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Women recount struggles in seeking permanent birth control

Last Updated Jun 19, 2019 at 12:43 pm MDT

{CREDIT: iStock)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Some names have been changed to protect the women who wanted to stay anonymous.

CALGARY – Choice is about more than abortion. Access to birth control may not seem like it would be an issue in Canada, but many women across the country have stories that could prove that it is.

Here’s a collection of stories from women who say they’ve been stonewalled in accessing the kind of health options they need.

RELATED: The illusion of choice: Canadian women stonewalled when it comes to reproductive rights

EMILY

I would say that I’m actually probably one of the lucky ones in that I grew up in a medical family with a mother who works with women’s health. So, I was very knowledgeable about options and things like that before I even got to the scenario of needing them.

I started menstruating very young with very severe side effects. I was in elementary school. I was missing school. I became anemic. I was just not doing very well. So I was able to because of that go on hormonal birth control at a very young age to try and make sure that I could get an education. By the time I got to kind of my late teen years, early 20s, I came to the realization that I really did not want to have biological children. Plus, I was experiencing side effects from hormonal birth control that I didn’t enjoy. I started to seek medical care in terms of permanent sterilization or other means of controlling not only fertility.

I found a lot of the time doctors were not really okay with addressing the fertility issue and would only focus on the aspects of trying to comfort menstruation, which they really only treat with hormonal birth control. I saw a lot of GPs where I said, you know, I have all these side effects from hormonal birth control that I don’t like. I keep trying different hormonal birth control as I don’t like I don’t want to have children. Why can’t we make it this a permanent fix?

Why am I able to make the decision to have children, which is permanent, but I’m not able to make the decision to not have children to which two GPs said, “Well, you know, you’re not going to find a doctor who’s going to be willing to do this. You’re too young.” I was I probably started asking for this at about 25, even though I had wanted it much earlier and those two doctors took about three years of my time of saying no and trying other options and continually coming back and saying they’re not working.

A few doctors later, I found someone who would do it. We went ahead with the surgery and honestly, it’s been a life changer. I have zero regrets. I’m so much happier.

SERENA

I have been told countless times, despite changing GP’s four times over the course of my adult life, that I am either too young or that I would change my mind when I have known for a long time that this is something I truly do not desire.

Why does society hold this stigma, that there needs to be this pressure as well that we might change our minds? From parents, friends, siblings, colleagues. No, this is my choice, our choice to make. How come men are allowed a vasectomy without so much as a blink of an eye? I’ve known of men in their early 20’s who were able to receive vasectomies, yet it’s this belabored process for a woman and nearly impossible.

Is it because they believe that we don’t understand the risks associated with tubal ligation? Or hysterectomies? Because it’s my body, I have done the research well enough to understand the recovery and risks that might come along with these procedures, and even so, this doesn’t make me feel that I shouldn’t try and pursue it.

I’ve actually reached a point where I no longer discuss it with my GP (who is a woman herself, and my previous one was as well) because no one will hear what I have to say anymore. I wish there was better care for women and more understanding as to why we would want to make these decisions for ourselves.

We’ve made some progress, but not enough if I am to be perfectly candid.

MELISSA

I have endometriosis which makes my cycle extremely painful. It was difficult for me to get pregnant and I struggled with those symptoms starting from around the age of 19, 20. So by the time I was 24, 25, we went to our GP just get a referral to a fertility specialist because I hadn’t been pregnant. We saw a fertility specialist; we had everything tested.

Through fertility treatment, I was able to have my first son. That went all great.

And once he was about seven months old, we’re looking about having a second one, but unfortunately, due to the economy, we had lost our home and we had to move back in with his parents. After a couple of failed attempts, we decided, you know, we cannot financially afford a child another child. It was just not going to be a good idea. So I had gotten a referral to a new OBGYN.

He had a very adverse reaction to my wanting to have a very permanent solution. He felt like I was going to change my mind, that eventually want to have more children. I was very aware of the fact that I couldn’t psychologically handle another child as well as financially handle another child and with my medical history, it was going to be very expensive to try and have more children. I laid it out to all those reasons to him that I had thought about it for a very long time and that, you know not coming to this decision lightly, but it was the best thing for me. He said well we have to go through other methods first.

