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:

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

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 Baker.com. 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! 

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

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:

Website

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

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:

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

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 Lounge.co.uk 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:

Instagram 

Website 

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

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. 

Period Story Podcast, Episode 60, Lucy Lettice: We Deserve Better Menstrual Products

I’m so pleased to share today’s episode with Lucy Lettice, the co-founder of &SISTERS, the femcare brand. In this episode, Lucy shares more about her mission to provide a menstrual health ecosystem offering products and services for all stages of the menstrual lifecycle, including better plastic-free period care. 

In this episode, Lucy shares: 

  • What happened when she started her period at 17
  • How tracking her menstrual cycle has helped her understand herself more and make better decisions 
  • The inspiration behind starting her company &SISTERS
  • How switching to a period cup can save up to 2,000 disposable period products per person over 5-6 years
  • And the story of her first period 

Lucy says that empowering yourself with knowledge of your menstrual health is so empowering and important and can help you make better decisions about your overall health. 

Thank you, Lucy!

Get in touch with Lucy:

Instagram

Website

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: Can you tell me the story of your very first period? 

Lucy: Yeah, definitely. It’s, it’s quite nice to reflect, you know, many years later. But um, I was definitely a late starter and I knew I was so I was actually 17 when I had my first period. And so of course that meant that I was sort of one of the, the last ones out of my group of girlfriends. And I went to an all girls school. So out of kind of most of my close knit friends. And I was definitely the last, the last one and many of many of my of my girlfriend had started their period when they were 11 or 12. And so to wait sort of five or six years definitely felt like quite a long wait. 

So I was definitely relieved and kind of glad to finally experience the sort of life changing moment that everyone had been talking about for so long, especially at a girls school. It’s something that comes up quite a lot by often every month. And not only because I felt sort of like I was finally matured and a woman, but also because my mum actually didn’t start to have a period until she was 18. So I always knew that it could be until I could be waiting to at least then and I’d actually kind of that year between 17 and 18 kind of felt like quite a big year in terms of sort of personal mental sexual development. So I was actually super relieved when I was 17 I finally and I finally got it because I knew I could have been waiting that much longer.

For the actual kind of period itself, which was really nothing to write home about. And I vividly remember I was in is in our family bathroom. It was quite a light period and I think that anything that kind of the menstrual blood in the toilet definitely made me feel maybe a bit faint. I think just seeing blood for the first time in that way was actually interesting and also like a bit of a rush, maybe excitement and pride before it dawned on me that I didn’t have any fem care products because I think in my head I definitely thought I would go until was 18, but I think maybe I shouted to my mum, maybe even showed her in the toilet. And then I remember she gave me either a non applicator, digital tampon or pad, but at this point any kind of period products that my girlfriends were using and it definitely wasn’t digital tampons, it was either like the newest, shiniest Tampax, which at the time was Tampex Pal, or it was a pad. So I took the part from my mum and yeah. So yeah. So that’s kind of the big story is the fact that actually I started really quite late, but the period itself was really nothing to write home about. 

Le’Nise: And so just kind of going back a little bit. Yeah. That time where so between it’s like say 13 around when your girlfriends validated to get their periods until about 17 when you got yours, even though you knew your mum had got her period quite late. Yeah. Was there any ever any questioning or was there ever any kind of conversations like, oh, maybe I need to go to the doctor to check this out and anything like that? 

Lucy: Honestly, no. But I think the reason that that was it wasn’t necessarily because I kind of didn’t think about it or wasn’t concerned about I think in general, my kind of like physical development, like at sort of 15, 16, I had a growth spurt. Like I went from being reasonably short and, you know, quite short compared to those my age. And then suddenly I was like one of the tallest. So I definitely could see that actually I was maybe developing slightly later. 

And, and I think, to be honest, just knowing that my mum had had that period later made me think that, you know, genetically, potentially mine would be too. I think also in terms of like my physical development, like I didn’t have had really developed breasts. I kind of, I think even things like bodily hair, you know, like hair on my legs, it still felt like it was kind of baby hair. It was it wasn’t sort of teenage hormonal changes that I was experiencing. So I think kind of subconsciously I probably thought, okay, well I’ll wait until 18 and then if I didn’t have it then, then potentially it would be something that I would investigate further. But yeah, I mean, really, I just sort of I guess I took what, when my mum started to have a period of sort of like, you know, our family trait and then accepted accepted that and yet never questioned anything else. 

Le’Nise: Right. Okay. That’s so interesting because I think what like in stories I’ve heard from in the past, from clients or other people that I’ve spoken to, the late later period, late onset period becomes a source of concern. Yeah. And you know, I’ve had clients have to go on the pill in order to kicks like so-called quote unquote, kick start their period. So I think it’s so I think it’s so great that not only you knew your mom’s experience, like she was open about it with you. Yeah, but you had this kind of mindset of like, well, it comes, comes when it comes. Yeah. 

Lucy: And I think the thing with the pill is I definitely had or knew the people that took the pill, whether or not it was because of potentially a slightly later period start or whether it was because of things like acne and so on. But I did know that that was sort of an option, but I definitely felt at the time that I didn’t want to go down that route unless I kind of actually had to. And I think, as you say, you know, because I knew them, my mom was 80 and she was 18 and I was kind of prepared to wait, but I definitely knew that that was an option and people around me definitely explored that, that route even to going to some who didn’t start until they were 15, 16, I remember they went on the pill around 14 because even that sort of year they were kind of like, Should I not had it yet? So yeah. 

Le’Nise: And when you got your period, what was it like? Like, well, you you described your first period, but then as they started to become more regular what what was your actual experience of having a period like? 

Lucy: Yeah. I mean, to be honest, I, I definitely count myself quite lucky in that I didn’t have particularly bad period pains. I think at the time, as I mentioned, between the girls, we discussed it quite a lot. And I think the only thing that really kind of came out of those conversations with that some people had quite bad period things and that having a period was it was a bit frustrating when you’re doing lots of sport and they were the kind of the two especially while I was still at school anyway, the two things that was really pulled out from it because they impacted our life the most. So, you know, if you had period pains, did you want to go and do sports and were you wearing a tampon. 

And I think I was lucky in that once I got my period, it was also really regular. So I could sort of plan from well, you know, now obviously I know much more about periods and and just sort of the at the different phases, but at the time it was great. It’s sort of like the early days. And so I knew when I was getting my period and therefore could sort of accommodate for that in terms of lifestyle and sport and, and the clothes you wear, etc.. But yet again, I mean, my period, it’s kind of it’s weird because maybe it’s against the conscious, but it’s always just been sort of a constant, like it’s been monthly. I didn’t track it. I never tracked my period until recently. But, and yeah, I remember it being and the one thing that I think is so interesting is especially at school and at a school that is run by girls, even though girls, you know, were very kind of forgiving of each other. And there was always this sort of concern of leaking and especially sort of, you know, like male teachers. And it was something that were getting exceptionally concerned about. And in that environment. And I remember some girls and they said they wear like two pairs of underwear, so they don’t leak. And it was like a real concern. And I think that was the kind of the yeah, the biggest thing of note that we discussed and, and yeah. Sort of played on our minds as opposed to now when there’s so many much education and so much more information out there, especially now that my girlfriends know and things we sort of maybe wish we did know. But yeah, generally my period was, was a constant in my life. 

Le’Nise:. So talk a little bit about the education part that you just mentioned. So how did you learn about about periods? And you mentioned leaking. What were the other parts of the conversations that kind of when you were in school? 

Lucy: Yeah. So I think yeah, I mean I had a very close knit group of girlfriends and I was lucky in many ways that we did speak about things. So before I had my period, I knew I knew what to expect. And, you know, I’d had numerous conversations and I felt excited and prepared for it. And, and I think and although there was kind of a lot of peer to peer lending, I guess. Yeah. Compared to now to know about menstrual health knowledge our knowledge barely scratched the surface. You know it was it was sort of you know, my girlfriend had quite a painful period and therefore she’s I take some painkillers, but it was enough that, you know, I never felt in the dark about periods. And, you know, I felt lucky enough to ask my friends about questions or concerns, etc.. 

But I think I think it’s not necessarily about the kind of periods in me, but in my life. I’ve definitely kind of kind of sought out quite a a natural approach to my body. And I’ve always been well, actually, to be honest, I think it’s probably from early jobs where I worked in kind of natural foods and natural products and kind of really opened my eyes to the benefits of, you know, yeah, things being as natural as possible, which is why I was, I was on the pill actually, not for kind of period reasons more for as a contraceptive, but actually then decided that even that was sort of, you know, I definitely began as I learnt more about periods to kind of question the sort of the hormonal side. And I think my education with with periods has been much more about yeah, the hormones and how that impacts you and how that impacts your sort of day to day life. And actually I really embraced it at school. A period is a very transactional thing. It was like I’m, you know, I’m female at some point at the period and and obviously, you know, why you have a period, but you just sort of accept it for what it’s worth, I think as I am, yeah, I kind of over the years it’s something that you. Yeah. You feel empowered by that it empowers you. To be able to do things like have children and yeah, with the different phases empower you to make decisions in your life around your period so that, you know, you sort of, for want of a better phrase, living your best life. Yeah. So. So, yeah. Yeah, definitely. 

Le’Nise: Okay. And when you mentioned earlier, I just want to touch on your. I want to touch on your experience of the pill in a minute. But again, you mentioned earlier about there were things that you know now that you wish that you knew. But, you know, in the early days of having a period. What were some of those things. 

Lucy: I think definitely the different phases. I think there were definitely days where within my cycle where I’d feel really lethargic and kind of exhausted. And I knew that my girlfriends felt very similar. And at the time you sort of put it down to growth, teenage hormones, etc.. But I think actually now, you know, I know a lot more from tracking my cycle, you know, when I’m ovulating, what type, what type of mood I’m in, you know, I feel much hotter. I will do it. And when I go out, things sort of get on my nerves a bit more. And I think at school, you definitely you don’t know any of that and you just think, you know, if I feel a bit rubbish, then it’s never linked to a period of period is just something that happens, you know, for a couple of days a month and you just accept it. Whereas actually there’s a, you know, there’s obviously a lot more to it and especially in these early days when you have your your first period, your menarche, it’s a lot of sort of adjustment and so on. But at the time you definitely put it down to overworked or too much sport or you know, and anything else. And I think so, yeah, that’s really kind of what I’ve learnt and what I now use to sort of yeah, kind of change the way that I live my life and I think tracking my cycle is yeah, I mean it’s amazing. I love tracking just to understand kind of yeah, monthly the same things that are happening and being able to make decisions around that I think is, is pretty empowering. 

Le’Nise: What do you use to track your cycle? 

Lucy: I use the Clue app. Okay. Yeah, I’ve used quite a few before. The reason I now use it is because it has so much my data that I’ve got to use it. Um, and so yeah. So I use the Clue app and um, yeah. And, and I, and I input lots of information into it. I mean, it’s not quite savvy enough to kind of utilise all of that and be sort of intense algorithms and tell me things. But actually even just for me to kind of look back if I have a day and you know, yeah, I feel and know or kind of have a really bad back pain or yeah, just kind of really grouchy and I can then go back and I know that actually if I’m ovulating or it’s a couple of days before ovulation and therefore that’s why I’m kind of acting that way. And I just, I think it’s amazing. But also I’m lucky that I do have regular periods and that I can use it in that way. I know that’s not that’s not the case for a lot of a lot of women. And so, yeah, I definitely feel lucky I can do that. Yeah. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: Okay, great. And so just going forward to your experience being on the pill and then coming off of the pill, can you talk a little bit about that? Like what was your experience like? Was it you seem to have had a very easy period experience. I wonder if what was your what your experience was like actually on the pill? 

Lucy: Yeah, I didn’t love the pill, to be honest. It was so I when I first went on the pill, yeah, about 19 and it was sort of the general one that everyone gets given, which I think is well it’s called different things, Microgynon. And um, yeah, I mean I was actually using it for contraceptive purposes and it was fine. 

I used Microgynon for a couple of years, but then I realised that actually I’m, I think at the time it made me what I was going to university and so a lot of other changes, but it made me feel a bit sort of. Out of control. Like, I felt, like, really emotional. And I just didn’t. I just didn’t like it. I, I felt not myself. And then I changed to Celeste and again, the names are irrelevant because I felt different things, but I changed it. This one, which made me a complete crazy lady and crazy, crazy and very, very emotional and lots of tears. Didn’t understand what I really didn’t like at all. 

And so then I had another one which was again the name is irrelevant, I will say it was Revenelle. And for me that worked really well and and it was getting better out of the three. But I think at that point and by then I was maybe early twenties, I was definitely researching a lot more about kind of health in general and the hormonal health, kind of menstrual health and just general wellness looking after yourself and I, yeah, I mean, so for want of a better phrase, I wanted to like go down a more natural route. I, I didn’t know how the kind of hormones were impacting, how I know how I felt in terms of like emotions each day, but more decisions I was making. You know what I. Because I was I was I guess I said I was a reasonably kind of conservative person. You know, I didn’t take risks. I wasn’t really kind of fearless. And I, I think I saw other people like that and maybe envied and wondered if maybe. Yeah, it was like a hormonal thing. So I definitely want to take a bit more of a natural path and I considered other contraceptives, but I think I wanted to have a period of, you know, just using natural conscience and therefore came off the pill. And I mean, you know, they say, you know, it takes a couple of months to sort of adjust. And I definitely felt better. My periods did get heavier, but not again, not not by it was a sort of drastic that I was like, oh, I have to go back on the pill. And and yet I actually I felt really relieved in those kind of couple of months after even though I was considering going back on in the future. But it was just, yeah, I felt like a sort of flushing out of hormones that by this point, you know, I’d been on the pill for maybe five or six years and it was liberating. 

Le’Nise: You mentioned that you notice people around you taking risks and being really adventurous. Yeah. And so when you came off the pill, like the last time. Yeah. What did you notice that coming in for you? 

Lucy: Yeah. I mean, I definitely think in the kind during that period, it was definitely a period in my life where I was freeing myself of a lot commitments, which was great. And I think that’s also why I kind of I felt like I could come off the pill because I was taking control of my life. I was at an age where there were so lots of options open to me. So and so. So. Yeah, definitely I do. I think that. Yeah. It was just generally a very kind of liberating experience. And I. Yeah, it was it was a very happy time in my life. So yeah, I would say that I’m not I mean, probably as a person, I am not risk averse, but I’m, I’m a planner. Yeah. Um, but yeah. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. I mean, there has to be some kind of, like, association with risk because you did start your own company. Yeah. For a lot of people, that’s like that’s very risky and they react with that. So yeah, you kind of did do that in a way. 

Lucy: I think it’s kind of it’s sort of controlled risk, whereas I think many things to do is sort of hormones are very unknown and and emotions, you know, that you have very unknown and kind of you can’t plan for them. And I mean, it’s interesting how the brain works, but but yeah, I definitely think in terms of it’s kind of professionally it’s. There’s also, I think, an excitement with things like, you know, have your own business and the opportunity there. I think it’s. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. And so talking about having your own business, so you founded your company &SISTERS with your mother? 

Lucy: Yes. 

Le’Nise: Can you talk a little bit about the company and what made you decide to jump into the femcare space? 

Lucy: Sure. So I think I mean, firstly, I started it with my my mum Claire sort of over three years ago now and we actually didn’t touch that much in terms of the period before. We’ve always had a sort of open, kind of close relationship. She’s definitely quite a liberal person, so we’ve always spoken about lots of different things. I always felt sort of empowered to speak to her and ask her questions about sort of any personal issues. And and yeah, I would say kind of on the whole, we had a really kind of open relationship.

And in terms of kind of starting the business, we both came from kind of very different sort of backgrounds. So her background was marketing and kind of strategic marketing and marketing. She’d seen kind of conventional and mainstream brands and how actually the kind of how they approach period care and sort of taboo topics and decided that actually the whole kind of narrative around periods being sort of like sanitary products and therefore that’s dirty or you know, and absorbency being like regular, you know, what is normal, you know, even worse. And she kind of felt really passionately about kind of, yeah, diving in and sort of changing the narrative around that and yeah, empowering women to understand their periods. 

And, you know, yeah, I think a lot of women sort of dread them so and not seeing them as sort of a negative thing. And from from my perspective, I sort of touched upon it in terms of the and the sort of natural side. But I, I studied food and wine, but it was all about kind of ingredients and sort of yeah, natural, no fuss. And so from my perspective, it was much more about, you know, why, why do mainstream products contain such awful things when we could have 100% organic cotton products, which obviously will be so much better for, you know, we talk about skincare and putting on our skin, but actually, you know, things like tampons we put on the insides of us. And so for me, it was much more formal and I guess you could say ingredient perspective and also sustainability. You know, I was very conscious that, you know, the choices that we make and I worked for a kind of zero waste company in a health food chain. So I was much more exposed to, you know, what we’re doing to the planet and how we can make make decisions with, with or without, with our wallets. 

So, so yeah, we kind of came at it from quite different perspectives. And my mom also,  was very lucky to do sort of travelling and she had seen a lot of kind of period poverty in Southeast Asia and generally across the globe. But I think she also felt really passionate that we wanted to have a part of business that was giving back and making sure that we were kind of educating and also supporting. Yeah, those kind of less fortunate and especially the kind of clothing that became like a lot more prevalent, especially here in the UK. So yeah, so that was sort of the merging of backgrounds and kind of passions. And yes, since then it’s been yeah, it’s been an exciting journey because yeah, we’ve been Yeah. For a couple of years now and yeah. Lots going on at the moment. Yeah. Yeah, I’ll wait until we discuss that later.

Le’Nise: And so the fem care space is really it’s such an interesting opportunity now and I definitely can have as someone who has to have an overview of the market, I see lots of brands coming into this space. Yeah. When you when you founded the company with your mom, what did you apart from, like the organic aspect? What did you want? What was the other other point of difference that you wanted to bring to the market? 

Lucy: Yes, I think so. The the nudie period cup, which is our period cup. And we actually spent 18 months kind of researching and developing because the period cup is such an amazing kind of state, like from a sustainability perspective product in that one cup saves 2000 disposable period products and in overtime, depending on how we use it for it can save 15,000 disposable period products and that in itself is a real kind of a green feat. And so we felt that we wanted to make sure that we were providing products that were much better for the environment.

But also, you know, consumers perspective will say much better for you as well. And with the period cup, we made a number of design modifications to kind of to suit women’s bodies, including kind of a lot of period cups have. And it’s quite a long kind of insertion part basically. And often it’s kind of suggested that you cut it and that can be quite ragged edge. And so a lot of feedback we’re getting was that people didn’t really just want a short one, but they wanted more kind of to be a little bit more tactile and insertion part. So we designed the pebble, which is a beautiful shape, and then just above it has reinforced silicone to basically aid insertion and removal. So we basically made a number of design modifications to try and create this one of the best cup for women. But we accept that, you know, that all women are different and actually you know our cup might not be for everyone but actually having a period cup in your sort of fem care or period care public armoury and even just using it for one period or a couple of days a period to help save those products going to landfill, etc.. 

But actually, the bigger mission for &SISTERS was creating a brand that can support women throughout all stages of their life. So we have our teen pack, which obviously is for your kind of first period, and contains really useful info leaflets on kind of all the different questions that you might have with your first period. And actually the feedback on that has been amazing and we have lots of kind of interaction with parents saying that it’s kind of a learning phase, which is what we see as a business and a real win.

And then obviously we have all of our organic cotton and our period cup which with our period cup, we have the teen cup as well. So again, hopefully supporting there is kind of this, you know, under 20 between sort of 14 and 20 is the period cup.

And then in terms of the business today and sort of where we want to go obviously is exciting and projects on the horizon. And actually, yeah, it’s our ambition to support women throughout more stages of life. And there are also this stage of life, you know, it’s not necessarily just sort of about your period starting it and whether you have and contraception or whatever, it’s there’s there’s, you know, maternity and menopause, perimenopause and all the other things that sort of happen as part of your period. So last year we launched our stain remover, remuvie, which again, you know, the feedback has been great because it’s one of these things leaks do happen, but actually what you use. So yeah, we kind of embarked on a mission to find the sort of most eco friendly stain remover suitable to remove blood or menstrual fluid or it’s great for anything and kind of added that to our product portfolio. So I think in terms of And Sister’s mission and ambition is very much to support, throughout all stages of life. Obviously we had to start somewhere and I think where we started was very much kind of with Teen and then the sort of organic cotton and unique period cup. But as we kind of yeah, as we grow and as time goes on this ambition to to help support women across many more stages of life. 

Le’Nise: Okay. Amazing. I want to just ask a little bit more about the menstrual cup. Yeah. Because something that I find when I speak to my client or just clients and just general conversations that I have about different period products is that. There’s a fear factor with the menstrual cup. And there’s it’s just very you mentioned fear of leaking earlier. There’s a big one with the cup and then then it’s well, how do I clean it? How to navigate it when I’m out and I, I find it so fascinating because I definitely that was like a real sticking point for me personally in the beginning. And I love it. I love mine that I am actually I have my period right now and I am okay then and I wouldn’t go without it. But what do you say when women express this kind of trepidation about using a cup to you. 

Lucy: I think with with kind of with COVID it’s been an opportunity when people have been at home a little more and working from home, because I think we recommend that. Firstly, you use at least three cycles to try and get used to using the cup, whether or not that’s even just kind of plucking up the courage to to insert it, but also just kind of getting used to it in terms of your body and in terms of kind of how to insert it and making sure that, you know, kind of how often you would need to take it out in order to avoid leaking. I think in terms of sort of putting one’s mind at ease, we always suggest that you could try it when you’re not on your period so, is not that kind of concern of a bit of a mess or, you know, sort of concern in terms of what’s going on. Trying it when you’re most relaxed, your muscles are most relaxed, trying in the shower, where there is potentially a bit more lubrication. But actually, I think I mean all the ways that you that you raise a very valid and I think that’s what a lot of the concerns that women have. But on the other side, you know, once once people do kind of tackle it and attempt to use the cup, as you said, the responses, I’ll I’ll never go back to, you know, tampons and pads because it is just so much better. So I think it’s really just helping people get up that hill. 

And we, you know, we regularly speak to customers about the best kind of methods to try it out. And I think from our perspective, yeah, giving yourself enough periods to make sure that when you have the right size cup because actually it’s not about slow, it’s about size and yeah. And therefore it can be different for different women. So it’s about making sure that you have well and also size as in how low down the size is. And I think it’s yeah, definitely about finding the right cup as well. 

And with our cup we have like an extra layer of silicon, so it’s really silky soft, which also helps. But yeah, I think. I think. Yeah. Just giving yourself enough time to make sure that it works for you. Because we’re often asking you, should you feel anything? Should you feel that the sort of that you can start to remove? And, and it’s a lot that there is kind of troubleshooting, but actually once you kind of address the concerns, I think women really. Yes.suit really well in terms of leaks. I think the biggest thing with leaks is that actually the cup hasn’t opened properly and it hasn’t created a suction seal, which again is just a matter of troubleshooting. You know, we recommend obviously washing your hands. You just run your finger around and the rim and it should hopefully open up the cup fully and that will create the suction seal. And so, so yeah, so there are a number of kind of top tips. Um, but actually in terms of leaking, it is amazing how much they can hold. And I think even women are really surprised by that. And if it is leaking, it’s most likely not to do with kind of size or shape of them what to do with that. It hasn’t yet created the suction seal. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, I think just on the size of the cup, what I would add, this is a kind of general comment for the. Yes. That I would actually love to see more, larger cups because yeah, some of my clients, they it’s they have very heavy flows and they’ll they’ll have to change their cup more frequently. And they don’t, they don’t love that. And they would love to have like a cup that would hold. I think the largest I’ve seen is 60 millilitres. Okay. Yeah. And they, that’s where the kind of feedback that I get. Yeah. Like where are the larger. Yeah. There are the larger cups because when you look at the, the, the period underwear market you have to see like more of that kind of very heavy flow product kind of starting. 

So you’ve talked about the menstrual cup, the stain remover I know you have period underwear as well. Yeah. What do you what what is what do you want? Like, how do you want this market to move forward? It’s quite vibrant at the moment. You know what where like if you kind of look at the fem care market, what are your or your thoughts on where it is now versus where it was when you were even in the planning stages of starting &SISTERS.

Lucy: Yeah, definitely. I mean, you mentioned a couple of other other brands, but I think the thing is, is all of the all of us kind of challenges are are, you know, as one. And actually really it’s kind of taking on the sort of conventional and mainstream market. And I think that, you know, as women, we we deserve better products. We, you know, we we should have access to them. And I think that really is our biggest challenge, making these products that we know are better for our bodies accessible to to everyone. And actually, yeah, you know, eating a little bit of the pie that the conventional products take and really that that is the end goal. 

I think, you know, along the way it is there’s so much to be done in terms of educating women. I think even for myself as a teenager, I was using, you know, Always scented, you know, the worst possible product. And therefore, it really wasn’t a surprise that you have, you know, vaginal irritation or, you know, thrush and, you know, all of these things because the products we’re using obviously not great for such a sensitive area and are known to cause vaginal irritation and disrupt the natural pH of the area. So I think, you know, from from that perspective is this that there’s so much to be done on the kind of the journey to get there and education or even re-education. Because, you know, as we are teenagers, you know, often you don’t know what’s in your products and you haven’t had to kind of have ingredients on on the box. So they don’t and they’re full of nasties, you know, perfumes and yeah, I mean, so many kind of irritants and nasties. So I think. That’s sort of the end goal right there. But I think the kind of yeah, the journey to get there is so much about education and making sure that we can get our products to sort of as many women as possible. And yeah. 

Le’Nise: Fantastic. I think it’s such a great mission and I love what you and your mom are doing with your company. I just I’m always looking for these sort of products to talk about and recommend. So. Yeah, I love it. Keep going. 

Lucy: Thank you. 

Le’Nise: When you just to kind of wrap up our conversation, if you had to leave listeners with one thought to kind of go away with, what would you want that to be? 

