Some call it the magical pill. Others think it is one of the best inventions of western medicine. Yep, I’m talking about birth control. That little pack of pills that approximately 11 MILLION women in the U.S. alone take every single day. I, like many of these women, didn’t know much about the pill when I went on it. The doctor told me about all the ‘magical’ benefits it provided and I believed every bit of it. So why four years later have I decided to ditch the pill?
*I am not a medical professional. This is simply my story about how and why I quit hormonal birth control.
Before I share my story, I feel it’s important to look into the history of birth control here in the United States. About 60 years ago, in 1960, the first oral contraceptive was approved by the FDA. Yet just five years later the Supreme Court only granted married couples the right to use birth control. This meant millions of unmarried women were denied the right to the pill. In 1970 women challenged the safety of oral contraceptives at a Congressional hearing which resulted in the formulation being changed. Two years later the Supreme Court legalized birth control for all women, regardless of marital status. It wasn’t until the early 2000s that there was rapid expansion in the availability of the pill while improvements in effectiveness and safety were made. Today hormonal contraceptive is available in numerous ways; whether it be the pill, an IUD, a hormonal patch, a vaginal ring, or an implant. As a young woman in her twenties birth control is the norm amongst friends whether or not they are sexually active. It’s hard to believe that it was relatively unheard of when our mothers were our age.
I was never someone who had a ‘regular’ cycle. In high school I would flux between having my period every two weeks to not having it for a few months. When I did have my period it was heavy, to the point that my doctor was concerned at how much blood I was losing. During the summer before my sophomore year of college I went to the doctor to discuss my options. Without even discussing my other options my doctor prescribed me the pill and told me that it would solve all of my period related issues. I was 19 at the time and was unaware of any other options. And while the pill does control when you have your ‘period’, I was never once told about the extremely long list of risks that came along with it; increased risk of certain types of cancer (breast, cervical, liver), cardiovascular side effects (such as heart attack, stroke, blood clots), hormonal imbalance, and infertility. This is NOT well-known knowledge. It may be listed on the instructions that comes with each month of pills…but I am yet to know a woman who reads all of them. When I went on the pill my doctor never ONCE told me about all these risks and I was never told that there was a non-hormonal form of contraceptive.
For two years I was on a low dose of hormonal birth control. And while my ‘periods’ were synced up with the pill, I started to become more aware of what I was putting in my body. It seemed everybody was concerned with not getting meat or dairy with added hormones, yet everyday millions of women were intentionally ingesting hormones through their form of contraceptive. Then I realized, I had absolutely no idea how the pill even worked or what it was doing to my body.
A simple search told me that most birth control pills are a combination of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. This combo prevents ovulation, meaning an egg is not released each month. Without the pill, each month a woman’s natural hormones signal the release of an egg. If the egg doesn’t become fertilized, then the lining of the uterus is shed and you have your period. When you take the pill there is usually three weeks of hormonal pills and one week of placebo/sugar pills. These placebo pills allow for a withdrawal from the hormones and you have a “withdrawal bleeding”. This bleeding is NOT your period. It simply mimics having a period despite there being no need to have one when you are on birth control.
To some women this might sound totally fine and dandy. But to me, something about this didn’t seem right. It felt unnatural and foreign. Here I was, thinking I’d had my period for the past two years when in reality it was just a pill of hormones tricking my body to bleed a little at the end of each month.
The more I looked into hormonal birth control the more freaked out I was. This pill had only been widely used for the past 30 years, meaning there is little to no research done about the long-term effects. Meanwhile I was still having a heavy ‘period’, menstrual cramps, and mood swings. Needless to say, I was frustrated. Yet the pill had become a part of my routine. I was used to being able to control when I bleed and being able to override it if I didn’t want it to come at an inconvenient time. For every research study I found claiming “the pill solves all your problems, is completing safe, blah blah blah” I saw that it was funded by manufactures of hormonal birth control. Shocker they didn't discuss the long list of risks they put in tiny print on every pack of pills they produce.
As I began to research hormone free options I discovered Daysy, “a fertility tracker that uses the fertility awareness method (FAM) by learning and tracking your menstrual cycle”. When most people hear about FAM they think “good luck tracking your cycle. If you’re sexually active you will get pregnant”. Most hormonal forms of birth control are 99.6% effective, Daysy is 99.4% effective. For those unfamiliar with FAM, it involves tracking your cycles, taking your temperature, and tracking your cervical fluid. Daysy acts as the middle (wo)man and does all of this for you. Each morning when I wake up, before I get out of bed, I use Daysy to take me temperature under my tongue. After about 30 seconds she beeps and displays either a green light (I’m not fertile), red light (I am fertile), or a yellow light (Daysy is still learning your cycle). If Daysy suspects you are about to start your period, she flashes a purple light and you can confirm menstruation on days you are bleeding. It takes Daysy approximately three months to learn your cycle, thus you may get a lot of yellow lights for the first 90 days. (Check out Daysy’s website linked below for loads of information on how it works, the scientific research, as well as answers to practically every question you have).
When I heard about this device I was immediately interested. However, before I made the switch I wanted to consult my doctor. He told me that he had many patients who used Daysy as a form of birth control but said we would feel more comfortable referring me to an OBGYN. I walked into the office of my OBGYN, told her my entire period story (I know super fun), and asked her about Daysy. Yet her response was NOT what I expected. I mean here I am meeting with a fellow female, living in a pretty progressive town, and all she did was tell me about how the pill was the solution to all my problems and the only viable option. In fact, she told me that the best thing to do was to get a HIGHER dose of hormones. In that moment I felt small, undervalued, and out of control. For the first time in a doctor’s office I felt like someone else was deciding what I could and couldn’t do. I have the utmost respect for medical professionals and I genuinely think that the OBGYN I met with, to the best of her knowledge, thought the pill was great. I smiled at what she had to say, walked out of the office and had one thought on my mind; MY BODY, MY CHOICE.
After four years of being on the pill I am happy to say that I have ditched it, and never plan on taking it again. Daysy is truly a life saver, whether or not you are sexually active. There is something truly empowering about knowing your natural cycle, being in tune with your body, oh and NOT ingesting hormones every day that affect so much of your body. Daysy can be a bit pricey (at just over $300) but I guarantee you it is worthy absolutely every penny. I plan on using Daysy for many years to come, and someday, far far into the future, if I am ready to have children, Daysy can help me figure out when I am fertile aka when I should try and conceive.
There are plenty of women out there, who also might be reading this, that have had a wonderful time using hormonal birth control or simply don’t mind the thought of taking hormones each day. I’m here to say that’s okay, the choice is entirely up to you! I personally did not want to knowingly ingest hormones and wanted to share my experience in hope of showing others that there are in fact safe, hormone free, reliable options out there.
To ALL you ladies who are reading this, what you do with your body is YOUR choice, and yours alone. If you happen to be sexually active, going off the pill is a discussion to have with your partner. However, at the end of the day if you want to get off the pill and use Daysy or chart your own cycle then you can. We have been taught that we can’t effectively chart or know our own cycle and that hormones are the ONLY way to regulate your period or prevent pregnancy, but this just isn’t true. Do your research, talk to doctors (preferably one who doesn’t discredit your opinion) and know that the choice is yours and yours alone.
The pill: how it works and dangers of taking it
Taking Charge of Your Fertility