Taken from the July/August 2013 issue of The Women's Health Activist Newsletter.
Yaz is an oral contraceptive that contains the progestin drospirenone; (other similar brands include Yasmin, Beyaz, and Safyral, and several generic versions). Like many other contraceptives, the pills deliver a combination of estrogen and progestin; drospirenone is just a newer generation of progestin than that used in other combination pills. What’s different is that women who take drospirenone-containing pills appear to be more likely to get blood clots than women who use other oral contraceptives.
Megan has designed a knitted hat pattern in Melissa’s memory, and is generously donating the proceeds from its sale to support the NWHN’s work on women’s health. Heidi Gider, the NWHN’s Director of Advancement, spoke with Megan about her work with the knitting community to honor her sister and educate women about drug safety.
Tell me about Melissa and how your hat project came about.
My sister Melissa (affectionately called “Melly”) was a fun-loving, quick-to-laugh, caring and generous soul. She was a forester, who loved to play in the woods and hug trees. She was never a fan of doing her hair, and often wore a hat. A few weeks before she died, Melly went to New York City and saw “Wicked” — a song from the musical, “For Good,” was featured at her funeral. In remembrance, I designed a hat that I would love to knit and be able to give to her, with a note that says: “Dearest Melly, because I knew you, I have been changed FOR GOOD!”
How did you get involved with the National Women’s Health Network?
We — my family and I — strongly believe that my sister’s death was caused by her birth control. She died of a blood clot — a pulmonary embolism. Designing the hat for her was part of my grieving process. I wanted the proceeds from selling the hat pattern to benefit women’s health and an organization that would be a responsible overseer of that money. My brother, who is familiar with non-profit organizations, suggested that I look at Charity Navigator and search for “women’s health” organizations. The NWHN has a 4-star rating [on Charity Navigator].1 I visited the NWHN web site and immediately saw that it also has a focus on dangerous drugs.
What is the connection between women’s health issues and knitting?
Knitting has a rich tradition and its predominantly women who knit. Knitting is a community-based and social activity. There is also a strong oral tradition in knitting: women having conversations with other women, and using knitting as an opportunity to share with one another. Knitting also has a long history of charitable actions — “knit and donate” — that includes knitting caps for premature babies to making blankets for shelter animals. My aim was simple: for people to knit this hat, then give it to their sister, their aunt, their friend, their loved one, and make sure they get information about contraceptive safety. Make sure they get the story.
Tell me about your sister and how she felt about drug safety and women’s health?
My sister was incredibly healthy: she was a collegiate-level athlete, a non-smoker who always used homeopathic remedies when available. She wouldn’t have taken anything she didn’t think was safe. I thought birth control was safe; she thought her birth control was safe. But, there were risks. We trusted the drug companies; we believed the drug companies. I don’t want anyone else’s sister to have this happen to them.
I didn’t know, and many women do not know, that these drugs are dangerous. Just because a drug is prescribed or available on the market does not necessarily mean it’s safe. You should not assume that a drug is safe; you should talk to your medical provider. And, I would also suggest talking to other women to find out about their experiences. Women have to make their own decisions about the drugs they take.
There are safer alternatives with fewer risks — but there is a lack of information provided to patients. Resources like the NWHN can help because it shares science-based information about dangerous drugs on its web site. Reading that, I knew that I was not as informed about this issue as I could be.
What would you like to see change about drug safety and women’s health?
I threw a rock in the water, and the ripple went out. When I began telling people about my sister through my web site (www.stockinettezombies.com) and podcast, people really responded. They had never heard of the risks with taking Yaz. Ultimately, what I learned in this process is we are responsible for our own health. I don’t want to tell people what to do. I want people to have information and to ask questions. Drugs have interactions that are not known. I believe there are drugs out there that are unsafe, and the NWHN believes this as well. If we put all our support together and get together, we can be the voice of change.
To learn more about contraceptive safety, visit the NWHN website and check out articles like “Contraceptive Safety Conversations — What’s a Responsible Feminist To Do?” at https://nwhn.org/newsletter/node/1401.
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1. Charity Navigator “works to advance a more efficient and responsive philanthropic marketplace by evaluating the Financial Health and Accountability and Transparency of 6,000 of America's largest charities.” Charities are rated with 0-4 stars on a scale where 0 stars indicates the charity “Performs far below industry standards and below nearly all charities in its Cause;” and 4 stars indicates the charity “Exceeds industry standards and outperforms most charities in its Cause.” Learn more at www.charitynavigator.org.