Some of these headaches included migraines with aura, which meant I would see rainbows or spots about half an hour before a migraine hit. On one scary drive home from work I couldn’t see out of half of my left eye.
According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, you aren’t supposed to be prescribed my type of oral contraceptive when you have these types of headaches.
The research shows that it increases the risk of ischaemic stroke by threefold — which is a stroke caused by a blood clot in your brain or a buildup of plaque in the arteries leading to it.
The link between these strokes and oral contraception is not new, it was just never mentioned to me by 3 different doctors I had seen during those years. Perhaps they assumed a previous doctor had mentioned it to me, or because it was such a common drug that I would already know.
After all, how many doctors explain the possible complications of paracetamol?
When I was 22-years-old, I talked to my doctor about the possible side effects and complications of my birth control for the first time since being prescribed it as a 16 year old.
She ran through a list of questions that should have been asked when I started the medication — and again during the six years I’d been taking it.
I answered positive to having migraines with aura, and she immediately took me off the pill.
Trying the Implanon
My next foray into birth control was with Implanon – a hormonal rod (colloquially known as The Bar) that was inserted into my arm and left a small scar.
I remember the conversation I had with the doctor regarding side effects vividly, mainly because the only side effect my doctor told me was that I may experience irregular bleeding and that it would balance out in 6 months if I did. I wish that was the case.
It’s important to mention that I have premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). It’s a disorder that 1 in 20 menstruating women have that causes extreme emotional reactions to hormonal fluctuations, and is something that many medical practitioners aren’t aware of.
It was only formally recognised by the World Health Organisation in May 2019.
My PMDD wasn’t taken into consideration before I started this new hormonal birth control, and neither was the possible side effects of depression or mood changes ever discussed in any conversation I had with a medical professional regarding birth control.
It took a month for the medication to settle in.
For the following 5 months I could count on one hand the number of times I felt happy. Or felt anything, really. When I went to the doctor to discuss this, she told me I was suffering from mild depression and anxiety due to a recent breakup.
I tried to iterate that I was happy about the breakup, but to my frustration, she decided I didn’t know what I was feeling. There was something that felt fundamentally wrong with me, but either I wasn’t explaining it enough or she wasn’t listening.
So I went looking myself. I googled. I talked to my sisters, my friends, and even their sisters — and I found out that quite a few people felt this way on The Bar.
Having done my own research, I asked my doctor to take the Implanon out of my arm and I was feeling better within 2 weeks.
Finding a doctor
I have had 2 other doctors since then and have realised that finding a doctor you like is a lot like dating: you have to match each other and work out what style you like.
Some people find it reassuring when doctors seem to know everything, I prefer having a doctor where my health is a conversation rather than a question for them to answer.
Now my doctor suggests all these great birth controls that seem to have no side effects, and I tell her that I’m happy with condoms.
I don’t want to be told in 5 years that I have increased my risk of stroke, or that it’s going to be harder to have children, and I really like having feelings.
It’s been almost a decade since I first started taking birth control. I don’t know if I’m more knowledgeable about the subject, but like with many things as you get older, I am more cautious.
I’m not sure what I’ll be doing for contraception in the future, but I know to treat it as a continuing discussion with my doctor, do my own research, and to trust my gut.