Shortly after giving birth to my third child, I began to have recurring and persistent anxious thoughts. Out of nowhere, thoughts would creep into my head about my own death or the death of my husband or children. I couldn’t shake the feeling that something awful was going to happen. Any story that I read or show that I watched that included someone’s death, I would instantly internalize as a sign that my family would soon be struck with tragedy. It was so scary and out of my control and I had no idea what was going on.
Thankfully, I finally told Mike exactly how I had been feeling, and he thought to research whether it could be a side effect of giving birth. After a quick internet search, we discovered the symptoms of Post Partum Anxiety and they described me perfectly. Immediately, I made an appointment with my midwife and couldn’t wait to see what sort of holistic suggestions she could offer for my relief. How disappointed I was when the best solution she could give me was, “Well, if you were anyone else, I’d slap you on the pill, but I know you won’t go for that, so…maybe counseling?
”At least she knows me.
Here I was, a woman struggling with a mental health issue, seeking advice from a medical professional who promotes natural approaches to gynecology, labor, and birth; and the best she could offer me was a synthetic hormone that has been proven to increase depression, and, according to the testimony of many women, increases anxiety itself!
Results of a fourteen year study which observed the link between hormonal contraceptives and depression were recently released. This study conducted at the University of Copenhagen discovered that women who use hormonal contraception are more likely to be diagnosed with depression by a mental health facility and/or be prescribed antidepressants. The most at risk population is adolescent girls. As if teenage girls needed one more thing to worry about; now the pill that is marketed to young girls for their peace of mind about unwanted pregnancy or just severe cramps is the very thing chemically destabilizing their mental health. Noticing abnormalities in mood, many young women have already sought alternatives to oral contraception. However, the study found that these methods, (like the hormonal IUS, the patch, the ring) increase a woman’s risk of depression at and even higher rate than oral contraceptives.
From its invention in the 1960’s, through its spread during the sexual revolution, and up until today, the pill has been sold to women as a means of liberation. It is fascinating then, that something touted as ensuring women’s freedom and equality is actually leading to a different form of enslavement. Freedom for sex “without consequences” is resulting in the weight of chemical imbalances which lead to a cycle of more medication to treat the depression. This should lead popular opinion to realize that contraception is wrong for women instead of a right. Hormonal contraception is not only far from liberating, it’s also far from healthy. Our culture is obsessed with being organic. Our chicken, milk, vegetables, makeup, shampoo (just to name a few) have to be organic and hormone-free. We demand more for our produce than we do for ourselves. When it comes to women’s bodies? Eh, let them take the risk. Alter their fertile bodies by pumping them with synthetic hormones…at least then they are less-likely to get pregnant. Our culture has forgotten that fertility is a sign of health! A woman’s menstrual cycle is the only healthy function of a body I can think of that we medicate. Medication is supposed to be for correcting an illness, not for altering a healthy function of the body. Women should be speaking out against hormonal birth control instead of accepting it as the norm or at best, the necessary risk. It would be so cool to see feminism’s popular chat change from “Keep your rosaries off my ovaries” to “Keep Our Ovaries Organic!”
Women deserve better than contraception. That is what our Catholic faith has been saying for years. The message of the Church has never been and will never be “Don’t use contraception, because we want everyone everywhere to have a million babies.” No. The message of the Church is that when we operate outside of God’s intended plan for our sexuality, we end up hurt. And that is precisely what we are seeing with the contraception-depression connection. God’s plan for human sexuality is that in the act of sex, men and women are love-making and life-giving. When we stifle one or the other of those aspects, whether through loveless sex or lifeless sex, we are settling for less than we deserve and the total union for which our hearts long.
The solution to the birth control problem is pretty simple. There is a natural, organic way to track and observe a woman’s cycle to plan families. It does not increase a woman’s chance of depression or have any negative side effects. It’s called Natural Family Planning or the Fertility Awareness Method. It’s a fairly simple concept – a woman’s body works perfectly well on its own, so work with her body to plan and space pregnancies. NFP has never been promulgated by the popular feminist movement. Why? Well, no pharmaceutical company or women’s center makes money off of NFP. Also NFP requires self-control and communication; both of which contradict the one-night-stand, hook-up culture that the sex “without consequences” movement promotes all in an effort to make women “equal” to men.
With the findings of this birth control study in mind, I think that women today have a choice to make. We can re-claim our femininity in all its power – including its power to create and sustain life – and learn how our cycles actually work. Or we can continue to settle for manipulating our bodies at the expense of our mental health. Settling doesn’t sound empowering to me. Women are world-changers. So let’s change our world’s view of our bodies. Let’s demand something better than depression. Let’s demand a society, including politicians and doctors, who understand and respect the way our bodies work; instead of auto-prescribing birth control. As Fulton Sheen once said, “The history of civilization could actually be written in terms of the level of its women.” So let’s raise the bar for our civilization. Let’s re-write history according to God’s awesome, natural plan for our bodies.
Annie McHugh is a wife, mother, homeschool teacher, and youth minister at St. Raphael Catholic Church in Rockville, MD. With a four, two, and one year old at home, life in the McHugh house is always a ruckus – and they’re trying to keep it holy! Annie does youth ministry with her husband, Mike, and together they lead youth groups and speak at schools and parishes about chastity, dating, and marriage through, Mike and Annie Talk. They also run a summer camp for kids led by young adults and teens called the Rockville Catholic Summer Program. Annie loves reflecting on her ministry to her family and young Catholics through writing for the Holy Ruckus blog!