“The wait was long worthwhile. How lovely to wear mascara and smile a woman’s smile. How lovely to have a figure that’s rounds instead of flat! Whenever you hear boys whistle, you’re what they’re whistling at.”
– Bye, Bye Birdie
I listen to this song as an adult and realize how unfortunate it is that it was written by Lee Adams (a man), instead of a woman. I’m positive that a woman could have portrayed a more accurate depiction of what it feels like to grow up and go through puberty… But that’s not the case and unfortunately that’s not the world we live in. But I’m not here to talk about that today.
I grew up never really aware of my womanhood. I didn’t know why I got my period other than it meant I had the ability to get pregnant, what the difference between my uterus, clitoris, cervix and vagina were and what hormones had to do with my overall health and well being. “Hormonal” had a negative connotation to it as in: “you must be feeling very hormonal right now” a.k.a.: “you’re acting like a bitch” . Hell, I thought that I had to be okay with men staring at my boobs and touching me a little too far down my back. I thought I had to “like” that, or approve of it at the very least. I know that I am not the only one who has experienced this and that’s upsetting. I don’t know if it is a product of poor education or the culture we live in, or the culture I personally grew up in. Maybe it’s a little bit of both. (And Mom, don’t take this personally. You raised me to be a strong, independent, and intelligent woman and I couldn’t ask for anything more.)
It is because I was raised to be a thoughtful, strong, independent and intelligent woman that I write about my personal experience with hormone imbalance, birth control and discovering my femininity. I hope someone reads this and finds comfort in that they are not alone, that it’s okay to be confused and that your anxiety, depression, weight and skin issues may be due to inflammation and a hormonal imbalance. There’s nothing wrong with you and you are not alone in your struggles.
Here’s my story.
I always struggled with acne and weight issues, especially when I was going through puberty. I didn’t go on birth control until I was in college, where I got a free pack at my College Health Center with no consultation or discussion of what dosage I was given or how it may affect my body or mood. Just: “I want birth control.” Nurse: “Okay, here you go.” I don’t want you to think I was ungrateful, I know that I was incredibly fortunate to have such easy access to birth control because so many women around the world, and right here in the U.S.A. , are denied birth control every day. Many of those women end up pregnant before they are ready. The father is most likely someone they do not love, or even know, and their future is changed in an instant. That is not my story and I am grateful that it is not.
My story is of a young girl who was naive, uneducated and scared. Who probably had hormonal imbalances that could have been fixed by changing her diet and not going on the pill. She needed to be educated on the other birth control options available to her. She had no idea there were any other options or that the pill had side effects at all, so instead she would have to suffer through the next eight years going on and off birth control only to experience digestive, skin and mood issues no matter what she did or didn’t do. Now that I know more, I think I can trace the start of my severe digestive issues back to 6 months after I was put on the most recent birth control I was taking. This birth control was a lower dosage because I eventually spoke with a doctor who understood that I was having negative reactions to my previous prescription. I did feel better, but I began to have digestive issues that I, in no way, thought could be from the birth control I was on. I still don’t know if this is true, but time will tell.
So, what’s the deal with birth control anyway? Why is it so bad? Well, it’s still being studied. So far, I’ve read studies that show that birth control interferes with our microbiome because of the artificial hormones being pumped into our bloodstream, which may result in leaky gut syndrome. It also messes with our thyroid because, you guessed it, the artificial hormones. Women already produce estrogen, but when on birth control, women become estrogen dominant, which negatively affects the brain and heart. This could be why many women complain of depression and anxiety and the chances of heart attack and stroke are increased considerably. Oh, fun fact, after five years of being on birth control, there is a 300% chance of developing Crohn’s Disease. The pill is also inflammatory and insulin resistant masking metabolic disorders like PCOS, which is a severe metabolic disorder caused by hormonal imbalances. All of this disrupts the immune system causing your body to go into fight or flight mode, which increases inflammation… Not to mention it’s affect on libido and vaginal health: i.e. more yeast infections, dryness, etc. UGH.
What bothers me is that this is not common knowledge. There are far better birth control options and every woman should be educated on ALL of these points. When I began learning about all of this, I was in denial. I thought, “I’m healthy, I don’t have any inflammation, none of this pertains to me.” How could it not? I didn’t like the sounds of other birth control options, IUD’s scared me and I wasn’t ready for kids. So why not just stay on birth control? But I was horrible at remembering to take the pill, constantly having to double-up for fear of pregnancy which ended with paranoia, a messed up cycle and askew hormones… why did I want to stay on the pill?!
I finally woman-ed up and decided to get an IUD. An IUD is a small, T-shaped intrauterine device inserted into your uterus that provides long-term birth control. We’re talking, 3-10 years depending on what kind of device you decide to go with. Some devices have hormones and some do not. Initially, I wanted to go with the non-hormonal one since that was one of my number one reasons for going off the pill, but after a consultation with my gynecologist, I decided to get the Mirena device. Mirena releases progesterone, no estrogen, over a period of time to prevent pregnancy. I went with Mirena because adding progesterone isn’t harmful to the body and it protects your ovaries which is a good idea since there’s cervical and ovarian cancer in my family history.
I got the IUD inserted yesterday and DAMN it was painful. I expected it to hurt, but wasn’t prepared for quite how much. I kept telling myself: “You’ve run a marathon, you’ve fractured bones, you can deal with this pain.” . Which, I did. But it was definitely not easy. At first I thought it wasn’t so bad, until I realized she was only dilating me (since I haven’t gone through childbirth) and had yet to insert the device. Once she did, it felt like a horrible cramp with a very large brick on top of my uterus. I had the sensation that I was either going to pee or poop, which she assured me was normal since I had to be dilated. She asked me how I felt, to which I replied: “uhhhh, weird?”. After she cut the strings and came out, I felt the cramping subside and thought I’d be back to feeling normal. Nope, not so much. All the blood rushed to my brain and I felt insanely dizzy and nauseous. They laid me back down, gave me a puke bucket and rushed to get me water. My ears were buzzing, the room was spinning, my vision was blurry and I questioned why I ever agreed to do this on my own free will. They were incredibly supportive and patient with me and brought Mike in to hold my hand and talk me through everything. After a minute or two with him I had the courage to sit up and leave. The dizziness didn’t subside for a while, which made the 5 minute walk home into a 20 minute one filled with many stops to take deep breaths. I was keeled over while I was walking because I was having the most intense sensation of where my uterus was located, which is really strange. You know you have one, but you’re never really aware of it until you have an IUD inserted, and when you’re pregnant, I imagine. I feel like I got a nice little childbirth preview yesterday and have so much respect for all the mother’s out there. I didn’t experience half the dilation and pain that you go through during labor!
And now, I am free. Free of the pill. Free of artificial hormones (for the most part) that may or may not be causing the digestive, skin and mental issues I’ve been coping with for the past eight years. I am excited to experience change, but am also nervous and not looking forward to the spotting, bleeding and for my cycle to be off, but I am thrilled that I don’t have to worry about missing a pill for the next five years and look forward to (hopefully) healing my microbiome once and for all.
More importantly, I am proud that I finally kissed fear goodbye and went for a healthier and more sustainable birth control that will hopefully be much better for my body. I am also grateful to have access to this kind birth control, for FREE with my health insurance, and hope that the education of women’s reproductive health only advances and improves and that our health care doesn’t regress.
Don’t feel bad if you feel like you’re completely clueless about your reproductive health because I’m 28 years old and am finally understanding my body for the first time and I truly feel how lovely it is to be a woman.