A few years ago, a friend went off the pill. She’d been on it long enough, she said, and though she was 38 at the time, she and her husband weren’t ready to “try.” So, she insisted he use condoms. Every time. I said to her, “Do you know there are only, like, 3 days a month during which you can get pregnant? Five tops?” And she looked at me like I’d just told her I could see Russia from my backyard.
As a young woman, it’s easy to think you understand your menstrual cycle. You get your period, hopefully with some regularity, and when you have sex, because you get your period, you can get pregnant. You go on the pill, you still get your period, but you don’t have to worry about getting pregnant. So the question is, did the pill make us forget that we get our periods to get pregnant and enable women to wait too long to get pregnant?
Writing in New York magazine, Vanessa Grigoriadis explores this question. On the occasion of the pill’s 50th birthday, she argues that while the pill introduced a level of choice and control to women, it also (might have) made them forget that their biological clocks were ticking.
This might have been a compelling argument on the 30th birthday of the pill, but I can’t help but wonder how any woman whose read any newspaper or magazine — anyone at all — in the last twenty years could have missed the news that you get pregnant faster when you’re under thirty.
What is a question that’s worth asking is whether or not the fact of the pill kept women from learning, or being taught, how their menstrual cycles work. My friend who was 38 and went off the pill has several advanced degrees, but clearly she had no idea how her body tells her she’s ovulating.
I didn’t know the signs of ovulation until I worked at a parenting website (not this one) and one out of three questions for our expert Ob/Gyn were from women trying to get pregnant asking some variety of “How do I know I’m ovulating?” And they didn’t want to be told just to plop down the cash for an ovulation predictor kit.
As adults who want to get pregnant, we quickly learn that getting pregnant means know about ovulation. But I’d suggest women of all ages need to have a better understanding of our menstrual cycles, it’s structure and operating features. We’ll have a better sense of both our fertility and our health overall. This information should be part of sex education in high school (which is something different from abstinence education and more important), of course, but it also should work its way into our common experience as women, our common language. You know, Our Bodies Ourselves! If the pill did anything, it let us forget that we needed to know more about our bodies, but it sure didn’t control the message on our ticking clocks.
What do you think? Does the pill lull us into ignoring ovulation? Our fertility? Both?