Birth “Control”

– Sonya Nobbe, ND

The Birth Control Pill (BCP) was introduced to the North American marketplace over 40 years ago as the key to liberating women by enabling sexual expression.  In Canada, approximately one in five women of childbearing age take synthetic hormones to suppress menstruation, prevent pregnancy, and control pre-menstrual symptoms.  Few women are aware that other physical, mental, and emotional processes are impacted by these pharmaceuticals, and are further unaware of claims made by women advocates that the very concept of the BCP in our culture is suppressing more than our monthly cycle.  How has it become so “normal” for our girlfriends, sisters, wives, and mothers to consume this pill daily for years without a thorough understanding of how it controls their body?

The menstrual cycle involves an intricate balance of dozens of hormones that are still somewhat mysterious to modern-day scientists.  It is impacted by a woman’s diet, life stress, environment, and social status.  The World Health Organization (WHO) acknowledges that a culture’s perception of menstruation is related to how women overall are restricted or enabled in their society.  Consider that in Western society, young women are generally taught that the BCP will control monthly bleeding so they do not have to suffer an inconvenient process each month; that some form of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in menopausal women is necessary because an older body with less estrogen defines unattractiveness and is a health risk; that approximately 1 in 4 Canadian children are born by cesarean surgery rather than natural birth, when the WHO recommends that a rate of about half of this is medically necessary.  An outsider might perceive that Western society views the female body as a broken or risky health condition. 

We might be creating more damage by trying to fix what’s not broken.  Birth control pills that contain synthetic forms of estrogen and progesterone suppress fertility by overriding the natural hormone cycle at the level of the brain.  Women who take these pills daily do not experience their own natural fluctuation of sex hormones, do not release an egg, and do not experience a natural menses.  These are powerful medications and it takes time for the brain and ovaries to recover after discontinuing the pill.  Common side-effects of the BCP include nausea, weight gain, and breast tenderness.  Less well-known (but well documented) side-effects include depression, small increased risk for stroke or breast cancer in some women, and depletion of several vitamins and minerals, including B-vitamins, magnesium, and folic acid.  Interestingly, deficiencies of these nutrients are associated with worsening menstrual cramps, birth defects, and cardiovascular disease.  The possible negative effects of HRT are generally more well-known, thanks to the findings of the Women’s Health Initiative, a 15-year study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health in the United States.

Despite these risks, synthetic hormones can provide life-saving benefits for some women, and adequate contraceptive replacements are difficult to manage, given that the BCP prevents pregnancy up to 99.9% of the time.  For women who use the BCP to manage pre-menstrual symptoms and reproductive illnesses, many alternatives exist, including ones that support rather than supersede the body’s attempts to re-balance.  Though PMS or uncomfortable menopausal symptoms are common, they are not necessarily “normal”, and can often be healed.  My website contains links to websites and books that may help a woman make an informed choice about what an ideal medical treatment is for her.  When seeking medical advice, please consider that any medicine, including pharmaceutical and natural, has the potential to promote neglect and misuse of the female body if prescribed from the viewpoint that the body is already broken.  Female health begins with a healthy perception of what it is to be a woman.

You may find this and more of my articles published in Within Kingston Magazine.