Friday, September 23, 2011

The Meta-Report - 9.23.11

In this Family Planning-Themed edition of the Meta-Report: 
Family Timing among Gen Xers; 
Pills Gone Wild; and
The Adventures of Fertile Myrtle and the Family Planning...Beads? 

Family Timing among Gen Xers
The Juggle blog on the Wall Street Journal site had an interesting discussion going on this week about work-life balance and timing the choice to start a family. The article cites a recent study by the Center for Work-Life Policy that finds an incredible 43% of Generation X women (currently ages 33-46) do not have children. Respondents cited demanding work schedules, lofty career aspirations, and the current economic climate as the primary reasons for their choice not to have children.

After reading the press release for the study, I would warn against drawing some of the conclusions I've seen from other sources regarding its results - primarily that these results are somehow indicative or representative of Generation X women, or all young women, as a whole. The investigators conducted focus groups, one-on-one interviews, and administered a survey to just under 3,000 men and women "in white collar occupations." While the combination of several data collection methods is admirable, the respondent group draws from only one subset of individuals in this generation - those with white collar jobs. Do you think this sampling method impacted the study results? How do you think the results might have changed if the researchers used a representative sample of Generation X individuals?

Pills Gone Wild
Now, in very disturbing news from this week, there has been a rather large voluntary recall of as many as twelve different types of birth control pills manufactured by the company Qualitest Pharmaceuticals. In what is being called a "packaging error," pills were placed in the wrong slots in a total of 1.4 million contraceptive pill packages sold to customers since last year, meaning women using this form of birth control could be at risk for unwanted pregnancy.

Of all the possible products that could be recalled this, to me, is one of the more troublesome, to say the least. I have to wonder what will happen if/when it's found that unwanted pregnancies did result from this major quality control oversight. What could this company possibly do to compensate women for the medical care and other expenses associated with children they didn't intend to have?

The Adventures of Fertile Myrtle and the Family Planning... Beads?
Yes, that's right. Family Planning Beads.
A new study due to appear in the October 2011 issue of the Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care has reported encouraging results from a family planning method developed by researchers at Georgetown University's Institute of Public Health - one that is based on the Fertility Awareness Method of family planning, and incorporates a set of color-coded beads representing each day of the menstrual cycle. Women who used the "Standard Days Method" for the three year study period showed high rates of satisfaction and efficacy in using the method; the method itself was found to have a failure rate comparable to that of condoms or a diaphragm (95% effective).

I have personally used the Fertility Awareness Method and found it to be a great alternative to the Pill or any other medication or birth control apparatus, although it can be a lot of work, depending on how detailed you want to get with the charting and monitoring of fertility signs. While the feedback from women in the study is positive, a 5% failure rate does seem pretty high, considering oral contraceptives can an efficacy rate of up to 99% and some change. My concern would be that those who use the Standard Days Method might place a little too much trust in it and forgo other methods of birth control. However, used in combination with other forms of contraceptive, it could prove to be a very useful tool for those seeking to avoid pregnancy. For those looking to plan a pregnancy, that point is moot, of course, and this method could be very helpful for them.

It appears that Georgetown University has been issued a patent for the "CycleBeads" and another company holds a license to sell the product commercially. What do you think about the Standard Days Method? Are the CycleBeads a product you would consider using?

Your Thoughts...?
Please share your thoughts on the stories in this edition of Meta-Report. I'd love to hear from you!


  1. WOW, women in Kenya use those beads, they even handmake them according to their cycles and that is oftentimes the only method they have to track their cycles. I wonder if they adopted this "technology" from early prototypes being tested in Kenya, or if possibly Georgetown Uni stole the idea from them and patented it. Hmmmmm.

