Wednesday, January 31, 2007

I'm (not) on Alesse!

Note: I'm going to be talking about birth control in this post. Some of you might feel more comfortable reading this or this instead...

Girl, you'll be a woman soon...

Anyway: I’ve been thinking about the birth control pill since yesterday, when I read Eidolon’s post about having cystic acne on her pill. I have very mixed feelings about the pill, and sometimes I feel trapped between the ‘your body, your choice’ ideal of feminism and my own (bad) experiences with hormonal methods of birth control.

My own experiences with the pill go something like this:

  1. Go on the pill in high school to help with acne
  2. Love the pill, despite gaining 15 pounds and 2 cup sizes
  3. Encourage all of my female friends to go on the same brand of pill
  4. Randomly bleed for a whole month after 2.5 years on the same pill; decide to stop taking it, against my doctor’s orders to keep using it with a ‘this too shall pass’ attitude. Right.
  5. Do not lose extra weight or cup sizes for 5 years!!!
  6. Find out that said brand of pill has been recalled due to higher than average risk of blood clots (4x the risk); tell my friends to switch brands
  7. Start learning about alternative methods of contraception (in my case, fertility awareness and/or condoms)
  8. Get a phone call one night that my youngest sister is in the hospital emergency with a serious blood clot in her leg… from the pill
  9. Begin plotting the destruction of the Ortho-Jansen headquarters

Despite my own experiences, many if not most of the women I know use the pill with no problems and they love the freedom it affords them. They generally don’t (need to) worry about condoms, and some of them even use the pill to delay a period if it happens to fall during an inconvenient time (though that kind of skeezes me out…)

Maybe I’m not only suspicious of the pill but also envious of the women who can use it without issues… ‘Easy, breezy, beautiful’ kind of thing. For me, I love the intimate knowledge of my body that comes along with fertility awareness and charting my cycles, but sometimes a teeny tiny part of me just wishes I could just turn my fertility on or off when it was convenient for me. No more of this ‘watch and wait’ natural approach… Then again, I never felt disgruntled about my natural method until I got pregnant a few months ago.

For over three years, I tried to challenge people’s assumptions about fertility awareness methods of birth control and proved by example how effective it could be at preventing pregnancy. Then I got lazy and decided to ‘wing it’ for a month in the Czech Republic… Be thee not so relaxed on your holidays!

Getting pregnant was a giant wake up call for me. Not only was I suddenly confronted head on by a rash of doctors chastising me for not using a more ‘reliable’ method of birth control, but I also felt a profound sense of sadness, like I had abandoned my body and was therefore no longer allowed to share in her secrets. I always imagined that I would be one of the women who knew she was pregnant right when it happened, but I didn’t find out until I was staring in disbelief at a positive pregnancy test four weeks later. Even then, I thought for sure there must have been some mistake.

Having lost touch with the daily signs of my body back when I decided I didn’t really ‘need’ to chart my fertility every day, my nine weeks of being pregnant were dazed and confused. I was indecisive, foggy, and I felt like an outsider in my own body. In between visits to the hospital for spotting, I looked longingly at old fertility charts of mine, and I wished I hadn’t lost my sense of awe and wonder at the workings of my body. I made a promise to myself that if I were given another opportunity, I wouldn’t take my fertility for granted, and I wouldn’t neglect my charting again unless I was planning to become pregnant.

Then I miscarried.

I am back on the charting bandwagon now, but even so, I still think about the birth control pill a lot. Do I have a responsibility to tell other women about the risks of hormonal methods of birth control, knowing like I do that real people end up with lifelong health conditions because of them? (My sister still injects herself daily with blood thinners to prevent another clot from forming, and it’s been over two years now). Can I still speak highly of fertility awareness methods, knowing firsthand like I do that any slip in diligence can mean an instant pregnancy? Ultimately, I still believe that every woman has a right to use whatever method works best for her, but that doesn’t negate the hunch I have that none of the available methods are ideal.


kittin said...

Oh Dana.... this is a great post and you really captured alot of my feelings about the pill. I was really happy when I decided to forego it myself and we did some permanent bc for the man. Hey.. it was a day off work for him or a 6 week recovery for me. :/ I track my cycle online (and have been for 6 years now) at :

Its a great FREE service if you haven't seen it.

I hate the pill, but am glad its around. :)

Terra said...

What a beautifully honest post. I'm so sorry about your miscarriage, but I guess it wasn't meant to be.
I have been on the pill for way too long, but am too scared to go off it (despite the 10 lbs of weight gain). I hate putting hormones in my body, but I am not ready to bring a little one into the world and have had no problems short of the chub.
Your post really makes me examine my options though, the pill is just put out as such a safe and easy contraception method that it is hard to pass it up.

Robin said...

Great post, Dana. It is a subject near and dear to most women in their bleeding years... I too struggle with the "should I or shouldn't I" dilemma of being on the pill. It does seem to be the most reliable source of b/c, but I know it has not been the best for my body over the many years I've been on it.

Thanks to kittin for the cycle tracker. Could be useful once I talk that man of mine into getting snipped.

ink said...

i wish i had a nonintrusive cycle, but as it is - not being on the pill means being out of commission for a week every month, exhausted, bloated, cramps, sleeping 10-12 hours per day. this worked okay when I was working a regular job, as it meant i'd show up and put my brain on auto-pilot in front of some excel sheet. it would also work okay if i was a primate or cavewoman, as i'd probably spend all day gathering fruits/berries and lying in the cave taking care of the kiddies. but now that i'm back in school - it's important for me to be mentally present every day. my cycle didn't evolve with human society and its demands :(

the pill is most definitely a mixed blessing (and alesse was one that i tried and failed miserably with). i have the same misgivings about tampering with something that's so natural.

i miss my irregular cycle. it was never consistent but i always knew when it was coming based on changes in my body. it's nice to know oneself so well. but between a hectic lifestyle and the perpetual fear of getting pregnant when i'm not prepared to raise a child, it's something that i feel is necesary. besides - it gives me a sense of security especially when travelling or living in the city. in the awful horrific worst case scenario of rape, i have the assurance of knowing i won't have to bear a child.

i can deal with some weight gain and cystic acne in exchange.

dana said...

And so it goes with birth control... Women certainly shouldn't have to apologize for being on the pill or feel the need to justify their choice of method-- whatever it is. I just wish that we didn't have to 'settle' for a method, either.

If I could have the shorter/lighter/'regular' periods of the pill and pretty superb pregnancy protection to boot, without actually having to take a pill, I'd do it in a heartbeat. Ay, there's the rub. As it stands, I've got LONG, HEAVY periods surrounded by a week or so of spotting, but my cycle tracking (when I do it!) keeps me relatively un-pregnant. For the record, too, since I now have a 'family history' of blood clots, the pill isn't something available to me anymore, even if I decided to use it again.

We've been looking into the possibility of vasectomy in the future (like you, kittin, we can do the math re: recovery and seriousness of the surgery!), but have any of you heard anything about vasectomy and auto-immune disorders? Marty got bit by a tick back in the Eastern Bloc a few years ago and got Lyme's Disease as a result. We've heard that A-I disorders might be aggravated by vasectomy... any thoughts? Recommendations?

kittin said...

You know Dana, Chris has the Crohns and I have no idea if its even the same kinda thing (as he is considered immuno-compromised) as what Marty had. I have heard nothing about there being any complications since it is just a physical stoppage, no hormonal adjustments. I dunno.. all I know is I feel so much better, and after being in the tighty whities for a couple days, so did he.