Measure Your Life in Birth Control

The time Julia Roberts was a pretty woman prostituteMy life divides neatly into AD — years of delightful innocence about the realities of life — and BC — when I had to dedicate a part of brain to thinking about obtaining, using, and paying for birth control so that my womb wouldn’t get any ideas about its outsized importance of my life and start throwing its weight around, dictating terms. Here is my life in birth control.

At first I used condoms, and though I bought them occasionally at less than $10 a box, my male partner almost always came prepared. (ba dum CHING!) Soon, though, I realized I wanted to own the control part of birth control. Besides, I hated the way latex smelled. I might have gotten the pill from my doctor at home, but when I tentatively broached the subject of sex with him, he told him dismissively that I was too young and ended the conversation. So I talked through my options with the thankfully less judgmental gyno at the college health center.

First I paid about $10/month for a subsidized patch. Its adhesive sides collected masses of fuzz from my flannel sheets, which meant what should have been a subtle flesh-toned square swiftly turned a garish violet. Then I got sick. Very sick. After a dizzying week, I ended up in the clinic overnight for Valentine’s Day with a fever of 103.5 and had to get an extension for my seminar paper on the American steel industry. I hate not being on time.

Finally, tired of trying to tough out the patch, I ripped it off. The college gyno next tried me on the ring, also sold subsidized at $10/month. It gave me staggering headaches from the hormone shifts and the opportunity to come to grips with myself — specifically my cervix — twice a month. The ring didn’t kill me within the week or render me invisible to all but Sauron, so I dealt with the side effects for the next decade. The most I ever paid for the ring, when I was unemployed and had no health insurance, was about $70/month. That was more than I paid for anything: more than my gym membership, more than my phone bill. But what was my alternative? When I found a drugstore that stocked it for $55/month, I was grateful.

Postpartum, my midwife and I discussed other options. Her practice can’t afford to do IUDs since health insurance won’t reimburse them enough to cover the costs of insertion. Though I could have gone to Planned Parenthood to get one there, she suggested the mini-pill. I’ve been on it for about a year. No side effects that I can tell, but the best part? Under ACA, the kind I get is free. No co-pay, no nothin’.

For others, though the search for affordable, reliable BC continues. Some have considered black market birth control because the available options are, as this awesome infographic shows, expensive. And now that the Supreme Court has weighed in on the contraception mandate, as covered here by our fabulous in-site counsel Josh Michtom and even more pointedly by Michelle Dean, access will become more difficult, not less. That’s a shame for everyone who is trying to make responsible, and already sufficiently difficult, personal decisions about their health.


26 Comments / Post A Comment

HelloTheFuture (#5,275)

I’ve got both a Nuvaring (for birth control) and a Keeper (for menstruation), which means there’s a plastic/silicone thing inside me AT ALL TIMES.

My Nuvaring is free now (thanks, Obama!) but has cost anything from $15/mo to $90/mo (that was WITH health insurance, so…).

My Keeper cost me $30 and I’ve used it for almost a decade. Saved me who knows how much on disposable supplies.

ThatJenn (#916)

Your trajectory is so like mine! I tried all these other hormonal options but everything with estrogen in it makes me horribly miserable with headaches, mittelschmerz, and emotional awfulness. (Hahaha like the Depo shot that gave me two and a half months of non-stop near-suicidal depression, like I have been known to get during PMS, but for a LONG FREAKIN’ TIME. And I didn’t figure it out until after my third shot/nine months. For those who know the story of me marrying my first husband despite all the red flags, this may explain how that all happened.) Anyway, the mini-pill is the best (for me) and I LOVE that it is now free for me, but it definitely requires some kinds of discipline and stability that haven’t always been a given in my life.

Before my birth control became free-to-me, along with the yearly required pelvic exams I need in order to get it filled, I kind of wanted to shake my insurance company and yell, “Come ON you KNOW this is cheaper than a baby!” So it makes me all kinds of riled up that any company would be interested in avoiding paying for birth control. What terrible BS. I don’t have anything insightful or original to say about it, just adding my howling annoyance to the chorus.

Lily Rowan (#70)

That Vanity Fair article about NuvaRing pissed me off no end. Definitely a few people had tragic things happen, but there are rare tragic side effects to all kinds of things, and people don’t try to make a bogeyman out of all of them.

OllyOlly (#669)

I was on a low estrogen pill for…seven years? I think. I was living on my parents dime for half of it, so I only have a vague notion of how much it cost over time (it came in three months packs in the mail, so I didn’t even have to pick it up). But for the last few years it cost between $5 and $10, and then $0, for about two short months before I took the leap off.

