**WARNING: This is a highly feminine & immensely personal post, so if you aren’t willing to read about my ladyparts, please hit the back button NOW.**
Since this is my 100th blog post (woop woop!!) I figured I’d make it count. AND since it’s International Women’s Day, I wanted to choose a subject to fit the day. So I picked a topic that I’ve been wanting to talk about for a long time, one I feel is at the root of women’s health. I deeply believe that women have immense power: the power of creating and nurturing life. The same power mother earth, God, Allah, or whatever Powers That Be possess. I therefore believe that a woman’s ladyparts (inside and out!) deserve nothing but the best of care; after all, they have a pretty damn important job to do. While I do believe this is a highly personal subject deserving the utmost spiritual and logical consideration, I’m going to bare my soul (or rather, uterus) in this post in hopes that my story can help someone faced with the same choices as me.
A few years ago, when I was going through a very difficult but necessary breakup, a good friend of mine gave me a goddess candle to remind me that every woman is a goddess, no matter how broken or bruised she may be. She probably did not realize the significance of this gift at the time, but the idea swirling within that wax figurine has become a central part of my being. I’ve made the mistake of thinking too little of myself far too many times in the past, and that gift has helped me past many of my insecurities.
I’ve been on the birth control pill since I was 19. I’ve never wanted kids, and in the 6 years since I made that choice, my feelings on that matter haven’t changed. My favorite part of life is the ease with which you can change your course, and my vision of an adventuresome life gets all kinked up when you throw a baby into the mix. Moreover, I can’t justify bringing a child into a world already so overpopulated – and faced with so many horrible social, economic, and environmental disasters. Children are simply not a part of my life plan. So I went on the pill.
When I started down the holistic health path a few years ago, my first goal was to get off birth control pills. But I was seeing a guy who didn’t like condoms, and I wasn’t informed enough to trust any natural methods, so I decided to stick it out. A few more pill packs couldn’t do that much more damage, right? So I continued to read about the subject here and there. I was working at a health food store at the time, and it seemed like every other women who came in had the same questions as me: are synthetic hormones really that bad? Isn’t taking the risk of an unwanted pregnancy worse? My boss gave every one of them the same answer: Yes, they really are that bad. I listened to her give the same speech to young women like me, women recovering from hysterectomies, women going through menopause. Synthetic hormones wreak havoc on the very parts of your body you’re trying to protect, the parts that give you the sacred power that makes you a goddess.
Like many of those women, I didn’t listen. The pill was convenient, much more so than having to worry about condoms breaking or trying to calculate what days I was fertile. And then I went in for a routine pap smear and heard the one word no one ever wants to hear: cancer. I didn’t have it yet, but I had high-grade dysplasia, which is a mutation of cells in the cervix that often leads to cervical cancer. And considering every woman in the past three generations of my family has had either breast cancer, cervical cancer, or both, I was at extra high risk for it.
I ran to the health food store to talk to my boss. I’d heard her give the speech a hundred times to customers, but I needed to hear it again, this time for me. She told me that dysplasia is usually caused by a folic acid deficiency, and the thief is none other than the pill. Along with causing hormone imbalances that can cause reproductive cancers – as well as depression, blood clots that cause heart attacks and strokes, high blood pressure, increased candida populations, and a host of other negative side effects – oral contraceptives rob your body of essential B vitamins, most importantly B2, B6, and folic acid. My first priority, obviously, was to get the hell away from that pill. With the help of my boss, we came up with a plan to get my body back in goddess condition. Our plan of action included the following:
-Stop taking the pill
-Start taking probiotics to get my gut in on the detox plan (I started with Enzymedica’s Candidase to help get my candida – or yeast – populations back in check, then I switched to Dr. D’Adamo’s Polyflora O, a probiotic formulated specifically for people with O blood types)
-Take folic acid and B vitamins (I was taking 1000 mcg of folic acid daily)
-Restore my hormonal balances by taking New Chapter’s Broccolive (I wouldn’t recommend taking anything from NC now that they’re owned by Proctor & Gamble, but you can get the same hormone balancing and anti-cancer effects by eating raw cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, brussel sprouts, watercress, collard greens, and arugula)
I took the supplements for the month between my pap and my kalposcopy (cervical biopsy). When I went in and the doctor got a closeup look at my cervix, she seemed a bit confused. Fearing the worst, I told her to just lay it on me, that I was prepared for the worst. She told me not to worry because… there was nothing there. No dysplasia, no abnormalities, not a single cell out of place. My temple was pristine again. All it took was taking out the trash and replacing it with wholesome foods and vitamins. I remember laying there, my most private, powerful places exposed to the world, crying and promising my body that I’d never take the pill again.
