Shouting from the Rooftops!

In case you haven’t heard, the subject of birth control has been in the news lately. Before I get in to this post, I’m going to add a clarifier that I am not a doctor or a pharmacist and the advice contained in this post should not be used to replace medical advice. But this is about really learning about what it is that you, our readers, put into your bodies.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I want to tell you something that gets under my skin like nothing else does. I bet that you’ve probably heard at least ten people in your life say it (or some variation) this last month.

“But birth control isn’t all bad. I know someone who’s taking birth control for medical reasons and it cured her.”

Show of hands? Who here has heard someone say that? Who has said it themselves?

Let me tell you what’s wrong with that statement. I’ll start with the easy part.

Birth control doesn’t CURE anything!

In consulting with Dictionary.com you find that the following definition of the word “cure” exists:
Cure [kyoor] noun, verb, cured, cur·ing.
1. a means of healing or restoring to health; remedy.
2. a method or course of remedial treatment, as for disease.
3. successful remedial treatment; restoration to health.
4. a means of correcting or relieving anything that is troublesome or detrimental: to seek a cure for inflation.
5. the act or a method of preserving meat, fish, etc., by smoking, salting, or the like.

The one place where this definition falls short (in my opinion) is that it doesn’t state that the “means of healing or restoring to health” should be specified as permanent means of healing or restoring to health.

Someone whose cancer has been cured has been healed or restored to health – permanently. Someone whose endometriosis has been cured has been restored to health – permanently. Someone who is still battling cancer (or endometriosis) has not been fully restored to health and therefore cannot be considered cured.

The conditions that the birth control pill is said to treat are painful periods/cramps, heavy or irregular periods, acne, too much hair, or severe PMS (mood changes, headaches, bloating, etc.).

It is very discouraging to me that a woman with any or all of those symptoms would walk in to a doctor’s office and the doctor would just throw medication at the problem without taking the time to diagnose what’s wrong. Yet that’s what happens! That doesn’t happen with other medical conditions, why “female problems”?

For the last year I have been struggling with some incredibly awful heartburn, nausea, gas, bloating, and what I later learned was a swollen esophagus. The doctor wouldn’t prescribe anything for me until she’d run a battery of tests. She needed to figure out what the problem was (particularly making sure that I wasn’t having any cardiac issues) before she started to treat me. Yet if I were to go to her and say “my cramps are so awful that I can hardly sit up at my desk at work, and then when I do get my period I can’t go anywhere or be away from a bathroom because I go through tampons so quickly,” what usually happens (in most doctor’s offices)? I walk out with a prescription for birth control pills without having run a single test to determine what the problem is.

I know that’s what happens – it has happened to me three different times in my life and it baffled me each time. You’re going to give me something to take before you tell me what’s wrong with me? Now granted, if my doctor had talked to me about surgery for endometriosis when I was 21 years old I might have run for the hills, but I would have known the word endometriosis. I could have learned (at the age of 21) about the importance of eating natural foods (less processed food), reducing my salt intake the week before my period, trying to add an Omega-3 supplement in to my diet, and using progesterone. Heck! I would have learned about the hormone progesterone!

Yes, when you have endometriosis all you want is relief. If someone would have told me that when you take birth control pills to treat the symptoms of endometriosis, the symptoms usually return and are usually worse, I maybe would not have gone down that road. In other words, when I was ready to finally have a child with my husband, there were more than a few months where I wondered if I could live with the cramps while we were trying to conceive. (I ended up having a laparoscopy four years ago, and probably need to have another one but don’t want to deal with the recovery that I had last time)

The other condition that a lot of the symptoms listed above (acne, irregular and heavy periods, too much hair) are symptomatic of is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). If you’re not someone who’s been around the Infertility community, or if you don’t have a family member who has PCOS, you’ve probably never heard of it before. As many as 1 in 15 women have it, and it’s one of the number one causes of Infertility. I have five good friends who have PCOS and I know several other women who suffer with the disorder. It’s a frustrating thing to deal with.

PCOS is largely the result of Insulin Resistance (IR). Because the body can’t process insulin correctly, the female reproductive system doesn’t work quite right and instead of releasing an egg on a routine cycle (every 28 days for “average” women), the ovaries produce cysts and an egg is released on an unpredictable schedule. Often times reproductive endocrinologists talk about patients with PCOS having a “string of pearls” row of cysts in their ovaries.

An ovary with PCOS.
From the Cincinnati Fertility Clinic

Women fall victim to thinking that birth control pills cure PCOS because they (generally) go to see their doctor about the fact that they never know when they’re going to get their period. The doctor gives them a prescription for birth control pills, which they take, and they get a period every 28 days. It’s almost like a miracle for them – they have predictable cycles, their acne starts to clear up, their cramps aren’t as bad, they’re not nearly as moody, they can walk past the ice cream case in the grocery store without filling their cart… Life is almost normal.

