Let's talk about hormones.
Hello lovely friends! Today I wanted to post about a topic that I've been dealing with for awhile, but haven't shared yet on the blog. I want to preface this post with the fact that I *definitely* am not an expert on hormones. BUT I've been learning along the way, so I want to fill you in on my journey, in case anyone else out there feels like they're struggling with the same thing. Today I'm talking about - you guessed it - hormones - specifically my birth control journey, and giving my body time to reset after transitioning off of it.
Here's a little bit of background on how I ultimately ended up using hormonal birth control (specifically, the birth control pill). Sadly (and honestly I think like many women out there), I started birth control around the time that I went to college to manipulate my cycle (read: not get a period) and have perfectly clear skin. I look back on this and just shake my head, but when your doctor is telling you that it's a great option, it's easy to think that it's the right decision. A lot of my friends were doing the same thing, and it felt like the "norm." Just to note - I've always had a fairly regular cycle and the only symptoms that I typically suffered with were fatigue around the week of my period as well as minor cramping (but not every cycle). My period was never a burden - but birth control just felt like the "thing to do."
Throughout college, I went on and off of birth control because I HATED the symptoms I suffered from. I definitely gained weight at times (and during my disordered eating phase, this was terrifying), suffered from anxiety and fatigue. I also dealt with severe digestive issues (exacerbated from birth control? who knows), and uncontrollable emotional responses (think: crying ALL THE TIME at the drop of a hat). This cycle continued throughout college, until at one point after graduation my insurance switched and I was put onto a different generic pill. I immediately noticed a difference and called my doctor in tears because I was SO anxious and not feeling like myself. My doctor was sympathetic, but she also let me know that I shouldn't notice a difference between different generics. At that point, I knew that I was done with the birth control pill, and wanted to try a different option.
Around the time I turned 24, I decided to try the IUD. HOLY COW - the insertion was quite an experience. I luckily didn't have any crazy/scary response (please don't go down the internet black hole like I did, reading horror stories about others' experiences), although I had some intense cramping within the first couple of weeks (which prompted another google session). I have to admit, at first, I thought that the IUD was PERFECT. I immediately lost around 10 pounds of water weight/bloat (and still call bullshit to any doctor that says that pill doesn't make you gain weight), my skin cleared up (no crazy breakouts like I'd experienced when they switched my brand!), and I felt amazing about the convenience of not having to remember to take a pill at the same time every single day.
But then...I realized that I wasn't getting my period. In the first couple of months, I wrote it off to my body adjusting to the IUD, but then 6 months passed and eventually a year with no period at all - not even spotting. At the time, I thought that this was pretty awesome. In retrospect - it really scares me that I was so disconnected from such a vital mechanism in my body. In that year, I also suffered from chronic yeast infections (TMI? maybe, but just being honest here) and severe fatigue. My hair also got thinner and more brittle. Despite all of these crazy symptoms, I held off getting my IUD taken out because although I was in a committed relationship, I knew I was in no way, shape, or form ready to worry about the possibility of conceiving.
About six months ago, I couldn't ignore the feeing in my gut anymore - my intuition was telling me that it was time to find another birth control option. And while not in the immediate future, I also knew that we wanted to have children eventually -- and I wanted to make sure that my body was ready and capable for that. As someone who didn't get their period consistently due to an eating disorder - I wanted to know that I was getting my period naturally. On the IUD, I had NO CLUE what was going on with my hormones and body.
That little feeling in my gut prompted me to read the book Women Code (linked below!), which blew my mind - I HIGHLY recommend to anyone out there trying to learn more about their cycle. I also decided to consult with a hormone expert, Candace Burch (SPOILER ALERT - she is coming on the podcast, and I couldn't be more excited!!). We tested my hormones while I still had the IUD in place, so that I could see the baseline of where my levels landed. I knew in my heart that it was time to go birth-control free and let my body do its thing naturally - but I also wanted to get a benchmark of where I was at while ON birth control. The way we tested my hormone levels was by doing an easy saliva test to measure key hormones such as estrogen and progesterone, as well as measure my cortisol levels throughout the day. After a call to go over my results - I knew that my intuition had been right. Birth control had completely depleted my progesterone levels, and I was "estrogen-dominant," which was causing a lot of the symptoms I was seeing (chronic yeast infections, fatigue, bloating). I knew it was time to make a change.
So, last December, I had my IUD removed (for anyone out there wondering, on a scale from 1-5, my insertion was around a 4 in regards to pain, and taking it out was a .5 - NOWHERE CLOSE!) and I've been actively working to heal over the past seven months. My approach has been to incorporate probiotics, vitamin B, vitamin D, fish oil, and the herb Vitex (definitely look this one up - it's amazing for hormones!). I also cut out caffeine for a good six months to reset my system (recently have started drinking it again in the last month, because I missed it), and have been avoiding gluten and dairy (which I already had been doing through the low-FODMAP diet). I stopped drinking as much alcohol, avoided intense workouts every single day, and started practicing more self-care. As a result, my hair is thicker, my skin is actually BETTER, and my energy levels are more consistent now that I'm off of birth control. I'm still not feeling 100% perfect, but I feel like I'm on the right track. I'm going to have my hormones retested in late summer, so that I can see where my levels are post-birth control because I feel like that's the responsible thing to do. I'll definitely keep you posted.
If you've ever struggled with, or had a gut feeling that maybe birth control isn't the right thing for you, I'd encourage you to do your research on long-term consequences and symptoms. I'd also encourage you to discuss how you're feeling with your doctor. I've left some links below that really helped me process this decision, and I hope they're helpful. As an aside - sometimes birth control can be a great thing - I would just encourage you to be armed with knowledge to make that decision, because it can be truly life-altering.
I'd love to know your thoughts on birth control and where you're at in your journey. Let me know below!