Home » Feminism » how I learned to stop worrying and love the Pill, part one

how I learned to stop worrying and love the Pill, part one

pill

When I was fourteen, I was diagnosed with Poly Cystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). To cut a very long, and a very awkward, story short, hormonal birth control (also known as “the Pill”) is the only known treatment for it. It’s not a cure, but it works to mitigate the suffering for a lot of women who suffer with PCOS. But it’s the only treatment [edit: occasionally, blood sugar problems can be a part of PCOS, but not always, in my case it is not], because of how it works and what it does, but I’ll get to that in a bit tomorrow.

I had to start taking it at fourteen– the doctor said that if I wanted any chance of ever having children, I would need to take the Pill. And even then, she warned me, I’d probably still need to have a full-blown hysterectomy before I was thirty. If I didn’t take the Pill, everything would get continually worse and I’d need to have multiple surgeries just to keep it under control.

So, I went on the Pill, and I took it faithfully for the next three years. It got my hemorrhagic cysts under control, even though it continued to cause persistent nausea and daily headaches that could blow up into migraines at a moment’s notice.

I also didn’t tell anyone, not even my best friend, that I was taking it.

When I started college, I was faced with a pretty significant dilemma: how was I going to hide taking the Pill everyday from roommates and suite mates? My solution was to put the pills into a regular prescription bottle, but that only worked for about a month, until I got my prescription in the mail. Then I had to figure out ways to get the Pills into the bottle and then hide the packaging– it had my name all over it, so I couldn’t just throw it away anywhere. I got pretty creative, coming up with means to hide what it was.

The fact that I was worried about people finding out about me taking the Pill every day should tell you something. What in the world was I expecting them to think?

Well, for one thing, I was absolutely positive that if someone who didn’t know me very well found out about it, they’d just assume that I was a slut. And secondly, if the administration found out about it (which was not outside possibility, they cared an awful lot about intimate details concerning their students), if something happened, my character would automatically be in question. They’d be suspicious about me.

Because I had PCOS, and was taking the Pill to treat it.

But, I knew that having a “legitimate” medical reason for taking the Pill wasn’t going to change the way anyone had already decided to perceive me. If they found out I was taking it, I knew they would label me a slut, and there would be nothing I could do about it. I was on the Pill– it would be all the proof they needed.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A whole bunch of years later, when I’d figured out that I didn’t give a damn about idiots who would judge me for taking the Pill, I was talking to a woman about some of the pain she’d been suffering. During the course of our conversation, I realized that she probably had PCOS, and when I asked her about it, she agreed– that’s what the doctor had diagnosed her with. For her, it had caused her to lose her job, and she’d been hospitalized several times because of cysts rupturing. The pain had caused her to miss church, to constrain her to her bed for days on end.

I asked her what the doctor had suggested for treatment, and her response was that he’d given her pain killers, but she was trying not to depend on them too much.

“You aren’t on any medication?”

“There’s not any real medication for this, though.”

“There’s the Pill,” I blurted out. “It can help.”

She stared at me, her eyes widening in horror. She leaned in close, and dropped her voice to a whisper, even though we were in my house and the only people around were friends. “You mean, the birth control pill?”

I nodded. “Yes. I’ve been on it for years.”

Again, silence, and her wild eyes boring into me. I watched her think about what I’d said, and I watched terror form. She was completely horrified by my suggestion. “Oh my goodness, no, I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. That would just be so . . . wrong.”

It was my turn to be horrified.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I should make it clear that this wasn’t in my fundamentalist church-cult. This was from a woman who had grown up in “regular” Christianity. There was nothing extreme about the religion she’d been surrounded by. It was all pretty typical, run-of-the-mill Baptist stuff. And she was still so horrified at the very idea of taking the Pill that she refused to even consider it as an option, even though it is the only medical recourse for her condition.

This is One of the Many Reasons why I have a Serious Problem with the Pro-Life Movement.

Because, and not to put too fine a point on it, they lie to people, especially women. They have spread so many lies for so many years that when a woman could take the Pill to treat a medical condition, she won’t, because the only thing she knows about the Pill is poppycock and hogwash.

So, I present a Crash Course in What the Pill is, For Realsies.

First, the Pill is a really limited concept of birth control. There are so many different kinds of birth control, including Natural Family Planning (NFP), barrier methods (condoms, sponges, vaginal condoms, diaphragms), vasectomy,  tubal litigation. For hormonal birth control, there’s oral contraception (the Pill), hormonal and copper IUDs (intrauterine device), Depo-Provera (the “shot”), OrthoEvra (the “patch”), and now things like the NuvaRing.

Some of these are long-term, like the shot or an IUD, lasting from a few months to a few years. The patch and the NuvaRing last for the month, usually. You leave it on or in, and take it off/out for a week to have your period. The Pill you have to take every day, which is a bit of a nuisance.

All of these methods work a little differently, but the one that the pro-life movement has spread the most lies about is hormonal birth control, so I’m going to focus on that tomorrow.

13 thoughts on “how I learned to stop worrying and love the Pill, part one

  1. Except the Pill ISN’T the only treatment for PCOS. It seems to be related to insulin resistance/blood sugar levels. Many women have had success treating PCOS with Metformin (Glucophage).

    http://www.thebillingsovulationmethod.org/safeguarding-reproductive-health/understanding-what-is-normal.html

    The Pill is symptom management. This may be the best treatment or it may not be. If a woman with PCOS ever DOES want to become pregnant, she will have to come off the Pill and treat the underlying condition.

    The reason why I have a serious problem with the pro-life movement is not because they don’t recognize that some women need the Pill for medical reasons, but because they have so politicized the issue that women don’t know whether the Pill is the best treatment. The treatment of PCOS and other disorders should be a medical debate, not a moral or political one.

      • As I said, this should be a medical debate.

        That being said, I do think the social dynamic of “The Pill is a miracle drug” vs. “the Pill is evil” has made more difficult for women with hormonal disorders to find treatment. But that’s another story.

      • What’s really odd is that I got a medical book by an actual endocrinologist, who specialized in PCOS, and it made the claim that PCOS was always related to insulin resistance. Now, I agree that after I managed to (spontaneously) loose weight my symptoms got better, but when I had to have an oral glucose test done I had an extremely low score. Not to mention that my initial bloodwork for diagnosis didn’t show any blood sugar issues. It was very confusing.

        And if/when you need to go off the pill, ask your doctor about naproxen. It’s a NSAID, and it’s the only reason I survived being off the pill. (I have strong negative reactions, so I go off occasionally, plus all the time it took to get pregnant). You’ll need to chart of course, because it’s better to take it early rather than late, but if you’re off to try and get pregnant you’d presumably be charting anyhow.

  2. You know, it’s interesting. I grew up in a very fundamental Baptist church and Christian school. My brother went to the same college you did. I never knew that there was controversy regarding birth control or the pill until I was about 25 and some of our friends converted to Catholicism. Most families in our church had between 2 and 4 kids and I assume that most people used birth control. I went on the pill in college to help with my acne. I’m not arguing that its not an issue. It’s just weird that it was never an issue for me, considering the fundamental environment I grew up in. My ob/gyn is a catholic who recently became baptist. He won’t prescribe iuds, but he does prescribe the pill and nuva rings. I’d love to discuss this with him sometime.

    • Yes, this definitely more present in Quiverfull environments, and it’s only gotten more mainstream in the last five years or so that I’ve noticed. When I was in college, I had conversations with a bunch of different girls about this, and they all believed the same thing. One year, my roommate found out I was on the Pill and gave me a bunch of pamphlets about how sinful they were.

      I was honestly surprised when I got out of the heavily Quiverfull background and still ran into people who thought the Pill was evil incarnate.

      • The “Pill is evil” is what happens when poorly educated Catholics meet poorly educated Protestants in the Pro-Life Movement. (Which describes a lot of my problems with the pro-life movement.)

        The Catholic position is clear: The Pill is OK to treat cycle disorders, but not if it is being used primarily to prevent pregnancy. (Because normal fertility is not a disease and it’s not healthy to medicate it away.) The Pope issued a clear statement on this in 1958, before the Pill was even FDA approved.

