For me, going on the pill for the first time was a big deal. I was 18, in my first ‘proper’ relationship and the likelihood of getting pregnant was very high if I didn’t use some form of contraception. I’m not sure why I didn’t consider other forms of contraception, my mum had taken the pill when she was younger, and it seemed like a logical option to stop me ovulating. Without realising, I was following a trend in women aged 16- 34, the majority of whom use ‘user- dependant’ contraception such as the pill.
The first pill I went on, Microgynon did not agree with me. I had been taking it for a month and already it seemed that every day I was either vomiting or suffering from migraines; physical symptoms which I definitely hadn’t encountered before taking the pill. Microgynon is the most commonly prescribed contraceptive pill in the UK; over one million of women were prescribed this pill in 2015. Unfortunately, one size does not fit all.
So, it was back to the sexual health clinic for me, I was prescribed a pill branded Loestrin and I went on to take it for the next year and a half until the inevitable break up of my relationship.
Teenage relationship disaster aside, the Loestrin pill was something I relied on, but it also caused me a lot of worrying. In the seven- day pill break I would have no withdrawal bleed which I assumed was the only sign that the pill was working. The nurse said that it could be because I was stressed and she wasn’t wrong: both college and my boyfriend at the time were constant sources of mental exhaustion. I was told to ‘just chill.’
I chilled as much as I could, but still no withdrawal bleed and my uninformed younger self was left constantly taking pregnancy tests because I was so unsure whether the pill was working. Safe to say, I never got pregnant and now I know why.
The contraceptive pill works by introducing synthetic oestrogen and progesterone (or just progesterone depending on the pill) into a woman’s body. This effectively sends a woman’s ovaries into a deep sleep and stops them releasing an egg by halting the menstrual cycle including ovulation. Ovulation is the key to getting pregnant; if no egg is released into the womb then there is nothing for sperm to fertilise and make a baby.
On the pill break, hormones are no longer being put into the body and the ovaries slowly wake up to the point where they are just about ready to release an egg. This is when the first pill of the next pack is taken and the ovaries are shut down again. It’s quite scary, but I found out that if the first two pills of the next pack are missed after the break, there is a risk of becoming pregnant because within those two days, an egg could be released and if sperm are added into the mix, a baby is likely to be the result!
What is the point of this break if it makes women teeter on the edge of pregnancy? I was interested to find out that it’s nothing to do with science but to do with what the manufacturers of the first pill decided was right. A pill break was seen as something that women would like because they would have a withdrawal bleed and be reassured that the pill was working. Strangely, it was also a tool to get the Pope to accept the pill as a ‘natural’ contraceptive, but he never accepted it and that part of the plan failed.
It’s in this pill break that I have the most problems.
I started taking the pill again a month or two after meeting my current (amazing) boyfriend and I decided to go on the same pill because it had worked so well for me when I was 18 to 19 years old. I still don’t get withdrawal bleeds but that’s not something that concerns me now. What concerns me is the three days where I constantly feel what I can only describe as depressed. I don’t want to move, I feel physically heavy, I can’t force myself to do things that I like, I cry constantly at nothing and I’m generally very sorry for myself but trying to push through these feelings at the same time. I tell myself that it’s only the effects of the pill break and I just have to get on with life and deal with it.
What I find interesting is that these mental health symptoms only occur towards the end of the break, three days before I’m due to start my next pack. If anyone can shed some light on this then please do.
It’s clear from a range of sources and the few studies that have been carried out that there is a link between the pill and depression. A Danish study of over 1 million women found that 15-34 year old women taking the pill are 1.23 times more likely to be diagnosed with depression than those not taking the pill. The risk of depression is higher in 15- 19 year olds taking the pill and more antidepressants were being prescribed to women 6 months after starting to take the pill.
It’s actually comforting to know that there is a reason behind my monthly low mood and I’m glad that there are more types of pill out there for me to try if it gets too much.
I’d like to end on a high note: what are the good things about taking the pill? For a start, it prevents the following list of ailments:
- cysts of the breasts and ovaries
- endometrial and ovarian cancers
- serious infections in the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus
- iron deficiency also known as anaemia
- pelvic inflammatory disease
- excess body hair
A brilliant list and some great reasons for me to keep taking it! Some may feel that the mental strain that the pill causes is too much and not worth it, but that is a personal choice and something that is best discussed with a medical professional!
What do you think? Do the benefits outweigh the risks?
I know it’s a sensitive and slightly intimate topic, but that doesn’t stop it from being an important issue for women around the world!Share your thoughts in the comments below!