Posted by: Kate | February 15, 2008

Enlightenment via Hormones

I’ve been off the Pill for a month, and am slowly realizing just how many side effects, small and large, had been along for the ride. The biggest one was the complete lack of periods. I don’t know what that was about; as Markira commented yesterday, it does seem like something should’ve been happening, somehow, but I did my best not to think about that. Too ooky. I did mention it to my OB-GYN (and, guys, that’s pronounced “oh-bee-gee-why-enn,” not “obb-gine”) and she was singularly unconcerned, so I practiced my well-honed skills of denial and avoidance.

There was also a pronounced lack of sex drive, and having that particular mystery solved has been cause for celebration. We were aware of the situation, and I tried to be accommodating and responsive as circumstances dictated, but sex became a conscious, deliberate task to schedule in. Left to my own devices, it never would have occurred to me to initiate. I wasn’t averse to the idea, mind you, and was happy to participate when reminded, but… well, it’s like potato chips. I enjoy them when they’re brought to me, but it’s extremely rare for me to independently go out and buy potato chips on my own. I just don’t think of them, and there are so many other foods that do occur to me first, so they tend to fall off my radar unless I’m reminded.

(I hear you, it’s a weird analogy. But if Gretchen can find a way to compare the evolutionary extinction process of tree frogs to her wish that migraines would disappear, then I can liken my passive interest in potato chips with my sex drive. So there.)

Anyway, my lack of initiation was an occasional topic of conversation around the house, and the general consensus was that it was some underlying quirk in me. I have a trauma history, having been raped at 12 and again at 17, so sex was always a complicated concept for me anyway. Plus, over the past eight years, I have spent about four of those years either pregnant or breastfeeding, neither of which is a consistent aphrodisiac for me.

So, it must be me, right?  A problem with the flux capacitor, or something.  It was a reflexive assumption, but it turns out that we were making an ass out of u and mption. A week or so off the Pill, and hey, guess what? The idea independently presents itself to me now. Willem is delighted.

Then there’s PMS. Oh, good times there, yes, indeed. Over the past week or so, I’ve put on five pounds. In a week. Five pounds. Ridiculous, particularly because I wasn’t eating any differently than usual. Then there’s the complexion, which has never been perfect but has suddenly gone from mildly annoying to wondering what my face spells in Braille.  And, of course, the emotions have been all over the place, some of which shone through here (see Monday’s whine about physical therapy, for example). I haven’t felt especially crankier than usual (though a survey of my household might reflect a different opinion), but I’ve just been uncharacteristically pessimistic and angst-ridden. Normally I’m pretty good with interpersonal boundaries and I do not experience guilt because I know I’m doing the best I can, but this week I’ve wallowed in doubts about certain plans and decisions… it’s just been unlike me.

And the thing about PMS is, I don’t recognize it right away. Having lived through several years of PTSD and depression, I’m attuned to those symptoms and can usually head them off pretty quickly. But PMS doesn’t quite feel like either of those things; it just feels like I’m off and can’t put my finger on the reason for it. And until I can define the “what” and “why,” I can’t come up with a coherent idea of what to do about it. Usually it takes a few days, and then someone whose body is on the same calendar cycle as mine will say something and the light will dawn.

Or, in this case, my body will send out a pretty clear signal on its own. And suddenly it all makes sense, all the weight gain and bloating and complexion issues and emotional weirdness, and I know to just wait it out for a few days. With my mouth shut, unless I’m inserting some form of chocolate.


  1. I had the exact same problems while on the pill. Nasty, but necessary little things. I had better luck with the IUD, but after this baby comes I’m thinking of having my tubes tied to avoid any outside hormones.

  2. Once we discovered our infertility I went off the pill, and I have to say that I far prefer PMS and all of its unkindnesses to the way I felt when I was on the pill. And you are not alone in forgetting about PMS. I forget about mine each month, until about the time I start to get cranky and sad and feeling out of control and B takes his life in his own hands to tell me I have PMS. He’s a good man, and brave, too.

  3. This is going to be interesting because you are so open and informative, and curious.
    Give me all your chocolate; I want to help.

  4. Paul, it would NOT be helpful to me if you took away my chocolate. I hold chocolate very near and dear to my heart. Just so’s you know. 😉

  5. Sorry about the hormone mess. I hated taking the pill and stopped, like 15 years ago – with no problems.

  6. Kate, It would be helpful to me.
    I love chocolate too. But I yield to you, a prospective Mom again, soon to be. For your willingness to go through that again, I do bow with admiration.
    Don’t trust me near it though.

  7. I hear you on the hormone thing. I also get migraines with some pills, yet I have to be on the pill to control my endometriosis. Right now I’m on a pill specifically for migraines, which has helped, yet I have no sex drive and I get wicked PMS (like I’m pissed off all. the. time. the week before my period). Because of the PMS, I take Prozac the week before my period, which makes me feel all zen and good.

  8. Huh. I have NO issues with sex drive on the pill. Well maybe I did but it was hard to know when a couple abstains for a few years. Good thing that dry spell is over.

    Hugs my friend!

  9. I had the exact same problem with lack of sex drive when I was on the pill. Caused all sorts of problems, because before I was on it, I was much more interested, and my now-ex husband was sure I just didn’t love him anymore. Even once we figured it out, I’m sure his feelings of rejection never fully were healed. That’s not why we divorced, but I’m sure it didn’t help any.

  10. Fair enough, Paul… but in times of desperation, I tend to get a bit self-focused, and what is helpful to Her Highness outranks what is helpful to one of the Testosterone Persuasion.

    Somehow I have a vague, vague memory, from way back when, of being told that the Pill might affect my sex drive… but at the time I was in college and it would’ve taken a lot more than a little pill to make me behave in a healthier, less, howdoyousay, wanton sort of way. I wasn’t promiscuous, but I was driven. So it didn’t impact much then, and since then I’ve been pregnant or breastfeeding, or parenting, so it just never occurred to me that the pill could be the culprit. Apparently it’s a common thing. Who’d’ve thunk it?

  11. Your doc should have told you not to expect your period on a pill with no “off” days. In general, no days off = no periods (unless your body is more of the “where there’s a will there’s a way” school and doesn’t allow you to skip for anything). Congrats on being done with all that for a while.

  12. I found that as I got older (from late 30’s) I was better at predicting PMS and that helped me at least understand it although controlling it was impossible. Ironically I found the pill much more stabilising. Once off, and the cranks set in. I think once all the artificial hormones were out of my system, the real guys kicked in. Haha, no such problems now. Just a few waves of warmth! I’m in my element. Things will settle down I’m sure.

  13. The Pill made me insane. Clinical, hide-the-knives or lock-me-up insane. I had started taking birth control for my skin and my PMS, but it turns out I had premenstrual dysphoria (PMDD), a condition that makes the brain flip out over hormone shifts. Oh, what a mistake THAT was. An SSRI with the dosage tuned to my cycle turned out to be the cure.

    Anyhoo your post made me chuckle because for almost a year (2006-2007ish) my blog was my PMS symptom diary! I am happy to hear you’re off the Pill, as it’s my personal opinion it’s good for only a small percentage of women, not the cure-all doctors hand out for just about any “woman’s problem.”

  14. TOTALLY GET the potato chip analogy.

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