After Diane graduated from college in 1977, she joined the Peace Corps and was prescribed the birth control pill for the first time. As a single woman going to live and work in a foreign country with limited access to healthcare, she was advised to take the pill “just in case,” as an unplanned pregnancy could be dangerous. She never actually took the pills she was prescribed, though, because she wasn’t sexually active. At the time, there was some debate over the safety of the pill, so she thought if she didn’t need it, then she probably shouldn’t risk it. Diane did eventually start taking the birth control pill in her mid-twenties, after she had completed her service in the peace corps, to alleviate symptoms of endometriosis. The birth control pill was the only treatment plan her doctor discussed with her.
“I was in extreme pain when I had my periods,” Diane said. “At night time I could not sleep, [the cramping] was so severe I would just walk around all night. I never missed work. I would have been mortified to tell someone I wasn't going to work because of my period. I would have been seen as a weak woman. So if [the pill] was going to bring relief, I was willing to take the risk.”
The pill did bring relief. It made the pain manageable for Diane, and she was finally able to sleep through the night. She did not experience any side effects from taking the pill. She continued taking the pill for the next several years – until after she was married and ready to have children. She got pregnant very quickly after she stopped taking pills. Her healthcare provider told her after her pregnancy that it’s better to cycle naturally for a few months before trying for a baby, but luckily her son was born healthy anyway. And because her pregnancy helped her symptoms of endometriosis, she never went on the pill again. She began using a diaphragm as birth control between pregnancies.
When Diane decided she wanted to get pregnant again, she had some difficulty. Her doctor recommended she have a Dilation and Curettage (D&C) procedure to remove tissue from her uterus to make it easier for an egg to implant.
“I remember being scared because they did abortions at the place I went, and I didn’t want people to think I was having an abortion,” Diane said. “I thought it would be hard to go into the clinic because it wasn’t in the hospital, it was a separate building. I had anticipated I would get some nasty comments. But there wasn’t anyone protesting outside so it wasn’t a well founded fear.”
After her D&C, Diane had two more children. When she and her husband were in their forties, her husband had a vasectomy.
“He was happy to do it,” Diane said. “It was an easy decision. We had three kids and we didn’t want any more. [Birth control] was yet another thing I had to take care of, and it was such a relief not to have to bother with it anymore.”
Despite the hassle, birth control was necessary in Diane’s life. Pregnancy will change a woman's life, and being able to control if and when she gets pregnant is key. Now, Diane is worried sick about reproductive rights. Her daughter is in her 30s and lives in a state where abortion is banned. Diane worries that without access to abortion, a potential pregnancy complication could lead to her daughter’s death. And in other cases, an unplanned pregnancy could derail someone's life.
“It’s a war against women,” Diane said. “I can’t even talk about it, I get too exercised.”
A Different World
Rose graduated from an Ivy League university in 1953 with a degree in English literature and dreams of building a career in publishing, but many companies refused to hire women.
Another Form of Birth Control
Helen had an abortion in 1971, when she was 21 years old. She started using hormonal birth control shortly after that, before finally having her tubes tied in 1978.