The Houston Chronicle revisited a story this week about two pregnant fourteen year old girls in Texas who each secretly delivered in a bathroom stall. One young woman was at an airport and delivered a stillborn fetus shortly after landing at the terminal. No one in her family knew that she was pregnant and the authorities declared that it was a pregnancy incompatible with life. A second high school freshman, also secretly pregnant, gave birth to a 35 or 36 week baby who drown or was smothered and died in that stall. There will be criminal charges brought against her. Two fourteen year olds. One week in Texas.
As an abortion counselor, this is one of the scariest things I imagine when I send a woman home. Will she be one of those girls who...? Maybe she is too far along for us to see her and she goes home with a page of local resources; maybe she is not entirely resolved yet that an abortion is the right decision for her and it's not time to make a decision yet. Sometimes when I try to reconnect with women after an options counseling to see how they are faring, I find that they have given me incorrect phone numbers, or given me the contact information of a friend or boyfriend and have to sweetly ask “can you have her give Nell a call,” without explaining why I'm calling.
This news story reminded me of a woman who we spent many months working with at the clinic, with no resolution. She first called when she first found out she was pregnant. Based on her periods, we guessed that she was about 8 weeks in pregnancy. A teenager, she lived a few hours away. She made an appointment, which she did not show for. As the weeks went by, she would schedule again and again.
I had spoken to her many times. She was trying to arrange everything secretly. She did not have a car and her boyfriend had no license. Could she ask a friend for a ride, I suggested . “No, I don't want anyone to know about this.” What would happen if she talked to her mother about this? “She's be really disappointed in me.” Would she hurt you or kick you out of the house? Would she want you to continue the pregnancy? “No, we just never talk about these things and it would be...weird.” She reiterated time and time again that she did not want to be pregnant, but she just could not bring herself to talk to ask anyone for help.
She was a good kid. She had never let anyone in her family down. She was really, really scared.
I told her about the website MomDadImPregnant.com, which is designed for teens who have to have that conversation with their parents. She pulled it up while we were on the phone together. “Okay...” she mumbled while reading, “okay...” Then the line went dead. I called her back. “Sorry,” she said, “my mom walked by.”
At this point, nearly everyone at the clinic had tried to brainstorm with her to help her make it to her appointment. We were so used to talking with each other about how we could try to help her, we had a code name for her when we would see each other outside of work. Usually we never have to be discussing and case managing specific patients, but in this case, everyone had taken a turn trying to help her get a bus ticket, find a willing driver from our lists of volunteers or tried after hours to reach her by phone. So no one would guess what or who we were talking about, we called her Matt Damon. (It was the least likely name we could think of and the easiest one to remember.) As she neared number of weeks in pregnancy our clinic sets for a cutoff, I decided that we needed to have a really serious talk. “Matt, either way you need some medical care,” I told her over the phone. “If you're going to continue this pregnancy, we need to make sure that everything's healthy. If you don't want to, we've got about a week left, based on when your last periods were. If you're going to have an abortion, if you're going to parent, either way, I think it's time tell someone what's going on. You need a little help.”
Finally, after a cab trip that cost nearly $200, she came to the clinic by herself for a consult appointment. We did a sonogram and we had exactly 48 hours to pull everything together before she was over the cutoff. “I know that I should tell someone,” she said and trailed off...
We made plans for her to come back for an appointment. “Here's what we can do, Matt,” I told her, “We can get an emergency grant to cover most of the cost of the surgery. We can waive much of the rest. What we need from you to do is talk to someone at home about this. You're going to need a ride and it doesn't sound like you've got another $200 for a cab ride, right?” She nodded. “Whatever you choose, you know that you need some medical care, to either see us and not be pregnant or start some prenatal care, right?” She nodded. I sent her home with a copy of The Pregnancy Options Handbook, just in case was was more ambivalent than she was letting on.
Two days later, her appointment time came and went. Hours went by. I pulled her chart from the other day and called the number listed on it. The line was not in service. By now, Matt is too far to have an abortion in most areas of the country. I truly do hope that she's okay, that she won't be one of those girls who...