The Pill and You
When producer Chana Gazit interviewed people for The Pill, she found no shortage of personal stories.
Richard Hauskenecht remembered, "Right after our first child was born, we both agreed -- my wife and I -- that, if I wanted to have a career in medicine, we had to put a stop to babies for a moment. So my uncle, who was an old-fashioned gynecologist in Brooklyn, fitted her with a diaphragm which she religiously used... And every time we needed a new diaphragm, one of us had to go to New York to get one, because in Connecticut, they were illegal, as was any other method of contraception one could dream up, as well as sterilization."
"After we started seeing how easy it was to get pregnant, it became... 'I know I cannot do this the rest of my life. But what am I going to do?'" recalled Joan McCracken.
Sylvia Clark said, "We gave things up in order to be wives and mothers. But that was such a high value that it overrode -- and was intended to override -- any internal yearnings one might have, to have something a bit more rich and a bit more personal oneself."
"I once appeared on the David Susskind Show about the Pill," remembered Alice Wolfson. "It was before I had kids, and I was married at the time.... I was on there because I was a woman who had suffered a side effect, which was that my hair had fallen out. And... David Susskind... said to me, '...What is your side effect?' ...I said, 'Well, my side effect is a loss of faith in the medical profession and in the government agency that is supposed to protect us.' And David Susskind yells to the producer, 'Oh my God, we have a women's libber on here!'"
Would you like to share a comment on the Pill, birth control, and your own experience or beliefs?
As a woman in my twenties, I feel that I have a different perspective than most of the other women who have shared their stories. Today, the dosage of the combined estradiol/progestin pill is about 1/100 of what it was when it originally came out -- it is essentially at the lowest dose possible to inhibit ovulation and conception. Therefore, the side effects should (theoretically) be reduced significantly. However, as a medical student, I have been taught religiously to explain to patients on "the pill" the possible side effects -- hypertension, MI's, DVT's, strokes -- and the signs of each of which to be aware. And, of course, it goes without saying that we always inform them that "the pill" does NOT protect against any type of STD, and condoms should always be used, except in completely monogamous relationships. Furthermore, I know that certain women -- for example, those over the age of 35 years who smoke, those with histories of hypertension or DVT's, etc. -- should be advised to use alternate, nonhormonal methods of birth control.
On a more personal level, I myself have been on "the pill" for 2.5 years, and have had none of the dramatic side effects noted by others; in fact, I have noted no side effects at all. I am in a committed relationship; as we are not sexually active, I can attest to the fact that being on "the pill" has not led me to be more promiscuous or risky, or to make my boyfriend respect me or our sex life less.
Respect is not something that comes and goes with a package of pills -- it is earned. If a woman feels that she has lost respect for herself, her body, and her sexual well-being because of "the pill," I would counter that she never had it to begin with. And, finally, statistics for the failure rate of Natural Family Planning vary widely, depending on the source, ranging from 1% to 25%; variability lies in who does the teaching, how regular a woman's cycle is, how diligent she is in keeping track of the cyclical changes. As a product of Natural Family Planning myself (my parents, dutiful Catholics, used this method), I would not trust this method alone under any circumstances. However, although I was myself a "mistake," my parents have never made me feel unwanted or unloved in the least. The availability of birth control doesn't make children feel unwanted or unloved -- people do.
I am amazed at all the negative feedback on the pill that this "share your stories" board has received. The pill is truly a wonder drug that has freed millions of women around the world from the health dangers of unending pregnancies -- about which Americans know nothing, though maternal mortality and morbidity are still very real problems in much of the rest of the world -- and the hard labor, mental stress, and economic privation associated with raising numerous children (think of Margaret Sanger's mother, with her 11 children and 7 miscarriages, which as the show points out, was not an uncommon story at that time). Several writers to this column call the pill "unnatural" -- but in fact, the pill mimics pregnancy and lactation, both of which suppress ovulation --and in a state of nature, such as existed for most of human history, women were almost always pregnant or lactating, and therefore menstruated quite infrequently -- as demonstrated by recent anthropological research in primitive areas of Africa.
As for my story: I went on the pill at 15, and had absolutely no side effects for the next 10 years that I was on it. I took it religiously every day, and never got pregnant. A few years later, I married the man I started dating when I was 15. When I went off the pill to try to get pregnant at age 25, I got pregnant in 2-3 months. I went on it again after I had my first child, then went off again a few years later to have my second child, again getting pregnant in only 1-2 months (now that I'm done having children, I have an IUD -- which is also an excellent method that, while widely used in Europe, Latin America, Israel and elsewhere, is unfortunately not popular with the American medical establishment or American women.).
I should add that my mother, who got married in 1963, also used the pill until she had me in 1970, also without side effects. She was getting a Ph.D. in the years leading up to my birth, and almost certainly would not have been able to do so without reliable contraception.
