I am unapologetically proud of my reproductive justice activism, including the seven months I worked as an abortion counselor and sexual health educator at a local reproductive health clinic. Supporting female-bodied persons – and at times their partners, friends, family members and loved ones – as they moved through and processed their abortion experience was work I poured my entire heart into. In the near future, I hope to return to the reproductive health care field to serve in a similar capacity.
Á few weeks ago I was shamed for the pride I take in my experience. I was in my ophthalmologist’s office to have a stye removed from the underside of my upper eyelid (sexy, indeed). The walls are covered in pictures drawn for him by his children. His desktop is a picture of them all decked out in their ski apparel on top of some mountain in what I imagine is some place I can’t afford to visit in Colorado. A “family man.” He comes in, talks at me for 15 minutes, then leaves. My mom is with me. “Bella, don’t be so cynical” is her response when I start snapping off about how he doesn’t let me finish my questions before he starts to answer them.
We move to the operating room and he starts the procedure, which, let me assure you, is not very pleasant. There were multiple injections of lidocaine, then miniature forceps, followed by many failed attempts at grabbing a hold of my eyelid, flipping it over and pinning it down.
“Just make sure you don’t move around too much,” he cautioned.
So this doctor dude lances and starts digging around in my swollen exposed eyelid and decides to start making small talk with my mother about the instruments he is using.
“Oh, that is an interesting-looking tool,” she commented.
“Yeah, what it is?” I asked, feeling suddenly that I was awkwardly being excluded from the conversation surrounding the invasive procedure being performed on my body.
“This is just a little instrument we use to empty out styes. It’s called a curette”.
“Oh, I know what that is,” I replied.
“Oh, do you now?” he asked me, the way you encourage your friend’s 7-year-old to describe flute practice.
“Yeah, I worked in an abortion clinic and we used curettes for surgical procedures.” As the words fell from my lips, I could feel the disgust seeping from his body as he continued to scrape my eyelid.
“Uh, don’t tell me that,” he said. “These aren’t anything like those curettes.”
My mom’s grip tightened on my leg. Silence. She didn’t say anything, neither did I. My whole body felt icy hot. Nothing really sunk until we we’re leaving the clinic, when I began to really feel the anger bubbling up in my belly. I realized how incredibly fucked up it was that he used his power in that situation to disrespect me, a young patient lying on his operating table literally cut open, being penetrated while I spoke my truth. I had stayed silent in that moment, not knowing how to respond safely to his violent assertion that the work I live and breathe for is dirty, shameful – something that I’m not supposed to talk about, let alone take pride in.
I haven’t returned to that clinic, but I have plans to do so with a very strongly worded letter about my experience. I refuse to remain silent. I refuse to apologize for supporting people as they assert their autonomy over their bodies and their lives. I chose to speak power to my truths.