When I was 14 I went to my primary doctor to discuss my irregular periods. I was not under or over weight, I exercised regularly and was an all around healthy teenager. At the end of the appointment my doctor, after making sure my mom and I agreed, wrote me a prescription for Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo. I didn’t know it yet, but that day began my seven year journey of struggling to find a form birth control that worked for me and my body.
In the U.S alone there are 60,887,000 women of childbearing age (15-44). Of those sixty million women, 27.6% use a hormonal form of birth control; 16% of the sixty million use a pill. Due to my age and the fact that “the pill” is the most common form of contraceptive, it seemed only natural that that’s the method I would try first. I was also only using the pill to regulate my periods at the time, and the pill is the best way to do so.
I used Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo for about three years. At first I was happy with it; my periods became predictable and all was right in the world. However my body did not react well to this pill at all. It was a slow transition, which is why I realized something was wrong a little too late. I gradually started to gain weight and my once thick hair became incredibly thin. I started to become incredibly tired with no explanation as to why.
By the time I was a Freshman in college I was incredibly unhappy with my appearance. I was overweight, my hair was literally falling out and was depressed. Looking back at this time in my life I’m surprised I didn’t make the connection between all my symptoms and the pill sooner. I think the straw that broke the camel’s back came when I worked out for an hour every day for two weeks and still gained two pounds. I was also religiously watching what I ate.
Enough was enough and I finally went to my gynecologist during the summer of 2014. After describing my symptoms and my experience with Ortho Tri-Cyclen my doctor decided to put on a different pill. I don’t remember why that one didn’t work, or why the next one didn’t work for me either, but eventually I was put on Lo Loestrin Fe, a pill that has the lowest dose of estrogen possible.
For a while this pill seemed like the answer. I dropped 25 pounds practically overnight. Suddenly my clothes were too big and I was starting to feel happier! Everything was great, until it wasn’t. Eventually my periods became unpredictable and my acne was starting to become unmanageable. After my fourth pill I decided I needed to try a different hormonal birth control. Clearly my body and the pill did not get along, and at 19 I was ready to try something new.
After my gynecologist at the time refused to let me try an IUD, I found a new doctor and discussed my options. We both decided that that the Paragard IUD might be my best option. The copper in the IUD works as a spermicide so there’s no need for hormones. I was thrilled to not have extra hormones inside of me, and with a five year lifespan I thought this was finally my answer.
The process of having the IUD put in was the most painful experience of my life. I somehow managed to drive home from that appointment but the rest of the day and into the night I swear I was having labor pains. I called my boyfriend up at midnight absolutely sobbing and contemplating whether or not I should go to the emergency room. At some point I fell asleep, and by the next day I felt almost back to normal.
Fast forward a month and I went in for an ultrasound just to make sure the IUD was in the right place. It wasn’t. And why would it be, nothing with me and birth control had been easy, why would that suddenly change? My doctor said she could try to put it in the right place while using the ultrasound to see exactly where the IUD was going. Desperate for this godforsaken thing to work, I agreed.
A few weeks later I hopped on a plane to England, IUD still in place, and was feeling great about life. While in England my periods became increasingly heavy and long, but knowing this was a side effect of the copper IUD, I wasn’t too concerned. When I came home from studying abroad three months later I went back to my doctor for another ultrasound. The IUD fell out of place again.
At this point the IUD had to come out and my doctor wanted to try something else. I listened to what she had to say about the Nuvaring, and after doing some research myself, I agreed to try it. Worst decision of my life. The IUD was emotionally taxing and affected so many aspects of my life. I became so irritable and hated everyone around me. My already existing social anxiety became so terrible that my boyfriend pretty much pleaded for me to go to therapy. After two sessions with a therapist I became annoyed with her and mad at Luke for making me go (he didn’t make me, but with all the hormones rushing around that’s how I felt).
I had thoughts of breaking up with him, which was something I had never experienced in our two year relationship. We had so much fun together and loved each other so much, so why on Earth did I want to break up with him? I didn’t, but the hormones sure made me think I did. Then there was one week where no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t fall asleep before 3 AM. I ended up missing classes, skipping my workouts, and becoming more irritable than I already was.
Enough was enough! Feeling frustrated and hopeless I made another appointment with my gynecologist and prayed for a miracle. At this point I think they were as sick of seeing me as I was of going to that office. Not wanting to go back to having to take a pill every day I decided that I would try a different type of IUD. The Skyla IUD is much smaller than the Paragard, only has the hormone progesterone, and is made specifically for women who haven’t had children. This sounded like everything I had ever wanted in a birth control.
After another painful insertion process, one follow up ultrasound, and a lot of Ibuprofen, I had found my miracle. It’s been a year since I had the Skyla IUD inserted and I could not be happier. I don’t have to think about taking a pill everyday, the IUD is 99.9% effective, and I’ve hardly had any side effects. In two years I’ll have to have the IUD removed, but I will absolutely have another one put in. The one day of pain is worth it considering how much frustration I’ve experienced trying to find a birth control that works for me.
Despite it being 2017, I feel as if there’s still a stigma surrounding birth control. Not many women I know talk about it, or if they do it’s with hushed tones and a sense of embarrassment. One method of birth control is not going to work for every women, and it’s worth talking to friends and family hear about their experiences. There’s no wrong reason to be on birth control or to feel embarrassed. I hope that by sharing my experience I’ve helped someone going through a similar situation or just made you think about birth control a little differently.