While perusing my daily dose of articles a few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a piece about a woman’s decision to cease taking hormonal birth control – specifically The Pill. The experience she was describing really resonated with me and it drove me to fill the ensuing days with researching the effects of hormonal birth control on women’s mental and physical health. The information I found was shocking and enlightening on many levels. I felt like a fog lifted, so many previously unexplained aspects in my life began to make sense. After some deliberation I have also started the journey of ditching that little pill. I hope sharing some of my experience will inspire other women to rethink their reproductive health and mental wellness.
I was put on the pill by my gynecologist when I was 18 years old, just before entering college. I intended to take it primarily for contraceptive reasons, though I had some other minor menstrual issues that the pill and its pushers promised to rid me of. Mainly, though, I was scared of getting pregnant; and due to the immense lack of knowledge women are given about their own bodies and cycles, I assumed I was at risk of conceiving a child at all times. Even at the ripe age of 18 I knew I was a feminist and the way the pill is peddled as a sort of sexual liberation for women spoke to me on that level. I wanted to be liberated from the fear of pregnancy and be free to engage in sexual activity when I pleased. So I started down the road of hormonal birth control and remained on it for eight years, until finally tossing it last week.
Now it’s important to note that I am not opposed to The Pill – I am well aware it helps droves of women with various hormonal and reproductive issues and, of course, does prevent pregnancy. What I am against is the blatant lack of information given to prospective hormonal birth control takers. I am against being forcibly ignorant, and I’m against unknowingly making ill informed decisions about my body. Women deserve to know exactly what they are getting into when agreeing to go on hormonal birth control, and we deserve honesty about the potentially damaging side effects that are far more prevalent than let on by western medicine. I am against having the pill marketed to women as a one-size-fits-all remedy for being a woman. I am questioning our decision to suppress our feminine strength and energy, and I am weary of being disconnected from ourselves and our cyclical nature.
When I first met the pill as a freshman in college, I was away from home with a whole new set of stresses and changes. However, I was quite confident embarking on my college career because I had always been a laid-back, go-with-the-flow, easy-to-please person, so I assumed I would make sense of whatever was thrown at me. Depression and anxiety never even crossed my mind much less entered my emotions. Needless to say, when I began experiencing severe anxiety and borderline depression, I attributed the uncharacteristic onslaught to a slew of other variables in my life at that time. I was in a failing relationship, I was at a school I didn’t really like (though now I wonder why I didn’t really like it), and I was struggling to connect to myself. My anxiety progressed to the point where I could barely eat. I lost tons of weight and was just a bundle of nerves at every given moment. I slept a lot and went home any chance I could. When I went home I would lay in bed and cry for hours, unable to be consoled. I genuinely believed I had lost my personality, my humor, and all those characteristics I’d always identified with. I was lost and in deep emotional pain.
Though I tried many alternatives for alleviating my anxiety, nothing rid me of it. I worked out daily, I forced myself to be social, I did yoga and meditation, I went to a therapist; and although these helped slightly the underlying discomfort and panic remained. I decided the root cause of my sudden shift in life perspective was due to my dislike of the school I’d chosen – I thought it was my dream school but simply wasn’t living up to my expectations. I also placed much of the blame on the inability to let go of my relationship, which was far from healthy at the time. So I decided to transfer schools, and I felt good about the decision. My anxiety seemed to subside a bit at first, but when my boyfriend broke up with me a few weeks into attending the new school the anxiety surged once again. While I do think having anxiety over a painful breakup is normal, I am confident it was not normal at the relentless level I was experiencing it.
After a few months spent on trying to salvage my first love, I finally decided I was tired of it. I could no longer allow it to affect my life the way it did. I called my gynecologist and asked her to prescribe me an anti-anxiety medication. She quickly did over-the-phone with absolutely no mention that what I was feeling could potentially be linked to the birth control I had started a year earlier. The medicine did help immensely, though it left me with the classic flat mood associated with anxiety medications. I wasn’t feeling ideal, but I was infinitely better than I had been. I slowly weaned myself off the medication when I felt like I could stand on my own two feet again. Incidentally I also changed birth control pills at some point during this time. I had been on Loestrin since I started, and was then changed to a different generic. I didn’t think much of the switch, as I trusted my doctors to know what was best. In my eyes the pill posed no potential effects on me at that point, since I was only taking it for contraception after all.
I was much better for a while, I loved my new school and friends, I felt like my inner light returned. However for almost the remainder of my college career I didn’t have sex once – and not because I was trying to avoid it. I would joke to my friends about my “dry spell” as it extended months upon months. They were shocked and asked how it didn’t bother me; I would respond that I simply didn’t think about sex and eventually just got used to never having it, almost like I became A-sexual. Of course, it never occurred to me that this new pill could be affecting me in yet another way. My moods seemed much more stable, but now I was simply not interested in sexual activity. This was definitely unusual for my former self as well, as I always had a healthy sex drive. Now I know that decreased libido is a very common side effect of hormonal birth control.
