The story of how, at 38 years old, I found myself without health insurance, sitting in the lobby of my local Planned Parenthood, is not a sad story. I’m not one of those victims of the economy that might be profiled in a story in Newsweek. I was not laid off. My insurance benefits weren’t cut off by the man. Quite the contrary, I willingly and voluntarily gave up a job with health benefits in order to avail myself more fully to the family I am raising.
I take my job as a mother seriously. Hot breakfasts are important to me. I like, no... love, making snacks and helping with math homework after school. The library is my favorite place to explore with them. I need to keep my schedule pretty open for that stuff. Besides, my kids and I are still getting to know each other, and those little turds keep changing every damn thing about themselves every time I turn around, so there is always lots more to learn. Time with them feels short and precious, and I trust the little old ladies in the grocery store who look at us longingly and caution me that it will be over before I know it. I always nod politely, but what I want to say is: I know it, lady, and please don’t think for one second that I am unaware of the speed at which I’m traveling, but I don’t see a hand brake around here, so I’m just going to stay in this wagon with them and careen recklessly through this mine shaft while life bucks them out one at a time until I’m the only one in it.
Rather than commit myself to a 40+ hour workweek that would provide us with benefits, I waitress. Short of being one of those really expensive escorts, it’s the best way I can find to earn the most dollars in the fewest hours. Also, it keeps my legs strong and curvy. Also, I like doing it a lot, lot, lot. And those high paid escorts probably have to shave, like, every day, and talk about boring things with boring people, and then have sex with them. I like talking about boring things with my not-boring husband, and then I might not even want to have sex with him, and he can’t ask for a refund. Besides, those girls always end up dead on Dateline.
So here’s what we know so far: I love being a mama, I work for cash, I do not have health insurance, I am not a call girl.
Let’s go back to the top of the page, where I referenced my “local” Planned Parenthood. By “local” I really mean “closest,” which is about 50 miles away. The actual “local” office closed in 2010. If I were without transportation, I could maybe take the student shuttle bus that runs from Lawrence to Overland Park’s Johnson County Community College, then walk the remaining five miles to the Planned Parenthood clinic. But my appointment was on Saturday, and the bus only runs Monday through Friday, so I would need to enlist the help of a friend with a car, or pony up $75 for a cab ride. Lucky for me, I’ve got a sweet minivan with one of those rad honor roll bumper stickers. I only mention it because, as I said, if I didn’t have transportation, arranging for it might be another obstacle between myself and affordable health care.
Another benefit to having a car when you go to Planned Parenthood, at least in Kansas, is that you can drive past the protesters on your way to the back parking lot, rather than having to walk past them on your way in. They aren’t allowed on the property itself, so they keep to the sidewalk out front. If you were on foot, you’d have to walk straight through them, even if you’re just on your way in for a pap smear. That’s right. In Kansas, if you are too poor to afford health insurance and are relegated to the Planned Parenthood for your lady bits’ annual tune-up, God hates you. If you are also too poor to own a car, you are going to have to physically brush shoulders with someone holding a sign that says so.
Which brings me to the front door. I try to open it and, finding it locked, confusedly look around for another door. Then a few seconds later, a very large man (about 6’5”, 450 pounds) in a very large uniform opens the tinted bulletproof glass door and asks what I want. I give him my name, my identification. I smile. He doesn’t. He wands me front and back with one of those airport TSA thingies and looks inside my purse, tells me to go put my phone in the car, wands me and searches my bag again once I’ve done so... everything but the invasive internal exam I’m there for in the first place. They should just give this dude some swabs and hand sanitizer and half of us wouldn’t even have to go inside at all.
He nods me in. That’s when it hits me: I am on the front lines of America’s War on Women’s Reproductive Rights. When I say war, I mean war, as evidenced by the bulletproof glass and ultra-tight security. And the war is not restricted to family planning services, unless you also consider cancer screenings and hormone therapy for medical purposes family planning. I guess keeping mothers and daughters and grandmothers alive falls under that category. They still count as part of the family, for now.
Inside the waiting room, I survey my contemporaries. Most sit alone, as I do. There are all ages, all ethnicities. A few have partners with them. There’s an Eastern Indian woman with brightly ornate, flowing clothes and a long wavy black ponytail streaked with grey. A skinny teenage girl comes in with her dad. He does all the talking while leaning closely into the sliding bulletproof glass window that surrounds the receptionist. He speaks in a hushed voice.
The receptionists are friendly and efficient. They wet their fingers intermittently on their tongues as they fly through the paperwork and count the cash payments of the uninsured patients they care for. It occurs to me how brave they are, even with the bulletproof glass and enormous security guard, to do what they do, and so cheerfully. They have polished nails and funky hairdos and genuine smiles. I’m struck by the contrast between this place and the waiting rooms of the OB/GYNs who delivered my three kids, back when I had health insurance and went to the real doctor.
