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Where do those crazy eggs go?

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tarap asks:

I have been on the Cyclin contraceptive pill for about 4 months now. Before that I was on Diane 35. I understand that the bleeding that occurs when we are on the pill is not technically a period because we have not ovulated and therefore have not released an egg. My question is, in that case, where do the eggs go?

Heather Corinna replies:

"Where the heck do the eggs go?" is a pretty common question around here, whether someone on a hormonal method is asking, or someone NOT on a method is asking. After all, when an egg isn't fertilized it's got to go somewhere, too. And when someone understands that we are born with WAY more ovum -- eggs -- than will ever be released, they usually get pretty curious, too. Same goes for people wondering about menopause, since when women reach menopause, we still have extra ovum left lying around.

Our whole fertility cycle -- ovulation, growth of the endometrium and menstruation -- happens due to a complex system of hormonal changes in our bodies.

You can read more about that here and here, but the short version is that when our brain signals our bodies to release the hormone estrogen, we will both -- when not using hormonal contraceptives -- release an egg from a follicle, as well as build up the lining of the uterus in order to prepare for a pregnancy. Progesterone is then released by the ovary that popped out that egg, which prepares that lining for a possible pregnancy. If an egg isn't fertilized or doesn't implant, progesterone declines, and thus, we shed that lining and have a period. In a similar way, you have the withdrawal bleed you have from the pill because during your placebo period the rug is also pulled out from under your hormones as you're not taking them. So, both happen in very similar ways, but for different reasons. And menstruation isn't about ditching an unused egg: it's about sloughing off unused endometrial lining.

We're born with over a million ovarian follicles (are the follicles which pop to release an ovum). We don't create these every month: we've already got them, and had even more before we were born. And contrary to popular belief, women don't enter menopause because we've run out of ovum.

So, whether you're on the pill, past menopause, or just trying to figure out where all those extra eggs we've all got but never use go, there's a pretty simple answer for a seemingly complex question: your body just absorbs them. Our bodies absorb cells all the time, actually. It's pretty fascinating.

By the time we've reached puberty, our bodies have absorbed around half of those follicles/ovum already, basically leaving the best of the bunch, and we only start releasing them with first ovulation, which happens around two weeks before our first period. Every fertility cycle -- around every month -- more than one of those follicles matures, too, but only one egg (usually) is released, and the rest of those follicles get re-absorbed, too. We enter menopause because of hormonal changes in our bodies which change the landscape so that we're no longer producing enough of the hormones we need to in order to release eggs and sustain a pregnancy. Given, by the time we're nearing menopause, we're getting pretty low in our egg count, and have usually released the best ovum we've got, but there are still a thousand stragglers or so left, a bit like the folks who hang out long after the party is over.

And if you really want to geek out on it and sound like a pro, if you explain this to someone else, you can tell them that the scientific term for this process of reabsorption of your eggs is atresia.

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