(Warning! This text ignores serious and important concerns regarding contraception, such as sexual violence and lack of access to contraceptives. As such, it may be regarded as thoroughly superficial, first-world, degenerate nonsense. No need to cast aspersions on the author, though.)
2 The taboo of unwanted children
3 The concept of emergency contraception
4 The limitations of reliable contraception: the Immaculate Conception
There are four appropriate ways to write about contraception.
1. In the form of a religious exhortation written by a sixty-year old mother of thirteen with hepatitis c.
2. In the form of a brazen, raunchy essay, by a post-emancipated woman in her late thirties with red lipstick and an undetected Ureaplasma urealyticum infection.
3. In the form of an erotic poem by a fifty-year old pottery teacher who is sometimes troubled by genital warts.
4. In the form of diary entries by a forty-year old male gynaecologist who is travelling the world and studying traditional Chinese medicine. (The forty-year-old gynaecologist doesn’t have any sexually transmitted infections, as he is always careful to protect himself on his travels.
Any other way of writing about contraception is inappropriate.
Having unwanted children is bad news. I realised this when I was seven, watching TV with my grandparents.
The programme was for grown-ups. In the studio where it was filmed there was a blue partition behind which an adult – whose voice had been distorted – was talking about how his parents had fried him, in a frying pan, when he was a child.
When I asked my grandparents why this had happened, they just kept on looking at the TV screen and answered, in unison, ”Because he was an unwanted child.”
During puberty I learnt about the existence of my father’s two half-sisters and my mother’s half-brother.
I realised that I would never meet my grandparents on my father’s side because my dad was an unwanted child. His half-sisters were the wanted children. And I learned that I would never meet my mother’s half-brother because he too was an unwanted child.
Unwanted children are first pan-fried, then silenced and, subsequently, disowned.
As this is unpleasant for all involved it would be better if there were no unwanted children. “So that’s why it’s important that the man has a good job.” My grandparents told me this because I was a wanted child.
According to my grandparents, a child is wanted when the mother and father have been together in the same monogamous relationship for no less than a year; are, at the very least, engaged if not married; and share the same postal address.
When I was conceived my parents fulfilled these requirements. Except that, unfortunately, my father didn’t have a good job. In fact, he didn’t have a job at all. On top of that he smoked hash, typical behaviour for an unwanted child. My grandparents also explained that many unwanted children go on to take drugs and don’t have good jobs.
So I realised that I didn’t want to have an unwanted child. This means I’m very conscientious about contraception. One example of this is that I have never been pregnant. Unfortunately, though, I don’t have a good job and I occasionally smoke hash.
As I said, I’ve never been pregnant. For years, in critical situations, I’ve used a relatively new option for sexually-active women who don’t want to fry their children. The advantage of this is that you will almost certainly not get pregnant. The disadvantage is that you may have breakthrough bleeding and cramps which can last up to four days.
The product is commonly known as the morning-after pill or, more officially, emergency contraception. It’s effective when another form of contraception – or discipline – has failed.
In Switzerland, you can get the morning-after pill at the chemist’s.
They will ask you, “When did you last have sexual relations?”
Their voice won’t go up at the end of the sentence because the written instructions for dealing with this situation do not imply a question mark. And by the way, having sexual relations doesn’t – shouldn’t – have anything to do with your actual relations.
The first time I used emergency contraception was about three years after it was introduced. I had never heard of this potentially life-saving possibility for young women before and had already spent a whole day in a state of panic. Then a friend told me that she lived with two exceptionally promiscuous nurses who frequently used this new product. (Both of whom, by the way, got pregnant young because of sexual intercourse with people they hardly knew, despite both being wanted children, having a good job and not smoking hash). My friend and I got all het up about how debauched her flat mates were, then I went to the chemist’s at the station in Bern and took my first step into the world of the morning-after pill.
Since then I recognise morning-after pill women straight away. The woman’s boyfriend has often come to the chemist too. He’ll be standing behind her, turned slightly away, scrutinizing the deodorants while she, eyes lowered, is whispering across the counter. When the girlfriend disappears with the chemist into a back room, the boyfriend expands his knowledge of glucose tablets.
I must say I was welcomed into the world of emergency contraception with open arms. The chemist was a pleasant woman of around fifty. After I’d taken the pill she gave me a small bouquet of roses and said, “Thank you and Happy Mother’s Day.” When I looked perplexed, she started to laugh and explained that it was Mother’s Day today so they gave all women a bouquet of flowers.
I’m afraid my subsequent encounters were less friendly.
Baden-Württemberg, 2008: In Germany, I am informed at the chemist’s that the morning-after pill is only available after a medical examination. Because it is the weekend I go to St. Mary’s Hospital, close to where I live. I wait for three hours in A & E before a doctor tells me he won’t write me the necessary prescription because this is a Catholic hospital and the principle of emergency contraception is a sin.
