When Melissa started dating her first boyfriend, she decided to get on birth control. She wanted to use hormonal birth control as contraception partly because she’d heard it could help with acne, but also to spite her conservative Christian mother, who had forbidden her to use birth control. Melissa was eighteen years old when she started taking the pill and had no idea that she had undiagnosed endometriosis. She believes this underlying condition may have contributed to her body’s adverse reaction to the pill.

“I went to the doctor and I got a prescription and [my doctor] didn't tell me what was going on,” Melissa said. “[Birth control] ended up messing me up a lot. Back then, I didn’t really know anything about my body. [My doctor] made it sound like I would still have a period, which wasn’t exactly true.”

Melissa means that though she bled once a month while taking the pill, it wasn’t true menstruation but something called “withdrawal bleeding,” which is the body reacting to the sudden drop in hormones during the allotted week of sugar pills each month. This was just one of the things Melissa wished she knew more about when she was younger. She regrets that when she started birth control, she knew very little about the hormones she was introducing to her body and how they worked. After starting the pill, she began experiencing debilitating cramps and harsh mood swings.

“I’d have emotions that I couldn’t deal with, and I didn’t know where they were coming from,” Melissa said. “I felt angry all the time. It was the tiniest, stupidest things that would make me so mad, like some dirt left on the floor. I directed a lot of my anger towards my husband because I needed an answer to why I was angry. It would send me into a depressive state where I felt like I wanted to die. It wasn’t like I was trying to commit suicide, I just didn’t want to be alive. So I would just sleep all the time.”

Melissa said when she tried to discuss the side effects of her birth control with her doctors, they didn’t seem to take her concerns seriously. 

“I went back to the doctor a bunch of times and said, ‘There’s something wrong, there’s something wrong,’” Melissa said. “They said, ‘There’s nothing wrong, go back on the pill.’ But it started getting worse, I started getting cramps even when I wasn’t on my period. I thought that wasn’t right, so I went back to the doctor and they finally agreed to do a laparoscopy, and found I had endometriosis.”

Even after she was diagnosed with endometriosis, Melissa was told to keep taking her birth control to treat her condition. Melissa wishes her doctors would have discussed other treatment options. Though hormonal birth control may, in some cases, alleviate symptoms of endometriosis, it did not work for Melissa. She decided to do her own research; she went to the library and checked out a book called Beating Endo.

“[Beating Endo] helped me realize what the health care system looked like for women,” Melissa said. “And It taught me about a more natural way of balancing your hormones.”

After she read Beating Endo, Melissa went to a naturopathic doctor who helped Melissa try an elimination diet to discover how different foods impacted her menstrual cycle. 

“There’s a lot of things that impact your cycle that I never knew,” Melissa said. “I didn’t know food impacted your cycle. Before I did research, I didn’t even know what a period was, I just knew that you bled.”

Melissa went off of birth control soon after that and now uses the fertility awareness method as contraception – meaning she tracks her cycle and takes her vaginal temperature to know when she is ovulating. She trusts this method and doesn’t worry much about unwanted pregnancy. Melissa is now watching her sister-in-law, who is seventeen years old, go through some of the same things she went through, and doesn't know how to help her. Her sister-in-law has tried several different kinds of hormonal birth control, and none of them seem to work for her. 

“She always ends up in pain, emotionally and physically,” Melissa said. “She sleeps all the time. I’ve tried to talk to her about it, but she doesn’t see what’s going on. All of her friends are going through the same thing, so she doesn’t really see the problem.”

Even for Melissa, it wasn’t until after she went off of birth control completely that she realized how poor her mental health had been while she was taking the pill. One day, about three months after she stopped taking the pill, she was sitting in the kitchen taking her daily vitamin supplements when she suddenly realized how sound she felt – she hadn’t felt angry in a long time, and she had stopped having suicidal ideations. 

“It feels amazing and it feels empowering, like I’m in control of my own body,” Melissa said. “I feel like I have more of a hold on life. I can get up in the morning and not feel like I’m dead already. I enjoy life a lot more now that I’m not on birth control. I wouldn’t give up the experience of going on birth control just because it helped me learn about myself.”

Interview conducted November 21, 2022 by phone.