In Our Control

Seven Stories Press has just published activist and women’s heath writer Laura Eldridge’s book In Our Control: The Complete Guide to Contraceptive Choices for Women. I’m about halfway through the book, but I can’t stop myself from blogging about it. I really, really love this book and encourage every woman out there to read it.

Eldridge opens the book by talking about her own relationship with The Pill. She candidly relates how over the course of  years, she rode a rollercoaster of side effects, including depression and migraines. Though she goes on to situate herself as someone who is neither for nor against the pill or pharmaceuticals in general, I have to say, as someone who had a rough time using hormonal contraception, I felt camaraderie reading her introduction. She also unequivocally supports women making informed contraceptive choices that relate to their specific needs and health conditions, which is great.

It was eye-opening to read about the history of contraception in the United States, particularly that birth control was far less controversial and widely practiced prior to the Civil War. She writes about how demographic changes such as immigration and migration, as well as urbanization (which opens up new social and sexual possibilities for single, working women) gave way to both laws against contraception–on the basis that the “correct” people needed to be having more babies–and movements for contraception, which themselves were sometimes related to poverty control and, in the UK, eugenics.

Eldridge goes on to discuss the history and practice of hormonal contraception, which also has a disturbing past. A fascinating history aside, she also quite practically discusses the ins and outs of the pill’s impact on women’s health. These side effects, though rare to varying degrees, include cardiovascular issues such as heart attacks and blood clotting, strokes, and depression, all supported by studies from around the world.

Another chapter I loved chronicled the history of the Fertility Awareness Method, which I’m a fan of. She writes that FAM emerged out of Christian rhythm methodologies, and that it as much a 20th century invention as the pill. FAM practitioners sometimes portray the method as having deep historical roots–that our grandmother’s and great-grandmother’s and so on practiced it. Eldridge points out that what we know about fertility and the role of the ovaries, at least in this slice of the world, has really only become accurate in the past hundred years, pointing out that for a while there people were told that women ovulate with the onset of menstruation.

I still have more reading to do, but like I said, it’s awesome. As someone who has had serious trouble with the pill, and has a general sense of disease with unnecessarily medicating myself, I can say that I really wish this book had come out when I was 16.

Also, Seven Stories Press has just published Ina May Gaskin’s Birth Matters: A Midwife’s Manifesta, which I can’t wait to read.

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