Monday, July 18, 2011

Why Hormonal Birth Control Isn't for Me

By all means, if you don't want to think about me and birth control in the same sentence, please skip this entry and move on. I promise that nothing plot-furthering will happen here, so you won't miss anything other than a diatribe against something I disliked ending with a positive note on how much better my future looks now.  See? You can now move on.  For the rest of you....

I have now been married almost 6 years.  I have two children.  We are happy with two, but uncertain as to whether or not there is a third child in our future or not.  At one point, we tried a version of the pill, and at others we've relied on latex.  However, after the birth of our second child, I realized that unless we wanted a third child to come at his or her own choosen as our first two had, I had better get serious about birth control.  I elected to try the Mirena IUD since it was compatible with nursing (and I planned on nursing my second child at least as long as I had nursed my first) and was also something that I wouldn't have to try to remember to take at a certain time every day.  As a new mom with two children under the age of 2.5 years old, I needed something that I didn't have to take a personal interest in each and every day. 

After over 2 years of living with the side-effects of the Mirena, I impulsively allowed my primary health practitioner to pull it out last week.  In the almost-manic bliss that immediately followed this decision, I have come to understand that hormonal birth control options are NOT for me and really, what the heck was I thinking, allowing my life to be ruled by artificial hormones?

The following list details my experiences with the Mirena.  I experienced each of these symptoms EVERY day for over two years, with the exception of bleeding, which has its own qualifiers listed with it.

  • dizziness
  • foggy-headed thinking
  • irritabilty
  • extreme emotional reactions
  • anger at everything
  • loss of libido
  • increase of acne
  • weight gain (25lbs in 2 years)
  • insatiable appetite, jittery response to sugar drops, inability to control impulse eating
  • lack of energy
  • 9 day periods, every 27 days (and yet, the Mirena is supposed to STOP your period)
  • I bled for the entire first 10 weeks it was in place

When I considered having the Mirena removed, I always thought, "but it's doing such a good job at keeping us from an unplanned pregnancy..."  and when I discussed some of this with the husband, he sometimes would comment,

"But what if you get it removed and you don't lose weight?  What if it turns out not to be the Mirena causing some of these issues?" 

How much of the above list was physiological and how much was psychological?  Each of the above symptoms is cataloged and testified to by women on the internet.  Whether they are listed in the official product info or not, they do occur in women who have the Mirena often enough that there are chat forums FULL of women complaining about them.  And yet, still, I kept the Mirena thinking, "If I could only get a little more sleep, I'd think clearly again.  If I just concentrate, I can avoid the overeating and weight gain."

Last week, I had a routine physical.  It was the first one I'd had since my post-partum physical over two years ago, when they placed the Mirena.  I mentioned to the nurse that I was not entirely happy with it and she suggested that the PA remove it and discuss other options with me.  Impulsively, I said yes.  An hour later, I was on my way home, sans Mirena.

Almost immediately I noticed a change.  I no longer felt the Mirena.  I walked more easily and held myself more upright.  My appetite was in check, despite my not having had my long-overdue lunch.  By the time my husband came home, I was convinced that things had changed for me.  My libido was back. I no longer cringed back from being touched by my husband or my kids.  I no longer react to everything with anger.  My children still misbehave as much as they ever did, but instead of lashing out in rage, I think, "wow, that would have made me really angry before," and send them to time out.  I can remain focused long enough to keep the children on time out until they've learned something from it.

I've read that 6-10 days post-removal, women can suffer from what is called the Mirena Crash.  Logically, when your body has been bombarded with synthetic progestins for years, it stops producing its own progesterone and when the IUD is removed, the progestins fade from the woman's system and there is a lag before her own body begins to produce progesterone.  This period is noted to be somewhat emotionally erratic for women, but with proper supplimentation and the right attitude, it passes within a week or two. 

