Collecting Our Stories: Marking International Contraception Day
Contraception: a poem
The pill makes me fat
The implant makes me angry
Abortions make me cry
Pulling out doesn’t work
Pregnancy makes me sick
The coil scares me
My husband got a
To mark world contraception day, 26th September, we have collected our stories. This blog post represents personal experiences from Women of Keele Educate members and supporters. We have kept everyone anonymous with minimal identifiable information when it’s relevant. Thanks to that information we know this blog brings together Black, POC, White, Queer, Straight, Cis, Trans and Non-Binary people’s* voices.
*This originally said womxn’s voices but it was pointed out that not all experiences of contraception fits under the term womxn. We are grateful for the call-in to make this change
Our experiences of contraception have also changed during Covid-19 but even before a pandemic there are common themes of not being listened to, having to ‘shop around’ for a good medic, being made to feel like we are at fault instead of treated with dignity with medical diagnoses or needing various forms of contraception.
We worked around the following thinking points but said people could answer in any form they wanted and didn’t have to specifically answer these questions:
How was it when you first went to ask for a form of contraception ?
What types of contraception have you had experience with, what worked, what didn’t ?
What has your experience been like with medical staff ?
Have you ever had to use emergency contraception, how was that experience ?
We gave people the option to add to a shared google doc or respond to a google form that kept people’s information anonymous.
These are our stories.
S – At 15 I asked for the pill, I had to say I can’t talk to family but I have a friend and she’s older and I can talk to her if I have any issues emotionally along the way. The GP smiles and prescribes it. I was so grateful.
At 18 I realize how unwell the pill has been making me feel but I carry on for a bit more as it seems the least awful of options. Later that year I realized it’s not working with my mental health – mental health was a new term that year for me too – and I stopped taking hormonal contraception. For years I rely on using condoms instead.
Twice I had to use the morning after pill. Years apart but both times were embarrassing, humiliating, and came with a lecture about contraception. Both times it was because condoms broke but sure let’s lecture me here. “If it doesn’t work do we get a refund” jokes my partner at the time….ah the embarrassment.
Fast forward ten years. No one can figure out why I am bleeding so much, every day, week on week, heavy bleeding. Doctors use euphemisms unable to use anatomy terms.
Finally, I saw a woman GP who had done a rotation in gynecology. I get good referrals, I have more tests, no one knows whats wrong. 18 months later, it’s suggested I have a biopsy and then have a coil fitted.
I go for the dual procedure. I get told there will be gas and air, I panic because they are cutting out bits of me…. The lady before me apparently used all the gas and air….well you’re here now so we might as well go ahead….no painkillers….I am nearly sick as I have the biopsy. After they put the coil in. I had pain for months. Always on the left hand side. I was told it was normal.
Eventually it became less frequent pain but it does return the pain, always on the left side. I get irregular and light bleeding. I don’t have the energy to think anymore about it all. That’s what I have now. That’s my contraception story.
A – Imagine the situation. You are attending a routine pill check. You have them every six months and you’ve been having them now for about 15 years. You enter the room, smile at the nurse, take a seat and prepare for the inevitable question: “Oh, the progestogen only pill? Why are you on that then?”.
Cue rattling off the tale you’ve now told umpteen times over about how, at the tender age of 19, you were prescribed the combined pill and spent the next 6 months bleeding so profusely that you ended up needing iron tablets by the time they agreed to switch your contraception.
Yeah, my introduction to contraception didn’t go so well – I was in ‘five droplets on the side of the packet’ sanitary pad hell. On the plus side, the combined pill did act as very effective contraceptive given that I had absolutely no desire whatsoever to have sex for the entire time that I was on it.
In vain I went back to the GP only to be told that the bleeding would ‘settle down’ given time. As someone who suffered from extremely heavy periods throughout my teenage years (with never a whiff of a suggestion that the pill might help with those), I assumed that this was just another one of those things women had to put up with. Thanks Mother Nature, I hate it.
