Alright, the time has come. This is the week I should start a new cycle with my NuvaRing… And won’t. I’ve decided to come off hormonal contraception. And since for some reason I feel no shame about topics like this, I’ve decided to document the process. Over the next couple of months, I’m going to let you know what happens to my body and mind as I re-adjust to my natural menstrual cycle, and become independent from artificial hormones. I’ll be sharing the good, the bad, and everything inbetween.
Lately I keep coming across more and more women who decide to come off hormonal contraception. It might be my age and the life phase I’m entering (24), but since the vast majority of these women aren’t looking to get pregnant yet, I don’t think that’s the case. I think it’s more to do with the trend of wanting everything to be more natural, and a rising aversion against long-term non-necessary synthetic hormone use. And I’m ok with that. Whatever the reason is, I’ve noticed more ladies would like to ditch their hormonal contraceptives and IMO, the more stories there are about the process, the better. Awareness, empowerment, education, you know the deal. So I’m going to add my story to the pool. Before I get started, it might be good to share a brief history of what contraceptive I’m currently on, and why.
I got together with my first boyfriend at age 18. I wasn’t on the pill (the go-to hormonal contraceptive in the Netherlands) before that, as I had no reason to. I had a normal, regular menstrual cycle with no extreme pain, I didn’t suffer from acne, wasn’t sexually active and I didn’t have any other hormone related problems that the pill could have solved. I do suffer from anxiety though, and after a couple of pregnancy scares at 18/19 (which weren’t based on much, to be honest. I was just absolutely horrified of getting pregnant) I realised I was desperate for more air-tight protection than condoms could offer. I was a bit hesitant about going on the pill, though. I don’t like taking medicine unless it’s absolutely necessary, I didn’t like the idea of flooding my body with so many hormones, and I would’ve most definitely forgotten to take the pill every now and then, had I gone on it. I’m one of those people who actually forget to brush their teeth or take their contacts out every now and then… It happens when you sleep at three different houses every week, ok?
Anyways, the pill wasn’t really an option for me. The IUD could have been an option, but getting it put in and taken out absolutely terrifies me. After doing some research I arrived at the NuvaRing, a plastic ring which is inserted into the vagina (by yourself) and disperses a smaller dose of hormones locally. It’s kept in for three weeks, after which it’s removed and you have a period. After a week a new one is inserted, and you start a new cycle. If you like, you can skip the period week and insert a new ring right after you remove the old one. I did that maybe two or three times in total, to save myself from having my period during a holiday. The ring was great for me as I only have to remember it twice a month, it’s a lighter hormonal contraceptive than the pill, and it doesn’t require a visit to the doctor’s except for the initial consultation. It’s served me well these past five years, and if I do decide to go back on a hormonal contraceptive after all of this, the NuvaRing will probably be what I choose again.
So, why have I decided to come off the NuvaRing? There are several reasons:
First and foremost, my mental health. When I first started using the NuvaRing, it was like I had a bad case of PMS for three months in a row. It was terrible. I was crying all the time, I was irritable, sad, angry… All the negative emotions, all the time. After three months that subdued, but I have had wonky mental health since. Now to be clear, I wasn’t exactly stable before, but it got worse immediately after I went on the ring. It’s hard to tell whether things got better or worse than pre-hormones after the first three months, I can’t really recall. Anyways, I’ve heard from several women who went off hormonal contraceptives that their mental well-being improved after. I’ve also heard about women going into depression after going off hormones. Anything can happen.
I’m curious to see what the change will do to my anxiety, hoping for the best of course. I’m at a point in my life right now where everything is good and stable, with a little bit of positive excitement anticipating moving in with my boyfriend soon, but not actually in the middle of moving. When I started using the NuvaRing I wasn’t really able to tell whether it was the hormones or my rather stressful circumstances at the time which were causing my bad emotional state. This time I’m prepared to document any changes in mood. I’m hoping it’ll make me more stable in time, although I’m expecting the first few months might be rocky, while my body re-adjusts.
Next reason: monthly periods. My cycle used to be around 5 or 6 weeks, and fairly regular. I have about a week/a week and a half of PMS before the bleeding starts, and then I bleed for seven days. SEVEN. DAYS. Same before and after the hormones. The bleeding has been reduced to five days since I started using a menstrual cup as opposed to pads, but still. With a 30 day cycle, that means there’s something “wrong” with me for more than half of the month: more than half of the time. I’m done with that.
Also, I feel like my PMS has been getting worse lately, to the point where I just really need to do something about it. When I have PMS, I’m so incredibly angry all the time for no reason. This bothers me of course (who wants to be angry all the time with no solution?), but I also feel bad for Robbert. I try to control it but it’s really hard and I usually do end up just being a grumpy troll for a week. That’s not what I want, especially now that we’re moving in together and he’ll have nowhere to hide 😉 There’s absolutely no guarantee that this’ll change, of course, it might actually even get worse, but I gather it’s worth a shot.
Like I mentioned above, the only reason why I’m on hormones is contraception. I never had extremely painful or irregular periods, no acne problems or any other reasons for starting hormonal contraceptives. There are other, hormone-free ways one can prevent pregnancy and I’m ready to give those a try. Condoms are the obvious choice of course and I will be using those, but I’d also like to look into the fertility awareness method. There are ways to track your ovulation and menstruation by looking at your temperature and cervical fluids, by which you can tell when you’re fertile and able to get pregnant. I know there are some apps you can use for that, but I’ve also come across the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler which I’d like to read, if only for educational purposes.
The reason why I’m only now willing to try these methods (I’ll probably end up doubling them up) is that they’re less reliable than hormonal contraception. I’m older now, have finished my education, and have a stable life. Even though we don’t wish to have a family right now, I feel like letting my body do its natural thing is worth the small risk that going off hormones poses. Should fate decide it’s time, we are now able to provide everything a small human would need. We’d definitely prefer if they wait a few more years before presenting themselves though, let’s make that clear 🙂 This is just to illustrate that where the possibility of a condom failing felt like the end of the world to me when I was 18, I’m more relaxed about it now.
Speaking of children, I’m curious to see what going off hormones will do to my wish for having them. When I was younger, I always wanted to become a young mother. Like, before age 25. All I wanted was a baby, or two or three. Around the time I went on the NuvaRing, this completely turned around and I actually wasn’t sure whether I ever wanted children at all. I’m not 100% sure this change is related to the hormones since of course I went on them because the thought of getting pregnant terrified me, but it could definitely have something to do with it. I’ve been watching Hannah Witton’s Hormone Diaries videos (highly recommend, by the way!) and when she mentioned feeling super broody a few weeks after going off the pill, I realised this might happen to me as well. We’ll see!
I’ve been using hormonal contraceptives for “only” five years, and I’ve used a low dose, so I’m not expecting anything super dramatic to happen. Still, over the next couple of months, I’m planning to document what happens to my body. Will I gain weight? Get mood swings? Acne? Will I end up with a completely different cycle and period than before the hormones?
I’d love to hear any of your stories about going off hormones, if you’re comfortable with sharing them. You’ll hear back from me on this topic in a month!