I went on birth control when I was 15.
After 5 years of an 8am alarm, clear skin, and dozens of trips to my local Rite Aid my insurance changed. This meant a new prescription - one in a pink package instead of lilac purple.
This new pill made me feel not quite like myself. In class I’d suddenly turn red as my hand would raise, I’d break into hot flashes and then cold sweats. My stomach felt bloated and queasy as soon as I’d wake-up. My body felt heavy and lethargic and nothing seemed to matter anymore.
And then I thought - wait why am I still taking these?
So then I stopped and assumed everything would go back to normal.
After a year of no period (yup, an entire year) and then another filled with skin changes and hormonal imbalances, I am still dealing with side-effects. The journey has felt long but I learned a lot about myself. I’ve also gained a heightened sense of compassion for those who have dealt with hormonal and contraceptive related issues.
After going to google my first year coming off of the pill (I’d very often google “Is it okay to not have your period for X months after the pill?” hoping to commiserate with someone) I’d often fall deep into a rabbit hole of reddit posts. I realized there were others out there facing similar problems. There were also many stories that shared side-effects that were so raw and intense I was absolutely shocked. I was stunned that I wasn’t made aware of these possible side effects or heard about what many woman go through on a daily basis from mainstream media.
Then I thought
•Woman are so strong and powerful…
•Why is this not talked about more?
•Kind of scary how young many girls go on the pill with little to no knowledge of short/long term effects!
•Where are the studies to create more options of BC for woman with less side effects and where is MALE birth control???
•How can this tiny pill do so much damage yet also do so much good?
•How can I make art with this and increase visibility of this issue?
I reached out to a small group of 30 woman (mainly friends) asking when they started birth control, for what reasons, increase / decrease of libido, change in mental health, and if they’ve dealt with negative experiences.
I immediately received stories ranging from slight weight gain, and lowered libido to intense depression, anxiety attacks, and psychosis. The fact that these stories came from just from 30 voices made me wonder how prevalent these stories are in a a larger context. Many of these woman were friends yet I had never heard about this side of their life - how many woman stay quiet about intense side-effects from both hormonal birth control and emergency contraceptives?
I created an 8 question survey.
Describe your experience with birth control in 1-5 words
Have you had a negative physical or mental experience caused by birth control or an emergency contraceptive?
Do you have a personal story you immediately think of that you would feel comfortable sharing? (More detail the better!)
Did you share your negative experiences with doctors, friends, family, partners?
How did they react? Did they provide you with comfort, were they surprised, etc.?
Have you experienced a change in your mental health from bc?
Did you experience anxiety, depression, mood changes, etc.?
Are there 1-2 personal stories you would feel comfortable sharing?
Have you experienced increased or decreased sexual libido?
When did you realize? What did this feel like? How did this make you feel about yourself, how you related to your partner, how you felt about your sexuality, etc.
Did you expect birth control to effect your mental / physical health in a drastic way?
Did you doctor adequately prepare you for the side-effects you have experienced?
Have you heard of women dealing with intense side effects from hormonal birth control in main stream media?
I pushed the survey out on my social media accounts and encouraged participants to share with their community.
The survey was open for 2 weeks and I received 200+ responses.
I was in absolute awe at the amount of personal and thoughtful stories that friends, family, colleagues, and strangers shared.
It was then time to read the responses.
Then I created the art!