Before we get started, I think it's important to say this is not an experience to bash the pill - I'm thankful for the access I had to it and it's something that I believe every woman should be given the choice to have and for what method she wants to use. This is simply my choice, experience and another perspective.
I started thinking about getting off hormonal birth control 3 years ago, at least. I’m an Enneagram 5 so I basically have spent most of that time researching and reading, thinking about the pros and cons, discussing it with people I trust, and making sure my husband would be 100% on board. As a woman, we know that are options for BC are pretty limited and the responsibility usually falls solely on us. Alternative methods that are as successful as the pill are not talked about very much and when they are, it's often negative. However, my gut and my body needed more than that so I kept reading and researching and talking and here we are.
Why Did I Decide to "Ditch the Pill"?
My primary reason for getting off hormonal birth control was optimal overall health. Since understanding more about my autoimmune condition and the effects “the pill” has on our brain and our gut (which basically controls everything), I knew I wanted to make the change sooner rather than later. I was approaching 36 years old and kept feeling the pull to get closer in tune with my body and ditch the excessive estrogen in the pill. I had started having debilitating hormonal migraines a few years into taking the pill. Although I was able to treat them with acupuncture, they would come back with a vengeance if I missed an appointment. I had immensely sore breasts every month. The bloating was constant - at least two full weeks out of every month I felt bogged down and puffy. All of these are signals of estrogen dominance.
When one of my best friends was diagnosed with breast cancer in her early 30s with no history and the topic of long term birth control came up, I began to think about the decision even more. Additionally, I had recently found out I had an autoimmune condition, H. Pylori, and some other strange things that just felt off. I knew for my own long term health, it was the best decision for me and my body to get off the hormonal birth control.
How Did I Finally Decide?
I talked to two of my healthcare providers before I stopped taking the pill. My ND had told me a year ago it would be “great” to get off the pill especially with the health issues I was having but, that was a personal decision and she supported me either way. I talked to my practitioner at my yearly OB/GYN appointment and was surprised at her reaction. She was totally for it! I felt very listened to and supported. It wasn't something she pushed on me since I brought it up, but she was very encouraging in my decision to get off of it. I didn’t know it, but I was on one of the highest dose estrogen pills available (remember those estrogen dominate signs I talked about earlier?) We talked about several options, including the copper IUD. Ultimately, I decided to pursue a particular, non-hormonal birth control option (I'll be diving into this in the next post) - she gave me some additional info and I felt so validated and that I could be successful in making the change. My husband and I had already been talking about the change for years so he was 110% supportive.
What Did I Do in Preparation?
I read and did my own research. Two books that have been so helpful are “Beyond the Pill” by Dr. Jolene Brighten and “Taking Charge of Your Fertility” by Toni Weschler. Both of these books lay everything out from side effects to how your body really works to alternative birth control methods and involving your partner.
In addition to reading/researching, I started taking a tincture called Flow Balance. One of the ingredients, Chaste Berry, is one my practitioner had mentioned was a good support for the transition and I cleared the use of the tincture with my ND. Always check with your provider before starting or adding something into your routine.
I had already been gluten free for almost a year, but I buckled down extra hard on this meaning I cut out the occasional craft beer/pasta night and cut out dairy as well (well, minus my Starbucks). I will probably get to a point where I'm comfortable doing some of these things again but I want to give my hormones and body the best chance to heal and be well for life. I also began seed cycling.
While I already eat well, I began eating certain foods during certain phases in my cycle to help alleviate insane post-hormonal BC side effects and give my liver an opportunity to purge the extra chemicals. It can take 3-6 months for your body to completely purge itself of the hormones and chemicals in the pill. It's been so enlightening to get super in tune with what's happening in my body each day - I've gotten to the point where my exercises are based on where I am in my cycle and I try to lighten my outside obligations during certain weeks as well. I've learned even more how hard my body is working for me and it's okay - it's NEEDED - for her to rest. Just like with my belief that fitness is a total life transformation and lifestyle - so is this.
Lastly, I changed more of the products I was using like makeup/face wash. I’d already switched to a more natural skincare line (Drunk Elephant) but I also invested in purchasing products from The Honest Beauty Co and I LOVE them. Plus, their price point can’t be beat. I still have my eyeshadow palettes and lipsticks but products I use more often - mascara, CC cream, blush... I switched all of them. Doesn't mean I won't use a beauty fave that's not "natural", but it'll be a lot less. I'm not perfect but just doing the best I can. We also use a lot of natural products in our home so this felt like the next step for me.
After I Stopped the Pill
Your first "period" off the pill is a birth control period - the same one you get a couple days after the last pill in your pack. This is not a true period. The waiting was rough. Would it ever come back? How long would it take? Would I be doubled over in pain? I had no idea. It took 36 days and it was the best period I've had in recent memory. Of course I was tired (normal) but I had minimal cramping and side effects. The breast tenderness was on a 1 on a scale when before it had been a 10. My hormonal migraine never came - just a light headache (that didn't need Advil) the day before. I dropped 3lbs that never seemed to come off from fluid retention from the pill. My mind felt more clear, I felt like myself... totally. Since that first period, my cycles have, thankfully, been within a normal range.
I tried to set myself up for the best success in my control to come off the pill without totally jarring my body. Of course I was nervous - not only was I stopping birth control but I was unsure of what to expect in the aftermath. After doing this for almost 4 months, I can say I have never felt this good, aside from dropping 40+lbs 6 years ago.
In my next share, I’ll delve into what birth control method I am using and why I think it is SO COOL! Our bodies are amazing, my friend.