Fortunately my six monthly pill check was with a wonderful sexual health nurse who took one look at my anemic pallor and ordered some tests. Turns out sometimes bodies naturally produce too much oestrogen – who knew right?! Turns out I have one such body and, for the previous six months, had been overdosing on the stuff thanks to getting additional oestrogen in the combined pill.
Once the test results came back the lovely nurse explained to me that a progestogen only pill might be the best contraceptive option for me – it’d provide the same level of protection as the combined pill and might help (or even stop) my atrociously heavy periods. Sure enough, the heavy bleeding stopped, my agonising period pain became a thing of the past, and I developed a regular menstrual cycle for the first time in my life.
Fast forward 15 years and I’m still on the progestogen-only pill today. I did, very briefly, switch to the implant as a longer-term contraceptive option once it became clear that my husband and I didn’t want children but it had similar – albeit not quite so drastic – side-effects to the combined pill and, with a confidence unknown to 19-year-old me, I rapidly requested its removal and a return to the contraception that I knew worked for me.
Fortunately it didn’t take six months to convince anyone of the need to do this second time around – another lovely sexual health nurse listened to my concerns about the implant, looked at my medical history, and agreed that – as in all things – if it isn’t broken, don’t try to fix it.
Image shows selection of condoms
A.B – Before the pandemic my experience with contraception was fairly positive. I had always suffered with heavy periods and at 17 my GP recommended the pill to help with this. At 18 I went to a local 16-25 sexual health clinic and while underfunded (with long wait times), the nurse was friendly and helpful. She informed me that I was able to use the pill continuously to stop my periods all together. I was fortunate not to have any side effects but I sometimes forgot to take it daily.
When i did become sexually active i explored other options and settled on the contraceptive implant. I went back to the sexual health clinic, who were again very informative and walked me through the entire process. My first month on the implant was definitely the worst. I had consistent bleeding and cramping the entire time (luckily i was told this might happen), so i went back to the clinic and was given the pill to help with the side effects. I was on the pill for about 2-3 months and after i stopped I didn’t have issues with bleeding and cramping anymore.
Fast forward to three years later, my implant expired this summer (mid august). Anticipating this and understanding that we are in the middle of a pandemic i started to look for available appointments at the end of June. My GP had suspended all sexual health services but they put me on a waiting list for when they do return.
A lot of sexual health clinics were not open or only taking emergency appointments. I finally was able to get through to a clinic and was told that I would need to book a telephone appointment first. The only appointment I could get was 2 weeks away (mid July), when I finally had the appointment I was told that I had contacted them too soon and an appointment was scheduled for August. They never contacted me back and when I called the next day they rescheduled it for September. So I contacted another clinic, who also required me to have a telephone appointment. During, I explained I was unsure of the brand of my implant and was told that either way the implant lifespan had been extended by a year. Therefore I wouldn’t need to get it removed until 2021. I was skeptical (it had never been mentioned before) but the doctor was unable to answer all my questions due to the time limit on telephone appointments.
And now I’m still on the lookout for a clinic that is able to remove and replace my implant.
I’m a 26 year old Non-binary trans person who uses they/them pronouns. For me my experience of contraception has been a mixed one. When I first went onto the pill I hadn’t realized I was trans so fortunately didn’t have to navigate that but since then I find it difficult with risking being misgendered on occasion when discussing my menstrual health. On the plus side however I view the pill as a form of trans healthcare as it stopped my periods which has been hugely helpful in combating dysphoria.
We really do need to shift the conversation about contraception to use more gender neutral language to be more inclusive of all gender’s menstrual health.
When I was 15 I spent some time at my dad’s house. My step-sister went through my things while I was out and found my contraception. I had to explain to my dad and step-mum, who I was not close with, why I was taking the pill at 15. It was prescribed by the doctor to help relieve pain and regulate my periods. This did nothing to stop the humiliation at being forced to have this conversation. I still have a fractured relationship with my step-sister to this day.
