Sweetening the Pill: An In-Depth Conversation about Contraception

Sweetening the Pill.inddRecently, documentarians Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein are venturing into a topic that women know all too well. Their documentary Sweetening the Pill will focus on oral contraceptives and providing women with information they might not otherwise receive from doctors. It will provide women with alternative methods to contraception by understanding the natural cycle of their body.

The inception of Diva International was fueled Francine and Carinne Chambers’ (makers of The DivaCup) passion to empower women with better and healthier options for their reproductive system. Though we believe that women should learn about and understand their body, we also know that every woman’s body is different and requires different needs. Oral contraceptives can help women with chronically irregular periods, but many times women and young girls are not told what to expect when they first introduce the pill to their bodies.

To better understand other, more holistic birth control options, Sweetening the Pill will delve into the technological and medical advancements being made in women’s health and what that might mean for birth control in the 21st century.

The ladies behind the documentary shed some light on why they chose to pursue this topic and why it is important for women to understand all of the birth control options available to them.

Exclusive Q & A with Ricki Lake, Abby Epstein, & Holly Grigg-Spall
What made you want to shed light on this topic of hormonal contraceptives? Ricki: It really seemed like a very natural progression for us from The Business of Being Born. Women spend more time trying to avoid pregnancy – a decade or more at the start, then they have babies, then they’re back to trying to avoid it for further decades. It’s an experience all women share. What we did for birth, we want to do for birth control, and empower women with more information and more choice. The Business of Being Born was about body literacy and this project is the same – it’s about women knowing, understanding, and trusting their bodies.

Abby: We’ve both had our own negative experiences with different kinds of hormonal contraceptives over the Cover hi resyears. We know other women who have experienced the same thing. Holly Grigg-Spall sent us her manuscript for Sweetening the Pill: Or How We Got Hooked on Hormonal Birth Control and something just clicked when I was reading it. For the first time, I was connecting emotionally difficult periods in my life to the use of the pill and it just made so much sense to do this film. We could approach birth control with women’s empowerment in mind, too.

Holly: For me, I wrote the book because I had a pretty terrible personal experience with the Pill, which I used for ten years consistently. The book began as a blog that I wrote about coming off the Pill and my experience doing that, how it made me feel, finding alternative contraception, learning about my cycle and so on. That blog meant that lots of women got in touch to share their own stories. I realized the extent of this problem. I then soon realized it was really taboo almost to criticise the Pill or the culture around the Pill. That interested me. I saw The Business of Being Born when I was actually writing the book and I made the connection right away. I wrote about the parallels between the birth and the birth control industries. I knew that the book could make the basis of a great documentary and that the absolute best people to do this would be Abby and Ricki. I set my sights on that. Of course, I am now over-the-moon about the film. A book is one thing, but a documentary like this can reach so many more women.

Why have you turned to Kickstarter to get this movie made? Abby: We spent a year going the traditional route and we met with a few networks and production companies. We had a lot of discussion and a lot of real interest. People were saying this film could be “the Food Inc. of birth control.” Everyone has a story or knows someone who has a story about this, it’s just that kind of subject. But, it doesn’t have that commercial pull. It seems, at first, a little scary even. Some people struggle to understand the perspective. We have to explain that it is not anti-birth control or anti-Pill. Instead it is pro-informed consent, pro-choice, and pro-knowledge. We want women to have more options for contraception, not less! We want them to have more access, not less! It’s a feminist film project. This topic is very politicized right now, so that takes a little time to explain.

Ricki: People might not realize, but we didn’t actually make any money from The Business of Being Born – it was hugely successful in many great ways, but we lost money. Documentaries are really passion projects. We know a grassroots effort is right for this project, it spreads awareness and gets the conversation going. Women will share their stories and may even share their stories for the film. They will have their experiences validated by this, which is so important. The campaign is doing really well, but we have to keep going strong to reach our goal now.

The Kickstarter campaign highlights Fertility Awareness Methods as a non-hormonal alternative, particularly when supported with apps and new technology. How did this area come to your attention? Ricki: We got introduced to Kindara first through Holly’s book and we have met with them and discussed their work with their app and new wireless basal body thermometer, Wink. They want to democratize this knowledge, make it part of every woman’s education. They really think it could change things for the better when it comes to women’s lives. We also spoke with the makers of Clue in Berlin. They’re helping women track every part of their monthly cycle. It’s great progress for women’s reproductive health. Just this week we saw that Apple finally decided to add menstrual cycles to their HealthKit app. This is wonderful. It means other apps can sync with the native technology on the iPhone and it means more women will come to realize they can track their cycles and benefit from being aware of this information. They will be made aware of that option.

Abby: Really the technology sector is leading the way here. We’re seeing them step up and help and support women who don’t want to or can’t use hormonal contraceptives. They’re making using Fertility Awareness Methods simpler, easier, less time-consuming and more approachable. They’re getting in the media and getting their message out there. And these people are also a wealth of knowledge because thousands of women are using their apps and talking to them about their cycles and experiences.

Many women take the Pill for other issues these days, not just for contraception. Do you want to explore this? Abby: Absolutely. A couple of our film advisors work in this area – providing holistic, natural reproductive health support. They are working with women who have found the Pill hasn’t helped them long term. They’ve had side effects or the problems they had before have returned after coming off. They’re struggling to get pregnant. The Pill is prescribed for so many health problems these days and, although it’s definitely helpful and even essential for some women, it’s not the right treatment in all situations. In the Kickstarter video we highlight one part of this – how women are using it to regulate their cycles, even though they’re getting misleading information on FullSizeRender-3that.

Holly: This is such an important area. More and more women are on the Pill for everything from acne to PCOS and yet the Pill doesn’t treat these problems, it only masks them. When women come off, most commonly the issue returns and might even be worse than before. We think that women have to suffer with PMS, like it’s our destiny, inevitable, when actually a lot of hormonal balance-related problems can be treated properly long term with alternative protocols. Women deserve better. They don’t have to put up with this stuff. And they don’t always have to use drugs that give them side effects to fix the problem. For some women, as Abby says, hormonal contraceptives are essential treatment. But we’re at a point now where it’s being doled out like a cure-all and it’s just not.

Interested in learning more about body literacy and birth control? Visit Ricki & Abby’s Kickstarter to watch the trailer and donate, and check out this blog post written by one of our Doctor Divas about her Pill experience!

Refreshing Relief for Your Menstrual Cycle

Smoothies are a staple during the summer. They are fruity and refreshing with so many different flavors to mix and match to suit your tastes! But did you know that smoothies have more benefits than just being a healthy, delicious snack?

The Diva Team blended and taste-tested four different smoothie recipes; each one helps your body replenish much needed nutrients for each phase of your menstrual cycle! So whether you’re craving something fruity and tart or sweet and decadent, we’ve got the smoothie for you.

Try the recipes out for yourself and indulge in the delicious benefits!

Phase 1 – Menstruation (Days 1-7) During the first phase of your cycle, known as menstruation or your period, it is important to get lots of iron to replenish your body after losing important minerals in your blood. Spinach is high in iron and other minerals and is a great addition to smoothies! Banana, which is high in potassium and B6 can help boost your mood and regulate the bowel. We also recommend adding in foods rich in vitamin C, like orange and peaches, to help with the absorption of the iron into the body. Additionally, red raspberry leaf tea is known for its benefits to the Orange Peach Green Smoothie - Smoothies for Your Menstrual Cycle | The DivaCupfemale reproductive system by regulating hormones, menstrual cycle and flow, and offering relief from cramps. It is also high in vitamins A, B complex, C, D and E to help your body replenish vitamins lost during menstruation. Try this delicious Orange Peach Green Smoothie to help your body replenish essential vitamins and minerals for an easier period!

Orange Peach Green Smoothie

1 large orange, peeled and segmented
1 large banana
1 cup fresh or frozen sliced peaches
2 cups spinach
1/3 cup vanilla or peach Greek yogurt
½ cup brewed and chilled Red Raspberry Leaf Tea
1 cup ice
1 Tablespoon flax seed

Phase 2 – Follicular Phase (8-21)

The second phase of your cycle, the follicular phase, is when the eggs begin to develop in the ovaries. The lining of the uterus begins to thicken to prepare for ovulation and implantation (pregnancy). It is important to eat protein rich foods, like Greek yogurt, during this phase of your cycle to help your body rebuild and grow. You are strongest and most energetic during this phase of your cycle, so protein may help you build muscle and amp up Apple Pie Protein Smoothie - Smoothies for your Menstrual Cycle | The DivaCupyour metabolism too! Additionally, cinnamon and honey are excellent period regulators and offer the body important minerals such as iron, potassium and magnesium to help replenish the body after your period. Try this delicious smoothie to satisfy that sugar craving while getting your body the protein and minerals it needs.

Apple Pie Protein Smoothie

1 apple, peeled and core
1 cup ice
1/2 cup vanilla Greek yogurt OR 1 scoop of vanilla protein powder
½ cup almond milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tablespoon raw honey
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp of coconut oil

Phase 3 – Ovulation (Day 14-16)

During the third phase of your cycle, ovulation occurs. Ovulation is when the eggs are released from the ovaries and move along the fallopian tubes towards the uterus. If pregnancy doesn’t occur, the eggs will disintegrate within the next 6-24 hours. During this phase of your cycle, antioxidants are important to keep the cells in your body, including your eggs, healthy. Berries like raspberries, blueberries and blackberries, and fruits like pomegranate, are chock full of antioxidants and other essential vitamins. Additionally, flax seeds are a fantastic source of omegaBerry Pomegranate Smoothie - Smoothie for your Menstrual Cycle | The DivaCup-3 oils and are great for regulating ovulation and reducing cramps and breast pain sometimes associated with ovulation and the upcoming luteal phase. Blend up this delicious and sweet Berry Pomegranate
Smoothie and enjoy a nutritious snack to keep your body healthy!

Berry Pomegranate Smoothie

2 cups mixed frozen berries (Use a mix of raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and strawberries)
250 ml unsweetened pomegranate juice
250 ml raspberry leaf tea, brewed and chilled
1 tablespoon of flax seed
1 cup of ice
1 small banana, peeled

Phase 4 – Luteal Phase (22-28)

During this phase of your cycle, if there has been no implantation, the thickened uterine lining begins to deteriorate.  This phase is also known as the Pre-Menstrual Stage, and can play host to many of your PMS symptoms such as mood swings, bloating, cramps and nausea. To offset these symptoms it is important to stay hydrated with juicy fruits that help to banish bloat and ease cramps like watermelon, strawberries and mango. Mango Berry Water-Mango Smoothie - Smoothies for your Menstrual Cycle |The DivaCupcan help balance your hormones and is high in vitamin B6 and iron to help with PMS and preparing the body for iron lost in menstrual flow. Additionally, ginger is fantastic at combating period induced nausea and is an anti-inflammatory to help reduce cramps and breast pain. Blend them together in this delicious Berry Water-Mango Smoothie to reap the benefits and keep yourself feeling comfortable!

Berry Water-Mango Smoothie

1 large mango, peeled and pitted (or 2 cups frozen mango)
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
4 ounces almond milk
1 cup whole strawberries
1 cup watermelon
1 small banana, peeled

For more information on how to chart and better understand your menstrual cycle, visit our Menstrual Education page!

Diary of a Diva: Research Studies and The DivaCup!

I have been a social worker for over 10 years and have been working in hospitals throughout the New York City area. Having chosen a career that helps people, I always find additional ways to volunteer and help people in need. I love volunteering at community blood drives, food drives, annual cultural fairs and summer camps for underprivileged children. So when I was asked to participate as a normal control in the Rose Study to learn more about the causes of endometriosis, I immediately said “yes”. Millions of women and girls suffer from this disease, including some of my close friends and coworkers. Women who suffer from endometriosis can have symptoms that range from painful menstrual cramps to incapacitating abdominal and pelvic pain and infertility. The disease can be very debilitating.

In order to participate in the study, I had to meet with a research nurse who went over what I would need to do as a participant. I was asked to provide a blood sample from my arm, as well as a sample of my menstrual flow that was to be collected at home. And this is where The DivaCup came in! I’ve always used Tampons for my monthly cycle and had never heard of any other option, other than maxi pads. The nurse provided me with The DivaCup that I was to take home and use to collect my menstrual blood sample. The nurse explained that women around the world are using this in place of tampons because they are better for your body and the environment. I wondered aloud, how come I never heard of this?! The first time I used The DivaCup I was pleasantly surprised! The cup fit well and took only a couple of tries for me to insert properly, I just needed to get the hang of it. I was truly amazed by how comfortable The DivaCup felt, way more comfortable than tampons ever had.

The Feinstein Institute’s ROSE Study (Research OutSmarts Endometriosis) seeks to investigate the cause of Printendometriosis and bring improved diagnostics and treatments for women living with the disease. One element of the study includes asking participants to provide a sample of menstrual flow through the use of The DivaCup.

My shifts at the hospital can last anywhere from 8 to 12 hours. Many days are so busy that I hardly have time to make it to the bathroom. Having to change my tampon during a shift was always a pain. First I would be so embarrassed to grab a tampon out of my bag in the very public nursing station where doctors, nurses and physical therapists can see your every move. And if I didn’t happen to have one on me the day my period started I’d have to run around trying to scrounge one up. With The DivaCup, I NEVER have to worry about looking for a tampon again.

My life at home is just as busy taking care of my three small children. I am constantly making grocery and shopping lists on my phone only to forget to look at them when I arrive at the store. One of the things I so frequently forget is to buy a box of tampons. Sometimes I’d have to send my husband out at night to the 24 hour drugstore to get the forgotten tampons, and I don’t have to tell you how grumpily he’d react to that. Not to mention the half dozen calls I’d receive form him while at the store as he was trying to sort out what type, size, and scent I wanted. The DivaCup has given me the freedom to forget about buying tampons forever! And having one less thing to remember is gift I gladly accept!

The ROSE study is actively looking for participants. Women both living with and living without endometriosis in both Canada and the United States can participate in the ROSE study to help find answers for those who are suffering. Learn more HERE.

Joy Stein

photoJoy was born in Israel and raised in Long Island, New York. She is a mother of three and currently works part-time as a hospital social worker in New York City. Joy has run the community blood drive at her children’s elementary school and says donating blood is very close to her heart. In the summer Joy enjoys volunteering at a church in her local area that provides free summer camp to underprivileged children. Joy is a participant in the GAP research registry as well as the ROSE study and she highly encourages women to volunteer for this cause.