“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.