Period Story Podcast, Episode 75, Shakira Akabusi: Managing A Mental Health Issue Takes A Lot of Strength

My guest on today’s episode of Period Story is Shakira Akabusi, the author of The StrongLikeMum Method, women’s health expert and pre and postnatal exercise specialist. 

In this episode, Shakira shares: 

  • How a few careless words from a doctor led to post-natal anxiety and OCD
  • What her therapist told her that changed her perspective on the anxiety 
  • How she tailors the way she exercises depending on where she is in her menstrual cycle 
  • How she’s able to do everything she does as well as be a mum of 4 children  
  • And of course, the story of her first period

Shakira says it takes an incredible amount of strength to manage depression, anxiety or any kind of mental health issue on a daily basis and this recognition can help build resilience. 

Thank you, Shakira!

Get in touch with Shakira:



Book – The Strong Like Mum Method





Le’Nise: Hi, Shakira. Thank you so much for coming on the show. Let’s get into the question that I ask all of my guests, which is talk about the story of your very first period. 

Shakira: Yes, I remember this so well because I was actually really, I think traumatised is probably too much of a word. I was really scared about it and I knew about it. You know, I’d heard about it in school. I had some friends who had my period. My family were generally quite open, but I just remember really feeling scared about it. 

And we were actually on holiday in California, so we used to live six months of the year there and it was in the summer time. So we were there and everybody was meant to be going. Our family and family friends are meant to be going to a shopping day out or something, in LA and I had this such bad tummy cramps, and I remember just thinking, Oh God, I had such bad stomach stomach-ache I don’t know what it is. And I went to the toilet and I saw that there was blood that I thought, Oh, it’s not in my period. I didn’t want to tell anyone, I just wanted to hide it. So I just went back to bed and the whole day I just kept saying really bad stomach, upset stomach. I told my mum and she’s like, Oh gosh, I don’t know what it is. Lie down, you know? 

And I stayed in bed and everybody else went to the the went shopping. My mum stayed with me and it got to like the end of the day and she said, I’m going to have to take you to the doctor, the hospital because we, we were English but we were in America. It’s not that easy with the health care system. So she was like I’m going to have to figure something out and take you to a doctor. I don’t know what’s wrong with your stomach. And then I just whispered to her like, maybe it’s because I’m on my period. And she was like, Well, obviously this is what’s going on. Okay. So now we know. And then she was like, Why? You know, why didn’t you tell me that? I just didn’t want to talk about it, Right? I actually cannot. I’ve been thinking since we set this date in the diary of trying to pin down why I felt that way, and I really don’t know why that was. 

Le’Nise: That’s really interesting that, you know, once your mum said, oh, well, obviously, you know, this is why, you know, you have you’ve got this stomach ache because your you’ve got your period. But it’s really interesting that your first instinct was to hide it. Like, you know, I don’t want to tell anyone. And then what about your kind of subsequent experiences? So that was your very first period. Then going into the rest of your kind of early teens and teens. 

Shakira: You know, I was I have a memory of my second period and my mum, I think still to this day when I tell this story, my mum gets really sad because, you know, I know. And now that I’m a mum, I understand because, you know, you try to do so much good. And then the one thing that you don’t quite do right, and it sticks in the memory and she feels bad. But I remember the second time we were back home and my family were having a dinner party and I, I’d come on my period and again I didn’t want to tell anyone and I found my mum and I was just like, okay. And she gave me like this period pad and I put period pad in and I remember thinking, Oh, am I going to have to wear this every day of my life because it is so uncomfortable? I don’t like it. And I was like, Please don’t tell anyone because she had friends in it. She was like, okay. And she went downstairs and she must have said, Shakira just started her period, you know? 

And then I came downstairs into the kitchen and everyone froze. And then they laughed because they must have been like, you know, for them, I understand their side of it. But for me, I knew in that instance she told it and I just felt ashamed and embarrassed. And and again, that was awful, you know? 

And then through some of those few years, they lost those years at school because that was last year, primary school when I came on my period. Then, like, you know, I remember again, like just wanting to hide it at school, you know, from the boys in school. Like, don’t let them know I’m on my period. And then actually, as I got through my teenage years, I became completely opposite. I went to school and that was really free thinking. It was a boarding school and people on their periods all the time and all of a sudden it just just wasn’t a problem. And now I work in the female health field and again, I’m really relaxed and really open about it as we’re having this conversation today. So I’ve completely gone the other way now. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. And when when you first got your period, you knew it was your period. Had you had any education about menstrual health, hormone health in school? 

Shakira: Yes, we had. We had had. But I actually don’t remember exactly how they delivered the lesson. But I have an older sister, so I knew what the period was. And I remember we had had sex ed in school or something. So they told us, you know, you have prepared and then you’re ready to have a baby or something. And so I knew like the basics, but I didn’t really understand what it really meant. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. And going into that boarding school where you became like much more free and open about your period, what was your experience of your period itself like? Was it easy? Was it painful? 

Shakira: I always had quite intense cramps around my menstrual cycle and actually now as an adult, I’ve always had that. But now as an adult it is so much worse. And actually I think since I had my twins via caesarean, which is almost three years ago, since then, my period pains have been so much more intense. And I remember when I first heard you speak and you were like, Who thinks that pain is a natural part of the period? My head was straight up and I was like, definitely always. I just I’ve never thought about it not being a painful experience. So that’s that is something I’ve always really struggled with. 

Le’Nise: And does it, does the pain affect the way you kind of live your day to day life?

Shakira: Yeah, definitely, definitely. And I’m a really physically active person, but I’m also really aware of how my body feels. And I know when different times in my cycle when I will have really low energy or I just won’t move as quickly or, you know, I train in jujitsu three days a week and I know when I’m on my when I’m on my period and it gets to that time, I just have low energy. I can tell a few days before I’m not, I just feel tired and I just can’t and actually to the point where my brain doesn’t fire as quickly, I, I’m trying to get stuff done. And I just and I feel similar to at times how I felt during pregnancy. You know, just Yes, I definitely notice it. 

Le’Nise: Because you’re quite you’re quite sporty and quite active, you know, given, you know, that the nature of the work that you do. Yeah. Do you find that you adjust the way that you move your body depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle?

Shakira: Yes, absolutely. Yeah. And I mean, what I think we have to be clear on is that women have been achieving sporting goals throughout their menstrual cycle, you know, throughout time. So I’m not trying to suggest there’s certain times in your cycle there’s something you can’t do. But I certainly notice a change and I tailor my exercise in that way. So I’m always I like and I try to stay really in tune with my body and I will do what it is directing me to do. So if it needs some rest, some downtime, then that’s what I will invest in. And yeah, I just try to trust that my body will tell me what it needs, you know? 

Le’Nise: Yeah. And this the kind of other layer of this is that you also have four kids. Yeah. And I just, I mean looking at your Instagram, I just like, I just think you’re amazing because I have, I have one son and like, I he just he’s nine so he’s a bit older and, you know, the needs are a bit different. It’s more like emotional now, but I do like talking about energy and how that changes throughout the menstrual cycle. Then layering on having four children, how you know, how do you do you know everything? How do you get things done? I know it’s such a cliche question, but I genuinely am curious. 

Shakira: Yeah. Do you know what I honestly that people ask me a lot. How do you do everything with four kids? So me number one was by far the hardest at that first experience was a massive shock to the system and I was tired and it wasn’t as I had expected. And you know, it was the unknown. I found it scary. I had really high anxiety. It was that was something that I remember is a very challenging time, very beautiful, amazing experience, but challenging in so many ways. 

And actually having four is just I’d almost say like not it, not that it gets easier, but it’s obviously chaotic. It’s obviously there’s a lot it’s busy, there’s lots of noise. But the levels of stress or anxiety that I would have had around the first and the second I don’t have now. And so it’s a much more I’m having a much more positive experience of parenthood at this time than I was at that that the initial point, you know, and then. Yeah, it’s, you know, they all play with each other and I think they’re used to what I do. You know, we’re much more in the routine of this is how our family’s going to do something, whereas with that first time you’ll figuring out like, Oh, do I do this and still do that? Whereas now I know the times of the day where my children will be okay to for me to, you know, do some work and they’ll play by themselves or when they’re going to need me to intervene and, you know, all that kind of stuff. So you just get used to it. 

But it’s interesting as well. Next I’ve got I have four, as you said, and I’ve got three boys and a girl. And when it comes to like periods, I’m really aware of that. That’s something my daughter’s going to have. But I educate all my children. So I talk to my boys about my period all the time. My eldest is eight and then four, and then the twins are two. And not so long ago the four year old was like, he was like, Why have you got raspberry wee? We that’s what he said to me. I went to the toilet and he’s like, He was like, Oh, I have something called a period and Ari is going to have a period. This what a period is. This is look at this. This is a period pad. This is a tampon. This is and I want that because I remember that being a big thing for me. What are the boys going to think? Well, the boy is going to think. And so really keen to talk to all my children about that. You know. 

Le’Nise: That’s super interesting because, you know, you’re the oldest. He he could have your oldest as a boy, right? Yeah. Okay. He could have classmates that have their period because, you know, I’ve talked to some women who gotten their period at eight and nine, and it’s just so young. But, you know, I think it’s amazing that, you know, you’re having these conversations with them, you know, you know, at all all ages. And I think kids, they appreciate it when you just tell them the facts and are like really kind of straightforward, pragmatic way and just not make it a big deal. 

Shakira: Yeah, and I definitely agree with that. And because even now in my field of work, like I work in women’s health and I’ve been working this field for over a decade and it but it took til I became a professional in this field for me to feel comfortable saying vagina because for so long I remember as a kid there were all different types of names. It was like, Oh, my best friend would call it all sorts of different things, you know? And so I never it, no one ever said the name Vagina. So I was like, Oh, whereas now, like with my children, I will use the real word and I’ll say uterus, vagina or whatever. But, you know, the thing is, I’m just in a really casual way. Like, we don’t need to always say the word vagina every day, but it just is what it is. And like you said, I think kids just respond well to that because then it’s not a big deal, you know? Yeah. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. And so going back to something that you mentioned earlier, you said that when you had your first, you had really bad anxiety and, you know, working in pre and postnatal health, a lot of, a big part of that is of course, physical health, but it’s also it’s mental health. And there can be a bit of a, I think, a fear for women to talk about having mental health issues after they give birth, so in the postpartum, you know, for many reasons, maybe they’re scared that their kid is going to get taken from them. Yeah. Can you talk about what happened with you and how you were able to kind of get through it? 

Shakira: Yeah, definitely. So I had postnatal anxiety. It sort of started in my pregnancy, just that lack of control and I guess a sort of now that I really think about it, it definitely did because I remember, I remember finding out I was pregnant and calling my GP and, and say I’m pregnant, just like I’m pregnant. And her response was, okay, that’s great. Call me back when you’re ten weeks pregnant because there’s a really high chance of miscarriage before then. And that was it. And I got off the phone and I was so anxietal and all of a sudden I was researching everything, you know, what are signs of having a miscarriage? You know, I became obsessed with it. And that was kind of where the anxiety started. 

And then that realisation that I can’t control it, you know, every time. Did I feel a kick, did I not? How long for has it moved? Okay, What if the cords around its neck? What if it’s everything? Everything, Everything, Everything. And again, something that in my subsequent pregnancies became much easier for me to just accept what I cannot control. But then it really, really kicked off after my son was born. And I, I often say, you know, I expected to love my children. I was told, Oh, you’re going to love your children more than anything that I know. And I hoped that is how I would feel. And I did. But I did not expect how protective I would feel of my children nothing in my life, would have prepared me for that moment where I am literally like I would not only would I kill for you, I would die for you. I would die for you. You know, it is such a powerful feeling to feel that for somebody else. 

And that spurred my anxiety because I felt such a huge responsibility. So I developed OCD and it was so extreme that and I say this a lot, but it’s the best example I can give is that I used to work in Brick Lane and I had to walk from Brick Lane to Liverpool Street Station, which is 7 minutes, and it would take me over 3 hours because of the amount of tapping and counting I felt I had to do. Tap this, don’t step over the crack. I looked, I would have appeared to an outsider as if I’d completely lost my mind. I was completely controlled by my OCD. It was taking me over 4 hours to get to bed. 2 hours downstairs. Two and a half hours upstairs. It was, controlled everything. And it was draining. It was exhausting. I never felt depressed, but it weighed heavy on me. 

And I eventually found a therapist who talked to me about the human brain. And he basically explained that the ability to worry is something that has kept humans alive. We can perceive a danger and think, I’m not going to walk down that alley because it doesn’t feel right. So that feeling of worry is a survival instinct. But nowadays we’ve got all these, you know, maybe a smell makes you worry or a thought makes you worry that isn’t actually a threat, but it triggers that instinctive response. And as soon as I sort of saw that, I changed my perspective, I didn’t see my anxiety as a weakness. I saw it as a strength, an instinct that I just wasn’t able to control. That was, you know, and that in that moment I was like okay, I want to try to work on this. 

And what I had to learn and this is kind of you said at the beginning, I’m passionate about exercise or exercise gives me that. I also got from talk therapy and I also got from hypnotherapy is the ability to slow the chaotic thoughts. So still now, if my children are like my, my, my, my, my, my, my, my with so much noise and I feel stressed, if I can go out for a walk or even just sit outside for 5 minutes and feel the sun on my face, it slows the chaotic thoughts and it’s like de-pressurising the valve, you know. And for me, I had to learn to differentiate between what is my instinct and what is anxiety, because the two are so closely linked. And I was, you know, if your child’s sick, they will say to you, Oh, they’re probably fine, but trust your instincts. You’re the mum, you know? And I was like, Well, I’m full of anxiety, so I’m constantly stressed. I’m constantly anxious. So actually, I don’t know. And I had to learn to differentiate the two. And I did that with, as I said, talk therapy, hypnotherapy and then exercise. And I still use that now, so if feel stressed, I feel overwhelmed. I go for walk or I go outside. It allows me to slow the chaotic thoughts and then I can think, okay, so let me see this thought here. Is this anxiety or is this my instinct? And then I process it and then I move on. 

Le’Nise: So that’s quite that’s something that has to be quite an active process for you, active practice. 

Shakira: It was. So I mean, it took me time. It took me years to get better. It took me years, but it was a slow process. Now I’ll still have an anxious thought that will come into my brain, but I can just really quickly notice anxiety and then it’s gone, you know? So it’s still a work is a work in progress, but it’s quicker. Whereas initially it took a lot of effort and time where it had to do. And I remember times where I felt, okay, I need to tap this five times. And I would sit there looking at the place where I felt I needed to tap and I’d think, Okay. Breathe. Think, what is the worry? And I would make myself say that, it could take me 10 minutes before I be like, I’m not going to touch that today. And then I would leave it. But it took time. It sounds ridiculous, but it was a very real part of my life for a long time. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. No, it doesn’t sound ridiculous at all. I think you sharing this is really powerful because a lot of women do experience post-natal mental health issues and they’re often really afraid to talk about it. When after I gave birth, I, I had really bad anxiety as well. And that kind of over protectiveness you mentioned, really kind of that came to the fore front, but also like a lot of impulsive thoughts and like just avoidance behaviour where I would get this really like physical reaction. 

I remember once I was with my son, he was maybe about two months old and it was a rainy night and I was supposed to meet some of my NCT friends in this cafe. We were living in Chiswick at the time, so I had walked, gotten the bus and then walked over to this cafe and I could see them all in the window. But I just had such anxiety about going in. I just stood out like, you know, like, you know, about like 20 metres away. I could see them, but they couldn’t see me and I just couldn’t go in. I was just so anxious and I was so afraid to talk about it because I thought if I go to the doctor and I say, I say, I’m feeling like this, then is my son going to get taken away from me? It was just very, very, very hard. 

Shakira: Yeah. And there’s also, you know, because I hear that often that people are afraid that the child will be taken away. I didn’t necessarily worry about that. I almost had the opposite experience where I went and I asked for help and no one knew how to help me, you know, at the beginning. And that is also a really scary place to be because I’d grown up always thinking the doctors will have the answers or they’ll have some type of tablet I can take them, you know, Whereas I’d be like, I’m struggling with anxiety or I would describe what I was experiencing. And they would be like, Well, they did three be I say about tablets, thinking about other things, but they were like, okay, you can take this anti-depressant. I was like, I’m not I’m not depressed, not depressed, and I don’t want an antidepressant. I want support or help figuring this out. I don’t just want to mask it. I want to really deal with it, you know? 

And yeah, I had to try so many different therapies. I remember one therapist who tried, like the tough love approach. I remember him saying to me, You can’t honestly believe this is real. You can’t honestly think that if you tap that five times, you know, this bad thing isn’t going to happen. And I was just like. I was like, I know what it sounds like, but I absolutely do. I absolutely do. And, you know, it was and that is also a scary place to be, to feel like people don’t understand what you’re trying to say, you know, or as I said, people viewing anxiety or depression as a weakness. Whereas to me now particularly, I look back and I think if you are dealing with depression, anxiety or any kind of mental health issue that you are managing, it takes an incredible amount of strength to manage that on a daily basis. That takes a lot of strength. You know, and and again, that was one of the things that eventually helped me. You know, that’s how I, I began to recognise that I could be resilient enough to get over it because I realised I’ve been resilient enough to live with it so I can, you know, I can get through it. 

Le’Nise: It’s I think it’s really it’s, you telling the story of that doctor who tried the tough love approach. I know, it’s just I find that so disconcerting because you go to these healthcare professionals because you feel like they’re going to help you and for someone to kind of not validate your experience, it just you just think, well, you know, what do you what do you here for? 

Shakira: I have I actually had it very recently. One of my children was really unwell and he’d been unwell for like four or five days and his temperature kept going, come back and back. And in this particular afternoon he was really lethargic, like I couldn’t really wake him up. He had a really high temperature. I’d given him Calpol and nothing was working. 

So I called the doctor had called them like three times that day, and eventually they were like, okay, you can bring him in. So I brought him in and the doctor looked to him and she was like, Oh yeah, you know, he’s he’s not great, but he’s okay, I can’t see anything obviously wrong. And she said, Would you please do not say, Well, look, what I want to know is if he goes downhill over the weekend, this is a Friday. If he goes downhill, how is the weekend? What do I do? And she literally shouted and she was like, This is your anxiety. And I remember thinking, that’s so it could be so. So what’s the word I’m looking for? Dangerous isn’t the word. But yeah, it’s it’s really dangerous because I know I’m I’m self-assured enough to know when I feel like it’s my anxiety and what I feel. But there’s plenty of people who wouldn’t and maybe, maybe even me. I don’t know. But I know that you screaming at me right now telling me this is my anxiety. That’s the type of thing that makes women not want to speak out. Because if you’re constantly going to have it written on your phone that this woman has anxiety, you know, every time she calls, she probably just anxious. It doesn’t help. 

And actually, like it doesn’t mean that all our other feelings are invalid. It doesn’t mean that you know, that it doesn’t mean that you’re not a rational thinker. You can be such a rational thinker. And often it is really rational, very, you know, well, creative, rational, same, but, you know, very clear thinkers who will have something like anxiety. It’s not. And that’s why this this therapist talking to me about that is it being this instinct. And it’s just an instinct that we’re not able to control or that we need to learn to control. That’s when I realised, okay, this is not something wrong, this is something instinctive. I just need to be able to manage it, you know? Yeah. 

Le’Nise: So if someone’s listening to this and they know they need to reach out to a doctor or a health care professional to get support for, you know, it could be any sort of issue. But they’re nervous about taking that first step. Do you have any advice for them? Like what would you say to them to help them navigate that conversation with the doctor and to kind of get over any fears about moving forward? 

Shakira: I. I don’t know if this will answer your question, but what I am thinking about is. Is. I think. I think. The first thing for me when I finally was ready to get help was kind of what I’ve just been saying about. I needed to know. I needed to know that I could do it. I didn’t believe I could do it. I thought this had control of me. I did not think that it would be possible for me to, to get through. It was it was so controlling. 

And I think the first step was I, I had to believe I could do it. And I’ve spoken to so many people over social media who have messaged me about anxiety and like. It always comes and they always seem to come from a place of this. I’m completely lost. This has controlled me. I feel like I’m a slave to it. I can’t see a way out. So the first step would be. Recognising that you have the strength to manage this. And I think, you know, as they approach approaching the conversation with the health care professional, I don’t know, maybe we can approach the conversation in that way. Maybe we can approach the conversation and like I have recognised this in myself, which takes an incredible amount of strength. I have recognised this. I want to be able to address and change this behaviour and release myself from this control. And I would like to speak to someone about this who’s going to be able to help me put those steps in place. You know, so it doesn’t need to come from a place of weakness. Make sure that you are empowered in your own strength, you know yourself and you are going to someone because you you want to take that step to recovery and you just need to find someone you know to help you. 

And and also, I think. Recognising that asking for help again is just not a weakness. I don’t have a problem with that now. I ask everyone for help, like I will call my neighbour and I’ll be like, Hey, the twins today it’s too much like, can we do a playdate? Because I need, I need some time, I need a cup of tea and a friend. I will ask anyone for help that I can because I guess I am confident in the things that I can do. But I also know there is many things that I can’t do. And actually, when you ask when you don’t mind asking for help, it’s a really powerful thing because, you know, they say it takes a village as a parent and it really does. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, it definitely it really does take a village. That moment where you just saying I and I say this with one child, you know, I don’t know how I’m going to keep going and just to be able to know that you can organise a play date and someone else can help is amazing. 

Shakira: Yeah.

Le’Nise: Just to switch gears a little bit, you released a book last year called The Strong Like Mum Method, and one of your passions is physical fitness. Can you talk a little bit about how you decided to focus on pre and postnatal fitness and just talk about why you think it’s important for women to keep fit and healthy during their pregnancies? 

Shakira: Yep. So I’ve always been really active. My dad was an Olympic athlete, my mum was a personal trainer. She worked with athletes on the injury rehabilitation and I was always really active and I loved it. And then I became pregnant and I remember so many people, people who didn’t have children and people who had children, but but probably even more so, people who didn’t have children yet were saying to me, Oh, oh, well, now you’re pregnant. You’re never going to run as fast. You’ll you’ll never have a six pack again. Say goodbye to your six pack, oh, you’ll never want to be in a bikini. Or make sure you enjoy this summer because next summer, you know you’ll never have time to sleep. Everything. All the things I would never do again. 

And I really felt like they were saying, by the way, you can’t be yourself. You do realise that now this is the end of all time and everything as you knew it is over. And so I was like, Well, I just didn’t really. That’s not. My mum was a really great example. She’s always been really fit and active and I was just like, This is this isn’t how I want to do motherhood. So I just started talking about that and that’s, that was kind of the birth of Strong Like Mum, I was already training people and I remember reading the statistic that only 5.5% of fitness industry professionals were qualified pre and postnatal. And I remember thinking like. How when so many women at some point in their life will be either pre or postnatal. And I’m sure and I’m hoping that that statistic has now changed. But when so many people are at some point going to be pre and post-natal, how are we failing women in this way that we’re not able to support them with their physical health? 

So that was when I began to specialise more into that field. And then I obviously learned on my jobs during my own pregnancies and also working with all the women that I’ve worked with over time and I feel as though to me, physical, mental health, they go hand in hand. And I know that for me, the opposite of what everyone told me, motherhood has been the most liberating, empowering experience. I have never felt more confident. I have never felt more driven in my, you know, other goals outside of parenting. I’ve never felt more content with who I am. It’s been it is you know, there are many challenges, but it’s just been this incredible, liberating experience. And I feel like everyone should have that. And sometimes, you know, whether you’ve got physical, sports goals or whatever you call it, this business, friendship, lifestyle, new relationship, whatever. If we know ourselves, that’s how I was able to get over my anxiety. That’s how, you know, you ask me, how do you manage it? I know myself. I know when my body needs rest. I know when my body needs to go for a run. I you know, to me, that’s healthy living. And that was that is kind of what fuels the pages of this book. So there are exercise. There is exercise advice in that because that’s what I specialise in.

 But for me, exercise is just like a metaphor for how I live my life. And I just think. You know, I’ve just got to doing something good for yourself. Feeling confident and happy and, and at the same time tapping into that instinct, the human body was built to move. We’re not built to sit at a desk all day. And the body needs movement, and particularly for pre and post natal, what the female body does through that whole time period of pregnancy and afterwards is just so amazing. And if we all had that knowledge, maybe we’d all feel more empowered and and we wouldn’t have this stupid messaging of like, by the way, after pregnancy, everything’s over. It’s just so completely wrong. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, I think I remember this, like, exactly what you said. People are so willing to share their bad stories, like, you know, listen to my bad birth story or, you know, this is, you know, get your get enough sleep now because it won’t happen. Yes. You know, your sleep will be disrupted. You know, you you’re with a tiny little baby, you know. But, you know, it’s just they just want to tell you everything that will go wrong. But what I think is really, really I think empowering about what you do is you show, as you say, what you show women pre and post-natal, what their bodies are capable of. And it’s much more than they realise. Why do you think women underestimate what they’re capable of physically, especially during pregnancy? 

Shakira: I think in speaking generally now, like we are often bombarded with this messaging of needing to better ourselves. You know, it’s always like you need this tablet to make you look younger. You need this exercise equipment to make you feel stronger. And I think not that there’s anything wrong with feeling you need to improve certain areas. We all have goals in all different areas of our life, so that that’s not necessarily a problem. But I don’t think we’re ever sold this message of. Valuing, valuing and respecting and celebrating where we are now, you know? Yeah. So I think I think I think I think that’s something that that impacts women regularly because we’re constantly getting that messaging. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. You see, what I think really is really interesting, I remember this this, this woman, I think she was a CrossFitter and she was, there was this post on Instagram, it was a few years ago and she was lifting quite heavy. And she must’ve been I think she was like seven months pregnant. And the comments were just like, This is dangerous, You know, you shouldn’t be doing that. And what I think is really important for women to realise is that if they’re already doing some sort of exercise before they get pregnant, they can continue to do it. Yeah. And you know, you don’t just have to put your unless there’s like a medical reason, you don’t need to put your feet up your whole pregnancy. You just go. Sorry, Go ahead. 

Shakira: Pregnancy is such a personal experience, which is partly what makes it so difficult as someone working in this space who wants to share, you know, content around post-natal because you can only be general, you can’t be specific without really knowing someone. And that’s why I kind of think just share the knowledge, because then we can all feel empowered to make the decision for ourselves. As you said, you know, someone might be able to do whatever whatever exercise weight lifting thing she was doing. That might be great. 

Other people maybe it’s that’s worlds away from where they are and not just the people but like the same person on a different day. In my first pregnancy, I was bouncing around like happy as anything. I was teaching barbell classes, squatting, deadlifting, all that sort of stuff. Barbell on my shoulders. La la la great. The final pregnancy, which was twins. I didn’t move a muscle until 24 weeks. I was, well, firstly sick, but also just exhausted. And I remember at 24 weeks and I’m going to go for a jog and I ran for like 10 seconds and I was like, Nope, I never ran again the whole pregnancy. And, you know, and then even within the same pregnancy, different days, some days, I was like, Oh, this is great. I want to go for a jog. And then the next day I was like, I just need to sit for the next weeks. I’m just tired. 

And so you just there is just no one way. There’s no one way, you know. We were talking about weight lifting, right? You look at the female pelvis and just that alone, what it has to go through in pregnancy, the way that it tilts, the way that it moves, the ripple effect that that will have on our feet. You know, I talk a lot about the connection between the feet and the jaw to the pelvic floor. So when you’re in labour, you might have been told to relax your jaw because by relaxing your jaw, you relax the pelvic floor. When I had had just had my twins, I realised I was clenching my jaw the whole time because my fluid almost got into like shock after having a caesarian. So there’s just so many scenarios, which I understand is what makes it overwhelming. But if you, you know, if you get the knowledge, if you read my book, you know, it’s that the when we know the information, then we can apply it to ourselves. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. What about in the postpartum? Because, you know. But you talked about earlier when you having four kids. You have a rhythm now. You know. You know what to do. You know, the time of day where you can do certain things. Say, when you have your first kid, you just you know, it can be challenging because you just don’t know how to do this yet. What are some really practical ways that a mother of like a new newborn or like a young, young baby can stay fit. 

Shakira:Yeah. So the first thing I would say is that in a you took that initial post, that initial period or just any time in early parenthood. 

Le’Nise: I guess is when they get cleared. So like. 

Shakira:  For exercise. Yeah. Yeah. So I think understanding that small, the small successes are still successes. So any small amounts of movement you can do throughout the day are going to be really beneficial to your body, to your mind, and for me, to my parenting. So it can be really small things, I would think. I would say that there are some changes that happen in the body. For example, the the position of the pelvis that rectify themselves around six months postpartum. So for that first six months, I wouldn’t put too much pressure on yourself to have to, you know, get back into doing a HIIT class or whatever, whatever find movements that you enjoy, I would look at core rehab or everybody, whether you’ve had a vaginal delivery or caesarian delivery, that’s really important. And I don’t just mean Kegel exercises, which are really important. I mean looking at the core as a whole. 

So for postnatal women, glute exercise is really important. That’s going to help us realign the pelvis, but it helps to stabilise the whole core. So pelvic floor, transverse abdominus, which is kind of the deepest of the abdominal layers and glute exercises. So something like the bridge is fantastic. They work all of that in one. It’s a wonder exercise. That one’s great, you know. So all of that. And then I would say what I also count as the core is breathing. So before you’ve been cleared for exercise, right in the beginning, working on breathing exercises would be one of the best things you could do with the time when you have it. Because if you if you imagine I would say this as well, if you imagine your core as a fist, if your fist is already tight, then you can’t use it. I can’t pick anything up. I can’t, literally no function doesn’t mean it’s not strong, doesn’t mean it’s not, but it cannot function. You have to release your fist first and then you can use it. And it’s the exact same with our core, learning to breathe. If you don’t breathe right, and you’re not getting a proper deep breath journey ever going to have past partial function, which means when you go on to do your squats, lunges, burpees, whatever you want to do in years down the line or months down the line, you’re not going to have the same efficiency, you’re not going to have that strong base. So number one, breathing, you can do that from day one. Then like I said, core exercises, pelvic floor, transverse abdominus exercises, and then I would progress slowly to other resistance based exercises. They’re going to work on how the body postures are at the back exercises that are going to help us keep nice and upright and then functional training, which are huge and say things that mimic everyday, pushing, pulling, squatting. If you’ve got a resistance band, so many things you can do with a resistance band, tie it to a door handle and work on some rows, you know, there’s just so much we can do with that. 

Le’Nise: And is this, is this the kind of stuff that you do in your classes? 

Shakira: Yeah, Yeah, I did my classes. I do it myself. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. 

Shakira: I, I, I train and teach exactly the same. 

Le’Nise [00:42:55] So all or all of your classes so you it’s Strong Like Mum, the classes and are they focussed on postnatal and prenatal?

Shakira: Pre and post. So I do a monthly workshop at the moment in London that’s pre and post Natal and then I work one on one with women and prenatal postnatal, some women who are years postpartum, you know, and I’ve just, I’ve at the moment start doing a menopause course and it’s so fascinating because there’s this crossover happening as women are having children later in life where the perimenopausal time is crossing over with the postnatal time and those two hormones are, you know, intermixing and it’s just such a fascinating field of research. So yeah. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. Being postnatal and going through perimenopause. 

Shakira: Yeah, yeah. Oh, oh. 

Le’Nise: So where can people get in touch with you and what do you have coming up next? 

Shakira: Oh, thank you so much for asking. So I’m on Instagram at Shakira.Akabusi. I’m on all my social media is that and you can find me at Strong Like Mum. I just about to film in the next few weeks my first postnatal plan, which I’m really excited about and so it’s kind of the book coming to life. You can find the book on Amazon, Waterstones or those kind of bookshops and. Yeah. So those are those are kind of the main projects that I’ve got going on at the moment that I would encourage anybody that if you have any questions, whether you’re asking me or another professional that you trust, ask your questions like find your answer. Because the amount of people I go running with a friend every week. I’ve been running with her for the last two years, not every week, but whenever we can manage to run together. Her daughter’s eight and the other week she was like, Oh yeah, I always have to wear a pad when I’m running because I always leak when I run. And I was like, How did we not have this conversation? You know what I do? And the amount of people that just like, Oh, I just thought that that was just the way that is. And I don’t even ask. I don’t even ask. And it’s something that, you know, she has to live with every day and she doesn’t have to live that way. And so when they’re working together. But I would just encourage everyone, if you have a question, ask it. Find your answer, because the answer’s out there. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, it is amazing the number of things that we think that we have to live with. Period pain. Yeah, leaks. And you know, when there’s a lot of things that you can do to change all of that. Yeah. What’s, what’s the one thought that you want to leave listeners with. 

Shakira: The one thought I would leave people with. I was asked this recently and I gave the same answer. At that point it came out. No, I wasn’t expecting to give this, but I actually do really believe it. I start my book by talking about this concept of Mitochondrial Eve. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of that. The phrase. Yeah. So Mitochondrial Eve, anybody who doesn’t necessarily know is, as scientists have discovered through research, that if we travel back through history from mother back to mother, back to mother, back to mother, but to mother, we would all end up at one woman and they call this woman Mitochondrial Eve. So they’ve not found this actual fossil bones. But this is the theory and that we all, all human beings today have mitochondria in their system. So we all still today carry cells in our body from this one woman, and that can date back millennia. It’s fascinating. And I think about Mitochondrial Eve and the other people that would have been the people, Homo sapiens, that would have been alive at the same time as Mitochondrial Eve and all of these women that were giving birth to the future generations. And I think, like if those women could carry, birth their babies with out all the many options we have today, and that is not to discredit them as a mother who has had epidurals and caesareans and everything I value so much, all the medical support that we can have these days. But. Those. I think about Mitochondrial Eve and women of that time. And unlike those women birth the future millennia ago, we all still have cells in our body from that woman. That’s incredibly powerful, that that is how powerful we are as women giving birth. And the concept that we have now tried to make out that pregnancy breaks your body or change your body or you’re weaker afterwards is just doesn’t make sense to me when I consider that. And so I would I think my last thought would just be to feel empowered as a mum because like, you’re not only creating the future, but like you have the power to create a version of yourself however you want to do that, and that is through your choices and you have the power to do that. And I would encourage people to ask for help, ask for, ask your questions, find the knowledge, do the research, get the answers you need so that you can feel about that as well. 

Le’Nise: I love that. Thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing your story. 

Shakira: Thank you for having me. 

Period Story Podcast, Episode 74, Matilda Egere-Cooper: Be Courageous

My guest on today’s episode of Period Story is Matilda Egere-Cooper, an award-winning journalist, podcast host and founder of Fly Girl Collective – a platform and community launched in 2018 to help black women and women of colour level up their wellness and lifestyle.

In this episode, Matilda shares: 

  • How eating less sugar reduced her period pain 
  • The fitness and wellness journey that led to her getting into running 
  • The value of community in helping her stick with running 
  • How to start running 
  • How runcations help her explore new cities 
  • How she finds running marathons character building 
  • The experience of running an ultramarathon 
  • And of course, the story of her first period

Matilda says that running has taught her that it’s important for us to be courageous and tackle whatever life may bring. 

Thank you, Matilda!

Get in touch with Matilda:









Le’Nise: Thank you so much for coming on the show with Matilda, I’m really excited to speak to you, you do so many interesting things. But before we get into all of that, let’s talk about the story of your very first period. 

Matilda: Oh, yes. This taking me way back! But I distinctly remember being 13. And that’s because at school, I remember that that was considered to be the bull’s eye age for when it was going to happen. So I remember when I turned 13, I mean, it certainly wasn’t on the dot, but I knew, okay, I think it’s going to happen this year. That being said, when it did happen, I was pretty surprised. I can remember having this feeling of wetting myself and I went to the old house that I used to live in. I remember going into our, there was a bathroom in our garage, so it wasn’t like our main bathroom went into the bathroom, put my pants down, and I was like, Oh, oh, what happened? 

And I just remember just being like, just seeing all my knickers being wet. And then I just thought, Oh, snap. I think. I think this is it. I think this is my period. And I don’t recall anyone being in the house at the time. This was certainly before we had mobile phones. But I think when my step, stepfather got back home, I remember him sort of confirming, yeah, that you got your period. And then when mom came, she was sort of like, Oh yeah, get a tissue, kind of wrap up because, you know, I honestly can’t remember the process of learning about using sanitary towels because that’s all my mom ever used. But I remember it was like getting a tissue first, and then it was like, okay, right, get Always. And to this day I still use Always because that was like the first sanitary towels I started using. 

Le’Nise: That’s interesting that you went and you told your your stepdad, because a lot of like a lot of the women I’ve spoken to on the podcast, they’ve very much wanted to speak to a female relative or a female friend. 

Matilda: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s because he was in the house first, I think when he came back from work and at the time, I had a stepsister, so I just naturally presumed, okay, if this has happened to my stepsister, then he’ll kind of know what to do. But I remember there was a sense of, okay, when Mom comes home, she can probably tell, you know, about this and so forth. But I definitely didn’t feel embarrassed other than the fact that my knickers were, you know, completely drenched. It was just like, okay, right, this happens, you know, what do I do now kind of thing? 

Le’Nise: And then once your mom came home, she gave you some pads and then did this this feeling of calm and lack of embarrassment around your period continue?

Matilda: Well. That’s it. That’s the interesting part. So I think I kind of knew the bare basics of when you have your periods. Obviously, sanitary towels. But it sparked an issue around hygiene because not realising that, okay, you have your period is what it is but there’s it puberty. So there’s all these other things that are kind of happening with you. And actually. When I was at school, there was a situation where. A couple of my friends, they almost had like a bit of an intervention. Like after PE once they kind of sat me down, they said, Matilda, FYI you’ve got an odor, you kind of stink. And I remember being so horrified at the time just thinking, Oh my God, what’s wrong with me? 

And I think a lot of it just came into play because, you know, when you’re on your period and you’re sweaty and let’s say, you know, you’re not keeping your clothes clean and, you know, I was quite a sporty girl. It it was that for me was probably the most traumatic being that I associated with my period. So I think going forward, it became a thing where I just need to be really, really clean around this time of the month. I need to just make sure that I’m double washing, you know, all the things you can think of to just be as, you know, proper as a teen as you can be. 

Le’Nise: All right. So apart from, you know, putting a focus on hygiene, like actual hygiene and like the real sense of it. What was your experience of your period like during your teenage years? 

Matilda: Horrible. Like, I mean, my cramps were, they felt pretty traumatic and. There was no I mean, obviously, you know, we talked recently about the impact of like diet and all these things. And I mean, nobody diagnosed it. It was just here, take painkillers, take Feminax and actually got to the point where the painkillers weren’t even working. So I think I started off on like paracetamol and then I discovered Feminax when I went to uni around my uni age. And that was just sort of my go to I mean, I was completely wiped out. Water bottle, Feminax, sitting in a tub of hot water, praying to God that this, you know, let this pass. And it was always for a day, but it was just terrible. So it got to the point that whenever I knew my period was coming, I would literally just brace myself because I knew it would just be 24 hours of pain. 

Le’Nise: And is it still like that? 

Matilda: No. That’s the shocking thing about it. It’s like I can’t remember the last time I’ve had cramps. And the only thing I can guess is because my lifestyle has changed. So like when I was much younger, loved sweets, loved sugar, I loved all the things. But I think once I got into running the better part of a decade now, you know. You know, again, I can’t say I monitored it and suddenly it was like a switch whereby the pain went, but it just became a thing where it’, Oh gosh, I don’t need Feminax anymore. I’m eating a lot healthier. I’m looking after myself. And it just meant period comes. It’s like nothing. I know. Shocking. 

Le’Nise: Wow literally, just unknowingly through running started changing the way you eat and then the pain stops. Okay, That’s so interesting. 

Matilda: Yeah. And it was just a weeding process because, like I said, I became so accustomed to using painkillers. But as I was going on, like my own fitness and wellness journey, I was thinking about holistic health as well. So I wanted to move away from using medication generally. So I don’t know if it just was one of those things where there was a period where I just stop until you need to firm this, and then it became a thing where I don’t actually need it anymore. But for the most part, I actually tend to avoid medication now. So if I have like any situations, I tend to just keep it 100% holistic and natural where possible. 

Le’Nise: Right. So you mentioned that you were on your own kind of wellness journey. Can you talk about what triggered that? 

Matilda: Yeah. So I moved to London as a teenager when I was 18 and I can’t say I was so body conscious to the point that I was like, I need to be healthy. But it felt like gym culture was the thing to do. And so I remember, especially when you’re a student, there’s always, like, offers and it’s like, Go to Fitness first for like ten quid or something. And I remember just getting to Fitness first. Absolutely just loving it, loving Spain, loving step classes and the things that were big at the time, sort of the late nineties. But once I got into running and I got into it in two ways. Firstly, I had some friends who were really into running and we signed up to do one of the Nike races. Nike used to do a lot of races and sort of like the early noughties, mid-noughties But then I discovered Run Dem Crew in 2011 and just getting into this habit of long distance running, suddenly getting stronger, getting fit. You want to do all the things so you don’t just get fit, start wearing great clothes, and then trash the diet. It’s like, actually, what would happen if I started drinking smoothies. 

And you’re living this whole lifestyle? So I think that’s kind of where the wellness journey began, that suddenly I noticed, okay, physically I’m changing. I’m feeling good through running. I started writing in my work. I was working at time. At the time I started writing a lot about fitness, and so it just became like every part of my life, just thinking about how to be well, how to eat well, drink well. The Hemsleys, their cookbook when that drops kind of again, I think 2010 ish, it’s 20 turns. That book was like, Oh my gosh, okay, I like this approach to eating. It’s like, so wholesome and nourishing and holistic. So I got completely addicted to that book. And then, yeah, it kind of just took off from there. 

Le’Nise: Well, so very much started by a shift to towards exercise. I, I had a Fitness first membership when I moved to London and it’s like. 

Matilda: Yeah. 

Le’Nise: I remember going to the one I lived in North London at the time and I lived just, I lived on just off Holloway Road and went to the one on it was on Seven Sisters Road. Went in, Remember signing up, getting the backpack. 

Matilda: Nice. Yeah. Oh, induction. Yeah, yeah. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. So that, yeah, that’s a real rite of passage. So running and getting into exercise really triggered a change in many aspects of your lifestyle. Can you talk a little bit more about the running because it seems to getting into getting one with Run Dem Crew, first, can you talk about what that is? 

Matilda: Yes, Yes. Yes. So Run Dem Crew is a community started by a deejay poet named Charlie Dark who used to work in the music industry. And I actually used to be a music journalist. So that’s kind of how I knew about Charlie. 

And what was so appealing about Run Dem for me was that this was one of those running groups that was atypical like it was very much catered to people in the creative industries. People who didn’t typically look like a runner. And I mean, at the time, you know, the only reason I liked running is because Nike kind of made it look cool. And then when I came across Run Dem, I was like, okay, you make it even cooler. How do I get in on this? 

So I guess as far as my running journey, it really started with community. I think I would, you know, occasionally go out on my own, do a run, maybe stick with it for a week or so, and then sort of just run back to the gym, because that’s all I knew. But with Run Dem Crew and just being in a community every single week, every Tuesday without fail, we were doing a 10K. And so just having that accountability and that consistency meant that I suddenly became a lot more comfortable with running because my first run was horrific. It was like, What do you mean we’re running six miles today. What are you talking about? Aren’t we running a mile and then coming back and it’s like, Well, no, we’re running a whole 10K. And I’m just like, What? Because I was naturally a short distance runner at school. Absolutely loved running. Loved the 100M, loved track, loved Sports Day. But then when we got into the world of long distance running, it was a bit like, Oh, okay. And, you know, the more you do it, the more you get used to it, the more that naturally your body just kind of, you know, adapts. And so, you know, this has been pretty much a decade now of kind of just committing to it and don’t get me wrong. This morning, I wanted to go out on a run, and then I just thought, actually, no, I don’t. So I decided to go to the gym. So, you know, some days it gets like that. But it’s definitely been like my foundation for my my wellness journey. 

Le’Nise: So talk a little bit about that kind of mindset of getting into long distance running, because I think what I’ve realised as I’ve gotten older is that it’s really there’s been a mindset set shift that’s happened where I can do the mental work that propels me further. Whereas when I was younger, I used to run a lot. When I was younger, I was a real treadmill queen and there would always be these mental hurdles where I would just kind of start to get in my own way. And I think maybe for someone listening who is thinking, okay, yeah, it’s, you know, it’s spring, what a great time to get into running. But I’m a bit nervous, especially at the idea of running, you know, longer distances. What would you say to that person? 

Matilda: Yeah, I mean, it sounds a bit cliche, but it literally is just taking one step at a time. I think what’s been quite encouraging for me is over the years I realised it’s actually not about how long you run. It’s just about moving. I mean, during the pandemic I started a challenge with my community Fly Girl Collective, where it was called  JAM, just a mile. And so it would literally be about going out for just a mile. And, you know, depending on your pace, you can finish a mile in like 15 minutes. Done. Go home, enjoy, have a smoothie. You know, I think it’s about just kind of taking it easy and taking it one step at a time. And if you discover that you like it, then it’s like, okay, let’s try to make that distance a little bit longer. 

The other thing I say to people who do not worry about pace, people automatically associate running with speed. And actually that’s where it can be quite stressful and actually quite unenjoyable. But if you’re kind of just going out for a leisurely run with some music, banging joints or even just going to like a brand new neighbourhood and you’re just going on a bit of an exploration, then actually running can be quite enjoyable. Like people laugh when I say that I actually go and like I think the term is runcation, run holidays. It’s such an amazing way of kind of sightseeing and experiencing a brand new city. Like I went to Tokyo to do the Tokyo Marathon in 2015 and it just gave me a whole completely perspective of Tokyo that I wouldn’t have had if I just went for a normal holiday. So I think it’s about people separating, running from the fitness element, but also recognising that it offers adventure, it offers exploration and it’s so great for your mental health. Like I’ve never done a run and not felt better for it. I mean, I’m definitely going to run tomorrow, but I always feel better after doing a run, so that’s my encouragement. Just people to try it and to not put pressure on themselves. 

Le’Nise: Right. Okay, so just take the first step. Don’t worry what you look like. Don’t worry about your pace. You could just run. You could literally. Run in like a pair of ratty sneakers and some jogging bottoms and like. 

Matilda: Exactly that. I mean, one thing I would recommend is once people want to take running a bit more seriously, it’s always worth getting what’s called a gait analysis where a professional can actually assess how you run and get the right trainers for you. So it just means that you have a much more comfortable experience. And then for us girlies a good sports bra which just having something that can just hold you in support you that bounce. Nobody wants it, especially when you’re going for a run. And you know, I know women who, you know are bigger sizes who because of the right sports bra, they absolutely love running. 

Le’Nise: Yeah that can be that can be a real barrier. I remember when after I gave birth and I was breastfeeding, I thought, okay, let me try to get back into running. And I had to you know, breastfeeding made the girls bigger and I had to wear two sports bras to feel comfortable. 

Yeah, well, what I find really interesting about your journey is that you, you, you started, you found this community, you started running, you found this community. And then I read online that you said that you run one marathon a year because you find it character building. So that’s a kind of a real, a leap. Can you talk a little bit more about what you mean by character building? 

Matilda: My gosh. That’s funny. I’m actually not running any marathons this year, but I am running one next year. It is incredibly character building because there’s absolutely nothing like it in the sense that, you know, you start running for a while. There’s actually some runs that you can blag like you can, you know, you can run a 5k, and if you’ve had the minimal training, you’ll finish that fine five here, you’ll be absolutely fine. You can run a 10K, same story, you can run a half. I would suggest you train for it, but you can get away with it. 

You have to train for a marathon. And the process of training for a marathon says and tells you so much about yourself because it is challenging. It’s hard. There are going to be tough moments, but those tough moments help to build resilience and character and it makes you recognise that even when the going gets tough in life that you can still push through. And so it was character building in the sense that, you know, as we’ve experienced, you never know what’s around the corner, you know, a pandemic, you know, bad news, a work situation. But if you can still kind of maintain a real strong sense of character and resilience, you can definitely push through. So I think, you know, I like to do those marathons just to remind myself that, okay, Matilda, you’re a lot stronger than you think. It’s going to be tough, but you’re also tougher and it becomes a bit of a touchpoint. So when things whether it’s, you know, in life and work, things are really hard. But tell them, but you’ve run 26.2 miles. If you can run 26.2 miles, you can certainly get through that. So, you know, it becomes this a bit of a bit of encouragement for me. 

Le’Nise: That’s so interesting because I, I, I’ve done a half marathon. I’ve never done a full marathon, but sometimes I do. That’s one of the things that I come back to in my mind. There are lots of, I have about five touch points that, you know when things get tough I think, okay, but you got through that and you in that the half marathon is one of them. It’s it because I trained but I don’t think I trained properly and I like I was running regularly. 

Matilda What do you mean running regularly? As in are you following the training plan? 

Le’Nise: I kind of made up my own training plan. I was running regularly and I was doing long distances, but it was just it was hillier than I thought it was going to be. And I just got like the last kilometre I was crying while I was running because, because of the emotional side of it. I was just so tired and just running, crying as just a mess. But I that’s one of my kind of resilience points is, you know, that you can you can definitely get through through this. 

Matilda: Exactly. And also the thing about marathon training that I appreciate is if you train for it. You know, regardless of what time you get, you trained for it, you will get through it. If you don’t train for it and that is a bit of a metaphor for life that if you don’t prepare, if you don’t do all the right things, if you don’t look after yourself, it’s going to be hard. You know, like last year, I mean, another member from Fly Girl, we got a very last minute place for London Marathon, and because we did a marathon early in the year, we did Paris, which we did train for, we were like, Oh London, sure, we can train in seven weeks. 

That day came and by the time we got to the half marathon mile, we were like, Girl. Oh. okay, this is why you train 16, 12, 16 weeks are bad because you just can’t blag it. It will tell you about yourself. MM How much water did you drink? Were you prepared for this? Did you miss any long runs? So it’s just a nice way of kind of keeping you in check. But, you know, I’ve got a lovely team of women who are doing the marathon in 2023, and, you know, they’ve put the work in and so, you know, they’re going to reap the benefits of that. And I think there’s something about you really get to reap what you sow. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. Yeah. 

Matilda: So yeah, reap what you sow. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, yeah, yeah. You reap what you sow. Definitely physically and mentally. Yes. So you mentioned the collective that you founded Fly Girl Collective. So firstly I have to ask about the night because when I think Fly Girl, I think in Living colour. 

Matilda: That’s right.

Le’Nise: Rosie Perez. Jennifer Lopez Yes, that’s where I came from. 

Matilda: Yes. So, you know, I was born and raised in the U.S. And the thing about Fly Girl, even though running has been our main activity, I wanted Fly Girl to just be a representation of black women and women of colour being awesome through movement. And so when I think back to those days, I mean we’re talking like nineties, maybe even late eighties and you saw the fly Girls Looking fly. So they had the gear, they were moving, they were dancing, they were athletic and they just looked dope. I always, that was always a very powerful image for me because when you look at the broader fitness space, there are definitely pockets of stereotypes of women. So you’ll get sort of the yoga girl, usually not black, you know, very slim. 

And then when it comes to women, sometimes you don’t even get women put in a very feminine box. Sometimes they’re almost lumped in with the fellows. And actually a lot of sports brands, they very much don’t. They’re very patriarchal. So it’s almost like women have to fit into this patriarchal box as we do in society. And there aren’t very many images of women looking just incredible and amazing through movement, and they don’t necessarily have to be athletes. So it’s almost like I wanted to create something that really encompassed the amazing beauty, feminine energy that women can emanate by just being devoted to movement, whatever kind of movement that is. We just so happened to do running because running is very accessible. But whether we’re on a spin bike or we’re stretching, doing yoga classes, we show up and show out. 

And then on top of that, because there is a bit of a diversity and representation problem in wellness and fitness, I wanted to make it crystal clear that when Fly Girl Collective in the room, we’re here and we’re here to stay and to inspire other women who may not be accustomed to spaces where black women and women of colour occupy. So yeah, very much inspired by J.Lo and them. But then every single dope active woman that I’ve encountered over the years, be it a a Janet Jackson, Ciara, Destiny’s Child, all of those women wrapped up into one that was very much the essence of it. 

Le’Nise: Talk a little bit about diversity in in the wellness space. So, you know, I’m a yoga teacher in London and I definitely see this you know, I see this in it, particularly the the students that come to my class. I mean, I teach in West London, but I teach in Hammersmith, which is a very diverse area. And, you know, my classes actually, I think, have become more diverse because I think, I teach the classes. Yeah, but when I first started teaching there, I was just kind of like, okay, well, talk a little bit about your experience, particularly in London, which, you know, is an extremely diverse city, but diversity and wellness in, in London, in your experience of that. 

Matilda: Yeah, I mean, it’s it’s an interesting one because black women work out. Right. Like, there’s no doubt about it. I think there’s a bit of segregation as far as, you know, if you’re seeing a black neighbourhood, there’s a black gym, there’s going to be black people there. Fantastic. But what if, let’s say you’re in central London or you’re in a neighbourhood that used to be black and is now gentrified? What I was discovering is that I would go into gym spaces, beautiful studios, and be the only black woman there. And it was like, okay. 

Why is it? And you know, there’s talk of, oh, maybe the cost. I’m like. Is it a cost thing though? Cause you know, we will pay whatnot for our hair and we will pay whatnot for, you know, So I don’t necessarily know. It’s that I think a lot of it is to do with representation. I think, you know, it’s the saying is true that sometimes you can’t be what you can’t see. Whereas if you didn’t see it, that’s the inspiration that you need to pursue it. 

So marketing is really important as far as attracting diversity, the way studios are staffed, you know, black teachers, people from, people of colour. If that is a norm in those spaces, then hopefully the membership should reflect that. But I know to this day I’m still the minority in gym classes, you know, and I live in a very well pretty gentrified neighbourhood. But, you know, it’s still a neighbourhood where black people live. So it’s like, why aren’t they coming to the gyms? And, you know, I think also. Maybe we’re the generation that’s going to normalise it for our kids so that they realise actually part of your lifestyle isn’t just, you know, hanging out with your friends and doing X and Z. It’s like it’s also exercising and it’s starting like a little. I don’t know what I was. I think it was like on a bus and I heard these like two young girls talking about fitness. They must have been like 14. She was like, Yo, you need to go to the gym. Like, we need to get some exercise. And we it also was like, Oh, wow, That was just like a normal part of her dialogue. So, you know, I guess my hope is there will be something of a generational shift. I mean, shame has to be a whole generation, but I think that’s kind of where we are. 

Le’Nise: That’s really interesting because we then bring in that everything that happened in 2020, you know, that like Black Square Monday or whatever it was or Friday and all the commitments to diversity and all the committees that were started. You know, from your perspective, how do things look three years on in the wellness space? 

Matilda: Um. You know, I think there are some brands and studios and organisations that have endeavoured to change. So, you know, I’ll call out, say the London Marathon, there was a world where London Marathon was not a diverse space. The other races that London Marathon were organised were like, Oh great, yeah, diversity is here, but how come it’s not over there in like one of the world’s biggest races? 

And I think they’ve really made strides to engage with community groups, especially the ones where, you know, the focus and priority is about diversity and wellness and fitness. You know, another brand I’ll call out Lululemon. You know, they’re a brand partner for Fly Girl, and they’ve really listened and they’ve made the effort to kind of bring diversity into their marketing. And so, you know, you look at their gram, you look at even in-store, there’s so much more diversity than maybe when I first moved to London 20 odd years ago. And equally, there’s some organisations that have just kind of reverted and they’re like, Well, we’re not really accountable to anybody, so we’ll just keep it business as usual. But it’s a shame because people don’t realise that diversity is actually really good business. 

You know, it’s not about kind of keeping things to who you know, but actually broadening that perspective and allowing other people to kind of enhance what you do. 

Le’Nise: Thinking about running specifically the I read an article where you talked about how running remains a largely white and middle class activity, and you just used the example of London Marathon. Diversifying, diversifying. It surprises me that running would be such a white and middle class activity when all you need is a pair of trainers and you know something comfortable. But tell me but I’ll talk a little bit more about that and why that is and what you what what you see changing in the running space. 

Matilda: Yeah. I know. I find it quite bemusing as well. But I think the reality is, is that when you think about the origin of run culture, it actually starts in the US with brands like Nike. There was actually a book as well that came out. I think one of the first books around How to Jog and it was very much written from a white perspective for a white community. So the actual origin of running as an activity, a hobby, is rooted in whiteness. 

So I think even though a brand like Nike, for instance, they’ve obviously been at the forefront of showing a lot more diversity at the roots of it, it’s still from a white lens and a white perspective. So I think unfortunately the roots and the origin is still played out today. You know, I get, I know don’t know numbers, you know, day to day new stats. But I’d be curious to know specifically with running, if they were to look at the demographic of buyers globally. And we’re not talking about lifestyle. When I talk about Nike, it’s like who’s actually purchasing the running shoes? I’d be interested to see if it’s as diverse as we think running actually is. So I think it becomes a thing where something feels very exclusive, which running did for a very long time and people don’t know about it, then that’s where you get into a diversity problem. 

But then that’s where communities like Run Dem Crew, who kind of just shattered that completely because it was like, okay, I know this is what people assume running is, and I know it is something of an exclusive boys club. But actually I’m now going to make it a thing where it’s absolutely for everyone and it’s a lot more democratic. And I think for me, I wanted to take things further with Fly Girl by showing that, look, running can also be for fly dope, aspirational, ambitious women, too. And it doesn’t have to be in this box of athleticism. It can just be very much aligned to lifestyle. 

So I think from what I’ve seen in London, there’s a lot of exciting things happening. There’s so many more communities that exist. I mean, ten years ago there was just Run Dem. You know, now you have Black Girls Who Run UK, Emancipated Run Crew, London Selects, of course, Fly Girl Collective. So there’s so many more communities now that are really putting diversity and representation at the forefront of what they do. And so I think naturally we’re just going to see how that evolves. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, very exciting. So if someone’s listening and they’re thinking, okay, Fly Girl collective, That sounds really cool. I live in London. I’m a woman of colour, a black woman. I want to get involved. How how do they get involved? 

Matilda: You just need to sign up to the mailing list? So we have a mailing list which very much is like the community hub, and it’s where I kind of share the events and activities that we’re doing. So once they’re on the mailing list, they’ll kind of find out when we organise runs and events, you know, we do brunches, we do all sorts and so that’s probably the easiest way to plug in. 

There’s also our Instagram. Another great way to plug in and one of the things we’ve been doing since the beginning of Fly Girl is sort of regular challenges. So at the moment we’re doing like a Fly Girl 30 day challenge, which I think over 60 women have signed up for, which is amazing. And that’s just the easiest thing. Like, I think what I’m trying to prove is that access to fitness, wellness and inspiration should be quite easy. And once you’ve kind of are involved, then where that takes you is completely down to you. Normally once a year, I organise a training season, so I’ll get like a group of women say 8 to 10 women and we’ll all together train for an event. So for we’ve had about seven seasons where we’ve trained for half marathons, ten Ks, five Ks. Next season’s going to be a bit of a surprise. I’m going to switch things up a little bit, but yeah, sign up to the mailing list, follow on the gram and kind of. Yeah, just see where it takes you. 

Le’Nise: Okay, cool. What if. What would you say to someone who’s listening who wants to join Fly Girl or wants to join some other running collective that’s close to where they live, but they’re a bit nervous. Like they don’t know anyone. They’re scared to go on. They’re on their own. They like the idea of community, but they’re nervous. What would you say to them? 

Matilda: Mm, I get it. Um. It’s tricky, right? Because people have said, bring flying down to Birmingham, to Liverpool, and I’m like, I’m one woman, was wish I wish I could. 

But couple of things I think. Try and just try. I mean, I’ve rocked up to all types of communities before I even found Run Dem Crew and just test it out as you would with anything else. It’s kind of like dating, right? You got to be in it to win it so you can try it out, see how it goes, test the chemistry. And if it’s not your thing,  keep it moving, you know. 

And the other thing is sometimes, you know, you have to build the table that you want to occupy. And even if that’s just getting a couple of friends or one friend and say, Hey, girl, let’s start this thing, because as we’ve talked about, running is that accessible? All you need is like the trainers. You can find training plans. Parkrun is, you know, they’re every Saturday helping people learn how to run five Ks. So I think being proactive is key, but also just recognising that, you know, it is very much a journey and see how you get on. But it’s always nervous kind of stepping into a new space. I mean, I remember the first time I went to Run Dem, I was like , Oh my gosh, what is this? But I also say if people, you know, when they come to flag events, we are a very warm, welcoming, lovely bunch. It is very much the remit of being a part of the collective that we’re all encompassing and inclusive in that way. So yeah, definitely just yeah, take a step. 

Le’Nise: Amazing. So you’ve shared a lot. We’ve talked about diversity, we’ve talked about Fly Girl Collective. Of course, you talked about the story of your very first period. What’s something that you would like to leave listeners with if you can leave them with one thought? 

Matilda: I would say that it’s so important for us to be courageous because like a period, you know, that can be such, Quite a don’t want to use the word agonising but an unpredictable time in our lives, even monthly. We don’t know what’s going to happen, but it’s going to happen. So, you know, I think there’s just something about approaching. With a degree of courage and willingness to. Tackle whatever life may bring. And that’s very much what running has taught me, that actually stepping out, trying new things before you know it, you end up being so much further along in life than you thought you could ever be like. When I did my very first run ten years ago, you couldn’t have paid me to run a marathon. I was adamant I would never do it, you know? And now I’ve run five, and now I’m going to run more. You know, in total, I’ve run like over 40 races, and that’s not something I planned. Nobody could have told me. Oh, Matilda, you’re just going to be a serial runner. And so I think there’s just something in testing yourself, seeing what you’re capable of, and actually just allowing that door to kind of take you to new heights. You know, you just never know what may happen. 

Le’Nise: Amazing. I mean, we didn’t even talk about the fact that you’ve run ultramarathons. 

Matilda: Yes. I was like, cool one and done. Let me just stick to distances I like. 

Le’Nise: Was that is that a hundred kilometres? 

Matilda: We did 50K.

Le’Nise: Okay. Yeah. 

Matilda: was like, there’s no way I could do that. And it was a great day. It rained. 

We ate a lot of cake. We walked, we talked. We jammed. It was such a great sisterhood moment. And that said, I think something about running and community. The two things actually work together for an activity that’s so kind of solitary. Like if you connect with people in running, it can be such a brilliant experience for you. 

Le’Nise: Thank you so much for coming on the show. Where can people find you? Where can they find Fly Girl Collective? 

Matilda: Yep. So the website is Fly Girl Collective.Co, but we’re also on Instagram Fly Girl Collective. You can find us at Facebook on Fly Girl Collective and then on Twitter at Fly Girl CO But if you Google Fly Girl Collective, you’ll find us!

Le’Nise: Great. Thank you so much. 

Matilda: Well, thank you. 

Period Story Podcast, Episode 73, Dr Golnoush Golshirazi: Learn About Your Body

My guest on today’s episode of Period Story is Dr Golnoush Golshirazi, a scientist and entrepreneur who advocates for women’s health and equality in the healthcare system. She is the co-founder of ScreenMe, a patient-centric at-home testing company that looks to empower all women with scientific insight and support around their sexual and reproductive health. 

In this episode, Golnoush shares: 

  • How it took her £6,000 to find out she had endometriosis 
  • The fluke that led to her diagnosis 
  • What she did when her doctor that her that she had to do her own research to figure out a non-hormonal treatment strategy 
  • How recurring UTIs led to her starting an at-home testing company 
  • The importance of the vaginal microbiome and how it’s very different to the gut microbiome 
  • What you can do to improve your vaginal microbiome
  • And of course, the story of her first period

Golnoush says that learning about how your body works and getting insights into your unique needs will help you make changes that have a powerful impact on your health 

Thank you, Golnoush!

Get in touch with Golnoush:








Le’Nise: So hi Golnoush, thank you so much for coming on to the show today. I’m really excited to chat to you. We have a lot of the same common interests, so really excited to chat. But first, tell me the story of your very first period. 

