Yesterday I was asked how I can support Planned Parenthood as clergy. I don’t speak for all clergy, but here’s my story:
After I learned of my clergy spouse’s affairs, I called my OBGYN and requested an appointment ASAP. Since we had been seeing her for infertility, she enthusiastically returned my call thinking I wanted to come in for a pregnancy test. What with still being in shock and all, I replied, “I mean that’s probably a good thing to test, too, but I really need STD/STI tests because he’s having affairs.” She said, “Hold on. What? Wait. What? Are you kidding? Oh my God. I’m so sorry. Are you ok? Wow.” Exactly.
Turns out she had some babies to deliver, and couldn’t see me until the next week. She compassionately said, “I don’t want you to have to wait that long. Go to Planned Parenthood tomorrow.” So I did.
When I checked in, the receptionist took my insurance card, paperwork, and said, “No offense, but you have Blue Cross PPO and a local primary OBGYN, so what’s the reason for your visit?” I replied, “My husband is having affairs and my OBGYN has to deliver babies, so she told me to come here to get checked out so I wouldn’t have to wait a week. You know, because I’d probably lose my mind or something.” She rolled her eyes, reached one of her hands through the tiny little pass your insurance card through the window opening, and said, “Girrrrllll. You’re gonna be just fine. You don’t need his cheating self anyway. We’ll take good care of you.” This beautiful moment came to an abrupt halt when I moved my hand away from the tiny little pass your insurance card through the window opening and accidentally knocked over the fishbowl full of brightly colored condoms.
By the time all the colorful condoms were back in the fishbowl, a nurse called my name. She took me to a room, asked the reason for my visit, gave me a gown, and wrote my name in Sharpie on a plastic cup. As I answered her question of approximately how many partners he’d had, I began to cry. She moved closer to me and asked if there was anyone in the waiting room who could come be with me. I then explained that because my husband was clergy, I had been asked to keep everything confidential until the ruling body of his congregation was informed and determined how they wanted to proceed. Since we hadn’t even lived in that city for a year yet, I wasn’t close enough to anyone outside of church or clergy circles whom I could tell, let alone bring along for this field trip. I told her I had a close friend on the church staff who would no doubt be there to support me, but since my spouse was her boss, I couldn’t tell her yet. Her eyes filled up with tears as she said, “This is horrible, but you are not alone here. And you’re going to be just fine.”
Soon a very kind physician entered the room and explained the plan for physical exam, lab work, and urine tests. He asked if I had any questions, and bless his heart, I said, “I’m wondering how I could be so stupid as to not realize what was happening in my own home, but your plan for what’s happening here sounds great.” He never lost eye contact with me and said, “Sometimes people have affairs. That doesn’t make it right, but you’re not stupid. And, honestly, the affairs may not have anything to do with you. Regardless, nobody deserves to be lied to and have their health put at risk, so we will get results back as quickly as possible for your health and peace of mind.”
He and the nurse were about the start my exam when a second nurse came in the room. She rolled a stool over toward my head (by then I was lounging on the cold, hard table) and asked if she could have my hand. I thought she meant to check my pulse or blood pressure. I looked over at her once I realized she wasn’t checking anything, but holding my hand, and she said, “You’re here by yourself, and I know what it’s like to be cheated on. You’re not alone and you are strong and brave and you will be okay. I promise.” As she said that, the doctor said, “I agree,” and the nurse said, “Me too,” as they finished the exam and took multiple vials of blood.
All three of them stayed in the room with me to talk through next steps and plans. They asked all the right clinical and practical questions like if I had a safe place to stay, money to eat, plans to get an attorney, people outside the city I could reach out to for support. They offered me hope. They offered me compassion. They made sure I wasn’t alone. They normalized how I felt. They helped restore my dignity and self-respect. I don’t remember any of their names, but I will never forget their faces. They were the church for me when I couldn’t seek support from the church. And I’m certain that remembering how I felt in their presence makes me better at my job as clinical clergy in a healthcare setting.
Life happens. Crisis happens. Trauma happens. Illness happens. Let’s plan on compassion, and always plan to show up with grace.