Disclaimer: below is my personal experience on different forms of contraception. Anyone with their own concerns should seek help from a trained health professional.
March 2020 is when England descended into lockdown; as a result, it labelled as a doomsday of sorts for many people. For me, March was the beginning of a different horror story. It’s the month I went on to the contraceptive implant.
When I started looking at my birth control options, I followed in the footsteps of millions of women before me. I booked an appointment with my doctor and listened to the tired sounding script that warned me about blood clots, headaches and irregular bleeding. I nodded without questioning that, to have worry-free sex, I’d have to make other sacrifices with my body.
The effects of the implant happened almost immediately; I bled continuously for what sometimes lasted weeks.
Although I observed the physical changes happening to my body after the implant, I didn’t notice the forces at work inside my mind. I started feeling depressed and more anxious than my usual self, a change that happened subtly. I’d previously struggled with my mental health, so I blamed the decline of my mental wellbeing on a sudden increase in anxiety. I turned into a person I could no longer recognise and wasn’t able to support myself emotionally. I had become numb to feeling any happiness and found it difficult to pick myself after the smallest of setbacks.
Around Christmas, I decided to call up my doctors because of the non-stop bleeding I’d been experiencing. They recommended that I temporarily take the mini pill to sort out the problem I was having. But, after a while, I started getting headaches, so I stopped taking it.
The short time I was on the pill, I noticed that I’d started to feel happier and brighter. I decided to research the positive and negative effects contraception can have on women’s mental health.
It was a stranger on a mumsnet forum who helped me. I came across her story on a Google search that resembled something like, “Does the implant make you feel angry?”. Her experience was very similar to mine. I almost cried with the relief I felt discovering I might not be this awful person I thought I was.
I put all my efforts into deciphering the complicated medical language in research papers that explored the side effects of hormonal birth control. Eventually, I came across a much more accessible piece of literature called, How the Pill Changes Everything, by Dr Sarah Hill.
Hill revolutionised my understanding of birth control. One message that has stuck with me is that, “ Our sex hormones influence billions of cells throughout our bodies — including a huge number of them in the brain — meaning that the effects of the pill on who women are likely to echo throughout their bodies from head to toe […]. You are a different person on the birth control pill than you are when you’re off the pill. And there’s no bigger deal than this.”
Once I’d started to make more thoughtful decisions, about what was best for my mind and body, I decided to have the implant removed — almost exactly a year after having it put in. I now feel a million times better; I’m happier and more excited about life than before — plus my sex drive has shot back up!
I think schools and doctors could teach girls and women more about the mood changes that may occur on hormonal contraception. A mental health survey in England found that 1 in 5 women reported having a common mental health problem. Therefore, it’s essential more is done to help improve mental wellbeing; not to forget the additional challenges women belonging to minority groups face.
I’m very much undecided about whether I will try another form of hormonal birth control. For now, I’m happy to give my body a break by letting it function without the influence of synthetic hormones.
Recently, I’ve been interested in trying a non-hormonal form of contraception. However, the most effective option (the copper coil) involves a procedure that I find invasive. I’m considering asking any future male partners to handle the burden of birth control, such as a reversible vasectomy. Its unfair women are expected to take sole responsibility for the consequences of sex. Asking men to shoulder some of that responsibility should become more normalised.
I hope I can help add to a conversation that better informs women about the potential side effects of hormonal contraception. Access to this knowledge will help women put an end to feeling uncomfortable in their bodies.
As Dr Sarah Hill writes, “ the issue of birth control for women is not solved”. Whilst it’s liberated many women by allowing us to have control over what path our lives take, there’s still room for progress. When equipped with all the information, we will have the power to demand better birth control options for both women and men.
Words by Jasmine Edge
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