In a tribute to the birth control pill, which turns 50 years old today, CBS contributor Faith Salie argues that the pill not only revolutionized women's sex lives, but it also "produced better mothers: fulfilled women who deliberately created families."
Salie argues that the creation of the pill provided women with a means to choose when they were—or weren't—ready for motherhood, and that this choice has allowed women to become better mothers due to their ability to be in control of when they decide—if ever—that they're ready to have children. I'm not entirely sure I agree with her premise that every woman who gave birth when she was ready, due to birth control pills, is automatically a "better mother" than those who gave birth after unplanned pregnancies, though I do agree that the pill provided a means for women to postpone having children until they felt they were ready, a step that helped open several paths to women in terms of their careers, their sex lives, and the way we view motherhood in general.
But the pill's legacy thus far isn't all sunshine and lollipops, as pointed out by Deborah Kotz of US News, who notes that the pill also "created an epidemic of infertility," perhaps by giving women the ability to postpone attempting to have a child into their 30s or 40s: "To be clear, oral contraceptives don't cause infertility; ovulation usually resumes within a month or two after going off the pill," Kotz writes, "But the trend toward shifting reproduction from a woman's early 20s (when she's most fertile) to her late 30s or early 40s (when fertility is on the wane) has dramatically increased since the pill became widespread, to the extent that 20 percent of couples contend with the issue of infertility at one time or another."
And as Gail Collins of the New York Times writes, the pill has also found itself at the center of controversy, as "protests from the social right have made politicians frightened of mentioning birth control and school boards frightened of including it in the curriculum," and that "the terror of mentioning birth control is so great that the humongous new health care reform act has managed to avoid bringing it up at all." Even after 50 years, the pill—and all of the opportunities it affords, no doubt—are seen as unethical, typically by those who also feel that abortion should be illegal, essentially stating that women should have absolutely no rights to what goes on in their own bodies.
It may seem a bit weird (and somewhat funny) to celebrate the birth control pill's birthday on Mother's Day, of all days, but the pill and motherhood aren't really as separate as they seem, as Salie noted, as the pill has helped many women prevent motherhood until they felt ready to participate in it. And not only that, but the pill has helped women in ways that go beyond prevention of pregnancy; easing menstrual cramps, clearing skin, and lowering one's risk of ovarian cancer. But perhaps most importantly, it provided women with choices; choices about life and love and children and careers and control over their own bodies. And hopefully, maybe by the pill's 100th birthday, men will be able to take the pill as well, which would open even more doors (most likely the same doors that cover Viagra prescriptions without turning it into a moral issue).
So happy birthday baby (or, um, lack there of?): here's to another 50 years.
What Every Girl Should Know [NYTimes]
Birth Control Turns 50: 7 Ways It Changed Women's Lives [USNews]
Faith Salie: Happy Birthday To The Pill [CBS News]