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Period Story Podcast, Episode 31: Maria Purcell, We Need To Learn About Our Menstrual Health From A Young Age

On today’s episode of Period Story podcast, I had the pleasure of speaking with Maria Purcell, the co-founder of the Hood, who recently launched their teen wellness journal (a period and mood tracker!), Girlhood: The Story. Listen to hear our conversation about Maria’s experience navigating her period as an athlete, her decision to come off the pill, how she used tracking to help her better understand her body as she was trying to get pregnant and of course, the story of her first period! 

Maria says she hid her period from her mum for a few months, because she felt that she could deal with it all herself and thought it was no big deal. Listen to hear how often Maria first thought she was going to have a period!

Maria’s experience as a student athlete shaped the way she thought about her body and her belief that periods were something that needed to be ‘dealt with’. She says that when she stopped taking the pill, she finally began to tune into her body and said that it was challenging because as an athlete, she was so used to being in control of her body.

We talked about how Maria started tracking what was happening to her body and how this helped during her fertility journey. She says that all the planning and tracking came naturally to her and helped her feel more confident and better about herself.

Maria shares how she lost her period at one point and what she did to get it back. She says that all the tracking and learning she did around her menstrual cycle and fertility eventually led to the idea to launch a journal for teens to help them understand their moods and eventually their periods, when they arrive. Listen to hear how she was inspired by her niece and how the journal helped them connect.

Maria says we need to learn about our menstrual health from a young age, so that we feel empowered and we understand our bodies. She says this will change the narrative and reduce the stigma around female health issues. Thank you for coming on the show, Maria!

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MARIA’S BIO

Maria Purcell is a commercial business leader with extensive experience in the fields of strategy, growth, advertising, sales and marketing. She is committed to challenging traditional business models and ways of thinking, and to helping customers to find the solutions that work for them. With over 13 year’s experience gained at businesses like Facebook and Uber,

Maria is a results-oriented digital expert with a passion for all things tech. Maria has a Bachelor’s degree in Advertising and Media Production and a Masters in Design. A dedicated mother of 2, Maria was recently recognised as one of the Top 50 Sales leaders in the UK and is the founder of The Hood, who recently launched their teen wellness journal, Girlhood:The Story.

SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: On today’s episode, we have Maria Purcell. Maria is a commercial business leader with extensive experience of strategy, growth, advertising, sales and marketing. She is committed to challenging traditional business models and ways of thinking and to helping customers find the solutions that work for them. As a dedicated mother of two, Maria was recently recognised as one of the top 50 sales leaders in the UK and is the founder of the Hood, who recently launched a teen wellness journal, Girlhood: The Story. Welcome to the show. 

Maria: Hi. Thank you for having me. 

Le’Nise: So let’s get into the question that I start each episode off with. Can you tell me the story of your first period? 

Maria: Yeah. So my first period, I had my first period when I was eleven. And it was a pretty much a non-event for me, mainly because I was so focussed on something else that day when my period actually came. It was more of a “I’ll deal with that later”. I do think , I’ve been telling loads of people this recently and it shows my age as well. But 101 Dalmatians had come out at the cinema. And me and my mom had this thing because I had older brothers and sisters, but I’m kind of just always missed out on the stuff that they were old enough to do. When they were just old enough, I was still too young. So it was like New Year’s Eve. I think it was that everybody was out, you know, doing their thing with their friends. So my mom was like, okay, well, we’ll go to the cinema. And I’d been so excited about the fact, I love the cinema, I always have, I was just so excited, I was going to the cinema. I was like, you know, all day I was obsessed about it. And then just before we were about to leave, I quickly popped to the loo and then my period had started. 

And I was like, Oh. OK, no problem. So I got a pad because I shared a bathroom with two of my sisters. Got one of the pads, popped it in, didn’t say a word to my mom because I was like, I want to go watch this film. And I know if I tell my mom she’s gonna make a big deal out of it, we might not be able to go to the cinema. So I just completely didn’t say anything and just kind of carried on as per.  I remember having just terrible cramps in this cinema, but really focussing on the fact that I wanted to see this film, which wasn’t even that good anyway. But and it was until months later that my mom found out that I had actually started my period. And I remember she was just like, ‘oh, wait, what? Oh, my God.’ And she felt so shocked that I hadn’t said anything. And I, you know, was typical, typical young girl, ‘Yeah, right. No big deal. Get with it. Whatever.’ That was, was pretty much it, that was how I started. 

Le’Nise: Why did you wait so long to tell your mom? 

Maria: I think, to be honest, at the time, I generally didn’t think at the time it was that big a deal. 

I don’t know why I maybe because being with my older sisters all the time, I just knew I was going to come at some point. And also, yeah, actually, I also remember when I did have a conversation with my mom and she was like, ‘you know, you’re a woman and all this stuff is going to happen. Do you want to talk about it?’ And I was like, ‘No it’s fine. I don’t get what the fuss is about. I got the pads. Sorted it out. And then you, what I’m going to have to do this like once a year or something?’ And she was like, ‘what do you mean, like once a year?’ And was I like, ‘you know once a year, once every six months?’ And she was like ‘No, no, this happens monthly.’

And then I was like, ‘wait, what?’ And she was like, ‘yeah.’ And I was like, ‘to everyone?’ Yes. And everyone knows this. Yes. And I was like, ‘for how long?’ And my mom was like, ‘well pretty much for the rest of your life.’ What! And I remember being like, ‘Wow, this sucks.’

And at the beginning your periods are so irregular, right? You don’t really, you know, put it on, and it’s only when you’re like this is really rubbish now. So yeah, I think I was a bit like, what’s the big deal? Whatever. 

Yeah, very much realised. It’s a pretty important part of your life. Once a month, you know, for the rest of your life.

Le’Nise: And are your are your sisters older or younger?

Maria: Yes. Yeah. I’m the youngest.

Le’Nise: And part of your your confidence around your first period. Do you think it was also because your you had seen what your sisters had been doing? 

Maria: No, I hadn’t. You mean my sisters are actually talking about this the other day and I hadn’t actually seen what they were doing. There was no talk. There was no chat. I remember one time at the dinner table, my sister, you know, mouthing off to my mom. And my mom was just like, hey, just because you’re on your period doesn’t mean you can be a B. I remember the whole table being like ‘oooooh’.

Oh, really? have no idea why I didn’t. I mean, we’re all we’re a bit of a cocky bunch. Me and my sisters, you know, we’re pretty confident, you know, three Black females. All within a couple of years of each other in teenage years. Not a fun place to be for my mom, but confident about everything, to be honest. And also, I think you had that feeling back then that you kind of just dealt with it. It wasn’t a ‘let’s enjoy this. This is so special.’ This is it was more like, let’s just get it done and carry on with our lives. So I think that’s why I didn’t think it was such a such a big deal at the time. But yeah, no, I’m not sure why it wasn’t more of a more of a thing.

Le’Nise: And when you had that conversation with your mom and you, she told you that you get your period every every month. And how did you then get more education about what was what was happening to you? 

Maria: Well, I remember thinking and this is probably a common theme throughout throughout my life. I remember thinking how how is this such a big thing and no one talks about it? I remember being like, really monthly. And this to me, sounds like this is important. But I remember being like eleven, twelve, being like, what do I know I’m eleven or twelve. And and the first thing I did was talk to my friends. So the first thing I did was like hop on my phone and I text my friends being like, hey you started your period? I just talked to my friends about it and then I played a lot of sports. I was really, really into sports. So I think the people I was in the teams with, the girls I was with, teams, I think I relied more on the conversation with them because you’re naturally in the changing rooms. You know, you you talk about your bodies quite a lot because your you’re athletes. So I think it kind of came with them. And again, because of that athletic nature. Athletes are very much like, if I want my body to do something, I then have to do X, Y and Z. And I have to train this way. I have to eat this way so that I think athletes are just a lot more body confident because they understand what their body responds to. And so I think being in that environment helped me just have more open conversations with people. OK. I want to do high jump, but I’m on my period. Suggestions? People being like, yeah, yeah, just use tampons. And I think I graduated to tampons very, very quickly, which I think well, from the research that we’ve done from the from the book that we were looking at, for young girls, we realise that actually that tampons are not necessarily such an early entry product for this age, but for me and non-applicators tampons are also very much far down the line. But for me, it was like non-applicator tampons about three or four months in, again, because I just, I want to go swimming. And yeah, I think it was my network of friends like my my gang of girls I hung around with, they were they were the definitely the ones that gave me most information and even products. Right. So we build on that side shuffle of, you know.

Le’Nise: Do you think that playing sport, you said playing sports should make you more confident and athletes or female athletes are generally more confident? Do you think that that had and did it have any effect on your period? 

Maria: And yes, I think probably that’s why for a while they were maybe not as. Probably not as disruptive. I think to my everyday, because I think I had other things I was focussing on and like some cramps, for example, you know, a lot of people have really bad cramps and things like that. But I had bad cramps. But then I also had really bad muscle pain in general from playing sport like every single day. So I think I just kind of lumped it all in together. Which in hindsight, I wish I hadn’t done I wish I’d focussed on it more, but in my mind, I was just like, that’s just how it is, you’re an athlete and get on with it. And I definitely think I had a lot of girls that were in my kind of circle of athletes on. Funnily enough, actually, I’m not sure this is anything but none of my black girlfriends complained about it. But then I do remember, there was a lot of my white girlfriends, my Caucasian friends. They said they would have like debilitating cramps, that they couldn’t even come into school. You know, it was really, really bad. And I just I do actually remember thinking, like, why doesn’t that affect. I mean, you know, like Black girlfriends. Why does it affect this group of girls but doesn’t affect them? I mean, I can’t really explain it. And then that and they were all athletes. 

Le’Nise: And do you think that your Black girlfriends, they had them, but they just didn’t talk about them? They didn’t complain? 

Maria: Yeah, I think so. I think I because we’ve I’ve grown up with these girls and we talk about it now. We definitely complain about it now. But yeah, to be honest, I think there was a maybe in our culture there was more of a, kind of the things that you don’t really talk about or I think we’re Black females are kind of given this, ‘you know, you’re strong, you’re a strong Black female, you’re a strong Black woman’, you know. So I think that’s kind of rammed down our throats a bit more and we aspire to be like that. I know, I know I aspire to be like my sisters who are badass, very strong, physically and emotionally. So I think yeah, I think that definitely had an impact. 

And also, I think, you know, we just had other things to talk about. 

I don’t remember any of my of my friends having a day off because it was that bad or or not not competing or not playing sport because it was that bad. 

Le’Nise: And when you did you play sports all throughout school and then university?

Maria: Yes. So I, I, yeah, I did I did sport all the way through high school and then I, I kind of switched over from college into more dance gymnastics style and then at university carried on the gymnastics kind of element. So it was at the time it was it was called, competitive cheerleading, but it was the acrobatic style of it. So there’s a lot of being thrown in the air and wearing very tight spandex, that kind of stuff. So again, very physically intensive, which I didn’t stop doing until I was about 24, 25 years old. 

Le’Nise: So there’s a lot of research that shows that female athletes who do a lot of intense activity, especially gymnasts. They have issues with missing periods. Did you ever have that happen to you?

Maria: No, I didn’t have any, I didn’t have any issue with missing periods. I’ve always been very regular. Even when I was trying to conceive, even after having children, my body goes very quickly back to its kind of template of this is how we operate. So which I’ve been very lucky. Lucky in. 

But from for the ages of 15 to 24, 25. No actually, longer than that, 28. I think I was on the pill the whole time and that essentially meant no period for the type of pill I was on. I mean, I would stop and I would get a few periods and obviously they would come back with a vengeance. I would be like, oh my. So there’s a large chunk of my early days where I didn’t have this kind of. Appreciation or exploration of my body. In that my female health, I kind of again, just like, oh, it’s something to be dealt with. And oh, I can have a pill that stops it completely? Absolutely. With hardly any education around what I was taking, and really why I was taking it. And so when I got to 28 and then I stopped taking it. And then I started to really get into tune what was going on. And that’s when I’m to think about, you know, I was going I was getting married the next year and I was like, I know I’m going to want to have kids and I hope I can, my cycle goes back to normal, like quickly. But you hear those stories where it take years and years and years to get back to normal. So, yeah. Unfortunately, I didn’t I didn’t have much of that in my younger life, but just basically because it was in my my periods or something to be dealt with, periods were just something to move along and the pill for me at the time was the answer to that. 

Le’Nise: What made you go on the pill when you were when you were 15? 

Maria: So I think it was one: the no periods and that was a few of my friends was like I just take the pill and I don’t have periods and I was like oh, that sounds good, magical pill. But then also I think the all around kind of I guess it’s all kind of wrapped into one. But the whole education around, you know, sex and getting pregnant and all of that kind of stuff really is rammed down your throat when you’re, you know, in that age is like you have sex, you will get pregnant. And again, when I was there trying to conceive, I was like, that’s not the… But if you have sex, you will get pregnant. Here is a pill. Do something. And nobody wants to be carrying around like, you know, going in to buy condoms, just like sweaty, sweaty palms and asking the guy, you know, all about everything. A little classic narrative of like just being like ownership of your body and ownership of your sexual preferences. This wasn’t a thing when you were a teenager, you know, later on in your life, you’re like, hey, no glove, no love, so do one kind of thing, but you don’t get to have all of that. So I think the pill was also a way of all of the kind of female health, all of the kind of female reproductive stuff pushed to the side dealt with one pill. Go about my life, which is actually quite sad when you really think about it. 

Le’Nise: You you you’ve used that phrase dealt with. Deal with it. You just needed to deal with your period. When you came off the pill when you were 28, how did you transition away from this idea of just dealing with your period?

