Birth Control Craziness
I lost my virginity at the age of eighteen.
I loved the boy; in retrospect I can’t imagine why. Still, I was head-over-heels smitten, the sort of smitten that had me sketching his picture in my notebooks and skipping classes to be with him. I hadn’t completely lost my mind, however: I knew I didn’t want to get pregnant. I needed to get The Pill.
The year was 1968 and the pill had only been approved for use as birth control a few years earlier. Nervously, I made an appointment with a gynecologist in my small college town and endured the embarrassment of my first pelvic exam. As I sat up afterward, trying to cover myself with the crinkly paper sheet, I told him I wanted the pill.
He slowly shook his balding head.
“You’re a pretty girl,” he said. “You need to put the mistake you’ve already made behind you and wait until you’re married.”
Needless to say, I didn’t get the pill that day and I learned from talking to other young women that his response was common. That conversation was much on my mind as I wrote my new novel, Necessary Lies, set in 1960 North Carolina. My protagonist Jane, a soon-to-be-married social worker, requests the new birth control pill at her “premarital exam”–something else that used to be common. She’s turned down by the doctor who tells her he’ll prescribe it after she’s married . . . if her husband calls with his permission.
Her experience sets the stage for the rest of the story, which has a lot to do with who had the power over child bearing in North Carolina half a century ago. As a naïve and idealistic social worker, Jane is put in contact with women, men and children who are slated to be sterilized because of perceived or real mental illness, retardation or epilepsy. It’s one thing for Jane to hear about the state’s sterilization program in the abstract, but when she realizes the toll it might take on her client Ivy, an endearing fifteen-year-old girl she’s come to care about, she knows she must take action, and that her action will cost her dearly.
While the forced sterilization program truly existed, it only forms the landscape for Necessary Lies. It’s Jane and Ivy’s story that I hope will touch you the most and that will leave you wondering, “What would I do in their place?”
Sometimes I think back to that gynecologist I saw when I was so young and unsure of myself. Maybe he was right. Maybe his advice to wait was sound and wise. But I remember thinking as I got dressed after the exam, my cheeks red with humiliation and anger, that it wasn’t his decision to make. It’s that idea that drives Necessary Lies. I’ve loved hearing from those of you who’ve already read the book, and I look forward to hearing from more of you soon!
This story was so eye-opening and thought provoking for me. As a girl born in ’67 I was shocked when I read where Jane went to the doctor and asked for the pill only to be turned down until the doctor had permission from her husband. I was taken aback because I remember going to the clinic in town when I was in high school and getting on birth control pills, no questions asked! I didn’t even need for a parent to know, let alone be married and have to ask permission from my husband. This was just the start of the questions I asked myself as I read the book and wondered, “What would I do?” And, sadly, these scenarios existed not that long ago.
I’m glad you were able to get the care you needed as you took responsibility for your own action and choices, Rachael.
As a new mom to a baby with a disability, I feel like getting through your book will be a struggle, but I look forward to reading it.
I hope you and your baby are doing well, Trianna.
I entered a women’s college in 1972 in NJ, and Planned Parenthood had a table in the student center with information on birth control. The college had a health center that freely dispensed the pill, and once I even got an early version of the morning-after pill. I’ve always been grateful that I was in an environment where it was so easy to get educated and equipped. It was a given that women had the intelligence and good sense to take care of their own reproductive choices. I didn’t like having my cycle chemically controlled, so I found other options that worked just fine.
Am I remembering correctly that Margaret Sanger, to whom we owe much of our reproductive freedom (what remains of it), was a proponent of eugenics?
Janet, Margaret Sanger was a rabid eugenicist, but we owe her a lot. I had some very mixed feelings when I did my research!
I have bought the book but hadn’t read the blurb, I bought it because I had enjoyed the few of your other books I had read. Looking forward to this one more now
I hope you’ll let me know what you think, Lainy.
Powerful book, how far we have come in this country with womens rights..I had no idea how things were back in this era the book was written in.The BC issue, the welfare issue, the right for people to make their own decisions on their lives and not have a state welfare system make them for them because they feel someone is not capable of being a parent. Really enjoyed this book Diane.
What a great story! I have read a couple of your books and I have loved you story telling. This was a powerful, heart breaking , in the end happy read.
I will recommend it for my book club for 2014 book list! They will love it, as they did CeeCee!
Keep telling your stories Diane!
Thanks Lawanda. I hope your book club decides to read it!
I went to a gynecologist in my early 20’s. He asked me if I was on the pill I said “no” becasue I was not dating anyone at the time. It was the mid-80s when HIV was all in the news. The doctor told me I should be on the pill because even though I was not dating anyone at the time, “if I met a guy tomorrow, I couldnt ask him to wear a condom because that would not feel good to him”. He was more concerned about a fictional man/boy I might meet in the future than my health. Needless to say I didnt go back to him (and unfortunately any other male doctor) ever again.
ANYWAY…. I saw Necessary Lies on a reading list and checked it out. Great read, interesting storyline and characters. So surprised to see that this sterilization program was real — and up to 1974! Eye opening.
1980s njt? That’s depressing!
Hi Diane – As usual your book did not disappoint except that it was over too soon! I bought it on audio so that I could listen on my hourly twice daily trip to and home from work. I think I have now read everything you have wrote, so please write faster:) Your books always bring an awareness about issues – I’m still waiting for you to do one on pediatric cancer