1 Aug 2009

Oh, go on then

To discuss matters menstrual or gynaelogical on a feminist blog may sometimes feel like playing into the hands of those who believe that feminism is just an excuse to a) bitch and moan about men and b) go on ad nauseam (literally) about all the revolting things the female body does. Obviously the latter notion rests on the kind of schoolboy repression that leads men to run from the room like their backsides are on fire when an Always advert comes on, because as us feminists know, natural female bodily processes are something both sexes should be familiar with and take in their stride. Still, I've largely held off from going on about the trials and tribulations of having Wimmins Bits, partly because one doesn't want to be too predictable and partly because there's always so much else in the news to go on about. Still, as the news is just too depressing at times, let's look inward, no pun intended.

What got me thinking about what a minefield the female body can be was an article about how the IUD has fallen out of favour with US patients, and unjustifiably so. The author highlighted all the benefits of this method of contraception, and pointed out how other countries such as France and China, utilise it much more widely. Many readers on feministing.com, where the link was posted, shared their success stories too. One commenter pointed out that it's easier to list your horror stories with contraception than to say what went well, as if to pre-empt the various women who would inevitably come out of the closet to say "Noooo the IUD was a bag of shite in my experience". I would probably be one of those women, had I kept my appointment to go get an IUD fitted about 3 years ago. Instead, the speech that the doctor at the family planning clinic gave me about the possible risks scared me so badly that I didn't bother going. She said that the IUD could fall out during periods, could somehow get outside of the uterus and end up floating in the pelvic cavity (!), would really hurt to be put in, and could result in heavier periods. The latter would be enough to put me off, since I already suffer from excruciating periods with heavy flow and insanely bad mood swings, but a list like that pretty much sent me running back to the contraceptive pill. So yes, maybe there is something to be said about medical practitioners not recommending the IUD highly enough. I'll never know - I'm still too scared to try, to be honest.

However, the comment about not enough people posting their contraception success stories begged, in my mind, the bloody obvious question, what if you don't have any success stories? What if every method of contraception you've tried has been flawed, some so badly that it stopped you from living your life? Let's start, for example, with a list of the different contraceptive pills I've tried:








and at least one other whose name escapes me. Hey, it's been a long nine years of experimentation. My biggest beef with the pill is the (medically unnecessary) pill-free week in which your body goes into withdrawal, and my body's reaction to withdrawal is to become suicidally depressed. Not just 'blue', not just 'moody', or any of the other cute euphemisms with which PMS is often widely trivialised - I actually want to shoot myself, and possibly take a few people down with me. Few doctors have taken this seriously, obviously dismissing this as just part and parcel of the pill which us ungrateful bitches should feel lucky to be blessed with, but the ones that do advise me to simply miss the pill-free week and take my pills continously. This is what I'm currently doing at the moment; however after a couple of months, the body rebels and bleeds anyway, and I'm back to square one. There are pills designed for continuous use but they aren't available in the UK - I have been asking about their arrival since 2006 and every year get told they're coming 'next year'. In the meantime, the 5/6 periods I do have a year remain painful, violent, and nightmarish. So, room for improvement? I'd say so.

In between my various jaunts with the pill, I've tried other methods, largely because of my desperation to avoid the hormone lottery. I used the diaphragm for a while, but in addition to the complete lack of spontaneity it entails (the trip to the communal bathroom wrapped in a towel carrying spermicide and my trusty receptacle was not easy to do subtly in my boyfriend's halls of residence), I could never get one that seemed to fit comfortably. For all my wiggling, experimenting, and even a return to the doctor to check it was the right size and I'd put it in correctly, I could still feel it during sex. Having your boyfriend accidently 'twang' your diaphragm when it's sitting against your cervix is the kind of unpleasant surprise that brings tears to your eyes, let me tell you.

After that came the implant, which I was told could cause 'irregular bleeding'. However, I was assured that this settles down after a while, and most women end up having no periods at all. Woo hoo, let's go I thought. I had the implant put in in August. By March next year, I was still bleeding continuously throughout the month. Why, I wondered to myself, do they call it 'irregular', when it'd be more appropriate to call it TOO FUCKIN' REGULAR BLEEDING?! All the doctors could suggest was to put me back on the pill ON TOP of the implant to regulate my cycle. So much for being able to abandon the pill. We tried it for two months, came back off the pill, and it was bleeding city straight away. After a year of this ridiculousness, I had the implant removed.

Well, there are always condoms, aren't there? Yeah...there are, and yes they have their uses, but I'm someone who only wants to sleep with their regular partner, and likes our encounters to be as intimate as possible. Kids, I'm not preaching abandoning the rubber fellas, because god knows with our promiscuous, badly educated population they're needed more than ever. But I'm in a long term relationship where both partners have had STD screening, and I want sex to be skin on skin - no latex, no chafing, no icky love-glove. So it pisses me off that I've had such a hard time finding a way of controlling my own fertility that hasn't made me bleed continously, hurt me, or want to kill myself. And my response to the commenter on Feministing would be, I'll provide a success story when I finally have one to tell. For now it's just a case of sitting and waiting for when the medical establishment feels like offering me an alternative, and dealing with the ruined underwear and suicidal impulses when they continue to come.

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