I was put on “the Pill” the week I turned 18. I wasn’t put on it for birth control purposes, but because my previously-heavy period had gotten so bad that I passed out from the loss of blood. The doctors figured this would fix that problem.
What it did was mask the problem. Once I was on birth control pills (BCPs), I could no longer have accurate hormone tests run. The specialist thought I had PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) but it would be another 7 years before I found out he was right. In the meantime, I just dutifully took the Pill every day, as instructed, and assumed I wouldn’t get pregnant and that everything was under control. My primary care physician (PCP) du jour always prescribed it.
A friend of mine was suffering from depression for a long time. She tried changing all sorts of things about her life. She got a new job, tried a new diet, saw therapists, but was still depressed. I saw her a few months ago and the transformation was incredible! She was the happy, upbeat person I remembered from so many years ago! She was dealing with some truly horrible circumstances at home, and yet she seemed happier than I had seen her in 10 years. What changed? She went off the Pill. She said the change happened quickly. She’s no longer in therapy. She’s just avoiding birth control pills. Too bad none of her doctors thought to try that. Apparently, it never occurred to any of them.
A friend of mine found out the hard way that because of a medical condition, birth control pills won’t prevent pregnancy for her. She found when she got pregnant!
I now take a half of a BCP every day. I do this not for birth control, but because I need the boost in my estrogen levels. This is how my endocrinologist prescribes it.
Hormones are a tricky thing. Mess them up, and you could be in serious trouble. I know this from experience and from what I’ve witnessed. So why are PCPs prescribing hormones? Why aren’t women being sent to endocrinologists? Now there’s even talk about making BCPs available over the counter, without prescription!
Let me be clear. I am very much FOR giving women better birth control options. I think that making BCPs widely available is a good thing, but it needs to be done intelligently. Women should receive free visits with endocrinologists. Only endos should be allowed to prescribe BCPs. Endos should be well-versed in the possible side-effects of BCPs. When I got horrible mood swings once a month, when I felt horribly depressed and wanted to cry for no reason, my endo knew to take me off the Pill, let my body settle down, then start me on something else. My PCP didn’t know to do that. After women get these free visits, then BCPs should be available at the local pharmacy free of charge. I strongly believe this.
On the other hand, I do not want to see women getting the Pill without seeing a doctor. This is an unpopular view among my very liberal social crowd, but having more experience with medical issues, I am very ready to confidently take this stand. There are just too many ways it could go wrong. There are women for whom BCPs won’t work as effective birth control, and many for whom it can have horrible side effects. We call it “the Pill” and yet there are many different formulas. Should I take an estrogen-based one or a progesterone-based one? I like the idea of only getting my period 4 times per year, but will that one work for me? I could ask the pharmacist, but what will they know? They have no idea what my hormone levels are. No, women need to see endocrinologists who know which tests to run, how to interpret them, which medications to prescribe, and how to handle the side effects.
Our bodies are too important to just hope that it all works out.
And by the way, if providing free birth control is so important, where are the free condoms? I don’t want to get pregnant, but BCPs won’t work for me, so I need something else (assuming I’m even fertile, but that’s a topic for another day.) Plus, I don’t want to get STIs, either! Condoms should be distributed at doctors’ offices and at pharmacies, free of charge. Those things are expensive! Let’s make it easier for everyone to avoid unwanted pregnancies and STIs.