In my last post, I talked about how my body reacted to the pill and the Depo shot. This post will share my experience of getting off the Depo shot and how I reacted to the pill a second time – and my plan for restoring my body to a natural state without birth control altogether.
I freaked out when I decided to get off the Depo. I decided this about a week after a shot, so luckily I had a few months to plan it out, but I knew my options for other birth control were slim. I made a chart of every possible birth control method, the pros and cons, and whether they would interfere with migraines. It was pretty fucking scary. Besides information on the combination pill and the Depo, I found the following:
- Patch and Nuva ring both contain estrogen and are unsuitable for people that experience migraines with auras. Both out for me.
- IUD? We talked about this. Metallic junk shoved up the vagina that might cause heavy cramping and bleeding (no thanks, I already experience this), is quite expensive, and you have to check once a month to make sure the string is still dangling somewhere around your cervix because your monthly flow might flush it out. I could see myself getting paranoid and checking every day. If it does come out, you have to pay for a new one and a new installation. On top of that, there have been cases of this thing getting stuck on, and ripping, internal organs. Um.
- Implant: The effects on the body and chemical makeup are similar to the Depo. I saw pain during sex, loss of sex drive, depression, and weight gain when I looked up side effects. It would essentially be like surgically planting a slow-release Depo shot in your arm, except if you’re experiencing side effects and want to discontinue it, you’re out $800 plus about a $300 removal fee. Yikes.
- Barrier methods (condoms, diaphragm, etc.): While I was on the Depo shot, I developed a huge aversion to condoms and anything unnatural getting up in my business because it was painful. And believe me, I tried everything from latex to polyurethane to every lube on the market. It all burned. While perhaps it would have worked for me once I was off the shot, I found that barrier methods were difficult to rely on in a committed relationship. Just my preference.
- The only other method left was the mini-pill, or progestin-only pill. It would be safe for migraines because it does not contain estrogen, but being a progestin-type birth control, it would also produce similar side effects to the Depo shot and it would not regulate or reduce my period. But I seriously considered this for awhile.
So there you have it. After doing this research, I was honestly quite pissed at humanity that we have not come up with a birth control method that really works for everybody without producing horrific side effects. I was also kind of pissed that women have to deal with this and men don’t. Male birth control, anyone? I know, they’e working on it. But it should be a priority.
Finally, my therapist mentioned that she is a smoker and is also on the combination pill, so I should be able to get on it too with migraines (the pill increases the risk of stroke for both categories). “How is that possible?” I asked.
She told me about a brand of pill that uses the smallest amount of estrogen possible – low enough to be safe for smokers and migraine sufferers to take without a huge risk. I had my doubts about this, mostly because I was pretty sure I had been on a very low dosage before – but I went with it. The pill had always been my answer. I went to the gyno and got my prescription. I took my first pill during the last week of what the shot was supposed to cover.
And then I waited. Coming off the Depo, I wasn’t sure what to expect.
“Your sex drive is going to go through the roof!” my therapist warned me.
“Watch out for mood swings,” said the gyno.
After about two weeks, life began to suck. Hard. I was so nauseous from the pill (which I took at night) that I could no longer eat breakfast in the morning; if I was lucky I would be able to eat lunch around noon. Taking the train to work made me sick. I learned about things like Emetrol and Dramamine and ginger candy.
And then there was the boob issue. I’ve always been busty, but godDAMN. I think I filled out a whole new cup size. And they were sore as $!@%# – it hurt to run a washcloth over them in the shower, for god’s sake. Suddenly the bras I had been wearing my whole life didn’t work anymore, and the only thing that was comfortable enough to wear was loose-fitting sports bras. I am still wearing a sports bra, even to job interviews, even underneath dresses. (I’m OK with it now – it helped transition me into dressing more like a lesbian! LOL.) I originally thought this was from the pill, but I read the other day that people getting off the Depo experience this in a special way. Go figure.
It honestly felt like I was pregnant, and I was worried I might be, but then I finally got my period (or, to be more accurate, chemical-induced bleed) after a week of the most insane mood swings and irritability I have ever experienced. (Mark almost left me that week. He was scared shitless.) The period was heavy and crampy and overstayed its welcome. I was confused. Wasn’t the pill supposed to make it better?
I thought it might get better. It didn’t. 5 months later, I was still nauseous every morning and having trouble fitting my boobs into a shirt.
And THEN came the migraines.
I’d had a few while on the pill. Nothing out of the ordinary, or what had become the new ordinary. No more than 2 within a week’s time, spaced out a few days from each other, lasting 3-4 hours and not exceptionally painful as long as I took about 4 Migraine Advil and rested.
