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Period Story Podcast, Episode 16: Lina Chan, We Should Celebrate Our Bodies

On today’s episode of Period Story podcast, I had the pleasure of speaking with Lina Chan, the founder and CEO of Adia, a digital health platform empowering women through their fertility journey. 

Lina shared her fertility journey which led to three children and two angel babies and said this is what inspired her to start her company. 

We discussed the story of Lina’s first period, with Lina explaining that because she comes from a conservative Asian family, nobody had talked to her about what to expect. She said found her period embarrassing and shocking, especially growing up in Brazil, where swim classes were held year round in school.

Lina describes the life changing moment when she discovered how she could hide her period. She says now this is one of the taboos she aims to break down with her company, Adia. 

We had a very honest discussion about breaking down the taboo of discussing miscarriage. Lina says that women shouldn’t underestimate the impact that miscarriage can have emotionally and that it’s very important to talk about it and seek the support you think you need.

Lina says that we should celebrate our bodies and I completely agree! 

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Lina’s Bio

Lina spent most of her career working as a private equity investor in the UK. After experiencing pregnancy loss and difficulty conceiving, she realised the need to build more companies by women for women to help make health more proactive. She is now the founder CEO of Adia, a digital health platform empowering women through their fertility journey, and mother to three children and two angel babies.

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Show Transcription

Le’Nise: On today’s episode, we have Lina Chan. Lina spent most of her career working as a Private Equity Investor in the UK, after experiencing pregnancy loss and difficulty conceiving, she realised the need to build more companies by women for women to help make health more proactive. She is now the founder and CEO of Adia, a digital health platform empowering women through their fertility journey, and mother to three children and two angel babies. Welcome to the show.

Lina: Thank you so much for having me.

Le’Nise: So let’s start off by getting into the story of your first period. Can you tell us what happened?

Lina: Yeah, I got my period fairly early. I think I was 10 at the time, which was kind of early, I think, when I was growing up. I don’t know. I feel like now girls are having their periods earlier and earlier. So at school, I hadn’t yet learnt about it. And I come from a very conservative Asian family and nobody had talked to me about it. So I remember just one day going to the bathroom and seeing blood and just really being scared and not quite knowing what to do. And my first instinct was to feel really embarrassed. And I remember just putting a lot of, I rolled up a bunch of paper and put it there, but then it went away like literally it was just a day and it went away. And then it didn’t come back again for a few more months, like three or four months. And then it came back and I did the same thing. I didn’t even have pads. It was, I think, a bit serendipitous because my sister had come to visit and she’s a lot older than me. She’s twenty two years older than me and she brought it up and I was like, oh, my gosh, yes. I’ve been having these these bleeds and I don’t know. And she was the first one who gave me a pad. So and it’s kind of like, oh, well, you know, you’re going to get this or I’m going to get get these things for you a that was it. So there wasn’t really much of a conversation. And then I learnt it at school. So it was all a bit shocking.

Le’Nise: You what you said you were embarrassed. Why did you feel embarrassed?

Lina: I don’t know. I think it’s because it felt like a private area. You’re always taught that it’s a very private area and it was something that I had not ever thought of. And I think it’s because also it’s stained. Yeah. There was a lot of shame associated with it and it’s interesting to think of why, already at that young age, I felt shame with that. Because I even remember, once I started having periods, I didn’t want to tell anybody because I must have been one of the first two girls in my class to get my period. So I didn’t want other girls to know that I had my period. I grew up in Brazil where it’s very hot, so you pretty much have swim classes around the year. I remember just being terrified of swimming because I would swim with my period because I didn’t want to tell people that I had my period and I couldn’t swim. And it would always be this like, you know, dashing out of the pool, running to the bathroom, it was awful. Months and months of dealing with it. I remember always struggling with it.

Le’Nise: So you grew up in Brazil. There is a culture of being outdoors, swimming, and you were one of the first in your class to get your period. So the support of your sister, who was twenty two years older, must have been really helpful, to kind of navigate you through this time.