New York, NY
My mother was 20 years old when I was born (I'm now 55 and she's 75) and my dad told me this Christmas that he thinks the reason she and I have never got along is that she profoundly resented the end of all her "fun" when I was born. As most women her age, she was married at 18 as soon as World War II ended (Dad was 25 and newly home from said War). She had been brought up by a nanny, as her mother was 45 when she was born and had brought up 6 children already, and she knew absolutely nothing about caring for children including how to put on a diaper and what to do when they didn't act like babies in advertisements. I have 3 younger sisters and a foster sister who is 6 months younger than I am, whose mother was also in her 40s when she was born and who had no time for a "caboose" baby. These experiences made me profoundly glad that someone had invented The Pill just in time for me to need it -- and thus make it unnecessary for me to risk having any children that would get in the way of my having a life of my own. My mom also went on The Pill as soon as it was available to her. She had already had 4 children and she well remembered her mother's (and my foster sister's mother's) response to late-life motherhood!
I have the distinct impression that if The Pill had been available when Johnny Came Marching Home, there would have been no Baby Boom, no Flower Power Revolution, and very probably not a Vietnam War.
The most interesting thing I have heard regarding this new freedom for women came from a disgruntled young man I dated when I was in my 30s and he was 25. "Used to be if a man wanted children," he grumbled, "he could just HAVE them. NOW he has to sell himself to some woman and convince HER first!" My flippant reply was something akin to "Aren't you glad your mother didn't have any choice?" which effectively ended the relationship. But I've since then come to believe that the best thing to come out of The Pill was visceral proof to men that they had no choice but sharing power.
I didn't put two and two together to realize that the reason I was so depressed when I was a young housewife with three small children was that I really didn't seem to have control of my destiny (my body). I was told by my family and friends that I should be happy because I had such a wonderful "little" family. The pill was a liberating factor to my situation.
I have a love/hate relationship with the Pill.
The Pill enabled me to pursue an education and career in the law at a time when no one in my family was favorable to my ambitions.
My only child was born just before the Pill was available, and although he is the light of my life, being a mother greatly limited me. And by the time he was born I knew that marrying his father was a mistake, that my husband was not mature, reliable, nor supportive of who I wanted to become. The Pill gave me an alternative to being a housewife/office drudge with a bunch of children hanging on my skirt. Thank God for the Pill!
I took the Pill for 20 years, from immediately after my son was born until I had a hysterectomy due to endometriosis and fast-growing uterine tumors. Did the Pill cause them? I don't know nor do I care. By then I was single, trying to build a law practice and in no position to have more children.
The hate aspect arises out of the gross enlargement of my breasts, weight gain and emotional rollercoaster that developed from taking the Pill. For 25 years my breasts were so big that not even women looked me in the eye.
I became defensive, uneasy about meeting new people, and when I was single, I was terrified of how newly-met men might perceive me. Too many people, women as well as men, perceive large-breasted women as empty-headed sexual objects with low morals. I felt they saw me as meat rather than as a human being. The bigger the bra size, the lower the IQ was the assumption. I hated it. Much as I dislike the idea of plastic surgery, I was delighted with the results of breast-reduction surgery. Since then, people look me in the eye and judge me as myself. But I think some permanent damage was done to my self esteem when I was a walking bosom, thanks to the Pill.
My Catholic parents had 8 children because they were limited by the church to practicing the rhythm method of birth control. I saw the impact that had on their lives, how difficult it made things for them, and for all of us.
I didn't want to live that type of life. God gave us the gift of sexuality to enjoy with our spouse, and I was determined to enjoy it to the fullest, without having to worry about getting pregnant. I spent over ten years on the pill before I was ready to have children. That gave me time to go to college and establish myself in a career so I can now provide for my family in ways my parents couldn't. I would not have had those opportunities if I had a brood of babies like my mother did.
It is sad for me to read all these stores that contain so much incorrect information - the pill DOES NOT cause an increase in breast cancer, it IS NOT an abortifactant , it does NOT cause women to turn into thoughtless drones, who are incapable of exercising self determination when it comes to sex. It is clear to me that, yet again, a small minority of uneducated and self-important people are "yelling from the rooftops" about the evils of contraception.
I started on the pill when I was 16 because of serious problems with my periods. I was a virgin until I was 23 and married. I view birth control the same way as I view any other "modern convenience" - I control it, it does not control me. We all have a choice in how we exercise our reproductive freedom and have the absolute responsibility to seek accurate information and ask questions of our health care providers when making a choice about medical treatment. The pill has allowed women to take control of their reproductive lives AND to make choices that only THEY can and should make for themselves -- with or without a man.
I don't take the pill, but have known so many women who have benefited from it, I had to say something. It is not for everyone, it has side effects like any other medication, but used correctly it has freed women who otherwise would be forced to have babies with abusive partners, have babies they couldn't support and wouldn't love, and allowed women the option of delaying marriage until they are emotionally ready for a commitment. As a social worker, I have seen how damaged children can be by living in abusive and neglectful homes.
I also think AIDS has shown that pregnancy is not the only risk of having sex without truly knowing the person and building a relationship.
The pill has also done wonders for women with endometriosis, dysmennorhea, and other menstrual problems. It is not for everyone-we are talking about a powerful prescription medication that needs to be used with knowledge and respect.
By the way, natural family planning only works if both partners are committed to it. If you have a husband or partner who is abusive or simply uninterested in a method that requires teamwork and self-control, a woman-controlled method is necessary.
I am 22 years old and a married mother of two. I have not, nor will I ever take the pill. Although I come from a family of die hard feminists, I have never wanted to change the natural state of my body. The side effects of the pill do not out-weigh the benefits. I do not have one female friend who has not taken the pill, and most of them were put on the pill in order to "regulate" their periods when they were 15 or 16 years old. It is natural for a teenage girl to have irregular periods, it is part of puberty. None of my friends were made aware of the side effects, or even how the pill actually worked or what it did to their bodies. None of my friends were made aware that the pill is actually an abortifactant. From my perspective, growing up as a young woman in the last part of the 20th century, there was pressure put on me by society to take the pill. There is no alternative presented in mainstream media, or by physicians, although they DO exist. Natural Family Planning is 99% effective, comparable to the pill. During her mission in Calcutta, Mother Theresa taught NFP to impoverished women who could not afford the pill, and they found it to be highly effective, as well as FREE! Birth control is important to women's well-being, but it should be natural and safe. Abstaining from sex for a few days a month does not put a strain on my marriage. If anything it brings us closer, because my husband is aware of my body and how it works, and he shows his love for me by controlling himself. In America, we constantly want instant gratification, and our culture and society have suffered for it. It is much easier to take a pill then to get to know your body and understand when you are fertile and when you are not. However, in the end, the ends do not justify the means. The hard way usually turns out to be better for your body, your mind, your heart, and your soul.
Grand Forks, ND
Even through my periods of testing out different pill brands, trying different formulations to find the one that would make my unusually fickle body avoid unwanted side effects, the pill has been a godsend for me. No, it is not my body's natural cycle. But I know what I'm putting into myself, and I feel just as normal, natural, and feminine as I always have. The pill has freed me to make love on my terms, rather than holding back for fear of pregnancy or feeling obligated to take advantage of the short "safe" times. I am in control, and free to do what is best for myself mentally and spiritually, rather than let my ability to create life control how I spend my own.
It's a shame to see how many women feel "enslaved" and "betrayed" by the birth control pill. The only positive side of this I can find is that the pill has become so accepted, and so taken for granted that women now feel free to despise it. We should all remember that the pill (and its other recent derivatives the patch and the ring) provides choices to women... whether the choice be to use this form of birth control or not. The answer is not to scare women into making the same choice you did, but to make the choice that is right for them, and be grateful that we live in a time where we have so many choices.
As a single woman in my late twenties, I watched the documentary on The Pill with great amazement and awe. I have always taken the availability of reliable birth control for granted. I am grateful for the advent of hormonal contraceptives, because they have enabled me to both prepare for a career and be in a committed sexual relationship -- a combination that would have been less feasible before The Pill. I have come to appreciate even more what my mother's generation fought for.
I feel that The Pill, and reliable contraception in general, have called our society to reevaluate its attitudes about sexuality. Societies have always been re-evaluating and re-formulating sexual attitudes and values, but the advent of the pill seems to have made this re-evaluation happen faster than ever. We can't stop though and let the media take over with its "just do it" philosophy. I think it's crucial that we keep talking about sexual attitudes, values, and morality -- whatever new shapes they might take -- so that our sexual lives can be not only free of unplanned pregnancy but also full of love and meaning.
I am 27 and have been on and off the pill, depending on my relationships, since I was 18. The wonders and drawbacks of all drugs do not necessarily expose themselves right away, but I am glad that I live in a time and country that lets ME choose what is best for me and my health. Whatever your opinion on many health issues, the pill, among other birth control options, has made it possible for women to choose when and if to be a parent. Probably preventing many unwanted children and unwanted pregnancies. Everyone thinks that we have all become demoralized. Not true. Today we just don't have to lie and hide our sexuality from fear and shame of being exposed as a "bad" girl. It has done more for women's equality than anything else, even the right to vote.
I am one of the many women out there who suffer from heavy bleeding and cramping during the menstrual cycle. Around the time it started to become unbearable, I also decided to become sexually active with a boyfriend I had been with for over two years (who I am coincidentally now engaged to). I was shocked to learn that I would not have been prescribed the Pill if I hadn't had the medical condition described above; the Catholic university I attended prohibited its prescription through the student health center except for medical reasons! As I depended on the student health center for all of my health care, as many college students are forced to do, I was very disappointed. And since I had to pay for it out of pocket, I was prescribed the cheapest, but also highest dosage, Pill on the market.
