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Why I Quit Birth Control And Never Looked Back

Women's Health

I was standing near the waiting room of my car dealership when I felt something drop out of my body and into my panties. I knew immediately that it was my Nuvaring and my first reaction was to roll my eyes. I went to the bathroom and threw it in the garbage, voluntarily opting for a few weeks of celibacy until I could figure out my next step. One thing was sure, I was finally done with birth control.

That was thirteen years ago and, looking back, I can't be anything but grateful for that slightly embarrassing memory so long ago that led to making a change. I had been on and off birth control since I was 16 years old. From the pill to the patch to the ring – each one with its own set of problems. Either my acne increased, my periods got worse, or I was screaming at whatever significant other I had at the time. It was a constant nightmare. I knew I wasn't anywhere near ready for kids, so I felt trapped in the endless cycle of trying whatever new product my gynecologist recommended to me.

After I threw out my Nuvaring, I went home and started doing some research. What else was out there? As I looked, I kept coming across something referred to as period tracking or the rhythm method. It's a completely natural approach to family planning – whether or not your goal is prevention. I asked my gynecologist about it and her response painted a grim picture. She said it was very risky and if done wrong could lead to pregnancy. The flip side to this of course, was that if this method was done right – it could lead to a very happy vagina.

I was ready to take a risk.

The Rhythm Method For Natural Family Planning

The "rhythm method" is basically a process of recording what your body does both before and after your period every day for a few months, sometimes more. This helps create a clear picture for when you are fertile and when you are not. For example, I know that when my breasts are swollen and tender, I'm ovulating. I know that during that time I'll need to avoid crowds, and practice patience. I know that my period will start in 4-6 days and I know that if I want to have sex, it should be protected. For me, figuring this rhythm out took about 6 months of laborious note-taking, but the reward has been more than worth the effort.

When I first started out I kept a journal on my laptop that recorded symptoms, including how I felt emotionally and physically. As time went by, I tried various apps like Spot On from Planned Parenthood. My cycle changed a bit after I had my first child (who was planned) so I found myself having to do the research all over again after I gave birth. I imagine I'll have to go through the process again if I have any more children and then (much) later when I'm premenopausal. All in all, through several partners in over a decade of sex – the rhythm method has been my saving grace.

The prescription drugs we're told are so reliable, really aren't when you consider the side effects. The Nuvaring that so rudely slipped out of me that day was later recalled because it was causing deadly blood clots. Then, a nationwide panic followed after the pill that 16% of the female population takes was mispackaged, causing an increase in pregnancy. We haven't even gotten to the emotional and psychological effects of messing with our hormones. New York Times just dropped a mini documentary about a woman's experience with birth control that sounds a lot like my own.

Jumping from one solution to the next, then trying it out until you find yourself falling apart.

I lost relationships, friendships, job opportunities all because I was hopelessly depressed and wrapped around the finger of my menstrual cycle. The only thing that ever gave me peace was releasing myself from its hold entirely.

Natural Family Planning Is Taking Reproductive Health Into Your Own Hands

The biggest benefit to shaking off the birth control shackles is that I took my health into my own hands. Recording my body's changes for 6 months taught me a lot about myself. During that time, I abstained from sex every other month so I could compare my body's reaction to sex. I learned that depending on what part of the month I had sex, my period would be different. If I drank an excessive amount of coffee or alcohol, my period would last longer and be heavier. I learned to tend to my ovulation as a period itself. Resting more, eating differently, and putting my emotional needs first during those few days. When I did this, it seemed to dictate the rest of my month.

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The only problem, and it's quite a doozy, when it comes to the rhythm method is the very real risk of slip-ups. First of all, no one says practicing the rhythm method is an invitation for unprotected sex. In fact, I reflect fondly on several conversations with past lovers in which I explained I don't take birth control and empowered them to take some responsibility and have condoms on hand. This method should always be accompanied with a condom when the sex is casual or the relationship isn't monogamous. That goes with every method of birth control. Slip-ups include the possibility of getting pregnant. As much as I would like to ensure every woman that she won't get pregnant trying this method, I can't.

The results are up to how willing you are to commit to the process and how much birth control is affecting you negatively.

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However, there is a way to fool-proof the rhythm method and that's by simply taking your temperature. Your Basal Body Temperature (BBT) is your body's temperature when you are at rest, basically the purest reading unaffected by activity. This temperature drops a few degree points before your ovulation and then rises when ovulation is over. There are several devices on the market that offer an easy-to-use product that require you to take your temperature every day upon waking so that it can, very accurately, tell you if you are ovulating or not. The devices can can range in price from $14 to $500 depending on the type.

Whether you choose to try the rhythm method on its own or with a basal reader as a safety net, I encourage every woman reading this to get to know her vagina much better. To understand the rhythms of her hormones and emotional needs, to learn how her environment affects her insides, and to take the power of her future fertility out of the hands of pharmaceutical companies and into her own.

Featured image by Megan Madden / Refinery29 for Getty Images

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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