What is it like going to Planned Parenthood for birth control?
April 11, 2011 8:29 PM   Subscribe

I just lost my virginity and took a Plan B pill. I need birth control pills asap and cannot afford to wait for the next available appointment with my ob/gyn. So, I will be going to Planned Parenthood. I've never been to Planned Parenthood, never been on any form of birth control (except the Plan B pill I just took) and have no idea what to expect. Did you go to PP for birth control pills, and how satisfied were you with the level of care? Generally speaking, have you consulted with both a Certified Nurse-Midwife and an OB/GYN? Which one did you prefer, and why?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (33 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I used to work for Planned Parenthood and I was a patient there.

You will be treated with dignity and respect. You'll make your appointment and they'll ask if they can say they're PP when they're calling. If not, they'll give you a code word so you'll know they've called. At your first appointment, you'll be given a medical history sheet to fill out. They'll take your weight and blood pressure and possibly a hematocrit (via a finger prick) to test your iron level. You'll probably be asked to take a pregnancy test (urine). Your history will be looked over by a staff member and you'll be taken to a private room to discuss your birth control options. If you have no idea what they are, they'll tell you. After your consultation, you'll be taken to an exam room and asked to disrobe. The medical practitioner will come in when you're ready and you'll receive a pap smear and a breast exam (that was standard at mine; your mileage may vary). She will discuss with you again your birth control options and together you'll decide what course you want to choose.

After you've dressed again, you'll be taken to another private room (or perhaps you'll stay in the exam room) and you'll get counseling on how to use the birth control you've chosen. Depending on the clinic, you'll get the pills that day, or they'll prescribe them for you to get at a pharmacy. You'll get instructions on how to use them, when to use back-up birth control, and when to come back for check-ups.

You can always call with questions or for clarifications, and you'll meet some very nice people. Disclaimer: I worked for PP many, many years ago, but from what I can tell, the procedures when I was there and the procedures now aren't very different. I always saw a nurse practitioner and I was very happy with the care I received, even more so than with the OBGYN I had with my first pregnancy.

Good luck, and congratulations on taking control of your fertility!
posted by cooker girl at 8:39 PM on April 11, 2011 [37 favorites]

Planned Parenthood is usually fantastic. I went to them during that period of my life and they were absolutely great. They'll coach you through everything and help you make the right decisions for you.

For something as simple as birth control, you don't really need a full OBGYN, anybody employed by PP has loads of experience dealing with questions like yours.
posted by zug at 8:40 PM on April 11, 2011

I never went there for birth control, but I went with a couple of very scared friends for STD testing in high school back in the day for moral support. They said the nurses were super-nice and respectful.

And yes, good on you for taking care of this! ...Maybe take a page from my friends and bring a friend if you're really nervous?
posted by smirkette at 8:41 PM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't see why you would need to consult a nurse-midwife for birth control. Or an ob/gyn for that matter. This should be something your primary care physician can handle, if they have earlier availability than your gynecologist.

The way it works (well, with my PCP, I've never been to PP) is you say "I would like a birth control prescription" and they say "here you go". And they may ask you if you smoke and tell you not to, or give you instructions on taking the pills and information on the side effects or ask if you have a preferred type of pill and describe your options, but seriously, it isn't really a big deal.
posted by phoenixy at 8:44 PM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

It sounds as though you're just sort of generally freaking out, which is completely understandable. You've had a lot going on recently, and your emotions are probably running high. So first, sestaaak is right, everything will be fine.

To answer your specific questions, I've received excellent care at PP, as have many other people I know. Several friends rely on PP for primary care, and I've heard no complaints. I've gotten birth control there, and I found it friendly, efficient, and cheap. I've seen all sorts of providers, and I've noticed no difference in the standard of care among them, so I have no preference. I did notice that I tended to get slightly more time with the CNP than with the MD, so if you have a lot of questions, you may want to ask how long your appointment will be. Either way, you will get a complete medical exam and be able to ask any questions you have of your practitioner at your appointment.

