Saturday, 20 October 2012

A Personal Perspective on the New Emergency Contraceptive Pill

The Telegraph has a piece up at the moment discussing a new form of emergency contraception that can be taken up to five days after sex. I'm not going to link the article, partly because I don't like the Telegraph, but mostly because the tone of the piece is simply horrific. It's incredibly anti-woman and sees women who don't want to become pregnant as simply 'unwilling mothers'. I'm not linking to a piece that thinks that I'm simply a walking uterus waiting to be impregnated.

Much of the text is provided over at Forty Shades of Grey, and Nat Fantastic does an excellent job of covering the main problems with the piece, so I'm not going to recover any of that ground. What I want to do is provide some personal perspective as someone who has made use of the existing 72 hour form of emergency contraception.

I have used the emergency contraceptive pill a grand total of once in my life. I didn't use it as my only form of contraception, though I am certainly not condemning people who choose to do that. I want to use my personal story as a springboard for looking at why I think the availability of emergency contraception is an excellent idea in general, and why this new pill is a positive step forward.

I was in my first year at university, and in a relationship that was still relatively new. We had used a condom, but it had come off at some point during sex. My boyfriend and I thought that the condom had done its job, but didn't want to leave it up to chance. Neither of us were willing to wait until I either had my period or didn't to find out if we were right. So we made the decision to seek emergency contraception. The incident happened on a Sunday, so we knew we had to find somewhere that would give it over the counter. We checked our local pharmacies, but they either weren't open, didn't stock the pill or the pharmacist wasn't working that day. Fortunately we were pointed in the direction of a pharmacy that would be able to provide the pill.

Even though both my boyfriend and I were under 25 and we were both students and there are supposed to be various schemes for providing emergency contraception for free, we still had to pay full price. Still had to fill out forms and I still had to sit through a mini-consultation, which for the record was awkward as hell, before we could get what we were after. Even after taking the pill, and knowing that we'd obtained it well within the 72 hour period its effective, I was still utterly terrified I might still be pregnant. Things didn't get easier until after I got my period.

According to the excuse for a human being who wrote the article in the Telegraph I shouldn’t have had access to that contraception. I should have waited until the date of my next period to find out what had happened. And if I had been so unlucky as to get pregnant, I should have carried that pregnancy to term. No choice about what happens to my body.

What strikes me about the writer of this article, and pro-lifers in general, is that there's so much they don't care about. They make big noises about the sanctity of life and the rights of the foetus, but I don't hear any of that. I just hear a whole lot of "I don't give a shit".

What I hear is "I don't care about women's bodily autonomy; I don't care about their right to choose what happens to  their lives". Take my hypothetical pregnancy scenario. These people who believe in the foetus above all don't care about my education. They don't care what I had planned for my life. They don't care if I want kids at all, or if I'd just rather have them later. They don't care what kind of relationship I have with my boyfriend, whether it is stable enough to handle a pregnancy or a child; whether the relationship is intended to be serious and long term. They don't care if me and my partner are ready to be parents, or even want to be at all. They don't care whether or not we want children with each other, now or in the future. They don't care if we have the financial stability to support a child, or a support network of family of friends.

And while I know that they don't care about me, or what I want or what my rights are, I don't think pro-lifers actually care about the embryo/foetus/child either.

If they did, they would see that there are many many situations where it would not be good to bring a child into the world. If my relationship with my boyfriend were not stable, and I was not prepared to be a single mother, that would not be a good scenario to bring a child into. If we had no means of supporting a child, financially, emotionally, either ourselves or with the help of friends and family, that would not be a good scenario to bring a child into. It feels like pro-lifers never take this into consideration. The idea that a pregnancy should be carried to term no matter the life that the resulting child will be brought into says to me that these people are in fact pro-pregnancy, not necessarily pro-life. As a person who is in possession of both a life and a uterus, I find it extremely disturbing that there are people who think the rights of a tiny collection of cells or a proto-person should be held in higher regard than mine. Who is pro- my life?

