Women reveal perks and pains of birth control

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Video: Student Testimonials:
Flagler students share their experiences with birth control.

By Caroline Young | cyoung1@flagler.edu
Photos by Philip C. Sunkel IV

Senior Maghan Katrick is reminded of her tumors every day by the scar on her chest. She had three of them removed two years after starting the birth control patch.

Katrick, a graphic design major, was using the patch for about one year but stopped once she developed a rash wherever she would stick it on herself. Another year went by and she started to notice three lumps in her breasts. Her doctor confirmed she had three tumors; one in her right breast and two in her left. Katrick was glad to hear they were benign.

One of her three tumors, which was the largest one- about the size of a gumball, caused her a significantly greater amount of pain than the other two. Katrick ran cross-country and felt discomfort from the large tumor whenever she went for a run.

Her doctor told her that several girls had tumors from the birth control patch.

“She said it was from the patch…that was one of the side effects,” Katrick said. “She asked if it ran in my family and it didn’t… so, that’s what we decided…that would be the only thing.”

According to Aphrodite Women’s Health website, the first birth control pill was created in 1960.

Fifty years later, over 10 million American women take one of the thirty-something brands on the market. Oral contraceptives remain the most popular method of birth control, but new methods have developed in the past decade, like hormonal patches, implants, injections and vaginal rings.

How Birth Control Works


Michael Foote worked as a sales consultant for Yaz oral contraceptives from 2005 to 2009 and currently works in a women’s health laboratory. One reason he stopped working for Yaz was the commercials with all of the negative side effects of the pill, such as blood clots.

“That made it tougher to sell the product and patients were calling in the office a lot and complaining, wanting to be switched off,” Foote said. “Ultimately, doctors were doing what was easier and to avoid phone calls, they prescribed different pills.”

He said the patients who are over 35 years old and smoke cigarettes are the ones at the highest risk of developing blood clots.

“Smoking already increases the chance of blood clotting and birth control just multiplies those chances,” he said. “You don’t want to scare people into thinking they can’t take birth control pills because it’s going to cause blood clots.”

However, anxiety and depression are more common side effects in younger women taking birth control. According to Aphrodite Women’s Health website, a study was conducted at Australia’s Monash University’s School of Psychology, Psychiatry and Psychological Medicine in 2005, reviewing mental side effects of women on oral contraceptives.

The study revealed 57 percent of the women had mood swings, 63 percent were irritable, 65 percent experienced “irrational crying” and 69 percent felt depressed and anxious after taking birth control pills.

Katrick said that she noticed a mental difference when taking birth control, especially when she was switching types.

“If you go off of it, your hormones change,” she said. “And hormones can affect your mood.”

Senior Jody Marich, a communication major, who has tried three different pills, said she always has a fairly laid back personality but she thinks birth control changes her mentality.

“I feel like I’m calmer when I’m not on birth control,” she said. “The first time I was on [birth control], it made me gain a good 10 pounds. And it was hard to get that weight off.”

But a different birth control pill had the opposite effect on Marich, who is already a naturally petite girl. She lost a significant amount of weight without a change in her eating habits or exercise routine.

“I feel like it was the tiniest I’ve ever been,” she said.

Flagler alumna Kelly Lawson had a reverse physical reaction to her birth control. She said her doctor told her, “that [this birth control brand] doesn’t work for everyone because it has a chemical called progestin in it that either works for you or it doesn’t.”

Lawson said she had an increase in appetite and became overly emotional. She switched pills after gaining nearly 30 pounds in one year.

Along with Marich, communication major Rachel Kuhl said her birth control caused her to lose weight.

“Then my chest grew,” Kuhl said. “I told all my girlfriends and before I knew it, every single one of them was on it.”

But after taking it for four years, her doctor put her on the generic form because it is 15 dollars cheaper. She has been on it for three months and has gained 10 unwanted pounds without changing her daily workouts and healthy eating.