Maria: So I, I’ll be very honest. It took me a long time to actually. Well actually the reason why I came off my contraceptive was because I was like, I’m going to get married and I know I want to have kids. And my husband at the time was in the military. So he was in the Air Force and he moved around loads. We weren’t always together. So a few months at time, sometimes we wouldn’t see each other. So I knew that was it. I wanted to make sure that timing, if we decided, let’s go now, we could not, we didn’t have that luxury of time. So it was so uncertain of what we were doing that point. Let me just take off and, you know, fully in the next five years or so, then my cycle, be it. We’ll start to think about having kids, but actually the way the things that, life never kind of goes to plan, obviously but the way that things have kind of happened was that my husband shipped off to Afghanistan pretty much straight after we got married. So whilst he was away, we missed each other so much when he got back I was like I want to stop this now, I want to get on this baby making thing right now because we know it’s going to take a while. And, you know. I miss you and I want to get on with my life, and it actually was really difficult for us. And it took three miscarriages before I was able to successfully carry my, to term, my daughter, Bernadette, who’s four now. And it was at that point. That was the real kind of when the penny dropped. I was like, I don’t understand my body. And it was a real struggle for me because my as I said, like, I was used to being an athlete. And I I knew that if I did this to my body, it did this. If I wanted to learn a specific skill, I knew I had to practise and I would do it. I would get it in the end. So it was very disturbing for me to not be in control of my body and also to not understand it because I’m one of these people. If something’s going bad, someone something’s wrong. I’m very much like, OK, cool, but what’s the plan or how do we? What’s the formula? How do I deal with again or work around it. How do we find a solution? And yeah, there wasn’t one. And when I was talking to doctors, they were like, yeah, well you know, sometimes it just happens. I was like what do you mean, it just happens. Surely there are studies, surely there is data. And they were like, not really no. And I was like what? Could the pill have contributed to this? I’ve been on the pill for, like, however many years. And he was like, maybe. I was just like whoa. It was just such an eye opening moment for me, so I, I basically did what every kind of mom trying to conceive does and just go like headfirst into Google, Pinterest, anything that I could find of information. And I start to catalogue just everything from menstrual health to diet and nutrition to kind of mindfulness and anxiety and stress and cortisone levels, just everything. And very interesting. And I’ve never kind of looked back, but that was really the moment I realised, well, this is I’m never touching anything to put in my body ever again. I will never put hormonal. I’ll just never touch hormones, basically any kind of medical hormones. I did have to again when I was pregnant. But that’s a different story. But I was just like, what the hell? This is when you really read about what’s in it. Yeah, I was going through all of the type of things that you put into your the most absorbent part of your body. It was a real mind, can’t say the F word. 

I remember just getting so woke and really quite annoyed at myself. I think, you know, it took that to quite a horrible part of my life to actually start to listen and be interested in my own body. 

Le’Nise: But you know that that’s quite common. Typically, women who are trying to conceive. That’s a point where they come off the pill or they come off hormonal contraception and then they start to get more in tune with their natural cycle and know what menstruation actually looks like for them. What ovulation looks like. So you’re definitely not alone. But I want to just go back to what you’re saying about all of the kind of extensive tracking that you were doing. Was it kind of like an iterative thing when you would start to look at one thing and then you would keep on things on? 

Maria: Absolutely. I think. So obviously, when I first started tracking, I love as I said, I love planning. I just kind of put things together. As an athlete as well, you make a lot of training plans. You make a lot of that kind of stuff. So to me, I had like a whole binder, journals thing that I would like do and it kind of made me feel confident and make me feel better about myself that I was writing this stuff down. I could flip through it. So at first, I was like, when does my period happen? Like, that was kind of it. And then I was doing more reading and it was like, OK, what’s what’s the temperature? What’s your temperature changes? And I was like temperature changing, That sounds pretty militant, every day taking your temperature. But then I spent several weeks on cervical mucus. That’s a terrible word. Obviously, a man came up with that because it’s called cervical mucus. All right, cool. I’m going to have a look at that. And then it was my oh, this is my day of ovulation. OK. This is where I’m at in my cycle. And actually, it was, it was a means to get pregnant as well. It wasn’t a, cause I was interested in it. It was this is the means to get pregnant. And and then I had medical assistance to get pregnant and then I had to take hormones and things like that because they that’s what the doctors advised. Again, probably not something I would do again, but that was something that. And then that kind of through my cycle out of whack. And it was only because I’d been tracking it. And then when I took that, then I had to take quite a few different drugs. But when I took I really started to see how my body then went completely out of whack. And so then when I had these mood swings and when I was having, like, hormonal breakouts and all this kind of stuff, I really did start to connect the dots as to. Oh, this is what’s happening here. OK. And I could say to my doctor, no, this is throwing me out of whack. I know this because every month like clockwork, this is what happens. And I’ve missed this point. I mean, maybe take my little scrapbook and look and see what’s happening. And so, again, it was a means to an end to get pregnant. But then when I was pregnant and then I did have my daughter afterwards, then there’s a whole other kind of stuff of like, oh, my God, nobody tells you about all the other stuff that comes after the pregnancy and children and just how your body react reacts. 

