Birth Control Blues

by | September 22, 2011
filed under Feminism, Politics, Sex-Ed

Every night at exactly 8:55, my phone sounds an alarm and a crying baby ringtone reminds me to take my birth control. I don’t know when (or if) I plan on having children; all I know is that I don’t want any right now. So I trust my hopes and future plans (my life as I know it) to a little pill. Imagine my anxiety when I heard a major birth control supplier was issuing a recall due to a packaging error.

Gradually my racing pulse returned to normal as I learned that my brand was not affected, and that the packaging error was easy to detect. But this brush with unexpected pregnancy got me thinking about the pill and my reliance on it. It reminded me of a poem by Joyce Stevens about why she is part of the women’s liberation movement, one of her reasons being that “we still can’t get an adequate safe contraceptive but men can walk on the moon.”

That poem was published in 1975, and not much seems to have changed. The pill was revolutionary when it was first developed in the 1960’s, and it continues to be essential still, but this can’t be the best we can do.

Of course there are alternatives, but they really aren’t a far cry from the pill. It seems if we are to avoid pregnancy, we must pick our poison. I know someone who conceived a child while using Nuva Ring. I know someone who felt sick all the time while using Yaz. I know people who experienced agonizing uterine contractions and ongoing pain after the insertion of an IUD. I know someone, a non-smoker, who suffered a blood clot.

This, of course, is only anecdotal, but these stories are part of the world in which I live and make my decisions. What are we supposed to do? Even women who want or already have children need a safe way to manage when and how many they have.

I heard about a safe and reasonably effective method called the “Billings” method (named after the scientists who discovered it, not the city in Montana) from Vancouver-based sexuality coach Kim Anami. The method involves examining your cervix for subtle changes in fertility over the course of a month. It is awesomely free of carcinogens and artificial hormones, but it is terrifyingly reliant on me to determine when I am ovulating.  That is not a safe enough bet.

Forcing women to choose between having children until they hit menopause VS constantly obsessing and worrying about whether their ovaries are going to sabotage their future plans VS ingesting carcinogens in the form of menopause pills does not sound like a 21st century solution to family planning. Is it so much to ask that I be able to have sex any time I want without having to worry about myself getting pregnant?

Unfortunately this luxury is only afforded to men, and that is probably the reason we’re still using disco-era birth control. Yes, there are men who are devoted partners and caring fathers, but pregnancy’s ramifications fall mostly on women. With that in mind, birth control advances beyond those for convenience are apparently not an important focus for research.

It seems in this and many other areas, we are stuck in the past and now with hormone replacement therapies we can solve it. I’d better get myself a record player and some bell bottoms to complement this vintage lifestyle. Then the next time there’s a recall, we can all listen to some ABBA together while we wait to see if we’re pregnant.