And to those people who suggest giving a child up to adoption, you're no better. You aren't taking into consideration the approximately nine months between conception and birth that I would have to deal with against my will. In addition, it doesn't take into account the birth itself, which no matter which method of giving birth is used, is likely to be traumatic to a person who never wanted to be pregnant in the first place. To me, the issues of not wanting to be a parent and not wanting to be pregnant or give birth are separate but related.  Suggesting adoption as the solution not only erases that fact, but also erases the potential emotional trauma to the mother and potentially the child.

Emergency contraception is another tool that people, particularity women have at their disposal to prevent unwanted pregnancies and hence unwanted children. It is another tool which helps give women in particular more control over their bodies and their lives. Which I suspect is really the thing that scares pro-lifers.

The introduction of this new 5-day later pill is only a good thing as far as I'm concerned, and I wish it had been available when I used the 72 hour pill. If there had been nowhere in my area that sold the 72 hour pill over the counter, I would have had to wait until Monday morning to make a doctors appointment. This would already be nearly 24 hours after the condom failure; if they couldn’t fit me in Monday or Tuesday, then the 72 hour pill would have been of no use to me by the time I could take it. If the accident had occurred on Saturday, my time scale would have contracted still further.

The availability of the 72 hour emergency contraceptive is a useful fall back method, and the 5 day pill even more so. It gives you another fall-back to prevent pregnancy occurring before the question becomes one of carrying to term or having an abortion. The more tools at our disposal, the more empowered we are.

According to Twitter, the Daily Mail is calling the new pill the "promiscuity pill".  There is this idea that providing more contraceptive choices is going to make people more promiscuous. Aside from the assumption that promiscuity is inherently bad, in my experience that just isn't true. Some people will be promiscuous, some people won't. Offering more contraceptive choices simply allows both sets of people more control over their lives, whatever they choose to do with them.

There also seems to be this idea that in principle the emergency contraceptive pill is fine, but some people have a problem with it being used "incorrectly" i.e. as a primary form of contraception. I have several problems with people wanting to police how the emergency contraceptive pill is used. Firstly, it stems from the idea that we should be policing bodies, women's bodies in particular. To me this says "we'll give you this new way to control when you get pregnant, but you can only have it if you use it how we (usually men) want you to use it." That smacks of patriarchy and isn't empowering to women, nor is it a positive force in their lives. Secondly, while I am aware that emergency contraception is intended to be used in cases where primary contraception has failed or was unavailable, if people choose to use it as a primary contraceptive, that is their right. There are many reasons why what we other forms of contraception weren't used at the time sex occurred, some of which include rape and/or abuse. I fully believe that instead of judging people for using emergency contraception "incorrectly" we should be looking at the reasons why this is their chosen form of contraception. Is it a matter of education, or is there something else at work here? My final problem with this is what happens when I follow this line of thought to its conclusion. Do you know where I end up? At the notion that the majority should have their access to this form of healthcare withdrawn because a minority can’t be trusted to use it "properly". I have many problems with this idea, not least the idea that we shouldn't be trusting people with what happens to their own bodies.

I want to say a few things in conclusion. I think that people who own penises should butt out, or at the very least focus their attention more on the fact that a penis-owning person is usually also involved in the process of making pregnancies happen. I'm fed up of people without uteruses approaching this discussion from a hypothetical  moral viewpoint and ignoring the real lived experiences of people who have been directly affected by these issues. I'm fed up of penis owning people thinking that their opinion on this issue is somehow more important or more valid that the opinions or feelings of a person with a uterus. That needs to stop. I also think that we should be less concerned with some people using this form of contraception in a way that some other people think is incorrect; we should be far more concerned about what led them to using this contraception this way, and if there is action that can be taken to help those people, we should take it.

Finally, I believe that we should be providing healthcare such as the emergency contraceptive pill as widely as possible, and trusting people to make their own decisions about how they use it. And we should stop thinking that's such a radical notion.

