Remember that ad for Ultra-Slim cigarettes, targetted at women? "YOU'VE COME A LONG WAY, BABE!" Even then the tobacco industry knew cigarettes were killing us. But, hey. It was a multi, multi-billion $dollar business. And it was run by men. (Of course, cigarettes were killing men, too.)
Well, recently I came across a similar ad in an old Glamour magazine from the 1980s. Half of the photo showed a turn-of-century chrone with six kids hanging on her apron. The other half showed a girl driving a Porsche convertible, hair flying in the wind. Caption? "CELEBRATE YOUR FREEDOM!" It was an ad for Birth Control pills. Those little miracles that wiped out centuries of female oppression, allowed women sexual freedom, and a way to finally chart their own reproductive kismet. The Pill, which celebrated its 50th birthday in October, created the most radical change in human history. It was of course manufactured by colossal, multi-billion $dollar drug companies, an industry run by men.
Enter a new era, "The Age of Infertility." An age of bestselling books entitled EVERYTHING CONCEIVABLE. TAKING CHARGE OF YOUR FERTILITY. A world of Fertility Centers, ovulation kits, infertility shots, and bioethecists telling women they should have planned ahead. A new kind of medical and bureaucratic Hell of doctor's waiting rooms and insurance companies that are lasar leaps away from the Liberation we thought we had achieve with the Pill.
Hello? Did I miss a segue? Yes, I'm afraid millions of women did. Now younger women in their 30s who've been on the Pill for 10 or 15 years, refer to the pills as 'Death Pods.' Because those 10 or 15 years were their prime child-bearing years. Now that they want to have children their bodies are in REPRODUCTIVE BACKLASH. Inadvertently, infertility has become the Pill's primary side effect.
Why does this suprise us? Because in our eagerness to be stand-alone human beings, empowered with our reproductive rights, women forgot basic biology: fertility is an offering of Youth. The body we woke up with after 10 or 20 years on the Pill is, putting it mildly, not the one we started out with. Body rhythms change, so do organs, and cells. Our stockpile of eggs becomes depleted, what's left is not exactly prime quality.
(Let me say that I was one of the lucky ones. The Catholic Church forbade the Pill, so I got pregnant instead. Only after my child was born, and I rebelled and left the Church, did I go on the Pill. So in some wacky, Byzantine way, the Church may have saved me from being childless.)
Now, granted, the Pill did not directly create the field of infertility medicine, but it has turned it into a gigantic multi multi-billion $dollar industry. Run by men. (Sound familiar?) Childless couples and single women are now depleting their savings accounts investing in in-vitro fertilization, or test-tube babies, which has been the last word in infertility treatment since the late 70s. But only now has the attempt at IVF become almost epidemic, a last ditch-try at biological parenthood. Success rates are dismally low if you're over forty. Mid-forties only a 12% success rate. Over forty-five the odds, less than 2%.
And with IVF we have the risk of birth defects especially with women over forty. Worse, insurance companies will not cover costs, which range from $12,000-15,000 per cycle. When IVF fails, there is grief and mourning, and women berating themselves for their lack of foresight. And only now, after the fact, are doctors telling women, "Oh! You should have frozen your eggs in your twenties." In fact, young women in their teens and twenties ARE now freezing their eggs for future fertilization. But for the infertile over-30s and 40s and evern 50s that information comes too late.
(Yes, there is always adoption, which I wholeheartedly endorse. But we are talking about the Pill and infertility here.) What I want is someone to tell me that the geniuses behind the research and develop-ment and marketing of the Pill, DID NOT KNOW, or anticipate, a future of infertile women. I want someone to tell me that women were not used as guinea pigs. And that even now, they are once again being used as guinea pigs in this latest tango with infertility shots, and infertility pills, and the whole new cornucopia of medicalized technology promising to produce viable fetuses, but not guaranteeing children born without defects.
I want someone to tell me, fifty years after the advent of the Pill, why even Margaret Sanger's grandson publicly demands to know "WHERE IS THE BIRTH CONTROL PILL FOR MEN?" It would be so easy. But, again, the drug companies, those Goliaths profitting so magnficiently from women, ARE RUN BY MEN. When confronted by legions of women demanding the Male Pill, drug company spokesmen turn coquettish and shy. The cost of clinical trials ' would be astoundingly high.' 'The impact of upending cultural norms would be global, and would reverberate for generations.' They have not yet found a male pill with 'zero side effects.' After fifty years? Oh, ladies, lets face it. The real rock-bottom truth is the same as it was in the Bible. Men don't want their reproductive organs fooled around with.
Yes, the Pill saved our lives. I embraced it. I embrace it now. Yes, it brought women's rights out of the Dark Ages. The right to serial sex partners, equal pay, the right to run for President of the United States. But, look. Our bodies are still under the control of the Goliaths - the drug companies. Who, by the way, long ago perfected the Male Birth Control Pill. They just won't release it. Think of the billions and billions of $dollars LOST if, finally, the Goliaths allow women to have drug-free bodies. If, finally, they give us back the right to our reproductive selves. The Pill took a certain biological control away from us, and that control was Empowerment.
Release the Pill for men. Freeze their young, unadulterated sperm, and then let them deal with potential sterility for a few decades. IT'S THEIR TURN.
Last month we watched a movie about a Pill-taking career-wife who has been rendered infertile. Her husband divorces her for a younger woman who can give him children. She drives herself off a cliff. A few nights ago we watched an old Turner Classic from the 50s, THE BEST OF EVERYTHING. An unmarried woman becomes pregnant and, out of shame, suicides with sleeping pills. Oddly, the theme song of both movies was something sentimental called, "Its a Woman's World..."