Unedited version of the article published in issue 30 of Juno Magazine
I feel let down by medical contraception, doctors ‘sell’ it to you as a simple and convenient way to enjoy sex without getting pregnant, well that certainly hasn’t been my experience. If I asked my doctor about ‘Natural Contraception’ her response would be that the dose of hormones in the Pill would “just put my body into it’s ‘natural’ state (ie being infertile) just like my body was when pregnant or breastfeeding”- in other words the stage women are ‘meant to be in’-well I don’t buy it!
I knew that behind the pushing of contraceptives were the drug companies, doctors bonuses, ‘big brother’ wanting to keep population numbers under control, absolutely nothing to do with my health or wellbeing!
There’s also concern about the environmental impact of hormonal contraceptions leaking in to our water supply causing fish to become sterile, and evidence of exposure to environmental oestrogens causing a decline in sperm count, breast and prostate cancer, premature puberty and endometriosis.
I was shocked a couple of years back when I watched the film The Moon Inside You; it interviews the inventor of the contraceptive implant; he spoke about women like they were animals to be neutered, about our cycle as an illness. He wanted all young women to be allowed to experience their first period and then be issued with the implant so they never have to bleed again. Oh that made me angry!
I do wonder about the long term implications of hormonal contraception, especially when a friend of mine who had been using the contraceptive injection for many years went in to her menopause, her symptoms were so ‘extreme’ her doctor prescribed prozac!
But like lots of young women my age I went on the Pill when I started my first ‘serious’ relationship. My mother warned me that the women in our family were ‘very fertile’ so I wanted to be sure I wouldn’t get caught out! Well I did, I had 2 small children by the age of 20 because I was unable to find anything that worked for me. I spent the next 10 years trying every kind of contraceptive out there, if it had side effects, I’d get them! Repeated yeast infections from spermicide, condoms and the Cap (diaphragm). Depression, weight gain, nausea, loss of libido from all the different Pills I tried, cramps and heavy loss with the coil (IUD) and complete loss of cycle from the Mirena Coil (IUD with hormonal implant) along with a permanent state of PMT-mood swings, rage, depression, bloatedness and a longing to have the ‘release’ of my bleeding.
I was at my wits end, so I started to explore methods that women had used before the pill explosion; they ranged from ‘withdrawal’ the only one my mum knew- apart from ‘keeping your legs crossed!’ (but since sperm can be release before ejaculation withdrawal isn’t at all reliable) to the Calendar or Rhythm Method which was developed by a Catholic in 1930’s, to the Billings Ovulation Method which came out of the ‘fertility awareness’ / catholic natural family planning movement, herbs, and the Lactational Method- only for mothers who are exclusively breastfeeding! There’s also the Taoist practice for men of sperm retention – by applying pressure on perineum, at the point of ejaculation the sperm is retained- but if done incorrectly can cause a retrograde ejaculation (sending the sperm in to the bladder -which can cause infertility), the Taoists believed that the jing (sexual energy) traveled up into the head and “nourished the brain”.
I had learned a basic version of fertility awareness while on a ‘Healthy Cycles’ course in my early 20’s but I just hadn’t trusted my body enough to believe it could work for me.
I started with journalling and charting my cycle using a diary and a moon ‘dial’- ever since I started my first period I have put a P or * on pages in my diary or calendar on the days I am bleeding, and as someone who is regular as clockwork I found charting my cycle easy. I knew that women ovulated 11-16 days after the first day of their bleed, and I reckoned mine was around day 12.
The Billings Method teaches you the signs to notice when you are ovulating- by noting the change in your mucus. For about 6 months I combined this with using a Calista Ovulation Test kit- (which is really simple to use- you just spit on to a ‘microscope’ each day- leave to dry and then check the pattern) this gave me the extra security that I was getting it right.
I would also check my cervix position- this isn’t recommend by The Billings Method as it can change the mucus production.The Cervix moves up and down the vaginal canal during the month; while you are infertile- and certainly while bleeding it is low, firm to touch and the opening is small- almost closed and while ovulating it higher in the vaginal canal, soft (like your lips) and wide open. This method isn’t so reliable soon after child birth as your cervix will take time to resume its pre birth size and shape.
You can also chart your temperature to give you an accurate reading of when you are ovulating- personally I only tried this a few times- I found it more difficult to remember to do than other 2 methods.
Studying my cycle, cervix, mucus and reading books like the Billings Method I discovered I had about 16-18 days where I was ‘safe’ and about 10-12 when I was at risk of becoming pregnant
By combining these methods with journalling, after a few months I felt confident I could fully let go of hormonal and invasive contraceptives.
There is of course the question of what to do during your fertile days- this is something you’ll need to discuss with your partner. Many couples choose to abstain from full intercourse during fertile times, and experiment with different ways of love making.
Should you want to choose a more healthy form of contraception then there is the cap or the ‘honey cap’ – which is a small cervical cap with the rubber impregnated with honey and kept in honey while not in use- it’s unfortunately only available though private health care. Otherwise condoms are reasonably effective. If you are not in a long term relationship then condoms will protect you from pregnancy and many STIs.
There are also herbal methods of contraception, personally the only experience I have of using herbs is for ’emergency contraception’. If I have taken a ‘risk’… it happens in moments of passion! I have sat in meditation, talked to my womb, and any energies I may feel around me and state very clearly whatever my reasons might be for not wanting to be pregnant, the timing might be very wrong, it may be health reasons, it may just be that my partner and I have decided we don’t want children, whatever the reason its valid.
