Trying to Score Birth Control in 2012: Shortages and "Against Our Policy" to Refill
“The personal is political.” My mother would remind me of that, growing up in the 80’s and 90’s. She would remind me of what was fought for, and what was sacrificed, so that I could go into the world with certain rights and privileges.
I took it for granted.
I am sorry. It won’t happen again.
I am a 37-year-old woman, and I have no problem saying that I have been sexually active for over 22 years. More than half my life. I have been blessed that my sexual history is healthy and that my experiences have been positive. The majority of my partners have been the products of long term relationships. I was married in my mid-20s and it ended in my early-30s. All that said, if you want to call me a slut, that’s cool. I really don’t care. Because it doesn’t really matter. In the 22 years that I have been sexually active, I have been militant about birth control. Seriously, moment-ruining, militant. That “caught up in the moment" thing? Yeah, I don’t do that. Ever.
Since I don’t do that, my health insurance has never paid for pre-natal care, delivery, a cesarian-section, or pediatric care. I have been a cost-effective consumer in the realm of reproductive services. Additionally, I have not found myself in the position of making the choice between keeping a pregnancy to term or having an abortion. In return for this responsible behavior, all that I ask is that I have access to birth control. Seems this is becoming the request of an "uppity woman" and not a woman simply making the decisions that are the best for her life, her body, and her partner.
For 20 of the 22 years that I have been sexually active I have been on the pill. Growing up in the late 80’s and early 90’s I was always careful to use condoms to prevent the transmission of STDs. I am screened yearly for all STDs and have blood taken to screen for HIV and Herpes. I have had negative results on my STD screenings and blood work.
The past two years I have not been on the pill. For personal reasons, I didn’t have to be on it anymore. I found that my energy improved; my PMS induced mood swings diminished; I lost weight; and overall I felt better. I would defend any woman’s right to birth control pills, but for me, it was no longer the best solution.
Cut to the present. I went in today for my pelvic exam, pap smear, and birth control prescription. I am in a serious relationship where I would feel better having an alternative birth control method to condoms. After doing my own research, talking to other women, and my doctor, I decided that I wanted to be fitted for a diaphragm. My doctor walked me through the process, told me about how to use the device, how to care for it, and common mistakes that lead to a decrease in effectiveness. Then she said, “But I’m not sure how to get you one.”
It seems that there is a shortage of birth control at my university affiliated health clinic. There is an 8-week backorder on many popular birth control pills and diaphragms are not carried at all. I asked her why this was happening.
She told me that in all the years she had been practicing medicine, she had never seen anything like it, and that she was deeply concerned.
I was referred to Planned Parenthood to see if they could fill my prescription for birth control. I drove to Planned Parenthood, but they couldn’t give me a diaphragm unless I consented to another pelvic exam. Two exams in one day. I declined. I asked if they knew of any way I could get a diaphragm. All three women (one doctor, and two support staff) shook their heads and agreed it was almost impossible to find diaphragms.
Let’s stop right here for a moment. Almost impossible to find diaphragms. A safe, effective, barrier method, inserted up to two hours before intercourse and effective for 6 hours, is almost impossible to find. A device controlled by the woman is almost impossible to find. It's 2012. How in Margaret Sanger’s good name did we get here?
Finally, one of the women at Planned Parenthood gave me the name of a specific pharmacist at a grocery chain who would help me. “He will order it for you next day.” She said this as if this was some sort of back-door, black-market deal being made for me.
I drove obediently to the location, amazed at what has happened to my reproductive rights. When I was 15, I went to the doctor, got on the pill and that was that. Over the years I’ve paid out-of-pocket and at various levels of co-pay, but I always had my pills on time (no 8-week back order), and delivered without question. Suddenly, I found myself on a 20-mile journey, taking over four hours out of my day, to try to score a diaphragm. It was laughable.
The pharmacist nodded when I gave him my referral from Planned Parenthood and he told me I would have it by 3 p.m. the next day. My insurance couldn’t tell me exactly what my co-pay would be, because after 20 minutes of trying to explain to my prescription benefits representative that diaphragms don’t come in “one-month or three-month supplies” as per their co-pay system, I got frustrated and hung up.
I called some other pharmacies and many told me that getting a diaphragm could take several days to a week. Wal-Mart told me it was “against their policy” to fill a prescription for a diaphragm.
Overall, I’m stunned. I still don’t have a final total on what this little adventure is going to cost. I had a $30 co-pay on the exam, and my diaphragm sounds like it will be somewhere between $30-$75, and I guess I should be thankful that insurance will cover part of it. What I can’t believe is that it took me four hours to go on a wild goose chase for a device that should be available to any woman who wants it. I am lucky, I have a car, financial resources, and an open schedule. I could afford in time, transportation, and money the opportunity (privilege?) to seek out and purchase my birth control.
I shouldn’t have to rely on a nurse’s friend who works in a pharmacy and is “sympathetic” to the plight of fornicating women. I suppose I’m lucky. I will have a prescribed medical device in less than 24 hours. If I had wanted to be put back on the pill, I would be waiting until mid-May for birth control. Meanwhile, my partner has OTC access to an effective barrier method without question or waiting. Of course, this method is not as effective as the options I’ve described, and does not take into consideration the women (and men) who are allergic to latex. For them, access to prescription birth control is even more vital. Condoms are also a method which, as a woman, I have limited jurisdiction. While I am fortunate to be in a relationship of trust and respect, there are other women who are not so lucky. To expect a man to take responsibility for my reproductive rights in the moments prior to sexual activity reduces my role in the agency of my own body. It compromises my ability to have control over what happens to me.
The personal got political and the political got personal today. There’s a calculated war on women, and it’s not just women seeking abortions, or cheaper birth control, it’s any woman who wants control over her reproductive organs. It's any woman who wants access to birth control. I experienced it on a very personal, visceral, and infuriating scale. I told my mother about my experience today. Her response was a mixture of rage and sadness. “I fought hard for the right to get birth control,” she said, “I went through humiliation 45 years ago so you wouldn’t have to go through that today.”
I had no idea what to say.