Author of Breasts Don't Lie

Archive for the ‘contraception’ Category

A Pharmacy Nightmare: 1980s Contraception

file000848108305So, there I was, standing in the bright Alabama sunshine, sweating enough with heat and nerves to have my tee shirt cling to my chest, clutching the two prescriptions in my hand. I was an adult. Taking care of myself. A sexually responsible person.

“Get in the car,” Mom said.

I got in the car, and we tootled off to Eckerd’s pharmacy. Eckerd’s was a large drug store next to the biggest grocery store in Mobile, Skaggs Albertson’s. Everybody did their shopping Saturday morning at Albertson’s. Everybody picked up their prescriptions Saturday morning at Eckerd’s. We parked seemingly miles away and hiked to the drug store. I felt gooey all under, flustered and untidy next to Mom’s powdered and polished exterior.


Shoppers packed the store. By the front door, the cash register and the pharmacy counter used the same queue. I had a moment of panic. The 1980s was the time before privacy laws and barriers to semi-shield you in your discussions with the pharmacist. Mom had a smug smile on her face. I inched closer to her side.

“Mama?” I said.

“You’re a big girl now. Get in line and drop off your prescriptions,” she said moving to the aisle with hair curlers. Mom had great cotton-candy hair – always fluffy in a controlled Brigit Bardot bed head swirl.

Shaking enough to start sweating again in the meat-locker chilly air of the store, I waited for my time at the counter. Handing over my prescriptions, I kept my eyes down and mumbled something. The pharmacist smoothed out the wrinkles of the prescription sheets.

“These are for you?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said raising my eyes to him.

We stood looking at each other across the counter.

“I’ll call you when they’re ready.”

I wandered back to the hair section where Mom hugged me.

“See, that wasn’t so bad,” she said.


Half an hour later, my heart rate had returned to normal. I didn’t blush every time I ran into a student or teacher from my old high school or the Catholic college I attended or an acquaintance from synagogue. I had begun to feel chilled from the wet shirt and had run out of things to look at in the hair section. On the way to the magazine rack in the back corner of the store, I heard a thump on the PA system. Another thump, then the booming voice of the pharmacist permeated every corner of the store.

“Trudi Young, Trudi Young. We have your size diaphragm in stock.”

Shoppers stopped speaking and looked around.

The pharmacist repeated, “Trudi Young, we have your diaphragm, please come to the pharmacy counter to pick it up.”

I turned to mother who burst into laughter. Not her most empathic moment. Mom handed me a couple of twenties. “Go on now, pick up your diaphragm,” she said giving me a little push.

Hurrying to the pick-up counter, I passed a bunch of pimply-faced boys who nudged each other and one open-mouthed girl from chemistry lab. I had almost run the gauntlet when the PA system thumped again.

“Trudi Young, Trudi Young. The spermicide for your diaphragm, Nonoxynol-9, is found in aisle five.”

Sweat dripped down the sides of my bright red face. If the earth could have swallowed me at that second, I would have been grateful.

The smiling pharmacist lay the small paper bag on the counter. I handed over the money stone-faced, stuffed the contraceptive into my purse, then high-tailed it over to aisle five. Through a mist of tears, I examined the array of spermicides in their garish boxes and squeezed my eyes shut. These were the days before waterproof make-up. When I peeked from between my fingers, a hand was holding out a pink and white box of Gynol II. The hand belonged to one of my teachers from college.

“I hope he’s worth it,” she said.

“I do too.”

“Anyway, see you in class Monday,” she said turning away.

Mom walked up to me. “Who was that?”

“Uh. My teacher.”

“What does she teach?”

“Biology,” I said, and both of us laughed until tears streamed down our faces.

Mom wiped away the mascara smudges then kissed my cheek. “You did a good job,” she said.


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An Early Adopter: Contraception in 1980


It’s difficult to imagine, considering the amount I curse my computer, but I was an early adopter – an early adopter, never of computers but of contraception in 1980. Yes, we had contraceptives back then.

One spring day, when my thighs were firm and my hair was bouncy, I had planted myself in front of my unsuspecting mother and said, “I am going to be sexually active, and I need to get contraceptives.”

