By Abigail Rasminsky
Sometime in the not so distant past, I needed to take the morning-after pill. I was a 38-year-old mother of a three-year-old; I was in a stable marriage. We both had advanced degrees and careers, and had planned out my first pregnancy with charts and ovulation kits. Most of my friends were onto their second children. I was, in other words, not necessarily the kind of woman you might picture when you think of Plan B.
I’d taken the pill before, but not for a decade, and not since having given birth. I knew it wasn’t a big deal, but I also knew it wasn’t not a big deal, and I felt a little scared and sad—somehow sadder and more scared than I’d been at 22 when having a baby was the epitome of absurd and I wished the whole drama would just disappear. I wanted to know what, exactly, would happen when I took it. So I Googled “morning-after pill,” and what popped up, even though I was living in Europe? Planned Parenthood’s website, filled with clear, concise, compassionate, non-judgmental information.
What is the morning-after pill? What kind of emergency contraception is best for me? How long do I have to get emergency contraception? Is the morning-after pill safe? On and on—Planned Parenthood knew what questions to answer even before I’d known which ones to ask. I read this on the bus while going to pick up my daughter from preschool, and cried. Here was the best friend I needed, holding my hand, and saying, I’m here.
I took the pill. Nothing happened—a tiny, almost imperceptible amount of cramping. This bore no resemblance to the violent puking it had caused when I’d taken it right out of college, or the coma-like state it had lulled me into when I’d taken it at 28. Both of those times, when it was all over, I felt little other than massive relief that I could go on with my life, as my then-boyfriends already had.
This time, however, relief wasn’t the overriding feeling. This time I took the pill because I didn’t know how I’d put aside my career for a second time. I took it because I knew what a big decision it was to have a child. But most of all, I took it because we were a month away from leaving Europe and moving back to the US, where the prospect of caring for and financing a second child was, at best, daunting, and at worst, impossible.
Our daughter was born in Vienna, Austria. A midwife cared for me from my second trimester until I was two months postpartum (including daily visits for weeks after the birth), for only a small fee. Our government health insurance covered almost everything else (monthly doctor’s visits; sonograms, etc.). I then got €12,000 to stay home with our baby for a year—more than I’d gotten the previous year as a teaching fellow at Columbia University.
At 14 months, our toddler started part-time daycare, which cost us €80/month, and allowed me to work again without worrying about the cost of child care. And we were set to get €135/month in Kindergelt—literally “kid money”—until she turned 18.
In Los Angeles, we would, of course, get none of this. I had a part-time job, but it was contract work—it provided me with a few months’ income but no health insurance or security, or even a steady monthly paycheck. My daughter and I were lucky enough to be on my husband’s health insurance. And everything (everything!) was laughably expensive—preschool alone cost ten times more than it had in Vienna, although our salaries had not increased anywhere near this much. Our apartment cost three times more.
So I took the pill.
Would I have taken it were I in a different situation? If I were going to be living in a country that provided our family with Medicare, maternity care, paid maternity leave, paternity leave, and free (or almost free) daycare? Maybe.
Or maybe, if I had felt the kind of institutional support that women need when we embark on the perilous, complex journey of motherhood, I would have decided to go through with the pregnancy. If I had had access to the kind of support that Hillary Clinton spoke of when she wrote, so many years ago, that it takes a village. Every parent knows the truth in that statement.
The GOP sees women’s reproductive health in a vacuum, but it exists at the intersection of our complicated lives. No woman wants to raise a baby in poverty, or in the midst of a failing marriage, or without health insurance, or because the condom broke. And some women don’t want to raise babies in even the best of circumstances—but without access to all kinds of affordable birth control, we are sometimes forced to.
These are the most personal of choices—they are nobody’s business but mine and my husband’s—and yet, here I am, explaining my motives and reasoning, like so many women have before me. But this is what the GOP’s agenda has reduced us to—convicts on trial for something that is not a crime, arguing our way out of a harsh sentencing.
The Viennese saw the enormous benefits they got upon starting families as nothing more than their right—it was what they got in return for giving up 42% of their income in taxes. It was simply part of the country’s value system, its social contract. Go bankrupt after a C-section? Get six weeks of unpaid leave? Cough up $15,000 a year for preschool? What? My Austrian friends thought I was making these things up.
Every family deserves that kind of support, but absent all those things, Planned Parenthood is one of the last vestiges of hope in this country. It provides women and families with vital services that make our crazy, unbalanced and disrespected lives somewhat—somewhat—more manageable. Until we can come up with more comprehensive reform in America, we must fight, with everything we have, to keep what little we’ve got.
Abigail Rasminsky is a graduate of Columbia’s MFA Writing Program and lives in Los Angeles, CA. She will be purchasing a lot of Plan B before January 20th. More at abigailrasminsky.com and @AbbyRasminsky.