I am so thrilled to share my conversation with Abby Epstein, the director of the fascinating and evocative documentary The Business of Birth Control. Abby shares her own powerful and very personal story of self-discovery and change after taking hormonal contraceptives.
In this episode, Abby shares:
- Why she was first put on the pill
- The physical and mental health issues she experienced while on the pill
- What she learned about herself when she came off hormonal contraception
- The inspiration behind the documentary The Business of Birth Control
- And the story of her first period
Abby says that it’s so important to do your own research and find a health solution that works for you.
Thank you, Abby!
Abby has very kindly shared a discount code (LENISE) that will give you 50% off any streaming rental on the The Business of Life website (www.thebusinessof.life).
Get in touch with Abby:
Le’Nise: Hi, Abby. Thank you so much for coming on the show today. I’m really excited to have you here and talk about all of the amazing work that you do, your films. But first, let’s talk about the story of your first period.
Abby: No, I love this. I love that you focus on this. I think it’s such a fantastic thing to think about and talk about. And so I had to kind of dig a little bit, you know, to remember. And what I remember is it’s kind of interesting because, you know, how in middle school, I don’t know why, but everybody knew when everybody got their period. It was just that weird thing where you’d whisper in the halls, you know, like, Nicole got it last weekend and this one got it, and that one got it. And, you know, generally it starts young, like people start at ten years old or in like, you know, fifth grade.
And I was just one of those people that never got it. And middle school went, came and went and high school was starting, you know, secondary school. And I still didn’t have it. And so it sort of came down. That’s where I won’t say her last name on the podcast, but it was me and this other girl, Sarah. And like, everybody knew that like she and I hadn’t had our periods yet. And then Sarah got hers and it was just like, yes, you know, you could tell she was like so happy. And I’m like, oh, my God, I can’t believe this. And I think at the time, I was just about almost 16 years old. And I also was dancing ballet a couple times a week. So people like, oh, that can also, you know, delay your period. I wasn’t like underweight, but I was dancing. And then my mom said, you know, we’re going to I want to take you to the gynaecologist and just, you know, whatever, make sure everything’s okay.
So we went to the gynaecologist and, you know, she basically kind of said something like, well, if it, you know, if it doesn’t come in this time, I might have to, like, give you something to, like, bring it on, like some kind of medication. And that completely flipped me out, right? So we left that. And then it was like a few weeks before my 16th birthday, and we went on a family vacation to Hawaii. And I remember I met this boy and we had sort of like a little, you know, fooling around on the beach. Like I wasn’t sexually active, but, you know, it was that stage where you’re kissing and you’re just kind of feeling and, you know, a lot of hand play. And then I came back from that vacation and I remember like I woke up to go to school and there was like a couple dots of blood on my underwear, and I was like, Oh, my God. Like, I was so happy. And I remember thinking like, maybe, it was that boy. Like, maybe when I was with him, he touched something down there. I don’t know. He, like, broke something? I don’t know. It’s like, he broke my hymen? I didn’t know. But I was like, he must have helped me in some way. Or it was the pressure? It was so funny.
And I remember I’ll never forget this. I wore a purple, straight, long skirt. I was obsessed with Prince and I wore lots of purple. And I had this purple, straight, long skirt and I had a big bulky pad and I was in school and I couldn’t stop, like, hinting to everyone, you know, like, I couldn’t stop saying, like, Oh, my pad. My pad is so uncomfortable. Oh, my underwear. Oh, is my pad sticking out? Can you see my I mean, it was like I literally I mean, I’m surprised I didn’t like walk down the hallways with, like, the big bloody maxi pad in front of me, like, like a badge of honour, like, stuck on my shirt. I mean, it was I have to tell you, it was like such a joy and such a relief. And also I was like, I had been waiting for it for so long that I remember saying to my mom, like, all casual, like, Oh, Mom, do you have any pads? I just got my period. Yeah. Do you have any pads? You know, and she tried to play it off also really like, oh, and I should mention that my younger sister is like two and a half years younger than me and of course had been having her period probably for a couple of years at that point. So it was like double embarrassing, you know, that my little sister is menstruating. But yes, that’s the story.
Le’Nise: When you finally got it, did you know what to expect? Did you know what was going to happen beyond, okay, you’re going to see this blood. You wore pads. Did you have, were you educated or had you educated yourself?
Abby: No, I really didn’t know very much. I knew that my sister was having a pretty rough time. So my my sister was having a lot of like and she was an athlete. So it was hard. And she I knew she was having like some very heavy cramping and like sometimes would like not go to school or come home from school. And they were trying like different pain relievers and things. So I, I knew about that. I didn’t, I remember the pads. I don’t remember switching to tampons, but at some point I did. And I remember a friend or somebody telling me about, you know, that you have to angle it. You don’t just shoot it straight out. So but I didn’t know very much.
