by Maisie Blaufuss, Student Advocacy Fellow at the College of William & Mary
I “went on” birth control pills for the first time when I was fifteen. I was a freshman in high school and I had ended up in the hospital twice in three months with bleeding so heavy and cramping so intense These were symptoms I suffered from my first period.
I was not one of those girls who simply “got” their period, like a surprise and momentous coming of age moment. I had cramps days before I got my first period, and knew what was coming. I could barely maintain consciousness from blood loss, lack of food, and dehydration.
“The pill” is the go-to solution for situations like this. Doctors across the country prescribe birth control pills to teenage girls like me to help with discomfort and pain, acne, irregularity, and a host of other health issues that can all be controlled through this regular dose of hormones. I was lucky enough that my parents immediately supported my going on birth control pills, supporting it as my health decision and the recommendation of my doctor. And it helped. I was slightly more regular, the periods were less bad, I could get through a school day without vomiting from cramps, so on and so forth. I took that pill every morning, every day, until I was eighteen. That year, I started college. And the third member of my immediate family suffered from a blood clot. My dad had a pulmonary embolism while I was in high school, and now both my grandfather and grandmother had suffered from them as well. They are as healthy as can be today, but those incidents forced me to change my own health behavior.
Guess what you are not supposed to take if you have a genetic propensity towards blood clots? Birth control pills!
I was ready to not be on the pill anyway, to see if my body had evened itself out and my uterus had pulled herself together. So I was not on any form of birth control when I started college. I moved across three time zones, and explored my new freedom in my new home. I was a college freshman, making the mistakes and having the joyous experiences that new students around me and around the country were having. My periods were bad, my iron levels plummeted, and I became regularly sexually active for the first time in my life. All things that mean a person should be on birth control. And I knew that, so I marched myself over to the health center and got a prescription for a generic birth control pill , without talking to my gynecologist. One month of those, and I was done – my skin broke out, my periods weren’t any lighter or more regular, I generally felt terrible. I was not taking the pill, because I hated it. But one night, the condom broke.
I panicked. I was 19 years old, uncomfortable in my own skin, prone to panic, and did not think there was anywhere I could turn. I knew that my irregularity with the pill rendered it ineffective. I was too scared to talk about this with my boyfriend, who asserted that everything must be alright “because you’re on the pill!”. I waited for my period to come, for that reassuring flood to tell me in no uncertain terms that I was not pregnant. Three weeks later, nothing. The panic never subsided. I thought I was pregnant. So I Googled how to get an abortion.
And then, I called Planned Parenthood. A calming voice over the phone told me I would be safe, taken care of, that nothing was going to go wrong.
I lied to a friend in order to borrow her car, still hesitant to share anything going on between my legs for fear of shame and judgement, but unable to walk the ten miles to the clinic. I sat in the quiet waiting room for the nurse to take me back. This same nurse took me in her arms after both the pregnancy test and STI test both came back negative and almost a month of stress left my body.
The doctor at the Planned Parenthood came in, and we talked for almost 45 minutes about my options, my health history, my sexual activity, everything. She made me feel safe and comfortable, and I was able to be honest about something I normally could not utter a sentence about without choking on the words. I got an IUD that same day.
The degree to which my IUD has improved my life cannot be overstated. The unpredictability and pain associated with my periods had contributed to anxiety and depression throughout my adolescence. My birth control and uterus are no longer sources of anxiety or fear in my life. I was able to thrive as an athlete as my iron levels rose, and the periodic periods no longer render me bedridden for a week. I fought and struggled to get to the place I am now with my health, and had the privilege of supportive parents and adequate health insurance along the way. But now, I look back, and I am simply thankful. Thankful that my birth control is safely ensconced inside me, and I don’t have to worry.