I’ve been on some form of hormonal birth control for as long as I can remember. Since I was 16, to be exact. And while I once thought our relationship would last forever (or, you know, until I decided to maybe have a baby someday or hit menopause, whichever came sooner), I recently did something drastic…
I broke up with hormonal birth control.
That’s right, after years and years of iPhone alarms, countless refills, and more evenings than I’d care to admit nearly forgetting to take that tiny pink pill before bed, I completely called it quits about two months ago.
Before I touch on this further, let’s get a few things straight: I’m not an OB/GYN (or any form of a doctor for that matter, aside from my Juris Doctor…but I digress…) and I’m not here to offer any sort of an opinion about what kind(s) of birth control you or any other human on this planet want to use. I’m also a feminist, absolutely adore Planned Parenthood, and think the invention of the birth control pill is one of the most important scientific advancements in the last 100 years. Hormonal birth control just wasn’t doin’ it for me anymore and I decided to see what else was out there. That’s all.
Now that my obligatory lawyerly disclaimer is through (old habits do die hard, I’m afraid), onto my short-yet-epic tale about breaking up with hormonal birth control…
If you know me personally or read my blog, then you know that I have been in a committed relationship with my now-fiancé for a little over 4 and a half years. We’ve been living together for about 3 and a half of those years and (sorry Dad) have sex just like any other twenty-something couple.
Up until very recently, we relied on hormonal birth control pills as our primary form of contraception and, for the most part, things were pretty smooth sailing. Over the years, I tried different brands at the advice of different Gynos but, in time, being on the pill became as much a part of my daily routine as brushing my teeth or taking a shower.
But, like any relationship, the one I had with hormonal birth control was shaky at best sometimes. My first go-around with hormonal birth control was with Yaz; you know, the one that slimy personal injury attorneys are always yammering on and on about on TV? Well, turns out that was a truly disastrous drug for someone like me who suffered from migraines with aura (oops) so, thankfully, the sage GYN I found at Ohio State one summer tossed that bad boy in the trash where it belonged. I then transitioned to the progestin-only mini pill (one of the only safe, hormonal contraceptions available to people like me with aura migraines), which I kept using right up until a few months ago.
Again, my uterus isn’t your uterus and my experiences might be completely different than yours, but hormonal birth control did little to help my PMS. In fact, I’ve since learned that it might have actually made it worse.
For the last 11 years, I’ve had bad periods and PMS. Like, really bad. I’m talkin’ the Red Wedding of periods that come and go as they please, often without warning, and as frequently or infrequently as they’d damn well please. Since I went on the pill, I’ve never been one of those women that can casually glance down at her calendar and remark, “oh! Aunt Flow’s coming to town in 3 days!” More like, “fuck, I think I just had one of these…no wait, it’s been 30 days…actually, last time it was 24…”
I know what you’re thinking, I literally just said that things with the pill were smooth sailing right? Honestly, I didn’t know better. Being on birth control was such a part of my norm that I couldn’t imagine a world in which it wasn’t a part of my routine. And I’ll bet that I’m not the only gal my age who’s felt this way.
A few months ago, I couldn’t even begin to tell you what my periods were like before starting the pill. Why? Because I went on the damn thing over a decade ago and I have a hard time remembering what I ate for breakfast yesterday, let alone whether 13-year old me had cramps. I decided to enlist help for my period-related symptoms and, aside from one amazing acupuncturist, most told me that my only option was an IUD (preferably Mirena, which would potentially stop my periods altogether).
I don’t know if it’s my newfound interest in alternative medicine or just my intuition speaking, but an IUD has never really appealed to me. I have dozens of female friends that swear by them, but I have never been able to get over the squeamish image of getting it inserted and then, God-forbid…being expelled (because again, no baby yet).
Nevertheless, after countless hours researching IUDs, I always shook my head “no” when docs would suggest this method. I’d then ask what my options were and, you guessed it, I was back to square one again…
Maybe it’s the yogi in me, but I started thinking that there had to be a more natural way to avoid pregnancy. After all, hormonal birth control wasn’t doing anything to improve my symptoms, so I figured hey, what do I have to lose?
I started researching natural methods of birth control and came across Natural Cycles. As the only app approved as contraception in Europe, I was intrigued. Basically, all I had to do was take my BBT (basal body temperature) every morning, plug it into an app in my iPhone, and an algorithm would tell me where I was in my cycle and if I was at risk of pregnancy. If I was, condoms. If not, free as a bird.
I did some lawyer-level research, found out that the app had a pearl index rating greater than the pill, read countless studies, freaked out a bit when I read that some women in Sweden were still having abortions despite using the app (but later learned that this fell within the normal “not 100% effective” rating), and decided to talk it over with my partner. He then conducted a similar level of scrutiny into the company and, once we were both content with our findings, I downloaded the app and bought a BBT thermometer along with some LH tests off Amazon.
But before I could start tracking my cycle, I needed to go off birth control. And I have to say, this was probably the weirdest and somehow hardest part for me. It wasn’t difficult because I had a bunch of painful side effects or went through some crazy mood swings; no, it was more just the act of not taking the pill anymore that threw me for a loop.
