This post is part of the Birth Control Matters Blog Carnival, organized by Planned Parenthood and the National Women’s Law Center. You can find the compilation page with all the posts (updated throughout the day) here.
I don’t remember when I first saw the Mansfield-Voda-Jorgensen Menstrual Bleeding Scale, but I do remember thinking, “What the hell? Why does it stop at 6?” Maybe due to endometriosis and/or the wrath of a vengeful God, I spent several years with periods where I soaked or filled multiple menstrual products in under an hour.
Planning my life around period pain has been limiting, frustrating, and excruciating. Planning my life around menorrhagia has been limiting, expensive, and messy.
It means structuring errands to make sure I have access to a public restroom virtually all the time — and not going if I can’t.
It means staying home from movies because I’ll miss too much of it to make sense of the plot.
It means racing down the hall to the bathroom after getting another teacher to keep an eye on my class.
It means buying new pants every time I’m too slow.
Getting stared at when coming out of a public restroom stall because my hands look like a murder scene, and people are alternately pitying and revolted.
Begging the school nurse for a menstrual pad and being told I should have “learned to manage it better by now.”
Being utterly drained of stamina because my iron is so frighteningly low.
Some of these — and this list is not exhaustive — are small things. I get that. But they’re small things that have repeated themselves, cycle after cycle, for over half my life. Over the years, I’ve read a lot of books and articles on menstruation (since it’s a subject of great importance to me), and many of them have a “your period doesn’t mean you can’t…” theme running through them. I’ve always resented this sentiment. Not because it isn’t true. Because it is, generally, and it doesn’t apply to me. It’s hard not to feel like my body has betrayed me.
I have needed — and also had, for the most part — lots of access to birth control over the years, not only for contraception but also to help control bleeding. And I’ve needed to try lots of different formulations and types: combined oral contraceptives (low dose, moderate dose, monophasic, triphasic, extended regimen — all fabulous in theory, none a good fit for my body), non-oral combined methods (the patch and the ring — see note about COCs), a copper IUD (when I was so damn tired of trying hormones and wanted to see if my body had miraculously grown out of its crimson tide phase — it hadn’t), and a Mirena IUD (fabulous until it fell out). And I’ve needed to combine methods — like a progestin-only pill for bleeding on top of a sterilization procedure for contraception. I promise, at this point in my life, that I do not take my pills reliably enough to want to trust them for contraceptive purposes. It’s really freeing for me to be able treat my BC pills as “the pills that keep me from gushing blood” instead of as “the pills that keep me from gushing blood AND keep me from getting pregnant.”
That’s also a part of what I needed — the freedom to experiment, to try unconventional approaches (or approaches that might have been unconventional for someone with my medical history or for someone in my age group at the time), to figure out what works for me. I also needed the freedom to be wrong sometimes, as well as the security that I could go back and fix my wrongs by trying something different.
Right now, all those things require money, often a lot of it (though it’s worth pointing out the evidence that family planning services save public money overall). I’ve never been in a place where I couldn’t afford any birth control, but there have been a couple of times when I’ve chosen to forgo preferred brands (often when these brands were new and so my docs and I had a lot of hope that they’d work better than what I was currently using) or procedures (replacement Mirena) because cost was a prohibitive factor. And I’ll be the first to admit that, crappy as my HMO seems at times, when it comes to health care, I’ve always had a significant amount of privilege. There are lots of people who haven’t had — who don’t have — the same amount of accessibility when it comes to contraception.
I dearly hope that no one has to face an unwanted pregnancy, even as I realize that’s unreasonable. (People are human. Barring that, “perfect use” of every method still includes a failure rate.) But that we have such systemic and institutional barriers to access is unconscionable and shameful. Because what it’s saying is that some people’s agencies, their abilities to live their lives, are worth less because of the money they do or don’t have.
At the same time, control over one’s reproductive health means more than the ability to prevent pregnancy. For me, it’s about not deeming my uterus a liability, something that keeps me from being the active director of my life. It’s about being the boss of my body.
It’s about taking two hours at a stretch to write a blog entry without worrying that I will end up gushing blood.