January 11, 2015

The Pill



In this this post, I talk about my 10 year experience with the contraceptive pill and the decision to stop taking it (and other hormonal contraceptive methods) for good. It gets a little in-depth and is very text heavy. I'll try my best to keep it to the point. If like me, you suffer with acne, are considering your options with the pill, or you're just interested in natural health and managing your fertility/general well-being without a medicine cabinet full of pharmaceuticals, this might be something you'd like to read.

The brand of pill I recently stopped taking in August 2014 was Yasmin. It's one of only two varieties of pill I've ever taken, the other was Dianette.You may be aware that Yasmin, or Yaz, is commonly prescribed to help with acne, as well as all the other reasons one takes the pill. It worked well for me, meaning I had no untoward physical symptoms (that I realised at the time) while taking it consistently for 6 years, bar a 6 month break. I didn't get headaches, high blood pressure or clots. I don't smoke or drink and have never been overweight. However, I'm not able to say how else it's affected me just yet and I think as the months go by, I'll be able to notice changes. I am pretty certain it's contributed negatively to my emotional/mental health issues, however.

Before Yasmin I was taking another pill, Dianette, for 4 years, but it was fairly new when I started taking it and there was/is concerns about safety. It's not a pill to be on long-term. Both are combined pills (oestrogen and progesterone) and work on acne by blocking androgens - male hormones present in both men and women which contribute to acne flare ups. I started taking the pill at 14 due to bad skin and in hindsight, the novelty. All the girls in my year at school would talk about it, I had two big sisters who took it and it just seemed grown up. My acne was pretty bad and it was aaaalllllll over my face. It really affected me. Looking back, I'm pretty sure malnourishment and plain old puberty were to blame (my mum fed me very well - I was just finicky and had a strange relationship with food; calorie counting, obsessing over what I ate, skipping meals. I got past it and I don't think it's all that unusual for young women to feel that way).

The 6 month break I mentioned was a failed attempt because my skin was so hideous (as if I had an allergic reaction on my face - all over acne that was especially bad on my chin, neck and cheeks plus drying and peeling) and I had no period for 6 months (which I now know is very common and has it's own name - amenorrhea). In desperation, I started taking Yasmin again. It's a cruel cycle once you start taking the pill. It takes so long for your body/hormones to rebalance and I just gave in. To be honest though, I wasn't in the most stable relationship and it was also probably for the best that I continued to take it. I've taken it ever since, up until August 2014.

In our society, going on the pill just seems to be the done thing as soon as we are of a child-bearing age. As if the worst thing that could happen to a girl at that age is pregnancy. It's almost scaremongering, "Get this girl on the pill, stat!" Don't you worry about the vast physical and emotional risks of taking the pill... or y'know, providing some basic sex education. As a note, I'm in no way advocating teenage pregnancy/unprotected sex, I just believe there are better approaches to be taken as an alternative to dosing young girls up with the pill.

I started my periods a month before my 13th birthday meaning I'd had 15 months - maximum - of my "true" cycle before dosing up with the pill. I was still a child, despite what I thought. I thought 14 was bad, but I have a friend who was 12 when the doctor insisted she took the pill. TWELVE. If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn't have been so trigger happy to mess with my body like that. I can’t blame my mother because she did what she thought best and took me to the doctor. She didn’t have the knowledge I have now.

I can't speak for everybody and I understand it's all relative, we are all individuals with an array of circumstances. Personally, I'm a very anxious person and question everything I use and would prefer not to mask underlying issues with pharmaceuticals. I had boggling doubts about what the pill could do to my health and after researching thoroughly, I made my mind up. I feel it's entirely unnecessary and harmful for young girls to be given the pill so young, at the sign of a few spots or the inconvenience of periods. I wish it hadn't been so easy for me to get my hands on it. Taking it disconnected me from my body during the years where I should have been getting to know myself. I never knew if my mood was really me or if it was the artificial hormones and I still don't - it can take a really long time for it to 'leave' your body. I worried it could be masking reproductive issues (my mum had a hysterectomy at 27 following several miscarriages, a major haemorrhage and constant periods (I'm talking months long) and both my sisters have ovarian issues). I would go months without taking the 7 day break. That can't be healthy? No matter what the booklet tells you.

So, this time around it’s the opposite experience to the break I had before and I owe a lot of it to preparing my body with supplements, a good diet and yoga. Everything seems to be working as it should at this point and I'm happy to say that my period returned in September 2014, exactly 28 days after stopping Yasmin. It’s arrived every month since! PERIOD PARTY! I’m about two weeks away from my fourth period and am getting to know and recognise the different stages of my cycle. I feel in tune with my body - getting my period is reassuring, I don’t dread it. I’m relieved to know that my body is working as it should. Knowing I haven't made myself infertile and all of those other scary 2am insomnia thoughts racing around my head. I will never take my period for granted again. Our periods can be painful and rough on us, I know this, but try and feel a little bit grateful. It changes that notion that they are dirty or a hindrance (how awful are sanitary product adverts!). Your body is working as it should, it's actually pretty great and never to be taken for granted. I apologise for sounding so... new age.

Withdrawal

I had really troublesome symptoms for a few weeks after stopping Yasmin, which did fade. It was mainly extreme fatigue, night sweats, insomnia, aches and pains, nausea and mood swings. I lost my appetite. I was very weepy. As emotional as I am, I don't cry often. If I'm crying - it's bad. I spent a lot of time in bed with the cat. I noticed that my hair came out in handfuls when I washed it, way more than usual. Luckily, I have really thick, naturally wavy hair which I only wash every 6 days or so, so it didn't bother me too much.

The thing I was most anxious about was my skin flaring up, which it has. The constant breakouts on my cheeks and jawline started to kick in around mid-October. It has been pretty bad, but not as bad as I remember the 6 month break been. It was a shock at first after having perfectly clear skin for so long. I've just tried to remind myself it's temporary and that my body has to rebalance hugely. I have to be patient and nurture myself from the inside.

When I was making the decision to stop taking Yasmin and the pill all together, I came across some blogs that had horrific tales of withdrawal. I'm glad my experience wasn't as bad as some of the accounts I've read. If you're on Yasmin/considering coming off it, read this. It does sound scary, but I think it's important to know the truth of how the pill can affect us. This is the side that pharmaceutical companies and our doctor's don't mention. I genuinely view the pill as poison at this point and I’m pretty sure it's going to be a long road to full recovery (I hope that doesn't sound hysterical) to be at my natural state or before I realise the true extent to which it’s impacted upon my physical and mental health.

How I prepared my body

I didn't realise until last summer that the pill can deplete the body of certain vitamins and minerals by preventing proper absorption from food sources. People on the pill are often lacking in; Zinc, Magnesium, Selenium, Vitamin C, Vitamin B2, B3, B6 & B12 - all essential for healthy hormonal and skin function. We usually see the first signs of deficiency in our skin/on our face, but here's a thought - what if the pill overrides the symptoms of vitamin/mineral deficiency? It prevents acne breakouts, acne is usually a symptom of other issues, hormonal, digestive, etc. It suddenly made sense that my skin was always so bad, because my diet definitely wasn't covering the basic requirements - it still isn't, though I am much better with it and conscious to include lots of vegetables, whole grains and pulses/beans. I also drink a lot of water. When I started researching the 'cons' of the pill and how other women have fared when coming off it, I came across some blogs and websites that were invaluable. Through my own research and ignoring the nurse at my GP's surgery whose eyes physically bulged at me when I told her I was no longer relying on artificial hormones as contraception, I decided to start taking the following supplements:





And more recently:

Neal's Yard Mahonia Clear Skin Formula - this stuff is amazing. I'm going to dedicate a whole post to it eventually. My skin is the best it's been in months.
Agnus Castus - before choosing an Agnus Castus supplement, do read Juliet O'Callaghan's blog to understand how the European THR licensing now affects the potency of supplements and where best to buy it from. Agnus Castus can also be acquired from Neal's Yard in purer forms. I'm thinking of getting the tincture or dried herb to make tea when my tablet supply runs out.

