In the many conversations I have about periods, I’m starting to see period pain becoming more and more common. As I say a lot, period pain may be common, but that doesn’t mean it’s normal.
Why is that? It’s hard to say for sure, but stress levels are higher, we’re trying to get by on less sleep, we’re eating on the run, eating fewer vegetables and more of us are constipated, i.e. not having a daily bowel movement.
If you’ve been reading along for a while, you’ll know that food is a powerful way to deal with period issues, including painful periods. If you’re dealing with endometriosis, fibroids or adenomyosis, search my blog for specific posts on these conditions.
Magnesium, nature’s relaxing mineral, can be really helpful in reducing / managing period pain. Leafy greens and nuts & seeds are a great source of this mineral. I also like taking Pure Encapsulations magnesium bisglycinate for an extra boost.
Inflammation (when the immune system is overactive) can increase pain levels, so adding in anti-inflammatory foods such as ginger, turmeric and oily fish on a regular basis can be really beneficial.
Zinc is another powerful anti-inflammatory. Free-range, organic red meat such as beef and lamb, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, oysters and seafood, eggs (eat the yolks!) and ginger are fantastic sources of zinc.
It’s important to also note that it’s not just about the food that gets added into the diet, it’s also about what gets taken out. For some, sugar, alcohol, cow’s milk dairy and gluten can be very inflammatory, so if period pain is a major issue, it can be beneficial to trial reducing or removing these foods from the diet, especially if it can be done in a way that doesn’t lead to a restrictive mindset around food.
Have you ever used changes in diet to reduce period pain? Let me know in the comments!
We talked about Deborah’s feelings about her first period and not being quite emotionally ready to cope with it, being forced to grow up quite quickly, fibroids, educating boys about periods and navigating her way through early menopause.
Deborah Campbell is the founder of Future Fe+Male, an organisation which promotes everyday equality for empowering humans to reframe thinking around habitual sexism in order to promote social change. This is done through awareness and action through education, a podcast and an interactive platform. Deborah also works in sustainable fashion through her brand Deborah Campbell Atelier and lectures Fashion Marketing with management at Winchester School of Art, specializing in sustainable and ethical best practice, and blockchain.
Le’Nise: On today’s episode, we have Deborah Campbell, Deborah is the founder of Future Female, which promotes everyday quality to empower humans to reframe thinking around habitual sexism to promote social change. This is done through awareness and action with education, a podcast and an interactive platform. Deborah also works in sustainable fashion through her brand, Deborah Campbell Atelier and lectures in fashion marketing with management at the Winchester School of Art, specialising in sustainable and ethical best practice and block chain. Welcome to the show.
Le’Nise: So let’s start off by getting into the story of your first period. Can you share with us what you remember?
Deborah: Yes. So my first period, I was aged 11 and I do remember it being quite painful. I definitely had some education about it at school, but I think it came as a bit of a ‘oh, what’s this all about’, especially age 11, because I don’t think I’d really appreciated that I could be that young. It was all quite relaxed, my mum was great. I don’t remember any sort of strange sort of not really understanding what was going on.
But what was really embarrassing was she obviously mentioned it to my dad so that my dad marched in and announced, “oh, I hear you’ve become a young woman”. I was mortified. I was like 11 years ago going what? What’s he talking about? What does that mean? And so, yeah, I think being 11, I wasn’t able to cope with it, had I been seen fully emotionally because I was. Yeah, still really young. I mean, I look at my son now and see he’s not going to have a period, but I think emotionally he’s pretty strong. But it’s quite a big thing, I think when you are 11 or any younger; I mean some girls start younger than that even. So, yeah, that was my first and that stayed with me. That’s quite vivid you know, if somebody asked me the question, as you’ve done, that’s a vivid sort of memory of my dad announcing I’d become a young woman.
Le’Nise: Your family was quite relaxed and quite helpful about it.
Deborah: Yeah, I think my mum was. She tried to sort of navigate me through all of the, you know, the tampons and sanitary towels. But I didn’t jump straight into tampons because obviously being 11, it was all a bit like, oh, that doesn’t look so user friendly. So, yeah, she was good with all that, but I’d always had quite a lot of pain with my period. I definitely remember quite early on suffering with really bad cramping and just feeling really rubbish actually. So yeah, I wished I’d been older so I didn’t have to put up with it that young.
Le’Nise: And how was it at school? Were you the first of your friends to have your period?
Deborah: Yeah, that’s interesting. You know, I’m not sure if I was. The thing was I’d moved schools. We had moved from Manchester to Devon. So I had some friends but I don’t remember talking to, as in obviously I’d made friends, but I’m not sure we talked about periods, I honestly can’t remember. There were a few of us, but I don’t have a specific memory of, oh yeah I was really close to a certain person and we discussed. I think I was probably one of the first. Yeah.
Le’Nise: And how did you learn about periods and what was happening in your body? You mentioned education at school. Was it very in depth?
Deborah: I don’t think it was but I definitely knew what was happening. I just don’t think I was emotionally able to cope with it that well. I definitely engaged with what they told us at school. But I don’t remember it being that in depth. I mean, for example, you know, some of the body parts, you know, I still think, oh, my goodness, I don’t remember learning that I had that part in my vagina area or vulva or all the different types of names that you get. I’ve been learning them as an adult.
I think it’s quite surprising how the women’s, you know, sexual kind of area was just not, it was a bit less discussed I think, or just not very detailed. So, yeah, I definitely had some education at school, I just don’t think it felt very clear, I mean, clear for the time maybe but just when you start looking and delving further into what does each part do? There was certainly no discussion about pleasure. And I think I’ve come to that later in life in terms of what boys are told, because I have a son, obviously, as I mentioned, and what was discussed about their genitalia so to speak, and what’s discussed about the girls genitalia, it still remains more about older boys, talk about wet dreams but the girls talk about the physicality of periods and all of that and you think hmm that needs change.
Le’Nise: So there was no discussion about the like girls can have, not a wet dream per se, but something quite similar and the nature of female pleasure and masturbation.
Deborah: Exactly. I’m not saying that they talk about masturbation at school to the boys specifically using that term but obviously wet dreams has a connotation to that and this whole pleasure side and I don’t think that has been really focused on yet, it certainly wasn’t going to be focused on when I was growing up.
I grew up in the seventies but I suppose it isn’t surprising, really, that it isn’t discussed for females, you know, the female pleasure, because I think why shouldn’t it be? But I suppose the challenge they’ve got in schools is age, I think they touch on it in year five and then year six, they are quite young.
Le’Nise: Going back to what you said about being emotionally ready. Can you take us through a little bit why you felt like you weren’t emotionally ready?
Deborah: Yeah, I think it’s something that is physically happening to your body that you don’t fully understand or I didn’t really feel I was ready to address why I had to have a period, i.e. obviously for reproduction purposes. And it takes away your childhood really and in many areas it forces you to become quite grown up quite quickly. And I was always that sort of kid like that anyway; I was the oldest child in the family, so I had to get on with certain things as a young person that a second child wouldn’t have to maybe, you know, get on with anyway. So I was fairly grown up but I think that probably defined my sense of, you know, adulthood quicker and age 11 is no sort of place to kind of consider being an adult, I suppose and that’s how it felt.
I felt like this transition into womanhood, so to speak, was too quick and too early and I don’t think I was ready. And actually, that’s just looking back. Maybe at the time I didn’t realise that as much because I just got swept up in that emotion.
Le’Nise: And you said that your periods had always been very painful. What did you do about it? And was it something that went all the way through into adulthood?
Deborah: Yeah, I did have to do something about it. My mum and I went to the doctors and we ended up getting the pill to try and ease the cramping and the distress, I suppose. And I’m trying to think back as to what age I was. I think I was well, definitely between maybe 14 and 17. I just can’t remember exactly when it was. So that did help a bit. So in terms of going into adulthood, they were less aggressive, the crampings and such like, but I still suffered to some degree. And then in my late 20s, early 30s, I came off the pill because I suddenly started looking at it or going, hang on; I’m putting drugs into my body. I started to become more aware of, you know, actually this doesn’t quite feel right and I’ve been on it for quite a long time and hence, I just had a rethink about it.
So when I came off the pill, did they come back? Yes, they came back quite severely but not as they’d been in my teenage years, and some months worse than others. So I think I’d had some pain throughout even when I was on the pill, but just less intense and a bit more intense when I got into my 30s.
Le’Nise: What was your thinking around the pain? Did you think it was something that you had to just put up with or you had to deal with? Or did you have a sense that it wasn’t supposed to be like that?
Deborah: Yeah, I mean, that’s the challenge, I think. I absolutely thought I had to put up with it. I think as I got wiser into my early 30s, I thought, hang on, why am I putting up with this? If you ask me that question now, I think it’s complete nonsense women have to put up with this type of pain.
I mean, I’ve been on a very long journey in my 40s because I’ve had early menopause but I’ve certainly done a lot of reading and a lot of research and a lot of kind of soul searching as to what was going on with me. I won’t go into that just yet but I think, really, what I’ve come to believe is there shouldn’t be this attitude of putting up. I think medicine and sort of more holistic approaches has got, you know, broader and more widely available and accepted. So also having this idea of understanding your cycle, you know, really really well, it just wasn’t around, I mean, it was in my 30s, I mean, I’m now 48, in case anybody’s thinking why does she keep going on about her 30s.
So, you know, it’s become more important to consider our own bodies and understand our own bodies and it’s become more, well, there’s more education out there, there’s more understanding of how to understand our own bodies. When I was growing up, men, you know, into adulthood, there was there was an acceptance of, we just put up with it, so I think there are sort of two answers to that question, but certainly a lot of people, I believe, still feel it’s just accepted. And no, it shouldn’t be like that, I don’t think.
Le’Nise: And going back to what you said about coming off the pill, you said you came off in your early 30s. What made you decide to come off the pill?
Deborah: I thought that if any sort of chemical reaction was happening that I’d put in my body, it would take a number of years to get rid of it. And if we wanted to have children and at the time, we didn’t, like myself and my husband have been together for years, well, nearly 30 years coming up, and, you know, we hadn’t decided to have kids, but for some reason there was a sixth sense saying to me, but what if we did decide, actually to not be on the pill would probably be better rather than just coming off and going, oh, let’s have a child, because things don’t work like that.
So there was that background thinking and there was also this other just sixth sense saying, you know, intuition. This is still a chemical we don’t really know enough about, so I’d perhaps get rid of it, too. That was sort of what my body was telling me to do. So that that’s kind of why really.
Le’Nise: And your journey with the pill. So you went on it anywhere between 14 to 17, what would you describe your journey? Was it smooth? Was it trial and error?
Deborah: It was a bit trial and error. I think I probably went through two or three different types of pill, mostly tablet form, not an injection form from my memory. I don’t think I ever did an injection. But then why have I mentioned that? You know, I might have had an injection at some stage later in my adulthood thinking about it. So yeah, there were a few different options, but I’m afraid I’m a bit woolly on my memory.
Le’Nise: Coming off the pill, you knew there were chemical reactions. You weren’t sure how it was affecting your body. How was the transition coming off of the pill and going back to natural menstrual cycles?
Deborah: It felt like it was fairly easy. I don’t remember having a particular thought of, oh my God, I’ve got to go back on because there’s some difference. And it felt more accepting, I sort of felt like I can accept it this cycle. It is what it is. It didn’t feel difficult. There was a bit of pain around, you know, and some months worse than others. Mood swings and all of that. I mean, I was still getting some of those on the pill anyway. So, yeah, I didn’t feel like it was a drastic sort of oh, I’m off it now. It just felt quite good, I suppose, to be off it. Just trying to think of anything other, no I think yeah, I think it was okay. I’m just trying to think whether I started taking any supplements at that time, I might have done, around, you know, I can’t think of the supplement. Is it evening primrose oil? I think I tried that for a bit. Yeah. So I think I then started looking towards other sorts of means to try and ease some of the discomfort that comes around at certain stages of your cycle.
Le’Nise: And so that was about maybe five or six years off of the pill. How did you learn about what was happening with your body and learn about the different stages of the menstrual cycle?
Deborah: So my cycle was always really regular and to be honest now it’s a bit different, but I won’t go into that. So I started paying attention to the four week cycle and what, 28 days was usually mine give or take a day and I would be very mindful about, the week before would be the most intense, and then the week of the period was quite short actually, I think after the pill, now this is something that is coming back to me, my cycle was very quick.
So I would have a sort of a heavy section, well, it would be about four or five days maximum, but my heavy part would be just literally one maybe nearly two days. So I felt almost actually what had happened after the pill was they, well it was always the case with the pill, but after the pill, I didn’t get into a cycle of very heavy periods or anything and I hadn’t really even in my teenage years, had very heavy periods, I just had very painful periods. So my heavy periods came after, but that’s another discussion because I then ended up with fibroids, but actually paying attention to the whole cycle, I became more aware of how I felt. I was watching my feelings. I think the week where you are sort of in euphoria is that week of when you just come off your period and you suddenly feel brilliant for about seven days and then slowly declining. I suppose, one week out of the month I felt great and then the other three weeks were challenging for a variety of reasons, whether it’s mood swings or just general sluggishness, I suppose.
Le’Nise: Can you talk a bit more about your fibroids? So fibroids are a condition, they’re very common, but not a lot of women have a proper understanding of them. So can you talk a bit about how you learned about fibroids and that you had them and what you did about them?
