Contraception Chit-Chat

The very word Birth-Prevention would strike a chill into the public, the instant it was blazoned on headlines…. They dare not call it by its name, because its name is very bad advertising. ~ G.K. Chesterton

It wasn’t until we arrived at the pediatrician’s office that I realized I’d forgotten something to read.

We were on time for my daughter’s appointment, but there’s always a wait anyway—docs are busy, I get that—so I usually bring along a book or the Wall Street Journal to put that wait to good use.

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On this occasion, however, I hadn’t thought ahead, so as my daughter took up her phone-gadget-texting-thingy, I rifled through the magazines on the table and settled on American Baby. God probably won’t be sending us any more babies of our own—my wife and I are on the maturing end of the age spectrum—but a guy can dream, can’t he? Besides, we’ve got nieces having babies, plus we have godchildren, so I thought maybe I’d find an article worth passing along.

Let’s see … a bearded dad holding a happy baby on the cover—a guy-friendly publication. And the magazine’s tagline, “Healthy Pregnancy, Happy Baby”—I’m all for both of those. So far, so good. Flipping through the articles uncovers what you’d expect: Baby swimsuits and formula, teething issues and strollers. But then this: “Birth Control After Baby,” by Elizabeth Shaw.

What? Birth control in American Baby? The caption for the accompanying sultry photo clues you in: “Coming soon: Your sex life!” Yes, the article confirms, sex is back on the horizon for all you new-moms, but no need to fret about your fertility. “Whatever your timeline,” writes Shaw, “there’s a contraceptive that will give you peace of mind—for as long as you need it.” It’s all so breezy and lighthearted—almost like Shaw is discussing a new soufflé recipe or something. “Meet your new favorite form of birth control,” she throws in. Fun!

The fun screeches to a halt in the very next section, where Shaw begins her review of contraceptive choices. First up? Barrier methods. “Barrier”—obstruction; force field; firewall. That’s the language of resistance—nothing breezy and lighthearted about that! “Wait!” the condom and diaphragm screech, “Halt! Stop! I don’t want your fertility, and I don’t want you to have access to mine!” Barriers in lovemaking are exactly that: Obstacles to total self-giving and receiving. They might (79-88 percent success ratio per Shaw) prevent another baby, but they’re sure to interrupt the intimacy they’re meant to foster, and who wants that?

Next up on Shaw’s birth control tour: Chemical warfare. Shaw doesn’t use that term herself, of course, but that’s pretty much what the hormonal methods are all about. The Pill, the patch, the ring, the implant, and the shot all use varying doses of estrogen and/or progestin to, in Shaw’s words, “halt ovulation, prevent implantation, or do both.” In other words, these potent chemicals, once introduced, either (a) directly assault the woman’s natural, healthy reproductive system, or (b) indirectly assault the fertilized ovum by denying it necessary nutrients in the uterus—essentially a very early abortion. The first is an attack; the second is a siege; both are basically violent, and violence has no place in lovemaking.

The violence is extended in Shaw’s treatment of IUDs—intrauterine devices, our last stop on the birth control trail. Some IUDs use hormones, some are hormone-free, but all of them are designed to disrupt the fertilization process by slowing down or ambushing the sperm. Shaw quotes Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, a Yale medical professor, who says that IUDs “create such a hostile environment that sperm don’t stand a chance.” Take that, sperm provider!

What’s more, IUDs, like other forms of hormonal birth control, also alter the uterus and make it hostile to fertilized eggs trying to implant—the “siege” assault of contraceptive chemical warfare. IUD supporters will argue that the device rarely works in this manner, but even Shaw admits that it is only “99 percent effective” in preventing pregnancy. That leaves a full 1 percent actual pregnancy rate, and you don’t have to be a Yale medical professor to understand that plenty of other ova must be getting fertilized despite the IUD. The reason the device can still claim a 99 percent success rate is because the majority of those other fertilized eggs simply die out due to that hostile uterus—again, more violence.

Despite all this, I do have to give Shaw some credit. Nowhere in her birth control tour does she make mention of permanent, surgical forms of birth control—vasectomies and tubal ligations—and so I guess she assumes her readers will eventually want another baby … sooner or later.

On the other hand, Shaw passes over the many serious risks and side-effects of the various methods she does discuss with hardly a glance—and disguises them with her glib tone. With references to “nookie,” “quickies” and “Fertile Myrtle,” Shaw makes all this birth control business seem so utterly benign—how could there really be any danger involved, right? Like the risk of clots with hormonal methods—a reality that has received plenty of publicity. “All hormonal contraceptives,” Dana Farrington reported on NPR back in February, “including birth control pills, increase a woman’s risk of blood clots, stroke and heart attack.” But Shaw only mentions this risk briefly, and concludes the section it’s in with this weak warning: “They’re probably not for you if you’re worried about forgetting to take (or change) them. Hey, you’re busy!” Yeah—busy! Ha, ha! Who’s worried about strokes and heart attacks?

The nurse opens a door into the waiting room, and I look up—our turn? Nope. She calls out a different name, so I go back to flipping through the magazine. “Body After Baby: Tone Your Butt & Thighs”… Enough. Isn’t there a Better Homes & Garden around here somewhere?

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