Pure As the Driven Slush: Heather Corinna's Journal and Diary, Online since 1999

Archive for the 'abortion' Category

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

I had something really incredible happen this week.

In case it’s not painfully obvious, there are, in a lot of ways, in most ways, few benefits with my work.  The pay is gawdawful, the tangible (not emotional) benefits like health insurance or a 401K are nonexistent, and it’s often very hard work intellectually and emotionally.  I often feel largely unsupported, I’m always overworked and overextended and on top of what’s hard in working with and for young people, I have the haters to deal with as well. To boot, I have been in this solidly for a long time now, longer than most last in this kind of work.

So, it’s probably easy to see how sometimes I can lose sight of some of the benefits I do have or have cultivated, or how sometimes I can’t see that at all until they are right on top of me. But today, I came to realize something had happened over the years which I hadn’t even really recognized, something that may not directly personally benefit me, but it’s no small deal and it most certainly benefits the young people I work for and work to help.

This week, I had a new user just past her teens come to us in extremely dire circumstances.  The more I found out about her and her situation, the more dire it all clearly was. Long story short, she’s unwantedly pregnant, and only found out very late in the game due to a couple issues.  She became pregnant within an abusive relationship she since left, but grew up in the foster care system without ever getting a permanent placement and treated very poorly, as is woefully common.  Given her familiarity with the huge flaws in the adoption system she very much was not comfortable with an adoption, and does not have the resources, financially or otherwise, to parent (and is already the parent of one). Once she found out she was pregnant, she wound up at a CPC, who both made her feel like shit and also delayed things further.  This is someone who clearly has never had anyone advocate for her: I’ve been in that spot for a few years in my life, and they were so, so awful.  I’m aware there are people who spend a lifetime in that space, and I just don’t know how those who survive do: I’m ever awed by them.  She’s horribly vulnerable and was in a bad way, but it was clear — and in this process has become all the more so — that she’s got some really impressive inner strength and resiliency. I admire her.

By the time she came to us, she had been convinced by the CPC that she had no options, especially having no money whatsoever, barely even having housing, and was very intensely distraught, even considering self-harm.  After talking with her to comfort her, I then worked with her to help her know what options she did have, including abortion funding.  I got her started on working that, which is beyond underfunded, and also a tough process to navigate.  So, I took on some extra responsibility in helping her through it, starting by sending out some emails to people in my network who either run or work for funds or who are connected with some of this work.

During that process, which was arduous and intensive and is just wrapping up today, and now in hindsight, I found out something that floored me.  In a word, I’ve done the work I have for so long solidly enough, honestly enough, and with enough dedication and responsibilty that in a crisis for a user, when I say I feel someone needs advocating for and ask for the help of others in advocating for someone, many people trust me and my judgment. I’ll explain the situation when asking for help and support regardless, but clearly, I am trusted right from the onset. Wheels can turn a little faster, more people can and do get on board when I advocate for someone, and I have to spend less time convincing people to take action than I used to, which matters a whole lot in situations where a clock is ticking for someone.

Until today, I didn’t realize that’s where I’m at in what I do; that I have acquired some extra power over the years for the people I help. As a social justice activist of any stripe, this is the superpower you want. It means that potentially, if you keep it up, you can actually make some headway in people taking populations or issues seriously they may not have otherwise, or may not have taken so seriously. It means that beyond all the immediate things I want and need to do in a day, there is a light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to making some real progress with the bigger picture. It means I may just be able to do what I want to do for people and the world, in the largest ways, not just the smaller ones.

It means I may actually be able to make things better, not just for individuals in the short run, but for everyone in the long run. Even typing that more real possibility immediately brings on tears. Mind, a few hours ago I was happy-crying about the outcome for this woman and for how blessed I am to know so many other people who are such compassionate, driven, big-hearted, big-minded people, so the waterworks had started already, but this is very emotionally intense for me. It’s also wholly unexpected.

With the added help and determination of some completely awesome other individuals, organizations and a clinic in New Jersey I was able to coordinate to all get connected, I was able to help someone who people don’t seem to have ever helped to help herself when she needed it most; to assure that she wasn’t let down by people yet one more time, wasn’t presented with yet one more harsh challenge she felt unable to weather and which would make her life feel even harder and even less like her own.  We were all able to make something happen this week that is very difficult to make possible in this particular set of circumstances. When she was getting really frustrated trying to help herself, I was able to grease some wheels to make it easier for her.  Again, if I got to choose my superpowers, this is one I’d ask for, and I’m still shellshocked that it appears I may have it.

This was a rough freaking week. I have more than one person I’ve been working with in a hard spot (our new users lately seem to be coming in with more harsh circumstances than usual), and having to burn up the phone and mail lines for days, worrying so much that I wouldn’t be able to help, wore me completely out.  However, I couldn’t ask for a better end to the day today.  Not only was this particular young person able to be helped when she needed it most, but I got to get a really clear sense of how working so hard for such a long time, and being sure than in how I worked, I did so building and honoring lots of trust can really pay off.  I got to hear the massive relief in her voice, relief she won’t be forced into something she doesn’t want, but also relief that she will not always be let down: a decent paycheck doesn’t give you that gift, and it is one HELL of a gift.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m one of the few full-time activists I know who had any preparation for the hardest parts of activism. My father gave me very clear messages growing up, as it became more and more clear I was heading this way, that it would often be really tough. That I’d scrape by financially, that I’d be overworked, that I’d have to deal with some backlash and that it was entirely likely I could work my whole life for people or a cause and have to accept that while there might be results eventually, they might only happen once I was dead and gone: I might never see them. Or, they might be so small I’d just feel like I didn’t do anything, no matter how hard I worked.  He told me to really think about if I was okay with that and could deal with that, especially since he had and still has a really hard time dealing with that.

All of that was valuable and important messaging. I’m glad I got it. I have done what I have done anyway, and I pretty much always have been okay with all of that, even though sometimes I’m not. Sometimes it all really gets me down and I can feel very lost in it and very hopeless. But knowing in advance this was all likely helped.

The message I really didn’t get, though, was that never really seeing results, or only being able to make some teeny drop in the bucket, might not be what happens. That it was and is also possible that I could make larger contributions, that I could make bigger waves, waves I could actually see and other people could feel and benefit from.  Something I find myself sitting with right in this moment is getting that message, and the strangeness of realizing how totally unprepared I have been for the reality of actually being effective, actually being able to make some real change, actually being able to see, in the microcosm and macrocosm, the kinds of results of my efforts I hope for, even if I don’t expect them and are prepared not to see or experience them.

And it’s earnestly overwhelming, the good kind of overwhelm I don’t experience in work very often.  If I didn’t feel so good right now, I’d probably feel a little foolish and blind. But instead, I just feel kind of mega-amazing. I have cultivated some level of superpower that has the capacity to do things for people that already should be done, but aren’t; that has the capacity to foster real positive change.

It’s intense. To say the least. Hard week, but very, very good day.

