Post-Birth Control Syndrome Story | Alaina's Journey Going Off The PillOct 27, 2020
It's been a goal of mine to talk more about my experience with post-birth control syndrome for a while now. To be honest, every time I would go to write it, I would resist because it brings me back to one of the more difficult times in life.
But the more I work in women's health & hormones alongside my sisters, the more I've become proud of my story. We can't tell you how many women we see dealing with the same issues that I went through. I want to do this for THEM!
I'm not sharing today with medical advice or to swing you one way or another about hormonal birth control, but rather in hopes that other ladies can find comfort and support in the fact that they aren't alone as they navigate their hormone healing journey.
I wouldn't be able to tell you about my experience coming off the pill without going back to the beginning and explaining my #cyclestory....
I was the last of my friends to get my period. I didn’t come around until I was halfway through high school. Everyone kept telling me that my period was delayed because I was a competitive athlete.... sometimes that happened to women who were overactive.
I remember feeling so left out specifically in middle school when all of my close friends would be excited to change their pads together at lunch. I kept thinking...
“When was I going to become a 'woman' like them?".
At the same time, I was also pumped that I didn’t have to deal with any of 'that stuff.' People told me that I was LUCKY.
But when I turned 17, it came with a vengeance. My period was super heavy, irregular (like it would come every 2 weeks or every 2 months), and I was in terrible pain every time. I went to my OBGYN to see what was going on because clearly, things weren't normal.
After doing an ultrasound and listening to my symptoms, my doctor diagnosed me with PCOS right away. She told me it would be very difficult to have kids one day, but said she had GOOD NEWS in the meantime…. the pill would fix all my problems. It would make my symptoms go away, and it would stop me from developing “cysts” on my ovaries (which I learned much later in life that these cysts are really just the eggs that never got a chance to develop properly because I wasn't ovulating!).
While the diagnosis was tough to hear, I was so happy that there was a "solution". And at 17, the idea of having kids was farrrrrr away in my mind, so I didn't have to worry about that part until later, right?
At the appointment, I asked ZERO questions about the risks of being on hormonal birth control, and the information wasn't volunteered either. So off I went....I left the OBGYN office with my prescription in hand and from there on out, I spent 10 years living my best life on the pill.
Thankfully, I had absolutely NO noticeable side effects from the pill (or so I thought at the time). I had a stable mood, stable weight, stable energy. Light & painless pill breakthrough bleeds. Everything was fine & dandy. Plus, I was protected from getting pregnant... so from my perspective, things were golden.
About 10 years later (just after I turned 27) in 2017, I was fully immersed in my health coaching business. I was helping people take care of themselves from a holistic perspective, but I realized for myself personally that taking an elective medication every day did not align with the life I was living as a coach. With my doctor's blessing, I decided to come off the pill. My sister Carly actually did the same exact thing with me (you can read more about her story here).
After about a month of being off the pill, my sister and I were both experiencing AWFUL symptoms, which we later found out is called Post Birth Control Syndrome!
For me personally, I was dealing with:
- panic attacks
- debilitating anxiety
- irrational fears
- mood swings
- weight gain
....All of which I had never had in all my years living on this planet.
It didn't make any sense because I absolutely loved my life, so there was no reason to be feeling this way. I didn't recognize myself anymore.
I felt alone. I felt ashamed. I felt confused. It all felt so foreign.
Safe to say, it was a really tough time for me. In fact, it was for Carly, too. We'd often call each other crying over our random symptoms and feelings of sadness!
Where the hell was this stuff coming from?! I was a healthy, happy young gal... why was this happening to me?
One night, I stumbled upon an online forum of women talking about how they were feeling coming off the pill. It was pages and pages of women telling their stories, most of them having the same debilitating symptoms as me post-pill....many of them way worse off than me. Women saying they couldn’t go to work, or take care of their kids. They were also sharing their tips and finding comfort in one another. I felt really lucky compared to some of their situations.
[I tried to find this exact forum again to share with you but haven't been able to yet. But if you're interested, just search "panic attacks coming off birth control" and you'll find plenty of stories from women!].
I remember reading everything and balling my eyes out (I'm not being dramatic, I was legit balllllling), feeling so relieved that I wasn’t "going crazy". This was a REAL thing and I wasn’t alone.
Looking back on it, it's unbelievably sad to think that this random chat room page felt like the ONLY place where these women could share what they were going through and feel heard & understood.
I could relate because at that time, every single doctor that I saw told me that:
- I "was healthy as a horse".
- There was “nothing physically wrong with me”
- I should "just go back on the pill to alleviate symptoms”
- I should “see a physiologist" for my "hysteria”.
- I should "consider taking anti-anxiety medication".
Basically just telling me that this was all in my head....
I felt outraged. I felt betrayed. I felt lied to.
Not ONE of the health care professionals I saw took it upon themselves to look into the issue further.... even when I suggested all of this was a result of the birth control pill. I specifically remember requesting to test my hormones, and my doctor LITERALLY ASKED ME "WHY?"
I wish I was making this up.
Every doctor I saw made me feel like I was the problem.
It was the most frustrating thing I have ever been through and on top of that, it was shattering all the faith I had in one of the most trusted institutions. The conventional medical system was failing me. At the time, I felt like there was no one that could help.
All of this is really indicative of the state of women’s health care today. We are told that as ladies that it’s all in our heads, that we’re hysterical, and that this stuff is all a natural part of being a woman. We feel like we have to be a "good girl" and just keep quiet and persevere. It’s just so wrong.
Thankfully, there are now so many experts in the field that are changing the game... trailblazers like Dr. Jolene Brighten, Alisa Vitti, Lisa Hendrickson-Jack, Aviva Romm, Sara Gottfried, Nicole Jardim (make sure you check them out. You can find all our favorite books by these authors here). Functional medicine has also gained popularity now and there are more doctors than ever who can help women with this!!!!! Wooooo.
To be clear, I am not condemning western medicine or conventional medicine. It has saved the lives of countless people and I have been beyond thankful for it on numerous occasions. We are so lucky to have it. However, the system simply wasn't set up to give me the help that I so desperately needed at the time, and I am shining a light on that problem here.
With all that being said, I had to take it upon myself to look for answers and find the care that I needed. I became obsessed with reading EVERY book that had to do with PCOS, hormone health, birth control, and menstrual health. I listened day and night to EVERY podcast I could find.
Some of the first books I read were "Woman Code" by Alisa Vitti & "The Hormone Cure" by Dr. Sara Gottfried. Alisa Vitti also hosted a free webinar on Synthetic Birth Control Syndrome at the time, and I remember being like "OH MY GOSH, FINALLY, SOMEONE IS TALKING ABOUT THIS PUBLICLY". In addition, I found lots of info from Dr. Jolene Brighten (who had not yet written her book "Beyond The Pill") one of the more outspoken experts about birth control at the time. These women opened my eyes WIDE to a topic that was rarely getting coverage or validation. I'm so thankful for them.
I learned that the symptoms I was experiencing were called SYNTHETIC BIRTH CONTROL SYNDROME (I'll refer to it as SBCS for short) OR POST-BIRTH CONTROL SYNDROME (PBCS). It was not yet recognized (and still really isn't) by the conventional medical community, which made a lot of sense why there wasn't a doctor who could tell me what was wrong.
What is SYNTHETIC BIRTH CONTROL SYNDROME?
SBCS is a collection of symptoms women experience either DURING or AFTER they come off hormonal birth control (pill, patch, IUD, shot) for 4-6 months as their bodies are trying to regulate themselves.
- Amenorrhea (loss of menstruation) *Carly dealt with this.
- Heavy, painful periods
- Acne, cystic acne, rosacea
- Blood sugar dysregulation
- Gas or bloating
- Changes in bowels
- Leaky gut
- Gut dysbiosis
- Inflammation and other immune imbalances
- .....and so much more.
^As you can see from the list above, hormonal birth control can impact us physically AND also psycho-emotionally. I am in awe that for 10 years, I had no idea that this tiny little pill had the capability to mess with everything...not just my cycle.
Sadly, there aren’t many studies on how women fare when they come off the pill, which is a little alarming because the pill has been around since the 1960s. You would think there would be more by now, especially because I'm not the only woman who has complained about such awful side effects...
Hormonal contraceptives like the pill provide synthetic forms of hormones that prevent pregnancy by essentially shutting down your entire reproductive system. The steady dose of hormones that you're ingesting signals to your body that there is no need to create it's own. So when it's time to come off the pill, or IUD, the lines of communication need to be re-established and your body needs to rely on its natural hormone production again to keep your cycle going round and round.
