Birth Control

The only way this post will not be personally controversial is if nobody is actually reading this blog. (A distinct possibility.) For most of my life, I have refrained from forming a serious opinion on birth control. I am not yet married, and it seemed best to leave this topic to the women who will actual choose whether or not to use birth control. (The political subject of whether or not organizations should be compelled to pay for birth control is another matter entirely.) On the other hand, I have long held the opinion that anything that interrupts the body’s natural processes is best left alone. This maxim informs my thinking on everything from anti-perspirant to pain medication to drugs and alcohol. This is not to say that I never take Ibuprofen, or that I never indulge in a glass of wine here and there; rather I tend to require a very good reason to ingest or apply a chemical that is designed to alter my body’s natural function.

I have long suspected that birth control based on drugs or hormones is unhealthy in some way. It is entirely designed to alter the natural function of a woman’s body, and it is hard to believe that this alteration produces no harmful side effects. Additionally, hearing from female friends and family, it seems to be something that is over-prescribed. To hear some speak of it, birth control is a panacea that will cure everything from acne to uncomfortable menstruation. Yet most panaceas are too good to be true. Like I said, however, I always felt a social pressure to believe that being male disqualified me from having an opinion on the matter. So it is with some interest that I read a woman’s perspective on the issue:

Doctors will reassure you up and down that hormone birth control (HBC) is Completely Safe.  Maybe it won’t directly kill you outright, but that doesn’t make it safe, and here’s the weird thing: if a woman uses HBC and experiences side-effects, doctors are so committed to their role as Dispensers of Birth Control, they will deny that those effects have anything to do with the HBC.  This actually happened to me: I used the pill for the first few years that HHG and I were married and then switched to a Norplant, which is a device comprised of silicone tubes full of progesterone that are inserted under the skin of your upper arm.  I still have a scar from mine.  The side effects were almost immediate: nausea, greatly reduced sex drive, frequent break-through bleeding between periods, and weird changes in body hair.  It was horrible, but when I spoke to my Nurse Practitioner about it, she promised me that those effects were “unrelated” to the Norplant.  Because I was 25 and stupid, I simply accepted what she said, although I didn’t really believe her.  Incredibly, I kept my Norplant in for three more years, before having it taken out and switching to the Pull and Pray method of birth control and finally just saying, “The heck with it, pregnancy has got to better than this.”  As soon as we quit using BC, I immediately became pregnant.

During my child-bearing thirties, doctors relentlessly tried to get me back onto birth control.  Why should this be so?  I am a married woman.  My husband has a job with health insurance and sufficient income to raise a family.  We own a home and are reasonably functional people.  Why shouldn’t we have as many children as we want (or more importantly, as the Lord will give us)?  Yet, the pressure to contracept has been relentless.  It’s part of the very first post-partum check up after you have a baby – “What form of birth control would you like to use now?”  If you say “None, thank you”, the doctor will freeze with surprise and really look at you for the first time during the appointment.  They usually feel the need to give you a basic biology lesson at that point, and it’s hard to resist the urge to respond with a sarcastic, “Yes, I know how babies are made.”

Read the whole thing. In addition to the side effects, which are seemingly swept under the rug in many cases, what I found interesting was the idea that using some sort of birth control is the social norm these days. In just a few short generations, birth control has gone from being taboo to being the default position for all women. Those who make a conscious choice to avoid it, as SunshineMary did, are looked at as dangerous freaks. The church, once the bulwark of traditional values against the decay of modern culture, has embraced it wholeheartedly. (The Catholics still officially forbid its use, but surveys show that most practicing Catholics ignore that prohibition.) How did this happen? How did a pill (or implant) explicitly designed to alter the way the body works become the default setting for all women? In addition to health and pheromone issues, what other side effects might hormonal birth control have yet to be discovered? What sorts of social and physiological changes does this portend for future generations?

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2 Responses

  1. I can only speak from personal experience, but my side effects from the birth control pill were completely unbelievable! It really effected my mood just before my period. So yeah, I really get what you’re saying when you talk about altering the natural functioning of my body. It totally did.

    I have PMDD. It made me not suicidal before my period, a welcome change to say the least. Obviously the pill is not for everyone. I know people who couldn’t handle it. Sounds like Sunshine Mary had some crappy doctors.

  2. Some of the commenters on the thread I linked make the case that the pill is over-prescribed to the point that certain maladies are not given the study they deserve, since their symptoms are usually taken care of with a birth control prescription.

    As I said, I am neither doctor nor female, so I can only observe and try to understand.

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