From the pill research, I’ve realised that I am most likely B12 deficient, I'm going for some blood work this week and will be blogging about that journey. B12 deficiency can lead to a host of symptoms and reactions in the body, some that mimic other diseases such as MS. It's hard to diagnose on routine blood tests. The contraceptive pill contributes to such a deficiency by preventing absorption of B12. The following is pulled from a natural health website and is written by Dr. Mercola:

If you don't have adequate vitamin B12 levels in your bloodstream, you might notice some of the following warning signs:

mental fogginess, problems with your memory, mood swings, lack of motivation, feelings of apathy, fatigue and a lack of energy, muscle weakness, tingling in your extremities.

Here's the link to the original article. I also suggest you read this and this regarding B12 deficiency. Interesting and informative! I was reading them out last night to my partner and we were shocked that we didn't realise how important B12 was, nor how the deficiency manifests itself.

Further to that, if you're vegetarian or vegan, bitamin B12 deficiency is extremely common. This is because "B12 is not readily available in plants, so if you do not eat meat or animal products you are at risk. Vitamin B12 is found almost exclusively in animal tissues, including foods like beef and beef liver, lamb, snapper, venison, salmon, shrimp, scallops, poultry and eggs. The few plant foods that are sources of B12 are actually B12 analogs. An analog is a substance that blocks the uptake of true B12, so your body's need for the nutrient actually increases." The only meat I have ever eaten somewhat regularly, and as a child, is chicken and beef. I don't like eggs and never ate fish or seafood.

After talking to a few ladies I know who say B12 injections turned their lives around, I'm going to see my GP and explain how I have almost every symptom mentioned in B12 deficiency literature (most worrying is the depression,anxiety and extreme mood shifts despite SSRIs and beta blockers), that I took the pill for 10 years and am vegetarian - these are all factors to be taken into account when diagnosing B12 deficiency.

Further Reading

Claire Baker, Australian super babe behind one of my favourite wellbeing blogs 'This Is Lifeblood', has posted a lot about her experience with the contraceptive pill. To have a read, click here!

I came across This is Lifeblood via Nat Kringoudis, another Aussie who is a natural fertility champion (Doctor of Chinese Medicine, Acupuncturist and Natural Fertility Educator). Her website is a fountain of knowledge for all things hormonal.

If you're wanting to come off the pill, or are struggling with issues caused by hormonal imbalance (PCOS, endometriosis, acne...) I recommend you sit down with a cuppa and read everything they've got to say on the matter. These two blogs were the starting point of my mindset changing and cementing that I COULD stop taking the pill successfully.

This article talks about the pill and nutrition and this one talks about the pretty harrowing effects of the pill. Really interesting reads for an alternative view.

This article, published by the Institute for Optimal Nutrition talks about how excess oestrogen (found in the combined pill) impacts on our hormonal balance. It's an interesting read.

Thanks so much for making it through all this. I really do hope it can be of help to even one person out there. It's my own personal experience and I have to say that you should always seek professional healthcare advice before changing anything drastic/taking supplements. Feel free to leave a comment below - your own experience, questions or suggestions. I'm really passionate about this stuff and would seriously welcome further conversation on any of the things I've mentioned xo
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21 comments

  1. Hi Katie. Thank you for blogging your experience. This is so relevant to me right now because I'm in exactly the same position that you were/are in. I was also taking Yasmin and have been since a year after hitting puberty. I was worried that my moods were influenced so much by it that I may not really know myself or how I should feel. After giving it up in September with no GP advice I've felt a lot better but my skin is breaking out more. Your advice on supplements has been so helpful, I'm going to look into this in more detail. My only concern is how to find a contraceptive that doesn't involve going back on the pill, as my partner has a medical issue where he can't use condoms. May I ask if you've considered any other methods of contraception? Thanks in advance, Abigail x

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    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Abigail!

