When I met my husband I was a virgin. Sort of. With an asterisk. I was raised Catholic, making me a firm believer in the Gospel of Everything-But. If it couldn’t make you pregnant, you probably weren’t going to Hell. Or something. (SPOILER ALERT: apparently nothing can actually make me pregnant, but I didn’t know that as a teenager so it seemed like a good rule of…not thumb, exactly…) By the time I met my husband I had pretty much jettisoned the strictly Catholic version of morality, but I still hadn’t done the deed. I had boyfriends in high school and college, but I guess I wasn’t serious about any of them because I just never felt ready. Luckily for me, I dated a string of very nice, very sensitive boys who (mostly) didn’t push me farther than I wanted to go.
Then I graduated college and moved to a new town to start my master’s degree. I literally ran off with the first guy I met, ending things with my college boyfriend over the phone* less than a week after my husband barged into my School of Music practice room.
The first time we had sex we started by going to the grocery store. Never one to plan ahead, he didn’t have any condoms at his apartment. We bought the extra-strength, double-spermicide version. Because, you know, you can’t be too careful. (SPOILER ALERT: We were being too careful.) After a few months we had a highlarious condom-related mishap. There was panic, and counting of cycle days, and a couple of weeks later a pregnancy test. (SPOILER ALERT: I didn’t get pregnant.)
I went to see a gynecologist so that I could get on the Pill. Before they would let me see the doctor I had to sit through a video that explained my “options” as well as laying out once and for all exactly which sex acts could lead to pregnancy. (SPOILER ALERT: the video was wrong. It’s none.) I learned the word “outercourse,” which I still use sometimes because I think it’s funny. “Hey honey, do you want to have outercourse tonight?” My husband’s sense of humor, alas, is not as highly evolved as mine. He doesn’t think outercourse is funny at all. Ridiculous condescending video aside, I walked out of the doctor’s office with a prescription.
Three months later I was back in the office. The hormones made me batshit. I tried another type of pill, which worked better for me and which I stayed on for several years. Unfortunately my cycles got weirder and weirder over time, and I finally stopped taking it after spotting for a full month.
We started using condoms again, and after a while we switched to the sponge. (Yes, that sponge.) My RE told me that the fact I didn’t get pregnant while using it should have been a clue that we were infertile. How was I supposed to know? As far as I was concerned it worked like a charm! Unfortunately I’m the only person in the history of the world not to get pregnant while using the sponge, and they pulled it back off the market. We scrupulously used condoms for a while longer, and then we started TTC.
All that contraception, all those years, all that care and safety. We thought we were being responsible. We thought we were making good choices. As it turned out, our bodies were choosing for us and all the condoms, the pills, the sponges, were just toys.** Useless things that gave us the illusion we were in control. And it makes it that much harder, even as we approach three years of barrenness, to accept that we don’t have any control at all over this. Things like charting, and the monthly Cervical Mucus Watch, and precisely timed intercourse, and even my surgery, are starting to feel like just more playing at having control. I have now been taking folic acid for almost as long as I was taking birth control pills. With just as much effect. I sometimes wonder why I continue to take it — I mean, just whose neural tube defects am I hoping to prevent?
But admitting to that loss of control is a scary thing. If I’m not in control of this process, who is? The Roman Catholic God I no longer believe in, who would send me to hell both for my “responsible” contraception and for the IVF I may have someday? Some other force in the universe? Nothing at all?
*Yeah, it was a douchey thing to do, but he was 5,000 miles away. If I’d waited to do it in person I might still be dating him….
**And not the fun kind.