Ladies, and gentlemen, let’s talk ovulation! From my very first period it’s been such a rocky road for me which has led to me trying almost everything and anything over the years to handle the rollercoaster of hormones and menstruation. That is, until I stumbled upon a method of hormone-free birth control which has been an absolute game changer for me…
Allow me to share my backstory briefly to put my journey into perspective as I have had severely painful and heavy periods from the very moment that they arrived at aged 14yrs. Having low bodyfat also made my periods stop for quite some time -which the doctor assured me was normal when very slim- and I conceived at the age of 19yrs whilst on the contraceptive pill. I had taken my pill religiously and had no desire to become a parent, but due to an undiscovered hormone imbalance whilst I was being tested for a brain tumour it meant that my hormone based contraception failed.
The stress of being told that I may have a life-threatening brain tumour as a student was nothing in comparison to being told “your baby is ok!” when I hadn’t had periods in almost a year and fainted frequently for no apparent reason, I eventually became so weak that I passed out at work and was sent for a check up. It was then that I abruptly discovered I was already over half way through a pregnancy without any signs or symptoms of being with-child at all. Despite not having a period in almost a year, I had an unplanned pregnancy as a teenager whilst still taking my contraceptive pill each and every day.
After childbirth my periods became a little more regular and I lost all faith in the contraceptive pill. Instead I switched to the coil / IUD. I had previously arranged to have the injection after some friends recommended it to me, but on the day of my appointment I was told that it never should have been an option for a vegan due to the negative effects that it may have on bone density.
So instead I spent around three years struggling with the coil, bleeding heavily, suffering from stomach cramps outside of my period and noticing a metallic fragrance that I’d never experienced before. My GP advised me to “stick with it” through the pain and assured me that it may take some time for my body to get used to having a coil and dangled the carrot of the potential for my periods to dramatically lesson or stop entirely with time. Needless to say, this wasn’t the case for me.
After a few years of trying the hormone based coil as the copper coil, I couldn’t get on with either of them and felt that my periods became even worse. I then had a planned pregnancy at the age of 25yrs. Heavy bleeding and pain outside of my period led to me having an abnormal smear test and I also spent several weeks bleeding daily when my doctor told me that my body failed to release an egg during ovulation and prescribed tablets to signal my period to stop so that my cycle could resume the following month.
I am vegan with a gluten and dairy intolerance and have always found male condoms to be very uncomfortable, not knowing why, only to discover that condoms actually contain gluten and dairy products which explains so much! However, in more recent years, vegan-friendly condoms are now available.
Returning to my local family planning clinic after having my two children, cervical cells removed and abandoning the agony of the coil/s, it took a great deal of persuasion for me to agree to try the contraceptive pill again. The doctor reassured me that contraception had come such a long way since my daughter was born -she’s turning 16yrs old next month!- and that they were aware of my hormone imbalance, which evidently wasn’t caused by a brain tumour but is just naturally elevated levels.
Needing effective contraception in an intimate relationship, prior to the invention of vegan condoms, I reluctantly returned to the contraceptive pill. Fast forward to a couple of years ago when I had my first seizure out of nowhere. Cooking dinner for my family one afternoon I suddenly felt as though I were going to throw up, I came over all clammy and lightheaded and so I ran to the bathroom to go and splash my face with cold water or be near enough to a toilet to throw up away from the food that I was preparing. Running through the doorway was the last thing that I remember.
I woke up to the children repeatedly calling my name and pulling on my arm, shaking me to get up. I felt as though I were laying in bed on a lazy Sunday morning, on a soft and sumptuous duvet with the sunlight cast onto my face though the window, so peaceful and reluctant to be disturbed by the children jumping on me. The reality was that I was twisted up on the hallway floor with my arms and legs at right angles and behind my back, unable to move my spine and my face pressed up against the door on the cold hard floor where we keep our muddy boots.