Deborah: Yeah, I ended up going to the doctors for something not quite related to, well, nothing to do with fibroids because we didn’t know I had them then. I think it might well have just been some discomfort in the stomach area, sort of pelvic area and I went and had a scan for something relating to that, I believe. Or I may well have had an infection, a bladder infection. They might have been checking it further or not bladder infection, but maybe, no it would have been, yeah, urine infection. Yeah, that was what it was, it was a urine infection and they decided to have a bit more of a closer look. So fibroids were discovered after I had my child. I think I was probably in my early forties. Yeah, I reckon around 42, 43 time.
So that was something of a surprise because I’d never, well I had heard of them, I’m lying there because my sister has them and she’d had very painful, I think she’s got 3 and really painful for her and has since ended up having some procedure to sort those out because they’re much worse than my situation. But even with my sister, I did not quite grasp exactly what they were and how they can manifest and to be honest, I don’t I still don’t probably have enough knowledge in that area.
So mine were growing because I was still having a period and apparently they grow through production of oestrogen and that fuels them. So I was, you know, fine, not fine, but thought, right, okay, what does that mean? And, you know, and I wasn’t really given much more information about it. I did feel like I had to just sort of go off and check and see, well, what’s the implication? So there is some discomfort still with the fibroids. I have had a bit of discomfort, but I wouldn’t say it was debilitating in any way, really, because there’s been plenty of other discomforts I’ve had to endure with early menopause. I don’t think there’s enough information about fibroids at all out there, even now, and, you know, things have moved on apace, but no, I would say there could be more detail for women.
Le’Nise: And just for any listeners who don’t know what fibroids are, they’re benign growths that can be in the uterus within the lining, the muscular lining of the uterus and outside the uterus and they grow through the production of oestrogen and they can be anywhere from the size of a walnut to the size of a watermelon. So, for some women they can cause a lot of pain, very heavy periods, anaemia, they can press on the bladder and the bowel. There are many women who have them and have no symptoms at all. But equally, a lot of other women have them and they are experiencing some of the symptoms that I mentioned.
Deborah: Yeah. And actually now you’ve said that. So yeah, I that’s what would happen to me, I would get pressing and still do get pressing on certain areas of the bladder, which is discomfort and then the heavy periods were and have been a nightmare. So that’s linked I think to the fibroids, because I’ve never had heavy periods until around, I think from age 43, really, it might be a bit earlier, because the heavy periods obviously started after I’d had my child age 37, they probably started to kick in around 39 and onwards or maybe even earlier and I put it down, oh I’ve had a baby, everything’s changed. But actually what was happening was there were some fibroids there growing and I didn’t know. So yeah absolutely correct. I think that’s the area that people need to understand a lot more around because they are common. My fibroid is, well I think I’ve got two, but one is particularly bigger than the other, its 4 centimetres, if that gives anybody an inkling of, you know, the size. They can be removed, but there’s all sorts of reasons why not to remove them, which, you know, I’m not necessarily going to go into but yeah.
Le’Nise: We’ve talked about fibroids and how you discovered that you had them. Can you talk about your journey through early menopause?
Deborah: That’s quite complicated; I will try and keep it brief. So I got to aged 43 when my regular period stopped and it didn’t arrive and I was like, this is a bit odd, I’m sure I’m not pregnant. So I got hold of the doctor and said, this is really strange, I’m very regular. She said, Oh, right, sounds to me like perimenopause, when did your mum start her menopause? And I was quite floored actually, I thought, sorry, what are you talking about? What’s perimenopause? I had never heard that term ever.
It took me a while, well, I phoned my mum straight away, I was like, “when did you start your menopause again? I can’t remember, I don’t think you told me.” “Oh, yeah, I was about 40”, “Oh, right”. So it got to the point where I started getting quite cross with myself because I thought, well, actually, we did fancy a second child and up to that point we hadn’t really properly tried because I’d felt so dreadful between the ages of 40 to 43 and the dreadfulness was around perimenopause, of course, it doesn’t manifest into a period suddenly stopping, it manifests in all sorts of ways, which I haven’t got hours and hours to go into but all of the symptoms I had very briefly from age 40 to about 43 were low confidence, sort of mood swings, quite aggressive mood swings, feeling like you can’t control the mood swing and somebody else is there doing something and then suddenly you come back to yourself and think, who was that? That was just shouting. And then it deteriorated into sort of really low mood and all those sort of early symptoms, age 40 to 43, I just thought I’d, I don’t know why I thought I’d got.
So I was on a mission to find what I’d got, which in the end was perimenopause. So my doctor was very good, actually, she sent me for a blood test and immediately suggested going on HRT. Now, then at that point, I was into real holistic and had been for a while, holistic approaches to medicine and I was on the defensive then thinking, well, and I was probably in denial, no, no, no, I’m not doing HRT, I’m not doing HRT. I went on a mission to have acupuncture and all sorts of different things, taking supplements. It wasn’t till about age 44 to 45 when the symptoms got so debilitating with a low mood particularly, but also the hot flashes occurred, pain occurred in my legs and all sorts of things, honestly the list is endless. So I went on HRT, which wasn’t very successful. I had two different types before I decided to not take it because I just couldn’t get on with it and I just thought I’ll battle on.
So this is where I think it’s really bad, I think, women, so this goes right back to my period when I first started my period and my younger years of ‘I just got on with it’. And I think that’s what women shouldn’t say and shouldn’t do. No, we shouldn’t just get on with it. Stop and go no, this doesn’t have to be this way and that’s what I started to think in my mid-40s. Well, this isn’t right. Why am I feeling this bad? So I battled on, which I shouldn’t have done, but I did. I had 18 months of no period because of HRT brings your period back. So at that point, I thought, yeah, I’m pretty much almost into menopause, but I then just couldn’t cope. So I went back on HRT on a mission to find the right type and I’ve only just got the right type aged 48 and it happened in August where I started taking an oestrogen gel and I had a Mirena coil fitted in June. So that’s kind of my, I’m trying to be brief, my brief journey of early menopause. But yeah, I probably could tell you a lot more, but I’m trying to be mindful of not going on too much.
Le’Nise: Okay. Well, it’s really interesting hearing about your journey through HRT because what you’ve described is something that I hear a lot where HRT is sold as something that’s inevitable and what you’ve said is that you’ve been on a journey to find the right type for you. Can you talk a bit about the research that you did for yourself to figure out which type was the best for you?
Deborah: Yeah. I mean, my doctor was quite useful and I say the word quite, because she’s a good doctor but it was very much initially, oh, I’ll put you on patches, because I think that’s the best way. I think for most people that might work but they kept falling off so I wasn’t getting the dosage. So the other research in the background I was doing was trying to find information out there and at the time, aged about 44, there were no people, well obviously there were people talking about it, but there wasn’t a lot out there, so it is really difficult to find other information from relevant sources, particularly medical sources. So I think that’s when I got lost if I’m honest, I got really lost in the mix of what’s right and what’s wrong and I’m very into holistic approaches and homeopathy and all that and I also did acupuncture, I’m still doing acupuncture now actually, just gone back to it because I do believe in all of that. However, it wasn’t helping enough, you know.
So I’d say it’s only really been in the last two years that I’ve connected in with the Menopause Doctor who’s actually on Instagram. She’s got some brilliant information via her own website and on her Instagram and she’s obviously a medical doctor and I’ve probably learnt the most, if I’m honest from her. I do have a book, but it’s a very thick book and I didn’t manage to read lots of it and I’ve now forgotten the name of that book, but it will come back to me. But yeah, online through the Menopause Doctor [whom] I highly recommend, most of the details she’s got and that’s what’s led me to the gel because she talked about that as an option and my own doctor hadn’t mentioned gel, my doctor hadn’t even mentioned the Mirena coil and I do believe a few people started talking to me about that.
And I then started doing a bit of research and my own doctor was a bit like, hmm not sure if that should be or could be an option and again, I didn’t quite understand why. I mean, the reason I needed to go on the Mirena coil was I needed just to get without these really heavy, debilitating periods, because when you are in the menopause, you know, you can’t, well obviously your period should stop but mine wasn’t stopping because obviously I then went on HRT, which then brings them back.
And actually, I don’t want to heavy periods because obviously I have fibroids, so it’s a bit of a complicated situation, which is why then I thought, no, I have to get without these periods because they are debilitating. So in some ways I’ve gone against my sort of natural approach but I’ve felt the best I’ve ever felt in the last two months. So I have to accept that this is the root. The Mirena coil hasn’t been as brilliant, let’s say the first six months with the coil, you have to accept you might get a period. So unfortunately for me, I ended up with a period for 14 weeks, not heavy, but 14 weeks of a period with this Mirena coil that stopped in end of August, middle of September it stopped. So I haven’t had a period up until actually last week. I’ve just got another short one going on now. So it’s not been, you know, straightforward but I do feel like my hormones are in the right place now. I feel like I’ve got the right dose of oestrogen. I think oestrogen for me is the biggest challenge but that’s again where medicine is not geared up for individuals. And that is what the challenge is, I think, and I’m not a medic, but that’s my own feeling.
Le’Nise: What would you say to a woman who feels like she’s on a similar journey to you?
Deborah: Based on how I feel now? I would 100 percent recommend HRT and the Mirena coil. Yes, I’ve gone through a lot of challenges during the summer in particular, to get here. But I do feel that it’s, you know, based on the last two months, now, that’s you know, that’s not a long time, based on the last two months, how I’ve been feeling is better than I’ve ever felt. So, you know, that’s what I recommend. It won’t work for everyone. And there’s also some fear about Mirena coil, it’s actually very painful to be inserted, but I must be honest, if you’ve had a baby, its fine. That’s my feeling.
I had a C-section, so, you know, I had dreadful labour, but I had a C-section and actually, I think you can cope with having a Mirena coil fitted, that’s my personal opinion but not everybody’s threshold is, you know, that’s not for everyone, I’m going to say that, for sure. And I do think, you know, I’m not through my six months yet, so, you know; watch that space in some ways. I do think it’s right for me now, but I could get beyond six months and if still periods are happening, then obviously there’s something wrong and I’ll have to go back and rethink that one but let’s hope they do stop and that’s the end of that.
Le’Nise: So the journey that you’ve been on and the kind of cultural expectation for women and their 40s and 50s and you have an organisation, Future Female, which, as we heard in the intro, is about promoting everyday equality. How do you think that applies to women who are going through this transition in life?
Deborah: I think the stereotype is being eroded as in the stereotype of women and menopause, which is excellent, meaning, I think there’s a lot more conversation out there now about menopause and I talk about it quite often in circles that I would never have considered talking about it before, because it was like, oh, something to shush about a bit like periods to be honest, I think they all go together.
The more open we are about what is happening with our bodies that are our natural processes, that are part of how we all can reproduce and bring humans into the world, the better and there’s more talk to be done, there’s more books to be written, there’s more openness to occur, there’s certainly more education because, you know, women in their 20s and 30s, I want them to know that if you end up in early menopause, if you don’t know that it’s going to come, literally, you think you’re going mad and there’s a whole heap of women I’ve heard that from, including myself.
You know, you go into this very strange zone of just otherness, you kind of go, well, where’s me gone? Am I still here? And unfortunately for me, that lasted quite a few years because I wasn’t given the education. So I think from an equality perspective, it has to be talked about; it has to be right on the agenda for a normal conversation.
For instance, slightly aside, but I talked to my son about periods, quite recently because I said, you’ve had the chat at school, how do you feel about it? Were you shown any tampon or sanitary towel and he said no, in real life, we weren’t, but we did see something on a tablet and I thought, well, if he’s accepted, I’ll show him, so we had a brief conversation. We got all the paraphernalia out, we were looking at what is best and what isn’t and he was like, what do you use? And I just think that’s exactly what we have to do, it’s a human thing, it’s not something tucked under the, you know, the carpet or whatever and that’s the same for menopause and more discussion and the less stereotypical, oh, my God, she’s on a period or oh, my God, she’s in the menopause or she’s a nutter and all these derogatory terms that are used for women to describe women. They have to be ousted. And certainly with Future Female, I’m doing what I can there to talk about, you know, menopause. And I talk less about periods because I’m not in that zone anymore but for me, it’s a combination of things. It’s women’s health, basically.
Le’Nise: So talk a little bit more about Future Female and the work that you’ve been doing through this organisation.
Deborah: Yes. So that is really looking at every day equality through this language, through every day habitual sexism that occurs through everyday language. So this kind of idea of derogatory terms used for female, mainly females that come from males. We rebranded recently to have the plus sign to be more inclusive to males because when I started Future Female, I did have the vision that this is a human story, it isn’t, oh, women, you know, telling men they must be a certain way because that is something I think is a barrier. I think if we join up as a team and are equally responsible to look at equality, then it becomes a very different discussion and it becomes a very different, hopefully, action based discussion so that men and women own it.
And, you know, you don’t see the word feminism in my sort of discussion and my detail and in any language we use, it doesn’t mean I’m not a feminist, it just means that that term is, I feel quite barrier focused and people get stuck in that cul de sac, I call it because, you know, feminism is brilliant and it’s empowering but in order for us all to move forward, I think it’s you know, it’s a wider discussion around equality that everyone needs to take responsibility for and as humans, it’s in our power to sort of shift.