The problem is...your body may have a really tough time getting started up on its own.
Which is exactly what happened to me. I was on the pill for 10 straight years and my body had no freaking idea which way was UP.
It’s kinda like starting a car after it's been sitting in a junkyard for 10 years. When it's time to move it, the car might have a hard time getting itself off the lot. Especially if it was malfunctioning to begin with.
I ended up working with a naturopath to test my hormones and my results showed that although I had gotten my period back, I was rarely ovulating and that I was pretty much LOW on the key sex hormones like estrogen & progesterone. This all made a lot of sense for why I was feeling so terrible. My body was having a hard time readjusting to running on its own again... even after a full year of being OFF the pill!
I personally feel that my reaction was so severe for two reasons....
The first being that I quit the pill COLD TURKEY without doing any prep work. (Ladies, PLEASE DON'T DO THIS! I can't stress this enough. There are ways to support your body so that it's not in shock when you come off. Read Beyond the Pill for more..)
And secondly, I was diagnosed with a hormone imbalance (PCOS) way back when I was 17 years old and for over the 10 years that I was on the pill, I was doing nothing to address it. Instead of getting to the root cause, I was instead allowing the problem to compound itself year after year.
Going back to my car analogy, it was like I had shut down a broken car and left it on a lot for 10 years.
Ladies if this is YOU, do not fret. There are so many things you can do to support your hormones as your body brings itself back to its natural state. Although it took me a while to find solutions at the time (2017), there is now more information on this subject than ever before. There are medical professionals who are ready and willing to help with this today. Keep reading.
Something that I wish I knew back then was that the pill just shuts everything down. It disconnects the communication between your brain and your ovaries (sorta like losing cell service *your call cannot be completed as dialed*).
When there's no communication, there's no ovulation. And when there's no ovulation, there's no hormone fluctuation (the good kind! these hormones all play a significant role in our cycle & OVERALL HEALTH as women). In fact, if you were to look at your natural hormone levels on a graph, they are as flat as a pancake....comparable to a woman who is going through menopause!
When I was on the pill, it APPEARED that all my hormone imbalance symptoms were resolved, but it was really just masking the very complex issues that lie beneath the surface.
Little did I know at the time that I was doing more harm than good by silencing my symptoms, instead of addressing them & getting to the bottom of WHY they were there in the first place.
Here are THREE other things I wished I had known when I said YES to hormonal birth control (HBC) at age 17:
#1. HBC depletes your body of essential micronutrients that are required in a healthy monthly cycle. Your body needs these micronutrients to both CREATE hormones and then to also BREAK THEM DOWN later through the detoxification process. Common nutrient depletions include folate, magnesium, selenium, B2, B6, B12, vitamin C, vitamin E, and zinc.
Hormones aside, it should be noted that we need micronutrients for optimal health and longevity. Without these nutrients, our body overall will not function properly and you will be very susceptible to serious disease. Let all that sink in.
#2. HBC works like an antibiotic on your gut microbiome. Studies have shown that it destroys the balance of your gut flora, creating an environment where the bad bacteria can grow. This can mess with your hormonal health, mood, digestion, immune function, and lots more!
Reminder: serotonin, your happy hormone, is made in your gut... and something like 80% of your immune system is in your gut! You also need a healthy gut to remove excess estrogen (both synthetic from HBC and natural forms) from your body! Without proper gut function, estrogen can get recirculated and cause terrible PMS symptoms like bloating, cramping, heavy periods, etc.
- #3. Your bleed on the pill is NOT A REAL BLEED. The "period" you see while you're on HBC is called *breakthrough bleeding*. It's really just a withdrawal bleed from the medication. SAYYYY WHATTTTTT? Yes, since your body is not going through a cycle (with the 4 phases, including ovulation) you are not technically getting a real period.
Ladies, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has deemed your period your FIFTH VITAL SIGN. Meaning menstruation is as important a health indicator as changes in body temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Our periods are a key indicator of women’s health.... and we need them for the sake of our longevity. When you are on hormonal birth control, you are shutting down something that is VITAL for your health.
For me, I missed out on this for 10 YEARS. Ughhhhh, I'll never take my period for granted again!
Aside from educating myself...
- I worked with my naturopath and did everything in my power to get my hormones rolling again from a natural perspective.
- I ate well-rounded meals. I balanced my blood sugar every day, with every meal.
