BY TRISTA EDWARDS
Right now the state of women’s reproductive rights is uncertain. Everyday I hear a new and different concern regarding women’s health from friends across the country. On January 21, 2017 millions of people around the participated in the Women’s March to protest, display solidarity, and proclaim resistance to the current administration. Of the many issues that protesters marched for that day one was for the advocacy of women’s health and the many facets that entails—access to safe and legal abortions, birth control, preventative care, health care equity, and the continued funding of organizations that help provide these services to individuals and families across the country.
The newly appointed vice president, Mike Pence, (a long time supporter of the anti-abortion movement) was the first ever VP to attend the March for Life rally on January 27, 2017. Pence stood in front of the National Mall to tell the cheering crowds, “Life is winning again in America. That is evident in the election of pro-life majorities in the Congress of the United States of America.” He proudly proclaimed the pro-life stance of Donald Trump and shared his personal hopefulness that Trump’s administration will change the political climate of abortion in the United States.
Now with the recent Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, there is an even greater threat to a woman’s right to choose and even potential limited access to conception (given his history of favoring corporations as people allowing those corporations to deny access to contraception). Many fear that this could potentially lead to new legislation that would overturn Roe v. Wade.
Before and after the election, I spoke with numerous friends and acquaintances, online and in-person, who were quickly making appointments at their gynecologist and organizations like Planned Parenthood to specifically acquire birth control pills or replace their current conception with something more long-term like a subdermal implant or IUD. There are some women purposefully stopping in on local pharmacies to buy multiple boxes of emergency contraceptives, like Plan B, in case this form of contraceptive were to become no longer available (Plan B has a shelf life of up to three years, so I would recommend acquiring some in case you may need it).
Texas, the state I currently live in, attempted to introduce a new law that would require fetal remains from abortions or miscarriages to be cremated or buried if either event happened at a clinic or hospital. It did not, however, apply to miscarriages at home or to early-term, drug-induced abortions.
Fortunately for those who opposed this law, a U.S. District Judge blocked the law from going into action citing “that the guidelines for disposal of fetal remains places undue burdens on access to abortion which substantially outweigh the benefits.”
And in the midst of all this uncertainty I electively choose to stop taking birth control after over a decade.
I’m not trying to have a baby, that is not the reason I have stopped. I had to stop because of how my hormonal birth control was affecting my physical and mental health. I had been taking birth control pills roughly from the ages of 19-28. I was privileged to have had easy access birth control and regular check-ups through the health center at my undergraduate university. I continued to attend this university for a master’s degree and was able to get the same care well into my late twenties. Being on the pill had relatively no adverse effects on me. I had lighter periods (sometimes none at all for several months), was able to float on the same box of tampons often for half a year. In my youth, this particular side effect suited me just fine.
When I was 29, I decided to switch to the subdermal implant, Nexplanon. The hormonal implant was good for three years and that attracted me to making the switch. The implant was great at first. Great in that it did what it was supposed to do with no side effects (keep me from getting pregnant) so that I nearly forgot its presence in my left arm. Then, after a little over a year, I felt like there was some invisible force inside me dragging me down. There was some gut feeling that it was the Nexplanon implant.
I was depressed, fatigued to the point of nausea, gaining weight despite a healthy lifestyle, suffering from decreased libido, constant headaches, and on-going dizziness. Despite normal, outward functioning, I felt HORRIBLE most of the time. (***A lot of women do not experience any adverse side effects while on Nexplanon and it is a wonderful form of birth control for them. Just as with any medication, it works with some people's bodies and not with others.***)
I did what most people do and jumped online to see if other women were experiencing the same thing. I knew that recent studies have linked birth control to depression but I wanted to see what people were specifically experiencing while on Nexplanon. I felt it had to be this implant because I had never had these side effects from the pill. I did consider that I was older than when I started taking birth control, now 31, but I just felt there was something going on in my body that just wasn’t quite right.
I found forum after forum of women sharing the same experiences as me. Most were expressing weight gain despite regular exercise and healthy eating. This was something that had been plaguing me. I had gained twenty pounds in a year. I allotted for a change in metabolism, age, and an extra beer once in a while but twenty pounds? I work out. I eat healthy. I am a calorie counter. It was frustrating.
