An Emergency Contraceptive Changed My Relationship With My Mother

ILLUSTRATED BY GRACE HEEJUNG KIM
The condom had come off without either of us knowing. We were crammed into my dorm room twin bed, and we hadn’t even noticed the condom’s absence until the sex was over. My boyfriend and I brushed it off — sure, we were both a little freaked out, but it was late, and we were tired. We agreed to deal with it in the morning. You’ve heard this story before.
Morning came, and he scrambled out of bed for baseball practice, forgetting all about the whole charade. It was the second semester of my freshman year, and I was awaiting a visit from my family. They lived six hours away from my campus, and I hadn't seen much of them since I left for school. But rather than eagerly awaiting them, I just lay there, thoroughly panicked about my uterus. Before I’d made up my mind about how to proceed, my phone rang: They were outside my dorm building.
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My mother was more of a guiding force than a confidante — I’d never thought of us as equals, nor had I been treated like one.

Of course, I thought about telling my mother immediately. But it’s a complicated situation. I have always been close to my mom, but never in a TV-sitcom-best-friends-tell-eachother-everything kind of way. She’s always felt like a figure of authority — a mother rather than a peer. She was more of a guiding force than a confidante — I’d never thought of us as equals, nor had I been treated like one. I still felt like a child in her eyes, and that was the dynamic we perpetuated: She was the grown-up and I was the baby. For that reason, I had recently been withholding more and more from her, for fear of shattering the “baby” mold she’d placed me in. Earlier that summer, I had told her when I’d lost my virginity, but we hadn’t addressed my sex life any further. I’d felt like maybe I’d crossed a line with her — that she didn’t want to know. I felt awkward, uncomfortable.
But finally, while sitting in my dorm room lounge with my family, I realized I had to tell her. My ovaries felt like a ticking time bomb — I knew I had to say something or else I’d explode. So while my dad and brother were occupied, I pulled her aside to tell her I needed emergency contraception.
ILLUSTRATED BY GRACE HEEJUNG KIM
“Mom, I think I need Plan B,” I blurted out, the moment I found myself alone with her, panic rising in my throat. When she didn’t respond fast enough, I started talking a mile a minute. I kept reiterating that the condom came off and neither my boyfriend nor I knew until it was too late, and I thought I needed it but was not sure, no I was sure I needed it but also I didn’t know, and I’m so sorry for being so stupid but it was not my fault. I didn’t want to stop talking for fear of what she might say when I did. But finally, when I paused for breath, I was surprised to find my mom’s composure exactly the same. She was just standing casually, smiling. I might as well have just told her the forecast was 70 and sunny.
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“I’ll run to the store while you spend time with Dad and your brother,” she told me, still entirely nonplussed. I was confused by the lack of reaction. In spite of her calm, I was still embarrassed — so I began to talk again: This is my responsibility, I should be the one to take care of it and so I should go, it is all my fault, but I couldn’t help that the condom came off, but anyways, it really is my responsibility. Again, my mom ignored my outburst: “No, I’ll go. It’s really not a big deal.” I followed her back down to the dorm lounge, still baffled, listening as she told my dad and brother that she would be right back.
ILLUSTRATED BY GRACE HEEJUNG KIM
My mother returned as casually as she had left. Immediately, she pulled me aside and handed me a drug store plastic bag, laughing uncontrollably. She told me that while she had been at the checkout counter, Plan B in hand, a group of my friends that she had met during a visit my first semester had come up to say hello to her. Not one of them had pointed out that she was holding an emergency contraceptive, by herself, at the counter of my university pharmacy. They ignored her purchase of choice, and welcomed her kindly back to campus. To this day, I still laugh when I think about my friends, quietly acknowledging that my mother might need Plan B for her family visit to my college.
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That night, after a truly great day spent with my family, it was finally time to take the pill. My boyfriend and I sat side by side at the edge of my bed and read the instructions together, comforted by one another's presence. We learned that it's best to take the pill as soon as possible after unprotected sex, but fortunately, we were still within the 72 hour window in which it's most effective. I could sense both of our relief as I swallowed.

It didn’t make me her baby any less; it just meant our relationship was evolving. I could trust her in a new way.

My mother had normalized what I thought was going to be a mortifying experience for me. She hadn’t even flinched when I’d made reference to my sex life. At 19 years old, I was still under the impression that I was too young to talk about sex with my mom — that I was shattering the illusion of innocence I had held onto thus far. That I was still not an adult in my mother’s eyes. Having moved out of my parents' house just a few months prior, I knew that I considered myself to be on the path to adulthood — but as a college freshman, I wasn’t sure my mother felt the same.
That exchange changed the nature of our relationship. We’d laughed about Plan B together, we’d talked about sex, we’d kept our own secret from my father and my brother. We weren’t like TV sitcom characters, but we were peers and confidantes. It didn’t make me her baby any less; it just meant our relationship was evolving. I could trust her in a new way. Sex is a normal part of becoming an adult — and I didn’t have to be embarrassed anymore. My mom helped me to understand that.
To this day, we keep an open line of communication about sex. I tell her about my new partners, what I enjoy, what makes me comfortable, and what I expect from my sexual partners. Looking back on my experience with Plan B, I think it marked a turning point in my sexual maturity and a turning point in my relationship with my mom. I still confide in her about my sex life — but now, it doesn’t even feel like “confiding.” It just feels like talking.

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