Lousy Medicine

I’m no great cheerleader for NFP, but I have a growing respect for its medical usefulness.  Here’s a story from NPR about primary ovarian insufficiency, a condition which causes infertility and a host of other medical problems.  One doctor says he

“got a wake-call” about 10 years ago when 23-year-old twin sisters with POI came to an NIH clinic, each with the bone density of a 77-year-old woman. A careful medical history showed that the twins had menstrual problems throughout adolescence that were never evaluated. They could have grown up with healthy bones, Nelson says, if they’d been prescribed an estradiol patch to provide the missing estrogen, and progesterone to balance it.

If you’re a woman, you can guess what these sisters probably heard from their doctor:  “Oh, we’ll just put you on the Pill.”  

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That’s what Maureen Doherty heard when she mentioned her menstrual irregularity to her doctor.  Years later, when she was married and raring to start her family, she learned that the Pill had been masking obvious symptoms of serious hormonal problems:

Looking back, Doherty realizes there were signs that her hormones were doing a stutter-step in her early 30s, and maybe earlier: Now and again, she had hot flashes but didn’t recognize them. She just switched to wearing layers at the office. Around that same time, her periods also became a little less predictable. She mentioned it to her doctor during a routine office visit.

“I’d have one one month and not the other,” Doherty says. “She just shrugged and immediately gave me a prescription for birth control.”

O magical pill, the miraculous cure-all for women who can’t stop whining about their stupid old cycles. 

Instead, Nelson says, women and their doctors should be attuned to — and evaluate — any changes in menstruation. Skipping just one period might indeed be a sign of stress or pregnancy, he says. But going 90 days without menstruating, or having a cycle that is shorter than 21 days or longer than 35 deserves further evaluation, he says. A simple blood test for FSH levels can diagnose — or rule out — POI.

My Creighton fertility care practitioner would have been all over those symptoms, and I would have been referred to a specialist within months, not years.  Of course, that’s only because I’m shackled to a medieval morality system which hates women and sees them as nothing but baby factories.  (UPDATE:  Dear readers, I speak with heavy sarcasm here.  In truth, wise mother Church is the only entity that encourages practices which lead to good care for women.  It’s not the Church that condescends to women and profits by their suffering.  It’s the manufacturers and dispensers of the Pill.) 

For this woman, her diagnosis of POI came years too late for the possibility of treatment.

She’s 41 now, and they’re adopting.

“We hope within the next four weeks that we’ll be picking up our son in Seoul, Korea,” she says. “It’s been a long process, and we’re very excited.”

Doherty says she would have loved to have had her diagnosis years sooner. She and her husband might have adopted many more kids. “I’m not saying we won’t, yet,” she says. “It’s just that adoption takes time, and starting at 41 makes it a little more daunting to think about going for five.”

Damn the Pill.  Women deserve so much better than this shoddy medicine.  Doctors who just throw the Pill at every female complaint ought to be sent back to medical school for a refresher course in gender studies.  Just the basics, like “fertility is not a disease.”


  • Simcha Fisher

    Simcha Fisher is a cradle Hebrew Catholic, freelance writer, and mother of eight young kids. She received her BA in literature from Thomas More College in New Hampshire. She contributes to Crisis Magazine and Faith & Family Live!, and blogs at I Have to Sit Down. She is sort of writing a book.

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