Laura Eldridge is a women's health writer and activist. She began working with the founder of the women's health movement and author of The Doctor's Case Against The Pill, Barbara Seaman, when studying at Barnard College. Starting out as an an intern she progressed to become co-author on the publications Body Politic: Dispatches From The Women's Health Revolution and The No-Nonsense Guide To Menopause. This June Seven Stories Press will be releasing In Our Control: The Complete Guide To Contraceptive Choices For Women - a book Laura formed after Barbara Seaman's death in 2008 to provide a revaluation at the time of the Pill's 50th anniversary. The first part of this interview can be read here.
What was your experience of coming off the Pill and getting a diaphragm?
My experience was more comical than complicated. My gynecologist looked at me like I wanted to wear a chastity belt. I had tried five different Pills in my life and I refused to experiment with another. So she finally agreed to fit me for a diaphragm and pulled a brochure out from the bottom drawer of her desk and dusted it off and said 'Well this is old, but I am sure not a lot has changed.' The pharmacist also gave me a lot of attitude and said the prescription would take a week to fill, rolling his eyes when I gave him the script.
I have heard stories from the friends who I have convinced to try a diaphragm, and then needed to go to three different doctors before they could find one that would fit it. We are told the diaphragm is not effective, but it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you speak to women older than us, we can see this is not the case. My mother used a diaphragm for years without an issue. I had to get used to using it – how it felt to put it in, which angle would work for me, but that took about a week to two weeks. The bigger barrier (no pun intended) was getting over my fear that it wouldn't work and trusting myself to use it properly. Nothing I had heard about the diaphragm was true – it wasn't excessively messy, it didn't adversely effect my sex life. It can be put in ahead of time. It is wonderful!
Women just don't often trust anything other than the Pill to prevent pregnancy. There's a certain amount of superstition that comes in to trying to avoid getting pregnant. You put your faith in one method or another. Being more in control of the process and taking responsibility for what happens can be scary. It's amazing that we have this one size fits all Pill where someone who is 4'10'' and 95 pounds takes the same one as someone who is 6'2'' – that doesn't seem right. The fewer women that use the diaphragm and the fewer doctors that know how to fit it - the less effective it will be. Women are not getting access or the quality of care to use other methods properly.
Coming off the Pill can be difficult, in a similar way to what women coming off hormone replacement therapy can experience. I went to a conference with Barbara in 2007 and a doctor was talking about HRT (which by the way, is made of the same chemicals that are in the Pill but at lower doses) - and I asked her about women coming off of hormone treatments and how they could get, perhaps, addicted to them and she was very adamant that women do not get addicted to these drugs. I couldn't believe her contention. These are powerful chemicals, and people have the potential to get addicted to powerful chemicals. Many women describe experiences coming off the Pill that sound like addiction. That said, not all women find coming of the Pill or HRT tough – I didn't have a problem with it.
In Our Control also includes a chapter on the possibility of a male Pill - how do you feel about that?
On the one hand, Margaret Sanger felt women needed to be in control of their contraception, but on the other hand, I don't think we can have any proper conversations about hormonal contraception until men are included and they also have to think about whether they want to take a drug every day. I don't want men to be subjected to any dangers and discomforts that a Pill might hold, but we aren't having the important conversations we need to have and we might not until men are confronted by this issue too.
The Pill set the stage for preventative care. We now see healthy people taking drugs for their heart, their bones and so on. The Pill showed that healthy people will stay on a drug long term even though they are healthy, if that drug is shown to have benefits. But pharmaceutical companies are much more wary about inflicting the possible side effects on men. They say, for example, that the male contraceptive can not have any effect on men's sexuality, when the female Pill certainly does have this impact on women. Women are supposed to tolerate these problems and possibly until they hear men stand up and say they don't want to take the male Pill then they won't think any further. Women and men need a wake up call.
I think there are now rumblings of discontent that I wasn't hearing ten years ago, and that makes me happy - it's about time! Realizing how dangerous the Pill was for women is one thing that galvanized the women's health movement. Perhaps talking about contraception in a more dynamic way can help us to make positive changes in women's health now. We understand that contraception is one small piece of a larger movement for reproductive justice. But we still need to have this conversation..