By Valentine Lacour
It’s January! And as everybody is listing their New Year’s resolutions, I’m thinking about the best thing I have done for myself over the past 12 months.
While I am not an adherent of the “New Year, New Me” philosophy, I do think it is important to make well-being and self-love a priority in 2021. Keeping this in mind, I want to share with you the most important resolution I made last year: Stopping the contraceptive pill, ditching synthetic hormones, and claiming my body back!
A Journey Through Ditching Synthetic Hormones: The Pill
About a year ago, I decided to say a definitive Adieu to artificial hormones and stopped taking my oral contraceptive (OC). After almost two years of reading everything I could find on the topic and wondering if I could manage to live a normal life (or have a normal relationship) without the pill, I took my last tablet in November 2019 and swore in January 2020 to never take another.
Before jumping to conclusions, let me make one thing clear: NO, I was not trying to get pregnant (I’m still not).
My personal ambition behind the decision to “ditch the pill” was to take back ownership of my body. Yes, ownership. The word is strong, but so was the harm. Let me explain.
The Popularity of the Contraceptive Pill
According to a 2019 study, the pill is the most popular contraceptive in use in the UK. In 2019 in England, nine in ten women seeking contraception were prescribed the pill. Yet, as indicated in the study, many women are not given enough advice on their contraceptive options.
Like many young women, my first appointment at the gynecologist happened around the time I started being sexually active. I was put straight on the pill, and – despite being perfectly healthy – I didn’t really question the decision until my 20s. After all, my friends and older sisters were all on it. It felt like the normal thing to do. I experienced some side effects, but nothing alarming.
Like most girls, I was told that unless I was experiencing major pain (which I wasn’t) it was “NORMAL”. And “normal” is reassuring, right?
After nearly seven years of “religiously” taking my contraceptive, EVERY SINGLE DAY at 9 pm (minus the times I forgot it, lost it, or was too sick or too drunk to remember it), I decided to stop. It felt wrong not knowing how my “natural” body (and mind) functioned without artificial hormones being injected into my system daily.
Hold on. I hear you saying, “Ok, it’s not great to take hormones every day, but what other choice do I have?” I understand. As women, our contraceptive options are not great, and are not always available. But that is why it is important to raise the issue.
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A Brief History of the Pill
The contraceptive pill was developed back in the 1950s by American scientists. The pill was made widely available to the public in the 60s, in the context of the sexual revolution. It was the promise of BODY INDEPENDENCE and FREEDOM for women. It meant that having sex wasn’t associated with “potential motherhood” anymore. And it was huge. I am not contesting that the pill was a major step in the history of women’s rights and ultimately, feminism. To the contrary, I praise it!
However, 60 years later, we have not made much progress. Most of us know the different “generations” of pills, which vary relatively little from one another, offering different hormones cocktails. And it’s true that most experts recognise that the latest generation of pills is less harmful to women and with fewer side effects.
But my question is, is “less harmful” good enough? … Not for me.
When it comes to our bodies, our health, our lives, it’s necessary to assess the risks we are taking and ask ourselves if they are worth it. For me, after my two years of research, questioning, and doubts, I decided the pill no longer cut the mustard.
When raising this issue with other women, I realised that many of us have similar questions when it comes to the pill. Things like: “Have my moods always been changing?”; “Is it the pill or just my personality?”; “Have I always been this size?”; “How long are my periods really? (As you may know, contraceptive pills give you “artificial” periods, since the ovaries don’t release eggs anymore); and “Will my body go back to normal (remember, normal is reassuring) after SO many years, taking OC?”; or even “If I ever want to get pregnant, will my body know how to function normally again?”
Side Effects Of Stopping The Contraceptive Pill
Just as the pill can have some side effects, stopping it can mess with your hormones, bringing new problems. Although some women won’t notice any changes, a majority of women go through an “adaptation period”. Basically, if you have taken the pill for a long time, your body got used to the synthetic hormones and it needs time to adapt.
For this reason, make sure to contact a range of professionals you trust and feel comfortable with to guide you. It can be your GP, gynecologist, naturopath, or therapist if you decide to focus on your mental health. Don’t hesitate to see different specialists to collect different opinions. And read online about other women’s experiences; it’s always reassuring to see that you are not alone!
What To Expect If You Stop Taking Your Contraceptive Pill
According to specialists and the experience of real women, some common negative side effects of stopping the pill include acne and greasy hair caused by an excess of sebum, sweat, and increased hairiness or hair loss. Some people develop body aches or rashes on the skin. Some women have experienced longer or shorter periods, stronger period pain, as well as breast tenderness. But your experience may be different. It can be difficult to know exactly which symptoms are linked to your hormones and which aren’t. That is why the testimony of women who withdraw from using the pill is so important.
The OC works in two ways. On the one side, it introduces synthetic hormones to your body and on the other, it suppresses peaks of certain hormones already present in your body (estrogens) to avoid ovulation. It may be that the longer your hormones were controlled by the pill, the longer you will have to deal with the side effects of them returning to their original levels. But it’s not an exact science.
Keep in mind that, although these side effects are not glamourous, they won’t last forever!
It’s 2021, Time To Take Your Body Back Baby!
On the bright side, this journey will help you know yourself better.
I honestly feel so positive about this experience because it has allowed me to re-discover myself, my body, and my personality (as weird as it may sound!). Once the effects of artificial hormones had left my body, I finally started to feel like myself again. My hair became curlier. My eyes, lighter. I lost some weight. My libido increased, and I felt more energized, healthier, and happier.
I’m not going to lie and say it was/is a perfect journey. There are still days where I wake up with skin breakouts, or a painful period and wish it was different, for sure. But I cannot say I regret stopping the pill.
Because I don’t know your personal situation and medical record, I can’t actively encourage you to stop taking synthetic hormones (maybe you are taking some to overcome a condition such as endometriosis). But I strongly encourage you to question, investigate, and speak up about your contraception.
A Wish For The New Year
In 2021, women shouldn’t feel pressured to start a family. They should be able to talk openly about the pill and the other forms of contraception that are available. Ladies, if you are in a trustful relationship, please do engage in a conversation about contraception with your partner (whatever their gender, but particularly if they are men).
Men need to be held accountable for contraception, just as much as women are.
From a young age, girls are educated on contraception and the consequences of unwanted pregnancies. I remember being about 11 the first time I heard about contraceptive pills, abortion, and how much of a nightmare it all sounded. I thought I would never have sex. That way I would never have to put my body through the ordeal (not the best solution, I now concede).
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Especially when they are involved in long-term relationships. I wish that girls don’t have to feel guilty and unsupported when they fear an unwanted pregnancy at 16 or 17. I wish that they don’t feel lonely when their pharmacist tells them that the price of the pill has increased by 15% over the summer (in many countries, you pay), or when their body is sore because their pill is too strong (or not enough).
Men need to step up and get involved in the process. Many accessible contraceptives exist both for men and women. They are all listed on the NHS website and you need to get informed. Also, new non-hormonal male contraceptives are currently being developed. Women cannot keep assuming this burden on their own. It’s unfair.
Ladies, it’s time to speak up for yourself!
Gentlemen, we count on you!
Shop now my selection of books about hormones and contraceptives to help your research:
Happy New Year!
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