I'm no scientist or reproductive endocrinologist. But I have to wonder...

9/30/2010 04:08:00 AM
When I was 17-years-old I marched down to the Planned Parenthood in downtown Toledo, Ohio on Jefferson Ave. to begin what would be my 12-year-long subscription to Ortho-tri-cylcen and Ortho-tri-cyclen-lo. (For my two male readers, that's birth control pills, yo.)

I was educated by the nurses as thoroughly as my anxious 17-year-old-brain could comprehend. I learned about the risks, (blood clots, smoking) versus the benefits (regular periods, protection from unwanted pregnancy) of the combination pill. I learned that the pill was "triphasic" and that it introduced three different variances of either progesterone or estrogen-based hormones into my body on a monthly basis.

I learned that the pill was going to be my best friend from here on out because it was going to fool my body into thinking that it was the one thing that I didn't want to be at that point in my life: pregnant.

I didn't care, quite honestly, what was IN the pill. I just needed it to do its' job.

Fast-forward about 12 years to a time in my life when the balance shifted and my one-and-only goal of not wanting to be pregnant quickly reversed itself. The one thing I wanted more than anything was to get pregnant. (More on that chapter in our lives here.)

In the beginning, as many of you know, we kept our fertility issues a secret and struggled silently. Why? Because it was embarrassing. Because it was acutely disappointing. Because we didn't want to hear the opinions of others unless those all-knowing others could explain to me why my body wasn't working. (And, it was my body that wasn't working. Not C's.)

In the midst of that not-so-great, deeply upsetting, ridiculously tumultuous time, I recall having a conversation with my sister who happens to be ten years older than I. She, along with most of her friends and acquaintances, had absolutely no problems with fertility. None. She only knew of me and someone else who had problems Both of us had been trying for a baby for a long time. Both of us had been on the pill, continuously without breaks, for a significant period of time.

She mentioned to me that when she was introduced to the pill back when she was 15-years-old (for medical reasons), the doctor underscored that she MUST only be on the pill for approximately 1 year at a time. Then, she must take time -- at least SIX months off -- to give her body a break. This was common knowledge among her peer group.

Hmmm? What?

The reasoning? Her body needed to "remember" how to function as a normal body. It need not be fooled into being pregnant day in and day out.

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Hold the phone.

Back up the trolley, Holly.

Your doctor recommended that you stop taking the pill for periods of time? Your doctor recommended that a prescription be taken in moderation? This has never even been suggested to me by ANY of my gynecologists or nurse practitioners.

I was aghast. [In all seriousness.]

And I was staunchly opposed to the idea that the reason I wasn't getting pregnant was because I had indeed been on the pill for a dozen years with no breaks. Surely, I did it the RIGHT way... (if sneaking to Planned Parenthood was the "right" way.) I mean, I went on the pill on my own accord so that I could finish my education sans babies. So that I could grow up, get married and then have a baby.

My sister, however, believed that my use of the pill might have had something to do with infertility.

"Um, NO," I proclaimed. "My doctor said it was perfectly safe for me to be on the pill and that it wouldn't have any lasting effects on my fertility." So there. End of discussion.

She said nothing.

I locked that thought into the very far reaches of my brain bringing it out to my various doctors who all assured me that my pill-taking had absolutely nothing to do with my infertility.
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Fast forward to the present time. The conversation between the two of us came up again recently. (And I'm certain we'd both thought about it since my infertility days...)

My staunch opinion against the plausibility of birth control affecting our generation's fertility has weakened a bit...

Friends, is there a correlation between duration of time on birth control pills and infertility? Now, I don't wonder that with an intention to alarm. Hear me: my intention is not to incite fear or anger. In fact, I understand and appreciate the many purposes of the pill. I'm a believer. In fact, they did their job quite perfectly for me for years. But... I'm compelled to wonder if by doing their job so well they might have affected me in other ways...

