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Category: Menstrual Health

Period Story Podcast, Episode 45: Melissa Ramos, Never Trust Your Thoughts On A Tired Brain

On today’s episode of Period Story, I’m so excited for you to hear my conversation with Melissa Ramos, the founder of Sexy Food Therapy. Melissa and I had a fantastic conversation about her healing journey through ovarian cysts, very heavy periods, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, thyroid nodules and fibroids. And of course, we talked about her first period. She is a very inspiring woman!

Melissa talked about her first period and reflected on how she felt not knowing what was happening to her. She says that from the beginning, her periods were so heavy that she would need to plan her schedule based on proximity to a washroom in order to avoid accidents.

Melissa shares the journey she took to understand what was happening to her – going from practitioner to practitioner to try to address her symptoms. She says that thinking back, none of the practitioners ran any testing on her – a lot of guessing and protocols and no testing.

We talked about the impact of unresolved emotional trauma on healing. Melissa says that we need make sure we value the trauma work as much as we value supplements, self-parenting, sleep and eating good food.

Melissa says small things such as going to bed earlier can really make a difference. She says that when we’re sleep deprived, we’re not always going to want to eat well or think positively. She says to never trust your thoughts on a tired brain. Thank you, Melissa!

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MELISSA’S BIO

Melissa Ramos is the founder of Sexy Food Therapy and the creator of the Sexy Lady Balls, an online community and program dedicated to helping women balance their hormones with nutrition, supplementation, and lifestyle changes. 

Melissa uses her background in both nutrition and Chinese medicine to create holistic healing protocols for both her private clients and the members of her Sexy Lady Balls program (a.k.a. “ballers”). She prides herself on educating her audience in bold and innovative ways on a variety of women’s health topics, from to vaginal dryness, to PMS, to more potentially severe issues like cysts, fibroids, and endometriosis.

Melissa, named one of Canada’s up-and-coming rising stars in the health industry by Flare magazine, has appeared on CTV’s The Social as their resident health expert, written for Huffington Post as an official health writer, and spoken at TEDx while lightheartedly wearing a shirt that read “the poop whisperer.” While she’ll admit to having a silly sense of humor, she brings a lot of compassion and firsthand understanding to those suffering from hormone-related health issues. Not-so-fun-fact: She herself had a cyst that ruptured and nearly cost her her life.

Melissa is also a passionate supporter of global initiatives for women’s issues, and has contributed to organizations such as Femme International and Plan International Canada to aid in their efforts to provide menstrual cups and education to the people of east Africa, and end sex trafficking, respectively. In addition, a portion of the proceeds of Sexy Lady Balls is dedicated to an initiative that helps provide menstrual products to homeless women.

Melissa’s mission is to help women rediscover their inner beauty, spark, and magic, starting with the best hormonal health possible. To learn more about Melissa and her signature program Sexy Lady Balls, please visit sexyfoodtherapy.com.

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: I’m so excited for you to be here. Welcome to the show.

Melissa: Thank you so much for having me. I’m thrilled to be here and talk about periods and more.

Le’Nise: So this is a question I always start with. Tell me the story of your first period.

Melissa: Well, I was 13 years old, and it feels like such a cliché story because I was in class and it was art class, in Mr. Nelson’s class. And of course, I was, I had bled through my pants and I had a windbreaker because it was the times you wear a windbreaker here. You know what I’m talking about, you know, when you’re born, when.

Le’Nise: Right.

Melissa: Anyways, I had I remember wrapping it around my waist and I was mortified. And my friend, like, put a bunch of like that, like the really awful paper towels in school that comes in one big roll.

Le’Nise: Yeah.

Melissa: Ripped it and then put it down and she said, you know, put put the the thing around your your waist. I went home. And I didn’t come back to class that day because I was mortified and I went home and my sister was home who’s seven years older than me and she’s like, “You got your period.” And I was like, “Ahh, there’s something wrong with me, you know, I was terrified. I had no idea what’s going on. And she was the one who told me, like, OK, so, you know, there’s menstrual pads and there’s tampons and stuff. And I guess because there was such a huge age gap, she would teach me a lot of this stuff before even my mom got to it, my mom’s awesome, but just before she got to it. And I remember that evening sitting for dinner and my dad I don’t know what I had said nothing about my period because I wouldn’t tell my dad about it. But I said something and my dad goes, “Well, you’re all grown up now, aren’t you?” Right. And my sister and I said and I replied back and I remember going, “You have no idea.” And my sister started laughing, and he said, “What are you laughing about?” because you know, he had no idea what we were talking about. The great thing was when I did go back to school, nobody made fun of me. And I actually was really terrified that the boys or something would say something because I had blood all over my chair and I was like, oh, my God, that, you know, they’re going to make fun of me when I go back to school. But, like, no one said anything. And so I think I was really, really lucky about that. But that was my first period when I was like only I was 13 years old, which I feel like is much later than a lot of women are getting their periods these days.

Le’Nise: Yeah, and it’s later than a lot of women that I’ve spoken to, but for the age that you are, I feel like that’s actually around the average age. So what’s really interesting to me is that you were 13 and you said that you weren’t sure what was happening to you. Did you, when did you learn about these things in school? I know you said your sister told you about what was happening, but what about in school? What was the Health Ed like for you?

Melissa: We didn’t even learn about it. You know, I mean, I’m kind of in that camp where I believe that kids should be learning about even Sex Ed earlier than they should. I know people say they’re too young. I’m like, but there’s so much shame, I think, wrapped up in the idea of bleeding or having sex or anything. And I don’t, I didn’t really learn about any of that. I didn’t, you know even in Sex Ed, we didn’t really start talking about it more so until I remember being in high school. So, like, it, it, I wasn’t learning about anything about periods. I knew about them from, you know, my, my mom or like my sister. And I knew my mother had really heavy periods. And my mother is Polish born but grew up in Brazil since she was four. So she essentially considers herself Brazilian and she had such heavy periods. She would tell me that she would make her own pads, because she was like, she was raised in a very, very, very poor part of a city in Brazil where a lot of people immigrated after the war.

They were refugees from World War Two. And she would say to me that she would make her own pads because they were really poor and she would have that. But she bled so heavy all the time and she would try to race home to go get some more pads because maybe she didn’t have enough or something. And she said that like there were birds or something that were on the side of the road. They’d always try to stick with her because they would try to like they try to, like, nip at your legs where she’d have stockings and all these crazy stories. But I remember her always having really heavy periods and my sister had very heavy periods. So I just was really used to that. Almost felt like the norm. That I kind of always expected that was going to happen to me, and sure enough, it did.

Le’Nise: So your periods were really heavy, so when you say heavy, what does that mean for you? 

Melissa: Oh gosh, they were like, I just remember talking to girlfriends and they’re like, oh, I get my period, like, for three days. And I’m like, what is that like? You know, what is that like? Because I get, I was at that time, I would get them for a full seven, but I would probably have three days where it was like insanely heavy, where I would be, you know, super absorbency plus tampon from OB, which was like you. It’s very actually that tampon, which I don’t use those now because I know how bad and how toxic those commercial tampons are. And they were without the applicator. And I remember how hard it was to get that specific one because they didn’t sell them everywhere. But they were the most absorbent you could possibly get. I’d wear super absorbency plus tampon and an overnight maxi and I’d have to change both in an hour.

Le’Nise: Oh, my gosh.

Melissa: Yeah, and so overnight I would have to, like, set an alarm and I think that it was also hard during the day because you’re moving and, you know, like when you’re sitting and all of a sudden you get up and you’re like that rush and you’re like, oh, why did I just move? You know? But like at night, I think because I was, you’re laying in bed. Maybe the flow doesn’t feel as heavy, but I still would have to set an alarm in the middle of the night, because if I didn’t, then I would have to like, I’d have to change. I don’t experience that anymore. But I had that for probably if I got my period at 13, that would have been until, I probably would say until about my mid thirties and I’m 42 now. 

Le’Nise: Wow. So you are you basically had 20 years of those heavy periods? 

Melissa: Yep.

Le’Nise: I mean, I want to talk more about the rest of your story because, you know, there is obviously a root cause for for those heavy periods. Tell me more about what that meant for your relationship with your period.

Melissa: Oh, it was like hell. When it was coming, and I’m so glad I’m having this conversation because I was thinking about this today, because when it would come, it was just hell, I’m like, that’s just it’s one of those things, you know, people who have Crohn’s, they have to always map it where the bathrooms are. Oh, that was me around my period. So I like, you know, I wouldn’t schedule, I wouldn’t schedule dates around the first day of my first or second day because those heavy days would last for go to the third day was manageable. Third day I could actually go out and in like I still have to make sure that I was like, you know, not pushing it. But the first two days were like literally would have to definitely go by the bathroom. So I would plan my life, try to plan my life around it so I wouldn’t have an accident. And I still did have tons of accidents. So my relationship with it was so bad at the time that I just dreaded it. You know, you get the period brain. I think I still get a little bit of period brain when it comes, but not to the degree that it was before.

Le’Nise: And so you did a lot of planning in the first couple days of your period because of the heaviness, was it painful as well?

Melissa: Yeah, it was really painful. I had, I wasn’t one of those women who were like I’ve heard of women who they’ve thrown up. They had horrible headaches. I was lucky that I’ve never experienced that I would have cramps, but nothing that was severe, just like pretty uncomfortable. A lot of soreness and back pain, but nothing against severe and just obviously a lot of fatigue because you’re losing that much blood, you’re exhausted. But that probably like I guess I was lucky in that sense that even though the flow was so heavy, I met women and have worked with women in practice who’ve had periods that were light and their symptoms were excruciating during PMS. Emotionally, I definitely was like all over the place where it’s just kind of like I just want to hug and for someone to feed me cake, but that I want to smack your head off and want my own alone time all at the same time. That’s kind of that like, you know, manic sort of behaviour. But, you know, I’m lucky in the sense that I didn’t struggle from extreme pain like a lot of women.

Le’Nise: What was a point where, so after dealing with this for 20 years and then, you know, I guess you got to a point where you were like, OK, there’s something’s going on here. Tell me about the point where you realised actually something, this wasn’t right, something was wrong, and you needed to sort things out with your period. 

Melissa: I think it probably, I probably would say around my mid 20s is when I because, I for the longest time, I just felt it was normal. I, my mom went through this, my sister went through this, and I’ll probably be like my mom and have a hysterectomy, you know, and like but this is just kind of what happens. But then in my 20s, I think it’s normal. And I didn’t really care so much about my health in my earlier 20s and even throughout my 20s. I don’t know how much I really cared about it because I think that I like a lot of people, I felt sort of invincible. You know, I was an ad person. I worked hard. I played even harder, a lot of drugs, lots of alcohol. And so you’re not really thinking too much and or even correlating that like, well, what I’m eating or how I’m taking care of myself is greatly affecting my menstrual cycle every month. So I think that a lot of the things I was doing was just adding insult to injury. It was just making it worse.

But I started to go see practitioners and my number one complaint was always like, I have the hardest, like heaviest period. I just don’t know what to do. And I remember seeing a Chinese medical doctor and literally giving her a huge sum of money and just saying, “I don’t like, here’s a bunch of money and just start taking like my sessions off this big lump sum of money and let’s start working on this.” And when I did cycle charting. It was so erratic, I remember like a cardiograph and it started to normalise in terms of the way it’s supposed to look, when I was doing a lot of, like, my periods were still heavy. And she’s like, “Oh, you just have spleen Qi deficiency and you’ve got to take these herbs.” And I kind of gave up on it because I felt like, well, I don’t really feel like it’s like something isn’t shifting still. So which is ironic because, you know, my background is nutrition and Chinese medicine and I do think that both are very powerful. But it’s also the reason why that I find that, like, there’s more to it than just the one modality. It’s why I like exploring other areas and finding like, why is this happening and what are the all these different factors that could be at play here versus just this one thing that was the reason why that this happened. And I’m not entirely sure I believe in that very much. But yeah, I would probably say mid 20s was probably when it was started to become at the forefront. And I had seen multiple practitioners to try to address it. And nobody, not one person ran a single test on me, which is interesting. Like there’s no hormone test, there was no stool testing, there was no hair trace mineral analysis. There’s nothing, you know, it’s just protocols after protocols and lots of money spent. 

And in hindsight, looking back and there’s a lot of guessing and no testing.

Le’Nise: And that was kind of like the opposite of, I know you talk about testing a lot on your, in your work, so the opposite of what you do now. So as a practitioner, if you could go back and speak to for yourself back in your mid 20s, what would you say?

Melissa: I really would say go to somebody who’s actually going to go test you like, to really get to the bottom of it. And I think that so many practitioners even now, like I’m not saying hormone testing is not is not valid because it is, but I also believe that hormones are very much superficial in the fact that so many things affect them. And I think that if we actually address what, are there gut infections at play, because if there are well, those can affect your hormones. And for me, you know, I came from a history of having, like, really bad skin for so long and had been on rounds of antibiotics for Lord knows all these respiratory issues and thinking like maybe that’s probably where you should have start. It was just looking at your gut first. And so that’s probably what I would have said, is like, go test your gut. Let’s, let’s start there. And honestly want a huge part that helped me was symptomatically was bioidentical, natural bioidentical progesterone. And I say symptomatically, because I think a lot of women will get on natural bioidentical progesterone and go, “It’s the answer to all my prayers”, just like taking vitex is the answer to all their prayers. And I don’t believe everyone should be on vitex. But I you know, it’s it’s progesterone is so needed to calm those heavy periods, and it certainly calmed mine. My period are still heavy, but they’re manageable and I don’t have to plan my washroom route. But why is the progesterone low to begin with? Why is the oestrogen high to begin with? And I think everybody sometimes needs a bit of symptomatic support, like just cut a gal a break. But, you know, like you got to keep looking at those causative factors while you’re addressing it symptomatically. 

Le’Nise: So really, it’s going in and giving someone something that’s going to provide them with some short term relief while you go in and you address the kind of deeper, deeper issues. I 100 percent agree with that because if someone has been going through something for such a long time and then come to you as a practitioner, you just want to be able to show them that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Melissa: Yeah, a thousand percent. And that’s why I’m just like it was it was a godsend for me. But in the interim, it’s just, you keep chipping away at the stuff that’s there. And sometimes it’s layers of stuff. Sometimes it’s not even like it’s your, it’s just your gut. How about if it’s emotional trauma, even stuff that it could have been there from, like before you even had the mental articulation to go like, oh, I remember this happening. It might have been something that was even like transgenerational from your, your family, but you don’t, that you’re not even consciously aware of. Like, there’s so many layers to us as human beings. It’s quite remarkable.

Le’Nise: I was having a discussion recently about epigenetics and how we carry trauma in our genes. And I just find that such a fascinating area. And then you combine that with the whole the the hypothesis of racial weathering. And I’m hypothesising here. But if you just look at something like fibroids, and I know that’s an area of focus, one of your areas of focus, and you look at how prevalent they are within Black women and you just think, well, if we were able to dig deeper, you know, what is going on there? You know, how much weight does, does intergenerational trauma have to do with the prevalence of fibroids? I just think it’s just, it’s just fascinating.

Melissa: It really is. Because you think about. And it’s what I find fascinating is like, I’m a huge fan of breathwork. And I love breathwork, and there’s so many different modalities of breathwork, right, you know, you have Wim Hof that people do, which I don’t feel is very esoteric in nature. He’s just kind of like, “Breath, mother…”, you know what I mean? Not going to swear, but like, he just very like go get it, you know. And then you have Dr. Stanislaw, Dr. Stanislav Grof who does breath work and there’s like all this like music and stuff. And it kind of takes it from, like shamanistic areas of it. But he believes that some trauma can be very much from in utero or even from the birthing process because you think, OK, that was like really traumatic. Like my mother couldn’t speak English. And you’ve got nurses yelling at her to push and she’s crying because she has no idea. So how traumatic knowing that for her, but for my sister coming out of her. But you can’t remember that my mother went through war. She was a Catholic who harboured the Jews in the war. Right. Like you think about this. And so it’s interesting. There’s a guy by the name of Mark Wolynn and he’s fantastic at talking about like traumas that happen through our lifeline and how it actually could be the reason why we’re reacting the way we are or even like why we’re physically manifesting certain things that we do. You know, I think the Black community, it’s so deep rooted that trauma on so many levels, especially for women. Oh, my God. And so I think that, like I think that the the layers are so deep in there. And the beauty of breathwork, which is one of the things that I really, really believe in, into the integration process of somebody, because I think sometimes you tell someone, oh, you’re healing, you’re healing. But I look at the times and you’re healing makes it sound like you’re broken to begin with, like you’re integrating all these puzzle pieces that just need to click together. And when you do breath work that, it’s moving the diaphragm, which then moves the lymphatic system. And the lymphatic system is that emotional shock absorber. So there could be like trauma there from God knows when. 

And so I think that when women are thinking about periods, for example, you know, we have to kind of go beyond the physical part and think that, like, this actually could be much deeper and that it’s not about abandoning one thing, but really making sure that we value the trauma work as much as we value the supplements, we value the self parenting and getting her butt to bed at a decent time as much as we value, like eating good food. But I think generally people tend to abandon those things because they just don’t put as much value or weight in where they should be.

Le’Nise: I am just nodding along with you. I agree with everything you’re saying. I think that people, they want a quick fix. And, you know, you can take a pill, you can take a supplement, and that will give you the quick relief that we were talking about earlier. But that integrational work that you were talking about, that that’s really that is the work. You know, that’s the deep work that takes can take months and take years to really go through the layers of what is actually driving this. And I think that people can be afraid of that because it pulls up so many things that they just, they haven’t really wanted to deal with.

Melissa: Yeah, and it’s interesting because when it does come out. Is it important for us to mentally articulate the why? Like, if you experience something, did you experience it first in your mind or did you experience first in terms of like, well, no, when I experience something, this is how I like I felt at first I felt an energetic resonance. Then our brain makes the mental articulation of what that meant. So sometimes when women say me like I’m doing the breath work and I feel so sad and I feel so angry and they’re trying to articulate the why and I wasn’t held enough as a child or this. And does it matter? Like maybe we just need to release that that that stored emotion that’s been sitting there that is causing us to react in so many ways, like allow yourself to feel that. But people don’t want to feel because it’s uncomfortable.

Right. So I think it’s just all those things I think are really ingrained and deeply stored into the human psyche. Like I woke up or was trying to go to bed and I was so I don’t even know why. But I was, I felt angry. I had this feeling of anger and I don’t know why nothing caused me to create to feel that way. And I could not for the life of me, go to bed because of it. So I got up and sat down and I did 15 minutes of breath work. And partway through it, I started bawling my eyeballs out and I had no idea why. And I still think maybe I just was not meant to know why. Maybe it’s OK that I just released it like the do I need to rationalise it? Do I need to create a perception of what what it was and how or why? Like, maybe it’s just important that I just let go. You know, so I think that, yes, I think that when it comes to periods and any part of your hormonal healing, you got to look deeper.

Le’Nise: I want to go back a little bit and talk about your, your story and your journey to where you are today, because you have quite an interesting story. You were saying about working in advertising, you know playing hard, working hard. I used to work in advertising as well. So as you were talking about that, I thought I was like, yeah, yeah, yeah, got it, been there. But then you had a really dramatic experience. Can you share kind of an abbreviated version of that story for listeners who aren’t familiar with it?

Melissa: So I left advertising. I started to actually kind of dabble in the healing realm around that time, studying nutrition and left advertising to fully pursue it. And after that point, I was really interested in Chinese medicine. But I had when I went into that whole field of nutrition, Chinese medicine, I went to do it with the idea of like digestion. Like that was kind of my thing for the longest time. And it still is, right. It’s usually where I like to start. But fast forward down the road. I had an ovarian cyst that had ruptured this was years after my studying and I was graduated from the Chinese medicine school, but I had an ovarian cyst that ruptured. It tore off a piece of my right ovary and I got sent to hospital and I had no idea was going on. All I knew that I was in a severe amount of pain. My abdomen is distended, thinking in my head and what if the pain isn’t fixed? It’s like moving left to right of me with my appendix and all the diagnostic things in my head. And they said, “Well, we have to do a CT scan.” They did.

And they said, “We can’t see anything other than blood and it’s right up to your lung cavity. And it’s the reason why that you can’t breathe very well right now because blood outside of your organs is an irritant to your organs and it hurts. They’re supposed to be on your vessels, in your capillaries, in your veins.” And so, yeah, it was up to there and they said, “We have to do an exploratory surgery to find out what it is.” They did a six inch vertical incision, they took out about two litres of blood, which was a lot, and they had me for over an hour, hour or two of surgery or so. And now they have like four of the best surgeons in there from different walks of life. They didn’t know they were going to see an ovarian cyst that had ruptured, tore off a piece of my ovary. They stitched my ovary back and said, “It’s fine. It’s in good working order. Sidenote, We didn’t see any endo that was in there” and it was months of recovery. I had 24 staples in me and I, yeah, it took me a while to recover. It was really, really challenging.

And so that was when I really kind of started getting into the hormonal area and obviously spurred from that. And then from there, fast forward even further found out that I had fibroids by mistake because I was experiencing very weird sensations in my pelvic region, not understanding. Is it an ovarian? I don’t know. And then I went into the hospital and luckily the radiologist was still there, did an ultrasound. And then the doctor said, “We didn’t find anything. Did you want a copy of your ultrasound report?” I said, “Sure.” Grabbed it, really sleepy, stuffed it in my purse next and looked at my purse and opened up the results and it said 2 fibroids: one intramural, one subserosal. So and I’m like, you wouldn’t think to tell a woman who came in experiencing pelvic pain that she has like a couple of fibroids, probably a good thing, right? That’s why I felt weird, because I, unlike a lot of women, felt my fibroids, you know, and I have one that’s shrinking right now. And so I had later discovered that I had Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune thyroid condition and who knows how long I had that, that maybe it hadn’t been diagnosed for years. It takes about 10 years for Hashimoto’s to develop. And I say that because it’s not like, OK, well, one day you just get an autoimmune condition, but your thyroid can really change your periods quite a bit, that how it functions. So who knows how long I had it for so long.

And maybe that was something that needed to be addressed too. But I never really had proper bloodwork, which is an ongoing issue for so many women to get complete blood work. And they’re just told that their normal or that it’s all up in their heads. So I experienced that and had a bunch of thyroid nodules. And through a lot of work that I’ve done, my last ultrasound, which I always show on the masterclass I’ve done, on one side, all the nodules are completely clear. And then the one that I had that was one millimetre away from getting biopsied shrunk down by 50 percent.

Le’Nise: Wow.

Melissa: Yeah, so it was like I always tell them and I’m like in my antibodies are almost at almost that normal right now, which is insane.

And I say to women like it’s a thousand percent possible to to get past these things. But you’ve got, it’s not about being consistent. Consistency is BS in my opinion. It’s about being committed. You’re never going to stray for something that you’re committed. Consistency, you tell women to be consistent and her little perfectionist brain starts going mental and when she’s not consistent, it’s like shame follows and haunts her to death versus commitments like well I’m always going to go back to something I’m committed to. And eventually all those slip ups I do are less and less. When I do, I kind of have a little bit of grace with myself, you know.

Le’Nise: You have been through a lot. So you had the heavy periods and then you had this surgery from the ruptured cyst. Then you found out that you had fibroids and then you had, got diagnosed with Hashimoto’s and then the thyroid nodules. And you are, I mean, you tell me if I’m wrong, but from what I see of you, you seem like you’re thriving and all of that would have put someone else on the floor. So what listeners will probably be thinking is well what are her secrets? How did she do it? Can you talk more about what you did on your healing journey and what you were still doing?

Melissa: Yeah, I think that, you know, I was the gal who when I commit to something, I was like, yeah, I’m going to go full throttle. And I think I all I think when I did really dive into health, food wise, I was always on point, you know, I was always on point with that. I had a lot of struggles with addiction for quite some time. But I think the biggest challenge for me was the lifestyle. The sleep was something that, I would eat well. I would drink enough water, work out, but like sleep? I’ll sleep when I’m dead, I will work and I will work hard because it’s where I get validation, right? Like a lot of people, they get validation through the work that they do. And so that was that was the hardest part to integrate, was the sleep, was crushing the co-dependent patterns, the need to people, please, to validate my sense of self-worth, to distract myself from feeling, because, hey, if I can make someone else feel good, then I’ve done a good job. I think that those are really huge catalysts and definitely addressing the trauma and from a food perspective, I’m a huge fan of looking at the gut and I had a lot of gut infections that were at play and that was something that I noticed.

And I ended up actually, I was in Bali last year for five weeks. Prior to going to Bali. I started to experience some pretty intense gut pain and realised it was from an H. Pylori infection that I had. And what I, and H. Pylori, for listeners, listening is the same bacterial infection that creates peptic ulcers. And it’s found in 2/3 of the world’s population and their studies to even show that women who have very low levels of progesterone tend to actually have a higher incidence of H. Pylori, because progesterone is also antiinflammatory in nature. And so we also need progesterone for thyroid help. People who have thyroid conditions also sometimes has H. Pylori and we have H. Pylori, you don’t have stomach acid. So it’s like a welcome party for all bacteria and parasites to come into your gut. So it’s no surprise that I had all this gut pain. I didn’t have Bali Belly. It literally was, it was because of that. I ended up thinking to myself, why is it does it hurt after I eat almost all my meals except for breakfast? And then I realised breakfast was the only meal that was all protein. So I decided I went on this whole quest to kind of go and I say this like loosely, but carnivoreish and I say carnivoreish because it was not a full carnivore. I don’t label myself as carnivore, but a meat based diet. And it was literally like someone just turned off the switch to pain like that and all the gut pain was gone. It was so bad that I thought, I was trying to get a flight home. I was reeling in pain for five, six hours because it was so intense and I just stuck to eating like now I think my diet, I would say, is pretty high fat, but I do eat vegetables and fruit. But when I took the Cyrex test, which is a food intolerance test, it’s done by blood and it showed that I was intolerant to a ton of foods. But you don’t, you’re not intolerant to a ton of foods until you understand why and it’s usually from gut infections.

So yeah, I went carnivoreish, meaning I still eat berries and apples and pears sometimes, but my diet is primarily protein and pretty high fat and it has been an absolute godsend for my gut. It’s been an absolute godsend for my thyroid and my hormone levels. But the breath work has been huge, the sleep has been huge, the bigger boundaries has been massive. Like that’s where a big part of my healing really was.

And working out where I’m like, I’m going to rest today and I’m not going to feel guilty about it, like I don’t want to do high impact workouts, you will never catch me at a boot camp or a cycling class like I would rather die than to do that, like I will do what my body feels is best for it. And for me, that’s usually like a yoga or Pilates where it’s not a high impact thing. So that’s probably the secret sauces are in multiple parts.

Le’Nise: Going back to what you were saying about being on a carnivoreish diet, I know that some people listening will think, whoa, whoa, whoa, eating all of that meat, that’s bad for the environment, we get told that meat is so bad for us. I have my own view on that, that there’s no one size fits all. You know, you’ve got to do what’s right for you. But what I’m sure you’ve heard, if you talked about this publicly, I don’t know if you talk about what you eat publicly, but what has been your response to people who are kind of like, no, the way you’re eating is wrong.

Melissa: I always say one size fits all approach doesn’t work. I also say the results are in the pudding because look at my numbers, it’s improved. I think that meat has the highest bioavailable nutrients other than plants. So I think that there that I grew up in a meat based household, my, my family is Brazilian. You can’t get more meat based than that. But, you know, whether it’s bad for the environment, I think that you have to vote with your dollar. And I think that if you’re buying, I don’t buy commercially raised meat, I purchase organic and grass fed. I also switch up my protein sources. My favourite is beef, but sometimes I try to get what’s local. Where I’m right now, they’re going to have a lot of elk and venison. So I try to switch up because you’re getting more nutrients from different animals. 

And also I try to get in some organ meats as well. I think that we strayed so much away from like, people will rant and rave about how bad things are for the environment when there’s like mono cropping of soy and corn going on. I’m like, you don’t understand the amount of life, of wildlife that has actually been killed by the growing of, you know, plant based foods. And again, I’m not demonising plants at all, but I’m also, I think that organic and grass fed farming can be extremely regenerative to the environment. I, a lot of people don’t realise, but with fruits and vegetables, you require blood meal. So there’s actual animal fragments in there to, you know, to grow those. So a lot of people I know that, ‘well, it’s bad for the hormones because of this.’ And I’m like, “but what is?” Because if you look at that, if you look at the oestrogen. And that it is in grass fed organic meat and then you compare that to the oestrogen levels in soy or even other various things, you’re going to see massive differences, a lot of different differences in that.

My issues haven’t gotten worse, my issues have only gotten better. They’ve only improved. But I’m not, I’m, I don’t subscribe to diet dogma. So that’s why I say carnivoreish, because sometimes, yeah, will I ever eat grains? Rarely. I mean, one day out of the blue, I really want oatmeal. I never frickin eat oatmeal. I don’t know the last time I ate it, but I bought some and I made some. Oh my God. Is the world crashing? No. But that day my body really wanted it so I had some, I didn’t feel terrible after eating it, which is a bonus. But I think that you have to, I think that sometimes the dogma of various eating regimes, even carnivore, can be so extreme that it’s something.

And I think that we strayed so much away from like food that back in the day when people eat meat, they ate like especially in Brazil, you know, you’re talking about people who were slaves, who were poor, they ate every single part of the animal, because they had to, you know, they looked at. And that’s why even now, it’s like if I can eat some organs, I will. And for those that I know that I’m not going to like like kidney, I think it’s gross because just personal taste preference, I will end up probably getting that in dessicated form from various supplement companies to supplement what I have, because you’re getting a lot of those micronutrients. I think that eating muscle meats alone, you’re really straying from that.

Look, even if I’m making a stew, I’ll put bone in there because I know I’m going to get the collagen from that. Like when my dad made it’s a Brazilian dish called feijoada. A lot of it was like actually from the African slaves in Brazil who would make it and they would make it from every part of the animals, a bean dish with lots of meat. And I remember when my dad made it when we were kids, you make it for a big amount of people. And there is like there’s ear, there’s tongue. There’s like a hoof in there, like there’s everything that’s in there. But you kind of grew up in and I was just normal will eat. Right. But now everyone wants this pretty cellophane packaging. And I’m like, that’s not that’s so far from what it is, you know. So yeah, I definitely try to respect as much as humanly possible from the animal. 

Le’Nise: I am nodding along because I’m in this world and I I agree with what you’re saying, but you know, what we hear from a lot of mainstream health people is vegan is best, vegetarian as best. And you and I both know, we both said it. There’s no one size fits all. So I’d say for listeners who are confused about what to eat, it goes back to listening to what your, your body is telling you. So Melissa said she craved oatmeal, so she went and got some oatmeal, you know, really tuned in to the signals and the science of your bodies and don’t feel like you have to stick to these templates just because, you know, some influencer is saying everyone should be vegan. You know, that might not be right, right for you. I feel so passionately about that.

Melissa: Oh, I totally agree, because even, you know, I have some patients of mine who do really well with higher vegetable count. I do believe that most women are probably not eating enough protein. As we age, our muscles breakdown, we need the protein for blood sugar balancing, and unfortunately, when you’re vegetarian and vegan, you have to combine various foods, starches, legumes, etc. A lot of these foods have a lot of anti nutrients in them like lectins, things that prevent the assimilation of those nutrients. And that high starch can be very problematic for a lot of people, especially for insulin levels. So is that protein combining actually right for you? And I think that that has to be a really integral part before someone really commits to a specific diet. Is it right for you?

Le’Nise: Look at what’s right for you. So tell tell listeners more about what you’re up to now in your business. I know you’ve got a lot of things going on. Tell us what’s coming up for you.

Melissa: Yeah. So right now we have a membership that has been running gosh, for probably about five would say five years or so. Sexy Lady Balls, everything I do kind of kitschy. So I’m on Instagram, you see Sexy Food Ttherapy. You’re going to go, wow, this girl just dressed up as a big vulva or a big fibroid. Yes, that’s me. And I, I like to have people to laugh and learn some of these very complex topics. So we have this membership called Sexy Lady Balls, Lady Balls referring to your ovaries and there are women from all walks of life in there. And it’s great because we have women there, whether they have fibroids, like we really specialise mainly in those oestrogen dominant conditions. The fibroids, the endo, the adenomyosis, the ovarian cysts, the polycystic ovarian syndrome. And there’s so many women in the programme in the membership who have thyroid conditions and pretty much all of them across the board are struggling with their adrenals. So it’s not to say we don’t have women in menopause because we do. But that’s a huge part of my work.

And I’m in the process of developing something that’s not going to release for a while, not until probably the fall of 2021. It’s an autoimmune programme. And but right now, that’s right now is Sexy Lady Balls. And at some point I got to get my book together. So that’s a labour of love. But yeah, that’s kind of where I’m at right now. And it’s been extremely fruitful and amazing and wonderful to chat with women and to support them, because I think especially with hormonal work, it’s not like, OK, you did this for 30 days and you’re healed. It’s you want to give them ongoing support, which is why the membership has been created. And that’s really where, you know, these women join at a really low priced monthly fee and then they have the opportunity to upgrade, to get testing. And my job is to really fight tooth and nail to try to get them to get complete blood work. So we have women in there from Australia, from all parts of Europe, from the States and Canada. And I want these women to get answers like that to me is my number one goal, because like I said, who knows if I had thyroid issues in my 20s and 30s and it was just undetected, you know, and that’s why I think especially blood work is so key. So we try to make sure that we get resources for women so that they get answers.

Le’Nise: So someone’s listening and they’re thinking, how do I fight to get the right blood work done with my doctor, how do I have a conversation with my doctor? What would you say?

Melissa: I think the hardest part is I think I don’t think it should be a fight. If you’re having a fight, then I think that it’s time to look elsewhere and to just, you know, manage your energy accordingly if you’re not pushing up the stream. I think it’s important to look to work with an alternative care practitioner, whether it’s someone like myself, a naturopath, the functional nutritionist, what have you, who may have those resources for you. And usually those resources will require you to pay out of pocket to get testing. Now in the States, people are used to paying always out of pocket for their health in Canada. It’s like, oh, go into the doctor and just get bloodwork done and we’re good. You kind of feel like it’s free, right? And sometimes I find that that’s probably the most challenging to work with our my fellow Canadians. But, you know, I say I’m like, you gotta, I think there’s a weird thing, especially with women, about investing in themselves.

That it’s like, you know, and I’m not talking about fashion and I invest in myself all the time on Amazon. Sure. But is that actually investing in yourself like something that’s going to be like fruitful and abundant to your body? Like, are they distractions or are the actual investments? Right, like, are you spending or are you investing because those are two very different things, but most women really struggle with investing in themselves, though, like, you know, and that’s why we try to keep the membership rate low and then we have upgrades for stool testing and all the rest. And even that I try to keep as low as humanly possible. But yeah, it definitely comes to a distraction issue, a self-worth issue. And these, again, come down to those very deep core patterns that I think a lot of women have so deeply ingrained that are a huge part of why they’re struggling and then still looking for that pill to fix everything. 

Le’Nise: So for listeners who they’re listening, they’ve heard everything you’ve said. What would you want that one thought that they would take away to be?

Melissa:I would say probably the biggest one thought would be if you’re struggling and you’re confused and you’re overwhelmed, I think that sometimes you have to sometimes let go and seek the help of somebody. And if you seek the help of somebody and they haven’t done any testing, that should be a red flag to you. I think that you also have to be mindful and think like, is there trauma that’s here? You know, is there co-dependent issues that are here? Like sometimes something as small as like just getting your butt to bed earlier. I say this to my husband all the time, like if more women just got sleep, so many other issues would improve. Now ask yourself these questions, ask yourself these hard questions, because when you’re really sleep deprived, you’re going to want to eat everything on your fridge. You’re going to think that you suck. Never trust your thoughts on a tired brain, no matter. I don’t care if you are the most evolved human being. I still say that to myself to this day. So remember to say that to yourself. Like I’m feeling really, I’m really beating myself up today. Am I tired? Yes, OK. I can admit that I’m tired. I’ll never trust my thoughts on a tired brain. Got it. Cool. So I would say that that probably. 

But I would always say, look, when it comes to your health, the number one thing is like start with your lifestyle first. Because you can eat all the made in foods, but in the end, if your lifestyle sucks, you’re never going to stay on plan. That’s why most people are falling off the bandwagon. This just because you don’t have a food problem, you have a lifestyle problem. So that probably would be where I would leave people with. 

Le’Nise: So look at your lifestyle. Look at your sleep. Look at your, look at your trauma, I think. Amazing. Thank you so much. You brought so much to this conversation. I’m so, so thrilled to have you on the show. Listeners can find you on Instagram, on your website. So it’s it’s Sexy Food Therapy. And all the links will be in the show notes. Thank you so much, Melissa.

Melissa: My pleasure. Thank you.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 44: Nicola Rae-Wickham, Imperfection For The Win

On this week’s episode of Period Story, I had a fantastic conversation with Nicola Rae-Wickham, the founder of A Life More Inspired. Nicola talks about the importance of being authentic, the power of imperfection and shares her fertility story. And of course, Nicola shares the story of her first period! 

Listen to hear Nicola share the story of the very unusual pre-class protocol her PE teacher used that led to her realising she had her first period. She says that she took it all on the chin.

We talked about Nicola’s journey on and off the pill and how a suspected PCOS diagnosis led to a discovery that changed the way Nicola approached her health, wellbeing and mindset.

This changed the way she approached her next pregnancy. Nicola says she went into trying to conceive the second time with a mindset of trusting, surrounding and feeling really full and whole. She says that she had to trust that her life was enough, whatever the outcome was.

Nicola says that we are enough and that moving away from the trap of perfection helps us understand where we can strive to be imperfect. She says it’s so freeing to be able to rock up and trust what you know and who you are. Thank you, Nicola!

Get in touch with Nicola:

Website

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NICOLA’S BIO

Nicola Rae-Wickham is founder of A Life More Inspired where she’s combines her 20 year corporate marketing experience with her coaching in order to mentor big-hearted creatives, empaths and sensitive souls to find, use and amplify their voice to build brands based on truth-telling and soul-connecting and do work that makes a meaningful contribution to the world.

Nicola is committed to bringing nuance to the personal development, spiritual and wellness spaces, so that it is development for the many and not the few.

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: I’m so excited to have you on the show today. Welcome to the show.

Nicola: Thank you for having me.

Le’Nise: So let’s get into the question I ask my guests at the beginning of each show is tell me the story of your first period.

Nicola: OK, so the story of my first period was and it actually started in my first week of starting high school. So it was kind of a time of transition and a big time of firsts, first week of starting high school. And so I had that kind of feeling in my tummy, but I thought it was just nerves about starting high school. I turned 13, kind of two weeks after that. And I just thought it was like being in this big school and kind of starting off in year 8. And you could see all the older ones there in year 11. And they looked all so big and scary and like adults, I couldn’t believe that they were actually schoolchildren. And we had a PE lesson. And at my school, the PE teacher was notorious. She was so scary. Right.

Like even before entering the school, everyone knew about her. And so she had, we got in for our very first PE lesson and she was checking our feet for verrucas. Well, because that’s what they did then. It was like, we weren’t wearing socks. And so they were really kind of in the, in the changing room. They wanted to check all of our feet for veruccas to make sure we didn’t have any so that we could proceed with getting changed for PE. And what she used to do is we all used to have to sit there, by then we changed into our PE kit, we were in our little netball skirts and polo shirts and you have to put your feet out. She would grab your foot and yank it up. Oh, check the bottom of your feet. Yeah, I know it sounds like I went to school in the Dark Ages, only like 20 something years ago, 30 years ago. And when she did that, my best friend was sitting opposite me. And afterwards, she went,”Nic, Nic, I think your period started.” That’s how it started. 

Le’Nise: So how did she know that it had started?

Nicola: She saw the blood of my knickers as the, as the teacher had, like, pulled up her arm, pulled up our legs and we were wearing these little netball skirts, it kind of exposed it all.

Le’Nise: Oh, my.

Nicola: Yeah, I know, right? Beth said she was like, “I think you started your period.” And I was like,”Oh my goodness.”

Le’Nise: So what did you do?

Nicola: So I went to the bathroom, used tissue. And even though I knew that it was coming because I was relatively late out of all of my friends, I was turning 13, like I said, a week or two weeks after the start of term, I was still really surprised. And I just went to the toilet and used tissue.

And let me just get through the rest of the day if I could get home and tell my mom.

Le’Nise: You sound like you were, you, you took it on the chin. You went to the to the bathroom, got your tissue and got on with the rest of the day where some, some girls would have just fallen to pieces. 

How how did you know what to what to do and handle, how to handle it?

Nicola: Goodness me, I was expecting it yes, so it wasn’t kind of a major surprise. It’s not like I looked at the blood and thought, what’s that? And where’s it come from? Kind of thing. Yeah. And I suppose as a child, I was so used to just absorbing and getting on with it and also very measured about where I would show my feelings and where I wouldn’t. So I knew that I just needed to ride out the day. Just need to ride out the day and I can get home and then I can deal with it, so that can kind of compartmentalising. And I was a very sensitive and I still am a sensitive adult, I was a very sensitive child. And the way that I would deal with that is like, ‘OK, let’s just get through the let’s get through this lesson. Let’s get through this day. We get home to our sanctuary and everything will be OK.’ So it was kind of like that with the period as well.

Le’Nise: And what happened when you got home?

Nicola: Got home and told my mom and she was like, “Oh, my goodness, it’s here. It started. I can’t believe it’s in your first week of high school.” And then she got out all of the supplies and proceeded to talk me through everything. And then I was like, “What about Dad? Like. Do I have to tell him?” She was like, “Don’t worry about that.” I mean, I could tell that she told him because he just it just felt like he looked at me differently.

It felt like he looked to me. This is sudden, like concern like, “Are you okay, Nicola?” “Yeah, I’m alright.” And then that was it. Therein started the journey of menstruation.

Le’Nise: Your mom, she was quite welcoming and open when you when you got home.

And did, she did, she explain what was to come or was it just an explanation of what was happening to you on the occasion of your first period?

Nicola: I think it was really just about the first period, it was kind of like, well, this will happen. Well, I knew it would happen monthly, like I knew, like the ins and outs of it beforehand. And she was like, it might be painful and it will happen a few times, will happen once every month. And I can get you painkillers, a hot water bottle and here’s a basin and the cleanliness side of it and the hygiene side of it was, to be honest, now I reflect was the majority of the conversation.

It was almost like, now you need to keep extra clean. Here’s a special basin.

Which in itself is quite interesting, right?

Le’Nise: What was the basin for?

Nicola: To wash with. Over and above having like a bath? It was. 

Le’Nise: Oh, OK, so, you know, is it like you would we would wash your knickers separately or would you have, just talk me through what the basin like, how you would actually use the basin?

Nicola: The basin was for the basin was for soaking knickers, OK. And like washing them out where they, if they’ve been soiled and then. Also, the basin was if so, I would have a wash in the morning, but then if I felt like I needed later on, like throughout the day or something before, then there was the basin. 

Le’Nise: Right. OK, so this idea that you needed to feel you need to be extra clean and you needed to take extreme measures to have that extra cleanliness. How do you feel about that now?

Nicola: Now I can see that it was suggesting in some way that being on your period was dirty and that you, like you said you needed, I needed that extra layer of hygiene practise now that my period had started. Which is, yeah, just the connotations of that.

It’s just, I mean, without too much information, that’s not a practise I do now in my nearly 40 year old self, two kids later and like you have more of an understanding and even like that stopped pretty much pretty early, actually. 

I then went to university at 18 years old. So it’s. Yeah.

Le’Nise: And then from, from that occasion of your first period, how did you go through the rest of high school having come to, come to have your period amongst the later, latest of your friends, what kind of conversations were you having with your friends about periods?

Nicola: I don’t really remember us talking about them that much. It might be we would discuss when we were on our period and some of my friends would have had quite heavy ones. Where they wouldn’t have attended school, whereas mine were never like that, so I would be in pain and I’d be uncomfortable, but it wouldn’t be bad enough to not attend school or anything. So the conversation might just be oh I’m on my period, and also if we needed help to like to borrow a sanitary towel or a tampon or help getting it to the bathroom because obviously we couldn’t let anyone.

I was at a mixed school, so God forbid a boy would find out you were on your period. There was almost like this kind of we’d have to get together and collude in passing each other like it was contraband again. Now I look back and I’m just like we had to hide it so much or we felt like we did so there was definitely the embarrassment around it.

So we would come together in helping each other to navigate and going to the toilet and things. And it’s so interesting because then you weren’t allowed to go to the toilet mid lesson. So as a girl, if you asked to go to the toilet mid-lesson, certain teachers would be like, oh, OK, of course and certain ones, you know, go back and sit down and then that girl would have to go through the, actually miss or even God forbid, sir, I need to go to the bathroom with all of that, that we had to do that we would, we would help each other. We would cover for each other. But other than that, we didn’t really discuss them. 

Le’Nise: It’s so odd how teachers they, they, there’s this level of control where you if you have to go to the bathroom, they just, you have to hold it. Whereas you get to the rest of your life and if you have, you get told if you have to go, then go. And it’s just a lack of control and almost shame around going like toilet habits.

And then that extends to periods.

But I wonder with you said that there was it was seen as contraband and there was this kind of embarrassment there. Did you carry on this feeling after you left high school?

Nicola: I definitely carried it into the workplace. So it was just that, it’s almost like my period is something that’s happening to me and I then must deal with it alone, but also not let anyone else know I’m dealing with it. So it would be being in the office and needing to go to the bathroom and change my sanitary towel or a tampon and be like and stuffing it up my sleeve to go to the bathroom because I’d have to walk across an open plan office.

And if I took my bag, it would be so obvious that I would be like, let it be obvious like it. But it’s almost that level of having to protect, protect, even though I’m so conscious of the language I’m using to protect everyone from what I don’t know, but protect everyone from the knowledge that I was on my period, God forbid. I think so.

I definitely carried that element right through to to the workplace. Yes.

Le’Nise: And as you, as you got older, you said that in the beginning you experienced discomfort and pain. How did your periods become as you went into your 20s and 30s?

Nicola: So I went on the pill when I was around 18, 19, and I didn’t come off the pill until I was about 30. So I was on it for a really long time. And it completely I didn’t know it at the time, but it completely masked my symptoms. So my periods were really light, I had really minimal pain. So my relationship with my periods was very detached. I would also use the pill to control when they would happen. So if I had a holiday, a big night out, I just didn’t want them that month because whatever, I didn’t have them. So I became very much yeah, I was able to control them and I just became very detached from what they were. And because I yeah, I used to have kind of slight mood swings and alterations, but it wasn’t anything dramatic. Yeah.

Le’Nise: And can you talk a little bit about why you originally decided to go on the pill?

Nicola: Yeah, yeah. I went on the pill because of contraception.

Le’Nise: OK. Yeah. And then you and then you had the the secondary effects of having lighter periods, no pain, and then found that you were able to control your menstrual cycle. 

So when you say that you didn’t want to have a period when you were on the pill. Tell us what you would do.

Nicola: I would just so I was on. Oh, my gosh. I was on like Microgynon, which I believe is that is that the mini pill?

Le’Nise: Yeah. Yeah.

Nicola: So I would just carry on the packs and then you wouldn’t have a period.

It was like magic. Like magic at the time before I knew what I was really doing, but yeah.

So I would just, I just carry on. I wouldn’t.

Le’Nise: You were on it. You were on it for 12 years. And what made you decide to come off the pill?

Nicola: I decided I wanted to have a baby and I knew that, I just had a feeling that it was going to be challenging for me. Then it became a little bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. But I was like, okay, let me get this pill out of my system. I’ve had for so long. Also, around that time I had suspected PCOS. So when I did my reading up on that, the advice was like, the pill isn’t that great, so that combined with and knowing that I wanted to conceive fairly soon, I decided to come off the pill.

Le’Nise: And what made you what made you think that you had PCOS?

Nicola: So I’d gone to the doctor at that time. We had private health insurance through my husband’s work, and I’d gone for something else, which I can’t remember. And it turned out that I had an ovarian cyst. And so it was all those investigations. They found out I had an ovarian cyst which needed to be removed rapidly. So within they thought they found it, within six weeks I was in theatre and they were taking it out. And through that process she was like, you might have suspected PCOS. There was like extra hair that I’d experienced. And then there was another symptom. I can’t remember what it was now. And to be honest, the PCOS never got confirmed. It was then it was almost like she she thought I had suspected PCOS. Then she sent me for a scan. 

I had this ovarian cyst and then that kind of took over and we never really went back and investigated.

Le’Nise: And then did that have an effect on your, you then when you started to try to conceive?

Nicola: Yeah, absolutely. So there’s a bit of a story. So when I went in for the operation, for the ovarian cyst, when they opened me up, they realised I’ve got an abnormal reproductive system. So my fallopian tube on one side isn’t fully developed. And I’ve got a bicornuate uterus. So it’s like a heart shaped uterus as well as the fallopian tube on one side not being fully developed. So they, well, it was, it was really, really dramatic, actually, the day before my wedding. So six weeks before my wedding, I had the emergency operation and then the day before my wedding, I received a letter that I’d been cc’d on from my surgeon to my GP saying, telling her all of this and saying that it was really unlikely that I would conceive naturally. And if I did, that I would keep to term. So I found this out the day before my wedding. I was like devastated, literally. I was packing my bags to go to the hotel and got the letter. I opened it and read and read that. And that absolutely devastated me and so, did the wedding and that was all fine. But then that started a really like a year of trying and nothing happening, but knowing in the back of my mind that it was might be due to this abnormal reproductive system. So, yeah, it’s sort of a really challenging journey. But then I started after about a year, 18 months of nothing happening. I, I saw a naturopath. She was a homeopath and a naturopath. And she absolutely changed everything. Within three months of seeing her, I conceived, but I miscarried. So I ended up miscarrying three times. But then I conceived and it stuck. And then I was able to have my eldest daughter.

Le’Nise: Wow. So you, the day before your wedding, getting this news and having to shift from just absolutely finding that you might find out potentially that you might not have children to then shift into happy, happy families mode, and it’s interesting at the beginning, because you said that you had always been you’d been able to compartmentalise.

Did you find yourself doing that then?

Nicola: Yeah. And it’s only in talking to you now, Le’Nise, that I’m realising that that’s exactly what I did. It was like, hey, I can be devastated tonight, my look, my best friend, she stayed with me in the hotel the night before. She literally scooped me up and looked after me and then got to the morning. And it was like, you know what? This is my day. So whatever’s going to happen after this is going to happen afterwards, but I’m going to enjoy today. And I did. But it was that exact mindset of when you get back, like we went to Thailand on honeymoon, it was like you can process in a couple of days when we’re in Thailand, for now, you need to get on with it. And it’s so funny because I feel like I’m such a different person now. Now, I don’t know if I would do that. Now I bring my whole self to everything and I don’t because I don’t have to do that. Whereas back then and I feel like, like systemic and societal conditioning has meant that I will show certain parts of myself in certain situations, then being a sensitive soul, then being a bit of a chameleon means that, yeah, that I did and it’s only in talking to you was like, wow, yeah. 

Le’Nise: When you got back, you said that when you got back from Thailand, you allowed yourself to process the news you had been given. When you think back on what, the way that you were processing it back then, what, what would you say to that self about what you, the way you were processing this news?

Nicola: I would say to her to, I would say to her to start her self discovery journey then. I was starting it unknowingly. But I hadn’t yet discovered the world, kind of I hadn’t discovered the inner work, so if I would say to her, like, believe in the power of you, believe in knowing that you’re, you are part of something far bigger, start to connect with spirituality because that will help you. But then I was doing it all on my own, and I just took on the weight of it, but it was that that was kind of the catalyst to me, almost doing what I’m doing now and being part of this world and and being the person I am now. It sent me on this journey.

Le’Nise: Often when we hear about these stories of infertility or suspected infertility, women are talking about what they had to do and their journey, and we don’t hear much about how they were able to get the support around them, especially the support from their husbands. Did you fall, did you lean on your husband for support or did you feel like this was something you had to take on yourself?

Nicola: And I kind of did. I kind of did he was supportive in the sense that he was like, “Well, we’ll we’ll do whatever we can to make it happen.” So and after the third miscarriage, he was like, “Right, let’s look into IVF.” And I was like, “whoa, whoa, whoa. Like, we’ve got other options first.” So he was kind of very alpha male practical in that way. And at that time, he was also doing some, like big IT exams that were really intense. He was like flying off to Brussels to take these exams. It was a really intense period for him. And so he wasn’t as emotionally available as maybe I needed him to be, but at the same time, I am quite independent in the way that I process again, I think I kind of compartmentalise and I did that again to deal with that period say he was good and he wasn’t good.

Le’Nise: You had you had this experience and then you had a kind of you had a light at the end of the tunnel.

Can you tell us the work that a little bit about the work that you did with the naturopath that changed your, your reproductive health?

Nicola: Yeah, absolutely. Well, it actually started off with I went on a girls holiday to Ibiza and it was a really, it was a really fun holiday. It was also a really spiritual holiday. And one of my friends who’s into all of this stuff, we were up really high up in the old town and we were looking out on the stars. It was nighttime. And she was like, “Nicola, tell the universe what you want.” And I was like, “What are you talking about?” And she was like, “Tell the universe what you want.” And I’d never done that before. And so I did that. And that really kind of started a journey for me and then bless her, she would get me crystals and she would get me orange crystals and she would tell me to put them on my tummy. And so that kind of started things. And then when I started seeing my homeopathic naturopath, she sorted out my diet. She sorted out my stress levels because I was working in where I was working at the time, I moved from fashion marketing into public sector communications, which was less stressful than fashion, and it was closer to home, but it was still, yeah, a lot. And also I was so stressed about not getting pregnant as well. So that was a big part of my stress levels. So we worked on diet, we worked on stress, we worked on mindset, although I didn’t know that it was mindset at the time. And she gave me homeopathic remedies, which were amazing. So what would happen is I would see her after every period and we would have a download of like how was it like what did it look like? How long did it last? I was doing my basal temperature.

Le’Nise: Yeah. Yeah, basal body temperature.

Nicola: Yeah, I was doing that. So we would kind of do a debrief report and then she would adjust the remedies according to what kind of came up. And so she had a transformative effect on my life, like she’s the reason that I was able to conceive. And it was so interesting as well as I felt like I’d get a biology lesson, like I went through the whole of,. I mean, I started seeing her and I was be about 32. I just feel embarrassed to say it now. I kind of thought you could get pregnant any time, at 32 years old.

I was like.

Le’Nise: Well, you’re not alone there.

Nicola: Good because I’d gone so long just trying not to get pregnant.

And then and I literally just thought and my mom would always when I was young, a teenager giving me the talk like, “Do not get pregnant, Nicola, do not get pregnant.” So I literally just thought you could get pregnant any time. So when I sat down with, her name’s Cathy and she explained to me how it actually works, I was like, what?

We have a fertile window?

So in that year that we were trying to conceive, I did, I didn’t really know about all of that stuff.

So she yeah, she sorted me out from that point of view as well. So I was doing all the charting. I was doing everything. And yeah, I got an education and relearning and change in perspective and the homeopathic remedies really help. 

Le’Nise: So thinking about the education that you, that you got about what was happening to your body or what continues to happen to your body reproductively and hormonally, what what do you wish you learnt back in high school?

Nicola: I wish I’d learn, I wish I’d learnt how periods actually work in terms of that they aren’t bad, like I’m really excited to teach my daughters that they could use, that they can work with their periods rather than working against them. And when I found out about the seasons, that just changed everything for me, especially, as like a real creative person and a feelings person and and so much of my work is and how I am is intuitive. So being able to tune into that. It’s like a bit of a superpower. And so I wish I had been it had been talked about in that kind of way. I wish I’d known the power it is, rather it just being this thing that happens. And that means that now you can get pregnant. 

Le’Nise: It’s so interesting that what you’re saying, because so many of my guests and so many of the women I’ve spoken to have said that their menstrual health and their reproductive health education in school was very much focussed on this is what you need to do to not get pregnant. And they didn’t learn about, you know, what you’re saying about the seasons of the menstrual cycle, kind of the phases. And, you know, with menstruation being the winter and ovulation being the summer and how they really wish that they had learnt that. So, no, you, you’re not alone in what you’re saying when you so you were able to get pregnant. And obviously that was a real game changer for you after your first pregnancy. What did you what learnings did you take from what you did before you you got pregnant into your next pregnancy?

Nicola: Well, it was completely different, completely different experience, because I was so, I was so stressed and worried and anxious about not being able to get pregnant the first time, so when that happened, I was like, OK, I’ve got my one, I’m cool, this is fine. And there’s like a six, seven year gap between me deciding to go again. And the second time was much more of a considered decision like I knew I was walking into. There was a little bit like, is this the right thing kind of thing? And I was just a lot more relaxed about it, like really, really relaxed. I wasn’t, other than doing the basic charting, so I knew and I was fertile, but I wasn’t doing all of this stuff that I had done the first time. And it was very much kind of if it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. So I was literally and I was a different person in approaching that pregnancy than the first one. I was very much trusting and surrendering and also feeling really full and whole so that if it didn’t happen, I’d still be as happy as if it did. And it was my, yeah. Whereas the first time in literally I remember sitting down and talking to my naturopath and being like, I don’t know what my life will be like if, I can’t like, I cannot see my life without having a baby. Where is the second time I was just like, yeah, I’m totally leaving it up to the universe and the ancestors to do what they see fit.

Le’Nise: So you mentioned that mindset work that you did before your first pregnancy and then you’re the way you’re talking, you really hear the shift in the way you approach it. And you mentioned the word trust.

Talk a little bit about what you had to trust in order for you to go through that second, the journey to the second pregnancy. 

Nicola: I had to trust that my life was enough.

Regardless of what happened and trust that there’s a plan and whatever the outcome of that plan is, it’s okay.

Yeah, it was, it was more about it was about trusting kind of the powers that are bigger than us and also trusting myself. And I was in, I was in such a place of fulfilment and it’s kind of like, life is good either way. And what I wish I could go back to Nicola at 30 years old and tell her, even if you hadn’t have been able to have, yes, you would have been devastated. But life still would have been good. But I didn’t believe that I couldn’t see anything wider then becoming a mum.

Le’Nise: It takes a lot for us to be able to step out of where we are in that moment and see the bigger picture.

And, you know, they, they do say that hindsight is 20/20. But it’s interesting that shift that you, you had and you were able to take your, your experience and actually trust more and know that your life would be OK because it, it was OK. And it is OK. Just wonderful hearing you express it like this.

Nicola: Yeah, it is. And it’s really nice to be to be expressing it as well, because when you’re in it and doing life, you don’t often see an especially kind of this part of my life as well. Zooming up and out of it. Yeah, it’s really nice.

Le’Nise: Can you talk about the work that you do? Because you you’ve touched on it briefly, some of the personal development work that you do. But I know that your business really involves a lot of this, so talk a little bit about the work that you do and working with women. 

Nicola: So what I do is I help women to show up more wholeheartedly in their brands primarily. I’m trained in marketing. It’s what I’ve done since university. And I then I’ve got my coaching sets as well. So I kind of combine them to help small women businesses to really put that heart and soul into their brands and then move on the ideas that they’ve got. So and and I believe especially for Generation X women, where we have a lot of unlearning to do, a lot of places and spaces where we for various reasons have had to edit ourselves and assimilate and filter. And then we get to this stage where and then we had to continue to do that through corporate gets the stages of having our own businesses. And everyone’s like, just be yourself. 

And you’re like, number one, I don’t know who I am.

And then you want me to be it. I work with women on helping them kind of draw out the essence of who they are and then infuse that into their brands, because those are the best personal brands that are infused with who you are. So I talk about imperfection a lot and authenticity and just brand building from a space of telling your truth.

Le’Nise: Do you think that, that journey from being in the corporate world to to going to have your own business and having to show up as yourself and to quote unquote be, be yourself, whatever that is? Why do you think that’s so hard?

Nicola: I think it’s so hard because society tells us that we shouldn’t. Society tells us that we’re not enough. And so it then becomes we become so used to being what other people need us to be. And this goes for massively for Black women and women from marginalised communities where the editing and the code switching in order to fit in is prolific because literally the workplace or society is saying that you being assertive, for instance, in the boardroom, you’re suddenly aggressive. So when constantly like second guessing and having to think before we do and speak and be so that’s definitely part of it. And then also for all women, especially in the corporate space, there’s a particular version that is acceptable. And so it’s trying to fit into that mould. And then when we take it wider to advertising and marketing of which are I’ve very much been a part of, but it is designed to ride on insecurities. Buy this lipstick, and you’re going to feel better because you’re not good enough as it is. And so constantly going in, not feeling that being yourself is enough. So it’s, it’s complex and it’s layered and it’s nuanced. And I’m endlessly fascinated by it.

Le’Nise: To make that shift, to be able to show up, show up as your whole self, what would you say that you said there’s nuance and there’s lots of layers to it. If you’re talking to a woman who is at the beginning of that journey. What would you say that she needs to start doing?

Nicola: The first thing that I believe that she needs to start doing and it’s a task that I get people to do in my in my signature programme, Wholehearted. And it’s it sounds like a little bit of a strange one because I get them to shine the light outwards before we go inwards. But I get them to tell me who their wholehearted inspo is. So who is the person probably on the Internet who they look at and they just like I love what they do. I love the way that they show up. And at the beginning, they feel really removed from that person. So the type of women that I attract, they’re empath, sensitive souls, they’re big hearted creatives so often, the women who all that in how in space are the likes of Brené Brown, Liz Gilbert and people that are really showing up unapologetically. And so they see themselves as being so far removed from them. And what they will see as we go through is that what you aspire to be like, what you’re inspired by is actually a reflection of what is within you. So that’s one of the first things I get to them to do, is actually to look outwards. And then after that, very quickly looking at what lights them up, what brings you joy, what lights you up. And then we can start from that place and all the way through my thing is imperfection for the win, like where can you strive to be imperfect?

Le’Nise: Do you think that a lot of women are coming away from this, this trap of perfectionism?

Nicola: Absolutely. Perfectionism is what is stopping us in so many ways. And it pertains to the question you asked me earlier about being in like corporate spaces and not being able to be yourself. It presents this image of you’ve got to be perfect as a woman. We have to be like we’re told, we have to be perfect. Anything less is not acceptable. And so we’re constantly reaching for what we all know deep down is unattainable. And that either keeps us stuck and doing nothing at all because it’s kind of like, well, why bother? Or it keeps us tired and exhausted and overwhelmed trying to reach this pinnacle of perfection that doesn’t exist. So, yeah, it’s what holds so much of us back. And then the other layer to perfectionism as well, is that it’s, it’s like a protection mechanism. And if I’m perfect, no one will criticise and judge me. 

Right. And what we all know is that even if we were perfect and perfection doesn’t exist, we’re always going to get the judgement anyway. But it is so interesting where it’s used as a protection.

Le’Nise: Yeah, I can totally relate to that. What happens when women, they embrace imperfection?

Nicola: Oh, gosh, it’s liberation happens. It is so freeing to be able to rock up and trust. It’s that word again, you’re able to trust what you know, trust who you are, trust what’s going to come out of your mouth is is OK. Trust that what you’re going to tap onto the keys and write is OK and enough. So it’s just freeing on a real practical level. It saves time and. Right. Like you’re not procrastinating as much. 

It doesn’t get rid of procrastination. I wish, but not as much. You’re not rerecording that video 10 million times, not deliberating over every decision. You’re not, a big one that’s coming up for my clients right now is overpreparing. 

I like I can’t remember this saying something like prepared to fail or. Failed to prepare or prepare to fail?

Yeah, I hate that. It gets drummed into us probably from school and there’s an element at school where we need to study for exams. 

So it’s helpful. But then as women, we take that on and the amount of women I see overpreparing. Which then seeps into over delivering. And it’s all coming from a place of, if I over prepare and over deliver, I’ll be perfect.

And then I won’t get judged.

Le’Nise: How would you connect with the idea that, you know, for, for Black women, that you get told that you have to work twice as hard just to be on it, on the same playing field? So there is this level of overpreparing and overworking that that you do do because you feel like you will get judged not only for what you’re doing, but because of the colour of your skin.

Nicola: That is a big one. And that is one that I consciously reconcile every day for myself and absolutely my Black clients I’m helping them through that because it’s it’s a belief and it’s a truth. But our job is to be very conscious of it. Right. So it can lead so many of us down that road of burnout because we are pushing and pushing. And it’s kind of like, well, what about the suggestion is if if you didn’t push so hard, if you trusted, again, that what you’re delivering is enough. That, yes, you are going to be judged harsher, like I’m not going to a beat around the bush on that, we are judged by a different standard. But if we just do the best with what we’ve got and where we can, and that doesn’t mean staying up working longer or doing more. But actually, it means if we can trust what we’re doing and what we’re delivering and I believe infusing more of us into it. That is actually where the magic is, in authenticity. And probably if we were having this conversation 20 years ago, I mean, we’d be a lot younger, but it would be very different. It was a very different time that we were coming up in. Now is our time like we can. I’m saying to a lot of my Black clients at the moment, you just need to be, right, now just and we’ve never been told that before. We just need to be and work from that place? And I do believe the condition of work two times harder, it has to be conscious, we have to, because it’s so easy to to get into every day and have us burning out.

Le’Nise: Yeah, yeah. Well, lots of food for thought there, as I knew there would be, because you’re so full of wisdom.

Can you tell listeners if they’re here connecting with what you’re saying? And I think I, I need to work with Nicola. How they connect with you?

Nicola: Yes, absolutely. So Instagram is my main playground and I’m there @alifemoreinspired and my DMs are always open and they come and have a chat with me there. And then I have my signature programme, which is Wholehearted, which is just, oh, it’s beautiful. Someone described it as a warm hug and a loving nudge, but it really is taking you from having your idea for your brand by the end of it, having a clear voice, stepping into your authenticity, and also importantly, creating content that connects and converts because, you know, that’s what it’s all about. So, yeah, that’s that’s one of my main things on my membership as well, which is a beautiful, beautiful ecosystem. Yeah. 

Le’Nise:If listeners take one thing away from what you’ve shared today, what would you want that to be?

Nicola: It would be imperfection for the win. If people could walk around their days and just remember that that would yeah, that would bring me so much joy and I think that would be the most helpful thing that I could leave.

Le’Nise: Thank you so much for coming on the show. I knew this was going to be a brilliant episode and it really is. So thank you so for being so open and showing up as your whole self. 

Nicola: Oh, Le’Nise, thank you so much. Honestly, this conversation is just warmed my heart and. Yeah. Yeah. Thank you. 

Period Story Podcast, Episode 43: Jenn Pike, Your Body Is Your Friend

I know I say this every week, but I am so excited for you to hear this episode of Period Story! I spoke with Jenn Pike, a functional nutritionist and medical exercise specialist and we had a wonderful conversation about the power of our menstrual cycles, our period as a report card and the information it gives us and how to exercise in a way that is synched to your menstrual cycle. And of course, Jenn shared the story of her first period! Be prepared to take notes because Jenn shares amazing information and tips!

Listen to hear the story of Jenn’s first period, which arrived when she was at Canada’s Wonderland, a Canadian amusement park (for my British listeners, think Alton Towers!). She says that when she thinks back on it, she wonders why she didn’t learn more about it at school and home.

Jenn says that she now has really open conversations with her son and daughter about periods and menstrual health. It’s important for her son to understand that this isn’t something to shame girls about and he can try to take care of them instead.

Jenn started tracking her menstrual cycle when she was 17 (!!!). Listen to hear why she started tracking at such a young age and what she learned about her body and how to take care of it.

Jenn says that our period every month is a report card, telling us what’s happening with our bodies and giving us the opportunity to heal ourselves. She says that when you understand what your body is telling you, it will change how you show up for yourself in your life, your career, the way you move your body and so much more.

Jenn wants all of us to know that our bodies are our friends and they’re not against us. Our bodies want us to feel the most vital, the most energised, the most loved and the most balanced possible! Thank you, Jenn!

Get in touch with Jenn:

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JENN’S BIO

Jenn Pike is a Functional Nutritionist and Medical Exercise Specialist. She specializes in women’s health and hormones and is the Bestselling author of “The Simplicity Project” as well as her two cookbooks The Simplicity Kitchen and The Simplicity Body.

She is the founder of the global and revolutionary women’s health programs The Hormone Project, Synced and her Simplicity Body Movement series. These programs are dedicated to teaching women what they should have known about their bodies all along; the incredible healing abilities, wisdom and power their bodies hold and how to bring them to life.

You can catch her weekly tips and tools on her podcast The Simplicity Session and her youtube show Simplicity TV. She sits on the Advisory Board for STRONG Fitness Magazine and contributes to CHCH Morning Live, CTV, Global, CP24 and Breakfast Television.

As an inspired Wife and Mom of two, she understands that true well-being is a journey to be enjoyed not a struggle to be forced. She will inspire you to create more Simplicity and Ease in all you do!

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: Welcome to the show, Jenn!

Jenn: Thank you so much for having me.

Le’Nise: So let’s go straight into it. Can you tell me the story of your very first period.

Jenn: Yes. So I was 13. I was in Grade 8, and it was actually this summer between grade eight and going into high school. And I was at Canada’s Wonderland with my friends, which for those of you who aren’t from Canada, it’s a giant amusement park. Think like Disney World, but on a much smaller scale. Anyways, it’s not the place that you want to get your period for the first time.

And I was not prepared. Looking back, I don’t think I was really in touch with my body in that way in terms of noticing any signs or symptoms. I just remember walking and all of a sudden feeling this gush and being like, uhhhh… And luckily two of the girlfriends I was with already had had their period. So I said, like, “I just feel like I peed my pants.” They were like,”Oh, my gosh, I bet you got your period.” I was like, “What? No!”

And then we went into the bathroom and I was like,”Oh my gosh.” I didn’t have anything, they didn’t have anything. And back then they had like the twenty five cent cardboard, no name brand tampons that were on the wall in a machine. And so I got one of those. So I had to use a tampon for my first time having a period and we had just gotten to the park. This wasn’t like part way through the day and our parents weren’t picking us up for like eight hours. And at that time where this amusement park was, there was no like pharmacy or drugstore around. It was literally off the highway in the middle of nowhere. There was like a gas station there. And so I had to use this cardboard tampon that I had no idea what I was doing with. I also, there’s no cell phones. I couldn’t call my older sister or my mom and be like, “Can you walk me through this process?” My girlfriends had never used a tampon. They’d only used pads. So they’re like coaching me on the other side of the door. None of us know what we’re doing. And I, I insert the tampon and I walk out and I’m like, this is so painful. I had left the entire cardboard applicator in as well as the tampon. I had no idea that that was just how you get it in and then you pull that out. So for the next hour, I’m walking through the park and I am like, this is this is the worst thing ever. How do women have this for like 40 years of their life? 

And so, we are in line to go onto a ride. And I’m like whispering to them, you guys like this cardboard is killing me. How do you make this pain go away? And there was a woman in front of us with her small kids and she was like, “I don’t mean to interrupt, but do you still have the cardboard for the tampon inside of your body?” And I was like, “Yeah.” And she’s like, “No, no, you are not supposed to.” 

So we went back to the bathroom, got another quarter, tried it again, and then it was much more comfortable.

But I was just like, “Oh my gosh.”

Le’Nise: How do you feel when you look back and you think about that story now?

Jenn: I think to myself, how did I not know? Like, where was the conversation in any of my classes in school or even with my mom and my sister? Right. I understood what tampons and pads were and there was no weirdness around periods in our house. My older sister is 12 years older than me. So like she was 16 when I was four, I was exposed to a lot of things at a young age that is very normal. But I think because things were so normal in our house that they didn’t go into detail. Right. And like, tell me certain things. And then I think back to grade five, six, seven, even grade eight of like sex education and health, and that there was never that conversation that went into that kind of detail. So looking back, I’m like, oh, my gosh, I wish I knew. And then it kind of spears’ this off side conversation of, well, what else didn’t I know? Right. So, yeah, my oldest, she’s 14 now, and so and I have five nieces that are all older and my, one of my nieces was 10 when she got her cycle. So she was quite young. And so when my daughter was around that age, I had really open conversations. I put together like a little package in her backpack with like a fresh pair of underwear and like a panty liner and those kind of things. And we had those talks so that she did not have to go through that. 

Le’Nise: So when she got her period, has she already got her period?

Jenn: Yep.

Le’Nise: And there was no surprises for her?

Jenn: No, actually, she, she took it like a champ. She just came home one day. I think I got my period and I was like, tell me more. And she was like there was just like stuff in my underwear. And so, I just used the stuff that you brought me and my other friends, you know, they knew what to do. And so, like, it’s fine. And she was very asymptomatic with her cycle for a very long time. And I taught her to start to track, like, right away so that she had this idea and not even just tracking, you know, when it was coming, how long it was when it was ending. But also, like, just start to notice how you feel so that because especially in your first couple of years, you can have very irregular cycles and you can be surprised. We talked about the tying the sweater around your waist, if any accidents happen and all of those little things.

Le’Nise: Wow. I mean, you just wish that every, every girl had a mom like you with all this knowledge that they go into, when they get their period, they’re totally prepared and totally nonchalant. like your daughter.

Jenn: Yeah, it’s interesting, too, because my other child is a boy, our son, who’s 12 now. But ever since he was, we’ll probably like, Emerson, it was four years ago we started having these talks with my daughter. So Sam, our son, he was around eight. We just are very open and they’ve grown up in my studio when I owned it, in my home, teaching women, hearing all about hormones, health periods. And so it’s not gross to them. It’s just like, “oh, God, Mom. Like, again, stop talking about it.” Right? They’re just over it.

But he, growing up, I always made sure for him, he also understood that, you’re going to have friends and class and girlfriend at some point in life, and you might notice that her mood changes, that she’s a bit more emotional, you don’t call her bitchy, you don’t say, is it that time of the month? You don’t make rude comments to her and it’s going to happen when you’re around at some point where some girl is going to get up and you’re going to notice that blood has leaked through on her pants or on her chair or something. You do not be the kid that makes fun. You take your sweater off and you give it to her to wrap around her waist. Like I was very clear about those things: as a boy, that this is not something to shame girls about and take care of them.

Le’Nise: That is ,that’s so beautiful. I love that and I wish that more, more parents taught their sons that because these conversations aren’t just for girls, they’re for boys as well. And this is how we break these taboos about periods and menstrual health and move away from this idea that we’re supposed to be bitchy or we’re supposed to be, quote unquote, moody cows.

Jenn: Yeah. Yeah, I know.

Le’Nise: So when you got your period, you were at Wonderland. And then what happened when you got home?

Jenn: Oh, my gosh, I got home. And it was another, another girl’s parents who had picked us up. So when I got home, I got home and I went to my mom, my sister and I was like, “Oh, my gosh, you were never going to believe what happened to me.” And I was like, “I got my period today.” And they were like, ready to have a freaking cotillion for me, like, you know, that episode in The Cosby Show. And like, Rudy gets her period and they have like the menstrual parade. And I was like, you don’t understand. And I told them what happened. And they were like, my sister: “Jenn, oh, my gosh, I can’t believe you left it in.” And I was like, “I can’t believe no one told me that you’re not supposed to leave it in.” And yeah, so it was and then it was just a thing of, you know, that my mom going and get me all the things, putting a basket under the kitchen sink, the bathroom sink. But my brother and I shared a bathroom at the time. And so again, he was like, an older sister. It was no big deal in our house. My dad was aware, like it it just was never a hush hush, like this is bathroom talk kind of thing. And there was three of us women in that house now at that time that we’re all menstruating. And eventually we all ended up on the same cycle as well, too. So then my brother, my dad would just be like, oh, you know, a few days leading into it.

Le’Nise: You know, that’s really interesting that you say that, because whenever there’s any discussion of that in like magazines or newspapers, inevitably, you get people saying, oh, well, that’s been debunked. You know, women’s cycles, they don’t regulate to each other. But then you hear all of these stories like women in the same household where their menstrual cycles do align. So I just, it’s more proof that actually, there’s more to this than we realise.

Jenn: Oh, my gosh. And I would say as a health and hormone practitioner and I only work with women in my practice, I would say that I have like, unequivocal data to prove that those articles are wrong because majority of the women I’m working with are mothers and they are in sync with their daughters or they’re in sync with their coworkers.

They’re in sync even with, like long distance friends that they have. The more they talk about their bodies, the more they talk about their cycles, the more open, vulnerable and honest the relationships they have in their life, the more attuned they are to what is going on. I find that it just there is like this interweaving, this webbing that happens with the women in their life. And everybody starts to become within a few days of what’s going on in their cycle.

Le’Nise: That is so fascinating. And when they’re, when their cycles are actually seen as a positive thing in their life, they kind of get the benefit of aligning around the follicular phase, that energy of ovulation. And you can just see all the benefits of that. So this is what happens for you and your daughter?

Jenn: Yeah. So it’s interesting. I don’t think she picks up on it as much just being her age and she has other things she’s thinking about. But for me, I definitely do like, I notice how she walks into a room, the way that she communicates with us. And because I do cycle synching, I’m just very aware on that level. And it’s actually a really, it’s become a cool parenting tool, the dynamics with my husband and I because she’s in a mood or whatever, and he’s like not tolerating the mood. I’m like, hey, just so you know… Is there ever a safe time for me to let her know that that’s not appropriate to act that way or behave, or is it always because I’m like, no, you just have to understand. And and the other thing I always say to my husband and my son is like, here’s the thing. If you just let it go and give her the space to just feel the way and granted like we’re not talking, like being rude and belligerent and whatever, it’s just like if you notice it, just pretend you don’t notice it. Like let her just have her space, because that’s really for us as women. All we need is we just need to be able to feel like it’s a safe environment to, to feel how we want to feel. Let us move through that. And the faster we get to move through it, the better we feel what we like.

Le’Nise: I mean, just so many lovely parenting gems you’re coming up with here that listeners can take away. So when you go back to your experience in high school, so you are about to go into grade nine, you got your period and you said that your, the education you got in health wasn’t that great. So how did you then educate yourself about your body? And then what was your relationship like with your period?

Jenn: So going into grade nine specifically, I don’t remember a lot changing in the beginning, but coming in towards the end of grade nine, like I had my first serious boyfriend and there were definitely, I mean, being in high school, you’re hearing more about people being sexually active and the conversations were changing and circumstances were. And so for me, I’m adopted. And my birth parents were 15 and 16 when they had me. 

 And I knew this story my whole life growing up. And so in my mind, when the conversation in school, the education of that time in like sex ed was how not to get pregnant, there was kind of this hard wiring in the back of my mind where I was like, oh, my gosh, I am like living proof that this can happen, right? Like, this is how I was born. And so, I became very curious about how not to get pregnant.

So for me, when I thought that I was going to become sexually active, it wasn’t just about the pill because I was like, I’ve also heard that’s not one hundred percent and that you possibly could get pregnant. And so I was like, well, I want to learn more about barrier method and right, so condoms. And then I was like, I learned I mean, from a young age, I understood what spermicides were and those types of things like using foam. And I was very well versed to the point by grade 10 in gym class, we were learning about things in health and we’d go back in the change room and I would say to my girlfriends, “OK, we just learned actually not true. I’m going to tell you the real deal.” And so I was essentially teaching these classes at the age of like 15, 16 years old in the locker room after gym class. And then by 17, I was I was tracking my cycle. I was actually, pen and paper. I had graph paper. I was in a yoga studio one day. I was 17 years old. And there was this book called Taking Charge of Your Fertility. And I started to read it and I was like, oh, this is fascinating, I thought reading the cover, it was like how you’re going to get pregnant.

And for whatever reason, I started to flip through and I was like, wow, this actually is not just about if you want to get pregnant, this is if you want to really have a deeper relationship with your own cycle, your body and understand your health. So I started tracking at 17. Now, I was on the pill at that point and no one told me that when you’re on the pill that that’s not a real period that you get. I didn’t know that I didn’t ovulate at all when I was on the pill.

I really, I didn’t understand really what it was, other than I needed to take it at the same time every day, and that this would prevent me from getting pregnant. And so beknownst to me, I was tracking all the way through being on the pill. So when I came off of it, I actually went into a very healthy cycle right away afterwards. But in high school, it was more so just recognising and noticing that no girls knew anything about their body. I was just like baffled by it. And at the same time as when I was really into health and fitness and I was in a gym environment and I was changing what I was eating. And it just, I was always referred to as the weird one, like I was the black sheep, the purple duck, because I was bringing, like, salad and vegetables to school while my friends were eating poutine and pumping out liquid cheese on their fries. I was the weird one.

Le’Nise: Poutine! So Canadian. 

Jenn: So it was, it was more so just like this is this is not the norm. What I’m doing, what I’m interested in, what I’m reading about, what I’m talking about with my friends, this is not the norm. But I’d always be the girl that when my friends would start to become sexually active, they would come to me and be like, “OK, what do I need to use? How to protect myself? What do I need to know about my cycle?” And so what I do for a living now, for me, it’s no surprise because it just became this evolution issue.

Le’Nise: There’s so much I want to ask you about. Is this having this self awareness when you were so young is incredible, but also just doing all of this while you’re on the pill. So talk a little bit about why you originally went on the pill,

Jenn: Because I knew I was going to become sexually active. I had a boyfriend. I knew that that’s where things were going to move to. And so I actually went to my mom and I was horrible timing on my part. I went to her and she was getting ready for work in the morning. And I was and I sat on the edge of the tub and I was like, “Mum, I think I should probably go on the birth control pill.” And she was like, “Why?” And I was like, “Well, I think I might have sex.” And she was like, “Lonnie!”, which is my dad’s name. Right? Calls my dad and my and I’m like, “Mum!” So he came up and she was like, “Nothing like, we’re fine.” Anyways, I just said to her, “Look, I’m coming to you because I understand what can happen. Hello again. Birth parents, very young and I want to protect myself.” And so she was like, “OK.”

And so she booked me an appointment with the doctor and I went in. But I still continue to not only use the pill and use a condom, like I was like doubled down on that because I again, like I just, I think it was that just knowing in the back of my mind, like, this is not just a story they tell us to scare us as kids like girls legitimately get pregnant when they are still a child. And so, yeah, it was that. And then I think also, too, I’ve always been very curious about the human body. My dad exposed me to a gym when I was like five, six years old. He was always very active. My mom was doing Jazzercise with the local ladies and I just loved how it felt. And so the older that I got, I just continue to move towards things for my body. That brought me closer to that. And I remember when I was in school to become a holistic nutritionist, one of our teachers one day was teaching a subject. And this is going back like 20 years ago now, called estrogen dominance. And I had never heard of this term before. I had no idea what this meant. 

And I was 21, 22 at the time. And she, in a part of her talk, went on to talk about the impact of the birth control pill on our gut, on our health long term, on our mental health, on all of these different things. And I was, I was flabbergasted because at no point in taking the pill for seven years at that time had my doctor asked me any of those questions, explained any of the things that could happen. And when I was 17 on the pill, I started to have breakthrough bleeding and I was like, this is not normal. And I went back to my doctor and I said, I’m having these breakthrough bleeds. And he was like, “OK, we’ll put you on a different one.” And he put me on a different pill. And within two weeks I had put ten pounds on an entire bra size. I was crying. All the time I felt like I was losing my mind and I was like, “Mum, I have to go back to the doctor. Something is wrong with this pill he has put me on. It’s the only thing that has changed in my life.” And I went back to the doctor and I explained to him what was happening with my body. And he and I remember I am 17 years old and I’m crying as I’m telling him this because I’m like, my body is not the same that it was literally two weeks ago. I’ve not even gone through a full cycle of this pill. He looked at me and said, “You know what, why don’t we maybe talk about a low dose of Prozac, an antidepressant?” I was like. What, what and I was like, “No, I just need you to not have me on this pill, can you put me back on the other one or a lower dose? I was like, I’ve been reading about this.” And so he switched me back to a lower dose pill and those symptoms went away. But I left that office and I was like, that was my first moment of, wow, here I am as a woman, as a girl. At that time, I have literally laid out for you exactly what is going on in my body. You saw me two weeks ago and I was not in this state. You know, the only thing that has changed in this, is this pill. And you were prepared to not only keep me on this pill, but then stack me with an anti depressant at 17 years old.

I, I was just, like, flabbergasted.

Le’Nise: And you, it makes you think how many other girls, not even women at that point, girls are on or were on antidepressants unnecessarily because…

Jenn: A ton because I work with them in my practice.

And the stories are. Oh…

Le’Nise: So you what you had this experience with your doctor, did it change and you had to have this experience of breakthrough bleeding on the pill, did it change the way that you felt about your period? Did it change anything else at that point, even like your relationship with their doctor?

Jenn: The relationship with my doctor, I became very, I was very wary in anything he recommended to me after that because I was like, you don’t get it. That was my whole thing. And in my head, I was like, it’s because he’s a guy. He’s a man. He doesn’t get it. I later went on and later in life after having babies and had female doctors and understood. You also don’t get it. So I don’t think this is a person issue. I think this is a system issue. And then in terms of my body, you know, at that time it was tricky for me because I knew that I could use the spermicide, I could use condoms.

But that also felt outside of me because that was the responsibility of someone else. And so I stayed on the pill because I did not want to get pregnant. And I didn’t really feel at that time like I had many other options. And there wasn’t a lot of women around me talking about other options, which is why I firmly believe that, you know, at 17 was the same age this happened to me. It was only a matter of months later when that book, Taking Charge of Fertility, like, literally fell off a shelf at me at a yoga studio, which then led me to read Dr. Christiane Northrup’s book, Women’s Wisdom, Women’s Bodies. And it sent me down this loophole of. not loophole, rather this like rabbit hole, beautiful one, of really just discovering. And then it was like a full circle moment sitting in that class all those years later having this instructor talk about estrogen dominance. A lot of the symptoms that I had actually struggled with that I was told are normal because you’re a woman and you have a period now and you’re on the pill and all these things are going to flux and change. But no one gave me solutions. No one was telling me to, you know, nourish my body in a certain way to take B vitamins and magnesium. Like none of that.

None of that.

Le’Nise: You see a lot of these women who have had a similar experience to you but have gone the way of taking the antidepressant in your practice now. What are the kind of things that you tell them that you wish you had heard? You mentioned magnesium, vitamin. What other other things that you tell them? 

Jenn: Yes. So the birth control pill is very depleting on our body, our minerals. It impacts our gut microbiome almost identically to the way that an antibiotic does. So a lot of us can’t wrap our head around being on an antibiotic for five, 10, 15 years. Yet this is like the actual life cycle of a woman being on the pill, averages a decade or more. And it’s like I said, it’s very depleting and it will rob your system of a lot of the core nutrients. So I work with them on helping to heal what’s going on in their gut digestively. So are the bowels eliminating this is a big part, like are we able to actually break down the food that we’re consuming and be free of struggle, of bloating, of gas, of indigestion, of pain, of constipation, of diarrhea. So that’s really the first pillar is making sure that their gut health is on par and that they’re regularly eliminating. And then it’s helping to bridge the gap of where some of those nutrient deficiencies are. So it’s helping to build a foundation.

And I don’t know your your listeners personally, obviously, so please, those of you listening, take these recommendations with a grain of salt and always work with someone. Making sure things like the complete B vitamins, magnesium, vitamin D, those are like some of the core essentials, probably restoring that bacterial balance with a good quality probiotic as well too and some healthy fats, some omegas.

We don’t realize also the impact that the birth control pill has on certain elements of our cerebral cortex and our brain because it’s impacting the gut, your gut and your brain. They’re sharing the same blood barrier. So oftentimes, there’s going to be suppression of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which those are our free anti anxiety, anti depressant hormones that we can produce. But if we have barriers there, if we have injury to our gut, that then impacts the way that our body is able to produce those and then obviously how we feel. So, yeah, and then working on what they’re putting in their body food wise, I mean, our food is that is what’s restoring our system. That is what is balancing us, that’s what’s literally getting into our cells, which we’ve learned this is as far as you can go back in science, no matter where you live in the country or what grade you’re in, like the powerhouse of the cells, the mitochondrial energy, that is what everything is made up of in our body. And so teaching them about how to step away from focusing on the macro, which is the calories, the carbs, the fat and the protein and how to actually focus on the micro, like let’s get the nutrients. And then once they’ve worked on that, I will teach them on the certain foods at different times in their cycles. And it really honestly, it depends on the woman, because for some they’re just ready for all the information right out of the gates and for others, there is a period of grieving what they didn’t know and what they went through. And so I work with women individually and I work with them in group settings, and I’ve just learned that I don’t go in with an agenda anymore. I go in and I listen.

And then based on what that woman is dealing with, how she feels about it, there’s a lot of women that when you start to talk to them openly, like it’s so amazing that you do a podcast like this, because there’s a lot of trauma for a lot of women in their period story, not just about the period itself, but the environment around them when it happened, the way they’re made to feel the lack of proper education and love and support they were given to about their bodies. And so women need to feel safe, that they can openly grieve and move through that trauma of going through that experience.

Le’Nise:It’s so fascinating to me that you’ve you’ve talked about the idea of grieving for what they didn’t know. These women who they’re, I speak to so many women in their 40s and their 50s who say, I just wish I had learned this. My life would have been so different. And I think just connecting that with the way that you’re educating your daughter is incredible. And, you know, it’s something it’s something that a lot of us can aspire to, having these really open conversations and moving away from shame.

If you could, if a listener is hearing this and they are saying, well, this is all fine and well, but I feel a lot of shame around my period. What would your message be to them?

Jenn: First of all, I understand why, because everywhere you look in society, we’ve been conditioned to feel that way, not just about our period, but about our body and being a woman in general, like there’s always something to hide. There’s always something that’s not good enough. There’s always something that should be changed. And what I want you to know is that your period, like you being a woman, you were literally given a superpower. Our period is a superpower and it is a superpower of the divine feminine, but also divine intuition. It is a compass that we can tap into every single moment of every single day. And if you’ve never been taught how to use this tool, it’s going to take time. But our period every month is a report card. We literally are the only human beings that walk around and can check in with ourselves on such a visceral level, on a regular basis and understand what feels good and what doesn’t, what appears to be normal and what doesn’t, what are our signs and our symptoms and start to understand the terrain of what is going on hormonally and our body. And this is, it’s a beautiful gift that we wouldn’t be here if our bodies didn’t have the ability to do this to create. And, you know, that’s a lot of the messaging I teach to my daughter and to the younger generation that I’m working with is that, you know, this is a generational gift. And, yes, there can be generational trauma and information that that comes down with it. But each of us have the opportunity to really, you know, flip the page and to heal ourselves in this way of understanding that your period is your voice. Your period is your body’s voice literally speaking to you on a regular basis and letting you know what is going on and when, you can start to understand that language. Because that’s literally what it is, it’s like a different language that none of us have been taught from a young age, and then you just it’s like once a month you’re dropped into this other country with a new language and you don’t understand what’s going on and you just kind of roll with it.

You suck it up. And that’s what life is like for a lot of women for that week on their menstrual cycle. And so, you know, helping them to understand that this is a gift be our response to this gift are our journey. And this is to elevate our education.

Right. So it’s following women like yourself. It’s working with women like myself. It’s understanding that there is this entire collective of women like us that we’ve literally created a livelihood out of this because we’re so passionate, because we know the difference of how you can show up in every facet of your life. This is not just about having a more manageable, healthy period. This is how you show up in your relationships, how you show up in your career, how you show up with your self-confidence, your self-esteem, your self worth. When you can get this part down for you, you stand taller and stronger on your own two feet. 

Le’Nise: There’s so much again, there’s so much in what you’ve said that I think listeners, you should rewind and take that all in again, taken Jenn’s knowledge and her wisdom. 

You’ve talked about the, the gifts that you can get from your period and your menstrual cycle and how you can connect more with different parts of yourself. I want to touch a little bit on the exercise side of it, because that’s such a big part of what you do. Talk about how women can use exercise as, align exercise with their menstrual cycle.

Jenn: Yes, so I created a program called Synched, which is about synching up your movement, your exercise to the different phases, the four different phases of your whole cycle. And so the reason that I did this is I have been in the fitness industry for 24 years. I’ve been teaching classes since I was 17. I’ve done fitness competitions, worked with athletes, you name it. I’ve been there, taught it and done it. And what I kept realizing and noticing is that so many women were training the same way that men would be. They were going in with a grunt mentality. They were always and oftentimes, truthfully, women were working harder than the men. They were doubling down on double cardio sessions, cardio and strength the same day, never taking days off. They were not respecting the fact that their body is not on a 24 hour cycle like a man’s is. That we can have anywhere from 23 to a 35 day or longer cycle, and that each different phase that our body is moving through impacts our energy, our performance, our recovery, and that by showing up every day and always going hard, long and intense, you are actually creating diminishing returns not only on your physical goals, you’re wearing your nervous system down, you’re depleting your adrenals, you’re impacting your thyroid health, and you are sending a message to your brain into your pituitary gland that is controlling how healthy or whether or not your ovulation is going to happen, the quality of your eggs, your fertility overall and all these things that we do in those fertile years as a woman are what set up perimenopause and menopause and beyond. So I started to create this because I wanted to move my body in a way based on my cycle, and I could not find an actual system that would help me to lay it out, create a calendar where I could press play and go. And so I started to fiddle around and put these together for myself. And I was sharing with my team one day what I was doing. And our director of programming was like, “Why are you doing this quietly and not letting anybody know you have to put this out there like there’s nothing that exists like this”, because she had been looking for something and I didn’t know she was looking for something. Excuse me. And much earlier here than it is over there, morning voice.

And so what Synched is, is I have created a series where during your follicular phase, so follicular phase is that period of time. Once your bleeding is done, bleed week is over and it’s like where you start to feel connected to your body again. It’s like, oh my gosh, OK, like I can reemerge now back into the world. And so it’s a great time to actually challenge yourself. The follicular phase is also the best time where the neuroplasticity of our brain is a woman. We are hardwired to start something new. You will have a better chance of actually sticking with it if you start this in the follicular phase. So it’s a great time for heavier lifting. It’s a great time for a little bit more intensity. And then as you start to transition into ovulation, ovulation is like this. Look at me, very outward energy, high feminine. I am in charge. It’s a very it’s a woo energy. Right, because ovulation is meant to, like, woo in a partner. Right. To procreate life so we can use that woo energy to add a little bit of spice during that period of time into your training. Now, all these things I’m saying is that taking into account you have a healthy nervous system, your adrenals and your thyroid are in check, and you are not exhausted because if you are any of those things, then there’s a beginner approach that I give you in the program so that we’re not further plummeting your your body state of health, but saying that you are healthy, everything is going well, out of ovulation, you come into the luteal phase, which is the longest of the four phases, and this the first week of the luteal phase, is still a really good time to be lifting weights using your own body. But I like to shift it where we go little bit lighter in the actual load, but a little bit higher and repetition and love incorporating more yoga into this period of time as well, too, because yoga for me is like the coming home to our body. It incorporates your breath. It’s a very intuitive way of moving. The longer that you do it, you really just start to access different energy channels in your body. And it’s very calming and takes us out of that sympathetic state, which when you’re in the follicular and ambulatory phase because you’re like literally unstoppable, it’s what it feels like in your energy. You tend to function in that higher fight or flight stress space. Very reactive, quick to decision. You’re an action taker in that period of time.

The luteal phase starts to draw you into the parasympathetic, which is more like pull back and analyse, complete the things that need to get done and start to prepare for the fertile void, like that winter, which is the bleed week. And so as we start to taper into the end of the luteal phase, it is definitely encouraging more things like fresh air, walks outside, yoga, pilates. We’re still strengthening your body, but in a much more compassionate way. And you become the tool and the equipment as opposed to barbells, dumbbells, those types of things.

And then the bleed week, the first couple of days is you like rest. If you want to walk, that’s fine. I also teach women how to do uterine and abdominal massaging using a tool called the Coreageous Ball. So it’s amazing to help to also free up restrictions in the diaphragm to bring us back into our belly breathing. And also if they have any type of crepitus or scar tissue, whether it’s from an abdominal surgery, they have a history of fibroids, cyst, uterine pain. We will use this ball in those first few days to help to ease that. And then in the couple of days after once, typically for most women, they’re more challenging days for their menstrual cycle are days one through three. So by the evening of day three, I’m talking about foam rolling and deeper, stretching, nadi shodhani, like alternate nostril breathing. And then by day 4, 5, 6, 7, now we’re starting to move our body again. But it’s, again, yoga based. So it’s like we enter into a cycle with the coming home to our body. We start to phase out of our cycle, back into the coming home, and then that sets us up if we’re there and feeling it to move back into that follicular phase.

Le’Nise: How long does it take women to typically get into a groove with understanding how to move according to their cycle?

Jenn: I find about four to six months. 

Four to six months is typically what I find, because it all depends on how often they’re showing up to this type of movement, and it’s hard the first couple of months, especially for women, like I was this woman who was always used to intensity training for a goal, measuring it, benchmarks, all of that. 

I would start and then I’d be like, oh, this isn’t long enough, this isn’t intense enough. And then I would swing back to what was comfortable and what I knew. And then I would not recover well, not feel good. And I’d be like, oh, I’ve got to get back to my Synched. And so they do this back and forth because women don’t trust their bodies. They do not trust that they can do something effectively in less than 40 minutes a day. Sometimes it’s 12 minutes a day. And that, that is enough to make their body feel good because we are not being taught to feel good. We’re being taught to look good.

And there’s a big difference. And a lot of women are living out of alignment with that. So they’re doing the workouts that do not feel good, that are killing them, that are making them exhausted for the rest of the day, burning out their system, that are actually increasing inflammation, creating a plateau with their weight and leading to more issues because they believe the story that they have to look a certain way, way a certain amount, be a certain size. And if they don’t… fill in the blanks, because for all of us, it’s something different, I won’t be loved, I won’t be valued, I’m not worthy. It’s we all have that. I’m actually reading this book right now that is blowing my mind. And it’s called Patriarchy Stress Disorder. And it goes through all of this of like, how every layer of our life is the coating as women that we have been ingrained in us, that our role is how we’re supposed to function, show up.

Look, all of these things and I read this book and I’m like, oh, my gosh, this is every woman I know.

And it it bleeds itself into everything we do, including our movement, which exercise is not meant to be torturous, and we’ve been taught that because of slogans like no pain, no gain. Right. And like the Beachbody mentality of like P90X just grind it like insanity, wear the shirt that’s like sweat dripping. That literally says insanity. Yeah, that that is fucking insane. Right. And that we are not programed that as women. So what happens on a hormonal level is the more you are a grinder with your exercise, you are stepping into a more androgynous, more yang, masculine energy that pulls you further and further out of your own feminine and further and further away from being able to listen when your body is whispering because whispers we will look at as weakness. They don’t matter. Not a big deal. I can suppress that. I’ll take an Advil. I’ll take a Tylenol. I’ll take something. I’ll just move through it until the whispers get seriously agitated and start to yell and start to kick and start to scream, and now you can’t get up in the morning, you are gaining weight, you have horribly painful periods. You have massive breast tenderness. You have hormonal migraines. You are losing fistfuls of hair. You have no sex drive. You are not sleeping. Those things do not show up overnight. There were whispers and signs, but we don’t believe them and we don’t trust them because that’s not what the outer world is telling us. 

Le’Nise: What happens when women, they start to get into alignment with their bodies?

Jenn: They become so much more compassionate with themselves. There is a level of grace that starts to show up in how they move through their life. I notice with the women that I work with Synched, in The Hormone Project, their entire tone changes like the tone of their body, the tone of their words, like the language they choose. There is a softening that happens. In some women, there is a fierceness that shows up and it’s like a beautiful fierceness where it’s like, yes, I have known this woman was in there who has needed to speak her truth and needed to come forward, and it’s allowed her to do that. But I would say for most of them, the feedback in Synched around that third fourth month is I never knew it could be this easy and have this great of results, meaning like I never knew that I could only move my body for less than an hour a day and feel so good and all these other parts would start to come into balance.

Le’Nise: So that’s definitely something that we should all be aspire to, being in sync with our body, being in alignment. If a listener is, they’re taking in everything you’re saying and they’re thinking, gosh, there’s so much here. What would you want them, the one thing for them to take away to be?

Jenn: Your body is your friend. And there are beautiful messages that are being communicated to us on a daily basis. But we need to create the space to not only hear them, but to then also like absorb that like soak it up and take it in. And you don’t have to analyse everything. You know, my response when my body communicates something is, “Huh.” 

And I just breathe in around it and then I’ll continue to move forward, and as you do this, you will naturally, you will, you will be blown away at how you start to choose things differently for yourself. And so your body is not against you. Your body is not broken. Your body has no agenda coming after you. Your body ultimately wants you to feel the most vital, the most energized, the most loved and the most balanced possible. Our body is not what is in the way, it is us that is in the way. So we need to learn how to sidestep that and saddle right up next to it and start to really listen and massage and receive those messages and lead forward from there and give yourself time, ladies. This is not something you’re going to achieve in 30 days. And this might take years depending on how long you’ve been going through things. But, you know, the gift is, is that the sooner that you can start to do this, the better your relationship will be, the better your transition into menopause will be. And, you know, it’s just your health overall. Your menstrual cycle is the gateway into your health of your entire body. 

Le’Nise: Your body is your friend, your menstrual cycle is a gateway into the health of your entire body, words to kind of burn into your brain. Beautiful words. 

Where can listeners find out more about you?

Jenn: So they can go to my website, www.jennpike.com. Instagram is where I spend most of my time. And that again is @jennpike. And then I have a podcast, The Simplicity Sessions, and we talk all about women’s health hormones and so much more. 

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

Jenn: Thank you so much for having me.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 42: Arianna Radji-Lee, Talk About The Stuff That Is Scary, Uncomfortable and Embarrassing

On today’s episode of Period Story, I am so happy to share my candid conversation with Arianna Radji-Lee, the founder of Pachamama London.

We had a fantastic conversation about birth control, how Arianna transitioned off the pill, the importance of being open and honest about what you’re going through, Arianna’s fertility journey and of course, the story of Arianna’s first period. I can’t wait for you to hear this episode!

Arianna said that from the beginning she felt as though her period was negative and something that wasn’t to be spoken about. She says that she feels completely differently about it now and is very outspoken about her menstrual health.

We talked about Arianna’s contraception journey and she shared that she didn’t have a period for 10 years. Once she decided to come off the pill, in preparation for starting a family, she had to relearn what having a period was like for her.

Arianna also shared her fertility journey. She says that in the beginning, she became a ‘trying to conceive monster’ trying to do all the things and trying to get it right. She says that it’s challenging because she’s been so public about her fertility story.

Arianna says that we need to talk about the stuff that is scary, uncomfortable and embarrassing because other people are likely going through the same thing. Thank you, Arianna!

Get in touch with Arianna:

Website

Instagram

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ARIANNA’S BIO

Arianna is the founder of Pachamama, a company that supports women’s transition into motherhood by offering pre and postnatal health and wellbeing events, and access to a growing network of child experts, health practitioners and like-minded Mamas. 

When she’s not working on Pachamama, Arianna freelances as an event consultant in the marketing and creative industries; and until recently was bopping to beats as a spinning instructor at boutique fitness studio, PSYCLE.

Arianna’s always had a relentless curiosity of new cultures and foods, which means she’s rarely in one place for long, either planning an upcoming trip or sharing details of the latest one on her travel recommendation website, Anonymous Traveller. A born and bred Londoner with Persian heritage, Arianna lives in North West London with her hubby.

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

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

Arianna: Oh, thank you so much for having me. It’s really interesting to be on this side of the podcast this time being interviewed.

Le’Nise: Let’s get started and get into the first question I always ask my guests, which is tell me the story of your very first period.

Arianna: Yeah, so I don’t think it was a great one, I don’t think it was anything to necessarily kind of like write home about. I mean, I knew I was 13 and I was a little later than a lot of my friends. I remember there being a lot of blood. I remember being in a bit of pain. And I remember I wasn’t at home. We were, I think, at a family friend’s house and my sisters were there. They’re much older than me. And my mom was there. And I went to the bathroom and I was and I just saw loads of blood. And I was like, “fuck Mum!” And I think I screamed for her. And then she came and and then she was like, “okay, let’s let’s let’s get you home”, because we weren’t really prepared for it. And I, I do distinctly remember her kind of mouthing to her friends, like “she just got her period”, which then I think because it was so hush hush, it kind of made me feel that way about my period, I think for a very, very long time. So that was like the first, I remember that was distinctly the first day I got it. But other than that, I don’t really. I remember my period in a really negative way. It was something that I never really spoke about. I went to an all girls boarding school, which for, you know, 100 likely 100 percent of the girls there were having regular cycles or irregular cycles, cycles of some sort. And aside from complaining about it and calling it the curse and using as an excuse to get out of stuff, I don’t really remember talking about it in any sort of positive way, which I think now is absolutely mental.

Le’Nise: So OK, so just take a step back and so, your first experience was at a family friend’s house when you got your period and your mom whispered to her friends probably to try to keep it discreet, but also not to embarrass you. Although it’s funny because I’ve had other guests on the show whose mom said: “she’s just got her period” and shouted it out to everyone. So you had a different experience? 

Arianna: Yeah. And to be fair, I think if my mom had shouted out and made it some sort of celebratory thing, I would have been angry. So it was a lose lose situation from the start.

Le’Nise: When you got it, did you have any sense of what was happening to you? 

Arianna: No, I don’t think so. I mean, it was a really long time ago, and I I have a terrible memory for the finer details of stuff. But I don’t I mean, yes, I mean, in biology, we kind of learnt about, you know, I remember ovaries and fallopian tubes and and how the how the egg comes down. But aside from that, I don’t really think I recognised what it meant at the time that it was, you know, starting your your womanhood journey, you know, breaking a you know, breaking into the different state, next phase of your life. I don’t think that it was ever discussed or thought about in that way, either at school or at home. So it was never something that made me feel. necessarily good, if that makes sense. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, so you were at an all girls boarding school and again, your experience is really interesting because I think about guests that I had on last week’s show, the last show that just came out, and she was saying that she went to an all girls school and she felt really empowered by her period. And it was just talked about like it was a normal thing. So your experience is quite interesting in that it was very negative and it was talking about like the curse and you. I don’t know, I just wouldn’t expect that from an all girls school.

Arianna: Yeah, neither would I thinking about it now and maybe I’ll have some some of my school friends listening and being like, “no, that’s not right, I had a really good experience. We talked about it all the time in a really positive way.” But I honestly don’t think that was the case. And maybe it was just that way for me.

But I don’t you know, I don’t remember, you know, now I sit down with my girlfriends and I’m like, yeah, I’m I’m a week away. Or like, I’m in dead of winter. I’m on my period. It’s, you know, I kind of, I kind of tell people where I’m at because I have a better understanding of what that then means for my moods and my behaviour. And I can inform my friends and my husband. Whereas back then it wasn’t spoken about at all. It was just like, yeah. I’m on the curse, and that’s that was kind of it, and I think maybe maybe it’s because, like, the school that I went to was relatively traditional, was pretty old school. So it wasn’t necessarily that open about these sorts of topics and bodily issues that not even issues, just bodily functions that can be seen as a little bit icky, but actually completely normal. 

Le’Nise: So you you grew up with this idea that during in your teenage years, that having a period was like a curse because that’s the language that was used around it. So then talk about what happened with your relationship with your period as you graduated from high school and then went into the next phase of your life.

Arianna: How old is high school?

Le’Nise: Secondary school.

Arianna: OK, so yes, 18, right. Sorry. And up until those kind of late teens, early 20s, my period was, was always quite a rough time. I remember just having a lot of but just having a lot of pain just before and during and yes, still not feeling particularly comfortable with it, which is a really tough thing, if I think about it now from 13 all the way up to that age, it’s really hard to, on a regular basis, have this happen to your body that you’re not really that comfortable with. And that makes me now feel quite sad about it because I have a completely different relationship with my period now, but then I kind of like when I went to university, was kind of the same, really, I mean, it was just it was just kind of not a nice thing that happened. And it wasn’t until sort of early 20s when I met my now husband, boyfriend at the time, that I actually then went on the pill and that almost I mean, that changed absolutely everything for me. 

Le’Nise: What made you go on the pill, was it contraception or was it to regulate your period?

Arianna: It was a bit of both, I think. I mean, he was my first sort of like long term boyfriend. So I was like, okay, let’s let’s go on some sort of contraception. But also the way that I think the GP at the time had described it to me, it was like, you know. It will help manage the pain. It will help regulate your period, it may even stop your period, because I went on the mini, mini pill and so I was like, yeah, tick, tick, tick. Let’s try this thing. I went on the non mini pill first, and that didn’t really sit well with my body. I remember like, my boobs just got really, really big and I felt even more uncomfortable. 

But then I found one that really suited me and I was and I stuck with it for like 10 years. 

Le’Nise: And you didn’t have any issues at all with it?

Arianna: I didn’t have any issues at all. No, I mean, I didn’t have a period. So for me, coming from a place of, you know, my period is this actually really painful, really inconvenient, kind of gross thing to not having it at all? I actually was, I felt so liberated and I had, I remember over the years, you know, people saying, but you’re but what about all these you know, these hormones that you’re, like, pummelling into your, artificial hormones that you’re pummelling into your body? I was like, yeah, but hello. No, period. I feel amazing. But I felt really kind of constant because I guess I would because I didn’t have oestrogen peaks or progesterone highs or whatever. So. So yeah, it felt at the time exactly the right thing that I should be doing.

Le’Nise: So 10 years without a period at all. So 10 years is a long time. It’s a really long time. Yeah. And to go from having these periods that you said were affected you quite a lot, were painful, were heavy, to then 10 years. So actually going into your adult life without a period and then when you presumably at some point you stopped taking the pill. Talk about that. What happened there? What what was that decision around deciding to stop? 

Arianna: So that that was really interesting. And I listened to one of your more recent podcast with one of your guests, and they said that transitioning off the pill was a total breeze and she didn’t feel any different

And I was like, that is not my experience.

And so I decided to come off because my husband and I, we got married a couple of years ago and we were like, OK, we’re going to try and start a family. Let’s try and start now. I’ve been talking about my, my period and coming off the pill for a while at Pachamama and it’s been a, it’s been a it’s been an ordeal. It’s felt like an ordeal for me. So I came off last October and but I specifically went to my GP and I said, “if I come off the pill, how likely is it, you know, how quick can we get pregnant?” And he was like, “”t’s almost immediate.” So I thought, OK, you know, it could be almost immediate. You know, you’re you know, you hear all these hear all these things. You read all these bits online, and it’s like you’re most fertile when you immediately stop your contraceptive pill, et cetera, et cetera. So I was like, great, I’ll just come off and we’ll just have loads of sex and I’ll be pregnant within, within months. But I, I, I mean, it didn’t happen like that. It hasn’t happened like that. I came off the pill. I remember literally the day I stopped taking it, rushing into Boots and buying a fuck load of tampons, a fuck load of pads, expecting it to come literally any day and not really remembering or knowing how to handle it, just knowing that it wasn’t a good experience. It’s heavy. It’s painful to just stock up on Feminax and be prepared. But it didn’t come for two weeks. It then didn’t come for four weeks. And I was like, oh, God, this, I’ve done something wrong. I’ve done something to my body here. It’s kind of freaking me out that, why isn’t my period coming? I come off the pill. The GP said, you know, these things, everything will kind of go back to normal. It just didn’t. And so I really sort of started to panic and then wondered maybe people were right. Maybe I was on the pill for such a long time, putting all these drugs into my body that I’ve done something awful. And I spoke to a friend of mine who was in a very similar situation. She’d been on the pill for eight years, I think. She’d just come off it. She hadn’t had her period for two months. And her GP had told her it can take up to six months to get your period back. So I was like. I was kind of annoyed, I was relieved, but I was also really pissed off that my GP hadn’t been disclosed the full information about coming off the pill.

And then I was really, really I think I think it was almost supposed to happen this way because then when my period did come after two months, I got it in December, just at a friend’s wedding. I remember that. I was so relieved. I was so relieved. I actually cried, I think, a little bit. I was like, thank God, I’m bleeding. And for the first time, I was actually, like, grateful that I had a period because it just meant that I hadn’t totally fucked up my insides and things. Things are OK and think, you know, my body is doing what it’s supposed to be doing. So I had this, like, massive wave of relief and sort of gratefulness about my period, which I had never ever really felt before.

Le’Nise: Wow, there’s so much to unpack in what you’ve just said, so the fact that your GP said that you would get your period back, like instantaneously or within two weeks, it’s just, I mean, everything I know about this is that you should really, it can take up to six months, sometimes even up to a year to get your period back, because you’ve just been, you’ve been suppressing ovulation in your menstrual cycle for so long that, you know, it stands to reason that, you know, it’s 10 years of not having a period. It will take time for your body to understand that. Well, firstly, for the pill to actually come, detoxify out of your system, but also for your brain to then know, oh, OK, it’s time to, you know, restart the engine.

So time to restart that oestrogen and progesterone production. So I’m really sorry that you you went through that, because that’s really, it’s traumatic because you had this expectation that you were going to get your period and then you were going to start your fertility journey. 

So talk about what happened after you got your period. So two months after you stopped the pill.

What happened after you got your period?

Arianna: So I got the first bleed, I guess, after 10 years, and then and then I thought, OK, it’s going to kind of go back to normal. It took a really, it took another six months, I think, for me to become regular. So my first cycle was about 50 days. The second one was 40. Then it went down to 30, and now it’s somewhere between 21 and 30 or whatever. It’s still, it’s I can kind of expect to know when it comes, but it’s still I still convince myself that I might be pregnant at the end of every cycle, which is in itself exhausting. But I’m a type A, I like to, I’m a real planner. I like to like have all the facts and figures. So I did a lot of listening to kind of period stories. And a book that kept coming up over and over again was Maisie Hill’s Period Power. So I read that during that first cycle and the way that she talks about harnessing your hormones and the different phases as seasons, I kind of read the chapters on the seasons as I was kind of going through them. And I basically just tried to clue myself up on as much information about what is happening to my body at different stages, which has been absolutely amazing. Like I feel so much more. I’ve gone from this sort of, feeling of really sort of insecure and, and almost naïveté and ignorance around what happens to my body, to feeling completely empowered and quite excited when I get my period or I’m at a certain stage and I kind of, I kind of understand what’s happening or at least I think I understand what’s happening and then I can sort of live my month in ways that best suit me. 

So I guess since that first period, I’ve just been on this sort of like learning journey about what happens to your body and kind of what it needs for everything from sort of the way you work out to what you eat and how you should work. And, you know, these aren’t necessarily like hard and fast rules. But generally speaking, yes, when you’re in the menstrual phase, you should take exercise that is slightly lighter. But then yesterday I woke up, I’m on my period right now. Yesterday I woke up and I really needed to go for a run. So I did. So obviously, you know, it’s very dependent on how you feel that day. But just knowing that I can listen to my body and do what it needs and be OK with it, if not moving is, is a is what it feels like doing today. And that’s okay. Whereas before I think I never really had to think about that because I never had a period. So I didn’t have the peaks and the lows and the and the changes. So I just was like go go, go the whole time. So yeah, I think I’ve basically just learnt a shit ton about the way that I am because I was also quite nervous about who I was without the pill, I still have I think I, I think I’m a bit of a psychopath now. I’m not going to lie literally.

Like it’s it’s really, it’s really difficult to sometimes regulate. But I don’t like this sort of Jekyll and Hyde situation that I can sometimes find myself in in the run up to my period. I find that really hard to manage. There are some things that I you know, I really still, I’m I’m still struggling with the way that my body just changes. It just changes shape. It looks completely different in one part of the cycle to the next.

So I’m learning and learning to kind of love the bits that I don’t like as well. But yeah, that’s basically what I’ve been doing is is just trying to get as much information and live up live the cycles, the way that would make me feel best in each of those different parts, if that makes sense. You like, I just I don’t even know if I answer the question. 

Le’Nise: You know, you did answer the question and I said something really interesting there. So you had ten years of being completely kind of level, the same, not having the highs and lows and now you’re experiencing the highs and the lows and sometimes the highs can be high and sometimes the low can be low. And what I like to say to the women I work with is that the lows, they don’t have to be low. You know, you can you’re never going to be as level as you are when you’re on the pill. But it can be kind of like a gentle, rolling hill of emotion. It doesn’t have to be kind of like this mountain summit of like, the summit and the the kind of. What’s the what’s the word I’m looking for, you know, the bottom of the valley? Yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly. So that’s been a really interesting transition from where you emotionally learning who you are off of the pill, and if you think, I just want to go into that a little bit, so if you compare Arianna on the pill to Arianna off the pill, what would you say the biggest differences are? 

Arianna: It’s a really good question, I mean. Now I feel a lot more feminine. Not that I didn’t feel feminine before, but I definitely feel a lot more womanly, I guess. And I say that because not that I didn’t feel that before, but I definitely feel like that now. So I must have there must be a shift there somewhere, I think, because I can almost relate to women generally more now, given that I have my own cycle, whereas before I thought I couldn’t because I, I didn’t understand it. I didn’t experience it. Whereas now I. I definitely feel that sort of feminine energy, I guess. I definitely feel a lot sexier at the good parts of my cycle.

And I definitely feel more empowered because by nature of learning and and gaining that knowledge about what happens to me and my body, I feel a lot stronger. And I like to kind of share that, share that wisdom because I even though.

I’m only learning about it now, I have friends that have had there, they never went on contraception and they’ve had their periods for their entire lives, but they don’t they still don’t necessarily know the intricacies of of what happens to the different parts of their body.

And you necessarily like what they should eat or how they should, you know, or what’s recommended that they do.

 So I like to kind of to kind of share that. I think that the highs are definitely more, I guess, potentially meaningful now, given the. It’s it bounce and, you know, it goes up and down a little bit. I think probably more frequently than before I did say that to my husband. I was like I was like, have I always been like this? Or is it just more noticeable now? 

And he’s like, I think you’ve always been like this. So maybe actually hasn’t changed that much, but I’m just maybe a little bit more sensitive to it.

I don’t know. But yeah, I definitely think compared to before, I feel I definitely feel a different type of energy and I definitely feel a lot more empowered and in control of my body in a way that I wasn’t before.

Le’Nise: Empowered and in control that I think those are really strong, important words, I want to just touch on something you said about your husband noticing the changes in you. And what is really interesting is there’s some research that shows that women who have met their partner when they’re on the pill, if they come off the pill, they notice that they might feel differently towards them because the pill suppresses those pheromones that attract us to our partners. And I know you met your now husband when, before you went on the pill. But thinking about your relationship with him, did you, do you notice any differences with regarding that? So being on the pill and now being off the pill.

Arianna: That is so interesting. I didn’t know that at all about the pheromones. And I, I, I was actually really nervous about coming off. I said, oh no, I said to him on numerous occasions is like, you may not like me, like how is that going to work? But no, I mean if anyone who’s not met my husband, he’s he’s the most incredible man and I don’t say that lightly. He’s made me a much more kind of nicer and grounded person. But I don’t think it’s changed anything. 

I think he may have noticed that I can get more sensitive about things around certain times of the month, but we’re pretty open about it. 

I tell him, OK, I’m in autumn, so I know, I track everything, or at least I try to where I look at, look at, look at the cycle and it tells you when you might be PMSing. So I just give him a forewarning. I’m really tempted to put my my cycle days in his diary so that he’s aware. But yeah, no, he’s, he’s pretty good, he’s pretty chill, chilled out person. So he can, he definitely knows how to. How to, I want to say handle me, but that’s just a terrible way, just how to have to give me space when I need it and how to comfort me when I when I need that. But actually, if anything, I think I’ve definitely, definitely got a higher sex drive now that I’m off the pill. That’s definitely something that I should have mentioned before. So for us in that respect, it’s also been great. 

And that’s why I say when I feel when I think maybe what I meant when I’m saying I feel a lot sexier is that I definitely have that libido back, which I think sometimes the progesterone only pill can, can sort of diminish.

So. So, yeah, no, thankfully he still likes me and we’re still happily married. 

Le’Nise: And in terms of your sex drive, so you’ve got you said you’ve got it back and the, what are the differences that you noticed? Is it more you are more likely now to initiate sex or your orgasm. Stronger, more sustained? Talk a little bit about that. 

Arianna: Yeah, I just find that.

I yeah, I want to have sex more often, and I’m likely the one to initiate it most of the time. Orgasms have always been pretty intense. So they’ve been good. I haven’t noticed, I don’t think any sort of major shift in that. But in terms of just when I feel like having sex and wanting sex is definitely been on the up since I’ve come off the pill.

Le’Nise: OK, and now I like to just talk a little bit about your the fertility side of your story. So you come off the pill nearly a year ago, you got your period back two months in and you described how at the end of every cycle you have this anticipation of potentially being pregnant. Can you talk a little bit about what you’ve been doing to support your fertility? 

Arianna: Yeah, not much, to be totally honest. The first few months of coming off, so I got my first, I came off, I came off the pill in October, I got my first period in December. And then I remember I said the cycles were really, really long. So it’s only sort of in around April, May, I’d say May even of this year. So only a few months ago have they really started to sort of regulate.

So it was kind of giving my body a bit of time to adjust and kind of get back into a more, I guess, regular cycle. 

I said I did nothing, I’ve just remembered I took loads of supplements, so so like I said, you know, I’m type A, I’m like, okay, what do I need? What do I need? What can I get? I remember that meeting that I had with the GP. He was like, if you want to just before you start and when you get pregnant or just as you’re trying and and when you get pregnant, you should take folic acid. So I bought folic acid and I was kind of taking that for a while. 

And then somebody had recommended some, some fertility supplements, which included folic acid. So I, so I took that instead. Then I bumped into another friend who said, “oh, I take these sort of other sachets and, you know, it’s actually for PCOS, it’s for women who suffer with PCOS. But they’ve you know, all my friends have taken them and they’ve been pregnant within three months why don’t you take that?” And I was like, OK, why not? And then it was like I was doing the basal body temperature. I was peeing on ovulation sticks. There was a month where I basically felt like some sort of stuffed turkey, literally. I would like, it was just it was way too much and I was like, OK, you need to chill out, to the point where, like I’d be like I said to my husband, is that right, that we need to have sex like have sex today. And it doesn’t work that way, you know? You know, I work late. He works much, much later. So to even to just try and switch off from work and try and have sex because you have to that’s it just doesn’t it literally doesn’t work.

So I think I became this sort of like trying to conceive monster. I was so extreme just trying to do all of the things and trying to get it right, because that’s how I’ve always been.

That’s that’s how I do everything, if I really want to if I really want to do something, then I’ll, I’ll work really hard to do it and I’ll and I’ll do it, unfortunately, you know, with work and with whatever it is, unfortunately, in this situation there’s not a whole lot I can do. A lot of this is out of my hands and I’m a major control freak. So to give up that control, to just try and just let it happen organically and actually is a real challenge for me. And I think that I do it every every month. I’m like this, I’m just going to going to just try and chill. I’m going to take one supplement that’s been recommended by a physician and that’s just let’s just have sex when we have sex, if we can try and do it over the fertile window, more so over the fertile window than great. But let’s not be, let’s not let’s not get so mad because I can get really sort of tunnel vision about these things.

But, you know, but still at the end of and I’m like, every time I’m like, I’m not going to take a pregnancy test, I’m just going to wait for the period to come. 

Like but every single time at the end of the cycle, I manage to convince myself that I’m pregnant because I didn’t know my boobs feel different or because this hasn’t come this time, or because I put on this much more weight than, you know, whatever it is. And. And I’m not and it is exhausting, it’s exhausting and it’s hard because I also think because I’ve made my period in public and fertility story relatively public, you know, it’s on The Pachamama blog. I talk about it on Instagram a lot. I also fear that there’s this sort of expectation that whenever I see someone after a few months, that I haven’t seen them now with like sort of lockdown down, lifting, etc.. And you can see friends. I’m, I’m concerned that they’ll be like, are you pregnant or expect me to say I’m pregnant and I’m not. And I think that’s more in my head than theirs. No one’s thinking about me. Everyone’s thinking about themselves. I get that. But I, but I feel like because it’s out there, I’ve got an additional layer of expectation to hit, which is which is quite tough sometimes. 

So I’m trying to now find ways of sort of relaxing and and being a bit more sort of like forgiving for my to my body and my my mindset more than anything else, because the more I think about not being pregnant, the more stressed or anxious they become. And I think that that’s obviously just terrible for your insides and your, you know, both physically and mentally. So I’m actually running a yoga fertility course on Pachamama, which I’m actually partaking in myself, which is great. And it started last Friday, but I’ve been doing the practices and that really sort of. Even if it’s more for my mental state, it just really sort of grounding, which is good. But yeah, that was the long answer. I know, but yeah, it’s a lot.

Le’Nise: Yeah, it’s what you said. It reminds me of you said you had this feeling at the end of one cycle that you were like a stuffed turkey. And it reminded me of this episode of Sex and the City where Charlotte was trying to get pregnant and she was doing all the things. And then she finally goes to acupuncture because everyone was doing it and everyone got pregnant after doing acupuncture. And then by the end, she just, like, totally loses it. And I think it’s really important when it comes to fertility for everyone to know that they’re on their own individual journey. And people are really well-meaning and they want to share well, this worked for me and that worked for me. But in the end, you have to figure out the right way for you. Of course, there are supplements that are really great to take. So you mentioned folic acid. I typically will recommend folate because it’s a natural form of folic acid. Folic acid has been linked to tongue tie and cleft palate in babies. So that’s just a little little tip there.

But knowing what supplements are right for you to take because you know, you’re still healing after being on the pill. And so what’s right for someone with PCOS isn’t necessarily going to be right for you as someone who doesn’t have PCOS. But I think it’s interesting because when we’re trying to get pregnant and I think about my own journey as well, you just clutch at anything that you think is going to get you there because you’re and I’m thinking back ong my own experience. You’re so desperate to get to that goal you want, you’re so desperate to get pregnant that when I if I could go back and speak to my self back then, I would say, calm down. You know, it’ll happen. Just enjoy the process, you know, and but it’s hard because you lose perspective, completely lose perspective. So I want to talk a little bit more about what you said about letting go and finding ways to let go. You mentioned the yoga fertility for a fertility course that you’re doing. What other ways are you, what are the things are you using to let go a little bit?

Arianna: I’m a terrible ‘let her goer’, but I I mean, yoga in general, I only really started to do since lockdown. 

My husband was always into it and he sort of bought me a mat and pulled it alongside his, you know, at the start of lockdown, and I don’t do that often, I don’t you know, I’m not a, I’m not a regular yogi, but I try and do at least once a week, and I do. Whether it’s fertility or not, it’s definitely helped me get some space. I use an app to try and meditate when I only when I think I really, really need it. So sometimes. And again, this isn’t just about the fertility journey, just about sort of whenever I get a little bit anxious with work or I feel slightly overwhelmed about stuff, I put on a ten minute meditation and that that’s sometimes really helps. I’m alot better at saying I’m doing these things than actually doing them. Walking really helps getting outside. That’s definitely a game changer for me. I also started running, which I normally used to hate, but I find that if I do it for more therapeutic reasons than physical ones, I really, really enjoy it. And it doesn’t need to be long. 

So I guess either stillness or getting outside really, really helps with that.

Le’Nise: That’s really interesting, stillness. So it’s like taking it back from this feeling of, that you always have to be doing to this feeling of being so being a human being rather than a human doing. See what I did there?

And it’s really important that you’re if you’re going back to the basics, it’s what do we need to sustain ourselves? So connecting with our breath, connecting with nature, connecting with these feelings that will then switch us into this parasympathetic calming state. I love that. Now, talk a little bit about your business, Pachamama. You’ve mentioned it a few times. Tell listeners what what it is, what is and what why you started it. 

Arianna: Sure. So Pachamama, as it is at the moment, is a network of parents, mainly mums, mums and health practitioners in women’s health and child and baby, baby and toddler experts that sort of come together to support women’s transition into parenthood. We do a whole bunch of free stuff through Instagram live and on Zoom, kind of talks and kind of Q&As. But we also do a few sort of paid for courses and that kind of go deeper on certain topics. The end game, though, for Pachamama was to always have a sort of physical space or spaces across London. And the idea is, whilst it’s shifted online for covid, either online or in, in real life, is to create the sort of destination for women to come to to sort of get back in touch with not who they were before their baby, but definitely there’s definitely a shift in identity when you become a mother. And so it’s just to kind of give them a space to come to you to feel safe and supported whilst also giving them, even if it’s a couple of hours in their day to kind of do what they need. So at the site, we would have, you know, on site childcare so that they could then work for two hours or have a coffee with friends or have a coffee alone or do a class or have a treatment. And that’s what I’m trying to create. I think, you know, sharing knowledge and bringing people together and communities is a is a massive part of what I do in my day job. 

And I wanted to kind of create that for, I guess certainly the next stage of my own life, because I if I’m headed that way, that’s something that I desperately would like to have in existence when I get there, because obviously I’m not a mum yet. 

But I, I before I started Pachamama, I spoke to a lot of women, mainly friends first and then and then kind of their wider NCT groups and did surveys and and and had sort of focus groups and really sort of and it really kind of hit home that a lot of the needs for, I guess, modern motherhood aren’t necessarily met here in the UK at least. And so I wanted to see how I might be able to fill that gap and support them in ways that that they need, that they can’t find sort of elsewhere. 

Le’Nise: I love that, I love what you mentioned about that transition in identity, because it’s certainly something that I experienced. And when I look at my friends who have had children, there is that identity shift and it’s this push and pull where I’ve seen some of them really fall into this identity of being a mom, a mother, and that becomes kind of all encompassing for them. But then others have really struggled with that. And I always find it really interesting about the French, how they say that actually being a mother is just one part of their identity and they are really passionate about making sure that they are still in touch with the other parts of their identity and not kind of letting, motherhood is important. And it’s part of them, but it isn’t the only thing. And I think that is something that a lot of us need to need to remember, because it also makes you a better mother when you’re kind of still in touch with the other parts of you.

Arianna: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. And obviously I it’s like I said, I don’t have first hand experience, but we are all about I feel really passionately about championing the woman behind the mother.

And as you say, that motherhood is just one part of who she is. So so, yeah, that’s that’s my that’s what we’re doing. And that’s what I hope to hope to create. Yeah. Pretty pretty quickly in a physical space when that time is right. 

Le’Nise: So if listeners are really interested in what you’re saying, they’re really interested in Pachamama, where can they find you?

Arianna: So a lot of our free content is on IGTV. So Instagram is probably a really good place to start. Our handle is at @pachamama.london and then everything from our courses to a little bit more about who we are. And we have a podcast and and a blog. It’s I think it’s www.pachamama-london.com

Le’Nise: So all the links will be in the show notes.

Arianna: Thank you.

Le’Nise: If listeners take one thing out of all of the brilliant things that you’ve shared, what would you want that to be?

Arianna: That’s a really hard question.

I think it’s that don’t be afraid to talk about stuff. I kept my period not coming out story for a really long time, and I felt really anxious because I felt like I was on my own and I had done this to myself and and no one else can understand what I’m going through. But as soon as I put it on the blog that I came off the pill and it took me ages to get my period back, the number of women that got in touch with me to say I was going through the same thing was overwhelming. And I think if we don’t talk about the stuff that is scary or uncomfortable or embarrassing or whatever.

Then it will always be shrouded in secrecy because no one can get any information about it because no one’s talking about it. You know, I I got some really bad advice. Once I when I told a friend of mine she was pregnant with her second child, she was like, whenever you decide to come off the pill and start trying, don’t tell anyone, just don’t. And I was like, “OK, fine, why?” “It’s just because people just keep asking, are you pregnant? Pregnant? I’m pregnant and it’ll make you feel like shit when you’re not.” And I was like, okay, that’s actually pretty sound advice. Then I told one of my closest friends, I said, “don’t make a big deal about this, please don’t ask me any questions, but I’ve come off the pill. I’ll let you know when I’m pregnant. Just don’t ask me about it.” Poor girl, she then eventually put in that and then a few months later, I put this story of my period and coming off the pill and getting my period, being, you know, coming late and stuff on the block. And she messaged me and she was like that friend messaged me and said, you know, you’d asked me not to ask you about it, but I’m in a similar position and I didn’t know if I could bring it up with you because you told me not to talk to you about it. But I’ve just read on your blog that we’re going through the same thing. And let’s talk about it now. And. And I actually I called her and I was like, I’m so sorry I ever said that to you. There’s no way the, you should tell anyone not to talk to you about like, you know, like I think about it now and I’m like, obviously we should be talking about these things all of the time. If yeah. If someone were to ask me, oh, why aren’t you pregnant? Yeah, I could say I actually really don’t want to talk about it, if that’s OK. And shut up. Shut that conversation down. But I can’t. 

My whole thing about Pachamama is sharing and knowledge and information, and I can’t not do that myself, which is, I think, why I’ve become really open about sharing my, my story and saying, yeah, we’re not pregnant yet. And we’ve been trying since October, it’s coming up to a year and trying to kind of be OK with that. Because if I’m OK with that and I if I feel comfortable talking about it and other women in the same situation will be able to feel less alone, unsupported, and there is massive safety in numbers and there is kind of strength in seeking help and asking stuff. 

And so, yeah, I, I, I think if there’s one thing you take away is to just talk about stuff. 

Share, share, share is as much as you feel comfortable with obviously. But just know that you’re likely not alone in something that you’re experiencing. So yeah.

Le’Nise: That is brilliant and those are great words to leave us on. Strength and seeking help and it’s OK to share talk about stuff. Thank you so much for coming on the show, Arianna, and thank you so much for sharing your story.

Arianna: It was an absolute pleasure. I could talk to you for hours, Le’Nise.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 41: Emma Mainoo, It’s Courageous To Reach Out And Get The Help That You Need

On today’s episode of Period Story, I am so pleased to share my conversation with Emma Mainoo, the founder of Surviving Sundays.

We had a fantastic conversation about mental health, how to get help and how to help anyone around you you think may be in need. And of course, Emma shared the story of her first period! I can’t wait for you to hear this episode!

Emma shared the story of her first period, which coincided with her time at an all girls Catholic convent school.  She said that she really wanted to get her period because for her, it meant that she wasn’t a little girl anymore.

When her period arrived, her feelings towards it changed. She says she finds her periods very limiting, heavy and painful. She says that pain has always been a part of the conversation between her and her friends about periods, so she internalised the message that this was normal.

Emma shared the story of starting Surviving Sundays. She says Sundays used to be the worst day of the week for her. Listen to hear why Emma decided to make Sundays sacred, her best day of the week.

Emma talks about her story of mental health and shares her advice for others who feel as through they’re at their breaking point.  She says that we all have mental health,  so we can all have mental health challenges.

If you know someone going through a mental health challenge, Emma says the most important thing you can do is to go into any conversation with a lack of judgement  and a willingness to listen. Emma says that it’s a strong and courageous thing to reach out and get the help you need. Thank you, Emma!

Get in touch with Emma:

Website

Instagram

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EMMA’S BIO

Emma is the head of the mental health practice at Utopia, a culture change business that creates more purposeful, inclusive and entrepreneurial cultures for clients.

Emma worked at senior level with global brands for a number of years, which brought great professional reward, but also anxiety and depression. In 2012, she began a healing journey through therapy, self care practices and alternative healing; and in 2018, she decided to share her story of hope and survival through the creation of Surviving Sundays, a storytelling platform that offers hope and inspiration to anyone who is experiencing poor mental health.

In 2019, Emma became a qualified Mental Health First Aid Instructor, and now teaches people to spot the signs of poor mental health and offer solutions within the workplace.

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: Welcome to the show.

Emma: Thank you for having me. So really excited to be here.

Le’Nise: Yeah, I’m really excited to have you here. So let’s get started off by getting into the story of your first period. Can you share with us what happened?

Emma: Yeah. So it’s something of a hazy memory now, which is kind of surprising because my periods are always something that are quite memorable, even to this day. I was 14 years old. I remember thinking at the time that I was a late bloomer. I was an all girls very kind of religious Catholic convent school, and everybody kind of led me to believe, I now look back and think, was it true that they had that period? And I had been so wanting my period because then it meant that I wasn’t a little girl anymore. That’s kind of like how I thought about it at the time. Like I was just like really wanting to have my period. And I at this girls school, I remember somebody coming in, might have been a representative from like Tampax or something, giving us tampons, I’ve got a whole story around that. And that was like, we used to wear these purse belts that we put a change in these brown belt with like a zipper. You’d put your change. And there was like a hole that you could click on to your purse belt. It was like in a bright colour, like a pink or yellow. And then you put your tampons into this plastic, kind of like a holder. And I remember walking around with the holder attached to my purse belt like ages, like wanting people to think that I already had my period. Little did I know my period would actually become something that I dreaded, not something that I look forward to. And as often happens, it came on a day where I was at school and it was summertime. 

And we used to wear like there was a summer and the winter uniforms. The summer uniform was like a cotton dress.

It was like an orangey gingham check that allowed my period to kind of spread in full flow. And this was something that we often noticed with girls in school. We might poke fun. We’ll be like, oh, you know, alarmed by the sight of this period. And that’s what happened to me. That was my first period. So on one hand, I was like, yeah, I’ve got my period now. But at the same time, like, it was kind of like shock and like embarrassment around it at the time as well. 

Le’Nise: You got your first period when you were at school. What do you do?

Emma: I can’t really remember.

 I remember going home and telling my mom and just kind of having a conversation around, we’d had it before, but like sanitary pads and what was next. I just remember feeling, like, really quite messy and quite dirty. I don’t remember, those years for me at school were really difficult years where I was bullied at school and ended up changing like in a really important exam year for me. And I do find that with a lot of memories around that time, they’re either really, really memorable or I block them out. So I don’t remember a lot of like dialogue with girls in class around that time, but I do remember getting it. And then like getting like home and being like just wanting to get clean and then using sanitary pads. 

Le’Nise: Why do you think you associated having your period with this feeling of being unclean?

Emma: I don’t know, like I think it’s like there was a smell that was blood, it was visible, I felt sticky, like the whole thing to me just was an age anywhere where your hormones are developing and your body’s changing and you’ve got hair and you’re smelling and you’re having odours where you didn’t really have odours like, you know, a couple of years before. And I just really felt like unclean in that moment. And I guess that’s something really that to this day, like, I obviously accept the fact and expect the fact that I have a period, I’m extra kind of hygienic around it.

Like I’m not somebody that like, I have a relative who embraces and is very kind of like forward thinking when she comes to her period and she loves it and all the things that that it represents for her. But for me is a time where I don’t feel particularly like clean and I want to be extra hygienic.

Le’Nise: OK, so you carry those feelings all through your life.

Emma: Yeah.

Le’Nise: And you mentioned in the beginning that your period was something that you were really looking forward to and then those feelings changed after you got your period.

Can you talk a little bit more on why those feelings changed? 

Emma: Yeah, I mean, for me, both then and now, my periods are incredibly painful, heavy. They’ve been quite limiting in terms of it doesn’t matter what protection is out there. And you see all these adverts with people like rollerblading or like dancing and like you can do everything. Like, that’s not been my experience in, you know, it’s not something that’s got better over time. As I’ve got older, my periods have definitely become heavier. And but the pain that’s associated with them, I know a lot of people have pain, but for me, there have been times when I’ve vomited. I’ve been in quite like careers that have been very performance driven up until recent years. And there have been times where I’ve been like, you know, feeling like I could be on my deathbed, either mentally or physically with different things, whether that’s tonsillitis, whether that, you know, and I would still work even if that was working from home. 

When my period comes, there have been times where that’s just not been possible. Like the pain has been so incredible that I’ve been in very awkward positions in my bed trying to get comfortable, hot water bottles, bath, ibuprofen, all of it. And just not being you know, I had to just, like, wait for it to like end, to cancel plans. I had, I had even last year, like a really important meeting in the City. I had to be at like 9:00 a.m. and I woke up at 5:00 a.m, with like the most incredible pain and nausea. I had a message, my colleague, and say, I don’t think I’m gonna be able to make it to this meeting. You know, my period is just so painful this morning. I feel really sick. And I don’t know if I can get in yet. I did get there like after a few hours of doing all the things I know I needed to do. But, you know, that has been a big thing for me, the pain.

Le’Nise: And what have you done? You’ve mentioned some of the things that you’ve you’ve done to manage the pain, so hot water bottles being in certain body positions, painkillers. What what have you explored in terms of conversations with doctors about why this pain might be happening for you?

Emma: And this is where I tell you that, you know, unless it’s been about, you know, like a gynae visit or I’ve been to get the contraceptive pill, I’ve never just been to a doctor and said, this pain is so unbearable. What do I do? It’s like it happens. It will happen. I’ll get pain for about a week before the rumblings of pain that tell me it’s coming. I’ll get it the day I get it. It’s unreal. Maybe the second day and then it’s gone and it’s almost like for a month. OK, that’s just what happens. At one point, a doctor suggested the contraceptive pill may help with that. It never did. To be completely honest with you, it didn’t. And a friend I mean, there’s another friend, she and I like our bond, like our common bond is how bad our periods are. A couple of years ago told me about something she’d heard about, which specifically describe the pain. But I’ve never been a big fan of, like, taking medication unless I, I needed to. So it’s not something I’ve explored.

Le’Nise: Why do you think that you haven’t explored it, because if you’ve had these situations where you’ve potentially had to cancel big meetings, you’ve been vomiting, I just wonder sometimes what I’ve what I’ve heard one guest say in the past is like she almost has selective memory when it comes to her period where if you get, for her, she had really bad mood symptoms and she would get through it and then it would just be like her mind would just forget until her next menstrual cycle. What do you think it is for you?

Emma: Yeah, and I mean, I wouldn’t say that mood like my mood definitely alters. It’s really weird, like at this point in my life as well, you know, so many years of having periods. And I still feel like it’s like this week before and go, I feel really sad, like, you know, then I’ll go, oh, it’s my period. Like, it’s some big surprise. It’s not even a selective memory. It’s just, I think, a culture of just going, that’s what happens. And you chat to your friends, they have period pain too, that’s it. And then it’s gone. And then it comes back, you know, in some, it’s not consistently been at the level where, you know, I might need to cancel a meeting, but I’m definitely not going to the gym. I’m definitely not doing anything on the day I get my period this strenuous. And I, you know, by the evening, it’s not an all day, all night. It’s probably like, you know, about five, six hours of a day sometimes, you know, that I would have it from like early morning. And I just kind of go, OK, that’s it, it’s gone now. Get on with whatever I’m doing.

Le’Nise: Where do you think you got this message from that pain was, is a normal part of having a period?

Emma: All around me, all around me, you know, I would I would talk to friends about it and just say my period pain is like unreal. And I would have other friends going, yeah, I have probably two friends that, like, really suffer like I do. But everyone would say they had pain. I’ve never had anybody go, ‘I don’t have any pain’. They either have pain or a really heavy flow. And it’s just something that just seems to be like that is what it is. You know.

Le’Nise: That’s interesting.

Emma: You know, all around me, like that’s always been the conversation. Like my mom had an early kind of hysterectomy because of like the horrendous, like, periods that she was experiencing. And it’s just something I’ve, I expect to accept it as part of, you know, having a period.

Le’Nise: That period having a period means pain. 

Emma: Yeah, yeah.

Le’Nise: A part of my work is, you know, looking at these cultural norms that we, we accept. And it is so common to hear women talk about how much pain they experience. And something I was talking about earlier in the, in the summer was if you look at all of the, so if you look if you say I have two days of period pain every, every cycle, and let’s say you have 12 days, 12 periods a year, that means that across the year you have 24 days where you’re in a lot of pain. 

And I often think that if this was any other condition, we wouldn’t necessarily accept it as much as we do with periods, because we’ve been told that, well, this is normal.

 Women are supposed to have, people with periods are supposed to feel like this when they when they’re on their period because, you know, that’s just what happens. And I just think that if we, if this was any other condition, then, you know, it wouldn’t be accepted. But so many of us, so many women have internalised this message that pain is normal, pain is just, it’s part, it’s our lot. 

Emma: Yeah, yeah, and I think, like when you get a pain, I completely agree with what you’re saying and I’ve heard you say that before and when you say it like that, you’re like, wow. Yeah. You know, if I had a stabbing pain in my leg for 24 days every year, I’d have dealt with that, I think, because it’s almost like, you know what it is. Right. The things that I would go to the doctor for are either the unexplained things or like with my mental health, if I know I need help with that and I could identify it, I would go and see a doctor. With my period, you’re kind of going, OK, I understand this. My body, you know, the uterus. I’m shedding some lining. It’s pushing through. I get it. So I’m not frightened by where is this pain coming from? And therefore, it’s just, you know, I’m able to go, OK, that’s what that is. That’s what that is.

Until in recent years, I must be honest, when I started to think about, you know, becoming a mother and going to see all the specialists I’ve needed to see around those conversations, that’s where I’ve started to get more education and to understand my fertility more and my periods more and what they represent, like that’s the place where I’ve got the most knowledge, but it’s because I’m on my own education and fertility journey.

Le’Nise What areas did you feel like you needed to get education around?

Emma: I think my education has been very poor. I don’t want to, like, look back and point fingers, but I can give context. So I went to a an all girls school, as I’ve said, that was, you know, there were other teachers that weren’t nuns, but there were a lot of you know, it was a convent. So the school was led by by nuns. Principles, the ethos, a lot of the education, the teachers were taught by nuns. And then I lived in a home where my stepfather was much older than my mother, from quite a traditional background. And my mum, again, was Catholic. But again, from an era where things were like not spoken about, really. Definitely sex, reproduction and hormonal health is just not something that we would we would talk about in my house. In fact, you know, if you talked about sex, it was something almost shameful. And the labels around being like sin and bad girl versus good girl and all those things kind of came out. The environment that I was in, I didn’t have sisters.

And so, you know, feelings like, my education about my period came from perhaps magazines or, you know, we had a reproductive health session in school where where we talked about it. But I remember when it came to like, when I started to socialise with people that were at my school, I met other girls and they were talking about tampons. And I very clearly remember conversations about tampons, both in my household and at school, where I was told if I used a tampon, I would no longer be a virgin in the eyes of the Lord, my hymen would be broken and I wouldn’t be a virgin.

And all this kind of inference that it was not, that it was a sexualised thing to have a tampon. So again, even though they’re going, OK, use sanitary pads, because that is like a kind of a more acceptable thing. It still clouds the whole subject in this kind of it’s not a safe or open thing that we talk about and explore options around, if that makes sense to you.

Le’Nise: And also to this, conflating the idea of periods and sex and, yeah, making the tampon seem like a sexual thing. It adds that additional level of shame.

Emma: Yeah. And, you know, we had some, somebody for sure come in as a representative from a, you know, like Tampax or whatever, because I remember having these tampons given to us. But then, you know, whether that was kind of like a school like teacher thing versus a convent thing, because I remember having to, going into Sick Bay is a memory I have quite clearly because my periods were quite bad and painful. There was a thing I don’t know if they still have this in school called Sick Bay, right where you would go, there was a nun and their sister, Dolores, she was really sweet and they were like bunk beds in there and a radiator. And I would often be going into that bunk beds, going into these big feathery duvets, put my back, my bottom against the hot radiator had just to, like, try and beat this pain. But also, you know, just saying and I, you know, just saying like my period so bad and like having these conversations with a couple of nuns around the fact that, you know, tampons were like, we shouldn’t be using them. And also at home, that was a message that was kind of like supported as well. So, you know, this idea that vagina is period and it is sex. Means that actually my, like my sexual organs weren’t something that I kind of got familiar with until my 20s, really. 

Le’Nise: It’s amazing to me that you had the school telling you that tampons were or something to be used because they are connected with sex, I just think that that’s just unbelievable. Actually, it isn’t unbelievable because you hear all these stories about different things that people learn about their bodies and how, you know, there’s just this education that happens so, so often. So as you got older, you left school and you continued to have these these painful periods and this trouble with your, with menstruation. How did you explore what was happening to you?

Emma: I just honestly, I didn’t, it’s just something that became for me, like I knew that I would have some downtime every time that my period came. I remember a girlfriend I’d become quite close to. She was at boarding school and she was so fun. And like we used to hanging out when she came back, like she was the person that said to me, just use a tampon like, I use them. And I remember she coached me. She was sat outside. We were on a weekend in Wales. I think we’d gone with my parents and they’d gone out and she bought me these Tampax minis, which I don’t really see anymore and I would never be using now, like these mini ones, because I couldn’t get a regular tampon in because my, I was just so anxious. She was outside the bathroom door as I was like in the bathroom, like my foot up on the bath. She was like coaching me through using this tampon because I was so anxious, because obviously this was like a naughty thing to be doing. I think I must have been if I was friends with her, I think I met her around about the age of 16, 17. So, you know, I kind of like grew up with this friend. She kind of taught me things about sex and periods. And I wasn’t supposed to know, obviously. And yeah, I mean, that was it. Like in terms of education and exploring periods, I don’t think I’m alone in just knowing that these two just things that happen to us and we just get on and that’s an awful thing to say. But like the pain, the bleeding, that was just it like I didn’t explore it. Like I’m 41. Not a lot of people realise that, some people think I look younger than I am. So I’m 41. I’m 42 this year. There wasn’t an Internet of things then that we went into. There weren’t Instagrammers, you know, you’ve got Smash Hits magazine, maybe you’ve got Just 17 or whatever. And there would be things in there, but there wasn’t a world of information that in fact, it was quite the opposite. It was something you don’t talk about. That was certainly my experience.

Le’Nise: And it’s interesting if you compare what you’ve just been saying about, you know, you don’t talk about, you didn’t talk about these things with actually the work that you do now around mental health and how there’s this greater openness around mental health and more people are willing to talk about their mental health struggles, whether it’s anxiety, depression or anything beyond that. And I’d like you to talk a little bit about your, your step into this area. I know on your website you have a post where you talk about why you started Surviving Sundays. But could you just tell us a little bit more about that for listeners who aren’t familiar with your story?

Emma: Yes. So firstly, I think just to talk about the name Surviving Sundays, I don’t know, people kind of go there thinking it’s about hangovers maybe. And also because today I also talk about sobriety.

But Sunday for me was once the worst day of the week. And that wasn’t just about like workload. It was because I was in recovery from a breakdown I’d experienced. And Sunday represented a day where I’d either spent the day alone because I just couldn’t face being the third wheel with my couple friends or the fifth wheel if they had kids or even just hanging out with friends who were like on their own and just thriving like, life was just really difficult. And I knew that I was going into the office on Monday morning. I worked for a really friendly company then. I was kind of hiding what I’d been through and I knew people would ask me how I felt at the teapoint and I would say, fine, and just try and move the conversation on. So Surviving Sundays represents to me a journey where I went on to make Sundays something sacred. And now that journey and that connection between what was once my worst thing, becoming now my best thing like Sunday, my most favourite. I hear people say they hate Sundays.

I love Sunday, like I love Sundays and I’m protective of them. So that’s, Surviving Sundays is about the journey that I went on. But also, you know, it’s not just about me. It’s a space where I came forward and said, look, you know, I had a breakdown. I had a breakdown in 2012. I came forward, told my story, and I’ve now created a place where other people can share theirs. But like the potted story is that I spent around 20 years of my career working in marketing, whether that’s media or PR or marketing. I worked in that area and anyone who knows and that worked in that world knows that it is performance driven.

That is, you’re not just kind of like delivering the work, whatever that may be, you’re performing yourself, like it’s all about engaging clients, engaging hearts and minds through the work that you’re doing. And that meant me working hard but also playing hard. And what I didn’t know, because I didn’t have the emotional language then or the education was that probably I can identify now like my first mental health problems beginning about the age of 14. I’d had some difficult years in my formative years, in my school years, and this manifested in me, you know, feeling incredibly unhappy, very, very anxious, I then might have just said I was a worrier, but, I mean, I was worrying about big stuff and I was thinking about ways to not be here anymore, ways to harm myself, to not go to school, to not feel the way that I did. And I controlled my food. That was the thing that I did that made me feel like I had some sense of control. That was my only thing. And I ran away from that girl for about 20 years, like, you know, through toxic relationships that kept me distracted from the work on myself. Through work, achievement, work was the place where I knew that I was doing something good because I was, you know, a people pleaser. I threw myself at something and I would achieve and also through going out and like playing that happens in that world. And I thrived on all fronts. But ultimately, I was just suppressing feelings that needed to be addressed. And 20 years later, age 34, a break up that was unexpected in a very serious relationship led to a breakdown. And it wasn’t just about that relationship. It was literally 20 years of demons, switch being flicked and everything coming to me in one moment that I tried to run away from. 

So I had a breakdown. I was out of work for three months, and it meant that when I went into my new job, people there didn’t know me. They didn’t know what I’d been through. They didn’t know that I was coming from a breakdown and I could hide again, which I did for a number of years. So Surviving Sundays was the place where two and a half years ago, I came out really and just said I have had a debilitating breakdown. I was in recovery mode when I stood on the door at 10 Downing Street on an impressive project that to all the world looked like I was like just killing it, you know, and I felt like I was dying inside, you know, I was dying inside on Instagram when I was high kicking my way through, you know, members clubs and bars and parties in Ibiza and all of that, you know. And I just wanted to create a very normal dialogue around what mental health problems can look like and tell my story and be authentic. So that’s, that’s what I’ve done because I felt so incredibly alone. And I was tired of feeling that way and ashamed of the feelings that I had. So that’s why I came out and told my story.

Le’Nise: So having worked in in media marketing as well, so I kind of connected, connect with what you’re saying around it being a job that’s very much about an industry, that’s very much about performance. You perform for your clients. You have to be yourself. You have to be on all the time because, you know, God forbid, you know, your client doesn’t see you at your best. The drinking, the partying, the dinners, the jollies, all of it. And it’s exhausting and I don’t think, I think it’s changed in the last couple of years. But to say that you were depressed or anxious in the time that I was working in, in media, it’s just not a conversation that you would have. And I have seen changes. I don’t work in that industry anymore, but I have seen changes over the last couple of years, in terms of in the trade press and what my friends who still work in the industry talk about. But I just want to talk a little bit more about how you felt like you had to hide it because you had to perform. And I think that people listening who are experiencing the same thing would connect with that. And what would you say to someone who is in the same position and just going through real turmoil inside but feeling like they’re at the breaking point?

Emma: I would say that like a lot of the reason I didn’t reach out when I look back now, wasn’t necessarily because of the perceptions of me that others held, it was me not wanting to acknowledge my problems and having an internalised shame around my feelings. When I did have a conversation at some point with one of my bosses in my media agency, he was so kind, so supportive and recommended, you know, that I went and spoke to somebody, which I did. 

But then knowing that I had great health care plan, I was still frightened of like having therapy through my work plan because I felt like people might know what it was like then, like far more of a serious thing. And I didn’t want to be seen to not do my job. I know that it’s confidential now, obviously. I think at the time I did. I just didn’t trust it enough.

And I think the like the change for me has been, you know, I had a breakdown. It doesn’t mean I don’t have mental health challenges now. And we all can, we all have mental health, so we can all have mental health challenges. Depression and anxiety aren’t just things that happen to those other people out there, who ever those other people might be. We can all be at risk of it. And I think we’re all experiencing it as a result of the pandemic that we’re going through and the crises and conversations around racism. Everybody’s anxious, but I think, you know, saying reach out is really like a big thing to ask of people to reach out at work. Like, you might not be ready to do that, you know. But what I would say is reach out to someone and that someone may be a therapist, that someone may be a trusted friend. I really would recommend, you know, if it’s within your capability. And I say that because I know that therapy can be expensive, although there are more providers and solutions coming along that are better, to get some professional support. It has been the most life defining and life changing thing that I ever did. A friend can hold space for you, a friend can hear you, but friends can become exhausted and also not have the answers or the skills to support you in the right way. So I would say get honest with yourself.

You know, if you’re having days, multiple days where you’re feeling really low and life feels pointless and you feel hopeless, like that is not to be ignored by going out and just going, OK, that’s that’s how I feel, like going out and drinking or working harder or, you know, get honest with yourself is the first thing I would say and find the help that you need.

You know, I don’t believe in, like, people preaching to you that, you know, if you’re drinking too much, like stop drinking immediately, like you got to do things in your own time, in your own way. 

So that’s what I would say.

Le’Nise: Find the help that you need. What are some resources that someone who feels that they are ready to seek that first step of help, what are some resources that they can access? 

Emma: Well, the first thing that I would say is that it’s been a great comfort to me and it still is today to find myself in the stories of others. That might be the first place that you start. So if you have a problem with alcohol, you don’t need to be an alcoholic. Like that’s such a myth to you know, Alcoholics Anonymous is there for people who define themselves as alcoholics. That is true. And there is a thing around admission of that. But you might go and sit in a room where people reflect your experiences, whether that’s eating, whether that’s co-dependency. I went to a help group for some of my co-dependent behaviours. It might be AA. It might be you know, some of these sober circles are coming up. It might be a mental health support group. It might be blogs and places like Mind, the Mind website, I think is phenomenal. It has an A to Z, a comprehensive A to Z guide of all the different mental health conditions that people might experience, plus a blog where stories are shared, Surviving Sundays. You know, I don’t, I’m not plugging it because it doesn’t make me any money. It’s not that to make me famous. It’s there because stories are shared with the hope that somebody might read them, go, wow, that that reflects my experience. So leaning into spaces where you might be seen is a great place to start. That could be that you follow an influencer that kind of speaks your language on a topic, that could be a really good place to start. The other thing that I would say is not to be afraid, especially if you’re starting to experience suicidal thoughts, of reaching out. The Samaritans is there for a reason. It’s a confidential support service with highly trained people who are really warm, really empathetic, who can who can hear you. There are great services like the Samaritans there to support people. So looking into organisations where you can start to have a conversation about the way that you feel by people that might be able to listen and support you.

Le’Nise: And what about the flip side of it, where you might have someone in your life who you can see that there is an issue, but they might be kind of putting on that facade where, you know, you, you on your blog, you use the term high kicking their ways through life on Instagram. That’s what they’re doing by high kicking their way through life. But you know that, you can see that there’s something going on. What would you say to someone who is in that position? How can they have a really sensitive, tender, calm conversation with someone in their life who hasn’t actually acknowledged that they might be there might be an issue?

Emma: Yeah, I mean, I’m in this position now, both as a friend and as a teacher, so in my day to day life, like my whole work life has changed. Now I’m now a Head of Mental Health, at a culture change business called Utopia, where we work with clients every day, teaching employees how to have supportive conversations with each other. 

And the first thing I will say is the most important thing that you can go into any conversation with is a lack of judgement and a willingness to listen. We so often think when we go into a conversation about what we’re going to say next, what we’re hearing when actually listening, thinking about the next smart thing we’re going to say, the facts we can give the experience we’ve had that similar to theirs, what they should do, rather than actually just going into a conversation and saying, how are you feeling? And sitting and listening in even if it’s uncomfortable for us. The reason we want to fix things often so we don’t want our friend to be in pain and it makes us feel uncomfortable. Now, sometimes what somebody needs is simply to be held and to be seen. And we can do that by saying thank you for sharing that with me. That’s really, really tough and I appreciate you sharing that with me, how can I help? Rather than saying you’ll be fine, it’s OK. You’ll get through this. But we want to be positive. We want to encourage hope and positivity. But sometimes we can shut people down if that’s all they’re hearing from us. If 90 percent of the message is you’ll get through this or what I did when I was depressed was this, the conversation that isn’t about them.

So really just being prepared to listen rather than doling out advice and judging and trying to fix is one of the simplest things that we can do. But honestly, I’m also, you know, aware of the fact that often people don’t have the tools or experience to support people with mental health problems. More support is needed. So that’s where things like Mental Health First Aid come in on are really valuable. I teach that course, it is a course where people are taught how to spot the signs of poor mental health. Also, it’s all about signposting, knowing when the time is to not try and be a therapist. Just say, OK, this, this and this resource could be really, really good for you and try to guide that person towards the help that they need.

Le’Nise: Talk a little bit about being a Mental Health First Aider, because I had never, I had never heard of that before. So if someone’s interested in that, in exploring that kind of training. Talk a little bit more about what it is.

Emma: Yes. So Mental Health First Aid is like 13 years old now, originated in Australia, but it’s been in the UK since, I think, about the last five years.

And really it came about because the creators of it realised that, you know, if you had an injury in the workplace now, if you fell over, if you had heart pains, if you know, if anything happened, you’re going to have a First Aider in your business is a legal requirement. Who knows how to put a plaster on you or how to call for emergency help and how to preserve your life until professional help arrives. The likelihood is the reality is and statistics show you’re far more likely to connect with somebody that is experiencing a mental health problem than you are with somebody who is having a heart attack. And so Mental Health First Aid came about as a training course that could help people to learn to spot the signs of things like depression and anxiety. We even explore psychosis, eating disorders, self-harm, and not so that they can diagnose, but so that they have some awareness and so that they can then support, preserve life, you know, talk, talk and support somebody who’s having, let’s say, for example, psychosis or a panic attack and help them get to professional help. So it used to be a two day course in a classroom that has now changed at the moment because of current circumstances. And it’s now an online course, which is two hours, 4 two hour sessions and some homework. And I teach this each week alongside the brilliant courses that I teach that we do at Utopia, because Mental Health First Aid isn’t for everyone. Like in some organisations, they like people to do it, to have First Aider in the business. But really, you know, deeper, strategic, more kind of influential courses need to happen that mean the workplace isn’t a place where you might need so many mental health facilities. And that’s kind of the work that I do with Utopia. But Mental Health First Aid is a really great course for people to come to learn some skills that they can support others and also be more mindful of their own wellbeing.

Le’Nise: Where can they contact you to find out about going on one of these courses?

Emma: Great, so you can contact me about, you know, any kind of like mental health questions or submissions, I’m always looking for people to write for Surviving Sundays and share their story. Or if you got enquiries about Mental Health First Aid, you can contact me by email via hello@survivingsundays.com. And you can check us out on Instagram at @surviving_sundays or visit the website, as well as some information on that by MHFA Mental Health First Aid, which is Survivingsundays.com.

Le’Nise: And if listeners were to take one thing from everything you’ve shared in our conversation, what would you want that to be? 

Emma: I would just say, like on this topic of periods, like there’s a connection to the way that I felt about my mental health and the way that I thought about who I was for a long time. And that thread is shame. Decisions, relationships, a lot of things, most of the things I did were guided by shame and the fear of being discovered or seen for who I really was. And I would just say that, you know, now the decisions I made based on kind of like my hopes and dreams, not my fears around shame. And I think that, you know, just getting good with who you are and getting honest with who you are and accepting that if you need help, that’s not a shameful thing. It’s a strong and courageous thing to reach out and acknowledge that and get the help that you need. That’s a wonderful thing. 

Le’Nise: Thank you so much for coming on the show. It’s been so wonderful to hear your story and to have a conversation with you.

Emma:Thank you, Le’Nise. Thanks for having me. And, you know, I’ve got to say, that beyond my best friends, I don’t really talk about my period, so it’s good to talk about it with you, you know. I look forward to kind of knowing you more and following you more and getting more education from you around something that I certainly am open to getting support with. 

Period Story Podcast, Episode 40: Professor Joyce Harper, I Want Women To Understand How Their Bodies Work

On today’s episode, I was so pleased to speak to Professor Joyce Harper. 

Joyce is the Professor of Reproductive Science at University College London in the Institute for Women’s Health where she is also Head of the Reproductive Science and Society Group and Director of Education. 

She has just written a book called Your Fertile Years, which will be released in April 2021. 

Joyce and I had a great conversation about breaking taboos around what we call our  genitalia, the importance of body literacy and not over relying on menstrual cycle apps.

oyce was 9 years old when she got her first period and she says it made her feel different and a bit abnormal because she was the only one in her year who had it. She says didn’t really feel mentally prepared for what was going to happen.

We talked about the importance of parents talking about their bodies, fertility, sex and menstrual health at an age-appropriate level with their children as early as possible. Joyce says that this needs to be a continuous dialogue and include calling genitalia by their proper names so that everyone becomes more comfortable talking about these things.

Joyce discussed a study she did last year with Natural Cycles, looking at over 600,000 menstrual cycles. She says that the majority of the women in this study didn’t have a 28 day menstrual cycle and that actually, a menstrual cycle between 21 and 35 days is normal. 

Joyce says that you shouldn’t rely on menstrual cycle apps to tell you when you’re ovulating and that you also shouldn’t get stressed if your period doesn’t arrive when the app says it will.

Joyce says that it’s so important for women to learn about their bodies, learn about what happens when they’re ovulating and their cervical fluid. Thank you, Joyce!

Get in touch with Joyce:

Website

Instagram

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JOYCE’S BIO

Joyce Harper is an author, academic, scientist and educator. She is Professor of Reproductive Science at University College London in the Institute for Women’s Health where she is Head of the Reproductive Science and Society Group and Director of Education. She is a Director of the Embryology and PGD Academy which she established with Alpesh Doshi in 2014 and founder of Global Women Connected.  

She has worked in the fields of fertility, genetics and reproductive science since 1987, written over 200 scientific papers and published three books. She started her career as an embryologist, then moved into reproductive science and genetics. Now she is researching into fertility education, the social aspects of fertility and infertility, from social egg freezing to childlessness, and FemTech.

Joyce is a passionate educator at all levels, from the general public to PhD students.  She is invited to numerous international meetings, including key note and plenary lectures. She regularly appears on TV, radio and in the press.

She is co-founder of the UK Fertility Education Initiative and founder of the International Fertility Education Initiative who have developed a fertility education poster.

Her latest book, Your Fertile Years, What you need to know to make informed choices, is in press with JOHN MURRAY PRESS, SHELDON PRESS and available for pre-order

Joyce has had many senior roles in the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology. She was a director of the British Fertility Society and International Society of Prenatal Diagnosis and a founding member of the Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis International Society. She is chair of the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority Horizon Scanning Group and an advisor to the HFEA Science and Clinical Advances Advisory Committee. She was a member of the Nuffield Council for Bioethics working group on genome editing. 

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SHOW NOTES

Le’Nise: Welcome to the show.

Joyce: Hi.

Le’Nise: So the first question I always ask my guests is tell me the story of your very first period.

Joyce: I think this is such an interesting question and really important for all of us to revisit. So I was actually very young and what happened to me was that I was nine years old and in my school when you were in the top year, which was year six, there was special toilets that you could go to and you had sanitary protection there and you had the bins for disposal etc cetera. But I was in the year below when I started my periods, so the teachers had to take me aside and give me special permission to use the top year’s toilets. So I started to feel very odd that I was like this freaky girl that I was now having to go to the special toilets because I’d gone through puberty and I had my periods. So I really had a feeling of being different and really a bit abnormal and not doing what the other girls were doing. And so for me as well, I’m sure I’m not the only one who then became very aware when I had my period at school about leakage, I definitely had a couple of times of leakage, worried about smell, etc. And again, being the only one who was doing that in that class, you know, no one had seen it before, so… I did find it very traumatic being so young and in a way I was envious of those friends of mine who started much later. So I don’t know whether that’s part of the reason I really wanted to educate women more and teach more about women’s health. And it’s something that I discuss a lot in the book I’ve just finished writing about women’s health. I’ve written quite a lot about periods and how we deal with them. And one thing I’d love to do is to do some more work and how women globally deal with having that that period.

So I think it’s a really important topic that we need to discuss.

Le’Nise: So when you got your first period, was it at school or was it at home?

Joyce: I’m pretty sure, I was really trying to remember. I’m pretty sure I was at home. I have three older sisters and I seem to remember I asked one of them recently, she can’t remember, but I seem to remember going to them. And we also lived with my grandmother and she was great and really open. So I definitely remember talking to her. But I think it’s such a hard thing for any young girl, especially at 9, to hear that every month you are going to bleed from your vagina. And I’m sure you’re aware that most people don’t even use the word vagina, which is another mission I’m on. Use the word vagina and vulva! They’re fine. They’re not swearwords. They’re not, you know, any other brilliant words that we should embrace as women to use these words. So, yeah, being being told that that’s going to happen. I’ve got three boys who we’re all very open. We discuss things, but I’ve never had the experience to have to tell a girl before she starts appears that she’s going to bleed every month. But I know friends that have and it’s a hard conversation. It’s really tough to have. 

Le’Nise: When you got your first period, you were at home and you had had you have three older sisters. Did you learn kind of by osmosis what was about to happen to you or did anyone have that conversation with you, whether it’s your sisters or your grandmother?

Joyce: It was definitely osmosis, so I absolutely remember them sitting down around about that age to tell me about sex education, I can remember sitting at the kitchen table. My brother was there as well. I remember having this conversation. I do not remember a conversation about periods. So it was definitely something that that evolved. And I really remember not being totally mentally prepared for what was going to happen and feeling really concerned every month and stressed when it happened. As I said, I definitely remember a couple of times leaking in the classroom and absolutely being mortified about this. And I can remember thinking I often used to watch a lot, I still watch a lot of dance. And I always used to think, what are the women dancers do when they’ve got their period? How do they you know, they’ve been lifted in the air or whatever, you know what how other women deal with this. And so I think it’s really important to have these conversations and to help young girls feel reassured about what they’re going through. And that they’re not alone, probably every other teenage girl at some point. Well, I wasn’t even a teenager, but girls will go through, the majority of girls will go through this and they’re not alone and everything that they’re worrying about, other, other people are worrying about. So I just want these conversations out there and for us to normalise these things and not make it taboo, just talk about it.

It’s a normal bodily function. We should be talking about it.

Le’Nise: So you’re really comfortable talking about these things now. How long did it take from the time that you from when you got your first period to the time when you actually felt really comfortable with what was happening to you every cycle?

Joyce:Well, I am a very open person, and I can absolutely remember having many conversations with friends at school about this, so I sort of became the person that they came to to ask. And even with sex education as well, I can remember telling my friends so many things about sex education, not that I had sex or anything, but, you know, just my family was quite open and we had talked about it. So it’s always been a mission of mine. And I feel really strongly that these conversations should start in the home and we should be teaching our kids about our bodies, sex education, fertility education. And parents should feel comfortable with having these discussions. But I know it’s really hard for people. And I asked many, many friends who are parents about this, and I would say just roughly about half do not want to have that conversation. And many people say to me, oh, the school will do it. Some schools do do it, they do it to varying levels of effectiveness, but I feel very strongly that as a parent, it’s really wonderful if your child can feel comfortable talking to you about any of these issues, especially is when they have any questions or something goes wrong or they’re unsure about anything, they feel comfortable coming to talk to you. And I’ve been really lucky. My, my boys do ask me a lot, and I think they go and tell their friends and I think this is really good. But I understand that a lot of adults don’t have the language. So, you know, even even saying vulva and vagina. In my book, chapter one is all about the anatomy. And someone that read it recently said, oh, my goodness, I really didn’t know the definition of what a vagina was. And she said, I feel so embarrassed. She’s not alone. She’s really not alone.

Le’Nise: For people who are listening, thinking, ‘what what are the definitions? Can you tell them what the definitions are? 

Joyce: Very good question. The vagina is just the opening and the tube that’s internal. And what we’re normally talking about is actually the vulva. So the vulva is a term that includes the clitoris and the the lips of, of our genitals. And so, you know, we we normally call the whole thing a vagina. And I just wonder whether to make life easier. That’s what we should rebrand it. But officially, for our medical textbooks and our biology, the vagina is just the opening and the tube and the vulva is everything.

Le’Nise: Why do you think people are so uncomfortable having these conversations, and why do you think that so many parents, you said, want to kind of abdicate the responsibility of all of this to the school of having these conversations? 

Joyce: I just think it’s historic and I think where we’ve been in a culture where sex is taboo, pregnancy’s taboo, you know, very few people tell anyone if they’re pregnant in the first 12 weeks, they just don’t tell people because they worry something goes wrong. 

