Lies Your Doctor Tells You – Pt. 1

My feelings on this post have changed since I last wrote it. See comments!

**I usually put a warning above posts like this. The words ovulation, menses and period are used multiple times in this post. If those words make you uncomfortable, then you might not want to continue reading further.**

So something has come across my way one too many times this week for me not to write about it….

“I’m on the pill because it regulates my periods.”
“My gyno told me that the pill was the only way to cure my PCOS.”
“I used to have terrible cramps, but the pill regulated my periods AND took care of my cramps.”

I understand why the pill is a more desirable choice for many women. I believe you should have the right to make the choice on what’s best for you and and your situation. I also understand why the pill makes cramps more tolerable, PCOS easier, and overall your periods more trouble-free. I get that. But please, please stop spreading the misconception that the pill regulates your periods.

Scientifically, medically, it is impossible to have a (true) menses without ovulation. The pill terminates ovulation (or is supposed to the majority of the time). Therefore, there is no menses.

Instead, what you have is withdrawal bleeding. Our cycles are not just that week or so of bleeding, there’s a whole symphony of hormones pumping through our system naturally that create the menstrual cycle. So when artificial hormones come into play, all of that halts. There is no phase 1, 2, and 3. You don’t ovulate, which is the whole reason for a menstrual cycle.
progesterone-only-contraceptive-graph The top two charts demonstrate female natural, non-manipulated hormones, the bottom two show the hormones on artificial influence.

Many young teens go on birth control for cramps – oh girl, let me tell you, I know about cramps. I’m not dismissing the fact that they suck. And for some young girls, birth control is just about the only thing that gives them a chance at a normal life. But for others, their body just needs to adjust and develop. Throwing a birth control pill at a 14 year old temporarily relieves them of the pain, but doesn’t actually let their body fully develop.

I think there’s this haze surrounding contraception – we don’t actually know how it works, we just know it does work. And clears our skin, and makes our boobs bigger. It’s the wonder drug. I haven’t even mentioned yet that it prevents pregnancy.

I sound pretty anti pill here today. Do I think you should have the right to use birth control pills? Absolutely. Do I think very highly of the pill? Quite frankly, I wish more money, time, and people would be invested to research other options that actually cure hormonal imbalances. I think doctors should stop using the words “regulate” and “birth control” in the same sentence.

I’d like to see health professionals develop ways to actually cure irregularities. I’d like to see them take the time to figure out WHY cramps are intolerable, or WHY bleeding persists for longer than a week.

Here are the facts that even the highest of medical professionals would agree with me on:

1.You are not having a real period on the pill.
2. In fact, there’s no reason to have bleeding on the pill because you’re not ovulating. No ovulation, no bleeding. Remember how intertwined these two are.
3. The pill makes your cramps lighter because it entirely halts the menstrual cycle. (As I’ve said before, sometimes this is the only, best option.)

So the take home point is this: the pill does not regulate your period. It in fact, eliminates our cycles, and for our comfort level, leaves a nice little few days of something that kind of sort of represents a period. We’re supposed to forget that ovulation is the whole reason for a period. Which is kind of screwed up in of itself – why bother having withdrawal bleeding at all? When the inventors of the pill were designing it, did they say, “Well, we still want them to bleed every month. We definitely don’t want Kotex angry at us. So let’s give them a fake period and tell them it’s a real one.”

Sometimes, this really is the best option for women. Some women would rather take a birth control pill anyways. And for some, despite every fiber in their being wanting a “natural” period, they must be on contraception because of health problems. But with all this talk about knowledge and education on contraception, you’d think the most basic comprehension of how it works would be more well known.

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8 responses to “Lies Your Doctor Tells You – Pt. 1

  1. The Pill is good for managing endometriosis and treating cysts, but that’s about it. It’s terribly overprescribed.

    Why the bleed? To make the Pill seem more “natural” in an attempt to convince Catholics it was OK. Malcolm Gladwell wrote about this.

    http://www.gladwell.com/2000/2000_03_10_a_rock.html

    The Pope was not fooled. Nor has the Pharmaceutical industry given up on trying to convince women the Pill is natural and healthy.

    • But I do think it’s catching on – with some IUD’s I believe periods get eliminated, same with brands like Seasonale. Women are saying, “Wait, why DO I need to bleed every month?” I’ve also heard that there’s no medical reason to ovulate every month.
      From a personal standpoint, I beg to differ, but I can’t back this up scientifically.
      I’m also 50% joking, 50% serious, I think they might be in cahoots with the feminine hygiene companies.

  2. http://www.woomb.org has a fair amount of research on all the hormones, if you haven’t found it already.

    I obviously have no opinion on bleeding itself, but I can say that calling the normal function of a woman’s body to be disease or a “curse” is troubling from a cultural anthropology perspective. What does that say about women?

    SNL made fun of the “trend” you are describing.
    http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/annuale/221774/

  3. Pingback: Lies Your Doctor Tells You – Pt. 2 | 20somethingcatholic·

  4. “Some women don’t care to find out the root causes of their health issues and would rather take a birth control pill anyways.”

    And that’s where you lost me. There’s a significant amount of condescension in that statement. I have PCOS and you know what? None of the 9 doctors I have seen for this over the course of 15 years know, for certain, what the root cause of it is. All we have are very vague things like “genetics” and “excess testosterone” and “glucose levels.” So I resent the implication that I am lazy and uneducated about my body simply because I’m on the pill.

