I have to start this off with a warning. I’m about to talk about menstruation. I’m going to be very open and honest. If you have a problem with that then you probably should not read on.
This was written in 2015 but I was not comfortable publishing it until now. I wrote this because when I was having the problems I describe I couldn’t find anyone else talking about their experiences. I have found many women find comfort in sharing their experiences with one another so I wanted to put my story out there.
I got my first period on October 19th, 2005. I remember the date because my small town has an agricultural show every year on a Wednesday in the middle of October. That year it fell on October 20th and I was so excited to go. The show is similar to a carnival mixed with contests for livestock, plants and baked goods. I suppose it could be compared to a country fair. The local school children get that Wednesday off to attend and it’s generally a fun family day out. I did not have much fun at the show in 2005. The day before I woke up and got ready for school as usual but when I went to the bathroom I noticed something different. I have received a lot of education on the subject at school and at home. From grade 5 in primary school our teachers began teaching us “sex ed” which was actually just about preparing us for puberty. My mother had also been talking to me about periods since I was nine years old, which I wasn’t particularly impressed by. I knew what to do when I was finally “blessed” with “becoming a woman” (a period does not make you a woman). I had that first day of my period off from school. My mother wanted to celebrate but I did not want to make a fuss, I was embarrassed more than anything. I didn’t want to talk about it or acknowledge it at all.
I was glad I stayed home from school because as I discovered I was also “blessed” with a genetic predisposition to intense abdominal cramping. I spend the first day with a hot water bottle on my stomach but I was determined to enjoy the show on the second day. I woke up feeling very dizzy and unwell. I felt very nauseous and hot all day. I don’t usually experience motion sickness but that day I sure did. My cramps gradually got worse throughout the day and I found myself having to sit down or I would be doubled over in pain. My mother convinced me to eat but it didn’t stay down very long. I did buy three live ducklings however which made my day much brighter. Every cycle was like this from then on. For years I had to force myself to attend school feeling feverish and sick. I got better at handling the pain most of the time but would still have to take strong painkillers on the first two days. My cycle was usually a 30 day cycle but my period always lasted about 10 days. It was very inconvenient and made me feel awful. Many of the women in my family had the same experiences so I knew it wasn’t abnormal for myself but all of my friends thought I was strange and boasted 5 day long periods much lighter and less painful. If my family didn’t talk so openly I would have felt very confused.
When I was sixteen I had a serious boyfriend. Many of our friends were also in couples and were sexually active. I was determined to save my virginity for as long as possible. I told people I was waiting for marriage but what I really meant was “the right person” and “not in high-school!” I was spending a lot of time at my boyfriend’s house and although I wasn’t intending on taking things that far I was aware that if things “accidentally” went to that level I needed to stay safe. I did not want to make a mistake and the ever present threat that I had a coin tosses chance at having Huntington’s disease loomed over head. This was only a fraction of why I decided to go onto birth control however. I knew many other young ladies who had found success in using birth control to regulate their periods. I was told they helped for shorter, lighter periods and would probably stop cramping too. I told my mum and went to my doctor.
Some of the girls I have talked to said that their doctors just wrote them a prescription without asking them any questions. This surprises me because my doctor was very through. He asked me if I was currently sexually active (I wasn’t) and if there was any chance I could be pregnant (there wasn’t but he got me to take a pregnancy test anyway). He then asked me about my relationship status and told me that even with the pill I wasn’t protected against STIs. My doctor made sure I understood what was going on before he gave me my prescription but didn’t judge or try to persuade me against sex or contraceptives.
I was on the pill for roughly five years. At first I took the “spacer” pills as directed, sometimes called the placebo or sugar pills they are meant to make your body experience a period. I didn’t have any cramping and my period was a much shorter and more manageable five days. After a few months I decided to delay when I would take these spacers. I would schedule my period for the school breaks when it was much more convenient. After almost two years of having my periods quarterly instead of monthly I started only taking the spacer pills once a year. I had been talking to some other girls on the pill who did this and did some searching on the Internet which told me there wouldn’t be any negative consequences to doing this. The theory being that the pill tricks your body into being pregnant and although the spacer pills caused a slight drop in hormones and a light period it wasn’t a “real” period anyway. I’m not a doctor and neither is the internet. I figured this all made sense to me so it wouldn’t be a problem.
In hindsight I really don’t recommend this cause of action. You should always do what your doctor says when it comes to prescription medication or at least follow the instructions on the packaging. I was told that I should continue taking the spacer pills as directed because it would keep my cycle on a schedule. I was taking the pill to control my periods and specifically my pain. For the majority of the time I was on the pill i wasn’t even sexually active. My doctor always made sure I checked in with him and occasionally would get me to do a pregnancy test (and sometimes even a blood test).
For the most part I didn’t have any problems when I was on the pill. I’ve heard women complain about acne or hair loss while on the pill. I didn’t experience either of these issues and my acne actually cleared up a bit while I was taking the pill. I’ve also heard women have problems with irregular bleeding and spontaneous spotting but I never had any problems with unexplained spotting/bleeding. The only problem I did experience for myself while on the pill was weight gain. I definitely found my metabolism wasn’t what it used to be while I was taking the pill. I also found that any medication I take tends to cause weight gain so I suppose I am just predisposed to that side effect. Most importantly it did its job! I never got pregnant while taking the pill.
The most common problem I heard while on the pill was people complaining that either themselves or somebody close to them got pregnant while taking the pill. What I’ve discovered from these stories is that usually the woman who got pregnant was relying on the pill as her sole method of contraception and/or they were not taking the pill on time everyday. The pill only works if you take it the same time every day with no more than four hours difference either direction. If you miss a dose then you should definitely use a second method of birth control for at least week (it says this in the instructions). The pill worked exactly as it should have for me.
The biggest problem I have had with the pill came after I stopped taking it. However I blame myself for the problems I have encountered since I went off the pill. At the time of writing this I have been off the pill for almost ten months and I have experienced very irregular periods that have varied from very short cycles (21 days) to very long (50+ days). I also have had lots of days of random spotting mid cycle that I never expected before or while taking the pill. My menstrual cycle (post birth control) has been completely impossible to predict and much more inconvenient than before I started taking the pill. I believe if I had been taking the spacer pills consistently for the last five years then my cycle may have remained on a more predictable routine. I have spoken to my doctor many times since going off the pill and it is his opinion that my body is just trying to regulate my hormones after being on the pill for so long. It is the popular opinion that it should take six months for a woman’s cycle to return to normal after the pill but I have also read of it taking up to two years! I hope that’s not the case for me and that my levels even out soon.
A few months after this was written my doctor checked my hormones and they were in fact low. I was put on progesterone during my cycle for three months. This significantly helped regulate my cycle.
Please don’t take any of this as advice. I am not a doctor and I wish I had listened to mine over the suggestions of my friends.