How did our country get to this point where a small group of people in our state legislature can decide what I must or must not do with my uterus?
A teenage girl nervously squeezing her football-jacket-clad boyfriend as her concerned mother sits a few seats away. A Spanish-speaking couple nervously whispering to each other. A college-aged sorority girl, picking at her nail polish and snapping her gum, looking utterly annoyed at the long wait. A 20-something young woman drawing in a sketch book. A 35-year-old mother of two with a very heavy heart, softly crying into her husband's shoulder. This is the scene on a Friday morning at the Madison Planned Parenthood center, one of only a few clinics in the state to offer abortions.
The receptionist indicates the entire visit today could take up to four hours. This is the first of two mandatory visits required by Wisconsin statute to receive abortion services in our state. Less than a year ago, if you were less than nine weeks pregnant, you could receive medication on the second visit to terminate the pregnancy. The Republican-led, mostly male state Legislature passed a law that could result in felony charges against doctors prescribing that medication, so for now the only option is a surgical procedure. The second visit, when the procedure is performed, must be at least 24 hours after the first visit but is often much later due to limited resources.
An hour passes, the time slowly ticking by. My name is finally called by the receptionist. Here's a stack of paperwork to fill out. Will you be paying out of pocket? $100 for this visit, up to $1,000 for the next one. Here's a pamphlet on fetal development, which I am required by law to offer you. Please have a seat.
The paperwork asks for health history, prior pregnancies, etc. I finish it quickly and turn it in, then hand over my credit card for payment since insurance won't cover this first visit.
Another 30 minutes pass. Women are called back, then returned to the waiting room after a few minutes. My name is called by the nurse. I am told my husband cannot come with me for this first session. I am placed in a room and told to take off my pants and underwear. The nurse returns quickly and inserts a vaginal probe for the required ultrasound to confirm pregnancy and date it. I am asked if I want to see the images. Um, no thank you. Would I like to know if more than one fetus is present? Um, double no. I am then sent back to the waiting room to continue to wait.
Another 30 minutes pass. I am shaken. I am embarrassed. I am scared. I am tired of waiting. I am now called into a room. I can bring Hubby this time. We are told to watch a video, again required by state law. The video talks about adoption, foster parenthood, the dangers of abortion, my rights. It drags on. I feel like a small child. Husband looks concerned and helpless. I sign a form indicating my understanding of the information presented on the video. We wait. A nurse finally comes back in. Time to go back to the waiting room. We'll call you in a short while.
I stare aimlessly into space. How did I get here? Why is this such an awful experience? Why do only two clinics in the state do this? How did our country get to this point where a small group of people in our state legislature can decide what I must or must not do with my uterus?
I am called back for lab work. Finger pricked, questions asked of me. Do I have any questions? Yes. How long is the wait for the next appointment? I know there's a 24-hour waiting period, but there's a weekend. Can I come back Monday? Um... no. We only do the procedure on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, so we'll be able to schedule you the 16th.
The room starts spinning. The 16th? That's twelve days away. That's like two chapters in What to Expect When You're Expecting. I need to wait and experience all the things that come with pregnancy over the next two weeks, knowing I have that appointment on the calendar?
How is this happening to me?! How will I survive? I don't hear anything the nurse says. She and my husband ask if I'm okay. Apologies for the wait. The holidays led to backups. Are you still with us? Do you have any other questions?
The rest of the appointment is a blur. I don't understand. Can I crawl into bed for two weeks until I come back? Can I take off work? Can someone watch my kids?
A doctor hands me a list of clinics in neighboring states I can call if I can't wait. Insurance won't cover it, but they have less restrictive laws so it's worth a try. I cry. I beg. I start shaking. Isn't there anything I can do? No, sorry, this is how it is now in our state.
Husband walks me to the car. I spend the next two days in bed alternating between crying uncontrollably and going completely numb. I go to a birthday party, hoping it will be a good distraction. I mumble about being sick. I am a shell of a person, with no expression and no sense of what is happening in my life. Somehow I go to work for a day. People comment on how tired I look. Is everything okay? Are you sick?
