At 26 years old, I felt like a birth control virgin. How had I survived all those years without managing to know anything about the Pill? My reasons for going on Ortho Tri-Cyclen were simple: I was prepping for a move across the country to be with a guy named Isaac who I was in a long-distance relationship with. Isaac and I communicated every day. We talked on the phone, texted, emailed and GChatted every chance we got. We saw each other every three months, but this time, I was coming for good. We were going to live together for two weeks before I moved into my sublet apartment. We were falling in love.
I was ecstatic at the prospect of this seemingly superior form of birth control. Sex without condoms! It only cost $8 a month (which was about all my meager budget would allow)! From what I’d heard, it would make my skin super clear and get rid of the ungodly cramps that I’d been blessed with! I couldn’t wait.
When Isaac and I discussed it on the phone, he asked me, “Does it make you crazy?”
“We’ll find out,” I replied.
But I’m already kind of crazy, I justified to myself after we hung up. I cry easily—like at commercials with pancakes. I regularly have mood swings from hell. So I hoped maybe the Ortho would actually have the opposite effect on me. I hoped it would make me normal. I would be in a normal relationship and have a normal personality.
After waiting for two hours at Planned Parenthood, they finally called my name.
“Are these going to make me gain weight?” was the only question I asked the clinician. I was so impatient to get the Pill that forgot to ask about the side effects.
She told me it depended on my sodium intake, which I assured her was minimal.
“I never eat potato chips,” I said, earnestly.
She looked over at the Kombucha tea I was drinking. “Well, you seem pretty healthy, so I doubt you’ll gain weight.”
Exactly, I thought to myself. I work out and drink Kombucha! I won’t gain weight! I’m one of the lucky ones.
Three days into taking the Pill, I began gaining weight. I retained so much water and my boobs, stomach, and face blew up. Later that week, I broke out with the worst acne of my life and sobbed when I looked in the mirror. My mood swings became more horrendous than usual. One minute I was laughing at absolutely nothing, and the next wanting to throw myself out the window.
“I’m not going to California unless this gets better,” I told everyone, mainly myself.
I rehearsed what I was going to say to Isaac: My acne is too bad to come. I’m too fat and emotional. I just can’t.
But of course, I wanted things to work out between us too badly, wanted the Pill to work too badly, for me to say that.
So I texted him: “I think the birth control is making my boobs bigger.”
He replied: “Damn side effects,” and added a smiley face.
At least someone was happy.
Planned Parenthood didn’t prepare me for these things. But in all fairness, I didn’t ask. They didn’t tell me that I would turn into a hormonal monster. They didn’t tell me I’d gain ten pounds in what seemed like a week. They didn’t tell me that my curly hair would become straight or that my acne would get so bad that I wouldn’t want to leave the house. They didn’t tell me that the only thing I’d want to eat were Dove chocolate bars (okay, any chocolate bars), or that when I wasn’t eating chocolate bars, I’d only eat cookies or cake or ice cream. Did I mention I normally don’t eat much sugar?
I convinced myself that once I got off the airplane, I’d be saved from this birth control nightmare I was in, that this would all be more bearable when I was having sex without condoms with the man I loved, living in the city that I’d always wanted to live in.
But that didn’t happen.
I got off the airplane feeling bloated and in a foul mood. I was depressed and it was obvious.
Isaac worked early mornings. He left the bedroom at 6:30 a.m. each morning, kissing me goodbye. Most days I lay in bed crying in his basement bedroom. At 9 a.m. every day, my cell phone alarm would ring and the reminder “Take birth control” would pop up on my screen. I swallowed the Pill. And then the darkness set in. It would take me hours to get out of the house. I was stressed and overwhelmed by just taking a shower. Isaac would text me halfway through the day and I’d still be doing nothing. I’d have to lie, say I was out with a friend or job hunting when really I was too depressed to even go outside. When he got home from work, I was too fatigued to do anything except eat sweets or cry uncontrollably.
Once after sex, in my underwear, I opened the freezer and finished off three pints of Ben & Jerry’s in a row. I couldn’t stop, even as my bloated Buddha belly started to protrude.
While Isaac was at work one day, I finally decided to do the research I should have done about the Pill in the first. I read everything I could on the internet about Ortho Tri-Cyclen, including the all-too-familiar negative side effects experiences by some. I felt like I finally found my tribe! There were testimonials from millions of girls complaining about how their hair went straight and their anxiety went through the roof. How they were always in hysterics and had gained weight. I was so relieved — but also furious at myself for being so uniformed. I called a few of my girl friends on the phone. It sounded like they’d been through this, too. I sobbed on the phone to my mom that afternoon. She told me I didn’t sound like myself anymore. She told me to stop taking Ortho. So I did.
I felt better almost immediately, but my relationship wasn’t salvageable at that point. You know when you’ve showed all your worst qualities too early on? Laid all your bad cards on the table? This was like that. It’s hard to go back to holding hands making out after he’s seen you inhaling three pints of ice cream while sobbing in your underwear. It’s hard to convince someone, “No! No! I’m not really like that!”
I don’t blame him. I had been an absolute mess. I didn’t like who I had been. And if you don’t want to be around yourself, as they say, chances are, no one else wants to be around you either.
I realize now that this whole thing was my fault. I was irresponsible for not doing my research, and I learned the hard way. You might be wondering, why didn’t I try a different form of birth control? Why didn’t I try the patch or get an IUD or the Nuva Ring? Why didn’t I just try a different version of the Pill?
Here’s why: I didn’t have health insurance and many of the options were too expensive. After the nightmare that was Ortho Tri-Cyclen, I didn’t dare try another pill for fear that the side effects would start all over again. I couldn’t afford the patch and the thought of an IUD being inserted into my body scared the crap out of me.
On the off chance that you’ve never explored your birth control options, learn from my mistake, and do your research about what’s right for you. For me, for now, my birth control of choice is good old fashioned condoms.