If I tell you I had an abortion I have to tell you that it was because of rape. If I don’t I think you might judge me. I feel ashamed. As a mother, I feel guilt.
SHA – I could probably write an essay on periods and contraception, but I will say this: more GPs need to be more fully informed on the vast array of contraception available, and it needs to be more normalized to try different types out before finding the contraception that works for you.
The first time I went to the GP about contraception when I was 15 – I don’t remember being asked any specific questions or being ‘grilled’ as such, but I do remember being asked whether I had any issues with my periods, rather than whether I needed it for contraception. Both were true!
I was on the progesterone-only pill until I went to university for the first time when I was 19 – then I was changed without much discussion or choice to the combined pill.
The progesterone-only pill gave me rather unpleasant side effects, but I didn’t have access to any information and just assumed that this was ‘normal.’
The combined pill was excellent for me, although I am very aware that this is not the case for a lot of people. I was just rather annoyed that I felt as though I didn’t have a choice in why it was changed, or that another option was not given to me.
I then had the implant (Nexplanon I believe) when I was 23, just before I finished university. The GP I spoke to was excellent: we discussed my options together and I felt as though I had made the right decision for me.
Again, the implant was a great fit for me… except it has now been in situ for seven years, and I am having to fight to have it taken out. The GP I saw before this one was so swamped that every time I attempted to make an appointment it was nigh on impossible, and now the COVID-19 restrictions has yet again made it impossible to schedule getting it removed.
I have now been referred to a gynecologist due to long standing issues with periods and contraception, which I would have definitely tried to access earlier if the information had been available.
I feel as though it is incredibly hit and miss, dependent on the GP you have, as to whether the full information will be given to you.
Y – F26 – Love that you are doing this!
From the age of 12 I experienced irregular abdominal pain so severe I would have to take time out of school. Time off to remain balled up in bed, crying, vomiting, with blinding headaches, scared to go to the bathroom unassisted after the one time the pain was so intense I couldn’t walk, and was left crawling, feebly bleating for help on the landing of my mother’s house because I did not have the capacity to scream for help.
This, alongside a period so heavy I would have to take bathroom breaks every 30-40 minutes to make sure I was okay, the bathroom breaks I would get in endless trouble for – “you should have done that before this class”, the scepticism from teachers, especially the males, when I quietly whispered why I needed to go again, flushing red in the face – the word “period” causing them to grimace. Still, this must be normal right? This is what we’re taught in class, right? It’s normal.
My mother found me curled in a ball on the floor a little later that day, and insisted we go to the doctor because “this isn’t normal”. I saw a male doctor, who referred me to another male doctor, who referred me to another male doctor – a specialist this time – finally someone who knew what they were doing! A relief – right?!
“Abdominal migraines”, that is what he diagnosed me with, he prescribed me naproxen – weighed me – at the time I was 13, extremely active, 5ft 6 and a size 10-12, he suggested I watch my weight with a reassuring smile.
Fast forward 5 years, it’s my first year of university, I’m 18, 5ft 7, a size 12-14. My then boyfriend is coming to visit me after six months, I consider my options to prepare for his trip, with such an irregular cycle and my “abdominal migraines” I visit my male doctor who prescribed a pill – cerazette. My irregular period suddenly became a constant period, I cried all the time, struggled to leave my room for a semester, and within one month I had gone from a size 12-14 to a size 18-20.
My boyfriend visited, I saw my parents, I saw my doctor, no one believed that I hadn’t changed my diet or activity levels, my mental health had spiralled and my body image was at an all time low. I stopped taking that pill whilst my boyfriend was still visiting, it took a long time for me to feel and look “normal” again.
