My family of female amateur comedians surrounded my hospital bed and tried to make light of the situation. It's not funny when blood clots form in the brain, blocking the flow of circulation and causing excruciating headaches. It's not funny when the estrogen in birth control pills is the explanation for a trip to the intensive care unit. It's not funny when doctors inform you that you are among 2 percent of the population with a blood clotting disorder, and it's definitely not fun knowing that you are sixteen times more likely to get a blood clot by combining genetically thick blood with oral contraceptives. But I could see the humor in getting a box of condoms as a get well gift.
When the doctors informed me that I could never use estrogen–based birth control again, my swollen brain questioned what I would do as an alternative. And in the backs of my family's fully functioning minds, they too were curious about my options.
Sex always seemed like a forbidden topic of discussion between the generations. When the phrase "sleeping with him" popped out of my mouth during one holiday gathering, my grandma jokingly pretended she was going to faint. But after I got sick, every estrogen–charged member of my family spoke straight from her vagina about sex, birth control and babies. My sister and cousin were already mothers of unexpected children. Because of this, my female family members offered their expert advice on the topic of contraception before I too ended up in maternity pants.
Standing at the edge of the hospital bed and naturally thinking out loud, my mother said, "You know, there are other things you can do." Besides have sex? My mind wondered what "other things" she could possibly be talking about. When I thought of the most ridiculous solution I could come up with, I sarcastically muttered, "Oh yeah, like play Scrabble." This conversation must have been relayed to the rest of my loved ones, because a week later, I got some board games in the mail from my future mother–in–law, a close friend of my mother.
While our obsession with board games is real, my fiancé and I don't usually replace sex with a heated round of checkers. Our supportive mothers had good intentions by finding different forms of entertainment so my fiancé and I wouldn't try to entertain each other under the sheets. The bottom line, however, is that the satisfaction of winning isn't a substitute for the pleasure of making love.
After I got sick, every estrogen-charged member of my family
spoke straight from her vagina about sex, birth control and babies.
My grandma is a rapidly shrinking, gray–haired woman with a wonderful sense of humor. "There will be plenty of years for sex," the retired kindergarten teacher sang. "No need to start so young." She only hinted at the idea of abstinence, but I imagined her looking up chastity belts on eBay as the solution to the problem. Abstinence is a wonderful idea for people who have the discipline, but as a twenty year old with limited self–control, I knew there had to be another answer — an answer that wouldn't turn my wild river of sexual energy into a dull, dusty desert.
My curious and innocent grandma then posed a question to my lesbian aunt and her group of lesbian friends. "What do gay couples use for birth control?" Everyone burst into laughter, and the puzzled look on my grandma's face remained. When the hysterical giggling subsided, my aunt and her friends offered some suggestions to my dilemma, including become a nun, cross your fingers, stand on your head or use a vibrator. While the last suggestion wasn't the worst idea, their sperm–free lifestyles kept them safe from pregnancy and having to consider birth control methods. I appreciated the box of Trojans from my sister. Condoms were at least practical, and by choosing the "For Her Pleasure" kind, I knew she was looking out for me. But in the two years of our monogamous relationship, my fiancé expressed how suffocated he felt when wearing the tight latex. I sympathized with his well–endowed woes; try bra shopping with 36DDs. Even though he was always willing to wear a condom, I respected his opinion by searching for different methods. In the meantime, the get well gift would have to suffice as a baby barrier.
Other family members mentioned that they had used the diaphragm for years. I hadn't tried this method yet, so during my annual exam, the doctor determined my cervix size and showed me how to properly insert the rubber ring. However, there are certain rules to follow. For instance, I would have to use spermicidal jelly to seal the device around my cervix. This usually creates a messy situation. I would also have to leave it in for six hours after having sex, but not for more than twenty–four. The doctor also mentioned the higher probability of bladder infections, which I already had problems with in the past. With the strict rules and potential health risks considered, I decided to give the diaphragm a chance.
Just when I thought everyone had voiced an opinion, I received a package from my fiancé's sister. I crossed my fingers for Yahtzee or Battleship but was not at all disappointed with a 400–page book about the fertility awareness method. I read more about how to keep track of my waking temperatures, cervical fluid and cervical position in order to determine my level of fertility. On days near or during ovulation, we would use some form of contraception like a condom or a diaphragm. The rest of the month, we didn't have to use any protection.
When I mentioned I was reading the book, several women told me about how well the method worked for them, and several other women told me how they used the method for birth control and instead wound up becoming mothers. According to Planned Parenthood, the method has high rates of effectiveness if used properly. But after hearing a variety of testimonials from friends, I stopped taking my temperature in the morning and used the extra time to contemplate what I would look like behind the wheels of a stroller.
In the past five months without the birth control pill, my body has lost a few pounds and broken out with acne as a direct result of discontinuing the use of artificial hormones. With all of my female family members' suggestions in mind, I've also created a medicine cabinet full of contraceptive choices. My fiancé and I mostly use condoms and/or the diaphragm when we are feeling in the mood. But every once in a while, we set up the Scrabble board and play for a couple of hours instead.