I never had an abortion, although those services have always been legally available to me. With two miscarriages behind me, by the time I got pregnant at 35, my longing for a child was attached to my soul.
When that child was born, a new me emerged as well. I discovered the breadth and depth of my capacity for worry and fear. I also found that love has endless reserves. So, I learned to fight worry with hope and to destroy fear with strength.
It wasn’t always a cake walk.
Words from the Book of Common prayer seeking wisdom and calm strength became my mantra to guide my parenting so that twenty-five years later a competent, beautiful emerging adult now stands in place of that seven-pound baby.
Some days I can barely remember the years before my child. Does any mother? We count from their birth forward as though our real lives began with them. That’s only partially true. We experienced diverse life events before childbirth, and for me that included events geared toward preventing childbirth.
At 18, I left home. You know those towns, maybe you come from one. A town where everyone knows your name, what you did last Saturday night, and proceeds to tell two people who tell three other people, and like the child’s game of telephone tag, the story your parents hear is far worse than the bit of fun you had on Saturday night. I was ready to leave all that behind. In the 1970s, for many of us, life experiences meant freedom expressed through sex, drugs, and rock and roll. I planned to lose my virginity to a boy I loved, have a great career, and not get pregnant. Some of my high school friends already had children and were tied to lives in the small town I wanted to escape.
My roommate took me to Planned Parenthood during my first term in college. She was wise to the ways of the world, even had her own copy of the recently published Our Bodies, Our Selves, that groundbreaking women’s health book that explained sexuality, birth control, and childbirth. A city bus took us to a neighborhood a bit down on its luck with junker cars on the streets, shabby rental houses, a laundromat and corner liquor store. Excitement turned to anxiety as I walked up the crumbling cement steps to the refurbished four square that housed Planned Parenthood. Youthful bravado pushed aside apprehension as I waited on a folding chair with four or five women of various ages and races and two small children playing in a corner.
A pelvic exam is the foundation for women’s reproductive health. This would be my first. I don’t remember what I expected, but certainly not the vulnerability I felt sitting naked in that small, cold exam room. What was coming? Would it hurt? I wanted to leave, but I wanted those pills. I took my clothes off, put on the paper gown, and waited alone with my thoughts.
I grew up in rural Ohio and didn’t know anyone who wasn’t a white, heterosexual, third or fourth generation church-going American. That brief visit to Planned Parenthood showed me a diversity of women, children, and situations that opened my thinking about the world. The doctor was a kind, gentle black woman who saw my fear and showed me how one stranger can care for another. She explained the procedure as though she was sharing a recipe for pie. Her hands were practiced and gentle and she spoke softly as she worked helping me to ignore the minor discomfort. When she was done, she reminded me that I made the choices about my body and that safe sex was a good choice. I left with a handful of condoms, several packets of birth control pills, scary pamphlets on sexually-transmitted diseases and a bit more knowledge about myself and who I wanted to become.
I graduated college, got a ‘good job’ with employer-sponsored health care. I carefully planned my career and my life. It worked out for me. But for countless of other women (one in four have an abortion), their plans don’t work out.
There are many reasons why a woman seeks an abortion… a safe, legal abortion. And for all those reasons and all those women, I believe it is a basic human right for our nation to provide low-cost reproductive health services for any woman. By our nation, I mean us as taxpayers. I support federal funds going to Planned Parenthood. I vote for legislators who share that belief, and I financially support Planned Parenthood.
I am troubled by the state of reproductive health in America. I worry about the attacks on women’s rights to care for our own bodies. I ask my sisters (and brothers) to support women’s health care rights. Start with Planned Parenthood. Check out all the services provided – birth control, HIV and STD testing, pregnancy testing, LGBT services and men’s health services. And then write them a check to keep these services available for all who need them. Elect legislators who support your views, both with funding and legislation. Make your voices heard, now and always.
Kate M. Carey lives and writes in Lexington, NC while counting the days until she can retire to the beach.