A Natural Alternative to the Pill?

It’s unpopular not to celebrate the Pill because there's enough opposition to reproductive rights; why add fuel to the fire? Yet while many women happily use them, a significant share find that side effects largely outweigh the benefits.

In the wake of the 50th anniversary of the Pill, we’ve seen a bevy of articles singing the praises of this revolutionary breakthrough in women’s reproductive health and automony. While I agree the Pill has allowed many women to gain more freedom in their sexuality, I haven’t jumped on the laudatory bandwagon for many reasons. As fellow reproductive justice comrade, Bianca Laureano, brilliantly explained the bodies of women of Color, especially in Puerto Rico, were testing grounds for the pharmaceutical industry in the development of hormonal contraception. I also take serious issue with the extent of the side effects. For me it was uncontrollable emotions, incessant hair growth and weight gain but for some women, like the author of this Salon article, “Why I Hate The Pill,” it affects the libido. These may sound like surmountable problems but they certainly affect a woman’s quality of life. As a reproductive health and justice advocate, it’s unpopular position to speak out against the Pill and other contraceptives because there is enough opposition to reproductive rights so I don’t aim to add fuel to the fire. I know that many women use hormonal contraceptives to not only prevent unintended pregnancy but also to regulate their cycles, eliminate cramps, tame acne, etc; and they are perfectly happy. However for a significant population of women, the side effects largely outweigh the benefits.

So what is the alternative? With the Pill off the table, we are left with very few options besides condoms (or diaphragms and cervical caps which are essentially out of existence and have lower effectiveness rates), or more permanent solutions like the IUD and sterilization which do not make sense for younger women or women who want to have children in the next few years.

I discovered what seems to be a gift from heaven when I attended a lecture about natural contraceptives at the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Annual Conference at Hampshire College a couple of years ago. It’s an herb called wild carrot (also known as Queen Anne’s Lace) with contraceptive properties that can be made into teas and tinctures, or has seeds that are chewed. This has been used for several decades by women in China and India, and Robin Rose Bennett has been surrounded by controversy and naysayers in her efforts to bring this to American women. Essentially wild carrot inhibits the conversion of pregnenolone to progesterone, the hormone necessary to make the uterus an ideal place for implantation. So if there is no progesterone, there is no implantation. So a woman is supposed to take ½ tablespoon of the tincture eight to 12 hours after intercourse, another dose 12 hours later, and then the final dose 12 hours after that. During the lecture, the facilitator from Wise Women Ways, even showed us how we can make the tincture ourselves. I’m a little wary of making my own contraception, since it’s more serious than making a smoothie or a mojito, though I do want to experiment with my inner alchemist and my green thumb!

Since the tincture seemed pretty simple, and I’m familiar with tinctures for colds and other ailments, I tried it. The side effects I had were minimal, most notably increased breast tenderness before my period. But the lecturer explained that it’s a common side effect due to the decrease in progesterone, and for me it was minimal compared to the effects I experienced on the Pill. Also a couple of times, my period was off by a couple of days. That can be a little scary considering you’re depending on an “untested” contraceptive but thus far I haven’t had a pregnancy.

My caveat is that I’m not in a committed long-term relationship so I haven’t consistently used this method over long periods of time. Yet it provides a contraceptive option for women who are not in long-term relationships but are having sex and want to avoid a pregnancy. In the meantime, there are ongoing trials testing wild carrot amongst couples, particularly cohabitating ones, to ensure the effectiveness in a wider range of experiences.

I strongly reiterate that birth control is not one size fits all and this has worked for MY lifestyle. Anyone who uses traditional hormonal contraception is experimenting with their body, and using natural remedies are no different. I don’t look down at women who have found comfort and security in the Pill and I support anything that safely gives women reproductive freedom and automony. However, it makes some women’s lives a living hell. Women deserve to have a wide range of options readily available to make the ideal decisions for their bodies and sexual health.