Eager to switch back to the brand name, Kuhl said, “it’s just too different…I called my doctor and I told her and she said ‘just finish out this pack.'”

Next to weight gain, Kuhl said she has severe nausea, which is another frequent side effect that women experience.

Marich also said her pill makes her feel sick often, especially if she takes it on an empty stomach.

Video: Student Testimonials

“I will wake up in the middle of the night between two and four and I’ll go throw up because it makes me so sick,” Marich said.

Foote said that women have lower chances of becoming nauseous if birth control is consumed with a meal or before going to sleep at night.


According to the National Cancer Institute, birth control can help protect women from ovarian cancer.

A woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer is reduced after three to six months of birth control use and can remain effective up to 25 years after she stops taking it.

The University of Wisconsin Stevens-Point (UWSP) health department reports that birth control can help to reduce pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which is a severe bacterial infection in the uterus and fallopian tubes.

A woman with PID can experience severe pain and possible infertility. The pill acts as a wall to prevent bacteria from entering the cervix.

Marich experienced severe menstrual cramping before starting birth control.

“I would be laying in bed in a ball because it hurt so bad,” she said.

The pill reduces cramps and it helps to prevent ovarian cysts from developing because it plays a part in stopping ovulation, according to the UWSP health department. Ovarian cysts can enlarge and burst, which can require serious surgery.

Ninety percent of young females with acne have significantly high androgen levels, which are suppressed by birth control pills. Marich, Katrick, Kuhl and Lawson all said they noticed clearer skin after taking it.

The estrogen in most birth control pills, Foote said, usually helps to prevent acne.

“The reason I got on it was my complexion,” Marich said. “It makes your face get really bad then clears it up.”

Birth control also helps to regulate women’s menstrual cycles. Lawson, for example, knows exactly when her menstrual cycle is coming.

“It really is great knowing when you are going to be on your period every month and never having concern if you are sexually active,” Lawson said.

Despite the tumors, Katrick says birth control provides girls with a “peace of mind” and she plans to get back on a different form of birth control soon.

Kuhl agrees and said that girls on some form of it are “better safe than sorry.”

“I hate to think about it so negatively,” said Kuhl, “But if you get raped and get pregnant, that’s an awful situation.”

New Leaf: Environmental effects of birth control


According to Health.com, when women are correctly taking birth control pills, using the patch or a vaginal ring, there is still some chance of getting pregnant. The site reports an average of 8 surprise pregnancies in every 100 “typical users” of each of those three birth control methods.

If a woman is taking antibiotics, according to Medicine.net, the medicine can interfere with the effectiveness of birth control and it is necessary to use an alternative method, such as condoms.

“I have friends that have not known and gotten pregnant because antibiotics canceled it out,” Marich said.

The most important thing for women to remember about taking the pills, Foote said, is to consume them at the same time every day.

“Some of these have less estrogen and less amounts of hormone,” he said. “And if you miss…your chances of protecting yourself are worse.”

For Katrick, the hardest form of birth control to take was the pill since it was hard for her to remember at the same time every day. She prefers the ring because it is a monthly regimen, as opposed to a daily one.

Foote said that NuvaRing works better for some women because the hormones travel straight through the body.

“It goes directly into the bloodstream,” he said. “A lot of patients tolerate that better.”

Most types of oral contraceptives come with equal amounts of estrogen in each pill. However, pills called “tri-phasic” pills, such as Ortho-tri-cyclen, cause women to experience three phases of varying estrogen levels each month.

“If a woman is naturally hormonal, tri-phasic pills may make it worse,” Foote said.

From a patch to a ring to a plethora of pills and other birth control methods, the right one seems to depend on each woman’s personal preference and physical tolerance to different estrogen levels.

Kuhl, Marich and Lawson all had different experiences and side effects while taking the same birth control pills.

Foote said that some women have no problem when starting birth control and can handle over 50 micrograms of it. On the other hand, some can barely handle 20.

“Some patients, you introduce a speck of estrogen to them and their body goes crazy,” he said.

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