In 2003, my doctor pressured me to start hormonal birth control in the form of a new plastic IUD that secreted tiny amounts of hormone into the uterus - such tiny amounts, he assured me, that they had no systemic impact at all. I had already had a horrible reaction to the single shot of Depo Provera he'd given me years before, and I refused. I then fought him tooth and nail to fit me for a cervical cap. By the time I left his office, I was in equal parts incensed and elated: cervical cap in hand, I was clueless as to how I was going to use it to not get knocked up. I felt bizarrely like I'd won and lost simultaneously.
Shortly thereafter, I found myself in a bookstore with a copy of Inga Muscio's book Cunt in my hands. I sat down on the floor, read the entire thing straight through, and then went home and wrote what follows. I had never written anything like this before, and after fact checking it obsessively, I sent it out as an email to my friends. I was 26 at the time of writing, and I still get occasional emails from complete strangers asking for the text, 13 years later.
The following, to whatever degree of organization it may reach before I deem it acceptable to send off to you, is for all the women I love, to read and, as you see fit, to add to, revise, & pass on to the women you love as a communal document. Men should read this too. Anyone & everyone who knows & loves women should be in on this conversation.
Certain things that are common to all of us have come to perplex me to no end, and I have finally just hit a fucking wall.
The object of my present inquiry and fist-waving ire is the medical industry, & the way women are taught to perceive their bodies, and the incredibly duplicitous & bizarre approach taken by conventional medicine to things like birth control. It's at best annoyingly negligent & at worst fatal to be treated with substances that are developed with profit foremost in mind & which approach the patient as a consumer and a guinea pig. This plays with my life & health & the very fabric of my godly soul as if I am expendable, and this has come to be completely unacceptable to me.
I haven't had a major medical tragedy thus far in my life, but I know plenty who have, & I bet you do too.
Medicine is by no means a perfect science & this is not my contention with it.
I demand an understanding of health & medicine that regards each & every single person manifest in a body as valuable. I want that & i don't think it's too much to ask.
& so: I hop off the soapbox & get into the belly of what this is for, this email.
This is for information.
What I want to share may or may not be old news for you - if somebody along the way enlightened you about the details of your cycle, alternative contraception, and resources for nonmedical interventions in unwanted pregnancy, bless them & spread the word. Keep spreading the word. This information, despite the fact that it comprises the most normal & basic facts about the bodies we inhabit 24 hours a day until the game is over, is for SOME REASON NOT TAUGHT ANYWHERE!
Why don't we get this in junior high? Why are there postmenopausal women who still have no idea how their bodies work? Why aren't moms passing this along with the first talk about menstrual blood?
My personal take is that it isn't taught in schools or popularly endorsed by medical professionals because there is absolutely no profit to be had from educating people about the natural & healthy states of their bodies, & the ways one can be responsible for avoiding or pursuing a pregnancy in accordance with that. Mindboggling amounts of money are being made in the current configuration of power and knowledge, and you can't sell a damn thing to people who know what's up. We are held in thrall by by our own ignorance.
Thus, it falls to us to learn, and to make it common knowledge.
So: herein are the basics of what I know that it seems to me everyone should & certainly many of you do already know.
I believe strongly that all people with a cycle should have full access to this information. And, because the discussion is focused on fertility and pregnancy, this information is most relevant to people who have sex involving vaginas and penises.
There are a few things in here. They are intended mainly for those among us who don't currently want to become pregnant, but it's all equally essential and helpful for those who do. The information is available. Use it how you will.
The first thing is how to know when you are and are not fertile.
The second has to do with what you can do if something goes awry and there's a possibility that you are already or will soon be pregnant.
Firstly, it is essential to me to take responsibility for my own body as an adult woman. I don't trust strangers in labs and offices to care about me. This may be cynical, but it is nonetheless the result of hearing and reading many grotesque stories, and experiencing a thing or two with my own doctor which have resulted in him not being my doctor anymore.
Secondly, all forms of birth control, whether barrier or hormonal, kind of suck, in my opinion. Other than the possible variations on abstinence, they all have failure rates, varying levels of discomfort and interference during sex, and/or side effects - and they very nearly all fall to the female partner to handle. Condoms, the pill & all of its manifestations as patches, rings etc., diaphragms, cervical caps, spermicidal jelly, IUDs, nonoxynol 9, and the very sketchy Depo shots.
