Back in my days of being straight, single and without health insurance, I got free exams and birth control (condoms, plan b once and then Ortho Lo) from Planned Parenthood and was on them for years. I was sexually active and suffered from terrible dysmenorrhea so it was the right thing for me at the time. I remembered the first month of the pill being terrible and was glad my roommate at the time was away on some European vacation for weeks so I could spend that month managing my mood swings with ice cream, boxed wine and Sex and the City DVDs. Alone. But after that, my moods leveled as did my periods and their symptoms and all was good in the hood. It’s true about sex drive though, the pill works as birth control partially because you don’t even wanna have the sex.
I had an irregular pap smear eight years or so that happened during one of my yearlies that required a cervical biopsy (Spoiler alert: I’m fine, everyone!) and the patron saints of Planned Parenthood had my back and made it as least sucky as possible. They were honest about the procedure, the pros and cons, the side-effects mentally and physically and also what the results could mean. Though something scary to handle at age 24 and 3000 miles away from mommy, I felt totally safe and supported and that they were recommending things for my best interest. Whether it was as serious as a biopsy or as routine as an STD screening, pelvic exam, pap smears, or retrieval of my yearly brown bag of condoms and birth control pills, I was never treated with anything less than compassion and support.
The gripes I have with Planned Parenthood are associated with their lack of resources including staff. Firstly, the insane waits. You’ve gotta block out like four hours on Planned Parenthood Day. I would go to one by a McDonalds because I “deserved” french fry therapy after such a long afternoon. Side note: yep, I had that many options for locations. #texas. Also, one time they accidentally gave me Ortho regular instead of low dose. I took it not thinking it was that big of a deal until I took them and went nuts like immediately. I switched right back and the insanity subsided just as immediately but at that point I was well-aware of the tricky game you can play with your hormones and was conscious of the power the pills had over me. Overall though, pretty small gripes when it comes to what can happen in the health care system, even the fancy privatized kind.
At age 26 I stopped trying to fuck the gay away once and for all and started dating Joni, the love of my life, to whom I’m now married. Obviously at that point, I had no need for the pill anymore and stopped taking it and got rid of the rest. I was on another type of birth control now! But, a few years ago I had terrible, painful and erratic periods again and since I have a history of dysmenorrhea and family members with PCOS I took it seriously and went to the doctor (as one should if something seems wrong!). At that point I had a full time job with health insurance and had a great female general practitioner that I trusted implicitly. I was aware that the pill had worked before and feared I’d have to go back on it again to manage my periods but her suspicion was cysts which was even more scary. She drew blood for tests and referred me to specialists, a bunch of men, to get further checked out. After a couple of invasive exploratory procedures it turned out that I indeed had ovarian cysts.
NOTHING will ever feel normal about a man whom you ONLY see when you aren’t wearing pants and being penetrated by a camera, and transvaginal ultrasounds don’t get less uncomfortable the more they get done. They actually suck more each time. BUT, my health was first and those cysts had to get diagnosed and taken care of. They gave me the option of two types of bc (pill or IUD? yippee.) and/or cut me open. I decided on the least invasive, the pill, for three months to see how it works out. I did it before, I’ll do it again. I morphed right back into a psycho after the very FIRST pill and I had a new side-effect this time: legit MORNING SICKNESS every day for those months. I was waking up at 5:30 AM feeling like I’m on a boat, and felt no relief until everything in my stomach, even if it’s just stomach acid and phlegm, was expelled. And don’t even try having a glass of water, or coffee, or tea, or food for a few hours. Ugh, the smells. All of the trappings of first trimester pregnancy (so I have heard, I have never been pregnant thanks to my responsible measures!) without any possibility of that being the case! FML.
To boot, I did have a full-time job and health insurance, but I worked for a bunch of gross pervy dudes so I didn’t feel comfortable telling them about it and suffered in silence. “Sorry, I can’t do that early AM conference call — I’m a lesbian on the pill vomiting for two hours every morning because I have growths on my ovary”? You just can’t, not that I’d be able to communicate it coherently anyway because THE PILL MAKES ME CRAZY. I also vomited some mornings when I wasn’t on the pill because of the stress of the job but not everyday like that. This was another level of hell.
Unlike the kind and understanding women at Planned Parenthood, who talked to me not just about the science and medicine but also the psychology of female health, every procedure and doctor I dealt with except for my referring general practitioner was male and my experience was vastly different. The wait in the lobby wasn’t (as) long, but the lack of understanding of what a woman’s body endures even as a medical professional really drove home the importance in having someone who could walk in their shoes or at least TRY and empathize.
The last procedure I had after my summer of pukes, the one “necessary to determine if the cysts exists” was the absolute worst – a hysteroscopy. It involves shooting fluid in the uterus to inflate it (I think, I am trying to temper the PTSD) get a “clear picture” of what’s going on in there, as if the transvaginal ultrasound isn’t invasive and uncomfortable enough. He was all “Blah blah blah no big deal doesn’t hurt at all happens very quickly” when I said I was nervous that day, as he had when talking me into getting it done to begin with. But that day, the female nurse/doctor’s assistant in the room took my hand and said in my ear, “That’s not true, but I’ll help you through it” and indeed it was long (30-45 mins?) and painful. I will never, NEVER blindly agree to an exploratory procedure like that again. Fucking terrible. And I definitely stopped and got McDonalds on the way home.
The cysts were successfully gone, yes, but I haven’t gone back to that doctor. The fact that he said in front of another woman “blah blah no big deal” and she whispered something along the lines of, “Dafuq? He is wrong!” could not be a clearer picture of the lack of understanding and compassion I experienced. Yes, medical professionals helped diagnose and treat cyst-gate successfully, but strangers got all up in my vagina with cameras and viewed it as a revenue stream. Think I’m overrreacting? I told him I was in a same-sex relationship during my consult and he immediately asked us how close we were to exploring having children and that he has “many successful lesbian conception stories.” DAFUQ.
The cervical biopsy I had like eight years ago as well as every other appointment I ever had at Planned Parenthood sucked less than managing my cyst. As the federal government continues to have so much fucking interest in what I do with my vagina (same-sex marriage! reproductive rights!), I’m thinking about all of the other vaginas in the world and the women that have them. The women like me who didn’t/don’t have health insurance and needed free reproductive health care. The women that don’t have access to such a wonderful organization like Planned Parenthood due to laws and bureaucracy. The women who have to endure transvaginal ultrasounds when not totally necessary. The women like me who do or have had to turn to a specific form of birth control to manage their health. The pill made me violently sick and I would totally consider trying an IUD (with another doctor) if the cysts came back. Now I’m thinking about the women who work for Hobby Lobby who won’t have that option.
And while we’re at it, go see Obvious Child.
Follow Leslie on Twitter: @hotmesslie