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6 Women share how quitting birth control improved their health

BIRTH CONTROL
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And helped them grow spiritually ...

When I mention that I chart my fertility using a fertility awareness based method (known as FABM for short), it’s not uncommon for people to ask questions — and a lot of them.

FABMs are misunderstood in today’s culture. Often mistaken for the rhythm method of the 1900s, natural fertility methods are often skipped over as unreliable and outdated. But in reality, FABMs are rooted in scientific data and offer a holistic approach to women’s health.

Recently, I interviewed six women about their experience switching from a hormonal birth control to a natural method of fertility awareness. Some of the women are married, many are single. Some are still in college, others are middle-aged. Many of them went on the pill because they didn’t think they had any other options, and quite a few of them experienced negative health side effects from their time on birth control.
As unique as each story is, each of the women discussed the moment they knew they wanted to make a change and what the biggest benefits to their health FABMs have made in their life. Collectively, their stories reveal the freedom that comes from knowing how our bodies and our fertility work as women.

A holistic approach healthcare

The main reason Carrie Finson took hormonal birth control for 22 years was to control cycle pain and irregularity. “I remember having huge mood swings before we found the right birth control pill. It helped for a long time until my pill was discontinued. Then began the search for another pill that would work the same way.” But over the course of two decades, the pain continued. “I gained about 40 pounds during this time, and I began to feel the pain push through regardless of the pill,” she remembered.
When Carrie’s sister learned the Creighton method (one of several natural fertility methods out there), she recommended it to Carrie. Around the same time, Carrie heard a talk given by a surgeon who mentioned that tracking cycles and charting hormones was a way to find solutions for fertility problems. “That sounded like a much better approach than the feeble band-aid approach of throwing birth control at the issue,” Carrie said.
Carrie brought her concerns of weight gain, mood swings, and irregular cycles to her gynecologist, who told her to work out and try a different pill. “I didn’t feel like she was listening to me and was dead-set on the pills.” It was then that Carrie decided to give NFP a try. While she still experiences pain in her cycle, it’s not the same levels of pain she experienced while on the pill. “My Creighton practitioner kept an eye on my hormone levels for quite a while to determine the best course of action, and she focused on whole-body health rather than just a single aspect.”
As a result of quitting hormonal birth control and going on an anti-inflammatory diet that her practitioner recommended, she’s lost roughly 40 pounds during the past year.

Fertility awareness and healthy dating relationships

It’s been a year and a half since Victoria Purvis stopped taking hormonal birth control. “I started a hormonal birth control pill in college. I didn’t really want it, need it, or have access before then. I had really difficult mood swings before or on my period, and so a friend in college recommended it after she found out how bad it was,” she explained. It was around that time that she became sexually active with her boyfriend. Their relationship played a key role in her decision to stop taking birth control.
“When I stopped taking birth control, it was because my boyfriend and I stopped having sex,” Victoria said. “I wasn’t necessarily considering fertility awareness fully then, but I knew it would be a part of my future whenever I got married.” It wasn’t until the couple discerned marriage that Victoria took a closer look at FABM. “I knew that it was a way to naturally space children while still trusting God, and it was approved generally by the Church, so it was helpful.”
The transition away from birth control and into a FABM started as a painful experience. “I was concerned that I would go back to being super moody and experiencing depression symptoms. I had horrible cramps for the first three periods after I went off birth control. But since then, everything has been much better,” she explained. “My acne was actually better off the pill than on it, and it got worse the longer I was on the pill.”
Now, Victoria appreciates the awareness she has about her fertility. “I am also happy that I know better know how my body works and what that should look like on a given day.”

It’s freeing to know how fertility works 

Erica Dellman had been on the pill since she was 18 years old, switching between multiple versions of birth control and always changing the amounts of estrogen that was in her medication. When she was 23, she switched to an IUD. But after her boyfriend proposed and they started doing marriage preparation classes, she was introduced to the concept of NFP. “We were told that our church would pay for the classes, so we checked it out. I had already had my IUD removed by this time,” she explained.
Once she learned about NFP, she realized how empowered she felt. “My body had reasons for doing what it did and I can now tell if something isn’t right based on my charts. I also learned about ovulation. That’s what floored me the most — how little I knew about when and how my body ovulated,” Erica said.
For Erica, the biggest benefit from switching to natural fertility awareness was the knowledge that came with charting. “Knowing my body and not having to guess based off of a doctor’s thoughts on what may be going on has been great.” Another benefit for Erica is the role that NFP plays in her marriage. “Knowing when I can get pregnant and when I can’t has helped us successfully achieve pregnancy. We are due with our first babe at the end of the year. It’s amazing to realize how my body works and the beauty and simplicity in NFP,” she shared.