I'm 31. (What? Wasn't I just 23?) And this infertility thing, it's affecting SO many of us. Yep, us. WE are the first generation of women who have been on birth control, regularly, for years. My sister generation wasn't. Our mothers certainly weren't.

It's silly not to wonder.

Of course our physicians wouldn't dare lead us to believe that taking birth control would potentially affect our future fertility. The drug manufacturers and our health care providers say they don't. End of story.

Check this out on the Ortho-tri-cylcen-lo website. I love how they make it all, light, airy and pink:

See? No recommendation that women need to go off the pill for any length of time at all, just that you talk to your health care professional -- who will invariably tell you that, "it's fine."

Is it really ok to be on any **OPTIONAL** prescription medication 24/7? (Note: I said, "optional" medication. I understand that chronic illnesses require regular medications.)

Hmmm...

I'm no conspiracy theorist, but I also adamantly question the medical world on a semi-regular basis. Why? Because I know better? Absolutely not. But because it is VITAL that I have as comprehensive as possible understanding of all things that have to do with my health and that of my family.

My poor doctors... I second-guess everything they say, bring them alternate studies and reports and together we decide the proper course of action. It's our job to be active, and open-minded, with our health. (I credit having a Dad who passed away from melanoma and a mom who has struggled with chronic illness(es) for as long as I can remember for this side of my personality. Doctors are NOT end-all authorities, they're fallible. And questioning them is a-ok. It's easy to be passive and to just do as the doctor -- or an auto mechanic -- says. But it's so very important to always probe just a little bit deeper... It's empowering.)

Everywhere I looked, nearly everything I've read says that it's a myth that the pill could adversely affect fertility. On the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists website, they go so far as to say this:

(Click to make larger.)

"The pill is a good choice for women who may want to get pregnant later. It is a safe and effective way to prevent pregnancy. It is easy to use, convenient, and reversible. The pill may protect against some cancers. Some benefits of pill use last months or years after you stop taking it. For almost all women, the benefits of pill use outweigh the risks. 

Ok, I get it. I hear their position and I understand... but I'm curious. Why are so many of us experiencing infertility? I'm sure it's related to the hormones in our milk and meat and the propensity Americans have toward trans-fats. But our Moms and our Grandmas? Did they have such problems? I'm not so sure...

I could talk about this forever. I could read about this forever. I just wonder... It's so incredibly vital that we question the status quo.

I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences. How long have you been on the pill? How long have you been trying to conceive? Remember, you can always comment anonymously.

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25 comments:

  1. This is such a great post and honestly I've thought about it. I've also thought about how long I've been on the pill. I've considered going off but at this point I'm a little selfish in my reasons for not wanting to take a break.
    I've considered the number of woman I know who are struggling and I've thought about does it correlate. I think there are probably a few facts that are being swept under the rug by the medical/drug community!

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  2. Such a great post! Now that I think about it, I wasn't on birth control regularly until after Alex was born. As you know we suffered with secondary infertility. It took us 3 years and 3 months to conceive once I went off birth control.

    Hmmm, is this a ploy by the medical industry to make a ton of money? Most insurance does not cover anything having to do with fertility. Just makes you wonder.

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  3. Forgot to mention your other good point about hormones in milk and meat. I buy both hormone free. I don't want Miss Alex in a bra at 7. I hear these added hormones are what's causing children to develop so much earlier and also what is causing so many emotional problems.

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  4. I have gone to a widwive since I was 21 and when I asked for a birth control prescription, she discussed with me possible side effects. I remember her telling me, like your sister heard, that it could affect my chances of getting pregnant in the future. Being the planner that I am, from the start, I knew I didn't want to get 'knocked up' then, but I most definitely wanted a baby in the future. That said, I was only on the pill while in a relationship. My longest stretch of being on the pill was from 24-26 (while dating my husband). Once we got married, we both decided that I should go off of it because neither of us like the idea of putting chemicals/hormones into your body. It didn't effect my fertility (only took a few months to get pregnant when trying), but again, it was only 2 years on it.

