Before you go any further I need you to read these points:
- I AM NOT A DOCTOR AND THIS IS NOT MEDICAL ADVICE. I am simply here to share my personal story in case it resonates with anyone else. I would strongly advise you to educate yourself, find a medical professional you trust, and ask ALL THE QUESTIONS before you decide what’s right for you. I’m simply here to share my experience and encourage you to not take things at face value (like I once did). We have to advocate for ourselves, and to do that we have to educate ourselves.
- I am not going to be sharing details of our sex life. #sorrynotsorry
- This is not a place for guilt or shame. If you’re on the pill and have no qualms about it, there is no judgement. If you’re not using the pill, there’s no judgement. Any comments that are made to belittle others (myself included), cast judgment, or otherwise just be nasty are not welcome and will be deleted and immediately blocked. Ain’t no one got time for that.
Last weekend on Instagram I randomly shared about how I stopped taking birth control pills about 8 years ago and asked how many of my followers would be interested in learning more about that story. The response was overwhelming – in the best way possible – and so as promised I will be sharing today about my experience with The Pill, what led me to quitting, and what I’ve been doing since then as a means of birth control.
To understand more about the story I’m going to take you waaaaaaaaaaaay back to before I got married. I made a choice at a young age to remain sexually pure and save myself for marriage. By God’s grace I did that, and so my very first visit to an OBGYN was about 6 months before my wedding day, in the summer of 2006, when I was 22 years old. The reason I bring any of that up is that I had no idea what to expect going in to see a doctor and talk about birth control. I didn’t know that I even needed to do research, that there could be other options, or that I even needed to have questions to ask. So on that day I had my first annual exam and then spoke to my doctor about the fact that I was going to be married and therefore sexually active, but still not ready to have kids. He asked if I wanted to start on the pill – as it was the most effective at preventing pregnancy – and I said sure and went on my merry way. I filled the prescription and started taking the pill like clockwork without a care in the world.
Fast forward a few months. Moodiness, weight gain, and sore breasts all appeared (right before my wedding – yay!), but I attributed most of that to having just graduated college and starting a new and high-stress job in a new city. I couldn’t even imagine that it had something to do with the pill! And although it could certainly have been a combination of everything all together I know for a fact that I was eating better and working out a ton to get ready for my wedding. It didn’t add up but I didn’t think to question it.
At one point, about a year after starting birth control pills, I mentioned the weight gain and moodiness to my new OBGYN. She didn’t really talk to me about it but gave me a prescription for another pill to try that would potentially make it all better. This prescription was for Yaz, and so I once again dove headfirst into following the regimen and thought nothing of it. However, after a few cycles I lost my period all together. Sounds kind of nice, right? Although I still had the mood swings and hormonal cravings every month, I didn’t have my period. I called the doctor and the pharmacist, and both said this was normal. I figured they were the professionals and I probably didn’t need to question it. Although I kept this up for a year it still just never sat right with me.
Let me stop the story here and say that I don’t think my doctors were out to screw me over or make an extra buck or blow off my concerns. They answered every question I threw their way and gave me options when I asked for it; however, I just didn’t know what to ask. I had only ever seen my friends hop on the birth control wagon and thought it was just what women did when they weren’t ready to start a family yet. I took that social norm as my medical advice, and my doctors went along with it because it was essentially what I asked. So here’s the takeaway for you: there is more than one way to skin a cat. Don’t just do what your friends are doing, don’t just go with the flow (pun intended? maybe…), don’t go with the first and only medical opinion you get if it doesn’t feel right. Be willing to research a little online and then use the information you find to formulate questions about what matters to you. Take those in to your doctor. Listen and ask more questions. And if you still don’t find the answers you’re looking for there is nothing that says they’re the only medical professional you get to talk to. It’s your life, your body, but you have to be willing to be the boss.
Around this time I had several friends who were getting pregnant and I started to actually pay attention to what pregnancy and childbirth actually meant for me physically. To my horror I realized that birth control is only 96-99(ish)% effective, but I was meeting more and more women who were still conceiving while on the pill. I saw that since I wasn’t having my period there was no way I would know if I was pregnant. If I didn’t know I was pregnant then I would keep taking this prescription drug, and I just wasn’t willing to expose our children to that. It was probably another month or so while all of that milled around in my head before I brought it up to Nate.