It wasn't until a year ago, after I had graduated from college and started a full time job, that I was finally able to afford to switch dosages. What a tremendous difference! I found myself becoming extremely moody and had random feelings of depression with the old Pill that disappeared almost immediately with my new prescription. While my doctors have always been careful to monitor my blood pressure (as I have a family history of it), I have never really heard anyone discuss these other "emotional" side effects. I think these can be just as serious as physical ones and deserve much more attention than they have received.
That said, I also believe it is irresponsible to blame society's problems on the Pill. Indeed it has given women a freedom that was unheard of just a few decades ago. But the problem is that women were denied equal access to healthcare, education, and job opportunities in the first place. I don't believe that the Pill has led to the degradation of family life. I do believe though that the "American way" of finding a single scapegoat for a problem that is multi-faceted is sadly becoming a way of life.
I used the pill in my early 20's after my first child for a short time. This was around 1984. I had so many side effects that I decided it wasn't for me. I got headaches, water gain, was tired all the time. I felt like I was pregnant again. A month after I stopped taking it, my strength came back... headaches were gone, I was feeling healthy again. Today I understand the Catholic Churches stand on the pill and I agree with them. Natural Family Planning in what my husband and I used for the next 18 years after I went off the pill and it worked well for us. I had 4 healthy children in 10 years... all planned and wanted. The Church approves of NFP and I know it works. It allowed us as a couple to work along with God in planning our family. We were always open to having children and abstaining from sex during ovulation was a blessing and a gift to one another, because when we were finally able to be intimate again the sacrifice made the union even more intense and loving. I believe in chastity and celibacy until united in the Sacrament of Marriage is the greatest gift of love you can give to one another. And a child is the reflection of this love. The Church does know what it is doing and I applaud the Catholic Church for promoting life and love. Follow God and your life will be blessed. Thank you.
I disagree with many of the posts on this message board that attribute a "destruction of society" to the birth control pill. Reliable contraception is part of what has allowed women in my generation to be limitless in our career aspirations. I would never be able to be successful in medical school if I were pregnant or a new mother. Even if I missed a month of school for labor, delivery, and recovery, I would have to shift back a whole year of medical school! My husband and I certainly plan to have a family someday, but I know I can contribute to society in so many more ways by being able to plan both a career and family. Think of all the fantastic contributions to society women have made in the last 30 years and thank the pill for their ability to do so!
The pill has become much safer over they years, and there a number of combinations of hormones that can reduce side affects. My doctor and I have tried a number of formulas to find the right fit for me. I am confident that it is safe in both the short and long term. When I begin my practice, I know I will be able to offer many contraceptive options to my patients to give them safe, reliable control of their reproductive lives.
As a guy who grew up in the late 1960s, sex was always a topic of interest. I found in my early sexual encounters, that not every young women was on the pill. In the heat of the moment, pregnancy could be an afterthought. I don't think the pill increased promiscuity; it just helped in keeping women from getting pregnant from the experience.
Donald W. Larson
San Marcos, CA
Pill seems to me to have been absolutely essential in women's equality. It still sounds weird -- "women's equality" -- as if the full power of choice, of human right to control one's own life, should even be in question.
I see so many issues: My mother had five children in the 1950s and 1960s. Four of us, including me, are never-married and childfree. For me, it is much about not buying into the roles forced on women that lingered through the decades.
Yes, the pharmaceutical companies are motivated by what makes big bucks. Women in the 1970s were more free, but stories I read from then ( by people far less inhibited than I was) tell of men who pressured them into sex by threatening them with the dreaded word "square" for not putting out. The fault in that lies in some twisted people, not in the Pill! Any advance of women's freedom of choice is countered by twisting real, actual problems to bolster the argument that what gives us our freedom is bad for us and for everyone else. As if husbands or wives weren't leaving marriages before the Pill! As if marriages weren't bad before divorce was common! As if families and economies had no problems before women started working for pay. Now abortion may cause cancer. Maybe we can blame war and global warming on women's freedom of choice!
I tried the Pill only twice, only a few years ago. Couldn't sleep, felt lousy, and quit. Never took it before or since. Not its contribution to women's choice, nor any medical concern, nor the pharmaceuticals' greed, nor how a man might twist a woman's new choices to manipulate her, should be ignored. Where are more safe contraception choices for women? Why aren't there more contraceptive choices for men? What attitudes are behind this? How about the amazing attitude behind this: that most people who are against abortion are also against contraception? Can you believe it? Nothing explains something this illogical except the desire to keep women un-free. And dig into the dark side: what is so threatening to them about a woman who is free to determine her own sexuality, her own life? Making it so that a woman can have sex without fear of disease or pregnancy, in other words, no "consequences"?
