*I am not a medical professional and these statements are made solely based on my personal experiences and opinions only…and the only name mentioned is definitely not her real name… Just imagine I’m a sweet old lady, rocking in a chair, probably with a teacup poodle, knitting, telling my stories…
“You’ve got an 18-year-old’s oven in there!! And you’ve got good genes!…You and your husband are tall with big smiles! It’s just a shame to not use what you have. I want you to have a baby. YOU SHOULD HAVE A BABY!” This conversation from my Gynecologist came during a follow up appointment to determine my new birth control plan (that she was trying to talk me out of), and after a very hard, hormonal year for me. While this sentiment wasn’t anything I hadn’t heard before, from other people’s unrequested opinions, it was harder to take this time around. I switched doctors and stopped seeing her soon after.
Most people tell me my “clock” just hasn’t gone off yet, that someone with my “mothering potential” will surely come to her senses. When I was first married at 24, I was told that after the honeymoon year I’d start hearing baby feet in my head. Then I turned 25 and it became “You have plenty of time, just wait till you hit 30!” And when 30 came and went, suddenly the clock was going to “go off any day now”, or at least by 35. Point being, I have found that most people I meet (including my former Gynecologist) have a hard time accepting or understanding that I don’t have kids yet and might not ever want to. I’ve even had one woman (an essential stranger) tell me “You better make your husband a baby or he’ll find someone who will.” It’s always surprising (sometimes hurtful) to me when people take my child free choice as a negative. And while I can’t say that I’ve known from birth that babies weren’t for me, this certainly isn’t a position I came to lightly, or over night.
In high school, while some of my peers were starting to explore their sexuality to the max, I alternatively abstained so hard that I actually taught abstinence. This wasn’t out of any moral high ground either, what I mainly loved about teaching the abstinence course was that a large portion of the curriculum was telling students the cost of having a baby and how little sleep or social life you get. Having kids sounded kind of terrible to me, and I wanted to make sure other tweens and teens knew it could be terrible too. I was direct in my messaging: If you don’t have sex, you don’t have a baby. Genius. Comical as it may be, at the height of my mighty abstinence stance, I had to go on birth control.
I wish it was for a more scandalous reason (it would make a juicier article) but the truth was my period was making me so tired and lethargic, I could barely get up or keep my eyes open on the week of my cycle. Starting to miss class, my mom took me to our primary care doctor, where it was suggested I get set up on low hormone birth control to help balance me out. I felt slightly strange and embarrassed holding the baby pink compact of Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo in my hand, wondering what people would think if they found out I was taking it. But after the first two months, it was like I didn’t even have a period anymore, and the fear of being shamed for taking the pill was out the window. I felt nothing. Bleeding lasted three, fours days at best. My mood was better. My energy was better. I felt invincible. I was never getting off these pills. I became bold in letting other friends know that getting on birth control wasn’t just for birth control: this was period control. This was LIFE control. All hail the pill.
As I grew up and out of high school, into a relationship, and out of abstinence, I never did get off those magic pills. I was militant in taking them at the same time every day, and the control freak in me felt such comfort in always knowing when my period was starting and when it was ending. The added warm-blanket-feeling bonus of no-baby protection made it seem like staying on the pill was an easy choice. Granted the brand changed here and there throughout the years, sometimes altering my symptoms, wearing down the shiny facade of a pill that I thought would keep me somewhat period free for life, but I was romantically in a long term committed relationship, and my birth control was working, so I wasn’t stopping.
I started dating my husband when I was 19, and before we ever married, we had many discussions about kids. In the beginning he had told me he might want to be a young father, and given our 5 year age difference I was worried he would want me pregnant at 22. But as our relationship evolved and we discussed the reasons why to or not to have kids, what other things we wanted in our lives, it became more and more clear that our journey might follow a less traditional path. We got engaged, got married, didn’t have kids, and our time was spent starting new careers and companies, getting a dog, and traveling. We were excited, we felt in control of our destiny, complete without kids, and everything seemed to be shaping up like the end of an uplifting Lifetime Movie! So naturally, I was super depressed.
I struggled to identify what I was feeling. Slowly, but steadily over the course of about a year, I started to feel detached from myself, my body, and ultimately from my life. It would come in waves, each lasting longer than the one before. I was just sad. And tired. I found myself taking naps constantly, even on days where I hadn’t done anything active or stressful. I was feeling unmotivated, heavy, the farthest thing from a young, sexual vibrant woman and wife. I knew this was depression, but I didn’t know why. My life on paper was GREAT. I wasn’t actually depressed… Was I?
The change in me was stressing me out and causing nausea and anxiety, so I finally went in search of medical advice. After some preliminary tests and rule-outs from my primary care doctor and gastroenterologist, I went into my Gynecologist. We discussed at length the many studies and reports emerging about women suffering from depression and other illness after years on various forms of birth control pills. As much as I didn’t want to end up pregnant, or give up the pill that I had trusted and had become second nature to me after 10+ years, I was desperate to feel like myself again. I stopped at the drugstore, picked up a pack of Trojans on the way home, and gave my husband a chance to feel slightly depressed (apparently guys don’t love using condoms) by letting him know that keeping our crib kid-free was now (more so) his responsibility. My body needed a hormonal detox.
About two months after I stopped taking the pill, I noticed a dramatic change. It was like I woke up from a hazy dream. I was happier, more productive, and more alert overall ( Why hello self!!). Life off of the pill was better. I was also experiencing my period for what felt like the first time. Surprisingly to me, it wasn’t that bad. Even now, I try to think of when exactly it was that the initial magic feeling the pill had given me had worn off, and I can’t remember. It just snuck up on me. Now that I was off of it, when my period made me feel like crying, I had this very aware sense of knowing that I wasn’t sad, that I just needed the release, and I could easily deal with it. I can’t quite find the words to explain the joy I felt in just recognizing and being able to handle my own emotions again. After feeling so much clarity, there was no way I was going back on the pill…which brings me back to that follow up doctors appointment.
My Gynecologist helped me tremendously in doing all of the right tests (think thyroid and beyond) to be sure that after a year of no birth control medication, what science showed was that my body needed my hormones to be left alone. BUT, my Gyno also wanted me to breed. As much as I respected her and liked her, it made me uncomfortable to always have to defend my (and my husband’s) choice to the person I felt should be most helping me enforce it. Fortunately after parting ways, I found my current Gynecologist who is just my style. I can most politely describe her as “no muss, no fuss”, as in there is no glamour, no real bedside manner. However, she’s very informative and supports my right to my own choice. We discussed that I didn’t want to get on any type of hormone based birth control and she made a very dry and dirty joke about men hating condoms that made me blush and laugh on the inside. I was then presented with the pamphlet on the non-hormonal IUD or Intra-Uterine Device. I was also told that if I looked it up on line, I would see lots of horror stories. Call with questions.
That night I fell into the black hole of Google and read more articles on IUD’s than a medical student or IUD manufacturer. First there were the gut wrenching stories of just the insertion process, how devastatingly painful it was, but then there were also plenty of stories that said it hurt as much as mild period cramps, no biggy. There were the terrifyingly descriptive accounts of bleeding for months straight and having to go to the hospital, only to be followed by women who had had their IUD in for 5 or more years, no issues. I called all my friends and asked if they knew anyone who had an IUD and listened to their stories about friends or family members, equal parts success and absolute nightmares. When I had satiated my need to scare the crap out of myself and also reassure myself it would be fine, I ultimately called my doctor up and set an appointment to talk about moving forward with the copper releasing, non hormonal IUD, PARAGARD.
My husband, doctor and I were all on the same page. My insurance however, did not want me to move forward and denied to pay for this type of birth control. I could order an alternative IUD that dispersed small levels of hormones, or any of the various brands of pills, but I couldn’t get the birth control that was best for me. I called every extension, and argued with every person I could get on the phone. After multiple failed attempts (saying, “I’ll call my lawyer!” only works in the movies I guess) , I decided that my well being was more important than what the insurance company thought I deserved, and coughed up the $800 to order the damn thing myself. I tried numerous times to get reimbursed as the healthcare laws changed, always to be left with someone promising to call me and never following through.
When my IUD did finally arrive, a nurse informed me that it would be best to come in on the third day of my period so that my uterus would be more relaxed, to take an Advil, and maybe a puff of pot if I was so inclined and if it would mellow me out. Instead, I had the beginning stages of the flu and a serious headache. They told me the appointment would last all of 30 mins including check in and wait times, so I drove myself and figured I’d go home and marathon something on Netflix after. But, I am an idiot, and on appointment day life looked at my optimism and said “Hahahahahahahahahaha!”
