The day I got my IUD, I felt invincible. Leaving my calculus class early, I excitedly picked up my prescription at the pharmacy. The IUD brand was called the Mona Lisa, and I chuckled at the image of the painting’s figure smiling next to the T-shaped copper device. As I headed to the doctor’s office, my stomach turned in nervous anticipation. I had heard the horror stories – women passing out from the pain of the little device entering the uterus, or the body “absorbing” the contraceptive, or my favourite – “phantom pregnancies” spurred by the presence of the IUD in the womb. Realizing I had forgotten to take the recommended Ibuprofen 30 minutes prior, I began to sweat uncontrollably. My stomach in knots, I anxiously said a silent prayer that the pain would not be too severe.
Thankfully, the pain was completely manageable. Afterwards, my doctor told me I was free to go. I was informed that I would only hear from her if the results of the urine test I had taken previously came back positive for sexually-transmitted infections. I shuddered at the thought of having an STI, but the idea quickly left my mind. I was not like that, after all.
Eating Tim Hortons in a nearby parking lot after my appointment, I texted my boyfriend about the successful IUD insertion. Feeling no pain, I sat in glee thinking about all the women who had warned me about their IUD experiences. My body felt invincible, powerful. I imagined the little copper device already changing the inside of my uterus, making it a hostile environment for any swimming intruders. I named it Lisa, after the picture on the package. Together, we were unstoppable. My initiative to be sexually responsible made me feel like a real adult. Blissfully, I continued pain-free the rest of the day, eager to tell everyone my experience.
Several days passed with no word from my doctor. Lisa and I were having the time of our lives – the days of pregnancy scares were (99%) over! One afternoon as I sat working on homework at the kitchen table, my mother flipped through the messages on the answering machine across the room. To my horror, I heard the familiar voice of my doctor.
“This is Dr. Nelson calling. Please give me a call back as soon as you can!”
My mother squinted at me. “What’s that about?”
There was a pit in my stomach. Trying my best to look nonchalant, I retorted “I don’t know! She’s a good doctor, though. She probably just wants to make sure I am okay after the insertion – no phantom pregnancy or anything. Haha.” I was aware that my face was hot.
My mother nodded slowly and continued to press through the messages.
The following day, I called my doctor with bated breath. She informed me my test results had come back positive for chlamydia. She told me it was common, and that it was simply a matter of swallowing a couple of pills and practicing abstinence for a week. I felt stunned and embarrassed. Thanking her for the call, I hung up and laid on my bed, repeating the word over and over in my head. Chlamydia. If it was not an STI, it might be a nice name. Like Lydia, Marcelia, or Clarissa. I imagined the pair – Chlamydia and Lisa, having slumber parties in my uterus, the former silently wreaking havoc on my reproductive system.
I felt disgusted and embarrassed. I wracked my brain thinking of the sexual partners I had had. A few days before, my body had felt so invincible and powerful. Now, my face buried into my pillow, my body felt foreign, dirty, and unsafe.
The idea of telling my boyfriend I had given him the infection made me burst into tears. I speculated for hours the ways in which I should phrase it to him. The thought of framing the infection on him by accusing him of cheating or being dishonest was very tempting. I wanted so badly to escape the dirtiness I felt in my body, to blame it on someone else’s sexual activity. It was difficult to accept that my sexuality had put me in this position. As a young woman, every time I had sex, desired sex, or had a new partner, I felt a sense of shame, like I should slow down, not have as many “bodies”, or not seem like I wanted it so bad. Now, it was as if I was being punished for being so promiscuous.
My deeply ingrained fears of being a slut were at the surface, and I wanted nothing more than to blame all of this on someone else. However, it would be insensible and manipulative to try to frame him. After a couple days of deliberation, I accepted that my own insecurities and internalized misogyny were not reasons to withhold information from my sexual partner, and so I came clean.
Thankfully, he was understanding. It turned out; chlamydia had not been as big of a deal as I had thought. Not only was my boyfriend understanding and supportive, but so were many others – even my own mother! One night, as we sat together at the kitchen table, her knitting, me studying derivatives, it came up in conversation.
“What did Dr. Nelson want, by the way?” she asked, not making eye contact.
I was silent for a moment. I pondered the right response to this question; what would be believable? She finally looked up from her knitting needles. Her expression was calm and honest. Understanding.
“She told me I had chlamydia.” I looked away. Even though I had begun accepting this, it still felt hard to say out loud.
My mother nodded; eyebrows raised. She put down her knitting and pulled her chair closer to mine. I flinched at what she was going to say next. Would she be angry? Judgemental?
Instead, with a smile, she put her arm around me. “I had chlamydia when I was 18, too. Don’t worry about it. It’s like the common cold. Just make sure you wrap it properly next time.”