This isn’t the place you expected to be on a Tuesday afternoon. The wind whips your hair around your shoulders as you make your way to the front of the building. The iconic blue and white sign reminds you of the graphic posters you saw in the hands of street-side protestors as a child. A bloody fetus sprawled out in a white surgical glove, the word “murderer” in stark white letters against a red background.
If your mother could see you here, what would she say?
You open the front door to the clinic and a bell rings above your head. The receptionist greets you with a warm smile. Do you have an appointment? She asks. You tell her that you scheduled one this morning. What is the purpose of your visit? To disprove the inevitable, you think. Instead, you respond, whispering, I’m here for an STD test.
Do you have insurance? Yes, you nod silently, praying that this won’t end up on your mother’s bill. You hand her the card and she copies the information. She hands you an orange sheet of paper. Fill this out and wait in the lobby. A nurse will be with you in a minute.
You fill out the form and uncomfortably take a seat. The room is not crowded, but half a dozen people fill the black plastic chairs. Most are young women, some with their mothers, the rest alone like you. They probably all heard what I said, you think. They know what I’ve done, they know what I might have, they know what I deserve.
But, we’re all in the same room together. You shyly look over your shoulder. We’re all nervous, we’re all judging each other, we’re all scared. But, we shouldn’t be.
You nervously fiddle with the cuffs of your sleeves as you wait for the unnamed nurse in sneakers and scrubs to come. Your mind wanders back to the nights you invited him into your bed. For some reason, you thought it was a good idea. He was tall, smart and handsome. You thought he would be better than the last guy you slept with eleven months ago.
He said he would be leaving before Easter, so the affair was only bound to last three weeks. Three weeks of thoughtless happiness. Or, they would have been if you weren’t such a control freak, such a worrier, so afraid that the birth control and condom would fail. But, you never let him know and now he’s gone.
The other day, the girl you sit next to in biology told you the symptoms of HIV don’t manifest until 2-4 weeks after exposure. It’s been three weeks – your heart clenches in your chest.
A short, blond woman in black scrubs enters. She pronounces your name incorrectly and asks, You ready? You nod and follow her.
She brings you into a small office with large windows. The afternoon light filters through the glass, making the room look lazy and inviting. She hands you a paper that questions your sexual habits. Your heart clenches again. And will you be taking HIV and STD tests today? You nod, Yes. You laugh nervously, I’ve never been here before, and then you explain without her having to ask, I just slept with a new person. I wanted to make sure I was okay.
She doesn’t look happy with you, is that your paranoia or her judgment that you sense? I’m glad you decided to come.
After a few more awkward moments spent filling out paperwork, she guides you into another room and records your height and weight. You step onto the scale and, after seeing the number, silently curse your sugar tooth. She hands you a cup with a label. Just step into this restroom and give us a urine sample. Once you’re done, place your cup inside the metal door in the wall. After you finish, go back to the lobby and wait. The doctor will be with you shortly.
You hate peeing in cups. At least you had an entire bottle of water before you arrived.
Back in the waiting room, you start fidgeting with your bag. Two of the girls have left – three new ones have arrived. A look of terror is plastered over one’s face. Another looks suspiciously calm. The third girl stares at a poster about safe sex plastered on the wall. Her face is expressionless.
A fifty-year-old redhead enters the room, calls your name and guides you into another office. Here, the shutters are drawn and diagrams of the female reproductive system cover the walls. After reviewing your chart, she says you are at low risk for HIV, but asks if you still want to take the test.
You remember you started to get anxiety when he told you about the orgy he was a part of in Paris the last time he was abroad. You can hear the patronizing voice of the girl from your biology class in your ear, That probably wasn’t the smartest thing you’ve done. She was right – you just received an A on a test she barely passed with a C.
You are led into yet another room where a technician pricks your finger. The blood oozes for a minute before she dabs some onto the disposable test. My life force. You wonder if she can hear your heart racing. You’re ushered back into the doctor’s office.
She asks you to take off your clothes and then leaves you to give you privacy. After being weighed, you don’t want anyone to see you, but you comply.
Once you’re ready, she knocks and enters. Some doctors make you wait too long, others rush the process, but you can tell she’s done enough tests today to have her timing down. Lean back, spread your legs. It’s not the first time you’ve heard those words. Place your feet in the stirrups.
She conducts the necessary tests and you attempt to chat. But, though she might do this fifty times a day, you are terrified and uncomfortable – eye contact is out of the questions. Once she’s done, she tells you to put your pants back on. She’ll be back in a minute.
After a little while, she returns – she informs you that you’re not pregnant. Not something you doubted – they probably test the urine of every girl that comes in here, but good to know. Then, the phone rings, the technician on the other line tells her the HIV test was negative. Every molecule of your being relaxes. You nervously sputter, I’m glad I didn’t have to tell my mom something terrible. The doctor says something reassuring, but you barely hear her. She tells you she’ll call you once they get back the results of your STD tests.
So, she probes. Are you still dating this guy? Your face falls a little, No. It was just a temporary thing. She nods, understanding. She seems sweet, but if she were your mother, she would be outraged. The what-if nearly being more important than the truth. Before she walks you back to the waiting room, you casually chat about your life goals, relieved that the worst is behind you. And what do you want to do after you get out of school? You say, I want to be a civil rights attorney. She turns away from her computer for a moment, probably genuinely surprised, but supportive. Good for you! Good luck.
Once you are done, she walks you back into the waiting room. You say goodbye and wait in line to pay for your bill. The insurance covered most of it, but you swipe your credit card to pay for what remains. The receptionist smiles and wishes you a good rest of your day. As you leave, you see that the three girls who were there are now gone. Two girls remain. One is with an older man, the other sits alone in a corner.
You take a step forward with newfound confidence and walk out the door. Suddenly, the blue and white sign above your head is no longer ominous. You’re thankful and choose not to think about what might have been. You hope the other girls will have a similar fate.
Deep-seeded controversies surround institutions like Planned Parenthood. Individuals from both sides of the political spectrum have strong opinions about the services offered by this health center. However, considering the current political climate, it is important to remember that men and women across the nation benefit from the services provided by this institution. Whether they are looking for contraceptives, birth control, educational material, counseling, STD testing or abortion services, they can find them in a safe space.
This story is based on the experiences of young women who choose to utilize the multiple services provided by Planned Parenthood. Often, young women feel helpless or incapable of reaching out to family members when they think they are in a desperate situation. If they are unable to access the medical care they need at an affordable price, then they may turn to riskier methods. By having services like this available, they can find the care they need when they need it.
Although this post is not meant to be a promotional advertisement for Planned Parenthood, please consider the care that this company provides. No company is perfect, but I believe it is important for our nation to fund such institutions in order to promote a healthy and well-educated society.
Collegain blogger Nataleah Small can be reached at email@example.com. Leave a comment!