November 16, 2010

A Decade-Long Love/Hate Relationship With Birth Control

Much love to Margaret Sanger and all, but being on chemical birth control for roughly 12 years is one of my deepest regrets.

As a teenager, I weighed my options for not getting knocked up.  I'm forgetful, so the pill wasn't really a good idea.  Remembering to take it at the same time, much less every day would be difficult.  I just wasn't willing to trust my memory.  The patch and the ring were still in the future, and Norplant was a little too scary for me.  Too many women had the implants break under their skin, or were horridly scarred when they were removed 5 years later.  The idea of dropping trou every 13 weeks for an injection sounded like the ideal.  No forgetting a daily pill, no worries about a condom breaking, and quite possibly, I'd no longer menstruate.  Yes!  Sign me the fuck up for that!

This is the part where I interject that I know that the shot doesn't protect against STIs.  Don't send me letters about how I can't rely on a shot to keep me disease free.  I know.  I'm not going to breed and the shot was the first line of defense.

For 10+ years, I faithfully went to my local Planned Parenthood every 12-14 weeks to get a shot of fake hormones in my hip.  Granted, for much of that time, I was single.  However, it was nice to not really have to worry about accidentally getting pregnant.  Well, should the stars have aligned and I had the chance to both get laid AND the condom broke.

For more than a decade, I put up with the side effects.  They started small, but progressively got worse.  But, it was so slowly, I lost sight of where I began.  Sure, my periods stopped, which I was all in favor of. the trade-off was that I caught a chronic case of the sandy snatch.  Sex without some sort of lube wasn't happening.  (As a result, I got really good at knowing what kind to use when, brands I liked, and which flavors didn't remind me of that fluoride shit the dentist puts in the toothpaste.)

My underlying depression deepened until I became a reclusive shell of myself.  My libido, which should have been roaring in my 20s, went the way of the dodo.


But, I stuck to it.  I didn't miss menstruation and wanted to do everything in my power to not have to deal with it.  It hurts, it does ugly things to the body, and I think my wallet will get whiplash switching between the rapid fire salty and sweet cravings.  Menstruation is messy, and then there's that entire week where I have to wear the panties from that special, ratty selection I don't mind staining.

By the time my late 20s rolled around, was married, had a house, two dogs, and still didn't want any kids.  I had investigated getting sterilized, only to have my doctor pat me on the head and tell me that since I was under 30, he wouldn't help me.  I was too young.  I didn't have kids.  (There's apparently a rule that in order to get your tubes tied, you have to have at least used your uterus for its intended purpose once or twice.)  And, oh, I'd change my mind.

I can't tell you how quickly I went from informed consumer to livid pissed at being told what my decisions about my body would be.  The worst part about that was it was by someone who's not supposed to have an agenda.  Insult to outrage, I was given a pat on the ass by a medical professional with me "best interests" at heart.  In light of all the recent nonsense with regards to women's health, I'd like to say that I'm glad my choices are made and I don't have to claw the eyes out of the politicians making decisions that will never affect them.  I wish the next generation of women well in trying to do battle with these nuts.

Stewing in my own venom, I was left with a new choice.  I was tired of the shot and had switched to the implant.  Implanon was the replacement for Norplant, and it was even easier than the shot.  One little matchstick-sized dose of hormones under the skin of my left forearm for 3 years and that's it!

Eighteen months into my 3 years, I hit that magical number 30.  I made my appointment for a consult.  Had I thought that walking in to the doctor's office wrapped in a dress made of my birth certificate would have helped my case, I would have made it happen.  I sought out sterilization and a removal of the implant in my arm.  I'd done some research, and of all the options, the Essure procedure seemed to be the one to go with.  No more hormones, no cutting, almost zero recovery time, and my implant would continue to keep me baby-free while the scar tissue formed in the fallopian tubes.

Three months later I went in for an HSG to confirm that the scar tissue had completely closed off the tubes.  Ladies, I must say, those of you who are trying hard to get pregnant and undergo several of these have my utmost respect.  I don't think they brought in a radiologist.  I think that guy was moonlighting from his day job at roto-rooter!  Strange facial expressions and the marquis de Sade experience aside, the test came back that the right amount of scar tissue had formed and my fallopian tubes were blocked.  They wheeled me upstairs in a wheelchair to go rip the implant out of the flesh of my left bicep.  Thus closed the chapter on the last time I had any detectable level of synthetic hormones in my system.

I can legitimately say this moment, this procedure, is the start of the biggest, and most welcome change of my life. 

If this story were a movie, this would be a flashback moment.  By this point, I was 31 years old and in an emotionally crippled marriage.  I was sacrificing way too much of my own happiness for the sake of a "we" that my spouse didn't seem to comprehend.  I don't know if it truly is the case, not being a scientist and all.  But it seems to me that as the man made hormones were processed out of my system, I changed.  It's cliche, but it's like a fog lifted.

I decided to give up on the "I gave up" haircut.  Once I had had enough trims that wouldn't look like a poor college student who only gets a trim at semester break, I let my hair grow again.  My thinking became clearer.  My sarcasm gland experienced exponential growth.  I started voicing my thoughts and telling it like it is.  I also stopped seeking the approval of everyone around me, choosing to live true to myself and my morals and ethics first.  It's as if the personality who had begun to emerge before the birth control had found her egg tooth again and was breaking free.

My body changed too.  Now, I know that a woman goes through a spike in their sexuality in their 30s.  I was ready for that.  What I got was nothing quite so tame.  My gift from biology was a little like the Maxell cassette tape commercials from the 80s.  You know, the ones with the guy sitting in the plush leather chair, tie behind him, lamp shade swaying in the wind, as the strains of Ride of Valkyries distorted his features and blew his hair back behind him?  Yes, I have that living in my pants.

I was something like 225 pounds when the implant was removed.  Between that, and the 3 stooges bowl cut, it was easy to not like what I saw in the mirror. I wanted to like me, dammit.  It's hard to like yourself when you're a teenager.  Acne, social awkwardness, and hormones make emotional stability a damn unicorn.  I decided that losing a few pounds would be a good start.  Not that the weight fell off overnight, but I managed to drop about 40 pounds in 8 months. I found my curves and learned to tolerate, and sometimes love them.  I also learned to genuinely like me for the first time.  Heck, the first time ever.  

Marginally related, it's amazing what the right bra can do for a girl.

The point of all this is, while I loved what Depo could do for me, I regret being on it for so long. It altered the way I thought, how my body worked, and even the emotions I felt.  If I had a chance to go back and talk to my younger self, I would encourage her to get off the shot during those long stretches where she wasn't having sex regularly.  Mother Nature is a hassle.  She's rude, cruel, runs on her own schedule, and a very unwelcome house guest.  But, the price you pay for serving her with a ban and bar notice is far too steep.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, I can't believe your doctor actually said that to you. I mean, I could see a doctor saying that back in the 50's, but now? Really?

    I hadn't heard of Essure until I read your post. I'm definitely going to look into this. I don't want kids, and I'd rather not have to deal with birth control.

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