In March of 2017, Vice President Mike Pence passed a tie-breaking vote in the senate to cut funding to Planned Parenthood by 30%. Now, in 2018, House Republicans are once again pushing to cut funding for Planned Parenthood while individual states like Nebraska are passing bills doing the same. Healthcare services for low-income men, women, and non-binary folk are under threat. This essay is a personal piece about my own experience with Planned Parenthood as an uninsured woman in my early 20s. Due to budget cuts and a lack of access to healthcare through Planned Parenthood, my experience might be one people in the future aren’t able to replicate.
At the age of 23, I was well into my first serious relationship with my first serious boyfriend and we didn’t want to procreate; me ever, and him just at this point in time. While I worked three jobs, I had no medical insurance to speak of. He was complaining about condoms. I was young and in love and decided we needed to find an alternative to keep him happy.
That’s when I went to Planned Parenthood. And no, it wasn’t for an abortion. It was to get birth control.
The first time I went to Planned Parenthood my then-boyfriend (now long ago ex-boyfriend) accompanied me. And, as anyone who’s driven by a Planned Parenthood can attest, the protesters outside were mostly Christian, white, male, and of the baby-boomer generation. Their signs protested abortions and called for the right for babies to live. This was the Anaheim Planned Parenthood, though, and they didn’t perform abortions. There’s only one Planned Parenthood clinic in Orange County that performs abortions, and it wasn’t this one.
The protesters didn’t harangue us. It was 7 a.m. and I feel that they were just too tired to start up yet. Their signs were limp on the ground and their pink faces were bloated and sunken in. I just smiled and walked by them into the clinic.
The lobby played morning T.V. shows on the screens in the waiting room, just like every other medical office. There were magazines on most of the coffee tables and clean (but terribly tacky) teal and purple chairs lining the waiting room for people to sit on.
I nervously walked up to the sign-in area. It was isolated and behind thick glass. Growing up, my father’s union job provided us with medical insurance through Kaiser Permanente which had open desks. The people behind the thick, probably bulletproof glass were friendly and shot me a smile. The glass wasn’t there to protect us from them or them from us; it was to protect the women working in this clinic from the men outside who were protesting the worker’s rights to aid low-income women in matters of women’s health.
I smiled back and said, “Hello. I don’t have an appointment but I wanted to see someone about birth control.”
The woman in Winnie-the-Pooh scrubs told me there was a walk-in list with a wait. She helped me fill out forms that went over my monthly income. It turned out that I qualified for free services from Planned Parenthood and got a dark green card to use in future visits.
After that, it was a short wait before the nurse escorted me behind the heavy door to do a medical history.
“When was your last Pap smear?”
“Um, I lost my parent’s medical insurance when I turned 18 and I wasn’t sexually active then, so I actually have never had one.”
“Have you been tested for STIs?”
“Not really. I’ve used condoms.”
“Before we can give you birth control, we’re going to need to do a Pap smear to make sure everything’s okay. Don’t worry; the cost of this is covered for you. If you want, we should also test you for STIs. Again, this is also free. It would be a urine test and we would take some blood.”
“Can my boyfriend get tested too?”
“He’ll need to fill out the same paperwork, but yes, he can get tested here too.”
With that I got my arm cleaned and poked with a needle for my AIDS and HIV test, along with a few others she mentioned. From there, I willed myself to pee into a little cup until I hit the fill line.
The doctor that saw me was also a woman. She was small in stature and quiet, but she was extremely helpful and informative.
“Have you ever been on hormonal birth control before?”
“Do you want to still have periods?”
“I mean, light ones would be nice. I don’t want them to go away all together. I want to know I’m not pregnant once a month.”
“Do you have any acne problems?”
“On my chin sometimes, I guess.”
The questions went on, and we settled on something with low hormones to get me started. She told me I needed to still use condoms for the first month of birth control to ensure my body got use to the hormones and that I wouldn’t become pregnant.
Then came my first Pap smear. It was, to say the least, uncomfortable to be in a small medical gown with your legs up in the air and your vagina being probed by a woman you’ve just met. But it was medically necessary and I accept that. I was also taught how to test my own breasts for cancer lumps, something skipped by my health classes in high school.
I went back to the front desk behind the bulletproof glass and handed them my prescription for birth control. It was also free, as were the 30 male condoms, two packs of Plan B, and two female condoms they handed me in a large white paper bag.
I found my bored boyfriend playing on his phone in the lobby.
“I got an STI test.”
“An STD test.”
“Because, well, we’re going to stop using condoms so it’s smart. You can get one here too.”
“I’ll just go to my regular doctor. What’s in the bag?”
“Condoms and birth control. They’re going to call me in a week with all of my test results.”
“What other tests did you get?”
“A Pap smear.”
“Was it a woman?”
The call came and everything was good to go. I was clean. It took me insisting for more than two weeks for my boyfriend to get his tests done, but he did and they were good to go too.
But hormonal birth control didn’t work well for me. I felt really awful and I bled a lot all the time – not just on my period. I felt really moody and unfocused. I called the clinic and made an appointment to see a doctor again.
