I can’t even begin to comprehend the rapture of the female population when the Pill first became properly available back in the 1960s. Imagine! With just one tiny pill came a solution to irregular periods, stomach cramps and the ever-present and terrifying prospect of
parasitic growth pregnancy every time you got laid. Although it signified a new era of gender equality and gave women true control over their fertility for the first time ever, the drugs were far from perfect. It wasn’t 100% reliable and came with countless side effects, including headaches, weight gain and – in extreme cases – blood clots and other life-threatening conditions. Fifty years later, the fertility boffins have fine-tuned oral contraception and there are now hundreds of choices on the market for the discerning gal who wants to take the reins of her own uterus and not be plagued by its constant inconvenience and bad manners. However, we still haven’t got the Pill down to an exact science. Every body is different and one girl’s wonder-drug is another’s harbinger of pain, spottiness and psychotic mood swings. It’s rare that somebody finds that their perfect Pill is the first one they try, so it’s important to keep switching it up if it’s not working for you. Unfortunately,though, we don’t live in a perfect world and the NHS has a responsibility not only to dole out free healthcare to all (including contraceptives), but also to balance its books. It’s not ideal, but money is a finite resource even for the world’s largest institutions (the NHS is the world’s fifth biggest employer) and it needs to try and distribute its cash as effectively as possible. This can sometimes get in the way between us and the best possible drugs for our bodies.
Almost everyone has a horror story about the Pill, usually to do with its gruesome side effects. Microgynon is the one you’re most likely to be started on, simply because it is the cheapest for the NHS to provide. More recently some new drugs, Rigevidon and Leveste, have been introduced, which work in exactly the same way but are even cheaper to produce. Consequently, many clinics and practices are trying to get people to switch to the more budget-friendly options. Of course, just because something is cheap doesn’t mean it isn’t good; I know many people who have been on Microgynon for years without a problem and have never needed to seek out a better alternative. Although it’s important to consider you’ll probably never find a Pill with zero side effects whatsoever, you also need to be confident asking for a different one if the effects of the one you’re using become very uncomfortable. For instance, after years of reasonably painless, cramp-free periods, Microgynon managed to simulate the prolonged sensation of being brutally winded for hours on end. I recall lying face down on a bank of cheap foam chairs in Sixth Form, wondering if this is anything like how Sigourney Weaver’s character in Alien 3 felt just before the beastie burst out of her in a torrent of goo and Alien placenta. After that I switched to Femodene, which gave me colossal headaches, then Micronor, which turned me into a crazy and had completely unpredictable bleeding patterns. After that I was on Cerazette for awhile, which surely is made of Satan’s gallstones. I have never known anyone to have a good word to say about it; it makes you mental and angry. You know the ‘rage’ disease in 28 Days Later? Yeah, like that. But fatter. Because Cerazette makes you hungrier than a cannibal in a mosh pit. And that’s before you get to the actual physiological effects, because Cerazette is an onslaught on your jigglypuff like you’ve never experienced before. It’ll lure you into a false sense of security and then BAM! Before you know it you’re at the emergency walk-in clinic at 1am because you are essentially BLEEDING TO DEATH OUT OF YOUR TWINKLE.
Ahem. Sorry for any readers who are faint of heart/blokes; this is all getting a little icky. The story has a happy ending though, because I moved onto Cileste a year ago, which for me is as near-perfect as it’s going to get. But it took five years and a lot of fannying around – excuse the pun – to get there. I have a lot of respect for our hard-working medical professionals, but unfortunately I’ve found that most of the time nurses and GPs will try and fob us off with the cheapest possible options. I know somebody whose GP refuses to prescribe them a course of drugs for a double hit of fungal toenail infections because it is too expensive (the treatment is long-winded; it takes about six months and costs £150 using over-the-counter drugs) and they aren’t in enough pain to justify it. If you look at the bigger picture, it’s harsh but fair. Money is limited; why should that cash go to curing a relatively painless nail infection when it could go on life-saving kidney dialysis? Frankly though, when it comes to healthcare everybody should be looking out for number one, and that extends to contraceptives too. If I was that bloke with the nail infection I’d go to the doctors and scream like I was taking a red-hot poker up the arse until they gave me the drugs. But then that’s me, maybe I’m just bloody-minded.
