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What’s So Special About a Papaya?

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Fellow Erin Hendriks shows intern Lianne how to perform an manual vacuum aspiration on a papaya.

Our first summer brown bag lunch was a great success! On Monday, July 16th, the Reproductive Health Access Project invited summer interns  from reproductive health and justice organizations around New York City to lunch time talk. The topic? A papaya workshop.

Now you might be asking yourself, “Papayas? What’s so special about a papaya?” Well, besides being an incredibly healthy fruit, the papaya is a great uterine model. Papayas are often used to train clinicians to provide early abortion care via manual vacuum aspiration (MVA).

The workshop started off with an options counseling role-play with Dr. Erin Hendriks, RHAP’s 2012 Falencki Fellow, and a ‘patient’ played by Natasha Miller, RHAP’s Women’s Health Advocate.  The interns were able to witness first hand a personal conversation between a health care provider and a patient who is dealing with an unintended pregnancy and considering abortion. Using a patient-centered counseling approach, Erin reassured her ‘patient’ Natasha that abortion is a safe procedure that often takes no longer than a few minutes.

After the role play, Erin emphasized the importance of language when working with women in a reproductive health setting. Some health care providers, she pointed out, use certain words or phrases that can cause a patient to feel uncomfortable. Imagine already being nervous for a procedure and then hearing the doctor say, “alright, now scoot all the way down the table until you feel like you’re going to fall off.” Nobody wants to hear that! Instead, Erin explained that she uses phrases that reassure and empower her patients. For example instead of pushing a patient’s knees apart, she encourages a woman to,“think of an open book.” These types of language nuances may seem small, but they can make all the difference for a patient.

Then it was time for the papaya demonstration. We looked on as Erin performed a manual vacuum aspiration (MVA) on a papaya. I admit I felt a little squeamish watching the aspirator being inserted, but altogether it was fascinating. When it came time for volunteers to perform an MVA on their own papaya, I was first to raise my hand. Surprisingly, all my hesitation was gone the minute I started.

As a summer intern with RHAP and someone who is very passionate about abortion access, the workshop held special meaning for me. The word “abortion” has the weight of political and moral complications attached to it, but is this always the case for a patient and her health care provider? It became clear to me that although abortion can be a difficult choice for some, to others it is a necessary medical procedure. This realization has become all the more important to me during my time at RHAP. The projects that I’ve worked on and the dedicated, inspiring staff and interns that I’ve met have further convinced me of the importance of full spectrum reproductive health care and access.

-Lianne Salcido, 2012  Summer Intern

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