Above: Louise sharing her story at our 40th Anniversary Celebration
A few decades make for too many stories to tell about the hundreds of talented, quirky dreamers, innovators, doers and idealists who have had a role in creating and nurturing our grand work in progress - CWHC.
Being here, in this collective-with-mission, is hard, easy, sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes contentious and often hilarious. I believe humor has seen us through.
The collective lives on, in one form or other. We change and refine it to meet the challenges of our mission. We expand our mission to become more and more inclusive. We live in the present and hurtle into the future, always keeping our collective history in our hearts.
I had thought of writing about a few collective members past and present, to showcase achievements, personalities and relationships. But how to tell only a story or two when there are hundreds? Then I thought of that other group of folks who have defined and sustained CWHC for 40 years - our amazing clients. I think of them as our "silent collective members." They give us feedback, challenge us with their concerns and share their ideas for expanding and improving our services. Their needs define what we do.
Some of them visit us once, but others return years after year. Their medical charts read like biographies that chronicle babies born, pregnancies lost, new partners, health crises, gender changes - it's all there. A few clients have moved out of state, even out of the country, but return for their yearly "thing", because CWHC only exists here. In Chicago.
I moved to Chicago in 2000 and immediately received a recommendation from a professor at DePaul University, Ann Russo, to go to CWHC for my health care. Coming from a small town and only having access to a dilapidated and emotionally vacant rural public health clinic, I had accepted early on that the experience of health care was to be one of feeling ashamed, ignorant about my body and what decisions are best for me, and at the mercy of care providers who treated me as though they were doing me a favor by using scare tactics to guide my adolescent sexuality.
Then, at 18, I went for my first appointment at CWHC, along with a friend. We actually had appointments at the same time and across the hall from each other. After a luxurious hour spent with a provider who was kind, warm, affirming, and attuned to all that I was and was not saying about my life, my health, and my desires from my provider, my friend and I both found ourselves walking out of our appointments literally jumping up and down. I exclaimed, "That was amazing!" She said, "I saw my cervix!" We skipped down the street in a post pap smear bliss, proclaiming our love for CWHC and shaking our very own recently acquired speculums in the air triumphantly.
Those early days of coming to CWHC, when I was young, drunk, and making poor choices about how to properly care for my body, it was people like Louise Champlain, Sarah Slocum, Cheryl Carvalho, and Jess Kane that made me feel my own power and wisdom about myself. They helped to ensure the choices I made were well informed. They made me believe I always had a place to go if I needed help...with life decisions, strange symptoms, confusion about options, or just that general desire to improve my own health outcomes though without immediately understanding a clear direction. They were my guide.
It's been 15 years since that first appointment. I have since spent 7 years on staff at CWHC, served as a board member, and now, having moved on to other cities and other adventures, remain a committed donor and supporter of the work of this dedicated and compassionate collective. My time at CWHC, as a client and as a collective member, was its own adventure. It made me a zealous advocate for myself and others, and helped me understand that the freedom of choice means nothing without access to a comprehensive education of all choices followed by true autonomy.
Thank you to each one of you who gives your time and talents to this incredible organization, now and over the last 40 years. Thank you to all who have been a client or recruited other clients, helping to build a community that expects more from health care than what we have been taught should be enough.
I first visited CWHC as a college student, in need of information about sexual health and safety. I had health insurance through my parents but was uncomfortable using it for this kind of an appointment because I knew my parents would ask me about the recent charges and I would be put in a position to either lie to them or tell them that I was having sex. Because of my parents' religious and personal views on sex, I felt very uncomfortable discussing it with them. I also did not have access to information and resources about sexual health at my conservative Christian university. The sliding scale at CWHC allowed me to have my first gynecological exam and learn about safe sex options. I am so glad that my first exam was at CWHC! They were personable, caring, and professional. Leaving the appointment, I felt positive about my body and health. I visited CWHC a few more times as a college student for annual exams. After college I moved out of state and had annual exams elsewhere. Frequently, these appointment with other doctors left me feeling stressed and frustrated. At one point I talked with my doctor (who had come highly recommended to me) about sexual dysfunction/dissatisfaction that I was experiencing and my concern that it may be related to my being on the pill. He in so many words said that there was no good reason to think that going off the pill would help anything and did not seem to think that there was anything that I could or should do to change my situation. It felt like the opposite of listening to my concerns and offering help. Just this last year, I chose to go back to CWHC for my annual exam even though I live 4 hours outside of Chicago and I could have an exam for free elsewhere with my health insurance. I was once again very happy with my decision to go to CWHC. Just like my previous visits there, the CWHC staff made me feel respected, listened to, cared for, and positive about my own health. At that appointment, I was able to pay the full fee and was happy to do so. I came home and told my husband about the stark contrast between my appointments at CWHC and elsewhere. He was so happy to see me feeling positive and empowered about my health. He suggested that we make a donation to CWHC so other women can continue to benefit from their great care too. It made me so happy to make that donation and to be able to contribute to CWHC now that I have more financial resources after benefiting from the sliding scale years ago. Thank you CWHC for the wonderful work you do!
No insurance. Okay. Here's an envelope for your payment. Put something in It or don't.
"I Promise to give back some day"
New job and insurance. Regular check ups good health. Oh, no! Lost job and no insurance.
Irregular what? No money or insurance. CWHC to the rescue! Got it in the nick of time. Pre-C.
"I promise to give back some day."
New job and insurance. Good health, good income. I am able to give back on this day.
Darkness came. Blanketed with grief. Loss of life, loss of love, loss of sheroes! Loss of self. Stumbling, confused, afraid and frozen. Need therapy. Fear, Anger and grief...so much grief. Scared to reach out. Scared to bare. Scared to be me. Can someone please help me! Hi, here's my story. So much sadness, so many tears. Connection, safety. I would like u to be my therapist, please!
Da da dah, CWHC to the rescue...again. Light and love and healing and self. I promise to give back one day.
When I first moved to Chicago in my early 20s I was young,naive,sexually reckless and unaware of HPV. I was looking for low-cost gyn health care and a friend suggested I go to CWHC. Fortunately, I took their advice because an abnormal Pap smear showed pre-cancerous cells on my cervix. The crew at CWHC set me up for cryosurgery, and a physician removed the cells. It has been over thirty years since then, and I have had normal PAP test results ever since.
Thank you, CWHC. I think you saved my life.
I have often been considered a difficult patient. When I was five months pregnant and minimally employed, a health department refused to continue seeing me because I was "difficult." I ask a lot of questions. I don't passively follow instruction. I want to know WHY. I want to be involved!
At CWHC, my questions have always been welcomed and answered thoughtfully. My involvement has been actively encouraged. It is MY body. The health workers help me understand and nurture it every time I visit.
These days, I have insurance and could go elsewhere for my health care. But I won't do that. I don't want to leave behind the respect and compassion I know are a part of the model of care at CWHC. I will continue visiting, being listened to, looked in the eye. We'll chat, we'll laugh. My knowledge will grow.
THANK YOU, ALL!
I want to cry just thinking of this. I was from a sexually repressive religious family growing up. Coming to CWHC has been part of my healing process & really – a big part of my health education. I have never been judged, workers have taken their time with me, and helped me to find my way, my self, and have been incredibly respectful, nurturing & especially empowering through it all. THANK YOU. I cannot thank CWHC enough.
Thank you for respecting me before I could respect myself. For not blinking when my body revealed queerness, trauma, mood disorders and all the messy vulnerability of being a human. CWHC holds the whole of me better than any other place.