I hadn’t looked at it like this before.
It doesn’t take me long to come to the conclusion that, in my situation, an unwanted pregnancy would be the greater sin.
The Catholic hospital, however, believes I have insufficient grounds to avert the potential fertilisation of my non-believer egg.
I’m starting to get nervous because, depending on where you are in your cycle, the pill is only 100 percent effective for 24 hours after sex. After 24 hours the pill becomes less effective hour by hour. If you’re close to ovulation, you need to take the pill straight away. It’s a matter of a few hours.
So next I go to a hospital that doesn’t have a Mary in its name. By now, it’s after midnight. In this second hospital I’m told straight away that only certain gynaecologists can prescribe the pill, and there isn’t one on duty. I’m getting slowly desperate and I tell them it’s important I take the pill as soon as possible, to which the nurse replies that time doesn’t play a role. She says you always have 63 hours during which emergency contraception will work.*
At home I ask my flat mate, a nineteen-year-old trainee nurse, if this is true. She says it is.**
The next day I get an appointment with a gynaecologist who refuses to write me a prescription unless I first let him carry out a sweeping and excessively crude physical examination. For a long time after the examination I can’t shake off the feeling that I’ve been assaulted. When I tell him that in Switzerland you can just pick up the morning-after pill at the chemist, he says that handing out emergency contraception is what results in dissolute young women like me.
Basel, 2014: Certain that in Switzerland one is not subject to the same kind of treatment as in Baden-Württemberg, I visit a chemist’s called Blösi’s. On the one hand it’s close, on the other it has a funny name.
When I tell the assistant I need emergency contraception she starts to giggle and says she’ll call the chemist. The chemist at Blösi’s is hardly any older than me, but is clearly married (ring on finger) and has Christian tendencies (a cross round his neck). He tells me, immediately, and without my asking, what he thinks of women who are always partying, going to bed with men they don’t know and then popping the morning-after pill willy-nilly so they can just go out and party again.
As he hands me the tablet saying, “But don’t party, party, party tonight!” and makes rhythmic movements with his clenched fist, I know that Switzerland can give Baden-Württemberg a run for its money. At Blösi’s, anyway.
Catholic St. Mary’s, the gynaecologist, and the chemist at Blösi’s in Basel all have one thing in common: they believe in the Immaculate Conception. So they would be all the more pleased by the next tale, which really did happen:
In the year 1999, just before the millennium and almost exactly two thousand years after Mary – who later became the mother of God – saw an angel, the miracle of the Immaculate Conception was repeated in the parish of Schaffhausen am Rheinfall.
The protagonists of this modern-day miracle are Steffi*** and Manuel****. They have been together for a fortnight.
On Wednesday afternoon, Manuel’s mother is at work and Steffi comes round. The two strip down to their undies and then rub their lower bodies together through Steffi’s Snoopy and Manuel’s Batman logos. Somehow something gets wet, so afterwards they’re not sure whether they were safe. Steffi goes to the supermarket with her best friend Manuela***** (13) and buys a pregnancy test. The test is positive. And that’s only one hour after sexual intercourse did not take place!******
Manuel is into men today (actually, he was back then too) and what became of Steffi isn’t known. The staff of St Mary’s, the gynaecologist in Baden-Württemberg and the chemist at Blösi’s in Basel now sing “What ay ay ay ay shame, hee hee hee hee hee, hee hee hee hee hee… heh…” in chorus as they sway gently back and forth in the nave of a church. Suddenly, the ground opens up beneath them and swallows them up. They will all be reborn as unwanted children in the next few years. Therefore I recommend the morning-after pill if in doubt. Or would you like the staff of St. Mary’s Hospital to be your children?
* Which is complete bullshit. The woman had either received a pitiful education or she was malicious, or she was in cahoots with the papal mafia.
** Four months after this incident, this nurse was also pregnant.
*** Real name known to author.
**** Real name not known to author.
***** Real name not known to author.
******* Later they realised they hadn’t read the instructions properly.
I would like to thank Achillea, the 24-hour chemist’s at Bern station, for their humour and appreciation of the fact that a nineteen-year-old does not want to get pregnant; St. Mary’s Hospital in Stuttgart for the interesting introduction to applied Catholicism; the gynaecologist Dr Ulrich of Ludwigsburg for his ‘whatever’ assessment of emergency contraception in Switzerland and for the realisation on my part, gained through him, that I will never set foot in his practice again; and especially Dr C.A., chemist and manager of Blösi’s in Basel, for his valuable party tips.
From Anaïs Meier, Über Berge, Menschen und insbesondere Bergschnecken, (Concerning Mountains, People, and Mountain Snails in particular), mikrotext Verlag, 2020.