What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
Periods. It’s something we bond over.
"Yeah, my cramps are hell this week.”
“Tell me about it…I was doubled over with a heating pad for a five days!”
“Last month I had such a bad headache, I missed work.”
“I know…I’m so emotional. I’ve been crying over that Cheerios commercial!”
Menstruation has been bringing women together through the ages, be it through the sisterhood and emotional support in The Red Tent, or camaraderie over margaritas and tortilla chips at happy hour.
I found myself in the midst of one such conversation when someone turned to me and asked, “What about you? Are yours bad?”
“Mine? I don’t get one.”
They look concerned. Am I eating enough? What about my stress levels? Do I have an undiagnosed diseased? Am I pregnant? Could it be peri-menopause?
“What do you mean you don’t get one?” they asked, suspicious.
“I skip them on purpose.”
I explained that I take my birth control pills continuously, so I don’t get a period.
Gasps. Then an outpouring of concern. Some had heard of the pill called “Seasonale” -- they come in a 3-month pack, designed to allow a woman to bleed only four times a year. There are several other brands on the market now, one generic, and they make up a class of medication known as Extended Cycle Combined Hormonal Contraceptives.
But just because some of them had heard of the method, not everyone approved.
“That can’t be good for you.”
“It’s just not natural.”
“What about your moon cycle? Your body needs to cleanse itself!”
Thanks for your concern, ladies, but actually skipping my periods is the best thing to happen to me in a long time. I have three-whammy periods: I get migraines, yeast infections, and life-interfering crying jags.
Let me explain each plague. First off, menstrual migraines occur when your body reacts to a change in hormones. A headache? If that were the case I’d be willing to pop a few Advil and be done with it. But these are m-i-g-r-a-i-n-e-s. Sound and light cause nausea, dizziness, visual disturbances, fatigue and an ice pick to one-side-of-my-head pain. Keeping my hormones regulated by taking the Pill continuously averts menstrual migraines altogether. Which means I can actually have a life.
Obviously, this isn’t the case for everyone - for some women, the Pill actually causes migraines. For me, the option to skip a three-day-long head-splitting migraine is a godsend.
Then there's pH Imbalances: yeast and BV. Menstrual blood causes changes in the pH of your vagina. Any change in PH can make the vagina more hospitable to yeast and bacteria. No, your period doesn’t “cause” infection, as some are quick to point out. Certainly, many women get through their periods just fine without this complication. But for those with extra sensitive genitalia, a change in pH from bleeding is complicated by vulvar itching, pain, and burning. No fun. Why suffer?
And lastly there's the PMS and PMDD. My mood swings just before and during my period were out of control. No yoga in the world could keep me from snapping, screaming, and then collapsing in tears. For a time, my doctor put me on Sarafem, which is basically Prozac marketed to women for Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, otherwise known as serious PMS. Why add a drug to my life when I can get rid of the PMDD that requires it?
I remember the day my gyno suggested I skip my period altogether. You can DO that? I marveled at the idea.
After all, the period you get on the Pill is not a true period at all: it’s just withdrawal bleeding from a change in hormone levels. When you are on the Pill, there is no uterine lining to shed and no egg. In fact, as some of you may know, the placebo pills (the last 7 days of a 28 day cycle pack) were a marketing ploy designed by the pharmaceutical companies to keep up the appearance of menstrual bleeding. A total lack of bleeding would have been branded “unnatural,” -- too much for the times. Without it, the Pill simply would not have been accepted.
Some doctors do recommend giving yourself a break from the Pill three or four times a year to avoid a possible side effect called “breakthrough bleeding.” Sometimes I do that, sometimes I don’t. But I can tell you that my life with a period three times a year is vastly different from my life with a period 12 times a year.
You don’t need anything other than your regular pills to achieve the same effect as Seasonale-type prescription. Using a 21 active, 7-day inactive pill pack, you simply skip the placebo pills and proceed directly to Day 1 of the next pill pack. My gyno called this the “honeymooner’s secret” and said it’s been around for years.
For some women, having their period (or appearance of a period) is important to them. It is a marker of time, and I can see the symbolism of shedding, releasing, and cleansing. Oh, and it’s a good reminder that you’re not pregnant. I know skipping periods may not be right for everybody. Do what makes you feel feminine and strong during your time of the month. But please don’t judge me for skipping mine!