For myself, I am taking Evening Primrose Oil, a multivitamin, and B6.  I've stepped up my excercise (thanks to the husband's new Xbox 360 Kinect).  I'm trying to get enough sleep and to eat sensibly.  What I've noticed in the past week is this:

  • My weight has started dropping.  Clothing is now loose and I'm 5lbs lighter!  I had to buy new summer clothes both last summer and this summer as there was no way I was going to fit into the previous year's clothing.  Today, even clothing taken right from the drier is loose! I haven't experienced that in over 2 years!

  • My appetite is reasonable.  Sure, I get hungry. I'm hungry now, but I'm not reacting with an extreme sense of urgency to it.  Before, I could barely control the emotional reaction I had to hunger. I panicked and had to find something, anything, to shove in my mouth. Now, I think, "boy, I'm hungry.  I'll have to have an apple or something."

  • My anger has subsided.  I still have to work on the ingrained anger-driven responses that I've collected over the past year, but I can do that.  I no longer feel as though a snapping response is necessary.  The world isn't out to piss me off.

  • My energy levels are much higher. I used to have to take a nearly religous standpoint in order to get myself  to walk the dog every morning.  Now, I enjoy it and look forward to cooler weather when we can both be out for longer.  I don't feel the need to sit down at every opportunity.  I can chase the children when I need to.

  • I'm actually interested in touching my husband.  Yay!  I'm glad to get back to the loving relationship that is the basis of my life.  It needs some serious nuturing and maintenance after 2 years of neglect.  The angry responses and real anxiety I was feeling every time I was touched  before are gone.  We can have the close marriage that we both want.
I'm much improved now that I'm free of external hormonal influence.  I do worry, though, that I don't have a reliable birth control plan set in place.  My health provider set me up with a prescription for NuvaRing, but the more I read about it and the more I experience post-Mirena, the less I want to use it.  It has an even higher hormonal load than Mirena.  It has the same documented side effects.  If I know that combination birth control pills can cause extreme anxiety and panic attacks for me (yes, I learned that the hard way, 5 years ago), and that the Mirena, which has one of the lowest hormone levels of all the available birth control methods affected me so greatly, do I really want to try a product that is likely to affect me even more?

I suppose the decision does not have to be made immediately.  I'm planning a few months off of any hormonal birth control to allow my system to regulate again.  I want to truly get to know myself again.  I want to be the wife and mother I always should have been.  I think it's entirely possible to regain the love for life that I had before the Mirena.  I'm already halfway there!


Anonymous said...

I recently let my BC pill prescription lapse and am coming to the conclusion that what I thought was a fine and side-effect free method, really had insidious side-effects. I've been considering an old-fashioned (non-hormone) IUD, but I'm not sure how to evaluate the possible impact of it's side-effects on my system. It's a bit of a commitment to try it out!

TheCraftyQueen said...


I think that if I'd trusted my original instinct to go with the Paraguard (non-hormone IUD) I would possibly have been happier with the results, but with a 7 day period going into it, I felt that heavier/longier periods were a side-effect I didn't want to sign on for. Given that I got the 9-10 day periods from the IUD that was supposed to negate periods all-together, perhaps IUDs in general are not for me.

The only thing about an IUD that bears some serious thinking is that once it's in, you're stuck with it for a certain length of time. Oh, sure, you CAN get it taken out immediately, but some health insurance companies won't pay for the removal before a certain length of time.

Bottom line, if you're unsure about an IUD, it's probably best not to.

clare said...

Hi, I just randomly found your blog whilst searching for a knitting pattern on ravelry. I to have 2 wee ones under 2 1/2 - I read with interest your post. My lovely man has just had the snip so we have no worries re contraception - however I did use a 'persona' for 19 years with no 'accidents'. It is non hormonal, but does take a bit of work. It works on the same principal as ov sticks, you pee on a stick 8 times a month and it learns your cycle, giving you green lights or redlights respectively. I found it great, I really knew my body and had no synthetic substances in me. Hope this might help you? Oh and I LOVE your knitting! v talented x

Nadia...from Madison way back when said...

I have had a paragaurd for three years and love it. The long periods were a pain at first, but things have evened out. I only have 5 day periods, which is normal for me. There are no side effects except for some cramping every now and then. I would recommend it.