Period Story Podcast, Episode 89, Rebecca Moore: Radical Self-Care

My guest on today’s episode is Rebecca Moore, a breathwork and yoga teacher, spiritual guide and author of the new book Radical Self-Care: Rituals for Inner Resilience

In this episode, Rebecca shares: 

  • Healthy ways to get your daily D.O.S.E (dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, endorphins)
  • The importance of rituals 
  • The sacred morning ritual that she always starts her day with 
  • Why self-soothing isn’t just for children
  • How to do one of the self-soothing rituals, bhramari breath 
  • Why we all need radical self-care
  • The importance of knowing your limits and setting clear boundaries 
  • And of course, the story of her first period 

Rebecca says that it’s so important that create space for ourselves, where we can just give ourselves permission to be as we are, without feeling the need to better ourselves or fix ourselves in some way. 

Thank you, Rebecca!

Get in touch with Rebecca: 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/__rebecca__moore/

Website: https://www.rebecca-moore.com

Her book: Radical Self-Care: Rituals for Inner Resilience


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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise Brothers:

Hi, Rebecca. Thank you so much for coming onto the show today. I’m really excited to speak to you, to talk about your book, to talk about the amazing work you do, but let’s first start off by you telling us the story of your very first period.

Rebecca Moore:

Yeah, sure. Thank you again for having me. So I had to really think about this question because I couldn’t remember at first when my first ever period was. I was kind of like, wait, when was that? And it really took me back to just the memories of having my period and all of the challenges around that time when it was, I don’t know, I just felt quite alone in it. I do remember though, sharing with my mum that I’d started to bleed and my mum gave me some pads. She also gave me some tampons, and she explains the way that you can try to use these tampons is to have a mirror and use a mirror, and it just seemed really hard and scary. So I just remembered that I kind of put the tampons to the side, but began to use the pads. So I remembered that about my first period. I remember feeling quite alone in it, even though I did feel open enough to mention it to my mum. I didn’t feel like there was really anyone else to talk to about it. And aside from my mum giving me some pads and telling me how to put in a tampon, I probably could have asked her more questions around it, but I didn’t. I think I was very shy as well at that age.

Le’Nise Brothers:

How old were you?

Rebecca Moore:

13.

Le’Nise Brothers:

13, okay. Yeah. And what about your friends had they started as well?

Rebecca Moore:

So when I first began to bleed, I actually didn’t know of anyone else that was bleeding at the same time. And what I do remember is eventually it sort of was a gradual process of me finding out that other people were also, other friends were also on their periods. And the interesting thing about that is from my memory, it was more so from noticing other girls leaking in class in school and thinking, oh, she’s bleeding too, rather than a conversation that was being had amongst friends.

Le’Nise Brothers:

So you kind of attribute this to feeling shy, feeling like this perhaps wasn’t a conversation to be had. Had you learned about menstruation and all of that in school and PSHME?

Rebecca Moore:

Yeah, I remember there were lessons, but I remember it just being very, I guess it was because it’s so anatomical in the way that they were sharing it. It felt like a disconnect from what I was learning, looking at, for example, a diagram in a textbook to actually feeling what was going on in my body. And even in this moment in reflecting on it, there wasn’t really any conversation around how we would feel emotionally, physically around this whole process of our menstrual cycle. It was more, this is what happens between this day and this day anatomically, but there wasn’t really much in the way of how it would actually feel to have that experience in your body. And I think that’s where the disconnect really came from.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Were you ever in a place, or have you gotten to a place where you feel more connected and you kind of understand that emotional side, not just the physical side of the bleed and then the bigger cycle?

Rebecca Moore:

Oh, a hundred percent. So I had my son really young, and shortly after giving birth, I was told that I should go on the pill to avoid getting pregnant again. So I was on the pill through my twenties and I think I came off just before my 30th birthday and it was really coming off the pill. I do hear this a lot, so apologies if it sounds like a repeated story, but it was really coming off the pill and really I guess doing the work to retrieve my natural cycle. And then in that really connecting to the natural process of my body. And in the time that I have moved, I used to have quite a chaotic lifestyle. I used to run a fashion and arts magazine and it was constantly go, go, go. And it was very much ignore the body. We’ve just got work to do.

So I think when that shifted as well, it kind of coincided with coming off contraception. And during that time I was getting to know my body more anyway. I was recovering from burnout, and it just got to the point where I couldn’t really ignore my body anymore. I didn’t want to. And from that point, I started to really pay attention to my cycle and when I was bleeding, when I was ovulating, how I was feeling during the whole process. And now I’m completely obsessed. I talk about my bleed all the time. I probably jar a lot of people, but I think it’s such a gift to be able to have that connection with our bodies. And our bodies are a gift. It’s a miracle that we’re alive in these bodies. So my feelings around it have definitely shifted massively.

Le’Nise Brothers:

That really touched me what you just said about our bodies are a gift. It’s a miracle that we’re alive in these bodies. That really touches me because there are so many different ways in this world that we can be disconnected. The technology on the surface, ostensibly it’s about connection, but really if you think about how we use it, social media, it can be so disconnecting in, disconnecting us from ourselves, how we actually feel and people using it as a tool for just these artificial dopamine hits. And I’m skipping ahead a little bit in the questions that I want to ask you, but this kind of in your book, which we’ll talk about in more detail in a second, you do talk about healthy ways to stimulate these four big chemicals. So dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins, and you call it your daily D.O.S.E. And I think it’s so, so important because we know that Instagram is basically like, it’s like a casino for artificial dopamine hits. Can you talk a little bit more about natural ways, healthy ways to get what you call your daily dose?

Rebecca Moore:

Yeah, sure. And yeah, I love that you’ve touched on this because I was actually having a conversation with someone earlier in the week and saying, I really noticed a shift in my energy when I go online. So I have a very, very sacred morning practice. It’s just time and space for me to be in my own energy after waking up, before I launch myself into the world and even checking my phone at whatever point that I do. When I finish my practice, even if I receive a nice message or I go on Instagram and see beautiful comments, there’s still a shift, a noticeable shift in my energy. So I just wanted to share that because it’s been a topic this week. But yeah, there’s so many ways that you can get your daily D.O.S.E. For me, being in the body is such a big one. So it’s not always comfortable to be in our bodies and I want to acknowledge that. But actually just sitting with that kind of concept that we are, like I said, literally living in a miracle, even if I’m achy or in pain, just connecting to that, it creates this feeling of interconnection and you can take it a step further. And things like physical touch. So something as simple as rubbing your own ears. We have so many nerve endings in our ears, so that literally sends happy signals around the body breathing as well. Deep breathing.

There are so many different ways to stimulate our vagus nerve, which is responsible for putting us in a restful state. Things like humming, it’s so simple. I grew up hearing my mum’s humming and singing around the house. It’s really beautiful actually because my 4-year-old niece has taken it up now she’s always singing and humming. Now she spends a lot of time with my mum. But humming it creates that vagal nerve stimulation that sends those kind of just restful, calm signals around the body. Another big one for me, which is it’s become almost like a non-negotiable, is getting out into nature, being in nature. I was walking in the park a couple of weeks ago when the weather was less rainy, and I noticed this woman come to a point in the path and she took her shoes off and she started walking down this path really slowly barefoot.

And it really filled me up to see that. And it actually also gave me permission just recently moved to this new area. And previously I was in a space that had a garden. So I would go out all the time with my bare feet and connect to the earth, but I hadn’t quite got to the point of being brave enough to do it in a public park. But seeing this other woman do it completely gave me permission. And also connection, real authentic connection with others. And that doesn’t even necessarily have to be family or friends. It’s like when you catch the eyes of someone and they’re smiling or you smile and they smile back, that fills you up. So yeah, there are many different ways to get your daily D.O.S.E. Yeah, I hope that answers your question.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah, it really does. One of the things you mentioned was around touch. And something I noticed coming out of the pandemic in my classes, my yoga classes, is that people, they seemed quite touch starved and especially those who lived on their own or perhaps living with people who were just out of the house quite a lot. And something that I brought into my classes and I still do, is this, at the end, we all kind of open our arms out wide and then we give ourselves a big hug. And I always ask my students to hold it for at least 10 to 20 seconds because that the longer you give yourself a hug, that touch you’re stimulating oxytocin production, which is our hormone of love, and we feel that release and it’s so calming for the nervous system. And I absolutely love that because you look around in the class and you can just see the shift in people’s faces from just this tight holding of the face and you can see the softness come onto the face and I just adore it.

You also mentioned the humming, and in your book you talk about self-soothing, which is another really powerful way of releasing these chemicals that we’ve talked about, the daily D.O.S.E. And I think it is going back to what we talked about earlier, we talked about these unhealthy ways that we access dopamine, serotonin, but self-soothing is something that can be so powerful. And you see actually, when you see people out in the world, you see them, the effects of not being able to self-soothe, with people shouting or just having these really strong reactions. And I think back to when my son was a baby and you hear, oh, they need to learn to self-soothe and let them cry and they need to learn to self-soothe. And that never, ever really sat right with me because I just thought, well, we have to teach them. They don’t just learn. Crying isn’t a way for them to learn how to soothe and calm their nervous system. And we talked about humming and you mentioned Bhramari breath, which is the kind of bumblebee breath in the book. Can you talk a little bit about that as a self-soothing technique and some other rituals that we might be able to use to self-soothe?

Rebecca Moore:

Yeah, sure. So bhramari pranayama, it’s a beautiful technique and it’s actually something that I share a lot with kids when I do work with kids because it’s fun. And I think equally actually sharing it with adults because it’s something that takes away, I think I get people out of taking themselves too seriously when I start talking about this breath that’s like a buzzing bee, but it is an incredible technique. So it just really involves the name bhramari actually means black bee and it involves taking a deep breath in and then humming the breath out or buzzing the breath out. And you can do it just buzzing the breath out, or you can do it whilst you’re blocking your ears. That kind of increases the vibration that you feel. And you can also do it blocking your eyes and your ears. But it’s a really great one again, for, as I mentioned before, that stimulating the vagus nerve and ascending signals to your brain that you can relax, it’s safe to relax and let go. It’s really grateful, calming anxiety.

There are times where I have been completely thrown into my sympathetic state, where I’ve been. Life isn’t without challenges. There’ll always be things that throw us off and I will literally just sit there blocking my eyes, blocking my ears and practice this technique, bhramari pranayama because it’s also like a reset. So it’s a really, really incredible self-soothing tool. You mentioned the self hug, which I love. I had a situation where I was on a train out of London, out of my comfort zone, and me and my friend, we were going on this kind of retreat and we had all of our luggage all up on the shelves, and we hadn’t realized that when the train got to the station that we were supposed to get off, we didn’t have that much time to actually grab our luggage and get off. And she ended up getting off and I just missed the door and the train was just moving.

And she was kind of like, what do we do? I was like, I don’t know. And I had such a kind of intense, stressful reaction. I was shaking, and I knew that in that moment all I could do was just wait until I got to the next stop. No idea whether that would be 10 minutes away or an hour away. Thankfully it was only 10 minutes away. But on the train, that’s quite a long stop. And when I got off, the first thing I did before going to ask anyone or figure out what to do next was give myself a hug so that I could just calm myself down. And I like what you mentioned about this act of giving yourself that affection, that release also of oxytocin and the softening that comes with that. I was then able to make an informed decision. I was then able to, I was best resourced then to figure it out. So I think that’s a big thing with self-soothing as well. It’s another big benefit where if we’re thrown off, it doesn’t, it doesn’t fix the situation necessarily, but it makes us better resourced to be able to deal with it.

Le’Nise Brothers:

So this kind of leads us quite nicely to just get into the book itself. So your first book, so it’s called Radical Self-Care Rituals for Inne Inner Resilience. So this is coming out this summer, it’s not already out, is it?

Rebecca Moore:

So it’s actually out this week. The 11th of July is the official publishing date.

Le’Nise Brothers:

So it’s coming out this week. It’s such a beautiful book. I encourage everyone to get a copy of it. I absolutely adore this book. It’s so practical, beautiful illustrations, and it’s not overwhelming in any way. You can dip in and out of it as you need. Can you just talk about what you mean about by radical self-care?

Rebecca Moore:

Sure. So for me, self-care, when I used to think about self-care, I used to think about it as something that I have to earn or something that I get to enjoy on my days off whenever they would come. And I would also connect self-care. I saw the way that it was commercialised and commodified a lot. So I would also associate it with having to spend lots of money, going away on retreats, all of which are amazing, amazing things. If you’re privileged enough to do that, it’s incredible to be able to get away and to disconnect. But there was something that I noticed where I would go away. For me, it was because I love training and learning new healing modalities. And for me, that feels like a retreat, even though it can be quite hardcore.

But then coming back to what I call real life, your usual routine and finding it really difficult to implement the things that either even the kind of long bubble bath, that’s the kind of stereotypical self-care, and I love baths, I love them so much, but the reality is I don’t always have time for a long indulgent bath. And what I realized is when I’m the busiest, the busiest, busiest, busiest where I don’t feel like I have these long extended periods of time spare, it’s also when I need self-care the most. It’s also when I need to take the most exquisite care of myself. And I feel like to have an extremely busy day and still find ways to carve out little pockets of time, it’s a radical act. It is a radical act because just the way that we are kind of, I guess programmed in this modern society to believe again that self-care is something that we need to earn or something that’s an additional thing, an additional indulgence.

But it’s not an indulgence for me. It’s not, it’s literally like you wouldn’t say brushing your teeth as an indulgence. And in that same way, I wouldn’t say that self-care is an indulgence. It’s something that we all need more of. And again, it’s something that we need to practice even when, especially when we’re the most busy. And I think it’s a radical act because everything around us is telling us to place our attention elsewhere. So it’s a radical act to actually bring that attention back to ourselves and be honest about how we’re feeling and what we need. And in doing that we can understand, better, understand what we need to most take care of ourselves.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Beautiful. I really feel that because it is very radical to be able to stop check in and say, what do I actually need in this moment? Do I need to not react to this? Because it feels like society is just, it wants us to react in so many different ways. So-called real life and then what we do online, digitally, it’s very much about reactions. And to be able to say, well, I actually, that’s not what I need right now. I need to tune in and really think about what I actually need. And it could be a number of different things. And you have so many beautiful rituals in this book to help you tap into this inner resilience. And I want to ask you about, firstly, what you mean by ritual, and then just to add on to that question, inner resilience. So what do you mean by resilience?

Rebecca Moore:

Sure. So for me, ritual is something that I’m doing with complete attention and intention. So for example, there’ll be times,  I mentioned brushing my teeth. There’ll be times where I’m brushing my teeth and I’m thinking about a million things. I’m thinking about what I have to do for that day or thinking about what I’ve done that day. But there’ll also be times because I really, really try as best as I can to be present with everything. You can make everything a ritual if you want, if you choose. So there are times where brushing my teeth can totally turn into a ritual for me.

So that’s what I mean by ritual. It can be anything. It’s anything that you do with intention and giving it your full attention. That’s kind of my definition. And it’s also obviously connected to the things that you do with attention and intention that you do also with purpose or for a purpose. And that can be anything. So I can have a ritual, for example, that is specific to grounding me, or I can have a ritual that is specific to getting me back in my body if I feel disconnected or I can have rituals for rest. So yeah, there are many different ways you can incorporate that. And the resilience question is interesting because I can be, I used to be very, I still am very hard on myself and can be a bit of a perfectionist, and I’ve really come from a place of thinking that it’s all about being strong and pushing through, and those that get rewarded are the ones that kind of work really hard. And I constantly have to untangle that kind of web of illusion and keep coming back to the truth that I now know and experience, which is all around the theme actually, I’ve been talking about also this week, soft power. So it is when we allow ourselves to soften where we become the most available to receive.

So resilience, the definition of resilience really kind of shifted for me because it’s not about pushing past, it is not about self abandoning or pushing beyond my limits to the point where it’s detrimental to my health. Actually, resilience is about listening to my body. And I guess this is where again, the theme of being radical comes in. It’s like to be resilient is to really honor how I’m feeling above all else, to take the time to check in. And it’s in doing that, it’s like resilience really comes from taking care. It doesn’t come from ignoring your body and pushing. And that’s almost like it creates this false sense of resilience because at some point everything will catch up. You hear those stories of people that go go, and then when they have a moment to relax, all of a sudden they get really ill. So resilience is, for me, in the new way that I define inner resilience, it’s being able to deal with stress whilst also doing your level best to create a life, design a life where you’re not choosing to be in stress consistently, continuously.

Le’Nise Brothers:

I think that’s really powerful because that word choosing to be in stress is really interesting because someone listening might be thinking, well, I don’t choose to be in stress. I just have a lot going on from parents to children to work to hobbies and all of that. But part of that is I think is boundaries. And you talk about in the book the power of being able to say no and being really clear about your boundaries. And I see this a lot, especially when I work with women in their forties where they have so much going on and they would never say, oh, I’m choosing to be in stress. But the choices that they are making or their inability to effectively say no and hold their boundaries continues or persists that stress where it doesn’t feel like a choice, but they saying no, not saying no is a choice that they’re making, and then the consequence is persistent stress. So I think that is such an interesting phrasing and that feels quite powerful for me the way that you explain that.

Rebecca Moore:

Yeah, I think I also want to say that the majority of us are living in a such a state of stress. And because as humans we actually don’t, there’s the whole theory of homeostasis, we don’t like change. So once we’ve got used to a state of being, it’s so difficult to shift out of that state. So actually being, I mean stay with me here, but it’s actually quite possible that for a lot of people being in a state of stress has become more comfortable than being able to relax because it’s just become what they’re used to. And I’ve definitely experienced that where I’ve had, all of a sudden I’ve got this space to just relax, but I want to busy myself. It feels uncomfortable to relax. So it’s something I think that needs to be spoken about more for sure. And there’s no shame in it.

I know that there are certain decisions that I make that aren’t to the betterment of my health and wellbeing, all the time. I was on Instagram late last night, not last night, the night before, and I could hear this little voice saying, you need to go sleep, you need to go to sleep. I was like, oh. But you start to give yourself these kind of excuses. And I was like, this is my only downtime all day. I just want to go and look at some funny memes and just have a little bit of a laugh. But for me, it is really good to just listen to that little voice that’s a lot of the time, a lot more quiet than the kind of voice that tells you all of the reasons why you should be doing this thing that isn’t necessarily that good for you. But yeah, it’s a hard thing to shift because we are creatures of, that kind of resist change, so that’s worth noting as well.

Le’Nise Brothers:

So what would you say to someone who’s listening to this and thinking, I really connect with what you’re saying about this kind of feeling more comfortable in this stressful state. I love having a lot going on, but I know that I need to work on my boundaries. What would you say to someone who is really resonating with that?

Rebecca Moore:

It really is about consistency. That’s how you reprogram and retune. And that’s again why I wrote the book in the way that I did with having these kind of small things, small accessible rituals, practices that you can do consistently that don’t feel like you are taking a huge chunk out of your day or adding something to your already infinite to-do list. But it really is consistency. The more that you choose yourself, the more that you choose yourself, the more that you build all sorts of things, you build a sense of self love, self-worth, you really start to value yourself on a deeper level. And then slowly but surely it will become a lot harder to make decisions that are costing you something or decisions that do feel like you’re abandoning yourself. You really start to recognize that saying no was one of the hardest things that I think I got to implement because I love to please people.

I love to make people happy. I love to see that glimmer in people’s eyes that when you kind of light someone up. But I was doing that. I was taking on a lot in addition to my initial responsibilities, just trying to be everything for everyone else all the time. And it led to all sorts of things, burnout, but also really not being, when you spread yourself so thin, you’re not actually showing up in your fullness. So over time you start to become less and less effective. So yeah, I would say just consistently observing the moments where you may abandon yourself, the moments where you push yourself too far, the choices that you make that may not be necessarily the most helpful in terms of you just being able to maintain a sense of wellbeing. And also I would say to give yourself grace because it’s really easy to start going on a guilt trip or a shaming trip with this as well. We live, this modern world, it really, really requires so much from us and will always meet those challenging moments for some of us that may be so regular that it feels almost impossible to regain a sense of self-care. But it is possible. And I would just say to anyone listening that the smallest micro habits that you can implement into your routine just to remind yourself of how much you value and love yourself will make a tremendous shift.

Le’Nise Brothers:

I love that. I really love that. Something I really connected with in the book was in the conscious rest chapter, and you talk about slowing down your speech, and it’s something I actually, I get a little bit self-conscious about because when I listen back to these podcasts that I record or the content that I create on the internet, especially on TikTok, I notice that I do speak, I try to speak in a really intentional, deliberate way, but I do speak slowly, especially when you look at the way that people speak on TikTok where it’s about being fast and speeding up and just getting to the point and being able to slow down your speech is such an interesting one in a world that demands that we move faster, we go quickly, we get to the next thing. Can you just talk a little bit more about why slowing down your speech is a form of conscious rest?

Rebecca Moore:

Sure. And it’s exactly as you say, we are constantly bombarded at the moment with this almost feels like real, it’s like this pressure to speed up not just our speech, but everything. It’s like everything is running at this pace and it’s that we have to keep up, we have to keep up or we’ll get left behind. I think that slowing down speech specifically is so good for becoming or rebecoming more intentional with our words, becoming more intentional with what we share. I love to take pauses in my speech. I love to take a moment to think, and I find that it means that I am first of all, less trying to just fill the space.

I’m giving myself the opportunity for any words that I’ve received to really land without being overreacting, like just reacting from a surface layer. It’s like allowing things to really land and sit with you. And also just coming back to that, being intentional with your words, you’re more likely to communicate in a way that is more most authentic to you and also most responsible. Often our first reactive communication, the first thought that comes into our head, it’s not always the way that we actually want to respond to something. So slowing down your speech, it moves you away from that kind of more reactive state. You are able to allow something to land or allowing that time to consider something, having time to really feel into what you want to say and the feeling behind your words, the intention behind your words. And it’s a form of conscious rest because it does actually bring you into when you have to be intentional. So for example, if you’ve been triggered by something and you’re in a sympathetic state, if you slow down your speech, if you start to create that pause and feel into what you want to say you’re more likely to react or respond, I should say, from your restful state rather than a reactive sympathetic state.

Le’Nise Brothers:

So the power of taking a pause, whether that’s a physical pause in just not saying anything, or maybe it’s a pause in terms of taking a deep breath and using that as that moment where you collect yourself. 

And what I love what you said there about feeling into what you want to say, because when I teach yoga, and I’ve heard other yoga teachers use this phrasing as well, will you feel into the pose? I think that sometimes people don’t get that. What do you mean feel into it? What do you mean feel into the way that you speak? But it’s such an interesting way of putting it because you’re allowing yourself to get out of your head and move in certainly when you move into pose into the way that a pose, the pose feels best in your body and similar with your speech, taking a beat and just thinking, okay, what is it that I’m really trying to say here? Rather than, as we talked about earlier, just reacting. I just love this. I just love this conversation. I love what you have to say. 

Going back to the book, can you talk more about the kind of nuts and bolts of the process of writing the book? Because as an author myself, I really find it interesting hearing about the experience of other authors and how they put together their books. Can you say a bit more about your experience?

Rebecca Moore:

Yeah, sure. I actually had an amazing experience with writing this book. I did experience imposter syndrome, which is feeling like, who am I to be writing this book and who’s going to listen to what I have to say kind of thing. I think a lot of authors could probably, a lot of people in general probably resonate with that. But for me, it was really incredible because I was writing the book alongside my usual schedule of work, and at some point in the future, I’m calling in that writing gig that allows me to go and spend time in the mountains in Morocco and just completely give my full focus and time to that project. But I didn’t have the pleasure of that for this book. It was really fitting in time to write alongside my schedule. And I remember communicating with friends that I’m just going to need some time.

I’m going to be a little bit antisocial for a month and a bit, but please just know that it’s not personal if I’m saying no a lot during this time. But what was really beautiful for me as well was all of the rituals in the book are things that I practice, but they’re not things that I would practice, you can’t practice 40 different rituals, the amount of rituals in the book, you can’t practice 40 different rituals every single day. But what was really beautiful during the process of writing was using some of the rituals that I was writing about interchangeably during the process to support me in the process of writing the book. So for example, I remember there were two weeks where there was a specific time where I’d have the space to write during the day, and I would start that process with a ritual, and it was the ritual of sitting with tea.

Tea is a big part of my life. I quit drinking alcohol in November 2019, and it was herbal teas and tea that helped me with that process. There’s a saying that you don’t really cure your addictive behavior, you just shift them to a higher state. For me, shifting from alcohol to tea was my thing. But yeah, sitting with tea, for me, it is a ritual that really just brings me into a state of deep peace and it brings my mind into a deeper state of clarity and focus. So that was one of them that really helped. 

Also, I have a ritual in the book called The Wake Up Call. It’s something that I learned through a meridian yoga therapy training I did with an Incredible teacher, Dr. Rosea, and it’s literally just slapping the body, slapping up and down the body to activate through the meridian lines. And for me, that practice is incredible for when I’m writing. And then I got a bit of brain fog and I was just like, oh, no, all just got completely stuck just as a reset to kind of just get the energy flowing. Again, things like just a simple forward fold because when you bring your head below your heart, you get that nice rush of blood to the brain.

So many different things, so many different rituals that actually helped me along the writing process. But also I would say I had to release a lot of perfectionism because I realised that I could have changed. I kept wanting to change the whole book, but at a certain point you just have to decide, no, this is it. This is what wants to be birthed, and we’re just going to honour this. And the other thing I would mention was I think the most challenging thing was the intro because of sharing my story and just, I don’t know, it felt quite vulnerable to share, but also a beautiful process of being able to be vulnerable and put those words onto paper.

Le’Nise Brothers:

It’s such a beautiful book and I really, I just adore it. I can’t wait to just keep coming back into it. The photographs are just so lovely and you just feel just so calm reading it. So thank you for writing the book and putting it out into the world, and I encourage all listeners to grab a copy of it. It’s just wonderful. My next question is, what do you have coming up next? But the book is coming out next week.

Rebecca Moore:

All focus is on the book right now. I’ve also just moved into an amazing live-work space, which has been a dream of mine for a long time. So I’m in a space now where I can hold events and workshops and half day retreats, full day retreats, and all sorts of yummy things. So I’m also putting a lot of focus into that as well. And it’s called Inner Landing because I always feel like I’m trying to land, but also the buildings used to be an old, well back in the day, an aircraft factory, so it just felt very, very fitting. But yeah, full attention on the book and also just the birthing of this space and all of the amazing magic that can be created here.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Great. And what’s one thought that you love to leavr listeners with today?

Rebecca Moore:

I’m going to take a pause. I’m going to honour what I said and take a pause and just feel into it. The thought I would love to leave your incredible listeners is just that it’s so important for us to create space where, create space for ourselves, where we can just give ourselves permission to be as we are. Because in life we are constantly trying to better ourselves or fix ourselves in some way. But just know that wherever you are right now listening, are enough, you are valued, you are loved, you are worthy, and it’s so important for us to create space for ourselves where we can give ourselves full permission to be exactly as we are and enjoy that space and rest into that space and soften into that space.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Beautiful. Where can people get in touch with you?

Rebecca Moore:

So my website is rebecca-moore.com, so you can get in touch with me through my website or you can reach out to me on Instagram. I have a very popular name, apparently Rebecca Moore. So on Instagram I handles @__Rebecca__  Moore, which some people just assume as me trying to be fancy, but it’s not. It was literally the only way that I could get my whole name in there. But yeah, I love people reaching out. So DM me, email me, come to one of my events, come and say hi whenever.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And of course, can they get a copy of the book. And just to reference, the book is called Radical Self-Care Rituals for Inner Resilience.

Rebecca Moore:

So the book should be out in just local bookstores from this Thursday. It’s available worldwide as well. I have a link in my Instagram bio that is geotagged, so it can show you where you can pick it up from your local bookstore.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Fantastic. Thank you so much for coming onto the show today. Congratulations on the book. I love it. And I can’t wait to dive more deeply into it.

Rebecca Moore:

Thank you. Thank you for having me. This is a beautiful way to start my day. I really appreciate it.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 88, Latoya Busumbru: Keep Advocating For Yourself

My guest on today’s episode is Latoya Busumbru, a fibroids and women’s health campaigner and advocate. 

In this episode, Latoya shares: 

  • How fainting and vomiting during her period led her to realise that her menstrual experience was very different to that of her friends 
  • Why it took her over 4 years to receive a fibroid diagnosis 
  • The symptoms that led her doctor to take her concerns seriously 
  • Her negative experience of the copper coil
  • The changes she made to reduce the painful periods and manage the growth of the remaining fibroids 
  • What inspired her to start Womb Bae
  • The campaigning work she’s doing in Ghana to help reduce period poverty
  • And of course, the story of her first period 

Latoya says you shouldn’t shy away from advocating for yourself. She says it’s so important to do your research so that you get the support you need.

Thank you, Latoya!

Get in touch with Latoya:

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/wombbae/

TikTok: https://www.tiktok.com/@wombbae

Linked In: https://www.linkedin.com/in/latoya-busumbru-1a0912249/

Flow Wellness Ghana: https://www.instagram.com/flowwellnessgh/?locale=GB

Sponsor a girl in Ghana: https://paystack.com/pay/theflowproject


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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise Brothers:

Hii Latoya. Thank you so much for coming on the show this morning. I’m really excited to speak to you, especially given that it’s Fibroid Awareness Month, and I know you have a really powerful story to share. So let’s kick off by you telling us the story of your first period.

Latoya Busumbru:

So my first period actually started in Ghana and I was on holiday. Yes. And it happened in Ghana. I was so shocked. I was about 11 or 12, I think, and yeah, it was just a shock. I was on holiday. So yeah, that’s where it started.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Was it a shock because you were away from home or was it a shock because you just weren’t expecting it at all and you didn’t know what to do?

Latoya Busumbru:

Yes, I wasn’t expecting it and it was away from home as well, so I wasn’t in my comfort zone, shall I say. But my mum was prepared and ready and was like, it’s just normal. We’ve got this. Go and get, we’ll get a pad and everything. And she handed it very well. So it made me comfortable and not so scared of what was going on. I had an understanding anyway that it would come.

Le’Nise Brothers:

So it came in when you were in Ghana, your mum was on hand with lots of different supplies, very understanding. Well, when you actually saw that you had your period, did you know what it was and the fact that it was going to come every kind of menstrual month, so 25 to 30 days or so, and this was something that was going to be happening for at least 40 years?

Latoya Busumbru:

Yes. So my um did say this is not one time only come every month, but you have to write down. So we wrote down the day it came, and we obviously will wait for how long it will last. Then I guess we would count. So she taught me how to do all of those things. So yeah, I had quite a pretty good start of my period.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Okay. So you emphasised the word start there. So this was at 11, and how was your period throughout your teenage years?

Latoya Busumbru:

So throughout the teenage years, I guess it started to get heavy and I started to get pain. But again, I just thought, oh, it’s just normal. You are bleeding down there, in my mind, and you’re going to get a bit of pain. So to me, I thought it was normal. Then as I got older, I guess into my teens, like 16, 17, that’s when I said no, because I started getting symptoms of vomiting and fainting and always going to the medical room. So I knew that my friends are not experiencing this, why am I experiencing this? So it’s clearly not normal. And then I went to the GP to discuss my symptoms and they gave me, they said medication and I had acne at the time. Obviously you’re going through adolescence. So they said, okay, take the pill for your acne as well, and it should help with your periods. And that was around 17.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Okay. And was this a decision that you made yourself or was your mum with you?

Latoya Busumbru:

I think because of the acne was bothering more to be honest than the period. She was like, yeah, just go and see if it will clear your acne. And then obviously getting there and me explaining, oh, I have these symptoms as well with my period, I’m always calling in sick to college and going to the medical room. This is what’s happening to me. So he gave me the mini pill for the acne and the periods. So it was a decision I made just to help my acne and just see if it could help the periods as that’s the advice they gave.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And I want to go back to what you said about your periods they started to get painful. This is before you started vomiting and fainting. And when they started to get painful, you thought that that was normal? Can you talk a little bit about where that idea of pain being the norm for having a period came from?

Latoya Busumbru:

I think in my case, I would ask my friends and some would say, oh yeah, I get period pain. That’s normal. So sometimes it’s like you follow what your friends are saying, but they weren’t experiencing the fainting and the vomiting and they saw me faint and vomit and have to help me. So that’s when I said, okay, you get cramps and everything and people do get cramps. But mine were excruciating pain cramps, not like, oh, little cramps, and I’m ready to go about my day. Mine were being in fetal position in the medical room or being sent home and being in fetal position the whole day at home. So that I knew that, yeah, there’s something not right with me.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And what about your mum and any other female relatives? Did you see them having really painful experiences of their period as well?

Latoya Busumbru:

No, especially my mum. I feel like maybe I was delusional because I was young. I guess she just maybe covered it, but as I’ve gotten older and reached this age, she said she never experienced period pain the way she’s seen me over the years and being helpless and not knowing what to do when I’m crying and we have to call the ambulance and things like that. I did ask her, I said, um, did you ever experience this? She said, no. So it was kind of strange to her why I’m experiencing these symptoms.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Okay. Then, so then at 17 you went to the doctor, you got the pill for acne, but also to help deal with the painful periods. Yes. Did they do any other testing or did they just give you the pill?

Latoya Busumbru:

Just the pill and just say take, at the time it was, Nurofen was used a lot as, yeah, they used to take nen and at that time my dad used to live in America, so he used to bring me things like Advil and stuff like that. I said, this will be a bit stronger, a bit better. So he helped on that side of things, sending me things, and every time I go to America, I’d buy all those medication to bring back to the UK. They were working at the time. Yeah.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah. So I’m Canadian and I used to use Extra Strength Advil or Extra Strength Tylenol.

Latoya Busumbru:

Yeah, that’s the ones Tylenol too.

Le’Nise Brothers:

With my period. And yeah, they were effective, but I think now using those strong painkillers as a teenager, it’s just too much.

Latoya Busumbru:

It was too much. Yeah. Yeah, it was.

Le’Nise Brothers:

You went on the pill and then what was your experience like of your period, or your withdrawal bleed while you were on the pill?

Latoya Busumbru:

To be fair, for three, four years, it was manageable. I wasn’t getting heavy. It was okay. And then I just started, as you get older, you start researching and you start educating yourself about the pill, and you’re like, no, that’s not good. And I was just like, I need to get off this. I need normal periods, so let’s see how this works. As I’ve gotten older, I know when you get older, your body changes and my acne had cleared anyway through again, researching and just not, I was using, there’s a face, a face wash in America. Proactiv. Yes. So I started using Proactive that worked, but then it was giving me, I feel like it was burning my skin. So I think I just was like, I’m done with the medicines and everything. Let me, it’s obviously from within inside me, so I need to tap into me and find out what’s going on rather than always relying on the doctors and all these medications. I have to go the natural way. So I stop the pill around 19, and then my periods were regular and they were more stable after I came off the pill. Obviously when you come off, you get that whole, you bleed a lot just for your body to get right, shall I say. And then from 19 to about 23, I started experiencing pelvic pain, really bad pelvic pain.

I was like, oh my God, it’s come back again. So what is this? Then I took it seriously and I complained to the doctors and they were like, oh, you’ve been experiencing this for a long time, Latoya, it’s normal. I said, no, this is a different kind of pain. Every time I come on my period, I get this sharp pain in the left side. It’s not normal. Then one day I started bruising from that, bruising, I saw bruising and I showed my mum, I said, oh my God, am I internally bleeding? So we called the GP and he said, come in. And then they were like, oh my God, we’re going to refer you to a gynecologist. And at that time I didn’t even know what a gynecologist was. I was like, what the hell? Obviously I’ve had been to the doctors, but I’ve never been referred to a specialist. I guess I’ll say that because it’s just take this and take that and let’s see how it goes and we’ll monitor your period. It was never a referral. I’d taken blood tests because there’s times I would be weak and they’d say it’s my iron. So when they refer me to the gynecologist, they did the scan and she’s like, oh, you have a fibroid. And that was like, what is a fibroid?

No clue.

Le’Nise Brothers:

So it was only, I actually find this quite incredible. So you went on the pill at 17, you went to your doctor about, ostensibly about the acne, but the painful periods were a big issue, and then you then came off of it at 19, and then you started experiencing this pressure for about five or so years, and it was only after that was taking about seven, eight years for them to actually do an ultrasound, give you a referral and do an ultrasound. I find that actually quite crazy. So you found out that you had a fibroid and you had never heard of fibroids before. You didn’t know what they were. So what did they tell you about them and what did they tell you about how to manage the fibroid?

Latoya Busumbru:

So the gynecologist at the time, she was actually a female, and she said, oh, you have a fibroid just casually. I just looked at her and said, what is a fibroid? What is that? I, she said, oh, Black women get it a lot, so it’s normal. She’s like, but it is in your, she called it the pregnancy sac. I’ve always used that term. That was what was said to me. Obviously it’s in the uterus, but she said it’s where if I was to have a baby, it would grow with the baby in the sac within that sac. 

Le’Nise Brothers:

What?

Latoya Busumbru:

Yeah, so they said I had to remove it because it was literally in there growing. Yeah. She said, I definitely, so they asked me, do you want children in the future? And I said, yes. And she was like, yeah, we’re going to have to remove it.

Then in my mind, I was like, my gosh, what is this? And there was no leaflets, Le’Nise, at the time. So this was in 20, I was about 25. So this was in like 2018? No, 2015, sorry, apologies. So early 2015, I had the operation September2 015, and she was just like, yes, you have a fibroid, we’ll send back the information to your doctors and we’ll book in for you to have surgery. And I was just like, so when I got into my car, I just started crying. It was raining as well. I was something out of a movie, and I just put my hands on my steering wheel and cried my eyes out because I went online and it was just reading about fibroids and infertility. So my mind was just an overdrive, like, oh my God, I can’t have children and this has affected me. And then obviously I spoke to my mum and I asked her, do you know what fibroids is?

She looked at me like, no, she has never experienced fibroids. I was like, okay. And then there’s some information that it will tell you that it’s hereditary. And so I think I was literally losing my mind because I was trying to get the education so bad and trying to get all the information. Why have I got it? How comes my mom hasn’t got it? Why has my cousins got it? No one has told me. My aunties on my dad’s side, on my mum’s side. So it was something that I was literally trying to piece together, but I became educated from that day until now that we are here. Yeah.

Le’Nise Brothers:

I want to go back to what you said about the doctor saying that it was a pregnancy sac. I’ve never heard, I’ve never heard fibroids being explained like that before. So I mean, for someone who’s listening and they’re thinking, I don’t even know what a fibroid is. So fibroids are non-cancerous growths, and they can be on the outside of the uterus within the lining, muscular lining of the uterus and actually within the uterus itself, and they can grow to different sizes. So some can have fibroids the size of a cherry, some can have fibroids the size of a watermelon, but I never heard, I even thinking about it logistically how a fibroid would be in the pregnancy sac. That doesn’t make sense to me.

Latoya Busumbru:

It doesn’t. And even I said it on another podcast and they were like, some of the comments were like, she meant uterus, but I was like, no, that’s what she explained to me. So I’m literally telling everyone that’s how it was explained to me. I know that it was in the uterus, but how it was explained, it’s in your pregnancy sac . And I’m like, okay. So I’ve just taken that aboard with me throughout the years until this day just to say that’s how they explained it.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And you know what? It actually just kind of speaks to the level of education that even amongst doctors that still needs to be done about women’s health conditions, especially what we know about fibroids and actually how common they actually are and them being explained to you like that. It’s just so shocking. 

Latoya Busumbru:

Yeah exactly. So that happened, and then I had the surgery. They even actually canceled my surgery because they said the doctor was going on annual leave or something, and I’m just like, really? I had to wait. It was meant to be actually in July, and then they put, their doctor had to go on annual leave, and then I had it in September. So after that, before that they did say to go on, is it the coil? Is it the non-hormonal coil?

Le’Nise Brothers:

The copper coil?

Latoya Busumbru:

Yes, the copper, sorry, yes, the copper coil. It would help minimise or just help with the flow and everything. So I did say, okay, so which they did during surgery, I think they can do that with obviously your consent. So I woke up, everything was fine, and then within a month, Le’Nise, my body wrapped it badly to the copper coil. I just started feeling sick and getting these palpations near my vaginal area. But every time I’d walk, I’d get a shock and pain and I was like, this is even worse than me experiencing that pelvic pain before I was diagnosed with fibroids. So I went to her, the actual doctor, and I said, I haven’t been feeling well, and I think this is not right for me. They’re like, no, you’ll get used to it. We tell people to try for three months. So I actually did say, okay, I’ll give it a go.

But it was like for two weeks I was still getting that whole palpations, that something was punching me there and I said no. So I went to a clinic and the lady, the doctor removed it, and then after that everything was so much better, obviously from the surgery they removed it, everything was so much better. And then it reached three years, 2018, I was getting the different symptoms, and that was more clots, so the fibroids. So yes, and this process was quick and easy. Went to the doctor, they had seen my medical history and said, okay, you’ve had the surgery before. Let’s see. Let’s refer you back and see what’s going on. So then I had another ultrasound and they said I had about six or seven. They had grown, and the one that was causing the heavy blood clots and giving me blood clots was in the uterine wall.

So that was making me not have, my periods were stagnant. Yes. So I wasn’t having a flow, it was in the way. So that was why I was getting these really clumps of clots the size of a tangerine that was so bad and it made me severely anemic. So when they went, they said, I was like, I was adamant, Le’Nise. I was like, no, I can’t have another surgery. I need to tap into what’s going on. So after the first surgery, I did start researching the type of foods, supplements and things like that. As a kid, obviously your parents give you supplements and everything, but I said, no, I need to really know what’s right. For me, I started just eliminating estrogenic foods, the red meat, the processeed, the dairy. So I started doing that on my own without anyone telling me to see if life would be much better for me.

And it did. I haven’t eaten red meat for the last eight years. Now dairy the same. It can be hard and challenging, but now I know my body. So I started doing the supplements and then I said, I will try and figure it out. But then it got worse over four months. I said, you know what? Let me go back to the doctor. And they said, okay, we’re going to remove most of the fibroids, you have about six. Went there, found out there was eight, but they left two because they were really small and from their explanation, they didn’t want to scar any tissues. They couldn’t get to where they were. So they left the two there, and I’ve just been managing them ever since. So yeah, so then I had the surgery in 2019, November, just before the pandemic hit. I was happy to have that because I know in 2020 a lot of people’s surgeries were canceled. So I was lucky enough to get my surgery before we were on lockdown. Yeah.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah. So you’ve been on quite a journey with the fibroids and doing your own research, trying to figure out the best approach for you. What made you decide that you had to, it seems like you did a lot of this on your own. Did you feel like you just weren’t getting the information and support from your doctors?

Latoya Busumbru:

Yeah, I remember. I feel like with doctors as well, they’re general. That’s why they’re called GPs, general practitioners. So they can only give me a surface and a little bit about the information because they’re not specialists. But the first doctor wasn’t helpful, but my second doctor, Dr Mayonda. I went to St. George’s Hospital. He’s amazing. He’s retired now and he, he actually gave me great information. I’ll always remember him eat more veggies, eat. It’s not like I had a bad diet, I just didn’t know what was right for my body. Do you know what I mean? So he was very much like, if you want children, hurry up quickly. And it’s like, I’m not just going to find a man, just have children what these fibroids do. And he did say he actually explained, fibroids do grow back. It’s something they’re still trying to research and figure out, even if you have surgery doesn’t mean that’s it.

They do come back and sometimes they say surgery makes it even come back more when you have the surgery. So he was very helpful in that sense. And he just said, just keep reading. There’s so many books out there. So he was very, very helpful and from that day he did that. Anyone that has asked me about surgery and fibroids, I recommended him to them and they will come back and say, oh my gosh, Latoya, Dr. Mayonda was very great. And there was one lady last year and I said, oh, my doctor, I just like Latoya. He’s retired. And obviously I didn’t know. So I was like, oh my gosh, I’m sure his team that has been there that has helped him, they’re a great team, so let’s see if we can help you find. So he was the only doctor that actually really helped me up until now, I guess. So that was 2019. I’m 36 now, so I was like 31. Yeah, yeah.

Le’Nise Brothers:

So when you last had your surgery, you had eight and they left two because they were very small. What sort of monitoring plan do you have in place to see the growth or whether they are growing, of the remaining fibroids?

Latoya Busumbru:

So after that surgery, I literally when I want to say vegan, vegetarian with a little bit pescatarian. So yeah, I literally stopped meat altogether in terms of the chickens and I guess the turkeys, I still wasn’t eating red meat. I got myself a nutritionist in 2022 and we did blood tests and things like that, and she helped me. It was a lot of money, but one of them ones, if I really want something I save and budget for it knowing that’s, yeah, I’m going to pay for that consultation and things like that. So from then, that’s how I’ve been monitoring, and I used to get really bad throbbing pain in my right leg and she said it’s connected, but she said you might have a magnesium deficiency. So we did some tests and I actually did, and that’s why when people asked me about the magnesium, I send them to your page because you are the queen of telling us what supplements help us.

Exactly. She said magnesium, but she never said glycinate. So obviously from watching you in the work you do, I changed it to the glycinate and it’s helped me so much to the point I only take paracetamol now Le’Nise for, I don’t even get cramps because I’ve changed my diet, I’ve got the right supplements that is helping me, and I’m just more in tune with my body and I guess being less stressed because I think I was in a stressful environment as well. I was in a stressful environment in terms of working all the time and studying at the same time. And so I think I was just overworked and stressed and I know that sometimes or more times stress can cause certain diseases and things to come to light. So I think I’ve managed, how I’ve managed the fibroids is managing stress. I’m not getting the symptoms. I used to get four day periods. Now I did go for an ultrasound earlier this year and they said I had three, but they’re tiny. They’re like two centimeters, three centimeters. So I’m actually managing them I guess through my supplement and dietary decisions and just trying to be happy, enjoy life and not be stressed.

Le’Nise Brothers:

I think it’s wonderful how as you say, you’ve been able to tap into the science and signals of your body and you figure it out an approach that works really well for you, and you have this monitoring plan in place, your fibroids, there’s three now, but they’re really small. Something I see a lot on the internet is when you see people talking about fibroids, you see these people coming out and saying, oh, I can help you dissolve the fibroids. I can help you shrink. I can help you get rid of them. As a fibroid and women’s health advocate, what do you say when you see things like that?

Latoya Busumbru:

In the beginning, I was like, oh my God, you can shrink fibroids. You become naive and you become desperate and you’re like, oh my God, how would we do this? So I was like, oh my God, we can do this. But now that I’ve educated myself a bit more and realized some say, oh, it came through my period and it came through, but learning and researching, they’re very hard muscly tumors and sometimes I’m like, how does that come out of you? They’re literally stuck. It’s hard to even sometimes the doctors say removing fibroids can be quite tough because of the muscle is very tough to cut sometimes. So in my mind I’m like, okay. But I just say to the women out there, really tap into yourself and just find a solution. I know there’s people out there that are very desperate, but once you tap into yourself and you start managing, you can actually live with fibroids and even have children as well. They do say, oh, infertility. But I feel like once you start to get your body right, you can have children. So I haven’t got children yet, but I am hopeful now that I know what’s right for my body, that time will come.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And you’ve then now taken your experience and the research that you’ve done and all of the work that you’ve done to find different practitioners to create this brand called Womb Bae, and to help advocate for others and help others learn others with fibroids, learn about how to manage the condition and how to advocate for themselves. Can you tell us a little bit about the advocacy work that you do and the inspiration behind the brand?

Latoya Busumbru:

So I guess the inspiration would be, it started in 2020, the pandemic when we were all quiet and still I’ve always been journaling my journey through fibroids. I don’t know why. I’ve just always been a writer into books from a young age. So I just started writing my feelings and I was like being a therapist to myself. So when I started, I just said, you know what? I needed me when I was young, so let me just put this out. I did my first video and I said, I’m going to talk about fibroids and my journey. And it just from that day in 2020 in May, it’s the best decision that I ever made. And I just started sharing my journey and what I’ve been through. And then other women just started messaging me and oh my God, you’re so resilient, you’re so bold. And in my mind, I wasn’t trying to be bold, Le’Nisee, I just was like, there’s people doing blogs on fashion and fitness, why don’t I just start blogging about fibroids and women’s health, endometriosis, PCOS.

So I do talk about those other conditions as well, as well as PMS and PMDD. So I just started and I just wanted to just advocate, and then I just started getting people wanting me to come on their platforms, talk about my journey, some panel talks, working with brands. So it’s something that’s now such, so passionate to me now, I didn’t think I would get here. I thought it would be just a little thing and oh, I’ll just go to the side. But it’s through everyone’s support, it has become bigger than I imagined, and I just want to continue doing that. And obviously I came back from Ghana in April, and again, I tapped into there ,about the period poverty, it’s so bad. Then the lack of education. So again, that’s the next project that I’m working on. Just maybe do some workshops or gather some ladies who would love to advocate as well to create some workshops out there whilst I’m here. So it’s mainly just here to support and give information and yeah, it’s come from the heart because it’s come from my experience and journey to help them. 

Le’Nise Brothers:

I want to hear more about the work that you’re doing in Ghana, but first I just want to ask you, with the advocacy work that you’re doing around fibroids and other women’s health conditions, have you seen the impact of the work that you do? What kind of stories have you heard from people off the back of the information that you’ve shared?

Latoya Busumbru:

So I do get some testimonials. I just got one from my cousin actually because she was taking ibuprofen and getting sick all the time, and I was like, you need to get some blood tests done, obviously. I always say, I always tell people supplements help and stuff. I said, get blood, said Stan, see what they say. And I think she was low in vitamin D, iron, they checked her magnesium and I told her all those three things and she was, oh my gosh, Latoya. So she just had, I told her see it out for three months and she was like, oh my God. She sent me a text and I need to actually post it and she said, thank you so much. This is the best period I’ve had in ages. Thank you so much. And I do get women as well, like your diet, the way you’ve changed your nutrition, the foods that you, sometimes I show what I buy from grocery stores, some organic and some, sometimes it’s just expensive the way living costs are now.

So I do get a lot of, you’ve helped me and you’ve really made me understand what’s going on with my body. And I always tell them, keep pushing, ask for a second opinion. Don’t keep just listening to the first doctor. So they will say, oh my gosh, the second opinion that he said, it’s worked for me. I’m on the waiting list to have operations. So when I hear those things, it’s just a joy to my heart because I never received that when I was younger, when I was looking online, everything about fibroids was in America heavily. It’s not really heavily talked about here now, but it is now as we have the likes of Dawn Heels, who’s my fibroid sister / ally. So through us having that, our platforms, we are literally opening a lot of women’s eyes to the fact that period, your heavy bleeding and pain are not normal, and we need to get you to get some help and we can find you that information. We’ve collaborated with doctors and things like that, so we can signpost you to people to be able to help you. So yeah, I’m trying and I’m going to continue. 

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah, I know that the work that you do is so, so powerful and I think it is really powerful when you hear from someone else who has your condition and has currently has found ways to actively manage that condition and has been successful with it. What would you say to people who say, well, you shouldn’t be doing this because you’re not a doctor, you don’t have a medical degree. Who are you to be talking and giving people bits of advice?

Latoya Busumbru:

Yes, I actually had that once upon a time, had a troll, but that was early on, and from that moment it was kind of like a wake up call because I wasn’t telling people what to do, I was just giving them advice. But now I always say, I’m not a doctor and I’m not a practitioner. This is my journey, my experiences, and this may work for you, but if it doesn’t, we all know we all have different, our bodies are all different. We’re not the same. So I do always highlight, I’m not a doctor, I’ll give the information and I’ll say, speak to a doctor first, but this is what worked for me. And then some will come back and say, oh my gosh, Latoya, I spoke to a doctor and what you’re saying is right or I understand where you’re coming from. And some will say it didn’t work for me. So I always do highlight that I’m not a doctor, but when I back I’m like, should’ve been a doctor. That should’ve been my profession maybe to tap into that. But God has shows a different way in our lives. So yeah.

Le’Nise Brothers:

I do personally think it’s really powerful when people with lived experiences share their story because doctors, they are quite general, even gynecologists who do specialize in women’s health, unless they’ve gone and done the research on all of the different conditions, there’s still lots that they don’t know. And obviously science is still evolving. So you’re constantly, in working in the space, you’re constantly learning every day. So I do think patient advocacy is so powerful and when you hear doctors saying things like, oh, don’t confuse your Google search with my medical degree, that’s just so condescending because living with a condition is very different to having done the research on that condition.

Latoya Busumbru:

But it’s funny how you said that because once upon a time I’d be in a doctor’s surgery and they’d actually go on Google search to see what’s happening. Sometimes it could be so ironic

Le’Nise Brothers:

And actually people can be quite dismissive of that, but if I go to see a doctor and I’m talking about something and they just do a little light Google of like, oh, what is that? Not like a condition, but something more specific. I actually find that a little bit reassuring because it tells me that they’re not so egotistical to assume that they know everything and they need to just sense check something or double check something. And it shows me actually they have this kind of research mindset, which I think is quite important.

Latoya Busumbru:

Yes, that’s true. I agree. Yeah, it’s true.

Le’Nise Brothers:

You do this advocacy work, you have people who are coming to you with different conditions, different levels of dealing with that condition. Going back to fibroids, what would you say to someone who is struggling to get a diagnosis?

Latoya Busumbru:

I’d say to them to don’t give up and keep going because I have had some DMs that have just been, sometimes I just want to cry the way they speak and are just telling me their desperation and their pain. I even had a gentleman from America that he said he just can’t see his wife crying anymore. It’s too much. He did know that I was in the UK, but obviously he just needed some help and some advice. I still need to actually chase him up. This is about two years ago, and to see how they are, and I think she lost her child, but I said to him that this is the best thing you’ve ever done for her to actually for yours, because some men don’t know because lack of education and maybe some women hide it from their partners sometimes. I said, this is the best thing you’ve done.

You’ve done the first step of trying to help your wife. So I did say, obviously the UK and the US are different in terms of help and doctors. So I did say to him, just speak to your wife, go with her to the appointments and just be her advocate. You can also speak for her because you see it daily, her pain. So I always say just to keep going and go for the first opinion. If that doesn’t work, the second, if the second opinion doesn’t work, the third, just keep going. It can be tiring, Le’Nise, because obviously I’ve been there, but you will get to that end point and someone will be there to help you.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And now you do this other work around period poverty specifically in Ghana. So can you just speak a little bit about the issues that you’ve seen, so maybe some of the stats and why you feel like this is another powerful place for you to advocate around?

Latoya Busumbru:

Yeah, obviously poverty is everywhere, because I’m from Ghana, I said that is the closest I can get to find the information. So my aim for this trip was to obviously go for Easter, spend time with my family, cousins, and also ask questions. So I put out a post that I’m coming to Ghana and I’d like to speak to any of the organisations in Ghana that do the work. I do, let’s meet. So I met two ladies. One, her organization is called Flow Wellness Ghana, and there’s another company that also do also advocate for women Pozo Wellness as well. So I met up with them, it was random, I even met them before I was flying out the next day. So they spoke to me about it and I asked them questions like, what’s going on here in Ghana? And they said, it’s very bad, but in terms of education, so people can donate. They said to me, people can donate to these countries. Sometimes they get donations of period pants, the knickers, but there’s lack of education and how would they wash it? It’s not as easy. So it’s great for them to start with the pads, then work their way to the menstrual cups, to the tampons because there’s lack of education. 

So their thing is they need more workshops. Flow Wellness are trying to, well, they’ve started to renovate women’s toilets, the girls school toilets, just to make it more feasible for them, hygienic for them, able to flush the toilet. It can be hard in Africa and everywhere. So that’s the project they started. And they also create their own pads as well, Flow Wellness pads, they have their own pads and we’ve collaborated this year to sponsor a young girl, 50 pounds or $50 just to help a young girl for the year. So give them supplies for the year. So I’ve even done it myself as I’ve donated as well. So I do put that out and ask whoever wants to donate, even if they don’t have the money, there’s other ways they can help. So we don’t force them to send us any money if they don’t have, but there’s other ways. And some will say, is there other ways I can help? Because I’d really love to be a part of this project. So that’s a project that I’m collaborating with them on. Yeah.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Great. And so all the links for that, if you want to donate will be in the show notes.

Latoya Busumbru:

And it’ll be on my page as well. Yeah.

Le’Nise Brothers:

What’s a really interesting is around what you said about the hygiene around menstruation, because Menstrual Hygiene day was in May, and something I see people talking about a lot when that day comes up is why is it called Menstrual Hygiene day? And I do this post I think nearly every year, but I think it’s a very Western perspective to complain about the word hygiene being used because as you just said, there is a hygiene element around menstruation. Having clean water, having reliable and clean toileting facilities, having a place to dispose of, if you’re using disposable pads, having it a place to dispose of that, that is going to be safe. You’re not going to be embarrassed. And it does make me chuckle when you see these people, they, oh, it shouldn’t Menstrual Hygiene Day. It should be Menstrual Health Day. And I just think you need to really expand your perspective a little bit.

Latoya Busumbru:

And that opened my eyes when they told me statistics and they said that there’s more, there’s at least. Is it 60% of women? It’s it’s cheaper to buy contraception pills than to buy period pads. And that literally broke my heart, especially in Ghana. I was like, that is crazy. They should be getting more access to the periods, not the contraception, because there’s diseases and it’s not as accessible here where we can go to the GP, get blood tests for HIV for all these STDs. So having contraception easy to get, that’s crazy. It should be the other way round. So when I heard that, I was like, my God, there’s so much work to be done here. So much work. And like I say, again, it’s just not Ghana, it’s everywhere. But because I’m from Ghana, that’s where I’m starting and then I’ll work my way round if I have the strength to get there.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah, well there’s a lot of amazing women doing similar work to you in different countries around the world, and I am really hopeful when I see this work being done because it’s so powerful and it not only helps women and girls being able to have periods in a safe way, but also girls be able to go to school comfortably. And girls education is so important and that’s what helps things like economies grow, but it also helps start to break down some of the stigmas and taboos around menstruation.

Latoya Busumbru:

Exactly.

Le’Nise Brothers:

In terms of the work that you do and the advocacy work that you do in the UK, what do you have coming up next? Is there anything else that you want to point listeners to?

Latoya Busumbru:

So what I have next, again, I’ll bring Dawn, who’s Dawn Heels. We are collaborating on two projects. So the first one is for Fibroid Awareness Month. Obviously we’re here in fibroid awareness map, this’s the start. We have, we’ll be doing a video campaign about fibroids, just want to, we’ve asked women to come forward to use their voice and share their stories and journeys, and they will be filmed, it’ll be like a mini documentary, so that will be on the 20th of July. So we’ve asked whoever wants to be part of it, to send me an email at wombbae@gmail.com with just a bit of their story, a photo, and if they’ll be available on the 20th of July. So that will be happening. And then hopefully by God’s grace, once we secured the sponsor, we would like to do an event as well together on fibroids. We was hoping end of July, but it’s taken a while and we don’t want to rush it. So August, fingers crossed, we get our, finalise our sponsors and have the event just for Fibroid Awareness Month.

Le’Nise Brothers:

So that’s it. Fantastic. Yeah. Fantastic. What’s the one thought that you’d like to leave listeners with today?

Latoya Busumbru:

Just to advocate for yourself? I know that everyone says that, but it’s literally that serious to advocate for yourself and don’t shy away and don’t just let someone tell you it’s normal and you just go home and deal with it. Literally advocate yourself and tap into yourself, find out what’s going on. Pause, take a moment to understand and do your research. I always say when you’re younger, they always say education is important, and sometimes you’re like, oh, whatever. I’m going to stop going to school soon or college. But I do say, tap into yourself, advocate and do your research. I guess those are the three. I know you said one, but those are the three I always tell people to keep with them.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah, that’s great. And what can people find you?

Latoya Busumbru:

TikTok, Womb Bae, Instagram, Womb Bae, LinkedIn, Latoya Busumbru. I’m trying to tap into the LinkedIn world. I’m still not understanding it, but everyone’s just like, you need to go on LinkedIn where you’ll meet so many great people. So yeah, those are the three, but the main ones are TikTok and Instagram. Great.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Thank you so much for coming onto the show, Latoya, it’s been wonderful speaking to you, hearing your story, and I know you’ll continue to do this amazing advocacy work.

Latoya Busumbru:

Thank you so much, Le’Nise.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 87, Ceri Jones: Food Doesn’t Need To Be Complicated To Taste Good

My guest on today’s episode is Ceri Jones, a food educator, chef and author of the new book It Starts With Veg: 100 Seasonal Suppers and Sides

In this episode, Ceri shares: 

  • Why she feels so open and free about talking about her period 
  • The career transition she made from managing orchestras to becoming a chef and food writer 
  • The joy she finds in cooking and helping others learn to cook
  • How an in person class can help anyone feel less intimidated by cooking 
  • How her new book can help you get to grips with seasonal eating
  • A few tips and tricks for choosing the best quality veg when you’re out grocery shopping 
  • The process of writing a cookbook (including the costs!)
  • And of course, the story of her first period 

Ceri says that food doesn’t need to be complicated to taste good and starting with simple things is a great way to feel less intimidated in the kitchen. She says that a lot can be done with garlic and salt and one or two spices, the squeeze of lemon juice at the end, and adding lots of fresh herbs into your cooking. 

Thank you, Ceri!

Get in touch with Ceri:

Her book:  It Starts With Veg: 100 Seasonal Suppers and Sides

Website: http://cerijoneschef.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/cerijoneschef/

TikTok: https://www.tiktok.com/@cerijoneschef


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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise Brothers:

Hi Ceri. Thank you so much for coming on the show today. I’m really excited to talk to you, hear about your book, but first let’s kick off by you telling us the story of your very first period.

Ceri Jones:

Okay. So firstly, thanks for having me on. And second, I got my period I think when I was 12. So I was in year eight in secondary school, which I think is a fairly average, normal time to get your period. So that was all cool. I was at home, so that was really handy. And I remember just noticing that I had something in my knickers and I went and told my mum and I think I’ve started my period and she was like, oh, okay. And then led me to the bathroom to show me where the stuff that she had was. And yeah, that was it.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Did you know what it was when it arrived? Was this a big surprise or did you kind of just roll with it?

Ceri Jones:

I think I just rolled with it. So I’ve got an older sister who’s two years older than me, so she’s started her period quite a few years prior. So obviously that made me aware of it. And we’d had sex education and so I knew all about periods and I think some of my friends had started by that point. So it was just, alright, it’s my turn now, it’s come to me. So yeah, I remember thinking, being obviously quite embarrassed, cos it’s an embarrassing thing. And the whole, I think I’ve started my period and I had family around. But yeah, so I guess I was quite lucky with the way that that happened when I was at home and it was easy to ask mum and all of that.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And then what was your experience of your period as you went into your teenage years?

Ceri Jones:

Mum first gave us pads and I was like, Ugh, these are horrible. I hate it. So I very quickly after that was like, okay, I’m going to start using tampons. I did quite a lot of sport. I was always like, I want to be able to do that without worrying. And my period was pretty much throughout my teenage years, not too heavy. I’ve always suffered with cramps quite a little bit. But yeah, I had an okay relationship with it. It was all right.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah. Okay, then what about now? What’s your relationship with your period now?

Ceri Jones:

I hate it. I think most, well maybe not most adults, but I think, yeah, I’m in my forties now, so I’m aware that things are changing with that. But yeah, just the cramps are pretty annoying and working out how that’s going to affect your life. Is it going to be here or see, I just released a book. I literally got my period the day of my book launch and I did a supper club at the weekend and I literally had my period for that as well. And you’re like, this is not, if I was going to design my life, it wouldn’t be in this way. You’d have it in the middle of the month when you’re feeling great. I think I’ve learned quite a lot about, there’s been lots of talk over the last few years and I know you talk about a lot about harnessing your cycle and when you’re best, and I understand that, but sometimes it’s completely impossible to schedule your life in a way where you are doing your best things when you’re feeling at your best. So that’s a bit annoying, but there’s nothing you can do about it, you just kind of have to roll with it.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah, I guess the other way to look at it is you released your book and that’s like a new beginning and your period, it’s the beginning of a new cycle. I love reframing things, so that’s another way to look at it. And so you don’t really like it, you hate, you said you hate it. It is quite painful. What are some of the things that you do to manage your period?

Ceri Jones:

I have a really good ibuprofen.

I was just always making sure that I’ve got that with me and trying to take rest where you can and hot water bottles and stuff like that and just honouring how your energy levels are. And I’m quite happy about telling people I’m on my period, so I’m quite tired today to my colleagues or I’m a bit crampy, this is why I’m a bit aggy today. But yeah, I think it’s just trying to roll with it, but also making people aware because I think obviously half of the population go through this every single month, or just. And that’s a lot for us just to everyone be suffering in silence. I think if you are struggling a little bit to kind of tell people and people can give you a bit of a break.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And it’s interesting how open you are about telling people that you’re on your period because the world of chefs, it’s actually, when you think about it, well on the surface it seems like quite a male world and perhaps not in the setting that you work in. So being a female coming into this space and then just being very open about what you’re experiencing is actually quite refreshing.

Ceri Jones:

Alright. I mean, I think, I don’t work in a professional kitchen with males, so maybe my experience would be different if I do that. And actually, I was thinking about this before today I’ve been in quite a female dominated environment for most of my life. I went to a all female secondary school and lived with girls at university. I’ve worked in the arts sector for a lot of my life as well, which has been quite female dominated. So I’ve never been around that kind of really strong male environment. So maybe that is the reason why I feel so open and free I guess. But I’m quite an honest person anyway, so if I’m feeling something I’ll just tell people I know there’s no holding back ever.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah, and that’s interesting. So female secondary school working, you had this, you went then were working in music, managing orchestras, and then you had a transition into the food world. And I love hearing these stories of transitions, career transitions, having done it myself. And I’m really interested in whether there was a light bulb moment for you where you were working in your music career and you thought, okay, I’m ready to do something different.

Ceri Jones:

I wouldn’t say there was one light bulb moment, there was probably about a hundred of them over the course of the two years in the main, it was a very slow transition for me. I didn’t suddenly just wake up one day and went, I’ve had enough of this, I’m moving on. It was just this slow realisation that I wasn’t really enjoying my job in the way that I’d had done previously. And it was a very complicated time for me. My mum had just died and prior to that, prior to her getting out, I’d already started writing about food and getting interested in that. And I guess that was an escapism from my job that I’d been in for 10 years. So everything and that felt quite safe and comfortable and comforting for me, but also wasn’t maybe inspiring me in the same way that it used to because it was no longer new. So sometimes now I still wonder if I hadn’t been through this traumatic life change at that I was 30 at the time, whether I still would’ve moved into food or whether it still would’ve been a hobby. But I love what I do now and I guess that’s just the way that things turned out for me. I don’t really know what the alternative would’ve been. Maybe I still would’ve been happy in music. I don’t.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah, it really is one of those sliding door moments where, because I had a similar experience in that I got pregnant, it wasn’t in a bereavement for me, but I got pregnant and it made me think, okay, well what do I want to do next? I’m really interested in doing something different. And I do sometimes think what would’ve happened if I had stayed in that career? I have this totally different life now. What would’ve happened? I know I would’ve done lots of interesting things in that career, but it’s funny to kind of think back on that sometimes.

Ceri Jones:

Yeah, you just don’t know, if you’d have made a slightly, and as I said, it wasn’t a snap decision, it was lots of people over a long period of time telling me, I think you should leave. And me being scared to make that massive jump and then me realizing that I kind of was the only one who was able to make that decision, no one else could make it for me. And then that very, very slow transition. But who knows? Who knows? It’s what it is, and I love it what I do. So it’s all worked out fine.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah. And why food? What was it about working with food that you found interesting?

Ceri Jones:

I think the thing that I love the most about, it’s the creativity in creating things. And as a person with a musical background, so I’m a musician I’d say at my core and still play and that kind of being creative and food and you get to eat it and it nourishes you at the same time. And it’s just all of that together just I find really exciting. And most of the work I do these days is food education. So I’m helping people cook or we’re enjoying an experience of cooking together, which is just really joyful.

Le’Nise Brothers:

So food education, that’s really interesting because, so in the work I do as a nutritionist, there is some intimidation that I see from people around food. It’s intimidation of trying new things, fear of the kitchen, fear of going beyond a recipe. And I think if you go on to TikTok or Instagram, food content is so popular and you see people making these amazing things, but then when you talk to people, they just are like, I can never do that. And what would you say to someone who has that feeling of just feeling a little bit intimidated by cooking or freestyling? Are there any tips that you can share that would help unlock the magic of the kitchen for them.

Ceri Jones:

I’d tell them to come to a cooking class with me? I think going to an actual live in person cooking class is a really good way, as long as you’ve got the right tutor who helps you sort of break down those barriers. But starting with simple things, I think sometimes a lot of the problem with the content online is that it’s created visually rather than by what it tastes like. And I’ve just written a recipe book and people send me photos all the time of, a lot of my friends and family of photos of dishes that they’ve cooked and they nothing like the way that I make them. And there are no photos in the book for them to compare them to. But it’s always a good reminder that it actually doesn’t really matter how it tastes. I think if people are intimidated that their food doesn’t look like the food that’s been styled and produced within an inch of its life on TikTok and Instagram, that that’s okay.

Sometimes I think maybe I should be a bit more realistic with my plating up and try and not make it quite so perfect because then that will take away the edge of perfection. It doesn’t have to be perfect. And some of the best dishes are really ugly. Food can sometimes be a bit brown, and so then we break it up with herbs, but then sometimes that doesn’t make culinary sense or scattering pomegranate seeds over everything when that doesn’t need to be there. So I think maybe some bit more realism is needed, but to encourage people that they don’t need to have that perfection in the way things look as long as they taste good. And I find that through my classes really help people work out how to make their food taste good. So we always look at knife skills and everything, but I talk about seasoning to taste and tasting your food as your cooking constantly because I felt like before I did my chef training, that wasn’t something I’d ever learned to do or really knew was important. And I think that’s what’s helped me elevate my cooking.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah, yeah. You mentioned knife skills and I went on a knife skills class. I went to Leith’s in Shepherds Bush.

Ceri Jones:

Amazing.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And I did a knife skills class there. And honestly it made such a difference because, and I know this sounds silly, but things like how often you sharpen your knives, it really makes a difference in the way that you, not only the way you chop food, but the ease that you feel while you’re prepping the meal because you’re not kind of stumbling around the ingredients and kind of stabbing the food so hard trying to cut it. And I think that’s such a simple thing and being able to have the tools that you need around you and you don’t need many things. I mean, often I hear people say, you just need one or maybe two really good knives and that’s all it takes to at least do the prep of a great meal. What about ingredients? So we’ve had this explosion of different ingredients, like you think of Ottolenghi and him bringing in some of the kind of Middle Eastern ingredients and we see lots of South American influences now. What would you say to people who are thinking, I want to make my food a little bit more exciting? What’s an easy way for them to unlock that?

Ceri Jones:

I think yeah, maybe buying a new cookbook of somebody’s like Ottolenghi or someone who cooks foods from a different region around the world and trying a couple of recipes and trying to understand and unlock the secrets in how they’ve flavored their food. So I’m really confident and comfortable with Mediterranean cuisine, coming up with dishes without having to check that. I wouldn’t just write a curry recipe or something from South America because I’ve never been there. And I see the spices and I understand how they’re used, but I don’t kind of understand that cuisine from a core. And so I try not to cook from cuisines where I don’t feel like I quite understand the nuances of the spices. So I would say, yeah, buying a cookbook and trying to cook your way through it might do that. But I think a lot can be done with garlic and salt and one or two spices, the squeeze of lemon juice at the end, and adding lots of fresh herbs into your cooking, which is one of my favourite things to do. I don’t think it needs to be complicated to taste good. And if your ingredients are really good to start with, they don’t really need much doing to them either.

Le’Nise Brothers:

So speaking of ingredients, so your cookbook, which came out last month, so It Starts With Veg: 100 Seasonal Suppers and Sides really focuses on ingredients, the seasonality of ingredients. Can you talk a little bit about why you decided to focus on seasonal eating?

Ceri Jones:

So when I did my chef training, which was 11 years ago, one of the key, so I went to a chef school in California, which made perfect sense at the time, and I think now that was quite a mad thing for me to do. But one of the cores of what, the pillars of how we choose our food was seasonal eating. And obviously seasonal eating is massive now and everybody, there’s much more understanding of what that is. But I really feel like 11 years ago maybe because the internet and Instagram wasn’t really quite so big as it is now, no one was really doing that. And I was buying courgettes in January and cooking with them, and I had no concept that wasn’t, I just didn’t really think about it. It wasn’t something I’d learned. And so through my chef training and obviously all the work I’ve done subsequently, it just felt like, it just makes complete sense. Why would you not eat stuff? Why would you eat courgettes in January? They’re not picked and grown then and it just doesn’t make sense.

Yeah. So I been trying my hardest over the last however many years to cook seasonally, and I’d always wanted to write a cookbook. I’d been on my to-do list since I was in my old job and I’d first started writing about food and trying to work out a way to bring all of my recipes and ideas into a cookbook sort of came up with this idea. And I quite like the idea that the book’s sort of a bit more of an encyclopedic kind of way of, it’s not an encyclopedia, it’s a cookbook, but a way of looking at a huge range of vegetables to help give you a really broad understanding of more than courgette, tomato and pepper. There’s so much more than that. And giving you a guide to use all of those.

Le’Nise Brothers:

So with the process of writing a cookbook itself, so having written a book, I have a few recipes in my book, but I thought if I had to expand this into an entire cookbook, it would be an entirely different process to the one that I had writing my book. Can you talk a little bit about the process of writing a cookbook?

Ceri Jones:

Yeah. So before you, usually, depending on who you wrote before, you have a cookbook commissioned, you’d have written a proposal, which when you’re writing fiction, you usually write the entire book and send that off to agents and publishers. But with nonfiction, you usually write a proposal. Mine’s about 50 pages, which is actually quite a lot where you outline what the book’s going to cover and you break down your chapters. And I did include in mine a list of all the recipes that I was going to include. So at that point, which was about three years ago now, I sat down over a couple of days and just brainstormed all the recipe titles. So I looked through all my archive of recipes on my website and Instagram and from all my catering work that kind of fit into that model and came up with loads of new ideas or recipes that I’d always wanted to create, wanted to create, but had never had the chance to because there’s only so many days in the week.

And then put that together. And then I cooked about 10 of them, photographed them and included all of that in the proposal with all the written out recipes. And then when you finally come to start the book, you’ve already got that framework to start with. So the whole a hundred recipes feels much less intimidating. And even as you are developing and going through and the whole writing process, you’re not starting from scratch, then I can imagine that would be completely overwhelming. And you’d start with your recipe type. And different people have different ways of writing cookbooks. Some people do all the writing, then all the testing. I did them both at the same time. So I’d come up with a recipe idea, look at three or four at the same time, test them, write them up, move on to the next section and keep going rather than having days on end sat on your bottom writing and then days on end in the kitchen, it was kind of, I combined it in one because that was the way that I felt I would work best. So yeah, it was really fun, but a lot.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah. And just from a logistical point of view, so once you actually got the book deal and you were in that process of writing and recipe testing, how does it work in terms of, and maybe I’m going into the weeds a little bit, but I’ve always been really curious about this. Does a publisher fund all of the kind of ingredients or you have to cover that cost yourself?

Ceri Jones:

No. Yeah, it depends on your deal that you’ve worked out with your individual publisher. And I can imagine if you are on your 10th recipe book and they’ve all been Sunday Times bestsellers than they might do, but it was my first book, so my advance was very modest and I was like, ah, okay. So yeah, I funded that myself out of the advance that I’d been given. I also applied to a fund in the Guild of Food Writers that I’m a member of from that covered some of my ingredients. But it was all the food that I ate over that period of seven, eight months of testing. So if you were writing a desserts cookbook, you’re not going to sit and eat a hundred desserts over that period. So writing a vegetable book where all the recipes are kind of health-minded ish, there’s quite a lot of cream and butter and cheese in there.

But it was like, well, yeah, I’m just going to eat this for my dinner. And there was a point where I had too much food leftover and you can’t freeze everything because a lot of the fresh things don’t work that way. So I gave them away. But because I work part-time, I test recipes on my days that I was not working and then I’d have a lunch for the day that I was working if I wasn’t teaching that day. So yeah, I spent a lot of money on it. I spent about a thousand pounds in ingredients. I kept on my receipts and totaled it up. Mostly I was interested if I wrote and write another book to having in mind how much money that would be. But that was my food bill. And yes, I spent more than I would’ve done on an average week on my food bill.

And you keep thinking, God, I’m spending more money. This is just, oh God, more money. I’m spending more money on ingredients and olive oil is like 10 pound a bottle now, but so that’s how it worked. But this is my experience, which might be completely different from somebody else’s in terms of how they approach it or how it’s funded. All the recipes in my book serve two people, which was something I was very passionate about doing. So there wasn’t a huge amount of food leftover, whereas if I’d been writing a family recipe book for four or six, you’d have a lot more because you have to test everything at the size of the portion that you’ve written for, otherwise you don’t quite know if it’s going to work in exactly the right way. So that was a bit of relief.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And what were your expectations for the book when you originally conceived of it? And now have those expectations changed now that the book has come out?

Ceri Jones:

I think, oh yeah, you try very hard not to have expectations, but at the same time, you obviously do. So the dream, I know everyone’s dream is to to be a Sunday Times bestseller, to be cooking on TV, to then immediately get another book deal and just be fabulous and have a flourishing career. But the reality is that doesn’t really happen for most people. And it is a journey. And I think reminding myself it’s a journey that I’m still on and may be on for quite some time. I might never get to the dizzy heights of all those things. But yeah, I’m trying to be realistic about it. You can only do so much, especially as a first time writer, it’s really hard. Yeah,

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah, absolutely. But I think it’s really the achievement of actually having a book out there is something, I come back to that thought again and again, the internet, Instagram might go away, TikTok might go away, but having a hard copy book out there think’s just something that is really, really amazing. Someone can go to Waterstones or Foyles and get a copy of your book, off the shelf. 

Ceri Jones:

I know I to keep reminding myself that because you keep going. Oh, and the most maddest thing is all the people in my life, people I know well and people are cooking from it. And I’m like, I’ve been sharing my recipes on the internet for 12, 13 years at this point. I don’t think some people have ever cooked any of my recipes that in my close circle and they’re all cooking my food. And I’m like, well, this is why I wrote it, because I wanted to create these recipes that you’d find useful and you’d find tasty and just to give you different ideas and everything. So that is wonderful. And there’s something that’s just so special about, I always say a book is more a, it is a curation of recipes. So you can create stuff and put it on the internet, but it’s not curated as a theme. And that what’s so special about a book is bringing everything and all your ideas together in one place for people to dip in and out of. So yeah, it was great.

Le’Nise Brothers:

I remember last year there was this programme, on Channel Four with Jamie Oliver, and it was a competition. Did you watch it?

Ceri Jones:

Yeah, that was released at the same time that I was sending my proposal out. So it was like horrendous timing, but especially some of the really realistic advice they gave me. I was like, oh my God. So that was something that was weird timing. I think I’d watch it differently now than I did back then. But yeah, I was like, oh my God, this is, oh, this is harsh, but it worked out for me at the end, so we’re all right.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah, it just really opened my eyes to how competitive the cooking and the cookbook space actually is and how people do buy cookbooks, but they’re a limited amount and how many cookbooks actually do get published in a year. But looking at their criteria for choosing the winners, I found it interesting because the person who won, I would’ve never picked them. It just didn’t make sense to me. But she seems to be doing really well. And I looked at the cookbook and it’s quite interesting, but that was interesting to see from a publishing open the kitchen and see behind the cupboards.

Ceri Jones:

Yeah, I think there’s a slight obsession that I did find in the programme there, slightly obsessed with the whole kind of niching and has having a unique idea. And we all know there are no unique ideas. You go into any branch of Waterstones and there are a gazillion cookbooks in there, or I thought my book was going to be unique. And then five other people have written a really similar book this year, not different recipes to mine, different structure, but have veg-centric cuisine. Let’s do this. And even a couple of books that were released last year and the year before that are quite similar, were all released after I’d already had mine commissioned. It’s just the way things go. So there is room in the market for people to write things on similar topics. And so trying to find that complete niche is impossible. But I think also what they’re looking for, which is what I would personally look for in a cookbook is, or a recipe writer, someone who really knows their craft of writing recipes, recipes that work, recipes that are realistic, recipes that aren’t difficult for people to do and all of that.

So they might have been looking for something different than the general public were looking for when they were watching that, which was a personality or a really crazy or something new idea. So you never really know what the publishers are looking for when they decide. But yeah, she’s doing really well, so it’s worked out for her.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah, definitely. Yeah. So your book is about seasonal eating, starting with veg, and we’re in summer, we’re in the summer season right now. There’s all this amazing seasonal produce that’s available. What are some tips that you could give listeners when they’re actually going to the farmer’s market or the supermarket or the green grocers to get produce? What would they be looking for when they get to get the best quality and the best tasting fruit and veg?

Ceri Jones:

Well, I think if you’re at a farmer’s market, you can probably pretty much guarantee that everything will be good tasting. It generally is, especially if it’s not been sat on a shelf for a long time. And mostly with markets, you will find that stuff, especially farmer’s markets, that stuff is seasonal because that will have just been what’s been produced and is out there and there’s a real nuance to what’s seasonal. And it depends on the weather and the seasons and our climate’s changing at the moment. So that’s sort of changing the dates of seasons and stuff like that. So it can be confusing, but I am realistic. I do get a veg bag from a local farm who also sources stuff from all over the UK. But I do shop up in the supermarkets as well. I am not wealthy and I kow have a vague idea of what’s in season, but also like checking labels.

So most supermarkets on the price labels will tell you where I think they have to do on the packet, where things are from. So you look at your asparagus was the great example, and there’ll be a packet from Peru and a packet from Norfolk. So it is just trying to make that best decision that you can, and of course I will still eat courgettes in January from time to time. So there are always going to be exceptions to that rule. And I do a lot of kids cookery and a lot of the winter ingredients are really hard for children to chop. So we do tend to use softer tomatoes and peppers and courgettes out of season because otherwise we can’t do stuff. So I don’t strive to be perfect at all. It’s just really nice to try and focus on it the best we can. But yeah, and I guess if you’re shopping at farmer’s markets, looking for heritage varieties of fruit and veg that you might not see elsewhere, and I get really, I mean, it’s one of the things that drives me to buy produce in that way is just, I just think it’s really interesting to look at different varieties of food and those huge gorgeous heritage tomatoes that you get always taste amazing. Yeah.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And what about when you’re actually going and you’re touching the fruit and veg? Because I think now people stop doing that around Covid, but I have seen people actually starting to get that kind of feel for what they’re buying again when I’ve gone to the supermarket. Are there any tips that you could give people in that respect?

Ceri Jones:

Yeah, I guess it’s just making sure that something looks quite healthy. So I mean, I don’t really buy avocados very much anymore, but I would never buy them without touching them or feeling them that they were already soft. I know they would slightly give a little bit. And then things like stone fruit as well, which like avocados go on the turn really quickly. So it’s making sure that anything’s not already dark in color. Tomatoes another one, making sure the skin isn’t dimpled and that it looks nice and fresh. And potatoes haven’t started sprouting already. Just something you’ll know when it’s past its best before you buy it, which is one of the hard things doing online deliveries, which I do have to do quite a lot for my work. And the food arrives and you’re like, Ugh, I wouldn’t have picked that up past its best or not the size that I wanted. But yeah, it’s convenient sometimes. But yeah, I generally do pick stuff up and check it over before putting it in my basket just to make sure that it’s going to last long time, I think.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah. So what’s coming up next for you? I know the book has just come out, but is there anything that you’re up to this summer that listeners can check out or anything that you’ve got coming up later on in the year that you want to direct people to?

Ceri Jones:

My plan is to have a really chilled summer. I’ve just had the busiest month of my life where I’ve had to map out all my days being like, oh my god. And there’s that, and there’s that and there’s that. But I’m hoping to have a few more events and I will have a few more events in the autumn, so some more in live cooking classes in London. And I might do a few more bits online and we’ll see how it goes. I work at the Garden Museum part tine, so I’m always there teaching anyway. And there are always public classes people can come to there. But stuff specifically for the book, there’ll be more of that in the autumn when I’ve had some downtime to work out what I want to do next.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Great. And so where can people find you online if they want to check out your recipes, if they want to find the book?

Ceri Jones:

So my website is cerijoneschef.com and all my socials handles the same. So that’s at Ceri Jones, C for Ceri, which is the Welsh spelling. Ceri I’ve got Welsh family is CERI. Oh, and I will also be cooking on a couple of retreats this autumn as well. So look out for those if you like yoga and good food.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Fantastic. Well thank you so much for coming on to the show today, and congratulations again on the book. 

Ceri Jones:

Thank you. Thanks for having me. It’s been great to chat. 

Period Story Podcast, Episode 86, Dearbhail Ormond: Be The CEO of Your Health

My guest on today’s episode is Dearbhail Ormond, the founder and CEO of frendo, a digital health solution to support endometriosis sufferers and those awaiting diagnosis. 

In this episode, Dearbhail shares: 

  • The traumatic event that happened at the beginning of her menstruating years 
  • How having very heavy and excruciating periods affected her school and university years
  • What it took for her to finally receive a stage 4 endometriosis diagnosis
  • The joyful validation that getting a diagnosis provided her with
  • The inspiration for starting frendo
  • How you can improve your experience at work if you have endometriosis 
  • What happened after she had her miracle baby and the drastic step she need to take to manage her symptoms 

Dearbhail says that you need to be the owner and CEO of your own health and that the more you empower yourself with your own knowledge about your own health and your own body and the stronger it makes your position to advocate for yourself. 

Thank you, Dearbhail!

Get in touch with Dearbhail:

Frendo

Frendo Instagram

Dearbhail’s Instagram


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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise Brothers:          Hi, Dearbhail, thank you so much for coming onto the show today. I want to start with a question that I ask all of my guests at the beginning of each show is tell me the story of your first period.

Dearbhail Ormond:       Yeah, thank you so much for having me on Le’Nise. I’m so happy to be here. You’ve had so many amazing guests and I’m delighted to be one of them now. My first period is, it’s not actually one of those that stick in my mind, but I do, I suppose shortly afterwards I remember a really traumatic event that surrounded my period and that was, I had noticed kind of pain around my period before, but nothing so debilitating as when we were away as a family. And I noticed I gotten, I was getting really bloated to the point where I’d have to kind of go up at least one dress size around my period. And we were away as a family. We’re going to Paris and I was a young teenager. I was so excited and we were staying in a hotel and I ended up having to stay in that hotel for the whole three days that we went as a family because of the excruciating pain that I was experiencing around my period or with my period. And that was the start of, I suppose, severe vomiting, severe nausea, but most of all it was this extreme pain on a pain scale. It was up around eight or nine pain and sharp objects are in your lower abdomen and a rope, like a tight rope is being pulled around your abdomen. And so that’s probably my first memory of issues and challenges around my period.

Le’Nise Brothers:          So you’re in Paris, you’re expecting to have this really fun family weekend, family trip, go to see the Eiffel Tower, maybe have some croissants, maybe take a stroll along the Seine, but instead you are stuck in a hotel. What did your parents do?

Dearbhail Ormond:       Yeah, well look, I’m probably luckier than most in that my dad is a GP at the time, so I had extra support, but my parents have been incredibly supportive throughout my whole journey. But no one knew what was wrong then. So I suppose there was an element, and even coming from me, there was an element of I should be okay. Why am I not coping with this like everyone else can with their period. So yeah, I think my mum was there with me trying to make sure I was okay and give me some painkillers, but nothing was really helping at all. And when we got back to Ireland, which is where I grew up, I think it was probably pretty immediately afterwards that the investigation started around what was causing this. And then over the next few years, I was hemorrhaging so much that I remember in university I’d have to, had to go on holiday with my parents because I was literally too sick because I was bleeding so much.

And really what I had been diagnosed with and what it had been put down to then was PCOS, was polycystic ovarian syndrome, which I may well have had, but that wasn’t the only cause of all of these issues. So there were a lot of tests done, really very little conclusive information came back and I was kind of back and forth to doctors, back into school, trying to continue to live a normal life. And I wasn’t, it really, I often talk about how much it affected me as a young girl and a young woman. And I think in terms of our self-esteem and our body image in particular as young women and girls, and really we should be, I have a daughter and I feel so strongly about this, we really should be loving our bodies and feeling proud of them and feeling proud of their strength. And I certainly didn’t feel that way because I just didn’t have trust in it because I didn’t know what was going on in it at all.

Le’Nise Brothers:          So every month you had these excruciating periods that were very heavy, you were hemorrhaging. And you mentioned how it was very disruptive to your day-to-day life. Can you just say more about how it affected your schooling and then your ability to have a kind of normal university experience?

Dearbhail Ormond:       Yeah, I mean, I would say significantly. I was quite sporty. I wasn’t super academic, but I was fine. But I would say this didn’t help my health situation didn’t help the academic situation either because you kind of lose momentum, right? You are kind of going and studying in school and then you seem well, and then you get a bout of this really severe, it’s like having a bout of a really severe flu every month or even more for a lot of people. So yeah, I was really into sport and I was sociable. I had a great group of friends, but I would say in particular with those two, I found myself pulling back, I played hockey and the uniform, that hockey skirt was just really uncomfortable on me. And socially I just felt like kind of isolating myself was easier because I couldn’t explain what was going on to anyone because I didn’t know what was going on myself.

So I would say they’re the biggest two things. And then I went on to university and the same, like I mentioned there, I had to go on holiday with my parents and it was just this, you are a patient, you’re kind of a burden in a way. And university, I finished a year early and I traveled, went and moved to Australia. And if I look back on, I suppose why I did that, I think I was still searching for something. There was just something I was really searching for or not running away from, but it was just, I wasn’t comfortable in myself I think. And I a hundred percent now think it was all to do with myself and my body and my health around that, around my period, around what then became endometriosis.

Le’Nise Brothers:          So did you find what you were looking for when you moved to Australia?

Dearbhail Ormond:       I did. I got a diagnosis.

I also love Australia. I don’t live there anymore. And it was very good to me in many ways, from my career and such good friends. But also after, not immediately, but the symptoms were getting worse and worse and I was still going to doctor after doctor and really the symptoms were showing more as a lot of pain. So on one instance I collapsed after the shower after sex and I broke my sternum and I cracked my chin open and family friends of my parents were living in another part of Australia and they’re doctors and they just said, look, you’ve got to come down and we’re going to really investigate what’s going on here. And that was just game changing for me because I think I was just finally felt like, okay, there are people taking me serious. Not that they hadn’t taken me seriously, but I had a surgery. They said they found nothing because that was with a general surgeon. And then I had a surgery with an endometriosis specialist and even on investigation, touching, investigating my insides, he knew that and from the symptoms I’d had, he diagnosed me and I had a laparoscopy and he diagnosed me with stage four endometriosis. So the symptoms I think changed from that really heavy bleeding, pain after sex, pain down my leg, very severe bloating. And then the heavy bleeding almost dropped away a little bit. And then it actually came back after I had a child.

But I always had really horrible symptoms around my period two days and around ovulation, two, three days before ovulation I would have nausea, then vomiting, and often a lot of vomiting around my period as well.

Le’Nise Brothers:          On your website, you talk a lot about your story and one of the things you say is that it took you 18 years from the start of your period to then receiving a diagnosis. What did it mean for you to finally get that diagnosis?

Dearbhail Ormond:       Yeah, I’m often asked this question and I kind of think I did. I remember just feeling joyful and elated. But then I suppose I think what would’ve happened if I didn’t get that diagnosis, suppose is another way of asking it. And I think I would be a different person. I almost think of myself as a different person now and because I feel, I think it is around validation, I think for, and I just know so many others who are unfortunately going through exactly what I went through 20 odd years ago. So I think, yeah, I just would not be at all as content. I mean mentally I think of more than physically I feel, yeah, okay, there is something, this is it. I think I had had diagnoses before and I just knew that’s not it. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and I had the celiac gene and IBS and I just knew, always knew myself there was something else that was causing this.

And then when they did the surgery and came out and it was like, this has stuck to this and just made sense in how I was feeling and the symptoms I was feeling, and I just felt, well, I was right. I wasn’t making it up. I wasn’t weak. I wasn’t someone who just couldn’t handle pain and that’s what I felt like for so long. So I think as an adult and a person, I think it’s done wonders, a huge amount. And also once you know what it is, you can then deal with it and manage it.

Le’Nise Brothers:          Yeah. Was that the first time you had heard that word endometriosis when you received your diagnosis?

Dearbhail Ormond:       Yeah.

Le’Nise Brothers:          Oh wow. Okay.

Dearbhail Ormond:       Yeah. And then I started to hear, I had a very good friend in Australia at the same time. And then it’s bizarre that the minute you do then you start to hear of, because bear in mind I’m old, so it is quite a while ago now. And then I had this friend who was also had horrendous endo, turns out then she also had the same surgeon, but we just weren’t talking about it. It’s crazy. And that was one of the reasons that drove me to start Frendo because I was just so horrified with some of the support or support or groups that I found online or on Facebook. But yeah, I knew nothing. I knew nothing about it.

Le’Nise Brothers:          Can you say a little bit more about that, about the support groups? Because when you have a condition like endometriosis and there’s a lot of self-diagnosis that tends to happen, a lot of self researching and you hear people talk, doctors kind of disparaging patients who Google their symptoms and talking about Dr. Google, but the reality is that there’s still a lack of understanding of endometriosis and even the different types of endometriosis amongst medical professionals. So can you just say more about what you saw in the groups and what in your opinion will help doctors better understand this condition?

Dearbhail Ormond:       Yeah, yeah, good questions. I think what I saw was, well, what I saw and I found was it was just extremely negative and wasn’t really solution driven or it was like doctor bashing, but it was also almost hatred towards their own body as well. A lot of kind of belly talk, but I can empathise with those thoughts because if you’re living in pain for a lot of time, it really does make you have to dig deep to continue to love yourself in that state. So I saw a lot of that, but there’s still a lot of what I saw back then, which was I have stage four endo, I saw my GP, they told me I have it, which is we would love to get to that stage where primary care have that ability to diagnose. I’m not sure we’re quite at that stage. With frendo, we never ever claimed to diagnose.

The gold standard is still laparoscopy by an expert excision specialist. It’s about working together. It’s about digital health solutions like frendo, working with GPs, working with surgeons, working with charities and support organizations because this is a massive problem and period support on the whole is an even bigger problem. There is a huge amount of support that is needed there. And I think it’s about working together. And I think what we try and encourage and what we find GPs find helpful and consultants find helpful is through Frendo’s tracking or just however you want, writing it down. That was crucial for me is understanding your own history and going in there and feeling as empowered as you can so that first of all, you don’t feel dismissed and you are taken seriously. But it is also about educating them.

I mentioned my father’s a GP and he’d be the first to admit that they just were not knowledgeable on this and they’re getting a lot better, but they’re still not. So what we find with frendo is the benefit of something like that, or even just diarising your symptoms is someone, a patient or a sufferer comes in, okay, I’ve had these symptoms for three months, I’m really ill around my period around ovulation or it’s a whole body illness even wider than that and it’s affecting my work, it’s affecting my relationship, et cetera. That I think provides much more information for the doctor.

I think, yeah, I would always say that’s the number one. I had someone contact me this week saying, oh, my doctor thinks I have endo. She thinks I should go see a gynae. She thinks I should have this. And I’m like, well, hold on a second. Just take note of your symptoms, the ones that really disrupt your life. And then you are always the CEO of your own health. And then go back to your doctor and say, okay, these are my most concerning symptoms. Now I need you to give me the options. So I feel like if I was to go back to that 20-year-old self with a doctor, I would be stronger about dealing with them because I now see that they don’t all know about it, but it isn’t about going, you don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s actually about working together to help each other in a way.

Le’Nise Brothers:          Yeah, I think that’s a really positive message. But I do understand the perspective of people who tend to go down this very negative route when it comes to doctors because it can be quite frustrating when you go and you are saying, I’m experiencing this. I don’t, my periods are so painful, I’m bleeding so heavily. Why is it so painful when I ovulate? And all you get told is periods are supposed to be painful, sometimes periods are heavy and you just have to deal with it and you almost feel a bit gaslight, and it’s something that I see a lot on my social media pages, especially TikTok, the questions like, my doctor told me this was normal. I feel like I’m going crazy. And it can, I see a lot of very negative commentary around doctors because of the experiences that these people have dealing with their own personal doctors, but also the fact that they don’t feel empowered enough to say, well actually I’m going to get a second opinion. 

And so I think that the education work that you’re doing, not only for practitioners but also for patients is really, really powerful because there’s something for both sides to learn. I just wonder with frendo and the medical side of it, have you had any pushback from any of the medical practitioners that you’ve worked with?

Dearbhail Ormond:       No, but I’m interested to hear what kind of pushback do you think we might get?

Le’Nise Brothers:          I don’t know. It’s things like, why do I need this? I already know about endometriosis. Why is this necessary? Why, the NHS can give something like this? I don’t know, I’m just kind of brainstorming.

Dearbhail Ormond:       No, we actually haven’t. And I would take that as a positive in terms of saying clinicians, we have to believe that they want to improve. They can’t do it all themselves just like we can’t and you can’t. No, we haven’t. I think what you’re going to find is the GPs in particular that use Frendo and recommend it to their patients are those who are most proactive in the space and and they see it as this is going to speed up my appointment time with my patient. This is also potentially going to speed up the diagnosis time with this patient because if I understand this person’s symptoms faster and more accurately, well, it’s a win-win. So we’re never ever trying to replace them at all. And I think they obviously see that and we will continue to work with really great GPs and consultants. I think working with surgeons is really, really important, from an informative perspective, I feel like if we’re really going to change the game here, it’s about starting as early as possible. It is about the moment a person gets a period, we have got to have information about everything, fibroids, endo, adeno.

                                    So yeah, I think that primary care piece is really, really important. And the education, I mean, school is just hugely important.

Le’Nise Brothers:          I just want to kind of take a step back and just ask you for listeners who aren’t familiar with Frendo, to take us through a bit of an explanation of what Frendo is and what your inspiration was for founding the company.

Dearbhail Ormond:       Yeah, so frendo is a digital health app and it is mainly for endometriosis sufferers and those who do suspect they have symptoms. So it’s available on the app stores, so both iOS and Android. And what you get really is a endometriosis tracker. So it is very specific to, it is not necessarily like a cycle tracker. It’s very specific to pain type, pain area. And it takes into consideration your diet, your daily activities as well and how that might be impacting pain. We also have a screening tool and a community as well. And really they both the community is credible resources. So resources around preparing for an operation, preparing for talking to an employer about you’ve recently been diagnosed or I’m dating a new guy or girl, I want to explain this, that kind of thing. And then we have lots of really great users stories on diagnosis stories, fertility stories, and it talks to my own experience in terms of the community and feeling so isolated and feeling like, am I the only one who is feeling this? And I felt so alone. 

And then the other is the tracker and that the tracker is really what people find very useful in terms of being able to track it and actually not just show it to someone else but be able to see for themselves, God, this is serious. I’m not making it up. I can see this. So we have also just launched over the last couple of months, our frendo at work program. Again, another thing that’s very close to my heart, because I am not the only one who was really impacted in my career, and this is an expert led endometriosis program for workplaces. So for employers to actually support their employees and their partners, which is a really important piece as well. And whenever we do, we just rolled it out with Salesforce, and amazingly, they offer it to their partners as well, which is super important. And their children, sorry. It’s really important because that’s I think how we’re going to get more support around periods and around conditions like this if we get support from society as well as not just the onus being on us who are suffering.

Le’Nise Brothers:          Yeah, I think the workplace side of it is so important because we do know that endometriosis sufferers do end up having a lot of issues around missing a lot of work, underperforming because they’re not feeling great. And so being able to have something where you can explain to your employer, this is what’s going on for me. I have a chronic condition. I’m doing my best. Please don’t fire me. I think that’s really powerful. And what sort of feedback have you got from that side of it?

Dearbhail Ormond:       Yeah, I think incredible. And I think you’ve just touched on the biggest part of the feedback that we’ve got, which is the leader, the manager experience, which is we provide a lot of communication, training and support. Because I think for me, I never knew how to explain it to an employer or to a manager. And also I think there are a lot of, we did a Salesforce event a while ago, and there was a manager and an employee there who came up to me afterwards, and the employee was stage four endo sufferer. She was feeling awful because she’d missed more work than she wanted to. And then the manager clearly wanted to help. And she said, in spite of all that, you’re still my top performing team member. And I think the difficulty there was the manager wanted to help, she didn’t know how to help. And there’s almost this, there’s still a stigma around menstruation discussion and these conditions instead of us openly being empowered with the tools and the correct information to talk, to have these conversations. And that’s really the key. It’s actually giving the managers the tools and the information to be able to support their employees as well.

Le’Nise Brothers:          Yeah, I think that’s really powerful because we see now there’s more conversations about menopause in the workplace, but what about the other side of it, like menstrual health in the workplace and going beyond having to hide your tampon on a pad when you go to the loo to being able to say to your manager, listen, my period is really painful. I need to work from home. I’m not skiving. I just need to be near my bed or have my hot water bottle or whatever. And that, being comfortable to be able to have those sort of conversations and I think across all different industries, not just your kind of white collar office worker type roles. So I think that side of the company, the whole company is what you do is so, so important, so powerful. But I wanted to go back to your story and your endometriosis journey. So you got the diagnosis, you were in Australia, and then what happened?

Dearbhail Ormond:       I had three other surgeries. So yeah, I got the diagnosis. There was, yeah, I was, happy I suppose. But endo is a disease where just continues to grow unfortunately. And that’s why the laparoscopy is that top, that gold standard of treatment because for me, my ovaries were stuck to my back wall. I had rectal, vaginal, the disease was all around there. And what they do in the surgery is basically place. Back then it was like place an adhesion film continue so the disease doesn’t continue to grow and things stick together and the organs start to damage.

So I was really only getting about six months relief, unfortunately from surgeries, and we were just talking, it impacts your whole life, impacts your career because you kind of come out of an operation, you’re like, yeah, I’m ready to jump back into the world. And dating, I suppose, it was just always there. I was always scared of discussing it with people I was starting a relationship with. And I think the reason that is is because up until very recently, if you Google endometriosis, really what comes up is infertility and painful sex. And that’s really not like, wow, great. I won’t date this girl.

So yeah, I think there’s just so much stigma around it in so many levels, and that really does just, you seem like a confident person, but you feel like faulty. So I think after my third operation, I just had made the decision really to, okay, I have to kind of take this into my own hands and move back closer to my family to have as much support as I can get to manage this. And I’d always wanted to do something of my own. And I was gobsmacked that there was not more support for people with endometriosis. So it kind of coincided with me moving back from Australia and then looking at the market and going, there’s no one properly supporting this community for sufferers and that diagnosis delay piece. So that’s when the idea of Frendo came about.

And I think it was all for the right reason, because then I met my partner and we had this miracle baby, which just, so yeah, I think a lot has happened, but it didn’t make everything go away, unfortunately. But I had my daughter and it was a great nine months because I was very low on symptoms, but they came back really suddenly afterwards, around six weeks afterwards. But I still look at her every day and go, I can’t actually believe that you’re real and a thing. Again, I was told for so much of my life that I would not conceive back when I had PCOS and I was hemorrhaging and telling a young girl that you wouldn’t conceive naturally, it’s just bewildering. And I think it just frames this whole life for you in your mind. And I think it did for me because I kind of threw myself into my career, which is not a bad thing, but you do tend to frame a life that is, okay, well, I can’t have children, so I’ll do this.

So yeah, that’s basically where we are now. But I had to make quite a serious decision, I suppose last year that the endometriosis I was told came back very quickly about six or seven weeks after I’d had my baby. I had collapsed with her when I was alone with her at home. And that really probably scared me the most from any situation relating to my health because it was now impacting someone else. And I was just so fed up. I remember calling my parents after being in A&E and just going, I just can’t do this anymore. I have a child, I just can’t do it anymore. I can’t keep battling with this condition. And they also then diagnosed me with adenomyosis at the same at that time. So that possibly was the reason for the bleeding heavily, we don’t know. So I wasn’t ready for it then. But I did make the decision later in the year to have another excision surgery along with the hysterectomy. And I don’t know if there was anything else I could have done. And I don’t know still if that will help. I think it will certainly help with the adenomyosis. But yeah, I think it’s pretty crazy what us women are pushed to do.

Le’Nise Brothers:          Yeah. Yeah. Was it a full or partial hysterectomy?

Dearbhail Ormond:       No. So I still have an ovary and I’m not sure if that’s causing me some issues already. But I will say overall, up until very, very recently, my symptoms have improved. Even my energy levels overall. I wasn’t even getting a week without some sort of pain. And 70, 80% of the month I was struggling a lot. And with a business and a young baby, I just couldn’t see what else I could do.

Le’Nise Brothers:          And was there a moment where you had to think, I need to take stock of who I am now post hysterectomy, because if you’re going through this condition is so it’s a whole body condition, but when we talk about it, it can be so womb focused and then now the womb has gone and was there, was talking to women who have had hysterectomies before, they talked about a kind of grieving process that they’ve had to go through. Was it similar for you?

Dearbhail Ormond:       Yeah, I think so. And without me even knowing when you’re actually asking me that, I’m feeling a bit raw, I think it’s also something that we need to talk about more and they just, again, we’re not prepared for these things possibly because everyone experiences it in a very different way. I’m quite practical. I’m quite pragmatic. The decision was a very considered decision and it was not taken lightly. But once I’d made the decision, I suppose it was done. And in my mind I was also, even if I could have more children, I’m not sure I’d be capable of having another child from energy levels. However, probably I would say four months after the hysterectomy, I definitely noticed. Is it grieving? I would say it’s more sadness.

I wouldn’t say it’s to the point of, not even close to regret, but it is more like, why do we have to do this? That was my body. That was the body I was born with. Why do I have to change it in order to make it less intrusive and invasive for me? And I think I’m still learning about what’s hormonal now and what’s playing up. I think the answer to that is I’m taking it a little slow and conscious of new emotions, I would say, and I’m just, I’m going with it. I see little babies and yeah, I go, God, my girl won’t be that age anymore. But I just try to sit with it as much as I can. But I think it’s more like, it also kind of pushes me off. It is more the anger and frustration that we have to go through these things as women in order to live a normal quality of life.

Le’Nise Brothers:          So someone listening through this thinking that they might have endo, they’re not sure, they feel like they’re getting the runaround from their doctors, they are tracking, they’re doing the things that you’ve said about noticing the pain, having kind of a vocabulary around their pain. What would you say their next step should be? What else should they do?

Dearbhail Ormond:       So if they’ve seen a doctor already?

Le’Nise Brothers:          And they’re kind of feeling that they’re getting the runaround.