But then when they want to have a baby? They go off of birth control and their problem is back and even worse.

God willing, they get someone who talks to them about the benefit of diet and exercise. There is a great deal of evidence that women with PCOS benefit from a diet like the PCOS diet or the Glycemic Index diet or being gluten free. They learn that just dropping 5% of their body weight has a profound effect on their fertility. Amazingly, when your body isn’t working so hard to combat the roller coaster of Insulin Resistance, it can do a better job at fertility.

But the medical community doesn’t tell you that the only way to really cure PCOS is through diet and exercise (and not just “eat less than 1,800 calories a day” – but eat the right things) because there are drugs they can throw at the problem. If you don’t want to get pregnant you can take birth control pills. If you do want to get pregnant they can give you Clomid to force your body to ovulate.

I hate to say it, but we’ve allowed ourselves (and I count myself in this group) to be tricked in to believing that birth control pills are the answer to all of our problems.

In many cases, however, they complicate the problem further. I firmly believe (but can’t find a doctor who will agree with me) that the five years I spent taking birth control pills caused my infertility. Those gastrointestinal issues that I referred to above? Turns out that they’re caused by Insulin Resistance (IR). I don’t have PCOS, but I have something very similar to it, so I’m learning how to eat right for my body. If someone had talked to me when I was in my 20’s about IR I could have saved myself a lot of heartache (and chest pains). My body has lost the ability (also complicated by age since I’m closing in on 40) to correctly produce progesterone, something that I believe was always there, but has been complicated by using birth control pills to regulate my hormone swings. My hormones don’t know how to “swing” without help – like the 6-year-old who sits on a swing and doesn’t know how to pump her legs because someone has always pushed her.

So what’s the answer? If you know a woman of child-bearing age who complains about painful periods, irregular periods, heavy bleeding, acne, or excessive hair on her face, urge her (beg her) to ask her doctor what other options are available to her other than the birth control pill. If you yourself are on the birth control pill for “medical reasons”, please do your own research. Is continuing to push hormones in your body that just simply mask the symptoms rather than treat the problem worth it?

Wouldn’t you rather be truly cured?

11 comments
  • AnnaAugust 4, 2012 - 12:31 pm

    Great post! I have PCOS and was on birth control for about 2-3 years. It did NOT cure me. I also had a history of a mild mood disorder and the birth control made it much worse! I felt so miserable. I finally went off of it after my dad had blood clots in his lungs. I could have Factor V Leiden and be predisposed to blood clots. I also developed carpal tunnel syndrome while on the pill. My doctor (a woman) assured me the birth control was not the cause, but you can develop CTS when you are pregnant, and elsewhere I’ve read that being on birth control is a risk factor for developing CTS. I can’t advise people what to do personally, but for me, it was an awful experience. I’ve been treating my PCOS with exercise and a gluten-free diet, which has at least gotten rid of the pain from the cysts…ReplyCancel

  • TracyAugust 4, 2012 - 9:11 pm

    Fabulous post!!!ReplyCancel

  • MAugust 4, 2012 - 10:20 pm

    Just so you know, there is NO cure for endometriosis. Absolutely nothing. It is a condition that is only treatable. After spending almost 2 years trying to get a doctor to take my pain seriously, I found one who believed me enough to perform surgery (i.e., the only way to diagnose endometriosis). During that surgery, she found one of the worst cases of stage 4 endometriosis that she had ever seen at the Cleveland Clinic. After surgery her only recommendation to me was either spending the rest of my child-bearing life on birth control or have a hysterectomy. After pressing her for months for another option, she recommended that the hysterectomy was my only option.

    So until OB/GYNs take endometriosis seriously enough to develop a better treatment (and by treatment, birth control was simply a recommendation for maintaining fertility), the only options that people like I have are to change diets, exercise more, and endure the pain. Pain that has in the past so excruciating I nearly passed out.ReplyCancel

  • […] Someone’s Taking Birth Control for Medical Reasons & It Cured Her – Catholic Sistas […]ReplyCancel

  • DiffalAugust 6, 2012 - 1:33 am

    What we need to say to such people is that what you are describing is NOT birth control, its hormonal regulation which is a completly different thing.

    As you have said in your post above birth control doesn’t cure anything, it is however morally reprehensible, but not all hormonal regulation is birth control.

