Almost four months ago I decided I finally had enough and went off the contraceptive pill. Like many young girls, I had started taking it when I was about fifteen years old after my gynaecologist had urged me to do so since I was experiencing extremely painful cramps during my periods. At the time I didn’t question my doctor at all, and why should I? After all, she was the specialist, right? Looking back I am in shock about how little information was provided to me. ‘This pill will keep you from getting pregnant and lessen your pain during periods’, was basically the extent of it.
No matter your age or whether you are on the pill or not, I HIGHLY recommend reading ‘Taking Care Of Your Fertility’ by Toni Weschler. It is shocking how disconnected we have become from our bodies in this day and age, where there is a pill for every little discomfort. Have a headache? Take panadol! Got bad skin? Take the birth control pill! This book will teach you so much about your own body and you’ll be able to read the signals it’s sending you better.
Okay so let’s start at the beginning. How does birth control actually work?
You body ovulates once a month, ripening a new egg which will journey down the fallopian tube and reach the uterus, where it would implant if fertilised. If it’s not fertilised by a sperm, then the lining of the uterus which had built up in preparation for the fertilised egg is unnecessary and therefore leaves the body together with the uterine lining, cleansing your system and preparing for the next month.
BUT when you take the birth contraceptive pill, synthetic hormones (Xenohormones) are imposed on your natural cycle. Birth control pills contain high levels of estrogen which effectively convince your pituitary gland that you are pregnant and that you don’t need to ovulate. Because your body thinks you are pregnant, the uterine lining thickens. Once you stop taking the pill on your ‘week off’, your estrogen level drops suddenly, and your body menstruates ‘normally’. It is important to understand that the periods you get while on the pill are NOT natural. There is no need for you to have a period at all when you’re on hormonal birth control, the only reason some pill packets contain a placebo week or call for having a one week break is so things feel more natural for you.
In 1958, the two doctors John Rock and Gregory Pincus revolutionised contraception with the first clinical trials of oral contraceptives. Rock and Pincus decided that the pill would be more acceptable to women (and organisations like the Catholic Church) if it preserved women’s natural menstrual cycle. So they manufactured the pill to mimic a typical 28-day cycle. This is why many birth control packets contain three weeks worth of hormonal pills and one week of placebos. Withdrawal from the hormones on the fourth week triggers bleeding that’s similar to menstruation. However this ‘withdrawal bleeding’ is usually shorter and lighter than a regular period because the uterine lining hasn’t been thickened.
Let’s quickly summarise this: The pill tricks your body into thinking you’re pregnant, and the only reason you even get your ‘period’ is because your body has withdrawal symptoms from you not taking your daily dose of hormones. WELL SHIT.
But it doesn’t stop there. The pill has a HUGE list of side effects and alters at least 150 bodily functions!
Some of the ‘minor’ side effects include:
- Weight gain or loss
- Reduced or increased acne
- Slight nausea
- Emotional sensitivity right before your period
- Mood swings throughout your cycle
- Irregular bleeding or spotting
- Breast tenderness
- Decreased libido
- More susceptible to illnesses and weakening of immune system since the pill actually destroys the beneficial bacteria in your intestines, making you more susceptible to yeast overgrowth, lower immunity and infection
Some of the more serious side effects are:
- Increased risk of cervical and breast cancers
- Increased risk of heart attack and stroke
- Higher blood pressure
- Gall bladder disease
- Benign liver tumours
- Decreased bone density
- Yeast overgrowth and infection
- Increased risk of blood clotting
- Thyroid function: The estrogen component of the pill may interfere with thyroglobulin (the protein that binds thyroid hormone), thus affecting thyroid function
Cancer, heart disease, stroke, infertility – how great does that sound!
It is save to say that the pill is pushed hard by the healthcare industry. The pill accounts for close to half of the $16 billion women’s healthcare market and 96% of birth control education for doctors in US medical schools focuses on it. Alternatives are being dismissed as ‘unsafe’ or simply not even mentioned by doctors.
Whatever you decide to use as a form of birth control, it is important to know the facts and risks involved. Do your own research! I encourage you again to pick up a copy of ‘Taking Charge Of Your Fertility’ by Toni Weschler, it truly is eye opening! And most importantly, don’t let anyone pressure you into taking the pill. Not your doctor, your parents or your boyfriend. It is your body and your responsibility to look after it.
1. Birth Control Statistics.http://www.med.umich.edu/1libr/wha/wha_contrace_crs.htm
2. “New study widens pill risk for cancers,” Reuters, 10 Aug 2005. http://en.epochtimes.com/news/5-8-10/31022.html
3. Women, Heart Disease, and Stroke.AmericanHeart.org. http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4786