So what we also look at is education and I’m involved with a number of schools where we just recently did a podcast last week actually at a school. So that Born Equal podcast is inclusive of all voices but looking into the secondary school sector to bring, you know, young voices into the mix, because that’s where it all starts, as in that’s where these derogatory terms occur and that’s where stereotypes occur and that’s what is most interesting to me in education is, so how can we reframe how we speak to each other and how can we, you know, get the action and get the change? And that has to come from both, as I say, male and female. So last week’s podcast was just with females but I’m looking to go in and talk to a group of males as well or female and males together and then I’m also looking because I teach a higher education level so B.A. level, I’m looking at podcasts through that level of student, you know, teenage up into the 20s to see what their take is on equality and every day habitual sexism.
And then obviously, we’ve just launched a podcast earlier this year called Born Equal and other work where we’re doing is potentially linking up with a number of education organisations to create a toolkit or maybe isn’t a tool kit because the challenges, well, are we giving people something to use to mask the problem or are we going to actually see the whole kind of change in action? You know, it’s a difficult one because we want to help shift the change, but you know, I don’t want a mask it, I do want to give people tools to cope with it. It’s almost like, well, hang on, why are we coping? It’s back to that same conversation again. Why are we coping? Let’s try and think about it a different way. So, yeah, hopefully that gives you an insight as to what work we’re doing.
Le’Nise: Yeah, I think it’s a really important organisation and really important work that you’re doing. If listeners take one thing away from our conversation, what would you want that one thing to be?
Deborah: Don’t put up and don’t cope and don’t think, okay, this is how it has to be, that’s it, because it doesn’t have to be this way.
Le’Nise: Thank you so much for coming onto the show, Deborah. So, all of the work that you’ve mentioned through Future Female, where we can listeners find out more about it? Where can they hear the podcast?
It’s finally December and wow, can you believe it’s almost 2020, the year of perfect vision! 👓
I’ve been talking to my clients a lot about Christmas party season and how to prepare and plan for it. I like to think of it as a marathon, not a sprint 🏃🏽♀️ How many parties are you going to this season?
There will probably be glasses of bubbles, endless rounds and lots of wine top ups, before you get carried away and find yourself feeling a bit regretful in January, here’s a reminder to consider mindful drinking this holiday season.
What do I mean by mindful drinking?
It’s simply drinking alcohol in an intentional way. And no, I don’t mean with the intention to get drunk, haha! 🤣
Here are a few examples:
🥂Set yourself a limit for the amount you’re going to drink on a night out, i.e. 1-2 glasses.
💧Alternate between alcohol and water when you drink or dilute your drinks.
🚕Choose a few nights where you go out but don’t drink (could you plan to be the designated driver?).
🗓Choose the number of days each week you’re going to drink and stick to them. You won’t feel as sluggish by the time New Years rolls around.
🍷Notice how quickly you’re drinking and allowing yourself to really taste each sip, rather than downing each drink.
Would you try mindful drinking this holiday season? Let me know in the comments!
How many of these things have happened recently? Started crying at something really sentimental on TV? Gotten really irrationally irritated about something then felt fine a few minutes later? Felt fine one minute, then really angry / sad / annoyed / upset the next? 🤪
Pre-menstrual mood swings can be a sign for many of us that our periods are on their way. Or perhaps the moodiness of the previous few days makes more sense when your period arrives. Can anyone relate to that? 😳
Food can help stabilise mood and adding the foods I’ve listed below consistently can help shift pre-menstrual mood swings.
Support Serotonin Production
🍳 Adding foods that are high in the amino acid tryptophan can help the body make more serotonin, our happy hormone. Eggs, oily fish such as wild salmon, nuts & seeds are all high in tryptophan. Eating these foods often and alongside carbohydrates such as rice, fruits & veg and oats can help make the conversion from tryptophan to serotonin more effective.
Support Gut Health
🥕Research shows that 90% of the body’s serotonin is produced in the gut, so supporting a healthy gut is another great way to support moods. Increasing fermented foods such as kombucha, kimchi, miso and kefir can help, as can adding soluble fibres such as bananas, garlic, onions, Jerusalem artichoke and chicory root.
Support Blood Sugar Balance
🍽 Managing your blood sugar levels by eating meals with lots of vegetables, high quality protein, good quality fats and lots of fibre can help keep mood stable.
How do you deal with mood swings before your period? Tell me in the comments below!
Le’Nise Brothers is a registered nutritionist, mBANT, women’s health, hormone and menstrual cycle coach, founder of Eat Love Move and host of the Period Story Podcast.
Le’Nise works primarily with women who feel like they’re being ruled by their sugar cravings, mood swings and hormonal acne & bloating.
They want to get to grips with heavy, missing, irregular & painful periods, fibroids, PMS, PCOS, endometriosis, post-natal depletion and perimenopause.
Her mission is for women to understand and embrace their hormones & menstrual cycle!
For the third episode of the Period Story Podcast, I was honoured to speak with Sharon Walters, the London Artist. We spoke about shame and cleanliness, learning about periods and menstrual health in a family where children were seen and not heard, hiding her sanitary towels from her father, the effects of feeling disconnected from yourself and how Sharon learned that she didn’t need to live with a heavy period. Sharon also shared how her collage series, Seeing Ourselves, has allowed her to feel strong, confident and connected with herself and her body.
Sharon says that understanding her body has helped improve her confidence and self-esteem and how believing in herself has opened up so many opportunities for her.
Sharon Walters is an artist, educator and a part-time coordinator of community engagement programmes at a London museum. She graduated from Central St Martins in 2011 with a BA in Fine Art, holds a Post Graduate Teaching and Learning Certificate in post-16 citizenship education, and a BA in social science from Thames Valley University. Since January 2018, Sharon has been working on a mixed media collage series entitled Seeing Ourselves. Now with over 200 pieces in the collection, she has exhibited in a number of public spaces including the NOW gallery in Greenwich and the New Ashgate Gallery in Surrey. Her work is shared regularly on Instagram through on her London_artist1 account.
Seeing Ourselves explores identity, beauty standards, representation and Afro hair. Her limited-edition prints and bespoke collages have been acquired by collectors globally, and she has delivered collage workshops for clients including the National Trust. Sharon makes hand-assembled collages almost daily as a way to be present, reflective and mindful, each collage gives her the space and permission to ‘take up space’ even in places where she so often does not see herself represented.
By exploring diverse narratives through partnerships and providing platforms for under-represented voices to be heard, Sharon has a number of collaborations planned with artists, organisations and groups which will continue to develop both her art practice and community outreach work. The fluidity between the socially engaged practice within the museum and community projects and her art practice has developed over the past 20 years through working with people in various formal and informal educational settings.
Le’Nise: On today’s episode we have Sharon Walters. Sharon is an artist, educator and a part time coordinator of Community Engagement Program at a London museum. Since January 2018, Sharon has been working on a mixed media collage series entitled Seeing Ourselves, now with over 200 pieces in the collection. She has exhibited in a number of public spaces, including the Now Gallery in Greenwich and the New Ashgate Gallery in Surrey. Her work is shared regularly on Instagram through her @London_artist1 account. Welcome to the show.
Sharon: Hi, Hi Le’Nise.
Le’Nise: So let’s start off by getting into the story of your first period. Can you share with us what happened?
Sharon: So I can’t remember the exact specifics, but I know I was around the age of eleven. I do remember the feelings that I had around that time, which was that it wasn’t really something to be that excited about. And I think that just stems from the way we talked about periods and the way they were viewed. And probably my experiences of both my mum and my nan. So those kinds of experiences were passed down to us really.
Le’Nise: Can you tell us a little bit more about some of the experiences that were passed on that made you feel not very excited about your first period?
Sharon: Well, I do remember that quite a lot of the time periods weren’t really spoken about. So I remember a particular time when my nan was, she had this ottoman at the end of the bed. And I remember opening the ottoman and finding her sanitary towels and she was really annoyed that I’d found these sanitary towels and she was a lovely woman, but she was really annoyed I found them. And she said to me, you know, you can’t those aren’t for you. Those are women’s. Those are for women and, you know, it was just slammed shut. So I think that was my initial introduction to what a period was but later on, my mum, she just basically had really super heavy periods that were always painful and so that was the kind of narrative I grew up around, that they was something that were really difficult, they happened to, and they just weren’t very enjoyable.
Le’Nise: So your nan was really annoyed that you found her sanitary towels. If you think back now on it, why do you think she was so annoyed?
Sharon: I think maybe she just didn’t have the words to explain what periods were to a child and also I grew up in a time where children were to be seen and not heard. So you didn’t really have a voice. You were seen to be a child. And as a child, you only did childlike things and discussed childlike things. So anything beyond that was seen as something completely separate and you’re trying to be too fast or you’re trying to be too involved in big people’s conversations. It was that kind of rhetoric.
Le’Nise: Given that rhetoric, how did you learn about menstrual health and what was actually happening to your body?
Sharon: I didn’t really learn at all. I knew that I had a period every month, but I was never really told what that whole process was about. I don’t think I even knew that you could get pregnant, yeah at that point those kinds of discussions didn’t really happen. What really happened was this is your period, here are the sanitary towels, you don’t use tampons because you’re too young, and that was it, that was the only discussions we really had. I just knew it was something that I couldn’t let my dad see. So you couldn’t really leave any remnants of your period, it was that there was a lot of shame attached to having a period. Yeah.
Le’Nise: You said you just knew that you couldn’t let your dad see it. Where did that knowledge come from?
Sharon: My mum.
Le’Nise: Oh, so she had told you?
Sharon: Yeah. So if, for example, there was a tiny bit of blood, maybe that might’ve been in the toilet or there were sanitary towels, you know, you had to make sure everything was, and I understand that you obviously don’t want everyone seeing your menstrual blood, but I kind of grew up feeling like it was something really, really dirty and it was something that it wasn’t for men to say. And it was kept very separate from my relationship with my father.
Le’Nise: Have you ever had any conversations with your father around these topics?
Sharon: No, no, no, I haven’t. And I don’t know if I, maybe after this, I might, but I’ve never had those discussions. It was just I think the way we grew up was, it was something you spoke to about with your mum or I might have spoken to my nan, but then the conversations would be very, very limited and you knew there were boundaries that you just couldn’t cross. And then there was just no one else that you could speak to about that stuff. So you kind of grew up not, I grew up not really understanding and not knowing what was going on with my body at all. And I felt quite I think now looking back with hindsight, I feel quite disconnected and I always have done with my period.
Le’Nise: Even today?
Sharon: Yeah. I don’t think I ever really, It just kind of seems to happen every month. It’s definitely not as heavy as it used to be, it used to be horrendously heavy and I used to leak regularly at night and I used to wear multiple sanitary towels that I would have to change constantly and it just became normal to be leaking everywhere and to be in pain and to be taking loads and loads of Ibuprofen tablets to deal with the pain.
And I think just because I grew up with that, you know, that story that, well, those experiences of my mum and my nan, that this is what happens. I just took it as being normal and I think it was only when I met you and started following you on Instagram, I was like, oh, she’s saying that periods don’t need to be heavy and that completely blew my mind because I knew that some people didn’t have heavy periods, obviously. I just thought it was quite normal and so it’s taken me over 40 years to start to see things differently and I really think that was only through meeting you.
Le’Nise: Wow. So going back to what you were saying about this idea of shame and periods being something really dirty. Do you think that that feeling translated into other areas of your life and the way you felt about your body?
Sharon: Yeah, I think when I grew up Catholic and [the] relationship with sex, for example, was seen as something you don’t do until marriage and the idea of living with someone, for example, before marriage was seen as living in sin. And so, yeah, I think that fits around that whole kind of idea of things being dirty if not done in a certain way, and there was very, very particular rules that you had to follow in order to be seen or perceived as clean, if that makes sense? And it wasn’t until my late teens that I started undo those stories a little bit by you know, when I was 20 I met my husband and we lived in sin and it was seen as living in sin.
Le’Nise: So no sex until marriage, this idea of…
Sharon: I don’t follow that one though. I was like, yeah that’s cute, but no thanks.
Le’Nise: I’m really interested in this idea of cleanliness and periods being dirty. You didn’t really talk to your grandmother or your mum about it. I know you have a sister, did you have any conversations with her, your sister?
Sharon: No, I can’t remember conversations with my sister around periods. And if I probably asked her, we probably did but I’m getting a bit older now and I just can’t recall the conversations. But I remember her experience not being that great either, as in, she also had heavy periods, but that’s as much as I remember. I remember her experiences to a certain extent but I can’t remember any real conversations.
Le’Nise: What about your friends?
Sharon: I just remember me having the heaviest periods and it being really frustrating and really difficult and just knowing that a few days every single month I’d be in a lot of pain and they’d be so happy and I’d constantly be changing sanitary towels and leaking, as I said, and then just not being able to wait until it was over.
Le’Nise: So you didn’t really talk to your friends about what was going on?
Sharon: I don’t think I did. I just think I kind of felt as though this was something that had been passed down as in and I don’t know how true this is, but I felt that because my mum had really, really heavy periods, it was an absolute that I would have heavy periods and that would be my experience and there was nothing that I could do to change that because it was something that you just put up with and got on with it and it was a few days a month and then you could move on until the next one.
Le’Nise: Actually reading about sanitary towels and what to do. Did you just read the packet and just figure all of these things out for yourself?
Sharon: Yeah, I think my mum might’ve initially showed me that you just take off you know, those those sticky plastic things or the thing that attaches to the sticky thing at the bottom and you just lay them in your knickers and that was it, there wasn’t anything else to really be told I don’t think. And I remember having to tear them up and put them down the toilet, that’s what I’ve just remembered. Yeah, having to tear the up, ew.. That makes me feel quite sick.
Le’Nise: So you would actually take your used pads…
Sharon: Yeah, I’m sure I did. Yeah.