That’s a whole nother podcast.  But what I wanted to do was get back to normal. So then I really started to more appreciate what that looked like in terms of how do I get back to being me? And how do I get back to being pre mom me, which never really happens. But in my mind, that’s what I was thinking. And my cycle, was a massive part of that, it’s a huge indicator of, yes, your body is now back on track. It’s not just thinking you’re here to feed and host another being. And that’s when I started to read more about just the cycle. Just just to kind if not not for a goal, not for anything else, just to generally know what to look for me. And how does that kind of affect everything else I’m doing? That’s really was the kind of, I’d say, the second inflexion point for me. 

And kind of getting getting into it. 

Le’Nise: And all of the all of the information and the tracking that you’ve done, have you? I know you have a younger child. Have you? Did you take that into trying to conceive your next child? 

Maria: Yes. Yes. No, I was very much. I knew that when my second child I kind of the goal was that I would love to not have to have, the medical assistance. I knew there was loads of things that I, linked with diet and things like that, that really, really helped me. The first time around, so about six months before I was even thinking of conceiving, I was like, I would need to get my diet in check. And the diet I was doing was a low sugar diet because I had a lot of inflammation. Again, I think from doing a lot of athletics and things, I had a lot of inflammation in the body, so reducing my sugar, really helped just tons of things. And then but that I really I noticed again, I was I was removing all the sugar and then I actually started to lose a lot of weight. And I think I got down to like the lowest I’ve ever probably been, like in my adult life. Just from just removing sugar, not really doing exercise or anything like that, but just removing sugar. And then my period stopped. OK. I was loving this diet I was on and it was giving me so much energy and I looked great and I was fitting into my clothes. It was cool. And then my periods stopped and I thought, whoa, that stuff is the messing with my body. And so then I started kind of easing up into when my period then started tocome back again. OK. But again, that’s like a whole new view on food. And what that can do and how that connects. So so I did take that into account. And I didn’t need the medical assistance to the same degree to to get pregnant. I did need it make much, much later on in the pregnancy and towards the end. But right at the beginning, it was we actually got pregnant accidentally. We were actually like, OK cool, we’ll have a baby, we’ll start at Christmas. I end up having my baby at Christmas. And again, I do put it down to the fact that one, I’d had a test from before and I knew what I was kind of doing this time. But also I was just so hyper aware of everything that my body was doing and not doing. And then like adding that extra layer of nutrition onto the tracking of what I was eating. So there was a lot of tracking. But that really did then help me find my my natural groove, I think. 

Le’Nise: When you say that you lost your period because you had cut out sugar, was it just like sugar, added sugars into food, or was it carbohydrates as well? 

Maria: Yes, carbohydrates as well. So it was first, it was like sugars into food. It was kind of like a process of elimination. So I was having blood tests done as I was cutting things out. We kind of we didn’t really know what it was going to end up looking like. But the nutritionist I had spoken to was just like the best thing to do is just start by process of elimination. And first, it was just like gluten. And I was like, what is gluten? And I thought, oh it’s in everything! But it was gluten, didn’t really have an effect, so I got the gluten back, which was brilliant. 

And then, yeah, it was like sugars and then it was carbohydrates. 

And then when it was with the sugars I saw, I did see a little step of there was like a reduction in my T cells, how they reacted and they just started to get a little bit less aggressive. So a lot of them and they were very aggressive and they wanted to take the sugar down to kind of chill them a little bit. And then when I took out the carbs, pretty much the numbers of them dropped and they just completely relaxed. So the levels of inflammation in my body started to kind of drop. The more I eliminated all these different things. But, yeah, like like I say, brain fog completely disappeared. When I got rid of sugar because I really suffered from that post, my first baby, like brainfog, I would be talking and all of a sudden it was like when I was like completely like two years later I was still doing it. So it was a really weird moment for me. But then the getting rid of sugar is like really, really helped. But then, yeah, I was eliminating, eliminating, eliminate, eliminating. Then I knew I’d gone too far when my period started to go very light at first and then a little bit erratic and then just it was like two months. I actually thought I was pregnant cause I started to think, well what’s going on? And I wasn’t pregnant. I was like, OK, let me just, I’ve lost a lot of weight. Let me just try and put some weight back on and see if they did.  

Le’Nise: What you’re saying is so interesting because, you know, there is a real, especially with women. There’s a real fear around carbohydrates. And I hear this a lot. You know, if I just cut out carbs, I’ll, I’ll lose weight. And this and that. But then what? A lot of people don’t realise just how important carbohydrates are for menstruation and a healthy menstrual cycle. So it’s really interesting because a lot of the research around this is actually being done on men. And so things like no carb diets and also like intermittent fasting. The studies are typically focussed on men and not that have not been done on women because the researcher say, well, it’s too it’s too comp complicated. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So we see lots of things saying, oh, well, the research shows say low carb diets are great. But that research is on men. Yes. Oh, yeah. 

