The birth control question

I can sum up my feelings on birth control, in general, with this one simple sentence:

I don’t like it.

When I was 18, I was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).  It’s a hormone imbalance that causes weight gain, acne, facial hair, and diabetes, of which I (thankfully) have none.*  What it means for me is that I don’t ovulate regularly and may have difficulty getting pregnant.  I suppose we have seen that the latter isn’t true of me, either, given that most doctors won’t start fertility treatments on a couple until they’ve been unsuccessfully trying to get pregnant for at least a year, and Doug and I got pregnant after eight months.  This, too, is a relief, and I was reassured by one of my many doctors that PCOS does not increase one’s chance of miscarriage – so I can’t blame my miscarriage on my syndrome.

Following this diagnosis, I was put on the pill before even losing my virginity, and remained on it for six years.  Besides regulating my periods, the pill gave me bigger boobs and an irritable bowel, which eventually got so bad, I stopped eating altogether.  (It was a nutritionist who finally suggested that it might be my birth control, not unknown food allergies, causing all my digestive problems, and she was right: as soon as I quit the pill, I felt a thousand percent better.)

Since stopping the pill, now four years ago, I’ve read several articles my mom has clipped out for me on its other wonderful side effects; ironically included is the possibility that taking the pill long-term can affect a woman’s fertility long-term and increase the risk of miscarriage.  (The experts are conflicted on this one, and I choose to believe that the two years between my pill use and my failed pregnancy was a long enough span that we can rule out any major connections.)

What I do like to blame on the pill, however, besides countless hours locked in the bathroom, is my failed marriage.  I found out a little too late that the birth control pill can actually affect who we’re attracted to, and therefore it’s no small wonder that I can’t for the life of me figure out what I saw in my ex-husband, and that Doug is his exact and perfect opposite.

Needless to say, when confronted with the reality that I would need to take measures to prevent another pregnancy, the pill was a non-option.  So were the shot, the patch, the ring, and all other forms of hormonal birth control.  So, for that matter, were condoms and diaphragms, because I know myself too well and couldn’t be trusted to use them, whether because I hate interrupting the moment, or because really, all I want is to be pregnant.  Which left us with what option?  Pull and pray?

I left the practice that had seen me through my pregnancy, praising the midwives and damning the doctors on my way out the door, and found some good doctors to start fresh with.  My new OBGYN recommended and inserted Mirena, which, in its tiny little frame, contains a small amount of hormones that will spread itself out over five years.  (I feel that this is an accurate description of myself, as well – Mirena and I are delightfully small, and delightfully low-hormone.)  And when I expressed my concerns that I was throwing my fertile years away, my nurse practitioner reassured me that, with PCOS, some kind of birth control is the best way to go.  “If we just let your body do its thing,” she explained, “it could release a bunch of eggs at once, and you’d actually lose fertility faster doing nothing at all.”

Of course, at the time, this made me feel a little better about the decision to do something instead of nothing.  But the other day, my mom gave me yet another article on the pill, this one out of the June 2010 issue of The Southern Cross (a local Catholic publication).   Besides listing some of the fun side effects described above, it makes this point: “Young women are put on the pill… at this most vulnerable time of developing their feminine identity… they are prescribed a medication that… removes from expressions of sexuality its very meaning, to conceive and bear children.”  Every fiber in my being cried out in agreement.

I hate Mirena almost as much as I hated the pill.  I no longer have any periods, but have sporadic days of spotting, which means I have to wear minipads pretty much all the time.  (Not sexy.)  It gives me yeast infections, and I believe that even that tiny dose of hormones has affected my libido and who I’m attracted to.  (I’m now attracted to no one.)  But it’s a love-hate relationship, because I know it’s the best of several evils.  It requires no thought, no daily alarms, no interruptions of moments, and hey – at least I can say it doesn’t make me physically ill.

Oh, and also?  I’d need a doctor to take the damn thing out.

*The webMD article I linked to makes an interesting statement about our society, by focusing largely on the more superficial symptoms of PCOS: weight gain, zits, and hairiness, rather than the fertility issue.

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3 Responses to The birth control question

  1. Saundra says:

    So I had a strong reaction to the Southern Cross article excerpt (bearing in mind the source, and the fact that Catholocism does not take kindly to removing “conception” from the sexual equation).

    So (and please hear me out), to say that sexuality’s very meaning is to conceive and bear children is, I think, doing sexuality a disservice. And I think it’s also an obsolete idea about sexuality. I could go on and on about exceptions to the conception role of sexuality — what about people who enjoy sex but honestly have no interest in child-bearing? What about people who are born unable to conceive, but still enjoy intimacy/sensuality?

    But beyond that, I feel like sexuality has its cycles or seasons — at certain points in your life, conception will be THE focus. At other times, sexuality is an integral part of forming a bond with your partner and potential co-parent. I like what Dawn suggested in the previous post, that perhaps now is a time to strengthen the relationship you have with the one-day father.

    I read a study recently that said the time during sex when penetration is happening but there’s no rush to the finish line — the friction-licious time, let’s say — is considered to be the time during intercourse when feelings of friendship, affection, and loyalty grow. To me that says so much about how sex, and sexuality, is about so much more than conception. Because after having the baby you WILL have in the not-too-distant future, you and Doug will need to keep the bond strong. At that point your mutual expression of sexuality will, more often than not, be about more than conceiving children (you’re too pretty to be a Duggar, lady! 😉 ).

    Just a couple thoughts. With the disclaimer that of course sex would be difficult for anyone going through what you’re going through.

  2. bakeryclosed says:

    You’re right, of course. I struggled with this post because of the amount of information I had to squeeze into it (as opposed to the posts where I just get to talk about myself, which is what I’m really good at).

    For the reasons you mention, I turned my nose up at most of the SC article – my mom actually admitted she almost didn’t give it to me, but thought some of it, about the pill causing “chemical abortions,” would be of interest. And what I agreed with in the excerpt I gave wasn’t so much the notion that sex is only good for conception, but that – and I think I mentioned this in another post – when we remove the possibility of conception completely from sexuality, something changes. I read somewhere, or maybe someone told me, that some post-vasectomy men experience a drop in libido for similar psychological reasons: they may not want to have any (more) kids, but there’s something sort of demoralizing about their mighty seed becoming inert, and sex no longer holds quite as much appeal.

    In Nuala O’Faolain’s book, My Dream of You, the protagonist is a middle-aged woman who has no children and never desired to have any. Still, at one point she does go to a fertility doctor, and her suspicions that she was infertile to begin with were confirmed. She then draws the connection the next time she’s being intimate with someone (excuse my quoting this in French, but I lent my English copy of the book to my mother and may never see it again – and you speak some French, right?):

    “Mais c’est ridicule,” pensais-je. “C’est ce qu’on fait pour avoir des enfants…”
    C’était peut-être ça le pire, en fait. Être toujours en danger de percevoir l’acte d’amour comme une pantomime.

    It’s a really good book, by the way, if you haven’t read it. I read her Are You Somebody? in a Caroline Allen class and recall not liking it, but I really did enjoy this one.

  3. Pingback: My stupid birth control | Bakery Closed Until Further Notice

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