Wednesday, July 23, 2014

...because a Band-Aid solution could have cost me my life...

NFP awareness week has rolled around again this year and much of the focus has come in response to a post that went viral a few weeks back where a group of women held up signs telling the world why they used the pill.

I hadn't had any big plans to write anything this week because I really didn't think I had anything to add on the subject, other than repeated the oft heard, how can something be whole someone else's responsibility while at the same time being none of their business?

So many good posts have already been written.  Nursing has caused each of our little ones to arrive exactly when we were ready to face the challenge of another newborn in the house, and so I don't find myself mulling over NFP much at all these days.

Yet I kept seeing pictures of women talking about how great the Pill is for their health and each time I wince.

Of course there's the obvious reason, that putting a substance that's called a class one carcinogen by the World Health Organization, right along side cigarettes and lead paint, into one's body each day and calling it "health care" is dangerous to say the least.

But my relationship with the Pill and the reasons that it is prescribed is a little more complicated than that.

Long time readers already know the story, but it's been a couple of years since the events of the fall of 2011 unfolded, and it seemed like an appropriate story for a month when so many are singing the praises of the pill for "health reasons."

I was exactly 12 weeks pregnant that day in late July and had breathed a not-in-the-first-trimester-any-longer sigh of relief, when I first saw a spot of blood on a piece of toilet paper that made my heart stop.  Paul was in a U-Haul, moving all of our belongings across the country to Florida where he was about to begin law school in Naples, and the girls, ages 3 and 1, would be following behind a few days later.
I arrived at the ER my heart pounding in my chest.  I didn't have an OB yet.  My OB didn't see patients until 12 weeks anyway, and since we were moving I'd thought I'd just find one the second we arrived in Florida. It had seemed like a good plan at the time.  Suddenly it wasn't anymore.

At the ER I was assured it was probably nothing, that spotting happens all the time during pregnancy.  At 12 weeks I was unlikely to be miscarrying.  I went back for a sonogram and lay staring at the screen while the silent tech took measurements.  I watched a heartbeat that was slower than my own flicker across the screen and waited.

Just before
I began
to miscarry.
The doctor came back in, his entire demeanor changed.  With a heart rate of 60 at 12 weeks it was unlikely the baby would survive.  Yes, I could still go to Florida.  It didn't really matter what I did.  Nothing was likely to change the inevitable course that this pregnancy would run.

And so I stormed heaven with prayers and did the only thing I could do, which was wait.  We moved to Florida.  The day that my parents left to return to California was Paul's birthday, the first day of law school and the Feast of the Assumption.  That night I sat in the ER losing blood too fast.

As I sat there, timing contractions, waiting for my name to be called a nurse came out and said "Kim."  I didn't move, since she hadn't said my name (I was waiting for the whole "Cammie" that I'd given them when I arrived and honestly didn't think it was me).  Apparently she was having a bad night, or thought that I intentionally didn't get up fast enough, and by the time the mix up was cleared up she was furious that I hadn't jumped up when she first said the wrong name.  She had me in tears with a lecture by the time triage was over.

Thus began one of the worst nights of my life.  It would have been bad no matter what... but I was completely alone.  They had me walk, from my little curtained cubicle to an exam room, still losing blood fast, to an exam room, with an argument between two nurses on the way about whether I should be walking.

Finally after calling for help and having those calls ignored for 5-10 minutes (and having my nurse actually stop another nurse from coming in to help me) I gave birth to our third child, Christian Athanasius, by myself in that little curtained cubicle.  I performed a conditional baptism and then began to argue over his body.  Yes, they would return it to me. No, I didn't care if it was against the rules.  I was Catholic and we would bury this child.  I got louder.  I said I was Catholic over and over again and finally they agreed that if I called early enough the next morning I would most likely be allowed to claim the little body I'd held in my hand.

At this point you may be wondering what this has to do with the Pill, but bear with me a little longer (if you've made it this far).

We were able to claim our son's body and have him cremated.  And I called doctors' offices and tried to make appointments for a follow up but no one wanted to take me on.  The doctor that I'd been referred to that was required by law to see me wouldn't return our calls  (I was later told was actually a concierge doctor and that it was odd that he was the one I was referred to) .  No one wanted to take on an new OB patient who was having problems.

I wasn't really worried at that point though.  What was happening was natural, I told myself.  It would be over soon.

Except that it wasn't.  The bleeding didn't stop.  For weeks and then months. I would return to the ER when it would get to be too much, dizzy and pale, and they would tell me that it was natural for the bleeding to last a while, I could take the pill.  No pill?  Well, it would probably stop soon enough.

In September, two months after the ordeal had begun, an ER doctor took an interest in helping us find follow up care that would return our calls and called a friend the head of obstetrics, who agreed to see me.

This was it, I was finally going to get answers, I was finally going to get better.  I would stop feeling sick and almost fainting every time I walked more than a few steps, and surely they'd find out why I was having debilitating cramps wrack my lower back as contraction after contraction continued, week after week.

Instead when I went into his office he told me he didn't need to do a sonogram.  He said that he'd made his diagnosis after talking on the phone with the ER doctor.  He said he thought that my uterus was still a little inflamed from the miscarriage, but that really I was fine and the only thing I needed was to get on the Pill to stop the bleeding.

When I voiced my objections to going on a medication that I in general did not find morally acceptable but that had also caused me to become seriously depressed every single time I'd taken it, not to mention exasperating my migraines to the point of being unbearable, he brushed it off and said it was the only solution.  The Pill was the only thing that could help me, he told me repeatedly.  It was the only solution and it was absolutely necessary for my health.

When I asked why my back still hurt, why I was throwing up all the time and fainting if nothing was wrong, he paused and said "I think it's probably psychological" and gave me a little speech about how he knew I wanted to be pregnant again but I would have to wait for at least three months.

I was astounded.  It wasn't that I wanted to be pregnant right then (although I would have given just about anything to have still been pregnant).  It was that I wanted to know what was wrong with my body.  I wanted to know why I was so sick.  I wanted to be well enough to go outside and play with my children without nearly fainting or hemorrhaging.

Instead I left with a prescription for estrogen and the feeling that absolutely no one was going to help me.

At that point I was honestly beginning to fear for my life.  Before he left the room I asked him what to do if the bleeding didn't stop.  He paused and said to come back in three months if that was the case (six months after I'd begun to miscarry).

I went home and began to take the pills.  Nothing happened.  It didn't stop the bleeding.  I was still sick.  I'd been calling a NaPro doctor, trying to get in for a couple of weeks, but I hadn't heard back yet (she didn't have secretary and returned her own calls).  Finally, I wrote a letter outlining the entire story and sent it to the NFP doctor with a friend who had an appointment.

She called me almost immediately and suddenly I had hope.  She would fit me in.

I arrived at the office building and winced as I saw a life size sticker of the doctor that had told me that it was all in my head plastered across the elevator.  I stood in front of it, wishing that I had a sharpie, as I waited for the doors to open.

I brought the pills with me and she shook her head as she looked at them.  "He gave you these?"  She said.  "These are such a low dose they never would have stopped the bleeding.  They wouldn't have done anything."

She brought up a sonogram image and gasped in horror.  "I see the problem. This uterus is still full of debris."

Neither of us understood how it could have been missed, over and over again by doctor after doctor at the ER, or by the OB I'd initially gone to (well, he missed it because he wouldn't do a sonogram...).

She prescribed Misoprostol and when that didn't work after a couple of days, scheduled my D & C.   It was October 28th.  I'd begun to miscarry in July.

There were 17 days of antibiotics by the time we were through and while everyone "hoped" we could have more children in the future, but no one really knew what damage had been done by months and months of "retained debris."

The effect of the surgery was almost instant.  Suddenly I was better and the emotional healing that had been stunted by the simple task of surviving each day could finally begin.

In February, a few weeks after what would have been my due date, we discovered that we were expecting again.  We were thrilled, and so was my new doctor, the one who had saved my life, by helping rip of the band-aid of "the Pill will solve all your problems" that the other doctor had attempted to place over a gaping wound.

That's the reason for the involuntary wince every time I hear someone say that the Pill saved their health.  The Pill is a band-aid that covers up underlying problems.  It doesn't address the root issue that lays beneath.  It may be the best tool that many doctor's out there have, but it isn't the only or even best tool that could be used much of the time and while the short term benefits might make it attractive the long term risks are horrifying.

And that is why there's no way I could be convinced to take the Pill at this point in my life... because if there's a problem I want it solved, not conveniently covered up by a hormone that kills women every single year.


