Like many young females who move to university and start a new relationship, Anita Mistry decided to go onto contraception for the first time. However, her experience with contraception has been a difficult one and she has faced several medical complications since. Here, she tells The Lowdown about her journey.
Interestingly, and unlike most teenage females who start contraception for the first time, Anita chose the implant. “I’m not good at remembering things like taking a tablet every day,” she says, “I’m not good at taking tablets in general.”
“I think I was allergic to latex condoms and alternatives weren’t as readily available then, so that would never have been an option for me either.”
Anita explains how she preferred the idea of having something that was practically “100% effective” and that she could forget about. In that sense, she says, the implant was “perfect”. She adds, “I had it done at the university campus medical centre and I remember seeing a lot of literature about it [at the time]. It was the one everyone was raving about because it was something like 99.9% effective.”
Anita had the implant for a total of six years, the only time being off it was when she got a new one put in. At first, it seemed to work well with her body and she experienced only minor side effects. However, as time went by Anita, explains that she started to suffer from all sorts of health problems. In hindsight, she reckons these problems were down to the contraception.
For Anita, her symptoms with the implant only seemed to get worse. It caused her to have “extremely heavy and irregular periods” and on top of that, when they did come, the pain would be really hard to handle. In addition, Anita’s moods fluctuated when she was on the implant, but it wasn’t until coming off it, she says, that she realised just how different she felt. Then, about 18 months into her second implant, Anita suffered a miscarriage.
At first, she thought it was just a really difficult period, but so much blood made her feel uneasy and so she went to get it checked out. “I didn’t know I was pregnant and I still don’t know for sure, but I suddenly had heavy bleeding and huge amounts of blood clots,” she explains. Because of the amount of blood lost, her doctor suggested that a miscarriage was the likely answer. “I fell pregnant but obviously having the implant meant even though it somehow happened, it [the pregnancy] couldn’t continue.”
“I fell pregnant”
“Hearing the possibility that it might have been a miscarriage made me feel strange,” she explains, “I obviously didn’t want a baby at that stage so I was glad it didn’t go through, but it was confusing to have that decision not be mine and for it to be [possibly] caused by something that was supposed to protect me [implant].”
She continues, “I felt a bit lost and broke up with my partner shortly after.” Despite having a rough time, Anita chose to finish the three-year term of her implant but decided it wouldn’t be something she would consider going on again.
Trying the pill
After the implant, Anita decided to try the pill. She wanted to try it out but couldn’t get into the rhythm of taking something every day, but was probably on it for about two years on and off.
She tried several pills to see if there was one that worked with her body but didn’t have much luck. She says, “The first one I had caused weight gain and bad skin, and the second one – the progestogen-only pill Feanolla – stopped my periods completely which made me very nervous as I had no idea if I had got pregnant or not.”
When she went back to her GP in the hope of trying another contraceptive pill, Anita says she didn’t have many options. “I wasn’t allowed to have the pill that helped to clear bad skin, which was what I wanted after the first one caused mine to break out,” she explains, “That was because I’m a smoker, and apparently that type of pill can cause blood clots which smokers are more at risk of getting.” Even though Anita says she felt limited with her choice of pill options, she acknowledges that smoking was her choice so she didn’t believe she was let down by her GP.
Anita adds she wasn’t on one pill long enough to notice a significant difference in her body, but she did sometimes feel lethargic and moody. Her anxiety at the time most likely stemmed from worrying that the pill wasn’t working. “I’ve always tracked my periods on an app which gave me peace of mind regarding when I was due my period and when I was ovulating, but the second pill stopped my periods and so threw this out of whack.”
Sadly, her time on the pill quickly came to an end when Anita was rushed to hospital with ovarian torsion and had to have an emergency cystectomy. Anita was told she had a cyst in one of her ovaries which could have been slowly growing over time or developed more recently – there was no way of knowing. “The only reason I found out about it was because the pain was so bad I was rushed to A&E and that’s when they found it,” she explains.
Anita’s left ovary was almost completely removed because the cyst was so big. The doctors wanted to try keyhole surgery, which might have helped to save more, but ended up having to perform major surgery. Naturally, one of Anita’s biggest concerns was whether she would be able to have children after all of this. Luckily, she was told her chances of getting pregnant had not been changed due to the operation.
However, Anita was told after the surgery that she has polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Polycystic ovaries contain a large number of harmless follicles which are undeveloped sacs in which eggs develop. Because they are undeveloped, ovulation might not be able to occur which can reduce the chances of falling pregnant.
“Will I be able to have children?”
On top of all of this, Anita is currently waiting to have a large loop excision surgery as doctors discovered pre-cancerous cells at her last smear test (don’t skip a smear test people!). However, because of lockdown, the appointment has been delayed. Worryingly (but understandably) she tells me that this, in conjunction with PCOS and the cystectomy, makes her fearful that she won’t be able to conceive easily in the future.
Anita still isn’t completely sure why all of this happened to her or whether it’s related to her choice and use of contraception. One thing for sure though, she says, is that she will never take any method of contraception that affects her hormones again.
Periods over moods
Finally, Anita feels like she is on the right contraception for her; the non-hormonal copper coil. She had it put in around eight months ago after starting a new long-term relationship. She had a lot of friends who were on the coil who said it was the best contraceptive they had ever used. “I was nervous about getting it done because most of the information I read said it was painful and only really ideal for women who had had children.”
She adds, “When I finally got it done, the actual insertion was fine but I had severe cramps for the next few days.”
One side effect Anita does have from the coil is that more than half of her periods since have been heavy and painful. She says, “I spoke to my doctor about this and she gave me a pill to reduce the blood flow (only to be taken during my period so I am not that bothered as I would be if it was a pill every day). It worked well during my most recent period.”
Anita believes the painful periods are worth it compared to contraception that affected her hormones and subsequently her mental health. “I really regret going on the implant because for six years of my life I wasn’t really me,” she explains, “the relationship I was in then obviously wasn’t meant to be, but I do wonder if things would have been different if I didn’t act the way I did.”
“I also wondered if that [implant] and the pill had a part to play in the gynaecological complications I have had and struggle with today.”
Of course, Anita’s difficult experience may worry some who are on the implant, but what might be negative for one female, could be positive for another. There are many positive experiences with the implant, and many females have shared their story with The Lowdown which you can read here. By sharing Anita’s story, we at The Lowdown hope that people will be able to understand they are not alone.
Design by Petra Rabely.