I had the most insane time filling my birth control prescription, and I can’t let it go unremarked on.
I’ll begin by saying that I have never had a “good” experience getting a birth control prescription from a doctor. From the time I was 12 years old, I had extremely irregular periods that would sometimes last for weeks, from spotting to what most women experience as normal or heavy bleeding. Imagine three weeks of continuous bleeding. Yeah. Not fun.
When I was 13 or 14, my mom started bringing me to her family doctor, since I had outgrown my pediatrician. We tried a few other doctors before hers took me on as a patient. Every one of the GPs I saw as a young teen immediately recommended that I go on birth control to regulate my periods. I was young, sexually inactive, and personally, I didn’t feel like I needed—or wanted—to deal with all the side effects associated with the pill. My style was more along the lines of buying an economy-sized bottle of Midol and a family pack of heavy-duty pads for the month.
Time changes things—around 19 I found myself seriously fed up with spending $40+ a month on feminine hygiene products and saddled with a “serious” boyfriend. I got to thinking about family planning…mind you, we hadn’t gone “all the way” yet, but I figured I might as well get a jump on that no-baby medication thing as a “just in case”. Just in case we…you know…decided to make a pillow fort, or whatever euphemism the kids are using these days.
So I made an appointment with my (mother’s) doctor, and on the scheduled day, I drove myself to her office, feeling on edge the whole time, in order to get my Magic Ticket to Sexual Maturity—or as normal people call it, a prescription for birth control.
I had a lot of concerns about whether I would react poorly to being on the pill. I’d never been on regular medication, and I knew it could have a host of negative side effects from the horror stories my girlfriends had told me. On top of these worries was my vague unease over what it would mean for me and my dweeby (and equally virginal) boyfriend. I’d never discussed my sexual history (or lack thereof) with a doctor before. I was afraid she’d judge me (for my prudishness, presumably) since I was sure as shit judging myself.
You have to understand, though, that I was not at all nervous about getting the prescription. That might seem weird to you, but doctors (multiple!) had been insisting I go on the pill since I was 14 years old. Now I was 19—a mature, worldly (in my own mind), adult woman. I was ready to use the pill’s baby-blocking properties to the full extent. How hard could it be to get it, now that I was ready to use it?
VERY HARD, THAT’S HOW HARD.
I should have known things would go badly when my (mother’s) doctor kicked off the appointment by telling me that there would be a 20-year-old male medical intern sitting in on my session with her. Okay? Okay. That’s how she ended every affirmative statement—”Okay? Okay.”
Dr. Okay: You’re fine with this other stranger standing here listening to me interrogate you about your vagina and how many penises have been inside it? Okay?
Me: *opening my mouth to speak*—
Dr. Okay: Okay! Now let’s begin…
Dr. Okay asked me what I was here for, my age, allergies, other medications; all that doctor-y stuff. I answered as best I could while having to get the words in edgewise between all the “okays”. She asked me why I wanted the birth control. I told her it was because I had a boyfriend. Then she asked me the crucial question—was I sexually active yet.
Trying not to meet the eye of the pimple-faced male intern. I thought back to all the self-esteem based Adolescent Flowering handbooks and pamphlets I had ever read. You know, the ones that count making out and dry humping as sexual activity? The heat rose in my face as I answered: “Er, yes?”
This, I would later come to realize, was a mistake.
Pointedly, Dr. Okay asked when my last pap smear had been, to which I replied, “Never.” Immediately this woman whom I’d never met began to admonish me, emphatically, in front of this other person I’d never met. In a doctor’s office. With them standing in front of me and me sitting on that elevated, wax-papered bed-bench that all doctor’s exam rooms have. She essentially let me know that I was an idiot for not having had a pap smear before. She asked me how many sexual partners I’d had (“Uh…one?” I squeaked out, still mentally counting the making out and awkward groping as qualifying sexual activities), told me I had to get a pap smear AS SOON AS POSSIBLE, OKAY? OKAY and gave me a prescription for three months of Yaz without asking me if I knew what the side effects were or whether I wanted a lower dosage. And she sent me on my way.
