Last week, I made an appointment to have an IUD inserted. And I’m nervous as hell.
I work in abortion services. Granted, not as medical staff, but I still deal with women’s reproductive health in some capacity every day that I work. I talk about, think about, listen to people talk about it. I can describe the surgical abortion process in my sleep. I make it my business to learn as much as I can about safe sex and birth control, mostly so I can be a reliable resource to my friends (but also so that I can be good at my job). So I was surprised to find my hand shaking as I dialed the number of the sexual health clinic.
My history with birth control is relatively short, and not super positive. I started on the pill six years ago, and it has never been anything but a headache for me. I had very regular, pain-free periods before I went on it, but it turned my monthly visit into a cramp-y nightmare. Much worse than that was the effect it had on my moods. I can’t really describe the fog of weepy, crushing depression I lived in for five years, except to say that when I stopped taking the pill last year it was as if a great black cloud was swept from my life.
Since then, I have been using condoms only, which makes me nervous as all get out. I have wanted to have an IUD inserted for a while, but I have no family doctor and was living in a province where, since I am over 25 years old and not a student, there was nowhere else I could go to have it inserted (or even to get a pap test).
Now I am living in Toronto, a city I love for many reasons, not least of all the amazing access to health care I suddenly have. So you would think I would be excited to pick up the phone and make that appointment. But my voice shook as I talked to the woman on the other line, and my hand was shaking as I tried to read out the numbers on my health card. Because the thing is, I’m scared of doctors. I’m nervous about having the IUD put in. The thought of the procedure gives me a great deal of anxiety. And this experience is making me better at my job.
I remember now, as I talk to women on the phone trying to book their abortion appointments, what it feels like to contemplate lying on the table, feet in the stirrups, with a doctor who – let’s face it – is essentially a stranger, prying their way into your nether regions. I slow down a little, I let them shuffle around for their health card without rolling my eyes. When they come into the admitting office, I let them talk without interruption, even though I have already told them they will be speaking to a counsellor next.
Women are human, on both ends of the appointment line. Most of us would prefer not to have to have our cervix dilated by strangers. We are nervous sometimes. But it’s important for those of us who work in healthcare to remember what it feels like to be on the other side of it, even if we do see twenty cases a day, or a hundred cases a day. Medicine needs to have a human face – and maybe abortion more than any other, because it is not always easy.
I love my work, because every day it allows me to discover a new way to trust women.