I’ve spent the last few years of my life writing about the (somewhat) measurable side effects of hormonal birth control. The impossibly diverse list of consequences range from strokes and skin cancer to migraines and multiple sclerosis. Some of the associations are easier to prove than others. Regardless, signs abound that all of these devastating consequences are underreported.
However, there are some consequences that are absolutely impossible to measure, and those are the ones that have consumed my mind over the past few weeks.
If you’ve lost a parent or grandparent who really helped make the holidays special, you know this time of year can become a little more melancholy than in the past, but losing a family elder is expected. It’s not easy, but it’s normal.
Imagine a loss that isn’t normal or expected. Imagine losing a child, a young spouse or sibling. Those of us who have been blessed to not experience this kind of loss can’t possibly grasp the enduring pain or understand how the holidays can amplify the anguish. For many, the holidays can become a time they dread.
This isn’t the first year that I’ve known families who lost a daughter to birth control, but it is the first time the full weight of it hit me. During the week leading up to Thanksgiving, two mothers contacted me to ask if I knew how they might be able to connect with other families who have lost their daughters to birth control, while another mother who had shared her story with me previously, committed suicide.
Layers of Tragedy
Her name was Laura, and she also shared her story on Hormones Matter. Her daughter, Theresa, started taking Ortho-Cept with assurances that it was the lowest dose available. Laura trusted the doctor, and knowing that Theresa was young and healthy, she agreed to let her take The Pill. Theresa died from blot clots caused by her birth control just weeks after her 16th birthday.
Laura lived with the pain and the guilt for nine years before taking her own life. That’s the dimension that separates this form of grief from normal and expected losses. When you lose a parent or grandparent, you expect the coping to become a little easier from year to year, but the rules about grief no longer apply when you lose a child. There are some wounds even time can’t heal.
3 Women Today
I had just started sharing images of young women who had been killed by birth control along with the hashtag, #3WomenToday, when Laura passed away. The meme is intended to bring attention to the fact that we lose three young women in the United States every day to birth control related blood clots. But, as powerful as that number is, the meme is really about connecting faces to the statistic. We lose three women – each one is a daughter, sister, mother, niece, aunt. In other words, she isn’t the only victim. The tragedy doesn’t end with her death. In fact, it’s just beginning for an entire family whose sense of normal has just been permanently shattered.
One of the other mothers who had already agreed to let me share her daughter’s image on the meme reached out and asked if I would share Theresa’s image to honor both the mother and daughter.
Many of these families have connected and are able to support one another, but this isn’t the first time they’ve seen a member of their group overcome with grief from the loss of a daughter. Four years ago, just after the calendar flipped to a New Year, one of the leading advocates in this fight to educate young women about the dangers of hormonal birth control took her own life as well.
Karen Langhart was a strong woman. After her daughter, Erika died, she battled against the drug companies. She wanted to honor Erika’s legacy by making sure no other family would ever have to go through this. Of course, that was an impossible task, but it physically hurt her each time she heard a new story of a young woman who had died from birth control. One of the fathers who reached out to Karen seeking answers after his daughter died, told me that she was already crying when she got on the phone. She told him she was sorry that they hadn’t been able to do enough to save his daughter from the same fate that ended Erika’s life. Many of the parents carry this burden. They desperately want to stop it from happening again. Karen carried this load for four years before it became too much for her to bear.
Stopping the Ripples
As this year draws to a close, it’s sobering to realize we have lost nearly another thousand young women in the United States to birth control related blood clots. That’s a thousand families struggling through their first holiday without her.
It’s a sad reality, but hopefully it’s enough to anger us to take action. If there is a young woman in your family, communicate with her. Make sure she knows about the dangers and risks that her doctor probably hasn’t shared with her.
Then, give her a big hug– and be thankful that you’re able to.
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