Laws surrounding birth control in America are ever-changing and in the news a lot these days. With government support of Planned Parenthood weaning and increased vocal celebrity support of Planned Parenthood, it's 'trending'.
As a Canadian, I am grateful for our health care system but also concerned about what's happening in America. I read about it, to stay informed, but there are often residual effects. I think about it often. What sticks with me the most are the comments on these articles by well-meaning men, who want to chime in but have no leg to stand on. You know the ones. They don't speak to the availability and affordability of birth control, they speak to the hot issue. The abortion issue. They are pro-choice usually, they want to be open-minded, allowing a woman to choose, but they do not want a woman to "use it as birth control". They have a limit of how many a woman should or shouldn't have had before they cross this man's imaginary line of right or wrong. This is absurd. A woman does not simply look at her options for birth control and make a conscious decision that an incredibly painful and invasive procedure is what will work best for her life. This is a complicated issue with many other factors at play, namely, accessibility and affordability of birth control.
So this narrative is based on my personal experience, where my main method of birth control was and always has been, the pill. I rarely considered other birth control options as the pill seemed like the easiest, most efficient way to avoid an unwanted pregnancy. In monogamous relationships the word condom rarely/never came up. Having an IUD installed inside me, was not something I liked the sound of, and I felt like I was too disorganized a person to keep an ovulation calendar and go by days.
My experience with being on birth control to prevent pregnancy has been mostly positive, but I can't say the same for all the women I know. One friend in a rural area went to her family doctor at 17 years old for a birth control prescription and was denied, citing religious reasons. She was unmarried, and he could not in good faith, give her birth control. To work up the nerve to go to your doctor and do the responsible thing at 17, and to treated like that, is appalling.
Today I will attempt to share my personal experience with birth control by disclosing some personal information, without disclosing too much personal information. My audience? Those well-meaning men that want to discuss the issue. Possibly the same ones that at 17 years old would run into my college clinic with their friends, grab a handful of condoms and run out laughing their asses off - while me and the other girls sat waiting to see the doctor to have our prescription filled.
I'll start at the beginning. What did they call it in high school gym class? Being sexually active?
I was late to the game. 19 years old, so 14 years ago.
14 years of sexual activity. Always the serial monogamist, I have had a steady partner for 13 of those 14 years. In trying to pinpoint how many times the deed has been done, I have to go with assumptions. 52 weeks in a year, 728 if we say once a week. 1456 times if twice a week, during the good years. Let's say the number is somewhere in there. 1100 seems realistic.
1098 times I didn't get pregnant
5110 days of taking a pill.
5110 days with synthetic hormones in my system.
The last number isn't right, because I went off the pill 3 times. Each time because it was affecting my psychological well-being. The first time I went off the pill was the worst. It was when I was 20 and in college, and I had a complete mental breakdown. Crying all the time, racing thoughts, an inability to concentrate on anything, very dark thoughts. The school nurse watched me for 3 months, and said it's a side effect that will likely go away in time but I couldn't handle it and went off it. When I went back to it, they put me on a different kind, saying it may help with the side effects.
I went off again at the age of 28 and then again at 32, again for personal reasons related to my psychological well-being. I started the pill in 2003, and in 2016 the first major study linking the pill to depression in women was released. You can read about it here: Birth Control Study
The pill is not available on pharmacy shelves. Why? I'll never understand. A pill you need to take everyday requires a prescription. My experience has been that a doctor will only give you a prescription for a maximum of 6 months of refills. When your 6 months is up you have to schedule another appointment to go in, get a physical and/or a pap, then get another prescription. By keeping you on this short leash, they know you'll need another prescription within the year, this ensures you are coming in and getting pap tests annually.
(Pap test - The Papanicolaou test is a method of cervical screening used to detect potentially pre-cancerous and cancerous processes in the cervix (opening of the uterus or womb).
28-40 doctor visits (sometimes I could only snag a 3 month prescription with walk-in doctors so more like 40 doctor visits)
28-40 prescription refills
728 months of refills
8-12 pap tests
I only got a family doctor a couple years ago, before that I visited my college clinic, my childhood doctor, walk-in clinics, hospital sexual health centres, anywhere that I could score those little pills. The sexual health centre would give you samples for free if you were lucky and struggling for cash. Thankfully doctor visits in Canada are covered by universal health care. How can American women possibly afford this? Ah, yes, Planned Parenthood. The branches that are still open, anyway.
Health care is free here in Canada, but the pill itself costs anywhere from $15 to $30/month. In college I paid a subsidy of $15. The brand name version is $30, but since then I have always gotten the 'no-name' version for $20.
$14,560 the cost of the pill in 14 years.
4 - years I've had work coverage to pay for it.
$10,400 the amount I paid for it before I had coverage
0 - times a partner has offered to help with the cost.
I've always worked hard, kept a good job, but sometimes there was no money. Some months you're in between jobs, moving cities, just trying to get by. Some months, I risked it more than I should have, tried to remember to use backup protection instead. I have friends that sometimes can't afford to put minutes on their phone, so I often wonder if they're going without.
Now I'm 33 years old, with another 15 years to go before my body starts considering retiring my baby-making factory. Another 15 years of this shit.
So there's my experience; one white woman in a first world country with universal health care.
This issue is far more complicated than what I've written about today and far more complicated than simply uttering the words choice or life. Remember to ask the right questions. Is there access to birth control everywhere? In the rural communities, as well as the cities? Is it affordable? When the answer is no, we are not supporting women. Ask the women in your life what their experience has been, learn what it means to live with your choices, your decisions, from your teenage years up to your adult years. Be less political, and more human.