Needless to say, I was wholly terrified by the experience, and the prescription, which I never showed my boyfriend, was stuffed away in my purse for a few months. It stayed out of sight and out of mind until I eventually threw it out with other pieces of purse detritus—old receipts, balled up tissues, empty chewing gum wrappers and the like.
I forgot about it for a couple of years. Then, when I was 22, I got involved in a monogamous (well, monogamous on my side at least) relationship. I decided that this was it—IT WAS TIME for me to take the pill LIKE A REAL ADULT.
I scheduled a PAP smear at Campus Health and the doctor chastised me thoroughly for not having had a PAP since I had (actually) become sexually active. She let me know that I should have gotten vaccinated against HPV, too, but happily it was too late for me now. On a more positive note, she took me through the possible side effects of the pill since I told her I had never been on it before and that I wanted to know as much as possible about what I was putting into my body. A year later, another PAP at the Campus clinic and everything went like clockwork…until I misread the form the doctor asked me to give to the clinic nurse while waiting for my prescription.
The form simply said that she had swabbed me TO TEST FOR chlamydia, whereas I understood that she had swabbed me and DEFINITELY FOUND chlamydia. Cut to me sitting alone for an agonizing 10 minutes (that felt closer to 10 hours) waiting for a lab tech to come grab my swab sample envelope, hoping she could not see the panic in my eyes. After leaving the clinic, I wisely opted to phone a friend, who patiently talked me down and explained that they were just testing for the infections, and that there was no visual exam for chlamydia. On a related note, I’m very smart.
All this to say—I’ve had my fair share of cringe-worthy experiences with birth control. I did not go to the clinic in this tiny Albertan town yesterday expecting that getting a renewal for the birth control that I’d been on for two years already would be fun, but I did not expect it to be as offensive as it was.
I had all in all about a five-minute meeting with the doctor, this time a male, who ACTUALLY YELLED IN MY FACE that I needed to GET A PAP SMEAR AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. He proceeded to tell me that he was only going to prescribe me three months of birth control because I needed to GET MY OWN DOCTOR, IMMEDIATELY. Like, he was seriously rude. I’m a lot different than the scared 19-year-old from several years ago, so I kept my cool and smiled at him politely and kind of laughed deferentially at his crazy eyes when he was screaming about the pap and said, “I know,” and asked intelligent questions about which GPs in town were taking new patients and whether he knew if there were any in the clinic? But I was fucking pissed.
The girl working the front desk of the clinic looked approximately 12-years-old, and when I went back to schedule my PAP told me there were only four doctors currently taking new patients at the clinic. When she handed me a card with their names underlined on it, she kind of leaned in and said quietly, “These are the doctors, they’re all male, so you can come back to make an appointment maybe after you’ve had a look around at other doctors.” Not encouraging!
And that concludes another one of my classic, long-winded rants. Almost. I just don’t understand why, as a 24-year-old unmarried female with no children, who has had a prescription for the pill for two years, I’m still being treated like a dipshit who doesn’t know her own body. This doctor didn’t have any access to my medical history, didn’t know if I needed to me on the pill for endometriosis, didn’t know if I was a freelance prostitute or in a monogamous relationship or had six husbands. He just knew that I wanted birth control and made me feel like an asshole about it. Having never had a doctor chastise me for coming in with a sinus infection and saying “I think I have a sinus infection, can you prescribe me some antibiotics?” I fail to see why I should be reprimanded for coming in and saying, “I’m pretty positive I have a fertile vagina because I’ve had it checked twice by licensed medical professionals, can I continue to have access to this drug I’ve already been prescribed so that I don’t have any children I’m not emotionally/financially equipped to take care of?” I EVEN HAD MY OLD PRESCRIPTION WITH ME, WITH MY NAME ON IT AND EVERYTHING, SO IT’S NOT LIKE I WAS BULLSHITTING THE GUY. Sweet baby Jesus. I guess I should have just lied and said that I’d had a pap in Ontario. Maybe that would have saved me some trouble and that Doctor McGrumps could have saved his yelling for another poor girl.