Book: This is Your Brain on Birth Control: The Surprising Science of Women, Hormones, and the Law of Unintended Consequences
Author: Sarah E. Hill, PhD
Genre: Nonfiction Health
Read if you: have ovaries, have ever been on or considered birth control, want to understand how your body works.
This was my first nonfiction read for November and I’m glad I started here. This one grabbed my interest because I spent more than 10 years on birth control. From the age of 16 to 26. And then again last year for 11 months. I didn’t get my period until I was 16 years old. Probably because I was a ballerina and by 16 still had no breasts and barely tipped the scale over 100 lbs. I had 2 periods before I was put on the pill. My periods were incredibly painful. Like lying on the floor in a bathroom stall, throwing up from pain, terrible. My mom took me to the doctor and the doctor said let’s put her on the pill. I was not sexually active yet, remember how I had no breasts? But going on the pill solved my problem. I had normal periods with not too much pain and I put on a little weight, got some boobies and a boyfriend. Voila! Problem solved right?
Fast forward 10 years. I’m 26, in a healthy relationship talking about marriage, I have a good job teaching, a nice apartment, and I feel like I’m going insane. I’m yelling at my boyfriend about nothing, I’m crying and I can’t tell you why, I’m having panic attacks, I’m having dreams about stealing, and I’m so paranoid that everyone is out to get me. I felt like I was going crazy, then I read a blog post about the birth control pill causing problems like what I was experiencing. So I stopped taking it. Within 3 months I felt like a normal person again. Less angry, less crying, more energy and drive to do things that made me happy. But then the really painful periods started again. The first big warning sign that made me go to a doctor was fainting from pain while sitting on the toilet. A rather embarrassing moment but one that made me realize something was really wrong.
It took a lot of ultrasounds and MRI’s and arguing with male doctors but we eventually (after over a year) decided I had endometriosis. And that I had endometriosis from day 1 when I got my period at 16. But the birth control pill had suppressed the symptoms. I spent the next 6 years refusing to go back on birth control and searching for more natural remedies to my pain. I had cysts all the time. The biggest one getting to be 8cm wide before it popped which was extremely painful. I fainted one more time and threw up from pain a lot. I had endometrial tissue growing on my Fallopian tubes, I had chocolate cysts (cysts filled with blood), and fibroid tumors. I’ve had more ultrasounds than most women will ever have, 2 MRI’s and next week I’m getting a sonohistogram (an ultrasound where they use liquid to expand your uterus to get a better look).
So basically I traded mental anguish for physical pain. I was getting so tired of the chronic pain. Endometriosis causes pain while ovulating as well, most months for me the ovulation pain is worse than period pain. I decided in February of 2020 to try birth control again. The timing couldn’t have been worse with the stress of Covid adding to my life but I tried 4 different pills for 3 months each and was miserable and felt crazy on all of them. So I stopped taking the pill again. I try really hard to manage my pain naturally, with CBD oil, regular exercise, heating pad time, baths, and avoiding certain foods during different stages of my cycle (beans and ovulation do not mix well).
Reading this book felt so affirming. All these symptoms, mental and physical, that some experience while taking birth control, I had. It was nice to have confirmation that I wasn’t just a ball of anxiety, that birth control was making it worse. I think everyone that has ever tried birth control needs to read this book. Dr. Hill is very clear that she is not suggesting you don’t take birth control at all. But that we are more informed of what effects it can have on us, that we know the warning signs of a problem. Then maybe we can switch pills or try something else. I think this should be required reading for doctors as well, so they can understand their ovary having patients better. And more studies need to be done on the long term effects of birth control. I was fine the first 9 years I was taking it, year 10 was when the problems started. I also would have appreciated more discussion about those with endometriosis or PCOS and how birth control effects them. Perhaps that is another area where more research needs to be done.
If you have endometriosis, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), or any other painful period experiences, I feel your pain. I’m sorry you’re suffering and I hope you find relief. Because I know what chronic pain is like, I know how tiring it is to try and explain to people what’s wrong when they can’t see any of the symptoms. I know how frustrating it can be to have your friends and family upset with you for missing another event. I know how mentally debilitating it is to want to do things but your body says no. I know how hard it is to listen to your body and rest. I’m here if you ever want to chat about how hard it is. Wish me luck with my sonohistogram next week, I’m really not looking forward to it.