On today’s episode of Period Story, I’m so pleased to share my conversation with Rachel Burgess, the owner of the Rachel Burgess Bridal Boutique, which she opened 10 years ago to celebrate handmade Welsh bridal wear and accessories.
Rachel is truly inspiring and I’m so grateful that she opened up and shared her story. After a routine scan to follow up from a hip operation when she was 22, the results found that there was a cyst making a home on Rachel’s right ovary, which was surgically removed. In 2018, after another routine check up on the remaining left ovary it was clear that another cyst was forming so that too was removed, leaving Rachel with 30% of a working ovary. Rachel just had her first period in five years and we talk about this and her view of womanhood, post-surgery. And of course, Rachel shared the story of her first period.
Thank you, Rachel!
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Le’Nise So I start each podcast with with one question, which is, tell me the story of your very first period.
Rachel I can remember, it’s oh, my goodness, so clearly in my mind, I remember going to the bathroom first thing and I was about 14 years old and I was wearing bright pink knickers and I was like, Whoa, what is it? What are what is going on here, team? And I remember having a little bit of a moment and thinking, What is this? Is this what people have been talking about? A period? I think this is happening. So I remember running out of the bathroom, running along the hallway, and I’m kind of like calling my mother out of her room being like, I think something’s happening. And she was like, Oh, you know, those things are left in your bed a couple of months ago. You’ll need those now. And I was like, OK, and this is it.
And literally that was my introduction to the world of having a period of, OK, I’ll go find those weird pad things that you left on my bed and didn’t say much about other than you’ll need them at some point. And so I I remember thinking, OK, so how do these work? You know, like reading the back of it, reading the back of the label and kind of going, what are these little like wing flap things that kind of go, Well, how does that work? So I remember thinking, I’m being really paranoid when I when I. When I kind of put everything back on of like, can people see this through my school uniform, I was really conscious of it. And can people see that I’m wearing a sanitary towel and myself and my girlfriends, we didn’t really. We didn’t talk about it, really. But I kind of I remember feeling slightly self-conscious to begin with. And then as that kind of week or couple of days went on, I kind of felt a bit like I’m a woman now, like, I am no longer a girl, I am a woman, and I can remember that kind of feeling then. I don’t know it felt like a really. It felt like a an awakening in that in that sense that I’ve definitely come into a new chapter of my life.
Le’Nise Say more about this feeling of being a woman or becoming a woman and awakening what made you feel like that?
Rachel So I guess I’ve always been. I’m the youngest of all of my siblings. I was the youngest in like kind of a school year, so I’ve always felt a little bit like the little one, you know? And I kind of just had this feeling of, Oh, I belong here now. Like, I’m I can do my GCSEs now because I’m a woman. You know, it was those kind of moments and. Even though my period is from that day was never regular, it will. I was very lucky that it was never painful, but it was heavy and she made herself known when she did make an appearance. I was like, OK, we’re in this, and we were in this about 10 days. It was never a short thing and where I grew up. So my parents are farmers in mid-Wales. And so there was a little store, like a little corner shop. I will say it wasn’t on the corner, it was in the middle of just the little houses, but I had to run across two fields to get to.
And I remember thinking one day, Oh my goodness, my period started because it was never like I said it was never. Regular, you never had the same time every month if it did happen every month. And I remember thinking, OK, at the back of my wardrobe, I’ve got these things, so I’ll put them in my pants and I’ll be fine. And then I remember it started. And I was like, Oh my God, I don’t have any of these left. So the next thing I know my mother is, like I said to her, I don’t have anything and I’ve got to go to school. She’s like, I’ll be back. And she runs across these two fields to the local shop. And they had them right high up like above on the top shelf of anything and so much so that the guy had to get his ladder out to go and get the pack with sanitary towels down. And then she she kind of ran back and even that she was so brilliant with that type of thing, she never really spoke about it. She’s like, There you are. Like, That’s that’s what you need. And the sanitary towels, like the ones in the corner shop. I remember they were awful, like I was so thick and was was so uncomfortable. I’m just I was so paranoid all day that they were just going to slip out or anything like that. And so always then made a point of kind of going whenever I’m in town on my own, I will go and get the good, Always sanitary towels. And that was what I will then use. But yes, I did get a little bit caught up with that type of thing every now and again.
