One day in my high school gym class, I remember having terrible menstrual cramps. I was walking around the gym warming up, trying the best I could to make small talk with some friends through the pain I was feeling. That’s when they asked me: “Why don’t you just go on birth control?” As I shared with my friends the difficulties and pain I was facing regarding my menstrual cycle, each one of them encouraged me to talk to my doctor about going on some form of hormonal birth control as a solution. “It’ll stop your period, no more cramps, it’ll totally clear up your skin! It’s so nice to not have to worry about my period anymore.”
As a sixteen year old dealing with painful cramps and extremely heavy periods, the idea that I could escape all of that by taking a pill sounded so intriguing – and what could be bad? I went to my mom that afternoon and asked her about starting birth control. Fortunately, I was met with great resistance, although I did not see it as fortunate at the time. She told me that there was a lot I didn’t understand about birth control, and that it could actually be more harmful to my health than beneficial. She opened up about her own negative experiences with birth control and was looking out for my own health and best interests.
Despite my mom’s strong stance, I did want to see if there was a way to improve my PMS, so I went to my doctor. At my yearly physical, I told my doctor about my painful periods, and that I heard going on birth control could potentially be a good solution to fix my problems. She asked me what birth control method I was thinking about, and from my own research and comfort levels I said I was only interested in the pill. This moment was something that changed my views on birth control and the push for birth control in our society. She kept insisting, to the point where she was abrasive and harsh, that the IUD would be much better for me. She explained the perceived benefits of not having to take a pill every day, that it would last for years and I wouldn’t have to worry about maintaining anything, and that it was just a short and relatively painless procedure. She also mentioned other “advantages” that would come along with the IUD: “less heavy period and clearer skin.”
I knew in my gut that something wasn’t right about this conversation. It felt like she wasn’t even listening to my concerns or my reasons for wanting to get on birth control. I ended up leaving telling her I would consider my options, and never reached out for a follow up. I started to really look into birth control, and decided the side effects were not worth it, remembering my mom’s words about how I didn’t know how this could affect me in the future.
The extreme push for birth control, especially at such a young age, is truly alarming. Doctors are using birth control to provide a temporary solution to issues such as cramps, acne, or other issues relating to reproductive health. Young girls aren’t being fully educated or informed about what hormonal birth control is actually doing to their bodies: stopping ovulation, pumping the body full of synthetic hormones, as well as the many other harms that can come along with it. As time went on, the gym class conversations with my friends changed drastically. Many of them listed concerns such as they “didn’t feel like themselves,” or that they were gaining lots of weight. Some were experiencing spotting, and some were bleeding every day for months when they were told that this would “stop” their periods.
I feel extremely fortunate to have found FEMM, a comprehensive women’s health and wellness program for reproductive health.
While I am not advocating to abolish birth control, I think the concept of informed consent, one of FEMM’s core values, is crucial for the health of women and girls. One of the main points on their website clearly states, “Women’s symptoms are often dismissed as par for the course. It can be challenging to get an accurate and clear diagnosis and treatment. Women often hear that their symptoms are in their head, or not real, or not important. Band aid solutions can suppress symptoms for a time, but ultimately fail to address underlying issues.”
I personally did not understand the benefits of charting my cycle, as I used to be under the impression it was only something that women who were trying to conceive took part in. I am so fortunate for my FEMM education, focusing on learning about the importance of our hormones and ovulation as part of key health indicators. I recommend all women take a look into FEMM and their offerings, as I truly believe there are a multitude of benefits to learning about your reproductive health.
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Published: May 22, 2022
Written by Mackenzie Montoya, WYA North America intern
** Fertility Education and Medical Management (FEMM) is WYA’s sister organization.