I ended up going back on the pill about a year later simply because I was terrified of getting pregnant. I hadn’t quite made up my mind about which side of the abortion debate I was on, so I decided to avoid it completely, even at the cost of my own body. I left the condom-hater (with the help and empowerment of my goddess candle) and eventually met the man whose ring I now wear. Neither of us want children, so I figured my decision to get back on the pill was a good one. But the arrival of my fiance in my life coincided with the loss of something even more important… my period. It was a gradual disappearance, not a middle-of-the-night kidnapping; each month it would be shorter than the last, until finally it would only last about 24 – 48 hours. It started when I moved in with him, in a new town, where I saw a new GYN, who gave me a new pill with a new dosage of estrogen. All this newness threw my ladyparts into hysterics, and my mind followed suit. Why were my periods shrinking? Was my uterus shrinking too? Was something wrong with my eggs? I wasn’t planning on using them, but I liked knowing they were there, the sacred seeds of life passed down from generations of women before me. Without them, could I still call myself a goddess? Could I still call my body a temple?
Not only were my periods shrinking, but so was my well of desire. This was a problem I’d never, ever faced, and it scared the holiness out of me. For the first time in my life, I was wholly, madly, deliriously in love, and yet half the time it felt like my ladyparts were asleep. WTF?
I started frantically researching alternate birth control methods. I’d broken a promise I made to my body, and now I was paying for it. My temple was crumbling, and I had to stop it. I had to get off synthetic hormones once and for all. A number of my friends simply lived by their cycles; they knew the days they were fertile, and they either avoided sex during those days or used barrier methods. For thousands of years, women have been living by their cycles, and what better example to follow than that of my grandmothers? So I made up my mind that this was my new path… until I got on Facebook and saw a picture of my friend’s darling baby girl, who is living proof that this method does not always work. Her big blue eyes and tiny nose awakened a deep, deep fear in me, for as adorable as tiny noses are, I still did not want one in my life.
So I looked into tubal ligation (getting your tubes tied). I found that the procedure causes a hormonal imbalance similar to menopause called post tubal ligation syndrome which can lead to menstrual irregularity, hot flashes, anxiety & depression, decreased libido, thinning hair & nails, and osteoporosis. Besides, having any of my ladyparts cut, burned, or wrapped up with wire like a Christmas tree didn’t sound too appealing. Then my feminist self jumped in. What about him? Why does it have to be my body that’s mutilated? Men are the ones who are fertile 24/7, while we’re only fertile a few days a month. They’re the ones who need birth control! So I looked into vasectomies. Their side effects were just as scary as getting your tubes tied. In a vasectomy, the tube through which sperm mixes with semen is cut, preventing any sperm from being released into the woman. The man’s body should simply reabsorb the sperm the way a woman’s body reabsorbs unfertilized eggs. But for some men, this doesn’t happen, and the unreleased sperm form granulomas, which the body then attacks in a painful autoimmune response. I couldn’t expect him to take that risk, just as I wouldn’t take the risk of getting my tubes tied. So I was at a dead end.
Then, as if by fate, I stumbled across an article about neem oil being used as a contraceptive. When I first heard about neem, there wasn’t much research out on it, so as exciting as this news was, I didn’t consider it as an option since there weren’t many studies citing its effectiveness. Then summer came, and workdays at the farm stretched into 10 and 11 hours, and my quest for natural birth control took a back seat to sleep and spending precious little time with my fiance and the puppy. But each month the wolf of dread would howl louder and louder as I watched my period get shorter and my well drier. I finally decided that my 2013 New Years resolution would be to end this once and for all.
I dove into the research. I found several studies and testimonials touting the effectiveness of neem oil (leaf, not seed, as it’s the leaf oil that inhibits sperm mobility) as both a spermicide and an oral contraceptive for men (examples: Sister Zeus, Male Contraceptives, Natural News, Neem Foundation, National Center for Biotechnology Information, Well Tell Me [a forum for people actually using neem & reporting results]). I also found information on a few other herbal contraceptives, such as Queen Anne’s Lace seeds and Wild Yam, on Sister Zues’ website, which I recommend for anyone interested in herbal contraception. (Note: she also has a section on herbal abortive methods, which, while very informative, I would not be comfortable using without the guidance of an herbalist or holistic doctor.)
