I Got Pregnant on Depo-Provera

Only 1 out of 99 people get pregnant on Depo-Provera—but Olivia was one of them. See why she didn't discover the pregnancy until months later.

mom holding pregnant belly
Photo: Gajus/Shutterstock

Ever watch I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant and wonder how that's even possible? Twenty-three-year-old Olivia Barrett knows exactly how. After meeting a new guy, she researched the safest methods of birth control. Birth control pills offered failure rates as low as 1%, but if you forget, that percentage can rise to 8%. With hormone shots, fewer than in 1 in 100 will conceive. Same goes for an IUD or hormone implants.

Getting Her First Depro-Provea Shot

Due to its simplicity, Olivia chose the hormone shot Depo-Provera, which requires injections every 12 weeks for optimal protection. Depo-Provera is 99% effective in preventing pregnancy, which means that 1 in 99 people will conceive while taking it. Can you get pregnant while on Depo? Sure. It's possible. But the risks are minimal and chances are very low.

Olivia received her first Depo-Provera shot at a local Planned Parenthood in June 2015, right before her period was expected. The clinic's pregnancy test came back negative, but spoiler alert: She was already pregnant when she got the shot. "The hormones from Depo-Provera will mimic the symptoms of pregnancy," her doctor told her. "Your period may be irregular, heavier or lighter at times."

A few weeks into July, her period hadn't come at all, but she didn't think anything of it. Then the fatigue hit. "I was beyond tired," Olivia recalls, "I got horrible headaches every day. Finally, I went to the doctor and told her my symptoms: nausea, extreme exhaustion, and migraine-like headaches. She diagnosed me with low thyroid."

Signs of pregnancy after depo

Since the side effects of Depo-Provera can mimic signs of early pregnancy, it can be difficult to know that you are pregnant after getting the injection. As Olivia experienced, the signs of pregnancy after Depo are the same signs of pregnancy you could expect if you were not taking birth control, including:

  • Missed period
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Tender breasts
  • Mood swings
  • Food aversions
  • Frequent urination

Because of her extreme fatigue, she lost her job as a coffee shop barista. She quit going to the gym and spent the summer hiding from the 110-degree weather and fighting depression. Her unexplained increase in appetite, combined with an expired gym membership, meant she was starting to gain weight. Thinking it was all from the hormone shot, she vehemently told her boyfriend, "No more Depo!"

Discovering Her Pregnancy

By November she was starting to feel better. Her energy had returned, the nausea had passed, but her period still hadn't returned. "One day I called my mom crying because my jeans stopped buttoning. I was so confused. I'd been dieting, but the weight appeared only in my stomach, which was hard and bloated all the time." Finally, her mom convinced her to buy a pregnancy test. "I knew I couldn't be pregnant, because ever since I'd stopped the Depo, we'd been so careful. The two pink lines showed up as I was still peeing." And then the real emotional roller coaster began. "I didn't know how to even begin to process the news. From that day on, everything was a whirlwind."

Four days later, an ultrasound showed that she was 23 weeks and 6 days along. "I remember the tech asking if we wanted to know the sex. My boyfriend and I were in shock. Only days after we found out we were expecting, we learned that we were having a boy. I remember feeling betrayed by modern medicine. As we counted backward, we realized I'd gotten pregnant before I even got the shot." And that brought on a whole new round of worries.

Depo-Provera is considered a Category X drug by the FDA, which means that the medicine has been shown to create problems with the fetus. There's a risk of harm to the unborn baby with using Category X drugs during pregnancy, and most doctors agree they should be avoided whenever possible. Getting Depo while pregnant can also lead to low birth weight, though studies have shown that this risk doesn't necessarily cause any problems later in life. Olivia's doctor assured her that a majority of babies who are exposed to Depo-Provera in the womb end up being completely healthy with no lasting effects.

Finding Her Happy Ending

And the doctor was right. Zephyr Hudson was born on March 8, 2016, at nine pounds one ounce and twenty-two inches long. He was completely healthy and thriving all throughout the pregnancy and from the moment he entered the world. Olivia says, "He's the happiest baby! He rarely cries, loves to eat, and at seven months is a whopping 22 pounds already! He's changed our lives so much for the better."

"Even though I was freaked out at first, I realized I was happy that I was the 1 in 99 women to conceive on Depo because I felt like it meant my son was supposed to be here," Olivia says. "Things never slowed down, but I realized I had a purpose to drive me now. From baby showers to moving and squeezing six months' worth of nesting into one, everything was amazing. Ultimately, I'm grateful that Depo only has a 99% effectiveness rate, because I couldn't imagine my life without my son!"

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