Shut up and take the pill

Hello all. I don’t know if you caught the article The Stigma of Abortion? but in that article I made you a promise, a promise that I would re-address the hot topic of women’s reproductive and contraceptive health care. Today is the day I make good on that promise, and I have to offer a special thank you to my amazing sister for sending me a wonderful article to underscore the necessity of writing about this misunderstood issue.

And instead of hitting you with statistics and insisting that you join me in my pro-chastity worldview (I’ll bet that just triggered some fun associations about really overdone camps with like overly peppy teens telling you condoms are bad, but hear me out. I never went to a camp like that and I have my own reasons for believing what I do) because it’s not as relevant to the major objective of today’s writing, which is this: I’m going to debunk the myth of the infallible doctor.

The myth of the infallible doctor is a tale we’ve all heard without hearing. From an early age we are subtly taught to give doctors our trust because of all the schooling it requires and all the fancy degrees they hang on their walls.

Now I have had some very good doctors in my day and I am greatly appreciative of them, but the thing that made them good was the fact that they do not subscribe to the myth of the infallible doctor.

The myth of the infallible doctor is a lie hinged on the idea that we know all there is to know in the field of medicine and treatment. Very few doctors would say they subscribe to this myth outright, but the real teller is in their treatment of you. If you have a doctor who subscribes to this myth, he will treat you as a one-size-fits-all patient.

What is a one-size-fits-all patient? Well, I am, for starters, and I am happy to share a bit of my story to illustrate my point better.

I was recently diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). This condition is something of a hormone disorder that could potentially greatly affect my fertility/ability to have children. And gentleman, unlike most media outlets, I’m not going to insist that
because issues surrounding female health and birth control don’t affect you directly that you are incapable of having an opinion on them. I find that type of bias insulting and I would be insulted to be patronized by you in that way.

**But I will offer a disclaimer that I’m going to use words related to the female cycle in the coming paragraphs, so brace yourselves if you’re the shy type. **

Anyway,  around the age of 14 I went to the doctor about some hormone problems and they wanted to put me on birth control. Being naturally cautious of putting synthetic chemicals of any kind into my body (and thinking I was a bit young for that), doctors deferred to my wishes because the symptoms, while difficult to deal with sometimes, weren’t life threatening. When I was 18 the process repeated itself, but this time my cycle was proving so inconsistent that I was willing to try a low dose birth control. Because those were essentially the 2 options on the table, birth control or “just deal with it.”  Unfortunately, the low dose birth control made my symptoms even more erratic so I stopped using it with the doctor’s okay. bThey did a thyroid panel because of my family history, but they didn’t find anything and that was that. It was left unchecked until recently when a doctor wanted to put me on birth control yet again because based on what I told her it sounded like I might have something called PMDD (which is like PMS on steroids).  I told her (politely) that I would not start taking an extremely high dose birth control pill for an indefinite amount of time to treat something that it sounded like I might have based on my experiences in college. She and her colleagues, in essence, were comfortable leaving the root cause of these hormone issues for speculation and wanted to start treatment because it would most likely work and we could revisit the topic when I wanted to have kids. 

I don’t care if the “shut up and take your birth control” method is a convenient solution for women my age, a way to kill two birds with one stone in their eyes by treating my mysterious period symptoms and making me readily available for “consequence-free” sex. I have different priorities than most people my age to begin with, and I have no patience for people who offer band-aids while dismissing the root of the problem as something to be dealt with later. Because I’m not just some bubbly stereotypical 24-year-old who only cares about sex with hot guys, Pinterest desserts, and Cosmo magazine topics and who is willing to compromise her own health in the name of perpetuating the infallible doctor myth by taking the doctor’s advice unquestioningly and walking out the door with her prescription. I’m the type who strongly dislikes Cosmo, is neutral about Pinterest, and likes answers.

