The first time I set foot in an OB-GYN’s office I was terrified. My legs were shaking, my voice trembled, and I refused to look up. I wouldn’t make eye contact with the receptionist or nurses or women waddling throughout the waiting room. Instead, I kept my eyes down and whispered something about my 7 o’clock appointment.
“Are you a new patient, sweetie?”
I responded or nodded. Somehow I acknowledged that yes — yes, I was new — and the nurse passed me a pen and a clipboard.
She handed me half a dozen papers with questions that would make most young women blush.
Of course, I filled out most with a simple “no” or “not applicable,” but some required more work. Some required numerical answers, dates, or a few words.
When was your last period?
How long are your periods?
Do you have any issues with your period?
How many partners do you have?
How many partners does your partner(s) have? (Wait, what? How many what?!)
I rushed through the invasive intake form and buried my face in a book, but I couldn’t focus: What the hell am I doing? Why am I here? I thought. I just want to get on the Pill. I want to have safe, baby-free sex with my soon-to-be husband.
The good news was that an hour later, I could; because I walked out of the office with a script, a clean bill of genital health, and several “sample packs” — which I buried in the bowels of my purse.
But that was a decade ago — that was an entire lifetime ago — and while I was on the Pill for many, many years (in fact, I only came off of it to conceive, carry, and breastfeed my daughter), when I went back on the Pill, I encountered a slew of new side effects. I was cramping and moody. My sex drive was non-existent, and I suppose that was a good thing because I was bleeding more days of the month than not.
I could have sought a new prescription or called my doctor for a higher dose, but instead I decided enough was enough. I was annoyed by the expense. I was sick of putting strange chemicals in my body. I was so over the side effects, and I was tired of being the bearer of the “birth control burden.” My body needed a break — I needed a break — and so I discussed the matter with my husband.
In January 2014, we bought condoms and I stopped taking the Pill.
Make no mistake: I know I am lucky. I am married and in a monogamous relationship with a man who doesn’t question my decisions. He understood why I wanted off the Pill; he didn’t question me when I refused injections, implants, patches, and rings; and he slips on a condom without complaint. He even regularly orders said condoms on Amazon.com, so we’re always well-stocked and never have to worry.
However, many women are not in my position. Many women are questioned by their companions, lovers, boyfriends, and husbands as to why they aren’t on the Pill, because “they should be.” Because it is “easiest” for all parties. They feel pressured into being on birth control and carry the weight of that on their shoulder, as the onus has been on women since the 1970s’. But that doesn’t make it right. It doesn’t make it OK, and it doesn’t mean women should be forced to put their health in jeopardy.
And for those wondering: Yes, birth control is a serious medication and in some cases, it can even be deadly.
But what can women do? What other options do we have? Well, unfortunately, not many. There is of course the obvious — but completely impractical — idea of abstinence. Women can demand their sexual partner(s) “pull out” or wear condoms, but both come with caveats and risks, i.e. condoms are uncomfortable, they cause a loss of sensation for both parties, and they are less effective. In fact, according to Planned Parenthood, 18 out of every 100 people who use condoms will get pregnant each year. (In the case of withdrawal or “pulling out,” 4 out of every 100 women will become pregnant when it is done correctly; however, when done incorrectly, 27 of of every 100 women will find themselves pregnant.)
In short, the odds suck and the “male options” suck more.
But that doesn’t mean we should suffer and settle. We need better. We deserve better. And we should demand more.
Women and men should be advocating for new and safer birth control methods, and for a dependable male alternative. (And yes, researchers were working to create a male hormone-based injection, but in case you missed it, just last month the study came to a screeching halt when the side effects became too “unbearable” — making prescription-based birth control options for men feel light years away.) But that doesn’t mean we should be complacent. That doesn’t mean we should be silent. And in order to change the dialogue, we have to HAVE a dialogue.
That said, I know my own personal decision isn’t the right decision for everyone. In fact, many women do not mind being on the Pill at all, and find the side effects are minimal. (At best.) Many women swear by things like the patch or NuvaRing, and many others simply don’t mind being the one who stocks the condoms or works to keep themselves safe. But regardless of your position on the Pill, OTC contraception, or birth control in general, my intention in sharing my story isn’t to change yours; they are instead intended to make a point: That every woman should be able to make the decision about what is and isn’t best for their being and their body. Because every woman should feel comfortable making that decision for themselves, and none of us should feel as though birth control is their burden to bear.