Lina: Well, yes and no, because she didn’t live with me. She was already married and she already had her kids. So she only gave me the pads and I didn’t really have anybody else to talk to. And my mum didn’t talk about it. You know, Mum kind of didn’t really kind of engage with any of that. And so I actually didn’t speak to anybody about it until more of my closer friends had their periods and then that became more of a topic amongst us and we then discovered things together. So we discovered the tampons together, I remember a friend of mine going, well, you can use this to help you with the swimming and I tried it, but I just couldn’t get it. I couldn’t get it in. And I was like, I just can’t. I was like, maybe I don’t even have, like, a hole. But I think because I was so tense that I couldn’t put a tampon in. She had travelled to the U.S. and come back with those plastic applicators rather than just the cotton ones that you had to insert with your finger. And so she’s like, try this one. And then I managed to use a tampon and I remember that was completely life-changing because suddenly you could hide that you have periods. It was only really through my friends that I discovered more about periods and how to manage it and all that.

Le’Nise: And so you were all kind of learning about it at the same time helping each other. If you think back to what you were learning: were there any myths that you were kind of circulating among you where you think back and think that wasn’t right or why did we talk about that?

Lina: I think there’s still a lot of feeling ashamed of it or embarrassed about it and for really kind of no reason. I don’t know what made us all kind of feel like we had to hide it. I think part of the reason was because it always felt like a topic that you couldn’t talk about openly or be proud of and kind of celebrate as being very feminine. There was always something that was associated with being dirty, being smelly, being yucky. It’s almost as if you had a condition. And I think that’s an issue around a lot of women’s health topics. It was also definitely one that I encountered when I had problems conceiving and having pregnancy loss.

And that’s the reason why it was a big push for me to start Adia. It was around breaking down a lot of these taboos that women face. And I think it starts at the very early stages of periods and it happens over and over again as women go through their different life stages. So, you know, you start with periods and being ashamed of those and if you have period problems like endometriosis, PCOS, fibroids, you struggle with it in silence if you’re not comfortable talking about it at work. It’s so debilitating. All the way to struggling to conceive, having pregnancy loss, blaming ourselves, not feeling comfortable, not getting the right support, all the way to menopause and women struggling with those symptoms, not getting the support. So I think now, and that’s why I was saying how I love what you do, is because I think we need to as a society and as women, completely change the dialogue around women’s health and these things to actually be a lot more celebratory, so that when my daughters kind of, you know, go through this phase that I went through, they don’t feel ashamed and they don’t feel like they need to hide about it or they need to speak to their friends in secret, that it’s something that they should be very proud of.

It’s funny, we were we were working with this charity, Bloody Good Period, and we were doing a campaign. So we were trying to figure out like what are some social stigmas, a social norms that we want to break down. And one of the questions one of the girls asking is like, “Do you still hide your tampon or your pad when going to the bathroom?” And I was like, “Oh, my gosh, I do.” I’m working so much with women’s health? It’s just so subconscious. I do, I roll it and push it under my sleeve and I go off to the bathroom. It is still very much ingrained, even in us who might be kind of a bit more progressive already in the way we think. So I think a lot of it was around being such a taboo subject.

Le’Nise: Are there any other taboos that you think we need to break down in order to be more celebratory about our periods?

Lina: Definitely. So what is it? Celebrate that it’s life itself rather than something that you’re  ashamed of. I think sex around periods, I think that’s something that girls struggle in and try to figure out what does all that mean? You know, which then goes to talking about sexuality, talking about fertility. I think that can be the early stages of kind of like the next phase, that’s something women should talk about more and share more and break taboos around that.

Le’Nise: And I just want to go back a little bit to what you were saying earlier. So you were having these conversations with your friends and learning along with each other. And then as you got older, so went into high school, then university. What other things did you learn about your period and what were your discoveries then? And how did you educate yourself?

