I went off birth controls for the first time in a decade, and here's what happened
Last month, I made a somewhat drastic decision about my body that was motivated primarily by laziness. I didn’t have any more refills for my birth control pill, and I was like, “Ehhhhhhh. Don’t wanna deal. Can’t deal. Won’t deal.” After so many years of inconvenient trips to the pharmacy and calls to my doctor, this was, apparently, the last straw. Plus, for the past year or so, I’d been having a very regular internal dialogue about whether or not to stay on the pill. I’m sure a lot of you know what I’m talking about: Should I stop taking it? I’ll keep taking it. But is it bad to still be on it? I’ll just keep taking it. But should I stop though?
My apathy led me to the conclusion I’d been slowly edging toward: I wanted to see what would happen when I stopped taking the pill. I’ve been taking these little guys for 10 years. Ten years is a long time! Flash back with me, if you will, to the charming year of 2005. It’s my sophomore year of high school. I am wearing a nightmare ensemble featuring a peasant shirt and bright green high top Converse, probably. I am 15, and I have a boyfriend (with a red mohawk) but haven’t had sex yet.
My doctor put me on the pill because I was:
A) Really skinny
B) Not getting my period regularly (which was a result of A, she thought),
C) Rocking some seriously angry acne on my face and body.
When my period would show up every six months or so, it was extremely rude and soul-crushing. It was absurd amounts of blood and horrendous cramps. It lasted much longer than a week and made me dread going to school. The whole idea was that birth control was going to fix all this stuff.
And it did! It worked great. I was one of the lucky ones who never needed to switch brands because everything became very normal and stayed that way from the get-go.
Over time it soothed my acne, gave me regular periods, helped me gain weight (read: boobs finally), and also—major bonus—helped me to not become pregnant once I started having sex. Birth control pills were my friends. Until they weren’t.
We’re back in present day, I just want to binge-watch all the Broad City episodes I’ve missed instead of putting on real pants and going to CVS, and I’m going hormone-free baby!
Step one was calling up my doctor’s office, just to give the nurse a heads up that I’m doing this thing and make sure there wasn’t any crucial information I should know. The nurse said, “Cool. Also, do not forget to use condoms.”
Condoms aren’t that much of a nuisance to me and I think they are just fine. My boyfriend feels the same, so that aspect of this choice was filed under No Big Deal.
Step two was googling. I googled “what to expect when you go off the pill” and many permutations thereof. It was calming and helpful to pore through the comments sections of different articles and read about different women’s experiences.
I started to think of the next four weeks as a tiny personal science experiment, and became really amped up about learning more about my body. Because, again, for basically as long as I’ve been a sexual being, I’ve been on birth control. What’s gonna happen, you know?
For the most part, Week One was uneventful, with one very notable and fantastic exception. Within a couple days, my libido came back in full force. It had been on hiatus for a while, apparently.
In retrospect, the libido-sucking aspect of the pill happened in slow motion, to the point that I hadn’t even really noticed it was missing or that anything was different, which is kind of horrifying. I chalked up any relative lack of desire to being older and having been in a relationship for four years. However, once I stopped taking the pills, I was starting to actively crave sex with much more frequency. Awesome!
Happy to have this crucial part of my humanity back in action, I continued on to Week Two.
Exactly one week after going off the pills, I had terrible, terrible cramps late that night into early that morning. Popped two Ibuprofen from my angel roommate, headed out the door and felt fine throughout the day. But the cramps felt suspiciously just like my PMS cramps I’d get the week/few days leading up to my period.
I used the Internet and found out about Mittelschmerz—that’s the name for cramps that come in the middle of your cycle, about 14 days before your period. Could have been that? But early? Because my body was confused? Could it have been the past-its-prime onion I put in my chili? Who can say? Not me, I got a C in high school biology. Just self-reporting.
During this week, I over-analyzed every tiny thing that happened in the realm of my body and mind that was even slightly different than normal and attributed it to going off the pill. Here’s that list:
- I’m peeing more often and having to pee right after having peed. It’s the no birth control thing!
- I had anxiety one morning. Definitely because I stopped the pill!
- I had trouble falling asleep one night. Lack of pill!
- I just felt a little bit warm for no reason. Hot flashes because no more birth control!
I’m pretty sure none of the above had anything to do with my pill-less lifestyle, but then again, who knows.
This was the worst week, because, ugh, my acne came back. I am feeling very clenched-teeth emoji about this.
For the past few years, my skin has been really clear and nice and I just wash it with water and we get along great. So when I started noticing more and more pimples pop up on my chin and around my hairline, I was not pleased. I’m even noticing it on my back and chest, which is officially Not Cool.
I didn’t think I’d care this much about the acne returning—I had read that it was a common symptom, but didn’t freak out about it. Once it started happening, though, I felt betrayed by my body.
I made this note at the beginning of the week: It’s like the calm before the storm over here…nothing is really happening. I, uh, got two new pimples on my forehead that are small? But otherwise, I feel really balanced and haven’t felt any different physically.
And at the end of the week, on Saturday, I got my period! I really didn’t think that was going to happen. And, what’s more, it was a normal period in most senses. I actually had fewer cramps, and it was lighter and shorter than usual. Amazing.
I dodged the going-off-birth-control bullet of going right back to whatever put you on the pill in the first place (in my case: hell periods that took their sweet time). I’m not sure what will happen this coming month, but I was very pleasantly surprised that I had a fully average period my first month off the pill.
So, here’s where I’m at: I’ve got one major pro, which is my sex drive’s rise from the dead, and one major con, which is my newfound acne woes. And, as much as I can certainly tolerate a condom every now and again, I’m not sure how sustainable they are as a long term birth control method.
Plus, I’m interested in trying something that doesn’t require a daily task. And so, drumroll please, I’m going to go ahead and play hormonal birth control roulette and get an IUD. With any luck, the pimples will retreat, but the libido will hang out.
Ultimately, I loved having a reason to really listen and tune into my body. It was exciting to see how this daily pill had been changing me and find out how my body functions without it.
Also, P.S. I’m really fired up about some insurance companies still not paying for birth control years after the Affordable Care Act was passed. If you are too, you can sign Planned Parenthood’s petition here.
This article originally appeared on XOJane by Daisy Schmitt.