Meg Roberts' Plants for Patients

Meg Roberts' Plants for Patients

For two years, potter Meg Roberts has done something unusual with the planters she makes: She gives them to women who are undergoing abortions. Since March 2012, when the Fargo, North Dakota, artist began her Plants for Patients nonprofit, Roberts has given out more than 1,000 planters, complete with plants and supportive notes. Roberts, 25, not only makes most of the planters, she also organizes community get-togethers for the planting and the note writing. The planters then go to the Red River Women’s Clinic, the only abortion provider in North Dakota, where, Roberts estimates, around 65 percent of abortion patients choose to take one home. Plants for Patients, she says, is neither pro-life nor pro-choice but “pro-compassion” – and seeking to humanize an individual in a politicized setting. We asked Roberts to tell us more about her project.

You could provide plants and notes for any kind of patient. Why choose abortion, a polarizing issue?

Because, originally, that was where my heart was. This is a group of people who are so stigmatized, and it’s such a large group of people – 30 percent of women, which doesn’t count partners or best girlfriends, friends or family. So many people have been affected by abortion. It is highly controversial. And when I started the organization, I comforted myself by saying I had said I could eventually open it up to cancer patients or hospice patients or any number of people dealing with significant experiences where healing was needed. But then the patients’ responses that made me realize that I couldn’t do that.

Why couldn’t you do that?

One abortion patient wrote in some feedback what she found strongest part of program was that it was something special just for people like her. That was my moment of  “I can’t now go on and do something else,” because I don’t want it to diminish the potential that it has on this conversation.

You’ve said you’d like to reframe the conversation about abortion. What would you like to change?

I’d like to provide an alternative to the ingrained prochoice-prolife discourse. Often there are two different conversations happening, a lot of times not on the same level. I want to bring the focus back to helping our neighbors, to a place of pro-compassion.

What has been the reaction from pro-choice and pro-life people to your project?

It’s been vastly supportive, especially from pro-choice community here in Fargo, but also from people who wouldn’t identify with either camp. People who don’t want to get in the conversation, don’t have to deal with it or face it still have been really supportive. People see that it’s doing good work for your neighbors and just supporting people potentially in crisis.

Abortion is divisive. Have you gotten some negative feedback?

There hasn’t been a lot of contrary feedback. Here or there will be a comment on the Facebook page, feedback on the website. The majority of the time I just have to tune that out.

Yours is a different business model from most artists’. You’re not making work to sell. Is your intent to make a living with your nonprofit?

I don’t know that I can build my career off of Plants for Patients. It’s a piece of my whole, and I supplement it with other projects that I am interested in. I have worked at coffee shops for 10 years, for example, and I don’t foresee not doing that because of the interaction and different ways of connecting with people. As Plants for Patients’ executive director, at some point I will get paid something to try to sustain myself and pay the rent. In the long run, I don’t know. At this point that’s not necessarily my priority. Building a sustainable organization is the priority.

How much of your time does the nonprofit consume?

I spend at least 50 percent of my time on Plants for Patients. I have two other jobs besides this and other responsibilities.

What is the most gratifying response you’ve experienced?

Patients have said thank you and been surprised that they get to take this gift home. The note of support has been one of the most impactful pieces of it for them. We also send a questionnaire home not only to gather information from patients – what was it like to make this decision? – but also to help us tailor the program: What do you like about the program, what could we do better? There was a woman who wrote small, filled front and back and another sheet of paper, and said thank you. She hadn’t been able to talk to anybody, and filling out questionnaire felt as if she had talked to somebody, gone through a healing process that way.

Another example: At a community event that I put on, an older gentleman was writing notes of support and got a little teary; he was moved by putting pen to paper and figuring out what he would want to hear, how these words would be read by somebody experiencing crisis, what the impact would be, the impact of our words. That simple act of writing a note was phenomenal.