9.18.2012

Planned Parenthood

I'm probably chiming in on this topic way late, but today I acquired first-hand experience.  It was experience that left me both happy and harrowed, and reevaluating the debate in our country on birth control and other female issues.

Here's the long and the short of it.  I am uninsured, and have been since August 2008.  I cannot afford health insurance on my own, and although I am employed, because none of my jobs are full time, they do not come with benefits.  I have pre-existing medical conditions.  Specifically for this subject, I have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and it is strongly suspected that I have endometriosis. 

Once a month, and sometimes a day or two in between, my life is hell.  I have an extremely high pain tolerance and can put on a good face.  So when I go crawling, hunched over, to pop a fistful of Advil and curl up moaning with my heating pad, you know it's bad.  Life doesn't stop for pain, though.  When I'm standing in front of my kids at school and my uterus and the surrounding muscles feel like they are trying to wring out and then expel my feminine parts, all I can do is try to not grimace and seize the Advil at the first possible opportunity.

The best treatment for both PCOS and endometriosis for a woman of my age is taking oral contraceptives -- birth control pills.  (It is slightly ironic that I would need to take a medication designed to prevent pregnancy in order to get my lady parts healthy enough to get pregnant, should I ever decide to do that.)  The catch is getting access to them.

Here is where Planned Parenthood comes in.  Their mission is to provide women's health services to everyone, regardless of their situation.  I was able to get in with an appointment within 24 hours, and I was able to walk out with some birth control pills and a longer-range plan for addressing my female health.

The experience in-between is why I'm blogging.

In my opinion, it is very sad that a clinic that strives to help has to ask you questions like, "When we call, how do you want us to identify ourselves?  As PPH, doctor's office, or as 'Cathy'?"  When they do call, the phone number shows up as all zeroes.  The door to the clinic is locked at all times.  A security guard lets you into the small vestibule, where she scrutinizes your ID much more carefully than TSA does before you get on a plane.  She verifies you are on the list with an appointment.  She searches your bag -- cell phones and other electronic devices are forbidden inside the clinic.  You are wanded with a metal detector.  Once you pass on all accounts, you get to enter the waiting room and go to the reception desk where the nurses and staff are behind bullet-proof glass.

I'm not here to debate abortion.  I know what I believe and how I vote.  I think people who value life so much that they are willing to take the lives of others simply to make a point are certifiable.  I respect my friends and colleagues who are against abortion, and I understand why they feel that way.  I choose to vote pro-choice because it is not my place to tell someone else what they can or cannot do with their body.  It doesn't mean I will ever be seeking an abortion, but I take some relief in knowing that the option is there should I ever find myself in that situation.

I can tell you two additional things now, having sat in the Planned Parenthood waiting room.  First, the women who were there for an abortion were tormented.  They were wrestling with their decision up until they were called back.  (Keep in mind, Kansas has a mandatory 24 hour waiting period after an abortion consultation before the procedure can be performed.)  For none of them was this "no big deal."  They were women who look just like every other woman in your life -- the lady you pass in the grocery store, the woman who has the cubicle down from yours, your neighbor, the lady serving you communion at church.  These weren't women whose bearing, demeanor, dress, etc., screamed "whore."

Secondly, women seeking female health assistance should not be made to feel shameful.  When a health care provider has options for concealing their identity when they contact you, when you have to go through a gauntlet of security just because you are in a clinic that performs abortions, no matter what your reason for being there, you feel a sense of shame.  It feels like you are doing something wrong.  I don't know of a proctologist who feels the need to conceal his or her practice because they perform vasectomies.  I don't hear of the Catholic Church condemning doctors who perform those procedures because it interferes with the ability to create life.

I was there for a reason I could get at hundreds of other doctor's offices in town, and at dozens of other clinics.  I was there to get medication to help me with a very real and very painful medical condition.  The reason I was at Planned Parenthood was because they will take me without insurance and without questions.  The nurse practitioner I saw was extremely kind and helpful -- she went out of her way to help me even though my hypertension is currently uncontrolled and being put back on birth control could exacerbate that.  She helped me find a decent option for the time being, gave me information on places I could go to take care of my blood pressure, and then we laid out a game plan for further treating my issues.

I can only think of two other medical professionals in my life that have spent that kind of time with me, and I've been to A LOT of doctors and nurse practitioners.  As a result, I left extremely grateful for what Planned Parenthood does -- abortions or not.  When you think defunding them is a good thing, take a second to think of me.  My going there was not about being sexually active and wanting to prevent pregnancy.  My going there was to control an at-times debilitating medical condition, and the way our health care system is in this country, they were my best option.  I didn't have to prove I was poor, I didn't have to prove I didn't have insurance. 

I didn't have to prove I was in any way less than millions of other women, women who have easy access to affordable health care.  And having literally just gotten off the phone with one of the low income/uninsured clinics in town, trying to schedule an appointment to treat my high blood pressure, I know I'm not alone.  They can't see me for 2 weeks -- and they weren't the first clinic of this type to tell me that today.  Something is very wrong in our country, and I'm for one grateful that we have places like Planned Parenthood.

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