I jumped out of bed the second my alarm went off that morning. It was 6 a.m., and although we had intended to sleep in and enjoy a leisurely morning, my then-fiancé (now husband) and I raced to get dressed and out the door. We were spending the weekend in an adorable cabin in a remote Colorado town. Though the fresh mountain air was doing wonders for my soul, we were over an hour from the nearest pharmacy, and I needed to get to one — fast.
I had recently stopped taking the pill after being on birth control since I was 19. We weren't trying to get pregnant — far from it, actually. Both of us freelancers, we had decided to give up our beautiful but expensive New York City apartment to test out the digital nomad lifestyle and were in the middle of planning (and paying for) a wedding. As young, healthy adults with jobs that didn't provide medical benefits, we were also armed with pretty basic health insurance. So, no — these two intentionally address-less, poorly insured, mostly broke soon-to-be newlyweds were not trying to start a family anytime soon.
I had gone off birth control to give my body a much-needed break. Over the course of a decade, I'd switched prescriptions at least half a dozen times in hopes of finding a dose that didn't make me lethargic, anxious, or otherwise feel "off." I was dealing with a lot of stress during that period of my life, and the birth control wasn't helping. So, as a couple, we made the decision to use good old-fashioned condoms for a while.
Well, here's the thing about condoms: they break. I had been tracking my cycle and knew I was within the window of fertility the night it happened. So we set an alarm to leave at the crack of dawn the next day in the pursuit of a backup form of birth control that I had taken in the past: the morning-after pill.
The morning-after pill is a form of emergency contraception that works by delaying or preventing ovulation and can be taken up to five days after unprotected sex, depending on the brand. Sooner is obviously better, so we rolled into the pharmacy around 7:30 a.m. After leaving in such a hurry, we were disheveled and half asleep, so I asked my husband to grab us coffee from the nearby cafe while I ran inside to get the pill.
I'll never forget the way her expression changed when I told her what I wanted. She looked me up and down, sighed, and walked to the back to get the medication.
When I approached the woman at the counter, she seemed pleasant enough — though, granted, it was early in the morning on a Saturday, and typically no one is happy to be awake and working at that hour. I'll never forget the way her expression changed when I told her what I wanted. She looked me up and down, sighed, and walked to the back to get the medication. I was stunned. She took about 10 minutes to reappear, and at this point, a couple customers had gotten in line behind me. I waited anxiously, desperate to get out of this situation. When she returned, I paid as quickly as I could, but when I reached for the bag, she pulled back momentarily and condescendingly said to me, "You know this shouldn't be used as a primary form of birth control, right?" I nodded hurriedly and proceeded to take my walk of shame back to the car.
My husband was furious. I get that, because if I had heard the story from any woman I know, I would've angrily questioned why they didn't snap back and tell the pharmacist to save her judgments. But it's a weird thing when it happens to you. Even in our modern society, sometimes women still get shamed for having sex, and the abashment got to me. I wondered, what if I had brushed my hair and worn nicer, more conservative clothing (I was sporting a messy bun, yoga pants, and a tank top. It was 7 a.m. on a Saturday, dammit.), would she have looked at me differently? What if I had been wearing a wedding ring, then would my purchase have been acceptable? Or if my husband had accompanied me in line?
Then I realized, none of this should matter. The irony of the situation was this person was treating me like a reckless child when I was there taking responsibility for my actions of the night before. (Not that I had done anything wrong.) Having access to emergency contraception gave me the ability to make a conscientious decision about my body and my future. I didn't need to be praised for that, but I sure as hell didn't deserve to be shamed.