There are 70 hours left in the Sweetening the Pill Kickstarter campaign. I’ve been interested in the book since it was published in 2013, so I contributed to the fundraiser and now I’ll finally get to read it! There have been a variety of opposing articles published recently in various online venues, offering critiques of the idea of challenging the pill and its liberating benefits, claiming that such an effort is “anti-woman.” I feel like I can understand both perspectives (few issues genuinely have to be all or nothing, people!). I have conflicted feelings about birth control pills—they have been a tremendously important part of women’s reproductive rights AND there are variety of things about them that are scary too. We can’t assume that hormonal birth control is benign nor is it cool to diminish women’s powerful reproductive experiences as being “enslaved” to biology. At the same time, it is critical that women retain the ability to make their own decisions about their own bodies and family size. One scornful article I read mentioned that critiquing the pill is part of the trajectory of the “natural life” that includes homebirth and extended breastfeeding. For me, that is true and I’m not ashamed to admit it. As I noted in this older post:
…I’ve struggled with the question of birth control for some time. I took the pill for about six years and then after having my first baby in 2003 and going on the minipill, I had the sudden “epiphany” that if I was so committed to natural birth and breastfeeding and natural living and trusting my body, why the heck was I okay with filling said body full of hormones?! (The same epiphany, but including cloth diapers, led me to start using cloth moon pads rather than disposable as well. Never looked back!) We started using natural family planning instead (really, the Billings method) and it has been excellent for nine years—no “accidents” and more babies exactly when we decided we wanted them. And, no side effects, no money, and no hormones. Now that our family size feels complete, I find myself struggling with whether or not NFP will continue be “enough” until natural infertility takes over. NFP was fine when an accidental pregnancy was an acceptable option. At this point, an unexpected pregnancy would still be an acceptable option, however fast-forwarding the clock, I really, really, really, do not want to be someone who ends up having her first unexpected pregnancy at age 45 or something! I also do not want to engage in any permanent body-modification efforts (for either myself or my husband) when my own fertility will be up in the next 15 years or so (but body modification is forever!). So, I feel very optionless at this point…
After writing this, we did hit our unexpected pregnancy quota (1), and while Tanner is a beautiful treasure that I’m grateful to have, I’m done having babies. Sooooo…what to do now?! I still feel the same sensation of optionlessness that I described two years ago and have been tossing back and forth the ideas of the minipill, a copper IUD, a vasectomy, and around and around.
Speaking of women’s health and our biological experiences, I was interested to read this observation from Veronika Robinson that what we think of as normal physical “suffering” with regard to menstruation may be side effects of modern culture rather than a natural experience:
Those of us on the edge of culture try to bring light to the lives of women who suffer with menstrual ‘conditions’. It’s important to ask ourselves: did Mother Nature really want us to suffer with migraines, cramps, bloating, bad tempers and heavy bleeding? I don’t believe so. In fact, the more we look at the lives of our ancestresses we see that the ‘menstrual’ curse is a recent phenomenon in female history. It is in direct proportion to the degree with which we concur with the modern lifestyle: lack of exercise, poor nutrition (caffeine, sugar, dairy, gluten, alcohol), inadequate sleep, stress, EMRs, pollution, lack of immersion in nature, too much screen time, etc.
At the same time, what is “natural” with regard to menstruation can become a logic trap, because technically speaking, it isn’t natural to have a period every month at all. Women of the not-too-recent-past were almost constantly pregnant or nursing, rather than menstruating. Enter…the Pill…and around we go again. ;) While I embrace natural family living as much as next crunchy mama, I have to laugh at us, when we make arguments like, “humans are the only mammal who…” or, “it isn’t natural to…” because, here we are sitting in houses, most of us with air conditioning, wearing clothes, cooking our food, driving our cars, and typing on our computers. Apparently, we’re mainly only interested in what is natural when it comes to scrutinizing what other women do with their bodies?! I give up!
Recognizing my own logical fallacies, however, doesn’t mean I’m not interested in what it means to be a conscious woman and for me that includes an intimate engagement with the realities of embodiment, rather than an effort to distance myself or pretend that powerful, normal physical experiences to not exist or can be medicated away:
We were at a loss. Would we ever feel like women? Would we want to? What did it mean to be a woman? Looking back, I wish I’d known a wise elder to invite me to a women’s circle but I’m not aware they even existed then – not in our society anyway. I’m so glad that’s changing with the red tent movement and women’s circles.
Women need other women to teach them what it means to be a woman, and to recognise that being a woman is something to welcome rather than resist!
