Secrets and Decisions, June, 2022 Featured Poem


This was a very bad week for individual rights, respect and kindness and for all of us who care about bodily autonomy, privacy, public health, equity, and justice for women, LGBTQIAA people and those with limited access to health care. As many of you know, I was the head of a regional Planned Parenthood for 37 years here in the San Francisco Bay area and Northern California. While we had some warning, and within the movement we have always had alternative scenario plans if it should come to the overturn of Roe V Wade, I didn’t really, in my heart, believe it would happen. And not like this.

May this catalyze even more young people and all of us to de-double our activism. The Court and their supporters are on the wrong side of history. We must show them that, sooner rather than later.

My poem for this month comes from my experience at Planned Parenthood. It is found in my latest book, Cloudbreak.

Secrets and Decisions

It is unacceptable and illegal for a social worker, physician,
nurse or clinic to break confidence
by telling tell parents that their daughter or son
has a sexually transmitted disease.

It is difficult to be certain
if a partner is using birth control,
except maybe a condom, which might break.

It is hard to tell by looking, at least for a while,
if someone is pregnant, and if they want to be.
Sometimes they don’t know how they feel
until a pregnancy test is positive or negative, or later.

It is impossible to tell, by meeting them,
if someone had an abortion, or three, or two children.
Can’t tell if they were relieved, or regretful, or both.

It is inaccurate to try to guess
how someone feels about their sexuality, gender, or body
without asking or having them tell.
They may not say, or want to say, or know.
It may well not be any of our business.

It is possible, indeed tempting, but ineffective
to tell a pregnant 14 year old
she has no idea what being a mother will be like.
She needs all the help she can get.

It is unethical to tell
ICE or immigration police pretty much anything.

It is unrealistic to demand
that a purple-bruised woman leave her abusive partner.
It inconceivable to understand her full circumstances.
It is not our decision.

It is hard to be compassionate and non-judgmental.
But, we are not them.
Everybody deserves kindness and help.

It is impossible to tell ourselves
we have done enough.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. cathywickham says:

    What Heather has written are wise compassionate words to live by. This is my aspiration!


  2. cathywickham says:

    These are word to live by, wise and compassionate. Thank you Heather for helping my aspirations be clear and focused!


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