Monday, March 27, 2017

Three Year Reprieve

In the late fall of 1999 I was living in a house of women who were seniors in college. One day a housemate came home and announced that we were now close enough to graduation that if any of us got pregnant, we would still be able to graduate college before the baby would be born. The relief in our household was palpable. Up to that point, I’m not sure I’d realized the extent to which I’d been holding my breath, determined to carry out my life plan, which did not involve having a baby before I’d finished school and gotten a start in life.

Maybe it’s that sharp feeling of reprieve that made the work I did last week so satisfying.

I was translating for a volunteer gynecologist as she taught our Clinic staff how to place birth control implants. The implants are tiny – they’re placed underneath the layer of skin and on top of the layer of fat inside the inner arm. They release a low dose of progesterone, preventing pregnancy…

…For three years.

Three years…long enough to get through high school, or maybe college. Long enough for a new mother to nurture her baby safely into toddlerhood. Long enough for a harried mom to concentrate on raising her kids. And maybe then get another implant.

I’ve got no idea if boys and men feel the same anxiety about unwanted pregnancy, but I know that women are rarely out from the shadow of it. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that most of us start getting anxious about being pregnant before we’re even sexually active.

Maybe that’s why I’m so excited about these implants. Or maybe it’s working with teenage girls, knowing that no matter how accessible birth control is for adult women, for a teenager it can feel like there is a long, wide river of mortification between you and condoms or pills or monthly injections.  Just getting what you need can feel insurmountable when embarrassment looms large.

So what if you could place a tiny tube in your arm that no one would ever have to see? What if it meant you knew you couldn’t get pregnant for three years? What if you could concentrate on finishing high school without having to wait anxiously for your period each month?

So last week gynecologist Emily Parent, a Bucknell University alumnus who first became interested in medicine when she came to

Nicaragua on their Brigade, brought an implant placement training kit and I translated while she taught nurse Isamar and doctors Jorge and Elizabeth to place them. All week, patients kept walking into the exam room and saying, “I want the implant.” 

“Have you heard about what it does and how it works?” Emily would ask.

“I’ve heard it goes in your arm and lasts for three years and I want it.”

In two days, they placed the 20 implants we’d raised money for – each one takes about 5 minutes total. They put them in for young women with no kids yet, a teenager with a newborn, a nineteen year old with four kids, a mom of seven. 

Now word has gotten out about the implants and our health promoter Jessenia says she can’t go out into the community without being accosted by women asking for the implant – she’s now got a waiting list as long as her arm. Thanks to those giving online and the continued fundraising of Emily and others, we have 10 more implants ready to be placed, and hope to have 15 more before the week is out, but we’re far from done yet. 

Currently we are sourcing them from an organization that is selling them to us for $45 each. To help cover the cost of local anesthetic and lab tests (routine pregnancy, HIV and STI screening), we are asking folks to donate $50 to place one implant. Three years…long enough for a young woman to get her high school diploma…and you can help make it possible. 

To donate, Click here and mark your donation for Health care “birth control implant.”

Thank you! – Becca