As the founders of a business dedicated to women’s reproductive and sexual health we’ve faced our fair share of criticism. We were prepared for people to have an issue with us selling vibrators and erotica, but what continues to surprise us is the stigma associated with critiquing hormonal birth control.
Between us we’ve got over 15 years experience with the pill. Amy was put on it in her early teens to “manage” painful, heavy periods (they were so intense she typically missed 1-3 days of school a month because she couldn’t get out of bed). She continued to use it until after her daughter was born, at which point she considered trying the hormonal IUD (which contains synthetic progesterone). To test how her body would respond, her doctor recommended she try progesterone-only pills first. She immediately experienced problems breastfeeding her daughter. She couldn’t figure out what had changed (up until then, breastfeeding had gone smoothly) until the penny dropped – the issue had started when she began taking the pill. Through her own research Amy discovered that the pill could increase milk supply. Essentially her milk was coming out so fast it was causing her daughter to choke. She stopped taking the pill and the problem cleared up.
Kim was prescribed the pill when she became sexually active in her late teens. A few months later, she was experiencing depression and her doctor recommended she go on anti-depressants. She took the pill until her early twenties when she heard about Justisse (a fertility awareness-based method of contraception) at a Women’s Studies conference. It was only then that she began to wonder if there was a correlation between her birth control and the mood disturbances she was experiencing. She stopped taking the pill and was able to go off her anti-depressants a few months later.
Was the pill the cause of Kim’s depression? There’s no way to know. But what we do know is that we’ve heard hundreds of similar stories from women over the last eight years of running Red Tent Sisters. We know that when you type “The pill makes” into Google, the first hit is “me crazy.”
Unfortunately the problems don't end there. There are the women who come to us for fertility support who don’t realize it can take up to two years to recover from the pill. As a result they land in fertility clinics where they sometimes end up spending thousands of dollars on unnecessary fertility treatments.
There are also women who have been put on the pill to “treat” PCOS only to discover it’s been masking the symptoms rather than addressing the root cause (the same goes for women like Amy who are put on it to “manage” heavy periods or acne). By masking it, the underlying health issue often gets worse over time leading to further (and more serious) health complications.
Finally, and most concerning, are the more extreme cases of blood clots and deaths. Amy has clients in their twenties and thirties who have had strokes (or come close) caused by the pill.
What we know is that women are frustrated and angry that they’re only hearing half the story rather than being fully informed. Maybe they would have make the same choice – for some women the efficacy and convenience of the pill outweighs the side effects – but at least they would make that decision after determining for themselves if it was worth it.
That’s why we’ve made it our mission at Red Tent Sisters to help women make empowered choices around their reproductive health and to offer resources for those looking to ditch the pill. But because the pill has become synonymous with birth control, critiquing hormonal contraception is sometimes seen as implying that women shouldn’t have access to contraception, period. Highlighting the side effects of the pill and suggesting that we need better options is somehow construed as unfeminist.
We’re not alone in this. Our colleague, Holly Grigg-Spall, wrote a fantastic book last year called Sweetening the Pill which met with some extraordinary backlash. Fortunately it also received some positive attention from people like Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein (the team behind The Business of Being Born). They decided to take the project further and turn it into a documentary but they too have met with similar criticisms.
“We have to explain that it is not anti-birth control or anti-Pill. Instead it is pro-informed consent, pro-choice, and pro-knowledge. We want women to have more options for contraception, not less! We want them to have more access, not less!” –Abby Epstein
After a year meeting with networks and production companies without any success, they’ve gone the Kickstarter route.
If this film comes to fruition it could have a huge impact – not only would it create a much-needed dialogue and provide a forum for women to share their stories, but it would send the message that this is a topic worth exploring.
As a way of playing our part in supporting the making of the film, we have donated 20 spots in our “Green Your Birth Control in 30 Days” program – a program which Grigg-Spall described as “embod(ying) the democratization of fertility awareness and body literacy” – as prizes to those who back the film at the $75 level.
As Holly writes: “The pill makes women feel disconnected, repressed and deadened. Through reconnecting with our bodies we are in a better position to connect with others, and with the world.”
We hope you’ll join us in saying it’s time for #betterbirthcontrol. To view the trailer for Sweetening the Pill and to read more about the campaign, click here.
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Kim & Amy Sedgwick love to discuss sex, periods, and all the other things we’re not supposed to talk about. The co-founders of Red Tent Sisters and ecosex.ca, they’ve been featured in every major Canadian news outlet and have become a trusted resource for women seeking natural (effective!) birth control, a more joyful sex life, and an empowered journey to motherhood.