Let me preface this post by stating that this is NOT a great big blog shaped announcement that I’m trying for a baby. (Sorry, mum!) This is simply a post about the pill and the issues surrounding coming off it – something I suspect a lot of women can relate to. If you don’t like to think about ovaries, cycles and pill popping then I suggest you don’t read on…
I wasn’t sure where to start with this post, but as it’s nestled amongst wedding posts I suppose I should begin by saying my decision to come off the pill hasn’t been as simple as “he put a ring on it, let’s throw all the pills in the bin because I’m a wife now and wives make babies!”. Far from it. I’ve wanted to come off the pill for ages, years to be honest, but as soon as I got engaged I didn’t want to risk coming off the pill for one simple reason: I was terrified.
Like a lot of women my age, I’ve been on the pill for a long time. I’ve taken Microgynon for a decade. I think I may have missed maybe three pills EVER in ten years. I was a good pill taker. I’ve never been pregnant. I’ve had only one pregnancy scare in my life and it was less of a pregnancy scare and more of a “how could I possibly have gained so much jiggle around my middle?” freak out. ClearBlue informed me that I was indeed just bloated with burritos as opposed to growing a real human person inside of me. I remember being devastated for all the wrong reasons.
Ten years is a long time to pump yourself full of hormones. But it was fine, because we were all doing it. I didn’t eat meat and I poured organic milk on my cornflakes but seemingly didn’t mind filling my own boots with hormonal weirdness. Anything to prevent an unwanted baby, right?
And that’s the thing that I now realise is a bit weird. For a lot of women there are just two camps: desperately trying to avoid getting pregnant and desperately trying to get pregnant. It’s as if we go from one to the other overnight. Where’s the middle ground?
I presume it’s the same for other forms of pill based contraception, but on Microgynon you have to go to the doctors every six months (more frequently when you’re first starting out on it) to get your blood pressure checked and generally ‘have a chat’. There’d inevitably be mentions of headaches.
“Do you get headaches?”
“Yes, terrible ones.”
Then we’d fumble around about whether these were headaches or migraines. Then there’d be a worrying mention of strokes. Then cancer. But somehow I’d always leave happily clutching a new supply.
There are many, many forms of so called ‘long acting’ contraceptives and over the past decade I’ve regularly considered switching, but the problem is that everyone has got a horror story. “Sarah had the implant and bled every day for three months”, “Holly had the coil and it fell out!”, “Jane had the injections and it made her hit people” etc etc.
I’d ask for leaflets at the doctors and would find myself even more confused. I’m a successful woman with a degree and my own business, yet I’d still find myself completely perplexed by what was supposed to be a “simple guide” to contraception. I’d ask girlfriends about their experiences to try and figure out if I was just being really thick, but they seemed to echo my general state of confusion. It worried me that we were nearly all taking/injecting/wearing things which we didn’t understand the science behind…and that we didn’t seem to really care as long as our fake periods weren’t gushing like waterfalls and babies weren’t on the horizon.
Each contraception method has its own set of drawbacks, so when I went to the doctor asking to switch she basically advised I shouldn’t unless I really hated Microgynon as another option may have been worse and it can take months to settle into. Did I really hate it? I didn’t know because I had nothing to compare it to. I took another leaflet.
I now know that Microgynon is one of the cheapest contraceptives there is, so the NHS do like to prescribe it. I don’t want to complain, as I think the fact I can get contraception for free in this country is an amazing amazing thing, but from speaking to others it does seem like there’s a preference for prescribing Microgynon rather than exploring better options.
When I last went to get my prescription my blood pressure was high. It had been high the last time too, but this time it was higher still. She didn’t want to prescribe it. “I’m just stressed HAHAHAHAHAHA” I laughed, manically. I didn’t know how much I wanted it til it seemed like I might have to actually think about the consequences of sex. I promised to be calmer and she prescribed it. I took yet another leaflet.
I decided earlier this year that I needed to come off it altogether. The headaches were too much and I was getting worryingly down at the exact same time each month – to the point where I had to put off making any business decisions on those couple of days because I knew I was seeing everything through blacker than black negative nelly glasses. It also just dawned on me suddenly that I’d been playing with my ovaries for ten years and that despite it being completely normal these days and what lots of women do, it kinda isn’t normal when you think about it.
But do you just….stop?
Well I went to the doctors to ask that and apparently yes, you do. If you’re going to try for a baby straight away then you’re advised to wait til the end of a packet so you can work out the dates of your cycle better, but otherwise you can indeed just stop any time. (As long as you appreciate that you could fall pregnant if you don’t switch to a different method of contraception).
Maybe I was over-thinking it (me? never!) but it really didn’t seem as simple as ‘just stopping’.
My whole adult life I’ve been on the pill. I didn’t know ‘adult me’. Would coming off the pill make me moody? Or less moody? Would I get spotty? (I spend a small fortune on my skin, I didn’t fancy the idea of suddenly getting terrible hormonal skin issues.) Would my bras still fit? Would I gain weight? Lose weight? Spend one week of the month curled up in bed wanting to die? Would I stop fancying my husband as this study on the effects of stopping the pill claims? Would I inevitably always get a period on every holiday from that point forward?
I asked the doctor some of these questions and she basically said my periods would probably be similar to how they were before the pill. But I can’t remember ‘life before the pill’. I was at school. I wasn’t tracking my cycles because I wasn’t worried about falling pregnant. I remember periods being completely hideous, but was that because they were or was that because everything is hideous when you’re 14? Tiny tampons that looked like sweets hadn’t been invented then. If I was to have a period now I doubt I’d be forced do a cross country in the rain whilst wearing a comically oversized pad, worrying about maths homework, the boys in the next field and the dreaded communal showers. Hopefully not, anyway.
I decided there were too many ‘what ifs?’ to come off the pill before my wedding. I didn’t want to risk morphing into a completely different person, having spots, being bloated, crampy and – errr – ‘periody’ – on my wedding day (or honeymoon!) so I carried on taking them.
But I am off the pill now. And so far I am still ‘me’. I actually feel a bit calmer and happier, but that could very easily be because the wedding is out the way as opposed to because I’m not ingesting artificial hormones any more. I AM massively happy, in a general contented with life way, so at least I know that if there are any big changes it is likely to be because of adjusting to life post-pill.
I’ve read hundreds and hundreds of forum posts on the subject. I’ve heard some people say it took them six months for their periods to come back at all and some people say they were riddled with period pain and anxiety almost endlessly from the time they stopped.
I’m hoping the transition to being the not-artificially-controlled me is a smooth one, but it might not be and I’m prepared for that. Apparently any nasty changes *should* settle within three months anyway, so here’s hoping I’ve just made a mountain out of a molehill and it will all be as easy as a sunny bike ride in a Bodyform advert.
I’ll definitely report back here in a few months, not because I’m particularly desperate for more people to blog about periods but because I *know* lots of women do agonise about this stuff and it’s nice to talk about it openly.
Who’d be a woman, eh?
A note on comments: I *love* how many of you are sharing your experiences below…makes me realise I was right to post this and that I am not a complete lunatic! It’s fascinating reading everyone’s experiences. Just as an FYI though, if you want to comment anonymously then it’s best to use a fake email address, otherwise you may have your Gravatar/Blogger pic appear as per the thumbnail pics below if your actual email address is linked to one of these picture services. As always I can be emailed on firstname.lastname@example.org if you wanna comment without commenting, if you know what I mean! Thanks for joining the conversation 🙂 x
UPDATE: I have now blogged about how I am feeling, three months down the line of being off Microgynon. Find that here.