I’d like to make an amendment to my book. Maybe I need to start work on a sequel. That’s the thing about publishing books, they can only ever represent a forever frozen moment in the author’s intellectual development. My book, ‘Sweetening the Pill,’ represents a time when I believed it was only a minority of women who experienced problematic periods. The statistics I studied seemed to suggest this was the case. But since its release I have come to realize that many more women struggle with issues like infertility, PCOS, endometriosis, cramps, heavy bleeding, and PMS.
I was so focused on convincing the reader that women are not sick and that they do not need the daily medication of the birth control pill, that I missed the fact that there are women who do indeed require treatment. There are also women who, after coming off the Pill, don’t struggle to conceive only because they don’t know how to calculate when they are fertile and are not what I called “body literate”, but because their cycles need to be healed.
Kelly Bourdet wrote an intelligent review of ‘Sweetening the Pill’ in which she remarked that I was never going to convince women who feel they “need” hormonal birth control to switch to other methods. She was right, I railed against the idea of hormonal contraceptives being a necessity from the perspective that women can use other methods, disregarding the sheer number of those using the Pill because without it they are debilitated. Not theoretically debilitated, actually sick from their periods.
What has happened since this review is that more women have come to take up fertility awareness methods for avoiding and achieving pregnancy, often bolstered in their choice by the new apps and technology that can support them in the method. Watching this progression, something became very clear to me – women need support to regain healthy periods first or they will inevitably either return to hormonal contraceptives or conclude that they must rely on IVF and the requisite synthetic hormones to get pregnant. The Pill and Clomid become two sides of the same coin – one suppressing ovulation and one forcing ovulation.
Although, yes, there are many women who do require treatment; they don’t always “need” the Pill and they don’t always need Clomid. Environmental toxins, stressful lifestyles, poor diet, sedentary living, long term Pill-taking – all of this could be culminating to cause an epidemic of cycle issues. The Pill is a band-aid for hormonal imbalances that too often leads women towards the band-aid of IVF treatment – they are both able to provide the desired results, but at what cost? We stop ovulation for years on end, believing that once we go off the Pill this will return naturally, then when it doesn’t, we are told the only answer is to use another drug with the opposite effect.
But we are now seeing that changes to diet and lifestyle can heal many of the common problems women experience with their cycles. Holistic hormonal health experts are leading the way – revealing how what we eat, the supplements we take, the exercise we do, as well as our sleep and stress levels, all have real consequences for our menstrual cycles. A diagnosis of PCOS or infertility is no longer set in stone – it can be reversed, and without medical intervention or pharmaceuticals. Once women are having healthy, regular periods it becomes so much easier to utilize the apps and technology, like Ovatemp, that facilitate body awareness and knowledge. This is why Ovatemp incorporates a unique aspect that sets it apart from other fertility awareness technology – health coaching – because for some women, it’s simply not good enough for them to just track their fertility; they must regain their fertility first.
For women who want to conceive it is a necessity that they heal their periods in order to ovulate regularly and experience fertile cycles and healthy pregnancy. For women wanting to avoid pregnancy, they need to heal their periods simply to feel better. Many advocates of fertility awareness, myself included, have over-emphasized the simplicity of making the transition, knowing the difficulty inherent in presenting an alternative to the convenience of pill-based medicine. For some the change is easy – I came off the Pill, my periods returned as light, regular, pain-free; I felt better. But for an increasing number of women, the new normal is irregular periods, anovulation, pain and discomfort. Now I see that it’s not only a lack of fertility awareness that’s holding them back and it’s up to us, as a movement, to break down these barriers.
A little bit about Holly and the awesome work she does!
Holly Grigg-Spall is a writer and women's health advocate. Her bookSweetening the Pill: Or How We Got Hooked On Hormonal Birth Control has been featured in Elle, the Sunday Times Style (UK), Marie Claire, New York magazine, the Guardian, and on CBC and the BBC, amongst others. The book was optioned by Ricki Lake and is the inspiration for a forthcoming feature documentary. She also currently writes frequently for LadyClever.com.