By Maeve Roughton
Illustration by Euan Murphy
It feels like it was just yesterday (it always does) that I was 16 years old, sitting in my friend’s bedroom with a handful of birth control pills + water swishing around in my mouth. Gulp. Her theory was extra birth control pills = no unwanted pregnancy, and since she was six months older and wiser, who was I to argue?
But this essay isn’t about my gently winding road to adulthood, it’s about my blind descent into the thick brush and unblazed trails of life after birth control pills. Oh, what a ride it’s been.
*Remember, this is just my story of coming off the pill, and both biology and lifestyle may be impacting my experience. If you’re thinking about or have gone off the pill, best to check-in with your doctor rather than take my insight as sermon. (Oh, and if you want the scoop on what happens to your body while you’re on the pill, we detailed all that good stuff for ya in another post.)
Missing Menstruation: Who knew I could long for my best frenemy this much?
Because, who ever looks forward to it, like, EVER??? (Unless you’re 16, just guzzled down 8 bc pills, and are living in cliched fear while Ryan Seacrest and Brian Dunkleman---memba him???---make reality TV history).
Going off the pill means your body must start to naturally produce certain hormones again, including the stuff that makes your walls bleed. But it’s not like turning the oven on and off -- sometimes this transition back to au naturelle perioding takes time. In my case, it took six months, almost to the day. The official term is “post-pill amenorrhea” and it’s way more common than you think. Like any normal human being, I spent those six months Googling the shit out of “what happens when you go off the pill” and was met with so many stories of people who didn’t recover their menstrual cycles until six, nine, even 12 months after ditching the pill.
No Period, Lots o’ PMS: How dare you, Mother Nature.
Each month came and went without blood but with the symptoms we all know and love: irritability, bloating, exhaustion, an unwavering commitment to highly processed sugar. It would have been rrrreal cute if the inside of my body could have said to the outside, “Don’t worry, we’ll handle this,” but instead it grumbled, “If we’re going down you’re coming with us!” Yup, that meant the divine gifts of weird skin issues and strange body hair.
During the six months that I didn’t have my period I still felt equal parts emotional madwoman and imperfect physical specimen. My period may not have shown her face, but she still sent her symptomatic thugs to do the dirty work.
The Ovulation Office: Leading my body as period president
Whether the credit goes to my friend’s alternative facts on birth control or the science behind contraceptives (I’ll let you decide), I’ve never been pregnant. But people grow up, fall in love, get married, and start thinking, “What if I created an army of humans that look and act like me?” Yours truly included.
But getting pregnant after going off the pill hasn’t been as easy as my track-suit wearing middle school sex ed teacher would have liked me to believe (“It only takes one time!”). And a lot of that has to do with not having a regular period. There’s a window of conception opportunity every month (or so) and it’s easiest to understand when that is if you know when your regular cycle starts (usually a person ovulates 12 to 18 days after the start of their cycle). If you don’t, trying to get pregnant can be a little like playing bingo in the dark (well, except this version of bingo is fun and feels gooood).
To help, I picked up an ovulation tracker, which functions kinda like a pregnancy test: pee on a stick, wait, check. They’re expensive, and since I have to test almost every day---because I don’t know what my cycle length is or when it starts---I’ve peed my way through a lot of cash. But, if you’re in a situation like me, life sans period, it’s the only way to know when your body is primed for baby makin’.
It’s been three months since I got that first post-pill period and I’ve only seen my cycle once more. Needless to say, it’s gonna take a hot sec for this machine to become well-oiled (well-bled?) once again. But I’ve got time. And Brian Dunkleman is due for a comeback. And there are plenty of ovulation sticks to pee on.
Have you gone off the pill, or are you thinking of getting pregnant? Spill your guts in the comments below so we can swap stories!