When people ask what I do, I typically reply that I’m a homemaker. However, I’m also privileged to walk with women and couples learning Fertility Awareness. I am incredibly grateful for having learned Fertility Awareness early in my marriage, and being able to teach others in its use is something that I love to do. I have many reasons why I love it, but one major reason is because I’m a feminist and I believe that Fertility Awareness is founded upon the ideals of respect and reverence for the female body and its use encourages an attitude of genuine self care for women.
In the 1960s, Dr John Billings began studying the female cycle, trying to understand its fertility cycle. After numerous studies and listening to the observations of hundreds (thousands?) of women, Doctors John and Evelyn Billings, along with the help of their colleagues, were able to set forth the first modern method of Fertility Awareness that, unlike the Calendar Rhythm method of previous generations, allowed real women to understand their individual cycles with great accuracy and to use their knowledge to plan their family size with great effectiveness. I love that their attitude was one of simply trying to understand what was, seeing the female body as good and healthy in itself, rather than trying to change or alter women’s bodies with an attitude of female inadequacy.
When it comes to artificial birth control, on the other hand, its history is fraught with misogyny and racism. Dr. Ellen Grant, in her book The Bitter Pill describes how the first birth control pill was designed to be used by men, but because one male had slight shrinkage of one testicle, the whole endeavor was called off, and the pill was redesigned for use by women. In the first human study for the redesigned pill, three women died from it and all that was done in response was to adjust the dosage. The atrocities don’t end there. I’m not going to recap every cruel act that has been performed on women and particularly women of color in the name of birth control (I would need to write a book for that), but here’s an interesting article on the subject of the history of keeping birth control side effects secret from women (or even the knowledge of what the medication was designed for).
Unfortunately, the shady dealings of the birth control industry isn’t even relegated to the distant past. In the last 20 years several class action lawsuits have been brought against birth control companies. Yaz, Yazmin, Essure, Navaring, Orthoevra, and more have all been the subject of these lawsuits, due to the extreme side effects of death, permanent infertility, or various issues of permanent debilitation. In some cases, the product has been removed from the market, but in others, like Yaz, the FDA decided to simply add another warning to the birth control insert. When it comes to women making informed consent, I’m not sure the small insert goes far enough as many women don’t read them. As a Fertility Awareness Instructor, I help a number of women seeking to transition from the use of artificial birth control to a natural means of understanding and working with their fertility. When I discuss the fact that oral contraceptives were classified as a Group One Carcinogen by the World Health Organization in 2005 for breast, liver, and cervical cancer, and that the risk of developing cancer is highest for women who use oral contraceptives for four or more years prior to their first full-term pregnancy, in my anecdotal experience, I have yet to have one client who says that she was informed of these risks. The typical response I see from women is shock and anger that no one ever told them this.
I believe that artificial birth control, instead of being women’s liberator as it is often touted to be, is quintessentially anti-feminist. The whole mindset of birth control is one that values external control of the female body and disdain for our natural processes, attitudes which are completely at odds with authentic feminism. Again and again the well-crafted narrative is that artificial birth control is worth celebrating because it has allowed women to succeed and achieve their dreams. As a woman, I resent the insinuation that my natural functioning is flawed or that I need to handicap my fertility in order to achieve the goals and dreams I have for myself, especially when it means that the price for career advancement or furthering education is living at less than my optimum level of health. Because, of course, hormonal birth control does not just cease women’s ovulation in a vacuum. It impairs her whole systemic functioning, and decreases women’s overall well-being. It affects vitamin absorption, mood, memory, energy levels, alters the actual size of her brain, and even affects women’s choice of mate. Furthermore, rather than demanding real respect for our bodies and fighting for workplace and societal changes that accommodate women’s needs, like paid parental leave, flexible scheduling, and more, we are encouraged to deny our legitimate needs, and even risk our health — anything so long as we get a seat at the coveted men’s tables.
Not only does a birth control culture not advance the legitimate rights of women, it, in fact, sets us back because it perpetuates a culture that ignores women’s needs (like access to medical solutions that treat disorders rather than mask them, for example). To me, fighting for access to contraceptives is like fighting in support of the cultural narrative and belief that women, in our most natural state, are inferior to men and the only way we can reach our fullest potential is to handicap and assault our biology. It is fighting for women’s “right” to damage ourselves in accommodation to a misogynist mindset rather than fight for the culture to accommodate and honor women’s essential needs, and recognition of our equality just as we are. It is fighting for people to pity those of us who (in their opinion) have the misfortune of being born female, rather than fighting for a culture of care and reverence for the dignity of being female. It fights for women bearing the sole burden of side effects when our natural biology is assaulted rather and advocating for a culture of care and support for the unique and authentic needs we have.
Artificial birth control was founded in misogyny and therefore it will never bring the liberation or the recognition of women’s equality that women seek. Furthermore, it seems like fighting an uphill battle to ask men to recognize our dignity when we ourselves do not accept and respect our own bodies or really even view them as equal to men’s. With Fertility Awareness, on the other hand, women experience the real liberation of working with our biology rather than assaulting it, and our partners are expected to do the same.