I also looked more into fertility scheduling, since almost every testimonial on herbal contraceptives said they used it in conjunction with cycle scheduling. With the help of what I believe is the most important book any woman could read, Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler, I learned that natural birth control is much more than the Rhythm method, about which I’d heard so much negative hype. Rhythm assumes that all women have 28 day cycles and ovulate on day 14, while the reality is that a woman’s cycle can safely last anywhere from around 24-36 days, with ovulation falling somewhere in between. In her book, I learned of the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) in which you use your waking temperature and your cervical discharge to chart when each month you’re fertile. While it’s a process easily done on your own with a basal thermometer, there are multiple saliva and urine tests to help calculate your fertile days. The consensus online was that Lady Comp is the best fertility monitor, but it’s wicked expensive, and there are definitely accurate but cheaper generic tests available if you don’t feel comfortable charting on your own.
I felt like I’d finally dove off the nail-studded diving board and into ovulation heaven. There were so many options I’d overlooked, and so many stories of real women using them successfully. Finally, I could keep my temple clean and baby-free! There was a tiny hole in my pristine piscine, however, and that was the fact that many of my herbal oral barrier options would not work until all the extra estrogen from the pill was out of my system, which would take at least 3 months. Those hormones also increased my chance of having an irregular cycle, so even fertility monitoring wouldn’t be 100% accurate until they were gone. Which left… condoms. Let’s be honest, no one actually likes using condoms. They’re awkward, way less intimate, and actually a mood killer for some. Luckily, I found Glyde condoms. Made from plant-based rubber latex, free from animal by-products and animal testing, Fair Trade certified, and chemical/paraban/spermicide-free, Glyde is definitely the Whole Foods of condom brands. And when you order a box, they include samples of their organic fruit extract flavored condoms. (Can’t wait to try the strawberry!) For once in my life, I was excited to use a condom.
So, armed with my new knowledge, I broached the subject to my fiance. An unwanted pregnancy was something we would both have to deal with, and I felt that he therefore had a say in what contraceptive methods we used. I told him that while I most definitely did not want kids – or an abortion – I could not poison my body any longer. I’d already had pre-cancerous cells once, proof of the harm that the pill was doing to my body. Bolstered by my research, I fully believed we could keep ourselves free & clear without synthetic hormones. There were several herbal oral options, the spermicidal properties of neem oil were almost 100% effective, and the FAM method allowed us approximately 20 days of sexual freedom (assuming my pill-free cycle was around 28 days). My health was much more important to me than the health of a possible future child, and with so many natural options, I’d assumed he’d be on board.
He didn’t want to risk a pregnancy and the subsequent abortion, and that trumped any health risks I faced. I was hurt, shocked, and angry. He’d been so accepting of all my herbal remedy suggestions in the past, so much so that he’d even argued with our vet a few times about giving our puppy potentially harmful vaccines. I thought that if he agreed on avoiding harmful medications for our dog, he would definitely agree on the same plan for me. But it seemed his fear of tiny noses was even more powerful than mine.
I stewed over his answer for a few weeks. I went from being angry to understanding to hurt and back to angry. The only thing I knew for sure was that I was not going to refill my pill prescription. Tiny nose phobia be damned, I was not going to break another promise to my body. I ordered a box of condoms. I bookmarked online sources detailing the FAM method and all the herbal contraceptives I’d deemed worth trying. My pill count steadily decreased, and I waited for the right time to talk again.
When I finally worked up the courage to tell him I’d stopped taking the pill and that we’d have to come up with another plan, he was surprisingly accepting. He agreed that it’s my body and my choice. He agreed to look over all the options, but said it was ultimately up to me. Because, like most people on this planet, he was raised to believe that contraception is the woman’s responsibility. But I’ll say it again: men are the ones who are fertile at all times, not us.
February 1st was the beginning of my first pill-free cycle, and the beginning of a healthier me. Even within the first week, I could feel the difference. My ladyparts not only woke up, but dove into life with a vengeance. I had more energy, more happiness, more love. But I won’t lie, detoxing from the pill is not all butterflies and rainbows. I rapidly gained weight (almost 10 pounds in 2 weeks) even though I was juicing and dieting. My acne flared up. My period came back instantly, complete with cramps, bloating, even more acne, and floods to make Noah swoon. But don’t panic, these effects should lessen as you progress through your detox, though the fact that I can barely fit into my favorite pair of pants was almost enough to make me go back on the pill. And though he hasn’t come out and said it, the increase of booty-related comments from my fiance has lead me to believe that he’s noticed my recent weight gain also.
