Call for Research Participants
‘Not all doctors want to take women under twenty-five off of birth control, especially if they aren’t married, so we end up removing quite a few IUDs.’
This is what an emergency nurse said to me as she removed the IUD which had migrated and perforated the top of my cervix. I had been hospitalised after my GP had dismissed my excruciating symptoms – stabbing pains, bloody discharge, nausea, fainting, loss of bladder control – for weeks. My pain tolerance was probably lower than other women’s’, he assured me, and I should soon 'settle into it'. The final time I saw him, he exasperatedly asked me if I had a husband. When I said ‘no’, he told me to come back in three weeks if the pain was still as sharp.
The same summer, a friend of mine was prescribed ‘a hot water bottle and some chocolate’ following her botched abortion, until emergency physicians discovered that the source of her high fever was not ‘emotional distress’ but a severe uterine infection. Another woman we know has partially lost the use of her left arm after an infected implant – removed months after she first consulted her doctor – caused irreversible nerve damage.
The more I spoke to women about my own experiences, the more I heard other dizzying stories of medical negligence, dismissal, and malpractice. It became increasingly clear that experiences like mine were far from uncommon – and I began to wonder whether they might, instead, be the norm.
So why aren’t more of us speaking up about it?
Acknowledging our privileged position in the UK as women with reliable and free access to contraception and abortion, my friends and I were hesitant to complain. On top of that, contraception and gynaecology are topics many women find uncomfortable to discuss – not only at the dinner table, but in the doctor’s office as well.
Reproductive and contraceptive rights are haunted by a history of moral and scientific illegitimacy, and they remain as controversial today as a century ago, and pharmaceutical companies and research bodies are increasingly hesitant to invest in contraceptive technologies. And when women report their side effects to GPs, NHS guidelines on which data to collect on contraceptives explicitly lists women’s own experiences of negative side effects as ‘too subjective’ to be worth recording.
Unlike the NHS, I believe that ‘subjective’ stories are essential if we, as women, want to hold medical practitioners and researchers accountable. The women who use such technologies – whether we are vocal activists or secret consumers – have become instrumental in keeping these technologies accountable and available. The consequences of many of us disavowing them because we no longer trust the medical practitioners who control them to respect our health and agency cannot be underestimated in either local or global discourses on reproductive/contraceptive rights.
I want to hear your story.
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