    These medications are tools which in themselves are morally neutral(medical side-effects not withstanding). They can be used immorally(birth control) or morally(in the prevention and treatment of actual medical problems-which of course does NOT include pregnancy). I agree that we need better treatments for the conditions you mentioned and which you yourself have suffered from, but in the meantime hormonal regulation does give relief to sufferers.ReplyCancel

  • A. CrawfordAugust 6, 2012 - 8:18 am

    I hope that you have heard of and consulted with the people who developed the Creighton Model (otherwise known as Naprotechnology). I have heard many good things about it, especially their work in helping women with endometriosis. Most of their work is with female fertility, so they can’t help much with male infertility, but they are tremendously nice people. I emailed the clinic at Creighton some years ago. A nurse got back to me right away, having taken my question to the doctor almost immediately. If you Google Naprotechnology, you should come up with quite a few links. Here’s one to get you started: http://www.naprotechnology.com/index.html I have also seen lists of clinics and various facilities around the USA that use this approach, so I sincerely hope you might find some help. I should probably mention that all procedures used with this method are fully in line with Church teachings.ReplyCancel

  • Shawna MathieuAugust 6, 2012 - 12:37 pm

    Probably going to get flamed for this, but I am a person who the Pill cleared up a severe medical problem.
    I have a chronic illness that requires several medications a day, and are frequently changed. Several years ago, one of the medications, after several nasty side effects, was discontinued. I started having extremely heavy but painless bleeding.
    It coincided with a bladder infection, and went on for a month and a half, so the doctors thought I was bleeding out the bladder. After a lot of painful, embarassing, and invasive tests, one doctor actually bothered to LOOK at the area in question and realized where the blood was coming from. I went to a D.O. ob/gyn who realized the bleeding started when the medication was stopped. She left, came back with three packages of the Pill.
    “I’m Catholic.” I said.
    “OK, this is not for birth control. Your hormones are out of whack (condensed version), you are severely anemic and about one inch from needing a transfusion. This should stop the bleeding. If we can’t do these or they don’t work, we have to consider a D&C or hysterectomy.” was the reply.

    She politely offered to call my priest and ask his opinion. His response was it was fine for medical reasons as long as 1. I stopped after the 3 months and 2. I practiced COMPLETE abstinence, because the Pill is abortifacient, for as long as I took it.

    I took it and the bleeding stopped in three days and my cycles started up again properly after I stopped taking the Pill. The abnormal bleeding has never recurred.

    Had I decided to not take the short course, I could have 1. died of blood loss 2. seriously damaged my ability to have a child or 3. end up having to lose the ability to have a child permanently. My seven year old son is playing at my feet right now.

    I am a rare case, but it does happen. BTW, for conditions doctors recommend short courses of the Pill for (not the ones where you’re supposed to be on them continuously), the priests I’ve met seem to be of the opinion that a short course for health reasons is morally OK if there is no other option AND YOU PRACTICE COMPLETE ABSTINENCE.ReplyCancel

  • PamelaAugust 6, 2012 - 1:55 pm

    In answer to Diffal, I would make one more distinction between hormonal therapy and birth control. The pill used for birth control is not a therapeutic dose of hormones – it is a sledgehammer that does nothing for a woman’s own personal hormonal cycles and instead replaces it with a completely artificial cycle. Even the “period” on birth control isn’t a period – it’s breakthrough bleeding due to the withdrawal of hormones.

    With hormonal therapy, the goal should be aiding a woman’s own hormonal cycle with supplemental hormones where her own cycle is awry. It leaves intact a woman’s cycle while improving her health by correcting whatever has gone wrong.

    But many doctors, because prescribing the pill doesn’t require any legwork while identifying a unique woman’s unique hormonal problem does, choose to just prescribe the pill and take the sledgehammer approach rather than a fine chisel to really create something beautiful.ReplyCancel

  • HeatherAugust 6, 2012 - 5:29 pm

    Thanks for the post and for challenging us as women to consider NaProTECHNOLOGY over the Pill! NaProTECHNOLOGY gives women real long term answers and cures, while getting to the root of the problem, rather than masking it with a hormonal contraceptive, like the Pill or the IUD. Often natural progesterone, like prometrium, given after ovulation to a cycling woman, has the same effect without the contraceptive one. So NO ABSTINENCE:)and no moral dilemma. Unusual bleeding, for example, can have many hormonal or organic causes. Sometimes that bleeding can be a polyp. Or what about PMS? What if the Pill doesn’t help or makes it worse? Proper diagnosis and treatment with NaProTECHNOLLOGY can identify and treat the causes. More doctors like Dr. Hilgers at the Pope Paul VI Institute in Omaha, Nebraska and Dr. Kalamarides at the Vitae Clinic in Austin, TX giving women real options, rather than handing out the Pill, like candy. So refreshing! NonCatholic women are seeking out this approach as well! Thanks again for the post!ReplyCancel

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