Monday, November 30, 2009

Birth Control Pills

Let me start by saying that I understand why people disagree with me about birth control pills. They do cause environmental hazards to fish and amphibians. I also understand that the NFP followers feel comfortable avoiding any potentials of destroying life. I get it.

I also get that my friend doesn't want to bleed to death, and my other friend doesn't want to endure pain every month and surgery every year. Although I cannot say for sure that both of my friends have done everything possible to avoid taking the pills. I can say that from what they have told me, birth control pills are a matter of survival.

Let's take friend #1, we'll call her 1. 1 has a daughter and is married. She also has severe anemia. That is her red blood cells cannot get enough iron. A person with a slight case of anemia (say a pregnant women) would take iron supplements to help with the problem. And 1 does take iron supplements, but when she has a period it's not like normal women. 1 literally bleeds through a heavy menstrual pad in an hour. 1 is always making trips to the bathroom slowing down the progress of work and unable to sleep. 1 told me that her daughter had to tell her one morning that she had bled through her clothes. This is not unusual for many of us, but 1 was getting ready for work and hadn't been up that long. 1's periods also last longer. Instead of one week, her periods can last for two weeks stop for a few days and start again. This is normal for women with severe anemia because without iron it's hard for the body to clot. Because 1 lives pay check to pay check, it's hard for her to afford the necessary medications to make her periods stop. The church won't cover birth control pills and those are the only known medications to stop women from having a period (other than sterilization something the Church also will not cover). For a while her doctor was providing her with samples and simultaneously petitioning the Church to get medical coverage. But her doctor could not provide these pills forever. Because she could not afford the medication every month, 1 was forced to continuously bleed. Because she went a year without relief, 1 ended up in the emergency room where the doctor told her that she could die from a stroke at any time because of the excessive blood loss.

I was very upset when she told me everything that was going on so when I read in the local diocesan newspaper about the bishop's letter concerning medical dispensary I wrote a response on her behalf. The bishop had said that he felt that pharmacists should not be required to dispense drugs if it was against their beliefs. I agree; no one should be forced to do something heinous. However, he mentioned birth control. And I said to the effect that the pharmacist has no way of knowing why these women are taking birth control pills. Some are taking it for medical reasons not for controlling the number of children they have. I also mentioned the plight of 1 and how the diocese was ignoring her pleas for medical coverage. My response was published in the paper (albeit with much cringing). Oddly enough someone who knew my husband read my response. He ran into my husband and said that he wasn't aware that our diocese would not cover 1's medical expenses. He told my husband that if 1 worked for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles she would receive medical coverage if she produced a medical note from her doctor.

I haven't heard if my diocese is still killing 1, but perhaps they have changed their policy. I need to ask her how that is going.

I also understand that some may feel that because 1 is married, she should not be taking birth control pills and having sex. But again this about life and death. The Church only recognizes unions that have sex. Otherwise the lack of sex is grounds for annulment (I'm not sure about throughout the marriage but I know that if there is no sex ever, it is). So women like 1 are in a catch 22. They either can't have sex and have no real marriage but stay healthy and alive. Or they have sex and eventually die. Or they have sex but go against Church teachings. It's a complex moral dilemma.

Let's switch gears and look at my friend #2. We'll call her 2. 2 and I went to college together. We were suitemates. About half way through the year, 2 hardly got out of bed. She was in a tremendous amount of pain. She also started loosing a mass amount of weight. 2 went from a size 10-12 to a size 4. 2 is about 5'7''. She couldn't figure out what was wrong with her so she went to her gyn. The gyn told her that she had cysts. They scheduled her for an operation to remove the cysts on her ovaries. During the operation, they also discovered a condition that 2 did not know that she had. Endometriosis. Normally during a women's period, the uterus lining is shed. It travels down the vagina out of our bodies. In women with endometriosis, the lining "sticks" to parts of the body instead of exiting. It can stick to the ovaries, fallopian tubes, etc. After her period was over, 2 would be in pain. The pain was caused by infections developing in the areas where the lining was "stuck." Her doctor immediately burned with a laser the lining that was caught. After the operation, 2 was informed of her condition. She was told that the condition will sometimes correct itself after child birth (2 was not married at the time). But that for the time being she had two choices: she could take birth control pills to stop having period (thus eliminating the problem) or she would have to face frequent surgeries to avoid infection and possible death. 2 took the easy and less costly choice of going on as she put it "the strongest birth control pill there is."