Now the contraception issues include abortion. Actually they always did, but women who suffered or died at the hands of back alley abortionists apparently didn't matter much to anyone beyond their loved ones. I can both care deeply about life and be pro-choice. Much of the rhetoric about saving unborn babies smells to me like it is covering up for a desire to keep women chained to pregnancy and the fear of it. If this weren't true, the anti-choice people would be the greatest allies of safe, available contraception. Contraception is life-saving in several ways. It allows a woman to be human by saving her from being a brood mare.
I began taking the pill at 16 years of age. I experienced the nausea side effect but only if I took the pill on an empty stomach, which I quickly learned not to do. My experience with the pill gave me the freedom to have sex without the worry of getting pregnant but it did not make me feel that I needed to go out and have sex because I wouldn't get pregnant. It was simply a way to safely have sex if I chose to do so. My husband and I used the rhythm method from 1982-2001 very successfully -- we have an 18-year-old son, I experienced one miscarriage and no abortions.
Today, I am 50 years old and happily post-menopausal. The program was very informative with regards to how the process to get the pill made, approved and distributed. I don't remember studying anything about the pill in high school or about the hearings or the trials. It was also refreshing to hear comments from the husband on the program as well as the women. I felt that the comment regarding the Catholic Church being led by men making decisions who were celibate, had no children and did not know love was very appropriate. Programs of this nature are very educational for those of us who didn't know the how and why the pill was needed even though we took them at will. Today the pill is being toted as a health plus, not just for birth control but for skin care. The advancements of the pill continues today.
I was very disappointed in the airing of your program on Birth Control. Our culture has not improved since contraception has become widely available, just the opposite is true. Feminists have got what they wanted, and look where our society has gone, you can see the reflection of who we are on television and movies. Having sex with whoever and not necessarily with the opposite sex. How does this sexual freedom really make one feel fulfilled. There is such beauty in a relationship you have with one person for your entire life.
Birth control has lead to the legalization of abortion, acceptance of gay relationships, and the acceptance of Euthanasia. This is truly the culture of death which Margaret Sanger sought after.
Did you know that for political reasons, the working definition of pregnancy has changed over the years from beginning at fertilization... to beginning at implantation. Therefore, your doctor may tell you that the Pill never aborts a baby (pregnancy). But science tells us that life begins at fertilization. So... if the Pill prevents a developing baby from implanting in the lining of the uterus, a life has been terminated.
Your eye color, hair color, personality type - everything about you was decided at the very moment when your father's sperm united with your mother's egg (fertilization). On your program you stated that in the 50s it was considered a scandal to be on birth control or have sex before marriage. Do you think God has changed his mind because women decided that they want the freedom to do what they want, I really don't think so.
Contraception has given women the freedom to commit advance without the consequence of a pregnancy, it has given teenagers the freedom to have sex when they are not emotionally mature. Everyday there are talk shows that discuss the problems between marriages and teenagers in sexual relationships because of their activity outside of marriage or their premarital sex. When are we going to wake up and smell the coffee and see what contraception actually has done for our culture.
I began taking birth control when I was 15 because of menstrual cramps that were so painful they made me pass out. Without the pill, I would have had major problems attending school and holding down jobs because I would have been absent for a few days each month from my cramps.
Furthermore, when I found a partner I loved and trusted, the pill was there for me to prevent an unwanted pregnancy.
Yay for the pill!
I started using the pill in 1974, and I used it off and on for almost twenty years.
I can't imagine the lives women endured during the years of the Comstock Law, but I do know that most of the women I know who have children had babies because they wanted them. That is a far cry from my mother's generation in which many women had children either because they couldn't get birth control information or the method of choice failed them. Those are the children who were treated as burdens. My mother certainly didn't have the temperament to deal with four children, and one of my paternal aunts readily admits that she would have preferred not to have had children. Then there is my grandmother who was left with seven children to feed when my grandfather abandoned the family during the Depression. To me the lack of birth control caused the break-up of the family as my grandfather just couldn't deal with having to take care of a family that big. We like to romanticize how great family life was before the sexual revolution, but for many women in my family the reality was just the opposite.
I have two children, and both were wanted and planned. I also have work that I love. We live a better life both economically and emotionally because of the Pill.
Does the Pill have side effects? Yes, most assuredly. Do I approve of the way the medical establishment treats women? No. However the lesson women need to learn from the Pill is to raise their voices about more than just the lack of definitive data on hormones -- whether the Pill or hormone replacement therapy. There are many areas in medicine where women are short-changed. Remember for years all the data on cardiac disease was based solely on MEN. No clinical trials or studies were done with female participants. It has only been in the past few years that any serious effort has been made to see if this data relates to women. Guess what? In some areas it does not, and in others it may not. Yet, heart disease is the number one killer of women. Raise your voices for serious consideration in medical trials, and never give up your right to birth control on demand. I shudder to think there are those who would like to us to step back to the days when the development of birth control was considered a crime.