P.S. I am planning to call into the crisis pregnancy centers that swindled her and made her feel like hell next week. My intention is to call and graciously thank them for acting in such a way that made extra sure a young woman who didn’t want to stay pregnant didn’t have to. The people I networked with to get her funding already work to advocate for oppressed women already, but when you throw a CPC into the mix, we get even more angry and upset, and the fire already under our asses gets a whole lot hotter. Without them taking part, we may not have been able to make this happen like we did, so I want to make sure that they know that their manipulative, purposefully dishonest and cruel swindling assistance probably helped someone to get an abortion. Because I know that that would make them so, so proud of themselves.

Plus, that’s better than just calling and saying “Nanny-nanny-fucking-boo-boo, you bastards.”

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

I’m cross-posting a piece here from both The Guardian (where it was edited down for size) and at Scarleteen, and then I’ve a bit more to say.

* * *

All of us who work at clinics that provide abortion, or as abortion or reproductive rights educators or advocates know we do so at substantial risk. Women who come to our clinics as clients also know that they, too, may be at risk.  The slaying of Dr. Tiller yesterday is tragic and upsetting, but it is not surprising or new. We didn’t become scared for the first time yesterday.  We’ve always been scared, and we have always had cause to be scared.

The independent clinic I work for part-time had a branch firebombed three times in 1983 until it shut down.  In 1988, via Operation Rescue, unending and intense harassment of children from demonstrators in another of our clinics forced us to close our on-site clinic childcare center for clients and staff.  And our clinic, despite being one of the 40 or so in the U.S. which provides procedures through the second trimester like Tiller’s did (though Tiller’s was one of but three to go past 25 weeks to 28 weeks, the legal limit), could very well be counted as one which has it easy. We haven’t had an incident of violence for some time, most days we have but a few protestors, and we do not wear Kevlar to work.  None of our providers have been murdered.  Yet.

But all of us who work in the field live either with the threat or actuality of domestic antiabortion terrorism daily: at work, at home or anywhere at all.  Let’s refuse sugarcoating or denials that merely call it violence or paint it as random or isolated: what happens around abortion is not the same violence as someone shot during a minimart robbery.

Terrorism is generally defined as an act intended to create fear, perpetrated for an ideological goal. The Patriot Act is not something I support, but antiabortion violence fits squarely in its definition of domestic terrorism. Vandalizing or bombing clinics; stalking, threatening or harassing staff, clients or providers and/or organizing or aiding others to do so; publicly publishing the home addresses of providers or staff, names, photos and school addresses of their children; outcries for a war:  all of this and more could be easily classed as terrorism by the definitions our government has used for other violence or threats.

The murder of Dr. George Tiller at his church yesterday morning  — based on the information we have so far – was domestic terrorism, and terrorism which has been known and prevalent for some time.

It’s been going on in the United States since we have had legal abortion, and typically increases during times when our federal government is not outright antiabortion.  As Christina Page points out, the number of harassing phone calls to clinics since Obama took office has massively increased. She also notes that the murder of Dr. Tiller is eerily similar to the murder of Dr. David Gunn in 1993: that, too, happened only a few months into a new administration which was not antiabortion. Dr. Tiller was also shot the first time in that same year.  Rachel Maddow gives a good overview of the history of clinic violence here.

Some antichoice groups will call Tiller’s assailant a vigilante. But for those who use incendiary speech, who provided him with the information and comraderie that fueled him, it’s going to be tough to uphold that stance with anyone of intelligence. We all have freedom of speech, to be sure, but as with any freedom, that comes with responsibility.

Current Operation Rescue president Troy Newman says they denounce vigilantism, but the raging enticements provided en masse through their organization has always told a different tale.  The organization’s founder, Randall Terry, says his movement “should not tone down its rhetoric despite the killing of abortion doctor George Tiller,” and that Tiller was “a mass murderer and horrifically, he reaped what he sowed.”

When someone like Bill O’Reilly provocatively says again and again and again, that an abortion provider is a butcher who the law refuses to punish (nevermind that abortion is legal), when he calls abortion “execution” or talks about providers as those who “kill babies for money,” (as if all surgeries did not cost money); calls abortion clinics “death mills,” or reports (falsely) that Tiller will terminate pregnancies up to the due-date, he is NOT denouncing vigilantism, just like someone constantly and intentionally pouring gasoline on rising flames is not denouncing fire.

This kind of rhetoric and harassment and the fear it creates is something we’re faced with every day. And it has serious impact, even when no one is murdered.

It purposefully scares, intimidates and upsets the women who come to our clinics.  It intentionally clouds their decision-making. If one reproductive choice may or does involve things like being harassed, stalked or assaulted, you’re obviously going to take that into consideration in your a choice, even though fear or harassment should have no place in choices as important, personal and complex as those of reproduction.  Even for those unswayed by these actions, abortion in a context of shame and blame can make a choice one’d otherwise felt was best one of guilt and remorse.

The threat of harassment and violence can even keep women from coming to clinics when they were not seeking out abortion services at all. Here in the states, clinics like mine are where many women – particularly low-income, immigrant and teen women — also get their well-woman care, contraception or pregnancy tests, as many women are without health insurance or a private OB/GYN.

The threats, intimidation, vandalism and assault and the fear of them makes staffing clinics difficult, and make a job which is already emotionally demanding far tougher. Anyone getting any kind of surgery ideally needs a centered, relaxed and stable staff and a safe environment during their surgery: that’s no minor feat in this culture.  Clinic staff work long hours, often at low pay and with few or limited benefits. Even without clinic violence or the threat of it, it’s not an easy job: abortion isn’t just any surgery, and as with anything to do with the end of a pregnancy, whether it tends in termination or a live birth, our clients emotional needs can be great.

With all of this violence and intimidation so constant and pervasive, and with the actuality of the job itself often being less-than-ideal, why do so many of us stick around?

We stay is because we know that women need us to.  Many of us have been those women ourselves at one time or another.  We know from women: we understand our own needs.  And we’re scared sometimes, but not scared enough to leave women without choice and care.

A sign at Tiller’s clinic read, “Abortion is not a cerebral or a reproductive issue. Abortion is an issue of the heart. Until one understands the heart of a woman, nothing else about abortion makes any sense at all.” Dr. Tiller knew us, too. No one going back to work a day after having both arms shot, knowing it could happen again, is going to take that risk for cash or because they want to win.  Only someone who cares deeply for and about women, and has a very real grasp of the realities of women’s lives, is going to do that.

Obviously, the threat of something is not the same as that threat made real.  Some of the shared upset the reproductive health and abortion communities have right now is because we do feel even more unsafe than usual.  For those who knew Dr. Tiller personally, their personal loss is profound. But even for those of us who never met him or were not close to him, even for those fear has not increased, the loss is enormous.

It’s obviously important for the women receiving abortion and other reproductive healthcare to have as fantastic a doctor as possible, but it’s also very important for those of us working in the field to have our Dr. Tillers.

Like any field of practice, abortion has those who are adequate (and some less-than-adequate), some who are very good, and a few who are simply exceptional. Dr. Tiller wasn’t just any doctor; just any abortion provider or advocate:  he was an exceptional and inspirational doctor, provider and advocate. He was someone who set and held high standards of care, a quality of healthcare we all want to receive, especially when we are in crisis. He chose to work with some of the toughest cases; to include providing for a group of women with some of the greatest emotional needs, women who also had few other places to turn, despite that choice creating additional risks for him and resulting in greater harassment. His commitment to helping women never wavered in over thirty years of his practice. Just like anyone in any field, we have our heroes, and we all looked up to George Tiller.  Just like anyone in any field, having our heroes assassinated is devastating, particularly when they are assassinated for being so exceptional.

