Shawna Anderson: The birth control pill may have saved my life and also helped me get pregnant.
When the US House of Representatives passed a bill to protect Americans’ access to birth control in July, 195 Republicans voted no. These members of the House of Representatives, including Iowa Representatives Ashley Hinson, Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Randy Feenstra, refused to codify not only my right to access family planning but also my health care.
As a 43-year-old married mother of two and grandmother, I never thought I would see the day defending access any reproductive care, but here we are. After the US Supreme Court overturned what I heard as a child as state law, Democrats are trying to make sure people like me have access to the health care we need.
A friend once told me we should call hormone therapy birth control because that’s really what it is. Not only does it help with family planning, but it can also treat some medical problems. Let me tell you how birth control/hormonal therapy could have saved my life and helped me get pregnant.
In 2002 I took my two children shopping. As we walked to the car, I was doubled over in pain. The pain came out of nowhere. My 6 year old helped me load my 7 month son from the shopping cart into the car seat. I had no idea what was going on, but once we got close to home, maybe a 15 minute drive at most, I could tell I was bleeding vaginally.
I was on low hormone birth control at the time and still breastfeeding on some supplements, so I knew my period hadn’t started yet. I let my daughter go into the house to ask my husband to come out and get my son out of the car. I told him what was going on and drove myself to the emergency room, which was just around the corner.
The doctor there couldn’t help me much, but when I called my gynecologist first thing the next morning, they told me to come right away. They did an ultrasound to rule out an ectopic pregnancy and found I had an ovarian cyst with over three quarters of a cup of fluid in it. This cyst grew rapidly; I had just had my final exam three months ago. The cyst had (pardon my lack of medical terminology here) twisted my ovary into the side of my uterus and caused the bleeding. I had surgery two days later.
During the surgery, my doctor could see scars left over from previous cysts that ruptured before they became too problematic. I was put on a special birth control pill that maintained my hormone levels as opposed to the more common oral birth control which changes hormone levels throughout the month.
This was before the Affordable Care Act, so our health insurance didn’t have to pay for my medication no matter how many letters my doctor sent explaining why I needed this particular type of birth control. My husband even offered to have a vasectomy because of the cost of the pills. But for me, they weren’t just for family planning. They could prevent a cyst from developing, which could cause internal bleeding or even kill me.
I stayed on the same hormone therapy until my eventual hysterectomy.
Surprisingly, the birth control pill also helped us conceive. I went to my doctor worried after not getting pregnant despite having been around for a while. My doctor asked me about my cycles, which had never been regular in my life. I would have a period that lasted a week or two, then I would have a week or two before the next one started.
My much older self now sees how I couldn’t get pregnant, but I was heartbroken at the time. My doctor said he would prescribe me the pill. I remember yelling on the table. It was the complete opposite of what I wanted. I wanted another baby so bad. Then he told me that I should take the pill for three months and if I wasn’t pregnant within three months of stopping the pill I should come back.
My doctor bet me I’ll come back pregnant before three months are up. He was right. Three months of birth control regulated my cycle so I got pregnant in the first month after weaned it. The result was the 7-month-old baby mentioned above.
Birth control is hormone therapy. Birth control is medicine. The 195 House Republicans who voted against guaranteed access have no idea what it’s like to be in my shoes, or the shoes of so many like me.
Contraception also gives us the life we want. Not everyone wants children now or ever. And that’s okay.
I believe in access to birth control for family planning. I also know that for some of us, it’s medicines that we need to have a healthy life or even to increase our families. Contraception can also be used for many other medical problems. Why would House 195 Republicans want to deny everyone guaranteed access to their health care? The only reason I can think of is control.
Shawna Anderson was the 2020 Democratic nominee for Iowa House District 22. She lives in rural Oakland and owns a salon in Council Bluffs. She promotes rescue dogs and lives to get into good trouble, but only fights sincere fights.
Top photo by Shawna Anderson released with permission.