After all the recent buzz about the new birth control pill Lybrel, which gets rid of the traditional “sugar pill” week and allows women to skip menstruating all together–the pill is finally on the shelves this month.
Karen Houppert has an Op-Ed about it at the NYTimes today, and she points out the interesting ways the menstruation as proof of inferiority has been used to certain groups advantage. She points out that when women were needed in the factories during the World Wars, they were told that having their period didn’t matter, and they should “buck up.” But when it comes to having a woman in the White House, its not uncommon to hear PMS and emotional instability thrown around like character flaws.
So we’ll see how Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, the makers of Lybrel, decide to try and market their new pill. But in my own, non-biologist opinion, I have some immediate concerns about these new technologies:
- All those synthetic hormones? I personally am wary of all hormonal birth control, I’m not sure if I believe that there are no negative side effects to them. I’ve also been told that when you introduce synthetic hormones into your body, your body doesn’t make any of its own hormones–so you might be subsisting at a level that is too high or too low for you, which can have side effects like bone loss. Also let’s remember the Hormone Replacement Therapy fiasco.
- What about the good effects of the sloughing of the uterine lining each month? I think of it as rejuvenatory, allowing new and healthier cells to grow in its place. Could this have an impact on risk for uterine cancers?
- Lastly, when I think of missing periods, or amenorrhea, I think of it being an indicator of something else wrong with the body–bad nutrition, stress, (or pregnancy). How can something that indicates a bodily imbalance be a good thing?
There could be a lot of other arguments about how great menstruating is, and how it connects us with mother earth, la pacha mama or the lunar calender. I’ll spare you all of those, and leave it at my concerns above.
All of this controversy reminded me of a great piece written by Gloria Steinem, called If Men Could Menstruate. Read it. While published in 1978, I think it has particular resonance today.
I’d love to hear what other doulas and midwives think about this new pill.