Women Deserve Better Than Contraception. But What About Women with Health Problems?

I sat across the table from her after she had just had the Mirena IUD implanted. She was in severe pain. I listened as she told me how the she almost passed out from the pain when they were inserting it, and this from the woman who has experienced more pain than I probably ever will, and she typically deals with it and goes to work and classes anyway. So I know the pain was no little thing. This is the same woman that I have taken to the Emergency Room (at least twice) in the middle of the night with heart palpitations after getting another injection of the Depo Provera shot. I’ve listened as this woman who is my best friend and who is like a sister to me explain over coffee her frustrations because her doctor is certain that only old versions of the shot caused heart palpitations, (even though newer versions still do and despite the fact that my friend never has heart palpitations when she is off the shot).
My friend has tried other treatments. She has gone to NaPro physicians, and has been treated by NaPro founder, Dr. Hilgers himself. In her case, the surgery and others she’s had were not successful to manage her symptoms.
Now she wants a hysterectomy. She knows that with her type of endometriosis even that is no guarantee, but she’s in her 30’s now. She knows the risks and dangers of birth control and feels that taking endless hormones shouldn’t be a long term solution for her. But she’s single and doesn’t have children, so she’s been unable to find a doctor who will perform this surgery. Even though her endometriosis is so severe that the likelihood of her ever conceiving is slim, and despite the fact that she has spent approximately 8 years on the shot, and several more on other hormonal methods, all which greatly reduce a woman’s fertility in even a healthy individual,1 the doctors are all so willing to sacrifice her long-term health and present quality of life for the children that could possibly happen one day. “What about my life that’s right here, right now?” she asks me.
I’m a Natural Family Planning instructor. I’m passionate about teaching women about the gifts of the relational cycles of unmedicated women and I’m passionate about teaching women about the numerous health risks of birth control that so many women don’t know, and yet I must admit, that in her case, she really has no other option right now than to stay on hormonal contraception, because when she’s off she is in such severe pain that she can’t function. She can’t hold down a job. She can’t continue her education. And she can’t pursue her other goals, have fun, or take care of herself. Without hormones, she will lie in bed most days in severe pain, and that’s pretty much it.
My friend wishes she had other options. She doesn’t like taking hormonal contraception. She knows it affects her moods, and suppresses the full range she would have if she weren’t taking the hormones. She’s worried about her risk of breast cancer. She knows that the risk of cancer goes up particularly for women who have been on hormonal contraceptives for four or more years prior to their first full-term pregnancy2. She jokes and says that being a single woman, she’s okay with the fact that they suppress her libido.
As I sit by and witness the many challenges she faces and the trade-offs she’s forced to make in order to live a life where she is relatively pain free and where she can accomplish her personal goals, I try to reassure myself by saying to myself that not every woman will experience the severe side effects of birth control, but I worry about her, because as Holly Grigg-Spall states in her book Sweetening the Pill, “On the pill no woman’s body is capable of functioning at its optimum level. The body has a delicate system of balance and each woman’s system is different, though every woman taking the pill will experience, over time, impaired physical and mental health.”
I understand why she is on hormonal contraception. I wish though that there was an entire women’s health community that was dedicated to finding out the real causes of her disease and to finding better solutions to her issues than just giving her group one carcinogens for her entire reproductive years. My friend doesn’t have that though. Instead, she has a mere handful of scientists and doctors looking for real answers, and almost an entire healthcare industry satisfied with the status quo. My friend, and women like her, deserve better.

  1. The research of Professor Erik Odeblad, of the Deapartment of Medical Biophysics at the University of Umea in Sweden, has shown that the pill ages the cervix about two years for every one year of use. This is one reason why pill use can lead to infertility later on (and why the contraceptive industry fuels the multi-billion dollar infertility industry). The cervix produces different types of cervical fluid, and each type has a different function. When a woman is in the infertile part of her cycle, her body produces a type of cervical fluid that blocks sperm from entering her cervix and uterus. During the 100 hours of her cycle when a woman is capable of becoming pregnant, her cervix produces types of fluid that protect, nourish, and guide sperm to her possibly waiting egg, as well as filtering out defective sperm. One function of the pill is that it changes her cervix so that it increases the amount of crypts that make the fluid that blocks sperm and decreases the amount of crypts that aid conception. This process happens naturally with age, but it happens twice as fast for pill-users.
  2. Citation: Chris Khalenborn, MD., “Breast Cancer, Abortion, and the Pill,” One More Soul, 7 Dec 2009, http://onemoresoul.com/contraception/risks-consequences/breast-cancer-abortion-and-the-pill.html

photo credit: advice, assistance, healthcare, healthy, help, via photopin (license)



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