Sunday, March 06, 2005

The Annual Pilgrimage to Planned Parenthood

Because we don't talk about our uteruses enough.

I hadn't been in for my yearly exam in about three years, when I had to get a clean bill of health in order to get a student visa for South Africa, and it was About That Time again.

I chose to go to my old friend Planned Parenthood, as I had good memories of the one I went to back in high school. It was a small little office just off Main Street, and I was very comfortable there. It was like any other doctor's office, only full of women, women, everywhere, and frankly, when it comes to my reproductive health, I've always been a lot more comfortable with women administering to me, and I've never had a male gynocologist. Not by choice, mind you, it's just always sort of worked out that way, and to be honest, though being splayed open and prodded at for health reasons doesn't flip me out or anything, there's just an extra comfort level when the person doing the check-up's a woman.

So I made an appointment for an exam at one of the PP's closest to my place, and hopped on the train after work and went over. The building was easy to find, labeled prominently, very nice.

I opened up the main door and found myself in an odd little boxed room with a door in front of me and a door to my right that was, in fact, locked. I peered in through the small rectangular window and saw a set of stairs and some office plants.


Then I saw the call box by the door.

Did I have to buzz in to Planned Parenthood?


I picked up the phone by the door and hit the intercom button, told them I had a four o'clock appointment.

I was buzzed into the building, and proceeded upstairs...

Where I found a woman sitting in a booth behind bulletproof glass who asked for my ID and verified that I had an appointment.

She then buzzed me into the waiting area.

I felt like I was there to buy heroin, or maybe get a child prostitute for the night.

What the fuck?

Inside, I checked in up front and filled out all my paperwork (which, blissfully, didn't ask me when the last time I had sex was. I figured the gyno would ask anyway. I can never seem to get away from that question).

No, I haven't had any pregnancies, no STDs, no I don't have asthma, high blood pressure, oh, yes, my dad has high blood pressure, oh, yea, my dad's had a heart attack.... but me, I'm good. Check, check.

I turned everything over and sat around waiting to be buzzed into the actual medical office. Oh, yea, both the doors leading into the clinic were the gotta-buzz-you-in type, too. Three doors of buzzing-in before you can get to clinic personnel.

And I did a people watch, listened to all the women around me. There was one girl there with a guy who was most likely her boyfriend, a couple of women there with friends. A couple of friends were talking in low voices about abortion services, about women they know, about a boyfriend who was insisting a friend bear a pregnancy to term because, "He really wants to be a dad."

Sitting there, listening to these women, watching a room full of women waiting, another roomful behind glass sorting patient folders and scheduling appointments and handing over birth control pills, and having gone through the security checks in order to get in there, it really sort of hit me for the first time - not in an abstract way, because I've realized it in the abstract many times - but in a real, gut-kick visceral way, just how fucking terrified as all hell men are of women, of this power, of this choice. This is birth and death in this room, right here. This is where all the power is. And it scares the fuck out of people so much that they're willing to come in here and murder healthcare professionals and bomb us and our kids as we sit around waiting for a pap and some pills.

How fucked up is that? To live in a place where we live in fear of being killed for exercising power over our body's reproduction?

Sweet fuck.

I've got all the power in the world, and I've gotta go into a locked-down building so I can exercise control over that power; so I can make these choices.

What bugs me is that the fear and stigmatization of women's reproduction and control over it *is* so intrinsically tied to women's health that what's happening is that women's health, I feel, gets a similiar veil of fear and shame pulled over it. If you've gotta be buzzed into a building and feel like a criminal for going in, and if there's protestors outside screaming at you that you're a whore and threatening violence, you're less likely to go in at all - even if you're just getting a pap or an HIV test.

PP is more affordable than other places, it's more friendly, the staff is mostly volunteer and always very cool. Twenty-something student volunteers were running the ship behind the desk; those smart, savvy, cool women who believe in what they're doing.

Once I got buzzed in, I got another in a long line of great gynos; very friendly, professional, excited to talk about birth control options, relaxed and cool with the exam while using just the right amount of humor.

I checked out well, got a bunch of info on IUDs, which I'll be switching to in the next couple of months, because the failure rate's way, way lower than pills, and they last a hell of a lot longer - about 10 years. More expensive in the short term - about $450, but pills are $21 a month, so over 5 or 10 years, you're getting a pretty good deal.

I've always been in great health as far as the female parts go, so after much discussion with the gyno, it looks like that's what I'll end up doing.

I was buzzed back out into the waiting area, then buzzed back in through the check-out door where I picked up my pills and settled my bill.

All the power in the world.

It's a funny thing, reproductive power, and the fear of it. It finally really hit home for me, because here I am, in real life, trying to get out to these places, to get my shit taken care of; and you know, I'm lucky, cause it wasn't Abortion Day, and the protestors weren't out, and I didn't have to push through a crowd of hecklers.



How fucked up is it, that a woman's ability to choose whether or not to bear a life is so incredibly fucking scary that there's an entire formal and informal institution of fear and shame set up around her body to keep her from understanding it? How fucked up is it, that when I say that out loud, or here in a public forum, that people just dismiss it, pretend talking about women's uteruses is boring and unimportant and not worth thinking or talking about? How can they say that and then spend their time passing laws that directly affect me and my pesky uterus, and heckle me when I try and take control over my body's processes? How can they say that and then tell me that not only is my body not worth discussing (so long as I'm the one discussing it), but that having this body makes me bad at math, too emotional, weak and inferior and flippant and flighty?

