I want to talk about…”The Pill”
I recently watched The Business of Birth Control, a new documentary produced by Abby Epstein and Ricki Lake. The documentary is a (necessary) deep dive into the birth control industry and ever since I saw the film, I can’t stop thinking about it.
I think I speak for many women when I say — I had pretty terrible experiences with birth control. I experimented with about seven different versions of the pill between the ages of 16 and 24, and many of the stories that were shared by women in the documentary reflected my own lived experience. While on the pill, I experienced weight gain, chronic headaches, huge mood swings, and anxiety, to name a few side effects. And later, after coming off the pill, I experienced huge hormonal imbalances, caused by stress that led to dramatic hair loss, chronic acid reflux, and debilitating period pain. I went from doctor to doctor looking for answers, where I heard the same thing over and over — ”You should go back on the pill.” Eventually, my mum stepped in and told me I needed to see an endocrinologist, so I did, and that finally helped me get to the root of my symptoms. My endocrinologist also told me one of the biggest truth bombs I’ve ever received about my health — that my period isn’t supposed to be painful.
We have been socialized to accept that pain during your period is normal, when in reality, your period can be a fifth vital sign. But debilitating pain means there’s probably something else going on (stress, an underlying condition like PCOS, etc.), and taking the pill will only mask that pain by stopping your regular hormone production and therefore your menstrual cycle. In other words, if you don’t know the root cause of your pain, the pill is just a band-aid. This is covered in the documentary, which makes it clear that we need to be more educated on how birth control actually works so that we can advocate for better options and solutions.
But there’s a catch — criticizing birth control is a highly controversial conversation (for good reason). On the one hand, birth control affords people with the freedom to define their reproductive choices. On the other hand, birth control options can have severe side effects and wider implications on a person’s health. In the documentary, we learn the dark history around the (lack of) transparency from drug companies that should be communicating these side effects — it has ties to the eugenics movement and has also led to women dying as the result of taking birth control.
To be clear, I firmly believe every person should have the right to choose their own reproductive path — whether that be going on birth control, not taking birth control, having an abortion, or having children. Unfortunately, we live in a world where the privilege of choice is not widely available — there are still many countries that don’t allow birth control and there are still places where access to birth control is a critical tool that protects women from carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term. With the rise of anti-abortion bills currently moving through the U.S. courts, reproductive choice is more important than ever.
In recent years, there’s been a rise in women demanding better solutions from the pill, with glimmers of progress emerging from research trials on male birth control and contraceptive options like the Fertility Awareness Method taking off in popularity. I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that these changes are happening in our most connected era — more women are talking to each other in friend groups and online social communities, making the conversation more accessible and less taboo.
We’re certainly talking openly about our experiences with birth control and what we know about the options currently available to us in Diem. In fact, we’re hosting a conversation on this with the CEO of The Lowdown, a review site for birth control, Alice Pelton today. We also chatted with the Director of The Business of Birth Control, Abby Epstein, about all of this. Listen to that conversation here.
What was your experience with birth control?
This article originally appeared in Diem’s weekly newsletter on April 12th 2022, subscribe here.