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  • Writer's pictureDr. Susan Caldwell

Why I Stopped Prescribing Birth Control

Birth control was such a great idea…until it wasn’t. I certainly understand why prescribing birth control is such a common practice. There are soooo many reasons.

To name just a few:

  • patients want/expect to receive a prescription

  • it is so much easier than diagnosing and treating the underlying problem

  • it appears to “fix” many common problems that women have

  • it appears to be the answer to preventing unwanted pregnancies/abortions

I was taught in medical school and residency that birth control is a mandatory part of women’s healthcare and that the benefits greatly outweigh the risks. At that time, I was not one to question authority so I went along with this logic for many years. I myself had used birth control to treat painful periods and then to prevent pregnancy so it must be ok, right? Ignorance was bliss – so it seemed. I started to question this practice about ten years ago when I was seeing more harm than good come from this treatment. I couldn’t help but pause to reflect and ask myself whether I was helping or harming my patients.

Here are a few examples:

  • The young mother undergoing chemotherapy who came to see me as her primary care physician. Upon taking her medical history, she told me that she was being treated for liver cancer caused by her birth control pill.

  • The college student who returned to me devastated because she had been infected with herpes after having sex with her boyfriend. I recalled prescribing the birth control pill to her in the previous summer without proper counseling about the consequences of having sex beyond the possibility of pregnancy. Her decision to have sex left her with a broken heart and an incurable sexually transmitted infection.

  • Many women as young 19 years old with high blood pressure due to the birth control pill

  • A high school aged girl whose mom brought her to get a prescription for birth control because she was moody and irritable. Our conversation revealed a very broken girl who was secretly engaging in self-harming behaviors who desperately needed mental health support, not birth control.

After spending much time studying the medical literature and learning the biological basis for the negative effects of artificial hormones on the bodies of women, I recall feeling disappointed in the medical education system in the area of the female reproductive system. I began to see that birth control is often used as a substitute for authentic health care. I understand why many medical professionals choose to prescribe but I had to decide for myself and for my patients. As a doctor caring for women, I have taken on a great responsibility to provide the best care possible. It was no longer ok to prescribe birth control because “everybody else is doing it”. I made up my mind that I could no longer engage in this practice because to do so would mean compromising my professional vocation as healer and I would therefore have to practice medicine in a duplicitous manner with regard to women’s health. I knew I had to make a decision – either change my practice to exclude women’s health OR to learn a different approach to treating female patients of reproductive age. Obviously I chose the latter. It has not been easy but it has been extremely rewarding for myself and for my patients.

This blog will hopefully serve women and those who care for them as we journey together to consider why the time has come for us to move beyond birth control towards a more authentic approach to reproductive health. Thanks for reading!

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