(Image taken from unsplash.com by Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition)
In this month’s post, I thought I would share my contraceptive journey and what it’s been like so far being off of birth control. Honestly, it has been a time of introspection, to say the least. This time has allowed me the space to reflect on my values and priorities. I’ve also spent some time thinking about the things I missed out on that I wished someone had warned me about. My goal in closing my birth control chapter and beginning a new contraceptive expedition was driven by my desire to become the master of my own body (slow clap…).
Although I see the advantages birth control has had and continues to have in many people’s lives, there is another side to this coin. One thing that made me reconsider this option is that the research and administration of oral contraception (better known as “the pill”) has a controversial and turbulent history. On the one hand, it has allowed vulva-owners, from many parts of the world, to have reproductive autonomy. On the other, it has resulted in many not-so-fun and potentially harmful clinical trials and studies that took place back in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Up to this point, there does not seem to be a consensus on the long-term impacts of the pill. Personally, it has been difficult for me to feel confident in any decision I make involving contraceptives, given that many are still very new to the market. Not to mention the oh-so-many contradictory opinions and perspectives on this topic. To differentiate my perspective from others, it was important for me to pause and check in with myself. I felt that only then would I be able to make the best choices that suit my needs and ultimately align with my values.
The Journey to Taking Back Agency Over My Body
From the moment I started taking birth control via the pill, there has been this overwhelming presence of fear and straight-up urgency that ultimately allowed for spur-of-the-moment decisions rather than rational and informed ones. I started having sex when I was 15 years old with my17-year-old boyfriend. I won’t get into details of that, but what I do want to emphasize is how making these kinds of decisions without proper education and guidance can have lasting impacts when one feels they did not consent to begin with. Sex was not a popular topic in my household (as I am sure many of you can relate to), but I did know that the right thing for me to do at the time was to let my mom know what was going on. This is how it went down: Me: “Hey, mom… Me and (he who will not be named), started having sex recently.” My mom (with wide eyes): “I will make an appointment to see a doctor, and you will need to get on the pill because there’s no way in hell you are getting pregnant at 15.” And that was kind of it. I didn’t question things further. Instead, I just agreed that it was what needed to be done. Believe me, the pill sounded like a good route to take at the time because a lot of my friends were already on it, and I could no longer justify taking Plan B in a panic. The regular menstrual cycle was also a huge selling factor. As an adult, I look back and wish there was more of a conversation between my mom and I, but I can also understand where her panicked response came from. After all, she had experienced the teen mom struggle herself and most likely did not wish that upon her own daughter.
This same sense of urgency crept back up when I decided that I didn’t want the pill to be my contraceptive of choice. Before I get into the reason I felt this way, I want to make it clear that this is my opinion. Scientific evidence on this topic has stated that long-term use of birth control is safe. However, evidence on resumption of fertility after birth control use is inconclusive and remains a big concern for many women, such as myself. I’ve heard stories about health risks and possible infertility issues I could face at some point in my life because of the pill. I was never too keen on the idea of having kids, but I wanted to have the choice regardless, in case I changed my mind. I was also hearing about new birth control methods that sounded like a lot less hassle. Following consultation with my doctor and a quick Google search, I decided to take the trendy IUD route. After reviewing my medical history, my doctor also concluded that an IUD would be a suitable option for me.
Next, I got the IUD inserted. OUCH. The whole experience was traumatizing. And I am not minimizing trauma by saying that. It was genuinely upsetting to the point where I stopped all sexual activity for an entire month. Even just the thought of something going near my vagina made me cringe. Quite frankly, my whole IUD experience was pretty crappy. At times I spotted for about 20 days out of the month and had excruciating abdominal pain. My doctor was unable to explain why this might be happening to me, and I eventually got tired of medical appointments leading to dead ends. So, I sucked it up for three whole years.
After the three--year mark, I was ready to get this sucker out. I had convinced myself that I NEEDED to jump to another birth control method. On to the next! I felt that anything other than the pill and the IUD would be an upgrade. This time, I did a lot more research than I had done in the past. I was really keen for the implant that would be sneakily slipped under the skin of my upper arm. But, at the last minute (and I mean hours before my IUD removal appointment), I decided I wouldn’t get any birth control until further notice. At that point, I made a promise to myself that I would not repeat the same mistakes that came from fear and anxiety. It felt empowering to explain to the nurse that I would not be needing her to prescribe any birth control until I was 100% certain of my decision. To my surprise, the nurse was very puzzled and disagreed with my choice. I brushed it off because that was simply not my problem. The next thing I knew, the IUD was removed, and I felt instant relief and freedom. So much so that I left the clinic happy dancing down the street.
