I’ve had two full weeks of clinic now. I show up early. I put on my long, white coat, I walk into rooms, and patients look at me like I’m the expert.
I am a terrible liar. But I have to pretend like I know what I’m doing. In a sense, I absolutely know what to do. I am qualified to practice midwifery at the entry level. But I still feel like a fraud. Fake it till you make it, right? I had a beloved preceptor who told me that it took her seven years to really feel like she was getting the hang of what she was doing, and that for the first year she couldn’t believe someone was paying her to do the job. This makes me give myself some slack. I have been told to be gentle with myself.
It’s not even the clinical stuff that is difficult to get used to. That stuff I generally know. It’s the ins and outs of different insurance coverage. Patients ask me how much things cost. I am fully responsible for how I code and bill visits. They don’t teach you this in school.
I do love it so far though. I had a few days where I was just doing “family planning” days, so birth control, STI checks, well woman exams, and felt completely and totally at home. It was Type 1 fun.* No one gets to have type 1 fun at their jobs! But I was feeling great! I knew what to do! I was getting a hang of the very confusing charting system! I was connecting with patients! Whoohoo! What could make me happier?
Then, I got to do my abortion training. I have a whole mess of emotions about my AB days, because on the one hand, it was so invigorating and showed me that abortion care is exactly what I love doing, but at the same time made me ridiculously angry at every single anti-choice protester I have ever seen/known/has been born.
By the time I showed up to clinic on my first AB day, the protesters were already there. I never really gave much thought to how the protesters would make me feel. I have stood outside of clinics and defended them for, now, years. I know how to deal with them. I was just going to ride right past them and roll my eyes.
How I actually felt was completely different. I felt rage. I felt incomprehensible rage. They were out there to protest ME. To protest the choices of MY PATIENTS. To make my patient’s lives more difficult, more conflicted, and to scare me. I had to fight the very real urge to get scared and to fight the feelings of intimidation that they were obviously there to create.
Because it was my first day in AB services, I followed a couple patients all the way through the process, from check in to education, to pre-med (which will actually be my job on AB days) to the actual abortion procedure to recovery. The first patient I was with was struggling significantly in her decision. She didn’t want to have an abortion, but she couldn’t have another baby. She had too many at home already. And the protesters really shook her up. She was traumatized by them, and I was angrier than I ever have been on a picket line. This time it wasn’t a quick glance of a woman walking from car to clinic, us hoping we were drowning our the anti-choice “sidewalk counselors” telling women they were murdering their babies. This time, it was me holding a tissue box, trying to answer her questions. Am I killing my baby? Do you think they’re right? Why do women have abortions?
I felt woefully unprepared to be the woman in this role. It was my job to comfort. To have the right answers. And to not stumble in this monumental moment in this woman’s life.
The weight of what I’m doing sometimes terrifies me and, frankly, I’m terrified that I’m going to make a mistake. I think we all are. I think that fear is healthy, and in a way, I hope I hold on to it for a good long while. I didn’t have type 1 fun on abortion day, but I definitely felt so happy that I was there, getting to be one of the fewer and fewer providers that are a part of abortion care.
The other weight that terrifies me is the one in which I am an abortion provider who gets photographed by anti-choice protesters. Should I chose to write politically under my name? Identify myself? After my first day in abortion services I found myself questioning that for the first time. It was unexpected, and scary. I had to sit down with my partner and try and figure out what is going to be safest for me and for him. I took a minute, and thought about all the women I sat with, held their hands, and told them they were making the right choice.
I walked out of the clinic and the door I left lead me to face the protesters head on as I exited. My heart skipped a beat, and I felt true fear. Instead of letting it overwhelm me or push me into silence, I know I have to speak up. I have to tell the world how much caring the staff at my clinic has for women and their families. And most of all, I do not negotiate with terrorists.
*The awesome Alison introduced me to this classification of fun that outdoorsy folks often use:
Type 1: You’re actually having fun while you’re doing it. (i.e.: leisurely, awesome bike-ride on a sunny day)
Type 2: It’s not really fun while it’s happening, but you’ll be really glad you did it (climbing a giant hill on the Oregon coast with 40 lbs of gear on your bike)
Type 3: Not fun at all, but will make for an awesome story. (i.e.: That time we climbed Mt Si and the last mile was all snow and I was wearing tennis shoes and almost slid half-way down the mountain).