The Negative Side Effects of Birth Control

I’ve read a lot of articles about birth control and how great it is. While I don’t dispute that it can be a great thing, I want to spend a little time looking at the potentially bad side effects of birth control.

Two weeks ago, I had my left ovary removed due to a large dermoid cyst that had effectively destroyed it. Due to the cyst, I could barely eat because I was so nauseated from the pressure it was putting on my stomach, and I was in a lot of pain. This meant that I had to have surgery, called an oophorectomy, very quickly. In fact, the surgery was scheduled within three days, with the final confirmation happening less than 24 hours before I had to be at the hospital.

While my doctor assured me that hopefully I will have no long-term impacts as a result of only having one ovary, it’s been a difficult adjustment. While I don’t regret having this surgery—it was a long time coming; this was my second surgery because of the same ovary—I do wish that the doctors had been able to save my ovary. It feels like a big deal to have one less ovary.

It feels like such a big deal because of the emphasis placed on women and our ability to have children. I have never given that emphasis much thought before because I have never had to seriously consider the what-ifs about my own ability to have a child. But coming out of surgery I felt damaged, like I had lost an essential part of who I am. The ability to procreate is an important part of what makes a woman a woman, in every society. Think about it. As children, girls are given baby dolls to play with. We play house, we pretend to be mothers to our dolls, and we are encouraged to think about having children. Of course, women are so much more than this. But it is a pervasive, systemic belief.

So how does birth control play into this? First off, my problems with ovarian cysts started shortly after I got the copper, or non-hormonal IUD. Now most IUDs (both the hormonal and the non-hormonal ones) cause little or no side effects in the majority of people. But, there is research that has found that they can cause ovarian cysts in some women. There’s no way to know if it will happen to you, so it’s kind of a gamble. After my first surgery didn’t solve the cyst problem, my doctor recommended pulling the IUD in the hope that in my case, that was the cause of my cysts.

Unfortunately, I already had a new cyst growing that wasn’t going to go away. This is the cyst that eventually destroyed my left ovary.

I have taken a hormonal birth control pill many times, before the IUD, while on the IUD and after I had it removed, to see if that would help get rid of my cysts. This did not work, and led to a whole host of other problems, such as pelvic pain and vulvodynia, that have me seeing a physical therapist (yes, they have physical therapists for vaginas!).

Today, I am not on birth control. My body has rejected everything. I experienced severe depression on every pill I ever took (there is evidence that birth control pills can cause depression!), I had a period for almost a year when I had the implant, I started getting cysts with the IUD, and I eventually lost one of my ovaries. For my body, birth control has not been a good thing.

In many cases, birth control is a great thing. It helps women in a lot of different ways besides just preventing pregnancy, and I support it completely. However, I wish I had listened to my body sooner. I have no idea if things would have turned out differently if I had, because I could have still ended up with these problems. What is important is that women know the risks of taking birth control, and listen to their bodies when using it. While birth control is great, it is a medicine, and in the case of IUDs and the implant, it means inserting foreign objects into your body. That can be pretty scary. So, before you commit to anything—be it the pill, an IUD, an implant, the shot—make sure you know all the side effects, and all the symptoms to look for to know if something is wrong.