Postscript: while I am aware that uterus-owning is not a club all women are in, nor is it a women only club, I am a woman with a uterus and can only speak from the perspective of a uterus-owning women. I don't mean to erase non-uterus owning women, nor uterus-owning men from this picture, but since I am neither I do not feel comfortable speaking about their experiences with regards to contraception. I have tried as best I can to not make the assumption that women and uterus-owning people are the same thing. If I messed up, please let me know and I'll correct it.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Self Care

It’s no secret that I've had a bit of a tough year. Getting to grips with doing a PhD, three bereavements within a month and an unwanted house move just when everything was at its peak; No, this year hasn’t been easy, but I’m starting to realise that I may have made it much harder on myself than it needed to be. In the midst of everything that’s happened, I forgot to take the time for self-care. My mum might call it looking after myself; my counsellor calls it being kind to myself. Whatever you want to call it, I haven’t been doing it, and this year has been much, much tougher than it needed to be.

As is often the case, I only realised what had been missing because I took the time to do it again. Over the last few weeks, I have tried to really been kind to myself, and I’ve found a few things that have really helped my mental and emotional well-being. And this post is as much to remind myself to keep doing them as anything else.

Over the last few years I have noticed that some of the lowest points in my life have occurred when I haven’t been actively cultivating my spiritual journey. I know that correlation and causation are not the same thing, but I’ve never liked coincidences. I feel much better in myself, much more grounded when I’m taking the time to ask questions about the universe, and to learn or ponder on the answers that feel right to me. I won’t say too much more here because I plan on doing a no holds barred post on my spiritual beliefs, but I will say that I have felt much better for taking the time to sit by myself and ponder my purpose and how I want to live my life. Two of the books that have been most useful to me of late are The Art of Happiness by His Holiness the DalaiLama and Mastery by George Leonard.

The other major component in my well-being seems to be the pursuit of some sort of creative endeavour. Last week I started work on part of my Halloween costume. It involved lots of papier mache, and I found it extremely relaxing doing a little bit every day. It reminded me of the reason I picked up painting this summer; it gives me something tactile to do, that is relatively simple and doesn’t involve my brain as strenuously as the rest of my life does. I have also found refuge in the creation of macramé or shambala bracelets. The fact I gain the same amount and kind of pleasure from a variety of crafts suggests that it is the tactile and creative nature which is most beneficial, and I should set aside some time every week, if not every day for creative pursuits.

The rest of what I’ve found seems to be on a smaller scale that the two things mentioned above, but can be exceedingly helpful in diffusing a stressful situation. Taking refuge in a cup of tea, taking time to brew it carefully and sip it slowly is of immense benefit to me. Likewise, taking the time to run and have a bath is extremely relaxing and can rescue a bad day. Other than that, my priority is to learn to expect less of myself; to be able to admit my limitations and be okay with them. And I’m learning that sometimes I just need to remove myself from a situation, take a day off and do whatever I want to do so that I can return refreshed.

That to me is self-care; the little things as well as the big that make an impact on my day to day life, my well-being and my ability to perform well in anything.

What does self-care mean to you?

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Pictonaut Challenge: December 2011

I have developed something of a tradition out of either writing or posting The Rogue Verbumancer's Pictonaut challenges late.Sometimes it's because I'm busy, sometimes I just have no idea what the date is. Mostly though the prompts fail to seed ideas in my brain before the month is out. I mentioned in April that in my excitement at completing Space Junkie, I had decided to go back and attempt all Pictonauts up to date in a month. As you might guess, that never happened. I did however  complete two more Pictonauts, one of which was Falling into Fantasy. The other has been languishing on my hard drive, not entirely sure what to do with itself. I had thought of not publishing this, but what's the point in writing if no one's ever going to see it? It's a little bit risque, so be warned. Glempy called this prompt The Psychedelic Lady, but in the grand tradition of not doing what I'm supposed to, I decided to call this story A Perfect Moment.

A Perfect Moment

If there's one thing I like more than sex, it's that first cigarette afterwards.

