I grew up in a conservative Catholic home—church on Sunday, no TV unless it was the Lawrence Welk or the Cosby Show (yes, insanely ironic). I had a 10 p.m. curfew until I left home, including dances and special occasions. I was an only child with limited access to information and parents that were too scared to give it to me.
I was called a slut by my mother when I wore a tank top that showed my bra strap, accused of being on drugs when I nibbled on Easter candy while I did my homework, and asked if I was a lesbian when I bought my first pair of Doc Martens.
When I started my period the first day of sixth grade I was so mortified. I stuffed my acid-washed jeans with toilet paper all day and cried the long ride home on the city bus. When I entered my house, my mother handed me a box of pads and left my room. Not a word. No encouragement, no ice cream with sprinkles congratulations for becoming a woman, no "it's going to be OK."
My parents weren't chatty, they didn't want to talk about tampons (I had to figure this one out on my own), and there were definitely no coming of age talks happening in my house.
Luckily for us, sixth grade began the annual Planned Parenthood visits to school. They came to class, they broke it down, they slid condoms onto bananas. The boys laughed and the girls tried to listen and pretend we weren't the ones who had started our periods and actually needed the information flowing from the front of the classroom.
They gave us period packs with panty liners, tampons, wet wipes and a tiny little book with drawings. My mind was blown. Ovaries? Huh. Who knew?
Funny, I never needed an abortion, yet Planned Parenthood was always there for me.
By high school the Planned Parenthood visits became incredibly interesting. I had started fooling around with boys and knew that having sex was not far away. I had no one to ask, and I honestly wasn't that sure how it all worked. I knew boys were hot and I liked kissing them and figured I'd probably be pretty into the whole sex thing. I was right.
When my sexual health angels descended upon us that year, I was first in line for free condoms after class and took an afternoon field trip to a local branch for some information and more free condoms. They even gave me a little paper sack so I could take some for friends. It wasn't long before I was the "condom friend" and always had a little bag of brightly colored rubbers in my backpack at all times. I was happily having sex and visiting the clinic when I had questions or needed advice. Everyone was always helpful and interested and encouraged me to make responsible decisions and remember abstinence was an option.
Their goal was to keep me safe and help me avoid having an abortion or STD. They had ME, the WOMAN, in mind. My health, well-being and prevention came first.
I watched my friends get pregnant, get STDs and have abortions. I sat in journalism class next to a friend who was keeping her baby as a junior in high school because she had lived in denial for five months and her options were limited.
I made it. I finished high school, went to college and continued as a Planned Parenthood patient until I graduated and got private health insurance. Even after that, when my Depo Provera shots weren't covered under my plan, I continued to use Planned Parenthood as a supplemental support for my women's health needs. I had annual paps, was taught how to use a diaphragm when I got engaged and was treated when I needed a minor procedure.
Funny, I never needed an abortion, yet Planned Parenthood was always there for me. And I want to be there for them, especially now when conservatives are threatening a government shut down and pushing to defund Planned Parenthood.
Now as an adult I have attended the Planned Parenthood volunteer seminars and have handed pamphlets and free condoms to students at a local college campus. The first time a young girl walked up to me and said, "Uh, do you guys help people with birth control? I'm asking for a friend…" I was thrilled to hand her the addresses of local branches and pamphlets on contraception, as well as a few neon blue condoms. I smiled knowing we may have helped her graduate and PLAN her future parenthood, the way I was able to.