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Stacy Parker Le Melle Headshot

Making a Question Mark Out of a Period (Thanks Big Pharma!)

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I never thought I'd talk publicly about menstruation. I am not ashamed. Far from it. But I am private about my bleeding, about these deep currents of fertility that make me woman and not man.

I choose to post this because for the past month I've been disturbed by Stephanie Saul's piece in the New York Times. She wrote about a new pill that could soon be on the market, a new pill that promises to "pause" one's period on demand.

This pill is now FDA-approved.

Hmm. Every second of the day we are bombarded with messages that our bodies are the wrong shape, the wrong color, the wrong everything. Now we're faced with corporate white coats saying more of the same. This is not just about the right shampoo, or even the right dress size. This is about tampering with a fundamental body function.

Worse, the NYT article quotes scientists who say that there have been no long-term studies. Neither Wyeth nor the FDA have any knowledge of the long-term effects on our bodies, our fertility, our spirits, our minds.

I know this happens all the time, but still: how can the FDA approve a drug without any sense of long-term effects? It's not like we're talking experimental cancer drugs -- even though one must be weary of any drugs with great profit potential pushed onto the market too quickly. I find it sadder than sad that we must be weary of FDA decisions, given how vulnerable everyone in power seems to be to Big Pharma dollars, and the fact that for almost forever, fertile women were excluded from FDA clinical trials.

I am not a doctor, and I do not presume to declare that there can be no good reason for this pill to exist. I also understand that oral contraceptives take away normal periods from the body as well. However, I wish that in our increasingly drug-dependent culture, there would be a stronger focus on long-term consequences.

Short-term consequences are no picnic either. Below is from the May 22nd USN&WR piece:

"Instead of predictable bleeding every month, women often get spotting at random times. Of the 2,402 patients initially enrolled in the Wyeth-sponsored clinical trial of Lybrel published last year in the journal Contraception, only 921 were still taking the contraceptive a year later. Many had side effects like nausea and headaches, typical of oral contraceptives, but others dropped out of the study because of unpredictable bleeding or spotting. Of those who took Lybrel for a full year, about 40 percent still had intermittent spotting and 20 percent had bleeding heavy enough to require the use of a sanitary napkin or tampon."

Yikes.

Even if you have no interest in this pill, good luck tuning out any upcoming marketing campaigns. Beneath the gleam of optimism, behind the illusion that science has once again provided us control, we will again soak in the idea that our periods are dirty, that they are something to be feared and yes, while we're talking straight here, boys will like us better if we don't get messy.

I could sit here and wish that we were at the advent of an ad campaign that reminds me that better health begins with me -- that there are small changes I can make in my daily life to increase my health and happiness. Or, if I am in pain, I need to take tender care of all of my emotional and physical health if I want to tend to root causes and not just kill symptoms.

But as we know, there's not enough money in that.