Confessions of the Infertile: Part 1

For HOLLY STEVENSON, the pill seemed to mean pounds more weight and terrible mood swings; and for a long time she had no idea why.

contraception doctor holly Holly Stevenson hormones marvelon menstrual cycle the pill yasmin

Today I am free; today I stop taking the Pill.

This tiny blue tablet with the imposing capital letter, the drug so ingrained into society it’s just ‘The Pill’, has been for me the embodiment of an internal struggle. When I was first prescribed it at the age of 16, I felt so proud, so grown-up, so responsible; it was a gateway to so many things: sex, a menstrual cycle, real womanhood. I was no longer a child. Prior to this I didn’t have a menstrual cycle, I was slim and happy-go-lucky. ‘Menstruation’  meant slightly terrifying PSE lessons, which had no relation to what I actually experienced: an annual pause in my otherwise untroubled life, days lying in the dark, paralysed by pain and shame.

In reality, what I thought would liberate me simply put me into a cage of hormones. I rapidly gained two stones, caused by an increased appetite and decreased metabolism, and so my previously lithe figure erupted into ‘curves’; my breasts blossomed into great globes that meant, despite being overweight, men stared at them in the street. My moods were mercurial; I began crying in supermarket queues, at school, even over dinner.

I felt out of control – eating, shouting, crying, bleeding – all as a result of artificial chemicals pulsing around my body that I was putting there and that women before me had fought for. And for what? For a few minutes of pleasure and intimacy after which, every time, I would stare at the naked, alien, body in the mirror, hating it.

I returned to the doctor; they kept giving me different pills like they were sweets. They all had names that heralded the carefree lifestyle that they should give me: Yasmin; Marvelon. I desperately tried to accept the conflict within myself; that certain sacrifices had to be made in order to be an adult female.

In a strange and totally unreasonable way it felt like it was the men in my life who were trapping me. When I broke up with my first boyfriend, the Pill went in the bin, and I had a sanguine 8 months in which I lost a stone and a half and aced my A-Levels. Then, when I met my current boyfriend, amidst the butterflies of a new love, I could see with a resigned inevitability that I would have to put my hormonal shackles back on. And the slimmer, happier person that he had met once again put on weight (though not as much as before – thanks to Weight Watchers meals and a good dose of guilt) and started crying down the phone. He didn’t understand why. I didn’t understand why.

Ironically, all of these radical changes are due to me having Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), which means because of increased testoterone and LH in my body, I don’t ovulate. On or off the Pill, I can’t conceive. Half the men in England could pump their sperm into me and all that would result in would be some sticky bed sheets. I am barren at an age when women are so fertile that our teachers at school would advise us against holding hands with boys, just in case. I am still not ‘womanly’ in the accepted sense, large breasts or not – because I am not fertile. Type the word into a thesaurus if you don’t believe me. I felt trapped by my gender, caught in a female stereotype and shape that I was inwardly rebelling against.