Girl Talk: Birth Control

May 18, 2012

For all my male readers (and male family members), today might be a post you’ll want to skip. I’ll be back to posting about food, recipes and fat talk on Monday! Β Now, that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s continue.

When I girl-talk with my married friends, one of the topics that gets brought up most often is birth control. Talk about a controversial topic! I think it ranks up there with the ‘mommy wars’ and breast feeding as topics that really get women going. And more often than not, I’ve found that a large majority of my friends have had a less than pleasant experience with the most common form of birth control, the pill.

Before Joe and I got married, I started taking the pill (B-Yaz to be exact) because, well, I wasn’t aware there was any other option. To be honest, I hated the idea of taking some form of medication every single day, let alone something that regulated my hormones artificially. Β My mom always had a bend toward things natural when possible. I can’t tell you the number of times I heard her say, “Listen to your body.” And although I took medicine and antibiotics when I was sick, I was unaccustomed to the concept of taking medicine on a daily basis.

But when push came to shove, the pill won out over my misgivings because of one simple fact: convenience.

I wouldn’t say that the year I was on birth control was terrible, but it certainly wasn’t without its fair share of unpleasant side effects. I did a lot of research online (reading articles, message boards about people’s personal experiences, talking with friends who were on the pill), and found that many of my symptoms were actually very common. When I first started taking birth control, my primary concern was gaining weight, since that was one of the few negatives I had heard others express about the pill. Perhaps I gained a pound or two, but I wouldn’t say it was noticeable, and most certainly not the base of my complaints. In all honesty, my greatest complaints with the pill were my decreased libido and general irritability about everything. I was snappy, more prone to being moody and down than usual, which is not like me at all. I talked with another good friend, who expressed many of the same feelings, and another who had moodiness that she said made her ‘crazy.’

About six months ago (a little over a year after starting the pill) I visited my doctor for my yearly exam and to discuss other options to replace my current from of birth control. Naively, I expected her to have a lot of other solutions that were just as easy and effective, but without the hormonal impact that came with taking the pill. The response I got was disheartening. She rattled off a bunch of other ‘options’ that didn’t really sound much better than my current course of action. Other brands of pills, rings, IUD’s (surgically implanting something gave me the creeps), which all seemed to have the same set of side effects and risks. Looking back, I guess I shouldn’t have been all that surprised. These devices are effective because they all regulate your hormones in very similar ways, some methods just require you to think about it a little less.

Initially after the appointment, I resigned myself to sticking with birth control and accepting that I would have to deal with the symptoms until we were ready to have kids. (Not anytime soon!) But something just didn’t sit right with me. My frustration with the situation only grew, and I found myself crying often about how I didn’t feel like myself. Knowing how frustrated I was, Joe said he was on-board for anything if it would make me feel better. Eventually, about four months ago, we decided to try condoms in place of the pill. Without going into detail, it ended up being the method that worked for us.

Now that I’m a handful of months out of using birth control, I can tell you that I most certainly feel better. I no longer have the full/bloated feeling that I came to associate with the pill, my mood is generally more stable and I am a lot less likely to be irritable, and my libido has increased. And in general, I feel much happier mentally knowing that I am not taking any medication to regulate my hormones.

Before I end this already incredibly long post, I have to add that this was a decision that was right for me based on my personal experiences and reactions to a drug and is most certainly not for everyone. I know a lot of people who have had no ill side effects from the pill, and others who take it to help with their PCOS or skin issues and are incredibly happy with it. However, I do wish someone had talked more openly with me about other options and the side effects that often go undiscussed, which is why I wanted to share my story.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject! Have you had an experience – good or bad – with the pill or other forms of bc?Β 

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  • Reply Cindy @ The Flipping Couple May 18, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    I’m glad you tackled this topic! I’ve been on “the pill” for over 5 years now and I’m happy with it and have no plans to change it up. I think I’m a little too attached to the 3 month cycle! BUT, dear friends of mine have had much more trouble with it, and for one of them, it caused a 3 year battle with infertility. She said the same thing – that she wished she would’ve known there are other viable options, or at least known what an impact artificial hormones can have on your body. I’m glad more people are talking about it and doing what’s right for them instead of just following the mainstream option.