“I don’t want to do something so extreme to you.”

We got another referral to a different surgeon. He said, “So, I just want to be clear that this is permanent.”

He probably rephrased that six or seven different ways. I found it, I guess, I could say kind of insulting in a way. I’m an educated woman, now 30, and I’m fully aware that what I thought out is permanent. I’ve spoken to several doctors about it. I’ve thought about it a lot. I’ve done a lot of research.

The doctor then asked my husband if he was okay with not having any more children–that’s ridiculous. This has nothing to do with my husband. I eventually got the surgery but for me, the process was extremely stressful.

I was getting a lot of pushback every step of the way.

AMANDA F

I’m a registered nurse myself, so I’m fairly familiar with the workings of the Canadian healthcare system and everything involved with that. I’m going to be turning 30 this year and for about as long as I can remember, I’ve never really had any interest in having kids of my own.

Especially in my late teens, early 20s, the idea of getting a tubal ligation or something permanent had a very strong kind of resonance with me and it’s something that I was pretty interested in. I have basically been told by every family doctor I’ve had that like it’s not even really a discussion. That it’s not a decision I can make right now and for the last six or seven years now, I’ve had an IUD in place.

When I was due to have it replaced recently, I spoke to a physician. I said, “Oh, well, you know, it’s coming due to be changed out because I’m not allowed to make my own decisions about my body. I guess I’m just due for another one because that’s the best you could do.” And he just kind of nodded at me was like, yep, that’s right. For the most part, it’s quite dismissive. No one has ever wanted to explore these options like explore the reasoning on why I would want something more permanent.

No one has really ever wanted to actually try and find out why I would be seeking something more permanent. I’m just kind of dismissed in favor of a potential husband who could make me change my mind about wanting to have children in the future.

I understand that men have more limited options where it’s kind of as far as cut-and-dry birth control is a condom or vasectomy. But for women, we have the whole burden of family planning. We’re not allowed to take that a step further if we have no interest in pursuing that life for ourselves.

SANDRA

I was pregnant with my second child. I went to the doctor to confirm that I was pregnant. I had done the test at home. And this was a physician I had I had seen on a couple of other occasions and he had actually seen my other child as well, so he knew who I was. The test came back positive. And then he said, “Are you married?” And I was just like, “You don’t have to be married to get pregnant.”

It was just such an odd question. There are lots of women who have families without being married and it just seems strange. So, I said to him, “You don’t have to be married to be pregnant.” He actually did pause and say, “Yes, you’re right. You don’t have to be married to get pregnant.”

He said, “I want to make sure you’re in a stable situation.” And I found that to be odd as well because of course, you know, you could be married and not being a stable situation. I pretty much said the same thing to him again. I said, “Yes, I am married and I am in a stable relationship when you know, we’re in a stable situation, but that’s a very odd way of checking to see if someone’s okay with the pregnancy. You see you may want to reword that.”

He’s actually a very nice physician and he has become my regular physician at this point and he does ask things differently now. So, I feel like I’m lucky because he did change his opinion. But yeah, I mean I have dealt with other physicians to who you know, even as a teenage girl who would make comments that were very sexist as well and had nothing to do with the situation that was at hand. So I feel like every woman goes through this and some way when they’re dealing with doctors, especially male doctors.

MARINA

So after my third baby was born–who was already a bit of a surprise–I talked to my family doctor about permanent birth control solutions. I have on the pill in between all of my babies, but it just doesn’t work for me. It makes me sick gives me migraines. She sent me back to the same OB clinic that has delivered all three of my babies. I thought that would be great, but basically, it just seemed like right from the get-go the only thing they would offer would be an IUD. They didn’t even want to discuss anything else. And when I said I did not want an IUD because it’s still the same hormonal birth control, they became fairly hostile towards me. She gave me the prescription for the IUD. Anyway, she told me to think about it and come back to my next appointment and we would sort of discuss options then. So I did that.

I decided I did not want the IUD and went back for my next appointment. The doctor actually got really kind of huffy at me because I hadn’t brought the IUD with me and was still saying I didn’t want it. That’s when she told me basically straight up, and quite rudely, that getting my tubes tied wasn’t an option because I was too young. And when I pushed back a little bit she said, “What if something were to happen to your husband and you got remarried and your future husband wanted to have children?”