Le’Nise Talk a little bit about how you learnt more about your period and what was happening with your body because you say you grew up in rural Wales. And your mum gave you a pack of pads but didn’t really talk to you about what was going on. So how did you educate yourself about what was going on with your body?
Rachel So I. Oh, do you know what I think I just learnt as I went along? And because like I said, we didn’t talk about it, even though us girlfriends were really close. We didn’t chat about. What oh, I’ve got my period this month. You might hear it in the in PE changing rooms. Somebody might go, Oh, I’m in so much pain. I can’t do this this this week, and I’m like, Oh, why? And then I was thinking, should my be painful or? And then you hear people I really need to have chocolate like now because of my period, and I’m like, Oh, OK. Is that something then that I will just have like, like when I’m on my period to do that, I will have chocolate. You know, it’s just I don’t know why we didn’t talk about it.
I think it’s a generational thing from my for my parents, they didn’t really charge, and so therefore like they like, well, we don’t know. Whereas now I’m a woman in my mid-thirties, I’m like, I love talking about this stuff because it’s so empowering because knowledge is power, right? And I really could have done with more of that, I think, at that age. So I I wasn’t academic in school. I was definitely there for the social side of things. So I was in the bottom set for science. So the moment you mentioned periods, oh my God, like it was hysteria in the classroom, nobody you like and the teachers, they were trying to keep us focussed. They were trying. But oh my god, if you mentioned ovaries, uterus, womb, anything, I mean, the guys were just in floods of hysteria on the floor because they didn’t know how to cope with the situation. So then I’m like trying to be cool and trying to be cool, but then secretly going, I really want to learn about all this. Like, what? What does this mean? But then we were really taught about the biology side of it rather than the emotional side of it. And that is definitely something in the last couple of years, I’ve kind of really delved into and I’m noticing how my body is feeling, but that’s because I’ve made a huge amount of changes within my life personally to really focus on that and become in tune with what my what my body is telling me.
Le’Nise So say a little bit more about what you did to to educate yourself about what was happening and also about the changes that you’ve made to be more in tune with yourself and what your body is telling you.
Rachel So. So basically at the age of I think it was 16, I went on the combined pill and I kind of. Again, that was a moment of like, oh, this is another level of of me owning my body and taking that kind of empowerment side of things. And I think the pill gave me the opportunity to have a regular period or a bleed in that sense. And I loved being able to have the control of I did lots of horse riding and gymnastics and stuff like that and kind of being like, I don’t want to be on my period now. So I was petrified of like in PE for either GCSE PE and we were I think about six of us females on those were 14 males and we had to wear leotards and the guys didn’t. And so I was absolutely then thinking, Oh my God, is this the day that I’m going to come on my period? Is this the day I’m going to come on my period? Then I really appreciated actually having the pill because it meant I could take some control going OK, even though I know I want a period, I don’t want it now. And I stayed on that for a very, very long time until my early 30s.
So I that was my education in a way of kind of think, OK, I’ll take control. I have this pack. I followed Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and then I have a week off so that I can have a bleed and then I’ll start again. But I went for a routine scan. I had a hip operation. So they’re just doing a little routine scan on that. And it brought up that there were actually some dermoid cysts making a little home on my right ovary. And I was like, Right, then what does that mean? And it meant having my ovary surgically removed. So I think has about twenty five, maybe at that time when that got removed. And that was quite a big kind of conversation. They they said they would like to have a chat to myself, my partner at the same time that if we were thinking about having a family, then these are things that we need to consider.
All of a sudden that you’re sitting down and like having a glass of wine thinking, Well, we need to talk about, are we going to do that? I don’t. I don’t. I don’t want that. But then when somebody saying that decision might be taken away? Well, hang on a minute. I want to be in control of that. But luckily, we both very much on the same page with that. But that isn’t in our life plan that we’ve that we’ve got mapped out, I say, mapped out. We’ll see, you know, had to go with the flow with all of that. And yeah, so I had the operation, I had the ovary removed. And then after that I was like, Why am I putting this pill in my body? Like, I need to give my left over a chance here to kind of stop seeing if she can create this period for me naturally? So I then. Came off the pill and. I looked at how I was living my life, and it was very, very unhealthy. I ate convenience food. I was a theatre stage manager for a very long time, so I was away on tour a lot, which meant you would have your evening meal after you do your your evening show. So you’d go out for a curry about 11 o’clock at night and then you have quite a few drinks and then you’d stay in bed until midday the next day. Then you’ll get to the theatre and you’ll do a matinee show. So it was very much like. And then you would eat a bag of Haribo throughout the show to keep you going because you need the energy levels. And then there’s always snacks there. A lot of drink was involved, and I thought some things here need to change.