For weeks, I kept reaching for the spot where my pack had set up permanent residency on my nightstand before bed. I had to explain to the persistent folks at CVS that I actually didn’t need my pill on auto-refill anymore. And, worst of all…I felt like I was doing something wrong.
I felt like I was a bad woman and, dare I say it, a bad feminist, for not wanting to be on hormonal birth control anymore.
When I told my friends (yes, even the yoga ones) that I was ditching the pill, most asked me if I was trying to get pregnant. After all, I’m 27, engaged to be married and, at least to some folks, it wouldn’t be the most unheard of thing in the world if I got pregnant. When I told them no, I just wanted to try something more natural, I was almost always met with blank stares, confusion and, worst of all…worry.
And that’s what really irks me, even now. In a world where woman are encouraged to explore their sexuality and we preach that birth control is your one-way ticket to freedom, why can’t some of us choose to use these tools while others don’t?
I am no more or less of a feminist because I chose a different form of birth control nor am I more or less of a yogi for doing so. Dichotomies like this only serve to pit women against each other, to create a messed-up Handmaids Tale-type world where one uterus is somehow more worthy or “right” than the other. So here’s what I’m proposing instead: let women decide what happens in their own bodies. For me, it was over a decade using the pill and now a tech-savvy version of fertility tracking. For you, it might be the same or it might be completely different. Whatever contraception or decisions you make about your body, just make sure you’re the one deciding them!
Okay, rant over. Back to Natural Cycles.
After I got over my partially-societal and somewhat self-inflicted weirdness over going off the pill, I did it. And 5 days later I got the go-ahead to start tracking my temperature in the app.
It wasn’t nearly as difficult as I expected to take my temperature as soon as I woke up and, in fact, it was sort of fun. I started looking forward to learning about my body for the first time (again, I had no clue what my own “natural cycle” was like) and using condoms in the meantime turned out not to be nearly as horrible as I remembered (I’m starting to realize that it was more the Cosmo articles and even GYN visits that got it into my head that condom sex was somehow less pleasurable than non-condom sex…). After a few weeks, I was really starting to get the hang of it.
Then, I got my period.
I had been preparing for this day like a doomsday prepper stockpiling canned goods for the Zombie Apocalypse, but I still felt a wave of dread wash over me when I was confronted with that unwanted visitor early that morning. “Okay,” I told myself “it’s alright. Things are going to be fine. You probably won’t die. Women have been having periods without birth control for centuries. This is natural. You’re a yogi, and you like essential oils. Everything will be fine.”
After 20 more minutes repeating the “You is smart. You is kind. You is important.” mantra that was made famous by The Help in front of my bathroom mirror, I decided to pull on my big girl period-proof panties and face my first post-pill moon cycle with a little bit of grace.
I’m not going to lie to you, those first couple days were nothing short of apocalyptic. I had mind-numbing cramps. My head hurt for 3 days straight. I was bloated. I couldn’t sleep. I hated everyone and everything. I honestly wouldn’t be shocked if my fiancé told me that my head spun around like Linda Blair that week. But, 5 days later, it was over.
I kept on trackin’ and taking my temperature as usual until my next period came right on time exactly 30 days later. I can’t even tell you the last time that happened. I was so happy, I almost cried.
I’m now in the middle of period #2 post-pill and I have to say, it’s not that bad at all. Sure, I get cramps every now and again, but it’s nothing a little Advil and my hot water bottle can’t tackle while I carry on with my day, and it certainly isn’t as bad as the cramps I experienced the month prior or during the years I was on the pill. And best of all? I’m learning what my body does when it’s not being pumped full of artificial hormones.
I’ll be the first to say that this form of birth control isn’t for everyone. I have a committed partner that’s totally down with condoms, I usually wake up around the same time every day, and I’m not bothered by taking my temperature religiously each and every morning. If none of this sounds like you, then that’s totally cool and we’re lucky to live in a world where there are other forms of contraception readily available.
I have to admit though, I love the freedom that comes with my new cycling lifestyle. Particularly in the Trump administration, I take a lot of comfort knowing that my personal form of contraception is entirely knowledge-based and can’t really be de-funded or abolished in some way. I also love that my partner is now equally-accountable for our contraception (he has the app downloaded on his phone, tracks my cycle right along with me, and reminds me to take my temperature). I don’t love the hormonal breakouts I get now, but they’re diminishing as we speak with the help of a little tea tree oil. And honestly, what I love most is that I’m getting to know my body. I spent so many years condemning my periods that I never imagined there would be a world in which I actually liked them. That’s right: I like my periods. Learning about my cycle has taught me to honor my body in a way that I never really understood before, and that’s pretty awesome.
Who knows how long I’ll track my cycle; for all I know, I might decide to get an IUD in a month. What I do know is that Natural Cycles has been a phenomenal option for me right here, right now, and isn’t that what we all try to preach in yoga class anyway? Listening to our bodies and honoring their wishes? Right now, my body wanted a break from hormonal contraception, so I listened. Whatever your body is telling you, whether it’s to have an IUD inserted, try a new brand of birth control, or go off everything completely, my only hope is that you and your doctors listen.
“Listen to your body, it is wiser than you [and the sexist patriarchy] are.” ~ Ancient Proverb altered slightly by yours truly
Supporting All Uteruses,
The Yogi Lawyer