'Just how safe is Yaz? Women need to know!'
Today Ms. magazine posted a piece I wrote regarding recent developments surrounding Yaz and Yasmin. As I outline here, and to quickly precis - it has been discovered in the last couple of months that Bayer intentionally hid research regarding the drugs' blood clot-causing risks. Multiple pieces of new research have shown these two birth control pills, and any of the generic kinds that contain the same synthetic progesterone - drospirenone, hold a risk of causing the women using them to develop a blood clot at a rate that is 50% to 75% higher than other birth control pills. The FDA called for a reappraisal. The decision made by a panel of advisers to the FDA had the potential to take Yaz and Yasmin off the market. The panel voted by a slim margin to keep the pills available, stating that the benefits outweighed these risks. An independent watchdog group - POGO - investigated and found that at least four of the advisers had significant financial ties to Bayer (the pharmaceutical company that makes Yaz and Yasmin). Anyway, I'll let you read the piece at Ms. as I explain it far more clearly. But I would like to post a link to the letter written by representatives of POGO to the FDA which outlines this finding, and more:
There has been very little media coverage. The Washington Monthly published this very thorough article:
'The Yaz Men.'
Otherwise, there was Jezebel, the women's issues-orientated blog. The only other feminist or female-centric blog I could find that covered this story. I would have been pleased if they hadn't written something so very arrogant and ignorant.
'New FDA Decisions Don't Mean Birth Control Is Killing You.'
Right within the first paragraph the Jezebel writer claims to be more concerned (and angry, apparently) that there was ANY coverage of the FDA reappraisal and the findings regarding the blood clot risks, than that this massively important information on one of the most popular birth control pills had been at first covered up and then disregarded. According to this piece we should have all just shut up and kept quiet about our concerns over Yaz. All the women that suffered with blood clots - and as a result heart attacks and strokes - should have kept their problems to themselves. The families of the women who died should have stayed silent. Why? Because talking about Yaz and Yasmin having a 50% to 75% higher likelihood of seriously injuring or killing you than other birth control pills is going to make women stop taking the Pill. And women who stop taking the Pill become pregnant. So women like this one here:
'My Birth Control Gave Me A Pulmonary Embolism.'
Well, according to Jezebel, they just don't deserve the attention. I was horrified to read this piece. I couldn't believe Jezebel could publish and support such backward logic. I'm so angered by this post that I hate to even link to it here. Jezebel doesn't fully explain exactly what the new findings on these drugs say, the writer just skips right to telling us that we shouldn't be worried because all things considered pregnancy holds a much higher risk of giving you a blood clot.
Like I've said in my Ms. piece this suggests that there are only two states of being women get to live in - pregnant or on hormonal birth control. Strange that, as I've lived in an entirely different state - still fertile, not pregnant, not even a scare, and using condoms,spermicide and fertility awareness for my birth control. Non-hormonal methods of contraception hold no risk of blood clots. None. But I saw not one article remark on these alternatives. Surely if we are so worried that women will be scared into coming off the Pill then we should at least educate them on their other choices to prevent pregnancies? Instead, Jezebel decides we all just need to stop criticizing the Pill. We shouldn't let women know the dangers involved. They're too dumb to understand fully and they'll just go and get pregnant - is Jezebel's message. Talk about 'Trust Women' ! - this is the name of a new campaign advocating access to birth control.
The writer decides that Jezebel is not 'the media' (which is talked about more and more so as though it were a entirely separate entity to society and not just a bunch of people working jobs like writing and editing and living in the same world as everyone else). 'The media' - this piece says - is unable to convey information in a 'non-hysterical' fashion. If 'the media' is hysterical then I think Jezebel fits right in. What could be more reactionary and hysterical of a supposed feminist blog than saying, in the wake of very important findings regarding a very popular drug used solely by women, to say we should all just shut up about it because otherwise we'll have an unwanted baby epidemic on our hands. Rather than presenting the information and considering that perhaps the reason women come off the Pill and get pregnant accidentally as a result is because they are not properly informed of all their choices and have little to no body literacy as a result of the Pill hegemony.
Jezebel doesn't think there's anything 'scandalous' about these drugs. The writer mixes up moral objections to birth control with practical, real world, actual scientific findings that are making an important point about one particular kind of birth control that many, many women use. In conclusion, she says that criticism of the Pill plays into the hands of far-right wingers who want to ban it. It's true that the neo-conservatives are preventing women from understanding their choices. The conservatives are preventing accurate information coming out, yes, but they're having a lot of help from writers like this who are doing the exact same thing. The conservatives are doing it to supposedly protect women from sex, and protect society from sex, and the Jezebel feminists are doing it because? They love the Pill unconditionally? They want to protect women from real knowledge of their own bodies? They are just plain hell-bent on stopping unwanted pregnancies no matter what the cost? That's funny, because I think there are conservatives who believe that's what they're doing too.
