The summer I was sixteen years old, the pill changed my life.
The unexpected transformation started with a three-week period -- the female kind. It took the form of a raging, disastrous storm in my ovaries filled with a torrential down-pouring of my insides, painful cramps, and a lot of tampons, all while attending a dance workshop in New York City that ended with a live "gala" performance in a white Lycra leotard at the Waldorf Astoria. Needless to say, it was a blood bath.
Upon going back home to Omaha, NE and meeting with my doctor who declared me anemic, I was prescribed the birth control pill ortho tri cyclen, or what I came to refer to as "the crazy pill." It was said to have had the lowest hormone levels and it was going to regulate my periods, which up until this biblical-like episode, were sporadic and light.
At first, I was physically relieved. Although I was set off on what felt like an emotional roller coaster due to the hormones, the cramping and the bleeding stopped. For the most part, I was a happy, well-adjusted teenager, but within a week of taking this little blue capsule, melancholy took over, and crying for no reason happened almost daily.
And then came the boobs. My almost non-existent nips sprouted like dueling chia-pets right before my eyes. Two full sizes in a matter of weeks. I started retaining everything from water, to bagels and ice cream that produced a new layer of uninvited curves. I thought I'd experienced puberty a year ago, so I wasn't expecting this bumpy encore. But it wasn't the extra weight that seemed devastating -- it was the boobs. My just recent gangly frame was now carrying a C-cup sized rack. I felt bloated and puffy so I started slouching, and covering up, wearing baggy clothes and high collared shirts. Maybe if I cover up my new huge boobs, no one will notice, I thought. Wrong.
My parents, my friends, and even my dance teachers seemed to look at me different. My older sister on a visit home from college immediately noticed the change that had taken place in her absence. "Betsy got boobs," she said. Her tone was affected, and poking fun. A playful, possibly envious comment toward my new lady lumps, compared to her taut A-cups. But all I heard was criticism. She had perfect Madonna-like tits that even to this day don't require a bra.
Up until this point, I had accepted that a busty chest wasn't in my cards. And now it felt like they were defining me.
I felt trapped in a foreign body. And because they grew overnight, the unwanted attention was palpable. I saw how much I had changed through the bewildered gazes of others.
The flippant comments coming from my sister and other wise cracking friends, or the embarrassing eye contact with a boy after catching him checking out my chest that made me feel like a piece of street meat. I didn't want boys to stare into my chest. I wanted them to stare into my eyes and see my soul, and not at my insignificant boobs. Yes, in hindsight, this was asking way too much from angst-filled high school boys, and how much more can girls at this age expect? This kind of attention is something most boys don't ever have to deal with because their sexual indicators are concealed underneath their clothes. Unless of course for those rare exceptions, like a public boner. Now those must be awful.
But it wasn’t just boys making me feel uncomfortable. Boobs seemed to make everyone uncomfortable. It's not like when someone has a growth spurt in height, or his or her hair has grown longer.
They weren't received with a congratulatory, "Way to go!" Just an onlooker acknowledging that they noticed that you noticed them noticing your big new boobs, followed by a hollow silence.
Maybe it was a combination of my raging hormones or having to face myself daily in dance studio mirrors, but my new developments, the most obvious female characteristics the whole world could see, didn't feel welcomed. They felt wrong.
When I got my period, it was like an internal validation of my womanhood. No one else really knew about it and not much changed. But when the boobs came, the external world took notice, and it was like "Oh now I'm a woman." I obviously knew I was a girl, but I had never been more judged by my female exterior. And I had been a dancer from age three.
I continued taking "the crazy pill" for nine or so more months, until I'd had enough. I stopped taking them cold turkey, and within a few days the dark cloud over my mood dissolved. I was that sensitive to the hormones. And then slowly, but surely, the extra weight melted away. But my boobs, although deflating a teeny tiny amount, were there to stay. And ever since it's been a love/hate relationship.
Yes, they've fluctuated over the years, been adored by lovers, harassed by cat-calls, and squeezed into uncomfortable bras and costumes, but like most other things in life -- they have highs and lows. The shame they arrived with is gone. But now I stand up straight and know that while my boobs can empower me, they don't have to define me.