      It can take a long time for everything to settle, I think patience is the key, as well as helping your body by taking supplements for what it may be lacking. The Neal's Yard formula I mentioned really does seem to be having an effect. I take 2ml three times a day in a little water, it tastes very bitter, but it's a small price to pay. I would also look into Agnus Castus for your skin - if you Google 'Agnus Castus Acne' - lots of women have posted about it helping, as well as helping to regulate their cycles! Be sure to check out the links in the post as they were great for me.

      As for contraception, we are relying on barrier methods/condoms, which isn't much use to you I realise, along with Natural Family Planning. Once I trust my cycle a bit more, we intend to rely on that solely and ditch condoms. Nat Kringoudis also has a lot to say on using your cycle to plan/protect against unwanted pregnancy.

      I'm sorry I can't be of much help with that. Is it an allergy your boyfriend has? Or to do with his...anatomy? Without going into too much detail, there are procedures to correct some of those issues men can have when wearing condoms.

      I don't intend on taking any birth control again. I hope my future self/circumstances enable me to do that. A friend of mine has recently started using a Nuva Ring and I might pick her brains about it for a future blog post! I don't know much about it but you could have a look online!

      If I can help you with anything else, let me know! x

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    2. https://www.lady-comp.co.uk/en/ - this helps keep track of when you are fertile etc.!

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  2. This post has actually scared me a little! I've been on the pill since I was around 15, first on a normal one for a couple of months and then they switched me to Yasmin because well I wouldn't really say acne but would often get spots on my back, I never really thought about how it changes your hormones. The last time I went to see my nurse she did suggest me coming off yasmin and on the a lower dosage of pill I think she said but I was just like 'nahhh cba i'll just stay on this'. The only reason I was put on the pill was because I had irregular periods (once every two weeks) and they were very heavy so I'm unsure on coming off the pill all together but after reading this I'm going to ask for something not as strong.

    Great post, hope everything is well

    lucy xx

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    1. Hi Lucy!

      Oh no, I'm sorry! Don't let it scare you - let it enlighten, haha!

      The problem I have with doctors/nurses prescribing the pill to regulate periods is that it's truly masking any reproductive/hormonal etc. issues you could have that are causing you to bleed every two weeks. Further to that, the period you have on the pill isn't your body taking charge and doing it's own thing, its forced by the pill. It makes me really on edge because it makes zero sense to not treat the root cause. I feel myself becoming more and more anti-Western/corporate medicine by the hour haha.

      If you do want to consider stopping the pill, but are worried about acne and your irregular periods, Agnus Castus is apparently a great - and natural - way to regulate your cycle and hormones. Google something along the lines of 'Regulate cycle acne Agnus Castus' and see if you can find some helpful advice, as well as having a look at the links in this post. Juliet O'Callaghan's blog is great.

      By the way, I say apparently because I've only been taking Agnus Castus for 8 days - I wanted to give my body 3 months off the pill before I started taking it (after doing tonnes of research) and I wasn't expecting my periods to come back as soon and regular as they have. So, I'm trying it for acne and PMS relief mainly!

      Let me know how you get on or if you need any information! x

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  3. Hi Katie, thanks so much for writing about your experience with the pill and especially for providing further links & points to research. My experience with the pill has been quite devastating, especially in the last couple of months. I was put on Rigevidon in the summer 2013 and ever since have been experiencing heightened anxiety and recently, for about 5 months, depression as well. I never realised this could be due to the pill but the more research I do, I feel angry that prescribing the pill to young women seems to be the only way to deal with a plethora of problems in our society. No one has ever warned me about side effects like anxiety, depression and lack of energy (every doctor seems to mention the possible weight gain though) or lack of vitamins. It was only due to a coincidence I came across this information and it did feel like a moment of enlightenment! Suddenly all the problems I have been having had an actual explanation. So I just wanted to say THANK YOU for contributing to this discussion.

    TW: suicide

    I came off the pill just a week and have been feeling fine so far but as you say, it´s a long road to recovery. I didn´t consult my gynaecologist about my decision as I live in a foreign country but plan to see them in a couple month´s time. I have hormonal imbalance (my cycle is too long) and I was pushed into taking the pill without getting much information about my health or possible side effects. I just can´t believe this is happening to so many women. Reading forums full of posts about how women felt suicidal while taking the pill and thought they were "ready for psychiatry" actually breaks my heart. No one deserves that. So I am quite afraid that my GP will again suggest that the pill is the only way to treat the hormonal imbalance but its good to see that there are some natural ways around it too, as you mention.

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    1. I'm really happy that this post has helped you in some way. I just wanted to post about my experience and how I came to realise the 'dark' side of the pill, anything more than that is a bonus. Thank YOU for reading and contributing your story.

      I hope your journey is smooth and you settle into your natural rhythm in due course. Feel free to email me via the contact page if you want to talk further or privately x

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  4. "I would go months without taking the 7 day break. That can't be healthy? No matter what the booklet tells you."
    Actually, it's totally fine. When you're on the pill, your body stops making the layer of mucous lining in the uterus that is shed in a typical cycle (and is what you see as your 'period'). The 'period' you get during the breaks from the pill are withdrawal bleeds and are not a true period at all. Your body doesn't just let it sit there and rot or anything!!!!

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    1. I'm fully aware of how the pill works and the fact a period on the pill isn't a true period. I don't think I implied it just sits there and rots either...

      Taking something constantly and dosing your body with artificial hormones, without breaking, can't not impact in some way - whether that's physical or emotional. I know I used to get terrible headaches and feel 'heavy'.

      I think my stance on the pill is quite clear. I personally don't think its healthy (physically or emotionally) to stop your body from doing one of the functions it does at its most natural state. It makes me anxious, again, personally :)

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  5. Reading this, I feel like my life has changed already. I am so glad I have come across your blog. I started taking the pill at 16. I felt massive pressure from my boyfriend at the time that I had to go on the pill. 5 years on, I feel I have become an emotional wreck and my body just isn't the way it used to be! I feel I'm cheating by eating so much healthy foods yet poison my body with the pill. I just want to say thank you so much for this information and I have also read Nat Kringoudis' blog which has really opened my eyes. Luckily I am now with someone who is very supportive in my decision to ditch the pill all together. I am going to be showing my friends your blog! Quite scared though in relying on just my body to avoid pregnancy.

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  6. I started taking the pill at 16 and after suffering with depression my gp decided to move me to yasmin because of this which ive been taking for ages now im so glad I came across this blog! Its enlightened me and helped me to understand questions ive had in my mind for so long, I totally agree with everything your saying I believe the pill has contributed to making me a super negative person and ALOT OF the time emotionless and feeling low ect and it also hasn't helped my periods at all!. It means so much to know that its not just my personality and that other people have experienced feeling like this too.
    Thank you for all the help and points on comming of the pill, there is not enough people out there doing this and been open about there personal experiences.

    Thank you for all the support.
    you rule and are a a real inspiration xo

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  7. Thank you for talking about this!
    I started with the pill when I was about 14-15 years old. I was taking it for maybe 5-6 years. I suffered a HORRIBLE migraine for at least 3 years under this period. I went to the doctor/dentist/physiotherapist/ gynecologist and nobody found anything wrong. Where did this migraine come from? I was so young. I asked the doctor "could it be the pill?" and always got the answer "No, I have never heard about that" from different people. Tried different medications but nothing really helped me. I decided to quit the pill - and guess what - I have not had a migraine since that day! And all these years I was so worried not being able to live a normal life, have a job when I grow up and stuff like that, because the migraine was so bad and I never knew when it would show up. This was before you googled everything. It's so scary that they give us these pills so easy without knowing what they really do to your body.

    I apologize for my bad English.