        The Pro-life Movement, Protestant and Catholic, has largely taken Catholic arguments against using the Pill as contraception and applied them to ALL uses of the Pill in a legalistic, almost fundamentalist way.

      • Additionally, there is a lot of frustration among women who were prescribed the Pill for medical reasons, didn’t think anything about it, then had problems with side effects and/or found better treatments were available that their doctors had not told them about.

        This woman was convinced that her use of the Pill was evil—and found a better treatment for her condition as a result.

        http://pretty-bones.blogspot.com/2013/01/what-about-miserable-cycles.html

        There really are two issues here (one moral, one medical), but as stories like these show, they get confused.

  3. As was noted above, hormonal birth control is also used to treat acne (in females – we guys are out of luck). Not noted was that a female who goes on Accutane, another acne medication, is required to be on birth control due to the risk of severe birth defects. This applies whether she is sexually active or not – it isn’t worth the risk of future sexual activity. You are right that there is a horror in conservative circles – even though *nearly everyone* will use some form of birth control during their marriages (at minimum.)

    I look forward to the rest of the series. You are so right that there are so many outright lies about the science involved. Actual facts take a back seat to the quiverfull agenda and the terror that our kids might have sex.

    Just recently, a die hard Vision Forum advocate had to be reprimanded on a local home school site (which isn’t even limited to Christians – although everyone else may have been frightened off by now) for posting articles claiming that birth control is evil.

    I don’t remember this being as big of a deal when I was a kid. The fear de jour was the New Age Movement instead (like yoga, remember that?), but this seems to have come in with the Christian Patriarchy Movement and quiverfull.

    • Pedantic note — I was on Accutane as a teenager; it does require birth control, but “abstinence” is considered an acceptable method of birth control (and was the one I used).

  4. AMEN SISTER! I have started having this conversation very recently because I did not want people to know I use hormonal birth control because Oh no Abby but what about the hostile enviroment in your uterus and all those teeny-tiny (hypothetical) babies you are (hyotheticaly) aborting! Umm…well…women’s uteruses don’t take to a fertilized egg for a variety of natural reasons and that isn’t hypothetical, that is a fact! My use of hormonal birth control makes this “abortion” less likely to happen then not using anything, so me having an IUD is actually more pro-life!

    I have also heard the argument that women use birth control as a means to not let God be in total control of their life. I was so wracked by guilt by this I prayed for weeks “Lord if you don’t want me to get an IUD just show me, make it clear. I want any baby you are going to give me.” Seriously fervently praying this until about five minutes before my doctor put it in when I heard God tell me that if He wanted me to have a baby I would have it. He can get around an IUD. For me birth control is a way of allowing my husband to get a PhD and me to teach school. Both of these things we believe ARE God’s will for our family. So, hormonal birth control we feel like is the best way to follow God. Ultimately, I think the arguments against hormonal birth control are because we don’t trust women to hear from or heed the Holy Spirit.

  5. The comments regarding to OCP’s or their sisters (looking at you waywardson23) is frustrating because it negates the decision process (individual and in partnership with their physician) and the challenges that many women face. I use a hormonal IUD (OCP made me incredibly anxious) – I’m on my 3 year with it and I cannot believe I waited it have it inserted. I have been pain and flow free and hormonal normal the entire time where as before I’ve tried all the pain medications that would allow me to somewhat cope with life – prescription and OTC cocktails, never mind the other problems – I would struggle to walk due to the pain, I used to joke to my ex-boyfriend it felt like I was birthing a watermelon for 2-3 days a month, which is a step above my roommate who is bed ridden for 1-2 days a month.
    I know my story is not unique and yet there is so much misunderstanding around what OCP’s and their sisters do and why women make the choice they do, even more so in the Church where we seem to add shame to the whole procedure. I am in the middle of my MDiv and last year during the discussion of the OCP coverage battle in the news, one of my peers (not knowing I use an IUD or the number of his single female peers who use OCP’s) went off about how it’s only sl*ts who use them. I was shocked. He is a medical doctor and if any of the men at the table was going to have a sound response on the issue I thought it would be him – apparently not.
    Looking forward to your response to this important topic.

  6. Pingback: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Pill, Part 1

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