Recently, a good friend of mine called me in hysterics, crying out, “I didn't get my period this month.”
“Is that unusual?” I asked in my best nurse-practitioner voice.
“Yes. I'm on the pill.”
“Oh, fuck, then. Shit. Sorry!”
“Yeah,” she said in a small voice.
“Did you have sex this month?” I asked hoping for good math.
“Lacy, I live with my boyfriend, having sex is like brushing our teeth at this point.”
“Well, you gotta take a test then.”
She started to cry.
“Babe, it's going to be okay. Is Tim there? Does he know?”
“No, he's away on tour. I don't want to say anything to him until I'm absolutely sure.”
“I totally understand. If you want me to buy one for you and come over I will.”
“Lace, the thing is, I've never even taken a pregnancy test before.”
“Wait a minute, you've never peed on a stick before? You're 27-years-old! How did it take this long?”
“I don't know. I just haven't.”
“Well, welcome to being a woman.”
Be it from the boyfriend you are hoping to marry or just some douche bag you met at a bar on your 21st birthday, the panic of thinking you may be pregnant is an unfortunate rite of passage for women. More than getting our periods or even losing our virginity, worrying about being late is the last step that ushers us into adulthood.
Thankfully, I have never been pregnant. I've had a lot of sex without condoms, but I've never had sex without some form of birth control, be it my mostly reliable diaphragm, the Pill, or my actually reliable IUD.
When I first started having sex, I didn't want to be on the Pill, but I happened to be in a monogamous relationship with a parter who was unfortunately condom shy. The only option my doctor could think of was to fit me for a diaphragm, just like it was 1965 all over again. The thing is, a diaphragm is only 80% effective and that's when you fill it up to the brim with spermicidal jelly. Spermicide, by the way, is terrible for the PH balance of the vagina. So because my boyfriend hated condoms, and I didn't want the Pill to trick my body into thinking it was pregnant thereby getting fat along the way, I spent a good two years with a constant yeast infection. Still, it was the best sex I've ever had.
Due to it's questionable reliability, during my diaphragm time I took pregnancy tests three separate times and the morning after pill twice. It wasn't that my boyfriend and I were particularly sloppy. In fact, I was very disciplined about popping the silicone cup in at the right time, and always injecting more spermicide. It was just that at that age, I thought the steps to having sex with some one were a) bang your brains out, and b) start worrying about being pregnant.
Finally, after all those yeast infections, I relented to the Pill. It all came about because my boyfriend and I decided to see the movie, The Crime of Father Amaro, without knowing anything about it except that the Ottawa Times gave it a good review. Spoiler alert: this movie possesses possibly the most gruesome abortion scene I've witnessed, and the young ingenue eventually dies from blood loss. As a lapsed Catholic with a sensitivity for superstition and living with my own sin, I thought it was God's way of telling me that if I wasn't using two forms of birth control I would go down the same horrible path.
I was on the Pill for only a year. My breasts became huge, and despite some great nudie pics, it wasn't a look I was into. I broke up with that boyfriend, and realized that I would have to use condoms anyway from here on out, so I said goodbye to the light purple compact keeping all those little circles in place. It would be two years before I made the great discovery of the Intrauterine Device, or IUD as its known in layman's terms.
I actually heard about the IUD for the first time on AM radio. The talk show host called it birth control's best kept secret. Prior to that, I had only heard of the infamous Dalkon Shield, and all the ectopic pregnancies which resulted from its use that caused understandable hysteria in the 70s. But it turns out that these new IUDs aren't our mother's birth control. They are totally safe now and are by far the most effective form of birth control on the market. It sounded amazing to me—a non-hormonal birth control that would last 10 years, without me ever having to remember to take a pill or squirt spermicidal jelly in a silicone cup. Sign me up!
As it turned out, that was easier said than done. I had to go to three different doctors in Sarasota, FL, (where I was living at the time) before one of them agreed to give me one. Since I wasn't married and didn't have any kids, most OB-GYNs thought it would increase my promiscuity rate if I no longer had to worry about the consequences of getting laid. Making a case for my own sex life with those doctors was humiliating. I walked out of those clinics feeling vulgar, but also, even more driven to get one. Finally I met a doctor who was willing to implant the tiny coil. She also gave me Botox injections at a discount rate right there in the office.
Ordinarily, you're supposed to wait until the middle of your period to get an IUD implanted, because that's when your cervix is the most dilated. However, I did not have the luxury of time on my hands. I was about to graduate from college and lose my health insurance. When I got my period that month, I had 2 days left on my plan and was going to get my diploma the next day. I had to act fast. I was also throwing a graduation party for over 700 hundred people. It was “post-apocalyptic” themed and included a burning car, a toxic jello wrestling pit, and flying Japanther in from ubercool Brooklyn to Sarasota. Though I was only just spotting, I rushed to the clinic. I had to fit in my appointment between figuring out how to get the 11-foot paper mâché airplane wing to look like it was sticking out of a dorm window and picking Japanther up from the airport.
I can honestly say getting that tiny metal coil implanted was the worst pain I've ever felt. The good thing is, it only took about 30 seconds for the doctor to push it through my cervix and into my uterus. It felt all the more painful because I didn't even know that part of my body existed and so I had no idea it could feel that much and that terrible. After it was put in, I went into a kind of survivor's shock. I took a handful of extra-strength Tylenol, drove with my friend Mary to Burger King, and then went back to make sure that the 300-pounds of dry ice I ordered got delivered. For the next 8 hours I refused to acknowledge that I felt anything, which, coincidentally, is not a bad way to deal with the anxiety of graduating college. However, in the middle of the night, after all the Tylenol and all the pot I smoked had worn off, I woke up in a tremendous amount of pain. I could no longer ignore it. I thought I was hallucinating for a bit, and then I thought that maybe my body was actually rejecting the IUD. For some reason I decided I was overreacting and that calling anyone (even my mother who was in town for G-day) would be a bad idea. Instead, what made the most sense to me was to get on my bicycle and ride around Sarasota at 3am for hours. Finally, I exhausted my body so much that I just fell asleep. The next morning the pain had stopped.
Save that one night, I love my IUD and would totally recommend it to everyone. But I will say that it is very body specific, and I've had friends whose bodies have actually rejected the metal coil. So it's not for everyone. But it is an effective and long-lasting form of birth control—a non-hormonal IUD lasts a decade.
It's crazy to think about, actually, but in two years from now, my 10-year relationship with my IUD will be over and I'll need to get it removed. A whole era will be gone—my 20s. Then what will I do? I know I don't have to cross that bridge quite yet, but it's scary to think that maybe I won't want another. Maybe in my early to middle 30s my days of worrying about getting pregnant won't be over exactly, but they will have morphed into frustration at seeing my period and not the euphoric relief it brings me now. Maybe then pregnancy tests will be bought in bulk, whereas now I keep hoping if I give it one more day I won't have to take one. Then again, I can't really imagine that. I guess I'll have to wait the two years and find out.
Follow Lacy Warner on twitter @laceoface