You can be a good person, you can be responsible and you can still find yourself, without warning, in an uncomfortable and stigmatized situation.
One night after having sex with someone I was dating, I saw the condom broke. Not like a little. Totally shredded. This scared the hell out of me but I played it cool.
“Are you okay,” he asked. I brushed it off.
“I’m fine,” I lied. “Don’t worry about this.”
Sometimes in a moment of crisis the safest thing to do is not let others know you see it as a moment of crisis. This was one of those moments.
As he slept through the night, I kept my body motionless, bored my eyes into the dark ceiling that seemed ready to suffocate me and FREAKED OUT. “I can’t believe this just happened to me. How could this happen to me? How could I let this happen to me?” The whole gamut of denial and fear and shame.
A calmer synopsis:
At the time I did not want to become a parent, and my life circumstances wouldn’t have made it possible for me to be the kind of parent I want to be today. We, in the context of that relationship, were not suited to be parents together. It wasn’t a bad relationship. It was a decent relationship. But it did not include a shared desire to build a family together. We didn’t even discuss those issues. Some people are scandalized by those who have sex with no intention of getting married and having children, but I didn’t and don’t think there’s anything wrong with adults in their twenties, which we were, who have consensual sex. It’s normal.
This happened at a time when if you needed emergency contraception fast, which I did, your options were to call your doctor, try an emergency room or go to Planned Parenthood. The easiest and quickest thing was what I wanted. Hyper after a sleepless and terrified night, I called Planned Parenthood within minutes of opening, and did not waste any time to have breakfast, drink coffee, shower, brush my teeth or do anything else before going to to pick up some Plan B. I walked up to the front desk, showed them my driver’s license to prove my age, paid what I could afford and that was that.
In the car ride home I wept. I beat myself up for finding myself alone with a box of Plan B in a relationship where I felt most comfortable doing what needed to be done in silence. Alone. I thought of all the horrible things said by sexual fundamentalists who want to make or keep illegal every sex act that doesn’t produce a baby, and I started to internalize them. Emergency contraception is abortion and abortion is murder, they say. Never mind that there’s no science to back that up. When you feel really alone and really scared it’s easy to beat yourself up with others’ words, even ones that are incorrect and you find offensive.
Home at last. It was not even nine in the morning, I was wearing clothes from the day before and I felt like I had been walking up a difficult mountain for weeks. I kept crying in my apartment. I didn’t want to be someone who had irresponsible sex. I was trying to be responsible this time, I swear. I didn’t want to be someone who took emergency contraception without telling her boyfriend. This situation was built for other people — not me — other people. I was, as now, an ardent feminist and an advocate for emergency contraception. This was just not a situation I had been anticipating that morning. I didn’t want it. I wanted to be at work in a boring meeting. I wanted to erase and start over.
Drinking a glass of water to calm down, I read the instructions in the box. I opened the box. I told myself I would go to the bathroom, and then I would take it. I breathed. And, in the bathroom, in those moments before I was going to take the pill I wanted to scream at, I discovered that my period had started.
This story is very personal, but I’ve decided to write about it because in hindsight I’ve gained perspectives on a few themes within this story that I feel need to be said at this point in time.
First, this week’s court decision overturning the Obama administration’s order to, against the recommendation of the Food and Drug Administration, block over-the-counter access to emergency contraception for women of all ages is an important milestone for public health. As someone who has gone to get the morning after pill the morning after, I can tell you that time is not a resource to be wasted when you need to avoid a pregnancy effective now. Time is agony. Further, situations can be such that you don’t want to talk to anyone about it, even a pharmacist.
Second, I read what I just wrote and while I was beating the crap out of myself at the time, I think that what I did was incredibly mature. While I was in my twenties then, I think this holds true for women of all ages, including women in high school. Getting emergency contraception as quickly as you can when have already had unprotected sex and don’t want to be pregnant is taking control of your health, your life, your future. Teen pregnancy prevention was supposed to be a bipartisan cause. No one, including the president of the United States, should be looking at young women who know they need emergency contraception as anything but incredibly mature.
Third, I think it’s okay to acknowledge that it’s normal to have a wide range of feelings about reproductive health care. Sexuality and reproduction are intensely personal matters. I felt very sad at the time, and I was a reproductive rights advocate then. I’m one now. Having felt intense feelings nowhere near “I am woman, hear me roar” when preparing to take emergency contraception doesn’t make me any less of a feminist or a strong woman. It’s okay to talk about tough times as tough times. Tough times happen to good people, and acknowledging tough times as they are can help make all of us better people.
Fourth, I’m quite pregnant as I type this today. In fact I’m looking over a huge bubble in my abdomen, holding my future daughter. In contrast to some of the negative self-talk I engaged in then, it is so crystal clear to me at this time that preventing pregnancy is nothing like ending a pregnancy. They should not be talked about as equivalent, and shame on the mainstream media for often allowing this confusion to continue. Having used contraception regularly until I decided to become pregnant is one of the best gifts I’m giving my future daughter, because now I’m ready to have her and give her the best life I can.
If she ever needs emergency contraception and chooses to tell me about it, I will be so proud of her. Sexuality and sexual health can be really hard, sometimes. If she ever cries to me I will not judge her, but support her. I think about these things when reflecting on my morning with the morning after pill.