Welcome to 2018, where in the Western world, traditional values of marriage and child-rearing have more or less crumbled into a more casual and open-ended question than a must-have. Women (and anyone else capable of reproducing, of course) have had the onus on them to decide to have children or not. In modern times, when the question of having children comes around, western society’s norm is for after completing education and building a career. For those of us who want to focus on those things, or whatever reasons they may have, but still want enjoy sexual freedom without the risk of any unplanned pregnancies, it can be extremely frustrating that the options for birth control are so limited and predominantly female-dependent.
As a woman who is constantly bitter and frustrated at the difficulties I’ve faced finding reliable birth control with minimal side effects, I know the struggles that come with battling the health care system for opportunities, education, and options. I have been on several kinds of birth control, including two forms of the pill, Nuvaring, and now a new-line IUD called Mirena. I was someone who was constantly searching online for answers and opinions and I was hoping for some kind of medical miracle to avoid pregnancy without suffering (yes, suffering) awful side effects. I would like to offer my experiences and warnings to like-minded individuals (anyone with a uterus who doesn’t want to use it).
Let’s talk side effects. You may get the usual side-of-the-package side effects like mood swings and acne… or, in my case, heavily worsened depression and constant anger and frustration. I come pre-packaged with Major Depressive Disorder and skin-picking compulsions, so those side-effects were fun. I primarily got these side effects from the pill, and it was unbearable both to myself and to my family, who usually got the brunt of my often abusive mood swings.
Then there’s the side effects no one talks about. We’re getting gross here because I want to be honest. I’m talking about the fun vagina-related side effects. On the pill, I mainly lost my sex-drive, but I did truly love being allowed to skip my period whenever I wanted by skipping the placebo week. On Nuvaring, though, I was a literal mess. The direct administration of hormones from the ring into the vagina causes super fun side effects like unmanageable discharge and constant worry about it slipping out. It did bring back my sex drive, but having to take it out for sex was awkward. Some women will tell you that you can keep it in, but I wasn’t down for that. I was exasperated that the switch to the ring only slightly lessened my mood swings, so I turned to the IUD.
The IUD (intrauterine device) is a fun little T-shaped piece of plastic (or copper) that goes straight into your uterus. It is cited as the most effective form of birth control, and comes free of estrogen, which was the hormone that was driving me crazy. It sounds great because you get to keep it for 3 or 5 years. I’ve talked to many women who have gotten one as well, and none of them experienced what I did, so I’m hopeful for you ladies (and others) out there that want to try it that it won’t happen to you. But let’s get down to the brutal truth again.
From the moment of insertion I experienced literal agony.
First of all, opening up my cervix that whole two or three centimeters was enough to teach me that I never want to give birth. Second, I wasn’t given an analgesic to numb my cervix, so consider that if it’s an option available to you. I had my IUD inserted in May 2017, and, up until about September, I had such bad cramps that I was incapable of moving oftentimes. My uterus did not like the IUD and I experienced constant contractions, sometimes lasting hours, even several times a day. Fed up, I went to get a multitude of tests and ultrasounds done. None of them were capable of explaining why I was experiencing this pain. After an eternity, I have recently noticed that I only experience these cramps during my period (which is extremely light, but likes to stick around past its welcome), and my acne (which had gone into overdrive, along with hair growth) has finally returned to its former annoying but manageable routine. According to a lot of women I have spoken to in person and read forum replies from online, most women don’t experience nearly as much pain and often lose their period entirely. Don’t let my rare case deter you when you are looking at your options.
I’ve had good friends suggest the Depo Provera shot, but I’m kind of frightened of the side effects of that one. This is largely because once it’s in you, you can’t take it out, and you have to wait until it wears off. I have also heard some horror stories about calcium issues and bone problems, and even though I deal with serious abdominal pain every now and then at least I know I can stop that whenever I want.
On the IUD, my sex drive and mood are relatively stable, although it took a very long time to get that way. I do appreciate how reliable it has been as a form of birth control so far. But before I leave you with this information let’s talk about men. That’s right. Let’s address the fact that their form of birth control, which is wholly unreliable and uncomfortable, is free! Meanwhile I had to pay 80$ (that’s after university coverage, by the way!) to make sure that I don’t get pregnant. Also, let’s not forget there are little to no side effects with condoms, while women like me struggle with emotional beatings and uncomfortable physical consequences from whatever form of BC I’m on.Condoms can also be very unreliable (if you know, you know, and if you don’t then that’s fab). It’s high time that science catches up with the new Western values of those of us who are bound and determined to wait a while (or forever) to have children.
When looking for birth control, please make sure you load yourself up on pamphlets, forum opinions, and advice from sexual health experts. Pay attention to the side effects and try to find one that will work best for you. Be patient; it may take a while to find what works for you, but don’t give up!