What all women worry about.
The last five days have been some of the most stressful that I have ever experienced. I underwent a form of continuing panic that could send the faint hearted into cardiac arrest.
It seems that once you become sexually active, your world gets turned upside down. You open yourself up to new forms of human connection and pleasure, but with that comes a very real vulnerability, that nobody warns you about.
I wanted to write about my experience to speak to women who worry too much, like I do. And I’m going to be brutally honest, so prepare yourself.
I just started back into my second year of college after a long, sexless summer of working and not doing much else. So I had sex at a party, with somebody that I’ve been casually seeing since last March. We used protection but he said that the condom ripped. I wasn’t worried because I’m on the pill, so we went our separate ways and everything seemed fine.
Exactly one week later, I had sex with someone else. I was over in his house, we shared a bottle of wine, we went upstairs… We used protection, but not during oral.
Everything was fine, until two days later I woke up with a sudden urge to urinate. I went to the bathroom, it was the fastest that I had gotten out of bed all month, and when I was using the toilet it was quite painful. It was stinging. I felt relieved when I was finished, so I decided to go to college and see how I felt later.
The next time I used the toilet, it still stung, but not as much. I head to the medical center to make an appointment for the next day because I needed a pill prescription. Later that day, I was bleeding lightly when I used the toilet. I started to get worried, because it was three days before my period was due and I had never bled between periods before.
Pain while urinating and bleeding between periods are both symptoms of chlamydia. My heart dropped as I read the words on website after website. The only thing that got me to sleep that night was the fact that chlamydia could be treated quite easily by antibiotics.
The biggest thing that I was worried about was having to tell the guys that I had slept with. Especially the second one. He was brilliant in bed and I wanted to see him again, but if I told him that I had chlamydia, he’d run a mile. On top of that, he would probably tell the entire college what happened between us and that I was to be avoided.
I walked into the medical center, heart pounding, palms sweating. The nurse called my name, I took a deep breath, stood up and walked into the examination room.
When I said it out loud, I sort of broke down. I had reasoned with myself that if I did have chlamydia, it could be treated easily. But admitting it was another story. I tried to say it as calmly as possible. I said it in one big breath, trying to keep a neutral tone. But when I inhaled again, it was shaky. My eyes began to water, my cheeks turned bright red.
The nurse sat beside me and placed a calming hand on my arm. It felt like a weight of guilt. Here she was, comforting me for something that was ultimately my own fault. My own recklessness. And I felt like in some ways, I was letting this woman (who I didn’t know) down.
I told her about my symptoms and she smiled at me. “Don’t worry. It’s probably just a kidney infection!” She said. Apparently, they’re very common in sexually active women and so is a small amount of bleeding between periods. She tested my urine and gave me a swab test for gonorrhea and chlamydia, just to calm me down.
My urine came back positive for proteins and nitrates and I never thought that I’d be so happy about a Urinary Tract Infection. They put me on antibiotics and cranberry juice. Four tablets a day for seven days. It’s difficult to hide this from my mom, but if I told her, she’d figure out that I’m having sex and that’s not a conversation that I want to have with her until I’m in a proper relationship. I mean, it’s been over a year, she knows that I’m on the pill, but she still seems to be blissfully unaware.
So just for some context, I had sex on two consecutive Saturday’s, had first symptoms on the Monday. Went to the nurse on the Tuesday. Got the prescription on the Wednesday, which was when my period was due to begin. Started taking the prescription on the Thursday.
I slept soundly on the Tuesday night, knowing that all of my problems would be gone, once I started taking my prescription. I did have to get up at 4am to pee, but I knew that my struggle would soon be ending, so I didn’t complain.
Wednesday came and went, I was busy in college so I didn’t make it to the pharmacist until late. As I was lying in bed that night, I was starting to get a bit worried that my period hadn’t started yet. That ripped condom played over and over in my head. Yes I was on the pill, but what if…?
I tried to reassure myself that being one day late was nothing to worry about. The leaflet with my pill says to wait a month before worrying that you’re pregnant. But I’m the type of person that worries even if they haven’t had sex in the last month.
I spent all day Thursday at home, which probably made it worse. I had nothing to do all day except pace back and forth to the toilet, hoping that my period had started. And it didn’t. I wasn’t sure if the pain in my abdomen was period cramps or kidney pains from the UTI.
