This post contains discussion of sexual assault and PTSD.
My period is late.
My period is over three months late, and I am freaking out, despite the fact that two 2-packs (one analog, one digital) of pee sticks have read negative since then. I know it’s ridiculous, but I can’t shake it.
Because if the tests are wrong, I am pregnant with the genetic progeny of my rapist. And my psyche cannot handle that.
A lot of why my Planned Parenthood is awesome, I do not remember, thanks to PTSD and more or less sustained dissociation.
By the time I walked into my local Planned Parenthood — nearly eleven years ago now — I had neither slept nor eaten (nor kept food down) normally for several days. Being an industrious college student with friends who kept similarly irregular schedules (minus, I would guess, the nausea and vomiting), this was not so difficult to conceal from the people around me.
I’m not sure what got me to the Planned Parenthood in the first place. Maybe I’d finally realized that taking pee tests in the Meijer restrooms was both an unrelieving and unsustainable situation. Maybe I’d just gotten tired of every part of my body mind being 100% tense all the time. I do know that, at that time, Planned Parenthood was the only resource I knew about for a situation like mine. I would not have gone, say, to my county health department because I did not know such a thing existed.
When I got there, nobody at Planned Parenthood questioned my stated need for a pregnancy test, even though I said I’d had multiple negative results and a last sexual encounter over three months prior. For people who desperately need not to be pregnant, there is maybe no such thing as a redundant negative result.
And no one made me feel like I was wasting their time. In truth, I couldn’t say why I was there, couldn’t make myself form the words to talk about rape. Due to prior bad experiences with post-assault health care providers, the possibility of disclosing my assault again made me so anxious I literally, physically hurt. A lot.
It’s unfair to ever expect a health care provider to be a mind reader, but I think this time someone at Planned Parenthood must have been. Either that, or I was telegraphing post-assault signals loud and clear, which is probably the more likely explanation. The clinician (doctor? nurse practitioner? medical assistant? I do not know now) asked, “Was it consensual?”
For me, that was the best possible way she could have worded the question. I didn’t have to hear the words “rape” or “assault.” I didn’t have to reach for the words to put together any kind of disjointed narrative of what happened that night. I just had to say, “No.”
She then demonstrated that it is possible for a health care provider to be both sympathetic and efficient, asking briefly about injuries, STI testing timeline, and reporting status. She didn’t pressure me when my answers were terse and when I became visibly agitated but instead gently let me know that I was welcome to skip answering anything or to end the visit altogether.
“It’s not that,” I told her. “It’s–“
I stopped. How could I explain about the police skepticism and the hospital’s blame? About the former friends who couldn’t understand why I was being so selfish or why I was “doing this to him”? About the alternating desperate attempts to closet myself in my studies and to flaunt the most hypersexualized outfits in my closet? About everything I did to convince myself I was coping okay and all the ways I was clearly not?
How could I explain then what I still can’t explain?
Turns out, I didn’t have to, not then, not to her. “Would you be interested in looking into counseling services?” When I hesitated, she added, “You already mentioned that you have a lot of anxiety about this, maybe more than you want or think you should have. I’m not saying you need to make any decisions right away, just asking if you’d like the information.”
“For later?” I asked. Even then, I was a little embarrassed to have said that, when it was becoming increasingly clear to me that mental health services would be a good idea now. But I wasn’t ready.
“If you want,” she agreed. “For later.”
I left the clinic with a list of counseling organizations and their contact information. Someone else, who may have been something like a counselor or social worker herself, had gone over the list with me, explaining a little about each organization (locations, background and affiliations, intake and payment system, etc.), so I wouldn’t feel so lost or like I was making a completely random choice “later.”
Turns out “later” was another few months away, into the next school semester. There were additional developments, both stabilizing and devastating, that prompted me to seek counseling now. And when I did, I pulled out that same list from Planned Parenthood, which I’d kept the whole time and which I’d taken out and read at least a few times a week in the intervening months. Because that list of contacts wasn’t just a piece of paper for later. It was a plan, something in writing that suggested I had options about where to proceed from that point. From my assault until the day of my PP visit, I had not felt any control; I had not had a plan.
Of course I’d like to say that everything was rainbows and unicorn farts after that. It wasn’t, but unicorn farts were never the point. The point — to mix metaphors horrendously — is that when I didn’t know what else to do or where else to go, my Planned Parenthood knew how to play the hand it was dealt. Even when the help I needed was not the help they could provide, they did their best –including a lot of prior research and networking and also in-the-moment sensitive humanity — to get me to that help.
You can read more stories at the My Planned Parenthood Blog Carnival hub post.