I was conceived 3 weeks after my mom began taking the birth control pill. She was 20 years old, and my dad was 21. It was their first time having sex. My dad’s grandpa was a Baptist minister. My mom’s uncle was a Catholic priest. My parents got married fast, and four years later, Dad came out. It was Minnesota in 1992.
Our extended family shunned my dad, and he and his new partner moved to Florida. My mom and I moved in with my grandparents, got on food stamps, and began attending church: Catholic church with my mom’s family, Baptist church with my dad’s family. There, I learned about homosexuality: wrong! I learned about sex out of wedlock: wrong! Birth control, abortions. Wrong, wrong, wrong, they said.
My mom remarried and, for years, she and my stepdad tried to conceive. At 12, I stood beside her in a hospital room as she recovered from a miscarriage. I watched her sobbing and I thought of the future she’d given up in order to have me. I decided right then and there that I wouldn’t have children, and I made my own personal pledge to abstinence, like I’d learned about in church. I wanted to be “perfect.” I wanted to be “pure.” I certainly didn’t want to have a baby.
At 18, I had my first serious boyfriend. After months of dating, he asked if I might consider having sex. I went back and forth on it for months, and ultimately decided that I wanted to. But I needed to get birth control first, and there was no way that I wanted my family to find about it. I kept thinking back to church, my dad’s story, my mom’s. I was worried I’d disappoint them. I was worried they’d stop being proud of me. My whole identity at that point had been about differentiating my path from theirs.
I snuck down to our campus health office, read the pamphlets, wore a hat. The campus nurse practitioner gave me a pelvic exam and a birth control prescription, for which I lied and said I didn’t have insurance so that my family wouldn’t get the bill. Instead, I paid something like $60 per month out-of-pocket for The Pill. I remember calling my mom, asking for money to buy shoes or something. Then I’d use it to buy my birth control. I went on like that for years. I cringed every time I paid for my pills. I felt like a failure.
That summer, I came home for my annual physicaI and lied to my PCP about being sexually active. The next summer I lied again. Again and again. I told her I was “saving myself for marriage.” My boyfriend and I broke up, and I had my first one night stand, no condom, crazy drunk. In my mind, I was no longer “pure”, so I wanted to make it count. I began having lots of casual sex.
I preferred men who’d had a high number of sex partners. I preferred men who were bisexual. Most of all, I preferred to be drunk when having sex. From age 21-25, my condom usage was probably 50%, maybe less. I’d cross my fingers and hope that he had one. If he didn’t, I wouldn’t mention it. Then I’d spend days in knots, counting down to my period. When I started grad school, I no longer had a birth control provider. I kept having unprotected sex. I lapsed on Paps. Somehow, neglecting my reproductive health felt like an act of defiance. I was still ashamed of it -- out of sight, out of mind. I hadn’t yet made the connection that my reproductive health was such a crucial piece of my whole body health. It remained a complicated relationship for me.
As I got older, I hopped around to gynecologists, taking the pill with minimal supervision. If you’d told me I could have bought birth control on the black market, I would have. Eventually, after a series of period misadventures that involved passing out on the J train, I got the courage to walk past the protestors into the Long Island City Planned Parenthood, and it felt like coming home. The waiting room was bright and full of magazines, and as I looked around, I felt solidarity with the others who were there. I can’t explain it. I was ready. For the first time in my life, it felt safe to answer the questions that the medical assistant asked me. The financial counselor helped me enroll in Medicaid. I carried my bag of Pill packs out in the open on the subway ride home. It was the first time I didn’t feel judged. It was the first time that I didn’t judge myself for my story.
It was 2016, and a few months later, my then-fiancé/now-husband and I moved to Vermont. Donald Trump became president, and that next week, I phoned Planned Parenthood and made an appointment to get a copper IUD. It came with the side effects of heavy cramps and empowerment. That day, I pledged to take care of my reproductive health no matter what. Rather than “perfect”, I was responsible. Rather than “pure,” I was healthy.
And in 2018, when my second routine Pap test revealed CIN2 on my cervix, I consented to surgery and thanked my lucky stars that I was finally in a place where I was getting the care that I needed. I’ve also decided that I would like to be a mother someday, when I am ready.
As a result of my experience at Planned Parenthood, as well as the national threat to reproductive health that persists in the White House, the Supreme Court, and in states across America, I left my work in for-profit digital marketing and have spent the past two election cycles using my skills to elect leaders who support reproductive rights for all.
I’m sharing my story so that others may find Planned Parenthood sooner than I did. I’m sharing my story so that others feel free to determine their own life’s course, independent of their church or their family story.
I am committed to supporting Prop 5 to ensure that every single Vermonter is afforded personal reproductive liberty regardless of their upbringing, their sexual history, or who is elected to office. I am grateful to Planned Parenthood for giving me the tools to take charge of my health and my future.