(Cervical caps, which were the method of choice during the glorious swell of feminist women's health movement during the 1970s, are the least horrible of the lot, in my opinion. But they too have statistical failure rates, and can be exceedingly difficult to find.)
If you disagree with the above statement, you can throw this email away & I love you very much & have no further reason to take up your time.
If you don't disagree with the above statements, & have yet to learn the circumstances in which birth control works, read on.
Every female past a certain age has a cycle, n'est ce pas?
You bleed, regularly or irregularly, approximately every 28 days. I myself bleed every 31 days. Different for everyone. About halfway through that cycle, you drop an egg. It sometimes gets screwy when you travel or are overwrought about something. Normal.
EVERYONE'S CYCLE IS DIFFERENT AND THE ONLY PERSON WHO CAN EVER KNOW ALL OF ITS NUANCES & QUIRKS IS YOU, but the basic arrangement is the same for everyone.
(Of note: one of the side effects of taking hormonal birth control, or having taken it in any significant amount in the past, is that it will totally hijack the normal rhythm of your cycle. Synthetic hormones act to prevent pregnancy by essentially fooling the body into perceiving itself as pregnant all the time, and it takes time, months or years, for the natural timing of the neuroendocrine system to reassert itself without this constant chemical tampering. Trace amounts of synthetic hormone will remain in the body’s soft tissues until addressed. Therefore, supervised nutritional or herbal cleansing after quitting hormones is a REALLY, really marvelously wonderful idea. Just saying.)
When your cycle is quite itself and you become even marginally aware of what it's up to, it becomes possible to know when you're fertile and when you're not.
You are fertile for about 24 hours out of every cycle, & that is ALL. One day out of the month.
It's tricky as hell trying to pinpoint exactly when that day is coming, but if your cycle is regular, it isn't particularly tricky to figure out more or less when it's come & gone, & to allow plenty of leeway for uncertainty.
Other than this, you are not fertile. There is still decidedly the possibility of various contractable sexual diseases, but you cannot get pregnant.
This, when i found it out 10 years after it became relevant, was some powerful knowledge. I don't want progeny anytime in the immediate future, &, like most, i think condoms are a necessary evil & am fastidiously careful about things all things sexual. Sex Ed has effectively scared the shit out of all of us.
However, in the context of a trusting sexual relationship in which everybody has been tested properly, it is possible to dispense with the horrible condom at the right moment.
I love this.
Additionally, it is ridiculous to have a body & not understand what the hell is going on within it, regardless of the presence or absence of lovers in one's life.
I love knowing everything. It is good for me.
An egg lives for about 24 hours.
Sperm can live in the body for up to 5 days. Conservative folks will say 7 days.
Thus, if you have sex 5 days before you ovulate, you can conceivably get pregnant.
If you want to get pregnant, figure out when this happens & do it like bunnies in the wild all week long. Lock yourselves in. Take the phone off the hook.
If you do not, you need to know how to figure out when all this happens & be very careful all week long.
The way you can know when you have ovulated is multifold but simple. It is easy & good to make it a no-brainer part of your life.
THIS IS NOT THE RHYTHM METHOD, which has about a 60% success rate.
This way is known as the strict method, which combines a bunch of factors, and basically holds that the safest time to fuck unfettered is between the end of ovulation & the beginning of bleeding. If you want to go further & investigate when during the rest of your cycle is safe, please read & inform yourself further as that is determined by the length of your own personal cycle. The stuff I’ve put down here holds true for everyone.
1. Keep track of when you bleed. Write everything down: when it starts, when it ends, exactly. This is of utmost importance as it will tell you how long & how regular your cycle is & where it falls in accordance with the rise & fall of the moon, if such things interest you as they do me. The 1st day of blood is considered day 1 of your cycle in the parlance of birth control.
2. Go to the local pharmacy & buy a basal thermometer. Get them to order one for you if they don't have them. Many places don't seem to have them, or if they do it'll be part of a kit designed for couples trying to get pregnant. Don't be deterred by this - the tools are the same, regardless of intention. I had to look all over the place & finally somebody just ordered me three of them. They usually cost less than 4 bucks & they absolutely rock. It's just a thermometer which shows temperature to 1/10th of a degree. It will tell you when your egg has come & gone.
3. Get familiar with your genitalia. Aside from being endless wholesome good times, if you get to know your fantastical cunt as well as you do the rest of you, the workings of your cycle will become clear. The mucus that emerges from you constantly changes in color, texture, smell & taste throughout the cycle & if you get to checking it out regularly it will tell you everything you want to know.