If something goes wrong, your friends and family should help you. So, as I said, I know not everyone is as open as I am, but I really want to try and change that. I think we are a lot better now. We’ve got a lot of programmes on TV and social media and the Internet. We we do talk about things more, but when we’re not there yet, we’ve got a long way to go. And because historically we’ve never talked about these things, we as I said, people don’t have the language. They haven’t become comfortable with those words. So they don’t know where to start. And when I always tell my friends is that this is a continuous dialogue, talking about sex and periods and everything is not just shouldn’t be a one off conversation. As I said, I can remember that one off conversation with my family, but it should be continuous. So in my view, when we’ve got toddlers and they, with the boys, we should call it a penis and we should call it testicles. With a girl, we should call it vagina and the vulva. And when they say, they ask the question, what is my penis for? You know, it’s, it’s to make babies.

I was in a brilliant event last year at the Eve Appeal, and the Eve Appeal have been doing a lot of work of using the correct language because they’ve they deal with female cancers. And they said women can’t even identify what’s normal in their anatomy. And when things become abnormal, they they’re not aware of it. And it was really interesting. There was a woman on the panel who has been very much involved with sex education, but she said when she goes into a nursery, they have, she has been asked that she doesn’t call it a vagina.

And everyone was like, oh, my goodness, even this important woman is not using the right terms at a young age. And I thought, I think that’s crazy. And she said that some of the parents will be offended. And I think we need to get over that. We need to not worry. It’s not an offensive word, vagina vulva, either of them. So I think we need to get it out there. We need to normalise it. And there’s many of us on campaigns to try and get this, I wrote a post last week that the image just said vagina. My friend said, “You know, I get these Instagram photos of all these lovely pictures of scenery or food or something. And yours comes up with just vagina.”

I think we’ve got to normalise it. So we should stand at the top of a high point and shout out vagina and period and menstruation and absolutely normalise it. But it should be a dialogue. So we shouldn’t have young girls thinking, when did I have that conversation. It should just be. But it’s evolved through their upbringing and age appropriate. I don’t think we should be teaching five year old girls about sexual intercourse by any means. But as children age, we can teach them age appropriate things for them. So puberty, absolutely. Before they go through it. Things like wet dreams for boys. You know, these need to be before they have a wet dream, which can happen in a few years before puberty. And then then when they reach teenage teenagers, then about sexual intercourse, consent, good relationship, healthy relationships, all those things. So I think that’s how we should do it. 

Le’Nise: So for parents who feel slightly uncomfortable having this conversation, what you’re saying is start slowly, start with the age appropriate conversations and the age appropriate language and build your own comfort around this topic as your child gets older so that they’re not, when they’re teenagers, you don’t have to sit down for the big birds, birds and the bees talk.

Joyce:Absolutely. We’re making it hard for ourselves if we’re doing that. And then you think, when should I do that? But if it’s been a gradual, I had one case recently that I think that the children were in year 6 and they learn about pregnancy and delivering a baby. And the girl came home and said to her mum, “So I they told me at school that the baby comes out of my vagina” and the mother turned around and said, “no, no, no, they come out of your bellybutton.” I mean, why would you teach an 11 year old child the incorrect information? And my view had always been, if they’re old enough to ask the question, they’re old enough to hear the answer. But how much you tell them is, you know, I’ve been asked by teenagers before about male male sex or female female sex, so you don’t need to tell them everything you know at that conversation. But you need, I think, to give them enough for them to be aware of the answer.

Le’Nise: I completely agree. I think with especially with younger kids, they’ll let you know when you’ve given them enough information, like they’ll either walk away or they’ll just move on to another topic.

Joyce: My eldest son, I’ve got one one one 14, 14. I was very curious and my eldest son is 17, keeps saying, “don’t ask her the question. If you ask her the question, you might not want to hear the answer.” But we always laugh and I always answer. So, yeah, it’s it’s quite funny.

Le’Nise: I think it’s actually another reason why it’s so important is because you don’t want them, especially as they get into their early teens and perhaps even younger these days, is them getting this information from pornography and learning, you know what this is what, this is what sex is supposed to be like or this is what our bodies are supposed to look like. You know, you want to kind of preempt all of that, because in this day and age, it would be naive to think that your child isn’t going to be exposed to porn at some point. But I really believe that it’s important for them to know that that is not a true depiction of sex.

Joyce: Absolutely. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve written a book about the fertile years. I’ve got a chapter on sex and quite a large section on pornography. And I absolutely remind my sons, I know they’re watching pornography on the you know, the majority of children or teenagers are unfortunately. You know, when I was young, you couldn’t have access to this material. And these magazines are on the top shelf of a shop or porn videos were something that were hard to buy. A child couldn’t buy that. But we have to realise that all of us have access to pornography at the touch of our computer. And if you put any words into the computer and then click on images, any sexual words, click on images, you will get bombarded with graphic images, pornographic images. It’s one click away, literally. And parents have got to understand that. And then they try to use filters and things like that. The kids get around all of that. So what I believe is that we need to talk to our children about pornography, remind them that this is not real life and this is not how we have a healthy sex life. There’s often violence, especially against women. The women that they act as they do is not what most of us would do. There is no disparity is any, just I don’t watch any, but there isn’t any discussions about consent and that the women unfortunately are often very either surgically enhanced or, you know, filter and Photoshop enhanced. So this is a real problem for young girls because they’ll see these women in these videos and they’re they’ve got very trimmed labia. They’ve got no pubic hair. Their breasts are a certain way. And the girls might look at themselves and think, well, I don’t look like that. I don’t look like that so there’s something wrong with me. And that’s a huge problem. So I’m always reassuring people and and this is in my book as well, that this is not normal on any level. It’s, it’s a fantasy. And that’s not how a woman should look and that’s not how we should behave in a normal sex life. So it does worry me that how much a child, a teenager’s brain could get altered by watching these images. So I think porn is a is a real problem, a real problem. And then the young girls that go into the porn industry thinking they’re going to be this glamorous actress and the, and the way that the guys treat them, I’ve seen some terrible documentaries about how the teenage girls are treated and then discarded. And so it’s a, it’s a terrible thing. And the whole trafficking thing, you know, it just seems every day you hear about some of the women being found or whatever. And so I do what really worries me is I do think this is getting worse. So I think we’ve we’ve got to try and really reduce the negative impact of this on our future children, our children. And I don’t know how we do that. Such a. Terrible situation we’ve got to.

Le’Nise: I think the I think the heart of it is being having comfort in yourself to be able to have these conversations. And it’s like I think about the movie. I don’t know if you’ve seen it. Meet the Fockers.

Joyce: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Le’Nise: For those of you listening who haven’t seen it, Barbra Streisand, she plays a sex therapist and she always talks about how she had been having these conversations about sex with her son from a very young age. So she’s very open, very free. And also the show Sex Education, where Gillian Anderson plays a sex therapist and it’s a similar sort of thing.

Unfortunately, they play both males in the show as being a bit neurotic because of this. But I think in real life, the child has the benefit of these conversations and knowing that they can be open and go to their parent with anything.

Joyce: I’ve watched both of those with my kids and especially Sex Education with Gillian Anderson. I think it’s fantastic. I learnt something on it. I like the way on Sex Education how they deal with certain important topics that children wouldn’t have learnt about in school. One of the great storylines what where the girl had vaginismus, which is a problem where the vagina is really tight and she was trying to have sex and she couldn’t have sex. And they actually went through the treatment where they used a dilator to try and open up the vagina. And I thought that was great. They did it in a really good and sympathetic way.

It was, it was brilliant. You know, when you watch something that’s just so good, you know, they’re all going to be young girls are affected by that. And I think the same sex relationships stories I have watched were really good. So, yes, Sex Education has been a big thumbs up for me. And I think series three’s coming out soon.

Le’Nise: Yeah, I’m looking forward to that.

Joyce: Yeah. I really encourage people to let their teenagers watch that and watch it with them. And and I hope people feel confident enough to watch it with them and laugh about bits and talk about open discussions. That’s one good really way of doing it.

Le’Nise: Yeah. So going back to the work that you do and your your period journey, so you’ve you were very comfortable as a teenager and you had the conversations with your friends at school. And then how when you think about your relationship with your period, you said at the beginning it were very uncomfortable. What how would you describe your period, your relationship with your period and your menstrual health now?

Joyce: Okay, so I’m postmenopausal now and I would absolutely say that for me, not so much the period, but the whole menstrual cycle was something that, especially with hindsight, looking back, was something that was a huge influence on my life, on my daily life. So for me, I know not all women are affected by the fluctuation in their hormones, but for me, I was. And even when I was on the pill, you know, when it came to a few days before my period and having premenstrual syndrome, I definitely had that. And I was on the pill for quite a long time. Way over ten years. And I don’t know whether the pill had made it worse. Sometimes it makes it better.

But I, I really feel, now I’m postmenopausal, I think one of the wonderful things of the menopause is that your menstrual cycles stop, your periods stop. And I feel now much more sane. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of postmenopausal woman say this. But so I think for women, when they’re free from their menstrual cycles, free from worrying about fluctuations in hormones, free from worrying about contraception and. At this stage, for me, it was an absolute new lease of life and I felt absolutely fantastic since my menstrual cycle has stopped and I agree that most people are going through the perimenopause, there’ll be some little, you know, some symptoms and things that they’d have to deal with. For some, it can be really severe and they might need some treatment. But for the majority of women I see post menopause actually not having your periods. I mean, having a period is is tough. You know, it can happen when you’re out, when you’re not prepared. How many times have all of us had a woman come up to us and say, have you got a spare tampon? And if you don’t, you know, and I love the menstrual cup and I love the menstrual pants, I think those are great inventions now that women can help deal with, with the periods. But for me, that fluctuation of the hormones as well was really tough.

So actually, when I became postmenopausal, I contacted my boyfriend, who I lived with for 10 years in my 20s and early 30s. And I said to him, “I’m really sorry. I was a bit nuts. And when I was with you and on the pill and my menstrual cycle and now I feel so sane.” So looking back, I mean, obviously having a period and a menstrual cycle is something we have to embrace as women. And I know some women who, who love having their period. They feel it’s a sort of reset of their body. But we’re all different. And I know that the contraception people, hormonal contraception is often now a lot of people are able to just keep taking the hormones or the implant or the injection. You won’t have periods. So there are options of what women want to do. If, if you love having your period, you can certainly have your period. But if you’re having problems and some women do have a lot of problems with their menstrual cycle and their periods, there are more options now of, well, trying to get over that.

But I, I’ve recently reviewed a book that’s coming out. I think it should be out soon about periods. And the woman who wrote it said that she tried everything. She had a lot of problem with her periods and she tried everything and nothing really worked for her. So we have to appreciate that. There’s a whole different views that women can have about their periods, and we are all individual and we’re all different, so some, some might have long cycles, short cycles.

So we did a study last year. I did a study last year with one of the fertility and contraception apps called Natural Cycles. And we looked I want you to look at their menstrual cycle data. And we looked at over 600,000 menstrual cycles. And I want to see how long they were, how long the bleed was and when the women were ovulating. And actually, I think it was 13 percent of women in our study had a 28 day cycle. The majority didn’t. And I think a lot of women don’t realise that between 21 and 35 days menstrual cycle is classified as normal. So we get taught at school, 28 day cycle, ovulation on day 14. And that’s not that’s a sort of textbook. And that’s not what the majority of women would experience. So I want women to be aware that there’s a huge diversity in how our menstrual cycle will be between any two women and also something very important. I think the invention of menstrual cycle apps is great because women can get some idea about when their next period will be and how to plan a bit and knowing if they’re feeling a bit stressed that they might be premenstrual syndrome.

But I’ve got two important messages for women that use them. They shouldn’t get stressed if their period doesn’t arrive on the day the app says it’s going to do, because we, we’re publishing a big study saying we’re just writing up the data. We, we use 10 apps and we had five fictitious women that had sort of very common types of menstrual cycles. And we put all the data in that some we’ve been analysing them and some of the apps definitely didn’t get things right. It’s, they’re using algorithms and, you know, we’re human. We never act like we should be doing. So women shouldn’t worry if the says you’re going to have your period on Thursday and it doesn’t come. It’s nothing wrong. It’s just, you know, a limitation of technology. But the second thing is that almost all of these menstrual cycle apps will tell a woman the day she’s ovulating. And this is totally incorrect. You can’t just look at your menstrual cycle dates and predict the day you’re ovulating. You have to measure something, there’s a few things you can measure. There’s some hormones. You can measure a urine stick or there’s other ways to get temperature and things like that. And these will help. You know, when you’re ovulating, you can’t just look at your dates because every woman could ovulate at different times. In our study looking at 600,000 cycles, there was some women that ovulation on day 10 and some of women ovulation on day twenty six. So the average was actually day 17. So you can’t just predict that looking at dates. So I’m really trying, I keep posting about this, trying to get these menstrual cycle apps to not even give you that information. So I think some women will think, oh, I’ve ovulated, I can have unprotected sex, and then some women are using them as a fertility app and they’re going to miss the day. So there are fertility apps that do measure things. They’re great. And menstrual cycle apps are great, but they shouldn’t tell women when they ovulating. Women shouldn’t worry about having appeared on a different day.

Le’Nise: I think that the use of apps is really interesting. But what I think is really important is combining that with body literacy. So knowing when you ovulate, like not just relying on your app, as you say, but knowing the signs of ovulation. So what, what is happening with your cervical fluid? What’s happening with you energetically and then, you know, delving deeper into your period, what’s happening there? Don’t just look. Oh, well, my app tells me I’m going to have my period. But what’s happening to your body now? Are you feeling a sense of winding down? What’s happening to you? What are the other physical signs that you can connect with? Because we, it’s another I feel like it’s another example of how we’re just kind of offloading our responsibility onto a piece of technology when we actually get a lot of benefit from knowing more about our bodies. I want to ask what you said. You said that you talked about 28 day cycles. And in that study, only 13 percent of women had their 28 day cycles where you said a textbook definition. But where does this this idea of 28 day cycles come from?

Joyce:It’s one of those historic things that gets put into a book, there would have been a study I have looked at some of the old studies, but there were a lot of the early studies on the menstrual cycle. Someone along the way had decided to pick women of 28 days. It’s sort of, you know, 28 days. It it’s like rounding things up. And it’s you know, you’ve got the lunar 28 days as well. And we’ve got 28 days fits nicely into four weeks. So some of the very early studies people, the scientists doing them, had decided to pick women with 28 day cycles of normal body weight to do their studies on. So if you, if you pick those sorts of women, most of them might ovulate around 14, 15 for sure. But they were often small studies. And as I said, they’ve picked a very narrow range of people. So those early studies didn’t appreciate that women are so individual and diverse and we all do different things. So now once these things get put in books and then taught and it sort of escalates and trying to undo that is one of my missions. But it’s really tough. So, yeah, it’s historic early studies that were done and they obviously had to pick one group of women to do them because they didn’t want too many variables.

So in my book I have, I’m covering all of this and I’m trying to get women to understand the science behind their bodies. But as, as you just said, I totally agree that I think women should learn about their bodies, learn about what happens when they’re ovulating, their cervical mucus. I think the two most important things of menstrual cycle are our periods and ovulation, and they’re not hard to understand. So I want women to understand how their bodies work. And the reason I’ve, I’ve just written this book and the reason why I’ve spent the majority of the last 30 odd years working in this field, because when I was younger, when I was at university, I realised that so many of my friends didn’t understand how their body worked. They didn’t understand what was really happening in a period. They certainly didn’t understand ovulation. They didn’t understand how contraceptions were working or about sexually transmitted infections. So I’ve always wanted to write, but I did start writing a book in 1987. I wish I was joking. I didn’t I did start writing a book to explain to women how their bodies work. And I think nowadays more women want to know this, but the information out there is saturated with false information on websites and unclear information, so I’ve gathered all this together in a book for women to understand their fertile years from puberty to the menopause and to embrace being a woman and to understand how well that works and understand how we can keep healthy. Because lots of information we have now is that is that if we want to get pregnant or we’re going through the menopause, if we’re leading a healthy lifestyle, all of this will be a lot easier.

But also, if something’s wrong, if we’re having really heavy periods at a young age, if we’re having really irregular periods or very short or very long, or if we think we might not be ovulating every month, if women are in tune with their bodies and pick these things up themselves, then they it’s not just to do fertility, do their own female health. I would encourage them to go and visit a doctor sooner rather than later and say I’m just a bit concerned about my menstrual cycle because sometimes that could pick up endometriosis, it could pick up polycystic ovarian syndrome, and there could affect our fertility. But more immediate, they actually affects our health and our menstrual health. So I think I don’t think women should wait till they’re trying to get pregnant and then think, oh, I’ve realised I’ve got polycystic ovaries. I think we should look at our menstrual cycle much earlier and if we do think something’s wrong. But how are you going to know something’s wrong if you’re not educated about it properly and if it’s at school you’re told 28 day cycle, ovulation 14. So this is what I’ve written a book. I’ve written a book to tell women everything I can about itemising their health, their mental health, their pre pregnancy, health, everything.

Le’Nise: You said something that I wholeheartedly believe in. So how are you supposed to know something is wrong if you’re not taught what is normal and what isn’t? And I see that all the time. We, we have these cultural messages that having period pain is normal. Feeling like emotionally all over the place before your period is normal. I saw someone posting on Instagram a couple of months ago talking about how bloating is normal. And I just, you know, all of these messages that we receive and then where we then internalise and think, well, that’s normal, so I just have to live with that. So I love the fact that you put coming out with a book about all of this. So tell us more about the book when it’s coming out, if it’s out, if it’s not out already and when we can get our hands on it.

Joyce: Thank you so much. So as I said, I started writing this in nineteen eighty seven. There was a there was one book I’d come across called Our Body Our Selves, which is an American book, which is great. But I thought there’s some things in there that they haven’t quite covered and I would like to write that, but I was very young and time goes very quickly. So around about 7, 8 years ago, I’d be working in the fertility field the whole of this time, I started my career as a clinical embryologist, working in the lab in a fertility clinic, helping people get pregnant. And then I’ve been doing research to do with infertility since then. And I I’m Director of Education at the Institute for Women’s Health at University College London. So I’m absolutely passionate about educating our future professionals, but also women. So about 7, 8 years ago, I set up a website called Global Women Connected and wanted to have a place to start discussing these. And so we still, I still post a lot on there. And it’s been really good to help me think about what women want to know. But a few years ago, I thought, I think I need to write that book. I really do. So I wrote it a couple of years ago and I actually covered it from birth to death. It was a whole women’s life course, had some trouble trying to get it published and basically now it’s going to be published with Hodder. Today is actually an important day. Today’s the day I send the final manuscript to my publisher. Good omen. So I’m just finishing reading the last bits through now again. So Hodder will be publishing this book in early next year and I’m absolutely on a mission to go to book clubs, go to women’s groups, lecture to women and men and men. It takes, you know, fertile years, these effect men as well. It takes two to make a baby. And so I really now want to spend the next years of my career doing more events, getting all of these things out on the table, so the book starts with your anatomy and a bit about puberty. I talk about female fertility decline. So unfortunately for women, all the quantity and the quality of our eggs starts to go down. And that’s that’s a whole other podcast. But from the age of about 35, even though, we may feel wonderful. Our fertility is decreasing. And again, women are getting false information about this. We’re seeing celebrities have children at 50, but it’s it’s not real. It’s really not real. So there’s a lot about female fertility decline. But I’ve got chapters on contraception, about sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy, even covered the menopause. I’ve talked about egg freezing. Some women feel that maybe egg freezing might be the answer to put their fertility on hold, so they can delay being a mother. So I’ve talked about the advantages and disadvantages, so I’m really looking forward to it coming out. And I want to get this message out there and help women understand how their bodies work and how they can be healthy and really look after themselves.

Le’Nise: Sounds so exciting. Well, we’ll have to get you back on when the book comes out. I can’t wait to read it. What would you, what message would you want to give women about their mental health, their hormone health, their fertility, any of those areas? What message would you want to leave women with?

Joyce: So I talk about the four pillars of wellbeing to live our life and men and women. So we have nutrition. We, we really have to look after our nutrition healthy five a day, not processed food, etc.. I don’t I’m not a fan of any of these wacky diets. They come and they go on and I’ve tried them all over my lifetime. So we’ve got nutrition, just sensible nutrition. There’s no pill you can pop for fertility or menstrual cycle vitamin cocktail that’s going to change everything. We should be healthy.

The second is exercise. I’m I’m a huge, passionate exerciser. I I’m a qualified aerobics teacher. I don’t teach anymore. But I used to in my 20s and I’m I’m an ambassador for This Girl Can, the UK scheme to encourage women and girls to exercise.

Then we’ve got sleep. Sleep’s really important for our wellbeing. And unfortunately, some people now sit in bed with their phones and their gadgets on social media. And so we’ve got to make sure we get enough sleep.

And finally, it’s our mental health and we’ve got to look after our mental health. So we’ve got to keep stress, anxiety, depression in a really good place and look after that. So I would say to any woman, if you if you’re looking after your wellbeing, you should, should really help your menstrual cycle. You should hopefully reduce your PMS if you’re experiencing it. And then when you want to have children, if you want to have children, you’ll be prepared. This is all the preparation that you need is to be living a healthy life. And then again, if you’re, if you’re pregnant, the same things apply. And then preparing for the menopause again, I would say the same thing. You know, I think, unfortunately, a lot of women drink too much alcohol and then they say, oh, I’m feeling depressed and I can’t sleep. And, you know, well, how much alcohol are you drinking? Oh, you know, every day and half a bottle. And, you know, so all of these things, if you’re smoking cigarettes, if you’re eating poor food, all of these things will affect our general health, but especially our menstrual health, fertility, pregnancy and menopause. So that would be my biggest message, just get in that routine as soon as you can and really look after your your body, your body’s a temple, look after it.

But the last thing would be if you’re doing everything really great and you’re suffering from anything, you know, heavy periods, PMS, no periods too many periods, whatever, you think there might be something wrong, then it’s really important. Don’t suffer in silence. If you’re unsure, go and see your doctor and try not to Google it. We always do. But please go and see your doctor and get it checked. Be safe rather than sorry. Just check it. And it’s better to check it sooner rather than later. 

Le’Nise: That’s brilliant. So really don’t don’t guess get it checked. I love that. That’s so important. Don’t don’t be beholden to Dr. Google. If if listeners they’re listening to what you’re saying, they really connect with what you’re saying. How can they find you to find out more about the work you do?

Joyce: So I do a lot of social media on Instagram and Twitter, I’m @profjoyceharper. If you Google me, you’ll come to my website as well. And then I have a Facebook group called Global Women Connected and post various things on there and get discussions going. So I’m on LinkedIn, Prof Joyce Harper. You’ll find me so very easy to find. I’m pretty sure if you just put Joyce Harper in Google, good old Google, it just comes straight up with all my contacts. So always welcome to have conversations and hear things and just get the message out there. Let’s, let’s talk about women’s health. Let’s normalise it.

Le’Nise: Yes. Yes. Let’s normalise women, women’s health. I love that. Thank you so much for coming on to the show. It’s been so wonderful speaking to you.

Joyce: Thank you so much.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 38: Dr. Dani Gordon, CBD And Botanical Medicine Is About Empowering Yourself

On today’s episode of Period Story, I had the pleasure of speaking to Dr Dani Gordon, an expert in CBD and cannabis medicine and the author of the book, the CBD Bible. Dani is a double board certified medical doctor and integrative medicine physician. She has advised the UN, governments and physician bodies on the use of medical cannabis and also co-founded the UK Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society, trained the UK’s first cannabis medicine specialists and helped set up the UK’s first cannabis medicine clinics.For anyone that’s interested in CBD, especially its use for period pain, this episode is a must-listen! 

We talked about Dani’s first period and how she learned to manage her menstrual health as a competitive swimmer. She says she felt really empowered by her first period and really supported by her mom during this time.

We talked about the link between stress and changes in periods and menstrual cycles (something I’m seeing a lot right now!). Dani shared how as she got older, she started to link the heavy periods she was experiencing with stress and what she did to manage this stress. Her doctor told her that her only option was to suppress the hormone imbalances and bad periods with the pill 🥴 Listen to hear how Dani gradually realised there were other things she could do to manage and improve her menstrual health.

Dani talks about how she started out as a conventionally trained medical doctor and told me what inspired her to shift to integrative medicine and to ultimately focus on CBD and cannabis medicine. She shares how her patients opened her eyes to the benefits of cannabis for chronic pain relief and this inspired her to learn more.

Listen to learn the difference between CBD and THC, what the endocannabinoid system is and the wide range of conditions CBD can help with (including period pain!). The world of CBD is rapidly growing in the UK and Dani shares her top tips on how to choose the right type for you, including ways to access medicinal cannabis for severe conditions.

Dani says that CBD and botanical medicine is about empowering yourself about your health and wellness and taking control back. Thank you, Dani!

Get in touch with Dani:

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DANI’S BIO

Dr Dani Gordon is a double board certified medical doctor, integrative medicine physician and world leading expert in CBD, cannabis medicine, brain wellness and stress resilience. She has advised the UN, governments and physician bodies on the use of medical cannabis, and was one of the youngest physicians to become American board certified in Integrative Medicine (the newest US physician sub-specialty). She also co-founded the UK Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society, trained the UK’s first cannabis medicine specialists and helped set up the UK’s first cannabis medicine clinics.

She has studied mindbody medicine at Harvard, yoga and meditation extensively throughout India and south east Asia with traditional teachers, QEEG brain scanning and EEG neurofeedback brainwave training with the top leaders in North America. Dr Gordon is the co-founder of UltraResilience, a wellness company specializing in burnout and stress resilience programs for individuals and organizations.

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

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

Dani: Thanks for having me, Le’Nise.

Le’Nise: So let’s start off by getting into the story of your first period. Can you tell us what happened? 

Dani: So I was trying to think back to my first period when you emailed me and I was thinking, gosh, I don’t have a very, very clear recollection for some of the parts. But certainly I remember that I was 12. I was a competitive swimmer at the time. So it was kind of a big deal because, of course, I was training at quite a high level in the swimming pool and I needed to think about what I was going to do when I had my period. A lot of people on the swim team who were my age were taking days off of training when they had their period. And it was the big decision almost right away: do I use a tampon?

Which is kind of a traumatic decision for a 12 year old. But I was really lucky. My parents are really supportive of just body image stuff in general. And my mom was really supportive. So we talked it out. And I think I think I had a few periods in and then she basically taught me how to use the tampon and it went OK. And I went to swim practice. And I remember feeling pretty empowered because I didn’t have to take practices off when I had my period. So I think that’s the thing I remember most about. My first year was I was with my first friends to use a tampon and then of course, everyone wanted to know about it and it was a big deal.

So I didn’t really have any bad periods per se when I first started menstruating. But definitely when I was a teenager, 15, 16, I did get some heavy periods. I think partly it was due to stress. I was a very driven teenager. I was very academic. I put a lot of pressure on myself. And I think looking back, a lot of it was related to when I was when I was over, overly stressed or kind of stretched too thin with my academics and my sport. And I remember going up the stairs of my high school and we had to wear uniforms, so I had to wear a kilt. And I remember feeling blood trickling down my leg, walking up the stairs and just being mortified. And then I had a big patch of period blood on my, on my, my kilt. And I had to wrap my, my sweater around my waist for the rest of the day. 

So I think those are kind of two of the most emblazoned period memories I, I have probably, from being a teenager. So, nothing too dramatic, but certainly that that walking up the stairs worrying about boys seeing me, I think those are things that a lot of women go through and no one really talks about, though. So I often, I often talk about these things when I do talks about women’s health.

Le’Nise: And going back to when you got your first period, you said it was really empowering. 

Your mom taught you how to use a tampon and knowing that so swimming is quite intense, you’re in the water. You never had any issues after you learnt how to use a tampon with your swimming, on your period. 

Dani: No, I was actually really lucky. I think that part was really easy. It was kind of later on when I started to have some heavy periods that I started to really connect it to, oh maybe this is stress related? What can I do about this really heavy period that I’m having? But the first few years, my periods were quite light and I just was able to use kind of the junior tampon. And I went to swim practice and it was it was almost like it wasn’t a big deal. I remember even having a big race when I had my period, probably when I was about thirteen. And I did a lot of visualisation as part of my training. 

So I would visualise myself feeling more powerful because I was having my period and going through this race rather than I think the other way of thinking about it: I’m going to be really tired for this race. Or maybe someone had a heavy period, they would be really tired. So I think generally my, my first experiences were positive. But certainly I think the fact that I remember that walking up the stairs and bleeding, it’s probably probably a bit of a traumatic experience.

Le’Nise: And you said that you linked having a heavy period with stress, which is quite, quite advanced. 

When I think about the other guests that I’ve had on the show or other women I’ve spoken to, when they, when they’ve heavy periods, often they’re not sure why they have heavy periods and they just kind of get, get on with it. How did you learn how did you make that connection and how did you learn about what was happening to you? 

Dani: I think it was just kind of a thought that I had really when I was a teenager and when I was 16, I finished, I went to university when I was 17 and I already knew I wanted to do medicine, so I was already kind of had a bit of a scientific mind, I think, thinking about these things. But there is not a lot of information out there. Like when I went to my doctor about my heavy periods, he said, “well, you can you can go on the pill if you want.” And that’s what I ended up doing because I also wanted birth control when I was around 16. So I talked it over with my mom. My mom was really supportive and she said, “if you’re going to be sexually active, you want to be safe and you should go on a birth control pill and all these things and then it’ll help your periods.” And I also had some teenage acne. So those three things kind of led me to the pill. But when I went to discuss that with my medical doctor as a teenager, there was not even any discussion of stress and periods, really. That was something I just kind of thought about.

And what did I do about it? Well, nothing really concrete, really, at the time. I guess I was just trying to connect the dots. And really, as I got into university and I had to really manage my stress, I got more into yoga and meditation quite early. I was, I started doing yoga by 18 to help the stress at university. So I think for me it was just a gradual kind of realisation versus the doctor’s opinion at the time. The GP’s opinion was, “OK, you just well, if you have bad periods or if you have hormonal imbalances just suppress it with the pill, that’s the only option.” It wasn’t really ever discussed, anything else that could be a factor. And of course, I’m not against going on the pill either. Some some of my patients say the pills saved them. We’re going on an IUD. So I’m not against the western medical solutions. But I do think when it’s offered as the only conversation for women, that can be a little bit limiting or a lot limiting. I think this idea that you just the only thing to do when you have a bad period is just suppress it rather than digging, as you said, into stress playing a factor. Are hormones playing a factor? I didn’t learn really about the fact that we had hormone cycles until I was in medical school properly about oh, so maybe I feel more energised. I can do more cardio training in the first half of my cycle versus the second half of my cycle. I generally feel maybe not so energised and I need to be more eating different foods, having a more nourishing diet, more nourishing routine, avoiding the caffeine. Those things I didn’t learn about until I learnt about the anatomy and physiology of periods in medical school. And even then they just taught us the kind of medical parts. But they didn’t ever connect it back with saying, oh, this is how you can change your lifestyle or in your period. It was just purely like this is what the hormone levels do at this day. So I felt like I was really disconnected. I had to kind of connect the dots myself. 

Le’Nise: And when you were making those connections so, I mean, by the way, everything you’re saying is music to my ears. 

But when you are making those connections and when you were putting the pieces together and did it change what you thought about being on the pill? Talk a little bit about your journey coming off the pill. 

Dani: Yeah, that’s a really good question. So I was one of the main reasons I really liked the pill because I had this teenage acne. So of course, my mom wanted to help me with my acne. She bought me this. I remember she bought me this expensive infomercial kind of natural system for my acne that it didn’t work but she really wanted to help me. I was really, like, really supportive parents. So when I decided to come off the pill, it was really I guess it was near the end of medical school. So I was 24 at the time. So I’d been on the pill for almost a decade and I didn’t really have any side effects on the pill. I felt fine. My skin looked great. I just I didn’t have bad periods. I had very light periods.

But one of the things that made me consider coming off it actually was is really two things. The first one was I started to study more natural medicine at the same time as I was taking my medical degree. And I got, I got really interested in getting in touch with my cycles and the fact that when you’re on the pill, you have pill periods, you’re not really in touch with the natural cycles. So I really wanted to see what would happen if I had a natural cycle and I got into a natural rhythm. What would happen to to my emotions would I, I don’t know would I have a better sex drive. And I didn’t even know that my sex drive was lower on the pill necessarily. But I wondered if things like, for example, reaching orgasm was was a problem on the pill, because it’s another thing I didn’t really understand fully at the time. Even though I had a boyfriend, I was sexually active, but I didn’t feel like it was easy for me to have an orgasm. And I was like, ‘OK, well, of course there’s a medical school. So I was doing all this research on the pill. I wonder if apparently the pill can cause this.’

So there was all these little things that kind of led me to say, well, I think I just want to try coming off of it. So that’s what I did. And when I stopped the pill, it was a really interesting process for a few reasons. The first thing is when you come off the pill and you’re this and this is like 15, 20 years, 15 years ago, the first reaction to a boyfriend, of course, is, oh, now we have to use condoms. They don’t like it very much. So first of all, you have the male pressure. Second of all, my skin just went crazy. So my skin, it gradually got worse. And then it got my acne really, really came back and my periods did get heavier. So I had that to deal with. And but I decided actually to stay off of it because I did find my sex drive did increase and I really liked it. And I did feel like it was easier for me to reach orgasm in sexual intercourse. And I just thought that that was such a great benefit that I really wanted to see what else I could do naturally. And in that way, that was kind of the beginning of me going down more of a natural route towards kind of managing my cycles, realising that if I wasn’t on the pill, I did some topical treatments for my acne. So I used the benzyl peroxide and I used a few of the vitamin A acids. I was really lucky I didn’t have to do any Accutane or anything, so I kind of managed my skin like that.

I got into really looking at my cycle as kind of a cycle, not me feeling the same way every day. And that really helped. And I really started to look at my stress levels and I added herbals like ashwagandha. And I started taking a lot of supplements. I already had a very healthy diet, but I started adding more healthy oils to my diet and all those things just really helped. So I never went back on the pill. And I think the biggest pressure to go back on the pill over the years has probably been boyfriends and guys, because it’s a pain in the butt when you’re in a long term relationship to not be on the pill. But I decided I was really going to stick with my decision. And for me, it’s been the best decision. And I wouldn’t say that for everybody, of course. But, yeah, that was it was a big it was a big shift for me. 

Le’Nise: Can you talk a little bit more about the connection between the pill and libido, because what you said is quite interesting. And you said that you when you were on it, you still were having sex, but you noticed that when you came off that your orgasms were more intense. As a physician, can you talk a little bit more about why that might be? 

Dani: So there’s it’s not really a very well studied area, to be honest, but some women find that they have trouble reaching orgasm when they are on the pill. And it’s probably because the way the pill affects our natural hormones, but we don’t know exactly, exactly why. And some women don’t find a difference and some women do. And I think because of the lack of really sexual education to the point of focussing on women’s orgasms, when I was a teenager, I didn’t really know a lot about how to have an orgasm or how to self pleasure and all these things. So for me, when I first started having intercourse with my first serious boyfriend, I was 17, I, I really didn’t know much about it. I just thought having good sex, was feeling pleasure and not feeling pain. And that was kind of it. And we didn’t, I didn’t really talk about what I liked with my partner or how to maybe for him to help me have an orgasm. 

So I think it was a lack of, I guess, awareness about women’s orgasm in general that led me to really maybe take a few more years to kind of put the connection together. ‘Oh, I wonder if I’m not having orgasms when I have intercourse with a partner, partly because, well, maybe I don’t know how to pleasure myself properly.’ I went on that journey. And then the other thing is, ‘I wonder if it’s the pills.’ So, yeah, we don’t really know. But a lot of my patients will say the same thing. 

They will. And oftentimes, unless I ask them, they will never bring it up. But I often will ask on certain medications as well. “Have how is, how is your your sex is, your libido, how are you able to reach orgasm or are you happy with it.” And women don’t care. And that’s fine too, some women are just not really into sex that much and everyone’s different. But if it bothers them that they’re not having orgasms or if their libido is low, it bothers them, then I think it’s something to do, something to look at definitely as a possible factor. 

Le’Nise: I want to talk more about the connection between stress and periods, because it’s certainly something that I’m seeing a lot in my practice where being in a pandemic, being in lockdown, women are coming to me and saying, my period is late, it’s missing or it’s longer or it’s more painful. And you’ve talked about the connection between the changes in your period and stress. For listeners who are putting the pieces together for themselves, can you talk a little bit more about why that connection happens? 

Dani: Definitely. So this is something we know a lot about, actually, and I think doctors should talk more about it. So when your, your cortisol, when your stress hormone levels are high chronically over a longer period of time, you tend to crave sweets and carbohydrates because the body thinks that you’re constantly trying to run away from a sabertooth Tiger. So the body gets confused because we’re supposed to have this this rush of stress when we’re in physical danger, so when we were cavemen, we were living our life in the jungle and everything was great, and then we would see a sabertooth tiger and the cortisol would come on, would enable us to run away from the tiger, give us that muscle energy, and then the cortisol will go back down once the tiger was gone. But the modern life, we have all these mental threats. So your boss emails you something stressful, you have a due date at work, you have a fight with your partner. All of these little things build up, build up, build up. And the body treats it the same way as if you were constantly running away from a tiger if you’re not managing your stress. So what happens instead of the cortisol coming back down, that stays high. So, yes, you get those food cravings.

It even affects memory consolidation, so you feel foggy, but kind of wired, so I call it tired, but wired problem, irritable and on edge, but unable to wind down, you don’t make as much sleep hormone at night, naturally. So your body can’t sleep as deeply and then is a vicious cycle and then you need more caffeine, like a little bit of caffeine in the morning. Like I drink a cup of coffee in the morning, but I just limit it to one. And for most people that’s OK. But if you’re needing caffeine more, then I say really a cup or two in the morning every day and you need it to wake up. That’s potentially a sign that your body is feeling quite stressed clinically. So all these things, of course, go back to affect our women’s hormones that balance our cycles, because if we’re not sleeping properly, we’re not eating the right foods, we’re not supporting our women’s hormonal system. Then things start to get out of balance and period problems show up. And then there’s genetics. So some women are blessed with just being, I call it, having a high stress set point. And some people are not. And it’s no one’s fault. It’s just the way it, it’s partially genetics, partially environment, partially what, what we’re conditioned over the years, our life experience, all these factors. 

So so. Yeah. So that’s that’s really how stress plays a central role. 

Le’Nise: That’s really interesting. 

And I think that will be really helpful for listeners who are trying to understand why the changes they’ve been experiencing recently have manifested in their periods. So now I want to talk a little bit more about your journey into becoming an integrated physician. So for listeners who don’t know, can you explain what an integrative physician is?

Dani: Sure. 

So like we talked about earlier, so I’m trained as a conventional medical doctor. So I went through the normal training, but throughout my training, And it really did start with me really getting interested in stress myself. And I’ve always been interested. I was a teenager about stress and its effects. But in my third year of medical school, I went through a very challenging period and I had a harassment, a sexual harassment case with a senior physician that I was under his, his tutelage. And it was very, very stressful. And in the end, my school had to be very supportive. I end up reporting him, but it went on for a few months and I reached the point where I felt so stressed I didn’t want to go to work. I felt like I knew what my patients with depression felt like because I was just so underslept and stressed. And it was really a turning point for me. Like I knew I was interested in holistic medicine before that, but after that I got really into meditation and managing stress and really just being connected with myself on a deeper level. 

So I decided to start taking courses in natural medicine. So I took a course in Chinese traditional medicine at my university. I was one of about four students. I’d already done some some training in nutrition, some courses, but I did more of that. And then I just kind of continued on doing courses. And then when I graduated and opened my practice in family medicine, I decided because after about six months, a lot of my patients were just having all these chronic conditions that weren’t getting better with the pill alone approach. Although, of course, I’m not anti drug, I wanted to give them more. So I ended up seeking a programme in the United States called the Integrative Medicine Fellowship, which is for conventional medicine doctors to do basically a two year fellowship programme. And what we learn in that programme is basically evidence based natural medicine. So we do mind body medicines o we learn about mindfulness and BSR, mindfulness, stress reduction, meditation, everything from lifestyle, medicine to how exercise affects us, nutritional medicine. And then, of course, the other arm that that was botanical medicine, which really led me into cannabis medicine and CBD. So I went and did that and I brought that back to my practice and I started using botanicals alongside drugs with my patients. I started using dietary, lifestyle approaches ranging from the very, very simple to the more complex and using functional medicine testing, that kind of thing. So that was really my journey. I really added it because I was seeing the need with my patients and it was what I was doing myself, because I always said I would love to offer my patients the same quality of wellness and education about their health as I would want myself and I take supplements myself. I take herbals. I know I try to minimise the use of drugs. I mean, all of these things I wanted to do for myself, I really I really want to share with my patients.

And the unique thing about the integrative medicine programme in the US and now they have it at Harvard, University of Arizona, UCLA. So this is a fully board qualified speciality of conventional medicine in the US. So that was a big deal. That was this is the new speciality basically in the last few few years. When I did it in 2012, I was one of the first I think I was the first, I was one of the first in Canada to do it. And then it became a fully board qualified speciality, just like cardiology or ob gyn in 2017, it’s still not recognised as a special speciality in the UK, it’s just recognised as a special interest. But the cool thing about it is is it’s all evidence based. So I studied, I did a course at Harvard with the father of mind body medicine, Herbert Benson, and I studied with these amazing doctors who were all medical doctors, but they were using their medical expertise to really go beyond the drugs only approach. So everything in integrative medicine has evidence. That’s what’s really unique about it in terms of the natural medicine world, is it’s all really based on research and evidence. And I really like that approach as a scientist. 

Le’Nise: You mentioned that you then had been focussing on botanicals, so herbs and you mentioned CBD. So for listeners who aren’t familiar, tell tell us what CBD is. 

Dani: So when I first started getting into botanical medicine, I’ve been using botanicals in my practice for about a decade. So it wasn’t the first one that I used, certainly. But what really led me to it was a lot of my patients were in Canada were really bad chronic pain patients, my cancer patients, my palliative care patients, some of them were starting to grow their own cannabis or get cannabis oils from like a local kind of black market at the time, herbalists. And I got really curious about that because I was also, I was prescribing other botanicals alongside drug therapy, but I wasn’t using cannabis because of the stigma. 

There was no commercial products at the time to prescribe. And I had a lot of baggage around the word cannabis from my medical training. And they didn’t really even know the difference between CBD and THC as far as medical doctors, that everyone just thought cannabis bad, THC all the same. Of course, it’s not true. So when I started realising my patients were getting, were getting relief from their chronic pain and it’s helping palliate their cancer symptoms, not cure, but just helping with the palliation in their sleep and all these things. And they were coming down off their opioids like some of the other more harmful drugs. I was very, very curious.

So I started doing a lot of my own research. I started reading a lot of research papers which were really in animal models when I first started looking into it. There’s a Canadian who’s actually American but does a lot of work in Canada called Dr Ethan Russo who’s a neurologist who was doing a lot of cannabis publishing. I had a colleague in Colorado, Dr Scott Shannon, who was a psychiatrist, conventionally trained psychiatrist, and he was starting to use CBD and medical cannabis with his patients, mainly CBD. So I got really interested and I just started researching and asking my patients and thinking maybe I should be prescribing this somehow if it’s possible. So then really why I got interested in CBD specifically, it’s just one chemical in the plant, but CBD does not have any, what’s called basically does not make you high. It’s called psycho[…] properties. That’s THC. That can make you feel high or intoxicated, although it also has medicinal properties.

CBD is non intoxicating, so it does not make you feel high or stoned or impair you in any way, but it has a lot of really powerful properties. It’s an anti inflammatory. 

It helps with the gut health. And we think it may help kind of tone the endocannabinoid system, which is our natural cannabis producing system we have in our own bodies. I’ve seen it help for everything from topical use, and sometimes people find that helps with their skin conditions to really serious autoimmune disorders and epilepsy and anxiety disorders. So that’s that. I really got interested in very high CBD, low THC, medical cannabis. That was that’s what I prescribe most in my practice. 

Le’Nise: For listeners who are going into this world of CBD, so we’re recording from the UK, so THC is illegal here, but I know it’s not, so Canada where I’m from originally, it’s not. So in the UK, if they want to dive into the world of legal cannabis, where would you recommend that they start? 

Dani: It’s a really good question. So in the UK, so I’ve moved back. I’m British and Canadian, I think like you as well, right?

Le’Nise:Yeah, yeah.

Dani: So we’re very lucky. We’ve moved back about two years ago and all this cannabis legislation was changing in the UK. So currently here in the UK, if you are interested in trying CBD for a wellness indication. So just for helping with stresser, kind of mild to moderate anxiety, you can buy a CBD product from hemp over the counter and you can buy it at a health food store. So CBD from Hemp is a CBD, but it comes from a variety of the cannabis plant that is, has no very low THC or the THC has been removed. So that’s legal to buy without a prescription. If you have a medical condition, then it’s always safer to do it under the advice in the prescribing of a doctor, of course. So that would be someone who might have endometriosis, for example, or might have really severe PMDD, premenstrual dysmorphic disorder or really severe anxiety disorder or sleep disorder.

And here in the UK, I’ve actually been a lot of my work since I’ve been back, has been in the non-profit sector and the education and government sector. So I have been training a lot of the first doctors in medical cannabis. So medical cannabis, even containing THC is legal, but by prescription. So if you have, if you’re on a lot of medications, for example, if you have epilepsy, if you have endometriosis, then that’s a reason you might want to see a doctor who specialises in this type of medicine. And again, that’s what I’ve been, my focus of my work really in the UK, it’s been training doctors in this and I volunteer a lot of my time for a lot of the non-profits to help train doctors. So you would see a doctor on the GMC specialist register and they would assess you for medical cannabis and they’d probably still prescribe high CBD, low THC. But it probably the oil that they would prescribe for you probably has a little bit more THC than you would get in the shop and for pain conditions, for sleep, for a lot of different medical conditions that are quite severe, that tiny bit or a little bit more of THC actually makes it work a lot better. 

Le’Nise: Really interesting. So if you’re in the UK and you have severe, so like stage four endometriosis and you’re really struggling with the pain, so you’re saying, look at the GMC register, general medical council.

Dani: Well, you won’t find it there. So this is where it gets complicated. The best place to go for information if you’re looking for a doctor, I’m not seeing patients at the moment because I’m going on maternity leave in another four weeks. But I’ll be back. But in the meantime, I’ve trained some, I’ve worked with some lovely colleagues over here. And the best way to find them is to go to the non-profit that I vice chair in the UK. It’s called the UKmccs.org. So we’re a non-profit. All of the doctors on our council volunteer their time, including myself and our chair, Professor Mike Barnes. 

And we have a list of the clinics that prescribe medical cannabis across the U.K. There’s unfortunately, they’re all private at the moment. There’s no NHS prescriptions being written. We’re doing a lot of campaigning to try to change that. But I think, to be honest, we’re quite a ways away as far as probably a few years. Unfortunately, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes to get it available. But it’s, it’s a slow process, I have to be honest. So sadly, it’s in the private sector right now. So you have to pay privately to get the prescription and to see the doctor. 

But that the UK MCSS website has a lot of resources so people can find out who is prescribing, what clinics are in what area, all that kind of stuff. That’s the best place to go if you want medical cannabis, if you have a really severe condition. Otherwise, if you want to try CBD, it’s very safe from hemp for most people unless you’re on certain medications. Again, that would be the medical category. But in general, if you’re not, it’s very safe to try on your own and you can pick up a good quality CBD oil and just give it a shot yourself. 

Le’Nise: Actually for listeners, all the links that Dani just mentioned will be in the show notes. In your book, the CBD Bible, you talk about the importance of full spectrum CBD. And that’s something that, if you go to a shop and you want to purchase some CBD, that’s something you should be looking out for. Why is that important? 

Dani:It’s a really good question. So full spectrum CBD is basically CBD that’s been extracted from the whole plant and it’s still retains at least some of those other plant chemicals in it. So there’s things called other cannabinoids. So there’s something called CB, CB, CBDV, THCA there’s so many other plant chemicals in the plant that can be beneficial both for a wellness use and for a medical use. And they all work together in the plant because it’s called what’s, what’s called a herbal synergy or some people in cannabis know it as is the entourage effect. So I do find that full spectrum products work work the best. That being said, the the rules and the laws in the UK, around CBD in Europe are changing quite swiftly. And as of next year, it’s probably not going to be the case that you will be able to get full spectrum CBD. It’s going to be just pure CBD, which is still beneficial. But often people find they need a higher dose. So when that does happen, when those laws change, you might find that you need to up your dose or you need to look for a product that’s been kind of teched up a little bit. So there’s kind of some high tech products that are probably becoming. So they’ll probably be trying to add some of those other plant chemicals back in one at a time. So it’s never going to be the same as full spectrum. But that will probably unfortunately, again, this is something that I wasn’t happy to see happening, but it looks like it’s inevitable now. But right now, if you can get a full spectrum product, certainly I think that that does work the best at the lower doses for most people. And again, it’s not universal, this people always say, well, what’s the evidence? Well, there’s not really good big studies to prove this. There’s a few animal model studies that looks at pure CBD versus full spectrum for pain in rats. And they think the full spectrum works better at lower doses. But the evidence is weak, I have to say. But clinically, from what I’ve seen over the years, I do think it works a bit better.

Le’Nise: So a lot of listeners to the podcast will be really interested in everything we’re talking about and they’ll be interested in how they can use CBD for specific conditions that they’re facing, so we’re podcasts about periods, so let’s talk about period problems. So in the book you talk about how we can use CBD if you have period pain. And you mentioned a kind of protocol that you can use. Can you talk a little bit about that? 

Dani: Sure, yeah. So there’s a whole chapter in the book about women’s health and periods, and then there’s a whole nother chapter about sex and libido and CBD. So but to distil it down, there’s not a lot of big study, well, there’s no big studies for its use and periods. And this is something that I talk about in the book is being really kind of annoying and frustrating when I was writing this chapter is I realise even for men’s health, there’s more evidence and studies than for women’s health conditions. And unfortunately, this is something that kind of permeates medicine. A lot of women’s health conditions are understudied, although it’s changing, luckily, but it is still a phenomenon we see.

And this is definitely the case with the CBD in women’s health. That being said, CBD has a lot of antiinflammatory properties and it can help lower stress for many people. So, of course, this is definitely related to how bad periods are. It’s not, it’s not going to cure your period pain if you just start using a little bit of CBD. But a lot of people find that it makes a massive, massive difference in order for them to not even really notice their period pain anymore and everything in between. Some people find it helps them 20 percent or 30 percent. Some people find it helps them 70 percent, because everyone is different with response to the dose of CBD, because everyone’s body responds slightly in a unique way. That all being said, if you’re using it purely for period pain, but you don’t have mood issues throughout the throughout the month, it’s just the period pain that you want to target. A reasonable way to start would be starting to use a CBD oil potentially 5 days or 3 days before maybe even 3 days before your menstrual cycle starts. You have to track on an app. For example, there’s one called iPeriod that I that I use personally. And there’s lots, though. And then your period will start probably on this date. So 3 days before you can start taking your CBD and you could start with 10 or 15 milligrams, 2 – 3 times a day with a meal. And then on the days that you have bad period pain, you can really up the dose and you can experiment with that. Of course, the cost goes up when you start really upping the dose. That’s the downside.

And for acute pain, like to stop pain in the moment, THC tends to work better. So that’s why if you have really bad period pain, sometimes adding a little bit of THC from, say, a prescription cannabis medicine is going to be a lot more effective for you because CBD is more, it helps with more of the chronic anti inflammatory anti stress effect. And some people do find that it helps their period pain more acutely. But it’s not the norm, I would say. 

Le’Nise: You mentioned it briefly, but I just want to dive into this a little bit more, that CBD is not a cure all. What would you say to someone who’s saying, who would say to I just if I take CBD is going to fix all of my period problems, what would you say to them instead? 

Dani: I see CBD as an amazing botanical medicine tool, but unfortunately, just like anything in botanical medicine or anything in medicine in general, either Western medicine or natural medicine, there is no cure all solution. CBD does, however, do a lot of different things in the body because this the system that we have, this endocannabinoid system, basically we make our own cannabis like chemicals. It affects everything from eating, sleeping, relaxing, stress relief, immune function. So because the system does so much stuff, CBD can do a lot of things too, because it works on this system and other related systems in the brain, in the body. So it can do a lot of different jobs in the brain, in the body. But certainly nothing is a quick fix or cure all. I always tell my patients in integrative medicine, run the other way if someone says they’re going to just give you something and all your problems are going to go away the next day from taking this one bottle of anything. It’s just unfortunately not the way we work because we’re really complex. So I use it as alongside other herbals, alongside stress reduction techniques, alongside integrative medicine and oftentimes alongside drugs too. Western medicine, drugs. So that’s how I see it fitting in. And the medical side, of the wellness side, you probably know you might not need any drugs, but you might still need some help and some help with stress reduction. 

Le’Nise: OK, that’s really interesting. So you now your book has come out, the CBD Bible. Talk a little bit as we close out the show about what prompted you to write the book and what you want readers to get out of it.

Dani: Sure. So this book is really kind of a labour of love of the last 10 years of my experience as an integrative medicine doctor in botanical medicine and then in cannabis medicine. I’ve treated thousands of patients with CBD and medical cannabis, and then I’ve trained a lot of doctors. So I basically wanted to write this because there’s a lot of academic books out there for kind of scientists about CBD and cannabis. And then there’s a lot of lay books that talk about it kind of on a very kind of superficial level. But I didn’t feel like there was a book out there that someone could pick up and flip to the sleep section or flip to the period section and find out how to actually use that in all the nitty gritty details.

So I just wanted to kind of, I guess, spill my guts with all of my secrets and tips that I have found over the years doing this for years and years and years. So people could feel empowered because I think that’s for me, integrative medicine, that’s what it’s all about, is empowering my patients. I think when you take the drugs only approach in Western medicine alone, people can feel really unempowered and they, they just kind of lose their sense of if they can actually help their body rebalance and their internal sense of hope. And that’s where I see integrative medicine being so powerful because there’s so much we can do. You might not be able to cure chronic disease, but we can improve it so much with these tools. And CBD is one of them. So in the book we talk about CBD, but not just CBD, also medical cannabis and all the other things in the plant to stay that way. If you want to use it on the medical side, you know how to talk to your doctor about it because they might not know. They might be open to prescribing it to you, but you might have to educate them on how. So there’s a whole section on every problem on that side of it, too, and then also in CBD wellness. So things you can pick up from the shop yourself and start today and then just how to monitor what you’re trying to, what you’re trying to alleviate and being kind of your own expert. 

Le’Nise: It’s a great book and I would encourage anyone who’s curious about CBD to pick it up. It’s really easy to access and there’s just it’s just packed full of amazing information. So if listeners come away from this podcast with one thought or one piece of information, what would you want that to be? 

Dani:Well, I think CBD is not going anywhere. I think it’s a wellness, it’s a wellness trend in some cases. But I think it’s also kind of a revolution in botanical medicine. So I would say if you if you’re having any of these period problems, in addition to managing your stress and looking at your diet and your lifestyle as far as a single botanical that I would consider, including, it would probably be CBD. So you can check it out, you can just go to a reputable company. There’s a whole section of the book on how to pick a CBD oil as well, not by brand, but by what’s actually in it. And just see for yourself and just do what you do with any kind of wellness routine, just track how you’re feeling. I have a whole section there about tracking your symptoms and tracking how you’re feeling. And I think the messages botanical medicine is about empowering yourself, about your health and wellness, taking control back. 

And that’s where I see CBD being a part of it.

Le’Nise: What a great message to empower yourself. I love that. And I know listeners will too. Thank you so much for coming on the show. If listeners want to buy the book, where can they grab a copy? 

Dani: So it’s in many bookstores, big and small, but because of COVID, that’s not been as possible for many booksellers. So Amazon. So if you go on Amazon, it’s it’s there. If you go to my Instagram, I have a link to it. So should be pretty easy to find. 

Le’Nise: And where can listeners find out more about you? 

Dani: So Instagram, I’m @drdanigordon and there’s a link there to my blog and I post videos there, educational videos and all the information about upcoming talks I’m doing and all that jazz. 

Le’Nise: Brilliant. Thank you so much. 

Dani: Thanks so much for having me. 

Period Story Podcast, Episode 37: Lee Nguni, You Really Have To Trust And Believe What Your Body Is Telling You

I can’t wait for you all to hear my powerful conversation with Lee Nguni, a yoga teacher and medical herbalist in training. I’m so grateful to Lee for sharing her 10 year journey to getting an endometriosis diagnosis, how she was forced to learn how to advocate for herself with healthcare professionals, the medical gaslighting she had to deal with and of course, the story of her first period.

Lee says that she was very excited to get her period because she felt that it would be one of the defining moments of adolescence and ultimately, becoming a grown up. Lee shared that because the women in her family had had difficult periods, she expected that that would be her experience too.

In her 20s, Lee’s periods started to become much more painful and began to affect her quality of life. She said that each time she went to the doctor, they were very dismissive, tell her that what she was experiencing was just part of being a woman and telling her to go onto hormonal contraception.

Lee started to investigate alternative forms of healing and began to educate herself on what could be happening to her as a way of advocating for herself with healthcare professionals. Listen to hear the approach Lee finally had to take in order for her doctors to take what she was telling them seriously.

After 10 years (!!!), Lee finally had a laparoscopy that diagnosed her with stage 4 endometriosis. Lee shares the medical gaslighting she experienced and what she happened after her most recent surgery.

Lee spoke really frankly about her experiences and says that doctors need work more collaboratively with patients in order to bring about the ideal result. Lee says that we really have to trust and believe what our body, heart and mind are telling us and that textbook medical knowledge can never undercut personal experience. Thank you so much, Lee!

Get in touch with Lee:

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LEE’S BIO

Lee is a yoga teacher, medical herbalist in training and a self described explorer of healing landscapes and tradition. 

She believes in the transformative power of movement as medicine and is inspired to share nourishing and restorative practises, as a means to empower individual and communal vitality, through explorations of mind / body, with the help of  the yogic tradition and our often neglected herbal heritage.

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: Welcome to the show. I’m really excited to have you on the show because I know that you have quite a story to tell us and it’s an ongoing journey for you. So let’s get into it, if you could tell us the story of your very first period. 

Lee: So my very first period, I was I think I must have been 12 or. Yeah, I think I was 12. And for me, I already felt like I was the last person on Earth to get a period. And what was so frustrating about it was I’ve been waiting for it since I was like since I found out what they were, which was maybe when I was like seven or eight, I was one of those little girls who always maybe knew a little bit more than everybody else. 

I read a lot and I was really excited for everything that comes along with getting older, going through puberty. And I felt like getting your period was one of, if not the biggest defining moments of your moving into adolescence and ultimately becoming a grown up, which was something I was super excited to do. So at the time I lived with my dad, I grew up with my dad and I’m the only girl in my family. So it was just me and my brothers and I lived with my dad and I’d been waiting and waiting and waiting to get this period. And I felt like everybody else at school had one. And I think I probably even lied that I already had it. 

So I was like, where is it? 

And when it finally came, it was a bit of a. I really expected that I would know that it was here and it just wasn’t what I expected at all. So I and a few days prior, basically before it actually came, every single time I had any kind of stomach disturbance, be it nausea, be it like any kind of stomach issue at all, I’d be like, oh, my God, is this it? So a few days before, I had a stomach pain that I’d never kind of had before. And at this time, for whatever reason, it didn’t occur to me that this could be it. And that kind of happened for a few days. And then on the day it actually came, I got up and I went to the bathroom to use the toilet. And I remember like pulling my pants down to have a wee. And I was like, oh, my goodness, because it also didn’t look like blood. It looked like, like a brown discharge. So I was like, is this it? Is this not it? And I didn’t live with my mother. There wasn’t a woman in the house for me to confirm with. And this is before the Internet was just like a thing that everybody had in their houses. We had the Internet, but it was dial up and it was like a whole production. You had to convince somebody to get off the phone for you to get on the Internet. I couldn’t just, like, grab my phone and quickly Google what does a first period look like? So I was like having this moment where I was like, very excited, like, oh, my God, I think this is a period, but also very underwhelmed because I was like, but it doesn’t look like a period and it really just doesn’t feel like a period. And who can confirm for me? And we didn’t have, we had like a mobile phone, but this is ages ago. So it was like a mobile phone that I shared with my older brother and my younger brother. And I remember having to like, first thing because it was summer holidays, having to go into my older brother’s room first thing in the morning and be like, I really need the phone, please give me the phone. And he was like, “Why?” I and I had to tell him, because I think I’m having my period, but I don’t know. And then he was like also really like, “how do we find out? What are we going to do? Where can we look?” And trying to find like books that maybe had information about it going through this whole, like, investigative process. Twelve year old me and my 14 year old brother trying to do the investigative work. And then in the end, we decided that we would ring an aunty of mine because my dad was at work and I think I tried to ring him anyway, but I don’t think I was able to get a hold of him. So in the end, we decided to bring an aunty of mine and I explained everything to her. And she was like, “Yeah, I guess it sounds like this is it.” But there was no like nobody else seemed excited about it the way that I was excited about it, so that was a little bit disappointing to me. I think my my aunt phoned my dad to explain to him that I’d started my period and he came home and he looked a little bit freaked out, but nobody, like, celebrated it. And I kind of always felt like maybe if I lived with my mom, she would have been like, I don’t know, did other people have period parties?

I felt like everybody else was having like these huge celebrations and welcoming into, like being a woman that I didn’t have. But I was just always really excited to get it. So maybe in my mind I made it this bigger thing than it actually was going to ever be. 

Le’Nise: Well, you know, you’re not you’re you’re you’re definitely not alone in your period, not really being celebrated, because if I think about the people that I’ve spoken to on the show. I’d say probably about one percent of the women had some sort of celebration and some of the celebrations they were happy about, like it was like a cake or maybe a little party or. And the others were not happy. They were really embarrassed. But their mom or their auntie or whoever the female figure was in their life really wanted to make a big, a big celebration of it. So, yeah, I don’t think it’s as I feel like it might not be as common as perhaps it may be used to be. But I think it should be a thing because it’s a really momentous occasion. 

Lee: This is what I’ve always kind of felt about it. And I think that I, I used to read a lot of my my mother’s Cosmo magazines when I was really young, like when I was like from basically when I could read, I was always in my mom’s magazines and reading about women’s things. And my mother has six sisters, so there’s seven girls in her family. And quite often when my parents were living together, quite often I had lots of aunties in the house and whenever anybody had a period, they were always talking about it as though it was a difficult thing, like people would be sick from their periods, et cetera, but I always had this feeling that it’s this amazing experience and it is difficult. But I guess that’s part of being a woman and even that aspect of it being difficult, I found something to be, like it means that you are strong and you’re special and you’re like kick arse and guys can’t do this, but women can. And I always just thought it was this really exciting thing. And it’s only as I got older and only when I started having conversations with other girls, like the girls at school, nobody had the same kind of excitement about it that I had. 

So when nobody wanted to really celebrate the fact that I finally had one, I was a bit disappointed.

Le’Nise: I want to go back to what you were saying about how you thought it was this amazing thing, but you knew it was going to be difficult, but that difficulty kind of imbued it with strength. And once you got your period, did you feel, you still feel like it was this amazing thing? 

Lee: Yes. So once I actually got my period, I every time I got it, I always felt really, it just reinforced to me, like how amazing my body is. 

And I was always like, ‘wow, I have a period’, like the novelty of having it did not wear off at all until maybe I think when I actually entered my late 20s, that’s when I was a bit like, OK, this is like this is excessive. Does it have to be every month? Does it have to be this long? But for a very long time. 

Just it showing up each month would be like, oh, wow, it’s back and I’m, I’m out here having a period. Amazing.

Le’Nise: So what happened in your 20s that then changed your perception of your period away from being something amazing? 

Lee: So a couple, a few things happened. So when I in my teens, my period was, it was pretty run of the mill. And actually it’s funny, because even the fact that it was pretty like easy going was something I was a bit underwhelmed by, because I was used to people having these stories about, ‘oh, my God. And when I got my period, I’m so sick that I throw up and it’s so heavy and it’s it’s so big and it’s so that.’ 

And I definitely had cramps, but they weren’t excessive. And it wasn’t something where I needed to to take painkillers. I’m pretty sure that quite often I didn’t. And then the period itself was not heavy. It was fine. And I kind of then also felt a little bit underwhelmed by that because, like I said, my understanding was that everybody was having these, like, really intense, crazy experiences. 

But when I came into my early 20s, that started to shift for me and that suddenly the period became definitely more painful. 

And I also became, I was on, I started using the contraceptive patch and actually it gave me a little bit more understanding of what my body was doing. So once I started using the contraceptive patch, it was my first experience of hormonal contraception. I noticed that a monthly pain that I would get, which I never could figure out what it was, it just disappeared. And I didn’t, I got really curious about why that suddenly happened once I was on contraception. And that led me to do a little bit more investigation and realised that actually that pain that I would get that I didn’t understand before was mid cycle pain, ovulation, pain. And initially I was, actually unsettled me initially, but not enough to make me feel like, ‘oh, wow, I don’t want to continue using this hormonal method of contraception.’ And the breakthrough, the break bleed that I would get every time I took one of the patches off for the week that you’re supposed to take, it was fine. It was like five days, barely anything. It was great. 

But after a year of using the patch, I just couldn’t get the niggling feeling of, ‘OK, you’re not having this pain that you always had every month anymore because you’re not ovulating.’ And the fact that I was stopping my body from doing that process really unsettled me, so after a year, I had decided to stop using the patch. And then when my period came back. It came back. And I don’t know if I’d forgotten what had been like before, but it came back and I felt like it had a different quality to it. I definitely experienced more pain during and it wasn’t as heavy, but I was really quite struck by how much pain I was experiencing. And I thought that was because my hormones were rebalancing. And again, it was something that kind of made me feel a bit not great about hormonal contraception because I’d notice that it had stopped my body from doing a natural process that I know it would do it would that would have ordinarily occurred. And also, I felt like if I’m suddenly having a different period experience because potentially my hormones might be out of whack, I didn’t, that really unsettled me as well. And then this kind of persisted. The change in the quality to the period kind of persisted. 

And I know now that it’s obviously not, it’s not as a result of being on the patch. I think it was just the beginnings of me starting to see the physical manifestations of the endometriosis that I have. So from my early 20s, my period just became increasingly more painful and increasingly more heavy. And it was just, just frustrating because it was affecting my quality of, my quality of life, like I couldn’t concentrate at work or I couldn’t concentrate at uni if I was having cramps and, you know, people used to talk to me about my understanding of periods to begin with was that they were difficult, but nobody had ever positioned it in terms of, it will actually potentially stop you from doing the things that you want to do. I’ve heard people say, “oh, my period cramps are so bad that I throw up or my period is so heavy that I bleed for like two weeks”, but I’d never heard anyone say, but like, sometimes I can’t get out of bed. I don’t have any energy or I feel like my brain is really foggy and it might be related to my period or, you know, I don’t think I can go to school today or I don’t think I can go to work. No one had ever said anything like that to me. So when I was starting to experience that with my own period, I was a bit like, what is actually, what is actually going on.

And I’d go to the doctor and the doctor was really dismissive. And again, very much like, well, this is part of being a woman. And every every suggestion was always, have you tried this? Etc., etc., contraception. That was always the go to. And because I’d had the experience where I had understood, where I gained understanding into an aspect of hormonal contraception that unsettled me and I was not interested in going on any further hormonal contraception. My, my attitude to that immediately made them even more dismissive of me because it felt like, because it seemed like I guess to them, well, you don’t want to do this thing that we’re offering you that can help you, so you clearly don’t care that much. Yeah, and it just became like an ongoing issue for me, I’d be going to the doctor to, to talk about my period because I just felt like it. OK, I get that it’s a difficult thing, but surely it shouldn’t be this difficult and it gets, it’s getting worse and it surely can’t be the only thing that the only way to help me is to put me on like a hormonal contraception that’s going to stop my body, that’s going to prevent ovulation. That surely can’t be the only thing. And it doesn’t feel like anybody was interested in having conversations around what the pathophysiology was. And they were more interested in addressing what the symptoms were. And that as well didn’t make sense to me, because surely you should be interested in understanding why something is taking place, not just trying to block the physical manifestations of which it’s presenting. Surely there should be an interest in investigating what the root issue is. And I didn’t feel like anybody was interested. And it was such a discombobulating experience because I really felt isolated, like I was out here experiencing this thing that, that maybe I was even making up because nobody seemed to experience, nobody seemed to understand, like it didn’t seem as serious to anybody else as it seems to me. 

Le’Nise: I want to go back to what you were saying about, you said in the very beginning that you were amazed. You thought periods were amazing, but you knew that they were difficult. And that was the experience that you saw from the women in your life, that they had had difficult periods. And I wonder if as you were going through your mid 20s, through your 20s and you were, your period started to get more and more difficult that I wonder if there was some of almost a sense of stoicism because you expected them to be difficult. So you put up with perhaps more than you should have. 

Lee: Oh, absolutely. Like, the messaging that I got growing up was very much your period is going to be difficult, but almost like that is a badge of honour. And it’s not like I remember my mother would always say, oh, I always used to have terrible periods when I was growing up. 

My periods were terrible, they were awful. And then my other auntie would say, yeah, they’re horrendous. And they’d almost be in competition with each other about how bad the like whose period was. And like I said, I have six aunties on my mom’s side, so you can imagine like six women going back and forth about how their period is worse because it does this. 

But they were saying it almost like there was a little bit of pride in it. Like they it was like a badge of honour. And so when mine was difficult, finally difficult, I think that exactly like you said, I probably tolerated a lot more of it than I should have done initially because I, I thought, this is what you expect, like this is what it’s supposed to be. And it’s only when it became increasingly difficult to function within the realms of my ordinary life that I realised that, no, I, this really, really can’t be it. And I actually need to get some sort of help, some kind of relief, because my quality of life is severely becoming impeded. And I think. I remember even, every time I talk to anybody about, not even doctors, but just like friends or whatever to say, oh my gosh, my period, they again jumped to being like, oh, but mine is like this. 

And it becomes almost like a competition of how our periods are are really awful. 

But I was actually just looking for someone to confirm to me that it’s not supposed to be like this awful. 

Le’Nise: You also said that you spoke to medical professionals, doctors who felt you felt like they weren’t getting to the root cause they were just kind of putting, pushing some sort of pharmaceutical solution on you. So after you spoke to these doctors and you felt that this wasn’t the route that you wanted to take because of your own, what you called an unsettling experience of being on the contraceptive patch, what did you do next? 

Lee: So, I mean, I’ve always been somebody who likes to read and holistic or I mean, we call them alternative forms of medicine, but, you know, they’re just, they’re medicine in their own right. Holistic modalities of healing have always been a part of my life because growing up when I went to visit my grandma in Zambia, if you had a sore stomach, if you were nauseous, she would go outside and take leaves off her her guava tree and boil them for you to drink. She always had, like, remedies that seemed super unconventional, that were rooted in, you know, plant medicine to address things. 

And so I started looking into alternative forms of of healing or like that I could maybe engage in that, could support my my my mental health. And so it started with me trying to understand different supplements, but then very quickly started moving into trying to understand different forms of plant medicine that might be beneficial, and I wasn’t able to to engage with anything that changed the quality of the period in terms of making it less heavy. But there were definitely things that changed the experience in that I was more able to deal with the pain and also with the the energy dips that I would experience because I bleed so heavily and also the mood dips that I would experience. And that was through my own sort of experimentations with diet and herbs and and, you know, including different kinds of supplements into my diet that nobody else had kind of encouraged me to do or explained was a possibility for me. And which is how which is what led me into deciding to actually further my understanding and really try and delve a little deeper into the world of herbal medicine and alternative therapies that led me on the path that I am currently studying herbalism. 

Le’Nise: Before we talk about the herbalism, I want to talk about that because I find the whole space really fascinating. 

I want to talk more about the endometriosis and the diagnosis. How long did it take from the point where your period started getting really painful to you actually getting a formal diagnosis? 

Lee: It was over 10 years, it was over 10 years. 

Yeah, I started going to the doctor concerned about my period when I think when I was 20. 

Yeah, because I had my serious boyfriend then and I’d come off of the patch, even though I still had this serious boyfriend. I was 20. And I started going to the doctor about my period then, but I didn’t get formal confirmation, even though I was certain. I didn’t get formal confirmation until I had my first lap[aroscopy] when I was 30. And actually, it wasn’t the the reason that I was able to get that further level of enquiry was not on the basis of my period. So what happened was that I had this increasingly difficult period and everyone would say to me, all the doctors would say, “oh, have you tried this contraception? Or we can give you these painkillers. But unfortunately, it’s just the thing that some women go through.” But in addition to that, I noticed, because after my experience of the patch, I just became very much more aware of the different things that that my body was doing. 

And I think that that was really helpful for me being able to put together a picture of what was going on and I would use that picture to to try and present it to the health care professionals, and they weren’t taking advantage of the investigations that I was doing by myself.

So in addition to having this difficult period, I also noticed that every time I was on my period, I’d have really painful bowel movements. But it was only when I was on my period and further investigation led me to find that actually that’s quite common for women with endometriosis. If you have endometriosis that is located around your, your colon or whatever, if you have deposits of endometriosis around there, you’ll find that same that same pain is described. And then additionally, I was constantly having these blood tests that would show that, they would say that my iron levels were either low or borderline, and that was to do with obviously me bleeding so heavily. And when I put the pain, the, the heaviness and that pain on opening my bowels together, I was really getting this picture of endometriosis based on what I was finding in books and on the Internet. But the thing that made them actually finally want to do further investigation was increasingly I was finding intercourse painful. And so I was going to the doctor and I had to change tact. And I realised very quickly that actually, I have to change tact. And I can’t say anymore that my period is an issue because they’re not interested in that. I have to go in and tell them that my main thing is that sex is very painful for me. And that should be the thing that I’m pushing because I already know now after, like going to the doctor for the past three years that they’re not interested in the period being difficulty. But if I go in maybe and I tell them that actually sex is becoming increasingly impossible for me, maybe they’re going to care more. So that became the thing that I was constantly going to the doctor to complain about. And initially it wasn’t that much more helpful because initially they weren’t trying to understand the quality of the pain that I was explaining to them. They would try and position it as, oh, do you maybe have anxiety around sexual intercourse? And I was like, not originally, but increasingly. Yes, because it is increasingly becoming something that is difficult to enjoy. 

And so then they’d be like, oh, maybe you have vaginismus. And I said, no, that’s that’s I’ve looked into what the symptoms of that are and how it manifests. 

And that is not it, I know that’s not it, and what it was, was collision dyspareunia. So pain on the cervix every time there was like contact with anything be it a speculum, a penis, a finger, pain on the cervix collision dyspareunia. 

And I would even give them the terminology that I found in books. And they were just, again, quite dismissive. But I was persistent. And I think that I, I was really persistent. And even though they were dismissive, it was not in the way that they were dismissive about the period. So I was really persistent. I went through so many different doctors and so many different suggestions as to how I should approach it. One person referred me to a psychotherapist because they thought that maybe it was a psychological manifestation of, it was a sort of physical manifestation of a psychological issue, which it wasn’t, which is actually very insulting. 

But I just persisted and kept on saying, well, there’s this thing happening and it’s only towards the end when I found somebody who was prepared to refer me further to a specialist gynaecologist. 

When I got to the specialist gynaecologist, I said to him, “So there’s this thing happening with the pain of intercourse. But additionally, I also experience pain, voiding my bowels when I’m on my period. And I also have very difficult periods that are very heavy and very long and leave me constantly with very low or borderline levels of iron.” And I thought that positioning all of that to him, giving him the full picture would maybe make him more, he’d immediately understand that clearly there’s an underlying pathology, but I think. I mean, I don’t know, but my understanding is that the NHS and its limitations can sometimes make it more difficult for, for doctors to practise medicine in the way that they want to practise medicine because they are limited in terms of, I guess, what they’re able to to offer just based on their own funding and things like that. 

So initially he said to me, we’ll go for a scan, even though as a specialist gynaecologist, he would know that there’s no, a scan and an ultrasound scan is not a definitive way to diagnose endometriosis. It can show perhaps manifestations of your physiology that might suggest the presence of endometriosis, endometriosis, so, for example, you might have an ultrasound scan and the technician notes that there’s very little movement in your womb and that little movement could be due to the fact that you have endometriosis that has sort of fused your uterus to other structures, meaning that it’s less mobile. That could be something that’s picked up on the scan. But the actual presence of the endometriosis itself, a scan can’t do that.

So I think he sent me for a scan to kind of shut me up and to say, oh, well, look, we care enough to send you for a scan. But I’ve had scans before, and every time I’ve had a scan it had come back as nothing and initially back in the day that used to really stress me out, because I would think, well, then what’s wrong with me until I did a little bit more reading myself and found out that actually, like I said, a scan is not a definitive way to identify endometriosis, so I knew that, like, if he sends me for the scan, probably nothing is going to come up because I had scans before and they’d always say, Oh, but there’s lots of movement in your womb. It moves really, really well. And I don’t see anything to suggest that you have endometriosis. But I thought that if I just keep on just pushing and pushing and pushing and pushing, finally, I mean, I’ve got to this point where I now have a specialist gynaecologist, so if I keep pushing and pushing or pushing, maybe I’ll get to the point where some they’ll finally just take it a little bit more serious, where they’ll get bored of me coming or something and they’ll just do whatever investigations that they need to do, whether or not it’s something that they they they deem costly or not, they’ll finally just do it.

So I went to the specialist gynaecologist. I went for a scan. It came up as nothing. I kept going back to the specialist gynaecologist to complain about my condition deteriorating even further. And finally, he was like, “oh, well, I’m going to refer you to a colleague of mine at UCLH, who is a consultant who deals specifically with women’s reproductive health, in particular endometriosis, because they have a specialist endometriosis unit at UCLH. And I feel like before I even got there, the, my gynaecologist had positioned it to this consultant in a way that was maybe a little bit dismissive because I had my first appointment with the consultant and we discussed my case. And after everything that I spoke about, everything I told him, he was still a bit like, “Well, you know, you’ve had like four scans at UCLH. And our scanning technology is actually very high tech and our scanning technicians are very well trained. So if they haven’t found anything, I think that it’s unlikely that you have endometriosis. But if you want, we can do a laparoscopy if you want. But bear in mind, a laparoscopy is a surgery. So, you know, but I doubt that we’ll find anything because like I said, you’ve already had all these scans and our technology here is top notch technicians here are really trained to find this kind of thing. So the only thing we have found is that your uterus is tilted, so you have a retrograded uterus.”

And I knew this from like every time I had a smear test, they’d struggle to find the cervix because my uterus, my cervix is tilted because my uterus is tilted. Now, that’s something that they will tell you if you go to the doctor, they’ll tell you, oh, 20 percent of women have that. It’s just something that happens. Nobody is actually ever interested in being like. But why is that? It’s not just something that happens. Why is that something that happens? What I discovered for myself is after I finally had my first lap[aroscopy] is that my uterus was retrofitted because my uterus, my vagina and my colon had all my uterus, my cervix and my colon had fused together because of endometrial tissue and that mispositioned, misaligned my uterus. So this whole time, like for 10 years, everyone was saying to me, “oh, you know, your uterus, your cervixes is, your uterus is retroverted, your cervix tilts up into their right. And that’s just something that happens to 20 percent of women. There’s no reason for it. It just happens.” 

But in my mind, I knew that it could that couldn’t be the case. It couldn’t just be coincidental that I have all of these issues surrounding menstrual health. And additionally, I have a uterus that just happens to be retroverted. Like, I have a cervix that tilts up to the right, but at the same time, the same cervix is the cause of a lot of discomfort for me and intercourse and my periods also difficult, etc., etc. I knew that it couldn’t just be coincidental, but for whatever reason, that did not seem to be the case for the health care professionals that I was seeing. 

Le’Nise: Wow. So, I mean, there was so much in there. I think there’s medical gaslighting. There is the fight, the persistence that you had to have in order to get this diagnosis, to actually get a laparoscopy. There is the fact that you had to learn medical language in order to be able to have a conversation with these doctors who still didn’t believe you. 

I mean, I want to say this isn’t something I hear a lot, but it’s something I hear all the time. It’s and it infuriates me every single time I hear it, because you, you shouldn’t have had to have fought for ten years for something that you knew was happening to your body. Oh, my God. It’s just it’s. Wow. 

But for listeners who are going through the same thing and who are thinking, ‘OK, I’m on this journey. I’ve had the scans. I know I have endometriosis.’ Talk about the process of having a laparoscopy because this isn’t just minor surgery. This is you know, you, talk about what it is and the fact that this is used as an endometriosis diagnostic tool. 

Lee: So the laparoscopy is the only definitive way to confirm the presence of endometriosis, and it’s basically a surgery, a keyhole surgery in which they go in through like a couple of incisions in your in your bellybutton and maybe to the side or a little bit underneath your belly button and with a camera and with some other little tools to move your stuff around. And it’s basically the only way that they can really have a look inside and confirm. Because endometriosis, it can be very small deposits of endometriosis, but the amount of it doesn’t necessarily always correlate with the experience that you’re having. You know, you can they can enter it and find like huge deposits of endometriosis and the person actually not be experiencing that much of a difficulty in their, their lives. Or they can go in and find like little tiny deposits of endometriosis. And actually the person is experiencing a really difficult time. So the amount of it doesn’t always correlate with the actual experience that you’re having. But the nature of endometriosis is so that it’s endometrial tissue, tissue from your womb that is, I want to say displaced, but basically starts to appear in sites outside of your womb. And so when your womb is going through the various changes that it goes through throughout your monthly cycle, the tissue that is not in your womb but is womb tissue is responding in exactly the same way. So when it comes to a point where your womb lining is now shedding and it’s bleeding, you have your endometrial tissue, which is this womb tissue that’s appearing in places outside of your womb. It could be on your ovaries, it could be behind your cervix. It could be on your colon. That tissue is also trying to shed as well. So it’s also bleeding, but there is nowhere for that blood to go because it doesn’t have the same exit point that the tissue in your womb would have. 

It can’t just exit through your cervix because it’s floating, it’s placed wherever it is outside of the uterus. So it’s trying to bleed and the blood has nowhere to go. So it starts to accumulate. And what you find is it starts to become scar tissue. You start to get adhesions. And your scar tissue if it’s positioned where there’s other organs, which is likely the case because everything is in there all closely together, the scar tissue can start to stick to other organs, which is why a lot of doctors, when they do send you for these scans, they’re looking for this sort of immobility that I said, because if you have a lot of endometriosis, you have a lot of adhesions, which means a lot of sticking to other organs. 

And obviously that goes in grades so you can have, like scar tissue that is newly formed, but then over the years, if you’re constantly bleeding, it’s constantly going nowhere and the scar tissue is being formed know it starts to become a more mature scar tissue. It starts to become larger. It becomes a more pervasive pathology. 

And it just means that, you know, the interventions required become a lot more severe or a lot more difficult, which is why it’s so important for people to be taking the time to really listen and do the investigations that are necessary as early as possible, because it’s a progressive, it’s a progressive condition. And when they finally gave me the lap[aroscopy], I remember I remember on the morning of the surgery, the consultant said to me, “OK, so we’re going to go in and we’re going to go and have a look. But like I said, you probably won’t have anything. And actually, if there is anything, it’ll probably be really small and we’ll just, like, cut it out and you’ll be fine.” He absolutely said exactly that to me the morning of my surgery.

And then I was waking up in the recovery room a few hours later with a whole team of doctors surrounding my bed. And I was dizzy and I was woozy and my mind was not altogether. And I have this whole team of doctors surrounding my bed and they’re saying to me, “OK, so it wasn’t what we thought it was going to be. We weren’t able to do anything at this time because actually the amount of endometriosis that you have is very severe. And what we’ve discovered is that it’s stuck in the back of your cervix, your uterus and your colon together. And so it’s actually, you’re at a point where we would grade it a stage four and we can’t do anything about it right now because it’s a very specialised surgery that we need to perform to be able to remove the endometriosis and to safely separate your uterus, your cervix and your colon.”

And that’s like such a bombshell when you’re working, waking up from surgery, that is such a bombshell to hear. And even after that, when I was awake, I was still not understanding, like, how is this possible? Because you said to me that it was probably not going to be anything. And if it was anything, it was going to be really small bits. And now I’ve woken up to actually it’s like around the worst that it can be like. How is it possible that you guys didn’t care that much and that it get to this this bad. I just couldn’t believe it. And also the fact that nobody is prepared to, like, hold their hands up and be like, oh, we kind of dropped the ball here and we’re sorry because this is not just a random physiology that’s like taking place in the realms of like just some alternate dimension, it’s something that’s actually happening right now here to an actual person. And the implications of this directly affect my life and have been affecting my life for the last decade. It’s not good enough to, to be so dismissive. It’s not good enough to find out that actually for a long time, you guys have been making a huge error. And then for nobody to want to take responsibility for it, that’s it’s just not good enough. And I don’t mean responsibility in terms of like compensation, but just for someone to be able to be like, “we should’ve listened a little bit more or we’re sorry that this happened to you.” 

Le’Nise: And did you ever challenge them? I know waking up from surgery and you’re not in the right state to be able to push back, but once you recovered and were you able to say to them, you know, “what happened to you? You said that I didn’t, you know, it wasn’t that severe, that you were just very dismissive.” 

Lee: Yeah, so, yeah, so after the surgery, I woke up, I had that whole team of doctors, they said that it was stage four and they couldn’t do anything then and then because it was a specialised surgery. And they also told me there and then that they would need to induce menopause before they could carry on and do the next surgery that would be required. So after I had had time to kind of digest that, I had another, I had another appointment with the consultant. And I was really quite angry. But I think I was, I had the benefit of that I had years of really reading up and trying to come to understand this pathology and the pathophysiology related to it. And so I really wanted to understand exactly like you said, like how. 

What happened? How did you guys drop the ball so badly on this? And like I said, I just didn’t feel like there was any kind of accountability at all. The consultant said to me, “well, you know, these things happen. You know, remember, like I said, you had four scans here at UCLH. And our scan technology is actually some of the best scan technology in the world. And our scan technicians are some of the best scan technicians that you can get and they couldn’t find anything.  So for us, we really thought that maybe, you know, this wouldn’t, the result that you had, wouldn’t be the case. And we’re just as shocked as you are” and just really no accountability, regardless.

And then there was the issue of me saying, “well, you’ve kind of dropped a bombshell on me and that it’s as severe as it is. And for me to progress further that you, I need to induce menopause and nobody has, you just said that. But nobody’s explained to me like, what are the implications around that? And from doing my own research, I know that if I stay on the drugs that you are going to give me to induce the menopause, if I’m on them for longer than six months, that has negative implications for things like bone density, which is a real issue because it literally is the minerals from your bones and then osteoporosis becomes an issue and nobody’s even thinking or decided to mention that to me, you know, you’re talking about you want to look at surgery in six months time, but I have personal experience of surgeries being pushed out. So if this surgery is supposed to be in six months time and I’m supposed to be in a menopausal state for six months, if it gets pushed out, that means that I have to continue these drugs for even longer. And what are the implications of that for my, my health long term?”

And I think I was really lucky in that I’m somebody who really likes to understand and know things. So I had been doing this reading, I had been doing this research. And because I had come in and challenged that, they decided to bring the surgery earlier. They scheduled it for three months time. And actually what I said, it did get pushed out by a month. So if I had, you know, settled for the six months that they just told me without any explanation of what it looks like or what the side effects are or what could the potential dangers of being on this medicine to induce menopause that they were going to give me, I could have been on it for much longer and then years down the line, be suffering with osteoporosis and trying to understand, well, how did this happen to me? I eat healthy, I do yoga, blah, blah, blah. And maybe nobody would hold their hands up and say, well, actually, do you remember that time when you were taking that that menopause drug? That is why. And I think that that’s so troubling because I know that there must be a number of women out there who are being told these are the protocols that you have to engage in in order for us to do X, Y and Z, but not with any understanding as to what the implications of that actually is for their health in the longer in a wider sense. 

Le’Nise: I want to then go forward to when you had the surgery. Can you talk about the outcome of the second surgery that you had? 

Lee: So the second surgery that I had, they were able to they basically had to remove a section of the colon while they were removing the endometriosis. And they were able to do that successfully with minimal disruption to the other faculties of, of my body. So there was a risk, quite a large risk of having to have a stoma, potentially temporarily, at least post surgery, because they needed to remove quite a bit of colon and the healing sometimes without wanting to, to put too much strain on the rest of the colon while it was healing, the best thing to do is give a stoma, but luckily they were able to do that without having to, to do anything else. So the surgery went well. There were still some deposits of endometriosis that needed to be removed, which was done in the later laparoscopy. But the, it was more the the I think the most difficult part of it for me was the run up to it because I had not been on any kind of hormonal intervention for over 10 years, and then suddenly I was in menopause.

And the side effects, the hot flashes, the very crippling lows and just the lack of energy, the brain fog, the insomnia, all of those things were really difficult to deal with. And they don’t just go away once you have the surgery. So there’s a long period afterwards as well. Even when your period comes back, it’s not, it’s not immediately everything is is back to normal. I think it’s been a year and a half since that surgery, that second surgery, and it’s only just now that I feel like I’m starting to feel like myself again in terms of like mentally and in terms of just the way that my body feels. But there’s a lot, that there’s a long period of, of really not feeling quite like a stranger in your own body and in your own mind because of that medication. 

And I didn’t again, I didn’t know that was going to be the case. I had some understanding from independent research that I had done. But the understanding and the reading is nothing was nothing compared to the actual experience. 

Le’Nise: And when you were going through that, did they offer you, because I’ve had clients who have everything you’re describing, I’ve had clients who have been in the exact same position. Did they offer you HRT to get you through the next stage? No?

Lee: No, I asked. And they were like, “well, no, because now you’re only going to be doing it for three months, so you probably don’t need it. And you’re young, so. You’ll be, like your response won’t be as severe as somebody who’s already like reaching menopausal age.” And again, I thought that that. That can’t be right, but I feel like at some point you also for me, definitely there are times when I have a bit of like advocacy fatigue in terms of advocating for myself, like sometimes it’s a bit like, ‘OK, well, which, is this a hill that I need to die on, like is this a battle that I need to really, like, go through? So this as well, because I’m already trying to like advocate for myself and so many other aspects of this particular condition, so maybe this particular issue to do with the HRT, I can put it to the side for now’ and which it shouldn’t be like that. It shouldn’t be the case that there’s so many aspects of your condition that you’re having to fight with people about, that you have to decide which one you’re going to, to pursue this because it’s exhausting.

Le’Nise: Yeah, I’ve been through, through advocacy fatigue myself, and it is exhausting. I do want to ask about the racial aspect of it. So as a Black woman, there’s a lot of research that shows that Black women are dismissed more in medical settings and there is a distrust of medical professionals. Anecdotally, can you speak to whether or not you think that there was an element of that in your experience for you? 

Lee: One hundred percent, absolutely. 

Because even when I was initially going to the doctor and I was talking about my periods, they would say, “yeah, and we actually find that Black women tend to just have more difficult periods. They just experience more difficult periods.” The amount of times people said to that said that to me, “women who are of Black African and Caribbean descent just tend to experience more difficult periods. But have you tried this contraception?” 

It’s mind blowing, and then I actually think the reason why my deciding to go with sex being impeded as the new thing, I was going to push to get further investigation. I think the reason it was so well received was, again, because I was positioning it as, as like I think a lot of people assumed that my Black partner would have, it was more of an issue for him than it was for me. So me positioning, me pushing the fact that sex is an increasingly difficult thing, I don’t even think that they were looking into it because they cared about me. I think it was more being interested in the quality of experience that my partner was having as a result of me being me struggling to, to engage in intercourses without without difficulty.

And I think this when I would be talking about the things that I had read or whatever, I kind of got the feeling that they were even more dismissive because they just felt like, well, what do you know about it? Like what what what do you know? Like, why would you know that? And I don’t know if maybe White women or women of other races have would have that same experience, but I definitely felt an element of almost being scoffed at because they just couldn’t it just didn’t make sense to them that, like, why would you know and why would you actually be somebody we should listen to? And actually, I was giving really valid information that they were consistently missing and not taking me up on, and actually as a result, you know, the situation persisted for much longer than it needed to persist and when it was finally caught, it was at a stage that it really didn’t need to be at. 

Le’Nise: What message would you give any doctors that are listening to this show about your experience and how you believe that they need to take the words that you’re saying into their treatment of other patients with similar conditions?

Lee: I mean, I think I understand definitely they are under immense pressure with they only have 10 minutes for an appointment and that makes it difficult to really, I think, practise medicine in the way that they would ideally want to practise medicine. But I think a very important thing for them to take forward or just to try and engage with, is the understanding that somebody’s health it needs to be a more collaborative process. It can’t be. You know, it really can’t be like a dictatorship in terms of the doctor and the patient, they should really take advantage of the patient’s personal understanding and the information that they are bringing to them and treat it as though it’s a collaborative effort to bring about the ideal result. Because I guarantee, I mean, I’m sure there’s maybe there are some people who, who will frequent a doctor for attention. But I guarantee if you have a patient who is constantly coming to complain about the same issue, it’s not because it’s fun for them. It’s because it’s really affecting their life. And you have opportunity to, to maybe even in an easier sense for yourself and get to the root cause if you’re prepared to view it as a collaboration as opposed to a dictatorship. Because as much as, you know, as a doctor, from your learning with books and things that you’ve seen, you can’t ever really know somebody’s personal lived experience, that your understanding of pathology from a binary medical textbook sense will never, it can never under cut somebody’s personal lived experience of their pathology and what they’re experiencing, so just being able to really listen or wanting to listen from a place of wanting to understand as opposed to from a place of just wanting to to respond, that in itself is a huge thing. 

Le’Nise: So health needs to be a collaborative process. Doctors really need to not, just hear you, but really listen too. 

Lee: Oh, yeah, for sure.  

Le’Nise: I mean, we could, I could talk to you for so much longer. You’re, you’re so interesting. We haven’t even talked about the herb side of it. But I want to end the conversation by talking about the patient side. So what words would you say to someone who is on this journey and they just feel like giving up? What would you say to them? 

Lee: I would say to them, you should absolutely, despite what anybody else will say to you or how anybody else will try to make you feel, you really have to continue to trust and believe the things that your body, your heart and your mind are telling you. You have to really listen to what your body is saying to you, because it absolutely knows what it wants. It absolutely knows what it means. And like I said before, doctors will have medical textbook knowledge. They’ll have maybe things that they’ve seen in their careers, but that can never undercut your personal experience. Like there’s nobody who has more knowledge on it than you do. And you have to believe that. And don’t be afraid. I think it can be really daunting to be in those situations as a patient because you think, well, this person knows more than me and they position themselves as though they are the authority, but you are the authority on you and your body and your physical experience. So don’t be afraid if you don’t feel like you’re getting the, the attention or the understanding or the care that you need, don’t be afraid to ask for, for better or to just say, you know what, I’m going to try and look for a different opinion and it might take you two, three, four different opinions, sometimes it’s difficult like that, it shouldn’t be, but sometimes it is. But don’t be disheartened. Don’t, don’t stop trying to find the answers for yourself. If yourself is telling you that something is wrong. 

Le’Nise: So much good stuff in this conversation, don’t stop looking for answers, you know your body, trust yourself. Thank you so much for coming on the show today, Lee. If, if people want to find you if they want to ask you questions. Where can they find you? 

Lee: So I am on Instagram, I’m sure. Well, you’re obviously going to tag my Instagram account. And I’m actually in the process of building a website platform, basically a wellness destination for all women, but in specific women of colour, because I think it’s very important that women of colour are afforded the opportunity to engage in wellness and self care as a lifestyle in an accessible way. So I’m in the process of building a platform for that. And before the end of year, hopefully I will have something for you guys. And it’s just really a place that combines the understanding of movement as medicine and the understanding of the natural world and our natural herbal heritage as a place for holistic health and just holistic living and positions self care as an integral ceremony that doesn’t necessarily involve. Bells and whistles, but can be engaged in as just a lifestyle practise that you deserve, because I think there’s an understanding there has been too long an understanding that rest, restoration, selfcare, wellness, these are privileged things and they’re not privileges. They’re your absolute right and you deserve them. 

Le’Nise: Whoa, self care is a practise that you deserve. I absolutely love that. OK, so have to have you back on the show or doing Instagram live. But for now, thank you so much for coming on the show. It’s been an absolute treat talking to you. 

Lee: Thank you so much for having me, Le’Nise. Like I said, I’ve been wanting to talk to somebody about my period for ages. 

Period Story Podcast, Episode 36: Alice Rose, Take Your Fertility Day By Day

I’m so excited that season 4 of Period Story podcast is here! For the first episode of the season, I’m so excited to have Alice Rose on the show, just in time for Fertility Awareness Week here in the UK. Alice is a fertility advocate, speaker and consultant and shared her own experience of fertility treatment. We had a wonderful, open discussion about her fertility journey, including a PCOS and fibroid diagnosis, the support she needed during this time, having a baby during lockdown and of course, the story of her first period.

Alice says she was really excited to get her first period and when it arrived, she was confused and a bit embarrassed but her mum was very supportive. She says that the embarrassment around her period continued because her menstrual cycles were very erratic and she felt different to her friends.

Her fertility journey started when she came off the pill and her irregular cycles returned. This made Alice take a really proactive approach to try figure out what was happening to her. Listen to hear what Alice did next, including how she managed her PCOS and fibroid diagnosis.

We had a really frank conversation about the physical and emotional toll fertility assistance can take on both women and men. Alice shares the different tools she used to support herself, as well as advice for anyone going through something similar.

Alice says that it’s so important to find the support you need and take things day by day, so that you move away from living in the future. Thank you so much, Alice!

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ALICE’S BIO

Alice is a fertility advocate, speaker and consultant. 

After her own experience of 11 rounds of fertility treatment to conceive a daughter and one round of treatment for a baby boy, born in February this year, Alice supports and empowers others through her Instagram community; the Fertility Life Raft podcast and live events with business partner Cat (catandalice.com).

Alice has consulted for several brands and companies including the BBC and was behind BBC Radio 2’s Fertility Week 2019. She also runs a campaign called ‘Think! what not to say’ to try and encourage better fertility conversations in the wider society. She is a big fan of coffee, music and cinnamon buns!

Get in touch with Alice:

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Website

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: Welcome to the show, Alice. I’m so excited to have you here. 

Alice: Thank you so much. I am so thrilled to be here. I’m really excited to have this chat. 

Le’Nise: So let’s just get in to the first question that I always ask, which is tell me the story of your very first period. Can you remember it? 

Alice: I can remember it. So I was 13 and I had wanted to have my period for a while because my friends had started getting their periods. And I was like, oh, I really want it. I want to be a woman, you know? And then finally, one day it happened. But I mean, the the actual memory is quite hazy, but the things that are really clear to me is how I felt about it. And I remember feeling quite excited, but also quite embarrassed, like I was quite, and it’s funny, isn’t it? Because actually, I’m one of four girls, so I’ve got two older sisters and a younger one, and I’ve got a good relationship with my mum. And, you know, she’s the kind of mum who’s really open and she’ll be very, you know, she’s quite, a little bit eccentric, maybe even. And yet when it came to things like periods, we still didn’t really have open conversations about it. So I felt quite like I didn’t know how to bring up with my mum, but I felt like I needed to tell her because I needed some period products. 

So I just remember writing this really awkward little note and leaving it on her bed. Oh, I think I’ve got my period, Mummy, something like that. And then she wrote me one back and left on my bed with some pads that she dug out from somewhere. I really remember her saying, “Oh, I know it is bit difficult”, because because I was brought up in the country, it wasn’t that we could pop down to the corner shop like, you know, I would do. Now I live in a city.

So she was I like finally. I know. I don’t know why she didn’t just ask my sisters. And in fact, she must have had loads of stuff lying around at that point because this was a long time ago now. 

So it just baffles me when I think what were we doing even sending each of these notes? Like, why didn’t she just come and knock on my door and have a conversation? It’s really funny. 

And it just makes you think, gosh, maybe, you know, we weren’t as as kind of open as I thought we were. Maybe maybe we actually weren’t, because I do think there was this kind of, bit of shame around it. And I did. I felt embarrassed and I felt, you know, and and the actual period that I got was a little bit like it wasn’t, it didn’t feel like a proper one. So I almost was like, oh, is this it or is it not it? I wasn’t really quite sure. So I didn’t, it was all very, it was a little bit confusing and a bit embarrassing. That was that was my memory of my first period. 

Le’Nise: It’s quite sweet that that you you passed notes to each other. I know that you say what what we were doing, but it’s kind of a sweet memory that your mum, she kind of met your energy with the same energy. And that’s kind of a sweet thing to do. 

Alice: Very sweet. Looking back, you know, and that kind of sums her up a lot, actually. And she is she she does do that. And she obviously realised that that’s how I felt comfortable, you know, talking about it. So. So she was like, okay, we’ll do notes. 

Le’Nise: And you said that there was this level of almost, not discomfort, but, you know, it was maybe shame you didn’t really talk about it openly. So how did you, after you got your first period, how did you then learn what was happening to your body? 

Alice: So I think I knew, you know, biologically I understood what was going on. I understood why we got periods because close friends of mine had already got theirs. I actually went to them, like that, that’s where I, I don’t know why I didn’t talk to my older sisters. I mean, we’ve got really good relationships, but still within the family. I don’t know why it just wasn’t really done. And, you know, now we have much more open conversations. Now we’re kind of grown up. 

But, yeah, at the time, it was my friends and I really remember, really clearly, actually my, one of my best friends talking me through how to use a tampon. And I was sitting in the loo and she was outside and she literally told me, open the thing, do this, do that. And she just kind of talked me through it and again, and that’s a really, again, quite a sweet, intimate little memory that I’ve got that I remember coming up. We like really quite proud of myself. And, you know, it’s a bonding thing, isn’t it, between girls? 

I think when you go through this, it it felt it it just so almost feels like an initiation into this new era of our lives, so, yeah, that was that was quite sweet as well. 

Le’Nise: And then when you went into school, were there open conversations with your friends and then with the school about periods that you were getting through, maybe lessons and then schoolyard conversations? 

Alice: So they were definitely open conversations within my friendship group. But again, what happened with my period is that I never got regular cycles, which led on to my fertility problems later in life, which of course is what I focus on now. But my periods were always completely erratic. They never followed the kind of textbook things. So again, I kind of felt a little bit awkward and embarrassed about that because we weren’t really taught about that in school. You know, what we were taught was that this is what happens every 28 days. This is what happens to a woman’s body. And my body wasn’t doing that. My body was doing something all of its own. And I sort of, again, felt a little bit embarrassed about talking about what was going on for me within my friendship group because no one else seemed to be having these problems. I’m sure they were underneath it all. You know, there must’ve been someone else within my group who was going through it. But I know my close friends, you know, the ones that I did have open conversations with, were just having periods like like, you know, people do. So, yeah, that was that. 

Le’Nise: And so when you realise that the periods you were having were irregular, what did you do? What did you try to do about it? 

Alice: I don’t remember ever being terribly active in trying to sort out in terms of getting to the bottom of it. What I remember doing is going on the pill because that’s what everyone was doing. So it was more about regulating my period actually, than anything else. And I think I started on it when I was 16. And then because it regulated my periods, I kind of forgot about the fact that my I never had regular ones before I went on it, you know, and I just sort of it was like putting a plaster over something, isn’t it? You know, you just go, okay, fine. That’s working now. Lovely. So I don’t need to worry about that. But really, I hadn’t actually got to the bottom of why it was so regular and erratic anyway. So I just, I just carried on and just took the pill for years and years and years, as was kind of all of my friends were doing. And there wasn’t even really a question of, it was just kind of I oh, I just go on the pill, you know? And now there’s so much more information about what people sometimes have reactions to different kinds of pills and all the different kinds of contraceptions available. Actually, a friend of mine has a platform called The Low Down. So Ali is actually a friend of my sister’s and she set that up. And I just think it’s brilliant because there was nothing like that before, was there, to kind of help women choose what contraception was correct or that would work for them? That just wasn’t anything like that when we were growing up. So, yeah, just went on the pill. Periods were, you know, regular because of that. They weren’t real periods though, were they? That’s the thing. Pretend ones that don’t really do anything. So yeah, it was not very sensible really. 

Le’Nise: Well you did the best with what you knew at the time and when you then decided that it was time to come off of the pill. Talk us through what provoked that change and then what happened with your periods then. 

Alice: So I got married and decided to start trying for a baby. So I have been on the pill all of that time up until I was 30, I think, about 30, 31. Such a long time thinking about it taking those drugs. My goodness. Anyway, I came off the pill because I wanted to try for a baby and went to my GP to say, “I’m going to come off the pill now, I didn’t ever have regular periods before I went on the pill, should we maybe investigate what’s going on, like, straight away?” Because I, I sort of have my organised hat on and I was like, “I think I might have problems conceiving actually”. You know, when I’d grown up and realised that it probably wasn’t great that my periods were so erratic and she sent me straight away to have a scan and have a little bit of an investigation, which was really good. And then when I came off the pill, my periods were totally erratic. Again, so very irregular. My hormones went crazy, actually, when I first came off the pill. I had a really bad reaction hormonally, so my skin went crazy. And, yeah, I didn’t, it definitely had affected me way more than I had realised. You know, that little pill that I was taking had had a huge impact on my body’s balance and everything. So, yeah, it was, it was, but it felt it kind of felt quite, now, looking back, it felt good to get rid of it. Go back to the basics and try to actually uncover what was happening in my body and and why and how how I could help it. 

I mean, I could carry on talking here, Le’Nise, but I’m going to stop because I feel like I should it, because I really could just. Yeah. There’s so much to say about this. 

Le’Nise: When you say that you when you wanted to go back to the basics, talk about what those basics were. 

Alice: I suppose what I mean by that, what what I meant by that was that I wanted to work out what was really going on. I wanted to work out why was my body not doing what I was taught in the textbooks at school that it should do. And when I say erratic, I really do mean, you know, they they were wild. They were like up to one hundred days. I wouldn’t have anything or you know, even when I started on fertility treatment, I started taking the ovulation drug Clomid. And the first time I took it, I did have a textbook 28 day cycle. And I thought. Amazing. You know, this has fixed me. I’ll be pregnant in no time. Brilliant. But then I didn’t get pregnant that month. I had ovulated, but I didn’t get pregnant. And then the next time I took it. Nothing happened. Absolutely nothing happened. I didn’t ovulate. I didn’t get a period. And I was so confused. And I went back to the gynae[cologist] who had put me on it in the first place. I was like, “I haven’t I haven’t had a period. You know, it’s been days and days now. What’s going on?” So she scanned me and had a look at what was going on internally in my follicles and everything. And she was like, “yeah, it doesn’t look like you’ve responded at all to to the treatment. You haven’t ovulated. I think you’re going to need IVF.”

And that was like a bombshell, you know, because I was like, huh, what? I thought I just needed to take this little drug here and then my periods would regulate and then I would get pregnant. That was what I thought was going to happen and it just didn’t. So I seem to have a very. Yeah. And again, it was it was that feeling of like, my body isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do, even when I’m taking these drugs. It still wasn’t doing it. And that continued all the way through my fertility treatment. I was really, sometimes I would respond, sometimes I wouldn’t respond. And it was just the most frustrating thing in the world and so difficult, you know, especially when you’re trying to, you know, move on, move on, move on. And you constantly feel so stuck because your body is just not doing what it’s supposed to do. And you do, you feel a bit broken. You feel like a failure because you’re just thinking, what? Why is this, you know, so easy for everyone else? They just buy this little ovulation kit thing, you get the smiley face, you’ve ovulated. Great. Now go and have sex. But I couldn’t even get to that point. You know, it just wasn’t, it just wasn’t happening. So the periods were. Yeah. Just just very confusing to me. 

Le’Nise: Did they ever try to get to the root cause of the irregular cycles might be?

Alice: So that’s what happened after I’d been told by that gynae that I should have IVF. I felt like that was a really big leap from what I was doing. And exactly as you said, I was like, yeah, but what’s going on? Like, I, I need more information. I don’t feel like jumping straight to that, that is the correct thing to do. So I went and had a second opinion and that was brilliant because she sat me down. She said, “I think you might have that you got polycystic ovary syndrome. You aren’t a typical, you don’t present in a typical PCOS manner, but I think you’ve got enough of the symptoms to suggest that that’s what’s going on.” So then she talked me through lifestyle factors and changes that I could make. She explained to me about insulin resistance that can happen with PCOS and talked me through diet and nutrition and all of these different things. So I left that appointment feeling really kind of excited that I was going to be able to impact what was happening to my body and understanding so much more. And it felt really, really empowering and quite yeah, I was quite motivated after that, so I and I had quite a quite good girl. Like, I like to stick to the rules. If someone told me something that’s going to work, I go, right, okay, here’s my template, my little recipe. 

I’m going to just do exactly as they tell me and then that will work. So I followed it to the letter and she was like, right, no sugar, this, that and the other. You know, she gave me this kind of plan at first. I just like, cried my eyes out. I thought, well, I can’t get pregnant and now I can’t have a piece of cake like, that sucks. What the hell? And I felt really I felt really angry about it and I felt really frustrated. And it was just felt really rubbish. And I just felt quite hungry, actually. I just, I didn’t understand, I didn’t understand how to eat in the way that she was telling me might have an impact on my cycles. So I actually had a nutritionist consultation because I thought, I don’t have a clue what I’m doing, I need somebody to help me. And that was brilliant. Like, I, I thought that was really, if I may say so, quite a smart move because it helped me to, you know, reaching out and getting that support and going to somebody who did really understand who’d made their livelihood understanding was actually really helpful. And she sort of gave me these recipes. And then I started to get, again, quite excited about it. I was like, okay, there’s like all these different ways I can embrace what’s happening to me instead of fighting it. So that’s what I started to do. And it did have an impact. It had an impact on me as a whole person. The periods, again, I mean, it’s hard to say what was going on, because once I started to make all these diet and lifestyle changes, I was also doing a lot of mental health wellbeing, kind of self coaching stuff. I was also having fertility treatments as well. So it was a kind of like, you know, I was coming at it from all angles and to try and holistically get my body to do what I needed it to do. And while it started to respond in terms of, you know, I was having then began to have periods. I still wasn’t getting pregnant. So I did end up having IVF even after 10 rounds of of treatment. And then I did. And then I had success with IVF. But yeah, with, with periods after I had my first baby. And I’m going to make a leap here, if that’s okay with you.

Le’Nise: Yeah. Yeah.

Alice: So I had Matilda and then I breastfed her for 10 months. And when I stopped, my periods arrived and just started happening like they’re supposed to. And I was like, oh, is this this is this what people were just experiencing all of those years when I was trying everything under the sun to get my body to do this and then it just started doing it and I was amazed that I didn’t have to, you know, eat a special diet and take pills and do supplements and have acupuncture and everything under the sun. I was trying to just get my body to have a period. It just was doing it by itself. It was amazing. 

Le’Nise: So just go back a little bit to the eleven rounds, sorry, 10 rounds. Is it 10 or 11?

Alice: Ten unsuccessful, one, one successful round of IVF.

Le’Nise: So that that will take quite a physical and emotional toll on your body. So for listeners who might be going through the same thing right now, who are going through IVF or thinking about it, can you talk a little bit about the support that you were able to put together to get you through this process and also talk about how long this process was for you? 

Alice: Sure. So in terms of the actual time period, because I was really proactive and impatient, it it sort of started straightaway and I went into fertility treatment itself, really about, you know, just literally the month that I wanted to start trying because I went to the GP straightaway. I then had oh, there it was, they also found a fibroid. So anyone listening, that’s a growth in the uterus. So they found that and they said to me that might get in the way when you were trying to conceive, do you want to get rid of it? And I was like, “well, yeah, if it’s going to get in the way, let’s get rid of it.” So we had had an operation to remove that first. So it really was kind of straight in. Most people will be trying for quite a while before they get to that point. But because I was presenting with symptoms immediately, I just I just went straight there. So all in all, that whole experience was 11 rounds was two years and two months, which actually is not that long when it comes to infertility journey, most most people will have a longer experience. But the intensity of what was happening was really a lot to do.

And emotionally, you know, it took its toll. And I really I really believe that the way I got through that was to reframe what was happening to me. And I did that through, I like to say self coaching because I feel like that’s what happened in the end. And the route into that, the gateway into being able to self coach myself was by doing something called The Artist’s Way, which was then it’s a course, but it’s just in a book. So I had somebody who had given me this book and it sat on my shelf this whole time. And while I was going through all of these failed rounds of treatment and feeling so frustrated and upset and alone and left behind and stuck and I mean, it’s horrendous. I felt like I needed to do something. It’s taken me out of that experience. I started to do this this course. And it’s, it’s a course in rediscovering your creative self or something like that. And I was, I was at the time, I was an actor. And so it was all, it really appealed to me, this ability to reconnect to who I was. So I started doing that. And it had a huge, huge impact on my mental health, my wellbeing, my motivation. Everything changed. My outlook changed. And at the same time as that, as I said, I was kind of coming at this from all angles. 

So I was seeing an acupuncturist and originally that was to help with my fertility. But what I now see in hindsight was that it was just this huge support. It was like going to therapy and it was, you know, blissful going to see her because it took me out of my body for a moment and someone else was holding me and taking care of me. And that was so important as well. I was also referred to a fertility counsellor through my NHS clinic, which was absolutely amazing. So I really advocate seeking support for anybody going through this as well. 

If you can just, you know, find find that support and find specialist support because it was really helpful to sit there. And she knew exactly what I was talking about when I was talking about Clomid or these feelings that I was going through. You know, she really did understand. And I later found out she understood on a personal level as well, because she was actually going through it herself, you know, while I was seeing her, she was also experiencing it. So those are, those are the things that it’s the self coaching. It was the support that I had, but it was also the lifestyle changes that I made because, you know, the nutritional stuff and the and the the healthy lifestyle that I was leading to try to get my body to help me, ended up having a really positive effect on my mental wellbeing as well, because my moods were a bit more balanced. 

You know, I had more energy. I just felt really good. And that’s not something you hear very much when you when you hear people talking about going through infertility. And I really want to caveat that by saying it was still really, really hard. You know, I still felt the pain and the grief every time my cycle didn’t work. I still wanted to be a mum more than anything else. But in between those those periods of of mourning, really, and grief, every time something didn’t work, I felt good. I felt good about myself. I felt good about my life. And I’m talking you know, I’m talking really passionately about this because this really is it’s my raison d’être, really, Le’Nise, like I really want to try and help others find that. I want to help others find that sort of reframe. And the idea that you can actually experience joy and and some success and peace in your life, even while you also go through that pain. 

So, yeah, in a nutshell, but that’s what happened to me. 

Le’Nise: Listening to your story and I’ve heard and stories that I’ve heard from other women, either clients or women that I’ve spoken to, what always strikes me is how much they go through, how much you, you’ve gone through to have a baby, and it’s just this journey. And so this something that you want so badly that you always get the sense that the other woman I’ve spoken to that you would do anything to make that happen. 

