“I’m sorry we can’t help you.” The nurse’s voice is tinny, and my mouth is dry as I scribble notes and questions frantically on a post-it, hoping for a task that will feel right, when nothing feels right. I politely try to clarify whether or not I really should see a doctor at my own clinic since my IUD is MIA and the stick I just peed on has two lines. “If you want to terminate, we can’t do that here” the nurse restates. “But if you want to set up a prenatal appointment, we can set that up for six weeks from now.”
It’s the “prenatal appointment” that does me in, that knocks the breath out of me, and that leaves me with no alternative other than to say, “thanks for your help” and hang up.
Why do I feel the need to say “thanks for your help” when I’ve received no help at all?
A Google search, a phone call, a voice mail, more Google searches, another phone call. I should be grading papers. A flurry of searches, or actions, a feeling of doing something, followed by a vacuum of space, filled only with day-to-day life – making lunches, kissing boo-boos, playing card games.
It is both unbearable and also the very life that I’m choosing.
I get an appointment at Planned Parenthood, tentatively. I’m told that a medical abortion is not an option for me because no one knows if my IUD is still around. How unlucky. Only an x-ray can confirm an absent IUD, and the clinic can’t do an x-ray – only the doctor’s office can. The same doctor’s office that rejected my pleas for answers less than an hour ago.
I’m buried in the logistics of transportation, clothing notes (does one wear her “feisty feminist” shirt to her abortion appointment?), and the other items I will need for my foray into the city clinic when my phone rings. Now I pick up all the unknown numbers that call because the unknown numbers are part of the medical system I’m desperately trying to navigate.
“Hello. This is Doctor Stefan.”
There is a moment in my life, over 20 years ago, that I look back to occasionally – the moment I said “yes” to going to a movie with my now-husband. There were no stars or fireworks or overdone eye contact. Just the pleasant warmth of another person being interested in you enough to want to spend extra time with you. But that moment led to more moments, that led to a life together, that led to two more lives in the world. A moment of chance in meeting someone who would become my life.
Doctor Stefan’s phone call is also a defining moment. Another moment of luck.
“I saw the notes on your chart, and I can help you.”
Right now, as I write this, the two small envelopes – four pills total – that Doctor Stefan would soon give me are banned in Texas. These pills are the most common and safest way to end an unwanted pregnancy. In 2016 the FDA approved a simple Mifepristone and Misoprostol regimen for ending a pregnancy up to 10 weeks. Most women do not know they are pregnant until week five or six. A small window in which to end a pregnancy. A literally impossible window in which to end a pregnancy in Texas, Indiana and Mississippi.
Dr. Stefan’s phone call interrupts my increasingly frantic Googling, scribbling and appointment searching. She sets up the ultrasound and x-ray appointments that I need to clear the mystery of the missing IUD. She rattles off terms like “miso” that I will later learn is not the soup base, but instead the simple pill that allows me to choose to keep the life I have.
I learned later that Dr. Stefan is the only doctor in my clinic system who will prescribe medical abortion pills. She is not always on duty at my clinic. She rotates around the different practices.
Sometimes you get lucky.
Sometimes the right doctor comes on shift at your clinic the day you take the pregnancy test. Sometimes you live in a state that doesn’t have religious fundamentalists controlling the legislative and executive branches. Sometimes you find out you need help before Amy Cody Barrett gets on the Supreme Court.
It shouldn’t matter who you are or where you live or what you need. You should simply be able to get whatever envelope of pills you need to choose the life you want.
But it does matter. And I’m one of the lucky ones
About the Author
Marie LP is a mother of two and a writing instructor at several New England colleges. She loves playing around with all forms of writing alongside her students and she collects mentor texts like it’s going out of style. On the side she loves to read YA fantasy and sci-fi, and she crocheted lots of scarves during the pandemic.
Supporting Reproductive Rights
This is a critical time in our fight to preserve access to abortion and reproductive healthcare. We believe that every action counts. Here are three things you can do.
- Fight stigmatization by sharing your story and/or supporting people who have shared their stories. Supportive comments and likes make a big difference to the people who have chosen to share their personal experiences.
- Reach out to your representatives on the federal, state, and local levels and tell them that you want them to pass legislation that protects reproductive rights including abortion access.
- Donate to organizations committed to protecting access to safe and legal abortions. This writer recommended Just the Pill for the work they are doing to ensure access.