Several years ago, I heard the diagnosis of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) for the first time, and it was mine. My symptoms such as irregular menstrual cycles, the inability to lose weight, frequent acne outbreaks, and constant fatigue were too strong to ignore.
A recent survey found that nearly 47 percent of women have experienced symptoms of hormonal imbalance. Just like me, many of those women were prescribed a hormonal contraceptive to correct these issues. After 16 years of being on “the pill,” I learned this was counterintuitive to my problems.
Hormonal contraceptives are easily accessible, free in many circumstances, and they simulate healthy cycles. Not only is the simple act of taking one small pill daily convenient, but it easily becomes habit. This pill, however, can actually mask problems and create new ones. It shuts down a woman’s reproductive system by suppressing ovulation, one of the body’s major signs of health.
The Pill Doesn’t Promote Good Health
On the birth control pill, a woman does not have a true cycle. The monthly bleeding that occurs is called a withdrawal bleed rather than menstruation.
During a natural cycle, the lining of the uterus thickens to prepare for a pregnancy and then sheds that lining if a fertilized egg does not adhere to the uterine wall. If a woman is taking synthetic hormones and stops to have a “period,” however, the bleeding occurs from the shedding of a much thinner lining.
These withdrawal bleeds are manufactured and unnecessary. There are no health benefits associated with having a “period” on the birth control pill every month. At the very least, it fools women into believing they are achieving a healthy cycle.
That’s not all. Researchers have found that oral contraceptives can deplete essential nutrients such as folic acid, various types of vitamins B, C, and E, magnesium, selenium, and zinc. The absence of these vitamins and minerals have been linked to anemia, depression, vision problems, infertility, and miscarriages. If these are affecting the body, they are certainly affecting the brain.
“The Today Show” aired a segment called “Women’s Wellness DisruptHERS” featuring social behavior researcher Sarah Hill. Hill presented studies that show how birth control pills can change the way a woman thinks, feels, and acts. She found that they significantly increase negative brain responses to stress and sexual pleasure, and even affect with whom women choose to have relationships. One little pill is changing women’s entire lives.
The Birth Control Pill Has a Dark History
We also cannot overlook the deeply troubling history behind the birth control pill. In the early 1900s, Margaret Sanger delved into the teachings of eugenics due to her concern of society’s overpopulation. Sanger had a distaste for groups such as black people and those with disabilities, so she advocated for their elimination, sterilization, and segregation. She turned her philosophies into reality through medications and abortions.
During the 1950s, Sanger introduced a wealthy donor to biologist Gregory Pincus to create a pill that would prevent ovulation. Once he had a product, Pincus traveled to Puerto Rico to experiment on poor, uneducated women. He pumped them full of hormones to see how their bodies would react.
Women complained of a variety of unsavory symptoms, but the researchers dismissed them to rush their product to market. Three women died during the study, but no investigation occurred to see if the pills were a cause. Even today, some symptoms are largely ignored. When women receive only one “solution,” where else is there to turn?
Fertility Awareness Is More than Contraception
An alternative method to hormonal contraceptives, rarely mentioned in doctors’ offices, is the wholistic approach of natural family planning (NFP) or fertility awareness-based methods (FABM). The different methods under this umbrella give women a variety of choices based on their needs, time, and finances. They allow women to learn about their unique bodies, and operate under the knowledge that reproductive health is overall health. Fertility awareness leads to true female empowerment by helping women understand their own bodies and make choices accordingly.
Since the early 1900s, various FABMs have developed. The Creighton, Sympto-Thermal, Billings, and Marquette methods are among the most popular. They use variations of tracking natural bodily functions that may include observing cervical mucus in both texture and sensation, testing urine for the luteinizing hormone that triggers ovulation, or taking one’s basal body temperature. Instructors for each method equip individuals with tools to track natural bodily processes and ways to advocate for their own health.
Although rooted in the Catholic Church, FABMs are for every woman regardless of faith, age, or background. A recent post by Emily Frase at the Total Whine Blog challenges the notion that FABMs are simply for those trying to avoid or achieve pregnancy. “Fertility awareness is not a competitor with birth control,” Frase says. “It’s an entirely different, healthier option for women to not just plan their families but work with and understand their bodies.”
By using these methods, I have learned how to treat many of my PCOS symptoms. It has not completely cured me, but after a year of practice, I am much healthier and wiser.