While my days of contraceptive use are history (thanks be!), I am reminded of how essential they are to women whenever I serve as a host for Haven.* (havencoalition.org)
During the last five years, I’ve probably hosted at least 25 women who’ve come to New York City to have second-trimester abortions (which they can’t obtain in their home state or Canada and which necessitates an overnight stay). I pick them up at a health care clinic, take them home, feed them, and give them a place to sleep and shower before taking them back to the clinic early the next morning. Because all of this is anonymous, I can’t ask direct questions, but I do let them know that I’ve had an abortion and I’m willing to talk and give them as much TLC and hugs as they need. Each one has a unique, heart-renting story. Some are already mothers and aren’t in a position to care for another child. Some women have come with their mothers (I’ll never forget two very young ones); some have been accompanied by sisters or friends. (Since I live in a studio, I can’t take couples.) And some have come alone. Those are always special.
One 20-year-old college student from Massachusetts stands out. Because she knew her parents wouldn’t approve of her having an abortion, she made an arrangement to have her student health care insurance pay for her abortion at Bellevue Hospital. After making the appointment during a week when her parents were on vacation, she drove to NYC, intending to stay in her car. When the social worker at Bellevue found out that the night before her appointment she had stayed in her car, Haven was called, and I took her in. She was so together, so sure of the righteousness of what she was doing, so convinced that she had to finish her degree and get on with her life. She was so mature, such an inspiration.
A 16-year-old who lived in NYC was equally impressive. She had arranged for an abortion through the guidance counselor at her school. Why? Because her 18-year-old sister had just had a baby and she knew her mom would freak out if she found out that she was pregnant. Since she was so young, my role was to pick her up at the clinic after the abortion and escort her home. Her boyfriend had accompanied her in the morning – wonderful! She was so sure she was doing the right thing, so independent, so proud. She was truly a teen role model.
Last week I hosted a 26-year-old from Pennsylvania with a 5-year-old son. She was struggling on so many levels. The first problem she talked about was her relationship with her mom, who did not know she was in NYC having an abortion. She was convinced she couldn’t tell her mother because she wouldn’t approve, which made her feel guilty and frightened. It turned out the mother had been in a very bad car accident as a teen and had been told she would never be able to have children. But in her thirties the mother was able to have two. Consequently she viewed all children as precious and did not support abortion. As we talked, the young mother listened and nodded when I said that her mom would surely not want her to bring another child into the world while she was trying to get her life together and that I was sure her mom, if she ever found out, would ultimately agree with her decision. The young woman, who frequently shifted emotionally from adult to child, was so exhausted that she fell asleep at 6 o’clock when we got to my place and slept until 5 in the morning. By then she was not as upset, just focused on getting through the procedure and going home.
She raised another problem when I escorted her to the train station. What to do about contraception? Every politician who has or ever will vote for bills that put restrictions on women’s right to abortion and to birth control should hear her story! She had tried every type of birth control currently on the market. Nothing worked. She had gotten pregnant with her son on the pill. Depo-Provera and Norplant made her sick. She got an infection from an IUD. The diaphragm didn’t fit properly and was painful, and she had an allergic reaction to condoms. She was in despair. She threw up her hands and began crying, “What am I going to do? Will I just have to keep going through this?”
My heart went out to her and to women like her – like my characters Carole and Christy – who are able to get pregnant very easily. They need all kinds of support, medical and otherwise, to try to balance their reproductive capacity with other parts of their lives and their dreams.
Having real-life experiences like I had last week only confirms for me how totally unjust the current attack on contraceptives is. Ultimately it comes down to an attack on sex – which is so essential to the human condition. Now that’s a subject for another blog! But to stick to my topic for today, I must ask: Don’t those who oppose free access to contraceptives realize that can only increase the demand for abortion? How short-sighted is that!
*Haven Coalition is a network of volunteers who provide a meal and a safe place to sleep for women who are forced to travel to New York City for second-trimester abortions. Since our inception in June of 2001, Haven has hosted close to 700 women for over 800 nights. We always need volunteers, so if you have a couch and the desire to make a direct impact on women’s lives, or if you are interested in more information, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.