In 1973, I was 21, newly married and, having no desire to get pregnant, followed my OB/GYN’s suggestion of getting an IUD. A new brand was supposed to be “perfect” for women who had never had children. It was called a Dalkon Shield and I felt I was being responsible when it was inserted. I was happy to know I wouldn’t get pregnant.
Then I missed a period, began to feel some unusual body changes and slowly began to accept that I might in fact be pregnant. I resolved to tell my husband the next night, if I didn’t get my period that day. That morning, I was getting ready for work and watching one of the morning shows, as was my custom, when they came on with a story about how 4 or 5 women had died from miscarriages after becoming pregnant with a Dalkon Shield IUD in place. You can imagine my fear.
All morning, I tried to get through to my OB/GYN but he was swamped with patient calls. Finally, I reached a nurse who went through what was obviously their now canned speech for all the Dalkon Shield patients who were calling that morning. When she finished, I told her, “But I think I might be pregnant.” I was the first one to say that so she immediately went to speak to the doctor who said I should get in ASAP. But that wasn’t so easy because I had moved and now lived about 3 hours away and I had a job that wasn’t either flexible or forgiving. So, despite this Tuesday conversation, the best I could schedule was Friday. In the meantime, the nurse said, get to a hospital immediately if I started to spot. I, of course, was still hoping it was all a false alarm and was hoping for my period. Now any blood would require instant medical attention, even though it might be my normal period.
On Friday, the tests confirmed I was pregnant. My OB/GYN sat me down to go over the seriousness of the situation and he advised me to abort because it would have been so difficult to remove the Dalkon Shield without harming the fetus and carrying to term with the IUD in place would have been super dangerous. Of course, since I didn’t want to be pregnant, abortion would have been my choice anyway. But the soonest it could be done was a week later. So my OB/GYN went through all the potential warning signs and stressed how important it was that I not ignore any sign of bleeding.
Back in my small western Ohio town, I learned that the only hospital within 50 miles was private and, even if you had insurance, they wouldn’t look at you unless you had $75 cash up front. $75 was a lot of money in ’73 and way more than I had available. So I spent that week living in terror. Every time I went to the bathroom, I was terrified to look at my panties, afraid I would see spots of blood. Luckily, that didn’t happen.
Saturday finally came and we went to Columbus for the abortion. I wish all “pro-life” advocates could experience the counseling I received there. Then maybe they would know that no one was pushing me towards this decision. In fact, after individual counseling, we were put into support groups of 5 or 6 to discuss our feelings and tell our stories and support one another. This strategy was wonderful ad it took your mind off your own worries as you became invested in the stories of your new friends And, as it turned out, 3 of the 5 women in my grouo had Dalkon Shields in place. All of us had been through the same terrifying experience but I was the only one who was almost at the end of the nightmare. My procedure went smoothly with no complications. But one of the other Dalkon Shield patients began hemorraghing during the procedure and had to be rushed to the hospital. With the other woman, they found that the IUD had embedded in her uterus and she, too, had to go to the hospital. I felt so lucky when it was all over but, looking back, I always recognize that as the most frightening weeks of my life.
Years later, my husband and I together received about $1000 as part of the Dalkon Shield class action suit settlement. I remember thinking it would have been enough to get me through the door of that private hospital if I had begun to hemorrhage. Better than nothing, surely, but a piddling amount for the fear my husband and I had to go through. Why people can’t understand the complexity of women’s stories, I will never understand.