Dearbhail Ormond:       Change doctors, I mean, that’s easier said than done, especially with the system at the moment. But it’s not just a doctor necessarily. You can find a nurse who you really trust. You can find a counselor who you really trust. The trick is to actually find someone who you feel heard with and who will take your symptoms seriously, take your feelings seriously. We don’t need a label to be in pain and for us to be struggling, that’s the thing. But I would say the key is trust with whoever it is. Ideally it’s someone in a medical position, and I think you know your body best. If someone is telling you no, that’s normal and you feel like it’s not normal. You trust yourself. You trust yourself and you just keep fighting. And whether it’s trusting a friend, a mother, a father, to help you along that way, try and talk to them as much as you can to find that person who you can trust.

Le’Nise Brothers:          Yeah, I completely agree that self-trust is so powerful, not second guessing yourself and knowing that your experience is real and that you really can get a lot from it, and you can use that to get the result that you need. Thank you so much for your time today, for sharing your story. It’s so powerful. The work that you do is so powerful, and I know that you will continue to help so many people. Is there one thought that you’d love to leave listeners with today?

Dearbhail Ormond:       I do think it’s around that trusting yourself. I think it is. I never ever want someone to feel that they’re alone. If you feel like you’re alone and you don’t feel like being on social media, we always say, you can contact us at hello@frendo.co.uk. You are never alone in this, and please don’t feel like you are. And then the other message is really just be that owner and CEO of your own health. And I think the more you empower yourself with your own knowledge about your own health and your own body and the stronger it makes your position in front of anyone on your journey.

Le’Nise Brothers:          Fantastic. I think that’s such a powerful message. Thank you so much for your time.

Dearbhail Ormond:       Thank you. Thank you so much.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 85, Hayley McFadyen: Trust Yourself

My guest on today’s episode is Hayley McFadyen, an actor and writer, who is currently working on her first film, Bled Through, about her personal experience of menstruation.  

In this episode, Hayley shares: 

  • What it was like to start her period at 14 years old, well after all of her friends
  • How being given a tampon to use was a confronting experience 
  • How TikTok helped her realise that her shoulder pain was linked to her period 
  • How experiencing stitches during her period led her to a self-diagnosis of diaphragmatic endometriosis 
  • What she did to eventually receive a clinical diagnosis 
  • How she was able to advocate for herself, even when doctors didn’t believe she had endometriosis 
  • The inspiration for her film Bled Through (go to this link to support the crowdfunder to make this film!)
  • And of course, the story of her first period

Hayley says that it’s so important to trust yourself and not to allow anyone to tell you that you aren’t feeling something. She says that if you know there’s something wrong with your body, just push for that and ignore everyone else’s thoughts.

Thank you, Hayley!

Get in touch with Hayley:

Instagram

Crowdfunder to raise money to produce the film 


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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise Brothers:          Hi Hayley. Thank you so much for coming onto the show today. I want to start by asking the question that I always lead the podcast with, which is tell me the story of your very first period.

Hayley McFadyen:         So I started my period late in life. I want to say I was about 14, which is fairly late. I was at school and I think everyone had kind of spoken about it and I guess I thought it was a great thing. I was like, this is great. I haven’t started my period yet because I’ve was kind of complaining about it and I just went into the toilet and I remember being quite shocked because I think you just don’t know until it happens and then when it happens you are thinking, oh, this is what it is. And I was immediately embarrassed. I don’t know why. I think because everyone had been doing it for so long, so they were in this rhythm and they were using all these things and I was thinking, I don’t know what to even use. Obviously my mom had kind of told me things, but I guess she was waiting for when it started to officially go through everything.

And I can’t remember whether I think I asked someone and I think all they had was the tampon and that was when I was like, I don’t know what to do with this. And so I think probably most people I just put tissue in my knickers until I got home and was able to chat to my mum. And yeah, I don’t think it was traumatic, but I really remember it and I do remember not knowing what to do and then being given a tampon and maybe that was my first, not issue, but confrontation with a tampon and being like, I don’t know what to do with this. It seemed really strange and I guess everyone kind of had their system already in place and I didn’t even know where I was or how to start. So I guess that was quite tricky. I wasn’t with everyone else, I was kind of solo on it.

Le’Nise Brothers:          There’s a lot to unpack in what you just said. So you started your first period when you were 14 and you said that that was late. But what’s really interesting is that when you said that, I was expecting you to say like 17, 16, 17 and the average age of starting menstruation has gone down. It is about 11,12 now, but there are lots of women and people who start their period at 13 and 14. So it’s really interesting that you had this perception that you were late. And I wonder how much has that coloured your experience of your period since this perception that you had that you started, you were kind of a late comer to menstruation?

Hayley McFadyen:         I actually think that probably, I think my group of friends, I was the last, so I think the lateness comes from being the latest in a group of friends and one of my friends was an early bloomer in every aspect. So I think she was maybe 10 or, but it’s definitely made me, what you were saying about how it’s affected me going forward is I think I’ve always felt not in sync with it or not don’t know weird. It definitely has changed my perception going forward in life, feeling like I was late. I felt like I never really knew what I was doing or wasn’t doing the right thing when I was on my period or when people spoke about being really heavy or being really light and all these things with tampons, I couldn’t engage in those conversations because I really, I kind of was lucky at the beginning of having a very normal period of a few days, not really heavy, not really light.

And I just felt as though I couldn’t engage in a lot of conversations growing up because I never had much struggle or experience, which is weird because I had it every month, but I was also quite irregular, so I was also really irregular and everyone was like, oh, I know when my period’s coming. And I was always like, I don’t know when it is coming or when it’s going to end or anything. So it definitely didn’t change my perception obviously until I got diagnosed with endometriosis, which is obviously another discussion. But that was when I really felt as though I could speak in this space because it was something, not in a good way, but in a way of it made me speak about my periods more. Yeah.

Le’Nise Brothers:          I find this absolutely fascinating because the majority of women that I speak to, their first periods are quite, they don’t really want to talk about it. They don’t really, the periods afterwards, at least for five years from their first period, they describe a lot of shame and not really wanting to talk about it with their friends and their friends not really talking about it or it’s a very kind of secretive thing. And what’s really interesting about what you’re saying is that you wanted to engage, it’s just that your experience was very different to the ones that your friends were having and that you only felt like almost that you had legitimacy to engage once you were diagnosed with endometriosis. 

And I just find that so fascinating because it’s so different to what I’ve heard from other women on this podcast. Can you talk a little bit more about tampons? So you got given a tampon when you first got your period and you found it quite confronting and I totally get that, being 14, getting a tampon and not really knowing what to do with it. It’s just a pad, even tissue paper, it’s something that you don’t have to insert and so it doesn’t feel like you have to understand the mechanics of it all, but a tampon is very different. So can you just say more about that?

Hayley McFadyen:         I think I just never really knew much about it before did them. Obviously when I got my period, my mum explained to me and everything, but you don’t learn it really in school, which I really disagree with because there’s a lot of women’s health which is only happening now, which we should have been taught in school. Endometriosis for a start is obviously one of them, but the tampon situation was, I just didn’t really know. Everyone was kind of talking about it and I guess I felt huge pressure to use them because everyone did. And I wonder whether it was an age thing in school where people were using them because it made them feel older. I don’t know. All of my friends kind, none of them use pads. And I thought that pads was definitely linked to being younger and tampons were linked to becoming a woman.

And so I was thinking the older I got, the more I was thinking I’ve got to start using them. And it’s a weird pressure because it’s like no one’s telling you to do that and this is why I’ve written this film at the moment because I’m like, why did I have that thought? And there’s probably a lot of people out there that have this thought of being like when you get older, you start, you do the change and you move into tampons and I kind of was like, okay, I need to do it. I need to do it. And I guess it was the swimming aspect and I guess it held me back a lot during summer where I would be planning my periods and thinking, well, I can’t go there if I’m on my period. And so I tried it for the first time in my dad’s bathroom, which is one of the intimate scenes in my film, it is a comedy so it’s not too heavy. And I did try it to go in the bath to see if it worked, to see if when I pulled it out it would have nothing on it. And it was just a horrible, horrible experience. 

I think it’s my own experience that has made me where I am now, but in a positive way. But I just did it and I remember being like, oh, I did it. It just went up. And I was like, okay, great. And then I laid in the bath and as I was laying in the bath, I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. I was like, even though I couldn’t physically feel it, I could not stop thinking about it and it was freaking me out. And then when I took it out, it was just really painful and then I was thinking, oh my God. And then I just felt really faint and I had to lay on the floor for five minutes, bearing in mind everyone in the house was just doing their own thing and I was just having this breakdown in the bathroom. And then after that I thought just no, no way. I just swore that I wasn’t going to use them.

It felt as though everyone should use them. It’s totally normal. No one has problems because no one speaks about things that what happened in that bathroom, right? No one speaks about which is why, which is why I put it in this film because I think for a long time I’m like, surely loads of people have had these things, but no one speaks about them. People are like, yeah, just put tampon on, just put a tampon in. It was always such a casual, easy thing and I was thinking why is everyone so, how can everyone do it so easily and I’m having these big issues with it. Am I the only person? And then I think that’s why I never spoke about it. I never spoke about not using tampons, I never spoke about just using pads because I was so terrified that I was embarrassed and no one should feel embarrassed about what they want to do on their own period, which is private anyway, as in it doesn’t affect anyone else, so why should I think about that?

But it wasn’t a great experience and since I just haven’t even touched it because I just think, I just thought why am I forcing myself to do this thing? I clearly don’t get along with it. I’m clearly too, things just freak me out. And I think it was just freaking me out and I just made a decision there and then I was like, no, I haven’t touched one since. And it took me a while to open up about that. Only really recently have I done that. For a long time I just kind of made an excuse of I’m just really light so I don’t really need to use them. But I wasn’t that heavy. But that obviously wasn’t the reason. It was just to kind of cover it up, which is weird that we feel the need to hide something like that.

Le’Nise Brothers:          And it’s so interesting your experience because it’s such a contrast to what we’re seeing now where we have all of these different products available to us from pads, whether they’re disposable, whether they’re reusable to different types of underwear. Even swimming you can get period, like a period bikini, like a full bathing suit. And it’s so different. The message really seems to be now there are lots of options available to you. You don’t have to use tampons or you don’t have to use anything that you have to insert, even menstrual cups. Some people they just don’t get on with them. But I want to just go back to what you were saying about how you didn’t really learn about this in school and that your mum felt, was waiting a little bit to tell you. So say more about that.

Hayley McFadyen:         I think we just didn’t, health massively is not touched on really, so much stuff has happened in life since leaving school that I think, oh my God, I never learned about this. They don’t give you the space to talk about periods because it’s like when you’re in school, I understand everyone’s at an age where because of puberty in classes, especially going to a mixed school, I think we had some separated sex education classes I think, I can’t remember, but being in a mixed school, boys would take the mick if you had periods and it was kind of a really taboo subject. So I feel as though it created a space in school where you couldn’t ask a question in class about a tampon. And because like I was saying everyone used it, it was a stupid question it felt like, which is ridiculous. So you really, I think that people that have periods actually learn from their friends and their peers more than they do anyone else.

And even my mum, I think my mum had a pretty, her experience, I think she just used pads and tampons as normal. And I guess because she never had issues like me, obviously she would assume I would kind of follow the same thing. Everyone else is the same thing as though because no one spoke about it. It was just such a norm and such an easy thing that I guess my mum didn’t feel like she needed to prior to have my period. Obviously me and my mum are really close and really open, but that was something I still hid from even my mum and only later in life did I say, look, I don’t want to use tampons because she was saying to me for a while, you should try them and things. And because obviously I was getting older and I was going swimming and stuff and I guess she kind of said to me that it would help me, which obviously it would’ve done at the time, but I just felt really shy to not say anything because again, I was just thinking, oh, is this really bad?

Is this, should I not? And yeah, school didn’t really do anything in terms of that. I think they should really improve everything to do with women’s health. They should go way more into relationships and pregnancy and all these other things because when you leave school, it’s not a coincidence that no one knows what they do, what they’re doing. And it’s because no one ever really learnt any of those things. It’s mostly from friends and having friends where you are open enough to have those conversations where you learn things like the smear test for example. I didn’t really know much about that and I went to my friends and obviously spoke to ’em about it. Just all sorts of things. I just relied on my peers rather than anything to do with school because it was such a, schools are really high puberty place and I just feel like it’s not that open unfortunately, maybe now, but when I was in school 10 years ago, it definitely wasn’t.

Le’Nise Brothers:          Yeah, and it’s really interesting now it’s just thinking about the role of social media in all of this and how you said that you relied on your peers and your friends to give you the information that you were lacking. And I think what’s interesting now is the social media is also adding another layer to that where I feel like if you had had this feeling, if you were growing up now and you were curious about tampons and not really knowing what to do, social media would’ve probably been a place that you’ve gone to. And I just think about on TikTok specifically, the kind of questions I get asked on my TikTok page and I answer and I find out how old they are. It’s like 13, 14-year-old girls. It’s saying, what is happening to my body? Why is my period doing this? Why is my period doing that?

And it’s really interesting because it feels like obviously they feel comfortable enough to ask me this. It’s not even a DM, it’s in the comments. But I also wonder why don’t they feel comfortable enough to speak to their parents about this, to their friends? And I just to kind of add on to that a little bit, I was on this panel a couple of weeks ago with this doctor and we were talking about social media and she was being very negative about people getting information about health from social media. And we know that there’s a problem with influencers just saying just nonsense on social media, but she was so dismissive and I kind of was like, well, there is a role because if you have someone who’s qualified and they’re able to help people, why would you want to stop that? I would just wonder what your thoughts are about all of this.

Hayley McFadyen:         I think social media is great. I think it has, you just said it has its pros and cons. It definitely has people saying the wrong information, but I think if social media is opening up a conversation regardless of whether it comes from complete truth or someone just speaking, it’s opening up that conversation basically. And so I think you have to be wise in terms of what you pick to believe. And it’s definitely an algorithm thing of if your TikTok is full of a lot of influencers or maybe kind of surface level things and yeah, you’re not going to maybe see the right stuff, but I think it’s amazing that it’s having people on there wherever you come from, whether you’re an influencer or not to speak about stuff. Like my endometriosis I partly found on social media because there was people saying, so I have endometriosis in my diaphragm, which is a really rare form and I felt like I was going crazy before I got diagnosed.

I was literally like, there’s something wrong. But no one was telling me. And only when I was able to search on TikTok where people were saying, there was doctors on there, but there was also other people being like shoulder because you get shoulder pain, it’s a referred pain so everyone instantly thinks, and I did for two to three years thought it was muscular. And on this page there was people talking about having shoulder pain, talking about having a stitch in your diaphragm when you was on your period. There was doctors saying then this word was coming up. And even if not all of it was relevant to me, the word diaphragmatic endometriosis was a conversation on TikTok that I was able to look into and it helped me diagnose myself before I went to get clinically diagnosed. So I think for someone to kind of be like it’s all negative, it’s just crazy because I’ve changed my life from some videos on TikTok and you do have to pick and choose what you believe and what don’t.

There’s a lot of conspiracy stuff and I totally get that, but I think if you are willing enough to go through it and find the truth and things and even to open up a conversation and talk to your friends and then open up an actual physical conversation, all of that I think is so positive. It’s a space where people are speaking about things and it’s opening up conversations and people are getting to the bottom of whatever they want to figure out. So I think it’s great. And if you are good at, definitely think in terms of social media, any kind of social media, I think you have to just have your own boundaries of not going on there for too long or not going down rabbit holes of things that aren’t good for you. That’s a personal boundary. I don’t think social media should be cut. That’s something you need to take responsibility of is figuring out where you are in that. But I definitely think as a whole, it’s a hugely positive, positive thing.

Le’Nise Brothers:          So you thought that you had something going on, you were having stitches when you had your period and then you were having shoulder pains. What other symptoms did you have?

Hayley McFadyen:         So I had shoulder pain that was either it was a really sharp pain that was kind of right kind of going into my neck and into my chest or it would be a dull ache kind of just where my top of my traps going up into my neck. And then I would have this stitch. It literally feels like a stitch as if you’ve been running. But I would have that for quite a few days and it could be before or during my period. And this is why it’s so good to speak about this. I honestly feel like since this, I’ve wanted to speak about it so much because I have a feeling that so many people are having these symptoms and are not being diagnosed and they’re suffering for years. And I had these problems and I thought it was all muscular because I didn’t think anything was linked to my period until I came off the pill because I was on that to regulate my period since I was young.

And I’ve always got on with it well personally, but I came off the pill and then my first period after the pill was so bad, my shoulder pain, everything, I was bed bound, I couldn’t go to work and I was like, it’s linked to my period and I could not figure out what it was. And it only happened when I came off the pill because it was kind of like my body went into a natural thing and that was when I started being like, it’s definitely linked and not going crazy. It was like the day I started my period was the day of shoulder pain. It was so synced. And yeah, I went to my doctor and said, I’m kind of going into it now. But yeah, I went to my doctor and they were like, you’re on your period, so you’re just stressed and that’s just part of it.

And I was like, I’m getting a stitch. I just didn’t get it and I just didn’t take no for an answer. And I went away and I did research and I sat down, I remember with my partner and I said, I think I’ve got diaphragmatic endometriosis. He was like, what is that? And he was like, no. He was like, endometriosis, that’s really bad periods. And I was like, no, this is a different thing. And obviously went through the whole process, but they were the first initial symptoms and I really want to make sure that’s out there because I had chiropractor, I had physio, I spent loads of money on these things because I thought it was muscular and nothing helped. It was the exact same and some things helped like stretches and the chiropractor did obviously help, but that just helped my body, but it didn’t do anything to what was going on. And I think it’s good research I think that a lot of people probably have this shoulder pain or stitch or whatever and just don’t, or the doctor just says, you’re on your period, don’t worry about it. And it’s actually a really serious condition that I wouldn’t have known unless I had gone on social media and diagnosed myself because no one else at the time was willing to do that.

Le’Nise Brothers:          Did you have any kind of diagnostic things done? So an MRI or did you have a laparoscopy?

Hayley McFadyen:         Yeah, that’s what I had. So I basically, and this is what’s really interesting, which I think is a really key bit of research, but I went to the gynecologist who was a man, which was fine, but I just never think they fully, I kind of spoke to him and from the get go he kind of didn’t really believe me, but we went through the stages. So the first was an ultrasound and that was negative, but you weren’t ever going to find it in an ultrasound anyway, so if anyone ever goes for an ultrasound, you’re not going to find it in that regardless. That was just kind of the stages. Then I had an MRI, then I was completely negative and at this point I still felt like I had it. I was like this, it’s there. I swear it’s there. And then after that, I think that’s normally a stage where people go, I don’t have it then and walk away.

The next stage is the laparoscopy, which is where they go in your tummy and they put a camera in there and I was so scared, but at this point I think I was thinking I need to know exactly what’s going on. But I think this is the fear that I think people walk away before that because they think, well, it wasn’t in the MRI. And the gynecologist actually turned to me and said, it’s unlikely that we’re going to find it. So if gynecologists are saying this to people, they’re not going to go through with the operation because a professional is telling them that, and I did it and they found, it [endometrial lesions] obviously starts down where your ovaries are. So I had loads there and then I had loads in my diaphragm.

I was like, I obviously cried thinking, oh my God, I can’t believe I was right. But I was like, this just proves the MRI, the ultrasound, it doesn’t show up diaphragmatic endometriosis specifically. So these people that are getting MRIs, it’s pointless because it doesn’t show up. I had loads and it didn’t show up a thing. There was no doubt whatsoever. And then that’s when I got the diagnosis. And then since then I’ve just been in a really in and out of the system, still a year later, I still haven’t spoken to anyone who can help me because it’s a rare form of it, but I’m in the process of trying to find my way, but even having a diagnosis has changed my life because I now know what’s going on and I don’t feel like my body’s giving up on me and being so young, I’m only 26, I was like, if I’ve got this awful shoulder and chest and all this stuff going on, I was like, I can’t live my life. I’m 26. So it was quite hard mentally to get through that when you’re thinking I feel physically weak and I’m so young and I’ve got so much I want to do and not having the diagnosis and the official thing of this is what you’ve got and this is what’s causing it all and there’s a way we can work through that.

Yeah, it’s definitely changed. It’s definitely put a whole new spin on my life and periods and women’s health and everything. It’s made a huge, huge impact on how I see the medical system and I know that there’s things that, and it can improve. And I know that that’s a big thing and I appreciate that, but I feel as though I’m a key bit of research and I don’t even know how far my story will personally go, this is why things like this are so useful because I think how many people are being turned away after an MRI and how many people are on the pill that it’s just masking it? My friend went to the doctor recently actually and brought up the fact that she may have it and she spoke to her doctor and they were like, well, why don’t we put you on the pill first?

And I’m thinking, this is just crazy because this is what’s happening and it’s just masking it for years and years and then suddenly they’ll want to have a baby and they can’t. And it’s like when someone’s in pain, you don’t just mask it. You figure out where that pain’s coming from. If I went to the doctor and said, I’ve got a pain in my arm, they would go and fix it. But when it comes to women’s health or endometriosis, they’re like, oh, we’ll just put you on the pill and mask it. And I’m like, but what? That’s not how it works. Body parts and bones, it’s fine. But if it’s something like that, it’s like, oh, but we shouldn’t be in a lot of pain. We shouldn’t be in a lot, if you’re in a severe pain, there’s something potentially wrong that should be looked into.

Le’Nise Brothers:          Yeah, I mean you’re preaching to the choir here. I completely agree. And I would just say for anyone listening who is hearing what Hayley is saying and feeling like, oh, I think that could be what’s going on for me, a resource I’d like to point you to is The Endometriosis Foundation. They have a lot of great information about the different types of endometriosis and including diaphragmatic endometriosis. So that’s definitely something to look into. And then they have a lot of information about advocacy and how to advocate for yourself, especially if you’re in a situation where you’ve had an MRI and the doctor or the consultant is saying, actually this is the end of the road for you, but your gut is saying, like Hayley, there’s something going on. So I think I really want to applaud you for pushing because the thing with doctors is that you kind of say they’re so learned, they’re this in this authoritarian position, authoritative position, and for a lot of us it can be hard to push back. So can you talk a little bit more about how you did that, what you did to get yourself in a place where you were able to effectively advocate for yourself?

Hayley McFadyen:         I think like you said, I think you just have to trust your gut and you always know and there’s something wrong, and I knew there was something wrong. And I think for most people, if you’ve been in pain for a long time and I was waking up in pain, going to bed in pain, that pain drives you because, and it’s hard because I’ll have really down days where I think I can’t even think about trying to fix this because I’m in too much pain. But you’ve got to think about that pain and let it drive you and be like, I’m not going to allow myself to be in pain and not find answers. And I guess you just do your own research. As sad as it is that we do that, I do think if you do get turned down from your doctor and they’re not giving you the answers, feel free to.

I know that there’s a lot online and I know that some people may be listening and thinking going online is the worst thing, and it may be, but if you’ve got real symptoms, I had symptoms I’ve had for at this point 3 years. So these were definite symptoms. It’s not like when you’ve got a bit of a cold and you look up and they’re like, you’ve got this thing. I had these symptoms for two to three years and I started to trace, to monitor when I was having them and I started to realize it was always on my period. So it was just consistent and I just did research, I guess, and just looked into it and looked at people’s stories in particular. There’s a lot of on, I think there’s something called something net, Mumsnet. I think I just saw something on there briefly, but I think when you see other people’s stories or go on pages where there’s people that have done research, the one page that I saw, which really stuck out to me was describing that this doctor did this research and all these women had these stitches, and it kind of sang to me.

I was like, this is exactly what’s going on. If you know exactly your symptoms, I think it’s okay to do your own research. It doesn’t mean you’re going to go and diagnose yourself, but do your research that when you go to your doctor next you can say, I did my research and these are things I think I’ve got. And then they will look at those when they have, even though we shouldn’t really be doing that, if that’s what we’ve got to do, that’s what we’ve got to do. But I got myself together, went to the doctor and said, I think I’ve got diaphragmatic endometriosis. And I think because I brought up that word, it then opened the doorway to something. They didn’t have to then go through the effort of trying to find the word, they had the word, they had the thing. Then they could go away and go through every, I think every condition or every disease, they must have a kind of checklist of what to go through to diagnose someone.

So as soon as you give them that, he was able to say, right, well, first thing, you need to be referred to a gynecologist. Then the gynecologist went through ultrasound, MRI, laparoscopy. That’s like the stages. So I think you just have to go in and give them some form of something they can go off because they just will not do it themselves. And I appreciate there’s a lot of people that probably go to them and say, they’ve got this, that and the other. I’m not kind of slandering doctors because obviously a lot of the time they do an amazing job. But I think when it comes to women’s health, unfortunately right now we’re still in the sticks of not having that much knowledge on it. So having something, a word, a thing, a condition that they can go off, and it’s kind of process of elimination really.

If you go to them with a few things, they might trial one thing, but it’s better to eliminate things. That’s what I did. I had the chiropractor, I eliminated that. That didn’t work. I did the physio, that didn’t work. So I was able to go to them and say, I’ve done all these things and none of them worked. So I think it kind of left them no choice, but I think that’s the best thing to do. I’m not advocating doing your own research and going into a rabbit hole, being smart about it and making sure that you know exactly what your symptoms are so you’re not going, oh, I think I’ve got that symptom as well. Labeling exactly what you have and not straying from that is the way I did it. And I’ve helped other people. One of my friends, I’ve said to her about push for a laparoscopy, take no for an answer for the MR. I just keep pushing and it takes a lot of energy, but they have to do these things. If you keep pushing, they can’t say no.

Le’Nise Brothers:          It’s really sad that we’re in a place now where we have to push so hard in order to get answers and in order to get the kind of help and support that we need. Because you go to a doctor and you expect them to be able to help you, and it’s so disheartening when you go and they’re like, oh, it’s just stress or periods are supposed to be painful, or things that, and that kind of sticks in your head where you think, oh, well my period is supposed to be like this. I just have to deal with it. And when someone says, actually, you don’t have to deal with it. I know it kind of blows your mind a little bit. I just also want to add on to what you said about advocacy is that it’s really important if you’re listening to this and you live in the UK and you’re going through the NHS, that if you think you have a condition, to have a look at the NICE guidelines.

So NICE, and it’s a set of guidelines that doctors have to follow in order to diagnose and prescribe for different conditions. So there’s a set of guidelines around endometriosis, and everything that Hayley described for the diagnostic pathways for endometriosis, so ultrasound, MRI, laparoscopy, that’s all listed in the NICE guidelines and there’s ones for PCOS, for fibroids and so on and so forth. So really important to familiarise yourself with those and then take those to your doctor as well because they have to follow those. 

I want to just move on to talk about the film. So you have this film, it’s called Bled Through, and you said earlier it’s a comedy about menstrual products and breaking the stigma. Can you say a little bit more about the film and what your inspiration was around it?

Hayley McFadyen:         So essentially I started writing, I’m an actor and a writer, and I started writing a play about two friends in London, and I wanted to touch on all of these little things. And then I was kind of writing one scene in particular, which is a bathroom scene, and it was about me talking about tampons and not being able to use them. And it was kind of a comedy, it was always going to be a comedy because I think that’s the best way to get anything across, and I love comedy and I want to make people laugh. And I just got stuck on this scene and I just was writing it and I was like, oh my God, I just love this one scene. And I thought I always want to do, I always do the biggest thing rather than just immediately I was like, I’m going to write a series.

And I was like, why don’t I just start with writing a short film? I don’t need to do the biggest thing ever. And so I decided, okay, the first thing to go into writing, I’ve always written poetry, but writing script was a new thing, but as an actor, I knew how I wanted it to look and I had all this visual idea. I had all the visual ideas before. And so I wrote this scene and it was a comedy and it’s about me and a friend of mine who I kind of also want to bring into periods as kind of opening up the conversation that I think in this day and age, everyone can be anyone who bleeds. And I always wanted to highlight the friendship between me and them and how different we are, yet we share this, we share the same things, but we are different.

And I just really enjoy, it’s based on me and my friend Sam and I really enjoy our friendship. And the two of us are in this bathroom and I just basically, we talk about something funny and then the period thing comes up and there’s a machine and it’s got just tampons are coming out and I’m having this freak out and it’s funny. And this guy who I dated comes in and he’s really weird and it’s just a funny theme which highlights the tampon situation because then it kind of comes down to a level. And after all the madness, I talk to my friend about it and I have a little flashback scene of me and my dad’s bathroom, which I want to be really dreamy as if it’s kind of this vision that I had. And it is a funny situation and I can laugh about it now and I want it to be funny, but it also is highlights in the fact that that happened and I need to open up to my friend about the fact that I can’t use all these tampons that just fell out of this machine.

 I need something else. And I met Holly, my director, through a friend, and she is amazing. And the two of us have just been pushing for this film to be shot and to have a screening and then to submit to festivals because I honestly think it can be really important for research, important for so many people to see it. And we’re sponsored by Daye, which actually I was going to mention are a menstrual product company, and they have at the bottom of their website, you can put in your period pain and where the level is and it can help you to, just on the surface, see if your pain is normal or if there’s a chance, you’ve got some other things going on. And they work with endometriosis and giving 1% of their fees to an endometriosis charity. And we’ve also partnered up with the Endometriosis Foundation who I raised money for last year running the Half marathon.

And they’re also part of this film in terms of we want to make this film for, to make it a comedy film, to make it a film. I want to make a film, but I also want this film to have a big impact on the film festival circuit. And I want it to be a film that people are like, this isn’t just a film that’s going to just be there. Hopefully that film will actually bring a lot of attention to endometriosis, to periods, to women, to non-binary people to everything that I feel passionate about. And it is based off a true situation. And I hope that people watch it and they think it’s funny, obviously, but afterwards they think, oh, that’s actually quite, yeah, I just want people to think, I guess after they watch it and working with some really big people is going to hopefully help signpost to them, signpost to us kind of working together with people I think is the best way to push something.

We’re not in competition. We were all together and we’re actually setting up a crowdfunder the end of May, which I’ll put on my socials. It’ll be put on Bled Through Instagram and hopefully we can do some tags and stuff on this, but that’s to hopefully raise money to add to what we’ve already raised to try and make this film. But I really hope it’s funny. I really hope that it does what I want it to do, but I think comedy is the ultimate best way to get things across. It’s not too heavy. It’s not like, oh, someone’s going to watch it and be like, oh, they’ve really tried to get their point across. I feel like I want people to actually genuinely laugh and then be like to think about it afterwards for a while and it might change how they think or how they feel about things, but I’m really excited. Yeah.

Le’Nise Brothers:          Yeah. It’s so exciting. I think you’re right. Comedy is such an easy way to get things across and to educate because if you make someone laugh, they smile, they’re more receptive, I think. And obviously drama has its place, but it’s, when you make someone laugh, it’s almost like a crack opens in their mind and it’s easy to get things in. I think this is really exciting, and all the links to the crowdfunder will be in the show notes. In terms of our conversation today or maybe other things you haven’t spoken about, is there anything that you’d like to leave listeners with a thought that you’d like to leave listeners with?

Hayley McFadyen:         I think just trusting yourself. Don’t allow anyone who doesn’t know you or anyone who does know you tell you that you are not feeling something or thinking something. If you know there’s something like we know our bodies and if you know there’s something wrong with your body, just push for that and ignore everyone else’s thoughts. That’s the thing. And to have a laugh and try and use it in a positive way because that’s the best way to work through something and be proud of yourself if you do eventually come out the other side and there’s a lot more people than you think so.

Le’Nise Brothers:          Yeah. Fantastic. Thank you so much, Hay ley. Oh,

Hayley McFadyen:         Thank you. This is so nice.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 84, Vicky Shilling: Just Start Now

The ninth season of Period Story is here!

My guest on today’s episode is Vicky Shilling, a Self-Belief business coach and author of the book Just Start Now. Vicky helps wellness professionals overcome self-doubt and take action to make an income from their passion for health.

In this episode, Vicky shares: 

  • Her experience of re-learning about her menstrual cycle, period, moods and libido after coming off the pill after 20 years 
  • How understanding cycles, seasons and life stages can help you better run your business 
  • How she shifted from a 10 year career in music management to the work she does now 
  • How she identified the gap in the market for a need to help wellness professionals better market themselves
  • How compassionate self-belief can help people can get out of their own way in business and in life
  • Her upcoming Business Backed By Belief Summit
  • And of course, the story of her first period

Vicky says that if there’s something that you want to do in any realm of your life, be it business or personal, one thing to do is take one step to do something small to just start now, because the power is amazing in reinforcing and creating evidence for yourself of what is possible for you. So move out of that paralysis or thinking about it or dreaming about it or leaving it in your head, take one tangible small step towards what it is you want to do and just sit and feel what that brings for you.

Thank you, Vicky!

Get in touch with Vicky:

Business Backed By Belief Summit

Website

Instagram

Her book – Just Start Now


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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise Brothers:          

Hi Vicky. Thank you so much for coming onto the podcast today. I want to get into the question that I always start the podcast with, which is tell us the story of your very first period.

Vicky Shilling:               

Thank you for having me. Yeah, a story I feel like I don’t tell very often. I’m sure you hear guests say that.

My first period happened when I was about 13. My parents are divorced and they were since the age of five. And as it happened, my first period came when I was on my summer holidays with my dad. So we were staying with my grandparents and my grandmother was there and obviously my dad. I went to the bathroom, realised what I thought was my period and had no females to ask really in that situation, had to explain to my dad what I thought had happened and had no sanitary products or anything in the house obviously. So I had to ask my dad to drive me to the supermarket. He drove me to the supermarket. I went in by myself. I went into the supermarket. I bought something that I think I recognized that my mum probably had sat by the toilet at home. I went to the till with this one thing, he had given me a bit of cash. I felt really embarrassed that that was the one thing on the till and I can remember on the conveyor belt. So I remember at the till picking up a pack of mints and propping it in front of the sanitary pad, as if that would somehow disguise it from everybody else that was able to see it, including the cashier, paid for my sanitary pads and left and used ’em after that. So yeah, it was quite the experience.

Le’Nise Brothers:          

When you got the pads, did you know how to use them? How to put them in your knickers?

Vicky Shilling:               

 I don’t think so, no. I think at school we’d had Tampax come in and do a talk around tampons and so we’d had that explained. But my mum at home had sanitary pads and that’s what I’d seen and I maybe had a conversation with her and she’d said she didn’t like or didn’t use tampons. And so obviously maybe the comfort level for me was go with what mum had at home. But no, we’d never had a conversation about how to use them. I probably did have to actually read the instructions or look at the back of the packet to work out how to use them.

Le’Nise Brothers:          

And just going back to when you actually saw that you had got your period and did you think, oh my gosh, this is my period and okay, this is something that I’ve been expecting. Even though the situation wasn’t ideal, did you kind of think, okay, I know exactly what this is and what it means?

Vicky Shilling:                

Yes, I think so. I think I had that kind of awareness. I think I definitely had had a conscious awareness in the months leading up to it that my breasts had been growing and felt more sore. I definitely remember exactly, again, I was away from home noticing cervical fluid and being like, oh, that’s different, that’s new. And knowing that that was a sign of menstrual cycle going to come at some point. So yes, I think I knew it was coming. I definitely didn’t know all the ins and outs that I do now. But yes, I definitely knew that that was something that I was expecting to happen around that time.

Le’Nise Brothers:         

You got your period, you got your pads, and then what was your period for the first couple of years, actually, just taking a step back, did you actually have, after you got the pads, did you have any further conversation with your dad about what was going on or it was just kind of like, I don’t…

Vicky Shilling:                

Think we did. No, I think it was literally like this. I probably got back in the car and didn’t want to talk about it. I was probably, and obviously as the first period, I dunno if it’s normal, but it was very light. It didn’t last very long. It was very dark, wasn’t loads of blood or anything, so it was a very transient, little moment of something that had happened. So no, I don’t think I really had a conversation. I assume I must have told my mum at some point when I got home. I didn’t have a brilliant relationship with her, but I’m sure that will have come across and obviously needing more sanitary products, I will have had some kind of conversation with her. But no, I probably didn’t tell my grandparents either. It was probably just very hush hush and get on with it.

Le’Nise Brothers:          

How did you then learn more about what was going on with your body?

Vicky Shilling:               

In all honesty, it was no conversations at home. It was only what we were getting at school. So the very basic biology class in key stage three, it was that Tampax talk that I remember them coming in and kind of explaining and showing and having overhead projector or whatever it was in my day in the nineties explanation. And then I do remember one other PSHE lesson, kind of more general studies class with a few other girls. That was probably a bit later, probably by the time I was in year 10, year 11, age 15, 16. But that was very much all around pregnancy, not getting pregnant, that being the emphasis and the core of the discussion and breakouts and things. So any other learning that I was doing was literally reading the packet that was in the box of Tampax or reading the packet with that. I mean, again, internet early days, I certainly wouldn’t have thought to Google search or find anything else. Magazines maybe Sugar magazine and things like that. But I don’t remember specifically, but that probably would’ve been my only other real contact with information about my period.

Le’Nise Brothers:          

It’s so interesting because when I ask this question and I kind of dig a little bit deeper, I definitely see generational divides where it was conversations with friends or parents or the school or teen magazines where I remember reading about it and we had Seventeen and YM and there was this magazine called Sassy, and that’s where I got a lot of information from. Whereas if I speak to anyone who’s probably, I guess about under 30 now, yeah, they got on the internet, started Googling. Yeah, so definitely see generational differences. But I wonder from then, what was your experience of your period? You said your first one was quite light, and then how was it as you went further into your menstruating years?

Vicky Shilling:                

Yeah, so I mean this is going to be a horror story for a nutritional therapist. I don’t really remember. I think I had about three or four periods after that first one. And then I was put on the hormonal pill by the time I was 14, and that’s because I was experiencing really bad acne. I tried a lot of the kind of topical creams and stuff, been back and forth to the GP and that was the kind of last resort that the GP said, right, why don’t you go on the pill? And it was really affecting my confidence. And so I had heard that that was a fairly effective method of controlling my acne. And so I honestly don’t think I had my own cycle for even six months before I was put on the pill and then it was withdrawal bleeds. It wasn’t actually a real period for 20 years after that.

Le’Nise Brothers:         

20 years, yeah. Wow, okay. Wow. So six months with three or four periods, 20 years of withdrawal bleeds. And just so anyone’s listening who’s like, well, I thought you got your period on your pill. You don’t actually get a period, you just get a withdrawal bleed, which is withdrawal from the hormones in the pill. And then why did you end up coming off the pill?

Vicky Shilling:                

Yeah, so do you know what I understood the term withdrawal because I must’ve had that conversation with my mum. To be fair to her, that was one thing she told me. She said, it’s not a period, it’s a withdrawal bleed. And at least there was that amount of conversation and knowledge with being on the pill. I changed pill when I was at university because I realized the one that I’d been put on for the acne was obviously extremely strong and it was really affecting my mood. I was at university, I was really noticing very low mood several times a week, really had to work with the doctor to try and get it changed, but did change to a different dosage of the kind of balance of the hormones. And it was night and day, like complete transformation in how I felt about myself and those kind of low moods and then continued on. And to be honest, the only reason I came off it was family planning, was starting to think, okay, I’m hearing and knowing that actually I need to not be on the pill to get pregnant obviously, and that it would potentially given the length of time that I’d been on the pill, take quite a while to rebalance everything to let my body actually have and find its own natural rhythm and cycle. And so that was the first time I decided to come off it for any length of time.

Le’Nise Brothers:          

Wow. Okay. So when you came off the pill, can you talk a little bit about what you learned about yourself? Any changes that you saw in yourself, personality relating to others, your now husband, your libido? Can you talk a little bit about that?

Vicky Shilling:                We always joked that I was going to come off it and become a different person. There was a lot I’d have that conversation with him and say, look, I’ve been on this for a really long time. I don’t really know who I am without it. There’s lots of aspects that I might not be able to feel as in control of or that I just won’t be familiar with. I don’t think it affected me anywhere near as much as I thought it might. I don’t think I went through those. He started to observe and be able to reflect back to me, your period’s coming when I would have really, really that really wobbly moment before. And he was always right, dam it a couple of days after it would come, so it could actually tune into that a little bit more, actually feeling like that was a response to what was going on hormonally.

Libido’s a massive one on the pill. It’s just nowhere near as much and yet actually dreaming about it and actually wanting sex a lot more when you’re off. It was again a complete game changer of like, oh wow, I’m actually connected with what I want and my desires and my body rather than that all being suppressed. I always wondered around weight and weight gain and appetite and things again, which I’d kind of heard and read, that might be one of the knock on effects. I don’t think that made a huge amount of difference to me actually whether I was on it or off it. But yeah, it just felt nice to actually be connected with what was actually going on in my body and not be controlling it and to just really watch and observe and be like, the body’s just amazing. And I was very lucky. I know for some people it takes a long time to get their period back. That’s why I came off it and wanted to make sure I gave myself enough time. But I was very lucky it came back and became quite regular fairly quickly, thank goodness, after all the time I’d been on the pill.

Le’Nise Brothers:          

And did you notice if you started ovulating again quite quickly?

Vicky Shilling:                

Yeah, absolutely. And again, obviously like we said, 20 years later there’s all this information, there’s apps, there’s amazing people like you that, there’s videos I can watch, there’s podcasts I can listen to. Actually I do remember because my sister and I were trying for babies and getting, were pregnant at the same time, talking about the consistency of the cervical fluid and stuff like that and being like, the body is amazing. This is absolutely incredible that you can literally see it doing this job and readying itself and knowing what’s going on. So yes, absolutely, I was aware of that and trying to track as much as I could in my very basic way, what was going on.

Le’Nise Brothers:          

And what’s your relationship with your period now?

Vicky Shilling:                

Well, I think obviously we were lucky we got pregnant with our daughter very quickly and I did go back on birth control after that. I wanted to not get pregnant straight away because it was a lot. And then coming back again to having my period again once we came off that birth control. For me it’s just nice knowing that that is all ticking and all going along. I love where I’ve heard people like you and others saying it’s that fourth vital sign that it’s that real sign of your own health and how you’re looking after yourself. And I’m someone that’s always been interested in what I’m eating and I’m trying to get to the gym and move and look after myself. And just knowing that that’s another indicator has been really lovely to be able to tune into.

Le’Nise Brothers:         

And just thinking about the business side of it, because something I talk a lot about in my work is how the hormonal changes that we experience across our cycle can have an impact on the way that we work. And we will segue into talking about the work you do, but just before we do that, did you notice any effect on you as an entrepreneur?

Vicky Shilling:                

Yeah, I think I’m aware that other people are very tuned into this and a lot more than I am in the sense of planning when they’re launching or when they’ll record things, when they’re feeling gregarious and outgoing and able to be very visible and times where they know there is no point I’m going to have all the wobbles and want to hide under the duvet instead. I think partly my personality and the kind of drive that I have and partly having been on the pill and not kind of ironed that out or just driven over any of that kind of tuning into how I was feeling. I probably don’t listen to it as much as other people do and maybe as much as I should, but I think I’m a lot more compassionate and understanding of myself. I think definitely in my business over the last few years, I think globally, especially with the amount of women going into their own businesses, setting up solopreneur businesses, there is slowly this shift away from masculine energy, keep going, hustle, hustle, hustle, push, push, push, do that like a robot 365 days a year, two business is cyclical.

We are cyclical. Things go up and things go down. There are seasons in our business and in our bodies and in our lives and in the world and that is okay and really embracing that as part of being a business owner rather than, oh, I’m a failure if I don’t feel like doing that today or if I haven’t got the energy for it or if I’m feeling a bit emotional and overwhelmed or why could I do it last week, but not today. So just having a lot more curiosity and compassion I think for that being the way it is.

Le’Nise Brothers:          

How does that then connect with the work that you do? So you are a wellness business mentor. That’s one part of the work that you do and your journey into this work has been quite interesting because you had your own health issue, you had IBS, and what’s really interesting is that I see this a lot where someone has a health crisis and then they decide to then become a wellness practitioner in some respect. But you took a different path in that you decided that you were going to help the practitioners. Talk a little bit about that and that the drive that you just mentioned that helped you to move this forward.

Vicky Shilling:                

Yeah, so yeah, you’re right. I started to really explore my own health when I was really struggling with IBS getting really bad symptoms. The job I was doing was very high pressure, lots of travel and I was really struggling with diarrhea, cramping, bloating, all of these things and started to explore that for myself and was just fascinated, felt like I’d unlocked this amazing world. I met a lot of people like nutritional therapists, health coaches, dieticians, other people in this space that were doing incredible things and wanting to be a part of it and not really knowing how. And I did, I shadowed a health coach, I talked to lots of nutritional therapists, looked at all the different courses, and I really thought, is that what I want to do? I was writing my own blog at the time, just sharing my journey, making recipes and sharing on social media.                        

But I don’t know, something just didn’t sit right with that. I was like, no, I’m not really into the science of it massively. It just wasn’t what I wanted to do. And what I slowly realised was the people I was surrounding myself with were all these amazing other practitioners, these people that were doing this training, but the things that they were asking me and the things that I much preferred helping them with and talking to them about was, well, how are you using social media? How did you get your mailing list? How did you start getting paid to do this work or have someone sponsor you on your Instagram or how did you build your website? And I loved helping them with all of that stuff. So there was a part of me that was like, no, no, I want to help people with their health. But the other part of me was like, no, actually what I love helping people with is getting their businesses set up and working and them actually having the ripple effect and using their qualifications and skills. So yeah, I think that’s where the transition and shift, I just had to sit with it and go, actually that’s what I want to do. And trained as a coach instead to help people with that.

Le’Nise Brothers:          

That’s so interesting because it does take a lot of guts to be able to not only identify that you need to go onto a different path, but also to say, I’m going to give up the work that the career that I currently have and set up myself in a completely different field. I don’t think that entrepreneurs, especially those in their thirties and forties and fifties and beyond, get enough credit for being able to say, I’m going to take this risk and set out and do something new. I want to talk about that drive that you mentioned. If someone’s listening to this and thinking that sounds like me. I have this, I’m not satisfied with what I’m currently doing, my current career, I have this idea, but I don’t know how to take this forward. What would you say to them?

Vicky Shilling:                

I think the way that I navigated this was to start exploring it in other ways. So I was working in the music industry and I started the blog, for example. So I found ways to start exploring and playing with it. I didn’t have a clear plan. I didn’t know exactly how I’d make money. I tried different things. I tried working with other people. I did start running retreats and events, kind of wellness things, but I did that all side hustling it, what do you call hobbying it and just really immersing myself in it as much as I could and not putting the pressure on be like, how does this make money or what do I need to do? But really just being curious and soaking up as much as I could and trying to learn as many new skills as I could along the way. So I did, I taught myself how to set up a website and connect with people on social media, went to loads of networking things and talks and met people to just try and see where is my place in all of this and not force it and put pressure on it.

Trust that because a lot of people do say “it’s really brave, you are really courageous. You left the whole music industry after a decade doing that into go into this.” But in the end it kind of felt inevitable. It felt like I can’t keep in the old career. I just don’t have the love and the passion and this is absorbing me completely now. And it didn’t feel like I had a choice. I know that sounds a bit weird, but I was able to shift because I’d done a lot of the kind of stuff on the side and for fun and just exploring. And also, I’m not saying that everyone has to leave the country, but I happened to leave the country and move in with my then boyfriend now husband who lives in Ireland. And actually that gave me a bit of a clean slate and a fresh start to go, do you know what? I’m just going to give this a go when I introduce myself when I land in Ireland, I’m just going to say this is what I do instead. I work in the wellness industry and I’m helping people with this instead. And I’m running retreats, met a nutritional therapist here. We started running retreats and just that became my new identity. I know that’s very difficult to do, but that was how I managed to make that transition.

Le’Nise Brothers:          

I really love that because I think that people are a bit afraid of doing that sort of thing, especially in this day and age where you have all of these different social media platforms where you spend so much time establishing your identity on those platforms. And when you make those shifts, it’s people saying, well, I thought you were this and you having to relabel yourself and people resisting that relabeling and that kind of wanting to keep you in that same box. So being able to say, well no, actually this is what I’m doing now and you can it love or lump it to be frank. 

Vicky Shilling:                

That’s why I always noticed that people really struggle with a platform like LinkedIn because they will have potentially built up quite a reputation. Like I had lots of connections in orchestras and orchestra management and festivals and all these classical music connections and if you Googled my name, that’s what would come up. My LinkedIn profile and all of my music credentials and my music management, my orchestra, orchestral management credentials and slowly it was, you’re right? You have to shift the identity and go, no, in a year’s time you’re going to Google me and find that I am a business coach, that I’ve got this social media profile that that’s who I am and I’m pivoting. And that can feel very vulnerable and confronting for people, cos there’s lots of other people watching then I guess and being like, well, the sort of judgment that comes with it, what are you doing? Why are you leaving? And are you sure you want to do that? And is that a good idea? And all the stuff, the baggage of everyone else’s opinions that comes with it.

Le’Nise Brothers:          

Yeah, and I think part of it is it can be quite confronting for people like, oh well am I doing the right thing? What about the choices that I’ve made? And they start questioning themselves because then that manifests in them exhibiting discomfort in your choice. But what kind of underpins all of this is belief and this idea of belief is quite an interesting one because it’s belief in yourself but also belief in others. And you have also retrained or trained as a self-belief coach and belief figures, features quite a lot in the work you do. Talk a little bit about belief and self-belief and why you think people can struggle with this.

Vicky Shilling:                

I think it was my work. So when I got started with this, it was, oh, people just need to know the practical things. I’ll show them step by step how to set up a mailing list. I’ll show them what to post on social media to get clients, all of these practical things that we think we need to learn and we do. We don’t know what we don’t know if we’re starting our own business and trying to get customers, how do we package ourselves and niche down and all of these things. And the bit that was fascinating me was even when you broke it down, even when you explained it to people, if you explain why you were doing it, most people weren’t doing it still. They just couldn’t take the steps. It didn’t matter how simple you laid it out, how step-by-step, it was they would still find a way to get in their own way.

And that was the bit that started to really fascinate me. And like you say, why I’d come back to self-doubt and self-belief. The difference between someone being given the instructions on how to set up a website and going away and doing it and someone else being given the exact same instructions and never being able to do it is literally self-belief. Which stories and beliefs does one person have that play out that enable them to follow the steps through, deal with any difficulties, ask for help, follow the steps, get it out there, and what are the stories and beliefs being held by someone who doesn’t feel able to follow those steps? And that’s the bit that’s really juicy for me and the bit where we have to be really honest with ourselves to dig a little bit into what’s really going on here, what is holding me back. It’s mostly not that you are incapable or you don’t have the right information because usually the right information’s out there or someone can give you the advice. It’s how am I thinking and believing about taking that step and doing that thing. And for me is that compassionate process of exploring that understanding it, understanding it’s a protective part of ourselves and rewiring it a little bit and putting something else new in there that we can experiment with that’s a bit more helpful and supportive.

Le’Nise Brothers:          

What’s really interesting about this framing as around belief and self-belief is that I find it a much more positive way of thinking about it versus focusing on this idea of imposter syndrome and labeling yourself as having this imposter syndrome. And it is something I talk a lot about in the work I do, just these labels that we give ourselves. When people talk about my PMS and my endometriosis, I really ask my clients not to do that. And I love this idea of focusing on belief, focusing on self-belief. So if someone’s listening and they’re thinking everything you’ve said, I really relate to that, I know exactly what I need to do, but I’m really struggling to just kind of as your book, your book Just Start Now. I’m struggling to just start now. What can they do? What are the kind of basic levers that they can pull to start believing themselves a bit more?

Vicky Shilling:                

Again, from a coaching perspective, I always like to ask a few questions. For me it is what is the step that I want to do? What is the thing that I want to do? Try and break that down into a particular task. Is it, I don’t know, pitch yourself to feature somewhere or run an event or I don’t know, even take a nutritional therapy qualification. What is that step? And then asking yourself, what is it I am afraid is going to happen if I do that thing? Being really honest about what is going on here that it might be a conscious or a subconscious level, but try and get it out. What is it that I’m afraid will happen if I do that thing? And really what underlines that? What is the belief I hold about myself because of that? So for example, if it is I want to get a website put out there, but right now I am worried that I will be judged or what will my neighbors think or what will my mother-in-law think of me?

So the belief there is I’ll put a website out and I’ll be judged. Okay, can we reframe that? Can we find another way? Think about it to look at it from the book that I talk a lot about. Okay, well there’s lots of logical things we can apply to that. Your mother-in-Law perhaps is not your ideal client. She’s not the one that needs to buy from this website. Can we focus instead on my ideal client’s need to see what’s on my website? Can you believe and focus on that? Can you find evidence and take actions to reinforce that as a belief system and as a kind of mantra for yourself instead. So it is, it’s understanding what is the belief that’s holding me back. Finding something that you can get on board with that is a neutral or more positive version of that. And then creating a little experiment to go, how can I test out whether it’s true that people need to see my words in the world or that it would be helpful if I shared this particular piece of content on social media or whatever it is, and keep building that. I’m a big believer in that compound effect. It doesn’t have to be big grand gestures, just teeny tiny little things that prove to you that actually you are needed. Your wanting what you want is possible.

Le’Nise Brothers:          

I really love that. And it reminds me of, I actually had to do that exact exercise when I first graduated and I did this little training course and they were talking about things that were holding us back from getting more clients or getting the exposure and one of the things, they asked us to raise our hand and give examples and I said, one of the beliefs I had was, and notice I said had, is people don’t care what I have to say. People aren’t interested in what I have to say. And I know that might feel amazing to hear me say that now, considering I have a podcast, I’ve written a book, I have fairly large social media platforms, but that was something that I really held deeply at the time and they actually did this live coaching exercise where they helped me kind of unpick this belief that was holding me back and think, why do you think that, what would happen if you just did it anyway? And I think that’s really powerful, being able to kind of unpick, well, what is it that I believe and is it really true? Is this really true?