So at the age of 30. Yeah. 30. I became completely plant based and a completely plant based diet. I haven’t drank now for two years, and that has completely from that, from taking all of those almost allergens away from my body. I’ve become more in tune than ever, and my body speaks to me, what it needs. And I listen to it because it’s not constantly in a fight or flight kind of situation. I find I’m so yeah, and I started moving. I never moved before. I’ve got myself a pair of trainers and I just every day just just get out because I have a body that can move. So and I just want to. I want to see what it can do. I want to listen to it, but I want to fuel it with that. With fuel, it would be with the Like, I want to give it that opportunity to thrive.
Le’Nise Yeah, yeah. So you’ve been on quite a journey and quite transformative one. What did you use to educate yourself about what was going on? So, you know, having an ovary removed is quite a it’s quite a big deal, and it sounds like you did get some aftercare from from the NHS or wherever you have done. Yeah, but then what happened after that? Where did you find out more about what was going on and how did you educate yourself?
Rachel So podcasts have been really, really useful. I also did quite a bit of reading up because a lot of people were kind of, I actually kept it very private. To be honest, I didn’t talk to a lot of people about it because I thought, basically, I named them both. So I named them Olwen and Olive, because it was much easier to talk to my father about the fact I have ovaries. And if I was like, I have an Olwen and I have an Olive and olive is completely going and we’re going to keep Olwen and he’s like, right, cool. That’s all I need to know tidy. Great. Thank you. So I didn’t really speak to many people about it. I told my girlfriends after the operation, just, you know, I’ve been in. I’ve had this removed and that was my own way of controlling things. And that was my own way of I didn’t want people to worry because as soon as you start to say to people, I have some cysts in my ovaries, you can see their reaction was more than I was becoming. Try to protect them. I’m it’s OK. This is all right. This is in control. We’re going to be alright with this and I just didn’t want any of that. So I kind of just wanted to park that go in and have the surgery be in recovery and heal as fast as I can and then explain. So I’ve just been through this situation.
What I after afterwards, though it was it was pretty tough like I remember, so I had. But they were hoping to go in through my belly button. Unfortunately, the cyst was 11 centimetres, so they actually ended up going in. I have a C-section scar at the top of my bikini line. And so they went in that way and I ended up with about twenty one staples across my bikini line after afters. And that was quite that was that was painful. Would like even just trying to sit up and sneeze or anything like that. And anybody that has given birth I applaud you that has had a C-section because I do not know how you hold a baby when you have that because I couldn’t even lift up a cup of tea like you want. And yeah, so I the aftercare of that was great, but I had to go to the doctors to have my these staples removed. And unfortunately, I think whoever was removing them. Hadn’t looked at my notes correctly because part of the procedure meant basically inflating my stomach so they could do what they need to to do. And so I was incredibly bloated and I was wearing very loose fitting clothes. And she saw that I had this C-section scar and said, Congratulations. What did you have? And I was like, Oh no, babe, you want to read your notes? Because I didn’t. I’ve actually had an ovary removed and to me, that that’s OK because I’m not planning a family of my own. But to somebody who is 50 percent of that chance has been taken away from them, that’s an incredibly emotional process for them to have to deal with.
