I think my experience is what happens when misogyny and fat hatred collide…
When I was in my early 20s and in my first sexual relationship, my then-boyfriend and I had a contraception bungle – I had taken the pill late on the Thursday, forgotten completely on the Friday morning and the condom we used that night broke. As having a baby in my early 20s with a man I had only been dating for about six months wasn’t part of my plan, I decided to take the ‘morning-after pill’, at that stage only available by prescription in Australia. I was probably being over-cautious, but as I had been diagnosed with PCOS (wrongly, as it now turns out) and my ex had been very explicit about not wanting children, I was a bit paranoid that if I got pregnant it might be my only chance to have a child and that complexity was not something I was ready to deal with.
I tracked down a doctor who could see me on the Saturday of a long weekend and told him the story – forgotten pill, broken condom – and asked for the morning-after pill. He first of all quizzed me about why I ‘had to have’ sex the night before.
He then asked whether I had had sex since my last period. I couldn’t remember as the ex had been travelling so much. And, quite frankly, I’ve never diarised my sexual encounters.
He subsequently went off on a rant about how he couldn’t prescribe the morning-after pill because if I was already pregnant I could sue him if the baby was born with a birth defect. When I protested, trying to explain the situation, further, telling him that I was monogamous and this was a one-off glitch with our usual ‘belt-and-braces’ approach to contraception, he interrupted me, accusing me of lying about my sexual history. And where this becomes a story for this site is that he went on to say, ‘I know what chubby girls like you will do for male attention.’
I felt like he had physically hit me. At the time I was an Australian 12-14 max (I think in US sizing that would be about an 8-10?) and noone had ever, ever made a negative comment like that about my body before.
He did end up writing the prescription but insisted I take a blood test to make sure I wasn’t pregnant beforehand. He also gave me what appears to be the standard lecture about losing weight (except for the nifty diet tip that drinking beer when I went out with my friends would be better for me than wine or cocktails because women’s bodies didn’t convert beer to fat).
So, I emerged from his office in tears, hearing the unsaid words ‘fat slut’ ringing in my ears and because I was so used to doing exactly what the doctor told me, no matter how ridiculuous, dutifully went and had the blood test. They promised to rush the results back to the doctor that afternoon before closing down for the long weekend, so I could definitively know whether I could take the morning-after pill while still in its window of effectiveness. When I rang the doctor’s office back that afternoon at the time I had previously arranged in order to find out the results, the receptionist told me he had ‘gone on holidays’ and she ‘wasn’t authorised’ to read me the results that the lab had rushed through and wasn’t prepared to ring the doctor.
Despite the best efforts of both me and a very riled ex whom I’d stopped from storming into the doctor’s office (today, I wouldn’t have stopped him – maybe that doctor would have listened to an irate 6ft 120kg bloke – or given him diet advice) she wouldn’t budge but did say he would call me first thing on the Tuesday morning. So, the ex and I talked about it and agreed it would be incredibly unlikely for me to already be pregnant, given our usual contraceptive hyper-vigilance, I peed on a stick (negative) and took the morning-after pill that day. Roundabout seven years later, I am still waiting on a call from that doctor to tell me if I am pregnant.
I did look into reporting him, but a dear friend who works in public health laid out for me exactly what would be involved and I decided that I had neither the time nor emotional energy to enter into what would ultimately come down to ‘he said, she said’. I do sometimes regret this.
I still to this day have trouble believing that someone who is paid to care for people nearly denied me the help I was seeking, based on his assumptions about women in their early 20s who aren’t thin – and that despite having a fair amount of self-confidence I was so easily felled by someone judging my honesty essentially on the basis of my size. I would like to think now I’m in my 30s, I would just tell him to get stuffed. But who knows? Fortunately I have had pretty good doctors for the most part, so this sort of thing hasn’t happened again, despite being quite a bit bigger now.