The Pill; friend or foe?

**DISCLAIMER – This post reflects my personal experience and opinions, and should not be taken as containing any medical advice or recommendations.  Speak to your doctor for information on these topics**

For millions of women, their morning routine includes reaching for a tiny pill and swallowing hormones without a second thought.  The pill is still one of the leading methods of contraception, and seems like a no fuss, effective method, which we are told in some cases can also help with controlling our cycles and making them more manageable.  Unfortunately, the side effects can be life changing, and many still suffer in silence just for the convenience of not having to use other methods of contraception.

I started the pill when I was in my late teens as many do, and was told about the benefits of regulated periods, being able to skip a period if I was going on holiday, and milder cramps.  Woohoo! I thought, “that sounds awesome!” – at the time no doctor actually explained to me that this pill stops me ovulating every month, and is basically putting my bodys natural rhythm on hold.  The withdrawal bleed you get every month is essentially a fake period, but creates the illusion that everything is working as it should down there.  I went on the combined pill (the one with oestrogen), the other main contender is the mini pill, which is progesterone only.

There are so many different pill brands available now, and everyones body reacts in its own way.  For some, they find a pill that works like a dream for them with minimal side effects, but for many, it can be an endless stream of doctors appointments, trying out different brands and hormone doses to find a pill that works.

I have suffered with severe headaches and migraines since childhood, and was often told by GPs that the pill does not help with headaches, and may well attribute to them.  Yet they kept on prescribing it. “Do you get a migraine with an aura?” was something they often asked, to which I’d reply “Er…yes, but not very often?” and bingo, another prescription signed off for 6 months.  Fast forward 10 years later, and I experience the WORST headache of my life, forget how to say certain words at work, then wake up in the night with half of my body in a sort of pins and needles frozen like state.  Basically paralysed with fear, I convinced myself I was having a stroke, but tried to stay calm and let is pass, which eventually it did.  A trip to a new GP (living in London I rarely see the same one twice) the next day, and I was told I had experienced a hemiplegic migraine, and that part of my brain had hyperpolarised, leading to restricted blood flow and brain signalling, which is why it affected my cognition.  She glances at my record, “Oh – you’re on the pill?  Yeah you need to not be.  You’re at an increased risk of an actual stroke.”  So that was enough for me to throw in the towel…. I mean, the towel of taking the pill.

I decided to trial the mini pill which contains progesterone only, as I was told that it may have less of an effect on the migraines, and I was also quite happy with the whole “less chance of having a stroke” element too.  Sadly, this brought a new host of problems.  This was the first pill to really, really effect my mood.  I tried couple of different brands of the mini, and one sent me on a fast track to depression, which was really scary as it happened so quickly.  Luckily, I called the GP instantly because I knew that wasn’t normal for me, and she said stop taking it immediately, and in a week, I felt back to normal.

The physical low point I would say was me at 3am, howling in pain, finger poised over the 9 button on the phone as I had no idea what was causing such debilitating cramps and erratic bleeding every 2-3 weeks.  Then we started the Endometriosis scare, and after a few more GP trips they sent me to hospital for a check. I’ll spare the details but it involves some stirrups and long stick with a camera on the end.  Safe to say, I was told “everything looks normal.  Perhaps come off the pill and see if things improve.”  I did – and they did.  After a couple of months of waiting, my first natural period arrives.  Hurrah! My ovaries work!  Since then, I’ve enjoyed (?) years of natural, regular to the day periods, and know exactly what my body is doing when it’s doing it.  Ironically, for me the most regular way is the natural way. 

Now in my thirties, I speak to so many women around my age who share similar experiences, and who have decided to come off the pill and let it be.  I personally think that younger girls being given the pill need to be told more about it, how it works and what it does to the body.  I appreciate that for many it’s a reliable (not 100% though…) method of birth control and perhaps helps with their periods, but I do think that a lot of women would be surprised at how good they might feel if they came off it after a while to see how their natural periods are.  It’s also important to know when your ovaries will kick start back into action if you are planning to start a family, as it can take months.  At the end of the day, do what works for you, but if you’re suffering mad side effects then please – speak to your GP, there are other options!

I think the millennial generation in particular are starting to wise up to the idea that the pill just may not be all it’s cracked up to be.  I shouldn’t even have to say this but if you do decide to take the pill, please make sure it’s because you want to – and not because it’s convenient for someone else.

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