And it’s it’s kind of funny, Le’Nise, because since I started, you know, making my documentary and getting some more education around all of this, I kind of look back. And the interesting thing is, I think that I may have had some either, you know, PCOS or some early PCOS because like looking back on the symptoms and looking back on the sort of like delay in the period and then. I had some other things that line up. You know, with PCOS, actually, because I had like very early, like acne, like I had like I remember I had acne like all over my forehead when I was like 11 or, you know, very young. I had acne. I had acne on my chest. I remember in ballet, you know, I had like some acne. And I remember when I went to the gynaecologist that time when I didn’t get my period, I remember her saying something to me about testing my hormones that she wanted to test my hormones because she thought I had some like excess hair. You know, there were just like signs where she thought I might have. And so it’s kind of interesting, you know, looking back, I actually feel really lucky, you know, because I, I think that I probably did have something going on like hormonally. And, you know, I’m lucky that my period did finally come and that, you know, things were not regular at all because that’s ultimately how I ended up on the pill. But it’s you know, it’s to me, it’s like fascinating sort of how little I knew, how little I knew about periods, about my cycle. And, you know, looking back now with all this knowledge and wondering, you know what? I don’t know, like what might have been different had anyone put those pieces together?
Le’Nise: And when you got your period and you were going around the halls at school in your purple skirt and I love that it was like a tribute to Prince. Did you. You mentioned the kind of whispers about periods and how everyone knew. Did you how did you eventually tell your friends and what was their reaction?
Abby: Oh, I couldn’t wait. I mean, we’re talking, you know, pre cell phones, so I would have had to wait until I got to school. But I remember telling my best friend, and she and I also this was like two years later, we were also like the last of the virgins. Like, that was another thing. You know, I remember I was like, I was still a virgin when I graduated high school. And again, you could count on one hand who were the girls? And it was like a similar kind of, you know, accounting people do. But oh, yeah. I mean, it just went through the halls like I couldn’t wait. I could told everybody everybody, you know, in subtle and not so subtle ways. And it was very, you know, I felt very grown up in the complaining about it. You know, I have to change my pad now. And, you know, it was like, oh, my God.
And then I don’t remember, actually, like, I don’t remember those was like last few years of high school tracking it or counting days or having any idea. I remember. It must have. I think had it from time to time because I know that two years later when I went to university, it just completely stopped. So that I so I knew. So I must have known that something was different. Like, I must have known that it stopped. So I. But I honestly have no idea Le’Nise,if I was having, like, a monthly period or work, I have absolutely no idea. There was no I was never taught to track it or look at the days or.
Le’Nise: And what was a point that you you said you went on the pill. What was that when you lost it? When you went to university?
Abby: Exactly. Yeah. And that was really a very traumatic experience because. I remember when I went to university. And most of. I guess I must’ve. You know, it was some time in my freshman sophomore year or maybe I didn’t menstruate much my freshman year, but I remember it was like my sophomore year, you know, when I really didn’t have a period at all. And I think that again, looking back, there are so many factors, right? I mean, one is I don’t know if there was some PCOS going on or there was some hormonal. I have no idea. You know, was never told. I mean, I assume I remember the gynaecologist saying she wanted to test my hormones and then I never heard anything. So I’m assuming that I don’t know, everything was okay.
But you know, when I did go back home for my like annual exam, she was very like keen to put me on the pill, but not only put me on the pill, she gave me like ten days or a week of hormones that I had to take to bring on a period so that I could then start the pill. And, you know, it was unbelievably torturous because there was just no warning given about anything. And all I know is I start taking these pills and I’m thinking this is necessary. You know that because I have to menstruate because this isn’t good. And then, you know, I’m sure she’s thinking, well, this will be a double, you know, protection for you because then you’ll be on the pill anyways, so you’ll have contraception. But I wasn’t even sexually active and I just remember like riding my bicycle to class at like eight in the morning and I would have to like pull the bicycle over because I would just be sobbing, like sobbing and sort of irrationally sobbing like a child. Like, like I miss my mom, you know, or just like, literally crying like a baby. And so. I think, like many women do, I just thought there was some kind of depression anxiety going on. I didn’t connect it to these hormone pills that she had given me, you know, to bring on a menses. I just didn’t I was never warned. I didn’t know. I didn’t connect any of it.
And then the pills she gave me when I did start it and I did everything like a good girl and like Il was supposed to do. It was really awful for me. It was just awful. And the side effects were awful. And I think I just stuck it out for a while, probably the whole semester, until I remember going home and going back to her. And I remember sitting in her office and just crying and just started crying in the office because I felt terrible and I had gained weight and I was just feeling awful. And she was kind of, you know, shocked. And she said, oh, you know, there’s, everybody has such a different chemistry. And I really wish that these pills came in a more individualised way so that we could know, you know, how different people’s hormones were going to react. But, you know, it seems like this this pill isn’t a good fit for you. And let’s try it a different one. But it was like so interesting because she was actually very compassionate. But I wouldn’t have known. Like I never would have known when I was at school and suffering to call her or call my mom or say, you know, something’s happening. I think it’s this pill. I just thought it was me. Like, I just thought I was having, like, a depressive year at school, you know, or something. I just thought it was me. And so then. Yeah, then we switched to a different pill, and that was more tolerable for me. And so I ended up staying on that one for, for many years to come, but ended up having other problems on that pill, which, again, you know, I really didn’t connect until I made this documentary.
Le’Nise: How long in total were you on the pill?
Abby: I would say it was. Must have been like about eight or nine years. Was like probably like 20 to 29.
Le’Nise: Right. Okay.
Le’Nise: Almost a decade. Okay. And what was the impetus for you to come off of the pill?
