IUDs, Pills, and Condoms – Oh My!

Birth control is not a very fun subject. For most women, you’re sort of given a method that works for a lot people, told “good luck” and sent on your merry way. Or maybe that was just me?

When I was 14, I had bad acne, and I mean BAD. I wasn’t sexually active but my mom knew that hormonal birth control sometimes helps people with skin problems, so off we went to the doctor. I went on the pill and that was that. I didn’t have a whole lot of agency over that decision. My natural periods were REALLY heavy, and I don’t think that was even discussed in that initial appointment about going on the pill. “How is this going to affect me? Do I have other options for my skin than just throwing some hormones at it? I have a genetic predisposition to depression – how does that all interact?” were all questions that as an adult, I would know to ask (and hopefully be confident enough to) – but as a young teenager, I had no clue.

When you’ve never been on medication (other than insulin) before, it’s hard to realistically judge how it’s affecting you. Especially when you’re in middle school, and especially when you have super heavy periods and acne that you’re much more focused on. I stayed on the pill until about 2 weeks ago. That’s 7 years on a birth control method that realistically I didn’t understand anything about. I had several different primary careĀ  doctors in between the person who prescribed it to me and present day, and not once in that 7 year period did anyone check in about the birth control method. I recognize that I could have asked, could have brought it up. But I didn’t really know what it was that I should be asking.

Over the past several years, I gained weight. I have tried a lot of methods to shake off that weight, and my body always met me with resistance. In other words, the way that I eat does not align with the weight my body holds on to. It has been insanely frustrating and honestly can really get me down. I’m eating healthily, I’m moving my body – why am I still at the weight that I am? It didn’t even occur to me that it could have something to with the pill until about a month ago, when I stumbled upon a post detailing one woman’s experience with going off of hormonal birth control after several years on it. In that post, she detailed her experience of not being properly educated on what her medication was and what it’s effects on her body would be. Sounds… familiar.

I dug a little deeper, and found more and more chronicles of women finding their education on their own medication through community forums on the internet rather than through medical professionals. Stories of doctors denying the side effects their patients came to them with, stories of doctors not believing their patients at all about what they were going through, or offering alternatives. There are alternatives, a few of which have proven to be more effective than the pill. Why aren’t we being told about them?

I’m not here to advocate going against what medical professionals say, not in the slightest. I’m just here to advocate for being informed about all your options before making a decision, and I’m here to advocate being involved in decisions about your own health.

I did some more research. I found so many anecdotal experiences of women gaining weight on the pill, experiencing hair loss, depression, changes in libido – the list goes on. And yet, these side effects aren’t accepted as scientific consequences of hormonal birth control. They are accepted as individual experiences (which of course, everyone’s bodies will respond differently to a medication) even though the vast majority of women on hormonal birth control have experienced at least one nasty side effect.

I still wanted to be on some kind of birth control because I like the peace of mind that comes with it. But I wanted to see what would happen without being on hormones. After all, my entire adult life to date has been spent on hormones. I tried to go into it without any expectations. Though it would be nice if going off the pill solved all my problems, it didn’t seem like a reasonable hope. If I wanted to be completely off hormones, my options were a little limited. There’s of course the physical methods (condoms, diaphragms, pulling out), but those all require a certain amount of presence of mind as well as a higher risk of accidental pregnancy. I started looking into the copper IUD (AKA ParaGard). My first thought was WHY HASN’T ANYONE TOLD ME ABOUT THIS?!

The copper IUD is straight up magic. You can keep it for up to 12 years, eliminating the cost of refilling prescriptions, the stress of taking a daily pill, and of course – the hormones. It’s one of the most effective birth control methods with an efficacy rate of over 99% (compared to the pill’s 91%). The only side effect that is scientifically as well as anecdotally documented is some heavy bleeding with your periods. Sounded pretty manageable to me.

I got the copper IUD inserted about 2 weeks ago. Though some of the literature the doctor’s office provided warned otherwise, the insertion was seamless. It definitely wasn’t comfortable, but it was only about as bad as a nasty period cramp. And so far, it has been a breeze. My skin has actually gotten better, my body seems to be loosening its hold on the extra weight, and as so many other women have reported, it feels like a cloud over my mental state has been lifted. Almost like an “I can see clearly now, the rain is gone” moment. What’s crazy is that I didn’t even realize that that cloudy feeling and the acne I had throughout high school and beyond could even be related to the birth control. It didn’t so much as occur to me, because I’d been on it for so long with no real frame of reference for what my mind and body were like without it.

Everyone in the world has a different body (duh). Everyone will react differently to different medications and methods. This post wasn’t meant to bash oral birth control, far from it. I just had this experience that shook up my whole world (in the best way) and it made me ponder how the healthcare system treats women’s concerns. Medication is not a one-size-fits-all thing, and it can’t be treated as one.

I encourage you to do your own research, reach your own conclusions, and advocate for yourself accordingly, in all situations. Be safe, have fun, advocate for your own wellbeing, and don’t get pregnant on accident. xoxo

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