Birth Control, Anemia, & Why My Fitness Needs Feminism

In October of this year, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism published the results of a men’s birth control study. An external safety review committee terminated the study early and noted “The most common adverse events were acne, injection site pain, increased libido, and mood disorders. “

Welp. If that isn’t a giant EFFFF YOUUUU to women I’m not sure what is. Personally, it’s the mood disorders part that really gets me. I stopped taking the pill when I realized it was making me an angry, angry woman. My mother consoled me and mentioned that it had the very same effect on her sister. We laughed at the intergenerational pattern of sheer rage, passed down in pink pill form. Never did we question the safety of such mood fluctuations. I simply resolved to try something else.

A friend in college gained a ton of weight on birth control. The subject came up one night as we sipped our solo cups in a friend’s backyard. Although she told me how terrible she felt in her own skin, the sadness in her eyes really said enough.

I told her to love herself anyway.

Eventually I grew tired of hormones, especially the pill. Never mind the way it made me feel, I needed something that made it easier to not have a baby. Simply remembering to take it every day was stressful enough. “Why is this my burden to bear?” I questioned.

You bet I brought my boyfriend to the insertion of the copper IUD. I wanted him to witness my struggle. I wanted him to hold my hand as I let out a scream I’ve honestly never heard before. I wanted him to drive me home.

Over the next couple months I experienced extreme cramping. The kind that makes you cling to the nearest wall as you try to compose yourself in public. I mentioned it at my next gynecologist appointment. We moved on.

My periods grew longer and the heavy flow never went away. Did I complain? Hell no! I was extremely grateful for health insurance, excellent medical care, no hormones, and autonomy over my own body! I was in the clear for the next ten years, baby!

I was tired all the time but hey, that’s adulting, right? Sure I needed sleep more than usual but chalked it up to being a twenty-something trying to make it in this world. As my exhaustion became more and more palpable, working out was out of the question. Physically, I just wasn’t myself anymore and I gained twenty pounds. Bummer.

But then things got weirder. I became really thirsty and unnaturally out of breathe. I started getting what I thought were migraines because they lasted so long and were accompanied by nausea. The day after I threw up from an episode, I got the call from a nurse.

“No wonder you’re tired all the time. You’re very anemic and need to see a doctor.”

I was sick and a little scared. The doctor sent me to get iron supplements but said the real answer was to fix my heavy menstruation, possibly with hormones.

Are you fucking kidding me?

So now I’m on the road to recovery and am about to take my first iron supplement with a big glass of OJ. I anticipate feeling much better soon but, needless to say, I’m pissed. I now need to do all this research, schedule more doctor’s appointments, spend more money, possibly subject myself to the side effects of hormones again, and dedicate valuable time and effort to weight loss just so I can feel like myself again.

Once again, I will face a multitude of challenges simply because I’m a woman. Except now the answer doesn’t just lie in shifting my attitude or powerfully rejecting the patriarchy (which is no small feat, trust me). It will lie in blood work and close monitoring of this illness. It will lie in getting regularly probed, pricked, and prodded. It will require humility in those uncomfortably cold, dizzy, breathless, “why me?” moments. It will require new strength and adopting the belief that even if I feel like trash, I am not trash. It requires feminism.

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