health

"One day still haunts me." My painful, emotional search to find the right contraception.

I still remember the day my mum took me to the local GP to request a script for the oral contraceptive pill.

I had just divulged to her (cringe) that my then boyfriend and I had done the deed and I was ready to take control of my woman bits. After a large gasp and what felt like hours of silence, she agreed.

Over the next seven years, I would then experience the emotional roller coaster of not only navigating the world of being a young woman with a chin full of cystic acne, but also the irrational dummy spits, many tears and my 8am iPhone alarm buzzing to remind me to take my pill.

While it wasn’t all bad, during that time I enjoyed being able to know and control when my period was coming (hello skipping my period for a NYE camping festival), minimal if any period pain, and most importantly not starring on Australia’s first season of Teen Mum.

It wasn’t however until I finally went off the pill for two years that I realised how it had actually made me feel. I was no longer burning up into balls of rage when something didn’t go my way. I had more energy, and losing weight felt much easier. Instead of constantly battling a labile mood, I felt more in control of my emotions. More like me.

Now I know some will say all of those experiences are just adolescent hormones and that many women still suffer from a good ol’ bout of PMS, where even someone breathing wrong will make you flip. But anyone who has “gone off the pill” after years of taking will agree you just feel different.

Fast forward to my adult years where I could no longer frolic around in the contraception-free universe (ahem, barrier contraception not exempt), and I needed a new alternative.

I made an appointment with a female GP who made me feel comfortable to discuss my options without it being awkward – girls we’ve all been there, some conversations about your lady love bits need to be had walls down and all information on the table.

After making a mental list of pros and cons, I’d decided on the Implanon rod. For those who aren’t familiar, brief science lesson 101.

The Implanon rod is a progestogen-only implant that sits just beneath the surface of the skin in your arm, releasing a dose of hormone to suppress ovulation . I was told I’d approximately have a 1 in 3 chance of it being the right contraception for me. Some women won’t get their period for three years (sounded like heaven in a matchstick… that is planted within the subcutaneous layer of your upper arm), some women may experience spotting or regular periods, and some women (hello lucky yours truly) will have no regularity to their cycles and have constant spotting.

If there is nothing worse than getting your period once a month, it is literally having it almost every day FOR THREE MONTHS! This is not ideal especially when you’re in a new relationship where all you want to do is jump each other’s bones and you’re not quite comfortable leaving tampons in their bathroom cupboard, let alone deal with the constant presence of menstruation.

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Going through a year’s supply of panty liners wasn’t even the worst part. Once again my emotions were riding along Luna Park’s Big Dipper and my squeals were not of delight. When I think back to my experience with the implant, one day haunts me.

One afternoon, I sat on a bench in the middle of Chapel Street crying because I couldn’t decide whether to go to the gym and inevitably get sweaty or go home and hate on myself for not exercising. Those mental health struggles felt like someone else was controlling my thoughts and emotions and I was a passenger in my own body.

After sticking it out for a further month despite my GP suggesting it may settle down, I booked in to get that she-devil ripped out of me. The doc gave me a script for “the mini pill” which is a Progestogen-only pill that has lower doses of the hormone.

Within a few weeks the bleeding had subsided but I was struck down with one of the worst headaches I’ve ever had that I could not shake. It wasn’t until one night I felt like my vision was slightly blurry and felt tingling in my fingers I went back to a doctor for help.

This new doctor, also female, told me I’d had a “mini-stroke” and that I was never able to take the pill again in my life due to the risk of blood clots.

Cheers doc, don’t order me an MRI or book me a follow up appointment to check I’m still alive. Lucky I was about to finish my nursing degree and had some understanding of this “mini stroke” she was referring to, which is actually called a Transient Ischemic Attack or TIA. I’m not sure this was actually what had happened to me or whether my headaches were so severe from stress or anxiety I’d lost control of my body’s feeling of normal.

After almost a year of uncontrolled emotions, throwing out several pairs of undies due to unpredictable Polly the period and funky smells (TMI but yes this is a horrible side effect), my body needed a break.

I was too scared to even have sex because it all just didn’t seem worth it. Not to mention, I was almost out of options. My final option was an intrauterine device (IUD), a device inserted into your uterus that can either locally release hormones (Mirena) or be made of copper to prevent sperm movement and survival in the uterus. I decided to let my body do its thang and attempt to go back to “normal” before I decided to stick something new in there.

Mia Freedman gives us way too much information about her brand new Mirena, on Mamamia Out Loud. (Post continues after audio). 

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I also researched other barrier forms of contraception such as the diaphragm, a dental dam (clue: it doesn’t go in your mouth) and female condoms. All of which are extremely difficult to find and purchase.

I was expecting to waltz into Chemist Warehouse and pick one up next to the vast variety of male condoms in their neon colours, lollipop flavours and an assortment of textures for pleasures unknown. But no, I hunted in store and online but found limited results. Which was surprising considering menstrual cups are so popular these days, why aren’t diaphragms? Online said visit your GP to get measured (i.e. uncomfortable) but my GP had no bloody clue!

I guess by now you’ve read my struggles and are thinking, “OK great where’s the silver lining to this story, surely she’s found the answer?”

But unfortunately, I’m still searching.

I am also reaching the childbearing age where if a little spermy was to make its way in and introduce itself to my age-appropriate ovaries, there it would stay for nine months. I will tell you I did manage to find Australia’s only female diaphragm, called Caya, which is a one size fits all (but how?) that will set you back $100 ($130 if you add to cart some special spermicidal lubricant) and is only available to purchase online.

Let me address that I have also not forgotten our good friend Dom with whom our male counterparts are quite familiar with. While I strongly believe they are an excellent back-up as well as prevention against sexually transmissible infections (for which hormonal contraception is not), I want to be the one in control.

Not to mention, condoms alone are not 100 per cent effective and accidents do happen (awkward trips to the chemist with someone you potentially met last night aren’t my idea of breakfast in bed).

I hope people don’t take this anecdote as me saying all contraception is the devil.

If you take the pill and it works for you, or your Implanon has been your saviour for years (I have a friend in this position, I’m jealous of you GF), then you do you.

My hope with enough traction that the company will actually distribute to pharmacies around Australia so we can actually see IRL whether this silicon cup will fit and be worth the money. I’m sure they don’t have a very efficient refund or returns policy (ewwww you’re all thinking).

If you share my struggles, which I know I can’t possibly be alone, please reach out to me.

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