Everyone I know's mother has emailed them that study about birth control and depression that just came out. You know, the one from the University of Copenhagen that links hormonal birth control and increased rates of depression, especially in teens? I swear I'm not anti-science and have no specific loyalty to my whore pills, but I'm not ditching them just yet.
When I first started looking into birth control during my senior year of high school, I settled on the pill. IUDs? Images of perforated uterine walls danced in my head, plus at that point (in 2009), no one was pressing them on teenagers. NuvaRing? One of my AP English classmates had a very in-depth discussion behind me one day about a “ring-toss” which is apparently when you accidentally yank out a girl’s NuvaRing while fingering her. I could not think of anything more humiliating, so the ring was out. Implants had been recalled, and the patch just seemed weird and sticky and fringe-y. The pill it was!
I researched it with the same aggressiveness I research everything else — lists were made, websites were visited. If I’m being honest, the only things I was worried about were that 1.) I might get pregnant and 2.) I might get fat. Even with this laser focus, I still couldn’t help running into women describing their mood swings and, to an almost equal degree, their depression while on the pill. This isn’t exactly revelatory new information.
And, really, the pill might increase your risk of depression, but so does having a baby. Eleven to 20 percent of women who give birth each year have post-partum depression, according the CDC. Studies have also shown that an unwanted pregnancy has a higher risk of PPD than a wanted one.
I don’t mean to be flippant about this. After my idiot New Jersey OB-GYN accidentally wrote me a prescription for an entirely different pill instead of the generic version of LoEstrin 24 (this was pre-ACA and I was a broke college student) that I had asked for, I spent a month dealing with bouts of anger so intense I would black out and come to minutes later with split knuckles from punching my dorm room wall. It was the scariest month of my life, but did I go off hormonal birth control? No, I just went back to my old one — and I still deal with a roster of side effects.
I swear, I’m not a shill for Big Pill (remember the split-knuckle story before?), but I am uncomfortable with media coverage that paints OB-GYNs as part of some massive cover-up and any criticism of the study as beyond the pale or "pillsplaining." Discussion of the pill is totally cool with me! What isn’t is insinuating women have been duped and we should all just start taking blue cohosh and embrace our yonis instead. While we’re waiting for the Golden Age of Reproductive Innovation, I’ll keep taking my pills, and I have a feeling that the at-risk teens in the study will continue taking theirs. After all, what are their other options?
1. Abstinence. Yeah, OK.
3. …the rhythm method? Are we really going to ask teenaged women to check their cervical mucus daily and track periods that skip like a broken record (which is why a lot of them are on hormonal birth control anyways)?
4. Copper IUDs. Yes, let’s work on that! But they don’t work for all women.
This isn’t to say that research on the pill is useless since women will take it no matter what. In fact, it’s to say that many women are owed better options because birth control is such a necessity that we would still put up with all this shit. The UN has gone so far as to say access to contraception is a human right. When you have contaminated drinking water, or unsafe housing, you don’t stop drinking water or become a nomad. You work for change.
Again, I really don’t mean to be flippant. I can’t imagine the relief of women who have their experiences justified by the study, but there’s a lot of pill fear-mongering happening. I think a more productive conversation would be centered around pushing for better hormonal birth control with fewer risks, new non-hormonal options, more holistic approaches to reproductive health that include mental health, and maybe, just maybe, some new options for the fellas.