Golnoush: Thank you for having me. Yeah, it’s it’s it’s a story that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. Probably one of the most dramatic moments of my life. I think I was, I know I was 12. I was 12 when I was on holiday with my family and my extended family, my aunts and my uncles. And we were all staying at a big epic house. And I was you know, there was a I feel like 12 year olds these days are a bit more mature than 12 year olds in my day for some reason. You know, I feel like at 12 I was just a child. I was you know, I was playing it was it was a lot more innocent. And and I remember very vividly the sudden pain. It was it was like someone stabbed me in my right side. And it was very, very just took the air out of me and I was doubled over. It wasn’t anything subtle. It wasn’t any kind of cramping. It was extreme agonising pain. And I was doubling over. I was telling my mom, everyone knew I’m not well, they thought it was my appendix, you know, they thought something’s going wrong. It was talk of if she would go to the hospital, should we not go to the hospital. No one thought she started her periods. It wasn’t something that anyone, you know, came to anyway. Even my mom. You know, no one just thought maybe she started that period. It was only after, you know, after acquired quite a bit, quite a few minutes or so, I needed to go to the bathroom and I went to the toilet, pulled down my pants, and I screamed because there’s blood, you know, And when you’ve been in that much pain and there’s so much drama happening and everyone thinks I have to go to the hospital and I don’t know what’s wrong, and suddenly there’s blood, you think you’re dying, You know, I was like, I must be dying. This is it. And I screamed and my mom came running in and I said, There’s blood. I’m going to die. And she said, No, you’re not dying. You’ve started your period. Um, and that was, that was how it’s, that was how it started. 

Le’Nise: And did you know what was what a period was? So when you said when you, when you told your mom that you, you know, you thought you were dying. Yeah. And then she said, oh, that’s actually a period. Had you been taught a bit of about periods at that point?

Golnoush: Yeah. Yeah, I did know about periods. You know, I think unlike a lot of kids, actually, I asked, you know, when I asked my moms, I asked my mom how babies are made at the age of I think seven, six, I think I was six. I asked my mom, how are babies made? And my mom sat me down with a book on female anatomy. And and she actually told me all about periods. She didn’t tell me about how the sperm meets the egg and the rib, but she told me all about all the steps in between. So I you know, she told me a lot about periods. How periods, oh, happens, you bleed. 

So at the age of six or seven, I was told, you know, in scientific detail what periods are and how they happen. And then, you know, some of my friends started their periods a bit earlier at the age of like nine, ten. So so I knew of you know, I knew that happens, but it’s not something that I think at that age until you start yours, it’s not something you spend much time thinking about or just acknowledging either other than the fact that one day I’m going to start my period and that’s going to involve bleeding. You don’t really think about it at all and you don’t know. You know, I didn’t pay attention to more than that, other than the fact that I would bleed one day that was all that was in my head. But at that point, that left my head. You know, I didn’t think that that was going to happen now. And this is it. 

Le’Nise: Well, and I mean, I think a lot of a lot of people can relate to that because, you know, kids, they you know, they ask questions. They’re really forthright and they’re really kind of, you know, they get straight to the point. But then you can just tell, like once they’ve kind of taken in the information that they want to know, they just lose interest. It just it just. Yeah, yeah. 

Golnoush: Yeah. Definitely. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: So you have this experience where your first period was incredibly painful and then how did it go from there? 

Golnoush: Um, you know, it was really difficult. I think that that day was very difficult. It was the matter of, you know, the pain, all the pain. And then being told I’ve started my period and when my mom told me it’s my period. I started crying because I think I was overwhelmed by, you know, it’s a massive change in your life as a woman. And and I started crying. And I think it was because, first of all, I had to acknowledge that my life has changed now. And, you know, you know, I’ve never been a big fan of change. So that was the first sign. And then and then there was the overwhelming feeling of shame. That’s everyone in that house now knew that I started my period because it started so dramatically that everyone would be asking and knowing. So there was also that the fact that now everyone knows that I’ve started my period and although my family have never been the type that would shame periods or woman and, you know, quite empowered line of woen in my family, but I still felt that shame of people knowing that I’ve started my period and I’m bleeding. 

And then there was the matter of is it going to be like this for the rest of my life? That don’t you know, I kind of just as a child, you kind of think, am I going to be in pain? And so it took me a moment to to come to terms with all of those complicated emotions. And going forward, I had quite regular periods. They would come regularly every month and they would come painfully every month. Um, my mother had painful periods, so did her mother. And, and so it wasn’t something that was out of the norm. It was like this is what periods are like for for the women of our family. And, and so you kind of inherited that pain and, and that’s how it went. And of course holidays ended. Then I had to go back to school and that meant going to school as a as as a woman, as a young woman who who has periods, painful periods, who has to miss school every month or so because of her periods. So it was a sort of of a struggle of some sorts in my life. 

Le’Nise: It’s really interesting that you said that, you know, other people in your family, knowing that you had just started your period was a source of of shame and that you had made that link between people knowing about your period and shame so early on. Can you talk a bit more about that? 

Golnoush: Yeah, definitely. You know, I think it happened so automatically and instinctively that you don’t process. You don’t think why you’re feeling shame. You just do. And it’s not like anyone had instilled that shame in me. No one had ever said, you know, periods are bad or periods are dirty or periods are something we need to hide. No one had ever said that to me. But I still felt shame. And, you know, thinking about it now. It must. You know, looking back, we don’t talk about periods. No. Yeah. No one says they’re bad and no one says they’re dirty and no one says they’re a problem. But no one talks about them. Full stop. And I think when we don’t talk about something, automatically, it comes with a baggage of shame. And I think that was the case. It’s this secret that women carry with them that is never spoken about. And mine was very public in that moment. And I think that is what triggered that shame for me. As you know, I’ve never heard anyone else advertise their period or I’ve never seen anyone else like, you know, make such a big deal out of their period. And now everyone knows about mine. And so that automatically made me quite embarrassed. 

And then I think it goes on, you know, you then learn about your know while you knew, but you kind of learn about your specific period and you go on in life and every month it comes, but you don’t tell anyone that it’s come, you just get on with it. And mine was painful. I would be embarrassed to tell anyone because it just feels like you’re making it a scene like, you know, everyone else has periods and they’re not talking about them. So I felt a little more even because mine was painful. And I would think what people think, I’m being a drama queen with, you know, would people think I’m lying because not everyone seems to be feeling what I’m feeling. And not everyone seems to need to take a day out of school because they have their periods. So it was a lot of a lot of, you know, the inherent shame of having a period then the added shame of. I’m someone who can’t deal with her period pains as well as others. Yeah, complicated, complicated time. And then you eventually learn that. Oh, it’s not just women. Men is even worse. You don’t want your male teachers to know you’ve started your periods. You know, that was even more embarrassing. And again, it’s because no one speaks about it, you know? You know, it is a topic that is just the elephant in the room. It exists, but everyone ignores it. So if you stop ignoring it, you automatically feel shame. 

Le’Nise: And having a period that was so painful that you would miss school every month. How did you cope with that? Was because you would have had to have that conversation with one of your parents to say, like, I’m in so much pain, I can’t go to school. 

Golnoush: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, my mother was always on the edge. You know, it was you know, they knew it. The first day of my period would be a day I can’t even walk, let alone, you know, go out. I wouldn’t be able to walk for a couple of hours. Good. Couple of hours. It’s a time where I can’t walk. You know, I was sometimes not often, but sometimes I would even vomit because. Because it would just be so painful. And so, you know, my mom, my sister, my, you know, my immediate family would would always know. Interestingly, I would never talk to my father about it. Again, I think it just comes from that kind of thing of that was instilled in me of like, we just don’t talk, you know, it’s just embarrassing. I knew my mom would tell him I wouldn’t tell him directly, but just think I wouldn’t do it. And so it was, you know, my family knew. So, you know, my mom knew.

I would always get very upset also because I had to miss school and I didn’t know what kind of implications that would have. And and I didn’t find school to be very understanding either. You know, it wasn’t I don’t think schools are educated enough on the matters of female health, even though I went to an all girls school, you know, and it kind of makes you think you think these are young women going through the system and this is where they spend more time than they do at home. How is it that there’s so little information on on the basic anatomy and physiology of of women at school? There just wasn’t. And no one ever spoke to me about my periods at school. No one ever spoke to me about my health at school and in my in my, when I left my school at year 11. I have a yearbook and my teacher, my form teacher has written a little note and that yearbook and she says, never had a student who’s missed so many days of school for health. And, you know, you know, this kind of like a reminder for me of of how uneducated our educational system is when it comes to women’s health. How even woman. These institutions still are lacking information on how to educate younger girls about their health and how to care for them when it comes to their health. 

Le’Nise: That’s really shocking that a teacher would not only say that, but write it in your book as a, you know, a permanent reminder of how how she viewed you. And it was through this prism of your poor health. Yes, Very, very surprising. And just underlines your point that teachers need better education on this topic. 

Golnoush: Definitely.

Le’Nise: And then I read I read online that you you said that you had to spend around £6,000 of your savings ordering private tests to help you get an eventual diagnosis of endometriosis at age 27. Yeah. Can you talk a little bit about that journey? Because, you know, you started with very painful periods, you missed a lot of school. When you were in secondary and then 27, so you had finished university I, I’m guessing you were, had finished or you were doing your Ph.D.. That’s a long time to be battling with a monthly kind of issue that, condition that you wouldn’t know would be so debilitating. 

Golnoush: It is a long time and it’s exhausting, but it’s it’s it takes a toll. People don’t notice it. You know, you think disabilities are visible and you think you would be able to see them. They’re not. And I think having chronic pain, regular chronic pain or regular pain is a disability. It does. It interferes with your life in every stage. So it’s like you said, at secondary school, it had already started doing that. It was interfering in my life. It affected my friendships. It affected my relationship with my teachers. It affected my confidence, you know, lack of control. Because even though they are regular and they’re coming, you never know exactly when it’s going to hit and how bad is going to hit. And so planning is hard, you know, knowing play dates, birthdays at that age. And my period would come and I can’t go, you know, I can’t go. 

And then university. You get better at dealing with it, you get you get better at hiding that one day. But then there are times when I was at Cambridge doing my undergrad and I did Let’s go back to A-levels. I was doing my A-levels. That’s the first time I went to the doctors and I said, I’ve got very painful periods and I think they might come when I have exams, my A-level exams, and I’m terrified. Because I won’t be able to sit my exam if I’m in on my period and my GP told me to take paracetamol and that, you know, you think if I, if paracetamol was going to solve my problem, I wouldn’t be here. Hmm. And that was my first encounter with the medical system around period pains. I was lucky my period didn’t come on my A-level exams. 

And then I went to university. And I was at Cambridge. Cambridge is an intense, intense environment. And you sit exams at the end of the year which dictates your entire year and that the anxiety that was my nightmare as is my period coming back. And it did. One day it did. And I had an exam. I had my evolution and behaviour exam and I remember it waking up in the morning and I couldn’t breathe and I had an exam. I called the porters at the college and I said, I’ve started my period and I can’t move. And I thought to myself, he must be thinking this whole college is girls, everyone living in this building is girls. Why is this woman calling me? It was very good. You know, he was he was an elderly gentleman who was very, very gentle when he said, you know, stay put. I’m going to make some calls. And they made some calls and they got back to me and said, do not fret. We are coming with the exam paper. And so they brought the exam paper to my bedroom and they said, you can sit it here. At the time, I was grateful. I could not be more grateful. I said, Oh my goodness, look at these people. They’re going out of their way. They’re bringing my exam paper. It was only after the exam they took the paper away and I sat there and I cried because it, you know, it kind of came to me that. I sat that paper in terrible pain. Let alone the hormones, you know, but terrible pain. I was doubling over while writing. And that’s not okay. You know, it wasn’t that’s not something to be grateful for. 

And I guess it was a wake up call for me then that there’s, you know, something is wrong with me, but I can’t be the only person. And surely the system needs to wake up. People need to know that this happens and it’s not okay. I cannot be measured to people who don’t have as much pain. At the same time, let alone men who never have periods. Hmm. How are we putting everyone on the same scale? You know, I understand the whole, you know, equality. I want to be equal. I want to have the same rights. But we have to look at the ground we’re standing on to make sure we balance that before we stop measuring people and equality. We cannot expect someone. We can’t expect the fish to climb a tree rights. We have to give them first the apparatus to breathe outside water before you expect them to climb. That’s how I felt. You know, I felt like I was I was being asked to compete with people who just it wasn’t fair. I didn’t you know, it wasn’t fair. 

That’s when I started being interested in the system, the health care. And I started pushing the GP. I started asking for help. I was told I have anxiety. I was given anxiety medication. I was giving depression medication. I was told I have IBS, I have the PCOS, all of that and nothing helped it. Everyone was throwing these terms at me without giving me any explanation. My symptoms got worse, not my period symptoms, but my other symptoms. I would go to hospital outside of my periods every month or so, at least three or four times a year, from abdominal pain to severe abdominal pain. And they would be scanning me. They want to do they want to get my appendix out. They thought maybe it’s the appendix, maybe it’s that. None of that. And I didn’t let them because there was no there was no sign that there is an appendix issue. 

And then I decided to go private and I spent a lot of money on private scanning. Nothing was found. Doctors still didn’t find anything. And then accidentally at one of my scans where we had it was a gastro actually a gastro specialist, I kind of insisted to him and it was a guy and he was one of his, one of my better doctors. And I insisted to him that I can feel something very low down. I said, You know, if I wasn’t sure I’m not pregnant, I would think I’m pregnant. There’s something I can feel. And he said, let’s have a let’s have an ultrasound of your abdomen. And they did an ultrasound. And again, I was very lucky. It’s all a matter of luck, really. I was very lucky that the person who was doing the ultrasound that day said to me, Listen, I don’t think your gut, there’s anything with your gut, but I let me get my colleague who who does ultrasounds on woman and she specialised. I want her to have a look. So someone else came in, she had a look and she said to me, I think I need to see a gynaecologists and ask them to investigate endometriosis. And I asked her, you know, how come you’re saying this? You know, I know that you can’t see endometriosis on an external scan. And she said, No, you can’t. And I can’t be 100% sure. But I’ve done a lot of scans and I know a lot of women. And what I’m seeing to me doesn’t look like the average polycystic ovarian cysts.  To me, they look like they might be different type of cysts, and so they might actually be endometriosis rather than polycystic. And she was my miracle angel in that in that moment, you know, it was just by chance that she was there. And this guy who was doing my scan decided to get her opinion. 

And so then I paid more to go see another gynaecologist with those results. And they did an MRI and more scans and they confirmed that endometriosis diagnosis. And I didn’t stop that. I mean, I was overwhelmed because I was like, finally, I know, I know what’s going on. And but the first thing that my gynaecologist told me was, okay, well, what we can do is we can have the can do. My colon was stuck to my cervix. And she said, you know, we can go in and do some surgery, but then you’ll have a year to get pregnant. At this point, she hasn’t asked me if I’m trying to get pregnant, if I’m even in a position to try. I wasn’t in a position to try. That was the last thing on my mind at that point. And that was it. That was all I was provided. So I just cancelled and I left and I called another gynaecologist and I went and saw another gynaecologist and he said, you know, he was he explained to me more. He explained that he thinks that we shouldn’t be hasty in taking making decisions. He offered me hormonal contraception, but it wasn’t right for me. I have a family history of embolisms or blood clots. And so I didn’t want to have any hormonal interventions. And so it was he said to me, okay, well, now we have to say, what do you want? You’re not trying to have a baby. So what do you want? And I said, I want I want to live a better life. I want to be more in charge of my body and I want to control my symptoms. And obviously I’m concerned about my future fertility. So those are the aspects that I want to focus on. And he said to me, I will, from my part, I can only do some private testing for your fertility and get your egg reserves and go down that route from symptom control. I’m living a better life. This is going to be up to you. You’re going to have to do your own research on your work and figure out what works for you, what doesn’t. Try supplements. 

And that’s where it all started. So at that point, I’d spent quite a lot of money on diagnosis and consultations alone. And then it was a matter of, okay, well then I did my fertility testing and spends over £600 on that, which was crazy. And then it was a matter of, Alright, well, how do I, how do I do this now? How do I take care of my my body and my endometriosis? What do I do? And I was a scientist, you know, at this point I was finishing my, my Ph.D., like you rightly said. And that was difficult, by the way, getting through a Ph.D. twice, I wanted to quit. And my co-founder, Dr. Lukasz Ciszewski, he was there, and he helped me through all of that. But that was when I thought, okay, as a scientist who knows a lot about the human body, who’s a molecular biologist, I still didn’t know what to do with myself. And so then I had to plan my way through a lot of research, contacting a lot of health coaches and nutritionists and practitioners, women’s health practitioners, as well as doctors who were open minded to helping me in alternative ways rather than just medication and took. 

And that’s brought me to a stage where I could be a lot more confident. I took charge of my health a lot more. My period pains were a lot more manageable. Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes they come and they come strong. So it’s not you know, I have flare ups, but just less often as I used to. Anxiety is much less than it was previously. And so the quality of my life changed drastically. And I haven’t been to the hospital for pains like that in the past three years. And so that for me is a huge and that was the trigger. It was it was the trigger of I want to do something about this and I want to do it now. And that means education of women about their health, their anatomy, their body, and how to take control of it, providing access to cheaper alternatives and getting insights about your body, your fertility, your hormones, your vagina. You know, I was having a recurring infection even though I wasn’t sexually active. I was having these infections. And I later found out that it was because my vaginal microbiome was an absolute mess because of my hormonal balance issues. So getting that kind of insight gave me the power to do something about it. And I wanted to make that available for women so that they can take charge of that. And so hopefully they can teach their daughters. And so hopefully we can have a whole societal change in the way we view women, how we help women, and the way we conduct research and even develop medication for women. 

Le’Nise: What really gets me about your story is, well, a couple of things is it’s this story I’ve heard so many times before, but also, you know, the fact that you, you getting this on this road to diagnosis was a fluke. Yeah, well, if you hadn’t if that that ultrasound technician who specialised in women’s health hadn’t been in that day, you know, you would have had to have gone back on that kind of conveyor belt of scans and to seeing more doctors. So that’s just that really gets to me that, you know, that we just we don’t I still don’t have the training in all aspects of, you know, medicine to really identify women’s health conditions. You know, like the fact that, you know, they thought it was a digestive issue. They thought you had IBS. You know, we know that, you know, that’s one of the most common misdiagnosis of endometriosis. But also going back to what you said about you sitting in that exam paper at Cambridge and how, you know, I’m sure that they thought that they were doing you a massive favour. 

Golnoush: Oh, yeah. You know, they were doing what they could, right. Yeah. Well into that bedroom. 

Le’Nise: Yeah.

Golnoush: They for I mean invigilators just. 

Le’Nise: And the fact that like they weren’t able to say well actually you know, can we, you can just do it tomorrow, you know, we can have, we can make a set up for you because if they were able to send an invigilatorsto your room, then they could have just done the same sort of thing the next day. But the kind of lack of understanding of the level of pain that you were experiencing. But like kudos to you for being able to write that paper while you were, you know, doubled up in in pain. And I’m sure you did very well. 

Golnoush: I could have done better and no, I mean, I don’t think I you know, I at that point my friends were like, well, me know, my mom was like, well done. You know, you did this. And I look back and I think, I don’t know. Yes, well done. For, for sitting that paper in pain. Maybe I shouldn’t have. Maybe I should have refused to sit that paper, and maybe that would have forced the system to then accommodate for my pain. I think this is the mistake that a lot of a lot of women make because we we are massively accommodating to accommodate. Right. Like we hate confrontation or we hate being a burden. And I certainly hate being a you know, I I’m really, really bad at feeling like I’m inconveniencing other people. 

But it’s for the sake I think at this point is I think for the sake of if I ever have daughters, you know, I don’t want them to go through this. And for that sake, I think we have to be like, actually, no, there is nothing heroic in walking all over yourself. It’s this is not heroic. You’re setting the path for just being ignored and mistreated, you know, just not being taken seriously and definitely setting the path for the health care system to not differentiate between women’s health and generic health or men’s health. And that’s where the issue is. I had a lot of high tech tests done on me. You know, I was having my arterial blood being examined because they thought something’s wrong in my heart. My resting heart rate was way above what it should be. And so I was having all sorts of things like really high end tests being done. The only reason being no one stopped to think when looking at this individual with these symptoms. Let’s also think about the fact that she has a vagina, a uterus and ovaries. You know, let’s think about that. Also because if someone had done that. Surely. And you know, earlier than that, someone would say, Maybe, maybe let’s think that this might be a hormonal situation. Hmm. Maybe. Let’s think that this has to do with her reproductive system because she has one. We can’t diagnose or treat woman by completely ignoring the fact that they have a whole reproductive system and a hormonal system that rules everything. 

Le’Nise: And you you talked also about how you had seen that doctor who said basically said, you know, do your you going to have to do your own research, basically saying, okay, you know, I’ve offered you the pill, You don’t want to take it. You have family history. So it go off and do your own research. And now you’re a scientist, so you are comfortable with diving into the research, you know, going on PubMed, doing research, you know, knowing how to even use PubMed, knowing how to like, dissect a paper and the different types of papers. And I just I find that the fact that, you know, you still struggled to find answers, even given given your background. And I just think about like women that I speak to who are just like they just feel completely unmoored by this. They can’t find answers. They’re Googling, they’re following like just random advice from like health, like, just like fitness influencers and just anything because they’re just so desperate for answers. 

And now this led to you starting your own femtech business. With that word femtech is that, you know, I kind of it’s realistic to me in the same category as like mom blogger. It’s you know, you’re a blogger and you’re a mom, you are a tech entrepreneur and you’re a woman. You know. 

Golnoush: I feel like femtech has now become the generic term for women’s health. Like women’s health, anything like entrepreneurship or solutions. It’s all kind of now coming and fitting into Femtech. Yeah, it did lead to that. You know, struggling as a scientist to even find out what I need and realising that how many different pieces I needed in order to really get the help I want the quality of help. It’s and then, of course, realising the majority of the women out there won’t even be able to do what I did. I was privileged enough to have that savings to be able to spend it. I was privileged enough to have had the education and the time to be able to spend finding what I needed. And it shouldn’t be for. It was hard as a woman who was privileged, let alone if you’re not. If you are a mother who doesn’t have time to even scratch her head, let alone spend time on yourself. If you haven’t had education in the sciences, if you don’t have the money to spend, you shouldn’t be you shouldn’t have to live in pain or live with a lack of help and support. And so the initial idea was, why can’t we have, you know, doctors, health coaches and practitioners, nutritionists, you know, women’s health coaches as well as scientists come together in order to form a platform, an environment where women can go and they can get the help they need from the medical, you know, from a medical side, from from a holistic side and from a scientific side. Why is that not available and why is that not there? 

And that’s what started my my journey with Screen Me is bringing together medical, scientific and holistic practitioners in order to provide women with a safe space where they can be heard or listened to. Because I know that for 20 whatever, 9,8, 17 years, no one actually took me. So, you know, no one listen to what I’m saying, which is, Hello, I’m in pain. Something is wrong. You know, you’re anxious, you’re depressed, you have exams. That’s you are not listening to me. So a space for a woman to be heard and then to be advised and in a scientifically accurate and professional but open minded way and provided affordable testing in order to get the insight and then put in touch, you know, that’s what we do in ScreenMe we get women who come to us for advice, they do their testing, and then we connect them with the right individuals who can help them. You know, I didn’t I didn’t know where to look to find those health coaches that could help me. It was you know, Google is a big place and and who knows what to you know, I can confidently say 80% of the information I read was not true. So, you know, and a safe space to be heard, to be provided with insights and to be then referred to the right sources in order to receive the personal help that you need in. 

Le’Nise: Then you and your co-founder founded your company ScreenMe. And there is a focus on testing, gut and rationale along with other types of blood testing. I’m really interested in what you said about the vaginal microbiome and how certain conditions where there’s a hormonal aspect that affects the vaginal microbiome. And what’s really interesting is that I don’t think that, as you said, you know, you were having lots of infections and then you finally made the link between your changing hormones and the issues with your vaginal microbiome. And I was just reading something yesterday about this woman. She was constantly getting UTIs and how she had constantly being put on antibiotics to try to clear the UTIs. And then reading the comments, so many other women talking about the exact same issue and then starting to talk about other issues with their health. And I just it just made me think how, you know, we’re starting to know more about the gut. And it’s a really, like, fascinating space. But there’s still so much research that needs to be done around the vaginal microbiome. So can you just talk a little bit for someone listening who doesn’t even know like, oh my gosh, my body, my vagina has a microbiome? What does that mean? Can you tell us a bit more about that? 

Golnoush: Yeah, I think the fact that we know so much like everyone knows, gut health and gut microbiome and we don’t the vagina itself is representative of the way our society works there. The reason we all know about the gut microbiome is because men also have guts. And so it’s a bigger market, and so there’s more money being pumped into that market. So everyone talks about it but the vaginal, so actually the vaginal microbiome is a lot more understood than the gut because it’s a lot more simple. So yes, the vagina has a microbiome. The vagina is an opening into our body. And so what people don’t realise is that because it’s an opening into our reproductive system, it’s actually a very sensitive area. It means things can go into our body, unwanted things, disease causing agents. 

And so the vagina is like the immune system of that reproductive system. It’s there to stop you getting unwanted disease, causing bacteria, yeast, other, you know, viruses, it’s there to stop it. And it does that through the microbiome. So it has an ecosystem of bacteria that are there to help keep the reproductive system safe and the vagina clean. So the vagina is self-cleaning when it’s healthy. So this environment is not like the gut, it is meant to be not as diverse as the gut. We want it to be diverse, to be healthy. The vagina should not be diverse. We want the vagina to be dominated by protective bacteria that make it acidic. And when we have. You know, health issues. So the vagina, this ecosystem is maintained through this very fine balance of hormones that we have. And when we have any kind of issues with our hormonal system, with our immune system, the vagina reacts to that. The ecosystem reacts to that. So, you know. Kind of going finding that out while I was doing my PhD, having my own issues. It was for me, it was mindblowing. I was like, Oh my goodness, there’s so much we can understand by looking at the vaginal ecosystem. You know, I could tell if a woman was having, you know, oestrogen issues just by looking at the vaginal ecosystem when the blood would not show anything. 

So the vagina is a very, very good way of looking at women’s hormonal and immune health. You know, it’s it’s a very representative ecosystem to be looking at, it’s a powerful tool when it comes to inside diagnosis and treatment. So. So yeah, your vagina is there, the microbiome is there. It’s really important. It plays a really important role in preventing infections and lowering your risk of STDs as well. So we know women who don’t get STDs sometimes, even even when they’re not that careful, and women who get them all the time. And the difference is the vaginal microbiomes and how protective it is, which is very interesting. So your protection against infections and STDs. Protection against HPV. So what makes a woman get rid of an HPV infection? The clearance rate is higher and woman who doesn’t. Is there vaginal microbiome and how protective that is? So we know that women who have imbalanced vaginal microbiome dysbiosis, they have very slow clearance of HPV. And so that can then go on to cancer and other complications and pelvic inflammatory disease and all of that. So the vaginal microbiome is really important for infection, STD, HPV and fertility complications. So we know that women who don’t have enough lactobacillus or a protective bacteria in their vagina are at higher risk of miscarriage, infertility and also IVF implantation failure. So really, the vagina is the key at the core of a woman’s reproductive system and her immune system. And I think all women should really understand their vagina and give it the the attention it needs in order to protect themselves from disease down the line. 

Le’Nise: What are a few things, a few simple things that a woman can do to improve for vaginal microbiome? 

Golnoush: Yeah, good question. So first of all, with the hormonal health, thin hormonal health. So balancing your hormones is really, really important in order to take care of your vaginal microbiome, no matter what you do, if your hormones are not doing well, you can’t you can’t fix the microbiome. So so think hormonally friendly lifestyle, think hormonally friendly nutrition. You know, understand your periods. Talk to someone who understands periods and eat for your hormones. I think that’s really, really important way to starts start that. 

The next step would be hygiene. A lot of people think the vagina needs to be cleaned and there’s a lot of products out there that pushes us to clean the vagina. The vagina is self-cleaning if it’s healthy. So actually using products to clean the vagina is going to cause problems. It’s going to change the pH of the vagina. And it can also cause dysbiosis or an imbalance of that bacterial environment. So we shouldn’t really be washing the vagina with any cleaning products. Water alone should be enough. If the vagina is smelling abnormal or it’s offending you or you’re uncomfortable, that is a big sign. That’s your body telling you something is wrong, that you know your line of protection down there is down. And so get help. Find out why that’s happening. Get yourself screened. Find out what is going on, why there’s a dysbiosis. And then there’s ways of then fixing that, you know, working with a coach, with a women’s health coach, you can actually take control and regain that balance. So that’s that’s really, really important with the hygiene part of things as well. 

And the other is your sex life is really important to be aware of. Obviously, safe sex, as everyone knows, is really important. But then even if you are with one partner, I often find a woman becoming, oh well, I’m always just with my partner, so I don’t need to be careful. You need to be careful so the products you use in your sex life are really important. So lube, for example, is one that can be very problematic in the vaginal microbiome. Just, you know, over-the-counter lube stuff that we buy has product, has stuff in it that can cause dysbiosis in the vagina. So be careful of the products that you use in your intimate life in general. Make sure that they’re vaginally friendly. Unfortunately, you know, products are made for purposes like making sex easy, but they’re not made with the thought of what will this do to the vagina? You know, how will this affect the vagina. That’s not taken into account when products are created. So do you do some research. We’ve got a lot of blogs on our website about these topics, educational blogs on how to choose lube, how to take care of the vagina. That can be that can be very helpful. I think being aware of these things will automatically change the way you start choosing and using products on the way you know, choose cotton. Be careful of others. It increases your… 

That last tip I’m going to say because oh so often is well, we love living in leggings. Everyone’s wearing leggings all the time. Leggings are one of sometimes the number one culprits of vaginal dysbiosis. You know, it’s it can. It’s not breathable is not as breathable. It creates quite a dark, moist environment. And that can encourage the growth of some of the bad bacteria. So be wary of the stuff that you wear around your you know, around your groin area for long periods of time. Make sure that you are allowing your groin area to breathe and and take care of it. Be aware. I would say an annual vaginal microbiome test for every woman is is the way to make sure that you’re protected, that you’re lowering your risk of infections as you go through life. You’re one step ahead of the game and even your hormones. 

Le’Nise: Fantastic. I know that will help so many. I learned I learned something there as well, and I will definitely be linking to the blogs, blog posts that you mentioned, choosing the right lube. Super important. So you look out for those in the show notes. Just to kind of close off our conversation. You are really passionate about educating women and making sure that they feel the empowerment that maybe you didn’t feel when you were going through your diagnosis journey. What do you think that women need to do to take charge of their health? 

Golnoush: That’s a good question. I think it starts with learning about the body. You know, that’s the first step is acknowledge that you have a vagina, uterus and ovaries, irrespective of fertility and having a baby. It doesn’t matter whether having a child is on your timeline or not. Your body is is more than that. And so so learn of the importance of your of your reproductive system in your health. Keep track of your periods. Understand how your body ticks. When do I you know, this is how I feel at this point in my cycle. That’s how I feel at the other point in my cycle. You know, I get pain at this point. Understand how your body ticks. Make friends with it. That’s the first step is I think I didn’t I didn’t understand my body. And it took me a while to actually be okay. My body is unique and this is how it is. 

And then the next step would be get insight, you know, get insights into the different aspects of your of your body, whether it be I’m going to actually do my you know, I’m going to just do a normal nutrition test like just, you know, my bloods and look at my vitamin levels and see where I stand. That can be quite empowering. You know, just just knowing what your body needs. Get insights, understand your unique needs and then small. It doesn’t mean you have to make huge changes in your life to take control. You don’t. Really small changes go a long, long way. They did for me, and they do for a lot of women that we’ve seen, that we’ve tested, that we’ve referred on. Little small changes make a huge life changing difference. The first step being, I feel like someone’s heard me. I feel like I understand my body better and I now know what to do next. It’s not going to be an overnight thing. It’s going to be time, but it’s just about taking that first step. 

Le’Nise: Fantastic. Where can people find you? 

Golnoush: Oh, everywhere. So you can. You can definitely find this on There’s a small chat box on the website. That’s me. Usually 99% of the time you can find us on Instagram @screenmewomen. Feel free to message us there as well. Or just email us at We’re very open and supporting women and directing them in the direction that they need to go. Sometimes we can’t help, but we will then direct them to where they need to go or just provide information where they need it. So don’t be shy in asking questions or just saying, I need help in this thing. We are we are more than happy to to just help. 

Le’Nise: Great. Well, thank you so much for coming on the show today. It’s been so informative speaking to you. And thank you so much for sharing your story. 

Golnoush: Thank you very much for having me. 

Period Story Podcast, Episode 72, Hana Walker-Brown: The Stories We’ve Told Ourselves Aren’t Always The Reality

My guest on today’s episode of Period Story is Hana Walker-Brown, a multi-award winning, internationally acclaimed audio documentary and podcast maker, creative director and author of the book, A Delicate Game, which tells the story of the degenerative brain disease Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) through first-hand intimate interviews with sufferers and their families. 

In this episode, Hana shares: 

  • How lockdown led to her realising she might have ADHD
  • The value of Right to Choose in helping her get an ADHD diagnosis
  • That there’s no blueprint for ADHD but there are commonalities 
  • How having a diagnosis gave her an explanation for certain feelings and behaviours 
  • How she’s had to move forward with more grace and kindness 
  • Her new podcast Late to the Party, which is about navigating neurodiversity as an adult 
  • And of course, the story of her first period

Hana says that the big things for her in getting through everything have been to trust and forgive herself. 

Thank you, Hana!

Get in touch with Hana:








Le’Nise: Thank you so much for coming on to the show. Hana. I’m really excited to talk to you. But let’s start off by hearing the story of your very first period. 

Hana: Oh, gosh. So I was thinking about this and I mean, we can get into this, but I think I had a lot of kind of fear and shame about when my period might arrive. I was definitely like a late bloomer, I guess. I hate that expression, but that’s the first thing I could think of in terms of kind of my friends, like I didn’t have boobs till really late and I felt kind of like the child when everyone started to become like a woman, which is ridiculous because we were like 14. But like, so I kind of I wanted it, but then I also really didn’t want it. 

And I remember my parents divorced when I was four, and the thing I really didn’t want was to be at my dad’s house. And it came at my dad’s house and I hid it from everyone. I didn’t know what to do. And I, I think because I felt so much shame, I just didn’t say anything. And I had like two stepsisters there. One who is two years older than me. And I just remember being laughing, but I’m like, Oh, that poor girl. But I remember being in the bathroom of just being like, I just don’t know what I’m going to do. And looking in cupboards and stuff not being there. Yeah, it was not traumatic, but it wasn’t like, Oh yay, I’ve now blossomed. 

But yeah, so I remember, I think I just put tissue in my pants and I just got through the weekend and got back home and I don’t, I didn’t tell my mum for ages either. I don’t think I told anyone and I think my mum just found like sanitary towels I’d bought down and in the bin in the bathroom and was like did you start your period? And I was like, Yes. It’s such a I don’t know, I think, I don’t know where that came. I mean, now I can kind of look into it a bit more and that’s how I was feeling generally as a person was quite afraid to, to say how I was feeling and was kind of shut down a bit or told I was exaggerating or being dramatic. And I think when that sort of plays into you in that moment, I did feel like it was quite massive, but I was like, Can’t tell anyone. So yeah, it was all the things that I didn’t want to happen happened at my dad’s. I was alone and I didn’t tell anyone for ages about it. I didn’t even tell my friends about it for ages. 

Le’Nise: So how long did you keep it a secret from your mum? 

Hana: I think a couple of months until it came back. 

Le’Nise: Wow.

Hana: Yeah. 

Le’Nise: And your mom. So she found this, the pads, and she was kind of like, why? Have you started your period? Yeah. And then what was the conversation like from there? 

Hana: Quite. I think she was shouting at me because she said. When you when you’ve used when it needs to go in a bag. It can’t just go in the bin. And I think I’d actually flushed something down the toilet. And that’s when it start. That was another thing, because I think she had to now in my remembering it, she had to call a plumber to come around. And that’s what was in the toilet. I didn’t know. No one told me. Like, I’m terrified. No one said right when it happened. It’s like I knew it was coming, but we didn’t kind of have a real you know, we knew what to use. I didn’t know that they couldn’t go down the toilet, you know, or we didn’t know how long we were scared about. What was that thing that everyone talked about? School like toxic shock syndrome. Like I was terrified of tampons. I was like, I’m going to die if I use this. So, yeah, it was like just feeling very ill equipped and rather than kind of being asking for help, I think I just sort of was like, Oh, just get on with it. Yeah. So yeah, I wouldn’t say like, I’m sort of laughing now, but I’m like, Well, what an entry? What an entry into this thing I’m going to have, you know, for the majority of my life.

Le’Nise: Yeah. And you know, the flushing the pad down the loo I, I laugh but I actually did that and luckily I didn’t cause any plumbing issues. But I think back on it now and yeah, no one, no one said, you know, don’t flush a tampon, don’t flush your pad down the loo. You can cause like, you know, a blockage. Um, but it’s funny how, you know, we learn these things. I think I just read it in the magazine when I was in my twenties, and it’s like, okay. 

Hana: Yeah, that’s it. I think because they only started putting signs in public toilets. But again, maybe in my late teens, early twenties, when it was don’t put sanitary products down the toilet. And I thought, Oh, that’s new. Maybe the systems have changed, maybe the piping’s changed. And I’m like, Oh no, it’s just like blocks everything. But yeah, that wasn’t a conversation. I mean, I think back to kind of sex ed even at school, it was just, here’s an egg, here’s a sperm where a condom or you’re going to get pregnant. That was it. And you’re like, Oh, no, it’s fearful. And again, with kind of tampons, I think we had like one session where someone came in and all we took was toxic shock. Toxic shock is that was the I don’t know, the only thing that was exciting to hold on to, but yet no kind of detail or information or actually space for people to share their concerns or worries. If you didn’t want to share in front of the whole class. I actually think there were even boys in that class. And that’s probably why we were just like, no one asked anything. 

Le’Nise: Because you embarrassed. 

Hana: Yeah. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. Okay. 

Hana: So it’s so. But like, now I’m like, Oh my God. Like this world that we would set up for, It’s like everything that is so kind of natural. The reason we’re all here, essentially, and we’re so ashamed of it. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. And so you have this experience around your first period, a lot of shame, a lot of secrecy. And then finally your mum found out, you eventually told your friends, I’m assuming. And then what was your experience of your period like throughout your teenage years? 

Hana: I just hated it. I hated it. I think. It. It felt like it just got in the way. And I think also at that point, you know, I’m sort of, you know, you’re going through puberty at the same time your hormones are raging. And I just didn’t I didn’t feel good when I got to in the lead up, I did not feel good. And I just I hated that. And again, that was never explained. You know, again, we’d have kind of, I guess, very surface like PMS or oh, it’s her time of the month. But there wasn’t a kind of nuanced explanation of what was happening or, you know, what activities would be suitable around certain times in the cycle. And thinking about this Maisie Hill’s period book that I mean, I only read in my thirties, but I think those are the things that were missing. It was just like, you have to have this and also get on with it and not complain about it and not talk to anyone about it. And I think around that time, you know, you’re starting to like have sex with boys and all those things. And it just felt like it was the thing that was either annoying or got in the way or, I don’t know, I never embraced it. It was every time I was annoyed it was there. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. You’re definitely not alone. I think there is this you know, a lot of people are talking quite positively about their periods now. But yeah, even still, like with me, this is the work I do. And when my period arrives some months, I’m just like, I just don’t want to deal with this. I don’t, I feel quite negatively about it. 

Hana: Yeah, totally. I mean, I’ve, I think I do. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. I think now having the knowledge and the awareness of what’s going on, like I really suffer the two or three days kind of preceding it. And every time I Oh God, every time I like, I’m so unhappy everyone hates me. And then I’m I know when it’s coming because I’m not really a big scroller anymore on Instagram, I realised it’s kind of detrimental to my health, but I’ll be on there like looking for a reason to feel bad or going, you know, just. And that’s the thing that catches me. And I’m like, Here it comes. Because every time it’s the same pattern and even things like, Now stop putting meetings in on those days, stop doing social things on those days because it’s like I’m not my best. And rather than be like, No, I can power through this. It’s fine, as if I’m some separate entity to like what’s going on in my body. I’ve just gone, okay, you just don’t need to see people in those days. In five days time, you’re going to be great for the meetings. And then but in those days, just, you know, clear the deck, do what you need to do, light exercise, you know, all those things that actually do help, you don’t want to do a lot of them because, you know, I’m still convinced that I’m stronger, capable and powerful, which I am. I’m all of those things. But on those days, I just need a rest. 

Le’Nise: How long did it take for you to realise that? 

Hana: 30 years. I say no less. I know. Like when I get it. When I was like 15. Yeah, about 20, 25 years, right? Yeah. 

Le’Nise: And you still. Do you feel any resistance still? Okay. Actually, I know what’s best for me during these couple of days, but I really ‘should’ be doing this. 

Hana: Yeah, and I have done. I definitely feel that resistance. I think that comes down from again, there’s a lot of things are kind of reconciled within the last couple of years about my sort of productivity and how. You know my external output. I just thought that was so much more valid than how I felt internally, like what I could produce and create and put out it win. And I’m sort of pedalling back on that and going, Oh no, that’s not what’s important. I’m important. 

So there’s still that resistance, cause I think that’s a lifetime of learning that I’m trying to kind of unravel. But even like there’s been a couple of months in the last six months where my period’s come twice in a month and I because they’ve been short, so they sort of come for a few days and gone and I’ve been like, Great, but why do I still feel shit? And then it’s then I’ve started to feel sort of really low again. I’ve been like, Well, it can’t be that because I’ve already had it. But then it comes back. So I’m like, Well, this is a really annoying pattern that just sort of surfaced and I don’t know if that’s stress or what that is, but even that I, I was sort of on a train back home last Friday and I was so emotional, like biting back tears on the train. And I thought, I don’t know how I’m going to be able to speak to anyone, If anyone asks me how I am, I’m just going to burst into tears. And I said, This doesn’t make any sense. I’ve just had my period. It’s it must be me. I must be mad, crazy this. And then I got to the house and I had it again and I was like, Oh, you need to just trust that this feeling because I know what it is, it’s just when it catches your guard or if it’s out of the kind of the rhythm of the cycle, I suppose it, it must be something else. But it can be quite intense on those days. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, that, that’s interesting. Trusting yourself that, that idea that, you know, you’ve spent so much time tuning in and seeing these patterns and trusting what your body is telling you. 

Hana: Yeah. 

Le’Nise: You talked previously about reconciling a lot of things over the last couple of years. So one of those you talk another one of those things you talk about is ADHD and your journey towards getting a diagnosis. And I think this is so interesting because, you know, there is a lot more conversation over certainly over the last year about ADHD, especially in women. And I just want to talk a little bit about what that journey towards diagnosis looked like for you. 

Hana: Yeah, it was it was intense. It was, I guess. All things considered, the journey has probably been about ten or 12 years, but kind of that initial ten years was me seeking help for something I didn’t have the language for. 

So I’ve had chronic insomnia since since I was a baby apparently. My dad told me recently that sometimes they’d come into my room in the morning and I’ll just be stood in my cot waiting for everyone. And he was like, We just didn’t even know if you slept. I wasn’t screaming or crying. I was just like, awake, waiting for everyone else to wake up. So I say, yeah, for my whole life. And that was sort of never addressed, really. I think my mum had asked me if I wanted to see a doctor when I was like 13, 13, what am I going to say? No, I’m fine. 

So I’ve had this insomnia and also this like just relentless, I thought, creative process in inverted commas, where I work crazy hard all through the night, burn out, be on the floor and then get up, do it again. And I just thought that was, you know, sort of romanticised it as this like bohemian, creative, You know, when you’re being self expressive, you have to give everything and suffer. You know, we see it all the time. And that was just the explanation I gave myself, which now I’m like, What? Just what? Come on, that’s ridiculous. 

But so I was sort of going to see doctors on and off. And every time it was sort of take this antidepressant, take this anxiety medication. And I knew I could be depressed and I knew I could feel anxious, but it wasn’t like my baseline. Like it wasn’t it didn’t feel like that’s what it was. So I never took these things unless it was sleeping tablets, which they’d only give sort of a couple now and again. And that was great because I could have a good night’s sleep. And then it did come to a head for me in lockdown, but not in the same way it did for other people. I think. I don’t use TikTok and a lot of ADHD discourse happened on TikTok, which was amazing because people didn’t have references for what they were feeling before. I didn’t I wasn’t aware of all of that going on. In fact, I was actually aware of this kind of, just the amount of people coming forward. I think I was kind of in my little world, but all the things that I had kind of unknowingly done to keep myself, you know, level were suddenly taken away. So, you know, exercise, going for long walks. And I couldn’t sit still at my desk in my house all day, like being constricted in that way. And and things just started to kind of amplify and swell. And it’s almost like. I don’t know. It’s like you’re a sausage in this very tight skin and you’re pushing against it the whole time. It just feels so uncomfortable. 

And then I moved to Spain in after the first lockdown, because, I mean, why not? And also I feel that was a kind of a running away from the issue. And I feel the issue was being in London and being living with the person I was living with. And I thought, I’ll go to Spain, it’s sunny. That will help. And it did on the most part. But we we had a curfew in Spain a lot of the time, and I was living on my own for the first time. So not a lockdown. But if I wasn’t staying at a friend’s, I had to be in by a certain time at night and no one to go out in the street to try and kind of curb the virus. And so I spent a lot of time on my own and a lot of time facing a lot of stuff. I didn’t have anyone to kind of project on to. Well, there was no one to sort of. I guess minimise some of that or distract me from that. 

And I remember I called my doctor because I thought I’m genuinely I thought I’m just going to be one of these women that goes mad. That’s just it. Like people will say, Oh, she gave it a good go, but in the end she just went mad. And that will just be what happens to me because I, I was overwhelmed with all of these things, which I now understand are like pretty common ADHD symptoms. And it was a friend that was having an autism diagnosis around that time that said to me, I really think you should look into ADHD. And it was not even on my radar. Like I knew my brother probably had it, but he was incredibly hyperactive, Can’t sit still, quite disruptive, but wasn’t kind of naughty and in a malicious way but just couldn’t like just wouldn’t was restricted by the systems that we had, you know, in classrooms in school. So that was my only reference. 

And then I started kind of really reading into this and it’s like, Oh yeah, I do that. Oh, yeah, oh yeah, I do that. And it was like, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick. That’s when I started looking on kind of Instagram. That’s when I started finding TikTok. And I think I, I have this and I remember calling my doctor and she said to me, Everyone thinks they have ADHD, Hana. And I was like ok, help, please help. And she said, no, she wouldn’t have referred me. And then I miraculously found out about right to choose as I hung up the phone and her feeling like no one’s going to help me, I’m totally alone in this, someone had posted about Right to Choose, which is basically a referral letter from your doctor to have a private, a psychiatric assessment and to get a diagnosis.

So I called my doctor back and she was I thought she was annoyed that I had found this because then because I’d asked for it, I was she was still in Southwark where I was living before was in Spain, and she had to then take it to a board. That’s how it works. If someone asks, you have to take it to the board and then they fill your records and they decide whether they will essentially, essentially comes out of their pocket, not their pocket, but that sort of practice pocket to refer you. So. A few weeks later, I got a call from her. No, she wasn’t going to back me. But then a month after that, I got a call from this woman called Joanne, who had who was a doctor who’d been in that briefing where they looked at my files, and she just said categorically. I think she even said I would bet my license on you having ADHD or something. So. It’s like, I don’t know. Just so like. I just felt someone had finally seen what I was trying to say. And I didn’t have a language for this before. So it couldn’t, you know, maybe it wasn’t that, but it just felt like in that moment, like just the strength of her belief in me, was so amazing. And she was she’d never met me, but she was like, I’m going to refer you and I’ll back you and I’ll get you and the diagnosis. 

So that’s how it kind of all started. So I owe that woman a lot because I was I was not in a good place during that kind of period, as a lot of people who went through this weren’t. Because I think in that time we all realise those things and all those things even knowingly kind of done to cope. And the masking thing, you know, the masks that we’ve put on, the masking behaviours we’ve adopted, they all just fell to the ground because we, the world wasn’t the world that we’d lived in. So yeah, I think it was very intense. And then. My diagnosis happened quite quickly, was maybe a couple of months. I scored very highly. Not that it’s, Oh me, I’m like achievement, like come grades, which is part of my makeup as well. But I was like, Wow. And my psychiatrist said to me, I don’t know how you’ve done this for so long. I don’t know how you’ve done it. And I think that’s quite common for a lot of people to hear. And it’s like. I knew that I. What differently to other people. I knew I had incredibly low self-esteem. I knew that there was this kind of conflict between what I was able to do and achieve in inverted commas and how I felt about myself. I knew that that I looked to people who were achieving way, way less than me, and they were so hyped on themselves. And I was like, Wow. How do you do that? Even sleep, you know, as a kid, I was like, When did everyone learn to do this? I didn’t. I was in that sleep class where people were taught how to do this. 

It was so, you know, a lot of the time feeling really less than. And to suddenly to kind of have an answer that isn’t just, oh, you’re just you are less that actually it’s like, oh, no, I have this thing that means the way that the world is built and set up isn’t always the best way for me to move through it. So, you know, it’s about not kind of being accusatory or that dwelling in the past. But actually for me it’s like now I know how am I going to work in a way that that serves me rather than always fighting against this box that the I’ve just never fitted. 

Le’Nise: You talk about some of your symptoms. So the chronic insomnia, the the need to to move and how movement is kind of a meditation for you. Can you talk about some of your other symptoms because someone might be listening to this and thinking, okay, hold on a minute. That, you know, is this something that’s going on for me? So for someone who might be listening and thinking that, what are some of the other symptoms that you experienced? 

Hana: Sure. And I should just preface that with I think one of the there’s a great things about Instagram and Tik Tok is that people are aware that what they’re going through is universal to the to a high degree. But sometimes when we get stuck in like these are the five symptoms, if you’ve only got three and yours might be slightly different, it doesn’t mean that, you know, someone said to me the other day, I just don’t feel ADHD enough because their symptoms would be very different to kind of what’s constantly being peddled out. So there are commonalities 100%, and that’s very humbling to realise that you’re not the only person going through this, but. I’m not a blueprint for ADHD, so that’s not what you were implying. But I just want to preface that because I don’t want people to feel like they don’t have a they have a bit, but not that I think, you know in yourself what you have. And I think it’s important to talk to other people about it because, you know, what you start to see emerges is the differences which, you know, you might have just written off because no one else has them. 

And but for me, which I think is quite common for everyone, the the number of tabs that I have open in my head at any one time, it blew my mind that. Neuro. I guess neurotypical is not a term I particularly like that. It’s a good way of just explaining the difference. Someone who does not have ADHD can think of one thought and just do it, and then they’ll think of another thing. I have like a hundred things in my head and I they’re all sort of fighting for attention. And it’s so difficult to figure out which one to pick. Someone said to me today. It’s like they’re at a shop counter and everywhere the queue is like five deep, but people keep swapping places. So you think you’re serving the person at the front, but then they’re at the back and the person at the front and he’s like, And then a camel walks in and you’re like, I bet sort that, you know, it’s just it’s chaos. And sometimes I really pride myself on my ability to manage all of those things, but sometimes it’s just gets so much. You have to just press off like your computer overheats and you just press off, burn out like rest, whatever. And it’s constant. It is this constant just battle for your attention. 

And the sleep is a massive one for me. I had this thing for ages. I used to call it my stretchy, so my brother had a Stretch Armstrong doll. I don’t know if you know those, but it was like basically a man in his pants and you could stretch his limbs. Yeah. And I felt like I would get this kind of feeling in my limbs that I felt like I just needed to be stretched. My everything needed to be stretched. And actually what I needed to do is go for a run or go for walks. I had all this built up energy and my hyperactivity was often in my brain, but I can have those outbursts of just kind of need to go, need to move. Which again, I just thought like, what am I stretchy? And I remember like being in bed with a ex boyfriend. And I’d be like, It’s almost like if you ever watch a baby when it’s realised it has arms and it’s just like punching around just to see how it fits. And he’d be like, Are you stretchy? And I was like, Yes, I’ve just got to be, just baffling stuff that I thought, I’m just quirky, I’m just weird. Like, this is just me. 

The self-esteem, massive one. Like imposter syndrome, which is, you know, a medical syndrome. And for me, I always thought the that just meant you felt you were lucky to be somewhere. Oh, it was a fluke. And I’ve never felt like that. But what I didn’t realise that tied into that was this kind of inability to celebrate yourself and overcompensating because you never feel like enough. Like always seeking external validation, being afraid to ask for help because you don’t want to be kind of found out. And that could be it’s not. I guess not an assumption, but a lot of people with ADHD experience that. And the more I’ve looked into it, I found, wow, that is kind of really where I’ve sat for a long time. And things like rejection sensitivity. So things feeling, emotions, like I feel everything very deeply, which I’ve always liked, because I think it has afforded me the career that I have. 

And I should say that for all the things that make life very difficult, there are some amazing symptoms and behaviours that I have. So, you know, really deep empathy for other people, creativity, really vivid imagination. And I was going to say luckily, but it wasn’t lucky because I’ve. I’ve done it, but. I harnessed all of those things to build a career. And I think that’s a real. It’s a really sad thing when people are kind of in these careers that are like 9 to 5. If you have ADHD, it’s very difficult to even sit at a desk for that long or you’re doing something that you’re not interested in and it’s very boring because that’s that was like a desirable career when we were at school or at uni, and that’s what you are funnelled into. Whereas I’ve sort of rejected all of that and built my own thing based on those strengths. So I feel, I do feel lucky actually in that respect that I was able to do that. 

With the rejection sensitivity and what is so interesting is, you know, which I guess everyone gets, but it’s like if someone doesn’t message me back before, I’d be like, well, they hate me. It was like so extreme. Or if, you know, I have very different groups of friends, but if two people decide to go for dinner and they haven’t invited anyone else but they haven’t invited me, I’m like, Well, they hate me. I say, Wow, this is intense.

And sensory overload. There’s things like, I didn’t realise, but if a restaurant is very overly chaotic, if there’s kind of there’s music that you can’t quite hear it, there’s a conversation happening over there. There’s maybe the traffic behind me. I can never sit with my back to a window if I’m in a cafe or restaurant, if there’s noise behind me, like I need to see where it’s coming from. So I’m not thinking about it cause it’s so easy for me to get pulled out of. You know, the one thing I need to be doing, which is engaging with the person in front of me, which is usually the last thing I can engage with, and then I have a real thing again. It’s quite fun once you find out, you know, diagnosis and then you can start to really examine and explore these things. 

So I have a really thing with texture of food. I hate watery food, like I’ll have soup, but if there’s water like surprise water, there shouldn’t be water there, like pasta. Or if a sauce is too watery with pasta, I have to drain it. And I realised this is so well, pointless. But with like pho, like it like Vietnamese soup. I’ll let it sit in the water for ages to get the taste, but then I’ll drain almost all of the water out and just eat the vegetables because I can’t deal with having the two together. So, you know, there’s some heavy behaviours. There’s some fun ones. It’s some weird ones. And I think actually, rather than hiding them or pushing them away or pretending they’re not there, I’ve had to kind of blend to embrace them. 

Like also things like I if you know, there’s a sort of a misconception that ADHD people are really messy and actually that people leave things out because otherwise we forget they exist. I do it with food in my fridge and I’ve said this on a few podcast, but yoghurt, for some reason I always buy yoghurts and I forget they’re there and and by the time I go to them, they’re like ten days out of date. If I don’t set reminders in my phone of eat yoghurts by this day, then they just go to waste and then, you know, that’s a kind of a shame spiral of I’m wasting food like, you know. But a lot of people just have all their clothes out, otherwise they forget they own them or, you know, you have everything on display on shelves rather than neatly packed away because you just will forget that it’s there. It’s it’s crazy. 

But, you know, some people have real time blindness. A lot of ADHD people are late because they don’t you know, you kind of sit down to do something, I’ve got ages and all of a sudden it’s like, you need to leave 10 minutes ago. I don’t have that. But I think it’s because I was always so afraid of being late that I’m always about 40 minutes early for like I’m early, stupidly early for everything. And even if I’m going to be 5 minutes late, the panic that like rages around my body, like I am white hot with like shame and guilt. And it’s like I think that was, again, a coping mechanism for not being late, which just to make sure I was so early. So, yeah, I mean, I’m only two years in two and a half years in, but there’s just every day. Am I? Oh yeah, that’s that. Oh, I have a conversation with someone and they’re like, Do you do this? And I’m like, I do do that. Is that like, Yeah, it is. It’s a thing. I’m like, okay, so yeah, there’s this a mixed bag, shall we say, of, of behaviours and emotions. 

Le’Nise:  Once you have that diagnosis and you’re able to kind of. I guess I don’t mean like this could be a negative or positive, but like, have that label to be able to put on yourself. What changed? So. Did you get given a medication or were you able to just say, I have ADHD and this is what I need to do to cope with certain situations? I can’t. This is why I don’t like wet food, for example. 

Hana: Yeah. Yeah, it was the latter. I didn’t go down a medication route that was a fight with the doctor and the psychiatrist about that. And, and to me, based on kind of the tools I already had and what I’d sort of unknowingly been doing. We all felt that I had enough and I was going to be able to manage this in a kind of a more holistic way. I think an ADHD diagnosis is an essential label if medication is the right route for you because it’s the only way you get it. 

So I do know a lot of people who are like self diagnosing is enough for them and they’ve then been able to kind of adopt tools and different working methods that suit them and have ultimately made their quality of life much better, which is amazing. But if you need medication like it’s a label you need, and I don’t think there’s anything kind of derogatory or bad in that because it really serves a purpose, and medication really to serve a lot of people. And again, it’s not something I’d ever rule out. I think it’s there, but it’s if I would need to go through that process, which is it is a difficult process in itself, you know, the titration period and figuring out what works the dosage like it’s not an easy thing for anyone to go down. It’s not just like you get a diagnosis, Here’s your medication, off you go. You know, it’s there’s a lot that you kind of still go through. I think it’s kind of lifelong, this whole journey. 

But that wasn’t the route I went down. I think for me it was essential. Like the the clarity at first was very I think I describe it as intoxicating, but that knowing that it’s not is you, but it’s not just you. Like there’s an explanation for how you’re feeling and why you do certain things. And again, it’s very easy. And I think everyone does look back on their life and situations and go, That’s why I did that. That’s why I did that. Not in any way as an excuse for behaviour, but it’s absolutely an explanation and I think that is so helpful for moving forward with a bit more grace and to be a bit more gentle with yourself and to move with kindness when you’ve sort of spent a long time wondering why you can’t do it or why you’re an idiot or all these things, that sort of chip away at your self-esteem when actually like, you didn’t stand a chance. That’s how it was going to be. So I think in that respect, it’s allowed me to just really. Yeah. Move forward with with grace and and be nicer to myself. 

And also just, you know, there’s things that I don’t do now that I was doing all the time. Like, I barely drink alcohol. I was passing a law in my twenties. A law? It wasn’t, you know, I didn’t realise or didn’t know about that kind of chasing that dopamine thing and and why I always was the last person standing or why I could just go and go. I couldn’t ever just be like, Oh, I’m going to bow out, guys. I’ll be like, Let’s go more. And actually the, the, then the feelings after that, which are just an immense crash because I start the day on a dopamine deficit anyway. So to then drop right back down and try and build myself up, it was just like this constant yo yo and, and it’s just allowed me to. Yeah. Make better choices that serve me and, and bring me joy and pleasure and allow me to kind of. Work better and smarter. 

And, you know, again, coupled with that was this thing of really looking into why I felt I was only as good as that like the awards are is winning or the books I was writing or the podcasts I was making, like it was always external validation and outward. And I kind of mentioned that before, but in the last year especially, I was like, No, this doesn’t mean anything. Like, yes, it’s good. It’s, you know, you built a successful career and you shouldn’t kind of just reject that and throw it away. But actually now what I realise is. The it doesn’t mean as much as what I think about myself, and that’s what’s really important. 

So I don’t know if maybe I would have got there. You know, I have a I trained as a yoga teacher for many years. I have a strong meditation practice breathwork I swim like I do a lot of movement. It’s I I’m very self-aware. But then I guess where you think you are and then you’re like, Oh, but also you have ADHD. And I’m like, How self-aware was I? Like, I didn’t even know this, but I think but, yeah, it’s enabled me to. I don’t. I find a bit more peace. And that’s not every day like even last week I felt very overwhelmed and it became very chaotic again. It’s not like you just reach this equilibrium where you’re like ADHD, tic like I’ve sorted it, it is this kind of peaks and troughs and it comes in waves. But now I know what it is I’m feeling and I know what works. Does it mean I always want to do what works? You know what it’s like sometimes you don’t want to help yourself. You’re like, No, I don’t deserve it. And then I’m like, No, just go. Like that Friday, when I was really upset on the train, I’d woken up and I. I was like, Why? You’ve got two options. Stay in bed or go get in cold water for a swim. And it was a beautiful morning early. So I, like toddled off to Hampstead Heath, got in the water and it helped. I was like the alternative was, you know, stay at home, fret, worry, get yourself in a spin. So I think actually knowing ultimately I have a choice in how I approach these things. And again, if my choice is I don’t want to do what’s good to me or good for me, just trying not to judge myself based on that, which is like, that’s a lifelong Practice, I think. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. Self-compassion. 

Hana: Yes. 

Le’Nise: Like long practice loving kindness for yourself. Yeah. So as well as others. It’s something that I think everyone works on every single day. Yeah. This is so fascinating. And I think the information that you share here and the information that you share on your Instagram and your Substack will be so and is so helpful to so many people. And you have a podcast coming up called Late to the Party. Yeah. Can you talk a bit about that? 

Hana: Yeah. And it’s I don’t know why. I’m like, I feel like, oh God, because I’ve I’ve made hundreds of other people’s podcasts. Like that’s been my massive podcast success with podcasts, but I’ve never like had my own, I’ve hosted like docs and stuff, but this is like, Oh, and I don’t know why I suddenly go again imposter syndrome a little bit, or I feel like slightly inadequate. I don’t know. But I’m still slightly terrified of doing this, even though I’ve recorded 21 episodes. So we need to go. 

But yeah, so Late To The Party I wrote down actually last summer in my Notes app, late to the party navigating Neurodiversity as an adult. That’s all I wrote in my Notes app. I just had this idea that it should be something and I was aware talking about it on Instagram, people were responding, finding it helpful. I think what’s often missing in a lot of this discourse is a human experience that isn’t a kind of infographic or, you know, a tabloid or a Tory telling us we don’t exist. And ADHD is a trend. And actually, you know, the thing that was really helpful for me in during that diagnosis period was talking to other people who had this and learning about their experience and feeling less isolated. I think, you know, stigma and shame thrives in isolation and silence. So by talking about it, you can kind of make someone feel less alone or make them feel seen or, you know, give them the confidence to advocate for their own health rather than always meeting a doctor saying, No, no, no. Or a family member who saying, no, no, no, I’m actually trusting that you know yourself better. 

So, yeah, I’ve written I write a Substack on this subject which features posts for me and written interviews with other adults who were diagnosed late to the party, the party being neurodiversity, because not everyone’s confident speaking on a podcast, but some people like to write and I didn’t want to kind of gatekeep experience. I guess you can’t obviously do everything, but I wanted to do as much as I could. And then there’s kind of a spotlight section on there where I’ll highlight different people or businesses or practices and, and then yeah. Podcast. So I guess. Kind of interview, but also, you know, you’ll get sort of a narrative thread for me throughout as well. So I’ll offer a bit more of myself based on the conversations I’m having with the contributors and and just amazing people, like really a mixture of, you know, some quite well known people on there. And then there’s some people that are like a woman, Becky, who I met at a party in Leeds, maybe 20, and I’m not that long 15 years ago and just a really sweet Yorkshire lass and just a really real and honest woman. 

And I think, again, that was having worked in podcasting since the beginning, it just seemed to sort of there’s a lot of the same guests on the same shows or, you know, I didn’t want people to think that ADHD is if you’re not smashing it, if you haven’t got a big successful career, then you know you’ve failed. And I think it’s important for that kind of nuance and and that just variety of experience. That’s what it is. It’s like this rich tapestry of human experience. And that was important for me. So I just did a call out and said, does anyone want to do it? And a lot of people were kind of ready to speak. So yeah, that launches on the 17th of April. Hopefully that’s all onme. So I do all of it. And I’ve just been driving myself mad and trying to which I have done. 