Finally, I just want to say that you don't have to go to PP if you feel more comfortable with your regular doctor. You haven't told us the details, but there is no reason that you need to go on the pill ASAP if you'd prefer to wait. You can use condoms or abstain until your own doctor can see you. I'm not saying that PP is bad or that you shouldn't go there. But you sound a bit frantic, and I want to make sure that you know that you have options, including waiting to see your own doctor. You should never feel forced into anything related to your health or your body.

Feel free to MeMail me if you want to talk.
posted by decathecting at 8:45 PM on April 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

I went to Planned Parenthood for my first birth control pills. I had never even had a pelvic exam before and I was really nervous. I remember them being pretty nice at the front desk, explaining everything. The exam was not remarkable, I don't even really remember it. I do know that they were much more concerned about STDs than any subsequent doctor ever was.

I agree with the others that you will always be treated with dignity and respect. That said, the location of the clinic may affect your experience. The clinic on the college campus was more used to scared young women and I think tailored their response accordingly. At the urban clinic it felt like everyone was a bit jaded and it just didn't feel as welcoming when you walked in. That was also the only time I ever was examined by a doctor who reeked of cigarettes, so I might just be remembering that as unpleasant.

I've never been to an actual OB/GYN. My primary care doctor does my exams now, or sometimes a Women's Heath nurse will do it. The main reason for that is the same thing you experienced - I couldn't actually find a GYN office who would give me an appointment less than 6 months out.
posted by cabingirl at 8:47 PM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I second everything that cooker girl said, except that for my first visit they wouldn't give me the exam right away; instead, they gave me a month's worth of pills and made an appointment for me to come back after my next period for the annual exam. That was awhile back and your mileage may vary - but just don't be alarmed if they ask you to come back for the exam later in the month.

As far as payment, here in Oregon I was always covered under FPEP and never had to pay for anything at PP (they usually ask if you want to donate to cover the cost of your pills, and it's a wonderful thing to do but don't feel obliged if you can't afford it!). I know the implementation of these programs can vary wildly, but at the very least PP's prices will be sliding-scale. I have no doubt that the PP staff will hook you up with anything and everything you're eligible for - and it might not hurt to bring proof of any income you have, so you can get everything in order at your first visit.
posted by dialetheia at 8:48 PM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

My experience was the same as dialethieia's -- I got a month's supply of the pill and an appointment to go back later for the pelvic exam. I was also counseled on my options for birth control which was very helpful, though I did ultimately choose hormonal BCP. There was no pregnancy test or blood test that I remember, though it was 13 years ago so I may just be forgetting about that part.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 9:02 PM on April 11, 2011

My first visit to a GYN ever was a private practice, and the physician was dismissive, hours late (thanks, I didn't want any wages today anyway) and personally judgmental. So I went straight to PP, and didn't actually go back to a private practice gyn until years after I had insurance.

So, the atmosphere at Planned Parenthood while you're waiting to be seen can depend a bit on your location. My first PP office was a small, quiet, nondescript concrete building in Norfolk. My second was considerably larger and more extensive (but also more bustling) facility in Philadelphia. But at both, every single staff person was always really, really nice. Everyone wants you to get good health care and not be intimidated. The level of respect described by cooker girl was absolutely my experience as well.

I saw both GYNs and nurse practitioners, but usually the latter. Both are absolutely fully qualified to give pelvic exams. Both gave excellent care, though the nurse practitioners tended to read between the lines better, and I tended to prefer them. (This was my only real checkup for a number of years.)

Those gyns and nurse practitioners have heard and seen everything, and will be ready to address any concern you have. This was comforting to me, and made it much easier and less embarrassing for me to answer and ask questions.
posted by desuetude at 9:06 PM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

I went to PP while I was a student with no insurance, and they treated me very respectfully and with care, and I liked it there even more than I liked the first doctor I saw (when I had insurance) to get birth control the first time. I went in and asked for birth control, and there was no judgment, and hardly even any questions really (they weren't asking me whether I was sexually active with a "long term partner or spouse", for example, like some doctors have asked me).

