While sitting in her work-study office, senior speech and applied communications major, Leah Hackney was nervous. She wasn’t in trouble with her supervisor or trying to finish a big project, she was talking about a topic that was uncomfortable and unfamiliar, birth control.
Hackney, who no longer uses oral contraceptive, was once among the 54.5 percent of African-American women who used the pill to prevent pregnancy, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. She stopped taking the pill and decided against any other form of hormonal contraceptives because she felt weird about using a medicine that affects her menstruation cycle.
“I feel like it’s unnatural. That is not how your body was programmed,” Hackney said. “Sometimes I do wish I was back on the pill, but I don’t really like taking medicine.”
Hormonal contraceptives such as the pill, the shot and the patch prevent pregnancy because they contain hormones–either estrogen and progestin or just progestin–which stop ovulation for a particular period.
Although these methods are the popular forms of prevention outside of condoms and other barrier methods, side effects like blood clots keep some women from taking them. In a recent study, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found that the risk of blood clots was significantly higher in women taking pills containing drospirenone, a type of progestin (a synthetic female sex hormone) compared with those taking older classes of oral contraceptives.
Dr. Kerry M. Lewis, chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Howard University’s College of Medicine, said women should not be worried about risks such as these.
“Blood clots are always a slight risk, but it tends to be more of a risk with women who have underlying risk. Sometimes they aren’t aware of that risk until they get [a blood clot],” Lewis said. “Prescriptions for birth control are based on the individual. If you are healthy your less likely to be at risk for blood clots; those are more inherited.”
There are methods of natural birth control that can be up to 99 percent effective, if used correctly. They are more holistic and have no side effects. This method is referred to as natural family planning, according to the Center for Disease Control.
Dr. Amina Porter-White, a specialist in fertility and natural family planning, said that although there are women who benefit from hormonal contraceptives like those suffering from endometriosis or ovarian cysts, other women can use other alternatives.
“[Natural family planning] rely on biomarkers that cause a women to achieve or avoid pregnancy, it gives more control,” Porter-White said. “The women that learn how to use these biomarkers they feel empowered.”
White cautions that in order to use these methods, such as the Creighton Model, which is 96 percent effective, women should have an instructor and a partner. Since Howard University Hospital has made natural family planning services available, White said a large majority of African-American women have asked for more information.
“It is a very attractive idea. I believe that as a community we are beginning to see that using a more holistic approach can be beneficial,” White said.