This is the thing that I realised I was this is very random. I was listening to 50 Cent song if I can’t and the lyric is if I can’t do it, it can’t be done because I’ve been making all these like social media assets and videos which once I get into I can hyperfocus and I’m like in it, it’s amazing. But if I come up against something I don’t know how to do, I won’t ever look it up. I’ll just try and do it. And that’s when it gets restricting because like if I can’t do it, can’t be done. You could do anything. So I’ve been in this weird, like talking to myself, doing everything because it’s completely independent. It’s it’s not monetised. I would like a sponsor if anyone’s listening. Yeah, but for now, it’s just sort of me. So I’m like, I think I can do it all. And once I’ve done it all, I’ll know how to do it all. 

So, yeah, it’s. Late to the party is about navigating neurodiversity as an adult. And my favourite bit. There’s been some great bits, but I ask everyone. You know, when you’re late to a party, you bring something. When you come to any party, you bring some eat it to empty handed. So I ask people what they’d bring. And I was like, One day I’m going to throw a party with all of these things because it would be very strange, like fun, because the people there are great. But the items I was like, Hmm. This is going to be quite an odd encounter, but I feel it might be quite fun. 

Le’Nise: And that will be available anywhere you listen to podcasts.

Hana: Everywhere. Yeah, so it will be you’ll come. And if you already subscribed on the substack, it will be there. But then it will also go to kind of Apple, Spotify, all podcast platforms. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: So and then you have your book. So this came out last year and I just want to talk very briefly about it because I think it’s it’s such an interesting topic. I come from a sporty family and I’ve seen the impacts that concussions have had on family members and the changes that I’ve seen in their personalities and the way they interact with others. And I just find it fascinating that you wrote about brain injury in sport. And I’m just curious firstly, what inspired you to write about this topic and what impact have you seen from your book and the conversations that it’s sparked? 

Hana: Yeah, sure. I mean, this started years ago for me like 2016, 2017, I get my background was radio documentary and like narrative non-fiction. So this was before the kind of podcast boom, but this is what I was making and I made a four part audio book podcast, I guess, for Audible on this subject. And I guess it feels like a bit of a I guess, a plot twist. I’m always I always struggle to define myself in my Instagram because I do so many things and I do think I’m quite difficult to categorise. But so underpinning everything is this kind of, you know, drive to tell stories and power human stories, taking this big world stuff and making it human and advocating for change. Like that’s all I want to do is make the world better in whatever way I can. 

So I came across this story of this disease and it was a BMXer, so that was my kind of gateway into it, who had died by suicide and they found this disease in his brain. One of the worst cases which is caused by repetitive hits to the head. And I’d seen like the concussion film with Will Smith. I’d known about the NFL lawsuit, but I think the way that it was kind of, I guess, marketed for want of a better word, was it’s just an NFL problem, as if the brain can somehow distinguish what’s hitting it. It can’t. So I started to look into it and it was sort of around the same time that whispers of the 66 World Cup team and all the dementia diagnosis were coming out. And I met an incredibly tenacious and amazing woman, Dawn Astill, whose dad was the first British footballer to be diagnosed with this disease, CTE. And he was the most prolific header of footballs the game had ever seen. So we had this massive story, this four part thing. I produced it. Wrote it, narrated it, sound designed it, the whole thing. It was like a real labour of love. 

And I think I do think Audible thought it would just be one of that free content things and it wouldn’t do anything, but it blew up. And it in America was a New York Times number two bestseller. My biggest moment was it beat Michelle Obama for a month and then obviously she wiped the floor with me for several, several years. I was like, I remember arriving in Copenhagen airport to give a talk and I’d see someone had sent it to me and I was like, No way. And it was the first time I’d seen it said Read by the author Hana Walker-Brown. Because at that point in Audible, everything was a book. It was or an original, it wasn’t a podcast. So I was like, Wow. And and it just it made such an impact. And I it was strange to me to do something so science and sport based, but actually like, yes, it is about that. But for me it was always human and it was about advocating for change. And this just unimaginable miscarriage of justice that had been going on for years. So that came out in 2019. 

And then I was in talks with a literary agent prior to that and a woman, Harriet Poland, who I was Audible with you just love the documentary. And I said, I really want to write a book about this. So she sort of introduced me to some publishers and then a sort of I guess I don’t want to say luck, but I guess as timing would have it, I was approached by a literary agent. I signed with them and then we wrote the proposal based on this. And by the time it was done. Harry had also left Audible and was head of editorial at a big publisher. So as soon as the pitch came out, she was like, We’ll take it. So it was kind of this like again, almost everything fell into place at the right time. 

And I just it was one of those things that I just thought, I can’t leave this story alone because I felt like it would only grow and grow and grow. And it has grown and grown and grown and it sits on the curriculum in the US now, my book, and it’s been debated in Parliament and you know, there’s it’s had I guess well one of the quotes from a prolific rugby player was it’s changed and saved lives all over the world, which makes me feel a bit like, oh but I think, you know, it has and will continue to. And, and what was important for me is that suddenly all these people that thought they were going through this alone, that thought, you know, because they’re busy caring for someone with dementia who’s six foot five and weighs, you know, I don’t know, 20 stone or whatever. And they were seeing their stories reflected back in the experience of other people. And I think that’s really important to me is, you know, sometimes you just need someone to have the courage to go first, and then it gives other people permission to say, this is a problem or I need help, you know? So, yeah, it’s it’s was a big, big like mammoth thing to do during this time. The writing I was when I was getting diagnosed with ADHD, which I wouldn’t recommend, is a combination. 

Um, and again, it’s, it’s interesting because I am sitting in this kind of narrative non-fiction space, and there are a lot of women in the non-fiction space, but not in this realm, this kind of investigative storytelling realm. And I guess it’s very easy to get bogged down in, you know, the things that are on top lists and things being made into TV and whatever. But actually with this, it was never about that. It was about doing something useful in the world. And I think is it’s useful in the world. So yeah, it was a lot. It’s it’s not easy. Someone messaged my friend recommend it to another friend and they’re texting, that was so great. But oh my God, it’s so sad. I wasn’t prepared for that. And I was like, Yeah, it was. Sometimes I’m like, How did I sit with that for so long? Carry all this for so long. I don’t remember the January when I did the first draft in which I think kind of tells you everything you need to know about my state of mind. But I think after that, it was, it was slightly easier. 

Le’Nise: When you’re writing a book, you kind of it’s never you. And I think you just kind of go into this fugue state, whereas just focusing on the deadline and just like, yeah, I got to get this done, I’ve got to get through this. 

Hana: Yeah, you almost just I it felt like once I was in that state, it was great. That’s what kind of this hyperfocus comes in with ADHD. But the procrastination, I felt like trying to sit down and that was another telltale sign for me was I’m sitting here, I want to do it. I know what I’m doing, and I just can’t. I’m almost like paralysed for six, seven, eight, 9 hours a day. And I knew that wasn’t right. And actually on the day of my diagnosis, interestingly, I saw a Twitter article by a male author and it basically he described in his article exactly how I’d been feeling, the procrastination, the like just paralysed, just can’t do anything. But not because you can’t, just something else is happening. And his ADHD diagnosis and I was like, Oh, that’s serendipitous that I should read that like literally the hour after I’ve received my diagnosis and your story is exactly the same. So yeah, that that was a big kind of factor I think in, in all of that process as well. So we all got something out of it. Yeah. Yeah. This is a two years of Yeah. Part hell, part transition growth. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: And what do you have next on the book front? 

Hana: So I have the paperback comes out well tomorrow but this won’t come out But yes, by the time this comes out, the paperback will be out from book one. We’ve got a very fun new sporty cover, for spring summer 23. And then. I have a second book to write which will come out in 2025. So again, following this kind of trajectory of, I guess, violence and sacrifice and I guess the human cost of power, but with a completely different subject, again, kind of dismantling masculinity as well within that and the choices we make. And I think ultimately everything I do is to allow people to make safer choices or be informed enough to make a choice that is theirs, that isn’t from a kind of external source. But yeah, so that will come out in a couple of years, which will fly. I think that will fly. I’ve got time. I’m like, I know what will happen. Yeah. 

Le’Nise; You think you have time? And Yeah, like, Oh, actually, I’ve got this and that and that. Yeah, it goes, yeah, quickly. 

Hana: And again, that ADHD thing for me is also I’m not, I’m very, very last minute, but I need that adrenalin and fear of it’s coming to be able to move and when I do it’s always fine like and I can make great work but if I know I have two years. I’m going to, you know, take my time. It’s not urgent. So I don’t feel the. Yeah, it’s it’s annoying working with me, I think, for some people. But a lot of people are understanding that that’s just how it has to go. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, I definitely can relate to that. The need for a deadline, I, I remember saying to my publisher, I said, I need deadlines, you know, like you can’t just say hand in the transcript on this day, I need, you know, give me more deadlines or else I’ll just procrastinate. Yeah, I really want to do this. I need, I need those deadlines. 

Hana: Yeah. 

Le’Nise: So you’ve shared so much today. You’ve shared about your diagnosis, your ADHD diagnosis, your journey, the symptoms, and who you are to some of your toolkit to manage on a day to day basis. And of course, the amazing book that you released last year. If you could leave listeners with one thought today, what would you want that to be? 

Hana: Can I have two? The big things for me in getting through everything but trust yourself and forgive yourself. I think we spend a lot of time, especially late stage diagnosed ADHD, but I think a lot of people in general, women, I think especially because, you know, for so long we still don’t have equality in workplaces or, you know, anywhere near that. But I think. There’s a lot of kind of negative emotions that come when we are achieving or what we haven’t done or what we’re compromising on. And I think actually you just have to forgive out what was and trust yourself moving forward. And I think that’s been so important for me is to let go of things from the past. And it’s annoying when people say, just let it go, and you’re like, How do I let it go? And what I realised is, it isn’t one action? It’s just every day talking to yourself a bit nicer, doing things that nurture you and feel good. And that is an. It doesn’t always have to be kind of super wholesome, but actually asking yourself every day, what am I going to do today that will bring me a bit of joy or what am I going to do today that will get me closer to the person that I know I have the capacity to be? 

And I think it’s James Clear that wrote Atomic Habits. And he was like, you know, big picture, which is what to be the sort of person that runs marathons. But the day the action is, I’m going to be the sort of person that puts my running shoes out the night before. So they’re there in the morning, you know, and it’s those small things. So I think for me, a lot of that forgiveness has just come in, like being gentle and acknowledging what was, but also, you know, rather than and it again, it’s like this thing when if you wake up in the morning for me, if I haven’t slept, I used to be like, what’s wrong with you? Why can’t you do it? And now I’m like, It’s okay. Do we need to try and sleep a bit more this morning? Can we carve out a bit of time in the afternoon? Like it’s it’s a real conversation now, rather just the impulse to be like, you know, fighting against myself, but then also trusting that, you know, yourself. I think especially in things like neurodiversity, it’s often, you know, you’re assessed by someone else. Your the school system is built by someone else. And I think actually if your you’re not fitting in or if something is wrong to trust that it’s not on you, like it’s just the way that things have been set up and they just don’t serve us. And I think rather than kind of being silenced or afraid of of that is is just acknowledging it and saying it out loud. I think a lot of these things like they cease to exist when they’re spoken out loud, like they thrive in hiding, in silence and in the dark. And then, you know, you say them and they they do lose their power. So that was a bit rambly. But I think trust yourselves because we know ourselves better. 

And I also with that, just to kind of caveat, that is. Which I guess is kind of going to go against what I’ve just said. But some of the things I’ve noticed, especially for ADHD people, is the stories that we’ve told ourselves. They’re not always the reality that we’re experiencing. It’s not to say they’re a total fabrication, but the other thing I found really useful is asking for feedback from people that really see and love you and so on my podcast, I ask everyone how they’re the people close to them would describe their strengths because it makes them go and ask someone, which most of us would never do for fear of rejection, or they hate me or, you know, just feeling that you’re not going to get back something nice. And actually what comes back every time are these amazing things that people say about them. And they’re like, Oh yeah, I am those things. You’re like, Yeah, you are. And you know, you’re also a bit of a dick, but balance, so it’s fine. But yeah, I think trust yourself, but not always. Ask for feedback and forgive yourself. You know, we’re all figuring it out. And I think the real sort of courage of living is to try and fail, try again, fail, try again. And just trying to move through that without judgement, I think. Which again, lifelong practice. I’m not there. I hope, you know, I kind of hope I never get there because it’s quite nice to be in those moments of, I guess, like tension and release and coming through the other side. 

Le’Nise: Well that’s brilliant. And I know that will give a lot of people food for thought and hopefully will help even one person, I hope, towards a diagnosis or just feel a little bit more self-compassion. So thank you so much for your time today. It’s so nice to be involved in. Yeah. 

Hana: Yeah. Thank you for having me. I’ve loved talking to you. Thanks for holding in space. It’s been really nice.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 71, Sharn Khaira: Let Go Of Judgement

My guest on today’s episode of Period Story podcast is Sharn Khaira, the founder of Asian Female Entrepreneur Collective, who shares a powerful story of transformation across many aspects of her life – her health, her business and her personal life. 

In this episode, Sharn shares: 

  • What happened when she thought she might have ovarian cancer 
  • What she did to manage her symptoms once she was diagnosed with PCOS
  • How she challenged the Asian cultural norms she grew up to build two successful businesses 
  • How she helps other Asian women overcome cultural mindset blocks that get in their way of becoming entrepreneurs
  • What she did when she was faced with bullying 
  • And of course, the story of her first period

Sharn says that on an entrepreneurial journey, it’s so important to let go of judgement and stop caring about what other people think. This will help you claim your true voice and power.  

Thank you, Sharn!

Get in touch with Sharn:








Le’Nise: Thank you so much Sharn  for coming on the show today. I’m really excited to speak to you. But let’s get started with the first question I ask all my guests, which is tell me the story of your very first period. 

Sharn: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. So my first period was literally I think I was like ten years old. And it was during like I think it was like Easter holidays. And I remember just being with my brother, like playing around. It was like really warm. And then all of a sudden he was like, Oh my God, Like, I think I was still in my like nightie because it’s like early in the morning. And my brother was like, Oh my God, you’ve got so much blood, like, on your dress, you know, your nightie. And I was like, Oh, my God, like. And I’d known obviously about periods that I’m like, an eighties child, born in the eighties. But actually what happened after that was I was because I was coming from an Indian culture and like periods are seen as like a little bit shameful. And I remember just being really scared and I was like, oh my God, like, how am I going to tell my mum about this? I know I’m really young. So I was only ten years old. And then I remember I had to, like, tell my my mom’s friend who was our neighbour, and she kind of like broke the news to my mum and like my mum, I just don’t think she, like, spoke to me properly about it. 

And she was just really disappointed that I’d started early because in the Indian culture they have this thing like it might be like a, you know, more of a cultural thing, but basically they think that if a girl starts their period early, she’s not going to grow so, like, completely nuts. So I felt like I was like, yeah, I just found like it was quite a bit of a shameful thing that I’d started really early and my mum was like, Oh my God, you’re not going to grow. And, you know, all of the emotions that follow that. So it wasn’t it wasn’t the best experience. 

Le’Nise: So there’s a lot to kind of unpack there. Can you talk a little bit more about the shame, like the cultural shame and then the shame that you kind of felt, which made you hesitant to tell your mom about what had happened? 

Sharn: Yeah. So I think in the culture that I’m brought up in, it’s very much about what other people think. You know, judgement is such a big issue in our culture because that because of the family dynamics and the way, you know, especially like the Asian cultures, is all based on what other people think. You know, it’s never really based on, you know, your own happiness. And I’ve found that throughout my life with various different things. 

So I think with my period, I think my mom was just, a. concerned that it started so early and b. like, how am I going to manage this as a young child? And I think historically, Asian parents have been very supportive. Like I know when I have my daughter, like she starts her period, I’ll be so, like comforting and supportive. But I didn’t really have that support. It was just kind of like it’s like you started your period and, you know, my mom’s very lovely. I have a really great relationship with that. But at that age, like obviously you filter and my memory of it is very much like I had to kind of get on with that. And I just remember feeling like really, really scared because I think I was like one of the first people in my year to start my period. I was still and it was before secondary. It was the last year of like junior school, so it was like a really scary time. 

Like, you know, at the time, like, you know, they used to have these, like huge sanitary towels that were like massive. They weren’t discreet. So I remember like, taking them to like school and trying to hide them. And it was just yeah, it was just a really I just remember feeling like dirty and again, like that’s what we believe in our culture. Like we’re not allowed we weren’t really allowed to like if you’re on your period, not allowed to go to the temple because it’s like a dirty thing. So I remember all those feelings really of like shame and guilt and feeling like, Oh my God, why is there something wrong with me? I’m like going to grow, you know? You believe all of these things at the time because I was only ten. So yeah, it was pretty tough. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. And ten is it’s quite young. So you would have been in year five, year six. 

Sharn: Yeah, I was in year six. I just remember like I remember having like loads of incidents with my periods as well because I think I was so young and you don’t really understand like the flow of your periods and you don’t really understand like day one versus day four or five. So I remember like I was at this, I think it was like my cousin’s like pre-party and I was wearing like a white top and, oh my God, like again, I had this incident where, like, I leaked, right? And it went through to my top. And I remember like, it just being like, again, really shameful. And then I had to, like, go to like my aunties house, change my talk, but I remember like, myself, like lying about it because I was so ashamed. I was like, Oh, I think I’ve just had like a cut. And I remember like my cousin and my other auntie just like, whispering about it. And again, it was like no one ever said, like, Oh, it’s okay. Like, it’s fine. You know, it was all very, very like, shame ridden I would say. 

Le’Nise: And then as you got older, so as you moved into your I love, like being a tween to actually being a teenager. Did your relationship with your your period change at all? 

Sharn: I think like when I first started, I remember like my mum used to kind of force me, even though like I wasn’t meant to be going to the temple, if I was like, kind of like on day one or something, she would like still take me to the temple. And I think, like, I think looking back, that was like, you know, not good, you know, because I think it was is really hard in Indian suits as well because you’ve got like bottoms and then you’ve got like a top. And I think it’s not the most comfortable clothing to be in. 

But I think as Yeah, definitely as I got through like secondary school and like obviously then everyone was starting their periods, it felt like so much better because you’re just in the same boat as everyone else. And then afterwards I just didn’t. I was very much like, Yeah, then it was fine. As I got older, I think it was those early years when I was in junior school, probably early secondary school. But then I think like after that, like it was, you know, it was a good thing because my periods were actually quite regular. And then no one really questions that because everyone’s in the same boat, you know, it’s absolutely fine. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, it’s so interesting that kind of that cultural shame and that religious shame that comes through with having a period and how that can really change your experience of something that just, you know, it happens. It’s in natural bodily, Yeah. And you experience this every month for like 40 years. But if you start it with this kind of like imprint of shame, it can really change your perspective on your body. 

Sharn: Yeah, absolutely. And because it was this whole thing that I’m not going to grow because I think I was, you know, quite tall for my, like, you know, year six and then because because my mum kept saying like, oh, you’re not going to grow. You’re not going to grow. And then obviously it had nothing to do with the period. But actually that ended up happening. But that’s because, you know, my genetics, my DNA and, you know, not because my period came early, that I was like thinking, oh, like the reason why I can because again, like in our culture is not good. You know, the standard of beauty is tall, fair and slim. You know, that’s the that’s the standard of beauty that everyone subscribes to. It’s definitely changed now, I think. But back then it was like, Oh I’m so short. And then my mum would always remind me like, Oh, you’re short because you started your period early. 

And then I remember having this like complex about my height as well. Like, you know, when I was at school, not so much when I was at school, but I remember like kind of early teens, I would just be constantly wearing heels, like even if it would kill me, like I’d go to college in heels, like if it was a night out, I’d go in heels, like I was obsessed, like with my height then as well, because my mum had made it such a thing. And again, of course, it turned into kind of like a self-fulfilling prophecy because she kept reminding me. 

So I think, yeah, I just remember like just feeling like really alone and just again, like, you don’t want to tell too many people at school because, you know, I think one of my friends found out and she told a few people and and again, I was like, instead of just being like, yeah, it’s like my period. It was like Oh I can’t believe you started your period. Oh my God. Like it was made into like, such a big thing. And, you know, at that age, you just you already feel like I felt like as an Asian child already felt like, you know, I had a weird name and I looked different and, you know, and then it was like another thing to make me feel different, you know? 

Le’Nise: Did you go to a predominantly Asian school or was it mixed? 

Sharn: So my junior school was pretty mixed, but my secondary school was I think I was like one I think one of two Asian girls in my year, So everyone was predominantly like why I was, I would say that middle to upper class because the secondary school I went to. So yeah, I think it was like really tough as well. Yeah. 

Le’Nise Right. And you had, you said that your periods, they kind of like regulated and you know they were fairly, were they easy as a teenager? 

Sharn: I think like if looking back I think I had I don’t remember them being painful. I think sometimes that the flow would be quite heavy, but I don’t really remember them being painful like and obviously as I’ve gotten older and starting them early, I’ve gone through my own journey with like PCOS, so now I really notice my periods. I don’t know whether it’s because I’m working from home a little bit older. I think at the time I just used to kind of get on with it and I was very like, I don’t ever remember them bothering me. 

I think when I first started it was definitely like, Oh my God, like, like there’s no trackers or anything. So I just remember like I trying to navigate like, you know, when you first start, you, you don’t really realise what your flow is like. I think that part was I found that quite challenging, especially when I had to go to these like Indian parties or the temple. And that is the whole thing of like having your pads, like how you’re going to carry and if you’re like really young, like not necessarily going to take a handbag. And I remember like school as well, like trying to put them in my bag because it’s just so huge. I remember once Oh my God, got like I wanted to die, I came home from school and my granddad, so I empty my rucksack and like, wash my lunchbox. He’s so sweet, but he like, found them and he was like, What are these? And then I was like, Oh my God, Like, I just wanted to die of shame. And then he was called These are like ladies things. And then he bless him, just put them back in. But then I think afterwards, yeah, absolutely fine. I think then I think in your life then it’s kind of seen as a cool thing, like ooh, you’ve like started your period but yeah I definitely notice a difference now for sure. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: Can you talk a little bit more about your PCOS journey? 

Sharn: Yeah. So basically my periods were always they’ve always been really regular throughout my life and I did notice them getting a bit heavier and then having like pain, like on the left hand side, like the lower back. I remember in 2019, like the pain was really, really bad. And I was like, okay, like this time it’s been very painful. Didn’t really think anything of it. This was like in the summer, that August 2019. 

And then I kind of I think maybe I left my appointment to like September, and then I went to the doctors and they were like, okay, we’re just going to like, book you in for a scan. And I was thinking, Well, it hasn’t hurt like since. So, you know, everything’s fine. I didn’t think I needed a scan and obviously because of them, I think they have like because ovarian cancer has been undetected through the NHS, they’ve obviously any kind of inkling to do with like ovaries or cysts. I think they’re very hot on it now and because I think I read a report actually online where they weren’t doing enough referrals like a decade previously and ovarian cancer obviously goes so undetected because it could just, the symptoms could just be anything period related, right. 

And then I remember like my appointment was in November and I missed it stupidly because I had this massive event in London that I was doing. And then I went in December and it was like, I think it was like nine days before Christmas or something. And then I went for my scan and they were like, I remember just being at the hospital and they were like, Oh, it looks like you’ve got some cysts. And I was like, oh, I remember like just being so, like, upset that I had cysts. Like I was like, Oh my God, like, I’ve got cysts. I remember going home crying to my husband saying, Oh, they’re going to right a letter. I was really upset. And then the next day it was Friday evening and it was like 7:00, 8:00 it was really late. And the doctor rings me and I’m like, This is really weird because it’s like 7:00 in the evening. And I was like, Oh, like, you know, is everything okay, doctor? Because, you know, they told me I’ve got cysts. So I’ll just wait for a letter. And then she was like, Yes, like we found some cysts, we found a fibroid we think, but we also found something else. And I was like, okay, like, what is this something else then? 

And then she was like, Oh, like, we don’t quite know what the other thing is. I was like, Fine, we can do some more tests. And she was just literally like, you know, it’s probably nothing to worry about. But she goes, I do have to tell you this because, you know, maybe like ten, 15 years ago we wouldn’t have to tell you. But we we do have an obligation to tell you now. But I’m going to put you on the fast track list for ovarian cancer. And I was like. What. I was, like, so shocked and obviously so scared. She was like, you know, just don’t know what this other thing is. And I was like, Oh my God. Like, obviously I was like, completely distraught. I was just like, crying. I was so upset. And then you start having crazy thoughts like, am I going to be here next year, have I got ovarian cancer? Like, what the hell is going on? I remember the next day I had to go and see my cousins because they had this like Christmas party thing booked and I had to act all normal. 

But basically the process, I think it was a blood test. And then the other process was an MRI scan. I think it was it was at the time. So I had my blood test the following week, which was like the week before Christmas. And then I rang up the receptionist at the doctor’s and she was like, your blood test results are back. And I’m like, I don’t know why she said this to me, but she was like, they’re abnormal. And I’m like, again, just like, I was like, literally, like crying my eyes out. I was like, This is it. I’ve got cancer. Like it’s abnormal. And I was and then I was like, Can I, like, speak to the doctor? Can you get him to call me back? I remember that being like, such an excruciating afternoon. It took like 4 hours for the doctor to call me, and I just remember thinking, What? This is it, like I’m dying? Like, my. The blood test is not right. And then I remember, like me and my husband, because I think it’s called the, what it’s called. Not like that C-A something. And we Googled it, which obviously we shouldn’t, but basically said that it could be abnormal if you’re on your period. 

Le’Nise: It’s the CA 125.  

Sharn: CA 125. Yeah. And, and then it was exactly that it was abnormal because I was on my period and I don’t know what until this day like why the receptionist would just say that without any context. But then the doctor was like, you know, it is because of your period. We just have to wait for the MRI scan. And then obviously, like and then what happened was because I think I was so stressed out. I it just after Christmas I basically like came on my period again and like I just had my period the week before I’d finished and then it came on again. I think that was really like stress. And then I was like, Oh my God, I’ve definitely got cancer like this. This is the start. It was just crazy. And then I went for my MRI and then, like, they took ages to get back to me. But I took it as a good sign because I was like, if it was anything serious, it would have told me. But they just said like, it’s nothing like cancerous. 

This is like 2020. So just before lockdown. But they did say like you have PCOS and potentially the start of endometriosis and then they said like you’ve obviously got fibroids and cysts and this is like 2020. And I think that year, I just kind of went into denial and they were like, oh, like classic, like, oh, you need to lose some weight, but it’s going to be really hard for you to lose weight. That, yeah, that’s what they said. Like at the hospital, they were like, You’ll need to lose some weight, but it’d be really hard for you to lose weight. And I was like, great. 

And then I was just kind of in denial. Then in lockdown, the PCOS, kind of like was the least of my concerns. Like, I just wasn’t very I just was just kind of like, I’ve got it, but I’m not really going to do anything about it. My periods aren’t too painful. Yes, they’re a bit heavy, but I’m just going to be fine. And then I did cut out gluten and dairy and then it was only last year. And then I started to doing a few things, but I wasn’t, I was just like just trying to read books and YouTube stuff, like to get it under control. But then last year, I remember around this time last year I was getting so tired and I was constantly exhausted. Like I had to take naps during the day. I was so tired. And then I finally decided to work with like a health coach and get like all my tests done because I wanted like scientifically backed data. Like, I think, you know, when you’ve got it in front of you, like in black and white and, I’ve kind of started this journey of my weight loss, getting my periods under control, getting my tiredness under control. 

And I found out I had loads of things wrong with me, like an underactive thyroid, really low vitamin D, obviously my blood sugar levels were a bit elevated and then I obviously have PCOS of course. So yeah, I just been on this like I feel like on this journey for like eight, nine months properly. But yeah, definitely like getting there now, which is, which is good. 

Le’Nise: So when you had the MRI originally, so like late 2019, 2020, did they do blood tests as well to confirm the PCOS? 

Sharn: So I think they didn’t do a blood test. They only did the CA125 I think. 

Le’Nise: Right.

Sharn: Yeah. And they didn’t. They didn’t. Yeah. They didn’t really do much background so they were kind of like, oh it looks like you’ve got PCOS. One of the factors is cysts, right? I think I can’t remember. 

Le’Nise: It is, but this is something I see a lot in my clinic where women, they get diagnosed with PCOS just based on an ultrasound or an MRI. Yeah. And it cause it’s actually normal to have some cysts, because… 

Sharn: It is, yeah. 

Le’Nise: And then some of my clients, it turns out they don’t actually have PCOS because we do blood work and we kind of dig into all of it. And they just had this diagnosis based on an ultrasound. So that’s why I am. I’m curious. And then once you worked with a health coach, were they able to verify the diagnosis through the blood work? 

Sharn: Yeah, they were. They were. So I did have PCOS. Yeah. So I think I remember the report being like 50 pages long. So I was just taking it all in. But yeah, definitely like PCOS, not so much endometriosis, and I’ve had loads of scans since then. But then it was so funny because I went for a scan last last year and the cysts had gone, and then they were like, Oh, there’s no cysts. And all that was like, Where did it go? But then they said that, which I didn’t know, apparently the cysts can come and go each month, depending on the period. And I was like what? How long been fighting this? Not like two years later. 

Le’Nise: Right. Yeah. It’s I actually find this so mad because you have these women getting these diagnoses and then being told you have PCOS and it’s a very serious condition because it affects so many aspects of your health. But based on like seeing cysts. But like I say, it’s normal to have cysts. It’s just that the different, the different eggs, the mature eggs, some actually don’t they don’t leave the ovaries so they’re at different stages of of growth and some they just don’t break through the ovary. Um yeah. And that is sometimes what is seen on the on the ultrasound. Yeah. That’s just so it’s really it’s fascinating because you got this diagnosis which obviously played on your mind so much and then to have the scan to say, Oh well actually we don’t see any cysts. 

Sharn:  It’s wild. I just think. I think like I would never got anywhere with and this is why Le’Nise your work is so important in life. If I didn’t have my health coach making sense of all of this, like, I would just be like, What the hell? I just think it’s such a mind field. And I think especially with PCOS, I find it really complicated, like, especially with the blood sugar stuff. Like, it’s just it is really hard to navigate. If you’re like, my recommendation would always be just work with the health coach, because reading the books, YouTubing, like I was for two years, it’s not specific to your body. Yes, there’s some generic advice now. Like, I don’t know, like cut out sugar. You know, try and go gluten and dairy free. One thing I did was I stopped doing like HIIT exercises. So I do more toning stuff now and stopped going for my crazy runs that I was doing during lockdown and that I think all that advice is probably good advice. But then your body is so you know, everyone’s body is different. And I actually got diagnosed with SIBO as well, which is the got the got small intestine, small intestine. 

Le’Nise: Small intestine bacterial overgrowth. 

Sharn: Yeah. So I had to then go on a protocol for that which I healed actually, which I mean SIBO could come back but is just, is really hard like when you don’t this is why getting results and blood work is so important. So if anyone’s listening to this, like, please work with someone like Le’Nise because seriously, like, I dunno how I would have done it without my health coach, I would just would have been in the same situation. Just yeah, like my periods are much more regulated. They’re not as heavy now. 

And food is so important as well because I think in January it was like my birthday and I was away and I like, went off the wagon a little bit, like fell off the wagon, ate like a lot of crap, like drank a little bit. And immediately that same month I noticed an impact on my period and I was like, This is crazy. But people don’t. They don’t tell you that. And obviously the NHS, bless them, they’re not, you know, they’re not equipped to deal with PCOS like they don’t they don’t have the knowledge. It’s a very specialist area and they just don’t have the knowledge and just saying lose weight. But you’re going to find it hard because it is hard for women who have got PCOS to lose weight. While that’s what I’ve found is not as simple as like, you know, just calorie counting. And for me has a lot where they say I’ve definitely lost weight, but I’ve had to do it in different ways. Yeah, blood sugar control, that kind of stuff. But this is why you need to have what, the health coach, because it is just wild if you know. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: I want to shift gears a little bit and talk a little bit more about the work you do and the kind of transformative element that you kind of bring to your clients, but also to your own life. Because I, I read about, you know, some of the things that you said around challenging Asian culture and this kind of ties into your experience of your period a little bit. And then how when you challenged your Asian culture, how you should transform yourself. Can you talk a little bit more about that.? 

Sharn: Yeah, so I think so. Do you mean how I challenged it? And then the transformation, right? 

Le’Nise: Yeah, yeah, yeah. 

Sharn: So I grew up in a really strict Asian family. My obviously I’m Sikh, so a Punjabi cultural family and my mum and dad, especially my mum was very, very strict and they are actually more strict normally on girls anyway. And I had like all my, all my cousins on my dad’s side are boys. So I found that really difficult and challenging anyway, because everyone, all my cousins are boys and it would always be like double standards for me and my cousins. Like if we go to the temple, they’d be allowed to play outside and I’d have to be inside and they’d all go out and I wasn’t allowed to go. And I learnt a lot like led a very sheltered life, you know, I wasn’t really allowed to go out. I wasn’t allowed to like play with people that much wasn’t allowed sleepovers go around people’s friends, houses not really allowed to like, go to town with, like my friends. I wasn’t allowed to cut my hair. I wasn’t allowed to wear make up. All these like, crazy things. I guess my parents still like they were figuring it out because they’re first generation here. So I think they didn’t know how to like, have us mixed into the British culture. So they were just trying to preserve their culture, I guess. But they went to, I mean, all Asian parents are the same. Like my husband’s parents are exactly the same. It’s not just my parents. They didn’t really know how to do that. 

And then I think it was like when I was kind of turning like 13, 14 and I’d like lived this sheltered life, like, literally was not allowed to do anything. Like, it was crazy. Like going to the cinema was really frowned upon. Going to sleepovers was like a dirty thing because you’re sleeping around someone’s house. Like, I don’t know what they think of that, but they think it’s really bad. And then I think when we so I used to again, like live on like my home town was like the roughest. I lived on the roughest street in my home town as well. So I wasn’t really I mean, I never had friends over to our house because it was just horrible. But then when we finally moved out, like 14 into like a nicer house, I just thought to myself, like, this can’t be my life. Like, I can’t, you know, just stick out like a sore thumb. Like my hair was really curly, which I loved, but like, I wasn’t allowed to, like, even wear my hair down, Like, I always had to have it up because, again, that’s because that was seen as a really bad thing. Like things like that. Your hair down, just wild. But then I was just like, You know what? Like my life can’t just be like this.

Because if I think of prescribed to my parents, like. Structure for my life, I would have literally never gone to uni. I would have got married off pretty young. Then I would have like, just have kids, no career, and that would have been the end of me type of thing. And then I was like, You know what? Like there’s more to life than this. And I just started to like rebel a little bit. So I started like, I think at 15, like going out clubbing because I just I think when you don’t give your kids freedom and they, I think they rebel more. I definitely think it’s a thing. And then it just started like I remember like going out 15,making new friends. I went through my own little mini transformation. I remember like going to House of Fraser at the time and like saying, I want new makeup, like got my hair chemically straightened and got new clothes. So when I was like going to college, I’d like completely transformed that summer. Like people were like, Oh my God, like, you look so different. And then I just didn’t really. I know sounds terrible, but I just didn’t really listen to my parents because I was like, They’re not living in this culture. Like, you know, I want to go out, I wanna make friends, I want to party. 

And then, like, if you know, my mum, my relationship, my mum wasn’t great because obviously she didn’t approve of me, cut my hair wearing makeup, wearing like, you know, tight jeans and that that kind of stuff. But then through that rebellion, I think I found freedom. And then I remember like at 18 I went travelling, which was like, what, like maybe 20 years ago now, which was completely unheard of at the time, like for an Asian girl. Like, I didn’t know anyone who’d been travelling who was Asian. I was probably the first person in my hometown of our Asian community to do that. None of my cousins have been travelling. No one had done it. And then again, the whole like my mum got shamed by like my uncles and aunts is like, Why are you sending her? She shouldn’t, she shouldn’t be going by herself, like, blah, blah, blah. And then I think after that, I just, just just did my own thing. 

And I think my mum realised like, there’s no point trying to control me because then I think it was a bit easier because as other people in my hometown kind of grew up and started cutting their hair and, you know, like going out, then it wasn’t so bad. But then when I went to uni it was great because I got my freedom. And I think a lot of Asian kids actually get that freedom back then got that freedom at uni, you know, and then my mum and dad actually have been like, now my mum really looks up to me, she’s like all, you know, you got, you’ve got a successful business like you’ve achieved so much. And now she can I think, see like I was always right because I’ve become my own person and become really independent, like strong. And now she’s just like, yeah, like Sharn knows best that like whatever she thinks goes. And it’s so funny because I made my own choices like they were true. 

And then there was this whole thing in my late twenties, like they wanted to get me married because again, I was in my late twenties, wasn’t married. And again, that was like getting a bit shameful because I’m still sat on the shelf and potentially past my sell by date and they were kind of trying to pressurise me like they were like, you know, let’s do like a bit of an arranged marriage, Like you can meet this guy or you know, you can meet so-and-so. And I was like, No, like I’m not going to get pressurised into like getting married for the sake of having a big Asian wedding. So I really held my nerve into like, I met my husband and I was like, This is the right person for me because I didn’t want to get married tolike a typical kind of Asian guy in a typical Asian family. And then it’s so weird because then my my brother had an arranged marriage and it didn’t work out. And it was really, really messy. It was a girl from India, horrific, it was a really bad experience. And like, again, like my mum can now see that like my choices were the right choices, you know, even though it was painful for her at this time. So I think that has definitely been my transformation. And I think that if I just followed my parents. What they their path for me, I genuinely don’t know. I would be like. Like, I just hate to think what it would have been like. 

Le’Nise: It’s so interesting because when you’re young, you you just think your parents, they know everything and they’re kind of like you look up to them, you don’t agree with everything they’re telling you to do. But then it’s like when you get into your teenage years, it’s like something switches in your brain and you kind of, Yeah. Like I went through a bit of rebellion myself, more like when I was in my twenties. But it’s just that this switch where you kind of are like, actually just let me find my own way, you know, you can’t keep pushing me. 

And I just find that the transformation that you’ve gone through so fascinating, especially the cultural side of it, and I’m really curious about, you know, your journey into entrepreneurship. You know, you had your bridal business and now you have your kind of coaching business and you know, this this is so, you know, kind of different. So parallel to the path that your parents wanted you to go on. Talk about that side of it, you know, your the transition to entrepreneurship and the kind of cultural barriers you had to overcome there. 

Sharn: Yeah. So it’s really interesting actually, because my parents, like, they aren’t, bless them, they’re not very educated. By the way, I have a really great relationship with my parents, like even I think they’re lot, but they are so sweet now.

But yeah, they, they had manual labour jobs. So my, my parents were kind of factory workers back in the day. They’re retired now actually. But so I think from a, from like a job career perspective for me they weren’t, they weren’t ever like, you have to be a doctor or you have to be a barrister or a dentist, because I think that’s a lot a lot of Asian parents do put that pressure on their kids like, so they weren’t very much like that. And I suppose they always were quite supportive of me doing what I wanted to do. 

But I think because everyone in my family, so my uncles and aunts, my dad’s brothers and sisters, that side of the family, they are all self-made millionaires, actually, except for my parents. And I think I had always had this thing when I was younger. Like I was never like really jealous of them or anything, but like, I could see, like the value of having your own business because my parents, bless them, like, you know, they never they never kind of reached that like status. But whereas like my aunts and uncles had like a lot of property and they had like lot of businesses and obviously, like the difference was huge. 

So I think that seed got planted in me very early that I don’t want to like work for someone else? My earning potential could be capped and I think like one of my biggest values is freedom, because obviously I didn’t have it as I was young. So I think the idea of me having a business has always been there, but obviously I got a degree in business as well. So I think that like in terms of me starting my business, it was really weird because I think that like I initially just started it for freedom. I set, I would say, and just knowing that I’m in charge because every time I had a job, I just didn’t it just didn’t work for me. Like the whole what I found really crazy was like, someone else is in charge of like my promotion. And it all depends on if they like you and they like your style of working, they like your personality. And that always jarred with me. So I’m like, Well, just a couple of people are in charge of like how much money I earn and how I progressed in my career. 

So I think after I got married, I was just like, I’m just going to explore this. And I mean, that was 2015. So yes, people are having online businesses, but it wasn’t like a huge thing as it is now. Like everyone can kind of start a business, it feels like. But then, yeah, I just took that plunge and I just went for it. And my wedding planning business was really successful. Like I was doing destination weddings within 18 months of launching my business, which was really unheard of. Like I was doing weddings in Italy and Switzerland. But then I just felt like with my wedding business and the wedding world, I think. I mean, I loved weddings, but I feel I felt I felt like, again, that was a bit of a cap on what I could do. I mean, you can do anything you want to be really honest, but I just felt like the wedding world was a bit like, like superficial, maybe. Like a little bit like. 

And then I just with my Asian coaching business,the Asian Female Entrepreneur collective, it wasn’t meant to actually be like like so many of us. Like, I just set up a Facebook group in 2017 just to I was like, Oh, this will be really great to like network with, you know, fellow entrepreneurs and see like how this. But I never had any desire to do workshops, masterminds, coaching. It didn’t even cross my mind. Like I was just like, no. But then because I, because I was doing so well in my wedding business and because my background used to be online marketing in my corporate job, everyone was that, Oh, can you like just do a workshop? Like how to get more clients or marketing or whatever? And I was like, okay, like I’ll do that, that I know so much about marketing and planning and blah blah, blah. I think it was like maybe two years into my business and I did my first London workshop in 2017 and there was like 19 people, which was great, my first workshop. And then I started doing more workshops, but they didn’t really take off like, the ones after that first one were back. There was like seven or eight people, sometimes ten people, I think like not many people at all. 

And then the following year I just started, I decided to launch a mastermind. I was living in Canada at the time because my husband was working there, so I was in between Canada and the UK. I literally had this like I remember it was like on a Saturday, just like this, download that I should do a mastermind. I don’t know what it was, but something in me was like just a mastermind. And my husband at the time was like, Sure, because you’ve got like your wedding season coming up, Destination weddings come up. I was like, No, I’m just going to do it. And then I did it. I had a really successful launch, but the results of my mastermind were just incredible to a point where I think like 70 or 80% of the group, like re-signed for another three months, so everyone wanted to stay. 

And then, yeah, it just kind of led from that. Like I think that in twin, I think it was the start of 2019, I decided that I’m going to stop doing weddings because it just wasn’t aligned. And then my coaching business was doing really well. I was getting lots of clients, selling out my masterminds. And then and then of course lockdown happened, which was really good because I decided I think my last wedding was August 2019 and I decided at the beginning of the year that I was going to leave weddings. And then it’s just kind of gone from strength to strength, really. I hope that answers your question. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, it is really interesting hearing your journey and I wonder, you know, talking going back to the idea of culture and the conversation that we’ve been having about it, when you have because it’s Asian female, entrepreneur, entrepreneur, collective, if there is any sort of mindset hurdles that you have to help your clients get over or around being an Asian female entrepreneur? 

Sharn: Yeah, definitely. So I think the biggest ones that come up are judgement and being scared of being judged and also judging ourselves because our culture is all steeped in judgement. It’s like we’re like on autopilot to think what will other people think. And it’s, it’s just so ingrained in us from such a young age. And I still catch myself doing it. Like, you know, like if I want to, something might be going on in my life and then I’ll be like, Oh my God, like what will my aunts and uncles think. And I really have to stop myself. So I think that’s a really big one. 

And then of course, that plays then into visibility because I think if you’ve been really visible online, you have to let go of judgement and you do have to stop caring about what the people think, especially when you’re stepping into your truest self online. I think that people then want to water themselves down because they want to be liked. And I think the trend we’re seeing online is it’s not about being like brash or bold, but I think people that claim their true voice and their true power are more successful, and especially if they’re an embodiment of that. So I think that’s a really big one. 

And I think also, I think support as well. I think that’s why my masterminds, you know, do incredibly well because we just don’t really get that much support, I think. I’m really lucky. I’ve got a really supportive husband. I think I found more confidence after getting married to him because he really encouraged me to be myself and express myself. But I think in general, we don’t have that much support when it comes to potentially partners, family members. So I think that’s another big one. 

And self-belief as well is a really big one as well, because again, it ties in to not having the support people not believing in us. So I think it all has to come within. Especially for me, like I’ve had to really cultivate my own self-belief because I think also like I think it’s just I think it is difficult as well like when you’re in the coaching space, it’s sometimes I found it difficult to work with like, say for example, like, you know, coaches not from a similar background because I think our blocks are so unique. And sometimes you feel like people, other people don’t understand it unless they’re Asian. So I think that’s why a lot of my clients come to me, because cultural blocks is a thing like it’s not just some trivial thing that we’re making up. It’s very real. And I think it is a great thing, you have to overcome them in order to have a successful business. But I think those are like the main things. I think judgement is such a big one and I think Asian women do judge themselves a lot as well. 

And we never see really like Asian women, like on a global stage, like breaking through either, which I think is really sad. Like if I think about, you know, the big kind of influencers in the coaching space like worldwide, I, you know, I really struggle to think about Asian women, you know, because again, it’s those blocks and barriers that often block us from stepping into the next level. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: You’ve used some really interesting words there, like judgement and like self-belief. And I just want to ask you a little bit more around your experience of being judged by others. It’s something you talk a lot on your Instagram was the experience of bullying you had to face early in your kind of entrepreneurship journey? Can you tell us a little bit what happened and how you overcame that? 

Sharn: Yeah, So it was actually is so weird because the first day I actually launched my Asian wedding planning business and I had I worked with like kind of a coordinator for my wedding and she got really weird that I’d launched an Asian wedding planning business and there were like some comments left on my Facebook page from her team and her and obviously I just deleted them and left her voice note saying, You know, I told you I was starting an Asian wedding planning business, but now you’re commenting like on if you comment again I will take further action. I mean, at the time, in 2015, I didn’t really know what taking further action meant, but that was like my first experience and my big experience was in 2020.

And, you know, I don’t want to go into too much specifics, but I’ll share what happened. So basically, I think I think sometimes there’s like an Asian sisterhood wound where I think sometimes it’s not in my family, actually, but in certain families, it’s it’s really competitive. And I think sometimes that the Asian culture is very like pretentious. And it it can be about like, who’s doing the best, like who’s doing really well and like kind of like competitive. I’ve never really been like that because my parents have come from a really normal background. And I think what happened was that like because I was doing so well in 2020, like my launches were selling out, my client results were amazing. Everything I was putting out was does and still does really, really well. And I think there was like a few select people like again. Asian women, which was the sad part of it, like they were part of the wedding industry. And because obviously the wedding industry was on hold, there were like a couple of people who clearly just got very jealous and then kind of fuelled this like lying fake rumour about me and my wok and then decided to basically lie about me and distribute it in some specific Asian groups on Facebook, which obviously was very traumatic, especially when you post something in a group which has got four thousand Asian female entrepreneurs, which wasn’t my group. 

And then bless my clients. Like I remember it just came out of nowhere Le’Nise, it just literally just came out of nowhere. It was June in lockdown. I hadn’t done anything specifically huge. Like it was just really random. And then basically I found out like one of my clients were like, Oh, this, this post in this group, and it looks like it’s about you. So they weren’t naming me, but it was, it was it was about me. Like she used to be a wedding planner, blah, blah, blah. And they sent me screenshots and then I kind of didn’t think anything of that. But my husband was like, Just leave it, just leave it. And then it then stuff got posted into another group and then one of my clients was like, Look, I can get on a zoom call with you. I love my clients. I can show you the whole thread and oh my God, when she showed me the whole thread, I was like shaking. I wanted to be sick. Like there was so many nasty comments about me. Like said, this is how we met that like, I’d like copied someone’s work, which was just a complete lie because I’d never I’d never done that obviously, it was it was all a lie, basically. And this person that also lied about other things to do with me and some other people and I wasn’t the only one. She unfortunately believed there was lots of other people as well which transpired. 

And then basically I was like, This is not okay and these people aren’t going to get away with that because if I you know, I’m going to continue to get bigger and bigger. And there’s just, you know, next, if I don’t put a close to it now, I’m just going to continue. So I decided to hire like an incredible legal firm from London, like the leading ones they like they deal with like Dubai sheikhs and lots of celebrities, Elton John and I decided to hire them and it cost me quite a lot. But I was like, I found it really empowering. So I’m like, I’m an Asian woman. I can pay for this. I don’t really need to, like, claim it on my insurance. I’ll just go through them. And obviously some letters them went out about slander and defamation? And then obviously, like my lawyers literally wouldn’t have taken me on if I was lying. So they were like, could’ve been any way that something could have been copied. I was like, Absolutely not. And I’m happy to take this to court because they were like, You know, if it gets to court, then they’ll go through your laptop and they’ll compare materials. And I was like, This did not happen. It was a lie. Like it genuinely did not happen. It was all fabricated. 

And then obviously the letters went out to a couple of people, and then as soon as the letters then got dropped, it was brilliant. They got dropped to one of them on like a Friday evening at like 5:00. So it ruined their weekend, like they ruined mine and then it was like we were in a bit of a legal kind of back and forth. And through that the lawyers were dealing with their lawyers and I mean, they didn’t really have lawyers. I think they were just it we found out one person like was basically using someone who was like a fake, so pretending to be that person. And she wasn’t even registered by the Solicitors Association. It was just shows you these people are just complete liars. 

But it was a really traumatic experience and it had me on edge for quite a few months, but everything got deleted. I didn’t really get an apology, which I was happy about. I never shared about it on socials at the time because my lawyers were like, Don’t do it because, you know, you don’t want to do that. That was the advice at the time. And because of that experience, I then decided to train as a mindset coach. So something really great came out of it. I was really hot on mindset before that anyway. But then I was like, I’m actually going to get certified as a mindset coach because I found it really the whole experience really fascinating and how I dealt with that. 

And then yeah, since then they’ve just kept kept quiet because I think they know that, you know, you don’t want to obviously, I think when you’re in that situation, you have to take action. You can’t let people get away with that. But then it’s so funny because I recently did an event in January, February, started with 200 Asian female entrepreneurs. And again, that was the other kind of Asian coach whose in kind of the same space, just like then sharing something on her Instagram about like, you know, it just comparing her event to mine and being like, oh, basically that my event was better because it was smaller and I’m just like, This is just ridiculous. Like. 

But I think when you do get bigger, I think you are open because the numbers get bigger, you’re open to more judgement, you’re open to more criticism. But I think if you are getting bullied and trolled and like actually the signs are in defamation, that’s like serious, you know, because I’ve that out of that experience in 2020 like people, you know, cancelled their membership. We had a membership site so people would yeah, there was some event refund tickets like people wanted refunds and people did some, some people did believe the lies. So if it ever gone to court I could have showed like loss of earnings. But I think that like because it all got deleted and because I rose above it and I didn’t like,  obviously, my natural instinct was like, shut my business and just lie in bed. And this is exactly what they wanted. I think one of them actually commented saying, Oh, I don’t know how she’ll survive this. She’ll probably just disappear. And like, this is exactly what they wanted. They wanted me to go away. But I was like, No, I’m because I think my community saw that like I rose above it and I didn’t really speak about it. 

And it’s funny, the people that asked refunds I. They were. I think when you’re supporting those kind of people, it’s just like what you call them, like. There’s a word for them. I forgotten now, but like that. Just like. Like felt like they were kind of like sidekicks. Or maybe they were quite easily influenced. They all had very similar traits, so they were quite negative in general. So, you know, the clients I completely loved obviously were on my side, but the clients that I didn’t really align with, they were the ones that kind of dropped away. And I think it was a really good experience. Me just having a cleanse. One of the girls who chimed in on the comments, I just had a really bad feeling about her. She was my husband’s friend’s wife and I had a bad feeling about her for months and months because she was watching what I was doing. Obviously I was doing really well and she chimed in and I was like, I just I just knew some people that were going to chime in that they didn’t like me. I just felt that energy. So it was a really good experience, just cleansing a lot of people. And then because I think my community saw me rise above it, they were obviously really inspired and and now some my clients go through it as well. I just think it’s a really natural thing, especially when you get bigger. So you’ve just got to be ready to deal with like. And now I know like the legals inside out, like if that was to happen to me, it wouldn’t faze me. I’d be like, Right, okay, need send out a letter and most people wouldn’t take it to court. And then these people like begging me to drop it. They were like, Can you just please drop this? Like, we don’t want to go to court. Like, we don’t we don’t want to spend any more money on this. So you’ve got to be really careful online. Like if you’re saying stuff about people and if they’re even though they didn’t use my name, it was obvious that they were talking about me. My lawyers had put proven that in the letters like you had talked about Sharn, because of X, Y, and Z. You know, you would then have to get a lawyer to then respond. It’s just not worth it. So people should just be kind and be nice. 

Le’Nise: But I think that people don’t realise how you know that, you know, they say sticks and stones will break my bones, but words never hurt me. But they, you know, words do hurt. And it’s funny, my son was learning about the online disinhibition effect in school, you know, the idea that you have to be careful what you say online just because you think you’re anonymous and no one, you know, it does matter. And, you know, this is proof of that. You can’t just say anything you want because it matters. And it makes a difference to not only people’s livelihoods but the way that they feel about themselves. It really has an impact. But it really I think your story is really empowering how you rose above it and you’ve just gone from strength to strength. It’s just very, very inspiring. 

Sharn: Oh, thank you. Yeah, you absolutely have to. And I think at the time, like I remember it was actually like because I remember like basically like going to therapy as well because I was like, I need I’d never even considered therapy before then. And I was like, This experience has left me really on edge, Like I hate my own Facebook group and didn’t I had this whole thing around Facebook. I remember at one point I got really paranoid about stuff as well, like I’d have anxiety going on to Instagram and my DMs and if someone if I still with someone tags me in a big group, I’m like the, you know, sometimes like my face and things are so different. You have this like a little not so much at all now, but a little bit of anxiety around Facebook groups. But then I closed my Facebook group, started a new one that really helped me. But I think, yeah, I really because I remember that happened in June and by like and then I had to pause like my launch. We just started running Facebook ads. So that was my launch because I couldn’t do a launch when that was all going on. But then I decided to do my launch like a month later and like, that was like the best thing, like and I just came from a place of service. I was like, I don’t care about this launch, like numbers. Like I’m just here to, like, be of service. And that launch went really well. And it just goes to show, I think that like people, yeah, people can be really harmful, but the truth will always prevail. 

And I think that if if you are deliberately. Because they clearly were triggered and they should have really worked on themselves rather than taking it out on me. And I always think when I see people like cancel culture so big now, and I think I don’t really subscribe to that because I think things can get taken out of context so much online. But I think that, like, you have to rise above it. And I’m so glad I did, because I think my community now can see that. And it is part of the story, you know, but it does take resilience. I had to go therapy for a few months. I had to really. And because we’re in lockdown, I couldn’t see anyone. It was really hard. So it was really difficult. So I just wanted to actually see my friends. And the sad thing about it was actually like one of my, like, extended family members, bless her, she’d committed suicide. So I was like, dealing with that. And I think they knew that I was going to be offline for a few days because I’d put on my stories like, I’m going to be offline. I am watching the funeral virtually like I need some space. But then that just really shows you about their character enlightened. And then I think now I look at most of the majority of them haven’t even got a business. Like, I think one person out of the clan is doing quite, quite well, but the rest of them, they don’t even have a business really in that coaching space. So I’m just like, that just says everything. Really. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, Yeah. I mean, because reputation is everything. And when you’re as a coach, especially because you’re, you know, you’re helping other people transform. Yeah. And if people seeing see you behaving like this, you know, what does it say about your reputation? Yeah. I think in terms of your story, you know, you’ve had this amazing transformation, you know, in many aspects of your life, your health, your business. If someone for someone listening to today’s episode, what’s the one thing that you want them to take out of everything that you’ve shared today? 

Sharn: That’s such a hard question. And I think that like I think a lot of people don’t realise that, like challenges are part of the journey, whether it’s your health, whether it’s your business, whether it’s an experience I had with my bullying. And I think a lot of people just think is everything’s easy. Like they have this misconception because obviously what we see online, like when your new healing journey, everything’s like pretty and unicorns and butterflies, but actually like I think what really makes you is how you overcome these challenges. So always be prepared for the challenges and the quicker you can overcome challenges and not take things personally and just come from a mindset of solutions. So like last year, for example, there were like a couple of launches we had that didn’t do as well because of the cost of living crisis. 

And I had a launch right in the middle of when the Queen died and the whole Liz Truss stuff and the whole Rishi Sunak, it was the worst on top of launch because there was so much uncertainty. But then rather than like me just being really sad and just being like, Right, I’m never launching this program again. Like, forget it. Like everyone hates my program, no one wants to buy blah, blah, blah. I just took a mindset of like, what can we learn from that? Yeah, what do we need to change? Why didn’t it? Wow, what are we going to do next time? And if you’re coming from that kind of growth mindset and just letting your challenges just alchemising them into power, I think that like that is like the best advice I could give anyone. 

Le’Nise: That is so powerful. Resilience, growth mindset, beautiful. Where can people find you? 

Sharn: Yes, so I am on Instagram. My handle is Asian Female Entrepreneur. And I’ve also got a Facebook group which is called the Asian Female Entrepreneur Club. So yeah, people can find me there. 

Le’Nise: Brilliant. Thank you so much for coming on to the show today. 

Sharn: Thank you so much for having me, Le’Nise. 

Period Story Podcast, Episode 70, Lorraine Candy: We Need To Talk About Perimenopause

My guest on today’s episode of Period Story podcast is Lorraine Candy, an award-winning journalist, editor and best-selling author. Her new book, What’s Wrong With Me? 101 Things Midlife Women Need to Know is out on May 25th and available for pre-order now!

In this episode, Lorraine shares: 

  • How she realised the extreme anxiety, panic attacks, heavy periods and night sweats she was experiencing in her late 40s were actually symptoms of perimenopause
  • The differences between Gen X, millennial and Gen Z women in how they approach menstrual and hormone health 
  • How she dealt with perimenopausal rage
  • The identity changes that can happen in our 40s that enable us to choose how we want to be 
  • What she wants women in their 20s and 30s to know about perimenopause 
  • The importance of friendships 
  • And of course, the story of her first period!

Lorraine says that whatever age you are, it’s so important to check in on yourself everyday and ask yourself: ‘Do I want to do this?’, ’Is it serving me well?’, ‘How am I really feeling?’.

Thank you, Lorraine!

Get in touch with Lorraine: 







Le’Nise: Hi, Lorraine. Thank you so much for coming on to the show today. Let’s get started with the question I ask all my guests, which is tell me the story of your very first period. 

Lorraine: Well, we have to go back in time 43 years ago for that because I’m 54 now. 

So I started my periods when I was 11, which actually was, I think, quite young. It would have been in the eighties, early eighties. But it was I think when I look back, I knew absolutely nothing about it. It wasn’t talked about at school. My mum was very old fashioned and very traditional. She didn’t really talk about it at home. She found it quite embarrassing. I have a sister as well, a younger sister and I remember at the time being absolutely terrified because I really didn’t physically know how I was going to deal with it. You know, I was going to have to ask my mum to buy sanitary pads and she she when I told her, she says, she said, well, it can’t be. You’re only 11. I don’t really believe, it’ll be something else. And then nothing else was said. So I was in a sort of strange place of I didn’t really know what to do. A friend’s mum had given her some sanitary pads at school and as I talked to her and I bought them and then I had to say again to my mum, you know, I do really need some things to make and I didn’t really know. You know, you have to remember back in those days I didn’t even know what to do with used sanitary pads, where would I put them in. And they were so big in the bathroom. You know, I grew up in a tiny bungalow in the middle of nowhere in Cornwall. Where was I going to put this in stuff? 

It’s just, I think, for women of my generation. So I’m Generation X, it was, you know, you either had a family or a parent or a woman around you who was really going to tell you about it. And there were the kind of sort of old school hippies in the seventies. You know, a friend of mine, her mum had a party when she had her first period. So there was such varying ways of dealing with it. But societally, it was still we were still shameful. I mean, there were no period ads on television until after the eighties. You know, no one ever mentioned the word tampon. If you bought any sanitary products which were then called, I think they were called feminine hygiene products, you were given a brown paper bag to take them away in in local shops. So, we didn’t start in a good place, I don’t think. And then obviously when I went on to edit Cosmopolitan and Elle and the big glossy magazines, I was very aware that even the most basic information it has to still be out there. We have to still tell people about it, and I was very aware of that, when I’ve got three daughters and a son that my daughters were incredibly well-informed, in advance, probably too much so though it was probably embarrassing for them. But that was the beginning of my period journey. But I do remember at 11 thinking this doesn’t feel, you know, right, that we’re not all just talking about it’s a bodily function, like another bodily function that, you know, a woman or a young girl is going through. So perhaps we need more information on that. 

Le’Nise: And you didn’t learn anything about it at school? 

Lorraine: We had a PSHE. She I think they call them lessons and well, they were intermittent. You all had PSHE and religious education, I could never work out why they were swappable as lessons. But we we weren’t really as far as I can recall. And I might be mis remembering, we weren’t really given, you know, the basics of where do you go to buy this? How much would it cost? You know, I went to school at a comprehensive and I looking back, I can imagine period, poverty was a real thing for some of the girls in that Cornish comprehensive, you know, who were arriving at school, not well-fed, so buying tampons, sanitary pads, probably would have been the lot, but we were never told any of the practical. And I think also we were given the idea that, you know, we would we would almost bleed to death every month. You know, it would be gushing of blood. We didn’t it wasn’t till I was much older, sort of 16 or 17 that I found out it’s just a very small amount of blood you lose. And we certainly tied periods to, you know, being pregnant. There was that shame, massive fear and shame around getting pregnant as well. You know, as a teenage girl in the kind of more urban areas. So it was a sort of, it was a strange time. I just I don’t remember the school being in any way helpful, and I’m sure that might have been a one off experience. Perhaps other schools were more helpful and girls had different experiences. 

Le’Nise: You were definitely not alone in the women that I’ve spoken to of your age on the podcast, you know, and in other areas have described similar experiences to yours. And I wonder the shame and this lack of knowledge that you had about your period. How did that kind of tie into your experience of your period, itself? Did you you know, you have this experience. Your mum wasn’t very helpful and you had to kind of scramble around your friends to figure out what to do. You weren’t learning much at school. And then. How was your actual period? Was it heavy was it painful? 

Lorraine: Well, at the time, I think I mean, I don’t blame my mum. I think that Boomer generation of women found it very difficult and they didn’t know either. They hadn’t got the information. So I had very heavy periods and very irregular periods for the first year and really going on for the first 2 to 3 years, which I don’t think is abnormal for, you know, we I present a podcast called Postcards from Midlife, and we have Maisie Hill from the Flo Collective on, and she was talking about how teenage girls just don’t understand their cycle and how it affects them, as I’m sure you know, Le’Nise.  And, but I think I was confused as to why it was so painful. I’m announcing I can take some four or five days and, you know if I’d done it, didn’t luckily coincide with with O-level exams or things like that. But if I’d been in that place, I mean, certainly, you know, I did a lot of sport as a teenager and it certainly prohibited me sometimes with sport. So I was just too it was just too painful to to be running or playing that role or doing any of those things during that time. And I wish I’d known more about it. I do wish I’d known that, you know, I could have gone to see a doctor about it and perhaps found out a bit more about it and looked at ways of alleviating it. Certainly with my daughters at the moment, one of them has said this is just unbearably painful. I’ve gone straight to the GP. Can we have can we talk about why this might be painful for her? And what were the options about making it easier for her? 

Le’Nise: I think that’s really interesting how you you took a completely different approach with your doctors, sorry, your daughters and you said at the beginning you almost gave them a bit too much information, which I think, you know, there’s never kind of too much when it comes to this sort of thing, but then kind of taking it to the other end in your book, What’s Wrong With Me? You talk about your experience of perimenopause and how there was a line that I found really fascinating where you described your late forties as constantly living in an escape room looking for clues to the exit. Can you talk a little bit about how you navigated perimenopause and what you did to come out of the other side of it? 

Lorraine: Yes. So perimenopause is the sort of 10 to 15 years before menopause, and menopause is 50 is the average age in this country is the year after your last period. But in that time leading up to that, you have huge hormonal fluctuations and that can be upwards of 40 symptoms of that. And oestrogen is in every part of your body. It’s literally your petrol. And when it disappears some months or comes back the next month, it causes all sorts of problems particularly, my symptoms are mainly sort of neurological symptoms. I had extreme anxiety and panic attacks and night sweats, night terrors and just things that really had never been part of my life before, there’s no history of mental illness or depression in my family. I was extremely depressed and I had no reason to be. There was no evidence. You know, there is no history health wise for me to have that. And there was nothing in my life that would have forced that. And there were just so many things coming together. 

