This blog post is about menstrual cycles and my experience with birth control. If neither of those things interest you, feel free to skip it. Or, better yet, read it anyway and maybe learn something new! 🙂
First of all, I want to start off by saying that I am ABSOLUTELY an advocate for women to have easy and affordable access to whatever kind of birth control they choose. If you know me at all in real life, you will know this to be true. This is not a blog advocating that everyone should go off of birth control, because that’s straight up lunacy. I have just reached a point in my life where I’m okay with going off of it and using other forms of birth control. If I decide to go back on it, I want to be able to have access to it without this world turning into a real life Handmaid’s Tale. Please, no. With that being said, this is just my experience.
My experience with birth control
When I was first given a prescription for birth control, I was 18 and had never been to the gynecologist. I was having really terrible periods, and I was in a serious relationship with my now husband (not that that matters, just explaining what was going on in my life at the time). I went to pick it up from the pharmacy to find that it would cost me $70 a month. I was a freshman in college, so no, I didn’t have that kind of money just hanging out in my bank account. I paid for the first round of the pills, but immediately called my doctor and told her I couldn’t afford that. So she gave me a generic form of the same pill. Luckily, I was able to get those for free from the local health department, but I am honestly not even sure if that is a thing anymore. (I also remember feeling hella-judged and borderline ridiculed when I first went in with my paperwork to get birth control, but that’s a story for another time.) I took some form of that pill for almost 10 years. At times, I experienced irregular periods and emotions. Most of the time, I didn’t really think about it. It became the new normal, I suppose. A few years ago, I felt like my birth control pills were maybe the cause of some of my emotional struggles and anxieties. I tried everything to deal with all of those issues and nothing was working. I could feel myself spiraling — like I could hear myself saying “You’re doing it again” — but I couldn’t stop. I would lose my temper and cry, for seemingly no reason, which was obviously straining my life and my marriage. I talked to a few doctors about it, but everyone assured me that my birth control had such a low hormone amount, that it was not likely the cause. I had blood work taken at my doctor’s office, and everything seemed to be in order. But I’d been on the pill for 10 years — how was I supposed to know what I even felt like for real if I couldn’t remember a time when I wasn’t taking them?
I decided to try an IUD instead. I tried Skyla, which was suggested for women who have never had a baby, and it is good for 3 years, which seemed like a good amount of time for me at that point. Also, because taking the pill can be inconsistent (taking it at different times, forgetting to take it, etc.), this was a more consistent release of the hormones, which I was told could help. Having the IUD was a breeze. I didn’t feel as mood-swingy, but my periods pretty much went away and I still had some irregular ones. Things were a little better, but still not “right.”
Deciding to quit
I have a hard time explaining the uneasiness I felt. It just sounds like stress or general anxiety when I try to describe it, but the feeling in my gut was that something was off, and I worried that my hormonal birth control was no longer helping me. I felt that I needed to go after a more natural approach, and reconnect with myself somehow. Being on birth control for so long made me passive to my own body in a lot of ways, and I was ready to take more ownership and understanding of what was going on.
I started learning more about natural cycle tracking. It is a tragedy to me that I only learned the details of this in my late twenties. I was not taught any of this in health class, and no one told me how my body actually works. So when I started figuring it out on my own, it was truly eye-opening. I decided that when my IUD expired after three years, that I would have it removed and not go on any other form of birth control. This was a big decision for me, because I’ve been on birth control for so long, and Kyle and I are not yet ready for children. I didn’t want to risk that. I wanted to be responsible. But when I made that decision, it felt right. Exciting, even. I had my IUD removed in March, which is the first time I’ve been off of birth control in 12 years. That sounds insane to me, but the thing is, I know there are people out there who have been on it for much longer. It served me when I needed it, but it was time to move on.
I got a lot of questions like,
“So you don’t want another IUD?”
“Do you want to try something else?”
“Are you trying to have a baby then?”
It was liberating in a way.
I also just need to say that my doctor and everyone in her office are all amazing. After she removed my IUD, she sent me on my way and said “Call me if you need anything. Or if you wanna just hang out.” To which I responded “Don’t joke about that because I really will.” She is truly wonderful and was supportive in all of my decisions with this. She also lets me cuss when things hurt and makes me laugh so I am distracted enough to get through anything uncomfortable. She’s everything you would want in a doctor.
So what now?
I’m using a couple of different apps for tracking and understanding the different phases of the month. Did you know that women have four different phases during their cycle? I didn’t! But I do now, and it’s pretty life-changing. I use Flo, which is amazing for telling me what kind of exercise, food, and even workflow I need to focus on during either my follicular, ovulation, luteal, or menstrual phase. For example, during ovulation, you have more energy, so high-intensity workouts feel better. I also just started using Glow, which gives a specific percentage for chance of pregnancy. Both apps allow you to input symptoms, moods, and even sleep, which all help you understand what’s going on with your body.
Since being off of birth control, I have experienced more consistent periods and moods, and I feel like I am gaining more control over my moods, and I don’t feel like I’ve lost my temper as easily. Around two or three weeks after I had the IUD removed, I experienced the “birth control hangover,” which I’d heard might happen. I felt generally tired and a little sick, as if I were about to get the flu. Once that passed, I felt a little better, and I’ve been tracking how I’m feeling in a chart on my computer. I don’t do this every day, just when I think about it. That’s helped me understand the bigger picture and see any patterns in how I’m feeling.
Like I said, this path might not be for everyone, but it feels good for me right now. I feel much more balanced and in control of what’s going on with my body. I’ve also joined a group that Eva Ball is running called Moon Cycle. She is coaching us through how to get our bodies back in sync with the cycles of the moon. This may sound a little too hippie for some people (it literally involves grinding up seeds depending on the moon phase), but it’s right up my alley. I have learned SO MUCH, and the group has been such an interesting and encouraging outlet. I feel really optimistic and liberated from taking care of myself in this way.
If you’re considering going off of birth control, too, or if you are feeling anything similar to what I’ve experienced, I’d love to hear from you. Wherever you are, just feel empowered that you are honoring what you need.