Contraception has been in the news lately in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that closely-held corporations whose leaders object to contraception for religious reasons can opt out of covering contraception as part of their employee health care plans. (Though the Hobby Lobby case focused on just four forms of contraception, the Court has clarified that the ruling covers all 20 forms of contraception protected through the Affordable Care Act.) Considering the fact that around 90 percent of corporations are closely-held, the ruling could affect a lot of women.
Opinions about the ruling aside, I’ve been stunned by some of the misinformation circulating around social media about contraception, the most unhelpful of which characterizes women who use contraception as “entitled,” “sluts,” “moochers,” and “whores.”
I’ve shared my own thoughts on contraception in a post entitled “Privilege and the Pill,” but today I wanted to yield the floor to ten women whose stories challenge these unfair caricatures. I am incredibly grateful for their bravery and honesty in stepping forward to tell the truth of their experiences. Please, listen:
I had my first hemorrhagic cyst when I was just fourteen. After a barrage of tests to eliminate insulin problems, my doctor diagnosed me with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and prescribed hormone therapy to manage it.
Over the next six years, I experimented with a variety of “birth control pills” trying to find one that wouldn’t cause migraines and nausea. Eventually I discovered the NuvaRing, which worked amazingly—except that in graduate school, I couldn’t afford it anymore. This meant I had to deal with periods that were so debilitating, prescription narcotics couldn’t touch the pain. It affected everything in my life.
Once, during the middle of a lecture I was assisting, I felt a sudden, breathtaking surge of pain. I stumbled out of the classroom, half-blind, not even really understanding where I was going except away. I collapsed in the hallway and went into shock, and my boss had to call an ambulance. I waited in the ER for fourteen hours before a doctor told me what had happened: a cyst had ruptured.
Today my medical insurance covers the NuvaRing for free; my periods have returned to something approaching manageable, and I haven’t had any cysts for the last two years. I don’t know what I would do if my employer suddenly stopped covering my treatment.
Rachel McGlone Hedin
I am a pro-life lactation consultant and public health nurse. I use birth control because I love my husband and three kids. I have had three cesarean sections due to a congenital uterine malformation, and the risk of uterine rupture is too high to get pregnant again.
I never used birth control prior to having kids, though I am a supporter of it for many reasons. Using birth control now protects my life and my family.
In 10th grade I had my first incredibly painful period. The cramps were excruciating and I was vomiting. I spent two days at home in the fetal position, wishing my womanhood away. The only things I used to alleviate the pain were Midol and a heating pad.
It wasn't until college, during another month of severe cramps that I resorted to birth control. At the time, I was one of those people who believed there was no need for birth control if I wasn't having sex. Let's just say that ignorance isn't too blissful when you're crumpling in pain once a month.
I use birth control not for precautionary measures—though that is a nice side effect—but because I cannot spend one week out of every month immobilized in bed. I use birth control to improve my health and the quality of my life.
Erica March Menard
My 15-year-old daughter suffers from ulcerative colitis, an autoimmune disease. She was diagnosed at the age of 9. Before starting birth control, her monthly periods (which exacerbate the chronic pain she experiences, especially while in "flare") were so unbearably painful that she couldn't even walk. I'll never forget picking her up at school, where she—a stoic, proud and reserved girl—told me that she had to limp to the nurse's office, in full view of her classmates and with tears running down her face, because she was in such agony.
If my daughter didn't have access to birth control, she would be unable to attend school (or get out of bed to go anywhere else, for that matter) for five days of each month.
I first started using birth control as a 16-year-old teenager to help with migraines. There were added advantages that it helped clear up my acne and eased my menstrual cramps.
I was celibate until I was married at age 27, and I took contraceptives that entire time, not for the purpose of birth control.
Now that I am a married woman, I still use birth control because my husband and I feel convicted by God to adopt children. We believe there are more than enough children in the world that need a home, and we want to become parents through adoption rather than biologically.
I use birth control because I don’t want to get pregnant. I’m 33 and have been married for six years, and I don’t want to have a child right now—neither does my husband. We use birth-control methods that allow us to carefully and responsibly plan our family. For now, that family is planned for two people, and we’re taking up both slots!
Heather R. Owens
Just a couple of days ago, a friend of mine put on her Facebook page a disturbing status about how women who are on birth control are all sluts. Little did she know I use birth control because my uterus is misshapen, causing it to have pockets where blood gets caught.
This makes my periods ten times worse than most women's. Birth control allows me to go about my life without being interrupted by three to five days of being completely bedridden.
I am no longer on birth control for medical reasons (higher risk of clots in my family), but when I was on it, I used it because I didn't want to get pregnant while working full time, writing full time, and living as a single woman.
My insurance covered it (for a short time) with a $25 co-pay at Planned Parenthood.
I'm a virgin. On birth control.
As a 20-something single, I know I'm going against the norm, even as a Christian. Almost everyone my age has "done it" at least once. But I believe sex is best saved for marriage. I just have seen too many friends hurt and too many lives fall apart to seriously consider sleeping around. Plus, I actually live a pretty great life as an independent single woman and have no desire or plans to change that anytime soon.
So what's with the birth control? Last October, as the sweltering Southern summer faded into a cool autumn breeze, I noticed my friends were getting out their jackets and scarves. I was still burning in my short sleeves. As everyone else shivered in the winter, I started having shaking episodes at least once a day while feeling like I was in an oven. I was suddenly extremely sensitive to sugar and got so lightheaded that once I almost passed out after eating a few M&Ms.
After months of lab tests and doctors and "here, try this medicine and see if it works," I still had no diagnosis. I mentioned to my endocrinologist that I had also become really emotional lately. My anxiety was higher than ever and I was occasionally depressed. I would get angry at nothing or overwhelmed with nondescript emotions taking over my mind and heart. He suggested we try putting me on the Pill for a few months.
I never got an official diagnosis of polycystic ovary syndrome or anything. We eventually gave up trying to find a label for whatever causes these symptoms after testing everything he could. But I can say without a doubt that my life is better because I'm on the Pill.
The shaking episodes have stopped. The hot flashes (that never seemed to "flash" off) are greatly reduced. I'm no longer afraid of passing out in public. Best yet, I'm back to being in control of my emotions instead of drowning in them. I refused to believe the lie that these emotions were "just part of being a girl" or typical "female crazy" as stereotypes would have me believe. My boss, mentors and friends all remarked that this new moody irrationally paranoid girl wasn't the real me, the me they knew before last fall.
Thanks to the Pill, I'm me again. I can live a normal life. Well, normal for me anyway. I'm still a happily single 20-something virgin. Who happens to rely on the Pill to be healthy.
I recently saw an article that said birth control can be purchased for as little as $9, so health insurance coverage for contraception should be a nonissue. However, not all birth control is the same, and women use birth control for a variety of different reasons.
When I was taking birth control to control ovarian cysts, I had to take a specific type, which was $60 out of pocket, $20 with insurance. $60 is a third of what I budget weekly for groceries. So I definitely want it covered by insurance, especially since I'd much rather take birth control for ovarian cysts than have an ovary removed or get a hysterectomy.
After my daughter was born, I began using an IUD because I was breast feeding, and breast feeding mothers can't use hormonal forms of birth control. An IUD costs $1,000 without insurance. Luckily, my insurance plan at the time covered IUDs. So, I only paid $500. I'm just sayin': this stuff is expensive, y'all! So is health insurance. You know what else is expensive? Babies.
I had painful periods beginning almost immediately at menses at age 13. They got progressively worse, to the point at which (at age 16) the maximum dose of over-the-counter pain medication still couldn't give me relief. Two days a month, I was in immense pain, spending hours cramped up in the fetal position, curled around a hot pack, or soaking in a scalding bath -- trying to get some kind of relief.
I was on Vioxx (rofecoxib) and Tylenol 3 (with codeine), maxing out the daily dosages. I saw three specialists, all of whom were certain it was endometriosis, but after three separate exams, no evidence could be found. The final doc sent me back to my GP, who wrote a prescription for oral birth control -- "the pill", as I knew it then. After a few months, my periods were significantly reduced in pain; just an Advil could take care of the cramps and back pain for a whole day. I was amazed. I spent four years on the pill entirely to regulate that unmanageable pain, and I am so grateful for the doctors who made it possible.
Also, be sure to check out Ellen Painter Dollar’s excellent piece, “How Having an (Insurance-Covered) IUD is Saving My Life,” where she writes:
Because of my IUD, I hardly get periods anymore. This is convenient, but it’s far more than that. My periods were horrible, painful, long, irregularly constant (as in, I would sometimes bleed all but three or four days a month), copious, clotty, hideous things. I am deeply grateful for the reproductive goings-on behind even my horrible periods, because they allowed me to conceive and carry three children. I am also deeply grateful to no longer have my vision narrow to a pinpoint in the throes of menstrual cramps or bleed out of my vagina more days of the month than not. (Sorry to be graphic, but I want you to understand from what sort of captivity I’ve been freed.)
More important, because of my IUD, I carry no anxiety about an unwanted pregnancy. My desire not to have another baby is not just because we have three beautiful kids and that feels like enough, just right. I don’t want another baby because I’m convinced that carrying and giving birth to another baby would damage me, and secondarily our entire family, in deep, perhaps irreparable ways....read more.
If you are using, or have used, contraception, please feel free to share your stories in the comment section. If you haven’t, maybe consider just listening for a while.