The top 4 things I didn’t realize growing up (& I wish I would have known) about hormonal birth control
I woke up and there was blood everywhere on my sheets.
I had spent the night before dealing with knife-like pain in my uterus for hours that even the Midol couldn’t relieve.
My first thought was, “There is no way this is normal.” But I didn’t know what to do. I was following my doctor’s orders, taking the pill every day for the last 4 years and hoping my cycles would re-regulate. My diet at the time was subpar and I was drinking more often than I care to admit. I chose to use bleached tampons instead of pads because well, who wants to feel like an oversized baby in a diaper when you’re hanging out with the college boys. At the time, I had no clue that tampons were bleached in the manufacturing process to make them white and sterile.
After cleaning up my bed, I came to the conclusion in my mind, “Well, I guess I’ll just deal with it…I guess this is my new normal.”
From the years I graduated high school into college, I had put on an additional 40 pounds ever since going on the pill. I was ashamed of my body but was unsure of what to do or who to turn to. So I continued to numb the shame with over eating, alcohol, and overachieving. I figured I’d deal with it later in life.
Until life decided to deal something else to me before I knew it - a massive wake up call (well…maybe 2-3 wake up calls) that shifted the trajectory of my entire health, life, and career.
Fast forward 10 years.
As a holistic practitioner who has studied women’s health, menstrual cycles, effects of hormonal birth control, sexual trauma, and holistic healing, I am here to share with you that everything I was dealing with 10 years ago was in fact, NOT normal. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but my body was doing everything it could at an attempt to get me to pay attention to the signs and symptoms rather than mask and avoid them. Thankfully, I listened after I started to get my nervous system aligned.
Massive bleeds, knife-like pain, intense cramping, aggressive mood swings, excessive weight gain, increased, depressive thoughts, headaches, digestive issues, low libido - while all of these things may be “common” in our culture of young women, they are NOT normal. Sure, a little pressure in the uterus and minor mood changes throughout the month are common when your cycle is balanced and healthy. But I am here to share that what I was experiencing is unfortunately pretty “par for the course” when it comes to long-term hormonal, birth control use.
I am not here to say that birth control is “bad” just like no food is “bad.” However, it is important to know that with any medication, any food choices, or any health choice really, there are effects. Sometimes those effects support our physiology, and at other times they diminish our functionality over prolonged usage.
- Some birth control creates a hormonal cascade in your body that mimics pregnancy. Depending on the type of birth control, your hormones can be impacted so much that it essentially tricks your body into thinking you’re pregnant. When a woman is pregnant, this prevents the release of an egg from the ovary aka ovulation (which is why most women don’t have a true period/bleed when on birth control). Keep reading how this shows up as other physiological effects.
- Some birth control can cause excessive weight gain. This can be due to the hormonal cascade mentioned above. If your body is running a pregnancy program, it is common to store more fat and adipose tissue in the creation and birth of a baby. I say “pregnancy program” because while on such birth control, you’re not actually pregnant (of course). However, the hormonal shifts in the body while on birth control create a “pregnancy-like” physiology which can lead to pregnancy-like effects (weight gain, mood swings, shifts in libido, etc.).
- Some birth control can cause massive mood swings leading to anxiety and depression. Just before I chose to get off the pill, I was experiencing massive mood swings where I no longer felt like myself (ask my husband who was my boyfriend at the time). At times I felt out of control and very unlike myself. My mind would play tricks on me and I’d try to convince myself it was “normal” or maybe I was just a crazy person. How many women have been told they are “crazy” from their partner at times of the month when really it could be the impact of the drugs they are taking? And yes - birth control is a drug and prescribed medication.
- Some birth control can cause blood clots and headaches. When I started to do more research on how the body changes as a result of such hormonal shifts from the pill, the excessive bleeding I was experiencing all started to make sense. Some birth control changes your hormonal chemistry so much that it thickens your blood ever so slightly. This can then lead to blood clots down the road as well as other cardiovascular changes including headaches, shifts in blood pressure, menstrual flow, and more.
While all of this can sound a little “gloom and doom,” I am here to share with you that you have other options. I am here to share that you can develop a healthier relationship with your cycle and it doesn’t have to be a terrifying, neglectful experience. Yes, it takes work and presence. It takes learning about how your body actually works and how your cycle serves you. It takes commitment and I can tell you it is so worth it.
Myself and the Inspire Co. team understand that a holistic approach to menstrual health is not the norm in our culture. It can be difficult to access such information that stems from an empowering place. That’s why we’re hosting a workshop this summer on Saturday, June 25th, 2022 to help teach our community how to harness the power of your menstrual cycle. We will be covering a variety of topics to help bridge the gap in the science to your own personal experience. Join us for a day of learning, growth, and empowerment in a safe container surrounded by other like-minded women. You can check out more of the details here as well as get signed up!
Yours in empowerment,
Dr. Mel and The Inspire Co. Team