  • Reply Heather May 18, 2012 at 3:28 pm

    I enjoyed reading this! I’ve had the same side effects that you talked about and have felt very frustrated about other options. One of the main reasons why I’m still on the pill is because my cycles are pretty unpredictable. I’m pretty intune to my body but even if I’m late I start worrying as my husband and I are not wanting kids anytime soon. Once again, thanks for being so honest!

  • Reply Robin @ The Balanced Life May 18, 2012 at 3:29 pm

    Hi Madison! Great post. I am right there with you on this one. I’ve gone on birth control a handful of times and each time I had a negative experience. I had the same issues that you did – irritability, wild emotions and sadness being the biggest battle. It wasn’t good for me and it wasn’t good for my marriage either. I was discouraged also by the fact that many Dr’s don’t share other options. I’ve been off BC for 3 years and it was definitely the best decision for me. I feel so much better knowing that my body is on a regular cycle and I’m not messing with my hormones. (I had hormone problems in the past so keeping it natural is affirming for me). I think EVERYONE should read “Taking Charge of Your Fertility”. It is an incredibly enlightening book – both for those who want to get pregnant and those who don’t. I can’t believe how much I didn’t know about my own body and cycle! It can be used as a natural birth control as well (not your typical family planning). Thank you for sharing – I think this is a great issue to address for women!

  • Reply Sarah Erickson May 18, 2012 at 3:46 pm

    Loving this pharmacy-related post, and I’ve got to put a plug in for my future profession. πŸ™‚ A trusted pharmacist is really a great resource to use about different kinds of birth control; however, people often forget they can ask a pharmacist these questions. Pharmacists know so much about all of the side effects of various forms of birth control (both hormonal and non-hormonal) and can help figure out a plan that will work for you, whether it involves prescription birth control medications or not. Thanks, Mad!

  • Reply UrbanWife May 18, 2012 at 3:52 pm

    Great post! I have so, so, so much to say about this topic! I’d be more than happy to send you an email with my personal experience.

  • Reply Sarah Crosby May 18, 2012 at 4:11 pm

    i was in the same boat as you! I got on the pill about 3 years before Abel and I got married, because of super bad cramps and endometriosis. and like you, my mood was horrible. About 6 months into our marriage Abel and I decided it was best if I got off and started doing “natural family planning” – aka the temperature method. we knew it was risky pretty much quitting everything and going by temperature, but it was something we chose.

    yes, we had a kid, using that method, so i am most likely NOT the prime example of NFP but we know exactly when we conceived simeon. we counted our days wrong. i am NOT saying its something you should do cause again, little simeon is sitting on my lap as i type this. πŸ™‚ oh my friends would laugh at me telling someone about it cause they all joke about it, but it is our story.

  • Reply Em May 18, 2012 at 4:25 pm

    I had much of the same experiences as you and said goodbye to the pill a long time ago! I highly recommend the book “taking charge of your fertility”. It has been so eye opening for me in laying out so many options and truths about your body that gynecologists never mentioned. It was also very helpful when I did decide to get pregnant. Also, I had so much luck in switching to a certified nurse midwife (with doctors in her practice). She has been so much more helpful to me, listening to how I was feeling and helping me through natural options. I had never felt that much care at any of the many gynecologists I went to! They all seemed to brush of my complaints of moodiness and depression from the pill like they were nothing.

  • Reply Sara @my less seriou slife May 18, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    wow, this is interesting. i have been on birth control pills for so many years i forget what it is like to not take them. when i did start, i didn’t have any trouble with mood swings although i have questioned their use and libido levels. hearing that getting off this pill has changed how you feel is intriguing, although if i’m honest i think the condom thing would be hard too.

  • Reply Christineroberts329 May 18, 2012 at 5:18 pm

    so glad to have a woman openly talk about this! thanks for sharing your experience in way that was open and tactful. I was on the pill for about a month and a half once I got married. I was on it for such a short time that I really don’t remember reactions to it. The reason I stopped though was out of conviction and concern about my health and body. It didn’t make any sense to me that I should take a pill if I wasn’t sick, and why let a pill (something generic created one woman) take control of something my body already does well naturally. So instead I decided to learn about my body, how my reproduction system works, and when I ovulated. My husband used condoms on the days I was ovulating. This definitely isn’t the most accurate or 99% effective, but this is what I felt best about. I also had to have a worldview change on what I thought of children. My husband and I decided, especially since this type of birth control was risky, and that we would joyfully welcome children at anytime in our marriage. We decided that we would not view a pregnancy or children, planned or unplanned, as a burden or something that makes life less enjoyable. A few more months after we were married, we decided that we did want to have children sooner, so then we stopped exercising control. As a mother to a daughter now, I’m committed to not letting her wonder or be uneducated about the beauty of fertility and how God created her body to work. Mothers need to be better informing their daughters how their bodies work so that they can be better stewards of them. Lastly, I’ve met several women who were on the pill for a few years early in the marriage, but then had a very difficult time getting pregnant when they were ready to start their family. Though I can’t definitively say that it was because of the pill, it has made me more suspicious of the pill.

  • Reply Emily May 18, 2012 at 5:29 pm

    Thank you for the honesty! I also experienced many similar symptoms – depression, emotional instability, crying, etc. I bounced on and off different BC options for the past 6 years that I couldn’t remember what it was like to NOT be on anything artificial. My worst experience was with the Nuva ring which made me blow up like a balloon within the first week. I bawled for nearly 2 days, partly bc my clothes didn’t fit but mostly because the hormones were more than my body could handle.

    I’ve been off BC for 3 months now and feel fantastic. I feel much more emotionally stable. My husband and I have decided to use a combination of condoms and the calendar method. Though our bodies are only fertile a couple days each month, we take a little extra precaution by using protection throughout most of the month, but can still experience the freedom of not having a barrier for the last week as well.

  • Reply Lauren May 18, 2012 at 5:59 pm

    Thank you for this post! I got married about 2 years ago and it has been a struggle ever since. After a year of being on three different pills and feeling “not like myself” on any of them, with symptoms similar to yours, I knew I wanted to go off hormones. But I also definitely didn’t want to take chances of getting pregnant. After talking with my doctor, I ended up getting the Paragard IUD, which does not emit any hormones. The side effects (some pain) only lasted one day, and a year later, I have been very satisfied. I no longer experience the side effects I did on the pill, and I can feel confident knowing I am using the most effective form of birth control. If you want to talk more about my experience with Paragard let me know!

  • Reply Tanja Hester May 18, 2012 at 6:47 pm

    Hi Madison — Thanks for this honest, frank post! I know they aren’t easy to write. πŸ™‚ I have always been a BC hater because of the wacky side effects, but have settled on the Mirena IUD. It’s not actually surgically implanted, it just kinda “hangs out” :-), and you can have it removed any time. Best of all, I haven’t felt any hormonal side effects. It does have hormones, but they’re super low, and very little actually gets into your blood stream. There’s also nothing to remember, because it lasts five years. Anyway, without sounding too much like a sales pitch, I think it’s an option that more women should consider! There was just all that bad press in the 70s about an earlier version, and it made us all believe that all IUDs are terrible, which they’re not. Anyway, good luck as you keep navigating this territory. I’ve found that most of my friends and I have switched methods every few years.

  • Reply Emily Holland May 18, 2012 at 6:51 pm

    About two years I ago I started taking birth control for my acne. For the most part I am happy with it, but I always get killer cramps before and during my period. I never really got major cramps before then. Aside from this, I don’t have any complaints about it.

  • Reply Andrew and Emily Lundgren May 18, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    I agree that I never felt well-informed of all of my options until I started going to my CNM (certified nurse midwife). I just assumed I had to start on the pill when we got married, so I did. I also was on birth control for about a year with many of the same symptoms as you, in addition to migraines! After talking with my CNM, she gave me the confidence to use the natural family planning method and I am so happy we did! I realize this method wouldn’t work for someone who doesn’t have a regular cycle, but it worked so well for us and my body felt so much better without the artificial hormones. And yes, we do have a child now, but we had a window of time in our minds where it would be okay to get pregnant, so we stopped being quite as careful. If you are diligent about it, the natural family planning method works great!

