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Quitting contraception: why women are throwing out the pill

And why we should investigate our options first.

FOR EIGHT YEARS I have been taking some sort of birth control with varying degrees of success.

Image result for contraceptive pill gif

Starting on the pill, I later moved to the bar thinking it was a better fit for me. However, after eight years of adding hormones into my body, I can’t say I’m not curious to know what I’d be like without it.

We’re told the list of side-effects of our chosen contraceptive when we go to the doctor to get the prescription, but do we all actually know what side effects we ourselves are feeling?

While many think of the contraceptive solely as a way to protect against pregnancy, it can do a whole lot more to our bodies than just that.

That idea sparked curiosity so I began speaking with friends about their feelings about being on a contraceptive for nearly 10 years.

Many were happy with their chosen protection, some were curious to try other options they felt could work better, and a few felt as I did, unsure about whether to keep using them at all.

It’s a conversation that is now being had more often by young women who are looking to educate themselves on what’s best for their bodies.

And it’s also being discussed by the online influencer community with a growing degree of interest.

UK blogger Lily Melrose’s video on her contraceptive journey is one of the most-watched on her channel and more so, has sparked a real conversation around the issue in the comments below.

Source: Lily Melrose/YouTube

Having not experience a “real period” for nearly nine years and struggled with her emotions and anxiety, Lily chose to come off her birth control.

Sharing her experience of coming off birth control led to many others sharing that they too had done the same or were considering it.

Was this a bigger talking point than I first realised?

Another blogger who will be familiar to many Irish women is Tara Marzuki better known to the internet as Tar Mar.

Tara posted her own video about her experience after quitting the pill back in November after using it for nine years.

It documented the first three months after she stopped using her contraceptive, a decision she reached after experiencing more mood swings and some weight gain which she felt was due to the hormones.

Source: Tar Mar/YouTube

We caught up with Tara this week, more than six months after she stopped taking her pill, to get some updates on her experience so far and why she felt it was the right decision for her.

“Honestly, I was very curious to just know my body without anything in it,” she told DailyEdge.ie.

“I had been on it since I was 17 so I had lost all knowing of who I was with or without the pill and wanted to see if there was a drastic change.”

The New York-based blogger didn’t go into this without any reservations though, and did worry that it might have a greater negative effect than she hoped.

“I had a lot of worry about silly things like ‘if I’d be a different person’ so documented the experience over a few months in a video diary on YouTube to ease the anxiety of anybody thinking of doing the same and to answer some questions I had before quitting myself.

“I did a lot of research on all the alternatives and consulted with friends and their methods and they all seemed to be higher risk in terms of side effects to the pill or very invasive without the guarantee of agreeing with my body.”

In her video, Tara said one of her main issues with the pill was that she felt it was having a physical impact on her body, saying she felt she was “storing fat in hormonal places”, something she’s says has changed in the last six months.

“I have noticed slight changes - I drop weight quicker when I eat well and my hips aren’t as wide as they were.”

Similarly to Lily, Tara noticed a change in her mood in the last year of using contraceptives that left her feeling anxious and stressed, something she attributed to the pill.

“I can’t say it caused my first experience with prolonged anxiety but I did feel like I had a bit of a hormonal imbalance and felt like being on the pill was probably not helping any.

Also, I do feel looking back the pill made me experience emotions a little differently, sometimes more emotionless which I feel like is a side effect you don’t hear of much.

“I had to try and make some changes, including giving up the combined pill.”

One of the most common questions people have about coming off contraceptives is how it will affect their periods and Tara’s answer might underwhelm many.

“My periods are thankfully relatively the same if not shorter. I’m sure my body is still re-adjusting but I don’t think it’s going to change that much.”

But naturally, the choice to quit using the contraceptive doesn’t come without some worries - namely, staying protected during sex.

Again, similarly to Lily, Tara was worried about that but felt she was better equipped to keep herself protected after educating herself on her options.

“Worried? Absolutely. I am not somebody that relies on natural cycles and thermometers, and if you absolutely do not want to get pregnant you should take all the necessary precautions you feel suit your lifestyle most.

“I would like to try something like the NuvaRing in the future once I’ve given my body a sufficient break.”

The Cork blogger says she’s had messages from others who have been thinking of quitting for a long time but says she’s not trying to sway people’s choices only to share her experience.

However, not everyone has had such a steady ride when they've decided to come off the pill.

Author, influencer and podcaster Hannah Witton has spent nearly the last three years documenting her experience with contraception after starting her series, 'The Hormone Diaries', in which she decided to quit the pill.

In the series, Hannah broke down her reasons for giving up the pill and documented her journey to her first period in over seven years. 

After waiting a few weeks to see the start of her first period after quitting the pill, Hannah says she's spent little time since without it.

“This was a little project, an experiment to see what life with no hormones would be like and, you know what, I’ve decided that life is not for me.”

Since then, Hannah has decided to go back on contraception, this time opting for the coil instead of the pill.

Yes, as the author says, "it's come full circle". 

Source: Hannah Witton/YouTube

A lot of women are taking more ownership of their chosen method of contraceptive and for a wider variety of reasons than just weight gain and mood swings.

We asked you, the DailyEdge.ie readers, what your experiences were with contraceptives and a surprising number of you revealed that you had either swapped the contraceptive you were using because of side effects or had chosen to come off of it altogether.

“I was on the pill for five years and never took a break but did change the pill I was taking at one point,” one reader told us.

I eventually decided to come off of it as it was beginning to affect my body long term. With medical advice, I quit the pill and then after a few months decided to investigate other options.

Like many others, this reader reached out to her doctor to learn about the other options available to her and to be sure quitting the pill in the first place was the right decision for her.

Dr Deirdre Lundy of the Irish College of General Practitioners explained why women might choose to give up on their contraceptive.

“Money is a big reason women investigate coming off their contraceptive,” Dr Lundy told us.

“The GP is costly, the pills are not free and many young women do not earn but also do not quality for a GMS card.

In my opinion, contraception should be universally free and facilitated.

"Another reason is an ignorance of their own biology fearing, as people and many GP’s and nurses do, that long term use of artificial hormones will in some way negatively impact their fertility in the future - this is not seen in studies."

"This is not true. What is true is that advancing age will have a huge negative impact on fertility, sadly."

Speaking to the concerns of many about the affect the contraceptive has on mood swings and weight gain, Dr Lundy says we have more options available to us that should be investigated before quitting birth control entirely. 

“Some women who start the pill get a great mood lift, some notice a negative effect on their mood, with things like their sex drive being impaired.

"When that happens it is often because of the type and strengths of the hormones in a given brand, rather than the pill itself."

An experienced GP or FP doctors will know exactly which component is causing the problem and swap to a more suitable brand.

“A new brand with almost always alleviate the problem.”

Dr Lundy’s final advice? Talk to a family planning doctor before making any decisions as some GPs might not excel at providing sexual health advice to their patients.

 

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