Less then a year ago, I went to do my first quarter of practicum at Planned Parenthood. I am not sure if this sounds like that big of a deal but let me assure you that it was. I agonized over the decision. At the time, I was still in some contact with my parents and I still considered myself a Christian. I had changed my political stances on any number of things already. I had voted for an equal marriage bill in my state in the previous election and, although I was still struggling with what I felt about homosexuality on a moral level, I knew what I felt about it as far as the law went. I was willing to fight for a lot of things that were tantamount to heresy according to everything I had been raised to believe. But abortion was sort-of a last stance. After all, “don’t murder babies” is a really strong platform to turn your back on. I don’t even like babies really but there are a lot of people I don’t like and I don’t jump to murder. My mother took me to my first pro-life rally before I could talk. She stopped taking me and my brothers for a while because she was worried the graphic nature of some of the signs might upset us but we started going again when I was older. It was one of the Most Important Things. And Planned Parenthood was well known to be on the side of Satan in this war. I had never in my life walked into a clinic.
But one day, a friend of mine told me about waiting for another friend at an appointment to get birth control. She told me about a young boy in the waiting room, clearly waiting on his girlfriend and how he was so nervous. His girlfriend came out and he jumped up and they started crying together. I was undone. I was heartbroken for kids I had never met. My friend said it seemed clear that she had just had an abortion. I was glad they were there for each other but I wished I could have been there somehow. This surprised me. Until that moment, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you if I could walk into a clinic with someone to support them in getting an abortion if that was their decision. In that moment, I knew I could. I knew I would want to. I was aware that my stances on abortion might have made me hard to approach about the subject and I was determined for that to change. Even though I still thought probably I was some version of pro-life (although I was beginning to hate the title), I was no longer sure what that meant as far as the legality of it. I was overwhelmed by the thought of what a hard decision it was, almost always, and I wanted to know more. I knew, absolutely knew, that I needed to work at Planned Parenthood and that I would.
My first step was the informational interview, a required assignment for my pre-practicum class. Basically I was just going in to ask questions, find out about the organization. I was so comfortable, everyone was so nice. I was overwhelmed. This was what I had been afraid of? I wanted to be here, I wanted to work here. That same week I called the woman who would eventually be my supervisor to ask for more information. She said yes, she would love to interview me but would I also be interested in going down to Lobby Day in our state capitol? It would give me a good opportunity to see some of what she does. You see, what the practicum was for was for the political lobbying section of our local PP. I remember I got off the phone and just sat and laughed. Really? I was not only going to go work for the dreaded Planned Parenthood but help them to politically lobby? I couldn’t imagine a single thing I could do that would seem more to my parents like I was throwing my whole life back in their face. At the time, the pull was so strong and I believed what I believed about those things then – I believed Jesus was calling me to work at Planned Parenthood. I did not imagine that would comfort my parents.
I went to Lobby Day. The last time I had been to our capitol was for a pro-life convention. I talked and talked with people who were kind and intelligent and deeply passionate about the rights of women. I talked with women who had been working in the women’s rights movement since the 60’s or before. Women who told me about working as nurses, social workers, foster parents. I talked to gay women, straight women, college students, retirees. I talked to a few men as well (there weren’t nearly as many there). It had been such a long time since I had been in a place where everyone was so kind and interested. When people found out about my background, they were fascinated. I realized something very unexpected – my story had power. People wanted to know how I came out of this super conservative religious background and ended up on their bus. Not even just having come out of the background but having believed in all of it until so recently. What made me change my mind? What had brought me here? I was cautious. After all, I still didn’t know I was here. “I still believe it’s a baby,” I tried to explain. “And I don’t exactly know what that means but I also believe in safety for women and I’m just trying to figure it out as I go.” I flinched when I said it. I had been raised in a place where questioning of the accepted viewpoint meant immediate arguments and disgust. But no one said a thing. I must have had that conversation with at least 15 people that day and every single one of them was interested in my journey, every single one of them listened to me, like I listened to them. I spoke to a legislator that day and told her in brief my story and why an initiative was important to me. I talked eagerly to everyone I came in contact with. When I got off the bus that night, I was exhausted but exhilarated. I didn’t know people could be like this.
I didn’t have any doubts. Planned Parenthood was where I needed to be and, the first day I walked in the door and sat down with my supervisor to talk about my goals for the quarter, I was practically jumping out of my skin with excitement. I must have texted like 4 people “I didn’t know these things could just happen! Everything is amazing, how is everything so amazing?” It was going to get a bit more complex over the next 10 weeks. But more on that next week! We’re having a three part series within a series, woohoo!