First, and most obviously, there was no bulletproof glass in those offices. Those walls were pastel and floral, with wicker decor and photos of brand-new sleeping babies dressed up like pumpkins and tomatoes. Here, the walls are gun-metal gray, with posters advocating a woman’s right to choose. At the real doctor, there were no posters with facts about HIV transmission, there was no guard at the door. But the warmth I experience from the women working at Planned Parenthood far surpasses any I received from the reception staff at the real doctor’s office. These women have been completely stripped of any of the entitled, bored and fussy attitude that those women seemed to have. Chances are, they never had it in the first place, that's why they're here. Or maybe it’s because they don’t have to deal with insurance paperwork all day long. They have to deal with people.
The receptionist kindly informed me that “everyone had shown up for their appointments today,” so I was going to have to wait a while past my scheduled appointment time. I took that time, which ended up being more than an hour, to consider my situation. First, I wondered why it was notable that everyone had shown up today? Do they overbook appointments with the assumption that some patients will not be able to make it? I came from 50 miles away. Some women travel farther. Some can’t get rides. Some may be scheduled for appointments they change their minds about keeping.
I can tell, or think I can, the women who are there for abortion services. A girl with long matted black hair and a long black jacket pays at the window with wads of crumpled twenty dollar bills she extracts two or three at a time from her black jeans until she counts out $360.00. I only noticed because it was 80 degrees outside. The jacket caught my attention. Her pained effort to straighten out and count all those bills while the receptionist looked on with patience is what held it. And I thought to myself, whatever fight this girl is fighting, whatever led her here, it’s hers to fight. Not her state representative’s. Not her pastor’s. Certainly not a congressional committee made up entirely of men and for fuck’s sake not Sam Brownback’s. They will never sit here. They will never have to make decisions for themselves and their families that lead them to this waiting room. Ever. There is no male equivalent to the Women’s Health Clinic. This would be a good time to mention that no state has passed a bill saying that doctors and pharmacists don’t have to prescribe medication that assists with any issues that may happen in a man’s pants... no legislation that says “hey, it’s God’s will, slugger. Guess you just don’t get another turn at bat.”
In the late 60s and 70s, America accepted that women’s reproductive rights were not a matter for government regulation. As women became increasingly confident taking control of issues that affected their health and families, they were subsequently confident taking control of their educations, their careers, their spiritual growth. That’s why they call it health and wellness. The wellness part is the rest of your life, the part your healthy body allows you to do. Of course there were always right-wing religious organizations and individuals who damned the movement to hell, but lately this movement is happening in my (and other) state House of Representatives. This effort to restrict the services available to women is a direct attack on our wellness. Fact: political regimes throughout history have used sexual humiliation as a means of maintaining control over women, and continue to do so. Taking control of a woman's body through oppressive legislation is a form of sexual humiliation.
I’m not sure what they’re so afraid of. It can't be money. We’ve never broken the cap of 16 percent of the top earners in any economic sector. Pick one: Hollywood, aerospace engineering, Wall Street. 16 percent ladies, that’s where we max out. I can be cool with that, but let’s get something straight: I will fight until I’ve lost every one of my teeth in the skin of those fat fuckers, until I’ve lost all my fingernails digging out, to keep that percentage. We will keep our 16 percent, and we will maintain the rights our mothers (and my own father) won for us. And if you think that this passive, mindless, video-game-obsessed generation is going to sit by while you take away our ability to make decisions about our own bodies, that’s even better. Because you won’t see us coming.
Maybe you forgot... we're women... we’re the spenders. Some of us shop for shoes and some of us scour thrift stores for vintage dresses and some of us stay up late and watch QVC and some of us love ebay, but we are the spenders. We know this democracy thing is rigged. You guys think you have the game on lockdown but we’ve got dollars and the know-how to spend them wisely.
My money represents my hard work, my swollen feet, my aching hips, and my time away from my family. How I choose to spend it is spiritual currency. I will continue to work for cash and my money will go to Planned Parenthood. I’ll walk if I have to, past the protesters, past the guard who protects the nice ladies who work there, to sit in the dingy waiting room and wait an extra hour. It’s my money, and that's where I want to spend it. Hear this Koch brothers, you godless, bottom-feeding bastards who put the “$$” in Te$ P$rty, who bought all those elections in 2010 when the conservatives swept the House and Senate and started to immediately dismantle the civil rights we thought were secure... I know what products you make, and I’d rather wipe my ass with my hand than shell out a single one of my hard-earned dollars for a roll of your toilet paper.
I live in the heartland. This is where the fight seems most futile. Where my vote is a tiny blue pin head in a sea of red. I can’t win at the polls. There is a more creative solution. Women all over the world have worked to topple regimes and dismantle policies more oppressive than these through tireless search for the back door into the battle. When they can’t find a back door, they look for a basement window. Any way to get in and make a change. Sure, you’re wily and persuasively flirtatious when that’s all that’s called for, but this situation might require a little more muscle. Use what you have. Use dollars when and where you can. Find out where the money comes from, which corporations have been funneling money into the elections in your state. Then boycott those. I know, that sounds like a lot of work and research, but consider that women in Uganda are protesting similar policies topless in the street and facing arrest doing so. Our mothers and grandmothers marched and protested and fought hard for this shit. And they didn't have more than landline telephones to help them organize. And maybe college newspapers. Donate to Planned Parenthood, even a little helps. Find out how you can help:
I sat in the waiting room of Planned Parenthood today because I thought it was the only health care I could afford. I left in tears, knowing I can’t afford not to go back.
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