Vicky Shilling:                

What else could be true is one of my favorite versions that like, yes, you’re right, Le’Nise. One version is that nobody wants to hear anything that you have to say. Please stop saying it. No one cares. You’re right. Maybe that’s true. What else could be true instead that might be more helpful to believe, just say with something else instead.

Le’Nise Brothers:          

Yeah, it’s incredible these beliefs that we have, these limiting beliefs to use, the kind of coaching vernacular that we can have that can hold us back. And this kind of takes us quite nicely into something that you’ve got coming up, which is the Business Backed by Belief Summit. So belief again that fantastic word. Tell us more about this summit and tell us how listeners can get involved.

Vicky Shilling:                

Yeah, so the whole premise is exactly like I’ve been saying to you. It is that for four or five years teaching all the practical things, the bit that I realise is the problem is that people don’t believe in themselves. They don’t believe they’re good enough, they don’t believe that anyone wants to listen to what they have to say, like the old version of you. They don’t believe they’ve priced it correctly, they don’t believe it’s possible, they can get a book deal, all of those things. They don’t have the belief in themselves. And so that’s what the summit is all about, bringing together, particularly for health and wellness professionals, bringing other health and wellness professionals together and business experts who can talk and normalise all of those self-doubt things, thoughts and worries, the fears that we have, the stories that we tell ourselves that we have all experienced, and then some of those experts really giving their insight into how do they shift it, how do they change it?

What mantras, affirmations, belief systems do they now have to more better support taking action and moving forward? Because it doesn’t matter what we do, we could do all of those things, but without actually the right belief systems and supportive belief systems in the background, we won’t get the outcomes and the results that we want or we won’t feel able to take the action at all, even though it’s staring us in their face sometimes. So that’s what it’s all about. Three day free event, 20 speakers, all speaking to different aspects of where you might experience self-doubt in your business and how to go even 1% up on your self-belief.

Le’Nise Brothers:          

Fantastic. I think this will help so many people and if you’re listening, there will be a code that I will put in my links that you’ll see to get access to get all of the information that Vicky has shared. You definitely don’t want to miss this summit. Tell us one thought that you’d like to leave listeners with today.

Vicky Shilling:                

One thought for me with my work, it’s always, it’s the just start now message. If there’s something that you want to do in any realm of your life, be it business or personal, is to take one step to do something small to just start now, because I just think the power is amazing in reinforcing and creating evidence for yourself of what is possible for you. So moving out of that paralysis or thinking about it or dreaming about it or leaving it in your head, taking one tangible small step towards what it is you want to do and just sit and feel what that brings for you. Because I think that for me is where the ball starts rolling and you can move towards what you want to achieve.

Le’Nise Brothers:          

Fantastic. I love that you’ve inspired me because today I’ve been dealing with a few blocks on things and you’ve inspired me to just start now, get going. Where can people find you?

Vicky Shilling:                

My website, best place to come. So vickyshilling.com. I mostly hang out on Instagram, so I’m vicky.shilling. No, very happy to chat there and you can hear all about the summit over there as well if you find me before it happens in June. Yeah. 

Le’Nise Brothers:          

Right. Fantastic. Thank you so much for coming on the show.

Vicky Shilling:                

Pleasure. Thank you.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 83, Maya Oppenheim: Find A Way To Shine A Light On Injustice

My guest on today’s episode of Period Story is Maya Oppenheim, the Women’s Correspondent at the Independent, which is the only role like this at a UK news outlet. 

In this episode, Maya shares: 

  • How she pitched and landed her role as the first Women’s Correspondent at a UK news outlet, where she writes stories from a women’s and gender angle 
  • The range of topics she covers in this role, including domestic abuse, abortion rights, childcare, poverty, periods, the criminal justice system 
  • The story she’s most proud of – ‘The Murky Online World of Andrew T*te and Pick Up Artists’ and the troubling, misogynistic content she uncovered in her investigation 
  • The trolling she receives online and the topics that tend to result in the most angry responses
  • The inspiration for her first book, The Pocket Guide To The Patriarchy 
  • And of course, the story of her first period

Maya says that the way that each person chooses to shine a light on injustice will be different, but it’s important, whatever it is that you want to do, to do something to try to make the world a better place.

Thank you, Maya!

Get in touch with Maya:

Instagram

Twitter

Her book – The Pocket Guide To The Patriarchy


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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise Brothers:

Thank you so much for coming onto the show today, Maya. I want to get into the question that I ask all of my guests, which is tell us the story of your very first period.

Maya Oppenheim:

Hi. It’s great to be here and it’s such a good idea for a podcast, really simple but powerful format. So my first period, I feel like it’s the day that you wait for and then it finally comes. And almost like with a lot of things in life, somehow the waiting for it and the apprehensiveness and nervousness is almost worse than the actual event itself. And it came when I was 12, and I remember I really wasn’t expecting it. I think because of the fact that I’d been carrying around pads in my bag while I was going to secondary school. I always just thought it will come when I’m at secondary school. That was the kind of like, well, that would be the worst case scenario. And that was the situation that I was prepared for. But I wasn’t at school. I was in Essex at a caravan that I used to go to as a kid with my parents and my sister and I had other family friends that went there. Actually, I wasn’t with my parents, and I think that did upset me. I was with my dad’s ex-wife, which that sounds more dramatic than it was. They’re still very close friends.

So I was with her and her daughter and my sister. And I remember I was in my night dress, orange night dress that was a hand me down from my mum’s very nice night dress with embroidered pears on it. And I remember my sister noticing a relatively big patch of blood on my night dress, and I hadn’t noticed it. And I remember once she noticed that, I thought, oh, it must be my period. And I think I was shocked that I wasn’t in pain, not because I necessarily thought that periods would be painful, but I guess there was the kind of unknowing, uncertain nature of them. And I don’t think I had had a lot of education on what periods really were. I definitely didn’t understand the biology of them, no way. And so I just associated blood with pain, like a lot of us do.

So I think I do remember being surprised I wasn’t in pain. I did have a little cry. I was upset, not devastated, but I think I was a bit shocked and unsettled. And then it wasn’t a major thing, but it must’ve been a bit of something because I remember my grandparents lived, they’re not alive anymore, but they lived in Essex, they lived in Chelmsford. And they drove down to get me, and then they took me back home to my parents in Hackney. Dalston And yeah, I remember my mum saying, have a shower, a normal response. And I remember being scared to get into the shower due to thinking, oh God, it’s all going to pour out of me all this blood, like a power shower, and I’m really scared to see all this blood and I don’t want to make the bath dirty. So yeah, that does show a real lack of understanding of periods. So yeah, I would say I was unsettled by the whole thing, probably due to a lack of education about periods at secondary school.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And when you then saw your parents after your grandparents collected you, what did they say to reassure you and to educate you about what was going on?

Maya Oppenheim:

I think I’d already known quite a bit about what periods were thanks to my parents, especially my mum. So my mum is just, we call her a saint. She’s absolutely lovely. I mean, I’m biased, but people that aren’t related to her and aren’t friends with her also think the same. But yeah, so she was super reassuring and kind and gentle and yeah, I wasn’t kind of like, yeah, I think I was just a bit unsettled because it came earlier than I thought it would. Came at the age of 12. My mum’s had come when she was later. I think periods, from what I’ve heard now come earlier. Is that right?

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah, the average age is going down. In the UK, the average age is about 12, but in South America it’s going down to nine, 10 years old, which is incredibly young.

Maya Oppenheim:

So I think I wasn’t expecting it, basically. And I think somehow being off on holiday at the caravan, it seemed to really come from nowhere. It didn’t feel like the right time for it to come, but in retrospect, actually, it was quite a good time for it to come, much better than being at school.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And so you were in year eight? Year seven.

Maya Oppenheim:

Year Eight. Yeah, you’re right. Year eight, so 12.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Okay. So you had thought, but what’s interesting is that you were carrying the pads around in your bag almost in anticipation, even though you didn’t think it was going to come until you were in year nine or so.

Maya Oppenheim:

Yeah, no, that is interesting. I guess that must have been my mum’s input probably. I’d imagine wanting me to be prepared. I mean, it’s a good idea, I think, to have them, because asking teachers for that kind for that kind of thing at the secondary school I went to, and a lot of others, it would’ve been absolutely mortifying. And that’s as much to do with how you feel yourself as a child and your own kind of probably internalised shame and taboo and stigma, which obviously massively surrounds periods still does now and did so way more back then. So I think, yeah, it would’ve been mortifying for me as an awkward teenager to ask a teacher for a pad.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And then after your first period, what was your experience of your period as you went into your teenage years?

Maya Oppenheim:

I was lucky that they weren’t very painful. I’ve never had particularly painful periods. Never. I haven’t had, feel very fortunate. And what was it like? I’d say the main problems were just the bullying about periods in my secondary school. I went to a mixed comprehensive state school in Hackney. There was quite a lot of bullying in the school. It’s definitely, the schools changed a lot now to what it was like back then. You could say the school’s almost been gentrified as the area’s changed. And yeah, it was like, I remember PE was a nightmare. I used to be so anxious if I was on my period in the changing rooms, but I was also anxious even if I wasn’t on my period. And it was just the constant fear of leaking in school. And I remember I’d have these white Mackenzie tracksuits I always used to wear, and I was just mortified that I was going to leak.

And it wasn’t just me. I remember all the girls would be checking each other to see if they had leaked. And it was just, yeah, this constant unshakable fear that you were going to leak even when you weren’t on your period, was it going to spontaneously arrive? And I remember in science lessons, having my tampons burned in the Bunsen burners, I remember going to the toilet and coming back once, and I’m sure it happened more than once actually. And having sanitary, the sticky bits from sanitary pads, having them stuck around the science lab. So yeah, it felt like there was a lot of bullying related to periods.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Was it from other girls or was it from the boys or both?

Maya Oppenheim:

It was more the boys, but also the girls. But I think with what I’m just saying now about the pads and the burning of the tampons and the Bunsen burners, that was the boys.

Le’Nise Brothers:

So they would go through your bag and then see if you had tampons or pads in there and then burn the tampons?

Maya Oppenheim:

Yeah, I mean, I think the burning only happened once, but I think the sticking of the pads happened a couple of times. I can’t remember exactly the exact logistics and details because it was a long time ago, and I’ve probably tried to block it out.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah. And did that bullying around periods, did it affect, you mentioned anxiety and feeling anxious even when you weren’t on your period. Did that affect your kind of relationship with your period and your body for a while?

Maya Oppenheim:

I’d say luckily, it probably eased off when I was out of the secondary school environment. As soon as I’d got to sixth form, it kind of went. I wouldn’t say it was something that has been a long enduring and inescapable feature of my life, luckily, I think though, yeah, it was. But yeah, periods were very much something to be hidden. I remember I’d have my period items, I’d keep them in my pencil case. And then I think what was really stressful was when you wanted to go to the toilet and you wanted to take a pad with you and you’d have to hide it, or you’d put a tampon up your sleeve and rush to the toilet, and you wouldn’t want teachers to see it. You wouldn’t want other pupils to see it. So yeah, it was always trying to hide this kind of inescapable, biological function.

Le’Nise Brothers:

It must be so interesting for you now seeing these campaigns like Bloody Good Period had a campaign, I think last year, getting people to stop hiding their tampon up, and pads, up their sleeves knowing what you went through when you were in school.

Maya Oppenheim:

Yeah, I know. It is great that there’s actually been so much movement on this issue and that there has periods, the whole conversation around periods looks very different than it did half a decade ago, let alone a decade ago, even bigger difference.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah. And what’s your relationship with your period now?

Maya Oppenheim:

I mean, I don’t have periods now. I don’t have periods since I went on the contraceptive pill after having an abortion in January 2022. And so yeah, the contraceptive pill that I’m on, which is great. I found it to be yes, super, super good for me, no side effects really. And the Desogestrel pill. And yeah, that’s just stopped my period, so I haven’t had periods for a while. But yeah, before that, I would say I was never someone that had massive or really any kind of particularly bad physical symptoms from periods, a little bit of cramps, a little bit of backache, but nothing too bad and nothing really stopping me from living my life. But I definitely was suffering from premenstrual stress, premenstrual tension. I never know what the right term for it is. I have had that at other stages of my life, and probably when I was younger, not really known what it was, and I wish I’d been better educated on it. But for me as a kid growing up, luckily I came from a very open house. My parents are very open people, so I was educated by periods by them, but I don’t remember having much education about periods in primary school or secondary school. And if I did, it didn’t really seem to stick in my head much.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Okay. So now you have a really, really interesting role. So you are the Woman’s Correspondent at The Independent, which is the only role like this in a UK news outlet. Is that, can you talk a little bit more about the role and how you got this title and the kind of issues that you tend to focus on?

Maya Oppenheim:

Yeah, sure. So yeah, I work as the Women’s Correspondent. I’m a journalist at The Independent. I pitched them this role after working as a general news reporter. Then before that I was on the People section that was like the Indy’s take on celebrity news, but very different kind of style to other newspapers, kind of brand of showbiz people reporting. But then, yeah, this role of Women’s Correspondent, it was amazing to have them create it for me after I pitched it to them. Yeah, so I’ve been in the role since 2018. I write news stories, exclusives, interviews, features, exploring national news, social policy, global stories from a women’s angle, from a gender angle. Main areas I focus on would be domestic abuse, sexual violence, abortion rights, sex work rights, health, childcare, poverty, prisons, wider criminal justice system stories, human rights, yeah, loads of things. It’s a really broad beat. And yeah, that’s one of the many things that yeah, I like about it.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Do you find that certain topics tend to come up quite frequently in your reporting? Or when you get articles given to you to write? Are there themes that are just you see constantly?

Maya Oppenheim:

Yeah, that’s a good question. I mean, just to say, a lot of the articles I write, they aren’t given to me to write. It’s my idea, and I am involved with it from the very earliest stages of idea formulation. I’ll pitch the idea to an editor. Obviously, sometimes they do ask me to write, they ask me to write things, or there’s major stories that break in the news agenda. But yeah, same things coming up. Yeah, I mean, I’m not sure if I totally understand your question. I would say all those issues I just listed, they come up time and time again, and those are the areas that I feel really passionate about writing about.

Le’Nise Brothers:

So you mentioned domestic abuse and violence against women’s and women and girls, and you’ve covered Andrew Tate quite extensively. Can you talk a little bit about Andrew Tate and your investigation into him for people who are listening who may not be familiar with him, and share some of the key insights that you learned from your investigation.

Maya Oppenheim:

So for people that maybe don’t know who Andrew Tate is, or they see his name bandied around and they’re never quite sure who he is. So he’s a misogynistic influencer. He’s a former kickboxing world champion, turned kind of self-avowed success coach. And yeah, I think I’ve done a lot of stories about Andrew Tate over the years. So it’s kind of hard to know where to start in a way. But yeah, a story I did that probably would be the one that I’m most proud of, the headline was ‘The murky online world of Andrew Tate and pick up artists’. So for people that don’t know what a pickup artist is, it’s a lot darker and more sinister than I feel like it sounds like on the tin. So pick up artists. So yeah, it’s a term that’s kind of linked to an industry where men are basically trying to cajole women into sleeping with them, whether that’s via charm and compliments or mind games, but then also coercion and harassment. So yeah, this investigation, it uncovered these videos of Andrew Tate and his brother Tristan, and it kind of shows their former careers as pickup artists and some of the mad stuff that they were saying on these videos. I don’t know, I can give you some examples.

So basically, yeah, I found that for sums that could run into hundreds of pounds, users were encouraged to sign up for access to the brothers content. So it’s, for instance, a Tate webcam program provides a “PhD course”, and that was the name of the program, Tate Webcam program to, to teach you how to obtain and retain unlimited beautiful women in this course will teach you how to turn them into cold, hard cash. Other courses, advertisers being run by Andrew Tate, teach participants “how to lie as well as” unquote “how to intimidate”, and then “how to get your girl on lockdown”, “how to have multiple women who are all loyal to you”. This investigation was from July last year. I’m not sure if the videos are still on nine, but I think, yeah, I’ll give you an example of what Tristan younger brother was saying because this stuff is absolutely mad.

So videos of Tristan Tate show him teaching picky that he basically boasts about being “one of the baddest playboys in the world” and “an elite girl level guy”. He calls himself. He also talks about how to sleep with virgins. In one clip he explains, he has multiple girlfriends who are all exclusive to him. He brags about women who, these are his words verbatim, who cry their eyes out if I stop speaking to them in his own words, he says, that is power, the influencer. He also explains how he looks for girlfriends who leaves their phone unlocked and do not mind if he looks at the device as well as someone he says, who never goes out the room to take a phone call, cleans up my house and cooks my meals. And then he says, I’m reading his quote. “If those things are adding up, then I’ll usually turn it into something serious. I’ll tell her she’s exclusively with me”. He also says “he will never trust a woman like I will trust a man” also saying that while “he knows his girlfriends, do not cheat on him, you have to test their loyalty”. And he suggests that you do this by saying, “Hey, baby, give me your phone. Unlock it. I want to do something. Don’t do shit. Take a selfie and give it back to her”. So yeah, I just found it all incredibly disturbing and depressing.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah, what’s really wild about all of this is how it, and I’m not a Luddite by any means. I’m not one of these people that is very reactionary about TikTok and Instagram, but how these messages, these video clips that other, their followers were sharing on TikTok spread like wildfire. And the TikTok algorithm kind of fed into that and was just showing these videos to very impressionable young boys especially. 

Then seeing the impact of this in schools, it’s, I have a 10-year-old son, and I’ve had to have conversations with him about Andrew Tate and the messages that him and his brother are sharing about women, because some of his friends talk about Andrew Tate. It’s wild at 10 years old hearing this kind of stuff. 

Maya Oppenheim:

Yeah, God, it’s shocking, isn’t it? And really worrying. These are very impressionable. Kids are very, very receptive. There’s a lot of bullying that goes on in schools and probably young teenage boys that do a lot of vile things, but then maybe grow up, and some of them hopefully grow out of it. Some of them sadly do not. So I guess it’s just the fact that he’s getting this massive influence on such young boys. I think it’s just the opulent jets and yachts and the luxury lifestyle. So then that can kind of serve as a gateway to getting people hooked on more dangerous, more extreme, more far right, heavily misogynistic content. And that some people, they just see a clip of him waffling on about being successful and all of this, and it kind of looks far more benign and innocuous than it is. And then sometimes I’ll speak to people who, in my personal life and stuff, I’ve encountered people who like him, but to be fair to them, it’s because it’s naive and idiotic of them to be lured in by him. But it’s also because, well, they claim to have only watched his success videos and they like what he says about success, and they haven’t seen the other stuff.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah, I think it really speaks to the importance of media literacy and being able to really interrogate the messages that you’re seeing, and also the importance of this teaching this in schools understanding when someone says something, you don’t just accept it at face value, you need to do you own research. And especially with messages like this, what they’re saying about women and how women and girls need to be treated, it’s absolutely wild. It’s very disturbing.

Maya Oppenheim:

Definitely. I think what’s hard about it is sometimes people, there’s so much bad and dark stuff that Andrew Tate has said about women and gender relationships on the internet. You can just see it’s all there. And yet then people will kind of deny that he’s misogynist. And it’s like these comments that he’s made, they’re not veiled. They’re out and open and brazen and plain for all to see. So then you just think, yeah, I’m kind of coming against someone who it seems like they’re quite delusional. They are just defending him till the end of the earth.

Le’Nise Brothers:

This actually leads really nicely into my next question, which is about your first book, called The Pocket Guide to the Patriarchy: The Truth About Misogyny And How It Affects Us All, it came out last year, and it’s such an interesting title, and the topics that you uncover in the book are really interesting. Can you just talk a little bit about why you wanted to write about this topic?

Maya Oppenheim:

Yeah, sure. So just to say that, yeah, I don’t know, you know, but the book’s got a chapter in there about periods, so that’s one of, yeah, 21 chapters. Yeah, sorry, 22. The idea for the book was very much informed by the journalism I do day in, day out in this role as Women’s Correspondent, feeling like I was encountering friends, family, friends, acquaintances, and just feeling even very well-informed, kind of curious, engaged people. I felt like actually they weren’t aware of just quite how virulent misogyny was quite, how widespread mainstream, quite how the rise, the wider rise of the far right was feeding into misogyny, becoming more kind of acceptable and normalized and legitimized, and just feeling like there’s just so many kind of facts and figures and examples out there that people need to be aware of.

So the book, yeah, it’s got 22 chapters. I won’t list them all, but just to give you a vague sense, it is chapter and abortion, domestic abuse periods, like I said, gender pay gap, men in the far right, childcare policing, but yeah, mental health, I won’t list them all. And then the last chapter on feminist icons to galvanize you, another chapter on intersectional feminism. So I guess it was just kind of the issues that felt most important to me, closest to my heart, obviously then it’s no means exhaustive, and there’ll be other issues in there that I wasn’t able to include in the 200 pages.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And what sort of reaction have you got from the book? Because when you talk about misogyny and the patriarchy, those words can be quite loaded for some people, and they can have quite a strong reaction to, oh, that’s a misogynistic, well, what do you mean by that? And they can take it as a personal attack. So can you just talk about the reaction that you’ve had to the book?

Maya Oppenheim:

Yeah, totally. To be honest, it’s been really positive. People have been really positive about it. I’ve had endorsements from Olivia Colman, the actor, from Angela Rayner, the deputy leader of the Labour Party, and lots of others. And yeah, it’s been overwhelmingly positive. And I haven’t actually, I have had trolling about it online, but I’m used to it trolling, and it actually, yeah, it hasn’t been particularly bad.

Le’Nise Brothers:

So can you say a bit more about trolling, because being the Woman’s Correspondent at the Independent and the topics that you cover and the way that say platform like Twitter or X is now, do you find that trolling is more prevalent on certain topics that you write about? Or is it just in general?

Maya Oppenheim:

Abortion stories you get anti-abortion ideologues trolling you, that would be something which seems to invoke kind of angry responses from people other particularly, I’m trying to think what other issues.

Domestic abuse? I would say those are the first two that spring to mind.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Okay. That’s interesting. As in domestic abuse, people saying, oh, it’s not that big of an issue, or denying it, or she deserves it or they deserve it, or that sort of thing?

Maya Oppenheim:

So you’ll get things like, I also think sexual violence, and that wouldn’t be, I just thought I didn’t say that issue. It wouldn’t be necessarily that they’re trolling me. But I think those are kind of issues which seem to, and I have had trolling around those issues when I’ve written about them, but it’s more just, it just seems to invoke with sexual violence, people will say things like, oh, this victim, let’s say an anonymous victim has come forward to the media to speak out about celebrity, and it’s 10 years later. And why didn’t she go to the fact basically that she didn’t go to the police in the first place? You often see that’s used to undermine and discredit their allegations. And then in terms of trolling, when I’ve written about domestic abuse, you get a lot of whataboutism from people and just people saying, actually, people just sending me the mad tweets with the most completely false, erroneous data, which is basically trying to say that there’s an epidemic of against men being perpetrated against women, and they’re just sending you completely wrong data.

And they’re just trying to kind of say, challenge the fact that, yeah, we know in this country, let’s say in England and Wales, between two and three women are killed by a former or current partner on average every single week, and they’re just trying to push, it’s like they’ve got a completely warped view of reality, and their grip on reality is very, very loose. It’s like they’re living in a different world where men are the massive victims when it comes to domestic abuse and sexual violence. That’s essentially what they think. And I don’t even want to talk more about what they think because some of it is just so mad and ludicrous.

Le’Nise Brothers:

So he’s from, what’s his name, Stephen Bear from, was he Geordie Shore or some reality TV show?

Maya Oppenheim:

Yeah, he got released from prison this week, didn’t he?

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah. And I happened to see that his name was trending on Twitter, and then I just clicked into it. And a lot of the tweets were very kind of like, he should have served more time. What he did was horrible. But then some of the tweets I was seeing was just explaining away what he did and saying, oh, she deserved it. And all of this just really wild statements.

Maya Oppenheim:

That doesn’t shock me because of the role that I’m in. So I’m aware of how commonly held a lot of misogynistic views are, but I do think that would shock a lot of people. I think people do live in their own respective echo chambers and probably have a bit of a kind of blind eye and oblivious to other people’s views. And I think, yeah, and to go back to Andrew Tate, that’s the thing, the kind of sentiment of the views that Tate is pushing and espousing. They’re not new. Lots of men hold similar views like that, but he’s someone who’s built up a massive platform to share those views.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And do you think that when you have someone like him with all these kind of trappings of, so-called success saying these things, it gives more of a permission for men to say these things out loud, things that they may have just been thinking?

Maya Oppenheim:

Definitely, a hundred percent. Not only does it kind of make these views more prevalent, because lots of people are absorbing his opinions and potentially adopting them as their own, they’re also being indoctrinated and brainwashed by him. You could say he’s indoctrinated a whole generation of young men. Some people might say that was too far, but he’s definitely had a strong influence and a lot of young men out there. And yeah, he’s one of the most Googled people in the world, which I guess that is a bit of a misnomer in the sense that a lot of people will be Googling him, not because they agree with him, but I do think there’s no two ways about it. He’s got a dedicated, loyal fan base who love him.

Le’Nise Brothers:

So you released your book last year, your first book. What have you got coming up, coming up next? More work with The Independent? Are you going to be writing another book? What else do you have going on?

Maya Oppenheim:

I guess I’m just enjoying not having to work to do this book. I had to do the book on top of my job as the Women’s Correspondent, and that’s already a labour- intensive job that was, so the book was written weekends, late nights, early mornings type thing. So no plan for another book at present. Would love to do one in the future, would love to write some creative writing, some fiction, not just nonfiction. Yeah, I’m just focusing on my role at the Independent and definitely got some other projects in the pipeline. But yeah, nothing’s set in stone yet. Nothing that I can talk about yet. 

Le’Nise Brothers:

So given all the work that you do and the insights that you gain from your reporting, is there any one thought that you want to leave listeners with maybe about the issues that you cover or patriarchy or your book? Anything?

Maya Oppenheim:

One last thing. I guess. Just whatever, when I’m not going to tell you to you do some particular thing or sign a petition or write a book or go out to a protest, because the way that people want to shine a light on injustice or tackle injustice is very different. But yeah, do something, whatever it is that you want to do, it’ll be deeply personal and subjective for people. But yeah, do something to try and make the world a better place. But that sounds so trite and cliched. But yeah, to be honest, that’s not really a phrase I like to use, but it’s the first one that came into my head.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah, I love that. I think that’s really important. Everyone has the capacity to do something. Thank you so much for your time, Maya. It’s been really great talking to you.

Maya Oppenheim:

Lovely to talk to you. Yeah, thank you so much for having me. Have a lovely weekend.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 82, Ellamae Fullalove: You Are Never Alone

My guest on today’s episode of Period Story is Ellamae Fullalove, the poet, founder of the shame shaking community, storytelling and events platform, Va Va Womb and MRKH advocate. 

In this episode, Ellamae shares: 

  • How not getting her first period led to a diagnosis of MRKH, a condition that affects 1 in 5,000, in which the uterus and cervix is underdeveloped or absent and the vagina is shortened
  • How she was diagnosed by the specialist team at Queen Charlotte’s Hospital in London 
  • The emotional side of the diagnosis and how she went from hiding it to helping others with MRKH advocate for themselves 
  • How to get an MRKH diagnosis 
  • How she’ll tackle the fertility side of MRKH, including the surrogacy campaigning work she does 
  • How she and a friend set up Vagina Fest 
  • How poetry and being creative is cathartic for her

Ellamae says that it’s so important to find your people and support network so there’s someone you can confide in. Telling your story is important and empowering. 

Thank you, Ellamae! 

Get in touch with Ellamae:

Instagram

Website


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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise Brothers:

Hi Ellamae, I am so excited to have you on the show today. And I would ordinarily start by asking you to tell us the story of your very first period, but in your case, that isn’t possible. So you have a condition called MRKH and that affects one in 5,000. So I know that there’s not a lot of awareness about this condition. So can you just tell us more about the condition and when you realised, actually I haven’t got my period yet, what’s going on?

Ellamae Fullalove:

Yeah, of course. Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited to be on a podcast related to periods because obviously my story’s a little bit different. So yeah, MRKH stands for Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser Syndrome. It’s a bit of a mouthful and I was probably back 14, 15 when I started to, friends started their periods, other people at school were starting their periods and I was a bit confused as to why mine wasn’t starting. I’d developed breasts and had pubic hair and was really hormonal as we all are as young teenagers. And yeah, I think when it got to late 15-16, I was like, this is definitely not something’s going wrong. And obviously sometimes do a bit of self-examination because we’re all really curious as teenagers at what is going on down there. Tried to have different sexual experiences with people when I was quite young and tried to actually have sexual intercourse, which didn’t actually work when I was younger, so that was quite traumatic.

I smile about it now, probably out of awkwardness, but it was very a bit of trauma as a teenager trying to have the experiences that others were having and then not being able to do certain things. And obviously we’re taught in school that sex is penis and vagina and that’s how it goes. So obviously when you’re trying to do that and it’s not working, you’re like, what is going on? So yeah, I went to the GP with my mum. She just said that you’re probably just a late bloomer, which is what loads of people with their MRKH hear, late bloomer or there’s a thing that I Googled because obviously I was furiously Googling that what’s going on with me called, I think it’s imperforate hymen or something. So I thought, oh, maybe my hymen’s really thick and it’s just in the way, which means that your period would be backed up, so it must be that.

It must be that. And then went to the GP and they did a lot of prodding and then they referred me and I think the referral made me immediately think something is bigger than just this. Because if it was normally when I was younger, a GP would figure it all out for you and they’d tell you what’s going on and describe you as something or just say, yes, it’s this. But because they didn’t have the answer, I think I was then going into this, oh God, it’s going to be something worse. And I was googling again and I found conditions where people had internal testicles and quite stigmatised intersex and variations of sex development conditions. And I think at that age when you are, I was a girl and I identified as a girl, I was really dreading about this thing that was about to happen.

I just started looking into loads of different stuff and I never came across MRKH. But yeah, I went to Queen Charlotte’s Hospital and there they diagnosed me with MRKH. So I’d never experienced period blood. I should have said that at the beginning. That’s your question. So I never experienced period blood. And yeah, the condition essentially means that I’ve got, my uterus is completely underdeveloped. So they did an ultrasound, which was quite weird at that age being surrounded by all these pregnant people. And I’m just there waiting to get my body checked out for other reasons. Did an ultrasound and my uterus was, they said it’s like tiny remnants of uterine tissue, but it hadn’t developed fully at all. So I do have ovaries and I have presence of ovaries and I do have female chromosomes, but the vagina, sorry, is shorter, and I’ve said this so many times, I always say it backwards in the wrong way round. My vagina was essentially much shorter than the average persons and it kind of stops at the top. So ovulate, but there’s no period blood in a nutshell.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And how long did it take for you to get this diagnosis?

Ellamae Fullalove:

Everyone had quite different experiences. In my case it was I guess quite a privilege to experience, if you can say that because I went to the GP and they referred me straight away to someone that they knew that was a specialist. So I think for me it was as soon as I’d gone to the GP I was referred and in the right place. Whereas lots of people have lots of different experiences where they’re not listened to or the GP that the particular GP they go to doesn’t understand or they don’t know where to refer them to. So I’ve got friends that took months for them to figure out what it was. Yeah, I did feel like I had quite a different experience in that I went straight to Queen Charlotte’s who have a specialist team for MRKH and a specialist psychologist and gynecologist as well. So they were proper MRKH people. So I was in the right place quite quickly.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And so once you got the diagnosis, can you talk more about the emotional side of having this diagnosis, especially at that age, what you had to reckon with and how you got on the other side of it?

Ellamae Fullalove:

Yeah, so I think like I said, with being at school and we had sex education, everyone has this assumption of how everyone’s bodies will develop and things will happen. And there’s the stigma already for girls and people that have periods when they’re younger. That stigma already exists for us and for health and for those that go through that. So I think it was the opposite side of things where I heard the conversations where everyone was being a bit awkward and being kind of in their own stigma of starting periods, like my friend leaked once on the table at school and I had to help her out. So there was so many experiences and my friend had had so much trauma through having periods as teenagers and boys being like, and that is already traumatic in itself. And I think mine was just the other end of that where I wanted that because I wanted to be normal and I hate that word, but I wanted to at that age, that’s where my mindset went, but I wanted to fit in with everyone else.

I wanted to be part of that conversation because not having them made me feel weird and not part of that and was I a girl for me, periods was something that defined you entering womanhood. And because I didn’t have that, I do a lot of poetry around that, about the fact that we have this milestone thing that says, right, this is when you start being a woman, you grow boobs, you have your period. And not having that made me feel so utterly different. And I think that’s the one word that I’ve now feel empowered by, but being different back when you’re at school. And also there wasn’t much social media. There was no one online talking about it. So after diagnosis, I was obviously searching at MRKH, there was no one there is now on Instagram being really proud of it and talking about it.

And there might have been one or two advocates who I always will admire that went before me in this advocacy world of coming out essentially publicly. But I was sworn to secrecy. I was like, Mum, do not tell anyone my sister, my dad, do not tell anyone. And obviously they can, they wanted to confide in people as well, but I didn’t tell anyone for about eight years of my life, so just complete. So people have quite shocked now because they see me online as this advocate and this really open person that talks about my genitalia online, which is quite rare for people to do. But yeah, I think the secrecy thing for me was just reflects the shame. I was so upset by it. I was actually with my dad when we originally found out, he was a bit upset and he’s not very emotional person either because my mom just went, oh, it’s all right, it’ll just be something that they’ll send you home, it’ll be fine.

So she didn’t realize the extent of what was going to happen and always wished she was there. But yeah, so there was a lot of grief and thinking I had this body that had a womb that would have those experiences of pregnancy and you find out almost when you were a child that you’re not going to carry children. So for me that was a huge thing as well. But then you’ve got the added stigma of this vaginal, missing vagina almost, and the talking about sex that everything was encompassed with fertility, sex vaginas were so young and I think I forget actually how big it was at that age to have, it was one diagnosis, but there was a million different elements and layers to it that were just so complex to deal with. And I know anyone dealing with infertility, it’s shit. I think when you’re younger, you don’t know how to process emotions about fertility because I wasn’t thinking about having babies and all of a sudden I was thinking about I’m going to have babies, I’m 16.

I know some people do, but I just wasn’t in that place to have kids back then. So yeah, it was really, really hard and I cried a lot, had counselling, I was very depressed and down and sad, yeah, when I, sorry, I’m going on, on and on, but when I first told people I was about 23, 24 and it was actually meeting my current partner who I’ve been with for eight years. I told him, he was the first man that I told about this and he just said, oh, it’s alright, you can talk to people about it. And from that point, I started doing this drunken reveal, I haven’t told you, but I’ve got this thing. And as soon as I did that, I was like, oh, the reaction wasn’t judgment, it was just care and compassion. Obviously people didn’t understand, but it was just, oh, I’m so sorry that you had this secret from everyone. And I would cry a lot about the womb element when I was drunk and be like, I can’t carry children. Never ever said anything about the vaginal side of things. And there was a lot of fear around the saying the letters MRKH to anyone because Googling just meant it clickbait content of women with no vaginas. And I didn’t want to just have that as my thing. That was not what I was ready to talk about. But yeah, the rest was history, started going online, talking too much.

Le’Nise Brothers:

No, it’s really interesting going from feeling a lot of shame and hiding it for so long to then being so open and very inspiring and talking about your journey helps empower others. And I wonder what was the catalyst for you? You said your partner was the first person that outside your immediate family that you told. What was the catalyst for you telling him?

Ellamae Fullalove:

It’s a funny story. We were still really close friends and not quite together yet, or we’d kind of been seeing each other for about a month or something really new. And there was a support group for MRKH and we became so close to, I was like, do you want to come with me to this support group? But he didn’t really know what it was. He knew that I couldn’t get pregnant and I just said, I’ve got a fertility thing. And I used to cry about it all the time. Usually after wine and drinking and the tears come out, I’d never go into what it was. I would just say I’ve got an underdeveloped thing. And irreg, I always used to say I had a regular period, so something I missed out was I always pretended to have a period at school, had a big period reveal where I started with this friend.

Anyway, that’s another story, but again, that just comes down to the fitting in and wanting to be part of everyone else’s experience. But yeah, so I just said, do you want to come to the support group with me? But in the car I was like, I need to tell him what it is. It’s going to be really awkward if he’s there trying to learn about it and he actually doesn’t know what this thing is. So I just said again, it’s like this disclosure drama. I was like, oh my god, Chris, I need to tell you the full truth. And he was like, okay, what’s going on? And I just came out of this, I was born with this and just went into the diagnosis. My vagina is underdeveloped and I always use language that I was more comfortable with. So whenever said I was born without, and I used to get really anxious about that term without, because that almost meant that it was a completely missing part of me and I’d always used the term underdeveloped.

And I think that was just a comfort thing where it kind of seemed like it did start, it just didn’t carry on. And it just made me feel a little bit more complete having felt so broken for so long. And then he just went, oh, okay, that’s fine, don’t worry. So okay. I think I built up so much more in me to say this vagina I thing out loud, which is the first time I’ve done it to anyone. But then obviously family and stuff like that. And his reaction was just kind of, I was like, do you not care? Because it was so just blunt in a nice way because he obviously didn’t really know how to react other than to make me know that it was okay to talk about it and that’s fine and it’s normal and people go through it. Yeah. So that was me telling him.

And then that I guess empowered me to talk to more people and almost the coming out with MRKH was like an added level of my condition that people didn’t know about because they’d only heard about the fertility side of things. And for me, the vagina element was so much more stigmatised in that it was very personal. I went through a process of vaginal dilation when I was 16 as well, which was really horrible and not horrible, but in the way that, again, that was why this was such a big secret for me. I essentially made my own vagina through dilators, which are clinical tubes. And you kind go up inside, you start small, similar to people with vaginismus, and then you go up and up and up, you are essentially stretching the vaginal muscle to become something that you can have sex. We’re all taught that sex just means something going inside. So I was so desperate to make one so I could do all the things everyone else could do. So I did that fairly young. Some people wait, I was just like, no, I want to get it done. But that was equally something that I feel so terrified to talk about. And then found Instagram and became an anonymous advocate. So I started posting anonymously about MRKH and the rest was history. So I then became quite a big advocate and started doing events for people with MRKH. But yeah, questions were…

Le’Nise Brothers:

So for people who are listening and maybe someone who’s listening who thinks they might have the condition and is not sure, can you talk a little bit about diagnosis pathway? So as you say, you were extremely fortunate in the fact that you got referred to Queen Charlotte’s, they have a specialist unit there, but that isn’t always going to be the case. So can you talk a little bit more about diagnosis pathways and for someone who does need to advocate for themselves a little bit more than you may have had to?

Ellamae Fullalove:

Definitely. And it’s so important because yeah, there’s so many kind of inequalities in healthcare that people face and this is corners of the world. So my podcast was essentially me trying to understand MRKH in different corners of the world. And I know we’re obviously more talking about the UK at the moment, but there’s people all over. There’s doctors that have got no idea what this is or it’s completely shamed and this is horrible. You need, to those people that have been disowned by families because of MRKH, due to lots of cultural stigma. And through my own podcast, I’ve learned so much about the different experiences and mine did seem very much like GP, hospital, diagnosed, go deal with it and here’s your dilators. Even given dilators was a privilege in itself because people have to buy them themselves. They don’t know what they are, they’re not taught about them.

The doctors are too stigmatised to tell a young person to go and do that to help or the option. So the diagnosis pathway I guess in the UK would be if you haven’t started your periods and you’re worried about this one, it could be many other things. There’s lots of different people that have, don’t have periods for many reasons from premature ovarian insufficiency, POI, which affects young people as well, different hormone issues like eating disorders. There’s so many things that can impact periods. So one is that a lot of people see MKRH as no periods, and I’ve actually had a couple of messages from young people saying, I’ve got no periods, I think I’ve got this. And I think we all do. You go down the Google path of it must be something like this, and we all find something that’s more stigmatised or not worse in that sense because there’s people that do have those lived experiences, but more stigmatised than you think it’s going to be or going to be something that’s on this level of the scale.

But actually it’s just this, but in my case it was MRKH, but again I thought it was a condition called complete androgen insensitivity syndrome, which is another condition. And I’ve got a girl with that in our support circle for MRKH and differences in sex development because she has a very similar experience, chromosomes and internal reproductive system, different. She has internal testes, externally is typically developed as a female, whatever that means, in terms of breasts and pubic hair. But yeah, so I think go to your GP and also bring information with you that you’ve researched yourself. Because I think I’ve been to the GP before later on in life and they’ve said, oh, what’s that? What’s MRKH? And you almost have to keep, so nowadays, even though I got my diagnosis quickly, I do educate a lot of GPs and doctors about MRKH because they’ll always say, when was your last period or this podcast or when is there any, possibly you could be pregnant, but that should all be on the system.

Yeah, they should refer you for an ultrasound or a transvaginal ultrasound if it’s possible. Blood tests as well just for chromosomes and just sort of checking all of that. And there is, like I said, Queen Charlotte’s is like the UK center for MRKH, but that’s only because it’s been quite rare and again, not well known. But I think the more it’s known, there’s different hospitals and I again can’t remember the names of them around London and different areas who are becoming more specialists in that area. So Queen Charlotte’s have a patient advocacy board and I was on that one. It’s just to talk about how they can almost replicate their services. People are coming down from literal Scotland to come to England to go to Queen Charlotte’s just because there’s nowhere else that provides what they provide. So I think their service, there’s a lot of work that the NHS needs to do to replicate that, even though it’s, so the numbers of MRKH is one in 5,000 people born female.

So if that service was replicated, but in just, I don’t know, a smaller scale in different areas, which it’s starting to be, then people will have that same care. But yeah, ultrasound, and then I think getting the diagnosis of MRKH should come with added support. So it needs to be you have got this condition and obviously there’s ways that they can explain it, which can be a little bit less blunt. Some people have had really awful experiences with how they’ve been given the information, just be a letter or just being told and then not talked to afterwards. But from my experience, the care that Queen Charlotte’s provide was you go in, you meet the gynecologist, you meet the nurse. I stayed in the hospital for three nights to do vaginal dilation so they could show me how to use dilators, which was a horrible experience, but made it so supported by them and you know that you are doing it right and you understand what you want out of that situation. And they also provided a psychologist as well. So you could put counseling in through this MRKH, almost like team. So there was a counselor, a specialist nurse, and a gynecologist, a doctor that was there and understood MRKH inside out to put it in, no pun intended.

It’s so hard, isn’t it? Because I think I know how to advocate for myself now having become an advocate for MRKH, but it’s so hard to know what path people are going to go down. I know a young girl who was 15, messaging saying she was going to doctors and they weren’t referring her, and she had to really fight to get referred to Queen Charlotte’s that we were all saying, this is the hospital, this is where you need to get to. And they were just like, no, you can’t go there. We’ve referred you to Guy’s or whatever. And then there they were saying, oh, can you come in for some genetic tests? We’re really interested in this. And just saying stuff that was really unemotional just because they were interested in it. So I think, yeah, it’s just knowing where to go. But I think that’s where the peer support is a huge part of MRKH because finding people that have got your condition near where you live.

So I started a WhatsApp group when I was 24 and it’s got 80 people in there now from people in London that have all got MRKH. And I do Christmas events and we do once a year, we meet for Christmas, we do picnics in the summer. So that’s also been a huge part of it. And that’s where I think people learn from each other because it’s not just me, it’s all of them have got different stories how to advocate for themselves in that situation. And like I said before, I’ve got friends with MRKH that have had lots of added cultural stigma and never ever want to be in pictures, which is completely understandable because I never did either. And I think there’s people that are scared of their condition being known. There’s people that are scared of their own families. There is people that, like I said, because of the inability to carry children and the expectation that they should be carrying children, that’s also a huge thing. So I’ve had an experience where my friends and family have been supported, stigmatised, but they support you and I still feel shame and stigma from it. But there’s a support network and some people don’t have that. So yeah, it’s sad but true.

Le’Nise Brothers:

So can you talk a little bit about the fertility side, because as you say, without having a uterus, you won’t be able to carry a child and you are involved in a campaign, a surrogacy campaign to help close the fertility funding gap. So there’s been a real journey that you’ve gone on in terms of your awareness, your acceptance levels, your advocacy, the fertility side is a big part of it. So can you talk about your personal experience and then talk a bit more about the advocacy part of it?

Ellamae Fullalove:

Yeah, of course. So fertility side of things, there’s, sorry, my brain just went there. So I was thinking about womb transplants, but that’s a whole nother thing going on in the world. But yeah, I’ll talk about the surrogacy side more. So I think growing up I’ve always gone down the kind of route in my own head, the route to parenthood in my own head because I do want to be a mum. Not obviously not all people do, which is fine as well, but I’d love to adopt. I hate the fact that anyone that can’t carry children or that struggle with fertility is always just go and adopt. Just adopt. There’s so many kids that need you. And it’s like, no, those kids need anyone. Anyone that can reproduce and make babies or that’s had their own babies can still adopt. So I think there’s a huge stigma with that. I’ve said stigma about a million times in this podcast. I feel like it’s like my safe word.

There’s a huge thing about people that have struggled with infertility from MRKH to the one in six other things that people go through with infertility, which is also equally sad and horrible and traumatic for people. But yeah, there’s a massive thing where people just say, just go and adopt. And I think there needs to be just more care around the fact that people that want to go down the routes of having their own biological children, it’s not because they’re selfish or in any way self-obsessed almost. I want to have my own babies, but I think it’s just a natural thing to want, and I think that’s okay. So even I’ve gone down this path of feeling weird that I actually just want to get my eggs out and have someone carry our baby just because it’s ours, when actually we could adopt, we could get, I don’t know if things work in there with eggs and Chris’s sperm and all that sort of stuff.

We haven’t even gone down the path of checking that out yet. But we know that if it wasn’t ours biologically that we would still love the baby the same. But I think there is a desire to want to do that because we have got those parts we hope. So I think that’s the first thing I wanted to say is just around a lot of expectation that if you can’t carry, just don’t bother. Or if you can’t have your own babies, just don’t. Don’t worry about it. And I’ve got a lot of gay friends as well, which almost makes me just feel part of that club of we’re all going to have different alternative routes to parenthood. My best friends have just had a baby through sperm donor and my other best friend’s pregnant through that. I’ve got friends that are going to be going down the route of surrogacy or adoption.

So it’s actually quite nice to be in circles where it’s normalised to have a different path. Everyone’s path equally is difficult and wonderful all rolled into one at the same time, but it just makes you feel kind of part of the club. But yeah, so fertility wise, I on a bit of a tangent about that, but the surrogacy side of things, it’s more specifically for people with MRKH, I’m talking about that it’s rarely funded. So when I was younger, I just remember thinking, why do we have to pay thousands of pounds to have babies? So many people have to do that. And I completely understand that there’s so many inequalities in funding, but specifically for MRKH, if we have ovaries and there and we are ovulating, we do ovulate. So my egg gets released and then just disappears, but it still works. And a lot of high percentage of people MRKH can have their own biological children.

Obviously those that can’t for other reasons, but that’s separate to MRKH. Generally ovaries are functioning with the diagnosis and to have a surrogate if you apply for funding and it’s not you carrying the baby, they see it as unethical. So it’s a really strange way of thinking because surrogacy is legal, there’s obviously legality surrounding it. It’s a legal route to parenthood because you can have a surrogate, you can’t pay a surrogate to carry your baby. You cover expenses and you can’t advertise to be a surrogate. And equally you can’t go online and say you need a surrogate because that’s kind of advertising a role and it should just be like a mutual agreement because all of the guidelines and policies, and they’re called Integrated Care Boards who actually make decisions about funding, which used to be clinical Clinical Commissioning Groups, which is CCG. So there’s lots of different places in different corners of the UK that make decisions separately for different people.

So it’s a postcode lottery for everyone that has infertility or that wants to go through IVF or is the same sex couple or et cetera, et cetera. There’s lots of different rules for different policies, but the one rule that seems to be consistent across all the policies across the UK is that they just don’t fund anything if your end result is having a surrogate. I think it’s almost just like a ruled out option for anyone. And I think I only know one or two people that have appealed it and got funding based on the fact that the womb is absent. It’s not something they can help. This doesn’t just affect MRKH obviously. So this is anyone that doesn’t have a womb in a couple or as a single person that wants to have a child. So same sex couples that don’t have a womb between them, men that don’t have a womb between them, single person that has MRKH or something else, someone that’s had a hysterectomy after gynae cancers or endometriosis, can’t carry children.

There’s so many different reasons people may go down the route of surrogacy, which kind of normalises it as well. But all of those people that need to know that surrogacy will be on the map. So there was an amazing campaign, I don’t know if you heard, can’t remember their name now. It was a lesbian couple and they did an amazing campaign to get IUI inequalities spoken about because it’s something that same-sex couples and people that need to go through, IUI, had to self fund, it was almost like a tax on them that because they couldn’t do it naturally, they had to self-fund this part of their journey just because they were, and it’s like that’s discrimination against that particular group of people and that they did an amazing job at getting it looked at. So lots of the policies are now reviewing IUI and starting to help fund parts of it for people before they do it.

But yeah, again with surrogacy, it’s still kind in that sense. It’s not, there’s a government website that lists all of the integrated care boards which decide on funding and have different policies and then it sort of says what parts they fund. So it says IUI can’t remember all the list of things like the words for it, but there’s a list of things on there and surrogacy still isn’t on there. So that’s kind of where we come together. So I teamed up with MRKH Connect, who are the UK MRKH charity and I work with Charlie, who’s the director of that charity. Loads and loads of different things and she sponsors our events and it’s a really nice peer support working group. And Charlie works closely with Queen Charlotte’s Hospital where I was diagnosed. They’ve got a team there who are quite supportive. There’s only so much they can do with the campaign because the NHS a lot of the time can’t really get involved and things like that.

But they can give advice and be a kind of brand support for that as well. So a lot of their support group meetings, surrogacy inequality and funding is spoken about loads. So we just got together and said, let’s do this ages ago I made the survey and never did anything with it. So we’ve kind of redeveloped the survey to learn about different people’s funding experiences, but we’ve now partnered with different people, so Cysters who work with black and BAME women and people from marginalised backgrounds. So they support a lot of people going through reproductive struggles and Neelam is amazing, so we’re working with her on this as well. Endometriosis Foundation have just joined as a partner, hopefully the Eve Appeal, we’re sort of in chat with them about stuff and Fertility Network UK. And then there’s a page called your post DSD. Anyway, loads of different partners, which I’m trying to remember now are not willing to not name anyone.

But yeah, so we’re all just going to, we’re getting together to regularly post about it. The survey is the main thing to understand people’s funding application journeys. The next step will be a petition to try and get, even because got to be realistic about the changes we can make. And I think even just to get surrogacy on the map for the government to recognise in those policies, which aren’t. So we are actually physically going through the policies ourselves, doing the work for them. And then we’re just saying, look, here’s this information, please can you make this known to your resource? But yeah, in a nutshell, that is what we’re doing at the moment. So it’s really exciting and it’s an amazing team to be in. And it’s just started really, we’ve only just kind of launched the survey and the next steps is storytelling and education and webinars and lots of different people involved in that. So yeah, it’s exciting, but from something shit. Yeah, it’s exciting now.

Le’Nise Brothers:

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first diagnosed with MRKH?

Ellamae Fullalove:

Do you know what, I asked this question to everyone that has MRKH, and I don’t know if I’ve ever asked myself because there’s so many good answers that come up. I’m like, oh, that’s amazing. Oh, now I’m like, oh, what I say to myself, so much easier to listen to other people talking and then when it’s yourself, oh God.  

I’d like to tell my younger self that you are never alone because being diagnosed and not wanting to talk about it made me feel so isolated. But there’s so many of us out there that have MRKH, that have pair and love and support to give some of my closest friends now are people that I’ve met that have MRKH and I couldn’t live without them now. And I think everyone that has a diagnosis in any way, shape or form when they’re younger, the one thing to do sooner rather than later, because it took me a while to get into that mode of talking to other people, is find your team, find your people that understand you because you’ll always have close friends and everyone will be going through something.

My brother, for example, was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, which is like a Crohn’s disease almost when he was younger. And it just made me realise that so many different people have different experiences they don’t talk about or they don’t really seek a support network for, and I had friends that had lost parents, for example, when they were younger that were grieving. I had friends that were going through loads of different things when they were younger, but this was just my thing that I’d gone through and amongst other life situations, but just the thing that was really, really in need of support. So just find your support network because as soon as you find that one person that can understand you, not understand you fully, but that can relate to your experience, that’s when you kind of go, ah, it’s like a relief. And I just remember having my first dinner with four of us with MRKH and the openness was something I’d never had before.

Or I could just go, oh, did you go through this? Did you have dilators? Did you have this? Oh my god, what did they say to you? And that feeling of it was excitement over something so traumatising, I can’t even explain it. It was like we had so much to talk about and ask about and there was no stigma in the room around the vagina element, the womb element, of not being able to carry children the grief, it was just, excuse me, my voice. It was just so open. Yeah. So I think my biggest bit of advice would just be find your people and find your support network. Because they are out there and it’s always going to be someone that you can confide in fully and I mean fully, right? Not just talking to any mate. But yeah, that would be my advice.