Le’Nise: And then put them down the loo.
Le’Nise: Oh wow.
Sharon: I know. Oh I’m going quite deep now.
Le’Nise: Do you do that anymore?
Sharon: No. That’s why I was mortified, like *gasp* I used to do that.
Le’Nise: What’s really interesting is lots of women they still think that it’s OK to flush a tampon down the loo.
Le’Nise: Yeah and I have seen posts on Instagram where people talk about, oh, how much tampon waste is contributing to things, you know, clogging up the sewers and the drains and in the comments you see women saying things like, oh, my God, I had no idea that I wasn’t supposed to flush them down to the loo.
Sharon: Sorry to interrupt but that’s really interesting because in public toilets you see that your space for all sanitary in, you know, one of those sanitary bins next to the toilet. So why would you think at home that you’re… It’s really interesting.
Le’Nise: I think sometimes, like I can speak for my own personal experience. Like when I was using tampons, I had no idea, I would either just flush it down the toilet or in public, I would perhaps wrap it up and put it in that bin but I didn’t make the connection and I can’t explain why, it just never clicked in my mind until I started doing this work and reading around it. But yeah. Tampon waste and all menstrual pad waste is a huge problem for the sewer and water companies in terms of cleaning the water. So I think that’s really interesting that you were told to rip up your pads and flush them down the loo. Yeah. What about your education in school? Did you have sex ed in school and did it cover anything to do with menstrual health?
Sharon: I can’t recall it covering anything to menstrual health. I remember, possibly we talked about sex as in how you reproduce but I don’t remember any real kind of education around what was happening to my body at that time.
Le’Nise: So thinking about the education that you received in these areas. Do you think it’s changed the way that you speak to your kids? I know you have a son and a daughter, about these topics?
Sharon: Yeah, yeah, it has. Definitely, so with my son, he’s a lot more aware of what happens in terms of, you know, reproduction, but also in terms of periods. And my daughter, I’ve just recently started telling her a lot more. But she’s 7 and my son is 11 but I just want them both to be aware of what happens to a woman’s body, because I feel like it will change their relationship with their own bodies, especially my daughter, change her relationship with her body.
She started to ask me questions about “does it hurt mummy? And, you know, what does the sanitary towel feel like against your skin and does it hurt when the blood comes out?” So she’s asking me a lot of questions and she started asking questions probably within the last year.
It makes me happy that she will be better equipped hopefully than I was. And it’s not that I blame my parents or think they did a bad job. I think it was just, they thought they were doing what was best, and I’m sure at that time that was for them what was best. But just learning from my experiences, I think it’s really important that my daughter has a different relationship with her body and I think having that understanding of your body and what it’s actually doing can really help you in terms of your self-esteem and your confidence and just your relationship with your body because it’s such an important relationship.
Le’Nise: Your daughter is really curious about everything that you’ve been talking to her about. Curiosity, but has she had any other reactions and has she talked to her friends about these things?
Sharon: Oh, I don’t know. I’m not sure. I’ve got no idea. She’s a really interesting character, so she might have done, goodness knows. I’m not sure she would even tell me, actually she probably would tell me if she’s spoke to her friends. Even at her age already, she has a very distinctive personality, which we talked about before but I think she quite likes her independence with her friends and, you know, having her own conversations than… So, yes, she probably has spoken maybe a little bit.
Le’Nise: Mm hmm.
Sharon: Oh, I’m intrigued now. I’m going to have to ask her.
Le’Nise: The conversations you’ve had with your son. How has he reacted?
Sharon: He’s been fine, really. His reaction to talking about periods has been, he just really listened and asked a few questions, but not very much, not on the level that my daughter did, but recently actually he told me he was quite annoyed that I had had those conversations with her earlier and before I could even respond my daughter chipped in and said, “but it’s actually my body and it’s going to happen to me, so that’s why I need to know”, and I was like, “oh, girl.”. I just apologised and said it wasn’t intentional but she was not having it at all. She was like, well its happening to me so, of course, I need to know sooner than you do and that was interesting because I hadn’t really realised I’d done that.
Le’Nise: Did you think that you didn’t need to have those conversations with him?
Sharon: I don’t know. I don’t think was necessarily that, I think because I had my daughter for 2 1/2 years after having him, by the time I could have probably started talking to him about things, I was really busy trying to mother a second child as well and I think it just wasn’t really on my radar. I was just struggling so much and still am with motherhood and everything else. And maybe there was a part of me that thought actually he’s a boy so he might not need to know just yet or I don’t know. I don’t think it was particularly intentional, maybe it’s a subconscious thing that I just thought actually, he’s a boy, it’s not happening to him. Maybe little M was right in what she was talking about? You know, my response to telling her, you know, earlier than him.
Le’Nise: I think it’s interesting the idea of talking to boys about periods and the menstrual cycle, because, you know, it might not happen to them directly, but it will impact them. So, you know, they might have a daughter, they might have a wife, they certainly have a mother.
Sharon: Yeah. I think that’s partly the reason why I told her it was a selfish reason, because I’ve just remembered something where I explained to him that sometimes my moods can get quite low and it doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m annoyed with him or with anything currently going on, but it just means that it might be my monthly cycle and it changes my mood and I explained all that kind of stuff to him and then he started to get a little bit and he will occasionally say, “are you on your period mum?”.
Sometimes I’m just like, “No, I’m just a bit grumpy”, but I’ve tried to help him in terms of his emotional intelligence, so I have said to him, occasionally, I get moody and it might not necessarily be to do with my period, but if he sees me like that, then if he could get me, for example, a camomile tea, then that would be great and he does that every now and again. And also it’s a good sign for me to show so that I’m aware that he feels as though my mood isn’t quite right or that I might be being a bit difficult, because let’s face it, we’re not perfect.
And so, yeah, it’s almost like an unwritten, unspoken understanding between each other. It’s like a little code for ‘mum is not quite right right now’. And I really like that and thankfully, he hasn’t brought me too many camomile teas, but he will ask because that means something’s not right but it just makes me feel like he at least understands me a little better.
Le’Nise: It’s a lovely sign of his growing emotional intelligence.
Sharon: Mm hmm. And he is a really sensitive, lovely child, he really is. He’s super kind and generous and he’s now eleven, his personality is changing a bit and his moods are going up and down and I have explained to him that as difficult as it is for him at this stage, it’s also difficult for me as well, because as much as I have worked with children and teenagers and adults over the last 20 years, he has to understand that I haven’t parented a pre-teen or a teenager before and it is a different space that we’re beginning to occupy and I have said to him that as patient as I need to be with him, he also needs to be patient with me, because we’re both learning together. And so, yeah, occasionally I will remind him of that.
Le’Nise: And do you think he understands that idea of patience being a two way street?
Sharon: I don’t think he understands it for his age, no, but all I can do is try and help him to understand because it’s something that I need to understand as well. You know, we are really both in it together, we really are.
Le’Nise: I want to touch on your collage series, Seeing Ourselves. You mentioned earlier that you felt disconnected from your period and from your body. Talk a little bit about the inspiration for your collage series and perhaps how it’s changed the way that you see your body.
Sharon: Oh, the collage series has been amazing in that it’s given me a chance to really express myself and have a voice and change my relationship with my body and improve my confidence so much and the reason why I started the series was because I felt like I didn’t see myself in a number of spaces.
So, for example, in an arts and heritage sector, I applied for a museum, you know, there are very, very few women of African descent. I’m not saying there aren’t any but I felt like in an environment that I was working in and the conferences that I would go to, the workshops or the talks for museum professionals, I just don’t see women like me reflected back and I started to feel quite disconnected. I also didn’t see myself in magazines and that has stopped to change, for example, Vogue, and I absolutely love that magazine now. But I didn’t see myself represented, I didn’t see myself when I went to galleries or in museums and in particular, I wanted to see women with natural Afro hair because I felt as though my experience growing up was that my hair would be chemically straightened from I think the age of ten, possibly. Which is really interesting because it was around eleven when I started my period. So in terms of my identity, developing my relationship with my body wasn’t great, with my period starting and I didn’t know what was going on. So that was something that was natural that was happening to me and now I think about it at the same time my natural hair was growing and actually thinking about it was earlier that my hair straightened. It was definitely hot combed earlier and so all these things that were natural, that were happening to me weren’t anything to be celebrated.
And through making the series, it allows me to take up space, I think, and take up space in places where I don’t see myself. So every single collage features a woman with natural Afro hair and I have been asked, which I think is a crazy question, why only black women with natural Afro hair? My response is ‘Why not?’. Because I don’t feel as though white artists are asked why they are not inclusive of other people and then ask why are you not making artwork about black women with Afros? You know, I’m not convinced they get that question. And also, it’s my space where I get to make the rules, there are no restrictions, there are no boundaries, there’s no one telling me what to do. I just feel so empowered by the series.
I feel so empowered by the connections I’ve made, the women I’ve met, people who support my work, people who’ve responded to it both literally in the gallery spaces or when I’m doing a talk or a workshop but also the people online and the idea that the work is now in a number of different countries as well where they’ve bought them and I’ve sent them to them which just completely blows my mind and it makes me really humble that from something that provides me with so much relaxation, so much calm and is such a meditative process. It’s bizarre that other people, and it’s wonderful, that other people connect with the work.
Le’Nise: You said that the collage series has improved your confidence. So how do you see yourself now?
Sharon: Oh, that’s a really good question. How do I see myself now? I see myself as strong now, I see myself as I feel like it’s more than okay to be me. And I feel that if I’m too much for some people, you know that saying if people feel like you’re too much for them, they are not your people. That’s okay, too.
And I think that maybe before I wanted people to really like me and I wanted to fit in. And I remember having my son and feeling really disconnected because I felt as though I didn’t fit, we’d moved to a new area. I had no friends in the area and within the friendship groups, I was the only black mum. Maybe there was one or two others, but predominantly the mums were white and I and as much as I love those friendships, still most felt like I didn’t see myself but now I see myself as strong and driven and yeah, and able to do what I set out to do. And I just felt as though I was getting to a point in my life where if I didn’t start believing in myself and trying to achieve my dreams, then when would I, you know that whole thing of ‘if not now when’, oh I’m coming out with them this morning, aren’t I. But if not now, when? I just felt like, gosh, I’m 40, you know, I think I was 43 at the time, now if I don’t start doing this stuff, you know, I’ve got this art degree, I’ve got this experience so I can be creative. Why not just go for it and see what happens and just keep making the work? And I got a lot of encouragement from people on Instagram, a huge amount of encouragement. You know, those months where I was literally making a new piece every single day. I got a lot of encouragement and I still do. It’s just been completely magical journey, really.
Le’Nise: So you feel stronger now, you feel more confident. Do you feel more of a connection with your body and yourself?
Sharon: Yeah and I think that partly comes from the fact that I stopped drinking about a year ago. I feel like I deal with my feelings head on, and my emotions head on, so if I’m happy, I’m happy because I’m really happy and I have to deal with that happiness, if I’m sad, ooh, we’ve got to deal with sadness, too. And I feel like even with the odd glass of wine, it obviously alters your state slightly. It’s not that I’m anti alcohol, but when it got to the point where I would have a sip of alcohol and it would give me a pounding headache, then it was time for me to go actually and trust me, it was ridiculous, I did keep trying as though it was a health food that I needed to really get into my body, which is ridiculous. But I think when you’ve got a particular way of coping with everyday life and you’ve always done that, it’s very difficult to then go actually, well, I’m going to have to cut some paper and glue it back together and just deal with my emotions.
I think it’s definitely had an impact with how I view my body and how I see myself and it’s also improved my mental health hugely, hugely, because creating collages gives me that time to really breathe. You know, when you can sit up to six hours and just cut and you can be in a room like I sit next to my husband a lot of the time creating the work on the sofa watching TV and he’ll be watching and I’ll be cutting and we’ll be talking and I’ll be listening to him and when you give yourself time to just do something that’s very selfish, very about you and no one else.
People ask me, do the kids get involved in your collages and do they help? They have a couple of times, but this is really my space, if they want to make a college, they’re more than welcome to make something next to me or, you know, make their own pieces and I do encourage that but I don’t think everything needs to be connected to someone else.
It’s okay to be by yourself, I think that’s not necessarily a narrative that is encouraged, especially when you’re a mother. You’re quite often encouraged to be giving, you know, giving everything to your kids and that’s great if that’s what you want to do but equally if you don’t want to do that, then you should be allowed to do some craft or take time for yourself. And for me, it only makes me a better mother. I’m not saying I’m perfect, definitely not perfect but what is perfect? but it definitely makes me better than I would be without creativity.
Le’Nise: So this collage series has been a real jumping off point for you in so many different ways to improve your confidence, it’s giving you space for yourself and made you stronger and actually, the whole mental health angle is really fascinating as well. You said you know what your emotions are and you’re not hiding them with alcohol anymore, if you feel something, then you that’s what you feel and I think that’s really important and so many people I speak to do use things to hide their emotions, you know, and I think that’s part of being human but it’s really fascinating that you’ve been able to identify that and use that as a source of, you know, being a bit more clear eyed about yourself.
Sharon: Yeah, I think it’s just brought a certain level of clarity and acceptance for myself and love from myself, really. I feel like my life is a lot fuller. And I still have my moments of, ‘I’ve got too much to do and how am I going to manage it all?’. And that is completely normal. Obviously, when you’re in it, it doesn’t feel normal but I feel so much better just with making and with sharing what I’m doing with other people and showing people that there are other ways to relax.
