I have a confession to make - I am still taking the pill. I am on Femodette. Despite writing about the horrors of the pill, talking friends out of taking it and spending many an hour pouring over the research, the case studies, the statistics, I'm still taking the pill. This, I guess, is a good illustration of the power of the idea of the pill, and the stronghold that is women's faith in it for contraception. I know all the problems the pill can cause - we've barely scratched the surface so far here -but still I carry on. Why?
I really, especially, truly do not want to get pregnant. I'm not one of those who don't want to get pregnant, but if it happened would be secretly pleased or one of those who has no plans for a baby any time soon but would be alright if it just happened to come about. I am one of those women who use the pill and condoms and still feel the need to buy pregnancy tests every other month, just to keep check. I don't know how many of us are out there, I suspect a fair few.
I think some of this anxiety has to do with the length of time I have taken the pill - since 17. I have no idea how my body feels naturally, what it would do naturally over the course of a month or how it might change were I to get pregnant. I am completely cut off from any sense of my body's physicality, its femininity. I've kind of come to fear it. My fertility is something to be fought constantly, to be suspicious of, to contain at all costs.
I have been on the pill for my entire adult life. I don't know anything else. I had two years of painful periods and then my mum, with the history of two older daughters on her mind, marched me to the doctor and they put me on the pill for fear that I would accidently get pregnant. But the pill didn't get to do its proper job, stopping me getting pregnant, for another five years. I had five years of pointless pill-taking - sure it helped with the painful periods, but there were no potential babies that whole time. I now know it is very common for a teenage girls' periods to be painful for a few years and that usually their cycles settle down and regulate. Also, I really could have put up with the pain - I have fond memories of getting out of gym class.
Soon I will have been on the pill for a decade. At the time of its release onto the market, doctors had no expectation that the pill would be taken for more than a few years. Back then, you got married young and you had babies young, and then you kept have babies. You didn't so much start having sex at 14 or wait until you were 35 to consider getting pregnant. The impact of the pill has never been properly researched over such a length of time. Side effects, as I have discovered, can turn up right away, or seven years down the line. As your body changes the way the pill effects you will change. Plus, there's the build-up effect, those hormones are filtered through your liver, and they won't just disappear when you stop.
I suppose my thoughts go along the lines of - being on the pill sucks, but getting pregnant and having to have a baby right now would suck much worse. But the thing is, I know I don't take the pill perfectly, in fact to get the same effectiveness results as advertised would be impossible as these are obtained only in labatory conditions and in real life, all sorts of stuff gets in the way, and not just being busy, or being ill. I recently found out if you're taking a lot of vitamin C in and then that stops, it can change the effectiveness of the pill. As I said before, it is known that generally women are much more careful, and much less likely to get pregnant when using condoms, or a diaphragm - the barrier methods, basically. And I'm using both. So I don't trust the pill, clearly, I don't trust it to do what it is meant to do, to do the thing that makes me take it every day and yet...If I only used the pill I know I'd be buying the pregnancy tests up in bulk.
This feels something like an addiction, or perhaps, more accurately, I could describe it as a form of Stockholm Syndrome - you know, when someone is abducted and they show signs of being loyal, or loving to their kidnapper? I am who I am on the pill, I'm not sure what I'd be like not on the pill - I would hope nicer, happier, more relaxed. I think about that and I can't believe I have spent a decade taking a medication each day without a very good reason.
I've never been at a point in my life when I can say the pill helped me as it should. No sensible person wouldn't use condoms, with STDs and all. Then when I met someone I wanted to be with properly the thought of becoming pregnant with their baby was more frightening than becoming pregnant with the baby of someone I had no feelings for, didn't know, didn't love - because I know I would find it impossible to have an abortion. I'm in no way against anyone having an abortion, and if I got pregnant from a one-night affair I wouldn't think twice. I'd find it much harder to make that choice in a long-term, committed relationship.
I've taken the emergency contraceptive pill, and experienced nothing too untoward. No side effects that is, the actualy procuring of the pill experience has left me quite beaten. Both times I was made to feel like a bad person, a bad person with the mental faculties of a five year old. I didn't get the chance to tell them I was already on the pill, but didn't trust it, so I thought I'd take another pill just in case. Then buy ten pregnancy tests and drink a bottle of wine.
I have another confession. In the last decade I have come off the pill once for longer than the standard week. Six months ago I came off Femodette for about three months. I had just finished writing the Easy Living piece. I had switched from Yasmin to Femodette four months previously and I felt much better, but the extreme emotional side effects had left me wondering. I'd started realising that some of my physical problems - endless urinary tract infections, sore and bleeding gums - were very likely down to hormonal and vitamin imbalances caused by long-term pill use. All in all, I knew the pill was a bad idea, and I was telling everyone who would listen just that, but I'd not taken my own advice.
In those three months when I was not taking the pill I felt light, stable, rational. I felt like I could cope with anything. I stopped thinking over and over and over petty worries. I stopped feeling insecure and started feeling stronger, confident. The fearfulness went away, I remembered I was young, that I should enjoy change, disruption, lack of routine and not break down over the minor struggles of every day life. I stopped feeling helpless, child-like. I felt connected with the world, and my experiences of it.
I remember one weekend in Brighton everything felt wonderful, the sunshine, the egg on toast, the gin and tonic, the futon mattress, the TV show, the conversations, the busy pub. It all felt so good it was like I was on some mood enhancing drugs. That was my only reference point, my only way of describing what was going on in my head. Back in London, I started carrying a notebook and writing down ideas, ideas with no purpose or place, just ideas - and I started having the kind of conversations where dots connect up, thoughts crackle and come to life, there's energy in what you are saying and excitement at what the other person is saying and it all feels organic, spontaneous, new, alive. The kind of conversations where you're inventing phrases, the kind you talk about for weeks after, that feed into everything else. It was like all the lights had got switched back on, all the pipes were unplugged. I had clarity.
On the pill, I had come to feel very stagnant, very still. I felt like if life didn't carry on forever in exactly the same way, even though that way didn't make me happy - I would just curl up and die. When I wasn't fraught with anxiety or overwhelmed with rage, nothing moved me. As I said in my first post, I just felt blah - an annoying phrase, but accurate. All my synapses were dampened down with wet cotton wool.
The pill wipes out all the natural ups and downs, tos and fros, grey areas and subtleties that natural hormone cycles produce. We do, literally, stagnate in the same state all the time. Our life experience is flattened. Well, apart from when we stop for a few days and the massive increase in oestrogen whacks us into withdrawal.
Three months ago I started taking the pill again. I was feeling much better, but my life was changing quickly, and the pill seemed like a reassurance, a comfort almost. I thought not being on the pill was causing problems in my relationship. I convinced myself it wasn't the right time to be 'experimenting.' Not taking the pill felt irresponsible. I was worried about taking the blame. Looking back, it appears very Stockholm Syndrome-like to me - I can't say exactly what the made me pop that Femodette back in my mouth one morning. But I know when I did, it felt right, not because I knew it was, but because it was all I had known for so long not doing it felt wrong.