After 4 years and 3 months on the same contraceptive pill, the only hormonal contraceptive I have ever used, I stand on the cusp of transitioning onto a new one. It’s a necessary change: my body has been giving me hints for months, which became harder and harder to ignore, so I’m swapping my combined pill (oestrogen AND progesterone) for the mini pill (progesterone only). Even though I have absolutely no doubt that this is the right decision for my body, I find myself feeling incredibly anxious about putting it through such a change.
I’m nearly 20, which means I have spent a fifth of my life with this particular set of chemicals managing my hormones and figuring my body out so I don’t have to. I have spent a fifth of my life comfortable knowing that my periods will arrive 4 days after I take the last pill in the pack. I have spent a fifth of my life knowing that once a month, some small comfort will come in the form of back pain and cramps, tenderly reminding my like a stern matron that I have managed to not get pregnant. Not to mention the fact that until the past few months, my body has always got along swimmingly with this pill; I’ve been one of the lucky ones with no side effects. It feels like a big old change to once again force my body to shift its radar, especially when its shifting out into the unknown. I almost feel guilty.
First of all, let’s talk periods. I’ve rarely confessed to anyone else, but always known in myself, that I weirdly enjoy my periods. Not only is it a lovely confirmation that the contraceptive pill is doing just what it’s supposed to, but I think it stands as a symbol of my personal femininity. Of course, this in itself is complicated. Not all women have periods, and not everyone who has a period is a woman, so I would never argue that periods are a symbol of vital facet of femininity in general, but I can’t pretend that my periods don’t affirm my femininity, for my own personal brand of it. Having grown up as a cisgender woman, narratives of menstruation have been rammed down my throat since the advent of puberty, so I can’t help but associate this time of the month with an intense display of womanhood. In fact, it’s these same narratives that make the menopause such a tough time for women, as we have been force into believing that fertility maketh a woman. Not matter how much I know in my head that fertility or lack thereof, and periods or lack thereof, is but one facet of being human, and is nothing specific to women, I can’t help but feel particularly feminine when I’m bleeding.
Furthermore, it’s a time of the month when I feel in control. Being on the pill, and having my hormones and processes chemically controlled, I don’t necessarily always feel in control of my body, but at this time, I know what my body is doing and trying to tell me, Moreover, having had roughly 120 periods at this point, I think it’s fair to say that I know how to handle them. I can perfectly predict my own behaviour before, during, and after, even if I appear to those around me to be completely irrational and confusing. So when I chatted with my doctor about my contraceptive options, and he told me that all of my viable options meant I would not have a monthly bleed, I was pretty spun out. After all this time, not experiencing a period once a month just doesn’t seem right.
If I’m honest, the whole concept of micro-managing my own hormones is a concept that doesn’t particularly sit well with me anymore at all. For thousands of years bodies have been dishing out the right hormones at the right time just perfectly without me interfering. I want to be in cahoots with my body, not manipulating it into changing direction. I’m already slightly anxious about controlling my hormones, so you can imagine how anxious I am at the thought of changing how I’m controlling my hormones. If there’s one thing I’m proud of, its the fantastic communication between my body and I; I always know what’s going on, but this is an untrodden path. I just don’t know how my body will react this time! I was super lucky the first time – I didn’t change weight, my skin didn’t change, and my periods remained immaculately regular. But who knows this time. I could absolutely hate it. My weight could go up or down. My libido could go up or down. I could experience heavy spotting or I might never bleed again. It’s so disconcerting to go from a perfectly honed system to an experimental one, a system no pamphlet can accurately foresee. It’s a leap of faith, and one I have no choice but to take.
Women have it hard when it comes to contraception. We put ourselves through the ringer in order to ensure that we don’t have to put ourselves through an even more painful and tricky, 9 month long, ringer. When men don’t want a woman to get pregnant, they can wear a condom for a few minutes and they’re good to go. When women want to not get pregnant, they generally rely on restricting the hormonal balance of their bodies, so often at the detriment of there mental wellbeing. If my boyfriend gets to be apprehensive about contraception, its because he wants to enjoy sex as much as possible. If I get to be apprehensive about contraception, its because I want my body to be comfortable and happy, and I want my head to be comfortable and happy. Being in a situation in which I have to choose anxiety and guilt over migraines and stomach pain is hard, but it is a choice we have to make. For most young heterosexual women, the contraceptive pill (and other forms of hormonal contraception, which I have no experience with) is worth all the pain, stress, and anxiety that it can put you through. It’s no picnic, but where would we be without it? Put simply, we have no choice but to put ourselves through the ringer and disrupt our body’s instincts.
Grateful though I am for the miracle of modern medicine protecting me from the heron at the door, I wish I didn’t have to take a daily dose of guilt and anxiety to show my gratitude.