14 June 2016

Taking Control

I think this might be one of the most touchy subject blogs I have written so before you read it, please bear in mind these are my opinions and experiences. I'm not a doctor and you should alway seek medical advice if you want to start or stop taking any medication. 

I'm 24 and I don't take the contraceptive pill. I sometimes feel like I must be the only person my age who has made that decision. No I don't want to get pregnant and no, I'm not stupid... you might think the chances are higher without taking the pill but you'd be wrong. There's other options. 

I was on the pill for almost 5 years. I started it when I was 17 - I was still at school and my doctor suggested it as a way to combat a number of different things (other than just pregnancy!). At 17, I knew I wasn't alone in this as some of my friends seemed to be on it and it seemed to be a simple enough solution to many problems. Within six months, I saw my boobs almost double in size and I slowly saw myself starting to gain weight. However, I never attributed any of this to pill. Not for one minute did I ever question what I was putting into my body. 

I continued on the same pill for almost years until I had to get a major surgery. I had to come off it because of the clot risk associated with the contraceptive pill. Finding this out at my medical a few months before my surgery scared the life out of me. I had never thought about the clot risk of the pill before but ironically, in the press in the past year I have read as I am sure you have, with great horror at the number of the young women having DVT through taking the pill. I came home after my medical and threw the pill in the bin. However, coming off it to prepare for surgery 8 weeks away was not a joy. I don't think I had a period in that entire timespan and I remember being really irritable. I suppose after almost 3 years of taking something your body has to get used not to having it. I had my surgery, had a natural period but I was still a bit poorly. I somehow thought in my sick state that going back on the pill would be a good idea. So I tried to go back on my original much loved pill of 3 years. But on no, my skin erupted into cystic acne. I tried another brand. It gave me migraines. I finally settled on another brand and went on and off this for another 2 years. 

In November 2014, I finally had enough. My body didn't seem to have a clue what was going on. If I missed one day of my pill I lived in fear that I'd messed up the cycle. I decided to chuck everything in the bin and go au natural - really and truly for the first time in my adult life. I think a huge problem in our society is that we don't let our bodies have a chance - we have such a reliance on medication for all sorts - coughs, colds and everything in between. As someone who has had to take a lot of medication for numerous medical conditions, it took coming off the pill for me to realise that I had an over reliance on an abundance of things- from painkillers to throat sprays! Now at 24 I'm able to answer "Nothing" when I get asked about medication I take when I go to the spa. 

One of the biggest problems I feel our society faces is a distinct lack of proper education about sexual and reproductive health. In fact, I'd go so far to say that it wasn't until I left school that I truly understood my own cycle. Considering that the average age of that people start having sex in the UK is 16, I would say that my lack of understanding extended to my peers and this was too little, too late. I relied on the pill to determine my cycle without understanding for myself what was going on.I've loved discussing this topic with so many women over the past year - it seems that women of many ages are confused about their cycle and only investigate it more when they are trying to get pregnant. I find it a shame that this is what it takes for women to truly take control. I wish more doctors would advocate self-education for younger woman. Dishing out the pill might cause less unwanted pregnancies but when young women come off it for whatever reason, there is a distinct lack of encouragement to ensure women know what is going on down there.

Something I have advocated for a long time is the app, Clue. I have been using this app for a long time. Whether you are a young woman like me just trying to track your periods, whether you are trying to get pregnant, whether you need to remember to take your pill or you're on the other end of the spectrum with scatty periods on the way to menopause, this app is a LIFESAVER! You can track all sorts of habits from sleep to sex and it makes understanding your cycle and your fertile period much easier. Download it and use it. It will honestly change the way you understand your own reproductive health. 

Incidentally, this topic of female health feels even more topical as I turn 25 in November. This means that for the first time this year I will have a smear test.  My great aunt died from cervical cancer and I saw directly the effects this had on her body as it finally claimed her life in her 60s. I have huge fear of having a smear test - I think I've heard so many horror stories but not for one minute would it discourage me from going for one. On a recent discussion with someone I met, I found out that women in Scotland get smear tests from the age of 18 - why we in Northern Ireland must wait another 7 years is beyond me. 

This post isn't about me and my experience but rather an encouragement to you all out there. It isn't a hate speech to the pill - the pill has been a wonder to so many people. It's an encouragement to women to educate themselves because the education system has largely let us down. Whether you are 13 and just starting your period, whether you are in your 20s and struggling to find contraceptive method that works for you or whether you are 30 and trying for a baby, look after yourself. Learn about your body - it's an amazing thing. Don't let something else be in control. Take control of your own body - it's the least it deserves.