Dear Birth Control: It’s Not Me, It’s You.

Note: This article reflects only my specific opinions and unique medical history. As I am not a doctor or health professional, I do not intend to grant genuine medical advice. Please refer to a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have! 

 

When deciding to go on birth control during the fall of my senior year of high school, I imagined a magic pill that would solve all my problems. My skin would be clearer, my periods would be lighter, my cramps would go away, and any potential (though circumstantially, extremely unlikely) fears of teen pregnancy would be assuaged. When I went to the doctor for my annual checkup, she prescribed me the pill and I picked up a three month supply at the pharmacy the next day. It was quick, easy, painless, and most importantly to my anxious teenage self, completely judgment-free. 

For the next two years, I took the tiny blue pill at 10 PM every night with little to no side effects. My skin was thriving, my periods were light, and my cramps were nonexistent. This pill was Tri-Lo-Estarylla, a brand of the generic prescription of ethinyl estradiol and norgestimate. My trusty Tri-Lo-Estarylla was a constant in my life through stressful college applications and ecstatic acceptances, high school graduation, my first two years at Yale, and even a summer abroad. Birth control was one aspect of a busy life that I never had to question.

That is, until everything changed. When I came home from Europe, my mom had picked up for me my next three month supply of birth control. I noticed that it was a different brand: Tri-Lo-Sprintec. I didn’t think much of it when I saw that the basic ingredients of ethinyl estradiol and norgestimate were the same. However, this would prove to be a nightmare in a tiny pink package.

Over the second half of this summer, things started to go wrong. My skin was breaking out more than usual, but I figured it was due to the summer heat making me sweat more than usual. I had gained 10 pounds, but my clothes still fit and I looked about the same. These I could deal with. What I couldn’t deal with, however, was the crippling depression and anxiety that hit me like a brick. Although I was home with my family, every day felt like an insurmountable challenge. I was wracked with jitters one hour and a deep, untraceable sadness the next. I cried multiple times a day, I snapped at my friends and family, and I dreaded doing just about anything. 

The scariest part was that I didn’t realize just how bad I felt. My mom was the first person to point out that something was wrong, and she suggested that birth control was a potential culprit. Suddenly, it made sense. The only different thing in my life was the Tri-Lo-Sprintec. But how could this be? It was the exact same prescription as Tri-Lo-Estarylla, but with a different name and packaging— right? 

Wrong.

I spoke to my doctor, and she told me that different birth control brands, though containing the same active ingredients, can be slightly different in composition. She told me that different brands affect different people differently— and that I should steer clear of Tri-Lo-Sprintec for good. 

Easy, I thought. I’ll just go back to Tri-Lo-Estarylla. 

Wrong again.

Apparently, Tri-Lo-Estarylla is suffering from a national backorder. Its manufacturer apparently is no longer producing the pill, to the dismay of thousands of people like me who depend on it to literally not ruin their bodies like other pills might. The pharmacy said I had to choose another brand of ethinyl estradiol and norgestimate, so I decided to do some research.

What I found was terrifying. When I looked at online prescription review websites, I realized that each brand of ethinyl estradiol and norgestimate had countless reviews written by people claiming that the pill brought them the same symptoms it brought me: skin problems, weight gain, and crippling mental health problems. The average consumer rating for each brand of pill, including my lord and savior Tri-Lo-Estarylla, was about a 5 out of 10. 

What are we supposed to do when the birth control our insurance provides us with literally cripples our bodies and minds? What are we supposed to do when the one pill that works for us goes out of stock? Because many people use birth control for health reasons, simply “going off the pill” is not an option. 

I’m currently taking another brand of ethinyl estradiol and norgestimate that, thankfully, does not make me feel as horrible. However, my skin is still angry and my periods are still more painful than they were when I was on Tri-Lo-Estarylla. Every month after switching to my current brand, my period comes about five days early— and lasts, unfortunately, for over a week. 

Whether these current symptoms are because of the birth control or other factors, I can’t be sure. However, I sometimes ask myself if I feel any better than I did before starting the pill in the first place. As an almost 21 year old woman, I can hardly remember what my adolescent Life Before the Pill was like.

The moral of the story is this: if you feel like something is wrong, there probably is. It’s not your fault. It’s not something to be ashamed of, either. Birth control is a physical necessity to many people, and it’s not fair that so many people have to go through leaps and bounds to try to find an option that does not keep us from functioning. 

Ultimately, I am lucky in that I have health insurance and a family doctor who I can go to with these concerns. I am lucky that I have the opportunity to try different pills. I am immensely privileged in this way. Others aren’t. 

 

This needs to change.