Menstrual Cycles and Hormonal Birth Control
How our cycles work:
Our cycles are naturally regulated through the endocrine system, and its secretion of hormones. We all know and hear about estrogen, but we also produce chemicals called progesterone, LH (luteinizing hormone), and FSH (follicle stimulating hormone). All of these play an important role in our menstrual cycles.
During the first part of our cycle (after our period), our bodies produce estrogen and FSH. FSH tells the ovaries that it’s time to set those eggs to maturing, and a few of our eggs will begin to ripen. Also, this is the time during which the endometrium (the lining of the uterus) will “proliferate”, or grow and become nice and cozy. Then when peak levels of estrogen are met, our bodies will begin to produce LH, which is what signals the ovaries to ovulate (produce an egg for fertilization, phase 2 of the menstrual cycle). Typically only one egg is released during ovulation, but sometimes there are two (that’s how we get fraternal twins).
If you’re ready to start a family (or for an addition), this would be the prime time to work towards that goal. You have about a 72 hour window, after ovulation, to maximize your chances of getting pregnant. Disclaimer: pregnancies can occur after this 72 hour window. The chances of a pregnancy occurring are simply higher at this time.
During the 3rd phase, our bodies will start to produce progesterone and more estrogen. Once peak levels are met (and there is no fertilized egg), our bodies will shut the pituitary gland down (what secretes our hormones), and we’ll stop producing progesterone, and estrogen. These 2 chemicals are what maintains the endometrium, and makes it a nice and cozy space for a fertilized egg to hang out and grow into a fetus.
The last phase is everyones favorite part, the menstrual phase. This is the part I’m sure everyone is all too familiar with. Without progesterone and estrogen to keep the endometrium cozy and thick, it will begin to deteriorate, then eventually fall away, carrying the unfertilized egg with it. After all is said and done, our bodies will recognize that it has very low low low levels of estrogen, and then the process of producing the FSH/estrogen starts all over again.
How hormonal birth control works:
One of the most common forms is the pill, so I’ll be talking about that. Basically the pill tricks our bodies into thinking that we’re already pregnant! How does it do that, you ask? You take a pill once every day (this varies on which pill you are taking… sometimes you stop for a week, other times you continue taking a pill to maintain a routine). These pills have synthetic hormones that act like progesterone and estrogen, which prevents our bodies from making FSH (the chemical that tells our eggs to get all ripe and ready for fertilization) and LH (the chemical that is used to tell our ovaries to ovulate). And if our bodies aren’t maturing eggs for fertilization, and we’re not ovulating, then we can’t get pregnant! Isn’t that wonderful?!! Meanwhile, we’ll still have a period. There’s simply no egg involved, just the endometrium/lining of the uterus.
Other ways in which hormonal birth control helps to prevent pregnancy:
1. It alters the endometrium, making it harder for a fertilized egg to implant into the uterine wall.
2. It lowers the PH balance in the vagina, making it more acidic, and thus less habitable for sperm to swim up to find the egg.
The morning after pill works in the same way, as it’s one heaping dose of progesterone, and it serves as a way to keep us from ovulating.
Women, especially young childless undecided women voters, are talking about jobs, not abortion rights, right? What women really care about is not contraception, not access to family planning resources, not social issues like gay marriage, abstinence-only sex “ed” or Mitt Romney’s 50 year old bullying. Nope – it’s the economy. Women, “like everyone else,”– that would the norm – men, just want to be able to go to work, earn a fair wage and support their families. These “social” things are a “distraction” leading Americans to avert their gaze from what’s really important: the economy. Polls are clear: jobs and the economy are their number one concerns.
This oft-repeated juxtaposition, superficial and irresponsible, between The Economy and Social Issues (especially, in polls, “jobs” and “contraception”) is like a political media Greek chorus. People believe it, especially women who are disinclined to think about themselves as discriminated against by virtue of their sex. Young women answer these questions and pollsters ask them the way they do based on the assumption that women, armed with education and “girl power,” have equal access to newly created jobs and will be paid fairly for their work. Those are false assumptions that women, especially young childless ones, need to consider before they vote, because this year’s elections, both state and presidential, will affect their ability to do both for years to come.
We’re engaged in a mass delusion that misleadingly pits The Economy against what are at their core, Reproductive Rights. Don’t be fooled when considering who to vote for – women can’t participate equally in the first until they have the second. The very phrasing of the questions and the reporting of the answers hide the complex and interdependent relationship between the two. Contraception, reproductive rights, gay marriage (defined as it is by conservatives as a threat to male/female hierarchies) – all have critical implications for women’s economic well-being and for the economy at large.
Insistence on splitting these two concerns is particularly useful to Republicans, because it allows them toblame women’s economic woes on their “choices,” a specific irony. If a woman gets paid less or doesn’t have a “seat at the table” it’s because she chose a lower paying job, or because she chose to have children and works part-time, or she chose to not complete her education. If women make “bad choices” it’s their own fault, their decisions and they have to pay the consequences. Which gets us to the second half of this equation. Simultaneously, for the “less important” Social Issues, the word “choice” is completely anathema to Republican legislators and presidential hopefuls. Girls and women cannot possibly be trusted with “choices” when it comes to their own bodies, sex ed, birth control, health care, sexuality, domestic violence and marriage.
Most importantly, however, in terms of the economy, is that what all of these secondary-in-importance social issues boil down to is that women especially cannot be allowed to “choose” for themselves when to become mothers – arguably the single most important contributing factor to their, and our economies, long-term well-being.
