Weapons of Mass Contraception: The Symptoms

Okay so, part II of my “get the fuck off the pill” series. You can read part I here, if you feel so inclined. Briefly–I was on hormonal birth control for roughly twelve years, with some breaks here and there, and I am now DONE with it. I’m two months into my hormone free journey. But I wanted to back track a bit because like I said in my previous post, when I started searching online for other people who had experienced similar symptoms while taking the pill, at first I really didn’t find much. I found a lot of stories about women coming off the pill and experiencing terrible symptoms that drove them back to the pill fairly quickly, which is understandable but also left me feeling kind of alone in my quest to figure out a way to live without synthetic hormones.

That being said, I did eventually find some really great blog posts from women who had experienced similar symptoms to me, and what was really eye opening was I read some blog posts in which I finally connected the dots to some symptoms that I hadn’t even related to my birth control before. Aye aye aye. It’s a journey, y’all.

First, here are some positive things that I experienced while on the pill, because it wasn’t all shit and I am endlessly grateful that the pill exists etc.:

  1. Pregnancy protection: Obvious one but yeeeah! Got through my teens and much of my twenties without any unwanted pregnancies so, you know, it was doing it’s job at least. One thing to consider with the pill is that there is room for user error. I always set a phone alarm, even after ten years of being on it, because sometimes when things would get really busy I would forget to take it for a couple days at a time and end up calling my pharmacist in a panic. But yeah, good job pill.
  2. Lighter periods: I’ve never had much problem with my period. It’s been pretty regular since I was eleven. I suppose it might be considered to be on the heavier side? At least it was when I was younger, but then while I was on the pill it was never more than three days long and was sooo light, particularly while I was on Tricyclen. I never had cramping. And then when I was on the Mirena, I stopped having one all together. This can be a really great benefit for anyone who suffers majorly through their periods.

That’s all that I can think of right now, which is kind of crazy. Obviously the pregnancy protection is HUGE and is what the pill is meant to do, so I suppose that list doesn’t really need to be very long. But if we’re talking pros and cons lists….

Here’s a list of symptoms that were most certainly linked to my use of the pill, and some that I speculate were related to the pill but may also have been influenced by other factors:

1.Gallstones: When I was twenty-one I started waking up in the night with horrible pain in the right upper side of my stomach, just below my ribs. It woke me up for months, just a burning pain that seemed to radiate from my back to my front. I am fairly terrified of doctors as a result of some negative experiences I’ve had over the years, so I put off going to get it checked out for ages. This resulted in me literally crawling to my roommates bedroom at four am and begging her to drive me to the hospital, where I waited alone in a room for twelve hours while they tested my blood and urine, and eventually gave me an ultrasound. After twelve hours, a doctor popped her head in the room and was like “HEY you have gallstones, surgeon will be in in a minute BYE!”
I had no idea what gallstones were, and I was pretty confused at that point. I hadn’t slept in over twenty-four from the pain and I was living in a city away from my family so I didn’t have anyone there to advocate for me until late in the game when my mother, bless her heart, drove the three/four hour trek to the city.
The deal with gallstones: typically if you have gallstones you’re a) older and b) overweight and c) consuming a high fat diet. I was twenty-one, active and fit, an ideal BMI, and was consuming a well rounded diet without a lot of processed or fried foods. So.
I ended up talking to the surgeon for a while and saying that I didn’t want to surgery. Abdominal surgery after twenty-four hours of no sleep and pain for a condition I knew nothing about scared the shit out of me, and after a long conversation that surgeon was like “well the other option is to not eat high fat foods”, so I was like “uh, yeah, I’ll try that one thanks”.
The thing is, it took me a while to relate this condition to my birth control pills, and I reached this conclusion without help from doctors, so hey maybe I’m just a miracle case of gall bladder disease. BUT–at this point in my life, I’d just gotten my Mirena IUD, but prior to that I’d been on Yasmin for a few years and guess what, there’s a class action lawsuit pending in Canada against Yasmin because women were a)having stokes b)getting gall bladder disease c) dying while they were taking it. So yeah.
After lots and lots and lots of research I’ve found that there’s a link between gall bladder issues and vitamin B6 deficiency. It wasn’t until recently that I really started reading about the amount of vitamin and mineral deficiency that can occur from taking the pill. No one told me this. I remember reading in one of my pill instruction manuals (yes I am that person who actually reads those) that B12 could interfere with my birth control, so I stopped taking any form of B vitamin pretty early on. If I had been diligent about monitoring my B vitamin levels, could I have avoided this annoying condition that lasts forever unless you get your damn gall bladder taken out? And I don’t want to get my gall bladder taken out. Despite everything, I feel for the little guy and want to keep him around with all my other organs for as long as possible. In any case–I manage my symptoms easily and haven’t experienced much drama from it in many years. Moving along.

2. Mood swings: I recommend anyone taking the pill (or really any medication, for that matter) keep a journal documenting their moods/any changing behaviours while taking said medication. I wish I’d done this earlier on. But yeah, mood swings pretty much from day one onwards of the pill. I’m already prone to periods of depression/anxiety, so perhaps if you’re not then this one isn’t such an issue. As I mentioned in my previous post, pills like that goddamn Yasmin have a different kind of progesterone in them that is not recommended from people who are dealing with depression. No doctor told me that either–thank god for wonderful and with-it public health nurses!

3. Acne: I often wonder what my skin would be like if I hadn’t ever taken the pill. I had some typical teenaged acne when I started on it, but this stubborn hormonal shit that I still deal with didn’t start until I was on the pill. Even when I was on Tricyclen, which is prescribed for acne sometimes (it even says it on the box), my skin looked dull, congested, and always had a few pimples on it. Marvelon cleared it up a bit, but maaan, since stopping a couple months ago I have that glow back to my skin and I’ve stopped breaking out as much. More on this later.

4. Killed Libido: It’s kind of crazy, considering I nearly lost an organ from pill use, but this is the symptom that broke the proverbial camel’s back. Marvelon, sweet Marvelon, gave me clear skin and big breasts and KILLED my libido dead. Dead. Never been a problem for me ever–this had a big psychological impact on me that I mentioned in my last post. You know how on pianos they have a softening pedal? You apply it and all the notes sound softer, almost muffled. That’s what I felt like, like a softening peddle was being applied to my life. It was bullshit, but I suppose it also gave me the push I needed to start really examining what my options were as far as birth control.

5. Weight gain/bloating: I mostly experienced this on Tricyclen, and it was mostly bloating. I felt really puffy, I looked really puffy. I once again didn’t feel like myself. On the flipside, Yasmin is apparently a diuretic, so you end up peeing a whole bunch while taking it and I have a friend that’s hesitant to stop taking it because she’s worried about weight gain after the fact.

What follows are the symptoms that occurred while I was on the pill, but may have been in response to other factors as well:

  1. Brittle and dry nails and hair: Suck the vitamins and minerals out of a girl and you’re like with dry and brittle and pealing nails and frizzy ass hair. At least that was my experience. I’ve read multiple places that taking a good multi vitamin is good practice when coming off the pill so you can get those folic acids and B vitamins and whatever else back up to snuff. I’ve been taking biotin and it’s helping, slowly.
  2. Increased cellulite: Okay so the only time that I’ve ever completely gotten rid of cellulite is when I was doing hot yoga four times a week and honestly, who’s got time for that amount of laundry! But–within two months of being on Marvelon, with no changes to my diet and with a steady exercise routine, albeit a regular temperature one–my cellulite was significantly more noticeable. I’m learning, in my late twenties, to love my body more than I did in the first twenty-seven years of my life (sorry, body, I love you), and so I’m embracing this dimply cute cellulite. But still.
  3. Anxiety/Depression: Remember when they stopped testing the male birth control recently because the men trying it were like “ahhhhh this stuff suuucks I’m depwessed” and women around the world were like “you’ve got to be fucking kidding me”. For so many years there was this vague “well it could possibly maybe a little bit be linked with mood disorders but I don’t know there’s not reeeally any proof other than the millions of women who say so”. Another recent study showed that women who take birth control have a higher likelihood and taking antidepressants. Maybe it’s a direct link, maybe they’re depressed because they have adult acne and no libido, who knows.
  4. Dry eyes: Weird, I know. I couldn’t wear my contacts for more than five hours at a time while I was on the pill. Now I forget that I’m wearing them.

So yeah–those are the big ones that I was experiencing, and maybe you were experiencing something similar too. In all this, I still believe the pill is a valuable and dependant option for birth control, but I just can’t believe how little information is really given when you first get that prescription. What would it be like if there was a more holistic approach–like if you’re on the pill, what supplements could your doctor recommend? What tests should they be running, both physical and psychological? Whenever I went to renew my script, the only test I got was for blood pressure. I don’t know, maybe I’ve been seeing the wrong doctors, but it feels to me like there needs to be a big shift in the way that we use and talk about synthetic hormones. In the end, like with a lot of things, it is women and girls who end up baring the physical and emotional burden here.

Next time–what symptoms I’m experiencing since quitting the pill and starting my *new* form of non-hormonal birth control.



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