I continued on taking that little pill throughout college and my adult life all the way up to this point, I switched between a few popular ones including Ortho Tricyclin and various generics. Throughout the years since starting hormonal birth control I experienced on and off anxiety, thinning hair, low libido, flat mood, mood swings, among other things – all the while never even considering that this could be from the pill. About two years ago I began experiencing very noticeably thinning hair and an outbreak of acne, something I never had an issue with. Let me tell you, adult acne is just about the biggest disaster for self-esteem you could imagine. I was confused and defeated, I always had great skin my entire life, where was this coming from out of nowhere? My ponytail decreased nearly half in size or more. Once again… never thought about the common denominator of all these issues, I just naturally assumed it was aging (even though I’m only 25) and this was just how life was going to be from here on out. What a bummer!
Amidst my freak-out, I called my gynecologist – a new one since I moved to Colorado after school – begging to switch birth control pills in an effort to clear my acne. She told me that all birth controls are known to reduce acne – which I actually don’t even think is true after my research – but agreed to switch me to one called Vestura. (I’ve recently researched this brand, and it is a generic form of Yas and gets terrible user reviews.) My acne didn’t improve with the switch so I went to a dermatologist who helped me clear my face. Not once did any medical professional that I saw during this time inform me that this could be a side effect of hormonal birth control. So onwards I went with yet another daily dosage of synthetic hormones and a hodgepodge of various chemicals.
I’ve now been on my latest pill, Vestura, for just over a year and I’ve noticed some very obvious effects. I get near daily unexplained headaches that sometimes progress to migraines lasting for days. I have a very flat mood, meaning I don’t get really excited for much even when I should. I am irritable and will snap at random and meaningless events and conversations. I have mood swings that start at irritability and progress to sadness and crying out of nowhere. I have a much lower libido then I used to (on my last pill) and have a difficult time achieving orgasm – another issue I’d never experienced. No matter how much I work out or how well I eat, I can’t seem to build much muscle or rid of the few pounds I wouldn’t mind losing. All of these things have compounded over the years and it suddenly occurred to me that I don’t even know what kind of person I am anymore. If someone asked me to describe myself, all those characteristics I identify with and believe deeply in my heart are indicative of the person I am… on the outside, currently, are not being mirrored. I don’t want to be this way, and I refuse to believe I should just chalk it up to who I am as I age.
Now as my eyes are more and more opened to the severe issues that can arise from ingesting the pill every day of our fertile adult lives, I realize that all these mysterious changes that arose over the years are actually very likely due to hormonal contraceptives. As I read through the material it’s all coming into focus, and it all makes sense. I admit, part of me is a bit angry that not one of the health care professionals I’ve seen over the years told me these things could be connected to the pill – in fact, many of them will brush off any concerns you may have in relation to the pill – and I feel like I lost some years of my life in a way. Yes, I was aware of the soft spoken side effects I’d heard in the commercials filled with laughing frollicing women. Ignorantly I always assumed those were the rare outliers; I was a healthy individual, it shouldn’t effect me, and the doctors convinced me it was worth it. I’ve seen countless testimonials from other women whose experiences with the pill matched mine, were sometimes much worse, and who also decided to ditch the pill in an effort to reconnect to their natural selves and cycles.
As I said before, I don’t think that pill is detrimental to all women. But I do think that hormonal contraception messes with our internal processes and our natural fertility cycles in ways that have the potential to be very harmful on our physical and mental health. There are women who have medical issues that genuinely benefit from being on the pill to regulate their hormones when their body may need assistance in doing so. But to sell a serious medication, with the same kinds of side effects of other pharmaceuticals, as a one-size-fits all “cure for the disease of being a woman” (as an article I read so eloquently states), then we enter dangerous waters. You see, cramps are normal, PMS is normal, hormonal acne is normal, menstruation is normal – and if we are having issues with these processes, then it is our body telling us that we are off balance somewhere. When we see these messages we need to fix it from the root rather than pop a pill to trick our bodies into stopping or altering those processes. When we depend on chemicals to fix these problems – that are simply marketed to us as problems rather than natural cycles – then we are putting a bandage on the issue rather than locating the root of the beast.
