This is a bit of a long winded post, but I wanted to share my story because this is a subject that I think needs to be discussed more and I know so many women in the same boat I was several years ago. Hope you enjoy!
Two years ago I was leaving a yoga class, when I saw a flyer titled "Harness the Power of Your Cycle." This intrigued me, so I grabbed a flyer. Basically this was a period class that seemed to include many more topics than my previous biology education. This class came at a good time because I had just been complaining to my mom about my mood swings, headaches, cramps, and all the things that came with my monthly visit. Little did I know this 4 week course was going to be one of the first steps to lead me on my wellness journey. I was going to learn that the magic that happens during a women's cycle is much more than biology.
The topics in the class were outlined as follows:
Week 1: Introducing the Seasons of Your Cycle and how to track your cycle from a mental/emotional/energetic perspective. Understand your mood swings in a whole new way.
Week 2: The mechanics/biology of the cycle – learn how your hormones change throughout the month and what that means for your mood and energy. Get an introduction to tracking and understanding your fertile window.
Week 3: Nutrition and the cycle – use food and herbs etc to smooth out your cycle and help with pms.
Week 4: Going deeper into menstrual cycle awareness and how tracking can help you maximize your life and connect to your deeper self and purpose.
I was in a group of about 8 women who were all interested in gaining knowledge and power using something that we had been taught to dread each month. There was only one problem with this class, most of the attendees were on hormonal contraceptives, including myself. It hadn't even crossed my mind that to harness the power of your cycle, you needed a real, unaltered, natural cycle.
This was my first glimpse into the story behind the pill. Every women in this class had a story. A story of why she was on the pill, and most of us didn't realize that there was an alternative path to take in this story. Many of us were put on hormonal contraceptives at an early age for cramps, heavy periods, endometriosis, etc. Most of us were under the impression that pumping these hormones into our bodies was the cure to our issues and we were completely uneducated about what was actually happening in our bodies. This was the first time that I understood that hormonal birth control keeps you from ovulating and the period I was having every month was not even a real period. When I learned about the intricate dance our hormones do throughout the month and the amazing things our female bodies are capable of, it didn't feel right suppressing all the things my body was meant to be doing. I found it very unsettling when I learned that the symptoms that I was treating by the pill were actually a wealth of knowledge. Cramps, heavy periods, headaches, bloating, these are all signs that can help us discover that something in our body is out of balance or not functioning quite right. In fact, a women's period is considered a fifth vital sign among blood pressure, temperature, heart rate, and breathing rate. So by using hormonal birth control for 10 years I wasn't treating the underlying issues causing my monthly symptoms, rather I was just putting a bandaid on my symptoms and blocking all of the information I could have been gathering from my 5th vital sign. Who knew?!
This class touched on the biology of the female body and all of the hormones that are hard at work throughout our cycle, but it dove so much deeper than that. We learned about the "seasons" of your cycle. This was super interesting, but once again something I couldn't truly embrace because with birth control, my cycle was on autopilot. There are four phases in a women's cycle menstruation, follicular, ovulation, and luteal. Each of these phases occur because of a change in your hormones and they offer different strengths. For example, you get a boost of energy and creativity in your follicular phase, this is your "spring." You can even try and coordinate life events around these phases to best utilize the strengths they offer. You can learn more about syncing your life with your cycle with the incredible Alisa Vitti, the author of Woman Code. She has even created a functional medicine period app for helping you track your cycle as well as the seasons you're in. Her app tells you what part of your cycle you're in, and gives you info on your emotional state, what you your love life looks like, food suggestions, and even workout suggestions that support you in that specific season of your cycle. She overcame PCOS just by following these regimens and offers programs to help others no matter what stage of life they are in. Check her out and download floliving!
After I finished the class I did not make any quick moves but assessed how I was feeling on the pill. About 6 months after taking the "Harness the Power of Your Cycle" course, I decided it was time to come off of my birth control. I definitely was not trying to have a baby, so I knew I needed to find another method. I took a course on FAM (fertility awareness method) and once again learned so much about my body. FAM is about being aware of when you are fertile, which is a very specific window of time. You track your BBT (basal body temperature) and other fertility signs to avoid pregnancy. I use the Kindara app and their BBT thermometer that automatically syncs with the app. You can learn more about Kindara and FAM here.
I have now been off the pill for almost two years. I would love to say it has been great and easy, but the truth is, it has been hard and a lot of work. The reason it has been so hard is because after being on the pill for ten years my hormones, gut, and cycle are completely out of whack. You can read more about the long term side effects of hormonal birth control here . That three day cycle that came the same day each month was not real and not my cycle. After two years, my cycle is still not regular and consists of some not so friendly faces. My cramps from high school are back and I also experience painful ovarian cysts every few months. I do not know whether some of the hormonal imbalances I am dealing with are due to being on the pill for 10 years or are what the pill was masking, either way it is time to get to the bottom of them and get my body balanced again. Though coming off the pill hasn't been all rainbows and flowers, there are some positives I have noticed. I feel that getting off the pill has had a major positive impact on my mental health. I am not nearly on such an emotional roller coaster before and during my period. I also definitely feel more in touch with my body and able to listen to it more. The hormone free path may be taking more work and is not as convenient, but I am so thankful I quit when I did. I am getting to know my body and cycle, and the not so great symptoms that came with ditching the pill are helping me discover what my body needs to get things regulated.
I'm sure now you're wondering, well if not the pill, ring, shot, iud, then what? I am a fan of the Fertility Awareness Method. It takes a while to get used to but is becoming a preferred method by more and more women. In fact, an app called "Natural Cycles" was just certified as a birth control method in the European Union. The effectiveness rate of "Natural Cycles" is 93 percent. The pill has an effectiveness rate of 99.7 percent with perfect use, but with "actual" use, it drops to 92 percent. There are many tools for FAM. Kindara and Wink (started in Boulder, CO), Ladycomp, Daysy, and Natural Cycles to name a few. I like FAM because you become so much more connected with your body and learn so much about your cycle. Of course it takes discipline and back up methods at certain times of the month. The woman I took my FAM course with told me about VCF. This is a Vaginal Contraceptive Film. It is a great backup method and a good alternative to condoms. Click here for more alternatives to hormonal birth control.
Please feel free to share your comments, stories, or questions!