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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am in the military, stationed overseas. My girlfriend, to whom I have been engaged for almost a year, recently came to visit me. One evening I went into her purse to get a pen and came across a package of birth control pills.

We are not having intercourse, so I asked her why she needed them. She claimed that many women her age (27) take the pill for health reasons -- she used some medical terms that I didn't understand.

My ex-wife used to tell me that the pill caused many side effects, so many women avoided it.

Abby, I caught my girlfriend cheating once before, so naturally I am having doubts about her.

I am also confused about the pill issue. Is she trying to pull the wool over my eyes? She had an abortion five years ago. Does that justify her taking the pill? She also takes prenatal pills for "iron," she says.

Please answer soon. I'm going out of my mind with these doubts. -- SUSPICIOUS

DEAR SUSPICIOUS: Your girlfriend could be telling you the truth. According to William E. Merritt III, M.D., OB-GYN, T.H.E. (To Help Everyone) Clinic, and Sydney Hardy, community health educator, UCLA Family Planning Center, women take the pill for a variety of reasons, and in much lower doses than they did years ago when birth control pills caused significant side effects for some women.

Today, many doctors follow the theory that if one takes the pill long enough, it may reduce the risk of ovarian cancer. The pill also helps to regulate menstrual periods, reduces or eliminates severe menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhea), and reduces severe bleeding.

Although prenatal vitamins are most frequently prescribed for pregnant women, some physicians prescribe them for patients who are not pregnant, and later switch the patient to regular iron supplements.

I hope this puts to rest some of your concerns so that you can work on your real problem: the lack of trust between you and your girlfriend since you caught her cheating. Unless you are confident that what she tells you is true, yours is an engagement that should NOT end in marriage.

DEAR ABBY: You began your column just as I began my marriage (in 1956), and I have been a daily reader ever since. I've often taken your advice, and I'd like you to know how your influence has enriched my life.

I married a bright, ambitious young man who was determined to succeed. Poor, and with no financial assistance at the time of our marriage, neither I nor my husband had a college education. My husband began taking evening classes, and within a few years, was on the upward track with a world-class organization.

During our fourth year of marriage, around the time our second child was born, my husband decided to study law. I tended to home and babies. He became immersed in experiences beyond my understanding, and I became concerned for our marriage.

Right around that time, you wrote that marriages were most successful when spouses grew together, not apart. You challenged one reader to match her husband's career achievements. So, at the age of 33, when our children were school age, I decided to enroll in college.

Over the next 26 years, I earned a bachelor's degree, a master's degree and a Ph.D. in educational administration. My marriage, education and career have enriched my life, and my husband has been proud to involve me in his professional career.

As we begin our 50th year of marriage, he refers to us as "Dr. and Mr." A lot of this is your "fault," Abby. Thanks.

If you print my letter, please don't use my name. Sign me ... DOCTOR, WIFE AND MOTHER, ROSEVILLE, CALIF.

DEAR DOCTOR, WIFE AND MOTHER: I can't say enough for continuing education for adults.

Letters like yours make my job doubly rewarding. Thank you for letting me know I've been a positive influence in your life. It made my day!

To receive a collection of Abby's most memorable -- and most frequently requested -- poems and essays, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby's "Keepers," P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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