– UL student Úna Roddy writes about the shocking level of judgement and unprofessionalism she experienced when trying to get a prescription for ‘The Pill’ from her family doctor.
Picture a doctor in your mind. For most people it’s a blank, but friendly, face you can throw your symptoms at and they will make you all better. Occasionally you need to show them something embarrassing, but it’s okay because we all know that they’re not really “people” regardless of what Grey’s Anatomy tells us. They are Doctors, capital D. The white coat stands for impartial, knowledgeable and non-judgemental advice that you don’t get anywhere else. But in the immortal words of Spiderman, with great power comes great responsibility; few people in our modern society hold the kind of untouchable power of a Doctor.
Like 100 million women worldwide I am on The Pill. Getting the contraceptive pill wasn’t taboo, I went to the Doctors in my college, they asked me some questions and handed me a prescription. Wham, bam, thank you ma’am. I even did the unthinkable and broached the subject with my mother. I told her I was going on it and she was in total support, declaring she wasn’t ready to be a glamorous granny just yet. Also in the student lifestyle, whether right or wrong, it is more of a controversy to not be on the pill. So, in my very liberal mind frame I was sent home for the summer to the rural backwaters of the west of Ireland.
It came to July and my previous prescriptions had run out. So I made an appointment with my local GP, in the anti-metropolis. My natural instinct was to bring up the subject of contraception with a brass neck and a little bit of a blush, after all Doctor X has nursed me from all manner of sniffles and snuffles since I was a child. The onslaught of judgement was so unexpected and severe that it literally took my breath away.
Dr X began by assuming I had a boyfriend if I wanted to go on the pill, when in fact my relationship status is none of his business or anybody else’s. He didn’t seem to understand the fact that this is the 21st century and my contraception and my relationship status are two completely unrelated things. He then went on to declare that “co habiting” (he made little quotation marks with his hands) couples had a higher rate of break ups than married couples. He also threw in the fact that ‘fellas’ often experience so much they don’t know what to settle for. Aside from the fact that I’m not something to settle for, it really didn’t seem to register that I was having sex because I wanted to – not because my imaginary boyfriend did.
I felt so affronted by this blatantly sexist and archaic comment I just had to ask what the hell this had to do with my contraception. He immediately backtracked and threw statistics at me about how the majority of UK Doctors wouldn’t prescribe their wives the pill; and how it could lead into the whole abortion debate. With this he lit my ever short fuse and I stated in no uncertain terms my extremely clear pro-choice views on abortion and how the pill had nothing to do with it. My doctor attacked my views as outdated and immature. In my defence I stated that I didn’t care what he thought, because they were my views and had nothing to do with him. He simply stated I was just wrong.
I’m generally stubborn to a fault, but in coming up against this wall of judgemental criticism so unexpectedly, I just gave in and left the surgery. His parting words were “I hope I’ve given you something to think about” I replied rather tartly “Not at all”. I was in complete shock for the first while, with a thin veil of rage. But as they both wore off I started to analyse every word said in the surgery, something that kept coming up alongside his refusal to administer the pill was “But I don’t want you to get pregnant”. My response was, naturally, well then give me the pill. The intense message that was conveyed was that I shouldn’t be having sex, in a committed relationship or not. In this day and age when the media is saturated with sex and teenagers are having sex ever younger surely the message to a consenting adult should be ‘be safe’ rather than ‘be ashamed’? Sex is completely natural thing, yet this trusted medical practitioner made me feel ashamed rather than responsible for protecting myself.
This horrible catholic guilt regarding our own sexuality still festers in the more rural parts of Ireland. It makes me furious that the general psyche of our nation would accept that a doctor reserves the right not to administer this drug. I had done three courses of the pill, I was well aware of the risks and consequences and I am a consenting adult choosing to be responsible; yet the doctor still asked were my parents aware of why I was there.
It occurred to me, while filling the forms in for my new doctor, what if I had been going in there a younger, more impressionable girl trying to do the responsible thing? Having sat through the tirade that was directed at me I think I can confirm that a less stubborn girl would have probably never had the confidence to ask for contraception again. This seemed so dangerous to me that I felt the need to out my contraception problems, very publicly. The very idea of this betrayal of power and how Dr X’s refusal to administer the pill can come under the umbrella of ‘religious beliefs’ made me so angry I couldn’t keep this story to myself.
I don’t care if the world knows I’m on the pill. Or that I’m having sex. What I do care about is the fact that people like Dr X remain in their unquestionable position of authority. I care that I’m not allowed to name him in this article because he’s still my family’s doctor. Even my very liberal mother saw nothing wrong with a doctor refusing to administer a drug that I had already been on and was taking under full knowledge of the consequences. Her attitude of ‘Doctor Knows Best’ makes me incredibly angry. This tendency to never question figures of authority has caused so much trouble in regard to the Catholic Church and our corrupt politicians, yet still prevails. I am a consenting adult having sex, and nobody reserves the right to pass judgement on me.
This story originally appeared in the UL student newspaper An Focal.