I was 17. I did not consider myself a sexual being. The sex-ed class at my high school was mainly a vocabulary lesson. And I had no idea what an erector set had to do with babies. And whatever sex was, we weren’t supposed to do because it would cause babies. And babies would ruin our lives.
I’d had trouble getting a tampon in and I didn’t believe my then boyfriend (now husband for the past 48 years) when he explained what he wanted to do. Biology took over. I called Planned Parenthood the next day. I figured they would be nicer and less expensive than a doctor. I wasn’t even making minimum wage, and my take-home was $34 a week. My rent was $40 a month including utilities. I also had payments on my motorbike. And regular expenses like food and books.
Planned Parenthood gave me an appointment for a week later, at 9 AM on Saturday. When I showed up, they ordered me to change into a paper costume and sit in the waiting room. I did so, along with about 20 other women, also wearing scratchy paper costumes, that tended to flap loose in embarrassing ways..
We had to sit through a class on how many sperms are in a typical ejaculation, and we passed around a plastic breast with a lump in it, so we’d know what cancer felt like. Then we got called back one at a time for an interview.
My interviewer kept asking me if I could pay for it. I was terrified of being denied birth control, so I said yes. Over and over. She said the bill would be about $60 including a one-month supply of pills. That was nearly my entire savings, but I kept saying yes. Later, one of the other women told me if I’d said, no, they’d have given me a discount. But I didn’t know that.
After over 2 hours of sitting around, my paper costume was getting tears in it. I was feeling totally embarrassed. Supposedly I _knew_ better than to be in this situation. After all, I’d taken Sex Ed. (Later, my city ranked highest in STDs in the entire state – which probably is a comment on the quality of the sex ed program.) My mother would be furious if she knew I was here. And I might be pregnant. Abortions were illegal. And in my mind, pregnancy was not a good reason to get married. My mind kept going in loops about what if, and how scary!
Finally, I was called back to see the doctor. He saw my name on the form I’d filled out, so while I was lying there, legs in stirrups, and he was poking and prodding me, he asked if I was related to Richard (with my same last name) who lives in Chicago. “Yes,” I said. “He’s my uncle. You aren’t going to tell him I was here, are you?”
The doc just kept going on and on about how he and my uncle were such good friends, and they’d gone to school together. Finally, he promised not to tell my uncle. Then he wrote a prescription for birth control pills, but told me not to start taking them until after my next period. He made I big deal about taking them at the same time every day, and never skipping a day.
Then he left. I wiped the goo off my crotch, put my clothes back on, paid for the visit and the pills and knew I’d have to find an extra $16 every month to pay for more pills. If I wasn’t pregnant. If if if.. (Luckily, I wasn’t.)
And I wondered if a regular doctor might be cheaper, and take less time, and not make me sit around for hours in a paper costume, and didn’t know my uncle. But then, I didn’t know what kind of regular doctor prescribed birth control pills, and if they’d even see a 17-year-old. And if they did, would they repeat the Sex Ed lecture about how bad I was being? Planned Parenthood seemed like my only option. I wanted to rename them Planned Unparenthood. And I wanted to redesign the entire system so there wasn’t a 2 hour wait in a paper costume. And the doctors didn’t get to see the women’s names. And if they give a discount based on income, they should say so.