Le’Nise Brothers:

To switch gears a little bit to talk about your poetry. So you’re a spoken word poet and I had the pleasure of hearing one of your poems at an event we were both at last month. Can you talk a little bit about poetry as a creative medium for you and why that is something that you’ve chosen to pursue?

Ellamae Fullalove:

It’s an interesting one because I’ve only just identified as a poet. I always just used to write stuff and I’ve done a few open mic nights, but that was one of the first times in, because I’ve done it at charity events and smaller events. But that was the first time in a commercial setting that I’ve performed poetry and it was such an amazing experience, but it was so good to be alongside you as well on the panel. But yeah, it’s something that I’ve always enjoyed doing at my granddad’s funeral when I was like, I think it was that 16, 17 or something, I wrote a really long poem and I performed it at the funeral not performed. Do you perform at a funeral anyway, sorry. You spoke at the funeral and that was the first time I’d written something and said it out loud to people and then I stopped doing it for a while.

But I’ve always loved journaling and writing and just scribbling little quotes and making quotes about life and MRKH. And it really started when I started doing the MRKH advocacy, even though it wasn’t poetry, it was creating content that was words that were going to mean something to someone else, like no womb, no less, like all of that womb, no less of this. And just so many little like the insta graphic quotes, and I got so obsessed of writing them and making them and sometimes making them rhyme. And then I published, not published, but posted a blog which had my stoy about MRKH on it. I just find it so cathartic because I find even this sometimes in podcasts, I find it easier to interview other people and not be interviewed. But this I find hard, I find talking about it openly, even though I’ve done it so many times, quite difficult.

But when you’re doing it in a way that’s creative and you’ve written something that’s almost like powerful, like jumpy, rhythm, rhythm of your story, it just flows easier and you’re performing it in a way that’s your vulnerability, not goes out the window, but it’s over here and you can just speak your truth, but through a medium that you’ve written something that you know really like and you’ve got it there and you’ve got your script almost. Yeah, writing poetry, I love writing prompts and I think that I’ve done quite a few writing workshops. So during lockdown, me and Ali Hensley, who’s another writer with MRKH got together and we hosted a Zoom writing workshop every couple of weeks. We had people from from Asia, but India, there’s people from literally corners of the world that have never even spoken about MRKH to anyone coming to these Zoom calls because it was almost like a global impact thing where you see it online and it’s lockdown and everyone’s in weird corners of the world doing not being able to do anything.

And we had 30 people coming on and we just gave writing prompts sort of relevant to infertility and MRKH and people would just sit there and write poetry and stories and letters and it was so nice. It was really, really heartwarming. And I’ve done infertility writing workshops and stuff for people with MRKH and outside of MRKH. And I think for me, I find writing quite easy. So I can just sit, I get creative block, but I could just write all my notes all the time, the phone notes, writing poetry, writing things. Some of it doesn’t go anywhere, just keep it. I wrote poetry to perform at open mic notes, but I think everyone with a writing prompt can really delve into their experiences and emotions and feelings so much so, yeah. But again, I don’t really call myself a spoken word artist. I’m just someone that enjoys poetry and I’ve just started reading it to other people. So yeah.

Le’Nise Brothers:

I think it’s so interesting when people use creativity to express what they’re experiencing, whether it be like with regards to their health or personal experiences. I think creativity is just such, anyone can be creative. And I think that’s when something that people don’t realise there’s creativity through cooking, it’s, it could be painting, it could be through gardening, that we can all be creative. And I just think it’s so beautiful how poetry is really a medium that really resonates for you. The last thing I want to ask you about is Vagina Fest. Can you say more about that?

Ellamae Fullalove:

Yeah, of course. I was going to say, as well as poetry, I love painting, so I’m like just love it all. Just anything cathartic and mindful. And I love doing canvases and textured art. I’ve got so much crap that is not online that I do behind the scenes. It’s chaos anyway. Yeah, just also for anyone listening do tap into, because a lot of my friends say I’m not creative, I’m not creative. Everyone, like you said, is creative. Everyone’s got something that could come out of their being, be it a painting or this or abstract art or a piece of poetry if they were just given a prompt to do that, which is why workshops can be so empowering. Yeah. Anyway, Vagina Fest. So I met Emily, who is a spoken word artist, and I don’t know why, she’s like, she’s amazing, spoken word. She does all poetry performances, she’s been doing it for a long time, really inspiring writer.

And she performed at an online event that I hosted with another amazing creative, so many creatives called Femi who does origami vulvas. So we teamed up, I did the poetry side of things and the storytelling, and Emily was doing origami and then other Emily came on to perform because I just said, I’d love you to come and perform at this event. And then me and Emily, poet Emily got together and sort of created an event more focused on the storytelling and poetry side of things called the Vagina Fest. And yeah, we just got together and just said we’d love to start with an open mic night, but it became quite big. So we ended up thinking, it’s called the Vagina Fest. We don’t want to have an open mic. People just walk in and they sign up on the night and then you have 10 people talking about one thing, like their periods for example, that would be quite repetitive.

So we ended up doing an application process where people would apply to perform at the event. And we got so many in of people just with stories to tell from vaginal mesh experiences to stories, to poems to performers. So we were really excited like, oh my God. And we obviously had to go through the process of having 10 people perform and then sing. There’ll be some space left because we wanted a variation of stories and it couldn’t just be 10 people, 10 white women talking about endometriosis for example. It had to be diverse. And I think intersectional was one of our biggest things. You didn’t have to be someone with a vagina to come to the festival. You didn’t have to be a woman to come to the festival or perform at the festival. We did have a couple of guys actually apply, in the end, they didn’t end up performing.

We had so many different other people that we wanted to amplify, but it would’ve been interesting to hear some. So anyway, some stories. We held our first event, but the Vauxhall Tavern, we sold like a hundred tickets. We raised some money for what we could because we were obviously wanting to pay our headliners and pay our acts as well. We raised some money for a couple of different charities on that night and it was amazing. We had my really good friend Sharn, one of my best school friends doing, they’re like a drag king, so they were almost like a gender, gender-bending drag performer. So Shard gets bited up, but does an amazing body positive and also really meaningful campaign performances. So yeah, those amazing people we had, we’ve had drag queens, kings as headline acts. We’ve had Holly McNish on our first virtual event when we sold about 450 tickets.

That was for the Eve Appeal and MRKH Connect. So it started virtually and then we took it to the stage and virtually we had Holly McNish, I don’t know if you know Holly, but she’s an amazing poet, Missy Yankee, who’s amazing. So we had all these really cool headliners performing and the stories were just, some of them were hilarious, some of them were really vulnerable and traumatic, but it was such a safe space of storytelling and just this word vagina. We knew that obviously the word vulva should be used more for externally, but it wasn’t about the word. It was about the hidden stigma of the word and the fact that the vagina is the hidden body part, which is actually inside. We actually thought that reminds us more of storytelling and the fact that this body part’s hidden, our stories are hidden. And it was just about saying the word out loud, also educating people on what that word means and what it doesn’t mean because obviously vulva, vagina, different things.

So then we did another event a year later and we sort of expanded it because again, I love art and all things art. So we had a market stall of artists as well as the performance side of things. So it was like the market was there and the performers were here. We need to test it a bit more and do it next year with that blend of things. So we’re hoping to that it grows. But yeah, it’s amazing. And Emily’s amazing to work with. We want to do it once a year. So we have that month where we’re just nonstop talking to each other and planning it and doing Zoom meetings and calls. And so yeah, that’s Vadge fest, but we’re going to do it again at some point. So 2024, we had a bit of a break. It is quite overwhelming on top of, I work in social housing by day and this is all weekend weekend stuff. So yeah, that’s Vadge fest.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah. You’re so interesting. You’ve got so many things and your going on and your advocacy work is incredible. What thought do you want to leave listeners with?

Ellamae Fullalove:

Well, that’s a hard one, Le’Nise. Yeah, it’s so hard, isn’t it, to make that those powerful statements. I just want to be really honest and say that again, it’s like this, you are not alone thing, but your story, anything that you’ve been through. It’s like a catalyst change because MRKH is just my little, I know quite big for me, but just my little corner of the internet talking about being born with, it’s being born with that. But from telling my story online, actually just talking about it and going public. I’ve had friends contact me that they’ve not spoken to for years saying, I’ve got this, I’ve got endometriosis and your page really helped. But friends with PMDD, which has really impacted some of my friends’ mental health and hormones and experiences, and they felt suicidal from conditions like this. And it’s that there’s always going to be someone going through what you’re going through and talking about it and telling your story is not shameful or self-obsessed and being online.

So I think also, yes, I think storytelling can be so powerful. So just I think, sorry, my brain’s gone now, but to take away, I think to tell your story can be such an empowering thing. And it doesn’t mean you have to go online and talk about it, but you’d be so surprised about the amount of people in your life that are around you from family members that sometimes just sit around a dinner table and don’t say anything personal or don’t talk about personal experiences to cousins that you’ve like, I’ve got people that I know that have gone through miscarriages that I just never would’ve known if I wasn’t this open. So I just think people have that stigma between each other about talking about things and being open.

And until they sort of see someone else doing it or hear someone else doing it, that’s when they go, oh, I’ve got a story, I’ve got something to tell. So when you feel safe to do so, and it doesn’t have to be public, just write your story down, write a blog about yourself. It can literally just be for yourself, but write about your story because writing it out can make you feel so just empowered by your own story. And again, that for me meant being completely anonymous. And I started anonymously, never planned to be Ellamae online with MRKH, just wanted to be this little advocate that was behind, no one knew who I was, but when I wrote a blog and even though it was anonymous, I was like, I’ve written my experience out onto something and someone might read this. So you never have to be public to be an advocate. And that’s the other message I want to give. There’s a lot of people with MRKH  who feel like their advocacy is less because they’re not the forefront and they’re not showing their face. But there’s people that advocate behind the scenes and they’re so powerful. So you can be an advocate for whatever you are going through and you don’t have to be public about it and you can change someone else’s life and your own at the same time. 

Le’Nise Brothers:

Where can people find you?

Ellamae Fullalove:

I’ve got too many Instagrams, so I’ll just give one. But the Vava womb Instagram is @vavawomb and vavawomb.com as well. So yeah. Thank you so much you so much for having me.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. Yeah, thank you for sharing your story.

Ellamae Fullalove:

Thank you for having me. It’s amazing. Thank you so much. And you are doing amazing work as well, so thank you.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Thank you.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 81, Jess Bolton: Find Someone You Trust To Talk About Your Feelings

My guest on today’s episode of Period Story is Jess Bolton, the opposable thumbs behind Worried Whippet, a social media platform that is a celebration of everyday bravery through the eyes of a small dog.

In this episode, Jess shares: 

  • The symptoms and experience that led to her seeking out an ADHD diagnosis 
  • What the ADHD tax is and how it has affected her 
  • How she’s been able to use her diagnosis to positively benefit her business and the way she works 
  • Why she made an Instagram account for her dog and the amazing opportunities that have come from this 
  • How talking about her dog’s anxiety has led others to have conversations about their own mental health
  • Why she focused on bravery in her first book Worried Whippet: Inspiration to be Brave
  • Her new podcast Brave Little Podcast 
  • And of course, the story of her first period

Jess says whatever’s weighing on you, whatever feelings you’re contending with, they’re probably a completely appropriate response to whatever’s happening around you. And the best thing you can do is find somebody you trust or somebody with authority and talk to them about it.

Thank you, Jess! 

Get in touch with Jess:

Book – Worried Whippet: Inspiration To Be Brave

Human Jess – Instagram 

Worried Whippet – Instagram

Brave Little Podcast 


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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise Brothers:

Hi, Jess. I’m so excited to have you on the show today. I’m so interested in the work that you’re doing, which we’ll get into. But let’s start off by telling, you telling us the story of your very first period.

Jess Bolton:

Well, I was trying to work this out yesterday in preparation for this podcast, but I remember it being on my birthday, which was so exciting, and in my first year of secondary school. And I thought at the time, I think that’s probably, I think maybe you’re 11 in your second year of secondary school. That must’ve been my 12th birthday, and that felt really early. But now I know that probably loads of people had started their period already and we just weren’t talking about it. But I definitely felt like I had this badge of honor.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And so what was the experience like and did you know what was happening when you got it?

Jess Bolton:

No, so I think, well I, I must have had my period for a couple of days before I realized that that was what it was. I think I was expecting a Halloween costume, blood capsule, red liquid to come gushing out of me or something. And what actually happened is very different to that and was more like a change in my discharge. So I think it took me a couple of days to cotton on, and then when I did, I was like, whoa. Yeah, not at all what I was expecting.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And did you go and speak to a parent or a friend or a sibling about it?

Jess Bolton:

I spoke to a friend of mine who’d started her period in the same week, so she was three days ahead of me, which at the time it felt like she had an awful lot more information than me. I’m sure she did. But it was definitely the kind of thing where I talked to my peers first. I never spoke to a teacher or anything. I was in all girls school, so information flowed freely in the corridors. And there was definitely an exchange of period products going on and stuff. So I had no trouble finding a pad and sorting myself out. And then the first grownup I told was my mum when I got home and she was great.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And when you say she was great, what was the experience telling her?

Jess Bolton:

I think I was nervous and I think she was probably a bit, I think as a parent you’ve been waiting for that moment, haven’t you? So I got a little sense of that. And yeah, we chatted through my options in terms of period products and we went shopping together and kitted me out.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And then after your first period, what was your experience of your period throughout your tweens and then into your teens?

Jess Bolton:

Well, it’s funny because nowadays I’m somebody who talks quite publicly and openly about these things, but I was not, at the time, I found it quite embarrassing. I guess the whole concept of having a period I found quite embarrassing. I found having boobs really embarrassing. I think having a body, I just found a really difficult thing as a teenager. So yeah, my overriding memories are trying to hide it from boys. I was dating, putting tampons and pads up my sleeve to go to the bathroom. What else? Oh, when you show and you are devastated and your whole world comes crashing down around your ears and you’re like, this is the most humiliating thing ever to happen to me. Yeah, those are the kinds of memories that I have of my period as a teenager.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Can you say a little bit more about this embarrassment, because I find it such an interesting concept because I’m talking a lot about embarrassment with my son at the moment. He’s 10. And talking about this idea, embarrassment is when you care about what other people think about you and you care about their opinions. And this idea, stop caring so much about what other people think. Say a little bit more about this embarrassment and what it felt and why it affected you in terms of the way that you felt about your body and your period.

Jess Bolton:

I think I definitely cared very deeply about what other people thought of me, and it was heavily informed by the kinds of media that I was consuming. I think I had this very unrealistic idea of what my body was supposed to look like and what it was supposed to perform, and I was very unforgiving. So anything that my body did that was outside of that very unrealistic box was a humiliation, I think, which is so sad to look back on, especially because when I think about it, I think I thought I was upset by things like stubble and shaving rash, which is a natural, the only appropriate response that your body has to shaving. Everybody has it. But in my head, I was the only one and it was mortifying and my body was misbehaving and doing things that shouldn’t do. Same with things like my curly hair and my ringlets felt really less like taboo, but again, I was like, come on body, just conform. Do the right stuff. And I think lots of it was very gendered as well. I was very conscious of how I was perceived by boys and I felt like I was doing a lot of things for boys, and I think my period just felt like the ultimate thing that could show me up and embarrass me and make me feel dirty and unworthy.

Le’Nise Brothers:

It’s so interesting. As you were talking, I was thinking about how this is so common, this embarrassment and this concern about what other people think. And then as you get older you realize actually people are just, they’re having the same thoughts and they’re so worried about themselves that most of the time they’re not even thinking about you. They’re just worried about, well, what’s she thinking about me? But it seems to be this very common experience, this kind of teenage embarrassment, this coming into your body, things being feeling really unwieldy. And what about now? What’s your experience of your period now? What’s your relationship with your period now?

Jess Bolton:

So now I have the Mirena coil, which has totally changed how my periods manifest. So I’ve had it for about eight years and I basically almost don’t have periods. I don’t really bleed. I bleed a bit, but I don’t use period products, I haven’t done in ages. I think I used a tampon for the first time in years the other day and I was like, this is a strange experience. So I like that side of things. It’s working quite well for me. My contraception and stuff, which is great, hasn’t always been the case and isn’t the case for everybody. But I do have, I know that something is up with my periods. I have always had painful periods, which I always thought was normal. I’m now learning thanks to people like you that it’s not and doesn’t have to be. And I’ve definitely had this sense since my early twenties that there’s something slightly squiffy maybe with my hormones and stuff. So sometimes I actively engage with that and think about it. Most of the time I just put it out of my head and don’t really think about my periods much.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Okay. And talk a little bit about this sense about that something’s going on and with the pain. Can you talk about, describe the pain a little bit? I think this is really interesting, will be interesting for a lot of listeners and certainly on my TikTok account, one of the number one questions I get is, I have a really painful period. Is it normal? I throw up from the pain on my period? Is this normal? I can’t get out of bed first two days of my period? I thought this was normal. And I think the more we talk about what pain feels like and we de-normalise it, the more we’ll be able to shift away from stop away from this idea that period pain is just something that we’re supposed to experience.

Jess Bolton:

Experience. Yeah. Well, I mean, I guess the reason that I didn’t think of it as an issue until I was in my twenties is because when I was at school, lots and lots of people had painful periods. I knew one person who’d been diagnosed with PCOS and it was a major deal, but for the rest of us, we were just having what we assumed were normal periods and some of them were painful and I knew that, I mean, there was one girl in my class who had such painful periods that she would faint regularly, would vomit, and that was kind of normal. Occasionally she’d go to the doctors on site or whatever, but most of the time we just knew that that was happening and it was something we all put up with and we’d be like, oh, can we get you a glass of water or anything while she was lying on the floor. But for some reason, culturally that was something that we accepted as normal. I think we’d probably been told that it was normal. And so we internalised that. So my periods having been painful, but much less painful than that. No fainting, no vomiting, not even a full day in bed. I thought, well, aren’t I getting off lightly? At least I’m not literally passed out on the floor.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah. I want to shift gears a little bit and talk about ADHD because this is something you talk a lot about on your Instagram account, your @human.jess Instagram account, because Jess is also the name of one of your dogs.

Jess Bolton:

Unfortunately, yes. Not by design. I feel like I have to point that out. She was adopted.

Le’Nise Brothers:

But it’s been really interesting to see your journey over the last couple of years and see how you’ve been going on this pathway. You’re discovering, of the discovery of what’s been going on and how you’ve the diagnosis and how you’ve been managing this. So can you just say a little bit more about your journey and talk a little bit about the signs and the symptoms that you notice in yourself that prompted you to pursue a diagnosis?

Jess Bolton:

So when I think about the signs and the symptoms, now that I understand what ADHD is and how it manifests and how it manifests in women specifically, I’ve got almost every symptom and it seems obvious and makes a lot of sense, but I didn’t recognize it until I was diagnosed a year ago. And the reason I started thinking about it was because I had this pattern at work, which was where I would get a job, start out really well, perform really well, enjoy myself, people would like me, it was all going really well. And then three to six months in, I would start feeling overwhelmed and panicked and desperate to get out. And I think I felt like things were getting on top of me. I was struggling with other people’s systems and it felt very oppressive and I felt like I just couldn’t cope and couldn’t perform in those environments.

So I would spend the next nine months or a year or two years feeling constantly panicked and miserable and eventually I would leave and get a new job and the cycle would start again. So I was doing that for a decade and last year I was in a job that was very high pressured where the role had changed a lot and I was really struggling. So I was crying in the mornings before work, I was crying every day on my lunch break, my husband and I would go for a walk with the dogs and I’d cry for an hour and then I’d cry when I closed my laptop at the end of the day. I was like, this is not normal. So I rang my GP and got signed off work. I couldn’t cope at all. And while I was signed off, I did some research and I was like, I’m going to have to go back in two weeks time to work and try and perform in this role.

And while I was doing this research, I was looking up, can’t hold down a job and all of this stuff, and I started reading about ADHD and it really struck a chord and resonated and I realized it was manifesting in loads of other areas of my life. And yeah, they were all parts of my life where I just kind of felt like a failure. I felt like the kind of person who just, I couldn’t look after my stuff. I just thought I’m not capable of looking after my stuff and that’s a personality defect that I’ll just live with. Or I thought, I’m not organised, I never will be, I can’t be. And I used to get in a lot of trouble for it at school. And again, that’s just a personality defect of mine. So I was doing terrible things for my self-esteem, terrible things for my working life. And I just hit a kind of rock bottom and ended up with a diagnosis of ADHD.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And how long did it take you to get formally diagnosed?

Jess Bolton:

It was really quick because I did it privately and paid because I was in such a difficult spot and it felt so urgent and I thought if I can have this diagnosis and I can go back to work and I can say this is what’s happening to me, then maybe my situation will change.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And what changed after you got your diagnosis?

Jess Bolton:

Well, I got bought out of my contract at work. So when I went back after my time off, they said, this doesn’t look like it’s working for you. We don’t think it’s working for us. How would you feel about being bought out of my contract? And I’d known for a really long time that I wanted to go freelance. I’ve got this social media business that I was running like a business, and that had always been my dream and my aspiration. So suddenly I had a little bit of money, like a few months salary, and I had this opportunity and I just thought, I’m going to grab this with both hands. And I did. And this is the first job I’ve had where I’m a whole year in and it’s going better than it was at the beginning.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Amazing. Something I remember you posting about, I think this was before you got your formal diagnosis, was spending and attitudes around money and losing money and misplacing and not knowing what you did with things that you bought and having to buy things over again. And that’s something that I’ve seen a lot with. I seem to know a lot of women with ADHD, which is really interesting and that’s something that, a theme that I’ve seen quite a lot. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Jess Bolton:

Yeah, so they call it the ADHD tax and it’s a very real thing, and there’s a charity that’s totted up what they think it costs in a year, and it’s like hundreds if not thousands of pounds. So for me it was things like I lost my passports all the time. At one point they would only issue me a one year passport because I’d lost so many that they had to put a control on it. And every time you’re paying hundreds of pounds to get an emergency passport thing, you obviously don’t realize until you need it and then you’re in a rush and you’re traveling across the country. That kind of thing would happen to me all the time, but also losing money in your house. I remember one really formative experience when I was a teenager where I left 60 pounds in a school locker over the holidays and it was a big deal for me. It was all the money I had and for my parents, and I just remember it being this huge thing and that was quite formative, but that’s something that would happen to me all the time. Whenever I look at my finances, I’m paying for the same thing three times the same prescription, subscription and then stuff that I haven’t canceled.

And just the cost of doing so many things last minute in a panic is a big one.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And now that you have your diagnosis, what has changed for you? Have you gone down a pathway where it’s this greater awareness that you have so you’re able to manage your behaviors better? Have you had a prescription and gone a more medicated route? Can you just talk a little bit about that?

Jess Bolton:

Yeah, so I tried medication for a week and decided it wasn’t for me, which is actually not long enough to give it at all, but I was in that really difficult point in life and I was like, it was the wrong time. So I stopped doing that. And then since I’ve been working for myself, the symptoms that I was so worried about before, some of them are assets now, some of them I can just cope with and breathe through, and that’s okay. I think the biggest thing that’s changed for me is that I’m kinder and more compassionate with myself. I understand myself better, and I’m not thinking of myself as a person who just can’t do things, who just isn’t responsible and doesn’t care and all of those things. I understand now that I am working within a slightly different framework in my brain and that there’s just so much going on up there that sometimes I lose track of things and that’s okay.

So I feel better able to explain that to people. I feel better able to manage the emotional side of it in myself, but also I did spend some time looking into processes and systems that might help me, and I’ve actually found those really helpful and it’s been a big change. It’s things like I set timers on my phone when I’ve got tasks to do and it puts me under a little bit of pressure and it means that I get things done to completion, which is not something that I’ve been very good at historically. Or I use this thing called the Pomodoro method. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah, I have. But can you just say a bit for those who are listening who haven’t?

Jess Bolton:

Yeah, absolutely. So again, it’s based around timers and timing your tasks, but the way that it works is that you work in 25 minute sprints basically, where you focus on one task and one task only, which was completely alien to me at the beginning, but it’s a good idea. It works. And then you take a five minute break and then you do it again, and then you have a longer break. But it just means that instead of asking your brain to focus indiscriminately for an unknown amount of time, you’re saying, I need you to focus on this one task, but only for these 25 minutes, and then you get a break.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And that’s been helpful for you?

Jess Bolton:

Yeah, yeah. I don’t use it every day, but on the days where I’m struggling to get a specific task and then yeah, I find it really helpful.

Le’Nise Brothers:

That idea of compassion, self-compassion is really interesting. And what I found really interesting is that once you had the diagnosis, but also that you moved away from a kind of very formal work setting, you found a real difference in your attitude towards your work and what you actually were able to do. And I do wonder about the pressures that we put under ourselves under in formal work environments where you are working to someone else’s schedule and what that does. I mean, that’s kind of the way of the world and that’s the way that the corporate world is set up, unfortunately. But I do think that, I know companies are starting to think more about people who think differently and behave differently and how they can structure work differently. But in the majority of jobs, it just doesn’t feel like you can sometimes feel like a square peg in a round hole.

Jess Bolton:

Yeah, definitely. And I think the thing that I’m doing at the moment work-wise is very unstructured and chaotic, but it’s working, which is that most days I just wake up in the morning and I just lean into the thing that most takes my fancy. And when I’m working on things that I’m interested in and engaged with, I get them done and I get ’em done well, and I get them done quickly. If I’m trying to do things that I just can’t get my brain to connect with, then it takes me days, it grinds me down, it affects my self-esteem, it slows me down across the board. But I’ve been able to identify those things and let go of them or outsource them or just get more support with them. And instead, I don’t, don’t work to a timetable. I don’t say, I’m going to do this on Thursday afternoon at three. I just wake up in the morning and I do the thing that is calling me, and somehow it seems to be working.

Le’Nise Brothers:

That’s amazing to be able to readjust, change your life so you can work in that way. I love that and I love that you’ve been able to do that. And this kind of leads us on nicely to talk more about the work itself. So it all kicked off with the Worried Whippet, was it on TikTok or was it Instagram?

Jess Bolton:

It was Instagram and it was in 2020 before the first lockdown. And I’d wanted to make an account for my dog for ages, but I was really embarrassed about it. I was like, what will people think? It’s so lame, don’t do it. But I was loving all these other people’s dog accounts, and then I thought, why are you limiting yourself and putting yourself down and whose voice is that in your head? Anyway? So I went for it and I was posting about Jess, my Whippet, who is, we are her third home. She’s had a lot of trauma and a difficult past and she’s been with us for five years now, and we’ve spent every one of those five years working through a lot of anxiety with her that she’ll carry forever. And that’s very relatable for me and turns out loads of other people. So these posts about my dog became about my dog’s anxiety, and they started resonating with people. And then we obviously went into this lockdown where everybody was struggling with the same thing. She was struggling with leaving the house and meeting new people and all of those things. And it just seemed to sort of take off.

Le’Nise Brothers:

It’s so funny because you think, okay, anxiety in humans and depression in humans, but then when you hear about a dog being anxious or a dog being depressed, it’s like almost people make a joke about it, but it’s very real. Can you just talk a little bit about that, how you noticed that your dog was anxious?

Jess Bolton:

Well, she was sort of screaming at us, it’s quite a severe, or it was, it’s less so now it’s better managed, but there’ve been some quite severe symptoms for her. And that’s actually sometimes the stuff that I don’t tend to share. The stuff that I do share is she’s a bit nervous about leaving the house and stuff. In her sort of most fearful moments, I’m in the trenches with her working for it. But yeah, I think it’s the decision making that resonates with people. She tries to push herself to do things that are a bit outside her comfort zone and will she, won’t she? And you can see on her face that she’s having exactly the same thought process that you would be having. And I think you’re right that people are dismissive of it sometimes, and I totally get that. Also, I feel like sometimes what it’s done in my space, the space that I occupy, is I’ve noticed that it lowers the barriers for people to having these conversations about themselves and their own mental health. I think sometimes when you look at a dog who’s struggling with something that you are struggling with, you look at the dog and you think, oh, and your impulse is to kind of nurture them and give them space to feel their feelings. And that’s not always the first impulse we have with ourselves. But I think somehow it triggers that in people.

And I also find that most of my followers are women, but men are overrepresented in my inbox of my direct messages and they share very openly. And I think again, there’s something about the idea that it’s a dog behind the account, a sweet little dog who’s struggling with something similar to you that somehow creates the space for people to open up. And that’s been quite extraordinary to see, and it really took me by surprise at the beginning. But yeah, somehow that’s what she’s created.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And so how do you treat it? How you deal with is the wrong way to put it, but how do you manage these situations where people are emailing you or DMing you really personal stories? Is it about holding space for them or is it about pointing them to resources? How do you manage it?

Jess Bolton:

Usually about holding space, but definitely pointing to resources in a few cases where it looks like people are really struggling. And I do have some kind of international resources shared on my phone because when everybody’s spread out across the world, you can’t direct somebody to a crisis line and their hometown or something, it’s quite difficult. But yeah, I’ve always worked in mental health and sexual health and on social media in my career, so I understood a framework for if somebody’s in crisis, this is what you do, which I haven’t used very often, but usually it’s just people sharing stories about day-to-day issues in their lives. 

So I do this thing called the worry box, which is where I share a question box to my stories and I say, leave your worries here for the day. Go about your day. We’ll look after them and you can come back and pick them up later. And people put extraordinary stuff in those boxes, and most of it is really mundane. The majority is usually about at times like this where there’s a lot going on in the world like that dominates. But usually there’s an awful lot about jobs and work. People are really struggling in those areas at the moment and obviously personal relationships and illnesses and mental health. And it’s really interesting to see. Well, it’s amazing that people feel able to do that and open up and offload. And it’s also amazing to see, to get such an insight into as a population, what we’re struggling with and to see how it changes over time. And yeah.

Le’Nise Brothers:

It is really extraordinary how people are so willing to open up to strangers. And I definitely see this in my social media where people will share the most detailed, intimate things with me. And then I say, have you spoken to your partner, your doctor, your parents about this? No, I’m afraid. And sometimes it’s just the fact that people don’t know you or there’s some sort of connection, like maybe it’s a parasocial relationship where they’d feel it’s actually okay to open up. And I think it’s important to have these spaces when there is so much going on in the world and people are struggling and they don’t necessarily know where to turn, especially with men, where there’s this kind of attitude certainly in the UK where stiff upper lip and all that or be man up and kind of nonsense and you’re having spaces where men can say, well, actually this is how I feel is really important.

Jess Bolton:

Completely. I think the way that men engage with the account has been the thing that’s taken me most by surprise and I’m honored to be holding that space for them. But it’s such a shame that for lots of them, it’s the first time they’ve talked about something. And I don’t know, maybe it’s the last. It’s such a shame that there aren’t other avenues that feel open to them.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And so this year, this past September, you released your first book, Worried Whippet: Inspiration to be Brave. Can you talk about why you focused on bravery?

Jess Bolton:

Yeah. I think it’s something that I actively and consciously employ in my life every day as an anxious person. And it was the thing that I was seeing in Jess that resonated the most with me. These dogs are so brave, they see something they want to do and they try it again and again and again until they can do it. And they self-regulate, that’s not an impulse that we have or if it is, it’s been overridden by societal things, but they will try something, get overwhelmed, go away, and then come back later on their own time and try it again. So I was watching all of these really admirable qualities in them and they just really spoke to me. So writing the book was amazing. Got to work with this extraordinary illustrator called Anna Pirolli, who over the course of nine months, brought Jess my dog to life in the most beautiful way and totally outstripped my expectations in their just lovely drawings that I will treasure for the rest of my life. And it was a joy to write. It kind of wrote itself. It’s based on true stories and incidents in Jess the dog’s life, but it’s about friendship and it’s about getting out of bed in the morning on a day where you don’t want to, and stepping out into the world with courage.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Amazing. And where can people purchase the book?

Jess Bolton:

On Amazon, in Waterstones Blackwells and My favorite: your local Independent bookshop.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Fantastic. Now you also have a podcast, it’s called Brave Little Podcast, which is about stepping out into the world with courage. Can you say more about why you wanted to start this podcast?

Jess Bolton:

Well, in true ADHD fashion, I just woke up one morning this summer and thought I’m going to make a podcast. And I did. But yeah, it’s a series where I sit down with people who you probably already know, love and admire, and I talk to them about the everyday situations that require courage of us. Things like making friends as an adult, which is inexplicably really hard and everybody seems to struggle with. So I talked to the incredible Sophie Butler about why that’s so difficult and how we can get around it. We also talk about things like letting go of other people’s opinions of you, which was a big one for me. And the day-to-day things that most of us struggle with that we might not necessarily want to talk about. We’re just opening up those conversations in a really frank and honest way.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And when, is it out now or when will it be out?

Jess Bolton:

It’s out now. So every Thursday until the end of the year, there’s an episode.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Fantastic. And lastly, I have also been following along on your running journey, watching you go from kind of taking your first runs and being nervous about it. And now you are running, doing a big run for charity. Can you talk about it and talk about your motivation to start running?

Jess Bolton:

Yeah, absolutely. I started running in 2020 in lockdown out of an urgent necessity to get outside and cover some ground. And my uncle died at the beginning of the first lockdown. And my mom and I would go for these runs together where we would be out in the middle of nowhere and we would scream and we would cry and we would wave our arms around and cackle with laughter and just let out whatever was sitting on our chest that morning. And it was so fun and so liberating and I completely fell in love with running. And then this past October, my uncle died of pancreatic cancer, which has been a devastating thing to watch happen to my family. And this month, November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. So I’m running 40 miles to raise money and awareness about pancreatic cancer. Currently 50% of people who are diagnosed die within 12 weeks.

Most people don’t get any treatment and only 7% of people survive pancreatic cancer. So I’d never heard of it until my uncle was diagnosed a couple of months ago, but it’s made me think, okay, I’m going to put this purple Pancreatic Cancer UK T-shirt on, and I’m going to get out there on the street and I’m going to run because I know that running will help me with my grief and it has being out in the fresh air and moving your body, it just felt like the right thing to do and I’ve been able to raise some money, which is fantastic.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And has it had an impact on your mental health?

Jess Bolton:

Yeah, a hundred percent. I knew it would. It’s one of those things you always know, but just being out in the mornings and watching the seasons change and when you’re going through grief, I think nature has a lot to offer in terms of comfort and reassurance. So there’s that, but there’s also the endorphins. It’s helping adjust my brain chemistry up a notch so that I’m not wallowing in these feelings and it’s given me a sense of purpose and drive at a time when I could just be on the sofa watching Gilmore Girls. It’s very tempting.

Le’Nise Brothers:

I love that. What do you have coming up next?

Jess Bolton:

Well, the big thing at the moment is the podcast. So we’ve released two episodes and there are five more to go, I think. That might be terrible maths on my part, but I’m hoping we might be able to continue that in the new year depending on how it goes.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Amazing. What thought do you want to leave listeners with today?

Jess Bolton:

I think the thing that’s with me at the moment is whatever’s weighing on you, whatever feelings you’re contending with, they’re probably a completely appropriate response to whatever’s happening around you. And the best thing you can do is find somebody you trust or somebody with authority and talk to them about it.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Thank you so much, Jess. Thanks for coming on the podcast and all the links to your podcast, your book will be in the show notes for our listeners to check out.

Jess Bolton:

That’s fantastic. Thank you, Le’Nise. It’s been lovely to chat to you.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 80, Kelly Newton: I’ve Sold Thousands and Thousands of Pairs of Knickers

My guest on today’s episode of Period Story is Kelly Newton. Kelly is the founder and CEO of NIXI Body, a reusable leakproof underwear company. 

In this episode, Kelly shares: 

  • The embarrassment she felt when she first got her period
  • How playing sports helped her deal with having endometriosis 
  • Her menopause story
  • The importance of a holistic approach to keeping your pelvic floor healthy 
  • How she was able to move from being embarrassed to talking about her period to talking so openly about pelvic floors and vaginal health on TV
  • The impact sport and exercise has on her mental health 
  • How she started a business in her 40s and how she supports other women who are setting up businesses 
  • And of course, the story of her first period

Kelly says that if she can start a business, anyone can do it. Just ask questions, Google everything and go on courses!

Thank you, Kelly! 

Get in touch with Kelly:

Instagram

LinkedIn

Facebook 

Website


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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise Brothers:

Hi, Kelly, thanks for coming on to the show. I’m really excited to speak to you and hear the story of your first period and to talk about your amazing company. So let’s get started. So tell us the story of your very first period.

Kelly Newton:

Okay, so do you know what? It’s really difficult for me to remember exactly what age it was. I feel like I’ve blocked this out of my mind, but I believe I was around 13 or 14 and I was at school and kind of felt a little bit sticky down below, and I thought, well, this doesn’t feel right. I didn’t have any pains or anything like that. So I went to the toilet and yeah, I suppose it was blood, obviously, but it was a brown kind of lumpy kind of thing. And I was like, what on earth is this? Because I was expecting full-blown red blood to be dispersed, and that wasn’t the case at all. So I obviously didn’t have any sanitary products with me. So put some toilet paper down there and went home, and I suppose any normal person would’ve gone in and told their mum.

But I was so embarrassed that this had happened to me that I knew where my mum kept her pads and I stole a pad and used that and took it to school the next day to get rid of it. I didn’t want my mum to see it in the bin, but it also kind of nicked a couple more to get me through the next couple of days. So yeah, thankfully it wasn’t a particularly heavy first period. It was just a little bit kind of muddy looking, sticky kind of lumpy thing. 

So that was my first period. I didn’t actually tell my mum for about three months that I’d had my period. I was so embarrassed. I was so embarrassed. She only realized that I’d started my period because her sanitary towels were depleting. She wondered. She wondered where they were going. So she asked me and then I was very embarrassed and cried and told her I started my period.

Madly enough, my sister did exactly the same when she started her period. Yeah, and my mum and dad are lovely, don’t get me wrong, but we just didn’t talk about things like that. So I think probably my first experience of knowing about a period was at school. I found out at school during our, I suppose a biology lesson, I went to an all girls school. Again, it was maybe a 20 minute, half an hour chat about this is what’s going to happen, you’re going to get a period. My mum probably mentioned it maybe once in passing, one day you’re going to get a period and you’re going to bleed, and then you need to use some sanitary products. But I didn’t understand anything else to do with why I was getting a period, why my body was doing that, and probably didn’t understand a lot of that until I was a bit older.

Le’Nise Brothers:

So let’s just go back to what you were saying about the embarrassment. So you had your period for three months before your mum discovered that you had it because her pads were depleting. Can you tell us a little bit more about that, the embarrassment and why your instinct was to hide it?

Kelly Newton:

I think we just didn’t talk about things like that in our house. I was really close to my mum and dad, but I dunno, I just felt a bit, I don’t think I was ashamed. I didn’t feel shame. We just didn’t talk about things like that. It just wasn’t a conversation that we openly had. And so because my mum and dad didn’t talk about things like that, I suppose that kind of embarrassment was put on us. I was always quite, I was embarrassed about a lot of stuff as a kid walking past a group of people. I didn’t want to walk past a group of people. I wouldn’t like to walk into a place on my own because I’d be embarrassed. And still to this day, if I’m meeting a friend in a pub, I’ll make sure I’m a little bit late. So I’m not the first one to go in there. I hate walking in anywhere on my own. I get completely really, really embarrassed about stuff like that. I dunno if it’s just how I am, I don’t know. But it’s difficult to say.

We had a lovely childhood, a really lovely childhood. There was never any secrets or anything like that. I don’t know, I just always get really embarrassed about things, I suppose. And when I started the company kind of going on a bit and talking about my issues that I’ve got, then I felt very, very embarrassed about talking about things. But now obviously I tell everybody about my business and I think a lot of that has been working with Coni, who’s a little bit younger than me, who very openly talks about these things. So I feel like she’s helped me to come out and not feel the embarrassment and shame that I previously felt. So yeah. Yeah, I dunno if it’s a generational thing. I am 52, maybe it’s a generational thing. But yeah, the fact that my sister also, this came out recently and my sister said the same thing, that she didn’t tell mum for a couple of months either. She was really embarrassed as well. Yeah, I dunno. Strange.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And so then your mum found out, did you have a chat? Did you ask her lots of questions or was it kind of like short and sweet?

Kelly Newton:

Nope, no questions.

Again, I didn’t want to talk to my mum about it. I was so embarrassed. And my mom, literally, I think my mom just said to me, look, you need sanitary towels, so I’ll buy extra. They’ll be in my cupboard in my wardrobe and just help yourself when you need them. There was no, you can use towels or you can use tampons. I think I probably found out about tampons or Tampax through friends at school. And yeah, that’s probably where I found out all of the information that I needed to find out and my biology lessons. I suddenly then started to take a bit more of an interest. I was like, why am I having periods and oh, it’s because of this. I still didn’t understand completely what was going on in my body. And I think that’s something that’s gone through all of my life, to be honest with you. I feel like I was quite naive about all of those things. But yeah, Mum didn’t really explain me what was happening. She just said, there’s the towels when you need them, when you come home, then just help yourself. And that was it.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And that feeling of embarrassment, did it continue as you went further through your teenage years?

Kelly Newton:

Probably not, no. Because then as you turn into, so I was probably 13 and 14 when I started my period, but when you get to 16, 17, and I know this through my own experience with having teenage girls, you don’t actually care. And going back, actually the girls, I’m a foster carer, so I had four foster daughters at one time all the same age. And one of our girls started her period at nine, but I wasn’t actually in the house when she started her period. My husband was here, but I feel like I really did prepare them for what was going to happen. We talked a lot about periods and about the fact it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. And that’s obviously going from my experience. I didn’t want my girls to feel like that. So when one of my girls started her period when I wasn’t here, my husband called me to say that she’d told him that she’d started her period.

She was nine years old, and she told him that she’d started her period and he’d managed to sort her out a bag of stuff. I honestly didn’t expect it to happen at nine. So she was prepared for that, and he put her on the phone and she was like, it’s fine. Dad’s sorted me. I’m all okay. And I felt such relief with that, but also knowing as girls get older, they’re quite disgusting and they can just leave their used sanitary towels on the side, not purposely, I don’t think it’s just a case of they just don’t care. There’s no embarrassment and no shame, which I’m glad they’re not embarrassed and they’re not shamed about it. But come on, girls tidy up after yourself. It’s a bit disgusting. And I think I was probably the same. You don’t think about that as a teenage girl, you are using these things.

Maybe you’re in a rush, you might leave it on the side and you don’t even think about my mum or my dad’s going to go in and see that. So I think I kind of got over the shame of it, but I just think that’s by being a typical teenage girl and just not thinking and being lazy and whatever. But one of my earliest, this is a core memory for me. I had really, really heavy periods, really heavy periods. And I remember sitting at school, I must’ve been about 15 and had one of my mom’s massive pads, the biggest pad ever in. And I had that in my period knickers. And I had obviously, I think I had a pair of tights on, I had my culottes on and I was sat on a plastic chair, and when I got up, I’d bled all the way through my trousers, all over the plastic chair. And I mean, I was so, so heavy. And the shame, the absolute shame of that. So that for me is a core memory. Going to a girl’s school, you can imagine girls are taking the mickey out of you and teasing you and whatever.

Didn’t realize until later on in life that I actually had endometriosis. And it’s another thing I didn’t realize about periods, about what’s a normal period and being particularly heavy, very, very heavy. That could have been a sign of something else. And it wasn’t until in my thirties I was diagnosed as having endometriosis. Yeah. And another thing that I try to get across to the girls – heavy periods, they’re not normal and we need to get them checked out. So yeah, I’ve learned a lot over the years.

Le’Nise Brothers:

So talk a little bit about the endometriosis. So one of the symptoms you had was heavy periods, and then what did it look like for you?

Kelly Newton:

So I mean, I was just very, very heavy, heavy periods, heavy clotting pain, really bad cramps and pain, but also pain down my legs to the extent where I was struggling to walk sometimes. Also sex, very painful sex that was really uncomfortable, not enjoyable. And yeah, you just kind of think what on earth is going on with me here and backwards and forth to the doctors eventually. I mean, I was really lucky I had my two sons and I fell pregnant within a month of trying with both of them. So didn’t have any issues there. But went to see an amazing gynecologist, Dr. Hannah. Everybody I know used to see Dr. Hannah. And at the time we were really lucky, my husband had private health cover because this had been going on with the NHS for such a long time. And in the end my husband said, look, why don’t you just, we’ll go private, we can just use my private health cover.

So went to see a Dr. Hannah, and before I knew it, a week later I was in surgery and we were having the endometriosis lasered off and then a couple of years later I had to go back again. I was really suffering with cramps and again, really heavy periods and it was lasered again. And then they decided, let’s put you on the coil, because of how much pain I was in. So I remember going to the doctors to have the coil inserted, but I think I had a tilted, I think something was tilted. See again, this is how little I know about my own body. Something was tilted so he couldn’t put the coil in. They tried for ages, it was really painful, couldn’t do it. So he said, I think you need to go to the hospital. So we went back to the hospital again, had the coil inserted.

I then bled every day for nine months on the coil. Yeah, yeah. I was like, this can’t be right. This is not right. So Dr. Hannah said, look, I think maybe we need to have a hysterectomy, which I was absolutely fine about. I just thought we’ve got my two boys, I think we had four foster daughters also at the time, which to be fair, we’ve always had about four foster daughters or four foster children as well. I was like, my childbearing years are over, I’m quite happy not to have any more children. And that’s how I felt about my womb. So yeah, went in, had the coil removed at the same time as having a hysterectomy. But I remember coming round from the surgery and the consultant saying to me, I left your ovaries in because I didn’t want you to go into early menopause.

And in typical Kelly style, as my son would say, I started the menopause. I started having the symptoms of the menopause within the year. So yeah, turns out again, another thing that Mum didn’t really talk to us about was my mum had, she started the menopause in her early forties. So I was 42, 43 when I had my hysterectomy. So yeah, started the symptoms, which because the surgeon had said to me, I’ve left your ovaries in so you don’t go into early menopause. I didn’t think that I was going through the menopause and all I’d ever read about were the menopause were hot flushes and night sweats and they weren’t my symptoms. So my symptoms were rage. Literally I wanted to kill every single person that I came in contact with. So I’d come home from work and I’d come in the house and one of the kids’ school bags would be there and I would literally pick it up and throw it across the room and I’d be like, who left their bag?

Then I literally wanted to kill every member of my family and my husband would be like, what’s going on? And he’s like, go and lay down. You need to go and lay down. And I’d be crying and I’d drop the kids to school and I’d come back and I’d lay on the rug in the front room and I wouldn’t get up again until I had to go and pick them up from school. I was severely depressed, palpitations. I was having panic attacks. I remember doing my shop for Christmas, it was a couple of days before Christmas. I’m doing my major shop to get all my food in, and I think we probably had about 22 people around that year. And I was in the shop and then started to when your heart starts to go and I’m like, oh my god, no, I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t catch my breath. So I’m in the shops crying and sweating and everyone’s staring at me like I’m an absolute lunatic. Managed to get myself through and pay for everything and get in the car and just lay there crying thinking what is happening to me? I don’t understand what’s happening to me. So yeah, that was the start of my menopause story. So yeah.

Le’Nise Brothers:

What’s really interesting is that when you said early menopause, I was expecting you to say about kind of mid thirties, but 42, 43 is typically the age that we start perimenopause. So your symptoms were much worse. But I don’t, it’s interesting that that was classed as early menopause. I just want to take it back to your teenage years because I read this story where you had said that you found a note at your afterschool netball club that a pupil have brought in excusing her from participating in PE due to her period. And you thought, why should your period stop you from playing sport? I thought that was really interesting because so many teenage girls, I hear and so many women talk about how they used to use their period as an excuse to get out of PE, to stop playing sport. And you see statistics where girls, once they get their period, a lot of time you see a decline in sport participation. So can you talk a little bit about you playing sport and how that kind of connected with you having endometriosis?

Kelly Newton:

Yeah, so I mean I started playing netball at nine at my primary school and we were always running around and doing my at school, but my family weren’t a particularly sporty family, but I started playing netball, absolutely loved it. And I’m very, very competitive. I’m like, this is for me. So when I went to secondary school, I was so lucky at that particular time there were classes every lunchtime and after school and I signed myself up for everything. I played football, hockey, I did athletics, dance, volleyball, gymnastics, you name it. I was in every team. I was that girl and absolutely loved it. And I could after school one day a week, me and my friend Sally would go to another secondary school to do some more netball training. We loved it so much and that’s where I found the note. So it wasn’t at my girls’ school because all the girls, I feel like a lot of the girls at my school played sport.

But this note, I couldn’t believe it. And you could tell that this pupil had written it herself and signed it on behalf of her mom. And I’m like, why would you not want to play sports? Even at that age, I knew my period never stopped me from doing anything. And in those days, the only sanitary products we had, period products we had were the really big thick towels. I mean, I’m talking like over an inch thick. That’s what I used to wear every single day. I swear to you. They were disgusting. They were huge with, we didn’t even have wings at that time. Wings weren’t out on period products then. So I would play netball, I would play any sport on my period wherein literally a brick in my knickers to soak up all of the blood. It was so bad. But that never ever stopped me.

Obviously when I discovered Tampax then that’s great. I was wearing those to play sport. So you are right. So many girls nowadays are dropping out of sports as soon as they start their periods and they’re just giving it up. But we know, all of us know, and I must’ve known that at the time, sport is so good for you physically and mentally and I’ve really tried to encourage my girls to carry on playing sport and my boys, I want them to keep fit and keep active, keep mentally, mentally healthy as well. It’s been a lot more difficult as the girls have got older. You can’t force them. I’ve worked out, I realized you can’t force them to play hockey if they don’t want to. They just won’t go. So yeah, I think even though I had really heavy periods, I’m pretty sure that playing all of those sports really helped me to maintain that.

And I don’t feel like the effects of the endometriosis were particularly bad. I don’t remember them being particularly bad at that age possibly because I was playing all of those sports as I got older and I was working, I wasn’t playing as much sport. I still played hockey or netball on a Saturday and trained once a week, but I wasn’t playing every single day. And I feel like that’s when I started to realize how bad my periods were and how painful they were. But actually I think they got a lot worse as I got a lot older and then stopped playing sports for a little bit. So I didn’t play when I had the kids and also struggled when they were little to get out and do anything like that. And I think that’s when they got really bad. So I feel like sport has really helped me to get through those heavy periods and those times of I don’t feel like it was as bad as when I didn’t play sports.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And also when you’re playing sport, you release endorphins, which are a natural painkiller.

Kelly Newton:

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And I mean being menopausal now that I am, so I need to exercise and I stretch out. I stretch most days, I probably work out about five times a week and I know. So I didn’t work out a couple of weeks ago. I did a really busy couple of weeks, didn’t do anything at all. And then I did a yoga class eight o’clock on the Monday and then I did a strength class. And I cannot tell you how much better my day was for doing that mentally. I was able to concentrate. I got a lot more work done than I had in the previous two weeks where I’d done absolutely no exercise whatsoever. So it’s so important. I can’t stress how important exercise is to me. And I try to stress this to my girls as well, but nobody listens to me anymore in my house. So

Le’Nise Brothers:

It’s really interesting because you see women in their fifties and sixties, they tend to have this attitude that, and of course I’m generalizing here, but this exercise is a form punishment and no pain, no gain. And the research tells us, especially once you are on the other side of the menopause, how important exercise is for bone health, for mental health and the strength training, how important it is. And there’s this fear of bulking up and having muscles. And I find it really worrying because there are so many benefits and you’ve said it yourself, you saw the effects that when you did those two days of training, of exercise on your mental health, on your physical health. And I just really want this shift to continue. You see it in younger women where they don’t see it as generally speaking, they don’t see it as a punishment and they’re happy to do different classes, but for that to trickle through to women in their fifties and sixties.

Kelly Newton:

Yeah, it’s really funny. I think out of all of my groups of friends, I’m the only one who exercises. I’m the only one, actually, no, there’s one other friend of mine who plays netball, but all of my other friends really maybe belong to a gym, but don’t go very often. I play golf still. I gave up hockey a few years ago, I think it was because of the menopause, because I was getting quite aggressive. And it’s not helpful when you have a hockey stick in your hand and you’re playing and you’re feeling very aggressive, you’re going to hurt somebody. So I actually had to take a step back. I was honestly having a row with somebody every week on the hockey pitch and I’m like, don’t want to do this. This is not conducive to me being calm. And sport for me is supposed to be, like you say, releasing endorphins.

I’m supposed to enjoy it. It’s a time, team sports especially are great. You’re meeting up with friends and it’s good for your mental health and that wasn’t happening. I was wanting to kill people and hurt people. So it was best that I gave that up. And although golf, obviously I’m holding a stick still in my hand. This is a sport where if I have a bad shot, that’s down to me. I’ve got no one else to blame but me and I enjoy the walk as well. So I was finding I was getting frustrated in hockey because I know I want to run and I want to get that ball, but my body’s telling me it’s laughing at me saying, you’re never going to get that ball. Your knee’s going to give up before you get to that ball. So I was getting frustrated with it. I needed something a little bit more sedate.

