We’re not on about breast implants today; I think my double Ds don’t need any extra help. I’m talking about the implant a la birth control!
With the discourse surrounding abortion and birth control as rife as ever, including misinformation, I thought it would be good to share some real life experience, and to talk about the importance of free and accessible birth control. For the past three plus years, I’ve been on the contraceptive implant Nexplanon and trust me when I say it’s been one of the best decisions of my life.
Now, I didn’t just stumble upon Nexplanon. I’ve been on a variety of birth control for seven years. Yes, for the obvious purpose; but to also control my hormones and periods as I have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. It has been an overly long and painful journey to find the birth control that is right for me, and I don’t think that’s talked about enough. Most people with ovaries don’t find a contraceptive that works for them immediately, in terms of effectiveness or other side effects. So, if you are a person out there hoping to find out more about the realities of birth control, considering the implant, or just curious about one woman’s journey to hormone stability and a baby-less twenties, then keep on reading folks!
When I first became sexually active, I knew the only sensible option was to get myself on some sort of contraceptive. No way was I putting my life or health in anyone else’s hands, no matter how much I trusted them.
It turns out that sex ed in school didn’t teach you more than how to put a condom on a banana, so a quick Google search sent me on my way to the doctors. Immediately, they put me on Rigevidon. “Is that a town from Lord of the Rings?” I hear you ask. No dear reader – it’s an example of the combined pill. The combined pill works by adding more oestrogen and progesterone to the body so ovulation, releasing an egg, doesn’t happen. Essentially, you would take these tablets for twenty-one days, have a break for seven days, and then start it all again.
Safe to say, it worked. I didn’t get pregnant and I had regular periods. So it worked on paper. Unfortunately, I fell foul of some of the most typical side effects of birth control. Yes, I put on weight and had some trouble sleeping but these were life adjustments. The biggest side effect was the big D. Get your brain out of the gutter and put it in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders; I’m talking about depression. Mood swings are a common side effect of birth control – you are, after all, changing hormones. At first, I thought the low mood I was feeling was just part of my body getting used to these new hormones.
But Rigevidon served as the catalyst for my struggle with depression, a struggle that lasted four years. Over the summer I started birth control, I saw myself slip from a happy and cheerful (if mildly anxious) woman, to someone who sobbed herself to sleep, walking through life with broken sleep, with no will to even get out of bed.
I didn’t know that this level of depression could be a side effect of contraception. This was never explained to me by medical professionals. I thought I was simply falling apart at my seams and nothing could be done about it.
Thankfully, I pushed to get myself on antidepressants which made life that much more bearable. So life with Rigevidon became manageable; I was still depressed but hey, at least I wasn’t pregnant. A year and a half into my time with the combined pill, I started to develop migraines. It’s a familial thing, it is what it is. But immediately, my doctor took me off Rigevidon as ‘migraines + combined pill = higher likelihood of a stroke’. Strange how quickly they changed my birth control as soon as it affected my physical health, but mental health? You are on your own, babe…
So it was out with the combined pill, and in with the progestogen-only mini pill, Cerelle. This pill was to be taken once a day, and works by thickening the mucus of the cervix – very sexy, I know. Unfortunately, myself and Lady Cerelle did not have a good relationship. My once bearable depression started to slip again, and I was hit with the most painful periods I have ever experienced. It turns out that Rigevidon had been dragging my mental health through the gutter but had reduced the symptoms of a hormone condition I didn’t know I had. After previous years of fighting with doctors and getting confident in advocating for myself, I wasn’t going to settle. So four months after I popped that mini pill, I turned my back on it for good.
I gave my body a break from hormonal contraceptive for a few months, to allow my body the chance to regulate. Immediately, my mental health sprung back like a happy rubber band, but my periods plummeted. I’m talking lying on the bathroom floor, clotting, unable to hold down food, paracetamol not doing anything to help. So, with the help of a new, reliable GP, I turned to the implant.
Folks, it seems third time’s the charm after all. After years and trial and error, and getting ignored by medical professionals, I have found the birth control that works for me.
In terms of hormones, the implant works in a similar way to the mini-pill but sends the hormones directly to your bloodstream. Oh – and the implant is inserted into your arm instead of being a daily pill. Now, I know that’s the bit that scares a lot of people away. A bit of plastic holding fort in your arm doesn’t sound the most appealing, but believe me when I say it has been the most reliable and easy birth control I have ever used.
The insertion of the implant isn’t scary either. After discussing with my doctor, I booked through a sexual health clinic to have the insertion appointment. The nurse simply numbed the inside of my arm with a local anaesthetic, and then I didn’t feel the procedure at all. All she did was simply make a tiny incision in my arm, pop the implant in, and then stick a bandage on. No more, no less. Then it is simply left in for three years. No pill alarms or placebos, no forgetting or missing a day. All hormones, all the time!
Like every other birth control and general medication in the world, there are side effects. But I hadn’t experienced any with my first round of the implant. My periods were lighter and the pain became manageable. I also learnt I had PCOS, and the implant had helped to regulate all aspects of that too. And depression? Mood swings? I only had the ones that come with periods and living with an anxiety disorder.
As my three years came to an end, I let the hormones run out to give my body a bit of a break. However, I decided to get straight back on that implant life. The removal happened in the same appointment as the next insertion and was just as swift and painless. I did end up with a gnarly bruise this time but hey – I’m a peach! This time however, I am living with a side effect. A common one, one that actually gets people wanting to go on the implant. The side effect is that I no longer have a period. I still have all of the physical symptoms that come with a period, but no bleeding, and that’s half the battle won there. Nexplanon, I love you.
Finding a contraceptive that works for you is a struggle at the best of times, and nigh on impossible when you feel you don’t have medical professionals on your side. Sometimes it feels like the most vicious cycle of swings and roundabouts; sure, your hormones are controlled and you won’t get pregnant, but you could be severely depressed. To quote Ron Weasley, “You’re gonna suffer, but you’re gonna be happy about it.” But it shouldn’t have to be that way. We should all be able to approach our medical professionals and feel like we are getting the full picture of any medication or contraceptive we are offered. We should be able to have immediate access to birth control that works for us.
So, my words to the wise. Don’t settle for a contraceptive if the side effects start affecting your life. There are always other options and birth controls to try. Looking after your health and sexual health is one of the best things you can do. And don’t be scared of the implant – ask your GP about it!