Make It Make Sense - My Journey With The Birth Control Pill

Two words: Birth Control. Well, I’m sure if I were tasked with picking out some words that summarized what led me here, I could think of more phrases like “women’s health” and “reproductive justice” but Birth Control would definitely be first and in HUGE letters. See, I have been on the hormonal birth control pill for the better part of the last 6 years and I won’t lie to you and say that most of those years weren't great, because they were! I had a good handle on when my period was coming, I knew exactly how long it would be, I rarely had a pimple or a breakout, and my period cramps were obsolete! Until they weren’t…

Insert dramatic music

In retrospect, I consider the onset of incredibly disrespectful cramps as a sign from the Universe that it was time for me and hormonal contraception to go our separate ways. As I pointed out before, I never had menstrual cramps worth mentioning. I considered myself to be one of the lucky ones until one month, I found myself absolutely needing a heating pad, needing to stay in bed, and “needing my gynecologist” to give me the low down on why my body decided to betray me. I know, I’m hella dramatic.

Okay so, boom. I made an appointment with my gynecologist, showed up to the appointment, paid my copay and headed to the exam room. I told her that my uterus had been doing the A-town stomp as of recently and that I needed to get to the bottom of the situation as soon as humanly possible. She told me that because I had been on the birth control pill for so long, it was normal that around this time, my hormonal dosage needed to be increased. Cool. I left thinking, “That doesn’t make sense but she’s the doctor. So let me go on ahead and get these new pills.” Note: It didn’t make sense! There was no hormonal test conducted, no vaginal ultrasound for fibroids or cysts…just more hormones. A higher dose of hormones is a bandaid…not a cure.

Fast forward a few months, I found myself back in the doctor’s office for the same issue: painful menstrual cramps. But this time they had escalated to include nausea, vomiting, and confusion…because who said that this was supposed to be how I was spending 7 whole days out of the month? This time, she ordered that I have a vaginal ultrasound to test for uterine fibroids. I hadn’t had a vaginal ultrasound before so maybe I’ll talk about that later, but fast forward, to the fact that I don’t have uterine fibroids and still nobody knew why my uterus felt the need to do the most on a monthly basis. I scheduled another OB/GYN appointment, paid my good money for my copay, just so that she could tell me that there was nothing that she could do and that she was sending me to a specialist. eyeroll. no climax.

Insert the specialist. By this point, my condition got a fancy name: dysmenorrhea. Which is a fancy word for painful menstrual cramps. The causes for dysmenorrhea include uterine fibroids, ovarian cysts, scar tissue from prior infections, and endometriosis (which is when the lining of your uterus grows outside of your uterus). I was excited to learn that my new specialist was a Black woman. But all of that excitement about sister girl representation went out the window when she told me that the only treatment options for what I had going on were hormones (read: a higher hormonal dosage in my birth control pills ((YUCK)) a hormonal IUD, Depo-Provera, etc.) pain medication, or surgery and the next step, if I were to continue seeing her was to schedule a pelvic laparoscopy. In my head I thought, now I know you’re a doctor and all, but I don’t know you well enough to consent to you digging all in my belly button. I left the doctor that day bummed, mostly because I still didn’t know what was “wrong” and I didn't feel like I knew enough about what “normal” was to make the decision that surgery was the next option. Leave it to my doctors, debilitating cramps, not pooping everyday and recommending surgery without ever testing for estrogen dominance was normal. Which made this whole situation more complicated to navigate.

Intuitively, by this point I knew that I had reached the ledge with western medicine. I wasn’t going under a knife, no matter how small she ensured it would be, if they didn’t know what was wrong. So, I sought after a different school of thought to cure my menstruation woes: Al Gore’s Internet. That was a joke, but I really did start searching the internet to see if I could fill in some of the blanks. I came across this new world of functional nutrition, Chinese Medicine, and bucking the western medical establishment Right on. After 6 years, I finally learned about the impact of hormonal birth control on the female body. The nutrition depletion, the disruption of gut flora, the impact on mood, and the lack of an actual period were enough to make me realize that the little pink pill had to go.

But, old habits die hard and I was worried. Having been on The Pill for so long, I didn’t know who I was without it. drama. I also had been doing a good amount of research about what happens to the body post birth control (Post-Birth Control Syndrome) and wasn’t prepared to see how things settled for me. Would I have acne? Trouble with digestion? I felt like I was playing Russian roulette! OH! Another barrier to me breaking up with The Pill was that I don’t plan on having children soon. So, there I was…taking what I had decided was the enemy daily out of fear that I didn't have other options.

Insert Sistergirl Doctor with the FACTS. I made an appointment with yet another gynecologist to discuss my options about a new form of birth control. By that point I was clear. I didn’t want no hormones in this dancerie and I meant business about it! I had narrowed down my options to Paragard, the only non hormonal IUD on the market and the Daysy, an electronic fertility tracker. While waiting in the exam room for my appointment I wrote the following on the white board:

B - for “Benefits”

R - for “Risks”

A - for “Alternatives”

I - for “Intuition”

N - for “Nothing"

This was a tool that I learned while listening to Episode 7 of “Under the Hood” Podcast. I’ll provide more details about B.R.A.I.N. in another post.

When my doctor walked in, she looked at the board and said, “I like that! What is it?!” I had a good feeling about this lady already, y'all! She proceeded to explain ALL of my birth control options from top to bottom, something that a gynecologist has never taken the time to do. By the end of our appointment, I was happy that I found a doctor that listened to me and pretty sure that I was moving forward with the Paragard. This was until I got home and did my own research (I told you I got good at that, right?!) on the Paragard. Long story short: I decided that the Paragard was not for me and that until my partner and I can afford the Daysy outright, we’ll be using condoms. Whoo!

For the record, this story took over a year to build. From the middle of the night emergency Urgent Care visits. Where the doctor told me that debilitating cramps were normal. She didn’t know better. To not feeling empowered while speaking to my doctors. To studying all about how the medical establishment treats women, especially Black women. I learned the most important lesson of all. I am in charge of my health. I deserve to have the full picture so that I can weigh out all of my options. I also learned that this is what I’ll be doing on this leg of my journey: Ranting on IG about how we have to take control, creating resources and spaces for Black women to learn more about their bodies, and throwing the middle finger up to a practice that doesn’t validate our lives, pain, and our right to informed self-determination! Thanks for being you and I hope you stay around for the goodies coming!

Aja Imani