When did we start to hate the Pill? Amidst the anti-hormone contraception backlash, Jeanne Sutton defends the daily dose that changed her life.
I was diagnosed with a condition called endometriosis in 2011 after keyhole surgery on my stomach and left ovary, because surgery’s the only way to confirm the disease. Endo, as it’s known, is when endometrial-like tissue, which usually lines your womb, grows outside the uterus. The tissue thickens, breaks down and bleeds with every cycle, but doesn’t go anywhere. It can cause pelvic pain, fatigue, and cramps. In some cases, organs stick together. It’s incredibly extreme in some patients, ‘tolerable’ in others. A lot of women never realise they’ve endo, putting their bad periods down to just something women go through. Like, y’know, the pay gap.
When you’re always in pain you never know normal. A threshold’s a foreign country. I thought I was fine until one menstrual cycle I fainted. A doctor went through my last four or five periods and we realised I’d canceled college and social plans to coincide with intimate evenings with my hot water bottle. After my 2011 surgery I’d been put on the Pill, currently one of the main ways to treat endo. There’s no cure, but for many women oral contraception alleviates symptoms, and that worked, for a while.
Slow forward to 2014 when I spent an entire November menstruating. My skin was grey, my Boots’ card balance climbing. I debated A&E but settled for a GP appointment. She said, “this can’t keep happening to you every month.” My body wasn’t able to cope, and my iron levels were dangerously low. Her solution? She proposed I take the pill continuously, three cycles at a time. I started that evening and it worked. Now, I take Ovranette, a second generation combined Pill, which means it contains synthetic versions of both oestrogen and progesterone.
I love my Pill, even though it gives me stiff hairs on my chin and a moustache. The facial and excessive body hair is a good trade off for a life that makes me feel able for things. If I wasn’t on the pill, I wouldn’t be able to perform my job as well as I do. I wouldn’t feel attractive. I’d have lower expectations of life.
Despite the fact I’ve some ownership over my health as a result of a medical advance, in this era of wellness warriors, near strangers feel it appropriate to dole out advice. There was an intern who heard me say I was getting a burger for lunch and told me I shouldn’t eat red meat if I was serious about my endo. One former colleague took me aside to tell me to come off the Pill and treat myself through diet, because the hormones weren’t good for me.
Okay, so there are studies linking hormonal contraception to depression. One published last September in The Journal of the American Medical Association caused something of a headline domino effect across the web. Op-eds slammed Big Pharma and GPs for conspiring together to not let women know what they were doing to their bodies when they chose to go on the Pill.
The pill isn’t just a tool of sexual liberation but a necessity for women with health conditions.
However, there are other studies linking the Pill to improved moods. And other experts point to the fact that different hormonal pills can have different effects on a person. It’s complicated. Yes, there are legitimate criticisms of how we talk about contraception and women’s health in general. Women will anecdotally say how college GPs just threw any old prescription at them.
Going on hormonal contraception’s a big decision and deserves a Big Conversation. Sometimes the Pill isn’t right for you. There are other options, like IUDs, the bar and injections. If you don’t want to go on hormonal contraception, for personal or health reasons, that’s something else we should talk about. It’s a choice you make for you.
There’s a worrying trend in women’s media at the moment. You see it in the clean eating movement, in the rise of #fitfam culture on Instagram. Natural’s good. Only eat organic. People are entitled to their beliefs, but you’ve no business endangering people’s lives. And that’s what telling someone to come off vital medical treatment is. Anti-hormones propaganda is dangerous and ignorant.
When you’re sick, you realise there are three types of people in the world: those who couldn’t give a fuck, those who empathise, and those who ‘advise’. The latter category are the people who when you mention you’ve a cold, interrupt to tell you how they vanquished their latest viral incursion with a vat of honey in heated water sprinkled with cinnamon and added to orange juice and then blitzed in a Nutribullet sprinkled with a super powder sourced in Mongolia.
They’re rarely qualified doctors or dieticians, yet speak with untold confidence about the foods you should cut from your diet. They’re the type who hang about the comments sections of new mums’ Instagrams, ready to pounce with screeds about plastics, organic baby food and breastfeeding. A tribe commonly known as wreck the heads.
The Pill isn’t just a tool of sexual liberation, but a necessity for women with certain health conditions. It can and does change lives for the better. Please bear that in mind next time you tell a sick girl to eat more kale.
This article first appeared in STELLAR’s January/February issue. Our March issue is on shelves now!
Get the latest news, hottest trends & biggest competitions to your inbox.