And I often think about what happens after the baby. You get the baby and then you have the whole everything physically and emotionally that you’re dealing with postpartum, plus caring for a brand new tiny little baby, but then also dealing with some of the trauma of having all, had all of this done to your body. 

Can you just talk a little bit about that? 

Alice: Yes, such a good point. And so, so important. And I feel that it is absolutely imperative that emotional well-being and mindset work is actually up, that as the highest priority when you’re going through fertility stuff. 

And the thing is that, yes, you all are so desperate and you just want to do anything. And that was absolutely me. You know, I was I just wanted to get to the end result. I just wanted to have a baby. And I didn’t really I didn’t want to slow down and work on my mindset. I didn’t want to slow down and do gratitude practice. 

I just wanted to have a blimmin baby like everyone else was doing. 

But what I learnt through this whole process was that actually, you know, once once you do get to that stage and you do get pregnant and you do have the baby, your emotional and mental health is just so, so important. 

And the more in touch with who you are and what you need on any given day, the better able you’re going to be to be able to manage that period and to be able to manage that trauma that is with you. You know, and lots of people who are in my community have also been through loss. They’ve been through incredibly traumatic experiences or they might have had a traumatic birth, which really does stay with you as well. My first birth was quite traumatic and I recently had some birth trauma counselling before I had my second baby this year in February. So trauma is a really important part of all of this to process and to recognise, as you rightly say. And I think that validation is just so huge for anyone experiencing a difficult road to parenthood, you know, to validate how incredibly hard it is and that you do you try everything. I mean, you literally would go out in the garden and do a dance under the full moon holding 10 crystals in your hand, if someone told you that was going to work, you would do it. You don’t even care. You don’t care what you look like, don’t care what people think. You’re like this going to work. I’m going to do it. I need, I’ve got to have my baby. And it’s some it’s all, it’s all consuming and, you know, it’s very and it impacts every area of life. So and the trauma, as you say, on the body, yoru physicality. I think women just kind of go, well, this is what needs to happen. So I’m just gonna put myself through. And me and my body are just going to have to cope. And actually, we really need to take care of ourselves. We need to take care of all of our bodies and our hearts and our souls and our minds holistically to be able to manage the intensity of what you actually go through to have that baby. 

Le’Nise: So having gone through all of that and then having a positive outcome in the form of your daughter, you then went on to have a second baby earlier on this year. Can you talk about what you did differently that time around then, when you think about what you did the first time? 

Alice: So when I, when we decided to try for another baby, I really, truly, genuinely was in the mindset of thinking, if I never have another baby, I am actually absolutely okay with that. I felt very at peace and accepting of our position. I felt incredibly grateful that we had Matilda. And I just thought, you know, if this happens again, what a huge bonus. How lucky would we be? So I didn’t feel that sense of of desperation that I had with my first child. I felt that I went I went into trying with a very open mindset. So we tried naturally for about 10 months because my periods had regulated and we never discovered another reason why we weren’t conceiving. So we thought, well, it’s always possible. And everyone tells you, oh, once you’ve had one, you’ll probably get pregnant easily the next time. So we were like, well, look, it didn’t happen for us. So we decided to rather than just keep trying. After about 10 months, we were like, well, we’ve got some frozen embryos. Again, very fortunately, we had some frozen embryos. So I just called up my doctor. We had gone privately in the end because with the NHS clinic here in the UK, after I’ve been through all of those failed rounds of treatment, and then I told them I wanted to move to IVF. They then said, well, that’s a different waiting list. We’ll need to wait probably for about a year. And at that point, having already gone through 10 failed rounds, I thought, I can’t wait a year to start IVF. So I basically remortgaged my house. I just did whatever I could to go privately and have that round of IVF. So anyway, to come back to where we were, with the second baby, I just I just called up my doctor. I said, “I think I’m gonna have a frozen embryo transfer. What’s the protocol? And and then and then we went through it and it was really straightforward. And I want to say that with a very you know, again, we were so very lucky with that that it didn’t need a lot of medication because my body had started to do what it was supposed to do anyway. So all I needed to do at that point was to track my ovulation, which worked because I was having periods, tell him when I’d ovulated and we scheduled in the transfer. And unbelievably, it worked again. 

So it almost was like having a baby naturally for me. So compared to the first time, which was just so, so hard. The second time was was very different, even though it was an IVF transfer, an IVF baby. It was a completely different experience, mindset as well as everything else. 

Le’Nise: You had your baby in February this year, and then we went in the UK, we went into lockdown in March. Can you talk a little bit about the experience of having a newborn in lockdown while also caring for yourselves and healing from birth?

Alice: You know, I’m almost welling up, Le’Nise, because this is the first time someone’s actually asked me about how how that was. And I have to say, it was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever been through. Gosh. It was just so challenging because, you know, it was so, so unexpected. It was so unknown. It was so scary. And, you know, after I’d had Matilda, which, as I said, it was a little bit of a traumatic birth. You know, it didn’t really go to plan. And I lost a lot of blood. And, you know, I physically I needed to go to the surgery after I had her, you know, an hour after I’d had her, I had to go to surgery for two hours without her and be repaired because I’d had such a damaging birth experience. So when I was pregnant with Reggie, I was really I was I really didn’t know what to do about the birth. And in the end, after a lot of conversations with my midwife team and everything, we decided on a planned C-section. And I, as I said, had birth trauma counselling to help me to sort of come to terms with all of that. So I had the C-section. And so when I’d had Reggie, I was recovering from major surgery. But, you know, I was postpartum anyway, which was is very, very overwhelming time. And but what I had put in place because of my experience with Matilda, which I had found really overwhelming. Becoming a mum after all of that, you know, I said to everyone around me, I said to my family, I said to my friends. I am not leaving my bed for three weeks. You guys can come and help me. I’m going to lie here. I’m going to really try to just, you know, take this as easy. I’m gonna get all of the help I need and I want and all of that. I kind of had a real, I felt really, really lucky that was gonna get another go at kind of that newborn era and that I was just gonna try and be really accepting of the broken sleep and I was gonna just sink into it. 

So it was kind of, you know, I was ready. 

And that first five weeks after he was born, as challenging as they were, because having a baby is hard, I was also in quite a good headspace. And I was, I had lots of help and my sisters were coming round. My mum was there and my mother in law came and I felt quite held. And then all of a sudden, lockdown happened. And I actually remember being over at my neighbour’s house because our kids went to nursery, Matilda and her little boy went to nursery together and they were playing after nursery. And we were watching the news and they said they were going to close the nursery and that, you know, there was no mixing with other households. And I I just thought, how am I going to manage this? You know, Reggie was not sleeping. 

He was a very refluxy newborn. He was being sick all the time. He had the loudest cry you’ve ever heard in your life. I mean, people literally commented on it in the hospital. The second he came out, he screamed the place down. Everyone in the theatre said, wow. Good luck with that. Literally, that’s what they said to us. And we were like, oh, thanks. And so he was he was not he was not a relaxed little thing. 

He was he was a challenging, challenging newborn. And we were not sleeping. You know, we really were not sleeping. We were getting a few hours sleep every night. And then and then all of a sudden, Matilda was there all day, every day. Simon was still supposed to be working at that point for the first six weeks. He was still working, trying to. And I had to look after Reggie and Matilda, 24/7 with no help. And it was, yeah, one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to get through. So when he was far, when Simon was furloughed, that was just the biggest relief ever because I had some help, you know, and I could at least take a little bit of a rest here and there. But still, you know, as everyone had, it was it’s been one of the most difficult years in living memory. We’ve all had our own, you know, mountains to climb and battles to fight. So that was mine. 

Le’Nise: What I find so interesting about you is you have this incredibly heart, heartrending story and you’ve been through so much. 

But then when you, when you look at your Instagram, which is how we connected, you never get the sense of everything that you’re going through or you’ve gone through, because the work that you do is about supporting other woman and being there and offering them guidance through their fertility journey. 

Talk about how you are able to separate but and why you decided to make that separation. 

Alice: That’s such a good question. So I made that decision, I started my Instagram knowing exactly what I wanted to share and being very, very clear about what I would, what my mission was on that account. So it was never a kind of personal account that kind of documented my journey and then changed into something else. It began as a support account and it always was going to be. So I always knew that I would never really be sharing, like, you know, the intimate detail of what was happening personally for me on a day-to-day level. But, you know, I, I, I do try and share my life because I believe that that’s is how we connect, isn’t it? 

That’s how we get to know people. And I want people to know me as a person to understand that, you know, I’m offering the support through my lived experience. And, you know, they’re going to they’re going to respond to me or not respond to me, judging on, you know, how we can love us as people. But when I really started to go, okay, I’m going to start not really talking about my life as a mum here, because I just don’t think it’s serving the people that I want to help. And my mission really is to is to find the people who are really, really struggling and to bring them in and to really guide them into a place of peace and acceptance and joy and positivity, as well as acceptance of the difficult feelings that they’re also going to be having. So that actually, by the time they finished working with me and I actually just launched my new six week course, that’s really what that does, is to try to get people into a place where seeing, you know, people living in life as parents isn’t going to be as damaging and triggering for them because they’ve come into a much better, more healthy headspace. But I just felt that, you know, sharing the ins and outs of how hard my life was on that page just just wasn’t really appropriate. And I didn’t feel comfortable doing it, which is why I then set up my other page, which is my mum account. So I’ve got my Alice Rose, the mama, where I’m very real and I’m very open. And actually I got so much support myself through sharing that side during lockdown. And that was, that was an amazing thing for me to have, you know, while I was going through that sleepless, difficult time, just sharing on my other page and going. I’m really struggling today and just having messages from other, other women and other moms saying, we’re here with you. You know, solidarity, we can do this was just amazing. So it’s kind of nice because I’ve got my one where I support people. But then I also I’m also filling my own cup up, you know, with the other one. And that is so important. 

Le’Nise: So talk a little bit more about the work you do. So if listeners are if a listener sharing this, and thinking, I need that support. I’m going through a lot right now. I need, I need that support. How how can I get in touch with you? What support have you been able to access that you think would be worth the listeners who are going through the same journey accessing? 

Alice: So I am a huge advocate of finding the support that you need. And I think that, you know, there’s loads of different options in terms of support. If you’re looking for a counsellor or a coach, the counsellor specifically, you would go to BICA, the British International Counselling Association, or you would go to Fertility Network UK or you would go to Instagram and you would, you would you type in the hashtags #fertilitycoach, #fertilitycounsellor. And people will will come up. They will. You’ll be able to find if that’s what you want, if you want one-to-one support, then that’s where I would recommend that you go. If you’re looking for immediate kind of online support, that’s where I can help, because what I wanted myself when I was going through this kind of stuff was just kind of things that I could action personally, you know, without having to wait for an appointment or pay a lot of money for an appointment or make time in my in my day, you know, for that. What I wanted was just to be able to take ownership of what was happening. 

So that’s what I’ve created for people that I’ve got my, you know, online mini mindset course, which is just a 10 day £20 option. I’ve got a five day course for £10. I got my little mini meditations, so for £5 again. I’ve got my end self compassion for pregnancy announcement meditation, for example. So I’ve tried to make them really specific because it’s those moments of just being knocked sideways when, you know, a friend of yours announces a pregnancy or a family member or, you know, someone in your life announces something and you feel absolutely on the floor, you feel devastated you feel. I actually put the post together with the words that people sent in to me about how it made me feel. And someone was saying it’s like being punched in the throat. It’s, you know, and it’s the physical, visceral and incredibly dark feeling. And then you layer on top the guilt because you’re supposed to be happy. 

And not only are you supposed to be happy, you’re supposed to be happy immediately that someone tells you. So it’s a really, really tough one. 

So that is a specific little meditation for that. It really helps to just take people out from that place of guilt and darkness and pain and grief and just to validate how they’re feeling and to give them the gentle but powerful refrain to go, you know what? I’m a human being. I’m having a really hard time. And it really soothes and it really takes them out of that. So. So, yeah. So that’s the kind of support that I am working on, I offer, yeah. And the six week course I’ve just launched is a group thing, so we’ll start that soon. As I mentioned, by the time this goes out, that will be deep within it. It will run periodically now throughout the year.

Le’Nise: Anyone who’s interested, all of the links will be in the show notes so you can access the course if you’re interested and go find out more about Alice there.

What about men? Men who are going alongside of this with their partners? 

You hear a lot about support for women. What about the men? What, what can men do who maybe they’re suffering in silence or being in the UK, stiff, stiff upper lipping it. Yeah. What can they do? 

Alice: So this is such a huge, huge thing and I’m so glad you brought it out because it’s and it’s something that so I work as well with my business partner Cat and we have an events company called Cat and Alice. Well, it’s events and consulting. So we also work with brands and things to try and get patient insights around fertility. We can help people with fertility policies at work and we help them to look at their, you know, how how often that is represented in the media. I’ve worked with the BBC in terms of just sharing different stories and things. And the events that we run, we did run before 2020. And, you know, we we were really mindful of this. And it’s really difficult because the first ever event that we ran, which was a full day event, lifestyle event, we kind of call them. And they’re not medical. We don’t really have doctors and people from clinics there. What we do is bring in life coaches and holistic things and share stories and have panel events and that kind of thing and really make people feel relevant and parts of of society because so much you feel sidelined when you haven’t got kids. You know, or when you’re trying to have a second baby, and that’s not working very easily. So we, our first event, we said it was open to everyone and one man came. So we realised we had a little bit of a problem because we were speaking to a really, you know, a female sort of skewed audience, and that was what was happening with our events. So the second one, we just said it right. This one’s for women. We’re going to do something else for men coming up. 

And we just had about 80 women all came to our next one. And then what we then did for our Christmas party last year, we just said this is for everybody. And we had loads of men come to that. And it felt amazing to just see everyone coming together in couples or, you know, it just felt like a really welcoming normal and I’m doing quotation marks, it wasn’t really a fertility event. It was just a you know, it was it was it was a party in a really nice venue in London. 

And it was an opportunity for people to come together as people just going through a similar experience. And that was that was really important to us that we recognised that, you know, men are so very much a part of this, too, and they’re just not noticed a lot of the time that they don’t they didn’t even get spoken to directly in appointments sometimes. And, you know, even recently I’ve done [IG] lives with with with clinics and constantly throughout the conversation, I you know, they sing and women there and women that we’ve gone. Yes. And the men, you know. And the men. And the men and the men, because it just is seen as a female issue. And it’s absolutely not. So what can men do? I think it’s this is really hard because they they sort of need to take a little bit of action themselves in order to engage with the support that’s out there. But people all starting to offer more. And there’s there’s James Kemsley. I think his name is, is a is a coach who is really active in trying to promote the support for men. There’s also been quite a lot of new Instagram accounts when it comes to male infertility support. So go and have a look on Instagram, type in, you know, male male support, infertility, whatever it is that you can find with the hashtag. You know, there is a growing Instagram community around that as well. So it’s that it needs a little bit more digging out and more spotlight shone on it. But it is that. 

Le’Nise: So everything you said, your story.  I, I know that listeners, there is there will be listeners who will really connect with what you’re saying. 

If you want to leave them with one thing, one little pearl of wisdom to take away, what would you want that to be? 

Alice: I think my go to is to remember to take things day by day, because a lot of the time what we do is live in the future. And we we get so wrapped up in the anxiety and fear and panic that, you know, what, if this never happens or what would I do if that happens? And it’s incredibly stressful. So the more that we can work on being present, the more that we can work on taking things, if it’s hour by hour, even, especially when you’re in a two week wait, which is when you do the time in between ovulation or fertility treatment and finding out whether it’s worked. You know, that’s such a difficult, difficult time for so many people so the more that we can work on prisons, the better. So day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, this is what I would leave you with.

Le’Nise: That’s taking a very yogic approach, being present, being present in what’s happening to you. 

Take it minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. I absolutely love that. 

Thank you so much, Alice, for sharing your story. Share your openness and honesty. And for listeners who want to connect with you on Instagram, can you just say your handle? 

Alice: This is Alice Rose is my Instagram handle, which sounds a bit dramatic, but Alice Rose was taken. This is Alice Rose on my website

Le’Nise: Thank you so much.

Alice: Thank you so much for having me. 

Period Story Podcast, Episode 35: Lauren Lee-Crane and Catherine Lee, Become An Expert In Your Own Body

To round out season 3 of Period Story, I’m really excited to share today’s episode with twin sisters Lauren Lee-Crane and Catherine Lee. They are the founders of Semaine, a health and wellness supplement for people with painful periods. I loved our conversation and am really grateful they shared their story of living with endometriosis, going through various surgeries, being Asian in the ballet world and of course, the story of their first periods.

Catherine said that her first period was very memorable because her mom made homemade Frappuccinos to toast the occasion! Within a few months, she said that she was already asking for a hysterectomy. Lauren says she got her period after Catherine and really didn’t want it.

We talked about being bunheads, which is the term for girls who do ballet at a relatively high level and how they navigated this very structured, hierarchical and rigid world. They were often told that they were too exotic for the ballet world and that they didn’t have the right ‘look’.

Lauren talks about how as ballerinas, they learned to suppress and numb themselves to any pain they experienced and this translated to the endometriosis pain as well. Lauren says they thought of it as just another pain they had to deal with.

Both Lauren and Catherine shared their endometriosis journeys, with Lauren getting diagnosed with stage 4 endometriosis and Catherine getting diagnosed with stage 2 endometriosis. Lauren described the pain she experienced as ‘a bouquet of knives sort of sitting up in her pelvis’. Catherine describes her pain as ‘feeling like she had a bowling ball in her uterus’.

Catherine and Lauren shared stories of their pain being dismissed by doctors and health professional in quite critical moments and how they’ve learned to advocate for themselves in health situations. Catherine says that it’s important to become an expert in your body and Lauren says to trust yourself and advocate for yourself. Thank you so much, Lauren and Catherine!

Get in touch with Lauren and Catherine:

Website

Instagram

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CATHERINE AND LAUREN’S BIOS

Lauren:
I’ve had painful periods since I was 15. After decades of believing the immense pain I experienced was normal, I was diagnosed with endometriosis and underwent multiple surgeries. I don’t want other women who have painful periods, endometriosis, adenomyosis and PCOS to go through what I have. Finding a natural way to support women’s health and voice their stories are the reasons we started Semaine: a health and wellness supplement for people with painful periods. 

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Catherine:
In my late twenties, I started to experience worsening symptoms from endometriosis. In 2015 I elected to have surgery and was diagnosed with stage II endometriosis. I see learning to live with endo as a journey – taking care of myself, listening to my body, and voicing what I need to be healthy. Normalizing the conversation around periods and period pain, is exactly why I wanted to start Semaine with Lar and her husband Matt.

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: On today’s episode, we have Lauren Lee-Crane and Catherine Lee. They are the founders of Semaine, a health and wellness supplement for people with painful periods. They started Semaine after both being diagnosed with endometriosis and undergoing multiple surgeries. Lauren says that she doesn’t want other women who have painful periods. endometriosis, adenomyosis and PCOS to go through what she did. Catherine says that normalizing the conversation around periods and period pain is exactly why she wanted to start Semaine. They wanted to find a natural way to support women’s health and voice their stories. Welcome to the show.

Lauren: Thank you so much, Le’Nise, so happy to be here.

Catherine: Thank you, so excited.

Le’Nise: So can you both start off by telling me the story of your first period? 

Catherine: Yes, this is Catherine. I will tell my story first because I got my period first, which, I was very upset because I thought as twins we were supposed to do everything together. 

And I think I got my period almost like 6 to 12 months before Lauren did. And I remember it very vividly. We were, so we grew up outside of Washington, D.C. and Maryland. And every summer, our extended family had a beach condo in Ocean City, Maryland, which is on the eastern seaboard.

So we were at the beach, of course, so we were at that condo. And I still remember there were two bathrooms in that condo and the bathroom where I discovered I had my period. It had all these like orange and brown daisy wallpaper that I feel like that’s like stuck in my mind. But anyways, so I was like I started my period and I was like, oh no. And I remember I told my mom and she was like, so excited, at least that’s the impression I got. Like, maybe she was like, oh my gosh, what’s going on? But I remember it was when this is gonna age us for sure, but it was like a couple years after Frappuccinos came out in Starbucks and there were no Starbucks in Ocean City at the time. But my mom had found like a recipe to make Frappuccinos at home. So I remember she made, like, took out the blender at the beach condo and like made Frappuccinos. And we all, like, cheered to my womanhood. I was mortified and I was just like, I don’t want this. And I think eventually, like within those first couple of months of having my period, I think I asked my mom for a hysterectomy. Like, I don’t really know what it was. I just thought it was like it meant you didn’t have to bleed every month. So my mom was like, “but you’re going to want to have babies and all the things” and I was like, “Not worth it, don’t want this, get it out my body.” And I was just like, not. And I had I remembered, like, you know, with reading like articles like reading teen magazines and stuff and books like women were or young girls were so excited to get their periods and I was like, I can’t really I don’t I don’t want this at all. And I know, like, Lar, you can talk about it, but I know you were like, equally mortified for me.

Lauren: I remember. Oh Cath was twelve. Yeah. So we were a little bit older, I feel like when Cath got her period, I remember I was just like, ‘Oh my God, thank God I don’t have mine yet. And I, I think the reason why we felt that way is we were both dancers. We wanted to be ballerinas. I feel like most little girls at some point want that. We continued to want that until we were 18 and we danced all the time. We, we did like twenty five hours of ballet every week. That was our life. And as a ballet dancer, anything that’s going to cause you inconvenience or make it harder for you to be a ballet dancer, whether it’s to develop breasts, you know, you just want to be skinny. You just want to be able to move the way that you’re used to moving when you’re 11 to 17. And I remember, it’s like a period is going to be such an annoyance because, you know, you have to wear a tampon, you have to wear a pad. So I remember when Cath got her period and she was saying like she was so embarrassed. It was just me and my mom and my dad there. It’s not like we had other people at the condo with us. And I was so embarrassed for her, like, ‘oh, my God, why are we talking about Catherine’s period? I’m so glad I don’t have mine.’ Catherine’s right. I did get mine six months after her and I actually had mine when we were doing The Nutcracker. So every December, you know, every bunhead in the world does The Nutcracker at some point. And Cath and I were getting changed. This is a, you know, a couple hours before you went onstage and I was putting my costume on and I notice there’s like a little bit of blood on my tights.

And I was like, “No, I think I know what this is though. Why is it happening now?’ Cause of, you know, happening right before you’re going on stage. You’re already sort of like nervous and excited and then getting this thing that, Catherine and I obviously we never wanted. I know there are women you’ve had on your podcast and our friends who are excited to get their period, that was never our experience. And I think a big part of that was being ballet dancers and being so focused on on wanting to do that in the sort of strange culture that the ballet world is.

 You know, I mean, it’s not like our ballet dancer teachers ever said, oh, getting your period is bad. I just remember hearing older ballet dancers talking about it and how painful it could be and how, you know, like I remember the Sugar Plum Fairy one year having to ask the costumers just to keep taking her out of her tutu because she had to go put a new tampon in. And I remember I was like, oh, my God, that sounds like such a headache. So that was that was our experience with with periods and ballet.

Le’Nise: Talk a bit about being bunheads. So for people who don’t know what that expression means, typically it refers to girls who do or who do, is it ballet and does it include gym, gymnasts as well? Or is it only ballet? 

Catherine: I think I’ve only heard it used with ballet and when you’re a, if you’re doing ballet at a relatively high level, like a pre professional level like you, it was until like probably we were 16 that we just assumed we weren’t going to be going to university, that we would immediately go into a company or if if we were lucky enough, maybe we’d apply to Juilliard, you know, which is a very well-known school. But if you did ballet specifically, not modern dance or something like that, you essentially go in to a company as early as, like 16, depending on where you are.

And it wasn’t until we were 16 or 17 that we realized maybe we should get a college degree.

Le’Nise: Tell me a bit more about the ballet world. I did ballet when I was really little. But the only thing I really know about ballet is Christmas equals Nutcracker or. And then Black Swan, the movie. That’s it.

Lauren:  That is totally understandable. I feel like that’s most people’s experience with ballet. And to be honest, Catherine and I have never seen Black Swan on because we were like, ‘it’s going to hit too close to home.’ So we’ve never watched it. But really, I feel like how it changed for us is when we were about eight years old, we decided, you know, this is our life. We started when we were about 3 because we had seen Baryshnikov, famous male ballet dancer dancing on television. And I thought he was flying. And I was like, yes, that is what I want to do. So I think a lot of people assume it’s like the pretty tutus or the pointe shoes. But for as we saw Baryshnikov and we like. That’s it. That that is life. And so we took like sort of the classes everybody takes when you start ballet and there’s like tap and jazz when we were younger and when we were eight, we went into this pre-professional academy. And so we would go to ballet anywhere from like when we were younger, it’s like three days a week, by the time we were in high school or about 13 – 14. We were going, you know, five to seven days a week and even leaving school early in order to go to class longer.

And it’s a very it’s a very, very structured, very hierarchical and very sort of rigid world. So each year, you’re trying to progress to sort of the next year. And within those years, you’re also doing performances. So The Nutcracker is the big one in the winter, but we’d have multiple performances in the spring, in the summer as well. And then in the summer, you’d also be applying for workshops with bigger companies like the Royal Ballet, if we were in the UK or American Ballet Theater, we would do workshops with the Joffrey Ballet Theater. We were often considered a little too exotic for the ballet world. We were told that multiple times. So we didn’t have as much luck with some of the bigger companies because we didn’t have the quote unquote look. This was in the 90s. Things have definitely changed now. Not as much as they should. But, you know, Misty Copeland’s out there, which is awesome. But that was very different for us. And sort of the mid, late 90s, we were just told we wouldn’t fit into the corps very well. So this was happening when we were sort of in our later teenage years. And one of the reasons why we ended up getting out of ballet and going to university instead just because of some of the discrimination we faced. But it’s in when you’re in that world, it just seems like even though you see that discrimination, you see, you know, the body dysmorphia that can happen. And obviously the way we thought about our periods was not particularly healthy. It was still such a dream for us like that, still having such a passion for something that almost nothing else mattered. You knowing you were just going to do whatever it took to get to where you wanted to be. And Cath and I were lucky to have each other because it’s a very, very competitive atmosphere that, the teachers are not particularly supportive. And we never competed against each other as twin sisters. It was like if Cath did well, I felt like I was doing well, even if she got a better part than me. But for the most part, you know, it’s not like a team sport. You are very much sort of alone in trying to be better than the next person next to you. So it’s it’s a very yeah. It’s as sort of a strange way to grow up because that, you know, we weren’t focused. We always had to do well in school because our parents were like, if you don’t do well in school, we’re taking you out of ballet. So we, we got the straight As or whatever we needed to do in order to stay with ballet. But really, that wasn’t important to us. It was just, do as well as you can at ballet. Nothing else really matters. And that’s you know, most people are going to parties when they’re teenagers or doing things like that. And we didn’t. It was just like ballet, ballet, ballet all the time.

Catherine: And a big part of it, too, was like Lar was saying about the teachers. Like, a lot of it in that world is just like you’re so desperate to get approval from all the teachers that you have, because they’re the ones who, like, you know, can help push you into a company. They’re the ones that give you better roles and different ballets and stuff like that. And then along the same side, of course, and you have the whole, like, body image aspect of it, which you always hear about with ballet.

Lauren and I were very lucky, we never had to worry about weight problems. I think that’s the Asian side of us. You know, we were naturally skinny, so we were very lucky in that. But we also didn’t have, like, Lar said there, we didn’t have the looks and we weren’t blond and blue eyed. And then on top of that, we didn’t really have the body type either. We’re tiny, we’re like 5″3 on a good day and and ah, you know, our pointes, our feet weren’t exactly like perfect. Our legs didn’t come up to our shoulders. We didn’t have super long legs. I think our torso and legs are kind of even. So it was all these things. It was funny because it was like we were very lucky. We had friends that, you know, suffered with anorexia and stuff and we didn’t have that. But for us, it was like growing up, knowing our bodies weren’t quite right for that world. So, like. And then on top of that, you have you get your period at 12, 13.

You know, and so it’s like one more thing to contend with. And the worst part was when, like, bloating started. I don’t think I started bloating. I don’t know. I can’t really remember. I was not in touch with my body at all at 12 and 13. But, you know, you can’t like suck in your stomach. And I remember dance teachers, you know, you want to tell them you were on your period and they would constantly tell you if your stomach was sticking out, you know, you’d be like, this is not my stomach. This is my uterus. 

Le’Nise: Can you guys both can you both talk about how you feel if you start thinking back to what you went through and the comments that were made about your body so to the bloated belly, from what we know now, is endometriosis and the comments about you being, quote unquote, exotic, talk about how you feel looking back on that now. And whether that had any lasting effect on your, the way you view yourself.

Lauren: Yeah, absolutely. It definitely does. We are now in our 30s, so it’s been almost 20 years since we’re in that very dysfunctional world. But for sure, I still, I still remember the comments that the teachers made either when we were on our periods. And I remember the times when I had such painful periods. But you still had to dance.

And I remember the idea was you just shoved down whatever pain your body was feeling and you did what you had to do. And that is still the idea that stuck with me, I think, through my 20s for sure. So even when my endo pain was getting a lot more acute, it wasn’t just super heavy, painful cramps anymore. I was getting sharp jabbing pains in my pelvis. I remember just thinking, ‘OK, this is another pain I have to deal with. You just take some painkillers and you go to work. You know, you just keep doing what you have to do.’ And, you know, part of ballet is, is discomfort and pain. You know, whether it’s pointe shoes, you know, your feet always hurt or just what you’re how you’re using your body is. You know, it’s like any athlete. You’re, you’re also creating a lot of wear and tear on your body because of how demanding it is. But that sort of pain and rigor is sort of, it feels normal. It feels like part of what you have to deal with. And for me, painful periods. And because I feel like a lot of the women who were dancing with also had painful periods. And I don’t you know, I don’t think most of them had endo, but I don’t know if it’s like a body fat thing. You know, you had really irregular periods because you didn’t have a lot of body fat on you and you were probably stressed out a lot. Your body is physically stressed a lot. So I remember just thinking periods were horrible and painful and abnormal and could be super heavy one month and then you wouldn’t get it the next month. And now that just seem like a normal thing to me. And we definitely never talked about that side of our bodies with our teachers. You know, the teachers. It was all physical appearance, like superficial appearance. If you were looking a certain way and I think you know, the other ways that they told us, you know, being too exotic, being too short. And I remember they said our legs weren’t straight enough. And that’s always stuck with me cause my legs were slightly bow-legged, which I don’t think you would normally think about if you were a normal person who had done ballet. But I remember one of our teachers being like, we could have fixed that if you had told me about this when you were younger and now you always have bowlegs and no company is gonna take you. I remember thinking, just like…

Catherine: If you look at Lauren and she does not, I don’t, I don’t think you have bowlegs. That’s the thing, it’s like these little things that get stuck in your brain. You know, for mine, it was like, you know, our arms didn’t straighten all the way or in the right line and our legs didn’t. But like, I didn’t know you had that bowlegged thing. She also has, like, very subtle scoliosis. And it was so subtle that teachers just thought she was not stretching her neck out enough so she couldn’t turn her head. So it’s this constant thing where it’s like it’s on you, you know, to fix things that are wrong with your body. The responsibility is on you. Obviously, we couldn’t do anything about our ethnicity. We never felt ashamed of the way we looked. But it but it was just accepting. There’s a lot of stuff we accepted back then, I think, because we were kids and it was the 90s that nowadays I don’t think they could have gotten away with it, like, you know, just accepting like, oh, yeah, we’re we’re not blond and blue-eyed. So that’s we’re not going to get certain roles, are, you know, or since their bodies aren’t exactly right, we’re not going to be the teachers aren’t gonna pay attention to us the same amount away. And that was just accept, that was to us that was part of the world. We just stayed focused on it. 

Le’Nise: You both have mentioned pain quite a lot, and something I find quite fascinating about ballet dancers is, you mentioned the pointe shoes and how you just have to, it’s painful and you’re putting your foot in a really unnatural way and basically balancing on your tip toes for like, what, 5, 6 plus hours, however long you’re dancing that particular day. 

And do you think that that going through, having to go through that or deal with that pain on an ongoing basis, kind of numbed you to the endometriosis pain in the beginning?

Lauren: Yeah, absolutely. I just remember thinking that, you know, as a dancer, you know, your feet are sort of shaped a certain way and you have a lot of pain. But it’s also something you learn to sort of pull out of a little bit. There’s ways that make it a little less intense. But I think you’re absolutely right using that word numbing because it’s kind of a weird contradiction, because as dancers, you are very self-aware about your body, you know, just in the ways we were saying, because your things are constantly pointed out to you, but also just moving your body and being able to move through space a certain way and control it a certain way. You’re very aware of your, the way your muscles move and the way your centre of gravity is. But at the same time, you do numb yourself out to any discomfort or any pain because that isn’t going to help you, you know, perform. So it is it’s this weird dichotomy of, of being very aware of your body. But at the same time, if there’s pain, or things that are hurting, that’s something to ignore or push down rather than say, I wonder why I have really painful periods. I wonder why my cramps are so intense or is I didn’t even ever question if that was normal. Our mom also had a really, really intense periods and right, I’m sure she had endometriosis. It was probably not the same stage that maybe I had it, but that was another thing. You know, in our household, it was sort of normalized that periods were painful. And my mom is also a very stoic person. But I wouldn’t say I’m stoic. She is a stoic person. And so she never really complained. She would just say, oh, you know, my period’s really hurting right now, but I’m going to continue to cook food for our entire family during Christmas or, you know, clean the house. It’s just part of what you have to deal with this pain.

Le’Nise: Can we talk about your both of you, your individual endometriosis journey?

Because so, Lauren, you said you had painful periods from the age of 15. And then, Catherine you said that in your late 20s, you started to have worsening symptoms from endo. Can you talk? So you both had endometriosis, but very different experiences. So can you individually talk about what happened to you?

Lauren: Yeah, so my endometriosis story is like a lot of women with endometriosis. It took a really long time to get diagnosed. I think the average time for women to get diagnosed is about 7 to 10 years. For me, it was about 15 years. And the reason why is because I think, culturally, we normalise period pain and a lot of ways, you know, not just in the ballet world or not just in our family, but I feel like whenever I went to a doctor and said, oh, yeah, my periods are very painful, they be like, oh yeah, that’s too bad. You should you know, you can go on birth control or, you know, just keep taking ibuprofen. Like, that’s all you can do. So even at the point when, you know, being fifteen years old and my periods were starting to get really painful and it was for me it was mainly really, really, I could have really heavy periods and then I’d have really, really intense cramping where you had to lay down like, I just could not sit up straight. I mean, my body was just like bent double and that didn’t happen every single period. But it happened, you know, often enough. And I always dreaded getting my period. It was never something I was excited about or just thought, oh, hey, I’m bleeding now. I always knew when I had my period and it was painful. I didn’t, I don’t remember skipping school or anything because, again, I thought you just keep doing what you need to do. So, you know, this is something that’s going to happen every month or every other month. If it was erratic and you just had to deal with it and then like Cath and I both had the experience, we were as we move through early 20s, that pain sort of shifted from really heavy cramping. To me, it was a lot of sharp stabbing pain. Like I explain it as sort of it feels like you have a bouquet of sharp knives sort of sitting up in your pelvis. That’s how endo felt to me. And I was lucky in the sense that I’ve only ever had the pain during my period. I know a lot of women with endometriosis, you have pain throughout your whole cycle. And I felt so lucky that it was just that week. But then you have a quarter of your month is something you absolutely dread. And at the time, my husband and I were moving abroad. We went to the UK to live in Edinburgh. And at that point, I was like, you know what, I I’m pretty sure I have endometriosis. I Googled it. I talked to my doctor about it. She’s like, “Oh, yeah. I think that’s what you have.” I mean, that was the conversation. That was it. And so, again, it was something where it’s like, OK, I just need to deal with it and figure it out on my own. And so I tried changing my diet. I went vegan and gluten free, dairy free, all the things. And my pain just kept getting worse because I think at that point I had so much scarring with my body. I also had an endometrioma, which I didn’t know about, which is a specific type of cyst you can get with endometriosis, especially in the later stages. So endometriosis, for those of you that don’t know, are stage similar to cancers of stage one, two, three and four. And I ended up having stage four. I didn’t know that at the time and no one had told me about these different stages. But as I was experiencing worse and worse pain, I would go to my GP in Edinburgh and tell her like it’s getting worse and I don’t know what to do about it. And then at the point that it was about six months before my first emergency surgery, I remember feeling a lump on the left side of my body around where my left ovary would be. And of course, that freaked me out. I just assumed it was ovarian cancer. And I told my GP and she said it’s not really anything to worry about. I don’t think you have to worry. And I really had to push her to get me an appointment to see an ultrasound technician. And I finally got that like, a couple months later. And the technician was like, “oh, honey, I’m so sorry. You have an endometrioma.” And I was just so happy it wasn’t cancer. I was like, I don’t know what that is, but that’s I was fine. And she’s like, but you’ll need surgery. And I was like, okay, you know, I’m OK. Take it out. And I had no idea what it was like. I just I just was like, OK, it’s not cancer. We’ll schedule surgery six months from now. Great. We’ll get it done. And I don’t know if it’s just like experiencing pain. You’re just like, oh, surgery. Yeah. Massive surgery doesn’t sound like a big deal because let’s just let’s just do what we need to do. And before I could have that surgery, that endometrioma ruptured. Again, I didn’t know that’s what was happening at the time. But it it felt like something had kind of broke or snapped in my body. And I just had so much pain flooding into my pelvis at that point. And I remember this is really early in the morning and Matt had to call, my husband had to call 999. And the EMT came and I was lying on the floor. And the guy was like, you kind of look OK, essentially, like he took my vital signs or whatever. And he is like, You look OK. And I was like, I can’t get up off the floor. And he was like, well, you know, you probably have like a sore tummy. Like it was it was a really odd experience. Like I was like, no, I literally like, I’m in so much pain. And he started to like, get ready to leave. And I was like, I have a heart condition, cause I have mitral valve prolapse, which is very common for a lot of women, and it’s never something that bothered me. But I knew if I said I had a heart condition, they had to take me to the hospital. And so he was like, oh, OK. So then they took me to the hospital and they even though I told them I had to be an endometrioma, I have endometriosis. They were like, we think it’s appendicitis. And I was like, OK. So it took them about 24 hours to decide what to do with me. And I finally ended up in the gynecological ward. And I think they thought I had an STD like I was in so much pain. And they did an exam on me with like a speculum. And it hurt so much. And they still kind of didn’t believe what was going on. And I started running a really high fever. And that happened over the course of a couple days. And then during those couple days where they still couldn’t figure out what was going on, my stomach swoll up because of all the fluid that was pulling into my pelvic cavity. They basically it was the endometrioma had ruptured and was like irritating everything. So my body was trying to protect all my organs. I looked about six, seven months pregnant, and that was when they were finally like, oh, OK, we need to do an ultrasound and see what’s going on. So this is like day five of being in the hospital. And they were like, oh, OK. You have 500 milliliters of fluid. You need to go in and do emergency surgery and pull all that out. And after the surgery was when they were like, yes, you have endometriosis. It was a ruptured endometrioma. This is what happened. And so I was in the hospital for two weeks, and that was after the EMT almost didn’t take me to the hospital. So it’s such a bizarre experience to to by your GP, by everyone being told like it’s no big deal. You know, and then this thing happens. It’s very traumatic, big experience happens. And so that’s, it’s just it’s been a hard, hard journey. And since then, I’ve done a lot more research. And a year after that first emergency surgery, I learned about excision surgery, which is, quote unquote, the gold standard for endometriosis treatment. At this time, there’s no cure. Where they go in and they essentially I’m sorry, probably saying this wrong, but laser out sort of like cut through even healthy tissue to get out a lot of the endometrial tissue that’s where it shouldn’t be. And we found an excision specialist in Atlanta. And I had my second surgery about six months later. And since then have had way less pain, you know, instead of being a 10 plus off the charts. Now, my period, I have about like a three or four, which is amazing to me because I never, never thought that would happen. But it’s been a very long, painful road.

Le’Nise: What you’re saying about how the EMT didn’t, didn’t. He said, you look normal, but you’re, yet you’re saying to him: “I am in so much pain. I need to go to the hospital.” And every single time I hear a story like that, it never fails to just make me really angry at it. 

Just believe women, believe women when they say that they are in pain. And it so absolutely enraged and enraging.

Lauren: Yeah. And I know that. Yeah. That’s not an uncommon story to hear, you know. And even if it’s not as extreme and you get to the hospital even talking to your GP and saying this is what’s happening, I never had a doctor say, oh, maybe you have endo or maybe there’s some other complication we should look into, even though my my pain was extreme. That was all my own research. And at that time, there weren’t. I’m so glad there’s so much more out there on the Great Interwebs right now about endometriosis. But at the time, there wasn’t that much. And I remember just trying to scour through pages and listen to, especially chat forums where other women were talking about this. I was like, OK, so I’m not crazy. I’m not alone. This is an actual thing because I didn’t get that experience from any doctor that I saw. And and sometimes people ask, like, oh, was it a male gynecologist? I’ve had tons of gynecologists. They’ve all been women. And none of them none of them took my pain seriously.

Le’Nise: That I mean, I it’s not you would say it’s unbelievable. But it’s not. I like it. I’ve heard this so often. Cath, can you talk about your story now? 

Catherine: Yes. Mine is slightly less or significantly less traumatic than Lar and I, it’s a lot of that I give credit for Lar for basically being the guinea pig between the two of us because her, we don’t know if it was partly because she did get off birth control. And that’s kind of what triggered more of an endo pain because I never got off birth control. So when she and her husband had moved to Scotland, I was still on birth control. And by my late 20s, like Lar, I started developing more pain that wasn’t just cramping. I mean, all throughout my teens and twenties, certain periods would be, the cramps would be so bad I would feel like I had a bowling ball in my uterus, like, you know, like it’s such a weird sensation. And I just assumed, especially with our mom, who had painful periods, I was like, wow, this is what every woman goes through when they say they have cramps. So like that, I never even though it was hard to like stand for long periods of time with that sensation, I was like, this is just being a woman. And then by my late 20s, it was actually when I would have my period, on my period, like, wow, I was lucky I didn’t have pain off my period, but on my period when I’d have a bowel movement, the pain like in my pelvic region and I guess around my colon was so extreme that I thought I would pass out. And what’s funny is like, you know, you see movies and stuff. People get so much pain and then they pass out from the pain.

 Like, I was like, why couldn’t that happen? I could not pass out. I would just have this extreme pain, you know, like where I would see stars and. And so that’s. And this is all while Lar was going through everything, which was horrendous and it was horrible too not being close to her and and not understanding the NHS system too, I was so confused by that. They didn’t let her have visitors at night. Like also like in the US, which, by the way, has a very broken medical system, too. I’m not like, I think the NHS is great compared to us, but in the States because everything’s charged to you. And they try to get you out of the hospital as soon as possible. They do like a million scans that first night. You know, they would have realized what she had sooner if she had been in the States. But that being said, she would have still been dismissed. So. So that was very like hearing from a distance, hearing her whole experience was kind of mind boggling to me. And I was, I remember being like, well, I just got to keep my periods not super painful. I don’t know what I would say. I mean, obviously, I couldn’t do that. I would take ibuprofen when the pain got really bad. I did start taking one or two days off of work. And that’s when I was like, OK, this is this is affecting my lifestyle. Like, I had to accept it. And then it was when the pain was getting so bad by my late 20s. And by then I think it was right before Lar had discovered that the Center for Endometriosis Care, which is in, which is in Atlanta with a great surgeon, that that’s when I was like, OK, you know, I think I’m going to have to do this, too. So it was a whole year after Lar had her excision surgery that I got it done too. And I have stage two endometriosis. So a significant amount of endometrial growth in my body, but obviously nothing to the extent that stage four would have. They did remove my appendix, funnily enough, because they did see endometrioma cells on my appendix. So I still remember, it was like they had given me that like horse tranquilizer right before my surgery. And then they come with this clipboard and they’re like, oh, just sign here. It basically says, we’ll take your appendix if it looks kind of weird. 

And I was like, oh, you know, I’m high on drugs. I did. I was like. But the other thing that you like for the surgery prep, especially as I told them, I had so much pain around my colon, was there was a potential for colon resectioning which like by the time I was getting my surgery, I had so much pain, I was like, do it. I don’t know, you know, not really thinking the ramifications. And surprisingly enough, I didn’t, I think they found some endometrial cells around my colon, but not to the extent that they had to do any type of resectioning. So I was very lucky in that sense. And like Lar, since that surgery, I have not had that pain. When I go to the bathroom, the pain is definitely instead of being like a 10, it is now during my period, it is like a 3 or 4, nothing to the extent where I feel like I have to take off work or just lie down. Ah, I don’t even need to use heating pads, which is kind of amazing because it’s like I feel like I always had to use those beforehand. So definitely Lar kind of paved the way for me. We we both grew up knowing somewhat what endometriosis was. We had heard it because our mom had kind of self diagnosed. But we it to us that just meant like literally you just had painful periods. And so it wasn’t until Lar did all her research and she was telling me about it. I mean, I for me, I think maybe it was because of ballet. Maybe it was just growing up as a woman in the 90s, as a teenager. Like, to me, it was just like deal with it, press it down, kind of what Lar said, not being in touch with my body in the sense like I always use tampons, so I won’t even have to, like, feel myself bleeding, you know, like all that stuff. And then.

Yes, so similar to what Lar was saying, like pushing the pain down, trying to ignore it or just like, quote unquote dealing with it. To me that was like from that all the way to, like, even using tampons all the time instead of pads. So I don’t feel myself bleeding and stuff. And it wasn’t until my pain got so bad. And I think my, I was just so inflamed. Every time I was on my period, I could almost, I couldn’t really use tampons or if I did, I could only use the light tampons. And before we went on birth control, I think we went on, I can’t even remember. I think it was in our later teens and it was mostly for acne and it didn’t do anything for me. But once we started birth control pretty consistently, our periods weren’t super heavy. But when we first our periods first started and we were doing ballet so much, our periods were so heavy. I remember classes were like an hour and a half to two hours and I would have to use the bathroom at least once or twice to change out like a super tampon. But by the time it got to my surgery, which I think I was 29, I can’t do the math right now, but late 20s. I wasn’t even able to use tampons at all. So that’s, I mean, that alone, I was like, okay, something’s more serious here, but yeah, just the whole experience. I mean, it was traumatic. Lauren and I, actually one of the similarities we did have is after surgery, we both got post operation infections, which even our surgeon, who was a great guy, he was like, oh, you have less than one percent chance of getting a post up infection. And I remember Lar had gotten one after hers. And I was like, oh, I bet I’ll get, I’ll get one too. And the doctor was like, no, no, no, there’s no chance. Totally did. And once again, it was that that experience of being dismissed. I remember the doctor they kind of put me with after the surgery. It’s not the surgeon. You know, I would constantly call him because my, I had this low grade fever that just won’t go away. And something felt wrong. I think this was like a week and a half after my surgery. And I would call the hospital and be like, this is, I would call the doctor and say, you know, this isn’t right. Why am I having a fever? I can’t really keep food down. And I remember he just kept saying, oh, this is part of, like, surgery recovery. And he would brush it off and brush it off and brush it off. And then finally, I was talking to my mom. I was like in tears. My mom was like, that’s it. We’re just going to the emergency room. And sure enough, they like, there was an abscess. They had to drain an abscess. And I was in the hospital for another three days, which in the US, being in a hospital for three days is a long time, like Lar was in the hospital for two weeks. You know, the NHS, that’s a long time. But like three days in the US, they try to get you at a hospital as soon as possible. And it was just recovering from that. And I remember it. And the antibiotics that I had to take from that probably made me feel much worse than any surgery ever did. And I couldn’t eat. But you had to take the antibiotics and stuff. So we both, Lar and I both had that experience, too, which was us, so we, our recovery took a lot longer, I think, than most women. But just, you know, that’s another example of being kind of ignored, like after you’ve been through this very intense surgery. And like knowing your body, knowing like this doesn’t feel like just a recovery. Something’s going on. Like, my head felt like I was on fire 24/7, I think from the fever and just being dismissed after having gone through all of that, you know, and it, it just blows my mind. And then even today, like Lar was telling you, you know, I’ve had male and female gynaecologists. Before my surgery, I would tell them I had endometriosis and they would always say the same thing like Lar said, just take birth control, take pain meds. And then even after I had my surgery where I was like I have proof I have stage two, you know, and I would tell different gynecologists. I specifically remember when he was just like, oh, yeah, that’s oh, that’s rough. Like, that was literally the response. It wasn’t like, okay, well, like we understand that you stayed on birth control to kind of manage that and, you know, talk. There was there’s no discussion. I even had, I have some scar tissue. I think it’s up towards like the top of my vaginal wall. So it makes penetration with sex very painful, like full penetration. And that I didn’t start feeling until like six months after my surgery. And I remember going to the gynecologist and just, like, crying, because I was like, I don’t know what to do about this. And like the for some reason, it wasn’t my normal gynecologist. It was another woman in the practice, who was like, I think a robot. And she basically was like, well, you’re just going to have to get surgery again for that scar tissue. And I was like, but cutting away scar tissue causes more scar tissue. And she’s like, Yeah. And that was it. She was just like, you need to talk to your, and this is after and in the US, like our surgeon wasn’t covered by any insurance. He was outside that. So you’re paying so much money. I mean, a lot of women can’t get the surgery in the first place in the US because they can’t afford it. Their insurance obviously is not going to cover it. Or they cover a specific surgeon who maybe doesn’t do full excision surgery. They just do ablation and that’s not getting to the root of the cause. So, I mean, there’s all these things where you’re dealing with this medical world, too, that does not want to support you at all. But then, like, when you’re going to a gynecologist who’s supposed to be, you know, knowledgeable and be focused on female bodies, there’s like there’s it’s more like indifference than anything, which just blows my mind. 

Le’Nise: I mean, I’m nodding along as you’re talking and everything you’re saying. I am. I keep thinking it’s just trauma and then more trauma and. I want to know, everything you’re going through now. And I want to talk about the company you founded to help women have better periods. But before we talk about that, I just want to talk about how you have gotten past or if you’ve gotten past the trauma of the surgeries and everything and dealing with the various doctors and medical professionals who questioned professionals who dismissed your pain or tried to downgrade your pain.

Lauren: Yeah, I would say that I’m still working through that trauma in a lot of ways, I think it’s almost been one of the unexpected advantages to starting a company sort of about period pain is I’ve had to think about my experience more, which has been hard, but also a really positive thing, because otherwise I would have reverted back to my usual, just push it down, don’t think about it. And I still like, I think on a day to day basis, like now Cath and I talk about it so much and we have a whole community of other women who have endometriosis pain in Atlanta, but just also online and just talking to women about their period pain in general. It’s so like life affirming and empowering in some ways because you don’t feel alone. You realize everybody is different. You know, you experience pain differently. Even if I talk with another woman who has stage four endometriosis, their experiences are completely different. So there’s, there’s so much good that’s come out of this, too. But Cath and I still talk about how before we go to gynecologists, even for just a normal routine exam, like we’re like we know we’re gonna cry in the office. Like, I don’t generally especially you, Cath, I don’t think you’re a big crier, but like, I just know I feel so vulnerable in that situation. And even if I talk through with my gynecologist and I usually bring my surgical like photos, like photos from inside of my body and I’m like, this is what I had. I’ve had the experience like Cath, where it’s still sort of worn off. And so you just always feel the sort of vulnerable existence when you’re in the doctor’s office and that you have to fight like, okay, I need to get my fighting face on because I need to make sure they believe me. I need to advocate for myself. But at the same time, I’m not completely over the trauma that’s happened to me before. So I know I’m going to feel really sort of teary eyed and then the doctors aren’t going to take me seriously and all this stuff that’s usually still was playing through my head. So, yeah, I would say I’m still working through the trauma, still working through some of that pain, but there’s been a lot of positive having to go through it. 

Catherine: And I think the other thing, too, is that it seems sort of like the dark ages, but like any an gynaecologist you go to, their focus is on fertility. 

And if they you know, they they, most gynaecologists have very little experience or got very little education on endometriosis. My guess would be the same with adenomyosis and PCOS and all the other things, PMDD. And to them, it’s at least the ones that I’ve met, it to them means potentially could affect your fertility. And so even when I try to have these conversations with the gynecologist, they always turn it around to like, well, I think you could get pregnant, or especially now, since we’re with, like, geriatric moms if we ever got pregnant. Right. We’re 37, 36, 37 in two weeks. We’re 36. And so, like, when I go to the gynecologist, every discussion, it’s always like, do you want to freeze your eggs?

Which in the States takes I think it’s like at least $20,000 to start out and like they talk about it so casually, like everybody has that amount of money, but also that that’s always how they focus on your body as basically as a baby making machine. And it I feel like even the surgeon too who we loved it, it’s still like he’s very used to having the conversation around fertility. Like, how does your endometriosis, how will that affect your fertility in that kind of thing? And both obviously, neither one of us have kids. We’re not. Neither one of us have decided whether we want kids, even though, you know, it’s getting a little late for us. But to me, it was always like, no, I. I want to focus on fixing my body first before I could even think of having, you know, a parasite. You know what I say? I was like, why? Why, why am I going to focus on kids now when, like, I’m in so much pain? But it’s just funny. The whole like the whole dialogue around it, even at doctors offices, even if they like, you know, kind of ignore your pain. It is always about fertility and how you’re basically worthy as a woman because of your level of fertility. That’s how I see it. And like Lar, I always have to prep myself before I, actually have my annual is on Monday. And I know, like, I’m going to get there early, I’m going to do breathing exercises. I’m going to be ready for the doctor to just dismiss me. Ah. You know, I want to talk about freezing my eggs again, even though I told her last time I saw her I was like, you need to write down in my file do not talk to me about freezing eggs. And even when I said that, even when I met with her last year, she was like, Really? Are you sure?

And I was like, come on, lady. You’re educated, listen to me.

So, like, it is still is like it’s something we deal with. And I think Lar said starting Semaine has kind of forced us to have those difficult conversations and revisit it. But I think that’s very healthy and something that we need to do. And it’s been so empowering and hearing other women’s stories and knowing that we’re not alone. And the fact that we could we could create this thing with Lar’s husband that actually helps women through their pain.

Le’Nise: What you’re saying about having to prepare to go and see your doctor, to see your gynecologist. I, you know, I think it’s really important because in an ideal world, we wouldn’t have to do that. We could go and our doctors would have the time to spend with us and have the time to ask questions and really figure out what’s going on in the moment. But certainly in the UK, there’s 10 minutes and you have to make the most of those 10 minutes. But I love what you’re saying about, you know, you do your breathing exercise. You’ve got your notes. Lar, you were saying you take the photos of your prior surgery. You know, you you you tell them to refer back to the notes you ask them to make on your file before. I think all of those are really important for women to remember. They have to go in prepared and be prepared to advocate for themselves. And if they don’t feel comfortable doing that, bring someone with them who can do that for them. I want to go on to talk about your company. So is it Semaine? Because I’m thinking French Semaine means week or how do you pronounce it?

Lauren: You’re completely right and you’re saying it correctly. As Americans, we say Semaine. So, yes, it is. It is the French word for the week, but, we, we, we. But you’re an American French. Oh, yes. That is the name in it. It came from from the fact that the supplement that we created, which is a plant based anti-inflammatory, is just for the week of your period or whenever you have the most pain on your cycle. Generally, even women who have sort of pain throughout their cycle, that might be the worst pain is during ovulation, maybe or maybe it’s right before your period. But for me personally, I’ve always been really bad about taking supplements continually. And so when Matt, my husband and Cath when we were creating this, I was like, I am not going to take something every single day. I won’t remember. And I don’t like the idea of having to take a pill every single day, even if it is all natural and plant based. And so because we were focusing on the inflammation aspect of period pain, rather than balancing hormones, making sure you have more estrogen or less estrogen, we we could really focus lowering that inflammation when you need it the most on your period. So in general, this is something that I had no idea about before we started Semaine. My husband did, he’s a research scientist. He has PhD in bioengineering, that on your cycle over the course of 28 days, roughly. Of course everybody’s different, but that your immune system sort of works that quickly as well. So when you’re moving into your ovulation period, your immune system pulls back a little bit, just in case you are you have foreign DNA that enters your body, you know, and you’re impregnated. So your immune system’s like, okay, we don’t we don’t want to attack that. Let’s pull back. And then if you’re not, if you’re not getting pregnant, your immune system kind of comes roaring back in the next two weeks and reaches its peak as you start to bleed. And a lot of the times with that immune system, that that causes a lot of inflammation, that your immune response and inflammation is connected. And so those of us with painful periods, not just with endometriosis, but with just painful periods in general, you’re having sort of a stronger immune response and more inflammation. So the thinking behind creating an anti-inflammatory is we’re lowering that inflammation levels So it’s all about, you know, like helping your body do its thing, have its period, but with sort of supported help of lowering the inflammation markers that are happening and causing a lot of pain. And that has been tremendously helpful for me because I know I was always sort of nervous about taking different things that regulated my hormones because there’s not a lot of research behind endometriosis, behind PCOS, behind any of these period related conditions. I think there’s not a lot of understanding of exactly how our hormones are sort of out of whack and that that can vary from person to person. So I really wanted something that could address the pain without having to be like, I don’t know, is my estrogen too high? You know, a lot of people do think endometriosis is estrogenic. So there is a link there, but they’re still not sure. I mean, again, because this is a, quote unquote, woman’s disease. The research is starting now. There’s a lot more research than there used to be, but there isn’t a lot of you know, there hasn’t been in the past. And just generally in medical history, you know, there hasn’t been a lot of research on women. I think a lot of people probably heard that that study about how women experience heart attacks different than men. But the symptoms we’re taught to look elsewhere are the symptoms that men usually have. And I remember reading, this is a study done like, you know, ten or fifteen years ago on cervical cancer. And they they tested the drug just on men who don’t have cervixes, you know, so it’s like. It blows your mind when you learn about this stuff. We were like, wait, you have to be doing these studies on women. And a big reason they don’t do the studies on women. And then prior to human subjects, why they don’t do it on on like female rats is because the hormones and having menstrual blood is very complicated and it complicates the results. And you’re like, yes. But the people taking it 50 percent plus are going to be people who have menstruated at some point and have these complex hormones. I, even when I was in the hospital actually in Edinburgh, it was a female doctor who was super sweet. But I remember at one point she said, you know, it be so much easier for us to figure out what was going on with you if you were a man, because all your bits are on the outside. 