    I haven't gone back on the pill since I was 26 (30 now). I've spoken to my doctor regarding it and she agrees that sometimes it's just not good to put hormones in our bodies if it's not necessary. I never take medication....even for headaches. I believe it's my body's way of telling me I need to relax and sleep. I guess I'm a little hippie-ish in that manner.

    I also feel a million times more NORMAL off of birth control.

    And to make this the longest.post.ever, I used to have cancer issues in my cervix while on birth control. I had a few surgeries to remove the cells. It kept coming back. Once I went off birth control, all of the cancerous cells disappeared. ???? Talk about coincidence. I think not! That was enough to scare me away from birth control.

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  5. like you, i was a semi-responsible teenager who marched into PP and got myself some ortho-tri-cyc. i think i took it for maybe a year. then, had 2 rounds of that depo shot in grad school and some normal birth control (Yaz?) for a few months 2x more times in my 20's.

    i truly have no future plans to be on this type of "traditional" BC pills ever again. i don't like what it does to my body and will make some other types of anti-pregnancy plan until it's time to have some kids. your points make very good sense and i have OFTEN wondered what is going on with our generation and fertility issues....did our mom's have just as many issues and they didn't tell us? hmmm....

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  6. I took the pill for about a month in college and it totally F*ed with my system. (And btw, no one told me about taking "breaks" from it either). I'm with you on the whole "is it good to be taking an optional medicine 24/7?" I'm a little anti medicine, unless I'm on my deathbed.

    Our bodies function the way they do for a reason, and medicine can throw all that off!

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  7. I've thought a lot about this. At first I thought the same as you - no way was this related to birth control, but the more I read the more I change my mind.

    I walked into PP at age 17 as well...was on Ortho for 7 years, the Nuva for 1, Ortho for 1, Nuva for 1... and when I went off my body had huge issues figuring out how to ovulated at all (which it is finally doing now thanks to Clomid/acupuncture/herbs/something!).

    After all of the research I've done and reading "Taking Charge of Your Fertility" - I will NEVER go on BCP again, unless it's totally necessary for a health reason.

    Great topic. :)

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  8. interesting reading! and, i have to say, i agree with your theories. it's awfully coincidental that our age group is having so much more trouble with infertility. (plus, i agree with Linds, meat and milk are changing the game these days).

    BUT- my life experience doesn't reflect that. i was on the pill for 12 years straight and became pregnant right away. i think i'm some kind of crazy super-breeder though, because i was unable to stay on the low-dose pills, my body kept trying to override them.

    hard to say. i certainly agree with your skepticism.

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  9. With age comes wisdom...and I think you have realized the answers to your questions from experience...First of all it sad to say it is still a mans world..and the drug companys have you coming for the birth control pill...and then going for the infertility drugs....I would say they go hand in hand.

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  10. I've been thinking about this a lot. I have been on the pill since Chad and I married-10 years. I have gotten pregnant, twice, with ease. .

    In my case, I can't really support the theory, but I HATE that I am putting these pills in my body on a daily basis. If the theory is true, I am angry that it is not talked about and frustrated at the irresponsibility of the medical community. I was NEVER told to go off the pill for a time. . .

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  11. (Linked from BabyCenter)

    I was on the pill for 5 years prior to trying to conceive. It took us 12 cycles to get our daughter. It seems so ridiculous that doctors and pharmacy companies won't tell you that you're supposed to take breaks in order to preserve your fertility! I stayed off BC of any sort after having our daughter and, when we decided to start trying for baby #2, we conceived on the first cycle. Coincidence? Maybe, but I tend to think not. ;)

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  12. Great great post.

    I agree, this is something our generation and future generations REALLY need to question and talk about. I firmly believe that the increase in processed foods, fewer people cooking from scratch, using high fructose corn syrup, and extra pesticides (all that combined) has led to issues with our bodies as well as issues for all other generations below ours. So between that and the use of added hormones in our system through BC I believe could have a huge impact on issues some people are facing.