Maria: Forty five. Forty five to forty five. White male. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. Yeah. So how long did it take you to get your period back? 

Maria: It didn’t take me that long, actually. It took me probably about two months or so, I’d say. I remember being really worried that I’d done some lasting damage, like oh God. But luckily, it took not that I think because I wasn’t training at that point in my life. I was exhausted because I had a three year old. But it didn’t take that long and I, I knew which dial to kind of amp up. I did very gradually, I didn’t just switch because I knew that would throw my body into craziness as well. So I did it by gradually, bit by bit. So I think that helped. Yeah, it took a couple of months, but I was pretty, I was four weeks in before I realised. And then so all in all, I’d say I had a probably a gap of about three months of no period.

Le’Nise: And thinking about all the tracking that you’ve done, your first and second pregnancy, did that feed in to the idea that you had for the journal that you’ve.

Maria: Oh, yes, massively. Yeah. So when my niece saw the whole the whole the story, it all came about because my niece got her period when she was nine. 

And my niece is very different, do you remember I was talking about that confidence that I had when I was younger with my sisters. We still have that, if anything has been turbo boosted as we got older. And my niece is very much not like that. She is not yet a force. She isn’t like, you know, kicking your arse and on your case. Which me and my sisters definitely were and are. But so for me as her auntie, I really wanted to connect with her anyway, just in general. I want to connect with her. And I want to be like I want her to feel that kind of like sisterhood. She doesn’t have any sisters. And it’s always been very difficult to reach her, so it’s been having to kind of kind of get in there without being like, you know, not cool or embarrassing. And I never had this problem with my nephew. You know, he’s like this is fine. But my niece, it’s always been slightly awkward. So when my sister messaged us and said, sisters, it’s happened, I was like, well, she’s not pregnant because that would be a national manhunt. 

And I said what she started her period and said, yeah, we were like, oh, my God. Because we knew it was coming. We could see me, my sisters. We could start to see the changes in her. Even then, we were like, now you’re all safe. So I knew she likes she loves drawing. She loves journalling, she loves like anime. And I love that. When I was younger, I love the drawing and the doodling and making characters and all this kind of stuff. And I also really love now. You know, the kind of mindfulness colouring that you can do and bullet journalling and that kind of stuff. So that’s really where and Girlhood came from, because I thought, what if I could try and make something for my niece that kind of doesn’t feel like it is a hey, here’s a book of periods. 

We all got that book when we were younger. It was like 70s style with full on full frontal nudity and you’re like, oh my God.  

And I didn’t what that. I wanted to give her something. What she was like, oh, this is kind of my half journal, half education. And that’s how we talk about it, part journal, part guide. And in there, the first thing we start with the tracker, is there is a period tracker that you can colour in. And again, just by the habit of colouring it and you start to see the shape, you start to see more visually what’s happening. I think not everybody is like a day ahead and not everybody is kind of doesn’t leadings to technology. And even on the period apps. I have a lot of period apps I’ve used and they’ve always been lacking that certain realness to me, it kind of feels like I’m just dealing with I’m just putting it into an app that I’m dealing with. I’m not really exploring what’s happening. So the we start we have this period track. But really, the emphasis in the book actually is the mood trackers that are there every month, because that to me is really the hormone signal. When you’re a teenager, those mood swings are so much more. If anything, I had more problems daily with my mood swings than I did with my period. My period was like, okay, well, you played. Here’s a product. Take some painkillers. Moods, there was there was no product for that. And that probably more shaped my relationship with my body, with my self esteem, with my confidence, which in turn then kind of knocks on to how I look at my my female anatomy and how I look at everything to do with being being a woman. So really, for us, the mood tracker, it was something we wanted to add as much opportunity to colour and see a pattern that is kind of aesthetically pleasing, but also feels like you accomplished something when you’re colouring it in. And that’s the mood tracker, it actually is more of the focus and the period tracker’s kind of like a you know, as an add on to the book. It’s in there, but the focus really is the mood tracker, because that will that will happen for months and months and months before your period actually starts. And we wanted. I think the best way to say is that when you talk to everyone, I’m sure you have, like six or seven people about the first period. It’s very rare I hear somebody say they were prepared for it and that it didn’t just happen to them. And most people’s first periods stories are absolutely hilarious. Like, I’ve listened. I don’t even know how many because Girlhood: The Story has loads of them included, some really cool women into that. We talk to a lot of people about their period. I’m known now as the period, the period lady because you know what happened. And they’re always hilarious. But at the time they’re pretty much mortifying or embarrassing. And that’s usually because they were unprepared or they hadn’t noticed what was like. They were prepared for it, that they hadn’t really noticed what their body was doing to go something’s about to happen. Oh, here we are. Great. And what we wanted was a journal that essentially somebody could give their daughter, sister, niece, friend before the period begins so that by the period of time the period starts, they can start to see.I think I’m going to start my period soon. And then when I do, I know all of this stuff already. And I know where to go. Like, there’s even a page in there about all the different period products, cups, pants, pads, tampons, because, again, you just I don’t want my niece to have to justdeal with it. 

And again, talking about period products. One of the most one of the most hardest things when you talk about periods is that you have to stick something in your vagina or in your pants. Yeah, I talk about blood, and that’s a lot of where the friction comes from about having these open conversations, because a lot of people can’t even say the word vagina. They don’t know the difference between vagina vulva, like all of that kind of stuff. And so we wanted to show that in the book. So it was just like it’s there. So my niece might. Well, now my niece doesn’t use tampon. She uses period pants and she knows, cool, I’m on my period I use these pants when I’m not my period, these pants. 

And how easy is that compared to the conversation you have with your parents were like, well, this goes here. And if you pick the leg up like this. No, it won’t fall out. It was, you know, kind of stuff. It’s just a lot more easier. So. Yeah. 

The tracking element really does guide through the book, but it’s wrapped in all of this kind of colouring and stories from other people and places for them to jot down their own story at the book. What’s your story? So they can remember it and maybe even show it to their daughters when it’s full of friends or whatever. So, yeah. And the tracking element, they’ll probably graduate to an app as well, which would be brilliant. But knowing a bit more about themselves before, because, you know, you put in a lot of data into those apps and you don’t really get much back from. Yes, it’s on Thursday. So you really get it. 

Le’Nise: I used up my Apple Watch to track my menstrual cycle and I got a notification that said your period is due in the next ten days. And I was just thought, like, how is that helpful?

Maria: Yeah. Thanks for that. Yes. In the future. Yes. Yes. So this plan. Yeah. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: Where can people find the journal if they want, if they listen to this and they’ve really connected with what it’s all about. Where can they find the journal? 

Maria: So listeners can’t see this right now. But I’m currently in the Hood HQ, which is the top of my house, and I’m surrounded by journals and books because they all arrived yesterday. So we actually did a Kickstarter campaign to kick off the Girlhood journal.

Because we made one for my niece. Right. But then lots of people said I want want one of these. 

And then we’re like, OK, well, let’s do it big over there and we’ll just do a Kickstarter and we’ll see. And that arrived at yesterday, which is fun for me. So you can go to We are the hood dot com. And on that there is the ability to buy the book. And it was pre-orders. But now, as well as of next week, it will be that you can order it and get it within a few days. And we’ll also be listing it on Amazon soon, that will be going off to a fulfilment centre soon. And also, on www.wearethehood.com you can download those two downloads. One is the book as a download, just if you want to get. A lot of people have their own binders, stickies and with washi tape and they like to customise things a lot. And there is also a lot more affordable, the printable. And so the actual journal itself is 20 pounds. We’re trying our best to get that lower, but we can only do that when we have volume coming in so that we can now. Our aim is to get it as low as we can, but it’s leather bound comes and three colours. Really lovely silk coated pages because we want this to be a special gift. Not the textbook horrible brown paper. We wanted it to be really lovely, but we did understand that there are people who like my mom with three daughters. 

She’s not about to whack out 60 quid on a journal. So we said, okay, well, here’s the five pound option. And also, it gives more people the chance to customise, add in things that they want. And then also we have a free downloadable, which is just the period tracker. So you can kind of get a taste of what that looks like. It doesn’t come with the stories or anything like that. It’s just like a one to print out on an A4 and start to play with, which we’ve had over 500 people download the free tracker. And about half of them have gone on to even buy the digital download or the book, which has been brilliant. It’s a great way to kind of start the conversation with your daughter or nieces, whoever is.  Hey, would this be interesting? Is this cool? So that’s all available. And wearethehood.com and it’s the only product that we have on the site. So it’s pretty easy to find but should be available soon as well. 

Le’Nise: And I’ll put all the links in the in the show notes. So if if listeners take one thing away from everything that you’ve been saying, what would you want that to be? 

Maria: I think, um. I think the biggest journey for me, having gone through this all myself, but then reliving this when we were building the journal with my co-founder and the team very much is I mean, education is power. It’s not covered off in our curriculum. So we shouldn’t rely on schools and teachers to have this conversation with the. 

And I think from a young age, if we care about what’s going on with our body, not just from our biology lesson or whatever, but from female health, if we can start to install that, hey, this is the kind of the way that you can self learn self teach. So it’s naturally embedded in all of us to want to know more about our bodies. Want to know more and take ownership of it. I don’t think it’s about sitting down and saying, OK, I’m going to give you a lesson now, OK? This is how it is. I think you should empower all women to want to know. It should almost be a, you know, as cool as knowing, you know, a different language or as cool as it should be, like. Yeah, I know. Or, you know, what the hell is going on. 

And I really think that’s how we change the narrative. Change the stigma around a lot of female health issues. . But I think just having that knowledge is, they haven’t read a lot of people be a bit too old for Girlhood now it’s kind aimed at more of the pre-teen market, but a book I’d really recommend it. I’m sure you cover this many times is Period Power by Maisie Hill and it is like my go to I had like a whole list, of a whole bookshelf of go to books for females like always like to reference. 

Like Becoming by Michelle Obama, Period Power by Maisie Hill and that one is really good because it’s again, it really does put you back into your shoes when you’re younger and your whole life going. That’s why I never fall. It really does help you to then get that hunger to know more about this. 

I’m not going to accept anything less than this, this and this. You know, empowering yourself, young girls to want to learn about their female health is probably the first step or the most important step, I think, in really making progress in this area and really starting to. Just build a more confident, more happier generation of women. Get a book, any book and start reading and start start learning. I would say, I guess if they’re anybody listening to this podcast, they’re already on that journey. 

Le’Nise: There’s a lot of women listening that will, or mothers. And she’ll have sisters and nieces and all of that. So everything you’re saying about education and empowerment, they’ll be able to pass that on to them, their generation. Thank you so much. Oh, OK. 

Maria: Sorry. Before just before we did, I just remembered this and actually so we had a load of teachers downloading our resources this summer and I reached out to one of them and I said, hey, you’ve got a book. You downloaded the digital version and you download this free planner. I’m not sure at this school. I’d love to have feedback. We’re trying to make some more resources for you guys. And she came out with a really useful information. I did not I wasn’t aware of. She said, actually, yeah, we were looking to put this in the curriculum next term because in PSHE it’s only PSHE has only just started to be mandatory in all schools as of this term, which I wasn’t aware of. I thought everybody had to do PSHE. And she said, and even then, the female health topics, you can choose what you teach. So which I didn’t know that either I thought there was like a curriculum, a set curriculum that you had to teach and that you had to teach PSHE. So it even more so I was just like, whoa. So a lot of parents, I think, assume this stuff is covered off in class. And it’s really important when you’re talking to teachers, when you’re looking at schools for your kids. Ask them if, you know, if you want to, ask them, is this covered off? Because if it isn’t, then that’s on you to really go out there and make sure they have it. And if it is. Have a look at what they’re teaching. Because that really that I mean, it’s very hard to undo. Have a look at the resources.

There was a mom’s group on WhatsApp that someone shared our book there and all 50 of the moms bought the book. And they will put the book because they were like, I’m not taking this into my own hands. I’m not leaving this. They do not teach us in our schools. So they got it. And they all just boom done. And it was so empowering and so cool for me to see these these mothers just just taking it into their own hands and being like, we are not leaving this up to anybody else to educate our daughters. It’s so important. So it’s, I think if you come across that really it’s something that needs to be addressed, that this absolutely should be taught, there’s no reason why this shouldn’t be taught in biology. There’s no reason why this shouldn’t be taught in PSHE, and there should be a really good framework for what’s put into schools on this. That’s just the other thing that I learnt that I think I learnt about a month ago. I thought I knew everything. And then I was like, what? And that’s just something. For all the moms out there. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, I didn’t either, but it was mandatory as well. So that was very eye-opening. And I think that I don’t think that parents should be leaving this to the schools. And that I mean, that’s a whole other topic about the taboos around this. But having a conversation early and often. So your children, even your your sons as well, because they need to know know about this. I talk to my son, about this because they need to be comfortable and they need. It’s about helps them connect with their own their own bodies and minds. 

Maria: My husband, he’s been a he’s been going through that. But I mean, he’s been surrounded by period stuff now. 

Actually, Shawna’s dad had an amazing relationship with her around when she started her first period. And he was actually the one that was showing her the products. And as well as my sister, he was there, too. And I think that also kind of made a big difference for her. But we’ve had a lot of dads buy the book as well, because they’re like, this is great I have no idea how to just start the conversation. This is just a great way to just give it to them and say, hey, I thought you might like this. And by the way, I’m here if you want to talk about this kind of thing. And so we’ve had such a great response for dads as well, because it’s just so nice and easy. And, you know, just lovely way to start that relationship off of your daughter who’s all of a sudden kind of become, you know, into their teens. And, you know, who don’t want to talk to you very much. 

Yeah. It’s kind of a good tool to start the conversation. 

Le’Nise: Brilliant. Well, I definitely will be recommending it to all my friends. Thank you so much for coming on the show. It’s been a real pleasure to hear your story and hear more about the journal. I’ll put all links in the show notes so listeners can find out more about where to get their hands on the journal. Thank you. Thanks again. 

Maria: Thank you very much for having me. It’s been great. 

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