By Lily Mirfin
If you don’t have one you might not quite get what all the fuss is about. Let’s be real; they’re messy, painful, and just plain annoying. In 2020 there are far more options for dealing with periods, however, these options aren’t discussed as openly as they should be. The most popular method used to control periods is the contraceptive pill. First introduced in New Zealand in 1961, this was the first kind of completely reliable form of contraceptive. The pill was initially only prescribed to married women, and wasn’t readily available to unmarried women in New Zealand until the 1970s. Today, women typically start taking the pill in order to both manage painful periods and help clear their skin, on top of its primary purpose of preventing pregnancy.
I can certifiably say that health class didn’t teach me all that I need to know — far from it. I remember being in year 10 health and learning about contraceptive options. They were billed as a one size fits all sort of things; you can pick and choose what you want to use and there are a few side effects, but nothing particularly severe. It has only been in the past few years that my friends and myself have started discussing how frustrating the process was. There is so much that we aren’t told about how the pill affects us and how it can affect everyone differently.
The time came when I wanted to be able to stop getting my period every month. My health teacher at school explained the way in which most forms of the hormonal pill works, with five days of sugar pills in a pack. Generally, it’s safe to skip these sugar pills in order to take more of the hormonal pills — this means that you can effectively skip your period. I assumed this would be available to everyone. About five minutes into my appointment I was promptly told by a nurse that I can’t take most kinds of the pill. This is due to a personal history of migraines and a family history of strokes. I had absolutely no clue prior to this that there would be any problem with me going on the pill. The realisation that I would have a severely limited number of birth control options available to me was somewhat harsh. I started taking the mini pill which doesn’t contain oestrogen, therefore making it safe for people who have had migraines. This came with side effects I wasn’t even aware of. I ended up getting my period every other week, with this came some somewhat mild mood swings. Since that time, I haven’t managed to find a birth control option that’s right for me. I thought that the majority of people could take the pill without any real complications. Since talking openly to my friends about their experiences with birth control it’s become clear that many of us struggle with finding an option that works for us. This needs to be addressed far more openly.
I’ve spoken to my close friends about their experience on the pill and what they would have wanted to know prior to taking it. The majority of them said that they started taking the pill in order to manage their painful periods. The side-effects were very varied and unexpected for everyone. One friend was constantly hungry and had a large amount of mood swings. It took her a long time to connect these symptoms to taking the pill. She said, “I feel if I had been more aware of what the pill was actually doing to my body in the first place, I would have been able to better manage these side effects and be more informed about what sort of contraception was right for me”. Knowledge in this situation would truly have been power. Another friend experienced headaches daily for six months after first taking the pill. After trying another pill, she had her period for three months straight. Prior to going on the pill, she was unaware that these sorts of side effects could occur. Both of these friends say that they weren’t taught nearly enough about side-effects of the pill at school; “We were essentially told that girls should go on the pill and boys should use a condom”. Education will make the process of finding the right form of contraception significantly easier. Those with uteruses shouldn’t be in the dark about the effects of medication they’re taking and shouldn’t be left to find the solution themselves.
Contraception is definitively not a one-size-fits-all model. You should always listen to your GP or nurse, but if you feel as though you yourself are not being listened to then you should find someone else. Information about side-effects and differing forms of the pill should be taught in all New Zealand schools to ensure people know how common issues are.