I’d BEEN on THE pill
for 10 years—until one day, a year and a half after I got married, I wasn’t. Oh, cute! I was “trying.” Uh, no. I wasn’t ready for a baby. I’d ditched my Rx because I was freaked out by what my friends were saying.
“You have to stop taking birth control six months before you want to get pregnant,” a sorority sister declared over rosé. “That’s how long it takes to cleanse yourself of the Pill’s hormones,” my neighbor added.
Off the Pill I went, certain I’d expunge it slowly. Meanwhile, I’d be magically protected! In fact, just 30 hours after taking a pill, half its hormones are out of your system. Less than two months later, I was pregnant.
I now have an adorable daughter who I love more than anything. I’m 33, financially secure, with a husband who changes diapers like a boss— not all surprise pregnancies are as welcome. Still, it bothers me that I gave more weight to supper-club gossip than science. Why are smart, grownass women treating their reproductive health like a game of telephone?
“There’s a massive crisis in women’s health literacy,” says Jennifer Ashton, MD, an ob-gyn and US Cosmo contributor. She hears it often—patients citing besties as health advisers. In part, it’s due to a dearth in good sex ed; some women simply don’t know the facts. Who isn’t guilty of Googling Caniget pregnant? in a panic at 3 a.m.?
There’s the myth that you can’t get pregnant while breastfeeding (nope, the estrogen released isn’t foolproof at stopping ovulation). There’s another that swapping a new pack of BC for your placebos is a no-no (actually, progesterone keeps uterine lining thin, so there’s no need to shed it monthly). And it’s been said at many a brunch table that women should take breaks from BC, as being under the spell of hormones for too long is dangerous. “This is a mega myth,” says Dr. Ashton. Long stretches on the Pill don’t make side effects more likely. “Your body doesn’t need a hormonal washout of any kind.”
To the contrary, studies show the Pill may regulate your period and lower your risk of ovarian and uterine cancers. Some may slightly raise your chance for breast cancer, but the benefits outweigh that risk. The irony is, some women are so nervous, they quit the Pill yet are blasé about the real risk of pregnancy. “Many have an ‘it won’t happen to me’ mentality,” says Leah Millheiser, MD, director of the Female Sexual Medicine Program at Stanford University Medical Center.
We believe this vaginal voodoo because “friends are our first line of defense,” says Dr. Millheiser. “Women define themselves by what their friends are going through.” What’s more, “it’s classic female socialization to say ‘I think’ or ‘I heard’ as a way to connect,” says psychologist Misty Hook, PHD. Next thing you know, “I heard” it takes six months to rid your body of birth control is #Truth.
It was certainly easier for me to chat tipsily with my girls than confront my future with my doc—that would’ve made my hypothetical baby plan all too real. Funny how a positive pregnancy test changes your outlook.
“It’s okay to commiserate with friends,” says Dr. Millheiser. But whether you’re going on birth control or off it, “you need to follow up with your doctor and ask, ‘Are my fears based in reality?’” One deep convo later, he or she may feel like your new best friend. One who has a medical degree.