Article: 19891001043

Title: Birth Control: the Facts

Birth Control: the Facts
HMH Publishing Co., Inc.
I can't even find my diaphragm anymore. Should the opportunity present itself, I've got some condoms stashed in the back of my underwear drawer. You have to be safe, and so I'm back where I started.
Cynthia Heimel

I can't even find my diaphragm anymore. Should the opportunity present itself, I've got some condoms stashed in the back of my underwear drawer. You have to be safe, and so I'm back where I started.

With condoms. Fourteen years old and gasping with terror, lying in the middle of a football field under my boyfriend. It's midnight and he's fumbling with...what? What's he unwrapping? Chewing gum? What...oh, my God. This can't be happening to me. This must be a movie.

I got used to the sound of ripping foil in the dark--in a stairwell during a night basketball game, in the playground of my elementary school, the building looming all white and eerie and subversive in the moonlight. Once even in the back seat of a speeding car. Wow.

But I never saw one. I didn't know what they looked like. Until one day, I left the house to go to school, all scrubbed and carrying a million books, my hair shoved out of my face by a big barrette wielded by my mother (removed as soon as I hit the corner), when I saw something in the gutter and I just knew that shape. Just lying there in the gutter. And I realized what it was and where it had been and where it was now and I was sick and dreadful with shame. Then, when I was 18 and living in one commune after another in crazed hippie fashion, I went on the pill. We all did.

And I bloated up and my breasts went all sensitive and globular and I wept bitterly at the drop of a joint. My mood swings verged on the psychotic.

"Why do all you girls burst into tears all the time?" my boyfriend complained.

"You don't love me anymore!" I whimpered.

"And you're all getting kinda chubby," he added.

"I will knife you in your sleep," I whispered.

What was it? The migraines, the constant nausea, maybe a threatened blood clot? Anyway, the doctor took me off the pill and inserted my first I.U.D. She called it a coil and it looked like one. Plastic and curly. She put it in my uterus.

"This will hurt a little," she said, and then there was an intense, burning pain deep inside my belly until I blacked out for a second or two, then went home to bed.

I'll always remember lying there in that room for two days, having menstrual cramps times ten, sweating and bleeding and staring at the ceiling. Occasionally, some hippie or other would bring in iced tea and brown rice and wipe my forehead.

Then I got better and hardly noticed the I.U.D. at all, except during my period, when I was always certain I was hemorrhaging and about to die. But so what? I had lost all that pill weight.

Things were fine until I got pregnant.

"Don't be an asshole; I've got that I.U.D.," I told the doctor.

"Don't call me an asshole," he said. "Babies have been born with I.U.D.s clutched in their fists." And he showed me a picture.

So my boyfriend and I decided to get married.

The next day, I miscarried. Because of the I.U.D. I was assured as I went into full-throttle labor that this was to be expected; it was very common. They took me to the hospital and gave me painkillers and my mother sat with me all night. I'd wake up and look for her. "I'm here, honey," she'd say. In the morning, they scraped my uterus of debris and sent me home.

Well, we got married anyway. And I don't remember what we did. I think the famous coitus interruptus. I remember a lot of sticky stomachs. And then, one night while doing it, we whispered and decided he wouldn't pull out and we would have a baby. So we did, and I did.

I didn't know I needed birth control while nursing, but eventually, on medical advice, I got another I.U.D. They were allegedly improved. This lasted through beginning parenthood, the breakup of my marriage, living for years in England, coming back, becoming a writer, falling in love and becoming very, very ill.

"You've got a uterine infection, pelvic inflammatory disease, caused by the I.U.D.," said the gynecologist. "It'll have to come out, but unfortunately, it can't come out. Somehow or other, it has turned upside down and I'd have to operate."

So he gave me massive doses of antibiotics off and on for more than a year, because the infection kept recurring. I was lucky, because I didn't have to be hospitalized. And finally, the I.U.D. decided to right itself, the doctor took it out and I tried contraceptive foam.

Which was delightful and fun, like filling your innards with whipped cream. And I got pregnant right away. My boyfriend wanted to kill me. He thought I'd done it on purpose. He was horrified at the thought of a baby, so I had an abortion. My gynecologist told me Jewish-American princess jokes as he vacuumed out my insides. It didn't hurt much, just a few rampant twinges. What did hurt was that my boyfriend, still livid, took me home, put me to bed, snuck out to spend the night with an old girlfriend and let me find out about it. And, of course, I had nightmares.

Then my beloved gynecologist fitted me with my beloved diaphragm. At first, I was afraid of it. At first, I would smear it with spermicide and try to put it in and it would madly shoot across the room and land in the bathtub. Or I'd put it in wrong and discover I couldn't walk without agony.

But eventually, I got the hang of it and it was fine. No pain. No strange bloating. Just the feeling of constantly being awash with spermicide. Just wondering if the six hours were up and whether or not I could take the festering thing out. Just having to excuse myself and spend five minutes in the bathroom before every sex act. Just the yeast infections.

I'd heard the new pill was infinitely better than the old one. But my friend got pregnant with it. She had double vision, intense migraines, painful contractions. The doctor told her that if the child were born, it could have birth defects and if it was a boy, he could be somewhat feminized. I'm getting so tired.

Will there ever be a male contraceptive pill? What do you think?