Let's talk about...
The birth control pill.
This blog post doesn't even need a cute little intro because let's be real, this topic is far from "cute" - I'm going to fill you in on my experience with the birth control pill and what it was like for me once I decided to stop taking it.
OK, I am being slightly dramatic here and I would like you, the reader, to know that I am completely okay, healthy and still living my normal life post birth control pill.
But I won't lie, it has NOT been pleasant and I consider myself pretty lucky because after researching the affects of the pill, I learned that for some people it can be a long road back to normalcy after years of artificial hormones.
*Also, please note these are just my own opinions on the topic formed from the research I did. This is not me telling anyone to stop taking birth control. You should do what is best for YOU and no one else... Everybody is completely different and your body reacts differently. I am just sharing my experience in hopes that anyone who is going through the same thing can learn a little bit and hopefully have an easier time!
Why I started the pill and why I stopped taking it:
Like a lot of young females, when I first started my cycle I had horrific cramps in high school. They were so TRULY debilitating that I would have to stay home from school and my "flow" would be so heavy, that it made it difficult just to try and function normally. So I went to the doctor and like most, I was given the birth control pill to help regulate my period.
Seemed simple. Seemed normal?
I will say - the pill did help tremendously with regulating everything. My cramps went away, I could use a normal tampon (not a XXL that I would still bleed through... sorry TMI) and I felt so much better.
But there were some initial bumps in the road. I switched birth controls a couple times because the first one caused such wild mood swings that my family literally couldn't be in the same room as me (I would be crying one second and yelling the next.. it was nuts) and the second one caused pretty crazy weight gain... another seemingly normal side affect of certain birth control pills. Finally, I got a very low dose birth control pill that seemed to do the trick!
And even better (or so I thought at the time)... I didn't have ANY period on this pill.
It was freakin' great!? This started probably around the age of 18 - 19 and when I asked my doctor about it, she said it was totally normal to not have a period of the pill. I just shrugged it off and decided to celebrate not having to ever buy tampons and never having to worry about when I would randomly get Aunt Flo.
Almost 10 years went by and I never got a period. Truly wild, right? And every time I had my annual I would ask my doctor about she would again just tell me that it was normal, I didn't need to have a cycle on the pill and yada, yada.
But once I hit the ripe ole age of 28, I started thinking more about not having a period. The more I thought about it, the more worried I got?
Mainly I was worried about if I would be able to get a cycle back after so many years on the pill. What if it affected me getting pregnant? What if I had an underlying issue I didn't know about and it was masked by the pill?
Hello rabbit hole, let me just jump right in.
Over a couple months, I started noticing many influencers and bloggers I follow open up about stopping their birth control pill. And once my trainer (who I have worked with for the past two years) mentioned to me that my slow fitness progress (I had been training so hard but couldn't seem to get the results to match) could also be linked to the birth control pill... I was like WOAH. Let's go into full research mode.
Here's some of the podcasts/articles I listened to that really shed some light on the birth control pill and what we may not know from talking to our doctors:
The Truth About Birth Control with Dr. Jolene Brighten (This one is super informative)
My biggest takeaway? Being put on the birth control pill at such a young age is a quick fix by doctors. It's like slapping on a bandaid and hoping for the best - but not actually solving any problems. Most cycles settle into a predictable rhythm about six years after starting. So Woah!
Also, I was SHOCKED to hear that being on the pill can actually alter your sex drive and change your brain chemistry... so much so that you may be attracted to different people on the pill versus off of it (All of a sudden my poor choice in boyfriends while on the pill makes more sense... LOL)
Anyways, I won't go into more details because you can take a listen if you want and they will probably sound way more eloquent than I will.
I decided to stop my birth control pill and see if I could get my cycle back and regular again after not having one for almost ten years.
I stopped taking the pill in August after getting back from my trip to Portugal and I was SO nervous about getting my period again. I really thought I was going to be in for the period from literal hell. I mean this thing has been building up for freaking years?!
Well I waited a month and... nada.
No period but you know what I did get? A shit ton of other side effects.
I gained around 10 pounds in a month or so.
Water retention and swelling (so much so that my rings wouldn't fit anymore)
But no period!
Luckily, through the power of social media (I love my Instagram family) I had a wonderful functional health specialist reach out to me on Instagram. Sammie had been following my journey (I post way too much on the internet LOL) and reached out to see if she could help me jumpstart my cycle and feel normal again. At this point, I was so desperate - I was instantly in.
I will link her social media if you want to take a look and book a call.
She immediately wanted me to get some bloodwork done so we could look further into WTF was going on inside my body so I went to go talk to my women's care doctor to see if I could get my blood drawn and labs done.
My doctors response when I told her I had stopped my birth control and had a long list of negative side effects...
"Well I think you look great? I don't see what the issue is!"
I don't care about how I look. I care more about that fact that I feel awful and I don't think this is normal.
I won't go on a rant here... but just know that you know YOUR BODY BEST. If you aren't getting a response that you're confident in from a doctor... it is okay to advocate for yourself and 1) get a new doctor 2) look into other answers.
So whatever, I still insisted on getting my bloodwork done and I got the results back and gave them straight to Sammie so we could start me on some supplements to support the changes going on in my body and hopefully speed up the process of getting a cycle back.
If you are curious about my bloodwork - I had incredibly low progesterone. Like a scary low amount. So we were going to work on helping that out!
Not saying THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT YOU SHOULD DO... Seriously, I cannot stress this enough. Every body is so different and what works for me, may not work for you! But I have gotten a lot of questions about supplements, etc. on social media so here's a breakdown of some that helped me out.
P.S. Read this book if you want more info on how to adjust "Beyond The Pill" - It's incredibly helpful if you aren't working with a functional doctor already.
Supplements I took/am taking:
In addition to those, I also tried to make small changes In my lifestyle routine to help me body out. That included:
- More rest time
- 7 - 8 hours sleep each night
- Focus on slowing down
- Cooling inflammation through supplement support and relaxation
- Reduction in coffee
- Reduction in training where possible (sometimes less is more)
- Focusing on walks rather than constant high impact HIIT training (this was hard for me)
- Eating clean + whole foods and trying to cut out processed foods when possible
I did this for about FIVE months after stopping the pill (loosely... sometimes I was galavanting across Europe and not super strict with myself) and finally I got my cycle back.
And the crazy thing is - my first period in 10 years was super mellow? WTF. I was expecting the Red Sea!
*Edit: I have to include this because I cannot make this shit up. I literally got my period as I was typing this blog. How ironic. And BTW - it was heavy, painful and full blown. It's almost like my body sense that I wrote my period was mellow and said "HA, think again."
This goes to show you just how different each and every body is. My girlfriend stopped the pill around the same time I did and immediately got her period and hers lasted 22 days straight (GASP... I know).
I want to do a follow up post once I have been OFF the pill for around a year because I am confident I will be able to give way more accurate information and be able to report better on how I feel after stopping oral contraceptives but for now...
What I have noticed since stopping the birth control pill & getting my cycle back:
- Crazy water retention and swelling. Lymphatic massages are helpful, but it's still incredibly uncomfortable and discouraging - especially for a fitness instructor. But I am trying to give my body some grace and allow it to adjust slowly!
- My headaches and excessive sweating have slowed since getting my period back. Now I only get cramps before my cycle begins and during.
- My skin actually got... better? Which is opposite than it is for most when stopping the pill. It goes to show that it really does just affect everyone differently!
- Brain fog. It's definitely gotten significantly BETTER since my body has begun to regulate again but holy shit... when I first stopped the pill, I felt like I was walking through a fog. I was so forgetful and unmotivated! As someone who operates like a machine and lives for the work grind... this was very difficult for me to deal with.
- Higher sex drive! I am shocked at the difference of being on the pill and being off of it. It's wild how different I feel... still single as a Pringle so this doesn't really impact my life TOO much but it's interesting to note.
- More of a sense of happiness and stability. I feel like my mood has been much more consistent and mellow since being off the pill. Less mood swings!
Lots of pro's, a couple cons... All in all, I am happy I stopped the pill and I am start feeling more like myself again! Eventually, I would like to look into a copper IUD but that's a story for another time (once I research a bit more).
I hope this blog post helped shed some light on the post birth control pill journey and allowed you to learn a bit about my experience with the pill. If you are in the boat as I am... hang in there! For some, it's an easy transition from taking the pill to regulating your hormones naturally - and for others it's very difficult and comes with a list of complications.
Remember... do your own research and do what is best for YOUR body!
If you have any other questions about my post birth control pill journey, please shoot me a message on Instagram and I would be happy to continue the conversation with you.
Until next time...