I know many women who have had positive experiences on birth control. But even as a mom with two little ones — who is certain she doesn’t want a third — I will do anything to keep from ingesting another BC pill in my lifetime.
When a newly published study from the University of Copenhagen confirmed there is a link between hormonal contraceptives and depression, my first thought was: I could have told you that 10 years ago. And then my friends and I started discussing the finding via lengthy text exchanges, and I realized we were all sitting cross-legged around a bonfire in Camp No Kidding. Some of us actually suffered from depression, coincidentally (or I guess not?) around the time we started taking birth control. Some of us were convinced, thanks in part to some of our doctors, that the emotional roller-coaster we were experiencing had nothing to do with the pill. It takes time for the body to get used to it, they said. It can take a year. Keep with it and you’ll feel better — all statements made to us the morning after a night spent crying on the bathroom floor about the leaves changing colors, death and the circle of life and God knows what else.
I didn’t personally experience depression, but my brief, pre-pregnancy affair with Yasmin in my 20s almost immediately resulted in sexual dysfunction thanks to a vagina that had suddenly turned Sahara-dry. In a laughable twist, my breasts grew two cup sizes and I felt jittery and unsettled, like I was tiptoeing on the border of sanity at all times. Neither sex nor masturbation could serve as a calming outlet because, well, the pill I had taken to have safe sex turned my body into a blow-up doll, but made sex torturous and zapped all traces of a libido. Some trade-off.
Despite my ex-doctor’s horrible advice, I didn’t “stick with it." After five months, I tossed my pills in the trash, waited for my B-cup breasts to return home to Mama, and agonized over the loss of my libido for 9 more months until I finally started to feel like a sexual human being again. Meanwhile, my then-boyfriend/now-husband lauded my comeback and still remembers that time as a year I spent lamenting the loss of my own body.
Cut to a few years later, two little ones later, and my menstrual cycle is experiencing changes that I have learned are normal for women after they deliver babies. My periods are sometimes heavier, the mood-swings more intolerable. There’s a pimple or two where before my skin was clear. When I brought it up to my gyno during a routine visit, she said, “I’ll call in a birth control pill for you. If you want it, you can pick it up at your drugstore.”
When I bring up my past with Yasmin, the reaction always reads the same: maybe it was just Yasmin. Er, or maybe not. Try it because what other option do you have?
Not good enough, I decided. I scheduled hormonal tests to find out if maybe I have an imbalance. I jumped through hoops and countless questions in an effort to prove I deserved to know what was happening inside my body before I popped a pill. Of course, there was no hormonal imbalance to settle with a pill — no decent reason to create changes in a body that seems to know how to take care of itself if I'd just get the hell out of its way.
Birth control has been marketed to us as the ultimate feminist solution to taking control of our sex lives — I believe it succeeded in doing just that in the '60s and '70s. But now, with non-hormonal IUD's on the table, as well as male contraceptives like Vasalgel perhaps making an appearance in our future lives, there is no reason for women to feel like birth-control pills are the only option, no matter what our doctors try to sell us. If you're unhappy with the pill, do your research. If you have children and have noticed a change in your menstrual cycle, don't chalk it up to hormones without demanding proof. The most feminist choice we can make is an informed one.
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