A young woman, struggling with “high-functioning” alcoholism and a panic disorder, unable to seek treatment for either disease because of her inferior health care package covers neither mental health nor women’s health care, finds herself pregnant by her boyfriend of six months. Her boyfriend makes the right pledge, to stand by whatever decision she makes, and to support the child, if need be, or to help pay for an abortion procedure. He is unemployed and living with his parents in rural Georgia. She gets an offer to go to graduate school with a fellowship designed to support a young single person with very modest needs. She can keep the kid, move the guy across the country, and attempt to begin graduate school with a child and a yearly income far below the poverty level, relying heavily on expensive state and federal programs, and running her parents into debt. She can keep the kid, stay in Georgia with no prospects beyond managing a small restaurant, and force the guy to remain immobile, too, again drawing on expensive programs and her not-wealthy parents. In either scenario, what would that child’s life be like? The pregnancy was caught early—six weeks—but substance abuse problems take years, even a lifetime, to get under control. Even if she was able to quit cold turkey for the sake of the child, there would be no guarantee that the child would turn out healthy, or even go to term. If, by some miracle, the child was healthy, her mental illness and the financial straits of both parents would hardly give the child a stable home life. She wasn’t even that young. At 23, she had already surpassed that milestone her mother had set for her since childhood: just wait until you graduate college. So, here she was, with a Magna cum Laude to boot. Should she woman up, grip her ovaries and pull herself into parenthood by her fallopian-tube-bootstraps?
I think the adversaries of PPH and women’s health initiatives would probably argue that she should. And maybe she should have. But she didn’t, and she is, of course, me. Call me weak, call me selfish, call me irresponsible. If you’ve ever been in the throes of an addiction, you can probably understand how hard it is to get out of it, especially when you’re being hit with the hormonal bludgeon of pregnancy. If my anxiety, panic, and depression was controlled before, with the pregnancy hormones flowing through my veins it became almost unbearable to leave my house. Thankfully, I had incredibly supportive friends, including a next-door neighbor who didn’t let me fall to pieces. My aunt, a 30+-year supporter of PPH and now a staff member, also supported me from across the country. My boyfriend at the time did what he could, from two hours away and between his odd jobs. I wasn’t ready to be a parent. I was still drinking heavily, too, mainly out of “OH F***” anxiety. People will say “No one is ever ready to be a parent!” but I don’t think they mean this level of unfitness.
You know, a part of me wonders something: I have always been pretty sexual, but I have been made to feel fraught about that sexuality thanks to growing up in small, conservative towns. I had a supportive, open-minded mother and aunt (the one mentioned above) who both taught me that my body and my urges were neither shameful nor something to remain ignorant of. Imagine the cognitive dissonance created by being surrounded by friends wearing pro-life shirts in the halls, praying in school, and regularly being “saved” at sleepovers (because we sometimes went to a Catholic church). Maybe if basic human feelings and needs hadn’t been so morally pathologized in my formative years, I could have escaped some of the issues that made me anxious as a teen, and eventually drove me to self-medicate through drinking. Anxiety issues run in my family, so it may have found another manifestation, but here’s one topic it should never have had to become caught up in.
I didn’t end up going to PPH, but instead went to a local version of that organization that was much closer (Feminist Women’s Health Center in ATL, for anyone in the region who can’t get to the PPH locations). So, maybe in this situation it wasn’t exactly PPH that saved my life, but it’s like saying I got my cat from the Humane Society when it was really an almost-identical animal rescue that only exists in my town. PPH helped me out on a number of other occasions, and in my new town I have been using their services. I just submitted a volunteer application!
My mom and my aunt were pioneers in middle America, the heart of Santorum-esque anti-woman attitudes, but in their quiet, behind-the-scenes way. Sites like this, and the HUGE reaction to the recent Komen Foundation action are proof that times are changing.
When I quietly turned to my older girlfriends for advice when I found myself pregnant, I was surprised to find out that several of them had had abortions, including one who had been a lesbian most of her adult life, and one who counts herself as a conservative. We have to stop letting political groups step on our voices. Pregnancy is dangerous, parenthood is a huge responsibility, not to be taken lightly, and sex is an instinct hundreds of millions of years old. Suggesting sexual abstinence as a solution is like saying anorexia is the solution obesity: accessible, responsible, low-cost management of normal human needs is the answer, and that’s what PPH offers.
This was very rambling, but I hope some people find some gems in there. I love PPH and like-minded associations. We, as women (and men, too, surely my ex-boyfriend is happy to not be a dad!) who have used their services, need to be more vocal about it. The more normal it becomes, the better. I long for a day when anti-PPH and anti-women’s health advocates are regarded with the same kind of cult status as religious sects that refuse all kinds of medical treatment: wackos (with religious freedom protection for the adults).
I was so happy to see the outpouring of support for PPH in light of the Komen thing. More people need to speak up. Health issues should be kept private, but it doesn’t hurt my professional career to say that I’ve personally benefited from several of the many of their 97% of non-abortion services.