Lucy: I think definitely to find out and research questions that you ever have about yourself and your menstrual health and general well-being. Because I think information is so powerful, and I think I’m kind of lucky enough to be in this space and to have learnt so much about my menstrual health and well-being and hormones. And I think that in itself has been so empowering. And and yet, you know, I recently had a baby, so actually I’ve this the whole kind of yeah. Menstrual health period health, monthly well-being is so important when we embark on these different parts of our life. And I just think that empowering yourself with with the knowledge is so important. And actually part of the &SISTERS ambition as well, to be able to provide women with the kind of resources and information to help them make decisions. And because there is is there is a lot of information out there, but it’s not always kind of promoted. So yeah, I would I would recommend women always empower themselves with as much kind of knowledge as possible to be able to make decisions, whether it’s about contraception or any anything else that actually to kind of ask these questions because yeah, often women feel kind of isolated with the issue but actually when you go out there and seek answers, you realise that you are not alone and that many of these issues, many women experience and there’s a lot of support of that. So. Yes. 

Le’Nise: Brilliant. Well, thank you so much for coming on the show. It’s been so great to talk to you and learn more about you your first period. 

Lucy: Thank you so much for having me. It’s been amazing.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 59, Elle Linton: Understanding Your Menstrual Cycle Means You Can Train Less

Today’s conversation with Elle Linton, the creative entrepreneur and athlete is a very nice bookend to last week’s episode. In this episode, Elle talks about how menstrual cycle awareness has been a powerful tool for her as an athlete. 

In this episode, Elle shares: 

  • Her experience of being on the pill from aged 13
  • What she did to learn about her body and menstrual cycle after coming off the pill 
  • The effects of anti-inflammatories on her stomach 
  • How menstrual cycle awareness and being in tune with her body helped her complete a half-marathon right before her period started 
  • And the story of her first period 

Elle says that tracking and understanding her menstrual cycle has helped develop a flexible and adaptable training plan that means that she can train less and make more progress. 

Thank you, Elle!

Get in touch with Elle: 

Website

Instagram

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: Hi Elle. Thank you so much for coming on the show today. Let’s start off by getting into your first period story. So tell me the story of your first period. 

Elle: So I think I had just turned 12 years old and I was definitely like either the start of year seven or eight in secondary school and I think it was a Sunday evening. So at that point I was getting ready to go ice skating because that’s what we did on a Sunday evening. And I went to the toilet and there was blood in my knickers. So I went to my mum and I was like, Mum, I think I’ve started my period. I’m pretty sure I was aware of periods. I think we all were at that time. I feel like we were excited to get our periods because we didn’t really understand what they entailed. So it was an exciting time. 

And my mum had actually had a hysterectomy like probably like 12 or more years ago, so she hadn’t been having periods and so she wasn’t really fully aware of like what products were available. So she got in touch with one of my best friend’s moms, that friend was Sarah, her mum was Karen and they like sent me over a little S.O.S. package with sanitary towels. And I put one on and I went ice skating, and everything was fine for that first period. It was like exciting to share that with my friends and be like, I finally got my first period. And I wasn’t. I wasn’t the first in my group. I think I was second. If it was a competition, I was second. So yeah, it all started off well and it started off like fun and exciting and I guess it felt like the start of a new era in growing up, right? 

Le’Nise: And when you then started to get more more regular periods. Actually were your periods regular after your first period. 

Elle: Yeah. I think they were. I don’t remember, I don’t remember thinking this is not regular or it is not coming. They were definitely like coming each month and I think with each month they progressed. And so the first one, like I said, it was fun. It was exciting. I went ice skating, there were no issues, but every month the symptoms got worse and worse and like massively worse and worse. I thought that was just how periods were. 

Le’Nise: So when you say your symptoms got worse, what sort of symptoms were you’re experiencing? 

Elle: So I was having pain lots and lots and lots of pain. And it got to the point where like paracetamol wasn’t working, like over-the-counter medications weren’t working. I was having to take time off school every month because I just was not feeling up to go into school. And so I ended up going to the GP and they gave me stronger painkillers like anti-inflammatories and everything worked for a while. Like I think I was on Naproxen and that worked for a while, but then I would go through the same thing again, where eventually whatever I was doing would stop working and the pain would come back and get progressively worse each month. I remember like episodes of I call it whiting out because I’m not sure if it was fainting, but it wasn’t blackout. Like everything would just go super bright white and sounds would be amplified and I would just kind of like, pass out, I guess, for a moment. And that happened like a few times I can remember like on the London Underground. I remember happening in the train once. I remember happening on the bus to school once, and that was just normal for me as far as I was aware. Like I didn’t know any different, you know? 

Le’Nise: Well. And how old were you when all of this started incrementally progressing? 

Elle: So it must have been like between 11 and 13 that it got to the worse because it was at 13 that I started on the contraceptive pill. 

Le’Nise: At 13 years old. 

Elle: Yeah, at 13 years old, I was put on the pill because of my periods. 

Le’Nise: I am shocked.  This is incredibly young. 

Elle: Yeah. 

Le’Nise: Can you just talk us through the conversation that you had with your GP and your parents or your mum or your dad? How were they were involved in this decision?

Elle: So it’s just me and my mum. And like I said, I had been going to the GP. They had put me on Naproxen. I think I was on Diclofenac or something else, like I’d been on a couple. And then it just got to the point where as far as the GP was concerned, there was no more that they could do for me other than to put me on the pill, because that was a way of managing symptoms, managing my cycle and allowing me to, I guess, live a normal life like I was. It was absolutely nothing to do with it being a contraceptive. It was just for me to have that control over my cycle and to be able to go to school like throughout the month and not have to worry about, you know, being knocked out with pain and discomfort.

Le’Nise: It’s just I just find it so shocking because you just think about the brain development that’s happening at that age and you’re introducing this this drug that disrupts the communication between the brain and the ovaries and the telling the brain what level of oestrogen and progesterone it needs to produce the ovaries needs to produce. And so I wonder when you were having all these conversations about the different anti-inflammatories, painkillers, the contraceptive pill, were you having any other individual investigations like for fibroids or endometriosis? 

Elle: No, I do not remember having any other investigations. It was just here’s the pill, bye, goodluck. And I mean on the surface it works well for me, you know, like it was 21 days of a pill, seven days pill free. Like it then became the fourth day of not taking the pill. My period came. I knew how long it would last. It felt like I had complete control over this cycle. I still did have discomfort, but it was nothing that was debilitating in the sense it stopped me from going to school, living a life. And, you know, it became the norm for me to go back to back pills. I remember when I learnt that you could take you didn’t even have to stop. You could take them non-stop. So if I was going on holiday, it would be like, Cool, well, I’ll just keep taking my pill and live my life, you know? So from that sense, I think it works well. But I think the thing that really upsets me looking back is that I was then on the pill for 17 years. 

Le’Nise: 17 years? Yeah. Oh, my goodness. My reactions. I’m sorry.

Elle: I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, period, as I just do both at the same time. But yeah, I was on the pill for 17 years and like you said, like the pill is affecting the the messages between these hormones in your body. And that was what’s that was what encouraged me to come off the pill because I started to realise that I was having thoughts that I was sure were not me. And I was thinking like. I actually don’t even know who I am. Like, I don’t know who I am. I’ve been on the pill since I was 13 years old. My body has never had a chance to be itself. I’ve never had a chance to have thoughts that are, you know, charged by hormones. Like I’ve always been closely controlled with what I’ve been putting into my body. That’s the only reason that I came off the pill, because I figured it was about time I figured out who I actually was. 

Le’Nise: So you were on the pill from 13 until you were 30? 

Elle: Yeah. 

Le’Nise: Wow. And when you came off the pill, you wanted to do one of the reasons to discover who you really were. Tell us a little bit about that discovery. 

Elle: So it all started when I was having some bleeding in between my periods and we didn’t really know what it was. The GP couldn’t figure out what it was. I didn’t have a clue. And then I feel like my whole life I’ve always had to be like that researcher on Google to figure out what’s going on. And then I figured out one day that I think I had what was called cervicitis and I had cells that were from the inside of my uterus, I believe, growing on the outside of my cervix when they should be on the inside. And the cells are very, very sensitive. So they would literally bleed because they felt like it. But before I figured that out, the GP was just like, well, you know what, it’s probably your pill, let’s change your pill. And I had been on Microgynon for like, I don’t know how many years at that point and she changed me to another pill and that didn’t work. I still had the bleeding. 

And then she changed me to another pill and it was on this pill, and I don’t remember the name. I honestly was having suicidal thoughts and I was like, I would never be the person that would willingly choose to end my life, but on that pill that’s how I felt. And I was like, This is insane. And I start taking that pill and the suicidal thoughts went away and I was. So that’s what made me think, Oh my gosh, like this, this tiny pill is powerful enough to completely change your mindset and make you want to do things that you know that you wouldn’t want to do on a normal day. And that’s why I then really wanted to figure out, like, what would my natural thoughts be like? Who would I be without taking this pill every day? And that’s what encouraged me to stop. 

Le’Nise: What were your natural thoughts? What did you discovered about who you really were without hormonal contraception? 

Elle: So coming off the pill actually was not as easy as it seems. First of all, like I went to the doctor because obviously that’s who started me. And by this point, I had done a little bit of research. I had spoken to friends. I had like read that, you know, you shouldn’t take the pill over 35 or something like this is like almost ten years ago now, I guess. I think this is around the time there were starting to be seen, like Netflix documentaries about the pill and other forms of contraceptives. 

I went to the GP and I was like, Hey, like I feel like it’s a good time to come off the pill. What do you think? And and he was like, Oh, you don’t have to do that for like another five years. And I was like, Yeah, but like, what does the research say? And he didn’t really have an answer. And then when I was like, Oh, I just want to come off the pill, he was like, How about that? And I think I was on the combined pills of how about the like progesterone only pill? I think it is. And I was like, I feel like you’re not really listening to me here. Like, I don’t want to take these things. So I kind of went away and I just stopped taking the pill. But then I ended up going back on the pill because my skin got so much worse. Like, I’ve always had acne, but my skin got even worse when I stopped taking the pill. So I went back on the pill and then I ended up, I can’t remember if I had stopped or started, but I ended up bleeding for like two weeks straight. And I was like, This is insane. 

So I had to go to the doctor again and they gave me tablets to like stop the bleeding. And then I was like, I have to stop this cycle. I have to stop it. But in terms of like who I was mentally like, it was I was fine, like the symptoms of suicidal thoughts and all that craziness completely disappeared when I stopped taking that pill. So I had no issues. But the biggest thing was I then had to learn about my body because the pill took away the need to understand how my body functions, like I had to learn about my cycle and how I would feel and how my body would feel and how it would react to hormones. And, you know, how long was my cycle? Like, do I still get period pain? Like, do I get PMS? Do I feel moody? Do I do my boobs hurt before? Like, I didn’t know the answer to any of this. So it was a massive learning curve in my early thirties, which sounds insane saying to be honest. 

Le’Nise: Wow. I mean, what a journey you went on, having had really painful periods from when you first got your period to then being on the pill and different types of contraception up until 30 and then having to go through this whole journey of self-discovery. So emotionally, you know, who are you all you know? Or this is the person you were. You thought you were really the person that you are, that you are, and then learning about your body. 

And what’s really interesting is that you mentioned early in our conversation that your mum had had a hysterectomy. Do you mind just saying a little bit about that? Because I’m curious about because you kind of just mentioned it quite casually, but then you had these really painful periods and didn’t have any investigations for, you know, fibroids and choices. But then you mentioned that your mum had had a hysterectomy, which is where, you know, I don’t know if it was a partial or full where her uterus and ovaries were removed. But can you just say a bit more about that? 

Elle: Yes. I don’t remember if she had partial or full, but she had that because she had her own issues when she was growing up with periods and with like really heavy period periods that lasted for weeks and weeks on end. And I don’t think or don’t know if she was formally diagnosed with anything like fibroids, etc. but that was the solution, I guess, that she opted for and it worked for her. And that saying that what you just said about investigations like I do remember, I don’t know why I was there. I think I ended up having a scan of my uterus at one point when they were investigating, like if I was lactose intolerant, which sounds really weird, but when I told the GP I thought I was lactose intolerant, as it turned out, they did every other test before they did the lactose test. So I know, I know. They literally they were like, let’s rule everything else out before lactose. And I’m like, I’m telling you, that’s a whole nother story. So I remember having this scan and I do remember the doctor being like, Look, you’ve got a beautiful uterus, so a beautiful ovary is like, okay, well, everything’s well there they do. You know that that all of that was fine. And I think I’ve been lucky in that I’ve not quite inherited whatever was up with my mum, to be honest. 

Le’Nise: And having gone through this journey of self-discovery and then also kind of overlaying your your whole kind of experience as an athlete, what’s changed in your body? Like, what have you had to do differently and how have you had to think differently about your body? 

Elle: So I think that’s been a whole nother discovery in itself because. I cycle. I run. I do classes. And then. Say, for example, with cycling we could be out for a long ride and I’ll be out like all day. So I have to think about the fact that, you know, the first two days of my period are very heavy. And for me, like, I need to know that I’ll be able to go to a toilet and be able to, like, change products or clean myself up when I need to. So that’s always factored in. 

But then the most important thing has been like learning how to work with my menstrual cycle. Because there are times like during my cycle where I do feel stronger and there are times where I feel more tired. And I say that actually it’s only been in the last two or three years that I think that’s really come to the forefront for me. And I think it’s just best because there’s been so little research done on the female physiology and being an athlete, being active that it’s taken that long for it to seep down into the mainstream. 

So yeah, I spent the last two or three years like really looking at my cycle, learning, learning about all the phases, learning about and how typically how you would feel. Because obviously there’s, there’s a textbook like scenario and then there’s the reality. So learning about how I typically should feel, how it typically should perform at that time, and then aligning my training with that. So for example, with running or cycling, I do all my like long, longer easy runs and rides towards the end of my cycle. And then I do like the intervals, the hard stuff, the faster towards the start. And that’s kind of like where the simplified version of breaking it down. And I think that’s meant that, you know, you can actually train less, which sounds really counterintuitive, but you don’t have to train six days a week because you’re working with your body rather than doing sessions, you know, that are not progressing, you know, making stronger, not making fitter and having to do six sessions a week. 

Le’Nise: That is so interesting as an athlete, how you’ve been able to build in menstrual cycle awareness into your training and how you plan your weeks and how you plan your month. What happens or how do you account for times where you have a race or you have to teach a class and let’s say you’re in the first couple of days of your period. 

Elle: So I think basically I just know that I have to work with my body on that day. So for example, a recent example was I had a half marathon a couple of months ago and I think it fell. Right before my period started, actually. And although although the textbooks say that, you know, typically you won’t be feeling great at that point, I’ve actually found that the one or two days before my period, I feel pretty good. 

And so I decided my strategy on that morning was going to be a run walk because I knew that just going along wouldn’t be good for me. So I did a four minute run, one minute walk, which meant that 5 minutes into my half marathon or 4 minutes into my half marathon I was walking. And it was hilarious. People were like, looking at me like, what is she doing? Like, Is she okay? And they probably thought I was never going to make it to the end, but I did it in just under two and a half hours, which, considering I haven’t trained well, was the same time I did like my first ever half and I was super happy with that. I finished and I felt strong and I know that I have if I know that I have something coming up on the first two days of my period, typically if it’s a class like. I know that I will get through it. And I think it’s just about having strategies in place and knowing like, you know, if I’m going to do a ride, I will put in a cafe stop make sure that there’s a cafe stop where I know there are clean toilets that I can use.  

And I’ve adjusted what products I use. So for cycling I will use a menstrual cup which works really well because typically even if I’m on a heavy day, that will still last me like at least two, 3 hours or more. And then yeah, I just I just I have all, I have all the products I need, like period pads for heavy flow. I got all of those, I got period leggings, you name it, and I’ve got it basically. And I will just batten down the hatches. It will be a menstrual cup,  it’ll be period pads, period leggings. And I get to get to work, get it done and then it’s all good. 

Le’Nise: Wow. Well, I love that. I love the adaptability and I love the fact that, you know, you have all of these different products that and you’re able to you’re able to just chop and change based on whatever you need on that individual day. 

And just going back to what you were saying about your half marathon, I remember you putting a post on Instagram about it, and I thought it was so interesting because, you know, that’s such a real life. That’s a real life example of adapting to your cycle and pacing yourself really well and pacing yourself to the point where you actually finish at around the same time as another half marathon that you did when, maybe you ran the whole way. 

Yeah, which is just so fascinating because I think when you were running a race, you, you almost you get caught up with a crowd. And I found that when I was running in the past where you actually and I found that I had lost my pace because I was going with the momentum of the crowd. And I ended up having to walk a bit at the end because I just exhausted myself. So I just love what you said about running your own race, pacing yourself, not worrying about what other people were doing and how it got you to where you where you needed to be. 

Elle: Yeah, it was honestly, it was like the best feeling. And I can’t even explain just, just being free to listen to your body and make that decision on the morning to go with how you feel on that day. Because we all know, like no matter what, what you put in, you could just have a bad night’s sleep and that, like, ruins everything. And you’re just going to upset yourself if you’ve gone with this big grand plan that you decided on six months ago, and then it doesn’t work on the day. So I’m all for like just listening to how you feel and going with the flow. Pun intended. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: We haven’t had many athletes on the show, so I’m really happy that you’re here and that you’re talking about this. So if someone’s listening and they’re very into sports or they’re a professional athlete or an amateur athlete, or they just, you know, they just do a lot of classes or whatever. And they’re very interested in this idea that you’ve been talking about, about overlaying menstrual cycle awareness into their training, but they don’t know where to start. What would be your suggestion to them? 

Elle: So I would say the most important thing, first of all, is to just know, know your cycle and understand how a cycle works. So I’d say knowledge is power. And I started off by doing lots of reading, like I’m currently reading your book. I’ve read Period Power, I’ve read ROAR by Doctor Stacy Sims and just learning about how a cycle works. 

And then secondly, I say track your cycle. So I’ve been tracking my cycle now for at least six years, if not like seven or eight. And you really get to know like how your body works. And that’s the first way to like, no, no and see any changes. If you have the time and inclination, it’s good to like maybe keep a journal of your symptoms and really line that up with where you are in the cycle. So the first thing, yeah, learn and learn and then start to apply bit by bit of what you’re learning to your cycle. So I started off with the supplement regime that Doctor Stacy Sims suggests, which were like a few basic supplements that I already had anyway that you take five days in meeting up to the start of your period. And it probably sounds like an exaggeration, but that literally changed my life. Like. I went from being the person who because by the way, I now I’m not able to take anti-inflammatories. They damaged my stomach to the point that I now can’t take them. 

Le’Nise: Oh, my gosh. 

Elle: Right. That’s how bad it got. And so, yeah, I would I could only take paracetamol. And it was indeed very much. But I went from the point of now being off the pill, taking paracetamol to sometimes maybe once every six cycles I take one paracetamol. So it’s been amazing to not have to rely on painkillers to feel good on my periods and like know that you can. So yeah. So once you’ve, once you start to implement little things each month and see how that works for you and then, you know, all of these books share information on, you know, types of training that work. And just really look at your look at what you’re doing and see if you can just juggle things around. Like I was saying about keeping the high intensity stuff in the point where you feel really good and then just slowing it down, being a bit more like restorative through the second half of your cycle. And I think probably the hardest time to work is during your actual period because that’s very individual. No, like you’re supposed to be at your strongest as opposed to be at your best. But that might not necessarily be how you feel because like I said, my first two days are super heavy. So sometimes sometimes I’m like, if it’s a class at home, I can go hard for 30 minutes if I feel like in the mood. But otherwise I still have to take those two days of being gentle with myself. So yeah, I think learn, implement and always be kind to yourself. 

Le’Nise: That’s interesting what you said about you’re supposed to be at your strongest during your period because that’s not what my experience is. And that’s not actually what I what I’ve seen in the research, and I’ve seen a few people say that online. But if you look biologically and hormonally what’s going on, it actually, you’re more resilient during a period in that like you can take you can take a lot because your body is going through so much. But what I’ve seen in the research is that actually after you finish your period, you’re at your strongest with the rise of testosterone and the rise of oestrogen. So that’s really interesting. That’s that you’ve said that is kind of a proof that you have to just see what’s going on in your body and not rely so much on what the books are telling you because the books aren’t going to overlay exactly with your own experience. 

Elle: Yeah, I’m like I was saying the books say that just before your period is when you know you’re tired and you’ve got an energy. But actually that’s when I’m like, I can get my 5K PB so if I listen to the books, I will be wasting that time. But yeah, you have to do what works for you and what works for your body. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. So you’re also a personal trainer. How does does this cycle awareness apply to your clients or does it apply to the work that you do with your clients? 

Elle: Yeah. So being a personal trainer is actually quite hard because you only see your clients for like, you know, one hour a week or one hour a month for some of them or 3 hours a week. It’s a very short amount of time. So every day before I have a client, I always check in with them to be like, you know, how are you feeling today? Like, is there anything that you don’t want to do? Is there anything that you do want to do? And like, that’s kind of like my way of asking, you know, at what point are you on your cycle? You don’t have to say, I’m on my period, but you can just let me know like I’m feeling full of energy today or I’m feeling like I really want to slow things down. And, and then I think it’s I’ve got clients who are like premenopausal, menopausal, like everything in between, basically just being female physiology. 

And so I’ve had to do a lot of learning as well. And I also started reading a book about being active, like through through menopause and after menopause. And there was a comment in the book and it was like, you know, she was saying that it’s great to start reading this book so, you know, your body’s going through. And actually, I was like, I think you should be reading this book like way before you even start to have any symptoms. I’m like, Why should we wait till we start going through a situation to learn about it? Like, I would love to have known what I know now about periods before I started my period rather than, you know, 20 years after starting. So I’m learning about how the body works through all the different stages of life so that I can implement that with clients. Because when you’re active is so important to, you know, have that information so that you can not only move right, but eat right and nail the basics, which is so important, like sleep and hydration and your protein. Those are the important things, like less so than what we’re doing in our 1 to 1 sessions. So I feel like I tried to educate myself so that I can share that and encourage my clients to educate themselves so that they can the cost of their bodies in the best possible way, depending on their stage of life, like where they are. 

Le’Nise: So that’s that’s amazing. I want to go back to what you said about how you made some simple changes. And actually, now you don’t you don’t have to use well, you can’t use anti-inflammatories, but every kind of six periods, you use, you take maybe one paracetamol. And I just want to go back to that because I think it’s so powerful for people to know that you can change your period. You know, it’s just it’s not just people like me saying, yes, you can have a better period. You approached that through simple changes that you’ve make in supplements the way you eat. I don’t know exactly what you did, but that you. It is possible to change your menstrual health. It is possible to have a better period. Can you talk a little bit about your relationship with your period now?

Elle: So in terms of what you just said, like 100%, I agree. I feel like society has made us believe that we have to tolerate what we are given. And that isn’t the case. Me and my period. Now, I would say that there are parts of it that I am happy with and there are parts that are frustrating. And I say the most frustrating part is that I have quite a short cycle. So it’s typically like around 24, 25 days. So it feels like it feels like I’m always on my period, but I feel like my period is a sign of my health. So any time that something changes that, because I’m tracking it, because I know it, like I know that something’s up. And the times that I do have to take that one paracetamol it’s been closely related to COVID. So after I’ve had COVID a few times, unfortunately, and I’ve also had the vaccines and had very adverse reactions and not like hospitalising, but very, very adverse. And I found that after each of the episodes like my period changes and the flow changes and the pain changes. So that’s when I’ve had to take paracetamol. 

So it’s definitely for me, a sign of my health is. I feel like. It feels like a just a natural process now. And now I’ve moved away from using tampons and sanitary towels because I’ve tried to be more sustainable and actually like. I just enjoy the process of cleansing. And sometimes I’m just like, I wish that I could do, this sounds probably so weird, but just bleed and be done with it. Like not have to worry about all these products and, you know, staining the bedsheets and all this kind of stuff. So yeah. So like it’s for me now, it’s a very just natural process and it’s annoying when it comes when I’m about to go on holiday, which feels like every holiday this year. But it is what is. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. Can you just go back to what you said about the effect that taking all the anti-inflammatories had on your stomach? Because that’s something that I’ve seen a lot in clinic, but that’s not something you necessarily hear people talk about. And you go to the doctor, they’ll tell you to you know, they’ll just tell you, take the painkillers, you know, just keep taking them. But then for you, that’s had a really negative impact on your, is it the lining of your stomach? 

Elle: Yeah. So basically, like I said, every time I went back to the GP because something wasn’t working, they would just put me on to stronger and stronger painkillers. And I do think Naproxen was the one that did this to me finally. And I had actually go into the GP because I think I had a pain in my knee and the GP was like, Well, here’s some naproxen, take one of these like three times a day. And I said to the doctor, I was like, Are you sure? Like, I need to take that much because I take like half like once a day for my periods. And he was like, Nope, do that. And I went, Ah. And I took, I think I took one in an evening. And then I woke up and I took one in the morning and I was getting ready for work. And I have never had a pain like this in my life. 

And anyone who’s had a pain in the actual stomach, because I think when we say we have stomach ache, most people may like their bowels, but when you’ve had a pain in your stomach, which is very high and close to your heart, like it is scary. And I take myself down to A&E because I had no idea what was going on and they were like, Oh sorry, we don’t have the machine and  sent me to another A&E. And then I literally sat down with a doctor and he’s like, You’ve got is it gastritis, whatever, when the lining of your stomach is bleeding? And he was like. Asking me what had happened, and he said it was the Naproxen or the anti-inflammatory. And he was just like. Don’t take these again. And I think that I didn’t really understand how serious it was. 

So then a while later, like, I continue taking my periods at the smaller dose, but by this point my stomach was like, I’ve had enough. I remember being at home. I was renting at this point with my friend and my landlord. And being having this pain again. But this time I was like, I know what it is, so I had to call the out of hours GP and he came came to me. His name was Dr. Hope, ironically. I was like, That’s what I need. So I was like, Don’t you got to give me that omeprazole or something. The thing that like lines up stuff and it stops the pain. So yeah, again, he was like, you can’t take anti-inflammatories, like nothing. Don’t do it. So from that day, my stomach still suffers. Like, I’m from the Caribbean. I love spicy foods. Sometimes when I eat spicy foods like the pain, the next morning is not bad. Like it was then to take me to hospital. But I do have a stash of the stomach lining tablets for the days I wake up and feel like that. And now I feel like because my stomach so sensitive, it’s also linked to stress. If I get stressed, my stomach just gets out of balance and the pain starts. So yeah, just from something as simple as taking those painkillers for my period has landed me with a very sensitive stomach that doesn’t like spice. 

Le’Nise: Did you ever tell your doctor, the original doctor, who told you to take the Naproxen for your knee pain, what had happened? 

Elle: I would love to have told him. The thing is with I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen the same GP twice. So it’s not like back in the day when I was a kid I had a relationship with my GP because you saw the same GP, but since then I’ve never seen the same GP twice. But to me I feel like had I seen him again I would have said like that was negligible because even I thought to myself when he said, Take one three times a day, I was like, Hey, but that’s a really high dose as far as I’m concerned. And he reassured me, But you know why trust our GP? Because I’m not medically trained. I’m like, I’m trusting you to help me fix this pain. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, well. Well, I’m so really sorry that you you went through that. That’s just that’s horrible. And, you know, it’s I don’t want it to be a cautionary tale for other people, but it’s a it’s a kind of reminder that these painkillers, they do have an impact on our bodies. And, you know, if we take them and not saying that you were taking them indiscriminately, but, you know, you see people just kind of popping painkillers and feeling like it’s normal to take take painkillers when you have your period deal with a period of pain that way. But they do have an effect. 

Elle: Yeah. And I think I’ve always been like, you know, on the cautious side of taking painkillers. So I think, you know, if your body has a pain, it’s a signal that something’s wrong. And I would rather fix that thing that’s wrong than just mask the pain. 

Le’Nise: So tell us a little bit more about the work that you do, because you’ve kind of you’ve have this really interesting career that you’ve created for yourself. You’re a personal trainer, you’re a running ambassador for Adidas. You know, you do lots of different things so tell us a little bit more about that. 

Elle: So I never know how to describe what I do. So I just call myself a creative entrepreneur, fitness professional. Yeah, I’m a running coach for Adidas at the moment, I’m a cycling coach, also ambassador from there. And then the pandemic meant that I started my own classes online. And I think, to be honest, it all just stems from the fact that I love to learn and I love to share that knowledge with other people. So that’s that’s how I share my knowledge because through through, like looking after your body and through looking after your health, you know, you’re going to feel better and enjoy life more. And I mean, who wouldn’t want that and who wouldn’t want that for everyone else around them? So I think that’s where that comes from for me. 

Le’Nise: What have you got coming up next? 

Elle: Oh, my gosh. Well, I think a lot of nothing because Christmas. In the in the new year. I, I well, first of all, my main priority actually is my own health and wellness because, you know, I’m always looking to learn and figure out how my body works. So I’m doing some stuff around that. But then I have my classes which are weekly for women. Cyclists, runners,  general fitness. And like I said, our strength based sessions are based around menstrual cycles. So we have certain exercises. We will do the same exercises. But you know, if you’re at a different stage in your cycle, I give you different ranges and weights to use based on where you are in your cycle. So we’re essentially doing the same workout, but you’re making it work for your cycle and then yeah, just just doing things. I think my blog is my biggest thing where I’m always sharing the latest thing that I’ve learnt and sharing what’s happening. But I’m hoping 2023 is going to be an exciting year both internally for me and for my business. 

Le’Nise: So the strength based classes that you’ve mentioned, where can people find out more about those? Where can they sign up? 

Elle: And everything is on my website and my socials. So that will be in your blurb, right? Yeah. Yeah. So it’s easy to sign up, come along currently on Thursdays weekly and also catch up on demand. Yeah. And I just love talking to people so everyone is welcome to drop into my DMs. Drop me an email with any questions and I’ll always be happy to help. 

Le’Nise: Fantastic. So what’s the one thought that you want to leave listeners with today? 

Elle: Ooh, I would say I would say the one thing I would like to leave the listeners with is that. I feel like. The only way isn’t always like the medical way. I feel like taking that holistic view of yourself, your body, your periods, your health is a really good way to look after yourself. And I think that it’s always good to figure out the source of anything that you feel isn’t right rather than essentially putting plasters on the symptoms. So like with me, the painkillers for period pain, like I wish that I knew there were things like acupuncture and you know, even massage is a good way to help yourself feel better. So you look for the source. Never give up on looking for the source and not just to put plasters on symptoms. 

Le’Nise: Thank you so much for sharing your story and coming on the show today. It’s just been really wonderful speaking to you. 

Elle: Thanks for having me. 

Le’Nise: And and if anyone wants to find Elle, all of her links and socials will be in the show notes. So please go and check out all of the amazing things that she does.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 58, Abby Epstein: Do Your Research and Do What Works For You

Photo credit: John Curry

I am so thrilled to share my conversation with Abby Epstein, the director of the fascinating and evocative documentary The Business of Birth Control. Abby shares her own powerful and very personal story of self-discovery and change after taking hormonal contraceptives.  

In this episode, Abby shares: 

  • Why she was first put on the pill 
  • The physical and mental health issues she experienced while on the pill 
  • What she learned about herself when she came off hormonal contraception 
  • The inspiration behind the documentary The Business of Birth Control 
  • And the story of her first period 

Abby says that it’s so important to do your own research and find a health solution that works for you.

Thank you, Abby!

Abby has very kindly shared a discount code (LENISE) that will give you 50% off any streaming rental on the The Business of Life website (www.thebusinessof.life).

Get in touch with Abby:

Website

Business of Birth Control Instagram

Personal Instagram

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: Hi, Abby. Thank you so much for coming on the show today. I’m really excited to have you here and talk about all of the amazing work that you do, your films. But first, let’s talk about the story of your first period. 

Abby: No, I love this. I love that you focus on this. I think it’s such a fantastic thing to think about and talk about. And so I had to kind of dig a little bit, you know, to remember. And what I remember is it’s kind of interesting because, you know, how in middle school, I don’t know why, but everybody knew when everybody got their period. It was just that weird thing where you’d whisper in the halls, you know, like, Nicole got it last weekend and this one got it, and that one got it. And, you know, generally it starts young, like people start at ten years old or in like, you know, fifth grade.

And I was just one of those people that never got it. And middle school went, came and went and high school was starting, you know, secondary school. And I still didn’t have it. And so it sort of came down. That’s where I won’t say her last name on the podcast, but it was me and this other girl, Sarah. And like, everybody knew that like she and I hadn’t had our periods yet. And then Sarah got hers and it was just like, yes, you know, you could tell she was like so happy. And I’m like, oh, my God, I can’t believe this. And I think at the time, I was just about almost 16 years old. And I also was dancing ballet a couple times a week. So people like, oh, that can also, you know, delay your period. I wasn’t like underweight, but I was dancing. And then my mom said, you know, we’re going to I want to take you to the gynaecologist and just, you know, whatever, make sure everything’s okay.

So we went to the gynaecologist and, you know, she basically kind of said something like, well, if it, you know, if it doesn’t come in this time, I might have to, like, give you something to, like, bring it on, like some kind of medication. And that completely flipped me out, right? So we left that. And then it was like a few weeks before my 16th birthday, and we went on a family vacation to Hawaii. And I remember I met this boy and we had sort of like a little, you know, fooling around on the beach. Like I wasn’t sexually active, but, you know, it was that stage where you’re kissing and you’re just kind of feeling and, you know, a lot of hand play. And then I came back from that vacation and I remember like I woke up to go to school and there was like a couple dots of blood on my underwear, and I was like, Oh, my God. Like, I was so happy. And I remember thinking like, maybe, it was that boy. Like, maybe when I was with him, he touched something down there. I don’t know. He, like, broke something? I don’t know. It’s like, he broke my hymen? I didn’t know. But I was like, he must have helped me in some way. Or it was the pressure? It was so funny. 

And I remember I’ll never forget this. I wore a purple, straight, long skirt. I was obsessed with Prince and I wore lots of purple. And I had this purple, straight, long skirt and I had a big bulky pad and I was in school and I couldn’t stop, like, hinting to everyone, you know, like, I couldn’t stop saying, like, Oh, my pad. My pad is so uncomfortable. Oh, my underwear. Oh, is my pad sticking out? Can you see my I mean, it was like I literally I mean, I’m surprised I didn’t like walk down the hallways with, like, the big bloody maxi pad in front of me, like, like a badge of honour, like, stuck on my shirt. I mean, it was I have to tell you, it was like such a joy and such a relief. And also I was like, I had been waiting for it for so long that I remember saying to my mom, like, all casual, like, Oh, Mom, do you have any pads? I just got my period. Yeah. Do you have any pads? You know, and she tried to play it off also really like, oh, and I should mention that my younger sister is like two and a half years younger than me and of course had been having her period probably for a couple of years at that point. So it was like double embarrassing, you know, that my little sister is menstruating. But yes, that’s the story. 

Le’Nise: When you finally got it, did you know what to expect? Did you know what was going to happen beyond, okay, you’re going to see this blood. You wore pads. Did you have, were you educated or had you educated yourself? 

Abby: No, I really didn’t know very much. I knew that my sister was having a pretty rough time. So my my sister was having a lot of like and she was an athlete. So it was hard. And she I knew she was having like some very heavy cramping and like sometimes would like not go to school or come home from school. And they were trying like different pain relievers and things. So I, I knew about that. I didn’t, I remember the pads. I don’t remember switching to tampons, but at some point I did. And I remember a friend or somebody telling me about, you know, that you have to angle it. You don’t just shoot it straight out. So but I didn’t know very much. 

And it’s it’s kind of funny, Le’Nise, because since I started, you know, making my documentary and getting some more education around all of this, I kind of look back. And the interesting thing is, I think that I may have had some either, you know, PCOS or some early PCOS because like looking back on the symptoms and looking back on the sort of like delay in the period and then. I had some other things that line up. You know, with PCOS, actually, because I had like very early, like acne, like I had like I remember I had acne like all over my forehead when I was like 11 or, you know, very young. I had acne. I had acne on my chest. I remember in ballet, you know, I had like some acne. And I remember when I went to the gynaecologist that time when I didn’t get my period, I remember her saying something to me about testing my hormones that she wanted to test my hormones because she thought I had some like excess hair. You know, there were just like signs where she thought I might have. And so it’s kind of interesting, you know, looking back, I actually feel really lucky, you know, because I, I think that I probably did have something going on like hormonally. And, you know, I’m lucky that my period did finally come and that, you know, things were not regular at all because that’s ultimately how I ended up on the pill. But it’s you know, it’s to me, it’s like fascinating sort of how little I knew, how little I knew about periods, about my cycle. And, you know, looking back now with all this knowledge and wondering, you know what? I don’t know, like what might have been different had anyone put those pieces together? 

Le’Nise: And when you got your period and you were going around the halls at school in your purple skirt and I love that it was like a tribute to Prince. Did you. You mentioned the kind of whispers about periods and how everyone knew. Did you how did you eventually tell your friends and what was their reaction? 

Abby: Oh, I couldn’t wait. I mean, we’re talking, you know, pre cell phones, so I would have had to wait until I got to school. But I remember telling my best friend, and she and I also this was like two years later, we were also like the last of the virgins. Like, that was another thing. You know, I remember I was like, I was still a virgin when I graduated high school. And again, you could count on one hand who were the girls? And it was like a similar kind of, you know, accounting people do. But oh, yeah. I mean, it just went through the halls like I couldn’t wait. I could told everybody everybody, you know, in subtle and not so subtle ways. And it was very, you know, I felt very grown up in the complaining about it. You know, I have to change my pad now. And, you know, it was like, oh, my God. 

And then I don’t remember, actually, like, I don’t remember those was like last few years of high school tracking it or counting days or having any idea. I remember. It must have. I think had it from time to time because I know that two years later when I went to university, it just completely stopped. So that I so I knew. So I must have known that something was different. Like, I must have known that it stopped. So I. But I honestly have no idea Le’Nise,if I was having, like, a monthly period or work, I have absolutely no idea. There was no I was never taught to track it or look at the days or. 

Le’Nise: And what was a point that you you said you went on the pill. What was that when you lost it? When you went to university? 

Abby: Exactly. Yeah. And that was really a very traumatic experience because. I remember when I went to university. And most of. I guess I must’ve. You know, it was some time in my freshman sophomore year or maybe I didn’t menstruate much my freshman year, but I remember it was like my sophomore year, you know, when I really didn’t have a period at all. And I think that again, looking back, there are so many factors, right? I mean, one is I don’t know if there was some PCOS going on or there was some hormonal. I have no idea. You know, was never told. I mean, I assume I remember the gynaecologist saying she wanted to test my hormones and then I never heard anything. So I’m assuming that I don’t know, everything was okay. 

But you know, when I did go back home for my like annual exam, she was very like keen to put me on the pill, but not only put me on the pill, she gave me like ten days or a week of hormones that I had to take to bring on a period so that I could then start the pill. And, you know, it was unbelievably torturous because there was just no warning given about anything. And all I know is I start taking these pills and I’m thinking this is necessary. You know that because I have to menstruate because this isn’t good. And then, you know, I’m sure she’s thinking, well, this will be a double, you know, protection for you because then you’ll be on the pill anyways, so you’ll have contraception. But I wasn’t even sexually active and I just remember like riding my bicycle to class at like eight in the morning and I would have to like pull the bicycle over because I would just be sobbing, like sobbing and sort of irrationally sobbing like a child. Like, like I miss my mom, you know, or just like, literally crying like a baby. And so. I think, like many women do, I just thought there was some kind of depression anxiety going on. I didn’t connect it to these hormone pills that she had given me, you know, to bring on a menses. I just didn’t I was never warned. I didn’t know. I didn’t connect any of it. 

And then the pills she gave me when I did start it and I did everything like a good girl and like Il was supposed to do. It was really awful for me. It was just awful. And the side effects were awful. And I think I just stuck it out for a while, probably the whole semester, until I remember going home and going back to her. And I remember sitting in her office and just crying and just started crying in the office because I felt terrible and I had gained weight and I was just feeling awful. And she was kind of, you know, shocked. And she said, oh, you know, there’s, everybody has such a different chemistry. And I really wish that these pills came in a more individualised way so that we could know, you know, how different people’s hormones were going to react. But, you know, it seems like this this pill isn’t a good fit for you. And let’s try it a different one. But it was like so interesting because she was actually very compassionate. But I wouldn’t have known. Like I never would have known when I was at school and suffering to call her or call my mom or say, you know, something’s happening. I think it’s this pill. I just thought it was me. Like, I just thought I was having, like, a depressive year at school, you know, or something. I just thought it was me. And so then. Yeah, then we switched to a different pill, and that was more tolerable for me. And so I ended up staying on that one for, for many years to come, but ended up having other problems on that pill, which, again, you know, I really didn’t connect until I made this documentary. 

Le’Nise: How long in total were you on the pill? 

Abby: I would say it was. Must have been like about eight or nine years. Was like probably like 20 to 29. 

Le’Nise: Right. Okay. 

Abby: Almost.

Le’Nise: Almost a decade. Okay. And what was the impetus for you to come off of the pill? 

Abby: You know, there was kind of this instinct that I had. I don’t know how else to explain it. I was in a monogamous relationship and I was, you know, I think 29. And I was thinking, you know, I don’t know. It was like an intuitive thing where I thought, I feel like I should like give my body a break from this. And I was thinking, you know, I’m nearly 30 and I’m going to be thinking about children. I knew I wanted children. And I was like, I’m going to be thinking about maybe children in the next couple of years. And so I feel I should like, you know, kind of clean house. And there’s really I don’t know why I’m sort of on this anymore, but I think there was, you know, at that point I was like in such a steady state. 

And the things that were had been happening to me that whole decade were chronic UTI and vaginal dryness, which I had no idea was in any way connected to that birth control pill. So those things that that had been bothering me, you know, with my sexual health, I didn’t even think were connected to the pill. Like they were in no way an impetus to get off. I did, you know, like struggle with acne when I was younger. So I did like that. You know, it had kind of calmed all of that down and that my, you know, my skin was clear. So I think, like a lot of young women, there was probably that fear of like making a change, you know, because everything felt so, like, stable and my skin was stable. But it really I think, you know, that going off moment and I don’t think I knew it at the time. 

I mean, I remember I remember one of the first things when I went off is after like a couple months, I was like, oh my God, those were not my breasts. Like, I don’t have, you know, this like Big C cup or whatever. I actually and I was, you know, I remember kind of laughing because I was thinking. Oh, my God. Like. You know, because I had I remembered something about my wedding dress and I was thinking I should have gone off before because my wedding dress would have fit so much better in the bust like I did. So I remember that was like kind of a dramatic thing. Like, you forget, I thought those were my boobs. Those were not my boobs. Those were pill boobs. So that’s, you know, my boobs kind of went away. But I really liked that, like, returning to myself, you know, I really, really liked. That coming back to myself and a lot of things changed emotionally, and I had a big partner switch. I ended up leaving the partner that I was with at the time, which again, these are things I did not connect for, you know, years and years and years. 

So, you know, it’s really crazy. Like it just so many things. Like when I was reading Holly’s book, Sweetening the Pill, I remember like reading all this. This study’s about like partner attraction and this and even the vaginal dryness, the UTIs. I mean, I just my God, I was like, there were so many things that I experience that were so, you know, textbook and, you know, and to this day, it’s like I do wonder, like, I really wonder if if somebody had done the underlying work, right. To see why my period had stopped, for example, you know, I just I don’t know. I wonder what I could have uncovered about myself. You know, I do wonder if the UTIs like if I would have suffered with those, you know, because those sort of never stopped, you know. So there are things that I don’t know that you just, like, wonder about, like, how would your whole kind of sexual life, relational life, you know, been different without that decade on the pill? I also was interesting because I did learn, you know, other things about how, you know, just just but, you know, turning off your own endogenous hormones, like how that can affect in some ways even your own compassion, sensitivity. And I do look back on my 20s and certain periods and I feel that I was not only sort of disconnected from myself, but very hard driving, very ambitious and, you know, sometimes even a little bit, I don’t know, like kind of cutthroat, you know what I mean? Like like behaving in ways that are really not me at all. Like, I’m really not like that. Like, I’m just incredibly empathetic, compassionate person. And so, you know, a lot of things, like, I really look back and just wonder, like, how much did this really affect, you know, my personality, my attraction. I mean, it’s fascinating. 

Le’Nise: It really is. You had a huge change after coming off the pill, emotional changes, changes in your relationship. And then when you came off the pill, how long did it take for you to get your period back? 

Abby: So that I don’t remember. I remember very, very clearly that, you know, my libido kind of roared back. And that’s something that a lot of women have, you know, described. But I remember it being just sort of shocking because I just thought I wasn’t a very sexual person. You know, I just thought, like, on this scale, you know, I did have climax. I did experience orgasm. I did have, quote unquote, you know, good sex. But I didn’t have a drive like I didn’t have, you know, I mean, it was, you know, the only the only thing I could the last time I had felt sort of libido that way was, you know, maybe back in my senior year of high school before I started the pill, you know, that was sort of what I could equate, that real feelings of sex, drive and libido so that I remember that being like the most kind of shocking and like, obvious difference and and also a huge relief, right, to think that maybe you’re not such a sexual person and then you are. 

And then I know that. My period came back pretty soon, I didn’t have like a whole, you know, I mean, I think it came back within the first like two months or, you know, there wasn’t an issue. And then I was very I would say like I did have I remember, you know, cramps. I had like period symptoms that I hadn’t had, like, you know, back in high school, maybe I didn’t even have that many periods in high school, but because I didn’t keep track. But, you know, it was definitely, you know, regular and. And I remember having to kind of deal with the cramping and. But it’s very like, even today, it’s funny because it’s like I still, you know, have a very regular period and and and when I did so, I think I went off the pill about four years before I got pregnant for the first time. And so once I was like back in my regular cycling in my thirties and it was so easy for me. Like, I, from, from, I would say, like, for four or five years, my partner and I, new partner, we didn’t use any barrier methods. We didn’t use any contraception. 

I did not know about fertility awareness, but my cycle was like so regular that I roughly knew like my fertile week. You know what I mean? 

Le’Nise: Yeah.

Abby: But we were just able to time things in such a way. And then when we were like, Yes, let’s have a child, it was like, first try, boom, first try out the door. Done, you know? So I feel really lucky. And then and then my fertility journey was so, so easy. Like, so easy, you know, getting my periods back after breastfeeding, second child, same thing, first drive, boom, you know. So it’s, I feel lucky, you know, in some ways, but I don’t I don’t know that like to me. You know, that that whole period, I think that whole decade when I was on the pill, although, you know, I guess it’s easy to look back, right? Everyone can look back and say, well, I’m very happy I had that. And because I didn’t have to think about pregnancy, I understand that. I was a very monogamous person. So I wasn’t a person who had one night stands or had like multiple partners. So I’m not really sure that, you know, the sort of not worrying. 

I was never worried about getting pregnant like I would. That was never a fear. I didn’t have a fear like that, you know, because I wasn’t sexually active until I was 19. And then I was like mostly, you know, with partners. So I didn’t really have that fear. But, you know, I do look back and think like more about how that would have affected me emotionally and in terms of like partner choice. But, you know, I feel lucky that I didn’t have problems like with my cycle after that or any problems like with fertility. 

Le’Nise: It’s really interesting that you you said that you thought that you may have had PCOS and then once you got your period back after you came off the pill, how it came back in a really regular way, you described it being like clockwork. And that’s so, so fascinating. Just thinking about it in the context of where where you were when you started, you had a really late period. And also just thinking about that decade that you had on the pill. And I do sense a kind of regret there of what could have been. And do you feel like when you got your period back and you discovered who you really were, there was a kind of mourning that you had to go through. 

Abby: Well, I think, you know, the biggest thing more in terms of mourning was just the relationship stuff, you know, because I think that is incredibly hard. And like when you with your like true sexual nature is is is awoken in that way and you realise that you just don’t have sexual chemistry with this wonderful person that you love in every way. And so, you know, I think it was it was very traumatic. And, you know, it was extremely traumatic to. And confusing, you know, and confusing. And I think that, you know. It’s like almost the way I could explain it is it’s a little bit of like a Sleeping Beauty thing. So it’s like like waking up in your body, let’s say, you know, at 29 or 30, but kind of sexual emotional intelligence you’re like 16. You know, that’s kind of what it felt like. Like it was like I couldn’t sort of. Control it anymore, you know, and it was sort of like I couldn’t live in this lie in a sense, you know what I mean? 

Like I was basically in like a marriage that was platonic and it was deep and there was full of love, you know, but it was really platonic. And, you know, there there was sex, but it wasn’t in any way the kind of sex that I come to knew and experience later, you know? So, you know, it was I felt like. You know, being disconnected from that piece of yourself. Right. And now understanding, like, I think, how much libido is sort of diminished as sex drive when that is not what libido is. Libido is your life force. It really is. And it’s it really. You know, so for me, I was only connected to a masculine life force. I was connected to a life force around work, around achieving. And that’s what I was doing. I was winning awards and achieving, achieving, achieving. You know, like at a very young age. And that was my life force. You know, that’s what was what was feeding me. And then suddenly to go off and sort of I think I got almost, like, overwhelmed, right, by this whole world of, like, you know, real kind of sexuality and attraction that I had shut off. That’s the only way I can explain it. It was sort of like, you know, shut off. And every once in a while. You know, I would get like a window into it and sort of a little wake up, but then it wouldn’t really stick, you know, where I would think, Oh, maybe I’m missing something. But no. And so it that’s I think that’s what’s sort of confusing. It’s like when you are not. Experiencing yourself, right? With with. We know that hormones, your hormones interact with your environment to create yourself. Right. 

I mean, if you read Dr. Sarah Hill’s book, you can understand that they create the version of your brain that forms your personality. So I think, you know, disconnecting from that. Yeah, it’s almost like I was living kind of a like a, like a shadow life, you know. And then when I sort of in my thirties got plugged into, you know, myself and it just rocked everything, you know, it just created. Huge upheaval. And again, I don’t know that it was I was making the best decisions either, because I think I was, again, like this 16 year old, you know what I mean? Who’s just been sort of handed the keys to the kingdom. And it’s like, oh, my God, this, you know, this is what this is supposed to feel like. 

So then I think I was making more decisions just really based on passion, you know, an attraction and sort of, you know, because I had been disconnected from it for so long. So it was it’s it’s so I mean, I think that it’s so fascinating to to think about like how we, you know, and and again, honestly, Le’Nise, you know, that whole decade that I really, like, stayed on that till there really was no reason. Like I said, like I was in a monogamous relationship, you know, I didn’t have like a reproductive health issue that I knew about, that I was like needing to be on the pill, like, you know, heavy periods or endometriosis. There was no like medical reason. It’s just this weird feeling of like, well, I don’t know, things are things are good, you know? And what if I what if I went off and then this happened or, you know, it’s it’s it’s just interesting, I think sometimes how you just lock in to like. Thinking in some way that this is part of like being the good girl. You know, it’s like you take the pills and, you know, everybody’s happy and you don’t have to worry about that. But. Oh, my God. I mean, looking back, it’s just like. It’s really. It’s. It’s just, like, shocking when I didn’t know. Hmm. 

Le’Nise: What’s interesting is that you you mentioned the idea of being the good girl. And a few other guests that I’ve spoken to on the podcast have described this idea of being the good girl and as also linked to the rite of passage of going on the pill. So you turned 16 or 17. Your friends are on the pill. It’s your turn. You get your you get your period. Now it’s your turn to go on the pill. And I remember one guest describing it as kind of like, you know, every girl in her high school was on the pill. And I just wonder about well, I mean, I have lots of questions about all of this. But in terms of your experience and then kind of linking into the film, the brilliant film that you made, The Business of Birth Control, was your experience kind of the driver, one of the drivers for you making this film? 

Abby: I think it definitely was a driver, of course, because I feel, you know, so the first film that Ricki Lake and I made together is called The Business of Being Born. So that is a really funny story because that film we started making because of Ricki’s birth experiences, and then I got pregnant during the filming and ended up giving birth in the movie. So we both give birth in the movie, but hers is hers is, you know, like footage that she had kept. And mine is like, live, you know, like following my birth in this in this movie. So I think. It’s funny, right? Because the business of being born, I didn’t make that film because I had a passion for midwifery. I didn’t even know what a midwife did, you know. So I made that film because I was sort of fascinated as a feminist that I had been so unexposed and was kind of fascinated by Ricki’s story. You know, I didn’t know I was going to become part of part of the story. Right. So with The Business of Birth Control, when I think when I read Holly Griggs-Spall’s book Sweetening the Pill she had sent me the galley of the book hadn’t been published and I read it on the aeroplane when I was flying from New York to L.A. to meet with Ricki about another project we were doing. And I got off the plane and said, Ricki, oh my God. Like, I just read this book and all these light bulbs went off. Like so many light bulbs went off. 

And and some of it is, you know, you get kind of so angry, right, about the mistreatment that you experience and the gaslighting that you experience. And so that was also a real trigger for me. Like, I’ll just give you one quick example. I hope I’m not getting too graphic on your podcast, but I mentioned like vaginal dryness, for example. And so this can be a real side effect of hormonal birth control that people don’t know about. So in my twenties, when I was, you know, having sex with this long term partner, we would use, you know, lubricant or whatever. But still there would be this like dryness. And so at one point I actually had like a, like an abrasion, almost like a like on the bottom of my vagina, like, you know, just, you know, almost at the at the at the perineum. It was just, you know, like it was like literally rubbed, you know, like, like a menopausal woman would get, you know. And I remember I went to the gynaecologist, she wasn’t there that day. So I saw this man, one of her partners, and he looked at me and he said, That is herpes. And I said, excuse me, but I actually I’ve I’ve only had one partner and we’re both, we were both virgins when we met. And I’ve never slept with anyone else and he’s never slept with anyone. It’s actually not herpes. Could you tell me what’s going on? Because, you know, I get these when we have sex and I don’t understand. He said, trust me, that is herpes. I’m going to run the test. But I’m so sure that and he gave me these like antiviral medications and literally told me I needed to start taking them that day. Can you imagine? 

Le’Nise: Oh, my gosh. 

Abby: I am so confused. I am like, whatever, 26,27 years old and I’m talking to my partner. I’m like, I don’t, I want to understand. Like, what I’m like are you doing something that you’re not telling me? Whatever. He was like, No, this is like crazy. I mean, I remember so embarrassed. I was in my hometown and I had to go to the pharmacy and like fulfil these prescriptions for anti-viral. Of course within whatever two or three days they call. And of course the test is negative. But the experience of it, he was so arrogant. He was so sure and he did not believe me. He did not believe me. And he didn’t want to look for any other reason. 

And I think that as a white woman of privilege, to experience that, you know, and to be it’s so infuriating. You know, it is honestly. It is so infuriating. It’s so abusive. And and so I think I was I was angry. And I was angry about my experience of going on that first pill that really wrecked an entire year of university for me. I mean, completely ruined it like I was a complete depressive, you know? And I it’s it’s just an all completely unnecessary, you know, and such a lack of informed consent, you know, such a lack of understanding. And so I think that I was, you know, reading this book and connecting the dots in my own head and then looking at what I experienced, let’s say, within the reproductive health system, which is like a two on the scale of 1 to 10 of what other women experienced. And I’m reading these stories. I was just like, my God, I said to Ricki, we’ve got to talk about this like we we have to. It’s going to be very unpopular. People are going to be very mad about that we’re doing this. But I don’t know. It’s like, who’s going to talk about this? You know, who’s get telling stories? I just felt like we can have a liberal critique of hormonal birth control, like we can be like liberal progressives, and we can still critique this and find this grey space where we can talk about, you know, health and and safety. 

So, you know, to me, I think it’s all in a way I think it’s sometimes funny, Le’Nise, because people will say to me, oh, you know, your films like, do you have something against the medical system? And I’m like, My God, this has nothing to do with the medical system. That is not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about how growing up with a uterus in the world means that you are funnelled into this kind of reproductive health industrial complex and that directly impacts so many aspects of your life. This is not just about, you know, getting pregnant and having a cyst removed and going to the hospital to give birth. No. Like these are decisions that impact, you know, partner choice and sexuality and personality and depression and, you know, from. And so it just really connected for me that it’s like I made this movie about childbirth. You know, women tend to wake up a bit when they’re in that phase of trying to conceive and having children. And the reason I think that they wake up a bit is because there’s something really powerful about pregnancy that rewires your brain. And I think that they wake up a bit and they’re also thinking about, you know, they’re starting to think for two people. You know, they’re starting to think about, well, it’s not just about, you know, my health. It’s about protecting this child’s health. And that’s easier, right? Like we hear that story all the time, right? Like with battered women, they don’t leave the abuser until the abuser hits the child, then they leave right, like. And that’s basically, you know, a lot of ways I went about. So it’s like. 

But but when I thought about making this film and reading Holly’s book, I was like, no, no, no, no, no. This has to start way before pregnancy. You know, this has to start as soon as fertility, you know, begins like this needs to start it, you know, nine, ten years old, the body literacy piece, the body literacy piece needs to start. And then there, you know, this whole conversation around contraception, it’s not. Medical. It’s just it’s not it’s not medical. It’s like there are so many spaces, I believe, where this is so much about a collective wisdom. Wisdom passed down from ancestors. You know, knowing this is about knowing that is like generational. And, you know, I think that’s why you see, you know, we just had some news come out that 2021 was the highest rates of home birth in the United States in 30 years. 

Le’Nise: Wow.

Abby: Amazing statistic. Now, I know some of that was driven by the pandemic and people not wanting to birth in hospital. I get it. But it’s more than that. It’s that, you know, women and people in general are discovering. Right. That there are spaces that they’ve given over completely to the medical complex, surrendered all power, all decision making to doctors, professionals. And they’re taking that back, you know, taking that back and saying, you know, no, no, no, this is the way I want to birth and this is how I want my child to come in. Or this is, you know, and I and I think that. It’s. It’s it’s so complicated around. And the contraceptive space in general because. It seems like everybody with a penis has been released from this conversation. It’s like, you know, there’s just no accountability. Yeah. Right. 

And then there’s this kind of way that we’ve categorised unplanned pregnancies, which you see in religion and in the media and in movies and TV, is like, you know, this the most catastrophic possible thing that can happen. And there’s this huge fear around it. And that fear is what ultimately like controls people and motivates this sort of good girl. So yeah, I mean, it’s like such a long winded answer, but I think I just really felt like, you know. So motivated because not only of my personal experience, but really I think just because of this collective like waking up that needs to happen around this. 

Le’Nise: And what have been the responses to the film? The film was recently released on Amazon UK. It’s available to rent, so if you haven’t seen it, please go and see it. It’s a brilliant, brilliant film. But I’m curious, what have been some of the responses that you’ve seen? 

Abby: Well, it’s so interesting, Le’Nise, because the responses. I don’t know. They’re hard to categorise. I’ll say the some of the responses have been the same as like when we even announced we were doing the film. Right. 

So we have you know what, I would you know, I think they’re like a lot of second wave feminists. And I would say, you know, I would say feminists of like a certain generation, you know, maybe Gen X and older are very, very alarmed by the movie and, you know, really feel that it’s dangerous to talk about these stories in the movie. We have some stories that are very difficult to hear about some families who lost their daughters from pulmonary embolism, which is a rare side effect. We can say rare. But you know, what’s not rare are blood clots, which lead to the pulmonary embolism. And so they really you know, I think whenever you start to talk about in any way. Right, like women who were damaged by birth control, whether that’s a stroke or an embolism or in these cases a death, you know, you start to trigger all those, like feminists, second wave alarm bells, you know. And so people were not, you know, happy. And I think the response has been like consistent in that way. 

So I think that we’ve seen. Some. Like incredible reviews and articles of the movie, you know, people that are just so passionate about it. And I think those are people like just to give an example. You know, Jameela Jamil, who’s one of my favourite feminists and activists, you know, she had us on her podcast and she just was blown away by the movie and completely got it. And as a feminist, completely got it. And then it was interesting because then her Twitter feed was attacked by, you know, more conservative OBGYN people and people that were, you know, mad that she was supporting the movie and felt. 

So it’s there’s a there is a bit of a war. I would say that when we were presenting the film, you know, when you were there speaking on the panel in London, when Ricki and I were in Berlin and London a couple weeks ago, I would say that a lot of that sort of like feminists like infighting, I guess I would call it, I would say like that was largely absent. And I don’t think that’s because of just because you aren’t dealing with an abortion ban in in Europe and the U.K.. I think it’s actually deeper. Yeah, that would be a whole nother podcast. I won’t even begin. 

But but I notice that, you know, for instance, in London, I feel like at that screening, you know, it’s like people are able to take in the film and then ask the real questions like, okay, so now what do we do? And this fertility awareness method work and but I have a friend who got pregnant on fertility awareness method and so what do we use and you know, like really focussing on the concrete issue at hand, you know, how do we kind of navigate this space where we don’t have tons of options right now? Right. Whereas I feel sometimes the response has been, you know, here from some of the in the U.S., from some of the liberal media, more of a like a back slap, you know what I mean? More of a little bit like put those girls in their place. Like you stay in your place and you’re not you’re not being a good feminist. This is not a movie that anyone needs. And this is dangerous. And this is going to this is, you know, fear mongering and. 

I think I think Ricki was, actually that might have come up also on her BBC Woman’s Hour interview, something about fear mongering, she said. And I think that word fear mongering is super interesting, right? Because if you’re being accused of fear mongering, well, there must be something to fear. Like, what are you monitoring about? You know, it’s sort of like it’s interesting. And I feel that I feel that in the movie we were, you know, conservative. Like, for instance, we don’t talk about cancer. I mean, cancer. Connections If you want to look at scientific evidence between the connection between taking hormonal contraceptives and certain cancers. And certain autoimmune diseases. I mean, those stats are out there. Those studies are out there like we don’t even bring that up in the movie. Right. And the reason we don’t bring that up is because there’s a lot of controversy around it in the medical industry. And this study and that study. And we didn’t even touch that. You know, people talk about whether these drugs can affect fertility right, in later years. That’s controversial to talk about. We don’t touch that in the movie. 

I feel like, you know, if we wanted to be fear mongering, if we wanted to, you know, we really I feel like, you know, look at. I feel like the approach we take is is historical. We look at history. We look at race. We look at body literacy. We look at, you know, side effects. We look at, you know, I don’t know it to us. I feel like we did a good job. If you want to say this is a one sided, you know, movie. Yeah. Okay. You can say this is a one sided movie. You could also say The Business of Being Born is, quote unquote, a one sided movie. But our approach is like we don’t need to make a 90 minute movie that balances all the benefits of, you know, hormonal contraception with the downsides. Because I believe, you know, we touch on that in the beginning of the movie and we acknowledge that, you know, there’s a deep connexion with, you know, women’s liberation and the pill. But I feel like that is the mainstream narrative. That is the mainstream narrative. And and any, you know, medical practitioner you go to is going to recommend the pill or the patch or the IUD or hormonal contraception. They’re going to push it. They’re going to recommend it. They’re not going to have a nuanced conversation with you about do you prefer hormonal or non-hormonal? That is not happening. 

Le’Nise: It’s so fascinating the that word fearmongering and the idea that being more aware of what you’re putting in your body and the side effects of what you’re putting in your body could be considered fear mongering. And you’re exactly right when you say that the other side of the narrative has been told by doctors, by medical professionals who say, go on the pill. Go on, take the Mirena, have the Mirena inserted it, say it’s fine. And to have a wider conversation where you are able to understand the side effects and know this whole idea of informed consent and body literacy is a really, really interesting one. I’m really curious about what you have coming up next, because your films I’ve seen The Business of Being Born and I’ve seen The Business of Birth Control and both films, I know you have other films, but those films for me are really evocative and emotional. The Business of Being Born I actually saw while I was pregnant with my son. So yeah, I think it was on Netflix or Amazon in the UK. So I watched it and it really opened my eyes to a lot of things. So what do you have coming up next? 

Abby: Good question. I know. Well, right now, as you said, like so, we are still so The Business of Birth Control just came out in April of this year in the States. And like you said, we just it was just released on Amazon in the UK. And so right now we’re still kind of pretty deeply engaged in kind of getting that film distributed, you know, because we aren’t on any kind of a global streamer like a Netflix. So we are doing it like territory by territory, which is a lot of work. And so what we’ve just actually launched this week is we decided that because The Business of Being Born and The Business of Birth Control. And our other films. So just we have a four part series called More Business of Being Born, which is a follow up to The Business of Being Born. And that kind of goes a little bit deeper into things. There’s an episode on VBAC, there’s an episode on Ina May Gaskin. There is an episode on just celebrity births, stories, you know, things like that.

And then we have a nine part body literacy series called More Business of Birth Control that we launched. And that’s more of like an a class kind of structure. So it’s like video clips and links and articles and again, meant to follow up the business of birth control for people who want a little bit more information. So I think that what we saw, what we decided to do was say, okay, none of our work right now is available like on a Netflix or whatever. So we created our own like little mini streaming platform and we calling it The Business of Film Circle. And so basically what we’re offering people right now is to go on and instead of having like monthly, you know, streaming dues, you just pay like a one time fee and then you have lifetime access to all of our films and it’s super affordable. And we’re offering a 40% discount for birth workers and reproductive health professionals and sex educators and anybody in the field. So we’ve made it super accessible, and we’re doing this promotion right now where if you join The Film Circle, you get to gift the Film Circle membership to a friend. So it’s like a buy one, you know, gift one. 

So that’s what we just launched this week. And we’re super excited because, you know, we’ve we’ve gotten great response and so many people have signed up. And so in addition to accessing all of our film content, you also get we have a like a video archive of about 40 hours that’s different classes and courses and recordings with different hormonal health coaches. So you’ve access to that whole library. And then we do like a monthly Ask me anything series. So Ricki and I host a series where we bring different professionals on like yourself, and we have kind of a big like meeting format where we pick a topic and people come on and ask questions and get their questions answered for their reproductive health. So it’s cool because it’s kind of like joining like a mini film archive that you own for the rest of your life, but then you also are in part of this community as well. So that’s what we’re working on now because we’re learning that, you know, it’s one thing to make the content and then the distribution of the content has almost become so complicated right now in this landscape. It’s just very, you know, crowded, as you know. And so we’re doing that. And then, I don’t know, we’re looking at a couple projects. Everyone’s pushing us to do the business of menopause because that is because. 

Le’Nise: I was going to say that I was I was looking I wonder if they’re going to do anything about HRT or menopause. And there was an actually a really interesting article in New York magazine about, you know, the business of like midlife, which you should read if you haven’t read or. 

Abby: Yeah, I know. I thought, wait, was this the one in The Cut? It was in The Cut, yes. Yeah, yeah. I saw it. I know. Because I saw like Naomi Watts has launched a menopause brand and like all of these celebrities now. And I thought it was sort of interesting to think that, you know, these women that are like my generation, the Gen Xers, are, you know, looking at a different life span, like everybody’s looking to live into their nineties. Right. And so it becomes more about how do you extend, right? Like how do you extend this period of like middle age, I guess, you know, how do you extend that as long as possible? 

I think it’s fascinating. I don’t know. Like, it’s interesting. I don’t know how we’d approach it Le’Nise because I feel like, you know, with childbirth and like with contraception. I feel that a lot of what we did in the film was kind of unveil either what I feel are, you know, kind of not very transparent policies, whereas with the menopause piece, it’s different because it’s more the opposite. It’s more like nobody in the medical community has any answers and nobody is talking about it. So women have sort of taken it into their own hands to start their own companies. And I guess maybe because the medical community hasn’t figured out how to profit off it yet in the same way or, you know, maybe they’re not as interested in controlling ageing as they’re interested in controlling fertility and procreation. I think they just care less about women past fertile age as a society is my guess. But so I think we’d have to figure out, like Ricki and I have talked about it, like what’s, you know, what’s the way sort of end. And for us it was sort of like also about the ageing. Like we talked about the piece on ageing, you know, because Ricki’s sort of always obsessed, but like all of you know, these contemporaries or people she knows, you know, they get like the same plastic surgery and everybody has like the same face. And, you know, there seems to be this like idea about ageing or she let her hair go completely grey and got a lot of pushback for that, you know. And so I think that that would be also interesting to put together, right, like as of ageing in the menopause years. 

But I, I, I do think that there is. There’s a definite like it’s not even like there’s misinformation in the menopause space. Like there is there’s just lack of they’re just zero information. Like people are just fumbling in the dark and. Absolutely. You know, and. I was reading yesterday online, Nicole Jardim, who’s one of the hormonal health coaches who’s in our movie. She had a whole post on her Instagram about this because so many women in perimenopause and menopause are getting prescribed the pill. Yeah, but they’re getting prescribed and. She was just saying something simple in her post like, Hey. I think it’s actually a lot safer to do bioidentical hormones. If you’re going to do hormones, you know, don’t do the pill. And anyway, she got like severe like really attacked. And it started this whole confrontation with doctors. And I was shocked reading the comment thread to see that like some of the women said, that they have to use the pill because it’s covered by insurance where the bioidentical are not covered by insurance, so they can’t afford them. And I was like, Oh my God, that’s fascinating. Like, I never thought of that, you know? But it’s like now the pill has another way to make money, you know, is being this kind of like cheap substitute for bioidentical hormone replacement. But anyway, it’s very interesting, like comment thread on her, on her, on her website. 

Le’Nise: I mean, I feel like I could talk to you all day. You have. So you’re so interesting But you’ve shared a lot. You’ve shared your own story, very personal aspects of your own experience with the pill and coming off of it. And then, of course, there are all of the brilliant films that you’ve made. For someone listening to this podcast today. What’s the one thought that you would love to leave them with? 

Abby: I guess I just love to leave everybody with this idea of, you know. There is no kind of like one size fits all solution for any of this and there’s no shame and there’s no judgement. And you know, you’ve just got to do your research and do what works for you. 

And you know, if that means that you are going to choose to be on hormonal birth control for a number of years because that is what works for your lifestyle. You know, go do that. And there’s no reason to feel, you know, bad or worried or there’s no fear, just, you know, just research and understand and know that, you know, simple things that, you know, you might be depleting your body of certain minerals. You might want to take some supplements, you know, and take care of yourself in certain ways. 

But, you know, everybody has to make these decisions in the way that suits them and their lifestyle. And, you know, I think that sometimes, you know, I’m sure you’re the same Le’Nise, like we’re in a bubble of a lot of women who are looking for, you know, solutions outside of maybe mainstream, like medical advice or they haven’t liked what they’ve been told by their GPs and you know, so they’re looking for other solutions and so they’re open. And I just think that, you know, everybody is on their own journey and you know, the most important thing is just to, you know, advocate and and research and do what’s right for you. But I would also, you know, encourage people that if you are in a medical setting and you are not feeling like you’re being heard and you’re not feeling like you’re getting the answers that you need, you know, don’t give up. Don’t give up. Don’t think like, well, I can’t afford, you know, a naturopath or I can’t afford I can’t do this or I’m just a busy working mom, I don’t have time to deal with this because it doesn’t take a lot. There are great resources out there. There’s documentaries, there’s podcasts, there’s, you know, wonderful books and practitioners like you, Le’Nise. And, you know, you can get to the heart of things fairly quickly and you’d be surprised at how many things you know you can resolve. 

So I would say, you know. Be open and understand that there’s a whole world of practitioners that has developed, whether it’s in the world of hormonal coaching or naturopathy. And they’re not out to go against medical advice. They’re there to like support and integrate and expand. So I know a lot of times for women, you can get very confused because you’re you’re feeling something and you tell your doctor and your doctor says, well, I’m not going to test your hormones. That’s a waste of time. We don’t test hormones. And then you talk to a naturopath or somebody who says, Well, you must get it. And it’s very confusing and there’s a lot of conflicting evidence. So I think there’s no wrong or right, there’s no shame, there’s no judgement. It’s just like, take your time and be compassionate with yourself. But there’s a lot of free information out there online and there’s a lot of great resources. So, you know, just don’t don’t accept being told like, well, there’s nothing else you can do and you’re stuck with this because that’s that’s hardly ever true. 

Le’Nise: I completely agree. Thank you so much for coming on the show. Where can people find you? 

Abby: People can find me. Well, our film is on. Our social media is @businessofbirthcontrol. And then my personal handle is @abbyepsteinxoxo and our website is The Business of Life. So find me there. 

Le’Nise: All of those will be linked in the show notes. Thank you so much. It’s been amazing having you on the show. I know that listeners will learn so much from what you’ve shared and we’ll learn so much from your film. So thank you again. 

Abby: Thank you. And it’s been such a pleasure. 

Period Story Podcast, Episode 57, Sateria Venable: You Don’t Have To Suffer

You have to listen to today’s episode of Period Story with Sateria Venable, the founder and CEO of the Fibroid Foundation. Sateria shares her story of navigating life with very heavy periods, haemorrhaging, altitude associated bleeding and fibroids. Sateria’s story is very powerful and she has grown the Fibroid Foundation out of her own very painful experiences, something she describes as very cathartic. 

In this episode, Sateria shares:

  • How she was diagnosed with fibroids
  • How to navigate fibroid diagnosis and treatment
  • The power of advocacy 
  • And the story of her first period

Sateria says that you don’t have to suffer and power through. There are many resources and information out there to help, including on the Fibroid Foundation website, Instagram page and YouTube channel. 

Thank you, Sateria! 

Get in touch with Sateria:

Website

Questions to ask your provider 

Fibroids Health Portal

YouTube

Instagram

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: I’m so happy to have you on the podcast. You are doing really incredible work in the fibroids space and I’ve wanted to have you on the show for a while, so I’m happy that we have this opportunity to have this conversation. So let’s get into the story of your very first period. 

Sateria: Okay. Well, thanks so much for having me on this. I consider you a rock star and you’re one of our most valued alliance partners. So I’m really grateful for your partnership across the pond and your friendship. So my period story, I’m so glad that you’re hosting this podcast because this is such an important question, in my opinion, because I think that there is it’s a very personal journey and it is not always framed in a positive light. And so it can carry, I think, some serious emotional baggage for a young person experiencing puberty. And my journey was much like what I’ve just described, I. It was a little funny, actually. My mom is an older parent, so she had me at 37, so she was not as familiar with the most current period products at the time. And it had been so far removed from her experience that it was just kind of humorous. So I had pain on my right side about a month before my 12th birthday, and my mother thought I was having an appendicitis attack. And then I was ovulating. You know, we found out two weeks later that I was ovulating. So my periods started. I don’t remember really bad cramps the first period, but my mom handed me this enormous sanitary napkin that was like an inch plus thick. And then she gave me a belt to go with it. And I was like, What in the hell is this? You know, I was like just a few days before my 12th birthday, and I was trying to figure out, you know, I think it was in like the seventh grade. And I was trying to figure out this belt and this pad and wondering why in the world anybody would want to have to deal with all of this. 

And it was just really awkward. I think that’s the best word I can think of to describe my experience, because I would catch the bus to school public transportation. And I remember distinctly standing on the bus, you know, first for the first few period experiences and feeling very exposed and wondering if people knew or just not wanting to have to deal with it. And then I also remember being in school and not really feeling comfortable excusing myself to go to the bathroom probably as frequently as I should. So it was it was, I think, not ideal for really uplifting menstruation, but that was my my first or first couple of period experiences. 

Le’Nise: Wow. So I want to really ask about the sanitary belt because you’re the first guest that I’ve spoken to that has used a sanitary belt. Maybe some others have, but they didn’t mention it. And I’m fascinated by that because I actually went to the Vagina Museum here in London earlier in the summer, and I actually learnt that it was the belt was originated by a Black woman and they went through the whole history of it. So and then they had they had an example there. And I remember looking at it with in complete fascination because it just seemed so foreign to what compared to what we have on the market now. So can you just talk a little bit more about how how it works using the belt? 

Sateria: The belt is seems far away from me as well because I didn’t use it for long because I hated it. I went and found some more current products, but it was like a woven kind of. It wasn’t gauze. It was more like a cotton woven panty that you step into. And the sides were just like. A little less than an inch wide, and they went kind of up over your hips in kind of like a thong kind of shape to hold the pad in place. And you would wear that under your underpants. And it didn’t do a great job of holding the pad in place. I mean, because, you know, you’d have little spill over here and a little spill over there. But and then the pad had. Long gauze pieces that were flat that extended like five or six inches out from the pad itself in both directions. So you had this it kind of felt almost like it was coming up to your belly button and all the way up in the back. Because of those those they were almost kind of like see through it was what? So there was a huge cotton section or whatever that was. That was the base of the pad. And then whatever they wrapped the pad in, they had extensions that went far off the ends in the front, in the back that kind of came up. And so you’d have all of this going on and then your underpants on top of it, it was, well, you’ve got a headache just thinking about it. 

Le’Nise: And so your this is what your mom gave you when you had your first period. And did she explain to you what was going on? Did she talk to you about her experience of her period to give you a little bit more kind of background about what to expect? 

Sateria: She didn’t talk much about having your first period and what that means, but she did tell me all the horrible stuff. I had seen, so I guess when my period started, my mother was 49. And I had seen her have some very. Just painful period experiences. And she told me about how horrible her cramps had been when her periods started, which I, I think she meant well. But, you know, I think that added to the horror of it all. 

Le’Nise: So you had this experience where you were given the this belt and a big bulky pad and then you went and found something that was a little better for you. And then how did you learn more about periods and ovulation and all everything to do with menstrual health? 

Sateria: From my friends in school. I remember my friend in the sixth grade who was the first person that I knew to start her period. And so we were all kind of like in awe like, oh, wow. You know, we thought at that time that that was something we wanted to be in that club, you know, like have a period. And then once my period started, I I’m I’m a person who I felt my ovulation every single month. And so I started to learn my body. It would tell me that, okay, you’re ovulating, right? Ovulating left. Two weeks later, period’s going to start. And I also had friends who had really bad cramps like me. So one of my friends would have some really strong Motrin, not the over-the counter, but, you know, prescription Motrin. And she would give it to us because our cramps were that bad. She would give us the Motrin in school. We were in school popping Motrin. So we would amongst us my little core unit of friends, the ones that had really bad cramps, would share information and that’s how I learnt to adapt to it and understand what was happening. But my general expectation sadly was that it was going to be terrible and that’s what it was because of what I had seen and the family stories that went back to my great grandmother of terrible periods. 

Le’Nise: So your periods you have that expectation and then your periods were terrible. So you mentioned really bad cramps. What was it? What else about your period was not so great? 

Sateria: I think it was the the social impact, the awkwardness. I specifically remember being 15 and going on a date. I think I was almost 16 and I had this cute pair of white shorts that I wanted to wear that I had just gotten. And I was out at the barbecue, and my bleeding got worse than I anticipated. And I didn’t bleed through the shorts. But the just panic around navigating trips to the bathroom and being in the company of a guy that I was interested in and trying to have fun with my friends. But also having this experience was just really challenging and not a feel good moment. 

Le’Nise: And how did you how did you resolve the situation? 

Sateria: I befriended a woman who a girl at the time who was with me who was dating another guy that was there. And she kind of like accompanied me to the bathroom to make it seem not as obvious that I had a purpose for going there rather than as just kind of having girl talk. And and she really helped me through that moment at that time. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. Yeah. And so you were bleeding heavily and so were heavy periods also another feature of your kind of menstrual life? 

Sateria: Always. My periods were horrible. The first day or two when my cervix would open. My periods would. It was like contractions. And I would get so sick that I would vomit and I couldn’t get too hot or too cold because that would cause me to be nauseous and I would just have to sleep it off after I took some over-the-counter medication, like the first, maybe the first or second day, and then I wouldn’t be in pain, but I’d be dealing with heavy menstrual bleeding. And I remember not having a sensitive ear in my high school teachers and like the ninth or 10th grade, if I needed to leave school to go home because I was so sick from the period pain. So it just was it was it was difficult. 

Le’Nise: And it was that every single period. 

Sateria: Every single period, every single one up until I started the birth control pill at 18. And then like cramping the contraction cramping that came in waves of pain from the time my period started through that time, that subsided greatly. 

Le’Nise: Okay. So the timeline was basically you got your period when you were in grade six, sixth grade.

Sateria: Seventh. 

Le’Nise: Oh seventh, sorry. And so that was about, what, 11, 12 years old? 

Sateria: Yes.

Le’Nise: And so from 11, 12 all the way until 18, every single period, you would be missing school, vomiting, having to take all of these heavy prescription drugs to manage your period. Did you go to the doctor? Did you. Did you have conversations with your mom about how to manage your period pain and the heavy bleeding? 

Sateria: No. I didn’t go to the doctor. I. My mom would come home from work, and I’d be in the bed, curled up in a ball from having left school. And she’d just be like, Oh, poor baby, what do you need? And that was the that was the extent of the conversation. It was like, okay, this is life. Right? Yeah. Which makes me sad, actually, because she didn’t have the tools that we have now to frame that experience differently. 

Le’Nise: That kind of reminds me of the experience of my mom, because now my family, we have really heavy periods, painful periods that’s just runs in the family as well. And so my mom, she would have these really long, long, almost endless periods. We know now that she had fibroids and really painful periods and she just thought it was normal because that was the experience of all the women in her family. And that kind of like just this these stories that were passed down like, well, this is just part of having a period. And it’s so fascinating that now we have all the information now to kind of break break that cycle. 

Sateria: Exactly. I, I totally agree. It’s really just it was the norm. You know, my mom had an experience of just always suffering, and we just thought that that was just the way life was. Going to be. Just power through it. And. You know, existing in workspaces and school spaces and pain was seemingly our price.

Le’Nise: And and going back to when you were 18, you went on the pill. And what was your experience of going on the pill? 

Sateria: My experience of going on the pill was great because I could and I knew when my period was going to start, I could plan for it better. I wasn’t in as much pain and it made my periods a little lighter. So that made life. That worked for quite a few years until it didn’t. 

Le’Nise: Okay, so that’s interesting. So there is a narrative at the moment about the pill and a lot more people are realising some of the side effects. But for you, the pill worked and it did what the doctor said it was going to do for you for for how many years? And then just say a little bit more about what you said about it worked until it didn’t. 

Sateria:  Sure. So, you know, those moments in life, kind of like with me standing on the bus when I first started my period. There are things that happen in life where you remember exactly where you were. And I think I took the pill often on from like 18 to 31, and it was mainly to control bleeding for my heavy menstrual bleeding. So I was living in Chicago and I was walking toward the bus stop to go to work. I was 31 and I felt blood and it was not time for my period to start. And I was on the pill at the time and that was breakthrough bleeding. And that was my first experience of breakthrough bleeding. And I thought in my mind that because I’m always trying to figure out how to resolve this. What can I do? And I thought, okay. I think that if the pill’s not working anymore, that my body can hold the blood back between periods better than the pill can. So I stopped the pills without consulting a doctor, without anything else. 

Well, I was right about the fact that my body could hold the blood back during periods. So I stopped the pill. I had a period, and then I didn’t have any breakthrough bleeding. But when that period started after that, without any of the medication from the pill in my body, I haemorrhaged for two and a half months. I had to have a surgery two and a half months later to remove what they call a pedunculated fibroid, which was only two centimetres. But my body was trying to flush it out. And I my haemoglobin went down to, I think, seven, between six and seven, which is about half of what you’re supposed to have in your body. And I was bleeding through a bag of pads almost every day. 

Le’Nise: Oh, my goodness. And what was the effect of that? Two and a half months on you emotionally?

Sateria: It was. Horrifying because I. I didn’t know I was learning about anaemia. I didn’t understand anaemia. I didn’t understand why I was having difficulty breathing. I just was. And again, I still had that mindset from earlier in life with just trying to power through. So I was still trying to go to work and I was still trying to figure out ways to raise my haemoglobin. I was drinking beet and carrot juice and taking iron supplements and still trying to plan to go on a vacation, which sounds crazy. I actually did go on the vacation. So this is an interesting story if we have time. 

Le’Nise: Yeah.

Sateria: So I worked with a naturopath who practically saved my life, Dr. Pittman. And she would adjust my body head to toe during this time to reduce the bleeding because we were trying to stabilise the bleeding. So we got the bleeding under control. And then it was about raising my haemoglobin because I was so anaemic and I wanted to go on this trip. Oh my goodness. So we she said, okay, if your haemoglobin gets to nine, you can go on the trip. But if it’s below nine, you cannot go. So I’m drinking beet and carrot juice every day and taking an iron supplement that was organic so that it didn’t constipate me. So I got my haemoglobin up. We got the bleeding to stop. I get on the plane and unbeknown to me. I was going to a higher altitude. Well, naturally in the plane. But my ultimate destination was the higher altitude. One hour into the flight, I started bleeding. Because of the altitude. And when I got to my destination, which was Colorado. The haemorrhaging started and it would not stop. So I had no experience of altitude associated bleeding prior to that time. So long story short, I was back in Chicago a day later. I had to leave. I had to come back. And as soon as I got off the plane in Chicago and took in a breath of air, when I deplaned, I started feeling better because I wasn’t at that higher altitude that was thinning my blood, that was making me bleed. But then after that, I still had to have another surgery. It was it was. It was an absolute mess. I mean, just. 

Le’Nise: I want to talk a little bit about altitude associated bleeding, because I know that there has been some listeners who had never heard of that before. So when you go to different altitudes, a higher altitude, the body needs more oxygen, in order to breathe. And if you already have low haemoglobin, so the protein that pushes oxygen through the blood. Talk a little bit about the link between the bleeding and the haemoglobin and the altitude. 

Sateria: Well, you actually described it better than I’ve ever heard it described before because my doctor at the time said, I can’t help you. You just need to come back to Chicago. But I. Because you’re you know, as you mentioned, your blood thins because of the altitude to adjust to the higher altitude. You are really susceptible to more bleeding. And I really when I got to Colorado, my symptoms were worse because of the altitude. I actually was seeing stars, which I had never seen before. Like my haemoglobin was that low. I was walking in the grocery store looking for more pads because I hadn’t brought enough because I had stopped, you know, bleeding before I left. And I was walking in the grocery store seeing stars because I was losing that much blood that fast and becoming anaemic again. So it was very scary. 

Le’Nise: And you went back to Chicago and then you had another surgery shortly after that. And what was that surgery for? 

Sateria: That was my second fibroid surgery, and it was a laparoscopy where they enter your vagina and loop out with a heated implement, the fibroid. And it was a two centimetre small fibroid that was extending into my uterine cavity that my body was trying to flush out. I had other fibroids, two other ones, but that was the the small two centimetre one was the the really troublemaker. And and people think that when they hear fibroids, that it’s the large ones that are the catalyst for all the bleeding. It doesn’t have to be. It is contingent on the location, whether or not it’s pushing on the wall of the uterus and opening up blood vessels or in this case, it extending into the uterine cavity, that it can wreak havoc even in small sizes. 

Le’Nise: So talk a little bit more about your journey with fibroids. You have founded this amazing charity called The Fibroid Foundation, and you do incredible work, truly incredible work. And, you know, I remember when I first we first connected, I was so amazed because you know, I have a personal experience of fibroid in that my mom had had surgery. She told me the other day about how she had a partial hysterectomy to remove her, a fibroid that was the size of a grapefruit. But then she didn’t know any more details. And I was asking her and asking her and she was like, Yeah, I had that partial hysterectomy and that was it. And I found that so mindblowing because, you know, it’s, you know, I just crave information, but I digress. So I am so curious about your journey with the fibroids, because, you know, when we stopped after your trip to Colorado, that was your second fibroid surgery. But when did you first learn that you had fibroids? 

Sateria: I was 26. And even due to this intense family history, the bleeding got to be too much for even me. So I went to the doctor to find out what I could do and she said, You have a fibroid. She didn’t tell me what it was. She said You had to have a fibroid. And I immediately thought cancer and felt like very fearful. And she said the best treatment is a hysterectomy. And I was like, what? Like, the best treatment is a hysterectomy? I’m 26 years old. No kids like. And whether I have kids or not is a non-issue, which is something that I talk about all the time. It’s like, what? Quality of life and keeping a body part, you know, is the priority here. 

So I actually found another physician who told me that they could remove the fibroid laparoscopy, do a laparoscopy, but they couldn’t guarantee that they could close my uterus after they removed what was then I think about a five centimetre fibroid on top of my bladder. So we scheduled this surgery and they prepped me for the surgery and they tried to dilate my cervix prior to the surgery. And so I’m walking around the hospital trying to have my cervix dilate, which is one of the most agonising experiences that I can ever describe and I get in the surgery. This doctor didn’t know what she was doing. She punctured my uterus with the implement and had to bring me out of surgery and no fibroids were removed. So I had flown my family into town prepped for three months on medication for this surgery was high as a kite from the drugs from the surgery came out and they told me that nothing was done and we were at square one. 

So after that, naturally I was incredibly fearful about surgeries, which is why I had that experience of the breakthrough bleeding and tried to figure it out on my own. The second surgery was successful and I still didn’t understand the correlation between diet and hormones and fibroid growth. So I was eating the same things. And so from my experience has been that after every procedure, nine months later, my body has grown more fibroids and that I’m experiencing more heavy menstrual bleeding just like before. So. I. I went for five more years and powered through the bleeding until a doctor actually grabbed my hand and said, Sateria, you cannot continue to live like this. And he was very kind. He’s on our medical advisory board now, Dr. Milad at Northwestern in Chicago. And he drew me a picture of my, of the surgery and how he was going to perform it. And he sent me to get an MRI. 

Until that point, with all the doctors I’d seen, I never had an MRI. And he explained to me that each fibroid has its own blood supply. And for him to be able to really perform a successful surgery, he would want to be able to see in 3D where the blood supply was and where every fibroid is. Because if you just utilise an ultrasound, the ultrasound sometimes fibroids will hide and you can’t see everything that’s there. So that was very new information for me. It made perfect sense, but I was really a little sad and upset that it took all of those experiences for me to get to a comprehensive provider who cared about me as a patient and my experience as a patient, and who would talk to me in a way that had a good bedside manner, which is, I think we don’t talk enough about and really wanted me to be well. He wasn’t just treating symptoms or just trying to get a surgery done. He was looking at the overall picture. So he performed an open myomectomy, which is. It was a successful surgery, but it’s also a very hard surgery on the body. And there’s lots of emotions that come with being cut open, your uterus, lifted out of your body, the fibroids, cut out, the uterus and back together and put back in. But he did that successfully. And then I had to deal with the emotional healing and being very tender for months and dealing with work and, you know, trying to survive and getting reimbursements for work and being out of income for that eight weeks, six, eight weeks, whatever it was. So. That was surgery number three. And of course, after that I swore no more fibroid surgery. So it’s like, no, there’s no way I became a pescatarian. I wasn’t eating any meat, which for me is coming from a family where if if you shed one tear, somebody puts a pie in front of you. It’s a huge, like, food related family. And so I stopped eating meat for seven years and I was still having bleeding that was completely out of control. 

Being a pescatarian lengthened the regrowth significantly, which is an action that I wish I had known to take previously. But I still was facing another surgery, and at that time I didn’t want another myomectomy because I didn’t want to deal with that abdominal incision and just anything intrusive. So I opted for embolisation. With another member of our medical advisory board. And I was fortunate in the fact that because I do this work and the foundation was active at that time, but it took me like a month to get into surgery with probably the top embolisation or radiology expert in fibroids in the world. And so he performed my my fourth and final fibroid surgery. 

But it’s been a journey. I mean, I know women who’ve had multiple myomectomies trying to conceive and we as women deal with so much of bodies. And it’s considered our normal plight. And it I think that’s a topic that needs to be further explored. And in terms of what the expectations are, you know, and how society frames how women deal with pain. I think it’s a just a huge burden placed upon us that should not be, and it has overarching consequences on society. I think society doesn’t fully grasp how everyone is affected. When we are in pain and in pain chronically and in it becomes our normal walk of life, supposedly or you know, that’s the expectation there. We need to and I’m glad that we’re having this conversation today because that reality needs to shift and we need to continue to talk about this because I don’t want anyone. And that’s why I started the Fibroid Foundation, is I don’t want anyone to have to go through what I went through. 

Le’Nise: Here. Here. I completely agree. I mean, we’re singing from the same hymn sheet here. Everything you said about, you know, ending this normalising normalisation of pain. I completely agree. You talk a lot about the emotional impact of the surgeries, the the heavy menstrual bleeding, the continual menstrual bleeding. If we kind of go back to our timeline. When did all of this stop for you? 

Sateria: A few years ago, I worked my last hospital visit, oh, my goodness, was 2018. I was experiencing bleeding, and I had this crazy idea. I’m not crazy, but I had this idea that if I stabilise my liver, I would be okay. So I did a celery juice cleanse. Well, that sent my whole body into shock. And my haemoglobin again dipped to 6.2. 

Le’Nise: Oh, my. 

Sateria: And I had to be transfused. And that was my last hospital visit. So I was transfused and sent home. And I stopped the celery juice. And, you know, apart from some perimenopause symptoms, I’ve been okay. But I did use a medical therapy to get through perimenopause, which is a medicine to help control my period bleeding. Had I not had that medication, which is used in Europe, but you have to request it practically in the United States. Um, and I probably would have had to have a hysterectomy. So fortunately, I have my uterus and. You know, it’s through platforms like yours. It’s all about educating our sisters on how to have a better quality of life. 

Le’Nis: You mentioned meditation. Is that Transexamic acid? Yeah. So that is quite easy to get here in the UK. 

Sateria: Yeah. Yeah. But not in the States. And despite all the work that I do, I had never heard of it until one of our board members said Sateria, why don’t you get this in? So I had I always select physicians who will work with me. And so even my general practitioner, I asked her to prescribe it for me and she wasn’t aware of it. She did some research. She said, Sure, I’ll prescribe that for you. And that’s how I was able to get it. 

Le’Nise: Wow. So you have had to be your own advocate this entire time. 

Sateria: Always.

Le’Nise: And what I’m quite struck about is. What you said about how you had to power through this. You you know, you just kept going. You had to power through. And that doctor held your hand and said, it’s enough. You know, you need to you know, this needs to end. And just talk a little bit about why you felt like you just had to push through. 

Sateria: Well, I hadn’t seen, that had been my life experience. Like for me to get ahead, I felt like I needed to exceed expectations and always be present and reliable and perform well at my job. And. And I also. It was a major and still am. Uh, my family’s very, you know, the person who is responsible for a lot of the financial needs of our family. And the thought of not working didn’t even occur to me until I could barely walk. And so I think that. That societal burden, which came from generations back. Because, you know, like I said, my my mom referenced the bleeding that my great grandmother had. And my grandmother and I watched my mother sit in agony. And then my mother took me out in a snowstorm to get boots for school and she had to double up on pads. And she I can’t even imagine what agony she was in, but that that was you know, those were the stories that I had, you know, had running in my mind. And so I really sacrificed my well-being to meet others expectations and to have income. I think those were the major drivers and I’m so proud of younger generations who are more focussed on self-care. That’s one of the reasons why we really make that a focal point at the Fibroid Foundation is that you have to care for yourself. And and I’m glad that there are conversations taking place that are making employers take on the responsibility of participating in avenues to self care for the people that work at their organisations. It’s so incredibly important to be able to have a better quality of life overall. 

Le’Nise: So say a little bit more about the Fibroid Foundation. So you’re the founder and the CEO and the work that you do is fantastic. You went to the White House. You met the Vice President. Talk a little bit more about the work you do and your vision for the future. 

Sateria: Okay. Well, I feel very fortunate to be able to see the Fibroid Foundation grow out of an experience that was so painful and that is very cathartic for me personally. And being able to actually speak with our community members and see how our information is helping them is probably at the height of of gratification for me when I when I think about the work that we do. 

So we really focus on four major areas, which are education and information for treatments. We focus on legislation. We initiated the advocacy efforts for the introduction of the fibroid bill, which will be $150 million of fibroid research funding here in the United States, which the hope is that that research will then parlay into other research efforts and provide more information globally, because even though a lot of the work that we do is US based, the goal is definitely to have a global impact. We bring the patient voice to research. So so far, which I cannot believe Le’Nise, I’ve co-authored 12 medical papers as a non-physician and  we are focussed on designing research studies as co-PR with our medical partners to bring forth the patient voice, because the patient voice is pivotal in all of this. And lastly, but not least is innovation. We’re always looking at ways, like I said, medical therapies, but the patient voice needs to be in that as well, because the well-meaning developers of the innovations don’t have the experience most often of the therapy and how life transpires when you’re taking it, when you’re preparing to take it, or the surgery. And so we always need the patient voice present. And I’m actually following in your footsteps and I’m writing a book called The Patient Voice. 

Le’Nise: Oh, fantastic. And I can’t wait to read that. 

Sateria: So we hope to hope to have that out next year. So fingers crossed. 

Le’Nise: Fantastic. So if someone’s listening to this and they suspect that they have fibroids. But they’re kind of hitting a brick wall in terms of diagnosis and treatment. What would you say to them? 

Sateria: I would say keep the faith. Find that a trusted resource. Don’t just take information wherever you find it because you’re fatigued. I understand fatigue and I understand the fear of experiencing some of these symptoms. But make sure that the source that you find is verified, trusted, has reliable resources who are licenced. Whether you go the holistic route and or the medical route, I advocate both. I think you should have what I call your toolkit of wellness providers that have medical expertise and holistic expertise, and both should have credentials that you really vet carefully. But find your, talk to people. Find those resources. Interview the physician. Advocate for yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask questions because your you’re the expert in your body and you know what you want for yourself. So find that practitioner who’s going to be skilled but also kind. And help you to accomplish your goals and then also do what you need to do to build in that self-care practise into your life overall. Try to get your partners engaged to bring them to appointments with you, because that partner support is important. And for me personally and a lot of other people, if you don’t get that support from your partner, that’s another area to explore so that you can be well overall. 

Le’Nise: So a lot of what you’re describing requires a lot of energy. And thinking back to your experience where you’ve just described pushing through and pushing through. That self-care piece you mentioned is really important to kind of preserve energy and rebuild. But what would you say to someone who says like, that sounds really hard. I’m really frustrated. What would you say to them? 

Sateria: Try, if you’re fatigued and I get that, try to find a friend who can help carry that burden with you. I have a dear friend who’s a physician, and she had another friend who was experiencing some pretty serious medical issues. And even though that person who was sick was a physician, she went to the appointment with her to help her to navigate those waters. So, you know, find those friends. And when you’re not feeling well, the people that you rely on, you’ll learn who they are, who they are. You you will learn very quickly who those people are in your life, who you can really depend on. That’s another big eye opener. But, you know, I understand fatigue and try to maybe take everything in bite sized pieces and lean on organisations such as ours. We have a peer network where we’re happy to do whatever we can to help you find the information you need, connect you with our ambassadors so you can speak with them. 

And I’m of the mind that there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel like someone’s gone through this already. There’s information. We have information on YouTube. Look at that. And we have a list of questions you can take to your doctor on our website. And you can download those. And that’s a good starting point as well as our Fibroids Health Portal, where you can learn about treatment options. And, you know, if you start there, you will have good information to be able to help you have a conversation with your your physician. 

And I will also say that if your physician comes in and wants to have a conversation while you’re in stirrups, ask them that. You tell them, rather, that you would like to have a conversation when you’re fully dressed. That that is incredibly important for you to be able to have the comfort of having a conversation. You shouldn’t have to do that in stirrups at any time. 

Le’Nise: So much powerful information that you shared and all of the resources that you’ve mentioned will be linked in the show notes. So check those out to find out what the resources Sateria’s just mentioned. So you shared a really powerful, emotional story. You shared all of the fantastic work that you’re doing with the Fibroid Foundation. What’s the one thing that you want to leave our listeners with today? 

Sateria: That you’re powerful. You’re absolutely powerful. And that you can create life as you need it to be for you and that you don’t have to suffer. 

Le’Nise: You don’t have to suffer. Fantastic. You are powerful. I love that. I really feel that. Thank you so much for coming on the show today. For anyone who wants to find out more about Sateria and the Fibroid Foundation. Please check the show notes. Please look at their Instagram, their YouTube to find out more. Spread the word. Fibroids are incredibly common and really under-discussed, so please support their work. Thank you so much. 

Sateria: Thank you, Le’Nise. I love all the work that you’re doing as well. And this has been probably my favourite, favourite conversation. So I’m so glad that this is going out into the sphere to help others. And I hope that you have continued success on all the wonderful work that you’re doing. 

Le’Nise: Thank you so much. 

Period Story Podcast, Episode 56, Cheryl Woodman: You Can Have Clear Skin

If you have skin issues, you definitely need to check today’s episode of Period Story with Cheryl Woodman. Cheryl is a scientist, award-winning skincare formulator and acne expert. 

In this episode, Cheryl shares:

  • How you should actually be washing your face
  • Common triggers for acne 
  • Her own acne healing journey 
  • And the story of her first period

Cheryl says that if you understand the underlying biology changes of what’s causing your skin to become acne-prone, you can be empowered to take back control of your skin health and to get clear without the need for acne meds. If you want to work with Cheryl, use the code GETCLEAR20 to get 20% off her course Acne Warrior. 

Thank you, Cheryl! 

Get in touch with Cheryl:

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Website

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: Tell me the story of your very first period. 

Cheryl: Sure. First of all, thank you so much for having me. I remember when you invited me on the show and I thought back about how many years it’s been since I shared the story about when I had my first period and when I was much younger. It used to be something I’d share with my close girlfriends all the time, and it would be quite a bonding experience. Now I’m 35 and it’s something that I’ve not spoken about in so long, so it’s going to be really good to relive it today. 

So for me I had my first period when I was in about year 8 or 9 at secondary school, so I think about 13 or 14 years old. And it was the weekend, I think it was about spring time because I remember it being a sunny day but not super warm. And I was with my parents visiting an English Heritage site which my dad loved to do, when he lived in the UK and I of course found so boring and really didn’t want to be there. This site that we were visiting on the weekend, it had like a live re-enactment on and it had some food stores and jewellery sellers, so it was a little bit more exciting than the usual visits. I remember reading needing the toilet, and so I went with my mom. And the bathrooms they were renovating at the time. So they had these portaloos lined up and this castle had almost like a big square green in the middle of it, and it had a pathway that run down the centre of the green, and they’d stacked these portaloos all the way up against this pathway. I remember there was this massive queue of people needing to use the toilet. So I eventually got into this portoloo and a big, dark blue plastic portaloo and I  can’t see so well inside. And your eyes are adjusting from the bright sunshine outside. I went to use the toilet and I remember suddenly realising that I had blood in my underwear and oh my goodness, I started my first period and I can’t speak to my mum about that because there’s so many people outside. And I remember just taking a load of toilet tissue and putting that in my underwear. By the time I came out of the portaloo to leave, my mum had already gone into a different portaloo so I couldn’t speak to her and my dad and my sister were waiting. I didn’t feel comfortable talking about it in front of them, so I just kind of kept it to myself and I was just hoping that I wasn’t going to leak probably through my trousers. And I remember we went around the jewellery store with my mum and my mum actually bought me a ring that I still have to this day. And I always think about that ring as being the day I started my period and we eventually, after maybe an hour went back to the car and then my dad spotted this walk near the car and he said, Oh, so we should give this walk again. I remember just screaming inside. No, Dad, I need to get home and speak to Mum. 

And anyway, we went for this walk and eventually got home. And again my mum was desperate for the toilet. She ran into the house and I ran in behind. But by the time I’d got there she’d lock the door and I banged on the door and I think she’d had enough of me and my sister that day. So she was like, Just wait your time. And so I stood outside and she opened the door and I bundled straight and locked the door behind me and her. I said, Mum, I’ve started my period. I don’t remember too much of what she said. I remember that she showed me where the pads were, which was the side of the bath tub came down and the pads were behind that. And I also remember that she asked me, Are you okay? And I remember thinking, Oh, am I not supposed to be okay? I am. But yeah, I think I’m okay. I’m good. I’m good with this. And that was my first period. 

Le’Nise: You sounded like you were quite comfortable once you were able to finally speak to your mom, to share with her what happened. And she asked you. She sounded like she was very empathetic. How did you learn about what was actually happening to you?

Cheryl: Yeah. I think that’s a really interesting question because I, I don’t know if there was any point when I really did learn what was happening to me. I think it was being a scientist. I’m going to use the word osmosis, the gradual soaking in of pieces of information from biology class at school. And we had PSHE lessons, so I knew it was natural to have a monthly bleed. And I knew the basics of, of what starting your period meant in that I could get pregnant. But other than that, I didn’t really know too much. When I was thinking about coming on your podcast today, there was one memory that stuck out from school, and I don’t think it was PSHE class, but it was a biology class when they started to talk a little bit about female hormone health, and I don’t know if you remember this from your science classes, but they wheeled in the TV, these huge cathode ray tube TVs, and they put a video on it, which seemed like it’d been filmed 30 years before. And it was really it was really strange because it was a there was a man talking about what to expect every month. And then there was this video of a woman going about her day and finding everything really stressful. And it was talking about PMS and all these symptoms that you might get at different times of the month and headaches. 

And I remember it being more of a negative feeling that, oh my gosh, we’ve got to deal with this every month. And it being more portrayal of what a natural period is and that it comes with these negative symptoms. Which which is interesting to think back on, because I know now that’s not a normal period and that’s not normal for a woman to experience that it during every cycle. And if you are getting symptoms like that, then it’s an indicator of something going on inside. But other than that, I think it’s more has been more talking with friends and sharing stories when you were younger about what was normal and what you’re experiencing and then if there has been anything which has happened for me. So I think a big a big learning for me when I looked at my female hormone patterns more deeply was actually when I started to get breakouts and acne. And it was because of that symptom, which I was concerned and worried about, that I started to look more into my female hormone health and my period health and what that was telling me. So not necessarily that I ever went looking to learn about periods, but that signals my body was giving me made me eventually start getting to know my period health in more detail. 

Le’Nise: And when you first got your period, your mum asked you if you were okay. What was your experience of your period like? 

Cheryl: Sure. So my period my my first few years, I didn’t really get any negative symptoms other than I remember. My third period was very specific. I had the worst period cramping and I just remember not being able to sit still, but also not being able to keep moving. It was this really weird conflict of I didn’t feel like I had anything that could make it better. And I remember sitting on the bathroom floor with my knees poured into my stomach and my mom offering me a hot water bottle and I thought it would just make me feel quite sick, and not help. And I took the hot water bottle and within ten, 20 minutes, I was feeling so much better and just thinking, wow, this is really helpful. And I remember my mum saying to me, actually on that day that, Oh, maybe you’re going to be one of these women who has period cramps really bad. And obviously when you’ve not had an experience of so many periods, I thought to myself, Oh my goodness, am I going to have to deal with this every month? But it just seemed to be a one off actually. 

After that, my periods I didn’t get regular cramping and if I got any mild cramping, then I would sort it out with a hot water bottle. And it worked quite well for me. It wasn’t until I was in my early twenties when I started to get more period related symptoms like acne breakouts and cystic jawline acne I had, which is when I started to look into my female hormone health in a bit more detail. And it also coincided with a journey of using different contraceptives because I’d I’d been struggling with acne and breakouts and seeing them fluctuate with my monthly cycle for a few years. But being able to deal with it through some skincare products and it not bothering me too much and I changed my contraceptive to the copper coil because I wanted it to be non-hormonal and I saw a huge increase in my breakouts in combination with my periods becoming a lot, lot heavier. And that was really when I started to look into what was happening hormonally, why I was breaking out, and how I could help to heal my skin. Because the breakouts that I was getting when I was on the copper coil were really deep rooted, painful cystic breakouts along my jawline, and they were barely healing before more were cropping up. And I just was in this never ending cycle of oily skin and breakouts that really started to impact the way that I was feeling. I felt really down about it and it really was affecting my self-confidence at work because I felt like nobody would take me seriously with all these breakouts on my face. 

Le’Nise: So were you originally prescribed the pill for the breakouts and the acne? 

Cheryl: That’s really interesting question because it’s definitely what many women are prescribed when they go to see the doctor when they have acne. Actually, I previous to that, I had been taking the mini pill and it was of my own accord that I wanted to stop taking that and come off onto a non-hormonal method of contraception. So I almost had the reverse experience of what many of my clients have, and so I came off that went on to the copper coil, and I remember speaking to the doctor about these symptoms that it was worsening my acne and that my periods were heavier. I remember her saying, you know, it’s quite normal. Sometimes it does make periods happier, but there’s not any indication that that’s linked with acne or that the copper coil could be causing your acne in any way. I knew personally because it was my body that there had been a very distinct change between coming off of the mini pill and going on to the copper coil on my skin flaring up with that. And of course, the copper coil with it making your periods heavier is having an effect and an effect on the inflammation levels within your body as well. And when you’re dealing with inflammatory hormonal acne, that can very much worsen the symptoms that you are experiencing. So for me, birth control wasn’t something that I used or had used to control acne, but it was that I’d seen a worsening of it with switching. 

Le’Nise: And when? How long were you on the copper coil? 

Cheryl: I think I may have had it for about a year. I had it removed for the reasons that it was making my periods excessively heavy. And I was somebody when I was younger, he tended to have heavier periods anyway and. Had it removed for those reasons. And I definitely saw an improvement in my breakouts as well. When it was removed, they didn’t go away completely, but there was an improvement in them. 

Le’Nise: Okay, that’s interesting. And were you then advised to go on to another form of contraceptive? Or were you. That was the end of your journey with hormonal and non hormonal contraceptives. 

Cheryl: Yeah. So when. When I came off the copper coil, I went on to the Mirena coil as kind of an in-between, it being a more localised hormone, not taking it orally as a tablet every day. And in the Mirena coil that did that to my skin somewhat, but I was still getting cystic breakouts and I switched after I was on the Mirena coil  for quite some time, and then I switched on to the fertility awareness methods as being a non-hormonal method of contraception. And in the same way that we spoke about with the pill sometimes being prescribed for acne, I’m really not a fan of that when I work with women who’ve been on the pill for helping to control the acne. 

It’s something that I don’t recommend because it’s shutting down your natural hormone production and it puts the plaster on what’s happening underneath. And actually for me it was the same with birth control. When I came off of the Mirena coil onto the fertility awareness method, it took many years, my periods to come back. That’s not actually a normal, normal thing to experience. Usually when you have the Mirena removed, periods will come back fairly quickly. 

But for me, being on the Mirena coil, I wasn’t getting a period when I used that method of contraception, so my body wasn’t able to talk to me when I was going through certain things to say, Hey, something’s up here. You’ve now lost your period. So it was a journey over a few years again to get my periods back and to really understand what my body was doing. And actually it’s only really been this year that I’ve got a good handle on how to support my body in having a regular period. 

For me, what I’ve identified as a big trigger. So I play tag rugby quite competitively. I play for Yorkshire and for Great Britain and our training really ramps up over the summer months and we have very intensive even weekend training sessions of 4 hours and playing tag rugby. It’s more like HIIT session. So it’s lots of quick sprinting on the pitch and it’s quite a hard on your body from that point of view. And I’d very much seen the last two years that when I go through that heavy intensive training period in the summer months, my periods become irregular and sometimes stop, whereas in the winter they they come back and they start to become more regular. So. It’s been a learning experience through contraceptives, trying to understand my period health and what works to help my body have a really healthy, natural period. 

Le’Nise: It’s so interesting, the journey that you’ve been on from the mini pill to the copper coil to the Mirena coil to now fertility awareness method. So for listeners who aren’t aware, that is where you use a combination of the signs that your body is giving you, like your cervical fluid, changes in energy, mood, and also your basal body temperature, which you take every morning just after you wake up to tell you when you’re most fertile. So to turn that’s a real journey and also then layering on what the changes that you see in your period and menstrual cycle from intense exercise. It’s really and what I find really fascinating and of course it makes sense because you’re a scientist it’s that you and you kind of are you have this awareness of all of the different things that have affected your period and then the kind of side effects were the acne and so on and so forth. Just going back to what you were saying about the acne specifically, that is that is what you do now. Like you’re an acne expert, you are a skincare formulator. Why do you think doctors are and GPs are so quick to prescribe the pill as a way to reduce acne? 

Cheryl: Yeah. It’s a really good question. I think part of it comes from obviously when you see any doctor, they want to help you and giving you something to go away with feels very much like you’ve got an action plan. And actually, in terms of the doctor’s arsenal, if you like, of treatment for acne, it very much is limited to medications and you won’t usually find diet, lifestyle, supplement advice when you go to visit your doctor. At least that’s very much the case in the UK. The pill. In its past. If you look back on adverts that were in the seventies, they were even focussed on Take the pill for great skin, not take the pill because it’s a form of contraception, but take the pill because it’s going to give you great skin. So I think there’s a history of it being advertised and educated as a tool to support clear skin, and it can be very effective at doing that, which I think is the reason why in NHS, especially when a doctor has the very limited time with each patient that it’s tempting to to give as a quick fix. 

And it doesn’t, it doesn’t clear skin for everybody, but for many women it can help with hormonal acne. And as a scientist, it’s not something that I recommend because it is just if you think it like autopilot in an airplane, it’s switching your body’s natural hormone production off. And I think what is most maybe worrying or sad when somebody is being prescribed the pill for acne is that it’s not giving you the opportunity to understand what your body is communicating to you. Everything that your body does is it trying to talk to you and tell you what’s going on inside. And when you shut down those natural signals, it’s very easy to keep pushing acne triggers harder and harder. You’re pushing that gas pedal on those acne triggers, but you’re not seeing the acne in your skin. And when you come off of the pill, quite often, acne will come back worse than it was before, because you’ve still been hitting those acne triggers that you’ve identified, and also because the pill can take a toll on your body and cause some maybe nutritional deficiencies that your body also needs to recover from in the process of that. 

Le’Nise: And also just thinking about the effect that the pill has on gut health and certainly something that that I learnt when I was doing my nutrition training is that, as you say, the what’s going on in the skin is a manifestation of something going on inside, something most commonly, something going on in the gut. And so it’s interesting that, you know, when I have clients who experience acne. Once you start to make changes to their gut health, adding in certain different things that support the healing of the gut lining, also, you know, the healing of the overall gut microbiome. You do see a change in the skin health. And I just find that so fascinating. And it’s really I find it really empowering as well because it’s it actually can be as, you know, acne can just be so damaging to your confidence. And when you see these changes, you know, oh, my gosh, look at my skin. It’s really, really empowering.

Cheryl: Yeah, I completely agree. Skin is this beautiful, amazing organ that we can see. Aha. Our lungs, our gut. We don’t have the opportunity to do that. So when something’s going astray internally. Quite often before you get these symptoms of pain or diarrhoea or constipation or stomachaches, there’s there’s something going on already for it to build up to that extent. And the skin is, in my experience, very good at translating what’s happening internally. I think it’s it’s amazing and what it does and it gives us the opportunity to act on things before they propagate into something much more serious there. Another reason for why I find it maybe worrying or sad when women are prescribed the pill for acne is because actually the symptoms of acne. So the biological changes that are happening within your skin cells and your oil making glands, they’re being linked in published science papers to other conditions like PCOS, polycystic ovary syndrome, diabetes, some forms of cancer. Those conditions take years and years and years to build, but your skin will fairly quickly show that something is going on internally that could lead to these kinds of conditions years, decades down the line. So it’s giving you that really beautiful signal to listen to now to protect your future health, which, yeah, I think is amazing. 

Le’Nise: And so if someone’s listening to this and thinking, I would love to sort out my skin is skin, I get I get acne around the jawline or along my forehead. And I would just love to finally sort that out. What would you say to them? What would you recommend that they start?

Cheryl: In terms of healing your acne, many women, first of all, would look to do that mostly from the outside in. So using skincare products, which is very it makes so much sense because it’s a symptom that you can see from outside. So you want to treat it from outside. 

My first piece of advice is making sure you’re treating inside out triggers as well as outside in triggers. You’re not going to fully heal your skin and your acne until you do both of those together. Then I would recommend it’s very much for me. I quit the Big Three skincare diet and lifestyle factors, so working on those concurrently. 

A really simple tip that anyone can can try straight away. You can try it tomorrow and the day after, do it for a week is to stop washing your face so much when you have acne, which I know sounds really counterintuitive because when you have usually oily skin that comes with acne and you have these breakouts in your skin and all it feels like is you just going to get the oil off of your face. You want it to be clean. 

Actually, the process of doing that is really aggressive to your skin biology. So for example, your skin has a pH level, which is a measure of acidity, and your skin is is fairly acidic somewhere when it’s not exposed to too many cleansers, it’s acidifies itself about 4.7. To put out in context, seven is neutral. Tap water is usually slightly alkaline. If you’re in a hard water area, it’s above 8.5 and the ruler ends at 14. So when you’re washing your skin with water, which has a mismatched pH level to your skin page, it immediately changes the pH level of your skin. It raises it. And then if you add in a cleanser, spot cleansers can be alkaline. Natural soaps, for example, can be nine. So this can be quite aggressive to your skin. How can your skin barrier and when your skin is raised actually creates the perfect environment for acne bacteria to start ever growing and therefore it can worsens new breakouts long time. It also wears away your skin barrier the washing process and if you’re overwashing which in my opinion is more than once a day removing these layers of what I call your skin shield allows the bacteria that live on the surface of your skin quite happy to get more deeply into your skin. And that can cause the breakouts to become more inflamed and more cystic, hotter, itchier, all of these symptoms. So a really simple change anyone can make is try not washing your face so much. So just once a day in the evening and going straight into your morning skincare routine when you wake up. 

Because many women ask me, but do I not eat to wash my face to get the skin care I’ve applied off of my skin the night before? If you’re using a skin care routine, that skin care it absorbs deeply into your skin. So you shouldn’t be washing it off in the morning anyway. So you can naturally just go straight into your morning skincare routine. And most of the women that I work with who try this, first of all, there is an amount of apprehension, which I completely understand. But most of them come back to me and say, I can’t believe the difference. This is made to my skin in a week. It’s amazing. 

Le’Nise: I mean, you’re blowing my mind here. Everything you read, it says, do your morning and evening cleanse. And I’ve always thought, why? Why do you need to cleanse your skin in the morning? Like, what are you cleansing it from? If you’ve done like you’ve wash your face in the evening, you’ve wash your makeup on off of. So it’s really reassuring to hear to hear this like don’t wash your face too often because, you know, you if you’re on social media, you’re on TikTok and you’re seeing these women and men with these really, I think, quite aggressive skin care routines. There’s like ten different steps they’re applying all of these different products, morning and evenings. I do kind of wonder like, is this really good for the skin? And it’s so reassuring to hear, well actually take it, you know, take it back. 

Cheryl: Yeah. Oh, I’m so glad it’s exactly that. Take it back. There’s no need for ten step skincare routine, if anything that really works against your skin’s ideal. 

Le’Nise: Going back to your journey so you’re you’re a scientist and it’s really exciting to have to have you on the show because I haven’t had any scientists on the show before. Can you talk a little bit about what led you into this career? And then the second part of the question is what made you decide to focus on on the skin?  

Cheryl: Sure. So becoming a scientist. I was just really interested and curious about the world around me and why things happened, which is what led me into science as a career. I started off working actually in the pharmaceutical industry, and then I went into the fast moving consumer goods industry (FMCG), which is a bit of a mouthful, but it’s code for any products you buy down the supermarket, toiletries, household care products, cleaning products. And then I started my career helping women to heal from acne naturally, because of my own experiences with suffering with my skin and finding it a struggle to get help. The first place I actually looked for help was from a pharmacist because I was embarrassed to go and see my doctor. I thought I would be wasting their time because it was skin and I felt vain about it. And actually, I know now I shouldn’t have felt vain. Your skin is an indicator of your internal health. I remember going to see a pharmacist and. Asking, reaching out for help and his words to me why there’s nothing that can be done. You’re just going to have to accept and live with it.

Le’Nise: Wow.

Cheryl: Yeah, I just I felt this panic inside me when I heard those words because I was searching for how. But that felt like a brick wall. And he eventually handed me a bottle of this face wash. I know now it was a benzoyl peroxide face wash. And he handed it to me with the warning that be careful, it can bleach your skin. But he didn’t give me any extra help for how to not make it bleach my skin. 

Le’Nise: Oh, my. 

Cheryl: Yeah. I was so embarrassed at the time. I knew I wasn’t going to use it, but I brought that bottle and I put it in the back of my bathroom cabinet, and I never used it, but I did. That was a moment for me where I said No Cheryl, you’re a scientist. I know my skin’s been clear before. There’s a reason why I have acne, and I just need to identify that reason and heal it. And that is what I did over the period of a year to two years. I delved into the scientific literature. I gradually found changes that helped to heal my acne naturally without having to revert to anything like the pill or antibiotics. And that is the reason for what I do now, helping women to heal from acne naturally, because I never want another woman to feel like I did in that moment with the pharmacist that there’s no help and I just have to accept and live with my skin and my acne and the way that it is. 

Le’Nise: What do you think about people being prescribed Roaccutane as a way to heal acne? 

Cheryl: Yes. Roaccutane I. I completely understand if somebody has tried. Roaccutane on that journey of having acne. I completely understand. I don’t think anybody should ever feel bad for what treatments that they’ve tried in the past. I don’t recommend it for acne because it’s again, like the pill. It’s covering up what’s happening internally. It’s not healing the root trigger causes of acne. I work with many clients who have tried several rounds of Roaccutane and the acne has come back or people who end up on a very persistent dose for many years just to control the acne and the published science is actually showing so Accutane can be very effective short term and that is what goes down in clinical trial data or many published science papers. However, it’s really important the follow up period after a study because you can take a medication for some time, discontinue it for two months, and then the study may report. All is great. It helps keep skin clear, but that follow up period is not the same. A year later, two years later, and often with medications like this, acne comes back because you’ve not confronted those trigger causes. 

Also, it’s a very aggressive medication and most people will experience side effects of it, one of which is extremely dry skin like you’ve never experienced before. So dryness cracking inside of your lips, dry, inflamed eyes, headaches is quite a common symptom, joint aches as well, because it’s basically drying up the oil production, the mucous membrane production in your body. And so that is helpful for acne because oil is the perfect breeding environment for acne bacteria. They love to breed in oil and low oxygen environments. Oil creates a low oxygen environment. However, your body needs some oil and lubrication naturally. So these extra symptoms start popping up in your body. For some people, though you often hear somebody who’s taking Roaccutane saying that they feel like a 70 year old woman because that’s the effect that it has on the joints. And for some people, some of those symptoms can be long term. So I’m not a fan of Accutane because it’s covering up those trigger causes and it can also have long term side effects. So I have worked with clients in the past to heal their skin from the side effects of Accutane, which have been as severe as the acne that they dealt with in the first place. So it’s almost like switching one skin concern that’s really impacting your life in the way that you feel in your confidence for another skin concern on the opposite end of the spectrum, definitely not a fan of Accutane.

Le’Nise: Yeah, yeah. I’m really interested to hear your perspective on that because I have had time to spend on that in the past. And something that we’ve had to do is address any liver potential liver issues because it’s such a powerful drug and then that has as potentially had a knock on effect on their hormones, their period. So it’s it’s really interesting to hear hear you say this. 

So just thinking about someone who has who has acne, who’s listening to this and is listening to some of the tips that they that you’ve given. What would you say about like that? They’re thinking, oh, well, you know, am I going to have to deal with this for the rest of my life? Is it going to keep coming back? Because something that, you know, I hear sometimes is, oh, my gosh, I’m like in my thirties, I’m in my forties and fifties. Why am I still getting acne? 

Cheryl: Mm hmm. Yes. I would say to anybody feeding like that, please know that your skin has been clear before. And it can very much be clear again in terms of how quickly that can happen. When you identify those root trigger causes, if you get them right and you get them right together, that’s usually a couple or a handful. It’s not usually just one key trigger and you’re working to heal them in parallel. Then your skin can dramatically care within a period of 3 to 4 months of active breakouts. And for anyone wanting to see what that looks like. I have some journey photos on my Instagram. Honesty for Skin of some of the clients I’ve worked with, which shows that 3 to 4 month healing periods where they started. And once we made changes to skin care, diet and lifestyle and where they ended up in four months, 3 to 4 months time is with the clearing of all active acne. And then we’re looking to heal skin from the remaining what you might call scars. But I hate that word because implies permanency, that post inflammatory arrhythmia, which is the redness that can be left behind or post inflammatory hyperpigmentation, which are the dark marks that can be left behind. So yes, I completely understand that feeling because when I had acne, I felt like I tried everything under the sun and nothing had worked for me long time. But once you understand your skin biology and you know what the triggers are, then you know how to work with your skin to keep it clear. So I don’t actually I have clear skin today, and I don’t like to say that I’m cured from acne, because if I go back on these changes that I’ve made, then my skin will break out. But I have control of that and that’s what matters for me. It’s a guidance for making sure I’m taking care of myself in those ways. 

Le’Nise: That is so reassuring to hear, because you I have the same the same thing where, you know, because I this is the work I do and periods and menstrual health that everyone expects that I have a perfect period. But if I don’t, I have all of these different things that I have to do to make sure that my period is, you know, it’s fine. It doesn’t it’s not painful. I’m not getting loads of mood swings. And if I don’t do them, then I see everything kind of bouncing back. So it’s helpful to hear that, you know, this isn’t kind of like there’s no magic, you know, there’s no no magic behind this. This is just about consistency. It’s about knowing what your triggers are. And it’s about just knowing that you have to just keep keep going. You know, there is no, like, magic pill that you that you can take, which I think people expect. They think they come to you and they think, okay, can you just cure my periods period pain? And I always say, well, I can help reduce it, but I wouldn’t. It would be totally unethical for me to say, you know, you’re never going to have a painful period. You can you’re going to have a less painful period for sure. So thank you so much for saying that. So you’ve mentioned your Instagram. If someone wants to work with you, find out more about what you do. Where where can they get in touch? 

Cheryl: Sure. Say my website is https://www.honestyforyourskin.co.uk and I have two main ways that I work with women to help them heal from acne. And that’s in my acne clinic, which is where I work with people one on one. And if you go to my website and you click the menu and the option that says Get Skin Help and the option that says Acne, then you’ll find that there. I also have an online course called Acne Warrior, which is something someone can take as soon as they enroll and wherever they are in the world. And which will teach you through the most common triggers of acne, through skin care, diet and lifestyle factors. And for anybody wanting to get started on that straightaway, you can get 20% off with code like get clear 20. So those are the main ways that I work with women to help them heal from acne naturally. 

Le’Nise:  Great. And just to round off, to anyone who’s listening today, of all of the amazing things that you’ve shared? What would be the one thing that you would want them to take away? 

Cheryl: I’m going to say that the feeling that you are beautiful with or without acne. Acne doesn’t impact that. I can understand how it can make you feel. You’re beautiful with or without acne, and that’s something that you can do about your skin to clear it. But that’s more looking after your internal health. It’s not it’s not meaning that you’re any less deserving or less beautiful. If you have acne, Just remember that. Say it to your face three times to say I am beautiful and beautiful and beautiful. 

Le’Nise: I love that that is so that so powerful. Those affirmations and those words that we say to ourselves, they they make a huge difference. They change the pathways in our brain. And we then we say it and then we believe it. So thank you for sharing that. And thank you so much for coming on the show today. 

Cheryl: Thank you so much for having me. 

Period Story Podcast, Episode 55, Coni Longden-Jefferson: Challenge Yourself To Have More Open Conversations About Periods

We’re back! For the first episode of season 6 (!) of the Period Story podcast, I’m so pleased to share my conversation with Coni Longden-Jefferson. Coni is a reproductive health polymath – she’s the co-founder of the period and leak-proof underwear brand Nixi Body, a writer and content creator (check out her hilarious reels on Instagram @conilj) and a host and moderator of reproductive health events. 

Coni and I had a fantastic conversation about menstrual shame, her journey with different forms of hormonal contraception and how she came off of them, her passion for helping others feel comfortable enough to share their reproductive health stories and experiences, and of course, the story of her very first period!

Thank you, Coni!

Get in touch with Coni:

Instagram

Website

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: Thank you so much for coming on to the show today. I’m really excited to talk to you. Let’s start the conversation with the very first question I ask all of my guests, which is tell me the story of your very first period. 

Coni: Mm hmm. So my first period, I think I was ten, was around ten. So I was pretty young. I mean, I think as I’ve gotten older I realised actually quite a lot of people do start their periods at the age, but I was certainly first in my friendship group. You know, there wasn’t many people talking about having their period if they if they were. 

And I’m pretty sure I started after a dance class so I would dance on Saturday mornings and I’m pretty sure I came home and was like, Oh, okay. And that’s actually, the vast majority of my periods do come on now when I’m doing physical activity. So I don’t know if that’s common. I’m sure it is, but it’s like it’s always like I’m in a spin class or feeling I’m like, okay, here it is again. So that started like a lifelong trend. So yes, I came home and I remember yeah, I just remember seeing like it wasn’t even like blood, I guess it was like almost like rusty in my knicker and being like, Oh, but I knew what a period was like. Even though I was ten, I knew all about periods. Well, I’ve learnt a lot more as I’ve gotten older, but you know, I knew fundamentally what they were, so I don’t think I was scared or freaked out. I was like, okay, like this is happening. And then I remember my mum, like she went out and got like almost like a makeshift first period kit, which was. Like Ibuprofen and paracetamol. So, like big black knickers, like pads, a cheesecake. And then and this is the prop that I mentioned before we started recording. She got me a nightie, which I still have, and I’m showing you now. It’s like Scottie dog on this gross big nightie is 22 years old. 

Le’Nise: Oh, my. 

Coni: Can you believe it? And I still wear it when I’m on my period. Like, I’ll be like, this is what I go back to. It’s just this big grey t-shirt, essentially. And she bought it for me. And it was just so like, okay, right. This is how this is going to go down. Like, you might feel a bit uncomfortable. You might want to get like cosy, like here are your big knickers, here’s a big gross nightie. And I kind of remember it being exciting, you know, it was like this thing that I knew was going to happen and was like, about growing up. I think there wasn’t so much fear attached to it, so it was actually quite fun and exciting and special. And you know, me and my mum had this quite nice evening of her telling me stuff and so overall it was pretty positive. You know, I feel really lucky that it was, it was a positive experience fundamentally. 

Le’Nise: And now you still have your like period comfort blanket. Yeah. 

Coni: Like, how, how I still fit in it. I don’t know. It must have been huge on me when I was ten. I’m like how I have lost everything else and all other things in my life. And it’s like this weird nightie and my husband will still be. Like, he’ll see me wearing it sometimes if I’m just, you know, wanting to because he’s like, Oh, have you come on your period? But we all know what the period nightie is. It’s lasted longer than like any relationship I’ve ever. 

Le’Nise: It’s like a like a talisman. 

Coni: Yeah, exactly. 

Le’Nise: And you mentioned that when you first got your period after the dance. You were kind of like fine with it. What, what kind of education did you have prior to that to make you okay with it. 

Coni: Yeah. I was sort of thinking about this and. I think my mum is fundamentally a very open person and we’ve always had a really open relationship. But also around that time, probably when I was seven, she went back to school to do a biology A-level. So I think she was really interested in the human body and was quite factual about these things. And I think around seven, eight, nine I started to ask questions about sex and stuff like this. So things like that. Like I remember discovering what discharge was and being like, What? And she had to explain that? Like, it’s all fine. 

So we were kind of, I guess before I started I started my period at ten, I think sort of eight or nine. We were having conversations around the body and what goes on. And I remember asking her once about, I’m really going out myself. We’re like 2 minutes and I’m saying something embarrassing. But I remember asking her about, I saw people kissing on TV and I remember saying, I feel funny when I see these people and I think it was The Brady Bunch. It makes it sound like I grew up in the seventies, and I don’t know why I was watching The Brady Bunch and I remember her like kind of in an age appropriate way, like explaining like, I guess hormones, you know, she was saying like, okay, yeah, like you as you grow older, you have these hormones and it makes these things happen and it makes you feel these things because you make you want to make a baby. And and I actually think that she was telling me this dropping me off at someone’s house, like I think her friend’s house and then started to tell me about periods, but had to go to work. So I sort of dropped me off and was like, “I just telling her about periods, can you pick it up for here.”

So yeah, I just think that it was quite factual, you know, it was though it wasn’t taboo, I guess, around having these conversations. It’s like this is a bodily function. This is what’s going to happen to you. And so the kind of shame or embarrassment or awkwardness around talking about it just wasn’t really a thing in my house. I mean, that’s from a child’s perspective. Maybe my mum did feel a bit like, okay, how do I do this? You know, parents are always having to navigate stuff, but for me as a daughter, like I definitely didn’t feel like it was a big deal or something to be embarrassed about or something that I couldn’t talk to her about, I guess, which is the biggest thing. You know, I’ve listened to your podcast for for a while now, and I hear these different stories and, you know, there are some really sad stories of people that they get their first period and they don’t want to go and talk to their parents. So they don’t have anyone to go and talk to or they have no idea what it is. So I guess I feel really lucky that I had some level of education from her because I guess, you know, I don’t even think at that age I think I started my period before we actually had proper sex education in school. Maybe that’s not accurate, but I seem to remember that probably being about 11 when we started to actually learn about this stuff in schools, which is way too late in my opinion. So I was like sat there like the elder statesman of the class, like I’ve already got my period, actually, I know all about it. 

Le’Nise: And how with the very pragmatic approach you had with your mum, connect with the conversations you then had with your friends about periods and what was going on with your body. 

Coni: Yeah, that’s a really good question because I think it’s that thing of almost like anything when we’re kids that we think things are normal. And, you know, I think shame is, is, is learnt, right? You know, it’s learnt by people’s reactions to us. So we can be into something that people think are weird and then like you don’t realise it’s quite, quite weird until you go to school and then people like that’s weird that you’re talking about that and I think it was maybe a little bit like that with me and kind of periods and, and, you know, other things related to kind of sex and stuff because I guess at school when people start to have this, there is this like shock and this kind of embarrassment and giggling, you know, in class and stuff. And I just didn’t feel like that. And I was probably. Probably like a precocious know it all about it, I imagine. I was like, Oh, well, actually it’s this. And, you know, and I think that I was really happy to chat about that stuff  and people just weren’t or they found it awkward. And then I think that then made me feel awkward about it, even though I had kind of been quite happily going along with my period for maybe a year or two. And then suddenly I was like, Oh, everyone else is embarrassed to talk about this, or everyone else doesn’t want to talk about their period. You shouldn’t either, I think, which is such a classic thing of of kids. Right. You know, so I think maybe I went kind of like. One step forward, two steps back in terms of my relationship with the openness of talking about about periods and stuff like that. 

Le’Nise: And how long did did this shame sit with you or does it still sit with you? 

Coni: I’m trying to, I think. Maybe shame is too strong a word in terms of I don’t remember being particularly ashamed, but I also didn’t feel like it was appropriate to talk about stuff. So I don’t think I was ever like truly, truly embarrassed for myself and I don’t think it affected my relationship with my period, but I definitely kind of was like, you know, now I feel like periods are all I talk to my friends about, you know? And like we’re always telling stories. And when, you know, if I forget to track my period, I can search period in my WhatsApp messages and I’ll find the last day I came on my period because I probably have text at least one of my friends announcing it and it’s like a connection sometimes with people and an a basis of a friendship. And then especially in the work that I do and the people I get to chat to. 

But I guess there was a period of my life, no pun intended, but I probably imagined up until you know, a few years ago where I just didn’t didn’t it wasn’t something I felt was anything and it wasn’t something people wanted to talk about. You know, it was kind of like it’s private, so maybe it’s not shameful, but it’s private sort of thing. But I guess the other part that goes into is I didn’t have a period for 15 years because of contraception. So I kind of felt like and I was on contraception from the age of 15. So if you think there’s like maybe five years where I had a period was quite comfortable ish with my period. I would love to chatted about periods to people, but no one wanted to play with me, basically with my weird like obsession. And then I go on the pill and I’m on hormonal contraception until I’m 30. So. And because I was on progesterone only, I just didn’t have a period. So I guess periods that just were not part of my life in a weird way. So they just became not part of my life and not part of my conversations, I suppose. 

Le’Nise: Why did you end up going on the pill? 

Coni: So my recollection I had really bad acne. So my period started at ten and really it was like puberty was just like came hell for leather for me at that point. You know, I remember being 11 or 12 and I don’t mean I’m not a busty person like I never have been. And I had like the biggest boobs in the year and I was the tallest girl in the year. And so it really felt like women had just like came at me full throttle. And, you know, the stereotypes of teenagers going through puberty again, we say teenagers going through puberty. But I was 11. And I had suddenly got like acne and boobs. I was really tall and, you know, all that sort of stuff. So I think that was really hard because I felt that was something I was ashamed of, actually. Not my period, maybe before puberty. Like I just felt like turbocharged into being surrounded by kids and feeling like I’d just grown up. And it was, it was quite difficult. 

So I think that acne is where the conversations around contraception and stuff came in which you know, you and I talk about this a lot, like it’s just so awful that that happens. And for other people that might be for irregular periods or painful periods. But it was one of those conversations of, Oh, well, we could put you on this, you know, and that could help. And I shortly after that, like, was sexually active. So we’re all kind of like, I think I maybe started it for that acne and then I was like, okay, well now I’m sexually active, so this is great. Like I’m on, I’m contraception and you know, it kind of just snowballed from there. So but I changed contraception a lot in those early days. I really struggled with my mental health and various things. And think as this is so common, you know, we hear this all the time. So. I remember navigating that and eventually landing on progesterone only seemed to be the thing that worked best for me. But with progesterone only, you’re not having that break, so you’re not having this quote unquote period. It’s not a period in a sense. It’s a kind of withdrawal bleed. But I didn’t have any of that either. So once I got into professionally, I just didn’t have a period. And then I just yeah, like didn’t have a period for at least or even bleed for over a decade. 

Le’Nise: And I find that really fascinating given the work that you do. Having spent so much time without a bleed and now you are really deep into this reproductive health space. So talk us through switching, contraception, like what happened there and then then coming out the other side. What made you decide to come off of it? 

Coni: So. So do you mean switching contraception at the start, like. So. And I remember. And again, I guess this is. Having this conversation. It just really makes you look back on like being a child versus being a teenager and that kind of transition because as a child, like I said, me and my mom would talk about all this stuff and it wasn’t secretive. But then when I became sexually active, I guess even though we’d been very open about that, there was still like, I just didn’t really want to talk to my mom about sex. Like, it wasn’t like Gillian Anderson in Sex Education. Like, it wasn’t that level of openness like we would there with things. And I think as I got older, like, you get embarrassed and you become less close with your parents, you know, there is that time. So I think I was really navigating that contraception flip around and change around on my own fundamentally and just trying to figure that out. And I remember like sometimes I’d go to the doctor or sometimes I go to like a family planning clinic. And, you know, I’m sure they were all doing the best job that they can. And I think like for people that work in this scenario is like I guess they’re just drilled into like make sure, like they don’t get pregnant. Like that’s your like KPI is like just make sure this teenage girl doesn’t get pregnant. So they weren’t talking to me about, you know, the different, what the different types of contraception could do or the side effects or, you know, or even contraception on the whole what that could do, you know, it is just like, okay, well, let’s take your blood pressure. Let’s check this. Okay, try this one. Try this one. So my memory is definitely over a few years, going through a few different pills, like different brands, I guess, or trying combined pill trying the progesterone only mini pill. 

So it was a lot of chopping and changing, which obviously was messing with my cycle 100%, but I just didn’t have the knowledge that I do now about about cycles and didn’t have the I guess interest because I guess, again, what had been drummed into me at school is just like, just don’t get pregnant, just don’t get pregnant. Like, that’s all you need to worry about at this point. Like, you don’t need to think about what impact your hormones are having on your health or you don’t need to worry about like the phases of the cycle and how that can you know, that was not all. I didn’t know any of that. Right. 

So. I guess then I got into university. I think I maybe kind of settled on progesterone only. And again, even with that, I would like hop on and hop off. Like if I had a boyfriend, if I didn’t, you know, and I just didn’t have the knowledge that I have now. And, you know, I would I would do it completely differently. And then eventually I think I landed on having the implant. So I’m probably at around 25, I landed on the implant and that just seemed to be okay for me and I didn’t have to think about it and remember to take something every day. And then I guess the the reason that I came off it was I started doing what I’m doing. So I started, I was working and then I wanted to do some writing work on the side, as a freelancer, I went to university to study journalism. So that was always kind of what I wanted to do. And one of my first clients was Parla, who we both, you know, that’s how we met right through working with them. And they do some incredible work in the the reproductive health space. And so I started working with Lina there and just through, I guess osmosis of writing about things, I just started to learn loads more. You know, I was 25, 26, so fertility wasn’t something I thought about. You know, even my period wasn’t really something I thought about for a long time. And just working in this space and hearing the stories and writing about stuff and meeting experts like yourself really opened my eyes to reproductive health as a holistic whole thing that is not just about getting pregnant or not getting pregnant, but also the struggles that people can have when they are trying to get pregnant and the conditions that people can have around their periods. And, you know, it was a whole it was like going back to school again, basically to to learn all this stuff. 

And through that, you know, Parla offer at home fertility testing. And I you know, Lina said do you want you know, you can try this for free basically. You know, I think maybe or maybe she wanted me to write about it like I can’t remember, but it was like but to do that, you have to come off contraception because you can’t take the test if you’re on hormonal contraception. So I thought, okay, I’ll just do that and maybe I’ll come off it and then go back on it again. You know, at that time I was definitely interested in my hormones. From what I’ve been learning and I had no plans to have a baby in the near future. And I think maybe Mike and I had just got engaged, but, you know, we were definitely not planning on having a baby. So I thought I’d come off, do the test and then maybe go back home. And then I came off and I was just blown away. I think the combination of my period coming back to its natural cycle, coupled with the timing of the work that I was doing as I was learning about all this stuff, I suddenly was like, This is amazing. And this is like game changing for me to like know what is going on with my body and understand and know how I feel about things. You know, I think when I was chopping and changing between pills and implants, you know, sometimes I was really down or sometimes I was really uninterested in sex or sometimes I was tense and I really thought there was something wrong with me or something wrong with my relationship, you know, stuff like that. And then I came off and just started to see like, oh, like I am all these different things at different times. And there’s patterns and I can see things and I can learn about, you know, how to optimise those times and stuff. And so that was three or four years ago now, and I’ve been just having a natural cycle ever since, and that’s just allowed me to learn more and get more interested and just have a completely different relationship with my body really, and my sense of self. 

Le’Nise: What I find so fascinating is if we go back to your teenage years, how you were navigating these changes in medication by yourself at 15, 16, 17. And I find that so mad, considering how powerful these medications are, how powerful, the changes that they effect on the body. And also how many changes are happening in the body, the brain, hormonally during those years. And, you know, that’s no slight on you because you did what you did. But I just think it’s a such a kind of almost indictment on the medical system. That you have someone so young that that can do that. I mean, yes, there is a positive side to it because sometimes people don’t want their parents to know or be involved in that in those decisions. But it’s just fascinating that the doctors didn’t say like, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. You know, you’re this age and you’ve changed contraception this many times, like, we need to give this some space. We need to figure out what’s going on here. 

Coni: 100% agree. And, you know, I’m sort of like, you know, you look back and you try and think, okay, was that actually what was happening or was that my memory of it? But I do think that was that story sounds bad, like it’s not uncommon. Like, I think like that probably is the reality of what was going on to some degree. And I think you’re right. I think is is right that that that young people can take control of their sexual health without their parent’s consent and stuff like that. Like I think that, like you said, has its benefits, but ultimately it all comes back down to education because it’s fine to have a system that allows young people to have autonomy over their own health. But you can only have true autonomy if you have the knowledge and you have the inform and you have the information. And like giving a 16 year old like a pamphlet, like, did you see that thing that the day where someone made a dress out of the pamphlets that you get given with the pill, like it’s so much paperwork and it’s all really tiny. And you’re telling like a horny teenager to go read that pamphlet. They’re like, no, thanks. Like it’s going to take, you know, it’s that’s not education. Like that’s ticking a box from a pharmaceutical company to say, like, okay, well, we put all the information that like, we did that, but that’s not real education of young people about the side effects or the implications or, you know, all that sort of stuff. 

And also kind of just education around like when you can actually go and get pregnant and, you know, and, and, you know, we’ve obviously both watched The Business of Birth Control recently and it’s like a fascinating film. And I think we’ve got really strong opinions. And, you know, there is this big question mark. It’s like, okay, what do we tell young people? Because whilst as adults we might really advocate for natural contraception and know it, you know, the fertility awareness method and things like that, like, okay, for a young person like that, that is like a lot and the cycles are changing all the time and it’s a lot of responsibility. So I guess I don’t have the answer to what we need to do, but we need to do something different to at least what we were doing when I was at school. But from what I hear, I don’t think it has changed that much in in the last 15 years and certainly not enough. So I think we still have a lot of young people that are making these big decisions about contraception and about their sexual health without, you know, enough information about their bodies. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, I think it’s just decoupling the conversation from how not to get pregnant to having a conversation about what’s going on with your body, just like making it more of a pragmatic conversation of your bodies changing. This is what’s happening. This is you know, these are what’s happening with your menstrual cycle. This is, you know, how you can benefit from it rather than such a fear based conversation, how to avoid getting pregnant. And yeah, I just find it I find it interesting on a personal level because my son is nine and so next year he’s going to be having these conversations at school. So obviously I’ve already had all of these conversations with him in a in an age appropriate way. But it just I find it still very chilling that this is how kids learn about sex and their bodies. Yeah. Still. And then you bring porn into the conversation, which is just it’s so just so horrifying that that’s how so many kids are learning and teenagers are learning about what sex is. And that is not what sex is. Okay. Let’s digress a little bit. 

Coni: Yeah, I was about to go on a rant about condoms then, so. Yeah, I’m glad you stopped me. 

Le’Nise: So going back to where you your head was when you came off the pill or had the implant taken out. Hmm. I’m curious, when you went back to cycling, naturally, you mentioned that you were so much more aware in the changes in your body and, you know, aware of what it meant to have a period. Did that mean any changes in your relationship with your now husband? Hmm. 

Coni: That’s a really good question. I think he would certainly say for the first few months, it definitely changed our relationship because my PMS was  like really bad. I was pretty lucky that my you know, my period actually came back fairly regular fairly quickly, which for many people, that’s not the case. And I think when we get into a fertility conversation that’s so important to recognise that, you know, just because you take the implant out and like you could get pregnant next week doesn’t mean you’re going to that can take a long time. So I think it did change our relationship. I mean, I think the. You know, it all kind of there was a lot going on at the same time. It’s like I came I came back to cycling naturally. We were planning a wedding and then I started my business and then we went into a pandemic, right? So there was a lot going on emotionally, but I think that me understanding my cycle and by extension him understanding it and he really does, you know, that is again, I feel really lucky. 

I shouldn’t feel lucky that my husband would talk to me about periods because, you know, everyone should be talking about it in my opinion. But, you know, I we do have that relationship and we now can navigate these things that like and not in that kind of like, oh, you know, she’s hormonal, like, oh, you’re flying off the handle. It’s not that eye rolly thing that I think culturally but we do do sometimes but you know he we can recognise together through our relationship like oh like I’m you know I’ve just ovulated I’m really, really tired today. Like if you asked me to do anything like I’m probably, you know, I’m just having one of those days and he’s like, get cool, get it. You know, I’ll even say like schedule date nights. Like in my ovulatory phase, I’m like, I’ll really want to go out and I’ll be really good company that I’m like, whereas if we start scheduling like that stuff, I’m like, I know I wouldn’t want to do that when that happens. And I think us having that transparency and those conversations I think does make it like a lot easier to to be in a relationship, you know, like you’re living with that person every day. And I think because I know my body better, I can relay that to him. And we kind of like all of the same. We kind of sync up like not like synching up periods, but synching our approach to our relationship and like the emotional actions that come with that. 

Whereas I think when I was on, on contraception and I wasn’t having this cycle, I just really didn’t know like. I couldn’t even say like, Oh, well, I’m due on my period. That’s why I’m feeling really sad and irritable. Like, if I was feeling sudden, irritable, I’m like, Am I like, Is this something wrong with us? Like, is this something, you know, is he not the right person for me? Or I’m really unhappy, like, what’s going on? And I just didn’t have any markers to kind of help me figure things out. And obviously, you know, hormones are a huge part of my emotional makeup, but things in life happen like it doesn’t matter if I’m ovulating, am feeling great. Like if he annoys me, then he annoys me. And like, that’s going to happen, you know, at different times of the month. But I do actually, I really do believe that our relationship is a lot better for me having this knowledge and him sharing that with me as well. You know, it not being like something private, I’m, you know,not keeping him from gatekeeping that information from him like he knows full well how I might be feeling on different weeks. And I think that that helps him. I think he’s probably really grateful for that. 

Le’Nise Yeah, that’s really interesting because, you know, having a partner that is so a male partner that is so open about periods and just is so it’s a matter of fact about them is really important because it helps you, even if you feel you’re that you’re really comfortable with it. It helps you get to a place of even deeper comfort. I believe so. No. If they see your tampons or your pads or your cup, like last week I or the week before I finished my period and in the shower I washed up my cup. I was like, okay, I’ll take that downstairs and I’ll boil it. And I forgot. And it was just sitting on the side of the. Of the tub and. My husband was like, oh, you know, don’t forget your cup. You know, you just left it there. You know, you need to take it downstairs. And I think that’s just testament to him and how well he hears me talking about this all the time, so he’s had to get on board with it. But the fact that, like he when we first met, he was so like he was just just like this, like kind of like the archetypal British person in my mind. Yeah. Very proper. And for him to be in a place now where he’s just so casual about it, I think is really important. And I would just love for everyone to just be so comfortable with talking about periods. Totally. But I have a question off of the back of that. Do you ever kind of get in these situations where you are so because you’re so comfortable talking about periods, you feel like you’re pushing other people where you can sense their discomfort. 

Coni: Yes, yes and no. I think there’s times when I feel like I’m actively pushing people and there’s times where I’m just like, Oh my God. Coni. Like, I remember I went to I just moved to Brighton a year ago and I’ve got a lovely friend Lara down here. I don’t know anyone here. And she was like, I’ve just been here a few months. And she was like, Do you want to come to my four year old’s birthday party? She was like, not the most exciting invitation, but like, hey, like I was like, Yeah, you know what? We’ll come. We’ll meet some people. Lovely. And like, I literally walked in and met someone I’ve never met before, like a friend of hers. And within 2 seconds, I was like, something’s something. Oh, well, you know, like, I’m due on my period so like, blah, blah, blah, and I could just kind of see her face to be a bit like, like, not like, completely shocked. But I did just think that like, I hadn’t even told her my name and I’m telling her where I am in my menstrual cycle. 

And sometimes there’s times like that that I’m like, there’s nothing to be ashamed of, but there’s nothing, you know, it’s all good. But sometimes it’s just like Coni. What? It’s like you are way too comfortable. That’s like. And I feel the need to tell people. I think maybe that’s the thing. And I think that’s less about periods. I just more about my personality of being like an overshare. But like, I will just yeah. I will tell you where I am in my menstrual cycle before I tell you my name. But times like that where I kind of accidentally maybe make people feel a bit shocked or uncomfortable, they’re like, Whoa, I guess that I got paid. And then there are times where I still actively have to not call people out because that sounds harsh. But I was talking. I went for dinner with a friend the other day who’s a guy who same age as my husband. We’re all friends, right? So we’re all cut from the same cloth, like, ostensibly. And he’s helping me at the moment because of the period under underwear brand that I’m co-founder of. You know, we’re looking into things and partnerships in sport and this and that. And he works he works in the area. And we had a two hour conversation about this business proposition. And in the 2 hours he didn’t say the word period, like he somehow managed to talk about period underwear for 2 hours without saying the word period. And eventually I did say to him, I was like, you’ve not said period, like, are you okay? Because you were like somehow like dancing around like can’t bring yourself to say the word period. And he kind of laughed, you know, like he took it on the chin and then he was like, Oh yeah, like. But it was, it was really funny that I was like, Oh, my God. Okay, yeah. There’s still a lot of people that it is just this. Taboo or this word like it makes them feel awkward and makes them feel icky or like whatever. I don’t know. But that is this. This like this word that just cannot be said or this concept that can’t be talked about. 

So yeah, I do think I am, I, I push people on that sometimes and not to make people feel uncomfortable, but I think it’s a trickle down effect. Right, that if we as adults as like educated, like empowered adults can’t talk about this stuff, then how is the next generation of people going to talk about it? And, you know, I’m very happy to be that annoying person that talks about periods a lot and helps them feel a bit less like awkward because I don’t really think there’s anything awkward to talk about. 

And I think the other thing and I there’s a story I had yesterday I really want to share because I think it’s so important. My husband’s a paramedic, right? So he’s a medical professional. He’s delivered babies like he’s seen like plenty of vulvas and vaginas, like in his day to day work. So he’s maybe more comfortable than some men. But the other day, someone told me that they were at a sporting event for teenagers and a girl collapsed and the first aider went over to her. She had stomach pain and he said, okay, this is a bit taboo, so I hope you don’t mind me asking, but are you? And he was dancing around asking her if she’s on her period and it’s like it’s a medical situation. She’s having the stomach. I think that’s a and apparently one of the dads actually stood and said, this isn’t awkward Sarah like are you on your period? Like it’s a medical question like why if we have medical professionals still being awkward around it, then that just shows that we still have a long way to go to breaking this kind of taboo and shame because, you know, that’s just not okay. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, that really isn’t okay, a trained medical professional dancing around menstruation. I mean, if you don’t want to say period and say menstruation and that that’s mad. 

Coni: I know. 

Le’Nise: What’s so interesting is then taking it to the other end of the spectrum. So working in this space where you have people who are very comfortable with this, and rightly so, because this is the work that we do, then you have this spectrum of very pragmatic, the conversations to the other end where people are a bit more woo about it. And I was talking to someone last week and she was talking to me about her bleed and how it’s a very spiritual time for her. And I was saying in my mind, I was thinking, I really hope she doesn’t ask me if it’s spiritual for me. And she did ask me. And I said, no, it’s not. And that’s the kind of other end of the other side of the coin where you’re kind of navigating this space where. People who are very pragmatic and then people who are much more kind of spiritual about it. But I think that’s the beauty of being able to be comfortable is that you can appreciate once you’re in this space, once you’re comfortable, the kind of depth there is to this conversation. 

Coni: Yes, totally. And I’m with you, I think. It’s not spiritual for me, but I’m not a spiritual person. I would say, in terms of, you know, the the massive spectrum of spirituality that we have now. So, like and I sometimes find these conversations, I find them really fascinating in the same way that I find, like, religion fascinating. Like, I’m like, okay, that’s really cool for you. Like, it’s not for me, but, like, awesome. But I think you’re right. Like, there’s such a range of experiences that people can have with their periods, and we should be allowed to talk about all of them and not feel ashamed of any of them. But even if people can’t, get on board with the spiritual side of it, the woo side of it, like you’ve got to get on board with the medical practical side of it. Like, come on. Like even if you don’t want to talk about anything else, like be able to ask someone if they’re having a period in a medical situation. Like that’s like the most basic that we should be, I think, in society by now. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. So now you work in this space and you have a lot of different hats that you wear. So you are the co-founder of Nixi  Body, which is a period underwear brand. I have a pair. I love them. They’re so comfortable. And then you also write content. And then you also are a host of reproductive health events. So talk a little bit about the work that you do and how you ended up being so diverse in what you do. 

