Going on birth-control pills was a big decision for me.
Going on birth-control pills was a big decision for me. My partner and I had reached a point in our relationship where we knew we were committed to one another, had had the pre-requisite sexual history conversation and tests for sexually transmitted diseases. We were ready to liberate ourselves from the condom and try something else.
Little did I know that this was a decision that would negatively affect both of our lives for the next two years.
My partner and I went to the doctor’s office together to talk about a different method of contraception. We didn’t do much talking–my doctor gave me a prescription for the most popular pill, told me not to start smoking, and that was it. It took two minutes flat.
As I reflect back on that visit, I feel angry and I wonder–why wasn’t I given any other options? Why wasn’t I warned of potential side effects? Why didn’t my doctor try to find out whether the pill was the best option for me?
The pill was definitely not the best option for me. After four months, I had steadily gained 10 pounds per month, for a total of 40 pounds, and I experienced considerable breast tenderness. I decided to consult my doctor. She said that although some weight gain was to be expected, she felt that 40 pounds could not be attributed to the pill, and that the breast tenderness would subside with time.
Two months later, after gaining another 20 pounds, and still experiencing breast tenderness, I took my own counsel and went off the pill.
Breaking the Faith
I should not have been surprised when the weight gain stopped, and the breast tenderness disappeared, but my faith in the medical profession was not yet shaken. After six months of being off the pill, having lost 40 of the 60 pounds I had gained, I went back to my doctor to discuss alternative birth control methods. I was curious about a diaphragm, but my doctor recommended a different pill. It was the newest pill, the latest discovery in oral contraception with the least amount of side effects. I believed her.
After one month on being on this "wonder pill," I began to experience more than the occasional facial blemish. Not making a connection to the pill, I continued taking it. After two months, I had gained another 20 pounds, developed facial acne, and again experienced breast tenderness. I also experienced moodiness that was not normal for me.
My faith in my doctor now beginning to crumble, I decided to give it another couple months to "settle in" as she had recommended earlier. After six months on the new pill, I had gained 60 pounds, seen the acne spread to my chest and shoulders, had breasts so tender they could not be touched, and suffered from moodiness such that my partner had begun to question my sanity.
I visited my doctor again. I wanted to know why the pill was affecting me this way. My doctor recommended that I keep a week-long journal of my food intake. She believed I was eating too many carbohydrates. She gave me a prescription for a strong acne medication and asked me some questions regarding clinical depression.
I went home and felt like crying. I was 80 pounds overweight; I had acne and was faced with a prescription with side effects ranging from hair loss and night blindness to severe birth defects. My sex life had deteriorated because of my irritability, irrationality and moodiness, not to mention the severe breast tenderness. Above all else, although I now doubted my doctor’s opinion, I felt as though I had done something wrong–that it was only me who had ever been affected by the pill in this way. I probably would have continued taking the pill had it not been for the support of my partner who encouraged me to discontinue taking it, which I did.
One year later, I am still overweight; however, I have not gained one pound since I quit taking the pill. There is not a trace of acne on my body, my breasts are now tender only during my regular cycle and I am back to my even-tempered self.
During the time I was on the pill, I took supplements to ease the symptoms. I took a multivitamin and a multimineral daily to supplement what I feared I was missing from my diet due to my doctor’s recommended food restrictions. In addition to this, I took evening primrose oil to help menstrual symptoms; vitamin E and A and a stress B-complex to help my complexion; St John’s wort to combat moodiness, and chromium to help battle weight gain and loss of energy. I still take these supplements and am very happy with the results.
My husband feels the woman he first met has returned, and our sex life is back to normal. We are still searching for a birth control method that works for us, but we know the pill is not it.
I want to reassure other women who may be experiencing the same difficulties–it is not your fault. You have not done anything wrong. If you are contemplating taking the pill, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Research other methods–there are a lot out there! I also want to urge doctors to take the time to let your patients know all of the options, and the possible consequences.
But above all–listen to your body. I felt that something was wrong, but I chose to ignore the signals and listened to my doctor instead. When I tuned into my body and myself and acted accordingly, I was healthier, my relationship was healthier, and my body thanked me.