Norplant: side effects vs. convenience

August 13, 1991|By M.K. Guzda

Birth control pills. The diaphragm. Condoms. Spermicide. Sponges. Two IUDs. Birth control pills, again.

I've tried them all and been happy with few. Actually, I loathed many of them.

That list might make some people embarrassed or uncomfortable. Mostly, it disheartens me.

My favorite recent development in birth control is the condom for women. "This is what feminists have been waiting for," opined a spokeswoman for the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health-research organization in New York, in an April newspaper article.

But as with many other forms of birth control, it is somewhat flawed.

"Some people think the female condom is just too strange and bizarre," said a female nurse researcher quoted in the same story. "They're aesthetically turned off because part of the condom hangs out [of the vagina] and is visible during intercourse."

That is not birth control. That is sex control. And it symbolizes what disappoints me about modern birth control methods: They often make the woman secondary.

What I need is a safe, effective method that blinks a "No Vacancy" sign to sperm.

When I heard Norplant was available through my health maintenance organization, my ears perked up. I've weighed the side effects against the convenience and effectiveness, and I'm willing to gamble. It can't be worse than the thrasher-like cramps from the IUD or the anxiety one experiences when the condom that tested perfectly in the lab fails in the field.

I hope.

Friends and colleagues have been curious and fascinated. Can you see them? Does it hurt to have them put in? Is it safe? How long does it last? Can I see your arm?

Men are as intrigued as women, and their questions have been quite compassionate. They, too, want a safe and effective form of birth control for their partners.

I watched an insertion a week before mine, so I knew what to expect. I wasn't scared as I left the house to go to the doctor's. OK, a little nervous.

The procedure is painless. There are no stitches. Once the wound is taped and the bandage rolled around your arm, you're sent on your way. That's it, they say. Go to work. Go home. Don't lift your kids or any heavy machinery.

As I write this, I stop and sit quietly for a moment to listen for a change in my pulse, a ringing in my ears, something to indicate a warning signal. Nothing. My hypochondria goes unrewarded.

My worse fear is acne, which I developed from a high-dose estrogen pill 15 years ago. It may sound vain to worry about acne, but at 33, I can sympathize with those teen-agers whose mothers tell them what lovely personalities they have shining through their less-than perfect skin.

If it doesn't work for me, if the side effects hinder, I can go back on the pill. But instead, I'm hoping to go forward.

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