So I was like, Oh no, you want to read your notes on that because that isn’t actually what’s happened. But healing wise, it took me quite a bit of time physically after that. But I also, like I said, my diet wasn’t in the best place then, and I definitely think I was fueling it with the wrong things. So much so that two years ago, when I went back for another little, which kind of just making sure Olwen’s OK. They noticed that dermoids were starting to grow on her now, basically. And I was like, Oh no, here we go again. So I went in and did what was on one of the boutique’s birthdays, actually. So I was like, OK, what a way to celebrate the boutique turning 8 years old, me going back into surgery. But I went in and they they were hoping to say half of it. We managed to save 30 percent. So I now have 30 percent of Olwen left, but I have to say my recovery from that. I was out on the same day and I was back running 10 days later and I had the same procedure. They went along the same scarline again. But I have to say, like, I can’t emphasise enough the person who I was when I had that first operation and the way I ate and the way I treated my body to the person who I am now, I can only put that down to the lifestyle that I lead now, being so quick in comparison to before I was in hospital for 10 days. I was out in the same day this time, but that was awesome. My partner was brilliant. The hospital food wasn’t, wasn’t they? They had a little bit of a freak out moment when I said I’m plant based and they didn’t have anything that they could kind of get me. But that was OK. My other half came in and he just brought in all this fruit and all this veg and just I just sat there and I just to feel that I can literally feel my body just saying, Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. This is nutrients that can help heal me here. We don’t just heal the internal operations side that’s been going on, but also heal me with hormones, you know, just help help that, really.
Le’Nise So you’ve been on quite quite a journey with regards to your reproductive health. Did you have you talked about healing, physical healing and emotional healing? Was there ever a moment where you felt like you needed to mourn what what could have been or what? You know, even though you have said that having children wasn’t in your plan? Did you ever feel like you just needed to have a moment of mourning?
Rachel Most definitely. Yes, especially after the first operation for a good few months, I would say actually, that I was I felt I felt quite angry. But why is this decision been taken away from me, even though I knew I didn’t want that? I wanted to have control of that decision. And of course, then everywhere you look, it just felt like everybody had children or everybody was having children around me. And it was at a time where, you know, I remember saying, I don’t think I’m going to go down that route of having my own children. People would say, Oh, you’ll change your mind, you’ll change your mind. You know, it was definitely in that category. And I was like, Well, even if it did change my mind, I’m actually not sure what the chances are here anyway. You know, so, but I definitely went through that mourning phase and I was a bit like my womanhood. Like I said, these organs make me a woman I love, you know, identifying and being a woman, and I love my body and what it can do.
But having, yeah, that taken away from me definitely felt like, does it make me less of a woman? Am I less of a woman in that sense? So I had to work through that, and I even know that there were times like. With when people talk about their cycles. Oh, I get this because I can’t identify with that because I don’t have that. And since my last operation, so that was not possible in twenty two now. Yes. So it’s about four years ago, about two years ago. Sorry. And. There’s been a I’ve been not I didn’t go back on the pill after my operation so that I could let see what Olwen the last 30% of her can do like do we have a period naturally here. And no, not at all. So apart from, well, I get so excited about this because I just had my first ever period in four years ago this week, so I’m celebrating. So those really exciting. I was like, Oh my God, what do I do again? I need to remember. But sorry, I completely digress. So if I go back and just explain the lead up to the last operation, I came off the pill so that they were no synthetic hormones in me as such. And then I never had one afterwards. So we’ve been working that way to kind of work out why I wasn’t then having a period. And I found it really. So I found like I maybe couldn’t get involved in some conversations that were happening online or within friendship circles about, Oh, I’m at this stage of my period because I couldn’t identify with that because I don’t know, because I wasn’t having one and I was like, Oh, but I want to know what my spring, summer, winter stages are. I want to be able to to understand that. But I could feel emotionally when I was getting tired, when I was getting exhausted and I thought, Well, maybe that’s something to do with my cycle, but I’m just not having to bleed until last week.
Le’Nise That’s so interesting that you you really wanted to participate in those conversations and also what you mentioned earlier about what you felt as though you may have been less of a woman and this. I just find it so fascinating this strong identification that many of us feel and experience when we have a period, the sense of womanhood. And then when it gets taken away and you know, we most typically that will happen when we are going through menopause, that how that can shake the foundations of how we identify ourselves. Because you hear people say, well, just because you have a you’re having a period doesn’t make you a woman. You know, people will say that, but that’s not how many of us feel, you know? And you’ve articulated your feelings around that so brilliantly. So talk a little bit now about how, if, if this has changed the way you feel about yourself with regards to your womanhood or how you reconciled these changes in terms of how you how you feel identity wise?
Rachel Sure. So I I’ve come to terms with, Oh, I love my body now more than I ever have done. So I’ve come to terms with, yes, I don’t have these organs as such. These reproductive systems. But what I do have? Oh my God, she’s amazing. You know what? She allows me to do and I love, I love. The way the you know, I can just turn I can do a Pilates class and I might might not be able to do what a lot of the people are doing it for my own physical, like I need to stretch out more. My hamstrings are really, really tight, but I have the privilege to turn up on a yoga mat, a pilates mat and move my body. And so I’ve started loving her, so I’ve changed my outlook around from what she can’t give me in that sense to what she bloody well can give me. And that’s just that is so it feels so peaceful and so empowering a lot along the same lines, like keeping just this morning going for a run. It’s never it’s never easy going for a run. But afterwards I’m like, Oh my God, my body just did that. You know, this is incredible. And I’m surrounded by phenomenal women in the boutique, you know, and I just think it’s so. Every every person is different, every person holds themselves differently, but we if we start celebrating who we are as women then and stop stop thinking about the things that we would change or feel sad about that or I wish I could do that or know why. Look at what we can do. That’s what we’ve got to change. That’s the way that help my mind set. Instead of what we can’t do or what my body can’t do. Let me show you what I bloody well can do, though. You know,
Le’Nise I love that so, so much is rather so rather than focus on what you don’t have. Focus on what you have, focus on what you can do. I I love that. That is so empowering. I just want to transition a little bit and talk a little bit more about your business and your transition from theatre manager to now bridal boutique owner. Talk about that.
Rachel So I always knew I wanted to have my own boutique, but I thought it might be something that I would do in my kind of forties. Not when I was twenty four when this happened and I was like, OK. But you just got to go with it. Otherwise you will never know the, myself, my partner. We moved here to Penarth, which is a lovely seaside town in South Wales, about ten minutes outside of Cardiff. And I’m. We went around to our next door neighbours one evening and had this is when I was drinking quite a bit and had a couple of glasses of wine a bit too much. And I said, You know what? There is a shop in Penarth I walk past every day and if it ever comes up for rent, I’m going for it. I’m going to open my own bridal boutique that champions handmade in Wales. And I’m going to do it anyway. I got back home and my other half was like, Wow, Rach? You’ve never said that to anyone before. And I was like, Oh God, did I say to you? Much like, Oh, well, nothing will ever come of it. It was a gift wrapping service beforehand, and the people of Penarth love to have their gifts wrapped beautifully. Well, I ain’t going to go anywhere. I then went back out on tour with Hairspray, and my next door neighbour sent me a text and said This is about two weeks later, sent me a text and just said, Oh, Rach I hope all’s going well. Just to let you know. I’ve walked past that shop in Penarth and there’s a sign on the door that says it’s up for rent. So knocked on the door. And here’s the landlady’s number. And she would say she’d like to meet you when you’re back in a couple of weeks time, right?
Oh, OK. This is not what I was expecting because I had other contracts lined up beforehand to take on afterwards after her speech finished and I was like, Right, OK, well, we’re just going to go with the flow here team and just see what happens. And I remember it was the 12th of May 2012. It was London Olympics year, awesome. And I was walking up and I was on the phone to my father and I was like, What do I do? And he’s like, Just trust your instincts. See how you feel. There’s no drama. Like, just go, just just meet your landlord. The landlady. Then see what happens. I walked in. It was at two o’clock and yeah, I left at 2:30 with the keys.
And then I launched in October of that year and I didn’t have any designs. I had never had any retail experience, business degrees, nothing like that. But I just knew that if I hadn’t given, if I don’t give this a go, then I’ll never know. And I think that was probably a little bit how I feel about my body. I’m like, Well, can I go and run an ultra? I don’t know. Let’s give it a go. Or can I become plant based when I grew up on a farm? I don’t know. Let’s give it a go. You know, it’s that kind of thing. So I that evening, I went back to the show and I just said to a friend of mine, JJ, who’s on the wardrobe department, and I was like, I do. I’ve just got this keys for a place to open up a bridal boutique that champions have made. And I really want to champion handmade in Wales because I don’t because I’ve been a bridesmaid 10 times and I’ve been to my fair share of bridal stores. And I kind of just found that when my girlfriends didn’t know what they wanted, they got pigeonholed into categories of kind of saying This is what a bride should be. Yet on a day to day basis, we dress with to represent who we are. What this is, who I am, or I have tattoos or have a piercings or dye. My hair was in colour because this is me. Whereas then when it came to the world of bridal, it was almost like, We’ve got to conform your bride. Therefore, you must wear this on and you must pay thousands, thousands of pounds for an item of clothing that has been mass-produced abroad. They have no idea where that’s come from and where, and I’m a big believer in voting with your money. And that’s the one thing that we kind of have power on and.