Abby: You know, there was kind of this instinct that I had. I don’t know how else to explain it. I was in a monogamous relationship and I was, you know, I think 29. And I was thinking, you know, I don’t know. It was like an intuitive thing where I thought, I feel like I should like give my body a break from this. And I was thinking, you know, I’m nearly 30 and I’m going to be thinking about children. I knew I wanted children. And I was like, I’m going to be thinking about maybe children in the next couple of years. And so I feel I should like, you know, kind of clean house. And there’s really I don’t know why I’m sort of on this anymore, but I think there was, you know, at that point I was like in such a steady state.
And the things that were had been happening to me that whole decade were chronic UTI and vaginal dryness, which I had no idea was in any way connected to that birth control pill. So those things that that had been bothering me, you know, with my sexual health, I didn’t even think were connected to the pill. Like they were in no way an impetus to get off. I did, you know, like struggle with acne when I was younger. So I did like that. You know, it had kind of calmed all of that down and that my, you know, my skin was clear. So I think, like a lot of young women, there was probably that fear of like making a change, you know, because everything felt so, like, stable and my skin was stable. But it really I think, you know, that going off moment and I don’t think I knew it at the time.
I mean, I remember I remember one of the first things when I went off is after like a couple months, I was like, oh my God, those were not my breasts. Like, I don’t have, you know, this like Big C cup or whatever. I actually and I was, you know, I remember kind of laughing because I was thinking. Oh, my God. Like. You know, because I had I remembered something about my wedding dress and I was thinking I should have gone off before because my wedding dress would have fit so much better in the bust like I did. So I remember that was like kind of a dramatic thing. Like, you forget, I thought those were my boobs. Those were not my boobs. Those were pill boobs. So that’s, you know, my boobs kind of went away. But I really liked that, like, returning to myself, you know, I really, really liked. That coming back to myself and a lot of things changed emotionally, and I had a big partner switch. I ended up leaving the partner that I was with at the time, which again, these are things I did not connect for, you know, years and years and years.
So, you know, it’s really crazy. Like it just so many things. Like when I was reading Holly’s book, Sweetening the Pill, I remember like reading all this. This study’s about like partner attraction and this and even the vaginal dryness, the UTIs. I mean, I just my God, I was like, there were so many things that I experience that were so, you know, textbook and, you know, and to this day, it’s like I do wonder, like, I really wonder if if somebody had done the underlying work, right. To see why my period had stopped, for example, you know, I just I don’t know. I wonder what I could have uncovered about myself. You know, I do wonder if the UTIs like if I would have suffered with those, you know, because those sort of never stopped, you know. So there are things that I don’t know that you just, like, wonder about, like, how would your whole kind of sexual life, relational life, you know, been different without that decade on the pill? I also was interesting because I did learn, you know, other things about how, you know, just just but, you know, turning off your own endogenous hormones, like how that can affect in some ways even your own compassion, sensitivity. And I do look back on my 20s and certain periods and I feel that I was not only sort of disconnected from myself, but very hard driving, very ambitious and, you know, sometimes even a little bit, I don’t know, like kind of cutthroat, you know what I mean? Like like behaving in ways that are really not me at all. Like, I’m really not like that. Like, I’m just incredibly empathetic, compassionate person. And so, you know, a lot of things, like, I really look back and just wonder, like, how much did this really affect, you know, my personality, my attraction. I mean, it’s fascinating.
Le’Nise: It really is. You had a huge change after coming off the pill, emotional changes, changes in your relationship. And then when you came off the pill, how long did it take for you to get your period back?
Abby: So that I don’t remember. I remember very, very clearly that, you know, my libido kind of roared back. And that’s something that a lot of women have, you know, described. But I remember it being just sort of shocking because I just thought I wasn’t a very sexual person. You know, I just thought, like, on this scale, you know, I did have climax. I did experience orgasm. I did have, quote unquote, you know, good sex. But I didn’t have a drive like I didn’t have, you know, I mean, it was, you know, the only the only thing I could the last time I had felt sort of libido that way was, you know, maybe back in my senior year of high school before I started the pill, you know, that was sort of what I could equate, that real feelings of sex, drive and libido so that I remember that being like the most kind of shocking and like, obvious difference and and also a huge relief, right, to think that maybe you’re not such a sexual person and then you are.
And then I know that. My period came back pretty soon, I didn’t have like a whole, you know, I mean, I think it came back within the first like two months or, you know, there wasn’t an issue. And then I was very I would say like I did have I remember, you know, cramps. I had like period symptoms that I hadn’t had, like, you know, back in high school, maybe I didn’t even have that many periods in high school, but because I didn’t keep track. But, you know, it was definitely, you know, regular and. And I remember having to kind of deal with the cramping and. But it’s very like, even today, it’s funny because it’s like I still, you know, have a very regular period and and and when I did so, I think I went off the pill about four years before I got pregnant for the first time. And so once I was like back in my regular cycling in my thirties and it was so easy for me. Like, I, from, from, I would say, like, for four or five years, my partner and I, new partner, we didn’t use any barrier methods. We didn’t use any contraception.
I did not know about fertility awareness, but my cycle was like so regular that I roughly knew like my fertile week. You know what I mean?
Abby: But we were just able to time things in such a way. And then when we were like, Yes, let’s have a child, it was like, first try, boom, first try out the door. Done, you know? So I feel really lucky. And then and then my fertility journey was so, so easy. Like, so easy, you know, getting my periods back after breastfeeding, second child, same thing, first drive, boom, you know. So it’s, I feel lucky, you know, in some ways, but I don’t I don’t know that like to me. You know, that that whole period, I think that whole decade when I was on the pill, although, you know, I guess it’s easy to look back, right? Everyone can look back and say, well, I’m very happy I had that. And because I didn’t have to think about pregnancy, I understand that. I was a very monogamous person. So I wasn’t a person who had one night stands or had like multiple partners. So I’m not really sure that, you know, the sort of not worrying.
I was never worried about getting pregnant like I would. That was never a fear. I didn’t have a fear like that, you know, because I wasn’t sexually active until I was 19. And then I was like mostly, you know, with partners. So I didn’t really have that fear. But, you know, I do look back and think like more about how that would have affected me emotionally and in terms of like partner choice. But, you know, I feel lucky that I didn’t have problems like with my cycle after that or any problems like with fertility.
Le’Nise: It’s really interesting that you you said that you thought that you may have had PCOS and then once you got your period back after you came off the pill, how it came back in a really regular way, you described it being like clockwork. And that’s so, so fascinating. Just thinking about it in the context of where where you were when you started, you had a really late period. And also just thinking about that decade that you had on the pill. And I do sense a kind of regret there of what could have been. And do you feel like when you got your period back and you discovered who you really were, there was a kind of mourning that you had to go through.
Abby: Well, I think, you know, the biggest thing more in terms of mourning was just the relationship stuff, you know, because I think that is incredibly hard. And like when you with your like true sexual nature is is is awoken in that way and you realise that you just don’t have sexual chemistry with this wonderful person that you love in every way. And so, you know, I think it was it was very traumatic. And, you know, it was extremely traumatic to. And confusing, you know, and confusing. And I think that, you know. It’s like almost the way I could explain it is it’s a little bit of like a Sleeping Beauty thing. So it’s like like waking up in your body, let’s say, you know, at 29 or 30, but kind of sexual emotional intelligence you’re like 16. You know, that’s kind of what it felt like. Like it was like I couldn’t sort of. Control it anymore, you know, and it was sort of like I couldn’t live in this lie in a sense, you know what I mean?
Like I was basically in like a marriage that was platonic and it was deep and there was full of love, you know, but it was really platonic. And, you know, there there was sex, but it wasn’t in any way the kind of sex that I come to knew and experience later, you know? So, you know, it was I felt like. You know, being disconnected from that piece of yourself. Right. And now understanding, like, I think, how much libido is sort of diminished as sex drive when that is not what libido is. Libido is your life force. It really is. And it’s it really. You know, so for me, I was only connected to a masculine life force. I was connected to a life force around work, around achieving. And that’s what I was doing. I was winning awards and achieving, achieving, achieving. You know, like at a very young age. And that was my life force. You know, that’s what was what was feeding me. And then suddenly to go off and sort of I think I got almost, like, overwhelmed, right, by this whole world of, like, you know, real kind of sexuality and attraction that I had shut off. That’s the only way I can explain it. It was sort of like, you know, shut off. And every once in a while. You know, I would get like a window into it and sort of a little wake up, but then it wouldn’t really stick, you know, where I would think, Oh, maybe I’m missing something. But no. And so it that’s I think that’s what’s sort of confusing. It’s like when you are not. Experiencing yourself, right? With with. We know that hormones, your hormones interact with your environment to create yourself. Right.
I mean, if you read Dr. Sarah Hill’s book, you can understand that they create the version of your brain that forms your personality. So I think, you know, disconnecting from that. Yeah, it’s almost like I was living kind of a like a, like a shadow life, you know. And then when I sort of in my thirties got plugged into, you know, myself and it just rocked everything, you know, it just created. Huge upheaval. And again, I don’t know that it was I was making the best decisions either, because I think I was, again, like this 16 year old, you know what I mean? Who’s just been sort of handed the keys to the kingdom. And it’s like, oh, my God, this, you know, this is what this is supposed to feel like.
So then I think I was making more decisions just really based on passion, you know, an attraction and sort of, you know, because I had been disconnected from it for so long. So it was it’s it’s so I mean, I think that it’s so fascinating to to think about like how we, you know, and and again, honestly, Le’Nise, you know, that whole decade that I really, like, stayed on that till there really was no reason. Like I said, like I was in a monogamous relationship, you know, I didn’t have like a reproductive health issue that I knew about, that I was like needing to be on the pill, like, you know, heavy periods or endometriosis. There was no like medical reason. It’s just this weird feeling of like, well, I don’t know, things are things are good, you know? And what if I what if I went off and then this happened or, you know, it’s it’s it’s just interesting, I think sometimes how you just lock in to like. Thinking in some way that this is part of like being the good girl. You know, it’s like you take the pills and, you know, everybody’s happy and you don’t have to worry about that. But. Oh, my God. I mean, looking back, it’s just like. It’s really. It’s. It’s just, like, shocking when I didn’t know. Hmm.
Le’Nise: What’s interesting is that you you mentioned the idea of being the good girl. And a few other guests that I’ve spoken to on the podcast have described this idea of being the good girl and as also linked to the rite of passage of going on the pill. So you turned 16 or 17. Your friends are on the pill. It’s your turn. You get your you get your period. Now it’s your turn to go on the pill. And I remember one guest describing it as kind of like, you know, every girl in her high school was on the pill. And I just wonder about well, I mean, I have lots of questions about all of this. But in terms of your experience and then kind of linking into the film, the brilliant film that you made, The Business of Birth Control, was your experience kind of the driver, one of the drivers for you making this film?
