There’s been a new wave of discussion on this topic recently following the announcement of new trials for the male contraceptive gel. I wrote this poem a few months ago after reading some ridiculous articles in 2016 about the ‘unbearable’ side effects of the male contraceptive. It is in no way a perfect poem, nor is the meter or rhyme faultless, but I wanted to share it anyway as part of my contribution to the discussion. It’s one of the first long poems that I wrote and I appreciate it for what it is!
The poem was initially written in response to Anna Letitia Barbauld’s ‘Washing-Day’ for an assessment at university. I wanted to capture this discussion on male contraceptives in a similar for to Barbauld, using her turning points and perspectives as an inspiration for my piece. I wanted to contrast the female and male perspectives in this piece to express the mixed emotions that people felt after hearing the trials were halted last year. If you haven’t read Barbauld’s poem, ‘Washing-Day’ I would highly recommend it. It’s a beautiful piece on women’s labour.
I hope you like this piece.
The women are turned gossips; roll their eyes,
And sigh when they hear of the trial’s demise.
It’s not worth the risk when they become ill,
Come on, girl, and swallow the bitter pill.
Published that morning, the article reads
“Male contraceptive works” but work it needs.
Oh, the disappointment those women faced
Learning that their burden won’t be replaced.
It isn’t well known that the trial took place,
No wonder it’s so hushed in cyberspace.
But there are a few kicking up a fuss.
Minor side effects they want to discuss:
“Cramps in their muscles, and acne break outs,
An increase in libido!” She then shouts,
“God forbid they want to bang more often,
And some poor men must face their depression!”
It’s not an alarm that wakes you most days,
But the cramps in your gut, the aches and pains.
You can feel the stomach acid churning,
Wrapped in your sheets you try to stop squirming.
And once the nausea begins to subside
You are reminded of other downsides.
Alarm still blaring, ringing in your ears,
A migraine manifests; try to stop tears.
There’s some water on the bedside table,
Pop out the pill and swallow when able,
Chase with painkillers and a slice of toast
Even though your appetite’s worse than most.
Time to strip down and jump in the shower,
And lose yourself in the hot water’s power,
But under the heat your breasts are quite sore,
Tender, and look, more stretch marks than before.
Steam does nothing to settle your belly,
Acid is rising, knees turned to jelly.
Quick, to the toilet, up comes your last meal.
Gross. But your stomach is better, you feel.
Look in the mirror at your reflection,
A cluster of spots ruins your complexion.
They’re angry and red, concealing your cheek,
And each one makes your self-confidence weak.
Even puberty did not serve you this
Many mood swings that you cannot dismiss.
They are all highs and lows you must endure,
Getting through the day, an emotional blur.
I remember being taught to respect,
To love all women, to cherish and protect.
But each day I watch this labour ensue,
Watch pain and trauma, without helping you.
There are pros and cons of this mini pill,
I see this struggle every day but still
Can’t help but see the upside of this task
When you say ‘not pregnant’ each time I ask.
A bitter truth that underlies this test
Unsettles the gossips, and causes unrest.
The men were free, volunteers, and yet,
At the start, terms of choice were never set.
Those shackles were not an option for most
Who were forced to take a sterilise dose,
So the public could cheer “freedom of choice!”
Though Puerto Rico had lost its voice.
Another setback, the burden remains,
Women must tolerate the bonds and chains
That were offered to them in sixty-one
Like a saving grace or a ray of sun.
 Frances Burney, ‘Washing-Day’ in Anna Letitia Barbauld: Selected Poetry and Prose, eds. William McCarthy and Elizabeth Kraft (Broadview Press, 2002), pp. 143-147, l. 1 (slightly altered)
 New Scientist staff and Press Association, ‘Male contraceptive injection works—but side effects halt trial’ in Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 101 (2016). Available at http://bit.ly/2m9ejCU [accessed 10 February 2017]