She’s twenty-six years old, has been on and off the pill for about 10 years, and I am the first person to explain to her how this thing works. She is a grown-ass business woman who usually knows a lot of things – by that I mean a lot about business, finances, law and economics. But she doesn’t know this.
If you take the pill and don’t know anything about it, the one thing you should know is the very basis of how it works. She was having irregular bleedings. Her theory was that it had something to do with her ovulation because she was bleeding in the middle of her cycle – the usual time of ovulation. That, however, is not possible. The pill, or most pills to be completely correct, suppress ovulation. In her 10 years of taking this contraception, she had no idea how it even worked. This baffled me to an extent I cannot even begin to express.
I remember being prescribed the pill myself when I was 18. My gynecologist gave me a prescription – just like that. I remember feeling a little skeptical. He did not inform me in the slightest about any risks and neither did he explain to me how it worked. He told me about the benefits such as clearer skin and how menstrual pain would probably decrease and that I’d have a much lighter period in general. It took some time before I finally began to do some research myself.
The pill changes a woman’s body in many ways and one of them is to suppress ovulation. No ovulation, no baby. Simple as that. Well, not that simple. It’s much more complicated for your body. And this leads to complications and side effects because your body is not working the way it is supposed to be working over an extended period (no pun intended) of time.
Some of the side effects seem harmless, like headaches, migraines, nausea, weight gain or mood changes. However, some side effects can be deadly. Women who take the pill have a higher risk of forming blood clots that could possibly cause heart attacks, strokes and pulmonary embolisms. The risks increase even further for women connected with other risk factors, such as those who smoke, women who are overweight, are over the age of 35 or have a family history of thrombosis.
Depression is also a very serious and significant side effect that is potentially deadly. Sex hormones have a great impact on our overall brain chemicals. The hormone progesterone, which is part of most combination pills, is proven to induce depression in women vulnerable to it and effecting the brain’s serotonin level, resulting in depression, increased irritability and anxiety. This is what a close friend of mine experienced too. She suffers from depression and started using the pill for contraception. The pill only made her depressive episodes worse and led to her coming off it.
Another friend was prescribed the pill for her acne. She went to a dermatologist who sent her to her gynecologist to get a prescription. However, she did not use it because she had already tried multiple variations of the pill before and it had always caused her to vomit.
Some might think that those supposed benefits are still worth it and not as bad as the number one side effect of unprotected sex: unwanted pregnancy. Admittedly and undeniably, the pill is one of the safest birth control methods out there. “Safe” only regarding its efficiency and reliability to prevent pregnancy. However, it is not the safest birth control method when you take your overall health into perspective (side note: the pill also does not protect you from sexually transmitted diseases).
That is the reason why I find it so incredibly irresponsible that there is no education on the pill. I know many women who were prescribed the pill and took it for years, not doubting it for a second. They trust in the medical opinion of their gynecologists. I have asked many of my female friends and my three sisters about their experiences and whether they felt like they had been informed adequately about their birth control options and risks of the pill by their gynecologist. An overwhelming majority of them did not.
Of course, it is important to trust a professional’s opinion. They studied medicine for a long time and surely know a lot more about health issues than people who didn’t study medicine. However, it is important to question a doctor’s opinion because they are only human themselves. It would also be naive to think that in the health sector, a patient’s wellbeing is the only concern. One would surely hope so, but the relationship with the pharmacy industry does influence the decision of which medicine is prescribed. There is a lot of money being invested into medicine and drugs and where there is money there usually are people trying to get the most profit possible.
Listing clearer skin, lighter periods and shinier hair as positive side effects of a medication surely sells a lot better than listing depression or thrombosis. Women’s health should be prioritized instead of trying to appeal to a culturally constructed self-image.
Clearly, there is something wrong with how the pill is advertised and distributed often without or too little information. I would love to be told that my experience with my gynecologist wasn’t the norm, just a mere exception, and that a staggering majority of doctors would inform their patients properly about the pill. But the reality proves otherwise.
The Verbraucherzentrale Hamburg published a report about this in collaboration with the ZDF-Magazine “Frontal21” in 2016 where they stated that three quarters of gynecologists were found to be inadequate in their consultation concerning the pill. They found that they rarely gave alternatives or information on the side effects.
There needs to be a change in how the pill is advertised and how it is perceived as a miracle drug that makes women more beautiful and their lives easier. It is prescribed too easily and without hesitation, leaving women in the dark about what they are potentially doing to their bodies and their mental health. There are alternatives out there and there is a lot of information that needs to be provided to women who consider taking this drug. So, Ladies. Let’s get information.