I would also back it up with a day of drinking herbal tea made from Rue and Penny Royal. Rutin is the active ingredient in Rue (Ruta graveolens). Historically Rue has been used as tea to induce miscarriage by thousands of women in latin america. The leaves were also eaten daily in salads as a contraceptive to prevent pregnancy. According to herbalist Susun Weed Rutin can be used as a form of contraception or emergency contraception.
Should you wish to follow the herbal contraception route then I suggest seeing a herbalist – many herbs have contraindications- such as Rue and Penny Royal should not be taken by anyone with kidney or liver problems.
Other herbs that have been used for contraception/ emmenagogue (bringing on menstrual flow) are:
Angelica/ Dong Quai (taken as emergency contraception)
Apricot Kernels (taken as emergency contraception)
Blue Cohosh (taken as emergency contraception)
Cotton Root Bark (taken as emergency contraception)
Juniper berries (taken as emergency contraception)
Myrrh (taken as emergency contraception)
Neem Oil ((taken as emergency contraception and can be used as a spermicide)
Pennyroyal (taken as emergency contraception)
Pomegranate (taken to prevent pregnancy)
Queen Anne’s Lace Seeds (also known as Wild Carrot) (taken as emergency contraception)
Rue (taken as emergency contraception)
Rutin (also known as Vitamin P.) (taken o prevent pregnancy and as emergency contraception)
Smartweed leaves (taken as emergency contraception)
Vitamin C – Ascorbic Acid (used vaginally as spermicide)
Wild ginger (taken as emergency contraception)
Wild Yam (taken daily to prevent pregnancy)
Natural Spermicides: These tend to be made from foods that are very acidic, just like the vagina. Sperm need the alkaline fertile mucus to survive the hostile, acidic conditions within the vagina.
Aloe Vera mixed with Lemon juice
Honey mixed with Lemon Juice
These mixtures can be used on a cap, or inserted into the vagina on a menstrual sponge.
If you are wanting to use a more natural form of birth control and are currently using a hormonal contraceptive, you will need to stop your pill our have your implant or IUD removed and wait and to see how long it takes to re-establish your normal cycle, start by charting and journalling your cycle.
Women react differently, some have their cycle normalise very quickly, for others it can take up to a year, be patient and in the mean time choose a gentler contraceptive, like a barrier method.
Recently my sister in law introduced me in to the world of Apps- there are many free cycle charting ones…you do need to have a few months of charting dates for them to be accurate, my favourite is one called Love Cycles, its easy to use, has lovely visuals and is very clear at showing your fertile and infertile (safe) days.
Of course nothing is completely 100% risk free, I have heard stories of women who have become pregnant while on their period, there are a few theories on this- the Billings Method says this can happen if you have a short cycle- say you ovulate on day 9, then from day 5 you will be ‘unsafe’ and this may still be during your bleeding phase. Other fertility advisors suggest that perhaps they were already pregnant, had a small bleed (this is quite common) and unprotected sex, then found out they were pregnant and thought it happened while on their period.
I have also heard that your body can spontaneously release an egg during a particularity passionate bout of love making- this has been disproved by fertility practitioners…it takes your body days to produce the right balance of hormones to create ovulation. However it is true that you can ovulate when the Moon is in your “Natal Moon” -so its always worth charting the moons cycles along side your own! (one of my conceptions definitely occurred when the moon was in my natal moon – but also very close to my ovulation date!)
I have successfully used these methods for many years, and have been teaching, empowering and supporting women to tune in to the power of their cycles for over 20 years through use of sustainable sanitary wear, workshops, cycle charting books , Womb Massage, Red Tents and Moon Lodges. I’m a mother of 4, living the ‘good life’ in West Wales www.moontimes.co.uk
The Billings Method by Dr Evelyn Billings (a clear guide for women whose cycles are regular or irregular, who are coming off the pill, breastfeeding or approaching menopause)
The Pill are you sure its for you? By Jane Bennett and Alexandra Pope (This book explores the physical and psychological repercussions of taking the pill – from side effects, like weight gain and depression to cancer, to effective alternative methods of contraception.)
The Selling of Contraception by Nicole J. Grant (Nicole Grant does a good job of explaining how, during the second half of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth, the state and medical experts usurped the management of female fertility, and then transformed ‘birth control’ into a lucrative business and a remunerative political proposition)
Hygieia: A Woman’s Herbal by Jeannine Parvati (This herbal is an encyclopedic work covering many aspects of of women’s health)
Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year by Susun Weed. .(Includes herbs for fertility and birth control.)
Eves Herbs- A History of Contraception and Abortion in the West by John Riddle
In Eve’s Herbs, Riddle explores a question: If women once had access to effective means of birth control, why was this knowledge lost to them in modern times? Beginning with the testimony of a young woman brought before the Inquisition in France in 1320, Riddle asks what women knew about regulating fertility with herbs and shows how the new intellectual, religious, and legal climate of the early modern period tended to cast suspicion on women who employed “secret knowledge” to terminate or prevent pregnancy. Knowledge of the menstrual-regulating qualities of rue, pennyroyal, and other herbs was widespread through succeeding centuries among herbalists, apothecaries, doctors, and laywomen themselves, even as theologians and legal scholars began advancing the idea that the fetus was fully human from the moment of conception. Drawing on previously unavailable material, Riddle reaches a startling conclusion: while it did not persist in a form that was available to most women, ancient knowledge about herbs was not lost in modern times but survived in coded form. Persecuted as “witchcraft” in centuries past and prosecuted as a crime in our own time, the control of fertility by “Eve’s herbs” has been practiced by Western women since ancient times.
Suppliers and fitters of honey caps (and other types) www.naturalgynae.com and Dr Shirley Bond 144 Harley St, London
www.lovecycles.me cycle charting app
© 2012 Rachael Crow, All Rights Reserved