I make it no secret that I am a feminist. I have a Women’s March on Chicago sweatshirt that I proudly wore while marching down Michigan Avenue, I am minoring in Women’s and Gender Studies, talk of promoting intersectionality is music to my ears, and when you walk inside my apartment, the first thing you see is a huge Rosie the Riveter poster hanging from the wall. Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden are the only white haired male politicians I truly trust with my safety, and I think America owes Eleanor Roosevelt waaayyyy more credit than we give her. Michelle Obama is my fashion icon, and I want to be as eloquent as Oprah someday.
I am also a huge proponent in increasing the availability of birth control medications for any human who needs it, regardless of reason. Whether someone uses it to have lots of sex or to treat painful menstruation or anemia or endometriosis or cystic acne makes no difference to me. It’s a decision made between a patient and their doctor, and meddling in other people’s business is to me a cardinal sin. It’s not your body, so it’s not your decision as to what goes inside it or what doesn’t.
The following story is a cautionary tale.
When I was 18, I was prescribed birth control medication to help alleviate the immensely heavy periods I had been enduring ever since I turned 13 or so. When they tell you “it will get better eventually” in regards to the baby shark gnawing at your uterus and feeling as if you are continuously pissing blood for five days, tell them to kindly shut their mouths because it just doesn’t work that way. And so, I began taking The Illustrious Pill precisely as the instructions directed, and soon everything began to feel so much better. I no longer needed immense amounts of ibuprofen, and the red Niagara Falls was replaced with a mild, leaky faucet. And I was so happy. I hated menstruating. I had despised playing sports with that red muck gushing out of me, frantic that somehow it would leak through my loose Phys Ed shorts, drip down my leg, and stain my poor converse. I had been mortified that someone would somehow notice that a bumpy, bulky pad was stuck in between my legs. I had cried at the thought of leaving a pool of red on my classroom chair. I still hate menstruating, but birth control makes it so much less strenuous on my mind and body. Now it’s just weird goopy stuff that comes out for 3 days. It does not hurt. I barely feel a thing. All good.
And then one day, it was brought to my attention that quite possibly the migraine headaches I have been suffering from since I was around 15 or so could be greatly alleviated if I switched to a non estrogen birth control. I was promised that it would do all the same wonderful things as my original medicine, with the added bonus of less headaches and a decreased stroke risk. Great, I thought, I can now kill two (demonic) birds with one stone!
Oh, so very WRONG.
For starters, 50% of humans taking the “mini pill” (the nickname for non estrogen birth control medicine) bleed twice in a month. After sobbing to my doctor and swearing that there was no way I could possibly handle bleeding every two weeks, he told me not to worry and to just wait and see. Fine. Whatever, Doctor No-Vagina. You have the medical degree, not I. He also knew about my taking antidepressants to anti my depression and anxiety, but he never mentioned any possibility for a reaction or warning signs to look out for.
And so, on a mundane Sunday morning, I opened the new package of new birth control pills, and popped the first one into my mouth. Nothing special or remarkable. No big deal.
But by the following Sunday, I was a mess.
For starters, not only was I one of the lucky 50% who got to menstruate more than once a month, but apparently, this new birth control completely canceled out my antidepressants. I remember I had begun spotting on Friday night, fighting tears on my way back from the bathroom and smiling at my friends despite the panic swelling inside my lungs. Then Saturday, I had zero appetite, immense difficulty concentrating, and I sobbed for absolutely no reason, twice. So on Sunday, I was pretty much immobile, curled into a miserably depressed ball, waiting for my OBGYN’s office to open Monday morning so I could call and sob into their telephone instead of my couch cushions. Having these satanic pills cancel out my saintly, pretty, soft blue antidepressants was one of the most debilitating sensations I have ever felt while in college. I knew why I was switched - to prevent strokes and alleviate migraines ー two very important things. But I would have never agreed to trade that miniscule risk or occasional brain pain for what I had to sit through that lonely January weekend. So I cried, ashamed of my brain and my body for screwing up so badly, nervous to tell anyone in fear of being dismissed and laughed at. I know that my friends are the kindest, most sincere humans I have ever known, and that they would have absolutely done anything to comfort me, but the anxious depression monster that had been unleashed was pouring immense irrationality inside my head.
Eventually, I got a hold of my doctor and convinced them to switch me back to my original prescription. Technically, it’s not the best option for me, but the alternative is far more unbearable. My doctor told me what happened was so rare it’s usually nonsensical to put much thought into the possibility, but nevertheless, it hit me hard.
Currently, the United States allocates enormously excessive funds towards funding male erectile dysfunction medications, instead of say, new birth control medication with less side effects and or researching why certain bodies react so terribly to certain medicines. Abstaining from sex is pretty doable in comparison; it’s impossible to convince your uterus not to viciously alter your mood, energy levels, neurotransmitters, or appetite.
Currently, the fight to defund the distribution and research of birth control rampages through the White House, with little to no consideration for people like me who really need it. You can yell at Congressmen, you can yell at the GOP, but unfortunately you can’t really yell at an internal organ to please, for the love of God, behave itself for once.
I must say that I am privileged to have good insurance and a good socioeconomic status that allowed me to switch my medication effortlessly. It was ready to be picked up at Walgreens the following day. In this sense, I am a very lucky person.
However, due to the bits and pieces that my body, along with millions of other bodies have inside, we are immensely limited in choice for medical care in this society that is more focused on fixing “other issues”. Maybe if all that energy was redistributed to creating better medicine with less side effects, I would not be typing this article. Maybe if money was poured into researching reproductive health and women’s health and mental health, I would not be typing this. Maybe if humans were given better sex education courses in high school and college, we would be more aware of possible side effects and warnings. Maybe if health class actually provided factual information for every organ in our bodies, we could make better, more informed decisions. Maybe if society was less cruel and judgemental, I would not have published this article anonymously.