The first time I had my routine pap smear was at a gynecologists office in my hometown in North Carolina. It was painful, awkward, and I got an abnormal result. Because I was still young this was scary for me. The follow-up exam was worse. I have never had a more painful pelvic examine in my life. After that experience, I avoided the gynecologist. I moved to Chicago a few years later. I got a primary care physician and knew that I needed to get another gyno check-up. I asked around and got a lot of recommendations for the CWHC. After a lot of debating, I finally made an appointment. I was so anxious I had my roommate go with me because I didn't want to go alone. The trained nurse was wonderful. She was patient, sweet, and totally understanding. It didn't phase her that I was shy and awkward. She just did everything to make me comfortable. What was so amazing, however, is that I didn't feel a thing. I was shocked. After my first experience I was expecting the worst, but this was absolutely nothing. The exam was painless, quick, and one of the most comfortable experiences at a doctor's office I have ever had. I love everything about this place. The staff are amazing, friendly, and totally non-judgmental. The waiting room is comfortable and fun, with coloring sheets and informational brochures everywhere. Thank you so much! Ultimately the CWHC has helped me become more comfortable and knowledgeable about myself and my body and I can't thank them enough.
CWHC has been like a compass – the voices, images, hearts and literature have guided me into understanding what advocacy is. I’ve developed a trust uncommon to other institutions – if CWHC is behind it – I’m in.
Chicago Women's Health Center is in my heart. Being a staff member and client has shaped the way I see, access and deliver health care. I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to 'grow up' as a woman, feminist, and professional at CWHC. I continue to donate and teach the philosophy and practice I learned there. . .
My mother was the one to steer me in the direction of CWHC when I had discovered that I was pregnant. She had been a patient there before and went on to tell me what a great place it was. She was right! I have been a faithful client since 1995. I recently took my daughter, who CWHC helped bring into this world, in for her first appointment. She loves it just as much as we do. Three generations!!! :)
I first came to the Health Center because I didn't have insurance, hadn't been to the gynie in years, and heard there was a sliding scale. I was in my early twenties and clueless (um, I thought the word vaginal was pronounced vah-GIN-al). That was fifteen years ago . . . Now I am a donor and volunteer for CWHC, as well as still a client. Congrats on 40 years! It is the incredible staff and the collective, and the hard work and the sacrifices they have made that keep it the amazing, vibrant and necessary organization that it is. Bravo!
I met CWHC 10 years ago in my graduate level internship. I fell in love with the outlook and the people. The work has shaped all other work in my life!
Above: Nancy sharing her story at our 40th Anniversary Celebration
In 1978, it was important to me to find a female ob/gyn. My first try was unsatisfactory—that doctor decided to discuss a questionable pap smear result with me in front of everyone in her waiting room. She was in a rush. It was probably the first time I heard the term “cone biopsy”. That experience inspired me to look elsewhere. I ended up at the Chicago Women’s Health Center, when it was at Diversey and Sheffield. I have been with CWHC ever since—if CWHC is having its 40th anniversary, I’m having my 37th!
I stayed because I have always been able to count on CWHC practitioner’s non-stop advocacy of women’s health and well-being. I stayed because of Louise and Terry and others whose names I forgot. I stayed because Louise, Terri and others took time to:
- teach classes about how to track fertility;
- organize breast feeding classes;
- make cervical caps available—a form of birth control that was unavailable in the U.S. in the 80’s—by ordering them from the U.K;
- provide perspective on the politics of mammograms;encourage me during childbirth with advice that made contractions easier “If you open your mouth it helps the birth canal open too!” (thanks Louise!) \
- counsel me after being scared by cancer;
- welcome my daughter to her well-woman exam.
I stayed because no one made me go to a childbirth class, or scared me into getting mammograms every other year, and because Links Hall had good posters and bad paneling. I stayed because I just like to see Terri for my well woman exam—twenty years and counting! CWHC and its practitioners embody the best of health care. Time, compassion and advocacy are the hallmarks of my years of care from CWHC’s practitioners. Because of them, CWHC has been empowering and has held my allegiance. I will return!
My wife and I credit CWHC with the gift of our family. Our first child was conceived there, and we felt safe, comfortable, and well taken care of from the moment of our first consultation through receiving the sweet letter congratulating us after the positive pregnancy test. The experience was so positive that we felt empowered to conceive our second child at home, and did so after another helpful phone conversation with CWHC. So grateful!
A friend told me in 2009 about CWHC when I was looking around for Gynecology options. At the time, I had just moved to Chicago, had a bad job and no insurance.
I had been to annuals before . . . but never like this. My provider . . . made the appointment fun. No, really. I had a great time getting my Pap Smear and Breast Exam. She made the examination a learning experience.
I was prepared to spend a pretty penny on the exam, as I had done before. I was told about the sliding scale, but I figured they would tell me what I owed. When [my provider] asked me how much I wanted to pay, I told her I could afford $50. She said that was fine and that it was ok. I totally cried.
Since then, I go to CWHC for my annual - paying the full amount and one day I hope I can pay more.
At my turning point in life, Chicago Women’s Health Center was there. Coming from full time employment to an unemployed, uninsured graduate student with health concerns you gave me hope and showed care.
After 3 months working on finding my space in the city, I found CWHC. . .[This] was the beginning of a story on how I stopped feeling lonely and being “just one” in such a big cold city. . .CWHC became the space to be. . .Latina, to be the kind of woman I identify as,. . .to speak my English with comfort and being understood in all senses beyond language itself. . . I am glad CWHC exists not because it is miraculous, but because everybody deserves the right to be more than “just one” and be part of.
I'm a transgender FTM. The CWHC helped me transition to male by supporting me with hormone care. Often I could not pay, but the CWHC was there for me. . .
I was shocked that the educator asked me if I would like to see my cervix. Why would I want to see my cervix? The stigma of women's bodies not being their own was quickly coming to my awareness. She handed me more power when she handed me that mirror. It was my body and I had control over it.
I read a newsprint version of Our Bodies/Ourselves in 1971! I went to Emma Goldman for my first comfortable self-help exam in 1972. I volunteered for CWHC, starting when I was a public health nurse, from 1977 – 1993. In 1988, my only child was born under the gentle prenatal care of [CWHC].
I'm still a nurse in this awful health care system, where many of my coworkers call it quits because of burnout – or they become business people. I’m still slugging it out here in health care because of my experiences at CWHC. Here I learned that I can be the idealistic health care worker I was & not sell out or lose my ideals. I know I would have left nursing long ago if it was not for CWHC. It’s been a beacon of idealism in the broad sea of corporate health care.
Today, my daughter (18 years old) is here for her first gyne exam. I hope it goes well. I hope, if she has children, that she will look for a place like CWHC to start her nesting.
So, from Armitage Ave., to Seminary and now to Links Hall since 1981 (I helped find the building), it’s circle, circling back. CWHC is in my bones & reflected in all my actions as a health worker/nurse practitioner.
Before moving away from Chicago my partner, Bonnie, and I used the clinic's donor insemination services, eventually resulted in the birth of our daughter. She is now 20 and in her third year of college. My experience at CWHC convinced me of the importance of donor insemination services and inspired me to provide similar services to clients in SE Iowa for over a decade, at a time when such services were not available to single women and lesbians.
Above: Danielle (far right) with her sister, mother, and daughter.
When CWHC embraced me it just clicked. Health care is a partnership, not a dictatorship.
I had been meaning to make an appointment at the Health Center for a long time before I finally got there. I have a physical disability, I use a power wheelchair, and I need assistance moving and positioning my body. It is often been a struggle to find a gynecologist with an office that is comfortable for me, and also with providers that are willing to assist me. Beyond the physical barriers, I have encountered a lot incompetency by doctors not understanding that my disability has nothing to do with my reproductive health. For my pap smear appointment at the Health Center was an easy & affirming experience. None of the staff at the Health Center treated me differently based on the fact that I had a disability, and I felt that my body and my sexuality were respected. I was grateful to have an experience that was not rushed, where I was able to ask all of the questions I had, and where I did not feel that I had to explain anything intrusive or irrelevant about my body and my disability. I'll be back!
Above: Angelique sharing her story at our 40th Anniversary Celebration
The summer of 2013 brought many changes to my life, and I had been contemplating moving on from CWHC after six years as a staff member, but was having a hard time finding just the right fit and was reticent to leave the place that had nurtured me for so long. I was taking a three week trip to Iceland to work with a Scandinavian circus company and had therefore declined a request to support a friend and former collective member through her first birth, expected to happen just at the tail end of my travel dates. She was planning to work with Dr. Plonka, CWHC's overseeing physician for her birth, and I knew she would be in good hands. We had all laughed throughout her pregnancy about how serendipitous it was for her to be back in Chicago in time to call upon her CWHC roots for help with her first birth. I don't think any of us were prepared for Serendipity's sense of humor.
On the last day of my trip, I got a message from the mom-to-be that her water had broken and she was in the early stages of labor. So far she was comfortable at home, but would be going to the hospital soon. She was feeling optimistic and supported and would likely deliver the baby before I made it home the next day. Knowing she was well on her way, I didn't think too much about the missed call I got the next day while about to board my last flight. When I checked my voicemail upon arrival at Midway, it was a message from Dr. Plonka. The labor had been difficult. They were nearing a tough decision and she wondered if I was back yet and willing to come and support. I was wearing clothes that were passably clean only by the standards of someone who has spent three weeks sleeping on the ground. I was certain that, as it was now almost four hours later, by the time I arrived at the hospital, all difficult decisions would have been made and I would be meeting a new little person and offering apologies for the constraints of space and time. But that's not quite how it happened.
The Labor & Delivery staff raised an eyebrow, but called for Dr. Plonka when I let them know I had been asked to come. They gave me some clean scrubs to change into before heading into the room. The feeling was somber, intense and overwhelming. She has been pushing with only marginal success for a very long time. Her support team had tried and retried many different techniques and coping mechanisms for difficult labors and everyone’s fatigue was palpable. But there was an indomitable underlying determination that was present, too, and all in the room seemed to be quietly focused on what was possible, while aware of the ticking clock.
It took me a little while, focused on mom as I was, to come into the room and assess what was going on, and what my role in all this might be. So it was a little while before I pieced together who else was in the room. There was the Dad-to-be, and Dr. Plonka, of course, and the attending resident, and an L&D nurse. Everyone looked familiar. Turns out, we'd all met before. The resident had been one of Dr. Plonka's volunteers during her first year of residency. This new doc had come to CWHC to learn our method of care and to learn how to do advanced gynecological procedures. The Nurse standing next to her had volunteered as a phonester at CWHC during nursing school. Mom-to-be, had been instrumental in founding the acupuncture program at CWHC. We all realized this together over the course of several mind numbing, bone crunching contractions, in hushed tones that built up to somewhat stupefied giggles and brief story sharing . . . losing focus together if only for a moment to connect with something bigger and affirm that we came from the same place and share a common language of care.
Let me be clear in saying that I had very little to do with that baby coming out an hour later in one final determined effort. But I think that CWHC did. That moment of connection shifted the feeling in the room, brought us a new layer of connection, allowed us all to laugh and release tension, and finally to re-focused our energies to draw upon our deep knowledge of what is possible. It was not the first time I had seen it happen, but it was certainly the most unexpected. Out in the world, people with a connection to CWHC, whether staff or clients, speak of it like a source of strength, like badge of honor, like a totally inclusive non- secret society without the weird induction rituals. (No, strike that, we've got those. I've got a golden speculum on my shelf to prove it.) People tell their friends, who tell their friends, that you'll be treated like a person there, you'll be heard, and respected. You'll be given choices. They're gentle. And Nice! And sometimes Funny! They'll help you understand your body. They won't judge you. They do diaphragm fittings!
It's all true. And it all matters. Because somehow in a one hour gyne exam I have always felt like we were trying to model something much larger about how to care for each other in the world through mutual respect and deep trust even in the face of great vulnerability and even fear. That central lesson carries out into the world with us, long after we've left.
CWHC completely changed my relationship to Gyn care. I was never comfortable at the Dr before, but the patient -centered care I got here blew my mind. . . .From the handmade stirrup cozies to the long appointments, I feel taken care of every step of the way at CWHC….I love CWHC with a passion that is maybe unhealthy and I am baffled that anyone would trust their vagina-care to anyone else.
As a previous staff member at CWHC, while I didn’t see clients directly, I did have the privilege of sharing their stories with our supporters, funders and community. Every person’s story was one of empowerment after their experience with CWHC. Whether it was a negative experience with a past provider or just the feeling that better health care should exist- clients always found what they were looking for at CWHC. CWHC’s commitment to their mission is truly reflected by the commitment to client care. One of the most memorable client stories for me was one that came to me in the mail.
It was around the holiday season and we had sent out letters of support. I received a card in the mail from a former client and a check. She told me that she was terrified to come in for care, embarrassed about her situation and fearing judgement about her in ability to pay. She was a client for several years after that first appointment and was never able to pay for her services. This client said she never felt judged once about her situation and was at ease in a safe space to receive care. Over a decade later, this former client was now in a position to afford health care and insurance. She enclosed a check for the amount she figured it would have cost her for care all those years ago and asked us to use it for a current client who couldn’t afford to pay for their care.
Above: Nichole presenting her story at our 40th Anniversary Celebration
I started working at a new high school in Chicago in the fall of 2011. Due to the structure of the school, students did not have a health class in which there was a unit on sexual health. As their biology teacher, issues of reproduction came up in class and as the students gained trust in me, they began to ask more questions. Their questions revealed many misconceptions about sexual health, reproduction, STI prevention, pregnancy prevention, etc. These were juniors in high school and most of them did not know their own anatomy, how to access contraception or even how contraception works, or how to protect themselves from STIs - even though they were engaging in sexual activities!
After discussing the high need for education with my principal, I started looking around for an organization/people that could come in and help me (and the other science teachers at my school) teach my students how to be safe. Luckily, I found Chicago Women's Health Center online. After contacting them, they were immediately responsive and they began planning what and how to teach my students and all the other students at my school.
Scout Bratt was (and has continued to be) our primary educator. She came to our school for at least a week for every grade level and taught our students about their reproductive anatomy, how to take care of themselves, STI prevention methods, pregnancy prevention methods, how to access health care - everything! She is awesome! My students loved her! I remember thinking when she walked in, "They are going to eat her alive!" But that didn't happen - Scout totally held her own and the kids respected her so much. She answered EVERYTHING without any hint of embarrassment and she cleared up so much misinformation. The students were clamoring to talk to her. They came in on their lunch periods and after school to talk to her about their issues. Scout showed them so much respect and talked to them on their level about real issues. She also addressed everything that came up immediately - if a student used inappropriate language or showed any hint of prejudice or misogyny (which definitely happened), Scout addressed it right there and they talked about it.
My students had gone through most of their lives without anyone talking to them about sexual health and healthy relationships and when Scout came from CWHC, it was like the floodgates opened and they finally felt like they were being listened to. I really feel that this was actually life-changing for some of my students. I have so many anecdotes from these students - especially my female students. So many of them didn't know anything about their own bodies or protecting themselves. I had so many girls say they felt empowered after talking to Scout - like they could make decisions for themselves. That's not to say my male students didn't benefit as well - because they did! They had just as many questions and misconceptions as the girls.
Each time Scout or other CWHC educators have visited (and they've been coming for three years now), I always feel closer to my students and invigorated. This is impactful education that affects my students' lives and I am so grateful to CWHC.
I moved to Chicago from a tight knit community in the Midwest, and before that, from outside of the US. As a survivor of sexual assault, and immigrant and someone with disabilities I had many unpleasant experiences seeking medical care. I also am a single parent and did not have insurance when I moved to the city, so I was very worried about not being able to afford the care I needed.
I first came across CWHC as I was looking for a place that was sensitive to issues around sexual assault and medical care. I remember going up the stairs of the old office space in Lakeview and being nervous I would leave feeling violated or that I would have to grit my teeth through being uncomfortable. Instead as I entered the room I was immediately put at ease by the soft lights and the cozy couches and lamps. The coffee table had books and magazines about women's bodies and a variety of social justice initiatives pamphlets hung in the hall. The woman at the desk greeted me warmly before I was called to one of the rooms by the nurse. I don't remember the details of that first visit, just that I felt comfortable and not judged. There was no assumptions made about what I would be comfortable or uncomfortable with, and instead I was asked to okay every step. That felt so transformative and empowering. I was asked about stress levels and survivor status, and I felt that my whole well being was being taken into consideration.
That was the beginning of the long standing relationship with CWHC, one that included a diagnosis of fibroids, and full support in finding the best treatment process for me, in addition to help in seeking the care I needed that CWHC could not provide. I also have been using the counseling services at CWHC that have been an incredible support throughout many life transitions, really hard moments, as well as celebratory ones. In my counselor at CWHC I found an ally, someone that can allow the multiple layers of my identity to exist and that listens without judgment, while being supportive, but without ever being condescending or hierarchical.
The CWHC is one of the reasons why I decided to make Chicago my home. It is an invaluable resource, and I take every opportunity I can to tell people about it, and to share its existence. (thank you CWHC from the bottom of my heart!)
(CWHC client turned CWHC Nurse Practitioner)
Bad things happen to women and trans folks countless times a day. We all deal with them differently, and they can't always be parlayed into new life goals and dream jobs. But CWHC creates space for us to be honest about everything we experience and how it affects us, bad, good or otherwise. Healing doesn't always mean getting back to how you were before you were hurt; it can mean growing beyond that and being even better. CWHC made it possible for me to get better, and now I get to be better every day as I provide care for other folks who're out there navigating this treacherous world, trying to find healing in the harm.
CWHC is the place I recommend to everybody. . . .I worked with… [CWHC] to conceive of TGAP – a first of its kind program in Chicago serving trans folks. I worked with CWHC to create it because as a trans man I couldn’t get gyne care any other way. CWHC was there for me at a time when other care providers weren't, and CWHC provided care far beyond that I have ever received elsewhere.
…I felt welcomed, seen and heard at Chicago Women’s Health [Center]. Thank you for trusting me and treating me like a person when I’ve been isolated and scared. I’m truly grateful.
…. I absolutely love the CWHC!!! For years before moving to Chicago, I received my gynecological care at free clinics. I received paps, colposcopies, and biopsies. They were always awful. Several times, I walked out shaken and in tears because of the care I received. I was made to feel like my body was diseased and something to be ashamed of due to the HPV diagnosis….
When I started going to the CWHC, I felt like my experience was normalized and validated. I felt safe and comfortable. I felt like I truly get the care I need in a sensitive and trauma-informed way. I loved being able to hold the speculum and ask as many questions I needed to to understand what was going on. I loved being able to internalize the message that my body was truly trying to take care of things (this message was HUGE!!!) when it came to my abnormal paps and HPV. It was such a different framework. I still carry this with me, and it has helped change my relationship with my body, especially my gynecological care. I am so absolutely grateful for this.
I learned about CWHC through the outreach and education work in the West side of Chicago. I still remember the first workshop that I helped coordinate and the wealth of knowledge I received from Scout. Scout changed mine and many young girls' lives just in one hour. I was baffled by the disparities in health care within the race, class and gender intersections. I had no idea that the birth control options offered to people has a racial (political) piece to it.
I learned so much about reprod health access or lack thereof to people of color and people like me who were immigrants and have little knowledge about reprod health which is such a taboo topic back in India. Later on the same day, I had one of the young girls I worked with who walked up to me and said "my maama is all messed up because the doctors didn't stop her from taking the [birth control] shot for over six years and only today did I know that it was their fault and not because of something she had did. Imma ask more questions from now. Thanks for bringing the person Scout here. She was so much fun."
I cannot express how I felt that day—I was so heartbroken yet felt hopeful to be helping to build young advocates who can fight for their own bodies. It felt like I was contributing to an important fight—a revolution. This knowledge helped me renew my commitment to ending health disparity. Black bodies matter.
I also personally enrolled in receiving care at the health center after this experience and started with acupuncture for my migraines and chronic stress; then gynecology. I was nervous at first, after all, I had been yelled at by a doctor at my first gyne appointment in India about my unacceptable sexual behavior. Since then obgyn appointment has always been a traumatic experience for me. Sexual violence, cancerous cells and the trauma of the "down there" went on. However, coming to the health center has changed it all for me completely. I was patiently cared for and my body was finally valued. I felt like it was not just some dark corner full of secrets. I look forward to my health visits at the center now. It is my one of my happy places.
I hope that more girls and womyn of color can access this important experience where their bodies matter. I will happily do anything to give back to the center that has helped me reclaim my body.
I first came to CWHC four years ago as part of the test group for the T-GAP program. I hadn't been to see a doctor since I was a teenager. I was terrified of doctors and needles, but still, this was something I knew I had to do for myself. My options at the time were CWHC and [one other provider]. To be honest I didn't know much about either facility, except that CWHC was far more accessible to me because of the sliding scale, so I scheduled my appointment.
When I walked into CWHC for the first time, I immediately felt a kind of comfort I had never associated with western medicine. The wood paneled walls reminded me of my grandmother's mobile home, which eased some of my anxiety. The various posters on the walls let me know that this was a positive space, one where people were proud to be trans and excited about pap smears (the latter I couldn't believe at the time)!
My appointment was with Louise. She had such a calming and positive energy, yet I was still riddled with anxiety when the time came for her to draw my blood. She was really patient with me, which was not my general experience with medical professionals. She had me tell a story as she drew my blood, distracting me from the churning in my stomach.
A couple weeks later after my testosterone prescription came in the mail, I came in again to. . .[learn] how to do my injection. I knew I had to pay attention to learn how to do it myself, I couldn't just turn my head this time like I usually would. . . .Suddenly, I felt this wave of nausea wash over me and I felt myself leaving my body. I passed out and Louise caught my head in her. . .hand. When I came to she offered me a couch to lie down on in one of the unoccupied counseling rooms. This story is why I fell in love with CWHC.
Around the same time I began to meet with Tina on a weekly basis for counseling. Her feminist and compassionate approach to therapy was completely foreign to me. That winter she recommended a group to me that met weekly and dealt with healing trauma. Between the two, I got more that year out of therapy than I had gotten out of my previous five years with other therapists combined.
Eventually, I began to do my testosterone shots on my own. Louise started to give me a soft reminder at my T-Gap checkups that I should schedule a pap smear. I was 28 and had never had one. It was always something that terrified me and being trans brought it's own complications into the mix. For three years I avoided it until finally one day I decided to schedule my appointment.
Louise had this way of making me feel like it was really important, but also not making me feel pressured into doing something I wasn't ready yet to do. When it was all said and done, I felt as if I had had a breakthrough. I couldn't believe that was what I had been afraid of all of that time. It was no big deal. Now I finally understood why all those posters were so excited about pap smears!
A month or so later, I found out that I was eligible for insurance through my employer. And for the first time in my six years of binding, I was able to entertain the idea of top surgery. Before that appointment with Louise, I didn't even know it was something that I wanted for my life. My fear of medical professionals had just completely shut any potential for that desire down.
A month or so later, I found out that I was eligible for insurance through my employer. And for the first time in my six years of binding, I was able to entertain the idea of top surgery. Before that appointment with Louise, I didn't even know it was something that I wanted for my life. My fear of medical professionals had just completely shut any potential for that desire down.
CWHC has changed my life and my perspective on what healthcare should look like. I stand strongly behind the center's philosophies, policies and politics. CWHC is a breath of fresh air and more medical providers should take note and follow in their footsteps. Thank you for doing what you do and making this kind of healthcare so accessible to so many different folks.
If these walls could talk...
The waiting room on North Sheffield Avenue, Chicago Women's Health Center's home for over 30 years.
The waiting room on Sunnyside Avenue, our home as of 2013.