024. My Adventures at Planned Parenthood
“Courage over comfort. Courage over comfort. Courage over comfort.” I keep repeating Brené Brown’s mantra to myself as I start to write this piece. I created this blog over a year ago with the intention of telling the truth and creating a safe space for others to explore their own truths. I just never imagined or anticipated it would be necessary to tell the truth about my reproductive health, but alas, the time has called me to do so. A haunting quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer comes to my mind that challenges me in the best of ways.
“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil…Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer
I share what I’m about to share because I have the privilege to do so and I’ve been increasingly convicted as the weeks have gone on and the news becomes shrouded with more and more southeastern states looking to implement incredibly restrictive abortion laws. As someone who was born and raised in the south, a region that I love and feel most at home, I cannot stand idly by. It would be ignorant of me to continue enjoying all of my home’s many gifts without also advocating that the women who live there be protected to have full autonomy when it comes to the choices and decisions of their body and reproductive health.
Two and a half years ago Jordan asked me to marry him. I said yes, we cried, we celebrated, and we looked ahead to the future with starry eyes and loads of excitement. It was beautiful and lovely and one of the most sacred of times. We decided on a June wedding and after the chaos of the Christmas season dissipated, it was full wedding planning mode.
One of the things on that list was figuring out what our form of birth control would be.
We both chose not to have sex while we were dating. This meant that neither of us had a need to use any pregnancy preventing or protective methods. I had taken birth control pills in high school and for a short time in college, but found the side effects were less than ideal so I stopped taking it. I knew when the time came for me to become sexually active, the pill was not going to be an option for me.
The decision to abstain from sex until we were married was a mutually agreed upon decision for Jordan and myself. While abstinence has not been something I have always practiced, it became something I both believed in and practiced beginning in my early twenties. My faith is deeply important to me and I will speak for myself and say I wanted to honor God in this way.
I will also say that I am grateful I get to choose what religion I follow and how I practice my faith. The privilege I hold to be able to do this is in no way universal. My values are aligned with tenets of Christianity, at least what I view to be tenets of Christianity.
I take issue when one’s personal decisions around matters such as, what one chooses to do with their own body are cause for public scrutiny. I’m very aware that my rights as a white, Christian female living in America allow me to speak my truth freely and openly. In doing so, I am also speaking up for my female friends and all women who live in southeastern states whose reproductive rights are being compromised by polarizing and disparaging political agendas.
I pause here with hopefulness because I know many people who uphold their Christian faith as central to their life are able to respect the full and glorious autonomy of a woman and the choices she makes with her body. I like to consider myself to be one of those folks and I’m grateful to be surrounded by many more in my church and greater community. I’m grateful to be involved in a Christianity community that is founded in love, equalitarianism, social justice, forgiveness, and a celebration of the fact that we as humans are in no way perfect. We need not be perfect to be recipients of God’s audacious love.
These truths were some of the reasons I decided to pursue a career in counseling. And to become a counselor, one must get a masters degree first.
So it was smack-dab in the middle of wedding planning that I was buried deep in the second year of my program for Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN.
While I was picking out table decorations, centerpieces, and deciding on cake flavors, I was also taking a full course load, gaining hours at a local private practice (read, working for free), and nannying two days a week.
Money was definitely tight.
I was also over the age of 26, so I was no longer covered on my parents insurance. The Affordable Care Act was in effect, but health insurance was not actually affordable. At one point after calling five different providers, I was quoted on average monthly premiums that were $300 a month with $5000 deductibles. To make matters even more taxing, the insurance laws were changing in Tennessee and many providers were dropping individual coverage altogether. My graduate school did provide insurance for students but because it was a religious school they had an exemption for covering contraceptives. Convenient.
Even for someone as privileged as myself, access to care was a challenge.
In looking at the birth control options that were available, I’d heard positive experiences from a few women about their IUD. I called around to many different OBGYN sites. Some offices never even returned my call and some offices wouldn’t even offer me care because I lacked insurance coverage. Additionally, I found that even when offices did return my call, transparency around the price of this service was very challenging to come by. In the few places that did give me vague price ranges, I discovered getting an IUD out of pocket would cost anywhere between $1200 to $1800. Wow. That was a lot of money I didn’t have.
I was becoming increasingly anxious about what to do. I went on my bachelorette weekend in the spring and my two favorite sisters from another mister were there, EB and Rebecca. EB is a neurosurgeon in Alabama and Rebecca works for disability services at a collegiate level in Georgia. Both are well informed, highly educated women. I trust them quite a lot.
