Thursday, May 25, 2006


Controlling birth and mother nature

Yesterday we talked about family size, so today let's talk about birth control. (Look, it's a segue - you'd almost think it was a theme.)

I've mentioned before that I'm more obsessive about birth control now than I was when I was a teenager, which is particularly ironic because we paid several thousand dollars for our first child and are about six weeks away from trying to conceive our third. Oh irony, you cruel mistress.

But I absolutely refuse to take birth control pills. I wouldn't even take them during our IVF cycle (how's that for irony, the first thing they do when you start your treatment cycle is to put you on the pill) and argued rather vehemently with my clinic about my opposition to them.

I won't take the pill because the hormones in even the lowest dose pill wreaked such havoc with my system that I was bedridden with a three-day, barf-inducing migraine every single month on the second day after I took the last pill in a given cycle. It only took me about a dozen years to make the connection, but once I did, I swore I'd never take a birth control pill again. So far, so good.

That's why reading articles like this one about manipulating your system so you never have a period again perplex me. For a while, there's been a low-dose pill called Seasonale that lets you have only four periods a year, and they're working on a new pill called Lybrel that will inhibit periods entirely. And of course, women have been manipulating their own cycles for years by simply starting a new package of pills the day after the old package runs out, instead of taking the prescribed 'week off'.

The idea of chemically altering something so fundamental as the menstrual cycle seems like a dangerous game to me, although I guess I can see the merit when someone suffers serious cramps or other debilitating symptoms. But knowing how seriously the birth control pills affected me, it seems tatamount to poisoning yourself with these hormones to avoid having your period. No thanks. I was never so sick as the days after my failed IUIs, when my estrogen levels (propped up artificially by the stimulating hormone injections I'd been taking) crashed when conception failed to occur. It was estrogen withdrawl, from what I understand, and it was brutal.

Continuing on the subject of birth control, the Journal of Medical Ethics published a position paper on reproductive ethics this month. The author, Luc Bovens, says the 'rhythm method' of contraception, whereby the couple abstains from sex during the time when the woman is most likely to ovulate, "may well be responsible for a much higher number of embryonic deaths than in some other contraceptive techniques" like the IUD, the pill and the morning-after pill. He says the rhythm method, the only form of contraception sanctioned by the Catholic Church, may result in "millions" of unviable embryos being conceived at the beginning of the abstinence period by 'old' sperm or at the end of the abstinence period by 'old' ova, and these imperfect embryos die without ever implanting in the uterine wall. He says, "millions of rythm method cycles per year globally depend for their success on massive embryonic death."

I can't help but roll my eyes. This reminds me of a letter to the editor that was published in the Citizen back in 2002 that compared IVF to abortion because of all the embryos that were "slaughtered" in the process, calling IVF "an infraction against nature". I don't think I've ever been so riled up by something in the paper, and of course I quickly fired off my own letter. (Wow, that seems like a lifetime ago!)

As usual, I'll leave the big thinking on these ideas up to you. You're so much more insightful and opinionated than me anyway, I might as well just give the show over to you. What do you think? Would you chemically alter your system if it meant never again facing the crimson tide? Is the Church hypocritical in sanctioning a form of contraception that may in fact be causing massive embryonic death? Am I going to get some truly scary Google traffic from this post?