Prior to then I had used condoms. However, I was convinced that only women who engaged in casual sex, with a number of partners, needed to use condoms. Condoms weren't respectable, the pill was. To use the pill was to be in an adult, committed relationship. It was a right of passage, a part of becoming a woman. I was told my feminist Grandmothers, Mothers and Aunts had fought bitterly for my right to have penetrative sex without the risk of fertilisation. My sexual partners, the media and even my women friends convinced me that having semen washed over my cervix was extremely pleasurable, and that having a thin synthetic coating between partners ruined intimacy and reduced pleasure.
My mother lived in fear of me “repeating her mistakes”, by which she means having children while young, and becoming dependent on men, either a husband, or the Government. She instilled into me that “only stupid girls get themselves pregnant”. Sensible, educated girls are in control of what goes into, and what comes out of, their vagina. I knew if I fell pregnant, before “having lived my life” (whatever that means), I would be an enormous disappointment.
I had internalised all of these views, some consciously, and some unconsciously. So believing I had made an educated choice, I asked my doctor for a prescription.
I never questioned that to receive this right I had to ask for permission. If control over fertility is the most basic of feminine rights, why is distribution recorded, controlled and regulated? If prevention of pregnancy is so basic a right, on par with education, health care, freedom from harm, and freedom of association, why is contraception not free? Someone, somewhere, is making money from millions of women ingesting steroidal hormones daily.
At the age of eighteen, I had trouble achieving orgasm from penetrative sex. I perceived this as a defect in my own physiology, or possibly psyche. Why then, when pleasure was possible, and actually more likely, without penetration, was I so intent on using the pill? Why did I need a method of contraception that was specifically designed to allow ejaculate to come in contact with my cervix? Why did I feel that the only “real” sex was penetration?
At eighteen, it had not occurred to me to question any of this.
For 12 months I took that tiny, innocent-looking, almost pretty tablet. For 12 months I experienced the absolute terror that I would forget to take it. For 12 months I had painful, humiliating abscesses and blind pimples on my face, which my doctor could not (would not?)attribute a source to. I regularly experienced “breakthrough bleeding” for periods of more than three weeks at time, as my body “adjusted” to the chemicals. Through 12 months of extreme cramping in my womb, of gaining weight, of developing anaemia, and of feeling foreign in my own body, I persevered. For this is what all women must go through, to experience the wonder of semen inside their bodies.
Finally, I fell pregnant. To my relief, the dreaded event I was enduring agonies to prevent had happened and I was allowed to unceremoniously, throw the pills in the f---ing bin.
One reason, in fact, my main reason, for using the pill was because I didn't want to have an abortion. I had decided that if my ovum did become fertilised, it would remain in my womb. My reasons for this are many and complicated, and I would never presume to force my choices on others.
However, my choice was removed from me. Every 28 days, or so, I had unwittingly, performed an abortion on myself. I did not know, did not think to ask, and was never told, the oral contraceptive pill is not actually contraception, but an abortifacient. Instead of preventing sperm reaching and fertilising my eggs, as I believed, it made my womb a hostile environment, so that embryos were prevented from attaching to the wall and were simply expelled.
I found this out, not from my doctor, not from a medical source, but from Germaine Greer’s The Whole Woman. When I found out, I already had a beautiful baby. I knew the exquisite agony and pleasure of motherhood. And I felt grief, absolute sorrow at the thought of those approximately twelve “almost, could have been” babies, flushed out of my womb, in my ignorance, by my own actions.
“All this suffering, all this mess, is the direct consequence of the insistence upon the accessibility of the cervix to the ejaculating penis. Whether you feel that the creation and wastage of so many embryos is an important issue or not, you must see that the cynical deception of millions of women by selling abortifacients as if they were contraceptives is incompatible with the respect due to women as human beings. [...] Fake contraceptive technology manipulates women in ways that we are coming to condemn when they are practised on members of other species. What women don’t know does hurt them. If we ask ourselves whether we would have any hope of imposing on men the duty to protect women’s fertility and their health, and avoid the abortions that occur in their uncounted millions every day, we will see in a blinding light how unfree women are.”
Greer, Germaine, (1999), the whole woman, Transworld Publishers Ltd, 1999, ISBN 0-385-60016-X, p