"The fast and true road to a woman's shamanic power lies in her womb and in the flow of her menses. If that statement startles you, you need to read this book. If you agree with it, you need to read this book. Here you will find options to manage your fertility, guidance for listening to your belly, and the loving embrace of sisterhood." Susun Weed, author, Wise Woman Herbal series
The Pill: Are You Sure it's for You?by Jane Bennett, Alexandra Pope
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While a birth control pill is taken by most women at some stage in their lives, few realize that it is not without side effects. Clear links have been made between oral contraceptives and such symptoms as depression, nausea, headaches, and a loss of libido. Other women also experience difficulties conceiving and raising fully healthy children after coming off the drug. Accessible and informed, this insightful guide examines how the pill works, its advantages and dangers, and the best ways to remain healthy during and after use. Alternative contraceptives are also examined, making this the complete guide for women looking to make the difficult choice about contraceptives.
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Are You Sure It's For You?
By Jane Bennett, Alexandra Pope
Allen & UnwinCopyright © 2008 Jane Bennett and Alexandra Pope
All rights reserved.
ARE YOU CONFUSED? YOU'RE NOT ALONE!
Are you busy and just want a quick reliable contraception? Do you want birth control that's easy to understand and use? Do you get confused about what you need to do for effective contraception as well as how you can best protect yourself from sexually transmitted diseases?
If you're on the Pill did you go on it for skin or period problems? Or are you taking it for contraception? Are you in a relationship and pregnancy is just not an option? Would you like a relationship and are on the Pill just in case?
Or are you thinking about going on the Pill wondering if it's as effective as they say? Do you want to know what the side-effects may be?
Do you want to know more about how your body works and how contraception will affect you? Do you worry about interfering with your fertility or your menstrual cycle? And if you don't go on the Pill what else is there?
This book will help you to figure out what's right for you. Decisions about contraception are really important, so it's worth exploring your options.
You're fertile for many years and by choosing the right contraception method or methods that work for you, you are more likely to find the best fit for your lifestyle, values and goals. Naturally, this will be different from person to person. The more you know and understand about contraception and your own body the more you're able to tailor the methods you use to suit you. Then you can relax and enjoy your sex life.
A not so happy choice
Often we end up on the Pill because it seems the most obvious thing to do as a teenager. Kim was just starting to explore her sexuality at eighteen and in her second year of college and she wanted to do the 'responsible thing' so she went on the Pill. It was almost a rite of passage and so easy. She explained to the doctor what she wanted and five minutes later she had a prescription. She doesn't remember hearing anything about possible disadvantages or health issues — just 'use a condom as well' and instructions on 'what to do if she forgot to take the Pill'. If she'd known about the consequences she may still have taken the Pill for a little while, but not for almost twenty years.
At the time she went on the Pill it made Kim feel like an adult. It offered her regular 'periods', cleared her acne, freed her from pain during the first day or so of her period, and gave her birth control. Later, as a career woman, the Pill still seemed to offer Kim great convenience. Every time she visited the doctor to renew the script, she was told she shouldn't smoke and take the Pill but never about the side-effects she may suffer.
During her twenties and thirties, Kim found it difficult to lose weight, had monthly migraines, very little sex drive and felt chronically low. She just thought it was her. 'Why wasn't I happy? I had so much going for me and yet was so sad, so often. I didn't realise the Pill was making me depressed,' she admits. 'I thought my blue moods were just part of my psychological make-up.'
Kim decided to come off the Pill when she heard a talk about its side-effects. To her dismay she realised all her main health problems were known side-effects of the Pill. At 37, she had taken the Pill for almost twenty years, and finally felt the confidence to stop.
What a surprise. In the first week after she stopped taking the Pill Kim felt a lot of anger, partly because she had suffered side-effects from the Pill for so long without knowing the cause. This was also due to her liver detoxing after years of processing the synthetic hormones in the Pill. All drugs taken orally are first delivered to the liver before entering general circulation and years of a daily Pill is a considerable toxic load for this vital organ. With the support of her naturopath she was able to restore her health and hormonal balance. After two weeks she began to feel like a new woman — 'I was amazed. I woke in the morning feeling refreshed, awake and alive. I felt light and vibrant — a feeling of happiness and an absence from depression that I was very unfamiliar with. It would seem that my natural state is happiness, not moody depression from artificial hormones.'
Kim's menstrual cycle is still irregular and she suspects this will take some time to return to balance. But her migraines have gone and she's enjoying a wonderful resurgence in her sex drive. Kim now likes getting her period and being able to read her body's signs of fertility and know when she's fertile if she wants to get pregnant.
It was only after she stopped taking the Pill that Kim's mother confessed that she had also had bad migraines while on the Pill, but hadn't made the connection between her own experience and Kim's.
The next step Kim took was to quit smoking. At first she found experiencing her natural hormonal cycle and managing her emotions without smoking was challenging, 'However, I feel like I'm becoming closer to my real self,' she reflects. 'I am happier and feel healthier and relieved. I had no idea what it meant to be a natural woman. I think information about fertility awareness should be mandatory. If I'd learnt all this in high school it would certainly have saved me a lot of trouble.'
From powerless to empowered
Lisa's experience on the Pill echoes many women's stories. Like so many she struggled with various forms of birth control, never feeling right with them, until she finally learnt about fertility awareness, and that changed everything.
As a responsible sixteen-year-old, she went on the Pill before having sex with her boyfriend. After a few years of hating the Pill, especially the weight gain, she switched to an IUD. For over six years it worked well enough apart from the heavy menstrual bleeding and cramps.
One summer she had her IUD removed while her boyfriend was away, and didn't get a new one put in until after his return. In that brief window she got pregnant. Neither of them was ready for a child, as they were both in the middle of their degrees, so Lisa had an abortion. She was pressured to go back on the Pill — pitched as the most effective method of contraception — and was freaked out enough to agree, even though it didn't fit with her healthy lifestyle. After only a few months, she rebelled. 'I felt horrible on the Pill,' she recalls. 'I had perpetual PMS. I felt sluggish and heavy, cranky and unsexy.'
After graduating from university, she had a prolonged and rocky break-up with her boyfriend, and moved to the city to start her career. She made do with condoms during the few brief affairs she had during that time.
Lisa's life was transformed when she started seeing a fertility awareness counsellor. She had always recorded her periods on a calendar and was fascinated by being able to identify ovulation. 'I was a perfect candidate for fertility awareness,' she admits. 'I was fed up with artificial birth control. I was single and not sexually active in the early learning days. I was motivated to become healthy and more in tune with my body's natural rhythms.'
By the time she met her future husband Lisa was confident enough to use her charts to determine her fertile and infertile days and plan their dates accordingly. Lisa felt her life and options so dramatically changed by fertility awareness that she studied to become a fertility awareness teacher.
Ready to start a family
Catherine had used the Pill for contraception most of the time since she was seventeen years old. When she was 35 she and her husband Rob were ready to start a family. They had always planned to have children and wanted to be financially set up so they could manage on one income while the children were little. The time had finally come. So, Catherine went off the Pill. As the months went by she became more and more alarmed. Her cycles were all over the place. The longest was 75 days, the shortest was 34 days and they were totally unpredictable. And, Catherine wasn't getting pregnant.
Fourteen months later, hearing her fertility clock ticking loudly, Catherine and Rob sought professional help. They found that Catherine's hormone levels were completely out of balance — her oestrogen was very low, and her luteinising hormone was very high relative to her follicle-stimulating hormone. She also had very little cervical mucus, which is crucial for a successful passage of sperm to egg.
Catherine received naturopathic treatment for her hormone levels. Both she and Rob went onto a good pre-conception healthcare program so they'd be in optimum reproductive and general health for when the time came to conceive their baby. It took five months for Catherine's cycles to become regular and a few more months for them to conceive. The pregnancy went well and Catherine gave birth to a beautiful little boy. Now, two and a half years later, they're awaiting the arrival of a little brother or sister for Nicholas.
While she'll never know for sure, Catherine strongly suspects that all her years of taking the Pill were the reason her hormone levels were so out of whack. She never went on the Pill again and she and Rob successfully used a combination of barrier and fertility awareness methods for contraception between their babies.CHAPTER 2
THE PILL IS A DRUG
The Pill is a unique drug in that it's designed to interfere with one of your normal bodily functions — with fertility itself — and is the only prescription drug used long term that does so. Different to all other drugs the Pill is taken by healthy young women whose only problem is their fertility. While it's often used for menstrual problems the Pill wasn't initially designed to deal with these kinds of health issues.
The Pill is said to be the most commonly used drug of all, taken at some time by more than 300 million women worldwide. Currently about 100 million women take this drug every day and tens of millions are using injections, implants and other forms of chemical contraception.
It's interesting to note that when the Pill was first made available manufacturers told women and doctors it was safe. They were soon shown to be wrong, and now we hear that, yes, the original high-dose Pills were problematic and unsafe but that current formulations are totally fine. Does this reflect genuine concern for women's health or is it just marketing?
The arrival of the Pill
We know that couples have actively limited the size of their families for thousands of years. Our ancestors used abstinence, prolonged breastfeeding, withdrawal, douches, sponges soaked in various household substances, local herbs and plants, imagination and ingenuity. In fact, contraceptive practices predate even agriculture.
A major shift to manufactured methods of contraception began in 1843, when Charles Goodyear (yes! as in the tyres) and Thomas Hancock developed the process for vulcanising rubber. Condoms could be mass-produced and a few decades later the rubber diaphragm was developed and also became popular. In addition a whole array of devices, creams, pessaries, douches and literature about contraception became available and a significant decline in infant mortality made it all the more necessary to limit family size.
However, this all took place in an atmosphere dominated by persistent Victorian taboos around anything to do with sex. With severe legal, religious and medical limitations placed on contraception the success of birth control in the decades up to the middle of the twentieth century was a testimony to the will of those needing contraception. Many pharmacies didn't sell contraceptives until well into the 1950s and 1960s, and even then restricted sales to only those customers who were verifiably married. Until 1965 it was illegal in the state of Connecticut for even married couples to use contraceptives!
During the 1960s a sexual revolution took place and contraception became much more easily available. Both men and women began to feel able to explore their sexuality outside the confines of marriage, and effective, safe contraception came to be seen as a universal right. The Pill, when it became available in 1960 in the US and 1961 in Australia and the UK, did indeed cause a massive switch in the type of contraception people used. It brought a major shift of emphasis with women taking greater, or sole, responsibility for contraception. Nonetheless family size didn't change that much.
At the same time the attitude of doctors towards contraception changed dramatically. Where many had previously been ambivalent about contraception, being able to prescribe the Pill made all the difference and contraception has largely become the prerogative of the medical profession ever since.
There were enormous problems with the higher dose pills available up to 1975, with blood clots causing strokes, amputations, permanent disability and death at the top of the list. Nonetheless it took considerable pressure from concerned doctor and consumer groups to have these problems acknowledged and warnings placed inside Pill packets. Current medical research on women who have at any time used the Pill makes a clear distinction between those who took it before 1975 and those who didn't.
However, current third-generation oral contraceptives still have considerable side-effects and many are cumulative as the nutritional disturbances caused by the Pill's effect on our processing of nutrients gathers momentum over time. Many studies have found that these newer Pills have actually increased the risk of thrombosis. One found that women on the Pill had nearly ten times the risk of dying from pulmonary embolism — when a blood clot reaches the heart — than women who weren't on it.
Along with the Pill's contraceptive effect on women's fertility is its impact, quite logically, on women's sexual experience. Scientists have recently discovered that a chemical produced by the Pill to stop ovulation continues to suppress testosterone levels — central to sexual desire in men and women — for up to a year after women stop taking it. This seven-year study showed women on the Pill had four times the level of sex hormone-binding globulin, which stops testosterone from circulating in the body, compared to those who had never taken it. Twelve months after they stopped using the Pill these women still had twice as much of this chemical in their bodies.
As widespread use of the Pill crosses generations we see the signs of specific side-effects and general depletion of wellbeing accumulate. Our rising infertility epidemic is one such area to which use of the Pill has contributed. In Australia one in six couples currently trying to conceive are experiencing problems — twice as many as there were in the 1970s. We also note the huge rise in childhood allergies, diabetes and learning and behaviour problems such as attention deficit disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Excerpted from The Pill by Jane Bennett, Alexandra Pope. Copyright © 2008 Jane Bennett and Alexandra Pope. Excerpted by permission of Allen & Unwin.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Jane Bennett works as a natural fertility specialist and is the author of A Blessing Not a Curse. Alexandra Pope is a psychotherapist and the author of The Wild Genie and Walking with the Genie.
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