Exploration, Experimentation, & Education: My Birth Control Journey
Note to readers: I identify as a heterosexual cisgender woman, thus this blog is written in the lens of such identity. However, the lessons that I learned on my birth control journey I believe are applicable to anyone who requires the usage of birth control or prescribes it.
I have been on my birth control journey for a little over 12 years now. As a public health professional who is passionate for women’s sexual and reproductive health, I have identified three opportunities for growth for both patients and providers. Before the lessons learned however, are the experiences that lead to them and to me saying #ThxBirthControl.
My mom has always been a feminist warrior, ensuring that both her daughters were protected from things such as HPV (vaccinating me at the earliest recommended age) and unintended pregnancies (birth control). To aid in this endeavor as well as to help with the debilitating back cramps that I endured each menstrual cycle my mom took me to my primary doctor (a pediatrician) to explore birth control options. I cannot recall the exact conversations that were had in the office the day I selected the pill as my choice of method. I can say that the birth control options seemed limited and the side effects overwhelming. Since several women in my family were on Yaz, we (myself, my mom, and my provider) decided to start with this birth control brand. Many women struggled with negative side effects from Yaz. I was lucky however, and never had any of those issues while using Yaz. I would actually say that it was probably my favorite of all the brands that I experimented with. As I got a little older, I discovered that there were pills that allowed me to skip my menstrual cycle for months at a time, which caused me to explore other brands. In trying new pill brands, I found that many of them caused me to be extremely irritable. In talking with my doctor, we decided that it was safe to return to Yaz, skipping the placebo pills, and starting a new pack in place of the placebo pills to reduce the number of times I had my period.
I decided to explore other options than the pill a few years after entering college. My school and work schedule were no longer as routine as they had been in high school and taking the pill on a consistent basis became a huge issue. After talking with my gynecologist about the long-acting reversible contraceptives, the IUD and hormonal contraceptive implant, I settled on an IUD; which I have been using for about 6 years now. I chose this method for the get-it and forget-it aspect, ease of removal (versus the implant), and the likelihood of having no periods. Now, I will not lie and say having the IUD placed was top of my “most favorable moments” list. My gynecologist chose to inject lidocaine into my cervix to help numb it to reduce the pain of insertion. However, the injection comes with its own additional pain. Honestly however, I think the cramping that I experienced directly after the IUD insertion was the absolute worst! I had to lay on the table for several minutes to gather myself, and to also stop the few tears that I had shed. You must keep in mind that I have never experienced giving birth so I am sure this pain is nothing in comparison. Nevertheless, I am thankful for these wonderful 6 years of bliss that I have not had to think about refilling a prescription, taking something every day at the same time to avoid unintended pregnancies, and being period free! I would recommend getting an IUD to anyone looking for a new method any day of the week.
Here are the three lessons that I have learned during my birth control journey, and think everyone should know!
- Finding the right birth control, especially with hormonal methods, can take time and experimentation. Do not be deterred if the first, or even the fifth, birth control brand/choice does not meet all your expectations.
- Self-advocate, self-advocate, self-advocate! No one will look out for your health and well-being like you will. Prepare questions before going in and do some research before your appointment. Parents, this may require some of your assistance because weighing the pros and cons of each method can be overwhelming!
- Primary care providers, especially pediatricians, you need to ensure that you are well equipped to provide up-to-date and comprehensive information on all birth control methods or be able to provide proper resources to patients. Check out Bedsider Providers to help you stay on top of it all.
Courtney Gonzalez received her MPH in Maternal and Child Health from The George Washington University and holds a Certificate as a Health Education Specialist (CHES). Ms. Gonzalez gained clinical experience at Inova Fairfax Medical Campus working as a clinical technician in the Pediatric Emergency Room.