New York Magazine’s “Waking Up From the Pill”

by Emilie Branch

New York Magazine’s cover feature this week is entitled “Waking Up From the Pill”. The article discusses the Pill’s 50th anniversary, its great effect on women’s reproductive freedom, and its consequence. The article’s author, Vanessa Grigoriadis, poses the argument that with the Pill came an ignorance of the body. The theory is women are no longer conscious of what their body is telling them, because there is a pill to control it. This is somewhat true. Although it is not necessary to have a period when you take birth control (the Pill tricks your body into thinking you are pregnant so any menstruation you experience is artificial) it does create a very routine cycle. It’s an easy thing to rely on; every 28 days you get your period. It usually lasts about 3 days and is relatively painless. This is not how most women menstruate naturally, be it because of irregularity or a heavy cycle.

This isn’t reason to stop taking the Pill, this is one of the freedoms that the Pill employees—detachment from the body through the control of the menstrual cycle. What becomes tricky is when women actually do stop taking the Pill, when they try to get pregnant and must relinquish the control. It is most likely a control that got them through their reproductive peak: “For women who have spent so much of their lives pressing the off button on their bodies while on the Pill, it’s upsetting to learn that there’s no magic pill that causes instant impregnation.”

Vanessa is not a coddler when it comes to fertility in women over 30. She states the facts, and the facts aren’t in our favor. Basically, every man can easily be a father with minimal bio-interference, but women have much lower chances and a much shorter window; the Pill puts curtains over that window.

Cue the creation of the infertility industry; something I am more familiar with than the burden of unplanned childbirth. This may be because the women in my family tend to conceive later, or perhaps it’s something that’s been in the media all my life; quietly humming in the background like a mosquito you can’t kill. A mosquito that reminds me of my biological clock. An ad campaign by Reproductive Medicine that ran on the sides of New York City buses reinforced the internal clock’s tick. On the bus was a baby bottle constructed as an upside down hourglass. The president of the National Organization for Women reacted to this in an editorial, stating “women are, once again, made to feel anxious about their bodies and guilty about their choices.” That is exactly how this article made me feel; anxious and guilty.  It is a very touchy topic. Jamie Grifo, the program director of NYU Langone’s Fertility Center, shares a common experience she has with women who plan to have a child later in life: “I’ve got 44-year-olds who show up in my office after trying two months and say, ‘I don’t understand, my gynecologist told me I was fine,’” says Grifo. “Now, he didn’t say, ‘You’re going to be fertile forever.’ But they didn’t hear that part—they heard the part where he said they’re healthy. And for these women, if IVF doesn’t work, it’s very hard to recover. They have to grieve and mourn and make a life. These women, the 44-year-olds, are the ones that struggle the most, because they are so angry. And they’re angry at one person, but they won’t admit it. They’re angry at themselves.”

The comments on the article ranged from insane: “We need to stop all human reproduction and address the population crisis we’ll soon be in. In the meantime, we can work to genetically engineer the perfect human species, and slowly phase out the contaminated ones.” To personal, but judgmental: “Or let’s just say it–people like me gave up sleeping around and sowing those wild oats. Though not a big deal to me, I can totally get how it would be for many women, esp those in their 20s and early 30s who are enjoying the freedom the Pill has brought them … most don’t know where they’ll be in 6 months let alone 6 years, so planning when they would be most fertile is hardly on their minds.” To offended and defensive: “And “angry at themselves”? Whaaaat? Can someone please talk about the other side of the equation: men? More specifically men who are also putting off having children? Are men being shown ticking hourglasses? Oh no, it’s the loose woman’s fault – she doesn’t understand her own body because she’s been having kerazy sex in her dorm room! I’m off to stick a thermometer in my butt – I’m betting my basal temp is at boiling point.”

 It’s a hard subject because it takes us back to the issues that were there before the Pill, and are still bothering us fifty years after; feminist issues (that unfortunately no magic pill will cure) such as motherhood, social expectations placed on women, promiscuity, and sexual health. With freedom comes choice, and with choice comes complication. Still, as a girl who’s only lived half as long as the Pill, I sure am grateful to be celebrating that freedom of choice.

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