Quitters: Why I Quit Taking Hormonal Birth Control

We fought for the pill... but is it the be-all, end-all?
We fought for the pill… but is it the be-all, end-all?

Katie Lee is an author, lifestyle designer (<<< she’s really good at this!), and bakes a mean cake. She’s one of those people who makes everything look easy and effortless– a happy marriage, fulfilling job, sun-drenched home, and awesome dog. Plus, the girl has legs for days. But the truth is, she’s designed her life to be effortless, something that’s taken her years of work, intention and research. She never settles for the status quo. She’s a seeker and a doer.

Two years ago, she quit hormonal birth control.

Initially, it was to cure her constant headaches. Unexpectedly, she set off a chain reaction that led to better skin, “realer” emotions, and an enhanced relationship with her husband. I’ll let her explain.

* * *

When did you quit birth control? What were you taking and how long had you been on it?

Katie Lee: I quit October 2013. I was taking Ortho Tri-cyclen Lo which seemed to be what everyone was taking when I went on it 10 years prior.

Clearly, you must want to get pregnant immediately. Right? Why else would a woman quit birth control?

Katie: Haha. That’s a big N-O. I wanted to go off birth control because I suspected it was causing the migraines I had suffered from since before I could remember. Although once I thought about, it I didn’t remember having them before going on the pill.

I actually stumbled across this connection by accident. I was on Detoxinista getting a recipe for vegan mac-n-cheese that I heard was amazing (it is!) and I saw she had a tab for natural birth control. I thought it was weird, and I was intrigued enough to click on it.

She outlined her experience with going off the pill and listed the common side effects of hormonal birth control. Even though I had been on it for 10 years, I had never seen a list of side effects. Number three on that list was migraines.

My stomach dropped and in my gut I knew that this could be the reason why cleaning up my diet and my health hadn’t cured my migraines.

I immediately fell down the rabbit hole of research into the world where people are completely aware of the harmful side effects of birth control. Everywhere I looked, migraines were in the top three side effects. I read forums, blog posts and articles from all over the world and started to get really angry that this information seemed so hidden here in the U.S, or at least to me.

Those sources even mentioned how much the pill is pushed here versus other countries.

It didn’t take me long to turn my research away from the harmful effects of the pill and onto natural and effective alternatives.

That’s when I checked out Taking Charge of Your Fertility from the library. According to all the women on the internet, this was the bible. I read every word and then read it again. I was amazed at how little I knew about my own body and what is supposed to happen naturally. Having that knowledge really made the decision to go off the pill much easier.

Katie Lee makes things happen.... after loads of research. 
Katie Lee makes things happen…. after loads of research.

What finally pushed you over the edge?

Katie: I had basically decided I would go off after reading that initial blog post. It was a matter of when and how. I am a research junkie, so I knew I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing it until I knew exactly how to prevent pregnancy and that I had found a sustainable alternative. I spent a lot of hours debating which methods and thinking about my lifestyle and preferences. I was beyond ready for a while, but ultimately decided to go off of it just before our wedding anniversary.



How did you approach the conversation with your hubby?

Katie: My husband is very open and understanding and a research junkie himself. After my initial discovery of the link between headaches and the pill, he was really supportive and also really angry as well. He’s seen me miss out on so much of life because of my migraines so he didn’t even hesitate in supporting me getting off the pill. Just like me he said he would be comfortable after we both did the full research and completely understood how to prevent pregnancy in a safe and sustainable way.

He joined me in researching and analyzing the different methods. We had plenty of discussions about different scenarios, our lifestyle and the science in Taking Charge of Your Fertility. I taught him about what my body is supposed to do naturally so he would completely understand as well.

 

Aside from getting pregnant, a lot of women are afraid of quitting birth control because it helps them manage cramps, PMS, acne or leads to more predictable periods. Did you have any of these anxieties? Did any come true once you quit?

Katie: Of course I was a little nervous. I had been on it so long I didn’t know what would happen when I went off. To calm my nerves I just kept reading stories of other women who had similar demographics and health as I do.

I didn’t suffer immensely from acne or PMS before hand so that wasn’t the reason I went on it in the first place. But I was used to 10 years of predictable “periods.” Something to note is that PMS is not a given and the pill is not necessarily a solution for it. It’s really a symptom of other issues that need to be explored. If you’re healthy, active and don’t suffer from other conditions then you may not have PMS at all. I don’t.

None of these concerns were enough to deter me from quitting it. After everything I’d read I knew I no longer wanted to subject my body to it’s effects. I’m a natural, organic person in every other area of my life so it seemed weird to be taking this pill.

After the fact none of those things came true, the opposite really. After the initial phase of balancing out, I have clearer skin than before, less cramps and PMS than when I was on the pill and my periods are just as predictable. Obviously everyone is different, but I think it helps to hear a positive outcome, too.



How did you feel in the weeks and months after you quit?

Katie: The first week was a trip. I was very hormonal as my body figured out what my natural hormone balance should be. I would laugh, cry, get angry just like a pregnant woman. We were prepared for this and just let it happen.

In about a week, I felt back to normal. From that point on, things have only gotten better.

I consider myself a very healthy person, but after quitting the pill I felt 10x healthier and more vibrant. It’s hard to explain, but there is a clearness to everything now. As if there was a fog over me before that I didn’t even realize.

My skin got very clear and vibrant and I started to feel very connected and in tune with my body. I know exactly what to expect and what’s happening all month long. It feels very freeing. Most importantly I haven’t had a migraine since. Not one. Which makes me happy and angry. I had no idea this was the cause and I feel robbed of so many life experiences over the last decade.

I feel the best I have ever felt in my life.

That fur baby in the window is the only baby Katie needs right now.
That fur baby in the window is the only baby Katie needs right now.



What was the biggest change, post-quitting? Any changes—psychical, emotional, relationship-wise—that surprised you?

Katie: My sex drive went through the roof, which my husband and I both appreciate. I was on the pill before I even formed a true sex drive, so this was new for me, too. I had never craved it before and thought all of the girls in movies and magazines were lying about their desire. It has completely reinvigorated our physical relationship.

Everything I feel physically and emotionally feels more real and I’m acutely aware of it. I recently learned that hormonal birth control can also dampen your emotions. It sort of lessens everything that’s going on. Now I have more emotions, real emotions, than ever before.

An indirect benefit is this experience has strengthened our relationship. Learning about sex and fertility and talking about it so much has brought us closer. We’re both involved in our fertility and sex life now versus me just taking the pill and navigating it by myself.

Overall, I feel like I’m present, alive and living a real life that is vibrant and clear.

So… how do you not get pregnant?

Katie: Yes, that is the ultimate question isn’t it? We use the Fertility Awareness Method. This is not the same as Natural Family Planning or the Calendar method. The biggest difference is that this is completely based on the individual. (PS It’s taught in Taking Charge of Your Fertility).

In short, it means a complete understand of your individual cycle and the days that you’re fertile enough to even get pregnant, versus the days that it’s not possible. As young girls, we’re taught that if a boy even looks at you funny you’ll get pregnant. The truth is that for many days in each month, it’s not possible.

We invested in the Pearly, which is a small computer with a thermometer that monitors my fertility then gives us a red, green or yellow light. Green means go ahead and have sex without risk of pregnancy, yellow means consult your other measures (which we’re not doing so we count yellow as red) and red means your fertile and need to use a back up method of contraception.

We use condoms as our back up method and the people I’ve told that to think we’re crazy until I explain. Although no method is 100 percent effective, the biggest reasons condoms don’t work are user error and they are the wrong size. We did the research, ordered the right size and learned the right way to put them on, use them and take them off.

I also track all of my stats using an app on my iPhone, because I love data. It tells me when to expect my period and is always accurate.

We’re going on two years and have not gotten pregnant with this method. We’re both very confident in it and completely understand how to use it.

An added bonus is that if we do decide we want to have a baby, we would know exactly when to try.

Advice for someone thinking of quitting the pill?

Katie: Although I would recommend that anyone in a healthy, committed relationship consider getting off hormonal birth control, the biggest thing I would want is for every woman to understand how her body works.

There are a lot of misconceptions out there and getting educated is the first step.

Start by reading (it’s at the library) Taking Charge of Your Fertility. Then read blogs and forums of other women who have gone off the pill.

I also enjoyed the resources at natkringoudis.com.au

This podcast episode: jesslively.com/alisavitti/

This was the blog post that started it all: http://detoxinista.com/2013/04/natural-birth-control-methods/

Then take your time. Get all of the information you need to make an informed decision that is right for you, your lifestyle and your relationship.

