At a dinner party not too long ago, the subject turned to birth control. There was some debate between my girlfriends as to which was the best method, but on one point we were all agreed: like choosing our president last year, choosing our birth control methods felt like choosing between the lesser of evils. And yet it is a decision that has great impact on our lives.

I’m So Healthy!! (But My Birth Control Is So Not)

Each and every one of us at the dinner table that night could be considered a healthy individual. Collectively we take part in ballet, barre, pilates, and yoga classes almost every day of the week, and we host vegan dinners at each others’ houses on Monday nights when we watch The Bachelor. We reverse osmosis purify our water to avoid the fluoride and chlorine and when one of us starts taking royal jelly to help with our skincare regimens, we all join in.

And yet we all pump our bodies full of synthetic hormones on a regular basis or insert contraptions that latch onto our cervix’ and leak hormones or heavy metals into our bloodstreams. Myself included. I had taken Yasmin birth control pills from the time my (now) husband and I started having sex when I was 19 until the time we were married when I was 26. And then I stopped taking them.

Not because I wanted to get pregnant. My husband and I did not—and do not—want to have children, but I also didn’t want my healthy lifestyle to go to waste. Over a period of two years I had become convinced that hormonal birth control methods were behind everything from breast cancer and heart disease, to food sensitivities and digestion issues. But what really started to get to me was the fact that taking hormones (either natural or synthetic) effectively alters our brain chemistry—changing our personalities in the process.

As many women can attest during that “placebo week” on the pill, we suddenly we behave like completely different individuals when we are no longer under the influence of that steady hormonal drip. We like different foods, we want different things out of life, and we choose different people to date. One study even found that women choose different soulmates on the pill than they do off! (more on that in this guide). Then we get back on the pill and we go back to neutral, not caring one way or the other.

Like athletes who take human growth hormone, they love that it gives them large muscles and thus try to forget about the fact that it gives them breasts and wildly aggressive mood swings. But I just couldn’t get into that. There was nothing I liked less than the idea that I could be a completely different person off a drug I had been taking for years. (And the reality was, I was—but more on that in a minute).

Finally, I discovered that all birth control pills contain trace amounts of milk, and I am so allergic to that. So I quit taking my birth control pills cold turkey and my husband and I resolved to use condoms until we figured out another alternative. In the meantime, I compiled all that I’d learned on the subject into a guide that includes the downsides of hormonal birth control methods, alternative methods of birth control, how to get off the pill, and how to ease the transition using my post-pill cleanse. Here it is if you’re interested.

I’d also recommend the book Sweetening The Pill by Holly Grigg-Spall (and the upcoming documentary by the same name) if you’d like more information. Another interesting one is The Pill: Are You Sure It’s For You? by Jane Bennett.

Getting Off The Pill (& The Symptoms That Followed)

Unfortunately, once I got off the pill I experienced a number of troubling symptoms. First my breasts got smaller (thank heaven), then my skin started breaking out and my hair became so oily that washing it didn’t help. Finally my peach fuzz became so predominate that my hairstylist whispered to me that I should really get it waxed (how embarrassing). Thankfully, all of these symptoms were temporary and transitional and didn’t last longer than six months (except for the smaller breasts thing).

What was far more alarming was that one year post-pill I had had only two periods, each six-months apart (a condition known as amenorrhea or hypothalamic amenorrhea). I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and hypothyroidism, and was told by my doctor that I was infertile, incurable, and that I should get back on the pill to “regulate my cycle.”

Thankfully, I knew enough by this point to call B.S. Amenorrhea means that your hypothalamus is no longer producing enough estrogen for your body to ovulate and then menstruate. It is very common post-pill because the hypothalamus has not been producing its own estrogen for the entire duration of your birth control taking days. Once it is free to once again start producing estrogen, it has to relearn to do so. And that can take some time.

Polycystic ovarian syndrome is also very common among women who take estrogenic birth control methods. It happens when eggs start developing within their follicles (in preparation for ovulation) but then that egg is never released into the fallopian tubes (due to the fact that ovulatory hormones are being suppressed by birth control) and thus the egg remains stunted and swollen sitting atop the ovaries.

Hypothyroidism, too, is also caused by or exacerbated by the pill. It is a result of chronic mineral deficiencies. And guess what, hormonal birth control methods make it so that your body can no longer absorb minerals. Making most women who get off it, mineral deficient. And sometimes hypo-thyroidal.

So I didn’t get back on the pill, instead I healed each and every one of those hormonal imbalances holistically. I now have regular 28-day menstrual cycles, I no longer have PCOS, and I have long-since cured my hypothyroidism. And once again, I compiled all that I’d learned on healing hormonal imbalances holistically into a guide. Here’s that one if you’re interested.

I’d also recommend reading the following books: Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom by Christiane Northrup, The Hormone Cure by Sara Gottfried, WomenCode by Alissa Vitti, and The Way Of The Happy Woman by Sara Avant Stover for more on holistically healing your hormones.

What I Am Really Like (When I’m Not On The Pill)

Apart from the physical differences, I also experienced somewhat of an “emotional renaissance” getting off the pill. It’s hard to explain, but for me, the pill had made me feel very neutral about a lot of things. It was like I was looking at the world through rose colored glasses where I didn’t feel strongly for or against anything. It wasn’t until I got off the pill that I realized I didn’t like the music I had been listening to, I didn’t enjoy the activities I had been doing, and I wasn’t in the career I wanted.