Sweet pineapple salsa, the pain was so friggin intense, I was sure they were actually shoving a baby inside me!!! It was like a reverse labor. My body was rigid all over, sweating, trying to resist the tiny T-shaped demon. “Well, you are really, REALLY strong…” my doctor said as I tried to resist wriggling in pain. As she sighed, I panicked, the nurse’s face did not look promising. “Wh..what do you mean?” I groaned. “You broke it.” She said. I started crying. Somehow, my body broke it. I couldn’t imagine having to reorder, wait for it to arrive, and go through this all over again. I couldn’t. The nurse was rubbing my arm at this point, my skin covered in goose bumps, trying to help me breath. It was feeling more and more like going into labor by the second. Feeling pity for my sorry, sweating, sick and sobbing state of being, the nurse remembered a canceled appointment and suggested “We could steal Deborah’s…” (since my IUD broke they could do a free reorder to replace it). “PLEASE STEAL DEBORAH’S!” I pleaded. My doctor looked up at me, saw the psycho in my eyes, said “Do it.”, and I spent the next two minutes it took the nurse to pirate the goods trying to calm every muscle in my body so that I didn’t screw it up again. I focused…Relaxrelaxrelax….Dontbreakdontbreakdontbreak…. aaaaaannnd stuck the landing! (Deborah I love you) The entire ordeal felt like hours but was a measly 20 minutes. I hobbled out to my car with a dull throbbing lower back and abdominal pain. Once I got home, I curled up in a ball and pretty much stayed in the fetal position for 24hours. I was so uncomfortable, and incredibly nervous that my body was, indeed, rejecting the implant. All of the horror stories I had read swirled viciously in my brain. But, by the end of day three my fears were calmed and I felt completely normal.For over a year now, my IUD and I have been a happy pair. I have noticed that my periods last longer and I seem to experience heavier and deeper cramping, but for me the benefits outweigh the negatives (which, full disclosure, does include increased risk for pelvic inflammatory disease). I go in for regular checkups, and could do self home checks (let’s be honest, I don’t want to) to make sure everything is in its proper place, but mostly I don’t think about it. I love that it is the most effective form of birth control available and that I can leave it in place as long as my body is cool with it for up to 10 years (cooler-than-us Euro’s say up to 12). But my favorite part of being on this form of birth control, besides that I emotionally and hormonally feel myself, is that it’s flexible to my flexible life. I like to believe that my husband and I are open people; open to life’s possibilities and open to the possibility that perhaps one day we could change our minds. And while I don’t feel like that will happen, it comforts me to know that should it, in one appointment and a few minutes, my doctor can remove my IUD and I could hypothetically get pregnant that same day.
While being a mom isn’t right for me right now, and I’m comfortable with my truth, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that when I hear my friends talk about how they know/knew that they wanted children, I am envious. Envious of how deep their pangs for motherhood go, how sure they are of that side of themselves. Why don’t I hear baby feet? Why don’t I have “the clock”? Does that make me less of a woman? Less of a person? …….What I’ve learned, in short, is HELLLLLLLLLL NO!
Despite what you might think about someone who chooses to not have kids, I LOVE kids. There, the secret is out. I’ve been a children’s mentor, camp counselor, live-in nanny and was employee of the month at Build-A-Bear Workshop in the course of my 31 years. One of my current favorite life positions is Aunt, one I cherish and strive to do better at (although I am not a fan of the marketing term given to my kind, PANK: Professional Aunt No Kids. Seriously, we can do better). And one of the best things about being a person who loves kids, but doesn’t want their own, is the incredible “support” role I get to play for the people and families I love.
What I mean, is that I don’t lack love because I don’t want to reproduce, I just get to move that love out of my internal “parent” bucket and dump it into the other areas of my life. I get to be the extra voice in the cheering section, the free babysitter, the occasional getaway place for my friends with kids, and the dedicated listening ear because there isn’t a toddler trying to get my attention. I love my role.
And while my IUD and I will continue to enter Baby’s-R-Us to buy adorable gifts for other people, I can’t finish this piece without acknowledging that I know it is a luxury to be in my position: to get to choose. Many of my friends and clients have shared their struggles in realizing their dream of parenthood, and my heart breaks for those who have yet to have it come to fruition. What I ultimately hope to express, is that no matter where you are on the spectrum: want kids, have kids, or no kids, there are so many ways to be and become a family, and all of them are right. To my ladies who don’t want kids: There is nothing wrong with you. To my ladies who want kids: There is nothing wrong with you. And to my ladies who haven’t decided yet, I say again: There is nothing wrong with you. Take your time and DO YOU. For now, my husband is my family and our baby has four legs, and me and my IUD are really really happy with that.
XX – SS