Then do it! It’s hard to erase years of conditioning and myths, so it’s understandable to be nervous. But eventually you’ll have to trust the research and personal stories and do it. I wish I would have done it years ago, because I’ve never felt better, more connected to my husband and more present than I do now.

* * *

Okay, ladies and guys who stuck it out allll the way to the end: let’s talk BC. I quit taking hormonal birth control three years ago, and had a very similar experience to Katie’s. I tried everything– the pill, the ring, and an IUD. At this stage in my life, I can say tracking things ye olde fashioned way is really working for me. What’s working for you? Thoughts on quitting birth control? Share in the comments!

Other posts you might like: What it’s like to have a baby in a foreign country; plus, a midwife’s approach to no BS postpartum care.

PS Do you have an awesome Quitters story? Email me at heyeleanorproject [at] gmail.com.

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Comments (16)

  • Sarah L. 2 years ago Reply

    I had a very similar story to Katie. Last year I quit my hormonal IUD after two horrible years of a long list of negative side effects (anxiety attacks, heart palpitations, depression, low energy, zero libido, & insomnia). I also didn’t realize the IUD was the cause until I started googling it! I had tried the non-hormonal IUD before that (which I quit for other reasons), and years of the pill before that (which also caused crazy side effects). My experience afterward was very similar to Katie’s – increased mood, energy, sex, & a better relationship with my fiance after I got the IUD removed. I had also found the book Taking Charge of My Fertility, and my very supportive fiance and I are now using the Fertility Awareness Method combined with condoms. I think this book should be required reading for all women of any age, whether or not they choose this b.c. method! We are currently using just a basal body thermometer, but I pre-ordered a TempDrop and am anxiously waiting for its release.

    On another note, it did take a long time for my hormones to get back in balance, and it was a struggle to figure out how to correct it. I used the book The Hormone Cure to help figure it out, and I still need to watch my diet, nutrition, & stress levels to make sure I don’t get out of balance again. I’m more in tune to the health of both my body and mind now, and am feeling great!

    molly mogren katt 2 years ago Reply

    My last hormonal BC experience was also with an IUD. It was great for the first year, then I started getting terrible, weird acne on my cheeks. I had it removed and I felt the best I have in years!

    I’m 33 and learned more about my body in the last two months (delving into Fertility Awareness) than I have in my entire life. I get that health classes are designed to scare kids out of having sex, but seriously, there is so much misinformation being peddled. It’s simply astounding.

    Of course there are always going to be people who got pregnant while on birth control or tracking their cycle, but the fact of the matter is that your body is designed to work in a very specific way, and if you pay attention and use the right tools, preventing a pregnancy is fairly simple.

    On the flip side, I worry about the ramifications of being on hormonal birth control for years (myself included!). Sheesh. I am glad I quit when I did, but when I was younger ( and I am sure this is still true today), going on the pill was basically a rite of passage. I don’t want herds of pregnant teenagers roaming the land, but I do wish we were giving young girls the information and tools to make more informed decisions.

    The more you know! (where is the star/rainbow emoji?!)

  • Ashley 2 years ago Reply

    I stopped taking the bc pill back in 2008 when my insurance stopped thanks to no longer being a student and my prescription ran out….and I have never looked back. I’d been on it since I was about 16/17 to regulate my cycle, and while it didn’t give me migraines it did exacerbate body issues I had, mostly in [what I felt was] water retention in my thighs. I’m glad I was on it through college, but once I stopped I had a much better relationship with my own body. I would be very hesitant to go back on it. I’m also in a committed relationship who communicates with me, which is especially helpful in the bedroom. Cycle tracking apps are also great! I have definitely learned to listen to my body more since stopping hormonal bc.

    molly mogren katt 2 years ago Reply

    YAY! It’s interesting just how much your body speaks to you when you’re not giving it weird medication 🙂

  • The Jadeite Shutter 2 years ago Reply

    Yay! I love when people discover and learn to love NPF. Frankly, I think it’s wonderful.

    Like so many of us, I was on the pill for several years. The choice to go off of it felt like a smart decision for me and I haven’t looked back.

    I have also hear awesome things about "Taking Charge of Your Fertility" but have yet to read it.

    By the way, the GLOW app is my favorite. Very helpful and super easy to use.

    molly mogren katt 2 years ago Reply

    I use the Clue App & love it so much.

