This article is a part of the “I Heart My Birth Control” series that describes personal accounts of women and their birth control methods. These wonderful sheroes share their journey to finding the best option for their unique lives. If you’d like to contribute a piece, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contacts. Gummies. Teeth. Pill.
Contacts. Gummies. Teeth. Pill.
For an extreme type-A personality (ahem, me), this is more than a simple morning routine — it’s a comforting ritual. I carefully insert my contact lenses then chew a few gummy vitamins as the world comes into focus before brushing the chompers. Then, I pop a pill. Sometimes it’s pale yellow, other days it’s blue. But it always rounds out the ritual.
I’ve been taking oral contraceptives for about ten years now. Allowing me to have a happy, fulfilling sex life while keeping an unwanted pregnancy at bay has naturally been a huge plus. They’ve also made my period tamer, trimming it down to about three days and commanding a clockwork-like predictability. And cramps – what cramps?
This wasn’t always the case. Growing up, “that time of the month” had always been an intense event heralded by severe cramping that left me curled up in a ball clutching a heating pad. My mood swings were terrible, oscillating between anger and anxiety. The unpredictability didn’t help either. Whenever I felt a rumbling in my abdomen my already anxiety-prone middle school self would obsess over the impending pain and frantically down Advil to head off the onslaught.
This went on for years.
I grew accustomed to dreading my period and resigned myself to the monthly pain. But after I went to college, some of these issues became more pronounced. While the cramps continued in their intensity, the mood swings got worse. I wasn’t just angry or sad. I was lethargic, unmotivated, bitter. And these feelings lasted longer and longer, started earlier and earlier. I became despondent, withdrew from my surroundings. I felt small and out of control, a victim of pain and emotions that were unwelcome tenants in my body.
Everything sort of poured out while I was home for a fall study break. I revealed how much hurt I was in and my mother immediately took me to the doctor. I still remember twisting the crinkly, starched paper of the examination table into knots in my nervousness. The doctor listened to me carefully then wrote out a prescription for a birth control pill and a short course of antidepressants. I don’t know what I was expecting — maybe a hyper powerful super Advil? — but it certainly wasn’t this.
Being an uptight, type-A person, I resorted to my natural state when faced with the unknown: utter panic.
A million questions raced through my mind. I didn’t even have a boyfriend, why did I need birth control? Would I have to take pills forever? Why was I broken? The terror must have shown on my face, because the doctor took my hand and forced me to look in her eyes while she explained.
“We’re gonna get your hormones under control and that’s going to help,” she said. “The cramps should be better. You won’t feel so sad. In the meantime, I want you to take these anti-depressants to help you now. You don’t have to feel like this. We’ll figure this out.”
And you know what? She was right. We did. It took a few tries with different versions of the pill, but when it clicked, it clicked. I weaned off the anti-depressants shortly thereafter, and while I wouldn’t say I was tampon ad-happy about getting my period, not dreading it was a great start. The unexpected consequence of all this was to give me greater autonomy over my own reproductive health. I gained a deeper understanding of my body, how complex it was, and how everything is connected. It also gave me a deeper respect for healthcare professionals — and a deep resentment of those who would interfere with their recommendations, i.e. when people try to argue against insurance covering birth control by saying, “Why should I have to pay for you to have sex?” I have to stifle the urge to punch them in the face (the pill doesn’t make all the anger issues disappear it seems).
And of course, the solution I found with my doctor is just that — the solution that works for me. Each body has its own rhythms and hormonal makeup. But I wish I could go back to my middle school self — and to any young girl enduring this — and tell her that you don’t need to feel this way. Reach out to a health care provider or someone you trust. Pain (emotional or physical) is not the default.
Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.