But I do run now. I run two or three times a week. I didn’t run for a couple of weeks. I’m back on it now and I’m determined. I’ve set myself a goal. We’re doing a couple of 10 Ks next year, so that will keep me, I’m focused, I’m focused on that. I do the strength training. I do a lot of weight training because like you say, as you go through menopause, you need to keep your bones strong, you’re at risk of osteoporosis. So I’m really aware of that. But out of all of my friends, I’m the only one I think that does all of this stuff. And I’m just like, what is wrong with you girls? I want to still be active in my eighties. I still want to be moving about and doing stuff and be mentally with it. And it worries me to think that my friends aren’t doing all that and they’re not looking after themselves. But I’ve always been this way. Exercise has always been my release, sport has always been my release. So I don’t know why I feel like I’m the only one that in my friendship group. So it’s just, yeah, people need to step up. You need to really look after your body all the way through your life. And I realize that especially so now.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah. And this kind of ties nicely into the story around your company where you had incontinence related to childbirth, related to menopause and that you found that that was an issue playing sport. Can you just talk a little bit about that?

Kelly Newton:

So what had happened was I obviously had the boys and had a little, few little issues with incontinence, that stress and urge incontinence after I had the boys. But that seemed to improve a little bit. And then going through starting the menopause, it was a whole new story to me. So I was playing hockey and I remember weeks before I was absolutely fine. I’d stretch for the ball, no problems, but all of a sudden I’d be stretching for the ball and a little bit wee would be coming out and I was like, what the hell? What’s going on down there? That had never happened to me before. And then if I scored a goal and celebrated, it was like game over. I’ve completely wet my knickers. And I just started at this new team and I remember turning to one of the women and saying, oh my God, I’ve just wet myself.

And she’s laughing. She went, oh, don’t worry, I do that all the time as well. So I’m like, oh, okay. And then everyone starts talking and then we realize before when we go to a game and we’ve warmed up, everyone then has to have a wee and then we go play the game. Then half time everyone’s off having a wee again, and as soon as the game’s finished, we’re all back in the toilet and we’re like, oh my god, what’s going on? And we’re all women of around the same age in our forties, fifties, sixties. So I thought, oh my god, this is not nice. This is not nice. So towards the end of having periods, I’d used a menstrual cup, and that was like 20 years ago. I’d started to use a menstrual cup just after my son. I’d had my son because of the really heavy periods and absolutely loved it.

And again, I’m trying to say to my friends, you’ve got to try this menstrual cup. And they were like, that’s disgusting. What do you mean you stick that up inside you? None of them would try it. One friend tried it and loved it. So I was a real advocate for the menstrual cup. So then not having periods for a long time, didn’t have to use anything. But then starting to leak, I thought, well, I don’t want to use disposables again. I know that they’re not good for me. They used to really irritate me down below and they’re just horrible. They move about when you’re playing sports, I don’t want to go back to that. So I’d heard about reusable underwear, looked online, couldn’t find anything that I wanted to wear. I felt I was still young, still bit with it, still wanted to feel attractive and sexy and I think underwear plays a really big part in that.

So I thought, do you know what? I’m going to design my own pair. So designed a pair of knickers without obviously absolutely no experience whatsoever. Then forgot about it because I was going through the menopause and again, I didn’t know I was really going through the menopause and I was in a really bad place, but eventually thought, no, so I’m going to go for this. So found a tech designer and we worked together to design a pair of knickers that I wanted. I wanted them to be really discreet, wanted them to be absorbent, but I didn’t want you to be able to see the pad through my tight gym leggings. I didn’t want to be able to see the, do you know the line around the knickers when you get a double bum? I hate that. My husband says to me, stop staring at people’s bums when you’re out.

I’m constantly staring to see if they’ve got a visible panty line. So I’m like, she needs my knickers, she needs my knickers. So yeah, we designed them. So they’ve got really lovely seamless scalloped edging and you can’t see them at all underneath like tight gym leggings and don’t know where I found the confidence from, but found a factory and then ordered 4,000 pairs and then had to set up a website. And out of just wanting a decent pair of knickers, I’m now running a business that’s sold thousands and thousands of pairs of knickers. We’re now stocked in Boots. We are on QVC. So I’ve done live TV and we’ve got women of all ages buying my knickers. And obviously because of the technology, they’re actually suitable for periods and for leaks. So my girls wear them for their periods, I wear them for leaks. We’ve got young girls of nine all the way up to a 96-year-old woman who rings up for her knickers, all because I needed a decent pair of knickers.

Le’Nise Brothers:

I think it’s really, it’s amazing because you started this company in your forties and that’s a time where you have so much going on and you might be really kind of an entrenched in your career and you have the confidence to be able to say, this is a problem, I want to solve it and this is how I’m going to be able to do it. What would you say to women who are in their forties and are thinking about starting a business but they don’t have the confidence and they think, oh, well I’m not going to be able to do this, blah blah. What would you say to them?

Kelly Newton:

Do you know what I say? If I can do it, anyone can do it. Because like I said, I just started the menopause. I was in a really, really bad place. Honestly, I can’t even tell you some of the stories, how bad it was for me. I had six children at the time, so we had four foster daughters and two sons of our own. And I was working in a clinic part-time as well, which I still do to this day. I love it. It’s my release from everything. You can find the time. If you have an idea and it’s something that you know need and other people need, just bloody go for it. Ask questions. I mean, I googled everything. Google was my savior. I didn’t know how to design a pair of knickers. I didn’t know what I needed to do to start my company.

I googled everything. I found courses, I went on courses. I was also very, very lucky in the early days to have met Coni, my co-founder. So I’d already by this stage designed the knickers. The knickers had arrived. I’d set up a really crappy website because you’re talking to the person, I don’t know how to turn the TV on. I kid you not. I still don’t know how to put our TV on because there’s two controllers and there’s so many things you have to go into. I don’t watch TV if no one’s in, I don’t watch tv, which is fine because I don’t watch a lot of TV anyway, mainly because I can’t because I can’t turn it on. So I set up a website, but then I was very lucky to meet Coni and Coni now she does all the content, she did all the content, then she does all the social media.

She is incredible. She’s on my wavelength. We’ve got a sense of humor. The ideas that she comes up with are just absolute genius. I adore working with her and on paper, maybe it shouldn’t work. Like you say, I’m 20 years older than Coni, but she brings something fresh and really exciting to a subject that is predominantly shrouded in shame, I suppose. Incontinence. And she has taught me so much more than school taught me. I would never say the word vagina before. I’d call it my down below. And I’ve already said that on the podcast. It’s so embarrassing. I’m still slipping back into old habits. But she’s corrected me with the terminology and I never understood the importance of that before. I totally get it now because if we’re not talking about the correct terminology, it’s still hidden in shame. And we can’t talk about our bodies if we don’t know the right names for it.

Coni’s taught me that. I’ve learned that from you as well. So many people have taught me on the way, and I don’t know if it’s an age thing, there are probably women out there who have been very comfortable talking about their vulvas and their vaginas. I was not one of those people. I was too embarrassed to tell my mum about my period. So I’ve come kind of full circle now. I’m happy to talk about those things. I tell everyone, Coni says that somebody will ask me to pass the assault and I would’ve passed the salt over to them, but also told them that I’ve got a dry vagina and a weak bladder. She said, you just tell everyone and my friends as well take the mickey out of me. Now they say to me, I always say, I don’t want to tell everyone my business. She said, but you’re always on TV telling everyone your business. She said, everyone knows about your weak bladder and your dry vagina. It’s like, oh no, I can’t help it now. It’s like the words just keep coming out of my mouth. People need to know about it. A problem shared.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah, definitely. And talking about incontinence and shame, what’s really interesting is that, and you said it, you thought it was something that you had to live with. I’ve heard this from other women. They thought that, okay, well they’ve had a kid, they’re a bit incontinent, they just have to deal with it. And then they go to the doctor and they find out that they have a prolapse and there’s so much that you can do about that. But why do you think we have this culture where we think bad things happen to us physically and we think we just have to live with them?

Kelly Newton:

It’s women’s health, isn’t it? Women’s health is so overlooked all the time. Is it? I don’t know how much they spend on women’s health budget wise. I mean it’s like 3% or something like that. So men’s erections are far more important than women’s bladder health and things like that. I think going back, our product is not the solution to incontinence and we know that. And we are also always so clear about that you have to have a holistic approach to keeping your pelvic floor healthy. So I have had to go to the bladder clinic a couple of times to do a diary. I mean, it’s just crap if I’m honest with you. They check you out. They go, no, no, everything seems fine. Keep a bladder diary and you do a bladder diary and they go, well yeah, you need to do this, you need to do that.

So I’ve had sessions with a fantastic women’s health physio called Jenni Hughes. She owns Four Therapy. I’ve had numerous appointments with her and she’s amazing and she’s really helped me with my breath work. Breath work is so important. I don’t drink caffeine now. I drink decaf. I have one decaf coffee a day, and that’s all I need that in the mornings. I know it sounds ridiculous, it’s got no caffeine in it, but I make this amazing coffee with turmeric and cinnamon and coconut oil and stuff like that in it, and it needs to be in a coffee. So I have my decaf coffee there. There’s certain foods that you need to avoid. You need to hydrate yourself. If you are stopping yourself from drinking water, you are dehydrating, which is causing UTIs and all kinds of issues like that. So she’s really educated me on all of these things and I think we try to let people know through our socials and our websites and whatever. God, I’ve gone off on a tangent now. I’ve forgotten the question that you asked me.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Why we think that incontinent is normal.

Kelly Newton:

Yeah, well, we think it’s normal because so many women go through it. This is the problem and we just don’t have the facilities in place to look after women in that area. So because of the lack of funding, I think it’s because of the lack of funding. We’re just completely overlooked. But I know there’s a great doctor that we’ve worked with as well. Dr. Paula, I’m going to say her name, surname wrong, agu, I think her surname is. So she worked at Guys, but she set up a pilot scheme from the government. It’s government led and they have women’s health physios there I think. Is it midwife. So it’s all to do with once you’ve had a baby, they’re going to give you nine sessions of looking to look after your bladder. I’ve not given it any justice at all how I’ve just described that, but it’s a pilot scheme if it works, and hopefully they’ll get it across the UK.

And I think it’s literally at the moment, it’s just for women who have had babies just give them birth. But hopefully they can take that out wider and actually look into women’s pelvic health and spend a little bit more money and a bit more time in eradicating these issues as much as they can. Because I mean, I have women saying to me, you shouldn’t need your knickers. All you need to do is your pelvic floor exercises. It’s like, oh, thanks for the advice. Do you not think that I’m doing that? And I’m trying that and I still leak. So it really angers me when you have other women saying there’s no need for that. You’ve just got to do your pelvic floor exercises. What about women that have had bladder cancer? That’s not going to help them either. And it’s very insensitive, I think, for women to judge other women in that way.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah, I love the knickers. I have three pairs and I adore them. I wear them when I don’t have my period because I just think they’re so comfortable. And every time I see you, I say, oh, I’m wearing your knickers.

Kelly Newton:

And I know that you are as well. I’m always checking out your bum to see if you are wearing them or not. If I can see the lines, my husband just, honestly, he makes me die. He’s like, stop staring at their bums. I can’t help it. I, it’s my job. He goes, it’s not your job… so bad.

Le’Nise Brothers:

I want to also just talk a little bit about in the embarrassment that you mentioned earlier and how you were able to release yourself from that to be so open. Because as you say, a lot of these topics are intertwined with shame, a lot in of embarrassment in periods, incontinence, menopause. But now you go on TV and you tell everyone your business. How did you get to a place where you are able to be so open about this?

Kelly Newton:

So firstly, I have a really supportive family. So my husband completely supports everything that I do. And to my absolute shame, I mean, at the beginning he would share some of my posts on Facebook. I’m like, no, no, you don’t got, maybe, I dunno, 10 followers and they’re all friends of his. I’m like, no, you don’t need to share it with your friends. I don’t want you to share with your friends. I would be so embarrassed. It took a lot for me to put stuff out there at the beginning. I think also I was really embarrassed because I didn’t talk a lot about it. So not a lot of people knew what I was going through apart from my friends at hockey. They were the ones who were really encouraging about starting the business. It’s a really great idea. So I was embarrassed about who was following me because mostly at the beginning it was just my friends following me and I was embarrassed that some of my friends were going to see my posts and think like, oh God, that’s a bit embarrassing.

Who does she think she is? And then I got into, but these are my friends. Why would my friends think that about me? My friends love me. They wouldn’t be my friends if they didn’t love me and appreciate me and support me. My friends are such fantastic supports, amazing support. I think it was getting over, I think I was more embarrassed. I didn’t care about people I didn’t know knowing about it. I was more embarrassed about what I was putting out with the people that I did know. Once I got over the embarrassment of that and knowing that my friends love me and they’re there to support me, I actually felt quite confident about everything that I did. Nobody is thinking, who does she think she is? Unless they don’t care about me and I don’t care about the people that don’t care about me, and I want to help people.

And I honestly know by sharing my story and talking about what’s happened to me really helps people because I get messages. I get lovely, I’ve got cards all over my board up here from customers that I’ve never met, just saying thank you so much. What you’ve done has actually been life-changing for me. And when you start to get amazing feedback and reviews from people, do you know you’re doing something good? And all I want to do is help people. And I think that comes, obviously I’ve been a foster carer for 18 years, so that involves helping people. And I think that’s really ingrained in my personality and my lifestyle. I want to be the person that helps others and my sons as well. Bless ’em. They were, how old were they? So were they 23? So they were late teens, early teens with the other one when I started the business.

And I was worried about in case any of their friends from school might see some of the stuff. I mean, I’ve been on my website in my knickers, if my son’s mates had found that, how embarrassing for them, oh, they’ve got a picture of their mate’s mum in her drawers. But my boys are so lovely and they message me and I get lovely messages from ’em saying, mum, I’m so proud of what you’ve done and what you’ve achieved. And from the very beginning they’re like, this is a really good idea. We talked about it, what I was doing, obviously they could see 4,000 pairs of knickers in the office upstairs. And they were like, we’re so proud of what you’ve done, the fact that you’ve set up a business. And my youngest son at the moment is looking to set up his own business and he’s coming to me for advice, which I absolutely love. So not only am I helping support women through these life stages, I’m happy to support anybody. There’s other people that I’ve almost didn’t mean to, but I’m kind of mentoring them in a, what’s that word? Not in an unprofessional way. In a

Le’Nise Brothers:

Defacto like unofficial?

Kelly Newton:

Unofficial, that’s the word. In an unofficial way. I’m kind of trying to support other women who are setting up business. And do you know what I love as well in this space? There’s competition, obviously. There are competition out there. You’ve got the reusable pads, you’ve got the menstrual cups, you’ve got the towels and pads, whatever. There’s such a nice community of people that we all support each other. So you could say that we’re in competition, but actually we all know that women need choices. Women should have choices. And my knickers aren’t going to be right for everybody, but I know somebody that maybe you could try the reusable pads or you could try the menstrual cup. Maybe that would work better for you. And we collaborate together. And I absolutely love that about our space. Not everyone’s like that, but the women that are around me are fantastic women and we all support each other and we collaborate. And I think that’s amazing. I feel like we are in it for the right reasons because we really want to support women. And I love that. I absolutely love that. Honestly, my heart is full sometimes. It’s just amazing.

Le’Nise Brothers:

What you said about you having two sons who are really proud of you and who come to you for advice in a topic that is for men, you expect them to be embarrassed. What are they open about these sorts of conversations, talking about periods and all of that?

Kelly Newton:

Yeah, they really are. And I think that’s something that I was very, I wanted to do from when they were very little. I wanted to be open with them and I wanted to talk about stuff. So we’ve, all of the kids that we’ve had coming through our house, we’ve talked about all of these things about having, they need to have a voice, they need to speak up. If something’s not right, they need to speak up about it. And I think I’ve done a really good job with my foster daughters now. Yeah, they do speak up. They drive me mad, but they speak up, they have a voice and I love that. So from an early age, they knew about periods, we talked about sex, we talked about consent, all of these important subjects, they are very, very aware of. And in fact, my youngest son, I think it was last year or the year before we actually, we went up and filmed this little, a mini documentary about menopause.

And I actually cried at the end because they said to him, why did you want to come and do this today? And he said, well, because I feel like any woman in my life now, I want to be able to support them going through these life changes. So he said, I want to learn about menopause, and I’ve learned a lot from my mum, and I want to be able to support my work colleagues or my wife or anybody else around me. I want to be able to support them through that. And that’s through conversation. We’ve done that through conversation. I know that he’ll go out and he’ll buy his girlfriend period products. They’re very open about these things. And I love that. Sometimes they’re a little bit too open with me with stuff I don’t want to know about. But that’s my fault that we’ve raised them to be that way.

And although sometimes I’m a bit like didn’t want to hear that, I’m actually, I’m quite happy that they have spoken to me about it and I know what’s going on in their lives. Yeah, because teenage years, you don’t know what’s going on in your children’s life. They have the secret, all teenage children, both sexes have a secret life that you don’t know about. But I feel like we’ve talked about a lot of stuff. I’m quite intuitive. I know when something’s going on in my children’s lives, even if they’re trying to keep secrets from me. I feel like as a mother, I’ve kind of got a pretty good understanding of what you are up to. You think. I don’t know, but I do know. So whether they’re keeping secrets from me or not, I do know what’s going on in their lives. We’ve been teenagers as well. We so we know what we’ve got up to.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah, yeah, exactly.

Kelly Newton:

They tend to forget that we had a life before we had, yeah,

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah. I said that to my son the other day. I said, it’s okay if you don’t want to tell me everything he said to me. I was asking him questions about what was going on at school. And he said, I don’t have to tell you everything, Mama. I don’t. And I said, no, that’s fine. I understand that as long as you know that you can come to me and tell me. I don’t tell you everything. There’s stuff that going on in my life that you don’t know about. And I think he didn’t really think about that, which I thought was quite interesting. 

Kelly Newton:

Yeah. He doesn’t realize you have a whole other life and it doesn’t involve him.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah, yeah.

Kelly Newton:

Exactly. I agree. I agree. I think that we’ve brought our kids up that they don’t have to tell us everything, but if there’s something that they really do want to talk about, they will tell us. And I know that from experience, something’s been going on in one of my children’s life that it’s not made them very happy. But they’ll come to me and they’ll talk to me and we can talk through it and we can find solutions to it together. And I love the fact that they can do that, that you’ve done a good thing by being able to get that into them, that we’re always here for them. Whatever happens are always here for them. And they appreciate that. And they know they can come to us. 

And I’m not saying I didn’t have that with my mum, but I just had a lot of embarrassment about things. I knew I could talk to my mum if I wanted to. I just feel like it was a completely different generation then. Things were so, so different then. I think it was so much more open now and supportive again, not saying that my mum wasn’t supportive. She is. And it was just a different time. It’s just, yeah. Does social media play a massive part in that? I don’t know.

Le’Nise Brothers:

I think so. I think social media is helping to break down barriers where you see people talking openly about topics that maybe you felt were taboo, but you see how open other people are about talking about them. And then that helped  I think little by little, it changes people’s perspectives or, oh, actually it’s okay to talk about my period. It’s okay. Or I shouldn’t be accepting this sort of feeling. I shouldn’t be expecting accepting hot flashes or incontinence or whatever. The kind of gamut of things that we tend to think are normal as women, which actually aren’t. I think social media has played a really big part in that. I want to just go on to just ask about what you have coming up next. So the brand has just launched in Boots, which is absolutely massive, thrilled for you. So say what’s coming up next? I mean, you’ve just had this big thing happen, so maybe it’s just like, okay, let’s bed all of this in. But..

Kelly Newton:

Yeah, I mean Boots was, oh my God. Boots was, so, Boots was on my manifestation board. It’s up there. It’s on the manifestation board. It’s been there since the beginning. And just for us to be launched in Boots, it’s just amazing. And obviously we launched with two other amazing brands, Fewe and Luna Daily. So yeah, we had an amazing panel a few weeks ago, which you were absolutely bloody brilliant. And honestly, and I could just listen to your voice. I said to you, didn’t at the end. I said, oh, Le’Nise, you need to do bedtime stories because your voice is just, oh, I love it. Absolutely love it. So yeah, we’ve got Boots. We were on QVC, so we launched on QVC the same week. We launched in Boots, which was absolutely manic and mental.

What else we got coming up. We’ve got a few more kind of stores coming up. Not huge stores, kind of independents. We have a couple of new products coming out next year, which is quite exciting. So we just launched the thong. We, which has been, yeah, it’s been brilliant. We’ve had some really good reception to that. We’ve got, I can’t talk about them yet. We’ve got two or three new designs coming up next year. We’re actually going for funding as well. We’ve decided to go for funding. I think we need this to take it to the next stage. Obviously Coni and I have done this completely self-funded, and I think, which is pretty amazing. Like you say, starting a company in my forties with absolutely no business experience whatsoever, just needing a decent pair of knickers and now building an empire. I’m always saying to my husband, I’m building an empire, I’m building an empire.

So yeah, we’ve got all of those things coming up. We are at the National Running Show in January, which we absolutely love. So me and Claire go along to that. It’s our third or fourth time I think of going. It’s an absolutely brilliant event and we always do so, so well there. And yeah, we’ve got a little group of other stall holders that go along and we’ll meet up and have drinks and it’s a really nice weekend away. Actually. I tell my husband it’s really hard work, but actually I love it. I look forward to it. What else we’ve got coming up this year. We’ve got loads and loads of stuff in the pipeline. We are looking at exporting, like going abroad as well. So that’s something that is also on my board. But yeah, just lots of really exciting things. Really. I’m working, I’m doing this whole thing with Women In Football. So because of my love of sport and because of how unique the knickers are and how light they are, they’re perfect for underneath sportswear. So we’re doing some work with Women in Football and hopefully we can kind of grow on that as well. So yeah. Sorry, I’m being really vague.

Le’Nise Brothers:

No, there’s a lot going on and it all sounds incredibly exciting. I’m just so thrilled to see you go from strength to strength. The knickers, I remember when you gave me the pair, I think it was, you gave me a pair of the knickers at some screening and you were like, try these. What’s your size? Try these. And I was like, okay. And yeah, it’s just amazing to see what you’ve been doing from afar. Where can people find the knickers? Where can they get in touch with you?

Kelly Newton:

Okay, so we have our own website, which is nixibody.com, but you can buy them on Boots if you are a QVC fan. I think we’re going to be back on there soon, so give us a wave. But yeah, so we also sell onto Decathlon, Mountain Warehouse, OMES and Superdrug online. We’re actually stocked in lots of equestrian shops as well. But if you want to speak to me directly, you can email through Nixi Body or I’m also on LinkedIn under Kelly Newton. You can find me under Kelly Newton. And also we’ve got our social media. We’re on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Oh, and TikTok, not TikTok and Twitter we are not great at. But I think Instagram and Facebook are pretty cool. So yeah, Coni’s like our queen of not just social media. She’s like our queen of everything. She’s amazing. So yeah, you can find us there.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Great. Well, it’s been amazing speaking to you, hearing your period story and hearing the story of your business. Thank you so much for coming on the show.

Kelly Newton:

You are so welcome. Thank you, Le’Nise. I could listen to you all day…

Period Story Podcast, Episode 79, Amaia Arranz: Menstrual Cups Are The Most Eco-Friendly Period Product

My guest on today’s episode of Period Story is Amaia Arranz. Amaia is the CEO of Ruby Cup, an award-winning social business that works to combat period poverty around the world. 

In this episode, Amaia shares: 

  • What it was like getting her period as a teenage girl in Spain in the 90s 
  • How getting her period was a combination of being a part of a VIP cool girl club with a big dose of shame attached 
  • Some of the myths she learned growing up around tampons, virginity and sex
  • How menstrual cups work and exactly how to use one 
  • The social mission at the heart of Ruby Cup, including their buy one, give one model 
  • How they work with their NGO partners to provide menstrual education and to ensure there are the right conditions, including clean water, to use a menstrual cup safely
  • And of course, the story of her first period

Amaia says that if you are swimming and a wave comes, you don’t argue with the wave. You have to go with the wave. So if your period is coming, get angry, get pissed off, but it’s coming, why not go with it and see, maybe it’s not the worst thing to have a couple of quiet days once a month with your blanket and your movies and a huge bar of chocolate. 

Thank you, Amaia! 

Get in touch with Amaia:

Instagram

Website

Facebook


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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise Brothers:

Hi Amaia, thank you so much for coming onto the show today. I’m really excited to speak to you, learn more about Ruby Cup, but let’s first get started with a question I ask all my guests. Tell me the story of your very first period.

Amaia Arranz:

Hi Le’Nise. Thank you for having me. I’m so excited about our conversation. My first period was, I think I was 13 or nearly 13 and I think I was the last girl in my class getting her period. And with all these things, you don’t want to be the first one, you don’t want to be the last one. So by the end I was really kind of praying for it because my friends were saying things like, oh, I have cramps, but you can’t understand yet. And so if you feel like a baby a bit, I just want to be a big girl like the others. But then my period did arrive and the first thing my mother said was like, oh my God, now you could get pregnant. And I completely freaked out because I was a very young child. I was nearly still playing with my dolls, not quite, but probably in secret sometimes. Nowhere near having sex, nowhere near having boyfriends. So when she said that, completely freaked out. I was like, what do you mean? It felt like a heavy fast track into something I wasn’t ready for at all. So even though the technicality of the physical bit I was ready for, I have another sister as well, that emotional side, that thing of, oh, now you are a woman. That completely, no, I wasn’t ready for that at all.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And so you weren’t ready, but did you know when you actually saw the blood, what to do and what was going to come next?

Amaia Arranz:

Yeah, I guess. I went to a very good school in terms of reproductive health education. I had a mom that told us about it and I had an older sister, which I think is always a massive factor. It’s also older sisters, they love to teach us things. This is a tampon, this is a pad. So I knew the physical bit, the bleeding, the pad, what to do. You have cramps and to be all coy in physical education class, oh, I cannot do it today. But I think, yeah, I knew that the physical technical blood part of it, but I wasn’t so prepared for everything else that comes like PMS or I don’t know, change in moods or how people might view you or how you might even consider yourself. Now you’re a menstruating woman or an adult let’s say.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Can you say more about that, the changes in how people view you and how you view yourself?

Amaia Arranz:

Yeah, I think this is changing a bit now, but a bit slowly in my opinion, there is still this thing of, oh, now you are menstruating, now you are a woman. Well, you are not actually. Our periods are arriving, I mean in terms of population earlier and earlier, I think in the last hundred 50 years, on average it’s gone from arriving between 12 and 13 to 11, 12. There are many factors for this, it’s thought to be a higher consumption of meat, more processed food, pollution. We don’t really know why, but periods are arriving earlier when you are 11, 10, 11, 12, you are not a woman. And I think this concept that now you are a woman, the whole kind of connection between periods, reproductive health, sex, the cycle, you have to know that. I mean knowledge is power is your body. You have to know it and own it. But to have this kind of implication and now you are on your period, you are a woman, you are more up for grabs let’s say. Yeah, I don’t really like that. I think it’s very negative.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And so for you, when you got your period, how did it change how you felt about yourself if it did in any way?

Amaia Arranz:

Yeah, as I said, I was very bookish, loved my dolls kid until an older age than average, which is absolutely fine. But then the other conversation you have with friends about tampons and pads and also bras and body hair, it is like one day you are literally playing with dolls or watching quite childish TV programs and nine months later you are talking about whether wax or shave your legs and tampons versus pads and different bras. And that’s fine because how your body and your mind and your soul are growing. But they think very often I felt a bit brought by what was happening around me rather than me feeling actually ready. And it kind of felt it was happening very fast. All these things are now, maybe nothing wrong with makeup or anything like that. I’m just saying that it seems that now puberty, teenage happens very soon and menstruation is a milestone that makes you go from feeling like you can still be a child to suddenly you are a young woman, which you are not at 12, 13 at all. And that can be quite disconcerting and especially if you take into account, the male gaze. I grew, I was a teen in the nineties, so all these things, Britney Spears being a sexy school girl and so on. It’s very confusing, what do you mean a sexy schoolgirl? What the hell is that?

So I mean, yeah, it can be a bit confusing that thing of supposed to be much more mature in terms of your sexuality than you probably are ready for. If you are, it’s fine. I’m not saying one should not do that if they feel that way, but I think teenagers are very easy to, you can get influenced very easily by the crowd, by TV, by culture, by magazines and all these things. And you may be feeling a bit like that you are forced or not maybe forced, but really encouraged to grow up faster than you really are.

Le’Nise Brothers:

I actually really agree with that. I think that there is this, along with this idea that having a period and menstruating and ovulating makes you a woman, which it doesn’t. There are so many things that make you a woman. It just feels like there’s this kind of expectation that okay, childhood is over time for the next phase. When I say this to my son a lot, and I don’t think he really understands it, but enjoy your childhood, enjoy not having any responsibilities, enjoy feeling free. Don’t worry about this and that ,your worries worry about what’s happening. Don’t think about what’s happening at school, think about your friends, but don’t rush for the future. And I do feel like there is this kind of acceleration happening. You see it on social media, on TikTok where it’s okay to experiment with makeup and all of that, but when you see these girls they’re like 11, 12 and they’ve got a face full of makeup, it’s very kind of jarring because you look at them and you think, you’re extremely young and it is great to experiment but don’t grow up too fast because basically I think what I’m trying to say.

Amaia Arranz:

I completely agree. I just want to clarify. I have nothing against Britney Spears. She’s fantastic. It’s more I don’t think I was portrayed not a sexy school girl. I completely agree with you. Also, there are things, I think it was a few years ago, I lived in the UK for a long time. I remember when I think it was Primark, suddenly they had a two piece bikini with a bit of how say, filling on the top area for seven year olds. The thing is this idea of, I don’t know, taking the fact that all children playing to be adults a bit and taking it to an extent that we’re pushing them into a direction that, I mean some will be ready, some are very mature and some are not.

But yeah, and also I think with social media and TikTok, this idea that you have to look at by also how you feel inside growing up I’m becoming more mature. I’m being ready to take on more responsibilities and being more responsible for your body and your sexuality and your fun and so on. It’s also that it’s mainly something happening inside in your personal development. It’s not only signaled by something physical like a period or having boobs or wearing lipstick and it’ll be good I think. My kids are very small, but I have teenage nieces and nephews and I do see that they could get a bit more support into developing the internal skills to cope with the facts of growing up.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And for you, once you got your period and then you kind of went into your teenage years, what was your experience of your period?

Amaia Arranz:

I was this thing really, it was this dichotomy. On the one hand you have a period, you’re a woman, you wear a bra and you epilatt and you wear eyeliner whole thing together, like being in this kind of secret club. We never tell the boys about these things and those pads going under the desk and it was something fun and cool about it. I mean, I do not have the bleeding. I didn’t have period pain until my late teens, but when I was 14, 15, 16, it was nearly something fun going to the beach. I don’t think I shot off today because I’m wearing a pad. But then at the same time there was this thing about how it’s like the secret being fun, but the shame also being very intense. I do remember it’s a secret, but it can turn into dirty shame quite quickly.

Once when I was, the first year I was menstruating, so 13, 14, probably like 14, my period was still quite irregular. So I never knew when they were coming. And then I got my period and I was in a school and I stained my jeans and it was literally the end of days, what am I going to do? Someone leave me a jumper, I’m going to have to go home in the middle of the day, change my whole outfit and probably get face surgery and change my identity. So know what? It was so embarrassing and it was like, I mean I realized thinking why do I have to feel so embarrassed about this? The boys are playing football outside and bloodiness all the time and they’re not going like, oh, I have a bloody trouser. This is horrible. So I was aware of that and I be like, I know this is really, sometimes if someone says something about period, people pull a face or say like, oh, it’s a bit disgusting, we don’t really need to hear about it.

So on the one hand it was like a path to a VIP cool girl room to have your period and be like a teen girl. On the other hand, there was so much shame about it about, I also remember when the first girls started using condoms, and this is really insane, but remember it was the nineties and it was in Spain and so on, and they were saying it’s a bit, not slutty, but oh, a bit too much a tampon, sorry, called tampon using tampons instead of pad like oh, you put it inside and I don’t know, there was this thing about it. And then yeah, mainly the thing about the blood being something super disgusting, not something you talk about and having to hide it not only by choice but also by not being disgusting. You hide your period, you hide your products and I do really wonder what it does to a young to be told that she might be smelly or dirty for a few days every month and her body is doing something that is going to be doing anyway, but you should hide it and only talk about it in.

So I find that not super great.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Where do you think this instinct, because this is something I hear a lot, this shame, I have heard a few of my guests say that when they got their period, they felt like they were in this club and it was cool and they thought it was so awesome to be able to have their tampons and their pads. But then the majority of my guests have talked about shame and where do you think this shame comes from?

Amaia Arranz:

I think the shame comes from the patriarchy, an ingrained misogyny in our unconscious about the female body. I think it’s, it’s just really screwed up the fact that we still live in a society that seems to value motherhood in women in a way it doesn’t fatherhood in men, you really, I mean I’m not saying anything this, but you really become a woman when you have a child. All the celebrities that haven’t had children being so pitied while the men are not and so on. So it’s like being a mother, it’s this really important thing in the life of a woman and what’s going to happen if you can do it or if you don’t want to do it, how suspicious, how weird.

At the same time, the same biological process that allow us to become women is disgusting and then in between period and pregnancy is the female sexuality, which is still surrounded by taboo and shame. So I think that’s what it is. I mean, I don’t want to get into massive conspiracy theories here, but I think there is so much fear and taboo and lack of acceptance around the female body that the period has become a bit of alike a scapegoat because it’s so visual, so bleeding, something you have to do every month, you have to do something to manage the bleeding coming out of your vagina. I think many people, many men are terrified of it because it also is a symbol of our power. We can birth life, we can have children. So I think that where it comes from, it’s too much. I mean I think it’s too much to bear in a way.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah, I agree. I think that these taboos, they exist in so many cultures and there’s the religious side of it, there’s also the cultural side of it and then there’s the whole idea, the patriarchal side of it. What do you think we need to do to move past these taboos, to move past this inherent feeling of shame that seems to permeate once you get your first period?

Amaia Arranz:

Well, I think proper period education is key. But you know what? I used to think, and I’ve been working in menstrual education for more than a decade and I felt so strongly like girls need to know about periods. They have to be empowered, they have to be told how to manage them, how to think proud of them and so on. What maybe the boys too, I mean, I dunno. I think sometimes when you are very passionate feminist, you’re like boys, men, you have enough attention, you have enough resources. But actually now I’m getting older and hopefully a bit wiser. I think generally young people are very lost when it comes to their bodies and their sexuality and we’re not giving them enough support. I think there is still this fear that if we talk to them about sex a lot, they won’t want to do anything else but have sex all the time or something like that.

So sexual education, menstruation, a two hour lesson in a school and that’s it. Like what? That’s not enough. It’s we going to keep on talking about this. So I think it’s education and then culture. For example, when I was in the nineties, all the ads for tampons are path, were like this beautiful models, actual models like roller skating, white shorts and being confident and beautiful and it’s like you, you are so separated, so away from that reality when you’re feeling bloated and tired and you don’t want to wear white shorts and you don’t want to wear rollerskates. I mean I think we need to have more thought of menstruation in books and TV series I is happening more and more and movies and just making the human body and especially for teenage people, sexuality, reproductive health period, something ongoing in a school. No one thing that they’re taught once about but something that have workshops, have role play, tell people about different products.

This is happening now. It’s so fantastic. I never knew until I was quite older that you could have anything back. Tampons and pads, I mean no one product is going to work for everyone until people are different products. If someone has a very heavy period, don’t just put them on the pill. Maybe there something else they can do. So I think we need to take more time and effort and care to educate people and create also a pop culture about it that it’s more, I don’t know, instead of asking all young, bright, lovely celebrities, if they’re going to have children, ask them about how they’re doing with their period, don’t ask another woman again, how is it being a working mom? I ask her, Beyonce, you’re jumping on the stage for five hours a day every day of the month. What happens when you’re menstruating on that stage? What do you do? How do you manage it? I mean, yeah, let’s get more creative with this.

Le’Nise Brothers:

That’s such an interesting line of questioning because yeah, you do see these athletes and actors, they’re doing these very intensive jobs and thinking about the heaviest day of your period where you do feel tired. Yeah. How do you navigate that? It’s so interesting to think about, but I do think coming back to this idea of education in schools, getting boys involved is so important. And I see this on my TikTok. I get a lot of questions actually from men around fertility. How do I help my partner? How do I know when she’s ovulating? How do I help her? And if we had this education earlier where it was all the kids in a classroom not separated by gender and they learn about the biological side of it, they learn what’s normal isn’t, that it kind of reduces a lot of the fear that you see with men around this.

Like, oh, well I can’t go to the shop and get tampons or pads. It’s weird. Or even when women having to hide their products because they don’t want anyone to see it because they think, oh well I don’t want anyone to know. It’s just all of this stuff starting really early in an age appropriate way. I think it’s so, so important. I do this, my son, I bring it back to him because I just think it’s so interesting. He knows the work I do and he hears me talking about it all the time. He hears my conversations and so he knows about periods, he knows about all of this. And I had to say to him, because his school just became co-ed, and I said, there might be girls in your school year who they might get their period if you see them and if they have a stain, offer them your jumper, make sure that they don’t feel embarrassed, let them know in discreet way. And he hadn’t really made that connection and of course he wouldn’t.

Amaia Arranz:

That’s amazing. I mean that’s the thing. It’s like imagine if every boy was told that if you see one of your schoolmates with stains or struggling or something, don’t laugh at her or don’t mock her. Just be supportive and nice. Imagine what difference that will make. I mean it’s amazing. Of course it starts at home as well. I should have said that as well, that parents could do some support on how to talk about these things. I hope this is changing, but I mean my dad will have never spoken to me on my periods. I mean, he’ll just, if my mom and my sister were talking about it, he just say, pull a face and walk away. So yeah, once again, it reinforces this idea that it’s a VIP club, but it’s kind of shameful depending on who you are with which, yes, I think emphasize that this dichotomy when you’re a teenager and things are either great or really bad, but it’s really good that you are talking to your son in that way because I think it’s the only way.

And also, I don’t know, you hear more and more women saying, I had super heavy periods of very painful periods. I was talking to this woman talking about periods at work who suffer from extreme anxiety from the fact that on the first day of her period she couldn’t move with the pain. She could vomiting pain and she had a very high pressure as well. So if she thought that her period might coincide with a presentation, she’ll be taking something for anxiety as well. It can affect you that badly. And if you go to the doctor and that doctor hasn’t got the resources or the training or the knowledge to help you, so many women end up finding they have endometriosis very later in life when they have fertility issues or polycystic ovaries or actually there was a way to make this better for them. That was just a contraceptive pill, no shade on the pill.

But there also other ways of addressing these issues and just doing, oh, periods are painful and dirty and it’s a woman’s job to put up with them. Well, maybe it’s not as any other thing that it’s making your life quality worse. It’s completely worth assessing and seeing if there’s a solution for it. But you cannot do that if you’re too embarrassed to talk to someone. I mean, there’s someone in my family, a teenager in my family who has a very heavy and painful period. And her mother is really trying to go to, the doctor has to check if everything is okay and she refuses if 16-year-old, she’s really even. She like, no, no, no, has embarrassing. I will never do that. And her mom who’s a teacher trying to encourage her and it’s like, wow, still no.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah. Yeah. I want to go back to what you said about in your teenage years when girls were starting to make the switch to tampons and it was seen as slutty. I’ve never heard that. I just think that’s, and this is any kind of menstrual product where you have to insert it. There is a lot of misconceptions talking about how you lose your virginity and it’s just wild talking about it. But thinking specifically about the work that you do with Ruby Cup and menstrual cups, there is still a lot of fear around menstrual cups, the insertion, managing it. Can you talk about why that is and actually why menstrual cups are so beneficial?

Amaia Arranz:

When it comes to any product to manage your period that are used by insertion like tampons and cups? There is, I think there are two taboos about it. One is virginity, the hymen, might the hymen break, therefore break my virginity if I put a cup or a tampon in my vagina. I think here is, I mean at Rubycup we work with in many different countries with people from all kind of cultures and religions and we always come from respect and say, this is not for you. It’s not for you. And they’re this fantastic company that makes washable pads. You should speak to them, no pressure at all. But we also say your hymen is a very thin membrane at the end part of your vagina and it’s very flexible and it’s different for everyone. Therefore your hymen could break when you are playing sports or riding your bicycle or climbing a tree or doing a medical examination.

But if you haven’t had sexual intercourse, you are still a virgin. And that if you hymen breaks and you may not even realize when it breaks because it’s not like loads of liquid weight in the earth point we breaking. Many people never realize when the hymen break and if you haven’t had intercourse then you’re still a virgin. There are people whose hymen is so flexible like a spiderweb so to speak, that they could have sex, vaginal sex and the hymen not break the first, the second, the third time. They may never realize and those people have had sex even if the hymen is intact, so to speak. So hymen and virginity are not synonyms, so to speak. So if you haven’t had sex, and for example if your wish is to not have sex until you get married, using a cup or using a tampon is not going to destroy that wish.

It’s not going to stop you from being a virgin. That’s one thing. The other thing is if we only talk about virginity in terms of penis in vagina, that’s also a very narrow view of what’s having sex and intercourse, which is something else to conceal altogether. So personally I think virginity is a social construct in itself, but as I said, we always respect everyone’s wishes and beliefs. We just say that the same way that the cup is not might or not break your hymen, it might break doing sex or not, it might ride your bicycle or not. There’s something to know. 

And then the other taboo surrounding anything being inserted in your vagina, which I think is that taboo we had in the nineties, at least in my school, is that because it’s always been portrayed that sex and a woman’s arousal happens when the penis goes into the vagina.

We’re watching a movie and they kiss and then they’re having sex and she’s super, super, super enjoying it with a kiss and a penis in her vagina. So I think there is this kind of this remaining idea that a woman could get super aroused and super excited and have an orgasm just by having a cup or a tampon or anything going into her vagina. So I think that’s the query comes from thinking, oh, if I put something in my vagina, it’s going to make me really, really horny and maybe that’s inappropriate. We had in certain places, not our users, our program participants receiving a Ruby Cup, but their husbands concerned that the women were going to be using Ruby Cup as a sex toy and start neglecting them inverted commas. We have had this. So and then what we did in this case is that we said, okay, why?

How about we have some women, adult women, community leaders use the cup and then they can vouch for the fact that unfortunately Ruby Cup is not going to give you a million orgasms. So then ly, so that’ll be the best product ever then. So yeah, taboo, taboo of the hymen virginity and is a taboo, I mean, I’m sorry to say I think it’s alive for most women and why sex can be so disappointing for women at this start because most women do not go into the peak of their ecstasy. Yes, they’re having something put into their vagina. So I think that’s why I think it’s also important to talk about this. Yeah, education is key and also not only on menstruation but also on women’s bodies and trying to give ourselves permission to learn what we like and go with that.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And then regarding menstrual cups themselves, so something that I see and it’s starting, I am seeing a bit of a shift, but there is a fear about, because it feels, for some people it feels very different. They’re used to hearing about pads, hearing about tampons, oh cups, how does it work? And there’s a fear of it being messy. How do I actually get it in? Can you just talk a little bit more about that side of it? 

Amaia Arranz:

Yeah, sure. I think something with cups, and I’m looking here for my own experience because I only started using cups in my early thirties. I’m 43 now, so I’m a cup user, but I did use tampons and pads for a very long time. I think it’s this idea you have to handle your own blood in a way. I think you still handle a lot of blood with pads and tampons, but there is something you don’t have to touch anything. And that also, for example with tampons, with applicators are so popular, at least in Spain, in the UK, some more people using the ones with no applicator. But in Spain, everyone, not everyone, but many people choose the ones with applicators. So you don’t have to put your fingers inside, you don’t get any blood in your fingers and all this kind of sanitized period. This is stay away from that witchy blood from my vagina kind of thing.

Okay. A cup is completely the opposite of that. You’re going to get close and personal with your blood and I think it’s amazing. It’s great. Okay, so for insertion, a cup, I mean we have lots of information and resources and videos in our website at rubycup.com, but basically it’s not that different to how you insert a tampon. What happens with the cup is that it looks like a small cup, but when you see it just like that, it looks very big compared to a tampon. So it can be a bit like what, but then you fold it and there are many folding method and when it’s folded, it’s actually nearly as small as a tampon with advantage that is made of very soft medical grade silicone. Whereas tampons, because they’re like cotton or the applicator is cardboard, they’re harder. So full look smaller, but they have bit rougher to an extent.

Whereas caps are very, very soft. So then you insert it in your vagina and then you let it to collect your blood while you menstruate and then you have to empty it. And this is the bit that everyone, including me, I mean I’m not looking down on anyone, it took me some time to get used to the cup. It is because then you do get very close with your blood because you have to take your cup out and especially at the beginning where you are still shaky and you’re still learning how long you can leave it for before it overflows. It can be a bit, oh blood everywhere and this can happen. But what happens after a while, you learn how to use your cup and you end up being able to remove it and empty it anywhere without even getting blood in your fingers. And it’s quite funny to see actually it’s not so much blood like this small cup full of blood and so on.

But what I was going to say is that it’s also interesting how we freak out about the idea of getting blood on fingers or making a mess in the bathroom. Most of us don’t bleed anywhere near as much as we think is the way tampons are that because they absorb the blood and they soak it up, it looks like there’s loads. But when you put in an empty container, it’s really not much. So even if you drop a bit of blood on the floor or in the bathroom, you can clean it up, it’s fine. It may happen to you the first few times you use the cup, but it’s just your blood. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s not disgusting, it’s not horrible. Maybe interesting. Oh in there, oh it’s much darker or now it’s more red now it’s more brown. There is some, I mean I don’t know.

I really encourage people to try cups because I think there are a really fantastic product. They are the most eco-friendly product. They’re the cheapest product. But also because most of us are going to menstruate for about 35 years, we want to know what is there to know about all the products and then choose and maybe also explore one that makes us feel more like matey with our own body and our vagina and we’re, oh, now my cervix is a higher, now it’s a bit lower. I don’t know. I think there can be a lot of joy in it if you turn it around still thinking, oh my god, my blood, it’s fine.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah, I think that’s such an interesting way of looking at it. Looking at the number of periods that you have, how long? So I think it’s between about 450 and 500 periods across the course of your menstruating life. And if you’re going to experience something that many times, why not just embrace it? It might be painful, it might be heavy, but embrace the kind of process of it. And part of that is getting familiar with your blood. I remember when I first started using cups, I was really surprised not just by, I was surprised by the color, I was surprised by how I would fill a cup and how I would have to empty it and how working all of, but the other thing I was surprised about was actually the smell. It’s this idea that a lot of us grew up as we touched upon this in the beginning of blood and our bodies and our vaginas being dirty and smelly vaginas.

And I was like, this isn’t smelly at all. And I just thought that was really, really interesting. And actually using a cup has helped me understand my body a lot more and it’s actually changed my period. I started using a really hard, a harder cup, I won’t mention the brand, but I then switched to using a medical silicone and it just made my period so much easier. And it, I have mild endometriosis so my periods can be painful, but they are so much less painful and I put that down to not using your standard conventional tampons or pads, but also giving my body the opportunity to just let the bleed just go out rather than everything being absorbed, which is what happens with tampons.

Amaia Arranz:

I could not agree more. I could not agree more. It’s such a different experience. And the smell thing as well is very interesting because I mean smell is also smell. One day you get a bit sweaty and the other one goes MIA, it’s fine. It’s just a bit of a smell. But sometimes the smell we relate to pure smell is because most tampons are cotton, they have bleached the cotton and so on. There are a number of chemical products in there. I’m not saying they’re harmful, but they are in there. So therefore that has a chemical reaction with your blood. It’s having, if you sweat a lot and you wear a cotton T-shirt or nothing, even the smell is completely different to when you wear a polyester or lycra t-shirt. It’s kind of that comparison, if that makes sense. Yeah. I have never come with this before, but anyway, and I think that’s what happens with the cup because it just collecting your blood, not absorbing it. So the experience is completely different. And then in terms of, I think for me logistically, I had not thought about this, but with tampons, you have to have the right absorbency for that day because taking out a tampon that is not full, it is my friend says like licking a wooden spoon, so it’s

Le’Nise Brothers:

So uncomfortable!

Amaia Arranz:

We can’t have all the sizes at home and our back and at work it’s just a pain. The first time I went on a holiday with just my cup, there’s my little organic cotton little bag with my cup inside instead of lagging tampons. Oh tampons. So the tampons, my tampons and my paths and then you go to a bathroom and what do I dispose of everything. I mean just the experience is so much more pleasant and I really love what you said about embracing our period. This is kind of like hippie mindful saying about if you are swimming and a wave comes, you don’t argue with the wave. What are you doing here? You have to go with the wave. So if your period is coming, yeah, get angry, get pissed off, reach about it, but it’s coming, why not go with it and see, maybe it’s not the worst thing to have a couple of quiet days once a month with your blanket and your movies and a huge bar of chocolate. If that is what works your boat, go with it. Rather than trying to fight it and say, I’m not being as productive and not able to run 30 marathons these two days. Well maybe your body is not going to find that so horrible after.

Le’Nise Brothers:

I love that analogy, that metaphor. I think it’s brilliant. I want to just switch a little bit to talking more about Ruby Cup, the company. You have a model where someone purchases the cup and then another cup is donated. Can you talk a little bit more about where the cups are donated and why these places were chosen?

Amaia Arranz:

Yeah. Well basically when the program, I mean Ruby Cup was always going to be a social business. It wasn’t something that came after. The aim was always to find those people that were facing period poverty. I know poverty means not being able to handle your period in a way that is safe or dignified, missing a school, missing work, lower self-esteem in certain parts of the world. It puts you at risk of falling into toxic relationships because you depend on your boyfriend to buy your pads and so on. So that was always the aim of the company and there was, I think it was in 2011, could it be, there was a small study in Kenya, in Nairobi, I think it was with 80 cups, I think they were Mooncup actually showing that the women were very receptive to using a menstrual cup. I mean we’re talking about caps are why well known now, but 10 years ago and in East Africa there were not known at all.

So there was always this concern that you’re going to go to people that to have a problem and you are going to offer them a solution they don’t want, which obviously it’s not the way to go. So basically the first solutions of Ruby cup started to happen in Kenya in 2012. That’s when I joined the company in 2012. Basically we teamed up with a number of locally based NGOs that were working. At the time, it was mainly school girls because there was this whole thing like 10 years ago about keep girls in a school, save a girl, save a generation, and so on and so on. This idea that if you are able to help a girl from dropping off a school or getting pregnant or getting married off at 12, if you’re able to keep her, let’s say, I wouldn’t say in the good and narrow, but let’s say in a school and safe for until she was 18, 20, that her future could have a completely different shape and she could be much more of an owner of it.

So we started distributing the cups mainly in schools, and this was in Kenya at Tanzania and Uganda. And those started in those countries basically because we found some really, really fantastic locally based partners that were super committed to deliver a product education support, peer support and network of trainers and make it long-term. They should really need to provide the person receiving a caup. If you’re talking about rural Uganda with education support, you have to have everyone on board, the school staff and the parents and the religious leaders and so on. So when we found this organizations committed to this, this was what we wanted and it was great because we’re also super committed to be accountable for our work. Something we do very, very thoroughly with our partners is to follow up with the people receiving a cup and collecting data whether they’re using it and if using it is a positive experience for them or something they have to because they have money for nothing else.

So our adoption rate across the board, then we started working in Malawi, then in Nepal then we have a number of projects in the UK, in Spain, but across the board our adoption rate is about 82%. This means that out of 10 people that receive a cup on day one, six months later that is still using it, eight out of 10 are still using it and we think it’s a very, very good result. In some cases can be like 95% or 75%, but we believe that we have created a system of education and peer support and continuity and sustainability that is really working and really allowing people that will otherwise be using newspapers and old socks or just sit and bleed on the floor. Now they have 10 years of fast free stress-free period, and also access to education about their bodies. We developed a really great, if I say so myself, training curriculum to support the NGOs we work with because we are nothing without them, that we are a tiny company but work with and now we work with some really big NGOs and so on, and we love it, obviously have so many resources and I take videos and we love it.

But to work with those small organizations that are there in the field helping every girl, every woman try to provide all the support they can and then them continuing the work. We wanted to also give them the resource of having posters and a handbook for the trainer and flashcards and things like that. So we’re very committed to the educational part of it.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah, I love that. Education is so important to take the fear and the shame out of this topic. I wanted to ask more about the logistics side of the cups and in places like where you might be working with NGOs who are distributing cups in slums. So I interviewed someone earlier this year who has a charity that donates cups to Kibera, which is the largest slum in Kenya. And one of the issues that they faced in the beginning was the cleaning of the cups. They ended up having to work with a company that creates cleans water from rainwater and uses that as a way to clean the cup. Have you had this issue in some of the places that you work with?

Amaia Arranz:

Yeah, I mean something we do with our new partners is either via a questionnaire, via an interview. We always do bit of a vetting process, like there are a number of questions we ask and resources that need to be in place. And one of them is how are you going to ensure that the users can use the cup safely? Are they going able to wash their hands? Are they going to be able to boil the cup? And we feel that if in an area they don’t have, because everything you need to use the cup safely. I know this is not available for everyone in the world, so I’m very respectful of that. The fact that many people don’t have even that much water, but is to be able to wash your hands, which hopefully you’ll be able to do regardless whether you’re using a cup or not.

And then one cup of clear water once a month that you have to able to boil. So of course gas or fire are involved, that’s what it is. And if that’s not available, if that’s not possible, we really ask the partner, the potential partner to take step back and see if that can be solved somehow. And this is an issue, it’s something super serious. We take it very, very seriously. And for example, some feedback we had, we worked with Save the Children in Northern Kenya a few years ago, and it’s a very, very dry area and we were very concerned about the water, but they were telling us the fact is that if you’re using rags for your period, you also have to wash those and that really needs out of water and soap. So they were like, okay, let’s see if we can redirect some of the water that’s being washed for washing to wash the cup.