I shared my birth control woes with them and they both suggested I look into going to Planned Parenthood to get my IUD. I’ll be completely honest, Planned Parenthood scared me. I shared earlier that I grew up in the south which meant I was surrounded by a fair share anti-abortion rhetoric. Planned Parenthood (PP) was most definitely a very, very bad place to go and the only service they provided were abortions.
Rebecca kindly educated me that while all folks with uteruses have access to abortions should they need it at PP, that is not the only service they provide. In fact, they provide well woman exams, cancer screenings, birth control, sex education, STD testing, infertility treatment, and hormone therapy. You may have even seen this tote bag floating around instagram a few years ago sharing all of the services they provide in a cheeky way.
I was still hesitant but hearing both of their assurances that Planned Parenthood would provide me great access to affordable birth control helped me immensely. When I returned to Nashville, I called PP and received access to clear details right off the bat. The IUD and insertion would cost $600, including tax.
Planned Parenthood was also one of the few places that would allow me to get the IUD insertion on the same day as my appointment. The doctors offices I spoke with required an initial visit that costs anywhere from $200 to $300. Then I would have to return for an additional appointment for the actual IUD insertion.
The clarity I received from Planned Parenthood was incredibly helpful and reassuring to me.
While a $600 doctors visit is the cheapest thing in the world, I could scrape the money together especially if it meant having a form of birth control I knew I could rely on for several years and wasn’t predicated on me remembering to take a pill every day. I did the math and with the IUD lasting several years, it came down to a cost of $16 per month. Essentially the same cost as generic birth control pills.
I made the appointment at the Nashville Planned Parenthood in April, a few months before our wedding day. It felt like I was going to a doctors office because oh wait, I was going to a doctors office. Only at this office, they had more posters on the wall about making sure you are empowered to make educated and informed decisions around your reproductive health. Huh, imagine that!
I’ll spare you the details of the actual insertion because regardless of if you’re at your OBGYN’s office that’s covered by insurance or at Planned Parenthood, it’s going to hurt. There’s just no way around that. I would recommend one not google “does getting an IUD hurt?” on the internet because it will likely give you visceral anxiety. But I knew that this pain would give me several years of 99% effective birth control at an affordable cost.
Even though the pain was very real, I still recall that my experience at PP being one of the best gynecological experiences I’ve had to date. The staff was kind and empathetic, but more importantly, I could tell they really valued my concerns and questions. They wanted me to make every decision from an empowered and autonomous place.
What’s interesting is that even though I had such a positive experience (and am still having a positive experience 2+ years later), I felt shame about sharing that I had this procedure done at Planned Parenthood. I was well aware of the disapproval I’d receive and kept it quiet…that is until now.
Women’s bodies and the choices they can make surrounding their bodies are being threatened. It’s deeply alarming to see what’s happening in the news. While I wanted to look away and hope that this would all just go away, it’s not. I’ve been liking all smatterings of postings on social media that support women’s rights to choose what they want to do with their bodies, but have yet to speak on it publicly because I knew it would come with some scrutiny.
Here’s the thing: I love being a woman and I love having a uterus. Sure, when I am in my luteal phase and menstrual phase on a monthly basis (thanks for teaching me to be body literate Erica Chidi Cohen), I don’t love being in my body, but I try to make my body as comfortable as I can with heating pads, essential oils, and kind movement. And if I really wanted to, I have the choice to look into methods of birth control that stop menstrual bleeding altogether, but that’s an entirely different conversation altogether.
The conversation that does need to be had is the one of choice. One day I hope to carry a baby, many babies actually, in my womb. I’ve been looking forward to this basically my whole life. I have fond memories of watching Phoebe on Friends eat a bowl of cereal on her swollen belly as an early teen. I’d imagine what it would be like when I too could have a pregnant belly and use it as a table for my morning cereal. What a day that will be! I’m also becoming more and more aware that my privilege allows me the choice to decide when that time is right for me and my spouse.
I value the choice I have to decide.
It is my body after all and I take the divine creation of my body and your body very seriously.
