When I was 16, I missed my period for three months in a row. My mom quickly took me to my very first OB/GYN appointment. My doctor said I probably had something called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.
I had never heard of this thing. After researching, I found that many women with PCOS have trouble losing weight, more body and facial hair, and skipped periods. I am a high level athlete and I’m South Indian. I had never had trouble losing weight. I often skipped periods every once in a while because my training would ramp up. And most South Indians have dark facial and body hair. But I also had the terrible cramps and bloating and the super irregular periods.
Being diagnosed with PCOS was a big moment for me. It brought closure for my mother—and brought us closer—and it was also the first time I felt that politics directly impacted me.
As soon as I got my diagnosis and we went through the symptoms, my mom started listening in closer and seemed more interested. When the doctor left, my mom finally said to me, “I’ve had all of those symptoms my entire life. You probably got this from me and I didn’t even know I had it and this stuff was treatable.” My PCOS gave my mother and I linked experiences in a way I didn’t think was possible.
Even though I am 100% my mother’s daughter—a hardcore feminist who is fascinated by the destructive legacy of neocolonialism—we still came from vastly different worlds. My mother comes from a military family in India. She admits that she and I come different centuries, let alone different countries. And while she is the most amazing woman ever and I am lucky to call her my mother, there were numerous times where our relationship experienced extreme culture clash.
In my mother’s time, women’s reproductive health was not a priority and so her PCOS issues went unchecked and untreated. As I got treated, she finally got closure that she was not overreacting to periods. She had valid health concerns that no one considered.
This realization gave me a personal stake in the expansion of women’s reproductive health in the United States and around the world. I didn’t want any more women like my mother being ignored and untreated. It also gave me an even more personal stake in the Affordable Care Act. PCOS is treated with birth control pills, and luckily for me, my health insurance covered it, so my treatment was both easy and affordable. And then the ACA kicked in. All of a sudden, my medication was free, which I thought was the coolest thing in the world.
And then came the backlash as lawmakers and employers argued that governments and corporations shouldn’t have to cover the cost of the pill because it didn’t match their religious beliefs.
I didn’t realize my health was a religious belief. I was lucky that my insurance covered me. I was also lucky I had a mild case. According to a New York Times article, my condition could have been worse:
About half of American women with PCOS are obese…. When ovarian follicles are enlarging, women with PCOS also produce high levels of estradiol but low levels of progesterone, resulting in a thick uterine lining and over time an increased risk of endometrial cancer.
The pill is more than the contraceptive that companies and lawmakers see as an infringement on religion. Similarly in the way that Viagra can be used for more than erectile dysfunction (which is covered by most insurance plans), the birth control pill has man other uses besides just contraception. It can free women from extremely painful periods and health concerns.
The birth control pill is a medication that is needed to preserve the health of numerous women—including my mother and myself. As I advocate for women’s health, I am now fighting for my mother.
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