A couple of years ago, I decided to get the implant. I was quite excited about it. They numbed the skin, popped a thick needle in my arm and inserted a tiny device beneath the skin. ‘All done.’ It was a bit sore, but not a big deal and off I trotted to the library to finish my coursework, without needing to spare a thought to contraception for the next 3 years.
Sounds great, right?
On the way back to the library I bumped into my friend Cassy who took one look at the tell tale bandage on my arm and raised her eyebrows in alarm. ‘You didn’t’ she said, ‘that thing drove me crazy, I was hysterical until I got it removed.’ I shifted uncomfortably and regurgitated the leaflet that I’d been given about the implant, reassuring her that it’s highly effective and that I was sure it was a great idea.
But sure enough, I soon found myself feeling tearful and completely unable to control my emotions. It’s worth saying that I have struggled with depression anyway throughout my life but I felt a change in my normal behaviour, feeling utter despair wash over me in waves. I sat it out for a month or two before I risked asking our good friend Mr Google.
Of course, we can’t trust everything we read online but check out a few of these responses on netmums:
Have a look for yourself. Hundreds of different forums have thousands of different posts saying that women felt depressed to the point of suicide when they got the implant, and that their doctors reassured them there was no connection, but that having it removed returned them to their natural state. I had the implant removed and started feeling less volatile, opting for the pill instead.
I was taking it one day when my friend Carmen looked at me with the same alarm that Cassy did and said ‘that shit messes with your head.’ I frowned, and she looked at me earnestly. ‘Think about it, the pill makes your body think you’re already pregnant, so it doesn’t release another egg. Pregnant people feel more emotional, get food cravings and feel tired a lot of the time.’ She told me that after you stop taking hormonal contraception your body doesn’t return to a natural hormone cycle for 2 whole years.
I couldn’t believe it. Surely I’d already know about this if it was the case. Yes, some people report weight gain and emotional changes, but if it wasn’t safe for your mental health the doctors would have said something to us.
At my next appointment, I asked the doctor if she was right. ‘Well. It’s true that your natural hormones won’t return for a long time, but it isn’t a big problem. Some people gain weight, some people lose weight. We are all different and if you don’t want to get pregnant don’t stop taking the pill.’ He acknowledged the impacts Carmen described lightly but instantly put them aside and didn’t want to discuss it in much detail.
I don’t want to tell anyone to practice unsafe sex, and I’m a little nervous that criticising contraception will be viewed as irresponsible writing, but I think we seriously need to open the discussion about the unwanted side effects of hormonal contraception. Why aren’t we more aware of these issues, and why aren’t we presented with more information before making decisions that might be badly affecting us for so long that we stop even realising what we are doing to ourselves? Do we have a distorted view of what our own ‘normal’ emotions are?
If you don’t want to have any hormones added to your body chemistry you can use condoms, which I feel get a hard time considering they are the only method to prevent sexually transmitted infections. Long live condoms! Or, you could try the copper coil which can be inserted for 5 years, though some doctors advise to only use this method after your first childbirth because it can be painful otherwise.
The implant and the pill release hormones into your body which can have unwanted effects including loss of sex drive, depression and weight gain. You could try the vaginal ring or marina coil which have a smaller quantity of hormones because they are inserted into the vaginal area so the hormones are localised, rather than going around your whole body.
Of course, I am not telling people to forget contraception altogether. The world is over populated enough thank you. But I feel the discussion is too one sided. Obviously, everyone’s different but you should really do your research and try different things. Consider using condoms because they are the only method to protect you from stds and especially if you don’t have a regular sexual partner you should be using them anyway. There are a whole world of different options out there, and if you feel your method of contraception isn’t quite right, don’t stay quiet about it. Discuss it with the doctor because different pills have different hormones, and it might be that a small change could have a large impact on your daily happiness and health.