Controlling birth and mother nature

by DaniGirl on May 25, 2006 · 8 comments

in Uncategorized

Yesterday we talked about family size, so today let’s talk about birth control. (Look, it’s a segue – you’d almost think it was a theme.)

I’ve mentioned before that I’m more obsessive about birth control now than I was when I was a teenager, which is particularly ironic because we paid several thousand dollars for our first child and are about six weeks away from trying to conceive our third. Oh irony, you cruel mistress.

But I absolutely refuse to take birth control pills. I wouldn’t even take them during our IVF cycle (how’s that for irony, the first thing they do when you start your treatment cycle is to put you on the pill) and argued rather vehemently with my clinic about my opposition to them.

I won’t take the pill because the hormones in even the lowest dose pill wreaked such havoc with my system that I was bedridden with a three-day, barf-inducing migraine every single month on the second day after I took the last pill in a given cycle. It only took me about a dozen years to make the connection, but once I did, I swore I’d never take a birth control pill again. So far, so good.

That’s why reading articles like this one about manipulating your system so you never have a period again perplex me. For a while, there’s been a low-dose pill called Seasonale that lets you have only four periods a year, and they’re working on a new pill called Lybrel that will inhibit periods entirely. And of course, women have been manipulating their own cycles for years by simply starting a new package of pills the day after the old package runs out, instead of taking the prescribed ‘week off’.

The idea of chemically altering something so fundamental as the menstrual cycle seems like a dangerous game to me, although I guess I can see the merit when someone suffers serious cramps or other debilitating symptoms. But knowing how seriously the birth control pills affected me, it seems tatamount to poisoning yourself with these hormones to avoid having your period. No thanks. I was never so sick as the days after my failed IUIs, when my estrogen levels (propped up artificially by the stimulating hormone injections I’d been taking) crashed when conception failed to occur. It was estrogen withdrawl, from what I understand, and it was brutal.

Continuing on the subject of birth control, the Journal of Medical Ethics published a position paper on reproductive ethics this month. The author, Luc Bovens, says the ‘rhythm method’ of contraception, whereby the couple abstains from sex during the time when the woman is most likely to ovulate, “may well be responsible for a much higher number of embryonic deaths than in some other contraceptive techniques” like the IUD, the pill and the morning-after pill. He says the rhythm method, the only form of contraception sanctioned by the Catholic Church, may result in “millions” of unviable embryos being conceived at the beginning of the abstinence period by ‘old’ sperm or at the end of the abstinence period by ‘old’ ova, and these imperfect embryos die without ever implanting in the uterine wall. He says, “millions of rythm method cycles per year globally depend for their success on massive embryonic death.”

I can’t help but roll my eyes. This reminds me of a letter to the editor that was published in the Citizen back in 2002 that compared IVF to abortion because of all the embryos that were “slaughtered” in the process, calling IVF “an infraction against nature”. I don’t think I’ve ever been so riled up by something in the paper, and of course I quickly fired off my own letter. (Wow, that seems like a lifetime ago!)

As usual, I’ll leave the big thinking on these ideas up to you. You’re so much more insightful and opinionated than me anyway, I might as well just give the show over to you. What do you think? Would you chemically alter your system if it meant never again facing the crimson tide? Is the Church hypocritical in sanctioning a form of contraception that may in fact be causing massive embryonic death? Am I going to get some truly scary Google traffic from this post?

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Beanie Baby May 25, 2006 at 2:50 pm

I think a lot of people have been arguing for years that God, if s/he exists, is pretty wasteful with fertilized eggs, given that at least 25% of them will never implant and so will be flushed out with menstruation. One would think that if every one contained a soul, God might have been a bit more careful to design a less wasteful system. On the other hand, if God is so cavalier as to wantonly dispense with so many souls, why should humans quibble about another 2 or 3 per cent?
I decided not to go back on the pill after Frances was born. It works for a lot of women, but while I never had serious physical side effects like you describe, I did completely lose my sex drive. It’s a well-documented side effect of the pill for a lot of women, too, and some recent evidence suggests that some women never get it back even when they’ve been off the pill for years. Great. FAbulous that doctors rarely pass that tidbit along when advising women on their birth control options. But I guess sex drives are secondary for women anyway, since good girls don’t want to; and besides, if the pill kills it for you, you can always get another prescription to get it back, like viagra! Right?
It works for other women, but I never want to take another one as long as I live.

