How Planned Parenthood Almost Killed Me… and Why We Need to Support Them Even More
If there is any message I truly want to get across in this piece on the current state of Planned Parenthood, it is this: Do not watch Bride Wars.
This is a bipartisan issue we all should agree on. This movie is an abomination, so bad it’s not even worth hate watching — and I love a “good” bad movie more than most people. And it’s terrible even with Anne Hathaway and Chris Pratt in it, and I adore them both.
It’s the type of movie that made me even more anxious as it rolled on a loop at Planned Parenthood on a Thursday afternoon. It couldn’t quell my fears about the ticking time bomb residing in my arm, a birth control implant. As I sat in the waiting room of the clinic that could see me fastest, about 30 miles from my house, there were so many emotions swelling up in me it was hard to stomach.
My birth control odyssey started about six months previous, when it was time to get my Mirena IUD out. After five blissful years, it had expired and it was time to replace. I had my insurance card in hand and bought a bottle of wine and a carton on Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, which were waiting at home. For those who don’t know, IUD insertion is extremely painful, and it’s best to be prepared.
That day, Planned Parenthood turned me away. They didn’t accept my insurance, even though on the phone they told me they could. It puzzled me at first, but I let it slide, heading to another local clinic that was so backed up they couldn’t even see me for removal and insertion for four months. Eventually I went back to Planned Parenthood, when they told me they could now accept my insurance; shortly after I had come in they revised the policy. But this was where my troubles began.
The local Planned Parenthood clinic is tucked away on a tree-covered street in Thousand Oaks, with a tiny little parking lot and construction workers revamping the building. This is partially due to a recent arson, which shut the clinic for a short time. However, you will still see people outside handing out pamphlets and holding signs, making you feel as if you’re crossing picket lines to get birth control. As you enter, there is bulletproof glass between you and the receptionist, and security doors to get into the waiting room. But at least they play The Holiday, with Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz, in there.
Sitting in those lovely stirrups in the examination room, I got the Mirena out, but immediately started cramping when the attempts began to put another one in. An immense pain surged through my system, and no matter how many times I closed my eyes and evoked the name of Idris Elba as a happy thought, it wouldn’t stop. (Probably because the last thing I watched him in was Beasts of No Nation — incredible movie, but not great if you’re thinking of the sexy version of the actor.)
The nurse said this was common, and usually women are told to take an ibuprofen beforehand — except in my case, I’m deathly allergic, so I can’t. She told me to wait a month until I got my period, when my body would be much more open, and then come back with a Vicodin in my system and a family member to drive me home.
Currently, my nearby family is made up of myself, my prude-like father with his cane, and my cancer-fighting mother with her oxygen tank. We are quite the trio — my mom and her Darth Vader machine announcing her approach; my innocent, doting dad who doesn’t realize I carry a condom in my wallet at all times; and me. So the idea of all of us heading to Planned Parenthood with me hopped up on a narcotic is a very amusing picture in my mind.
The next week, I experienced what they call the Mirena crash: A series of cramps, bleeding and intense mood swings that plunged me into manic episodes followed by serious, dark depressions (but more on that later). With the insertion difficulties and the crash, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go back on the IUD, so someone suggested that I do some research into the birth control implant, Implanton. It goes into the upper arm, stays for about three years, and has a relatively painless insertion process.
I am usually pretty thorough about checking my birth control options, as I have so few. I have a history of blood clots and genetic clotting factor, which rules me out of practically every birth control available on the market. I have tried the two major ones they recommend to clot survivors: The Depo-Provera shot, which caused me to gain an insane amount of weight and feel arthritic, and the low-hormone IUD, which I had. When I first got it, they were just starting to roll out the implant, so it was untested.
The Planned Parenthood website didn’t say that the implant could not be used on anyone with a history of blood clots. Other sites said the Implanton, as it is progesterone-only, was a great option for those who had clots but weren’t on any blood thinning medication, like me. They recommend inserting it at the start of a woman’s period, so when I got it, I drove to the clinic. They were still playing The Holiday a month after my Mirena removal, and except for several teenage boys that seemed to be sneaking in for STD tests without their parents’ knowledge, everyone around me seemed to be getting the implant.
“You’re going to love it,” said the medical assistant, clad in burgundy scrubs, as she sat me down in the examination room. “It’s the same hormone as in the Mirena.” She read through a group of questions off of a computer screen with me, recording my answers. Not one was about blood clots.
Later, the nurse came in with a Nexaplanon, not the Implanton I researched. “This is the newest version of it,” she said. The installation into my left arm was quick and relatively painless, and she wrapped it in a bright green bandage before sending me home.
Except for a few headaches, nothing really happened until several days after. I had gone to have dinner with my friend Deborah in Studio City, and as I walked away from the restaurant, I thought to myself, My left leg feels funny. It was the leg that started my history of blood clots at 21.
As I got home and took off my pants, I noticed my leg was starting to swell, becoming red and warm — as if I was developing another blood clot. I immediately downed two baby aspirin (aspirin is a blood thinner) and began researching the Nexaplanon. The first thing that was listed on its website for risks and side effects was not to take it if you have a history of blood clots.
Upon more research, I found that the progesterone in the Nexaplanon was not the same as in the Mirena, as I was told. Both are progesterone-only, but while the IUD had levongestrel, the implant was etongestrel. It was the same hormone found in the Nuvaring, the birth control I was on when I first started my blood clot odyssey. Upon further research, I found that there was a lawsuit against the Nexaplanon for blood clots, with studies shown that it made people 40 percent more likely to develop blood clots. I’m 33 years old and have already had six clots. I was done.
After nearly no sleep due to anxiety and anger, I took two more baby aspirin in the morning, slipped on my anti-coagulation stockings and called Planned Parenthood, asking for a removal because of the clotting risk. They scheduled me for the following morning and alerted the nurse. She called me, and I told her what I had found about the risk of blood clots.
“Where did you get this information?” she asked skeptically.
“From the company’s website,” I replied. “The one that makes the implant.”
They told me that they would alert the medical director immediately, but I thought to myself: Planned Parenthood doesn’t have enough people in order to keep records updated as to this information? Although I’m a rare case, where my body doesn’t need an excuse to produce another blood clot, this could save other women’s lives.
Anxiety is a very strange demon, and I realized that I couldn’t wait another 24 hours to get the Nexaplanon out; my clotting factor is too strong. I called back and asked for the quickest appointment available, which was 30 miles north in Ventura in about three hours.
“The nurse recommends that, if you think you might have a blood clot, you should go to the ER,” the lady said on the phone. I was fuming by this point: This would take me out of the running for my appointment, and I still wouldn’t be closer to solving the source of the problem. Plus, I didn’t have enough money for an ER visit.
“How about you take this thing out of my arm first, and then, if things are still bad, I’ll go?” I snapped. If there’s a time bomb ticking in someone’s body, why would you delay in cutting the wire?
My impatience was leaving me agitated, so I drove up to Ventura early. I stopped by Main Street and walked around in the sunshine, trying to distract myself. But I was so out of sorts I didn’t even stop at my favorite local ice cream shop — you know it’s bad when I refuse ice cream.
Around 3:15, I couldn’t wait any longer and walked into the Planned Parenthood. This clinic was very different than the one in Thousand Oaks. The walls are whitewashed concrete, the bulletproof glass covering the nurses’ station, and the waiting room is smaller and stacked to the brim with at least 20 to 30 people. Kids were sitting on their mother’s laps playing games on phones, young girls sat nervously with family members, and there were very few non-minorities in the room, myself included.
And, of course, there was Bride Wars playing on a continual loop, a feminist institution playing the most anti-feminist dreck imaginable. It was so horrible that I blurted out loud, “Wow, this is awful,” and half the women watching started to laugh with me. It was a movie so bad that I wanted to sew my vagina shut… and then reopened when I remembered that I enjoy having sex, but then sewn shut again because with stories like that, it wasn’t worth the risk. As if going to Planned Parenthood wasn’t hard enough.
At one point, they called me in, saying they had problems with my health insurance… again. I began crying, half due to lack of sleep and the other half from the hormones in my body waiting for a chance to kill me. The clinic director put me into a side room as I was choking on my sobs, repeating how I didn’t want to die. She told me not to worry; they’d make sure that they would see me today.
After returning to the waiting room, I sat there for about an hour watching the terrible movie of death before they called me in. It was the same whitewashed concrete as the waiting room, where you could see the outlines of the brick against the installed medical cabinets. After taking my blood pressure and asking me a couple of questions, I shook my head.
“You really have to take out that movie,” I said wearily. “It’s so bad. I will donate other movies.”