I told the nurse my symptoms and she relayed them to the doctor that saw me.
“You can always go back to condoms.”
“No, he doesn’t like that. Plus, I talked him into an STI test and part of that was going without condoms.”
“We have other means of birth control. Do you want to try a diaphragm out? They’re not as effective as hormonal birth control or condoms.”
“No. I don’t want kids.”
“Have you heard of an IUD? We have one we do here called Mirena that’s good for five or more years and is just as effective as hormonal birth control. Women tend to report lighter periods over time but it can hurt at first.”
“I think we went over those in health class. Aren’t those only for women who have already had children?”
“That was in the 70s. That’s not true anymore.”
“How long would I need to wait?”
“We can set something up for you right now at our next available appointment.”
It turned out that their next available appointment was a Saturday at 7 a.m. My boyfriend said he’d drive me, as the doctor said I could experience some cramping and bleeding after the procedure. That changed the day-of. He was tired and cranky. When I asked if he was going to drive me like he promised, he said I had to go my fucking self and to leave him alone and that I should leave immediately before he got angrier at me for waking him up.
I was crying, I was heartbroken, but I went alone. I didn’t want to have this man’s baby. Our relationship wasn’t stable and nothing I did pleased him. He wasn’t physically abusive, but he was emotionally abusive and I wasn’t at the point of recognizing that yet. He would later say sorry for snapping at me and yelling at me to leave. But sorry doesn’t change the amount of pain I was in after getting my IUD inserted. The doctors asked if I had someone to pick me up and I lied because I was too embarrassed to say my boyfriend kicked me out of the house and wouldn’t come with me.
I got into the now familiar gown and got on the table. My legs were spread and in the air.
“You might feel a pinch. Tell me if anything hurts.”
She went slowly.
“Do you feel it?”
“Does it hurt?”
“No, I mean, I feel it and it’s not comfortable, but it’s not excruciating.”
“It’s in. I’m going to remove the applicator. Do you feel it in you now?”
“No, the feeling stopped.”
“If you feel inside, you’ll feel these two little strings. They feel kind of poky now but they’ll become softer over time. That’s your IUD. Be sure to reach in there and check regularly to feel for your strings. You just need to put a finger up there and wiggle it around. I’d like you to go into the bathroom now and tell me if you can feel the strings to be sure you can identify them. Here’s a pad, as you may be bleeding later from the insertion.”
I did as instructed. The strings were easy enough to feel and she was right – they were poky, like bristles on a firm toothbrush. When I removed my finger, I could already see the start of blood flowing.
“It’s just like your period. Your uterus is trying to push your IUD out. Right now it’s a foreign object your body doesn’t recognize. This can lead to cramping for a few days. If it gets worse after a week, we can remove it.”
When checking out at the front desk, I was handed another white bag. I looked inside and saw that, even with the IUD, I was given 30 male condoms, two packs of Plan B, and two female condoms. No matter what service you came to Planned Parenthood for, they made sure people were protected.
Before I could even walk out of the waiting room door, the cramps started. The first one was so violent and painful I lost my breath; it was as if someone had punched me in the uterus.
I took a deep breath and I proceeded out the front door. Another one hit me before I got to my car. I paused.
I got into the driver’s seat and I sat down for a bit. Sitting might help, or so I thought. I closed my eyes and listened to the sounds of my deep breathing.
In and out.
The blood was flowing more heavily into the pad.
In and out.
In and out.
I could do this. It wasn’t that far to the room we rented in Fullerton.
I drove three blocks before I had to pull into a parking lot and pause.
In and out.
I pulled out my phone.
In and out.
I was crying.
In and out.
I dialed my boyfriends number.
“Sorry I snapped at you. How’d it go?”
“It hurts. It hurts so bad right now.”
“Are you crying?”
“Where are you?”
“I see a Jack in the Box.”
“Just wait there until you feel better and you can drive. I’m doing a raid on WOW.”
I really didn’t want to have this man’s baby.
I tried again. I kept breathing. I made it home.
I got into bed and cried for an hour as the cramps kept coming.
“I feel so bad.”
“I wish you had driven.”
“I already said sorry. Do you want something to drink?”
For three days I cramped so bad I could barely move and I bled the whole time, but it stopped on the fourth day and I could move again.
The next month, I had a light period without any cramping at all.
Our experience together never got better. He became increasingly distant, moody, angry, and needy. He wanted to have more control over me and my body. He threatened to leave me then threatened suicide if I left. It took some time, but I finally got away – not completely unscathed. I carry those scars with me and I know that in the end, I was so desperate to leave that I would have done anything to get away and stay away from him.
I kept my IUD for the full five year tenure and it was fantastic, despite the initial suffering. I felt like myself without a hormonal fog. I had really light periods that were cramp free.
I never had that man’s child, and I’m thankful to not have anything in this world tying me to him.
If it had come down to it, I think I would have chosen to have an abortion, by any means necessary, to get away from my ex and our previous relationship if Planned Parenthood wasn’t there to help me with birth control.