Growing up it was very common to have female classmates out with things like migraines and severe menstrual cramps due to their cycles. It was so common in fact, that it was treated as “normal”, and no one would even bat an eye when these young women would stay home from school. While I was fortunate enough to never suffer from severe symptoms, I did experience very irregular cycles and hormonal acne. This was the reason I started taking hormonal birth control at 15 years old.
At the time I thought it was my only option. No one ever considered why my cycles might not be regular, I was just offered a solution to “fix” them without any regard to what my body was trying to tell me. Did my cycles become regular on the pill? You bet they did! Did the pill address the underlying hormonal issues that were causing this irregularity? No. In fact, I would argue that they made them worse.
Oral birth control contains synthetic hormones that stop your body from producing its own. This in turn stops your body from ovulating and what your left with is a forced monthly bleed without any of the natural hormonal fluctuations that are essential to our overall health and wellbeing as women. Every time we ovulate, we get a huge dose of progesterone. When you aren’t ovulating (on the pill or not) you are not getting this healthy dose of progesterone. This is important because the progesterone our bodies produce during our ovulatory years builds bone and metabolic reserve that helps to carry us through our menopausal years. It also helps prevent things like osteoporosis, heart disease and breast cancer.
The importance of my natural hormones was not something that was discussed with me before getting on the pill, this is probably why I spent 11 years of my life on it without ever questioning what it was doing to my health.
Things I wish I would have known before getting on birth control:
- The pill can cause weight gain because it interferes with estrogen
- The synthetic estrogen and progestins cause cellulite
- It depletes you of B vitamins and zinc
- It damages intestinal bacteria increasing your risk of immune dysfunction
- It increases your risk for headaches, yeast infections and abnormal pap smears
- It prevents you from forming health bones
- It can interfere with the ability to conceive later in life due to the impact it has on our body’s natural hormones
- It can cause depression
- It can cause hair loss
- It can cause thyroid imbalance
- The pill pseudo hormones promote breast and liver
- It increases your risk for fatal blood clots by 7 times
I also learned that taking birth control was much like taking steroids and should be cycled to avoid long term detrimental health effects. I learned that I would have to be off them for half of the time I was on them for my body to re-regulate, for me this was 6 years. I stopped taking birth control that weekend at the age of 26.
Shortly after I stopped taking it, I essentially went through puberty all over again. My body had to relearn how to ovulate and produce all the necessary hormones that make our cycles what they are. Because birth control only acts as a band aid the acne, mood swings and irregularity came running back. The difference was that this time I used those markers as information as to what my body needed and responded by caring for my health physically, chemically and emotionally and watched my cycles regulate and normalize.
Our cycles are truly a reflection of our hormonal health and I know that so many women struggle with their bodies and their hormones just like I did. I wish I had known there was a better way. I constantly felt betrayed by my body and often wondered why it “didn’t work” the way it was supposed to. I also wish I knew just how important my cycles and my ability to ovulate were to my overall health and well-being.