“We’d like that,” the medical assistant said. “We don’t get enough.” Which is true — the defunding of Planned Parenthood is always on the table in D.C. Plus, a lot of the organization’s money probably goes to healthcare items and security ranging from the bulletproof glass to cameras, not a wider selection of DVDs.
After she laid out all the instruments for the implant’s removal, I sat by myself for about 45 minutes, tapping my feet against the linoleum floor in some weird random dance routine of nerves and jitters. My head hurt from restlessness, my heart pumping hard from anxiety. But I refused to have another blood clot. I had to live past watching Bride Wars.
The nurse practitioner came in and began challenging my statements about the Nexaplanon.
“You know, all birth control methods talk about risk of blood clots,” she said. “The Mirena does, too.”
“Yeah, but that’s towards the bottom of the list,” I said. “And research shows that the Mirena actually doesn’t not increase the risk, but Nexaplanon increases it by 40 percent.”
After a five-minute debate and checking my leg, she told me to lie back and numbed the area where the Nexaplanon was as my arm began to cramp. I began to cry again, this time from relief, and the nurse soothed me as we were waiting for the medicine to kick in. When she removed the implant, it practically flew out — it was almost as if my body wanted it out just as badly. She wrapped me up tight in a purple bandage and I was sent on my way with a warm hug.
I walked out of the clinic with the hard decision of not opting for a birth control other than condoms at the moment; I was getting too tired of the fight. When I was ready and in a relationship, my future boyfriend/partner could take me to a gynecologist’s office after taking a Vicodin. I would have another IUD installed and then be taken home, where he would have a huge thing of ice cream and pizza waiting for me because he would be the world’s best boyfriend. (I wouldn’t be getting it if he weren’t.)
It was dark out by the time I walked to my car. A young Latina stepped out of a small white sedan next to my Honda, with her small daughter and an older woman I assumed was her mother. I waited patiently, and she apologized for delaying me.
“Don’t worry,” I said with a smile. “I’ve been here two and a half hours, a couple more minutes won’t hurt.”
“Do you mind me asking what you had done?” she asked, glancing over the purple bandage on my arm.
“I had the implant removed.”
“Oh my G-d! Can I ask why? Because I’m about to get one.”
I explained to her about my clotting issues, and how it shouldn’t be an issue for her, as I got in my car and drove away. I hope I didn’t scare her; I’m sure the implant works for many women, just not those whose bodies have a death wish for them.
As traffic piled up near home, I got off the freeway and drove past the other Planned Parenthood clinic, dark except for a few fluorescent lights in the empty parking lot. And there, outside of the building, was a woman standing with a sign. It said, simply, “Defend lives.”
Doing this can be a difficult task for these clinics. After all, how could you properly defend the lives of women that come in to receive healthcare when you’re more concerned about crazies and women feeling safe as they walk in the door? How can you defend lives when you’re not getting enough funding to be able to afford the proper staff it would take to see people in a timely fashion, let alone update your website? And how can you defend lives when it seems that the healthcare system, the government, everyone except those who are too broke to go to a regular doctor’s office, is stacked against you?
This is why, despite everything that happened to me, I will never give up on Planned Parenthood. Just seeing the people in the waiting room in Ventura made me know that it has to be here; it just needs to get better. It has to help that woman with her daughter getting birth control. It has to help the young teenage boys creeping into a clinic to get STD testing. And yes, in three percent of cases, it provides abortions to protect women who might not be able to carry a pregnancy to term. It helps every woman and man who might be scared and needs vital care.
Approximately one in five women in this country has gotten help through a Planned Parenthood, and I would never take that away. There are times where we need to put aside our emotions towards hot-button topics and do what’s right for others. We need this organization, but we need to give it more money so they can think beyond basic survival and really help people. It needs to go to the nurses, medical assistants and doctors who probably make very little to provide valuable health services, like prenatal care and cancer screenings. It needs to go to more comfortable surroundings and quicker, up-to-date care.
And, obviously, it has to go to better movies. I wish I could get people who want to defund Planned Parenthood to experience a version of what happened to me: That is, to watch Bride Wars on a 24-hour loop in a crowded room, with deadly hormones surging through their bodies and no immediate access to vital medicines or proper care. If they haven’t gone absolutely crazy by the time it’s over, they can do whatever they want.
After all, many of them don’t get to experience the joys of having others control the fate of their bodies, let alone having Hollywood tell we should be so invested in our future weddings that we forget the needs of other women completely. They should just consider it a welcome introduction to the current state of modern American womanhood.