Coming off hormonal birth control was both scary and exciting, but the fact was, I was ready to claim my womanhood and get in touch with my body–synthetic hormones, for me, were getting in the way of that. I wanted to feel connected with my cycle and experience the ups and downs of the natural rhythm of my body. Having been off the pill for three months now, I am reveling in the process of discovering what my body is capable of and the pretty miraculous fluidity that comes along with being a woman.
I was put on the pill, as many women are, to solve a different problem: as a treatment for my migraines. Though I never thought my migraines got any worse near my period (meaning I didn’t think they were hormonal), I was suffering big time and would have tried anything. So I did. As I predicted, my migraines didn’t improve, but I was already deep into taking the pill so staying on it seemed reasonable in the case that I needed it for actual birth control at some point. Fast forward to the middle of my freshman year of college. I was dealing with some pretty nasty acne that started in high school, and I was told by a dermatologist that if I switch my birth control to a different formulation of the pill, my acne would clear. And it did! Other factors played big roles too, but I’d say the pill did the heavy lifting. I was feeling so much better because my acne was improving and overall things were going great.
Until, of course, I started bleeding for three months straight. Yep. Three months straight. I don’t know why this didn’t send me into an absolute panic, but I had convinced myself that it wasn’t big deal because my body was just adjusting to the different hormonal makeup of my new pill. Except even after those three months passed, I was having extremely erratic bleeding which was not only seriously inconvenient but a warning sign that my body was not doing well under these conditions. When I was back home from that semester of college and could see my gyno, she didn’t even blink when I told her what was happening. Zero concern at all. She simply said we’d change my pill to another one–again–and hopefully all would be solved. So that’s what we did. And you know what?
It all happened again. Months of bleeding which then mellowed out only to be replaced with a consistent two week “period” (in quotes because on the pill you don’t actually have a menstrual cycle, but only a withdrawal bleeding–which is not a period–that happens during the placebo week), meaning I would start bleeding the week before my placebo week and would stop when my new pack started. It was ridiculous. I had been convinced by my gyno because of how she reacted that this wasn’t cause for concern, which really infuriates me to think of now, because this whole time I was holding out on it magically fixing itself when clearly there was an issue. I switched pills one more time back to my original one for the migraines. Surprise, it didn’t get any better.
I was done. I can’t believe I had even lasted two years dealing with that, but it’s amazing how doctors can erase the root of a problem and replace it with a bandage for the symptoms. A friend of mine had mentioned that she got the copper IUD (called Paragard here in the US) and was loving it. It’s completely non-hormonal, more effective than the pill and lasts for 10-12 years which isn’t something to complain about. I was sold.
I got my IUD inserted, with, I might add, some very unprofessional comments from the doctors doing the procedure who were encouraging me to pick a hormonal IUD instead because you “lose your period completely! It’s great!” after I had already purchased the Paragard and who clearly could not fathom where I was coming from when I said I didn’t want any synthetic hormones and did actually want to have my period. Sigh. It’s really unhelpful to hear from a gynecologist that she thinks you’re making a mistake right before doing a painful procedure that cost you a pretty hefty sum of money.
With that aside, the procedure was painful but brief and I couldn’t stop thinking about how excited I was to be far, far away from artificial hormones. I knew that with the copper IUD specifically my periods would get heavier and more painful cramp-wise the first couple of months, but that was so irrelevant to me compared to the feeling of knowing I’d get to connect with my natural body and emotions.
MY CYCLE NOW
I started using a period tracking app to get a gauge for what my cycle might be like, seeing as I hadn’t had any semblance of a normal menstrual cycle in the years prior (the app I use is called Clue which I love and highly recommend). The absolute coolest thing was that when my first natural period happened, it came exactly on time and progressed so normally. I know this sounds really dramatic, but it felt like coming home? I guess when my period was so messed up for so long it felt like I wasn’t sitting quite right in my body, like something was off. But now I’ve had three full cycles, all completely regular, and I can’t help but get a big ole smile as I write this because I just feel like for me, this is what it took to feel one with my body. This is what it took for me to feel like I was working with my body, and not against it.
I’ve felt such a boost in my own body image on top of it all, because I’ve realized how absolutely incredible this body I have is and how normal and beautiful it is that it fluctuates in size, weight, sensitivity, all throughout the course of one monthly cycle. I never thought I would ever come to appreciate those things, but realizing my body changes to help and protect me has completely flipped the switch.
Now that I’m off artificial hormones:
- my periods are much more regular and shorter, though heavier and slightly more painful (depends on the month; the first two months I had very little cramping but this past cycle was much worse. I’m thinking that was tied pretty directly to the fact that I had been on vacation for three weeks right before it and was eating stuff I normally don’t like some gluten, dairy, nasty oils at restaurants, etc.).
- I was so worried my acne would come back with a grand flourish, but it didn’t! I get a few more pimples than I used to, especially on my chin during my period which is really common, but nothing abnormal. I think my diet played a huge role in clearing my skin as well, which kept my acne from flaring up once I was off the pill.
- I haven’t experienced much of a change emotionally, though many women do. This doesn’t really surprise me because I never felt there was any major emotional influences from the pill.
- My weight hasn’t changed (and it didn’t when I started hormonal birth control either).
- I don’t ever, ever have to leave a social gathering because I forgot to bring my birth control pills. I don’t have to go to the drug store every month to pick up my prescription. I don’t have to worry about messing up or missing a pill. I don’t have to worry about packing extra pills or transferring my prescription when I’m staying/working in different states for a few months. And because of the IUD, I don’t have to think about my birth control for another 10 years. SCORE.
So there’s my story so far. I can’t emphasize enough that everyone is different, and just because this path has been working for me does not necessarily mean it’ll work for you. Do your research, trust your gut. You are the person who knows your body best.
I’m becoming really passionate about women’s health and talking about it boldly and openly, so I’d really like to continue pursuing that via my musings here. Lemme know what you think. What sort of topics would you want to hear more about/discuss?? I’d also love to hear your stories if you have the time to share.
All my love and have a happy happy day,