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  8. This post is so great and enlightening. I've been sexually active for 8 years now and have only been using barrier methods during this time. I've been trying to find out as much as I can about the pill before going for it and this has given me so much information. I'm definitely swayed against it now and to be honest this gives me relief as I'm not the biggest fan of taking medication. Thanks so much, Katie!

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  9. Hi Katie,
    Your insta post brought me here and it's been a real wake-up call, so firstly thank you for all the info. I've been doing a load of reading up and wondered if you've paid and used Nat Kringoudis' lessons and if they're worth investing in or whether you learnt about it all yourself through different sources? I definitely need to learn more about my fertility cycle before I look into alternatives to hormonal contraception and would appreciate any pointers in the right direction :)
    Thank you!

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    1. Hi Rhiannon! Thank YOU for reading! I haven't actually paid for any of the Debunking series, but I am considering it. I've learned a lot through my own research - books and Google! I would imagine it's a good investment to make if you're on the fence/quite confused. She is fantastic. I personally like to learn from more than one source or place and then make my own mind up. There's probably lots of books on the subject and if you need to find out anything in particular that may be a better route for you?

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  10. I also really recommend taking a look at nicolejardim.com - she's so great and full of knowledge.

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    1. Thank you, I'll take a look :) It's all such a refreshing change of perspective and clarity but with a hint of trepidation because it's not a outlook the nhs really promotes. I guess I'm looking for more similar points of view for reassurance haha

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  11. Hey Katie,
    I'm following you for so long on instagram and due to stop taking the pill I looked up your blog because I know that you posted something about this and I'm so glad I did read this.

    I stopped taking the pill in August 2015. I used to take it for almost 6 years. I had the same symptoms with hair loss, acne, mood swings (at the beginning I always felt like crying and had such a bad time). I tried to read stuff about the time after taking off the pill and that's how I realized how huge this hormonally birth control is. I'm glad I started to take the pill when I was 19 but it's still creepy because as you wrote if "my mood was really me or if it was the artificial hormones". That's so relevant! I stopped taking it because I didn't feel myself and I wanted to know how I'm feeling without the pill. In the almost 5 months now I still don't feel like myself. I want to see a homeopath and do blood tests because I'm vegetarian too. And I just read the article you linked in your profil where the girl is talking about her symptoms like loss of libido and so on and I haven't thought that this is a symptom of the pill too.

    So thank you so much for sharing this!
    I hope you're fine, xx
    Lisa

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  12. Hey Katie,
    I'm following you for so long on instagram and due to stop taking the pill I looked up your blog because I know that you posted something about this and I'm so glad I did read this.

    I stopped taking the pill in August 2015. I used to take it for almost 6 years. I had the same symptoms with hair loss, acne, mood swings (at the beginning I always felt like crying and had such a bad time). I tried to read stuff about the time after taking off the pill and that's how I realized how huge this hormonally birth control is. I'm glad I started to take the pill when I was 19 but it's still creepy because as you wrote if "my mood was really me or if it was the artificial hormones". That's so relevant! I stopped taking it because I didn't feel myself and I wanted to know how I'm feeling without the pill. In the almost 5 months now I still don't feel like myself. I want to see a homeopath and do blood tests because I'm vegetarian too. And I just read the article you linked in your profil where the girl is talking about her symptoms like loss of libido and so on and I haven't thought that this is a symptom of the pill too.

    So thank you so much for sharing this!
    I hope you're fine, xx
    Lisa

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    1. Hi Lisa! Thanks for your comment. I'm back off the pill for 6 weeks now. My period came back yesterday so that's a relief. I've been seeing a Medical Herbalist for about 8 weeks and am taking a daily tincture that includes a variety of herbs to help balance my hormones. I've no acne to report yet. I'm hoping to fall pregnant in the next few months. I hope you feel more like yourself soon. Maybe seeing a Herbalist is a
      Good idea? X

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  13. Yes, I wanna go to a Herbalist too, because I just had my period once since August. I also started to do yoga. So, I hope everything is getting better soon! :) Thank you!!
    I hope everything is working out for you with getting pregnant! xx

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