Ginny Cassidy-Brinn, an ANRP and the author of Woman-Centered Pregnancy and Birth, works at my clinic, and is someone I look up to the way I have Dr. Tiller.  I want to leave you with words she shared with me yesterday. I think they’re the way Dr. Tiller would want us to best use our sadness or fear and the way he so bravely used his own.  I think they are what those of us in the field, as well as those who want to understand or support us or the women we serve, need to hear.

Like anyone who knew him even slightly, I know that he was very brave. He faced so much hatred on a daily basis: he knew the risks he was taking.  But he simply thought that women’s being allowed to decide whether to carry a pregnancy or not was an essential, basic human right.  So, he continued despite the attacks and threats. He was diligent in protecting himself, — I don’t think he had any desire to be a martyr — but he continued.  He was very careful as a physician: using the safest, best techniques.  He did a lot to foster communication amongst abortion providers to make abortion safer.

I keep thinking about the old Joe Hill quote, “Don’t mourn, organize.”  I intend to mourn, but I also intend to carry on his legacy–to try to be as brave, loving, politically savvy and competent in my work as he was.  And to try, to the best of my ability, to inspire others as well.

* * *

This has hit me much harder than I expected: it’s been tough for me to shake it off.  It’s not like I expected it to feel like a trifle, but considering how aware I am of this kind of violence, how much I know to expect it, I’m surprised at my response and how it lingers.

On the afternoon that Dr. Tiller was assassinated — again, I’m irritated with it not being made clear by our leadership that this kind of murder is a political assassination just like the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X or John and Robert Kennedy –  in an effort to find some way to work through my feelings without more hours of the crying that was hurting my face, I headed out back to do some weeding.  My garden had become seriously overgrown.

I was ripping those plants out like nobody’s business, feeling more and more anger with my sadness, and was struck by a (perhaps obvious) metaphor. I snapped a few shots trying to capture what was going on with me.

I think some of why my sadness and anger is lingering is that I feel we’re left so adrift, those of us who work in any aspect of reproductive justice, especially in or around abortion.  Yes, we have a new administration now which is more supportive of our rights when it comes to some policies. However, knowing that violence has begun again, in part because of that fact, I need a strong response to it: I need acknowledgment of the terrorism it is and always has been, clear statements that it is unacceptable, I need everyone and their uncle to shut the hell up about this “common ground” bullshit: my body isn’t common ground.  (Okay, so mine kind of is, but you know what I mean.) Women and our lives are not common ground, despite thousands of years of being treated like we are. Those of us who work in this field, who work around it, who work for reproductive justice have never sought to stamper on anyone’s rights or ideas: asking us for common ground is silly at best, and a grave insult at worst.

These are the loose thoughts I came back inside with, hands cathartically bloodied from weeding with such intensity:

An inexperienced gardener will often ask how it is, exactly, we know which the weeds are, and which are not.

The most simple answer is,
of course,
that I know what I want in my garden, and I know what I don’t. I get to make that determination because it’s all growing (or not) in my soil.

My neighbor or some bird passing by might drop a seed in it; that does not alter whose ground it is, and who’s right it is to choose what grows there: it is my own, and sovereign. It is my own say, and only mine, what gets nurtured and kept, and what is pulled, or let go to seed. However lovely everything growing might be, whatever it’s right is to grow, it may be that this plant will keep that one from growing. It may be that I either cannot afford or simply do not care to grow anything at all this year or that one — even every year there is — leaving the soil fertile, but barren.  I may even want to burn out all the seed entirely.  Again, my soil: my right to do with it what I will.

And sometimes it may be that this plant or that may well have grown into something more marvelous than I thought it would, and I will never see that result. And it may be that I accidentally pull a plant I did not intend to: but that is my regret, if I have one, to carry; my sorrow to hold, if I have sorrow.  All of that is the nature of my life and my life in this particular body: no matter what we do, no matter what we choose, there is a certain and unique weight that lives between our hips and in our hearts.

And we can’t always tend to our gardens on our own.  If we’re lucky, some other gentle gardener who understands, and cares to help, with no claim of ownership over the ground that is ours, will lend a hand. In the midst of storm, his hands, too, may become injured or bloodied; her heart, too, may sometimes be heavy.  This is not light business: whatever we do, even if we neglect the soil completely, blood, sweat, a tear, an ache, a strain and all the thick mud of our lives is unavoidable.

The best of help — genuine help — will not second-guess, will not presume ownership or a share of our crops, but will simply ask us what we need and then tend to it generously, offering counsel of his own only if we ask for it first. She will not ask if we’re absolutely certain we want these plants to go or that to stay; he will not enter into philosophical arguments with us about their own ideas about the way to garden.  They will not seek to speak for the weeds, nor for us: they are listeners with gentle nods, able hands who trust our hearts and their own and respect the soil.

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

Thursday was the kind of workday when I feel I’m right where I am supposed to be in the world.

I’m at the clinic itself around once a week now as part of my job running our outreach.  My job when I am there with clients having terminations is mostly as an educator: I give one-on-one consultations and discussions about birth control methods and proper use, STIs, relationships, sexual health and any questions or concerns a client might have about their procedure.  It’s also my job when there to particularly educate and advocate for teens and young adults, and since I’m trained to do options counseling, I do that sometimes, too.  Because I float in many respects, what this also means is that I can tend to be a bit of a concierge at the clinic, particularly between clients.  So, if someone needs help with say, a lodging issue, if I walk into a waiting room and a batch of clients have a question they’ve been discussing and want more information on, if someone is alone and upset about it, I’m able to tend to things like this and more.

While I very much like doing the outreach at the shelter and in other presentation environments, this really is my favorite part of the job, despite the hellacious commute.

Last Thursday, in the span of a day, I:

• Came upon a client in one of the waiting rooms who was alone and right about to burst into huge tears.  I was able to sit with her for nearly an hour, let her cry, be an ear for the relationship conflicts she was having and reflect back her valid sadness at being totally abandoned by her partner on that day and other times of reproductive crisis.  We managed to get from crying to laughing (she was actually tremendously funny, and HER words then wound up making another client who came in in the middle of our conversation feel better: gotta love that kind of trickle-down) during the space of that time, and every time I’d check in with her throughout the rest of the day, she looked better and better.

• Was able to help a developmentally disabled client and her very awesome partner (always so nice to see, and unfortunately a bit rare per the men who more often come to the clinic) with a whole handful of things, from connecting him with a state resource to have his vasectomy paid for, to getting them a place to stay overnight, to making very detailed notes about all of her medical conditions, reactions to medications, and just assuring her that everything was going to be okay.

• I was able to arrange for something to help a client who was otherwise doing just fine, but was terrified of but one thing.  To make it so she didn’t have to have that one thing be part of her day not only was going to change her whole experience of her procedure and let her feel really in-control with it, but it also meant she did not have to sit waiting all day dreading it anymore.  So, another where we got to go from tears to great big sighs of relief and peace and smiles.

• We had protestors yesterday, one of whom walked right by a teen client in front of the clinic (and broke the law here in WA by doing so on our property) who was already upset, and who was already being pressured TO terminate outside by her boyfriend and family.

