Birth Control Diaries

I visited the gynecologist for the first time in August and it was magical.

The office was pink, clean, and welcoming一like a Barbie’s dream house for women (if Barbie was thick enough to menstruate.) There were women of all different ages in the waiting room: teenagers with their moms, new moms, soon-to-be moms, second-time moms, and me . . . without my mom (because I told her I would be fine on my own.) It was a women’s sanctuary and refuge ran by all women and I never wanted to leave.

During my appointment, the doctor asked me if I would like to get on birth control. Before I answered she told me all the side effects that may occur. I may gain weight, breakout, and/or become a Kate Sanders when I’m usually a Miranda or a Gordo. When I answered “yes” anyway, she pulled out a list of side-effects from my new sample meds the size of a phone book and told me to read it just in case I still didn’t know what adventure awaited me.

Little did she know that I already had done some reading on my own.

My research included an article from New York Times Magazine written by Lori Gottlieb, a psychotherapist who works with couples, titled “Does a More Equal Marriage Mean Less Sex?” This thought-provoking and sometimes insensitive article is not about birth control; it’s about how the lack of gender roles in a marriage can endanger both partner’s sex drive (in lesbian and heterosexual relationships) because egalitarianism ideals don’t belong in the bedroom. I probably should not have been attracted to this article, but I like to know what the future holds in different stages in life. The part of an article that sent a chill down my spine was, "One study even suggested that when 'a woman chooses her partner while she is on the pill and then comes off it to have a child, her hormone-driven preferences change, and she may find she is married to the wrong kind of man.'"

A similar study that Gottleib explains in detail was conducted in 1995 and known as the “sweaty t-shirt” experiment. When you ask a woman what she wants in a partner, she will say “someone with similar interests and lifestyle.” But when women were asked to sniff a man’s unwashed shirt to find the one they were most attracted to, the opposite happened. This part of the article was nightmare inducing and seemed like a cautionary tale against birth control.

While that information simmered in my brain, I came to read an essay, “John Rock’s Error,” written by Malcolm Gladwell in his compilation book titled, What the Dog Saw. “John Rock’s Error” is about the inventor of “the pill,” John Rock. This invention caused people to question his faith as a Catholic and his morality as a human being since he saw his invention as a natural form of birth control. The essay also explores anthropologically how women in different cultures, such as Japan, only get their menstrual cycle a few times in their life or a few times a year, while American women, on average, menstruate every month. This decrease in menses attributes to a decrease in feminine cancers such as breast, uterine, cervical, and ovarian cancers. According to Gladwell, “Cancer, after all, occurs because as cells divide and reproduce they sometimes make mistakes that cripple the cells’ defenses against runaway growth. That’s one of the reasons that our risk of cancer generally increases as we age: our cells have more time to make mistakes.”

For me, since my aunt died of breast cancer at forty, this is a pretty strong reason to get on the pill. Birth control decreases cell division and the lack of menstruation decreases your chance of getting certain cancers. The article concludes with a report on scientists who are currently working on a pill or inhalation spray that will help thwart hormones in the female body that cause breast cancer.

To some, the sexual freedom that comes from being on the pill is enough of a reason to start taking the pill. For me, it was the liberation of the exorcism-type cramping I had to smile through four days a month. I also wanted to know some other health and biological benefits. I did find a sort of horror story at first, but the Malcolm Gladwell essay provided a little push to make me feel I was making the right decision and not ruining my future.

After beginning the pill, I didn’t turn into a fire-breathing, pimple faced monster. I also didn’t gain weight or have crazy mood swings. So my advice is, if you want to get on the pill, I encourage you. Go to the magical, feminist kingdom of the gynecologist’s office and exonerate yourself from the monthly punishment of not being pregnant.

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