Sunday, May 09, 2010

The Pill and Mother's Day: A Personal Reflection

Today is Mother's Day and my husband and son prepared a lovely brunch for me, my sister, and my mother. There were flowers, cards, and more carbs than I've eaten in a month. I felt very well taken care of, if not a bit nostalgic for the days of homemade painted macaroni necklaces.

Today is also the 50th anniversary of the birth control pill. Or more technically, the 50th anniversary of the day the birth control pill was approved by the FDA.

I first learned about "the pill" from my mother. She was of that generation that used the first high estrogen pills, and I remember asking her what the funny circle with the white and blue pills that were on the kitchen counter were. I think I was about six. She told me that she and my father only wanted two children and the pills meant she could have that. I still can picture that discussion: it taught me that parenthood was a choice and that there were ways to avoid pregnancy.

Fast forward 13 years, and I went to the campus health center to get birth control pills. I hadn't yet had intercourse; indeed I felt like I was one of the last standing virgins on campus. But, I wanted to be prepared when I did fall in love and I knew that the pill was my best option for not becoming pregnant.

I used the pill at various times over the next twenty years -- as a new couple in love, after my daughter was born, during the period I was trying to decide if our family size was complete. I used the pill both as "family planning" for some years, but also as a way to separate sexual pleasure and intimacy from procreation.

It's in that last that "the pill" truly revolutionized women's lives. More so than any birth control method before it, oral contraceptives allowed us to experience sexual pleasure without risking our lives and futures. It allowed us to choose when we would become mothers safely, but also to choose pleasure and intimacy without risking unintended pregnancies. (I came of age sexually at what surely is one of the few times in world history when sex meant few consequences for women -- we had the pill, abortion was legal, and the two prevalent STDs were easily treated; that's not true for young women today or women in many parts of the world.)

I think we're still dealing as a culture and surely as religious institutions with what it means that procreation and pleasure are easily separated. But, I know today, that I am grateful beyond words for my two children -- and the era of modern contraception that made them planned and oh so wanted.


Desmond Ravenstone said...

Beautifully written, Debra!

BTW, I think there's more than just separating procreation and pleasure. It's being able to choose them. And perhaps it could be said that, when procreation is chosen, it carries its own kind of pleasure, hm?

Cassandra said...

I do find it interesting that we are concerned about hormones in meat, BPA in plastics, and pesticides on our food, but think nothing of putting synthetic hormones in our bodies.