2 Sharon May 25, 2006 at 3:58 pm

The Pill…I’m not sure what to think. I took it for 8 years after I got married. My sex drive lowered and my perod was cut from 7 to 8 days down to 4 which is where it stayed after I went off the concieve Miranda. BUT Stopping it for a full year? Yeah you never have to worry about it but still…Why do we have it? I think doctors like play God and who knows what effect this will have with our systems? What effects that will have n the long run. I often wonder if being on the pill lead to my fetility issues.
As for your other questions Dani I would have to think about them. All this church stuff just blows me out of the water at times.

3 moe May 25, 2006 at 4:02 pm

My husband is Catholic and against the pill and other forms of contraception. I have 5 kids. My two youngest are 2 & 1. I am not opposed to having another but NOT right now. I find the Catholic church’s views put a lot of preassure on marriages. My husband and I are managing but, it’s not easy.

4 Bridget May 25, 2006 at 4:31 pm

I read an article bout stopping your period for years at a time via the pill and I remember one of the points was that from an evolutionary standpoint women would have had far fewer periods in the past, due to being nearly always pregnant or breastfeeding. I’m not advocating that as a lifestyle, but if the pill’s hormones are essentially mimicing the body breastfeeding, maybe it is not so much screwing with the “natural” balance?
Conversely, I never really think a pill or herb or anything is really 100% accurate in mimicing the body’s own hormones, which may be why some have a bad reaction to the pill.
Is the Church hypocritical? Um… yeah.

5 Jennifer May 25, 2006 at 11:32 pm

I read that, too. That “historically” women haven’t had very many periods, both because of being pregnant/nursing and also, you know, dying at age 30.
My body likes being on the pill. The regular one. My cramps are controlled, my mood swings are controlled, and I only bleed for four days. However since giving birth for the 2nd time I’ve become super sensitive to the hormones, so that if I miss even 1 day then I get break-through bleeding that lasts forever.
Well you probably didn’t want to know all that. But hey, I like the pill. It works for me.
I was surprised to see how my sex drive plummetted after I gave birth. When I finally mentioned it to the doctor (when my son was about 4 months) she seemed surprised at my ignorance. I didn’t know that the pill was supposed to kill a woman’s sex drive, either, til just now. That hasn’t happened to me.

6 Mainland Mum May 25, 2006 at 11:40 pm

Another thought-provoking post! I read the article (a similar ran in today’s Vancouver Sun) and I just can’t grasp the concept completely; I understand ‘old’ sperm, since they can live for days, but ‘old’ eggs? Doesn’t the human egg live for only 24 hours? Are we talking relative age, here? I’m not Catholic, I feel I should say. As for hipocrisy, well, if these findings are recent, and the Church’s rules about the rythm method predate this new information, then I vote no.
I really liked being on the pill, and not for just for contraceptive purposes–I am keenly sensitive to hormone fluctuations, including around ovulation, (migraines, acne, wild mood swings) and suffer wicked PMS. For me, the pill gave me a *break* from my hormonal self. I can see, for some women, how eliminating their period for months at a time would be wonderful–I’m thinking of endometriosis, PMDD, cyclic migraines. Of course, the Pill is not without its health drawbacks. Politically, it feels weird–it’s as though we’re saying that menstruation is obsolete, a return to the days when it was believed a menstruating woman could attract bears or turn wine bad, but at the same time, to me it feels like a step forward; why should women deal with a period every month if they don’t wish to? I’ve also read what Bridget mentioned, that modern women now have thousands of periods in a lifetime–not without its health risks, either.

7 Emmie May 26, 2006 at 4:04 pm

I have another perpective on this. From an evolutionary perspective, what is actually rather unusual is having your period every month for 2-3 decades. Different cultures do this all kinds of ways, but in some cultures, a woman is pretty much pregnant or breastfeeding from the late teens on to menopause, and has maybe a handful of true periods in a lifetime. Most cultures are somewhere between Western first-world approaches to fertility and the other extreme of having hardly any periods. So one could argue that it is no more “natural” to have a period every month than to hardly ever have one, and that this “mnthly rythm” that sometimes gets romanticized (by people without endometriosis, I would think)doesn’t even exist in a lot of cultures, particularly traditional ones. My own OB argued that simply having a period every single month is in itself perhaps a cause of a lot of pain and hormonal problems, and that for some women, Seasonale is probably preferable (vertainly to being pregnant and/or breastfeeding for decades!). I would love to use it, since I would have significantly less pain with no periods, but alas, I reacted horribly the last time I tried it.

8 H.A.Page May 28, 2006 at 2:50 pm

I caught that, too (more on and wrote about it with other ideas about Chick Cycles but I had one person reply that manipulating cycles is helpful for those with edometriosis and a lot of pain, something I hadn’t thought about.
I had my 4 year-old get into my diaphram and that led to thoughts about honesty and bullshit…here on MotherPie.

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