What single factor arguably has the greatest impact on a woman’s work life? In other words, what enables women to participate in the economy and become productive workers and engines of economic growth and expansion?
That would be motherhood.
So, even single, childless, undecided women who may one day get pregnant, should consider what happens to a woman when she gives birth:
- She is 44% less likely to be hired
- She makes 11% less than her non-mother female counterpart (who is already just making 78cents to the male dollar)
- She is less likely to go to school or complete her education.
- She works part-time with more frequency, so that she can provide child care for which she is uncompensated and can derive no benefits as child care is invisible labor.
- She is less able to work overtime.
- She is unable to get maternal health care coverage as part of a basic insurance policy. Already discriminated against by gender rating in insurance prices, she is now doubly financially harmed by the fact of her parenthood.
- She is more likely to have to limit herself to lower paying job sectors where she thinks she will have more “flexibility” even though this has been proven not to be the case.
- She is more likely to be impoverished and become state dependent.
And, what is motherhood? In it’s simplest terms, it is reproduction.
Control of reproduction is an economic issue. This isn’t an academic abstraction, it is a practical reality for any human endowed with a uterus.
This is why instead of The Economy and Social Issues being unrelated as people keep suggesting, they are integrally related. The very nexus of The Economy and Social Issues then, from a policy perspective, is the question “Do you believe women should work, for (fair) pay and outside of the home?” Republicans do not. That’s why their dedication to controlling female sex and reproduction is an economic policy choice – it affects women’s abilities to pursue education, get hired, be paid, stay in the workforce.
If you believe yes women should be able to work and be paid fairly outside of the home, then you do everything possible to create family friendly work structures, fair pay regulations, health care access, planned parenting provisions, that enable women to do just that. If no, then you don’t. You do the opposite. You create a disabling “social issue” legislative scaffold on which to build a “it’s your own fault” Temple to Patriarchy. This is precisely what the Republic party is doing. If you are an undecided woman voter you should pause to consider the impact of these intersections on your own life and the lives of other, often far less privileged, women.
As it is now, even for a woman who has access to birth control, health care, safe and legal abortion, becoming a mother in this country, planned or unplanned, is the single worst economic decision a woman can make. She is still cobbled by inadequate health care, higher gender-rated insurance premiums, discriminatory pay, poor return on her educational investment, greater responsibility for child care and an inability to save effectively for security in her old age.
Republicans have shown repeatedly and without remorse that they want to keep women vulnerable, dependent and at home:
- Lilly Ledbetter? What’s that? “Money is more important for men.” I finally support it, but (wink, wink) my surrogates will make sure it never happens. Fair Pay in Wisconsin? Don’t want to force employers to prove they are paying women fairly. Definitely don’t want to “clog up the legal system” unless, of course, it’s to send black boys and men to jail.
- Domestic Violence? Let’s make sure the Abuser Lobby is happy, given the mail order bride business and more, and ensure that women most vulnerable to violent abuse are isolated and left even more at the mercy of mostly men who will rape and beat them without recourse to the law.
- Reproductive Freedom? Let’s pursue husbandry-informed blunt force trauma legislation ensuring that women’s bodies and reproduction stay in the control of men. Eliminating Planned Parenthood, making it hard to find birth control and abortion services, mandating transvaginal ultrasounds that women themselves have to pay for, requiring waiting periods that require expensive travel – all of these things impede women’s freedom and ability to compete fairly in the job market.
- Health Care: What, you mean the stuff that keeps people healthy and able to go to work? Hell, no. We’ll not only fight against affordable health care (the opposite of which is unaffordable health care) but we will also stop federal funding for Planned Parenthood, even including monies dedicated to non-abortion services like…family planning – often the only services that poor women have access to. Title IX? The only federal program devoted to family planning, you almost cannot make this up it’s so ridiculous: Romney will eliminate it entirely, to save money for The Economy.
- And yes, even Mitt Romney’s 50 year old bullying of a gay boy. Why? Because the exact same attitudes that informed that incident inform his support of abstinence-only education, gendered societal roles, fair pay provisions, reproductive freedom – namely, there are rules, boxes which people are supposed to fit into – and when they don’t conform to his world view they should be punished and forced to. The roots of his high-school bullying escapades and his “Social Issue” policies both reside in an inability to empathize with people who don’t look like and sound like him. It’s why he saw nothing wrong in explaining that Ann Romney was responsible for translating females. Empathizing with women is just not a possibility if you’re a man.
All of these issues profoundly affect women’s ABILITY TO ENGAGE FULLY AND EQUALLY IN THE ECONOMY WITHOUT PENALIZATION. If Republicans were serious about their commitment to women’s unimpeded equality in the workplace, then they would not insist that “social” policies are unrelated to “the economy” and they would not be pursuing broad legislation that affirmatively harms women’s ability to participate in the economy on multiple levels. Basic control over her own body, that would be reproductive freedom and health care that is affordable, non-discriminatorily priced, and relevant to her body and not men’s, affects whether a woman can seek and complete her education. The type of job she can get. How many hours she can work. If she can afford to start a business. Whether or not she can work full time or has to work part time. Whether she can afford childcare and health care, if she works. Whether she can safely leave an abusive spouse without fear for her children and seek work to support herself.
That’s why Social Issues, like contraception, are ABOUT The Economy not separate from it.