Since I was a teenager I have had severely painful periods. I’m talking about vomiting, diarrhea, crippling cramps and back pain to the point of tears. Some days the pain would get so intense I would have to miss class or call in sick to work. It was awful.
Every time I complained to my girlfriends they all suggested the same solution, “Go on the pill.” My mom always told me about her one experience on birth control where it caused her to have seizures. For whatever reason the hormones were too much for her body and she had a dangerous reaction. Granted this was the late 1980s, and women have a lot more options now than my mom did then. Regardless, I was still hesitant to use it because I was afraid of having the same negative response. I did consider on multiple occasions during college getting on it but never actually took the plunge.
When I started my first real, big girl job I had amazing health insurance. After one particularly excruciating period I decided I’d had enough and would go on birth control.
Like most broke 20-something post grads, I didn’t have a regular doctor. I looked up a few that were close to my apartment in my insurance network and set up an exam for getting the infamous little blue pill.
Once I found a doctor and scheduled my appointment, all that remained was to anxiously await freedom from my immobilizing periods. The day of my appointment the nurse did my preliminary screening. She took my weight and height, what felt like a pint of blood and then walked me to the examination room.
The examination room was like any other: cold, clean and uninspired. She excused herself and left me to scroll through my twitter feed and brace myself for a sexual interrogation.
I have to admit, I was nervous. I’m not a shy person at all, but I’m also not in the habit of discussing my sexual history with strangers. Television shows always made the process look so intimidating. Some girl sitting on an examination table is a paper-thin hospital gown while a doctor asked her about her sexual partners and what method of protection she used. Now I was that girl, sitting in the tiny clean room waiting to be interviewed about my vagina.
When she returned she started asking me questions about my family history then she said, “What brand of birth control do you use?”
“I’m not on it right now, but I wanted to look into getting on it.”
“Dr. Smith* is a Christian and he doesn’t prescribe birth control. We’d rather you wait ‘till you’re married to have sex….but we know that doesn’t happen.”
My mouth fell to the floor… Had I not been in shock from the words that had come out of her mouth I probably would have broken into a Norma Ray style verbal protest.
I just sat there and blinked.
“So you don’t use anything when you have sex?” she continued.
“Condoms,” I answered feeling annoyed, ashamed and extremely persecuted.
“You know those don’t work right?”
I wanted to say, “Well I’ve been using them for the past 6 years and no babies yet,” but I just sat there in shock.
I couldn’t believe what she was saying to me. Of all the fears I had going into the doctor’s office that day, this was not one of them. I mean I’d braced myself for some silent judgement but not full out religious shaming!
I eventually explained to the doctor the horrible pain I experience during my monthly cycle. His answer was to prescribe me a muscle relaxer (which are highly addictive) and upon going to pick up I discovered was $13 a pill, so I left those at the pharmacy.
Instead of leaving the office with a birth control prescription I left with a burning rage. I didn’t go on birth control to be some promiscuous sexual deviant! I had broken up with my boyfriend of 11 months 2 months prior, and was just trying to find a way to escape my horrible period.
I went to a doctor’s office, a place where a woman should feel safe and supported, and instead had been shamed and judged.
I completely stand by someone having their own personal beliefs. I do NOT stand by someone using their position of power to preach, persecute or deny me my basic right as an adult woman and paying patient.
Based on my research certain types of practices in the state of Texas can make the choice to not prescribe birth control to their patients. However, I believe this should have been disclosed beforehand and stated in a less judgmental way. I even I told the receptionist I booked the appointment with that I was hoping to go on the pill. Why didn’t it come up then, before I set the appointment and had my insurance pay?
No woman should ever feel ashamed when making a decision about her body, even by someone who doesn’t agree with her. I don’t know the Hippocratic Oath, but I’m sure the most current version doesn’t say anything about operating under the basis of personal religious beliefs and attempting to demean those who practice differently.
I am happy to say after that ridiculous experience I found an amazing doctor 2 weeks later who not only wrote me a prescription for birth control, but gave me supportive guidance on how to use it along with 3 months’ worth of samples. Free birth control and my now-tolerable seasonable periods almost makes the initial doctor’s appointment worth it… NOT!
Hasta la vista Dr. Smith!