I was able to get her inside, take her downstairs to my sitting room, and give her open time to talk about all of her feelings, what she wanted, and how she felt she was given no permission by anyone to make up her own mind.  She was able to say she felt very unsure, and was considering termination, but had also wanted to consider adoption but was told this was “selifsh” I gotta say, I hadn’t heard that one before about adoption, but you hear something new every day. She also informed me her mother had told her she could legally block her from remaining pregnant, which I let her know was false.  We were able to discuss both options in some depth, and she was able to hear someone tell her — and mean it — that ANY choice she made was an acceptable choice which could be her best one, and that none of her choices were selfish save that this was about her and it was really important she think of herself.  I was also able to open the pressure valve by letting her know that no matter what, when we have a client come for a procedure who says they are here due to being or feeling forced by others and/or says they do not want to terminate, we will not and cannot do a termination that day, and that I’d be happy to inform anyone she needed me to that that was our policy and my firm decision on that.  I let her know she was welcome, if she decided for herself she did want to terminate, to come back, even the next day if she liked, and we could still talk more about all of this regardless, but she did not have to worry about making up her mind that day.

After talking some more, asking a lot of different questions about both choices, she wanted mediation with her boyfriend. I got him and we were able to have a joint discussion for a while.  Some of this involved both of us listening to this guy dish out a neverending spew of how incapable the client was of anything (I was able to respond that my impression was he was talking about himself more than about her, as she seemed quite capable to me), how he feels abortion and adoption are the same since “either way, you don’t get a kid,” (I was able to make clear that he might feel that way, but she clearly did not and I hadn’t heard most pregnant women share that particular logic), and his unwillingness to even hear her feelings on this or to consider or research, with her, other options.

This and more also gave her the opportunity to listen while someone told her boyfriend that their impression of her was far more positive than his own, and she got to hear a rebuttal of all the negatives he lectured us both on about her.  She was able to hear that yes, he got to have his own issues and concerns but that our concern was for her, not anyone else, and she came first with us no matter what. (I believe my summary to him of all he had said was that what he had to say was very interesting, and he certainly did get to think what he thought about it, but that at the start, middle and end of the day, I just didn’t personally care what he thought because he was not our client nor the person pregnant, she was. He had his own choice, and he made it when he refused to use a condom.) She got to hear me point out that anyone pressuring her to make the choice they wanted not only was not okay, but that in this case, it really backfired mightily since their pressuring her resulted in her being unable to terminate that day, even if she had decided — in an environment without pressure — that that is what she had wanted.

He decided he needed to also go on this doomsday rant about how all teen and young mothers are doomed to disaster, how she won’t finish high school, won’t go to college, won’t have the money she wants, will lose her whole life, will be a terrible parent, will have no freedom — this is another point where I asked if he was sure he was talking about her, not himself — and I was starting to wonder if the story was going to end in a plague of locusts.  I was able to point out that yes, all of those things were possibilities, and statistically, were more likely for teen mothers than women who were older.  But I then made very clear that it was also possible she could have NONE of those results, and while doing things like finishing high school and college might be tougher for her or take longer, they were doable and I’ve met plenty of women who have done them.  He started to go down this road about how she wasn’t able to be like those successful women, so I pointed out that one thing I’d noticed those other women have that she doesn’t right now were people around them who didn’t tell them what they could NOT do, but what they COULD, and who were positive and supportive, not negative and nonsupportive.  I said that did she decide she wanted to parent, he could certainly influence the outcome by growing a better attitude, but she also had the option of influencing the outcome by choosing not to surround herself anymore with negative people like him, too.  Which, who knows, said I, she might choose to do at this point no matter what reproductive choice she makes.

I got to watch her face and posture change throughout in a very positive way, and also got to watch some guy who was clearly sure — even in the way he initially spoke to me — he could bully, sweet-talk or intimidate women like he had her find out that was so not the case.  His posture changed, too.

That never, ever gets old, I gotta tell you.  I can’t imagine it ever will.  If I could do nothing but mediate scenarios like that, adjusting the power-dial ever-so-slightly, in-person, with people (usually guys or parents) who talk young women into feeling like failures, I’d ditch everything else I do in a heartbeat to do that 24/7, truly.

I can’t know what she wound up deciding unless she does come back, but in the end, my sense was she was going to be likely to terminate, and was feeling that may have been best for her from the start, she just needed everyone to back the hell off so she could get all the information and breathing room she needed to consider her options, and so she could make her own choice. This is actually a pretty common occurrence, especially with teens who also tend to face people not giving them autonomy in most things, so they often already feel talked over and controlled as it is.

It doesn’t matter to me what she chooses, but my sense is whatever it is, it’s a lot more likely to be her choice now, and whatever she feels is best.  And that’s absolutely all I need to feel good about this stuff.

It was a really, really good day, and those are but the highlights.  Again, every day I’m there isn’t like that — and some can be full of sadness or feelings of hopelessness, to boot — but there is usually at least one exchange that just absolutely sends me.  I have similar things happen at Scarleteen all the time, mind you, but being in person, seeing body language change, really seeing something vital and positive alter in the moment adds something so massively marvelous.  I am so, so full of huge, bursty, loud love for these women, and I do think it manifests itself better in person — or sees itself reflected more — than online or by phone.

I hadn’t gotten decent sleep in two days, and thankfully, the one woman who lives near me was working that day, which is unusual.  So, I was able to catch a ride home with her rather than doing the two-hour, three-bus tango, which was a godsend, as I probably would have passed out on one of the busses and wound up gawd knows where.  We stopped at Trader Joe’s on the way home. I was able to get myself a cheap bottle of wine, come home and enjoy said bottle, a little battery-operated something else, and a fine, simple meal in a peaceful night alone.  I started watching a movie but wound up feeling the adrenaline and sleep-deprivation crash around eight, which I totally indulged by going to bed as early as I wanted.

Some days are better than others, and some days — like Thursday — are freaking banner days I get a contact high from that’s got serious staying power.  Which is really good, because Friday was totally full of suckitude and I needed that buoy, big-time. Meh: every day can’t be a winner.

P.S.  Today is the very last day of the funds-matching for Scarleteen donations.  That also makes today the last time I nudge anyone about donating, likely for the rest of the year.  Point is, if you want to pitch in and can in any way, please do: anything you give will be worth twice that.

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

Well, that was unexpected.

So, an 18-year-old girl came to my door selling magazines for one of these work programs (which are very questionable, to say the least: they’re often basically migrant worker situations which prey on young people).  Even more questionable than I thought: turns out her boss has told the young women there they will get fired if they become pregnant.  I’ll be making a phone call in a few days to assure she’s not linked to that disclosure. Grrrr.  Suffice it to say, I went inside and got her NWLC contacts in case she or anyone else should need them.

She had caught me photographing spiders when she walked up, and we wound up talking for a bit. I do have some mercy for door-to-door folks…well, when they aren’t trying to sell me religion.  Last week the Mormons came.  Telling them I was Buddhist didn’t get them gone (”That’s cool,” they said.  “If it’s so cool, you can respect it and go now,” said I.  They didn’t) and in trying other ways to get them gone, the pug ran out.  She doesn’t care why someone is there, just if they’ll pet her — so I wound up telling them as they were oh-cute-pugging her that she, too, was Buddhist.  That got me enough of a pause to be able to scoop up the pug and shut the door. It was at least more polite then the time years back in Chicago when I walked out naked to scare them off.  That works very well, for the record.  It was just too cold that day, and I’m a bit less emboldened to use that trick with my 38-year-old-ass than I was with my 23-year-old one.  Anyway.

