Thursday, November 19, 2015

Planned Parenthood's Other Job: My Story of Birth Control

With everything that happened with Planned Parenthood, I've been wondering something that has nothing to do with abortion: if they were to shut down PP, where am I going to get my birth control?

Where am I going to find kind female doctors who are not only experts in the area of my lady parts, but experts in communicating with me about this sensitive topic?

Where am I going to find a medical office that educates me fully on my body, all available procedures, and what everything means? Few doctors' offices do this well.

Since so many articles focused exclusively on Planned Parenthood and their abortion practices, allow me to slant the opposite direction and focus on all the other stuff they do. It's better to have as much information as we can before we form opinions.

I've never been in a place where PP's abortions could be something I wanted or needed. I have never been pregnant with a child I already loved and adored, nor have I been pregnant with complications endangering my life. I've never been pregnant as a result of rape, never been pregnant without financially and emotionally supportive family. I've never had to make any tough decisions about this because I've never been pregnant.

But the reason I've never been pregnant is because of Planned Parenthood.

When I was in college, my parents had no money and I consequently paid my way, with the help of a university job and a heckton of financial aid. Wanting to graduate with as little debt as possible, I took few loans and had no margin for things other than fees, food, and rent. Everything else I had to find free, like bike repair from savvy friends and new clothes from what my roommates were getting rid of.

It wasn't an awful existence, because I had wonderful people around me who were fun to be around and that kind of fun is free. But I didn't have money to spend on anything besides my essential needs. So when I got engaged to a grad student, I had to find a way to NOT, REPEAT, MOST DEFINITELY NOT have a baby with him the moment we tied the knot--and it had to be really, really cheap.

That, it turns out, is one of the things Planned Parenthood is for.

At PP, payments are on a sliding scale based on income, so I brought in a couple pay stubs and they gave me an official-looking card signifying I was too poor to afford anything. Consequently, whatever birth control method I chose would be provided for free thanks to blessed funding (only 41% of which comes from the federal government).

After that hurdle was crossed, I had to decide which method of birth control I was going to use. There are something like two dozen. You have to ask questions like: can I remember to take a pill at the same time every day? How do I react to hormones? Do I trust my partner to be consistent with birth control, or should I choose something I can control myself?

My fiance and I went in for an appointment with a lady who was scientific, honest, and helpful. She explained all the various methods and then she sent my fiance out of the room and asked me if I had any more questions or concerns.

She also wanted my decision without my fiance in the room. Some women are in abusive situations or have controlling partners, so I appreciated that she wanted to make sure it was my decision.

Initially, I tried a hormonal birth control method. Receiving it was like magic: I flashed my poor-person card and was handed everything I needed.

When my body responded very negatively to hormones, I went back and got an IUD instead. IUDs are the most effective birth control out there. They don't involve icky hormones and don't require maintenance, lasting for a decade. They also cost between $500 and $600.

It was something I definitely could not afford. But thanks to federal and private funding, I got my IUD for free. Planned Parenthood recognizes that preventing pregnancy ends up saving everyone money in the long run.

I've had no accidental children these past three years thanks to Planned Parenthood. No having to drop my career and take care of an infant. No sudden burden on our income that would have possibly kept us stuck in horrid Virginia. I don't have to be afraid any time I have sex that I'll lose all the things I love about my life: freedom, full-time work, few dishes, lots of energy, open weekends, working from home alone, mental space...

The procedure to insert the IUD was quite invasive. As a sexual abuse survivor, that freaked me out a bit, but Planned Parenthood took care of me to the point that I was chatting and laughing during the procedure. The doctor was a woman--I would not have been okay with a man, however qualified, poking around my vagina--and she asked me a series of questions before we began.

One of those questions involved whether I had experienced abuse, and when I said yes, she made sure I was comfortable with everything (having already explained things to me in detailed, non-medical words). She also gave me resources for anything I might need, including counseling, and reassured me several times that abuse didn't make me a slut, non-virgin, worthless, etc.

I liked that she didn't lie about the fact that the procedure would be painful. It was painful having metal shoved into my uterus, but I was mentally prepared for it. And the week of cramps was completely worth not having to do anything for the past three years to stay childless.

I also wanted to have a full work-up to make sure I had no STIs from the sexual abuse--something I should have done years before, but was always afraid of. I've had bad doctors before who made me very uncomfortable. My experiences with the PP doctors conquered that fear. I once again experienced free coverage with skilled, kind, comfortable female doctors who put me at my ease, understood my hesitations, and told me things I didn't know about my body--like the physical traces the abuse left behind--in a way that wasn't traumatizing.

I've been sick a lot and seen many doctors and specialists. Usually I'm treated as another patient on an endlessly running conveyor belt. Occasionally I'm treated as if I'm not even a sentient being without the ability to feel anxiety, loss, or shame. Very rarely, I'm treated as a human being with worries, thoughts, desires. All the PP doctors treated me with the fullest level of dignity.

In all this, I speak as a sexual abuse survivor who has very specific needs. I speak as someone who was dirt poor when I needed to see a doctor and obtain birth control. I speak as someone who has never been pregnant and thus has no personal stake in the abortion conversation.

When we debate anything about Planned Parenthood and abortion, we need to remember that's only a part of what they do. Much of their money goes to providing excellent sexual medical care that's affordable to everyone. They do educational programs and they take care of people who: are raped or assaulted; become sexually active, by choice or by force; contract an STI; or become pregnant. They have resources for those who want to keep their baby, too, by the way. They're there for those who have nobody else to turn to.

They've helped lower teen pregnancy in the US. They've connected people with health care, increased the rate of women getting regular breast exams, and helped make long-term birth control options more widespread.

Abortions account for 3% of what they do.

(If you want to be informed about where their money comes from and goes to, click this link.)

If we defund Planned Parenthood, where do folks without money or insurance get birth control? Where do we get protection and check-ups for STIs? Where do people who are freaked out by sex stuff go for honest medical advice in words we can understand? Where do we go to find doctors who will make us comfortable in examinations that have the potential to be more traumatizing than any dentist's office?

PP is currently the only reliable organization accessible to every background, socioeconomic class, and sexual orientation.

These questions need answers. I haven't seen many recently. It's the people without money or education, or who're carrying personal burdens and complicated pasts, who don't often have a voice. People like I was. Decisions are made without taking us, the vulnerable, into account. It shouldn't be that way.

Word count: 1,445.