The Choices We Make—Are Pills the Only Way?
- by Maxie McCoy
- Photo by Ana Harff
Choice is a defining characteristic of those who are free. It’s a deciding factor in equality. It’s at the foundation of our democracy. And it’s both a privilege and right. As women, we’ve made incredible progress on what we get to choose, and yet we still have so far to go. Because some groups have far more slack on the perimeter of their choices, while the livelihood of marginalized groups depends on their right to choose.
One of the defining choices of a woman’s life is over her reproduction. It’s no coincidence then reproductive rights and women’s rights are tightly intertwined. We simply cannot talk about women’s equality without first talking about that right—the right to choose what happens to her body and when. It’s a choice that isn’t experienced equally, depending on who is governing your state, and thus, your body (or so the patriarchy would hope).
Luckily, and for no other reason than because of the place I was born and the parents I was born to, I’ve been fortunate enough to make a choice around my contraception every day since I was in high school. Because birth control was accessible and supported.
As someone who’s built my career in women’s leadership, I wish I could go back to my 17-year-old self and tell her so much. I’d tell her that compared to many young women in my country, the fact I had birth control pills that were mostly paid for by insurance, and that were supported by my parents, and that were prescribed willingly by my doctor, wasn’t something to take for granted. And I’d also want to tell her that birth control pills are one choice of many methods. That there are other forms of contraception. That hormonal birth control is a choice, and that I have the right to choose.
Fast forward almost a decade, and I still didn’t realize the options. Thanks to pretty shitty sex education and my generally uninformed discourse about a woman’s body, I thought that if I wanted to not get pregnant, then I had to stay on the pill. Anything else would be a gamble, a huge, potentially life-altering gamble.
Which is exactly what I was thinking, that I was playing poker with my potential when I threw out my pack of unused birth control. I was convinced that I was tempting fate. But I’d been fighting my body’s truth for the past few months and it was wearing. Every time I went to take my daily pill, I felt my body rejecting it. My intuition was crying to stop. By this time in my life, I’d tried an array of hormonal combinations and nothing seemed to regulate my cycle. It was all over the place, not to mention the monthly spotting I took as fact. And it wouldn’t be until later that the swinging and intense emotions I accepted as “womanhood” were nothing more than a byproduct of hormonal birth control. But I didn’t know any different.
In the moments after I discarded my birth control pills, I experienced a panicky stream of thoughts.
“Am I crazy??”
“Am I asking to get pregnant?”
“Am I throwing away my future alongside this pack?”
“Is this the most irresponsible thing I’ve ever done?”
“Will I regret this?”
I did what I always do when I’m in a losing battle with my own thoughts: I called my girlfriends and started talking aloud about what I had been keeping inside for months – that my body was speaking to me and she didn’t want to take these fucking pills anymore. I could feel it. But I told them that I was scared of how else I’d manage. And the answers, the truths, the solutions, the stories came rushing my way. Many of my closest girlfriends had already gone through the exact same thing. They too had gotten off the pill. They too were exploring other methods of birth control. They too had been worried. But now, they too were feeling more confident than ever that they had choices—and that the constant stream of synthetic hormones was not the only way.
Through these conversations, ones I was originally hesitant to have because I felt crazy for questioning what everyone else had accepted, I learned. I learned about tracking and which apps were the most user-friendly. I learned the different phases of our cycles and eventually, my body became in sync with the moon’s timing –finally “regular”. I learned about condom brands and how most aren’t made with the PH of a woman’s body in mind (hello ongoing UTIs, yeast infections, etc). I learned about paying attention to your discharge and how it can tell you if your body is ovulating. I learned about the woman’s brain, and how hormones fully affect our realities. I learned about period pain, and that the more I accept and celebrate my menstruation, the less it seemed to hurt.
And most importantly, I learned my own power. I learned that following my intuition was right because it felt like my womanhood was being medicated right out of me. I learned what it meant to feel emotional but also steady, and to feel in tune and clear in my body. I learned I didn’t have to be scared to not be on the pill. I learned there are more choices when it comes to managing pregnancies than “the choice”.
Ultimately, I learned that conversation is about so much more than sharing, it’s about shared experience. In learning the stories of those we love, we empower ourselves. We learn that we’re not alone. We learn that there are other ways. And especially when it comes to being a woman, safe and vulnerable conversations about personal experience provides the information that society, our education, our families, and the internet may not have taught us.
Women coming together to share our truth, especially our body truths, is one of the quickest ways to debunk all the bullshit that patriarchal systems would like us to believe. Because a choice is only a choice if we know what is we’re choosing and why.
Author Bio Maxie McCoy is a writer and speaker obsessed with giving women the tools they need to believe in themselves. She's the author of "You're Not Lost: An Inspired Action Plan for Finding Your Own Way." You can follow her online @maxiemccoy or maxiemccoy.com.