by Juliana, Student Advocacy Fellow at Emory & Henry College
I had my first period on Thursday, January 15, 2009. I thought I was going to die. That period, and the many that would follow, would leave me in horrible pain all over my body. Once a month, I missed at least one day of school because I was writhing around in my bed trying to relieve the pain. This went on for over a year until my doctor, mother, and I decided I should try birth control pills. My doctor said that the pills could help with other aspects of my health besides my period, like acne and mental health.
The pills were a relief. I experienced some side effects and had to cycle through a couple of brands to find the kind that worked best for me, but once I did, I was able to continue as normal when I was on my period. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of telling a friend about it.
“Doesn’t that make you a slut?” She asked.
I wasn’t sure. I was raised Catholic and, therefore, was taught that birth control was wrong. The church believes that people shouldn’t do anything to stop “God’s plan.” If God intended for you to get pregnant when you have sex, so be it; nothing should get in the way. It was like pregnancy was a punishment for sex. In addition to these ideas, I was living in a conservative town with a Christian church literally on every block. I knew that I wasn’t taking birth control pills because I was sexually active and trying to actually prevent a pregnancy, but I couldn’t help feeling like I was sinning by taking them. The pain was just too unbearable to stop.
Around this time, I was in middle school, and the church leaders started to recruit youth to the pro-life cause. We were supposed to volunteer to hold up a pro-life sign or pray in front of the town’s Planned Parenthood. The idea made me feel sick, and I refused. Several of my friends, however, went many times and encouraged me to come with them, saying the experience was life-changing and made them feel so much closer to God. Still, I didn’t want to.
I had realized that the shame I felt for taking birth control pills was probably insignificant compared to the shame people going into the Planned Parenthood felt, especially with people right outside praying that their choice would be taken away. In a small way, I was able to identify with them.
I began researching the pro-choice movement and found that it was a cause I strongly believed in. I was shocked at how many lies I had been told about abortion clinics and providers by people in my church from the way abortions are funded, to the nature of clinics, and even the way abortions are performed. I knew I wanted to help spread the truth and help people along the way.
The Planned Parenthood in my town closed a few years ago. I remember seeing people celebrating, and all I could think about were the people who were now unable to receive the care that they needed. Now as I’m attending college, I’m seeing the same sort of thing. It’s difficult if not impossible for students to find reproductive care on campus; we don’t even have Plan B available at our health center. However, this is something I believe can be changed. Joining up with NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia has given me back some of the hope I’d lost when the clinic closed and given me opportunities to keep that hope flowing onto my college campus. I am surrounded by people with open hearts and minds who care deeply about reproductive rights, and I now have the tools to join them in making change. While we still have so much to continue fighting for, I know every battle is worth it.