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The Pill of Shame

21 Aug

“If she was older,” said the doctor, peering at me sympathetically, “we could have recommended something for her. But it’s only for married ladies, you see.”

As a kid, you know there are certain advantages to being an adult. But this was too much! I couldn’t get medical help now without being an old married lady? What the hell?

It was my first trip to the gynaecologist. My first trip as a patient, that is. I’d been in her office once before as a snotty nosed kindergartener (that’s a word, right?) when I’d informed the nice auntie behind the desk that yes, my mother would indeed like another child. Understandably, that was the last time my mother invited me along as a spectator. But now, here I was on my own mission to solve the Case of the Irregular Period.

I’m sure there are women out there who remember having greeted their very first period with feelings of relief or joy even. I recall this one friend who got hers rather late and she finally began her menstruating on the last day of a school trip: she staggered victoriously out of the bathroom and called out, “Chee! I feel like I have a pillow between my legs!” I’m sure they felt it was a rite of passage, the undeniable proof of their womanhood. However, I’m afraid I’m not one of their number. I just remember it being a pain.

A big pain. Like pain you would not believe. Like cutting me in half pain. It’s kind of hard to feel very womanly and “grown up” when all you have to show for it is a lot of blood and cramps that went on for hours (ah, Midol my friend, where were you when I needed you the most?). My head would swim and my hands and feet would be freezing as I curled into a fetal position around the hot water bottle my mother had wrapped in a towel. Ma further tried to help by painting a vivid picture of all the things going on right then in my body – the skin of the inner walls of my uterus peeling off and all the tubes expanding to carry blood… yeah, not a great help, my mom.

Anyhow, I wondered for years what that mysterious cure was. And guess what? It was… birth control pills.

Never in all my life have I come across another pill with the same kind of stigma as this one. I mean, when the gynecologist refuses to mention it by name, it kind of sends you a message. In all fairness to her, though, I realize it might have had more to do with the fact that her patients didn’t want to hear the dreaded word mentioned than the fact that she didn’t want to bring it up herself. Or so I think. Giving her the benefit of the doubt, seeing as how she went to medical school and everything.

Knowing what I know now, I realize there were other options available to me as a preteen. The fact that she didn’t prescribe them suggests either incompetence or that those options were unavailable back then or that she was deathly afraid of practising gynaecology. I sneer at the first, sympathize with the second and completely understand the third.

Fertility is a huge issue in every family I know. You may belong to the most liberal, educated, and downright supportive family in the whole of India but eventually, someone in your family (extended if not immediate) is going to ask: “So what about kids then?”

What about them? I hear all these stories of DINKS (Double Income No Kids) multiplying by the dozen in the busy cities of India but I bet even they go back home at the end of their hectic day and find a message from Mummy-ji saying, “Enough now! I want to see the face of my grandchild before I die.”

Like their grandchild is the opposite of a basilisk and might just hold the secrets of immortality locked in its face.

But I digress.

Basically, the problem with the pill seems to be the very thing it was designed to do. Contraception. When you grow up with tons of female relatives, like I did, you get to hear all kinds of interesting conversation, especially when they forget that a little pitcher is hanging around with big ears.

So I heard how going on the Pill can somehow turn you infertile. Apparently your body will forget how to get pregnant or something. Then there was the usual distrust of “English” medicine. Coz you know those dastardly ‘English’ are all trying to fuck with your uterus. (Erm, okay wait – that came out wrong but you know what I mean.) But the best bit of midwifely advice I overheard was something my mother tells me dates back to the 1970s when the Pill was still pretty new:

Taking oral contraceptives, went the conventional wisdom, could make you infertile if you went on a course before your first pregnancy. So if you wanted to have babies down the road but weren’t ready to have one yet then the best plan was that you got pregnant, then had an abortion, then went on the Pill.

Has anybody else heard this?! Or was my mom just pulling my leg? Anyway, if you’re planning to go on a course of oral contraceptives then please talk to your doctor rather than self-medicating. I knew some girls who did that and believe me the grief isn’t worth it. If you’re not comfortable discussing contraceptives with your mom’s doctor then please ask a friend for the name of her doctor rather than the name of her pill.

Further reading.

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11 Comments

Posted by on August 21, 2007 in Personal

 

11 responses to “The Pill of Shame

  1. apu

    August 21, 2007 at 10:20 pm

    “Like their grandchild is the opposite of a basilisk and might just hold the secrets of immortality locked in its face.”

    mhuahaha hahahahahaha. i realy died laughing at that one.

    seriously though, forget kids, it bugs me how hospitals/docs presume to take moral decisions on the behalf of even young adulta. I remember going to a gynie at one of the biggest hospitals here, about 6-7 years ago, and the first thing I had to tell the nurse was whether single/married, though no documentation asked for it. like being single completely precludes any sexual activity, OR any other gynie problem. on learning that i was single (and had come there alone without mommy escorting me), she proceeded to glare at me till my turn came up!

     
  2. charukesi

    August 22, 2007 at 12:32 am

    superb post! I found myself nodding in agreement entielly.

    is interesting how the gynaec believes contraceptives are only for married women (of course, i guess you were way too young then!) but like Apu says, even doctors think of sex only within the context of marriage. and oh yes, about the pressure DINKS face – forget family, complete strangers ask me this all the time – and quite casually in the middle of conversation in a crowded room for instance.

    as for this – *I’m sure they felt it was a rite of passage, the undeniable proof of their womanhood* – I dont know about the girl herself, but for the rest of the family, it is an indication that she is ready for motherhood now – from girl to woman and all that. eeks.

