The Pill. How safe is it? Will it affect my fertility? Is it truly linked to cancer? How do doctors know the long term effects of the pill if it really hasn’t been around that long? Should I really have been prescribed a drug that alters my hormones with such ease at the tender age of 16? Why do I feel so crap when I take it? What IS in the pill? How safe is it to alter with a hormonal system that has been serving women since the beginning of time as we know it? These were just some of the frantic questions that had been running through my head for a year before I finally took the plunge into the unknown and came off the pill. And some of those questions are still unanswered. In case any of you have decided you want to come off the pill (or already have) I wanted to share my experience with you in hopes it can shed some light on your experience.
I had been trying to decide whether to come off the pill for a while as I felt in my gut I was doing a disservice to my body in taking it. It didn’t feel right. It made me emotional and stressed and constantly bloated. I had near daily headaches, backaches, and a constant feeling that was telling me to stop taking it. I had been on the pill for a solid 7 years as my doctors had told me it was perfectly safe (which to be honest isn’t all there fault as they are led to believe it is safe too) and was the best form of contraception and solution to my headaches, acne, and hormonal state (I was 16 for Christ’s sake of course I had these symptoms!). Not once did a doctor give me a talk about safe sex, nor did they explain to me about how a womans natural cycle or ovulation works. I was also told the pill was good for my hormones, that it was completely safe to skip “periods” (by the way you never actually have a real period whilst on the pill, rather a withdrawal bleed) for 4 cycles or until I experienced withdrawal bleeds, and that it was great to minimize period pain, which seems obvious now as I never had a real period anyway to experience the pain from. Whilst convenient at the time to experience a “period” 2-3 times a year, in hindsight this truly seems like something that could have been the result of why my body was so confused when I came off the pill (which I will go into more detail later).
The concept of the pill was something I chose not to think too much about, kind of like death, you start to think about it and then push it right to the back of your head and get on with your day. I was so conscious about choosing the best options of food for my body and treating myself with kindness, but I was still starting the day taking a little pill which I had no proof of what the long term effects were, and upon deeper research into it I found study after study that were linking the use of the contraceptive Pill with cancer, migraines, and blindness to name a few.
Actually getting around to doing some deeper research hadn’t actually been sparked until one day discussing with a close friend in a TMI kinda conversation, when she mentioned how ironic it was that her sex drive diminished after beginning the pill, and this making it a near invalid reason to have begun it in the first place. I had never put two and two together on this but had also experienced what she had noticed. So I looked further into this link between the pill and libido and was surprisingly unsurprised to find the following: “Scientists have discovered that the chemicals produced in the body as a result of the pill to stop ovulation continue to suppress testosterone levels – central to sexual desire in both men and women. This can continue for up to four years once a woman stops taking it.” (original source of info here)
Enough was enough. I took the plunge and began researching more into the pill and ways in which I could come off it. I came across a site that became my go-to for information. Information that was understandable AND provided in a down to earth manner. For those of you who are interested in anything fertility and hormone related (to name but a few of her specialties!) Nat Kringoudis is who you need! She was my saviour when I was confused and in need of help. There was two quotes in one of her posts (seriously if you only read one article about coming off the pill, let it be this one) that made me finally decide that I no longer wanted to risk my future health – “The pill interferes with fertility – because it is designed to do so. This isn’t a side effect, it is it’s main reason for existing – to stop you from falling pregnant,” and “Fact: Women who take the pill are nearly ten times the risk of dying from pulmonary embolism (a blood clot reaching the heart) than those who aren’t taking it.” I was at more risk of dying just by taking a pill? No one told me that when I was signed up to it 7 years previously!
So there I was. No more pill. Trying to figure out how a cycle worked. Contemplating IUDs (which I also chose to avoid after carefully researching this, to spite a doctor near forcing me into using it by saying “what other option is there? “CONDOMS & CELIBACY” were my witty responses before I stormed out of that office). How ovulation worked. And waiting for my first period to come after stopping the pill. I waited. And waited. And waited. I then Googled. Googled some more. And then some more again. I had read that it can take upwards of a year for a period to come after stopping the pill. This did make me feel a little more at ease. But still having everything else taken care of (my eating, exercise, and lifestyle), I had assumed my body would have responded well to coming off the pill. It didn’t. Years of abusing myself and my hormones with the pill had taken its toll.
For 12 months I waited. Constantly fearing something was wrong with me, that I was pregnant, or that I had ruined my chances to have children later in life. My body was confused. I gained weight. Lost weight. Had emotional breakdowns. Peed on pregnancy sticks out of anxiety. Had no period. Had friends telling me I needed to go see a doctor (which seeing as they were the ones who had put me on it in so carelessly in the first place, they were the last people I wanted to talk to). Had people telling me I had PCOS . But I waited it out because deep down I knew my body would repair itself eventually.
And it eventually did. I’m not sure anyone else has ever been so excited to get a period in their life! I did my happy dance as I drove happily to the shops to stock up on supplies, and rang those closest to me to tell them the news! It was like I had won the lotto – which when you finally start getting a hold back of your hormonal health it pretty much compares! I also noticed that unlike when I was 16 there was minimal period pain, hormonal fluctuations, or headaches (maybe it was just going through all those teenage hormonal changes that caused this in the first place? Have people considered this?? Are potentially life altering drugs really the best way to deal with teenage changes?)
Whilst I was celebrating my joyous victory and naively assuming the next period would come in the 28 days as all periods are supposed to, I was celebrating a little too early. 45 days rolled by until the next period, which whilst it was much better than 12 months, it still wasn’t right. Next period was 29 days. Then 35 days. Then 32 days. 28 days. I’m still counting and tracking them every time they arrive, but I’m happy to say my body is finally getting more regular and all those SYMPTOMS that were one of the causes of going on the pill in the first place are non-existent now. And I am happy to report that I feel better than ever before and my hormonal state in all in check (however I’m sure my partner would refute this with some cheeky comment!).
So my message ladies? Be patient and don’t rush your body. It can take even up to 18 months (sometimes longer) for your body to repair itself after the hormonal cyclone it goes through being on the pill. Be kind and gentle to yourself and your body. If in doubt seek help.
Whilst this was the right decision for me and MY body and one I am glad I did, the choice to take the pill or stop the pill is yours and yours alone.If that little voice inside of you is telling you to do something, like it did for me, it often knows whats best. I do not encourage any of you to stop taking your medication without seeking appropriate advice first and doing your research. And IF you do stop the pill, take appropriate precautions ladies!
Have you come off the pill or are thinking about doing so? I would love to hear about it below. Please feel free to share this via the social media links below!