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Pictured above: Teen Sad Girl. From https://teenpregnancy.acf.hhs.gov/resources/story-survival-adolescent-pregnancy-prevention-runaway-and-homeless-youth

As many of you reading this blog post probably already know, birth control is not “optional” health care. It is not a bartering chip, nor is it something our society can do without. It is a needed part of health care, just like any other medication.

Rarely does the birth control conversation extend far beyond pregnancy prevention. But actually, what birth control does for women has a far wider reach, because birth control empowers us to live our own lives, exercise bodily autonomy, and have a choice over what the future looks like for us, in more ways than one. I know firsthand how birth control can do that.

Everyone deserves bodily autonomy.

Because birth control gave me my life back.

Growing up, periods were something nobody really talked about with me. There was just a set of norms I had to face. Your period was never something you talked about above a whisper, or through the use of code names that no male around you was supposed to understand. If you leaked blood through the pad, you were supposed to find a way to hide it and not tell anyone, because it would be shameful if anyone around you knew you were menstruating.

I had grown up with other aspects of my body being sexualized by people around me (breasts, hips, really any new curves that suddenly showed up), but this was a different kind of shame. My period was gross. The time of the month where I bled suddenly made me disgusting, even though it was a normal part of growing up. Stereotypes of women having their periods as being bitchy, having mood swings, screaming in pain, or something for people to stay away from because it was that “time of the month again,” suddenly applied to me. So I just learned not to talk about it, and hide it as best as I could.

If I didn’t talk about my period, talking about my PMS was an absolute no-go. In my family, we don’t talk about the pain we’re in, no matter how badly it hurts. I just learned to suck it up and deal with it. Plus, everyone had told me PMS sucked, so everything I had been experiencing all throughout my adolescence was normal, right? So I thought it was just best for me not to burden everyone.

Let me paint a picture for you about what happened to me every month when I was getting my period. My cramps were so bad that I could not sit up straight; I was perpetually in a fetal position whether I was sitting up or lying down. I couldn’t concentrate at all in school. I felt like I was going to throw up all the time while overeating constantly because I thought nothing else would make me feel better. There were times when I would lie in bed in complete darkness curled up in a fetal position for hours and just cry for reasons I didn’t understand. My bleeding would be so heavy that I would have to wear an overnight pad to school, and carry a jacket around with me to tie around my waist because the pad was almost never enough. I was just so upset and depressed that I couldn’t really do anything except the bare minimum of what I had to just to survive. When I got my period and PMS, I felt absolutely helpless and powerless.

When I was a teenager I didn’t really understand how birth control worked except that it prevented pregnancy. And I had heard horror stories about how it made people horribly moody all the time, made them gain a bunch of weight, and just messed up their hormones. (It can have really negative side effects for some people, so it is always best to consult with a medical professional before starting on it.) It just sounded like yet another burden women had to take on. I had never heard any really positive, happy stories about birth control, even though I knew it was beneficial in that it gave women the opportunity to work outside of the home. So when my doctor suggested I started taking the birth control pill so I didn’t have such hellish periods, I was scared.

I finally hit my breaking point when I was in my spring semester of my freshman year of college. I was supposed to give a presentation one day (in a class that would rid me of my scholarship if I got a bad grade in it) when I woke up with my period. I was so bloated that I knew I wouldn’t be able to wear pants as they would be too tight and painful on my stomach. I was in so much pain that all I could do was lie in a fetal position on my bed and not move. I made it to class and gave the presentation somehow, and to this day, I have no idea how I did it, but I had to sit down during the whole presentation, and that 45 minutes took everything out of me and I could not get out of bed for the rest of the day. I messaged my doctor that I needed this birth control as soon as humanly possible and I picked the prescription up a few days after that.

Normally, with most problems that arise in life, just taking a pill won’t fix it. This was the exception. Not only were my periods much lighter, but my cramping was barely there and I couldn’t really detect any hormone changes. In fact, I think it balanced my

hormones out a lot. As someone who already struggles with anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, and chronic pain, my period was the thing that broke me, the thing that made everything so much worse. Going on birth control made it so I didn’t have to put my life on hold and dread that part of the month. I also think it helped the antidepressants I was already taking work better. Overall, I felt more balanced internally. And as a plus, my skin cleared up.

Going on the pill gave me my life back. It made one difficult aspect of my life manageable and easier to deal with, so I could focus more of my energy on therapy, school, writing, activism, and having fun.

My experience is not universal, as I know some women have negative experiences with birth control or have conditions that make it unsafe for them. My hope is that as we work to create a more inclusive society, as the workforce, health care, and government become more equitable, more research will be done to find types of birth control that can work for as many people as possible (including cisgender men, because the responsibility of preventing pregnancy should not solely fall on the shoulders of cisgender women).

For me, as well as for many others, birth control gave me my autonomy back and made it easier for me to live a full life. When the birth control pill was approved by the FDA in 1960, it was revolutionary in that it gave women a choice on whether they wanted children and the opportunity to work outside of the home, therefore gaining economic and physical independence so they didn’t have to stay trapped in bad situations. Birth control still does that, whether someone is trying to prevent pregnancy or use it for other medical reasons.

Anti-choice politicians are attempting to take our rights to our bodies away. Not only do they want to ban abortion, they also want to make birth control unaffordable and inaccessible. We cannot let that happen. It is important that we continue to fight for others — and for ourselves. Everyone deserves bodily autonomy. Because once you have control over your own body, no one can stop you. You will change the world.

Get educated about the birth control methods available to you and how to use them properly. If you have questions, make an appointment to talk to a health-care provider at Planned Parenthood today!

Tags: birth control, PMS, acne, cramps, pill side effects, contraceptives, stigma, autonomy

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About Ava B.

Ava B. is a political communications major and a nonprofit communications minor who is entering her sophomore year at Emerson College. She is a writer whose work focuses mainly on advocacy, and a community organizer who has worked for nonprofit organizations and political campaigns. She is a media and communications intern at Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona.