I haven’t used hormonal contraception in nearly 10 years. But I distinctly remember the day I threw out my pill pack. It was the culminating event in a series of realizations, and the beginning of my new, far more interesting life without “the Pill.”
In reality, I spent a fairly short time on hormonal contraception—it was only a year. I was on the “mini-pill” since I have been a lifetime sufferer of migraines with aura, which put me in a contraindicated category for the combination pill. The combination pill contains both estradiol and progestin, unlike the mini pill which is progestin-only.
I wasn’t on the pill for any hormonal issues. I had always had relatively regular, painless periods. I was on it exclusively for pregnancy prevention. But I’d be lying if there wasn’t a little bit of peer pressure and branding going on. The pill seemed cool, savvy, and mature. I, too, wanted that. I felt like I was joining some exclusive club, the pill club.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that “the pill club” seemed a lot more colorful from the outside; in reality, being on the Pill would affect my moods, and rob my experiences of their color. But at 20 years old, I still had so much to learn. So, convinced that birth control was exactly what I needed to be a responsible, savvy adult, I marched to the university health clinic, and simply asked for a prescription for the pill.
My experience on the Pill wasn’t bad, so much as it was kind of… “blah”
I didn’t have a dreadful experience on the pill, but it wasn’t as auspicious as I hoped it would be either. My migraines became more frequent and intense, I started growing hairs in weird places, and my previously clear skin began to develop the type of acne people talk about during puberty—which, ironically, I never experienced as a teen. I no longer had a predictable and regular period, but rather sporadic spotting that always seemed to come at the most unfortunate of times.
And while I didn’t realize it at the time, a sort of “one-notedness” settled over me while I was on the pill. It was only when I got off of the pill that I realized the “color” had been drained from my experiences while I was on it. As I have since found out, this is a common experience for women on birth control. Exposure to the hormones produced by your body naturally during your cycle helps boost and regulate mood, while also providing a natural flux to energy and emotional responses. Contraception suppress these hormones and changes your emotional responses.
“This thing called Natural Family Planning”
In response to my complaints about being on the pill, my at-the-time boyfriend (now husband) told me about “this thing he learned in Catholic boarding school” called Natural Family Planning, which I quickly called out as ineffective, outdated, and “private school propaganda.” But admittedly, I was curious. After my knee-jerk reaction to my boyfriend’s suggestion, I began to realize I actually knew very little about my hormones. And while I had been getting a period every month for almost 7 years, I didn’t really know anything about it. So, one night, in the privacy of my dorm room, I dared to Google this “Natural Family Planning” thing.
I was shocked, thrilled, and dumbfounded. This fertility charting stuff was all based on… science? And… a deeper knowledge of my own unique body and cycles? It didn’t take me long to realize that I wanted to ditch the pill and start charting my own fertility.
So I did. Against conventional wisdom, I didn’t even finish my pill pack (which is a myth, by the way; there’s no reason to finish the pack if it is your intention to cease the prescription altogether.)
What happened when I quit the Pill for good
In terms of side effects, my periods returned normally, my migraines lessened, and the misplaced hair growth went away, but my acne didn’t clear up instantly like I hoped it would. In fact, I battled hormonal adult acne throughout my 20’s—which again, was a new experience for me that seemed brought on by my use of the pill.
The “color” that came back to my world was nearly instantaneous. I started to feel an ebb and flow in experiences that had seemed a bit uniform when I was on the pill. I started noticing a change in my energy and emotions throughout the month, and perhaps most notably, a libido change. (Hello estrogen!). As a Fertility Awareness Educator now, I often explain that this is a relatively unknown benefit of charting your cycles. With Natural Family Planning (NFP) or a Fertility Awareness Method (FAM), you can be truly present in your life, living in awareness of these changes throughout the month.
Getting off the Pill is not always a “quick fix”
My biggest piece of advice to those coming off of any type of hormonal contraception is that it will take time, energy, and resources to tend to your period health, especially if you went on the pill in pursuit of “regulating hormones” (which, by the way, the pill does not do). For some women, side effects may clear up right away after ditching hormonal contraception, while others experience worsened side effects. If you are working with a Fertility Educator, they can help address these issues, and point you in the right direction of helpful resources. I encourage anyone considering ditching the Pill to carefully temper their expectations of the experience, as recommended by psychotherapist Julia Hogan in her Natural Womanhood article “Don’t Expect a Quick Fix When You Quit Birth Control (And Why It’s Still Worth the Effort).”
No matter the difficulty, going off the pill and learning a fertility awareness method (FAM) or method of Natural Family Planning (NFP) is indeed a worthy pursuit—as is getting real, authentic healing for any underlying hormonal or reproductive issues you may be facing. Tending to your hormonal health will yield benefits as you go through the various stages of the reproductive continuum—even if you never go through a pregnancy.
I am grateful that at 21, I learned about Fertility Awareness and didn’t spend too much time in the dark about my hormonal health. It is my wish for every teen girl to have comprehensive education about their cycles so they can make their own empowered choices even earlier in life than I did.