Abby: I think it definitely was a driver, of course, because I feel, you know, so the first film that Ricki Lake and I made together is called The Business of Being Born. So that is a really funny story because that film we started making because of Ricki’s birth experiences, and then I got pregnant during the filming and ended up giving birth in the movie. So we both give birth in the movie, but hers is hers is, you know, like footage that she had kept. And mine is like, live, you know, like following my birth in this in this movie. So I think. It’s funny, right? Because the business of being born, I didn’t make that film because I had a passion for midwifery. I didn’t even know what a midwife did, you know. So I made that film because I was sort of fascinated as a feminist that I had been so unexposed and was kind of fascinated by Ricki’s story. You know, I didn’t know I was going to become part of part of the story. Right. So with The Business of Birth Control, when I think when I read Holly Griggs-Spall’s book Sweetening the Pill she had sent me the galley of the book hadn’t been published and I read it on the aeroplane when I was flying from New York to L.A. to meet with Ricki about another project we were doing. And I got off the plane and said, Ricki, oh my God. Like, I just read this book and all these light bulbs went off. Like so many light bulbs went off.
And and some of it is, you know, you get kind of so angry, right, about the mistreatment that you experience and the gaslighting that you experience. And so that was also a real trigger for me. Like, I’ll just give you one quick example. I hope I’m not getting too graphic on your podcast, but I mentioned like vaginal dryness, for example. And so this can be a real side effect of hormonal birth control that people don’t know about. So in my twenties, when I was, you know, having sex with this long term partner, we would use, you know, lubricant or whatever. But still there would be this like dryness. And so at one point I actually had like a, like an abrasion, almost like a like on the bottom of my vagina, like, you know, just, you know, almost at the at the at the perineum. It was just, you know, like it was like literally rubbed, you know, like, like a menopausal woman would get, you know. And I remember I went to the gynaecologist, she wasn’t there that day. So I saw this man, one of her partners, and he looked at me and he said, That is herpes. And I said, excuse me, but I actually I’ve I’ve only had one partner and we’re both, we were both virgins when we met. And I’ve never slept with anyone else and he’s never slept with anyone. It’s actually not herpes. Could you tell me what’s going on? Because, you know, I get these when we have sex and I don’t understand. He said, trust me, that is herpes. I’m going to run the test. But I’m so sure that and he gave me these like antiviral medications and literally told me I needed to start taking them that day. Can you imagine?
Le’Nise: Oh, my gosh.
Abby: I am so confused. I am like, whatever, 26,27 years old and I’m talking to my partner. I’m like, I don’t, I want to understand. Like, what I’m like are you doing something that you’re not telling me? Whatever. He was like, No, this is like crazy. I mean, I remember so embarrassed. I was in my hometown and I had to go to the pharmacy and like fulfil these prescriptions for anti-viral. Of course within whatever two or three days they call. And of course the test is negative. But the experience of it, he was so arrogant. He was so sure and he did not believe me. He did not believe me. And he didn’t want to look for any other reason.
And I think that as a white woman of privilege, to experience that, you know, and to be it’s so infuriating. You know, it is honestly. It is so infuriating. It’s so abusive. And and so I think I was I was angry. And I was angry about my experience of going on that first pill that really wrecked an entire year of university for me. I mean, completely ruined it like I was a complete depressive, you know? And I it’s it’s just an all completely unnecessary, you know, and such a lack of informed consent, you know, such a lack of understanding. And so I think that I was, you know, reading this book and connecting the dots in my own head and then looking at what I experienced, let’s say, within the reproductive health system, which is like a two on the scale of 1 to 10 of what other women experienced. And I’m reading these stories. I was just like, my God, I said to Ricki, we’ve got to talk about this like we we have to. It’s going to be very unpopular. People are going to be very mad about that we’re doing this. But I don’t know. It’s like, who’s going to talk about this? You know, who’s get telling stories? I just felt like we can have a liberal critique of hormonal birth control, like we can be like liberal progressives, and we can still critique this and find this grey space where we can talk about, you know, health and and safety.
So, you know, to me, I think it’s all in a way I think it’s sometimes funny, Le’Nise, because people will say to me, oh, you know, your films like, do you have something against the medical system? And I’m like, My God, this has nothing to do with the medical system. That is not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about how growing up with a uterus in the world means that you are funnelled into this kind of reproductive health industrial complex and that directly impacts so many aspects of your life. This is not just about, you know, getting pregnant and having a cyst removed and going to the hospital to give birth. No. Like these are decisions that impact, you know, partner choice and sexuality and personality and depression and, you know, from. And so it just really connected for me that it’s like I made this movie about childbirth. You know, women tend to wake up a bit when they’re in that phase of trying to conceive and having children. And the reason I think that they wake up a bit is because there’s something really powerful about pregnancy that rewires your brain. And I think that they wake up a bit and they’re also thinking about, you know, they’re starting to think for two people. You know, they’re starting to think about, well, it’s not just about, you know, my health. It’s about protecting this child’s health. And that’s easier, right? Like we hear that story all the time, right? Like with battered women, they don’t leave the abuser until the abuser hits the child, then they leave right, like. And that’s basically, you know, a lot of ways I went about. So it’s like.
But but when I thought about making this film and reading Holly’s book, I was like, no, no, no, no, no. This has to start way before pregnancy. You know, this has to start as soon as fertility, you know, begins like this needs to start it, you know, nine, ten years old, the body literacy piece, the body literacy piece needs to start. And then there, you know, this whole conversation around contraception, it’s not. Medical. It’s just it’s not it’s not medical. It’s like there are so many spaces, I believe, where this is so much about a collective wisdom. Wisdom passed down from ancestors. You know, knowing this is about knowing that is like generational. And, you know, I think that’s why you see, you know, we just had some news come out that 2021 was the highest rates of home birth in the United States in 30 years.
Abby: Amazing statistic. Now, I know some of that was driven by the pandemic and people not wanting to birth in hospital. I get it. But it’s more than that. It’s that, you know, women and people in general are discovering. Right. That there are spaces that they’ve given over completely to the medical complex, surrendered all power, all decision making to doctors, professionals. And they’re taking that back, you know, taking that back and saying, you know, no, no, no, this is the way I want to birth and this is how I want my child to come in. Or this is, you know, and I and I think that. It’s. It’s it’s so complicated around. And the contraceptive space in general because. It seems like everybody with a penis has been released from this conversation. It’s like, you know, there’s just no accountability. Yeah. Right.
And then there’s this kind of way that we’ve categorised unplanned pregnancies, which you see in religion and in the media and in movies and TV, is like, you know, this the most catastrophic possible thing that can happen. And there’s this huge fear around it. And that fear is what ultimately like controls people and motivates this sort of good girl. So yeah, I mean, it’s like such a long winded answer, but I think I just really felt like, you know. So motivated because not only of my personal experience, but really I think just because of this collective like waking up that needs to happen around this.
Le’Nise: And what have been the responses to the film? The film was recently released on Amazon UK. It’s available to rent, so if you haven’t seen it, please go and see it. It’s a brilliant, brilliant film. But I’m curious, what have been some of the responses that you’ve seen?
Abby: Well, it’s so interesting, Le’Nise, because the responses. I don’t know. They’re hard to categorise. I’ll say the some of the responses have been the same as like when we even announced we were doing the film. Right.
So we have you know what, I would you know, I think they’re like a lot of second wave feminists. And I would say, you know, I would say feminists of like a certain generation, you know, maybe Gen X and older are very, very alarmed by the movie and, you know, really feel that it’s dangerous to talk about these stories in the movie. We have some stories that are very difficult to hear about some families who lost their daughters from pulmonary embolism, which is a rare side effect. We can say rare. But you know, what’s not rare are blood clots, which lead to the pulmonary embolism. And so they really you know, I think whenever you start to talk about in any way. Right, like women who were damaged by birth control, whether that’s a stroke or an embolism or in these cases a death, you know, you start to trigger all those, like feminists, second wave alarm bells, you know. And so people were not, you know, happy. And I think the response has been like consistent in that way.
So I think that we’ve seen. Some. Like incredible reviews and articles of the movie, you know, people that are just so passionate about it. And I think those are people like just to give an example. You know, Jameela Jamil, who’s one of my favourite feminists and activists, you know, she had us on her podcast and she just was blown away by the movie and completely got it. And as a feminist, completely got it. And then it was interesting because then her Twitter feed was attacked by, you know, more conservative OBGYN people and people that were, you know, mad that she was supporting the movie and felt.
So it’s there’s a there is a bit of a war. I would say that when we were presenting the film, you know, when you were there speaking on the panel in London, when Ricki and I were in Berlin and London a couple weeks ago, I would say that a lot of that sort of like feminists like infighting, I guess I would call it, I would say like that was largely absent. And I don’t think that’s because of just because you aren’t dealing with an abortion ban in in Europe and the U.K.. I think it’s actually deeper. Yeah, that would be a whole nother podcast. I won’t even begin.
But but I notice that, you know, for instance, in London, I feel like at that screening, you know, it’s like people are able to take in the film and then ask the real questions like, okay, so now what do we do? And this fertility awareness method work and but I have a friend who got pregnant on fertility awareness method and so what do we use and you know, like really focussing on the concrete issue at hand, you know, how do we kind of navigate this space where we don’t have tons of options right now? Right. Whereas I feel sometimes the response has been, you know, here from some of the in the U.S., from some of the liberal media, more of a like a back slap, you know what I mean? More of a little bit like put those girls in their place. Like you stay in your place and you’re not you’re not being a good feminist. This is not a movie that anyone needs. And this is dangerous. And this is going to this is, you know, fear mongering and.
I think I think Ricki was, actually that might have come up also on her BBC Woman’s Hour interview, something about fear mongering, she said. And I think that word fear mongering is super interesting, right? Because if you’re being accused of fear mongering, well, there must be something to fear. Like, what are you monitoring about? You know, it’s sort of like it’s interesting. And I feel that I feel that in the movie we were, you know, conservative. Like, for instance, we don’t talk about cancer. I mean, cancer. Connections If you want to look at scientific evidence between the connection between taking hormonal contraceptives and certain cancers. And certain autoimmune diseases. I mean, those stats are out there. Those studies are out there like we don’t even bring that up in the movie. Right. And the reason we don’t bring that up is because there’s a lot of controversy around it in the medical industry. And this study and that study. And we didn’t even touch that. You know, people talk about whether these drugs can affect fertility right, in later years. That’s controversial to talk about. We don’t touch that in the movie.
I feel like, you know, if we wanted to be fear mongering, if we wanted to, you know, we really I feel like, you know, look at. I feel like the approach we take is is historical. We look at history. We look at race. We look at body literacy. We look at, you know, side effects. We look at, you know, I don’t know it to us. I feel like we did a good job. If you want to say this is a one sided, you know, movie. Yeah. Okay. You can say this is a one sided movie. You could also say The Business of Being Born is, quote unquote, a one sided movie. But our approach is like we don’t need to make a 90 minute movie that balances all the benefits of, you know, hormonal contraception with the downsides. Because I believe, you know, we touch on that in the beginning of the movie and we acknowledge that, you know, there’s a deep connexion with, you know, women’s liberation and the pill. But I feel like that is the mainstream narrative. That is the mainstream narrative. And and any, you know, medical practitioner you go to is going to recommend the pill or the patch or the IUD or hormonal contraception. They’re going to push it. They’re going to recommend it. They’re not going to have a nuanced conversation with you about do you prefer hormonal or non-hormonal? That is not happening.
Le’Nise: It’s so fascinating the that word fearmongering and the idea that being more aware of what you’re putting in your body and the side effects of what you’re putting in your body could be considered fear mongering. And you’re exactly right when you say that the other side of the narrative has been told by doctors, by medical professionals who say, go on the pill. Go on, take the Mirena, have the Mirena inserted it, say it’s fine. And to have a wider conversation where you are able to understand the side effects and know this whole idea of informed consent and body literacy is a really, really interesting one. I’m really curious about what you have coming up next, because your films I’ve seen The Business of Being Born and I’ve seen The Business of Birth Control and both films, I know you have other films, but those films for me are really evocative and emotional. The Business of Being Born I actually saw while I was pregnant with my son. So yeah, I think it was on Netflix or Amazon in the UK. So I watched it and it really opened my eyes to a lot of things. So what do you have coming up next?
Abby: Good question. I know. Well, right now, as you said, like so, we are still so The Business of Birth Control just came out in April of this year in the States. And like you said, we just it was just released on Amazon in the UK. And so right now we’re still kind of pretty deeply engaged in kind of getting that film distributed, you know, because we aren’t on any kind of a global streamer like a Netflix. So we are doing it like territory by territory, which is a lot of work. And so what we’ve just actually launched this week is we decided that because The Business of Being Born and The Business of Birth Control. And our other films. So just we have a four part series called More Business of Being Born, which is a follow up to The Business of Being Born. And that kind of goes a little bit deeper into things. There’s an episode on VBAC, there’s an episode on Ina May Gaskin. There is an episode on just celebrity births, stories, you know, things like that.
And then we have a nine part body literacy series called More Business of Birth Control that we launched. And that’s more of like an a class kind of structure. So it’s like video clips and links and articles and again, meant to follow up the business of birth control for people who want a little bit more information. So I think that what we saw, what we decided to do was say, okay, none of our work right now is available like on a Netflix or whatever. So we created our own like little mini streaming platform and we calling it The Business of Film Circle. And so basically what we’re offering people right now is to go on and instead of having like monthly, you know, streaming dues, you just pay like a one time fee and then you have lifetime access to all of our films and it’s super affordable. And we’re offering a 40% discount for birth workers and reproductive health professionals and sex educators and anybody in the field. So we’ve made it super accessible, and we’re doing this promotion right now where if you join The Film Circle, you get to gift the Film Circle membership to a friend. So it’s like a buy one, you know, gift one.
So that’s what we just launched this week. And we’re super excited because, you know, we’ve we’ve gotten great response and so many people have signed up. And so in addition to accessing all of our film content, you also get we have a like a video archive of about 40 hours that’s different classes and courses and recordings with different hormonal health coaches. So you’ve access to that whole library. And then we do like a monthly Ask me anything series. So Ricki and I host a series where we bring different professionals on like yourself, and we have kind of a big like meeting format where we pick a topic and people come on and ask questions and get their questions answered for their reproductive health. So it’s cool because it’s kind of like joining like a mini film archive that you own for the rest of your life, but then you also are in part of this community as well. So that’s what we’re working on now because we’re learning that, you know, it’s one thing to make the content and then the distribution of the content has almost become so complicated right now in this landscape. It’s just very, you know, crowded, as you know. And so we’re doing that. And then, I don’t know, we’re looking at a couple projects. Everyone’s pushing us to do the business of menopause because that is because.
Le’Nise: I was going to say that I was I was looking I wonder if they’re going to do anything about HRT or menopause. And there was an actually a really interesting article in New York magazine about, you know, the business of like midlife, which you should read if you haven’t read or.
Abby: Yeah, I know. I thought, wait, was this the one in The Cut? It was in The Cut, yes. Yeah, yeah. I saw it. I know. Because I saw like Naomi Watts has launched a menopause brand and like all of these celebrities now. And I thought it was sort of interesting to think that, you know, these women that are like my generation, the Gen Xers, are, you know, looking at a different life span, like everybody’s looking to live into their nineties. Right. And so it becomes more about how do you extend, right? Like how do you extend this period of like middle age, I guess, you know, how do you extend that as long as possible?
