I can sum up my feelings on birth control, in general, with this one simple sentence:
I don’t like it.
When I was 18, I was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). It’s a hormone imbalance that causes weight gain, acne, facial hair, and diabetes, of which I (thankfully) have none.* What it means for me is that I don’t ovulate regularly and may have difficulty getting pregnant. I suppose we have seen that the latter isn’t true of me, either, given that most doctors won’t start fertility treatments on a couple until they’ve been unsuccessfully trying to get pregnant for at least a year, and Doug and I got pregnant after eight months. This, too, is a relief, and I was reassured by one of my many doctors that PCOS does not increase one’s chance of miscarriage – so I can’t blame my miscarriage on my syndrome.
Following this diagnosis, I was put on the pill before even losing my virginity, and remained on it for six years. Besides regulating my periods, the pill gave me bigger boobs and an irritable bowel, which eventually got so bad, I stopped eating altogether. (It was a nutritionist who finally suggested that it might be my birth control, not unknown food allergies, causing all my digestive problems, and she was right: as soon as I quit the pill, I felt a thousand percent better.)
Since stopping the pill, now four years ago, I’ve read several articles my mom has clipped out for me on its other wonderful side effects; ironically included is the possibility that taking the pill long-term can affect a woman’s fertility long-term and increase the risk of miscarriage. (The experts are conflicted on this one, and I choose to believe that the two years between my pill use and my failed pregnancy was a long enough span that we can rule out any major connections.)
What I do like to blame on the pill, however, besides countless hours locked in the bathroom, is my failed marriage. I found out a little too late that the birth control pill can actually affect who we’re attracted to, and therefore it’s no small wonder that I can’t for the life of me figure out what I saw in my ex-husband, and that Doug is his exact and perfect opposite.
Needless to say, when confronted with the reality that I would need to take measures to prevent another pregnancy, the pill was a non-option. So were the shot, the patch, the ring, and all other forms of hormonal birth control. So, for that matter, were condoms and diaphragms, because I know myself too well and couldn’t be trusted to use them, whether because I hate interrupting the moment, or because really, all I want is to be pregnant. Which left us with what option? Pull and pray?
I left the practice that had seen me through my pregnancy, praising the midwives and damning the doctors on my way out the door, and found some good doctors to start fresh with. My new OBGYN recommended and inserted Mirena, which, in its tiny little frame, contains a small amount of hormones that will spread itself out over five years. (I feel that this is an accurate description of myself, as well – Mirena and I are delightfully small, and delightfully low-hormone.) And when I expressed my concerns that I was throwing my fertile years away, my nurse practitioner reassured me that, with PCOS, some kind of birth control is the best way to go. “If we just let your body do its thing,” she explained, “it could release a bunch of eggs at once, and you’d actually lose fertility faster doing nothing at all.”
Of course, at the time, this made me feel a little better about the decision to do something instead of nothing. But the other day, my mom gave me yet another article on the pill, this one out of the June 2010 issue of The Southern Cross (a local Catholic publication). Besides listing some of the fun side effects described above, it makes this point: “Young women are put on the pill… at this most vulnerable time of developing their feminine identity… they are prescribed a medication that… removes from expressions of sexuality its very meaning, to conceive and bear children.” Every fiber in my being cried out in agreement.
I hate Mirena almost as much as I hated the pill. I no longer have any periods, but have sporadic days of spotting, which means I have to wear minipads pretty much all the time. (Not sexy.) It gives me yeast infections, and I believe that even that tiny dose of hormones has affected my libido and who I’m attracted to. (I’m now attracted to no one.) But it’s a love-hate relationship, because I know it’s the best of several evils. It requires no thought, no daily alarms, no interruptions of moments, and hey – at least I can say it doesn’t make me physically ill.
Oh, and also? I’d need a doctor to take the damn thing out.
*The webMD article I linked to makes an interesting statement about our society, by focusing largely on the more superficial symptoms of PCOS: weight gain, zits, and hairiness, rather than the fertility issue.