Thinking of ditching your hormonal birth control? Maybe you’re trying for a family or are simply tired of negative side effects. Regardless, there’s something you should know before you begin your hormone-free journey. What am I talking about? Withdrawals.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. But I am a lady who has gone through seven months of hormone withdrawal symptoms, had countless doctor’s visits and spent hours researching.
Before I start tearing into hormonal birth control, I’d like to give it some props. Props for preventing unwanted pregnancies, regulating menstrual cycles, alleviating PMS symptoms, treating endometriosis, controlling ovarian cysts, clearing acne, reducing the risks of certain cancers and treating PMDD. In short: thank you birth control. Dear doctors who never once informed me about withdrawals, and there have been many: fuck you. You are failing at your job.
In order to break this down properly I’ll need to fill you in on my hormonal birth control history. I started hormonal birth control at age 13 and continuously used it until 23. It worked wonderfully for me, never having a pregnancy scare and zero side effects. When I married my soul mate this past spring, I decided to ditch the pill and start trying for a bushy-haired Native baby. I had no idea what lay ahead in the months to come.
From what I’ve gathered, there are four different levels of withdrawals. Slightly dependent upon the amount of time one has taken hormonal birth control (the longer on, the worse the symptoms), but not completely dependent as there are exceptions. No symptoms, mild symptoms lasting a few weeks, moderate symptoms lasting a few months, severe symptoms lasting six months to a year.
Me? I fall into the last category.
Again, before I begin bashing birth control, or rather the doctors who didn’t do their job properly, I’ll start by telling you all the wonderful things that happened once I kicked the pill.
A month after quitting the pill I noticed many positive changes. My hair was shinier and thicker than ever (doctors fail to tell us hormonal birth control severely depletes your nutrient levels). My nails! Oh my nails! I had gone my entire life thinking I had brittle nails. Turns out, I was just nutrient deficient. I had more energy than ever before, my joints were cracking less, and multiple back-to-back orgasms became a reality!
Sadly, it wasn’t all mind-blowing orgasms and long nails…
A month sans pill also meant a lot of withdrawal symptoms rearing their ugly heads. First came hair loss, which thankfully didn’t last long and returned to its beautiful, thick state shortly. Followed by acne – pre-pill I got maybe a pimple per year, so the fact that I had to battle many more so suddenly took its toll. Next came nausea. Oh, the nausea. I’ve thrown up enough for two lifetimes in seven months. Then vertigo, that first happened while I was driving – FREAKY. Now for the heavy stuff, mood swings and depression.
Mood swings – I’d cry over my husband cleaning… for hours. There were days when I’d cry for eight hours straight. On the flip side of that, there were also days where I wouldn’t leave the house because I was certain I would punch an innocent bystander.
After all those symptoms piled on, one after the other, and depression set in. I have no personal or family history of depression, but when everything about you changes in the blink of an eye, you tend to have trouble coping. Amid all the other crap (there really is no better word) going on, I found myself suddenly unable to get out of bed, losing hope in everything and contemplating suicide often. If it wasn’t for my husband who left work mid-day and stayed home on multiple occasions to hold me, I’m not sure if I’d be here today.
I tell you this because doctors clearly won’t. They don’t tell you about these symptoms, they don’t tell you it can take a year (or more) at times to resume ovulation – annoying if you’re trying to conceive. They don’t tell you you’ll need to take a hand full of supplements everyday for a long while to bring your nutrient levels back up, and they certainly never once warned me (you) about the toll it can take on your mental health. Why? I don’t pretend to know and I would love to hear from healthcare professionals on why certain information is being omitted.
Now, ten months later I’m on the mend with little-to-no withdrawal symptoms left. Life is wonderful and I’m deeply thankful to still be here.
Do your research. Let others know what to expect before they go on or come off hormonal birth control.
Patty Stonefish (Lakota, Mexica, and German descent from North Dakota) is a veterinary tech turned Jill of All Trades located in Fargo, ND. She is the founder and head instructor at Arming Sisters, an organization utilizing women’s self defense as a tool to bring about empowerment, self love, and ownership of body to indigenous women across the US and Canada. You can check out the organization at armingsisters.org, and connect with her on Twitter @SiouxweetNSauer.