I think it’s fascinating. I don’t know. Like, it’s interesting. I don’t know how we’d approach it Le’Nise because I feel like, you know, with childbirth and like with contraception. I feel that a lot of what we did in the film was kind of unveil either what I feel are, you know, kind of not very transparent policies, whereas with the menopause piece, it’s different because it’s more the opposite. It’s more like nobody in the medical community has any answers and nobody is talking about it. So women have sort of taken it into their own hands to start their own companies. And I guess maybe because the medical community hasn’t figured out how to profit off it yet in the same way or, you know, maybe they’re not as interested in controlling ageing as they’re interested in controlling fertility and procreation. I think they just care less about women past fertile age as a society is my guess. But so I think we’d have to figure out, like Ricki and I have talked about it, like what’s, you know, what’s the way sort of end. And for us it was sort of like also about the ageing. Like we talked about the piece on ageing, you know, because Ricki’s sort of always obsessed, but like all of you know, these contemporaries or people she knows, you know, they get like the same plastic surgery and everybody has like the same face. And, you know, there seems to be this like idea about ageing or she let her hair go completely grey and got a lot of pushback for that, you know. And so I think that that would be also interesting to put together, right, like as of ageing in the menopause years.
But I, I, I do think that there is. There’s a definite like it’s not even like there’s misinformation in the menopause space. Like there is there’s just lack of they’re just zero information. Like people are just fumbling in the dark and. Absolutely. You know, and. I was reading yesterday online, Nicole Jardim, who’s one of the hormonal health coaches who’s in our movie. She had a whole post on her Instagram about this because so many women in perimenopause and menopause are getting prescribed the pill. Yeah, but they’re getting prescribed and. She was just saying something simple in her post like, Hey. I think it’s actually a lot safer to do bioidentical hormones. If you’re going to do hormones, you know, don’t do the pill. And anyway, she got like severe like really attacked. And it started this whole confrontation with doctors. And I was shocked reading the comment thread to see that like some of the women said, that they have to use the pill because it’s covered by insurance where the bioidentical are not covered by insurance, so they can’t afford them. And I was like, Oh my God, that’s fascinating. Like, I never thought of that, you know? But it’s like now the pill has another way to make money, you know, is being this kind of like cheap substitute for bioidentical hormone replacement. But anyway, it’s very interesting, like comment thread on her, on her, on her website.
Le’Nise: I mean, I feel like I could talk to you all day. You have. So you’re so interesting But you’ve shared a lot. You’ve shared your own story, very personal aspects of your own experience with the pill and coming off of it. And then, of course, there are all of the brilliant films that you’ve made. For someone listening to this podcast today. What’s the one thought that you would love to leave them with?
Abby: I guess I just love to leave everybody with this idea of, you know. There is no kind of like one size fits all solution for any of this and there’s no shame and there’s no judgement. And you know, you’ve just got to do your research and do what works for you.
And you know, if that means that you are going to choose to be on hormonal birth control for a number of years because that is what works for your lifestyle. You know, go do that. And there’s no reason to feel, you know, bad or worried or there’s no fear, just, you know, just research and understand and know that, you know, simple things that, you know, you might be depleting your body of certain minerals. You might want to take some supplements, you know, and take care of yourself in certain ways.
But, you know, everybody has to make these decisions in the way that suits them and their lifestyle. And, you know, I think that sometimes, you know, I’m sure you’re the same Le’Nise, like we’re in a bubble of a lot of women who are looking for, you know, solutions outside of maybe mainstream, like medical advice or they haven’t liked what they’ve been told by their GPs and you know, so they’re looking for other solutions and so they’re open. And I just think that, you know, everybody is on their own journey and you know, the most important thing is just to, you know, advocate and and research and do what’s right for you. But I would also, you know, encourage people that if you are in a medical setting and you are not feeling like you’re being heard and you’re not feeling like you’re getting the answers that you need, you know, don’t give up. Don’t give up. Don’t think like, well, I can’t afford, you know, a naturopath or I can’t afford I can’t do this or I’m just a busy working mom, I don’t have time to deal with this because it doesn’t take a lot. There are great resources out there. There’s documentaries, there’s podcasts, there’s, you know, wonderful books and practitioners like you, Le’Nise. And, you know, you can get to the heart of things fairly quickly and you’d be surprised at how many things you know you can resolve.
So I would say, you know. Be open and understand that there’s a whole world of practitioners that has developed, whether it’s in the world of hormonal coaching or naturopathy. And they’re not out to go against medical advice. They’re there to like support and integrate and expand. So I know a lot of times for women, you can get very confused because you’re you’re feeling something and you tell your doctor and your doctor says, well, I’m not going to test your hormones. That’s a waste of time. We don’t test hormones. And then you talk to a naturopath or somebody who says, Well, you must get it. And it’s very confusing and there’s a lot of conflicting evidence. So I think there’s no wrong or right, there’s no shame, there’s no judgement. It’s just like, take your time and be compassionate with yourself. But there’s a lot of free information out there online and there’s a lot of great resources. So, you know, just don’t don’t accept being told like, well, there’s nothing else you can do and you’re stuck with this because that’s that’s hardly ever true.
Le’Nise: I completely agree. Thank you so much for coming on the show. Where can people find you?
Le’Nise: All of those will be linked in the show notes. Thank you so much. It’s been amazing having you on the show. I know that listeners will learn so much from what you’ve shared and we’ll learn so much from your film. So thank you again.
Abby: Thank you. And it’s been such a pleasure.