But folks like this, PIRG canvassers and such… it sucks having a door slammed in your face on those jobs every few minutes, so I do tend to offer a porch seat and tea when I’m not smack in the middle of something.

As anyone who knows me knows, I have a strong confessional vibe: people I barely know tell me their unsolicited life stories on a daily basis. I sometimes know more about someone I have just met within minutes than others close to them know after years.  When I take quizzes to find out what job is the best one for me, clergy always comes up first.  G’won and laugh: it’s okay.

She’s the mother of a three-year-old already, was taking about how tough it was, and I mentioned what I do for my living in the course of sympathizing.  She then lets out a long breath and tells me that she’s three weeks pregnant again, only recently relocated to here, and has wanted an abortion, but had no idea where to go, how to go about it, what it entailed.   She also starts talking about her birth control history and how much Depo sucked for her.

So, there I was, just back from counseling the homeless teens — and truthfully, looking forward to a bit of a slow afternoon — basically doing a gratis options counseling session, as well as a birth control and DSHS-benefits consult, on my front porch. (And yes: for the big worriers, I know. I know that it was entirely possible this girl who looked and sounded just like the teen mother from Jackson she said she was was someone else entirely, and I took a risk.  I know.  But I also know that look, that sigh, and how this conversation goes with someone who really needs to have it.)

Obviously, I didn’t have to do any of that, I volunteered it, so it was hardly like my day was ruined.  Her day was apparently made, mind: she thanked the powers that be for landing at my door more than once.  It was just…very unusual.

Note to self: when really wanting a few hours of downtime, don’t answer the door.  Because apparently, it’s not as simple as not going to the work: it can also come right to you.

It’s been a strange day, period, actually.  On my way to the residental center, I got stuck sitting still on a bus for a half an hour because we just happened to pull up to a corner downtown in the middle of a freaking bank robbery.  Thankfully, when the cops poked heads into the busses, I didn’t set off anyone’s radar.  I tend to be one of those folks who authority figures immediately identify on sight as trouble, so I was glad my silent mantra about not being searched when I was barely awake was successful.

I think I need to be done leaving the house or opening the door today.

Thursday, August 7th, 2008

Before I head off the San Francisco — where for the religious right to get at me, they’d have to crawl through an ocean of queers first, who probably would rub their cooties all over them and turn them gay — after a few hours in Slumberland, I feel the need to sum up my week in but two words: holy shit.

Which does a rather amazing job, really, of saying it all in very short order.

Friday, July 11th, 2008

Yesterday was my last official day counseling in the clinic.

I’ll be back once a week or so in around a month to do outreach work and sex education, so it’s not like I’m gone forever, but lordisa, it still was sad. When I got home from grabbing a few drinks with one of my work buds, I came home and mostly sat on the couch is a sort of a dull, heartsick malaise until I fell asleep. I’ll miss my team. I’ll miss my other co-workers. I’ll miss simply doing that work. And bloody hell, will I miss those women who came through my office every day, who for the brief time I had to listen to and speak with all of them, something magical and intimate in the best, most unexpected way happened and so often left me awestruck with a quiet but fiery admiration for all of them.

I think in the next few weeks, I need to carve out some time to bet back to my art and see if I can’t do a series of some sort for them, about them. Those clients have been my sheroes. I’ve kept trying to think of really how to leave the ones I will never meet some sort of gift in honor of those I did, and also better express what they gave to me, and also creatively work through my sense of loss, and I think that’s my best bet.

I will not miss catching my first bus of three before 6 in the morning in order to arrive at work at 8. It may well be that I’ll need to do that again sometimes should things turn around at some point, but I will enjoy the brief respite from it. Several times in that hellacious commute, I found myself feeling a sort of dignity in it, but in hindsight, I think I was just that desperate to find some good in it. I will not miss wearing scrubs. I remember as a child us often having some hospital castoffs from my mother as jammies, and they seemed very comfy then, but that was only because they were eight sizes too big for us, I think, and because we were wearing them to bed, not in the middle of downtown. There’s no stretch to the damn things, and if you’ve hips and breasts, you have to often buy them way larger than you’d like. I reminded myself of MC hammer a few times too many for comfort. It is a good thing not to be working over 60 hours a week during my favorite season, and instead, working only a little bit more each week than your average Jill. And financially, I really will be okay. The clinic manager yesterday also filled me in one a possible route for healthcare in the state I didn’t know about, so there may still be hope on that score. I will not miss….

…yeah, I’m out of items for that list. Ladies and germs, my feeble attempt at glass-half-full.

I am very much looking forward to the new teen outreach/education directorship, though. Doing in-person ed is a very nice bookend to all I do online, so doing more of it is a serious bonus. And I really am looking forward to bringing it into the clinic for our clients. I think too few people realize that information on birth control or getting clients BC methods just isn’t enough to keep women from unwanted pregnancy. If sex is an obligation or duty, if it isn’t really about you as an equal part, if you don’t know how to set limits and boundaries, don’t know where your clitoris is, don’t have a good sense of what a healthy sexual relationship looks like, don’t really feel some bonafide agency in your sexuality and sex life, then there are huge chunks missing which not only are going to be more helps to help limit how often that happens, they’re obviously also integral parts of having sex be a positive in your life, rather than something which, at best, just spares you a negative or unwanted consequence.

Mark has been away for the day job in Nebraska this week, and having one helluva week of his own, and comes back home this afternoon. I see extensive snuggle in our near future. We’re heading to Snoqualmie Falls early tomorrow morning, for a meeting I have for work, and then staying over with the pug so we can take a hike on Sunday. Big mountains, fresh air, green things, human sweetie, small-snorty-canine sweetie: just what the doctor ordered, I’d say.

Sunday, July 6th, 2008

I just spent about five hours today seriously cleaning up the home office. Given my schedule over the last half a year, and how often I’ve been working away from home, it had gotten more and more cluttered and insane. When I cleaned it out, I not only took out two bags of crap, but cleared about fifteen boxes, which were either temporarily storing things in a way that was reasonable, or storing them in a way that was about me… just throwing assorted shit into boxes.

I took some photos so that I can remind myself when it starts to get bad that this, right now, is what it is supposed to look like, and there’s really no good reason it can’t most of the time.

I did this because after this next week, I’ll be back to primarily working from home again. Without getting into too many details, the clinic has been restructuring due to what works for them best financoally, and I got laid off from counseling a week and a half ago. For various reasons, this was a good deal of my recent devastation I alluded to.

