Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Happy Birthday to The Pill!

The Pill turns 50 this week, appropriately on Mother's Day, Sunday May 9th. I've spent this morning reading the numerous media tributes to this medical phenomenon that changed the way we procreate (or better yet, DON'T) and the way we, as women, take control of our bodies, our sexuality, and our selves. Some of the articles focus some on the problems the pill has caused us, like it's negative physical side-effects and the fact that we have turned to an easy medication as a substitute for really getting to know and interact with our bodies in a more natural way. Several of the pieces are focused, of course, on a more religious perspective on birth control in general. Most of the written work on The Pill, however, provides a great social and medical history lesson, combining all of the above and often touting it's benefits for all of us.

My mom put me on the birth control pill when I turned 18-years-old, which also marked my first gynecological visit. I had a serious boyfriend at the time and it was a good thing she did. I was just starting college and the last thing I needed was a baby, as I was still a bit of one myself. Learning how to pay my apartment bills, manage a work and class schedule, and shop and cook my own food for the first time, I already had enough on my plate. Putting the seriousness of a possible unwanted pregnancy in my hands at that time would have been irresponsible and my mother knew it. I've been on the pill ever since, going on 17 years now. Lucky for me, I've never had some of the more negative side effects some of my friends have. It may contribute a tiny bit to some of my weight gain and a decreased libido, although I attribute the majority of that problem to my anxiety medication. I took the pill religiously until we decided to try to get pregnant in the summer of 2003 with Lucy. Both Eric and I had read all the research on conceiving a baby, and just KNEW it would take a few months for the pill's effects to leave my body, but were we ever wrong. Less than two weeks later, during my ovulation week, we made a baby. We were both shocked at how fast and fertile I was. During the four years between my two pregnancies I took the pill again, albeit a different brand my doctor wanted me to try out. The exact same thing happened with Alice's conception - I stopped taking the pill and two weeks later bam! Baby!

I know that we all have different conception stories and complications and that there are certainly other factors in the abilities of Eric and I to conceive these two little girls so quickly and without concern, but we were shocked at how quickly the pill stopped working for us. Pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood has really opened my eyes to the abilities of my body and its tenuous and severe connection to the earth and its living creatures. It's too bad that this didn't happen earlier in my life, however, like when I started menstruating at the age of eleven. I attribute this, however, to our culture's lack of celebrating, or at least educating, girls about their bodies and the wonders of being women. And I have to agree that the pill may have a bit to do with that, in both positive and negative ways. It makes me a bit sad, actually, now that I'm a bit older and wiser, on how little we are taught, or even TALK, about womanly things in this culture with other women until we've already gone through them. And while this is certainly no fault of the pill, it is both a physical and medical manifestation of our changing culture. In some ways the pill inspired a strong feminist movement and made possible a sexual revolution. The pill, too, can be seen as part of a movement AWAY from ourselves, our bodies, and our choices. I spent most of my early teen years embarrassed about menstruating and my later teens and twenties taking all the responsibility for not getting pregnant (not to mention the concern with STDs). And when I decided to get pregnant, it was books and the internet that were my advisers and confidants on those decisions, like my choice to use a midwife for my pregnancy and birth with Lucy.

Motherhood continues to be the most difficult and lonely thing I've ever done. Don't get me wrong, I have an amazing group of supportive women in my world, both the real one and the virtual one, that have provided me with more than they know. I just lament our lack of celebration and support of each other as women from a very young age and want to do it differently with and for my girls. I have notions of continuing a loving, open home with continuing conversations about girlhood and womanhood with my girls. I'd like to surround them with other women and girls who feel the same and will expand their support network. I'm already starting to plan a sort of special girls getaway, signifying the beginning of their menstrual cycles. What are your thoughts on this? Advice or suggestions? And, mothers of boys, what are your concerns or challenges regarding boyhood and manhood?


  1. I love the idea of a getaway - how cool. Very similar to the custom of Khoisan women who go into a maiden hut and are thought to be very powerful especially during the time of menstruating. It is said that they can "snap her fingers to bring down lightning on any disrespectful male" - which I think would be a FABulous thing to teach the girls. :)
    I think a weekend away in a Yurt would come pretty close to this.

