It’s Broken: A Berlin Misadventure in Emergency Contraception
In the world of casual (hetero) sexual encounters, “it’s broken” is probably the scariest two-word contractive phrase you’ll ever hear. No wait, scratch that. “It’s positive” is definitely scarier. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. “It’s broken”, uttered in a post-coital haze of settling hormones and (more than likely) alcohol, could send panicked dry heaves through any girl’s chest. And we’re not talking broken hearts, because one doesn’t need to fornicate with hearts in order to achieve orgasm. Not broken genitals either, as this likely rarely happens (at least it has yet to happen to me, knock on wood). No, what the pronoun in the above phrase represents is the one thing that every responsible adult knows to have on hand when it comes to casual hook ups: the ever annoying, but ever essential condom. And when you’ve just consummated your sort-of affection with that guy with the cute smile who you met at a party and whose name is too difficult to pronounce, that condom had better not break. Except sometimes it does.
Of course, being a modern sex-savvy girl from Canada, I merely scoffed at his condom-incompetence, rolled over and fell asleep with plans to visit the local pharmacy after a short nap. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d take a morning after pill in order to stave off what I consider the worst STI imaginable. Except … there were a few flaws in my plan that I hadn’t realized.
Firstly, this was back in 2012. Back then, you needed a doctor’s prescription in order to get the morning after pill. This changed only last year, a decade later than in my country of origin.
Secondly, this was after a night (and morning) of heavy partying. It was a Sunday. Anyone who’s lived in
for a decent amount of time will know that Sundays are when everything becomes inaccessible. This is due to a legislation which states that retailers must close down at least one day per week, something that I definitely support as far as workers’ rights go—but when there’s some dude’s sperm squiggling around inside of me, for fuck’s sake, could you not decide to close on a Monday instead?! The incessant church bells certainly don’t seem to rest on a Sunday, the day when everyone’s nursing a splitting hangover headache—why should you? Berlin
So there I was, initially panic-free, because I knew the procedure for when equipment malfunctions and you need to do some damage control. Then, after about a minute of internet research, I realized my mistake, and thus commenced one of the most harrowing journeys of my life (or at least of my life that week).
First off, I had to find a hospital taking walk-ins on a Sunday. As far as I could find with my limited knowledge of German, walk-ins weren’t open. My initial go-to website was of little help. Considered out of date then, and they have yet to update anything since. Luckily, many hospitals have 24-hour emergency wards, which is where I ended up going. Technically it was an emergency—the longer you wait to take the pill, the higher the risk of pregnancy.
Having found a hospital a mere five U-Bahn stops away, we (the guy came with me) made our way down. There, the receptionist spoke perhaps two words of English, and I spoke maybe three words of German. The guy I was with spoke maybe ten words of German, but they overlapped with my three, so that was a total of 13 words between the three of us. I’m no mathematician, but I can tell you that 13 words are not enough to form anything coherent, let alone useful. A flurry of Google Translate and three pages of forms later, I was finally on the list to see the doctor. At least another 45 minutes went by, and at last it was my turn.
The doctor herself was very nice and sympathetic. She spoke perfect English and was quick to write me a prescription. She even gave me directions to the nearest pharmacy that would be open on a Sunday. Thank goodness she did, because the closest was another half an hour by transit from where we were. Time was ticking and I was anxious to swallow that pill and put my troubles behind me.
When we got to the pharmacy, there was no indication of it being open. It was on a corner, and I walked along both sides of it trying to figure out where I could enter. There was a little buzzer and a small slot at one of the windows, and having run out of options, I pressed it. The slot slid open after a moment, and an elderly gentleman poked his face out. I stammered in nervous English that I had a prescription that I wanted to get. I handed him the prescription, which he took and disappeared again behind the sliding window.
What now? Another five minutes passed before he reappeared and said, “Achtzehn fünfzig.” I handed him a 20, he left and then reappeared with a tiny package containing a single pill and my change. The whole thing felt so shady, like I was doing some illicit drug deal, but it was really just a perfectly legal drug deal. I swallowed the pill hastily, and I’m happy to announce that I am certainly not a mother to anyone as of yet.
However, when I went back to Canada the following month, I did get a great little surprise in the mail, all in German, which turned out to be a hospital bill for €35. That was fun to explain to my parents.
Of course, mine is a fairly typical story of a single night of promiscuity (or perhaps a phase of serial promiscuity) and some faulty equipment (a broken condom), a single happenstance in a sea of similar anecdotes. When I recently told a friend about my little misadventure with the German healthcare system, she cited a similar experience. Hers was with her boyfriend, and a little bit of admittedly risky late-night antics, but it too resulted in a goose-chase of an attempt to access this tiny pill.
Thankfully, German laws have since changed surrounding the morning after pill, restoring a little more agency to the women who reside under their jurisdiction. You are now able to walk into any pharmacy and ask for it over the counter. Good riddance too, as German abortion laws are a whole other case of nuts to crack.
While German reproductive health laws aren’t necessarily archaic, it does warrant an open dialogue about women’s rights and an examination into why they are the way they are at this point in time. It’s good to see that progress has been made since my last visit, but there are still distances to cover and barriers to cross. At the very least, we’re moving in what I perceive to be the right direction, and sexual encounters for women are becoming less encumbered over time.
Now we just have to figure out what to do in the face of the ever-terrifying “it’s positive”.
By Sandy Di Yu