Anyone who paid attention in sex ed or reads fine-print would know that contraception isn’t fail-safe. With typical use, condoms will result in a pregnancy 18 per cent of the time; the Pill, around nine per cent; an IUD, fewer than one per cent.
Emma Brown, a former nurse from Enfield in the UK, was in that minority more than once. In fact, she claims that she’s been failed by four different types of popular contraception since the age of 18. Four.
Speaking to The Mirror, the 31-year-old single mother said her first child – conceived at the age of 18 – occurred despite having had the contraceptive injection; the second, while she was on the Pill; the third while she was on the Pill and also using condoms; and the fifth, after she was fitted with a copper coil.
She claims she was using all methods correctly.
“My GP was as shocked as I was,” Brown told the publication. “She’d never seen this although she knew it happens rarely. She finally agreed for me to be sterilised. It’s not ideal as I’m still young, but I didn’t have much choice.”
High-profile Sydney GP Dr Ginni Mansberg told Mamamia that while the story is undeniably shocking, women should not be alarmed.
"Of course, there is no 100 per cent guaranteed contraceptive. It just doesn't exist. So there will always be a proportion of women who get pregnant regardless of what they do. But to get pregnant four times [while effectively using contraception], we're talking like a one in a 'gazillion' chance. It's exceptionally rare," Dr Mansberg said.
"We'll probably never read about [a case like] this again. Ever."
It's also important to note, Dr Mansberg said, that experiencing one contraceptive failure doesn't make a person more likely to experience another.
"There are some people who say, 'It's just my luck. I get pregnant on everything.' But that's just not true. The fact that [Emma Brown] had a single contraceptive failure is not why she had a subsequent contraceptive failure - she just had a series of unfortunate events," she said.
This is because an individual's chance of falling pregnant isn't a constant; it resets month to month.
"Each month offers a new chance of getting pregnant, and it's the same with contraceptive failure. There are no people who are uber fertile and therefore their bodies are going to defy every fertility management system," Dr Mansberg said.
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Ultimately, contraception is a roll of the dice on "pretty damn good odds", Dr Mansberg noted. But women and their partners need to be prepared for the possibility that it won't land how they want it to.
"Women who are desperate to not have a child and are not willing to consider pregnancy termination, have to take their contraceptive options seriously," she said.
"For them, the only thing I can promise [that will be effective] is abstinence."
Despite being sterilised, Emma Brown is taking that route: "I’m too scared to have sex," she told The Mirror. "It's not worth the stress."
But Dr Mansberg urges couples not to take that decision lightly, or without seeking medical and psychological help. Chiefly because the implications for intimacy can be like "lobbing a hand grenade into a relationship".
"I don't want women reading this woman's story and thinking, 'My goodness, I can't trust contraception. What's the point? Abstinence is all there is.' Because contraceptive failures are rare. And [should one occur] the two outcomes that are offered to women - having the child or termination of pregnancy - could be considered by women as real options," she said.
"On the whole, each major form of contraception is extremely good. And we can nearly always find something that will work for you."
For information about contraception options, please visit your GP or consult your state's family planning service (see here for details).