Lina: So in the teens it’s kind of like the managing it. I think it ends up being sex and contraception, was the next big kind of period health, period management of learning. I remember I tried all these different types of contraceptive pills and I just had such bad side effects from mood swings to hair loss to the point that I just stopped, didn’t take them at all. And I think there’s, again, a lack of knowledge around the contraceptive pill for women and which ones work for them. And I think for a very long time women have taken it and struggled with the symptoms and just kept getting fobbed off as like, “Go take three months for your body to adjust.” But like some women just don’t and it needs to be looked into more. And, you know, there are companies now trying to match women’s DNA or kind of like existing conditions to the right contraceptive pill, because I think people are starting to recognise that there is a link between your hormones, your mental health, physical health, and kind of then how to manage that and then, I think the next phase of taboos and and things that women can learn is, OK, so now I want to start having families and getting off the contraceptive pill, re-learning what their cycle is like, because sometimes, because they’re on the pill, it’s a quote unquote artificial cycle and you get off it and you don’t quite know when your period is going to come back.

So you’re kind of totally re-learning your body and then something that you used to hate having is the one thing you keep looking forward to so that you can conceive every month. So then again, it becomes like this, this relationship that you have with your body and it can either feel very comfortable or very foreign. And because I think somebody who conceives it’s a nice thing, it happens quickly, but for somebody who can’t conceive, it becomes a source of anxiety every month. And we talk about it in Adia about women who struggled for a very long time that it can almost feel a little bit like trauma, because every month, that period reminds you of something that you don’t have and that you really want. So, again, it’s a struggle with your own body.

Le’Nise: And with you having been on hormonal contraception and did you have any bad side effects?

Lina: Yeah, had terrible ones, that’s why I got off it. I think I tried three and then with one and I lost a lot of hair. I mean, I remember they were coming out in chunks. And it’s funny because now at Adia, I was talking to a woman who was working on a business to help match women to contraceptives and she was like, “Oh, so you have the blah blah gene” and I was like, “Finally, 20 years later, someone figured out why I kept losing hair when I go on a certain pill.” And then the other two, I just kept getting extremely bad emotional side effects, so like crying for no reason. I was like, “Why am I putting up with this? Why am I doing this to myself?” So then I just never went on the pill. I literally tried it for a year and then never, ever went on it again.

Le’Nise: Was at the end of your journey with hormonal contraceptives?

Lina: Yeah. I never went on hormonal contraceptives. So it was a lot of condoms or just avoidance and using the tracking system.

Le’Nise: Ok. And so how did you learn about that? Was it trial and error?

Lina: I mean, I guess because I never went on the contraceptive pill. I’ve just been very lucky with an extremely regular cycle. My cycles were always 27, 28 days. The only time that I went to a very irregular period was when I started working and it was extremely stressful. I worked around the clock, I barely slept. So I don’t think my body even knew what was day and night. And I was getting my periods every two weeks. I was too engrossed with my job that I didn’t really think much about it. But then when things calm down, it became regular again. So I kind of always had a sense of when I was ovulating. And I kind of became quite smart about my fertile signs and what to look out for. So I became very tuned in with my cycle, which has helped me in other ways, even now with food. I kind of listen to my body, I can tell when I’m not feeling quite right. So I could usually predict when I was going to start bleeding.

Le’Nise: You said you were quite tuned in and now you’re quite tuned into your cycle and with food as well. What do you mean by that?

Lina: So when we started trying, I struggled. So I lost my first two pregnancies, one fairly late stage at six months and then managed to conceive and I had three kids but during that phase of loss, I really, kind of stopped trusting my body. I didn’t really connect with it and I think it was the trauma. And I went to the doctors to figure out what it was. But during that time of trying and failing, I needed to learn how to trust my body again. And I did it through yoga and I did it through nutrition. So I became a yoga teacher and I did a couple of nutrition courses. And I think all of that was so that I couldn’t kind of feel a little bit more empowered and a little bit more in tune to something that can become can become very foreign. Something that had always given me what I had put into it. I was very athletic. I always did a lot of exercises. So I knew that, OK, if I train I could reduce my time by X. Like what you put in, I could get out like I understood my body. But during pregnancy, I just didn’t. Whatever I did, just didn’t do what I wanted it to do. So I just needed to kind of calm down and and relearn it and I did it through exercise and nutrition. So yoga really helped me kind of move with consciousness, it taught me about mindfulness, it taught me to sit with my feelings. And nutrition kind of helped me because I did, you know, I was athletic, I pretty much just eat whatever I wanted. I never was quite conscious about what I was putting into my mouth. But during that phase, I learned about the vitamins. I learned about what made me feel good, what didn’t make me feel good, when was I eating for anxiety and when was I eating mindfully? And all of that kind of just helped me be more present and more grateful for what I had in my body. And then we went on to conceive and all that. So it was through that journey that I learnt to trust it again and I did it through those two venues.

Le’Nise: You sound amazingly tuned in and it sounds like you’ve been on this incredible journey and of understanding not only what nourishes you physically and nutritionally, but also being really open to what’s going on with your body. Amazing. Absolutely amazing. How long was this journey for you?

Lina: Oh, gosh, so three years from the first time we tried to having my first daughter was three years because we had the two losses and conceiving between them took almost a year each. Our first was born at 32 weeks, so she was born quite early, that was a fairly stressful kind of fourth trimester but then we had two others in quick succession. So from beginning to three children, it took us five years. But to get from beginning to first child, it took us three years. So, yes, the other two came very quickly thereafter. I think it’s you know, part of it was I had a lot less anxiety around it. I knew how to take care of my body to prepare for pregnancy. I also knew that because I had struggled, we started trying six months after me having one. And I think a lot of women prefer to wait a year and I think the recommendation is to wait for a year. But, you know, I was of my age and I that I had struggled. So we tried sooner and then we were lucky to conceive sooner. But I took much better care of my emotional and physical health in the subsequent pregnancies.

Le’Nise: What would you say to women who are going through similar things, who maybe have had a miscarriage and who are trying to conceive again?

Lina: I mean, I think the first thing is to really not underestimate the impact that it can have on you emotionally and to talk about it. It is something that women feel really ashamed about, but it’s very important to talk about it and seek the support that you think you need. One of the doctors that work with us, she actually just released a study last week and was picked up by quite a few of the newspapers showing that one in seven women who experienced even just one miscarriage go on to develop PTSD. And that can have really big consequences. And sometimes we don’t even realise that we have it. So I think recognise that it will affect you emotionally, so seek help. I think, you know, it took me too long to recognise that I needed that support. And I think learn to trust yourself again and your body again and find whatever works for you to feel grateful again about the body that you have. Some people practice mindfulness, some people talk to friends, some people practice gratitude, some people dive into nutrition. Find what works and reconnect with your body so that you can start trusting it again and really get informed. The NHS makes you miscarry three times before you seek a specialist but if you trust your gut, if you think that you want to see a doctor sooner, try to find that support if you can, because there are tests that they can run, there are things that they can do without having to make you wait for three miscarriages. And the more empowered you are with information and the more balanced you can feel mentally and physically, I think the better chances we arm ourselves with.

Le’Nise: Talking about taboos. Do you think that miscarriage is still as much a taboo in terms of talking about miscarriages as it used to be?

Lina: Yeah, I think so. I think there’s definitely waves of it becoming more talked about. So I think it’s positive, it’s definitely moving in the right direction. But I think it’s still is taboo. And I still think that a lot of women attribute shame and faults to themselves. And I think one of the key things is, a lot of women when they fall pregnant, they’re told not to say anything for the first twelve weeks. But that’s when the majority of miscarriages will happen, like 85% of miscarriages, I think it’s 85% of miscarriages happen in the first twelve weeks. And so typically you haven’t told anybody at work, you’ve probably felt rotten because it’s the worst 12 weeks of the pregnancy. And then when you go to the hospital, you know, if you’ve miscarried, they’ll be like, okay, just go home and try again. So we haven’t set it out in a way that women can feel supported during those first 12 weeks, so actually, it’s quite hard. And so then you’ve gone from not telling anybody, to then saying, oh, I’ve miscarried. So women find that it’s a pretty big step, it’s hard to bring that topic up. So I think one of the first things we should think about is why is this this 12 week rule? We should just, you know, recognise that it’s something that’s very common, happens to one in four pregnancies in women. So it’s funny because it’s more common in circles of women who have struggled or tried because as soon as they get pregnant they say, they say, and they fully acknowledge that there’s a very high risk of losing it but you’re recognising it, it’s not something that you’re trying to hide. So I think there needs to be more to be done. But, you hear as more celebrities talk about it, as more women like me and you talk about women’s health, I think then you’re starting to move the needle for the next generation.

Le’Nise: Yeah, absolutely. I remember when I had a miscarriage before I had my son and I wasn’t sure what was happening, but I didn’t know who to talk to because I thought, “Well, okay, like, it didn’t happen for me this time so I will keep trying.” But I think back to how I was feeling at the time and I remember feeling sad, but also thinking, “Well, I shouldn’t really talk about it because you know what’s the point?”

Lina: Yeah, yeah, exactly. And I think that’s why this study is so important, it shows that even if you just miscarry once, you have such a higher chance of actually having a mental distress out of it. So it is something that we should talk about and make women more aware of it. I mean, I think even just the awareness that it could be quite common that it could happen to you and if it happens, these are the things that you need to do. I think this is really key.

Le’Nise: Talk to me about your company and everything you’re doing to support fertility and support women as they go through their journey. Can you tell us a little bit more about what you do?

Lina: Yeah, sure. So when I was going through all the things that I went through, there were two kind of big pain points for me. One, I didn’t feel like I could access the doctors that I needed and two, the information that I got was so confusing. So that’s the two main things that we try to really break down, the barriers we try to break down. So women can come onto our platform, they create an account and they can immediately speak to women’s health specialists. And they range from obstetricians, fertility specialists and nutritionists, clinical psychologists. And we really recognise that it’s important to support somebody from medical information, but as well as nutrition and mental health. So there’s no GP gatekeeper, there’s no waiting three times to miscarry in the NHS. You can come and ask the questions, whichever question it is. And it’s through that information that we can really empower women, and because you’re actually asking experts in the field , it takes out all the noise because you know that the information that you’re getting is trusted. And that’s the key thing that we really want to help women with, because I think the more we can help women get the right support, the quicker they are in that journey. And then we really hope that through the articles that we publish, the community that we’re building, that we’re starting to break this taboo around it, so more and more women can talk about it, feel comfortable getting the support that they need. And then lastly, what we also do is we provide hormone tests and sperm tests that women can take at home because, again, it’s something that the NHS will typically ask you to wait for quite a long time before qualifying for those or if you go privately, it’s extremely expensive. So we’ve partnered with companies that are able to really reduce the price and we can just do it in the comfort of your home. So it’s really kind of disrupting the way health is delivered now to make it a lot more accessible to women.

Le’Nise: And what made you decide to start this amazing company?

Lina: My personal journey, I think it was kind of going through it and just wanting to help women have an easier journey than I had. And my husband, who’s a co-founder, he’s a tech entrepreneur and he’s like, I just don’t understand how technology hasn’t helped reduce the price and the barriers to this, we need to do something. So it’s very much my personal passion and a personal pain point that we wanted to change other people’s journey and improve that for them.

Le’Nise: Do you have any success stories that you can share?

Lina: Yeah, I mean we don’t promise people they’re gonna get pregnant. I think it’s more what we promise is that you’re going to feel supported, you’re going to get the right information and we’re gonna help you then liaise with the right people that you need to. But we’ve had quite a few women come and say that they’ve gotten pregnant or that they’ve felt very supported, that they were able to access services that they hadn’t thought about before. Some women had taken our test, discovered that they had hormonal issues that they weren’t aware of and that enabled them to get the right care. So it’s really kind of heartwarming to get those messages from our users.

Le’Nise: Is it UK only or international?

Lina: Now we have users from like 35, almost 40 countries. So people have found us, they come and they chat with our experts, they read the content. So it’s worldwide.

Le’Nise: Oh, amazing. Amazing. So if a listener could take one thing from everything you’ve been saying, what would you want that to be?

Lina: Celebrate your body. You know, be really proud of the body and grateful for the body that we have as women. It is so strong. It’s you know, it gives life. It nourishes and take care of it and love it. And don’t underestimate the connection of your mind and your body and trust it and wherever your mind goes, your body will follow.

Le’Nise: Amazing, amazing. Thank you so much for coming on the show.

Lina: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

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