  1. I do not know why you couldn't get the help you needed, except I wonder if it wasn't your strong and adamant declaration that you are Catholic. I expect this followed you on your chart, and every doctor saw it as a red flag? I expect also if you had had an abortion for any reason they would have been ushering you in on a red carpet. I don't know it's true, just my guess.
    It seems a form of persecution Catholic (and strong Christian) women are suffering, because they are scorned by the medical profession for their pro-life demands.
    When I hear stories like this, I think, "So much for "choice."
    Sorry you suffered this much around Christian's life. It is a shame you had to suffer so, but God often uses us in these horrific situations to testify to the truth to these doctors and nurses who are drifting away from their life giving, life preserving calling.
    God bless you. ~ Bonnie

  2. I had an OB that I went to who was always trying to push the pill on me at a "Catholic" hospital, no less. I fired her for numerous reasons but when i requested my medical chart her notes said that I couldn't use the pill without my husband's permission. I never once said that I needed my husband's permission. I simply stated when she first brought the idea up to treat a medical condition that i would have to think it over. After that i said that I didn't feel comfortable taking it. However, every time we discussed the pill it was marked in my chart as "needs husband's permission"

  3. Hi:

    Several questions:

    Even though there was debris in your uterus, do you know for sure a higher strength birth control pill would not have worked to curtail bleeding?

    2. If one objected to contraception on religious basis, would not abstention from sex during the usage period bypass that belief?



  4. Hi Anonymous,

    A higher dosage of estrogen may have stopped the bleeding (we don't really know) but the reason I was bleeding was because my body was trying to pass the rotting tissue out of it. Stopping the bleeding and retaining the placenta would have been very, very, very bad. Like dying of septicemia bad (which I'm very lucky I avoided for three months as it was). Basically my body was trying to get rid of stuff that shouldn't have been there and stopping that process instead of helping it was the most dangerous thing he could possibly do.

    And yes abstaining was happening anyway (because the hemorrhaging huge amounts of blood) and would have continued to happen because I wasn't comfortable at all with the fact that the pill can make the lining of the uterus inhospitable to implantation resulting in a very early miscarriage.

    However, those two other HUGE counter indications should have stopped him anyways. The fact that the Pill would have given me about five migraines a week and made me clinically depressed (which has happened every time a doctor has put me on it, when I had no moral thoughts on the subject at all... it's just how my body seems to work) should have been enough to get him to stop pushing it.

    It was just poor judgment all around.

    Every medical person I talked to afterwards, from the nurses in the ER who wanted to know who on Earth had made such a mistake to the other doctor's I would see after I moved, to the interns that I see at our current practice who go over medical history as part of their class work, are routinely horrified that such a mistake was made because it was so colossal on so many levels.

  5. You might be interested to know that an article was published by one of the catholic news orgs (can't remember which one) that was the polar opposite of the one you reference early on - 21 reasons why women DON'T use birth control.

  6. I was given the pill as a band aid because I only had the silly womans health plan that is really the pill plan. My dr wanted a sono but not covered so he gave me a pill to see if it would reg my cycle. Well it was reg but my pain was worse and at almost 3 months I had back pain so bad I was sure it was a uti. Well I go back it is not a uti the dr is frustraited because my lack of real insurace has his hands tied. I go to the er and a dr dx without listining with pid. An infection of the pelvic area but I did not get better my labs were clear but when I go back they hospitalize me for not responding to treatment they can't control my pain and the antibotics were making me so sick. Well after 24 hrs they send me home no beter. Well to shorten the story a lot of tests and tears latter I have fibromyalgia. I have had it most of my life and after stopping bf it flared and made itself known. The pill was a bandaid that made it all worse

  7. It's so frightening how many doctors will dismiss a woman's concerns as just being "in her head" simply because she is female. I've heard horror stories from liberal and conservative women alike.

    Birth control pills did save the fertility of at least one woman I know, she suffers from PCOS and dealt with countless doctors telling her she just needed to lose weight to get pregnant (heaven help you if you're overweight/obese, some doctors will happily attribute every complaint to one's size before taking a closer look at the actual problem).

    BC pills aggravated my depression also, we didn't realize for the longest time that they were making it worse--as the time it was just chalked up to ordinary teenage/young adult depression. I'd started taking the pill when I was about 15 and stayed on it through college, maybe later? It was awhile ago.

    I'm curious now though, I wonder how many women have benefited from BCP's vs. being harmed by them. I'm willing to admit that I could be in the minority and that many still do benefit from hormonal BC vs. being harmed by it, but the opposite effect is also possible.


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