Navigating my birth control experience

Julia Jacobs, co-editor-in-chief

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.

Email This Story

Here’s a clip of former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee’s rendition of the classic American tune “Old White Guy Pretending To Be an Authority Figure on Women’s Health.”  Take a listen.

“And if the democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it, let us take that discussion all across America.”

Uncle Sugar? Control their libido? In terms of sexist right-wing conservative pundits, Huckabee’s comments at the Republican National Committee Winter Meetings may be too absurd to even give our attention. Obviously, women don’t want birth control because they’re sex-crazed she-wolves foaming at the mouth for pills that will allow them to lead a promiscuous lifestyle (although, if some are, there’s nothing particularly wrong with that).

Women take the birth control pill as a form of contraceptive, a tool for family planning, or as a hormone regulator, a fix for woes such as acne or an inconsistent cycle. Regardless of their reason, access to the pill should be a basic right for all women.

It seemed to me that amidst the polarized national debate surrounding reproductive rights, the pill was a positive, liberating symbol for women. After all, in the decades leading up to 1960, when the FDA approved the pill for contraceptive use, activists like Margaret Sanger fought for women to be allowed to control how many children they want to mother. Before I started taking the pill in December, it occupied my mind as this magic source of feminine gumption that would zap my skin clear and ease my menstrual cramps.

Approximately ten pills in, it was clear that those benefits would not come without a price.

One night on the way to a party I had to pull the car over three times just to cry. My parents and friends became targets for my verbal attacks, which came as much of a surprise to me as it did to them. Sometimes I felt irritable, other times weepy and most of the time just profoundly sad. And it wasn’t just the winter doldrums; what I was experienced was a result of the progestin packed into the pill that can result in symptoms of depression.

The thing about the pill that is critical to understand before you start on it is that it’s an incredibly inexact science. You’ll be given one prescription to start, and for a month or two you try to observe how it affects you. You become both the scientist conducting the experiment and the lab rat being studied; if you decide that the side effects are too much to bear, you’ll switch prescriptions. And you’ll switch until you’re satisfied, or until you settle.

It makes sense that the symptoms can be drastic because what birth control actually does is no small task: it turns off your natural hormone output and replaces it with a synthetic one, according to When I first heard that, the pill began to seem like using a respirator to breathe or undergoing dialysis to filter out waste from your system when your kidneys can’t do the job.

With over 77 pills swallowed, I see the pill less like a feminist torch and more like a down-right unfortunate thing that women have to deal with. Still, I persevere in hopes of a face without acne, a period without PMS and the peace of mind that I won’t get pregnant before I plan to.

It’s clear that Huckabee doesn’t know squat about birth control pills, but neither do a lot of people. What I’ve realized most recently is that the pill is not as harmless as popping a Junior Mint. It’s a drug with the potential to transform a woman physically and mentally, and the scariest part is that is doesn’t treat everyone equally.

The process of finding a prescription that allows me to be me is slow, frustrating and lonely, but it’s also a lesson in being the keeper of my own health. As a 17-year-old young woman, no longer can I depend on my parents or my doctor or my friends to make these decisions for me. I have the clearest view of the state of my body and mind, and I need not shy away from judging whether the pill is right for me.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email