Now my boyfriend buys the condoms and I couldn’t tell you how much they cost.

I luckily was able to take a generic and had good insurance!

PicNic (#3,760)

I love/hate birth control. I originally was on the depo shot, which I got for free at planned parenthood when I started seriously dating my college boyfriend. This was a terrible choice for me given a long history with depression and led to a year and a half of hell and the end of my relationship.

Then I was put on the nuvaring and have been on it for about 5 years now. I take it continuously (no week off) and it has served me really well! Through various jobs and insurance coverage it has cost me anywhere between $35-100/month. Currently, thanks to Obama, I get it mail delivery every 3 months for free. I keep it in the crisper in my refrigerator. I’ve had ZERO negative side effects until recently (my cervix is very delicate now from the constant nuvaring contact) and I’m not sure if I’ll have to switch to something else. The idea of being on something else terrifies me as does the way my body behaves when I am not on BC. Sometimes it feels like a lose-lose but getting my BC for free has had a huge impact on my well-being.

RiffRandell (#4,774)

@PicNic Giggling over the image of a NuvaRing amongst the lettuce.

DebtOrAlive (#5,233)

@RiffRandell Add in my snorting

klemay (#1,755)

@PicNic I had to stop the ring after about 5 years because of my poor cervix… I was sad to see it go, because other than that I really loved it as a BC method.

Thingamabob (#5,522)

Copper IUD over here. Hormones scare me, so that and condoms are the only birth control I’ve ever used.

Thank goodness for insurance, or I don’t care to think what this thing would have cost. Especially since it took them two tries to get one to stay…

Penelope Pine (#2,808)

@Thingamabob I LOVE my IUD. It’s a game changer. I was on the pill for a year and tried two different brands because the first one gave me a boob lump (which was horrifying btw).

My first gynecologist wouldn’t give me one because I haven’t been pregnant. I had to do online research to find a practice who had IUD experience and was also covered by my insurer. The device itself + the insertion were each about $1.2k, but I had really good insurance so it was all covered. I was also advised to get a sonogram several months after the insertion, which was another who knows how many dollars.

If you do the math an IUD works out to be cheaper than bc pills over its 10 year life span, even if you were paying everything out of pocket. Of course, that huge up-front sum is a dealbreaker for most women.

garli (#4,150)

I have a very angry uterus and was on depo for years before I was even interested in the possibility of having sex with anyone. Then my OB wasn’t into it anymore (long term usage might not be good for you?) and I switched to the Pill in various forms but never really loved it. Now I’m on my second hormonal IUD and it’s a life changer.

Also I’m a paranoid germaphobe and made every guy I’ve ever slept with also use condoms.

jalmondale (#6,721)

I’m very grateful that the first doctor I talked to prescribed the pill that she did – I’ve since discovered (due to various pharmacy snafus) that most other formulations make me feel drugged-in-a-bad-way or suicidal, and if I’d had any of those first, I wouldn’t have ever thought about trying the one I take (interestingly, the generic version also makes me loopy – after much incredulous googling, I found out that one of the ‘inactive’ ingredients that differs between the two is used to cause a time-delay-release of the active ingredients. Shockingly, the rate at which you dump hormones into your system affects how you react to them).

spex (#1,159)

Am I remembering correctly that the ACA doesn’t mandate coverage of condoms? I had a bad experience with an IUD in college and I’m not interested in hormonal options, so I’m stuck paying $$$ for condoms. (Well, $$$/2, since I split them with my partner.)

Beaks (#3,488)

@spex If you haven’t found, I highly recommend it as a condom source- reasonable shipping, good prices, great selection. The site looks sketchy as all get out, but it’s actually totally excellent. And they will send you coupons constantly after your first order.

@spex Now this is the kind of useful information for which visitors flock to the ‘Fold!

spex (#1,159)

@spex Thanks!

Allison (#4,509)

I got really lucky at 19 with a gyno who perscribed me the same BC pill her daughter was on and have never had any serious side effects, while my friends have had some HORROR stories. And after I got on my own insurance it was about $15/3 packs, but is now free! And no copay is great because I hate finding my checkbook and envelopes and stamps.

hollanding (#6,076)

I do this mental BC breakdown all the time with friends, as I have been on several at this point and am often asked to break down their highs and lows. I also did the Patch –> Ring –> Pill transition, but am currently letting my partner my condoms in bulk (, I think?).

