"She wanted to be a mother some day, but not today."

Story No. 583: Dr. Aletha from Pennsylvania

Today, in partnership with the National Women’s Law Center, we celebrate the future of our world: our youth and adolescents. Like all people, young people deserve access to comprehensive, compassionate reproductive health care and sex-education. 

Starting on August 24, 2018, we’ll be sharing three stories of young people who sought reproductive health care and underwent vastly different journeys to receiving their care. 

Are you a young person or know a young person who benefitted from access to comprehensive care? Share with us here.

Jada (name changed) was 16. She and her mother came to the clinic because Jada recently confided in her mother that she and her boyfriend began talking about having sex. Jada asked her mom to help her to get birth control, which is how they came to be sitting in one of my exam rooms. 

When Jada and I talked privately, which is routine in my practice, I learned that she began having sex with her boyfriend a month prior. They had been friends for more than two years, and dating for more than a year. She had hoped to talk with her mother first, but things just did not work out that way.

Jada’s pregnancy test was positive. She was devastated. She wanted to be a mother some day, but not today. She loved her boyfriend and imagined that he would be a great father, but she could not imagine how having a baby right now would be right for her, her boyfriend, or, most importantly for the baby.

Through tears and barely controllable sobs, she repeatedly insisted that I not tell her mother who was sitting in a room in another hallway. Jada was sure she could pull herself together enough for the 20-minute ride home with her mom, call a local judge to obtain judicial bypass for an abortion, and schedule an appointment with a local partner clinic to have an abortion.

After 40-minutes of sobbing, she finally agreed to let me facilitate a conversation with her mother. Her mother’s reaction stunned me. She fled the room screaming, “I can’t believe this!” When I found her a few minutes later, she was crying uncontrollably, while on the phone with her own mother, Jada’s grandmother. Through her sobs, I heard Jada’s mom tell her mother she had failed her children.

It turned out that Jada’s grandmother had become a mother at age 14. Jada’s mother was pregnant at the age of 15. Jada’s oldest sister had a baby at the age of 16. All three women had talked to Jada often about the need to avoid sex and to protect herself from getting pregnant. None had helped her to seek contraceptive services.

I consoled Jada’s mother. I told her she had done her best and that her daughter needed her now, more than ever. I told her that there were clinics close by who could help her and Jada to figure out what the best plan would be for Jada.

Jada had an abortion. Her mother and sister were there with her.

I saw Jada three weeks later, when she returned to my clinic to have a contraceptive device placed in her arm, one that is effective for at least year. She thanked me for talking with her without judgement. She thanked me for helping her mother. I told her she deserved my respect, and whatever information I could provide that might help her make a very tough decision.

That was three years ago. Today, I worry that the options Jada and her mother had may not be available for young women I may see in the future. I also worry that my ability to talk freely with my patients – to share information and options that might resonate with their values – will be censored.

For now, I comfort myself with the knowledge that today, I have the power to help young women and their families with my medical knowledge, with my right to vote freely, and by speaking out and sharing stories of the positive impact that confidential, comprehensive family planning services can have in women’s lives.