    It’s funny how people are all about feeding ourselves organic, no-hormones-ever food, but then stuff ourselves with hormones. What up wit dat?!

  • Michelle 2 years ago Reply

    I used the Nuva Ring for about three years—within the first 1.5 years, my hair’s natural curl went completely flat (to the point that at my wedding, my hair wouldn’t even hold a curl for more than an hour, even with professional products). I got diagnosed with "pregnancy gingivitis" at a dentist visit, and learned the hormones in birth control make your body think you’re pregnant, and that in turn was making my gums all swollen. I stopped using the ring, and the gingivitis cleared up within months, and my hair now has regained the curliness. Also, I realized in hindsight how much the birth control was magnifying my monthly mood swings—I’ll never use hormonal birth control again, now that I have experienced all of this.

    molly mogren katt 2 years ago Reply

    ALL OF THAT FREAKS ME OUT SOOOO MUCH! Really… the hair and the teeth??? Good god, what are we putting in our bodies? Glad you figured out something that works for you and doesn’t make all of your teeth fall out.

    Meg 2 years ago Reply

    My hair regularly cycles straight, curly, and back again. It was my hairdresser who suggested that it was the pill. I was shocked but it makes so much sense! What really flabbergasts me is how little our doctors know or acknowledge. Whenever I’ve brought up concerns about the pill or my reaction to it – with multiple different doctors – the answer is always the same. There’s no "need" for women to have a period, biologically, and, well, isn’t the pill convenient?!

    molly mogren katt 2 years ago

    It’s horrifying how often doctors blindly prescribe medication. And how about how little doctors seem to talk about the effects of food on your wellness & health? You can eat whatever you want, so long as you take [insert prescription drug here] for the rest of your life.

    Am I ranting right now? oops!

    Michelle 2 years ago

    It IS horrifying how easily doctors prescribe meds. When I asked about the side effects of the ring (one of which is "serious blood clots" –> ahem, death), she really shrugged it off, and said "Everything carries a risk, even not being on any birth control" (because apparently birth control can reduce risk of some kinds of cancer? or something?) At the time, that answer was good enough for me, but DUDE.

    molly mogren katt 2 years ago

    DUDE is RIGHT!

  • Sarah H 2 years ago Reply

    Molly! You are blogging about my latest obsession (which I really appreciate, as I’m running out of people who aren’t completely weirded out by my desire to talk about fertility).

    I was on the generic of Yaz (Ocella) for probably a decade, and actually had zero problems. I finally decided to stop taking it this summer as we’d like to start trying to have kiddos soon. Four months in, and my period has yet to return. Which, I now learned, is actually quite common (another thing they don’t tell you in health class…. or at the OB/GYN).

    I started seeing an acupuncturist as a means to regulate my cycle, rather than introducing another medication to do that. Throughout this, what’s absolutely blown me away is how clueless so many women in our generation seem to be about our bodies & fertility. It would be lovely to make honest conversations about women’s fertilize less taboo… during middle school sex ed and beyond.

    • Sarah N now H (lunch + body talk sometime soon?!)
    molly mogren katt 2 years ago Reply

    I think this topic is so important, not weird at all.

    Um, yes to all of this! I seriously don’t remember ANY discussion as a teenager/early-20-something about for real, actual options other than birth control pills (or the shot, or the ring, or something else hormonal). I think we all grew up believing the pill was the only option, THE BEST OPTION. Anyone who used natural methods was just asking to be a baby factory.

    As I said earlier in this thread, going on the pill was a rite of passage!

    Honestly, until very recently, I thought natural family planning was akin to the "rhythm method" that led to all those Catholic babies. It’s not the same thing.

    I am always down for lunch and body talk. Hit me up!

  • Mama1 2 years ago Reply

    I’ve never been on birth control. My husband and I have been married for 16 years. We have 1 child who is 5 yrs old. We use the pull out measure. It’s been working for years without any failure.

  • April H 1 year ago Reply

    I would love to go off the pill, and my guy would be more than willing to get snipped. The main thing that stops me is going back to having monthly period. I tri-cycle and have been for years and I love only having one every three months or so. I rarely need to buy tampons and I have a lot more freedom going about my daily activities and traveling knowing it’s not something I’ll have to deal with. Giving that up would be very hard. I don’t have many serious side effects either, but it might help reduce the cystic acne I get from time to time. And a better sex drive would be nice. Still don’t know if that’s worth the trade off though! 😣

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