    I started BC in high school because I would have horrible periods that caused a lot of pain and the BC helped control that. I was on it non-stop until 2007 (so about 10 years). Then from 2007-2009 I was on it for about 1/2-3/4 of the time mainly just because I was tired of remembering to take a stupid pill everyday. In August 2009 I took this medicine for 3 months to help with energy and to help lose weight and could not be on BC while I took it. After that I just decided I didn't want to be on it anymore and haven't been on BC for a year and have no plans on using it again.

    I totally agree with what your sister was told, that our bodies need a break. Seriously, anything else we put into our bodies for an extended period of time has consequences, so why shouldn't this?

    My doctor actually DID tell me about 8 months ago that I should be off BC for at least 6 months before I started trying to get pregnant, to allow my body go back to its natural cycle….no one has ever mentioned this in the past, of course I never had a reason to think differently and ask until I started thinking about having a child. Infact, in the last year that I have been off BC my husband and I haven’t taken any precautions in that department and even though I am not “actively” trying to get pregnant or monitoring my cycle yet, we are just going with the flow, letting nature take its course, letting my body get back to normal, and not doing anything to prevent pregnancy from happening….and obviously no baby yet.

    Though I am not yet concerned something is wrong exactly, it really has made me start to think about how all those extra hormones I pumped into my body for over 10 years affected it. And it sucks there is no real, medical answer for it. I wonder if it is going to be a problem or if by being off of it for a couple years before we decide to “try” to have a kid will help. And if my body (as well as others) does require that much time to get back to “normal” because of BC or because of the combination of BC and all the processed foods we put into our body then conversations like this are fantastic to put out there as we really need to start talking about this more.

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  13. I have often wondered about this. I have not been on the pill very long (about three years) but it makes me nervous. I plan to be on it for another 3ish years and then try to get pregnant. I worry about infertility.

    I have about 5 friends around the 30 year old age range that have had some infertility issues and miscarriages. I think we absolutely must question the risk of the pill. Yes, the benefit is great for preventing unwanted pregnancy but what else is it doing to our bodies?

    What study is going to come out when our generation is 60? We all have the same disease and symptoms? I may be writing dramatically but this is the forum and I would be lying if I said it was something I hadn't thought about it.

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  14. Ladies! keep these comments coming. I absolutely LOVE reading them.

    Will comment back more later.

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  15. yeah. i think about my fertility every few days. excessive, maybe. true, yep.

    the whole notion of fertility is such a miraculous, fragile, mysterious thing to me. i've only been on the pill about 2.5 years, since meeting my hubs. and we don't want kids *quite* yet. but..... soon-ish. ideally, a pregnancy within the next year or so. since i'm not exactly a spring chicken (nearly 33... gasp!), i often wonder if i should even be trying to "actively prevent" pregnancy at all at this point. am i actually doing myself more harm than good? (meaning.... will we just end up losing precious time waiting for my body to normalize again once we DO start trying?) plus, i know my mom struggled with fertility and tried for years before being able to naturally conceive me and my brother, and that weighs on my mind a lot.

    anywho.... thanks for starting this discussion, ky. it's been very thought-provoking for me today, and insightful to read what others have to say.

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  17. Ladies, what an interesting response. Ky's friends, whom I know from stories only, and their fights with fertility have been an anomaly to me for sometime. Your generation (if a 10yr spread makes a generation), was far more responsible then mine in terms of body responsibility. Access to BC was a new thing for teen girls in the mid-80's, and sexual activity seems like it was more suppressed then too (coming from the mom of a 17yr old son).

    I know this, my mother had no struggle with fertility in any way, nor did many of the giant Ohio families of that time. I am one of 4 (or 6 depending on your view), and she was told it was ok to take BC but not consecutively. Besides, it made her super sick.

    I had no problems with fertility either, nor did I get pregnant during my early years of activity that may or may not have been unprotected. (until AIDS was tangible we thought little about that) and my kids were born to me at 24 and 30 and I also had an experience, albeit brief, with pregnancy at 38. Also, and most importantly, I do not have a single friend that I am aware of that has struggled with fertility. And I am the youngest mom of all my friends (average age for babies was 30ish in my wide group of friends from all over the place).

    Ladies of this group's age have something in common. It's 10 years of difference, but quite honestly a world of information apart. We didn't have commercials promoting birth control which made you like you have a great body in a 50's style bathing suit, we weren't told we had to control our bodies or that we could..the sorta kinda bad girls got the pill. We also WERE told to take a break. I've checked around. We all heard the same thing. Most of all, we weren't all that responsible...how many babies do you know that came from 'being on the pill"?

    And interesting that we have two sisters who are about 10 yrs younger than Ky (Jeez, 20 less then me), who both got pregnant immediately time and once more...neither was big on taking the pill.

    Bottom line, I believe there is a correlation. I also believe that a class action suit for infertility caused by BC would never work, but it should. My sister's struggle proved that to me.

    Keep chatting...this is how the world changes.

    My word verification is 'berin' (barren...ironic)

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  19. I am 33 and never felt comfortable taking the pill. I was married 11 yrs. ago and have only been on the pill for about 1 yr. I suppose my reluctance to take the pill is partially because i am not good at remembering a daily dose of something (thus creating an unreliable b.c. method) combined with my reluctance to mess with my body's natural rhythms. The first time I tried to concieve it happened within 3 mo. and ended in miscarriage, the second time it took almost 8 mo. and resulted in preterm labor and the third time, it took 3 mo. with the outcome unknown yet. Beccause of my high-risk status I am facing weekly injections of progesterone to improve the chances of a full term pregnancy. I was blessed with a very healthy preterm daughter who only had to spend a month in the NICU but I would really like to not live through that a second time. So I think I will be getting an a#% pricking every Monday. Hmmmm. I try to live a healthy lifestyle, stay active, and make food from scratch. I wonder if the reason so may young women/ grown women feel the need to reorganize their natural rhythms with bc pills is because they fear the reaction of their partners to other bc methods? In some ways it is empowering to know you can control your body and prevent what you know isn't right for you at the time but why aren't we able to ask men to be informed and responsible as well?

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  20. Ladies - I can't thank you enough for sharing your thoughts and experiences. I love reading them. And, I know that knowledge is power.

    Let's keep one another posted of any new studies, shall we?

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  21. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post and all the comments. Very interesting.

    I went on the pill when I was 17 for horrible cramps, and stayed on it until about 28. Blood clots are a big deal in my family, so I thought it was about time to stop at that point. (Looking back, I should have stopped years before!) Plus, I had no idea if I would still experience the same kind of cramps. Wanted to get my body back to its normal state and see how things felt.

    I have a good number of friends who have had issues with fertility. When we got pregnant in the second month of trying, I had this overwhelming feeling of things just being so unfair for other folks. Fortunately, though, most of the friends who were struggling did get pregnant just before us.:)

    I don't know what this means for pills/infertility issues. But I have known a lot of people who used to use BC who have miscarried or had trouble getting pregnant. Very interesting indeed...

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  22. I do think there can be many different causes for infertility issues. Many more than I ever thought. Birth control may be one, but I had no idea how intricate and perfect things have to be in a man's and woman's body to produce a baby. I think this is why people refer to babies as a miracle - because they truly are. So birth control may be one explanation, but I don't think it's the only explanation.

    I do think more research needs done on this topic because of the seemingly growing trend of women our age having trouble conceiving. Is it because we are waiting longer in life when for hundreds of years women were having babies at 18? Is it because of nutrition? I just think it's so different for every women/every couple that it's almost hard to pinpoint one thing as a cause.

    I am one of the fortunate ones in that it took me 3 months to get pregnant after being on the pill for almost 15 years (yikes!). Now, granted, I was on a very low dosage for that time and not using one of these name-brand, fancy commercial kinds so I wonder if that had anything to do with it.

    Nice post, Kylee.