I had no recollection of what happened, but the children said they heard a thud from upstairs so called for me to check what had happened, and after receiving no answer, came to look for me only to find me twisted up on the hallway floor and my entire body bouncing “very fast like our humping-dog” and entirely unresponsive until shaken profusely to bring me around.
My spine felt as if each and every vertebrae had been struck with a toffee hammer, my arms and legs had terribly concentrated black bruises the entirely way along them from repeatedly hitting the floor during the seizure and my neck felt as if I’d been in a car crash. I lay on the floor for several minutes after I came around trying to must up enough energy to stand and untangle myself from the tiny space.
After speaking to the doctor to ask what had happened to me and determine whether I was at risk of it happening again unexpectedly, or worse when driving with the children in the car, I was told that it might be down to my contraceptive pill and so he changed it immediately as a precaution. He told me that side effects can happen out of the blue due to being on the pill and as and when they do, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and better to be safe than sorry.
Whilst I’d never heard of anybody having a seizure on the contraceptive pill, I then found out that there are hundreds of combinations of pills available and so if one brings out symptoms and side effects then there are many other options that might not. Knowing my contraceptive options were so limited, I switch to the newly recommend contraceptive pill and carried on with my life. Since that day, touch wood, I’ve never had another seizure.
But my new pill wasn’t entirely side-effect free. About a year after starting on my new pill I lost my eyesight when cooking dinner. By this time I hadn’t fainted in years, as I regularly did as a teenager whilst on the pill, but it started off feeling like my eyesight was darkening before everything suddenly went pitch black in the middle of the day and I had no idea what was happening to me.
I fumbled my way to the table and sat down, with my eyes wide open, unable to understand why neither of my eyes could see anything at all – no blobs of light, no shapes or veins, just absolute darkness and it was petrifying. The children were with me, eager to eat their dinner and I realised I couldn’t see if anything happened. I immediately instructed them to turn off the cooker and any electricals that were on and join me at the table as my daughter dialled 111 to seek medical advice.
In the past, when I’ve fainted, my eyesight would go a little blurry and start to sparkle for several seconds, like clouds of glitter were rolling in from behind me as my hearing goes, I become hot and weak and bright white light shoots out like a tunnel and I lose consciousness. This was entirely the opposite sensation; I felt absolutely fine, could see, hear and felt ok, no head pain, no tiredness, no hunger or illness. Just instant darkness as if I’d gone blind.
The medic on the phone asked me questions about everything and anything to determine what had happened and why. He advised me to take an aspirin which my daughter got for me from the medicine cabinet as I sat at the table staring into space blindly answering his questions. Around the twenty minute mark my eye sight gradually crept back in, starting off as blurry and building up to full vision. He determined that I’d had a migraine and it was nothing to worry about.
I’ve known friends in the past to have migraines which leave them crippled in bed for days on end, unable to look at any form of light, eat or sleep and I know how severe and debilitating migraines can be. I’m fortunate that I never even get so much as a headache, rarely feel any heaviness behind my eyes, lightheadedness or problems with my vision as I simply wear glasses for long distance but spend the majority of my day without needing them and always attend my check-ups and eye tests.
If this was a migraine then it was my first ever in my thirties and came and went without any pain or discomfort, just a sudden and prolonged instant loss of all vision for 20mins. But now that I knew what it was, and to take aspirin if it ever happened again, I knew how to deal with it. I put it down to getting old and carried on with my life. Until it happened again, this time I was home alone, had just gotten out of the shower and walked into my bedroom with just a towel on and my vision went completely.
All that I could do was fumble my way to my bed and lay down, waiting for it to pass. I suddenly realised that I had no idea what the time was or how long my eye sight was, or would be, gone for. I couldn’t call for help because nobody was there. I couldn’t take an aspirin because I’d never be able to determine which tablet was the right one from the medicine cabinet, even if I were able to navigate my way downstairs and through the house to the kitchen. And I knew that as a single parent if I missed the school run that my children would be left stranded and unable to reach me not knowing where I was or able to get home.