I want to explain the state really that I get into when I when I create the collages, so it goes from ‘um what am I going to make?’. And I don’t think about what the piece will look like. I start with a portrait and I start cutting and I just cut away the thing, the pieces that instinctively feel right and to remove, look at light and shade. I might remove the light sections of someone’s face or the light in the clothing or a background. I keep cutting away and then it begins to flow and that feeling of flow is so beautiful. It’s really difficult to explain.
I recently did a workshop with Mandy and Kate from Love Sober podcast and they talked about flow in the introduction and so many people in the workshop said that they entered that state and they hadn’t collaged before, so it felt really special that all of these women had entered that state through me doing the workshop, that felt super special, I was like *gasp*, it felt like the biggest gift you could give someone and people just got into it and that feeling of, you know, outside things don’t matter and you might be talking to someone, but you’re entering something completely different, where something else takes over and you’re just in it and that’s why collaging for me is meditative, because it allows me to not just relax and create something and people might like it, you know, or I can create a bespoke piece for someone and they’ll go, oh, I love that.
That’s a great feeling too, but the process is so beautiful and so healing and it doesn’t matter what’s been going on day, I could be having the most hideous day but if I just give myself that time to create something at the end of it, it all goes away. Yeah, it all goes away.
Le’Nise: You’ve really gone on a journey from this eleven year old girl who wasn’t sure what was happening to her to this 43 year old woman.
Sharon: 44 but it’s okay, it’s only a year.
Le’Nise: A 44 year old who has greater confidence, feeling strong, who has a better sense of herself and I think that’s really fascinating. And if any listener is connecting with what you’re saying, what’s the one thing you would want them to take away from this podcast?
Sharon: That it doesn’t matter what’s gone before but just start with today, to start with today and think a lot about what you want to achieve, who you want to be, what you want your legacy to be.
And I think in working with the museum that I work with, I look at community engagement and my work is about encouraging people who are not the typical museum audience to take up space in that museum. So underrepresented groups, so the work I do really ties in with my collage series because it’s about me taking up space. I really want people to think about legacy a lot really in working at the museum and it’s made me think about what my legacy would be and I really want people to think about what their legacy would be. It doesn’t need to be huge, you don’t need to, I don’t know, it doesn’t have to be huge, but just something that means something to you, something that you’d be proud of. What do you want your story to be?
And it doesn’t matter how old you are. I never, ever expected to be doing what I’m doing now. I always hoped I would but I just got to a point, especially after having my son, that I just thought I can’t, I couldn’t even imagine leaving the house without him or having real time on my own, and the same with my daughter, I just thought I want to achieve those things that I thought I was going to achieve, so I just think to start with today and just make things happen and really believe you can do it. That’s the most important thing, is to believe in yourself.
Le’Nise: Thank you so much. Sharon, there are so many, you’ve said so many wise words and there’s a lot for listeners to take away and unpack. Where can listeners find out more about you?
In clinic recently, I’ve been seeing more and more women of menstruating age with missing periods, who desperately want their period to return. The reasons for their missing periods vary from:
Seeing carbohydrates as the enemy
Improper vegan / vegetarian diets
Transitioning off hormonal birth control (p.s. you don’t have a proper period on the pill – that’s a ‘pharmaceutical bleed’)
Excessive exercise and excessive stress.
Food can play an important role in bringing back a regular menstrual bleed and menstrual cycle, as can reframing the role of certain food groups. 👀
Eating Complex Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are not the enemy and provide a tremendous amount of nutrients that can replenish a body that has had key nutrients depleted by certain diets, hormonal birth control and excessive stress. Focusing on complex carbohydrates, i.e. foods with more complex chains of sugar that take longer to digest, can help rebuild lost nutrients. Try adding in sweet potatoes, oats, quinoa, lentils and beans to at least one meal a day.
Stress, whether physical stress from excessive exercise or emotional stress, can wreak havoc with hormones, putting the body into ‘fight or flight’ mode. This means that the brain will signal to the ovaries that they don’t need to make as much estrogen. This can lead to the loss of a period. It’s important to address the causes of stress, i.e. do a bit less high impact exercise & incorporate gentle movement such as restorative yoga, walking and swimming. Being honest about sources of emotional stress and finding ways to deal with them can also help.
From a food perspective, adding magnesium, whether through food or a high quality supplement can help, as well as supporting gut health with fermented foods and leafy greens.
Transitioning Off Hormonal Birth Control
When transitioning off hormonal birth control, it is essential to replenish the nutrients that have been depleted. Zinc, magnesium, vitamin C and vitamin B6 are some of the nutrients that can be depleted by hormonal birth control. Adding in high quality red meat, poultry, a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, eggs and wild fish can help rebuild nutrients over time.
For the second episode of the Period Story podcast, I had the pleasure of speaking with Fiona Grayson, the founder of She can. She Did. We talked about periods as a sign of good health, the way Fiona looks at her health holistically, stress and how it can affect female entrepreneurs. Fiona says periods don’t have to be painful and that’s definitely a message I agree with!
She can. She did. is a platform that puts the spotlight on women in their teens, twenties and thirties who’ve dared to go solo and launch their own businesses throughout the UK. Praised for its honest, raw and often amusing account of what it takes to launch a business as a female founder in the UK today, She can. She did. champions female business owners and encourages aspiring female entrepreneurs through a combination of down to earth interviews, the candid She can. She did.podcast and its informal event series, She can. She did. – The Midweek Mingle! which takes place in cities around the UK.
Le’Nise: Welcome to the Period Story podcast. Today we have Fiona Grayson, the Founder of She Can. She Did., a platform that puts a spotlight on women in their teens, 20s and 30s who have dared to go solo and launched their own businesses throughout the UK.
She Can.She Did. champions female business owners and encourages aspiring female entrepreneurs through a combination of down to earth interviews, the candid She Can.She Did. podcast, and its informal event series She Can.She Did. the midweek mingle which takes place in cities around the UK. Welcome to the show.
Fiona: Thank you for having me, I’m so excited to chat! It’s so weird hearing that little intro back, I love it.
Le’Nise: Well you’ve done so many amazing things so it’s nice to remind yourself of it sometimes isn’t it? So let’s start off by getting into the story of your first period. Can you share with us what happened?
Fiona: Of course, yeah so I’m an August baby so obviously in schools that meant I was the youngest in the year. So all of my friends and close friends, they were all about 7-8 months older than me so they were September/October babies and I remember being in Year 8, in secondary school, and all the girls started coming on their periods.
I remember just feeling that that whole time, they all kind of dropped like flies and everyone started their periods and it was this big thing. I was panicking, genuinely so worried that something was wrong with me because I was 12 and I still hadn’t come on my period. I remember my Mum being like “Fiona, its normal, everyone’s different” and all of this. At 12, I remember just lying awake worrying about the fact that I was abnormal. I remember I had my first holiday abroad, like first school trip abroad, in like 2004 and I needed a passport for the first time and also remember being a 12 year old worrier, panicking that my passport wouldn’t arrive in time for this school trip and I remember for a good few weeks there was all these worries and I remember on a Friday I got home from school, my passport had arrived, I went to the toilet and I came on my period. I remember the two came on the same day and I was like “this is a miracle”.
I remember Mum was out and I’ve got such close family and I remember coming out of the bathroom and being like “Dad, I think I’ve just come on my period” and Dad being like “oh, uh uh” so yeah that was it and I remember literally then for a good few months being so proud every time I came on my period but never had any pain or anything for a good few years and I remember some of my girlfriends got really properly hit by it and I remember thinking through my teenage years, “God, I must be so lucky” because to me it came and went, quite light, regular, just off we went.
Le’Nise: So you said that you come from an open family. How did your Mum teach you about your period and was she having that conversation with you before you got your period?
Fiona: I have a big sister, she’s 2.5 years older than me so I knew it was coming; I think my sister started her periods a bit younger. For a good few years wed been talking about it and also it was at that time where at school we were learning about it and it was just, Mum would kind of bring it up if Caroline was on her period. I was so aware of I, I think having a big sister forces you to learn about these things probably sooner than if you were the older sibling. I’ve always had a close relationship with Mum and Carrie so we always talk about that kind of stuff, it was never secretive, I never felt uncomfortable asking her any questions, and I think I got really lucky.
Le’Nise: It’s really interesting, the women I have interviewed, generally speaking the conversation have been quite open and actually I’m a bit surprised, I was expecting more kind of learning about your period from the leaflet and the Tampon pack.
Fiona: Really? Is that your experience?
Le’Nise: Yeah pretty much I kind of cobbled things together and I really suffered. So you said you were really open with your sister and your Mum, what about your friends? They all got their periods before you so…
Fiona: There was one friend that hadn’t yet and I remember we were in it together and then I remember when I came on my period, she was just panicking even more. It’s crazy what we worry about, I think she got her period maybe 8-9 months after me but she was so upset during that time that she was abnormal and it’s just one of these where you just don’t know when you’re going to start, there’s no kind of give away. We used to talk about it; at sleepovers we used to talk about periods like we were growing up, it was just boys and periods, that was pretty much the conversation. They are still my best friends today so we still kind of chat about that kind of stuff.
Le’Nise: You said when you got your period it was kind of smooth and easy until you went to university and then you started to change.
Fiona: Yeah definitely, I don’t know what it was, whether it was stress related or what is was. My periods changed within a few months and I was getting severe back pain, my boobs were always a tell-tale sign of when I was about to come on because I remember they’d get so swollen. I mean I still get that but my back pain was excruciating, it was always the day before I came on and the day I came on, my back was horrendous and it was one of those things where you just couldn’t get comfortable, you’d want to lean back but then you’d cramp and you’d want to learn forward and I’d never feel comfortable.
I remember I used to work in retail in my summer holidays off uni and I remember working at John Lewis on the shop floor having to stand up all day and my back, my period, I’d have to be fighting back tears. Funny story, my sister came and visited me on the shop floor and she had some Cocodamol because she had a really dodgy injury at the time and she was like “I’ve got some really strong pain killers if you want” and I was like “I’ll take anything” and she gave me this cocodamol but there was no water and I remember putting it in my mouth and then a customer came up and asked for some help so I had this horrendous cocodamol taste in my mouth like burning my mouth whilst I tried to serve this customer. Basically, that went on for a few months but I’ve always been brought up homoeopathically so I was treated homoeopathically for my period and al the stress at the time and everything and over the course of a few moths it’s kind of got it back to normal.
Le’Nise: So you had a few months and then it just stopped?
Fiona: Yeah so I say stopped, obviously I get treated every couple of months just generally I see my homeopath, that’s the thing with homoeopathy it’s not like a quick fix because its holistic, they treat everything going on. I wouldn’t be able to give you an exact timeframe but I’ve been okay for a good few years.
Le’Nise: Having gone through that gradual shift of the quality of your period and lessening the pain, did it change the way you felt about your period?
Fiona: Yeah because I remember during that time I used to dread coming on my period and it was so weird because it was only really that concentrated time and then once my first day was over, I didn’t even know I was on. The next few days, it was like you just deal with it but the pain in that first 24 hours, I dreaded each month and I’ve always been pretty much clockwork, it would be odd for me not to be 28 days now, sometimes 1 day over or under but I am 28 days. At the time I really did, because I’d gone from not caring about my periods or not noticing it, it was just part of life, to having that thing a month it was just so painful and now its gone back to, I mean to me it’s a sign of good health, it’s a big relief every time I come on like “that’s good, I’m not pregnant” so it’s good.
Le’Nise: You said it’s a sign of health so that’s really interesting and it’s the first time I’ve heard someone say that on this podcast. Can you say more about that and what that means for you?
Fiona: My Mum worked in the NHS for 30 years and she had endometriosis so she turned to homoeopathy just before my sister was born so about 32-33 years ago, turned to homeopathy and she was treated homoeopathically and she worked her way up in the NHS and became a homeopath herself about 10 years ago. I’ve grown up with the notion, she’s just enforced that it is a healthy thing to have so I’ve never been on the pill, not because I’m anti the pill but just because I’ve chosen not to and so to me, when I come on after 28 days, I’m not suppressing anything in my body, it’s showing that everything in my body is working properly and I generally feel really grateful for that so to me it’s my body doing what it’s supposed to be doing and I’m grateful its plodding on the way it should.
I think when I was having all that pain, at the time of my life it was just a really stressful period for a number of different reasons and that’s when my periods were more painful and they weren’t as regular and because everything was a bit up and down and I think now they’re stable and that’s because I’m ok, I feel good and I feel healthy and I’m just very aware of what’s going on in my body and I try and link things up quite holistically so if all of sudden my periods were really early or really late, my immediate reaction would to “ok, what’s going in my body, what’s going on in my mind” that kind of thing. I know it sound woo woo to some people but to me it’s like, that is the first tell-tale sign to know something is up.
Le’Nise: I don’t think it sounds woo woo at all. You said it’s a sign of good health and actually it’s a sign for women or for people who have periods, it’s one of our vital signs so when it’s really early or when it’s really late or when it’s really heavy or painful, that’s a sign that something isn’t going as it should. I think it’s really important that you have that connection with your body. When you notice something has gone a miss so it’s either a day early or a day late and you say you check in with your body, what sort of things do you do to course correct?
Fiona: I mean a day either side I’d be like ahh that’s give or take. For instance, if for some reason I had a 3 week cycle, I’d be like “oh, somethings up” and everything from stress, eating, sleep, what’s going on work-wise, relationships, everything, like am I pushing my body too hard, am I feeding it the right foods, everything. In general, I feel I’ve always had a good relationship with healthy eating, like balanced eating and exercise so that’s not normally it, it’s normally, if anything was to go amiss, it would be stress related from work or a relationship thing or something. So yeah, all of that.