One year post-pill I had quit listening to my husband’s alternative music and started attending Backstreet Boys concerts (yes, they still tour), I had quit teaching yoga and taking crossfit classes in favor of taking ballet instead, and I had started nutrition school to learn more about women’s health and hormones, eventually leaving my tech job in favor of opening a health coaching practice and working for Whole Foods (I have since started working in tech again, but that’s a different story).

In a lot of ways, getting off the pill felt like returning to who I was when I was five years old. It was as if I suddenly remembered what I was really interested in, and what I just wasn’t. I quit a lot of activities that I just wasn’t into, and took up a lot of new ones that I discovered I was. But ultimately the feeling it gave me was passion, and lots of it. It was as if life stopped being in the friend zone and started being completely and utterly romantic. Oh and libido does that too when you get off the hormones (in case you were wondering).

Alternative Birth Control Methods (Don’t Freak Out)

Somewhere along the way, my Ayurvedic practitioner recommended I use the Fertility Awareness Method (also known as Fertility Awareness Based Methods or FABM). She said she had been using FABMs for twenty years and only had two well-planned children. But I was a skeptic. I went to my Ayurvedic practitioner for oil massages and alternative medicine. I wasn’t about to hand over my precious birth control method to something I thought was “hippie nonsense.” This had to work darn it!

But she gave me a book, Toni Weschler’s famed Taking Charge Of Your Fertility, and I was immediately hooked. In it, the author goes into great detail on a woman’s menstrual cycle, what it takes to get pregnant, and what it takes to avoid pregnancy. The general ethos of the book is this: There are only eight days a month that sex could potentially result in a pregnancy. Use a condom during those days. No need to use anything the rest of the month.

I will admit though, when you first hear about it it sounds kind of sketchy. Like an old wives tale passed down from the middle ages. Even right now I’m sure you’re thinking it’s a bunch of crock. But the reality is that FABMs are not the kind of birth control you may have heard about in Catholic school, and they certainly aren’t the rhythm method (or other calendar-based methods) you may have grown up with.

This is actual, well researched, and science-based information that even the Chinese recommended as an effective method of population control (according to Chinese studies, Fertility Awareness Based Methods are 99% effective at preventing pregnancy). The book is riddled with statistics (especially the 20th anniversary edition) that show that when used effectively, FABMs are 98% to 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. The same as effectively using condoms, the pill, or many other modern methods of birth control.

If you want to learn more about FABMs I recommend watching the acclaimed short film Miscontraceptions.

Getting Started Using The Fertility Awareness Method

Of course, like all things, learning the Fertility Awareness Method takes practice. We have to learn how to discern when we are ovulating, and when we are not. And that means being able to read the signs of your body with great expertise (because every woman’s cycles are different, and that’s why calendar methods just don’t work). To do this, and to be the most accurate at it, we must track two core symptoms: cervical fluid and temperature.

Cervical fluid is something that you just don’t have if you’re on hormonal methods of birth control (or if you are on any kind of method—like an IUD—that may suppress your menstrual cycle). But if you think back on a time before you ever used any kind of birth control, you may remember walking past Abercrombie & Fitch at the mall and suddenly feeling wet—like maybe you just started your period. You run to the mall bathroom only to discover that—nope, false alarm. That’s cervical fluid. And the first day you feel cervical fluid is the first day of your so called “fertile phase” (and thus the first day you need so start wearing condoms).

To know when your fertile phase has ended, you have to track your basal body temperature. Your basal body temperature is the waking temperature of your body, and it goes up the second progesterone is introduced into the body (which is why pregnant women are several degrees hotter than non-pregnant women). Progesterone is only introduced into the body after the egg has passed away (and thus the body begins prepping for a potential pregnancy). The last day of your fertile phase (and thus the last day you need to wear condoms) is the third night after your temperature has shifted.

I track both of these symptoms using the Kindara App (by far the best app out there for using the fertility awareness method) and I track my temperature using their bluetooth thermometer, which connects to the app automatically (via blutetooth). I actually used to teach the method when we lived in the San Francisco Bay Area. Here’s a one-hour workshop I recorded on learning how to use the method effectively in case you’re interested.

To learn more, I recommend reading the book Taking Charge Of Your Fertility.

Here’s How To Get Off The Pill (& Onto More Natural Methods)

My husband and I have been off the pill and using the Fertility Awareness Method for the past six years—and we will continue to do so until we eventually get a vasectomy. Now several of my friends do the same, and guess what? None of us our pregnant!! If you’re interested in getting off the hormonal drip and onto safe, effective, and natural birth control for life, here’s how to do it:

  1. Get off your current method of birth control—read my free Ditch Your Birth Control Guide + Post Pill Cleanse.
  2. Get the tools you need to start tracking your cycle—you’ll need the Kindara App and the Kindara Thermometer.
  3. Start tracking your cycles—watch my free Fertility Awareness Method Workshop or read Taking Charge Of Your Fertility to learn how.
  4. Heal any hormonal imbalances holistically—read my free Jumpstart Your Hormones Guide for more information.

Hope that helps you on your individual birth control journeys! And if you have any questions, feel free to post them in the comments below. Thanks for stopping by!

Love,

Elle