No matter what I did, there was a weight on my chest. I would sit on the couch and try to distract myself. But there always this silent anxiety creeping in. Even when I didn’t realise that I was thinking about it, I would notice that my shoulders were tense and my stomach was churning. I was a stressed ball of anxiety that could’ve been set off at any moment.
I tried to go to sleep that night. Tried and failed, for the most part. I kept running things over and over in my head. Maybe that small amount of bleeding on the Monday and Tuesday was because I was pregnant. Pregnant women are known to bleed slightly sometimes. Maybe my boobs are sore because I’m pregnant and not because I’m due my period. They have been looking bigger recently.
To calm myself, I tried to think of a plan for if I was pregnant. Would I keep it? Would I have it and give it up for adoption? Would I get an abortion?
How could I keep a baby? I’m 19. I still live at home. The father would want nothing to do with the baby, or me. I have a bright future ahead of me, I have it all planned out and a baby was never, ever part of the plan.
Although I am young, I have always been very maternal. Children love me, and I have always been brilliant with them. The thoughts of holding a baby in my arms, something so small and pure, that was a part of me for so long… And then having to give it up, is not something that I feel I would be strong enough to do.
Abortions aren’t legally speaking an option in Ireland. We have a provision in our Constitution that forbids abortion under any circumstances. If I decided to get an abortion, I would have to travel to England. Alone. And what would I tell my mum? She had me when she was very young. Only 2 years older than I am now. And I have always felt that a large part of her regrets keeping me.
I know that she would be very disappointed in me, for making the same mistake that she did. She would probably support my decision to have an abortion, but there would be a constant disappointment in and resentment for the fact that I needed one. I know her well enough to say that she would blame herself. She would feel like in some way, it was her fault.
As you can imagine, these trains of thought did not help me sleep. I tossed and turned, still taught with anxiety. What I ended up doing was focusing on a song. Every time I thought about being pregnant, I would scream the song in my head until my ears pulsed from the strain. I took breaths deep enough to make me feel faint. And after a while, I fell into a distorted form of sleep.
It was a rough night. One of the toughest that I’ve had in a long time.
I woke up the next morning and I still hadn’t gotten my period. I slipped into a silent sadness. I walked around the house with my head down, as if there was somebody constantly looking down at me, but there was nobody home. I made cups of tea, which went cold in my hands. I couldn’t cry, I couldn’t scream. I felt like the world went on and I was stuck.
I told myself that if my period didn’t come by that night, I would go to a pharmacy far away, where nobody would recognize me, and I would get a pregnancy test. Then I was worried that my UTI might interfere with the test. Then I was worried that I didn’t have a UTI at all and that I was in fact pregnant.
I just made it worse and worse for myself.
At 3pm, I got my period and I nearly cried from happiness. I smiled and I laughed and I must’ve sounded like a crazy person. I was in utter disbelief. In that moment, my world, which had turned upside down, was right again.
I went from having an STI and being pregnant to having a Urinary Tract Infection and being stressed (I presume that’s why my period was late). All was right again in the world.
My doctor says that because of the way my antibiotic interferes with my pill, I can’t have sex for 3 weeks. I can assure you, it will be a while before I feel comfortable enough to have sex again. After this ordeal, these five torturous days, I can’t imagine anybody touching me just yet.
I wanted to share my story, so that anybody sitting at home, worrying the way that I did, can find comfort in the thought that they’re not alone. It’s not healthy to feel the way I did. It’s not healthy to sit alone and not talk about it. If I hadn’t visited the nurse, I would still be panicking about the STI and I would be in a lot of pain. UTI’s do not treat themselves. Antibiotics are the only way to treat them. Even if I had had an STI, I could’ve gotten the help I needed, just by asking for it.
As for being pregnant, I would’ve crossed that bridge when I came to it. I feel like an abortion would’ve been my only choice and I would’ve had to go alone, lied about my identity and covered my tracks, to prevent any criminal prosecutions. There is ongoing debate about whether the Constitutional provision should be changed or not. I’m not going to use my experience to argue for either side, but I think that it’s pretty clear how I feel about the issue.