It took me around seven years of navigating shitty side effects and just as many forms of hormonal birth control before I settled on not taking the pill, full stop. Each new prescription brought on a new symptom, from the somewhat mild (acne, weight gain, mood swings) to the truly life-altering (dizziness, migraines, depression). What’s perhaps more impressive than the length of my BC battle is how far into it I journeyed before I got really fucking angry.
Yesterday, a new study came out from JAMA Psychiatry that links use of hormonal contraceptives to subsequent use of anti-depressants. “They found that women who used combination oral contraceptives, a.k.a. the pill, were 23 percent more likely to take an antidepressant than women who didn’t use hormonal birth control,” reports The Cut. The study goes on to unearth further complexity — that in some cases the depression dropped off after a few years, for instance — but the conclusion remains. And it’s one most of us have always known sans proof: birth control does galaxies more to your body than stop pregnancy.
Some of the effects are positive. I know plenty of women for whom the pill relieved terrible struggles (debilitating periods, for instance). And in no parallel universe, let alone ours, would I vote to pass legislation that makes access to contraception more difficult. But the burden of hormonal BC needs to be more widely recognized. Swallowing a pill every day only to watch as your body revolts is a special kind of demoralizing. Far worse is being told by your doctor that the misery you’re feeling is normal and may or may not disappear in half a year. The right pill for you, we’re told, might ruin your life until it settles into your system.
True, reproductive health and family planning is incredibly important. Also true: the onus for the latter often falls on women.
One doctor thinks we ought not to overreact to JAMA’s findings. “An unintended and unwanted pregnancy far outweighs all the other side effects that could occur from a contraceptive,” Dr. Cora Breuner, a Seattle pediatrician and chair of the committee on adolescents for the American Academy of Pediatrics, told Kaiser Health News.
I’m loathe to call “GASLIGHTING” on a female pediatrician, but I can’t help but feel frustrated with this line of thinking. It’s the very same mindset that kept me from prioritizing my own health, both physical and mental, for so many years in my own journey to stopping a baby from growing in me. The socio-economical consequences of unwanted pregnancies are not to be discounted, but neither are the often crippling consequences of hormonal birth control.
The normalization of birth control’s side effects kept me suffering quietly for far too long. We need more studies like these and we need more options for both women and men. Are you on hormonal birth control? Have you felt marginalized or isolated by the experience or have you been unaffected?
Photographed by Susan Wood via Getty Images.