How Birth Control Saved My Life
Art by Kirsten Hemrich
My body wasn't always my worst enemy. Growing up, I didn't love my body, but I also didn't hate it. I was learning to understand it, as much as a young teenager can try to understand her body. In seventh grade, I started getting my period, and things were as they should be. My body was doing what it was supposed to be doing.
At some point, things changed.
In high school, a switch was flipped, and my periods went from being a minor nuisance to a major problem. They were irregular, sometimes coming twice a month, and other times skipping a month entirely. The amount I was bleeding drastically increased. Gone were the days of only using light tampons and not having to worry about bleeding on my sheets at night. Now, every twenty minutes I was hiding a super-tampon up my sleeve and fast-walking to the bathroom. At night I would wear a super-size pad and a super-tampon, and pray that I wouldn’t wake up with bloody sheets or develop Toxic Shock Syndrome. Along with irregularity and the heavy flow came the pain. Days before and during my period, I experienced the worst pain I’ve ever felt. Worse than the mind-numbing migraines that came to me during times of stress, and worse than the time I twisted my ankle and my entire foot turned blue. But I diligently took my Advil and hoped for the best.
For years, my “normal” was worrying over whether my second period of the month was coming, lying in bed awake at night in pain, and buying boxes, and boxes, and boxes of tampons. I don't remember what painful day triggered me to go to a doctor, but finally I made an appointment. I told the doctor that my periods were very heavy and painful, and she prescribed hormonal birth control and called it a day.
My body was out of control, unknowable, and causing me more pain than I thought possible.
So I went off to my first year of college taking the pill, hoping that everything would be better. The pill fixed nothing, and brought with it new, painful, side effects. In addition to bleeding more than I thought was humanly possible, and feeling like red, burning pokers were being shoved into my abdomen, I had to deal with large blood and tissue clots. Gross, I know. There is nothing like sitting through a college lecture, trying to pay attention, while you literally birth a tissue clot the size of a small flashlight.
Clearly the pill was taking me back four steps instead of forward, so I went to see a different doctor. This time, we decided on the scary, yet intriguing, NuvaRing. The NuvaRing was highly ineffective for me, so I decided there was nothing that could be done, and I stopped using birth control and relied on my trusted Advil. My body could not be fixed or understood and my pain would never go away.
Then one day everything went wrong. Having periods that come whenever they want makes it hard to be prepared. Usually, I did a pretty good job of carrying my box of tampons and bottle of Advil with me. But this day, I forgot my painkillers in another bag. As I was on the bus going to class I realized that my body was about to betray me. My fear of missing lecture and losing participation points prevented me from turning around and just skipping class. I got off the bus and started the most painful few hours of my life. With every step I took, another burning, poisoned knife was shoved into my body, and by the time I sat in the back of the classroom, I was on fire.
I could no longer ignore the fact that my pain wasn't normal. My body was out of control, unknowable, and causing me more pain than I thought possible. I went back to the doctor, but this time I had a purpose. After that painful day I wanted to know why my body was malfunctioning so severely. I didn’t want to try yet another form of birth control that would blindly attempt to treat the problem. I wanted to know what the problem was. My doctor threw the term PCOS, aka Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, around, and ordered a couple tests. Turns out, my hormone levels are pretty messed up. I went in for more tests and though I’m missing the C in PCOS, and no official diagnosis was made, I still think that PCOS most accurately describes what I’m going through.
Birth control is a miracle for me, not because it prevents pregnancy, but because it prevents pain. It is a miracle to know your once unknowable body.
Now that I had half an answer and was one step closer to understanding my body, I decided to try the Depo shot, even though it wasn't my doctor’s recommendation. Just as she feared, I started gaining weight. For some people that might not be the end of the world, but for someone who potentially has PCOS, losing weight is incredibly hard. My doctor and I switched it up again, which leads us to the present. For about a year now I’ve been using Nexplanon, aka the birth control arm implant. With the implant, all my pain is gone, and I now understand how ridiculous it was for me to live in pain for years.
I never thought that I would be the type of person to love or appreciate my body, but birth control has helped me do just that. Turns out it’s much easier to love yourself when your body doesn't make you want to scream in agony. Birth control is a miracle for me, not because it prevents pregnancy, but because it prevents pain. It is a miracle to know your once unknowable body.
With birth control, there is no pain.
With birth control, I love and understand my body.
With birth control, I can forgive my body for the years of pain I endured.
With birth control I’ve never been happier.