    And the other thing I know is that when I am NOT on the pill, I rarely have an “organic” period, either. So who are you to tell me my body is somehow missing out on a genuine reproductive experience simply because I have chosen the thing that best treats my symptoms and also allows me to have some sense of reproductive normalcy because it gives me a regular cycle? I’m not saying that the Pill is a perfect drug — it can have side effects and you should only go on it with the counsel of your doctor. But I’m not exactly buying the idea that there is some vast medical conspiracy out to hurt women; from what I can tell, you don’t exactly have an M.D. after your name either.

    So maybe you should just stick to the fuzzy-wuzzy, “I’m the Carrie Bradshaw of Christian Dating” stuff instead of making pronouncements on women’s health. I’m not seeing any scientific evidence that taking a birth control pill at 14 “doesn’t actually let her body develop.” You know what the birth control pill gave me when I went on it at 14? Well, at the point, my “organic” period had lasted for so long (approaching 6 weeks) that I was becoming anemic. I couldn’t play soccer anymore, I was exhausted, I couldn’t pay attention in school and came down with pneumonia. For my very Catholic mother, that was the last straw. I went on the pill, with its “fake” cycle, and it saved me from major health problems, it cleared up severe acne that I had been treating with a dermatologist for years with no results, and helped ease my depression. An estimated 5 million women in this country also have PCOS and many of us gain a lot more from the pill than simply having lighter cramps. The Pill gives us a chance at a normal life, not to mention that it effectively prevents an unwanted pregnancy. So if this web site is really about being “enough” just as we all are, then I’ll have to be enough with my “fake” body.

    • Honestly, I’m very thankful that you shared your thoughts here. It is very humbling and a good reminder. You are right, I do not I have M.D. after my name so please do put your doctors opinion over mine!
      I have written before about where birth control has its place – and you would most certainly be an example of that! The main point I was trying to get across (and I will have to go back and make some edits upon your comments) was that doctors sometimes give the impression that contraception does fix the original problem. (In my personal experience.) As you said, it DOES help the excruciating symptoms and that’s where it truly has a place. I wish they (they being research companies and medical professionals) would be investing more in solving the actual problems instead of hailing the pill as the be-all solution.
      Almost all of my girlfriends are on contraception and I have heard blatant misconceptions and THAT’s what sparked this post. You clearly understand what the medication does. Re-reading that last paragraph you are right, that was not a nice thing for me to say. For many people (like yourself) these health issues are a very personal, very sensitive, visceral topic. I’m embarrassed, to be honest.
      I feel that the pill for women in your situation is the best option available. I’d like to see in the next few decades those options expand.

  5. I appreciate your response to this, and I’m sorry that my comment was more heated than it needed to be. I think the problem begins when we start talking about how women are “naturally” supposed to be in any context, whether that’s in terms of reproductive health, gender norms, dating, in the workplace, in marriage, or in motherhood. I think I was upset by the post, too, because I generally really like this blog as it tends to offer a more measured and accepting voice than most other Catholic blogs I’ve encountered (which, at least when it comes to discussing NFP, essentially make you feel like if you’re using contraception, you’re on Team Voldemort).

    And trust me, no one would like to see other options for treating PCOS than me, but the problem, at least as I understand it from the research, is that a low-dose ocp is about all the hormonal level you can take without significantly increasing your risk for cancer. Because of this, doctors tend to be hesitant to prescribe pure estrogen for women who are not yet menopausal (and PCOS is, ultimately, a hormonal condition). Some women have taken metformin to treat their PCOS, but that’s a diabetes drug so it’s not very effective if you’re someone like me, who has pretty normal weight/blood sugar levels. There is just not much we can do about it right now.

    I believe that women should receive thorough education on and free access to all forms of contraception, including NFP. I also believe that, when educated on the various effectiveness of rates of methods like the pill, the IUD, the condom, and NFP as reported by credible institutions like the CDC, hormonal forms of contraception will remain the most common choice for preventing unintended pregnancies, “fake” cycles notwithstanding. But the point is to find the thing that works for your individual body and I’m glad that you’ve found that for yourself.

    • I try (and obviously sometimes fail) to be a “pro-nfp” not “anti-pill” blog. Because 1) It’s a very sensitive topic for many. And 2) I have the Catholic “brand”. Aka people write me off as a crazy anti-contraception Catholic lady.

      I have had a lot of personal health problems on artificial hormones and was increasingly frustrated when doctors simply kept telling me to switch brands. That’s where a lot of my personal aversion to contraception lies. (Not team Voldemort!) I discovered FAM charting and it has helped me immensely. I think the most frustrating thing was that FAM was never mentioned to me by any of my doctors. So for me, in my situation, which is inherently different from yours or any other woman’s, I found NFP to be the best option for me.

      I’m a big believer in letting people make choices for themselves. (‘merica! Right?) Contraception, included. What lacks, I believe, is education in all of the contraception options. I’ve had doctors push BC on me, and assume I’m not responsible enough for anything else. And they wouldn’t listen to me when I said I reacted terribly to artificial hormones. They wrote it off as “I needed to give it more time.” When I had given it ample time, in my opinion.

      I certainly hope not to encourage my readers into thinking they have to be one way to be “natural”. We are all very diverse and wonderful beings! I am really sorry if I offended you by giving off idea that a “fake” body is not “enough”. (Which is *not* an idea I ever want to give off!)

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