When Birth Control Doesn't Make You Feel Liberated Part 2: New Beginnings

This post is part 2 in a series about my experiences with birth control. Part 1 is here.

Note: about halfway down the page, there is an image of a rash I had for educational purposes. There is no blood or other body fluids present in the image.

The first few weeks with my Nexplanon were fine, and I was excited to have birth control I wouldn't have to worry about for a few years. I dealt with the side effects as they came: cramping, bleeding, skin changes, weight gain, and mood swings, because they initially subsided. They all came back eventually, but I'll get to that in a second. The worst of them all was this lingering arm pain where the implant was inserted, like it was rubbing against (and tearing) my bicep muscle. It was a sharp pain, and I'd only feel it when I extended my arm a certain way or someone grabbed that area, about 3 inches above my left elbow. I thought it would go away once I got the implant out, but it's still there about 8 months later even though I only feel it when I extend my arm.

The final straw for me, however, came in October of 2016, about 8 months after I had gotten the implant. I started spotting, which was normal for a few days each month since I didn't have an actual period. But the flow got heavier and didn't stop for MONTHS. It didn't stop until well after New Years. I know part of the risk of hormonal birth control is that it'll throw your body out of whack but that was ridiculous.

In retrospect, I'm not sure why I didn't let my doctor know what was happening. I think I convinced myself that it would end soon enough, and that at most all the doctor would do is recommend that I take it out which I didn't want to do at that time. It didn't help that my doctor was in Baton Rouge and I lived in New Orleans for school; she was always booked out for months and appointments almost never worked during the semester because I had class. 

Worst of all, I just wasn't feeling good. I felt so uncomfortable all the time because all of the side effects I was experiencing were out of my control. Acne, weight gain, 3 months of bleeding nonstop, depression, and body pain are all things I don't consider inherently bad, but knowing that there was a cause behind it all and I couldn't do anything about it frustrated me to no end because I felt powerless in my own body.

 Part of my shingles rash on the left side of my torso. There was a matching rash on my other side and along my back.

Part of my shingles rash on the left side of my torso. There was a matching rash on my other side and along my back.

I'm a relatively healthy person, but I had a lot of health issues come up during my time on Nexplanon. I can't explicitly say that they were caused by the implant, but it's worth pointing out. First, I got shingles in October 2016. Shingles is caused by a reactivation of the chicken pox virus because your immune system is somehow compromised. It causes a painful rash on your body and sometimes your face. It hurt to move for the better part of a week, and the doctor didn't even diagnose it at first because shingles doesn't happen too often in young people who don't have weak immune systems. They originally thought it was an allergic reaction to detergent or something, but it didn't go away.

A few months later, I had a bronchitis induced asthma attack on Christmas Eve 2016 that landed me in the ER. Before this, I hadn't had issues with my asthma since middle school. I decided shortly after the terror of those months at the end of 2016 that this wasn't working out, and I was going to go back to my doctor to get the implant taken out. 

That leads us to the conversation in my doctor's office from Part 1 where she's trying to talk me into getting on another kind of birth control. I was completely over altering my body with hormones at that point, and she ultimately respected my decision. But the whole experience left me with a bad taste in my mouth. At this point, I don't see myself using any form of hormonal prescription birth control in the near future. I might give the copper IUD a shot if I ever feel like I need to use something long term. 

I'm willing to deal with the symptoms of my PCOS, even if it means a potential cyst rupture because I feel like the issues that come with taking birth control for the rest of my reproductive life might be worse. The medical field's lack of attention toward "female" reproductive care (especially for poor people and people of color) means that a lot of these problems may not come to light until irreversible damage has been done, despite the increased attention and changing attitudes toward birth control.

 Protest sign at a 2016 demonstration for the Zubik v. Burwell case, which challenged the Supreme Court's ruling that the government would step in to cover birth control for employees of religious organizations who opted not to cover it for religious reasons.  Photo courtesy of  Elite Daily

Protest sign at a 2016 demonstration for the Zubik v. Burwell case, which challenged the Supreme Court's ruling that the government would step in to cover birth control for employees of religious organizations who opted not to cover it for religious reasons.

Photo courtesy of Elite Daily

I feel like we've been in a cultural moment with prescription contraception for at least the last few years. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act (for now), the accessibility of contraceptive options has skyrocketed since so many people can get them for free or at a significantly reduced cost. For people who aren't interested in getting pregnant, it just makes sense to take advantage of it. However, there are plenty of people, lawmakers and judges included, who oppose contraception mostly on moral/religious grounds and seek to reduce access through direct and indirect legislation. This has prompted protests and demonstrations throughout the years by those who want to protect access to contraception.

This puts people like me in a weird spot. This is slightly hyperbolic but it seems like I'm forced to pick a side. Either you're completely on board with more access to contraception, or you're a puritanical jerk who wants to control people's bodies. I think there's a middle ground that gets lost. I think it's possible to support access to birth control for people who want it or need it while acknowledging like any form of medicine, it's not above critique.

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