I remember that she continued to sip her coffee, took a big breath, and looked up at me. “Okay,” she said. “Time to make a doctor’s appointment.” At which point, I sat down and broke into tears.

Mom brought me some toilet paper to blow my nose – I was way beyond tissue paper, patted me on my shoulder, and left me to wonder about this transition. After using up a good quarter of a roll, I came to the conclusion that I was being very grown-up and strutted off to my room where I looked at the bed and promptly burst into tears again. Looking back, I think that was the best it could have played out.

The next thing I knew, I was sitting in the family Pinto wagon, yes, the exploding model, on my way to my family GP. The nurse ushered me into a room, listened to me stammer and stutter until I could get out that I wanted birth control. I had done my homework. I didn’t want the pill – I wanted a diaphragm. She cocked an eyebrow at me.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes,” I said.

She shook her head, yanked open the door, and yelled into the back of the office. “Diaphragm.” She turned back to me. “We need to get the kit. Get undressed,” and she handed me a sheer robe and a paper blanket.

Tying the strings on the robe, I started to shake so badly I ripped gown and had to cover myself with the paper blanket. Positioning it across my chest and over my lap, I saw one of my socks had a hole – my big toe stuck out. (There’s an analogy for you!)

I waited and waited. And waited. The room was chilly. I kept my mind carefully blank.

After a good forty minutes of ruminating – do I want to be sexually active? Well of course. But is it worth the effort, expense, embarrassment? The doctor rushed in holding an overnight-sized bag-box. “Do you want a pregnancy test?” he asked. His voice boomed into the waiting room crammed with Saturday morning, acne-plagued young people and ricocheted into the back office where I heard a few snickers.

“No. That’s why I’m here. I don’t want to get pregnant,” I said as the door slammed shut.

The nurse smirked, but we went on with the process. He fitted me for a diaphragm. “This ought to do it.” I didn’t know diaphragms came in eight sizes. He held the black rubber spring-loaded dome up to the fluorescent overheads. “Be sure and check it for holes against a light. And you’ll need spermicide.”


“Yes, Nonoxynol-9. Get it when you get the diaphragm,” he said tossing the seven non-fitters into the sink. Hopefully for deep cleaning.

“Now you try.” He covered the diaphragm with KY and handed it to me; the diaphragm slipped out of my fingers and landed spermicide side down on the floor. The nurse shook her head. The doctor laughed as he handed it to the nurse. She rinsed it off and then I tried to insert the spring-loaded circular cup. On the first attempt, I had another floor landing. More rinsing. On the second attempt, it pressed against my bladder. Uncomfortably. And it was suctioned into place. The doctor had to reach in and get it out. By the fifth try, the diaphragm was properly positioned against my cervix. Rah. The three of us were sweating. We cheered. I nodded. They nodded back. I took it out, handed it to the doc who handed it to his nurse.

I was told to get dressed, and my prescriptions would be at the front desk. I walked into the blinding sunshine, got stung by a bee, and thought I would need to shower again before my date that night.

Check in next week for the debacles at the pharmacy and that night’s trial run.

Here’s the meat of my blog:

In the 1860s, a US doctor introduced the ‘womb veil.’

In 1882, Dr. C. Hass invented the diaphragm. Guess I’m not an early adopter.

In 1965, the Supreme Court allowed married couples access to birth control but in 26 US states, unmarried women were denied access to birth control.

In 1972, the Supreme Court allowed access to birth control irrespective of marital status.

In 2013, parental consent was mandatory in 2 states before minors could obtain access to state-funded birth control.

In 2017, with many forms of birth control requiring a physician’s visit, parental consent may be necessary for teens under 18, and doctors and insurance companies may have the ability to inform the parents of the reason for a teen’s medical visit.

Today, private insurance coverage for contraceptives is being questioned. Planned Parenthood, a major provider of free or low-cost reproductive healthcare including education, examinations, screening, testing and treatment of STIs, and abortions, is being challenged and defunded.

Some people are not as lucky as I was when faced with contraceptive choices. Let’s guard our reproductive rights and the rights of future generations. (more…)

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