By now, we’re accustomed to seeing the attention around birth control as more or less hype. Women in implant or IUD commercials and ads are actresses, glamorous working moms, or liberated, fulfilled career women, all because of the artificial hormones currently dictating everything from their hormones to their mental health.
It seems like going against the grain to question hormonal birth control, or even, as one female journalist said, “anti-feminist.” Cognitive dissonance aside, we continue to hear about women choosing hormonal birth control (HBC), but rarely do we hear about when they decide to stop taking it.
For good reason. There’s a culture around women’s reproductive health, around birth control in general, that’s clinical, intimidating, and not to be questioned. But by now we know, even from just scratching the surface, the plethora of risks associated with hormonal birth control that, not all, but countless women experience.
When we’re so desensitized to these risks, it can make quitting birth control even more difficult for us. When we have no idea what to expect, it’s easier to tell ourselves that our status quo with birth control is better than the unknown and unexpected. But for many, quitting is actually a reclamation of empowerment and freedom, aside from a physically and mentally liberating choice.
Yes, Women Are Quitting Birth Control
In the microcosm of third-wave feminism and a society inundated with its most fundamental rhetoric, a topic like quitting birth control seems beyond the pale. After all, it gave us our modern perspective of women in the workforce as we know it and shaped how we conceptualize working moms, stay-at-home moms, and women without children.
By our culture’s standards, birth control has given us our freedom in the manner our society defines it. Are we ungrateful for demanding better when it costs us our mental health?
For many, quitting the Pill is actually a reclamation of empowerment and freedom.
Anna Silman in an article for New York Magazine’s The Cut seems to think so. According to her thesis, it’s privileged and “precarious” to even question the efficacy of HBC when the very access of contraception for women in the U.S. is apparently “under siege,” though there’s no citation or other basis for that claim.
Silman believes that “quitting the Pill remains the purview of privileged women in liberal enclaves who have the time and resources to use things like non-hormonal IUDs and cycle-tracking apps — not to mention health care and therapists and access to abortions and morning-after pills when such methods fail,” which seems to view women and their reproductive health in a dichotomy of either a) on the Pill and disenfranchised, or b) not on contraception at all and privileged— completely ignoring the positive benefits and advantages of the fertility awareness method, which is 99% effective when used correctly, and not to mention free.
It’s no wonder that we’re so afraid of quitting when these are the attitudes we’re surrounded with. We view not being on contraception and unplanned pregnancies as the worst possible scenario, which should tell you something about how our culture worships birth control but essentially views children as expendable (babies when they’re wanted or “planned”/fetuses and tissue when they’re not).
Perhaps that’s harsh. But so is being told that we should essentially ignore our discomfort and misgivings about what it’s doing to our bodies and suck it up.
What To Expect When Quitting the Pill
There’s a stigma around quitting. Maybe you’ve told friends over brunch, or even your doctor that you’ve considered it, and they’ve responded with “just give it time” or “let’s see how it goes” (both happened to me).
For some who have quit taking HBC, myself included, there comes a time when you have to decide what’s more important: your mental health and potentially your life, or a supposedly “regulated” period.
There comes a time when you have to choose: your mental health or a supposedly “regulated” period.
There might be pushback. From your family, your partner, friends, or medical professionals. If that’s the case, explain the facts of the situation to friends and family, break up with the toxic boyfriend, and find a medical professional who supports your decision and will work with you to accommodate the aftermath, whatever it may be. (I’m only kidding about the break-up, though it worked for me.)
There’s not really much out there about what else to expect, both mentally and physically, but that doesn’t mean women aren’t quitting HBC.
Here’s what we do know:
While taking birth control, it’s common to notice physical changes in your weight, skin, diet, and exercise, etc., but that’s not to say all of these will drastically change once again when you quit HBC.
For some, you might notice longer periods of bleeding, or missed periods entirely. You also might see an increase in appetite and worse or better skin. Though these effects entirely depend on the individual, they’re all possibilities.
Most notably, women may experience an increase in libido.
Many women report heavier and longer periods, and maybe even more PMS symptoms. However, this isn’t to say that cycle irregularity means you’re not having a period anymore, especially because the bleeding we experience on birth control is actually not a period. All of these are symptoms many women deal with and, when noticeable, are able to effectively treat.
With a more natural return of ovulation, you may also experience cramping around the time of ovulation which occurs when your ovary releases an egg, known as mittelschmerz. Many women also notice more vaginal discharge or an increase in cervical mucus, which is beneficial when charting symptoms for the purposes of fertility awareness.
Most notably, women may experience an increase in libido. When off birth control, we can feel more attuned to our body’s natural cues, and a healthy desire for intimacy around the time of ovulation is just one of the benefits.
While the physical changes are obvious, the mental changes may be much more of a relief.
Women may be unaware of the brain fog they have while on birth control until they’re off it, when they begin to experience fewer mood swings and a more grounded sense of what many describe as clarity.
Women may be unaware of the brain fog they have while on birth control until they’re off it.
Speaking for myself, this was the biggest change I had when I stopped taking birth control 18 months ago. Whereas before, I experienced deep bouts of depression and even passive suicidal ideation, my overall mood increased and I felt more in control of my emotions and feelings.
Your Reasons for Quitting HBC Are Valid
There are many reasons why you might consider quitting hormonal birth control, be they physical or mental related. Whatever the reason, if it affects your day-to-day life and your ability to function in a healthy way, it’s a good one.
When you begin to research quitting, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the possibilities and the what-ifs. It’s easy to feel daunted when so many influencers and medical professionals are subtly implying that it’s better not to, even if it means you continue to suffer.
Let’s be clear. If our cultural liberation and supposed freedom from oppression mean our silent suffering benefits monolithic corporate entities and pharmaceutical companies, it’s not worth it. If the price for our reproductive health and empowerment is that we’re chained to birth control because we’re too afraid of getting pregnant or even learning more about our bodies, it’s not worth it.
There’s nothing at all frightening or disturbing about our bodies and how they are naturally supposed to function, and quitting birth control gives the opportunity to experience that firsthand.