What happens when you come off hormonal contraception is a common cause of worry for many women. There’s talk of weight gain, high fertility, irregular periods, or no periods at all. So we asked three women to shed some light on why they stopped taking the Pill, and what happened when they did.
Sian is 43. She took the combined pill for 18 years. “I had absolutely no sex drive. When I slept with my husband, I couldn’t get aroused. I spoke to various doctors about this, but they all said the same: this isn’t a side effect of the Pill. Naturally, I thought something was wrong with me.”
When Sian was 37, her husband went away for three months with work. The couple discussed trying for a baby on his return, but Sian planned to stay on the Pill while he was away. And then her plans changed unexpectedly. “A friend couldn’t get her Pill supply due to a manufacturing issue, so I thought I’d just give her mine. As soon as I stopped taking it, my sex drive came back in a really big way. I’ve since spoken to other women who’ve told me the same—the Pill kills your libido.”
“When my husband came back, I fell pregnant straight away. Sadly I miscarried, then five months later was pregnant again, and now I have a son. My periods are regular but painful, although I still feel it’s a good decision not to be on the Pill. I tried all types of hormonal birth control after my pregnancy. Some gave me anxiety; others caused me to break outgave me spots. And I was always carrying extra weight.”
Kerry is 27. She was on the POP (progesterone-only pill) for nine years. “I started at the age of 16 and while I didn’t experience any problems, I knew I didn’t really want to be on it. Plus it felt like the norm, since everyone was on it, and I wasn’t sure what my other options were.”
Kerry stopped taking the Pill at 25 when she wanted to conceive. “I got pregnant straight away, before I’d even had a period, but then I miscarried. I’m not sure my body knew what it was doing after my menstrual cycle had been suppressed for so long.” Two months later she fell pregnant again and now has a son.
“I went back on the POP six months after giving birth, but it was completely different this time. I was bleeding constantly and in pain. I knew the Pill was suppressing my cycle, and didn’t like the idea of stopping my body from doing what it’s supposed to do.”
Kerry now uses Natural Cycles, tracks her basal body temperature, and takes ovulation tests. “I’m getting to know my body better and it feels powerful. I know the Pill is great for preventing pregnancy, but some of my friends aren’t using it as contraception. They’re using it to deal with other issues, like acne, which probably need to be addressed rather than masked.”
Katey is 30. She began taking the combined pill at the age of 19 during her first relationship. “I tried a couple of different brands, which seemed fine until I was hospitalized at the age of 25 after one side of my body went numb. I was told it was a migraine with focal neurological symptoms, which could have been caused by stress, but I switched to the POP as a precaution.”
“I wanted to take the plunge and come off it around three years ago, but I was scared of the side effects. I’d had very heavy periods between 13 and 19, which made me anemic, and then I’d only had fake periods (or no periods) ever since. Around the time I was trying to make up my mind up, I was having acupuncture for other health issues, and my therapist kept saying the synthetic hormones are blocking the potential of this treatment. Finally, I found the courage to do it.”
Katey now uses the Clue app and condoms. “The first month felt like a phantom pregnancy, but I soon got into a cycle, and it’s massively improved since my teens. I’d felt numb on the Pill, as if I needed to release something, but the release never came—now I know what’s coming and when. I’m an endurance runner, so I can plan my training around my cycle, harnessing the natural ebb and flow.”
“I wonder if I would have been less anxious in the past without the Pill. And I wonder how many of us put up with the side effects when we don’t need to. We’re told from a young age that periods are a problem, but I have a pattern now. I’m in control.”