These days, more and more young married women are purposefully postponing motherhood. And hormonal contraceptives make it easier than ever to do so. But far too few of them ask one important question: At what cost?
Back when my husband was in medical school, his pharmacology textbook listed seven full pages of adverse side effects associated with oral contraceptive use, including:
- heart attacks
- liver tumors
- blood clots
- gall bladder disease
- migraine headaches
- loss of vision
- urinary tract infections
- yeast infections
- weight gain
- thyroid problems
- high blood sugar
… and myriad more, as well as an increased risk of infertility, miscarriage, and birth defects even after discontinuing use of the Pill.
That was enough to convince us we’d made the right decision when, as newlyweds, we opted to forgo hormonal contraceptives three years (and two babies) earlier.
Yet when we shared this information with family and friends, they remained skeptical. “If the Pill were really that unsafe,” they reasoned, “then doctors wouldn’t prescribe it.”
Fast forward 25 years, and we’re still having those same discussions. That’s why my husband recently bought me a copy of Sweetening the Pill: How We Got Hooked on Hormonal Birth Control.
In other words, she is my ideological opposite.
Yet on one point we can emphatically agree: that there are compelling reasons to reject hormonal contraceptives that have nothing to do with religion.
I found the book refreshing (despite the author’s rather one-dimensional representation of folks — like me — who do not share her political agenda).
It asks questions that desperately need to be asked, discussed, and answered. Plus, it’s chock full of interesting (and ofttimes harrowing) statistics:
- “Today eighty percent of women will take the birth control pill at some point during their lifetimes.” (p.25)
- In the US, half of all women under the age of 25 are currently using the Pill. (p.26)
- The Pill significantly lowers a woman’s libido — sometimes irreversibly so, since “the impact on testosterone levels is permanent.” (p. 50)
- Using hormonal contraceptives greatly increases a woman’s risk for developing many life-threatening conditions, including heart disease and breast, cervical, and liver cancers. (p. 60)
- “Recent research shows that if a woman starts taking the Pill before she turns twenty her risk of developing breast cancer in later life is doubled.” (p. 60)
- Birth control pills represent “a $22 billion a year industry with approximately sixty brands on the market.” (pp. 112-113)
Interestingly, Grigg-Spall and some of the authors she quotes have run into the same argument my husband and I heard when he was in med school: People (mistakenly) believe the FDA wouldn’t have approved hormonal contraceptives if they weren’t safe.
She answers that objection by pointing to the money trail. In her mind, the Pill is a conspiracy to pad the pockets of physicians and pharmaceutical companies, to keep women in the workforce, and to bolster our consumer-driven economy.
Granted, some of those factors probably do come into play. But I don’t think you can fully understand our society’s unhealthy addiction to birth control without taking into account its general prejudice against children and aversion to “unplanned” pregnancies.
Consider this: Cancer patients routinely submit to chemotherapy, despite the fact it saps their strength, leaves them nauseous, and makes their hair fall out. They do so because they consider the alternative (letting the cancer grow unchecked until it kills them) completely unacceptable. In the same way, our society is willing to assume the high risks associated with hormonal contraceptives, because the alternative (conceiving and carrying a baby until it is time to deliver) is seen as something to be avoided at all costs.
These days, an unplanned pregnancy is about as welcome as a cancer diagnosis. As long as this is our attitude toward babies, doctors will continue to prescribe the Pill, and women will continue to take it, regardless of the risks.
Interested in reading more on this topic? Check out these books, all of which I highly recommend:
- Adam and Eve After the Pill by Mary Eberstadt
- Start Your Family: Inspiration for Having Babies by Candice Watters
- Be Fruitful and Multiply: What the Bible Says about Having Children by Nancy Campbell
- Open Embrace: A Protestant Couple Rethinks Contraception by Sam and Bethany Torode
- Three Decades of Fertility: Ten Ordinary Women Surrender to the Creator and Embrace Life by Natalie A Klejwa, et al.