3 Generations Of Diaphragm Defeat

Jul 15, 2017

This segment originally aired February 18, 2017.   

After years of bad experiences with hormonal birth control, at 19, I thought I had found a holy grail: The diaphragm. It was 2006, and nobody used diaphragms anymore, but I knew all about them — because since I was about 10 years old, I knew that my very existence depended on my mother leaving hers in the dresser drawer one cold winter day in January of 1986. I was conceived under the dining room table, on the shag carpet of their Fremont apartment.

“Be careful,” she said. “You were a diaphragm baby.”

My mom is ordinarily one of the most gentle, accommodating people I know. She hates watching TV shows that use embarrassment as a plot device. She can’t play Monopoly because she literally gives her property away. But she seems to get downright giddy when talking about real-life facts that would traditionally make people uncomfortable. Clinical facts. Sexual facts. So when I hit the “why” phase—and started asking very specific questions about where babies come from—she was like, “Put me in, coach.”

This is how, at four or five years old, my favorite movie was the Miracle of Life. This is how, at 9, when my dad quit smoking and got into making balloon animals, I got really into making balloon sperm. And this is why, when my mom picked me up for winter break and we stopped at the pharmacy to pick up my diaphragm, she didn’t give bringing my grandmother along a second thought.

I knew of kids that actually told their parents when they were about to have sex for the first time. This isn’t about being that kind of family — because we weren’t. We talked about birth control, but the line where we talked about actual sex was always shaky. Maybe if I’d been dating someone she liked, but I spent much of high school dating a mean-spirited older dude who liked to call the house eight times in a row at 2 a.m.

Back at the pharmacy, my grandmother waited in line with me to buy my diaphragm, and as we waited, she had this advice: never put it in while I was menstruating. She ran into this problem on her wedding day.

This was hardly my first conversation about anything sex related with my family. In fact for me, I started learning about as early as anyone could.

Talking specifically about these things with my mom and Grammie has made me reflect on how this open communication channel affected other parts of my life.  As a senior in high school, I did a condom collage for health credit and taught a class on DIY vaginal health.

I knew my mom, as a former nurse, had bred some degree of openness and anatomical know-how in me, but I don’t think I gave any of the women who came before me in my family credit for the ethos behind everything: that when we know about our bodies and what they can do, we’re able to care for ourselves better, and it can make it a little easier to move about the world inside them.

And as far as my relationship with the diaphragm, it didn't last very long. It was not the holy grail of birth control. It was a pain in the ass to use. I switched to a copper IUD which I still have — and yes, I discussed it with my mom.