Guest post: The freedom not to choose birth control

This is a guest post by Gloria Malone. Gloria is a freelance writer, blogger, and teen and young parent advocate based in NYC. You can find her on Twitter and on her personal blog, teenmomnyc.com.

I was 15 years old when I had my daughter. A week after having her I went to my post birth appointment and was told by the doctor that she had already scheduled an insertion appointment for a five year hormonal Mirena IUD all I had to do was say yes and this “super convenient, hassle free, and no pill” form of birth control would be mine. My teenage self agreed and a few days later I had my IUD. However, the process of having it inserted and getting it removed would not be easy, breezy, or hassle free.

It would be years before I realized I was essentially pushed into an IUD because of my age, lack of knowledge on birth control, and her lack of discussing any other options for me expect the only thing on the market closest to temporary sterilization.

My IUD did its job well and during the seven years of having it – two years past the 5 year deadline – I did not have another unintended pregnancy. However, doctor after doctor informed me that my IUD could not be found and was lost inside of my body. With no insurance I did what most uninsured Americans do: I sucked it up and hoped for the best.

When I finally got insurance I went to the doctor to see if they could locate the lost IUD and remove it. While the most important thing on my mind was finding the IUD to make sure it didn’t migrate too far up, was embedded in my uterine wall, or had torn through my uterine wall, the doctors seemed more concerned about what was going to be my next form of birth control.

At first I welcomed their questions.

As someone who feels more physicians and patients need to discuss birth control options, I was glad to see doctors having that conversation but when the questions over arched the concern of the lost IUD that was causing me extreme pain I became frustrated. It seemed that all these doctors cared about was how I was going to make sure I wouldn’t procreate.

Every time I was asked what form of birth control I wanted next – even after they read my chart and saw I did not want any – the conversation felt more like an interrogation:

*Strange look from doctor*

Me: Yes, I’m sure.

Dr.: What are you going to do if you have intercourse?

Me: I haven’t had intercourse in years, don’t plan on it, and when I do feel I will become sexually active again I will consider my options then. Plus there are always condoms, which are the only form of birth control that protect against sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancy.

Dr.: You don’t WANT any other baby do you? You don’t want another unintended pregnancy right? Why are not wanting more birth control?

*I’d stare at them with a blank stare and usually repeat what I just said*

Dr.: Okay. Be sure to make an appointment with our family planning department before you leave. *Passes me birth control pamphlets and tells me to reconsider*

Choice and access to women’s health services are just as important as respecting the decisions women and women alone make about their reproductive health choices. Not wanting or refusing birth control is no different. It’s my personal choice and not one I should be interrogated over.

While we advocate for access and choice let us not forget that refusing birth control is a decision that should be respected just as much as the decision to start birth control, terminate a pregnancy, or anything else a women chooses to do with her body.

Remember the days of forced sterilization and eugenics on predominately woman, and more specifically women of color are not a distant history.

Eugenics and forced sterilizations were–and in some countries continue to be–a way to breed out “genetically inferior traits.”

Women and men alike were often sterilized without their knowledge or consent.  Homes for the mentally handicapped had especially high rates of forced, while, as Juliana wrote last month, Latin@s accounted for approximately “20-30% of the 60,000 people who were coercively sterilized in the U.S., mostly in mental institutions in California. The majority of these people were women who were labeled as ‘bad girls’ or ‘sexually wayward': in other words, women who didn’t follow the strict social norms set forth at the time.”

As recently as 1974 people all over the United States were legally sterilized by force–and the practice continues today, from hospitals to prisons, despite laws banning such abuse. Recognition of the lasting harm of such sterilizations is growing: In 2012 North Carolina finally decided that the state would compensate $50,000 to each survivor of forced sterilization. However, for survivors–many of whom were forced into sterilizations to qualify for much–needed public assistance–monetary compensation doesn’t begin to heal these wounds.

Choice is multifaceted. Let’s all remember that respecting one’s decision to choose not to use birth control is part of the fight.

New Haven, CT

Alexandra Brodsky is an editor at Feministing.com, student at Yale Law School, and founding co-director of Know Your IX, a national legal education campaign against campus gender-based violence. Alexandra has written for publications including the New York Times, the Atlantic, the Guardian, and the Nation, and she has spoken about violence against women and reproductive justice on MSNBC, ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, FOX, and NPR. Through Know Your IX, she has organized with students across the country to build campuses free from discrimination and violence, developed federal policy on Title IX enforcement, and has testified at the Senate. At Yale Law, Alexandra focuses on antidiscrimination law and is a member of the Veterans Legal Services Clinic. Alexandra is committed to developing and strengthening responses to gender-based violence outside the criminal justice system through writing, organizing, and the law. Keep an eye out for The Feminist Utopia Project, co-edited by Alexandra and forthcoming from the Feminist Press (2015).

Alexandra Brodsky is an editor at Feministing.com, student at Yale Law School, and founding co-director of Know Your IX.

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