What They Don't Tell You About The Birth Control Pill

I started to question myself. Was I losing the plot? Did I need a life coach? Therapist? Maybe both? I knew there had to be something more. But after reading a recent article about the detrimental effects the birth control pill has on women’s emotions, suddenly it started to make sense.

As a self-confessed control freak, I have meticulously planned every detail of my life thus far. Career, finances, marriage ... all of it. The same can be said for my family planning and choice of contraception. So it would be ironic that a tiny pill, designed to put women feel in control of their reproductive health, was the very thing that would eventually take control of me.

I’d been taking the pill for as long as I could remember, so I didn’t think anything of starting to use it again post-pregnancy. After trying many variations on the market, I settled with the minipill, commonly known as the progestin-only pill (POP).  My reasons for favoring this type were twofold: it didn’t contain estrogen, which made me nauseous, and it reduced the unbearable period pains I faced each month.

After our son was born in 2010 (planned again!), I couldn’t get back on the pill fast enough. The overwhelming sleep deprivation, round-the-clock breastfeeding, and extreme mood swings were enough to put me off another pregnancy anytime soon.  My ‘mommy friends’ would tell me it was normal — just the ‘baby blues.’ My hormones trying to adjust, and that I’d be fine after a year. I patiently waited for my sanity to return.

But almost five years later, I still felt just as emotionally drained, anxious, and lost as I had when my son was a newborn. My mood swings had become more erratic, leading to regular conflict with my husband. Every comment would be deemed confrontational, and I’d explode like a pressure cooker. Vile words flew out of my mouth before I could take a moment to stop and retrieve them. The arguments would escalate over the course of each week, becoming more spiteful and vindictive as time passed. It was like having PMS every single day, and I simply didn’t know how to control it. I was on the verge of constant meltdown, and I no longer liked myself. Who was this unhinged woman? How had my usually calm and sunny demeanor disappeared so completely?

Then there was the issue of my non-existent sex drive (which defeated the whole point of birth control). I had lost all desire and was never in the romantic mood — much to my husband’s dismay. “You don’t desire me like you used to,” he once said. “There’s no passion anymore.” I’d get defensive and blame it on the exhaustion of balancing work and a 4-year-old. But my lack of affection had become such an issue, and I could sense his hurt and frustration constantly. Still, I couldn’t find a better explanation other than "It’s not you, it’s me." How long would this last for?

I started to question myself. Was I losing the plot? Did I need a life coach? Therapist? Both? I knew there had to be something more. But after reading a recent article about the detrimental effects the birth control pill has on women’s emotions, it started to make sense.

According to their findings, neuroscientists found that steroid hormones in birth control pills could affect the way the brain works, due to creating a thinner structure caused by synthetic estrogen and progestogen. The study of 90 women — 44 of whom were taking the pill — found that the group who used oral birth control had “significantly lower cortical thickness measurements” in two parts of the brain. The parts affected were the areas involved in decision-making, emotional processing, and memory. The article then went on to say that emotional instability caused by the pill was likely to put a strain on relationships, leading to conflict and break-ups.

That sounded a little too familiar.

Compelled by this revelation, I researched my brand of pill and read up on the multiple side effects. I went to askapatient to read the ratings and comments given by other users, and was shocked by my findings. Out of 635 reviews, the majority gave it a rating of 1 (the worst score) and had said they too experienced insane mood swings, depression, low libido, weepiness, panic attacks, and other emotional issues. As I scrolled though more, trying to find some positive reviews, the majority continued in the same vein. One reviewer even expressed suicidal thoughts, which she had never had prior to taking the brand of pill. Now, I’m no qualified medic, but surely this was no coincidence.

All this time, I thought my emotional instability was down to post-partum depression, or the new stress of juggling motherhood and work. Could it actually be from hormonal imbalances caused by the pill? It then made me wonder how many other women on the pill suffer from these symptoms and simply blame it on life stresses. Or, worse still, how many were misdiagnosed with depression or other mental illnesses without ever realizing it might be related to their birth control.

Regular check-ups with our gynecologists aren't enough — more dialogue should be centred around our emotional well-being. Women’s bodies react differently, and there certainly needs to be more awareness and assessment on the potential long-term effects of the pill. Hormonal manipulation is a serious issue, and can lead to dire consequences. I certainly would never have guessed that my pill could be the trigger of many woes. Having shared this news with the hubby, he too was enlightened, saying “that explains a lot of things.” I felt it was time for a self-imposed intervention, and healthy change, for both our sakes.

I decided to get off the pill to see if it would make a significant difference to my well-being. I’d read countless articles on how to balance hormones after stopping the pill. Since oral contraceptives deplete vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, it’s important to replace those nutrients and cleanse the liver from toxins. B vitamins, zinc, and magnesium are good nutrients for hormonal imbalance. Probiotics and naturally-fermented foods such as yogurt, pickles, sour cream, and sauerkraut also support healthy gut bacteria. While it could take up to six months before hormones can get back to normal, it’s a positive start.

It’s only been a few weeks since intervention, but I do feel slightly energized. I drink lemon-infused water to cleanse my liver daily, eat a balanced diet, and take natural health supplements that are available in health stores. I feel upbeat, more relaxed, and the atmosphere seems less strained at home. Don’t get me wrong, I still get a little cranky (hey, I’m human!), but the difference is more restrained, less tense, and kinder. I guess the main thing is, I’m taking back control over my body and mind. I'm feeling normal again.

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