(image taken from unsplash.com by Billie Body Brand)
My Body is a Like a Book
Just recently, I fully experienced my natural cycle. I had no idea what it would be like being off birth control, but I was excited to find out. I was ready to make a connection with my body that I had never made before. Just like a good book, I was finally ready to read it from cover to cover. I feel that my body has so much to teach me if only I pay attention. For instance, I learned that my cervical mucus could give me information on whether or not I am fertile depending on the texture and consistency of the fluid. Now I know to use a condom(when I am having hetero-sex) while my cervical fluid is stretchy and slippery. This mucus can also alert me if I am getting an infection with its particular colour, smell and consistency.
The colour of my menstrual blood is also a very important piece of information I can use to help guide me in making the best-tailored health decisions. For example, the MyFLO app gives me several reasons why my blood is a brownish colour on the first day of my period. The app also gives me various tips to help my body make more progesterone, such as eating chickpeas and sunflower seeds, or getting a massage to improve blood flow.
With the help of science and all the great resources that make the information accessible, I can effectively pick up on the clues that appear and tweak what needs to be adjusted. My next step is to find a gynecologist, which will be the cherry on top of my new and improved birth control journey.
I Never Thought I’d be Happy Getting My Period (Back)
Getting my period for the first time since getting off birth control felt like a huge release. It had been three years of dealing with my IUD since I had experienced a normal period. Funny enough, I was actually excited to dust off my menstrual cup (don’t worry, I cleaned it first!) and started using it. I find it fascinating to see what comes out at different points in my cycle. I have truly embraced the process and genuinely enjoy the little things now. Although I am not opposed to creating my own menstrual rituals, I can’t say I am at the point where I am making period blood art or using my blood to water my garden, but who knows? It could be fun!
(Image taken from unsplash.com by Billie Body Brand)
No More One-Night Stands and Meaningless Sex
Since I no longer have personal protection from pregnancy, as I was so previously accustomed to, it has been a challenge adapting to this new way of life. I am having to ask myself what I want, what I am capable of, and make deliberate choices accordingly. This has forced me to check in with myself much more and to practice communicating with my partners. The fact that I am off of birth control is always communicated with possible companions beforehand, as well as the decision for condom or no-condom depending on where I am in my cycle, and our STI statuses. If I ever encounter someone who is uncomfortable with these kinds of conversations, I immediately know that they are not a person I should be sexually involved with. It's a great way to know and to weed out people that have not reached the maturity that is required to practice conscious love-making. Personally, conscious love-making, dirty or not, is a non-negotiable for me.
Self-Care Rituals Have Never Been So Crucial
I’m sure my body still has some hormonal adjusting to do, but presently I am utterly experiencing every single phase of my natural cycle like never before. Y’all, PMS is so real!!! My pre-menstrual symptoms are more evident now being off birth control and I won’t lie, it has been one hell of a ride. The ebb and flow of my cycle has forced me to make self-care and self-love a priority for my well-being. Depending on where I’m at in my cycle, different rituals are helpful in self-soothing some of these strange, new, and overwhelming symptoms. What has been helpful is tracking my cycle, as well as tracking what I did or didn’t do, which is allowing me to either go back and repeat or try something new entirely. It’s a lot of trial and error but I finally feel like I am getting to know myself on a whole new level. During the luteal phase (after ovulation and before my period starts), I know that I can become extremely and erratically sensitive to just about anything. Knowing this now, I will create a space during this stage where I can feel safe to feel all these intense emotions. During this time, I practice self-compassion and patience and truly honour where I am at in my cycle. If I feel like I want to feel pity for myself and cry endless baby tears, then this is what I’ll be doing. I’ve found that meeting myself where I am at, rather than resisting and trying to control, makes the whole experience a lot less painful and scary. So, take that Epsom salt bubble bath and cry your little heart out, because maybe that is exactly what you need at that moment!