Again, I want to say that I understand that birth control pills are to some people inherently evil. I want to point out that they were originally developed for good use. The man who created them thought that they would eliminate fertility issues especially for his wife. Instead he discovered that they do the opposite. And if some people want to view them as wrong as a means for not having children, then I have no problem with that. I do, however, get upset that people who are totally against their use for medical purposes because it jeopardizes the lives of my two friends who represent thousands of women with these medical conditions. The only way that my friends would not die is if they stopped having a period. Short of sterilization and menopause, the only other way of preventing a period is through hormones or birth control pills or their equivalents. As far as I can tell, there aren't many alternatives that my friends and others like them have. Even the Archdiocese of Los Angeles recognizes the good that can be done with use of birth control pills for medical purposes.

I also want to make the point that these two friends of mine are not the only two people in my life who have had to deal with these conditions. My mother in law suffered from endometriosis even after my hubby was born, and my own mother went through countless years dealing with her severe anemia. I basically grew up understanding how horrible her condition was and understanding how concerned she was for my own reproductive health. She would often ask the doctor to check for anemia during routine visits. I have been fortunate to never have to deal with either issue but have been blessed to have a unique perspective on these medical conditions.

So I ask you, before you start going on and on about how awful birth control pills are, think about my two friends and the members of my family. Remember to thank God that you do not have to face the decisions that they have had to make. And pray that some medical cure will come about to help eliminate these horrific medical conditions. Thank you.

9 comments:

  1. But you have to admit these are the exceptions to the rule. MOST women aren't on birth control pills for health reasons and I wouldn't argue against women going on birth control pills for serious health reasons. I would (because of all the negative health consequences of birth control pills, like cancer) ask if they'd talked to a doctor who was knowledgeable in the Creighton method, because quite a few women with problems have been helped with other hormone supplements after their charts proved what the underlying problem was. But if only birth control pills would help, then I would say take them. My point in my blog was that there are a lot of people obsessed with being "green" out there who take birth control pills for frivilous reasons and don't give it a second thought. Not for the very rare person, who has investigated all the possibilities and found that to be their only option. Of course then the other problem would be whether or not to abstain while taking the pills, because most birth control pills can cause early abortions....

    We wouldn't have the environmental impact problem if only the people who actually NEEDED to be on the pill took it.

    I don't think most people look into the charting method to find out what's wrong though, because they don't know about it! That was why I added the last sentence at the end of my blog! Because I know people who have their 12 year olds on it for "cramps" and I wish they'd look into the cause rather than just slapping a "band aid" pill over the problem.

    I'll definitely pray for your friends. One of my best friends has endometriosis too and it's been very difficult for her.

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  2. I just thought of one more thing- the Church does not teach that birth control pills are wrong in all circumstance. It is taught that it is always wrong as birth control. It isn't taught that it's wrong to treat underlying conditions. However, the catch is that because the pill does cause abortions, one would then have to abstain.

    The other thing that caught my eye was the part about Ovarian cysts. One of my childhood friends has them (it was awful, she was in so much pain she dropped about 30 lbs before her wedding day and was 5'8'' 100 lbs) and was told by her doctor that birth control pills would make the cysts much, much worse. She uses NFP for that reason. She did have to have surgery. She isn't Catholic and doesn't have a moral opposition to birth control pills. If your friend doesn't want to be on them, she might want to get a second opinion because it does seem that there are different views on the treatment.

    Sorry this is so long, but I wanted to explain my side! I don't want to upset you!

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  3. Like I said before, and Cam said above.. there are exemptions to the rule & you just stated two.

    I will say that I think ABC is prescribed way too often as a "cure" for things when it really just masks the problem and other things can be done. I don't know enough about their situation to know if that is the case here... but if its not (and personally I like Cam would get a second opinion) then there's no reason not to use the pills... although if I remember correctly they should be (at least) practicing NFP along with that for obvious reasons (necessary or not it doesn't cut out how the things work).

    Will be praying for them too.. Those are awful situations. I've known a few like that myself, but one wasn't Catholic (situation 1. She got her lining burned off & tubes tied) and the others had endometriosis, some were prescribed ABC and one was given some kind of steroid treatment. Not sure what was up with that, but I know it was just as rough on her.

