Reproductive Writes: Keep Talking Part 2: An Interview with Laura Eldridge

Laura Eldridge is a women's health writer and activist. She began working with the founder of the women's health movement and author of The Doctor's Case Against The Pill, Barbara Seaman, when studying at Barnard College. Starting out as an an intern she progressed to become co-author on the publications Body Politic: Dispatches From The Women's Health Revolution and The No-Nonsense Guide To Menopause. This June Seven Stories Press will be releasing In Our Control: The Complete Guide To Contraceptive Choices For Women - a book Laura formed after Barbara Seaman's death in 2008 to provide a revaluation at the time of the Pill's 50th anniversary. The first part of this interview can be read here.

What was your experience of coming off the Pill and getting a diaphragm?

My experience was more comical than complicated. My gynecologist looked at me like I wanted to wear a chastity belt. I had tried five different Pills in my life and I refused to experiment with another. So she finally agreed to fit me for a diaphragm and pulled a brochure out from the bottom drawer of her desk and dusted it off and said 'Well this is old, but I am sure not a lot has changed.' The pharmacist also gave me a lot of attitude and said the prescription would take a week to fill, rolling his eyes when I gave him the script.

I have heard stories from the friends who I have convinced to try a diaphragm, and then needed to go to three different doctors before they could find one that would fit it. We are told the diaphragm is not effective, but it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you speak to women older than us, we can see this is not the case. My mother used a diaphragm for years without an issue. I had to get used to using it – how it felt to put it in, which angle would work for me, but that took about a week to two weeks. The bigger barrier (no pun intended) was getting over my fear that it wouldn't work and trusting myself to use it properly. Nothing I had heard about the diaphragm was true – it wasn't excessively messy, it didn't adversely effect my sex life. It can be put in ahead of time. It is wonderful!

Women just don't often trust anything other than the Pill to prevent pregnancy. There's a certain amount of superstition that comes in to trying to avoid getting pregnant. You put your faith in one method or another. Being more in control of the process and taking responsibility for what happens can be scary. It's amazing that we have this one size fits all Pill where someone who is 4'10'' and 95 pounds takes the same one as someone who is 6'2'' – that doesn't seem right. The fewer women that use the diaphragm and the fewer doctors that know how to fit it - the less effective it will be. Women are not getting access or the quality of care to use other methods properly.

Coming off the Pill can be difficult, in a similar way to what women coming off hormone replacement therapy can experience. I went to a conference with Barbara in 2007 and a doctor was talking about HRT (which by the way, is made of the same chemicals that are in the Pill but at lower doses) - and I asked her about women coming off of hormone treatments and how they could get, perhaps, addicted to them and she was very adamant that women do not get addicted to these drugs. I couldn't believe her contention. These are powerful chemicals, and people have the potential to get addicted to powerful chemicals. Many women describe experiences coming off the Pill that sound like addiction. That said, not all women find coming of the Pill or HRT tough – I didn't have a problem with it.

In Our Control also includes a chapter on the possibility of a male Pill - how do you feel about that?

On the one hand, Margaret Sanger felt women needed to be in control of their contraception, but on the other hand, I don't think we can have any proper conversations about hormonal contraception until men are included and they also have to think about whether they want to take a drug every day. I don't want men to be subjected to any dangers and discomforts that a Pill might hold, but we aren't having the important conversations we need to have and we might not until men are confronted by this issue too.

The Pill set the stage for preventative care. We now see healthy people taking drugs for their heart, their bones and so on. The Pill showed that healthy people will stay on a drug long term even though they are healthy, if that drug is shown to have benefits. But pharmaceutical companies are much more wary about inflicting the possible side effects on men. They say, for example, that the male contraceptive can not have any effect on men's sexuality, when the female Pill certainly does have this impact on women. Women are supposed to tolerate these problems and possibly until they hear men stand up and say they don't want to take the male Pill then they won't think any further. Women and men need a wake up call.

I think there are now rumblings of discontent that I wasn't hearing ten years ago, and that makes me happy - it's about time! Realizing how dangerous the Pill was for women is one thing that galvanized the women's health movement. Perhaps talking about contraception in a more dynamic way can help us to make positive changes in women's health now. We understand that contraception is one small piece of a larger movement for reproductive justice. But we still need to have this conversation..

Comments

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the pill is addictive?

I don't mean to persecute this writer, but yesterday she claimed that emergency contraception was non-hormonal, when it is simply a double dose of certain kinds of birth control pills. She also included it in a list of regular birth control methods, when ec is intended only to back up the failure of other methods.
Today she claims the Pill and HRT are addictive because they are "powerful chemicals."