And I was just like wait what? What is it? Oh, my God. Like, this is the extent of of medical knowledge. Sort of like really a big community. I was like, we don’t have a chance in hell. Like, how is this, this is like the the response? In starting Semaine, we’ve learned that up to 80 percent of women have painful periods in their lifetime. So this isn’t abnormal. You know, it’s like everybody has has pain and you experience at different levels. Definitely our stories are a little more acute. And having endometriosis is is something that not all women have, though. More than 10 percent of women do have endometriosis. So none of these things are super unusual. And the fact that there aren’t hardly any pharmaceutical drugs specifically for women’s pain or even a lot of like natural things that we can do on the market right now, is really telling to me the fact that women’s pain isn’t taken seriously. If there’s, if PMSand endometriosis and all those conditions were something that men experienced, we’d have gobs of research. We’d have so many, you know, if they’re 5,000 pills for erectile dysfunction but nothing for, you know, period pain specifically, except for maybe Midol or Pamprin, which hasn’t changed in the last twenty five years. Something’s wrong. Something’s broken with with innovation in health care for women. 

Catherine: I always think of that line in the show Veep. 

Did you ever watch it? I don’t know. It was. I don’t know if it would come if it was in the UK at all. Because it is very specific to the US. But it’s the main character at one point. She was like, you know, if men got pregnant, you could get an abortion in an ATM by now, you know, and that’s what I always think about. It’s like it’s like it’s so true. What I think is so cool about Semaine is that so, Lauren and Matt, after Scotland, they moved to Seattle and that’s when Lar was especially, even now, when we get cramps and stuff, I think we’re a little triggered by experiences before we had our surgery. So even though we know the pain is not going to get as bad, it’s still very triggering. And so Lar’s husband, he’s a scientist. He has a PhD and was working for the University of Washington at the time. And he started doing research and reading up on white papers and peer reviewed papers on anything that could possibly help. So he started getting all these like extracts like in powder form and adding them to her smoothies. And it was I always joke that like the few times I would like go and visit them and see had all come to their kitchen. They had all these like jars of random powders or things going on. So he played around with the formula, I would say like that two years. Right. So and Lar was telling me how much of a difference it was making and I was like, send it to me because I, you know, I’ve been in Atlanta this whole time. And they literally sent me, it was a jar you sent me like a little scoop. And with like Lar’s handwritten instructions like how many scoops they should put in a smoothie each day. And I remember the first period I had using it, like my pain was reduced so much. And when I was and it wasn’t until we started talking about it, we were like, well, if this works for us, then maybe it’ll work for other women. And that’s how it got started. Like literally from them having a kitchen full of jars with powders in them. 

Le’Nise: Wow. And so then you found that this worked for you. And then what was your, talk about the process of getting it onto the market? 

Lauren: Yeah, that was that. That’s been a long journey because we started, Matt and I started testing those different plant extract powders. So it was like powder of green tea and curcumin. And I feel like those people have maybe heard of us as far as being good anti-inflammatory as are antioxidants. But we were testing other things, like some thing called resveratrol, something called boswellia, which is from frankincense. Matt had been doing research at the University of Washington about chronic inflammation and aging. So that’s how it was sort of in his mind already about like maybe we don’t address hormones, but we address the inflammation that’s happening every month when you’re on your period. And so after about two years of trying this and Cath and I being the guinea pigs, we opened it up to a larger test group of about 10 women who had period pain. So a couple of them did have endometriosis, but most of them just had general period pain. So not just pelvic pain and cramps, but maybe they got migraines or leg pain. You know, there’s lots of different types of pain that are associated with getting your period. And we had really good results from from that test. And so after getting those results, we’re like, okay, let’s start this as a business and let’s see if we can launch this as a product. And so originally it was, we were just putting the powers in pills ourselves, but we found a manufacturer and we, Matt and I quit our jobs in Seattle, moved to Atlanta, where we’re now living with Cath, so fun. And we focus on this full time. And we started an Indiegogo campaign in the fall to just sort of raise awareness and also a way to raise a little bit of money, but mainly to get sort of the name out there and make sure people are hearing that we’re doing this thing for period pain. And then in February of this year, we launched full time. And so right now, we sell Semaine directly from our web site: semainehealth.com. But we’re hoping to branch into retail so it’s more readily available to everyone. We do ship internationally, but most of our subscribers right now are in the States just because international shipping is really expensive. But we’re hoping, you know, eventually to expand and we could have distribution centers in the UK and Australia specifically because we get a lot of great feedback from those countries. But that’s how that’s how it started. It was literally trying to find something to fix my pain. We weren’t thinking of it as a business at all. But then when Catherine was like, it’s working for me. And the woman we had in our study was like, yes, you need to make more of this. We were like, OK, we want to help other women. You know, it was such a relief to have less painful periods, the fact that we are now helping other people have less painful periods, like I couldn’t ask for a better purpose in life, really, because I just never thought that was possible. I don’t know if it was because of years of being told that, oh, this is the only thing you can do. You can go on birth control. You can take ibuprofen. That I just thought that was kind of it. It didn’t even strike me that, why aren’t there more products out there for women? You know, and I think it’s such a great time now because people are talking about periods more openly. You have this wonderful podcast where people are talking about their first periods and hearing the differences and those stories are amazing. I think it’s so great to normalize those conversations. And I think that will change the way innovation help, that happens around women’s health care. Just the fact that, you know, people are making organic pads or reusable menstrual cups and like all of like The Honeypot Co. I don’t know if that’s big in the UK yet, but it’s here in Target that, you know, having said feminine care wipes like that, you know, something that’s in like the vernacular that we growing up, you know, we’ve never talked about that sort of thing, you know, and that wasn’t on the shelf at Target. And now you see that and women are interested in trying more natural solutions or just any solutions to try to make their periods better or more manageable and not this hush hush taboo thing that you can’t talk about.

Le’Nise: I think it’s incredible what you you both have done. And I love that you you took an issue that you had and you then created something that would not only help you, but would help loads of people with the same problems. So amazing. I can’t wait to see it here in the UK, but to round up our conversation. You both have said so many amazing things. What would you want someone to think to take listening to the podcast, to take away from what you individually have said? 

Lauren: Such a great question, Le’Nise. I would say, as hard as it is always trust yourself and advocate for yourself. You do know your body better than anybody else. Better than any doctor. Better than anybody in your family. Being in tune with your body and knowing something doesn’t feel right. Push your doctor, push your health care provider to give you answers. If I had known that when I was younger, I know I just always assumed, oh, this person went to medical school and is a doctor, they know way more than me. If something was wrong, they would tell me. And I think, you know, doctors are amazing and they’re great. And I’m so glad we have the health care available that we can go to them. But that doesn’t mean that they know you better than you know yourself. Listen to your body if something feels wrong, you know. And also listen to yourself and not just assume that because one treatment works for one person, that that’s what you need to do. I think a lot of the time in the health and wellness space, we’re like, oh, I found this diet that cured me of this thing. You know, my endo is so much better because I stopped eating gluten. That is amazing. And that works for a lot of people. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to work for you and you have to do that same thing. If birth control works for you, if you need to be able to take that in order to get to day to day life, you know, do that. Don’t ever feel ashamed because people are pushing a certain solution on you. I think that’s so important. 

Catherine: At the same exact thing, reiterate, advocate, advocate, advocate for yourself. I think that’s the big thing. 

IF I could go back in time and talk to my 12 year old ashamed self with my period, just giving myself grace, but also telling myself, like, you know, trust yourself and be comfortable with your voice, especially when you’re with doctors. And then the other thing. What Lar said exactly, we’re identical twins and we’ve had very different experiences. You know, I compared to Lar, I eat garbage, you know, like I’ll eat fast food. I love I love to drink Coke. But Lar is much healthier than me. And part of that is driven by the pain that she had and kind of the PTSD left over from her experiences. But for me, diet does help. Absolutely. Without a doubt. But if I had just started looking into not just endometriosis but period pain and seeing all these like wellness warriors who can, you know, eat just kale for a day and, you know, that works for them, that I would feel kind of alienated from that. So I think reiterating what Lar said, like you figure out what works for you and then give yourself grace. You know, you’re not going to be this perfect pinnacle of health and you’re gonna have bad days and good days and and just celebrate the things that do work. But, yeah. That that some women don’t want to use tampons or don’t want to use hormonal birth control. And that is great. But some women would do. And that’s also great. So giving yourself grace and and figuring out, like Lar said, become an expert of your own body and what works for you. 

Le’Nise: Thank you so much. I honestly feel like I could talk to you guys for another hour. It was just so brilliant.

Lauren: Thank you so much, Le’Nise. So much fun.

Le’Nise: You mentioned the website URL before. Can you just mention it again? So listeners know where to find out about Semaine.  

Lauren: Yes, thank you. It’s semainehealth.com And we’re also very active on Instagram. So and that’s just @semainehealth. So thank you so much , Le’Nise. Yes, that’s where you can find us. We’re there all the time. We also have a chat on our web site, and that’s us answering questions. We love when people pepper us with questions about Semaine. So please feel free to do that.

Le’Nise: Thank you so much.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 34: Camilla Hansson, Period Pain Stopped Me From Living Life Fully

On today’s episode, I’m happy to share my conversation with Camilla Hansson, the founder of the CBD brand, Camilla Organics. Camilla shared the story of her diagnosis with endometriosis, her healing journey and what led her to launch her CBD business. And of course, we talked about her first period!

Camilla says that she looked forward to her first period because she felt that it would mean that she was nearly a woman. She said when it finally happened, she was quite excited about it!

All the way through her teens and into her mid 20s, Camilla had what she called perfect periods: no pain, no mood swings. In her mid 20s, she says she started to get excruciating, painful periods that sent her to A&E on several occasions.

Camilla says that she started to become afraid of each of her periods and she felt she couldn’t live her life fully because of the pain. Listen to hear how Camilla found a path to healing.

Camilla says her experience led her to an exploration of CBD and then to eventually found her own company so that she could help other women in the same way that CBD helped her.

Camilla says that it’s important for anyone suffering from period pain and endometriosis to not give up hope and to keep educating yourself and trying new things. Thank you for coming on the show, Camilla!

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CAMILLA’S BIO

Camilla Hansson is the founder of Camilla Organics, a company that provides premium CBD products made for women.

Camilla started the company after suffering from painful menstrual cramps and found that CBD was the only thing that gave her relief. Before starting Camilla Organics, Camilla spent years working as an international model and won the Miss Sweden competition in 2014. Camilla loves health and wellness and has studied nutrition and natural medicine at the College of Naturopathic Medicine in London.

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: Welcome to the show.

Camilla: Thank you for having me.

Le’Nise: So let’s start off by getting into the story of your first period. Do you remember what happened? And can you share it with us?

Camilla: Yes. So it happened where I grew up, which is in Stockholm, Sweden. And I think I was about 12 or 13 years old. So I remember a nurse coming into our school telling, telling us all about, you know, periods. And around what sort of age it would happen. And then I also remember some of my friends telling me that, you know, they have received their periods. So I sort of knew that it would happen some at some point soon at that age. And I remember sort of looking forward to it, almost like I remember thinking that, you know, once I get my period, that means I’m sort of a woman. And so I saw it in quite like a positive light then and also. Yeah. So when it happened, it just felt quite smooth, natural. And I remember being quite excited about it, actually. 

Le’Nise: And so you were excited. And what happened next, so when you actually got your period? Were you, did you speak to anyone right afterwards? 

Camilla: That’s a good question. I’m pretty sure I told my my, mother about it. And so, you know, we went out and we bought the pads and, and then. Yeah. I mean, it’s in our family, it’s not we don’t talk so openly about these sort of things. So I think it was more just like me talking to my friends more like about what they were doing and their experiences. And so it was more like, you know, a little bit of a like a rumour going around, like this is how it is. This is what you should do. So I think that’s where the education came from, a little bit, from my school, because I must say in Sweden, the education system is very good. And then just, you know, just by talking to my friends and, you know, we’re just trying to figure out what it is. Yeah. And how to handle it.

Le’Nise: And you said that the education is quite good in Sweden. And did you find that you, so you live in London now, if you think about the way that people talk about periods and menstrual health in the UK, how would you compare that to the way that you learnt about it in Sweden?

Camilla: Well, I think it’s I guess it’s still a taboo topic everywhere. But in Sweden, they’re not so afraid to bring those subjects, to be honest. Even today, you know, like women talking about it on social media. Swedish women, it’s just like one of these things. I think Swedish people can be quite outspoken. And, um, so. Yeah. And like I said. So it was, I don’t know how it would have been compared to the UK. But like I said, in Sweden, it was quite good in terms of the school bringing in, you know, like nurses and even the teachers of telling us about it.

Le’Nise: The openness around the way that you learnt about your period translated to the way that you felt about your period? So feeling really open and being able to talk about it?

Camilla: Yes, I think I think that makes sense that it would be like that. But like I said, so like early on, I didn’t have an issue with it. For me, my issue is if that’s the right word, around periods actually came later on in life, like more like it. Like late mid 20s, late 20s. So up until that point, you know, my my periods were perfect. Like, I didn’t even have mood swings. Like I didn’t I didn’t feel a difference just because I was on my period. And I remember everyone talking about how bad they feel on their periods. And I just thought, oh, but I just I just feel the same. But then I can’t say exactly what happened. But then, yeah, around my mid 20s, I started getting excruciating, painful periods. Like, I remember, you know, I was going to the A&E several times and just, you know, that couldn’t really do much. Like, they just gave me strong painkillers that didn’t really work very well for me. And I remember just like trying acupuncture, you know, herbal medicine and all these things that I really do believe in. But for some reason, it just didn’t really help me at the time. And and it really started to like, you know, ruin my life because I was so afraid of each of my periods. You know, I knew that, you know, I knew that this dreadful time was to come for me and and, you know, just to have that in your head all the time was like very stressful. And I just really felt that couldn’t live my life fully. And there was such a big part of my life that I was missing out on because I was at home, you know, in pain. And I just felt like there was something really wrong with me as well. Which makes you I don’t know, it it affects how you see yourself. So I really I really, really struggled with my periods for a few years in my mid 20s. And then, yeah, so I, so when I did go to a gynaecologist, eventually he said that he was almost sure that I had endometriosis because he found like a cyst in my ovary and his solution was to do surgery. But I always felt that I don’t know, I just I’m I’m very scared of doing things like that. And then also I’ve read online that even people who do the surgery, it comes back because you haven’t actually healed the root cause of why it’s happening. So. So what happened to me was that, so I tried everything. And then eventually a friend of mine who’s a doctor who lives in Denmark gave me some CBD. And I think a lot of your guests of your podcast talked about this from what I seen. So which is good, actually. You know, it’s good that we talk about it because if people are really suffering, you know, then it’s it’s good to share your experience and you know what’s helped us and maybe it can help someone else. Yeah. 

So basically, a doctor friend of mine gave me some CBD. And one day when I was in a lot of pain, I took some and it was it was like a high strength, like 16 percent. And. And basically, miraculously, the thing was just gone like after 20 minutes, like, I actually couldn’t believe it.

And because I wasn’t sure whether it’s, you know, because time had passed that I felt better or if it was the CBD, you know, I just I took it another time. I remember it was at school at CNM where we both have studied. And I just remember feeling so much pain. I just didn’t know what to do. Like, I couldn’t move. But, like, I. I even thought, like, how am I going to get home? I can’t even go down the stairs to take an Uber. And then obviously, like, as fate had it, well, not obviously. But as luck would have it, this girl next to me, I saw her taking some CBD earlier. And so I asked her if she, if she could give me some. And she did. And then exactly the same thing happened like 20 minutes later. The pain was gone for the rest of the day. And so so this thing kept happening. Right. And so I was like. This is interesting. Like, there’s obviously something here. So I started reading about online, but there was very limited, you know, there wasn’t really any research about it. And, you know, women’s, women’s health is an under researched topic. In any case. And. But I just I felt really strongly liked that this is there is something here. So and obviously my passion in life is natural medicine, holistic health, wellness. So I was I was looking for a business to start in that area at the time. And then, you know, I came across CBD and I had this experience with it. And I just felt like I wanted other women to know that this was something that could potentially help them. So, yeah. So then I developed the product. 

Le’Nise: But before you go into your business and starting the business, I want to talk more about your journey to your endometriosis diagnosis, because what we know is that it takes an average of between 7 to 10 years to get a full diagnosis for endometriosis. Talk about how you, you’ve said that you explored lots of different avenues until you finally got a diagnosis from that doctor who then wanted to do the surgery. Talk about how long it took you to get to that point. 

Camilla: Yes. I mean, I think now the doctors, it feels like they’ve become a little bit more knowledgeable about it. But I’m not, I’m not sure. But in my case, when I did go to the emergency, to be honest, he did sort of mention endometriosis. I never heard about it at that time. But he was like, “Painful periods, yeah, probably endometriosis.” But, but still. Yeah. I mean, he just gave me some painkillers. So how long did that take? I would say I would say maybe three through to six months.

Le’Nise: Oh, OK. That’s very, very, very fast.

Camilla:  Yeah. Maybe I just went, you know, maybe in the UK, they’re quite good. Just went to the right people. But yeah. Yeah. When I said period pain, their immediate reaction was probably they said endometriosis. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: And to go then to have the level of pain that you have to go to A&E and you describe that moment when you were at college where you weren’t able to even get up. That’s, that’s I think it’s when we talk about pain, I often say this a lot with my clients is that we have to describe the pain because pain can be so different depending on the person. But, you know, even if thinking about that, the pain that you were in to have to go to A&E, that must have just been an incredible amount of pain for you to even take the step to go there. 

Camilla: Oh, yes, exactly. Because, I mean, I remember I was actually living with a friend at a time and like she just like, she was watching it. She just she couldn’t believe it. Like, I was on the floor screaming, you know, like my pain was 10 out of 10. Like, I, I, you know, I think at some point I fainted. And it was really like, you know, you really want to die, basically. And I tried to take painkillers and everything, but it didn’t work for me. Like, it just didn’t. Nothing worked. One thing that worked a little bit was to take a very, very hot bath and put a lot of magnesium salts into it, because obviously magnesium relaxes the muscles on, you know, the muscles contracted in the uterus that makes it painful. But no, it was very, very painful. And then to have that fear all the time that, you know, my period is coming up and, you know, I’m not gonna be in this much pain again. Like to live in that constant fear and not, you know, also imagine, how do you plan your life when when when you know that you’re going to be in that much pain? I mean, you have to obviously plan your life in terms of like, OK, I’m going to have my period, so I’m going to have to stay at home. I’m not going to book anything and not any work, etc.. And just for me, it really like took over my whole life, like it was the only thing I could think about, you know. 

Le’Nise: And you got the diagnosis and then you started exploring CBD as a potential solution. You mentioned those two moments where you had tried it. And yes, I’ve had I think I’ve had about three. I’ve definitely had four or five guests on the show who talked about CBD, whether it’s been their business or actually using it as a as a tool to manage period pain. And I, I am personally getting more and more fascinated with it because it’s just the the amount of things that the that it can work on the areas that it can work home from pain to anxiety to depression. It’s just, it’s just mind blowing. In your your business, so you started. You had this experience and you decided to start your company, Camilla Organics. Talk about your journey as an entrepreneur, from having this idea and then going into actually developing the business.

Camilla: Yes. So, you know, so like I said, the pain kept happening. And then I kept taking the CBD and the pain kept disappearing. So I started looking into, you know, as much as I started looking into it. And I read online that, you know, they’ve used cannabis, which ultimately is, you know, CBD comes from the cannabis plant with the hemp plant, but it’s the same family. And they’ve used cannabis in Chinese medicine for, you know, hundreds of years to treat menstrual cramps. And, you know, we know that Queen Victoria was using it for menstrual cramps. But, you know, this is very limited information. 

Le’Nise: And I didn’t know that Queen Victoria, so did she smoke the cannabis or?

Camilla: Interesting question. I just can’t picture it. I just, I just read articles that her doctor talks about, you know, how fantastic cannabis is for menstrual cramps and how Queen Victoria was using it. And I don’t know if it’s more of a rumour, but it’s it’s. But I don’t know how she was taking it, to be honest, it doesn’t actually say any of the papers I’ve read. But that’s an interesting one. And so and so when I started, it really wasn’t much information. There wasn’t even a lot of people sharing their stories, you know. But I just felt like, I knew that CBD helps with inflammation. And so I thought, OK, well, obviously period pain has to do with inflammation. And, you know, now when I read on it, I you know, CBD helps relax muscles in the uterus and we have receptors for CBD in our bodies and especially in our reproductive area. It’s actually the second highest place in our body where we have these receptors for, you know, endocannabinoids like CBD. And but my journey to actually start the product was I just felt that I wanted to talk more about this topic. I wanted to share my experience to that because I felt like that could potentially help other women. And so I wanted to bring out a unique product that would support women during their periods. And so I you know, I’ve studied natural medicine, but I, I still didn’t feel completely qualified to put it together myself. 

So I went to a CBD developer whom I met at CBD sort of exhibition event who is so passionate about CBD and his whole life, CBD and his life work. You know, he’s been studying cannabis for like 20 years. And so he also has a manufacturing company now. And so he developed the product for me. He put together the herbs that we put into it, the strength of the CBD, which is 15 percent. I was, but I felt very strongly that it had to be at least that percentage for it to have an effect. And and we put in specific terpenes. And so together, these ingredients have something called an entourage effect where they become more powerful together than if you would take each one of them on on its own. And so I gave it to, was about 100 women who suffered from period pain. And the feedback was incredible. Like more. It was more if I felt that it was like more effective people taking it for PMS and menstrual pain than for anything else that CBD can do, like, you know, like sleep or anxiety. It was just the feedback from menstrual cramps and PMS was especially good. And so then I just felt really encouraged to to to to go out with this product. And so I did.

Le’Nise: You did this survey of a hundred women who got really. They gave you really good feedback. And did they say that it was something that they wanted to continue using as part of their period or menstrual health toolkit?

Camilla: Yeah, no, exactly. I mean, they said that, you know, because of the product, they can go to work. Now, they don’t have to be bed bound. And some of them, like me, had also tried, you know, everything else without success. And and and, you know, yeah, they had some of them had some sort of like the pain was, is gone after a few minutes. But, you know, everyone reacts to CBD differently. It’s like it’s like any kind of medication or product, like what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another person. But overall, the feedback was very, very good. And like me, like, you know, it’s like the number one product during your period. For them as well. 

Le’Nise: As I was saying earlier, I really, I really love CBD and I use it during the first couple of days of my period. I use it all across my abdomen. And it’s just, it’s just so, it’s so powerful. And what I love about it is that it’s a growing area. And the industry, because it’s so new, you see a lot of female entrepreneurs in this space. Whereas, you know, in other industries, it depends on the industry, but it can be more male. But this is very much seems like very female, certainly now. Talk about your, your experience being a woman in the CBD industry.

Camilla: Yeah, no, you’re right. I, I met a lot of incredible women in this space who have their own CBD business. I don’t know if it’s because somebody it feels like it can help us women especially because, you know, maybe we suffer more from these things. Like I mean, I’m not sure, but I’m just guessing like, you know, maybe we need that extra support because of our hormones and mood swings. So, yeah, it seems like women especially are just so passionate about it. But no, it’s been really good being a woman in this space. And like I said, I met a lot of incredible people and I felt a lot of support, both from women and men. I’ve had definitely, you know, men especially, also helping me in terms of supporting me to make this happen. And, yeah, I think it’s it’s just been it’s been really an interesting and good journey. And I think, like being a woman has, I know some people say, like they find it more difficult being a woman in business, but I’ve never actually felt that like I’ve never had that experience where it’s like, oh, because I’m a woman this person talks to me differently in a business meeting. I think, you know, if you want something to happen and if you believe in your product, you’re just going to make it happen. You know what I mean? Like, you can always find those negative things and excuses and this and that. But at the end of the day, people can see if you’re passionate about what you do and if you believe it. And. And so I’ve never, I’ve never been a person who let something like that hold me back. Like, I mean, you know, I’ve always just gone for what I believe in and made it happen kind of thing.

Le’Nise: I want to talk a little bit more about your, your story with your period right now. So you went on this journey with endometriosis. You’re using CBD as a tool to manage your period pain. How do you feel about your period now?

Camilla: So now because I’ve learnt more about my body and periods, I actually try. I work for myself. So I’m blessed in that way that I actually try to make sure my schedule is a bit slower when I have my period, you know, because I feel that my body is a bit more tired. I’m not, as, you know, alert. I’m not as happy, unfortunately, in some ways. And so I just feel like it’s better for me not to put in maybe like my most important speeches during that time. And I try. It doesn’t always work out this way, but I try to just, you know, work from home those days and take a little bit more easy, not be a social. And because of that, I actually quite enjoy it. It’s like it’s time for me to just recharge a little bit more. And I actually don’t have painful periods anymore. I’m sure it’s a combination of factors. But I I’ve also heard other women say this, that if they take CBD regularly, like every day, then, you know, it can help not getting that excruciating pain to start with, you know, because you have the CBD in your body. And I also feel like it has a healing effect. So I actually don’t get, like, pain anymore. I definitely get mood swings like I can, I feel very unbalanced. But then again, you know, I think CBD helps with that because it helps you feel more balanced. So definitely helps my mood. But I just try to take it more easy, you know, and in that way, I enjoy it more. Well, rather than trying to do the same things that I do when I’m not on my period, that just really, really overwhelms me and stresses me out, actually.

Le’Nise: You found a way to, to find a balance with your period where the pain has reduced, it doesn’t dominate your life anymore and you’re in a place where, you know, you actually kind of enjoy those days because you slow down. I know people listening will say, well, I have period pain. Tell me what you did. Tell me. Tell me more about the CBD.

So talk a little bit about the products that you’ve been that you’ve been using to reduce your period pain.

Camilla: So for me, the things that worked for me apart from CBD a little bit is, you know, magnesium to take it early, but also to do, you know, let’s say you’re in a lot of pain. I would say, you know, if you don’t have CBD, you just take a super hot bath with a lot of Epsom salt or magnesium salt in it. 

That was the one thing that helped me a little bit, to be honest, before I came across CBD and then obviously just, you know, manage stress, like, you know, if you can meditate, you can do yoga, just, you know, try to reduce stress because also stress will create more, potentially more cramps and pain in your body during your period. And then. So, yeah. So I think for me that’s that’s been like those three things like, you know, maybe magnesium and then to lower my stress levels during my period so I don’t feel overwhelmed. And then CBD, you know, like. But then I would say, like, if you’re going to try CBD, like make sure it’s a good strength. Like I would say personally like 15 percent strength. Because what also happens is like people go and buy like a one percent strength CBD and then it doesn’t do anything and then they discredit CBD. So you always need to make sure you buy a really, really high quality product that’s also high strength. That’s that’s if you’re going to try it. Which I would suggest, because if you’re really suffering from something like menstrual cramps, it is a good thing to try. And I would try taking it every day for maybe three months. Like, for me, it worked instantly. But I think, like any herb, like, you know, or any supplement, you should really, you know, give us three months and take it every day. That’s what I would suggest to try. Yeah.

Le’Nise If someone listening has period pain, you’re saying try and get some CBD with at least 15 percent strength. And when you say 15 percent strength, is that the amount of actual CBD in it?

Camilla: Yes. Yeah.

Le’Nise: And how do you recommend that people take it? Do you take it topically? Do you take it orally? What do I do? What do you recommend? 

Camilla: No, that’s a good question. I personally just take the CBD oil orally and it does the job for me. Then of course, I know some people do suppositories. And I think that probably is very effective because it goes directly into your, you know, into your reproductive area. And balms I’ve heard are effective, I’ve never tried that myself. So I’d be curious to try that as well. But. But for me, the oil just does the job. So we’re definitely going to expand our product range. But for now, because I feel, you know, it does what it needs to do. I’m quite, I’m quite happy and confident just doing the oil for now that you take orally.

Le’Nise: Yeah. Okay. So in your range, you have you have an oil and people can take that or orally and do you suggest taking it under the tongue?

Camilla: Yes. So you have to take it under the tongue because that’s where it gets absorbed the best by the body. And then you wait like one minute before you swallow. And that’s how the oil gets absorbed.

Le’Nise: OK. OK. That’s interesting. I personally have never taken it taken CBD orally, apart from I’ve had some CBD tea, which was nice. I don’t know that it did anything. I usually take it topically, as I say, all all over my abdomen. And it’s incredible. It’s like literally I feel the difference, within about five, five minutes. Wow. Yeah. It’s I just I just love it. And I never thought that I would get into CBD. I remember when I was, even like a couple of years ago, I was really sceptical about it. But now I’m a complete convert, which is probably why I have so many guests on the show to talk about CBD. 

Camilla: You’ve attracted them to you.

Le’Nise: Yeah.

So if people want to find more out more about your product, tell us more about how they can find out about your CBD oil.

Camilla: Well, yeah. So our website is www.camillaorganics.com. And our Instagram is @camillaorganics. So they can, if they want to know and if they have any questions, anything, you can just either email us or send us a DM. We’re happy to chat and just for you guys to reach out. Or if you have any questions around CBD or the products, you know we’re here to help, to educate. So, yeah, I’d love to hear from your followers there. Or they can send me a, you know, an Instagram message at @camillahanssonofficial. I’m happy to chat there as well. And yes, so for now, we sell, we sell the products online on the Web site. 

Le’Nise: OK. And thinking about your story and your journey through period pain, endometriosis and to where you are now, if you could leave listeners with one thing, one little nugget from everything that you’ve said. What would you want that to be? 

Camilla: That if you are suffering from something like endometriosis or menstrual cramps, that there is still hope. You know, I like I have. I was suffering from that. And and, you know, I have found relief like I’m not, it’s not something it takes over my life anymore. So I, just don’t give up hope. You know, keep keep trying things. Keep reading about, keep educating yourself. And I do believe, you know, that that that there is relief out there to be found. Even though I know it’s like it’s a it is a very complex disease. It’s a very serious disease. I don’t want to minimise that. But I can say that, you know, I have it and and and I’m not in pain anymore. So I’ve found ways that works for me. And and and I hope that, you know, if your listeners are suffering from this specific issue, that they will, too, and that there is hope.

Le’Nise: There is there is hope. I think that’s a really inspiring message. And I love that you left us with that with that message because I think definitely that endometriosis, as you say, is a complex disease. And what I’ve seen is that sometimes people, the pain dominates their lives and they can feel hopeless. But so for you to say as if someone with endometriosis to say that there is hope and to talk about your own inspiring journey is so, so powerful. Thank you so much for coming on the show. It’s been brilliant to have you here.

Camilla: Thank you so much for having me and letting me share my story. Yeah. Thank you so much.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 33: Kaysha Thomas, Focus On Health, Not Weight Loss

Period Story Podcast Episode 33 Kaysha Thomas

On today’s episode of Period Story podcast, I’m so happy to share my conversation with Kaysha Thomas, the nutritionist and Pilates teacher. Kaysha has a special focus on eating disorder recovery, body image and diversity, all of which we talked about  in this episode.

Kaysha says she got her first period at around 9 or 10 and she took it all in her stride as she had already learned so much about it in school. She said that going to an all girls secondary school made conversations around periods and body changes easier and normalised.

We talked about Kaysha’s work with eating disorder recovery clients. She says there’s a whole group of men, women and children out who need to hear a different narrative about eating and body image, where the focus is on health, not weight loss.

Kaysha says that feeding ourselves is the ultimate form of self-care. I love that! We also talked about diet culture, the anti-diet movement and how the messages from both camps can be very inflammatory. We also dove into emotional eating  and some of the cultural messages we receive about this.

We talked about the rise in people not wanting to talk about weight loss for fear of being attacked for not loving their bodies. Kaysha says that there’s a culture of toxic positivity, especially on social media and that we need to remember that there are people with individual experiences behind each post.

Kaysha says that you don’t have to love your body all the time, it’s okay to feel neutral and indifferent or not even focus on your body at all! Thank you for coming on the show, Kaysha!

Get in touch with Kaysha:

Website

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KAYSHA’S BIO

Kaysha is a Registered Nutritional Therapist, Pilates Teacher and blogger working to make mental wellbeing accessible and inclusive. Kaysha covers topics such as eating disorder recovery, body image and diversity issues within the wellness industry. She studied at the Institute of Optimum nutrition and BASI Pilates UK and is currently studying for a Masters in Sport & Exercise Nutrition.

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: On today’s episode, we have Kaysha Thomas, a registered nutritional therapist, Pilates teacher and blogger, working to make mental health and wellbeing accessible and inclusive. Kaysha covers topics such as eating disorder recovery, body image and diversity issues within the wellness industry and is currently studying for a M asters in sport and exercise nutrition. Welcome to the show. 

Kaysha: Thank you for having me, Le’Nise. 

Le’Nise: So let’s get to the first question I always ask, which is the story of your very first period. Can you share with us what happened? 

Kaysha: Yeah, so I started my period quite early. I was still in primary school. So I think I would have been 9 or 10 when my period started. And I remember being ready for it, as in I have had the conversation and I knew it was coming. I knew what periods were, I think I’ve been very fortunate in both of my schools that we’ve talked about. We talked about sexual sexual health, but we talked about, you know, menstrual cycle and sex education. So we had all that information quite early on. Back then in my day, it was done in primary school. So when my period started, I was expecting it. And I just remember waking up one morning and it had started. 

And I just said to my mum, like, it was kind of like “the time has come. My period has commenced.” In a like all loud, like God, like voice. 

I felt like I just came into the world like, “Mum, I think you find I’m a woman now. Could you pass me the pads?” That’s pretty much my story. 

And I think I feel very, very aware that my first period was a pleasurable, pleasurable, maybe a bit far, but it was a nice story. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: Nine or 10. So, I’ve interviewed other people who have said that their period has come at that age. And they said that they didn’t feel ready. So I feel like that’s quite different hearing that you had spoken about it at school. And so when the time came, you were ready. Talk about how you learnt about it at school. 

Kaysha: So this is where it gets a bit hazy because I remember just always been the talk about periods. So we we knew that periods were a thing and that they were coming, the actual education about you’re going to have a period is what you need to do came from my mum, but it was initiated from my auntie. So I started developing breasts. And I think this is like the signs that say, okay, Kaysha’s getting boobs now. Clearly, if her periods haven’t started, they’re on their way soon. And my mom’s was and is quite a young mum, hadn’t thought about having a conversation with me. And it was her younger sister, my auntie, that said we need to speak to Kaysha about periods. My mom was kind of like my mom kind of is now was like, “oh, I haven’t done that conversation, although I have to do it.” And then I remember her, I remember quite vividly sitting on her bed on the floor, at the foot of her bed and her telling me about periods at. And she was telling me, it wasn’t news, but I didn’t know about the care, so I didn’t really know. But some of the things that she told me wasn’t quite true. And I think that was kind of old information. So I remember, one of the things you told me was that when you when you’re on your period, you can’t wear trousers and you have to wear a skirt. And to this day, I didn’t understand why she said that, because I couldn’t understand ‘why would I not be able to wear trousers?’ And I’m quite a sporty girl. I was quite a sporty girl and I still am in some ways. And so I didn’t really wear skirts. And I didn’t like that information. I was gonna ask, like, ‘can I still wear my cycling shorts underneath?’ So anyway, we had that conversation. But she was talking to me more about the care. 

So like getting a pad, changing the pad regularly and stuff like that. So. Yeah. That’s pretty much how I was brought up to speed on what to do and what periods were. 

Le’Nise :And when you got your period, were you the first of your friends to get it? 

Kaysha: And this is interesting because yes, I was, but it wasn’t really talked about. I don’t remember it being like, “hey, you’ve got your period, you haven’t got your period.’ It was yeah, I think I was definitely on the first of my friends. I remember a few other friends getting their periods in primary school as well. But it wasn’t this it wasn’t a thing that we’ve really talked about, which yeah, again, I think is quite interesting. I know there can be a lot of stigma around that, who started, who hasn’t. I don’t remember it being the focus at school, but I remember it being again, like another little announcement that you say in the playground. “Oh, yes. So my period started.” “No way!” And and that was as far as it went.  Yeah. 

Le’Nise: Did you feel different in any way to your friends after you got your period? 

Kaysha: I would say it was more the fact that I developed early that made me feel different. The period wasn’t the thing that made me feel different. It was the fact that I had quite large breasts at quite a young age. And that got me a lot of attention from both boys and girls and not always in a positive way. I think that was the thing that made me feel most different. 

And, you know, also the fact that I was, I loved running and I saw these boobs is a look, it’s painful when you know, they’re budding, just coming through, just so painful. And I just remember thinking, this is this is this really sucks. I’ve got to, like, grow these things. I want to run faster. This is what I’d run. And it hurts now. I don’t think we had sports bras these days, or at least I didn’t have one. So it was like a whole, yeah, that was that was more my thing. Like kind of ‘why do I have boobs now. What, what are these. Why?’

Le’Nise: And how long did it take you to come to terms with what was happening with your body?

Kaysha: I would say by secondary school, my secondary school was an all girls school. By that time, it I felt really comfortable with everything, you know. I was by that point, you know, eleven years old settled into my menstrual cycle, was regular. 

Weirdly, didn’t wear a bra for a long time. I would wear a crop top. This is a conversation my mom neglected to have. Was was didn’t didn’t remember to have me. I wore crop tops for a long time. So that was the only time and again I felt quite different. 

I mean, it was like PE. We get undressed and I have my crop top on and all these girls had their bras and they’re like, “Kaysha, why don’t you have a bra?”

I was like, “what? Why do I need a bra?” Bearing in mind, I’ve had boobs for like nearly three years at this point. But yeah, I felt very comfortable, having those, not comfortable, but it feels a bit more normal. I think so. And like I said, there are no boys around so it makes conversations like that a lot easier. 

Le’Nise: You said it was easier to have those conversations. Did that did that contribute to how comfortable you felt with your period and your body? 

Kaysha: Yeah, I would say so. I definitely would say so. And I think it just it just was normalised, I think is how I would describe it. It wasn’t you know, it wasn’t so much something that I had to really focus on because it was just so normal, like, you know, somebody needed tampons, we’d give them tampons. If somebody didn’t have their pad, we’d give them a pad. And it was just very, very normal. You know, we had, I remember there was one girl in my school who had issues. She had really, really heavy periods, actually. And, um, she had a few sort of accidents at school. And, you know, that that sort of gets around, it was kind of like a gossip, but it was more out of, ‘oh my gosh, is she okay?’ It was very you know, it is very sort of um. Yeah. It was very holding in terms of periods. I think, I’ve again, really blessed in the schools that I went to and the way that we were educated about this stuff. And I think that is really, really important. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, it’s very different to the experience that some of my other guests have described of feeling shame or feeling different. Yeah, it’s so it’s very yeah. It’s very, very different. You should be feel very blessed. 

Kaysha: Definitely. Yeah. I definitely am. Yeah, and I think a lot of the conversations I have now with my clients, a much younger generation for the most part, they didn’t have that, they weren’t even really taught, you know, how to look after their vulvas, let alone how to manage their periods. So it kind of I was kind of taken aback when I said we had I mean, I remember it was my friend’s sister came in and did a talk for us. This is in secondary school. Teaching us about like hygiene, feminine hygiene and how to, you know, telling us that, you know, sometimes or for the most part try to go to bed without wearing any underwear. 

Let your vagina breathe.

And so that’s something I’ve always remembered since secondary school. And I run a nutrition group at the clinic, the eating disorder recovery I work for. And I was yeah, I just kind of realised that, gosh, how lucky am I to have had these conversations because a lot of young girls don’t. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. They really don’t. And there is so much so much shame around periods. And I’d say that 90 percent of the guests that have come on have talked, used the word shame or discomfort or feeling different when they’ve talked about how they first learnt about their period. 

How would you describe your relationship with your period now? 

Kaysha: I would say I have a, I wouldn’t go as far as love / hate because I wouldn’t say I hate it. I mean, I do definitely have this thing where I have to slow down when my period is is on its way and when it’s around, those first two days of menstruation for me. Nowadays in particular and for the last I’d say few years. I can’t. I have to really slow down and have to take it easy, the first couple of days are quite heavy. The second day is very painful. 

So this is when, despite my plans, I have to take time out and I have to think about I even think about how I schedule my private clinic because I won’t overload myself in this week. So you know, the work I do is quite is quite deep work. You know, I’m talking with a lot of trauma around your time of the month. Yeah. You know, you’re very sensitive. You’re very emotional. So you have to be so cautious and really think about your own self care in terms of how much you load yourself up. And I, I have to say this information that wasn’t given as a child. And this was something that I learnt in my in my womanhood. 

Le’Nise: So you adjust your work to where you are in your menstrual cycle and you slow down. Right before your period and. Right. And during your period. How does that change when you’re ovulating? 

Kaysha: I think it’s only, quite literally, only those first, so I would say the week leading up to. And then the first two days is the only time where I need to make adjustments. Other than that, I couldn’t, this is going to sound terrible, I couldn’t tell you where I was in my cycle otherwise. 

I just know when it’s coming. I know. 

And it’s beyond that. I think it’s really interesting that this sort of, I saw that you made a post about sort of creativity and your cycle. And I was I actually, that’s interesting. So I guess I mean, I’d be quite interested to learn more about that. Yeah. I don’t terribly I don’t pay much attention to the rest of my cycle. 

Le’Nise: I think that it was worth thinking about is the what the inverse of what you do around your period. So around ovulation when typically energy rises. So I was thinking about when you teach Pilates, do you notice a difference then? Are you able to do longer holds or do more? I don’t even know any of the names of the Pilates poses. But the one where you’re in the V and you’re holding. It’s like…

Kaysha: The teaser?

Le’Nise: Yeah. Yeah. That one. Yeah. Can you hold that for longer, those sorts of things. Look at the difference between your strength and your energy around ovulation and then compare that to how you feel around your period. 

Kaysha: I’m really interested to have a look at that. And there’s a I think she’s a nutritionist, a lady called Stacy Sims and she’s done a lot of work around sort of energy and period. And in particular, looking at sports performance. When you talked about that particular move, the teaser, that is one that I avoid at all costs because I’m just generally not good at it. My legs are generally very heavy. That’s my excuse anyway. But that is really interesting. And I think you. Yeah. I think you’ve inspired me to really have a look at it. It has been something it’s been on my mind. It’s like, oh yeah, I must look into that type thing. But I’m really curious now to see how that have actually works out for me. 

Le’Nise: I want to shift gears a bit and talk about your work around eating disorders. So you’re trained as a nutritionist, but you specialise in eating disorders, which is quite, as you say, quite involved work involving a lot of trauma. Tell a little bit more about why you decided to specialise in this area. 

Kaysha: Yeah, I would say. I so well, I qualified as a nutritionist almost 10 years ago and my early work wasn’t eating disorder recovery. It was never my intention, not never, definitely wasn’t my intention to go down that route of specialisation. But I was always very aware, despite myself at that point being very much a dieter. 

So what I was doing my nutrition training, what I qualified, when I was first practising, I was still the person who was stepping on the scales to know my weight, went into a gym this many times a week and the rest of it. But I always knew that was never the same advice that I would give my clients sitting in front of me. So when I had a client come to me about weight loss, I would never tackle the weight loss head on. I would do the lifestyle around. And if you come into balance, weight might might change. And if it doesn’t? How does it feel that maybe that might be your genetic blueprint and where your body lies? So it was interesting. I always had this little bit of internal battle between what I was doing with my own body versus the advice I’d give my clients. So then what happened was I started working at the Recover clinic and this was sort of me trying to find my place in nutritional therapy because there weren’t many people, you know, particularly not here in the UK. And this is before I even knew, you know, what an anti diet approach was and all this stuff. I couldn’t really find anyone that spoke my language. I you know, or even thought about nutrition in a way that I did. So I just always just felt quite alone. And that’s when I saw it as I did myself. I looked around, see trying to seek my tribe, and I realised that this is, you know, the narrative that we use within eating disorder recovery. So it happened quite nicely as I was doing that research that I found the Recover clinic or they found me.  I’m not really sure how that worked out, but I started working there and I instantly knew that this is the work I’m supposed to do. This is the work that I want to do. And I think it’s just there’s a whole group of men, women and children out there who just need to hear a different narrative. So, yeah, that’s that’s kind of how I fell into it. 

Le’Nise: Talk a little bit more about what you said about an anti diet approach. What does that mean? 

Kaysha: Yeah, I think so. Anti diet just means it’s not focussed on weight loss. So the focus isn’t the weight loss. The focus is health. And when we say health, we’re talking about mental and physical health. And I think that some I think the mental health aspect often gets forgotten. That’s a bit too harsh, but at least sort of side tracked, let’s say, or sort of. 

Well, what’s the word I’m looking for, de-prioritised. Well, that’s exactly the word I wanted. And so anti-diet just means we’re actually looking at the person as a whole and looking at behaviours around food and beliefs about food and lifestyle factors such as sleep. You know, exercise as well. But in a really balanced approach. And that weight loss isn’t the isn’t the central piece, isn’t the central part of that work. Yes, a person may lose weight on that journey. Some people need to gain weight. And that might be the case on that journey as well. And that’s what anti diet is, it’s just sort of, you know, that that focus away from weight loss in and of itself. This idea that weight loss is the most important thing for health, which just isn’t true. 

Le’Nise: And then your work with women or people with eating disorders. It’s quite specialised and you deal with a lot of trauma. How do you, talk a little bit about how you work with your clients to start to separate their food behaviours from what everything else that’s going on with their health?

Kaysha: You know, I think that the thing I love sharing with clients at the beginning is the idea that when we feed ourself, it’s like the ultimate form of self care. And that blows my mind because they’re often not aware that food to feed and nourish oneself is an act of self care when they’ve been manipulating that for for so many years. 

So once they get that idea that, you know, a lot of their, all of these sorts of behaviours are a form of self harm and that it is just a massive red herring that is distracting them from a much deeper issue. And then an eating disorder sort of very successfully, and that’s its whole, I guess, aim is to disconnect the person from their body. So they’re so disconnected, they’re not aware of the emotions that actually, that they hold in the body, they’re not aware that they’re anxious. They’re not aware of their depression. And we think more from the nutritional side, they’re not aware when they’re hungry. They have no connection to their hunger signals. They don’t know when they’re full, they don’t know when they’re tired, they’re usually always tired, but haven’t even connected to the fact that they’re tired. So all of that. So it’s about bringing the awareness to what the real issue is. And this is why we have this cliche saying where it’s it’s not about food, but it is about the food and it’s the it’s not about the food bit, but that you have to hide them like them, too. 

That is this isn’t about you wanting to be smaller. This isn’t about that. This is about a trauma or an emotional issue that you’re trying to escape from, that you’re trying to distract from, that you’re not wanting to deal with because it’s too painful. And I get that. This is why I love psychotherapists and you’re and you’re using food and exercise behaviours as a way to. Yeah. To sort of just skip out on that sort of work of just looking at what’s really going on. 

Le’Nise: Have you seen a rise in eating disorders?

Kaysha: Yeah. Yeah. It’s going up and it is going up. And I am quite literally probably one of the worst people to ask about statistics. But I looked this one up for this very conversation. And actually what we’ve seen, is that from, say, 2005, 2006, there’s been a 34 percent increase in admissions for eating disorders. That’s a lot. And I was surprised at that number. I knew there had been an increase, but I didn’t expect it to be that number. So we’re looking at seven percent each year. 

I think a lot of that has to do with more awareness around it as well. But it’s the issue is huge here in the UK. And, you know, these are the ones that we know, these eating disorders are so nuanced. And we, a lot of people get missed. People of colour often get missed and often don’t get the diagnosis because it isn’t something that’s considered when they present in a GP surgery. But yet eating disorders like binge eating disorders, which is the second most common form of eating disorder. This is one that people don’t often reach out and get help for, because they think they’re just eating loads, because they they think well, they think that because that quote unquote dieting is actually restriction, but because they’re dieting, then they suddenly have this binge eating. They think it’s to do with this sort of play, the restrict / binge cycle. I mean, they often don’t seek help for it also because eating disorders bring so much shame that a person doesn’t even want to tell somebody about the behaviours that they’re engaging in, which is always a real relief when they come into my clinic and I’m just like, you know, what you’re telling me without sort of them minimising or sort of, you know, trying to take away from their experience. I really liked them to know that this is not uncommon behaviour that you’re talking about, not uncommon with eating disorders. And what what you’re you know, how they present. And it’s always such a relief when they hear that, because I just think that the only ones doing these damaging behaviours. 

Le’Nise: Can you talk a little bit more about the types of eating disorders that you see for people who are hearing what you’re saying about eating disorders and think that and think they might have something but aren’t sure what it is. 

Kaysha: So I would say that over so eating disorders is that although we have all these different ones. You have anorexia, which has different different types of subtypes. You’ve got bulimia. You’ve got binge eating disorder. And then you have and I always have to check because it is it recently changed. But you have other specified feeding or eating disorders. So one that doesn’t come under any of those categories. And so the common thing from all of these eating disorders is the restriction. Every single one of those eating disorders does have a restrictive nature to them. So that’s the first thing. But they all are also very preoccupied, preoccupied with their weight and wanting to be smaller and not really, not really understanding why that is and often not being able to see their bodies for what it is as well. If you think about anorexia, in some cases of anorexia, you can have a mix in different body types. But for talking about anorexia in a smaller body, they don’t realise how small their bodies are. And this is the drive to be smaller and smaller and smaller. And, you know, and there there are always going to be nuances to this that, you know, not everybody is focussed on weight, actually, but for the most part, that’s what you most commonly see. So this preoccupation with food, food is everything. It’s something that they think about constantly. But I mean, like constantly, obsessively, because they’re hungry for the restriction. And and so, yes, this preoccupation with food, but also a fear of food. So not being able to navigate social situations, not being able to sit and have dinner with family and friends because they’re afraid of what this this meal in front of them is going to do to their bodies and it’s going to make them gain weight or it’s just going to make, you know, their thoughts around their body really loud, really heightened negative thoughts around body image and self. So these are these are the common things that I would say that people see. 

And then the other part would be in some cases. So I’m always tempted to say some cases here because I want to make sure that, I want to be I want to be clear that not everybody will experience it the same. But these are common symptoms anyway. Overexercising, so really going all out when it comes to exercising. Exercise being something that they say it’s a non-negotiable. So I have to do this. I have to do this, this, this this and this, regardless of how I feel. Which, again, if I’m going to go back to this whole thing, you know, this whole, you know, linking it in with energy and your period and your cycle, which I think is been interesting. But, you know, a person who is is using exercise as a way to distract from difficult emotions will exercise come hell or high water. It’s obsessive, it’s compulsive. Yeah, and so a lot of their brain space, a lot of that time is just taken up by those things, changing my body, making my body smaller, restricting food, counting this, tracking that, weighing myself, measuring myself, body checking. And it just it just keeps going. 

Le’Nise: And given the work that you do around eating disorders and people really restricting themselves, how do you then, what do you think about this whole rise of anti diet culture, which can be quite strong online, whether it be, you know, people saying things like F you diet culture and really taking it not to the other end, but going really tearing up all of the templates around how we’re supposed to think about our body. 

Kaysha: Yeah. It, you know, it’s this is this thing when you, when you when you see the narrative that is aimed towards diet culture, it’s aimed at diet culture, it’s not aimed at people who are on diets. And so I think that’s really important to sort of to sort of to highlight that is this is the narrative of the diet culture that tells you that smaller is better and that I think, you know, you almost and I get it, I try to be a bit more direct, but gentle, I guess. 

And I tend to swear on social media. I don’t think I hope not anyway. But I tend to be more gentle in my in my approach. 

But I am very direct about the culture that I am, in some ways, attacking or at least protesting against, because that culture is actually quite strong and quite inflammatory in itself. And if and for those who are in the diet, for those who are in that diet culture, so those of those who subscribe to that diet culture, I look at some of the messages that you read there, sometimes I think it’s just it gets to the point where you don’t even know, is this is an eating disorder or is this is a diet now because it’s very disordered, the behaviours that they’re trying to promote. And this is, you know, when you’re when you’re passionate about eating disorder recovery and you’re advocating for a group of a group of people who are subscribing to that and it is quite literally killing them. You do get very, very passionate and you do have to be quite strong in your language about around the diet culture. But equally, they. Yes, it’s that narrative that thinner is better and that’s what we’re attacking. And this idea is not just thinner is better. It’s it’s it’s it’s. Yeah. That your aesthetic somehow have some holds some, some kind of value for your worth, which it doesn’t. Our bodies are our bodies. Our bodies change. And so you’ve got people who live in all different types of bodies. We have fat. We have thin. We have curves. We have muscle. Have you want to label it? We are diverse as humans. And then this idea that diet culture where they’ve got this template body. This is what we’re all striving for, as though it was accessible for everybody. Is that even possible for everyone? You’ve got people literally spending their whole lives trying to achieve this aesthetic, which they may never achieve, or if they do, they’ve done it at the risk of their own physical or mental health. So. It can sound quite inflammatory and it can sound quite I don’t want to say violent, but I can get, I get why people get annoyed as some of my posts and some of those posts because they could take it personally. But it’s because they subscribe to the culture and it’s the culture that we’re attacking, not people who are on diets. I’ve been there myself. I was there for over a decade. 

Le’Nise: I want to ask you two questions, first about what you said about people who are on these diets, who then it’s more like disordered eating. What do you mean by that? 

Kaysha: Yes or no? So it wasn’t that people who are on diets like disordered eating but a lot of the behaviours that they will advise and this is particularly, I would say I’m talking about social media here. So I can’t say what dietitians and nutritionists are saying in their office because but particularly the things that I’ve seen and certainly clients have come to me and been told some interesting things from their health care providers. 

But again, you don’t know where that person was trained. You don’t know that person’s qualifications. But anyway, things like this idea that we have to manipulate our hunger. This idea that when you’re hungry, you need to do all sorts of things other than eat to manage that hunger. This is disordered. This isn’t normal. And if you’re hungry. That’s a sign that you ought to eat. Yeah. You get these ideas of like go brush your teeth, just go to bed earlier, avoid your hunger. Hunger is bad. And this this is disordered. And so it’s not to say that a person who engages in this has disordered eating. I mean, I couldn’t possibly diagnose that. But it’s to say that these quote unquote techniques that they’re trying to prescribe are all disordered. They’re not a normal way of eating. That doesn’t create a healthy relationship with food and your body. And that’s an extreme one, sort of the brush your teeth. But when you’re feeling hungry, I’ve seen that out there. I’ve seen at times and I’ve seen it in magazines. And, you know, this is what people pick up on them. Remember, you know, maybe when you’re hungry, you’re not hungry, you’re thirsty. I mean, if you don’t know if you’re hungry or thirsty, then we need to look at why you don’t know whether you’re hungry or thirsty rather than thinking about manipulating hunger by drinking a glass of water. 

Le’Nise: I have to say I do see that, people not being able to differentiate between physical hunger and thirst. And also people not being able to differentiate between physical hunger and this emotional hunger and eating for emotional reasons. And I, I certainly don’t specialise in eating disorders, but it does. Some of these behaviours do come into my work with my clients, especially this idea of delineating between physical and emotional hunger. Because it’s this in this culture, we get we get taught. Oh, you’re upset. Dive into Ben and Jerry’s. You’re feeling great. Oh have some cake. You know, and so people can’t differentiate to differentiate between this. I’m I’m actually hungry. My body is sending me signs, but it’s time to eat vs.. Oh, I feel sad or I feel happy. So I think that really interesting because we see this sort of programming gets taught at a really young age. 

Kaysha: Even with emotional eating and comfort eating, the way I approach that with my clients, who have not been able to differentiate between emotional hunger and physical hunger. Is that, you know, emotional eating isn’t in and of itself a bad coping mechanism. But if it’s your only coping mechanism, then you need to look at some of a, you know, fill up a toolbox of self care because it can’t always be food. And that’s also not helpful. But, yes, I sort of. And we do see we’ve been conditioned. We’ve seen it on films, we see in the ads. So people see tend to turn to ice cream and they’ve had a breakup. Okay. But what about journaling? What about your mum. But it isn’t to say that emotional eating in and of itself is bad. 

Look, I say it’s just when it’s the only coping mechanism that person has. And because I. Yeah, it’s all about connecting to the body. What is the what is the signal that my body’s telling me? What is my body asking for, ie. rest. Is it water? Is it food? Is it. 

