Hormonal Birth Control, Part I: Why I Stopped Taking The Pill After Eleven Years

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Quick note before we begin: I am fully aware and appreciate that the introduction of hormonal birth control was life-altering for many women in a beneficial way, along with women’s rights over past decades.   However, I believe that there are better and more natural alternatives that don’t have to involve altering the state of our health.  This is my personal story and my choices are not necessarily the right choices for you.  My mission is always to show up authentically, educate, and provide you with options to own your personal health decisions and step into your power.

On Holding Back

I have a confession to make.

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a long, long time.  It has been put off and pushed back and made a lower priority, not because I didn’t want to talk about it, but because I was afraid of being judged for not having everything figured out.  After all, I’m a holistic nutritionist and coach people through their lifestyle choices.  I’m supposed to have my shit together.

What I’ve come to realize is that none of us really have our shit together.  We’re all dealing with struggles, issues, stressors and insecurities, and our health is an ongoing, evolving journey, not an endgame..

My biggest priority first and foremost is always showing up with full transparency, authentically and letting you have view inside some of my own personal struggles, so that you know you are not alone.  There is nothing more isolating that not knowing where to turn or what your options are.  Throughout this journey I’ve read stories by and spoken to other women who are dealing with the same types of difficulties, and I realized that I could no longer hold my story in.

To do so would be doing a disservice to the other women out there who need to hear my story, and perhaps by sharing, it will help you the way others have helped me.

Let’s get started.

My Story with Oral Contraceptives

Like so many young women in the modern world, I decided to start hormonal birth control pills in my late teens.  It was a fairly standard procedure at that age.  At that time in my life, it seemed like a sort-of natural progression, and almost assumed since so many of my female friends were doing the same thing.  I was starting to date and felt that it was the safest way to avoid an unwanted pregnancy.  My doctor didn’t so much as bat an eyelash when I asked for the prescription, nor did he offer any explanation as to the potential side effects or risks associated with it, other than asking if I smoked cigarettes (which I did not).  That’s one of the more well known risks associated with the Pill, is that in combination with regular nicotine usage, the user can be at a much higher risk for blood clots.

I continued to use the Pill for the next eleven years without pause.

On a solo trip I took to backpack across Europe for a month in my early twenties, I decided to skip the usual 7-day placebo pills or “break” from the Pill and started straight into my next pack to avoid having to deal with my period during my trip.  I can remember being in my tiny hotel room in Paris, crying my eyes out and having zero clue as to why.  I was the happiest I had ever been, travelling on my own, seeing these amazing sights and having an incredible time and couldn’t understand why my eyeballs wouldn’t stop leaking.  It wasn’t the first time I had skipped straight into a new pack of pills to avoid a period, but it was the very first time I had really paid attention and noticed the Pill having an effect on my emotional well-being, and after that I never took back-to-back pill packets again, always making sure to use them as directed and take the recommended 7-day break each month.

I continued with the Pill as usual, finding it to be the most convenient and sound option.  I was always a little more health-conscious than average and vaguely knew there were some risks to long-term usage of the Pill, but I didn’t feel that any other options were going to work as well for me and never put much effort into researching any of them.

It wasn’t until I began my two-year training as a Registered Holistic Nutritionist that I began to really pay close attention to the health risks associated with any usage of hormonal birth control.  These risks are multiplied drastically when used over long stretches of time and are far-reaching.  One of my instructors, a well-known and respected naturopathic doctor from Toronto, went so far as to refer to it as “an obstacle to cure,” meaning that you could do virtually everything else right for your body and the effects of the Pill would still be significant enough to cause issues throughout various body systems.

For several years, I’ve been fairly attuned to my body and sensitive to small changes that others might not notice without practice, and slowly that act of taking the Pill every day started to feel…wrong.  Not simply because of my new knowledge of hormonal birth control, but I began to notice that everything felt a bit off.  My moods, libido, digestion and periods all seemed slightly out of whack and it felt as though my body was rejecting the drug.  I had been experiencing spotting between cycles regularly for years, with multiple doctors and various tests trying to determine the cause and no one had been able to find anything causing it.  I had questioned my doctors about whether long-term hormonal birth control pill usage could be causing the spotting, and they all vehemently denied that there was any connection.

The more I learned, the more I realized I wasn’t comfortable with the potential consequences of the Pill, including putting my fertility at risk along with a whole host of other difficulties and imbalances. I felt it was particularly opportune timing to go off of it a couple years in advance of wanting to start a family to allow enough time for my body to recover, providing it with extra support to rebalance from the long-term Pill usage.

Additionally, the day I went off the Pill, the spotting and bleeding between cycles stopped and has never returned.

However, it also took me 11 months after taking myself off of hormonal birth control to finally have a menstrual cycle for the first time as a grown, adult woman.  I hadn’t had my menses without the interference of synthetic hormones since I was 17, and in total, I have still only had two menstrual cycles since coming off of the Pill 14 months ago.

Unfortunately this is not nearly as rare as it used to be.  While amenorrhea, defined as the absence of a menstrual cycle for at least six months, is not particularly common, it is one of several women’s health issues that seems to be becoming more prevalent.  This is only one of a long list of issues associated with hormonal birth control.

Here is a glimpse at a handful of those health struggles, which I will be covering much more in depth in the weeks to come:

  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Potential for blood clots, heart attack and stroke
  • Potential for increased risk of breast and cervical cancers
  • Headaches and migraines
  • High blood pressure
  • Weight gain
  • Mood swings, depression and anxiety
  • Irregular bleeding or spotting between periods
  • Breast tenderness
  • Benign liver tumours
  • Gall bladder disease
  • Decreased libido
  • Yeast overgrowth

My entire life, I’ve never been one to pop any type of pharmaceutical drug without a significant need for it, including cough medicines, over-the-counter pain medications or any other kind of drug.  Yet it had never occurred to me to truly question taking birth control each day, and it was as though I somehow didn’t even think of it as a pharmaceutical drug because it had become so common-place.

None of my doctors over the years had a discussion with me regarding any of the potential side effects and consequences.  It was never a conversation, and I never thought to ask because I assumed that any symptoms I was experiencing was perfectly normal.  Unfortunately, almost all of my female peers were on hormonal birth control as well, and I was using their experiences to measure my own experience against, which was not necessarily very helpful in order to determine what might be off, imbalanced or simply wrong.

Here’s the number one lesson I want you to take away from my story:

Just because something is common, does not mean it is normal.

The sharing of my story is not to imply that you will experience the same results or have the same issues that I have been through on my journey.  Each individual is unique and will be impacted in different ways by everything from the foods one consumes to training, environment, relationships and hormonal issues.

I feel that my purpose is instead to let you know that if you are experiencing anything related to these types of issues, you are not alone.  I have felt very isolated at times in regards to these very personal issues, but the more I have spoken with other women about it, the more I have realized it’s something that many of us are dealing with and not discussing.

It needs to be spoken.  We need to be educated on what we’re putting into our bodies and the potential consequences, both short and long term.  We need to question what we’re taking so that we fully understand and take responsibility for our choices.  No one is ever going to know your body as well as you do, and it’s up to you to do your own research and find what works best for you, your body and your lifestyle.

 

More to Come

This post is kicking off a whole series on everything to do with hormonal health, women’s fertility and birth control.  Over the next few weeks I’ll be tackling some big topics, and I’m super excited to dive into all of this!

Up next: The full picture of potential side effects and health issues from hormonal birth control, what you can do to offset these effects and support your body, fertility and hormonal health, along with how I have been learning to work with my body rather than against it.

I want you to know that I’ve got you.  I’m here for you.  If you have questions or issues that you would like to see covered, please email me or connect with me on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.  I would truly love to hear from you and hear all your stories, it would mean so much if you would share your personal experiences.

Are you part of my inner circle?  It’s where I send all my best and most personal stuff that even I’m not willing to put out there for anyone to read, and only send to my inner circle.  Don’t miss all the juicy details and behind the scenes stuff, join the tribe here.

Related Reading:

Estrogen Dominance: How It’s Affecting Your Body and What to Do About It

Hormonal Birth Control, Part II: Healing From the Pill

Hungry, Hungry Hormones: Cravings and Fat Loss

References

www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ByAudience/ForWomen/FreePublications/ucm313215.htm

http://www.bmj.com/company/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/contra-pills.pdf

http://www.bmj.com/content/353/bmj.i2002

http://www.breastcancer.org/research-news/study-questions-birth-control-and-risk

 

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