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Birth Control Access Gave Me Peace of Mind

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October 16, 2020

The first time it happened, I was terrified: my period was late. Although I can’t remember when it was exactly, it must have been sometime around the beginning of my sophomore year in college. I had been lucky for a few months of having protected sex with my boyfriend at the time, but I thought that it was finally my time for my life as I knew it to end because I was pregnant.

Even though my period was only three days late the first time, I was much less lucky in the later months. Stress from school, work, and my other activities caught up to me and delayed my periods by up to a full week. Once, I went so far as to take a pregnancy test just to make sure, even though we had been safe every time by using condoms and pulling out. I cried as I waited for the result, and I cried when it came back negative.

It may seem strange that I would be so worried about accidentally becoming pregnant if you’ve never been in my situation; after all, don’t we have legal rights to abortion? Even my boyfriends expressed concern about the intense fear I felt when my period was even a day later than I predicted. However, for me, pregnancy before marriage could have literally ripped apart my life as I knew it, and I was fully aware of that fact. To help you understand why my reaction was so drastic, it might help to give some background.

I grew up in a small, rural town in Kansas. Like many rural places across the country, my town was quite conservative, with the majority being Christian. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, this fact determined much of the exposure I had to sex education and reproductive healthcare when I was in high school. We were taught that abstinence was the birth control method, and other forms of birth control weren’t discussed often, if at all. My family life was about the same: my mother stressed from the time I had my first boyfriends in middle and high school that I was to wait until after I was married to lose my virginity. That seemed fine and dandy, up until I moved to a larger city to attend college.

It is a well-known fact that most universities are liberal oases in the desert of little red towns like the one in the Midwest where I grew up. When I started college, my world of possibilities grew exponentially, and I quickly realized that what I was taught back home didn’t match with what could be. As I met new people and joined new sex-positive student organizations, I discovered that sex is natural, normal, and not something to be ashamed of. After waiting for years, I finally lost my V-card during my freshman year of college.

This new chapter in my life presented some interesting predicaments. My boyfriends and I wanted to be as safe as possible because none of us were keen on the idea of abortion, but reproductive healthcare like birth control and gynecology appointments would either be billed to my parents’ insurance or too expensive for me to pay for. Coming from a small, conservative town where my parents regularly asked me if I was still adamant about waiting until marriage, I wanted nothing to do with the painful conversation of telling my parents that I was no longer a virgin and that I wanted birth control. So, we accepted the risks. We planned the right time of the month to have sex depending on my ovulation, we always used condoms, and we utilized the pull-out method every time, just to be extremely sure. However, there was always that thought in my mind: “what if it doesn’t work?”

It was that voice in the back of my head asking such a simple question that made me break down every time my period even thought about being late. The anxiety that came from not knowing was almost too much to bear every month. If we hadn’t been careful enough, if something failed, if we did something wrong, I would have no choice but to tell my parents or sneakily get an abortion without using insurance. I liked to think of myself as a generally brave person, but after thinking about the repercussions of having that conversation, I decided there was no way that I could do it. I owed much of my financial stability to my parents, and if that went away, I would have to pay for everything in my life by myself. That was something I would absolutely not prepared for. Chances are that something would have to give, and chances are that something would be college first. That’s my future we are talking about, and all gone because of one little mistake that turned into a very big problem because I was stuck in the middle.

I’d like to think that my parents would be accepting if I had ever found myself in this situation, realizing that I was an adult and I could make my own decisions. However, I could not make that guarantee. Still, if they did cut me off out of anger, shame, and disappointment, I had a support network of close friends that I believe would have accepted me and helped me maintain my current state of living. I fully acknowledge the immense privilege that gave me when I worried about a late period. Even though my anxiety levels hit new heights every time, I at least had a back-up plan, a piece of mind that someone would have my back with the mental and financial support necessary to help me stay afloat.

I can only imagine what it would be like if I didn’t have a support network, if I didn’t have financial resources, if I didn’t have a back-up plan. Frankly, I don’t even want to imagine it. With as much fear as I felt under my circumstances, I don’t believe I could ever have handled the situation mentally or physically if the conditions surrounding my unplanned pregnancy were worse. This is why I am sharing my story with you today. I know that I did not have the worst-case scenario, but there are folx out there who live that scenario every day. In any event, unplanned pregnancies should not be the end of our lives as we know them, but we should also have access to ways to prevent that from happening in the first place.

Yes, abortion is a legal option, but that standard may very well be challenged in today’s political climate, and access to abortions is already limited for a lot of folx due to cost, distance, and stigma. Even other forms of birth control like the pill can be limited in small, conservative towns with strong religious ties where birth control beyond condoms and monthly family planning is discouraged. Making over-the-counter birth control available to people across the country would have huge impacts on unplanned pregnancy rates, abortion rates, and mental health. 

If I knew that I could purchase OTC birth control pills privately, that would give me a piece of mind I’ve never been able to have. I share my story today in the hopes that another person with a uterus reads about what I’ve gone through and says, “let’s work together to make this happen.” If your situation is like mine, if you go through the anxiety and dread and hopelessness, I hear you, and I will continue to fight for OTC birth control to make it better.

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