In 1988, at the age of 17, I decided for myself I should go on birth control. I hadn’t had sex yet. I wasn’t even dating then. I just wanted to be prepared for when that day came. My sex education had come through my 8th grade sex ed class, conversations with my friends and a book my parent’s had gotten me some years earlier on where babies came from (as was their style; I was given a book on transactional analysis for kids and teens, too, so now I’m overly conscious of my Adult and Parent sometimes). I don’t remember ever talking about sex with my parents, but I wanted to be smart. I had watched girls in my high school drop-out when they got pregnant and there was no way I was going to do that, I had plans! I wasn’t going to even think about starting a family until I was done with college and had a career.
I thought I should talk to my mom about going on the pill and I still remember the night I tried. We had gone to a nice dinner and were kind of dressed up – summer dresses and sandals – just a girls’ night out, nothing special. Driving home on a side road (I always found it easiest to have the hard conversations with my parents in the car where we couldn’t look at each other easily) I mustered up all my courage and finally asked my mom if I could go on the pill. She said no.
And that’s where the conversation ended because as we crested a little hill we came upon a car accident. We were both on the rescue squad so not stopping to help was not an option. We called it in on Mom’s radio and started tending to the patients. A man was off a tractor that had been hit by a car. He was hurt, but not badly. I remember worrying about walking around the accident scene in my sandals and joking around afterwards about getting dressed up to take emergency calls.
My mom’s outright refusal had kind of floored me because she was a pretty liberal, understanding, progressive feminist type and was in school to be a physician assistant. I wouldn’t even have asked if I had known she would have that response. It was awkward and afterward we never really went back to the conversation. I just didn’t mention it again.
I didn’t let her refusal to help stop me. I decided I had to do what I thought was best for me. I went to my local Planned Parenthood on my own and paid out-of-pocket. I still remember the first time I went…the waiting room and the exam room, talking to the physician assistant, meeting some girls from school in the waiting room and making awkward eye contact. I had known I could get help there from the information booth they run every year at the county fair. I got my pills and got my gynaecology care there for a few years until I got my own health insurance.
Flash forward to 2012. Planned Parenthood was hiring and I was looking for a new career path. Had my mom not said no to me all those years ago, I don’t know if it would ever have occurred to me to work there. But, now that I had my own teenage daughter, it was time to give back to Planned Parenthood. It was kind of a surreal experience, becoming the physician assistant in the very same office I had started as a patient in and it made me so proud to work there.
At Planned Parenthood, I helped women from all walks of life –migrant workers and recent immigrants who spoke no English to the daughters of my high school classmates, to women who ran their own businesses; from early teens through their 60s – make choices about reproduction and sexual health. Some had never had sex, some had children already. Some would come with a friend or family member; some came on their own facing tough choices. Providing them the tools to decide for themselves when they wanted to have children, giving them information on safe sex, helping them though difficult decisions like having an abortion or giving them support in a difficult relationship was very rewarding. My favorite part of the job was talking to those teen girls that reminded me of myself. I would congratulate them on taking that step to take responsibility for their own health and often share my story with them.
I was fortunate that although my parents weren’t comfortable with the idea of me having sex, they taught me to be a strong enough woman to seek out the support and services I needed on my own. Now, my daughter and I have very frank discussions about sex because I see so much more pressure on girls today than I perceived as a teen. I want her to have all the tools she can.