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  5. Just found the source :-D

    From Humanae Vitae (http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/paul_vi/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-vi_enc_25071968_humanae-vitae_en.html)

    Lawful Therapeutic Means

    15. On the other hand, the Church does not consider at all illicit the use of those therapeutic means necessary to cure bodily diseases, even if a foreseeable impediment to procreation should result there from—provided such impediment is not directly intended for any motive whatsoever. (19)

    Hope that clears things up a little!

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  6. Sorry not sure why it posted twice like that... silly computer.

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  7. And I totally get that the church does allow it for theraputic practices, but apparently my diocese doesn't cover it in their health insurance plan. I don't think they cover historectomies even if it is because of something like cancer. I don't understand why which is why I said something.

    As for the cysts on friend #2, they were caused by her endometriosis. She didn't know it at the time and until her doctor was able to look at the cysts did they figure out why they were there. That's why she was put on birth control.

    My other friend #1 also has endometrious, which is the cause of her heavy bleeding. Because she bleeds so heavily she developed iron deficiency anemia. Since she has both conditions her medical issues are severe.

    My mom on the other had has always (and still does) had iron deficiency anemia. She does not have endometriosis. Normally they put women on birth control and iron supplements to try and boost the iron in their blood cells. After the body builds up iron they take them off birth control and have them take only iron. Sometimes this works if their period doesn't leech out two much iron and the women are able to have safe levels of iron. All women loose a little iron every month. The doctors tried to take my mother of birth control pills and test her levels. They were still too low after her period so they decided it was best for her to remain on birth control until she reached menopause. She doesn't use birth control anymore because she is post menapausal, but she still has to take iron supplements and eat a diet high in iron.

    This was why she insisted that I be tested especially before menarche. Iron deficiency anemia can be inherted (my grandmother has it also). I've been very lucky and have not had that issue even during pregnancy. I guess that I have my father's genes.

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  8. That is crazy if they don't even allow historectomies for cancer... I can see for other reasons, but when its a life or death situation? That's a problem with your diocese. Not cool. I'm sorry you have to deal with that.

    We have a lot of anemia in my family too, at least 3 different kinds... I've never heard of using birthcontrol to fix it though. Not saying it can't, just surprised by that. My mom was very insistant about me being tested for similar reasons... She nearly died from it as a child (obviously diff kind than your moms), I didn't have it though until recently... am now borderline due to pg. My cousin I mentioned has it more like your mom's... all the blood loss each month aggrivated it (heavy bleeding not endometriosis either) and she finally had to have that crazy procedure. I really feel for her.

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  9. Yeah, it sucked for mom. She hated when they would take her off birth control pills because she said it wasn't pleasant to deal with. But they were trying to see if new vitamins were absorbing better. They weren't.

    I only found out that our diocese was stubborn about medical coverage from my friend. I asked her if she had been writing different notes to the insurance company and the diocese. She said she had but that they weren't responding. I think she was frustrated and gave up. It's shouldn't be so complicated. I'm sure it would be the same for hystorectomies.

    But in defense of the diocese, fighting with insurance companies is nothing that I haven't heard before. My mom's co-worker had to fight with the insurance company over reconstructive surgery after breast cancer. She was an A cup and in order to reconstruct the breast that had been removed they give you B cups so to make things "even" she had to get her normal boob done too. The doctor had to write a letter to the insurance company so they would cover both breasts being "done." And that was through the government.

    My friend who's husband is also a student had to fight with the school's insurance. They were trying to fight over wording something about 90 days vs 90 days worth of visits. She has a condition in pregnancy where she vomits constantly. She was put on an iv and the nurse had to visit her to change it periodically. The insurance company wasn't going to cover anything besides the few initial visits within a 90 day period. The nurse only came out to visit her once a month to move the iv around to prevent scaring and damage to her veins. It was a nightmare, but eventually after a year of fighting they don't have to pay the 3 grand.

    I hate insurance companies. I'll be so happy when they pass insurance reform laws. People shouldn't have to pay such high rates or fight with the insurance company in order to live.

    It's like my Canadian friend says: In Canada you die waiting for treatment. In America you die because you can't afford treatment.

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