We’re still figuring out our contraception plan for my fertile days, mainly because our society has stupidly made this a taboo subject, even for couples, and I’ve yet to force the subject yet again and hammer out a distinct plan. What we do know is that we’re using the FAM method with some sort of barrier method during my fertile days, either my new fabulous condoms, neem as a spermicide, or neem oil as a daily male birth control. I’m still in my second month of pill detoxing, so any testing I do will probably not be completely accurate because of the residual synthetic hormones in my system. I did start testing though, using a generic urine test each morning to figure out when I’m fertile (packs of 7 tests are only $12-$15 at my local pharmacy). I learned in Taking Charge, however, that urine tests, which test for the spike in your secretion of the luteinizing hormone (LH), may not always be accurate; some women produce too little LH to register, some too much so they register as fertile all the time, and some produce LH irregularly due to synthetic hormones – like the pill. So I added the FAM method to my testing; I invested in a basal thermometer and began monitoring my ladyparts’ saliva. Your temperature only changes after you ovulate, so though this helps with monthly charting and even pregnancy testing, the changes in your ladyparts’ discharge is what tells you when to start opening the condom box. For me, this means testing until my LH surge, using barrier methods for a week or so after that, and charting my waking temperature daily to figure out exactly what day I ovulate. Once the pill is out of my system and I start getting regularly scheduled results each month, I can stop testing and rely on my lady time to know when we can have us time.
Since I can’t fully rely on the FAM method until I’m free and clear of the pill, I’ve started employing several detox strategies daily to help get my body back to its natural state faster. Using the knowledge I gained at the health food store, I came up with a detox strategy that includes drinking lots of water for cleansing, drinking raw apple cider vinegar for its probiotic benefits, and juicing raw fruits and veggies for their nutrients. I got my juice recipe from my favorite website The Holy Kale, and I drink a version of it almost everyday. My juice recipe usually includes 3 or 4 leaves of kale (or another cruciferous veggie like broccoli, cabbage, or collard greens), a beet, the juice of half a lemon, 1 or 2 carrots, cranberries (or other antioxidant-rich berries), an apple, some mix of detoxifying herbs (like ginger, turmeric, parsley, cilantro, and garlic), and coconut oil. I’ve also read great things about the DIM detox supplement, but I prefer the benefits of fresh, raw veggies. The Master cleanse is a great detox option to start out with, but no-food cleanses are hard on the body, and while they may work for some, they don’t agree with my body. (I’ve tried this cleanse three times now and even after just 2 or 3 days, my body feels like a limp noodle.) Protein and good fats are the building blocks of hormones, so I’m also eating a lot of quinoa and healthy fats like avocado and coconut oil. And I’ve started incorporating brewer’s yeast into my diet for some extra B vitamins (great popcorn seasoning!) and variety lettuce for folate, the natural version of folic acid. With luck, daily prayers, and all the benefits of fresh, organic vegetables, I hope that my ladyparts regain their goddess-dom soon. I also pray that this whole process helps me get more in tune with myself physically, a skill I fear has fallen dangerously out of practice among women. I’ve already learned so much about my body throughout this journey, and I look forward to learning even more. After all, what better friend to make than yourself?
I hope some of you are facing the same choice I did. But more importantly, no matter what contraceptive method you choose, I hope you learn to love and respect your body the way I have. Feeling your own hormonal changes is a wondrous experience. Feeling your body produce a life-giving egg is nothing short of remarkable. And knowing that you hold the gift of life in your womb is the most empowering feeling you will ever experience. If nothing else, I hope this post makes you aware of your female power, whether or not you choose to use it, and ignites the supernova of respect your ladyparts deserve. Because they are nothing short of a miracle.
These are the sources I used to make my decision about natural birth control:
–Sweetening the Pill
-The Holy Kale – Getting Off Birth Control Pills, The Birth Control Pill, IUDs
-Natural News: Modern Birth Control
-Toni Weschler’s book Taking Charge of Your Fertility
**Neither this blog post nor any of these sources were published by medical professionals, so while they can help you make your choice, they are not meant to replace the advice of your doctor.**
Woman is the molder. You are the molder of time, space, and of man: the man of tomorrow, the child; the man of today, the husband; and the men of yesterday; the ancestors. The entire society, in theory and reality, is based on the spirit of woman.