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[for Blog Against Sexism Day, even though I didn't sign up]

I went on birth control when I was eighteen. When I spoke to my doctor, he wrote the prescription without any further questions, writing me thirteen months' worth and handing me a sample to start right away. Every sexually active girl I knew was on the Pill; this is still mostly true. In college, my roommate and I got them for free from the clinic. We each knew where our stashes of Pills and condoms were hidden, and if one of us ran out we'd borrow from the other.

I don't recall my boyfriend ever buying the condoms.

There is a law now that says that if a pharmacist doesn't want to fill my prescription, he doesn't have to. If a stranger disagrees with my personal choice, he can remove from me the option of having control over my body. I am forced to wonder whether the pharmacist can refuse to fill a prescription for AIDS medicine if he thinks that's God's way of punishing the sinful; or an insulin prescription if he thinks that diabetes is. Or if the counterperson can refuse to sell me condoms. Or alcohol. Or anything.

I went on birth control when I was eighteen; I'd started menstruating somewhat late, about four years earlier. In January, I stopped taking the Pill. That means that for over half the time since puberty, my cycle has been dictated by the hormones contained in those little blue pills. Two days after I take the last one, my period starts. Five days later, I take the first of the next cycle, and it stops. Clockwork.

Let me tell you a brief story.

We are weeding in the garden, after a morning of digging and patching driptape. I don't remember the conversation, but I remember when she said this:

"I didn't ovulate that month because I got a fever."

The rest of us stopped and looked at her. How do you know you didn't ovulate? Because she took her temperature, and it spiked but didn't stay elevated.

This was my introduction to the Fertility Awareness Method, or symptothermal birth control. This is not the rhythm method, which doesn't work. FAM teaches a woman to observe physical signs - basal body temperature and cervical mucus, primarily - and by these to know when she ovulates, when she is fertile, and when she is not. It was developed (and still exists also) as Natural Family Planning, to be used by those who for religious reasons can't use other forms of birth control. You learn when you're fertile, and abstain during that time. (As FAM, without the religious aspect, you learn when you're fertile, and use another form of protection during that time.)

Maybe you missed it, but this is a big deal. There is no drug company involved here. There is no company involved here. You have to buy a thermometer, and that's all. Of course, there are fancy versions, and books and charts that you are recommended to use, but every town has a library and there's no reason you can't just write down your temperature in a notebook. There is no pharmacist going to refuse you the purchase of a notebook.

We are taught from the beginning that our bodies are unclean. Menstruation is an inconvenience at best, a curse at worst. Now you can get your period only three times a year, or soon, not at all. How joyful! How wonderous! And for some women it may be - I happen to have a cycle with little cramping and mood swings I can predict. I know that's not always the case. However: "menstruation will no longer be an inevitable function but rather an optional feature, a bit like power steering or pay-per-view." Pay-per-view?

When I told my doctor I didn't want to be on the Pill anymore, he recommended the patch. No, no, I tried to explain. I don't want the hormones. I want to know what my cycle does by itself. He stared at me. Why would I want to know that?

The only really effective measure of birth control that doesn't use hormones is the copper IUD, which costs up to $500 to insert, increases bleeding and cramping, and can perforate the uterine wall. It would nonethelss be my first choice if I were to choose a synthetic birth control method: it lasts up to ten years, is 99% effective, and fertility returns once it has been removed. But the price is prohibative - even though, with a $10 monthly copay for the Pill, it would save me money after only half its lifespan. Ten dollars a month is not the same as five hundred upfront, and most women could not afford that. Many women cannot afford even that copay, or do not have insurance, or are denied by the pharmacist. Our bodies are not ours to protect. We get pregnant, and our choices are dwindling daily, even as support for our children dwindles as well.

In a time when my legal right to my own body is being attacked at all sides, I take a deep, sweet satisfaction in knowing when I ovulated this month.

I remember feeling amazed when I learned about this, too. It was such a natural and obvious way for us to be in tune with our bodies, and control something so very important, so why weren't we all taught this? I had no idea about it until I was in my mid-thirties.

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