And I’m a journalist. I was working towards the end of my career and beginning my career on Sunday Times Style and I just started to look at what might be happening while I pretended everything was kind of okay, because women do. And, you know, it’s why we set up the podcast. We started to just find out more and more. And eventually I saw an expert, Dr. Louise Newson, who said, Yes, this is the perimenopause, you your fluctuating hormones, so that the progesterone, testosterone and oestrogen that fluctuate are affecting all parts of your body and it doesn’t affect everyone in the same way. And you know, we’ve interviewed women in their forties who say, really, I was a bit hot at night. And that it, but we’ve also interviewed women who attempt to take their own lives, and that’s come completely out of the blue, and that’s because it’s the way oestrogen works in the brain. 

So yeah, it was a real learning curve. And the other thing that happened to me, which I actually wrote about in the Sunday Times, which I think was a bit shocking at the time, it’s about four years ago, was I had had after my teenage years, I had sorted my periods out. They were very light, they were incredibly regular and never had any pain. I had had I had four children. I’d gone right the way through with really no significant gynaecological problems. But around the age of, I had my last baby, at 43, around the age of 47, my periods were Armageddon like they were. They were so heavy, I would be concerned about going from the bathroom upstairs to the kitchen downstairs. They would. It was just and I thought, well, perhaps I have some form of cervical cancer. Perhaps there is something really desperate. This is a really common symptom of perimenopause. And it was they were agonising. I was spending days in bed with terrible headaches, and it was that really that symptom. And I went to the doctor because my actual physical day to day life was becoming quite difficult. I remember having a meeting in a in a room in one of my jobs, and I couldn’t leave the room until everyone else had left the room because I had flooded. So it was I knew I was to leave a mark on the chair. I knew it was going to be difficult. I knew it was so it was sorting that out. But what I look back and think now is why did I ignore that? It was about a year that went on and I thought, well, I mean, you know, I’ll just sort of, you know, wear tampons and a pad and wear this and do do you know, and I’ll just sort of plan my day around it. So I’m near the loo and all of that. 

And I think and I talked to a lot of women for my book, you know, because the tagline is 101 Things Midlife Women Should Know. One of the things women should know is that is not normal. You don’t have to put up with it. You can go and talk to your doctor. And hormone replacement therapy is what worked for me. I mean, within a month my periods were absolutely back to normal and then I opted to not have periods, but it was I really think women need to not try and stuff, tough it out. You know, that Gen X is a real you know, a lot of us, I think, have what they call burnout now. I think we worked really hard because we were so grateful for all of the opportunities we’d been given. And we, you know, we couldn’t really talk about periods out loud anymore. People would come up to me as I went to the loo and say I read your piece on periods and oh my goodness, I’m going through that. And I said, Well, we should all be, you know, we hide our tampons when we walk to the toilet. That’s ridiculous. You know, we should be able to have a normal bodily function that’s normal for anyone who, you know is going through monthly changes. It just felt I really feel that we need to talk about it a bit more. 

And if I’d known that was coming and I was also severely anaemic, obviously because of this which affected, you know, my, my, you know, how I felt day to day I would be sitting down on the sofa and waking up 4 hours late because I was absolutely exhausted. I had low iron, I had really low ferritin count all these things that I just sort of put up with because I thought, I don’t want to make a fuss at the doctor. And I’m sure it’s perfectly normal and it like, you know, it’s. Generally, we’re a funny generation. I’m really hoping that millennials and Gen Z don’t, that they really investigate their health as soon as it changes. 

Le’Nise: Why do you think that is, that Generation X are very much about, you know, you just have to get on with it. You know, don’t complain, just, you know, just put up with it and then maybe eventually you’ll figure it out. 

Lorraine: Well, I think it is a massive generalisation, but I think we work in a very patriarchal system. It’s not set, it’s not fit for purpose for women. It doesn’t work for us and we’re trying to work within it as opposed to working or lean around it or manoeuvre ourselves. And actually it just doesn’t work for us. 

You know that this there’s just a better way of doing things where there would be more support for us for our kinds of physical issues that we might go through. But I think we were also to have it all generation. We were really taught. And I guess we absorbed it a lot of us, I did certainly without really thinking it through. You know, we made changes where we could and where are kind of I mean, I always worked for male bosses, even in a really female business, like women’s magazines, you know, the money was was controlled by men. I we, we asked sometimes for things that would make it better, but we didn’t ask enough. And I guess we felt that we took have it all and we we decided that meant do it all. So we tried to be, you know, brilliant at home, brilliant at work. 

And, you know, I have to say, men just didn’t step up. They couldn’t they didn’t do better. Even where families where people were saying, you know, my husband, you know, we have equal equal care, etcetera, etcetera, and that’s all brilliant. But what there wasn’t was equal thinking. So the emotional labour was still very much the the woman in the partnership thinking of all the things that had to be done today or, you know, sometimes I sort of joked with my friends that we would wake up once we had children while we were doing full time jobs, we’d wake up and think, How can I keep everyone alive today? That was literally our first thought. You know, where are the children? How will they do this? 

And, you know, we didn’t sometimes we didn’t help ourselves. We didn’t talk about paid childcare that we were paying for, that was invaluable. We couldn’t have done our jobs without it. We didn’t talk about how amazing our jobs were and how they made us feel brilliant and gave us a real sense of self-esteem and self-worth, a really great role modelling for our daughters and our sons. So it was maybe we were just sort of finding our way through, but I think we had a real, you know, we can do hard things, tough it out attitude in general. I interviewed nearly 100 women for the book and that was a very you know, I tried to pick women from all kinds of diverse background backgrounds. And I interviewed Black women and Brown women as well. And the theme was the same across every everyone. You know, we we going to have to get this done in this patriarchal system that doesn’t quite work for us. 

Le’Nise: What are the some of the biggest differences that you see amongst Millennial and Gen Z women? 

Lorraine: I think they are much kinder to themselves. They are much more informed. I mean, the brilliant women who set up all these kind of particularly around menstrual health, are beginning to set up brilliant businesses. As you know, We Are Flo. There’s Bloody Good Period for period poverty. There’s what Maisie Hill does. There’s all of this kind of work going on now. And so and it’s based, I think, a little bit in that kind of area of looking after yourself, being kinder to yourself. 

And and the medical profession has been largely unhelpful and unkind around women and their ability to endure pain. The pain has been extraordinarily wrong. I was listening to podcasts yesterday as well where, you know, women can get pregnant in a in a 24 hour period within four weeks. That’s the only time a woman can get pregnant. A man can make a woman pregnant every single day, every single hour. But it’s our responsibility to take on birth control.  That’s not fair. You know, and birth control for a man is much easier sorted out than it is for a woman. And it can sometimes take a year to get your birth control. It’s not fair. You know, vasectomies are still viewed as something quite unusual. Many women are very desperate after childbirth to too, for their husbands, partners to have vasectomies, but that’s still considered unusual. You wouldn’t dream of asking a man… There’s so many inequalities. 

But I think millennials and Gen Z are absolutely aware of that. And I think Millennial and Gen Z men are aware of that and they’re aware they need to do better and they will do better. So I think the tide is beginning to turn. It’s a glacial pace, unfortunately, and also it’s just inbuilt in our culture that we give men a break around this kind of stuff and we, we really shouldn’t, you know, and that we should be talking to our sons. You know, I asked my husband to talk to my daughters about their periods. I didn’t want it to just be me because I wanted my son to see that and I wanted my son to be in the room. He’s 16 now, when this kind of thing was discussed because I think it’s really important and actually, you know, to not have that shame or embarrassment or which my Gen Z daughters absolutely don’t. I mean, they really don’t have any shame or embarrassment around their periods. They’re very vocal about what they use and how they use it. And, you know, with the cup works and all of that, they’ll talk about that in front of everybody. And I think that’s a good thing. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, I, I completely agree. I want to just talk a little bit about you have a whole section in your book around rage and this kind of midlife rage. And I find it so fascinating because, you know, you talk about how women have been told for most of their life that showing their anger isn’t ladylike. And I certainly, you know, remember conversations with my mum even now where I will get angry about something and she would say, okay, calm down, calm down. And she’s kind of cusp, middle kind of Gen X, Baby Boomer and the anger showing anger is not, you know, the done thing. But, you know, I feel very you know, it feels very potent in a way when I am able to express my anger and rage sometimes because, you know, there are a lot of things in the world that can make you feel rage. I just want to kind of chat a little bit with you about that section in your book and what you would say to any woman who is listening and is struggling to express herself and this rage she might feel inside. 

Lorraine: Well, the rage is, I would say, 100% common feeling across all perimenopausal women, less so after menopause. I think. So from a physiological point of view is the loss of oestrogen and the fluctuations of the hormones. I mean, there’s no one test for being in perimenopause because one day you have oestrogen, the next that you don’t notice the fluctuations, the causes, the problem. But with Gen X, I think we’d also got to a point in our forties where we just had enough and we just couldn’t do the bending around. You know, you get older, you’re more experienced and you just think, you know, I’m not going to keep quiet in this meeting anymore. I’m going to ask them not to speak over me again because it’s impossible for me to get to the end of my sentence. So I’m going to say at the beginning, please don’t talk over me. 

So I had reached a kind of point of I’m just I’m not putting up with that anymore. And, you know, and you watched your daughters sort of dealing with bits of it. And I just thought, I’m not having her deal with it again. I just think this is really unfair. So I’m going to make it a point and we’re going to talk about it. But the rage has a physical and emotional component and it’s is absolutely it’s really overpowering. Sometimes you’re absolutely physically furious. And I mean, I got really cross with with I remember reversing the car into something and really losing my temper a lot. And that was, you know, when I went on hormone replacement therapy around 50, that did ease the rage, but I didn’t lose the fury. I was still quite cross about everything and I just decided to put it to a good use. But it was a shock for me because I had you know, we had been told as a generation that, you know, that the language around women losing their temper is shrill. You know, that’s such awful, negative, derogatory language around any woman who is seen to be shouting or losing her temper or raising her voice or, you know, you know, you’ve got to remember a generation that really didn’t see a female newsreader, hardly ever. We didn’t see women in any adverts about the medical profession unless it was nurses. And also we saw nurses, as you know, it’s sexiness, it’s Halloween costumes and things. So, you know, we have Benny Hill as part of our I mean you won’t know that. So it’s just an abhorrent Saturday night programme and know we had a lot of things where women were persistently inconsistently demeaned and had to be quiet as well. 

So for us it was, you know, I think suddenly you just boil over and you just can’t deal with it anymore. Certainly that’s how I felt. But it really just comes out of the blue, this rage, and it’s really so common. I mean, Davina McCall wrote about it in her book. She talked about it on the programme that she made. Kate Muir, the journalist, she wrote a number one bestselling book. It’s just she talks about it as well through, you know, how it just catches you by surprise and it’s just there, but you can turn it to doing good things with it, I think, because it is a bit of a force of nature. 

But you know, what I would say to women is recognise it may come. You know, the whole point of us doing the podcast, of course with me writing the book with the women in their sort of mid-thirties through to recognise that these things might be coming, I mean things that help with the rage are exercise. Absolutely. I’m was very anti yoga. I thought it was ridiculous. And how could that possibly work? Actually, that really helped, taking that up really helped with the rage. For me, it really calmed me down. I learnt about breathing. I found other places to put it so that it was perhaps a more positive than a negative emotion. So I would recognise it. I would sense it might be coming and not feel that you were alone or there’s anything wrong with you or there’s anything wrong in voicing what you feel about things. I think that’s really important and hopefully the millennial men and Gen Z men are less likely to talk over you in meetings. 

Le’Nise: What’s really interesting is that, you know, this great psychiatrist called Dr. Julie Holland, and she talks about oestrogen as the hormone of accommodation. 

Lorraine: And yes. 

Le’Nise: When you’re kind of thinking about the menstrual cycle at the end of your menstrual cycle, when oestrogen is naturally declining and progesterone is naturally declining, you, some women do experience this kind of anger or this kind of more forthrightness, and that can be described as being kind of moody or, you know, shrill. But it’s interesting when you remove oestrogen and you’re kind of more willing to speak your mind and say what you really think. And I know it’s different in perimenopause, but it does feel like a version of that and it gets smeared, you know, Oh, she’s moody, she’s being bitchy when actually, you know, women are just more likely to speak their mind during that time of their menstrual cycle, which I find really fascinating. And when you talk about it, you see you see women starting to connect the dots in their mind. And, oh, actually, that’s probably what’s going on for me. 

Lorraine: Yeah, I think the key is and as you was saying, when you came onto the podcast is to recognise what’s going on. Yeah. Work out how you deal with it yourself. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. And in, in your book you talk a lot about changes in identity and you know, navigating your forties where you get to a point where you almost feel like, you know, okay, I’ve got everything sorted, you know, even though you’ve got kids and they’re constantly changing, but you kind of feel your work, work is sorted, you know what you’re doing, and then you’re hit with all of these physical and emotional changes which, you know, as you described in your book, can, can kind of change the way that you you view yourself. And, you know, you describe in your book this, do you use, as you say, this line where you had this sense of feeling like you didn’t belong here in this space and time. And I feel like that will be something that a lot of women in this phase of life will connect with. Can you talk a little bit more about this? 

Lorraine: Yes, because it’s something I explored quite deeply because I’d written a parenting book about parenting teenagers, teenage girls. And during my research for that, I’d learnt that the teenage brain from the age of 12 to 25 is basically dismantled and put back together again from a neurological point of view. But while that’s happening, you’re building the thing that’s the most important thing you’ll ever have, and that’s your identity is core to your day to day life. How you react, how you behave,  so much influences, but it’s really what you hold on to and keeps you strong through everything, your identity. 

So when you get to your forties, the immense amount of change is like an earthquake for your identity. Again, the oestrogen affects the brain, but other than that other things are happening. You are losing people, people are dying around you. It’s, you know, you lose friends, you see terrible things. Your parents are elderly. They need something else from you. You know, you’re parenting them in a way that you weren’t before your children leave home. So I think empty nest syndrome, my eldest left home three years ago and I had thought people were making a bit of a fuss about it. And this is surely this was buoyant. We got them ready. They went out, how amazing and exciting it was. I was grief stricken. It took me out. It was really just the worst feeling. We had a family unit and suddenly it was a totally different family unit overnight. It was a totally different family unit. So our day to day behaviour changed.

So there was so much change. I started to wonder, you know, who was I within that change. And I think the other thing that’s core to identity, I think, is if you’re lucky enough to be able to have children and also even if you if you know your journey to through motherhood, trying to be a mum, failing to be a mum, not failing, but not being able to be a mum, all of that suddenly comes into view. It’s like it’s sort of presented to you in front of you and you start to kind of be examined. It’s a very emotional time and you think, Well, where do I belong? Do I belong to, I don’t belong to the women mothering younger children anymore. I don’t belong to people who go home to their parents so that their parents can look after them anymore because I’m having to look after my parent. You know, you just don’t belong in any kind of tribe anymore. You don’t fit anywhere. And it’s a little bit of a lonely feeling because we haven’t talked about this before. Everyone assumes they’re going through it on their own and there’s not, there’s like an army of women going through it all at the same time, and we need to use those women a bit bit more. 

And I think this sense of not belonging really undermines you. It’s very upsetting. It’s a real shake of it makes you lonely, it makes you sad. The thing is, what you’re doing is entering what the therapist called the liminal void, and there’s an immense amount of change and you sort of have to sit with that, paying for a bit. And when you come out the other side, you think, actually, you know, this is who I am. No, this is who I want to be. And in a way, what’s brilliant about it, because I don’t want to frighten women going into this phase, because the more you know, the more wonderful it is When you come out the other side, you can form your identity. You can choose. As a teenage, you didn’t really have a lot of choice. It’s sort of based on context and learning. And you know, what will you be as an adult? Whereas now you are an adult, you have a bank of experience. You can choose how you want to be. Do I want to be that hard, unbending person anymore? Do I want to be that kind of person that can’t say no, that doesn’t set any boundaries and or can I just choose to be this now. You do have to sit in the middle of it a little bit. The void, as I call it in the book, feeling the pain of the departure of the other bits of you and the kind of sense of questioning who you would be, but your hope filled. And then you choose what you want to be. And I think that works for every situation. I don’t think that’s just me speaking from a very privileged white point of view. I think, you know, we don’t know everyone’s stories and what they’ve been through, but I think most of us can start thinking about choosing as women who want to be who. 

Le’Nise: I think that’s really powerful because I definitely see women, certainly in their fifties, my friends who are in their fifties and sixties, they do have this potency about them and I absolutely love being able to speak to them and tap into their experiences. 

And actually, you gave a really interesting example of the book where one of your friends, she had had her own business. She was very successful. And then she decided to wind down that business. And she almost lived, she said she lived like her teenage son did for a year, where she just kind of took that time to figure out who she was and then decided to step into something else that became ultimately quite successful as well. But I just thought that was, you know, that was quite fascinating. 

And just kind of tying in to what you said earlier about, you know, the experience of this time in other cultures and other ethnicities where there is this kind of different view of women who are in this phase of life and who have gone through, who are post-menopausal, where there is, they’re more revered, they’re more respected. What do you think that we need to do in the UK to get to that place just for women who are kind of post-menopausal to be viewed differently? 

Lorraine: We do live in a really ageist society, unfortunately. And and very bizarrely, you know, youth is still tied to our fertility. The idea of, you know, how fertile we are, and the moment we’re not fertile, we’re not useful. And it’s such a patriarchal, bizarre thing that’s still going on. It’s a huge set of messages that are all manner of wrong for women. But as you say in other many other cultures, Japan, places like that, there are words for menopausal women which are, you know, leader, powerful, but it’s a very different, you step into a whole different place. 

And actually the has been shown in some studies that there are less symptoms associated with perimenopause and menopause because women approach it in such a positive way because society’s behind them and encouraging them and saying this is, you know, these are the glory days, they’re coming. It’s going to be amazing and we all respect you for it. Whereas here it’s this, we didn’t see women culturally over 40. It portrayed often in a positive manner. It’s starting to happen. But, you know, if you look at TV, if you look at songs, if you look at presenters and all that kind of thing, it’s all younger is seen as better or the language is is still that. So we just we need to gradually start changing that. 

And what I mean by that, I don’t mean that you know, we all have to be JLo at 55, you know, opening the Super Bowl on a whole upside down and amazing for her to do that. But she work. That’s her job. She works incredibly hard to do that and she does it in her way. But, you know, there’s a million, we need to see more women staying longer in in jobs. You know, we need them in schools, staying longer in their job so that young women can see that that’s potentially you can do that forever. Or we need to hear of women stepping out of jobs and doing different things and finding who they are and working in it in a different way. So it’s just really gradually talking about it, I think, out loud and making sure that we don’t associate ageing with bad things. 

You know, there’s a lot of debates around at the moment around midlife and all this talk of menopause and perimenopause and we’re frightening younger women and we shouldn’t be putting misinformation out there, which is ridiculous. Or, you know, if we don’t, that’s a very male attitude to keep stop women talking about things because we don’t want to hear from them. I think the idea is we put it out there, we say, this is all the information. This is where you get support, be ready for it, and then you’re not going to hit 43, 44. You know, and go through what I went through the age, which was a real shock and very supportive. And I think we need the health you know, we need the medical profession to back up around this actually, you know. The reason hormone replacement therapy is not as widely used is what is a terribly misleading survey done 20 years ago, which has been repeatedly discredited for all its findings and that influence a huge amount of women. But, you know, it works for me, doesn’t work for everybody, hormone replacement therapy, but it’s literally not offered. Two thirds of GPs prescribe antidepressants instead of HRT. You know, anti-depressants, while they may work for some, just keep an army of women in a zombie like place. And it really doesn’t solve the actual physical problem. And, you know, in other cultures, Black and Brown women are not listened to in the same way that white women are with by the medical profession. So their journey through menopause and perimenopause is even more difficult. I mean, we all we all know that we’re consistently ignored by the medical profession, anyway. 

We had an esteemed cancer doctor, Professor Michael Baum, on our podcast, and he said that in the early days in his career, he would go around the wards where there were women being treated for cancer and turn up their morphine drips because they were much lower doses than men being treated for cancer. So it’s literally endemic in the medical profession. And I think that will start to come out to not, you know, treat women with the support that they need. So all of that sort of needs to start happening around us, but just ourselves, we just need to be really careful of the language we use around our daughters and younger people around this. You know, we are it’s impossible for women of Gen X to talk about her size without saying how fat she is, without using the fat word. It’s just we just can’t do it. And it’s a terrible thing. We we look in the mirror and we say how disappointed we are. We are naked. I mean, I do a lot of open water swimming, so I’m in a swimming costume a lot and I’m changing by the side of lakes and pools with loads of women, all different shapes and sizes. And I just wish the attitude that what we really don’t care was an attitude we could take into fancy gyms. It was an attitude we could take into school changing rooms. It’s, you know, to not be critical of ourselves, to not, you know, if we think it just don’t say it you know don’t use was referred to us as old don’t keep talking about you know that senior moment and all of that. Those are the little ways we can stop, you know, degrading ourselves really around getting older and talk about how amazing it is because it is really amazing, you know, to feel this less vulnerable, to have really good boundaries around what I will and won’t do and how I will won’t let people talk to me or deal with me is really powerful, really helpful.

You know, some women choose to do all sorts of things around looking better at this age, and that’s great for them. Some women don’t. But if you don’t, don’t talk about wrinkles as bad things, don’t talk about it. The language, I think, is really important. 

Le’Nise: I completely agree. I think that I feel really positively about, you know, perimenopause and menopause being discussed more. But something I find a bit worrying is how much negativity is part of these conversations and how when we, you seem to have you have conversations about perimenopause and menopause in the press is very much alongside all of the negative symptoms, hot flushes, night sweats, brain fog, the senior moment that you mentioned. And I would love to have more of this. You know, and you will have more of a sense of yourself and you will have more of a sense of what your boundaries are. Knowing that you can say no, that no is a complete sentence. Knowing it’s okay to not say yes to everything. I would love to see more of that because, you know, as you say, when a young woman reads about, you know, this time of life, it can feel quite, quite negative. 

What would you say to someone who is in their twenties and thirties? And, you know, this isn’t really on their radar, but it is something that should be because what you do in your twenties and thirties will have an effect of your experience of your forties and fifties. What would you say to them? What do you think they really need to know? 

Lorraine: Well, I mean, I just I don’t think young women want to hear about menopause and perimenopause. I mean, I wouldn’t have done I just would have thought is just so far away. So it’s like when you’re 11 and someone talks to you about when you’re 15, you just can’t imagine it. It’s and it is a whole different world. 

But what I would say generally is to get to know about your physical health. We had Dame Lesley Regan on who’s kind of the most senior gynaecologist in the country. She’s the chair of Wellbeing of Women and she has studied this for her whole career. She said tying up what you go through as a teenager to, you know, this kind of joining the dots all the way through your life is really, really important. So be absolutely clear on your health from the age of 18 onwards. 

You know, think when you go to the GP and ask about, you know, whether you’re going to go on the pill or what all of these things, get the information, say, will this affect me in five years time? Will it affect me in ten years time? How will this play out when I’m older? What am I going through now that may be relevant to what I will go through when I hit 40, when it all changes because it’s such a massive physiological change for women. There’s so many big studies being done around because heart disease is the biggest killer of women. Dementia is a big killer of women. All of these things start to become relevant when you’re 40. So what can you do in the lead up to that, that will help towards that. Obviously, we know and we’ve just about. Lesley, suddenly the lifestyle changes are really important. You know, alcohol, whether you exercise or not, the kind of exercise you do what’s right for your body, what’s not right for your body, really get to know yourself and don’t see that as self-indulgent or, you know, being obsessed about your health. Really do properly get to know. That’s what would I say to my daughters what’s going on here every month, You know, how are you feeling? And I think all of these are markers for things that could happen or be relevant as you get older. 

We absolutely know gut health is just probably the most important, the gut brain axis unquestionable. We know that from all the evidence now. So nutrition is really important. But this is not about denial. This is about adding in, not taking out. We really know about movement. We know that that’s incredibly important. So this is not about doing triathlons. This is about 30 minutes outside. We know nature helps. We know vitamin D deficiency is really problematic. So I think all of that. Doing a constant review of your health and what you might be missing and what you might need to add in is really good. 

And also, you know, the biggest, biggest killer of women and well, not physical care, but the biggest. And we had a doctor on who’d done massive studies into longevity. The one thing that keeps you living longer is social interaction. So loneliness is a killer. I mean, it really is. It’s more harmful. And this is from various books that we’ve had and scientists we’ve had on our podcasts. And I’m not saying this off the top of my head, it’s absolutely true. It’s been scientifically proven isolation and loneliness. So keep your social connections. Really do keep them keep the good people around you, and particularly in midlife, you are going to need to soften, you’re going to need to ask for help. You’re going to need to be vulnerable. So whatever your background, wherever you’re from, it’s not a Gen X thing to ask for help. I think it might be more of a millennial thing, hopefully, fingers crossed. But that keeping that connection, being members of clubs, doing things in teams, working in teams is really, really important, it’s vital, reduces stress levels, and we know stress is a really big cause of inflammation. So reducing that stress level, even if it’s just tiny things every day, a ten minute phone call, all of these things are good prescriptions. That’s social prescription, I think for women is really important. 

Le’Nise: And I loved the chapter in your book where you talk about friendships. I thought that was really powerful because that’s kind of something I’m thinking a lot about at the moment because, you know, you get to a point in your life where you you are so busy and you’re just focusing on how can I get through this day, how can I get through this week? And certain people can fall off the wayside, by the wayside. And, you know, you said, you know, if you haven’t spoken to someone in a while, just, you know, just check in, you know, because they might be thinking of you just as much as you’re thinking as well of them as well. And that boost that you get from connecting with someone. It’s just it’s so, it makes you feel so much better on so many different levels. So, yeah, really, really powerful, super important. 

Lorraine: Super, super important. More than, you know, drinking a pint of water a day or deciding to be teetotal, it is more important. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, definitely. You’ve shared so much and I know that listeners will get so much from your book, so it’s What’s Wrong With Me: 101 Things Midlife Women Need to Know and it will be available on the 25th of May. 

Lorraine: Pre-order Now apparently pre-order is really helpful but the money doesn’t go out until the book’s posted here. 

Le’Nise: What’s the one thing that you want to leave listeners with? 

Lorraine: I think whatever age you are, check in every morning and ask yourself the questions. Do I want to do this? Is it serving me well? How am I really feeling? Because we get wrapped up in wellness and we think, Oh, wellness means do this, Wellness is how am I really feeling? And what things could I do to make me feel better? And also, it’s okay to feel sad. It’s really okay. It’s not a big problem to sit in that space sometimes, feel the pain of it and come out the other side. It’s not. You’re never going to be happy all the time. It’s impossible. So big. Accept that. And I think that’s that’s the main thing. Just constantly checking in with yourself on what’s working and what’s not working. 

Le’Nise: Fantastic. Where can listeners find you? 

Lorraine: Well, I co-host a podcast called Postcards from Midlife with Trish Halpern, where we interview. I mean, we’ve had everyone from Elizabeth Hurley, Claudia Winkleman, Davina and all really big experts about midlife. So and that’s for all, all women with really interesting women on, on, on Instagram @lorrainecandy. I’m pretty active there and that’s it really. Yeah, I think that’s, that’s it. I’m a podcaster. We have a live show 2 day live festival in May on the 19th and 20th, where all the experts that we’ve had on the show and all the many of the celebrities will be there. So we’re going to get all the midlife women and their friends in one place, in Islington, in London, at the Business Design Centre. That’s postcards from You can get tickets there. So yeah, we’ll be presenting there and hopefully gathering lots of information so that we can share that with other midlife women. 

Le’Nise: Fantastic. Thank you so much. 

Lorraine: Thank you. 

Period Story Podcast, Episode 69, Clio Wood: Better Communication Leads To Better Sex and More Intimacy

My guest on today’s episode of Period Story podcast is Clio Wood, a maternal health advocate and journalist. Her first book, Get Your Mojo Back: Sex, Pleasure & Intimacy After Birth tells her own story and experiences, the experiences of other relatable, real life women and includes lots of information about sex and intimacy after birth from experts and further resources. 

In this episode, Clio shares:

  • The negative impact teen magazines and television had on her feelings about her body
  • How she learned about the value of self-compassion
  • The importance of female pleasure
  • How better communication can lead to better sex and more intimacy
  • And of course, the story of her first period!

Clio says that post-natal sex is important and that just because you’ve had a baby, you shouldn’t have to put up with whatever issue that’s stopping you from finding sexual pleasure. 

Thank you, Clio!

Get in touch with Clio:

And Breathe Wellbeing Website

And Breathe Wellbeing Instagram





Le’Nise:  Clio, thank you so much for coming on to the show today. I’m really excited to speak to you to hear the story of your first period, but also talk about your brand new book, Get Your Mojo Back, which is very, very exciting. But let’s get into the first question that I ask all of my guests, which is tell me the story of your very first period. 

Clio: Well, it’s the story that everyone needs to hear, isn’t it? Thank you so much for having me on. It’s a real pleasure to talk to you. So I suppose my first period, it’s one of those ones that I, I don’t I don’t often think about it, and I guess many of your guests don’t. And so I was thinking back to the experience, and I suppose it was a bit I was maybe expecting it to be more of a ta da moment. In my family, we didn’t really talk much about, you know, milestones in adolescence or anything like that. And I had read a lot of teen books, loved a bit of Sweet Valley High. I really loved the Judy Blume books and, you know, the one that sticks in my mind around that time that I had just read this. Hello God, Are you there? It’s me, Margaret, or something like that. But it’s the one of the ones that a lot of people know about because it’s got the, like, breasts. It’s got periods, you know, all of that. 

And I had been at a trampolining lesson. I think it was a Friday night. I was about 13. And I got home and I had I hadn’t been feeling anything odd necessarily. You know, I was probably like quite hungry after the end of a long school day and then going to like a sports club. And then I got home and I went to the loo and I had some blood in my pants and I was kind of excited, but also a little bit nervous at the same time. I kind of didn’t really know what I mean. I knew what to do practically. I knew I needed pads and so on. But I remember calling for my mom and, you know, to kind of tell her. And because these things kind of come out of the blue, she was all like, Look, I’m getting dinner ready, you know? She wasn’t  like rushing straight to my side and, you know, and, you know, kind of celebrating the moment or anything like that. But yeah, so it was kind of a really every day moment. But I then remember kind of wanting to. Maybe tell my dad about it, but not really knowing how to broach it and what, as and when I did, what his reaction would be, because it’s not the kind of thing that he and I would spend much time talking about. And even with my mom, you know, it wasn’t something that I would I would really talk to her about. I mean, we had had the practical talk of like, you know, this is what you do, you know, here are tampons, here are pads, you know, you have a choice of what to use. And we had sex education in school. 

But all of that, I think, was much more focussed on the practical side of things rather than necessarily any kind of emotional changes, how it might make you feel the journey to kind of owning and empowering your own well-being and so on. So yeah, I mean, looking back on it now, I think it was probably quite a nice, safe, comfortable first experience. But at the time, yeah, and I and at the time it just it didn’t feel like that momentous or that dramatic. And I guess part of me really wanted it to be like it felt like it should be. You know, I think in some cultures and especially like in some stories, people would have a little period party or celebration or something like that. And that just was not in the DNA of my family at all. And I suppose, you know, probably isn’t from a lot of, you know, kind of British upbringings either. 

Le’Nise: Why did you want to tell your dad about that you got your period? 

Clio: Yeah, I you know. Interesting question, I suppose, because it felt like an achievement. You know, like I was. I was, I guess. Yeah, It’s a really good question. I guess maybe I was. I was proud and I wanted him to kind of acknowledge and celebrate and like, you know, this is this is me growing up. But yes, that’s an interesting, that’s an interesting point. I mean, I don’t know just what are. I would love to know what other people’s reactions are in terms of like who they want to tell and who they want to kind of mark the moment with. 

Le’Nise: I think about 90% of my guests, they either go to their mom or their sisters or like maybe an aunt, unlike definitely like a female family member. A couple of my guests, they didn’t tell anyone except for their friends. But the majority of them, the dad, that conversation with dads has never really figured,as far as what they shared with me. So that’s I just found it interesting that you wanted to share it with your dad. And I think we should that should be happening more, you know, more often because it’s important for for parents, both parents, to know what’s going on with their children. 

Clio: Yeah, definitely. I think that experience and all of my other kind of experiences growing up in terms of wellbeing, sexual wellbeing, physical, mental, whatever it might be, that has really shaped how we have those conversations with our daughter. Well, we’ve got two daughters, but one is only one year old, so we’re obviously not having those conversations with her yet. But like with the older daughter who’s 8, we have very much wanted to own that from both sides and have that conversation. She’s really comfortable talking to either of us about things. I’m sure that will change as she maybe gets a little bit further on into adolescence and goes through puberty and so on. But I think it’s really interesting. She feels totally comfortable talking to either of us about, Oh, what’s the period like? You know, tell me about the, you know, how babies come or whatever. You know, we have this we’ve had this conversation with her really openly. 

And I remember when she was younger, kind of four or five, and I would be changing my pad in the loo, for example. And she was, what’s the blood? What’s the blood? And, you know, so she’s really interested. And I think it’s I wonder I wonder how all the people kind of are able to not talk about that because I do come across lots of women who. on Facebook Groups, for example, are like, Oh my gosh, my 11 year old has just asked me where babies are coming from. And I don’t know what to say. And I’m like, How did you get to 11 before you have that conversation, first of all, and or even seven, eight and like, you know, and these are people with younger siblings as well. So they may have like six, four and two. And I find it quite amazing that they didn’t have that conversation when these new babies were coming along as well. I’m not saying that we’re graphic and anatomical or whatever, but we do, we’re very open with our daughter and in a child friendly way about the processes, what happens. You know, we use the correct names without getting too graphic. So she knows about penis and vagina sex and so on, and what a period is for and why you why if you don’t have a baby, then you get a period and so on. So I think it’s a really interesting thing. It’s quite interesting how my experience has shaped our approach in talking to her. And I just find it incredible that people are not having that conversation with their kids earlier. 

Le’Nise:  Yeah, I agree, because when you it’s almost like when you learn about these things a bit older, you there can be a bit of shame attached to it because it’s kind of like, well, firstly, why didn’t I learn about this earlier? But then if you’re leaving it up to the schools or friends, then you don’t you’re not able to shape your child’s view on these important topics. 

So it’s not just periods, it’s sex. And, you know, you think about like I think I’ve read some stat like 40% of nine year olds have seen some sort of pornography. Yeah, I was really horrified by that. And my son is nine and I was just thinking, Oh my God, like. 

Clio: Is that imagery or video? Video or audio video. Wow. Yeah. I mean, it’s so readily available now. I suppose so, Yeah. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: And leaving that those conversation, those important conversations up to the schools or up to friends, it just feels in this day and age, really naive to be frank. Yeah. 

Clio: Yeah. 

Le’Nise: Just you just have this huge opportunity to shape your child’s views, but also to tell them that there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Yeah. And it comes to sex, you know, we’ll talk more about that later on in our conversation. But when it comes to sex, to  say like, actually what you see in these videos, that’s not real sex. That’s not what it’s like in real life. 

Clio: Yeah. Yeah, 100%. I think you. I mean, that’s an absolutely astounding statistic. But I suppose given access to devices. You know, the average family has at least four devices in the home, two phones, tablet, smart TV, whatever it might be. And, you know, our kids know all passwords or if it’s unlocked, if you put it down, haven’t locked yet and they get into it or they’re they’re on YouTube, they’re looking for something else, it happens to come up. Whatever it might be is is out there and it’s it’s getting to them. So if you don’t counter that with a healthy framework first, that’s going to be their first view, you know, visual imagery of sex. And that marks you, doesn’t it? So I think yeah. So yeah, I feel very, very strongly about it, I have to say. And I know you do too.

Le’Nise: Yeah. So then you have this experience to kind of run of the mill experience of your period. It wasn’t the ta da moment that you were expecting. 

Clio: Were hoping for. 

Le’Nise: And then what, what was your experience of your periods like for the rest of your teenage years? 

Clio: So, I mean not really anything dramatic. I suppose what I found quite interesting was that I was, and I’m quite sporty, did a lot of exercise, played on a lot of hockey teams. Netball swam a lot and I suppose I just really sort of took it in my stride and carried on playing sports. And I know that for a lot of girls when they reach that age, it then becomes a thing. It’s kind of the cool thing to do, to complain that you’ve got your period, that you can’t do anything. And I’m not saying that that isn’t the case for some people in terms of how they’re experiencing their cycle pain wise or bleed wise or whatever that might be. 

But I was always surprised when people had that as a thing and it’s quite sad, really, that it can make such a difference to people’s experience of movement and activity you’re your relationship with your body. So yet mine was kind of average, never had really bad pains or anything like that. I was quite a, my parents would say I was a very moody teenager. You know, I had a lot of emotions going on. I don’t know whether that was related because I never took the time to notice or kind of understand when these emotions were running high and if that was related to my cycle. I suspect it probably was. But I also know that I grew up in a household that was fairly toxic. There was quite a lot of unspoken anger and agendas underneath the surface. My parents had quite a bad relationship. You know, from when I was quite young, but they stayed together for quite a long time. So I also was quite depressed, I think, in my teenage years. But I never really got the help to to deal with that or had the framework to express that properly. It’s only now when I look back and I was like, well, clearly there was some issues there. So so I think that was all kind of mixed up in it, I suppose. But in terms of the actual bleed and what it did to me on a month to month basis, I wouldn’t have said it was. Game changing. I kind of got on with my my life in and my activities in a way that I had done before. 

Le’Nise: I think that’s really interesting because I have spoken to quite a few women who they were sporty when they were teenagers and either it went a couple of ways, so it was like you they just got on with it or they did so much sport that they eventually lost their period. 

Clio: Interesting.

Le’Nise: And they thought that, well, actually that’s fine because it’s, you know, it’s a distraction. Yeah. So it’s it’s good. It sounds it’s great that you had like a really healthy relationship with your period in the sense that it didn’t stop you from doing what you wanted to do, sport wise. 

Clio: Yeah. I mean, I suppose I never really had a super regular period, even all the way up until my twenties, even before pre-baby. So I had my first daughter when I was 30 ish 31, something like that. And it’s only now after my second baby that they’ve become regular again, which is really interesting. I mean, I was on the pill for a long time in my twenties and obviously that definitely would impact them. You know, I did I did the kind of unadvised thing of like, you know, rolling over pill packets and things like that, if I wanted to go on holiday, you know. So I think there was a lot of stuff in there around my hormones just kind of getting really out of sync and not really knowing where they are, where they were. So it’s only now really that I’ve kind of in my, I’m 40 now, only kind of now that I’ve come into what I suppose it should have been doing maybe 20 years ago. But yeah, during my teen years that, that I suppose was a little bit annoying because it was a little bit unpredictable. Like I wasn’t ever really sure what it was going to come, but other than that, it was, it was fine. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. And then talking about your teen years. So in the book, you talk a lot about your negative feelings about your body and how what you saw on TV and read in magazines like teen magazines kind of reinforced that view. But then you talk like quite poignantly about your journey and how what you went through in university and the impact of like, you know, going to university and changing like the way that your body looked and how you ate and what that did to yourself. And then kind of you found this this self-compassion, which is something we’re we’re all looking for. But can you talk a little bit more about this journey? Because I think it’s something that a lot of listeners will be able to relate to. 

Clio: Yeah, I think it’s and I’m so glad that you brought it up because it is all kind of interrelated, isn’t it? I suppose the first time that I felt awkward about my body was quite early on. I mean, I suppose periods aside because when I had my period, it, it felt like, you know, it felt like a cool thing to, you know, to get your periods. And I guess I was probably average. I wasn’t really early, I wasn’t really late. But, you know, you know who’s got that period when you’re in the toilets and you’re talking with your friends or you’re hearing overhearing gossip or whatever it might be. 

But I never really felt comfortable in my body in terms of its size and its shape. And I think the first time I experienced that, I was maybe in prep school. So I wasn’t even 11 yet. I was I was ten and we were doing a school play and one of the teachers actually made a comment about how the dress fitted on me. And I just remember getting really hot and embarrassed, not really knowing what to say, but then kind of suppressing that get on with it, you know, not ever really feeling comfortable again in what I was wearing, but just kind of getting on with it. And I suppose that then carried on into senior school. So kind of 11 and 12 and onwards where I was quite short, a little bit plump like, and you know, a normal child. But a lot of my friends were much taller than me. That real kind of stick thin teenager, you know, where they where people just, like, feel like they’ve been stretched really gangly, quite like Bambi, like. I was not. And, you know, I was I was little bit rounder, the I obviously, you know, I was I was into sport and everything, so I was active. But I just always felt like with those people around and with the magazines I was seeing with all these like skinny teenage models in that my body type wasn’t right. 

And I then started to, you know, I’d got my periods and my skin was a little bit maybe greasier was getting some spots. I had braces for five years, like proper train tracks, top and bottom. And so I was still, you know, I had friends. I was fairly popular, but at the same time, I was always desperately trying to kind of fit in. And my parents weren’t necessarily cool, so we didn’t necessarily get the cool shoes or the right school bag, but so we had to really, like, fight to. You know, there’s a lot of pressure, isn’t there, when you’re a teenager to kind of fit in with everyone. So I really, really wanted to have Kickers and then everyone had a Kangol bag. So I really wanted to have a Kangol bag and, you know, all of these different things that contribute, I suppose, to your sense of self-worth in your adolescent years. And I was always just really struggling to get those right and. I think it was really. It is only in my later years when you get to kind of late twenties, thirties, forties, that you really start to own the power of being different. And in a school context and even in a university context, sometimes you want to fit in, you want to follow the herd, you want to be popular, and you kind of don’t really appreciate that. Actually, the ones who are different at that stage are probably the ones that are going to go on and change the world. 

It’s the it’s the kind of inverted commas nerds and geeks who are the ones who are like super brainy, have the connections, have the ideas. And and, you know, Bill Gates was not a cool guy, but he’s like, how successful has he been? And it’s things like that, isn’t it, that you don’t really appreciate because you can’t see that when you’re younger. All you can see is what your friends are thinking of you. And is everyone laughing at me because my shoes are not quite the right style or whatever? Yeah. 

So I did really struggle on that journey and it did lead to a lot of yeah, just I guess, disordered eating. I got to university, as you say and I happened by chance to lose quite a lot of weight over the summer between going between being at school and going to art school afterwards and then on to university. And I remember one of my friend’s dads commented on it just being like, Oh, you know, you’ve lost a lot of weight, like you look great or whatever, something like that. It was not meant in a sexual way. It wasn’t meant to be anything untoward, but those sorts of things, you know, that for me really stuck in my mind and I was like, Oh great, You know, that’s something that I should be mindful of from now on. And you know, you can go to university and it’s a different environment and you can create your own narrative a little bit more than you can in school, because particularly if you’ve been in the same school for seven, eight, nine, ten and 12 years, whatever it might’ve been. And I was in the same school for quite a long time. So you can kind of go and create that new voice for yourself and that new history. And I wanted to really lean into that and own that kind of popularity. 

And, you know, particularly with with boys as well. Like I had never had that approbation from boys, guys, men or whatever before. And now that I had, you know, supposedly got hotter, I really leaned into that. And that was not a healthy thing longer term, because it meant that I placed a lot of importance on what I ate, trying not to put on weight. I wanted to go out and dance and kiss a lot of boys. And that then leads to that whole conversation and that double standard around sexuality from for men and for women particularly in a university context where everyone is having sex all the time. But, you know, it’s only the women who are kind of castigated for that. You know, it’s a very fine line, isn’t it? The oh, gosh, so frigid. She you know, she she’s a tease, she leads people on. You know, she dances with them and doesn’t do anything with them, whatever, between. 

There’s a really fine line between that and like, oh, well, you know, she slept with him and, you know, she slept with the other guy last week. And, you know, she kissed like this many guys in one night. And it’s like, well, hang on. The guys are doing that as well. And no one’s talking about them in those terms. So you know what? Where is that judgement coming from? It just made me so angry. Like I could never I can articulate it now and obviously I’ve written about it in my book, but at the time you just kind of get through it and you’re like, okay, well, you know, I still don’t know what to do, but this guy seems to like me and you know, I’m going to I’m going to get on with it and see what happens. And then, you know, that leads to whatever of whatever gossip it’s going to lead to, which is really sad. And look back on it now. And I feel really sorry for myself in that situation. And it makes me really scared because I have daughters and like, please God, it’s not that bad when they get there. You know, hopefully the dialogue has changed and hopefully I can empower them enough to stand up for themselves and know how to navigate that because it’s really difficult. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, I think in the late nineties and early two, thousands were, justa very toxic time for women in the culture. Like a lot of like slut shaming. 

Clio: Slut shaming. 

Le’Nise: And you know, just you just I because I, I think we’re around the same age so, you know, going to university. And, you know, I do remember that, you know. Yeah. Girls you know you oh, she’s a slut because she’s slept with all these guys. But then, you know, you’d have the guy who had had, like, sex with lots of girls and he was like, he was a hero. He was a stud. And it’s just it’s so disempowering. And I think it’s, you know, it’s a left left a mark on a lot of women. And in our like who grew up in in the same era so that yeah yeah. 

And this actually leads quite nicely onto the next question I want to ask you what is around female pleasure? Because, you know, you think back then it wasn’t, the conversations around female pleasure were very different to how they are today. So it was very much about how can you pleasure the man, you know, what can you do, best blowjob techniques and all of that kind of thing. Yeah. Whereas now the conversations are very, very different. So can you talk a little bit because in, in the last kind of couple chapters of your book, you talk about sex and, you know, re-establishing connection, which we’ll talk about a little bit about, but that just kind of start by talking about the importance of female pleasure. 

Clio: Oh my God. So important. And I think, you know, you you referenced earlier about children’s access to porn and seeing that very early on. And obviously that really can frame, you know, porn is really the only other representation of sex that we see that’s not ourselves. Right. Like it’s not like we go and watch our friends and see how they’re doing it so it can really frame you even though you know it’s not real. If you see something enough times, then it becomes normal. And so. 

And obviously, in traditional male gaze porn, the focus is not on women’s pleasure. I mean, I think yeah, that’s showing cunnilingus a little bit more now. But it’s literally I mean, it’s it’s so unrealistic. It’s it’s ridiculous. And they basically spend like 2 seconds doing that before they move on to penis in vagina or some kind of other penetrative penetrative sex. And it is really important to kind of acknowledge that we’re talking a little bit more openly about self-pleasure and how important it is and how important the clitoris is and how much bigger it is than we were taught when we were growing up or we had reference for and how important it is for you to kind of connect with that, because particularly if you’re viewing your body with such antipathy, maybe even hatred as I was once, why on earth would I connect with myself and show myself love like it was all about me trying to please other people. And that goes into the bedroom as well. 

And I just remember having so many so many situations where, you know, I didn’t even think to ask it in. It certainly wasn’t the sort of topic that would, you know, it’s not it wasn’t a conversation that we would naturally have in bed because, you know, I had one long term boyfriend when I was at university, but the rest were kind of, you know, dalliances, shall we say. So you don’t kind of connect with that person in a way that you might if you are in a long term relationship and you perhaps don’t feel as comfortable in life in having that conversation. I remember we I went to an Ann Summers party, I think my first or second year and the conversation was all around like girth of the vibrators and length and so on. And I was a bit like looking back at that now I’m like, I mean that. But that isn’t going to make a difference. I mean, it might on some level, but also that isn’t the only thing that is important in a sexual experience, and that certainly isn’t the only thing that’s going to make a difference to our orgasm.

So, yeah, I think definitely. I didn’t do well at that. When I was. I found it probably quite hard to kind of open up and own that within myself in my teen and teen years as I got into my twenties and thirties it’s definitely something that I felt more comfortable with and felt more ownership of. But yeah, I think there’s a certain amount of shame there around like asking for what you want, because if you’re a good girl, you don’t ask for things in the bedroom. And that’s not a conversation that you want to have. You kind of, you know, even now there’s a, which is the national study of attitudes towards sex and lifestyle or something like that. But they do a survey every ten years, and even now it’s like 20% of people have never even spoken to their partner about what they what their preferences are in the bedroom, which is quite a lot, especially with if you’re with them say, you know, five, ten, 20 years. So I think yeah, definitely the whole like self pleasure and owning well pleasure for women and the capacity to own that through self-pleasure is is something that is really important. It certainly wasn’t part of my formative years and it’s something that I’ve had to kind of learn and be comfortable with in my late in my later years in know from from my late twenties onwards, I think. 

Le’Nise: So you talked about having conversations and the importance of communication and just thinking about, you know, the title of your book is Get Your Mojo Back. And one of the things that you talk about in one of the chapters in your book is called How about After the Washing Up, Darling? Actually, I chuckled at that and it talks about navigating the practicalities of sex and intimacy in real life. And one of the things you talk about is communication. Someone might be listening to this thinking, well, you know, I’m really scared to have those conversations. You know, I don’t know. I don’t know where to start. I’m nervous. I think I feel like I might be shamed for, you know, being quite, you know, owning my sexuality and being open. Where would you suggest that they start?

Clio: Such an interesting question? Because I think I there is a tendency in our spheres, I think when we do talk pretty openly about this and about periods, about wellbeing, sexual health and so on, to assume that everyone is on the same page and they’re in a really open and communicative relationship as well. And it’s just not necessarily the case. And I tend to think of communication and talking to each other as one of the most boring pieces of advice that I can give, but it’s the one of the most crucial ones because everyone can do it and it will make a difference. It can be really hard if you have never broached these sorts of topics before. I would always advise getting comfortable with what you want to achieve from that conversation. So getting comfortable with where you are, learning a bit more about yourself, coming back to the self pleasure conversation, what turns you on, what you want to do, perhaps what you want to change, what you might want to do instead. And also be open to hearing what the other person has to say as well. Because in a really positive way, actually opening up this conversation might be something that they’ve wanted to do for a while but haven’t felt the opportunity to either. It can be really hard to make the first step. 

I would say sometimes taking it out of the bedroom can be the best place to do it. It will depend on your comfort levels in terms of, you know, each relationship is different, each method of communicating is different. So if you are worried about having this conversation, raising it whilst you’re doing something else, whilst you’re not facing each other, can be a really powerful way to do it. The amount of important conversations that we’ve had going for a walk or walking, if you’ve got a dog going for the dog walk whilst your kid is off in the playground, then you’ll just standing there watching. If you’re in the car driving somewhere because you’re there, you have each other’s attention, but you’re not necessarily facing one another, so it doesn’t feel as confrontational. 

Sometimes I really advocate conversational prompt cards. So there are various games now which are kind of conversation, relationship games, ones by both tell us. I think the School of Life does one. And whilst they are not necessarily going to address your specific question straight away, they’re really great for kind of just setting the tone for a little bit more of a meaningful conversation, which we don’t often get in a house where you’ve got kids and you’re running around after them and you’re super tired. So if you can get into that mindset of. The asking and answering slightly deeper questions. After the second or third one, you usually find that the conversation flows off in the direction that you meant it to anyway. So those one first first two or three questions can be really useful in setting the scene and kind of opening up for both of you. And look, it might not happen the first time, so maybe you do that and then the second time you do it for the third time you do it. Then maybe you feel able to bring up the conversation around sexuality and what’s what’s pleasing and what’s not and what you might want to change for your own pleasure and for your partner’s pleasure in the bedroom as well. So I think those those are my two, to make it less confrontational if it is difficult for you. Not doing it in a kind of face to face setting or turning it into taking the pressure off by focusing on something else first in order to really kind of delve into where you are emotionally and in the relationship as well. And then kind of bringing it up is a really good way to go about it. 

Le’Nise: It’s such an interesting one because I think in our culture we have this skewed idea of how much sex people are actually having. And, you know, you have this if you base everything right, what you saw on TV, you would think that people are absolutely rampant. But the reality is much, much different. And I think that’s also important to to kind of to acknowledge that, you know, it’s not just about having, like sex, whether it’s penetrative sex or any other form of sex, it’s also about intimacy and that kind of closeness that you can cultivate with your partner through communication, through touch. So like, different, you know, maybe it’s acts of service, you know, all of that sort of thing that’s really important to bring closeness back into the into the picture. 

Clio: I 100% agree. And Esther Perel actually has an amazing quote, which is foreplay starts the moment that sex ends. The point being that if you’re nice to each other, that creates a really lovely intimate environment that is that longer term. So your base level of like niceness and wanting to kind of be intimate with each other, just raise it rises a little bit. So then from there, it’s not such a big leap to kind of have sex or, you know, have a bit of a kiss on the sofa or, you know, whatever it might be, be intimate with each other and give each other pleasure because you kind of feeling a little bit nicer towards the other person anyway. And you’re inclined, therefore, to kind of want to want to give them more pleasure, want to connect with them more deeply. And I think that’s absolutely right. So it doesn’t always have to be about sex. It can be a touch in the kitchen. It could be a little cheeky squeeze of a bum, it can be making someone a coffee when they’re not expecting it or offering to pick the kids up when it’s not their time or whatever it might be. You know, sitting on the set, having a makeout session on the sofa. Like those little things, I think really build that connection. And I, they’re kind of underestimated because you kind of think it’s all or nothing while everyone else is having sex at least once a week. We need to be having sex at least once a week. So therefore, and that’s going to be better for us than actually maybe just holding hands while you’re watching your film that evening or whatever it might be. Yeah. 

And I just think, you know, coming back to your point about, you know, how often are people having sex, it’s literally the only thing that no one is ever going to know if you lie about. So I just you when we hear these stats of like, oh, Britain’s doing it twice a week and or like if you’re doing it less than this much, you know you need to be doing it well whatever it is is always these headlines in the Daily Mail but like how do you know that’s true? No one’s in your bedroom like recording you and like, ticking it off. It’s just on you is on your words. So don’t believe everything that you read, don’t believe everything that people are saying as well. Because I know in for example, I’ve anecdotally from people that I’ve spoken to, people in NCT groups are going, Oh yeah, we had sex and it was fine. Like, well, now we’re at it like rabbits again. It’s like six weeks after the birth. And like, are they actually were they just saying that because that’s what they think they’re supposed to be saying? Stay in your own lane when it comes to sex, like there’s no right or wrong in terms of frequency, as long as you guys are both happy about it and you’re connecting the right amount to you and that you’ve spoken about it and you’re on the same page, then I think that’s that’s the best that you can do is and that’s a really good place to be. 

Le’Nise: Definitely. And I think that kind of leads nicely into this kind of idea that, you know, the fundamentals of a relationship, it’s not sex, it’s communication and being able to communicate on lots of different subjects, but feeling like you can communicate without judgement, without feeling like you’re going to be attacked, without feeling like you’re going to have to go on the back foot, you know? Yeah, that’s where partnerships are most successful, where you can talk to the other person. Yeah. 

Clio: I think that is a really interesting one about raising things without feeling like you’re going to be attacked. Because I think quite often in this context, if we’re talking about sexual wellbeing or amount. we’re going to have sex or what type of sex we’re having. So it can be quite easy for the other person to feel attacked if you’re suggesting a change. So that’s something to bear in mind as well. Like you obviously don’t want to be attacked, bring it in, bringing it up. But equally, maybe that’s going to put the other person on the back foot and then they’re going to be really defensive and kind of snap back at you. So I’m not saying it’s easy and I come from a place where we did a lot of couples therapy as well, and that can be really use of in terms of helping you to communicate and set the framework of of being able to communicate with the other person. Because you’re and that’s it’s not you know, I’m not saying that everyone needs to go and do it right now, but if it gets to the stage where actually that third person as a neutral party can help you communicate better, it’s well worth it. 

Le’Nise: I mean, we could have we could talk for hours about this. I find this topic so interesting. But for listeners who want to learn more, who want to read your book, can you just talk a little bit about the book and then where they can find it and where they can learn about you, all about you? 

Clio: Sure, I would love that. So I wrote Get Your Mojo Back: Sex, Pleasure and Intimacy After Birth. Because of my experience postnatally after my first daughter, I really struggled physically, mentally to rehabilitate, to find myself again. I had scarring and a hypertonic or, tight pelvic floor which led to really painful sex. But alongside that there were a lot of emotional and mental health things going on, like post-natal depression and birth trauma. And my husband and I nearly got divorced at one point. And so the book is kind of based on the things that I learnt along the way and the information and the wisdom from the experts that I met and learnt from because I did not feel there was support for what I was looking for at all. 

When I talk to people now and they’re still saying, Look, I don’t know what’s wrong. I don’t know who to turn to. My GP hasn’t got time for me. They’ve just said, Just get on with it. You feel like you’ve you’ve just you’ve had a baby. That’s how it is now. And I just think with sex, it’s still one of those really taboo topics, particularly post-natal sex, because, you know, you’re a mother now. Why would you want to do that? Why do you need to have sex? Why do you need to be thinking about pleasure? Because, you know, we’re in this different phase of motherhood. Well, sex is how we got to being mothers in the first place. So I think it’s they do go hand-in-hand, even though culturally we don’t talk about motherhood and the siren and in the same in the same space. So that is where the book came from. It’s full of my own story and experiences, the experiences of other kind of relatable, real life women. It’s got lots and lots of information from experts and snippets of, you know, exercises and tips that you can try and that will help improve where you are mentally, physically, sexually and lots of signposting as well to further resources. And there’s also I love this. I really was keen to put a decision tree at the end of the book because so often you’re kind of I just don’t know where to start. I’ve got a problem, but I don’t know what it is and I don’t know what’s causing it. You know, how how do I find what’s my first port of call? And that’s what I really wanted to help people with is just to unpick all of these different things that could be the issue and help you find out where to start. So yeah, it’s available at Amazon, Waterstones. If you Google it, you’ll be able to pick it up online and also on my website as well which is And I would love to interact with you on Instagram if you have any questions I’m @andbreathewellbeing. So yeah, those are all my bits. 

Le’Nise: So if you if you want to leave listeners with one last thought today, of all of the brilliant things that you’ve shared, what would you want that to be? 

Clio: Just because you’ve had a baby doesn’t mean you have to put up with whatever issue it is that you’re going through. You deserve to be listened to and you have the power to advocate for yourself. 

Le’Nise: Brilliant. Brilliant. I love that I’m a big fan of self advocacy over here. 

Clio: Yeah, well, it’s necessary.  

Le’Nise: So thank you so much for coming on the show today. It’s been brilliant to speak to you.

Clio: Thank you for having me. 

Le’Nise: All your links will be in the show notes. Yeah. And thank you again. 

Clio: You’re welcome. Thank you so much, Le’Nise. It’s been great to chat. 

Period Story Podcast, Episode 68, Katy Ewen: OCD Is A Shapeshifter

You’re in for a real treat – on this week’s episode of Period Story, I’m so pleased to share my conversation with Katy Ewen, a reflexologist and fertility awareness educator. Katy so honestly shares her story of the effects her menstrual cycle has had on her mental health, navigating OCD and PMDD and what this means for her in the luteal phase. 

In this episode, Katy shares: 

  • How she first became aware of anxiety and OCD symptoms at five years old 
  • The effect hormonal changes have on her OCD and PMDD symptoms
  • The impact eating more and making positive nutrition  changes has had on her mental health and experience of the luteal phase 
  • How exposure response prevention therapy has been a game changer for her 
  • Her work as a reflexologist and the benefit of this therapy for menstrual health 
  • And of course, the story of her first period!

Katy says that understanding her menstrual cycle has given her so much insight into how to look after herself! 

Thank you, Katy!

Get in touch with Katy:

Reflex East Website

Reflect East Instagram





Le’Nise: thank you so much for coming on to the show today, Katy. I’m so excited to speak to you  

Katy: Thanks for having me. It’s lovely to be here. 

Le’Nise: So let’s get into the first question that I ask all of my guests, which is tell me the story of your very first period. 

Katy: So my actual first period was like, say, actually it’ll make sense in a second was like pretty uneventful. I was like just at home and I started and like my mum had always had, like, she’d never, like, hidden her like tampons or anything. So I just knew, like, whatever, if it was where it was, like she’d been really good with me. So like, she was like, Here’s what you need. Like, just make yourself comfortable. And like, that was it. 

But I had some bleeding and like I say, bleeding. It was like, probably like a tiny bit of spotting, maybe like a year before. And I was on holiday with my dad and I freaked out and I was like, I don’t know what to do. And I had my, like, step mum and stepsisters outside the toilet, like try to tell me how to put a tampon in. And I was like, so I wanted to go swimming, we were on holiday. And I was just like having a meltdown. And now I’m like, Oh, it was like the tiniest bit of spotting. And like, I thought that was a period is it’s kind of funny thinking about that now. But yeah, I kind of forgotten that happened and I was reminded a little while ago, so, oh yeah, that actually did happen. So yeah, that’s quite funny. 

Le’Nise: How old were you? 

Katy: I think so. I was 12 when I got my, like first like true period. And then I must have been like 11 when that happened. I was just, like, freaking out. So it’s kind of funny now, but yeah. 

Le’Nise: So you had that spotting and that kind of adventure with a tampon, and then how long did it take for you to get that so-called true period? 

Katy: It’s hard to remember, but I guess maybe a year or so later. It was a while later. 

Le’Nise: Right?

Katy: Yeah. 

Le’Nise: So you had you had that moment with a tampon and the spotting when you were 11, and then you got your period when you were 12 and in between that time had you been spotting throughout? 

Katy: Not that I can remember. It is hard to remember. I’m saying it’s a year, but like it could have been less like it is really kind of and still quite hazy now, but. Not that I recall. I remember, like when I did get my first true period when I was about 12 and being like, Oh, this is quite different to what I had experienced before. Being like, Oh, okay, this is this is what they talk about rather than yet the tiny bit of spotting that. As far as I remember, there wasn’t anything in between. 

Le’Nise: Okay. And so how did you know what was going to happen? So had you been receiving education in school? Did your mum have the in-depth chats with you about it? 

Katy: Yeah, we definitely had some stuff at school, but like, it was pretty minimal. From what I can recall, I think it was like, you’re going to have a period, it’ll come back once a month, like, here’s a sanitary pad, here’s a tampon, And that was it. And then it was just like sex education of. Like how not to get pregnant kind of thing. And I’m sitting there at 14 and being like, Well, I’m gay so none of this applies to me. It was also just an interesting experience. 

But yes, we definitely had some stuff at school. And then, yeah, as I said, my mom was always pretty open and honest about stuff. She definitely had got some like books and things around the house, so like, we’d like read some bits together and stuff. She was actually like, really, really like good with all of it and like, it didn’t feel. Like a shock or like I didn’t understand what was going to happen. I mean, outside of my period, obviously I didn’t know anything about the stuff that happens in between one period to the next. But in terms of like getting your period, yeah, my mom was pretty like good with all of it. But the school education, I mean, that’s another story. 

Le’Nise: And then in terms of your experience of your period, what was what was the first period like in terms of and then I guess after into your teenage years, in terms of like, was it painful? Was it just kind of really easy, you know? So tell us a little bit more about that. 

Katy: I never struggled too much with pain as such, maybe some sort of like grumbling cramps, but that was kind of as bad as the pain got. But I’d always just be exhausted to the point that, like, even my stepdad would like know when I was on my period because I’d just be like, white as a sheet cause I would just be so depleted. So like, that was definitely something that I sort of struggled with. I would just feel, yeah, absolutely exhausted when I was on my period and then going into like my teenage years. Definitely. So like I have a long history of struggling with my mental health. So I’ve got obsessive compulsive disorder, which wasn’t diagnosed like I probably had it since I was five and didn’t get diagnosed until I was 22 or 23. So like a long time of not being diagnosed. And I definitely noticed ten days before my period or as I started to track my period a bit more as in like using an app and then it would be like your periods ten days away and I’d be like, I’m not coping. 

And that would be like the biggest challenge was this sort of the time before my period suddenly having like very intensified intrusive thoughts and like just not being able to cope with them. So I say like PMS, like PMDD, is definitely been like the biggest struggle that I’ve had in terms of my periods and or the impact that like the hormonal fluctuations have had on my mental health as opposed to like the heaviness, like pain and things like that’s definitely been my experience and struggle there. 

Le’Nise: So talk a little bit more firstly because this is really interesting and I’d love to unpack some of this talk a little bit for us about the OCD, so obsessive compulsive disorder. And so you say you were first diagnosed when you were five or you first became aware of it when you were five? 

Katy: I first became aware of being like very anxious and very worried at that age, always worrying about something like the wind would whistle between like in a like an alley between our house and the next and I thought our house was going to fall down. And I was convinced of that. So I think just to kind of like backtrack a bit, I think a lot of people think of obsessive compulsive disorder as and I mean, stereotypes often exist for a reason, but that kind of like tidying, orderly cleanliness thing. But there’s lots of variations of obsessive compulsive disorder. 

So you have the obsession. So the thing that you’re kind of worrying about, essentially that you’re obsessing over, and then there’s the compulsions, so performing some sort of behaviour to, I guess, protect yourself from the obsession happening. So it makes sense in terms of if people were so like COVID being a prime example for a lot of people struggling with OCD is like there’s germs around. They’re worried about them getting sick, someone they care about getting sick, even making a stranger sick kind of thing. So they’ll compulsively, like, wash their hands to make sure like there’s no germs on them. But obviously, how do you know when there are no germs on your hands anymore? So these compulsions can get completely out of hand and like, completely debilitating. 

So my experience of it was having all internal mental compulsions. So like ruminating on things, trying to make sense of like bodily sensations. So I, for most of my life, up until very recently, mistook a wave of anxiety as like a gut feeling. So I would have some, like, awful thought about something and have this wave of anxiety be like, Oh my goodness, it must mean that’s true. So I had it about relationships. I had about my sexuality. Like OCD tends to, the obsessions tend to like pinpoint around things that you either really, really care about or things that you find repulsive, abhorrent. So often comes up around like quite taboo subjects that people find it very difficult to talk about. So I mean, I was a child and I had some obsessions about like it. It’ll come up about things that are in the news. So I’m thinking about like, I mean, let’s be really frank about it, like. I first came aware of paedophiles because of school and being like, Watch out on the Internet, be safe on the Internet. And then I was like, Am I a paedophile? It’s like I was a child then. 

But like getting these thoughts in your head and just going round and round and round and round, round and because I had like, no external compulsions. No one spotted it as OCD. For like over 20 years. So it was completely debilitating and has been very debilitating. Even like I had a really bad episode a few months ago, which really took me by surprise. And and we actually had this interview that you reached out to do this interview. And as I actually can’t at this point, because I was like in the midst of this like episode that I had, I hadn’t had one like that since I was like 19. So it was like quite scary. 

And that’s very much been in line with my menstrual cycle as to when I have these episodes and when they’ll start. So I have to be really conscious of like how I’m looking after myself and like particularly coming into that luteal phase of like, okay, I know that things can kind of ramp up for me here if I have not been looking after myself, like what are the things I need to have in place to make sure that I don’t give any. Like tiny amount of meaning to these thoughts because they don’t have any meaning. Like it’s so much of OCD is basically how you respond to the thoughts.

It’s like everyone has intrusive thoughts. Like I see it in clients where maybe they’ve just had a baby and then they’re worried about like harming their baby in some way. That’s an intrusive thought that we all have them. It’s about how you respond to them. So that’s the thing I’ve had to learn, is to be like, just because I have these thoughts doesn’t mean they mean anything. So, um, so yeah, I mean, that’s kind of the background into the OCD. But yeah, in terms of then my menstrual cycle is like my first girlfriend. I would break up with her on a monthly basis and it was like 100% OCD and like in a completely aligned with my periods. So. 

Le’Nise: Wow, so can you just it sounds like you, you have a really good understanding of the layers of of the OCD and then how then it ties in to the changes in hormones and neurotransmitters as they go up and down through the menstrual cycle. Can you just talk a little bit more about kind of hormonally, you might not be able to speak to this, but I’m just curious hormonally and in terms of what’s going on with the neurotransmitters, what what do you think the primarily the issue is? Is it the drop in serotonin. Is it the drop like the drop in oestrogen which is affected then serotonin, glutamate and acetylcholine? Like, do you know more about that kind of side of it? 

Katy: Not specifically, but I can speak to it in terms of my experience with fertility awareness because I became aware. So I’m a fertility awareness mentor and when I was doing my training, we had to like, learn fertility awareness and use it on our own cycles. And I’d never tracked in that great amount of depth compared to when we were doing this. And my tutor looked at my charts and it was taking me quite a while to get my head around, like how to use the observations and things. So like my chart was quite sparse. There wasn’t a lot of information on there. She just looked at it straight away, went Well, you’ve got a seven day luteal phase and that should be about 12 to 14. And she’s like, I’m not surprised at all that you have such a drastic drop in your mood because your progesterone levels are just so minimal compared to what they could and should be. 

So I’ve always noticed that it was like, yeah, ten days before my periods, the I’m guessing as oestrogen was starting to drop for me that that’s when things would really the intrusive thoughts would intensify. And then that makes sense again with like the serotonin drop. In terms of the other neurotransmitters, admittedly, I’m not that clued up on that element of it, but, but definitely, yeah, that was like a real wakeup call of her being like, well, if you can lengthen your luteal phase, I imagine your symptoms will improve quite a lot. And so we did a lot of unpicking of like how do you improve your luteal phase? And a lot of that to me was like through diet and nutrition and like literally eating more, like I come from a dance background. So you can imagine the kind of messages around eating and things that you can carry from that. And like that alone was a game changer and amongst some other things. And I had I’ve had a few cycles now where like the drop is far, far less. And it just means obviously, like you’re not dreading, like feeling like, well, feeling great before, like ovulation. Like I’ve always felt really good. Kind of like just after my period in, like, a week after. And then being like, here we go, what’s going to happen? And it’s like living like two different versions of yourself and yeah, so. I don’t know if that answers your question. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. The, the progesterone side is really interesting because your is that’s kind of one of our feel good hormones. So and we only make it when we ovulate. And then we have the link between progesterone and GABA, which is this neurotransmitter that we make in our brain that is, it’s like natural Xanax. And it’s interesting to me that you immediately were able to make the link between changing what you ate and then the changes and how how much progesterone, because effectively this is about how much progesterone you’ve made when you ovulate. So tell us a little bit more about what you did to increase or to support ovulation effectively. 

Katy: A huge part of it was definitely looking at diet and nutrition and the amount of protein I was eating. Like I didn’t realise all the kind of baggage I was carrying around food from being at dance school. Essentially I thought I’d kind of gotten away quite lightly, really. Like my weight wasn’t commented on when we were there, but there were lots of people in my year that were very actively told, like, You need to lose weight, Your bum is too big, like this and that. And like obviously you do kind of absorb that messaging, like whether it’s said directly to you or not, which I definitely didn’t appreciate until I was challenged on what I was eating. And then and I found it so confronting to be like, Oh, maybe I need to eat more and. Yeah, I really I had so much hesitation around it and was I don’t want to.

And I learned fertility awareness with Lisa Hendrickson Jack. And she said to me, But like, if you want to feel different than like, you might want to try basically just eating more. And I was like, Oh, I don’t know. Like, no, really, like, stressed out about it. And then I was like, okay, like not dancing any more for work. Like, I don’t I don’t need like, no, I mean, no one needs to look the way that, that industry desires you to look. But let’s just try and see. 

And I just started like really thinking about my protein intake because that was very minimal. Upped that considerably like a lot. And, and yeah, just sort of thinking about what I’m eating throughout the day. Like what kind of snacks am I having? I’m an absolute sucker for a 4:00 chocolate break. I’m not just thinking like, am I actually hungry here? Like, do I need to eat something rather than like, just need some sugar? And I was just trying to address those things. And then as a few months later, I was due on my period and I was so confused because I did not at all feel like I was due on my period. Like I felt really good and I was like, okay, I think this is what she’s talking about. 

And like, I’d put on a tiny bit of weight. At the time I was very stressed out about it, and now I’m like, Well, my clothes still fit me. Yeah, I need to buy a size up pair of jeans, but I feel good. And like seeing that difference of like actually appreciating, oh, maybe I need to eat more to feel better was just this massive. Like I felt like my mind had been blown a bit and it’s something that I’m really, like, passionate about talking to clients about. Like when I teach fertility awareness or even just with reflexology as well as you need to make sure you’re eating enough. And I’ll always point people to nutritionists if they need additional support, but like seeing at least my experience and then now with clients experiences of like I feel so different because the messaging I’ve been told my whole life is like, move more, eat less isn’t necessarily true of how to like feel good. And I said, Oh, it’s such it’s so sad that. Particularly women, we’re like, socialised this way to be as tiny as you possibly can be. And now I’m like, No. Like, So yeah, that was like a huge part of it, like some supplementation, but like really making sure that the groundwork was there before adding supplements in. So like, now I’ll take magnesium, I’ll take B6 in the luteal phase, that’s kind of what I’m doing at the moment. I think I’m going to start on some agnus castus, so vitex just to see. How that works for me. But I’m. Yeah. So that’s kind of in. 

Le’Nise: Just the just a note of caution. With agnus castus. 

Katy: Yes. 

Le’Nise: You want to be really clear on when you take it in your cycle because you know, this is you know a lot of listeners will have heard of chasteberry, agnus castus, vitex is known by all three names and it’s like one of those supplements has herbs that’s always recommended as a kind of this will help to fix your period. 

Katy: Yeah, like a bit of a cure all. 

Le’Nise: Exactly. Like, like maca. It’s, that’s another one of those herbs you have to be really careful with maca. You have to be careful because it’s can be very oestrogenic. And so with somebody with fibroids, you don’t want to be taking maca.  But then with agnus castus, you want to make sure that you’re taking it typically in the second half of your cycle, just just around ovulation because it’s so powerful and you use it to really help support ovulation and progesterone production. And, you know, I know this isn’t in a consultation, but I just wanted to add that it. 

Katy: Yeah. Yeah totally. 

Le’Nise: Because I see them recommended so often. I actually had this brand approach me saying did I want to work with them? And I had to say no because they did it in and they were saying take this all cycle along. And I was like no no they can’t. Yeah. But when it works it can be so powerful. 

Katy: Yeah. Like I’ve heard this and I haven’t tried it yet because of like all the kind of like caution around it. Like again in my training, it was like, this shouldn’t be your first resort. Like, get your foundations in place, make sure you’re eating enough, making sure like you’re you’ve got like stress management practices in place. Like look at your exercise, like looking at all these, like sort of like foundational elements before being like, I’m just going to take this thing. And because like, you don’t want to be missing out on the other good stuff and the impacts that can have on all of the systems of your body, not just like your reproductive system. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. What I think is actually really interesting alternative to vitex, agnus castus is vitamin E. Oh yeah. So vitamin E is really powerful for supporting the balance between oestrogen and progesterone, and I like to recommend it for clients who have issues around ovulation where either they or they’re not ovulating every cycle or they’re not making progesterone when they when they ovulate and I personally think that there are, it’s a fat soluble vitamin. So you need to make sure you’re taking the right dosage. But it’s definitely I think it’s a better alternative to vitex, which is so powerful on the brain. Yeah. So yeah, that’s just a kind of a few thoughts from me on that. 

Katy: Learn something new every day. 

Le’Nise: But then to just going back to your story, because I, I find this so fascinating that you, you know, you have this, you have these experiences and although, you know, we you often hear people talk about their stories and they don’t not they don’t always talk about how they’re coping with it currently. So you people in this space talk about their period problems they’ve had in the past, but they don’t talk about what’s going on with them now. 

And yeah, I really like the I really applaud your honesty about, you know, what you went with went through at the end of last year and the episode, as you called it, that you had. And I think that’s really important because with all of this, health is a journey and things change and new things will come into play. Like you might experience a new stressor, like COVID, for example. Yeah, and it can throw some. Even with mental health, it feels like it’s almost like almost like Tetris, not Tetris, Jenga in a way. Yeah. It’s like this tower that you’ve created and everything is in nicely. It’s stacked nicely and want something can come along like COVID. And take a few of the like blocks out and it’s teetering. And I like I just think it’s so interesting to be able to say, okay, this is what I’ve done in the past but current events have affected the way I feel now, and I need to revisit and be aware that this is an ongoing practice. And then just in terms of. Then layering on. You called it you said PMS, but you’ve also said PMDD. How, how does that come into play? 

Katy: With the OCD in like. Yes, but yeah. So. It’s definitely. Yeah. Historically it’s always been about like ten days before my period comes. I’m like, okay, here we go. I can feel like these intrusive thoughts, like creeping in, whatever they’re about. OCD has a wonderful habit of being like, a shapeshifter. So, like, you’re just sort of get to grips with, like, one obsession. Then it’ll just move on to something else. You’re like, Great. 

But yes, about ten days before kind of can feel the intrusive thoughts out creeping in. And it’s just basically like, I don’t it’s like I don’t feel as resilient to them. Like sometimes these thoughts will come up and I’ll be like, Yeah, I know exactly what that is like, move on with my day. Forget it even happened almost. And then there’ll be other times where something will come up and it’s like, it’s like it’s got a bite to it and you’re like, Ooh, what was that about? And then you kind of start exploring this thought, and that’s basically giving the thought meaning. Hmm. And, and it’s just so once you start doing that, it’s just a slippery slope. 

And like, as I hit, my period will approach and like, hormonally as less and less supporting, you like that just intensifies and snowballs. And then it would get to like the point of my period and I would just be a mess, really? Yeah. Like, there’s been times where, like, I’ve been so disassociated. I’m like, I couldn’t tell you what was real. Almost. And so then it’s like my period will come, and it’s just like this massive wave of relief of, like, Oh, okay. Like, I think this has been and it’s like every time, like, if it’s particularly intense, it’s like I sometimes forget that, like, okay, my horrmones aren’t really supporting me at this point. So my period will come, it’s almost like, Oh, thank God. Like, and the few days after that, like, it can take a while to kind of if you’ve been in that heightened state of anxiety, it can take some time for that to de-escalate. So then it’s like you have those few days of bleeding and it can de-escalate and you kind of maybe calm down and then it’s like, okay, get to like day like three or four and then be like, okay, I think think I’m alright? Yeah. If there hasn’t been too much of like an aftermath for of whatever the OCD is like, picked up that I might be able to kind of like recover and be like, okay, yeah, I’m good, right? Here we go. 

Then there’s maybe like a week, ten, 12 days, and then it would be like off it would go again. So, like, I mean, it’s not always as extreme as that. Like, it gets much more. The shifts can be more subtle. It’s like, like you say, depending on your Jenga tower and like, what kind of how stable that is at the time. Then like, I’m far more able to like, cope with different things. But yeah, just sometimes things can knock you a bit and then if they, if that like those foundations are shaky, then it can just really take hold. But something yeah, I’ve had to really learn is like I just have to not give these thoughts any meaning from the start. It’s like as soon as you start to give them meaning, it’s just so easy for it to snowball into something that. Because yeah, when you’re very anxious, like your rational brain isn’t working in the same way. So like, you can just take yourself down these roads that you, you think at the time are very logical and then you can look back and be like, How on earth did I get from like A to Z in like. 2 seconds like because it can be fast as well. That’s the thing. It can just once it was, yeah. Snowballing, isn’t it. Whereas that once it goes, it goes. So yeah. 

Le’Nise: And so have you had any, any support from like a mental health professional to help you with. Yeah. Like a toolbox for when these thoughts do come in. Yeah. 

Katy: Yeah I’ve been really fortunate that I’ve been able to access therapy for the last four years and like that has been privately. So like, got to acknowledge, like the privilege there of being able to, like, see a private therapist for that amount of time. But that has truly been life saving for me. And so I’ve had it’s a type of cognitive behavioural therapy. So you often hear CBT mentioned, but there’s like kind of gold standard treatment for OCD is exposure response prevention therapy. 

So it’s essentially you being exposed to the things you’re obsessing about and that is going to raise your anxiety. And then you have to sit with that discomfort and not perform your compulsions, whatever they may be. So compulsions, people perform them because they temporarily reduce that anxiety. So if you don’t do the compulsion, the anxiety is going to increase for a time. And then naturally you kind of realise, oh the bad thing hasn’t happened and then it comes down. So you’re continually exposing yourself to different things. And like, it’s it’s it’s hard work is really hard, like. And then yet in time you basically sort of come to realise that that particular thing isn’t necessarily true or it’s not as you’re making it out to be in your head, it’s not unsafe. 

I think that’s the thing is like people have these compulsions largely because they’ll feel unsafe or uncertain or scared about something, and you just learn that nothing is not going to happen. And as I said, OCD can be a real shapeshifter. It can pinpoint itself on to different things. So you have to do different exposures for different things. And it’s definitely like ongoing work, at least it has been for me. And yeah, so definitely like accessing therapy was like the biggest game changer. Like I actually originally came to reflexology as a way to help manage the anxiety, but I was undiagnosed at that point and my poor mum didn’t know what like she didn’t know what we were dealing with and she, she’d seen a reflexologist that had really helped her calmer and I think that was kind of the approach we took for a while of how do we manage this, because I don’t think we really recognise what we didn’t, we didn’t recognise it for what it was because that definitely at the time was so little information about OCD, particularly in the way it was presenting for me. So yeah, like had support with like reflexology and like tried to do some therapy before like counselling and things but just was undiagnosed. So some approaches when,for all mental health conditions you need to have the right therapy to make sure you’re receiving the correct support. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: Two follow up questions up in the back of that? So the first one is, do you talked about these thoughts and how there’s anxiety around them? Are there and is there like a positive side of it? You know, do you have any find that are there like any positive obsessions, things that you get obsessed with, but it’s like actually positive? Like maybe see the work you do, like you get obsessed with a certain aspect of it. And that’s actually quite motivating. 

Katy: I guess so, I mean, there’s not I mean, it’s great that there’s not the same like anxiety driving it, but because I think like that’s because I often think, gosh, if I could like use my brain in like the speed that it can perform, like when it’s obsessing in a negative way. But I guess, yeah, like I can definitely I’m very interested and passionate about this work and like, I guess you could call it an obsession. So I think it can kind of, having a mind that can be very particular, I guess can be a really good thing in like when you’re running your own business, like you have to be like quite on top of stuff. So I guess like there are positives. It’s funny, I’ve never actually been asked that question and given it that much thought. So that’s quite it’s quite funny thinking of it like that. 

Le’Nise: And then I wondered what your thoughts are on, you know, when you hear people say, Oh, like I’m so OCD when they talk about, you know, like I think of David David Beckham talking about how the way he organises his kitchen cupboards and how the labels have to all be face forward and how he talks about it as being part of his OCD and no I don’t know if he truly has OCD. Yeah, I remember that. Just thinking in my mind, thinking like that just felt weird, and I just wondered what your thoughts were about, you know, the way that people talk about OCD kind of in the culture. 

Katy: I mean, honestly, it drives me up the wall like it’s it’s so and I get it like, again, talking about the stereotypes of things of like orderliness, cleanliness. And people just go like, like someone to, like, tidy up the house and be like, I’m just a bit OCD. I’m like, I think you like to live in a tidy environment and like, that’s fine. Like, great. Like, I think most of us do, but. I think if people understood the distress and the destruction and how like debilitating OCD can be, I don’t think people would talk about it like that. 

Like, I like I genuinely feel like I lost my teenage years to OCD and just being anxious and and like I say, anxious but like, it’s a it’s like a debilitating type of anxiety. But also there’s so much energy behind it. And like, I was really struggling when I was at dance school, but that environment, weirdly not in a positive way, but kind of like lent itself to that kind of like frantic energy because I could just burn it off because I’d be dancing all day and I’d stay when I was in these, like, heightened states or in the midst of, like, very difficult episodes. I would be getting praised by the dance school for being like, Oh, like you’re staying, like bearing in mind had been there eight until six. I’d stay 6 to 9 and do extra classes because I was like, I need to exhaust myself because I’m running off of adrenaline. Dancing literally for about 12 hours at that point because I was too scared to go home because I was like, I am going to be obsessing and I’m just too scared to go home. 

I think if people understood what it was like to live like that, I just don’t think people would be like, Oh, yeah, just, you know, I’m just like, Sure. And that’s kind of how I like often when people say things, I just I don’t go into it because it’s like you don’t necessarily want to pour your heart out every time of being like, this has been like the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to face throughout my life. And and I know other people that have struggled with it. And it’s just like you just wouldn’t wish it on anyone. You wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. So for people to be like, ha ha. Yeah, I’m just a bit OCD, I’ve colour coordinated my books. 

Le’Nise: Well, I really appreciate your honesty, and I think this will be really helpful for anyone listening who has either said something like that. 

Katy: Yeah, like we’ve all done it. Like, I. I mean, a completely different thing. But when I was a teenager, everyone is be like, Oh, that’s so gay. And I like to say it, and it’s like, I’m a gay person. Like, I like, like we’ve all we’ve all done it. Like, we just have to learn. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. That’s so retro, actually. A retro insult. 

So let’s shift gears a little bit and talk a little bit more about the work that you do, because you mentioned it as a way as kind of an entry point to managing the anxiety around the OCD. But talk a little bit more about what reflexology actually is. 

Katy: Yeah, so reflexology is a holistic therapy where it’s performed, well I mostly work on people’s feet, so everyone’s like, Oh, you touch feet all day, But yep, and I love it. So we usually perform on the feet, the hands. You can also do it on the face and the ears. And we believe different parts of the body are mapped out in these extremities. So these little areas that you can like massage into using different techniques. So these areas we call reflexes, hence reflexology. And we believe that by working into them, we can have an impact throughout the whole body. 

So it’s like a similar concept, not it doesn’t like the theories behind it all different, but similar concept to acupuncture in that like we’re working on one area of body but having an impact elsewhere. So it’s like a deeply relaxing therapy. Like that’s one of the things that I think people find the most surprising about it is that like it’s you’re just working on the feet and it’s it’s non-invasive. I give quite gentle treatments and I think people are really shocked at the full body impacts they can feel during the treatment. And then after, like a lot of people feel like they get sort of like tingling or these waves like going through their body and there’s like a real full bodied experience, even though like we are just working on the feet and like the lower part of the calf sometimes, like that’s as far as well, that’s as much of your body as I’d be touching. 

And so yeah, it’s, yeah, deeply relaxing, like on another level, kind of relaxing and I think, yeah, that’s definitely why I came to it was to help kind of bring that anxiety down like a level or two and, and the reflexologist I used to see I like, I would definitely feel so much better for going, but I definitely didn’t fully relax because I’d be sat up watching her being like, what are you doing, what was that, what’s that bit. And I was just so fascinated by it. Like before I tried it, I was like, That sounds like the biggest load of rubbish. Definitely not the word I used. It’s just like that. That can’t be a thing. Like, I don’t understand how I could work like big eye roll like, alright, I’m like, fine, I’ll try and came out just like, Oh my God. 

Like she knew like, like I was having headaches. She asked me about my periods. She could tell I had like, like my hips were sore because like, I was like training a lot dancing at the time. And I was just I didn’t I just was so shocked. I was like, I don’t understand how this works. And so, yeah, like it’s it’s a really great treatment. Like particularly around, like stress, anxiety, it’s great for sleep and then also supporting like other conditions. So the menstrual cycle or digestive issues, I’ve definitely seen it have very positive impacts on. 

And as I was sort of training in this work, my partner has endometriosis and because I needed feet to practise on, I was always practising on her feet and she was like, This is making a massive difference for me. This is weird. And so the more I kind of went into it and then discovering there’s this whole areas of reflexology that are purely about fertility and supporting the menstrual cycle, and it just really sparked this passion and interest and obsession about, about this work. And that was how I kind of segued into the fertility awareness element of it all. But yeah, just seeing the impact that this very gentle treatment can have is just incredible. And like seeing the difference, like as with a lot of holistic treatments, it does kind of require some consistent sessions and it does have an a cumulative effect. The kind of the more frequently you’re able to come like, the more you’re going to kind of see those changes. Obviously, working with a menstrual cycle, sometimes we don’t see those changes until like 3 to 6 months. So some immediate relief definitely. But like kind of maybe the stress around it, some PMS symptoms like a reduction in some pain, but that kind of like long term effects we’ll see later down the line. But when you get to work with clients and you see those changes, it’s like this is this is really cool. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: And so is it similar to it? Or actually can you differentiate between reflexology and massage because I know some people will think, Oh well, I can just get a really great foot massage and is there anything. So can you just delineate the two? 

Katy: So with reflexology, if you see a reflexology, they’ll be trained specifically on where these different areas are mapped, being able to tailor a treatment. So we’re working into reflexes that are going to support you. So I always have a consultation with people beforehand. So like I really understand their history, what issues they’ve been having and that really helps me to tailor their treatment or to understand where they are in their menstrual cycle. So again, I can work the correct reflexes in the correct way. So we have different techniques that we use. So compared to a massage where it might just be kind of more of I can’t think of a better way to describe it. It’s kind of like stroking, like rhythmic kind of movements. Like there are elements of that, but we’re really working like a lot with the thumbs, like a lot with the thumbs and like individually pressing, imagining if your thumb trying to think how to describe this without having a visual of your thumb, sort of like walking up different areas of the foot and like working into that with these tiny little sort of caterpillar steps is a way to describe it. 

And so by working into these individual reflexes, the other thing that would differentiate, aside from the treatment planning compared to massage to reflexology, when you’re with a reflexologist, we’re trained to detect where these sensitivities are. So when you’re having a reflexology session, there might be certain areas where you’re like, Oh, that’s quite sensitive. Or when you get a knot in your back, like that sensation in your foot, but on a much smaller level or almost there’s bubble wrap under the skin. And we’re working specifically into those areas where we feel those sensations because that’s where we would say there’s like a blockage and we want to kind of try and ease that up a bit. And sometimes these areas like these congested areas are going to show up consistently. So someone’s got an ongoing condition or health diagnosis. And so say someone had like Crohn’s disease, for example, like their digestive system is going to continually feel congested. If someone has endometriosis where they have endo, these reflexes are going to continually feel congested. So we want to make sure we’re always working on them. But if you’ve got something like you’ve had a headache or a cold, like the reflexes, so like your fingers are your sinus reflexes, for instance, like you want to work into those, but the congestion might kind of like come and go as these things come and go, if that makes sense. 

Le’Nise: And can you can you do reflexology on yourself? 

Katy: You definitely can, yeah. So I do a lot of workshops with people showing them how to do reflexology on themselves. It’s great if you can get someone to do it on you. So if like I do workshops, I’ll kind of sometimes encourage that If you’ve got someone around you to do it on each other, like that can be really nice because that way you get to switch off a bit because I think the magic comes from the treatments because you are able to just fully switch off. So I really encourage clients to do like some reflexology on themselves. This kind of maintenance, like if they’re really struggling with sleep, then doing some before they go to bed can be really like nourishing and like calming way to like wind down and like prepare you for bed and things like that. 

And that maintenance kind of, if you have digestive issues that like run with your cycle then like working into those reflexes at different times. But I think the magic really comes when you are able to just like, totally switch off. For sure. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: So there there’s basically there’s a map of the foot. And I’ve seen them, every part of the foot is related to different parts of the body. And so I guess in theory, you know, it’s I guess it’s like, as you say, it’s like acupuncture where they’re different. Is it meridians? 

Katy: So in acupuncture, it’s meridians, as know, as much like research into reflexology, which is like such a shame. I wish there was, but there’s lots of different theories. So it’s kind of like one of them is zone theory. So there’s different zones of the body. So your big toe, if you it’s kind of like run down the first of the big toes, like the head reflex and that zone one again, the whole way down that like inside edge of the zone one. And then with each toe you go out a zone and that’s kind of like then going like from if you had a line running down the centre of your body, then going out the way of the zone. So like your shoulders are in zone five. 

So we kind of often think that’s like just underneath your little toe is like the shoulder reflex, which is underneath your little finger would be the shoulder reflex. So there’s this kind of theory of zones. If there’s like a blockage in that part of the zone, maybe there’s going to be in like the rest of the zones, so kind of making the zones more balanced. 

And there’s also another theory like you do reflexology at the extremities. So there’s lots of nerve endings in the hands, in the feet. So one theory sort of being that by working into these nerve endings, we can have an impact, sort of like sending these signals back up the body. So that’s like another kind of theory, so slightly different to acupuncture. And like I say, there isn’t the same amount of research into it, which is like I love the science, so I wish there was. But that thing of it I guess is anecdotal evidence. We have to kind of acknowledge some of that. But seeing the difference between clients when they come in and when they come out of a session and having had regular sessions like I think for a lot of people it takes experiencing reflexology to be like, Oh, wow, this is this is great. And that definitely was my experience because I was like, That’s not a thing now. And now I do it for a living. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: So someone has period problems. So like painful periods, they could come to you for a series of sessions. Yeah. They would see a difference in their period pain.

Katy: Yeah, it’s different for everyone. Like I say, some people get more kind of immediate relief. Some people it can really help in the kind of the longer term or help with the symptoms like around their cycle that they get as well. So I really like to see people thinking of that kind of supporting people through all stages of their cycle. I really like to see people ideally once before they ovulate, once after and or depending on when they get their symptoms. 

So if people find like they, they start to get pain a few days before their period or like they know their period’s due, I’m like, okay, I’d like to see you a few days before that to kind of, let’s keep this at bay, let’s keep it everything nice and calm and like stop anything like flaring up too much that we know about, like stress and inflammation on the body and all those things. So if we can keep that calmer, then like that’s going to have a really positive impact. Or someone who has an experience like myself, for instance, of knowing their mood really dips, I’ll be okay. I try and come a few days before you know, that happens if you’re tracking your cycle, let’s get you in a few days before that and then maybe like a week or so later to kind of really keep this calm. So it depends, and treatment plans depend for different things. And the app before and after ovulation is a good way to start having regular sessions. And then, yeah, pinpointing depending on the issues so like whether that’s pain, pinpointing the treatments around. When you experience that moods changes, pinpointing when you, they experience those changes. 

Le’Nise: Okay, so someone’s listening and they they’re thinking, I need to move that. How can they get in touch with you? How can they book in for a few sessions with you? 

Katy: So you can go to my website, which is I’m also under Reflex East most of the time. So you can book in there or find me on Instagram which is just @reflex_east and there’s all the booking links there so feel free to DM me and have a chat about it if you want to discuss anything beforehand. My DM are always open, but otherwise you can just book in like that. 

Le’Nise: Great, you’ve shared a lot of your story. You’ve been really open about your experience, which I think is amazing, and I know that will be really helpful for a lot of people listening. What’s the one thought that you would love to leave listeners with today? 

Katy: Well, I think just really understanding your cycle gives you so much insight into like how to look after yourself. I think so often we’re used to just sort of like running around and like ignoring the things that our body is telling us. And it’s like tracking your cycle, understanding when symptoms, whatever they may be, come up. And just really listening to those and being like, What can I take from this that’s going to positively support me? I think, yeah, that understanding is just invaluable. 

Le’Nise: Amazing. Thank you so much for coming on the show today. I so appreciate your openness and your honesty. Yeah. Thank you again. 

Katy: No, thank you. I’m really happy to be here. Thanks for this. 

Period Story Podcast, Episode 67, Nina Cassells: One Menstrual Cup Can Support Five Years of a Girl’s Education

In this week’s episode of Period Story, I’m so happy to share my conversation with Nina Cassells, the founder and managing director of the charity Project Period. Nina started the charity when she was 17 (!!!), with the aim of empowering young women in Kibera, the largest slum in Kenya by providing reusable and sustainable menstrual products. 

In this episode, Nina shares: 

  • The epiphany she had that led to her starting Project Period
  • How not having the right period products can affect a girl’s ability to go to school when they have their period
  • Why a menstrual cup can help support five years of education 
  • The process of distributing 200 menstrual cups on her first trip to Kibera 
  • The lessons her and the team learned that led to the installation of a water generator that turns condensation into water so that the girls have clean water to wash their cups 
  • How Project Period is fundraising for their next trip to Kenya in July (every donation makes a difference!)
  • And of course, the story of her first period!

Nina says that one menstrual cup can support five years of a girl’s education – how amazing is that!

Thank you, Nina!

Get in touch with Nina:

Project Period Website

Donate to Project Period

Project Period Instagram





Le’Nise: Thank you so much for coming on the show today, Nina, I’m really excited. I’m excited to speak to learning more about what you do, the work that you do in Kenya. And of course, not forgetting the story of your very first period. So can you tell us a little bit more about what happened? 

Nina: So I started my period when I was ten, so I was pretty young and I think because of that I just didn’t like, it wasn’t on my mind at all with my friends is it wasn’t something we spoke about. And I just remember coming downstairs and it was like a Saturday or something, and my dad just looked at me. He goes, You need to talk to your mom. I was like, Okay, cool. And I go upstairs and I say, Hi Mom, and she’s like, you’ve started your period. And when I was ten, it felt like they had like some weird, like, mystical connection, and they just magically knew that I started my period. But then it turns out that I just had like my pyjama trousers which is covered in blood, and I was just so unaware that I didn’t even realise that that was what was going on. Yeah. So my mom, my mom gave me a pad and I just remember feeling like I have this, like, secret that I could tell anyone. And I remember only telling one person. I told my best friend. I remember we were walking home and I was like to tell you what’s well. I started my period and I remember thinking it was like the biggest thing I could ever tell anyone and feeling like I had to keep it private as well. 

Le’Nise: Why did you feel like you had to keep it private? 

Nina: I think because I was like. Quite aware that I was quite young to start it, and I knew that none of. My other friends had. And. Yeah. And I think I think also because I started puberty young anyway, so I started growing boobs that I was like eight or nine and even that I felt like a huge shame around that because my chest is growing and everyone still look like children and with boobs it’s like it’s very it’s like it was pretty obvious that I was getting boobs and I remember, like, feeling. Like people really looking at me and people making comments like if they could see that, like they can like see my bra strap or something. Like, why are you wearing that? What are you doing? You’re so young. What are you doing? So I think because of feeling like that, when I’d grown boobs and then like going to the next starting a period, I just wanted to. Like it. Eradicate that from happening. I didn’t want anyone to know so that no one could comment on it. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: And so you’re ten. So was that year four, year five. 

Nina: Year five. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. Well okay. And so had you had any education about what was, what was happening to you, had you done it in like PSHME in school. 

Nina: Yeah. We had, we had sex ed in year four so, the year before. And the thing about that was I was the only black girl in my school cause I grew up in a very, very white area. And I remember the video they showed us the guy was white and the girl was black, and it was like a cartoon. I just remember thinking, everyone’s going to think I’m on my period,  everyone’s going to think this video is directly about me, everyone’s going to know. And then then being the first girl in my class to actually start my period, it was just all over again, just intensely. Everyone going to know because we watched the sex ed video and it was a black girl. And obviously about me, I’m going back to school. I like a lot of going round and round in my head. Yeah, I it’s funny, I don’t. We have been had sex ed again in year six when we were 11 and that was like a week long, like we had an hour session every single day for a week. I remember that one. That’s when they spoke about sex and everyone was really excited about that. But yeah, in year nine that’s when we spoke about the the like they called puberty. 

Le’Nise: Right.

Nina: And. Yeah. So I don’t I don’t I don’t remember too much about the specifics of I just remember the, the cartoon and it being a black woman. Right. And just, oh my God, I don’t know. 

Le’Nise: When you were the first of your friends to get your period, and then when your other friends started to get their periods, were they coming to you to ask questions?

Nina: I’m. I don’t because I don’t think I. Because I know that I was the first girl in retrospect, like talking to friends or people I grew up with now and talking to them about periods when they started. But I don’t think I had a conversation with my friends about periods till I was like. I don’t know. Like, Oh, God. Maybe. Maybe. 13,14. It just wasn’t something we spoke about. At all. Yeah. And I remember talking to, when I was in secondary schools when I was around like 12, 13. I remember talking to. My friends because they would always ask to like they’d also want if they can borrow a tampon, if they had a tampon. Then thinking tampons terrified me. There was no way I could use them. And feeling very. Left out. And it’s weird because I went from starting my period and feeling like too old, like I was too young for my body and then not wanting to graduate from pads to tampons and everyone else’s on tampons. And suddenly I felt like the young one was still using pads. But yeah, we apart from that. I don’t. I don’t. Yeah, because we didn’t have conversations about that. 

Le’Nise: What was it about tampons that you found terrifying? 

Nina: Just the idea of inserting something into me. And I remember the first time I tried to use one, I was just convinced I didn’t have a hole. I just remember my mom and dad saying, I don’t have a hole. So it’s not going to work for me.  You can use that, but no, not going to work for me. Yeah. And then and then feeling too embarrassed, like to talk to my friends about that. Which is funny because now I talk about it all the time, especially with Project Period. And so many people have the exact same experience of believing they didn’t have a hole because they just didn’t know where to put it. And I hadn’t even, I hadn’t even looked at my vagina. I didn’t even know what it looked like. I was just like feeling around blindly trying to find this place that was meant to go in and. And yeah, I always found even when I started using tampons, I was really uncomfortable. Uh, I didn’t like using them at all. Felt like I kind of had to because I was I don’t know. I felt like it made me seem older and more mature. And also just because of the convenience of that. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: Right. That’s interesting. Tampons making you feel older and more mature. That’s so interesting. I haven’t. I hadn’t heard that before. 

Nina: Really?

Le’Nise: Yeah.

Nina: Maybe it’s just in my head. 

Le’Nise: No, but I kind of. I get that because it just. I guess it just feels a bit more sophisticated in certain things versus. 

Nina: Yeah. 

Le’Nise: Placing something into your underwear. 

Nina: Yeah. Even like, maybe this. Just. Maybe even at. Applicator, tampon and just a regular tampon. My brain, the sophisticated women don’t use in applicator, lady. The little the little white thing, and they just shove it in. That’s like top tier sophistication, which I never got to. 

Le’Nise: And so you you had your period. You got your period really young, and then slowly your friends started to get it. But there wasn’t really very much conversation in your friend group about it when you were young. What was your period like as you kind of went into your teen years? 

Nina: So my period was pretty irregular. I had really, really painful periods, so I would have pain the week before, the week during and the week after my periods. So there was only one week in a month where I wasn’t in pain and. And then the doctors put me on stronger painkillers and then they didn’t work and they doubled my dosage and they didn’t work and they doubled my dosage again. And then eventually, my dad was just like, I’m. You need to find some other solution because if you’re 12 and they already doubled dosing dosage twice, you imagine what you’re going to be like at 30, you know. 

And then I went on the contraceptive pill when I was 15 to help with pain. Yeah. I’ve been on the pill now for eight years. And. Yeah. Which, which is weird because I don’t. I’ve only ever known, like the cycle that I have with my pill, which is I have my periods every 28 days, and I have at maybe four or five days. It’s pretty light. And I only really have pain the first two days of my period. It drastically changed from when I was younger and I wasn’t on the pill. 

Le’Nise: And then just thinking about the experience that you had with your period going on the on the pill and the education that you had in school, learning about period puberty, sex and periods. What sort of education did you have about going on the pill? Did the doctors tell you about what to expect? Talk to you about any of the side effects? Or was it kind of like, try these? 

Nina: Oh, yeah. Like none at all. No conversation at all. I remember my I remember my doctor was very cautious about putting me on the pill and. I think because they thought I was too, I was too young to start using the pill. But as I said, for me, that was the best option because I didn’t want to just keep pumping more painkillers into me. Yeah. I don’t. I don’t remember any conversation about side effects. It was all just about how to use it, make sure you take this pill once a day, you have a week when you have your periods. And I was really lucky. I only got and you got the good side effects, like I got clear skin and bigger boobs. So I was very fortunate and really, really fortunate. I didn’t I didn’t experience any any mood swings or, like, irregular periods. I’m. And I’ve been using the same pill this whole time. And I’ve it’s been been fine for me, really. So I was I was very lucky. I know a lot of people have the pill just doesn’t work for them and they have a lot of the other side effects. 

Le’Nise: What I found really fascinating is the fact that you kind of did this 180 from when learning about periods, getting it really early, not talking to your friends about it at all, to then founding a charity called Project Period, where, you know, at the heart it’s about, you know, teaching. 

Nina: It’s all we talk about. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, exactly. So what inspired this kind of 180? What inspired you to focus on menstrual education? 

Nina: So. So I’m Kenyan and my mom’s Kenyan and we were visiting my granddad in 2017 in the Easter holidays and my mum. My mom was friends with a guy called Patrick, and he runs a charity in Kibera, which is the biggest slum in Nairobi. And that that charities that they sponsor kids to stay in school. 

So whilst we were out there, my mum went out with him and was like, I’d really like to take my daughters to see what the schools like and to talk to the children. So we did that. Me and my sister, my youngest sister, and we went to see St Juliet’s, which is a school that we still go to now as a charity. And I was talking to the girls about their experience of going to school there and how SpurAfrika helps them, helps them stay in school. But a lot of them were saying how even though they’ve been given the funding to stay in school, if they’re on their period and they don’t have pads, they then can’t make it into school anyway because they don’t want to leak whilst they’re in school. They don’t wanna leak in front of their teachers or their peers, which is really, I think, completely understandable. And so they have been faced with this issue every single month.

And I’d been hearing about the menstrual cup because like I said before, I’ve never really gone with tampons. Didn’t really like the inconvenience of pads, so I was kind of looking for alternatives. I hadn’t tried it yet, but I’ve heard about it. And, you know, I remember thinking like, oh, this menstrual cup I’ve been hearing about lasts for five years. If you give a girl that then that supports five years of her education and. And then I just kind of. Yeah, it was weird because I had never done charity walk before and I’d never. Felt like a huge. I’m not I don’t have. Passion is the right word. I guess like. The way I started the charity was because I kept thinking, I’ve got this idea. I’m in a very privileged position. I live in the Western world. I come from a middle class family. What reason do I have to not start this charity? I couldn’t think of any reasons. So I just felt like, okay, cool. That’s my that’s my responsibility. Now I need to now I need to take this on and this is what I need to do. 

And originally it only started is like a one year project. I thought, we’ll do that one time. It was it was our last year at secondary school and I just thought this will be like maybe our, like, final hurrah. This will be and then I’ll go on into my adult life. I never thought that five years later we would still be going, which is amazing. And I’m so happy that we are. But it’s just funny that I just I didn’t I didn’t have that vision for it in the beginning. I was purely just like, let’s buy 200 menstrual cups and take them to Kenya and teach girls how to use them. That was my goal. 

Le’Nise: That’s amazing. So you were how old were you when you went there to the school the first time? 

Nina: We were 17, 18. There were six of us. So different ages but around that age. 

Le’Nise: Okay. And so you were when you you went to the school, like to deliver the cups the first time when you were 17. 18. And so you had this this kind of epiphany when you were like, what? Around the same time, 16?

Nina: So yeah. So the the trip. The trip the way I got the idea, I was 17 and that was April and then I started the charity in October. I was 17 within the same year.

Le’Nise: Wow. That’s amazing. That is. That is amazing. Amazing. And can you talk a little bit about the impact that that having the menstrual cups has had on these girls and their education? 

Nina: Well, I think one of the main. The. One of the main driving forces of the charity, of of Project Period is that we don’t want the girls to have to rely on us in order to complete their education. We want to be able to give them this cup, teach them how to use it, and then they’re free for five years. Because the thing with giving someone a disposable sanitary product is they have to come back to you every single month and they’re constantly relying on you. And that doesn’t give anyone a sense of independence over their own body and over their own future because they’re constantly having to rely on this other person to help them go through in life. Whereas I think what we want to do is give is give them the tool, teach them how to use it, and then they can go forward with that. Kind of like that saying of. If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, and if you teach them how to fish, you feed him for life. That that going with that kind of philosophy and. So yeah, a lot. A lot. 

We on our second trip, we went back to the school that we went on our first trip. That was really amazing because we spoke to girls that were still, still using the cup and teachers that had started using the cup. Some people’s parents wanted to start using the cup and and that was really. Yeah, it was really, really promising and made me feel very hopeful for the future and. 

I do want to say that also, we’re a very young charity and. We are five girls that are really passionate about what we’re doing, but we’re still learning as we go and there are problems that arise that we then have to figure out ways to fix or go around because Kibera is a completely different world, a different world to the world that we live in. 

So, for example, we gave we gave I think was 150 cups to St Juliet’s in our second trip. And then we were talking to the teachers afterwards and the people of SpurAfrika just to give us feedback to see how it’s going. And they’re like, Yeah, you know, it’s great that you’ve given them this cup, but they don’t have access to clean water, so how are they going to clean them? And of course, I don’t think about that because I just have a tap but that’s not their reality. 

So then in our next trip, which we did last year and we installed a water generator into the school that turned condensation into water that they have access to water to then clean their cups. So slowly we’re just trying to figure out how we can. You know, open all the doors for them and eradicate anything that blocks them from completing their education. And that is a is a slow process. We think it’s a really important one because there’s no point giving the girl a cup tf she then can’t clean it. It just defeats, defeats the whole point of the project. And so, yeah, that’s something we’re still going forward with. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, that’s really interesting because you kind of have this vision of people from the West going into different countries in Africa on these charitable projects, but and having this kind of utopian like vision of what they can do. But then, you know, you go there and get faced with the reality. So, you know, Kibera being like, is it the largest slum in Kenya? 

Nina: Yes. And I’m 90% sure it’s the largest slum in Africa. It’s definitely the largest slum in Kenya. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. And so, you know, you have issues with sanitation and, you know, access to clean water. And what I find quite inspiring is the fact that you were able to kind of regroup and find a solution that was really helpful for the girls. So it meant that they were able to continue to use the cups. But what I also read on your website was that before you had the the what is it, the water? The water generator. Yeah. You also provided them with sanitation pots. 

Nina: Yeah. 

Le’Nise: Can you talk a bit about that. 

Nina: So on our first trip we provided the girls with menstrual cups and then the feedback we got from that was when they got home. They didn’t want their parents, obviously didn’t want them using the cups that they out or like or the the pans that they used to cook to clean their cups and. So then that meant the girls stopped cleaning them, which can cause infection and can get really dangerous. 

So the next trip we went on, which would have been 2019. We bought sanitation pots which are little like silicone round containers that you can decompress to make smaller and then you can enlarge. And when you put that, when you put the cup in it and and it just means that the girls have something that’s just for that cup and it’s just for them and they can clean it privately and, um, and then, and then also it just helps with sanitation as well that, that keeping the things that they eat with and the things that they use for their body separate. And so now we that’s just now a regular practice and we’ll always be bringing those with us. 

Le’Nise: That’s really interesting. And I wonder what was the reaction initially to the girls and then their parents receiving the cup? Because thinking back to your own experience where, you know, there was this kind of barrier in your mind around using tampons and this you didn’t basically you didn’t understand, you know, there was like three, there’s three holes, you know, round the vagina and then the anus. What was that education process like, you know, getting? Because that probably is a barrier if with many of them probably using like pieces of cloth or, you know, other kind of found objects to manage their periods. 

Nina: Yeah. It is a huge obstacle and. And. And we’re really lucky because the the schools that we go to and the charities that we work with, that link with the schools they’re doing so much work to eradicate that. And so in St Juliet, the head teacher teacher Chris, he’s just an amazing man and he’s very, very set on making sure that all the students get a proper sex education and they all know about their bodies. And and we used to work with a charity called Garden of Hope, and they have a programme where they go into schools specifically to teach them about sex and about menstruation, and to make sure that the girls have the right education and knowledge about what their bodies are going through.   

And so when we do our workshops, we do cover a little bit of that. And we try and talk to the girls as openly as possible because we’re young women as well. We’re usually of the same age as them. We can connect with them in that way. But most of the groundwork is being done by Garden of Hope and SpurAfrika and these other charities and organisations that are in Kibera and working with these girls on a regular basis. So it is it is something that is growing and I know Garden of Hope of trying to get it into, into like every education systems that they’re talking to the Board of Education to try and make sure that this is something that is happening every school. But it is just, it’s just a process. It’s it’s starting. It’s nowhere near where it needs to be, but. Yeah. I mean, hats off to SpurAfriKa and Garden of Hope. I mean, they’re really, really amazing organisations. 

Le’Nise: And having spoken to the girls who have had the cups and then their mums wanting one and then so on and so forth. Can you just talk a little bit more about the, the kind of wider impact that you’ve seen of Project Period so far? 

Nina: Well, I think I think one of the, I remember my first trip, one of the things that struck me was a lot of a lot of charities that visit Kibera, a lot of charities that come from the West are run by white people. So in these kind of communities, that vision of success and wealth is in the body of a white person. 

So when we came because three for me, Tara and Susanna, we’re all black woman, when we come and live with black women who come from the West, we’re middle class women. It’s amazing to see that shift in perspective and shift ibn how they view themselves, because suddenly they’re all women, all coming here to provide them with something and can be a model of success in a way that look like them. I think that that is really, really important. And to be able to change that narrative for them.  

And that was something that I didn’t expect at all to happen. It wasn’t something that I’d ever, I’d ever thought about. Yeah, I do. I do think. And I get reaction when I say that I’m Kenyan. They’re like, What? You’re Kenyan. Oh, yeah, no way. And then and then Susanna and Tara are like, Yeah, we’re Nigerian. And they’re like, Whoa, yeah, it’s great. It’s like is it’s really, really nice to think that I can, like, connect to a country that my family comes from in that way and give back. Yeah, that and that was just something that was really. Really thought provoking, actually, something that still amazes me now. 

Le’Nise: Can you just talk a little bit about, you know, the the the work that you do with Project Period, You do give these cups and the sanitation pots and then now the water. Well, what is the name of the water generator? But then the other side of it is menstrual education. So having learning how to use the cup and then the conversations around that. Can you talk about the difference that you’ve seen in those conversations in Kenya and like, you know, your direct experience versus what we see here in the UK? Or is there a difference? 

Nina: It’s interesting because. I think like my first thought is there is a difference. But having spoken to you and gone through how I experienced my period, I’m now thinking, actually, maybe that isn’t as big a difference as I thought there was. Because the girls, the girls we talk to, they range from 10 to 18 years old and we really try to get them talking about their periods and their experience with it and sharing with each other and as a way to connect with each other and just kind of appreciate that as women, we’re all going through the same thing and we can help each other by sharing our experiences and. 

In the beginning. In the beginning that’s quite uncomfortable for a lot of them. And. And it does take I mean, towards the end of the workshop, there are a lot, a lot more chatty. And but it does take us to be able to say this was our experience about periods. How how about, you know, kind of showing them like, it’s okay, we feel okay. Talking about this is not awkward. And now I’m thinking about when I was that age, when I was in like, secondary school. If someone had come into my school and asked me to talk about my period, I probably would have felt the same. I probably would have felt awkward and just kind of like, Who are you to ask me about my body and my period? Like. Yeah. And I hadn’t. Yeah, it’s interesting. I hadn’t. I hadn’t thought about that, actually, but. Yeah, I do. I do think at that age because your body’s like, your body’s changing and they’re all changing at different times and you don’t know where everyone else is in their journey of puberty. I think it’s a lot easier now as an adult because I know we’ve all started our periods. Yeah, I know that. And we’ve all had it for a couple of years now. Whereas at that point those transitions, they’re always a bit sticky aren’t they?  Yeah. Well just feels like ooh that’s been a while ago and what is happening here. 

And I think I felt. I think I felt that the same. I remember when I had had the Sex Education Week when I was 11. I just remember we we’re all sat in silence. Like, just not not even breathing, not even looking at each other. Because I can’t believe we’re learning about this thing. Oh, my God. What is going on? So yeah, I do think it is a it is a similar. A similar experience in that way. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. So that transition into puberty and, you know, getting learning about periods is universal then it sounds. 

Nina: I think I think, Oh, yeah. 

Le’Nise: And the awkwardness.

Nina: Yeah. Because no matter how how many videos you watch, how many teachers tell you about it when you’re actually experiencing it yourself is still such a unique experience and you’ll end. Yeah. And. Yeah, I do. Yeah, I do think it’s just. Just that awkward phase that we all have to go through. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. Yeah. So you have a trip coming up in July, so talk a little bit about that trip, what you’re planning to do on that trip and like the fundraising work you’re doing to support you going you and the team going out there. 

Nina: So this year we are hoping to give 500 menstrual cups to 500 girls, which is like over double the amount that we usually do. And one of our main focuses is going back to the school that we were at before St Juliet and giving each girl a good amount of time to be able to talk to us about their experience. And we want specific details, feedback and, and giving each girl the time to actually feel comfortable. Feel comfortable with us. Reflect on her experience and then be able to retell. Because I think one of the most important things is making sure that we’re not just repeating the same mistakes blindly. 

And the more feedback we can get, the more we can perfect the work that we do out there. And so that alongside going to the schools, giving the workshops, giving the menstrual cups and the sanitation pots, the other really key focus is gathering that feedback and making sure that the next time we go, we have even more information and we know exactly what we’re talking with in even more detail. 

And fundraising wise, so most of the fundraising we do is through events. And so our last event was a comedy night that was just before Christmas, which was really, really fun. And set up by a really cool collective called On The Common. And the next. The next event we have is a karaoke night in two weeks. And so usually we just charge on the door. People can pay as much or as little as they like, and we have a Just Giving pagepeople can donate on our website. So we really, really rely a lot on individual donations, which is something we’re trying to move away from we’re really looking for a company or a person that can sponsor us, so that we can spend more time planning the trip, perfecting the trip, meeting more people when we’re out there in Kenya, because at the moment we spend all of our time fundraising money and. It just isn’t, is it, where our focus needs to be because it aside from getting us to Kenya, it doesn’t really have anything to do with the work that we want to do. 

And there’s so many new avenues we want to go down, places we want to grow. But having so much effort on the fundraising side of it really limits us in the amount that we can do. So yeah, we’re just talking to loads of different people trying to see how we can get sponsorship, what the process of that is. Yeah. So we’re in a new transition, I think as the charity, as we start to grow and develop. 

Le’Nise: Though all the links for the pages that you just mentioned will be in the show notes. So anything you can donate will help this amazing project. I think it’s fantastic what you’re doing. So you’re going in July. You want to do something even bigger. What’s the kind of like if you say like three, four years down the line? What’s the kind of long, long term goal? 

Nina: I think we want to be having. We want to be doing more trips in a year. We want to be doing three or four trips a year. We’d really like to have a Kenya based team that can connect with the schools more regularly and speak Swahili as well, just to make sure there’s no language barrier. And someone that we as the London,  London team can touch base with.

And also, I know something that we really want to do is to offer projects in different parts of Africa. So Susanna and Tara, both Nigerian and we’d love to be able to go to Nigeria and set up a project there and start talking, working with the girls there and just. Yeah, expanding to different different areas in Kenya, Nigeria. And we were talking to a woman in South Africa and. 

But also making sure that. No matter how large we grow, the focus and the roots of our charity stay the same. And. We always want that to be a focus on sustainability and we always want to. Be in a process of learning because. No matter how much we go to Kibera or other slums or poorer areas in Africa, we will always have something to learn about their experience that is so far away from us. And I think it’s important that we’re always learning and we never feel like. And we. Have all the knowledge and know everything, because that’s when I think mistakes can happen. And. Always just trying to figure out how we can combat those barriers, whether it’s the sanitation pots or as water or providing the girls with underwear, confidence, all these different things. Yeah. And just keep, keep educating ourselves. Keep growing. Keep connecting, building. Network of women that. Use menstrual cups, and I’m proud of that. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, amazing. I think what you’re doing is fantastic, and especially to have had this vision and this epiphany to start this project, this charity at such a young age, I think it’s absolutely brilliant. So all the links will be in the show notes for listeners that want to find out more, that want to donate, you know, every little bit counts. So yeah, what’s the one thought that you want to leave listeners with today? 

Nina: And. Oh, gosh. Oh, I think. I think just. I think just knowing that. Every every little helps and not in in terms of just donating, but in terms of your community, connecting to people and finding your path as well. Finding things that you care about and. I don’t. I don’t think. How do I put that? I think we can always achieve more and do more than we think we can, that we give ourselves credit. That we can and. Like, I would never have thought that I’d be running a charity for five years now. But. I. I am. And I. Yeah. And I. Yeah. I just think. I just think we need to. Give ourselves more, more credit. 

Le’Nise: I think it’s amazing what you’re doing and you know that focus on the community is so powerful and this focus on giving back I think is, is really, really brilliant. And you know, more, more people could really look at how they can give back to the community because we work better together. You know when One group is suffering, you know, it doesn’t you know, it means it doesn’t mean good things for the rest of us. So how can we work to improve the wider community? It’s a brilliant, brilliant thing. So all the links will be in the show notes. I really encourage you to find out more about Project Period, to find out more about Nina and it just check out, check out the website. There’s a lot of information on there. Thank you so much for coming on the show today. It’s been great. 

Nina: Thank you for having me. I really enjoyed that. 

Le’Nise: It was brilliant. Thank you. 

Period Story Podcast, Episode 66, Carla Cressy: We Need Better Endometriosis Education

We’re back!

It’s Endometriosis Awareness Month and I’m so pleased to share my conversation with Carla Cressy, the founder and CEO of the Endometriosis Foundation for the first episode of season seven of Period Story.

Carla is a true force in the endometriosis community, helping others gain access to care and support and providing insight into the development of national health guidelines.

In this episode, Carla shares: 

  • How difficult it was to get doctors to take her symptoms seriously
  • How the focus on her bowel issues finally led to an endometriosis diagnosis 
  • Her experience of medical and surgical menopause 
  • How she managed her mental health when the pain was at its worst
  • What she wants doctors to know about endometriosis 

Carla that there’s so much misinformation around endometriosis and that doctors need a better understanding of the patient’s perspective of living with this condition. 

Thank you, Carla!

Get in touch with Carla:

The Endometriosis Foundation Website

The Endometriosis Foundation Instagram

The Endometriosis Foundation Facebook






Le’Nise: Hi, Carla. I am so excited to have you on the podcast. I love the work that you’re doing and I’m so thrilled to be able to learn more about your story and learn more about the work that you’re doing with the Endometriosis Foundation. Let’s start off with the question that I ask every guest, which is tell me the story of your very first period. 

Carla: Oh gosh. Now I’ve got to think back. Okay, So I was I was yeah, I was one of the youngest in my year. I think I was 13. And funny enough, I was actually in my lesson scope, which was sex education. And I remember having this horrendous pain. I looked down and there was blood on my chair. So I literally started my period and then in there I grabbed my friend Holly, who sat next to me, ran to the office, sanitary towels, clean myself up, and kind of that was that. And yeah, I just. You know, I’ve got three sisters, so I was kind of quite prepared and kind of knew what to expect and things. But my periods were never quite normal. They would actually come every two weeks from the off. Something that we really thought would just kind of settle down over time. But what didn’t settle down was this horrendous pain. I just had this awful kind of crippling pain that would just see me on the floor on all fours. Like, I just it just wouldn’t it wasn’t getting better. And I was pretty much straight away kind of seeing my GP and saying, you know, this is I was already kind of there for these irregular periods, but for this pain as well, that that wasn’t that wasn’t normal. My mom was quite concerned kind of early on about this kind of pain and these two periods a month, which was just a bit of a nightmare. So, yeah, I just my first period, it wasn’t really a great experience, to be honest, because it just wasn’t something that ever settled down. It was something that I was just continuous. It was just a huge burden and, you know, quite an annoyance in my life at the time. Yeah, I just seemed to feel like I was always was bleeding, never really catch and catching a break. Funny enough, I actually had something they call a false menses as well. So when I was just a few days old, my mum, she was changing my nappy and she noticed that there was I was having a period. I remember she, she was telling me about how she was freaking out and calling the doctor and the midwife and I don’t know how common that is, but I don’t think it’s very common. So yeah, I also experienced a horseman as well. 

Le’Nise: Wow. So you you started your period at 13 in school, in sex education. Quite ironic and it was heavy from the very beginning. 

Carla: It wasn’t so much heavy. It was just that I didn’t really have like clots and things like that. It was just it was just continuous. I mean, it wasn’t heavy, heavy bleeding. It just seemed to feel like it was never stopping. And I’d have quite long periods as well. So I would bleed for maybe 7 to 9 days, whereas my sisters would bleed for like three days or four days, you know. So it was quite kind of obvious to begin with that something wasn’t quite right. But of course you’re young and you just start your period. Things are not going to be as always, perfect from the from the from the, you know, from the get go. So it was something that, you know, we just thought maybe it was settle down and, you know, we’ll see how things go. But it just never, ever settled down. It just just continued and and actually eventually progressed into something a lot worse. 

Le’Nise: So 7 to 9 day periods every two weeks. Was it painful the entire time? 

Carla: Yeah. And the and the pain would actually start before the bleeding would start. So I would have this horrendous kind of rectal pain to the point where I could be just walking and talking and all of a sudden I’m just stopped in my tracks and it just felt like I actually call it the hot poker pain. It just it was just excruciating. But it was constant. It wasn’t something that was going away. So I just knew, okay, this isn’t right. And then at the same time, you’d also get the frontal pain as well. So it was just kind of this big. Oh, it was just a bit of a nightmare, really. And just that 13, 14, especially kind of constantly back and forth to the GP. Lots of ibuprofen.  I was asthmatic as well. I’d had asthma from a baby, so having a lot of kind of NSAIDs would trigger my asthma and I was on all these pumps and oh, it was just yeah, it was just a nuisance really. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. And it’s quite young to be dealing with all of this, although, you know, we think, oh, 13 to 14 it’s, it’s, you’re a teenager but you know, thinking like in the grand scheme of things, having to carry this burden of long periods, frequent periods, very painful periods. It’s so it’s a lot. And I’m just curious, how did the school deal with this or how did they help you deal with this? 

Carla: So the school were very much aware because I did spend a lot of time. We had like a little room next to our school office and we’d always have a nurse there. And she was quite,  always she’d be, oh God, you’re back again. Like, you know, because I would, I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t. At the time I didn’t know that this was a regular thing, so I wouldn’t always be prepared to start bleeding again when I just a week before had a period. So I’d be down there like, Oh my God, I’m bleeding again. And they were quite I mean, they were there. They were kind of involved or asking questions or, you know, showing any concern, but. They were there to help me and give me pills when I needed them and, you know. But yeah, I mean, it was but I think back now, like just to have to deal with that, that that was a lot, you know? Yeah. 

Le’Nise: And then what about your doctor? So you mentioned very frequent trips, lots of ibuprofen then. Couple that with, you know, the effect that that would have on your asthma. What were the conversations like with the doctor? 

Carla: So the doctor, I think they were quite good. I mean, I was, I just turned 14 when they prescribed me my first hormone pill before I was ever sexually active. This was predominantly to help my periods to try and help my periods. And they were, they seemed concerned. I think my mum was more concerned, to be honest, because obviously I’d had I have three sisters, so my mum was quite used to periods and, you know, she knew that something wasn’t wasn’t right. And actually I look back on my doctor’s notes and in 2004 I think I was 14 or 13. She, my doctor had noted and it says Mum worried there’s an underlining issue. So my mom was very much kind of pushing for help with the doctors and they would kind of do this kind of pelvic exam, not internally, but, you know, feeling my abdomen. And yeah, they didn’t really seem too worried. And I mean, I was still very young and, you know, it only really been a year into my period. So it was just something that we to tell, you know, it might settle down, let’s just give it time. 

But then when it got to that one year mark and the pain was getting worse and I started to have like a sickness episode. So I started to become quite sick with the pain and kind of fainting a lot as well. So that’s when they kind of decided to intervene with the with the hormone therapy side. But I mean, after a couple of months, I started getting acne and migraines. And it wasn’t it wasn’t nice. And they decided to send me to see a gynaecologist. So I saw a gynaecologist when I was 14, which was quite scary. I had a internal scan and they just said everything’s normal, it’s fine, and just kind of sent me back to the GP. And then by this point the pain was was pretty intense. It was pretty severe. Days off school, never able to do PE. So yeah, it is, it’s quite, it’s quite a big thing. My periods. Yeah. It’s kind of like in the house. So yeah, it just didn’t, it just didn’t get better. 

By the time actually I reached 17 I had tried seven different hormone pills and they just one like it. Nothing was working. I kind of just blew through the pills, like I wasn’t even taking them. Yeah, it just didn’t seem to help at all. 

Le’Nise: What really I find kind of really surprising is I find it surprising and not surprising, given everything I know about, you know, the way that some doctors can be, is that you had this severe period pain that caused you to miss school, frequent periods. You went to the gynaecologist, they did a scan, an ultrasound, I assume, and then they said everything was normal when everything was clearly not normal. And I just feel a bit indignant on your behalf, like, you know, a young teenager having to deal with all of this. How, did you go back to that gynaecologist? What was the kind of pathway that you were going through, through the medical system when all of this was happening? 