No more band-aid health fixes

“I switched to using a NFP method just six months ago,” explained 20-year-old college student Jessica Flach. She was put on a high dosage birth control pill when she was 15 years old after she expressed a concern for her irregular periods to her gynecologist. But during her freshman year of high school, Jessica began to notice changes in her personality and health.

“My mood completely changed. I was a fairly happy and well mannered kid, but the pill made my head very confused. I couldn’t process my emotions and didn’t know how to explain the constant juxtaposition I was in,” she explained. Even though she was in her first romantic relationship, she experienced no emotional attachment to her boyfriend. “I broke up with him shortly after, blaming a lot of my confusion on my feelings changing.”

Looking back on her high school experience, she realize that no one took the time to explain the side effects of the pill to her. “Sure, they were on the box, sure, but I barely understood what depression was. I was feeling and going through what fit under that label and in the box’s listed side effects,” she remembered. For the next four years, she shied away from any type of medication because of her experience with birth control.

When Jessica left for college, she learned more about her Catholic faith, and discovered the Church’s teachings on NFP.  At the beginning of this year, she brought concerns about her cycle to a gynecologists who encouraged women to chart their cycles. It was during that appointment that she discovered that her symptoms point to endometriosis, which runs in her family medical history. “I understand my cycle much better, and it’s allowed for more knowledge and understanding, especially with my moods, and with my gynecologist. Even though I only switched in the last six months, I feel a lot more comfortable about the choices I’m making and I understand myself and thus my body a lot more. I think overall the best thing that has come out of this journey is my relationship with my gynecologist.”

Approaching fertility as a team in marriage 

When Kate Hendrick was a senior in high school, she was looking forward to a huge backpacking trip that she’d been dreaming of for years. “When I looked into managing menstruation while backpacking, most of the advice comes down to skipping your period by using artificial birth control. I went to my primary care physician, explained my situation, and went on birth control,” Kate remembered. “Though I wasn’t sexually active, being on birth control at 18 was just the ‘normal’ thing to do. I wasn’t aware of any of the risks or the moral issues surrounding it. I just liked being in control of when I got my period.”

It wasn’t until she stumbled upon information about FABM through Catholic bloggers on Tumblr that Kate realized there were different options. “I had never heard about FABMs before, but as an engineering student, I was really interested in the data supporting their efficacy,” Kate said. “I knew that hormonal birth control was no longer an option, and when I had the option to learn Creighton as part of my marriage prep, there was no doubt in my mind that this was a great thing to do for my health and relationship.”

Shortly after she was diagnosed with latent autoimmune diabetes of adults, Kate stopped taking hormonal birth control. But she admits what really informed her decision. “I had just had a major reversion experience so I wanted to be faithful to all Church teachings even though I didn’t fully understand them. I also was finally introduced to the dangers of hormonal birth control. I was horrified learning about all the risks. I just had an enormous, life-changing diagnosis with a disease that could harm my entire body.”

Now, Kate is 25 years old and a process engineer in research and development. She’s been married for two years, and continues to learn more about the benefits of FABM in both her health and her marriage. “The big thing about stopping hormonal birth control was my thyroid levels went right back to normal and my depression was more manageable. The obvious benefit of using NFP for me is that it is in line with Church teaching, but it also genuinely has been a blessing for my marriage and my health. I love that my husband and I can talk about my health and that it is a team effort.”

Advocating for women’s health

Kristen Muldoon has been married for five years, but she remembers what it was like to be on birth control in college. Her doctor prescribed a birth control shot for a year, then put Kristen on a birth control pill for six months. “The shot was annoying because it led to spotting almost every day for about six months,” she recalled. “But after that I didn’t have a period at all.”

It wasn’t until she had a reversion to the Catholic faith that she took a closer look at birth control. “Once I started seeking the truth in Church teaching, I realized Natural Family Planning was the only option I felt comfortable with,” she explained. “That also led me to investigate the negative health effects of hormonal birth control … I was shocked at how much information I learned about my body! I am now a vocal advocate of all things NFP/FABM to my friends and family. Every woman deserves to know how their reproductive system is actually designed to work.”

When she talked about the difference charting her cycle has made in her life, Kristen emphasized the spiritual benefits. “I know I am acting in alignment with Church teaching,” she said. “I am glad I am not putting cancer-causing hormones into my body or stopping it from functioning as designed. I also like that practicing NFP constantly requires my husband and me to discuss our plans for our family.”

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