This past Mother’s Day was the 50th anniversary of the FDA’s approval of The Pill. Yep, that medical miracle that gave women the option of having sex and not getting pregnant was 50 years old on Mother’s Day. Kind of ironic.
I read through a few articles on the impact of oral contraceptives on society and was struck by one particular theme. The Pill did not have the effects on society that people thought it would. Apparently, people believed 50 years ago that the pill would: end unwanted pregnancies; cure the population boom; and cause a drop in the divorce rate as spouses engaged in increased sexual activity without risk of pregnancy. It did none of these things, as it turns out. The population still ended up increasing, people still had unwanted pregnancies, and spouses who took the pill might have been just as likely to enjoy their new-found sexual freedom by engaging in extra-marital affairs as they were by having sex with the person they married.
Instead, what The Pill did was offer women more of a choice about when to get pregnant. Granted, a woman could still get pregnant while on The Pill, but it worked well enough that most women suddenly found they didn’t have to become mothers before they were ready. It gave women the choice to go to school and have a career first, then have children. Or perhaps never have children at all.
But there’s one thing not mentioned in the articles I read on the Pill’s 50th anniversary, and I find it interesting that the subject was overlooked. I took The Pill for 10 years. When I went off it, I knew I was ready to get pregnant. Then I went through four years of infertility. I was finally able to get pregnant thanks to two medical proceedures called ovulation induction and artificial insemination. But that is the only way I was ever able to get pregnant. Both my daughters are miracles of modern science. In light of what I went through to get pregnant, I have often wondered if I wasted a lot of money on prescriptions for The Pill. Would I have had an easier time getting pregnant back in my 20s, when I was so desperate to not get pregnant. Or was I going to need fertility treatments no matter what age I was when I decided to venture into motherhood?
I don’t know. What I do know is that now people are starting to realize that a woman’s most fertile years are in her late teens and early twenties, those same years when women are taking oral contraceptives to ensure they don’t get pregnant before they’ve completed college and started their careers. Then later on down the line, when these same women are in their thirties or even their forties and they finally decide the time is right for them to have children… Well, the spirit may be willing, but the body ain’t.
It seems that while The Pill has given women the option of choosing when not to get pregnant, it has not given them the choice of when to get pregnant. In other words, there’s only so long you can keep hitting the snooze button on the biological clock. I know this from personal experience. Last year the Hubster and I decided to try fertility treatments for a third time, but at the grand old age of 40, my body just could not perform that same trick a third time.
This are so many issues tied together in this: the science behind controlling fertility; the societal aspects women deal with when making choices about family and career; the economics over having a child now or ten years later; and so on. The fact is, 50 years later The Pill has not necesarily liberated women from the burdens imposed upon them by sex and pregnancy. It’s just given us a different set of problems to deal with.
Here are some articles on the 50th anniversary of the Pill and on women having to choose between children and careers: