Archive for January, 2012

Planned Parenthood Helps Make Babies, Too

Sunday, January 29th, 2012 © by Susan Swartz

When I was in high school there was a girl in my English class who “got in trouble” and was sent away to visit her aunt in some far off state.  We were scandalized.  Did she have an abortion? Who took the baby? How could she let this happen, we whispered, as if we never put our own pure and righteous selves at risk for a hasty trip out of town.

But that was in the days when we were more hypocritical than compassionate, and I’m not just talking about gossipy teenage girls.  That’s why it’s hard to believe that all these decades  later we could be regressing and in the future be telling stories about how it used to be when there were safe places girls and women could go for help in making very tough choices.

Like this one.

Elizabeth was single, in her 30s, working as a writer and a teacher with a city apartment.  As she says, “I had a very nice life.” She was conscientious about birth control and when she discovered she was pregnant she was horrified. She said she liked the man a lot. He was attractive and intelligent.  But she doubted he would want to marry her. Besides, she didn’t consider herself ready to have a baby.

She went to the Planned Parenthood clinic in her town intending to get an abortion. And there she met a counselor who changed her mind. “She was very warm and very kind. She had children. She’d had an abortion herself. She asked me questions like, where was I in my life? How did I feel about this pregnancy? How would I manage as a single parent.”

Elizabeth left Planned Parenthood that day conflicted about her original decision.  “I needed to go home and think about it. This time I felt differently,” she said.

She said this time because Elizabeth had two previous abortions. Her diaphragm had failed her those times, too.One abortion was done at a Planned Parenthood clinic when there had been no question that it was “neither the right time nor the right man.”

The other was at a hospital in Eastern Europe where Elizabeth was teaching and it was a terrifying experience. “I remember screaming and being held down. There was no anesthetic.” The hospital conditions were so grim the staff washed the surgical instruments in the same hot water used to boil the noodles for lunch.

Now with another abortion pending Elizabeth went back for a second  meeting with the Planned Parenthood counselor. Plus she started seeing a psychoanalyst. Neither of them told her to have a baby or not have a baby.

What they did, Elizabeth said, was “help me see someone I didn’t know I was. That I could have and love a child.”

That baby is now her bright wonderful grown-up son and Elizabeth is a grateful defender of Planned Parenthood.

“I owe that woman. I wouldn’t have gone ahead if some indifferent person had been there.  She  listened to me. She saw me as a worthwhile young woman at a fork in the road. She helped me decide I didn’t want to miss this chance and that what I needed in the end was to have a child.”



Tune Out, Turn Off, Go Find a Whale

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012 © by Susan Swartz

This new concern about our electronic addiction and how we should temper the tweets, take a Facebook fast, is an idea that doesn’t take much prompting for me to friend. Of course, my generation doesn’t need as much encouragement to unplug.

I wear a watch. I read books on paper. I do love my smart phone and would like to find a way to rationalize the purchase of an iPad.  Yet, some people think I’m terribly old fashioned for holding onto my CD collection.

Still, I do understand the seduction of the little screen and how sometimes you need to break free and tune out, turn off, go find a whale.

Especially on a cold bright morning when rain is around the corner and soon to obscure the ocean. And when the word has been out for weeks that the whales are back and you’re just getting around to driving out to the beach.

Every winter just knowing that the whales are nearby makes me happy.  I imagine their huge gray graceful selves doing a dark underwater ballet as they silently slide along our coast on the way to Mexico’s warm spa.

You can go on the internet and see whales frolicking in the ocean. You can listen to the distinct clucking and squealing noises peculiar to the gray whale and the song of the humpback.  But a laptop doesn’t deliver the up-close smell of the ocean or the light touch  of the winter sun.

The wind was whipping around the rocky bluffs of Bodega Head, giving the gulls and pelicans a giddy ride as a small shivering group of hopefuls steadied our binoculars and waited.

The winter ocean is pretty thrilling when it’s bringing in a storm and the water goes from calm to churning. But were those white caps or whale spouts? Was that a shadow of a cloud or a giant’s dark back?