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  23. So I was talking to Kristen and Terry about this the other night and they both brought up some additional points.

    We were talking about how in general women, especially in our generation and later, have been putting our bodies through FAR more stress then what people may have done before us. This could have a direct correlation with the internet or the increase in media putting stuff out there about all the diet/fitness/beauty things "sold" to us on a daily basis.

    We, as women, put our bodies through ALOT of stress. I know that in highschool when I played sports we worked so hard it would mess up my monthly period. In college I was SO worried about my weight that I barely ate and tried many diet supplements and I dropped 80 pounds in less than a year and my period was ALL a mess. During college and after I tried MANY weight loss pills, supplements, diets, exercises, chemicals, eating too much/eating not enough, and my body bared the brunt of everything I tried and put myself through...many of which at times affected my period, even if in small amounts. Our bodies are sensitive and I think sometimes without knowing it, we put our bodies through A LOT of stuff. It isn't until we get older sometimes or when we start wanting to have kids that we finally start treating our bodies the way they should be treated.

    It is to be questioned though, why do we so easily feel the pressure and that it is OK to "experiment" on ourselves with all the fads out there when we were younger....or maybe even still now. These could also be to blame.

    We were talking that it is VERY possible that between birth control pills, the hormones in our meat, processed foods and possibly ALL the crap we put our bodies through as women because we have some pressure to try all that is out there.....the combination could easily lead to issues with fertility because we have put our bodies through alot of stresses.

    Who really knows, but it is interesting!!

    I also think with the internet out there we read more, talk more, share more and that too can cause an information overload. Not that THAT affects your body, but we almost know TOO much that wasn't always available or as easily available to generations before us. Whether people have always had problems or just now started talking about it, it is hard to tell for sure. But we definitely have access to more and I don't always know if that is a good thing or not.

    Just more thoughts!!

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  24. I was on two birth control pills for 10 years: Alesse for 7 years, Seasonique for 3 years. Alesse was very low dose, I was initially put on it because my cycles became erratic. Seasonique I requested to be switched to because my pharmacy was having trouble getting Alesse in and Seasonique used the same type of estrogen and progesterone as Alesse, just slightly higher dose.

    I stopped the pills in July 2009 after completing grad school and moving and getting a job. I became pregnant very unexpectedly in April of 2010. We were never "trying", we just did whatever whenever and didn't worry about the consequences. My cycles never fixed themselves after coming off of the pill, which is where the unexpectedly part comes in. At first, I was running at about 28 day cycles, then 26 day, then 16 day, then back to 26 day. By time I figured out I missed my period, I got a very strong line on my pregnancy test.

    I am not an opponent to the birth control pill. It clearly didn't have an affect on my fertility, so I am happy to recommend it to others. I actually loved the freedom of Seasonique because you got your period 4 times a year, it was awesome! However, I did note a very important change in my body when I went off of the Pill. My blood pressure had began to creep up over the time in grad school, to the point that I was concerned, though my doctor wasn't as much. My father and most of my family has high blood pressure, while my mom has low blood pressure, and prior to the last 5 years on the Pill, I had low blood pressure too. I think everyone attributed it to stress. As soon as I went off of the pill, my blood pressure dropped back to normal. Like nearly instantaneously. Because of that reason, I will not be going back on the Pill, even though I don't know if it will repeat. I just don't care. But I will still recommend it to anyone, and if I have a daughter some day, I'll make sure she is on it.

    (I briefly posted over on babycenter.com, but this is more detailed. I hope you find the opinions you are looking for, but I don't think you'll find any definite correlation. I think it is just different for each woman and each body and your body is just better off without the added hormones. Congrats on the soon-to-be baby!)

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  25. i was on the pill for 4 years, stopped taking it feb 2009, had an early miscarriage sept 2009, tried clomid for 2 cycles around feb 2010, stopped trying in april 2010 and got pregnant lol i don't know if the pill had anything to do with our problems but i don't plan on going back on it because i don't want to take my chances

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