One of the gifts I was given in getting my IUD at Planned Parenthood was that the experience forced me to reevaluate my beliefs about certain ideologies I had picked up over the years. I got to reconsider how it was that I came to believe certain things were fundamentally good or fundamentally evil and why there was such a harsh divide between the two. Once I really peeled back the layers and learned about different topics at hand, I was able to step back and decipher if my ideologies and beliefs were congruent to what I had just been told were right or if they were actually true. Some times they were and some times they weren’t.
In going on that journey I discovered one of the most important parts of my faith, work, and life is to be engaged in a “both/and” life as opposed to an “either/or” life.
An “either/or” life is going to be characterized by really clear differentiation, sure answers, and ultimate valuing of rightness. You’ll know who the heroes are right along with who the villains are. You’ll know what’s okay, what’s not okay, and how to stay in line with the “right people.” Folks who value this lifestyle are going to tell themselves and others, “I know the right way here.”
A “both/and” life is going to be characterized by nuance and complexity. Simple black and white answers will be exchanged for the holding of deeper, more curious questions. I would argue that the person walking out the “both/and” life values the interconnectedness of all things and people. They are constantly asking themselves, “What don’t I know here?”
It would be important to ask ourselves the question, “What don’t I know here?”
Here are a few of my questions I’m holding that you might consider holding and asking as well.
Regardless of whether or not I align myself to pro-choice or pro-life stances, how can I advocate for having comprehensive sex education in schools, access to contraceptives for all, and better maternal and paternal leave for starters?
What are the effects of lack of contraceptives on female poverty?
Why the gender disparities here? How can this not just be a women’s issue?
How can I advocate for teaching sex through a pleasure lens as opposed to a contraceptive lens in my communities and in churches as well?
What are my blind spots here? How can I move out of my echo chambers and look to the voices that I disagree with to learn and understand where they are coming from? In doing so, might I be able to discern whether it’s coming from a place of fear? Of arrogance? Of ignorance? Of their own personally held beliefs? How could I support them with fact based knowledge?
How can I make sure I’m not just engaging with clickbait material but rather engaging with accurate information about what’s happening with these laws and women’s reproductive rights? For example, abortion is still legal in all 50 states. These laws have not gone into effect…yet.
“As a Christian and a feminist, the most important message I can carry and fight for is the sacredness of each human life, and reproductive rights for all women is a crucial part of that: It is a moral necessity that we not be forced to bring children into the world for whom we cannot be responsible and adoring and present. We must not inflict life on children who will be resented; we must not inflict unwanted children on society.” Anne Lamott, 2006 Panel Discussion on Faith and Politics
I don’t claim to have the right answers and I certainly don’t claim to have the most nuanced and articulated understanding of a very, very long battle for the equality of women that has been happening long before the time my grandmother or your grandmother were fighting for the right for their reproductive choices. I do have my stories, I do have my education and I do have my values. I must use them well and that’s what I hope to do in sharing this today.
To end, I reflect on the ethical code from the American Counseling Association that informs how I work and care for the folks I see as a psychotherapist. The very first value that provides the conceptual basis for all ethical decision making and treatment is autonomy. Defined by the ACA as, “fostering the right to control the direction of one’s life.”
My work is never to tell a person what to believe or not to believe. My work is to provide a safe place where accurate information can be disseminated and where a person ultimately regains the tools and confidence to make autonomous decisions for themselves.
The beauty of this work is that I do not have to give up my personally held beliefs in order for another person to find theirs.
It also means that my choices get to be my responsibility and your choices get to be your responsibility. It is unfair and dangerous to impose our own strongly held beliefs onto other people especially when it affects access to healthcare and restrictions on what you and I can and cannot choose to do with our own body.
Below I have included resources to websites with quality and accurate information on different contraceptive options, the effects of access to contraceptives, stats on abortions frequencies, along with the most important link…registering to VOTE.
The invitation I am extending is to educate yourself. Examine your blind spots, step out of your echo chambers, and listen to voices that are different from yours. I am doing this myself as well and learning more about both sides of the debate, not just the one I personally agree with, along with looking into ways I can support those southern states who are under attack. Education in the forms of books, articles, lectures, podcasts, documentaries, etc. help you form a more complex and nuanced understand so that when you go to vote in your local elections (Did I mention how important voting is? Vote!!!) you can do so from an informed and empowered place.
Power to Decide, Campaign to End Unplanned Pregnancy // Importance of Access to Birth Control and how “Contraceptive Deserts” affect Americans
Family Planning and Contraceptives, World Health Organization
Statistics from the Guttmacher Institute on Contraceptive Use in the United States