Our computer obsession is not good for our health we are told. Experts worry that Facebook makes people feel more alienated than connected. We need to take a break from all those beeps and alerts. I agree. How can a person daydream if they’re always plugged in?

We’ve heard these moderation lectures before. In the days before computers took over multi-taskers were encouraged to develop a healthy balance between work and play.  Remember the days of take-time-to-smell-the-flowers?

I’m kind of old school media. I read newspapers, listen to the radio. We have a landline phone in the house. I give journals to people for birthday presents. I write down dates and appointments on a calendar in the hall.

In the book The Information Diet, author Clay Johnson talks about our unhealthy habit of gobbling information and news. With just about everything you want available on the internet, he urges people to be more selective about what we take in and to employ more conscious consumption.

Certainly we all know people who are addicted to their computers. Yet just by looking at Facebook it’s apparent from all the photos of real sunsets and dreamy snowfalls that people do occasionally get away from their gadgets.

We didn’t see any whales that morning. That was okay. Last summer I saw a bunch of humpbacks in the Atlantic from a whale boat out of Gloucester Massachusetts. Those east coast whales came so close to the boat we could wink at each other.

I know our whales are out there, somewhere between us and the horizon. Moby Dick doesn’t have to be available on demand. We have our ways of interacting.

The Women are Watching

Saturday, January 14th, 2012 © by Susan Swartz

Planned Parenthood has come up with a big pink sign that it plants next to Republican campaign placards. It says, “Women are Watching.”

There’s been plenty for women to keep an eye on.  The Republican chant to take this country back apparently includes taking back some basic reproductive rights for women.

We’ve heard it before from the Republican front. They don’t trust a woman to choose what’s best for herself and her family when it comes to baby-making. They seem to think that that family planning should be practiced only by God.

If you are a woman and you are watching you might wonder what century does this backward brotherhood come from? What country are we living in? If you are a woman living in a so-called backward country that looks to America as a model of freedom, you might be asking, what’s going on, sisters?

Of course the abortion debate is standard Republican rhetoric. One candidate brings it up and they all follow like a chorus of neighborhood dogs barking at the garbage truck. And enjoying it as much.

Oh good, here comes abortion, let’s all get crazy.

But this time around they added in this unbelievably dumb idea that birth control is a bad thing. Rick Santorum was clearly the alpha dog on this one, declaring that contraception is “a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”

Wait a minute, Rick. Think back to your sex ed years, although maybe you had parental permission to skip class. Doing things in a sexual realm without contraception is a license to cause unwanted pregnancies and invite terrible diseases including AIDS.

Santorum says it should be okay for states to make birth control illegal. And how would he do this? With diaphragm detectives, pill police, a raid on the rubber aisle at Rite-Aid?

It’s tempting to turn it into a bad joke except that being the  champion of non recreational sex plays well with the Christian Conservative extremist vote. And yes, I know that bloc includes women.  But for women who believe in keeping the government out of the bedroom and ob-gyn clinics, this patriarchal playlist is disturbing.

After the New Hampshire primary Cecile Richards, head of Planned Parenthood, told Rachel Maddow the Republican primary is “absolutely a race to the bottom for women, where they are trying to outdo themselves on who would be the worst president for women.”

The Republicans have long tried to paint Planned Parenthood as abortion central, ignoring that its services include safe sex counseling, cancer screenings and preparation for pregnancy.  They would eliminate Title X, the federal program that gives low income women access to family planning programs. They would prohibit American health agencies operating in foreign countries from even mentioning abortion. Rick Perry is crowing over Texas forcing doctors to show a sonogram to any pregnant woman before she gets an abortion.

Maybe when the pack of GOP hopefuls thins down to a couple of real candidates they’ll have to talk about issues more crucial than who’s toughest on women bodies.

Like what jobs the job creators are ready to offer. What to do for people without health insurance. How to protect the country from more ruin by banks and big business. What’s better than Social Security and Medicare.  How to give all children, including poor kids, an equal chance.

On this,  women will definitely be watching. With the same eye on Democrats and President Obama, too.