Woman taking a pill

Mum's morning-after pill hunt

Amit and Sandhya, both 17, fell in love on their first day of college. They made love for the first time on Valentine’s Day. It wasn’t planned. “We didn’t know how to handle it,” says Amit candidly. They had no birth control at hand.

When they realised the risk they’d taken, they confided in Amit’s mum. Luckily she was supportive. She’d heard about emergency contraception, the ‘morning after’ pill, from colleagues at work.

But when she tried the pharmacies near her home in a suburb of the south Indian city Chennai, none of them stocked it. She had to travel for two hours to a pharmacy connected with the largest hospital in the city. Finally she got hold of the pill for Sandhya, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

Hard to find
The emergency contraception pill was introduced in India in 2005 as an over-the-counter medication. But even in large cities, it isn’t easy to get hold of. What’s more, it’s often hard to find good information on how to use it. Neither Sandhya nor Amit’s mum knew how the pill worked. Fortunately they had a computer and could find advice online.

“Abortion pill”
Not everyone is happy about the ‘morning after’ pill. Critics worry that making it easy to buy will encourage people to have sex. They also claim it causes abortion.

That’s not true, according to Dr Nirmala Jaishankar, a gynaecologist at Apollo Hospitals in Chennai. “This isn’t an abortion pill. If pregnancy has already happened, this pill won’t be effective,” he says.

The pill contains high doses of hormones which prevent the egg from being fertilised and implanting. That’s why it has to be taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex, ideally within 72 hours.

It doesn’t have any serious side-effects – the most common is nausea caused by the flood of hormones. “But take it with care,” says Dr. Vinutha Arunachalam, Obstetrics & Gynaecology, Apollo Hospitals. “Too much ingestion of hormones can throw off your regular cycle and mess up your cycle.”

Sandhya unfortunately took two pills in one menstrual cycle. The couple began using condoms, but Amit was sure one had slipped off. “This time we knew about the pill, but we didn’t know that taking it twice in one cycle wasn’t a great idea.”

“Be cool”
Today Amit and Sandhya are still together in a steady sexual relationship. These days they take no chances when it comes to avoiding pregnancy – Sandhya’s on the regular birth control pill, and they use condoms too. But they still think back to how the ‘morning after’ pill helped them out of a tight spot.

“Today every supermarket stocks condoms as prominently as shampoos,” says Amit. “Government given birth control pills are advertised as health options for women. Then why not understand the benefits of emergency contraception and be cool about it? After all not everyone is lucky enough to have supportive parents!”

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