I was very surprised that the film did not address at all one of the most recent topics of discussion about the pill: using it continuously and having fewer or no periods.
If I don't want to get pregnant, why should I have to count my life off in 28-day cycles, dreading the onset of cramps and discomfort? I don't have endometriosis, but even on the pill I was very uncomfortable 1 or 2 days a month.
Why? And why did I tolerate it for so long?? There's even a recent commercial for a pain reliever where a woman complains about cramps and then says, "How long until menopause?" That's no way to spend your entire adult life!
I've taken the pill continuously (a low-dose one) and haven't had a period since April 2000, I've have had no side effects, and I'm still thrilled about it!
And a discussion with my gynecologist revealed something I hadn't thought of: by not getting pregnant, I'll have a lot more periods over my reproductive years than women ever had in the eons before birth control. Women weren't "intended" to have a period every month from 13 to 50 -- they were normally pregnant multiple times, eliminating dozens and dozens of periods. That monthly fluctuation in hormones isn't just uncomfortable, but having it so many times may be hard on my system.
But ob/gyns are still predominantly male, and even good ones don't usually offer this to their patients -- they have to ask!
I see a good gynecologist at one of the top hospitals in the country, so I know I have good care -- but please help spread the word to other women who suffer needlessly every month -- it may not be right for everyone, but if it's the next step in liberating women, let's make sure everyone knows about it.
I was the second child, born in Connecticut in 1943. By the time I was 12 or so, my Mother had had 8 pregnancies, 3 of which resulted in death at birth or soon after. I believe my Father would not allow my Mother to use the diaphragm my sister and I found once in her drawer. So she moved into the "girls'" room, thinking perhaps, that she could avoid another pregnancy. Instead, we girls were subjected to the occasional "rape" in the middle of the night when we were supposed to be sleeping. If she had had access to the pill back then she could have avoided the next 2 pregnancies, after the last of which an understanding doctor did a hysterectomy. Unfortunately, she did not take hormone replacement therapy (she was probably 44 years old or so) so she developed dementia 10 to 15 years later. (there are some studies that suggest a connection between estrogen and dementia). For the last 6 years of her life, she didn't know who I was. When I saw this film, I said to my husband (of 36 years) "God Bless Margaret Sanger, she is a saint."
During the early 70s, there were a couple of times when I could not afford any medical care. There were free clinics that provided exams, information, and birth control. I am very thankful for these clinics and programs. Without them, I would have surely become pregnant at a time in my life when I was not equipped to be a parent. I think it is imperative to maintain free medical care for poor women.
I've been on the Pill for the majority of my adult life -- about 30 years, off and on. I'm perimenopausal now and keep hearing the "scare" stories about taking hormones after menopause. What are supplemental hormones doing to me right now? If they are dangerous after menopause, why wouldn't they be dangerous prior to it? My gynecologist says the Pill will help me get through menopause easily, but is it safe? I feel that the medical community should be forthcoming with answers to these questions!
San Antonio, TX
[American Experience replies: For more information on the Pill, read the Pill Q&A with ob/gyn Dr. Daniela Carusi on this Web site.]
I have a love-hate relationship with the Pill. Surely it has done for women's sexuality what no other method of birth control has done; if taken correctly there is nearly no chance of having an unplanned pregnancy. However, as a "victim" of a vicious side effect of the Pill (my blood pressure soared and I had to be taken off of it immediately), I have definitely had to rethink my position.
Yes, the Pill is wonderful and has amazingly positive side effects (decrease in menstrual cramps and flow, decrease in certain types of cancer being among the most important), it can also be incredibly dangerous. It seems that once again women are falling victim to the overmedicalization of women's health and well-being. I remember when I first expressed a desire to go on the Pill to my doctor, she wrote out a prescription for me without even checking my blood pressure or doing a baseline blood workup, or even doing a complete physical on me.
Our bodies are being toyed with and manipulated for the good of the pharmaceutical industry; since many HMOs will not cover the Pill on prescription drug plans, $30 or more per month per prescription times the millions of women on the Pill means major profits. While I cannot deny the good that the Pill has done for women, I am also too well tuned in to the downside of it, and I'm not sure if the current state of things is exactly what Margaret Sanger had in mind.
New York, NY
I lost my virginity in 1974, as part of the first generation to have both the Pill and legal abortion at our disposal. It was such a different time than today! We felt we had so much freedom to explore.
As soon as I became sexually active, I knew I had to get on the Pill. My boyfriend at the time freaked out. His attitude was that my being on the Pill meant that we were somehow "obliged" to have sex. He and I were not destined to last very long, but I stayed on the Pill for 15 years.
The only two times I went off, I was pregnant within weeks. It changed my life. It made my life today possible.
New York, NY
It is interesting that there is very little discussion regarding the long-term side effects of the Pill on aging the cervical crypts, which produce the mucus necessary for sperm survival, and the effect this has on infertility for long-term Pill users. Could this be influenced by the amount of money that is generated for the pharmaceutical companies by Pill users? Also of interest is the constant referral of the "rhythm method" when speaking of what the Catholic Church teaches. Actually the Catholic Church endorses the use of Natural Family Planning, which has a method failure rate of 1% (similar to the Pill) with no side effects and no cost. It is astounding to me that women have so readily endorsed the Pill when the risks are so great. Would men be willing to take the same risks for sexual freedom? Sometimes we choose to stay in the dark!
I turned 16 in the mid-70s, and I went on the Pill. I spent the next fifteen years entering every relationship with the surety that sex was going to have to happen, since, after all, I was able to, without consequences. Right?
And so, for fifteen years, the development of every one of my relationships stalled because sex took over and replaced other things. We fought? We made up with sex. We were bored? We filled our time with sex. We wanted to say I love you? Sex again.
Then I stopped using the Pill and I stopped having premarital sex. Finally, I became free of sex and could pursue relationships with my heart and mind.
And that's the way to do it. The Pill and the mindset that told me that "everyone was doing it" took that away from me.
I don't know how many women are aware that birth control can be used in treatment for endometriosis, because I sure wasn't one of them. I suffered from the pain from endometriosis for years now just assuming I would have to stay off my feet at certain times of the month to help prevent the intense pain. But lo and behold, the Pill also has given much benefit to women such as myself and I am so grateful for it. It has helped regulate my periods so they come on a more regular schedule, eases the pain (immensely!!), and has given me the freedom to go about living my life how I want to instead of being forced to lay down with a heating pad and staying off my feet from the pain. Freedom once again!
Six years after having been prescribed the Pill to "regulate" my cycles, I stopped taking oral contraceptives in November of 2002. All the time I was on it, I had no idea that the Pill didn't regulate my cycles at all... it actually stopped normal cycling. Why did none of the doctors I trusted tell me this? Anyway, now that I am cycling normally and using the fertility awareness method, my libido has returned -- increasing probably five-fold, I've dropped 5-10 lbs., and I have a lot more energy. Would I ever recommend taking the Pill? Absolutely not. It was not ever good for me to work against my body to prevent pregnancy. When so much more natural ways to avoid pregnancy for the time being are available, why mess up your body?
Virginia Beach, VA
It is my view that artificial contraception has down-graded women tremendously. Husbands, no longer having to fear getting another woman pregnant, have abandoned their families in huge numbers since the advent of the Pill. Women, likewise, not having to fear pregnancy, have begun to have affairs and have abandoned their families, as well. We have seemed to have lost sight of the purpose of marriage and family as being a once for all commitment for the good of the whole entity. There is more selfishness in society now, and I see adults justifying their own immoral or poor behavior choices at the expense of the very children they were fortunate enough to give birth to. Another thing contraception has done is to make nearly a whole society dependent on and beholden to the medical professionals.
Most adults, especially women, cannot see a way out of the trap of contraception. They continue to put themselves in a position of extreme physical consequences and of being used by men because the women are now always available for sex. The love has been rooted out, and intercourse has become something we pursue for the self, instead of the way it was intended, which was for the other and the good of the marital union. Children, the obvious fruit of the union, are now seen as burdens, rather than blessings. It is not uncommon to hear parents today bemoan the fact that they have to take care of their children, and the parents also seem to yearn for an empty nest almost as soon as they bring the babies home from the hospitals.
Before 1930, contraception was considered a grave evil by not only the Church, but society as well. It was illegal in most states. Most of the learned people seemed to understand that contraception devalued marriage, children, and family -- indeed society itself. The learned seemed to understand that contraception would lead to more marital disharmony, a devaluing of women, more spousal and child abuse, more of everything we say we abhor -- and it has! Sterilization is totally dehumanizing, too, as its natural consequence is to reduce the sexual act to one that is nearly animalistic. The thoughtfulness about the original nature of the act is non-existent.
Personally, it grieves me to see women used as sex objects for the gratification of men's lustful natures. I implore women to begin to empower themselves by taking independent control of their fertility and seeking men who care more about women's souls than their bodies. One way to do this is to learn a natural method of birth regulation. There are many out there, some with user-effective rates of 99%. One such method is the Sympto-Thermal Method, which is taught all over the US and foreign countries. I have used this method for over 20 years, and each of my children was planned and spaced when my husband and I felt ready.
So women, let's be true feminists and empower ourselves in order to realize our awesome natures and, along the way, we can educate and civilize those who just don't get it. A thought for the men: ask your wife if she has ever felt used by you, and then ask yourself if that's how you want her to feel.