On that note, here are the rules for when you next go to collect your stash of egg-dissolving morsels of liberation:
Some people get embarrassed talking about stuff like contraception. Leave that at the door right now; if you’re not mature enough to have a frank conversation with a medical professional about what your rosy-lipped batfish gets up to, you’re certainly not mature enough to be getting laid. Take up knitting or crochet instead.
The nurse you’re talking to is a nurse. If she wasn’t bound by patient confidentiality agreements, she could probably tell you some stories that’d make your toes curl. You’re going to get asked a lot of questions about things that most people would consider pretty private. Shit like ‘how many people have you done the dirty with?’ and ‘when did you last have unprotected sex?’ It is okay if any of the answers to these questions are ‘zero’ or ‘never’. Genuinely, outside of her professional sphere, the nurse does not give a shit. It doesn’t matter if you’re the village bicycle or as pure as the fresh driven snow, it is so important to be 100% honest when you’re being questioned by family planning staff. They can’t advise you if they don’t know all the facts.
I know it can be a little bit daunting going to the family doctor you’ve had your whole life, especially if he’s a dude, so if this is the case go to a specialist family planning clinic. I’ve been going to Brook clinics since I was seventeen and their staff are generally pretty ace. I’ve had the same lady now for three years and she gets to hear EVERYTHING (even the stuff she doesn’t ask for, poor sod.)
Most doctors and nurses are wonderful, dedicated people. However, dickheads are universal across all professions and sometimes you do stumble across some right turds. You may also run into those budgetary problems I mentioned above, which means you may be pressured to switch Pills when you’re happy with the one you’re on or swap to a different form of contraception entirely such as the implant, injection or Coil. Personally, these more invasive alternatives to the Pill have always seemed a little too Frankenstein for me. A couple of years ago a nurse tried her very best to get me to agree to the implant. I’d read all about it – on the surface it sounds fabulously convenient – but I knew for sure that I didn’t actually want it. I listened to her carefully and then told her I was happy on the Pill and that I’d heard a lot of things about the implant that made me uncomfortable. She tried to persuade me but I remained firm; after all, they can’t force you! Stand your ground and always get second (and third, fourth and fifth!) opinions before agreeing to any radical change.
Respect the professionals
On the other hand, don’t be rude to staff. They are, after all, there to help you, so if that nurse tells you to go and piss in a pot, then you damn well go and do it. I think they have targets to meet or something for chlamydia tests, so even if the most action you’ve had in the last three months is sitting on the back seat of a bus, you get yourself into that toilet and you squeeze out s0me juice. It’s the least you can do. I swear, I’ve been made to take so many of these (unnecessary) tests over the years I must be an expert at weeing into a tiny plastic beaker by now. Maybe I should join the army.
Research your options
The internet is heaving with information and there’s really no excuse not to do your research before getting yourself down to the GUM (genitourinary) clinic. Don’t go in blind; make sure you’re armed with good-quality information so you can make informed choices. For instance, if you’re having problems with a particular side effect on Mercilon, Google it and see if you can find other people who’ve experienced the same problem. Join online forums and ask questions. Of course, be mindful that this is still the internet and nothing on it is gospel, but an hour perusing Cosmo’s health message boards can give you a pretty good overview (do me a favour and don’t buy their shitty magazine though).
Don’t give up
Finding the right Pill can take a long time but it’s your right to keep swapping until you find one that agrees with you. At the end of the day, these mother-lodes of hormones on your fragile girl bits is a lot like throwing petrol on a raging bushfire. We are just not designed to take these extra chemicals into our bodies, so it’s no fucking wonder most of us don’t react well to them. Don’t be afraid to keep going back and being that difficult bastard that all the staff secretly hate. Hopefully you’ll find one that doesn’t give you migraines, ruin all your favourite knickers or make you foam at the mouth, but in the meantime keep calm and try not to throw that jar of tepid piss all over the nurse when you’ve finished filling your thousandth jar.