So, needless to say, I got a second opinion. I found a doctor recommended by a few friends who also prefer a more holistic approach to their health (but while still taking into account their safety- no Steve Job’s style deaths for us, thank you). This doctor was wonderful. She was the first doctor willing to go the distance with me. We used a Natural Family Planning method called charting (it is Catholic affiliated, so insult me if you want, and I admit it was a fun first visit because they were like “is your husband coming?” as it is usually a couples thing.) But once I explained my reasons they were happy to take me on and I was assigned a certified instructor to help me chart my cycle (many an awkward phone conversation, but she was always kind and professional) as well as an actual doctor who was a certified gynecologist. I learned so much about my actual health and body from those two women, so far beyond the “shut up and take the pill” attitude of mainstream medicine. It was like taking an actual class in addition to being treated, and I’ve retained what I learned there to this day.

Anyway, it was from this method we found out that I was not ovulating (as healthy women my age naturally do) and they believed that this could be the result of PCOS. We did bloodwork and an ultrasound (also an interesting experience sans husband) and the diagnosis was confirmed.

After all those years, that is what had been wrong the whole time, and nobody caught it. There might even be a corrective minor surgery I can have done to get my body doing what it should be doing naturally, so that I won’t have to take birth control indefinitely (and if I ever did need to take the pill as treatment to synthetically supply a chemical my body naturally doesn’t make enough of, I’ll be able to find one compatible to specifically treating PCOS.)

Sure that’s nice and all, but what does it have to do with the hot topic of women’s reproductive and contraceptive health care? I would argue it has everything to do with it. Because women’s health care is so easily reduced to shutting up and taking the pill and wearing pink while you go and get regular mammograms to check for breast cancer. And it is so much more than that. Women’s health care so easily falls prey to the infallible doctor myth because instead of finding the best solution they settle for the most convenient ones, like one-size-fits-all treatments and the pill. But the facts get lost in the heated political rhetoric, as they often do, and the debate gets shifted to who should pay and for what, forget about whether or not the treatment is even good or beneficial in the first place.

And what makes me sad is that so many women believe this myth and accept this lot for themselves as they rally around birth control as the end of the line, the most innovative and best thing for women because, while we can’t eat any synthetic chemicals in our food, we can easily ingest chemicals into our bodies through the birth control pill, cross our fingers, and hope for the best. It’s almost an expected right of passage until you want to have kids and it has become so first in line for treatment that equally beneficial, more holistic care such as the type I described is barely acknowledged, instead getting written off as inferior even though without it I would still have no diagnosis. And that strikes me as odd because I thought the whole goal of any women’s movement was for women to have options, so that women like me, who don’t even like taking Advil aren’t bullied into shutting up and taking the pill just because “that’s what other women do.” I confess it makes me wonder what the real goals of the women’s health care movement actually are; because if finally giving me a proper diagnosis, opening up a host of natural treatment options that will give me regular, healthier cycles (not laden with painful PMS for the first time in my young life),  and going a long way in saving my future fertility is not seen as a validation of the efforts of women’s reproductive healthcare rights then what exactly is the desired outcome of the services they provide?

I get tired of incomplete pictures, tired of the people limiting the function of the women’s healthcare system to simply enabling women to become sexualized objects who don’t get pregnant or mothers who do. I get tired of the silence, how doctors don’t want to be bothered with women whose bodies are giving them grief unless said women are trying to have kids and can’t. But what’s gets me the most is that women are expected to handle any issues related to the female body privately and quietly as if it’s something to be ashamed of, something we’re not supposed to talk about because the female body is a nuisance if it’s not providing pleasure or birthing a child. And we deserve better than that, we really do. 

And I’d like to thank my NFP doctors once again for not subscribing to the infallible doctor myth or treating me like a one-size-fits-all patient. Because not only have they made fantastic strides in restoring my health and given me a great network of doctors and friends to help me learn how to take care of myself (and giggle about charting with), they ended that silence and they listened to me.   

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