Fast forward another 4 years, the friends I live with convince me to go to my new doctor about what I’m experiencing. My doctor is a woman, and she’s so wonderful, she is confused at the “abdominal migraine” diagnosis, she organises bloods to be done and whilst they come back pretty “normal” – she organises a scan to be sure – and that is when we discover I have PCOS, just as my sister does, as we have always suspected my grandmother did, facts no one wanted to listen to for ten years because we’re only half siblings, on my dad’s side – and “men can’t pass it on”.
Fast forward again, I have taken Norethisterone as a period stopper several times whenever my irregular cycle has left me with a two month long period. I’ve also taken it as a period delayer for holidays, my doctor is happy to prescribe them for me, my weight has never come into it. I forget to visit her before heading home to prepare for travel, I book an appointment as a temporary patient in my family hometown, I see a nurse, I explain everything to her including how many times I’ve taken Norethisterone, why I’ve had to take it, and that my doctor is happy for me to take it – her main concern whilst she scrutinises me is “ well you are…chunky… aren’t you” I glare at her and explain I’ve lost a lot of weight at this point. She doesn’t apologise. I cry in my car.
Fast forward to the one and only time I have taken emergency contraception so far, the pharmacist is kind and puts me at ease – she can see I am clearly uncomfortable, but when I tell her my weight she looks at me with shock and I feel like a monster.
I’m scared to take hormonal contraception now, first and foremost due to its precious impact on my mental health, and secondly because I am tired of hearing: “with your size you can’t afford to gain any more weight, can you?”.
I’m not the only person I know who has been told this before, I know so many healthy individuals who have heard this, who have cried about this, one such friend took to drastic diet to lose weight to be deemed “normal”, only to visit a female doctor who told her there was absolutely nothing wrong with her to begin with after she almost cried trying to answer the question “why have you lost so much weight since your last visit?”.
Doesn’t seem fair does it?
I am a Hetrosexual Black British Woman
My reason for wanting to go on the pill was due to my periods.
I started my period when I was 10, just before high school. I suffer from really bad periods and clotting. I still do at age 32.
At age 12 I bled so much it soaked through my school trousers despite having to constantly wear a tampon and a sanitary towel during my periods. I had to bring spare trousers to school.
I made my doctors aware of this when I was 11. For years the male and female doctors I used to see would tell me that I was “over reacting”. I remember doing my own research, talking to some friends and even my mum. I wanted to go on the pill.
The doctors treated me as if I just wanted to go out and have sex with boys. I remember explaining I never had a boyfriend, I was a virgin and just wanted to feel better.
They were adamant that this was just “part of growing up” and it will get better as I played “lots of sport”. I still remember feeling upset and just hating myself.
Lucky once I got to 16 I realised my periods were not normal. As the pain got much worse and at times I would sometimes be physically sick or have fevers. I decided to seek advice from another GP. The GP I saw was the same GP who owned my local Medical Practice.
She was amazing! She gave me a full check up and insisted that I should go for a scan. They found some small cysts.
I wasn’t put on the pill straight away but my doctor was really supportive. I tried lots of medication including blood thinners to see if they would help me. All my medication was reviewed regularly.
The two cysts I had were non-cancerous but I had to go in every 6 months until I turned 21. They just disappeared on their own.
I was put on the pill when I was 18. I and it helped me with my period pains so much. I know my cysts played a major factor in my doctor’s decision but luckily my periods are no near as bad now, I’m now 32.
The worse experience I had getting the morning after pill was collecting it at a local pharmacy.
I felt really ashamed as the doctor asked me “how many times did we have sex” , “did I know him” and “why didn’t I use a condom” which I didn’t think was appropriate as I had never asked this question before. The guy in question unfortunately wasn’t very nice and I didn’t realise he wasn’t wearing a condom until afterwards, so I went home.
Sometimes experiences that are unfortunate teach you lessons and make you aware of being proactive in standing up for yourself. Especially when it comes to your health and your body.
I’m not afraid to “shop around” for doctors at my GP. It is a shame I feel the I need to do this. I still do this now.
If you have been impacted by our stories or have questions about contraception here are some useful links:
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