& by the way, i'm a big fan of the shared responsibility idea. If you have a constant lover, he or she or they can & should be made aware of all of this too. It's an honor to know a body so intimately, & everyone involved should be aware of the comings & goings of said body, to my mind.
If you are keeping track of when you bleed, taking your temperature, & checking out your mucus, you are golden.
PLEASE, please keep in mind that this stuff varies from woman to woman, according to natural tendency, what you've eaten, if you smoke or do drugs, if you've had a sip of wine or the whole bottle, if you’ve recently skipped time zones in a plane, if you're doing a lot of physical labor or none at all, if you're running around the city or lounging in the country. THE POINT IS FOR YOU GET TO KNOW YOUR OWN UNIQUE & GLORIOUS BODY. Only you can ever really know it.
This is essentially how tracking your cycle works:
Take your temperature every morning. Do it before you roll out of bed, before daily activities bring the numbers down. It takes a minute. Write it down. It's clearest to make a graph & keep track of it there. Write down any relevant-seeming details, like if you only slept for 2 hours, if you got up a while before to take a pee. Anything that might affect the accuracy of the reading. You will have lower temperatures until you ovulate, and then it will rise about 6/10ths of a degree. It might happen all at once or over a few days.
An egg lives 24 hours.
You want to record 3 consistently high temperatures before you throw caution to the winds. The book from which I first learned this provides this rule: Don't make love until you have recorded three consecutive temperatures that are .3 degrees higher than the constant was before it began to rise.
Sperm need an alkaline, as opposed to an acidic, environment in order to survive for a while. This is where mucus comes in - your body produces a bunch of very alkaline mucus when you ovulate to kick up the chances of a pregnancy. This mucus is different in taste & texture & is just a whole other substance than it is at infertile times. If you're paying attention & checking yourself out throughout the month whenever you hop into the shower, this will become abundantly clear. IT IS IMPORTANT NOT TO CHECK OUT THE MUCUS WHEN YOU ARE HORNY, as lusty mucus is entirely different than cervical mucus.
It occurs to me what a horrible word mucus is.
The mucus you want will be accessible with a shallow finger swipe - you don't have to do a serious prowl. Typically, fertile mucus will be more thin, white or faintly yellow, milky or clear, sort of liquidy and flowing, sweeter in taste, and there will be plenty of it. Infertile mucus is thicker, pastier, has more matter in it, stickier & gooier, and more strong and sour tasting. The closer you get to ovulation, the more clear & liquidy & profuse it will become. After you ovulate, it will return to the pasty gluey. When you are absolutely infertile, there will be little or no mucus at all. The specifics will vary quite a lot from girl to girl. Pay attention to your own monthly fluctuations & see what goes on for you personally. Keep track of the state of your deliciousness and record it all with the temperature observations. Write it all down on the graph. Makes everything super easy.
THE 4th DAY AFTER YOU OVULATE, the mucus will be back to the thicker type. This ideally will correspond to the 3rd day of higher temperature. THIS IS THE PARALLEL CHECKPOINT. If the temperature is still low or wavering, bust out the condoms or other barrier. If the mucus is still suspiciously flowing along, barrier.
Leave a day or 2 safety margin, definitely.
And by all means, please please read. Read up on this. Don't take my word for anything.
So, a condom has broken, or you've sucked it right off your lover with the might of your womanhood as I recently did, or there was no condom to begin with. This happens.
Here is what you can do.
AT THE TIME IT HAPPENS, as soon as possible -
- Take 1 or 2 tablets of non chewable vitamin C, preferably a 500-mg pill, and insert it as far into your vagina as possible, up near your cervix. The C changes the pH of your vagina and makes you very acidic, making it very difficult for sperm to hang out for long. Insert a tablet or two every 12 hours for 3 days. If it irritates you, insert some plain yogurt with a teaspoon or a baby syringe or steal someone's turkey baster.
- Start pounding lots and lots of C orally. THIS IS NOT RECOMMENDED FOR WOMEN WITH KIDNEY PROBLEMS, & the oral doses will be less effective for you if you take lots of C already. In general, you can start taking major doses of C to bring on a late period whether or not there's been a mishap. Drink lots and lots of water with your vitamins, to help their passage through your system & keep it all moving along.