Hormones are an incredibly complex bodily function, and when they are out of whack we can experience some serious mental and physical turmoil. The slightest off kilter hormone production can send us reeling. Why, then, are a majority of women under the impression that there is simply no way the pill is affecting them in a harmful or unnatural way, even when their bodies are screaming otherwise? When you really think about it – how could pumping synthetic hormones and chemicals into us every day not be harming us? Furthermore, when you follow the money that hormonal contraceptives rake in on a monthly basis, you find that it goes into the pockets of the pharmaceutical companies. Pharmaceutical companies that spend more money marketing their products to doctors then on actually testing their products effectiveness and safety. These companies ignore the anecdotal evidence that hormonal contraceptives cause serious medical issues so that they can avoid conducting legitimate testing on them; because they know better than anyone what the findings will show. And when you have doctors attending schools where the books are published by those same money making pharmaceutical companies, it’s no wonder doctors peddle these pills just as blindly. It’s no secret that Big Pharma has a big bottom line, and that bottom line is not our safety and health. Their bottom line is their ever expanding cash flow – cash flow that directly correlates with how “sick” the public remains. So what’s better than to dub an entire portion of the population incurably ill, merely because they are a fertile female.
As women who were educated in the United States we weren’t even taught an inkling of how our cycles or fertility work. We aren’t taught that we are actually only fertile for 6 days maximum in a cycle, with only one of those days being ovulation (when the egg can actually be fertilized). We aren’t taught that our cycle can be tracked down to the day we are ovulating. We aren’t taught that with the knowledge of our cycles alone we can avoid pregnancy or give ourselves an immensely higher chance at conceiving when desired. We aren’t taught that those issues like cramping and heavy periods and acne can often be remedied through balancing hormones naturally using homeopathy. We aren’t taught that when we are intimately familiar with our cycles we can predict our moods and how our bodies will feel on a given day. We aren’t taught that issues with menstruation and feminine health can be spotted instantly when we know how to track our cycles. We aren’t told that not having a real period is incredibly detrimental because it’s our circadian rhythm of natural cleansing. We aren’t taught that our body’s ovulation can sync with the moon cycles, and that it can be an incredibly magical experience. We aren’t taught how not to be afraid of being a woman. We aren’t taught to take control of our divine feminine power.
After all this research I can’t help but be a bit cynical about why the pill gained such rapid popularity as the ultimate freedom accessory for a woman. Sure, it may prevent pregnancy, may give us light to non existent periods, may reduce cramping; but when your libido is squashed, your moods are intense and sporadic, and you can’t get excited, and are holding extra weight on your body, I have to wonder how many women will still desire much in the way of sex anyway. Makes me wonder if while these anecdotes of the negative experiences caused by hormonal contraception surfaced throughout the years, if they came as a welcome side effect to keep the female population subdued, crazy, and out-of-tune with their real power – because those ideas align well with our traditionally patriarchal society.
As a woman suffering with the disease of womanhood, I am pro-contraceptives, I am pro-choice, I am pro-sexual freedom. I am not, however, a supporter of blind western medicine or of greedy pharmaceutical companies who benefit off us being ridden with disease. I am not a supporter of profit over people. I believe every woman, and person for that matter, deserves real truthful insight into the medications they are prescribed and encouraged to take. Every woman has a right to receive an accurate and fact based answer when she questions her health care professionals about the side effects and safety of hormonal contraceptives. Every woman deserves to have medical institutions dedicated to studying the real effects of hormonal birth control so she can make an informed decision. Every woman should be encouraged to get to know herself on an intimate level and embrace all that is the divine feminine. We should remember that anytime we halt or mask our body’s natural rhythms with synthetic bandages, we are merely suppressing them inwards to transform into a different issue that will inevitably rear its ugly head. Let’s remember that while western medicine and technology are irreplaceable in their own respects, we still possess the same makeup as the Earth, and that her medicine can be found in the most beautiful of places.
We are wild women, don’t let them tame us!
I am about a week into my transition off the pill, and I am already feeling the positive changes my body is making. I plan to do an update or two about my experience going off the pill and returning to a natural balance in hopes to encourage and help any other woman who decides to take the leap too!
I’ve included some very helpful links I encourage all women to read and see if they can relate. I didn’t even get into the half of story when it comes to hormonal birth control and its effects. The comment sections are where I find a lot of anecdotal information, so I find it helpful to peruse those too!
Hormonal Birth Control Side Effects (the ones not regularly talked about):
Can Birth Control Pills Cause Mood Swings and Depression? – I particularly love the conflicting nature of the the article and the commentary below. Consider the mainstream medical source as well, when the author makes comments like… well the research says no but tons of anecdotal evidence says otherwise – curious.
Alternative Contraception Methods (besides the ones you know):
A MUST READ for every woman: Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler
Fertility Awareness Method – No, this is NOT the very unreliable Rhythm Method associated with religious families. When practiced correctly (as all contraceptive methods must be) it is over 99% effective at preventing unwanted pregnancies. There is a lot of misinformation out there when it comes to this method – I suspect because it is free and sans pharmaceuticals.
How To Transition Off Hormonal Birth Control: