Joe Malone and David Rowan have each experienced the unthinkable: the loss of a child. Their daughters Brittany Malone and Alex Rowan were both 23-year-old recent college graduates when they suddenly died due to complications from hormonal birth control.
Brittany died in December of 2012 of a deep venous thrombosis (DVT), a blood clot in a major blood vessel, caused by the contraceptive NuvaRing. She collapsed after an evening out with her sisters and was declared brain dead three days later. According to her father, “Her death diagnosis was acute respiratory failure, diffuse pulmonary hemorrhage, diffuse venous thromboembolism with deep venous thrombosis, [and] severe anoxic brain damage.”
Alex collapsed in 2013 on the landing in her apartment building after grocery shopping. Six hours later, she was dead. She suffered a massive pulmonary embolism — a blood clot in the lungs. Pulmonary embolisms are a known side effect of the birth control pill, which Alex was using for contraception. Both young women had minimal or no symptoms in the days leading up to their deaths.
In order to “educate other women and families about the very real risks associated with hormonal contraceptives and the incredible lack of data and information available to women to make an informed choice,” Malone developed BirthControlSafety.org, to which Rowan is a contributor. According to research cited on the website, 1,500 women will die of a pulmonary embolism due to the birth control pill, patch, or NuvaRing in the United States each year. “A woman is 4-10 times more likely to develop a potentially fatal blood clot if she uses [the] pill, patch, or ring than if she uses an IUD or an implant,” according to the site. Stories of dozens of women who experienced a serious injury or even death due to complications of hormonal birth control are can be found on the site.
Rowan also launched the Alexandra L. Rowan Memorial Foundation in his daughter’s honor. The foundation funds research into pulmonary embolisms because research has revealed newer generations of birth control pills actually increase the risk of pulmonary embolism. The foundation also seeks to establish a protocol for utilizing a screening test or vetting program that could help to identify the women most at risk for embolism so they can make an educated decision about whether to use hormonal birth control. The Foundation has also partnered with the National Blood Clot Alliance to raise awareness about the connection between contraception and blood clots.
“By the drug company’s own data, if you’re taking hormonal birth control, you have a 1 in 12,000 chance of dropping dead,” Rowan said in a Period Party podcast interview in 2019. Furthermore, he noted that most women are not screened for a known blood clotting disorder that significantly raises their risk of developing a pulmonary embolism prior to being prescribed hormonal birth control. “If you have something called the Factor V Leiden mutation, you’re eight times more likely to develop a blood clot on birth control than not… So, your 1 in 12,000 rate goes down significantly, then it becomes a very real risk,” he said.
Brittany and Alex were not the first young women to die of complications from hormonal birth control, and unfortunately, they were also not the last. Women deserve to know the root causes of their various reproductive system issues, plan their families, and monitor their fertility and overall health in ways that respect and even restore the natural rhythms of their bodies. Evidence-based fertility awareness methods of family planning offer all of this, without hormonal birth control’s potentially devastating side effects.
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