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Dear Planned Parenthood

Dear Planned Parenthood,

You saved my life when I was seventeen, and although I’ve thanked you by being an annual contributor ever since I’ve been financially able, I’ve never thanked you publicly and I believe it’s over due.

This is not a story about abortion. This is a story about endometriosis. This is a story about why having contraception covered by health insurance isn’t as much about sex as Rush Limbaugh seems to think, and why even people who feel morally torn over abortion should proudly support the work of Planned Parenthood.

From the time I was twelve years old or so, my period brought with it terrible pain. So much pain I couldn’t walk. So much pain sometimes I would thrash uncontrollably or black out. By the time I was seventeen I was in so much pain that I would lie in bed for days at a time, unable to move, dreaming of suicide because I knew I could not endure the pain much longer.

My mother was extremely conservative, particularly in her attitudes toward sex and the importance of virginity for unmarried daughters. The way this translated into the healthcare I received as a teenager was that I didn’t really get any. I went to the doctor a few times for “severe cramps” and was prescribed midol. One doctor suggested birth control pills (which would have worked!) and my mother freaked out and never let me see that doctor again. She preferred the doctor who told me that this pain was “a normal part of being a woman.”

When I was 17 I found Planned Parenthood. The doctor there immediately recognized endometriosis and gave me depo provera as hormone therapy. They had a sliding scale so that I could pay for my medicine even with my minimum wage paycheck. It changed my life. I’m not at all sure I’d be here today if not for the people who helped me then.

When I was 23 I moved to Canada, and while I was there I had surgery to remove the worst of my endometrioma growths. The surgery had been recommended years before, but it had been denied by my North Carolina college student health plan because endometriosis surgery was classified as fertility treatment. The Canadian doctors were horrified that I had been left without treatment so long and that was when I first started to understand the permanent damage that had been done to my reproductive organs and my nervous system as a result of leaving my endometriosis untreated for so long.

So here I am at 35, struggling again with endometriosis pain and the infertility and nerve damage it has wrought over the years. I’m also struggling with why I apparently need to explain to some of my fellow Americans that while, yes, technically, I do take “birth control,” that doesn’t make me some kind of sex fiend. In my case, it isn’t even to prevent pregnancy. Honestly, the whole thing is incredibly painful and I much prefer not to discuss it, but I don’t think I have that option right now. Right wing legislators in Virginia, the state where I was born, think a blastocyst has more right to personhood than I do. And elsewhere, the right wing machine has decided to attack access to birth control again, and Mitt Romney is vowing to destroy Planned Parenthood, one of the few medical safety nets we have in this country.

I know that if all of the women and men who have been helped by Planned Parenthood stepped up and said thank you, it would change the political climate in this country dramatically. But unfortunately, these matters are difficult to discuss publicly. Rush Limbaugh might call you awful names on the radio, for example. Not everyone feels like they can handle that, and who can blame them?

I want to write a special plea to the Catholic and Evangelical Christian mothers of the world. I grew up among you. I am your daughter too, and I’ve been through hell. Remember the little girls in good Christian homes who can’t get reproductive healthcare, who I know many of you help because I’ve seen you do it. Planned Parenthood is there for them when no one else is. Until we get around to overhauling the violence and patriarchy out of Christianity, I think we need to compromise on this one. If I had had access to reproductive healthcare as a teenager, if I had reached Planned Parenthood sooner… Well, a lot of things in my life would have been less painful and I might have been a mother myself.

Thank you, Planned Parenthood, for helping me when I was seventeen and had nowhere else to turn. I just took your pledge (the one at http://www.womenarewatching.org/get-involved/take-the-pledge) and I hope anyone who comes across this blog post will too.

Yours very truly,
Bess Sadler

Comments

Comment from Randy Reichardt
Time: March 14, 2012, 10:55 pm

Bess, so proud of you for writing this. We seriously miss you here in Edmonton. Many of us are sharing your post on Facebook. Peace to you, my friend. Come visit us soon. – Randy

Comment from Jenn Riley
Time: March 15, 2012, 6:45 am

Thank you, Bess. For this, and the rest of it as well.

Comment from Jonathan Rochkind
Time: March 15, 2012, 4:14 pm

Thanks for writing this, it’s very powerful.

Comment from Laura Smart
Time: February 27, 2013, 5:43 pm

I’m sorry you had to suffer what you’ve suffered. Thank you for speaking truth. It is important to acknowledge that not every use of birth control relates to sex. One thing sort of rankles with me though. So what if it does relate to sex? Does pointing out that birth control and abortion have therapeutic uses subtly reinforce those with an anti-sexuality agenda? As if it’s ok to use these tools when it’s not about sex, but somehow it’s shameful when sex is the rationale?

I don’t disagree with you. I do think it’s important to illustrate all of the medical reasons birth control and abortion should be easily and affordably available. I wonder, however, if those of us willing to speak up should name the anti-sexuality by pointing it out whenever we discuss the topic. Within the context of your post, it’s not necessary. I’m just contemplating wider implications.

Thanks again for your thoughtful, thought-provoking, and brave discussion.

Comment from Julia
Time: March 6, 2013, 4:56 am

A classical TCM remedy for endometriosis is Gui Zhi Fu Ling Wan (sold in Chinese pharmacies, $5-10 per bottle, also could be cooked as raw herbs). This is not related to birth control or hormones. Should be taken for at least 6 months, even for an year, given for how long you’ve suffered. Don’t stop too early, even if pain disappears. You may also consult with a doctor of Chinese medicine for a better recommendation.

I myself used to have a milder case of endometriosis. It was on and off, at some point I even got into a hospital with severe pain, took a course of birth control pills, had a laparoscopy and was told to have another one. But I guess, I don’t have it anymore… When I studied TCM to help myself with something else (also took this formula), endometriosis went away as a “side effect”.

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