I am still wrestling with a bit of anxiety when it comes to speaking my truth all over this blog. I have been fairly quiet for this reason. My recent silence also has a lot to do with the fact that I have so many things I want to write about I have a difficult time not frantically typing out one long, spastic, and rambling rant about all the things in my head. That would be crazy! It would be pages and pages upon more pages and you would all give up on me for good.
I guess I just had to sit back and wait until a dominant thought shifted to the front of my mind and settled there for a while. One finally has, and that is my love for Planned Parenthood and the confusion I have around the constant barrage of attacks on this organization. What truly inspired me to write about this subject are all of the wonderful stories other people are sharing. I love each and every one I read and in honor of those people stepping up and sharing some things that were private and no doubt, truly difficult to share, I am sharing my Planned Parenthood story here and now.
I was first introduced to Planned Parenthood when I was 19-years-old. I was living on my own for the first time and, as was the case back in the 90s, as soon as I moved out of my parent’s house and turned 19, their insurance company dropped me. I was working a minimum wage job as a barista in a little coffee shop in the Washington Square mall (The Mocha Tree… it is now closed and that whole end of the mall has been remodeled). I had no money. In fact, I am almost positive this happened after I was let go from my barista job so I was unemployed. I really had no money. What I did have was a raging fucking urinary tract/bladder infection.
When I say raging fucking bladder infection I mean pissing impossibly small streams of molten lava. It was basically straight blood and some little blood clots. I had a fever and the chills. My abdomen was cramping so badly it felt like I had a band saw blade connecting my belly button to my clitoris. It was terrible. I tried to fend it off with tons of water and cranberry juice but was unable to stop the flood of bacteria causing the infection. With no insurance and no knowledge of how one adults in emergency health care situations, I felt I had no choice but to go to the emergency room.
The closest hospital to me was St. Vincent’s (a Catholic hospital) and although they had happily and kindly treated me in the past, this new 19-year-old, and uninsured version of Katie was not welcomed. They tested my urine by catheter before discovering I no longer had medical coverage and then abruptly told me I “most likely had a venereal disease” and referred me to what they called “The STD Clinic”. It was two more days of agony before I was able to be seen but when I arrived at Planned Parenthood two things happened right away.
When I filled out the forms and talked with the lady at the counter she apologized for the way I was treated at the ER. She was clearly disgusted with what had happened to me and made it her mission to treat me kindly and reassure me. She was so sweet and I felt so terrible that I cried when I had to tell her I didn’t have insurance or a job. She again reassured me and then she made sure I qualified for a funding program that would cover my medical treatment. Once all the paperwork was done and I was called back it took less than 20 minutes for the horrified health care provider I saw to confirm what I already knew. I did not have a “venereal disease” and I did have a raging UTI and bladder infection. They got me my much needed antibiotics and sent me on my way. I became so ill from that bladder infection due to delayed treatment (thanks a ton St. Vincent’s) I needed two rounds of antibiotics and had to go home so my mom could take care of me.
That moment of kindness and respect was the beginning of my long and happy relationship with Planned Parenthood. I will tell you right now that no, I have never had an abortion. And I can unequivocally credit that fact to the years of women’s health services I have received from Planned Parenthood. During the times in my life I have had no medical insurance it is Planned Parenthood who has made sure I had access to the birth control and information I needed in order to be a responsible and healthy sexually active woman. They have answered every question I ever had honestly and with respect. They taught me more about my sexual health than any apathetic, polyester shorts clad coach stuck teaching sex ed has ever taught me, and they certainly taught me more than my own, very Catholic mother did.
The truth is that I walked into the adult world completely unprepared to function as a responsible and well informed sex having adult woman. You want to know why? Because telling young women that sex is icky and only “loose and slutty” women have and enjoy sex, and attempting to scare them out of having sex by showing graphic images/recounting horrific details of terrible sexually transmitted infections, OR shaming them by telling them sex is a sin and if you get yourself knocked up you asked for it because you were being a whore… well that shit just doesn’t work. Planned Parenthood held my hand and helped me become someone who had the knowledge and confidence to be in control of my own destiny by not having more babies than I wanted. And I did it without ever needing an abortion because Planned Parenthood gave me the tools I needed.