Carla: So something I found really difficult, I think, was once you get that referral to a gynaecologist. I mean, nowadays it’s really difficult to get that remote just to go and see a gynaecologist. But once I’d had that referral and was told everything was okay to get back past the GP to the gynaecologist was so difficult the most it was just the biggest fight and it kind of went on into my early twenties because they’d say, you know, you’ve had these same problems for years. Gynaecologist said it was okay, like just kind of, you know, persevere with the hormone treatments and whatever else. 

So it was so difficult. It actually kind of built this barrier in between, like going to the GP and then seeking out the referral for extra help. So yeah, it just made things so much harder. And by kind of 16, 17, it was obvious I was getting ovarian cysts. My stomach would extend or just extend on one side. I’d have this severe crippling pain. I couldn’t move off the sofa. My mum would go, you know, back to the GP and they just weren’t interested in kind of sending me any further than the GP. So they would just give me, you know, and I’m mefamanic acid, tranexamic acid and everything else, all the kind of usual medications that they would give to a teenager with, you know, prolonged periods and painful periods. But yeah, they just didn’t seem to want to push or. Just let me through. It was really difficult. Really difficult. 

Le’Nise: And while all of this was happening and you were trying to go down a medical route, were you doing any other research on the side to try to figure out what was going on or?

Carla: I mean, I was still fairly young, so I think I was a little bit naive to just believing these doctors, you know, okay. And everything’s fine. I’m going to be okay. Like this is normal for me. They would say to me, This is your normal. You know, everyone is different and this is your normal. 

So I think is probably when I was kind of 20, 21, 22, and I got into my first kind of serious relationship and just having somebody else there to see these kind of periods and these episodes and these patterns was when I started to think, okay, like maybe this is and I mean by by this point I’d kind of got to a stage where with GP’s where I’d kind of given up a little bit because I would go and I’d just be faced with the same, you know, this is your normal, you know, suck it up and you know, periods meant to be painful then they’re not nice thing, you know. So I was just kind of a little bit just done with to keep going to the GP. I just felt like a nuisance. I felt like I was just pestering them, you know. So it got to that stage where I just thought, I’m just not I’m just not going to going to bother going. I’m just going to kind of deal with this as much as I can at home. 

And once I was kind of sexually active and I started to experience this horrendous pain during sex and bleeding during sex and then after sex, just this, I would just be in tears with pain. That’s when I thought, okay, this isn’t this isn’t right. So again, I was kind of back and forth and I’ve changed GPs at this point as well because I moved town. So this was a totally new kind of GP practice and it was a lot different to my kind of GP practice growing up where there was like four or five different GPs in this practice that I could see, so I would never see the same kind of GP twice. So if anything, thinking back, you would think that actually this could be a positive, you know, but it was just horrendous. 

I just couldn’t get past them to see a gynaecologist. I couldn’t get a referral. And once, as I said, once I started to have these kind of other symptoms starting to progress, I started to research. I started to look in on Google like, what is this that was happening with my symptoms? And at that time, I mean, this was ten years ago. Now, endometriosis wasn’t anywhere be seen on on the Internet and all the symptoms were kind of pointing to cervical cancer, you know, this pelvic pain, this irregular bleeding pain during sex. These are all very common or known signs of cervical cancer. So I thought that that’s exactly why I have you know, this is what I’ve had for years. 

So I went to the GP and I said, you know, I have all of these symptoms, as you know. I mean, I couldn’t I’ve lost count how many different hormone pills I tried by this point and I say I want to have a so I want a smear test. I was 21. I said I need to have a smear test because I started to you know, you worry, you panic. And they said, well, you know, we agree. You do have the symptoms, but you are very young. So there’s a chance that we can send the smear test to the lab. But it could be refused because of your age and it was refused three times. So I never got to have a smear test. And my boyfriend at the time, he had come along to appointments and he’d get a little bit kind of annoyed with the GP because, you know, there was clearly something not right. So yeah, they just they just didn’t really seem to be bothered by it. You know, you’re young to worry about this, don’t worry about fertility, you know, you got plenty of time on your hands. So yeah, it just, it was just I just kind of gave up. I just. I just gave up. It was. It was tough. 

Le’Nise: I just find it so stunning when you know, you have if there was any other sort of pain, you know, if you were going to the doctor and you were saying every or the dentist saying, you know, I’m getting this constant pain in my tooth. They would say, okay, you know, we need to have a look at it. But because periods are, pain is normalised messiness is normalised. They were like, Well, that I’m just so stunned that you saw all of those doctors. And they said, Well, that’s your normal when any other pain would be treated differently. I just I very feel very indignant on your behalf. It’s just what I find really interesting, though, is that you and I’ve heard this other from other women with endometriosis is that when they’ve taken their partners with them to the GP, they’ve actually their male partners, they’ve actually had a better response from the GP and the GP have been more receptive to listening and taking the concerns more seriously. Did you find that with when you took your boyfriend at the time? 

Carla: No, I mean, we didn’t get anywhere, so no. 

Le’Nise: Okay. And so then you moved to a changed GP. You had, you know, you had this boyfriend who was, from the sounds of it, very supportive, wanted to help you figure out what was going on. How did you find, what was the impact of the what we now know is endometriosis on your life. You know, early twenties, you’re trying to figure out who you are, you’re in this relationship. What was the impact on your day to day life? 

Carla: It was tough. I worked for a company from kind of 17 to 21. And I did end up leaving. And I wasn’t I wasn’t treated unfairly. They were actually really supportive. And I knew something was, you know, we had quite a good, supportive little team. They knew something wasn’t quite right, but we didn’t quite know what it was. So I was continuously kind of back and forth to having time off. 

And in the end I felt so unreliable because I just when, you know, when I wouldn’t know when I was due on a period and I knew at this point kind of age, 20, 21, these periods would mean that I would be in bed for three or four, three or four days at a time with this pain and sickness and dizziness and passing out. So I left that job and I went into another job. And it was kind of around that time when my relationship broke down. 

And it was around that time in that job that things just really progressed. I mean, every week I was found passed out. I was passing out in the street. I was waking up and people would be around me picking me up off the floor. It just become quite a nightmare. And I remembered that the workplace, they called me into the office and they, I kept going to the GP. And I started to get the bowel symptoms though, because my bowel symptoms, I was just being told it was IBS. So I would kind of be sent home from work. I would see the GP explain everything that was kind of happening, you know, discuss the periods, discuss the bowel symptoms. They never really linked them. But I was always like, I remember I told them, you know, this is worse when I’m bleeding. This is always worse when I’m bleeding. But they just didn’t seem to listen to that. And there wasn’t anyone kind of there piecing, piecing with symptoms together. So I would just be told, you know, if it’s IBS, it’s IBS. I’d go back to work and I’d say it’s IBS. 

So I was actually I remember at the time, I mean, at this I was kind of 22, 23, kind of reaching 24. At this point, I was embarrassed to say that all this kind of commotion and all this drama was caused by IBS. I didn’t really know much about IBS, and I just remember feeling like silly to go back and say, Oh, it’s just it’s just IBS, because that’s what they would say. It’s just IBS. And I was kind of told, you know, maybe you’re best not working here. So I was asked to resign, which I did. 

And yeah, it just took such an impact. And I, I went into modelling. My parents put me into modelling when I was kind of seven or eight, so I’d modelled up until I was 17. And by it by that point I just remember I would be on set or be on shoes, having hair and makeup and I would just be passing out. And I just knew at that point, you know, I just, I can’t continue this. I can’t I’m not reliable. I can’t you know, I can’t go forward with this. So it did take you know, it did have a huge kind of impact, especially in my teenage years, but also kind of early twenties in that kind of stage of not knowing what was wrong. But something was quite terribly wrong. I think when I reached kind of 23 was when things just turned up a notch. And these symptoms were debilitating to the point where I was kind of being taken to hospital by ambulance, just constantly in and out of the hospital with what was what I would say was, oh, what do they call it? A lazy bowel syndrome. So my bowel would just stopped working and I’ve lost loads and loads of way. I was quite slim anyway, but I just couldn’t really eat very much. I couldn’t kind of feeling full would be really painful. Going to the toilet was painful and near enough impossible. Lots of vomiting. And I just remember I was just back and forth to the GP, I was really, really unwell, you know, when when your bowels affected by it. I later found out my bowel was affected by endometriosis. But when you’re suffering these bowel symptoms, it affects every part of your body, you know, from your sleep to your skin, you know, to your emotional kind of health, everything. So I was just went through this two or three years of being really, really poorly and nobody really giving me good enough answers. And I just wasn’t settling for “your bowels lazy”. Like I wasn’t settling. I’d never had a lazy bowel. I was always regular. I always ate well, so I knew that it wasn’t that and I knew it wasn’t IBS because I could I would kind of skim through all these, you know, causes of IBS or, you know, what triggers these symptoms. And it wasn’t anything I was kind of eating as such that was triggering my symptoms. At this time. It was like clockwork. These symptoms would come same time twice a month. 

And also by this point, my bleeding and I was bleeding for two, two weeks more. And one time I actually bled for eight weeks non-stop. And my GP, I remember going to my GP and I was back the whole time. During those eight weeks I was back, back, back, you know, I’m still bleeding. I’m still bleeding. This isn’t right. And they, they she literally said, Are you sure you’ve been bleeding for this long? Like they didn’t believe me. So, yeah, I just, I kind of just had this kind of relationship with the GP where if I really had to go, then I would go. But at times it just wasn’t worth even going there and, you know, being vulnerable and sharing these intimate symptoms. Because a lot of the time it just felt like they were just kind of fighting back in your face and not really. 

Le’Nise: Well, yeah. And you just think now like. What could have been different if they had just believed you if they had just listened to you taking your concerns seriously and just just believed you? 

Carla: I mean, everything I think if I if I was taken seriously, I mean, by the time I was, I think 17, I had probably all but one of the common signs of endometriosis. So if I was diagnosed at 17, which was eight years before I was actually diagnosed, I mean, who knows, Chances are I could have had children by now. I can no longer have children. I may not have ever needed to have a colostomy bag, my bladder reconstructed. You know, this kind of went on so long the whole time this condition was just progressing and getting worse inside of me. And I, I think I think the hardest part actually is knowing is that I knew for so long something was, wasn’t right. I think that’s what that’s the more kind of frustrating the most frustrating kind of part of it all because knowing something’s not right and constantly, you know, going back and forward and asking for help and just being told, you know, it’s normal, you know, And that is that’s what frustrates me the most, because I think not once did I just say, okay, and that was it. Like I was there. I was a regular, I was a pest. I was always, always there and always, you know, trying to get through that door and not just with one GP. This was I probably saw a good eight or nine different GPs, you know, around this time. So it wasn’t just the one. So yeah, I think that’s the most I mean, I think life could potentially be very, very different. 


Carla: No, it’s it’s. It’s crazy, really. 

Le’Nise: If you think back to I the Below The Belt screening it was last year and you talk thinking about all of how persistent and you know you describe yourself as a pest in the best possible way and I remember on the panel, you know, someone asked this question, you know, how do you get doctors to take you seriously? And one of the doctors on the panel, they she said, oh, you’ve got to be a drama queen. You know, be a drama queen, keep, you know, be persistent. But then you just think about your experience and how you did exactly that. 

Carla: It’s not always. Yeah, I hear I often hear doctors now will say, you know, maybe it takes so long to diagnose because not many people are trying to seek help for it and people think it’s normal. But I know plenty of people with stories so similar to mine where they were continuously back and forth to their to their GPs and, you know, gynaecologists and they just weren’t being heard. And I think a lot of the problems lie in that secondary care, these kind of health care professionals, because they just don’t, they’re just not aware, you know, they may be aware of, in which case they might not understand it. And I remember when I was finally diagnosed, I was in the hospital a lot at this point. I had bladder symptoms. I was, I couldn’t control my bladder. I would, my bowels as well. I couldn’t go to the toilet. I was on 12 laxatives a day prescribed just to help me go to the toilet. Whilst I was figuring out what was going on, I couldn’t eat. I went down. I was I mean, I’d always been like a UK size, like 10 growing up. But at this point I think I was going to 4 to 6 clothes. I was really just I was just so unwell.

It was kind of once things were once I was in the danger zone, I was able to eat and unable to go to the toilet. That’s when the diagnosis come around. But it only really come around because of these bowel symptoms I was having. I don’t think I don’t think these period symptoms would have ever been kind of looked into really, if these bowel symptoms didn’t start in the bladder symptoms and kind of everything else. I was I started to get aura migraines. I didn’t know much about them, but I and you can kind of get different forms of them, different severities of mine. I would kind of collapse. I wouldn’t be out. My sight would go, my hearing would go and my face would go numb and I would almost look like I’m fitting and my friends would think I was having a stroke or something cause I couldn’t feel my tongue. I couldn’t speak. So that was quite a scary period as well. So I had all that going on too, kind of. That was just unlucky, I think. But no one, you know, there was so much going on, but they only really seemed to be focussed on the bowel symptoms and that’s what led to them kind of going inside, doing laparoscopy and finding out what was going on. 

Le’Nise: So it took all of the bowels syndromes symptoms for you to finally get a laparoscopy. Yeah, but at this time I want to just come back to that in a second. But at this time when you know, this was kind of like the peak of all of your symptoms kind of converging and worsening. Were you still living an independent life or how did you have to move back home? 

Carla: Yes, I, I was in another relationship at this point. We were together for three, three and a half years. We were living together and I’d actually trained as a beauty therapist to work from home because I had I couldn’t physically go out to work every day. I just had to do what I could whilst I was at home. So I was kind of managing, but and he was incredibly supportive, but it was so tough. I remember I would run a scorching hot bath and I would sit in this bath in between my clients just to kind of ease the pain. I would scald my back and my abdomen like just all across my tummy just to kind of relieve this pain. I was on pain medications. Like clockwork. But nothing seemed. Nothing seemed to me to be helping. 

My friends would come over and they would literally would spend a Friday night with them just sitting next to the bath, just talking to me while I’m in the bath, because I couldn’t physically get away from the heat. Because as soon as I take the heat off, the pain was just there and I couldn’t seem to find a way to. Just get, catch a break from this pain. So I was taking him for a laparoscopy and they said that I had stage two endometriosis. My ovaries were kissing, which means that the ovaries, are kind of stuck together by scar tissue. And they said they saw some spots of endometriosis on my bowel. That is nothing to worry about and I shouldn’t think about fertility. I was still so young. And that was it. I was kind of. So that was it. You know, go home. I wasn’t given any information. I couldn’t even say the word endometriosis . I didn’t even just remember calling my mom sign up and diagnosed. So it began with a don’t really know what it is. And yeah, that was it. I went home. And they gave me a report the surgery they had done ablation. So yeah, they kind of just like lasered off whatever they could see. 

Sent me home, fitted a coil. Within a week, I was still in excruciating pain. The symptoms did not go away. I was back in the hospital. Back to the GP. Something’s not right. Da da da da da. And they just kept telling me, you know, just let things go down. Let the coil settle down. I was just bleeding. I was bleeding quite heavily at this point as well. Heavier. And it just didn’t seem to get better. And it was almost like that surgery made me worse. Things was after that surgery. So, yeah, I just went on for a few more months, still seeing the GP and also a few hospital stints as well with the bowel symptoms and things. But it just wasn’t getting better. I was just still exactly the same, if not worse. 

And with six months after that surgery, I was back in the hospital. I was rushed in with suspected appendicitis, even though I told them it’s my endometriosis pain. I’m so used to this. They took my appendix out, realised that it wasn’t the appendix causing the pain. A few days later they took me back into surgery and they kind of done like an open surgery and found I had stage four endometriosis and frozen pelvis and they had to, they had to drain two and a half litres of blood from my pelvis. had a lot of these cysts over these past few years as well. So I was, I don’t know what, how or what happened there, but that’s when they kind of found everything. And see, I don’t really know how or what happened with this first initial surgery and how they missed so much.  Yeah, I just I don’t know. 

Le’Nise: When you had that first surgery and then when you went back to have the second surgery, were they you know, it was the open surgery. They found that you actually had stage four endometriosis. Were you with different surgeons? 

Carla: Yeah. So the first surgery was kind of by my home. That was my local hospital. But I was kind of going in between two local hospitals at the time because often I’d go to A&E and they had to send me home with morphine and I’d say, okay, great, but that’s just going to help for like an hour. Like, this needs to be, you know, investigated. 

And the GP was still very kind of dismissive and not too kind of interested in helping there. So when I went to go and visit my mom. It was her local hospital, that I went to and had this kind of big surgery. And thank God, because I was so poorly, I mean when I when the after they took my appendix out, well before she took my appendix out, I think I spent a night or two in there. I was septic and I had like I couldn’t stop being sick. So I had tubes kind of up my nose, down my throat and tubes everywhere. And I mean, the first thing they thought it was appendicitis. I had the abdominal pain. But once they took that out. And they decided to go take me back into surgery. At that point I was like, What are you doing? I mean, there was one time I said, I, am I going to do this? We didn’t know what it was at this point, you know, why am I? What’s happening? My infection levels are through the roof. And there was a couple of points where it was a little bit touch and go. Was I well enough to go into another surgery? But they had to go in, they wanted to, you know, find out what was causing all of this. And it got to a stage where this kind of acid that I was bringing up for being sick was so hot. I had like kind of thrush around my mouth and my tongue, and it was quite a terrible time. 

Once they put the tubes down in my nose and down my throat, they were syringing the contents of my stomach, through my nose, through the tube, in my nose. So we was having to do like daily syringes for this kind of poison, whatever it was. So, yeah, it was quite a dramatic, scary time. And I was kind of aware and awake the whole through the whole kind of ordeal. So it was, um, it was something I never, ever gonna have to go through again. So once they kind of done that surgery and found how bad it was, they took the coil out that wasn’t working anyway, and they referred me to a specialist hospital in London. I had about a year wait. 

So in the meantime they advised me to call their physio, their Women’s Health Physiotherapy department. And this was in 2016. It’s actually not that long ago, but not too long ago. And I remember I called them and I said, Oh, I’ve just been had this surgery over at the main hospital they told me to call you. I have stage four endometriosis and frozen pelvis. They’ve asked me to come and have some physiotherapy just to help me, whilst I  wait for this referral and I remember the woman, she said endometriosis. I said yeah. And she said, oh we don’t do anything about bad periods. And that was that. And then kind of during that time I had a few kind of pain attacks where I’d go into the A&E at this hospital, I was staying with my mum now and I would get rushed in and all these gynaecologists would rush around and I’d say, Oh, I have endometriosis. 

And these I mean I appreciate their honesty, but they would, they actually would say to me and my mum, we don’t actually know much about that. So it was, it was just a crazy moment to think, oh like what is this? And it was almost like it was rare. And I know that you mentioned one of the articles from the Daily Mail when when my story first went out. If you look at all of these articles, it says rare disease, rare illness. It was so rare. But it’s it’s no, it’s. 

Le’Nise: No, no, it’s not. 

Carla: It was just bizarre to know for me to know how many other people were suffering. But yeah, everybody was like, you know, what is this? It’s so rare. You’re so young to have this. It’s not like it’s very common. It was it was a scary time because the people that I was going to for help couldn’t couldn’t help me, didn’t know how to help me. So it was, it was Yeah. Some was just quite a bizarre time. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. And when you had when you had that open surgery and they discovered that you had frozen pelvis disease which is where the uterus, the bowel, the fallopian tubes and the ovaries, they’re all fused together by scar tissue. Did they do any did they separate them, Did they do anything there?

Carla: I was so the bladder and the bowel was also fused as well. So they kind of just drained all the blood and they just kind of left me. They actually stapled me up. So I had staples, which wasn’t was very nice. So they kind of just left me like that and referred me on to a specialist centre. And I managed, I went to the specialist centre in 2017 and even then it was a year wait, considering how bad things were, it was a year wait to be to be seen. So yeah, I think I spent about four months in bed. I couldn’t move and because I had the staples, like I couldn’t lift anything, I couldn’t do anything. And I had those in for a good few weeks as well. So I was just having to I was prescribed really strong pain medications, morphine and tramadol, and I was just literally stuck in bed like it was just the worst time. It’s just horrible, horrible time. 

Le’Nise: Can you talk a little bit about the impact of all of this on your mental health? 

Carla: Yeah, I think. I don’t know. I mean. I’ve always and I’ve always been quite proactive in, you know, just being persistent and finding out what is going on. But I think once that happened, I mean, that it almost had an effect later on. 

So it wasn’t until I mean, in the moment I was like, you know, we’re going to do this is going to put more weight on. We’re going to eat. What can I eat? You know, what’s going to eat? What can I eat? What’s going to make me feel well, so I was very proactive in getting better because I’m to just to be restrained and stop. Like, I would literally have to roll out of bed onto the floor up the wall to stand up like it was. It was a lot. So I was just very much focussed on getting better and just looking into the condition. 

So I think at that time I just kind of blocked,  somehow blocked out my emotions and just delved into research for endometriosis and that was when I came across the Endo March, which was started by Professor Cameron Nezhat, and I was kind of invited to Stanford, like I was kind of doing all this advocacy work at that time, which probably wasn’t the best thing to do, but it was just my way, I think, of kind of coping and blocking that out. 

But later on I found that I kind of started to develop this panic, panic attacks, severe anxiety over the thought of going into surgery. And it wasn’t that I was thinking about that operation. It wasn’t that I was having flashbacks. It was just I would constantly worry what’s if something is going to go wrong? And then it kind of took over to the point where it even just getting in a car with my friend, I would panic and I would be very alert in the car. It like I couldn’t just relax and I was just in this kind of constant fight moord and that’s something that I, I kind of probably went through the last three or four years that it’s been something that’s been quite a big part of my life. This kind of anxiety and panic disorder. Yeah, it kind of almost it had this affect later on, it seemed. 

Le’Nise: And so we’re just thinking about the timeline where you were finally diagnosed. Stewart had these surgeries. You were then on this wait list to to then go to a specialist hospital in London. Can you then tell us where you went from there? What happened? What happened next? 

Carla: Yes. I mean, I never I’d never heard of endometriosis. I never knew a specialist hospital existed. This was to me, it was just like a whole new world, you know? And I remember my first appointment was with Oliver O’Donovan, who’s now actually one of the trustees for the foundation. He was so lovely. And I just I walked into this, like, waiting room and just met all the people that were there for endometriosis. So it is kind of my first time in real person, kind of talking to other people with it, which was crazy because I felt like I was just this abnormal person for such a long time. And then when I met Ollie and he everything I said, he just he knew, he understood. He’d heard it 100 million times and it was just a breath of fresh air. 

And I remember I had, you know, the scans and the exams on the day. It’s a really long appointment. My mum’s with me and I think it’s 4, 4 hours long. So it was quite an intense appointment. And yeah, they kind of scheduled, scheduled me in to have another laparoscopy. But this was one, a laparoscopy to just go in and take a look to, then plan a further surgery with kind of the multidisciplinary team. So I’d have a urologist and a kind of rectal surgeon kind of gynaecologist combined. So yeah, I went, I went ahead and I had this surgery with them and the kind of. Now what come of that was the. It was pretty severe. They couldn’t kind of locate one of my ovaries, they couldn’t locate my fallopian tubes. It was some scar tissue kind of stuck down and twisted. And my bowel had double looped and it was twisted. And the kind of deep endometriosis in parts of my bowel, my blood, my ureters. So they were at that time they were planning to do this though, I mean fertility for me was something that I was really, really kind of stressed out about. And at this after that surgery, they said, okay, so we’re going to plan another surgery. And I mean, it’s difficult and this is a problem with endometriosis that I found. You don’t always know the outcome, what the outcome of the surgery is going to be and just it’s that unknown and that kind of panic. 

And they at the time were planning to go in and remove both my fallopian tubes and possibly an ovary. I had a lot of the ovarian endometriomas as so my ovaries weren’t kind of great, both of them. But one was doing a little bit better than the other. So obviously with this kind of pregnancy, your chances of having a biological child, I would then need to go through IVF. So during that time I went away and I managed to freeze my eggs. But in that kind of time that I was put into a medical menopause. So I came off of the medical menopause when I froze my eggs, which wasn’t great. They couldn’t get to one of my ovaries. So we was only working from one, which was the bad ovary, which is just. Typical. So I first of all, I mean, it’s not great. It’s not many, but, you know, you only need one, so positive. 

And then I went back to have a surgery. But during that, during the time after freezing my eggs and then waiting for this surgery, I could tell it my symptoms that things were progressing. And I was totally I couldn’t work, I couldn’t do anything. So I kind of went back and I said, you know, things are progressing on now. My bladder symptoms were a lot more troubling. I mean, they were troubling before, but now, like, I couldn’t I couldn’t empty my bladder very well. I’d try and, you know, go to the toilet and I kind of go back like three, four, five times just to have a wee, I’d usually have that in one sitting. I was going five, five, six times just to be able to empty my bladder at one time and my bowel symptoms. But they were just horrendous. I was living on laxatives, softeners daily. 

By the time I actually went to that specialist centre, I was managed to eat one crumpet a day and  that’s when I was eating because I couldn’t physically eat. So I was pretty unwell and. They have done all these scans again, all these tests and MRIs, and they found that the whether the endometriosis had gone into the back of my bowel, it fused about the back of my uterus. So I didn’t have adenomyosis, which is kind of the uterus. But the endometriosis had actually fused and grown through the back of my uterus, which after loads of kind of, you know, investigations and things, they were certain that I could not carry a baby to full term and the chances of me miscarriaging were very, very, very high. So that’s when we had the multidisciplinary meetings and it was decided the hysterectomies was the kind of next step in the best step for me. Yeah, that was. Quite a big change around. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. And so there’s all the physical changes that are that happen with a hysterectomy. And then there’s a mental side of it as well. And then there’s also going into surgical menopause. So it’s a lot for you to deal with. 

Carla: There was a lot kind of going on in a short space of time. By the time I’d had the hysterectomies, it was my seventh operation within four years. Like, there was just it was just so full on and there was just a lot happening. I don’t even think I had a moment to think about what was going on, because the minute I’d finish a hospital appointment, I was getting a new one emailed through to me for then the following week or, you know, like it was just so, so long. 

Le’Nise: You went into surgical menopause at 29. So very young. And can you just talk a little bit about your experience of surgical menopause? So no longer having a period, which I would imagine for you is was a very positive thing in the sense that there was you no longer had to deal with the pain, the potential anaemia, the lack of energy. But then there’s the fertility side where there would have been that kind of mourning for not being able to physically carry a child yourself. So can you just talk a little bit about that? 

Carla: Yeah, I think I had a real, I’ll start with actually the medical menopause because I had a real awful experience with that. And it was almost like a love hate relationship because although I hated the idea of the medication, because of the side effects and because of the risks, there was no other medication available and still not, that would stop my periods. And actually I would have to take I was on Prostap, which is known as Lupron in the U.S. and I would actually switch between Prostap and Zoladex and I would have to have the injections alongside taking Norethisterone which is a progesterone three times a day just to stop my bleeding. And sometimes that wouldn’t even stop my bleeding. So I was just constantly, constantly bleeding. Such as you said, no energy getting so tired and just exhausted and drained, unwell. 

But I had to persevere with that and kind of. Otherwise, I couldn’t physically or I couldn’t really get out of bed much anyway. But it was just harder to do anything. And I had terrible symptoms, really quite terrible. I wouldn’t just have hot flashes, I would have hot sweats. So I would just be sat there for any fine one minute and the next I would be dripping, my hair would be going curly where it was just drenched. I would just drip from head to toe. My clothes would be soaking a hundred times a day constantly. I had terrible insomnia. I couldn’t sleep just this low, low mood. I had no mood. I just felt blank. I felt no emotion. It was just the most, the strangest feeling. I’m really quite a sensitive and emotional person, naturally. So to have this mood where you just don’t feel anything, it was quite scary. It was quite a dark place to be. Sleep, the insomnia was crippling. I mean, I at one time I went three whole days with no sleep because I just gave up trying to get to sleep. It was that bad. 

Le’Nise: Oh, my goodness. 

Carla:And by the time I’d kind of got my referral to sleep therapy for my GP, I’d just kind of got someplace where I was managing like four or 5 hours. So I just I just continued to do work like mindfulness meditation and all of these amazing things. Um, yeah, it, it was, it was really tough. But I also developed and this is the reason why I think they kind of recommend this treatment’s for only six months use at a time. I ended up taking it for two and a half years because I had no, no other option available in between surgeries and things, osteoporosis. 

So I developed osteoporosis in three parts of my jaw, so it’s affected my teeth, pain. It wasn’t nice. So I already had this kind of a little bit of anxiety about going into surgical menopause because I was worried that it would be like that. But actually, even though surgical menopause is not great, it’s not nice, it’s difficult, it’s hard. It hasn’t been as bad as what that was. So I’m quite happy about that. 

But as you said, it’s you know, it’s a relief not to have periods. And also I felt like where everything was left for so long and it took so long to get diagnosed and things had progressed so badly. I was worried about, you know, the the cervical cancer or a uterine cancer or ovarian cancer, you know, all of these kind of potential risks, risk factors of being a woman and how toxic things were. I always kind of had that little bit of a fear of finding out more further news. Yeah. 

So when I had my hysterectomy, I had a total hysterectomy. So they removed they actually called it a radical, they called it a pelvic clearance surgery. So they just removed everything, my cervix, everything. And it does it does feel as a relief now to know that I don’t have to worry now about, you know, ovarian or cervical, uterine, you know, these kind of cancers, which is something that did kind of play on my mind when I knew that things were kind of frozen pelvis and there was all this, you know, horrible, horrible things going on in there. So it is quite a relief. And as you said, not to have periods is lovely. But just with surgical menopause, you then get other symptoms and I think. 

I’m very grateful for HRT, so I wasn’t allowed HRT when I was in medical menopause. So that has helped me hugely. And I have kind of spoken with Dr. Louise Newson from the Menopause charity a few times, and she’s kind of helped guide me in getting my doses right and my specialist has been great and he just kind of takes but lets me take the lead and just listens to anything that I need or so that’s been really helpful. But it has some I mean, I’m constantly tired, brain farts all the time and the things and saying, well, you know, go off on a tangent about something and then I forget where I am, but it’s just something that I’m kind of getting used to. And you do seem to kind of with the HRT and all of these and, you know, other kind of coping tools and it does seem to be getting better. But yeah, it’s just been it’s been a huge transition. It’s been a lot. So I’m still kind of finding my way with it and they’re just learning to just kind of manage day to day and understand it a little bit better as well because I’m not up until probably quite recently, there wasn’t much information or awareness about the menopause or endometriosis. So again, it’s really just finding out more about it and just learning as you go. 

Le’Nise: What I find quite remarkable is that you you’ve had this very intense, life changing experience and that you’ve then gone on to continue the advocacy work that you started for yourself on behalf of others in founding the Endometriosis Foundation. Can you talk a little bit about what what drove you to start this charity and talk a little bit about the work that the charity does? 

Carla: Yes, I. I mean, I never planned to set up a charity. It was never something I ever thought I’d ever be doing. And it really started with setting up a support group. At the time, my kind of story had just been shared in the news, and I just found I had all these people coming, like, getting in touch with me. And they were going through the same thing or worse. So, you know, I just I was overwhelmed by how many people were going through this and the struggles and the complexities that they were faced with and the barriers in health care. And I just couldn’t. It was, as I said, overwhelming just to hear how widespread this problem is and still is. 

And it was kind of it kind of led from the support group. I started a campaign. So I thought if I knew about this when I was younger, if I just sat in a GP surgery read a leaflet, listing all the symptoms, life could have been so different. So I started a campaign and I raised to raise awareness in schools, and it was my local MP, Sir David Amess, who sadly passed away last year, who kind of took my campaign and waved around in Parliament. And from that we registered the Endometriosis All-Party Parliamentary Group, and then about a year later they included endometriosis in the school curriculum, which is amazing, but still not enough. 

I feel I feel like we need to do a lot more because it’s still so unheard of and you know how many students who listen in those listening, you know, it’s it’s something that I think has such a personal kind of touch to it. People really don’t. And I find people just don’t understand unless they kind of go through or, you know, care or close with someone is going through it. It’s so difficult to even fathom what, you know, it can just affect every part of your life, you know. So I then decided I was kind of reaching out to other organisations and just seeing what people were doing and how they were helping, and I just didn’t seem much available. I just felt like there just wasn’t anything helpful to me other than a support group, which was essentially run by people like me who who had it. 

So I just knew that there was this big gap in support and care and this huge kind of grey area that no one was still no one’s filling to really make this kind of change. Because now that this I mean, this support group that I set up in, I think it’s 2018, it helps like 10,000 people now. And I just and we see it day in, day out. People are going through exactly what I went through, what someone else went through. And you just see and it’s just not getting, the awareness is increasing. Yes. But the care is still this is still the same. And actually it’s it’s probably worse because these waiting is now ahead in not two, three years long for a waiting list to see a specialist. And that’s just to see the specialist, you know, and you then have to wait and have MRIs, then you have to wait and then you have to have MDT meetings and you wait and then you have surgery. There’s this real long, lengthy kind of waits for treatment that. I remember when I was sent to a specialist hospital. The waiting a year was tough. Like then. If I had to wait three years physically, I wouldn’t have been able to cope and mentally I probably wouldn’t be here today. 

So I think that there’s a huge problem there and we need something, someone to really just champion that and just push for change. So I set up the Endometriosis Foundation in 2018. I was doing really, really poorly, so I didn’t plan to kind of go forward with the charity or launch charity or anything like that for a little while. Just wanted to get my surgeries and my health. I had to prioritise my health basically. So we actually launch in March of this year and our kind of main kind of areas are education, you know, awareness of course, and campaigning and support and also information is a huge area because there’s so much misinformation around. There’s so many kind of false claims that, you know, pregnancy will fix a hysterectomy or fix it. And just all of these different, just wrong information. And just this I just find a lot of things, a lot of information is contradicting and it’s confusing. And that’s like that’s that needs to be fixed. So, yeah, we’re coming from a kind of approach where, you know, we’re just starting from the bottom and just we’re just going to work our way through and, you know, hopefully just be there and help as many people as we possibly can. 

Le’Nise: I think what you’re doing is amazing and it’s so needed. And I know you continue to help so many people with endometriosis, but also help people learn about endometriosis and that education piece. What I’m really curious about is what do you want doctors to know about endometriosis and how do you think they should learn about endometriosis? 

Carla: I think that it really because of this this problem, it’s it’s got to have a patient’s perspective on it. It just it doesn’t work just from a textbook, you know? So I think that just bringing that real life and that real kind of experience in front of them, because a lot of the time, I mean, I’ve met specialists and they haven’t been aware and they’re there to consult with me, but they’re not actually aware of my history or they’re not aware of my symptoms or they know I’m there because I’ve got, you know, based on this listed, but they don’t know how that actually affects me and they don’t ask how that affects. Like, they know I’m there and I need surgery. That’s that’s all they kind of need to know. So I think that just kind of educating them and, you know, just reminding them that we are human beings, you know, this is our life. And actually a ten minute appointment with a specialist, somebody is waiting up to three years for could change their life, could deliver them news, good or bad. Life changing news. And that appointment is something that’s been anticipated and perhaps there’s been, you know, a build-up of anxiety or fear or worry, you know, around this appointment for such a long time. And if that patient goes in and feels disappointed or feels like, you know, they just doesn’t feel comfortable asking the questions that they’re there to ask, that’s disappointing. 

 And this is why I think, you know, especially kind of in the specialist centres and things like that, I mean, it’s amazing to have, but I think it’s just reminding them of, you know, how precious these appointments are and they’re not easy to get, you know, to get that referrals. The chances are the person that comes through that door has probably been trying to get to that door for, you know, well, seven or eight years. And it’s just being mindful of that. 

Le’Nise: Well, I mean, I’m I’m really so grateful for you sharing your story today. And I know listeners will want to find out more about what you’re doing, where can they find you? 

Carla: And so we our website is the Endometriosis Foundation. So yeah, we have a, if they subscribe, this will be we’ve just launched our little blog and things. So yeah, I mean we’re very much in the early stages, but we’ve got some great specialists involved and patients, you know, it’s just, it’s amazing. So we’re, we’re starting out. So yeah, it’s exciting. We can share our journey with them and just kind of keep in the loop of what we’re up to. And as you know, we’ve partnered recently with Parla and Holland and Barrett, so we’re doing an event together in a few weeks, so that’s exciting. 

So yeah, there’s, there’s a lot going on and it’s it’s just so nice to bring also that kind of more. The other approach, you know, with nutrition and mindfulness and all things I really love and enjoy that help me and just bring that to life through the charity to other people. Because these things, they’re not these coping tools, They’re not talked about, they’re not spoken about and not recommended. These are things that we could be doing from home by ourselves and know for me, I had to learn the hard way. I had to learn, you know, I had a quite difficult time learning, you know, what to eat, what I could and not what I could and couldn’t eat, but just what what foods would make me feel unwell and how best to, you know, instead of just not at all, which I done a lot of the times because I just couldn’t find the energy to figure out, you know, what can I you know, it was it was I was already exhausted. I was chasing doctors and it was just draining and just having kind of that area as well, bringing that through, the charity. I just think I’m excited for them. Just. Yes. Amazing. 

Le’Nise: Well, thank you so much for coming on this show and sharing your story. I am just so excited to get this episode out out there and for people to learn more about endometriosis and for someone who is really young, if they’re listening or someone who who is a mum to someone who might have endometriosis to be able to get help early and advocate. So thank you so much for your time and for coming on the show. 

Carla: Thank you for having me. 

Period Story Podcast, Episode 65, Claire Baker: Having A Menstrual Cycle Is A Gift

For the last episode of season 6 of Period Story podcast, I’m so thrilled to share my conversation with Claire Baker, the period coach, speaker and author of the book 50 Things You Need To Know About Periods. Claire is a force in the menstrual health community, spreading the message that having a menstrual cycle can be a beautiful thing that can help you know get to know yourself better. 

In this episode, Claire shares: 

  • Why she didn’t tell anyone when her period started 
  • Her second menarche
  • What #adoreyourcycle really means 
  • How she became a menstrual cycle coach 
  • How menstrual cycle awareness can help you show up to your life as the full spectrum version of yourself in every phase
  • Her recommendations for understanding and charting your menstrual cycle 

Claire says that having a menstrual cycle is a gift and that your menstrual cycle can be your ally. 

Thank you, Claire!

Get in touch with Claire:







Le’Nise: I’m really excited to have you here and hear about the story of your very first period. 

Claire: Thanks for asking me to come and share Le’Nise. I’m thrilled to be here. 

Le’Nise: Let’s get into it. So can you tell us the story of your very first period? 

Claire: Hmm? I am. I don’t remember my very first period at all, actually. I’m curious how many people you’ve spoken to who don’t remember theirs is it? 

Le’Nise: It’s. I think maybe about. I’ve interviewed about. 50, 60 people and maybe one or two haven’t remembered. 

Claire: Really? 

Le’Nise: Yeah. 

Claire: Interesting. Okay. Yeah. No, I didn’t remember mine at all. And I have. I have really tried, but I don’t. And there’s lots there’s lots of you know, that’s not the end of the conversation. Obviously, there’s so much we can talk about around that. And that’s where I’ve spent most of my, the work that I’ve done to explore my menarche self has been really important to me. So journeying with her and you know who I was when I started bleeding, the kinds of things that I was into and the things like information I was taking in and absorbing about my body and my period. All of those things I’ve spent lots of time with which I’m excited to share more on. But when it comes to the actual first time I bled, there’s just nothing at all. 

Le’Nise: Okay, that’s so interesting that that you can’t remember that because for some people I’ve spoken to, that’s like a really formative that’s very, very personal, is very, very formative and interesting for you because this is the work that you do that, you know, it’s those early years that you’ve explored, but the very first time there’s just a blank. So can you talk a little bit more about the early years of having a period? 

Claire: Yeah, I can. So I remember the things I do know was that I started so I started developing in terms of getting like little lumps where my breasts would be much earlier than a lot of my friends. I was probably like ten. And so I remember my mum saying to me, Oh, you’re going to get your period soon. Like you’re going to get your period soon. And I was like, This is going to happen soon. And it just didn’t happen. And I do remember like waiting for it and wondering where it was and other friends of mine not having luck getting there. Sorry. And I was still waiting for it and kind of willing it to come. And Mum kept asking me and I kind of felt this pressure, this like, oh, when’s is going to happen, you know? 

So I know that I was about 14 or 15 because I remember that like I remember not having it. That’s how I know that, you know, I remember it hadn’t happened. And the very first few periods that I had when it did finally begin. I say finally. I mean, it was a totally normal age to get it that just been this pressure for like five years because I’d been told that it was going to happen and then it didn’t. So I was, you know, it was just expect, external and internal expectation. But I remember I didn’t tell anyone. I definitely know that I didn’t tell my mom. I didn’t really tell any of my friends. I just kept it to myself and just managed it alone. And I had no idea what I was doing. So I do remember trying to flush a pad, a pad down the toilet because I had no idea how to dispose of that. I remember stealing tampons out of my mom, she has this little black ornamental box in the bathroom when she kept her tampons. And I remember taking them out of there and again, just having no idea how to use them. So I had inserted this tampon. I was doing a triathlon one day with a friend of mine, and I had inserted this tampon just so it was essentially hanging out of my vagina. Like you could see the top of the tampon hanging out. 

And I remember riding his bike just thinking like, This is horrible. How does anyone do this? Like, how do people have their period and go about their lives in so much pain? Because I had no idea how to insert. I just had no idea what I was doing and was trying to read the instructions on packets and just like fumbling my way through, I had no pain at all. I remember some friends of mine had pain or would get headaches and I had I had none of that. I do remember that my periods came quite regularly and I would mark out on my calendar with a star, like when I would expect the next one to come. And I so I started intuitively tracking them quite early, but I don’t have any, you know, beyond just not really knowing what I was doing. They didn’t cause me any pain or anything like that early on. 

Le’Nise: What’s really interesting is that you said quite early on to when you were around ten, your mom said, Oh, you’re going to get your period soon. And then when you got your period, you didn’t tell anyone. So can you tell talk a little bit more about why you kept it a secret? 

Claire: Yeah, I was totally rebelling against this, like invasion of privacy that I felt like I was constantly experiencing. You know, my mom and I have discussed this. I just grew up in a household where there was no boundaries and it was like people would walk in on each other in the shower or, you know, just comment on each other’s bodies. And I was the eldest of five, and so I remember the like, awkwardness of it changing from being really natural for me and my siblings to be naked around each other and take baths together to then suddenly, like, Oh, I’ve got like pubic hair and my breasts are changing and I don’t feel comfortable being naked around my family anymore. And I don’t like my mom just walking in on me when I’m having a shower and commenting about my breasts and telling me when my is coming. 

And I remember one time she was I knew that she’d been checking my underwear to see if, you know, I’d started bleeding. And I just remember I can still feel it. Just this, like protectiveness, like this self-protection of no, you don’t stop commenting on what’s happening and telling me what’s going to happen. And so I felt I feel like it was me claiming my experience and a sense of sovereignty in amidst all of these changes and everyone telling me what was going on and just like, No, I’m going to take care of this on my own. I’m not going to tell anyone. I’m just going to like. Forge ahead. By myself. 

Le’Nise: When you got your period, you kept it a secret. But am I right in assuming that you knew what it was and what was going to happen? Because your mom had kind of had those conversations with you early on? 

Claire: Definitely. Yeah. Yeah. It’s funny, you know, I have lots of parents who ask me how to best approach these conversations with children. And I, of course, think that being open and honest is is the best pathway forward. I think my mum, you know, couldn’t have done anything differently. You know, maybe she could have given me a little bit more space. But she was so open with me about having a period, about her own periods, about what to expect. Like she’s a nurse and we knew all of the correct anatomical terms from a really young age. We were never allowed to say things like willy or fanny. It was like a penis and testicles and vagina and I knew the difference between all of these, like anatomical parts of myself, really, from a really young age. 

So I was definitely educated and informed about menstruation. I just. Didn’t want my experience to be imposed upon in any way. You know, it felt like. And I don’t know the answer to how somebody manages that delicate balance, but how to share information without merging with somebody’s experience, I suppose, which is how it felt to me. It was like so much that it was kind of like I recoiled. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: It is interesting though, because when it comes to periods and pregnancy and birth, some people are so willing to share their bad stories, their bad birth stories, their bad period stories. And that protectiveness that you felt is so interesting or you kind of just wanted to have this experience for yourself. Obviously, there are other reasons, you know, as you’ve explained. But I’m curious, how did you expand your knowledge about what was happening in your body beyond this kind of intuitive need to track your cycle? 

Claire: Yeah, it’s a good question because I do remember learning at school. I remember all of the girls in the classroom being ushered into a separate room and we were shown pads and tampons and told how much blood to expect. And I do remember being taught how to manage your period, essentially. And so I knew like I knew to take the tampons from mum’s bathroom. I knew how to go and buy pads. And I remember just poring over the labels. I had a couple of books that I remembered seeking out in the library or that I had been given about these sorts of changes that might happen. And reading magazines, you know, you’d learn different things from teen magazines, but it wasn’t something my friends and I ever spoke about. It was very much like a solitary mission to discover, you know, what I needed to know. 

But then I started taking hormonal contraception probably about 18 months into having a period. So I then just skipped my period for a lot of the next ten years. I would have it a few times a year, a withdrawal bleed. But I chose not to mostly for that next time. So it really was only maybe 18 months, maybe maximum two years of actually bleeding and having a natural menstrual cycle before kind of opting out of it. 

Le’Nise: Wow. So can you just talk us through a little bit if you feel comfortable about why you went on hormonal contraception and whether or not your mom was involved in this decision at all? 

Claire: Mm hmm. So I started taking the oral contraceptive pill purely because of hormonal acne. So I had experienced mild to severe acne from about 13 or 14 years old, so before my periods actually began, until I was about 16. And there’d been lots of visits to the dermatologist for different creams and antibiotics, and I’d taken a few different things that might have worked for a short period of time, like lots of different skincare, you know, just these topical ointments. And it was, it was just for me, having acne was so hard. I found that to be a really difficult part of being a teenager. It was something that I was conscious of every single day from like the second I’d wake up. Like the pain of it. Just the feeling of it on my skin. Being conscious of what people at school thought. The daily process of trying to cover it up with make up and like, Oh, it was just awful. I honestly would have done anything to get rid of it. And so I tried after a number of different, like I said, different medications and topical treatments, my dermatologist suggested the pill and it was incredible. It just worked. I mean, not instantly it took a couple of months, but it worked. And it’s and it continued to work. And that was my number one reason. 

It was a number, it was another number of years before I started having sex, which was then like just a bonus that I could I didn’t have to think about any other contraception besides of course, protecting for STIs. But in terms of pregnancy like that was. It just felt like an added extra that being on the pill. Mum was yeah absolutely involved in that decision and she well you know walked me through that process. I remember her reservations and I remember over the years that I took the pill. She would often say to me. You know, you’re still taking it? Do you think maybe you should have a break? She had taken it when she was younger and had had some issues with it, and I think she was just cautious of me taking it and would often say oh maybe it’s time to have a break. And I know now. She does have, I would say, probably regrets. You know, I think as every parent probably looks back on some decisions that they made. That is one she has shared with me that she does think, oh, I wish I had of maybe considered that more before letting you know we take it at such a young age. 

Le’Nise: So I remember when we were on the panel for the Business of Birth Control, you said that coming off the pill was like you were seeing everything in black and white and then suddenly everything was in technicolour. That really that really stuck with me because I just it was just such a visceral way of describing it. So how long were you on the pill? Did you say ten years? Yeah, ten years. And so then what made you decide to come off of it? 

Claire: Yes. I always look at that first period coming off the pill as like a second menarche because it was so significant that, you know, and as I said, I didn’t remember my first period. So that moment was really quite something. I decided to come off hormonal contraception because it had just for a while stopped feeling like it was in alignment with my own health values. And I had at times attempted to come off it. And every time I did, my my skin would just go crazy again and would break out. And I was like, Oh, I just don’t want that. So. And I remember a GP, I was talking to a GP, my GP about it and he, I remember him saying like as women. Because I tried roaccutane like, which is a really strong medication for acne. And again, it hadn’t worked. 

And I remember him saying to me, like, your acne is hormonal. And so no matter how strong the medication is not going to work. The pill is the only thing that’s going to work for you in your skin, because it can essentially shut down the hormones that are causing this problem. So. Yeah, that just really kept me on it for a long time. And then I was about 25, 26 and I was making some big changes in my life overall. I was reconsidering the work that I was doing and I begun practising yoga and you know, I wasn’t drinking so much anymore and making really like I’d always paid attention to my diet, but just really learning more about nutrition and looking at doing a full audit of all the chemicals in my home and just taking more care of what I was putting into my body. And I just started to feel strange that I was taking this little pill every day when I was making so much effort to not expose myself to unnecessary chemicals. 

So I think that was really, I think this didn’t feel quite alright anymore and I’d really been working on my gut health and it was incredible. I stopped taking it and I was so worried that my skin was going to break out again and it didn’t, you know, it was totally fine. But what did happen was that I didn’t bleed for a year, so I had one full year post pill amenorrhea, which also coincided with probably the most stressful year of my life due to a personal event. And so it’s funny looking back on like, was it the pill or was it the stress or was it both? But there was the one full year of of not bleeding at all. And that really catapulted me into the work that I do now, because I was suddenly aware of how little actually knew about my body and about ovulation and about, you know, my hormonal cycle. And so I’m grateful for that. Yeah. But it was scary to not bleed for that for that entire time and to not know like what effects the pill had had on my system and whether my period would come back. And like I said, when it did, it was a really significant moment. 

Le’Nise: So how how soon were you expecting your period to come back after you came off the pill? 

Claire: I expected it would take a few months. I think I think that was like from what I had read, I thought, well, I guess it’ll probably come back within a few months. And I was seeing an acupuncturist at the time who said to me, You know, if it gets to six months, maybe then you might need to you know, we need to look at what’s going on and it got to six months. And so I then went and had various ultrasounds where they I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome. I’m still not convinced that I actually had it, but they gave me that diagnosis as an explanation for not having my period. And then I remember, you know, again, this acupuncturist saying, okay, because the nine or nine months we might need to do some more investigation. So I had blood tests. I was kind of getting things checked out throughout the year and, and, and ah, I’m saying, ah, if I get to 12 months, maybe you might need to talk to your doctor about metformin, the drug that can stimulate ovulation. And it’s like, I really don’t want to do that. 

And it was interesting because I got to got to nearly yeah to 12 months and I had been so like it reminded me almost of that first period of everyone being like right it’ll come at this time. It’ll come at this time. And I was so tightly wound, like, when is it going to come back? Like it was that same feeling. And I and I really remember letting go of it. I was going into a new year and I was like, you know, I’m just going to let this go. And I just have to trust my body that like it’s doing what it needs to do. My skin hasn’t broken out. I have lots of energy. I feel good. I’m sleeping well, like all other signs point to the fact that I’m well, it’s been a really big and stressful, like unexpectedly stressful year. I’m just going to take the pressure off. And then I think, you know, it was a few weeks after that that I began to bleed. And so I feel like that’s just the lesson of my life, to be honest, is just like let it go. 

Le’Nise:   And what was that experience of what you call the second menarche like. 

Claire: Hmm? I mean, it was so exciting. Or I’ll never forget it. Waking up saying that I blood in my underwear. I’m like, oh, god, is is it like it’s actually happening? And I texted my acupuncturist right away. You know, she was really on the journey with me by this point. My God, I got I think it’s starting. And she’s like, just get up and go for like a really gentle walk to just kind of get get everything moving. Okay. So I went for a gentle walk and it started. Yes, I started to bleed more over the day. And then it was like just excruciating pain. It was so full on. I actually I actually vomited. I was like vomiting from the pain, which I’ve never done since, but it was really, really full on. And I’d say the first few were like that. They were pretty intense experiences. So on one hand, I was, you know, thrilled and celebrating and really excited and relieved and also in quite a lot of physiological pain. 

Le’Nise: And what did you do about the pain? 

Claire: At the time, I think I just took some pain medication and was like, okay, whatever I need to do right now to just get through this like this isn’t really full on. But I was still seeing this acupuncturist, I was, you know, still doing really committed to doing the things that I had been doing for that 12 months to try to get my body back into a place where it was able to ovulate again. And so, yeah, that included like stress management, sleeping and eating well and not over exercising, things like that, which, you know, it’s a warmth in my body warming food. I and you know, and it’s been what, now, like ten years since then, those things still, I know that if I let some of those things slip for a bit, that that pain will come back like that. That has been my experience that if I have had a really couple, like a couple of stressful months or. Yeah like having more alcohol or coffee that I know my body really my system really likes. Then, you know, my body’s not backwards and coming forwards like it will. It will tell me. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: I‘m. I’m actually the same way. You know, I, I suspect that I have mild endometriosis and I have a lot of things that I do to keep everything in check. And if I let anything slip, you know, it will you know, it will come roaring back the pain. And it’s interesting because when you talk about and we’ll talk about go into work in a second, but when you talk about, you know, things like, you know, understanding your menstrual cycle, you know, you use the hashtag adore your cycle and there’s this expectation that, you know, you will always have a great menstrual cycle and a great period. And I’m really glad that you’re being so honest in what you do and how you manage it, because it’s not as simple as like you take a few pills and then presto, you know, no more pain and you know, no mood changes at all and all of that. So can you talk more about the journey that you went on from getting your period back, managing having a period as as an adult to then getting into the work that you do today? 

Claire: Mm hmm. Yeah. It was incredibly intertwined. I, at that point, had already started working with women as a health coach and had trained and was seeing clients and was still very much in the early days. And so as I was learning more about fertility and ovulation, my hormones and, you know, tracking my periods, I was guess. Yes, sharing quite organically this information as well with clients or sharing resources, books that I was reading, teachers that I was learning from and it quite like early on it became an aspect of my work. In the sense that I just didn’t quite understand why in my own certification as a health coach, there had been no mention of the impact that having a menstrual cycle might have on your health and on your, you know, the way that you feel and your self-care and nutrition and how movement might change. Like everything I was taught was was very holistic, a very holistic training, but then it was also incredibly linear and really didn’t include like the female bodies experience at all. 

And so I was just curious how like I said, it went from for me like black and white to technicolour. So I was like, well, this is like pretty full on going from being in a very linear state for ten years to suddenly having this very cyclical experience. Like all if it’s affecting my choices around how I care for myself when I rest, when I’m sleeping more, how strong I feel at different times in the month and fluctuations in my libido. Like naturally my motivation, it’s affecting so many things. Naturally, this would also surely this is affecting know clients I’m working with and I was just really curious at the beginning. I was like, Do you notice this as well? Like, you know, how can we sit here and have a conversation about your motivation or energy level of your self-care without talking about this? 

So I just started to encourage my clients to just track this cycle and just take what they were noticing about how they felt at different phases into, you know, in bringing it into our sessions. So that was always like an aspect of my work. And then I would say a few years in I just became you know, more and more connected to my own cycle. I did a few more trainings and it was more educated on what was actually happening in the body. And I felt like, Yeah, actually, this is, this is where I would like to centre, to centre my work now. It’s been an aspect for a number of years, but now actually I really want to own and be more vocal about how important I think this is. And ah yeah, it was quite a, I was terrified to do that. I really didn’t want to do that. I felt like I didn’t really know anyone else at the time who was calling themselves like a menstrual cycle coach or period coach or whatever. And I didn’t really want to be known as that person. I was like, Oh, I’m kind of happy to just be like a women’s health coach who talks about this stuff, and I really want that to be the central focus of my work. And I had so much resistance to it. 

And then I remember really making the decision. I was like, Nah. Like, this is so important to me. I really do want it to centre this more. And it was just extraordinary when I, when I did that and I and I created a series of workshops and my first e-book on the topic that was in 2016 and. And brought everything that I had been learning. And and again, like kind of behind the scenes with clients for a number of years to the to the front of my business. And yeah, the response was just incredible that people were so open to it and supportive and welcoming. And for anyone who was like, Oh, I don’t want to hear you talk about periods all the time. Like, I want to go back to when you were just talking about like, okay, oh, that’s that’s fine. You can go and do, you can leave. You don’t have to be part of this conversation anymore. 

But it’s always been like my work is yes, it is about the menstrual cycle and menstrual cycle awareness and charting and getting to know your own body. But all of those other aspects are like they’re all there too. Like, my work has never been about helping people necessarily with like period pain per se. Like, I don’t diagnose, I don’t prescribe. That’s not what I do. It’s always stayed in the like full spectrum experience of somebody’s life, whether that’s their creativity, their relationships, their health, you know, their spiritual practise. Like, I really believe that if you have a menstrual cycle, you know, I’m interested in like hanging out at the intersection between all of those things and how you ultimately shape your life in each shift, in each separate phase. So it’s less about like definitely it’s not, it’s not medical and it’s definitely less about. Yeah. Supporting, I guess it’s less about. Supporting people through I refer on a lot. You know, you look refer to other practitioners whose skills are in, you know, adding supplementation, for example, or really, you know, supporting someone like you do through the, you know, the nutritional aspect of dealing with, you know, more severe menstrual issues. I’m really interested in well, who are you, you know, in each phase of your cycle? And how can I support you to really show up to your life as the full spectrum version of yourself in every phase, you know, because we do change and fluctuate. And I think that that’s really beautiful. 

And I want people to know that having a menstrual cycle, you know, it’s a gift and it can be your ally. And yeah, I say like, you know, you said hashtag adore your cycle. That definitely doesn’t mean every period is a dream and it’s like rainbows and unicorns all the time. Like we get into lots of shadow work and looking at our vulnerabilities and our sensitivities. But I love that. Like I love the light and the dark lens that it offers us to really be like who we actually are and owning those, those darker sides of ourselves that come out at different times in our cycle and exploring that, not just like medicating it or labelling it and hiding it away. So yeah, that’s, that’s how I got to where I am. Mm. 

Le’Nise: It’s so interesting hearing you express the, the reticence you had about calling yourself a period coach or menstrual cycle coach and even kind of going deeper into this space, given what you do today and how deep you are into this work. And I’m curious, you know, what do you say to people who say, well, actually, you know, like, do we even need a period? Do we even need a menstrual cycle? 

Claire: Yeah. Oh, yeah. I came across an article just recently actually I think it was a Cosmo piece about how we don’t need to have a period and how you can skip it and just not have one. And hey, like I said at the very beginning, I chose to have very few periods over, you know, an entire ten years of my life, an entire decade. So I get it because. Sometimes it is incredibly inconvenient when we live in the world that we live in. It can be painful for some people. Some people genuinely, really, really struggle like physically and psychologically. Our world is not set up so that people who menstruate at all and there’s such a lack of support and resources, it’s expensive as well. It costs money, you know, every time you bleed. So I like I really understand. And I have such a like non-judgmental lens through which I see anyone who chooses to take, you know, oral contraceptive pill for lots of different reasons, including not having a period, but. 

But I believe in its power to bring groundedness to our lives, to bring a sense of self authority through, you know, through self-knowledge and really embracing our nature as it is like when we embrace and accept who we are it creates so much ease in our life and it’s such a sense of belonging. And any time we as humans try to be anything other than what we actually are, our true nature, it just causes pain and suffering. And I truly believe and have seen this through the lives of so many of my clients, that when we really just accept, accept our nature and learn to live in greater harmony with it. There is there is a real magic that occurs in people’s lives. And it doesn’t happen overnight, but there is something that I think we lose when we suppress when we suppress who we are. And by suppressing our inner biological and physiological function of the menstrual cycle, it’s suppressing a really large, really large part of who we are. And that’s not even getting into the actual chemical changes in the body and how that actually affects, you know, the different hormones and the different systems. It’s a ripple effect. The menstrual cycle doesn’t live in isolation from everything else, it’s connected to other parts of our system. But I’m really looking at it through the lens of yeah, of like who we are as humans and our capacity for creativity and to connect with other people and to and to be ourselves in the world. I think I do actually think that we are denying ourselves in a part of of life of not knowing this cyclical aspect of us. It’s like we’re like the seasons, you know, we’re like the moon and like we do change. And it is hard because that’s not the what society. The society doesn’t make it easy to be like that. Like we’re like circles trying to fit into a square hole, but. Yeah. There’s a real depth and a lot to discover. I think about yourself by getting to know who you are across your menstrual cycle. It’s very beautiful and painful. That’s life. 

Le’Nise: So someone’s listening to this and they’re thinking, okay, really interesting. I’m thinking about coming off hormonal contraception or I’ve just come off or I’m just really interested in the idea of charting and tracking my cycle. I have no idea where to start. What would you say? 

Claire: Well, you can start today. That’s the best bit. You don’t have to wait. And, you know, my approach is really about getting to know your own cycle. So it’s it’s useful, of course, to learn about the different hormonal phases and how oestrogen and progesterone and that fluctuations can, you know, impact on your how you feel across the month. Those things are useful, but my approach is definitely about getting to know your own, your own body and your own experience.

And so I would suggest starting today and then every day moving forward, finding a method of charting that works for you. So some people love apps like the Clue app or various other apps. Some people really love pen to paper, and that’s an approach that I also love. So be someone who journals. You can just start by adding what day of your cycle you’re on next to the date, and to figure out which day you’re on, you simply look back to when you had your last period and the first day of bleeding, full flow bleeding is the first day of your cycle and you just count forward from there. So for example, you might be day sixteen today and you can use a chart. I have some free charts available on my website and you just start paying attention every day. Like, how is your physical body today? How is your energy levels, any like cravings in particular foods. Mentally, what’s going on in your mind is that, you know, a noticing a difference in focus or any like the quantity or quality of thoughts emotionally. How you feeling? And then, you know, spiritually is something I encourage people to do, to do like how connected do you feel to yourself or to nature or to the world around you? You can also think creatively, sexually. 

You know, there’s so many different aspects of ourselves we can bring to a charting practise, but it can just be a few words. Today I feel energised, you know, a bit like maybe a little bit anxious or nervous mentally and, and, you know, and spiritually feeling quite connected to myself and to simply just start to notice, like today, I slept more. I had trouble sleeping last night. Today I feel really connected to my partner. Today I feel really frustrated with work and there’s like over about three months I notice it takes to begin to start to to recognise these patterns. All right, so on my day 20, I seem to always want to quit my job and, like, run away to another country. And that’s when I notice a lot of self doubt or in a, you know, inner critic attacks happening. Okay, cool. That’s really good for me to know. That’s gold. And then on cycle day five, I notice, oh, this is sort of like desire to want to reconnect with people again. But I’m also feeling like still quite introverted. So that’s an interesting inner conflict to begin to look at and these patterns will start to emerge. But it takes time and it does take. It takes a daily commitment because I found that charting in retrospect doesn’t really work. It has to be just like noticing and just a mindful practise each day to see where you are and documenting it down somewhere. And then after about three months, just beginning to look for those patterns. 

Le’Nise: It’s so interesting when you talk to people and there can be a real resistance to going deep because we’re so attuned to the external. And then asking people to tune in to what’s happening in their bodies. It can be hard for some people because they’re not used to slowing down and thinking, Well, actually, what do I really feel? What am I really thinking about this? Because, you know, there are so many distractions in the world. So it’s so interesting the approach that you take and also to hear your own approach that you use pen and paper, which I find really interesting. So can you just tell us a little bit more about you, do you have a journal day by day calendar. Like what? How do you actually do it? 

Claire: Mm hmm. Yeah, I’m so old school. I think the less time I spend on technology, the better. Yeah, I have a journal first and foremost for me, I am, but. But I think what’s important to note there is that the best method of charting is the one that you’ll actually do and one that suits you and that can easily, like, fit into habits that you already have. So if you’re someone who you know, you know that you’re going to use an app on your phone because you’ve already got a number of things you check in with their every day then. Brilliant. I love journaling and always have, so it just makes sense for me to, like I said, just start to add that cycle day next to the day. And usually before I begin a journal entry, I’ll just make a couple of like really simple notes. So, you know, if I’m bleeding, I’ll write down like how much I’m bleeding, you know, what I’m noticing physically in my body, how I’m feeling and you know where I am today. I’m cycle day ten. I’m noticing, you know, changes in cervical mucus. All of my fertility charting, which is separate to menstrual cycle awareness, actually does go into an app. I use Kindara for all of my fertility charting, but for menstrual cycle awareness, which is more about, you know, like the whole holistic human experience. Yeah, I just made a couple of notes of thoughts that I’m having, like how I’m feeling that day and and I’ll usually flick back oh hey, cause I’m cycle day ten today. How did I feel on cycle day ten last cycle? How about the one before that? And how about the one before that? And you know, these things start to start to emerge. 