One night I mentioned all of the thoughts I had been having about birth control to my husband. I noted the weight gain, the sustained moodiness, the tender breasts, the missing periods, the fear of unknowingly conceiving. I told him I wasn’t comfortable being on the pill anymore, and while I knew we weren’t ready to have babies yet I just didn’t know if it was right for me to continue with it. You guys, I can’t brag enough about the way he responded. All he said was, “If it doesn’t feel right then you should stop. We can figure out another way.” In just a few words he helped put me at ease and simultaneously gave me permission to advocate for myself. What a man.
For most of that next year we simply used condoms as a means of birth control because, yet again, I figured that was the only option. I had no idea that my cycle had a purpose, that there were phases to it, or that the knowledge of those things would help with birth control as well. On one amazing vacation we decided that we were ready to start trying for a baby, so we said adios to condoms. After our first son was born I started to hear from friends who were trying to get pregnant talking about “temping” and monitoring their cycle. I searched around online about what that meant, and it sounded woo-woo to me so I just pushed it to the back of my thoughts.
After our second son was born I was a lot more adamant about not wanting to have more kids yet, but I was unwilling to go on birth control again. My thoughts returned to those conversations about temping and I pieced together that if I could figure out my fertility window I could use temping to prevent pregnancy as well. It was like a lightbulb went off in my head. I immediately purchased a thermometer and downloaded the best rated app I could find to track it all and get started. I was a little scared at first, but my belief is that at the end of the day if God really wants us to have another baby then it will happen regardless of what I do to prevent.
Outside of using condoms (as needed) much of what I do is take my temperature every morning, record it in my app (along with the time I took it), and then make any notes about bodily fluids that could be important. I’ve been doing this since March of 2016, so by now it’s second nature, but it only took about a week to really fall into the habit. I have also started to note my moods and cravings as well – particularly emotional means I’m about a week out from my period. Looking lean and have tons of energy? I’m about 2-1/2 weeks out. It’s taken practice and consistency, but I’ve figured out my cycle and have a much clearer picture of what I can expect from my body at any given time.
An unexpected side effect of this method? I’ve started to pay more attention to my body and how it responds to everything – exercise, diet, personal care products, too much or too little water, caffeine, over the counter medications, etc. It has forced me to pay attention, which in turn has helped me to make healthier and safer choices. From everything I can see it’s been a win! And at the end of the day we will keep using this method to prevent pregnancy, but also know (as I said before) that we are not the ones in charge here. I do my due diligence, but hold on to expectations a little more loosely than before.
The tools I use: a basal thermometer that I purchased from Walmart (this is the exact one) and the Kindara app for tracking. Another option is Natural Cycles and is approved as birth control in Europe. Condoms were another tool that worked for us. You can read all about how to temp for fertility here (or just Google it and read up!). A fantastic book I read recently about cycles and all the things that go with being a woman: Woman Code by Alisa Vitti. Some of it is a little out there for me, but the physiological basics she shares are right in line with what I’ve experienced. Here’s a podcast about coming off of long-term use of birth control, and another about women’s health and healthy methods of birth control. Again, these are just resources I used to formulate what I thought was the best plan for me, my body and my family.
But you guys? It should go without saying but if you’re sexually active and of childbearing age there is always a chance you could get pregnant. That’s the risk you take – one that yields totally adorable and squishy amazing humans – but a risk nonetheless. There’s a chance on the pill or other clinical means of birth control as well, so you just have to figure out which chance you want to take.
At the end of the day I looked at the side effects the pill was having on my body and I didn’t like it. I didn’t like that I didn’t know what was going on in there, and I hated sticking that little pill in my mouth every morning at 6:30am. Now I look at the research that shows there’s a million potential risks (including breast cancer, heart attack, stroke, migraines, blood clots, increased blood pressure, gallbladder and liver problems, benign tumors, etc) and I know that I’ve made the right choice for me. The risk of endangering my body like that isn’t worth it, so I found a better way for my body, my priorities, and my lifestyle.
If you’ve read this far (periods?! on a food blog?!) then you get 10 points and a virtual hug from yours truly! In all seriousness, though, I hope that this has helped simply to encourage you to find a way to listen to your body and advocate for yourself. You’re worth the effort and the time it takes to get things right!