Remembering South Bend

One year ago. Sandra Castro was working as a patient advocate at our Whole Woman’s Health clinic in South Bend, Indiana. In June of this year, extreme, anti-abortion politicians forced us to close that clinic. Below, Sandra reflects on a day in the life of our small, but mighty Indiana clinic and the legacy we leave behind.

December 2022 — It is a frosty morning, and a dusting of snow covered the hidden layer of ice coating our sidewalk and parking lot. I walk through the biting cold to open our clinic for the day. After unlocking the door and disarming the alarm, I clock in, then go back out to shovel the sidewalk and throw down some salt.

Next, it is time to start prepping for the day ahead: I brew a pot of coffee for our waiting room guests, tell Alexa to play relaxing music, and print out our patient schedule. My coworkers begin to trickle in and brush off the cold, storing their belongings and readying their stations.

We all wait around the front desk area chatting about how we hate the cold and love our coffee but most importantly, ‘what’s for lunch?’ even though that is hours away! I love my Whole Woman’s Health crew. Since our South Bend clinic opened in 2019, we have become a very cliché work family—we know all about each other’s lives and treasure the opportunity to work together.

Opening our schedule, I know we were looking at a busy, bustling day. We’ve been seeing more and more patients in recent weeks, with many traveling from out of state to reach us.  With Indiana’s statewide ban looming over us, we are determined to see as many folks as possible for as long as possible.

The door buzzer rings and volunteers with Pro-Choice South Bend arrive. They come inside to get their rainbow vests, umbrellas, and box of hand warmers from the closet. Come snow, rain, or shine, they reliably provide us with patient escorts. Today especially, we honor their commitment knowing full well that not only will they be facing the harassment of our protestors, but also the fierce cold. A few minutes later, the buzzer rings again: our first patient of the morning has arrived. And so, the day begins.

Today, my coworkers and I are so busy, and I feel like my coffee isn’t doing the trick. As the clinic’s patient advocate, I do the counseling portion of the appointments. I love the opportunity to work one-on-one with patients and hear every single one of their stories. Some folks just need a little extra time to chat, while others are hungry and ready to go, feeling confident.

As I wrap up with one patient and begin to write notes for their chart, my co-worker calls my name: a patient left an envelope for “the person who answered the phone two days ago.”  That’s me. I grabbed the white envelope with the words Thank You scrolled on the front. I open it and slide out a beautiful blue card.

“To the sweet, sincere, most kind-hearted intake employee, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for how you dealt with me. The day I called in, you were pleasant from your first word to your last. I’ll never forget you or your compassion for me. Youmade a terrible thing bearable. This world needs more hearts like yours and I’m forever grateful for crossing paths with you. Obviously not under these circumstances, but I truly want you to know you make a difference in this world. Thank you for being amazing and for all the help you gave to me. I’ll never forget you! I will pay it forward.” 

I knew immediately who the card came from. Patient F, who I had spoken to a few days earlier. In our conversation, I sensed her anxiety, and I did my best to answer all her questions then affirm her decision. I took my time and upon ending the call, the tone in her voice changed and she seemed calmer. Her note meant the world to me.

Today, her card sits on my desk as a constant reminder that the things I do, the words I speak, and the actions I take have an impact.  The work I do fuels my passion to make a difference here in my community of South Bend.

I find it difficult to end this piece on a positive note. Our community suffered an immense loss when we were forced to close our South Bend clinic earlier this year. Today, we can no longer provide essential, lifesaving abortion care.

I can, however, speak to the impact we had, the connections we made, and the people we helped.

Even though extreme anti-abortion politicians passed a monstrous abortion ban, I am part of a movement with unwavering perseverance. Our little, but mighty Whole Woman’s Health Alliance clinic in South Bend was a shining star in our community.  

We shone so brightly, and I am so incredibly proud of the life-changing work we had the opportunity to provide.