Do you control your body by popping the pill or does this drug control you? Sweetening the pill explores the disappointment of hormonal contraception. It discloses another reality, made of terrible side-effects that affects the well being and self confidence of millions of women. Interview with the author, the feminist Holly Grigg-Spall.
By Pryska Ducoeurjoly, France (see in french)
Your book tackles a « sacred cow »… How did you get involved in this issue?
At the end of 2008 I began to experience overwhelming anxiety, depression, debilitating brain fog, and intense panic attacks which affected my work and relationship. After questioning every aspect of my life, and my sanity, I eventually discovered it was not me, but the birth control pill I was taking…
I could not understand how I had never read anything in the media about the Pill’s hormonal side effects. Searching on the internet, I soon discovered many other young women dealing with similar side effects of it.
Contrary to cultural myth, the birth control pill affects every organ and function of the body. Hundreds of millions of healthy women take a powerful medication every day from their early teens to their late thirties, but few know how this drug works or the potential dangers.
These information encouraged me to stop the pill, not without pussyfooting. I found it difficult to make this decision. But few months after, a rush of positive emotions let me feel happiness, excitement and enthusiasm. I felt stronger, more confident, and far less fearful. I reconnected with my world.
You describe yourself as a « victim of Stockholm syndrome ». Can you explain?
The Stockholm syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and sympathy toward their captors. It is irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, who mistake a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness. It is exactly what happens with hormonal birth control. Women have positive feelings toward this « major breakthrough »; they can’t allow themselves to question the pill about the side effects they experiment. It is difficult to discern the onset of insidious depression and anxiety that seem to have always been there. If a woman takes the pill for years she may not be consciously aware of the gradual changes in her mental health. She may think she feels a certain way “naturally,” that it is just in her character to be nervous or to cry at the slightest thing.
A french campaign pro-pill that perfectly illustrates the Stockholm Syndrom… Even in mortal danger, you should not forget your pill.
You talk about an « addiction » to hormonal contraception…
It’s like the cigarette. Smoking hijacks your personality and your sense of self. The chemicals meddle with your emotions. When life is facing upheaval, we naturally take refuge in the « comfort zone ». Women rely on the pill because they don’t believe in their ability to cope with their natural body at all the moments of their life. They are fearful of living without this addition to their bodies.
Moreover, to try an alternative non-hormonal method is not supported by the ideology. Women don’t see the non-hormonal alternatives reflected by the culture. There are no signs that it is an option other women choose. The phrase “taking ownership” sounds rebellious but could mean the woman is choosing to commit fully to the identity she knows, that social presentation of what it is to be a woman.
Why don’t we hear about the alternatives ?
We have been trapped by the convenience of the hormonal birth control. Everything looks to be done to prevent us from learning about our fertility cycle: how it works and how we can take care of it, as the Fertility Awareness Method proposes. This lack of knowledge is covered up by the sweet birth-control propaganda:
The “safe, effective, easy” mantra is reiterated at the release of every piece of new research about the impact of the pill on the body and in response to women voicing their doubts. As new pills are released women understand them to be improved versions, just as a new form of laundry soap would be understood to be a better version of the previously available product. The pill being “safer than aspirin” is the frequently used analogy, because it has been available for decades. But it’s a trick, which can prove fatal in the worse cases.
There is a wide gap between the assertions of Big Pharma, relayed by the mass media, and the feedback of the users we can read in your book …
Not only with the pill. The internet is awash with women claiming the Mirena (IUD) has caused them some serious emotional and physical problems. The symptoms of withdrawal after the device is removed are so well-known amongst its users they have named this time “The Mirena Crash.” Towards the end of 2012 lawsuits began to mount against Bayer in regards to Mirena. The claims of negligence assert that Bayer is intentionally selling a dangerous product by the means of deceptive, aggressive marketing. The law suits focus on the life-threatening risks of ectopic pregnancy, uterus perforation, migration of the device and pelvic inflammatory disease. In a prominent TV advertising campaign Bayer claimed the Mirena would make women “look and feel great” and have improved intimacy and sex with their partner.
You evoke a strange paradox: when the pill was released women had to stand up to their doctor to get it, today they must fight to get off it. The pill is no longer a choice but an obligation?
The question of choice is interesting. Nowadays, it’s hormonal contraceptive or… pregnancy. We are told there is « no choice ». Sure, it’s one of the biggest lies about the pill. The alternatives exist with the FAM (Fertility awareness method). It’s a matter of knowledge, not of money. Here stands the real empowerment of women. When women reconnect with the intelligence of their body, they recreate confidence with themselves. Real choice and real freedom cannot be gained without comprehensive education.
The pill, a sweet illusion of emancipation?
Contemporary feminism is enamored with consumer choice and has fully accepted it as a substitute for freedom. The experience that many women swap from brand to brand of hormonal contraceptive provides an illustration of freedom within the narrow range of choices. Concerns over access had badly cancelled out issues of safety.
Do you think hormonal birth control is another kind of oppression?
The non-menstruating female body fits well into the Western patriarchal capitalist culture. Women are encouraged to suppress their monthly ovulatory cycle in order to not miss any days of work or so as they can remain sexually available or experience only one-note moods. Women have sacrificed their natural, healthy sleep cycles in order to fit in with the demands of increasingly levels of commitment to jobs, to the detriment of their health and their capacity for productivity. The woman chooses to take the pill to make her way through society with less anxiety about not belonging to it.
I am not a Catholic, I would say, I am not anti-contraception, pro-life or a frigid man-hater. I use condoms, spermicide and the fertility awareness method. I am a feminist.
>> The website : http://www.sweeteningthepill.com/
>> Two filmmakers launched a Kickstarter campaign for the documentary film inspired by Holly’s book. You might share this campaign with friends and family !