And it was super successful that project. And then what happen is that a massive drought came in and then there was lack of water and food and medicine. So Menstrual Health project had to be parked because bigger, more urgent needs came into place. So it’s always a bit of a thing. We always try and ensure that, I mean we always ensure that our partners have resources at the time so that people using the cup can so safely. And it has happened that at some point, especially in certain areas, very dry areas, some refugee camps, perhaps the resources stopped being available and we have to stop the project because it’s not really, we want to do no harm, let’s say. Yeah,

Le’Nise Brothers:

I think that’s so important and so interesting because in these conversations about menstrual health, so for example, Menstrual Hygiene Day early, which is I think the 28th of May, there’s always, every year without fail, there’s controversy about the name. Why is it still menstrual hygiene? And I think it’s really a Western perspective where it’s not, periods are a hygiene issue because you need to have clean water and access to water to be able to wash your hands, to wash any menstrual products that you use. And some places they just can’t use reusable products because they don’t have the resources to be able to clean them effectively. So it’s very interesting to have a global perspective and also to hear how you as a company are tackling this issue. In terms of the cup itself. And you also do underwear. Where can people find the products and do you have anything coming up that you’d like to share?

Amaia Arranz:

Yes, thank you for asking that. Well, you can find us www.rubycup.com, and we have menstrual cups. We have a size small and a size medium, and there is a test that you can take and you take the test to see which is the size for you, and then you get a 10% discount. So do that. We also have Kegel exercises so you can work with your pelvic floor. And we also have Ruby cleans, which are small sterilizers you can bring about if you’re traveling or you’re on holiday or you are sharing house with many people it’s somewhere you can boil your cup without using a pot, let’s say. And there also have, we recently launched menstrual underwear. It’s called Flow Freedom, and well check it out because it has a very, very, they’re very comfy pants, but they also have a high absorbency. So literally you can go to the gym on your period with them and be fine. 

And then especially now for December, so okay, instead of doing Black Friday, we’re doing instead, which I think I’m really excited about is we’re going to double our donations in December. So if you buy one cup, we’ll donate two. So

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah, that’s amazing. 

Amaia Arranz:

In a way, when you give discounts, you lose some profit margin. Okay, we’re going to lose it in the form of donations instead. So if you’re thinking of buying a cup, yeah, you won’t get a discount if you buy from us on Black Friday, but if you wait a little bit and you buy it in December, you’ll be able to help two people have 10 years of plastic free periods.

Le’Nise Brothers:

I love that. That’s amazing.

Amaia Arranz:

Safe periods, dignified periods. So yeah, check us out and we’re on TikTok as well and Instagram and yeah, just be in touch.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Great. What’s one thought that you’d like to leave listeners with today?

Amaia Arranz:

I would love for anyone listening here to take just a little cup of tea and sit down and think about your periods or their periods of the person they live with or their friends or family members. And try to turn the narrative from the menstruation being something bad and dirty and annoying and something that is always the butt of the joke to something that will be something that works with you and works for you. And that will be a time for yourself every month. And then knowing your cycle is going to make a huge difference. We don’t have no time to talk about this now, but know your cycle, track it, see how you feel at different moments of your cycle. And I promise, promise, promise, promise. Embrace your period, get to know it and it’s going to work with you, not against you.

Le’Nise Brothers:

I love that. Thank you so much for coming onto the show. I’ll put all the links in the show notes for anyone who wants to check out Ruby Cup.

Amaia Arranz:

Thank you for having me. Had a great day. And the time has gone by.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 78, Emilie Lavinia: Better Communication Leads To Better Sex

My guest on today’s episode of Period Story is Emilie Lavinia. Emilie is Cosmopolitan UK’s Sex and Relationships Editor, LBGQT+ sexologist and sex educator and a UK Delegate for UN Women. 

In this episode, Emilie shares: 

  • The endocrine condition that means that she doesn’t really have periods that often
  • The difference between good and bad sex education
  • What the orgasm gap is and how women can have better orgasms (and sex!) with their partners 
  • How to instigate a conversation with your partner about how to have better sex and more pleasure  
  • How social media censorship and ‘algo speak’ is impacting the way we speak and learn about gender and sexuality 
  • Her advocacy work with UN Women 
  • And of course, the story of her first period

Emilie says that why we need to teach people how to connect and how to speak to each other about sex so that we can have conversations with our partners about what we like, not fake orgasms, talk candidly about how we like to pleasure ourselves and then transfer that to a partnered experience.

Thank you, Emilie! 

Get in touch with Emilie:

Instagram

Website

Substack


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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise Brothers:

Hi Emilie. I’m so happy to have you on the show today. I really want to talk about all the work that you do. It’s so interesting. But first, let’s talk about the story of your very first period.

Emilie Lavinia:

Sure. Thank you for having me. Well, should I just start at the top?

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah.

Emilie Lavinia:

I think my first period was a bit of a weird one because I got it when I was on holiday with my family in Portugal, and it was strange and unsettling, not because I didn’t know about periods, but just because it wasn’t what I expected. It wasn’t what I had been led to believe a period would be like. So I wasn’t really quite sure if I had even gotten it or not. So I went to my mom and said, oh, I’ve got this weird stuff in my knickers. And it wasn’t blood, I wasn’t bleeding so to speak. It was just this kind of brown sludge. And we don’t get taught about brown sludge in school. We get taught about this free flowing river of redness, and I didn’t have any pain. I didn’t have any cramps. It was just there one day and hadn’t been before.

And she said to me, oh, well, I said, is it my period? She said, it might be, I don’t know. Why don’t you have a bath and see how you feel? And then I was like, oh, well there’s nothing there now. She said, okay, well maybe it was just a bit of discharge or something. And I said, yeah, maybe. But then the next day it was there again and I thought maybe this is a period, but it didn’t seem like one. She just told me not to worry and said, do you think you need anything? And I said, well, I don’t know really because how can age 13 on holiday in Portugal? So I just sort of cracked on and it was there for three days, this sort of weird brand sludge. And then it was gone and then it didn’t appear again I guess until a few months later, but it certainly wasn’t the next month. So looking back, it definitely was my first period, but at the time I wasn’t really sure.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And when did you, or did your periods ever regulate? Did you ever get what you were expecting a period to be?

Emilie Lavinia:

No, never. And that’s also why I think I’ve always had quite a complex relationship with my menstrual cycle and with my period, because unbeknownst to me, I have an endocrine disorder, which meant that my periods have never been regular. Sometimes they’re there, sometimes they’re not, sometimes they’re regular, but primarily they’re not really. So that was kind of the beginning in a lifetime of guesswork, that kind of first experience of isn’t, it was basically going to color the rest of my experience of having periods.

Le’Nise Brothers:

So can you say more about the endocrine disorder, what the name is, how you were able to get diagnosed after what you say is a lifetime of guesswork?

Emilie Lavinia:

Sure. Well, to be honest, it was bizarre because like many women, I wasn’t having regular periods. So I went to my doctor and my doctor just put me straight on the pill. So I didn’t receive a diagnosis until I was in my thirties, which was in the last few years. Really strange because obviously having started my periods around age 13, that’s a long time to not really know what’s going on with your body. I’d always been on and off the pill. So I just assumed that I was having regular periods even though I wasn’t. And yeah, then aged sort of 31 thought maybe I should get myself checked out because I had all this new knowledge about hormones and was thinking something definitely isn’t right with me.

I’m eating right, I’m sleeping right, I’m a healthy weight, I’m doing all these things to support my endocrine system like we’re supposed to, but it’s just still not clicking. And they said to me after many blood tests and all kinds of different analyses, your body isn’t making progesterone and we don’t know how long that’s been happening for, but it explains why you’ve got chronic fatigue. It explains why you have these mood issues and why you experience intense anxiety. There’s a key female hormone that your body just isn’t making. The average level’s about 70 and you were on about 4. So yeah, that explained a lot about why I was feeling the way I was, why I had always had irregular periods. Sometimes they were there, sometimes they weren’t. And they said, yeah, the fact that you are not making progesterone means your womb lining isn’t thickening, you’re not ovulating as you should be. And sometimes they’ll pop up, sometimes they won’t. But there’s no real explanation for that other than the fact that there’s a key component missing.

Le’Nise Brothers:

So did they talk to you about ways that you could support ovulation in order to start making more progesterone?

Emilie Lavinia:

Yeah, so they suggested I go on HRT and I tried that for a while and I was taking HRT to basically up my progesterone and my DHEA levels because they were the ones that were very, very low and that made me feel a little better for a while I felt like I was sleeping a little better because they said to me, if you’re not making progesterone, your body can’t actually enter proper REM sleep. So that explains the chronic fatigue you experienced. For years, I kept going to my doctor and saying, I think I might have an autoimmune disorder or I think something might be happening with me. I shouldn’t be this tired. And they were like, well, stress affects women in different ways. Anxiety might be the reason you’re not sleeping properly. Try doing more exercise. So I really leaned into things like the gym and yoga and mindfulness, but I was still really tired.

So that HRT helped with my sleep and it helped with me feeling anxious and less tired, but it didn’t really regulate my periods. There was one month when I was on for 20 days, there was one month when I was on for two and then off for three and then on for two. It was kind of wild and quite unmanageable. So I spoke to my doctor and said, do I need to be on this? And she said, no, you don’t have to be if you want to be and it’s helping you can be. But the other thing about it is that it was a private healthcare experience, so it was costing me money every month to be on these drugs. And I just thought, well, I survived without them, maybe I’ll come off them and see how I fare, which meant that I just went back to how I was before.

And she said, well, it’s a weird one because you’re not technically disabled, but you do have a chronic condition, but if you feel like you can live with it and manage it, that’s fine. So it was a really weird experience for me. It was all caught up in my periods and it explained a lot, but there still wasn’t really a quote unquote cure for me. And I think that’s an experience that probably many, many women will relate to and something that we’ve all experienced where we kind of have to manage ourselves because there just isn’t the support there. But yeah, that’s where I am now and I do occasionally have a period, but not that often.

Le’Nise Brothers:

What I find so fascinating is that you were put on the pill, you were just so young, and then you were on it on and off for a long time. And then when you talked about you found out that you weren’t making progesterone and we only make it when we ovulate that the answer was to just put you straight on HRT. And of course as this is my specialism. So in my mind I’m thinking, what about this? What about that? What about this? Did you ever get a formal diagnosis? So was it something like premature ovarian failure or is there anything like that or was it just a progesterone deficiency?

Emilie Lavinia:

No, they said there could be several reasons for it. They said it could have been something that happened with my hormones during puberty. It could have even been something as simple as a knock in sports, like a damage to the pituitary gland. And I did have a pretty bad accident when I was much younger on a school trip where someone rugby tackled me and I ended up going to hospital in a brace, but I ended up being fine. So I was thinking, oh, it could have been that they also said it could be something called Addison’s disease, which is like a hormonal disorder, but they said it’s going to take more digging into this to figure it out. I thought I know what’s wrong with me now and I dunno that there’s a cure for whatever the cause is. So I am just going to carry on because again, it would be something I’d have to do privately. I’d have to really dig into that. And I thought, one, do I have time for this? No, not really.

Two, now I know the answer as to what’s going on with me. That’s kind of enough I guess, if I can find a solution. But I think again, that speaks to a lot of people’s experiences where you might be given this is why this is happening, but the real why is still out of reach.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah, thank you so much for sharing that. I think it’s really interesting how you were put immediately on this kind of medicalised route and then also the layer of having to do this privately where of course we know that being able to do things privately is a privilege, but being able to do that gave you more, it moved you towards the answers that you were looking for. And I see so many women in my clinic where they’ve been going through the NHS, and of course whenever we talk about the NHS, we have to say it’s amazing and it saved my life, but so many women are going in and out of the NHS and just not getting the care that they need and just kind of almost feeling fobbed off with certain medications or being told that it’s all in their head or you just have to live with these things. So I guess what my question is now, is there a next step for you or have you made your peace with your experience and your experience of your period now?

Emilie Lavinia:

I suppose I have made peace with it somewhat because my period and I have never really been best friends because I don’t see them much. I don’t really know when they’re coming.

I’m okay with being the sort of person that doesn’t have a regular cycle because I know it’s not because I’m not feeding myself properly, I’m not moving, I’m not doing all of the kind of complimentary therapies that help with hormone support. I know there is a literal deficiency and it’s something my body isn’t able to do, so I kind of feel less guilt like I’m not doing something right. And yeah, I suppose it’s okay that it only pops up occasionally because I know that’s not a signifier of there being something really, really wrong. My fear for a long time was that we talk about your period as a vital sign and there was no sign of my vital sign. So it made me worried. Now I know that there’s a reason for that and I’m not really sick in another way or there isn’t something that’s going on with me. It does make knowing where I stand in relation to sex and contraception slightly more challenging, I don’t know when it’s coming. And I also dunno if I’m ovulating, and my doctor did say to me, if this becomes an issue for you because you want to start a fertility journey, that’s when it might get dicey for you because we don’t really know what’s going on and we also don’t really know whether or not there’ll be a success story there. But that’s not something I’m going to worry about right now.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Just thinking now about the work that you do as a sexologist and a sex educator, there is a hormonal side to libido, although we know for most women that a lot of libido is mental. I just wonder about that side of it because there’s research that tells us that the pill does have an effect on our libido. And can you talk a little bit about your experience of that, especially wrapped up in the work that you do, and if you noticed a difference when you were coming on and off of it?

Emilie Lavinia:

Definitely. Well, again, I think my experience is quite similar to lots of other peoples in that I felt like the pill, certain different iterations of it were not good for my mental health. I felt like I had intense bouts of anxiety and depression that I didn’t experience when I came off it. And I also felt like it did dampen my libido because when I decided to completely cycle off the pill, I had this newfound vitality that I think also came with moving forward in my career and shaking off a lot of shame, but it was almost like a fog had cleared because I felt more emotionally regulated and also much more up for sex. And it’s funny because the pill is supposed to make sex safer and more enjoyable for us, but in many cases, not for everyone, but for many people it does suppress libido and makes you feel like you don’t want to have sex.

So it’s kind of a catch 22 situation. For me, coming off of it really helped me to feel much more in my body. And it’s weird because we’re talking about the pill so much in negative terms these days, but there’s a lot that is kind of positive around it. It gave women so much freedom and the ability to have body autonomy and to go back into the workforce, which is great. But I think, yeah, there’s a lot to be said about personal experiences like mine and that have so many other people whereby it made us crazy and it made us not even want to have sex. So there’s a lot of digging to be done there. And I think now we’re doing a bit more research, not as much as we should be because like we mentioned on the panel that we both did recently when we sat with Dr. Sesay, she was talking about the fact that 1% of funding goes to women’s health issues and that all issues that’s menopause, that’s fertility and contraception as well. So not great in terms of how far we could be getting. But yeah, I think there are definite drawbacks to being on it as well. And it doesn’t necessarily help everyone, especially when it comes to libido.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And the work that you do. So you are a sex educator, you are an LGBTQ+ sexologist. Can you talk a bit more about that? So firstly the term sexologist, what is that for people who may not be familiar?

Emilie Lavinia:

Sure. So it’s quite a broad term because it can cover clinical sexology through to coaching, through to academic sex study. So on my part, I trained as a sex educator and as an intimacy counselor. So that means that I can coach women and it means they’re not qualified to do so on matters of intimacy and sexual dysfunction. And I come at it from a trauma-informed LGBTQ+ perspective. And a lot of what I do started with just a really deep interest in sex and sexuality. Growing up I noticed the kind of shame and stigma around sex. I noticed that that shame was a real blocker for women and girls, myself included. And I thought that the study of relationships, intimacy and human sexuality was really, really interesting. So alongside my work as a journalist, I decided to specialise in becoming the sort of person that had a broad knowledge on the subject was always on top of the discourse and the academic and medical discourse, and could be someone that could help and support other people understand sexuality better and tap into their own and overcome those blockers that they might be facing. Now from a medical perspective, I’m not qualified to give advice because I’m not a doctor, but a lot of what I do is signposting the sorts of medical professionals that can help with something that someone might be going through. But as you say, a lot of libido is mental. And that’s where I come in trying to bring the study of human sexuality to these people that might be experiencing those issues that are more mental so that they can overcome them.

Le’Nise Brothers:

And in terms of the work that you do, you have a really, really interesting social media presence. Your Instagram is so interesting and informative, and one post that you did that I found really interesting was about bad sex education and how we need to leave that in the past. What makes sex education good and what makes it bad?

Emilie Lavinia:

Well, I think bad is very much like a non-existent sex education. So it’s almost like it’s a misnomer because it can’t be bad if it doesn’t exist, but sex education that doesn’t exist is the worst kind. There were a lot of gaps in my personal experience of being educated about sex and about intimacy, consent, bodies and periods. And I found that as I got older, I wanted to fill those gaps and learn more. But a lot of people don’t decide to become sex journalists and sexologists. So that experience for them of that sex education is where the buck stops. That’s all they’ve got. And then they’re just released into the world and expected to get on with it. And good sex education does cover all the things that I just mentioned, and it is almost a golden thread running through everything that we do. Sex and intimacy kind of influences everything when you think about it in terms of the way we move through the world, relationships are so important to us and especially as young people start to develop their idea of who they are, how they fit in the world, and how they relate to others.

Knowing about sex, intimacy, pleasure, consent, how we treat our own bodies and how we treat them when we’re with other people is so, so important. But a lot of that information is missing. I think sex education is a lot better than it used to be. Knowing what’s being taught in schools now and doing the kind of facilitating that I do for young people and for women, it’s great. It’s not putting condoms on bananas, splitting boys and girls up, making things gender essentialist, telling us don’t get STIs and not telling us what the symptoms are, how you catch them, how to prevent them. There’s a lot missing. And most teachers who teach PE or science didn’t sign up for that experience and they don’t have that knowledge themselves. So I can understand that, but that’s why we need really, really great resources and why we need to signpost this stuff, which is why I’m so passionate about doing that.

Le’Nise Brothers:

What’s so interesting about this is now I have firsthand experience. I have a 10-year-old son and they started learning about this in PSHME last year. So he’s in year six now. And we’ve always, well, I certainly, my husband less so, but I’ve certainly been quite open with him about these topics because of the work that I do. And I try to talk to him about sex and relationships in a really kind of not gender, sorry, age appropriate way. But it’s also interesting hearing how they’re learning about it in school. And I think it is very clinical still and it is very, they talk about consent, but it’s in a very strange, strange way. And I almost wonder, and I know this is a sample of one, and I know everyone’s experience is different, but I wonder, it’s almost like it’s gone too far and I don’t mean this in a Daily Mail, the world’s gone mad sort of way. I’ll give you an example. So my son came home from school and he told me how a teacher said to him that if you fall and you touch a girl by accident that sexual harassment. And I said, what? But you’re not doing it on purpose. And I was trying to understand the context and why this example was the one that was being used and this is what he took out of the lesson. And I just kind of worry about that because obviously you can’t touch someone without their consent. But then framing things like falling down and touching someone’s leg by accident as sexual harassment, especially to 10 and 11 year olds, I do worry, I worry about that a little bit. It makes me think, okay, I just need to continue to have conversations about consent with him at home and what it actually is. But what do you think parents can do around sex education in the home to make sure that this topic, even if they feel nervous and they feel shame around it, that they’re not transmitting that to their kids and also not leaving the job up to the school and to porn?

Emilie Lavinia:

Yeah. Well, I think when parents do feel shame, they tend to just say nothing. So the first step I guess is kind of overcoming it so that you can have that conversation. But it’s also interesting because a lot of the things that we discuss when I do my training are things like kids don’t really want to talk to their parents about this stuff. And that’s why it’s so important that good sex educators are available and that school is doing the job. But I think if you are the kind of parent that takes an active interest and can have those conversations, I think neutrality is really important. And I think making your child feel like it’s not frightening is important because you illustrated schools can be trying to do the most and in doing so might completely traumatise and terrify kids. We know that Gen Z is the population that’s having the least amount of sex ever.

And I personally, and this is my personal view, think that it’s because they’re just completely freaked out. When you see the horrific consequences of stuff like sharing images around school or looking at the Stephen Bear case and looking at revenge porn and the effects of that or just not feeling sexy enough because every other post on Instagram is an OnlyFans model, it kind of turns young people off and they don’t really want to touch each other or explore or lean into pleasure, which I think when they get to a certain age, you kind of expect kids to be curious. They don’t really seem to be as curious. I think people in their late teens and early twenties as you’d expect to be dating and getting it on just aren’t really doing that. But it’s also, I guess because we’re so zeroed in on our phones and the individual self and we’re not as we used to be, and we’re also in a cost of living crisis, kids aren’t going out and having fun with each other because really expensive.

So I’m hoping that the next generation kids of nine and 10 that are now starting to have that initial conversation about sex aren’t going to be as frightened. And I do think parents can really help with that. Think be a reassuring voice in the conversation to say, look, sex and masturbation are fine. Once you get to the age of consent, if you want to explore, that’s okay. Just make sure you are looking out for yourself and for young boys, I think teaching them not to be afraid to speak to women, to speak to girls, and just to ensure that everyone is seeing each other respectfully and as a human being. If you fall and touch someone’s leg by accident, that’s not a sexual harassment. I would hate for young men to feel scared that they might trip over because it’s all about intent and it’s all about seeing other people as human beings. And I think teaching young men and women that other people deserve as much respect and that we’re all equal and that we all deserve to be treated kindly is the way to go. And teaching them fear of you might be held up in court if you trip over is not the one.

Yes, we need to teach kids self-awareness and respect and never touch anyone without consent, but also that if you trip, it’s okay. You are not a bad person and you’re not going to be in trouble.

Le’Nise Brothers:

So talking a little bit about pleasure. So we have the gender pay gap, we have the gender pain gap, and you’ve talked about the orgasm gap. You correct me if I’m wrong, but I feel like this is something that is really affecting heterosexual women specifically where they don’t ask for what they want and in some cases they don’t know what they want and they don’t know how to get themselves to an orgasm. So why do you think this is think so many heterosexual women in specific put up with this?

Emilie Lavinia:

Well, I think it comes from a very ingrained culture of shame around sexuality and there’s a lot of fear. A lot of women that I speak to are frightened to ask because they don’t want to question their partner’s ability. So they just put up with subpar ability. And that is a really difficult conversation to have, especially if you’re in the middle of sex, to turn around to someone and say, oh, I want it a bit differently. But that’s also why we need to teach people how to connect and how to speak to each other. But because we’re also ashamed about sex, we don’t want to have those conversations and it’s really hard to do it. Everyone is very embarrassed, and I think as we start to move towards a more sex positive society, it is kind of one step forward, two steps back. We are facing a lot of pushback in terms of how we speak about sex, what’s appropriate.

But at the same time, there’s a lot of sex in media and magazines like the one I work for Cosmopolitan are posting more and more information about how to have these conversations and that’s great, but practicing it in action is quite difficult for people I think. And certainly when I was much younger was a statistic in the orgasm gap data because I did fake orgasms and I didn’t ask what I wanted, but that didn’t serve me and it didn’t serve my partner because my partner didn’t get any better at sex and I was not having any more pleasure. So we find ourselves at an impasse with this data, which as you’re completely right, it is that big gap in the data, it does pertain to heterosexual couples. We know that men who identify as gay and women that identify as gay are not having that big disparity.

It is straight men who sleep with straight or bi women that are experiencing it. The way we can close that is really through that communication, having conversations with our partners about what we like, not faking orgasms, talking candidly about maybe how we like to pleasure ourselves and then transferring that to a partnered experience. But also it comes from a place of listening. If you are someone who gets defensive and thinks that you are God’s gift to women and you then don’t want to take feedback or criticism, that creates a difficult situation. And that’s also why women might be frightened to raise it because you don’t want to upset your partner or create a difficult situation. I think for a long time, not so much now, but certainly in the last 600 years, women were quite frightened of men and how they might react to criticism.

Now we have a much better culture of understanding and of communication. We’re not there quite yet. So I would say being able to learn to have those conversations, learn to listen, learn to develop together. Everyone wants to have great sex. There’s no one I’ve ever met that said, no, actually I like subpar sex and I don’t want to have a good time. No one says that. And every man I’ve ever spoken to wants their partner to enjoy themselves. We hear a lot about selfish lovers, but a selfish lover can’t change if we don’t tell them what they’re doing wrong.

Le’Nise Brothers:

So how would you advise someone who’s listening to this and thinking, okay, I need to have that conversation with my partner. I don’t feel like I’m getting the pleasure that I want, but I’m a bit nervous. How could you approach that conversation in a sensitive way?

Emilie Lavinia:

So I would advise not going in head first and just kind of drip feeding it a little bit and maybe not waiting until you are having sex to have the conversation. It can be a real mood killer. I think positing conversations and questions about what you like or shall we try or I like it when you, or do you want to, not necessarily around the breakfast table, but if you can instigate a conversation about sex and then start having that conversation with your partner, it can be really fruitful. So even a text conversation, if it’s awkward to have it face to face, there are other ways to do it. You can text your partner and say, oh, do you know what I was thinking? I was thinking maybe we could do this because I really like this, this, and this, and it’s something I’ve been thinking about.

Your partner will take that on board and we’ll bring it into your next session when you have sex together, you can also try it in the lead up to sex. So when you are starting to get off with each other, starting to kind of think about, oh, maybe this is going to turn into sex. You can start raising it then, and it doesn’t have to be a situation in which you’re dressing them down. You can make suggestions by when you’re making out with someone or when you’re having a cuddle, just turn around to them and say, do you know what I’d really like? I’d like it if maybe you did this. What do you think? And that can open conversations. The thing I think that women struggle with is when they’re in the middle of sex and they’re not enjoying something and they think I’m not going to come, they just kind of check out and think, well, I can’t say anything.

Or they turn around and say, can we stop or can we not? Or I don’t like that, or you are doing or you’re doing this, you’re doing that. And the conversation becomes quite negative, quite accusatory. Now I’m fully aware that I hate the fact that women constantly have to modify their behavior to make things better for themselves. We should live in a world where we don’t have to change what we are doing in order to feel safe or receive pleasure, but unfortunately, unless we have conversations with our male counterparts and with our partners, things aren’t going to change. So we do kind of have to be the activists in this situation and take control. And in doing so, we can then start to work with our partners, but we do have to take the first step and it pains me that we are constantly having to modify, but we hold power. So let’s use it.

Le’Nise Brothers:

So this leads nicely into your role as a sex and relationships editor at Cosmopolitan UK. So this is a kind of advice that I am guessing that you give on the website and the magazine, Cosmopolitan is such an interesting one because it was founded by Helen Gurley Brown, who’s a really pioneering woman. Talk about getting this role and what you want to achieve in this role.

Emilie Lavinia:

So yeah, I’m really lucky to be surrounded by brilliant women at Cosmo, and I’m really, really proud of how far the magazine has come because I do remember reading it when I was younger and seeing it as this kind of bastion of female identity. So to be there now is a really brilliant experience, and I’m so glad that we get to talk about the things that we do. We cover ground that a lot of publications don’t and we really go there and some of the stuff that we are writing, sometimes I think especially when we’re talking to other teams, my team really gets into it and someone will walk past my desk and look over my shoulder and see when I’m writing and they’re like, wow, Emilie. I’m like, yeah, we’re really doing it. But I think that’s great, and I’m very privileged to work with culture shapers and really talented women that are really pushing conversations forward.

We have that privilege and we have that power. So it is a great position to be in, and I am really proud and really grateful that I get to do it. I also think we’re up against a lot of censorship in media and especially on social media, even at Cosmo. There are things that Meta won’t let us post, which I think is a source of frustration for all of us in publishing because we want to help women. And I think especially in media, there’s always been certainly in romcoms and that kind of movie that Cosmo is kind of sex tips and salacious and how to please your man. We’ve come a long way from that. We’ve got brilliant LGBTQ+ sections. We’ve got amazing sections on body and confidence and sexual dysfunction. Talking about me not knowing what my first period was about or what it was supposed to look like.

We’ve got a great piece that’s written by my colleagues on the Body desk about what color is my period blood and what does it mean? If I had read that, I would’ve been so much better clued up. So yeah, I am really, really excited about where we can go with it. I hope that we don’t keep hitting these walls of censorship because the stuff that we publish is really important, I think. And a lot of the first person reportage makes women and girls feel less alone. We have amazing first person essays and investigations that really show the complexities of what women are dealing with these days, with their bodies, with their hormones, with dating, with sex. And that’s really important as well, because we can’t just be giving advice. We need to have an open dialogue. And telling stories from writers and individual people I think is such an important part of what makes this discourse relevant and reflective of what happens with real women in their lives.

Le’Nise Brothers:

The censorship side of it is really interesting because on the panel that we were on a few weeks ago, you talked a lot about censorship and having to use these words that we’d never use in real life. How do you think that, because we know that young people are getting so much education on loads of different topics from social media platforms like TikTok, but if you’re having to speak in a certain way, do you think that affects how you’re taking in information?

Emilie Lavinia:

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, this whole kind of algo speak problem, having to call sex seggs with a double G or having to swap out letters for numbers. I mean, in a way it’s reflective of how lexicons change. I find language really interesting. I find the way we talk about sex very interesting, and that was one of the main subjects of my study when I went to do my MA, is this kind of idea of censorship and how we speak about bodies and sex and how we speak about gender and female sexuality. But I find that there’s something quite insidious about it because in having to use a turn of phrase to describe something, we take power away from the original thing. We’re wrapped up in this enormous discourse at the moment about, call it a vulva. It’s not a vagina use its proper name. Vagina, the Latin root of it is sheath. So the idea of the whole female anatomy is that it’s meant to hold something is problematic, and you should call it a vulva because that’s what it’s, and I worry about the fact that, as you say, people are going to TikTok as a search engine, and there’s about 60% of information on there according to a stat that I read recently that pertains to body and health that is just false, just not true. And I see it every day. I see stuff popping up that is wrong and sometimes a bit dangerous and often quite problematic, especially in terms of how young people see themselves. So we’re kind of in the middle of it at the moment because we’re recording this in November and we’ve got this whole no nut November thing going on. There’s this trend where you’re not supposed to ejaculate is problematic, quite bad for you. Obviously it pertains to the sexuality of people that have got penises, but there’s a lot of that for people with vulvas and vaginas as well. So it’s dangerous and having to censor yourself and using different language confuses people. We need to be giving clear, factually accurate, medically sound information. And social media doesn’t let us do that, which is a big source of concern for me. And lots of other educators, journalists, medical professionals, we’re out here trying to make a difference and it’s just getting harder and harder.

Le’Nise Brothers:

You said that it’s no nut November, and people are saying it’s not safe to ejaculate.

Emilie Lavinia:

No, they’re saying it’s not safe. So the whole idea is that this trend is no nut November, so you don’t ejaculate for the whole month of November. So if your girl’s asking you to have sex, you’re not allowed to. If you want to masturbate, you’re not allowed to. And it’s like this weird challenge, but it feeds back into this kind of bizarre puritanical culture. And I suspect it came from some kind of religious or kind of esoteric thought leader saying that semen retention is good for you, but unless it’s your kink and you’re practicing it safely, that kind of withholding does create a lot of negative associations with sex. You can give yourself pain, you can give yourself a lot of discomfort. Blue balls isn’t a medical issue, but it can certainly make you feel quite uncomfy. Yeah, we, we’ve just got a lot of weirdness around these bizarre challenges that people are doing, and I don’t think these kinds of challenges should be normalised, and I don’t think people should be doing them because one, they’re not good for you. Two, it perpetuates bizarre ideas around sex. And three, your sexuality shouldn’t be something that you start messing with in order to set yourself weird TikTok challenges. It’s a vital and important part of you. It is an extension of your health and wellbeing. Don’t be silly with it.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Yeah. I want to talk about your advocacy work because I think it is so interesting being able to educate yourself around all of these topics and the work that you do is so powerful, but then being able to work with the UN and to work with really important charities in the UK to spread this message and the messages that you share even wider is so important. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

Emilie Lavinia:

Yeah, absolutely. So I do feel really, really privileged to be able to work with amazing organizations and charities to get healthy messages about sex and women’s health. Further, it was either last year or this year, I was on the commission for the status of women with the UN Women, and some brilliant conversations were had around the importance of sex education, body autonomy, access to resources and information that globally women are not able to come by easily. I also work with brilliant charities around healthy conversations around gender violence against women and how that feeds into porn. I do some great work with a porn conversation who are really trying to spread messages around the importance of healthy depictions of sex and healthy body image. And all these things I think are so heightened in the internet age because everyone’s on their phones.

I was sitting in a tube carriage the other day and I looked up and I couldn’t see one person that wasn’t staring into their tiny little computer, and I was thinking, that’s fine, but what are we all consuming if loads of information is wrong, if loads of information is barred and there are barriers to entry, that’s problematic. And I think advocacy work and charity work is a big part of changing that because we can influence policy, we can influence the way social media disseminates information, we can put pressure on big tech and firms like Meta to rejig and reiterate their safety strategies. I think it’s really, really important that if we’ve got this amazing technology at our fingertips, we are using it in the best way possible, especially when it comes to young people. But also there are big problems with access and funding, and that’s something else I’m really passionate about, and that’s where a lot of the UN Women’s staff comes in.

It’s where a lot of the work that I’ll do that kind of feeds into government policy comes into play. It’s not the most interesting stuff to talk about. I think to some people it’s quite boring, but I think it’s so vital, and I think if you can be an advocate yourself, it’s much better to join one of these organizations who have a strategy and know what they’re doing and can put pressure in the right places than posting a graphic on your Instagram because although it’s great to spread clear information and show support for causes that matter, you posting up something about the statistic of women who experienced period poverty or the statistic about young girls who watch porn is well-meaning it doesn’t necessarily help solve the issue. So I would urge anyone listening to this podcast to reach out to organizations where they might be able to lend their skills and support, write your MP and properly educate yourself around what the big issues are and figure out what you want to support so much that can be done on the ground level.

Le’Nise Brothers:

So interesting. I think the UN women, the work that they do is so, so powerful, and I think there is so many amazing charities that are doing brilliant work that just are so under the radar. So it’s really powerful that people like you who have a platform who can spotlight these charities and then just go in and help them with the brilliant work that you do. On that note, what do you have coming up next? I know you’re doing a lot, so that you might say, well, I have enough, there’s nothing coming up next, but do you have anything else coming up that you’d like to share?

Emilie Lavinia:

Of course. Yeah. So in the new year, I will be giving some talks, some of them with a brilliant studio in Shoreditch that is really channeled into helping women become their best self. I’ll be giving some talks on sexual power and how to lean into that and to take charge of your sexuality. I’ll be doing some great lunch and learn stuff with other women’s clubs and organizations. I’ll also obviously be writing, you can find all my writing and all the brilliant work that my colleagues do on the Cosmopolitan site, that’s cosmopolitan.co/uk and not the US Cosmopolitan site, or they do brilliant stuff too. And you can also just follow me on Instagram. You can keep up with what I’m doing there. I’m always posting about any event I’m taking part in or any new piece of work or research I’m working on. I do work with lots of different organizations on data gathering and research, which I think is really important.

Again, slightly on the nerdier side of things, but often there’s really great campaigns that come out the back of that. You can look at my Substack newsletter where I interview really, really cool people and often say a lot of the stuff that I think might be a bit too spicy for Instagram or elsewhere. So there’s a lot of really cool conversations that I have on there, which I think are really worth reading with real game changers and really, really powerful people. So I think it’s definitely worth hearing what they have to say. And other than that, yeah, just you might see me popping up with different charities and working with brands that I really support and advocate for like I did with you on the panel a couple of weeks ago. So yeah, there’s stuff in the pipeline. There’s stuff cooking.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Great. And all the links to everything you mentioned will be in the show notes. What thought do you want to leave listeners with?

Emilie Lavinia:

So I would love to really just impress the importance of self-study and self-knowledge. I think often when we are told something at school or by a parent, or even if we read it once in a magazine in our early twenties, and it doesn’t necessarily carry with us in a way that it should, even if we don’t feel like it’s quite right or it’s quite true, we don’t question it. And we often don’t double check information on social media and we don’t further our study of our body or our mental health. I love this kind of culture of self-development that’s popped up over the last few years because you are the only body, mind and soul that you get. So it really pays to take care of it and to educate yourself about it. And we don’t come in one size fits all box that we just jump out of and therefore everything’s fine and we can relate to each other.

We all come with different, we all come with different idiosyncrasies and different health issues in different perspectives. So I would say just really further your knowledge, learn as much as you can about yourself, your health, how to move through this world safely and with kindness and softness because there’s a lot at play when it comes to you, your mental health, your hormones, and then how you relate to other people. And I think finding good sources of information and finding good communities like community around your podcast or communities around different women’s health issues, there’s loads out there that you can find. I’d say the Internet’s a great tool if we use it for good. So search for it and find it. And if you’re not sure, ask a question. People can always come to people like me and you, and the best we can do is try to answer those questions.

Le’Nise Brothers:

Brilliant. Thank you so much, Emilie. I know that listeners will get a lot out of this podcast and of course out of all the work that you do. So thank you so much for your time.

Emilie Lavinia:

Thank you so much, Le’Nise. It’s been such a pleasure.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 77, Natalie Meagan-Blake: Advocate For Yourself

My guest on today’s episode of Period Story is Natalie Meagan-Blake. Natalie so generously shares her story and if you think you may have endometriosis, adenomyosis or fibroids, I encourage you to listen to this episode. 

In this episode, Natalie shares: 

  • Why she decided to be so open about having endometriosis, adenomyosis, PCOS and fibroids
  • How opening up created a community and safe space for people to talk about their experiences and learn how to advocate for themselves 
  • How long it took her to finally be diagnosed and the impact of race in this 
  • The impact these conditions have on her fertility and how she’s tackling this 
  • And of course, the story of her first period

Natalie says that advocating and speaking up for yourself is never a bad thing and that you should never be scared to ask for a second opinion. 

Thank you, Natalie! 

Get in touch with Natalie:

Instagram

Sunday Sip Live Events 


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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise Brothers:          Hi, Natalie. I’m so happy to have you on the show today. You have quite a big story. There’s a lot going on and we’re going to get into all of that. But first I’d like to start by hearing the story of your very first period.

Natalie Meagan-Blake:  So I was nine and I was so upset. I just came on at primary school and we were just about to leave to go for swimming. And swimming is, Swimming is, that’s my sport. I was so upset, crying and everything, but I didn’t really know that much. I didn’t really know anything really that much about it. But the lead up to that, I was having a lot of excruciating pain and stuff, and I think my gran just thought that I just had a stomach bug, so she didn’t really think, oh, she’s going to be starting her period. So yeah. Then obviously I got sent home, so my gran was just in shock, you’re only nine, and I was just like, yeah. But then my auntie on my dad’s side, she started at a young age as well, so she was just like, okay.

                                    She taught me about pads and how to put it on, but then I was throwing up. The bleeding was so heavy. It was so heavy, and I had, at that time, I even had massive clots, not to know, and my grandma wasn’t to know that that could be a sign for anything. And the excruciating pain I was in and I bled for 10 days. So my first period I was bleeding for 10 days. I had about 12 to 14 days of no bleeding, and then I started bleeding again, and then it was like another 10 days. So it was every couple of weeks I was having a period my gran took me to the GP and was just like, for her obviously that’s not normal. Every couple of weeks a 9-year-old is having her period and she’s throwing up and then she’s not eating, and the flow is just really heavy and it’s all over the bed and my clothes. And at that age as well, it was scaring me. I’m thinking, am I dying? Why is there so much blood coming out of me?

                                    And then not eating and not sleeping properly, and then missing so many days of school as well due to that. And the GP told my gran, oh, this is normal. Just because she’s just started, it might take a while for it to just regulate and it’s just going to give it a few months. If it doesn’t regulate, then come back. And then, because at that age, they didn’t want to give me any medication or anything like that. They just gave me, I think it was a liquid form of paracetamol at that time, something I can just put in my mouth, my gran would just do that for me. Then it was just hot water bottles and I would have to have that so hot that obviously all my skin would go red and that stuff just showed up. It just looked like massive, massive red blotches all over my stomach and I would have really bad headaches. So really bad migraines. I was really sensitive to light and I feel I was also dehydrated as well a lot because I was throwing up so much and then I wasn’t replacing because anything that I was putting in that was coming back out again, I would have the runs as well. So all experiencing all of this at the age of nine was a lot. So that’s the shorter version.

Le’Nise Brothers:          So you’re nine years old, so that’s year five, year six?

Natalie Meagan-Blake:  Yeah, something like that. Yeah.

Le’Nise Brothers:          Yeah. And you’re missing school. You’re having these very long, very excruciating, very heavy periods, and I wish I could say that it surprised me that your doctors said what they said, but it doesn’t surprise me, especially you think now, if you knew what you know now back then, how that early diagnosis could have made such a difference. Can you talk a little bit more about the impact that the heavy, long and excruciating periods had on your schooling, your friendships and your mental health at that age?

Natalie Meagan-Blake:  I think obviously at that age I was unaware. I think I was upset a lot, didn’t understand, but I was just listening to what my gran was being told who then in turn my gran was listening to what the doctors are telling her. And I think obviously with that as well, it was just, I don’t even know. It affected me a lot as in I missed a lot of school, I would say throughout the month, I was home at least two weeks out of the month because of the pain and that. Then, like I said, I loved swimming, so I would miss out on going swimming because at that time I wasn’t using tampons or anything like that. It was just pads and the big thick ones. And then I’m walking around with that as well. I feel like I’ve got a nappy on and I’m not a baby. Why have I got to wear this big thing? But I would literally have to wear two of those. So it’s coming all the way up the front and all the way because it would just flow and just go everywhere. And this was the days before wings, I don’t think wings were even invented then. So obviously the pads would go in and then it would get on your knickers and then I’d feel uncomfortable. 

And then I felt like I couldn’t speak to anyone at school about it because I was told to be quiet about it. And then also, I didn’t know anyone else in my class if they started their period, even though I wanted to ask, but I was told to be quiet, you don’t talk about it, just say that you’re unwell. You just caught a stomach bug and that was it. So I was always told never to speak on periods, never to speak about period pain or what I’m going through, from a young age.

                                    So that was embedded in me from then. So the only way it really affected friendship is time lost with spending with friends and having conversations with friends through primary school and secondary school. I felt that it affected my emotions a lot. I could be really angry one minute and then really happy go lucky another minute, and I really didn’t know how to navigate that and I didn’t understand what was going on with my body, why my emotions would fluctuate so much and why I was just all over the place, why my belly would look so big one minute and then another minute it would be really flat. I used to dance as well, so I used to do tap ballet and all of that, and it would really affect me through dancing as well. And I felt really heavy and I can’t move as much, and the teacher would be like, oh, what’s wrong with you? And I’d be like, nothing. It goes back to that conversation from when you was in primary school. You can’t talk about your periods, you can’t talk about your underneath. As my grand would’ve said, you need to keep stumm. So I suppressed a lot of feelings and emotions due to that because of what was told to me when I was younger. So I’d never openly spoke as much as I do now.

Le’Nise Brothers:          Yeah. You are incredibly open on social media and I think you’ve helped a lot of people through sharing your journey. I just want to skip ahead a little bit and talk about that because you were told to keep it quiet, don’t talk about your underneath, and now you’re so open and there is a stigma in Afro-Caribbean communities about talking about periods and menstrual health and sex and all of that. There’s just so many taboos. Do you think it was a cultural issue or can you just say more about why you were told to keep quiet about what was going on with you and how you were able to transition away from that kind of thinking to the openness that you have now?

Natalie Meagan-Blake:  I think so I was raised by my gran who came from Barbados, so she’s obviously got that old school way of, she’s been raised that old school way and then obviously then I’ve been raised like that. So from whatever she was taught from when she was young about keeping quiet about things, she’s then embedded in myself. And I find that within our culture as well, whatever happens in the home, stays in the home. You don’t talk, there was this, it’s like what you see here stays here. What you say here stays here was at home up on the wall. And quite a lot of Caribbean households had that saying in their home. So I feel like that was like a, I could be wrong, but it was like a rule or something that everyone followed, but a lot of the homes followed these same words and then obviously that’s embedded into your children. So when you step out of that front door, you don’t speak about anything. You don’t share family business, you don’t share anything about yourself. Don’t bring no embarrassment and no shame on the family.

                                    You just go out, do what you have to do. And when you come back home, if then you want to talk at home, then do so. But then sometimes speaking to even some family members, it is just about, sometimes it’s just like, oh, I don’t want to hear it. Or it’s like, well, just suck it up. Be strong. You are a strong woman, it’s only pain, it will pass. You just deal with it now, take what you need to take in and you keep it moving. Some households, they might have had those conversations, so it wasn’t so much of a hard upbringing, but I feel as well with mine, I just feel like my gran didn’t know. She didn’t know anything other than women have periods and we all have pains, go to the doctors, give you some medication, you take it, that’s it, done.

                                    It is as simple as that. And that’s what I feel that back then a lot of people followed that. Even now, I still think some people do follow that, but I think now the conversations now are starting to be had. And for me, I felt like because when I was diagnosed I was like, I need to speak to someone and someone that also looks like myself that can relate and come out of that box, which I struggled with because I was told, why are you doing this? Why are you talking about your underneath? Why are you sharing your business? You’re not meant to talk your business outside your front door. And I’m just like, well, I need to connect. I need to talk. It’s messing with me. I feel alone.

                                    I just need to share with someone who understands what I’m going through. And I did find a community, but I didn’t connect with them. So then that’s when I took first to, it was first to Facebook and I shared and I met one of my friends who I didn’t even know, obviously she didn’t know that I had, and we’d be out partying with each other and not know that we’re both going through the same thing. It’s only when I then spoke about it, I started getting all these messages like, oh my gosh, Natalie, I can relate to you. I’ve been diagnosed with this as well. So I found that with me opening up, it created a community for people and a safe space for people to come and speak to me and especially when they knew me already, and then it would be like, oh, my friend has, do you mind if she contacts you because she really needs to talk? And then it just went from there and I was like, this is needed and this space needs to be created within our community and know that it is okay to talk about stuff outside your front door. And yeah, I think that’s…

Le’Nise Brothers:          Yeah. Can you talk a little bit about the impact, the work that you have done that you’ve seen on others because you also now have your Sunday Sip events where you bring those with endometriosis together to connect and to learn. Can you talk a little bit about the impact on other people and also on you?

Natalie Meagan-Blake:  Well, for me, it’s created a safe space for myself and that connection with people in person connection other than just in the groups and social media. And sometimes you need a hug and getting that hug, just that hug, no words need to be said, just that hug. You can just feel that understanding between two people. And so I am getting goosebumps even talking about it. It is just an amazing feeling and I felt that I just wanted people to meet other people in person, and at least if they network with one person, they then can find a support system, someone that they can go and speak to meet up for coffee, or if they’re having a bad day, they can have that conversation with someone just from the event. And also to help encourage people to advocate for themselves when you are going to these appointments, helping people have that voice, encouraging people to have that voice or when they’re going go into these appointments and being shut down to know that you can get a second opinion to provide information and advice whether they take it or not.

                                    And people can relate to in-person stories as well, and it helps them not to feel so alone through what they’re going through. So me creating Sunday Sip, which it wasn’t called Sunday Sip before, I had a couple of events before and then rebranded, I just felt like, yeah, this is needed. Some people have gone on to do amazing things from it, and it’s just been helping them just to do lives, just come to the event and speak. Some people they spoke for the first time and they were like, oh my gosh, that has helped me to exhale so much. I just feel like I just release and now I feel like I can speak, I can go into these appointments and I feel a little bit more confident with what I’m going through and how to manage what I’m going through and how to speak to a doctor instead of just being silent in those six minute appointments. So to hear that and to have that feedback and just to see the smile and everyone interacting, it’s just like, I’m like, yeah, this is a good thing and I just need to keep it going.

Le’Nise Brothers:          You talked a lot about advocacy, so helping others advocate for themselves and also self-advocacy. Can we just rewind a little bit and talk about your diagnosis, and I should unfortunately say diagnoses because you have several conditions, you have fibroids, you have endometriosis, you have PCOS and you have adenomyosis. So can you talk us through the diagnosis journey for each of those conditions?

Natalie Meagan-Blake:  So as I said, it was college and I was struggling a lot and I just knew that there was something wrong. So I went to my GP and I was like, look, my periods are really heavy. At that stage I was bleeding for two weeks and I was doing a sports course, so obviously doing sports and believed in so heavy and the pain was struggling with my studies. I’ve tried so many different medications. So my GP was like, I need to refer you to the gynecologist. So I was just like, thank you. And at that point I changed doctors as well because I felt like my doctor before wasn’t listening to me, so I asked to see someone else. And this doctor, she was absolutely amazing and she was like, you are too young to be going through this and you’re struggling with your studies, we need to help and support you and see what’s actually going on with you. So I was like, thank you so much.

 So I was referred and I had scans done. I had a lap[aroscopy] then, and this was then going into my early twenties, and then I was diagnosed with PCOS. And then from that I was just told by the gynecologist, oh, you are young, you’re going to struggle to get pregnant. You need to get pregnant as soon as possible because as soon as you start hitting your late twenties, early thirties, it probably will be impossible for you to get pregnant. And I was like, what is going on? No, this is not happening. And I was like, I can’t. I’m sure I’d just booked a girl’s holiday around that time as well. So I was like, that’s not happening. I’m single. You’re just making me want to go out there and just go and get pregnant.

                                    I was like, no. And they were just like keep taking your painkillers and that was it. And then I was just left. So I was just given painkillers for ages and I was on the Celeste pill as well. Then I came off the pill because I just felt like it wasn’t helping me. And then they tried me on different pills and then my body was just all over the place. I started coming out with loads of spots and all of that, and then I was just like, no, this is not working for me neither. My period was the same and I kind of just left it. I actually did. Then I didn’t know any better and I left it, and it wasn’t until I met my partner and then we was just like, well, if we fall pregnant, we fall pregnant. So this was going now into my early thirties, so it’s been like 10 years, but it’s been 10 years of me going back and forth and being put on this medication. Let’s try this for six months. Oh, if that doesn’t work, then try this. Then it was like, no, then try these pills. Oh, if this pill doesn’t work, then try that. So all that time I was doing it. I was just going through the motions of taking all these different types of medications and then saying as well, there’s something going on. 

I think I did have two gynae appointments, but they said that they didn’t see anything. So it wasn’t until my early thirties that I went to my GP and I was like, look, I’m not saying I’m trying to get pregnant, but it’s not happening. My periods are like this. I dunno what’s going on. Then I wasn’t listened to for two years and then I changed doctors within that. So it was my fourth GP. So imagine through that time I just kept changing my GPs and then when I went into that appointment, as soon as I started seeing some of the symptoms, he was just like, I think you got endometriosis.

                                    And then it rang a bell because I had a conversation with my mum and she said that she’d been diagnosed with that. So I was just like, what is that? She’s just like, oh, it’s just painful periods. So she wasn’t even told that much information herself. So then when I then went and had the gynecologist appointment, they said they could see some stuff on the scans, but I need to have a lap[aroscopy] to find out more. So I said, okay. Then I had that laparoscopic surgery and when I came out of that, I was told, she then said to me, I’m not qualified to do the amount of surgery that you need done. She goes, you are riddled with endometriosis. You have got organs stuck together and I need to refer you to a specialist. And I was just like, what? She was like, how long have you been trying to, and I was just like, well, in my early twenties I got diagnosed with PCOS and then throughout for the last 10 years, last 10, well 13 years, I’ve been going to my GP and just been given medication the whole time and no one wasn’t listening to me.

                                    She said, yep, you’ve got fibroids as well. I think at the time I had three fibroids, I think one was six centimeters and the other two was at one and two centimeters, and she was just like, yeah, I need to refer you. I was just like, wow, was referred, got forgotten about. So I had to keep chasing up and that’s one thing I would say, you have to keep chasing up your appointments. Don’t wait for that letter to come through the door or that phone call or that text. Chase to find out what’s going on with your appointment. Find out whoever your specialist is, get their secretary’s number and email and you make those contacts. They must’ve saw my name how many times and just like, oh, she’s contacting again. So I was like, look, I’ve been waiting. What’s going on? Then when I had my surgery, finally, I had eight procedures in one go.

                                    My surgery was about eight and a bit hours where I was only scheduled for a four hour surgery. And also I had, and before that actually I was having problems passing stool and I was bleeding through my back passage as well. So when I went to the A&E about that, they were just like, oh, you are just straining. You need to stop straining. You just need to take some up your fiber and then you’ll start going toilet. And I was just like, no, no, no, no, there’s something wrong. So when the surgeon went in, I had endometriosis wrapped around my colon and a nodule inside my colon, which they thought could have been cancer. So they had to remove that. I had my bowel, ovaries bent back. One was stuck behind my womb, another was stuck to my bladder, and then I had my colon stuck, I think behind my womb.

                                    I had endo in my fallopian tubes as well, and then it was just all over the place. So basically all my organs were doing this and coming together. So that was massive. Then after that they were just like, look, this is the best time you need to try and get pregnant after this surgery. Give yourself two months to heal and then try and get pregnant. That didn’t happen. I wasn’t given any information or any sort of support along that fertility side. It was just sent away, go and get pregnant, just monitor your endo symptoms. That was it. And yeah, we removed your fibroids. I asked this amazing doctor, he sent me images of what was taken out.

