Finding My Flow: A Timeless Tale Of My Period & Birth Control
By: Bella Saad
I anticipated getting my first period the same way I now anticipate my waiter serving me a bowl of Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe at Via Carota — with the utmost eagerness, excitement and hunger. Hunger for the milestone that would mark my official entry into womanhood. Hunger for relatability amongst my friends that had already free fallen into the depths of their female development. Hunger for the next chapter of my life to unfold. Taylor Swift’s “Fifteen” echoing in my head as I incarnate into the main character of my own Blockbuster teenage drama.
You take a deep breath. And you walk through the doors. It’s the morning of your very first day.
As I look back, the woes of puberty seemed to loom over a painfully drawn-out period of time, manifesting in all sorts of uncomfy ways. Pimples on my forehead masked with blotchy orange smudges of Sephora Collection Concealer 06 Madeleine when I should’ve been using 04 Butter Cream. The ungodly combination of armpit hair, sweat, and BO (RIP to my yellow-stained white Abercrombie V-necks). But most of all, the impending physical, mental and emotional anxieties attached to my body signaling its intrinsic, evolutionary threshold of fertility. When sex and identity blurred into one. How do I kiss with my lips and my tongue? What’s second base? Will he think I’m a prude if I don’t have sex? Am I a slut if I do? Why am I scared to have sex with boys? Do I like girls? How do I shave THAT? *Googles: Does soy milk make your boobs bigger?*
As my tampon agility settled in, so did the weight of these questions and the popular women’s accoutrement that is (DUH DUH DUH) birth control. I’ve now been on the pill for nine consecutive years, so before I swan dive in, it’s important to identify I am not writing this through an anti- or medical lens, but rather a contemplative one. An anecdotal reflection of my experience in hopes that it delivers solace or insight to those weathering the hormonal storm. It’s not easy. It’s not black and white. And at the time, I processed it more like a rite of passage than a medical decision under fluorescent lights.
When ideating for this piece my shower thoughts buzzed around the magnitude of the words birth control—both separately and together. Birth: If Coach Carr didn’t ingrain enough fear into you after Mean Girls, it was likely the wacky anatomy teacher you had in middle school, the 16 and Pregnant binge spells, or ye old “talk” with your ‘rents, uncovering an entirely new degree of discomfort in your family home (as your younger brother basks in blissful youth and Mortal Combat one room over). Control: A word that can embody both positive and negative sentiments. Positive when it attests to healthy restraint or physical function. But maybe not so positive when it relates to energy cast over inevitable motions of life: your body changing, heartbreak, dissonance with your family, challenged self-worth, confused identity, questions you’re too afraid to ask, answers you’re too afraid to hear. All the motions that preceded my forfeit to the tiny pill. Together, birth control suggests the primary, anatomical function without much suggestion of the psychological effects. Those that I later found ignited the similar uncontrollable motions that got me on the pill in the first place.
From the start, I reaped the physical benefits of equilibrium that my hormonally shocked body was longing for. It tempered the flow, cadence and length of my periods. Acne subdued to occasional hormonal zits (1-800-ZitSticka). Bloating diminished entirely. Psychologically, I found it initially eased my apprehensions around womanhood, making me feel one with the female herd, a viable contender in the reproductive circle of life, lending way to the notion of casual sex and agreeability during recess banter. But it also propelled me into a sense of urgency to check the next box (pun intended). And I did, shortly after. It was quick, anticlimactic, and did simply that—checked a box on a list. For a period of time, my intimate encounters felt far more transactional than emotional. Like I was going through the motions to keep up. After surviving the ripples of puberty, I settled into my body and found more awareness at the intersection of my physical, mental, and emotional states. The routine of birth control became second nature, like brushing my teeth or washing my face, and so did the effects it had on my body. I lost touch with when and to what extent I started to feel more “normal” and when and to what extent it was the birth control influencing that “normal.”
College offered me fresh grounds to redefine the line between my identity and sex that had blurred in the chaos of my female awakening. Fostering friendships that would stretch far beyond the bounds of the locker halls. Contemplating my vocation and aspirations. Venturing into intimate encounters with more self-regard and emotional maturity at play, which often spurred uncertainty against the fine line between lust and love. Why was I so emotionally consumed at times and completely removed at others? I’m triggered by the most random things. Am I meme-crazy girl? Are these reactions warranted? These were the charged moments where I started to ruminate on the role added hormones were playing in my body.
Shortly after, the summer before my junior year, I sensed my body starting to change. Slower? Metabolism? Less? Working? Out? More inevitable physical transformations sparking uncomfy emotions, new realities, and lifestyle alterations. Could it be my body and the hormones disagreeing now? Or was it normal? I hadn’t been in a consistent intimate relationship for years at this point, and considered going off the pill to find out. My mom’s Euro-bred reservations around too much exposure to medication and doctors also planted seeds of anxiety around birth control’s implications on fertility (*for which there is no medical proof*). All things considered, the prospect of weaning off instantly shook me. What if my skin spirals into hormonal acne again? What if my boobs get small? What if I have sex without a condom and forget I’m not on birth control? What if my mood shifts and I’m completely different? I brushed it under the rug, eased by the habitual affirmations from doctors and friends: It’s totally safe. There’s no proof otherwise. Better to be sure you won’t get pregnant. Everyone does it.
It took hindsight and reflection to cast a light on the compound effects of my nine years on birth control, spurred by the burden of dependency and cyclic routine. Month-long episodes of acne in my early twenties. Mood swings with temperamental trajectories. Weight gain. Weight loss. And the same question, What am I like without it? attached to the same fear, What if my body can't find that equilibrium on its own? 3,285 tiny pink pills later, I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place: the attachment of what I’m used to but the restlessness about how my intrinsic nature is altered, both physically and psychologically. I don’t want to take my health for granted. There are far more tolling horror stories orbiting the topic. I just want to acknowledge that as women, our anatomy propels us into making decisions based on what’s been the norm. But there is no norm with the outcome. Every experience is riddled with unique nuances, trials, and tribulations that have far deeper effects.
For now, I’ll continue to walk to Rite Aid on the first Sunday of every month. Cozy up in bed with Sex and the City, slowly fall into a slumber, and awaken just before I’m out cold to realize I forgot to take Wednesday. Fuck.
Looking to get off your birth control but scared of the repercussions? We spoke with someone who already did the deed.