Why I Quit Birth Control

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I started using Nuva Ring in 2008. Before that, I had a very casual relationship with oral contraceptives, in that I technically had an active prescription for the pill, but only deigned to take it sometimes. I know — such a disaster. So, when my gynecologist introduced me to Nuva Ring when I was 20, I thought I had found the answer to my lazy-girl prayers. Fast forward six years later, and I was still on the Ring, and very happy with it.

I know you’ve all been anticipating the rumored exposé from Vanity Fair about Gwyneth Paltrow, but for me the real scandal came in the magazine’s December feature on Nuva Ring. Writer Marie Brenner revealed some seriously scary stuff about the risk of pulmonaryembolisms women face when on the Ring. The stories Brenner shared about Megan Henry and Erika Langhart — both healthy women under the age of 30 — were particularly harrowing. And, after about 15 seconds of reflection, I decided I would call my doctor when I got home that evening to see what she thought.

When I spoke to her, I expressed my concerns about the article I read. I told her I was nervous that, having been on the drug for six years, I might be causing serious damage to my body. And, since I wasn’t sexually active at the time, I wanted out of birth control altogether for a while. I expected my doctor to tell me to think about it, or that the article was sensationalist and ought to be taken with a grain of salt. Instead, she simply said, “Okay, I think that’s a good idea.” She advised me to remove the Ring as I normally would, according to the three-week time table, and — rather than insert a new one following my cycle — simply discontinue its use.

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My final on-the-Ring period was just like it’s been for the past six years. In three words:painless, chocolate-monster-inducing, and short. But, after just a week off the Ring, I had a major loss of appetite. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel well — just that I simply didn’t feel that kind of hunger where I’m ready to sit down and have a full meal. While I was on the Ring, I also experienced major bloating and had swollen ankles, since it made me retain water. My doctor said I might notice a reduced bloat/swell situation, and she was right. I felt thinner after just a couple of weeks sans Ring. 

I think the most important thing you should know, reader, is that during the first few weeks of Ring freedom, I wanted nothing more than a good bout of sexy time. If my body could talk, it would literally have been screaming, “Where are all of the men?” But, about four weeks and zero calls-to-former-lovers later (phew!), I returned to a less carnal way of life. 

My cravings for sweets also declined. Sure, they now return during the days leading up to my period, but not in a way like before. I don’t think I’ve ever consumed more baked goods than when I was on the Ring. You can joke about eating cake for breakfast all you want, but I wasactually doing that once a month. Not since I removed the Ring, though.

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Though I’ve listed plenty of perks, like an upped libido and a slimmer waistline, in the second month of being off the Ring I noticed some negative aspects. Namely, my face was starting to break out. I normally have pretty clear skin, and don’t even dabble in the likes of a BB cream. But, at this point, I was actually buying things like foundation and concealer to add to my makeup arsenal. Apparently, hormonal birth control slows the production of sebum. The less oil on your face, the less acne you’ll see. Needless to say, I was mortified at the onset of acne at the age of 26. 

Zits weren’t the only high school nightmare returning, either. My doctor had warned that it would take up to three months for the hormones from the birth control to entirely leave my body. And, I knew she was right when I got my third period off of the Ring. It was heavier, lasted almost a week, and was fairly painful — like the kind of pain I remembered from my teenage years. Hormonal birth control stops ovulation, thus reducing cramps. I haven’t had to take any kind of pain reliever for period pain since tenth-grade history class. Now I just want to curl up in the fetal position and wait for the cramps to pass.

I cannot deny how much less bloated I look and feel off of the Ring. The ease with which I now fit into my pants is reason enough to consider dropping birth control altogether. But, my skin is suffering big time — and I could do without the longer, heavier, more painful periods. I definitely won’t go back on Nuva Ring, but I think that I’ll eventually return to some kind of hormonal birth control. After all, I’m an adult now, and theoretically more responsible than my teenage self. So, I like to believe that I’ll be better about taking a pill regularly. I make zero promises about not resuming my cake-for-breakfast lifestyle, though.

Illustrated by Ly Ngo.

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1 Comment

  1. I think it’s important to note that the NuvaRing article in Vanity Fair could have been written about ANY hormonal birth control containing estrogen (the pill, patch, and NuvaRing). The risks for blood clots, stroke, heart attack, etc. are higher than progestin-only birth control (progestin only pills, depo shot, hormone IUDs, and implant), however not enough to be concerned about if a person has a healthy medical history. Yes, there are ALWAYS risks with ANY medication, but there are also benefits. The benefit of using an estrogen containing method is that you may have decreased, but regular monthly bleeding (compared to irregular bleeding and less acne (like you pointed out already).

    I would encourage all people, regardless of what medication or treatment you are conscomment_IDering to conscomment_IDer the benefits, the risks, alternatives, and what happens if you do nothing. The more medically literate we are as patients, the more we can weigh our own options. Doctors are trained to give you advice based on their medical assessment, but that doesn’t mean it is the best course of action for YOU.

    If you aren’t great about taking pills and really don’t want to risk pregnancy (which is far riskier than using the NuvaRing!), then the benefits of the patch or NuvaRing might be worth it to you. I’ll be very curious to see what your feelings are about the pills compared to the NuvaRing, if you choose to use them, conscomment_IDering they are made with similar medications, but often make people feel different. I think we need to be careful about how we interpret articles that have a somewhat sensational perspective, as it’s easy to jump to conclusions without doing additional research.

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