  • Reply Amy May 18, 2012 at 9:23 pm

    Thank you for your honesty with this post! I have had only good experiences with the Pill. I started when I was 19 and went off it in January 2011 (10 years later!) when we decided to try for a baby. I was pregnant in mid-February. It made my periods so much lighter and less painful, cleared up my skin, etc. I just started taking it again about a month ago and am so relieved. In the time between having Eli and starting the pill my skin was the worst it’s been since I was in high school! I’m a pretty big fan of it, but it’s definitely not for everyone.

  • Reply Megly May 18, 2012 at 9:36 pm

    I was wary going into this post, but you handled it very well. Your experience sounded pretty sucky- I’m glad you found a resolution! I’m on the pill, I think it does have a tendency to give me mood swings, but not NEARLY as bad as the ones I had when I was on the depo shot. Oof! I would not recommend it at all. It was super convenient, but when I stopped getting my period (a side effect), I expected to be happy/excited and found myself confused and freaked out. I think your solution is great considering every different factor.

  • Reply Chelsy Ethridge May 18, 2012 at 11:55 pm

    Madison, I have PCOS and have had horrible results with any birth control pill they put me on to regulate my period…let’s just say I am chained to the bed for a couple of days. Now I am taking progesterone which is a little less painful but I would rather not take anything! Thanks for the post! πŸ™‚

  • Reply Nadeanne May 19, 2012 at 12:05 am

    I highly recommend you check out the book “Taking Charge of Your Fertility” by Toni Weschler. It is amazing and discusses in detail the fertility awarness method. With FAM you use your own body clues (i.e temperature and cervical fluid) to determine when you’re ovulating….it really is amazing, once you start paying attention to your body it’s fairly easy to determine where you are in your cycle and therefore when you should refrain from sex (or use a condom) because you are most fertile.

  • Reply Nadeanne May 19, 2012 at 12:05 am

    I highly recommend you check out the book “Taking Charge of Your Fertility” by Toni Weschler. It is amazing and discusses in detail the fertility awarness method. With FAM you use your own body clues (i.e temperature and cervical fluid) to determine when you’re ovulating….it really is amazing, once you start paying attention to your body it’s fairly easy to determine where you are in your cycle and therefore when you should refrain from sex (or use a condom) because you are most fertile.

  • Reply Lauren May 19, 2012 at 3:07 am

    great post. I used to be on the pill too, I have been using a diaphragm for 6 months now and it has been great. It is a great option if your hubby doesn’t like condoms.

  • Reply Diana May 19, 2012 at 3:20 am

    Hi Madison! It’s been a while since I’ve been here, but I still love it. πŸ™‚

    I was on the pill for 10 years, with pretty much no trouble. There was about 3 months when my NP and I tried the low dose tri-cyclin, but that didn’t work for me (mood swings, longer periods, general stickiness) so I went back on the regular dose and was great for the next several years. When hubs and I decided to get pregnant, I went off the pill in December and was pregnant in February, so there were no long term fertility issues. My ob wrote me a script for the progesterone only pill since I’m breastfeeding the kiddo, but I didn’t want to take any chances with my milk supply so we opted to go the barrier method route this time and stay away from hormones, which is working out well for us.

    It’s important to listen to your body – what works for you and what doesn’t, and to be open and honest with your partner. Everyone’s situation and relationship is unique, and everyone is entitled to their opinions and their own options. Also, I agree with whoever mentioned the CNM and the pharmacist. When in doubt, as a nurse or a pharmacist. Not to knock docs, by any means, but as nurses we’re trained to have a more wholistic and person centered approach and to think outside the (medication) box. πŸ™‚

  • Reply Diana May 19, 2012 at 3:27 am

    Oh dear, that was supposed to be “suckiness” not “stickiness”. Stupid iPad keyboard.

