Saturday, August 06, 2011

Parenthood, Planned

I've never had an abortion, but I almost was one. That second fact is responsible for the first; when I was 13, my mother told me that she and my dad had booked an appointment in Montreal to have the procedure done. It was 1970 and still illegal in the U.S. She was 21 and a student, as was my father. They were broke. They had married four months earlier, and I suspect the honeymoon was already over, that early on. But when they were asked at the border if they would be leaving anything behind in Canada, my parents changed their minds and headed back to the States.

This was a pretty impactful tale to tell a teenager who wasn't yet sexually active but was considering the possibilities. No doubt her story delayed that particular rite of passage by at least two years. I was the last of my friends to "lose it," spring of my senior year of high school, at which point I decided it was as good a time as any. But first I went to a local family planning clinic, got myself on the pill and waited the requisite amount of time for chemically induced infertility to commence. Then I visited my basketball player boyfriend while he was home alone. It was slightly uncomfortable but fairly satisfying. Then we listened to the Beastie Boys, ate barbeque potato chips and washed his twin sheets.

I never, ever once had sex without a pregnancy-prevention plan in place, not that first time nor for the next 20 years, until I was ready to be a parent myself. Well-played, Mom!

I relied on the services of Planned Parenthood for my down-there care throughout. (Except, ironically, when I wanted to get pregnant. At this point I was fortunate to have health coverage. I often hadn't over the years, and they see people--men as well as women--on a sliding-scale basis, providing free or inexpensive medication and contraception. I asked my fantastic midwife, Maggie, if I could continue on in her care. Alas, they are in the business of preventing unwanted pregnancy, and of supporting a woman's and her baby's prenatal health, but they don't deliver. She talked fondly about her own pregnancies and births, then gave me a scrip for prenatal vitamins and an ob-gyn referral.)

Aside from the security buzzer on the door and the bullet-proof window at the receptionist station, Planned Parenthood looks like any other lady-catering medical office: bright, cheery-colored walls and chairs; fashion and gossip magazines; a talk show or soap opera on the TV. The rooms have the same scales, blood-pressure cuffs, paper-covered exam tables and stirrups as any other. I never encountered a protester or saw evidence of the procedure for which Planned Parenthood is most well-known regardless that abortions are a statistically tiny part of their healthcare services.

In the thick of the recent political pressure to cut federal funding to Planned Parenthood, it was time to schedule my annual. I had other options. I have health insurance accepted by the ob-gyn practice that saw me through pregnancy, birth and postnatal care. But I opted to bring my business (and my business) back to Planned Parenthood. Call it arm-chair activism. Or exam-table activism, in this case. I didn't need to write a letter to Congress or attend a political rally; I could do it over my lunch break;  if I had to get felt up and probed and swabbed anyhow, it might as well be for a good cause.

Interestingly, for the first time I can recall, I was acutely aware of Planned Parenthood's full scope of services this time. I neglected to write down my appointment when making it, so I called a few days later to inquire. "I think I have an appointment today?" "Are you having a termination?" the receptionist asked. "Gosh, no..." I replied, caught off guard. "Then it's not today, Hon. Wednesday's termination day." She put me on hold to check the schedule. It hadn't ever occurred to me they dedicated specific days of the week to abortions; of course. She'd been so matter-of-fact. Friday's Prince spaghetti day. That's why I'd never crossed a pro-life picket. I felt naive, and grateful.

When I went in for my appointment not on a Wednesday, it was the same professional, extremely efficient place I remembered. (I was in my car and heading back to work within one hour of being buzzed in.) There were new purple upholstered office chairs in the waiting room. Maggie had retired; instead I saw a friendly nurse midwife in a starchy white jacket and high heels. We chatted about our children, and she warmed the speculum beforehand. She checked my iron levels and wrote a referral for a mammogram. She asked if I intend to have more children (no) and by what means I was preventing such (my husband's vasectomy. Amen for men who plan their parenthood!).

As I got dressed afterwards, I noticed what looked like a kitchen appliance on a rolling cart in the corner of the room. I queasily realized it was a suction machine, and not the kind used on carpets. Perhaps I'd seen it many times before, but now I am a parent. Just as I never took the topic of abortion lightly after learning my mother's--and consequently, my--story, it is all the more personal now that I've conceived, carried, birthed--and wholly adored and been ready for--a baby.

As I stared at the machine, I was glad I'd chosen to support an organization that does the distasteful work behind the saying "Every child a wanted child," through education, medical care, contraception and, sometimes--necessarily, unfortunately--termination. I was glad I never had to make the decision of women and couples who'd been in this room on Wednesdays past or since. I was glad the only thing I'd be leaving behind that day was a Pap smear, and a copay.
Header Image from Bangbouh @ Flickr