This Saturday morning, I woke up earlier than I normally would on a weekend to stand around in the cold for a couple hours across the street from the building where I work. I was there with a couple hundred other people to bring attention to something I’m being told doesn’t exist: The war on women.
One of my fellow protestors held a sign I could relate to. She couldn’t believe she still had to protest this crap. I know what she means. I cut my teeth in political activism by standing around early in the morning in cold weather and then, like now, I was there because some people want to turn women’s bodies into political footballs.
Back in the day, I was defending clinics from anti-abortion protestors. The funny thing about that was, a lot of the women I was helping to get inside the clinic weren’t there for abortions at all. They’d showed up those mornings to get annual Pap smears, birth control or to see doctors about other women’s health problems. Some who showed up were pregnant and looking forward to staying that way another few months, and had appointments to make sure everything was progressing toward a successful delivery.
But that didn’t matter. To the people who showed up with picket signs of fetuses yelling “Murderer!” at patients, all were equally guilty. The facts of women’s health didn’t mean much to them.
Turns out, it still doesn’t. It’s now 22 years later and women’s bodies are still being used as political bargaining chips, facts of the matter be damned. And now it’s not just abortion that has them in a lather. It’s women’s health itself.
And that makes me a bit twitchy, because birth control might be all that stands between me and a pretty serious operation.
What follows is a frank discussion of a portion of women’s health that might make some male readers a bit squeamish. I apologize. Being a woman isn’t always flowers and pretty things. But if I managed to live with it, I figure you can handle reading about it.
For about a year, I was having really heavy periods. I don’t just mean inconvenient ones. I’m talking bleeding through a super-strength tampon in a half hour heavy. I’m talking uncontrollable, leaving a mess in the car seat, blood running down my leg in the middle of a reporting interview at an event that lasted 45 minutes heavy. Not just the regular length, either, but periods that lasted 10, 15, even 21 days. Heavy periods that actually made me anemic.
It was that 21-day period that was the last straw. I made an appointment with a gynecologist and started doing my research. I found out about uterine ablations, a method of destroying the uterine lining to make periods scant or nonexistent. I wanted that. I looked forward to it. The medical descriptions said the procedure wasn’t meant for women who had uterine cancer previously or were at an increased risk, but I hadn’t been either of those kind of people, and I hadn’t been called back from my last Pap smear four months ago with abnormal results, so I figured the road ahead was clear.
So when the OBGYN walked into the room and said, “So, you’re here about your abnormal Pap,” I was more than just concerned. I was angry that my doctor decided it wasn’t important to tell me about this odd result. And I was scared out of my wits, because my gynecologists started saying words like cancer, biopsy and hysterectomy.
I was scheduled for a D&C – a procedure where the lining of my uterus was scraped away and studied under a microscope. I worried for a month between that initial meeting until the pathology result came through that I might have uterine cancer. I was, after all, having the most common symptom.
Turns out, I didn’t have it. What I had was typical hyperplasia, or an overgrowth of the lining. That’s not great, but it beats atypical hyperplasia, which progresses to cancer 20 percent of the time. My condition was still precancerous, but not nearly as dangerous. Still, I was told, I couldn’t have an ablation because these heavy periods, loathsome as they were, also gave doctors an indication of whether my uterus is going full-blown cancerous or not. In other words, I would be destroying my early warning system if I got rid of it in an ablation.
So what methods are left to me to control this heavy bleeding? Hormonal birth control. With it, my periods can be normal. Without it, unmanageable bleeding leading to anemia.
But me being me, it’s not that simple, either. I have a horrible history of complications from hormonal birth control. Namely, depression. Start me on a progesterone-containing birth control and within two weeks? Suicidal. Without fail. It’s been that way with the pill, depo provera, nuva ring and with the medicines I used in a failed attempt to become a mother. Yeah, my uterus and I – we have issues.
The D&C I had took care of my hyperplasia — for now, at least. But as months go by, my periods are becoming clottier and longer, and I fear it’s a matter of time before they’re totally out of hand again. And I’ll be faced with the choice: hormonal birth control or hysterectomy.
Luckily, where I work now, I’ll have that choice. I work at a place with a comprehensive health plan and both options are feasible for me, from an insurance standpoint.
So when I hear about legislative proposals that would rob me of that choice, I get a bit agitated. Republicans want to allow employers to decide that birth control is immoral and that I shouldn’t have easy access to it. The fact that I would be using it to keep from having a hysterectomy? Irrelevant. If Republicans have their way, women like me would be pushed into having organs ripped out of them in a major surgery rather than getting a pill.
And that’s just me. At the same time, Republicans are busy trying to require women to get unnecessary vaginal-probe ultrasounds before an abortion (unfunded mandate, anyone?), defunding Planned Parenthood, ending funding for domestic violence shelters, blaming single mothers for child abuse, calling equal pay acts unnecessary and declaring that women lie about rape and should therefore be called accusers, not victims.
And I am mad as hell. It’s 22 years later, and I’m not just protesting for choice in abortion, but for access to birth control and for equal pay. Like my fellow protestor, I can’t believe I’m still protesting this crap.
So to those who say that there is no war against women — get stuffed. You can try to create all these laws and try to use my health as a political toy all you want, but I will be remembering this in November. And so will millions of my sisters.