     
  3. charukesi

    August 22, 2007 at 12:33 am

    (btw, I blog at http://indsight.org/blog – bad wordpress sneakily put in my rarely used research blog here!) – Charu

     
  4. some body

    August 22, 2007 at 7:52 am

    charu:

    i know exactly what you mean – for the first time in, like over a year, wordpress tagged me (and my ‘private’ blog) when i commented on a blog forgetting that i was logged in!

    amrita/charu/apu:

    “like Apu says, even doctors think of sex only within the context of marriage”

    do i hear a chorus of votes for an honorary doctor-ate for khusboo (temple notwithstanding)?

    amrita:

    “I hear all these stories of DINKS (Double Income No Kids) multiplying by the dozen …”

    is that like the longest oxymoron i ever heard about? 😉

    – s.b.

     
  5. Sujatha

    August 22, 2007 at 10:45 am

    Amrita, the irony of the pill is that it was initially designed to regulate irregular periods. Only after women started taking the pill for that purpose did the doctors realize that one of the SIDE EFFECTS was contraception.

    This does not help you in any way. I know. But just thought it might get you more perplexed about the whole situation.

    Now, about whether the pill affects fertility – from my experience, the answer is no. I was not it for a number of years and got off it about a year before trying to have a baby. And when I was in high school, my gynec did not hesitate to put me on the pill, although the pharmacist gave us grief every time we went to get the prescription filled.

    Finally, there was this line in this movie (forget which one – it’s set in India. A Telugu girl wants to marry an American boy) that went like this:

    “Marriage is a biological necessity.”

    I was pretty young then but remember going, Whaaaaa? But that’s the sort of line that will get your movie past the censors. Not if the guy had said, “Marriage is a sociological necessity” or some such thing.

    And for what it’s worth, that’s the worst bit of advice I’ve heard in ages – to get pregnant (even though you don’t want a baby) and then get an abortion and then get on the pill. What an emotional roller coaster and what a rough experience to put your body though. Jeez!

     
  6. Aspi

    August 22, 2007 at 4:33 pm

    I once read a piece by Gloria Steinem where she said that if men had had periods, they’d have made it a proudly male rite of passage: as in – two guys step out of the bathroom and high five each other “Dude, I’m on the rag!”

    In any case, your post is about the pill but that wasn’t what captured my attention as you can tell.

     
  7. Amrita

    August 23, 2007 at 1:11 am

    Oh good, so I’m not the only one thinking about bodily fluids 😛

    Apu – you loose woman you! 😀 No, I hear ya! At least you and i have been to a gynie, I was shocked to realize that there were tons of girls who’d never been for checkups because “that kind of thing” was only for married ladies. Me, my uterus showed up when I did. I guess theirs came as a wedding gift.

    Charu – thanks 🙂 oh lord, the personal questions! They never end do they? And as for motherhood and menstruating, quite right – i have to write some day about the weird customs my grandmother forced her daughters to comply with every time one of them had their menses. It’s fascinating, hilarious and horrifying all at once!
    And I’ve lurked about your blog!

    SB – you have a blog?! Hmmmm…… Khushboo, poor thing, where is she nowadays? Still in hiding? And hey, it was a GOOD oxymoron 😀

    Suj – I didnt know that! Puts a different spin on things doesnt it? LOL at the pharmacist and Telugu line 😀 Wouldnt he have been happy with a blow up toy then? And yeah, that “advice” is horrendous. I keep wondering if that was just something my mom heard or whether it was actually followed. And keep in mind, FOUR of her sisters are married to doctors but this was the advice she received (although not from them I dont think). They can laugh about it now but imagine being as sheltered as they used to be and then people telling you this was the way things were done. Ugh.

    Aspi – “Dude, I’m on the rag!” – I cannot believe you said that 😀 Gross! Men, I tell you. And hey, I’m not in the least surprised by what captured your attention. It catches mine all the time.

     
  8. Aspi

    August 23, 2007 at 10:24 am

    Hey blame Gloria – those weren’t my words. She did have a point though.

     
  9. Desigirl

    August 23, 2007 at 3:23 pm

    Trust Suj to know all that palaver! So did you get the pill or not then? One of my friends was on and when she wanted to have a baby, was advised to get off it nice and early so all the baddies got off her system. And whatdyaknow, she gets her bun in the oven the next month and has a bawling baby half way through her PhD! Go figure!

    Moral of the story, have a riotous sex life! (er, don’t ask me how that’s a moral! More a-moral BWAHAHA!)

     
  10. the mad momma

    August 23, 2007 at 3:26 pm

    oh yes – i was put on the pill a month before my wedding because i was diagnosed with PCOS. and the doctor gave it to me ONLY because I was getting married a month later anyway! the pill was supposed to cure the PCOS. it made me sick as a dog. i gave it up in a couple of months. and obviously i should have gone for another checkup because the silly bean sat on a huge tumour for 9 months and it was only pulled out when they cut me open for the csec. i digress. basically one pill, many uses.

     
  11. Amrita

    August 24, 2007 at 2:31 pm

    Aspi – you know what? I just realized I’ve never actually read a book by her. Articles is all. I’m ashamed. But hey, I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt 😀

    DG – 😀 how i missed you! nope, no pill. I got it later but went off again coz my last gynie said I should stay off if possible coz of other things.

    MM – normally I’d have been all freaked out and said – tumor?! but since you;ve gone on to have two kids and seem all right I’ll keep mum. if you decide to go back on the pill look for another doc and another pill coz it might have been just that particular composition that made you all sick 🙂

     
 
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