My Distinctly Average Experience With The Pill
Growing up, I always thought period-related pain was the most obvious reason that someone would start taking the pill. My heart still aches for my friends who would stay home from school with heating pads on their abdomens for days on end. I never get cramps—historically, and to this day—and my four-day period has always been manageable, start to finish.
I never cared to date in high school, so it wasn’t until I was 17 and getting ready to move away to college that I even had the birth control conversation with my parents (aka my mom). And I use the word “conversation” loosely—it was more like her saying, “Well, this is the logical thing to do,” and then we were off, on our way to Dr. Fee’s office to craft a game plan. I can’t recall if I tuned out during that visit because I was young and decidedly uninterested or if it was because the language was all going over my head. Whatever the case, all it took was a quick exam and a short conversation before we’d settled on a combination pill: Loestrin 24 Fe.
I went to college in England, where I quickly learned birth control was free. (Bless the NHS!) I headed to my nearest Planned Parenthood-equivalent and spoke to the doctor about my experiences (and sexperiences, am I right?), and together we found the UK version of Loestrin 24 Fe. The packaging looked different, but with a quick scan of the ingredients and dosage list, I figured they were more or less the same—akin to how we say “toh-may-toh” and they say “toh-mah-toh.”
I didn’t experience side effects with either of the pills, and I couldn’t blame my once-a-month hormonal acne breakout on my new daily digestible because, honestly, I’d been getting period pimples since the early days of my period. I also refused to compare my pre- and post-pill weight. Did I gain a bit of weight? Yes, but who is to say it was the birth control? The myth that weight gain is a common side effect has long since been busted, and I had just gone off to college where my alcohol intake increased and my desire to eat health-conscious foods—well, we know what happens when you move away from home for the first time. Truthfully, I felt fine.
I noticed little to no difference in my pre-pill mood and on-pill mood. Any time I felt differently, I attributed that to the fact that I’d moved across the world, going from sunny Southern California to cold, grey London—a move not for the faint of heart. I’d grown into adulthood, learned to live without my twin, and felt my first “real” heartbreak, to name a few. It felt impossible to determine which of my negative or unwelcome feelings was a byproduct of my increased hormonal intake and which could be classified as “growing up.” None of the negative feelings came without a major life change, so it didn’t feel right to assume it was due to birth control.
After college, I went off the pill for a brief stint. I had moved home—both back to Southern California and to under my parents’ roof—and meeting a prospective partner was not high on my priorities list. I wasn’t seeing anyone, and my pre-pill period was manageable, so I thought it would be a fine time to let my prescription run out and skip the refill. I’d also thought about wanting my body to recalibrate with itself—a feeling I mostly attributed to having read up on more holistic forms of medicine. I started to get my regular, four-day period again about two months after stopping the pill. It was neither here nor there; it just was what it was—annoying, sure, but nothing like the stories I’d heard. Still four-ish days, no cramps, regular hormonal acne, and no discomfort to speak of.
After a year of being off the pill, and 10 or so months with a period, I moved to Los Angeles. By then, I was ready to get back in the dating-ring, thus, back on the pill or another form of birth control. I met with a new, local OBGYN for convenience, and we decided on the pill again. As with my other experiences, it was all lackluster, and the pill seemed to be a similar version with a different name.
That was about five years ago, and we’ve been smooth sailing ever since. Some months, under my doctor’s supervision, I’ll skip the placebo pills and hop straight into a new pack, though I typically only do this when I’m on vacation or have a beach weekend planned and don’t want to deal. (A luxury!)
For now, I find that this is the best method for my partner and for me. My body and mind both feel great, and anytime that’s not the case, I try to weigh it up against other areas in my life: Did I eat greasy, heavy foods? Have I made sure to move my body once a day? Is my acne from my face mask, or am I a few days out from my placebo pills? How are my friendships?
I know that birth control is a divisive subject—everyone’s experience is uniquely their own, and I wholeheartedly feel for those who have had negative experiences, especially with the pill. Many of my friends and peers have switched to an IUD (intrauterine device), a trend that seems to be increasingly popular over ingestible forms of birth control. I’m open to the possibility of making the swap in the future but, for now, I think I’ll stick to what works for me.
If you’re vibing with the pill and it’s working for you, right on! Perhaps you feel like it’s time to swap to an IUD, and that’s cool too! If all the preventative measures scare you and you want to go au naturale, more power, I say. Whatever you choose, may you feel empowered in your autonomy and right to determine what is best for your body.
I’d love to hear about your experiences with birth control, both good and bad, in the comments!
Alyssa Julian is the Social Media Lead at The Good Trade. She’s LA born and raised, and when she’s not scrolling her phone for the latest trends, she can be found at the farmers’ market, camping out of the back of her Subaru, or searching for adoptable dogs on Petfinder. If she’s not off-grid for the weekend, try looking for her at her home studio, where she’s probably making cups for a new coffee shop. Say hi on Instagram! 👋