Call it one of the failures of the American [sex] educational system, but I was vastly uninformed about birth control before I started using it - the turning point being that I was seeking alternatives to monthly incapacitation as a result of my period.
It was absolutely unbearable. Between vomiting, sweats, and excruciating pain, I couldn't go to class. I could hardly eat. I slept on the bathroom floor during the night and took hour long showers during the day just to cool myself down and allow some water to hit my face.
Cue: the pill.
I was in high school when I started taking it. I can't say I noticed any particular negative side effects, but it absolutely made a significant difference in my ability to cope with menstrual pain. Admittedly I wasn't taking it every single day, but that part didn't matter because it didn't change its effectiveness for my purposes. Perhaps I would have experienced more of the infamous weight gain or mood changes if I had been more consistent.
My senior year in college, my doctor recommended an intrauterine device (IUD). My indiscipline with the pill wasn't conducive to an active sex life, nor was the bad habit easily rectified during a time I was figuring out how to manage my combination of depression, PTSD, and OCD.
Choosing Which One to Use
The biggest difference between the big brand name IUDs seemed to be their potential effects on your cycle and the duration of use. I chose Mirena because it lasts for up to 5 years and can eliminate your period altogether.
For friends with anxiety, take note that this takes some getting used to. If you're sexually active, and sometimes even if you're not, getting a monthly period provides some level of reassurance that everything is in order. Mirena and options like it are also not the right choice for you if you're opposed to artificial hormones. There are non-hormonal alternatives that even last up to 10 years, but the progestin released by hormonal IUDs thins the lining of the uterus and gives you those lighter periods. Some say the hormones may also help prevent certain cancers.
Getting it Inserted (TW: Graphic)
I was warned it would be painful, but nothing could have prepared me for what I actually experienced. I took pain medication in advance of my appointment and was administered an additional numbing agent before the insertion. It didn't take more than 5-10 minutes, but even that felt like ages. I would not recommend going to this appointment alone. There was so much bleeding, I almost passed out in the middle of the street leaving the doctor's office and waiting for an Uber. You will definitely need rest and recovery time.
*I had to take a break from writing this! The muscle memory of that kind of pain triggered a panic attack for me. Look into other choices if you want something less intrusive.
At first my period stopped completely, but now I have irregular cycles and occasional spotting. I miss the regularity of the pill, but my cycles now are even shorter and lighter than they were when I was taking it - 2 days or less with light protection in comparison to my previous 6-7 days with medium.
I do notice slight abdominal cramps at times, but I can't report any direct correlation between the IUD and other side effects.
When it's all said and done, I think I would choose the IUD again. It's low maintenance, highly effective, and I enjoy the minimal risks. If you're thinking about what's right for you, talk with your doctor about your lifestyle, your preferences, and any other medications you may be taking. There are all kinds of options like shots, patches, arm implants, and gels that may be best suited for you!
There is absolutely no shame in birth control. You are in charge of your body and your life, and we all have our reasons for wanting to explore the best solutions for our health and family planning needs.
Let's see how things go now that they've started to roll out more options for the men...