    I remember feeling very wrong, bad and confused when it came to the whole thing when I was growing up. I think I was 9 the first time I heard about it - and I couldn't really understand it. Needless to say, when I was 11 and it happened away from home with no female assistance - I was more than puzzled and felt extremely lost - and like I had to hide everything. I hate the whole "women are unclean" idea too. Maybe it would be worthwhile for us to combine forces and write a book Amy! We could make a difference I bet. :)

  2. So true - I have never talked more about everything related to my body until AFTER I had two kids. Your girls will be well-prepared, having such a well-educated and open mama - which I think is really invaluable information.

    So many concerns with being the mom of two boys - since I know nothing about being a boy! (especially a teenage one - luckily I have a few more years until we hit that stage) I am really counting on Paul to be a leader with topics related to sex - as well as being a good example of how to be respectful to women.

    I know I'll be relying on my network of other mothers of boys, too - that network has been really valuable so far, and I know it will continue to be so.

  3. lovely story Amy. As the mother of a boy I think we all start at the same point with answering their questions, but then the path will change. For now I never hide my menstruation from him. I had a fleeting thought that he may freak when he saw blood tinged TP in the toilet but in perfect toddler mode he first asked if I was hurt and I calmly said no that it was my period and it comes about once a month. That was that. I am now a proud user of luna pads and the diva cup during my time and am always shocked to find mommies - even those who use cloth diapers - to get a little put off at the idea of rinsing an organic cotton pad of menstrual blood. It doesn't have poo on it as in the case of the diaper they will lovingly rinse and launder for their little one. . . yet somehow it's a little icky even to them. No wonder this idea of not being clean is passed on. I'm glad to be past this, and to show my little guy that it's normal and that it isn't something to hide. I'll continue to share this information and later (sooner I'm sure)what that bleeding means and how I knew that I was going to find out I was pregnant on the blue moon - low and behold I was right because I knew my cycle just that well. One of the proudest moments in my life to that in tune with my body. If only the labor and birth could have gone so smoothly ; )

  4. Great job! I think most women seem to have a similar story. I grew up with all boys, so imagine trying to deal with that at a young age. Like Dinah- but no red tent to escape to nor multitude of mothers to guide me. I was so mortified by my monthly cycle. I'm sure most of us have a couple of embarrassing stories to share.

    I love your idea of a get-away. Maybe me and my girls will join you. I hope to be more open with my girls about sex and their bodies.

  5. It is an interesting topic, indeed, and I so appreciate your feedback, friends! I know my girls' menstruation won't begin for many years, but being so close to my childbearing times and having just read both Midwives and The Red Tent, it's already on my mind. Also, the really interesting stories this week on The Pill have heightened that notion. Steph, I agree about the yurt! Carrie, I'm currently using tampons w/cardboard apps, but am intrigued by the Luna Pads and Diva Cup. And Booker is lucky to have such an open mama. Kate, thanks for the input on your two cute boys. Dads do indeed play an important role in both their girls' and boys' lives and I'm lucky Eric seems comfortable with addressing female things with the girls, too. Kristyn, I'd LOVE for your girls to join us in the yurt when the time comes! -Amy

  6. Very good, Amy! I agree so much with "Motherhood continues to be the most difficult and lonely thing I've ever done." It is also the most joyful. I wish we were closer, geographically.

    I just read an article in Mothering celebrating a girl’s first menstrual cycle and immediately thought of my (and your!) girls. I wonder if I could pull a Red Party off without it being "cheesey"...

  7. Oh, yeah, I use the Diva Cup too... {and I can't believe I am put this on the internet!}

  8. I meant "putting"...

  9. Ha! Crystal I'm right there with you but then again I realized why was I scared to share? It's not like I wouldn't say what kind of shampoo I use? I'm glad to be a part of normalizing the topic and congrats to you being open also! Not to mention the fantastic environmental part too!

    I'm proud to be a "DIVA"

  10. Carrie, you have always been the most in tune woman I've ever known. It amazes me how well you know your own body. Crystal, I miss you, too. And THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THAT RED PARTY LINK! I love it and think it could be beautiful without being cheesy. I hope. And you both have got me totally into the Lunapads!