The Contraceptive Implant: A Word of Warning

Content warning: depression, thoughts of self harm and suicide, baby loss

For most of my life, contraception has not factored into it very highly.  I had my children very young, and followed one monogamous long term relationship with a man with another long term relationship with a man, my current husband, with whom I have also been trying for children.  Not a whole lot of contraception necessary in this case.  As regular readers will know, myself and my husband have suffered two grueling losses in the last 12 months, the last two in a line of five.  While that’s about five losses to many for any couple, the medical peeps only really bat an eyelid after you’ve had three successive losses.  This is where we’re at currently, waiting for an appointment from the ‘recurrent miscarriage team’ (RMT).

Of course while I’m waiting for these investigations to take place, to see if there’s a medical reason I cannot carry a baby to term, falling pregnant is not really a good idea for us.  Never a fan of abstinence, I went to see about contraception options.  I read up ahead of time, and side effects and complications seemed to be minimal, at least according to NHS direct and WEB MD, and went along feeling confident.

The coil was not an option, as the RMT are going to want to fiddle about in there.  My first choice was the pill, but after 5 failed pregnancies my weight is too high to take it safely.  That left us with the contraceptive implant, which I was told was easy, simple, and could be removed as soon as we wanted to start trying again.  I had it put in there and then, and though the needle was huge, it was an easy enough procedure.

The next month

I suffer from long term clinical depression and anxiety, have for over 15 years, but over the next month my mood was completely erratic.  I was fine one minute and crying the next, but overall just feeling really low.  I put this down to grief from the lost babies, plus the toll it had all taken on my body.  I felt very hormonal, but I had not even had my first ‘proper period’ after the miscarriage so I put it down to that.

That first period came and went, and I still felt terrible.  I know my cycle very well, not only because we’d been trying to get pregnant for so long, but because it was essential for me to remain well and not sink into depression.  I knew that one week before my period I’d be out of sorts, 3 days before I’d be weepy and wanting comfort food, and the day before (and I am using this phrase in the literal sense) I would feel incredibly low and often suicidal.  When you have depression, the dark times are difficult because you don’t know when they’ll end, and it can sometimes be hard to see the light.  Though my pre-menstral symptoms can be hard to handle, they are manageable because I know it’s just one day, and exactly what is behind the desperate feelings.

I continued to feel worse, with each day feeling like the day before my period, but my period never came.  I struggled with every aspect of life and cried almost constantly.  I couldn’t function.  Then one day, I was talking to my husband and we both agree that I had been consistently unwell (in terms of depression and anxiety) since I’d had the implant in.  He knows my outward signs well and could see I was struggling, that I was in a severe depressive episode.  I decided the implant had to come out.  I spoke to my Dr who said, ‘give it more time’, which stupidly in hindsight, I did.

The turning point

When I told my husband that if the Dr would not take out my implant, I would cut it out myself, he was rightly worried.  He contacted the Doctors and relayed my deeply depressed and desperate state to the receptionist, who nevertheless would only give him an appointment for me a month in the future!  The next day, when I could see a little more clearly, I phoned myself and secured an appointment for 2 weeks in the future, despite telling the Dr I was actively suicidal and totally desperate.

Thankfully, the receptionist phoned me with a cancellation appointment a couple of days after this (perhaps the Dr had had some thoughts on her duty of care) and I couldn’t get there fast enough.  The Dr who took out my implant made a large deep cut of approx. 1cm (which hurt quite a bit as I don’t respond to local anesthetic) and took out this huge stick which had been under my skin.  I had felt it there previously under my skin and it felt like a grain of rice.  What I didn’t know was there was another 4cm of hormone radiating stick attached to it!

I got home, and my period came the next day.  I felt immediately better in myself, even though the period lasted 10 days and was ‘can’t leave the house’ heavy.  I worried this past week that I’d had another flood of hormones from the implant, but no, it was another period, just a week or so later.  My body has been severely screwed up and yesterdays dark feelings were just my ‘normal’ pre-menstral routine.

Other people

I hope this is back to normal for me, but knowing I was going to write a blog post, I asked around on twitter for peoples experiences with the contraceptive implant, in particular those with a history of depression and other mood disorders.  I was saddened but not surprised when lots of women shared their experiences with me in a relatively short time.

Brenda said that her “bouts of depression became far more frequent and more severe” to the point where her “Dr thought at one point that she had rapid cycling bipolar disorder” at one point.  After 8 months she had the implant removed and things returned to normal, but she spent the best part of a year thinking she was losing her mind.  Carla said that “hormone based contraception reacted badly with her Bipolar Disorder”.

The personal accounts go on and on, giving strong anecdotal evidence that the contraceptive implant is not suitable for women with pre existing depression or mood disorders.  I did look into supporting evidence, but all I came across in terms of side effects of this nature were ‘depression’ and ‘mood changes’ on NHS Direct and Netdoctor, suggesting that this form of contraception would not be suitable for someone with a pre existing condition, yet I was not told this, and nor were the people I have spoken too.  I really think there needs to be more research around the contraceptive implant and its side effects as this is a choice that no woman should be forced to make, and no woman should have to walk into blindly.

Have you used the contraceptive implant? What are/were your experiences?

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One thought on “The Contraceptive Implant: A Word of Warning

  1. Oh gosh! How awful for you! I was told when I first got my implant put in it was mentioned that if I had depression or mood disorders it wouldn't be right for me…I don't suffer from them and I am on to my 2nd contraceptive implant. I am due to get it changed in December after having one in for 6 years….I rarely have periods and when I do they are light and last only a couple of days.
    Sending hugs x
    My recent post Things have changed so much since my girls were little…

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