It’s good to see the light bulbs turn on (oh, sorry, compact fluorescent bulbs…just don’t break them and release toxic mercury everywhere…). Gee, if I’m going to pay extra for organic free-range chicken and buy those cute little all natural sheets from Target, maybe I should reconsider synthetic hormones in birth control, both going into the body and coming out into the water supply. Birth control used to be standard fare for the modern feminist. No babies, follow the career, control those pesky periods, how could you lose, right? Plus they never gave you any other option when you went the gynecologist, it was just a given, you were on the pill. Except I personally just never wanted to put continuous chemicals in my body on purpose, at the time blissfully ignorant of all the ones I put in unknowingly. Of course, I was raised with a different perspective. My parents were hippies, back-to-the-landers, growing things in the earth; they were organic before organic was cool (and at the time, I felt they were decidedly uncool). They were part of the era of natural childbirth, the resurgence of breastfeeding, dads in the delivery room. If you were really groovy, you delivered your baby at the Farm, a rural Tennessee commune, guided by Ina May Gaskin, guru of Spiritual Midwifery. My birth wasn’t that earthy; to hear my mom tell it, the Boston hospital where I was born was really busy and she did most of her unmedicated laboring on a gurney in the hallway. Not exactly your hippie orgasmic patchouli-saturated water birth.
So I guess my parents were eco-conscious from the get-go. Besides the organic garden, we lived in a recycled house (they tore an abandoned house down and used the materials to build our house). There was no television until I was a freshman in high school, which meant when we visited other people, my brother and I were glued to the TV. As far as I could tell, they never even considered synthetic birth control. It was not just a money issue because we lived on a shoestring single income budget, the philosophy was to always be striving for the natural. Their method of choice was Natural Family Planning taught by a local Catholic woman although they weren’t doing it for religious reasons. Not the rythym method as everyone supposed, it was a method based on observing your cervical mucous for the hormone-dependent changes that indicate your level of fertility. Cycles are charted using red and green stamps and it is truly couple-centered fertility; that is, the method is dependent upon communication between the two people about whether it is to be used to avoid or acheive pregnancy. See, my dad was the one that felt, in deference to the planet, they should only have two children, to replace themselves. Naturally he was appalled when I used to walk around trumpeting that I wanted to have 10 kids (I was 50% right). I knew my mom always wanted to have more children but my dad’s philosophy prevailed, two kids it was.
I grew up knowing about NFP, eventually learning it for myself even when I wasn’t sexually active, and I became adept at charting my own cycles. It truly is an awesome experience to know the shifts and changes of your own body; that to me is the essence of empowerment, in sharp contrast to the suppression of your own natural hormone production by the pill. Other than that, condoms were the choice (other than the total of 3-4 months when I “tried” the pill because at that time I couldn’t “afford” to get pregnant, not a good experiment which I quickly and gladly gave up). Then I started getting pregnant and breastfeeding (oh yeah, and that diaphragm I never got around to using)….Anyway, I guess the reason that NFP had pretty much been relegated to Catholics (since the church does not condone birth control), was the concept that really, birth control was so liberating for every one else. You didn’t have to think about it, you could have sex and not have a baby, awesome…right?!? Unfortunately, it also brought with it mood swings, migraine headaches, blood clots, in some cases, more bleeding problems, not less. As if that wasn’t bad enough, some crazy person invented Norplant and the Depo-Provera shot, which often made women feel like THEY were crazy, and let’s not forget the astronomical weight gain. Great trade-off. IUDs, once they got that pesky pelvic infection/toxic shock problem ironed out were the perfect answer. Wait, those don’t prevent conception, just implantation of the embryo into the uterus. No problem, my OB/GYN colleagues said, we get around that problem by saying life doesn’t begin until implantation, see no issue there. Then they came up with Mirena, saying let’s put some synthetic progestin in it (you know that one that is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer) to reduce the chance of ovulation. But it doesn’t do a great job of doing that, just read the Mirena package insert.
Well, apparently, NFP is making a resurgence in the eco-movement when some realized maybe they should consider the personal and environmental impact of birth control. A recent article in Time discussed how NFP is not just for Catholics anymore! It’s for uber eco-vegetarians who practice yoga! The article goes out of its way to state that this method is not “100% accurate,” I suppose in reference to the old joke about NFP users, “also called parents,” hardy-har. Show me a birth control method which is 100% effective (is what they meant to say). I am not going to address the rest of the article which was focused on things like vegan condoms, organic lubricant, and eco-friendly sex toys like whips made from recycled tired, ugghh. Then there’s a spectacularly terrible article in Slate about the greenest birth control, whose author is naturally more concerned about the impact of hormones in the pill on aquatic life than human life. She praises the IUD and is woefully inaccurate about the effectiveness of NFP, claiming a failure rate of 25% which is straight-up misinformation. The capper is this truly offensive statement: “No matter what type you choose, it’s guaranteed to have less of an impact on the environment than the unwitting creation of a fossil-fuel burning, diaper-wearing copy of yourself.” By all means, don’t have children!! Are you crazy!?! Yeah for population control says John Holdren!!
What if you do that truly awful thing and actually get pregnant! Well, after you sit around feeling guilty for increasing your carbon footprint by reproducing (NOT, please don’t waste your time with such nonsense), you have to figure out how and where you’re going to have this baby. If you’re like most people in the US, you will have a hospital birth with many expensive interventions and a high chance of having a C-section, average cost $15,000. Impact on the environment? Well, who really knows, but a birth center or home birth is definitely a no-brainer here: minimal cost, minimal waste from IV tubing, epidurals, endless fetal monitoring strips, fetal scalp electrodes, etc, etc. It seems we are in the midst of a war of two worlds. Take doctors talking about the usual “pregnant woman as bomb waiting to go off” approach to birth and performing C-sections (at a rate of 31% in the US) many times defensively to avoid being sued for any potential birth complications vs. the natural birthing/midwifery movement. Add in a dead baby from a home birth and you have the Today show doing a hatchet job on midwifery (and refusing to even mention the home birth of the first GrandDuggar). Don’t you dare try to come in here with a birth plan, says one OB, “I am the expert, you are the patient, you will follow orders or else.” One wonders if the same people campaigning for health care reform are supportive of such cost-cutting approachs as out-of-hospital maternity care for low risk patients. No one is arguing that high risk moms need to be having such a birth. I’ve had a C-section, two VBACs, and another C-section due to an “almost” uterine rupture. I have no business delivering anywhere but a hospital. But in countries like Denmark, as beautifully demonstrated by Ricki Lake’s documentary “The Business of Being Born,” the majority of low risk moms are delivered at home by midwives. There is no controversy, no clash of the titans (actually more like big guy beating up on little guy), just good maternity care and great outcomes. Of course, there is major differences between our two countries, but the point is, it is being done successfully other places in the world. Here’s an insider’s perspective on the C-section problem, P.S. she was my mentor in residency! Although there is many of the Our Bodies Ourselves viewpoints with which I disagree, I do support and have signed their position statement on Choices in Childbirth.
Anyway, I certainly think it makes sense to do what we can to help the environment, without going off the deep end. However, my own physical environment is a pretty big priority to me, hence the avoidance of synthetic hormones. And when it comes to childbirth, it sure makes sense to save money and resources by not turning the natural birthing process into a over-medicalized, wasteful and expensive experience when it can be avoided.