If you’re a woman reading this article, I’m going to assume that you’ve taken, are taking, or will take hormonal birth control. Why? Because according to Holly Grigg-Spall, author of “Sweetening the Pill: Or How We Got Hooked On Hormonal Birth Control,” it’s so commonly prescribed, that “over 80 percent of women worldwide will use the birth control pill at some point in their lives.”
Doled out like candy, hormonal birth control has been dispensed to women starting in their teens all the way through menopause, and as Grigg-Spall points out, “we often take it for not just years, but decades.”
“Birth control pills are, by their very design, endocrine disruptors."
Whether you swallowed your tablet this morning with a glass of water, inserted a fresh ring, applied a new patch, or had an IUD implanted at your doctor’s office, this piece is for you. Because what your physician isn’t telling you about your hormonal birth control--from the increased risk of death to the natural options available--may be having a bigger impact on your health than you think.
“Birth control pills are, by their very design, endocrine disruptors, but they are not mentioned alongside the shampoos and kitchen cleaners in this conversation,” Grigg-Spall warns in her book. “Decreased or lost fertility is one of the impacts of endocrine disruptors that are talked about in the media and obviously this is a desired impact of the pill, but there is a range of other effects on the body not linked back to hormonal contraceptives.”
This upheaval is something the author knows all too well. Using her experience as the basis for her book, Griggs-Spall fell victim to the debilitating side-effects of hormonal birth control, more specifically, Yasmin, and describes her three-year experience as one in which she was “slowly unraveling.”
In addition to the booklet of side-effects that comes alongside a pack of birth control pills--ranging from nausea, cramping, and breast tenderness to potential increased risk of breast cancer, blood clotting, heart attack, and stroke--Grigg-Spall is focused on drawing attention to the lesser-validated mental health effects caused by hormonal contraceptives.
“A Kinsey Institute study found that half of all women experienced negative mood changes on the pill,” Grigg-Spall notes in her book. Among those symptoms--many of which were either experienced by the author firsthand, or conveyed to her via personal accounts from the women she has interviewed--included mental side-effects like crippling anxiety, brain fog, chronic fatigue, loss of libido, depression, and suicidal ideation hidden behind a polished pharmaceutical marketing campaign designed to play up the benefits of hormonal contraceptives.
"I had little motivation and struggled to think clearly."
Even after pinpointing the root of her personal mental and physical symptoms, Grigg-Spall said that she rationalized her decision to keep taking hormonal birth control as suggested by her physician, a practice that is not at all uncommon, before finally dropping the pill for good.
"I was two years into taking Yasmin when a friend confessed to me that she had been feeling very down. She said she felt like her head was filled with cotton wool. She felt detached from life, her interest in sex had disappeared, and so had her interest in everything else she had previously enjoyed," Grigg-Spall said. "When I heard this I admitted that I too had been feeling depressed for some time. I felt my confidence and energy was evaporating. I had little motivation and struggled to think clearly. I had stopped reading and found it harder and harder to write, which was impacting on my work."
Relinquishing hormonal contraceptives does not mean relinquishing control of your body, your uterus, or your right to effective birth control. With the advancement and awareness of natural fertility tracking, you may even find that hormone-free birth control is more liberating than ever.
Referred to as “fertility awareness methods,” “natural family planning,” and “ovulation tracking,” among others, natural fertility tracking can be as simple as taking your temperature each morning.
“I do see fertility awareness education as every woman's right."
“I've long been an advocate for fertility awareness and body literacy education. I would love to see young women taught how to track and understand their fertility cycle from high school on and have this be a part of sex education,” expresses Grigg-Spall. “Women can only fall pregnant on six days per menstrual cycle. Once you know this and then know how to track your cycle to determine when these days fall each cycle for you, you are in an empowered place.”
Now a brand ambassador for Daysy, a hormone-free fertility tracking device that utilizes the fertility awareness method by learning and tracking your natural cycle, Grigg-Spall is an advocate for helping women break free from hormonal contraceptives, while also offering them viable, effective options in return.
“You can do what I call ‘manual tracking’ which, if you want to avoid pregnancy, should really be taught by a trained fertility awareness practitioner over 3 to 6 months, or you can do ‘automatic’ tracking with a device like Daysy. This [Daysy] is 99.4% accurate from first use.”
With women’s reproductive health and access hanging in the balance of an ever-invasive political climate, access to natural fertility awareness and tracking simply couldn’t come at a better time.
“I do see fertility awareness education as every woman's right. We should all have this knowledge to begin with, before we need to make decisions regarding contraception or our reproductive health,” urges Grigg-Spall.
“Daysy has made fertility awareness more accessible to many more women. Femtech for fertility is definitely the future of pregnancy prevention, but also the future for supporting women's health overall in terms of increasing early diagnosis, better understanding of women's hormones, better knowledge of everything from menarche to menopause.”
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