I took my first birth control pill when I was 15.
I told my dad that my period wasn’t coming every month and that my acne was getting embarrassing at school. When you’re a single dad raising a teenage girl, you don’t talk much about business “down there”, especially when your daughter tells you she thinks something isn’t working properly. So, like any good dad would do, he took me to the gynecologist to talk to an educated woman.
My dad made sure that my gynecologist was female -- for that, I applaud and appreciate his efforts. I don’t recall too much from the appointment besides the overwhelming butterflies in my stomach and the tacky health care posters on the walls. As the gynecologist entered, I was anxious to hash out the mystery of my lady parts woman-to-woman but it was straight to business as she discussed the options for a birth control pill. When it was time to go, I remember thinking it seemed incredibly too easy to be prescribed birth control. I mean, birth control is for the girls that are having sex, right? It surprised my curious 15 year old brain that a tiny pill was the answer for my missing periods and forehead mountains but the lady in the white coat said it was the best option AND the lowest dose of hormones -- seems legit, right?
Though the birth control helped to regulate my periods, over time my acne made an uncanny reappearance and I began to experience body image dysmorphia, depression and rapid mood swings that had left me feeling unrepairable. It was as I neared college that I linked these issues with stories of women that were struggling with common side-effects as a result of their birth control pill. I knowingly could not continue the pill with my body’s imbalanced response to something so hormonally disruptive. It was at that point that I decided to break up with the pill; permanently.
It’s no secret that physicians have had safety concerns regarding the use of hormonal contraceptives since the moment they were first released to the public in 1960. A quick google search reveals that there are plenty of risks that have been studied and reported regarding both the short-term and long-term use of the pill. The intake of exogenous estrogen and progestin (female sex hormones that, when combined, work to prevent ovulation) can disrupt the flow of a variety of hormones including hypothalamic and ovarian hormones, leading to a negative effect on multiple organ systems and physical/emotional processes. Other research suggests that hormonal birth control use also increases the risk of cancer (cervical, liver and breast cancer), heart attacks, weight gain, strokes, and difficulty with achieving pregnancy after long-term use.
Lady friends, the risks and side effects of hormonal contraceptives are worth your time to study and talk about.
After being off the pill for a year, I began to gain interest in holistic, healthy living which resulted in an increased desire to understand how business worked below the belt. I knew at some point I was going to have to understand how to prevent pregnancy, only this time without any hormone disrupting kinds. I also desired to understand my hormones and how to balance them because without my monthly periods, I started to feel defective; as if I wasn’t functioning the way a female should be at twenty years old.
One day, a mentor of mine suggested that I read Taking Charge of Your Fertility and give the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) a shot to clear my menstrual confusion. Fertility Awareness Method, simply put, is a means for making sense of your female reproductive system. It uses the scientifically proven fertility signs (basal temperature, cervical fluid and cervical position), all of which a woman is able to analyze on her own, to determine when a woman is fertile within her monthly cycle. Fertility Awareness Method is effective in preventing and achieving pregnancy, assessing gynecological problems, and empowering women by helping them grasp basic scientific knowledge of how their bodies work.
All that a woman needs to begin practicing the Fertility Awareness Method is a basal thermometer, which helps to determine a woman’s lowest body temperature. That’s it. No gynecological appointment required. No monthly prescription refills. No tacky health-care posters.
If your reaction is anything like mine after first learning about FAM, you are probably thinking, “WHY AM I JUST NOW LEARNING THIS?!”...and you are totally right, girl. Fertility Awareness Method is so foundational to women’s health that we should be teaching young girls about FAM at the exact moment the first questions regarding their reproductive system surfaces. Sadly we don’t, and for many women, their reproductive system remains uncharted territory for a lifetime.
So, how has Fertility Awareness changed my life? In the grand scheme of things, it has changed everything about how I view self-care and women’s health. It has changed how I view my period, my monthly up-and-down emotions and energy levels, my health routines and my husband and I’s intimate life. It has also changed the lens through which I view other women and their journey with birth control methods. Lastly, FAM has raised my awareness for the need for women to come together to have vulnerable conversations about our lady parts and to guide younger women towards a path of making informed decisions regarding their bodies.
The idea of using Fertility Awareness Method is a basic one. It is not about a feminist movement, a religious belief, a social background or a stereotype. It is simple, basic knowledge about our bodies and I believe it is time we start talking about it outside of the gyno’s office.
Adriel’s Favorite Books:
Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler
Cycle Savvy by Toni Weschler
The Garden of Fertility by Katie Singer
WomanCode by Alisa Vitti
Fertility, Cycles, & Nutrition by Marilyn M. Shannon
The Hormone Cure by Sara Gottfried
Sweetening the Pill: or How We Got Hooked on Hormonal Birth Control Holly Grigg-Spall
About the Author // Adriel Arreola is a matcha-loving, creativity-seeking, women’s health enthusiastic based in Bloomington-Normal, Illinois. She studied Healthy Lifestyle Coaching at Arizona State University and received her bachelor’s in Health Sciences and plans to further her education to become a Holistic Reproductive Health Practitioner. Her passion is to mentor women in areas of vulnerability, especially as it relates to gynecological health and to teach women how to effectively use FAM. She believes that by truthful conversation, informed decision-making and basic knowledge about the female reproductive system, women have the power to rebuild their ideas around health and menstrual cycles. When she’s not talking Fertility Awareness Method, she’s adventuring with her husband, Austin. Together, they strive to build relationships and cultivate community.