I call the other clinic in the state. Can you see me earlier? No, we have a three-week wait. I call the neighboring state's clinic. Yes, we can see you in two days. No, your insurance won't cover you here.
I book the appointment. I have a credit card; I can worry about the money later. The clinic is 2-1/2 hours away, and I have an 8 a.m. appointment, so I book a hotel room for the next day. More money, but there's no way I can leave my home before 5 a.m. The gas, food and other expenses will add to the financial burden, but I feel I have no other choice. I cannot work, parent, or survive another week and 2 days of this hell.
I "sleep" at the hotel the night before. It's the kind with doors to the outside, so it's loud and feels slightly unsafe. I toss and turn all night, alternating between sweating and freezing since I can't figure out the thermostat in the room. I get up and leave early to make sure I can find the clinic. It's easy to spot, actually, because there are protesters outside with giant signs showing a fetus in various stages of development. I get out of my car and they immediately start yelling at me. This is starting out great.
The door is buzzed open for me and locks behind me. I place my ID through the slot in the bulletproof glass. I am buzzed into another room. This one is a huge waiting room with pleasant classical music playing. I am asked to fill out a huge stack of paperwork. I am handed a schedule: paperwork, vaginal ultrasound, lab work, counseling session, procedure, recovery room. My favorite part will come after that: drive 2-1/2 hours so I can rest in my own bed in my own home, in my own state.
The day moves quickly. Some things are the same as in Wisconsin, such as the ultrasound and lab work. Some things are different. No video, no pamphlet on fetal development. I do have a counseling session, which consists of me explaining to two girls who look to be about 20 why I am there and doing what I am doing. I am asked if my partner abuses me or tampers with my birth control.
I am called back for the procedure. Get undressed, put a maxipad in your underwear. Lie down on the freezing cold table and place your legs in the giant stirrups. Wait in this extremely bright, cold, sterile room for the doctor to arrive.
He does, and he's actually quite awesome. We discuss reproductive rights in this country and especially how terrible my state has become. He is compassionate and kind. We continue to talk as he begins his work to keep me distracted. Several painful injections to "numb" my cervix. I'm not sure it worked because I feel every poke and prod, and it hurts. Several dilators are placed, which cause me to involuntarily yell out each time. Then, here comes the suction. Along with tissue and blood, I feel my breath sucked from me as well. How did this happen again?
It's all over. The nurse cleans me up and places my underwear around my feet. The doctor wishes me luck, and I thank him for doing what he does, telling him he is a wonderful person for helping me and my family. He smiles and gently squeezes my shoulder. Take care. Good luck to you.
I am wheeled out to recovery. Here's an ice pack and a goody bag. Antibiotics, pain meds, the number for a support line. Fifteen minutes later, I am released to begin my physical and emotional journey home. I drive back feeling numb. The enormous sense of relief I expected isn't there, but neither is there an emotional wave of sadness or loss. Just numbness.
There is indeed a "war on women" in this country. Decisions are being made for us by a small group of people sitting in a state Capitol building. Decisions that are between us and our conscience. Us and our spouses. Us and our partners. Us and our doctors. Decisions that affect our physical, emotional, financial, psychological health.
The enormous costs to me in terms of money, emotional distress, and impact on my family relationships cannot be adequately conveyed on paper. As a well-educated and experienced woman and mother, I am competent to decide what is best for me and my family. With a heavy heart but a certain mind, I should be able to decide what to do with my body and my life.
This cannot continue. We cannot have women crossing state lines, putting themselves in physical and emotional danger, to be faced with medical bills and sometimes-violent protesters to receive safe health care. We must not be silent any longer. We need to stand up, scream to our fellow women and their partners to make our voices heard.
Please. Do it for yourself, your wife, your girlfriend, your daughter, your friend. Donate to your local Planned Parenthood and NARAL. The staff put themselves and their families in danger to provide much-needed care to women. Volunteer. Sign petitions. Speak at events. Whatever you can do to help.
Mary Jane Doe is a pseudonym for a woman who lives in Madison. Her name is withheld to protect her privacy. "Citizen" is an opinion series that presents the views of the author. If you would like to reply, please comment or consider submitting an op-ed in response.