  • Reply Gen May 19, 2012 at 4:44 am

    THANK you for bringing this up! I’ve had this exact same problem. I recently went off the ring and I already feel 100x better. I was no longer interested in being intimate and felt depressed all the time. It’s still hard for us as my fiance and I both don’t like condoms, but after being on birth control, I absolutely hated it. I wish there were better options out there, as it seems like for me there is no other choice than an IUD (Scary!) or condoms…

  • Reply Gen May 19, 2012 at 4:44 am

    THANK you for bringing this up! I’ve had this exact same problem. I recently went off the ring and I already feel 100x better. I was no longer interested in being intimate and felt depressed all the time. It’s still hard for us as my fiance and I both don’t like condoms, but after being on birth control, I absolutely hated it. I wish there were better options out there, as it seems like for me there is no other choice than an IUD (Scary!) or condoms…

  • Reply lindsay May 19, 2012 at 10:52 am

    I have never had trouble with the pill and was on for 5+ years but just recently went off…day to day, I haven’t felt different at all but my skin is a mess! They say the pill can help with your skin but I don’t think I realized how much it was helping mine. Additionally, my period was also awful once I stopped. Terrible cramps and very heavy. But I guess its good to know everything is working πŸ™‚

  • Reply Katie May 19, 2012 at 9:22 pm

    This was a big controversy when my husband and I first started talking about it. He thought the pill would be best but I did not want to put any hormones into my body. After research, prayer, and communication we decided to go with the combined method of NFP and condoms. We’ve been together now for 2 years and haven’t gotten pregnant =) I think it’s a great method because I’ve learned how to read my body- even though I’m not exactly regular I have a pretty good idea when I’m ovulating and would get pregnant. We try to stay on the safe side of things however πŸ™‚

  • Reply Sarah May 20, 2012 at 11:18 am

    My birth control method was great– I used the Nuvaring and I loved it for over a year. Then, I started having crazy symptoms, my period didn’t come, and yep, you guessed it…. I got pregnant. It’s not like I messed up the timing, or left the ring out…. I was vigilant. God must have wanted us to have a baby! Our daughter Adelaide’s one year birthday was yesterday.

  • Reply Baking Serendipity May 21, 2012 at 3:53 am

    I love honest posts like this one. I stopped taking birth control about a year ago, and felt so much better after! I truly can’t imagine going back.

  • Reply Kristin Graybeal May 21, 2012 at 4:43 am

    Whenever this topic comes up in discussions with friends or close acquaintances, I always encourage them to consider all options and one option that I share and that my previous doctor (before I switched to a midwife) never mentioned, was fertility awareness .

    I have not read the book suggest by Nadeanne and it is probably similar but another good one to check into is “Garden of Fertility” by Katie Singer. Being in tune with your body and it’s cycles is an amazing thing. You learn so much and you feel intimate with your reproductive cycle, in a good way.

    I have been using the fertility awareness method for 5 years now and have been very happy with a) not getting pregnant and b) not having to put something in my body that wasn’t naturally meant to be there. My mother used this method and had success with it as well.

    • Reply MadisonMayberry May 22, 2012 at 11:37 am

      Thanks for the book suggestions, Kristin! I am looking forward to reading up more on the subject. Everyone had such great book recommendations that I had no idea existed!

  • Reply Linda May 21, 2012 at 9:22 am

    I would love to stop taking the Pill due to many of the side efffects mentioned in your post and the comments, particularly decreased libido. But I continue taking it (nearly 8 years now) simply because I can’t stand the ick factor. My period is so much heavier when I’m not taking the Pill and even the clear discharge at ovulation disgusts me. I know it probably seems silly because these things are a “natural” part of being a woman. I also feel selfish and guilty because I’m not as available to my husband as I used to be – it’s way too effective as a contraceptive! I hope I’m not the only one who feels like this…

  • Reply justinelorelle May 21, 2012 at 4:47 pm

    I had the EXACT same experience you did. (And am currently implementing the same method you are now.) For me, I didn’t have any emotional side effects with B-Yaz, but it killed my libido and, for whatever reason, would give me two periods every other month. Super fun, as you can imagine.

    My doctor pretty much gave me the same speech (and had me try out another pill for a month, with which I had the same results), and in the end, I just decided to stop taking anything. I definitely miss the convenience (although remembering to take something every day at the same time isn’t exactly always convenient), but I’ve noticed most of my other married friends making the same decision. For me, it just wasn’t normal to take hormones every day, and I definitely feel more like myself off of them.