BornSecular (#2,245)

I was on the pill for years, which cost anywhere from $10-50/month (with insurance) I think. I never paid that much attention because going without wasn’t an option for me. A couple years ago I got on the Mirena IUD & it has been great. Rough adjustment period for a month, but otherwise great. Somehow it didn’t cost me anything to get it either.

lemonhead3159 (#6,051)

I’ve never had to pay for BC through a combination of 1) involuntary abstinence (I wanted to have sex! But I didn’t develop any game until my mid-20s..) and 2) having great health insurance. I bought condoms once while taking a 14 day antibiotic, so BC costs are less than $10 for my lifetime. Pretty good?

jquick (#3,730)

I knew I never wanted kids so got my tubes tied. Insurance paid. Easy as that!

EmilyAnomaly (#4,238)

@jquick Whoa, you found a doctor who would do this? I ask every time I go to the doctor for this and they won’t do it because I’m young and have never had children. Well, I ask to have my uterus removed. But they won’t do that either :/

Miss_B (#7,053)

@EmilyAnomaly I also have always known I didn’t want kids, hormonal birth control made me completely nuts the one brief time I tried it, so it was always condoms (and avoidance of too much PIV sex, honestly) I turned 29. I’m also 1000% terrified of anything surgical that involves anesthesia. So… Then I heard about Essure — it’s non-surgical (they dilate your cervix and go in that way), can be done in a regular doctor’s office (though not every OBGYN does it), and it’s permanent. It was moderately uncomfortable getting it done (imagine a half-hour long pelvic exam, more or less), and then you have to go back in a few months to get a fancy x-ray thing to make sure your tubes are completely blocked (that was more uncomfortable than the initial procedure, honestly — they pump your uterus full of saline and contrast and it was unpleasant). And then, all done forever! My insurance covered it completely, and I found a super awesome lady-doctor who did not attempt to convince me I’d eventually realize I wanted to be a baby factory (in fact, I have a chronic illness that would involve stopping medication and probably ending up in really bad shape, if I wanted to get pregnant, so she actually said that if I’d come to her for advice about getting pregnant, she would have counseled me to consider alternatives to actual pregnancy). So it was an overall positive experience, and now I can rely on condoms solely for STI prevention and not for desperately-hoping-I-don’t-get-knocked-up prevention, which has changed my sex life for the better by a million percent in the past 5 years, honestly. Essure — look into it!

My mom used to get me free birth control through a “trade” with a pharmaceutical rep at the doctor’s office she worked for. She gave him allergy meds, and he gave her birth control packs. She once filled my Christmas stocking with birth control when I was in college. She has a sick sense of humor. :)

I was on the pill and used condoms (DOUBLE UP) with my now husband until we wanted to have a baby. I had an early miscarriage and decided I never wanted to be on the pill again after I had my first baby. We used condoms – condoms somehow became the biggest drag on the planet. After my second baby, I got an IUD. Surprisingly, insurance covered it in full. We’re talking vasectomy in a few years, because what I really want is to just let my body BE!

Don’t you wish there were a switch you could flip that said “I am married. I have children. I just want a BREAK from thinking about this.” or you know – your own personal version of that!

I started out on the pill when I moved in with my boyfriend at 19. It worked fine for me, I think? It cost $4 generic. I did go on depression medication for a while, but I don’t feel like it was necessarily caused by, though possibly exacerbated by the pill? At some point after college I got tired of taking so many pills, and I was worried my depression was getting worse because of the BC pills so I asked about a copper IUD. Instead, my primary care NP gave me a script for the ring, saying the IUD was only indicated if you’d had a child. The ring cost me $20 a month with insurance. Then I moved. I liked not having to take the pills, but probably about 6 months to a year after had maybe my worst depressive episode. I went to a new doctor for the depression and she got me set up with counseling therapy (which changed my life for the better) and started weaning me off the anti-depressants. I asked again about the birth control hormones, but my episode was chalked up to difficult life situations, and the therapy and weaning off medicines worked out ok. Then I moved again. I eventually made some friends who I was close enough to talk about BC with. They suggested I try again with the IUD. I asked a new doctor about and she said yes! Copper IUD would be great for me! I stopped taking my BC and waited for a my real menstrual period. For 8 months. We used condoms. I finally had a period and went for my insertion. I wept with relief when she said she would numb my cervix for the insertion. It took 3 tries, but she got it. Insurance paid all but $20. I’ve had it 3 years now. It’s ok? It’s nice not having to pay for BC and I have not had to take depression medication since (not sure if coincidence or…) but there are things I miss about BC. Regular cycles, clear skin, no wiry chin hairs. Now I’m starting to think about having kids and I am terrified it won’t work because of all I’ve put my poor cervix through. Part of me wonders how my life might have been different if I had made (or had) different BC choices.

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