At the time, the cost of my birth control and exams were covered by California's public funding, so I never paid a cent. I had such a good experience with PP, in fact, that I actually went back later on and volunteered for them. So there is one more datapoint on the very positive end.
posted by so_gracefully at 9:10 PM on April 11, 2011

One thing: you may have uncomfortable side-effects from taking Plan B, but that's not standard for regular birth control (which is at a much, much lower dose), so don't worry about that. You'll be delighted and amazed at how professional and helpful everyone is. Your first gyn exam may feel a little weird going in, but the atmosphere is completely non-sexual and, actually, pretty empowering. Going in for one every year is good practice, but it's also a good way to get comfortable with your blood pressure baseline and to make sure that your medical decisions are still optimized - what works best as birth control for you at one point in your life may not be the same many years down the line, I've slowly been working with my (totally excellent) doctor to find the perfect balance of options for me (in my case, I've settled on condoms + IUD, because I'm paranoid and love not ever getting my period :).

You might also ask about the HPV vaccine.
I want to second this - both because it's important, but more importantly, because it's awesome. My doctor got so excited when I came in asking for it, and said, "WE CURED. A. CANCER. CURED CANCER!" There's really no downside to it that I could see.
posted by you're a kitty! at 9:10 PM on April 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Planned Parenthood will take care of you, but if they're like the PP in my neighborhood, I'd drop them in favor of someone else after this visit. My PP was more expensive than other doctors in the area and didn't do sliding scale payments. They were also paranoid about calling me, even after I assured them twice that they didn't need to be. They'd leave messages from an unknown number like, "Hey Rhonda, this is xxx! Please give me a call back soon." My initial reaction to these voice messages would always be, "WTF, I'm not calling that random girl back!" until it dawned on me 20 seconds later. They lost the file that contained information about my first two visits and had to be reminded every visit thereafter. And lastly, I always felt rushed. Even with a urine culture, pelvic exam, discussion about a new medication, and somehow ending up with a birth control prescription I didn't ask for, I was out of there within 10 minutes.
posted by plaintiff6r at 9:12 PM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Planned Parenthood is WONDERFUL, and everyone there will be sweet and comforting. They will take good, good care of you. Ask the doctor any questions you have!

And yeah, you do sound a bit frantic. You're approaching this in a very responsible and adult way. You're doing fine. I'm also available to talk if you'd like.
posted by honeydew at 9:20 PM on April 11, 2011

I think it really depends on the office. Some are busy and aren't as thorough as others but for your first visit it will be fine. Generally they are very nice, definitely women-positive and not up in your business. If, by any chance, you're in Chicago there's another sliding scale clinic called Chicago Women's Health Center that spends much more time with patients and is really big on education.

Your question seemed very knee-jerk to me. You can certainly get on the pill now but you don't have to. In fact, unless you and your partner have been tested please continue to use something that will protect you from STDs. PP has free condoms, ask for some! I wish I could get the HPV vaccine but I was too old when it came out. Take advantage if you can get it cheap.
posted by Bunglegirl at 9:26 PM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Generally speaking, have you consulted with both a Certified Nurse-Midwife and an OB/GYN? Which one did you prefer, and why?"

I have seen both, as well as a PA and a Women's Health Nurse. My current practice has ob/gyns, CNMs, and a new WHN. The key feature is really your personality mesh with the practitioner. I have had CNMs I liked and hated, ob/gyns I liked and hated. (I've only seen one PA and WHN each, they were both good.) As a general thing a practitioner used to "patients like you" is more likely to be a better fit, I've found. Someone who works with a lot of teen- or college-age girls is going to be more used to the problems of young women in early sexual experiences, but perhaps not as comfortable guiding a married woman in her 30s through a high-risk pregnancy. Whereas the Best Doctor Evah! for a married woman in her 30s with a high-risk pregnancy might be a bad match for an 18-year-old in her first sexual relationship.

A very good friend of mine and I go to the same practice. (We're both in the "married women in our 30s having babies" subset right now.) I absolutely adore a doctor whom I find personable, hilariously sharp and funny, easy to communicate with, efficient, etc. He's my doctor of choice. She finds him mean, sarcastic, rushed -- she can't stand his "bedside manner" even though she thinks he's a great doctor. She prefers a midwife in the practice who, she says, is gentle, takes her time, listens, etc. ... and I find this midwife to be maddeningly SLOOOOOOW and wishy-washy. I find her impossible to talk to and I feel like she's judgy. My friend thinks I'm high. (My 2nd favorite, though, is a different midwife who's efficient and pleasant and funny and direct, though not sarcastic like my fave doctor.)

So really, the key thing is a personality match; for a routine appointment there's not any major difference in skills between an experienced ob/gyn and an experienced CNM.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:28 PM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Planned parenthood is awesome, be aware that there will be a lot of paperwork and waiting though (that is my experience, it is a medical clinic not somewhere they just hand out pills like candy). Be aware that there will possibly be an incredibly annoying teen boy with clamydia and his dad yelling loudly about who knows what in the waiting room. The staff are nice and will answer any questions you have so ask them! I've been on a couple different pills and now am using depo and they were helpful in explaining the choices and the negative side effects i was worried about.
posted by boobjob at 9:46 PM on April 11, 2011

Honestly, Planned Parenthood has some of the most professional, patient, and nicest people I've ever met in the healthcare field. They're very dedicated. I went there for my first ever gyn visit and first prescription for birth control years go, and a few months ago when my private doctor stopped taking my insurance and nowhere else had availability that was still affordable.

That stuff about caring, dedicated people working there hadn't changed one bit.
posted by cmgonzalez at 10:06 PM on April 11, 2011

Since you have a regular gyn already: Sometimes if you call your gyn and ask about birth control, they will call you some in if you have had all the other regular exams already (pap, pelvic exam, etc.). Since you've never had the pill before, they might not. But, if you call them and tell them this is your interest, they might be able to get you in sooner with one of the nurse practitioners if the actual MD is booked. They want to help you get the birth control you seek, too.
posted by elpea at 10:17 PM on April 11, 2011

Planned Parenthood will treat you like a regular OB/GYN, but better. They seem more respectful and kind.
posted by fifilaru at 10:43 PM on April 11, 2011

Since elpea mentioned it - most OBGYN offices have some appointment slots that they keep open for more urgent issues like this, which is part of why their 'regular exam' scheduling is so far out. It's the same as going to see a GP - for scheduling your annual physical, they don't have a slot for six months, but if you have the flu they can see you tomorrow. If you didn't tell them specifically that you were hoping to see your doctor in order to get a birth control prescription, try it.
posted by Lady Li at 10:48 PM on April 11, 2011

I'm not sure what you mean by you can't afford to wait for the next available appointment. If cost is an issue and Plan B is expensive, well, it's not meant to be used as general birth control anyways. If you mean you can't afford condoms, you can get them free, and we're back to what lalex referred to - birth control does not protect against STDs. I think PP might help you with the cost of the pill, but for me (I'm uninsured) it's about $20/month. If you are covered by insurance, and you want to get the HPV vaccine, get it now, because uninsured it's something like $150 a shot and there are 3 shots.

If I'm totally misunderstanding you and by "can't afford to wait" you meant "don't want to stay abstinent till then" please forgive me.
posted by IndigoRain at 11:08 PM on April 11, 2011

Just so you know: pap tests, pelvic exams, and clinical breast exams have no medical relationship with birth control prescriptions even though they are often done at the same time in the US. The only medical test needed for a birth control prescription is a blood pressure check. So if you are specifically worried about a pelvic exam or pap test, there's actually no reason to have those just to get a birth control prescription, and many PP's don't require them. Pelvic exams are about as relevant to the pill as cholesterol checks are--which is to say, not at all.
posted by Violet Hour at 11:39 PM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

And I second elpea: if you already have a regular doctor or ob/gyn they should be more than happy to prescribe birth control for you if they've seen you recently enough to have the relevant blood pressure reading.
posted by Violet Hour at 11:42 PM on April 11, 2011

I'm not in the US so I can't talk about Planned Parenthood, but I want to make a couple of more general points about birth control. Firstly, it's worth remembering that the pill is not your only option. Injections, implants, the nuva ring and coils are also on the list (assuming you are both clear of STDs). All of them have advanatges and disadvantages. I'm sure planned parenthood will tell you all about them, but you may want to read up on them so you can think about what you prefer in advance.

Secondly, the different varieties of BCP themselves all have quite different side-effects in different people. You may well get one that suits you right away, but if you find it doesn't, there's a good chance a different one will and I'm sure PP will work with you to find a good match for you.
posted by *becca* at 12:46 AM on April 12, 2011

Just to weigh in on the CNM/OBGYN question: I saw a CNM throughout my pregnancy and loved the hell out of her. It was a good personality match and I appreciated that she was very laid back and not quick to start any kind of interventions. I also saw an OBGYN in the same practice a few times, who was also really laid back (by OB standards, that is). So, really, it IS a personality thing. One time when I couldn't get an appointment with my regular CNM, I saw another CNM at the practice and there was no connection there. I liked my OB way better than I liked her (which isn't to say I *dis*liked her, but y'know).

In general, I've found that OBGYNs are more likely to start treating an issue with medication or other interventions early on while a CNM might wait slightly longer to see if things work out on their own or advocate for non-medical interventions. I would absolutely see a CNM in the future - especially for any future pregnancies.
posted by sonika at 1:05 AM on April 12, 2011

My experiences with PP were fantastic. They can also answer questions about sexuality and non-reproductive health issues. So happy I started with them when I was younger and 1st sexually active. They were also completely confidential, and the care was very good.
posted by theora55 at 2:54 AM on April 12, 2011

PP is usually fantastic! The place I went to in college was wonderful. The location near me now that I only had to use a few times between insurance was much, much, much busier, but everyone was kind and nice. I even had pelvic exam with absolutely no discomfort with a PP nurse practitioner. Prior to her, each exam had the usual discomfort, but she was sooooo gooooooood that I, very literally, didn't feel a thing except the little prick. It was a great experience.

I now see a family doctor, and more specifically, the nurse practitioner in the family medicine practice. I really like family medicine compared to even GPs because they see my son, my husband, and me. They have a far, far, far more holistic approach in treating the entire person --- mental well being, physical well being, emotional well being. And I never feel rushed or just pushed through their office, whether I meet with our FNP or our MD. So, if you don't have a primary care of any sort, then look into family medical practices near you. They should be able to handle any routine procedures on an adult woman (and that includes prescribing birth control).

As for the OB-CNM thing. You really only need to see one of those for pregnancy --- not for routine care, and I would urge you to, long before you become pregnant, think carefully on which of several models of care you would prefer for pregnancy. In addition to OBs and CNMs, there are a range of specialists for high risk pregnancies. There are also homebirth midwives who may be CPMs (certified professional midwives) or have other credentials as required by the state in which they practice or encouraged by the Midwives Alliance of that state. You can birth in a hospital, in a hospital affiliated birth center, in a free standing birth center, or at home. There are many, many, many, many options to consider for pregnancy depending on one's own preference, medical history, and comfort. I saw an OB for my first pregnancy, which turned out to be a terrible mistake with many mistakes made by the OB and the OB practice. I am now seeing a homebirth midwife this time, and it's a completely different relationship and environment. I feel myself fully understood as a person, and my midwife has provided me with nothing but compassion while the OB I saw last time sloughed off my very real concerns that took two other consults with other doctors to set right. But until/unless you are pregnant, for routine care, there is absolutely no need to see an OB or a midwife of any kind unless you have specific concerns pertaining to conception.
posted by zizzle at 6:41 AM on April 12, 2011

When I went to PP for birth control, the door had a buzzer such that you pushed a button and talked to a person over the intercom before they let you in. It was pretty frightening when I wasn't expecting it. Other than that, the doctors and staff were knowledgeable and friendly and helpful.

