldn't be used as birth control."

    When I discuss my views with people, I hear this, and I just don't know how to respond.

    Thanks in advance.

  3. @ Lily--I think I end up explaining cervices to EVERYONE I counsel, because I've found it's so mysterious to most women. I kind of say, as an aside, "the opening of your uterus," and gesture to the model on the desk next to me, and then if I see any confusion, I elaborate further. I'm also a big fan of using my fist as a model cervix and showing how it's dilated. Or, I'm so dorky, I end up getting excited about, "Have you ever seen your cervix? Oh, let me show you some pictures!" And I love that you also love the teen clients.

    @ Beth--Basically, my head explodes and I dissolve into a puddle of frustration and sadness. ...But alternatively, depending on my audience, I say something to the effect of, "In all my years at the clinic, I haven't met any woman who uses abortion as her primary form of birth control, but even if someone did, it's kind of understandable because birth control really isn't nearly as accessible or effective as it should be." And honestly, by "no one uses it as their primary form of birth control," I mean that even if they use hoping and praying as their primary form, the time and money that it takes to have an abortion isn't ideal for anyone. And if I'm talking to someone who's pro-choice but just uninformed, I might say, "Well, abortion kind of IS birth control, isn't it?" Because IT IS, AND OMG, THAT'S FINE.


This is not a debate forum -- there are hundreds of other sites for that. This is a safe space for abortion care providers and one that respects the full spectrum of reproductive choices; comments that are not in that spirit will either wind up in the spam filter or languish in the moderation queue.