[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]
Actually, I quit hormonal birth control altogether. Why? Well, because it was fucking up my body and I was tired of it. When I went on the pill I broke out in prepubescent-adjacent acne for two months. My face eventually cleared and my cycle shifted from sporadic bleeding to a very timely, every-28-days, regimen. The predictability of my period was the only positive side effect of the pill. Every month, my weight fluctuated drastically, my breasts swelling an entire cup size. My mood markedly changed, and I found my emotions growing increasingly sporadic. I gained weight and noticeable bloat every month before my period started. I felt tired and sluggish. My cholesterol increased. I was losing a lot of hair. All of it was terrible, and all of it was caused by a tiny white pill called Lutera.
Prior to the pill I had Nexplanon implanted into my upper arm, which caused a host of issues as well, and which I wrote about at length here. My largest problem on Nexplanon was near-constant bleeding. I also had a hormonal IUD for about two minutes before that also needed to be removed. My body has never been on the happy side of receiving hormones, so I talked to my gynecologist about non-hormonal options. I learned a lot from her, some of which I will now impart to you:
1. Coming off hormonal birth control can make your cycle change. I rarely had normal periods prior to starting birth control, but after quitting it, my period wasn't regular right away. My gynecologist assured me that my periods should return, but it may take a few months for my body to straighten out.
2. The risk of pregnancy heightens almost immediately. Every woman is different (of course), but for most, birth control should be out of your system within 3-7 days. You can get pregnant right away after stopping the pill if you don't use some other form of protection. If you are trying to get pregnant, know that half of women get pregnant in the first three months after stopping birth control.
3. You might feel better without hormonal birth control. My pill came with a dense packet of instructions, possible side effects, risk factors, and other-things-I-need-to-know. After quitting the pill, my breasts shrunk back to their normal size, my bloating went away, my hair became stronger and thicker, my chronic yeast infection disappeared, and my mood magically stabilized. Some women have no problem taking hormonal birth control, and some women experience adverse side effects. Talk to your doctor to find the right solution for you.
4. Quitting birth control can change vitamin D levels.
After going off the pill, some women find that their vitamin D levels decrease, which can lead to bone density issues, lower immunity, increased rates of depression, and fatigue. My doctor suggested I take a vitamin D supplement to counteract any possible issues (I take this one).
While my gynecologist is a staunch promoter of birth control, she does recognize that there are certain risks, such as: acne, irregular bleeding, bloating/weight gain, depression, fatigue, high blood pressure, headaches, insomnia, melasma (dark patches on the face), nausea, tender breasts, and mood swings. More serious but less common side effects include: blood clots, gallbladder disease, heart attacks, liver cancer, and strokes.
Other doctors aren't as excited about hormonal birth control, like Dr. Felice Gersh, who is Board Certified in both OB/GYN and Integrative Medicine. She explains the difference between natural occurring hormones and the hormones in birth control. Namely, that the estrogen/progesterone in birth control are synthetic endocrine disruptors, not real hormones. They do most of the same things hormones do, but they don't necessarily act the same and they interfere with a woman's ability to naturally produce hormones. Dr. Gersh also thinks that birth control affects our brains, “To think [birth control] won’t affect the brain would actually be ludicrous,” she says. However, because mood disorders are difficult to measure, no conclusive evidence has been gathered on either side of the birth-control-causes-poor-mental-health debate. And because hormonal birth control has been around a few decades, we know that up to 9% of women report anxiety and/or depression as a side effect of birth control.
In sum, birth control is amazing for the freedom and autonomy it grants women. We have a heightened ability to choose if and when we reproduce, and that has helped women reach greater equality. Pills are reversible, effective, and can help decrease menstrual pain. Because my experience with hormonal birth control has been so poor, I'm getting a copper IUD. It's important to work with your doctor to find the best birth control option for you.