Friday, May 14, 2010

The Little Pill That Could

The Pill (I probably don't need to tell you which one) turned 50 last week. It's been blamed by conservatives for the sexual revolution and celebrated by feminists for giving women choices outside of their traditional roles. But as I read this enlightening TIME article, I couldn't help but notice how much irony is packed inside that little thing that over 100 million women systematically take everyday.

Let's start from the beginning. Its inventors Gregory Pincus and John Rock were both devout Catholics and both fascinated with creating life. Rock had 5 children and 19 grandchildren and was the pre-eminent infertility researcher; while Pincus successfully created a rabbit embryo, which became the precursor to IVF. In the mid 1950s, Rock and Pincus experimented with synthesized progesterone (derived from wild yams) to block ovulation. At the time, they were hoping that a few months on the Pill would help jump start a women's fertility (which it did for some women), but as we know today, most women use the Pill as birth control. So it's pretty ironic that  two men whose mission was to help barren women conceive, invented a pill that would actually help prevent conception. Want another twist to the story? Well, the Pill was finally approved by the FDA on May 11, 1960 -- yes, that's Mother's Day! Hmmm... interesting, no?

By all accounts, the Pill can be credited for helping women carve out a significant presence in the work force. In fact, by the 1970s, women were getting married later and wanted fewer children; with that, employers no longer had an excuse to turn women away or relegate them to secretarial jobs. Today, many women devote themselves to their education and careers, and some consciously choose to delay family building. I think most of us look up to successful women, I certainly do, but while I was going through IF, I started looking at those women differently. Don't get me wrong, I still admired them for their drive and intelligence, but I did wonder where they stood in terms of having children. Did they not want kids ever or just now? Had they been fooled into thinking that they could still easily conceive at 40? After all, so many celebrities of a certain age pose on the cover of magazines with their bundles of joy, never disclosing that they either did IVF and/or used donor eggs. Or maybe, these women were also silently dealing with IF and hiding their pain behind the doors of their corner offices.

Being on the Pill has given us so much freedom to define ourselves as sexual beings. We can "test drive" more than a single partner, we no longer have to worry about the condom breaking, we know when Aunt Flow's going to show up and heck, we can even go for 4 months without a visit from Her. But perhaps we got caught up in the excitement of it all and postponed facing our impending infertility. Female fertility begins to decline around 27 and hits a significant drop after 35, but surprisingly, 40% of women think that fertility only begins to decline after 35. That's a lot of women who are postponing the possibility of having children and most importantly, are delaying the realization that they might need ART to conceive.

The causes of IF are countless, but reproductive age plays a significant role in the dramatic rise of couples seeking ART treatments. From the quantity to the quality of eggs retrieved and subsequently the viability of the embryos being transfered, age isn't just a number when it comes to making babies. Now, I know better than to blame the Pill for the millions of people coping with IF or even age for that matter (I was one of countless "younger" IVF patients), but I do wonder if in our pursuit of having it all (and with the aid of the Pill), we are missing out on our primal need to bare children. What do you think?


BeEncouraged said...

Totally get where your coming from but I don't know. I do not feel that the pill is this dark cloud hanging over us. I personally have never taken the pill. My husband didnt want me to take it because he knew there could be a small percent chance I may not be able to concieve. Guess what, I never took it and I still have an issue with concieving...Infertility is so tricky because there is not this magic cure that can make it all go away. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, there very interesting

The Infertility Doula said...

Thank you for your thoughts. I don't think the Pill is a dark cloud either or that it's causing our IF. But I do wonder if it's giving us a false sense of time and delaying coming to terms with our impending IF.

A City Girl in the Burbs said...

I am also very conflicted about the pill- everytime I hear a teenager or a young woman getting on the pill for one "justified" reason or another, I almost want to ask them, "At what cost?"

I had my own "valid" reason- oh, those terrible menstrual cramps that imprisoned me to bed for so many days- then again, no one had asked me at what cost I found relief... To date, I still wonder, instead of masking the symptoms (cramps in my case), was there a way to diagnose the cause?

And I know the answer from the bottom of my heart: Yes, there sure was...

B said...

I was on the pill for a long time. And for various reasons I wish I'd gone onto it earlier.

I think that you missed out a huge chunk of pros and cons of the pill in that you don't mention the other potential health risks - cancer (both raised and lowered risks for different types of cancer) and stroke.

I wish we'd started TTC earlier, but I wasn't in the right job earlier and - more importantly - neither was DH. We've been together a long time but only in the last two years has he been in a job where he just works his hours. Before he worked 10+ hour days and often weekends too, for a pittance of a pay packet. We were 35 and 33 before this changed, and I don't think it could have changed earlier than it did. The pill has nothing to do with that - if we hadn't been on that method of birth control we would have used another.

I would rather have the pill (and other methods of birth control) and ALL its inherent problems than go back to the days before we had control over when and how to have kids.

Interesting post, anyway!

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