If you do not know who Dr T is I suggest that you follow her on Twitter @drtlaleng. Doctor Tlaleng Mofokeng was appointed as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to health is a South African medical doctor and a women’s rights and sexual and reproductive health rights activist.
First published in 2019 A Guide to Sexual Health and Pleasure this book caused a huge stir on social media and within most book clubs in the country. This book is rated 16 and as such, this review is too.
The guide is divided into three parts. The first being sexual health, secondly sexual pleasure and lastly sexual rights which are all interrelated.
We start off with an introduction by Dr T who explains that she wrote the guide to help the reader ‘navigate different aspects of sexual and reproductive health, pleasure and rights.’
In the first section, which is the longest, Dr T speaks on a wide range of topics surrounding Sexual Health which are broadly divided into four subcategories of Physiology, Menstrual Health, Medical Conditions and Pregnancy.
This first section is an immensely important section which could very likely be easily used in educating both high school learners as well as older people who are uncertain about any sexual health concerns. Dr T moves from talking about the clitoris, to the use of menstrual cups and abortions. A generous amount of time is spent talking about sex and the different occurrences that it can be disrupted through allergies to latex, diabetes and even cancer. One topic which is often left out when talking about that is not left out in this book is abstinence as a sexual choice.
When speaking on abortions Dr. T says, “the issue, however, is if one considers the policing of women’s bodies and the entitlement that individual partners, families, communities, societies, and systems have on the ability of women to be fertile and the exertion that external forces place on women, it is clear that the decision to have children or not and how to space pregnancies remains a far-fetched idea for many women.”
Moving onto the second section we delve right into sexual pleasure and if all you want to know is about the big O then head onto page 180. I wouldn’t suggest that though because there is an immensely important topic of Consent that is discussed right before. If I could copy and paste this whole section for you I would, but copyright is important so I will just share this little bit here in relation to people in a relationship, “You have to talk about the fact that when I say I want to have sex I may not say it out loud or I might start touching you or rubbing your ear. Whatever that detail is, it cannot just be assumed that when you touched her vagina and it was wet, it meant she wanted to have sex. It does not work that way.”
We move onto the last section which is the shortest but by no means less impactful where we are asked to explore sexual rights. From advocating for them to making a powerful argument that sex work is real work our talks of sex seems to be rounding up to bring everything together. My personal favourite part of the discussion comes when the issue of health care workers and the importance of their approach towards sexual health rights will ultimately be the driving force behind change in the attitude that we have when we speak about issues surrounding sex in its entirety.
This is definitely a book to buy for keeps or even to pass on to your nieces, nephews, non binary friends and foes once you are done digesting it. For more on Dr. Tlaleng visit https://drtlaleng.com/ .
I have always seen the quotes where we are consistently told that 6 months could change our lives. I think that is part of why I am still in utter shock that 12 days could change my life.
12 February 2021
At the crack of dawn, I was already preparing for my visit to the radiologist. I tried to repeat a mantra in my head that it would be okay. As much as my self-diagnosed disease was bad, there were treatments for all of them. Regardless of how brutal they may be.
By the time that I had filled in the forms with the receptionist, I had calmed down. The fact that the specialist was running late just gave me extra time to prepare for what they had to say about my health. I laughed while the radiologist examined my kidneys first after I told a joke about me not being pregnant. She had started at my kidneys because my symptoms were erratic and she wanted to make sure that she got a good reading on everything.
You see, my period had stopped for the past 3 months as a result of me switching contraceptive methods. This however did not negate the fact that I was experiencing abdominal pains that shook me to the core when they decided to strike ever so often especially while lying down.
Within five minutes of my laying down to hear my diagnosis of some sort of medical condition the radiologist giggled and announced that I was pregnant.
Let’s backtrack for a second here to early 2017 when I first found out that I was unexpectedly pregnant. I had recently broken up with my first boyfriend and was having a great time with a guy that I met in the lift who lived in my building. After seeing each other for a while in 2016 he wanted to change our relationship status from, “just kicking it” to something more serious. I was not ready and as a result, we broke things off. This was only for him to come back a few months later and tell me that he was fine with our previous arrangement.
We then carried on with that. I was still at the very beginning of articles at the law firm I was working at and I knew that I did not want to be pregnant right then. We would use condoms at every single encounter because my path towards being an admitted attorney would not be deterred.
After missing a period, I joked with him about being pregnant and I didn’t realise then, but his laugh was almost nervous. My stress levels at the time were through the roof and it wasn’t shocking to me that my period was late/missing. I went to a friend’s house on a whim with a pregnancy test and told her that I was shockingly nervous to take it, but that it should be fine.
I sat in the bathroom with her while her boyfriend watched a soccer match in their living room. We waited and joked, spoke about hair and how we both needed a drink.
Checked the pregnancy test and there were two very very distinct lines which marked a positive result.
