“What do you think about that?” the older woman on the bus asked me as we were about to get off at Rideau and Cumberland downtown today. This was one of those moments when I really wanted to be an introvert. I was suffering from heat exhaustion and came into work after giving up trying to survive in a 29* house a minute more. So, that was the state of me stepping off the bus hearing this. I asked her to repeat everything she’d just said. We’d been talking on and off since getting on at Percy and Gladstone. She’d been on her phone, sending messages to her grandkids that were coming over for Canada Day. We’d exchanged pleasantries, talked about them, etc. It was a nice way to pass the time and she was very pleasant.
She repeated, “Well, my news ticker, it told me on the bus women aren’t getting the Pill anymore in the US. Something about the Supreme Court. What do you think about that?” We’d had a short conversation about why I was up here. Once I mention I study public policy, people tend to ask me “why Canada?” so I reply with “Well, I got started on this studying health policy…” so it was a natural question.
It hit me like a pack of bricks, though. My head had been in a fog since I woke up feeling out-of-body and this wasn’t helping. So, I wrote this basically as soon as I could get back to the office. This ruling makes me embarrassed for my country. Really angry and embarrassed. Up here, birth control is a non-issue. People don’t worry about it. In the US, it’s still somehow controversial because we can’t collectively see women as autonomous human beings, I guess. Instead, fundamentalist religious principles somehow get to win out again and again. I think it’s a damn shame that we are allowing people to parade around as if the Establishment Clause does not exist. I love my country for a million and one reasons, which is probably why I am critical. Don’t mistake my need to make things better for a need to erase my whole American-ness.
I just don’t get it. And here I am trying to figure it out. For the next few days, every single Canadian is going to talk to me about this since the Canadians I all know are generally involved in politics or policy or study these things. And my blood will boil explaining in depth why this is just such an awful idea.
This part of the ACA means the world to me. Why? Well, it is personal. I’m a woman but I’m not just any woman. I am a woman who requires hormonal birth control for medical reasons. For almost 12 years, I suffered pretty much in silence, often being told there was nothing wrong with me. I was on every birth control pill under the sun because of almost-daily pains that would cause me to fall down in agony. I was told “you’re faking it” or “suck it up” or “don’t you just want a script for Valium?” by doctors. It wasn’t until I visited a doc in the UK that “endometriosis” as a dx was a serious possibility. Prior to this, I had had a doc go in, do an entire laparoscopy, and find nothing. It was awful. She blew me off, wrote me a script for pain killers and backed off. As a 17 year old, I didn’t realize that she hadn’t done any of the medically necessary stuff apart from looking for the disease visually (which was older protocol but not current). She hadn’t taken any samples. She’d screwed up, basically, and was behind the times. Still, I was dismissed as a woman looking for any excuse to have problems – by another woman. And I lived in pain for more years until it got too bad to handle while I was studying abroad. A doctor there finally listened, put me on Provera, and while I gained a bunch of weight I felt better.
It wasn’t until several years later when I was coping with mood symptoms associated with Depo-Provera, its sister, that things got terrible again. I had to go off the shot, knew pills wouldn’t work, and couldn’t see why I should pay hundreds of dollars out of pocket for another treatment (the implant or the IUD). It was money, you see, that kept me from doing the right thing for my body. It bit me in the end. Here I was, afraid, feeling like my body was a run away train. I had no control. No autonomy. Most practitioners were dismissive at best on my way here, judgmental at worst. For this reason and a million others, I did nothing. Well, until I had a cyst burst. I had called the doc I’d been assigned for women’s health during a snow storm when I was in so much pain I couldn’t move. She fobbed it off. So, I did nothing.
2 weeks later, I showed up at the ER with my good friend Nell who had driven me since I could not drive myself. I had a CT which showed a ruptured appendix. I was rushed into surgery while my mom drove 8 hours by car to get there to take me home. Nell didn’t leave my side until she had to go teach her first lab of the day. I came out of surgery and after a patient mix up, it was explained to me that complications from endometriosis (which was visible and later confirmed by tests) had caused a burst cyst to rupture and later had caused an infection that could have killed me.
I was blown away. I was terrified. It took me a good 6 weeks and tons of antibiotics to recover. I later was put on the right treatment and $3000.00+ in medical bills later, I was okay. It was something that never needed to happen, though. And had this been the case after the birth control mandate existed, I would have been able to get the implant or an IUD quickly and for free and I would have avoided the awful consequences thrust upon me. I currently am blessed to have an employer who absolutely DID cover my medically-necessary treatments at 100%. I have a lot to be thankful for.
However, I’m one of the lucky ones. My story is anything but unique. Women with PCOS, endometriosis, and other related issues suffer in silence because their problems are often written off by a dismissive group of practitioners. They are treated poorly and aren’t given the tools to take charge of their reproductive health, generally. And, while i have had many problems with the drafting, appropriations, and implementation stages of the ACA, this was a BIG step forward for women. Here we had a chance to take charge. We had a chance to make our own decisions – whether they be about pregnancy or our personal health. Now, these rights seem to be gone again. My employer could choose to cover my pregnancy – as many of them as I need – but not contraceptive services. What’s next? They can opt out of my pap smear and choose to let me die of cervical cancer?
It’s a travesty. And I, as an American living abroad, have to answer for anything possible. In Rwanda, it was a good day – the upholding of the ACA. It felt like a huge win there. People would talk to me about it and I would be EXCITED to chat. In 2008, being on the “winning team” seemed like a win in Britain, too. Finally, everyone would stop accusing me of being pro-war or pro-Bush or pro-whatever they thought I must have stood for being an “awful American”. But here, it’s too personal and I’m too vocal to just be all *shrug* “I don’t know” about it. I feel the need to call out things when they are wrong. It’s why I chose this line of work. And since people who DO know me know enough about me to think I am some sort of expert, I will have to talk. And next semester, when I teach my health care lecture, I will need to chat about this and be balanced. That’s so hard. I’m starting to realize this is why my lecturer for Middle Eastern politics recused himself from the lectures on Palestine, letting a grad student teach a great deal of content. He had a horse in the race, it was personal. It was easier to hand it off.
So, I will try to enjoy Canada Day tomorrow. It’s a welcome excuse to ignore the fact that I am American or to be “on the hook” for such things. It’s just a sad day for me having to represent my country abroad. I have a hard time supporting the idea of being American and having it be so great when, today, I am not proud of what was done. I still love my country but perhaps that’s why it hurts so much. You only hurt when you’re invested. It’s things like this that lead me to not want to be as invested. I know that may change tomorrow but for today, anonymity seems a better choice.
I will leave you with a palette cleanser photo of the bike path from Saturday overlooking the Library of Parliament.