I took the birth control pill for over 10 years, starting when I was 17. I went on the pill, like so many women, because I had irregular and often unmanageable periods. I wasn’t told why I needed the pill – just that the pill would help.
And it did, for 10 years. It probably still would be, if I hadn’t gone off it last year. But after reading and listening to bloggers and podcasters who pointed out the problems with the pill (from both a physical and a spiritual perspective), this former birth control apologist did a pretty sharp 180.
I started hearing more about NFP (natural family planning) and its newer methods (i.e., not relying on a regular 28-day cycle when, in fact, most women don’t have a regular 28-day cycle), which (or so the bloggers and podcasters claimed) were much more effective in understanding your health and planning or avoiding pregnancy.
While neither planning nor avoiding pregnancy is on my radar right now, I did want to understand my health better. Why would I need to take birth control to manage my hormones? Shouldn’t I understand why my hormones were misbehaving in the first place? Shouldn’t I know if there was something off?
The answer, I now fervently believe, is yes. After all, if we have frequent headaches, stomachaches or coughs, we don’t ignore them. We go to the doctor, find out why and (hopefully) get treated. So why, when it comes to our reproductive health, are we given a band-aid and sent on our way?
I’ll save my hypotheses on that one for a later blog post. After a little bit of internet research, I decided the Creighton Method made the most sense for me, due to its focus on managing health in addition to fertility and its connection to NaPro Technology, which I figured I’d probably need at some point. I contacted a Creighton practitioner and started meeting with her to learn how to chart my cycle.
I was a bad student at first, but once I got the hang of it and became more consistent in my charting, it was fairly straightforward, and a pattern started to emerge once my body got off the lasting effects of the pill. Based on that pattern, my practitioner sent me to a NaPro gynecologist, who decided to investigate the possibility of my having poly-cystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
PCOS is caused by a hormonal imbalance that creates problems in the ovaries, including cysts (hence the name). There’s a variety of resulting symptoms. For me, they include a long cycle, hypoglycemia and other issues. It might even play a role in my social anxiety.
Many women with PCOS are automatically put on the pill. I am not a medical professional, so I can’t say that that’s not an appropriate treatment option. However, I wanted treatment that would avoid the pill; while I’m not married now, I want to learn how to manage my PCOS without the pill for if and when that day comes. I also don’t want to take a generic concoction of hormones, some or most of which I don’t necessarily need.
My gynecologist works at an NFP practice that does not prescribe birth control, so she is working with me on other ways to manage my symptoms, which include changing my diet and taking a supplement. (Continuing to chart with the Creighton method also helps understand my seemingly irregular periods.)
Going off the pill for the first time since I was a teenager meant having to learn my own body all over again – or, indeed, for the first time as an adult. There was moodiness, and there was cramping, and there was confusion (wait, what does this type of mucus mean?). But overall, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected it to be. And now I know what causes my weird periods, and I have a plan to manage them. What’s more, the anti-inflammatory diet I’ve started (no dairy, no gluten, no processed sugar … no fun) might help my fibromyalgia as well.
The understanding I developed last year about women’s health – and, perhaps more importantly, my health – is invaluable. The phrase “education is power” is a cliche for a reason. As trite as it sounds, it really is good to feel empowered in my health and well-being.
(Now, if only I can get myself on a good exercise routine…)