(Although pelvic exams and birth control aren't medically linked, something like one third of doctors in the US still require a pelvic exam in order to get birth control... Furthermore, until fairly recently federally funded programs were forced to require a pelvic exam before prescribing hormonal birth control and there's a lot of holdover from that. So no, you don't need a pelvic exam, but convincing your doctor of that can be an uphill battle.)
posted by anaelith at 8:50 AM on April 12, 2011

I've never been a patient/client at PP, but I have volunteered and have lived near several in my various urban neighborhoods.

One thing I don't think anyone has mentioned is that there may be protesters outside, particularly if that location performs abortions. If there are protesters, there are usually volunteer escorts from PP to shield you, but it may be upsetting. Protesters can range a lot (we saw people quietly praying all the way up to the fetal picture folks).
posted by Pax at 9:42 AM on April 12, 2011

When I went to PP for birth control, the door had a buzzer such that you pushed a button and talked to a person over the intercom before they let you in. It was pretty frightening when I wasn't expecting it. Other than that, the doctors and staff were knowledgeable and friendly and helpful.

Ours have that and metal detectors. It was slightly jarring, but understandable.
posted by cmgonzalez at 11:15 AM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Everyone who's said above that pelvic exams aren't necessary for birth control is completely correct. Likewise, I can agree with everyone who's said they got great care at Planned Parenthood. I used PP all through college for birth control and gyn care, and without exception it was a wonderful, no-judgement, caring environment.

I do disagree about not needing a pelvic exam, though, in your specific case. Now that you're sexually active, getting regular pelvic exams is important. if you've never had a pelvic exam or Pap smear or been tested for gonorrhea and chlamydia, a pelvic exam is a Very Good Idea. It sounds like you didn't use protection against sexually transmitted infections this time (forgive me if I'm misunderstanding something), so getting an exam now (and using condoms every time going forward, even once you're on some other form of birth control) is wise.

Don't delay getting birth control, but please make an appointment for a pelvic exam, too. The two things don't have to happen at the same time, but getting it over with all at once might be convenient.

As for the difference between OBs and CNMs: I'm in midwifery school right now and will be a certified nurse-midwife at the end of it, so my totally biased opinion is: go Team Nurse-Midwife! For healthy women, they're the best.

You're welcome to MeMail me. I can't offer medical advice (I am not your student nurse-midwife!), but I can point you in the direction of resources if you need them!
posted by jesourie at 1:56 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Now that you're sexually active, getting regular pelvic exams is important.

I disagree. There's no evidence that pelvic exams actually do any good, even for sexually active people. (See also.) Women in the UK, for example, don't routinely get pelvic exams--it's just not part of health care there--and suffer no ill effects. Pap testing should not start until three years after first having sex, so the OP should not do it now.

I agree that sexually active people might want to be tested for gonorrhea and chlamydia, but that can be done with urinalysis, so there's no need for a pelvic exam.
posted by Violet Hour at 2:13 PM on April 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've had great experiences with PP. I loved the physicians, and everyone seemed very dedicated to their work. I did have to wait a looong time though, so I'd suggest scheduling an appointment as early in the day as possible just in case they get backed up.

PP charges on a sliding scale, and I had to pay out of pocket the first time I went because I couldn't prove that my income was as low as it actually was, so I ended up paying about $50 for the exam, and $20 for the birth control pills. Very reasonable rates, but at the time they were pretty steep for my broke ass. It might be different for you, but it doesn't hurt to ask about the sliding scale, and whether you need to bring proof of income or age with you.

Also. There's no waiting time for condoms to be effective, and you can buy them at your local drug store. You can even get the really fancy kind if you like. Or get them free from PP. When starting birth control pills, you should use condoms as a back up anyway, especially if your periods are irregular. They're cheap, easy to obtain, easy to use, and protect you from STDs. Good stuff.
posted by ladypants at 3:33 PM on April 12, 2011

« Older Did anyone predict e-cigarettes?   |   Sensation of being pushed into the bed Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.