At that point, I basically just put the prescription got on the counter and walked out of the room. I haven’t been back to see them since.

My family doctor is willing to send me some to somebody else but I just haven’t emotionally been ready to even try again because that experience was so upsetting. That’s tough. That’s defeating that was from the same clinic that delivered my baby–they know how difficult my deliveries were. To be treated that way by that clinic was very upsetting.

If I wanted an abortion I could get that but if I want to prevent a pregnancy, I can’t and that there’s just something very broken about that.

AMANDA G

I wanted to have my tubes tied since I was really young.

I knew my whole life that I didn’t want to have kids. I went to my general practitioner when I was 18 and she basically told me that finding a gynecologist that would agree to would be really difficult. I had my tubes tied when I was 27 and I think that the biggest leverage I had in being able to access that was that I had had two unwanted pregnancies that I terminated. That gave me the leverage proving I’m serious about this thing, that I’ve wanted since I was young.

They set me up with a gynecologist that agreed to do it.

I just don’t think that they take young women very seriously about that and a really common question I guess is “why doesn’t your partner get a vasectomy instead?”

I had this discussion during the appointment where I terminated the second pregnancy. I was 26 years old and my explanation during that consultation was that it was not for my partner, it was for me. And that if me and him were no longer together five years down the road, then I will be back at square one because he had a procedure done and not me.

This is for me because I don’t want to be pregnant, no matter who I’m with.

LINDSAY

About two years ago, after having been single for several years after the breakup of my 10-year marriage, I started seeing a guy and immediately became pregnant. My husband and I had tried without success to get pregnant for years and eventually had spent thousands of dollars having an embryo implanted, so I was pretty certain I couldn’t get pregnant. I was also 45 years old – but there I was. I knew the symptoms immediately and went directly to my new doctor. I wanted the abortion pill and I wanted it now.

To my great surprise, she began asking me questions – what was this new guy like? Did I think he might be a good father? Sure, I was a single mom, but did I have additional support? Like from my elderly parents? In her experience, women who had abortions really felt like they had to “repent” (yes, she used that word). I told her that I was only a few weeks in and that I wanted the abortion pill and that I wanted it now, thank you. She said she wouldn’t give it to me, on her religious grounds, and that if I was going to do this, I should call the Kensington clinic or the Peter Lougheed. I was astonished but I booked another appointment in the neighbourhood with another doctor.

The next day I walked into the office of this doctor in my community that I did not know. He sat in a chair across from me and asked me to tell him my story. When I finished, he leaned in, really close to me so that our knees were almost touching, and again, began asking me about the man I had been seeing. How did I feel about him? I could see where this was going, again, and I asked him if he would give me a prescription for the abortion pill or not. He said no, it was his right to say no and did I know that God had a plan for me. I couldn’t believe it. I stood up, pushed my chair away from his and said that I was 45 years old. I was a mother. I was not going through with this pregnancy and he could shove his infuriating lecture. In this country, in this province, it was my right to terminate a high-risk pregnancy, especially in the first few weeks that it had become apparent. I left his office with him telling me how much I would regret it, crying and frustrated that now I had taken two mornings off to be lectured by these fundamentalist doctors.

I drove directly to the Kensington clinic, crying when I spoke to the woman at the front desk. She came around from her desk and gave me a Kleenex, asked me what I wanted to do, and helped me secure an appointment to do it. She was the first person I’d spoken to in two days that hadn’t warned me about what God would do to me if I didn’t carry and give birth to the child of someone I barely knew, as a single mother who was 45 years old.

In the end, I couldn’t get an appointment for another week and by then it was too late for the pill, so I had to book an abortion several days after that. As a grown woman, I couldn’t imagine what a teenager or a younger woman would have had to go through. At least I had the agency to walk out of both appointments and to insist on following through with something that was my right to do. The most traumatic part of the whole thing being the meetings I had had with these two arrogant doctors who felt it was their duty to lecture me about scripture and “the sanctity of life” as if they knew anything about that.