kill pill: part one
Join Madeleine Ryan on her personal journey from hormone-controlled fembot to reclaiming who she is, Kill Pill, a new weekly series on Lip.
“See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.
Just ingest it at the same time each day & don’t ask too many questions.”
I’m a 27-year-old woman living in rural Victoria. I moved from Melbourne in 2014. On paper, I’m educated and I can speak English. I recently converted to a plant-based diet in an effort to honour my body and the planet. I exercise regularly. I’m in a relationship with a man that I love and that I live with. We have a cat. We drink filtered water. I work in a shop filled with books on the mind-body connection, vegetarianism, chakra-healing, crystal healing, detoxing, healing disease naturally, planting and hugging trees and treating any and all conditions with flower-based remedies.
But don’t be fooled. All is not as it seems. My body and my moods are not my own.
I’m a fembot. A replicant. A Stepford Wife.
Call me… Chelsea. Or Yaz. Or Camila, Yasmin, Portia, Zarah, Juliet, Heather, Valette or Diane.
And don’t let the twin-set and pearls you can imagine me wearing fool you. I’m closer to a femme fatale: a dangerous concoction of chemicals near impossible to make sense of and I’m coming to get you, your body and your sex life.
A few weeks ago I hadn’t heard of “cyproterone-acetate”, nor was I aware that it’s been labelled by The World Health Organisation and The American Cancer Society as a carcinogen. Nor was I aware that it’s been linked to death, stroke, deep vein thrombosis, heart disease and blood clots. Nor was I aware that I’ve been taking it everyday for the past decade in the form of an oral contraceptive pill.
According to an article published on GreenMedInfo.com in June 2015, researchers from the University of Nottingham discovered that if you’re using an oral contraceptive with a more recently developed formulation you have four times the risk of blood clot compared to someone who is not taking birth control pills at all. The newer pills contain synthetic progestins with the names “drospirenone”, “desogestrel”, “gestodene”, and “cyproterone”. It also stated that those using older formulations with older progestins still have a risk of blood clot that is 2.5 times the risk of non-users.
After reading this article I bothered to check the gibberish – oops, I mean label – on the packet of my contraceptive. And, upon inspection, it seems that cyproterone-acetate is the primary ingredient in my prescription medication. It’s so easy to forget that the pill is, in fact, prescription medication. According to the Kickstarter promo for Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein’s upcoming film Sweetening the Pill (based on Holly Grigg-Spall’s book) it is “the first medical drug made specifically to treat people who aren’t sick”.
Which is ironic, given the higher risk of death, cancer, stroke, blood clotting and heart disease that is associated with the pill. Not to mention the hooky it plays with our hormones. The oral contraceptive pill dictates our physical state, our emotions and our behaviour. Side effects can include, but are not limited to: nausea, weight gain, paranoia, mood swings, chest pain, headaches, depression, eye problems, skin issues, dizziness, anxiety, swelling or aching in the legs and thighs, fluid retention, cramps and spotting between periods.
The definition of an oral contraceptive on WebMD.com is ‘a pill which contains a small amount of man-made oestrogen and progestin hormones… which work to inhibit the body’s natural cyclical hormones to prevent pregnancy’. Without breaking a sweat WebMD then goes on to plug a pill called “Seasonale” which is known as an “extended-cycle pill” carrying the same hormones as other birth control pills, but they can be taken for longer. Thereby reducing the number of menstruations a woman has each year from 13 to four.
Instinctively, many women can sense that there’s a flaw in this system. Friends of mine have shared that they’re choosing to go on a “break” from the pill, which they know they need, even if they don’t exactly understand why they need it. Others have offered a Woody Allen-esque shrug of the shoulders when sharing that they skipped their periods for months so as to be ready to engage in sex whenever the heated moment to do so arose. But what makes skipping menstruation okay? You wouldn’t choose to “skip” breathing. You wouldn’t choose to “skip” the liver eliminating toxins from your body. You wouldn’t choose to “skip” your heartbeat. Something is seriously wrong with this picture.
There seems to be an assumption that women can’t develop a relationship with their bodies that would allow them to understand its unique cycles well enough to avoid pregnancy if they chose to do so. This method – often referred to as the Rhythm Method, Fertility Awareness or the Family Planning Method – has been deemed unreliable. Which seems convenient given the millions of dollars at stake for pharmaceutical companies if women chose to start listening to their bodies more closely.
But welcome to the 21 Century and allow me to introduce you to Daysy – a pocket size, drug-free contraceptive device considered 99.4% effective. Daysy takes your temperature every morning and you confirm with her the days when you’re menstruating. She then ‘evaluates your data’ and calculates the state of your fertility for the next eighteen hours. There’s even an app to help you work with her and a hugely relatable, totally non-threatening video featured on her website. The aforementioned video made me cry (Were those Chelsea’s tears, or my own? I asked myself).
The only apparent downside to Daysy is the cost: it ain’t cheap. To rock your rhythm method with her will set you back €390 ($621AU), plus postage. I calculated how much I’ve spent on contraceptive pills over the past decade – gulp – and I estimated having spent $40 every three months, which is a totals of $1600 over 10 years. Against that, the cost of Daysy still seems steep. But I’m not sure the feeling that I have more in common with a battery hen than I do with womanhood can be priced. As an interviewee aptly puts it in the trailer for Sweetening the Pill: ‘How can something that severs you from your most primal and natural identity be empowering?’
So I’ve decided to part ways with Chelsea. Forgive me, Chels. It’s not you, it’s me. I can’t afford Daysy yet, but I want to start learning about my body so that when she arrives, I’m ready. And so that when he comes… I won’t be scared.
Disclaimer: Consult your local sexual and reproductive health clinic or GP before going hormonal contraceptive free. The views espoused in this article are that of the author and not Lip Magazine.