Thursday, 26 April 2012

Thoughts on the Pill

I'm on day 20.  I can feel the irritation and narkiness that comes with my pre menstrual phase building.  This the time of the month often brings about a rant, and today, what really grinds my gears (yes, that was a Family Guy reference) is all the talk about the contraceptive pill in the UK at the moment.

A news story came out today, in which an NHS report suggests that girls as young as 13 should be able to walk into a chemists and get the pill, without having to see a doctor

Apparently, this already happens in some parts of London.  It is also currently possible to walk into a chemist and buy the morning after pill for around £25.  Some chemists were also talking about allowing women under 25 to gain free access to the morning after pill. 
...It follows a pilot scheme which found the number of women needing emergency contraception "dropped significantly" in the year following the introduction of over-the-counter access to the pill.
Well... duurrrrr.... what a surprise! 

Currently, teenage girls would need to speak to a doctor to get a prescription for the contraceptive pill, or go to a family planning clinic, where they would be seen by one of the qualified doctors there.  I'm not sure that parents have to be made aware of this or not, but at least the girl would have some proper advice given to her...  Blood pressure is taken, along with weight and other general questions and checks.  If you aren't grown up enough to ask your doc or go to a clinic, the you probably aren't grown up enough to be on the pill.
Allowing teenagers as young as 13, free access to the pill, with no medical guidance or advice is completely ridiculous.  I am so sick of the media and people banging on about the pill like it is a sugary sweet that magically stops you from getting pregnant. 

The contraceptive pill contains chemicals.  It contains synthetic forms of the hormones estrogen and progesterone (progestin).  They work by suppressing ovulation.  Some brands contain both forms (combined pill) and some just contain progestin (min-pill).  They don't work by magic.  They interrupt your natural rhythm, and stop your natural cycle.

Doctors and pharmaceutical companies will have you believe that the pill is THE cure for mood swings, it's the cure for acne, depression, for irregular periods and more... AND that all those things are abnormal and should be treated.

Hormones are created in response to signals from the brain.  Hormones are like a radio signal, and the receptors are the antenna.  When you take the pill, it over rides the radio signal.  It sends it's own signals to the receptors that stop ovulation.  The body's natural receptors then get used to this signal, and act accordingly.  But what happens with long term use?  or in young women bodies that are still forming and whose hormones are still settling down?

I know there ARE benefits to the pill...
 It has been shown to protect against cancer of the ovaries and the womb lining and pelvic inflammatory disease, a major cause of infertility in women, and (they claim) it can make periods more regular.  However, it is not recommended for women over 35 who smoke heavily, obese women, those with high blood pressure, a history of heart disease or blood clots and other illnesses, such as breast cancer.

I also know that a few ladies find it helps their PMDD, but the success rate is seriously hit and miss, and I would question if it is ever a good option for women who are sensitive to hormones.

My rant is really that all this talk about the pill being handed out to stop kids getting pregnant is only one part of the story.  What about the use of synthetic hormones in girls that are barely developed themselves?

So, 13 year old Rosie, who has only just started her period and whose hormones are still going crazy and haven't settled down yet, goes out to the chemists and get's the pill.  Her doctor doesn't know and nor does her mother.  She decides to go on it because she's heard it might stop the horrible spots she's been getting and she also really likes Jake and he really likes her and cos he already watches a ton of porn on the internet, she thinks he might want to have sex.  She is being responsible and doing the 'adult' thing in getting herself protected against pregnancy, but she hasn't talked to anyone other than her mates and the nice man at the chemists.  She can't tell her mum cos she would freak.  Rosie knows nothing of the effects the pill could have on her, neither does she understand what's in it and how it works...  Rosie and her mum don't talk about such things.  It's too embarrassing, and her mum would just think that she is a slut and is only going on it to sleep with boys....  Rosie has barely got used to her body having a cycle, her body has barely got used to the new hormones, then BAM... the pill enters her system and the cycle is gone.

Rosie is in control, she feels grown up and responsible.  After six months on the pill, Jake decides he wants to take the relationship further...  Rosie is hesitant but knows she can't get pregnant, so she decides the time is right.  She has some condoms in her purse too, which she knows help prevent catching STD's, so she asks Jake to wear one... He says there's no need, cos she's on the pill, and he hasn't done anything with anyone... reluctantly Rosie agrees.  She doesn't want to lose Jake or upset him....

Rosie and Jake have been together for a couple of years now.  They are 15 and have been sleeping together for a while.   Rosie's mum knows they are close, but doesn't know for sure if her daughter is having sex, and she tries to blank out those thoughts and ignore it.  It's too embarrassing.  She sort of assumes they aren't as Rosie has never asked about the pill or anything.  She puts Rosie's outbursts and mood swings down to her teenage hormones and just accepts that her daughter doesnt want to share anything with her.

Then, Rosie finds out she is pregnant.  She is 16 and about to do her GCSE's... HOW did that happen?  Maybe it was those few days last month when she forgot to take the pill... she took one late and thought it would be ok... or maybe was it because she was ill and on antibiotics for a week?  Rosie didn't know the pill can stop working of you take antibiotics.  Her mum is gonna go mad... The shame, the fear, she feels sick to her stomach.....

Maybe, the freedom of taking the pill could lead Rosie down the path of sex with more than just one person.. maybe she could end up with an STI, or get pregnant and not know who the father is.
What gets me with all of this, and it's a familiar story all over the UK, is that the communication between mothers and daughters is weak.  Mothers are not teaching their daughters what they need to know.  There is no communication, no passing on of advice.

Rather than try and throw a magic pill at every young girl in the hope of making the UK's teenage pregnancy rates look better, why are we not questioning WHY these young girls are having sex so young.  Why are we not looking at healing the relationships between mother and daughter?
Why is it that teenage girls have such low self esteem and think so little of themselves that they seek to have sex at such a young age?  Why are we not teaching young girls how to respect their bodies and themselves?  helping them to understand the changes and risks involved with sex and contraception?

No one really knows the long term effects the pill can have, or what it may do to a young body that is still forming.  I started taking the Pill at 13.  I was showing signs of PMDD but no-one knew that back then.  I also suffered from really bad acne and depression.  The pill was given to me to cure it all.. to make me better.  When I look back, I wonder if my mood swings at 13 were just perfectly normal.. extreme yes, but I have since found out I am sensitive to hormones, but what if taking the pill at 13 actually caused my PMDD.. what if it messed my system up for the rest of my life?

What I do know for sure is when I came off the pill aged 20 (that's 7 years of synthetic hormones and no ovulation) is that I felt completely different.  The pill had never stopped the mood swings, in fact, by the time I stopped taking it I was getting some pretty extreme episodes.  I became pregnant a few months after stopping the pill.  It was a planned pregnancy as I had just got married.  I experienced severe depression during my pregnancy and post natal depression afterwards.  PMDD came back with a vengence along with my periods and motherhood was very difficult.

My body didn't know what a natural cycle was.  It had only had 6-7 cycles before I got pregnant.  I truly believe that our natural cycles prepare us for being pregnant.  Without intervention, it is possible to become in tune with your menstrual cycle.  You lean how you are at different times of the month.. you can FEEL the changes.  Each cycle is a chance to learn something new about yourself.  It's an inner tool, that we simply throw away when we start taking the pill.

By encouraging young girls to take the pill as soon as they start their period, or for other ailments that could be helped by other methods, we are stealing our daughters ability to learn from their cycle.  We are taking away that inbuilt natural blessing of being a woman...

We need to heal the mother daughter relationship.  Many of the current generation of mothers have grown up on the pill, and don't ever question it.  If it was good for them, then it's good for their kids....  I urge you to think twice about ever putting this drug in your body, or allowing your daughter to.  There are other ways of preventing pregnancy, there are other ways of dealing with mood swings, acne and depression.

Here is a great link to a piece by Dr Erika Schwartz.  She has written a few books on hormones and the menstrual cycle, and I found her response to a worried mothers question a really good read.  I would recommend you take a look.

And as for the increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases and infections... or how the pharmaceutical companies make us believe in whatever will make the most profit for them...
well, those rants are for another day....


Charlotte said...

I like this. It's a very interesting take on things. I was leaning more towards it being a good idea for them to be on the pill- if they're having sex anyway, they may as well be protected. I was on the pill for 4 years, then the implant for the last year- had it removed because I was feeling AWFUL. Now, I'm getting used to my body again. I'm glad I'm off it, but I feel that I am mature enough to handle not being on hormones- kids shouldn't rely on hormones to protect them- they're simply trying to sterilise the nation!

Jane said...

and then there is the fact the full pill increases breast cancer risks - my GP won't put me back on anything hormonal as I have an increased family risk.

Your points are really valid and with a 13 year old daughter (just) I am concerned that she could make a big decision like this without talking to either her dad or myself first.

If they give free contraception surely that counteracts the laws on sex also, it's like saying have free cigarettes but don't smoke them.. :$ strange logic.

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