Another method people are listening who like pen to paper, is by just getting a getting a notebook that you dedicate to this practice and and dividing each page into four and then say the first page is four lots of cycle day 1, 2 pages, cycle day two. So you just fill in one quadrant for four different cycles so that by the time you finish full cycles, you’ve got a whole page with, with notes from, from that cycle day. So you’ll be able to see, okay, on cycle day ten on these four cycles, this is, this is how I felt. And that’s quite a simple way to just begin to to pay attention to these patterns. But I do have charts that I don’t use so much anymore. At the very beginning of my journey, when I was learning about this, I used I use them and they’re circular charts. I’ve got a couple that you can download for free and they show one whole cycle on one page. And again, this is just a small space for a couple of notes, things that you’re observing. You can also chart where the moon is at and notice what phase of your cycle you’re in. If that’s interesting to you, dreams is another good thing to write down how you know as your dreams change. And then that way, once you complete one full chart, it’s just on one page and it’s not stopping and collecting these charts. And you can again go back and look at these patterns. 

I also find it interesting with the handwriting to see how handwriting changes so often when I’m looking at a client’s chart, I’ll notice when they’re writing really neatly and they’ve taken their time, or when they’ve just like scribbled something down or when they’ve like left whole days like whole sections blank. Because that is, that’s really interesting. Like that has a lot of information just in, you know, the way that we’ve documented, like when we’ve, when we’ve been more diligent and we’ve really practised that mindfulness or when we’ve just been like whatever, you know? And that’s an interesting observation in and of itself. So I find handwriting to be quite revealing in that way. And I just love the practice of. Acting and taking that time to be off my phone. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. Oh, yeah. I remember once I was with a client, and she was. When I see my client, I. I have a notebook and I take notes and she was quite surprised that I was writing everything down then, you know, she was like, it doesn’t your hand hurt, you know, and she’s saying how she just doesn’t write at all. But I like you. I really like that practice of like just seeing something really tangible and of course, being off my phone. I’m curious, what’s the most surprising thing that you learnt about yourself when you started tracking your menstrual cycle? 

Claire: Yeah, gosh, there’s been a few. I mean, it’s been, you know, from something as practical and so many practical as like our coffee doesn’t actually really work for me. You know, like I always used to think, I’m a big coffee drinker, I love coffee. And then I realised that I think I actually I’m noticing on the days that I have that I’m actually like really anxious. And for a while I thought it was just at different points in my cycle. I could metabolise it better and I’d practice, I experimented with that for a while, but then I had to kind of come to the sad conclusion that I just don’t think it really works for me. So that’s been, you know, things like that, like, okay, like when different things work for me at different times and that can be anything from exercise to food to different kinds of socialising.

But, it was through charting my menstrual cycle that I realised that I had symptoms of hypothyroidism. And so then that led to a diagnosis of Hashimoto’s and that came through entirely through noticing changes in my menstrual cycle and what was, what was happening, which was incredible because that was great data to be able to take to my GP to then get the necessary tests that I had to get done to receive that diagnosis and has continued to be my like, you know, rather than getting blood tests every month, you know, I get those regularly too, but I know what to look for in my own cycle to be able to read my body and listen to say like, how is everything going? Like, is everything humming along now? And, you know, those symptoms have have alleviated and that’s been incredible to have that feedback every month about my health. 

And there’s also been things like leaving my last relationship. I, you know, cycle after cycle after cycle was journaling on how unhappy I was and how I just didn’t want to be in that relationship whenever I was in the pre menstruum, the week before bleeding and yeah yeah it’s like that’s the time in my cycle when that truth really rings, rings true for me and I can see things more clearly and what’s actually going on in my life and I really believe in listening to that. So it is also, you know, menstrual cycle awareness has supported me to make some very big decisions like, you know, where do I live, relationships, work, you know, it’s really supported me through making great work decisions, by taking time when I bleed to just like rest and let those answers come and take time away. So it’s taught me how to respect the creative cycle and how to listen to my intuition and my body in a way that I don’t know if any other,  like I’m such a type-A, like I’m so inherently ambitious. I don’t know if any other practise really could have got through to me in the way that learning to listen to my my menstrual cycle has. 

Le’Nise: So if someone’s listening to this and they’re thinking, I really want to learn more about this, I really want to work with Claire. Where can they find you and can you talk a little bit more about the work that you do. 

Claire: So you can learn more? The first place to go it would be to my website, which is a Claire And my classroom at the moment is the best place to go to learn more. And I’ve got courses that teach you how to journal your cycle. So the process that I described about, you know, beginning to bring menstrual cycle reminiscence, your journaling practise. That’s a course that I’ve created called flow that people can learn how to how to do that. I’ve then got more courses that explore the creative aspect of the menstrual cycle, identifying, you know, when you feel most creative, I’ve got one’s on self-care and they’re the best places to start. Definitely. I also offer one on one coaching services and teach workshops and circles throughout the year too, and that information is all there as well. 

But I would usually recommend somebody starts by by taking a course and beginning to learn how to how to practice menstrual cycle awareness. And then when we begin to actually do some one on one work together, it’s fun because there’s lots of juicy data to work with and we can go a bit deeper together than. 

Le’Nise: Amazing. And if you want to to leave listeners with one last thought from all the amazing things that you’ve shared today, what would that be? 

Claire: Mm hmm. That it doesn’t have to, you know, having a menstrual cycle really doesn’t have to be a burden in our lives at all. I you know, like I said, I’m not bypassing the shadow aspects and the pain that it can that it can bring. I would never, ever do that. But there is a lot of beauty and magic as well to be found in being in a body that bleeds and and living in a greater congruence with our cyclical rhythm. It’s quite extraordinary experience to have in this lifetime. So I would just encourage people to invite that possibility in. 

Le’Nise: Amazing. I love that. Well, thank you so much for coming on the show today. All the links will be in the show notes, including links to Claire’s website. And yes, thank you so much again. 

Claire: Oh, it’s been really fun. Thanks for asking such great questions. I love this project.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 64, Molly Broache: Cervical Cancer Is Preventable

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month in the US and the UK and I’m so pleased to share my conversation with Molly Broache, a women’s health nurse practitioner and associate director at BD, the medical technology and diagnostic solutions company. 

In the episode, Molly shares: 

  • The number one cause of cervical cancer 
  • The symptoms and risk factors for cervical cancer 
  • The importance of cervical screening as a cervical cancer prevention tool 
  • What happens if abnormal cells are found in the cervix 
  • How to empower yourself if you’re nervous about having a cervical screening 
  • And of course, the story of her first period! 

Molly says that cervical cancer is preventable and that if you’ve put off your cervical screening, get it booked ASAP! 

Thank you, Molly! 





Le’Nise: Hi, Molly. Thank you so much for coming onto the podcast today. I’m so excited to talk to you, hear your period story and then talk more about cervical cancer because it is Cervical Cancer Prevention Month and Awareness Month in the US and the UK. But first, let’s get into the story of your very first period. Can you tell us what happened? 

Molly: Le’Nise, It’s such a pleasure to be on today. Thanks for having me. So when I think about the story of my first period, what comes to mind is middle school. And I went to a middle school that had recently adopted a policy where we had to wear these light coloured khakis. So I was constantly on edge for when I was going to be blessed with my first period just because there was all this unknown about, you know, is it going to happen when I’m walking to the hallway or something like that? Luckily, it did happen at school. I remember that clearly. And unfortunately, I think the bathroom situations at schools is not the best. I did come prepared with a pad in my backpack so accidents were avoided, but I will say it was still like this sense of shock. I mean, I think I had learned about periods through family, friends, reading, not really through anything educational, but when it actually comes, I think there is this sense of shock and you’re like, How long is this going to last? Am I going to make it through the week of wearing my khakis without an accident? So yeah, I would say shock was probably the number one emotion associated with it. 

Le’Nise: And you said you were in middle school, so that was like about 12,13?

Molly: Yes, exactly. 13 years old, I believe. I grew up in Baltimore, Maryland. It was seventh grade. 

Le’Nise: All right. Okay. So I would assume that you were kind of maybe amongst like the middle of the pack of your friends getting their period. And so you said that you had some education through family, through friends, so you knew it was going to happen. And what’s really interesting is that you were prepared. You had the pad in the backpack. So how did that come to be? How did you how did you have that sort of preparation? 

Molly: I think from a kind mom who, you know, made me prepared. I had an older sister as well, two sisters, four years older than me. So I had a clue of what what you had to have ready. I think I still worried, like, is this the right size again, going back to those darn khakis, like, is this still going to protect me so that I’m not out in the hallway with a stain on my pants? I think what I think, too, I mean, there’s a lot of uniforms. I mean, I would say both in sports and in school that are not female friendly. I mean, I know this has become a topic in the sports world, too, with like white shorts for female athletes and things like that. I think there’s never any thought to like these poor girls who, you know, are coming into this new stage in their life and trying to be as prepared as they can, and they’re not set up for success. So, yeah, but education was, I think, a combination of family and like some reading I had done even in like fiction books where like Judy Blume and things like that, where where she sort of refers to first period. 

Le’Nise : Yeah. Are You There, God, It’s Me, Margaret? Yeah, yeah. 

Molly: Yeah.

Le’Nise: Yeah, I read that as well. What you said about the uniform and what you’re wearing, having such an impact of your experience of of having a period is so interesting because last summer there was a whole conversation about wearing whites at Wimbledon and. 

Molly: That’s what it was.  

Le’Nise: Yeah. And there are actually football or soccer teams that actually change the colour of their shorts because they’ve said even like the mental side of wearing white when you have your period. It’s that paranoia, am I going to leak? And I’m just wondering because you it’s interesting that you brought that up as part of your first period story, whether wearing those light khakis did that kind of affect how you felt about yourself during your period. Was there a kind of paranoia about leaking? And then how did that carry through the way you thought about your period? 

Molly: Yes, I mean, it definitely I would say paranoia as well as just what I realise now is probably like anxiety. I don’t even think I probably knew as much about that term when I was in middle school. And it wasn’t just for myself. It was, you know, for other female and girl colleagues as not colleagues, schoolmates as well too. Because I think the issue in middle school and elementary school, you have to ask permission to go to the bathroom. So you cannot constantly be going. 

So, I mean, there were terrible situations where, you know, people needed to go and take care of things. And, you know, teachers would say, oh, you just left like 20 minutes ago. This didn’t happen to me personally. But I just remember with friends of mine and people I knew in my class, and it just was so scary because you sort of felt like you were out of control of the situation. And if you’re sitting there, things are just going to get worse. So, yes, it definitely provokes some paranoia and anxiety. And like if I were able to wear whatever I wanted, darker pants during that time would have been better. I think we heavily relied myself and the other girls on the fact that we had dark navy tops, often like cardigans and tying that around the waist. I think I pre-emptively did that like every time to the bathroom anyway. I mean, it’s it’s quite sort of crazy to think of now, honestly. 

Le’Nise: You got your first period when you were 13, you were in middle school and then what was the experience of the period actually like? Was it painful, was it heavy and then did that carry through to the rest of your teen years? 

Molly: So I luckily will not. So I mean, like sort of throughout my whole life, but in middle school, in my teenage years too, it was not super terrible. That’s at least something I did not have to deal with. I did run cross-country in high school. I didn’t do any sports in middle school, but it it I don’t remember it really making me have to take any time off of school of significance. So I will consider myself quite blessed there because again, that was not the experience for a lot of my friends and I felt terrible for them. And again, I mean, sort of related to that whole, you can’t just get up and leave whenever. I mean, it’s really hard to miss school. I mean, even in middle school, I was sort of in a rigorous academic program and taking, you know, 4 to 5 days off of school every month is just not acceptable. But so many girls were in so much pain that they really legitimately needed to. So, yeah, again, luckily personally, I, I was dealt a pretty good hand. 

Le’Nise: Yeah that that’s really interesting because you know carrying on the thread of like being a female athlete, you hear about so many female athletes losing their periods or their periods getting in the way of them participating in the sport that they want to participate in. But yeah, as you say, you were quite, quite blessed with not having any issues with your period. And then did that just kind of continue in just having a really easy period? 

Molly: I mean, I think some months definitely worse than others. I definitely get the, you know, premenstrual symptoms ahead of time, like the moodiness and all of that. But once it actually comes, sometimes I think I’m like relieved because I’m like, all right, I can expect what’s coming. 

Le’Nise: Yeah.

Molly: Yeah. I again, after I mean, being in the women’s health field myself and personally hearing all these stories, I think that’s also sort of opened my eye to, wow, I, I had it pretty good. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. And so it’s interesting now that you two, you do work in women’s health, you’re a women’s health nurse practitioner. And I’m just curious because a lot of people who do work in this space, they tend to have been inspired through either a personal experience or an experience of someone quite close to them. So what made you decide to get into this field? 

Molly: To be quite honest? My decision to enter women’s health revolved around my nursing school experience, where I worked on a labour delivery floor actually with a, you know, delivery of babies and all of that. And I absolutely love that. So I sort of entered in another angle, which was like the obstetrics angle which was fascinating and again, that’s an area of the hospital where everybody thinks it’s just, you know, happy little babies and happy moms. And there is so much more that goes on there. There is so much more complexity. And I think I realised that in nursing school and I mean, it’s such a special time in people’s lives, but it’s actually, you know, very prone to, to complications and things like that. So that was the area that I really wanted to go into after being in nursing school. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. And then you then also kind of moved into gynaecology. 

Molly: Oh, absolutely. Exactly. And to be honest there, I mean, my passion there really has been the cervical cancer screening like since the start. I think I have been fascinated. Like. Through my teen years and into adulthood about sort of the lack of knowledge about what actually happens during a pap smear, what we’re actually testing for all of that and the ability to be able to educate on that and make sure that people are getting the right testing, the, you know, vaccination, everything that there has been, again, very eye opening. And I think I like addressing fields where it sort of seems like there is a need for more education. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. Before we get into the discussion around cervical cancer, I’m just curious about your nursing background because you have a master’s in nursing and then you’re now studying for a doctor of nursing degree. And I’ve never I’ve never heard of that before. Can you, can you just talk a little bit about that? Because I think that, you know, on this podcast, we do talk a lot about, you know, different career paths as well as talking about periods. Can you just talk about, you know, your movement through this space? 

Molly: Yeah, absolutely. And I will say, even before, you know, nursing, I originally went to school for molecular biology. So like, I’ve always had a love for like science and research in general, too. And while I was working in the research field, like immediately post-college, I started volunteering in a hospital. And that’s when I decided, okay, I would like to switch paths and move more into a direct patient care setting. So at Hopkins, they have this one year accelerated nursing program, which was great. So I had my bachelor’s in biology and two years later I went on to get this bachelor’s of nursing from there again. 

Nursing school is sort of where I found that niche in the women’s health, labour and delivery world. So I worked as a nurse for several years and in different labour and delivery units and women’s health units. While there I think myself and a lot of other nurses decide, what’s the next step here? And that is generally a nurse practitioner. So the rules in the U.S. are sort of different state by state, but nurse practitioners generally have a lot of autonomy and how they can practice. My license was in Virginia, now it’s in Maryland. But I could prescribe medications, really treated like an independent professional. And again, that was all in the women’s health world, sort of split between pre-natal obstetric care and then gynaecological care. And actually once I started working in the medical diagnostics world at BD, I made that decision to enter a doctorate of nursing practice program. You know, one of the nice things about working at a medical diagnostics company, they actually help reimburse some of the costs because this is sort of furthering my education and should help my career at BD as well too. But the main difference, uou still are certified as a nurse practitioner. Like through your state. It’s the same way. Think the Doctorate of nursing practice. You’re really. It’s a part of the doctorate program. I’m sort of entering that step right now. You work on a quality improvement program, so you look for some sort of deficit in the health care system, ideally a solution to that. So not quite like a Ph.D. with a full dissertation, but there’s multiple semesters where you spend sort of developing the program, working with a site, and then sort of wrapping it all up with a final publication of sorts that can be presented at conferences and things like that. So it’s sort of like the capstone of the nursing career with that doctorate of nursing practice. 

Le’Nise: That’s really interesting because I don’t know if there something anything similar over here in the UK. I may be wrong, but I just I find it so fascinating the way you described being a nursing practitioner. And it seems very different to the way that nurses are viewed over here. It’s more kind of like entering the same space as a doctor in terms of being able to prescribe medication, diagnose. So that’s really that’s really interesting. 

Molly: Yeah.

Le’Nise: Talking all about one of the passion that you describe. So cervical cancer. So Cervical Cancer Awareness Month and Prevention Month is January. So this is a really timely conversation. Can you just talk a little bit about firstly, what cervical cancer is and some of the risk factors? 

Molly: Absolutely. And yes, I think this is like such an important time to be having this conversation because exactly, Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, January. So cervical cancer, obviously cancer of the cervix. The main cause of cervical cancer, though, and this is still a fact that’s not known by a lot of women. Virtually all cervical cancer is caused by a virus which is different than a lot of other cancers. And that virus name is called human papillomavirus. We can refer to it as HPV, easier term. And what’s interesting about HPV, though, is HPV is overwhelmingly common in the both male and female population. So I think, you know, CDC has said at some point, basically somebody probably has had an HPV infection and might not have even known about it. Maybe they were too young to be tested. We do now have the HPV vaccine that prevents HPV. Now, if you get the vaccine prior to exposure and HPV is transmitted through sexual contact. But essentially, HPV has to persist year after year after year to lead to cervical cancer. 

So one of the reassuring things about cervical cancer is through a combination of vaccination and screening. If you get the vaccination and or go in for regular screenings, your doctor or your nurse practitioner, your health care provider is likely going to catch any pre-cancer before it even has the chance to become cancer. And I think, again, that is cervical cancer is an awful disease. I mean, in the U.S., I know 4,000 women die every year. 14,000 women are diagnosed. So, unfortunately, some are falling through the cracks and not getting that screening. But I would say this is one of those diseases that, unlike some of those cancers that sneak up suddenly, like pancreatic cancer, things like that, through screening and vaccination really can be prevented. And I would say in our lifetime, hopefully eliminated. 

Le’Nise: And if someone’s listening to this and thinking, okay, that’s really interesting, but what are the some of the symptoms that I should be looking for? What would you what would you say to them? What are the symptoms of cervical cancer? 

Molly: Got it. So with cervical cancer itself, symptoms are often abnormal vaginal bleeding, pelvic pain, discomfort during intercourse. But then so I would say there’s probably three most common. 

There’s often no symptoms at all, though, which is why this screening is so important. We really don’t want women to get to the stage where I’m going into the doctor because I’m having this awful pain and I’m having bleeding. The number one way to prevent this from ever even getting to that stage is to go in for your regularly scheduled cervical cancer testing at the intervals recommended by guidelines or by your practitioner. Because again, then then you won’t run into that. But those symptoms I’ve described are unfortunately, some of those late term symptoms. And again, that is unfortunately why we still have those deaths and still have those diagnoses, because, you know, due to disparities in care and lack of access to care, a lot of women are forced to just go to their practitioner once they reach that stage. 

Le’Nise: It’s really interesting you mention some of the symptoms that you mentioned because those overlap with symptoms of other conditions like fibroids, endometriosis, adenomyosis. You could have pain, you could have irregular bleeding. And something that I think will be challenging for a lot of women is that they’re struggling to get even a diagnosis with those conditions and then to say, okay, well actually these might also be symptoms of cervical cancer. That’s that’s tricky because we do, you know, there’s there’s a lot of conversation around the gender pain gap, the gender gender credibility gap. And so I think this awareness of the symptoms is really important. 

But what would you say to someone who, you know, they are already having issues, getting a diagnosis or having even having a proper conversation with their doctor about what they think might be happening to them and then adding kind of the potential of cervical cancer into the mix. What would you say to someone about that? 

Molly: Absolutely. And you’re absolutely right, the symptoms do overlap a lot. I would just say when they go in to see their practitioner, you know, if they’re not aware, if they’ve had a pap smear or cervical cancer screening within the last, I’d say 1 to 3 years. Like, say they’re switching to a new provider. I would encourage the woman to say, Could I please be screened for cervical cancer today using an HPV test? Because I know that HPV is the number one cause of cervical cancer. And I’m concerned that this could be a cause of my symptoms. I think we really we would hope that the doctors would offer a know this, but it’s you know, you don’t always have a patient’s full records and know what happened in the past. So I do think sometimes you have to be an advocate for getting that testing done. And I encourage women, and I think they would have a great response and they would get the testing done. And again, ideally that would be done with HIV testing, which is the most sensitive test to screen for cervical cancer. And then they could have that reassurance that, look, these symptoms are probably being caused by something else. And we need to go through that process of looking for exactly as you mentioned then, endometriosis, fibroids, things like that, that can also cause some of those symptoms. 

Le’Nise: So just talking more about screening because, you know, that’s a way to be proactive about your health. This is a topic that I find personally quite interesting because I just received a letter from the NHS. So the National Health Service in the UK advising me that I am due for my cervical screening. And so they say that in the UK you need to have a test every three years if you’re between 25 to 49 and then every five years if you’re between the ages of 50 to 64. So can you just talk a little bit about the process? So  it’scervical screening in the UK? I know that some people I go, I’m Canadian, so I grew up with it being called a pap smear. Yep. Can you just talk about that process? So what should someone if they’re going to have this done, what should they expect when they when they go for that that screening? 

Molly: Yeah, absolutely. I am so impressed that, you know, the NHS, NHS has that system of sending letters of providers. I wish we had that in the US. I think that would really help because I think some people legitimately do forget they’re due for a screening since there are longer intervals. 

Now, just as sort of a point of comparison in the US, ACOG and USPSTF, which is the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, ACOG, American College of OBGYNs, we actually they recommend screening starting at age 21. So at age 21, women would have a PAP test and then starting at age 30 and the pap test would be every three years. And then starting at age 30 in the U.S., you have something called either primary HPV testing where you go in and actually have an HPV test in the office, and then they run the PAP. If there’s any abnormalities in the HPV test or there’s co-testing done, which means you do pap and HPV together. But let me break that down. 

So when you go into the office that the term PAP, you know, it comes from Dr. Papanikolaou who actually invented this technology that really has transformed the world and reduced cervical cancer screening or cervical cancer deaths a ton since its invention earlier in the 1900s. But when we think about a pap, that is the actual process where you’re in the office, the doctor is actually collecting a sample of cells directly from your cervix and looking to see if there’s any changes in those cells that make them worried that there might be some sort of cervical pre-cancer going on. An HPV test is actually run directly off of that pap smear test that the doctor collects. So they’re just going into their electronic medical record system or their paper requisition form and requesting that the lab test for HPV. And HP, It’s usually tested by either DNA or RNA. So we’re actually looking at molecular material. And again, since this is that virus that causes cervical cancer, the thought is we want to look for the actual virus. So, you know, you’re going to be more worried if you see abnormal cells and a positive HPV test versus seeing abnormal cells and a negative HPV test, because, you know, on a PAP, you can pick up, even though you’re looking for cervical cancer, you can pick up all sorts of other things, too. I mean, I’ve had reports come back that say, you know, candida, which is like yeast, is present, or trichomoniasis, which again are things it’s good to know about, but that’s not actually the purpose of the PAP. The purpose of the PAP, the purpose of cervical cancer screening is to look for the disease that could subject a woman to pre-cancer or cancer. So generally. So yeah, you, you know, you go into the office, they’re going to collect a pap, if appropriate. And I think we’re getting to the point in the U.S. where HPV testing is being incorporated into more and more women’s screenings, which is great because, again, HPV testing, in my opinion, and that primary screening, that is the right way to test for cervical cancer because you are doing the more sensitive tests first. You are looking for the HPV, which is causing most of the disease. 

And then what will happen is if any of those results come back abnormal, your health care provider will likely give you a call and they’ll do, if necessary, something called a colposcopy. And that’s actually considered diagnostic procedure. And that’s when the health care provider takes a better look at the cervix to see if there’s any cells they want to remove. And they’re able to send those cells to a lab. And once in the lab they can sort of grade them to say, Oh, this is normal, or this is a low grade, high grade lesion. And then at that point, the decision can be made sort of on that grading, whether we’re going to give the patient time to see if it clears on its own or whether it’s a far enough progressed lesion that they’ll do something called an excisional procedure and remove the lesion. 

Le’Nise: Right. You get the the cervical screening done and if you get report back that there are abnormal cells, it’s not a cause for panic because there’s a kind of scale that you’re operating in where, as you say, they might just clear up on there on its own or, you know, there might be further procedures to be done. But it’s not a cause for panic. 

Molly: Exactly. But this is where I do want to mention, having extra information about what type of HPV you’re testing positive for really adds to, you know, your doctor’s ability to predict that risk for cervical pre-cancer. And there are tests, HPV tests now that have this technology called extended genotyping. So BD does offer one. It’s called the BD Unclarity HPV assay. It’s an FDA approved test. It’s CE marked as well. And what tests like that do is they look for more than five different types of what we call high risk HPV. And high risk HPV is the type of HPV that is directly associated with cervical pre-cancer and cancer. So by knowing which type of HPV you test positive for, so I will say types like HPV 16 and HPV 31 are particularly high risk. Knowing that information can really help your health care provider better manage the situation that’s going on with you versus just having we call it partial genotyping, which is some tests only look for two different types of HPV and then a big group of HPV separately. But again, this is empowering women to ask for tests with more information because they are available. And I think it really helps make that decision about whether you need further diagnostic procedures. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, so you’re, a lot of the information that you’ve shared will be really helpful for someone who is already feeling quite empowered when they go and speak to their GP or health care provider. But interestingly, in the UK, only one in three women take up their invitation to their cervical screening. So what would you say to someone who is nervous about going to have this done? They, you know, they’ve heard, oh, it’s really uncomfortable or, you know, it hurts, or they just have this kind of nervousness about going to the doctor. What would you say that would help them, you know, take that step to book an appointment and then feel really empowered when they get there. 

Molly: So you bring up such a valid and great concern there. And I just sort of wanted to reiterate the findings that you talked about with survey findings from the Harris poll that BD actually just conducted among 800 American women. And in our survey, in terms of knowledge on certain aspects of cervical cancer screening, 80%, 81% of women are unaware of what age or how often they should get a PAP test or an HPV test. So again, very true that there is this, you know, knowledge gap and also that people are not going in for a screening. 

So what are some ways to sort of address that hesitancy in going to the doctor’s office? One of the programs that we’re hoping to have in the U.S. and that currently exists in company or in countries like Australia, New Zealand, Denmark and actually many parts of Europe is something called HPV self sampling. So that would be where women are actually given a kit to collectthe HPV sample at home and then they mail it back to their doctor. It’s, you know, processed. And in the case that they’re HPV positive, that would warrant them going back into their health care provider for additional testing. But that is one of the future solutions to this issue. 

I would say, unfortunately, right now in terms of, you know, fear of of going to the practitioner or not wanting to go in, I mean, that is a real concern, which is why we are trying to come up with solutions like self sampling to reduce some of that. You know, a lot of people are in geographic regions where they can’t even access PAP and cervical cancer screening testing easier too. And now that we know, you know, HPV is this number one cause of cervical cancer. If we can just test for that at home and bring the right women in, that helps. But unfortunately, again, I completely understand. And there’s it is hard to, you know, if somebody really doesn’t want to go into the OB-GYN office, there’s probably little you can say to convince them. Hence, programs like self sampling becoming more relevant in the future. 

Le’Nise: But so what if it’s not. it’s not that they don’t want to go in. It’s just nervous. You know, they’ve had a negative experience with their GP. You know, something I hear a lot is they feel really just dismissed or diminished when they talk to their GP or their health care practitioner about what’s going on with their bodies and they’re just thinking, well I don’t want to go in and have another experience like that. What can you say? What would you say that that might give them a little bit of reassurance? 

Molly: A very good question. I mean, I think in a situation like that, I mean, and I’m not sure how easy it is to switch providers, but I think there are very caring providers out there that are willing to listen to patients. Unfortunately, it may take, you know, trying out a couple. 

But I would encourage people, hopefully that a couple of bad experiences don’t scare somebody away completely from getting cervical cancer screening because again, this is like, you know, one of the. I mean. Asymptomatic screenings, you really can completely reduce your risk of this pre-cancer progressing to cancer. So just encouraging women that the benefits should outweigh the risks and trying to find that correct provider that will listen to you and listen to your concerns because it might be hard. But I do think they exist out there. And there is, you know, truly medical professionals that really want to help people. 

Le’Nise: So really, you just think of this as something that is a pro active way of supporting your health, especially, with cervical cancer. Is there a kind of family genetic risk? So can this be passed on through families or is this solely via the HPV virus? 

Molly: So that’s a very, very good question. So cervical cancer screening, really 99% of the time is caused by that HPV virus. There is really no genetic or family link. Women who have had a family member who has had cervical cancer often are more motivated, made it more motivated patients to go in and get cervical cancer screening. But there is really no direct genetic link like what we see with breast cancer and some of the other genetic related cancers. So I guess that can be reassuring to some. 

That’s another reason, though, why getting the HPV vaccination at an early age, combined with going in for your regular cervical cancer screenings is so important because if you get that vaccine that prevents against HPV before you are exposed to HPV in your first sexual encounter, your risk for cervical cancer is very, very low. You don’t have to worry that you might be carrying some gene from your mom that’s causing cervical cancer or something like that. That’s a great question, though, because I think that is a common fear. And I will have patients come in and say, oh, my mom had cervical cancer, so I’m very worried I’m going to get it, because that is the case with a lot of other cancers. 

Le’Nise: Okay. So there’s no there’s no family or genetic link, but that that link does call for people, women to be more motivated to have this screening and be proactive about about the risk. That’s really interesting. So because this is cervical cancer awareness month, I think it’s really important that we’re having this conversation raising awareness of not only cervical cancer, but the screening and prevention. If there is one thought that you would like to leave listeners with amongst everything that you’ve shared. What would you want it to be? 

Molly: So I would just say that cervical cancer is preventable. It is a cancer that we can eliminate in our lifetime if we focus on cervical cancer screenings and just raise awareness that HPV testing is a critical part of cervical cancer screening. It’s really going to help assess that risk for cervical pre-cancer before it progresses to cancer. So when talking to your clinician, if you are, you know, over the age of 25 an HPV test, ideally one with extended genotyping that looks for more types of HPV should be a part of your cervical cancer screening appointment. So I just really want to empower women that to know the cause of cervical cancer, which is HPV and really to not be scared to make sure that when you go into the office, you are being tested in the right way so that we make sure that you never get this highly preventable cancer. 

Le’Nise: Great. I think that’s really important. And so if you’re listening and you’re thinking, Oh, when was the last time I had my cervical screening? That’s a sign that you need to call your doctor, get one booked in. It’s really easy. It’s really fast. It’s not painful, actually. That’s, one last question. It just feels like a little scratch, doesn’t it? 

Molly: Correct, I mean, I don’t want to minimise different people’s reports of discomfort, though. I mean, there is, you know, various ways that there could be discomfort presented with an exam like that. I mean, you know, psychological. I mean, it’s it’s an invasive exam, so it should not be painful. But I do want to recognise that. I mean, that can be a barrier to some women again, which is why we’re working really hard to come up with these solutions like self-collection, so that everybody with a cervix feels comfortable going in to get cervical cancer screening because there is a entire population that needs cervical cancer screening. And again, we want to address everybody who needs that. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, okay. 

Molly: But again, it should not be brutally painful or anything like that, but I do recognise that it is not the most pleasant thing. But if you know in the back of your head, you’re just thinking by going in here, if I have anything going on, any small pre-cancer, I’m going to catch it. It’s not going to get to that state of being cancer. So doing a really good thing for my body and to to to prevent a more serious issue from occurring. 

Le’Nise: Great. Thank you so much for coming on to the show today. I think this is a really important conversation. It’s very topical. And if even one person listening books in their screening, that is a success. So thank you so much again. 

Molly: Thank you, Le’Nise. I really appreciate the time today. 

Period Story Podcast, Episode 63, Tinuke Awe: Trust Your Gut and Speak Up

I’m thrilled to share my conversation with Tinuke Awe, the co-founder of Five X More – an organisation campaigning for better Black maternal health outcomes in the UK. Tinuke is an absolute powerhouse and was named a ‘Force for Change’ by British Vogue, a ‘Woman changing the World’ by the Evening Standard, and a ‘Future Shaper’ by Marie Claire. 

In this episode, Tinuke shares: 

  • What prompted her to start Five X More
  • Her campaigning work with the government to help improve Black maternal health outcomes 
  • Her advice for Black women who are nervous about becoming pregnant in light of the statistics around Black maternal deaths 
  • The work she does with health professionals to re-educate on myths and stereotypes around Black women, pain and gynaecology 
  • And of course, the story of her first period! 

Tinuke says that when in a healthcare setting, it’s so important to trust your gut and speak up – do what you need to do to get the help you need. 

Thank you, Tinuke! 

Get in touch with Tinuke:







Le’Nise:  Thank you so much for coming on the show Tinuke. I’m so excited to speak to you. Learn about the amazing work that you’re doing. But let’s first talk about the story of your very first period. Can you tell us a little bit more about it? 

Tinuke: Okay. So I feel like it was a little bit uneventful because I can’t remember it. I barely remember it. I was on holiday, that I remember and this was like the same between years six and seven. So I remember I was going into secondary school. I remember that much and my mom just, you know, kind of went running around trying to get me pads and we weren’t kind of expecting it. 

So, yeah, that was all I remember. I remember I think at first I remember looking down. I think, oh my God, like I’ve been wounded, like, oh, what happened? And then I was like, Mom. And then, yes, she got me. She got me some pads, told me about periods, and it’s going to happen every month. And she she asked me why I wanted to use like, did I want to use tampons or did I want to use pads? And I was like, Oh My God, tampons? I’m not sticking anything up me. Let’s go with pads. And that was about it. 

Le’Nise: Okay. So you were 11,12? 

Tinuke: Yes.

Le’Nise: Okay. And had any of your friends at school got their periods yet? 

Tinuke: No. I think I was one of the first ones. Yeah, I was one of the first. 

Le’Nise: And what was that experience like? You know, being one of the first at school and. Were you in a mixed school? 

Tinuke: Yes, I was. I was in a mixed school, mixed primary school, mixed secondary school as well. I guess it was it was not too bad. It was one of the girls who had got her period. I didn’t I don’t think I really spoke to anyone about it that much, to be fair. 

Le’Nise: So you were one of the first of your friends to get your period. And then you, your mom talked to you about what was what was happening and then what was your experience like? Was it  kind of heavy. Was it was do you experience any pain or was this just kind of really easy? 

Tinuke: It was really easy. Yeah, it was. I didn’t really experience pain. Um, I guess I kind of used to be one of the first because I was the first one to, like, get, like, boobs as well. So, you know, you just crack on, you know? Yeah. I just remember it being really easy and that kind of because my mum had explained about her periods before. I remember one time I’d gone into the toilet, just, you know, children just sit and chat with their mums. And I remember quite vividly her rolling a pad, like, into some tissue and then putting it into a bin and I was like, mum what are you doing? And she was like, Oh, I got my period, you know, as a woman, you know, you get a period every month. And she she explained about, you know, the period. And and I was like, oh, does it hurt? And she was like, No, it doesn’t really have. But yeah, my mom was quite open with all that kind of stuff, which is good considering, you know, I come from an African, a Nigerian background. She was really open with that kind of stuff. So I guess when the period came, she was just like, okay, your period’s here now, let’s go get your pads. She was she was really you know, she didn’t make me feel embarrassed or anything that she just told me, you know, make sure you’re really clear. Make sure you clean yourself properly and dispose of your pads correctly, that kind of thing. But yeah, it was pretty normal. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. So you said that your mum was quite open and then which is unusual because you come from a Nigerian background. Why? Why does that make it unusual? 

Tinuke: We don’t really tend to talk about these kind of things. Like sex and periods it looks like it’s just kind of hush hush that happens. But my mom really only speaks about not what? Not in Nigeria. 

But my mom’s just always been very she wears her heart on his sleeve and she’s very like open. And stuff like that doesn’t faze her. Like she she talks to me about stuff as she’s been talking to me since a young age. She’s very open and honest about her feelings, what she’s going through, maybe a bit too honest and everyone knows it, but yeah, like she’s always been, you know, that kind of thing. It’s not really a taboo kind of subject. She’s quite free about things like that. I think she’s always been. It’s just been a little bit different. So when I talk to, I remember like some kind of talk to my friends about some of the conversations we would have. They’ll be about, Wow, your mum talks to you about that. And I’m like, Doesn’t your mom? But hey, I guess that was normal to me. But it’s not normal that, you know, a lot of people my age who maybe grown up in Nigerian households when parents are very, very strict and don’t talk about these kind of things. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. And you said you were the one of the first of your friends to get your period and get their period and get out. So when they got their periods, were they then coming to you for advice and with questions? 

Tinuke: No. I guess because it was a weird transition between year 6 to year 7 and I kind of year 7 and kind of. Yeah. Like nobody spoke about. I guess it’s just maybe you’d use it as an excuse. Oh, some of my people that are might need to go to the doctor’s office to skive off class, but never really spoke about it. 

Le’Nise: Okay, that’s interesting. And then so you mentioned your periods were quite easy in the beginning. Did they continue to be easy? 

Tinuke: Yeah, yeah. I’d say my period’s pretty much only changes when I have my children. 

Le’Nise: Okay. Yeah. How did they change? 

Tinuke: After my son, they became a lot heavier, but after my daughter, they became very painful. 

Le’Nise: Okay.

Tinuke: And I’ve heard that can happen. I don’t if it was because it was a  second child, or cause it was a girl, extra hormones, I don’t know, but I’ve read quite a few things online. But I found a very big difference, especially after the second. 

Le’Nise: Okay.

Tinuke: Yeah.

Le’Nise: So what did you do about it? 

Tinuke: Good question. So after I had my second, it was during the pandemic. So trying to get any kind of help from any kind of health professional was an absolute no. No. I did speak to the women in my community about it actually, because it felt like it was debilitating pain. The first two or three days of my period, I would literally be on the floor. It was so, so painful. I had dread. I’d have to like, you know, take a concoction of painkillers beforehand to just, you know, minimise that pain. 

So I was like, this isn’t normal. Let me speak. Let me speak up about it. Let me, you know, put it in my online community and see if anyone else has ever experienced that, especially also having a child, which some people said, you know, it’s it’s it’s it happens. It happened to them. But they were like, look, go to the doctor’s, go to the GP if it continues like that, because that doesn’t sound normal. But I never managed to get an appointment because it was Covid times and every time I would go, don’t come in, you know? It’s just a scary kind of lockdown time. Yeah. So yeah, I actually didn’t didn’t get any appointments and I guess over maybe like three or four or five months. It kind of eased off and I haven’t really been worried about it since. 

Le’Nise: So really your whole experience of your periods, apart from those two moments after you gave birth, it’s been like relatively easy. 

Tinuke: Yeah. Apart from recently now. This is probably TMI, but hey, we are talking about periods. So I guess that’s. 

Le’Nise: Yeah.

Tinuke: There’s no. 

Le’Nise: There’s no TMI here. 

Tinuke: I recently went to go and get a blood test done because my periods, my PMS especially have been. They’ve been awful for the past, I would say, six months. And I’ve been quite like very conscious about my cycle. I like I got the Flo app, which for me has been really helpful in helping me understand that this stuff, my whole cycle and the different stages and phases and all of this kind of stuff. I never, never had any interest in it before. Just my period just came in and it went and that was it. But when I noticed that, you know, there’s been sort of a change in my periods, we’ll start on here. Let me let me try and track it and see what’s going on. 

And then I realised that this PMS stage is getting progressively worse, like the symptoms are just awful. And then I mentioned it to a friend and she was like, I might need to go and check out for your thyroid because this is crazy. So, I booked a blood test with the GP. Well actually I just told my GP what was going on in terms of my PMS and how I just don’t feel myself  whilst that period is going on and she was like, sounds like you might be okay. Two people, one health official saying, let’s go get a blood test. So I’m still waiting on the results. That was literally I think I took the blood test like a couple of weeks ago. So waiting for the results. 

Le’Nise: That’s so interesting. Where you notice there were changes in what you were experiencing in the time before your period, and then you decided to check what was happening, to track your symptoms, and then the kind of proactivity to be able to just go to the doctor and say, like, this is what’s going on. I think that’s quite important to share because, you know, I hear this all the time. You know, I hate the week before my period I turn into a different person. But a lot of women, they just live with it because they feel like, well, that’s just what society tells us. This is supposed to happen. So I think it’s really great that you’ve been so proactive and also great that your doctor was, listened to you because you know and I know we’re going to get into this shortly, but, you know, doctors tend to not listen to women, especially black women. So, yeah, you know, that’s like kudos to you for going in and doing that. And so you’re waiting for the results. And then I’m sure you’re going to explore more about what could essentially be going on. 

Tinuke: Yeah, because there’s got to be something I’ve gone from like having normal pretty decent periods to. Like you said, turn into a different person. My emotions are like spiky and everything’s just, you know, crazy. And then the other symptoms like sweat, sweating profusely and all of these different things, I’m like, okay, if you don’t tell me something’s wrong, I’m going to be worried now. You know, it’s almost like there clearly is something wrong because there wasn’t before and now there is. I’m almost expecting something that for there to be something wrong because it’s just too different. Yeah. Yeah. Like I guess it is about being open because if I didn’t speak to my friend about that, maybe I wouldn’t have called the GP and say actually hey, you know. So yeah, being open with that I guess, you know, thanks mum. She’s made me quite a person who’s, you know, I don’t mind be vulnerable. I don’t mind being open like like just kind of, you know, I started like everything that I do and you’ll get into that later. But it’s all about having that level of vulnerability and put yourself out there. But it, it has so much strength. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, definitely. Yeah. So that I mean, this is a great time to talk more about what you do. So you I mean, you have a lot of you have a lot of different roles. So I want to talk first about Five x more. You know, can you talk firstly about what it what it is, what the what the platform is and why you started it? 

Tinuke: Sure. So Five x more is an organisation dedicated to changing and highlighting black maternal outcomes. In the UK, historically, black women were five times more likely to die, hence the name. It’s now 3.7 and we basically try to change the outcomes in four different ways. 

We lobby the government first and foremost. We have our black maternal health APPG and we’ve had, you know, a petition. We give evidence sessions in parliament. We tried to make sure we put pressure on those in power to make those changes, you know, put a targets in and things like that. And then we train health professionals on some of the myths and the stereotypes that, you know, that exist, especially within the health sector and the history of black women and gynaecology especially, we give women free resources. I think that first and foremost, this is the most important thing because of my previous experiences. 

It’s important to make sure that women feel empowered and confident going into the birthing experience, pregnancies and their birthing experiences. And then the last thing we do is research and reports. So earlier this year, we launched the Black Women’s Maternity Experience Report, which documented over 1300 Black women’s experiences of giving birth in the last five years. It’s never been done before on this scale in the UK, despite the statistics being as high as they are for Black women for decades now. So yeah, we were just very tired of people saying, you know, they can’t find women to take part in research or they don’t know much about Black women’s experiences. Well, for a number of reasons. We’re not complaining as so many things are. But we now have a report that documents a lot of some of the things that we already know anecdotally. And now it’s just there in a report also that, you know, health professionals can pick it up, anyone can pick it up and read it. And there’s a lot of learning in there. 

Le’Nise: So can you talk a little bit more about this stat? Five times now it’s 3.7 times more. Black women are more likely to have a negative maternal health outcome. Do you know what the reason is behind that? Like, have you have you gotten to the bottom of that? 

Tinuke: So it’s it’s is a difficult one. So we take all the statistics from MBRRACE and MBRRACE for, I think for a number of years now have been collecting the data on maternal deaths. So it’s maternal deaths, not outcomes. These maternal deaths. 

Le’Nise: Okay, maternal deaths, okay. 

Tinuke: And if you actually look at the statistics and you look at the reports over the years, you see that actually Black women are not dying from anything more than White women are dying from. So it’s not a case of they’re dying from pre-eclampsia or diabetes or they’re dying from the same things, exactly the same things, but just at a higher rate. So there’s a clear overrepresentation of Black women in those statistics because we only have a very small number of births. So for us, it was very much like, okay, well, if you look at that statistic, that’s wild in itself and it’s been going on for a long time. But what about those behind the statistics. We know about the deaths, but we don’t know about the morbidity, the illness, the other things that come, you know, that are not necessarily documented anyway, which is why the Black Women’s Maternity Experience Report is so important, because they are the voices behind the statistics. But in terms of why this is happening, this is exactly why we exist, because we want to know why. We know what the statistics tell us. But, you know, we actually want to know why this is the case. I would say there are a number of different reasons. You can’t pinpoint it on just just one. There are a number of different factors at play there. 

Le’Nise: So let’s talk a little bit about some of the myths and the stereotypes that you you you try to combat or re-educate around. 

Tinuke: So some of the myths about, you know, black women are strong. You know, that’s actually a stereotype. Black women are strong. And that comes from a very long history, like I said, of Black women in gynaecology. Say the godfather of gynaecology, the person who is coined, the godfather of modern obstetric. I can never say that. What modern obstetrics is Dr. J Marion Sims and obviously trigger warning for anyone who is listening. He performed some really inhumane procedures on Black slaves at the time under the guise that Black women, Black people do not feel pain, have thick enough thicker skin, different nerve endings, were subhuman. So he perfected the instrument, the Sims speculum, which he used for, you know, gynaecological examinations. He perfected that on black women and he did not use any kind of pain relief, he did really awful things to there. And then he took it, you know, into the hospitals with the White women under anaesthesia and then with this kind of stuff that what people don’t know is that a lot of what he wrote was actually written down in some of the the journals, the medical journals at the time. 

And so it was a very common belief that, well, Black people don’t feel pain. Black people have, you know, are subhuman. And that has actually transpired a lot through the years. You might think, oh, gosh, slavery was such a long time ago. Get over it. But we’re still seeing seeing the effects of that today. 

And I’ll give you an example. In in recent times, I think it was in 2007, a nursing textbook was published and they had a section, a chapter on how to assess people on their race based on their pain. You know how how they how they react to pain basically on their race. And it’s just that’s a really racist and stereotypical things about how different races express pain or not. And that wasn’t pulled off the shelves until it was called out in 2012. That was less than ten years ago, and that was still in circulation. And it said Black people don’t feel pain, that Black people are strong, these kind of myths and stereotypes. 

There’s another study that was done on doctors. Oh, I think medical students, actually, not doctors on how they basically assess people based on their pain and how much medication, pain medication they would give and that they, again, held these beliefs that Black people don’t feel as much pain. They administered less pain relief. And yeah, like. I think that was in 2016. 

So, yes, we are still feeling the effects of what happened all those years ago. Those myths, those stereotypes. They still exist that Black people do not feel like they are listened to when it comes to not just maternity all areas because it’s not you don’t just see the poor outcomes in maternity because in maternity, yes, you have the mortality rates are higher, miscarriage rates are higher. Stillbirth is higher in black women, it seems like, you know, at the bottom of the rung when it comes to all of the statistics. But you’ve got to look at things like diabetes, cancer, like all these other areas where Black people have the worse outcomes, COVID. And so, yes, there’s a lot there to unpack, but I think it’s important that we are having these discussions because a lot of health professionals don’t necessarily know. And you can’t change something that you don’t know about. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, exactly. 

Tinuke: It’s important that we, you know, raising that raising the alarm and making sure that people people are aware so that they can, you know, change that internalised kind of learnt behaviour. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, even simple things like I saw there was a guy who was he, I think he started by tweeting about it. He was a medical student talking about, you know, the things that you look at in darker skin that you, you know, all of the kind of examples that were given in medical textbooks werr based on white skin. And, you know, you just it doesn’t present the same way in darker skin and just simple things like that, where people have views, this kind of, you know, this white skin, white body is as a kind of foundation, even something like BMI, which is based on at me. 

Tinuke: Don’t get me started… 

Le’Nise: Like it’s just all of these foundations that we’re like challenging now then it’s so, so important because it’s, you know, we have to change these negative then the really negative health outcomes across all of these different areas. I really, I think the work that you do is so powerful. And I, I remember seeing the campaign in like around like June 2020 and thinking, yeah, and like the selfies with the hand. I thought they were so powerful. So I’m just really personally thrilled to be speaking to you today and talk a little bit more about the advocacy that you do within the government. 

Tinuke: Yeah. So we had a petition that went sort of, I have to tell you the backstory of that, actually, the petition to improve Black maternal health care outcomes for Black women that went viral, when was George Floyd murdered? I think it was around May or June 2020. So we had a petition, we launched it in March, but because COVID was going to be serious or I was heavily pregnant with my second, we decided not to kind of promote it because we just wanted to, you know, just at least let me have the baby first and then we’ll see what’s going on with COVID, because it was quite you know, it was looming and it seemed quite serious. 

And so yeah, we had launched the petition, but we, but we stayed silent. We didn’t, you know, we just thought maybe it’s just not the right time. It’s cool. I remember my daughter was three weeks old if that and George and seeing you know the murder of George Floyd. And then before you know it, our petition actually went viral and it got picked up. We don’t know how. We still don’t know how, but it got picked up. And by the end of that week, we had 100,000 signatures on the petition. And by the time it had closed 187,000 signatures. And it was a very bittersweet moment because it was almost like, well, we’ve been here for a long time, you know, being banging the drum. And it’s almost like it wasn’t until George Floyd’s murder that the world woke up and realised that issues exist for Black people and that Black people exist full stop. So that was quite a difficult one to navigate, was quite like very bittersweet. But you know, on the flip side of that, gaining over 100,000 signatures meant that it was debated in Parliament for the first time ever in its history. 

Again, something behind that. So Bell Ribeiro-Addy, who is the chair of our Black Maternal Health APPG, has been supporting us right from from from the get go. And it took her to raise her to talk about her experience of losing her child in one of the parliamentary sessions for, um, for the, for the debate to actually come round. So we’ve been, after the 100,000 signatures,we were entitled for it to be debated in Parliament, but it took so long That Bell has to be and say, I hope this will be debated soon. And before you knew it, we had a date. So even that was, you know, a golf, issues of golf, matters of golf were debated before I was aware, even though ours was before. Take that how you want it. 

So yeah, we, we, we eventually had the debate in April of last year and since then we’ve had three different separate debates in parliament on Black mental health, all with the intention of, you know, again, looking at what the evidence is telling us and trying to get a target put in because this currently there is no target. And this for a number of reasons which I honestly I can’t say I understand, but we’ll keep pushing and yeah, so we have a Black Maternal Health APPG. So again, we approached a number of employees and Bell was the one who really took took it, she ran with it. And we provide the Secretariat for the Black Maternal Health APPG, which stands for All-Party Parliamentary Group. And it’s a group of MPs from the House of Commons and House of Lords who meet regularly to discuss these issues and raise them wherever possible. 

So that’s what we do with the Government and we’re really well, you know, when we say we lobby, we had a recent lobby actually where we got MPs to sign up to the Black Maternal Health Pledge. Following on from the three different reports that were released in the last couple of months, embossed in maternity space. And so, yeah, we are, you know, again, just trying to hold those accountable who can actually change things. 

Le’Nise: Let’s say we have doctors listening to the show and they’re really kind of moved by what you’ve shared, as I should be, and really kind of alarmed by the statistics that you’ve shared. What would your recommendations be for them as to how they can change and change things in their practices or the way that they relate to their Black patients? 

Tinuke: Um, I would definitely say, like, I know at the moment things are really, really stretched. I know that midwives are leaving in their droves. Health professionals are leaving in their droves. I know that the NHS is quite flatlined at the moment. 

But yeah, two things. Take women as individuals and really try to deliver that personalised care. I think it’s important to note that Black women are not a monolith and we’re not we don’t think the same, have the same thoughts, feelings, views. We are not just one big group of people. So that individualised, individualised, personalised care is really important. Listening to the women and not just what’s being said, not just how things are being said, but what’s being said is really important. 

But also to remember that your words have the power to really build somebody up or bring them down. So like, even if you have a two, three minute window with someone, how you speak to them can really change the trajectory of how they feel. I remember, so I’ve had two children, one negative experience, hence why I felt compelled to start Fivexmore. And one positive experience. When I said I was pregnant around the time of the pandemic, when I gave birth my my second in lockdown. But it was the most beautiful experience despite being really, really scared about COVID and things like that, going to hospital. It was the most beautiful experience because the midwife, she really empowered me to listen to my body. And it was just such a great feeling in comparison to the first time where I was telling the midwife, Look, I need to push him and she was telling me, don’t push are going to reverse everything. 

Also I’ve just realised I didn’t actually say about, you know, kind of what led me to start Fivexmore. But again I had pre-eclampsia that was not picked up until very late in my pregnancy, which led me to be induced. And I had a very, very negative experience which essentially led my son to be delivered by assisted delivery, not the end of the world, but I just feel like it could have been avoided, won’t go into the ins and outs because trigger warnings and whatnot. But I just left the experience just feeling like I wasn’t listened to and I wasn’t important. This is the second time where the midwife was, you know? Very attentive, very patient with me. And really, you know when I was like I feel like I need to push for and go with it. Go with it, you know? And that felt very empowering to me. So, yeah, just knowing that your words have really do really have the the potential to, you know, really build somebody up and be mindful of that. 

Le’Nise: And then on the flip side. What would you say to Black women who are you know, they’re they’re thinking about getting pregnant or they are pregnant, but they are they’re scared. You know, these statistics are scary. What would you say to them? How would you recommend that they advocate for themselves? 

Tinuke: So it’s really funny. I was talking about this with my co-founder. Like, I feel like being a being a black woman both in person and knowing all the statistics are out there and it can be very, very scary. You know, the recent news that have come out, you know, has come out about a few people who have passed away and things like that. And it can just feel very, very scary. 

And I say, you know, you’ve got two camps of women. You’ve got women who are like myself were like, no, I need to find out everything. I need to know. I have to like the five I’ll first resource, the Fivexmore Steps were done when I was pregnant with my second because I know what happened to me during my first and I was like, I’m just, I just need to know absolutely everything. 

And then you’ve got other women who are like, you know, I can’t engage with that. I’m, you know, I’m worried, I’m scared. And I don’t want to actually engage with anything negative. I’m going to protect my space. I want to protect my, you know, my aura. And and I don’t really want to engage. And both of those responses are obviously equally as valid and as important. 

But I think it’s just number one, we always give this disclaimer whenever we give talks. Just remember to remember that actually maternal mortality, so deaths is very rare in the UK and actually the UK is still one of the safest places to give birth in the world. There is unfortunately a disparity in who is dying and that’s what we campaigned for. But overall maternal mortality is very, very low in the UK, so that’s number one. But also that there are resources and there are things out there to help you. You know, sort of advocate for yourself or on behalf of somebody if you need to. So we do have a lot of resources and a lot of things on our website that can help you do that. What are the questions to ask your midwife? When should you go? When should you go to the hospital? How to advocate for yourself. 

We have we offer free hypnobirthing with the Positive Birth Company as well. So 100 black women every month get access to that free, free of charge money, I think around £140. There are things out there. There are resources out there. So just not to be scared. Not to be scared. 

Le’Nise:  So all of those resources that you shared will be linked in the show notes. So thank you so much for sharing those. I think the work that you’re doing here is amazing. And I’m so grateful for for it. And I know that it’s helped so many Black women and Black birthing people. What do you what’s your vision in the future? Is it do you want to get to the point where the organisation is redundant? 

Tinuke: Oh, absolutely. The work is heavy. I think a lot of people don’t realise that we’re actually is with two moms. It’s just the two of us that run Fivexmore. Everyone thinks that we’re a group of health professionals over a group of women. Actually, it’s just myself and Clo. So, yes, we would like everything to go down. We don’t we don’t actually want to exist to the point where where we don’t exist would mean that, you know, things are equitable, you know, at least get that target put in and make sure that that is reduced all the way down. Because like I said, the overrepresentation of Black women in the statistics is obviously absolutely crazy. And yeah, we want things to become equitable. And we essentially want to get that target put into things to go down, because this is something I say quite regularly. I guess if you consider given away my age. About 31 years ago when my mom gave birth to me here in this country as a Black woman, she was more likely to die as a Black woman, but they just didn’t know how much because at the time they did, it collects data on ethnicity. 

Fast forward to when I had my son, five times more. I now have a daughter and I don’t want her to be campaigning about the same thing, you know, 25, 30 years time, so whatever she decides to give us, if she chooses to give birth. I don’t want her to be campaigning about the same thing. I think the buck stops here. And now that, you know, it’s in the forefront and we’re keeping it on the top of the agenda, we can keep things moving. So yeah, the vision is to really we don’t want to exist, if not if not to give women resources. And of course, yes, for that. And but yeah, we, we, it’s a lot of work and I just feel like we want to get to a place where we don’t even have to do this anymore. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. Yeah, I, yeah, I think that, I mean, I’m grateful for the work that you do and I’ve actually referred a few clients to in your direction, like look at your resources, their website, look at your resources. But yeah, the hope is that you don’t have to do this work in the future. So what? What next? You know, you you’re doing advocacy. You’re doing all of this work with the government. What do you have coming up in the next year? 

Tinuke: In the next year, we’ll be launching a learning hub, which will be an online hub filled with culturally sensitive information on what to expect. You know, can you put your perm your hair? Like that’s the big thing, like people don’t really talk about and, you know, can affect you. Like skincare and nutrition that’s culturally relevant. I don’t know about you I don’t eat kale every day so I’m eating plantain, so what’s what’s good what’s in moderation what can we do, how can we stay healthy and, you know, prepare for, for pregnancy and beyond, things that pertain to us. So yeah, we are working on that with which we will launching at some point early next year. And yeah, you know, what we normally do are Awareness Week, Awareness Month and continuing on with the partnerships to bring up more resources and more things for Black women and birthing people.

Le’Nise: Fantastic, also when is the awareness month? 

Tinuke: It will be in April. 

Le’Nise: April. Okay. Okay. Great. So you shared a lot. You’ve shared your period story, you’ve touched on your birth stories, and you’ve shared the amazing advocacy work that you do. What’s the one thought that you’d like to leave us with today? 

Tinuke: Um. Oh, good question. I guess. How do I tie everything in together? Trust your gut. 

That’s our first step on our, um. One of the steps, actually, in our first resource, Trust your gut, nobody knows your body better than you. And I guess it ties in with the, you know, me going and seeking a blood test because I knew that actually something’s not quite right here. I, I need to seek additional help. And if not. Kick and scream and cry. Do whatever I need to do to make sure I get that help. Because I know in my body something’s not right. But trust your gut. Trust your gut. Because nobody actually is in your body, can feel your pain. Go into what you’re feeling. Trust your gut and speak up. 

Le’Nise: Brilliant. Trust your gut. I love that so much. Thank you so much for coming on the show today. Thank you so much for the work that you do. And yeah, fingers crossed that you don’t need to do it any more in the future. It’s just a head start. 

Period Story Podcast, Episode 62, Katie Taylor: Don’t Be Scared or Afraid of Perimenopause and Menopause

I’m so pleased to share my conversation with Katie Taylor, the founder of the Latte Lounge, an online platform to help women over 40 thrive, at home and in the workplace. This is the perfect bookend to last week’s episode, with Katie sharing a very raw and honest account of her experience of perimenopause and menopause. 

In this episode, Katie shares: 

  • How she was misdiagnosed with depression
  • The shocking moment that coincided with the start of her perimenopause journey
  • How she was finally told that she was experiencing perimenopausal symptoms after being dismissed and made to  feel like a hypochondriac
  • How she used her experiences to help other perimenopausal and menopausal women feel less alone 
  • And of course, the story of her first period!  

Katie says that it’s important not to be scared or afraid of perimenopause and menopause! 

Thank you, Katie! 

Get in touch with Katie:








Le’Nise: Hi, Katie. Thank you so much for joining me here today. I’m really excited to speak to and hear your story. So let’s kick off by talking about the story of your very first period. 

Katie: Sure, well, thank you for having me. Firstly, obviously, it’s a pleasure to be here. So the story of my first period, well, it’s a funny one. I actually was the last in my class and I hated that. I actually thought there was something wrong with me because everyone else had sort of had their periods by the time they were about 13. And I was desperate to have it. And I think it was literally probably about the day before my 14th birthday that I finally had my period. 

But it was a funny story actually, because about well, in my just when I turned 13, I remember I’d been in an art class at school and there was lots of paintings that were hanging up to dry and everything. And I’d obviously brushed past very quickly one of these paintings. And when I got home, I remember sort of taking off my skirt from school and there was red and brown paint all over the bottom of my skirt. And I thought I’d started my period and I was like, Oh, fantastic. And I was about my style. It’s my period. And she’s like, No, you haven’t, that’s paint. And I was really disappointed and then I had to wait almost a year. 

Le’Nise: Well, so in the end, how old were you? About 14. 

Katie: It was just literally probably a couple of days before I turned 14. So I did feel really old compared to my kind of classmates. 

Le’Nise: And. And how did you learn about what was happening? What was happening to you? 

Katie: Well, I think I learnt about periods mainly from my friends and also, you know, because watching them go through it and they were all sort of saying how they felt. And so I kind of I think because I was pretty much the last in my class, I sort of I already had it sort of expected because they were talking about pain. So I’d expected to be in pain. Moody, I had, you know, my mum was her moods were kind of up and down as well. So I just assumed that’s kind of how I would feel. 

But I did, you know, I suppose I also learnt from watching TV ads or in magazines about sanitary products that were advertised and obviously we learnt about it at school, but it wasn’t something I took that much notice about at school. I would say it was more from my social crowd. 

Le’Nise: And when you think back about some of the things your friends may have told you or some of the things that you you saw, is there anything that you you were surprised by or that you kind of shake your head and just think, oh, wow, that was just so naive. 

Katie: I think it was just more that they were all sort of saying how much pain they were raised and trying to get off. And we always had to go swimming at one of the local swimming baths and it was always freezing and dark and horrible, absolutely hated it. And so they always sort of, you know, tried to get out of swimming and get their mums to write letters. And I was desperate, beause I absolutely hated going swimming. So I was like, I actually wanted to get my period just so I could get out of swimming. But I guess nothing they said, I suppose, can never really prepare you, but I don’t think it was quite as bad. I think there was a lot of hysteria as a class sort of group. Everybody was comparing notes. 

Le’Nise: That’s so interesting because I spoke to someone recently and she said that no one talked about it. You know, they all wanted to get it, but then once they got it, no one talked about their periods. No, none of her friends group compared notes like like you mentioned. So it’s just so interesting just to see the different ends of the spectrum. Yeah. When you think back to the conversations that you used to have about it with your friends, was there a kind of feeling of excitement tinged with like, well, we need to kind of get get off swimming? Or was there any kind of shame intermixed in the conversation? 

Katie: I don’t think it was shame. I think there was a lot of embarrassment because I was in a mixed school. And, you know, it’s the same time when your hormones hits and you’re also suddenly taking a real interest in boys and going to parties. So I think there was a lot of embarrassment there. And I’m also grew up, yeah, I’m Jewish and I grew up in a Jewish family, you know, modern Orthodox Jewish family. But I think, you know, I think in our religion, a lot of wome are brought up to just be real copers and just to get on with it and not to make a fuss. 

So I think it was different, but I’ve also grown up in a very medical family. So my dad is one of five and they’re all professors and doctors. And a lot of the, my father’s a breast cancer professor, although he’s retired. So a lot of the conversations around our dinner table were always about women’s health. So for me, I wasn’t it was okay. I well, I didn’t feel embarrassment or shame because I was fascinated by sort of human biology and the female anatomy just because it was such a common topic of conversation in our house. So I was more interested in what was happening and why. And I, you know, I asked a lot of questions, not so much to my father because, yes, it’s still embarrassing to talk about, you know, bleeding at the dinner table. It’s just not it’s not this is not the done thing. But I was more interested in what was going on. But also, I wanted to be sure that, you know, if I was going to a party that I was, you know, I wasn’t going to leak. You know, basically that’s always your biggest worry is, you know, making sure you’ve got sanitary towels with you and whatever. 

Le’Nise: What’s really interesting is you what you said about growing up as like growing up in a Jewish family and something that I was reading about when I was doing the research in my book was the the mikvah. I don’t know, please correct my pronunciation and the purification baths and how there’s a lot of Jewish women now who are kind of reinventing what that means and like using it as a kind of time where they can kind of settle into their bleed and using it as a moment of self-care care rather than like, you know, you have to purify yourself because you you’re bleeding and that’s dirty. And I found that so fascinating. Yeah. 

Katie:  I mean, look at the very religious Jewish community. You know, that’s absolutely right. The intercourse is not doesn’t happen during women’s periods. And these very, you know, religious families that they’ll sleep in, often sleep in separate beds and they go after they’ve had their after that period is finished, they’ll go to the mikveh. For those who are listening, it’s almost sort of like dipping into a bath of water and coming out in, as you say, as purified. And I think for people listening, they might think, well, that’s a kind of weird thing to do because, you know, bleeding is in, you know, unpure. It’s just a natural biology, but it’s it’s not obviously I’m not a religious Jew. I’m just a sort of modern Orthodox Jew. So it was something that I’d heard growing up, but it wasn’t something that particularly affected me. 

Le’Nise: Okay, that’s interesting. And so you had grew up having these really open conversations about women’s health. And so did you feel like once you got your period, you were maybe a bit ahead of the game in terms of your understanding of your body and what was happening? And then just out of curiosity, cause sometimes what I’ve seen in some of my in conversations with other guests who come from a background where there’s, you know, medicine or something like that, they take on a kind of like teacher role with their friends. Did you did it with some did something similar happen to you?  

Katie: I mean, as a teenager, not so much. I kind of was curious, but obviously, you know, I suffered with my my periods. I had terrible, terrible pain, terrible headaches. My moods were awful. I had awful acne. So to be honest, I and I felt very angry. My my the periods weren’t a joyful time for me, and I couldn’t wait for them to be over. So I always sort of felt like I was almost sort of just trying to sort of survive those five days before almost coming back to normal. But in terms of sort of talking about it, I felt at the time I knew everything I needed to know is only now. And obviously we’ll talk about what I do a bit later. So now I know what I know that I realise how little I knew actually about, you know, women’s health and, and periods and hormones and how they can affect you post obviously post school. 

Le’Nise: And you talked about being feeling very angry when you had your period because of the pain, the headaches, the acne. What did you do about it? 

Katie: Well, I mean, I used to take obviously pain relief and my mum always used to give me a hot water bottle and I’d sort of curl up, you know, under the covers. And that just really was not just felt very unhappy and miserable. But, you know, I didn’t I wasn’t I guess because I was a doctor’s daughter, I was never allowed aday off school. I had to be seriously unwell for that. So you just kind of got on with it really. It wasn’t, you know, anything more than that. And because everyone else was obviously in the same boat, you know, I was no different from anyone else. 

Le’Nise: And then once you moved into your twenties and thirties, what was your experience of your period like then? 

Katie: Yeah, and this is kind of why I wish I had sort of known a bit more than what I know now. So I started, I got married. I got married very young. I was 24 and we tried to start for a family and I found it quite difficult to get pregnant at first, but I managed to get pregnant and then unfortunately I had a miscarriage. And after that I and the miscarriage I noticed I was spotting it was sort of some brown spotting. I thought perhaps it was just a period, but so I didn’t really know that actually it was a miscarriage. 

And after the miscarriage, again, I found it quite hard to get pregnant. And so I was sent to a gynaecologist to just have some tests and scans and they said then that I have polycystic ovaries, which kind of it was, it was a bit of a one of many light bulb moments I’ve had since because it was the reason why my periods were sort of so painful and a little bit erratic because they weren’t always, you know, classic five day periods, like most people. And so she actually started me on Clomid, which helped regulate my periods. I had, by the way, been on the contraceptive pill up until then. So that actually did help my moods a bit and regulate my periods before I was starting for a baby. 

And I then managed to get pregnant fairly easily. And actually I went on to have four pregnancies, thank God. I’m delighted to say, as sadly they were all via caesarean section because they they lost the heartbeat of my first baby and it was an emergency. And after that I couldn’t have, you know, I couldn’t give birth naturally. So that was kind of my, I suppose, initial experience. And then in terms of sort of post having my babies really that kind of takes us up to, well, my early forties, I had one very bad experience before my sort of perimenopause journey kicked in, which was one night I’d been to a party at my husband’s work do and I had, I was on my period and I had got in very, very late, probably like two in the three in the morning. And I had woke up and thought, Oh, I must change my tampon. And I thought, oh, I didn’t put a tampon in. So I put a tampon in and carried on with my day. 

And the next night I started feeling very, very unwell to a point where I was shivering and burning hot and my husband had to call an ambulance. I’ve never been in an ambulance. And it turned out that I’d had a the string had snapped off this tampon. So I obviously put another one in. And I was I had septicemia from a retained tampon, basically, which was really terrifying. And, and I ended up in hospital for about ten days just sort of on an intravenous antibiotics. I mean, thankfully, I’m here to tell the tale, but it was a very scary time and I don’t want people to be scared about tampons. It was one of those just rare things that doesn’t happen, but it just I think it really scared me at the time. 

Le’Nise: Wow that is that so scary? Because, you know, you when you’re growing up, you hear about toxic shock syndrome. And, you know, that’s one of those things, oh, don’t leave your tampon in for too long. Yeah, but then to hear that that actually happened to you. Wow. And then when you came out of the hospital, how did you then feel about your next period? Did you use tampons again? 

Katie: I never used them again. I was absolutely terrified. But the interesting thing was the timing kind of coincided with my perimenopause journey. So I was becoming very forgetful. So although the string had snapped off, you know, I still to this day think, could I just not feel it or find it? Or was I just very forgetful that it was it? It was hugely embarrassing as well, you know, to tell people that that’s what how I’d caught septicemia. But I never I was too frightened to ever use tampon again. 

And I and then what happened was I noticed my periods became incredibly irregular and I started to feel by the age of about 43, a whole host of seemingly unrelated symptoms. So very teary, low mood, brain fog, anxiety. I had heart palpitations, my joints were aching. I wasn’t I didn’t have any hot flashes. And as I said, I was still having periods. But I kept going back and forwards to different doctors over a four year period. And every time they kept saying, I was suffering with depression and they offered me anti-depressants. And eventually I my periods started becoming incredibly heavy to a point where I was flooding. I literally couldn’t leave the house because if I was wearing some white trousers, well, that was just horrendous because there was no warning and I would just flood and I became incredibly anaemic. Doctors sort of offered me things like tranexamic acid. 

Le’Nise: I think it’s tranexamic acid. 

Katie: Tranexamic acid tablets. That didn’t help and I just became a shell of a woman. I eventually left my job and I became a hermit and I lay at home, basically exhausted all day on the couch. And at no point did anyone offer me any other solution other than, you know, anti-depressants. It turned out I had a condition called Adenomyosis. I had a lot of scar tissue from my caesarean sections, and they couldn’t give me a coil because of these caesarean sections. Sorry, because of the scar tissue. 

Eventually my dad was the one that said, look, I think this is hormones. And he sent me to see a gynaecologist who specialised in the menopause and within about half an hour of her, me telling her about my all of my different symptoms, she said, this is classic perimenopause. It was another light bulb moment. I’d never heard of this word, but I just felt a, relieved I wasn’t going mad or wasn’t being a hypochondriac and b, that there was a reason for these symptoms. And for me, the treatment option was hormone replacement therapy. And I just went home and sort of cried with relief on my bed. But there was actually reason why I was feeling like I was feeling, and that’s actually why I set out the work I do now. So, you know, in some ways and quite grateful for that experience. 

Le’Nise: Wow. I mean, there’s so much in that story that you just said. Thank you so much for sharing your story. So you had so you had four caesarean sections and then prior to having the caesarean sections, you were on the pill and that  was controlling the pain. You were kind of having a withdrawal bleed. And then you came off the pill and then and then you had you were the four pregnancies. Were they in succession? I can never say that word. Succession. 

Katie:  Yeah. I mean, I had my children quite close together, there’s seven years between the oldest and the youngest, and there’s four of them. So they’re pretty much sort of every couple of years. I just wanted to kind of get on with it, and I’ve always wanted a big family. My husband’s one of four and my, you know, obviously my dad’s one of five. So it was a planned madness. 

Le’Nise: And when you went after having each pregnancy, would you go back on the pill to control control of the pain? 

Katie: I went back on the pill after each pregnancy until the very last one where my doctor said to me, you know, are you finished with your family? And I said, yes, absolutely. I’m very blessed. And and I was actually because I’d had a caesarean, they offered to if I wanted to have the my tubes tied to help with obviously the contraception. And I think the cause that I was I wouldn’t have probably done it had I not been I suppose already open, cut open. But he offered to do it at the time of the caesarean. And because I was blessed to have had four healthy children, I, I just decided that’s something I wanted to do. So yeah. 

Le’Nise: Okay. So you had your tubes tied and then actually how old were you at this point? 

Katie: So my daughter. So it was I was 28, so. I think I was about 35 when I had my last child. Six. Yes, yeah. Mid-thirties. 

Le’Nise: And then you mentioned that you were around 43 when you started to experience the brain fog and the forgetfulness. So you basically you had you had your tubes tied. I can’t remember what the formal medical term is. 

Katie: Something like tubular ligation or something. Yeah, yeah. 

Le’Nise: Tubal ligation. That’s right. And so how was your experience of your period in that time between having your your tubes tied and then that time where you went to your doctor or so you went to the hospital? 

Katie: Yeah. I mean, it was it was a bit of a sort of calmer time then because things were, you know, pretty regular, monthly and regular, although they were never, you know, five days. They were usually about sort of four, four days. So yeah, I mean, the pain was still the pain really. It really changed. And they, you know, the mood swings still the mood swings. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: And so you were your periods were still very, very painful. 

Katie: Yeah.

Le’Nise: Okay. It’s interesting that they hadn’t diagnosed the adenomyosis until your mid-forties. And, you know, you mentioned the scar tissue, so it just made me think of Asherman’s  syndrome as well,  which is actually quite connected to Adenomyosis. So for listeners who aren’t familiar, it’s where the tissue cells that should ordinarily be within the womb, within the uterus that we said during menstruation, they actually within the muscular lining of the uterus and it makes periods incredibly, incredibly painful and heavy. And so then you you’ve started to experience these symptoms of perimenopause, and you have this light bulb moment when you went to your doctor and then you were put on HRT. 

Katie: Yeah. I mean, I know that my periods would never sort of came up as part of that conversation. Nobody really ever asked me about them. So which I still to this day find quite surprising. They were focussing just more on the mental health side of things. You know, my mood and that’s why I was crying and why I was low when they, you know, they commented on, well, you’re overweight or perhaps you need to, you know, get fit, that kind of thing. But there was, you know, I even went to see a psychiatrist who told me that the my aching joints were I was just imagining and it was all in my head. And that was all part of that depressive illness. And I know it was really, really shocking. 

I felt very dismissed. I’m not I’m I was made to feel like a hypochondriac. And it’s crazy because I think growing up, as I said, in a doctor’s sort of family, I never complained about my health. You know, I was very, very calm. You know, I actually like being around a hospital, a medical environment. It’s just something I’m grown up with following my dad, round on ward rounds or whatever. Just so I felt really quite angry that I wasn’t taken seriously. But then, you know, I just sort of thought, well, actually, I’m just going to hide away at home because I can’t keep complaining to my friends. You know, I have a really good life and I’m just embarrassed that I’m not coping. 

Le’Nise: It’s really it’s shocking, but it’s not shocking that you were dismissed in that way, because I hear it so often and I’m so sorry that you you had that experience. When you think back, knowing what you know now, when you think back to your experiences of getting I mean, perimenopause isn’t a diagnosis, but, you know, actually just hearing that word and then going on the HRT, what do you wish you you know, you could have said to yourself, would you wish you know, you could have said to your doctors. 

Katie: Well, it’s something that I now tell all the women who I help in our community said when I got home from my own diagnosis. So I set up a Facebook group and and I called it the Latte Lounge because I wanted it to feel like a sort of a coffee shop online where women could talk about their own and not just perimenopause and menopause, but all sort of their midlife health and well-being concerns. And one of the things I’ve created is a downloadable symptom checklist. It’s free for anyone who who wants to get a hold of it. And I had no idea that there were so many. I mean, there are up to probably 50. All symptom checklist has 34 of the sort of most common symptoms. And I think I just wish that I had learnt about at school that, you know, not just about menopause, but the perimenopause section because we sort of we learn about not getting pregnant, we learn about periods. So we learn about having babies and then your education stops and you don’t know anything. And you sort of have heard of that word menopause. But in your mind, that’s just some grey haired old lady who’s got a hot flash and she’s sort of fanning herself rocking in a corner. And I think I you know, I wish I had been taught at school and I wish I’d been shown this sort of symptom checklist because the symptoms are not dissimilar to some of the symptoms you suffer, you know, you know, when you have periods. 

So, again, such as those such as the low mood, you know, heart palpitations, anxiety, that kind of thing. But the other thing that I obviously found out now I’ve been working in this field for sort of six, seven years, is that there is no mandatory menopause training at medical school. So I you know, so doctors are coming out with a very sort of scanty knowledge, especially about this perimenopause, which, you know, can often be ten years before the menopause. So I just kind of wish that, you know, there was a lot more training at medical school that we were taught about it at school. I talk about it non-stop to my daughter and to my well, all of my three sons as well, because I think we need to be that generation that again, to not just educate ourselves, but the younger generation. And so I just think it’s about being informed because, you know, information and knowledge is power. And I think the more we can all learn about this next phase of our life and and go in to a doctor’s appointments, you know, the quicker we’ll all get diagnosed and hopefully treated. 

Le’Nise: You mentioned you have these conversations with your daughter and with your sons. Do you talk is it is it about periods? Is it just generally about health? What I’m interested in the conversations with your sons, because I think that is so it’s obviously important that we talk to our daughters about this and have open and honest conversations with them. But I do think there is really something about bringing in boys to the conversation. You know, I have a nine year old son and he his school is he’s about to go into a mixed school. And I said to him, you know, you’re at the age where some girls, they might get their periods and they might get their periods in school. And so if you see a girl, if maybe she has a stain on the back of her, her skirt or her dress, there’s also your jump jumper to them. So they, you know, they don’t feel embarrassed, you know, just be really nice about this. 

And he looked a bit confused, obviously, had never thought about thought about it. But I really want to kind of plant those seeds early on. And he knows all about periods because he hears me talking about them all the time. He’s in the living room and I’m talking about all of this stuff, so he just knows. But I don’t think he had ever thought about it in the context of his life and his soon to be classmates. So I think that’s really interesting. So I’m just interested in your conversations with your sons. 

Katie: Yeah, well, I guess it’s a bit like you. My kids are so used to hearing me talk about perimenopause and menopause all the time. It’s almost like, you know, they’re rolling their eyes going, Oh, here she goes again, you know? So but the good thing is they they are informed. 

And one of the things I didn’t mention was I actually ended up having to have a hysterectomy. So what happened was my womb became so bulky and it was stopping the blood flowing to my ankle, well, to my feet. So my ankles are swollen. So I had to have a hysterectomy. And once I got better from the hysterectomy, I remember it was about eight weeks later and I had to go to of a family party and I was sitting next to one of my male cousins who I love dearly and, you know, we’re a very, very close family. And he sort of turned to me and they said, How are you? And I said. Yeah. I’m okay. I’ve. I’ve been. I’ve been in hospital. I had to have an operation. And he went, Oh, you know what was wrong? And I said, Oh, I had a hysterectomy. 

Now I’m so used to just throwing these words out there. Well, his response really shocked me, and he went, Whoa! Like that was too much information. He sort of recoiled. And I was like, Oh, my God. Wow. Okay. I wasn’t expecting that. You know, I was expecting oh, I’m sorry to hear that. And and, you know, he immediately was all very awkward and sort of I had to sort of try and make him feel better. And I sort of dropped a napkin on the floor and I oh, I’m just going to pick up my napkin. And and I went home that night and I’ve just now thought, my goodness, you know what? Well, you know, that generation of men where there’s still that, oh, you know, women, really is disgusting and don’t talk about that sort of thing. 

So I’ve ever since that experience, I’ve been a bit like you. I’ve said to my boys, look, women have been ridiculed all for as long as I can remember. Men are like, Oh, God, she’s on her period. Or, Oh, you’re so moody on your periods. Oh, it’s your hormones you menopausal today. And you know, oh, God, don’t go near her. And and I hate that because actually, you know, we can’t help. It’s, you know, is our hormones and none of us want to be miserable or moody. So I sort of brought my boys up, especially in the last  decades, to actually sort of say that, you know, men and women are a very different we are, you know, to some extent of dictated by our hormones. And, you know, women, unlike men every month we are, our moods, are going to be affected and it’s about being understanding and supportive. So I think if men and boys are taught about why we are like we are, that they could be sort of much more empathetic and understanding. 

And also, you know, it saves relationships and marriages because a lot of women I hear from in the last year, you know, the most common rates of divorce is 45 to 55. And sadly, suicide is highest in women during 45 to 55. And that’s because, you know, some women do suffer very, very badly and get to a very, very dark place. And, you know, you often hear from men saying, I don’t recognise my wife. My husband didn’t recognise me. You know, you can literally change personalities and become a very different person. And I think the more that we teach boys and men to understand and be, you know, empathetic and supportive and also to to go and go with your partner, perhaps to a doctor’s appointment to say, how can I help? I think would be a lot happier if if and it’s important that men and boys are, you know, educated and brought up in that way.

Le’Nise:  Yeah. Yeah. You so you mentioned that you had had a you had a hysterectomy. Was this after you started the HRT? Okay. So you had already been using the HRT to manage some of the perimenopausal symptoms that you’ve been experiencing. And then and then you had the the hysterectomy. Was it a full or partial hysterectomy? 

Katie: Because by that point, I was just flooding so much they couldn’t control the bleeding. We tried all sorts of different things. And then once my legs started swelling, which sort of felt like we had pretty much tried and tried everything I said. So yeah, it was a full hysterectomy. And, you know, thankfully I had started on HRT before, but there’s a lot of women who have to have hysterectomy is either perhaps through, you know, for medical reasons or or or because of, you know, menopause symptoms. 

And when they remove the ovaries, you’re plunged into menopause immediately. And there’s a lot of women who are not counselled about that and they and are not even offered HRT. And for those who are listening, who might not know, and I just think it’s vitally important that anyone that’s been told they have to have a hysterectomy, that they have the conversations about what may happen hormonally to them afterwards. And and the agency is part of that conversation. 

Le’Nise: And so you you had the hysterectomy, you were on HRT. And then did you have to go on a different, different form of HRT after the hysterectomy? What was your experience like you were in you went into medical menopause. And, you know, obviously, that’s quite a shocking experience as you described. How supported did you feel with your doctors navigating that, that new experience? 

Katie: Well, I. think by that point, because I was under a really good gynaecologist and I knew that, you know, what was going on and what to expect and and what to ask for. So I knew I only needed to be on oestrogen then. So all we did was we just stopped the progesterone. So I used to be on a combination patch, but you know, after then I only needed the oestrogen. 

And so like, I mean, looking back now, it’s actually the best thing I ever did because I’m relieved to no longer have that horrible flooding and periods. And for a while it was a bit weird because you always have to know where you are with your period so suddenly for the first time in your life, never have them. It’s kind of a strange thing, but I think, you know, for those that, you know, perhaps haven’t finished their family, it can be devastating. But for me, I just looked at all my blessings and that I was so lucky to have full, healthy children. And actually, it was it was it was a relief not to, you know, have any more periods. And also, you know, I’d become severely anaemic. 

Le’Nise:  Well, if you don’t mind me asking, because we’ve kind of put together a timeline, which I just find I always find fascinating to do because it helps others who might be experiencing something similar, understand, maybe have like a reference point for their journeys. How old are you now? 

Katie: So I’m 53 now, but the whole sort of perimenopause journey started at 43, so I feel like I’ve been on quite a journey. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, yeah, definitely. And so if anyone’s listening, so isn’t sure what perimenopause is, is it something that can start in the late thirties and is a very natural part of the kind of menstrual reproductive lifecycle where you just start producing, you stop producing as many mature eggs, and then that has an impact on progesterone production. And then eventually there are different phases of of perimenopause. And then this eventually leads into menopause, which is actually just the very last period. 

And let’s now talk about the Latte Lounge. So you had this experience, you went home, you set up your Facebook group, which I think is fantastic because you had had this very disempowering experience. And then you said, actually, I’m going to go out and help others. I don’t want others to feel how I feel, how I feel now. So tell us more about the Latte Lounge.

Katie: Yeah, so absolutely. So the Facebook group grew very organically the first night I set it up. I had 2,000 member requests in 24 hours and I was like, Oh, my goodness, okay, I’m not alone. This is, as you know, this is going on all over the place. I was shocked at how poorly women were informed and and belittled and confused and lost and treated pretty badly. 

And I think because I’m a doctor’s daughter, I thought, I can’t just let these women dump their problems into a Facebook group and just try and figure it out from other very well-meaning women. I need to actually help them properly. So I put together a medical advisory team and I built a website to start really with three key aims which are to support, inform and signpost women to the right resources or people or places so that whatever they come to us about, we will do whatever we can to support them. 

And I think, you know, because we’re the sandwich generation, we’re often juggling children. We’re at perhaps ageing parents, we’ve got relationships going on and looking after our own work and home and life and sort of wellbeing. Nobody really shines a spotlight on us, the women in the middle. And, you know, we have this sort of pressure cooker situation going on. So I just wanted to kind of be that place where, you know, often in the middle of the night when women perhaps are not sleeping well or they’re worried or they just have a sort of very quick question that we’re kind of we kind of capture those problems and we try and help them and be that through, you know, our podcast or through our articles on our website. 

I also run an event called the Midlife Festival, which is an annual event where we bring together some of the world leading not just menopause and perimenopause experts, but all women’s health and wellbeing experts talking about nutrition and and fitness and things like breast cancer and heart health. And just so that women can learn from selves in a very easy fashion from home and, you know, not be scared by sort of some really complicated medical terminology, but just where the facts are explained. So, you know, we do that and we have a very small private membership as well for women who want a lot more hand-holding. And we’ll run masterclasses there. And again, I’ll help them behind the scenes so that you can just really sort of feel the best we can feel and then, you know, embrace life and enjoy then this next stage really. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. What I feel so excited and enthused about is this new thinking about moving into forties, fifties and sixties. You know, thinking about I think about when I was a teenager and how, you know, the sixties was thinking about your being in your sixties. There’s this stereotype of women just on they’re on the decline, you know, having a short, short haircut, maybe, you know, it was curled, skin, just very, you know, looking very dehydrated. There’s this real stereotype and you think now, like, you know, all the amazing women in the public eye who are in their forties, 50s,60s, who just look so vital, you know, they have this vitality about them. And I think it’s so it’s so amazing, you know. I I’m 43 and so I am kind of I know that I’m in the kind of early stages of perimenopause and I’m in denial at the moment. 

But, um, this, this term midlife, I just want to ask you about it because it’s something that I, I, I’m seeing a lot at the moment and I, I, I struggle with that a little bit on a personal level because I think of myself, I’m 43. I don’t think of myself as being a midlife woman. But then I look at the sign behind you. It says Latte Lounge. Top Tips for Women over 40. It’s a commercial coffee shop for all midlife women who arrive in midlife, but I don’t feel like that at all. 

Katie: Yeah, I think it’s, um. It is a funny word. I think it’s, you know, hopefully we’re all living longer, thankfully. And that’s because, you know, leaps and bounds have been made in science and medicine. But I think, you know, you touched on women looking so much more vibrant than perhaps the image we were brought up to believe that women are old and grey and and knackered and finishs, but we’re living longer. We’re working longer. 

And I think a lot of the work I do is campaigning as well. So I’ve been campaigning for the last five years with the Make Menopause Matter campaign with a lovely lady called Diane Danzebrink. And and what’s happened is because we’ve been sort of I guess social media has been a force for good in this situation. I think because a lot of us have gone through these experiences, Diane was suicidal with her, her situation, and it’s driven us to all campaign and talk very openly. And so with things like the Davina McCall programme and lots of doctors and women coming to social media or writing books, I think we’re all openly talking about our experiences because we can through the beauty of things like social media and because we don’t feel old, you know, I think, you know, our parents really didn’t learn much about nutrition and exercise and looking after ourselves, whereas we’ve been brought up this next generation, you know, we are we’re learning to how to eat, to optimise our diet and look and feel great. We know we know the importance of exercise for long term health and wellbeing, and we enjoy it. 

So, you know, why should we why should we be sort of sitting in the corner, rocking in that chair? You know, we want to you know, I still feel young. I don’t fit. In fact, I feel better now than I did in my thirties. In my thirties, I was shattered all the time because I had four kids. Whereas now I feel happy and vibrant and excited and full of life and really, you know, like I found my purpose. And I just want women to feel, I guess, as well as, as you look and as well as I feel. And that all comes down to just, you know, being informed and, you know, life is for living. And I’ve lost, sadly, you know, few friends over rec,ent years who who didn’t have that luxury. So as as far as I’m concerned, I’m praying I’m in midlife. I pray that I will, you know, live till 106 and well past 46. Sorry, 86. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, I hope so, too. So someone listening to this is thinking, okay, I know that I am, you know, I’ve started perimenopause and that, you know, menopause is on the horizon. What would you say to them as a way as a kind of some words of support? 

Katie: Yeah. I mean, not don’t be scared or afraid of it. There are many women who sail through it and that’s absolutely fabulous. But just as I say, be informed now so that if perhaps you do start noticing, you know, as you sort of turn 40, that you start to experience perhaps some brain fog or low mood or, you know, even things like dry, itchy skin or these sort of anxiety, heart palpitations that actually, you know, it’s worth just sort of putting two and two together early on and thinking, okay, I am going into perimenopause. 

And if you’re not coping, if it’s affecting your life like it did mine, don’t suffer in silence. There is no no one’s going to give you a medal just for coping. And actually there are so those that can go on HRT and want to and I understand there’s a whole group of women who perhaps can’t because of a family history or they’ve had breast cancer, but go and see a medical specialist because a lot of women still can even with a family history. But. Be informed. And, you know, HRT, for those that can take care, prevents osteoporosis, it reduces heart disease. And there’s research going on at the moment that it can help with things like early onset dementia. There’s not enough evidence yet, but, you know, it is being looked at. So there are long term health benefits, so don’t be frightened of it and don’t feel like, you know, you get some sort of medal for oh, I you know, I’m just going to try my best to manage it. If you’re not coping, then go and seek some support. And and, you know, everyone’s welcome to join our Facebook group. It’s free and look on our website and you know, we will support and signpost you if you do need help.

Le’Nise: And where can people find you? 

Katie: The website is Latte and through the website you’ll be able to find everything else. And the Midlife Festival is the midlife festival dot com as well. If you want to grab one of the VIP passes, you can watch back the last two years of fabulous experts and the podcast. If you just search for the Latte Lounge, you’ll find it there. 

Le’Nise: Fantastic. Is there anything that you want to leave listeners with? Any last words, any last thoughts? 

Katie: Well, the only other thing I haven’t mentioned is that I left my job because of my symptoms. And if you’re struggling in the workplace and perhaps your employer is unaware or isn’t very well educated, you know, we can also help with corporates to support you to stay in the workplace. We have a corporate membership that women can get support with. 

But just, you know, looking back along my entire fertility journey, I think it all comes down to education. I think the more we learn about it at school, the more doctors are taught it’s at medical school, the more workplaces are educated and supported and that men are part of this conversation. I think by being open about these sorts of things, we’re breaking down taboos, you know, getting rid of the embarrassment factor and just normalising this conversation like like you are, you know, a few years ago, nobody would ever dream of mentioning the word period. So we’ve come a long way. 

Le’Nise: We definitely have come a long way. Thank you so much, Katie. Thank you for sharing your story of being so open and honest. All the links will be in the show notes, so please check out the Latte Lounge and thank you again. 

Katie: Oh, well, thank you for having me and for all that you do too. 

Period Story Podcast, Episode 61, Fay Reid: You Can’t Treat Women Differently Because They’re Going Through The Menopause

We’ve got a brilliant episode in store for you today with Fay Reid, the founder of 9 to 5 Menopause. Fay delivers some home truths about the reality of menopause and how companies and organisations can proactively help anyone in their team experiencing menopausal symptoms at work. 

In this episode, Fay shares: 

  • The key symptom that signalled the start of perimenopause for her
  • What she did to help herself 
  • The trial and error process of finding the right HRT for her 
  • How she began helping individuals navigate menopause at work
  • Simple things that can really make a difference for anyone experiencing menopausal symptoms at work 

Fay says that you can’t treat women differently because they’re going though the menopause! 

Thank you, Fay!

Get in touch with Fay:







Le’Nise: Thank you so much for coming onto the show Fay. I’m so excited to speak to and hear about all of the amazing work that you’re doing around the menopause. But let’s take it all the way back to the start. And can you tell me the story of your very first period? 

Fay: When you asked me to come on the podcast and I know and I knew you would ask me about my first period and I kind of travelled back in time. I was like, Holy moly. So I was probably around age ten or 11, I think I was around 11 when I got my very first period. I just started secondary school in the U.K. And so in the U.K. you have since then, you have primary between five and age, ten, 11. And then you go on to, I suppose you call it high school in the US high school. So I just started my secondary school and I remember getting my period and the thing that sticks out for me and you have to remember that I was born in ‘67, so that would have been ‘77, ‘78 that I got my first period. And my mum wasn’t kind of how could I put this kind of versed in what the latest fad was or the most popular thing? So for me and I think, Jesus, how did I manage that as an 11 year old, I had what is called as a period belt. We’re going back in time. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. You know, it’s so funny because I had a guest on the show about two weeks ago and she used a belt as well and she was talking about it. So I’m excited to hear your experience with it. 

Fay: So basically it is literally a belt. And then the front of the belt, the back of the belt, you have kind of what you call like a hook, like a hook and only thing. And the pad itself, you hooked it on to the front and you hooked it onto the back and that was your sanitary towel and it was thick. It was a bit like a nappy. And I just kind of accepted it and just kind of rolled with it. But I think over time my mum must’ve seen how uncomfortable I was with that. And then we progressed to maxi pads and they were maxi and there were pads. 

Which was an improvement on the belt. But still for I think that must have been so traumatic for me because then I became really self-conscious. Like especially going to school and could it show was leaking and yeah, there was a few times I had a few accidents and had to tie my sweater around my waist and stuff it. I never really think about it, but hey. It was actually quite dramatic. It wasn’t an easy transition. 

I never had that build-up of like, Oh, I want my period. I want my period. I knew it was going to come. But it wasn’t. It wasn’t something me and my friends talked about. Someone might have said, Oh, so and so’s got her period, so and so has got her period because she’s had a leak. You know, I mean. And, you know, but. Amongst my school friends, and I didn’t have many friends in school. To be fair, we never really discussed a lot, actually about our periods. We never had those. Well, I never had those conversations. So to suddenly appear and then be presented with a belt and a pad, I was like what the hell? What’s happening? Is this what I’m going to go through this? So I think, moving on from that, I think probably a couple of months in I, my mum presented me with a pack of like maxi pads, um, which I was very relieved to get because the whole situation they would never flush down the toilet. Like it was hell. It was hell. 

Le’Nise: It sounds like your mum was very aware of what was going on with you. She knew that maybe through conversations or maybe through just watching you, that the belt was not very comfortable for you. Were you having very open conversations with her about the changes in your body, about periods and what to expect? 

Fay: I was the oldest of four children. I’m the oldest of four children. My father died when we were when I was very, very young, I think. Yeah. Before I started, my parents, my father had passed away and my mum would so concentrated on bringing up four kids. We in my adult life, my mum and I had a very open relationship and talked about stuff. At that age I was so awkward and just slightly embarrassed. Just like, what is this thing releasing from my body? Like. Just. It was too awkward for me. So we never really had those conversations and. I think she just picked up that. Like, obviously I was feeling a bit like awkward about it all and not wanting my siblings to see especially my two brothers and just like, oh, it was just. But she knew intuitively. She knew. And hence she then presented me with a pack of maxi pads. But it was only myself. As I moved through my teenage years and into early adulthood that I started to hear about things like tampons. And I was just like, Oh, what? These tampon things. This is great. Can we do away with that completely? Can we just make it a little bit more sexy and discreet? 

So I bought my own tampons and as I as I grew into my later teenage years because I had a part time job, so I kind of just bought those for myself. But, yeah, I. It’s funny, I used to just very much view it as being ugly and horrible and just like God, everyone can see I’m on my period. I’m going to leak through. I can’t wear white skirts, just everything like that. I hated it. 

And but it is funny as I went into my early twenties and I went on, I’m just trying to think I went on the pill when I was about 18 because I was just like my mum had me when she was very, very young. It was unplanned and stuff and I was like, I didn’t want that for me. So I chose to go on the pill. But believe it or not, when I got into my mid twenties. I stopped taking the pill because. I knew it was altering my body somehow. I didn’t have a regular boyfriend at the time, and I was like, I just want my period to flow. I just want it. Which is quite interesting considering before I just kind of wanted to make it discrete and compact and nobody should know about it. But I got into my mid twenties was like, Well, I’m not sleeping with anybody. Why am I on the pill? It’s altering my body, like just let it flow. And I think it was in my mid-twenties that I started to really kind of recognise my body and what it was doing and my hormones. So that was really I don’t know how to say it when we’re talking about this stuff. I’ve thought about myself but never really examined it. Yeah. 

So by talking to you now, I’m just like, okay. And you know, from that point on, I’ve been very aware of what my body does and can do and especially around my cycle. Once I stopped taking the pill, I was very, very in tune with my body in terms of. Getting spots. I knew my period was coming and sleep to about two days before my period to three days with sleep would be horrendous, tossing and turning. I couldn’t sleep and either emotional to the point my friends started to notice the pattern when I was like when I had PMS and stuff and there’d be something on the telly and they’d text me or call me and just got you what you sound so. And I mean. Yeah. And you’re crying aren’t you. Yeah. 

So all those things and like having my period the first day or so incapacitated beyond tired and exhausted and then the end of that period, just like. Yeah, feeling really. Buzzy, really bright. Wanted to clean the house, wanted to do so much stuff. And I’m like, Oh my God, that was regular every single month. 

Le’Nise: Just going back to your experience of your period before you went on on the pill, you said that you wanted to kind of hide it, keep it tucked away. Were your periods painful then? Were they were they tiring? What was I know you said you went on the pill for hormonal contraception. 

Fay: Yes, I went on the pill for hormonal contraception just for the fact of I don’t want to get pregnant. But in terms of my period, I think I just wasn’t comfortable with them. And I think. And I would. Based on the fact of going back that initiation of the period belt and this thing. So you can imagine it’s a belt is not secure. The only thing in the scheme that was secure was the pants. 

It’s not secure. Yeah. And it was ugly and unattractive. And just like I’ve got do this every month. You might like it if that’s your initiation. It ain’t fun. And I to me, I just kind of wanted to. Kind of. Nobody could see it. I look back now, nobody could say it, but for me it’s just like, Can we just hide this thing away? I don’t want it to be prominent in my life in any way because I’d have my period, then I’d have to get to school and then it was the whole faff and then I’ll go against the toilet and then roll something up and put it in your sleeve. Well, you do not mean to hide that you’re going into the toilet, change a tampon or it’s out. So I just yeah, it was quite dramatic. So to me, I kind of just wanted to suppress, supress. It was happening in any which way. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. And then I really finds the words that you use quite interesting. So you stopped the pill because you wanted to let your period flow, like literally let it flow and then you were able to tune in, So like you were able to tune in quite well with your body. You were aware of what you were experiencing before you had your period, what you were experiencing during your period, and then how until that’s kind of fast forward into your thirties maybe your. or forties, what was your experience of your period, the same as you’ve described through your thirties and maybe your early forties? 

Fay: Yes, I would say was when I hit my thirties, um, is when I start to track my monthly cycle and that was because I wanted to have children. So I was very aware of just keeping a track. And also before I kind of made a decision like, yes, I really want children, it was just to see what was happening to me throughout the months because you have a little chart. Do you crave sweet things? Yes. When are you getting spots, yes. Where you getting angry? Yes. So all the typical symptoms, I just kind of wanted to try. And each month it was the same, I would say as I got older, my cramps became more prominent. When I was younger, not so much. I didn’t really notice it, but as I got older, my cramps became more prominent. Definitely some times. And it’s funny, I remember now because I was trying to conceive. I actually each month felt my ovulation. I was like there goes an egg. I could feel it going. And it’s a weird feeling if you’re in tune with it, you kind of know. But each month I could just feel it going and. Like I said, I always really wanted to have children. And because I’d split up with a long term partner, that wasn’t going to happen. I made the decision to go it alone. And so I had to be really aware of my body in terms of the fertility treatment that I was going to be receive. So that was quite interesting for me as well, just to kind of scrap, track things. 

I didn’t end up having children. It just wasn’t to be in my kind of. What’s the word I’m looking for? It wasn’t in my future. It might seem to have children surrounded by God knows how many godchildren children, some really poor. But I didn’t end up having my own. But it did make me so much more aware of my body and what it was doing. And it’s funny because I do have my menopause project, which I am quite passionate about. And one of the things that is very commonly said, it’s like when your periods stop, you know, you’re start in the perimenopause and the rest of it. I had my periods regular as clockwork, everything the same for the first five years of my perimenopause. So when people say, oh, periods don’t necessarily stop all the time as I had mine for the first five years. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. Can we talk a little bit about that? Because there is this kind of narrative at the moment in the UK, very powerful narrative around menopause, that it’s going to be a whole a time of upset and tumult and emotional upheaval. And there’s this narrative that menopause will be bad. And I really want to talk about your experience and the work that you do, because we know that there’s no one not everyone’s period and experience of their menstrual cycle is the same. And it’s the same with perimenopause and menopause, where you could be having regular periods all the way up to the day of of the menopause. So let’s talk a little bit more about your experience. 

Fay: So one of the things I try and I try and one of the things I often say, can we take the negativity out of it, please? Because we talk about women having babies and it’s a bit like giving birth is hell. Let’s keep it real. 

It’s not a walk in the park. Yeah. Some people might shoot it out in 2 seconds or something, but they the 24 hours, it’s a big celebration because they’ve got the advice, they’ve got the care. They know what’s going to happen. It’s the same with the menopause is going to happen. You could tell from it blink and you and your and your goods or you’re going to have a really rough time and I I’ll make no bones about it. My menopause at one point was horrific,I was 45 and I had just started a brand new job literally the first week sat at my desk. I have a hot flash. I have no idea what just happened to my body. It had to happen a few more times before. I was like, Oh my God. 

I’ve just had a hot flash. A good few days went by and because I didn’t know what was happening, I was thinking, What is that? I just kept going, What is that? And not questioning that not going to my sleep, not looking it up, just ignoring it. 

And then it happened again and I was like I’ve just had a hot flash. Internally,

I laughed so hard. I was like, What the hell? I’m 45. It’s not for the menopause once. And so because at that point I was just like. I was like, how I am now? I’m like, I’m still like going out and still like having a glass of wine. I still like buying clothes. I still like to enjoy myself. And my perception was very stereotypical. One of being old and over the hill and coupled with that. Like, I hadn’t seen any black people being represented going through the menopause. My imagery was little white ladies with grey hair wearing beige clothes, and that was my imagery in my head. The other imaging was like, Well, youre past it, you’ve just started menopause, so that’s it. So for a job I started and I just had hot flashes. I was in that job five years and I did not tell anybody in senior management. H.R. People team what I was going though. 

Le’Nise: Can you just talk a little bit more about the actual experience of the hot flush? Like what? What it felt like to some listeners who may be experiencing the same thing can kind of start to develop a vocabulary for themselves. 

Fay: Mine was a wash of heat that started from my chest and went up to my head and if she was just like much, it was just like somebody squeezed a hot cup of air inside of me and I was like, Oh, my God. Now for me, I my initial initiation into the menopausal world was hot flushes. And I was fine with it. I kind of just coped with it. I’m very much holistic, natural remedy, kind of girl. I will go to ayurvedic medicine, vitamins, all that kind of stuff. So I just took myself off to a specialist health shop. And interestingly enough, I spoke to a young sales assistant and she said to me, I said, I’m going through menopause. I think, what vitamins do you recommend? She was like, Oh, sorry. This poor girl. Super helpful. But she went to a reference, looked it up, said, magnesium is good for menopausal women and I’ll take it. 

But for me, what I had to adapt to having the hot flashes. I had a very long commute from where I live to my job, which meant because I live quite centrally in London. So for me, getting on the underground, it was very much the train was already packed. I’d get on, I could feel a hot flash, come in. I couldn’t control it. I could feel myself start into like, Oh, God. And then I’d be dripping with sweat henched like this amongst people when I couldn’t even get a tissue to my brow or anything. And I was like, This is hell? This is hell. So I changed my commute to work, which meant it was longer, but bearable. I just. I just took a bus partway to the main train station and got on a train because I worked outside of London. So as everybody was piling in, the commuter belt were piling in. I was going out and I got a seat and it was like, this is this is how I’m going to have to do this. And the only thing I realised by having the hot flushes, maybe I did a little bit research. I couldn’t wear anything. Synthetic. Synthetic fibres will exasperate your sweats. So my wardrobe now is 99.9%. All just natural fibres, cotton, linen or silk. So I can’t wear anything which is polyester or synthetic because one, it makes me sweat. And two, my skin just starts to it. So that was one of the main things from having the hot flushes that I had to adapt to it. 

Le’Nise: Better for the environment as well. 

Fay: Well, I think at least I’m being sustainable. Yeah, I’m doing my bit. Yeah. 

That was kind of fine for the first year. But one of the things which is well known, which they call it the trigger for your menopause symptoms and stuff is stress. And stress can like anything, that stress can trigger your symptoms and make them worse. And for me, it was the fact that I was in a job supporting a CEO, which is quite high powered. The company were preparing to go for sale. I was privy to a lot of information the other staff didn’t have. I’m a personal assistant by trade, so I do a lot of executive assistant meetings, travel, all that kind of stuff for senior figures. So the business had started to prepare for a sale, which was highly confidential at the time, and my mum was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Sent me off a cliff. I just. I lost it. I just wasn’t coming. I was I. I think back now. And I see I was just a functioning mess. I wasn’t sleeping at night and day sweats. I developed severe anxiety. I had achy joints. It was just a plethora of symptoms across the menopause. And it got to the point where I was very close to my mom. She had me when she was 17. And by the time I reached my adulthood and into my forties, we spoke every day. We had a very, very open relationship and stuff. And I started to see a counsellor because I wasn’t coping with the realisation I was going to lose my mom. I was, I was that broken. And it was actually my counsellor that directed me and said, I think you should see your GP. And one of the things I’m super, I will always, always be grateful for because I have so many women that go to them, medical practitioners or GPs or doctors and they’re pooh poohed when they say I think I’m going through the menopause. They don’t get the help. I went to my GP, cried for a couple of minutes before I could even speak. When I eventually told as she went, Yes, sounds like perimenopause. Let’s get you some blood tests. But in the meantime, let’s get you some help. Here’s some HRT. And I jokingly say, this but if the woman that prescribed me crack, I would have taken it because. ] I love it, because I was a mess and I was broken.

And it was from there, kind of my journey into the menopause world really started. So first off, she prescribe me some tablets, checked in on me. How are you doing? Why don’t I just feel much better? Let’s up the dose then. Off to dust. Still really no difference. Let’s try some of the other ones. Well, there’s other HRT. There’s more than one. And I was like, Oh my gosh. So I never realised my my knowledge around the menopause was very vague. So eventually she got me onto some tablets, were kind of like, okay, that’s fine. Not majorly feeling back to myself, but like, it’s okay is fine. Still having hot sweats, night sweats, still had a bit of anxiety and stuff and achy bones, but I kind of just accepted it because I didn’t know any difference. I started to do some research and I was just like, What is going on here? One, the only people I could find talking about it were white women. Two, they’re all affluent. None of them had a job. They recommended this private chef, this private nutritionist doing this specific yoga class, which was like 1130 in the morning. 

And I’m like, this is I’ve got to go to work today. And it was the realisation, just like where are the women have jobs. And have to navigate the menopause. I cannot be the only one. I cannot be the only one with a job. I cannot be the only black person going through this menopause. And that was a big light bulb moment for me. And I was just like, this isn’t on. This is just not on. And I initially started 9 to 5 menopause, and I knew I wanted to do something around menopause. I just didn’t know what my focus would be. And I think I opted for the 9 to 5 based on Dolly Parton’s working 9 to 5 song. That’s why I got the inspiration, it came on the radio is that that’s what I’m going to call it. 

I’m going to put the work in, lady. And I just kind of wanted to showcase what I did and what I. What what helped me to navigate this journey because, one, I was like. I am not old. I wasn’t even 50. And I didn’t like adopting the stereotypical imagery and narrative that’s out there. Is not who I am. That is not who I am. I like clothes and I like fashion, it’s fashion for me. But I kind of just one of the things I do is like the clothing edit on my Instagram just to show you, because you look good girls, just because you’ve reached a certain age, don’t, don’t give up on taking care of yourselves and making yourself feel good in your own way. 

Now, going back to the HRT issue, I was lucky my doctor gave me HRT, which was the start of getting me out. At some point the tablets are got discontinued and I went back to her. She went, try these patches and that was a revelation because I was like I taking the patches and I was like. Oh, if only I feel better. But it was, It was such a revelation. And I was just like, Oh my God, to know that there’s not just one tablet, to know that there’s patches out there. It was. 

HRT has given me my life back like right now. Again after a couple of years, patches got discontinued. How to Mess with Women’s Health, I tell you. By that stage, I’d done my research, so I. And I was thinking about this before talking to. So, like, now I actually have the Mirena coil and have oestrogel alongside it because what the Mirena what the Mirena coil gives off is helps to replace what you’re losing in your body and estrogel. But also, I think. 

Le’Nise: If it’s a synthetic form of progesterone, just I just want to be really clear with people who are listening. Yeah. Since the progesterone in the Mirena coil is a synthetic form of progesterone, but it doesn’t. It’s not the exact same as the progesterone that you produce when you ovulate. 

Fay:  Yeah, I’m glad you said that, because that is very true. That is very true. And the have in the Mirena coil and using this gel is the best. I felt in probably about ten years. My family know is that my friends notice it and it’s it’s that thing. And the one thing I will stress and I will always, always stress this I am very much holistic, homeopathic kind of person. My mom’s from the Caribbean. There’s loads of things she used to do for us as kids in terms of treating a cold and stuff. So I’ve always had that. However. I want women to make choices which are right for them. And I want to make sure women are not judged for their choices. Because in both camps, I’ve heard women being judged for taking HRT and also have heard women being attacked for not wanting to take HRT. It’s a choice and it’s an individual choice and no one should be judged for. HRT was the right thing for me at that time because I was, I was on the floor. I can’t describe enough how much of a broken woman I was, I wish there had been more guidance and knowledge out there because when I started research there was nothing. And so I was going through everything cold turkey, like, what do I do with this? What I do that and having to find out for myself what’s. What I could do to help myself. 

Le’Nise: What you said there was so interesting about this kind of there is the pro HRT camp and then there is the no HRT camp. And, you know, people make choices for varying reasons. But what I see at the moment in the UK is this very, very pro HRT narrative and this kind of expectation that if you’re going through perimenopause, if you’re going through menopause, that you should definitely just get yourself on HRT. And there’s I think there’s a lot of nuance missing from the conversation where, you know, you need to find the HRT that’s right for you, you can’t just go on any HRT willy nilly. You know, there might be medical reasons for you not to go onto HRT. You just might not want to you know, you might that’s also a choice. 

But what my I’m very concerned about this narrative that the push. Yeah, it’s a push. And this kind of there’s a doctor, Dr. Louise Newson, and she’s talking about menopause as an oestrogen deficiency, which is completely, completely wrong, like medicalising the menopause which is we have to be clear about this, is that it is a natural phase of life. There are negative symptoms that people can experience because of like I think it’s because of modern life, you know? Yeah, it’s like stress is a huge one, but it’s not an oestrogen deficiency, it really isn’t. And that kind of really negates the fact that this is we we go through this new into this new phase of life, you know, and to medicalise, it really takes a lot of the power out of, you know, navigate navigating this time where you almost step into a new sort of power. So I’ll be honest, I’m 43. I’m in. 

Fay: You look so much younger. 

Le’Nise: Thank you. I’m in perimenopause denial. But what I. I can start to see and what I can see. My friends who are a bit older is that despite the symptoms that they experience, they step into this new power. And I find it so fascinating and just to say that menopause is an oestrogen deficiency really does women and people going through menopause like a real disservice? 

Fay: I think it’s a hard one because Louise is, Dr. Louise Newson is coming from it from a medical view standpoint. I myself, I suppose what I want women to see is one, the knowledge. Two. I’m just a normal woman who is navigating the dating world, while trying on dresses to get on the first date and getting more hot and sweaty and still having sex and having a 9 to 5 job. And that’s what I want them to see. And if they can take something away from that. Great. And you’re right, there is a quite a big push around HRT. And I think it’s because women. A lot people want women to see that they can get that help with HRT. But I think coming from from the black community standpoint, HRT is still the bogeyman a little bit. So my sister’s going through it and she’s not touching HRT and she’s like, No, you’re right. I know you’re a big menopause ambassador and you’re looking at this, but no, I’m not taking it. But that’s her choice. 

And it’s quite funny also that with all my close girlfriends, because I talk about menopause a lot these days now I never push it on them. I let them come to me and ask the questions like I’ll never go well you should start taking HRT, and I’m like, It’s your choice. You do what you want to do. And it’s funny. I’ve been working with a company that do menopause treatments, ayurvedic, from yoga through diet, through meditation and stuff like that and that, and I love it and I wish I had been exposed to that when I first started or knew about it. It’s that thing now. 

The generation coming up behind us will know about stuff like that stuff. And I very much want to present menopause in a more realistic, normal way. It’s going to happen. It could be a bit shit. You might get some sleep. It’s nice. You might get hot and sweaty. It’s going to happen, but it’s not the end of the world like. And I make myself smile and also slightly awkward because it’s just not really me to say that. But I’m like, I feel like I’m living my best life right now. I feel like I’m living my best life from things like during covid that it’s it’s funny because I live on my own. I’m single at the moment. And during covid it was one of those things where like all of a sudden I had very, very long periods where I was just constantly horny, just like, What the fuck is this? Why? Where does this come from? 

And then I was like, I lost my sex drive. It’s come back. Because I’d lost it all. I just hadn’t even put my mind, though. And I was like. Oh, because you lose your sex drive in menopause, sometimes it’s just like, Oh, this. Those little things I’m learning about myself. And now I’m kind of just rolling with it rather than being angst ridden or trying to hide it like and not say anything about the menopause. I only name it, it’s me. And I’ve now put my face out there, so it’s too late now to take it back. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. Can you go back to what you were saying about HRT being kind of a bogeyman in the black community? Can you talk a little bit more about why you think that is? I agree. I have my thoughts, but I’m really curious to hear what you think about this. And where do you think where you think it’s come from? 

Fay: I think there are certain things which are entrenched in communities and that could be the Asian community as well. That could be the Indian community. I think from as far back it’s always been seen like that and I think that’s one of the reasons my sister won’t take it. And I’ll tell you a little incident I had. It was a summer’s day, really warm and I was sat at a bus stop. And there’s a lady next to me, a black lady, and she was fanning herself like a maniac. And I just looked and I just instinctively knew and I that I said menopause. 

So. Oh, my God, I’m so confident. Oh, is. So we got talking. And at one point I said to her. Have you thought about don’t you get the HRT? She made me feel so small. She was horrified. Well, I’m not taking that. And I was like, Oh, okay. I felt so awful that I’d suggested it to her. I just shrunk in myself. And I think it’s just because they just didn’t as bad they was. Many years ago, there was all the stories in the press that gives you breast cancer and all the rest of that. That’s now changed. More medical research has been done on it. The information that was that the media put out was very wrong, and I think they’ve adopted that and they just don’t move from that. And also, when I started, they say that your menopause could mirror your mum’s menopause is one of the things they say so straight was that mummy what was your menopause, like I don’t know. She didn’t get to memories. It was like it’s happened and it’s gone. It was that kind of thing. And I just said, When did you start? So I don’t know. But and I remember because I remember distinctively my mum was very happy. Go lucky. Just a beautiful, lovely lady. But there was a period where she was miserable and grumpy and really whingeing because I remember saying to my sister at the time, Jesus, mummy’s miserable. And I was like, I mean, look, I think it was really I just don’t it, it was around the age and started and I think you were going through the menopause because she’d sometimes say to me, I don’t have a period for three months and that was it. Or then she’d go, Oh god, my period suddenly started. So that was her erratic journey into menopause. But she never, ever said the word menopause. Never. 

Le’Nise: Wow.

Fay: So that. Okay, so I had to navigate that myself. And I say especially to black women, talk to your daughters. Don’t hide it away. Because I think our predecessors, our mums and our grandmothers, they just got on with it. They never spoke about it. It wasn’t something to be spoken about. 

Le’Nise: Yeah.

Fay: They just got on with it. Yeah. Now was the generation that like, Hey, I’m showing my feelings, I’m talking to a counsellor, I’m talking about it. They didn’t do that stuff. They just didn’t. It was up there with it. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. Yeah. And I. You’re making me think of my like so my maternal grandmother, we knew she was she was going through the menopause because. So my mom’s half of the family’s from Bahamas and so hot all year round. And so she would just be like sweating, like mopping her brow constantly and, oh, she’s having a hot flash. And it was just like, okay, like this, but you didn’t really talk about it. 

But everyone knew that she was. Yeah. Yeah. And then I think about my mom’s experience and, you know, we, we talked about it because of the work that I do. But she like, I think about like the hot flashes that she experienced and like the night sweats and like not being able to sleep. But until I started doing this work, she just accepted it as a normal thing because, you know, that’s what she saw in her. In her mother.  So I guess this is. This is normal and you just have to put up with it until it just goes away. So it’s so interesting hearing your experience being quite, you know, just things not really being spoken about. 

Fay: We don’t talk about it. And I think this is where the conversation is pivoting where. As I said, we are that generation that are talking about it. We’re not I’m not ashamed of it. When I says if my hotflashes very much that I’ll go. But I’m not I’m not I’m not saying anything. But now I’m not ashamed about it because it’s something that’s happening and it’s something that’s going to happen to women time and time and time and time again. And we need to normalise it. We normalise women having periods. We normalise women having babies. Can we just normalise the fact that a woman is going to go through the menopause? And just to be aware and. My thing is be aware and do what is right for you. Don’t let anyone judge you for any choices that you make. Just do what is right for you. And just ask questions. Get your information and stuff. 

I was very shy until a few couple of years into my menopause, and I wish I did ask more questions or done more research. I’m on HRT now and that’s fine. It worked for me. I do not regret it. I’m glad I’m on it because it gave me my life back because at the time I was in a very, very low, dark place. And I think. The one thing I will say and it goes back to our conversation how the HRT is being pushed. Please. Women or ladies don’t suffer. Don’t be a martyr if you feel that bad. Get the help. Please don’t be a martyr. And also, if you decide not to take it, that’s fine. But don’t be a martyr. We’re living for longer. There’s a life out there to be enjoyed. Don’t let preconceived notions hold you in a state where you’re just not living or you’re just not happy. It’s not worth it. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. Yeah. And also to add to that, there is if HRT isn’t the path that you want to go down, if you’re listening and you’re thinking, I don’t want to go on HRT. There’s a lot that you can do in terms of the way you eat, how you move your body. Lots of very powerful supplements that you can take. 

You mentioned magnesium earlier. Magnesium is incredible for helping to reduce hot flushes, night sweats, helping to kind of help improve a night’s sleep. So just know that there are so many options out there now. I want to talk about the work that you do, because I find that you have this organisation now, 9 to 5 menopause, and you work with individuals. You work with companies and you work with organisations. And in terms of the work that you do with organisations and companies where you’re bringing awareness within the workforce of menopause and you’re helping to formulate menopause policies. Can you talk more about that? Because that feels very new and very interesting. 

Fay: Yeah, so it’s been quite a busy year for me this year and one of the things I want to do is bring awareness of the menopause into the workplace, and that’s based on my own experiences of not feeling comfortable to speak up and say anything. So one of the things I do is I go into companies and I’ve given awareness around my own journey or between me and HR, we have a discussion and it’s presented more of a panel discussion. And I say to them, Think about what you guys want to know about the menopause. And they and have two or three staff members asking me the questions and I can answer. 

And one of the things I insist upon, if at all possible, is they have a male staff member present asking me the questions because I also very much advocate men to be aware of what’s going on for various reasons. One, being a male member of staff could be line managing women who are going through this. And to quickly say also when you said about medical reasons why people don’t want to take HRT. You have to remember that women go through cancer. Women who have had hysterectomies, they might have a form of menopause and they could be in their twenties and thirties. So it’s it’s good if a male staff member’s aware of what a could be going through and what things they could be doing to make their life easier. Also, you could have a male member of staff, his wife or partner at home is having an horrific time of the menopause that will have a knock on effect on him and in turn could affect his performance at work where you could have a young man at home in his twenties. His parent is going through the menopause. That could also have a psychological knock on effect on him as well. 

When I look at their menopause policies and talking to them, I said, just be mindful. It could be really simple things of giving a staff member a fan on their desks, helping them. Is it easy if they sit in their window because it’s going to be cooler? Is it easier if they can amend their start and leave times to work because they’re not travelling to the rush hour is not so stressful? Could they? If they wake up and they’ve had a horrendous night, are you going to make it easier for them to say, okay, stay at home, you can work from home. They could be home in their pyjamas at lunchtime. They could go to sleep for 45 minutes to recharge themselves. So there’s loads a lot of things that companies can be looking out for to support their staff and to remember as well. It’s not just your average lady in the 50 year old sixty year old age bracket. You’ve got youngsters going through medical treatment. You’ve got trans people who are transitioning and they will have some form of menopause symptoms, hysterectomy, cancer. There’s a plethora of people that this could be affected by. 

Le’Nise: What’s really interesting is this idea, the idea of a menopause policy, you’ve made it sound very positive and very empowering, whereas other times other people I’ve heard talk about menopause policies, it’s very negative. It’s like, Oh, look out for these symptoms. Like, Oh, they might be having hot flushes or they might have brain fog. But what you’re talking about is, okay, let’s help our employees. So let’s create an open dialogue so they feel comfortable saying, can I sit there or can I have a phone? Or Can my work hours be adjusted? And I find that so, so interesting. 

Fay: I think because don’t get me wrong, this there’s still people coming in and going, no, not the bloody menopause again, almost rolling their eyes, just like oh Brenda’s having a hot flash. I used the name Brenda, I don’t know, but that’s the name of the woman to describe that person. So there’s still a lot of negativity and it’s quite interesting for me, October being Black History Month and World Menopause Month, I was busy. It’s a little bit quiet now and I’m like, Well, the blackness doesn’t go away and not the menopause. That’s just conversation. 

And I think one thing I’ve definitely picked up and I think the whole cost of living thing is not helping either. So many companies are cutting back and not putting their money towards the training as such. So they’ll do more next year, but also until it’s made the characteristic in law companies don’t have to do anything. So if they can just. Right. Look out for these symptoms. And here’s a link to the menopause. Charity is on menopause policy. There you go. They’re going to some companies are better than others. Some companies are putting their money. Where their mouth is and then others are just doing lip service. So until it becomes normal, you won’t see the push that is needed. And some people are still quite negative about it. Yeah, just like God. It’s like the whole George Floyd thing and everyone jumps into the big diversity bandwagon. 

Oh, we need more black people on seats. Like you should have had them before, but hey, it’s okay. And people go. Not another black person. We employ only black people. Now, trust me. I’ve heard that. I’ve heard. 

Le’Nise: Really?

Faye: Good. Yeah, it’s like B is because people are not used to it. It’s like and just darkness. It’s like these, like the whole launch of the Christmas adverts and they introduce black people having Christmas dinner and all the rest of it. And the backlash, I’m like, You realise we’ve always had black people eating Christmas dinner. 

What do you think you’ve been doing living under a rock? 

But this is what’s happened and people have not used to being confronted with that narrative around the menopause. And because also, as we said, it was always whispered in menopause, like people said, uncomfortable. And to be fair, you have to respect to something, feel uncomfortable because not everybody’s comfortable living brings in things and stuff. So you have to respect that. But at the same time, it’s like same as me. Come on, let’s just get the programme a little bit here. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, you have to. You have to meet people where they’re at and know, as you say, no, that everyone isn’t going to be fully stepping into this yet and conversations around this yet. But if someone’s listening and they’re going through this and they know that they have to have a conversation with their employer about what they’re experiencing because they feel like they are slowing down at work. And they want they don’t like that, but they’re nervous. How? Because I know that you also mentor individuals as part of the work that you do. What would be your advice to them? 

Fay: It’s really hard because unfortunately I’ve spoken to too many individuals that have just handed in their notice and left their jobs because they didn’t feel supported and they felt scared and they felt bullied. I think depending on your company, one, can you talk to your manager if you can brilliant, because then you can sort out something between you. And is there somebody in charge of the people team you feel you can go to and that will listen to you. And three. Don’t be scared. Depending on who who you work for and how they operate and how they view the menopause. Whether they have a policy or not. A policy. Don’t be scared to ask for that help. Because two things. One, the amount of industrial tribunal cases citing menopause has increased. Two, I’ve heard. Let me see how I can say this, because I don’t want to disclose any information. I’ve heard of people being women being reprimanded in work, and it’s only when it’s got to a quite a serious level that they disclosed they were going through the menopause and they were like, Oh, because she was trying to hide it, do her job. And certain things were happening which caused her to get in trouble. But when she when she when she describes the menopause was is not. Oh. So as hard it is, hopefully you’ve got a company or a line manager where you can go and speak to them and just let them know. But don’t be put off. Because I think companies should be aware you can’t treat women differently because it comes into the Health and Safety Act. 

You can’t treat women differently because they’re going through the menopause. And if you need that help, you need to work from home an extra day or you need to come in later and leave early or whatever. Just have a little think. Also, if you really struggle, have a think of a scenario you could present to them, just say, I’m getting really hot. I can’t cope. The office is too hot for me. Can I sit near the window? Can I have a fan or can I sit on a different floor? Or do you not me, try and think of a scenario that could help yourself and present it to them because you’re going to them with something and they’re like, What do we do here? They ain’t got a clue. So if you could come up with an idea and also because this covers on I could talk to you for so long, you got to think and I think it’s Tesco’s that have introduced the thing where they’ve allowed the um the people on the floor, the cashiers to change their uniform so to have a different style uniform because all those uniforms are synthetic. 

Do you see what I mean. Yeah. So they’ve introduced a policy where you can wear something which is more believable. Mm. That those kind of things have a little think of depending on your work, what it is, where you, what you do, if you can come up with a scenario or an option to present to your company. Happy Days. 

Le’Nise: So what you’re saying is to be really practical in one,  Don’t be scared, be really practical. And when in what you suggest, when you speak to your line manager so it’s or whoever you speak to, it’s not just I’m going through the menopause, it’s I’m going through the menopause. It’s affecting me in this way. And this is the way that you can support me. 

Fay:  Yeah. Then because I think if you go in blind they haven’t got a clue. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. Yeah. So if someone’s listening to this and they’re thinking, I need her help, how can people get in touch with you? How can they work with you? How can companies work with you? 

Fay:  So how companies work with me? I’ve done a lot of work for the NHS, funnily enough, I’ve done a lot of awareness talks with them. I am a registered trainer on a training provided, so I go to companies and run workshops. Individuals can contact me on my Instagram or on my website,. Or they can just send me an email fay at fayreid dot com. And I, I love talking to women stepping forward. Like the other week a lady contacted me and just said my hair’s falling out. It’s been really brittle and stuff and it was a black lady and I went right. I had the same problem. Start taking collagen, use high intensity moisturiser on your hair and stuff like that and just gave me some tips. So honestly, if they’ve got a question, just drop me a line and I’m happy to answer it. 

Le’Nise: All the links will be in the show notes so you can check those out there. What’s the one thing what’s the one thought that you want to leave listeners with today? 

Fay: Don’t be scared. Because the young, young women that I hear coming up and going back to our earlier conversation again is the negativity around and the moan and just like how it’s so bad. And young women are now stepping forward and saying to me, is it that bad Faye? And I’m like, no, it’s not. Don’t be scared. Because now we have knowledge and we have people like myself and Karen Arthur who are standing up and going, Hey, this is the menopause and stuff. And you can still live happy, fulfilled life. And it’s for a period of time. And if you can get your symptoms under control, you’ll be fine. Don’t be scared. 

Le’Nise: Fantastic. I mean, thank you so much for coming on the show and for being such an inspiration and for the work you do. So thank you again. 

Fay: Thank you for having me on. Feels such a pleasure that you asked me to be on your podcast, so thank you very much.