There is a painting in the hallways of the Planned Parenthood that I sort of desperately want for myself. It’s called The Correspondent and it’s a watercolor of a girl turned away on a bed writing a letter. It’s a peaceful picture, casual and comforting and it seems to suggest a story beyond the obvious. I spent a lot of time staring at it the other day as I waited awkwardly in the hallway to sit in on the options education for the clinic.

Most of the rooms at Planned Parenthood seem deliberately decorated for maximum calming effect. Ironically the only room that contains the stark quality one might imagine for an abortion clinic is the actual procedure room, which is devoid of all wall hangings or extraneous furniture. Besides a few cardboard boxes of medical supplies, there is a curtain, a gynelogical exam chair, and a sink with locked cabinets above it. It feels almost seedy in its barrenness.

Like the girl in the painting, the women who come to the clinic also suggest stories far beyond their brief stay at the clinic. You can hear it in between the answers they give to the counselor’s questions. “Have you considered parenthood?” “Are you sure this is the right choice for you?”

One girl mentioned that before she’d realized she was pregnant she’d made some “bad choices.” “I don’t want to give someone a broken baby,” she told us. The words were almost flippant, but her smile was self-deprecating and slightly fearful. I wondered if she thought the wrong answer might have us sending her out the door: “Sorry, not good enough. Go figure out how to raise this baby on your own and don’t bother us anymore.”

Another woman asked what we did if an employee of Planned Parenthood became pregnant. A fair question given that the entire staff was female. The question gave me pause; I told her I was new and that I wasn’t really sure what would happen. Would an intentionally pregnant woman be able to spend her weekend mornings assisting in the termination of unwanted pregnancies? How would a patient feel, faced with visual evidence of another woman’s future child?

At the moment I still feel awkward and out of place. I don’t have the medical knowledge to treat the process as routine, nor the direct experience to be truly empathetic. I am, however, looking forward to learning how to navigate such an emotionally charged medical procedure. And the writer in me remains intrigued by the glimpses of stories I see wander through.

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