I am shutting up the uterine shop for good. Hanging up my fallopian tubes and making my vacation from reproduction a permanent one.
Two wonderful children are all I need. My thread of patience is already pulled white-taut by their needs. I’m stumbling out of the no-sleep, breastfeeding, don’t-even-bother-with-clean-clothes phase. And now that I’m basking in eight hour stretches of sleep and underwiring again, I’ve no desire to go back there.
But despite my mind being firmly made up, my 35-year-old body could well pop out a few babies yet. Having precariously relied on pregnancy, breastfeeding and the libido-crushing reality of small children for the past eight years, the time has come for a more robust contraception plan. And here it is, sitting, as-yet-unopened, on my bathroom shelf: a little packet of pills. Twenty-one brown, orange and white friends. I can taste their slight sweetness now and find comfort in the familiar crinkling sound of the packet.
I love contraception. I carefully planned my first secret trip to the doctors age 17 so that I would be on the pill before I started having sex. And I spend much of my working life fighting for reproductive rights. Shouting about the need to decriminalise abortion, decrying the price of the morning-after pill, visiting clinics where life-changing contraception advice is given to rural farming communities in remote Tanzania. I know that being able to choose not to have babies is the single greatest thing that’s happened for women. Contraception has stopped us dying and more: for many of us enabled us to live the lives we want and need.
The trouble begins when my feminist beliefs bump up against my own experience. You see, I secretly also hate contraception – or maybe it hates me? That first pill I took in my teens sent my hormones in to overdrive. “Try the injection,” said the doctor and, in my naivety, I nodded and bared my cheek for the needle. The resulting period lasted three long, gory months. Through dogged trial and error, I finally found a pill that I could tolerate and then took it for 10 years until I found myself unexpectedly pregnant (with my now seven-year-old daughter).
Undeterred I tried again in between kids. As I was still breastfeeding, the mini-pill was my only option but, once again, I was soon buying tampons by the wheelbarrow-load to cope with my perma-period until I swore off hormones for good.
I clean my house with vinegar and grow my own veg to avoid chemicals, so there’s no way I’m putting spermicide into my lovely vagina
But what else is out there if you want to enjoy what now feels like a basic right – sex without finding yourself responsible for another human or bleeding for all eternity? “What about an IUD,” says the GP. I google IUD, read horror stories, consider how I managed to get through two vaginal births without anyone fiddling about with my cervix and politely decline. The implant? I don’t fancy a three-year side-effect. And after the vaginal mesh and other “terrible things that are supposed to be safe but are actually dangerous” stories, I’m suspicious of putting anything in to my body that wouldn’t be put in to a man’s.
I got excited about the retro option of the diaphragm until I read that without spermicide it’s got a 20 per cent failure rate. I clean my house with vinegar and grow my own veg to avoid chemicals, so there’s no way I’m putting spermicide into my lovely vagina. Then I try the high-tech approach: a blue box called a “Lady-Comp”. I’m cringing at the David Walliams-esque name, but it’s supposed to be a magic circuit board of freedom that gives you a red or green light for unprotected sex. Simple! Or not.The technology feels about 20 years old, it’s horrifically expensive, difficult to decipher and breaks after six weeks.
And that’s how I find myself back at the start. 17 again and ready to pop my first pill. But this time, as I wait for my period to start, I read about western sperm counts falling off a cliff in the last 40 years and wonder if it’s all the oestrogen we’ve been pissing in to the water. I’m not sure I can do it. It’s not a fashionable opinion for a feminist, but despite thinking that the pill is a wonder drug, I also have a nagging doubts about it. It may be the best we have, but why isn’t it better?
Then I come across an app: Natural Cycles. I’m naturally sceptical and don’t like fetishising “natural” things, but this app has been robustly studied, is as effective as the pill and was invented by a woman on the same quest as me (no babies, no weird side-effects for me or the world). She just happens to be genius physicist who helped discover the Higgs boson particle. So why haven’t I heard about it before and where does the scepticism come from? Maybe a place that still doesn’t like the idea of women controlling their own fertility and doesn’t really trust us to be able to.
An app is not for everyone. I’ve checked and re-checked my privilege and know that access to all kinds of contraception is still critical for so many women. But I’m pleased to have – at least for now – a reprieve for myself. I say bollocks to the scepticism. I’m going to put my trust in maths – and myself – and think outside of the pill box for now.