My birth control experience began the way many women’s journey with contraceptives begins: as a method recommended by a doctor to combat hormonal issues. I was in my second year of university when I began to struggle with uncontrollable weight gain with an inability to lose it, acne, exhaustion, and abnormally long, painful periods. My doctor recommended the birth control pill to manage these symptoms and to get control of my hormones that seemed to be the cause of these issues.
Two years and five pill brands of birth control later, I was overwhelmed. It felt like nothing suited my body and mentally, I was struggling. I thought it was a normal process women go through and that I had to accept that my body would never feel 100% right ever again.
But one day, I missed taking my pill. Then the next day and the next, I found I couldn’t make myself take it. And so, I never took it again. I felt so much lighter, as if this weight that I didn’t even realize was pressing down on me mentally, was lifted. I now knew for certain that hormonal birth control was not worth the toll it took on me, no matter what anyone else said, and that there had to be a better option out there for me.
Realizing I needed to be more assertive over my body and the healthcare it receives, I transferred to a new doctor who I felt confident would listen to my concerns and work with me to find a solution. A few tests later, we discovered that I have hypothyroidism, which was the cause of so many problems I had struggled with for years. After getting on the right medication, slowly all the symptoms I dealt with began to lessen and disappear. It was a euphoric feeling.
Accessing My Birth Control Abroad
Fast forward two years, I had moved to Korea and was starting to consider my contraceptive options. I knew I couldn’t take the pill again, so after doing my research and considering my options for over six months, I decided that the non-hormonal, long-term Copper IUD would be a great fit for me. Quite a few other foreigners in Korea have gone through the experience and while it is a little more challenging because of the language barrier, it is a very quick and affordable process here, costing approximately $120CAD.
I booked an appointment with a gynecologist in Seoul, deciding to prioritize a clinic that was well-known and highly regarded by other foreigners in Korea. I was really nervous as sexual health is an especially taboo subject in Korea, but the doctor was very kind and professional explaining everything to me, ensuring this was the right fit for me. The process was quick (but definitely painful I won’t lie).
10 months on, my body is still adjusting to my IUD. I have experienced very long menstrual cycles/spotting that have lasted anywhere from 10-14 days. Of those days, only two to three were really, really heavy, the rest were normal or just spotting. I also have experienced intense cramping, most noticeably on the heavy days. While I did think my symptoms were lessening and I was returning to semi-normal by the sixth month mark, recently I have been having issues with endometrial cysts that have caused these symptoms to worsen once again. With that in mind, my plan is to keep my copper IUD in for at least another four months to really feel like I gave my body a good chance to adjust, but if nothing changes I will follow my doctor’s advice and have it removed, as the doctor suspects the IUD could be the problem.
Despite the possibility that the copper IUD is not the absolute best fit for me, I don’t have any regrets because you never know if you don’t try. Especially as a young woman living and travelling in foreign places alone, it’s a safety measure that makes me feel more secure and protected. I also really appreciate the privacy the IUD has allowed me to have with my sexual health living in rural Korea, a definite perk of an inserted contraceptive. I’m still not 100% confident that my IUD is the perfect fit for my body, but for now I’m happy with it and hoping for the best!
Overall, in my experience I think it is important to remember that birth control is a journey for us all! It’s okay to test out different methods and say no if it doesn’t feel right for you, no matter what the people around you are saying or doing. No one knows your body better than you! The more we advocate for ourselves and our bodies, together with the education and support offered by Reya, there is hope for an even simpler and ultimately successful birth control journey for us all.
Tips for Accessing Birth Control Abroad
For other expats living and travelling abroad in my situation, I would definitely recommend reading as many blogs as you can and following the advice of those who have had a similar experience in that country, as it can be a very different story in other places around the world. If you’re in Asia, it’s a very affordable process, especially compared to North American standards. In Korea, it is considered to be a non-essential service, so you cannot use insurance to cover any portion of the process. That being said, it still costs around $120CAD, which is quite affordable in comparison to other countries. In terms of language barriers, most doctors speak English well because they have to study the language in school and pass many high level English tests, but when in doubt translator apps always come in handy. Most importantly, go to a clinic that makes you feel comfortable and secure in your decision. If you go and it doesn’t feel like the fit for you, don’t be afraid to leave and keep trying until you find somewhere that feels right to you!
Editors: Lisa Hou, Dallas Barnes