Archive for September, 2006

Access to Plan B

Biting Beaver‘s recent post regarding her struggle to obtain Plan B reminded me of my own story, so I thought I’d share it here.

I live in Canada, and like, I think, many Canadians my age (mid-20s) I had grown a little complacent about access to contraception. Degrassi High (the show that all Canadian youth both watched and mocked) had an episode about abortion, and although the characters went through their moral and emotional struggles, actual physical access to the abortion was guaranteed. I always assumed that obtaining Plan B would far simpler even than that, given that it was supposedly available over the counter from pharmacists in British Columbia since 2000.

For years now my primary form of contraception has been the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM), which works very well for me and my male partner. For ourselves, we chose never to have penis-in-vagina intercourse during my carefully and casually tracked fertile times. This was part of an evolving continuum of choices we made about our contraception, and it changed gradually as we became more comfortable and confident with FAM. 

Other people choose other things, including using barriers during fertile periods, and these are all very individual choices. This is part of the appeal for me of FAM: I as a woman get to choose my own level of comfort and risk-taking in my sexual choices.

In December of 2003 I returned from an 8-week trip to Australia with family. My partner had not accompanied me and we had missed each other greatly. Because I had been travelling my fertility cycle was a little disrupted, and although I hadn’t had any signs that I was likely to ovulate I knew that the timing was generally right for that sort of thing to occur soon. For once, we chose to use barriers rather than to avoid intercourse altogether. Of course, in the midst of our passionate reunion, we weren’t as conscientious (i.e., freakishly paranoid) as we would ordinarily have been and discovered only after the act was completed that our barrier had slipped off and was lying uselessly on his stomach.

When I realized this I just got dressed and we drove over to the 24-hour pharmacy about five blocks from my house. Inside the pharmacist politely explained that although Plan B was technically available over the counter, it had to be dispensed by a specially trained pharmacist and the only one they had on staff wouldn’t be in until late in the morning the following day. Sorry, nothing they could do. Besides, it didn’t really matter, I just had to take it within three days for it to be effective.

Now, while it’s true that there is a three-day window for Plan B, taking it as soon as possible is important. The sooner the better, in fact, which was why I was at a 24-hour pharmacy at 1 in the morning. Of course, if I didn’t live in the middle of the second largest metropolitan area in Canada I probably wouldn’t be as close to a 24-hour pharmacy and would have had to wait until morning, so… fine. Wait until morning.

I decided that since the pharmacist wouldn’t be in until later in the morning I’d go to the drop-in clinic at my workplace to get a prescription as soon as it opened in the morning. Because I live in Canada all office visits are fully covered by Medical Services Plan, so I didn’t have to worry about whether or not I could afford to go to the doctor. When I got to the clinic only one doctor was on duty. He was a young man, possibly in his late 20s. I explained what I wanted and he then quizzed me for a while on what my usual birth control was and so on before announcing that he didn’t prescribe the “morning after pill” for ethical reasons.

“What??” I said. At the time I’d never heard of such a thing. I asked what ethical reasons those were exactly and he refused to explain. I asked if there were any other doctors on staff that I could see and he said that there weren’t any. I just sat and looked at him. He looked at me. I said, “Look, I didn’t do anything wrong. In fact, I’m trying to do everything right. I get the feeling that you’re passing some kind of judgement on me here and I don’t like it.” He shrugged uncomfortably and opened the door to indicate that it was time for me to leave. I left.

I went up to a different walk-in clinic close to the pharmacy. I didn’t really like this one because it was often crowded and busy and the doctors had always seemed quite indifferent to me, but I figured it was better than nothing. I waited my forty minutes to get in to see a doctor and when I did I ended up with a crusty older man. I explained what I wanted. He just sat there and looked at me. By this point I was starting to feel almost… defensive about what I was trying to do, so I said something along the lines of having used a condom but that it had broken (a lie, of course, it just came off without our noticing, but I felt guilty for what I perceived to be a rookie mistake that should never have happened).

“You don’t have to explain.” he said chidingly, “That’s none of my business. I’ll write you the prescription. Ask them to give you some gravol with it because it often makes you feel quite nauseous.” And he wrote me the prescription. I went back to the pharmacy and had no difficulty filling it. I got home and took my first dose along with a gravol just over 12 hours after having what turned out to be unprotected intercourse.

Now, in the end, did I get the prescription I wanted? Yes. Was it really that hard? I suppose not. And I realize now just how lucky I was in some respects. After all, of the four medical service providers (two doctors and two pharmacists) that I interacted with, only one of them really felt strongly that I should just get pregnant as a result of a mistake whether I wanted to or not. It only took me 12 hours and three unsuccessful attempts in the second largest city in Canada to get my hands on emergency contraception.

Really, we can do better than that.

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Yesterday I felt entirely right in my body.

At first I described it as, “I just feel like I am incredibly slender today.” Later on I realized that it wasn’t so much slenderness as a feeling of “fitting”. My clothes fit well and didn’t feel restrictive and it felt like every part of my body had purpose and meaning. Slenderness is such an ideal in our society that I at first associated this feeling of ideal with slenderness, but that wasn’t the right description.

I’ve been experimenting lately with trying to move past a place of quiet acceptance of my body as it is, plumpness and all (but don’t talk about it too much), to a place of appreciating and perhaps celebrating the plumpness on its own merits. What if my body was not just attractive in spite of its faults, not just attractive because of its strength which somehow “makes up” for the plumpness, but attractive because of its strength and plumpness both? How would it feel to move all the things I have been taught to see as negatives in my body into the plus column?

Perhaps it would feel the way I felt yesterday.

This is a process I have probably already begun. There are many things about my body that I like that aren’t in the societal beauty mag standard of beauty and attractiveness. For instance, I love my breasts. As I move through my 20s they become less and less round, they ride flatter and closer to my chest, and they droop lower. Sometimes when my nipples are not erect my breasts actually cave in above them. When my nipples are erect they pull my breasts into a different and rounder shape, and this process amuses me. I love the way they look in the mirror and how it feels to touch them, squashy and soft. I can slide my fingers underneath them and warm them up.

Call me the last to really get the memo, but it hadn’t actually occurred to me that it was possible for others to love plump parts of the body other than the breasts or buttocks, just for the pleasure and attractiveness of that plumpness. I somehow didn’t get that people could find attractive a plump and roll-y belly for the same reasons that I love my breasts, because it is squashy and soft, yielding and full of inviting curves to slip fingers around and beneath.

Of course, I knew that I myself liked the feeling of my own and other plump people’s bodies, when I was permitted to touch them, and that it was as wonderful to curl up behind my girlfriend and cup her breast in my hand as it was to cup her round tummy, or to curl up behind my boyfriend and slide my palm down around the firm bottom curve of his belly. Somehow it was difficult to reconcile this tactile attractiveness with the visual for me.

Which actually leaves me thinking of my mother when I was young. She was always a larger person, close to six feet tall with entirely proportionately large hands and feet. After my sister was born she started to gain more and more weight. She hated to be looked at, or to have pictures taken of her, and she hated most of all to be touched. We weren’t allowed to touch her very often, and although she was very affectionate and loving with us in many ways, she was not very affectionate or loving with herself at all. I knew from an early age that she hated her body and that somehow we were supposed to hate it also. It was impossible and perverse in her mind that anyone could love her body as it was.

I think, in retrospect, that I, an entirely sensual and physical touch sort of person, wanted to love her body however it was, wanted to touch it and cuddle it the way a child does with her mother. Her body could have been just the body of my mother, but instead it was very much forbidden territory, so that even as a teenager, after my mother had lost a significant portion of her weight via gastric bypass surgery and intense daily exercise, I had to be very careful how I embraced my mother. If I touched her sides or belly she would break away, or protest that I was “jiggling the fat”. There was simply no room in there to explore the idea that perhaps she was a pleasurable person to touch. What an extraordinary idea!

My mother and sister both often say to me, “You’re looking good! Have you lost weight?” Of course, every time they’ve asked I haven’t, to the best of my knowledge, lost any weight at all, and sometimes have in fact gained. Then we all sort of awkwardly stand around engaging in a bizarre process that FEELS like we have to somehow find some reason why I “look good” to them but if I haven’t lost weight then it’s completely inexplicable why I would look good at all. I have felt entirely confused by these conversations before now, too caught up in their “weight loss = looking good” societal assumption to even challenge it properly.

In India a woman in a store said to me, “Oh! You are so fat!” and she said it in such an entirely pleased and complimentary way that it completely threw me for a loop. I almost burst into tears. She said it in almost the exact same way we would say, “You’ve lost weight!” in North America. I could tell she had no idea how this pronouncement could possibly be negative.

Perhaps there isn’t something glib I could toss off that would instantly educate and change other people’s perspectives, but I would like to move away from the “weight loss = looking good” assumption. Sometimes I’ve tried to just say, “Thank you! I feel good!” Sometimes I’ve said matter-of-factly that, in fact, I had gained weight, but thanks for the compliment.

I wonder if I could pull off rejoicing in gained weight in a convincing manner in our society? Would anyone ever believe it?

“Actually, I’ve gained 5 pounds! I’m very excited about it! I haven’t felt so sexy in months!”

(This post was cross-posted from my personal LJ at rainbowk.livejournal.com.)

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