- Take 1 teaspoon of wild carrot seeds orally as soon as you can, and thereafter every day until you bleed. This is the old-time remedy & works by making the uterine wall slippery so that the egg can't implant. CHEW THE HELL OUT THEM TO RELEASE OILS, and make sure if possible that they haven't been chemically treated, as this makes them considerably less effective (as is true for all plant medicines.) Find organic or wildcrafted ones, if you have the choice.
- Start eating parsley like it's going out of style, and keep a sprig of it inside the vaginal canal as a pessary, much like a tampon, also up towards the cervix. It will get soft and fall apart and it's absolutely nothing to worry about. Can't hurt you. Change it twice or 3 times a day. This is also a time-tested remedy for any kind of late period, & one that has brought on blood for me consistently.
(ALSO: Since the writing of this, we had a second condom mishap, while traveling, at exactly the riskiest time of the month, & I was panicky enough that we trundled off to Planned Parenthood, goddess bless them, and they gave me the new & improved morning-after pill. It's called Plan B, rarely has side effects, & didn't disturb my cycle at all. Whereas the old pill brings on the blood early & rudely disrupts everything & makes you feel like hell for days, the new one is a motherlode of synthetic progesterone which delays ovulation for another 3-4 days to keep sperm & egg from bumping into one another and makes the uterine wall less friendly to implantation, effective only if the egg hasn't already made a nest for itself - i.e. pre-conception, as medically defined, NOT an abortifacient pill. It's not as sweepingly certain on its own, but can be safely combined in a pinch with any or all of the above home remedies for good measure. And while taking a single strong dose of hormone isn't an awesome thing to do, it's far easier to deal with the systemic toxicity of that than it is with the effect of years on the pill, and worth it to me for the peace of mind.)
AT THE END OF YOUR CYCLE, if bleeding has not yet commenced for whatever reason:
- You can investigate and work on them yourself, or find an experienced & trustworthy practitioner of acupressure or acupuncture and ask them to work on the 22 "forbidden" pregnancy points to bring on your period. These 22 points are traditionally avoided because they faithfully provoke uterine contractions and keep the period regular. This has worked quickly & well for me. Acupuncture and acupressure are High Arts.
- Visualization is some powerful shit when it comes to bringing on one's period. Concentrate your days & nights upon visualizing your womb gently shedding the egg and massage your lower belly to get things moving as much as you can stand it. Talk to your body in the shower. It will respond.
- There are a number of simple and effective recipes for herbal emmenagogues which will, if prepared carefully and taken at the right time (i.e. within 5 days of when the period is supposed to begin and no later), bring on a miscarriage. 2 of them are printed in Hot Pants by Blood Sisters, and others can be found at wwww.sisterzeus.com. They are potentially hard on the body, but if you are attentive & careful they are an option. *It is very important to note that herbs in this context work as a poison, and that in the event that they do NOT produce a miscarriage, the fetus will likely not be viable, and you will need to seek medical intervention to complete the process of aborting. So: this isn’t anything to fuck with if you are’t very, very sure about terminating your pregnancy.
Here are the books i know (there are also a ton more out and available):
A Cooperative Method of Natural Birth Control. - Margaret Nofziger
Cunt - Inga Muscio (fucking GREAT, please read.)
Hot Pants (Do it Yourself Gynecology) - Blood Sisters (www.bloodsisters.org - they are awesome)
The New Our Bodies, Ourselves - the Boston Women's Health Book Collective.
A New View Of a Woman's Body - The Federation of Feminist Women's Health Centers
And a couple of recent teacher recommendations i'm about to crack into myself:
Woman, Heal Thyself - Jeanne Blum (contains precise information about the 22 forbidden pregnancy points)
What your Doctor May Not Tell You About Pre-Menopause - Dr. John Lee (This guy also wrote one about menopause and about breast cancer. There is apparently a lot of grody information in here, including a lot of AMA-suppressed research which conclusively links the use of the Pill to ovarian, breast & cervical cancers.)
Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom - Christiane Northrup
*Hygeia - Jeanne Parvati
The Clitoral Truth - Rebecca Chalker
And an amazing website: www.sistezeus.com
Check the index in any of these for a trove of further references.
That's what i have to say about that for the moment.
The purpose to this is to get folks talking. We have to talk about this stuff, all of us. Write back if you feel like it. Edit this if you like, and send on what, if anything, you find useful. Inform your beloveds & friends. Correct me if I’ve screwed anything up or if you've learned differently.
Be in touch.