I Went On Birth Control As A Teenager, Here’s What I’ve Learned Since
The Great Pill-Taking Task
I started having sex when I was a teenager, and with my first love. When our parents found out, my mom sat me down in our living room. My mom is not one to get angry, but on this day, she was; she was angry because I was young. “Now I have to put my daughter on birth control,” she said, pacing the room. I guess when you start having sex, you have to start taking birth control too, was my only thought. I didn’t question it, I didn’t know anything about it. It felt like I was learning a new life rule.
My mom did not waste much time. Within a few days, we were driving to my first gynecologist appointment. In the car, she told me about her journey with birth control, how it had helped her skin and regulated her hormones. She assured me not to worry. Being that my mom is my best friend, this conversation put me at ease and prepared me for what to expect.
In the appointment, my gynecologist was warm and patient with me as we moved through my first Pap smear, breast exam, and the instructions that came with a fresh pack of 28 colorful pills in a nifty little pouch. (A lot can happen in a day, am I right?) She explained the different pills, when to start the pack, and the importance of taking them at the same time each day. “If a pill is skipped, it can affect your hormones,” she told me. These words both scared and motivated me to be diligent in this pill-taking task.
I walked into a new phase of womanhood that day, one that felt slightly out of my control. As I’d sat on the cold exam table, I’d wondered, How long will I have to take these? These pills were a mystery to me, and society was telling me that it was my duty as a sexual being to take them. But no one prepared me for the side effects.
A few things happened to my body right away: My breasts grew, my teenage acne cleared, and I became numb to the natural sensations of my monthly cycle—though I wouldn’t learn the implications of that until later. As I continued to explore sex, I remained diligent about taking the pills. It wasn’t until my early 20s that the negative side effects started making themselves known.
I began having bouts of depression and intense mood swings that would come on suddenly and last for days, along with feelings of anger and cloudy fatigue. There were times it felt like my body was shouting at me from the inside. Being intuitive, I knew it was because of the birth control pills. I decided to go back to my gynecologist and try a different method.
My gynecologist suggested a pill with less estrogen and more testosterone, explaining that many women found success with this type because it helped ease mood swings and fatigue. But soon after I started this new pill, I began having an insatiable appetite and ravenous cravings for fast food and greasy meals—foods I didn’t eat. One day I was driving when I saw a billboard for a steak and my mouth started watering. Never had I craved steak; I was a salad and smoothie type of girl.
I also became hyper-sexual and very energetic. The energy was great and I liked the confidence, but I didn’t feel like myself. It was the increased testosterone in my body that was driving the wheel, and I was only along for the ride.
The mood swings didn’t stop either; in fact, they intensified. After about a month of being on this roller coaster, I went back to my doctor with my concerns. She nodded, stared at me blankly, and said the side effects were common. But she took me off and, once again, I started another pill. This went on for several years, and it became an ongoing journey.
Finally, during a particularly challenging depressive spell, an internal voice told me to stop taking the pill, and I decided to listen—it was 10 years after I’d first started birth control. Soon after, my mood swings went away, my period blood became heavier but brighter in color, and I could feel my pulsating uterus and ovaries that for so long had been numb. I also downloaded the period tracking app Glow and started logging daily. Using the app as a guide helped me to learn my body’s natural rhythms. I felt like I had been asleep for all those years, and going off the pill was like waking for the first time to the morning sun.
Unfortunately, as a side effect of stopping, my body needed a way to detox and my skin broke out horribly. I found a homeopathic acne clinic that helped me regulate my hormones with supplements and acne-safe products. Looking back now at my personal experience, I wouldn’t have stopped taking birth control so suddenly. I would’ve called my gynecologist to explore how I might be able to ease off of the pill. At the time, I just wanted to stop entirely, but easing off might have been better for my body to adjust to my own hormones.
For anyone looking to stop taking birth control pills, I recommend having a conversation with your doctor. Let them know your goals and ask for hormone testing. Research natural methods like period tracking apps. Try a few and decide which one you like. I also recommend looking into a naturopathic doctor while easing off the pill to incorporate healing herbs while the body detoxes from the hormones.
If you are in a relationship, have a conversation with your partner about protection during sex. And talk to your friends and loved ones. It can be a lonely experience to make such a significant change, but if you’re having concerns about hormone imbalance, addressing the type of birth control you’re taking can make a huge difference.
We’d love to hear about your experience with birth control and the methods you’ve found that work for your body. Feel free to share in the comments below!
Courtney Jay is a writer at The Good Trade. She is also a yoga instructor, health enthusiast, and sustainable fashion advocate. She believes the most powerful way to nurture the planet is to nurture ourselves. You can find more of her writing and take one of her online yoga classes on her website Coincide.