The timing was both awful and strange. I hadn’t gotten the chance here to mention — we needed to have the timing right — that a few months ago an offer was extended to me to take over directorship of the clinic’s CONNECT program: our teen sexual health education and outreach program which we inherited from Aradia when it closed. It was a great offer which I pretty quickly accepted. Running CONNECT would be in very perfect harmony with what I do with Scarleteen, and they’ll really enhance each other. I’ll get the opportunity to do more in-person, local outreach and education (and get paid for it), more additional training (and get paid for it), and develop more materials (and get paid for that, too). My co-worker and supervisor is one of my favorite women who works for the clinic. At the time, the extra bonus was that combined with my hours counseling at the clinic, I would have been full-time. That certainly wasn’t going to be a bonus in some ways: combined with Scarleteen hours, that would have had me at around 60 work hours a week. But, hey: it ain’t like I hadn’t done that a million times before.

The big boon in all that, and part of the plan knowing I needed this, was that I FINALLY was going to have health insurance for the first time since the 80’s, something I am in more and more of a dire need for these days.

But alas.

I’d gotten started with CONNECT for a while, then got this news my first day back to work after my Minneapolis trip. It was highly unexpected and a really, really sad thing, not just because I was thisclose to having some of the basics I have lived without for so long, but because I LOVED counseling at the clinic. I loved our clients (and I mean loved them: I felt my heart grow and deepen daily, it was such a crazy-rich thing), I loved having a team to work with, I loved almost every aspect of what I was doing. It was hard as hell some days, for sure, but it was — particularly as a Buddhist and a feminist — such an incredible spiritual exercise. I also know myself well enough to say that I was extraordinarily good at it, and I got very highly invested in it. I was able to develop some resources that weren’t in place before, get this amazing mojo going on with one of the doctors (who had told me not two weeks before that all the clients coming from my office into her exam room were the most comfortable and calm she sees, and how very much I rocked), and really feel, much as I do with Scarleteen and sometimes more so, that I was able to provide something unique that was very much needed. Whereas apparently a lot of counselors burn out, I don’t think I was in even the remotest danger of doing so anytime soon: doing it felt so natural to me. Sometimes, I came home seriously buzzed on nothing but compassion and endorphins.

To say I’ve shed tears over this is an understatement. The first night and day after this happened was like nursing a very bad breakup. I could barely breathe when I got the phone call telling me this news. I can’t express how much I am going to miss all of these women and miss doing this. It has been tough over the last seven months to kind of connect with a lot of people outside work: doing this has made small talk something I really stunk at, whereas I used to only moderately stink at it. So much of this, and really letting myself get invested, really being fully open to all of the clients, has expanded my universe to such a degree that sometimes, hanging out with people, I felt a bit like I’d been living on Mars. But it was so, so worth it. This is no small loss for me. Yesterday was the first day I was able to talk about it in casual conversation, without getting deeply sad or deeply angry. I still feel like most days, I could easily sleep all day, which is not at all like me.

Mind, I will still be in the clinic once a week or so (and apparently still do some options counseling over the phone) once I get all shifted into doing CONNECT and developing some in-clinic education we’ve been planning since I accepted the job, which I am still electing to take. It’s kind of weird, really: I got laid off due to money, but this gig pays me better (it’s not primarily funded by the clinic, so that’s the why on that), and is a promotion. And it may be that should the financial status of the clinic change, I can someday walk back into my old job.

Again, there are still some things I’m opting to keep to myself, but on top of the loss of almost-benefits and the clients in that setting, I also have never been fired even once in my life. I know being laid off not actually being fired, but still. My inner overachiever was completely rattled and shaken by this, and I had no idea how to process it. I come from immigrant, hardworking family, so even though we are hardly ignorant to the realities of these things, it feels very intuitive to us that if you work your ass off and do a great job, everything should be just fine when it comes to keeping a job. When that doesn’t happen that way, it just feels like something is terribly wrong with the natural order of things. To some degree, I still don’t know how to process this, and I’ve no doubt that during my last week counseling this week, it’s going to feel mighty weird.

So, after this coming week, it’s back to a lot of home work for me. Some of why I had to clean today was to make room for two huge tubs of CONNECT materials, another laptop for the work on the site for it as well as the clinics birth control comparison site (both of which I’ll be webmastering as part of this job). I have to say, it really sucks to wind up a lone wolf again. I don’t mind being alone and working alone, but it was just so nice to have a couple days a week where I wasn’t, where I had in-person co-workers, especially given the way social stuff goes (which is to say it often just doesn’t) in Seattle, and especially because so much of the work I do leaves me feeling so isolated.

Meh.

I don’t want to get too mopey here. Not only have I been working hard to crawl out of the big funk this put me in for a while, some of this also is only so bad. I DO still have a job there, and it’s one that in many ways, will likely wind up to be a very perfect fit. Again, it also pays me better (and if I could find some freaking way to get health insurance as a self-employed person in Washington state, where this is highly problematic, I could just about afford it now), and it is so in line with Scarleteen. As well, RH Reality Check just offered me weekly syndication there with my advice columns for Scarleteen (we’d started with bi-monthly), so it’s not like my work life is terrible.

It’s just mighty tough to kind of see the top of the mountain in so many ways and feel dropkicked back down.

Saturday, May 24th, 2008

The last week and a half in review?

The last few days I’ve had that wonderful cycle I have every other month which results in not only heinous pain when my period starts, but hours of vomiting. This time, I hit a record eight hours from start to finish of the vomit, to the point that even keeping water down was impossible. Not my best day ever. I was at clinic when all this started and was at least able to get an EFT treatment from the doc there, which fended off the worst of it so I could finish my workday. Unfortunately, it only fended off the big yuck into the evening, and my body seemed to want to get revenge for dismissing her schedule.

After several years of this, there is still no solid theory on what the heck the deal is. I do have more votes for this being the flirtations of peri-menopause than anything else, and it does appear that in those cycles proceeding this, I’m anovulatory. As I mentioned to someone else though, if this is flirtation, knowing that given my age I’m looking at a long courtship, I’m not excited. And I don’t even want to think about what the consummation of this relationship will be like. Ugh. So much crap for an organ that, for the most part, I’ve never even wanted to use.

Given I was on the couch all day and night yesterday after I could finally keep enough water down to get a painkiller in my system, I caught up with some film. I’ve had Sweet Land sitting here for weeks wanting to see it, and it was just a beautiful, quiet and earnest film. I didn’t realize that Mark Orton (of Tin Hat Trio, who if you don’t know, you so should) had done the soundtrack, either. As I am wont to do with Jarmusch films in general, I fell asleep twice when Broken Flowers first came out, so tossed it off, but had a few people telling me it was so, so good, so finally could watch it yesterday. I remain unimpressed. My father said he couldn’t stand La Vie en Rose, but I rabidly disagree. Parts of it felt disjointed (though my suspicion is that was intentional), but I thought it was amazing, and sweet jesus did that woman ever earn her Oscar. Brilliant, brilliant acting.

Due to the holiday on Monday, I am graced with a schedule at clinic this coming week where my two days are one right after the other, rather than being spaced out over the week, which I mightily look forward to. At home, the way I work tends to be in very extended two or three day spurts at a time. Since I’m usually working Mondays and Thursdays away, that’s been creating a problem in my usual patterns, and only allowing me Friday - Sunday to do that, taking away the time Mark and I usually have together since he’s got a standard day job with a standard schedule. So, this weekend, this should allow us some extra time, and also give me the whole front of the week to finish up a few articles I’m almost done with. I’ve been working on a sort of meditation on the validity of love for young people, so often told the love they experience isn’t bonafide or real, that I’m particularly stoked to finish.

The Thursday before last, I came home from clinic feeling pretty defeated, having had my first repeat client since I started working there, a 17-year-old girl with one of those few-years-older boyfriends who looks like Joe Sensitive on the surface, but who actually is a controlling, careless ass. In fact, the first time I saw both of them at the tail end of January, the clinic was still allowing “support” people (I put that in quotes since they were often anything but: more often than not, the ones who wanted to come back only did because they wanted to control the client) into counseling appointments. He was one of my examples as to why I, personally, was not at all okay with that, and the policy has since changed. While I sat there explaining her procedure, her aftercare, asking how she was about her choice, he sat playing video games on his cell phone. Would that I were kidding. As well, he told me this whole lovely fairy story about how the pregnancy was all her doctor’s fault because he didn’t renew her pill prescription on time. When I asked if her doctor had also then, of course, made clear he was never to wear a condom under any circumstances, I got a shrug and a sneer. When I told her she could have a Chlamydia and Gonorrhea screening with her procedure if she wanted, HE answered for her saying she should probably get that, and when I not only made clear I wasn’t freaking talking to him, but asked if, given how invested he was in her screening, if he’d ever had one himself, he told me no as if I had asked if he ever tore the legs off of squirrels. What a charmer.

And there she was, back again a week ago, and she was sent home with three months of pills last time, no less. Of course, Mr. Wonderful was still with her, and very not-pleased when he couldn’t come back into my office this time. I did the sneering that day. Alas, she wouldn’t talk to any of us about birth control, or much of anything, even though she was back in the office for another procedure not even three months later. Obviously, I can’t keep watch over any client to assure they use the birth control we give them, or do anything outside the office to help them get away from jerks. So, I know I’m not at all responsible for her being right back there, but it is pretty hard not to feel like, somehow, you failed someone in that spot; like there were some magic words I could have said but wasn’t smart enough to think of. It’s frustrating, and it’s hard not to bring that home and stew in it.

On the other hand, I’ve done a few options sessions lately, hour-long sessions expressly for clients who just don’t know what to do about a pregnancy and need to talk it through, and I love those. They often do get pretty emotional, but usually within just that one hour, you get to watch someone come in totally conflicted and lost and leave resolved, clear and confident. Two of my last three decided to terminate, and one decided to continue her pregnancy and parent: all felt good about their choices, and that is incredibly rewarding. One common thread I see in a lot of these though, no matter someone’s age, are families pressuring them into a given choice. A lot of the time in these sessions, you have to spend the first quarter or even half of them just getting the client clear when it comes to putting away everyone else’s opinion, whether the pressure is to continue a pregnancy or terminate. But the mere fact that any family makes a condition of their love what a woman does with her own pregnancy and her own body is so incredibly maddening. Watching someone feel like (or be directly told that) they have to choose between what they know is right for them and the love of their family makes me want to hurl even without my grumpy uterus.
I finally got my camera in for repair: here’s hoping they can actually fix it. They seemed about 50/50, which was not especially heartening. I need a working camera, both for the photo gig in Minneapolis next month, and for my own well-being. Being unable to make any art over the last handful of months has been seriously sucky.

Plus, the garden is coming along really beautifully this year, and my old camera from early 2000 isn’t at all cutting the mustard when it comes to capturing it. (It is not, for the record, half full of poisonous flowers this year, as I unconsciously chose last year. I am taking this as a signal of improved mental health on my part.) Since the dog also has a habit of stealing my strawberries and cherry tomatoes, I also made a small garden just for her this year in the front with those things of her very own. This may or may not make any sort of difference, and may, in fact, only be indicative of the fact that I take my dog a little too seriously.

There’s also been family drama, but I’m not going there. Let me just say that a lifetime of my parents being unable to stand each other, and ever being the person perpetually shoved into the middle, is truly tiresome.

Mark is off to the start of SIFF tonight, where a feature he produced last year is playing, and I’m off to an evening out with a co-worker at the fantastic new cantina a few blocks away which includes some vegan deliciousness, then up to the Copper Gate for a perhaps ill-advised bout of Norwegian grain alcohol. I have a little gardening on my plate today, a little Scarleteen work, a couple edits on an anthology piece, some tidying-up and a few snuggles where I can get them.

(And hey: happy birthday, Fish! My father sends birthday wishes to you as well, still clearly nursing his mad crush on you.)

Sunday, April 27th, 2008

I had an abortion in my early twenties.

It was not easy to afford. I was working sixty hours a week, in a fledgling business with a lot of overhead expenses. I was fresh out of a college education I had paid for myself, and was also caring for a parent at the time. There were no resources through public health in Chicago I could use to help with the expense. My partner was pitching in for half, but all the same, coming up with four hundred dollars was an additional struggle during an experience which was already challenging without any financial issues at play.

That four hundred dollars seemed like a whole lot then. But when it all comes down to it, it’s very little, and what I had to do to come up with it was so small in comparison to the experiences other women go through to obtain their abortions right now.

I had the luck of knowing almost right away that I had become pregnant. Plenty of women don’t find out before their sixth week, like I did. Given how many have irregular menstrual cycles or skip periods with birth control, don’t experience morning sickness or other early pregnancy symptoms, or are in such poor health already that feeling ill is normal, plenty don’t know until their seventh week, their twelfth week, even their twentieth week. For those women, an abortion isn’t going to cost four hundred dollars, but eight hundred, twelve hundred, even two thousand dollars or more and some only find that out once at the clinic. I had the privilege of being able to not only know I was pregnant very early, but the ability to raise money in a short enough period of time that I could get an early abortion which only cost that much. Some women know as early as I did, but are unable to raise the money for an early procedure. For them, every extra week it takes creates a new hurdle as each extra week also elevates their cost, as well as their distress by pushing them closer and closer to the point at which a termination will no longer be an option.

I had the luxury of having a provider a mere three miles from my apartment. But less than 15% of women in the United States have an abortion provider in their county, let alone a ten-minute bus ride away. Those women also have to factor in the time and cost of travel, lodging and meals into the already costly expense of their procedure.

I was able to have an early, first-trimester abortion so I also only had to be at the clinic for a few hours on one day. I did not have to risk my job by needing to take a week off of work for a procedure I probably couldn’t tell my employer about without risking biased treatment ever after. I did not have to worry about having even less money than usual because I needed a week off without pay. I did not have to push myself to get right back to work when I really should have been resting and risk my health in order to make up for the money I spent on my procedure.

I was a working adult, not a teenager: I had my own source of income to help pay for my abortion. I had working friends who I could ask for funds and support. I didn’t have to consider asking my parents, knowing it could compound my trauma and potentially put me at risk of being held back from getting a termination, nor did I have to face those I asked for help denying me funds because they figured I deserved the “punishment” of a child for having sex, having my birth control method fail, not knowing how to use it, not having one at all, or because I had a partner refuse to use a method or cooperate with mine. Because I was employed, period, I did not have to worry about being able to eat or pay my rent that month due to the cost of the abortion sapping all of my funds.

I had my partner’s support and was financially independent, so I had no reason to be concerned with that partner freezing me out of shared bank accounts to pay for my procedure, or refusing to help me with travel to a provider. I did not have to worry that disclosing to a partner or parent that I was pregnant, and that I needed help financially to obtain an abortion, might put me at a possible or known risk of abuse or assault. Because I was living in a city where my reproductive choices were largely supported, I did not have to try and hide my pregnancy or my abortion, or spend extra money to get a ride from a friend, take a cab a town or two over to use a different pharmacy for my medications.

Coming up with the money I had to was also easier for me because I was childfree, unlike the majority of women who have abortions. I wasn’t having to scrape by to support two or three children at the time while also paying for my procedure. I didn’t have to arrange or pay for child care during and after my abortion.

I had a place to stay after my procedure, and lived with a person who was safe for me, so I did not have to worry about my safety during a time that is critical for self-care to prevent infections and complications, or that my lack of money would prevent me from being able to stay somewhere safe during and after my procedure. I could also afford the medications I needed to manage my cramps and to help prevent infection, and could afford to feed myself the day of and after my procedure.

And because I had the means and the support to budget for and use two sound methods of contraception after my procedure, I did not have to go to sleep at night knowing that it was likely I would have to wind up having another termination to go through and pay for, another unwanted pregnancy, very soon after dealing with the one I’d just gone through. I could afford both getting my methods of birth control and paying for them over time.

Many women do not have these abilities, privileges or luxuries. Many either may not be able to have a wanted or needed abortion at all — they may not earnestly have the real, practical right many of us still do of reproductive choice — or they may risk being unable to have all that is needed to make an abortion truly safe and sound, physically and emotionally. Some will put themselves at tremendous risks to try and raise those funds in ways which are unsafe and emotionally traumatic. Some who cannot afford a wanted abortion will seek to self-abort or otherwise endanger themselves. Some will instead have to continue an unwanted pregnancy and deliver a child who is not wanted and who they cannot afford to sustain or nurture, from pregnancy through the whole of that child’s life.

Any of us who has been pregnant knows that what choice we feel is right for us with a pregnancy is not minor: it is essential. Pregnancy is major, and how it impacts our lives, tremendous. Being unable to make our own right choice, to only reproduce and remain pregnant when it is what we want, right for us and when we feel it is right for any child we might bring into the world is tragic and inhumane. As it is, even when we can manage the cost, we have to face protests and challenges from individuals and governments to our essential rights, judgment everywhere we look about a decision no one but we can determine is appropriate, all while often straining to keep our lunches down and continue, uninterrupted, the hectic pace of our lives.

In an ideal world, every woman’s right to choose would be completely supported, and every woman’s knowledge of what was right for herself and her offspring would be respected. Women would have no trouble at all finding all the financial, practical and emotional support needed to only reproduce when that was exactly what we wanted.

We don’t live in that world. We live in a world where, at best, abortion is merely tolerated, and rights expressly for women and children, which primarily or solely impact women and children when granted, are granted as if a great favor is being given, rather than an equal and inalienable right. The political climate we live in now has been doing more and more to keep the legal right to abortion from being practically useful: our right to abortion is only so meaningful when the barriers to it continue to grow. We live in a world where most women make less on the dollar than most men — and where seeking legal protection against that discrimination is still often viewed as frivolous — despite often having a greater financial burden to begin with. We live in a world where many Medicaid programs and private insurance will cover Viagra (even for sex offenders), but not abortion or birth control. Where many women have little or no consistent access to reliable, affordable and safe methods of birth control and plenty have partners that do not support use of those methods even when those women can afford and access them. We live in a world where those who most often tend to find themselves in the most need of an abortion and with the most limitations on getting one are not only women, but women of color, women in poverty, women who were not born (or are not yet) U.S. citizens, disabled women, women with addictions, women who are legal minors, women who have been or are raped, assaulted or abused: women who are marginalized and who have less privilege beyond simply being women.

I cannot imagine having to sneak across state lines so I can obtain an abortion without my father forcibly dragging me out of a clinic as he did two times before. I cannot imagine how, with three children and a coming eviction, I could possibly save for a procedure. I cannot imagine having to have a three-day termination while my only home was a bench on the street, or at home with a partner or family member I knew would beat me when I returned there. I cannot imagine feeling I had no choice but to remain pregnant and deliver a child I strongly suspected would be born profoundly disabled because of a drug addiction I was trying to break free of. I cannot imagine having just emigrated and finding myself in the position to have to pay for an abortion while working for a wage that is a human rights violation in and of itself. I cannot imagine the two-week waiting period advised to abstain from vaginal sex after an abortion to prevent infection seeming a practical impossibility because without engaging in sex work during that period, a woman cannot support herself or her family. I have met the women who have been in these situations and others like them, and have seen a profound helplessness and desperation that no woman should have to experience during an already difficult time.

But I have also met these women and literally watched some of that helplessness dissipate; seen their worries interrupted by an exhale of relief when I can offer them financial help with their abortions.

Cedar River’s Women in Need fund helps to cover the costs of abortion, lodging, transportation, childcare, meals, pregnancy testing, ultrasound and contraception for women who cannot afford or completely cover any or all of these things, even after exhausting every resource they’ve got. The National Network of Abortion Funds has listings for our fund as well as other funds like it you can either use for yourself, refer other women to, or help with a donation. It doesn’t take much, either. The medications needed after a procedure are often less than $20. Meals for a couple of days, $25. Three months of contraception, $75. Lodging for a night, around $100. Enough to cover the portion of a procedure a woman can’t, that $400 that seemed so tough for me to save up, but which is comparatively miniscule.

Because I work part-time for Cedar River, because we serve women from several states and more than one country and also include terminations beyond the first trimester, because we’re one of the last remaining independent feminist women’s health centers in the states which offers abortions, and because we’re having a benefit for our fund on Monday evening, I’d like to ask you to contribute to ours. I’ve administered some of these funds myself, and have spent time with some of the women who need them: I know, first-hand, how important our fund is, what a difference it can make and how it positively impacts the lives of the women we can help with it. I have watched women who would otherwise have been unable to make the choice they know was right for them, or who could not have had what they needed to assure all aspects of their procedure was safe have that ability due to our WIN fund. I give to it myself via a percentage of my paycheck every two weeks, and while I certainly need the income for myself, giving what I can to that fund is something I feel is very important and a really small sacrifice. Of course, some financial help with an abortion does not usually have the capacity to fix everything wrong in a woman’s life, to wipe away inequities and hardships which are bigger than all of this. In some ways, it’s a band-aid, but it can be one critical in keeping a deep wound from getting even deeper; causing further infection in an already fragile balance of well-being and survival. At the times I administer that fund to a client, it’s amazing to see, directly, how my small contribution can sometimes literally change the landscape of a woman’s life, both through being able to make the choice she knows is right and needed, and through being shown a much-needed kindness, sometimes for the very first time.

If you’re in or near Seattle, our benefit tomorrow night for the WIN fund begins at 5:00 at the Karma Martini Lounge & Bistro (where I also had my book release party last year), on 2318 2nd Avenue in Belltown. You can have a few drinks with us and donate there, and hear a little more about what this fund does. Or, you can donate through our website here. Again, if you’d like to give to an abortion fund but prefer to give to women in your area or some other specific area, or even start a fund in an area where there is not one yet, you can take a look at a listing of funds like ours here through the NNAF.