One writer shares her story—and the side effects of birth control that left her asking questions
I got my first prescription for birth control at age 22. For the seven years I was on the Pill, I loved it. It made my acne-prone skin clear, my periods regular, made me PMS-free, and I could skip a period whenever it coincided with a vacation or special occasion. And of course, it prevented pregnancy.
But then, at age 29, my husband and I decided to start a family. As a writer specializing in women’s health, I figured I had this thing down: Ditch the Pill, get busy before and during ovulation, and it would happen in no time. Except it didn’t. I took my last Pill in October 2013. And then I waited. There were no signs of ovulation—no temperature dip or spike, no ovulation predictor kit smiley face, no egg white cervical mucus, no mittelschmerz (cramping on the side where the ovary releases an egg). Still, we gave it our best shot.
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By day 28—the length of a typical menstrual cycle—when my period didn’t show, I thought for sure we were those lucky folks who got pregnant on their first try. One negative pregnancy test after another, however, confirmed this wasn’t the case. Finally, 41 days after my last Pill-induced cycle, I got my period. I was elated (we could try again this month!) and devastated (I wasn’t pregnant; and damn my cycle was long).
This series of events repeated again and again with cycles of varying 40-plus day lengths. By the end of January, I visited my gynecologist. That’s when she dropped this bomb on my baby-fevered heart: My long cycles meant I probably wasn’t ovulating and even if I was, the egg quality likely wasn’t good enough to be fertilized by the time it escaped my ovary. In short, we probably wouldn’t be able to get pregnant without treatment. I left her office with a prescription for progesterone to induce a cycle, a prescription for Clomid to induce ovulation, and a shattered dream. Less than four months into trying, we were already being treated for infertility.
For the next three months, every time I swallowed one of those pills, this thought ate away at me: "If I had never taken the Pill or if I had stopped taking it long before trying to become pregnant, I would have had more information about my cycles. I’d know what was normal for me." Instead, each month was a guessing game. The unknown was only unknown because I’d taken the Pill. For seven years, the Pill hijacked my hormones and shut down ovulation so I was completely disconnected from how my body actually worked.
As a health writer, I couldn’t help but consult Dr. Google, often huddled over my iPhone late at night when I couldn’t sleep. I wanted to know whether my long cycles were my “normal” or the result of going off the Pill. Although research seems to confirm that even long-term oral contraceptive use doesn’t harm fertility, quite a few studies suggest that in the short-term, it may be more difficult to become pregnant. One study found that 12 months after stopping a barrier method (like condoms) 54 percent of women gave birth compared to just 32 percent of women who’d stopped taking the Pill. And, women who’d used oral contraceptives for two or more years before trying to become pregnant took an average of nearly nine months to conceive compared to three months, on average, for women who’d used condoms, researchers in the U.K. found.
Fortunately, our story has a happy ending. Or, as I like to say, a happy beginning. I’m 18 weeks pregnant and due in March. After three unsuccessful months of Clomid with timed intercourse and one month of Follistim and Ovidrel injections in my belly and a back-to-back failed IUI (artificial insemination), we took the spring and summer off from treatments. This June, somewhere between Geneva and Milan while on vacation, I got pregnant. It was during another super-long cycle. But, miraculously, I ovulated and our little baby was made.
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Although he or she isn’t even here yet, I already know how differently we’ll go about the baby-making process the next time around. Most importantly, I will never ever take the Pill—or any kind of hormonal contraception—again. I still don’t know why my cycles were so long (doctors ruled out conditions like PCOS), but whether it was due to the Pill or not, I want to know how my body works on its own so I can be better prepared. And those months of treatments? While they were a mere taste compared to what many people with infertility endure, they were physically and emotionally draining and devastatingly expensive. Worse, I’m pretty sure they were unnecessary.
For the seven years that I took the Pill, I loved that it gave me control over my body. I now realize for seven years, I allowed the chemicals in the Pill to control my body. Five months from now when I’m holding our little miracle in my arms, our life will change—including countless trips to Target we’ll take. There, I’ll stock up on diapers, wipes, burp cloths, and, from now on, condoms.