I do happen to find the Pill 'morally objectionable' and I am not a neo-con or far right-winger. I have an agenda. Jezebel tries to pretend it does not. My agenda is to raise awareness of the potential negative physical and emotional impact of the birth control pill. It is to make women aware this is not their only choice. It is to ask that women view the Pill with a critical eye and not just swallow the mostly falsified information they receive through doctors, teachers and yes, 'the media.' That includes you, Jezebel.
I was heartened to read the comments on this blog post, published by a website advocating the use of clean, environmentally-friendly cosmetics:
'What's Your Take On The Pill and What Happens When You Go Off It?'
I found it interesting that they included such a cautious disclaimer and introduction to the post. Although I don't 'judge' anyone who takes birth control pills (hey, I took them myself for ten years!), I do reserve the right to be as dogmatic as I want to be. In fact, I think considering the cacophony of voices promoting hormonal birth control, singing its praises and even sending out misleading half-truths in a bid to blind women - I take it as my absolute responsibility to rage loudly and as often as I can. I have for guest blog posts been asked to temper my views and I don't like to precisely because I feel the pro-Pill brigade (and by pro I mean zealously enthusiastic as a rule) don't need any of the help they'll gain by me being wishy washy about my thoughts.
That said, this post was heartening as many women offered sound advice for how to cope with coming off the Pill. Particularly regarding the blogger's concern of increased acne. This is what women need - open, honest discussion about how the Pill effects their lives. I have often heard women say their main fear for coming off the Pill is the return of acne. I myself struggled with this. I still do. I am in the process, two years off the Pill, of cleaning out my diet to address lingering issues. However, I know that if bad skin is the price to be paid for not being on the Pill - considering how brilliantly improved the rest of my life has been as a result - I can get by. I find it interesting that these women seem to have arrived at the decision to come off the Pill via an interest in healthy diet and environmentalism. For me, it seems to be the other way around - once I came off the Pill I started looking critically at the rest of what I was putting in and on my body. I started wondering what other half-truths I had been fed. I started looking into the health benefits I'd assumed - not without help - to be found in meat and dairy, for example. I am now vegan.
The writer says she was on the Pill for two years and decided to come off. She explains why:
"The best way I can put it is, I sort of felt like a prisoner in my own body. I’m not sure why, and no, I can’t elaborate, but something never felt quite right. It was FINE. But FINE has never been all that appealing to me."
She also didn't have her period for a year after coming off. This happens to so many more women than the explanations suggest. I read again and again how the Pill doesn't impact beyond the time you stop taking it. To be honest, I sometimes feel that somewhere between its chemical impact and the psychological pathways it built in my brain, I will never be the person I would have been if I hadn't taken the Pill. When you spend so long anxious, depressed and paranoid - the synapses in your mind become fused to make you react to certain situations in a way that is more stressy than is strictly necessary. It's like, you come off the Pill and THEN you also have to deprogram yourself from all the behaviours you'd come to use to cope with how the Pill made you feel.
However in the last two years I have changed jobs several times, most recently taken on more responsibility than I've had in any position previously, got and stayed married, moved to a city I'd only visited for one week and all without having a nervous breakdown. I think this suggests what I experienced when on Yaz was not due to stressful circumstances. That I was taking Yaz when I was racked with fear, dread and anxiety was not a coincidence. I'm going to say, and I'll keep on saying it (loudly, so Jezebel can hear through their arrogant bubble) that coming off the Pill was one of the best decisions of my life. My experience of life has entirely changed for the better. I would never take the Pill again.
This week I called up one of the main lawyers involved in the 10,000 law suits against Bayer. I called up the US Drug Watchdog group. They both said they could not believe there was not more of an outcry over the FDA ruling that Yaz and Yasmin's benefits outweigh their risks. Especially considering the corruption that helped this decision come about.
Let's quickly recap that these drugs prevent pregnancy with the same effectiveness as all other birth control pills. So, the FDA was saying which benefits of these drugs exactly outweigh the risks? Their ability to clear up acne and prevent bloating? Because if so, that is ridiculous.
I said in response that I knew too well why there wasn't an outcry and it had to do with no coverage in magazines or on TV, sure, but it also had to do with the fact that we're not allowed to talk about it. We are not allowed to criticize the Pill - and that includes Yaz and Yasmin - and that includes even if they injure and kill women. Thank you Ms. for publishing my post. Please share it around. Not for my ego, but because it is vitally important.