Other women illustrated similar problems. Several shared how they asked their doctors to remove the implant before the expiration date because they couldn’t get a handle on the unexpected weight gain. One woman expressed that her doctor laughed, said the implant doesn’t cause weight gain, told her she was just eating too much, and would not remove it. She stated that due the humiliation and shame her doctor caused her, she remained silent and kept the implant in.
Numerous other women also shared how their doctors would not remove the implants after they experienced weight gain or noted other undesirable side effects like have a menstrual cycle for months on end.. No study has come forth to connect subdermal implants to weight gain. Yet, there is something to be said about so many experiencing this side effect. Are all these women, myself included, denying poor eating habits and limited exercise in favor of blaming birth control? All of us?
My first reaction was bewilderment. What?! You express to your doctor how your birth control of choice is proving to be not the right choice for you and you would like it to be removed and they don’t do it? (Although, really I should not have been that shocked that women aren't listened or believed when it comes to voicing their concerns over their own health, particularly reproductive health, given both the history of sexism in medical treatment and the current administration's lack of advocacy.) The comment thread from these women was a little over a year old and my attempt at contacting them and engaging in dialogue was met with silence. More than likely, they do not visit this forum any longer.
I realize that my reaction was coming from a space of privilege. I made an appointment for a regular check-up, walked in, said I no longer liked my subdermal implant, that I felt it was doing X, Y, and Z to my body, and I would like it removed a year early. My female doctor nodded, sympathized, reassured me that a lot of women found that after time Nexplanon was not right for them. After my routine exam, she removed it in less than ten minutes. Just like that.
I want to believe that women who do go to doctor, for any reason, are believed when they express their health concerns. I know this is not true. In this particular case, I was listened to and my doctor believed in my concerns and my right to choose what was best for my body. I have seen doctors (in my experience, all male), gynecological and otherwise, who don’t even look me in the eye in the exam room. I know this happens to male patients too. The callous or apathetic nature of some doctors is often a complaint of the institutionalized medical care system. It is not particular to female patients but it is common.
My doctor asked if I would like to go back on the pill. After a lot of contemplation in the months leading up to this moment, I said no. After over a decade on birth control, I would like to know what my body is like not on it—to let it regulate itself, have regular cycles, to have a cycle at all, see how my mental health exists without the pill.
This choice is also an extreme privilege I have. There are many that can’t even risk getting pregnant for a multitude of reasons. I am 31, married, with a fairly sound economic situation at the moment. It would not be uncommon for people to expect me to become pregnant or be shocked if I announced I was pregnant. However, I do not yet know if I want to become a mother and I would like to keep this a choice.
I am anxious, to say the least, that so many women and families may be on the verge of losing their reproductive rights—their access to safe and legal abortions and their access to contraception (preventative or emergency).
The reasons a person who chooses to get or not get an abortion or use or not use birth control are varied. For many the choice is not even there. The legislation may currently there in some cases but the opportunity is not. Although abortions are currently legal, there are still a multitude of reasons an individual does not have access to the procedure. There many be women who wish they could be on birth control but can’t. I know there are many who share in my experience and many who do not but have their own particular experience in these issues.
Right now I am currently not on birth control for the first time in my adult life. I dance back and forth between feeling liberated and feeling trapped by my decision. I am excited that I can allow my cycle to regulate it self, improve my mental health, and get my in tune with the rhythms of my body. Yet, the liberation also comes from knowing I can choose to change this situation or any arising situations regarding my body. I feel like that option is threatened. I am willing to fight for it, for myself and for all women.
Trista Edwards is poet, land mermaid, light witch, horror enthusiast, creatrix, traveler, feminist, and dog lover. She is also the curator and editor of the anthology, Till The Tide: An Anthology of Mermaid Poetry (Sundress Publications, 2015). She is currently working on her first full-length poetry collection but until then you can read her poems at The Journal, Mid-American Review, 32 Poems, Birmingham Poetry Review, The Boiler Journal, Sou’wester, Queen Mob's Tea House, and more. She writes about travel, ghosts, and poetry on her blog, Marvel + Moon. Trista is a contributing editor at Luna Luna Magazine.