After taking the pill for ten years and going through a particularly difficult experience with one brand, Yasmin, I decided to come off for good. It was a struggle to get to that point, but what made the transition so much easier for me was learning about my menstrual cycle. It turned my fear of my body into fascination.
The following is an excerpt from my forthcoming book ‘Sweetening the Pill or How We Got Hooked on Hormonal Birth Control’ in which I detail the personal journey through which I broke off my longterm relationship with the pill.
As the pill left my system, I was left wondering who I might be and I was scared to carry on without the pill and find out. I hadn’t been without it since I was seventeen. Three months off the pill and I felt brighter but still disorientated. I felt as though I were relearning how to react and interact. My spectrum of feelings in their depth and intensity were overwhelming – no longer was it just flatness or a freak out. I had a fullness of feeling coming through a haze of chemicals.
It was about this time that I started researching into the fertility awareness method as a way to support my change to non-hormonal contraceptives.
Laura Wershler used fertility awareness as her method of birth control for twenty-five years. She has written extensively about how there is a profound lack of support from the medical industry and society at large for women who choose not to use hormonal contraceptives, for any reason. She believes that the gap in information created by the refusal to acknowledge women who don’t want to use a drug or device contributes to the unplanned pregnancy rate. Wershler also believes this standpoint shows a lack of respect for women’s health and their
The importance of what she coined “body literacy,” a term she describes as “learning to observe, chart and interpret our menstrual cycle events…a life skill that helps us understand how our sexual, reproductive and general health and well-being are connected to our menstrual cycles. Body literacy supports, if not
compels, our fully informed participation in health-care decision making.”
In our collaborative guide for women seeking non-hormonal alternatives Wershler writes, “Fertility awareness, like riding a bicycle, is a life skill. If you can knit a sweater, read a balance sheet, or master French cooking and Adobe InDesign, you can learn to observe, chart and interpret your menstrual cycle events.”
I was first introduced to FAM by a friend when I was in withdrawal from the pill. She had abandoned hormonal contraceptives due on side effects, specifically the impact on her creativity as she is a writer, and she was using condoms, spermicide and the fertility awareness method together. She avoided penetrative sex during her fertile period. She explained to me how our body temperature changes through the month depending on our hormone cycle. It was the first time I had heard this, the first time I realized there were times when I was not fertile at all and unable to get pregnant.
It was obvious that it would be extremely helpful to women coming off the pill to have an understanding of their cycles. I could see how beneficial it would be to feel connected to those changes instead of frightened and perplexed. My hormone cycle would be something I was doing, rather than something happening to me. I knew I would feel less anxious about being off the pill if I knew when I was fertile and could interpret my body’s signals to know that I was not pregnant.
If I knew when I was fertile I’d be able to stop worrying about being off the pill.
At that time I received The Natural Fertility Management kit from Jane Bennett, replete with thermometer, and coincidentally I was reading the “gurlesque” novel Wetlands by Charlotte Roche. Written from the point of view of an eighteen year-old woman who is fascinated by her bodily functions, the novel is essentially a series of first person descriptions of her secretions, toilet habits, sex acts and physical explorations and experimentations.
These two books complemented each other as they met somewhere in the middle at the exploration of cervical mucus textures. Reading about the protagonist Helen’s delight in being human and alive, her lack of shame about her body, reading descriptions of her creating impromptu tampons from toilet paper, made me see the funny side of my own prudishness and anxiety. It wore away at my resistance to getting more intimate with how my body worked.
Holly Grigg-Spall is the author of the soon to be released Novel Sweetening the Pill: How We Got Hooked on Hormonal Birth Control to be released September 27th, 2013. Sweetening the Pill explores the side effects and wider social impact of hormonal contraceptives. It is the basis of a documentary in development, to be co-directed by Helen Kearns.