Le’Nise: That’s so interesting because we know now that stress is a driver for so many different diseases in our society, in western society and I see that a lot in my practice where women, they’re coming to me with terrible period problems and when we kind of unpick what’s going on with their health, they’re under huge amounts of different kinds of stress, whether it’s work stress, relationship stress or even the physical stress they’re putting on their body through excessive exercise or restrictive diets.
Fiona: It’s interesting you said that because I was interviewing a female founder a few weeks ago and she regularly promotes how much exercise she does to her audience each morning and every day she gets up at the crack of dawn and heads straight into a high intensity workout and then works out afterwards and she was getting really ill, she had a cold but a really heavy cold that just wasn’t shifting for about 3 months and then went and checked in with her doctor, basically he said “well, are you exercising?” and she proudly said “yes I exercise every single day and I do XYZ” and he said “well that’s the issue, that’s such high intense workouts that your body can’t distinguish between good adrenalin and bad adrenalin and it just sees stress, it just sees 17-18 hours of constant stress and you can’t cope with it, that’s why your body…” and to me that’s so interesting, like to me that’s just a given but to some people don’t connect those dots.
Le’Nise: I think that’s really interesting but it’s a kind of symptom of this high intensity culture that we live in and you’ll know this from interviewing female entrepreneurs that go go go and this idea that we need to be on all the time and we need to behave like men and be on all the time when actually our bodies don’t work like that.
Fiona: Yeah definitely, it’s so so true. Don’t get me wrong, there’s times where I notice that I’m working harder than sometimes but there the ties when I notice my energies dipping and that’s when I’m like “whoa, step back, just take the night off, look after yourself” and run a bath and just chill. Sleep in, don’t work out the next day, and just give yourself that time. I do get it, it’s so easier said than done, I’m so lucky that I’ve been bought up to connect all those dots but it’s so hard and life is busy sometimes, it’s just making sure that you prioritise yourself and I think that can be so much easier to say but can be so much harder in reality sometimes.
Le’Nise: So what are the ways that you prioritise yourself?
Fiona: Well tonight for instance, it’s been a really busy couple of months and I’m so looking forward to tonight. I love my own company and I’m quite happy, I don’t need to go out all the time and I know full well tonight is pyjamas, I’ll make myself a hot water bottle and I plan to just chill and put on a face mask and just have a Friday night to myself. I do exercise but to me exercise is my switch off, I love it. I exercise about 5 times a week and I really check in so if I do feel that I’ve got a lot of energy, to me, running is everything, I’ll quite happily go for a big run but equally if I know I just need to clear my head I’ll do some Pilates or something, to me that’s an hour in a day that I just love, just for everything, not just for body but to clear my head.
I love cooking, to me, it’s my ultimate good food, all my friends and family have said since I’ve been little I’ve had a really big appetite but I don’t ever crave rubbish, I crave really hearty, good food so to me a night in the kitchen chopping away is just perfect. Just seeing friends and family, as I said I’ve got a really close family, they live 10-15 minutes down the road, friends, we are all quite similar in the sense that we all love going out and letting our hair down but mostly girls nights in are our favourite.
Le’Nise: We talked a little bit about culture earlier and around female entrepreneurs. What about culturally, kind of the cultural narratives around periods, what would you change about that?
Fiona: It’s such a hard one because it’s such a sensitive topic for a lot of people. I think that it’s not spoken enough that you don’t have to go on the pill, for me I think that’s something that’s really pushed. Every single one of my friends, without fail, went on the pill straight away. It was kind of a next step, GP said, let’s go. I’m conscious about talking about all the things why I believe in, I just think that it’s doesn’t have to be that way. There are other ways to manage different symptoms, period pain for instance.
I do think that in general I love all the movement going on with different business cropping up trying to tackle all the period plastic waste, I love that that’s up and coming. I interviewed the founder of Dame, which is the world’s first ethical tampon applicator and they do ethical tampons and stuff because I had no idea, I didn’t know why I didn’t know because when you think about it, of course period creates so much pollution when you think about all the different wrapping and how many women there are in the world. That movement, I could not be more behind it, I think that needs more focus and kind of educating women about the different types of menstrual products, all the different alternatives to just going to your bog standard Tampax and whatever brand sanitary towels that you use that are wrapped in plastic and plastic everything.
So I definitely think more can be done for that but in general I do think that, I don’t know but from my own experience, my school was so good at talking about it in a practical and non-intimidating way and I can only imagine that, I mean I was at school in 2003, secondary school so I imagine its only come of further since then for UK schools. I think as a society we’ve got quite an open approach, you know when you don’t know if I’m just living in a bubble and your like “yeah my school was really good, it’s just matter of fact, it is what it is”.
Le’Nise: I think that I wish more school and more parents would be more matter of fact because we use so many euphemisms and there’s so many things that we don’t say about what’s normal and what isn’t. I just want to go back to what you said about so many of your friends were on the pill and that was sort of pushed on them, why do you think that was?
Fiona: Well I don’t know if it was pushed on them it was just like they came on their periods, they had pains, they went to the Doctor, the Doctor put them on the pill I don’t know what the conversation was but that’s basically what happened with every single one of them and I think that’s for the most part every single women in the UK that’s how it goes. I don’t want to get into why I believe in homoeopathy but it’s so subjective, everyone has different beliefs in what’s right and wrong but it gets so much stick and always say I have never been to the GP for any symptoms or for anything in my life, I’m still here, I still feel like I’m healthy and I’ve only ever been treated homoeopathically so to me it works. I think it’s detrimental to wash any idea, any alternative medicine, to just rule it out completely. We’ve all got our own lives, we can all use our brains to research and I think there could be more done in the UK to promote other options, that’s all it is.
Le’Nise: Really interesting what you said about alternatives and promoting other options. I had an interesting conversation with a female focused technology company yesterday and they were saying in the user research that they’ve done, the majority of the people that they’ve spoken to, do not want to go onto the pill and they are looking for alternatives. They’ve spoken to thousands of women and I found that really interesting, and I see this a lot in my practice where, generally speaking, women generally don’t want to be on hormones and kind of say “I don’t want to put artificial hormones into my body” so I think the times are changing, gradually, through the movements that you mentioned earlier and its really positive.
Fiona: Yeah I hope so. To me it’s just a case of being handed a box of pills with a list of side effects: weight gain, or bad skin, or depression, they can mess with your head, can’t they and I think that’s there’s other options basically and it doesn’t have to be like that. I think periods in general, when you’re healthy they don’t have to be something that you dread or cause you so much pain. You know what, going back to your question, that as well, I wish there was something to be done in the mainstream media that you don’t have to dread your period, like it doesn’t have to be this scary thing, it’s such a natural cycle in your body, just embrace it. I do think there’s so much about them being this “uh, it’s that time of the month” or “uh, here we go again”. It’s so crazy!
And was it Heather Watson the tennis player that when she finished the match and she lost and she was being interviewed and she was like “you know, I didn’t play my best today, it that time of the month” and the amount of uproar that caused, like this sports woman had admitted to being on her period and it’s like of course, exercise is horrendous when you’re on your period like of course she’s allowed a bad day, like God forbid this women had voiced the fact that she was feeling off because she’d come on her period. So many women have their periods, it’s just mad that it’s such a taboo subject sometimes.
Le’Nise: Yeah it is and I think conversations like this and statements like that help normalise it. We have to know that 50% of the planet gets a period so why don’t we talk about it? Why don’t we learn what’s normal and what isn’t normal? You said periods don’t have to be painful and I think that’s such an important message, its normalised this idea that you have to be really uncomfortable, in pain or a moody cow and it doesn’t have to be like that.
Fiona: I mean sometimes I can be a moody cow if I’m on but yeah you don’t have to be. Exactly, it doesn’t have to be like that.
Le’Nise: If you think about your period now and everything we have talked about. What do you wish you knew back then that you know now?
Fiona: It’s so hard. If I could go back to that time at uni, I’d let myself know that it’s not going to be a forever thing because I honestly thought I had plummeted, I think this is karma for having such easy periods as a teenager and suddenly being I so much pain. I’d probably go back and be like “no, just have a look at what’s going on around you, you’ll be alright, I’ll just sort that out and it’ll go back to normal”. Other than that I do think that’s I’ve been really lucky with my Mum being there to just normalise it and let me know that’s it’s a healthy, I’ve always had quite a healthy relationship with it.
Le’Nise: If our listeners could get one message from our interview today about their periods, their menstrual health, what would you want them to take away with them?
Fiona: That message that they don’t have to be painful, you don’t have to dread them and to really look at all of the different things if they are that way and assess all the things in your life that’s going on, all the different factors and just take that holistic approach and view all the different things going on in your life and maybe see if the dots connect there because I have sneaky suspicion that they will.
Le’Nise: Where can our listeners find out more about you and what you’re up to?
Fiona: There’s obviously the website so shecanshedid.com, I’ve got the She Can.She Did. podcast where I interview any your female founders in the UK about everything that they’ve been through the ups and downs, of launching, running and growing their businesses and then just on Instagram and Twitter @SheCanSheDid. I didn’t realise I’d get to plug that, thanks Le’Nise.
Le’Nise: Thank you so much for coming on the show; it’s been so nice to speak to you and thank you for sharing your story.
Fiona: No, thanks for having me it’s been a kind of therapy, it’s been good to chat about it all.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Ateh Jewel for the first episode of the Period Story podcast. We talked about Ateh’s very dramatic first periods, how she developed a healthy attitude towards menstruation and why she thinks women are superheroes.
Ateh is a multi award winning beauty journalist, blogger, director and producer has been in the industry for 18 years writing and styling for titles such as Vogue, Tatler, Sunday Times Style, The Telegraph, Allure, Guardian Weekend Magazine, Glamour, Grazia, Red Magazine, Stylist and Get The Gloss. She was also a Marie Claire UK columnist for 2 years with her column Colour Counter, celebrating beauty for all skin tones and a columnist for darker skin tones on Feel Unique.
Le’Nise: On today’s episode, we have Ateh Jewel, the multi award winning beauty journalist, blogger, director and producer. She’s been in the industry for 18 years writing for titles such as Vogue, Tatler, Sunday Times Style, The Telegraph, Allure, Guardian Weekend Magazine, Glamour, Grazia, Red Magazine Stylist and Get The Gloss. She was also a Marie Clare UK columnist for 2 years with a column, Colour Counter, celebrating beauty for all skin tones. Welcome to the show.
Ateh: Thank you so much for having me, it’s great to be here!
Le’Nise: So let’s start off by getting into the story of your first period, can you share with us what happened?
Ateh: Well it was quite dramatic, I’m not going lie. So I was about 13 or 14, I remember being one of the last people in my class to get my period. I went to an all-girls school so everyone was like all up in everyone’s business and I was one of the last. I was like Oh God when is it going to happen for me! I remember one of my friends started at 9 in primary school, so by 14 it felt like a long time and it was in the middle of the night, I woke up with stabbing pains and I thought I was going to die, I thought I had appendicitis and I remember screaming.
It was a screaming hysterical pain and my mum was so concerned, she rushed me to the emergency room and I was in there moaning with like a dull ache and remember my mum saying scream louder, come on, it’s the middle night come on be more dramatic you’ll get seen and I was like AHHH so it was a lot of drama and the doctors were like oh have you started your period and I said no and they quickly worked out it was probably the beginning.
The only way I can describe it was like a gas station coming on and all the machinery powering up and the imagery I had in my head was the machinery is turning on and it is not pleasant or comfortable. And it was literally like the cranking of gears which manifested in a stabbing, aching pain and I thought oh if I’ve got 40 or 30 more years of this, this is not going to be cute. It was a painful experience but at the same time, you know, I did feel a huge amount of responsibility, like oh my God, now you’re a woman and it’s a girl to woman moment so a lot of confusing, conflicting, interesting feelings going on but from me my first feeling was pain, a lot of pain.
Le’Nise: So you said you felt a great responsibility as you kind of transitioned from girl to woman, it’s really interesting that you use the word responsibility.
Ateh: Yes, I mean, I had a very chaotic childhood, very dysfunctional and I think as a child I often felt and I’m also a recovering perfectionist so I always felt a lot of responsibility and so for me, getting my period was another responsibility, like the responsibility of not only my body but I can have a child now, like I’m not going to at 13 but suddenly your body is a vessel, its transitioned into something else and I think that really effected my mindset, that now I could technically be a mother.
My grandmother had my dad at 13. She was Nigerian and I wasn’t close to her at all but I have this story of this little girl having a kid at 13 which was completely wrong in every sense of the word and very damaging but I suddenly felt my god, it’s not a million miles away for a 13 year old to have a baby so I also did think about things like that.
Le’Nise: Wow, so you got your period and you were also carrying this weight of what happened to ancestors, your grandmother’s story. That word responsibility really hit me because I’ve never heard a woman describe her first period like that, so that’s really fascinating.
Ateh: Well you know at 13 I was a 145 year old woman so I’m kind of Benjamin Button, I’m aging backwards. I’m 41 now and kind of evening up, like yeah I did think about things like that.
Le’Nise: So you went to the emergency room and told you were having your first period and you knew you had your period. How did you learn about menstrual health, what to use and how to take care of yourself?
Ateh: So, I mean, that was my mum. She gave me a book “Your Changing Body” and all these things and we had discussions. My mum is an amazing woman, she’s kind of a hippy free spirit but at the same time she can be really conservative about other things, you know like, I straddle two generations so I grew up with BodyForm, like run around skateboarding, your period will never get you down or hold you back but also my mum was born in 1946 you know and she’s like ladies never use tampons, don’t stick anything up yourself.
So it really terrified me you know, girls should only use sanitary towels because you shouldn’t be putting things inside of yourself and so I had these very conflicting images and ideals of menstrual health. Also you talk to your girl friends but my mum was the one, she was responsible and she said this is what’s going on, use sanitary towels, here’s a book, have a chat but you know there was never shame in my house which was very good and I really appreciate my mother, she’s never been into shame in that sense, shame in other things but not with your body which is good.
Le’Nise: That’s really interesting because other women that I’ve spoken to, they have described the sense of shame coming from their mothers or their grandmothers where they were taught shame around menstruation and it being something that they needed to hide or something that was taboo so I think it’s wonderful that you didn’t have that. So you got given sanitary towels and was that something you thought you know I just have to get on with it?
Ateh: Yeah I think there was a sense of ok this is how it is. Also I should mention I had huge boobs, I’ve always had a huge boobs so in a funny way, I had a woman’s body from 11 so that also changes you because men and the male gaze, I was probably ready and mentally prepared to get on with it in that sense so by the time I was 13/14 I was like this is how it is, my body is changing, I have to look after myself and this is how you look after yourself.
In primary school one of my closest friends had a period at 9 and I knew she had to run off to the bathroom, was all very mysterious, but I had a sense that’s what you did a few times a day. You go to the bathroom and you change but the shame part is really interesting, I always felt that because my mums a bit of a hippy, she would take us out of bed at midnight and we would howl at the moon on a full moon and she’s always hugging trees and for me, periods were always linked into the divine, it was like the power of creation so yes I always felt there was this old fashioned ‘you don’t discuss it’.
You know I was born in ’78, I’m a child of the 80’s and I wouldn’t go at a dinner table and discuss my periods growing up like the way I am discussing it with you now because we are in a different time, it’s something you don’t discuss but it’s nothing to be ashamed of and I’ve been somebody like I can make a person now, that makes me a god damn superhero. So that’s how I felt, I felt the power and the divinity and that’s probably from my hippy mum but I felt yeah that’s why there’s responsibility, you can make people now, that’s insane. A super power.
Le’Nise: Yeah super power, it’s amazing what we can do. You know, yesterday I went to a baby ceremony for one of my friends, she’s about to give birth and so instead of a shower she had a baby ceremony. She was talking about these ideas about the divine and how she made this person and how this person is inside of her and it’s so interesting that you brought that up today. So what about the conversations you are having with your daughters about periods and menstrual health?
Ateh: I mean they’re 8, I have twin daughters and it’s very difficult because you don’t want to burden them with too much information, how much information, it’s a different age, it’s a different time. I wasn’t going to mention anything but you know how children are, they burst in when I’m on the toilet and they were like “mum why is there strawberry jam in the toilet” I was like “can you please leave” and I was like do I say yes there’s strawberry jam in the toilet or do I say that’s blood and I just, you know what, let’s keep it real and I said once a month a woman and I explained it in a matter of fact way and one of my daughters was like ahh I don’t believe that, that’s crazy, she thought I was trying to pull her leg.
I was like that’s how you know it’s a gift and I try to use positive words like it’s a gift, the power of creation and this is how babies are made because once a month this is what happens and the payoff is you get babies, once a month there’s an opportunity to have a baby and I just said it in a matter of fact way and I thought, God are they too young, but I think kids just, they can roll with any information, it’s the way you present it and they were like ok whatever, when does this start to happen to you? I said 13/14 and like do you think it will happen for us at the same time? And I was like yeah probably and they were like okay bye we are going outside running around, and I think that is how it should be, the kind of matter of fact, there’s no big taboo or shame, it’s just part of who you are, your health, your body and so yes, 8, I don’t know if that’s too young or old I don’t know but that’s what happened.
Le’Nise: I think they should have conversations, it’s so nice when they have been organically and it’s not a massive surprise when all of sudden they see something in their underwear that’s like “oh my god what’s this blood?
Ateh: The trauma of that, can you imagine? My best girl friend also has twins and her 11 year old daughters have just started secondary school and my friend is so honoured. She’s like my heartbeat, we just copy her, like when the girls are 11, I’m going to do what my friend does because she’s such a good mum and she’s like, “I’ve got a kit ready for her, I sat her down and I said if you’re in school and it happens and she’s bought her like a silk pouch with clean underwear, sanitary towels and wet wipes and she has it in her school bag ready so whenever it comes and she’s told her when you get your period in the middle of school just throw you underwear away, get the pouch, da da da” and I thought god that is so healthy so you will not have that shock or I don’t have any clean underwear! So my friend, God bless her has got a kid primed and ready with this little first period pack in her school bag which I think is really healthy.
Le’Nise: Absolutely amazing. And how did her daughter react to that?
Ateh: Ok thanks mum that’s cool and it’s that no shame or embarrassment, this is how it is, you are responsible for yourself, you know, this is a form of responsibility and I think that will transition really well into sexual health in her teens.
I think when you approach it properly you take care of yourself with your period, you take care of yourself with sexual health, you take care of yourself with breast exams, as a woman there’s women’s health. Why would you be embarrassed about doing a breast exam? Embarrassed about having condoms or any kind of protection, it’s ridiculous. I feel it as a form of empowerment you know.
Le’Nise: Absolutely. I think just going back to this word shame, I think you connected it to having your period and this ability to having a baby and I think that’s where this shame comes in because a lot of people don’t like to talk about sex and they find it embarrassing and then so having that conversation about periods is connected to having that conversation about sex. People use euphemisms about their genitalia and so…
Ateh: Makes no sense to me. Yeah, really odd.
Le’Nise: I think for some people it just takes them a long time to get to where you are now where you are just so open to having this conversation. Everyone is on their own journey.
Ateh: I mean, I have to thank my mother she is very open and liberal, she is from Trinidad, I don’t know if that makes a difference but she is very warm, open and I remember watching G String Divas with her as a trashy channel 5 movie as a teenager, grossly inappropriate but my home was an open, happy, hippy home so it doesn’t really register that kind of shame about your periods or about your body so it’s interesting but I mean what does that serve you? It doesn’t serve anything or anyone I don’t think. It’s dangerous.
Le’Nise: It is dangerous because you don’t understand what’s going on with your period, can’t have open conversations or you think that things like pain and heavy bleeding is normal because you haven’t had the conversation about it.
Ateh: It’s true. Because what is normal? Because until you speak to people, what’s a light period? What’s a medium period and heavy period? Unless you have a conversation, when is there a real problem? When do I need to see someone? When they go to the doctor I think women’s health is so, it’s not respected in a funny way, when you speak to a GP often as a woman and as a black woman, I find sometimes I have to speak louder and louder like “there is a problem, hear me” and I’m very empowered when it comes to that but if you’re bought up in shame then there’s going to be problems and you could really suffer. There are so many people’s grandmas who literally died of shame because they had cervical cancer, they never went to their doctor and they died of shame because they didn’t have it looked at and that’s dying of shame.
Le’Nise: Wow, I mean it’s so needless.
Ateh: Yeah, it’s a different generation.
Le’Nise: Yeah absolutely, different generation. So how do you feel about your period now?
Ateh: Basically, I had my twins. One and done and my periods have been very, very fertile and like the day, hours and minutes my period is on. I’d been told by my acupuncturist that my womb’s on fire, be careful when you want to get pregnant and I never believed in acupuncture and then I got pregnant first go, I never timed it or anything when I got pregnant with my girls and I was like damn he was right.
So, it feels really odd that I’ve had all these years for one go, the shop is closed , I’m not having any more kids. My two ladies and so 13 to 41 I’ve had all these periods and it was for one shot which is very wasteful but interesting and now I’m 41 and I’m thinking to myself, I’m not having any more kids, it can be quite uncomfortable, it can be quite bloating and all the rest of it but also my body has done its job in terms of, I wanted children and if you don’t want children then that’s fine but I wanted babies, I’ve had my babies, I know that having a period keeps my skin and my body juicy and the hormones and so I respect it for that. I think when I hit the menopause I’ll be nostalgic and be like “oh, bye!” you know what I mean? I feel like a friend going or they say flow comes to town it’s a very old expression and when flow leaves town in a very nostalgic way like “oh bye, thank you” but it’s a very weird one, it’s no longer necessary in a funny way but it’s doing its job of hormones and all the rest of it. Also, it triggers your role as a woman, if you don’t have children you are still a woman, still capable, still amazing. If you choose not to have children it doesn’t make you any less powerful or potent or anything but then there is a side of you where that chapter is closed and the next baby I have in my arms will be my grandchildren and I think ahead like that so it makes you think of nature and cycles. It will be a closing of a chapter but not the whole book. Mixed emotions.
Le’Nise: It sounds like you have a very healthy relationship with your period in the sense that I don’t hear that you have fought with your period in the sense that you hated it or it is what it is.
Ateh: It is what it is and I think it’s like a beautiful metaphor for life, its messy, its life-giving and I think in a funny way woman are very tough, if you compare a 13 year old boy and a 13 year old girl and I’m being very general here but I think a lot of 13 year old girls are women because they have to deal with this messy, bloody thing that happens once a month. You literally have to get your hands dirty and feel the life and your body and oh my God this is happening because I could have a baby.
I think you mind is blown and my husband tells this funny story when he was 13, his best friend was a girl and literally one summer she turned into a woman and it’s probably the time she had a first period. He didn’t see her for a whole summer and they went strawberry picking because their mums set it up and he was like picking strawberries and skipping around and she was like my God this is boring and embarrassing. He said he lost her because she was this woman and he felt like a little kid wanting to go strawberry picking and talk about comics and stuff and she like whatever I’m going off with my boyfriend or something and he said he remembers then, thinking my God we are the same age but you are a woman and I think periods are the same way, its helps you to deal with life in a funny way. It helps you psychologically. I choose to see the empowering side to it.
Le’Nise: You have such a healthy attitude and I think it’s amazing how you’re speaking to your daughters about it and I wish more women could have those open, matter of fact conversations because it is life-giving and it happens every day, not every day but you know…
Ateh: I’d be concerned *laughs*. I think it also comes down to misogyny. I studied history at university and all the church fathers, there’s such a suspicion about the female body, the fact that for centuries people have been very suspicious, you can make people, you’re clever, you can do everything a guy can do and you can make people, it’s really scary. I’m not going to be self-hating, I’m not going to add to that conversation, I’m not going to have centuries of suspicion cast upon me, I’m going to see it for the divine thing that it is, that it’s life-giving.
Also I think with technology and nature, we have moved to the countryside and tapped in more to nature, it’s really interesting like its autumn now and the colours are changing and you see road kill. When we first came her my daughter was like, “is that a dead bunny on the road?!” and I was like “yes, that is life love” and you get tapped into the rhythm of life and your body has a rhythm and I think we are so cut off from nature, so cut off with technology you know you can swipe, you can click, you can do everything so quickly but your body is on a biological clock, it’s on a rhythm and it reminds me of that, that I’m not master and commander of the universe, I am part of the universe.
I feel in a spiritual way as well and it enforces you to remember you are part of something and you know what I have no control over my period. I can’t say can you start to tomorrow because I have a photoshoot or can you start next week because I have this, you have no control and I am a control freak and in a funny way you have to just surrender. Surrender is my new word. Surrender.
Le’Nise: I think that’s really nice when you think about the idea of rhythm, nature and even connecting with the idea of periods being linked to the moon and knowing that we are coming up that harvest moon and it’s the autumn equinox today and so a lot of woman will be on their periods or are coming onto their periods or ovulating and there’s kind of a nice synergy with that idea that our rhythm and nature and this kind of connection to the divine.
Ateh: Definitely I see it as that. That’s why people are shameful and scared because people are often scared of what they don’t understand. I am a very spiritual person, there are all these invisible things around us and this mysterious thing that you bleed and can have babies with. It’s really weird, I’m sorry. If an alien came to earth and you explained sex and periods they’d be like, “get out of here”, it’s weird, okay. If we break it down for an alien, it’s weird and it is mystical and it’s strange and I think a lot of fear and shame is built around things you don’t understand. Why is this happening? Why are babies made this way? Why do we have periods? No one knows really and that’s really scary. I just roll with it and I think that’s what freaks people out. We are just part of something. It comes and goes just like you and I one day and it’s just what you do in between that matters.
Le’Nise: We’ve got really deep now!
Ateh: Sorry but yeah that’s why it doesn’t freak me out. It came when it was ready to come, it’s going to go when it’s ready to go. I’m thankful to the women that don’t have periods and can’t have children and are desperate, are you kidding me? So there’s a sense of gratitude. Thank you that my body works really well and that I don’t have any problems, I have a lot of problems in other areas of my life that I can’t control, my weight, this and that but whatever my body did its job, I made two healthy huge full term twins. My girls were 6 and half pounds each, they were 38 weeks, and they were full term. Thank you, thank you, thank you. So I see just gratitude you know.
Le’Nise: It’s so powerful; I actually have a chill just hearing you talk about it. Knowing everything that you know now and thinking about what you know now versus back then when you first had your period. What would you change, what would you tell your 13 year old self?