    • Reply MadisonMayberry May 22, 2012 at 11:31 am

      You have no idea how comforting it is to know that I wasn’t crazy for thinking that I felt the way I did when taking bc pills. For the longest time, I thought I might just be making it up or that something was wrong with me for feeling the way I did. But hearing that others have had the same experience makes a huge difference. πŸ™‚

  • Reply Amy May 22, 2012 at 1:11 am

    Hi Madison -love your blog! and OH MY GOSH this is the EXACT monologue I told my Doctor a few years ago! I feel like alot of doctors don’t listen (I can say this.. I am a nurse lol) and all I wanted to do was find some research proving that I was not crazy! I was on the pill for a while and then the NuvaRing for a few years which I loved until it suddenly gave me a lot of pain and a decreased libido (just like you were saying). It bothered me so much that I could not find professional literature on this phenomenon. I thought maybe it was all in my head. So my then boyfriend (current husband) switched to the good ole fashioned condom method and although we weren’t 100% compliant at first, with some discipline, it is working great for us!! Thank you so much for sharing this very personal topic because it really will help others feel like they aren’t alone (including myself)!! I hope this continues to work for you (and without getting into too much detail -there are some amazing brands out there now)!!

    • Reply MadisonMayberry May 22, 2012 at 11:24 am

      Amy, I love knowing that I’m not alone in my experiences with birth control! I was a little nervous sharing such a personal aspect of my life on the internet (over-sharing!) but everyone’s great responses makes me realize that it’s something we should all be able to be more open and honest about. There really are some great options out there that go unexplored by many!

  • Reply Emily May 29, 2012 at 5:21 pm

    I’ve been off BC for over a year now, and I could not be happier. I have PCOS and I found out that it suppresses the problems instead of helps, and the pill made me absolutely crazy. I’m so glad that I’m going into my marriage being BC-free and we’re going to practice Natural Family Planning instead. We’re going to our first class in July! I wish that my doctor was more supportive since she believes we’re going to get pregnant when we don’t want to (which is silly in my opinion). I’m glad that you found something that works better for you.

  • Reply Miki May 31, 2012 at 8:19 pm

    I think the less meds you put into your body the better off you are. But like you said, it is a personal decision. No one method is good for everybody. I didn’t read the comments, but would like to add a gentle truth: IUDs cause an abortion/miscarriage each time an egg & sperm join. I was never told this and used this method after my first child. I was so shook up when I discovered what happens. Fortunately I had it taken out by then, but I remember all the times I had cramps. I felt so bad but I’m forgiven now.

    • Reply Madison Mayberry June 3, 2012 at 3:22 pm

      Miki, thank you so much for sharing that piece of information. I had no idea that was the case with IUD’s. I never really thought they were the right solution for us, but I’m even more sure of it now.

  • Reply Natalie June 29, 2012 at 6:54 pm

    I am so thankful for this post. I have been on BC for four months and just got married two weeks ago. I started on it in preparation for marriage as well as hoping it would decrease the side effects of my period. However, the last few months have been such a roller coaster of emotions. I have been researching causes of anxiety, moodiness, and just a general lack of joy trying to figure out what is happening to me. I keep asking my husband why I’m crazy. My doctor actually prescribed an anti-anxiety medication never mentioning that my recent starting of BC could have contributed to this. I hated knowing that I was filling my body with two different medications. As I was crying on the couch…again…and praying for some sense of clarity, your post came to mind. I hadn’t even considered for one second that birth control might be the cause of my unhappiness. My husband is so supportive and willing to try anything to bring back the joy I had just a few months ago. How long did it take after going off of the pill to feel “yourself” again? I can’t wait to once again feel normal.

  • Reply Lindsay October 2, 2012 at 1:13 am

    I found that the birth control pill gave me far more unpleasant side effects than the nuva ring. It has a far lower dose of hormones and you don’t think of it every day, just every month. Condoms are great but I really am at a point where I can’t get pregnant (doing a PhD) so I like to double things up. If you do give birth control another shot, try the nuva ring.

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