My struggles with birth control, my pregnancies, and my decisions
Organized by method. If you don’t have something nice to say, please say nothing. That said, I appreciate everyone for reading.
The first time I was on the Pill I got pregnant. I was 19 and had been taking it two months, not really long enough to get a good routine; I missed a couple days here and there, and followed protocol for that, but then I just kind of knew one month, before my period was even due, that I was pregnant. It was like a sudden hormone shift. I can’t explain it. I took a test. I cried, I called my boyfriend, he cried. He was a philosophy major. He said maybe we could raise it; that abortion was “technically murder.” I called my big sister, who worked at a Planned Parenthood. I was a lucky girl. She came to my town to stay with me for four days. The doctors were nice, as I remember. They told me I was 4 weeks pregnant, and would have to wait till week 5, which is the earliest abortion is medically effective. I used the abortion pill, because I thought I would prefer to be at home, but no one prepared me mentally for all the cramping and nausea and heavy bleeding. It was winter and my apartment seemed really really dark. I was very down, and took a week off work. A woman manager at work was angry with me; she had had an abortion and was back at work the next day, she said. It never occurred to me to carry the baby to term. I was miles from motherhood then, and I know I did the right thing. But I wouldn’t tell my loving parents for 7 more years, out of fear.
I have tried five or six kinds of hormonal birth control—pills, rings—and all of them have made me depressed and disoriented all month long. I’m prone to depression naturally, and manage it very actively and effectively, but the pill tips the scales considerably, out of my control. I don’t use hormonal birth control anymore.
I use condoms. My boyfriend uses condoms. We use condoms. Tons of them. I haven’t gotten pregnant using condoms. I am pretty thrilled with that. I am less thrilled with the expense, that I think most free condoms smell and don’t feel natural; more expensive condoms seem shaped better. I care about that. Sex is a part of intimate partnership, and I care very much that we not be too distracted from each other during that.
I also never felt secure that the guy I loved would put up with my need for condoms—my body’s rejection of hormonal birth control—until my present relationship. Some women don’t need condoms. I always felt sexually inadequate for needing them. Now it makes me angry when guys complain about them.
Intra Uterine Device (IUD)
Because of my concerns about condoms and hormonal contraceptives, I tried an IUD. I had it for a year. The clinician told me to take two Advil before I came in for the insertion procedure. The procedure involves a metal forcep that manually dilates the cervix, which is normally the size of a pencil tip, and which nothing except a labor normally messes with, to the size of a silver dollar. I screamed during the procedure; the clinician said I had a small cervix and she was surprised she was able to insert the IUD. I only kept the IUD for a year, because I had daily cramps for that year; it’s common to have daily cramping for 6 months up to a year after that procedure. I was discouraged about starting from scratch again but unwilling to call chronic pain a normal part of fertility management.
As I understand it, withdrawal is fairly effective when done correctly, and guys seem to prefer it to condoms, but it being done correctly is almost entirely up to the guy, for hopefully obvious reasons. I don’t prefer it to condoms. Most women (me) need longer to come from intercourse than men do, and withdrawal ends that part of the sexual session whether the woman is ready or not. I achieve orgasm mostly from intercourse, so I experience withdrawal as a ticking clock situation. Besides, a guy only has to do it wrong once for it not to work. The second time I got pregnant, my boyfriend at the time had been withdrawing. I was 22. When I found out I felt like a hundred pounds of lead. When I told my boyfriend, his first response was “I got half.” He was referring to the cost. I think he felt very evolved. Once again, I did not think about carrying the baby to term. I had good parents, and I knew people without good parents, and I did not consider myself ready to be the parent my child would deserve. My mistakes should not decide a child’s life, and to let my selfish young body decide for my brain or heart when I’m ready to start a family seems like a grievous kind of foolishness. Not to mention that I was still working on my aforementioned depression; at the time I was still using a depression medication that endangers feotuses, and still learning how to manage my emotions without it, and I was simply not open for business, baby-wise. I was ashamed, however. I worried people would think I was callous, or worse. I still worry about that. I was also afraid of letting my boyfriend or friends know that I hated to be doing this. There was no room for me to be sad, to feel loss, to express frustration as a woman that I was not capable of supporting a baby. I noticed more things this time than the first: my breasts changed immediately, and the specific hormonal shift toward tenderness and protectiveness. I had a lot of feelings that I didn’t talk about, because they didn’t fit into any existing political narrative in my community. I had the inpatient procedure, 5 weeks in. I was very lucky to live in LA, where my sister also lived at the time. She helped me again. Women with sisters who love women are so so lucky, and women who live in relatively respectful parts of the country are so so lucky. Other women are not so lucky.
When I finally told my parents, my father said he had figured at the time that that had probably been going on, but that he hadn’t wanted to violate my sense of privacy about something so sensitive. My mother, who is very devoted to motherhood and would never have had an abortion, said she didn’t judge me for a moment, and that she loved me. I am incredibly lucky.
If I got pregnant today I don’t know what I would do. I feel close to ready to start a family, but I don’t like the idea of letting my body choose the timing, instead of me and my partner. We use condoms so that we can wait a few more years, but if we made a mistake I think we could probably rise to the occasion now. We might have to, because I don’t know if I’m willing to go through that again. And I’m saying “again,” but I mean “today.” If I had never ever had an abortion, I still think I might be unwilling to have one today, because I’m almost ready now. I feel almost like a mother. I didn’t then, and I stand by those decisions. Planned Parenthood is a ridiculously well-chosen name; not a euphemism, or a cover-up, but a reality. I will be an active mother. I will not be a passive mother. I will not be a child, or think like a child. Children deserve that. Society needs that. I am the only one who could know when I was ready. For me it is a question of readiness. For other women it will be a question of willingness, and I honor that too. Humans are miraculously conscious creatures. Let’s make some real decisions.