So you don’t want to have a baby right now? Or ever again? Join the club! It’s my choice and yeah, it’s not my destiny to be a baby breeder. I’ve already had one child, and I’m happy with just the one. Thanks to repetitive endo (endometriosis that is) I decided on the intrauterine device (IUD) Mirena. It was placed inside my uterus by my gyno to not only stop it from returning but one of the major bonuses is that it’s a contraceptive. Hurrah!
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a wild one or anything despite the title of my book Love and F**k Poems (not that there’s anything wrong with that as long as you’re safe!), but it still freaks me out two years on that I have a plastic thing inside me controlling my hormones. Particularly since I’ve detoxed my body and I’m eating a super healthy diet of practically no sugar and super fresh, fresh food.
Despite having no real problems with Mirena, from time to time, when I’m not feeling well, I get into a state of thinking that my IUD is the culprit. On those days naturally I’m on Google searching through articles about IUDs gone wrong. It’s best not to do that at around midnight when there’s chocolate in the fridge. Cramps, bleeding, hormones gone crazy. The scariest complication is the perforation, where the IUD becomes embedded or goes through the wall of the uterus which can lead to infertility and, in some cases, a hysterectomy.
But you can’t stress about the minority cases. So I just try not to think about it and carry on with my life. Well, that was until I was randomly watching Channel 7’s Sunday Night and who do I see? None other than one of my all-time feminist heroes Erin Brockovich. What an ultimate girl power fighting machine, that woman is, after taking down a major gas and oil company in the 90s.
She’s got a new campaign now, fighting the drug company Bayer. She’s joined the E-sisters, a group of women who have used a permanent contraceptive called Essure, and ended up really sick after it. According to Erin, there are 20,000 reported cases and the stats keep climbing. They’ve taken the fight all the way to congress in the US in an attempt to force the FDA to take Essure off the market.
Unlike Mirena which lasts up to five years, Essure is a permanent method. Inserts are placed inside each fallopian tube to stop the sperm. But some of the awful side-effects reported after using Essure include the puncturing and cutting of other organs in the body as well as unwanted repetitive pregnancies. Pretty scary stuff.
When I saw Erin talking about all this I thought about my appointment at my gyno when I was getting my IUD put in. As I sat in the waiting room there was a wall of brochures advertising the different contraceptive products and I remember thinking: they all look like ads for women’s magazines. Particularly there was one with a cute guy on it hugging his girlfriend. He looked pretty happy!
After seeing Erin, naturally the first thing I did was Google. I went straight to the Essure website, and I was not greeted with the scary curly wire I saw on Channel 7. Instead, it was marketing very similar to the pamphlets I saw at my gyno. Very simple, clear, friendly writing. The colours were white and blue. This made me feel safe like I was in good hands and among experts. One of the images is of a young, well-presented woman smiling and being embraced by her loving man who is looking at her with admiration and affection now that his woman has been ‘fixed’.
I like to think I’m pretty smart. I have a double degree in accounting and computing. I’ve worked in research. And I have a diploma in professional writing and editing. But even I struggle with the marketing of these potentially harmful products. I do worry about women who don’t have the privilege of my level of education. What chance do they have at understanding what they’re really getting themselves into? Do I actually know what I’ve gotten myself into?
At the end of the day, drug companies are businesses. But sometimes I wonder why governments don’t do more to stop this potentially misleading advertising through brochures, and even, websites. If governments said we won’t allow your product to be sold in our country unless the documentation reflects the reality of the product surely things might change. The focus instead is on boasting the benefits with elegant and sophisticated language coupled with crisp photography of young, vibrant women who feel great and look good, tiptoeing around risks. For example, from the Essure website: Essure is over 99% effective at permanently preventing pregnancy.* Scroll down to the asterisks and you’ll find *Based on 5-year clinical study data. Can I have more information about this study, please? Who funded it? How many participants were involved? Dig a little deeper and you’ll see that the study was funded by Bayer.
Let’s have a look at some other examples. Essure is the only permanent birth control you can get with a nonsurgical procedure. It can help you stop worrying about an unplanned pregnancy. But women are getting pregnant! Closer examination of the sentence reveals the loophole: ‘It can help you stop worrying about unplanned pregnancy’. Ie it can, but also, in some cases, it won’t. It is the ‘only permanent birth control you can get’. Yes, it is, but it doesn’t mean the birth control will work. Most women return to normal activities within a day or two. Again, ‘most women’ not all woman.
With smart writing drug companies can potentially wash their hands of any problems if their product doesn’t function as expected. Why is this marketing even allowed? Women are not products, they are people. We deserve all the facts, not in fine print but in bold! And scrap the cute guys too, please!
Before you pop a pill or decide to tamper with your body’s natural flow:
- Do your homework. Don’t buy into advertising. Search for reviews online. Remember the drug company wants your business, so question everything they state about the product, especially the research.
- Ask yourself if you really need it. Are there natural remedies available? Again, research, research.
- Question the doctor recommending the drug like they are the actual drug company. Ask about potential side-effects and what the risks are.
Take some action
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