Yes, so she said, Oh, you need to meet my friend who’s a designer. And I emailed that friend. I look to her website is like, Oh my gosh, that’s amazing. But I sent her an email and I had like a bounce back saying, I’m away travelling. And I was like, Oh, I bet she’s just gone travelling. Like, I’m going to, you know, she’s not coming back for a year anyway, Helen emailed back, and she’s like, I’ve just got back from my travels, so we have a meeting and the rest is history. So when I first launched, I had two designers, I had Helen, and I had Claire Hill, who is an accessory designer. Now we have 10. We have ten designers now and the boutique is going to be 10 years old itself in October of this year. And oh my god, it’s the best thing in the world. I absolutely love it. I love how I get to meet every day, and it’s just such it’s just incredible to see how many people want to just do bridal their own way. Champion handmade vote with their money, but also find an outfit that absolutely empowers them like, damn right, this is me. I cannot wait for the world to see me. I cannot wait to exchange my boat. I was wearing this. No. Oh, it’s a joy.
Le’Nise Wow, you have such an amazing story. And you? You tell it the way you tell it, it just you make it seem like, you know it, it just feels like everything was in the right place for you.
Rachel I hear you. I know it’s bonkers, right? Like I. I. You’ve got to create the life you want to live. That’s all I can say. And I think there are a lot of people who are unhappy with things will then take control and change it. I know that it’s really easy for me to say that, but I’ve been I’ve been to those hard times. I’ve been through those challenges. I’ve been through those surgeries. I’ve I, I appreciate it. It’s easier to say than do. But my God, there’s no point in looking back thinking, what if? What if I could do that? What if I did do that? What if I did? This job is making me so unhappy, then leave it something better is out there. Make it happen.
Le’Nise What would you just say to someone who’s listening to this? And it was like, Yeah, I hear you. You know, something better is out there. You’ve got to create the life that you want to live. But they’re really scared. You know, they’re really, really scared of taking that next step. What would you say to them?
Rachel I think good things happen when you’re scared. I think being safe is dangerous in that sense and I think. I can only speak from my own experience, but if you never know, you will always think, what if I think that is the danger zone?
Le’Nise Wow, wow. Amazing, like just the bravery in your story and the bravery of what you’ve done, what you’ve done on so many different levels is quite is quite inspiring. So I know that listeners will they’ll hear your story and they will feel really inspired and they might make changes in their own life, however big or small they might be. If listeners want to get in touch with you, find out more about your business, maybe find out if they’re a bride or an upcoming bride. Find out how they can use your services. How can they get in touch with you?
Rachel So, firstly, thank you so much for your lovely words. That’s really, really thoughtful. I do not see myself like that at all. Just, you know, I just see myself as a very I have a little simple every day on Instagram. I post like a little what I do each day, and it always starts with movement. And then the breakfasts, like they’re the best meals of the day, right? Like amazing. And I will never miss a breakfast and that is a morning ritual and a routine for me. And then I’ll be, you know, come to the boutique and then I’m, you know, I’m in bed by nine o’clock in the evening, team, like, you know, I’m I’m definitely not rock and roll or anything like that. I just enjoy that pace of life, really, shall I say. But sorry, if people want to get in touch. Oh yeah, always email. That’s lovely. So all the information is on the website, which is Rachel Burgess bridal boutique dot com. I’m on Instagram @rachelburgessbridalboutique so you can find me on there as well.
Le’Nise Great. Thank you so much for coming on here and sharing your story. I know that the episodes where where you have someone sharing a really personal story of the changes in their menstrual health or are always the one that do really well and I get really great feedback on them. So yeah, thank you so much.
Rachel Thanks for creating a space that I’ve never really spoken about this. But when I came across your podcast, it felt like a space where I can. I can talk about this and I just want people to know that, you know, women of the age of, you know, between for my first operations to now, we do go through this, but we get we, you know, it’s OK. It doesn’t make it any less of a woman now team.
Le’Nise Exactly. Thank you so much.
Rachel Thank you.