Family Planning: Some Thoughts and Convictions
By all appearances, she was the type of woman you would want to have in your corner and certainly not in your opponent’s: she was big, black, and brazen, and chatting up every other woman in the waiting room. She wore thick grey sweatpants and an old tie-dye T-shirt with clunky sneakers. Another woman who looked like she was a couple years younger than me ducked into the room, sat two chairs down, and pulled a lime green hood over her sleek blond hair. Her composed posture suggested I was quite possibly the first person ever to see her cry.
One by one, women were called back by the nurses. My friend went to the counter to retrieve her final bout of paperwork as I settled in to a corner chair with a high cushioned back and cheery geometric upholstery. As I sat opposite the talkative stranger, a back issue of The Economist became insatiably interesting. My friend returned and, interrupting my foray into the world of financial sound bites, the woman across the room asked, “Are you her friend?” My first thought was, Oh, dear god, what did she do? Instead I squeaked out, “Yes?” “That’s good,” she replied, “it’s good to have friends. I’m just tired of feeling weird and not knowing . . .” she trailed off.
At this point, I knew it was all over. Steve Jobs tried to beckon me back to The Economist, but it was useless. “Are you waiting to figure out if you’re pregnant?” my friend asked just before her name was called by a woman in scrubs bearing a clipboard. “Yeah, this would be my second,” the Perfect Stranger answered. Slowly, I migrated several chairs closer. “Do you have any family in the area?” We were no longer facing each other, but she still dropped her gaze: “No, some in California but mostly back in Detroit. It’s just me.” We continued to make small talk, because, really, what else was there to talk about? Did I want to know what this stranger would do is she were pregnant? I’d lose sleep over any outcome in her situation. So we stuck to discussing the room’s paint job and the art on the walls. On the wall where the foyer met the waiting room hung an airy mesh sculpture of a pink ombre sundress encased in glass. It looked so light and delicate that despite its steel fiber content, I wanted to slip into that dress and walk out onto the Portland streets letting the June-sun kiss my shoulders.
Instead, I continued to wait. Perfect Stranger was called away. When my friend emerged from her exam, a brown bag of birth control pills under her arm, we walked out silently. And even though I had sat alone in that abandoned room for two and a half hours, I never saw the Perfect Stranger find her way back to the waiting room.
That was my first visit to Planned Parenthood.
I’m not a parent. There’s tonight’s big reveal for you. I have never been a parent, or come close to being one. Neither am I exactly pining to have my own organs smooshed up toward my ribcage, and call me crazy but I don’t particularly crave wailing-induced insomnia. Natural birth is physically painful, adoption is expensive and complicated, and either way family weighs a lot. That’s just the nature of family. But here’s my secret. I want to skip baby kids, because there are too many sharp edges and coffee table corners to navigate for any of us to have lived beyond two feet tall. Too many clean sliding glass doors to run through, too many tree houses to tumble from. There will never be enough bubble wrap for me to be okay with raising children in this world. And don’t get me started on bullying, racism, violence, messed up gender roles, and materialistic value systems that imply things make us happy. Which they don’t. So, unless someone invents a douche-baggery repelling force field, I just want to skip that part, and go right to having adult children to joke with, to swear with, to argue with, and to make plans with.
My sign read in big black print, “Adoption is the better option.” Susanna, Laura, and I sat in the back seat of my parents’ minivan, each holding a white picket sign we had received from church. At the time, I felt uneasy about hoisting the “Thank Your Mom for Not Aborting You” or “Abortion is Murder!” to the height of my six-year-old 4’ stature. So I opted, as the token adoptee, for the most diplomatic sign. A few hours later I stood on a sidewalk holding that sign, standing by my mother and several other similarly convicted people, declaring to passersby that I was anti-abortion before I really knew what abortion was. Before I knew what pregnancy and birth and parenthood were.
That was my first abortion protest.
My Grammy fell earlier this week and my aunt and mum texted all of us grandkids, all well into our twenties and early thirties, and we rallied—either visiting Grammy or phoning her. I know I sometimes sway to the side of morbid, but that’s what I’m looking forward to in my hypothetical/imaginary/future parenthood. When, god forbid, my mom falls or has a stroke, I want to be able to call my children. I want them to march in and set the doctors straight. I want them to make me dinner, to make me laugh, to distract me. But I realize that you can’t have adult children—let alone be friends with your adult children—without having baby children then toddlers and kiddos and, Lord-have-mercy, teenagers. So, maybe someday I’ll make that decision with a partner who eases my anxieties and buy a shit ton of insurance first.
We sat around a table with a candle, and toasted to a dear friend, who in her thirties announced she had had sex for the first time. Because life’s milestones must always be approached with light. This experience took my friend by surprise, and with a small measure of uncertainty, she said she wasn’t on birth control and wasn’t prepared if the situation presented itself again. “Condoms!” the other two of us shouted in unison.
That was my first time shouting the word “condoms.”
“Teenagers are gonna have sex. They do that,” my dad said just a couple Christmases ago. “But they’re the last people we want reproducing, so they should double-bag it if they do.” I stared with wide eyes. You see, that Christmas it seemed like there was a pandemic of his friends’ children getting pregnant unexpectedly and prior to marriage. Dumbfounded, I listened to him continue. “I just want you to know,” he said, “that if you’re ever in trouble, or if you’re pregnant or something, you can come home if you need us, and we’ll take care of you.” I realized in that moment how infinitely blessed I am, and the older I get, the more I see of the world only confirms this. I’m not financially secure enough to support a child. I’m still way too busy to afford one the time little persons need. And most of my books are of the non-bedtime-story variety. But I’m smart, educated, skilled, I know what one ought to do to have a healthy pregnancy, and I have communities of people—including my family—who would have my back, whether I started a family now or married years from now.
But other people, like my Perfect Stranger in the Planned Parenthood, might not have those resources. To the point of unavoidable mortality. So, I’m outing myself. Some day I want to support Planned Parenthood and organizations that offer reproductive health and counseling resources to people who need them. Without shame. Without judgment. But with compassion. And after a lot of research and thinking on souls, bodies, and human spirituality and metaphysics, I can say without guilt that I think making early abortions illegal would do humanity a great disservice, which I cannot support with good conscience. I wish every pregnancy could be vital and safe and lead to a family where no one will starve to death or from exposure to the elements or due to neglect. I want that to be a reality so badly. But until then I have to live in the only reality available and try to make it better. Starting with my hypothetical/imaginary/future children. A friend said a while back, “I hope you’re that parent who tells your children all your stories like Ted in How I Met Your Mother,” and I promised I would, when they’re old enough.