In my class last week, we explored the idea that children with ADHD or autism spectrum disorders might simply be people who see the world in “more color” than those without diagnoses. So, I was interested to read several articles this week about Western culture’s narrow idea of mental health and the possibilities that, as a culture, we’re drugging our mystics and shamans:
Our mental health care system is breaking people. We have no room for the sacred, only normal.
The narrow range of accepted behavior expected from us is more oppressive than you might realize. That is, until we experience beyond it, until we get judged, until we don’t fit in, until we need fixing.
In Dr. Somé’s village, the symptoms we commit people for, Dr. Somé’s community recognize as marks of a healer. They respect and nourish the very same patterns that we condemn and drug…
We’re taking people with a completely different perceptual experience and calling it “wrong”.
We’re weeding out our geniuses. We’re killing off our prophets. We’re drugging our messiahs.
Were she alive today, Sylvia Plath would be on anti-depressants. Salvador Dali would be on anti-psychotics. Beethoven would be on Lithium. Newton would likely be committed as well as heavily drugged for his multiple, pervasive mental illness symptoms.
Don’t even get me started on Jesus Christ.
After I read the article above, I sought out the article she references by Dr. Somé:
Those who develop so-called mental disorders are those who are sensitive, which is viewed in Western culture as oversensitivity. Indigenous cultures don’t see it that way and, as a result, sensitive people don’t experience themselves as overly sensitive. In the West, “it is the overload of the culture they’re in that is just wrecking them,” observes Dr. Somé. The frenetic pace, the bombardment of the senses, and the violent energy that characterize Western culture can overwhelm sensitive people….
“I was so shocked. That was the first time I was brought face to face with what is done here to people exhibiting the same symptoms I’ve seen in my village.” What struck Dr. Somé was that the attention given to such symptoms was based on pathology, on the idea that the condition is something that needs to stop. This was in complete opposition to the way his culture views such a situation. As he looked around the stark ward at the patients, some in straitjackets, some zoned out on medications, others screaming, he observed to himself, “So this is how the healers who are attempting to be born are treated in this culture. What a loss! What a loss that a person who is finally being aligned with a power from the other world is just being wasted.”
Less related to physical or mental health, but definitely related to emotional health, I enjoyed this article about personal journaling by one of my top favorite authors:
I want to jump up and down, run round the room, yell, “No no no! There are no shoulds! You can use personal writing to serve you however you want!!” But I have learned, imperfectly, that this is not the best way to make a skillful point to another person. So instead, I talk about how my relationship to personal writing has changed and how beautifully it serves me now.
Because writing to and for myself is one of my most essential practices. I could not do what I do or understand my life without personal writing…
For me, it is art journaling: colored pencils, free form thoughts mostly in the form of single words in non-linear sprinkles around the page, collages, and pictures from my own life cut out and put back together.
I feel I do a lot of my personal writing “out loud” though, in the form of blog posts. Personal writing, writing that some people might say should stay personal and not be splashed all over the internet, can deeply touch others when they need in and in ways that more sanitized and “polished” writing cannot travel. As an example, and bringing it back around to women’s health again, I enjoyed reading this power-FULL, intense, and strong birth story by a friend that I don’t see very often, but that I always feel a special connection to:
…Suddenly baby was in the birth canal and I was undone. All good feelings gone. This wasn’t a baby. At least not a human, possibly an elephant calf. Or, you know, a bag of knives. The stabbing, the shooting, the absolute ripping. My flesh cried; surely I was tearing in two. It just felt wrong, all wrong. I’ve struggled with wondering how to describe my pushing and actual delivery — should I romanticize it? No one is going to want to have a natural birth after reading about my experience. It was traumatizing…do I say that?
Obviously I decided yes; I’m going to say it like it was. Others have had births like this, and others still will, and although my honesty may scare some, I feel it will be a gift to other mamas who have traveled a similar path…”
Simply by sharing this link on my Talk Birth Facebook page, I’ve witnessed how Halley’s “confession” about her own sensation of trauma has given voice to other women who felt denied the permission to express their own feelings. That is the power of telling about it.
And, finally, this health related post of mine has been getting a lot of shares lately, so I might as well re-share it too!
…Next, the clerk starts an IV in your hand because, as she explains, you might get dehydrated while you wait for your fiancé.
“I have my favorite juice here, I’ll drink that instead,” you reply.
“No, no dear. No juice. You could aspirate it and die if you end up needing surgery.”
“SURGERY!” you exclaim, “Why would I need surgery? I’m just getting married!”
The clerk gives you a knowing glance, “Honey, about forty percent of women who get married here need surgery before their marriages are finalized. This is an excellent courthouse! We do everything possible to make sure you have a healthy husband when you leave here. Isn’t that what you want?”