Thursday, December 19, 2013

Birth Control: When Theory Meets Practice

Margaret Sanger was so sure that the diaphragm was THE DEVICE that would save women from the constant fear of constant pregnancy that she married an oil magnate to ensure she'd have access to all the rubber she could ever want.  So, naturally, I figured if it was good enough for Margaret, it'd be good enough for me.  I am always in the market for some non-hormonal barrier contraceptives, you know?  (And I know that it is the device du jour, but I am really not sold on an IUD).

I had a physical today because I haven't seen anyone but an OB for 2 years thanks to my own constant pregnancies, and I am not ALL lady parts.  I am also moles and lipids and disappearing rubella immunity.  My doctor is awesome-- very earthy and no-nonsense and the perfect person to fit me for a diaphragm.

It's a device I have researched a lot, and it has a huge place in the history of birth control.  To bring legitimacy to a radical movement, Sanger strategically championed a contraceptive device that required the attention of medical professionals.  She located birth control in the clinic instead of the porn shop or the five and dime by choosing a device that needed to be fitted and explained.  At the same time, the diaphragm helped enure the very same racist/classist/misogynistic undertone that is still present in birth control and abortion rhetoric if you look for it:  the idea that some women are just too damn stupid/ignorant/lazy to use birth control correctly or to use it at all.  And, the terrible argument goes, the very women who don't know how to avail themselves of devices properly are the very women who SHOULD be limiting their procreation.  (That is not what I am arguing-- it is what has always been argued about birth control). 

I have also, of course, done more practical research on the diaphragm because I thought it sounded perfect for me: cheap, easy, effective, safe.  Sure, it's not the most spontaneous of methods, but I have 4 kids.  I am not living the most spontaneous of lives right now.  I mean, check out what the Planned Parenthood website says about it.  Sounds great, right?

My doctor put it in and then left to see a couple other patients, telling me to take it out and put it in a couple of times and then she'd come back and check to make sure it was a good fit.  And she reminded me that my cervix feels a lot like a nose.  I was all, Awesome. I've had 4 kids; I've read Our Bodies Ourselves; I followed the advice of my women, health, and history professor and spent some quality time with a mirror and a speculum.  NO PROBLEM.  But you guys?  There was a major problem:  I don't LIKE taking something the size of a kiddie snack bowl, folding it like a rubber boat, and jamming it behind my pubic bone.  And I like retrieving it (sans spermicide, which is a whole other slippery can of worms) even less.  But I'm weird I guess.

When my doctor came back into the room she was surprised to find me fully clothed, coat over my arm, purse on my lap.

She assumed I had some sort of technical difficulty.

She laughed and laughed when I told her if I used a diaphragm as my main method of birth control I would be pregnant next month because I WOULD NEVER WEAR IT.  It is such a hassle that I would ALWAYS probably just risk it, making it, for me, as effective as the old "pull and pray" (which my students tell me every time I teach my reproductive rights seminar is a method of contraception-- and don't worry, I always call bullshit on that.  PUBLIC SERVICE-- that's why I am here).

I laughed too because I tried to be so crunchy and in tune with my body, but no.  Just no.  And now I understand why Sanger and so many other activists and healthcare professionals have been so critical of the very women they've tried to help.  Some of us ARE too lazy for some devices.

I am sure that if that rubber yarmulke was the only thing standing between me and a new baby every year I'd embrace it (so to speak), but thank goodness I have so many other options.

That last line isn't meant to be flip, not really.  There are millions of women right now in this very country without a lot of birth control choices.  I really am thankful to be in control of my reproductive destiny.


  1. Yeah, the folding and shoving sounds decidedly not awesome. Sort of like the Diva Cup. Cool in theory, EW in practice. FWIW, I have the IUD and I don't get a period anymore which helps with the rare spontaneity.

  2. Ha, great post! I'm with you, I don't think I would use one, either. But no more pill for me, so M. got a vasectomy. Recovery was not bad, but it takes longer than you'd think for all the swimmers to go away. We've been using condoms in the interim. Good luck!

  3. Cracked me up. I'm at my 6-week checkup now and already have my IUD insertion on the calendar in 2 weeks. If my birth control isn't completely (and I mean COMPLETELY mindless) I am terrible about it. Which is ridiculous and lazy, but sadly oh so true. I have a 5-week-old and at 3 we are very done having children and we've STILL already had two "pull and pray" encounters. Like I said, ridiculous :). But like you said, thank goodness for options and knowing thyself!

  4. This is actually hugely helpful for me. Not only do I love reading your personal + scholar voice, but I completely agree. There's no way I'd want to mess with a diaphragm. And yet I'd love to find a simple non-hormonal birth control. I also believed that pull & pray was effective for years (I was lucky!).

  5. Anonymous1:06 PM

    You don't know how much I was hoping as I started to read this post that the Dr was going to discover you were already pregnant. Oh well.

    Great post though and I'm curious which path you'll take now. My Mom got terribly sick from her IUD about two decades ago but it forever scarred my impression of them. I knew the diaphragm wouldn't work for me so I used the pill and dealt with all the side effects.

  6. Also, and I realized this isn't exactly the point of the post, but I found myself wondering about it later... how did you get your hands on a speculum? Or did you just ask for a mirror in your OB's office one day? Genuinely want to know.

  7. rubber yarmulke made me laugh so hard.

    I also have had bad experiences with two kinds of hormonal BCs, so I'm not going to try anything else. Also not into the IUD. It seems like there are very few non-hormonal options. Fortunately we are certain we are done, so we'll be doing something permanent soon!

  8. Anonymous8:50 PM

    Natural family planning has been amazingly effective for us. I hated the bc pill with all it's side effects. Didn't want to always use a condom either. Not done having kids, so anything long term wasnt helpful.
    Then a friend suggested NFP. It works the best if you have a fairly regular cycle. And it takes 5-12 months to get enough info from tracking your months before you can be confident as to when you ovulate. Or you can get a ovulation test and that helps determine those fertile days too.
    I started tracking my cycles nov 2012. Took my info to my OB in June 2013. She helped fine tune some of the rules and counting of days. We've had no trouble. I actually really like it because I always know what's happening every day.

  9. Anonymous6:33 PM

    GREAT post!!! So glad my sister & your mom tipped me off - I'd missed it! Boo

  10. NFPer here, too. Super pissed no one ever taught me how to learn my own body and cycles so I could have avoided the mayhem hormonal BC wrecked on my body. And, honestly, I am so, so lazy.

  11. Definitely wouldn't use a diaphragm either. I hated my iud and removed it after about a month, and obviously now we've moved on to permanent birth control which to be honest I'm not super happy about because I want another squishy baby. You should make Ben get a vasectomy because if you get pregnant again I will be SO jealous!