I lay on my bed for what felt like forever, perhaps it was 10 minutes, perhaps an hour, I had no concept of time, but realised that if this were another migraine without any signs, symptoms or warnings until sudden blindness, then my eyesight may not return without the ability to take an aspirin. So I got off of the bed and crawled naked on my hands and knees over to the wardrobe to try to put on some clothes so that I could call from a window for help in the hope that a neighbour may hear me.
I pulled on some clothes and crawled back towards the bed and window when my eyesight began to gradually return. I looked like a mismatched child that had gotten dressed in the dark with the most random clothes and my wet hair matted into a semi-dry clump on the side of my head where I’d failed to brush it after getting out of the shower.
This time I didn’t call for help, but informed my doctor of my second migraine with the only symptom being blindness and instant after my sight returning having no other symptoms or side-effects and he switched my pill once again.
Ending my relationship at the end of 2022 I continued to take my contraceptive pill religiously despite being single for the what if of one day needing it in future. Knowing that hormones have to get into the system, take a while to be effective and having spent years of religiously taking the pill I found it hard to break my routine. Months passed and I found myself enjoying being single and no longer needing contraception, so I stopped taking my pill, deciding that if I should need it in future then I can return to it with a years supply still available in my drawer.
I had no idea the difference that it would make to every aspect of my life coming off of a hormonal contraceptive and now I wish that I’d been brave enough and knowledgable enough to do it years ago! The first thing that I noticed, but didn’t attribute to coming off of the pill, was that I didn’t feel as sad and emotional as usual around the time of my period. I no longer cry at normal films, stopped taking peoples words and actions so personally and didn’t have as many moments feeling rubbish or sorry for myself during my cycle.
My periods became lighter, shorter and less painful, and at times I hardly even noticed them at all now, rather than being crippled by them and praying for them to end. I don’t feel so stressed nor experience the brain fog that would usually descend upon me with my period and my lower back pain is now non-existent.
After several months of being off of the pill, and having no need for contraception, it all began to suddenly add up and dawn on me that my periods are no longer an inconvenience to my life anymore. I hardly notice them and I no longer have pain or mood swings surrounding them. The thought of returning to the contraceptive pill or coil ever again after the side effects that I experiences makes my toes curl. Whilst my bigger side effects of a seizure and blindness only happened three times in my lifetime, had they have happened whilst driving I, and my entire family, could have been killed.
The lesser symptoms of hormonal contraception which include spotting and bleeding between periods, sore breasts, nausea, headaches, weight gain, mood changes, acne, yeast infections / thrush, decreased sexual desire and irregular periods have all terrorised my life for the past twenty years unnecessarily! I thought these side effects were part of being a woman and having periods but now that I have turned my back on hormonal contraception I experience none of them!
My periods are now light, quick, easy and as regular as clockwork for the very first time in my life. Could this be down to having had children? Ageing? Being single? Feeling happy in life? There are no doubt many factors in what could attribute to this happier and healthier way of life, but I can safely say that the days surrounding my periods are now entirely unrecognisable to what I have always known them to be now that I do not put hormones into my body on a daily basis.
So where does that leave me for contraception options at the age of 35yrs? Well, I will never return to taking a hormonal contraceptive ever again, regardless of the severity and likelihood of the side effects. Vegan condoms are certainly now an option, yet shockingly condoms are actually only 87% effective at preventing pregnancy!
The Effectiveness Of Contraception
While no method of birth control is 100% effective, Natural Cycles is 93% effective with typical use and 98% effective with perfect use, that makes it equal to the contraceptive pill minus any side effects. To compare:
-Contraceptive Pill 93% effective
-Vaginal Ring 93% effective
-Hormonal IUD / Coil 99% effective
-Natural Cycles 93% effective
-Male Condom 87% effective
-Copper IUD / Coil 99% effective
Preventing Pregnancy With Natural Cycles
Natural Cycles is 100% Hormone-free with zero side effects and is FDA Cleared. It works by tracking your body temperature and cycle as our hormones cause our temperature to increase around ovulation. I always struggle to sleep during my period and feel extra warm, restless and uncomfortable, often kicking my legs out from under the duvet or sleeping on top of it all night.
By analysing this increase in body temperature during ovulation the app is able to pinpoint precisely where you are in your cycle and is entirely tailored to you as an individual. The same method used to confirm your ovulation -which is incredibly useful if planning to get pregnant- can also be used to predict your ovulation and therefore accurately prevent pregnancy by identifying your most fertile days.
This information is delivered much like other period tracking apps, but with the added understanding of your unique fertility status which is displayed as either a green day where you are safe to have unprotected sex, or a red day where you must use protection in order to avoid pregnancy.
Our cycle starts on the very first day of our period when most of us aren’t fertile at this time and will have a block of green days. As ovulation approaches we enter a fertile window and the algorithm of the app gives only red days to indicate a risk of pregnancy. After ovulation our body temperature rises to indicate that we are no longer fertile. The algorithm will provide you with green days once again.
The amount of green days that you have will increase over time as the algorithm gets to know your cycle better and you build up a history to compare. For me, I will use vegan condoms on red days or abstain from intercourse altogether until my next green day comes along.
What Do I Have To Do?
So whilst the science and tech side of things are entirely covered by the app, the only thing that I have to do is chart my temperature each day when I wake up and be aware of if I’m on a green or red day for intercourse. This takes place in three easy steps:
-1. Take Your Temperature: First thing in the morning, upon waking up, I take my thermometer out of my bedside drawer and pop it into my mouth until it beeps.
-2. Open The Natural Cycles App: I unlock my phone and open my Natural Cycles app for which the thermometer sends my reading to the algorithm to analyse my body temperature. I can also input further daily details such as any period symptoms, my mood, energy levels, details about discharge, sex drive and sexual activity.
-3 Receive My Fertility Status: The app presents me with the status of it being a Green Day whereby I am not fertile, or a Red Day so that I may use protection.
And within a matter of seconds I can continue with my day hormone-free without any further thought or concern. The entire process is so incredibly easy and takes about the same time as taking the pill with a glass of water and logging my period status in my health app – I’ve simply swapped one routine for another and do the same thing everyday upon waking up.
Is A Hormone-Free Birth Control App Right For Me?
Had I have known about this app years ago I’d like to think that I’d have been using it for decades already now, but the reality is that I’d have probably been too afraid of the unknown and stuck to the contraceptive pill simply because it was all that I knew and is so widely popular. That’s why we need to shout about these things and help women to understand that there are other options available!
Sadly, what isn’t widely spoken about is the severe side effects and daily emotional struggles that women face when taking hormonal based contraception when these natural alternative options are incredibly safe and just as effective. Whilst I’ve reached the ripe old age of 35yrs with two children and have had my fair share of troublesome periods, undesired mood swings and frightening side effects, it’s impossible to pinpoint precisely what is, or was, responsible for it all; but what I can say is that the positive changes to my life that I’ve felt since being hormone-free have been absolutely incredible.
I take incredibly good care of myself and my children, recognising health is of the upmost importance to living a long and high-quality of life. I therefore avoid taking unnecessary medications, additives and preservatives and entirely remove the embarrassment, taboos and shame around sexual health because life is too short to suffer in silence over something that we all must go through as humans, so why pretend it isn’t happening or doesn’t affect us when it so obviously does?
I am now physically and emotionally pain free and my periods and cycle are the most smallest part of my day after having ruled my life and tortured me for so many years. What works for me may not be what is best for everyone, but I certainly recommend that you give each and every option available to you your full consideration before making a decision on what is best for you as an individual. The more that we speak openly about and share our honest experiences with others, the sooner we can bring light to the factors that impact so heavily on our lives and address ways to improve, if not entirely remove them.
Natural Cycles have a refer-a-friend code for 20% off of your subscription, free LH tests and a thermometer which you can use here!
What has your own personal experience with your cycle and contraception methods been like?
Has it changed throughout the years?