In a now-viral Facebook post from September of 2018, Breana Carlson led with a disclaimer about graphic potentially disturbing information and pictures, before exclaiming, “I genuinely feel like birth control has ruined my life.”
Carlson was put on birth control in middle school in order to “regulate her menstrual cycles.” She was prescribed the hormonal contraceptive Junel and, within a couple of months of taking it, her cramps, acne, and heavy bleeding all lightened up. Within a year of starting hormonal birth control, her period stopped completely—also causing her relief. But her mother began to worry. A gynecologist reassured them both that this was perfectly normal, and so Breana continued to take Junel.
However, this relief was short lived as Carlson began to experience other unusual and seemingly random medical issues. She found herself constantly in and out of the ER for unexplained symptoms and pain. She visited a rheumatologist, a gastroenterologist, and underwent a colonoscopy and endoscopy. All the while, doctors speculated issues with her lymph nodes, intestinal problems, and in one case ingrown toenails—all maintaining that they couldn’t pinpoint the problem. Meanwhile, her gynecologist said everything looked normal and that the Pill could not be the cause of her issues.
Finally, Carlson found a nurse and gynecologist willing to do whatever it took to get to the bottom of her issues. They ordered an abdominal ultrasound, which revealed several large tumors, which had apparently been discovered several years before in an ER CT scan, but Carlson and her mother had not been informed. Carlson met with a surgeon who said the tumors were caused by her birth control.
“I was cut open 4 times to remove the largest tumor. My surgeon decided to leave the other two because they are in a more dangerous spot and probably couldn’t be done laparoscopically,” she wrote. “I’ve missed over two weeks of work because of this and many days in the past due to unexplainable pain. I am now off my birth control and having tons of issues with that. My hormones are all messed up.”
Carlson went on to explain the longer term side effects she experienced even after getting off hormonal contraceptives. “I feel like I’m going to cry even though nothing is wrong with me. I’ve been cramping everyday. I’m probably going to go back to having terrible menstrual cycles. Also, if I want to have kids it will be considered a high-risk pregnancy.”
Carlson said she was never warned of the potential risks and birth control side effects, and that her doctors consistently reassured her that everything was okay and normal. Clearly, this is not the case. Sadly, Carlson is not the only woman to have experienced terrible side effects from hormonal birth control. She’s also not the only woman who has felt ignored or brushed off by doctors when she expressed her concerns with birth control side effects.
Birth control has been the catch-all prescription given to women for decades now. As one OBGYN has said, “Prescribing contraception was bread and butter gynecology for me. It was probably one of the largest tools I had in my arsenal as an OBGYN to treat medical issues.” However, oversight of birth control side effects has been limited, and efforts to draw attention to these risks are still struggling to be accepted in the mainstream medical community. In fact, some are pushing for birth control to be prescribed in bulk, decreasing doctor’s visits, which would leave long term side effects unaddressed by a physician. The name of the game has become convenience for family planning—but at what cost?
Women and girls like Carlson deserve better, safer options, which is why it’s important for doctors to educate their patients on side-effect-free methods for managing menstrual health like Fertility Awareness-Based Methods. FABMs equip women to take charge of their health and fertility, without putting drugs with side effects into their bodies.
It’s important that we don’t stand by and wait for other women to go through what happened to Carlson. Our doctors need to know that there are other effective options for family planning available—even methods that beat the effectiveness of the Pill when it comes to preventing pregnancy. If you have experienced side effects or health insurance we encourage you to sign this Citizen’s Petition asking the FDA to improve patient information and transparency about the side effects of birth control.