Well. Last week I was picking up my brother from school when the first one hit. Ugh, I thought. I’ll have to wait a half hour in the parking lot before the auras clear so I can drive.
“Why can’t we just go home?” Liam demanded.
“Dude, I can’t SEE,” I told him. It’s hard to explain migraines to a person who doesn’t get them.
They did clear, and I drove home. I let myself rest in bed for about an hour, but then I got up, because I had made plans to hang out with a friend that night and I didn’t want to miss it. I was fine.
The next day, first thing in the morning when I woke up, I had another one. I was mostly annoyed at the inconvenience. Well, this motherfucker lasted SEVEN HOURS. That’s a significant change in pattern. Enough to be alarming. I was nauseous most of the day and sort of delirious as well. Migraines can actually affect your brain function, and this one did just that.
I was annoyed, but the thought of getting off the pill had not entered my mind yet. Just for good measure, the universe sent me a 3rd migraine the very nexy day. It was not particularly painful or long, but HOLY SHIT. I thought I was going to die. I knew immediately that being on the pill was no longer, nor ever would be, safe for me.
I was almost at the end of a pack. I didn’t finish it.
During my many hours in bed, I sluggishly researched what to expect when getting off the pill. I knew what I expected: mood swings, skin like a teenager’s, and periods from hell.
But I also found vitamins and supplements to help with the transition, and to replace the nutrients that birth control robbed from my body. It feels good to know I’m finally addressing my body’s root issues instead of masking the symptoms with some synthetic hormones.
So far, and for the first month or so after getting off the pill, this is what I’ve been taking:
- Multivitamin – I use Nutrilite Double X, which includes a multivitamin, a multimineral, and a phytonutrient tablet, but I only have a 20-day supply and this shit is expensive, so I’ll be switching once that runs out.
- FemRebalance – a multi-herb supplement intended for rebalancing female hormones after various experiences such as getting off birth control, going through menopause, or receiving hormone replacement therapy, and the pill includes licorice root, vitex, rhodiola root, borage oil extract, maca root, verbena herb, sarsaparilla extract, wild yam root, and black cohosh root. I take 2 a day.
- DIM complex – which is very important for detoxing the liver of xenoestrogen buildup after gettting off the pill. I’ve been taking 3 a day while on my period, but when that stops I’m thinking I’ll go down to 2.
- Vitamin B Complex – because the pill robs it right out of your body in plain daylight. I do have to say, I felt sluggish and horrible while I was on the pill, and I didn’t even notice until I started taking the Vitamin B complex, when I noticed I actually had energy in the morning. I take one of these a day per the bottle instructions.
Once my FemRebalance runs out (it’s a 30-day supply), I’m going to start taking a few more supplements in its place:
- Vitex – to see if it helps reduce and my period and ease the cramps. I’m not sure at this point if I have a progesterone deficiency or if it will end up doing more harm than good, but we’ll see.
- I’m looking at CoQ10 to prevent migraines.
- If my monthly visitor overstays its welcome, I’ll consider using small amounts of Shepherd’s Purse to lessen the flow.
- If all else fails and it’s still a waterfall, I’ll think about using Slow Flow, which is a complex designed to do what it sounds like. I want to use this only as a last resort, though, because Vitamin K (which promotes blood clotting) is involved and that sounds scary to me. It’s available on Amazon here.
In addition to all this, I am also making a conscious decision to start eating consciously, cleanly, and mindfully. This means stop with the pop and no more midnight burger runs. It means thinking of food as fuel and deciding to use the highest quality, cleanest fuel possible, uncontaminated with processed chemicals and unnecessary amounts of sugar. It means that when I’m hungry for a snack, I consider fruit and nuts and whole grains before reaching for that bag of chips on top of the fridge. (I cheated this morning – I had an iced latte from Dunkin Donuts. It was fucking delicious. Then I had a little panic attack from the caffeine and all the sugar, and I was reminded of why I stay away from these things.)
I’m also working out a little every day, and this is huge for me because I am very sore and stiff from a sedentary lifestyle. I have never been able to keep to any kind of rigorous routine, but I’m hoping the habit will stick this time around.
My decision to get off birth control is rooted in the fact that I don’t plan to have a relationship with a man anytime in the near future. It’s like the universe is telling me to be a lesbian. If the chance ever arises that I date a man again, I can revisit the question at that time. (Maybe they’ll have male birth control by then…that’s how far in the future I see it being.) But for now, I want to be the best and healthiest version of myself that I can be.