Why is Bitch giving space to outright errors of fact and wild contentions for which no evidence is given?

Katha, So many women have

Katha,

So many women have trouble coming off of hormone drugs. Why do we have women in their 80's who are having hot flashes when they give up hormone therapy? I've received letters from women who had profound physical and psychological side effects when they went off hormonal contraception, from hair loss, skin and metabolic effects to menstruation that was disrupted for months and even a year, and of course mood changes. Holly, the author of this post, has movingly chronicled her struggles getting off the pill in her blog. You should check it out.

The tyranny of powerful chemicals

"These are powerful chemicals, and people have the potential to get addicted to powerful chemicals."

Based on your above quote, the question needs to be asked: Do you understand how the Pill works and the main difference between HRT and the Pill? Or, in other words:

1) define "powerful" chemicals

2) explain how Pill hormones meet the definition in relationship to body hormones

3) produce data showing Pill hormones are addictive

those addictive hormones

Why are their women in their 80's who are having hot flashes when they give up hormone therapy? Because they are no longer receiving any of the hormones. HRT is used to combat some of the unwanted effects of menopause (such as hot flashes). When a woman goes through menopause there is a gradual decrease of estrogen that generally allows her body to slowly adjust to the hormonal changes. Hot flashes and sweats are at their worst for the first 1 - 2 years... When a woman is on HRT there is no natural decrease, the body is getting the hormones at a steady rate through the HRT. Not only that, but the body will actually stop producing the hormones on it's own because it's getting them artificially. So of course a woman is going to have a sudden onset of menopause symptoms if she suddenly discontinues HRT.

Remember, there is a difference between being addicted to a drug and experiencing a rebound effect after discontinuing a drug abruptly. A rebound effect is the tendency of a medication (when abruptly discontinued) to cause a return of the symptoms being treated to be more severe than before. Medications with a known rebound effect (especially any kind of hormones used for the treatment of adverse physical symptoms or illness) should be withdrawn gradually or in conjunction with another medication which does not exhibit a rebound effect.

So basically the author isn't totally off-base in what she's trying to convey. The use (or the discontinuation) of artificial hormones is not something to be taken lightly. However, I think she should probably rethink the terms that she used here as they tend to be kinda misleading.

You are aware

that there are many different types of the "Pill" and there is no (longer) a "one-size-fits-all" pill? And the pills are mixes of one or more hormones in different strengths that most females naturally produce anyway? Your use of the phrase "powerful chemicals" is disingenuous considering that people naturally produce these "powerful chemicals" all on their own. I'm not even going to point out that the list of "powerful chemicals" that people do really become addicted to is actually a very short list. And hormones are so not on it. I'll agree that the "Pill" is not for everyone but don't just make shit up.

Woman: Not an Illness

While I agree that some of the terminology of this interview should be read very carefully, I also want to support the point the author is making. Being a woman has been treated for too long as an illness. We are encouraged to take drugs to "regulate" our natural processes (I was a still-forming, non-sexually active teen when that was first suggested to me), we are given plastic menstrual aids that can irritate delicate mucous membranes and exacerbate infections (PID, anyone?) and which we are expected to dispose of immediately as "unclean", we are checked into hospitals and forced to lie in unnatural positions for drug-enhanced labors, then given incomplete information about our birth control and menopause choices, even by female doctors.
I wasn't told until I'd had a continuous round of infections for over a year that the string on an IUD can be an infection-conductor, for example. Since I am sensitive to infections, as my long-term Ob/Gyn knew, I should have been warned about that. I couldn't take the pill because after trying several types and experiencing what I termed as "all pregnancy, all the time" I couldn't function as a wife, mother, or teacher. I was never even OFFERED a diaphragm, and ended up getting sterilized (a decision which I still stand by but did face a grieving period about). I know women who had fibroid tumors and were recommended hysterectomies as their FIRST option, despite research that shows most hysterectomies performed in the US are unnecessary. The same goes for C-Sections in the US (and how many of us had unnecessarily induced labors?). One of my friends did menopause twice-- the first time, and then again after she had to get off HRT because her HRT had contributed to an especially nasty breast cancer.

By the time I heard about GladRags, Moon Cups, and LunaPads, I had suffered more than 15 years of irritations and infections from using chemical-doused plastic disposables. I had gotten sterilized due to poor information from my doctor about birth control options. I am not saying that the pill or c-sections or disposable menstrual products are bad for everyone-- but I am advocating a cultural shift. TALK about it. Openly. With women, with men who have no idea what's going on because they've been told it's not their problem. Articles that begin dialogues, like this one, should be appearing in the New York Times and Time Magazine, not just Bitch (although I do applaud their efforts and hope they are the first among many!).

Being a woman is natural. Women have been bleeding and birthing-- and not birthing-- for millions of years without medical "intervention". We need to at least be aware as women that we can have other options, rather than being bandaged and drugged and relegated to "wards" and "not so fresh" commercials.

Cloth pads and Menstrual cups

I know isn't it terrible that no one bothers to tell us that there is a different choice than disposables? I have a very sensitive vagina and am prone to infections, dryness and irritation, yet my doctors always told me it was because of my period blood. In all actuality it was from my chronic use of disposable pads and tampons.

I posted this on your other blog but I am also going to post it

here because I think it relates. I changed it a bit though.

I too have had very negative experiences with hormonal contraceptives and traditional menstrual products. When I was 17 I decided I needed a form of birth control other than condoms. I knew that I did not want to take a pill because I had heard that the pill can cause blood clots if you are a smoker, so I had decided that I wanted to get fitted for a Diaphragm. As soon as I told this to the doctor she became very hesitant and seemed annoyed that I wasn't interested in the pill. She told me that she had not fitted a diaphragm in years because although they still can fit them, they are out-dated and not as convenient as the pill. I told her I already used a menstrual cup so it wouldn't be a problem but she wouldn't stop trying to convince me and finally told me that it is a lot less reliable than the hormonal alternatives. I got a little hesitant there and she told me that she could give me a birth control shot that is very convenient, lasts three months, makes your period light or non existent and doesn't have the same dangers as the birth control pill. To me this shot seemed like a miracle so I gave in and got the shot. That was one of the worst mistakes of my life.

A couple of days after that I got my period and it didn't stop for a year straight, every single day. Most of it wasn't just spotting either, it was like having a light-average period all the time. I also became very depressed and anxious, having panic attacks and hardly ever leaving the house unless it was going to the psych ward for suicidal idealization. I had NO sex drive and no pleasure from sex and my vagina was always irritated and itchy. I didn't see how this could be since the shot is only suppose to last 3 MONTHS. Every time I went to the doctor they would just tell me that spotting is normal on this pill, that it will go away soon and that they couldn't treat me for a yeast infection because I had my period. During this time I had also begun to use tampons and pads again because I had lost my cup. No one ever told me the dangers of using tampons and pads, that they dry you out therefor can cause yeast infections. I used them constantly everyday so this was probably very bad for my body. My doctor told me that the itchiness and irritation was probably cause by my period always being there! She also never told me that the shot was linked to lack of libido or depression and anxiety.

After months and months I finally did some research and found out that there are many girls out there that also suffered from this bleeding and that the shot was directly linked to lack of libido, depression and anxiety. I also read on the shots site that IT SHOULD NOT BE PRESCRIBED TO PEOPLE WITH A HISTORY OF DEPRESSION OR ANXIETY. I have a very long history of depression and anxiety, being hospitalized 5 times while I was an adolescent in the psychiatric ward. It angers me SO MUCH that my doctor knew this and STILL prescribed this without giving me any knowledge of side effects except that it might stop your period or cause spotting in the beginning that will go away! She actually told me that it can lighten your mood! Now there was nothing to do but wait.

It has been 2 years now since I had the shot and I STILL suffer from irregular periods. I only get my period once every 3-6 months and when I do get it it is extremely heavy, I fill up super tampons in an hour. (I have since switched from tampons to cups and cloth pads when I learned that they can cause infections) I still suffer from depression and anxiety and I am pretty sure it is linked to that because if I only get my period every 3-6 months my hormones must be screwed up. This I think proves the "rebound" theory of hormonal use because before I had the shot I also had irregular periods but not this terribly. I was even recommended another birth control PILL regulate them which in actuality is not regulating it, just giving you a fake period.

I am a firm believer that the every girl who is thinking about getting on hormonal birth control should be educated thoroughly about what these hormones really do, and told ALL the risks and all the alternatives she has available by someone who is not bias and going to tell her how bad a diaphragm is. I would much rather deal with putting it in than deal with all the emotional and physical problems these pills cause. Hormonal Birth control is not liberating, it is just the opposite, prevents your body's natural cycle and leaves it blank and confused. It outrages me that this is seen as the best choice, use condoms people, his convenience and extra pleasure is not worth screwing up your emotions and your body!

A pill for males is a GREAT idea if it is true that it does not pose the same risks for men as it does for women i don't see why they are so reluctant to make it. It must be because us women have all just learned to "deal with it".