During a recent visit to Dallas, PA to speak about authentic femininity, I shared my evolution from a birth control pill-popping feminist to a woman who no longer needed to play the part of an "object" for men's pleasure. After the talk, Jessica Nickel, a 32 year old wife and mother of a toddler shared her own story about how the pill is too often prescribed for women as a panacea rather than what it is - a problem.
Here is Jessica's story:
My story started when I was fourteen and began menstruating. From the outset, my period occurred sporadically; I went months—three, five, even eight—without bleeding. When I would bleed, the heaviness of the flow was unbearable. I recall one day when I wore five sanitary pads layered inside my underwear—and I soaked through every one.
Finally, in 2004, at the age of twenty and without insurance, I decided to pay out of pocket to see a doctor. I remember sitting across from a dark-haired woman in her dimly lit office as I held back tears, desperately hoping this doctor would understand my discomfort and offer a real solution. Instead, the fix was as quick as the exam she performed: she prescribed the birth control pill. And, just as the exam wasn’t much of an exam, I would later learn that the pill wasn’t much of a fix. I left her office feeling dejected, vulnerable, and alone.
I remained on the pill for six years and then, in 2010, found myself in excruciating abdominal pain. At the hospital, I was told a cyst the size of my fist had formed on my right ovary. The mass had caused the ovary and fallopian tube to twist, suffocate, and turn necrotic. Subsequently, by way of a large incision, my ovary, tube, and the cyst were removed.
My guess now is that I had had what is called polycystic ovarian syndrome, though this is only retrospective self-diagnosis. I will never know for certain what caused my irregularity, bleeding, and cyst, since the root of the problem was never determined, or even considered. Instead, the pill served as a monthly adhesive bandage, meant to cover up the wound and ignore its origin. But this is not the end of my story.
A month after surgery, I met the wonderful man who would become my husband. We were married and started practicing Natural Family Planning. For the first time in eight years, I said good-bye to the birth control pill! And, for the first time in my life, I knew my body for what it was: the God-given gift it had always been. I felt alive, completely natural and free.
One month into our marriage, that lonely left ovary did its job, and I became pregnant. But, entering into my third trimester, I learned that this ovary and my remaining fallopian tube would have to be removed. Like their right-side counterparts, they had twisted, died and turned gangrene; if they ruptured, my life and the life of our unborn child would be endangered.
Thankfully, the surgery was a success and by God’s grace and mercy, I was able to carry our baby to term and give birth to a healthy, beautiful boy. My husband and I were thrilled to meet our son, but this overwhelming joy was accompanied by the realization that I would never experience pregnancy or child birth again.
My story is a unique one. I have yet to encounter another woman who entered menopause on the same day she became a mother. However, though I feel alone in my personal experience, I know for certain that my situation involving the birth control pill is, sadly, not a unique case.
Time and again, women are treated as cattle, shepherded along and fed a “magical” pill to solve all their problems. But the birth control pill is not a remedy; it is not a fix-all. On the contrary, the pill often masks serious underlying physical issues. At the age of twenty, I should have been given proper medical attention instead of being prescribed a pill and tossed aside. And, I should have asked questions, demanded I be heard.
I mourn the absence of my physical fertility, but I hope that, in telling this story, the seeds I sow may help other women—teenagers, mothers seeking answers for their daughters, younger and older women alike—make God-centered and intelligent decisions. As unbelievable as it may sound, I actually miss menstruating! And I have discovered that menopause is much more than hot flashes. But I do not pity myself. I thank God for His impeccable timing in blessing my husband and me with our son. And I am grateful for my situation which allows me to lend a personal voice to the fight against the grave disservice being done to women today.
As a final thought, I offer the following: the birth control pill does not equal freedom. Instead, it holds us captive and disconnects us from God, who created us in His image and likeness. We are called to know our bodies, to cherish our femininity, free from the shackles of the pill. And, we are called to acknowledge our inherent wholeness and beauty, born from our Lord’s eternal love.
Jessica Nickel, 32, lives in Dallas, Pennsylvania with her husband and two-year-old son, and she attends St. Monica Parish in West Wyoming.