Period Series: Why I Stopped Taking Hormonal Birth Control
The Period Series is a multi-part series about coming off of hormonal birth control and regaining one's natural menstrual cycle. In the Period Series we will educate ourselves about hormones, menstrual cycles, and our options to be empowered to make the right choices for ourselves. In this first post, we'll cover my hormonal birth control journey including why I went on hormonal birth control, my experiences being on hormonal birth control, and why I chose to stop taking the medication and get back to having my period holistically.
A year ago I stopped taking hormonal birth control (HBC). This wasn’t the first time I went off HBC in 10 years of using but it is the first time I stuck with it. There wasn’t one defining factor in my choice to stop. I have many reasons why I was concerned with my use of HBC including the long term effects it has on my body, the potential that it was masking underlying health conditions, and the potential effect taking it has had on my overall wellbeing and mental health. I spent about a year before coming off of HBC researching, talking with my partner and health providers, and thinking about making the decision. When the time was right, I felt well prepared, ready, and excited for the journey ahead.
Reading and hearing about others’ experiences of coming off of HBC was very helpful in guiding me in my choices. I thought I’d share here some of the choices I made to support myself in going off HBC and regaining my natural cycle. That being said, I am not a trained clinician and always recommend you work with your care provider anytime you choose to make changes to your health routine or stop taking medication. If you have any questions please feel free reach out to me. And, as always, I would love to hear about your experiences as well. I am still learning and forever curious!
Going on hormonal birth control
At 11 years old, I first got my period. As the first of my friends to start menstruation, I remember being nervous, ashamed, confused. Those first years of having my period were so hard. My mom would take me out of school to change my pad during the day. I missed swim parties and had trouble playing sports because I couldn’t use a tampon. I would go months without bleeding but would be in a constant state of mood swings, cramps, and bloating, Those initial feelings of shame and confusion never really stopped. And up until I went on HBC at 19 years old, my relationship with my period never really changed.
At 19, I made the decision, along with my Nurse Practitioner, to go on HBC. I was at an age were I needed a more effective and reliable form of protection from getting pregnant and I was also still experiencing delayed periods, bloating, and mood swings. With the information I had and the blessing of getting a “regular period”, HBC felt like the right decision for me.
Why I stopped taking hormonal birth control
As I mentioned above, there were several reasons why I decided to go off HBC.
Worry about underlying health conditions
There were two main factors that contributed to this worry. The first was that I had previously went off HBC when I was around 23 or 24. After three months of not taking the medication, I still hadn’t regained menstruation. I freaked out and after talking with my provider went back on birth control. So, when I was reconsidering going off HBC again my initial attempt was on my mind. I wondered if I would be able to even get my period once I went off.
The second factor was that a few years ago I had a pretty dramatic and unexplained weight loss paired with other symptoms like fatigue, gastrointestinal problems, and lightheadedness. I have been unable to regain the weight and while I have had my thyroid checked and blood panel done, I don’t have a real reason for this. Part of me was worried the my low weight would prevent me from being able to regain my menstruation.
Concern for long term effects
By the time I came off of HBC, I had been on the pill for 10 years. That’s a very long time to be taking a medication, especially one that isn’t necessary for me to live. Right around the time I was making the decision to come off of HBC, a research article was published about the association between breast cancer risk and hormonal birth control. The article’s results, which was based off an observational study of women in Denmark, were that women who had been taking HBC had a moderately (about 20%) higher risk for developing breast cancer than those who had never taken HBC.* Additionally, the risk became greater the longer a person took hormonal birth control. As someone who has a family risk of breast cancer, knowing this information was important to me. If you would like to learn more, the National Cancer Institute has more information about the research that has been conducted on associations between hormonal birth control and cancer.
*Can we talk about research for a minute? Women are an under researched population. This means the research we have about women isn’t as robust or thorough as one would want when using it to make educated decisions. The above mentioned study was great for several reasons: it followed a population for a longer period of time (about 11 years) and had a very large cohort (1.8 million participants). However, the researchers were unable to control for other factors that can effect risk for breast cancer like breastfeeding, alcohol consumption, and physical activity.
Shift in my overall health journey
Last year I really started to take into account the way I was treating my body and how the decisions I make effect my overall health. I’ve always been health conscious and relatively healthy but have more recently made and stuck with some bigger changes like cutting back on alcohol, exercising more, and eating better. Going off of HBC fell in line with the other changes I was making and I felt ready, overall, to be able to support myself and stay committed as I stopped taking the pill.