I needed my best friend that day.
Like a good bestie, she skipped school with me. I already knew in my heart of hearts I was pregnant. But as we drove to Planned Parenthood, I hoped I was wrong.
I had just turned 18, and graduation was a few weeks away. Having a baby was not my plan.
My family didn’t have any health insurance—or money for that matter. I had a part-time job at a clothing store in the mall, and a scholarship waiting for me in the fall. I was going to be a doctor—a heart surgeon. That was my ticket out of the small town where I grew up.
I don’t remember the décor of the room or the name of the woman who took care of me that day. I just remember how safe I felt and how kind everyone was.
I received a free examination that day and a pregnancy test that came back positive.
I must have been an irresponsible, reckless, little slut—right?
That’s what people assume when you’re 18 and pregnant—at least, that’s how they made me feel with their stares and questions. No one judged me more harshly than the other girls at school. The word spread like wildfire when they heard I was knocked up.
I was on the pill. I started on birth control pills when I was 14 as part of the treatment for my Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)— an endocrine disease doctors said could prevent me from ever having children. My boyfriend and I used condoms too. But somehow, there I was—pregnant and terrified.
I don’t remember the exact conversation that followed my positive pregnancy test. I just remember how much information the kind woman gave me about my options. We talked about abortion a little bit. Knowing that fertility problems might be in my future, it didn’t feel right for me—though I hated the thought of passing up my scholarship.
She gave me information about prenatal care, how to apply for Medicaid, so I could get the care I needed if I decided to keep the baby, and a list of providers who would see a new Medicaid patient. She gave me samples of prenatal vitamins to get me through until I could get a doctor’s appointment. She assured me that they would be there to help with anything I needed in the meantime.
I left there knowing that I would have to make a life-changing decision quite soon. I had a folder full of information to read through. I had to tell my boyfriend. I had to tell my parents. I had to tell my grandmother.
Pregnancy really should be a time of sweet anticipation as we prepare to welcome a new life into the world. I’ve always envied women who had the opportunity to plan their first pregnancy. To get married first, to have a career established—or at least some stability built into their lives.
From the moment I learned that I was pregnant, I felt fear, anxiety, judgement and the shame that comes with it. I felt this impending doom, like no matter what I chose, it would be the wrong thing.
I crossed the stage to receive my high school diploma in a maternity dress.
I gave birth to a beautiful, healthy, perfect baby girl that December. She was premature and tiny, but strong and resilient like her mama. I’ve never regretted my decision to keep her.
It was difficult having a baby so young. I made plenty of mistakes along the way. Truthfully, in many ways I think she was the one who raised me.
I would have been absolutely lost if not for the guidance I received from Planned Parenthood. The support and resources they gave me actually helped me to make the decision not to have an abortion. I knew that I wasn’t alone, that there was help available for my little girl and me.
Planned Parenthood is often referred to as “an abortion clinic.” Yes, if a woman chooses to terminate a pregnancy, they can do the procedure. But here’s the deal—each woman deserves to have the right to choose what is right for her in her specific situation. People who have a moral or religious aversion to abortion are also free to choose not to have one, without taking away the right for others to choose.
Before safe, legal abortions were available, women died from trying dangerous ways to end pregnancies on their own. Planned Parenthood is one place women can go for a safe abortion if that is what they feel is best. It’s much more than that as well.
Planned Parenthood connects women with other resources they need to manage an unplanned pregnancy. They offer education for reproductive health, birth control and condoms to prevent pregnancy. They offer examinations, cancer screenings, STD testing and treatment, and counseling. Planned Parenthood makes it possible for women to get the care they need regardless of their ability to pay.
Today, my beautiful, little, baby girl is 20 years old. I want her to have access to all the care and education she needs. I want her to have resources to take care of her reproductive health. I want her to practice safe sex, and use a reliable method of birth control. If she should find herself dealing with an unplanned pregnancy, I want her to have the right to choose if becoming a mother is right for her or not. I want her to have access to a safe, legal abortion if that is what she feels is best for her.
No one has the right to dictate what my daughter—or any woman—does with her womb. The female anatomy cannot be legislated. Every woman is entitled to the right to choose what is right for her body and her future. Every woman deserves to have access to the care and education she needs, whether she can afford it or not.
Author: Renee Dubeau
Image: Unsplash/Joey Thompson; Author’s own
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina