Long Term Effects

In the fall of 2013 I came down with a horrible cold. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t swallow, couldn’t even breathe. After missing work I finally visited my local walk-in clinic, but when the doctor told me that I was suffering from allergies, I put up a fight. Allergies? No, I know what allergies are. I have them. But I’m telling you, I’m sick. Look, I have a fever! She just shook her head with a look of patient understanding, like she’s heard this fight before, and told me again: it was allergies. And that was just the start.

Every spring and fall since then, my allergies grew worse. I tried all sorts of daily cocktails – a decongestant every morning and an allergy pill every evening. A nasal spray twice a day. Now different nasal spray with breakfast, followed by an allergy and asthma pill combo before bed. Then add on eyedrops as needed. Twice a year I’d be on antibiotics to fight the still inevitable sinus infections. For a woman who doesn’t even like taking advil for a headache, this routine was getting out of control. But I had no choice, right?

A few years into this battle, and probably sick of my constant complaining, my roommate finally asked me, “so what do you think caused these allergies to just suddenly start?”

I didn’t know. I still don’t. But the next morning I chewed on the idea for a long time. I thought about that first doctor’s visit back in 2013 – the timing, my age, and what was happening in my life. Almost four years before that visit, I had started taking birth control. It was the only pill that I took every single day. That, and now my plethora of allergy meds. Four years is a long time to be on the same pill, isn’t it? Every single day, for four years. After long term use, it must be changing your body… My body.

This moment of reflection came in 2017. It had been eight years since I started taking birth control. Eight years of taking the same pill every single day.

Still in bed, I reached for my phone and quickly consulted Dr. Google. Could birth control pills have long term effects? Could they change my body so drastically that I develop allergies? The majority of articles I read assured me that no, long term affects are highly improbable. This calmed me for a moment, until I noticed that these studies I found were basing “long-term use” on a period of just one year. I had been on this pill for eight years. I couldn’t even remember what my natural cycle was like anymore. Had I even fully matured into a natural cycle before altering my body with ingested hormones?

Reality pummeled me like a wave, and I stood up to find that my body suddenly felt artificial. I had been forcing her to behave like something she isn’t, and I was overcome with a desperate need to un-do this damage, to unleash her.

To be clear, I don’t believe that my birth control pill caused my allergies. But the point is, I don’t know. I have no idea. And if not allergies, in what other ways could my body have been affected? Maybe none… maybe. I didn’t take my pill that morning, and I haven’t since.

It doesn’t escape me that the pill has been, and continues to be, an essential icon of the feminist movement, or that it has enabled women with the vital control they deserve to have over their own bodies. The pill is an empowering step for women’s reproductive rights, and I support its use. I hope that some day the pill becomes available to all women – in this country and others. But I also hope that we see more long term studies. I hope we see more education of, and more alternatives to, the pill. I hope that more doctors choose not to default to prescription pills as a first response. I hope we see more homeopathic treatments and more natural foods. I hope that more women are given a choice, and are supported to do what is right for their individual selves.

For me, the pill was at one point the right choice. But it wasn’t any more, and hadn’t been for a long time.

After this revelation, I tried to combat my allergies with some homeopathic recipes I found online – mostly eating local honey and drinking small amounts of distilled organic apple cider vinegar. It did help, but unfortunately not enough, and after the next sinus infection I made the decision to begin allergy shot treatments. I don’t like the idea, but if I have to choose between a couple years of injections or a lifetime of pills, I’ll take my chances with the short term.