Ateh: I’d say you’re not going to die, chill out. Maybe you don’t have to go to the emergency room in the middle of the night with your mum. I’d give her a hug, she needed a hug at 13, and I’d give a proper hug and tell her it’s going to be okay. I don’t know if I’d change anything, I think I had a healthy attitude thanks to my mum towards my period and I’d say you know what you’re going to have two beautiful babies, it’s worth it, it’s messy, it can be inconvenient and can be all of these things which periods are, but you know all those years are worth it for that one shot, you’re going to have your babies and for the 10 years on the other side of it and that’s just life, I’m really grateful, I have a lot of cousins and family which have had a lot of problems with their periods and I’m very grateful that I’ve never been in crippling pain.
The girl that created ‘Girls’ [Lena Dunham] had an elective hysterectomy because her periods were crippling, my God, to make that decision as a woman in your early 30s! I can’t complain I’ve been very very lucky that my body has done its job and it’s like clockwork and I’m just grateful, it’s part of being a woman. I love being a woman, that’s the problem, I’m not self-hating in any way, I love being a woman and I find it very powerful, I find it very lucky to be a woman and very lucky to be a mum. I tell my girls you can be anything you want but please breed, I want to be a grandma. Which probably isn’t the healthiest and they will probably do the opposite of what I say so I see it as a huge gift and again a huge responsibility. Responsibility can be positive and negative but this is a positive responsibility.
Le’Nise: Just to wrap up, are there any last words that you would leave the listeners with about periods and how they should shift their thinking around their period?
Ateh: See it as a divine. See it as you are a creature, we are just animals, we are part of nature and it’s part of a rhythm. Also, please go and support Beauty Banks for my lovely friend Sali Hughes, she’s helping menstrual poverty and I think that’s something as woman we need to give back and understand that they’re many women in this country and around the world that do not have access to sanitary towels, tampons and that we need to be a sisterhood and look after each other.
Just know that you are powerful and that wherever you are with your period, whether it’s painful, whether it’s this or that, you’re regular, you’re irregular, just respect your body in every sense and that’s part of your body and that’s part of who you are.
Le’Nise: Thank you so much. Where can listeners find out more about you and what you’re up to?
Ateh: I am on Instagram @AtehJewel, I’m launching a foundation for darker skin tones which I’m very excited about, I’m developing it. Please check out my website, Jewel Tones Beauty, and just say hi. Reach out and say hi, I’m on Twitter everything and thanks for chatting. It’s been really really stimulating and interesting. We are lucky.
Le’Nise: Thank you so much for coming on the show.
Period Story is a podcast that features women talking about periods, breaking taboos and getting behind the menstrual health myths that hold us back.
Each episode features a notable and interesting woman talking about her first period, the way she learned about periods and menstrual health, what she knows now that she wishes she knew back then and everything in between.
The podcast will launch next week! I hope you’ll be listening!
I get a lot of questions from my clients about how to stay healthy and maintain their routines while they’re on holiday, so this was something I was thinking about for myself and my family while I was away, so here are some tips I’ve put together for you.
1. Plan, plan, plan.
Don’t hate me for saying this, but failing to plan is planning to fail. If you want to have a little more control over what you eat while you’re away and while you’re travelling, a little pre-travel research (Google is your best friend here!) will go a long way.
Plan what you’re going to eat on your travel day. Can you eat breakfast and lunch before you travel to the airport? If you’re not a fan of eating at the airport, prepare some food and bring it with you in portable food storage boxes too much on at the airport.
Do a little internet research on Tripadvisor and Yelp to discover the closest supermarkets and restaurants to where you’re staying so you have lots of options when you get there. If you have dietary restrictions, email the restaurants in advance to ask if they can accommodate for your needs.
When you arrive, plan a stop at the local supermarket to pick up fruit, veg and easy food to snack on, so you always have options available.
2. Bring some of your favourite portable food with you.
If you have a favourite food and it’s portable, bring it with you! On my most recent holiday, I packed my matcha powder, a few containers of Oatly (my favourite oat milk!), a bag of pumpkin and flaxseed and my family’s favourite snacks. This means if you’re ever stuck, especially on the first day when you’re still getting your bearings, you have a few bits to keep you going.
3. Pack your NutriBullet / hand blender.
Yes, really! I’ve done this on holidays when I’ve been staying with my family in a villa / AirBnB and I’ve never regretted it. In fact, I decided against bringing it on my most recent holiday and let me tell you, by the end of the trip, I really missed my morning smoothie.
If you’re comfortable eating the local fruit and veg, a smoothie is a great healthy breakfast that lets you get your greens in too. If you have kids, get them involved in some smoothie making fun!
4. Let go a little.
Holidays are a time for a break from the everyday grind. Don’t beat yourself up if you have a few more drinks than usual or if a daily cup of gelato starts to feel like an essential. You don’t need to let all of your healthy habits go while you’re on holiday, but in the long term, a few treats won’t hurt.
5. Explore the local cuisine.
Make a point to eat the local cuisine and have fun trying new foods. While I was away in the Bahamas, I made a point to get into all the amazing fresh seafood and lots of conch salads, which felt like a huge treat.
6. When eating out, prioritise eating vegetables as much as possible.
When you do eat out, especially at lunch and dinner, explore the local cuisine and put an emphasis on eating vegetables. Are there any locally prepared vegetables you could try? Could you order lots of the vegetable sides or a big salad to share along with your main course? Doing this will help you come back from your trip without a desperate desire to eat something green.
7. Make breakfast or lunch the biggest meal of the day.
Choose a meal where you know you’ll be able to get in lots of healthy options and make that your biggest of the day. If you’re on holiday in a hotter climate, the heat can restrict your appetite, so there’s the temptation to graze. Having a larger meal first thing sets you up well for the day, especially if something unexpected crops up, i.e. a long beach trip that saps your appetite and energy!
8. Bring snacks in your bag when you’re out for the day.
On holidays our days can be a bit more free-formed and we might not eat our meals at our usual times. Packing healthy snacks in your bag can stop you from getting hangry when lunch or dinner gets delayed.
9. Have fun!
Whether you go away often or you have one big trip every few years, while you’re away, allow yourself to let go a little and have a little fun. Try new food, have a few treats and let yourself relax.
For the last two posts, we’ve been talking about the first two phases of the menstrual cycle, the menstrual and the follicular phases.
Are you finding that having this information is helping you understand better about what’s happening in your body?
I really feel empowered when I know what’s going on and I don’t have to guess. Do you?
Let’s move on to talking about the ovulatory phase, otherwise known as ovulation!
So what’s actually happening when you ovulate?
Simply put, one of your ovaries releases a mature egg! This is the big moment of your menstrual cycle and what the follicular phase has been building up to!
Your luteinising and follicle stimulating hormones are at their highest points, as is your oestrogen, which has risen to help thicken the endometrium, the lining of the uterus (the place where a fertilised egg will implant!).
For most women, their energy will be at its highest point and they’ll be raring to go!
Communication skills are at their peak during ovulation, so this is the time to schedule in that big presentation or important meeting with a boss or client.
Here’s a question I get asked a lot: how do I know when I’m ovulating?
There are two major signs to look for:
Discharge: this tends to become more of an egg white consistency and can be whitish in colour
Temperature:if you track your cycle using the fertility awareness method (FAM), then you will see your temperature rising during this phase of your cycle
Food wise, do you notice that you tend to crave fresh fruits and vegetables during this phase of your menstrual cycle? There’s a reason for this!
Eating a rainbow of fruit and veg helps support your immune system and keeps you as healthy as possible – your body wants to have the healthiest possible environment to fertilise the mature egg it’s just released!
Do you notice a boost in your energy levels and communication skills when you’re ovulating?
What do you think? Is there anything else you want to learn more about this phase of your menstrual cycle?
Did it help you understand a bit more about what’s happening during that time of your cycle?
Let’s talk about what happens next!
As you all know by now, I used to be be blissfully unaware of what happened in my cycle after my period ended. All I cared about was that the terrible week of my period was over and I could get on with my life (and put the horrible period underwear away!).
What I didn’t know is that what happens in the next phase sets up the groundwork for the rest of the menstrual cycle.
When we enter into the follicular phase (phase two of the menstrual cycle), our estrogen, testosterone and follicular stimulating hormone (FSH) begin to increase again in preparation for ovulation (i.e. your body is getting ready to release an egg).
Do you feel an increase in your energy levels around this point?
That increase in energy is connected to rising hormones, preparing us to get out of the house, get social and look & feel our best! You might find that you get quite horny around this time too! Yeah!
For many women, this is the time of their cycle when they feel their most vibrant, energetic and like their best selves.
Your confidence is at all time high so if there’s anything you’ve been hesitant about, try it now!
You also may feel more creative and the rising testosterone also means that you’ll be up for more risk taking and trying new things.
Have you noticed this come up for you?
There’s a lot going on in your body during this phase of your cycle, so nourishing your hormones with lots of dark leafy greens and brassicas really helps (and the fibre keeps you regular!).
Grass-fed beef & lamb are also superstar foods during this phase – they help replace the iron that has been lost during menstruation and can keep your energy levels high too!
What do you think? Is there anything else you want to learn more about this phase of your menstrual cycle?
Share your questions about the follicular phase of your cycle in the comments below!
Next up: ovulation, or when one of our ovaries releases an egg!
I didn’t learn much about my menstrual cycle when I was in school. Anyone else in a similar position?
What I did learn about my cycle, I cobbled together from books, magazines (shout out to Sassy magazine!), chats with my girlfriends and eventually, some pretty serious googling when I was trying to get pregnant.
I often think about how great it would have been to learn about all of this much earlier. To learn that there are four phases to the menstrual cycle. Or that the menstrual cycle isn’t just about getting a period. Or that ovulation is a hugely important part of it. Or that what you do in the 60 -90 days before your current menstrual cycle will have an effect on it.
Over the next few posts, I want to breakdown each of the four phases for you.
Are you with me?
Let’s start with the menstrual phase, which starts on day one of your period.
During this phase, if you haven’t fertilised an egg in the previous cycle, your body takes this time to shed the lining of the uterus. This is the menstrual bleed and typically can last between 4 – 7 days.
What’s happening with your hormones during this phase, because let’s face it: there’s always something happening in this area!
Estrogen (the hormone that controls the menstrual cycle) and progesterone (the hormone that is released after ovulation) are at their lowest points, so you might feel a bit low with not a lot of energy.
You might feel discomfort, pain, a lack of energy, a bit moody or that your emotional responses are a bit more heightened., i.e. you might get teary at a random TV advert.
Socially, you might find that you withdraw a little bit from activities or you want to stay at home, especially on day 1 & 2 of your period.
All of this is completely normal and part of the ebb and flow of our menstrual cycle.
What’s not normal is having lows that are too low, excessive bleeding or pain that is too much.If you feel like this, I would encourage you to explore what’s going on and work with a professional (like me!)to get to the bottom of it.
Interestingly, research shows that evaluation and analytical skills are at their strongest during this part of the menstrual cycle, so it’s a great time to take a step back, take stock and reflect on where you are in your life / career / etc. This would be a great time to schedule a call with a mentor or coach if you feel emotionally up to it.
It’s so fascinating to see that once you understand what’s going on during your period, you can start to listen to your body and connect more, rather than fighting it.
So many of us have negative feelings about our periods and I would love to encourage you to let go of that and find ways to be positive. If positivity is a step too far, then at least try a little bit less negativity.
Food, breathwork and movement (I had to talk about this – I’m a nutritionist & yoga teacher!) are incredible ways to support your body during this phase of your menstrual cycle.
Listening to your body, remembering to breathe acknowledging the type of movement & food you crave and nourishing it with nutrient packed fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, complex carbohydrates and good fats will have only positive effects.
What do you think? Is there anything you want to learn more about this phase of your menstrual cycle?
Look out for my post about the next phase of the menstrual cycle!
We’re a week away from Christmas. Are you ready? I’m still getting those last minute gifts and hoping for a little gift inspiration for a few of my loved ones that are a little bit more difficult to buy for.
This gift guide is dedicated to gifts that help support hormone balance and help reduce that amount of harmful chemicals going into the body through makeup, cleaning products, skin care or cooking utensils.
I adore my Lodge cast iron pan and cook most things in it, from ragu sauce to pancakes to chilli. The trick is make sure to oil the pan and clean it properly. Do this and it will last for ages (and food won’t stick!). My cousin uses a cast-iron pan she inherited from our grandfather – he bought it at least 50 years ago!
The other benefit of a cast iron pan? You avoid the hormone disrupting chemicals that make non-stick pans not stick.
This air filter is a lovely gift for the winter months when most of us don’t open the windows in our home as often as the summer, so the air gets stale and potential allergens like animal hair and mould hang around longer than they should, putting extra strain on the body’s various detoxification functions.
This is the perfect way to introduce a loved one to non-toxic, natural makeup. The RMS range, designed by Rose-Marie Swift, a make-up artist is made from non-allergenic, environmentally friendly ingredients and avoids the ones that are likely to disrupt hormones. I use this cover-up everyday and it goes on beautifully and the coconut oil in it makes it very moisturising.
I had to include my favourite coconut oil brand on this list. This coconut oil is a beautiful moisturiser for the skin and hair and absorbs very well, which is one of my biggest issues with coconut oil. Some brands leave the skin looking very shiny! This one doesn’t and smells great too.
Have you considered making the shift to natural cleaning products? Dr. Bronner’s are a great brand that make very versatile natural cleaning and body care products. And their labels are chockfull of instructions on exactly how to make your own cleaning spray.