In my transition from girlhood to young womanhood, I was lucky enough to find a place of refuge, a beacon of hope, lighting the way to strong womanhood through like-minded, nonjudgmental, ball-busting, shoot-from-the-hip, powerful women.
You may know it as Planned Parenthood.
I admit, in my teens, I only thought of Planned Parenthood as the place girls went to after a night of underaged drinking or regret. Being the good and virtuous Vietnamese daughter that I was, I knew I surely would never find myself there. But as adulthood crept up on me, I realized I needed to take care of myself. I needed to be responsible — at least that’s what all the sex ed was telling me. I needed to get checked for STDs and STIs, AIDS, HIV, and god knows whatever else they threatened kids with if they had premarital sex.
So I made my first appointment to go to Planned Parenthood.
I was expecting a room of crying teenagers, all there for terminations (that’s what they call it at PP). But I was pleasantly surprised when I showed up for my 8:30 a.m. appointment to find mostly adults, older, there for check-ups, mammograms, pap smears, etc. I didn’t even know Planned Parenthood offered all these services. It’s a one-stop shop for women’s health.
OK, I thought, this isn’t too bad.
I filled out a form requesting their in-house insurance and I was handed a bright teal card with my name on it. They told me I qualified for their program, which meant all my exams and medication would be free, but they do accept donations. It was almost too good to be true! You’re telling me I can come here and get all this preventative care, consulting, medication and who knows what else they offer here, all for free?!*
Excitement aside, I was still pretty nervous for my appointment. I made sure not to pee beforehand so I could provide a good sample, but that was making the wait that much more unbearable.
Finally, I got called in. They took my weight and height and handed me a little cup. I went into the bathroom, do it to it, then came back out. Then we went and sat in a small room where a nurse asked me all sorts of questions about my sexual history. How many partners have I had? Do I ever have anal sex? How often? Do I ever have oral sex? How many times I year would I say I have sex? Do I use protection? Do I want birth control?
Whoa. That last one came out of nowhere. I don’t know… do I? I was starting to date, so perhaps it’s a good idea to make sure I’m always protected, I thought.
OK, sure. Sign me up for some birth control!
A few minutes later, I was ushered into a bigger, colder room. It had nasty florescent lights, and everything was way too sterile. And what was this contraption attached to the foot of the exam bed? Stirrups?
A no-nonsense, stern-looking albeit beautiful woman came in and, without looking up, from my file, asked me, “So you want birth control? What kind do you want?”
Nervously, and cluelessly, I said, “Well, I guess I’ll leave that up to you. You’re the pro here. Whichever you think is best, I guess.”
That’s when she finally looked up at me, walked closer, put down the folder and said, “It’s not about what I think, or what anyone thinks. This is your body. What do you want? I can’t tell you what to take, so it’s you who has to make that decision for yourself.”
Truth be told, I think I started crying. This woman was so confident, so self-assured, and she wasn’t about to baby me. No amount of me acting dumb or not wanting to make a decision was going to work here. Not with her. She was dead-set on me making my own decisions about my own body.
I’ll spare you the rest of the details, but that morning, I walked out of Planned Parenthood strangely scared but empowered. She told me — the entire institution that is Planned Parenthood told me — I have the power to make all my own decisions about my body and my life. I couldn’t whine or bat my lashes out of this. I was responsible — 100% responsible, and there wasn’t going to be any prissy bullshit. I make my own choices. It’s entirely up to me.
On my way out of the parking lot, one of the volunteers — a very sweet older gentleman who had been passing out coffee and hot cocoa to patients waiting in their cars or outside — caught up to me in my car and said, “If those nasty people try to give you a hard time, fuck 'em! OK, dear, take care!”
He was referring to the protestors who routinely picket in front of Planned Parenthood, accusing it of being the breeding ground of loose and immoral women, lair of the Devil himself.
Because of this first eye-opening experience and several equally empowering visits to Planned Parenthood later, I will always, always, always love and support Planned Parenthood. It felt like being in a place where my opinion, my being, my wants and wishes, were all respected and granted. It felt amazing to be surrounded by women who were strong, smart, and cared for their fellow woman. It was a Mecca of Girl Power.
*Although my services were free of charge, I always donated what I could. I encourage you all, please donate and stand with Planned Parenthood!