Written by my Spring 2018 apprentice, Jessie Doyle, is a bachelor-qualified Naturopath in Melbourne, Australia.
“Um, I think the condom broke…”
“Wait, what? Seriously?”
I went into a cold sweat.
I was 19 years old, it was the week after I lost my virginity to my then boyfriend, and those are NOT the words you want to hear after sex ever, let alone on your fourth ever sexual experience.
No, I can’t get pregnant, this can’t be happening, I thought, panicked.
I left his house in a hurry and drove to the pharmacy to get emergency contraception. I immediately booked in to see my doctor about going on the oral contraceptive pill, because I had been taught by doctors and society at large that the pill was the most reliable option to avoid pregnancy, really the only option.
The next few months were plagued with pretty terrible side effects that I could only associate with taking the morning after (plan B) pill.
What’s more, every doctor & pharmacist I had seen about when to begin taking the pill had given me a different answer, so by the time I had consulted with the final doctor (“You could have started it at any time!”) it had been about a month since ‘the incident’… and a month of abstinence, because I was so terrified of getting pregnant.
Unfortunately, alongside the reduced libido I began experiencing when I started taking the pill, the whole ordeal led to the end of our relationship – a very unexpected, and might I say ironic, ‘side effect’ of my using the pill.
Staying on the pill despite the side effects
However, I remained on the pill for a year after our break up ‘just in case’, despite not having any sex, as I had developed a terrible paranoia around pregnancy.
I ignored the low moods, apathy, weight gain, and low libido that came with my presumed protection, because as young women in today’s world, we are told that we have to take responsibility for protecting ourselves. We’re told that we can’t really rely on the men in our lives to contribute towards contraception.
And in my experience, that holds a fair amount of truth – I have heard countless men, either in the capacity of friends or lovers, complain at length to me about using condoms because they “don’t feel as good”, and shockingly they’d rather use the withdrawal method than use a condom.
So in my mind, this was my only option, and I just had to ‘suck it up’ and deal with the side effects because I couldn’t trust anyone else to look out for me.
And then a miracle happened
That was, until I somehow stumbled across Dr Nat Kringoudis and her Debunking Ovulation seminars. I attended one on a gamble, hoping to learn a little more about my monthly cycle (which remained a mystery to me), but I never thought I would come out of there with a fire in my belly, knowing that the pill wasn’t the only contraceptive option for women as we had been taught.
I discovered that charting & unpacking my menstrual cycle held the key to understanding my unique patterns of fertility, when I was most & least likely to get pregnant, when I should take extra precautions around sex to avoid pregnancy; that it’s not as simple as ‘unprotected sex = pregnancy’, that fertility is so much more complex than what we are taught in high school health ed classes… something I would have greatly appreciated knowing when ‘the incident’ had occurred!
So I decided to ditch the birth control pill, and embark on my journey charting & analysing my cycle, learning about my own fertility, and immersing myself into the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) of contraception.
A few weeks after stopping the pill, it was as if this heavy, oppressive cloud was lifted off me, and my ‘sparkle’ had returned! I felt happier, more energetic & sexier – and I remembered how good life could feel!
So much pushback from others
But my decision was met with a lot of resistance from many people in my life. Doctors all told me that I should go back on the pill or an alternative contraceptive such as the Implanon or IUD, because I could not protect myself effectively from pregnancy using just condoms & diaphragms.
Equally, although my girlfriends tried to appear supportive, I could tell that they didn’t think my decision was wise. And to be honest, I understood their point of view, as I had been there not too long before. My friends had all started on the pill when they were 15/16 years old, mostly for contraception but sometimes to regulate their periods – because it was the norm.
And apart from a fairly mediocre introduction into condom usage in health ed, school had never helped any of us women truly understand all of our contraceptive options, let alone understand how the menstrual cycle works – ovulation was something I had heard about first on an episode of Friends, but I had no clue what it was or how it affected me!
I persevered with my self-education
I persevered with my self-education & charting (including reading a hell of a lot of Nicole’s wisdom on her blog), and before long I was successfully using FAM to stay pregnancy-free without the use of any invasive forms of contraceptives.
But this whole experience made me realise just how under-educated we are about our bodies as modern women, which is both sad & infuriating given that this information is all readily available, we just haven’t been taught about it!
In a way, I am incredibly thankful that the condom broke on that fateful day, as it kicked off this cascade of events that led me towards understanding my own body, and through this, uncovering my dream of teaching other women about their bodies & cycles, so that they too can be free to make informed decisions about their own reproductive health.
The pill may, and does, work well for many women, however those who experience side effects that reduce their quality of life should not feel like they are doomed to suffer for the rest of their reproductive years.
So wherever you’re at in your journey, do yourself a favour and become well acquainted with your unique cycle – it may change your life!
The above article contains an account of my own experience & opinions, however I recommend only using FAM as a form of contraceptive whilst working closely with a trained FAM educator, as this form of contraception requires an in-depth understanding of fertility and diligent adherence to the FAM rules.
To find out more about Jessie, her journey and her services please visit www.cheerfulhealing.com