Because we don’t talk about our uteruses enough.
I hadn’t been in for my yearly exam in about three years, when I had to get a clean bill of health in order to get a student visa for South Africa, and it was About That Time again.
I chose to go to my old friend Planned Parenthood, as I had good memories of the one I went to back in high school. It was a small little office just off Main Street, and I was very comfortable there. It was like any other doctor’s office, only full of women, women, everywhere, and frankly, when it comes to my reproductive health, I’ve always been a lot more comfortable with women administering to me, and I’ve never had a male gynocologist. Not by choice, mind you, it’s just always sort of worked out that way, and to be honest, though being splayed open and prodded at for health reasons doesn’t flip me out or anything, there’s just an extra comfort level when the person doing the check-up’s a woman.
So I made an appointment for an exam at one of the PP’s closest to my place, and hopped on the train after work and went over. The building was easy to find, labeled prominently, very nice.
I opened up the main door and found myself in an odd little boxed room with a door in front of me and a door to my right that was, in fact, locked. I peered in through the small rectangular window and saw a set of stairs and some office plants.
Then I saw the call box by the door.
Did I have to buzz in to Planned Parenthood?
I picked up the phone by the door and hit the intercom button, told them I had a four o’clock appointment.
I was buzzed into the building, and proceeded upstairs…
Where I found a woman sitting in a booth behind bulletproof glass who asked for my ID and verified that I had an appointment.
She then buzzed me into the waiting area.
I felt like I was there to buy heroin, or maybe get a child prostitute for the night.
What the fuck?
Inside, I checked in up front and filled out all my paperwork (which, blissfully, didn’t ask me when the last time I had sex was. I figured the gyno would ask anyway. I can never seem to get away from that question).
No, I haven’t had any pregnancies, no STDs, no I don’t have asthma, high blood pressure, oh, yes, my dad has high blood pressure, oh, yea, my dad’s had a heart attack…. but me, I’m good. Check, check.
I turned everything over and sat around waiting to be buzzed into the actual medical office. Oh, yea, both the doors leading into the clinic were the gotta-buzz-you-in type, too. Three doors of buzzing-in before you can get to clinic personnel.
And I did a people watch, listened to all the women around me. There was one girl there with a guy who was most likely her boyfriend, a couple of women there with friends. A couple of friends were talking in low voices about abortion services, about women they know, about a boyfriend who was insisting a friend bear a pregnancy to term because, “He really wants to be a dad.”
Sitting there, listening to these women, watching a room full of women waiting, another roomful behind glass sorting patient folders and scheduling appointments and handing over birth control pills, and having gone through the security checks in order to get in there, it really sort of hit me for the first time – not in an abstract way, because I’ve realized it in the abstract many times – but in a real, gut-kick visceral way, just how fucking terrified as all hell men are of women, of this power, of this choice. This is birth and death in this room, right here. This is where all the power is. And it scares the fuck out of people so much that they’re willing to come in here and murder healthcare professionals and bomb us and our kids as we sit around waiting for a pap and some pills.
How fucked up is that? To live in a place where we live in fear of being killed for exercising power over our body’s reproduction?
I’ve got all the power in the world, and I’ve gotta go into a locked-down building so I can exercise control over that power; so I can make these choices.
What bugs me is that the fear and stigmatization of women’s reproduction and control over it *is* so intrinsically tied to women’s health that what’s happening is that women’s health, I feel, gets a similiar veil of fear and shame pulled over it. If you’ve gotta be buzzed into a building and feel like a criminal for going in, and if there’s protestors outside screaming at you that you’re a whore and threatening violence, you’re less likely to go in at all – even if you’re just getting a pap or an HIV test.
PP is more affordable than other places, it’s more friendly, the staff is mostly volunteer and always very cool. Twenty-something student volunteers were running the ship behind the desk; those smart, savvy, cool women who believe in what they’re doing.
Once I got buzzed in, I got another in a long line of great gynos; very friendly, professional, excited to talk about birth control options, relaxed and cool with the exam while using just the right amount of humor.
I checked out well, got a bunch of info on IUDs, which I’ll be switching to in the next couple of months, because the failure rate’s way, way lower than pills, and they last a hell of a lot longer – about 10 years. More expensive in the short term – about $450, but pills are $21 a month, so over 5 or 10 years, you’re getting a pretty good deal.
I’ve always been in great health as far as the female parts go, so after much discussion with the gyno, it looks like that’s what I’ll end up doing.
I was buzzed back out into the waiting area, then buzzed back in through the check-out door where I picked up my pills and settled my bill.
All the power in the world.
It’s a funny thing, reproductive power, and the fear of it. It finally really hit home for me, because here I am, in real life, trying to get out to these places, to get my shit taken care of; and you know, I’m lucky, cause it wasn’t Abortion Day, and the protestors weren’t out, and I didn’t have to push through a crowd of hecklers.
How fucked up is it, that a woman’s ability to choose whether or not to bear a life is so incredibly fucking scary that there’s an entire formal and informal institution of fear and shame set up around her body to keep her from understanding it? How fucked up is it, that when I say that out loud, or here in a public forum, that people just dismiss it, pretend talking about women’s uteruses is boring and unimportant and not worth thinking or talking about? How can they say that and then spend their time passing laws that directly affect me and my pesky uterus, and heckle me when I try and take control over my body’s processes? How can they say that and then tell me that not only is my body not worth discussing (so long as I’m the one discussing it), but that having this body makes me bad at math, too emotional, weak and inferior and flippant and flighty?
Why talk about uteruses at all? It’s so obvious that they’re so bloody fucking unimportant.
I don’t scare anyone at all.
Which is why rooms full of women and contraceptives are on a lot of people’s hit lists.