Wednesday, May 12, 2010
This is the final part of a series for Blogging Against Disableism Day. Part one and part two ran previously. See more of BADD 2010.
After I tossed my birth control in the trash, things were pretty okay. My mind was in line, condoms and withdrawal (a tip from another friend) served me just fine, and when it didn't, Plan B didn't knock me too far out of line (at that point).
But after intercourse one night, I had some nasty gas. Or cramps. Something that made me double up next to my partner on the twin bed in his dorm room for an hour. It passed, I went to sleep, and didn't think about it much the next morning. The next day, at work, I doubled up again, on a couch this time. I could not walk it off. A student who had an appointment with me came in, and I had to beg off. I waited a few hours and then called my roommate to take me to the hospital.
After several boring hours at the hospital, pain going in and out, the verdict was returned: ruptured ovarian cysts.
"Could this be caused by birth control?" I asked a nurse. "Certainly, honey!" she replied. I was relieved - I threw that stuff away.
I recovered well and went to a male gynecologist whom I was comfortable with, even when he described the discomforting image of my ladybusiness filled with blood from the ruptured ovary. Months passed. In the late summer, I went back in for a check-up. Things were fine until Dr. Man called me into his office. "So, what are you doing about birth control?"
"Well, we've been using condoms and pulling out, but I'd really like to talk about maybe getting a diaphragm or an IUD?"
"Oh no. I only prescribe non-hormonal methods to people in stable relationships."
"Well, I've been with my boyfriend almost two years now, and we're pretty..."
"No, I'm talking like... mortgage, kids together. You're not ready for that yet. I think hormonal methods are much more appropriate for you." He smiled.
"Well, you know, I think that the pill might have caused the ruptures? - "
"Oh, no, that's not possible. This will actually prevent them!"
"But didn't like it that much the first time around, it didn't make me feel good, you know, mentally?"
"Sometimes you have to try several different kinds. It takes a while to get the right fit."
"But I'm not good at taking pills - "
He smiled, and pulled up a NuvaRing, and talked me into it.
Never mind that I said I was uncomfortable. Never mind I said I was looking for a non-hormonal method of birth control. Never mind the strife and pain and suffering that trying hormonal methods, of searching for the "right" (read: hormonal) fit. Never mind that I researched and requested specific other methods. Never mind that I already had a reliable and effective method of birth control.
I was judged too young, too immature, too unstable. I am a woman and a person with disabilities, and for that reason, my input on my own body was dismissed, and another method that had already proved harmful was pushed upon me.
Now, I should say this: I'm sure that HBC can help people with ovarian cysts. But they don't help me - every time I've taken and gone off HBC, I have had ruptured cysts within a few months. I had never had them before I started HBC, and I don't have them when I'm not on it. In some women, HBC and ovarian cysts are unrelated, or helpful. For my body, it's a causation.
Ruptured ovarian cysts are one physical, temporarily disabling ramification of hormonal birth control for my body. But the major tremors were, as I've belabored, mental.
In the month I was on the NuvaRing, I was anxious. I was angry. I was out of my head. I couldn't concentrate, on anything. My sex drive plummeted and I couldn't climax. I deal with OCD on a daily basis, but this was different, meaner. The obsessions and compulsions were full of rage. The trichotillomania was almost violent.
The tipping point finally came when I screamed at a close friend and broke my phone in a rage...brought on by a lost puzzle piece.
(I think this is funny, in retrospect.)
I took out the ring the next day.
Things were good, for a year or so. I wasn't on any kind of hormonal birth control, and I didn't get pregnant. I was busy. I wrote two honors theses, graduated with honors, got a temporary job with health insurance, found the perfect apartment with my partner. One afternoon, though, our usual methods malfunctioned, and I had to take Plan B. It most likely wasn't necessary, but my anxiety surrounding pregnancy was only relieved by being extra-careful.
A month later, I went into an anxiety tailspin - deep enough that I am still dealing with its ramifications. I had health insurance, so I got therapy and went to a female gynecologist who encouraged me to look into non-hormonal methods. Getting service from her was too expensive, but another friend recommended a local abortion clinic, who fitted me for a diaphragm for only $25.
I had to try two different sizes. Figuring out how to fit it was frustrating enough to inspire a tearful phone call to my mother. The tubes of spermicide are expensive. It's a pain to remember to take it out the next day.
But getting a diaphragm was the best decision I've made regarding my fertility.
For the purposes of curious readers contemplating different methods of birth control, I'll describe my system with my partner. After foreplay and before intercourse, I insert my diaphragm (it's easier when I'm aroused). We go for a while without a condom. I am comfortable with because withdrawal is 97% effective when used consistently and correctly, because we have both been tested and neither of us have STIs, because we have been monogamous and stable for four years and I trust him, because it feels pretty awesome, and because I have a diaphragm in in case of early ejaculation. When my partner feels that it is necessary and after I have climaxed, he puts on a condom, and finishes.
This is satisfying, exciting, and I feel comfortable and confident in my methodology. Mistakes are rarely made, and there is always a safety net in the case of an accident. We are able to plan our family and our life without worrying about unexpected conception. I have little to no anxiety, even when my (often irregular) period is slightly late.
This is the right method of birth control for me. It was hard won, but you know what? It's an accomplishment in self-care, and I'm proud of it.
In concluding this series, I want to reiterate that hormonal birth control can be wonderful and liberating and healthy for many women. This is not a diatribe against hormonal birth control in and of itself. If this works for you, I am so glad.
So, what are the lessons I want to communicate to readers facing choices about their method of birth control?
As with any other decision we make regarding our body, our choices are judged and policed. This is not okay. You should not have to use birth control. You should not feel that you have to use any particular method of birth control. While doctors and partners and friends and mothers are worth listening to, it is your body and your health, and you can do what you want with it. Your body and your reproductive system are yours, and you and no one else knows what is best for you.
Doctors are not the only source of information on the topic, and they cannot dictate what you should do. They are prone to bad advice. Doctors do not know everything and are subject to biases that can block you from finding the method that's right for you. Diaphragms are a valid choice. So is withdrawal. So are condoms. So is the sponge.* So are hormonal methods. There are other methods than hormonal birth control, and hormonal birth control is not right for everybody.
Only you have the right to make decisions about your reproductive health, but that doesn't mean that you don't need help. The words of other women are powerful. Your mother, your friends, your mentors, may very well have information and stories to share. Ask women you trust about their experiences, and talk to them about your options and feelings.
*Thanks to Liss for reminding me of this method!