Don't get me wrong, I fucking love sex (pun absolutely intended). I love the way sex is so dirty, so unhygienic. Two bodies (or three or four, whatever takes your fancy) mushing themselves together in defiance of the clinical and sanitary world we've built for ourselves. I love the smell of sweat, of body parts that don't get mentioned in polite conversation. I love the feel of another person's skin sliding across my own, roughly or gently, it's all the same to me. I love the feeling of controlling another person, or them controlling me, right up until that last moment when all control is lost and all you can do is feel. In that moment it's like you could reach out and touch the universe if you wanted to, but you can't because all you can do is simply be. All you can do is ride this wave that's coursing through you, taking you over and taking you to places you only know exist in that moment.

I absolutely love sex, but far more precious to me is that moment afterwards. After the ecstasy, when the world is just coming back to normal (pun also intended). When you're piled in a sweaty heap with the person or persons you've just fucked. I love the feeling of satisfaction as I sleepily, languidly reach over to pick up the packet of cigarettes. The smell of the matches, and then the smoke as it mingles with the smell of sweaty, sated bodies.

That first drag is almost as good as the orgasm that undoubtedly preceded it. Instead of allowing the world to come crowding back I stave it off by having a smoke. The blissful feeling is prolonged and I'm still master of the world.

I love watching the smoke swirl around in the air, mingling with the bodies I’ve so recently come to know so well. I love the irritated looks I sometimes get from my lovers; these are usually the ones who don't get a second visit. I love the ritual of it all; inhale, pause, exhale, repeat. I love the tingly feeling in my toes, and I love that I can never tell if it's the pleasure I just experienced or the nicotine.

There is something perfect in that moment, taking lazy drags from my cigarette as I let my gaze rove over the skin of my lover, cataloguing every imperfection. I've always thought that perfection lies in imperfection and in this moment I know nothing more.

I know that smoking is bad for me, but then the kind of sex I like to have isn't exactly healthy either. My feelings for my lover usually last until I’m down to just the filter, and then I tire of them. We get back into clothes that are always easier to take off than to put back on. Polyester doesn't like sweaty skin, and occasionally I have to hunt for the odd item or two that always seem to disappear.

After that I send them on their way, sometimes sharing a kiss on my doorstep. Sometimes I’ll let my lovers come back; some of them come back many times before I grow tired and start looking elsewhere.
I head back up to the bedroom and light another cigarette. It's not as good as the first one I had after sex, never is. But still I light it, and try to recapture some of the magic, some of the perfection of the moment. I never can.

The only way to get that feeling back is to do it all again. And again, and again, and again.

Monday, 1 October 2012

September Pictonaut: The Journey

September was a strange month for me. Not least because I spent approximately half of it in Oxford on a terrifically challenging "summer" school. One of the unfortunate side effects of this seems to have been that I thought there was more September than the poor month had to give. Consequently, though my entry for the September Pictonaut challenge was completed with approximately 15 days to spare, it has ended up being posted approximately 15 hours late. My apologies to The Rogue Verbumancer for my tardiness.

This months' entry is based on an idea which has been tormenting me for a number of months now. It actually started out as a concept for a piece of fan fiction, but when I saw the prompt for September's Pictonauts, I knew I could easily adapt to to be original. Hypothetical cookies to anyone who can guess which fandom this was originally intended for, I worked quite hard to conceal it. This piece doesn't come anywhere close to finishing the story I had in mind, so I expect we'll see more of this character's journey.

The Journey

For the first few weeks he would alternate between fitful, feverish sleep and screaming for his parents, though he could not tell them anything about them. He couldn’t remember his name, or where he was from, or how he had come to be in the desert. The weeks turned into months and still the boy’s memory did not return, he slowly stopped screaming for his parents and started picking up words in the language of the Desert People. Eventually he began to call Shand and Asis mother and father and they knew that they were his family now.  They named him Shade and took him for their own son.

Just has Shade had always known he was adopted so too had he known that he was different. His milky skin set him apart from the copper skin of the villagers. Though time spend in the sun darkened his skin, he always stood a shade apart from all the others. He was a precocious child, and worked hard to please the other villagers. His sharp wit and curious nature did him no favours in the eyes of the other children, but eventually he won them over with his kind heart and trusting soul. He worked hard, learning all he was taught and completing all tasks set him with boundless enthusiasm.
Shade grew tall and strong and showed considerable skills in tracking and hunting. He could find water and vegetation when others could not and so provided well for his village. As he grew to adolescence he showed an interest in learning what arts of war the simple Desert People possessed and he gave himself over to defending the village as well as providing for it.

Time passed and Shade was content; he loved Shand and Asis dearly, and though he was curious about his birth parents and where he had come from, his parents could not enlighten him. He put his former life out of his mind, knowing that his birth parents would have assumed him dead. Life in the desert was hard, but it was simple and fulfilling. And so it was until the eve of Shade’s nineteenth birthday, fourteen years after his parents had found him in the desert. On the eve of this anniversary, Shade began to have the strangest dreams.

At first they did not trouble him for the dreams were calming and enjoyable, views of mountains and green pastures and cool blue lakes. Slowly, the dreams became more focussed; he dreamt of a little boy running around a courtyard, of riding in the forest and swimming in the river. The blurred faces of the other people in these dreams seemed comforting and familiar to him, and slowly he realised that these were not dreams, but his own long forgotten memories. Each morning he discussed his dreams with his parents and though they were uneasy they assumed him they would be supportive should he wish to search for his birth family.

The dreams continued, though the details never sharpened. His own name continued to elude him, as did the name of the country which he was from. So too did the names of his loved ones ever eluded his grasp, though sometimes he felt as though he were about to discover an important detail just before he woke up. The people in his dreams became as familiar as those in his waking life. His father was a tall man with a bearded face, his mother a woman with long black hair. And he realised too that he had a sister, a twin sister, and he knew her smiling face and laughing eyes the same shade as his, though he never saw them in his dreams.

Suddenly, six months after they started the dreams stopped. At first Shade mourned their loss but he slowly adjusted and once again threw his efforts into providing for his village. Winter came and went, such that it is in the desert, and he dreamed of normal things. Then one night in early spring, his dreams returned. But this time they were different.

This time he dreamed of a wide, blue river on a great plain. He dreamed of a shining city on a mountain, of a tall silver tower in the morning sun. He dreamed of great white walls and a great wooden gate, beyond which there were miles and miles of fertile farmland. He dreamed of mighty banners caught high in the afternoon breeze and of the sound of silver trumpets calling him home.

And this was home, he now knew. Though he enjoyed his life in the desert village he physically ached to return to this great white city. It called to him, as though his very soul belonged in this place. His destiny was calling him. Shade spoke to his parents, to everyone in the village describing what he had seen in his dreams, but none knew of a city that matched the one in Shade’s heart. He began to despair of ever making it home, of ever finding this city that could make him whole. Then one day, a rare travelling trader passed through the village and Shade sought an audience with him. The traveller knew of this city that had haunted Shade’s dreams and was willing to guide him there.

So Shade bid farewell to his village and to Shand and Asis who had raised him as their son. They were elderly now, and though he promised to visit again if ever he could, they held no hope of seeing their boy again. For many weeks Shade and the trader travelled leagues and leagues through the desert, heading north to this city of dreams. They travelled in the cool of the night and slept through the heat of the day. Hunger and thirst they endured, and fought their way through sandstorms until Shade could not remember a time that they were not walking through the desert.

One day, at sunrise, Shade crested a mighty sand dune looking for a place to camp for before the day grew too hot. At the top of the dune he rested a while, scouting out the nearby terrain. Suddenly his breath caught in his throat; through the haze of the early morning, he spied in the distance a great mountain. And atop that mountain something glistened in the light of the rising sun. The air moved and Shade thought he could hear the sound of distant silver trumpets. They were calling him home.

The mountain was still leagues away but Shade knew that soon they would cross the great winding river. Soon enough they would begin to see fields and farms, more fertile than anything he had ever known in the desert. Some day in the near future they would spy the great silver tower in the distance and see the great banner that flew atop it. They would pass through the great wooden gates into the white city of Shade’s dreams. The trumpets would ring out clearly in the morning breeze and Shade would know he was home.

That night Shade dreamed of his family for the first time in many months. He clearly heard his father’s voice telling him he would soon be back where he belonged. He would soon be home.

He would soon be home.