- I made sure that I wasn’t over-exercising, but that I had a consistent routine that supported my hormones.. I went to yoga to promote relaxation & healing. Boy, did I love yoga.
- I stopped having alcohol and caffeine for the time being. I didn't want to place any more of a burden on my body than I had to.
- I drank Red Raspberry Leaf tea like it was my job.
- I took prenatal vitamins to replenish the micronutrients that were lost while I was on the pill.
- I supported my gut with probiotics and fermented foods. I drank a ton of bone broth.
- I took specific supplements recommended by my doc to aid in my recovery... like B-complex, magnesium, fish oil, ashwaghanda, Gaba (for my moments of anxiety), and Ovablend to help me ovulate. (Please know that these we're recommended by my naturopath, so don't take them as blanket recommendations).
- I received acupuncture regularly.
- I worked with therapists to learn how to cope properly with anxiety (I highly recommend this)!
- One of the biggest things I did was track my cycle and align my life with the four phases of my cycle. If you are aligning your life with your hormones, you are helping your body restore it’s natural balance. Kinda like swimming with the stream, instead of against it. Everything just flows. When you have a deeper understanding and connection to your own body, it becomes a peaceful partnership instead of a battle. *We have a course on this called Power of Periodization *Our FALL 2020 session in progress but you can join the waitlist for 2021 here!
Carly talks about this a lot in her blog, but essentially I wanted to make my body feel SAFE. I did this so that there was nothing extra for it to do, beside for heal.
All the while, I became a certified Hormone Health Coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition's advanced hormone course. I wanted to become knowledgable on this stuff not only to heal myself, but to feel confident in sharing this information with as many women as humanly possible!
If you want to learn more specifics about my post-birth control healing plan, check out this blog. It's Carly's story, but she and I collaborated on it to explain what post-birth control syndrome is and how we healed from it, together. We both came off of HBC at the same time and used the same tactics!
HELL YES IT DID!
I am beyond happy to report that after lots and lots of work, I feel SO MUCH BETTER. It's been 3 years since I've started this crazy Synthetic Birth Control Syndrome journey, but today I can say that my period is regular, my anxiety is slim to none, and my moods are more stable than ever. Oh, and I am a mom (hahaha) to an energetic 1-year old boy!!!!
I've never felt better.
I've never been more proud of my body.
Keep in mind though, I am by no means "fixed" or "back to normal", or however you want to describe it. Taking care of your health is always going to be a journey, not a destination. I realize that's extremely corny, but it's true. It about staying consistent and showing up every day for yourself. The decisions I make in life are driven by the goal of keeping my hormones HAPPY & HEALTHY.
The story isn't over though. Keep reading. I've learned a few key lessons along the way that are important to address.
...taken the time to research my hormonal imbalance and what potentially caused it. Instead of jumping to take medication to make my problems go away on the spot.
I just accepted the diagnosis of PCOS and didn't bother looking into it on my own, so that I could understand it for ME.
I also didn't bother looking at my diet & lifestyle to see what could have potentially been a culprit.
Women with PCOS have metabolic issues (issues with blood sugar & insulin). As a teenager and active athlete, my diet was HORRIBLE... going from one pasta party to the next, plus bagels for breakfast & pizza for lunch, with a side of Reese's. If I had known how much blood sugar played a role in managing my PCOS, I would have made changes to my diet in order to see improvements!!!!
Moral of the story: If you were previously suffering with symptoms related to hormone imbalance or other conditions (like PCOS or endometriosis, fibroids, etc.) before you went on HBC, please know that they are not something you should just continue to sweep under the rug or cover up with a bandaid medication. They need to be addressed ASAP!
...asked more questions about hormonal birth control.
I simply just accepted that the pill was my only option to treat my condition. I didn't even think about the fact that medications have side effects, and that it could negatively impact my body. (I dare you to check out the label on your hormonal birth control box... or go to their website. It's eye-opening!)
I stayed on medication for 10 years and didn't bother learning about how it actually worked. That's mind-blowing to me now.
We have to stop taking advice from our medical professionals as LAW. You have options, you just need to be willing to be bold and ask about them. Your doctors mean well, but they see lots and lots of patients just like you....YOU need to advocate for YOURSELF. Also, you're allowed to switch doctors if they don't align with your values!!!!!!!
...trusted my body more.
