Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Other voices

Enough of me - Julia De Laurentiis Johnson hails from Canada and is in her twenties. Here's her story of how she came to come off the Pill for good:

"After being on the Pill for a total of seven years, I was desperate to get off it. It made me feel bloated, stagnate and crazy. I now use a non-hormonal copper IUD and I will never use anything else if I can help it. I love it – it's zero-maintenance and hormone free – but the road to my contraceptive bliss was once helluva trial-by-fire.

In the roughly ten years I've been sexually active, I've used a number of different birth control methods. Being a 90's teenager, I was very well versed in sex education and responsibly used condoms and spermicide sponges when I first started having sex. When I got into my first serious relationship, I went on the Pill – in Canada they would start girls on Ortho Tri-Cyclen, an Estrogen and Progestin pill that was triphasic - three different 'phases' of pills in each pack - and each week the level of the Progestin hormone increased from 25 micrograms in the first week to 35 mcg by the third. I hated it and used it for just two months. After getting over the initial rush of feeling very grown up for being on the Pill, the side effects were too uncomfortable to ignore. I switched to Alesse, a monophastic single phase Pill with a lower hormone level and used it, without obvious incident, for five years.

A year after my steady boyfriend and I broke up, it dawned on me that I was a bit of a hypocrite. Generally, I tried to do good things for my body, like try to avoid processed foods, to use organic hygiene and cleaning products and to eliminate as many unnecessary chemicals from my life as possible - yet here I was systematically swallowing a drug every day, three weeks out of the month, all year long.

At the end of my five-year 'drug habit', I decided I really needed to get off the Pill and give my body a break. Soon after, I started dating someone new and sexual regularity was back in my life - I needed to seriously reconsider my contraception methods. I really didn't want to go back on the Pill and I really didn't want to go back to condoms. We weren't a terribly stable couple to begin with – and definitely not at the commitment level where an IUD or a quarterly Depo Provera hormonal shot would have been appropriate. If condoms are the undergrads of Contraception U and choosing to have an IUD sit in your cervix for years qualifies as a PhD, I felt I was at the stage in my sexual life where I was prepared to take on my Master's: a diaphragm.

I got fitted for my pastel pink latex diaphragm, which came in a pastel pink plastic carrying case, and seeing it peak out of my purse where I had shoved it under my sunglasses case to keep it discreet, I felt as if I had inadvertently become part of a terribly acted sex education video. That device did do the trick, though - i.e. kept me un-pregnant - but it was complicated: It removed a sense of spontaneity from sex, as I had to be excused in The Moment to fit myself with this domed sperm-net. It need to be filled with spermicide, took some manoeuvring to fit it up against my cervix and there it had to stay for an additional 6-10 hours after the act, just to be sure it'd done its job. My partner and I could both feel it, also a bit off-putting and it was still only 94% effective, 2% less then the Pill. But I appreciated that it was non-hormonal and figured that the inconvenience was worth it. When that relationship fizzled, so too did my diaphragm use.

By the time I entered into my current relationship, I'd let my ethics about non-hormonal contraception fall by the way side – I wanted an easy, reliable and totally convenient method of birth control. I was living in London at the time and studying for my Masters degree – I recognized that I didn't have the time or care to be fumbling around in the bathroom for the sake of contraception. So I put myself on a low-dose monophastic Pill called Loesterin and naively thought that it would negatively affect nothing, just as my first monophastic Pill hadn't, acting only as armour for my eggs.

Over the course of 18 months the negative effects of the Pill became obvious. Apart from constant bloat, I had developed bad psychological habits, including second-guessing myself, something that until then had not really been part of my personality. I would easily slide into emotional slumps, had a continuously running undercurrent of the 'blahs' and felt that I could never really focus, like there was a veil of mist across my brain. I'm not sure I had any suspicion that the Pill may be to blame, thinking instead that it was probably all my fault, really, and that I just wasn't trying hard enough to think clearly or positively – don't all women feel like this?

The real turning point came when my partner and I were to be apart for a few months and I decided to go off the Pill to give my body a break. Off the Pill I just felt so…alert. The bloat, discouraging thoughts and cloudy mind ebbed away; I felt like Dorothy discovering a colourful Oz. It made me certain that I was never going back to the Pill.

I read up on my contraceptive options and realized that a copper IUD was the obvious choice. This is why:

It's non-hormonal, which was my number one priority for my new birth control. The copper in the non-hormonal IUD interferes with how sperm is transported, diverting it from the egg. Science is cool.

Once inserted it can be practically forgotten. There's nothing to remember to take! Except for a yearly pap test to make sure everything's ticking along, there is no maintenance involved – sex can remain as spontaneous as it was while on the Pill. Ok I lied –this was my number one priority.

It's inexpensive, a one-time cost of $100-$200, often covered by health benefits and lasts for up to five years.

It's entirely reversible. If/when you want to get pregnant, just get it removed.

It's the greenest method of birth control. It doesn't just reduce physical waste (no pill packs or condoms to throw away) but hormonal waste as well. Not only has it been proven that Estrogen from Birth Control Pills flood the water system through sewage, disrupting fish sex organs but also that the hormone cannot be fully distilled out of our own drinking water and may adversely effect human male fertility. If I could do my part by not adding to the Estrogen-laden pee filling my community water filtration system, this counted as a plus.

Ok, here are the cons:

It takes a while to get set up. First, you need to book an information session with your gynaecologist. They run you through every possible pro and con to help make you certain it’s the right method for you. Then you get a pap test to determine everything in there is running fine, because it's about to get a long-term foreign roommate. Then you gotta wait a few weeks for the results.

It needs to be inserted by a medical practitioner. This means another appointment. They also give you pills to insert vaginally to numb the surrounding area a few hours before the procedure. These pills can make you cramp like a bitch.

Periods tend to be a bit heavier. If you already have heavy periods, this may not be for you.

The insertion: It's quick but it hurts like absolute hell. It isn't the actual insertion of the device that hurts, it's when they measure the depth of your cervix. It does only last a couple of minutes, and I did take extra strength pain pills beforehand, but it hurt, like the worst imaginable cramps and my body shook a bit from the shock. But then, as quickly as the pain comes, it dissipates. Soon afterward, you just feel a bit tender. Get yourself an ice cream.

If the idea of pain scares you, don't let it. Though, quite bizarrely, an estimated 2% of American women use the IUD it is intensely more popular around the world. If millions of women can do it, so can you.

I wish I could go back in time and tell that teenage contraceptive novice how much headache she could have saved herself."

1 comment:

  1. I had roughly the same experience with Loestrin - felt like being a robot in a fog, or a very distant balloon. I couldn't concentrate on anything, everything seemed bland. There was no mood swings because I had no mood apart from some indifferent "zero" flatline. I stopped taking this pill 3 weeks before my wedding and it felt really strange - getting back to normal so quickly. The difference on emotional level was immense.
    Strangely enough, what Loestrin did to my mind resembled the effect of codeine, but with no positive feelings at all. Ugh, never again.