    And that is so crazzzy about the birth control pills! I just hope that no damage has been done :(

  2. OK so I looked up the clinical trials of the cyclebeads and although they were not in Kenya particularly, they were done back in 2000 so the beads I saw could have very well made their way to Kenya. So no stealing of ideas I don't think. But what else I read there was this. The standard days method yields "probability of pregnancy of 4.75% over 13 cycles of correct use of the method, and a 11.96% probability of pregnancy under typical use." And I know that this is similar to correct use versus typical use in pills, for example probability of becoming pregnant when you skip a pill increases, but I think they should not advertise this method as having a 95% efficacy rate when in fact its more like 88% in a typical family. No?

    Here is the article if you are interested...

  3. I think it would be interesting to examine the different in the different "collared" jobs. I feel that while the US has progressed since the 50's, there are still a great number of jobs that have a racial majority and minority. I wonder if their culture has anything to do with the low birth rate.

    Personally I know that I can barely support myself, much less a child.

    How were the pills mis-packaged? Are they still color coded properly?

    I think birth control is all about what method works for you. The bead method requires dedication and a knowledge of your body. The user also has to be regular.

  4. Thanks for your comments, ladies.

    That is very interesting about the cycle beads, Jen - I bet Kenya was part of the initial study (started in 2000, as you noted) that was measuring the efficacy of the beads. The way I understand it, this was part two of that initial study.

    @Nancy, I wondered the same thing about the influence of race and class on those results. Hopefully they will build on the study and look at a greater diversity of groups at some point in the future.

    The pills were not color-coded properly, and that was the mistake - placebos were colored like active pills and vice versa, from what I gathered.

    Good point about the need for regularity with the beads. I had a similar thought - that users need not just be regular, but also have a certain length cycle. I wonder if you can add/remove beads if your cycle is longer or shorter than average (which, for most women, is the case)?

  5. I think it would be good to do a comparison on birth rates and age vs. marriage/commitment age and parents' marital status. I don't remember making the conscience decision to not have children until I was with someone for a while who I felt I had taken the time to travel with, learned to communicate with, and generally learned how to be a teammate with, but I just always knew that's how I was going to do it. So, just before our two-year anniversary, we will begin trying to get me pregnant. Now, granted, I never thought it would be THIS planned (six months before we even want to start trying, I'm already off The Pill so my body can find its natural lunar rhythm) - but it had nothing to do with my career. It had to do with watching my parents, grandparents, and most of my aunts/uncles put all of my cousins and me through a lot of crap as they screamed, yelled, and argued, then eventually got divorced. I wasn't willing to put a kid - or myself - through that. Maybe the "Me" Generation's divorce rate had a larger impact than they would like to take credit for.

    While I know no one likes to talk about this, the mistake with the BCP is one of the main reasons safe abortions should be accessible to women - who I feel for right now if they have to go through one due to the manufacturer's mistake! Mistakes happen because humans are in charge of so much. But, the majority of my 18 years on and off The Pill were spent as an unmarried woman who would have been in a bad place had my pills failed. It frustrates me to no end to be living in a state where men and menopausal women make such inhumane and demoralizing decisions regarding something that no longer concerns them!

    Oh, and the beads, the first time I heard about beads like that was from a Catholic couple who wanted to practice family planning AND their religion. My impression was that women of the Catholic faith have been using beads like this for much longer than 11 years... But she many have been on the cutting edge of something like this, I'm not sure.

  6. @Cory, I think you are correct that our parents' generation has had a serious influence on our generation's choices regarding parenting and children. I think for many it is not so much career taking precedent and then - whoops, where did the time go, I haven't had kids. It's a conscious decision to NOT have children.

    As far as the Pill mishap - I think you're saying what a lot of us are thinking. It's an incredibly significant quality control oversight that will have far-reaching implications, and who is to say the best way for each individual woman to handle something like this?

    Interesting that you also have heard of the beads before. Maybe these have been around longer, but this group is just to first to do an actual study and get them patented. I know that Catholic families have been using Natural Family Planning methods like Fertility Awareness for a very long time, so I am not surprised to learn they also make use of these beads.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts!