In 1967, my mother-in-law had to lie to a doctor to get the Pill, saying she was married (she wasn’t), interested in learning more about the rhythm method of birth control (she didn’t care), and having “troublesome” periods (nope). In 1987, my doctor offered it to me — then 15 — after asking a few pointed questions about my sexual activity.
Those intervening 20 years saw more than society’s attitude toward the Pill — which a Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada study determined 84 percent of Canadian women have used — change. After early high-hormone versions dulled the thrill of baby-free sex with the risk of sometimes-fatal blot clots, Pill-makers played with the dosages and got it right. Today’s Pill, marketed under brand names like Alesse, Yasmin and Diane, is 98 percent effective when used properly and widely considered safe. A new version of the Pill — with another cloying name, Anya — is about to be approved by Health Canada. Not only your fear of pregnancy disappears when you take this one. After three months, your period is gone too.
Some Pill-taking women are already familiar with this. It’s achieved by a method called continuous use, which health reporter Andre Picard described in the October 18 Globe and Mail as “taking the first 21 pills in a pack, throwing out the last seven (which are placebos) and starting a new pack immediately.” Now pharmaceutical giant Wyeth has packaged and branded that little trick as Anya.
Hands up everyone who finds this disturbing. Only a couple in back? Ah, yes, the two women with the dreadlocks and the macrame belts. You’re nouveau hippies and you love to bleed. Hello. I’m Lezlie. I’m no earth child, but I’m with you. Not having a period when you’re a healthy woman of childbearing age is wrong.
I don’t pine for my period. The damn thing annoys me like a buzzing hornet that returns again and again to an otherwise delightful sit-down with a triple cappuccino and The Walrus. I admit, I’m a devotee of reusable menstrual products like the Keeper. But that’s about conservation, not the trappings of period-love.
I can’t get behind one feminist take on these period-halting pills either: that deleting menstruation is just one more way to subsume women’s normal bodily functions and, in turn, women themselves. Take away periods from women who would otherwise have them and you get women who are conveniently closer to being less human.
My objections to the new Pill go beyond smashing the patriarchy. It’s ignoring our physical selves. It’s conquering our bodies and their cyclical governance rather than learning to live with and from those rhythms. And women and men both do way too much of that.We ignore the times when we should rest, using caffeine to get through the mid-afternoon slump instead of napping; we ignore when our bodies get sick, managing symptoms with Dimetapp rather than taking a day off.
We need cycles. When you don’t know what tiredness is, you can’t tell when you’re really awake. When you medicate your way through a flu-addled workday instead of nuzzling up to some hot buttered toast under a duvet, you end up being sick longer in the end. And when women don’t know how their periods are supposed to look and feel, they’re eliminating one easy way of telling when something’s gone wrong inside.
Cycles are medical signposts. The canaries in the coalmines of our bodies. At the risk of getting too granola, that’s the innate wisdom of the body.
And when it comes to periods, women should just go with the flow.
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