I learned the hard way that the Pill makes me crazy.
It was the summer of 2006, and I was in a semi- weird place in my life, but nothing that should have been life-altering.
And yet I was exhausted every day, crying for no reason, and just about ready to bite the heads off of family and friends for looking at me the wrong way.
The nurse practitioner who had originally prescribed the Pill for me—when I was 16—had explained it could mess with my mood, but I had shrugged off her concerns. That summer, when my emotional world was collapsing, I confided in my mom. When she explained that nearly half of my extended family is on some sort of mood-stabilizing medication, monitoring my freakouts took on new meaning for me.
I argued and cried my way through the summer, holding on to the idea that a change of scenery come the fall (I was shipping off to study abroad in Paris) would knock me back into my normal emotional routine.
And then I went off the Pill.
For three years my emotions—while admittedly a little more over-the-top than some of my more stoic lady friends—were in check. Sure, I still had some epic bouts of PMS every now and then and semi-regular stress-meltdowns, but my emotions were at least borderline rational.
In the summer of 2009 I was legitimately high on life—I was settling into a dream job in a city I am absolutely in love with, and I was in the happy-go-lucky honeymoon phase of a budding relationship. I hadn’t been involved with someone seriously in a while, and when we decided to become monogamous, he told me how much he disliked condoms.
So I went back on the Pill.
It took surprisingly little time to feel my mood drop. By the third week, my high had flown out the window. I was crabby and annoyed, crying easily, and unsatisfied with the things that were making me ecstatic mere days before.
Afraid of slipping back to the darkness of the summer three years before, I contacted my doctor and told her what was going on. Unfortunately, she told me, pretty much every version of the Pill is likely to have some effect on mood. But she quickly wrote up a prescription for Microgestin, a Pill with a different combination of hormones that might lessen the effects.
That was in August. I noticed a difference with my new pill, but I still didn’t feel completely like myself. When the relationship fizzled out in November, I cursed myself for pumping myself full of hormones for someone who didn’t stick around. But because the Pill did wonders for my period and seriously eased my cramps, I stuck with the daily routine. By February I had started to feel like I was logging a few too many freakouts and I began considering other options.
I talked with my doctor in March about the possibility of getting an IUD. Despite their lingering bad rap, today’s intrauterine devices, Mirena and ParaGard, are not only safe and effective, but extremely popular. In other countries.
Only 2% of American women using contraception use an IUD according to 2007 data. In other countries, these numbers are much higher; 27% of Norwegian women use one!
Mirena, which releases a low dose of hormones, is made of soft plastic and is effective for five years. ParaGard, made from copper, is effective for up to 10 years and contains no hormones. The FDA recommends Mirena for women who have had at least one child, but ParaGard can work for anyone. The small, T-shaped device is thought to work by stopping sperm from reaching an egg, either because the copper in ParaGard acts as a spermicide, or the hormones in Mirena thicken cervical mucus.
My doctor soothed my concerns that I’d only be eligible for an IUD if I had a baby at home, and she was surprisingly positive about the IUD. Still, she suggested trying one more variation of the Pill first and if I was still unhappy, contacting an OB/GYN.
The concern in the past, she explained, was that IUDs may in some cases lead to infections from insertion. And while both are 99% effective in preventing pregnancy, neither protects against sexually transmitted diseases. Six months into a relationship, this monogamy thing still feels a little new to me, but with any luck, it’s going to last a long time, I assured her.
I decided I’d go for one more variation of the Pill—third time’s a charm, right? —so now I’m dutifully taking my Zovia daily. I feel much better than on the Microgestin, but still not completely like myself. Every time I feel myself choking up at a cheesy movie I would have previously dismissed with a scoff, or snapping a little too quickly at my manfriend, a little voice in the back of my mind whispers “Get a IUD already!” (Yes, I realize the implications of mentioning the voices in my head in a blog post about how crazy I am. These are hypothetical voices, I promise.)
Research suggests doctors are still hesitant to prescribe the devices, often because they are not up-to-date on the facts. The IUD got its bad rap from the Dalkon Shield, which led to a number of deaths in the 1970s before manufacturers stopped selling it. The United States staged a massive anti-IUD freakout, while the devices simply gained in popularity around the world. Many doctors also were never properly trained in insertion, so they don’t feel comfortable prescribing an IUD.
At a one-time cost of $175 to $650, including insertion, according to Planned Parenthood, it’s not exactly cheap, but those monthly Pill costs add up, so I’d be saving money in the long-term. And there’s nothing to remember to swallow daily or check monthly, just one insertion and that’s it. I’m willing to put up with the common side effects, like minor spotting and initial cramping, if it means a birth-control-free-mind after that.
But more than anything, I just want to be myself. I sick of my boobs hurting when I go jogging and this never-ending what-am-I-forgetting anxiety and my eyes swollen from crying every other day. I take care of my body in so many other ways—eating healthily, working out, getting good sleep—that pumping my body full of hormones seems contradictory to everything I stand for.
I think I’m ready. I just wish I knew someone who had one, that BFF who could answer every single question from what does insertion feel like, to how do they get it out, to will my partner feel it during sex. So few women in America use an IUD, it’s become the best kept birth control secret. So tell me, what’s your experience with an IUD?
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