But how? I logically know that any contraceptive method is not 100 percent safe, but how was it possible that I was in the 2 percent failure rate? I returned to my place and called the culprit over for a visit where I asked in sincere amazement as to how this had happened.
His explanation started with telling me that I was refusing to be in a relationship with him. I didn’t understand. Then he explained to me that he had thought that if I were pregnant/had his child then I would want to date him because I don’t seem to be the type of woman that would want to be a single mother.
My head spun and I did not understand what exactly was happening. I asked him how that would be possible because we used protection. I did not know the word for it then, but I have since learned that what he had done was stealthing. The deliberate tampering of condoms with a sexual partner without them being aware.
Although I could not put my finger on it and identify that this was an assault at the time, I was felt violated and convicted in my decision that I was not keeping the fetus.
12 February 2021
And so as I lay on the bed on a Friday morning before work in 2021 and the radiologist told me that I was pregnant I could not fathom what she was saying. A hand waved through the screen and the fetus would not keep still enough for her to measure. Ironically I was wearing my favorite dress that came from the maternity section.
I was on the pill for this very reason not to fall pregnant. I took a pregnancy test at the end of every month just to make sure that I was on the right path. Here was this person telling me that she thought I was 3 months into the one thing that I swore I would never want to do.
During my lunch break, after already calling my primary partner to tell him the news I called to make an appointment at a women’s clinic for a termination. Since I was unsure of how far along I was, I needed to have a sonar and check-up before the procedure. As a result, I was then booked for the 23rd of February 2021.
That night was the first of almost two weeks that I cried myself to sleep.
12 February 2021
Two. That is the number of times that I have cried painfully in front of my partner. Where I could feel his distress and panic as to the fact that he couldn’t do anything to put the pieces back together. That I just needed to fall apart and his only role was to hold me physically as my mind worked itself up into a state.
16 February 2021
By the night of the 14th of February, I hadn’t slept with worry. Mostly because I had done some preliminary calculations and it seemed that I was 16 weeks pregnant. 20 weeks is the maximum for termination, so what if I was wrong? I woke up and frantically called every gynecologist near me. The third one that answered told me that they had a free opening in the next hour. I got dressed and called an Uber straight there.
After all the basic tests, the gynae told me that I was 15 weeks and one day pregnant. I doubt that I will ever forget that number.
In my head, as the gynae was telling me about how I had missed the first set of blood tests and check-ups all I could think of is that I still had time to terminate. I nodded and agreed when he told me that I should be back in 4 weeks to do a gender scan and to do some blood tests. An appointment that I am yet to cancel.
As much as I had been riddled with anxiety and uncertainty for the past few days, the confirmation from the doctor that I was still within limits of terminating a pregnancy that I knew nothing of for the past 4 months made me feel better.
I finally got some sleep that night.
19 February 2021
I had to reschedule my appointment at the women’s clinic since a pre-assessment was no longer necessary. A surgical procedure with anesthesia was moved up to the 19th of February. I spent most of the day at the clinic wishing that I had brought a jersey even though it was hot outside.
20 February 2021
Grief and relief. What a strange combination to be faced with.
The five stages of grief, in no particular order or time frame apparently, are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
Relief on the other hand is defined as a feeling of reassurance and relaxation following release from anxiety or distress.
The first person that I told about the pregnancy was my best friend. My message was clearly laced in denial. It read, “Not me being pregnant Jessica.” I laugh now but what a millennial response to have in such a situation.
Within these days I had moved from debilitating anxiety to relief that this was not happening to me. My body still carried the trauma of the emotions that I was processing. Right at the start, I had already tried to start easing my mind to the fact that it may be too late for a termination. That I had to go through with this. Not necessarily that I had to keep the baby that would be born, but the fact that I would have to carry the fetus to term.
Although I know that I made the right decision for me, one that I will never regret or feel bad about, there is no stopping the feeling of loss. Grief is about processing a loss. Logic, pre-determined plans, and goals are irrelevant when you are going through extreme circumstances.
23 February 2021
I finally said out loud and acknowledged that I had gone through a loss and moving straight to acceptance was not a possibility.
I booked an appointment with a clinical psychologist. All that I did was cry while trying to explain what was wrong. My therapist didn’t tire of letting me cry or gather my thoughts.
Before the end of that day, the receptionist had already sent me a form to fill out which would ensure that I got treatment for acute stress disorder accompanied by recent trauma. Loss, no matter how justified, is still a loss. We cry over the end of terrible relationships because they still happened and there were real feelings there, good or bad. I cry over the fact that my life was almost changed forever and that I was able to avert it.
Having a marginally good credit score enabled me to access money in a rush, having access to a safe and legal termination, having access to a mental health provider, and being afforded time off from work without jumping through hoops. These are things that I am grateful for the most today as a type this.
My life is still changed as a sit with a newly inserted IUD, but this is the choice that I have made.
All that has happened will never fall into a list of regrets. I do however need to deal with the emotions of an exceptionally stressful week that still leaves me tearful.