But my relationship with Planned Parenthood goes much deeper than that. People who have vilified this organization and who wish to see it defunded and ultimately close its doors will counter everything I have said so far with trumped up “facts and figures” and claims about what an evil, baby slaughtering empire Planned Parenthood really is. There are accusations of brainwashing and any number of ridiculous counterpoints made by desperate zealots who think they have my best interest at heart; they want to convince me I am wrong about Planned Parenthood and here is why they never will… because I worked there.
Yes, 13 years after that first encounter with Planned Parenthood, I got my dream job as a Patient Service Staff at Planned Parenthood of the Columbia Willamette. I went through all of the trainings that taught me how to be a person who is capable of educating young men and women with the same kindness and respect that I was treated with. I learned all of the very strict rules Planned Parenthood has in place in order to provide excellent care to the people I served. I was trained to teach women about the birth control options available to them so they could make informed decisions about their own healthcare needs. I learned to draw blood and take urine samples so I was able to help people get the STI screenings they needed in order to stay healthy. I learned to perform HIV test and to give comfort and counsel about available resources in the case of positive results, and to teach people how they could lessen their risk for contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections without judgment and shame. I learned how to perform pregnancy tests. I learned how to assist providers in performing annual exams and life saving cancer screenings. I learned how to compassionately and privately help rape victims locate and receive important and necessary tests and treatments. And yes, thought it was the smallest part of the work I trained for and did there, I learned everything there was to learn about abortion.
I learned how to give options counseling. Yes! Options! Planned Parenthood presents women with options, only one of which is abortion. In the time I worked there I gave young women, couples, and families information about getting proper prenatal care for the pregnancies they very much intended to keep. I watched them walk in scared and unsure and walk out young parents ready to face the world. I gave young women, couples, and families information about adoption services and watched them walk out ready to face the reality that they were doing the best thing they believed they could do for the child they were prepared to carry and give to another family. And I gave young women, couples, and families information about abortion services.
I sat down with these women… these couples… and these families, and I armed them with every bit of information available to them about abortion. I told them what was going to happen to them, I told them what procedures would be used, and I told them exactly what would take place. It is called informed consent. I gave them this information without judgment and without pressure. I held their hands as they cried. I held their hands and supported them throughout the process of having an abortion, and I held them in my heart as they went on to live full lives… to finish high school, to finish college, to find the person they really wanted to have a family with, or to just move forward in life with no children because that is what they wanted.
There are very few things in my life that I am more proud of than I am of the work that I did when I was employed at Planned Parenthood. And you can’t tell me what I learned there is a lie. That this organization does anything other than what I learned it does, because I lived it. I learned it. I followed protocol to the letter. If you tell me Planned Parenthood does anything other than that, then you are telling me that I am a liar. And if there is one thing any of you should know about me, it is that I am honest to a fault (just ask my husband… it really drives him nuts sometimes because I am like the fucking morality police).
My time at Planned Parenthood wasn’t as long as I had hoped it would be, but that was not the end of my relationship with them. I became sick with a very rare illness called Ramsay Hunt Syndrome during my employment there, and that illness ultimately resulted in a physical disability which forced me to leave. But they never gave up on me. The clinic I worked in held my job for me for almost an entire year. They tried to change my job title and duties so that I could do a desk job part time in an effort to keep me at the clinic. They allowed me to try coming back to work four times in that year. My coworkers pooled their money and gifted me hundreds of dollars for my birthday because they knew my family was struggling without my income. And when I finally had to face the fact that I was no longer physically able to do my job, Planned Parenthood held my hand and wept with me.
In the years since I had to leave my job I have struggled to redefine myself and make a new life with this new disabled body. You wouldn’t think that Planned Parenthood would be able to help me with this, but that is wrong. You see, I am on Medicare and I cannot afford a supplemental insurance plan. Medicare isn’t geared toward the medical needs of women of childbearing age by any means, and I still haven’t figured out the mystery of what they will cover and when they will cover it. Yes, they pay for 80% of the medical expenses they do cover, but 20% of an IUD is still far more money than my family’s modest budget can accommodate. So now, in my 40s, I am again a patient of Planned Parenthood. I go to them for my annual exams and every five years they replace my IUD with a new one. They have again made sure that I have access to the reproductive healthcare that I need, and they still do it with the same compassion and respect they always have. And they still hold my hand when I cry.