Why talk about uteruses at all? It's so obvious that they're so bloody fucking unimportant.


I don't scare anyone at all.

Which is why rooms full of women and contraceptives are on a lot of people's hit lists.

18 comments so far. What are your thoughts?

Anonymous said...

I reposted some extended excerpts here . I hope you don't mind. I think this is a great post, a classic. Nothing speaks more powerfully than experience. Ta! 

Posted by media girl

Anonymous said...

And Kameron? Don't forget that your insurance will pay for birth control now, in the state of Illinois. We have a non-discrimination law about that now!! Insurance offered in Illinois has to pay for BC too. Yay!! 

Posted by La Lubu

Anonymous said...

media girl - no problem. I like extensive re-posting at other sites. It's cool. The more people read it, the better.

La lubu - yea, unfortunately, I got the cheaply shitty free insurance through my company, the "catastrophic" insurance plan, meaning they don't start paying out until I pay out $2500 in healthcare costs this year... Great if, say, my appendix bursts or I break a leg or something, but, unfortunately, not so great for the health basics.

Making enough money so that I can pay out for decent insurance is something I'm working on...  

Posted by Kameron Hurley

Anonymous said...

Well hell! That bites. My insurance is part of my benefit package; it's paid directly by the employer. Since it's a self-funded plan (many locals are involved), and administrated totally by men (half contractors, half union business agents), it never paid for birth control prior to Blago signing the anti-discrimination deal. They paid for various dick hardeners and penis pumps, but not for diaphragms, IUDs or the Pill.

And now they have to! heh heh.  

Posted by La Lubu

Anonymous said...

You are a powerful young woman and that frightens many, many people. If women have power, men and some women who have given into that thinking, then men must lose power. After all their is only so much power to go around, right?

The Supreme Court may soon, probably will soon, take abortion rights away. That won't be enough. The far right will go after the Pill--some pharmacists in Texas will not fill those prescriptions. They tell churchgoers here that the Pill kills the fetus as if ovulation took place and fertilization occured. All the bad science isn't just about the age of the earth and global warming.

Live safely, live strong. 

Posted by jaye

Anonymous said...

It really sucks that you don't have any real insurance. They're flying you around the country and they can't provide this basic benefit? That's screwy. You need a raise AND decent insurance. That insurance you've got will not cover ANYTHING. Let's hope you never have to find out that it's basically burial insurance. I'm betting that all your bosses somehow have another better deal.

I haven't been to an inner city PP in awhile. Sounds like more security than a typical minimum security prison. Lest we forget that before 9-11 the most significant terrorists in the country were either right wing wackos like Tim McVeigh (of the OK City bombing) or sundry other far right 'Christian' religious anti-abortion terrorists. They killed or wounded more than 2 dozen people in the 1980's-1990's, and caused 100's of millions worth of property damage. This was the face of terror before 9-11, and it is still more likely to happen than another attack from some islmo-fascist force. We have our own home grown fascist forces, unfortunately they now run most of our government, so we need to be protected from them when we can.

I hope that IUD does not come with a new add on feature of an RF tag that reports into the DoJ when your cycle is due so that you can then get a post card from the Government urging you to consider carrying that egg to term this month. It's coming if we only wait for it!  

Posted by VJ

Anonymous said...

I've been through that! The doctors were scared and rushed. I felt like a criminal for being somewhere that performed *gasp* abortions! Some day we won't feel like felons for getting birth control or a PAP or even an *gasp* abortion. God forbid we have rights and freedoms over our own bodies! 

Posted by myllissa

Anonymous said...

Excellent post! This may just be my new favorite blog. 

Posted by terrilynn

Anonymous said...

I'm bookmarking you also. This blog is excellent. 

Posted by Cody

Anonymous said...

My daughter went to PP recently for an abortion. While circumstances such as these are never ideal, I was real proud of her for her strength to make such a tough decision. All I could do was be a good dad and support her, and try to keep my worrying to myself. But I want to thank you for this post, for reassuring me see that she was in good hands. 

Posted by bombadil

Anonymous said...

On my mother's list of The Best Advice in the Universe, one of the items was "Planned Parenthood is your friend." You want to have a baby? You don't want to have a baby? You're having sex and want to be sure you're healthy? You're not having sex and want to be sure you're healthy? PP is your friend.

And sadly it's not just "inner-city" PP offices, and it's not just now - I remember getting buzzed in through the security setup at the Feminist Women's Health Center in Chico, CA back in 1987. I'm sure it's a lot more widespread now, though. 

Posted by Lexica

Anonymous said...

Yeah, the high security is definitely not just in urban areas. Same thing in South Dakota. 

Posted by Kelsey

Anonymous said...

bombadil - yea, no worries, PP is awesome; they take great care of women.

And yea, Lexica, it was my mom who recommended PP as well. They're amazing, and when I'm financially able to do so, you better bet I'll be sending them contributions every year. It's a fantastic service.  

Posted by Kameron Hurley

Anonymous said...

Excellent, excellent post, Kameron. Really first rate. Everyone should read it. 

Posted by flea

Anonymous said...

The IUD is an excellent bc method. If you end up choosing ParaGard (the copper IUD), the company has a Patient Assistance Program  (free IUD if you qualify). Maybe they can help.

Posted by ema

Anonymous said...

Excellent post and I linked you from my blog. If I can just get a few of my readers here, it was worth it. 

Posted by Nino the Mindboggler

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