Monday, January 17, 2011

The Pill

I was still chuckling at all the puns that hit me when I was thinking of a title for this one. And then I remembered. This is not a funny story. This is a sad one. Well, it does have a happy ending but that didn't come easy. And I guess I'll never get back all those years of my life I spent nervous and unhappy -- all because of this tiny little thing called the Pill.

Not many people know this about me, though I've often told parts of the story of "this friend of mine" as a shocking testimony. I'm sharing it with you as such now, to tell you about my experience. It's happily behind me now, and I wanted to post about it before I start forgetting it. I know I never will completely, but I don't think about it much these days.

I have to emphasize here that I'm not against contraception. Not at all. But I believe that at the end of the day many options prove to be just as efficient as any other. And what bugs me is that gynecologists tend to overlook many of them. I do understand their point to some extent, that they want girls to be safe and not to worry about them any more. But I think if you're going to take something so strong (I haven't even taken antibiotics in years because I don't consider them necessary most of the time), it's your right to know about the potential consequences and other alternatives.
It all started a very long time ago, back in highschool. I asked my gynecologist about different contraceptive methods and, though she mentioned a couple, she strongly advised me to start taking the pills. (Whether I was too young to do so or not is a totally different question. I don't think I was. I'm not going to go into what I think is the right age to start having sex or taking pills. I think it's totally subjective and one just can't generalize these assumptions.) As I was in a steady relationship and it seemed the best choice.

So I started taking low-dose combined pills and all was well for a while. Of course I gained weight and couldn't get rid of it despite all the dieting, and I would have mood swings half the time, but m I can vouch that all the raves about associated benefits are true. Skin improves and periods become painless (or less painful) and less fussy. But there are some things that gynecologists never tell you.

I was enjoying the benefits for 6 years or so (while dieting like hell all the time) and never actually thought of stopping. Until one Sunday evening I realized I had miscalculated and had no pills left. Next day I called my doctor but she could only schedule me for the end of the week -- too late to continue. She said I could start some days later (I don't remember but there was a rule for times like this) or a whole four-week cycle later. Having given it much thought I decided not to mess with nature and go with the longer wait, even giving my body a couple of months' break. And that was when I learned the price of my freedom all those years.

The problem with these pills is that they act through pumping hormones into your system. I've read about some that make your body produce them, but I think the effect is similar. Your natural hormone production is meddled with and the natural signals are numbed or stopped completely. And when you stop taking the pills it doesn't mean at all that they get back to normal. Not fast at least.

When I stopped it took my body some weeks to adjust. I don't remember that period as it was around my spring exams but I do remember the shock I had when summer came. The least of my surprises back then was that my period never came back. My doc said that a couple of months' break was normal and that I could start taking the pill to get back to normal -- or wait a bit longer. But at that moment I was starting to have my doubts. I'm not a village girl but I do prefer natural solutions and the realization of how much contraceptives can mess up your system made me sick. I decided to wait a bit and see what would be best.

Long years of struggle followed. I'm not really keen on relating all of it so I'll just sum up what happened. I guess the main problem was that my hormone levels were like that of a 12 year old boy. On the good side I lost weight noticeably and my mood swings were gone. But I was still not back to normal. My period didn't show up until around two years later, and took almost a year more to get regular.

That in itself would be enough to put anyone off, but the biggest problem was that the ultrasound (an overly uncomfortable experience that I had to go through several times during these months) showed multiple cysts in my ovaries. When I asked my gynecologist about this, outraged, she said that this was a normal outcome if someone took the pills as long as I had. She said -- probably to cheer me up -- that around 7% or women developed Polycystic Ovary Syndrome after getting off the Pill, but this could be handled by taking the Pill again. And maybe I had one but even then there was no reason for me to worry because women like me were known to have given birth to healthy children under medication. You can imagine how reassured I was! I spent days googling PCOS, joining forums and crying constantly. Then I spent months feeling miserable, hunting down one renowned doctor after another, without one consenting to send me to an endocrinologist. (For in Hungary you need a prescription to visit a specialist on your insurance.) They all told me the same, that I may or may not have the syndrome and my best option would be to continue taking the pill. I even visited a specialist, who was famous for delivering babies under such conditions, and she told me how lucky I was that I wasn't developing other symptoms and that she would be happy to help me one day I wanted to have babies. Nice.

Well, after all these years I can only say that I'm happy the whole experience is behind me. And I learned a lot. Now I know that you should always research drugs before you take them. Taking the word of a doctor is not enough, for most of the time by the time they're done with their training they consider every living person healthy and lucky for it. They don't necessarily tell you that certain drugs can mess up your system or make you develop conditions that are latent in your genes. Of course, next to any fatal disease these are minor inconveniences. But I'm not sure I'm willing to go through them, nonetheless.

So how did I get over my alleged PCOS? Well, I guess I didn't have one. But I only figured that like a year later, when my body started to react to all the homeopathic and home remedies I had been taking. I can't even recall how many things I had tried and how many specialists (conventional and alternative) I'd visited. I  had to realize that our bodies are systems on their own and everything was related. Hormone levels can be very sensitive to any changes in weight, diet or lifestyle -- let alone contraceptive products. And the smallest change can wreak havoc over the entire body.

The greatest challenge was to overcome my my fear and lethargy. I loved the way I looked, but I saw that my "teenage athlete" build was a clear indication of my healthy issues. So I stopped fretting over my weight (well, this came sort of natural, when you have nasty cramps and a dozen cysts you don't worry much about weight...) and started eating healthily. Not that I had been eating anything unhealthy or even drastically small amounts. But I now know that my body needs a small amount of everything and that even pasta is healthy in small amounts. And most of the time what our body craves is really what it needs. I've learned to listen to these cravings and not design my diet in my head. Needless to say, if you really listen, you know that your body doesn't really crave chocolate, you might actually have low blood pressure or just be thirsty. And chocolate is not your enemy. Artificially processed foods and drugs are.

Let this not be a complaint or an attempt to dissuade anyone from taking the Pill. But I think it's important to know what you're taking and what the implications might be. Maybe I was prone to PCO from the beggining. Maybe I was taking a risk. But wasn't my doctor supposed to warn me? I don't know. But now I know for sure that it is my own responsibility to assess the risks I'm taking when I decide to undergo any medication. And I'm so grateful that I don't have to be taking some silly pill the rest of my life and that I don't have to expose my babies to the (maybe yet unknown) effects of drugs even before they're born.

If you're wondering what I've (been) taking to help my body recover, here's a list of the things I've found the most helpful:

- Hamamelis Virginiana (taken internally; it takes a couple of months for this homeopathic remedy to take effect; most famous for its beneficial effects on the skin and veins, it also helps improve gynecological conditions; I've been taking Boiron's pellet in various doses)
- Vitamin E (the full adult daily dose; it is responsible for skin renewal and all parts of the female reproductive system)
- Hawaiian  Noni /I started taking it to boost my immune system but I've found that it helps recovery in general, maybe because my body has less problems to focus on :)/
- Pomegranate Juice 100% (I wish I had known this before! It is well known that taking the Pill exposes your veins to a special load and those with weaker veins can develop spider veins and this natural juice can help such conditions.)

Hopefully some of you have found my little story helpful.
Thank you for reading.
Have a nice week.

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