My Life After Birth Control
October 2016. I was 35 pounds heavier. The health office at Brooklyn College discovered I had graduated, and therefore stopped giving me free birth control. This also meant that my free gynecologist was off the table. I wasn’t sure where to start. I took two trains, a ferry, and a bus to get to Planned Parenthood in Staten Island to explore my options. My mind became more cloudy when I was handed a 5 page pamphlet about different contraceptives, and their side-effects. Finally, at the mention of inserting plastic into my arm for 3 months, I thanked them and left.
“Ok,” I said to myself, “…what if I tried life without it?”
It was that moment that changed the rest of my life. The moment I decided enough is enough. No more feeling sorry for myself. No more aggressive mood swings. No more longing for a different body. This body is what I have, and I have to make it work for me.
Not even one week later, I started to feel extreme pain in my lower back. Being a video producer, I'm used to either sitting at a desk or standing up for all hours of the day, so I brushed it off. It was a familiar pain, though. One I had felt years ago…but still, I thought it must have been stress. Another week goes by, and so begins the perpetual feeling of having a UTI (urinary tract infection). This shooting pain in my uterus would hit me so intensely and quickly. Like burning yourself with a match…over, and over agin. New York’s 24 hour lifestyle saved me. I was able to get to any Rite Aid and get medicine. Each time got easier, too. The first time, I practically crawled through the automatic doors at 3 am in my pajamas. The stark white fluorescent light made me feel like I was guilty for something. Tears were running down my cheeks out of embarrassment and pain. Barely able to stand up straight, I waited in line with cracked mascara stains under my eyes and slowly drying snot all over my face behind the giggling stoned teenagers and lively homeless persons.
I was finally able to take one of these UTI soothing pills and after about twenty minutes, the pain did subside. I had attacks like this every 2-3 weeks. Finally, on the morning of Christmas Eve, I woke up at 1 am with the same, unbearable feeling…like someone was squeezing my uterus with all of their strength. I can still feel myself losing my breath, and my heart racing even when I think about it. My best friend drove me to Rite Aid to keep with routine: crawl, cry, wait, buy. On the drive back I was sobbing into the darkness of the night. “Why is this happening to me?” I would cry out. The silence of everyone tucked into their beds waiting for Christmas Eve morning was haunting. The street lights cast their shadows on the cold sidewalk cement. Through my cries, my friend was able to get a few words in. “Do you think this has anything to do with you getting off birth control?” I suddenly felt like I had my breath again. It gave me hope…an answer. I immediately looked at her with her green eyes glossy, worried for me. It could be…it could really be.
In January of 2017, I went to the only doctor I could afford, which was in New Jersey, to get my uterus and bladder checked. Apparently, I have an “impressive” bladder…which is all very flattering, but still didn’t help me understand what was going on..and certainly didn’t help me like Jersey more…no offense. In the same month, I found it nearly impossible to go to the bathroom. The lower back pain became fully blown abdominal pain and discomfort. I started to get that feeling of losing hope, once again.
This led me gastroenterologist Dr. Jeffery Crespin—the man who first muttered the word endometriosis to me. He said that I have irritable bowel syndrome, which was causing only some of the abdominal discomfort, but that wasn't the root of the problem. “I’m willing to stake my career that you have endometriosis,” he said. He referred me to a specialist just a few blocks away. A woman he said has dedicated her life to helping women like me.
She was so booked that I wasn’t able to get in to see her until mid-May. At this point, I had already significantly changed my eating habits and lifestyle. I cut out processed foods, and started doing Jillian Michaels’ 30 day shred…every day. I was feeling a little better, but still had extreme pains around my period or ovulation. During the first few days, I would be keeled over leaning against the poles on the train platforms from the pain. I would go through three tampons in 2 hours. I started counting down the days until my appointment with the specialist.
My mom came down to the city to sit with me on my first consultation. The office was in a very posh location (by my standards, anyhow) on Park Avenue. The room was decorated with comfortable furniture, and soft lighting. We waited for 2 hours in the office. There were 10 other women of all different ages scattered around the cozy couches. An older woman struck up conversation with us. She was adorned with bright, rosey lipstick, a colourful tailored suit, and by no surprise, a lap dog. By the time they called my name, we had seen just less than 100 photos of Janet’s dog in front of her Long Island estate. We nervously entered the consultation office. The walls were shelved with organic soaps and creams. Then walked in the elegant Dr. Elizabeth Poynor. My mom, as usual, had many questions…this time I was especially grateful. Dr. Poynor sat on the arm of one of her comfortable chairs and told me that the only true way to diagnose endometriosis is through surgery.
I could feel my stomach in my throat. The thought of surgery has always been beyond terrifying to me. I started to feel that tightening in my chest…anxiety…fear. Then I looked at my mom. She was looking back at me with those eyes that say, “It’s going to be ok…even if I’m scared, too.” A look only a parent could give. The doctor encouraged us that the surgery would be a good thing. We could get to the bottom of the problem, and find a proper solution. After about two weeks of thinking about it, and trying to convince my mom that it would be a good idea, I said yes. August 11th, 2017.
I was making jokes with the nurses to calm my nerves. By this time I had already discovered my love for food, and I started sharing everything I knew with the lab techs as they strapped my arms to the operation table. I tried not to look at the robot that would be operating on me. I kept joking with the technicians through three painful tries with the IV. My veins were practically untraceable because I was so dehydrated. Through my jokes, I started shaking from the nervousness until I fell into a very deep sleep. That’s when they found the Stage IV Endometriosis. My entire pelvis was consumed by the tissue. It was even on my intestines, which explains the IBS, and behind my rib cage.
After the surgery, I had a follow-up with Dr. Poynor to discuss maintaining symptoms and treatments. To my surprise, her first recommendation was for me to go back on birth control. I got angry. I couldn’t bare the idea of masking the problem once again. Since I had been off the birth control, my emotions were out of control. I would get so angry to the point of fainting, hitting the walls, throwing tantrums like a teenage girl. Then being irresistibly sweet, calm, and lovable. I hated living like this not only for me, but for the people around me. The idea of going back onto birth control, toiling even more with my hormones just made me angry. I was trying to find a balance with myself physically, and emotionally. And I wouldn’t be able to do that on the pill. We spoke about taking a holistic route, but she warned me that it would take a long time. I didn’t care, though. Anything to not go back on birth control. That’s when I started reading books about eating with endometriosis. What is anti-inflammatory? What can I eat, and what shouldn’t I? I still struggle with this. Because endometriosis affects every woman differently, so how could I possibly listen to one person? Also because maybe something would be good for endometriosis that hurts the IBS.
I’m now learning, too, the importance of using holistic medicine to maintain symptoms; however I still get my period every 3-5 months. I’m on month five right now, and to be honest I’m just as terrified as I am frustrated. I have dedicated so much time and energy into trying to heal myself holistically…to reclaim my period. And I’m at my whit’s end. I’ve gotten blood work done to try to find an underlying problem be it with hormones, thyroid, or anything for that matter. Everything seems to be normal except my vitamin d levels, which runs in my family. Every month, my body acts like it’s going through the cycle of menstruation, but the blood never sheds. I still gain the water weight/bloat, I feel the pains of the endometrial tissue pulling and scaring my insides. Most women’s immediate reaction is typically, “ugh, so lucky!” But amenorrhea (absence of period) is anything but lucky, in my opinion. I have spent over 100€ in pregnancy tests in the past 5 months out of anxiety. The stress, obviously delaying my cycle even further, certainly doesn’t help. After two years of trial, error, excitement, disappointment, and doubt…I still feel like I’m back at square one. No giving up, though! I will not quit. I’m convinced that it will take my body as long to equalise as the amount of time I was on synthetic hormones (7 years). With this theory, I can remind myself to have patience, trust, and confidence in the capabilities of my body.
I am open and willing to any suggestions or opinions about how to reclaim my period. Thank you!