Coni: Yeah. I mean, like I said, I think writing is where I started. And once I started working with Parla and kind of got the bug, I guess, of reproductive health, I think I sort of made it my mission to like only work with, with brands in the reproductive health space and I guess become an expert commentator on it because I think I’m really, you know, I always have to say, like, I’m not a practitioner, like I’m not an expert. And, you know, sometimes I think, oh, I’d love to do that. But right now, you know, I’m a commentator. Like in the same way that any journalist that specialises in an area, you do kind of become an expert by osmosis of getting to talk to these people and interview people. So I feel really lucky for that and I think the writing is one part of it. But like ultimately it’s just about having these conversations and getting these conversations out there. And so whatever medium that is, whether it’s writing an article, whether it’s hosting in an event or a podcast or making like silly reels that I love, that’s actually like doing video stuff is my favourite and you know, making people laugh and making people think. And I kind of see it when I do stuff like that, which I think is putting my personality and my creativity like front and centre. But I feel like it’s a Trojan horse to get these conversations out of the echo chamber, because I think that, you know, in this space I’m so lucky to have friends and and a network of people that, you know, we’re all on the same page. And to some degree or another, we’re educated on this stuff or we care about this stuff, or we have different areas of expertise. But, you know, we’re not the people that, you know, need to see this content or need to read these articles really like we’re the people that are writing them. So I love it when like you or anyone are like, Oh my God, I love that thing you put out, you know, I love that. But what makes me even happier is when I have like some of my male friends or someone with a daughter or, you know, people that are outside of this space going, Oh, my God, like we saw that video that you did. It was really funny. And actually, I didn’t know that. And that’s really interesting. I’m like, yes, that like that is what I want. Like out of anything I do is to get these conversations broader and get them into like the mainstream sounds so ridiculous because like, you know, half the world are having periods. So why on earth would they not be mainstream? Like, that’s like a pretty big target audience. 

But, you know, getting people to to hear about brands here, about experts like yourselves and just keep kind of like growing the conversation out. So I guess it is like a really interesting full circle where I was the girl at school that wanted to talk about her period and everyone’s like, Shut up. Like you wear day. And now I get paid to talk about periods quite a lot. And, you know, and, and sometimes I’m sure people are still a bit like, you know, my in-laws are is a really interesting one because I think they’re a bit more conservative and they’re so lovely. But I do think that when Mike and I were together and they study, I think they were a bit like, What on earth does she do for a job? I’m like, What is going on here and now? Like, they love it and they’re always liking my stuff on Instagram and you know, so I think it’s all stuff like that. Like, I think just trying to use my creativity and my lack of shame, I suppose, to to get these conversations out there in any way that I can and, and support brands that are on the same mission, you know, that want to kind of educate people because if you lecture people, you’ll make you make stuff too boring for want of a better word or too kind of like I guess not inclusive kind of like, you know, this is a women’s space and like we’re talking about women things and it’s like, okay, well, I love I’m proud to be a woman. And like, I love that we can have our little safe spaces, but we need to bust out of those safe spaces if we actually want culture to change. And I’m very happy to do that. And if that means making some men uncomfortable in the process, then I don’t really mind. 

Le’Nise: And talking about like having conversations. So when you do your hosting work, I find that really interesting because that is a skill being a host and what you’re doing is quite it’s quite complicated because you’re, you’re applying the skill of a host as well as layer ing on lots of this quite technical information at times. So talk about a little bit talk a little bit about how you moved into that sort of work and how you know where you want it to go. 

Coni: Yeah, I mean, thank you. Because I think sometimes I think when I watch people host like it doesn’t look like a hard job. And then once I started doing it, I was thinking in my head, this was like a really hard job, but maybe I’m just not very good at it. And then you kind of talk to people like, No. It’s really hard, like especially when you’re moderating a panel of people. And I think that also, you know, there’s the technical layer of it which you mentioned. And I guess for that I just have to research as much as I can and also always throw it back to the expert. 

But there’s also a lot of sensitivity, a lot of the time that I’m talking about these things because, you know, we talked about periods a lot today, but, you know, where that can come, period, health conditions like Endo or PCOS, where people can have had a really, really tough time. Or maybe I’m talking more about fertility or pregnancy loss or menopause, you know, and I think that there is so much sensitivity that is needed about those conversations. And I think that my genuine empathy and genuine care for for anyone going through these conditions and that for the people that I’m often interviewing, I think that comes across. And I think that one of my skills is making people feel comfortable and not feeling ashamed about those things. And I guess that is because, you know, that’s how I’ve been brought up is not to feel shame. But, you know, I definitely like that’s where my passion really lies because I think that, you know, it’s really nice to sit here today and talk about my story. 

But, you know, everyone’s story is so unique and so different. So I think sharing people’s experiences and being a vehicle to help people do that, be that hosting a panel or, you know, I’m just about to start my own podcast actually about about this sort of stuff. And, you know, I think I feel honoured that I am able to have those conversations and that people feel safe enough to share. That stuck with me. And I feel like whenever I talk to people, we really get good, meaty conversations out there because you can sit there on a and hosting a panel and have your Q&A list. But these conversations are nuanced and complicated. And so, you know, you have to be genuinely in that conversation with that person to get the best out of them and to get their story out. And I’m really, really grateful that I get to do that as a job. And I would love to do more of that because it’s it really lights me out just sitting there and getting to chat to people about this stuff. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. I mean, you, I look forward to seeing you do more of it because you are you are good at what you do. I’ve been on a couple panels that you’ve hosted and it’s been it’s been great. So you do you do all of this work. What do you have coming up that you want to share with people? What you know, what do you want to get out in the world? 

Coni: So I think the next year, you know, we’re recording this now in 2022. So, you know, 2023 is just around the corner. And I think I think Nixi Body, which you touched upon, is something that my period underwear brand is we’re going to be doing a lot of stuff next year and it’s kind of connecting it to everything that we’ve just spoken about because we’ve just gone through a rebrand. And part of that is talking about exercise and movement. Like we’re kind of almost like a sportswear brand because the underwear is completely VPL free. So the really great under yoga pants and leggings and stuff. So I think as that mission missions become solidified, like we really want to talk about campaigns around exercise and menstrual health and exercise and mental health and like the intersections there, menopause, you know, all of these different life stages, postpartum, you know, all these different life stages that women go through or anyone, you know, who’s having periods will go through at some point, exercise and movement. And I know this is something that you teach in your kind of, you know, with your yoga and everything is so, so vital.

So we’ve got a few really exciting campaigns that are going to be going on next year all around that sort of stuff. And I think we’ll be doing some hosting, will be hosting some events around that. And I’m finally getting a podcast out myself and actually I thought really hard about that, about this podcast and what I want it to be and what I’ve realised is I want it to I kind of actually what I was just saying to you about getting things out of an echo chamber, I think there’s a lot of podcasts that are about certain things and I think generally when you start a podcast you should niche down. That’s actually the advice. But I kind of decided, you know what, I want to have a podcast where we’ve got like men and women and young and old people in different places, because I really want to kind of challenge people to listen to conversations that they might not feel a part of in terms of reproductive health, because I might not go listen to a menopause podcast, but my God, when I interview you and, you know, people like Kelly and Samantha about menopause, I’m like, why are women in their thirties not listening to these conversations? Why are men not listening to conversations about endometriosis? Why are women not listening to conversations about, you know, varicoceles and low sperm counts? Like, I feel like we’re already siloed in these conversations around reproductive health. Right. And that ultimately does come from shame and fear. So I’m hoping I’m going to host a podcast that is hopefully going to be engaging and fun and a bit broader that will hopefully try and get. People into these conversations in a different way. 

Le’Nise: Very exciting. Well, I’m really excited for everything that you have coming up. I think it’s brilliant and you’re going to continue to do brilliant work in this space. So all of the interesting insights and stories that you’ve shared today. From that. What’s the one thing that you would want the listeners to take from from that? 

Coni: I guess I would really challenge people to and I’m sure most people listen to this cause they’ll love what you do as I do. You know, I’m more comfortable that I think I would challenge people to have conversation around their period outside of a space that might feel comfortable. Try and make people to try to make people feel comfortable. But let’s, like, push those boundaries. Like, I think that if we want to see change on a societal level, you know, we start this conversation talking about education and young people and, you know, we could go so far down the road about the workplace and all those sorts of things. For change to happen, you have to get it out of the group that really cares about it and make other people listen. I think on a micro level we can all do that. If that’s like talking to your partner about your menstrual cycle or telling your boss that you actually need to take the afternoon off because you’ve got period pain and that’s really easier said than done. But I think if we can try to make those tiny little or introduce someone and tell them that you’re on your period before you tell them your name like it is, you know, I think we can challenge ourselves to do those little things that feel brave. Like we’ll start to realise that they aren’t they don’t need to be scary. And actually conversations around periods do not need to be intimidating and don’t need to be embarrassing. 

Le’Nise: Exactly. Thank you so much for coming on the show today. Thank you. What can people find you? 

Coni: So I usually hang out on Instagram. It’s at @conilj and I’m not as hot as you. You’re on it. But with when I when I do posts, it’s usually quite good value and it’s usually about period. So yeah, I would love to connect with people on there. And my, my DMs  are always open for period chats. 

Le’Nise: Brilliant. Thank you, Coni. 

Coni: Thank you so much. It’s been such a dream. Thank you. 

How To Have a Better Perimenopause Part 2

In my last post, I shared three ways that nutrition can support you as you’re moving through perimenopause, the gradual sequence of events that happens before you reach the menopause, the day when you haven’t had a period for 12 months. 

Even if you’re not close to being perimenopausal (this can start as early as your late 30s, but most typically starts in our early to mid 40s), what you do in your menstruating years will set you up for a better perimenopause and menopause.

Here are three more areas that you can look at to help you have a better perimenopause: alcohol, sleep and stress. 

Be more intentional about how you drink alcohol 

Stress levels can definitely increase in our late 30s and 40s. It feels like we have a lot more to juggle between work, family, side hustles, friends, ageing parents and more. With so many balls in the air, alcohol can feel like an easy way to release the pressure. 

Since the pandemic, alcohol intake has increased and some of us have started relying on it more as life gets back to a new kind of normal. It can help us feel like we can unwind even when we’re expected to do more and more. 

I’m sure you won’t find it surprising to hear that alcohol isn’t great for our changing hormones during perimenopause. As we talked about last week, our livers are working hard to metabolise changing estrogen and progesterone levels. When we throw regular alcohol intake on top of this, our liver has to work even harder, which isn’t ideal. 

If you’ve been wondering why your sleep is getting worse and perhaps why you’re starting to experience night sweats, this could be one of the reasons why. Alcohol stops us from going into that deep restorative sleep that helps us wake up feeling refreshed and reduces sugar cravings. You may even notice that you’re a bit grumpier too. Alcohol depletes vitamin B6, one of the nutrients we need to make serotonin, our happy hormone. 

We’re heading into the time of year when there can be more drinks on offer, with Hallowe’en parties, Bonfire Night and of course, the run up to Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year. Could you start to be more intentional about how and when you drink? Could you drink less often and drink less when you do. 

Try it and notice how you feel the next day. 

Click here to read how you can change your sleep and manage stress to help you have a better perimenopause experience. 

Prioritise a great night’s sleep 

Sleep is the foundation of our health, yet so many of us tend to skimp on it, thinking we’ll catch up at the weekend. 

Changing estrogen and progesterone levels can affect the quality of our sleep, leading to perimenopausal insomnia or simply more difficulty falling asleep. Then if you throw hot flashes, night sweats and waking up to urinate on top, it’s not a recipe for a great night’s sleep.

There’s a lot you can do to improve the quality of your sleep, despite changing hormones. 

When we consistently go to bed and wake up around the same time each evening and morning, we prime our brains to expect this routine. Don’t forget how much our brains love a routine. A routine creates a shortcut and lightens the mental load, which I know so many of us appreciate. 

Drinking less alcohol, especially before bedtime helps us sleep better too. 

If you find yourself struggling with winding down before bed, try adding a magnesium glycinate supplement. Magnesium is nature’s relaxing mineral and this version has glycine, an amino acid that can reduce insomnia and improve sleep quality. 

Be mindful of you’re managing stress levels 

When I talk about stress, I use the analogy of ascending a staircase. As your stress levels increase, you go up the staircase step by step. As you go up each step, your body tries to adapt to the increased stress levels. But if you reach the top of the staircase, that may be the point where you notice burnout starting to creep in. You could be the duck on water, outwardly gliding across, but inwardly frantically paddling beneath the water to keep up. 

Instead of looking at reducing stress as yet another thing on your to do list, consider what you can do to punctuate the day with little moments that help to reduce your stress levels. 

Deep breathing is an easy one. When we take a long breath in through our nose and exhale it out through our nose, we give ourselves the opportunity to calm our nervous system and reduce our cortisol (our primary stress hormone) levels. 

You could also try sighing, humming or singing, all of which helps to activate the vagus nerve, the long nerve that goes from the gut to the brain through our lungs, throat and around the back of our head to our brain. The vagus nerve helps to shift us from a fight or flight highly stressed state to a calmer state. 

Have you noticed the effects of mindful drinking, better sleep and less stress on managing perimenopause symptoms?

Photo by Kelly Newton on Unsplash


Le’Nise Brothers is a yoga teacher and registered nutritionist, mBANT, mCNHC, specialising in women’s health, hormones and the menstrual cycle. She is also the host of the Period Story Podcast, which aims to break taboos around menstrual health and hormones. 

Le’Nise has helped hundreds of women improve their menstrual and hormone health through her private practice and group programmes, talks and workshops for the likes of Stylist, Channel 4, Boden, Ebay and TikTok and her Instagram page. Le’Nise works primarily with women who feel like they’re being ruled by their sugar cravings, mood swings and hormonal acne & bloating. They want to get to grips with heavy, missing, irregular & painful periods, fibroids, PMS, PCOS, endometriosis, post-natal depletion and perimenopause. 

Her first book You Can Have A Better Period was released in March 2022. 

How To Have a Better Perimenopause Part 1

October is Menopause Awareness Month (and yesterday was World Menopause Day!), so let’s spend some time talking about this important phase of life and the lesser recognised one before it, perimenopause. 

Menopause is the day when we haven’t had a period for 12 months.

What we’re commonly calling menopause now, is actually post-menopause.

Did you know that you could spend more years without a period than with one? This is one of the reasons that I believe so strongly that we must move away from the wholly negative messaging that we’re seeing around this topic, focused on severe symptoms and ‘menopause as an estrogen deficiency’ (spoiler alert: it’s not). Of course there will be symptoms that we experience as we transition into this new phase of life, but they aren’t inevitable and won’t last for the rest of your life. 

What you do in your menstruating years will set you up for a better perimenopause and menopause.

Since many of you are still menstruating and cycling regularly, let’s spend some time diving into perimenopause. 

Perimenopause, which can start as early as your late 30s, but most typically starts in our early to mid 40s, and can last around ten years. This time of life is best described as a sequence of events that happens gradually.

Remember, you’re not a passive participant in these events. There’s a lot you can do through nutrition, supplements, exercise and lifestyle changes that can affect how you feel, both physically and mentally during this time. 

The perimenopausal sequence of events can be best described like this:

  1. Regular menstrual cycles can start shortening by a day or two. 
  2. Menstrual cycles gradually change, becoming more irregular and / or shorter. 
  3. There is a longer space between periods and when they come, they can be shorter and lighter or heavier. 
  4. Finally, the menopause arrives when you haven’t had a period for 12 months. 

During this time, you’ll ovulate less frequently as fewer follicles are available to grow into mature eggs. It’s really important to note that it’s still possible to get pregnant. It’s not about the number of follicles, but the quality of those follicles when they turn into mature eggs. As an aside, this is why it’s important not to get obsessed with your AMH number if you are trying to get pregnant, but instead, focus on what you can do to improve the quality of your eggs through nutrition, supplementation and stress management. I cover this extensively in chapters 5 and 6 of my book You Can Have a Better Period

Here are some ways you can support yourself nutritionally if you’re in your perimenopausal years:

Add foods that support the liver

During perimenopause, estrogen levels can fluctuate dramatically because not only do you gradually produce less of it, but you also have less progesterone, which counterbalances estrogen. We can’t stop this process, but we can make sure that we’re adding in foods that help the liver and the gut metabolise, or breakdown estrogen so it can be removed from our body through our stools and urine. Here are some foods that you can add into your meals that are really helpful for what we call estrogen detoxification, or the way our liver breaks down estrogen that our body has already used:

  • Add cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale, cabbage, kohlrabi, brussels sprouts, bok choy, radish and wasabi.
  • Eat one medium raw carrot each day. Carrots are in the apiaceae family (this also includes parsley, dill, celery and fennel) and contain caffeic acid, which supports estrogen detoxification in the liver.
  • Cook with alliums like onions, garlic, leeks, scallions, shallots, and chives.
  • Add turmeric to your smoothies or fresh juices.

Add foods that help manage the stress response

Anxiety can be one of the earliest symptoms of perimenopause. You can feel fine one moment and then the next, you get hit by a wave of full body anxiety to which you can’t necessarily attribute a cause. To give yourself some extra protection if this happens, you can add foods with specific nutrients into your meals that help manage the stress response. Remember, when we’re stressed, the body uses these nutrients faster so make sure to keep topping them up!

  • Magnesium: pumpkin seeds, green, leafy vegetables, sunflower seeds, cashews, pistachios
  • Vitamin B6: avocado, spinach, wild salmon, organic chicken, sweet potatoes
  • Vitamin C: berries, broccoli, kale, red and yellow peppers, citrus, tropical fruits

Add more high quality protein and fat to your meals to manage your blood sugar levels.

As we move into our late 30s and 40s, we can have more responsibilities and obligations in our lives, which mean that we need to make sure we have enough energy to make it to the end of each day without crashing. Very often, I see perimenopausal women relying on coffee and sugar to prop up their energy levels, which can in the long term, make them feel even more frazzled.

When you add enough high quality protein and fats into each meal, you feel full after each meal, you have more energy and there’s less need to reach for something sweet or drink another coffee to keep you going.

  • High quality protein: Organic / free-range beef, lamb, chicken, dairy and eggs, game, seafood, beans, lentils, fermented tofu and tempeh
  • High quality fats: Nuts, seeds, full-fat, organic dairy, free-range eggs, olive oil, avocado (whole or oil), coconut (oil, cream or milk), butter and ghee

Have you noticed the effects of what you eat on managing perimenopause symptoms? In my next post, I’ll talk about lifestyle factors that can help us have a better perimenopause.


Le’Nise Brothers is a yoga teacher and registered nutritionist, mBANT, mCNHC, specialising in women’s health, hormones and the menstrual cycle. She is also the host of the Period Story Podcast, which aims to break taboos around menstrual health and hormones. 

Le’Nise has helped hundreds of women improve their menstrual and hormone health through her private practice and group programmes, talks and workshops for the likes of Stylist, Channel 4, Boden, Ebay and TikTok and her Instagram page. Le’Nise works primarily with women who feel like they’re being ruled by their sugar cravings, mood swings and hormonal acne & bloating. They want to get to grips with heavy, missing, irregular & painful periods, fibroids, PMS, PCOS, endometriosis, post-natal depletion and perimenopause. 

Her first book You Can Have A Better Period was released in March 2022. 

Food Strategies To Support ADHD Symptoms

In my last post, we started the conversation about the connection between ADHD, or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and our menstrual cycles. The rise and fall of estrogen and progesterone across our menstrual cycles is also linked to the rise of dopamine, serotonin, glutamate and noradrenaline, the brain neurotransmitters that are affected in ADHD. 

What we eat each day and the foods that we add into each meal can have a powerful effect of all aspects of our health, including the way ADHD symptoms manifest. To be clear, I’m not saying that food is a panacea. What I am saying, is that food can be very beneficial, especially when we consider that we have 3 opportunities each day and 21 opportunities each week to add in foods that can positively impact our health. 

Here are 3 ways that food can be supportive for ADHD symptoms:

  • Support healthy estrogen and progesterone balance 

Think of estrogen and progesterone like a see saw that rises and falls depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle. When estrogen is too high or too low in relation to progesterone, this imbalance can have a negative effect on many aspects of our health, including the way our brain makes the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, glutamate and noradrenaline. 

Without being too simplistic, supporting healthy estrogen levels throughout our menstrual cycle can potentially have an impact on neurotransmitters too. It also means that a healthy balance with progesterone can lessen the impact of ADHD symptoms after ovulation during the luteal phase.

Adding cruciferous vegetables such as kale, broccoli sprouts, brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, chard and bok choy helps the liver and the gut in the way that it breaks down estrogens that our body has used so that they can be excreted in our bowel movements and urine. It goes without saying, (but I’ll say it anyway!) that we need to have at the very minimum one bowel movement a day to get rid of these estrogens. If you’re not, have a look at what you can add into your meals to increase the number of healthy bowel movements – fibre, ferments and lots of water are great places to start!

  • Support gut health

Our gut (our large and small intestines) is where we produce about 80 – 90% of our dopamine and serotonin. Although these two neurotransmitters naturally decline as we move towards the end of our menstrual cycles, by supporting our gut and a healthy gut microbiome, we can positively influence the way dopamine and serotonin are made in our gut. 

An easy way to do this is by adding in the 4 Ps: prebiotics, probiotics, polyphenols and phospholipids. 

  • Prebiotics are fibre rich foods that feed the healthy bacteria that already in the gut. Some examples are oats, Jerusalem artichokes, cabbage, garlic, onions, greens, apples and bananas (the greener the better!).
  • Probiotics are fermented foods that introduce new bacteria strains into the gut. Some examples are full fat Greek or natural yoghurt, sourdough bread, kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, natto and pickled vegetables.
  • Polyphenols are compounds found in plant based foods. There are over 8,000 different types of polyphenols and they most commonly act like antioxidants, reducing inflammation and the cell damage from free radicals. Brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, herbs, nuts and seeds are great sources of polyphenols.
  • Phospholipids are a type of fat found in plant and animal foods. They are helpful for reducing inflammation and supporting gut health. You can find these in oily fish (remember the acronym SMASHHT – sardines, mackerel, anchovies, haddock, herring, trout), full-fat organic dairy and eggs, algae and flaxseed.
  • Address nutrient deficiencies

There are several nutrient deficiencies that when present, can exacerbate ADHD symptoms. Magnesium, zinc and omega-3 are some of the big nutrient deficiencies that can be addressed through food and supplementation. 

  • Magnesium is an important mineral for supporting serotonin neurotransmission and can calm ADHD symptoms.
  • Zinc is required for serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline production.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids must be obtained through food and supplements because the body cannot make these on its own.

If you have ADHD, do you notice the effects of food and supplementation on your symptoms? Does this change depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle?

Photo by Taylor Deas-Melesh on Unsplash


Le’Nise Brothers is a yoga teacher and registered nutritionist, mBANT, mCNHC, specialising in women’s health, hormones and the menstrual cycle. She is also the host of the Period Story Podcast, which aims to break taboos around menstrual health and hormones. 

Le’Nise has helped hundreds of women improve their menstrual and hormone health through her private practice and group programmes, talks and workshops for the likes of Stylist, Channel 4, Boden, Ebay and TikTok and her Instagram page. Le’Nise works primarily with women who feel like they’re being ruled by their sugar cravings, mood swings and hormonal acne & bloating. They want to get to grips with heavy, missing, irregular & painful periods, fibroids, PMS, PCOS, endometriosis, post-natal depletion and perimenopause. 

Her first book You Can Have A Better Period was released in March 2022. 

ADHD and The Menstrual Cycle

There are so many conditions that are under diagnosed in women through lack of research or lack of understanding, so any conversations we can have about them are vital. 

One condition that comes to mind is ADHD, or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. October is ADHD awareness month, so it’s a great opportunity to continue the conversation on a condition that more and more women are being diagnosed with. 

ADHD has typically been associated with young boys, but increased awareness over the past few years means that more women are starting to make the connection between their own experiences and the condition. 

In a nutshell, ADHD is a condition that affects behaviour, leading to lack of concentration, difficulties following instructions, time management issues, impulsivity and more. The symptoms of ADHD tend to be categorised into two groups:

  • inattentiveness (difficulty concentrating and focusing)
  • hyperactivity and impulsiveness

Women tend to be diagnosed with inattentive ADHD and one of the reasons it can be underdiagnosed is because some of the symptoms overlap with those of anxiety. 

Would it surprise you to know that there’s a link between ADHD symptoms and our menstrual cycle?

There are a few neurotransmitters (i.e. brain chemicals) that are affected by ADHD which are linked to the cyclical rise and fall of estrogen across our menstrual cycle. (Remember: our menstrual cycle is day 1 of our period through to the day before our next period starts.) 

  • Dopamine: the reward and focus neurotransmitter 
  • Noradrenaline: one of our stress chemicals 
  • Serotonin: the mood stabiliser 

After we finish our periods, our estrogen levels begin to rise, peaking right before ovulation, midway through our menstrual cycles. We then have a second smaller peak of estrogen, alongside the peak of progesterone that happens after we ovulate. As estrogen rises, so does dopamine and serotonin. 

The research shows that high progesterone (our calming hormone) and the second smaller peak of estrogen after ovulation can positively affect executive function (i.e. the skills that help us get stuff done) and attention

Conversely, the natural decline of estrogen and progesterone before our next period starts can lead to a premenstrual exacerbation (PME) of ADHD symptoms. 

Some of you may also notice that the preovulatory rise in testosterone can exacerbate symptoms related to impulsivity and hyperactivity. 

If you relate this or have already been given a ADHD diagnosis and are unsure how to manage it, here are 5 strategies to start with:

  1. Be aware of each phase of your menstrual cycle.
  2. Notice when ADHD symptoms worsen and in which phase this happens.
  3. Add in nutritional supports to help manage the body’s production of dopamine and serotonin as well as the way the body balances estrogen and progesterone levels.
  4. Plan ahead for times in your menstrual cycle when there is a pattern of ADHD symptoms worsening.
  5. Be gentle with yourself.

In my next post, I’ll talk through different ways nutrition can help with ADHD symptom management during each phase of the menstrual cycle.

Photo by Uday Mittal on Unsplash


Le’Nise Brothers is a yoga teacher and registered nutritionist, mBANT, mCNHC, specialising in women’s health, hormones and the menstrual cycle. She is also the host of the Period Story Podcast, which aims to break taboos around menstrual health and hormones. 

Le’Nise has helped hundreds of women improve their menstrual and hormone health through her private practice and group programmes, talks and workshops for the likes of Stylist, Channel 4, Boden, Ebay and TikTok and her Instagram page. Le’Nise works primarily with women who feel like they’re being ruled by their sugar cravings, mood swings and hormonal acne & bloating. They want to get to grips with heavy, missing, irregular & painful periods, fibroids, PMS, PCOS, endometriosis, post-natal depletion and perimenopause. 

Her first book You Can Have A Better Period was released in March 2022.