It was late 2005 and my midwife was asking me what I was planning to do about birth control. I was shocked by the question – something about a professional who brings babies into the world talking about contraception felt odd. But of course, it made perfect sense. Her job was not just to bring babies into the world but to make sure they and their mothers were on track to survive and thrive in the first few months of life. And a pregnant mother of a newborn infant is a recipe for stress.
I had been on the pill for nearly ten years before conceiving our daughter Mattea.
Having struggled with debilitating menstrual pain in my mid-teens, my then doctor had prescribed me the pill before I was sexually active to help “regulate” my cycles. I had barely been off it between then and 2004 when my husband and I stopped using birth control and began planning a family. It took just shy of a year before we conceived, which felt like a long time (especially since we were newlyweds and doing it like rabbits). But in retrospect, I see it as kind of a miracle we got pregnant given how messed up my periods and my hormones were (although at the time I didn’t know it).
I told my midwife I would probably just go back on the pill, although I was curious to learn more about the IUD. It seemed like less work, which was appealing given my new life as a mother.
She encouraged me to go make an appointment with my doctor (a new one I had switched to who was also a family acquaintance), which I did. My doctor explained that given my heavy periods I wasn’t a candidate for the copper IUD, but that the hormonal IUD might be a good option. She said the hormonal IUD had almost exclusively the hormone progesterone in it, which is different than the combined dose of synthetic estrogen and progesterone found in most birth control pills. She warned me that it could cause moodiness and high emotionality (not something I needed more of in my early postpartum days). She suggested I try a progestin-only birth control pill first, to see how I reacted to that hormonal formula, since discontinuing a pill is a lot easier than removing an IUD. I took the prescription and promptly had it filled.
Two days later, my daughter (who had latched almost independently about half an hour after birth and had been feeding fervently ever since) began to splutter, cough and scream every time I tried to breastfeed her.
I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what was wrong.
Since day one I had had an abundance of milk, and that didn’t seem to have changed. Mattea had been latching and feeding well for weeks. I was at a loss. She was getting more and more hungry and frustrated, and I was already sleep deprived and at my wit’s end trying to figure out what was wrong. My husband and I packed into the car and headed to the nearest hospital lactation clinic.
Unfortunately that didn’t prove helpful. The nurse who attended to us could see my breasts were spilling over with milk, and Mattea had a perfect latch. Why she wouldn’t stay on the breast was a mystery to her too. At some point in that clinical room it was as if a penny literally dropped and reverberated in my empty mommy brain.
Could this have anything to do with going on the pill two days ago?
I wasn’t sure, but that night I didn’t take my pill and the next morning Mattea still seemed irritated, but was able to stay on the breast a little longer. Within 24 hours things had gone back to normal. Crisis averted.
With a little online digging I discovered that synthetic progesterone can increase a mother’s milk supply. Since my milk flow had already been more than ample, this had resulted in my milk coming out so quickly that my daughter couldn’t keep up. She had been choking while she was trying to feed. No wonder she was angry and frustrated!
While I was happy to have solved the mystery and returned to our otherwise blissful nursing relationship, I was left feeling at a loss as to what to do for contraception. Neither my husband nor I were super keen on returning to condoms, and hormonal forms of contraception were now off the table.
Fortunately fate intervened.
My sister Kim went to a Women’s Studies conference out west and attended a presentation about the Justisse Method of Fertility Management, an all-natural form of contraception. Knowing about my challenges, Kim passed along the learning material thinking it might help me out. I read through the manual and was astonished to realize how little I had known about my body. The first dozen pages explained information about my physiology that had never once been taught to me in sex ed class, let alone in the university level physiology course I had taken as part of my Occupational Therapy degree.
After a month or two of attempting to chart based on the information I had learned from the manual, I looked at the dozen question marks scribbled on my homemade charts and realized I needed help. I contacted Justisse and set up a phone appointment to get some guidance on using the method more effectively.
My Fertility Awareness Educator walked me through the manual and then set up monthly appointments to help me make sense of my charts. I quickly gained confidence and then started having huge insights into the many health struggles I had been battling since my teens. I began to understand the connection between my health and my diet and started getting answers to issues of chronic fatigue (hypothyroidism) and digestive problems (food sensitivities).
The rest, as they say, is history.
Less than a year later I signed up to begin the HRHP training myself. I vowed that my daughter would have a different experience of her menstruation than my own, and set a mission to transform the menstrual health of as many people as I could. A few months later Kim and I birthed the idea of Red Tent Sisters.
I’m forever grateful for those two days of distressed breastfeeding. My life has never been the same since. I am confident that without them hundreds of other women would have continued to suffer needlessly from the stressful, and in some cases life-threatening, side effects of hormonal contraception. I am committed to teaching FAM in the hopes that one day this will simply be foundational knowledge for all teenagers as they come of age and embrace the wonders of the human body.
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Kim & Amy Sedgwick love to discuss sex, periods, and all the other things we’re not supposed to talk about. The co-founders of Red Tent Sisters, they’ve been featured in every major Canadian news outlet and have become a trusted resource for people seeking natural (effective!) birth control, a more joyful sex life, and an empowered journey to motherhood.