Birth Control and the Power of Family Planning

Five women speak up about how they took control of fertility and what their futures look like, plus take a pop quiz about menstruation (hint: it’s harder than it seems).

Women today have more options than ever when it comes to deciding if and when they want to get pregnant. But what influences those decisions? The answer can be different for every woman, and both personal and societal factors may play a part in one’s family planning decisions.

From a national perspective, for the last several years, the U.S. birth rate has been declining, and it’s currently at a 35-year low, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t helped: Early estimates from the CDC show that the birth rate dropped yet again in 2020.

To explore the question of why, Everyday Health invited five women to share their own fertility choices and the personal reasons behind them, as well as their perspectives on the role birth control has had on women’s advancement.

Their responses were at turns thoughtful, open, frank, moving, insightful, honest, real, funny, and even heartbreaking. The participants are Kate, 32, an entrepreneur in the theater and education space; Cynia, 30, an ad agency VP and creative consultant; Amanda, mid-30s, a marketing associate who also pursues a career in comedy; Lianne, 36, a talent director in the tech space and career consultant; and Liz, 29, a new mom and clinical social worker.

Why Some Women Don’t Want to Get Pregnant Right Now

The birth rate has been declining every year since 2015, — which begs the question, why are we having fewer children? The most common reason, according to the women we spoke with, is a lack of money.

The average cost of raising a child from birth to age 17 is $233,610, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture — and many prospective parents want to become more financially secure before having children.

Other factors may also be at play: The response from our panel clearly illustrates a keen awareness of current social, political, and economic challenges, and these five women shared their thoughts on how these larger societal dynamics, as well as their individual career and family needs, are shaping their birth control choices.

The upside of the declining birth rate: Teen births dropped by 5 percent in 2019 and, since 2007, they’ve declined by as much as 60 percent, according to a May 2020 report from the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics. What’s more, birth rates have increased for women in their early 40s and remained constant for women in their late 30s. So while birth rates have dropped, this trend is linked, at least in part, to expanded access to contraception and the fact that some women are choosing to start their families later in life.

Kids, Career, or Both? How Women Are Planning Their Futures

It’s a well-known fact that women who have access to birth control are better able to invest in their education and career — and therefore, have the potential to earn more money. As much as one-third of the wage gains women have made since the 1960s are due to their ability to use contraceptives, according to Planned Parenthood. And a 2019 report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, which credited contraceptive access to a 15 percent increase of women in the labor force between 1970 and 1990, found that being able to choose not to get pregnant in early reproductive years increased a woman’s annual earnings in her early 40s by 11 percent.

In fact, the impact of birth control on women and society has been so profound that the CDC named family planning — the ability to decide if and when you have children — as one of the top 10 public health achievements of the 20th century. According to the CDC, not only does access to contraception improve women’s and children's health, but it also advances women's social and economic roles.

Bottom line: While there is no doubt that children can add immeasurable value and happiness to our lives, for women, being able to choose when they become pregnant can have an enormous impact on their lives. Here’s what our panel said about their careers and contraception choices.

Sex Ed for Adults: The Menstrual Cycle

Think you know the basic facts about menstruation? Even though about half of all humans get (or will get) a period, a lot of people — including women! — can be confused by it.

Ask yourself this question: “Does PMS, or premenstrual syndrome, refer to symptoms that occur during a period?” If you answered yes, you’d be wrong. (PMS refers to symptoms that occur before a woman starts her period.)

Here’s another question that stumped most of our panel: “When can a woman get pregnant during her menstrual cycle?” Answer: During a key six days during her cycle.

The average menstrual cycle is about 28 days long, though each woman’s cycle is different and the length can vary from woman to woman (or even from one month to the next), according to the Office on Women’s Health. About halfway through the menstrual cycle, the ovary releases an egg so it can be fertilized by sperm in order to make a baby. This process is called ovulation, and according to Planned Parenthood, you can get pregnant the day you ovulate, five days before ovulation, and (though less likely) a day or two after ovulation.

If the egg isn’t fertilized, the lining of the uterus, which builds up in preparation to receive a fertilized egg, breaks down, and the blood and tissue flow out of the body through the vagina — this is your period.

Various forms of birth control work within this process to prevent fertilization and pregnancy.

Watch the video to find out what else you might not know about the menstrual cycle.

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