I found most pharmacists okay about the morning-after pill. Then I moved to Ireland

Brianna Parkins: Women asking for the morning-after pill should get high fives, not dirty looks

“We shouldn’t be getting judgmental looks, we should be getting a free packet of Curly Wurlys.” Photograph: iStock

“We shouldn’t be getting judgmental looks, we should be getting a free packet of Curly Wurlys.” Photograph: iStock

 

Never mind your 21st birthday or getting your braces off or getting your driver’s licence. I think the real coming of age for women is the time you have to get the morning-after pill. 

Every woman in my life has done it. We’ve all whispered, “um, can I please have the um, morning-after pill, please” at the pharmacy when an older biddy is standing too close behind you than is politely acceptable.

We’ve all been pulled in to the see-through box of shame to tell a complete stranger about our menstruation calendar. But it shouldn’t have to be like this. We shouldn’t be getting judgmental looks, we should be getting a free packet of Curly Wurlys. We should get a high five for being responsible and making the correct choices for us when it comes to reproduction.

But no one says: “Well done you for not getting up the duff when you didn’t want to.” The first time I bought the pill, I was in my late teens and it was a top secret mission on my lunch break from giving customers the wrong change as a checkout chick. “I am basically a secret agent,” I told myself, sneaking up to the prescription counter. Until I met Deb the pharmacist.

For some reason, they are always called Deb in Australia, sometimes maybe Sharon at a stretch. Deb’s desk was next to the Estée Lauder counter and it looked like she had put it all on her face at once.

“MORNING-AFTER PILL IS IT?” she yelled across the shop in case the women getting her blood pressure checked in the corner was hard of hearing. “WHAT DO YOU WANT IT FOR ?”

“I don’t know Deb, I’ve heard it’s the latest designer party drug and I want to  see what bang I get off it when I mix it with speed,” is what I should have said. Instead, I mumbled something into the ground while hoping it would swallow me up.

Then came all the medical history questions, which by the way I’m not against. I’m glad someone is making sure a medication will do what it’s meant to do but it wasn’t okay to end on “You know you’re not supposed to rely on this, you need to make better decisions”. Well Deb, I don’t reckon a woman with eyeshadow up her eyebrows gets to judge anyone’s life decisions. 

I’ve bought the morning-after pill for a few reasons: because contraception failed or various medical conditions affect contraception and sometimes just to be 100 per cent sure, just in case.

(By the way if you’re my mother reading this I don’t know what sex is, I hear it’s great though).

As time has gone on, I’ve felt less ashamed at standing in the queue. One of the best things about getting older as a woman is realising you gave way too much of a shit about what people thought of you. 

When I was younger, I would plan my mission for the morning-after pill like a method actor. What outfit would I wear to minimise disapproval from the pharmacist? If I put on matching active-wear and carry my yoga mat I’ll look a suitably responsible woman who’s got her life mostly together and maybe deserves to be let off, just this once.

Nun costume

What about the nun costume from the dorm Halloween party? Too much? 

Now I have the routine down pat. “Hello,” I say brightly, “I’d like the morning-after pill, thanks.” Then I stand there with such shameless confidence, daring the man browsing the wart creams to even glance in my direction. To their credit, most pharmacies are knowledgeable, friendly and discreet. 

Until I moved to Ireland. I started out all smiles, asking for what I wanted at a normal volume. I’m an adult woman, I had a long-term, monogamous boyfriend, I separate recycling.

But then I noticed the whispering between assistants when you asked for the morning-after pill. And the see-through consultation box of shame. I was given a form asking for my name and address. I was ready to do what any rational human would do – cause a massive public scene.

What’s it to you? Why do you need to have this very personal information attached to my name and address, kept on file, accessed by who knows? What would it be used for? Would someone show up at my house in case I bought it one too many times?

“I’m sorry,” said the kind pharmacist with a normal amount of eye shadow. “I don’t like it either but it’s the company policy.”

This was a big chain pharmacy in Dublin. I’m lucky enough that most people don’t know who I am in here and I baulked at the idea of having that information available to a nosy employee. What is it like for women in rural Irish towns? Or teenagers? Don’t get me started on the price – over €30. When I got it in Australia, the pill was the equivalent of €9. 

Oh, hello there, yes I see you in the comments section: if women were responsible they wouldn’t need to get the morning-after pill blah blah blah.

But what about the men? It’s left up to us women to do the whispering and the lining up in the chemist. It’s our names that are left on the forms.

Life doesn’t always go to plan, accidents happen and you never know why someone needs what they need. One friend earned a harsh word from her regular pharmacist for coming in just one too many times for the pill. She was in an abusive relationship with a man who was restricting access to regular contraception.

“I couldn’t tell them but if I didn’t stop taking it I would have been stuck in that situation forever” 

When my grandmother came back to Ireland a few years ago after nearly 10 years away, she called me over to a window in Henry Street with glee. “Look, they’ve got signs for the morning-after pill in the window, that would have never happened when I lived here, what next?”

Hopefully, making it easier and kinder on the people needing it.

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