I’ve been totally amazed at the response to my posts on hormonal birth control. Thanks to all who have been in touch with their stories. Unsurprisingly, I only heard from one person who had a fully positive experience with hormonal birth control. The majority of responses have ranged from people who are on the pill and experience mild issues or have niggling reservations to people whose lives and health were altered while on the pill.
A common and logical question then has become “what can we do instead?” when choosing to stop using hormonal birth control. Two things to mention before we get to a few possible answers…
Coming off the pill can be tough.
1. Mood swings, weight gain/loss, headaches, irregular or temporarily absent cycles and other symptoms can and most probably will occur. It’s important to understand that coming off the pill won’t immediately fix all of the problems it caused, but it sets us back on a path towards restored physical/mental/reproductive/mental health. I’ve discovered some really great stuff to help this process of restoring balance/recovering from the pill which I’ll post next week.
2. Also, your GP might not be all that well brushed up on the side effects of the pill, how to deal with them, or alternative methods of birth control (see below). Mine tried talking me into a different form of hormonal birth control and found it strange that I attributed mood swings to the pill (?!) It could be a good time for you to explain to your doctor what the side effects have been for you, and to share with them your research into alternatives.
Speaking of which… I am no expert (at all. Like, really not…so if you get pregnant, don’t blame me. I will help babysit, though, but only because I like babies) but having researched the topic lots, here is what I have found. Also, you can rest assured that fertility, well-being, and making sure I don’t have a honeymoon baby are my priorities here…so I have taken this seriously.
Note: effectiveness rates are often thrown around with much consideration. For each method, there are in fact two. Perfect use refers to the method being used 100% correctly and typical use refers then to the times things don’t go exactly as planned (look it up.)
I’ll not be writing about methods with very low failure rates (apart from one which sets another two up!) so I’m omitting the cervical cap, spermicide and the contraceptive sponge (these are all ideally teamed with other methods which just makes the whole thing confusing and complicated…when it doesn’t need to be.)
Barrier methods. Instead of trying to chase after the male’s baby-makers when they’re already in the uterus or modifying the uterus’ response to them, the condom or the diaphragm prevent contact. They can be worn by either party (in fact, condoms are the only widely available method of contraception geared towards men). Perfect use of the male condom is 98% effective at preventing pregnancy; perfect use of the diaphragm is 95% effective.
Non-hormonal IUD/coil. This is a little copper device fitted in the cervix to prevent pregnancy by acting as spermicide. Perfect use is over 99% effective. Side effects can include cramping, perforation of the cervix or harm to the male, heavier periods, expulsion or dislodging causing pain.
Rhythm method. This method looks at the average woman’s cycle and, if the woman considering the method fits generally into that bracket, she is encouraged to plan to not have unprotected sex on certain days of the month. This method varies in effectiveness but estimates linger between 75 and 85%. YIKES. That leads us on to its more mature, reasonable relatives…
Natural family planning and fertility awareness methods. These methods are more tailored to the individual woman’s cycle than the rhythm method and are thus more effective (perfect use is over 99% effective, very similar to the combined pill). The woman’s cycle is studied via basal temperature measurement or cervical fluid or positioning analysis. These are indicators of ovulatory patterns, so a woman can know when she is fertile (which won’t be more than 24-48 hours in a month). However, sperm can live for approximately 5 days within the uterus so this method encourages either abstinence (natural family planning, or NFP, which is against barrier methods of contraception) or protected sex during the time period when a couple may be fertile (fertility awareness method or FAM).
This does sound a bit tricky, and because of the association with the rhythm method (which is unfortunate, as it is in fact very different), many couples shy away from it. However, charting and becoming familiar with one’s cycle make this an accessible method for most and woman who partake report feeling more in touch with their bodies. A good book to help you with this is Taking Charge of your Fertility by Toni Weschler. Also, the introduction on the market of devices which measure fertility means that there are less personally ‘demanding’ ways of using this method (and which, again, are 99.4% effective). In all cases, couples who opt for this method report feeling closer and more intimate as a result. (And, of course, with the same information, the devices also help to plan pregnancy – so they have a double purpose: they even tell you when you are pregnant!)
We’ve decided to go for that last one and I’m charting my cycle with the help of Pearly. The device works, regardless of the regularity of someone’s cycle, by measuring basal temperature each morning and discerning fertility levels (with a 99.4% effectiveness rate). It takes a couple of months to get to know the user’s cycle (whether or not it is ‘regular’ doesn’t matter) and then gives the user a red light (meaning no unprotected sex) or a green light (meaning ‘go for it!’).
The team at Lady Comp are incredibly helpful and supportive, and we worked out a payment plan that worked for us. Get in touch with them if you have any questions about this method: Luke and his team will be more than happy to help. (This is NOT a sponsored post!)