The last summer of undergrad was maybe the easiest and most energetically buoyant time of my life: I had a great job, school and extra-curriculars excited me, I had met a boy to be smitten with, and things were going swimmingly. They were going so well that I decided to go back on hormonal birth control, which I hadn't been on since first year.
Concerned about the side effects of the pill, I can't remember the doctor who prescribed the Mirena hormonal IUD, but I do remember that it was pitched as having fewer negative side effects than oral contraceptives. I had the appointment that August, and the awfulness of its ramifications wouldn't be revealed until December...
The incident is still quite clear to me, as all of a sudden sex became immeasurably painful. We kept waiting for it to pass, but as days became weeks it was increasingly clear this was a chronic problem. The appointments started, and everyone was stumped: many suggestions as to what it was and no solutions. Confident it was the IUD causing the problems, not one doctor agreed with me. So I indignantly huffed back into the office of one who had suggested a laparoscopy to take care of his diagnosis - endometriosis - and insisted he take it out. We argued, he did.
The problem was alleviated slightly, but not by much, and naturally the difficulties of intimacy took its toll on our happiness. Libido cannot endure in the company of a hysterically sobbing girl, so it turns out.
Treatment was side lined with the diagnosis of another problem, and after a small operation to cure that, I was still in pain and increasingly despondent. You can understand that I was getting a bit desperate: six months into The Problem and I could barely sit down, let alone be intimate with a partner, and so my anxiety spiraled into hypothetical what-about-the-babies! trains of thought. There will be no babies or sex for me! I will die, alone, baby-less, man-less, and generally unloved, except by my cat. I will be Marilla Cuthbert.
So desperate felt the situation that my family pulled the proverbial strings of a very real healthcare system. A family friend worked closely with a doctor who was amongst the best in gynecology in Canada, and his colleague agreed to see me (she was ob-gyn number five at this point). After her treatment didn't work either, I gained entry to an appointment with my new favourite octogenarian. Five minutes after meeting him, he had diagnosed The Problem and felt absolutely certain I would be in "fighting shape" in a few months. His words.
What had happened? The Mirena's hormones, which are placed right in the midst of the reproductive tract, had created an environment so hospitable to yeast that it flourished a thousand times higher than a normal infection. The yeast didn't have enough sugar to sustain it, so it had eaten through the next closest resource: me.
It took another six months to fulfill the course of treatment, but it resolved everything. Joyous at a return to health, I was also quite cognizant of how lucky I was to have had that introduction. My experience made it very clear that in this system you have to advocate for yourself, because doctors are not magicians, just people doing a job... And if Your Problem falls outside the scope of their experience, diagnosis is going to be tricky and referrals take forever.
It also inspired some academic research, because it became quite clear to me that hormonal birth control is so totally normalized as a prescription that it took several experts until one even suspected the hormones had caused the problem. Each had assumed it was my body manifesting it of some curiously vicious will. given the rate at which The Pill is prescribed, I wonder how many other young women suffer the negative side effects of hormonal prescriptions and never suspect the real culprit.
In the next installment about the copper wire IUD, I'll address my non-hormonal solution to my current "no babies" position and the exact treatment my doctor gave me. Hint: you can get it over the counter, it's natural, and a cheap cure for yeast infections.