55 years after the release of the Pill, we think birth control needs a second, and thorough, look. Women fought fiercely to get the birth control pill, but now we seem to be fighting to get off it. In 1960 the birth control pill was all about progress, but does it still fit with our values today?
Sweetening the Pill is a fabulous book which explores the hidden dangers in the contraceptive pill… and why we’re not told about them.
It gets a couple of mentions in the second edition of my book, Moon Time. THAT’S how important I think it is.
During those decades when we’re trying to avoid getting pregnant, many of us seem to find ourselves settling for a method we’re not entirely happy with or switching from one hormonal contraceptive to another – from pill to implant to ring, for example – trying to find something that fits. The ads and inserts give us long lists of the possible side effects, but it doesn’t make them any easier to live with. Some non-hormonal options seem to have disappeared almost entirely (anybody try to get a diaphragm lately?) while more hormonal options have become available.
So when author Holly Grigg-Spall let me know that she was launching a Kickstarter campaign to make a much-needed documentary on the topic… I said hell yeah, count me in! It is being executive produced by Ricki Lake and directed by Abby Epstein, the team behind The Business of Being Born.
Intrigued? Let them tell you more, in this Exclusive Q&A with Ricki Lake, Abby Epstein, & Holly Grigg-Spall
What made you want to shed light on this topic of hormonal contraceptives?
Ricki: It really seemed like a very natural progression for us from ‘The Business of Being Born.’ Women spend more time trying to avoid pregnancy – a decade or more at the start, then they have babies, then they’re back to trying to avoid it for further decades. It’s an experience all women share. What we did for birth, we want to do for birth control, and empower women with more information and more choice. ‘The Business of Being Born’ was about body literacy and this project is the same – it’s about women knowing, understanding, and trusting their bodies.
Abby: We’ve both had our own negative experiences with different kinds of hormonal contraceptives over the years. We know other women who have experienced the same thing. Holly Grigg-Spall sent us her manuscript for ‘Sweetening the Pill: Or How We Got Hooked on Hormonal Birth Control’ and something just clicked when I was reading it. For the first time, I was connecting emotionally difficult periods in my life to the use of the pill and it just made so much sense to do this film. We could approach birth control with women’s empowerment in mind, too.
Holly: For me, I wrote the book because I had a pretty terrible personal experience with the Pill, which I used for ten years consistently. The book began as a blog that I wrote about coming off the Pill and my experience doing that, how it made me feel, finding alternative contraception, learning about my cycle and so on. That blog meant that lots of women got in touch to share their own stories. I realized the extent of this problem. I then soon realized it was really taboo almost to criticise the Pill or the culture around the Pill. That interested me. I saw ‘The Business of Being Born’ when I was actually writing the book and I made the connection right away. I wrote about the parallels between the birth and the birth control industries. I knew that the book could make the basis of a great documentary and that the absolute best people to do this would be Abby and Ricki. I set my sights on that. Of course, I am now over-the-moon about the film. A book is one thing, but a documentary like this can reach so many more women.
We believe that the birth control pill was one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century. But we think women deserve more and better options, not less of them. Hormonal birth control often dominates the conversation, but, like a hospital birth or cesarean, it’s not always the best choice for all.
The Kickstarter campaign highlights Fertility Awareness Methods as a non-hormonal alternative, particularly when supported with apps and new technology. How did this area come to your attention?
Ricki: We got introduced to Kindara first through Holly’s book and we have met with them and discussed their work with their app and new wireless basal body thermometer, Wink. They want to democratize this knowledge, make it part of every woman’s education. They really think it could change things for the better when it comes to women’s lives. We also spoke with the makers of Clue in Berlin. They’re helping women track every part of their monthly cycle. It’s great progress for women’s reproductive health. Just this week we saw that Apple finally decided to add menstrual cycles to their HealthKit app. This is wonderful. It means other apps can sync with the native technology on the iPhone and it means more women will come to realize they can track their cycles and benefit from being aware of this information. They will be made aware of that option.
Abby: Really the technology sector is leading the way here. We’re seeing them step up and help and support women who don’t want to or can’t use hormonal contraceptives. They’re making using Fertility Awareness Methods simpler, easier, less time-consuming and more approachable. They’re getting in the media and getting their message out there. And these people are also a wealth of knowledge because thousands of women are using their apps and talking to them about their cycles and experiences.
A lot of women take the Pill for other issues these days, not just for contraception. Do you want to explore this?
Abby: Absolutely. A couple of our film advisors work in this area – providing holistic, natural reproductive health support. They are working with women who have found the Pill hasn’t helped them long term. They’ve had side effects or the problems they had before have returned after coming off. They’re struggling to get pregnant. The Pill is prescribed for so many health problems these days and, although it’s definitely helpful and even essential for some women, it’s not the right treatment in all situations. In the Kickstarter video we highlight one part of this – how women are using it to regulate their cycles, even though they’re getting misleading information on that.
Holly: This is such an important area. More and more women are on the Pill for everything from acne to PCOS and yet the Pill doesn’t treat these problems, it only masks them. When women come off, most commonly the issue returns and might even be worse than before. We think that women have to suffer with PMS, like it’s our destiny, inevitable, when actually a lot of hormonal balance-related problems can be treated properly long term with alternative protocols. Women deserve better. They don’t have to put up with this stuff. And they don’t always have to use drugs that give them side effects to fix the problem. For some women, as Abby says, hormonal contraceptives are essential treatment. But we’re at a point now where it’s being doled out like a cure-all and it’s just not.
Why have you turned to Kickstarter to get this movie made?
Abby: We spent a year going the traditional route and we met with a few networks and production companies. We had a lot of discussion and a lot of real interest. People were saying this film could be “the Food Inc. of birth control.” Everyone has a story or knows someone who has a story about this, it’s just that kind of subject. But, it doesn’t have that commercial pull. It seems, at first, a little scary even. Some people struggle to understand the perspective. We have to explain that it is not anti-birth control or anti-Pill. Instead it is pro-informed consent, pro-choice, and pro-knowledge. We want women to have more options for contraception, not less! We want them to have more access, not less! It’s a feminist film project. This topic is very politicized right now, so that takes a little time to explain.
Ricki: People might not realize, but we didn’t actually make any money from ‘The Business of Being Born’ – it was hugely successful in many great ways, but we lost money. Documentaries are really passion projects. We know a grassroots effort is right for this project, it spreads awareness and gets the conversation going. Women will share their stories and may even share their stories for the film. They will have their experiences validated by this, which is so important. The campaign is doing really well, but we have to keep going strong to reach our goal now.
Watch the trailer… And please do give them your support. We need to ensure that all women have access to objective information before they make their contraceptive choices.
Please do take a moment to support this much-needed documentary. The Kickstarter Campain runs till July 3rd. This is why they need your support:
Whatever amount you can give, however small, will act as a vote of support for this project. You’ll be voting for you and for all the women, and men, in your life to be empowered to make fully informed decisions about how we manage our fertility and to have support in whichever choice we make.