Today I'm going to talk about one more difficult issue, something that has an impact on the lives of women all around the world.
The Pill was launched in the early 1960-s, and the number of its users grew rapidly. It
is often associated with "liberation" of women – a glorious journey from the dark pit of patriarchal society to the bliss of free sex - free from worries about unplanned pregnancy. This is called "reproductive control".
The Pill is supposed to be perfectly safe. Every doctor will tell you that. If you press about something specific, for example breast cancer, you will probably hear something elusive, like "a direct link between the two things hasn't been confirmed", or "the risk is insignificant". What does it mean? That there is no official guideline to mention the numerous studies that have found a link between the Pill and increased risk of breast cancer, strokes, heart attack and blood clots.
A friend of my mother, a perfectly healthy young woman, had two children in only two years. Feeling exhausted from two pregnancies in a row, she decided to go on the Pill for a while. Not because she didn't want to have children anymore – she just felt she needed a break. She had been on the Pill for a year, and then stopped. Her third child was born only five years later, after a series of painful and exhausting fertility treatments. She and her husband decided they will not be able to stand something like this again. They do not have any more children. Their dream of having a large family had been shattered.
… The family I told about is a very religious one; before making the decision about taking the Pill, they consulted both their doctor and their spiritual leader. They were told that the Pill is safe and that using it for a while is justified – for the well-being of their family and the mother's health. How they wish now they had trusted God's plan for their family!
In an unofficial gathering, a family friend of theirs, a doctor, told her the following: "it's a good thing you had two children before going on the Pill."
No doctor will ever tell you that when you come to get a prescription.
I wonder if someone ever thinks of the individual circumstances that lead a woman to using the Pill. I will tell you my story.
Those of you who have read my post, "Reclaiming the Gift of Chastity", might already have a hint of what kind of state I had been in when I decided to start taking the Pill. I was young, insecure, in an unstable, uncommitted relationship, frightened to death by the prospect of unplanned pregnancy, knowing I will not be supported if it happens, knowing for sure it would mean being a single mother. I was desperate not to get pregnant.
Our society, while encouraging – or at least not condemning – teenage sex and premarital sex, is horribly unsupportive to the unfortunate girls and women who suffer the logical outcome of this: a high rate of unplanned pregnancies. Most of them are told, "Oh, bad luck", and are pressured to "get rid of the inconvenience".
I did not ask about possible health complications. I didn't bother to find out if the Pill is safe for me with my family history of thrombosis (the doctor didn't ask about that, either. Only much later I found out how great was the risk I subjected myself to. It is known that the Pill is unsafe for smokers, but did the doctor ask about it? No. I don't smoke, but there's no way he could know). The only risk I cared about was the risk of pregnancy. I knew about the case of Mom's friend, who lost her ability to conceive normally after taking the Pill, but you know what – I didn't care about that either! Do you want to know what went on inside my head? "Better never have children than become pregnant now!"
I could say many words to describe the way I felt at that time. However, "liberated" or "free" or "protected" would not be on that list.
Fortunately, the period when I had been on the Pill didn't last too long. After my life took a turn for the better and I got rid of my abusive relationship and dangerous attitudes, I decided I will never take that crap again.
But I know women who started taking the Pill when they were teenagers, 8 or 10 years ago. I know a young woman who was 15 when she started taking the Pill. She is 22 now, and is not going to have children before she is 30. Until then, she is planning to continue using the Pill. Did anyone really check the possible risks of such long-term use, initiated at a time when the reproductive system isn't fully formed?
I'm not a researcher and I can't come up with answers. I can only raise questions – questions that never get satisfactory reply when I ask them. I will not go into an ethical debate right now, I'm concentrating on medicine. So far, no one was able to convince me that using the Pill is completely safe. Another point to be aware of is that doctors, when prescribing a medicine to children or teens, don't often stop to consider the possible harmful effects to this specific age group, or how the optimal dosage might be different. A dose of hormones that is harmless to a grown woman might have a different effect on a teenage girl.