Contraceptives aid in expanding vital discussion

I remember the first time I left school early because of my period. I was in the middle of a test when I realized I needed to use the restroom immediately.

At 16 years old, I’d begun to suffer from blaring migraines, painful cramps and nausea that accompanied heavy, irregular bleeding.

This made it difficult for me to get through an entire day of classes without having to visit the restroom every hour.

In the moment, I tried to excuse myself from the classroom, but my teacher demanded that I could not leave until I had finished my exam.

He explained that if I chose to leave, I would receive a zero.

I protested, vaguely explaining my uncomfortable emergency, but my pleas were taken as disobedience. My teacher became annoyed, threatening me with detention if I left the room.

With flushed cheeks and tears in my eyes, I was faced with two choices. I could accept the punishment and leave the room, or stay and finish my exam while bleeding heavily through my khaki pants. In either case I knew I’d be humiliated, so I chose to leave.

Running to the nurse’s office, I broke down and explained what was happening in greater detail.

In this space, I was met with more understanding. The nurse spoke on my behalf with my teacher and was able to arrange a make-up for the exam. I was excused from the detention as well as classes for the rest of the day. Although my punishment was erased, I was left feeling powerless.

My period became more than a monthly inconvenience for me. It became more than a source of extreme physical discomfort.

My inability to control my menstruation became a source of embarrassment, shame and fear regarding my body. I stayed home from school on many occasions during my period for these very reasons.

As these health issues continued and worsened, my mother took me to a doctor to find more answers despite our family not having insurance.

During this visit, I learned that when approaching women’s reproductive health, concrete answers are hard to come by, especially for those who are uninsured.

There are a variety of menstrual-related disorders that can cause irregular bleeding and these are especially common during adolescence.

Medical testing to screen for these disorders can be expensive for uninsured patients, with out-of-pocket costs for abdominal ultrasounds ranging from $200 to $650 depending on the provider and geographic region, before adding the cost of a trip to the doctor which normally ranges between $150 and $300. For many Americans, this puts diagnosis and treatment way out of reach.

In moments like these it is clear that there is a great need for menstrual equity in our nation and this conversation should include and cater to those who suffer from irregular periods.

Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, an advocate for menstrual equity, defines this principle in her book “Periods Gone Public,” saying, “In order to have a fully equitable and participatory society, we must have laws and policies that ensure menstrual products are safe and affordable and available for those who need them.

“The ability to access these items affects a person’s freedom to work and study, to be healthy, and to participate in daily life with basic dignity. If access is compromised, whether by poverty or stigma or lack of education and resources, it is in all of our interests to ensure those needs are met.”

Because I was uninsured, I was given the more affordable and immediate solution given to many womxn.

It came in the form of a pill, which could be purchased for as little as $15 a month and would help regulate my cycle. Thus began my life on oral contraceptives. Since then, I have gone on and off of different birth controls until I found one that worked for me.

Each have provided me the benefit of regulating my cycle while diminishing the pain and discomfort I used to experience.

I am thankful to have had access to birth control, and will always fight for womxn’s access to contraceptives, because I believe it is a right.

Whether preventing pregnancy or managing menstrual disorders, contraception should be easily accessible, with or without insurance.

This plays into Weiss-Wolf’s definition of menstrual equity.

That being said, I believe that along with that right is a desperate need for increased reproductive health education and resources for womxn who take contraceptives.

Access to affordable menstrual healthcare should not be treated as a privilege, but as a right.

This is something that is lacking in our healthcare, and continuing to hold womxn back.

Recently, a study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism showed a birth control option for men that was canceled due to a slew of negative side effects like muscle pain, acne, mood swings and depression.

Look up the side effects to the many form of contraceptives offered to womxn and you’ll find a list of similar, unpleasant symptoms that can cause hormonal and mood changes in a person.

These side effects include, but are not limited to, increased anxiety, depression, breakthrough bleeding, vaginal irritation, weight and appetite changes.

No one ever warned me about these side-effects until after I had started experiencing them.

When I’ve faced these negative side-effects of birth control, I’ve experienced the same feelings of embarrassment, shame, and fear regarding my body as I did when I was 16, crying in the nurse’s office.

These symptoms are considered “normal” during the first three months of use, and doctors will urge patients to give each medication a three month trial period for your body to adjust.

This can be frustrating for anyone, but especially for uninsured patients who can’t afford to see a doctor regularly. If a medication is wreaking more havoc than it is improving a patient’s life, it is incredibly important for that patient to have access to follow-up care.

This way they can figure out the real reason for their symptoms and change their prescription if needed.

When considering the meaning of this study, it’s clear that health care values the well-being of men when it comes to reproductive health.

But what is being done to ensure that womxn are being given the same consideration when it comes to our contraception?

Is it too much to ask for more access to affordable screening and free follow up care as someone who deals with irregular bleeding? Is it too much to ask for womxn to have access to safer birth control with less negative side effects?

As I look past my graduation in two weeks, it is a dream of mine to find a job that will provide insurance so that I may have access to answers and tests that I have not had during the times I’ve been uninsured.

Even though I look forward to this possibility, I realize that the fight will not end there.

Not only do we need to protect the access to contraceptive methods more than ever before, but we must also fight for increased research, education, and resources for womxn who rely upon contraceptives to manage their irregular menstrual symptoms and lead normal lives.

Erin is a senior studying journalism.

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