Jen Delarosa was in the emergency room, barely able to speak.
“All I could whisper was “pain” and they put me on a stretcher to wait in the hallway because they thought I was mentally challenged,” said the 37-year-old Washtenaw Community College accounting student. In 2006, Delarosa, couldn’t even speak to emergency personal at the hospital. Her chest pain was that bad.
She motioned over to a security guard and gave him her phone, in which she had typed in, “please help me; the pain is in my chest. I’m not slow or challenged.” Finally, they put her in a room and began to run tests on her.
Just an hour beforehand, Delarosa had been quietly cooking dinner and started to feel extreme chest pains, as if she was being stabbed. Little did she know, she had two large blood clots in her right lung, one the size of a golf ball.
Eventually, three different doctors agreed the blood clots had resulted from the birth-control hormones she had been on for four years, which happened to be in the form of the NuvaRing, a flexible vaginal ring that releases contraceptives approved for the prevention of pregnancy in women. Delarosa had felt fine on the NuvaRing up until the chest pains that day.
Delarosa was under 35 years old, worked out often, ate very healthy and was a non-smoker – negating all the common risk factors usually looked at for women interested in birth control hormones.
“I was very surprised that it happened to me because I was living the healthy lifestyle,” Delarosa said.
Birth control warnings are often stated on the packaging. Many women read the warnings and proceed with caution.
Erin McConnell knew the side effects, but didn’t think it would be that bad. In 2009, she was put on the Depo-Provera, a shot in which a woman is supposed to menstruate once every three months.
“It didn’t work, and it messed my cycle up,” said McConnell, 21, a photography major from Brighton.
Her period lasted an entire year, with maybe two or three weeks off.
“It was every single day, and it was a nightmare, and it was absolutely disastrous. It made me feel like crap,” McConnell said. “I was exhausted, but there are some people who say the Depo is great and it did exactly what it was supposed to for them.”
McConnell began to fear for her life.
“It terrified me and I was like, ‘oh my God, I’m going to die. I’m just going to bleed to death,’” said McConnell, who is now off it and doing well. After her experience she would not recommend the shot to anyone.
Sometimes birth control can simply fail, resulting in pregnancy.
Shawntel Williams, 39, a photography student from Ann Arbor, was on Lo Ovral birth control pills because the higher doses of estrogen birth control pills would make her nauseous. She took Lo/Ovral for two years, every night, and had no negative side effects.
“I had a watch that would go off at 10:45 p.m., and I would take my pills. I even took the pink the sugar pills so there would be no mistakes,” Williams said. “I was anal about my pills.”
In 1998, Williams conceived her son as “the main side effect of the pill not doing its job,” she laughed. “I told the nurse, ‘I guess I’m having a baby.’”
Williams still recommends the pill form of birth control even with all of its side effects over other kinds of hormone therapy.
“I think every birth control hormone has risk, and everything we do in life has risks – including pregnancy itself. If you get pregnant in a given year, your chance of having a serious complication or dying is about twelve times as high as it is if you use contraception,” said Dr. Charles Leland, a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, Ann Arbor.
Many women do great on birth control.
“People’s bodies are individual, and not just one thing is going to work for everyone. That is why there are so many different kinds to choose from,” said 20-year-old Alexis Willis, a math and science major from Brighton, who has been taking Beyaz birth control pills for about three years with no complications.
A pediatrician, Dr. Kathryn Bondy Fessler specializes in adolescent medicine at The Corner Health Center in Ypsilanti, a full service medical clinic for young women up to 21 years of age.
“Birth control is 100 percent patient specific as to what is going to be effective and if the patient is able to use it,” Fessler said.
She adds that hormonal contraceptives help adolescents with painful and heavy bleeding many times lessening anemia in certain cases.
“It has to do with a combination of knowing what your own needs are, your medical history and researching and trying brands out to see what works for you,” Willis said.
Beyaz has actually given her positive side effects by regulating her period, reducing anemia and helping with her mood.
“I wasn’t a happy person before, and that’s big. I’m just peachy now,” Willis said.
After the blood clot episode for Delarosa, who had no way of knowing there was a problem with her birth control because she hadn’t had any negative side effects, she had to be on pain medicine for five months, two blood thinners for six months and sleep upright – on a special pillow because of pain.
Delarosa is much better now, but is still recovering physically and emotionally from her ordeal. She will never be able to take birth control pills again. Her doctor said she is lucky to be alive.