All the terrible hormone imbalance symptoms that I was experiencing were my body's way of SCREAMING that something was up. Instead of looking at it like my body was malfunctioning & betraying me, I should have been grateful for the warning messages & listened.
Never forget that YOU know your body best. You know what you're really going through.
Growing up, it is ingrained in us to trust the authority over our own thoughts or experiences. In the height of my SBCS, when the docs I was seeing told me that all my symptoms were all in my head, I had to FIGHT to not believe them. I had to fight to stick with my gut & my intuition. I had to fight to believe in my own experience.
It's time we took back control of our health!
...known that hormonal birth control could potentially mess with my fertility down the road.
Did you know that over 50% of women who are prescribed the pill are on it for reasons other than preventing pregnancy? These reasons include painful periods, irregular periods, heavy periods, missing periods, ovarian cysts, and much more. The key thing to note here is that ALL of these things are BIG SIGNS that there is a hormonal imbalance present, and if they are left untreated, they can lead to even bigger reproductive issues later on.
So when most women decide to come off the pill, they do it in order to start a family. As I've mentioned earlier, their complex conditions resurface post-pill and lots of women have to deal with issues of infertility as their hormones are reestablishing themselves.... which is the last thing women what to deal with as they are trying to conceive.
For example, a whole year after I was off the pill, I was STILL not ovulating often. And as you probably already know, ovulation is the key to pregnancy. I remember feeling so discouraged because I knew I wanted to start a family in the near future and I wish I had had this info sooner.
I'm not trying to scare you - resolving these hormone imbalances are TOTALLY DOABLE, but they take time & patience. So ladies, if this is you... please give yourself ample time AFTER you come off the pill to support your body & optimize health before placing pressure on yourself to get pregnant! (Dr. Jolene Brighten talks a lot about this in her books, podcasts, and courses.)
Moving forward, protect your fertility like it's your social security number.
If you feel like you are experiencing negative side effects while you are ON hormonal birth control or if you've just come OFF hormonal birth control, I HIGHLY suggest that you:
- Educate yourself on hormonal birth control. First, read Dr. Jolene Brighten's book "Beyond The Pill". Jolene is a FIERCE women's health advocate & doctor. She is leading the way on exposing how HBC is negatively impacting women, mentally & physically. Read this book so that YOU know what the deal is for YOU and YOUR body. If you are looking to come off HBC, this book will help you safely transition off (please don't do it cold turkey!). Do yourself a favor and listen to every podcast where she is a guest as well!
- Educate yourself on how your beautiful body works. As women, our menstrual cycle is pure MAGIC. It makes me sad to think that I had no idea about how my body worked until it felt like it was broken. Once you learn about it, your perspective will be changed forever and everything will start to make so much sense. Education is the first step in taking pride in knowing your body better. Some books I highly suggest you read include:
- Pay attention and record all your symptoms. Even if you don't think they're related to HBC in any way, still write them down. There is nothing too small or insignificant! This will only help you & your provider connect the dots when you're ready to come up with a hormone healing plan!
- See a Functional Medicine Doctor. While conventional doctors are incredible at what they do, they unfortunately haven't been trained in root cause medicine. You need a doctor who will be willing to do a deep dive into WHY you're experiencing issues and to look at your body from a holistic perspective. You can find someone in your area using this database. If you need to get your hormones tested, Functional Medicine Doctors will know exactly what to do!
While Synthetic Birth Control Syndrome was the toughest thing I've ever had to go through, I'm still very thankful for it. My experience coming off hormonal birth control has inspired Carly & I to become hormone health specialists and help raise awareness to women all over the world about the importance of protecting our fertility.
Women NEED to know this stuff.
They need the reassurance that it isn't all in their head and that they aren't alone. They need to know that they don't have to be on hormonal birth control to "fix" their bodies, or regulate their cycles. They need to know that their health is in their control.
If you are on hormonal birth control and it's working well for you, I am in NO WAY trying to convince you to come off of it. Education & awareness is my only intention. Every woman has a right to this information and to then be empowered to make decisions for themselves!
If you've gone through Synthetic Birth Control Syndrome, please DM us on @balancedbeyars or email us at [email protected]! We want to hear from you.
*Please just keep in mind that this is MY story. Every woman is going to be impacted differently by hormonal birth control. The goal here is to raise your awareness about how synthetic hormones can potentially affect our bodies. With that knowledge, it's up to YOU to make the decision about what's best for you.*
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