Women get on the birth control pill for many reasons. Not getting pregnant is the most obvious reason, but many women also get on the pill to avoid some pain, discomfort or irregularity in their cycles, and some even get on the pill to affect a skin condition. In recent years, many women have even started taking their pills in a way that prevents them from having a period at all, determining that Mother Nature really isn’t convenient to the rest of their lives.
However, there comes a time in many women’s lives when they stop liking the idea of artificially controlling their periods with synthetic hormones. This can happen at any age, but it happens a lot for women in their late 30s because of the higher risk of side effects associated with the pill after age 35. Plus, these women are also beginning to feel the pressure of the biological clock ticking! Therefore, the idea of using birth control or not becomes top of mind.
When a women thinks about getting off the pill, many questions come up:
Should I use an alternate form of birth control, and which ones are best?
Will my periods go back to being the way they were before I got on the pill?
What if I get pregnant? Would that be a good thing for me (and my partner if I have one)?
Do I even want to have kids?
Can I still have kids?
Did the pill do anything to damage my body in any way? (This is common for women who have been on the pill for a long time to ask.)
I asked myself these questions at age 35. At the time, I was in a job I wasn’t happy with and a relationship I wasn’t totally fulfilled in. When I finally got off, I found that my cycles returned to exactly the way they had before I got on the pill in the first place. For me, that meant long cycles that were spaced about 35-45 days apart. I knew something was out of balance, and the pill was just covering it up for all those years.
I worked with an Ayurvedic practitioner from Nepal to regulate my cycles, at first, using some herbal formulas and then I was eventually able to regulate my cycles without the use of any herbs through diet and lifestyle changes I made. Healing is a process, but I was very curious and motivated for it to happen because I knew that I only had a limited amount of time left if I wanted to have children. Plus, the little mystical side of me really viewed it as a special privilege of being a woman to get synced up with the moon. I went at it with the mindset of both an artist and a scientist.
As a practicing Ayurvedic practitioner now, when women come to me and are considering getting off the pill, there are a few key recommendations I give:
Discuss with your doctor. Individuals who come to an Ayurvedic practitioner are generally interested in making the changes necessary to solve issues without the use of prescription drugs. However, I think it’s best to speak with the healthcare practitioner who prescribed any drugs in the first place about your desire to get off of them so you understand any risks and changes that might occur more fully.
Develop a diet and lifestyle suitable to your constitution, life stage and season. This simply means knowing your body type and your current imbalances and acting accordingly. Getting evaluated by an Ayurvedic practitioner is very helpful. Learn how foods, environments, climates, eating and sleeping patterns as well as seasons affect your body. Start to notice the unique aspects of your body. We all have different makeups.
Research alternate forms of birth control. Many women switch from the pill to the patch or the IUD, but many of these also distribute hormones into the body, albeit a bit more locally, but these hormones still make it into the body’s blood system, so their effects aren’t as locally contained as you would think. Copper IUDs are generally thought of as the least irritating of all the IUDs, but even so – if you are plugging your cervix with a hard foreign object, irritation is a possibility, especially if you have local or systemic inflammation. Unfortunately, abstinence and the rhythm method are the most natural forms of birth control – unfortunate since these also require the greatest amount of self-control for both partners. Everything else allows you to “do it” more whenever you want, but your body will have to deal with the side effects of any other forms of birth control. Even condoms can create irritation. This is a good time to explore your relationship with sex and if you want to have children now, in the future or never.
If you are sexually active with a male partner, discuss this decision with your partner and determine if you need an alternate form of birth control. It is important to get everyone’s feelings are out on the table. Let him know from your heart why you are doing it – perhaps it’s simply about protecting your health, or possibly you are thinking about having a child someday. It will keep you both connected and compassionate towards each other during the transition, especially if you have any discomfort. Come up with an agreement for birth control that everyone feels satisfied with.
Reduce stress. Whether you are working too much or feeling anxiety about a work or personal situation, it is important that you try to structure your life in a way that you feel good about. Stress alone causes the body to get imbalanced and can affect your cycles. Many individuals do this through yoga, meditation, being out in nature or following creative pursuits. Find grounding ways to enjoy the beauty that life has to offer.
Start journaling. The birth control pill tricks your body into thinking it’s pregnant, so when the hormones change, your body will undergo subtle and sometimes very noticeable changes when you stop taking it. Notice changes in mind, body, emotions, appetite and excretions and wastes (menstrual blood is also a type of waste product). Give yourself a few cycles to pick up patterns. Occasionally, we have an irregular health condition due to a particularly stressful month, or a month in which we were sick or travelled. Making a judgment about your cycle from only one month tells you only that – how that month went – and nothing more. Patterns cannot be determined, except through time.
Start tracking the moon. Making a decision to get off the birth control pill is a form of surrender to your natural feminine power. Now that your natural state isn’t competing with added hormones, you will get to observe how you feel during different phases of the moon.
Share this decision and experience with your support system. The support of good friends and individuals we respect is important whenever we are making changes in our lives. Every conversation helps us get clearer on what we want and we may also be helping someone else figure out what they want.
Be patient, and remember that it’s a transition. It will be difficult to tell how your body is resetting until you get through a few cycles. Transitions are often a little uncomfortable. Don’t assume that things are going to go back to the way they were, but some women do notice that some old symptoms come back. If you notice old patterns reemerge, this is simply information for you to use to begin to finally rebalance your system and you can work with a practitioner on these issues. On the other hand, many individuals who experienced discomfort from the pill, such as headaches, spotting or other issues, will find relief when they stop using it.