Writing by Anonymous // Illustration by Natalia Santis
If you’re anything like me, you’re a bit absent minded—meaning the pill isn’t the best form of birth control for you. If you’re not too good with sticking to schedules, but are a bit apprehensive about more invasive procedures that come with an IUD, the contraceptive implant may be a good option for effective contraception.
The contraceptive implant (known as Implanon or Nexaplanon) is a 4 cm plastic rod that contains progestin (a synthetic version of the pregnancy hormone: progesterone) and is inserted into the inner side of your non-dominant upper arm. It’s not visible on the surface, but you should be able to feel it if you run your finger over the area. Progestin works to prevent eggs from being released into the uterus (to stop ovulation), as well as thicken the mucus surrounding the cervix to make it more difficult for sperm to get through. One rod is good for 3 years, after which you can get it removed and have a new one inserted. What’s even better it’s over 99% effective—all of this goodness for a simple, 5 minute procedure. The most pain you feel is the local aesthetic, and then it’s over before you know it!
It’s also relatively cheap—all I had to pay was the cost of the rod itself (around $30) and the fee at the clinic of $80—the rest was picked up by Medicare. Bear in mind that if you live in a place without a similar health care scheme, it may prove to be more expensive.
However, it also comes with its fair share of disadvantages. The contraceptive implant has almost every side effect under the sun including headaches, acne, mood disorders and breast pain. It may also worsen any existing mental health conditions such as depression. It also, most notably, messes with your menstrual cycle. It either makes you bleed more, less, or not at all—literally everything is possible.
In my case, I’ve been lucky in that I no longer have periods, cramps, or any real discomfort. My implant experience is definitely one of the better ones. After a few months of spotting and cramps, my body settled into pain-free, period-free sailing. But my experience is just that—my own—and the implant will have different side effects for different bodies. So it’s best to consider whether you’re prepared for the potential negatives changes if you are interested in this method of contraception.
Furthermore, unlike the pill where you will have a regular withdrawal bleed (it’s not a real period or menstrual cycle as the pill stops you from ovulating too) the implant makes it unpredictable; many women experience erratic breakthrough bleeding while using the implanon. As such, it’s difficult to tell if you’re pregnant without a monthly reminder; the implant essentially makes your body think it’s pregnant. So as to prevent it from releasing eggs. This definitely caused me a lot of anxiety during the first few months. Even though the risk of pregnancy is low, taking a regular pregnancy test is an easy way to put your mind at ease each month.
While the risk of pregnancy is very low, users of the contraceptive implant that do fall pregnant bear a higher risk of an ectopic pregnancy—wherein the embryo is located, and subsequently grows, outside of the uterus. This can be very dangerous and needs to be kept in mind if you ever do fall pregnant with an implant in place. Also note ectopic pregnancies usually test negative on a regular pregnancy test – if you have intense pain or other symptoms seek immediate medical attention.
Despite its possible shortcomings, the contraceptive implant is a quick, cheap, and convenient form of contraception that I would definitely recommend you look into. As with every medical procedure, you should consult a professional to determine whether it is for you, bearing in mind your medical history and body’s predisposition. It’s definitely not for everyone, but if the side effects work in your favour, you’ll enjoy 3 years of stress free contraception for 5 minutes in the operating theatre.
You can find more information on contraceptive implants here.
Editor’s Note: For more detailed information on contraception and side effects see The Pill: Are You Sure It’s For You.[share]