Every so often, I have a patient interaction that reminds me why I get up for work every morning with enthusiasm, and why it is so important that we remain committed to preserving access to abortion care within this country.
Recently I was working the role of an abortion educator, meaning that on the day of abortion procedures, I discuss the abortion process with patients, including what they can expect throughout the day, the risks and benefits of the procedure, follow-up care, and we discuss birth control for afterward. I always begin these sessions by asking if the patient is firm and clear in their decision, and if they are being coerced in any way. If the client is not ready, or is being pressured to have an abortion we cancel or reschedule the visit to a time when there is 100% confidence and clarity. I always end the visits by asking the patient if there is anything emotional they would like to discuss regarding their decision, which is hard for many people for a variety of personal reasons.
On this particular day I had the pleasure of meeting two sisters from an Eastern European country, one was there for the procedure, one was her support person. The session began similarly to most, in which I narrate a certain set of scripts, then open the conversation into a dialogue. Most patients are pretty quiet about their personal feelings and previous experiences, but this client and her sister were full of stories to share.
The patient was very early in her pregnancy, and explained that she was unable to continue it to parenthood because of the financial situation she was in. She had been told by a doctor in her native country that she should not be on birth control consistently, that she should take “breaks” about once a year, and then go back onto it. She said that this was the second time she’d become pregnant on a “birth control break,” and she was sad and frustrated by its necessity.
I let the patient know that she did not need to take breaks from contraception, unless there was some sort of extenuating medical condition that she had that I was not aware of (I’d never heard of such requirement in my four years on the job). The news hit her with a crash, she was shocked but relieved that she no longer needed to take months off from her pills and risk unplanned pregnancy.
She told me she was very nervous about the abortion because of one she’d had three years earlier in her native country. She repeated several times that she was treated “like an animal,” and was nervous a similar experience would occur on that day. She’d elected to have a medication abortion instead of a surgical because of the trauma she’d endured in her last situation. She became emotional very quickly as the story began, and I could see her anxiety rising in her voice, mannerisms, and in her eyes.
She told me she was just over four weeks pregnant (from a birth control “break”) and had to schedule the procedure in a hospital. The procedure costed the equivalent of about $1500, and no assistance was available. She was not able to have any family member or support person join her throughout any portion of her visit. She was taken back to a hospital cot where she waited for hours, alone. Eventually, a dilator was inserted into her cervix, where she said it remained overnight. Hospital staff ignored her, she was not given meals, nor the ability to update friends or family. She was alone, without any sort of pain medication, weeping in pain for hours and hours, until finally the doctor arrived, conducted the procedure without even speaking to her. When she vocalized her discomfort she was mocked by staff and humiliated. Overall, she and her sister told me the abortion stay took 16 hours. She said she was made to feel ashamed and incompetent.
Clearly her experience in our office was the complete opposite of what she’d experienced previously, and she was relieved. She thanked me for the compassionate and gentle care that she was receiving, and told me that she felt safe despite the trauma she’d previously endured. We were able to schedule her to receive a Mirena IUD (5 year reversible contraceptive method) at her follow-up visit, so she would no longer need to worry about taking “breaks” from her reliable contraceptive. In fact, her sister scheduled to receive one on the same day as well!
Unplanned pregnancies, for many reasons, can be extremely stressful for females to endure. I am grateful that I work for an organization that provides people with the ability to plan their family and their future with safe, comprehensive, medically-accurate education and clinical care. I stand with Planned Parenthood.