Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Why I Decided to Come Off the Implant

Art Credit: @carlosbongiovanni Instagram

Talking to you guys about my contraception journey has been something I've wanted to write about for a while. I've been on and off, on and off, on and ~ now ~ off contraception for the best part of six years now. And so have I!

It's a bugger, isn't it? It feels like such a constant annoyance to talk, think, and worry about. 

We all know it: sex without using a condom is just nicer. It feels more natural. But pumping a bunch of hormones through your blood for years at a time isn't particularly nice or natural, either. 

Not to mention, it's a one-sided grievance: women have to be responsible for not getting pregnant. I say 'have' to be, and I do mean that quite literally... it still makes me rage to know that pharmaceutical companies are choosing not to release certain male contraceptives due to their limited side effects. Imagine that? There's supposedly a cream in testing that has one potential side effect and they won't release it. One! Side effect! Per-lease. 

Anyways, in these six wonderful sexy years, I have used the combined pill (various brands and doses), the condom, and the implant.

At the time I decided to come off the pill and move on to the implant, I didn't think I'd had any huge problems with the pill. I wasn't happy or unhappy with it. My side effects included: breast tenderness, irritability, low mood, and drowsiness, but I only realised the intensity of these effects after I came off of it*.

*I think what you forget when you go on to birth control is that you are sort of signing up to compromise yourself and your health for the sake of not getting pregnant, and therefore side effects are expected to be 'coped' with. I definitely held some unreasonable expectation of myself to 'cope' with the effects of contraception, and perhaps still do now. 

And then there is the issue of actually remembering to take it. When I started taking the pill at 15, between my two sets of parents, my boyfriend and my friends, some weeks I was literally in a different house every night: it was impossible to build a new routine that included remembering to take the pill. It simply did not fit my lifestyle, so I looked into other, lower-maintenance forms of contraception.

I also wasn't very good at taking the pill, especially at the exact same hour of every day. I think this made me more worried about getting pregnant than I would've been if I'd just used condoms. Being on the pill was causing me internal stress as well as physical stress. 

When I met Haze at uni, she told me that she had been on the implant for three years and despite some hiccups (which she will mention later), the best thing about the implant was the mental comfort it gave her, knowing she was pretty much 100% protected against pregnancy. (Let's just say, having to leave an anti-bullying ambassador day at high school to piss on a stick for a very unimpressed doctor was enough to get me to take my contraception very seriously.) The implant is promoted by nurses as one of the most effective methods of contraception after the first week of it being put in. I thought it was the perfect way to alleviate all the paranoia I'd been experiencing on the pill. 

I was also in a relationship that wasn't very good for me or my mental wellbeing. I knew that to get pregnant would have been the worst thing that could have happened to me. It would have ruined my life. The permanency and consistency of the implant became its most appealing function. 

The nurse told me that unlike the pill, it is a slow-releasing hormone which is why it can safely last up to three years. I thought that because it was a long-term contraceptive I wouldn't have the headache that is contraception hanging over my head anymore. 

The bandage helps to prevent bruising post-implant op!
Two years on the implant and I'm finally off of it. My reasons?

It was not an easy ride. I persevered through the first couple of months of random/ annoying bleeding. The nurse had prepped me for this, she told me it was likely to happen and that I just needed to wait for it to settle down. After five months, I had been bleeding on and off a lot. I'd even had a period that lasted six weeks! It was expensive (think about the period products *cry*), emotionally draining, and I was tired. 

I came back to the nurse with these complaints but said I was willing to persevere if she could help me stop it. She suggested I take the pill (the very thing I'd come off of!) with the implant to see if it could regulate my bleeding. I took the pill I'd previously been on, as recommended, and experienced horrendous abdominal cramps. I remember being hunched over on my (ex) boyfriends bed in agony. The pill and the implant were too much for my uterus to handle, quite rightly!

All of this is exactly the same as what happened to me, though I was silly enough to stick it out for five years. Like Georgie, the first few months involved a bit of unpredictable bleeding, and then I had two years without a period. It was great! Until the following year, I had the complete opposite. Forget six weeks, I was on my period all the time, even when they gave me the pill to regulate them. So, they gave me a different pill to try, which did stop the bleeding (wahoo!)

I made a series of trips back and forth to the nurse to try and stop the bleeding: she told me to take a low-dose pill (which worked temperamentally), as well as Tranexamic Acid. Tranexamic Acid is a blood clotting tablet which can only be used for four days, after that you have to take a break. It felt like an extreme measure to take for something that was just annoying me, but I was willing to try anything at this point. 

I took one Tranexamic Acid tablet and the annoying bleeding stopped for four months. Bliss. I was sure whatever blood clotting magic I'd taken had done the trick. Until... you guessed it, the bleeding came back, only this time it was more annoying. It was like the implant was listening to me, whenever I wanted to get my groove on, I came on to my period. For months at a time. Months. 

The Tranexamic Acid did work but it took a week or so and I was unhappy with the process I had to go through in order to stop my periods. The unpredictability of when they would come and go was frustrating as hell. 

After three years, I got my implant renewed. I read somewhere that the hormones can sort of run-out and become imbalanced after the first year anyway, hence the constant period, so was excited at the idea of going back to not having a period again. I replaced my implant with a new one, and I was indeed fine again. For a year.

I was back on the pill again. Which seemed stupid, as the idea of having the implant was so that I didn't need to take the pill at all. It was worse than I feared, too. When I was younger, I got bad migraines. A few weeks into being period-free, I was tootling onto campus on the bus when my vision started blurring. Alas, Stage 1 of the your-head-is-about-to-feel-like-it's-been-moulded-into-concrete process. I thought I'd check in the doctors as I hadn't had a migraine since puberty. The nurse looked horrified and she took me off the period-preventing pill, sharpish.

I was fed up. After five years of the implant and unpredictable periods and low libido and cramps and trips to the doctors, I decided that I didn't want to be bombarded with foreign hormones anymore. I had it out and since January this year, have been contraception free.

On top of this, I frequently got thrush (unbearable itchiness, ants-in-your-pants-I-want-to-scratch-and-wiggle-nonstop-kinda-feeling). I had thrush four times this year alone. That's once every two months, fml. 

I also had thrush very soon after I first came on to the implant but didn't think they were linked to each other. About a month ago, I read online that IUDs, the implant, and the pill are all liable to cause thrush in women.

When you are on your period your PH balance changes. When your PH changes, you can experience a whole range of issues that I will link here. This is why it's important to only use water and PH neutral washes! None of that floral and fragranced shit. Keep that AWAY from there. You don't want to be getting thrush, trust the Thrush Queen*. That's why I was getting thrush so much: I was constantly on my period. 

*What a sad title: Thrush Queen. Please can someone give me a crown, I did write an essay that got a First whilst unable to sit still for longer than 2 seconds.

So: annoying bleeding, thrush-galore, and unable to feel sexy during sexy-time due to said bleeding and thrush. Not to mention, my nickname on my uni group chat is "Cystitis". My vaginal and contraceptive problems are known to all. I knew the implant had to go, ASAP. I'd suffered for two years and six months exactly with all of this. 

I don't regret being on the implant, however, I do regret not coming off of it sooner. Every time I went to my nurse with the intent to come off the implant, she would somehow convince me to stay on it? She'd always end the appointment by saying: "It's really up to you, though!"

I always felt like I was being a pain in the arse to the nurses. I felt like I wasting everyone's time -- I wasn't actually ill, it was all self-inflicted -- I was the one who wanted to have sex without a condom! But that's why we are writing these blog posts because we should never feel like that. It's 2019, and our bodies and minds deserve the best treatment, including in terms of trialling and changing contraception. Unfortunately, there still isn't really a perfect solution, but at least I know that the hormones in my bloodstream are all mine, and perfectly natural! 

I came out of each GP appointment prescribed pills and remedies and hope and encouragement. Down to a lot of grievance and unhappiness, I finally said No More. I wanted to feel the rhythm of my body again, to have a natural period, and not to worry about frickin' thrush!

Love, George and Haze xxxx


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