Monday, April 03, 2006

Looking for grief

Gather 'round, kids, it's a sex story!

Sometime in the past week, I came across another article about the battle to ban birth control, which points out for the zillionth time that some folks (anti-contraceptionists?) preach that hormonal birth control could cause a very early abortion. The argument is that your pill could in theory not prevent ovulation but prevent implantation of a fertilized egg, causing the spontaneous abortion of a blastocyst. (This group rarely refers to the event as an early miscarriage; I suppose they believe that abortion is a scarier term.) The article refers to the ovulation/implantation debate as "scientifically unknowable", which is not actually true; we can study the effects of these hormones in mice and other mammals, and extrapolate the evidence we find onto human females. It's not perfect, but latest research suggests that Plan B does not affect embryo implantation in mice. That's neither here nor there today.

The first time I heard the theory that hormonal bc might allow ovulation, I was twenty years old and was just beginning to feel the slow descent into panic and anxiety (which I would later realize was the result of my birth control method). I was hiding in the women's restroom on the third floor of my college's student union, wondering whether I needed to take a pregnancy test because after several months on Depo, I didn't have anything that resembled a menstrual cycle. I can't remember where I heard the information about the Pill, but I spent several minutes wondering whether my shot (which I knew very little about) might act in similar ways and whether I might have been inadvertently flushing fertilized eggs out of my system every month for some time. I thought about those new combinations of DNA that might have been created and then never seen again, and I worried and wondered what they would look like. Then I asked myself if I would be willing to raise and feed any of those new DNA patterns, and I knew quite surely that I could not do that. I thought about my partner and whether I would volunteer to have any kids with him, and I knew immediately that he wasn't up to the task. I went over the barrier methods that I knew--condoms? diaphragms?--and realize that those options were unworkable. (Shockingly, I never asked myself at the time why I was sleeping with this lug that couldn't be trusted to use a condom and had some wacky ideas about consent. I'd love to reach back in time and dope-slap this young woman, but alas! alack! she was a slow learner.) Then I debated the differences between blockading a bunch of sperm vs. my body declining to welcome a couple of sex cells that had managed to entangle. I decided that in terms of intention, there wasn't much difference. In theory, I could mourn those clumps of tissue, but I was doing everything possible to prevent them in the first place and certainly didn't want them to stick around. I never (silly girl!) considered becoming abstinent, since I didn't think that was possible at the time. And that was that; hormonal birth control was back on my safe list. This moral debate took about twenty minutes. Then I took my pregnancy test, thanked God that it was negative, and went back to my dorm room.

I'm told that some women deeply grieve the idea that they may have been creating embryos and miscarrying them immediately. Because of my own circumstances when I considered this question and laid it to rest, I have to wonder: is it possible that these women are just looking for something to mourn? That some part of their life or their sexual relationship is so badly damaged that they need to imagine its disaster somewhere else? Or do their philosophical and religious views, their concept of fate, simply take them in a different direction than me? I'd like to put the abortion rhetoric to one side and ask them.


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