                                    So I have those images, images of where my before and after as well from that surgery. Then a few years later, I then had another surgery where they found ovarian cysts and then my endo obviously started to grow back. So then I obviously then had another surgery within a space of a month the ovarian cyst grew back double the size than what it was to the point where that’s when they thought I had ovarian cancer and then my tubes then bent back and then my actual uterus, everything was tilt sideways. So imagine my right ovary is down by just say the top of your thigh. So it was actually turned like this, so it was just not in the right position. And then my colon was affected again. So this is in the space of a month of having surgery, but my surgery that I had, I did ask that doctor to remove the fibroids. I’ve got five fibroids, which are still there. No one wants to touch them, but they are small. They’re two to three centimeters, but the cyst that was on my left side had to be removed. And then obviously with that, that’s touching the ovary, which then will affect your AMH and obviously I’m trying to get pregnant and my AMH was already low from the surgery before that.

                                    And when they went in, they found that I have a cyst on my right ovary, so that never came up in the scan. So they were very shocked when they went in. They were like, oh my gosh, she’s got two. But during that time, obviously being told that you might have cancer. So I was under the Royal Marsden as well as well as Chelsea Westminster Hospital. And before that I was, this time last year, I wasn’t walking because of the amount of pain and I think I had to have my partner carry me to the toilet, to the bathroom. I was having spasms and they found some endo on my, they said it was touching my nerve on my lower back. So I think around the lumbar part and the coccyx, and then obviously it was affecting my hip flexors, so my hips, sorry, on my left side. So that’s why I was having a lot of pain and everything down my left side and I wasn’t able to walk as much and everything, my feet and that will seize and go like this. So the endo started affecting my nervous system. Then I would get a lot of twitching on this side and headaches, my eye would twitch, which I still got a bit of that now.

                                    So they removed the left side, the left cyst on the left side, and they only drained on the right side because they didn’t want to touch the ovaries too much because my levels are on the low, low end to the point where they think you are going to go into surgical menopause if we touch the other side as well. And that was a risk that the surgeon before the surgery, before, he didn’t want to touch my ovaries because he was scared of me going into ovarian failure. But he gave me the an ultimatum. He said, do you want fertility or do you want to reduce your pain? You need to choose which one. And being told that a couple of hours before you’re going into surgery, you’re prepped in your gown before surgery, you have to make this choice. It’s like, but my goal is fertility, but you are trying to push to reduce the pain, but if you reduce the pain and do the stuff that you need to do, it’s going to affect my fertility. And then it was like, well then what do we do? Or you just don’t have the surgery, so what is your choice? And just like my fertility is my choice and that’s what I’ve wanted. I’ve wanted to have a family, I wanted to have a baby. And then as I said, within a month after that surgery, it just went left and downhill. And then I had surgery this year May, which was with the robotic surgery at Chelsea Westminster Hospital. And yeah, they did a great job.

                                    But yeah, it’s affected my fertility I feel, and I’m now just on that journey with that.

Le’Nise Brothers:          Yeah. Are you comfortable talking about the fertility journey that you’re on now? Would you be happy to say more about that?

Natalie Meagan-Blake:  Yeah, actually before lockdown we was referred and we had an appointment so obviously lockdown lasted a couple of years. We need to sort this out and I dunno how much I know that my endo’s growing and I don’t know where I am now. You can’t go and have any follow-up appointments to see where you are or we then had an appointment and brought problems with my breathing. So I actually had a blood clot in my lung and I had granulolas on my lung. Do you know what they are? They look like it’s like sugar, little white. Yeah. So I was having problems with my breathing and doctor, I went into a, I had to go into A&E because I just couldn’t breathe properly. And they said if you would’ve left it a couple of days, you wouldn’t be here. It was like a week. So I had to have all this medication done and scans done, try and to clear the clots. So that was a really obviously scary moment for me.

                                    And then from that I was like, yeah, I just need to have a baby now because anything can happen. I want a little me. And then from that we started having our appointments. I put on a lot of weight with the steroids and everything that they were giving me for medications for my lungs to help me with my breathing. So when I went to the appointment I explained, this is where I’m at and this is what’s happened. And they were like, okay, because I’m on this medication, it does have steroids, I have put on a lot of weight, I know BMI is included in part of their assessment with fertility.

                                    So yeah, they were like, yeah, that’s fine. I had my mine and then my partner had his. So unfortunately there are issues on both sides and I just felt like, so this is where it just affected, started affecting my mental health. I was like, if it doesn’t rain, it pours. It’s not only just me, it’s also my partner as well, which he had no clue about. He had surgery when he was a baby and from that surgery they think now that’s affected his fertility. So there was not a follow-up from when he was a kid. And obviously that’s way back in the day where they’d probably be like, oh yeah, you have your surgery and send you along your way, he’s fine. The baby he’ll grow, he’ll be fine, blah blah, blah, blah blah. So where it’s on the both sides, it just put us in a zone.

                                    But then they gave him some medication to take, then he was meant to go back. So we was contacting the fertility clinic and saying he’s on, we’ve paid for this medication, he’s taking this medication, we haven’t had a follow-up appointment come through yet. And then the lady was like, oh, okay, we’ll sort that out. Look it up. No, first they couldn’t find us on the system. And then that happened and then we had an appointment on the phone, which didn’t make sense. And then she said she’ll send us through our appointment so he can come in and get tested again. And then the next day I had a really informal email saying this is not something that you want to hear, but unfortunately you don’t qualify for IVF. So we was like, what? We’ve been having these appointments on both sides. He’s been having these urology appointments.

                                    No, I had one appointment. We’ve paid for medication, now you’re telling us that we don’t qualify. It’s because we’re not registered under the same, in the same area. And my BMI, so because my BMI at the time was, I think it was 31 or 30, it was 30 31. So that just broke me and I think I got that the day I went to Parliament. Remember when I saw you and I got home and I got that email and it just broke me. I contacted them and then they just sent me a list of their price list for private and I was just like, how insensitive are you? And the email alone within itself, I was just so upset and I just felt like I just wanted to give up my fertility journey. Then I was already in contact with The Endometriosis Foundation and speaking to Carla [Cressy] and she saw my story and she was like, I want to help and support you somehow. How can I help you? And at that time I was just like, I don’t know. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know the channels. I have never been given any information. So I don’t know where to go from what not to go. I dunno what to do. 

My partner was in his zone because of what he’s just been told and we’re trying to support each other, but then we’re both upset. It’s been a whirlwind year and a bit through it all. Then we went to The Fertility Show to get some information to find out what our options are. Do we do it here? Do we do it abroad? What clinic do we go through? And then we’ve gone private, we spoke to a doctor, Tyrone then had another assessment, bloods done. So we had to pay for all of this, all these tests and everything. And it’s not cheap. So it is really not cheap and it’s difficult. You just feel like you’re paying so much money, but you are given information. But it’s just like, help us a little bit, give us a bit more information on stuff that we need to do. It felt like I’m, we are paying for all these things, but it’s a lot of self-research that we’re having to do and looking up this doctor and that doctor and then you just feel so overwhelmed and stressed by it.

                                    But then we was just like, we’ve had good open conversations about it on how to support each other, how we feel about it. But now going down the private route to see, I know what I need to do on my side, I’m having to think about do I want egg donor? How would I feel about that? Surrogacy as well, because what I’ve been told, it’s like, but I might not, what’s the word, react to IVF, not react. It might not listen.

                                    And then also carrying as well with the adenomyosis and still having the fibroids, which is not inside the room or anything. So it’s on the outside so it wouldn’t harm in any way. I’m worried about if I would miscarry and it’s being told these things, it more makes you feel like, okay, I have to go down the surrogacy route and what does that look like for me? And then it’s like, okay, I need to get out out the way of thinking that I might not biologically have my own. Then I’m like, oh, well if it’s not mine, it’s someone else’s eggs. How would I connect with the baby if I’m not carrying the baby? Would the baby really connect with me? You start thinking all these things and you can spiral so much. And then it is having these conversations with people and the people are like, don’t worry, you will have yours.

                                    I have faith. And sometimes it’s like, we don’t want to hear that because we actually don’t know because of where we both are. We might have to get donor sperm, but then it’s like how does he feel about that? And then I know in this country you can’t have donor sperm and donor egg. So it’s like, okay then so how do you feel about adoption? So it’s all these conversations that we’ve been having the last couple of months and it’s like we have to make decisions and because of my age now turning 40, it’s like time is just gone and they say you are a geriatric trying to get pregnant and you are more high risk of all these conditions and miscarriage and yeah, it’s a lot.

Le’Nise Brothers:          It is a lot. I wonder about the racial side of it because you went to your doctor early on and you got a diagnosis of PCOS, even though one of the major symptoms of, pain isn’t a major symptom of PCOS. And I just wonder if you feel like if you were white, you would’ve been diagnosed earlier. What are your thoughts around the racial side of it? 

Natalie Meagan-Blake:  Yeah, so when I went into my appointment and I did state that my mum has endometriosis, they were just like, no, I think you’ve got fibroids. And I was like, but my symptoms are similar to my mum. And I was asked where my mom is from and I said, my mom is white Irish, and I’m just like, what has that got to do with it? And they said, no, but with black British, Afro-Caribbean, it’s more likely you have fibroids. Fibroids is a more common condition within the community. So I was just like, okay. For one, I didn’t even know what fibroids was when he stated that. And I obviously still didn’t even know what endometriosis was. I was just going off by what my mum told me and I was just like, well, no, I want to be checked. And in that same appointment I was told that, and this was at 30 early thirties, I was told I was a geriatric then trying to get pregnant or wanting to get pregnant. And the way he was talking was, it was kind of like, is that fair on a child?

Le’Nise Brothers:          Oh my God.

Natalie Meagan-Blake:  And then from that appointment I was like, no, I need to see someone else. I really need to see someone else. And then obviously doing research, I started to learn, okay, fibroids is a lot more common. So what was out there at the time, fibroids, it is a lot more common. Endometriosis is a lot more common in white middle class women. And then obviously the groups that I was finding. So it kind of made you feel like, oh, maybe this is through. But I was like, can’t be. But then I found out that the percentage might have changed now, but at the time it was like 7% of women, it can be genetics, so it could have been passed through from my mum and which unfortunately I feel that that’s what’s happened to myself. But going into these appointments and they’re looking at you and you’re just like, you’re this strong Black woman and you can withstand pain.

                                    And it’s like, well no, if I could withstand pain, I wouldn’t be here. And I know my body, there’s something going on. And then you’re looked at like you are hypochondriac and you are just wanting attention and you are telling them from a scale of one to 10, it’s 10. Oh no, let’s mark it down a little bit. And then I also found that through conversation with other people that they were just being dismissed just given paracetamol, going along the way, but then when their white friends or white family members would go into these appointments, they’re getting treated a lot more differently. So it was just like, why are you treating me different because of the color of my skin? And you just got this perception that Black women are a lot more stronger and we know how to withstand pain. And it’s like they were educated to believe less in black women than white women.

                                    I spoke to a trainee nurse and she said that she was told throughout her course that Black women are a lot stronger. Their pain threshold is a lot higher than the white counterparts. And it’s just like, so from when you guys are learning at uni or wherever it is that you are doing your courses, you are actually told this. And to me, I know there’s black people in these courses or why wasn’t it not challenged and changed? So now all healthcare professionals are out there thinking, oh no, Black women are a lot stronger than white women. So even though they say this, we just mark it down a little bit, why are you doing that? I found even on my notes that the receptionist wrote, oh, she’s called again about her pain. I wrote complaints, everything. I was like, are you being serious? What do you mean? Oh, she’s called again and why are you as a receptionist making a note saying, oh, she’s called again about her pain. Yes, I’m in pain. I’m not lying about my pain. Why am I not being believed? And then when my mum will go into her appointments, they listen to her. But then as time has gone on, I’ve had multiple conversations with other people and I have found that there are some people, there are some Caucasian people that are out there that their pain doesn’t get listened to as well. So sometimes I just feel okay, it’s down to the education of that healthcare professional and what they’re willing to learn and what they’re willing to self-learn. So what they go out there to learn themselves from coming from uni or anything going into the world, the place of work and adapting what they’ve learned to their experience.

                                    Now it can say in the books, oh, this and this and this and this about Black women, Caucasian women. But in the ideal world, when I’m having these six minute appointments coming in, it’s not that it’s not that. And we should be listened to throughout anything that we’re going through while we’re pregnant, adenomyosis, endo, fibroids, PCOS, like all pain should be listened to and it shouldn’t just be this script that they follow. I feel like when you go into these, I felt like I was going into these appointments and throughout the four doctors, it was the same things being said to me, the same things being suggested, the same painkillers being suggested. They also look at your age. So I’ve noticed that when you are at a younger age, oh, just go and get pregnant. Oh, this and that, you’ve got time on your hands.

                                    Then when you are in your late twenties and late thirties, it’s more of a thing where, oh, well  you are a geriatric trying to get pregnant or you are this and that. And also I think it’s where you live. So I know in my area sometimes I feel like with a fertility, the postcode lottery where I live, you only get one round, but in other areas you might be offered two. Why is that the case? It should be if this person is going through this, then we can offer this amount to that person. And it just feels like if you’re more in a deprived area and then when you look at what your surroundings are and the culture that is around where you live, it’s like you’re trying to control the amount of help you would give us as in to try and get pregnant as well. Yeah, there’s a lot.

Le’Nise Brothers:          Yeah, it’s a big weighty subject, but I do feel like with everything that’s happened over the last three years, people are more willing to have these conversations, which is a really good starting point. It’s not the end, but it is a

Natalie Meagan-Blake:  Good, I’ll say even with that, sorry to interrupt. Even with that, I’ve noticed when I have spoken on color and I’ve spoken on race, I’ve noticed quite a few people still step back because they don’t want to get involved in the conversation or they feel they can’t speak on it. Or I remember doing a live and from that live when we was talking about race and pain and being listened to, and I noticed even with my Instagram followers that just went down and it was just like, why? And one lady messaged me and said, oh, I liked what you was doing in your page and that, but when you are then now speaking about race and stuff, you’re taking it to another place. So I don’t really support that. And I said, but would you want to learn and as a Caucasian woman, would you not want to learn how other cultures go through things?

                                    Educate yourself, learn from the people that are speaking that the people that you chose to follow when it was Endo month or Black History Month and you want to show some support, show that you are supporting, like you’re being a good supporter and following, but as soon as the conversations are being had, you want to step back from it. That’s not helping and supporting us as much as the community needs to work together and help and support each other, we do need other people to come and help and support us as well to be heard and to be listened to properly and to be taken seriously.

Le’Nise Brothers:          Yeah, it basically feels very a myopic view of maybe not feminism, but it’s just about I want to get from you what caters to my own experience and I’m not willing to hear anything else. But I want to, we could talk for so much longer. There’s so much I want more to ask you, but in the interest of time and also leaving listeners wanting to seek you out and find out more about what you do, can you tell us the one thought that you would like to leave people with? If someone’s listening and they’re on the start of their journey figuring out what’s going on with them, what’s the one thing that you would want to say to them?

Natalie Meagan-Blake:  I think put through my experience and advice I would’ve liked for myself is that advocating for yourself and speaking up is not a bad thing. Don’t be scared to ask for that second opinion. I feel that you’re always been told that you must listen to the GPs and that’s it done. No, listen to your body. Learn your body and how your body reacts to things. When I used to personal train, I would tell my clients, learn how your body reacts to food because not what I can eat. You might not be able to eat. It might flare, you might have a flare up in some sort of way or constipation. So learn how your body reacts to medication, to products that you use and to the way you eat and to the way you exercise. That’s even down to walking. Even down to walking. Some people can walk for hours and be fine and some people can walk for just half an hour, they get fatigued. Think about why you get fatigued. Is it down to your condition or is it down to you’re not getting the right nutrition into your body to help energise yourself properly or you’re not getting enough sleep in. Sleep is such a big thing to help you with recovery to help you when you are flared up. And in that state. 

Also try and have, I say try because I sometimes think I’ve got an amazing support system and then some friends just drop off because sometimes they don’t want to hear about what I’m going through or Oh, it’s just another pain, it’s just another flare and about blah. Sometimes I felt that I was pushing to make my friends understand what I’m going through. You can’t do that. A person will choose whether they want to support you or not and you have to learn how to accept that. And as much as I know losing friends and that has hurt me and it’s upset me and I get angry and blame my conditions, it’s like that person just can’t give you that space and energy. So know who you are speaking to about what you are going through. Find that one person. But even though when you are talking and releasing everything onto that person, you need to check in with them as well because as much it is affecting you and it’s you that’s going through it, that other person is going through it with you as well. So make sure that they’re in a space where they’re ready to accept what you are talking about. It can be very heavy and it can make that person feel helpless and that’s not a nice space to be in. If you’ve ever felt like that you want to help someone but you can’t, that can play on their mental health as well. 

And also checking in with yourself and your mental health, doing things as and when you can to make you happy. When you’re having a good day, do something. If that just means going out for a little walk or getting that ice cream or something to fulfill your day, to make you feel happy within yourself, because it can be very heavy, it can be alone. It can be a lot on yourself physically and mentally, even if it’s just sitting down watching some cartoons as I do with my duvet, but I’m in my happy space and I can feel a bit more fulfilled within my day because I’ve done something that has put me in that joyous moment. And you’ve got to try and laugh through it. You’ve got I dance. Dance and music is something for me, stretching. There’s loads of things like when I’ve adapted some of your yoga and your sessions and the stretching and the breathing and that’s helped me. It also helps my anxiety. I suffer with anxiety and I have panic attacks. I had one yesterday, but doing breathing exercises and stretching, that helps. There’s so much I can say and leave you with.

                                    I’ll just leave it for that for now.

Le’Nise Brothers:          Where can people find you?

Natalie Meagan-Blake:  I’m mainly on Instagram at the moment, so it’s @natblake_endowarrior. Or you can follow the Sunday sip live event page as well on Instagram. Yeah, that’s main two pages at the moment.

Le’Nise Brothers:          And all the links will be in the show notes. Thank you so much for coming onto the show and Natalie, your story is, your experience is incredible in what you’ve gone through, but also how, I know you’re not on the other side, but you’re still on the, but you have, there’s such as, I want to say strong, but I don’t mean it in the sense that it’s been used, but you have a real strength and resilience about you. So I know that listeners will really benefit from hearing your story.

Natalie Meagan-Blake:  Thank you. Well, thank you for having me. I really appreciate it. Thank you for giving me the space and the time as well. You are amazing in what you do and the support that you’ve given me as well has been incredible. I’ve learned so much from you and it is helped me to manage what I’m going through. As I said, the breath, everything, your book, everything. So I thank you for everything that you do. Love.

Le’Nise Brothers:          Thank you so much.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 76, Annie Ridout: There’s Value In Vulnerability

Welcome to season 8 of Period Story podcast!

My guest on today’s episode is Annie Ridout, author, journalist, ghostwriter, poet and life coach. 

In this episode, Annie shares: 

  • Her sober curious journey and how she’s able to find a balance 
  • Her writing career, Substack and the diverse ways she’s able to earn an income
  • Her fascinating new ghostwriting career
  • Her new podcast, Home, which explores the idea of whether home is where we were raised, or where we are now and the part this plays in our identity
  • How she has open conversations with her children about periods 
  • And of course, the story of her first period

Annie says there’s value in vulnerability and it’s important to be really honest about how you’re feeling, even if the conversation you’re starting is difficult for other people to hear. She says you don’t have to pretend that you’re feeling fine when you’re not for fear that you’ll destabilise other people. 

Thank you, Annie! 

Get in touch with Annie:

Instagram

Website

Substack

Home Podcast


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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise Brothers:           Hi, Annie. I’m so thrilled to have you on the show today. I am such a fan of your writing and I’m really excited to talk to you about it, your career. But first, let’s start by going into the story of your first period.

Annie Ridout:                Hello. Thank you for having me. Do you know I’ve never been asked this before, and so I’ve been reflecting back and I found it quite scary starting my period. So my mom is and was very organized and she had put together this little bag of sanitary bits. I don’t remember at this point. I think I was 12 maybe. I don’t remember learning about periods at school. I’m sure that we did. Perhaps we had some PSE lessons, but I wasn’t wanting to hear it. So my mom put together this bag of sanitary stuff. And then I remember coming home from school one day going to the toilet and seeing blood in my knickers and completely panicking. I did quickly realize what was going on, but I didn’t know what to do. So I took my clothes off and I put on a dressing gown, and then I must’ve called my mom and started, she must’ve shown me how to use the sanitary towels or whatever I would’ve used first, but I remember feeling really panicked. It didn’t feel exciting, it didn’t feel calm. I felt like I don’t want this.

Le’Nise Brothers:           So you felt panicked, but did you know when you saw it, did you know what it was?

Annie Ridout:                Yeah, I think I saw it and thought and panicked. I saw blood panicked and then instantly was like, oh, this is that thing that this is a period. This is what they talk about.

Le’Nise Brothers:           Okay. And then you found your mom and then what did she say?

Annie Ridout:                She, she maybe looked slightly not surprised. What would the word be? I guess she was kind of following my energy, so I was panicked. So she was, oh, well yeah, this is your period. But I think her mum hadn’t spoken about any of this stuff with her. They were Roman Catholic. Her mum had given her this book on sex being a sin when she was younger and this was how she was raised and there was lots of Roman Catholic shame with everything to do with women, body, sex. And so my mom was very different and she was a hippie in the swinging sixties, seventies, and my parents were much more open with us. But still, there’s that generational, I guess what your moem teaches you if your mum’s around to teach you is then you sort of absorb it and then use some of that as you go on to teach your daughter maybe. So it wasn’t totally relaxed, it wasn’t a celebration. There was some panic.

Le’Nise Brothers:           Okay.

Annie Ridout:                Yeah.

Le’Nise Brothers:           And that kind of panicked feeling that you had, did that continue across your period experience as you kind of had a few more periods maybe as you went through your teenage years?

Annie Ridout:                So I can’t remember then how regularly they, I just don’t remember all. I remember the next stage that’s in my mind was when my friend said, have you used a tampon? Tampons are great. And so she told me how to use a tampon and then I thought this girl was really cool. So I was like, if she’s doing, I’m going to do that too. And so I got into using tampons and then it wasn’t until after I had children that I was like, I hate tampons. I don’t want to be shoving something up me, thanks, every month. And I’ve never used tampons now, but I’m sure we’ll come onto that. So that was the next stage was my peers. So it had happened to me. I’d called on my mom, she’d said, yeah, that’s right. That’s what’s happened. We didn’t talk about it again at all as far as I can remember. And then I turned to my friends and then probably I started to feel more comfortable and to accept it once my friends were talking about it with me and we were all in it together.

Le’Nise Brothers:           So not really having any further conversations with your mum and then relying on your friends and your friends relying on you, and having that kind of conversations that I could relate to cos I was a teenage girl, so I kind of relate to that. Were there things that you learned about your period, your menstrual cycle and all of that then that you look back and you think, God, that wasn’t quite right, or you think, wow, that was spot on.

Annie Ridout:                I don’t think I had any idea why we have periods. I think I was given the stuff to deal with it, the physical, the sanitary towels, tampons, whatever. But I didn’t know why I was having periods. And then when I eventually started having sex, I still didn’t know that there was this window of ovulation. It was all, it’s crazy to think about now how disconnected I was from my body and my cycle. But no one was telling me, we didn’t talk about it as much back then.

Le’Nise Brothers:           And what I find a lot is that once I’ve seen this a lot is that women, they start thinking about their fertility when they’re trying to have children or maybe they’re thinking about coming off the pill or they start kind of exploring that space a little bit more. That’s when they start thinking, okay, actually I need to learn a little bit more about this. Certainly for me, me and my husband, we decided that we were going to try for a baby. I was like, oh, okay, I need to know more about ovulation. It just didn’t really, I didn’t think about it. What was it like for you?

Annie Ridout:                Yeah, the same. And then because I think I thought I didn’t really stay on the pill. I did it a couple of times, but I never stayed on for long, so I didn’t have that kind of coming off the pill thing. But I thought as soon as I started having sex, I thought that having sex once you became pregnant, I didn’t know that there was this small window. So I took the morning after the pill a few times, definitely. And then when I met my husband and when we decided to have children, I think, I can’t exactly remember, but I think probably I still thought, still didn’t even know about this ovulation window until I didn’t get pregnant. And then I started to look into it. Maybe I’d sort of heard about ovulation. I don’t remember much of what I learned in school. I learned it.

                                    I did my exams, I did quite well, and then it just left, the information left my mind. So maybe I did learn in science, in biology, some of this stuff. I don’t remember it though. But then when I did start to learn about ovulation, when I was going to try and have a baby, I found it quite amazing looking at the changes in my body and seeing what comes out of you when you are ovulating and the different textures and thinking, oh, I have noticed this before, but I never knew it had anything to do with my cycle. And I was quite fascinated by that and excited because I was desperate to have a baby. So when ovulation came round and my body started changing, I was really excited that there was a chance I might become pregnant. It did take a while, but yeah, ovulation became exciting.

Le’Nise Brothers:           When you think about your experience of your period and your menstrual cycle now, how would you describe it?

Annie Ridout:                One of the reasons that I didn’t talk about my periods much when I was younger is because they were fairly uneventful. So I didn’t have any pain, I didn’t have cramps, nothing like that. As far as I can remember. I don’t know if I was that moody or anything like that. So it was just the monthly bleed that I dealt with and I could do that. As I started having children, my period became a lot more painful, and that’s when I started to think, what is this is pain. I don’t want to have this pain every month. I dunno why they became more painful, but they did. And so a week before I’ll feel tearful and I’ll have stomach cramps. It does slightly depend on my lifestyle around the time in the lead up to my period. So if I am eating really healthily, doing lots of exercise, not drinking too much alcohol, that definitely makes a difference. But yeah, my periods have definitely got harder as I’ve got older and particularly since having children and now I’m not having any more children. So I just think it’s a bit unfair that I have to have them.I don’t want an early menopause necessarily, but I feel like it just feels a bit unfair that my body’s still preparing to make these babies, but I’m done.

Le’Nise Brothers.:          And when you think about your children and then how you learned about your period and that kind of brief conversation that you had with your mom, what would you do differently? How would you have that or would you do it differently?

Annie Ridout:                So I’ve got a girl, my eldest is a girl. Then I’ve got two boys. My eldest has started asking questions. I think they do more in school now. So she’s nine and she’s started saying, is it painful when you have a period when you bleed? And we talk about that really openly. We are very open with each other. And I’ve got her a little bag of reusable sanitary towels and the kind of things I use, for her. And it’s all nicely nice patterns and colors. It feels like a fun pack. And there’s the one I bought, I can’t remember the name of the brand now. It’s got a little diary that you can write how you’re feeling and things. So she loves all that sort of stuff, but she’s a bit embarrassed about this bag that’s hidden in her cupboard for when she needs it, which might be a few years yet. So we are very open. 

And then with my boys, they see when I’m on my period, always in and out of the toilet and I don’t hide the blood, I don’t hide my sanitary towels, I use toweling pads and they see it and they say there’s blood. And then I say, yeah, I’m on my period. And I talk really openly. So they have an understanding of periods and women’s bodies and cycles that probably a lot of 4 and 6-year-old boys don’t have.

                                    And I’m glad of it because one day if they get into a relationship with a woman, I want them to understand and not even that as they get older and their sister starts her period and girls around them, their peers start their periods, I want them to understand what that means.

Le’Nise Brothers:           Yeah, I think it’s so important. I have a 10-year-old son and he hears me talking about this all the time, and he’s seen my book and all of that. But it was funny yesterday. So there’s a brand that I did some work with and they have a campaign around delineating the vagina and the vulva. And they sent me a shirt and it just said vulva on the front. And I just threw it on and I said to him, oh, do you know the difference between a vagina and a vulva? And he said, I don’t need to know that I’m a boy. And I said, I laughed. And I said, well, you need to know the difference because you’ll have a girlfriend and all of that. You might have daughters. And it’s important to know the names of the different body parts. So it’s funny thinking about these things and how you say four, your four and your 6-year-old probably know a bit more. But I think that’s really important just to, of course, in an age appropriate way, be really honest with them about these experiences so that it removes some of the shame out of these conversations.

Annie Ridout:                And so they still see blood and say ugh, blood, which is a normal response because blood is often is when you’ve hurt yourself. So for them to be able to see it and for me to explain that I’m not in pain and this is what most women’s bodies do, it does feel important, but it’s very much the shame piece that I’m trying to change for sure.

Le’Nise Brothers:           And so in the little kit that you made for your daughter, you mentioned that you put a toweling pad and that’s what you use. So can you talk a little bit about the switch that you made from tampons to pads?

Annie Ridout:                Yeah, so after having children and I had quite long complicated births, forceps, lots of damage to my body, positive experiences, but just felt lots of intervention. I didn’t want to use tampons. I didn’t want be putting anything up inside myself that I didn’t need to. And I probably had used pads, like maternity pads after I had the babies I suppose. So maybe that reminded me that pads exist. And so then I, I probably started using sanitary towels and then I started hearing about these reusable ones, they’re so plasticky, which obviously is bad for the environment, but also for your body. I’ve got quite sensitive skin. I get eczema and psoriasis, not around my vaginal area, but I guess I just, and they’re sweaty, the plasticky, SSI, towels, it just kind of sweaty and smelly. So I thought I used the touting ones and just ordered a bunch from Amazon probably.

                                    And then I just ordered loads more. They’re really comfortable. They’re toweling material. I never leak there. I put them into my knickers and they pop up underneath. And I just ordered so many that I never run out. The only time I’ll use disposable sanitary towels is if I’m traveling. So I’ve just been to London for the night. I was on my period and I don’t want to carry around bloody sanitary towels when I’m going for a job interview. So then I’ll use disposable. But if I’m going on a holiday with my family for a week, I will take with me and wash as I go. So then I thought I’ll get the same for my daughter. I suppose, tampons are quite good if you want to go swimming, but now you can get those period bikinis. I haven’t yet. I need to look into that, the period pants for swimming. But I thought I’ll just give her what I use because it feels like the most comfortable option. And then she’ll speak to her friends and make up her own mind. But I tried a moon cup and I was not into the moon cup. I found it so uncomfortable and the thought of having to tip it out and all the mess just didn’t appeal. I know a lot of women I know love them.

Le’Nise Brothers:           Yeah, I do. I love them myself. But it was actually really interesting that you say that because I just had a conversation with the CEO of a menstrual cup company and she was saying that that is actually one of the barriers that they see where it’s this kind of, it’s more tampons. There’s a step away from handling the blood, but with a cup you have to go deeper and get it and then all of that. So she talked about how that can be a barrier that they face with new users of the cup. So you’re definitely not alone in feeling like that, but it’s really good that you’ve found something that works for you.

Annie Ridout:                And I just want something easy. I feel like this is something I haven’t chosen. I was okay with the cycle up until having babies and so grateful that I could have children, but post I feel like whatever is easiest and most comfortable, that’s what I’ll go for.

Le’Nise Brothers:           And you mentioned that when you change the way you eat or eat in a more whole way and you do more exercise, you see a difference in your period. And one thing that you’ve been writing about recently that I found really interesting is speaking of lifestyle changes, is your kind of venture into, I don’t know if you would call it being sober curious or being sober. I don’t know what the label is that you’re using, but I find it really interesting to read your journey and where you’re going with that. Because I personally, I haven’t drunk in about six years and it’s really made a difference to a lot of aspects to my health and wellbeing, but it’s the social side that can be difficult even still. So I’ve lost friends because I don’t drink anymore, which it sounds so crazy to say out loud, but can you just say a little bit more about your experience, because living in the UK where there a study that came out that 35% of women binge drink at least once a week in the UK. So say a little bit more about your experience.

Annie Ridout:                Yeah, I’m definitely not sober. I’m sober curious. I go through stages of not drinking and I can’t remember when the first time I started. So I was raised, my parents drink, they don’t have a problem with drinking, but it’s very much part of our social life as a family. We’d have friends round, my parents would drink a few bottles of wine on a Sunday afternoon with a roast, not just the two of them with a group of adults. And so as we got older, we started drinking and I just never questioned it at all. And I was shy and that probably made me drink more as a teenager because suddenly I’d have, I used to drink pints of beer with the boys and suddenly I’d be really confident. And that felt good and that’s dangerous because then you feel worse after you’ve drunk and then you keep drinking and then you think the only way to have fun is to drink. And I used to party a lot. I used to hit it really hard for some years. I did a lot of raving and festivals and drinking and debauchery and everything else that comes with that scene.

                                    And then I guess I stopped drinking when I became pregnant three times. I drank a little bit when I was breastfeeding, but not much. Often I was doing some co-sleeping with my children. And so I was aware of not being drunk ever. And then probably, definitely in the pandemic when we first went into lockdown, like lots of people, we are all at home. We had a bit of Prosecco and then it started happening more often and I’d never drunk every day. I’d drink at the weekends, I’d go to the pub, meet friends, have a drink, I’d never drunk on my own, didn’t drink much at home and definitely didn’t drink every day. And then suddenly in the pandemic I, so I eased off, no, I stopped for three months and I didn’t drink anything and it was kind of amazing and I felt so energised and healthy and wholesome, but I also wasn’t socializing because we were in and out of lockdowns.

                                    So it was easy. There were no parties. I was starting to see people, but there were no parties. And a lot of my old friends actually aren’t bothered about alcohol. So my older closer friends would never drop off if I stopped drinking. Not that bothered anyway. But I did have a newer friend who I’d known a couple of years who I was really close to. And I remember she asked to go for a walk with me in one of the lockdowns and she said, let’s get really pissed on cocktails. And I said, I’d love to go for a walk with you. I’m not drinking, but let’s still go. And she canceled it and she didn’t want to go for a walk. And I was so disappointed. I was so up for meeting her and anytime I wasn’t drinking, that affected our friendship. There was another woman as well who I was pretty close with who liked to drink. If I ever wasn’t drinking, I was out for that period and only back when I was drinking. And I have lost contact with both of those people since I left London, which is kind of not surprising.

                                    But then I did start drinking again. I only stayed sober for three months, but I have periods where I feel I’ve been drinking too often or maybe I had a weekend, a friend came to stay and we drank a couple of bottles of wine and I don’t drink a couple of bottles of wine with one other person very often at all. And it was way too much for me. And after that, I had a month off, didn’t drink any alcohol, so I kind of come in and out of it. And I think I like to know that when it’s not serving me and when it’s not fun drinking alcohol, I can stop and I will. And I know how good it feels to stop. I’m not quite ready to completely close the lid on drinking socially because I sometimes find it really fun.

                                    And I do enjoy it. And I like the taste of a really good glass of wine. So I might give up completely one day, but at the moment I’m just enjoying it, enjoying drinking when I fancy it and enjoying having a slight rebellion because in so many ways my life is dictated by my children and being a mother and trying to work and there’s so much that I’m trying to control all the time. And that’s one thing that I’m it, it helps me to let my hair down and just feel a bit wild for a couple of hours and then I’m back to it, back to being mum.

Le’Nise Brothers:         Yeah, I really relate to that idea of letting your hair down. And I do miss that side of it, but for me it was I had to stop drinking for other reasons. It was just, I love the tastes of red wine in particular so much, and it was just felt like I was going down this pathway where I was just a bad mother. I just didn’t like the person I was becoming and hung over all the time. And then for me, that triggered a lot of anxiety, like hang anxiety, that was me. And it was just, I could just see the road and I said to myself, okay, I did three months off. Then New Year’s Eve came around, we had some friends visiting and we had some drinks with them and it was really fun, but I could feel those feelings starting to creep back in.

And I thought, you know what? I’m going to knock this on the head, see how long I can go. And it became a challenge with myself. I’m quite a competitive person, so I was competing with myself and I do miss it sometimes I have to say. But for me, I just know that it just, with red wine in particular, I just can’t have one. And so just being able to see that, acknowledge that about myself and say, well, you know what? There are other ways to let your hair down, not in the way that you used to. I was quite a partier as well, festivals, clubbing, all of that. But there’s a different path. But I love hearing other people’s stories as well because it’s really important to be able to have a conversation about alcohol and not just, it’s so normalised in the UK and that’s something that I found. I’m Canadian, so I’ve lived here for 20 years, but I found it so surprising when I moved over here, how it’s just ever present in celebrations, everything. So yeah, just thank you for sharing your story.

Annie Ridout:                Yeah, no, I find it interesting. I’m definitely noticing a shift. I had a friend who came over recently and she said, I’ve got this bottle of a sparkling red wine. Are you drinking? And I said, I’m actually not. I had that moment of thinking, shall I just drink? Because is it rude if she’s brought this round? But I wasn’t drinking at that time and I’d made a commitment to myself to not drink for a month or something. I said, I’m actually not. And she said, actually, I don’t want to drink either. Great. And we had an evening and we had dinner and had such a nice time and I didn’t miss alcohol at all, and she was totally up for it. 

And I think it feels really important for me to have friends who are open-minded. I’ve got a bunch of friends who don’t drink at all completely, teetotal, and I love meeting with them. I know I don’t even have to think about whether we’re going to drink or not. We are. I won’t drink around if I’m one-on-one, I won’t drink with someone who’s not drinking. So I think that the conversations opening up and a lot more people are sober curious. A lot of people feel relieved if they don’t have to drink, in my circle. And yeah, I think I agree with you. It’s good to be hearing how people are feeling on it and not just accepting it as the only way to socialise.

Le’Nise Brothers:           Yeah, definitely. I want to talk a little bit about your writing because you have such an interesting career. You kind of have all of these different paths where you’re a journalist, you’ve written books, you’re a poet, you’ve created courses, you have a podcast, which we’ll talk about later on. And you’re also a ghost writer, which is so cool. And I want to talk a little bit about that shortly. Can you talk a little bit about your path and going in all of these, and I don’t mean this in a disparaging way because the same, but all of these different directions, it kind of belies the conventional wisdom that we need to choose one thing and stick with it. But that’s not what you’re doing and you seem to be quite successful at what you’re doing. So can you talk a little bit more about that?

Annie Ridout:                Sure. So I think I would’ve chosen one thing and stuck with it if it had worked. I think, I dunno, I may be someone, maybe those of us who have these careers with lots of different ways that we work. Maybe actually that’s because that suits our personality rather than because the income’s not coming from where we want it to. But I trained as a journalist, I did a master’s in journalism, started to get into journalism, and then I was never earning enough money as a freelance journalist, so I became a copywriter and I was working full-time as a copywriter until I had my first baby. Then I lost my job. And so then I was at home with a baby. I wanted to write, I had saved a bit of money for my maternity leave, but I wanted to keep working and needed to get back into work at some point.

                                    And so I did start doing more freelance journalism. And if that had really taken off and I was getting commissions all the time and earning a good living from it, that would be what, I would still be doing that now. But I got the odd commission and then I was trying to do other bits of work. I ended up doing bits of PR for people, which I kind of enjoyed because I knew how to help them write a pitch and to get press coverage, it was very easy for me as a journalist. And I’d done some work as an editor, so I knew exactly how to do it, but it wasn’t my soul calling to work in PR. And so I was doing bits of journalism and then I launched, I always was into blogging. I always had a blog, kind of like an online diary that I’d write.

                                    And then it always surprised me that anyone cared about what I was writing about, but there was always a bit of traffic. And then I launched a more, launched a platform called the Early Hour, which was for parents who were up early. And I was publishing an article every morning, and this was my way of publishing myself because I was pitching these ideas out and sometimes I’d get a commission, but sometimes an idea would never happen. And it’s really frustrating when you’re full of energy for an idea and then you’re pitching out to these editors and no one wants it because it’s not their area of interest. They don’t think the timing’s right, they don’t read your email for whatever reason. So I thought if I create my own platform, I can publish myself and other people whenever I want. And the platform grew really quickly and there was loads of traffic. There was hundreds of thousands of people visiting that website, but I never properly monetised it because the internet wasn’t set up to monetise a content platform then as it is now with platforms like Substack, which is amazing.

                                    But off the back of creating my own website and articles, I did start getting more commissions from The Guardian, and they would approach me and say, can you write this piece on early mornings? Can you write this piece on parenting? Red Magazine asked me to write about sex after having babies. And so it was really nice that the journalism was taking off more after launching my own platform that then raised my profile, I suppose, so that people were seeing me, editors were seeing me more, but it was still quite bitty then. But I was having children. Once I’d had my second baby, I got talking to an editor at Fourth Estate Publishing, and it’s a bit of a long story, which I won’t go into, but basically I ended up getting a book deal to write The Freelance Mum. I’d pitched another book and that one didn’t happen, but we got on really well and decided to do a book teaching women how to freelance after they had children.

                                    And I never thought I’d go into nonfiction. I always hoped I’d become a novelist, but it was amazing to get a book deal with this incredible publisher, and I loved working with Michelle, my editor. And so this book came out. And then the thing people wanted more help on was the chapter about how to get press coverage for your business. So then I designed it an online course and then an unexpectedly, it was just lots of unexpected things happened. Suddenly that course took off, loads of people signed up. I suddenly was earning what felt to me like loads of money because as a freelancer, it’s just often so bitty for quite a while. And when you eventually find your thing, whether it’s your retainer client or just the thing that works, that’s the thing that worked for me financially. And then that became the business.

                                    And then I was running an online course business and my husband quit his job and he was running it with me. And then I was writing a second book alongside it called Shy. But I was feeling like I’m running this business financially I’m exactly in my dream space financially, but it’s pulling me away from writing because you can’t be a full-time writer and be a full-time kind of business owner, entrepreneur. It’s one, I think it’s one or the other, or you can do bits of writing. But I was feeling like my heart is in writing journalism, nonfiction books. I got really into it and it lit nonfiction. Book writing is very close to journalism in the structure and the type of writing and then online courses and doing a lot of marketing felt like it was just in a different space. And then we were in the pandemic and it all got too much and I burned out.

                                    And so I backed off from the online courses and the people who had been buying them and enjoying them also backed off because they’d had enough, because everyone went so wild. Lots of us went wild for online courses in the pandemic, and we needed a bit of a break. There was some online course fatigue, so they stepped back. I stepped back and then I got my third book deal to write, Raise Your SQ, and I’d left London. So I wrote that book in Somerset. And then I launched a Substack eventually. 

                                    So now I feel like I’m writing nonfiction books. My fourth one is being pitched out at the moment, and then I’ve got my Substack, which has become my kind of bread and butter. So I’m getting a monthly income from writing two to three articles a week that I share with the community I’ve built on Substack, which is growing nicely. And then I ghost wrote my first book in July and I’ve just, yesterday went for an interview for the next one, which I haven’t heard back yet. So we’ll see. It’s quite weird being interviewed. I’m so used to just working from home alone and being fully in control of everything. And when I’m pitching to be commissioned as a journalist or a nonfiction author, there’s not an interview process. It’s just, my words go out and they decide if they want them or not. Whereas this is me stepping forward as a person and seeing if they want to work with me. It feels, but it’s fun. I’m enjoying it.

Le’Nise Brothers:           So can you say a little bit more about ghostwriting, because I think a lot more people became familiar with the idea of ghostwriting after the publication of Prince Harry’s book and his ghost writer JR Moehringer is really interesting, really interesting guy. His autobiography, the Tender Bar, I dunno if you’ve read it, fascinating, fascinating book, but he talks about how with ghostwriting, you have to constantly remind yourself that it’s not your book. So when you’re writing for someone else, how do you do that in a way that maintains the subject’s voice without your own creeping in?

Annie Ridout:                Well, I think because I’m a journalist first, I’m very used to being in the interviewer’s seat. And when I interview someone, I’m then capturing their words and their story and relaying it in an article. And it’s the same with ghostwriting. It’s very much the person’s words. So someone who has someone ghost to write their book is someone generally who’s got really good ideas, really good story, a profile, but I think prefers speaking to writing. And so they speak it out and then I as the writer will record their words and then edit them into a story.

                                    I’m very happy in the interviewer seat and I’m very happy to be behind the scenes. And because the first book that I ghostwrote, it’s so much her story, it’s like a memoir. It’s not my place to own those words. I feel no ownership at all. And all I wanted to do was make sure that she felt comfortable with the way the story was written, which she is. So yeah, it feels really satisfying. And also, it’s really interesting being a ghostwriter because you interview the person, however in person or on Zoom or whatever, and then you create this book, you write it 50,000 words or whatever. The next one, if I get the next book, it’s 70,000 words. That’s a bigger one. And then you present it to them and then it’s over to them to be the face of it and do the marketing, or they have their team do the marketing, but they’re involved in promoting it on their Instagram feeds and things like that. But I don’t have any of that side of it, which is very exciting. It’s lovely having your face and name on a book and people celebrating that with you and reading your book and hearing the feedback. But there’s also something so nice about doing the writing, delivering and then just hiding and not having any attention for it. I like that. I’m quite comfortable in the shadows, I think.

Le’Nise Brothers:           And then you talked about your Substack, which is also really interesting, and it’s a hugely growing space. It seems like loads of people I know are getting on Substack, and once they get on it, they say, wow, you need to get on it. It’s amazing. And what you wrote is because you wrote an article about it, you wrote on your newsletter on your Substack, and you said that it offers a slower, more sustainable approach. Can you talk more about, for someone who’s listening, who’s a writer and looking to monetise their writing, can you talk more about what you are getting out of Substack financially, obviously without giving the details, but also the other sides of it that you find beneficial?

Annie Ridout:                Yeah, so I guess because I’d been creating online courses, which was they were often text-based, sometimes with audio. So I would write a course and teach someone a new skill through this course. But with Substack and, I’m now bringing my online courses into Substack and giving people access. Because what’s amazing about Substack is it’s a completely free platform to use. You don’t pay for any hosting with a website. You have to pay yearly hosting and domain name. You have to pay to have your mailing list hosted on MailChimp or wherever you have it Klaviyo. And whereas with Substack, it’s completely free until you put a paywall in. And then if people start paying Substack, take 10%. So it’s set up so perfectly for the creator to only make money if they earn money rather than constantly paying out, which is amongst these freelance Mums, of which I’m one, and there are so many who I’m connected with through my book. We are all kind of trying to find ways to earn money around our kids. And you don’t want to be paying out if you don’t know that there’ll be a return and you never do know. 

So Substack is set up perfectly for people who don’t have loads of money to invest at the outset or any money to invest. What you do invest is your time and your ideas. So is, so based on the writing, you create a post on Substack and you publish it and it goes out to an email list. If you already have an email list, you can import it into Substack, or if you don’t, you can start to grow a mailing list there. And it sort of works like a social media platform. So if people start reading your articles on Substack, so you write an article, it will be mailed out to anyone on your email list, and then it will also exist on the Substack platform on your little corner of Substack.

                                    So mine is just under my name, Annie Ridout. And as people start to visit and comment, the algorithm picks up on that, and then Substack sends more people your way. So you have this kind of extra help and you can write these articles for free and not add a paywall and just grow a community of people. So if you have a book coming out and you want to grow a community of people interested in subject of your book, you could be writing a weekly article on the subject of your book and getting a bunch of people who are interested in them. When your book is published, you put a link and invite them to buy it, but I put in a paywall because I am treating it like journalism work where, or again, all those articles that I might have been pitching out and some get commissioned, others I never hear back.

                                    Now I get to write those articles every single week. I write something in the first person, like a personal essay, and then I, sometimes they’re free to read, but often I put a paywall in just as it gets to the juicy bit or just as it gets to the coaching exercise at the end, then people pay, can pay seven pounds a month and they get access to that particular piece of writing. But also all of my archives, including the online courses that I’m putting together and sort of coaching exercises. So it’s become an online platform with everything that I’m able to offer. So my ideas through my writing and personal stories, which people seem to be really into, I think we really like a first person story that’s not preachy and it’s not telling you what to do. It’s saying I’m struggling with, for instance, this transition I’ve made from London to Somerset. This is what’s going on for me. And then I get a bunch of people who want to read it because they’ve also moved or want to move and they’re trying to work out. So they’ll relate my words to themself and hopefully find some solace in them or some ideas. But yeah, I love that Substack is the people who are reading Substack articles seem to love personal essays. It’s such a pleasure to just write your own personal stories.

Le’Nise Brothers:           Yeah, I love your newsletter. Whenever I get it, I read it. And there’s things that you’ve written that because your writing style is very, I guess the best word that I can think of right now is very pragmatic. It’s just no frills And that appeals to me. It’s very, I love that and I really enjoy reading your work. And speaking of new work, you also have a podcast called Home. Can you talk about Home, why home and what the podcast looks to explore?

Annie Ridout:                Yeah. So I moved from London, where I am from and where all my family live to Somerset, where my husband’s family are from. We decided to move. We wanted to have a different experience. I had a big panic just before we left because I was leaving behind my parents as they get older, my siblings, loads of nephews and old friends and work, because a lot of my work though, I work almost entirely online. If I ever do have meetings or interviews, they’re all in London. So I had this big panic, but we decided to go ahead. My husband was very keen to make the move, and we had committed to buying a house, this big derelict house that he was going to renovate, that he has renovated. And so we made this move and it is a big deal moving with three kids. It’s hard to build a new community, which you need to do so that you feel safe in this new place.

                                    We didn’t have any family really nearby. And then I was homeschooling them while we made this move, but one of them wanted to go to school, so we ended up kind of getting them all into school and nursery and building this new life. But I still, though I have loved this new life and have made the most incredible friends this, we have managed to build this new community. Our life is very idyllic here in many ways, but I’m still a Londoner. I still miss London. I wonder if that’s where I’d like to raise my children. So I have lived this life that I love. And then I also want to be at the same time living this other life, this alternate reality in London, which obviously I can’t do. So we just have to decide if we are staying or if we’ll move back at some point.

                                    So the idea with the podcast, I wanted to interview other people because I’m fascinated in other people’s stories of where they were born and raised, where they’re living now, why they’re there, how they’re feeling, who they miss, what’s going well for them. So I thought if I interview a woman each week about her story of home, I’ll come to understand my own feelings more. And so that’s what I did. I set up a podcast on Substack. Again, it’s free to host and it’s really basic. I interview the women on Zoom. I do one interview a week, and then I edit it on Garage Band and have a little jingle at the beginning and the end. But it’s just a really deep honest conversation each week with someone who is also open to exploring what home means to them and how it feels. It’s all, I interview only women who aren’t living where they were born and raised, because I’m interested in this idea of can you create home elsewhere? Do you always feel drawn back to the place where your parents or carers raised you? Is that where your roots lie? Will you forever feel a bit displaced or a bit homesick if you are not there? This is what I am trying to answer through these interviews.

Le’Nise Brothers:           I really love that. And actually that really resonates with me because as I said earlier, I am Canadian, but I’ve lived in the UK for 20 years and I’m a British citizen now. But my husband, he always says, well, why don’t you call yourself British? And I said, well, I don’t really feel like I would be accepted as if I said I’m British because of the way I sound. But when I talk about home, when I say that I either mean where I am physically in my house in London or Canada where I spent over half of my life. So the concept of home is so, so interesting, especially for people who you’ve been away from your kind of place where you’ve grown up for a really long time, where I go back to Canada and obviously the world has moved on, Canadians have moved on and they’ll be talking about things and I have no idea what they’re talking about. So that’s interesting too.

Annie Ridout:                And do you ever consider moving back to Canada?

Le’Nise Brothers:           I would love to, but I have a life here. My son, he’s in school, and it would just be very complicated to move back. But I love the idea of going back because we could have a really good life there, but we have a great life here and I feel really grateful for that. But yeah, the idea, concept of home and what that means, just really, I think that’s fascinating. And you’ve had one of my faves on the show, Karen Arthur. Oh yeah, yeah, she’s great.

Annie Ridout:                Yeah, I watched her make this move to the seaside. I thought she was actually a Londoner, and she did live in London for a long time, though she wasn’t born there. I discovered when I her, but for me to see a Londoner leave London and her daughters are both still in London and go and live in Hastings, I was really interested and excited by her making this move. But it’s interesting, when I interviewed different people and I interviewed one person like Karen who’s so pleased, she’s made this move and it’s really working out for her, then I’ll interview someone else and they’ll say, no, I’m going to move back. And depending on what they say, it has a real effect on my mood and how I feel about my own life. So if they’re really positive, I’m like, yeah, I can do this. And then if they say, oh, I’m going to go back, like Clover Stroud, I interviewed her and she’s in the States and she’s said, well, we’ll definitely go back in three years. And then I feel almost jealous that she’s so sure she’s moving back and she knows she’s having this adventure, but she knows she’ll go home. So it’s interesting how it affects you in your body, your mind, soul.

Le’Nise Brothers:           And so that’s available on your Substack. And so for listeners who want to get in touch with your work, how can they find you? Where can they find your Substack?

Annie Ridout:                So my Substack is annieridout.substack.com, and then I’m on Instagram at Annie Ridout. And that’s it really. And my books are on my website is annie ridout.com, and that’s got a section for my books if they’re interested in that.

Le’Nise Brothers:           Great. If there is one thing that you would love to leave listeners with today, what would that be?

Annie Ridout:                Oh, that’s a good question. I think what’s coming up a lot for me at the moment is the need to be really honest about how you’re feeling to talk and be open. And even if what the conversation you’re starting is difficult for other people to hear. If you are feeling uncomfortable in your situation as I do sometimes in my home situation, you can be honest about that. You don’t have to pretend that you’re feeling fine when you are not for fear that you will destabilise other people. I think there’s always such value in vulnerability, and I think it’s really important to not suppress your real feelings.

Le’Nise Brothers:           I love that. I think that’s really important too. Thank you so much, Annie.

Annie Ridout:                Thank you. It’s been so lovely talking to you.

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

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

In this episode, Shakira shares: 

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

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

Thank you, Shakira!

Get in touch with Shakira:

Instagram

Website

Book – The Strong Like Mum Method


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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shakira: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Le’Nise: Yeah. 

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

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

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

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

Shakira: Yeah, yeah. Oh, oh. 

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

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

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

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

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

Shakira: Thank you for having me.