I was on the pill for years but I’ll never go back on it again. Here’s my story and what I wish I’d known about the effects this birth control method would have on my body.
I went on the pill at age 15 because my cycles were irregular. This is a common solution for this problem, but it’s also common to have irregular cycles at that age. At the time, it seemed like a good idea because I was sick of having accidents in school. I wasn’t sexually active yet, but I knew it couldn’t hurt for preventing pregnancy in the future, and I’m sure my mother was thinking the same thing.
When I tried going off the pill at age 20, I didn’t get a period for a year. My body seemed really sensitive to the pill; it made me feel sick and uncomfortably bloated all the time, and it also made me gain weight. For these reasons, I tried to stop taking it to see if I could go without it. But my period didn’t come, and the only solution my doctor had for me was to go back on the pill. She told me we could figure it out when I wanted to have kids. Thanks, I guess?
I went off the pill again when I was 23. I’d been with someone for a while who I knew I wanted to start a family with eventually. I was worried I’d have issues because of what happened when I was 20, so I figured I’d get a head start on getting my body back to normal. Again, I didn’t get my period, and this time nothing happened for over two years.
I ended up seeing a fertility specialist. I found out that my hormone levels were extremely low across the board, including the hormones FSH and LH, the exact hormones that the pill suppresses. The doctor denied that the pill had anything to do with it, but I was skeptical. I had a period before the pill, so why didn’t I have one after?
It’s scientifically proven that women coming off of the pill can experience delayed fertility. I was never told this, but it can take up to a year for a woman’s cycle to return to normal after stopping the pill, sometimes longer. But in most women, their fertility returns to normal within a year. This means I should’ve resumed normal cycling after two years, but I didn’t. There were no other underlying issues detected by the tests my doctor did, so I was convinced the pill had something to do with it.
How can birth control pills delay fertility? The pill prevents ovulation by maintaining consistent levels of progesterone and estrogen. So after stopping, it may take a little while for your body to remember what to do. Birth control pills also thicken your cervical mucus, preventing sperm from reaching the egg. It may take time for your mucus to return to normal.
The pill also affects the uterine lining, which can affect fertility. Birth control pills inhibit the growth of the endometrium, or uterine lining, which is critical for conception. One study found that women who had been taking the pill for at least five years had thinner endometria and a harder time achieving pregnancy after stopping the pill.
The pill doesn’t affect fertility long-term for most women, so what was the reason for my problems? Although the delay in fertility is short for most, I must’ve been an exception. The pill could’ve also been masking some underlying hormonal issues I was having, which obviously didn’t get better over time, but I didn’t know I needed fixing because the pill could’ve been covering it up. Looking back, I feel like I didn’t really have a chance to solve my real problem in the first place. If I had, maybe I could’ve started my family sooner.
I could’ve chosen another method of birth control that wouldn’t have affected my hormones. Barrier methods like female or male condoms don’t affect fertility at all, so this would’ve been a better choice for me. Although there’s no overall long-term effect with any birth control method according to science, it obviously affected me, so I wish I’d known more about alternative options.
There’s some speculation that the pill may improve fertility, but the evidence is limited. The pill may prevent ovarian and uterine cancer, and pelvic inflammatory disease, which can indirectly help women’s chances of getting pregnant in the future by helping to avoid these diseases. The pill can also relieve the symptoms of endometriosis by limiting the growth of the uterine lining. According to endometriosis.org, this doesn’t improve fertility though.
The pill poses other risks too. It may increase a woman’s risk of cervical cancer and breast cancer, and it can increase the chance of developing blood clots, especially in smokers. So even if it didn’t hurt my fertility, I’m not sure the other risks would’ve made it worth it either.
There’s not much evidence of a long-term negative effect on fertility, but I’m still never going back on the pill. Although most women regain their natural cycles soon after coming off the pill, there are exceptions because this wasn’t true in my case. I regret not choosing a different method of birth control. If I knew I was going to have so many issues, I would’ve never started taking the pill so young. I wish I had been more informed.
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