As one of the earliest Pill users, I have searched for any research as to the effect on menopause, which I feel to be significant with prolonged birth control. Is there any such study? It seems to be told 35 and smoking come off but 45 and bad symptoms from the double drop of hormones go back on!
Las Vegas, NV
[American Experience replies: For more information on Pill research, read the Pill Q&A with ob/gyn Dr. Daniela Carusi on this Web site.]
I was put on the Pill at age 17 to prevent pregnancy since I was sexually active. I was told to use condoms as well since the Pill doesn't protect from STDs. I didn't care though... I used the Pill and felt protected from my "real" and "bigger" fear of pregnancy. I also gained 30 lbs in 3 months (but all the research says women don't gain weight w/the Pill??). After going off it, I lost the whole 30 lbs by six weeks... impossible it sounds but I swear it's true and you can ask my mom. I don't care what the companies say about the Pill... something in that made me turn into a hippo. I used the diaphragm (and was heavily discouraged by nurses and doctors from it). It was the best thing anyone could have done for me. I wish someone had advocated the diaphragm to me years ago. Too bad they are so underutilized in the USA.
I used the Pill for about five years. I began taking it in college, and continued using it for a few years off and on, when the need arose. After college, I pledged to remain abstinent until I married, and I met my husband shortly after. Dutifully, as I had always been taught, I went to the ob-gyn one month before my wedding and got a pelvic as well as a prescription for the Pill. I began taking it and remained on it for some months. Through an electronic message board, I heard some murmurings of a fairly new, scientific, non-hormonal approach to avoiding pregnancy. I purchased a book that detailed the process, and discussed it with my husband. He was all for the idea, and we decided to eliminate hormonal birth control from our sexual relationship.
The change is wonderful -- knowing that my body is naturally regulating itself, I feel so much safer, and as silly as it may sound, even cleaner. It's a wonderful feeling to have a partner who participates in the knowledge of my body as a one-day baby incubator and carrier. We have grown closer through this method of birth control and I am rid of unnatural hormones that may have caused my body to slough off a fertilized egg.
I am a family practice resident in an inner city family practice serving Medicaid patients. I see the fallout of the sexual revolution (made possible by the Pill) every day in the form of impoverished women and children, broken families, and broken hearts. Modern contraception has severed the connection between sex and babies so thoroughly that most of my patients think the conception of a new human being is a horrible and untimely "mistake" instead of a wonderful gift. In my opinion, the Pill will eventually be recognized for what it is: a medication that launches women into destructive lifestyles.
Mary C. Kinn, M.D.
Oklahoma City, OK
I took the Pill in college for a while in the 90s, and was not told by my OB-GYN that the Pill is an abortifacient! It may only be a small percentage of women who ovulate while on the Pill, but that means a small percentage of fertilized eggs -- in other words, new life -- is being expelled because of the Pill. It's a disgrace that women are not told everything up front before taking the Pill. I now am married and use Natural Family Planning, and am so happy with it because it has no harmful side effects.
East Peoria, IL
Artificial contraception and birth control are two primary causes of today's deteriorated society. Though one may think that "the Pill" allows a liberation or a greater control over one's body, it is actually a slavery. A woman is shackled by the intended purpose and constant monitoring of her "medication," her prescription. Is menstruation and pregnancy an illness that we must treat it so? By using artificial contraception, a couple ignores the nature of the sexual act. It is as if one would deny the nutritive nature of eating and after every subsequent meal, purge oneself. This is known as a eating disorder. By using artificial contraception and denying the procreative nature of sex, the majority of today's society are victims of sexual disorder. In addition to the enslaving and disordering nature of artificial contraception, the users are able to avoid the potential consequences of sex. So what we have created is a society of slaves to a sexual disorder who are becoming increasingly irresponsible. We have weakened the physical and emotional bond between a man and a woman by allowing a fabricated device to govern the sexual act. Sex has become brainless activity. Just as some are addicted to the "remote control" of the television, couples are addicted to the contraceptive controls of sex.
This is not my story but that of a dear friend who was not given all the information that goes along with the Pill. The Pill is one of the leading causes of breast cancer. That and abortion, but why is this side effect not disclosed? A law suit is going on in CA right now for that very reason; Planned Parenthood praises the greatness of the Pill but does not disclose all the "side effects" i.e., the risk of breast cancer.
My friend, a doctor, now has breast cancer and has had several miscarriages because her body is having problems returning to "normal." After doing her own research, she has realized the dangers of the Pill that were never told to her when she was young and uninformed.
[American Experience replies: For more information on the Pill's potential side effects, read the Pill Q&A with ob/gyn Dr. Daniela Carusi on this Web site.]
"The Pill" was supposed to be the key to freedom for many women. Instead, it proved to enslave them to sex, not love. And what's the backup plan when the Pill failed to deliver as promised? Abortion. Are we better as a society? No.