Emotions. 

Le’Nise: And you talked about the difference between diets and diet culture. There are always people there will always be people out there who want to lose weight. And what I’ve seen now in my clinic is that people feel ashamed about talking about wanting wanting to lose weight or feel better in their body. And they feel better when they’re at a smaller size. And if they talk about this on Instagram or any social media, it’s like they get attacked. 

‘Look, your body at any size loved who you are. You shouldn’t feel like you have to lose weight.’ But they say, well, but I just want to you know, I want to slim down. I want to feel better in my clothes. What do you say to that? 

Kaysha: I say I have so many responses and my head just went to so many places. I’m just going to try and categorise and line them up and just decide which way I’m going to go for first. 

I completely sympathise with somebody who feels like they need to be smaller in order to feel better about their body. I think it is, you know, my my go to response to that. And is it is that is not about your body being smaller why you want to feel better about it is because of the way you think about your body. You know, our bodies change regardless. So this idea that if my body is smaller, I feel better. I can tell you now that that is not always going to be the case. A person will get smaller in their body and get to maybe that quote unquote goal weight and still have hang ups about their body because it wasn’t the body that was the issue. It was what bodies they they see to be good bodies. So who were they looking at? What bodies are they idealising and what are they trying to do, mimic within their own bodies to try and achieve, like I I say that might not be available to them through their genetic blueprint, through the resources that they have available to them. You know, have they got time to do all these hours in the gym. Have they got the money to buy those foods that people are advocating and advertising. Sorry. So there’s that. So the idea that, yes, it smaller doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re gonna feel better about your body. Not saying it doesn’t, but not necessarily. There’s a there’s an emotional piece that needs to be there in terms of healing your relationship with your body, whether it’s bigger or smaller. So that’s separate from its size. The other part is I think it isn’t helpful when if somebody says that they feel a certain type of way about their body, it’s not for anybody else to comment on their post and come with what we call toxic positivity of just love your body, because if it was that easy, the person would quote unquote, just love their body. That’s dismissive of what that person’s experiencing. And, you know, I appreciate that when it often comes from people, often it always comes from people who already live in a smaller body. So they have what we call thin privilege. And for that person with thin privilege to tell somebody in a bigger body, oh, you should just love your body, has no idea what it’s like for that person to exist in that body. So to just say that you should just isn’t it’s not that simple because of the weight stigma that that person has encountered throughout their lives, which in itself brings a lot of shame. So when you talk about that shame that they feel about wanting to lose weight and people’s reaction, that shame is also past shames of people making comments about their weight, perhaps, and that can come from childhood. That can come from parents, that could come from, you know, even your health professionals. We have a big thing about weight bias that goes on in our health care system at the moment. So there’s that as well. I mean, you know, if a person if that’s where a person is in their life and that’s all they know, then that’s all they know. And it’s about, you know, my work is very much about meeting people where they’re at. So. Ninety five percent, probably even more than may I maybe go as far as is a hundred actually percent of people who will come to my clinic want to lose weight. So it would be so disrespectful of me to sit there and be like you shouldn’t lose weight because that’s is not that easy. It’s so disrespectful to the whole process of emotional turmoil that they’ve been going through. 

So I think we do have this culture of toxic positivity on social media that doesn’t help. And we kind of have to remember there is a person behind that post. Yeah. And just be mindful of what their experience might have been, existing in the body that they may have. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, I think your words really resonate with me. I have been on my own personal journey with with weight loss and weight gain. And I know even with the work I do, I wouldn’t say I’m 100 percent reconciled with my body. You know, I had messages from when I was quite young about, oh, you know, people meet you and they say, oh, you’ve lost weight. 

Or they say, oh, you’ve gained weight and for a long time, whenever I saw my mother, the first thing she would say would. And it became a joke. It was, ‘How’s your weight? How’s your hair? How’s your teeth?’ Those would be the first things that she would ask me. And that would. That we would. I had to make it into a joke because otherwise I would get really angry. I remember this one time we were I went to see her and I was going through this big emotional time and I had gained quite a lot of weight. And the first thing she said to me was, “Le’Nise, what’s going on with you? You’ve gained a lot of weight.” And we had this huge fight on the street where I said, “why do you always have to ask me about that? You know, can’t you see that? Can’t you ask me about everything else that I’m going through?” So and then for me, it’s been and I’m getting quite personal here. It’s been a real journey ever since. And I know I’m not 100 percent reconciled with with the weight that I am. And, you know, I would be lying if I said that, you know, I feel I haven’t had thoughts about losing weight because I do. So this is where I some of the things that you’re saying on an intellectual level, that makes total sense. But emotionally, I’m kind of like, OK. 

Kaysha: I totally hear you, Le’Nise. Absolutely. And, you know, this idea that this I think even the idea of them. Well, first of all. So I should go back to say that it’s really difficult, that experience for somebody not seeing you and only seeing your weight as as though it were some indicator of how you were. And we do that a lot in our society, too. We do praise people when they lose weight, which which feeds into that narrative of, oh, well, when I’m smaller. That’s a good thing. That means when I was bigger, what were people thinking about me. And it kind of confirms those sort of negative belief that person holds about themselves. That’s really difficult. And I can one hundred percent sympathise with you because my mum to this day does the exact same when she sees me. It’s “I think you’ve lost weight, haven’t you. Oh I think you’ve put on”. 

At this point, my weight doesn’t really fluctuate, so I don’t know what she said. So I mean that’s me. But that’s beside the point anyway. But it is one of the first things that comes out of her mouth. But this is generational. So it’s like we’ve got to think about where they’re getting that narrative from. 

And, you know, it’s not just our mums. That goes way. It’s gonna go way back. Right. So there’s that. But, yes, I hear you, this idea of loving your body. I think it’s a really unrealistic thing. Again, this toxic positivity that we see on social media. It’s not that you have to love your body and be positive about it. You sometimes you don’t love your body, myself included. Some things you just don’t. And oftentimes that’s not because as an issue with your body, oftentimes you just have an issue with something else going on and it gets directed at your body or just sometimes you’re just not happy with, you know, I feel bloated today. And that’s okay. You know, we it’s not about shoulding, there’s are no should here. It’s about thinking about how you want to exist for the rest of your life. Do you want to exist the rest of your life thinking about what if only I lost an extra X amount pounds and that would make everything fine? The likelihood is that won’t be the case? You know, there are going to be days like I say that you love your body, there are going to be days that you don’t and there are going to be days where you’re just indifferent. And I’m very much now doing a lot of work with my clients about feeling neutral about their bodies, because our bodies aren’t who we are. They don’t tell. They don’t tell you anything. I have a real issue with focusing on the body. I’ve had to focus on my body literally all my life. I’ve talked about, you know, breasts at a very young age. Got a lot of attention for that. I was always very athletic, very muscular. Naturally, I get a lot of praise about that. Lots of comments about that, this is just my body, it is not a commodity. I don’t, I mean, give me compliments, like, please. I love it. But it’s this idea that it somehow is it’s something to be praised all the time.

And actually, I think to myself. Sometimes I think of people, are they seeing my intelligence. Are they seeing other parts of my personality or they just seeing my body? That’s difficult. And so and that goes on no matter what your body shape is. That can’t be the thing that people see you as. And it’s about that internal what you have to do as well to think about, okay, I am more than my body. What are my values? What would I tell my what I tell a client sat in front of me? What would I tell my daughter? What would I tell my sister?

Le’Nise: Yes. So thinking about everything that we’ve talked about on the show today, if you want a listener to leave, take one thing away. What would you want that to be? 

Kaysha: I would say. The word that always comes into my mind, and I think the word that I’m really drawn to at the moment is being authentic and thinking about what authentic health means to you. What’s within your genetic capabilities, what’s within your resources of time, money, your mental capacity. So just being really authentic with yourself and just being, you know, really self compassionate in that sense, this idea that, you know, everybody can afford to do the stuff that diet, culture and wellness industry. I would even go that far, prescribes, isn’t isn’t available to everybody. It’s not even suitable for everybody’s palate. 

So it’s just that, you know, that being authentic. 

And also, you know, as a person who comes for Caribbean heritage, I don’t see any Caribbean food in in these recommendations. 

You know, that whole thing of this. Like what? What brings you joy? And then, you know, just honour that. We are and this is a little bit deep, but genuinely, you know, we’re here for a short amount of time we’re not here forever. So really thinking about what do you want to spend your good brain power and time on this earth doing? And I think you find, you know, from a personal point, I already lost ten, fifteen years of my life to trying to manipulate my weight. I refused to do that any further from now. I had to do a long healing journey and just a little self compassion. And it’s ongoing work. It’s not overnight. I still have to do that work. It’s never going to end. I still have to, you know, read. I still have to meditate. I have to do self care things, tools, my body. So, you know. Look after your mental health and your physical health. Your mental health, you know, shapes your physical health. 

Le’Nise: There’s this great Nora Ephron quote where she talks about if she could go back, she would be wearing a bikini. From the age of like twenty one to thirty five, you know, so it’s like this. Just wear the bikini. Wear this swimsuit. Go on the beach. 

And you know, you don’t want to look back thinking, why did I just lay there in my clothes while everyone else was having fun. 

Kaysha: Yeah. Oh I love that. Absolutely. 

Le’Nise: So where can listeners should find out more about you and your work? 

Kaysha: So I’m more active these days on Instagram @kayshathomas. I have my Web site, www.kayshathomas.com. I half laugh there because I’m just like I’m not blogging anywhere near as much as I should be, but that’s what my Web site is. 

That’s where you’ll find details about me. And then as of next week, my YouTube channel as well. So I’ll send you the link, Le’Nise, and you can link it up in the show notes, as they say. 

Le’Nise: Yes. Yes. We will indeed link it in the show notes. Thank you so much for coming on the show today, Kaysha. It was really interesting and illuminating speaking to you.

Kaysha: Thank you for having me. I really enjoyed it, Le’Nise. 

Period Story Podcast, Episode 32: Mika Simmons, We Need To Talk About Desire

Photo credit: Ruth Crafer

On today’s episode of Period Story podcast, I’m so happy to share my conversation with Mika Simmons, the award winning filmmaker, actress and founder of the Lady Garden Foundation and the Happy Vagina. Listen to hear a really tender conversation about navigating trauma and loss, and of course, the story of Mika’s first period.

Mika says that her mum was so excited when she first got her period and threw her a little party to celebrate. This lovely start was unfortunately not mirrored at school, where she was teased and bullied for getting her period. Listen to hear Mika talk about how this led to a time of confusion and pain.

In time for #gynaecologicalcancerawarenessmonth, Mika shares the story of losing her beloved mother to ovarian cancer.  Mika very poignantly talks about how she was able to heal after this seismic experience and how starting the Lady Garden Foundation was a part of this healing. Listen to hear about the incredible work the foundation is doing to raise awareness about gynaecological cancers.

We talked about body image, self-pleasure, orgasms and the importance of female desire. Mika says that it’s important to get past the discomfort of having these conversations and that by starting small or what feels comfortable for you, we can start to find a vocabulary that feels right for us. Thank you so much for coming on the show, Mika!

Get in touch with Mika:

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MIKA’S BIO

Mika Simmons is an award-winning film maker, actress and host of The Happy Vagina.


Mika has worked on a diverse range of creative projects for stage and screen, including Frenchman’s Creek (ITV), Unforgotten (ITV/PBS), the BAFTA award winning Falling Apart (Ch4) and Film London’s Balcony, which won the Crystal Bear at the Berlin Film Festival in 2017.  Most recently, she can be seen in Dictynna Hood’s Us Among The Stones in competition at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2019.


In 2019, Mika’s directorial debut Rain Stops Play short film won Best Comedy at Houston Film Festival and was nominated for Best Comedy at the BAFTA qualifying CBFF Wales and Portobello Film Festivals; UnderWire and Fragments Film Festival in London. 


Mika’s latest project, The Happy Vagina is a podcast showcasing a huge variety of heartfelt, honest, uplifting, fun and personal experiences. In a world where the word ‘vagina’ can feel taboo or make some feel uncomfortable, The Happy Vagina Podcast opens up a dialogue about fundamental issues, experimentation and lack of education around women’s experiences and gynaecological health; aiming not only to educate but also entertain and enlighten listeners in a supportive and empowering way. Mika possesses an unmatchable capability to relate to and understand people, and is a poised and self-assured interviewer who, when necessary, brings a great sense of fun to any interview.


In 2017 Mika was chosen as one of 40 inspirational British women to front L’Oréal Lancôme’s powerful women campaign.


Mika is also a co-founder of Lady Garden Foundation & Mental Health Mates.

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: On today’s episode, we have Mika Simmons.

Mika is an award winning winning filmmaker, actress, founder of the Lady Garden Foundation and The Happy Vagina. Mika has worked on a diverse range of creative projects for stage and screen. Mika’s latest project, The Happy Vagina, is a podcast showcasing a huge variety of heartfelt, uplifting, fun and personal experiences. In a world where the word vagina can feel taboo or make some feel uncomfortable, The Happy Vagina podcast opens up a dialogue about fundamental issues, experimentation and a lack of education around women’s experiences and gynaecological health, aiming not only to educate, but also entertain and enlighten listeners in a supportive and empowering way. Welcome to the show.

Mika: Thank you so much. It’s so good to be here. Good morning.

Le’NiseLet’s start off by getting into the story of your very first period. Can you remember what happened? Can you share with us what happened?

Mika: I mean, Le’Nise, let’s just drive straight in the deep end.

 I was watching May I Destroy You last night. I don’t know if you’ve been watching it, but there’s an episode where she has sex with a new man and she’s on her period. It’s extraordinary. If you haven’t watched it yet, you’ve got to watch it. Everyone is looking at.

I mean, I started my periods really young. When we were away camping. I had an extraordinary mother who was part of the feminist movement in the 70s, and so it was a really turbulent time in a way for women. I think that women were still trying to find out what being a feminist was. And my mother was definitely on the front line kind of pushing things forwards and writing. She’s, you know, she’s written in books and written essays, so, in a way, her kind of attitude, outlook and then kind of power towards life was a reaction to her upbringing and her upbringing, we’re Irish Catholic working class and immigrants to this country. And as immigrants, my grandmother, I feel emotional, my grandmother was a really hardworking woman and an amazing woman.

But, you know, just worked. I don’t think that my grandmother and also the Catholic Church doesn’t encourage, at that time, did not encourage, you know, kind of biological or sexual talk with women. I think many of the reasons that periods and sex is so damaged and shrouded for women and men is because of religion. So my mother was, you know, kind of fighting against what she’d experienced. And so for me, when I got my period, it was like the biggest celebration in the whole world, you know, like there was no hiding it. And then she threw this party for me. We were camping in the South of France and ,I what I remember, I remember being quite confused. I don’t remember. I think I was, I think it caught us all a bit off guard because I was so young.

So I think that, like, I went to the shower and it started and I hadn’t already had a chat with my mum. There’d been no like, you’re gonna get your menstrual cycle at some stage and this is what it’s for and this is how you should love it. And it’s the most amazing thing in the world where life comes from. It was just like, oh, I’m bleeding. And, you know, when I went off and I came back and she’d bought Viennetta ice cream and bought some champagne. Not for me. I was under age.

But she told everyone in the tents around us cause she was just so unbelievably excited about the whole thing. It was mortifying. I did not consent to the party and I do, I mean, I love her for it. And as you will know, I lost my mother to ovarian cancer. So, you know, I don’t have any resentment towards her for her choice. I do also think it’s really important to talk to, you know, all young women and daughters about what it is that they want, because I think that period of feminism was very bullish, rightly bullish. It needed to be bullish when when change needs to happen. When when people have been oppressed for a long time. Sometimes you have to be bullish to move things through. And then you have to come back into being part of a negotiating an in a gentler way, which I think feminism now is so much more. Everyone’s a feminist, you know, like Obama standing on the stage saying this is what a feminist looks like. Yeah. So, yes, that’s what happened and it was tough because I was young and I got teased loads. I was using sanitary towels. The boys at school saw them in my bag. I got really teased for it. I lied and said, I don’t know. They said, “Have you got your period?” I said, “no.” I mean, of course I have, I’ve got sanitary towels in my bag. It was just, you know, it was painful. It was painful and confusing. 

Le’Nise: What did you say to the boys when they teased you?

Mika: I didn’t stick up for myself. I was thinking about this this morning, preparing to come on here. It’s very poignant for me, this stuff around teasing and bullying at the moment, it’s something that I’m working on a huge amount in my personal development in my life, because there seems to have been a pattern for me where I don’t really stick up for myself or I don’t stick up for myself in the right way. So when the boys teased me, I didn’t say anything and I and I and I and I internalised it. Actually, I internalised the shame.

 I felt other, I felt wrong. And I. And I. And actually, it was during a period of time. I had a bit of a bad start in school where I was in a in a local primary school feeding through to a local secondary school. And some of the girls at the the the bigger school were waiting outside my primary school. When I finished to, to threaten me. And I didn’t tell anyone about that either.

And I went to my secondary school kind of therefore on the back foot. I went to my big school really frightened. I don’t know why I didn’t tell anyone. I think the thing is about bullying is mostly you think it’s your fault. That’s really one of the biggest strands through bullying, is that people somehow it’s so confusing when people bully you for no reason that you just basically can’t, it is a weird sort of paranoia where your brain can’t compute why this is happening. So therefore, it kind of must be something you’ve done. So I didn’t stick up for myself with the boys. 

And if I’m honest, what I did this was the thing I was thinking about this morning, is I got tough. So in order to protect myself, I kind of joined, I think when you were bullied. This there’s there’s three options. One is that you fight them. The other is that you completely come away and take another river. And the other is that you that you join them.

And to a certain extent, I joined that kind of crowd of kids that weren’t that kind. So my first couple of years at school, it was only it was only the first couple of years. But the first couple of the years, I would suggest I was kind of quite naughty. And that’s how I dealt with being teased, was I surrounded myself with people who could stick up for me.

Le’Nise: And so you became part of this gang that was not very kind and would bully others, but then did that stop the bullying towards you?

Mika: Yeah. Yeah, it did.

But then I self-harmed. It’s really interesting because I think that within people that particularly children are so cruel, you know, children are so cruel and I think if you end up, I mean, actually at around 14, 15, I really rightsized it all and started to work really hard at school and there was some interventions that happened that brought me back to, I would say, my real self. But during that period when I was like hanging out with the naughty set, I was over sexualised. I was objectified by the boys that we were hanging out with, the boys at school, very aggressive. Obviously, I started my period. So actually, there was quite a lot of sexual energy around me. I was blessed with some quite good looks so I got a lot of male attention. And I’m hanging out in that, I think, you know, children who bully or are naughty or kind of the wayward gang are often in a lot of pain.

They haven’t learnt it yet because they go, ‘I know or I’m gonna, like, bunk off school and not go to gym class and smoke behind the shops.’ They’re in pain. And when we’re in pain physically, our cells that are in pain orient towards other people that are in pain. So that we can feel safe. It’s not safe, but it feels safe and it feels like what we know.

And so, yeah, it did stop the bullying, but I just self-harmed. I drank way too young. I was drinking, you know, and I and I was and I was and I said, as you know, over sexualised. So I had my periods and I was like, my womanhood started age 13. I started you know, I started behaving like grown-up when I was a child.

Le’Nise: What would you say your relationship with your body was back then?

Mika: Really confused. Confused is the most, you know, poignant word. I think the whole time was very confusing for me. My body was being objectified by a lot of men older and my age and therefore and I didn’t understand it. I didn’t understand.

You know, I hope for every young woman that she has the experience where she gets to know her body in a gentle, timely manner. 

And, you know, we’ve been talking about this a lot on my podcast The Happy Vagina about how self pleasure that in order to really have a great sexual relationship with someone, you have to really learn your own body first. That was not my experience. You know, my experience was it was it was a slam dunk.

I was, I was I was like a horse up and running, but before I had had any conversations, you know. Anyway, it sounds like a sob story, but I don’t feel like that about it. I feel that all of that made me the woman that I am today. So I don’t have any kind of resentment or, you know, hang ups around it. I wouldn’t wish it on other people. I don’t I don’t think that it was the best start, but it certainly, it certainly gave me, I went so far that way, most of the time I’ve been back in the other camp since, so yeah, I think everyone has a time when they’re walking in between one camp and another.

Le’Nise: Yeah. And you went, you had that time of being across two different camps, as you say, when you were in school and then when you left school and went on to the next phase of your life, how would you describe your relationship with your your body and your period? 

Mika: Well, I one of the ways that I, you know, thrust myself out of that naughty period at school was like starting to take acting classes, so I had this amazing year head at my school called Mrs Barrett. And she invited my mother and I to go and have a conversation with her. And she highlighted the fact that, you know, I was wearing makeup at school, you know. Oh, I was renegade. And she she was you know, she she said, you know, Mika’s very, very bright and she’s not using that.

And they asked me what it was that I wanted to do. And I said that I wanted to go, there was no drama at my school. So they they got me some some acting classes and I started to compete.

And that really saved me intellectually and emotionally and really changed my life. I would suggest that the pressure on me from that stage on in terms of my body possibly did not heal itself. So many of the other areas healed, but I went from being kind of objectified for my body to wanting my body to be what I saw in the movies.

That that gap. So there was definitely some periods of severe under eating. I wouldn’t suggest that I was anorexic, but I controlled my food for a very long time. Particularly around my drama school years.

And at university, in leading into going to drama school, you know, it’s a huge pressure on in the industry to to be thin and in in the film industry. Sometimes I think, you know, it’s kept me healthy. I love food.

But I do think that there’s many benefits of needing to be fit and healthy and strong for my work. 

And there was a moment when my periods almost stopped. I think that that was probably the worst moment. When in terms of my my eating habits and from that point onwards, I started to eat properly, you know, and then. And then of course, just after drama school, my mom got sick with ovarian cancer. 

So I you know, I had an extremely stressful late 20s. I think I was in a lot of pain and quite, quite heightened anxiety.

Le’Nise: And how did you deal with that?

Mika: Therapy.

Yeah, therapy mostly. It was a, it was a huge shock. I’d just left drama school and got my first kind of big job and I was up and running really, and all of my dreams were coming true. 

And Mum thought she had fibroids or the doctors were telling her she had fibroids. So we we went we went on holiday together. We came back and she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. And she did get put onto a trial that was a new type of medication, chemotherapy that they thought was going to work. And it did work, but the cancer came back quite rapidly. So she actually passed away nine months after her diagnosis. Yeah. So I was 25 going into 26, so, you know, super young. And I think that had an impact on me and my body. I think I, I really lost my faith over that period. I really lost my faith in life. I had this kind of like, feeling that life was quite a dark thing.

You know, and the, yeah, I lost my faith, I think, for a while.

Le’Nise: Can you tell us a little bit about how you found your way back or if not back to where you were before, back towards something different? Maybe towards a place of healing?

Mika: You know, I think it has taken a really long time. 

I think I feel, I feel it, it’s taken me most of the time since, you know, it’s taken a good 15 years to actually really heal it.

I had a lot of therapy and that helped me come back to a more spiritual way of managing life. And I had a lot of treatment, I had a lot of cranial psychotherapy, which I believe really gets rid of trauma in the body. 

And I think probably the final healing was starting The Lady Garden Foundation because I have a feeling that we don’t fully heal things until we take an action that rightsizes it, so you know, I sort of like when when you fall in love and you break up with someone, you can have completely let go of that person, but I don’t believe you completely let go of them until you meet the next person.

And it is a bit the same with this, that while I’ve done everything I could to heal and let the grief come and then let the grief go. There was an action around the miracle that happened with starting Lady Garden. It really was a miracle that my next door neighbour in the apartment block I live in ended up being Head of Oncology for research into gynaecological cancers at the Royal Marsden, you know, I mean, that’s just a real miracle. Then she asked me if I wanted to do a project with her to raise money.

And for me, I really wanted to do the awareness raising. And I think that was the final, final, you know, the final integration.

 I don’t know if I’ll ever get over it. I would say you didn’t get to you know, I just I talked about this a lot. I, I feel that because I’d only just left drama school. I was still a bit of a child. 

 I think other people at that age are very grown up. They’ve started working since 18 and actually, you know, but I somehow or other was still dependent on my mum. And I suspect there was also a level of co-dependency with my mom because of my earlier experiences.

 I think she was very firmly in my camp. She championed me in a way that was, you know, kind of beyond beyond anything I’ve ever experienced. She really, she was she was my biggest cheerleader, you know, and and so the loss of that at that age was significant for me. And there was a period of time when I was flailing, trying to find where I sat in life until I think the real kind of deep realisation was that it was me I needed to find. I needed to find me and love myself like my mother had loved me and that no one else would probably ever love me like that again.

And that it may not have been that healthy that she did. I don’t know. I mean, I wish I could just say I was thinking about something the other day and just thinking it would be so nice just to ask Mum about that. I can’t. I mean I can in my prayers. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: I love what you said about your mom being your biggest champion. And I love, I have a six year old son and I love, really that I read something once where someone wrote your child should feel like you’re their biggest champion, that you’re always going to be on their side. And that has always stuck with me. And I love that, you know, you said that about your mom because that feeling of always feeling, knowing that someone will be in your corner is so powerful in life, because often you feel like, wow, you know who is actually in my corner. So to have had that experience is so powerful.

Mika: Life’s hard.

Le’Nise: Yes, yes. Yes.

Mika: I mean, sometimes I’m like, what is this thing called life? 

Le’Nise: Can you talk a bit about the Lady Garden Foundation?

Mika: Yeah. So we’re a tiny charity, actually, with a really, really loud voice. When Dr. Banerjee, who is my next door neighbour, asked me whether or not I would do some fundraising to help her explore research into the cancers that I lost my mum to, I said yes. But I said there was an absolute prerequisite that I was allowed to do an awareness campaign alongside it, which is where the Lady Garden campaign came from. And Dr. Banerjee has developed a drug called Olaparib, which has now been green lit, and it’s been rolled up by a pharmaceutical company and it treats women with varying cancer with great results. So that side of it has been really phenomenal. And we fundraised for that by quite high level events. I’ve got an amazing cofounding committee who they love doing kind of fundraisers. So they’re. And they’re amazing at it. I don’t think I’m so good at that part of it. What I’m really good at is using my voice to raise awareness. And the awareness side of it is just absolutely fundamental. So when we started the project in 2014, part of the reason we called it Lady Garden was because we couldn’t really call it vagina. But obviously now you know that it’s a different landscape and the awareness that, I believe the awareness that we started back then has been part of the impact for women all over the world in terms of starting to reclaim our bodies. We started to, we may have given it a nickname, but we absolutely were talking about the fundamentals around gynaecological health. And, you know, and then the Me Too movement happened, which then started a huge revolution in women’s, in women’s bodies and women’s wellbeing. And I think at the moment, one of the things that I’m really interested in exploring and why I started my podcast and the project, The Happy Vagina, is that somehow or other still we are only talking about gynaecological issues or pregnancy in terms of women’s health.

So there’s now a movement towards talking about desire and actually how we integrate talking about gynaecological health in all areas of our life. Because at the moment you kind of get these highlights, you get your period starts, you’re pregnant, your menopause and hopefully not, but you may within that have some illness, gynaecological illness. Most of us have something at some stage, whether it just be from candida through to something more serious like my mother had. And those are when we talk about it, it’s like gynae problem.

And we don’t kind of somehow really talk about that area of our body all the time, like it’s, you know, like we would do about our mental health and there is a movement happening towards integrating it into a more daily kind of chat. I’ve just been part of a book that’s talking about young women and periods and teaching them, which is We Are The Hood. And, you know, so that’s going to be a game changer, you know. But again, the focus is kind of on when you get your period. And I’m just really excited to get women talking more about desire and how to look after ourselves sexually. 

How to look after ourselves in terms of consent. 

How to look after ourselves in terms of, you know, allowing that everybody to be part of our whole being.

Le’Nise: What do you think women need to do if they don’t feel comfortable with these conversations? What do you think they need to do to get comfortable?

Mika: It’s so funny, isn’t it, because I was talking to a really good girlfriend of mine who works in marketing for a huge women’s brand yesterday, and she said, ‘I still find hard to say the word vagina’ and it’s that, it’s just start saying it’s saying it, start talking about it. One of the things that I think as human beings, we do things that we cower together. So identification within friendships is really, really powerful. So if you go to the gym with a female friend and they are hiding their body or go into the changing room. You will probably feel the same shame, we pick up each other’s shame really easily. Just to be super clear, if you want to change in private, that’s totally cool. But what you need to look at is where it’s coming from, if it’s coming from because you’re ashamed of your body, at least acknowledge that and own it. And I think that the identification that we can bring in so we mirror our friends and just to say to a girlfriend, ‘I’ve got candida. I’ve got thrush.’ 

‘I’m struggling with cystitis. My periods are a bit weird at the moment. My period came three days early. I had loads of sex,’you know, like just to kind of start integrating the very light vocabulary and dialogue with your female friends or with your children, if it’s appropriate, or with your partner. 

Just drop it in. Tiny, small things. You don’t have to come out with a big you know, doesn’t have to be a monumental, seismic moment.

I’m now going to talk about periods and vaginas! Sharing in a tiny little way, it’s going to really uncomfortable if it’s something you haven’t done before. Where we’re going to feel really, you know, embarrassing.

Because we’ve been brainwashed to believe that that area of our body is embarrassing and it’s just not, you know, there is an underlying message.

In so many cultures that good girls don’t have sex. 

You know, that good girls don’t talk about this stuff and that we are only lovable if we are a good girl. Well, you know, and being a good girl will stop you from being good to yourself. And also, long term, if you don’t really get to know your body and you don’t share with your partner or friends or whatever is appropriate for you, you may find that you ignore symptoms as something that could be quite serious. 

Le’Nise: So start to have the conversation. It doesn’t have to be small. Start with what feels comfortable for you and then do it often, do it in a way that you can then build up to then having the bigger conversations that are appropriate for you and your body. 

Mika: Also read books. One I still swear by is Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth, which is not just about gynaecological health, but it’s a game changer in terms of understanding why we are sort of hard on ourselves and judgemental of our own bodies and how that actually has come through Biblical text, the media, film and significantly, advertising, the advertising is geared towards making us feel less than and insignificant so that then we buy the products that will make us better. You know, so, really great book. Yeah. And and listen to women talk about these things. There’s so much out there now, you know. Yeah. Find your vocabulary through listening to other people talk about it.

Le’Nise: Find your vocabulary. I really like that. You talked about desire. And this is tied into the conversation about finding your vocabulary, moving away from this good girl image. Or good girl kind of idea that’s drummed into us from when we’re very young. What role do you think owning your desire plays into that? 

Mika: Well, young women out there, there’s absolutely no education at all around desire for young women at the moment. Whereas I think it’s quite normal for parents of young men to understand that young men start masturbating. 

And it’s almost like this kind of God given thing that they can’t help, you know, this sexual energy and power that comes through that means they have to do it. I’m not suggesting that young men don’t go through shame around it. I don’t. It’s not like they’ve got it so easy. But I do believe there’s more vocabulary around young men’s sexual power coming through and that there is absolutely zero, zero teaching around young women’s desire. And I think. Again, just to be super kind of clear on it. It’s up to you. I don’t think you need to start suddenly talking about self pleasure, masturbation or that the moment the millennials are all talking about wanking. You know, for me, that’s not my taste. But I respect them. But it’s about getting the relationship with yourself, with yourself so that you, so that you whatever that is, and it may be that there’s only one person in your life that you talk to about it, and that might be your partner. But dear God, please talk about it. And I really believe that if you don’t, you cut yourself off from that area of your body. And I think disease in the body comes through the nervous system. So if your nervous system is not fully integrated, if you if you feel shame around the area of your body, the likelihood is this is that your mind body connection is probably very disassociated.

So I I really believe that if we don’t integrate the shame that we have around an area of our body, then we kind of get blocked off from that areas of our body. And not only does that mean we probably won’t look out for symptoms if we have any come up. Also might mean that we can’t feel that part of our body as well, which may affect our ability to have an orgasm. Also, there is the potential that not being connected to that area of our body may block energy in that area, probably which there is a suggestion could lead to ill health. You know, there is scientific evidence that’s starting to show that blockages within an area of our body and a blockage can come from not listening to that area of the body. It could be to do with faking orgasms for your whole life. And the reason that you may need to fake an orgasm is because without even knowing it, you have shame around that area of your body. You may not you may not even know that you’ve got shame. You may not know that that’s why. But if you you know, if you if you if you don’t know the irony of what if you don’t know your own desires. If you’re not really fully integrated with yourself as a woman, you’re not free. 

And then your body can’t be free.

Le’Nise: I think it’s also because when we’re younger, we don’t tend to, you mentioned the conversation around boys and masturbation. Girls and masturbation, I remember growing up and having conversations with girlfriends and they would say, well, I don’t masturbate. And I would say, “well, well, why?” And they’d say, “well, I don’t need to.” But when you masturbate, you learn about what you know, what an orgasm actually feels like. You know how to get to an orgasm. And you can bring that conversation into your relationship or any sexual encounters you have. And that’s that element, that’s a way of empowering yourself to get the best out of that situation. So I think it’s really important for women of all ages can get there. It doesn’t, you don’t have to be young. But again, to going back to what you said earlier about being comfortable and starting with those little small conversations and growing there and finding a way to feel empowered about, in your desire and owning your desire. 

Mika: So many women I know find it difficult to get to climax, orgasm. And I, I believe that is because we don’t spend our teenage years practising, whereas somehow there is a, again, really, just to be clear. I think men feel a lot of shame around at that age, too, but they still get on and do it because within media, within films, it may be teased a bit, but it’s still considered normal. And with women, everyone lies about it. No one admits to doing it. I think I said you said I didn’t do it. Someone asked me at university, “Are you doing that?” I thought, ‘no.’ 

You know, it’s just not. Not. We’re not free within it. There are also women who can’t reach climax, and I think it’s really important, to, I don’t know because I don’t know those women. I don’t know whether or not if they did a lot of work on themselves in terms of body release and really integrating, whether or not they would be able to reach climax. 

But I think it’s very important that we take some of the pressure off ourselves to reach climax and understand that sexual pleasure is not just about an orgasm. And if you as a woman, you haven’t managed to reach that point, that’s okay, you just need to enjoy the experience still and not write it off and not over give to your partner. Not deny yourself pleasure in whatever way that pleasure comes in order to make sure your partner’s needs get met. And you don’t. So don’t always seek that orgasm.

You know, it’s not it’s not the essential thing. But open connection is.

Le’Nise: Can you talk about what’s coming up next for the Lady Garden Foundation, for the Happy Vagina

Mika: So Lady Garden Foundation, really excitingly with my co-founders, we have greenlit a piece of research again by Dr. Banerjee into how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected key workers within cancer research. So looking into mental health and resilience and I feel that that’s a really appropriate use of our money at the moment. Alongside also continuing to donate to cancer research into, into medication and continuing to raise awareness around these cancers so that women will go and get checked more often. And then we’ve got hopefully we had to change our run date. We have a run, an annual run that I started. It’ll be our fifth, I think, this year. And. And it was meant to be in April. And we’ve moved it. So it’s going to be in October. Fingers crossed. We’ll see what the government says. Yeah. Lots of just other bits and pieces, fun, fun things going on later. And then I’m just starting to record the second season of The Happy Vagina. And I’ve got an amazing guest list, and I’m really branching out into some other areas. So one of the most fundamental differences is that I’m gonna have men on.

All of season one, I just kept getting all of my male friends that were can be the ones that work in the entertainment industry going, what are you doing? Why are you like ostracising us and being divisive? Oh, no. This is a really divisive project. I get it because obviously with Lady Garden, it’s about gynaecological cancers. One of the reasons I started the Happy Vagina was because I wanted to reach out more into women’s health. And then the men who, like you were being divisive. And I was like, you know what? You’re right, I am. So I’ve got some men coming on who will be talking specifically about experiences that are relatable to women.

So the main focus and story around The Happy Vagina is still around women. So I’ve got George Robinson, who is one of the stars of Sex Education. He’s just joined in season two.

And he’s going to be Maeve’s love interest in season three. I think, although he wouldn’t really tell me. And he’s going to talk about he’s talking about how his relationship to women has changed since doing Sex Education

And also, he had an accident where he broke his neck a few years ago. So he’s in a wheelchair. And so we talk about his relationship to women, which is just fantastic.

And then I’ve got Charlie Condou coming on, who is a gay, three-way parenter. So he and his male partner had a child with one of their friends and they three-way parent. And I’m really excited to hear about that. And then I have Kenny Jones coming on. So I’m really and then I’ve got some amazing woman as well. Emilie Pine and Kate Devlin. And yeah, so it’s it’s kind of. I’m just starting to record it, and I hope it’ll be out in July.

And I just feel really. It’s just an amazing project. The response to it is amazing. People absolutely love what I’m doing with it. And I feel I feel really liberated by it. I feel we liberated by it and excited for the future of it. We’re going to make some pants as well. Oh, I know. 

Le’Nise: Thinking back on your journey from where you started when you first got your period, the party that your mom threw for you to where you are now, if you could go back to speak to your 13 year old self, what would you say to her? 

Mika: I think I’d say it’s going to be okay. You know, just quite simple, soothing. It’s going to be OK, because it always is in the end. I think so many of us go through such trauma. Pain in life. Life can be incredibly painful and human beings can be very mean, very, very mean. I don’t know why, but they can. And I and I think just the very simple. Everything’s gonna be okay. Which was one of the meditations that I used to soothe myself after my mother died. I’d wake up in the night unable to get back to sleep in sheer shock and severe anxiety. Just everything’s gonna be okay.

Everything’s going to be okay. Everything’s going to be okay.

Le’Nise: I can feel that mantra going through me now, everything’s going to be OK. If listeners want to find out more about you, The Lady Garden, The Happy Vagina, where can they find out more?

Mika: Pretty straightforward. I’m Mika Simmons and my handles on social media at @missmikasimmons, which I’m trying to change at the moment. I don’t think I should be a miss anymore.

The Happy Vagina is @thehappyvagina. So never forget the the it’s the most important part, the happy vagina.

And then Lady Garden Foundation is Lady Garden Foundation, which and that’s our handle on social media. And also, if you want to look up on the Web site in the Web site’s really great. It’s got loads of really interesting information, blogs from people who experienced these cancers, symptom checkers, you know, really informative Web site.

The Happy Vagina’s just got lots of fun stuff, really.

Le’Nise: Well, thank you so much for coming on to the show today, Mika.

Mika: I’ve that’s such a nice time.

Thank you. You’re an amazing interviewer, I think.

Le’Nise: Thank you. 

Period Story Podcast, Episode 31: Maria Purcell, We Need To Learn About Our Menstrual Health From A Young Age

On today’s episode of Period Story podcast, I had the pleasure of speaking with Maria Purcell, the co-founder of the Hood, who recently launched their teen wellness journal (a period and mood tracker!), Girlhood: The Story. Listen to hear our conversation about Maria’s experience navigating her period as an athlete, her decision to come off the pill, how she used tracking to help her better understand her body as she was trying to get pregnant and of course, the story of her first period! 

Maria says she hid her period from her mum for a few months, because she felt that she could deal with it all herself and thought it was no big deal. Listen to hear how often Maria first thought she was going to have a period!

Maria’s experience as a student athlete shaped the way she thought about her body and her belief that periods were something that needed to be ‘dealt with’. She says that when she stopped taking the pill, she finally began to tune into her body and said that it was challenging because as an athlete, she was so used to being in control of her body.

We talked about how Maria started tracking what was happening to her body and how this helped during her fertility journey. She says that all the planning and tracking came naturally to her and helped her feel more confident and better about herself.

Maria shares how she lost her period at one point and what she did to get it back. She says that all the tracking and learning she did around her menstrual cycle and fertility eventually led to the idea to launch a journal for teens to help them understand their moods and eventually their periods, when they arrive. Listen to hear how she was inspired by her niece and how the journal helped them connect.

Maria says we need to learn about our menstrual health from a young age, so that we feel empowered and we understand our bodies. She says this will change the narrative and reduce the stigma around female health issues. Thank you for coming on the show, Maria!

Get in touch with Maria:

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MARIA’S BIO

Maria Purcell is a commercial business leader with extensive experience in the fields of strategy, growth, advertising, sales and marketing. She is committed to challenging traditional business models and ways of thinking, and to helping customers to find the solutions that work for them. With over 13 year’s experience gained at businesses like Facebook and Uber,

Maria is a results-oriented digital expert with a passion for all things tech. Maria has a Bachelor’s degree in Advertising and Media Production and a Masters in Design. A dedicated mother of 2, Maria was recently recognised as one of the Top 50 Sales leaders in the UK and is the founder of The Hood, who recently launched their teen wellness journal, Girlhood:The Story.

SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: On today’s episode, we have Maria Purcell. Maria is a commercial business leader with extensive experience of strategy, growth, advertising, sales and marketing. She is committed to challenging traditional business models and ways of thinking and to helping customers find the solutions that work for them. As a dedicated mother of two, Maria was recently recognised as one of the top 50 sales leaders in the UK and is the founder of the Hood, who recently launched a teen wellness journal, Girlhood: The Story. Welcome to the show. 

Maria: Hi. Thank you for having me. 

Le’Nise: So let’s get into the question that I start each episode off with. Can you tell me the story of your first period? 

Maria: Yeah. So my first period, I had my first period when I was eleven. And it was a pretty much a non-event for me, mainly because I was so focussed on something else that day when my period actually came. It was more of a “I’ll deal with that later”. I do think , I’ve been telling loads of people this recently and it shows my age as well. But 101 Dalmatians had come out at the cinema. And me and my mom had this thing because I had older brothers and sisters, but I’m kind of just always missed out on the stuff that they were old enough to do. When they were just old enough, I was still too young. So it was like New Year’s Eve. I think it was that everybody was out, you know, doing their thing with their friends. So my mom was like, okay, well, we’ll go to the cinema. And I’d been so excited about the fact, I love the cinema, I always have, I was just so excited, I was going to the cinema. I was like, you know, all day I was obsessed about it. And then just before we were about to leave, I quickly popped to the loo and then my period had started. 

And I was like, Oh. OK, no problem. So I got a pad because I shared a bathroom with two of my sisters. Got one of the pads, popped it in, didn’t say a word to my mom because I was like, I want to go watch this film. And I know if I tell my mom she’s gonna make a big deal out of it, we might not be able to go to the cinema. So I just completely didn’t say anything and just kind of carried on as per.  I remember having just terrible cramps in this cinema, but really focussing on the fact that I wanted to see this film, which wasn’t even that good anyway. But and it was until months later that my mom found out that I had actually started my period. And I remember she was just like, ‘oh, wait, what? Oh, my God.’ And she felt so shocked that I hadn’t said anything. And I, you know, was typical, typical young girl, ‘Yeah, right. No big deal. Get with it. Whatever.’ That was, was pretty much it, that was how I started. 

Le’Nise: Why did you wait so long to tell your mom? 

Maria: I think, to be honest, at the time, I generally didn’t think at the time it was that big a deal. 

I don’t know why I maybe because being with my older sisters all the time, I just knew I was going to come at some point. And also, yeah, actually, I also remember when I did have a conversation with my mom and she was like, ‘you know, you’re a woman and all this stuff is going to happen. Do you want to talk about it?’ And I was like, ‘No it’s fine. I don’t get what the fuss is about. I got the pads. Sorted it out. And then you, what I’m going to have to do this like once a year or something?’ And she was like, ‘what do you mean, like once a year?’ And was I like, ‘you know once a year, once every six months?’ And she was like ‘No, no, this happens monthly.’

And then I was like, ‘wait, what?’ And she was like, ‘yeah.’ And I was like, ‘to everyone?’ Yes. And everyone knows this. Yes. And I was like, ‘for how long?’ And my mom was like, ‘well pretty much for the rest of your life.’ What! And I remember being like, ‘Wow, this sucks.’

And at the beginning your periods are so irregular, right? You don’t really, you know, put it on, and it’s only when you’re like this is really rubbish now. So yeah, I think I was a bit like, what’s the big deal? Whatever. 

Yeah, very much realised. It’s a pretty important part of your life. Once a month, you know, for the rest of your life.

Le’Nise: And are your are your sisters older or younger?

Maria: Yes. Yeah. I’m the youngest.

Le’Nise: And part of your your confidence around your first period. Do you think it was also because your you had seen what your sisters had been doing? 

Maria: No, I hadn’t. You mean my sisters are actually talking about this the other day and I hadn’t actually seen what they were doing. There was no talk. There was no chat. I remember one time at the dinner table, my sister, you know, mouthing off to my mom. And my mom was just like, hey, just because you’re on your period doesn’t mean you can be a B. I remember the whole table being like ‘oooooh’.

Oh, really? have no idea why I didn’t. I mean, we’re all we’re a bit of a cocky bunch. Me and my sisters, you know, we’re pretty confident, you know, three Black females. All within a couple of years of each other in teenage years. Not a fun place to be for my mom, but confident about everything, to be honest. And also, I think you had that feeling back then that you kind of just dealt with it. It wasn’t a ‘let’s enjoy this. This is so special.’ This is it was more like, let’s just get it done and carry on with our lives. So I think that’s why I didn’t think it was such a such a big deal at the time. But yeah, no, I’m not sure why it wasn’t more of a more of a thing.

Le’Nise: And when you had that conversation with your mom and you, she told you that you get your period every every month. And how did you then get more education about what was what was happening to you? 

Maria: Well, I remember thinking and this is probably a common theme throughout throughout my life. I remember thinking how how is this such a big thing and no one talks about it? I remember being like, really monthly. And this to me, sounds like this is important. But I remember being like eleven, twelve, being like, what do I know I’m eleven or twelve. And and the first thing I did was talk to my friends. So the first thing I did was like hop on my phone and I text my friends being like, hey you started your period? I just talked to my friends about it and then I played a lot of sports. I was really, really into sports. So I think the people I was in the teams with, the girls I was with, teams, I think I relied more on the conversation with them because you’re naturally in the changing rooms. You know, you you talk about your bodies quite a lot because your you’re athletes. So I think it kind of came with them. And again, because of that athletic nature. Athletes are very much like, if I want my body to do something, I then have to do X, Y and Z. And I have to train this way. I have to eat this way so that I think athletes are just a lot more body confident because they understand what their body responds to. And so I think being in that environment helped me just have more open conversations with people. OK. I want to do high jump, but I’m on my period. Suggestions? People being like, yeah, yeah, just use tampons. And I think I graduated to tampons very, very quickly, which I think well, from the research that we’ve done from the from the book that we were looking at, for young girls, we realise that actually that tampons are not necessarily such an early entry product for this age, but for me and non-applicators tampons are also very much far down the line. But for me, it was like non-applicator tampons about three or four months in, again, because I just, I want to go swimming. And yeah, I think it was my network of friends like my my gang of girls I hung around with, they were they were the definitely the ones that gave me most information and even products. Right. So we build on that side shuffle of, you know.

Le’Nise: Do you think that playing sport, you said playing sports should make you more confident and athletes or female athletes are generally more confident? Do you think that that had and did it have any effect on your period? 

Maria: And yes, I think probably that’s why for a while they were maybe not as. Probably not as disruptive. I think to my everyday, because I think I had other things I was focussing on and like some cramps, for example, you know, a lot of people have really bad cramps and things like that. But I had bad cramps. But then I also had really bad muscle pain in general from playing sport like every single day. So I think I just kind of lumped it all in together. Which in hindsight, I wish I hadn’t done I wish I’d focussed on it more, but in my mind, I was just like, that’s just how it is, you’re an athlete and get on with it. And I definitely think I had a lot of girls that were in my kind of circle of athletes on. Funnily enough, actually, I’m not sure this is anything but none of my black girlfriends complained about it. But then I do remember, there was a lot of my white girlfriends, my Caucasian friends. They said they would have like debilitating cramps, that they couldn’t even come into school. You know, it was really, really bad. And I just I do actually remember thinking, like, why doesn’t that affect. I mean, you know, like Black girlfriends. Why does it affect this group of girls but doesn’t affect them? I mean, I can’t really explain it. And then that and they were all athletes. 

Le’Nise: And do you think that your Black girlfriends, they had them, but they just didn’t talk about them? They didn’t complain? 

Maria: Yeah, I think so. I think I because we’ve I’ve grown up with these girls and we talk about it now. We definitely complain about it now. But yeah, to be honest, I think there was a maybe in our culture there was more of a, kind of the things that you don’t really talk about or I think we’re Black females are kind of given this, ‘you know, you’re strong, you’re a strong Black female, you’re a strong Black woman’, you know. So I think that’s kind of rammed down our throats a bit more and we aspire to be like that. I know, I know I aspire to be like my sisters who are badass, very strong, physically and emotionally. So I think yeah, I think that definitely had an impact. 

And also, I think, you know, we just had other things to talk about. 

I don’t remember any of my of my friends having a day off because it was that bad or or not not competing or not playing sport because it was that bad. 

Le’Nise: And when you did you play sports all throughout school and then university?

Maria: Yes. So I, I, yeah, I did I did sport all the way through high school and then I, I kind of switched over from college into more dance gymnastics style and then at university carried on the gymnastics kind of element. So it was at the time it was it was called, competitive cheerleading, but it was the acrobatic style of it. So there’s a lot of being thrown in the air and wearing very tight spandex, that kind of stuff. So again, very physically intensive, which I didn’t stop doing until I was about 24, 25 years old. 

Le’Nise: So there’s a lot of research that shows that female athletes who do a lot of intense activity, especially gymnasts. They have issues with missing periods. Did you ever have that happen to you?

Maria: No, I didn’t have any, I didn’t have any issue with missing periods. I’ve always been very regular. Even when I was trying to conceive, even after having children, my body goes very quickly back to its kind of template of this is how we operate. So which I’ve been very lucky. Lucky in. 

But from for the ages of 15 to 24, 25. No actually, longer than that, 28. I think I was on the pill the whole time and that essentially meant no period for the type of pill I was on. I mean, I would stop and I would get a few periods and obviously they would come back with a vengeance. I would be like, oh my. So there’s a large chunk of my early days where I didn’t have this kind of. Appreciation or exploration of my body. In that my female health, I kind of again, just like, oh, it’s something to be dealt with. And oh, I can have a pill that stops it completely? Absolutely. With hardly any education around what I was taking, and really why I was taking it. And so when I got to 28 and then I stopped taking it. And then I started to really get into tune what was going on. And that’s when I’m to think about, you know, I was going I was getting married the next year and I was like, I know I’m going to want to have kids and I hope I can, my cycle goes back to normal, like quickly. But you hear those stories where it take years and years and years to get back to normal. So, yeah. Unfortunately, I didn’t I didn’t have much of that in my younger life, but just basically because it was in my my periods or something to be dealt with, periods were just something to move along and the pill for me at the time was the answer to that. 

Le’Nise: What made you go on the pill when you were when you were 15? 

Maria: So I think it was one: the no periods and that was a few of my friends was like I just take the pill and I don’t have periods and I was like oh, that sounds good, magical pill. But then also I think the all around kind of I guess it’s all kind of wrapped into one. But the whole education around, you know, sex and getting pregnant and all of that kind of stuff really is rammed down your throat when you’re, you know, in that age is like you have sex, you will get pregnant. And again, when I was there trying to conceive, I was like, that’s not the… But if you have sex, you will get pregnant. Here is a pill. Do something. And nobody wants to be carrying around like, you know, going in to buy condoms, just like sweaty, sweaty palms and asking the guy, you know, all about everything. A little classic narrative of like just being like ownership of your body and ownership of your sexual preferences. This wasn’t a thing when you were a teenager, you know, later on in your life, you’re like, hey, no glove, no love, so do one kind of thing, but you don’t get to have all of that. So I think the pill was also a way of all of the kind of female health, all of the kind of female reproductive stuff pushed to the side dealt with one pill. Go about my life, which is actually quite sad when you really think about it. 

Le’Nise: You you you’ve used that phrase dealt with. Deal with it. You just needed to deal with your period. When you came off the pill when you were 28, how did you transition away from this idea of just dealing with your period?

Maria: So I, I’ll be very honest. It took me a long time to actually. Well actually the reason why I came off my contraceptive was because I was like, I’m going to get married and I know I want to have kids. And my husband at the time was in the military. So he was in the Air Force and he moved around loads. We weren’t always together. So a few months at time, sometimes we wouldn’t see each other. So I knew that was it. I wanted to make sure that timing, if we decided, let’s go now, we could not, we didn’t have that luxury of time. So it was so uncertain of what we were doing that point. Let me just take off and, you know, fully in the next five years or so, then my cycle, be it. We’ll start to think about having kids, but actually the way the things that, life never kind of goes to plan, obviously but the way that things have kind of happened was that my husband shipped off to Afghanistan pretty much straight after we got married. So whilst he was away, we missed each other so much when he got back I was like I want to stop this now, I want to get on this baby making thing right now because we know it’s going to take a while. And, you know. I miss you and I want to get on with my life, and it actually was really difficult for us. And it took three miscarriages before I was able to successfully carry my, to term, my daughter, Bernadette, who’s four now. And it was at that point. That was the real kind of when the penny dropped. I was like, I don’t understand my body. And it was a real struggle for me because my as I said, like, I was used to being an athlete. And I I knew that if I did this to my body, it did this. If I wanted to learn a specific skill, I knew I had to practise and I would do it. I would get it in the end. So it was very disturbing for me to not be in control of my body and also to not understand it because I’m one of these people. If something’s going bad, someone something’s wrong. I’m very much like, OK, cool, but what’s the plan or how do we? What’s the formula? How do I deal with again or work around it. How do we find a solution? And yeah, there wasn’t one. And when I was talking to doctors, they were like, yeah, well you know, sometimes it just happens. I was like what do you mean, it just happens. Surely there are studies, surely there is data. And they were like, not really no. And I was like what? Could the pill have contributed to this? I’ve been on the pill for, like, however many years. And he was like, maybe. I was just like whoa. It was just such an eye opening moment for me, so I, I basically did what every kind of mom trying to conceive does and just go like headfirst into Google, Pinterest, anything that I could find of information. And I start to catalogue just everything from menstrual health to diet and nutrition to kind of mindfulness and anxiety and stress and cortisone levels, just everything. And very interesting. And I’ve never kind of looked back, but that was really the moment I realised, well, this is I’m never touching anything to put in my body ever again. I will never put hormonal. I’ll just never touch hormones, basically any kind of medical hormones. I did have to again when I was pregnant. But that’s a different story. But I was just like, what the hell? This is when you really read about what’s in it. Yeah, I was going through all of the type of things that you put into your the most absorbent part of your body. It was a real mind, can’t say the F word. 

I remember just getting so woke and really quite annoyed at myself. I think, you know, it took that to quite a horrible part of my life to actually start to listen and be interested in my own body. 

Le’Nise: But you know that that’s quite common. Typically, women who are trying to conceive. That’s a point where they come off the pill or they come off hormonal contraception and then they start to get more in tune with their natural cycle and know what menstruation actually looks like for them. What ovulation looks like. So you’re definitely not alone. But I want to just go back to what you’re saying about all of the kind of extensive tracking that you were doing. Was it kind of like an iterative thing when you would start to look at one thing and then you would keep on things on? 

Maria: Absolutely. I think. So obviously, when I first started tracking, I love as I said, I love planning. I just kind of put things together. As an athlete as well, you make a lot of training plans. You make a lot of that kind of stuff. So to me, I had like a whole binder, journals thing that I would like do and it kind of made me feel confident and make me feel better about myself that I was writing this stuff down. I could flip through it. So at first, I was like, when does my period happen? Like, that was kind of it. And then I was doing more reading and it was like, OK, what’s what’s the temperature? What’s your temperature changes? And I was like temperature changing, That sounds pretty militant, every day taking your temperature. But then I spent several weeks on cervical mucus. That’s a terrible word. Obviously, a man came up with that because it’s called cervical mucus. All right, cool. I’m going to have a look at that. And then it was my oh, this is my day of ovulation. OK. This is where I’m at in my cycle. And actually, it was, it was a means to get pregnant as well. It wasn’t a, cause I was interested in it. It was this is the means to get pregnant. And and then I had medical assistance to get pregnant and then I had to take hormones and things like that because they that’s what the doctors advised. Again, probably not something I would do again, but that was something that. And then that kind of through my cycle out of whack. And it was only because I’d been tracking it. And then when I took that, then I had to take quite a few different drugs. But when I took I really started to see how my body then went completely out of whack. And so then when I had these mood swings and when I was having, like, hormonal breakouts and all this kind of stuff, I really did start to connect the dots as to. Oh, this is what’s happening here. OK. And I could say to my doctor, no, this is throwing me out of whack. I know this because every month like clockwork, this is what happens. And I’ve missed this point. I mean, maybe take my little scrapbook and look and see what’s happening. And so, again, it was a means to an end to get pregnant. But then when I was pregnant and then I did have my daughter afterwards, then there’s a whole other kind of stuff of like, oh, my God, nobody tells you about all the other stuff that comes after the pregnancy and children and just how your body react reacts. 

That’s a whole nother podcast.  But what I wanted to do was get back to normal. So then I really started to more appreciate what that looked like in terms of how do I get back to being me? And how do I get back to being pre mom me, which never really happens. But in my mind, that’s what I was thinking. And my cycle, was a massive part of that, it’s a huge indicator of, yes, your body is now back on track. It’s not just thinking you’re here to feed and host another being. And that’s when I started to read more about just the cycle. Just just to kind if not not for a goal, not for anything else, just to generally know what to look for me. And how does that kind of affect everything else I’m doing? That’s really was the kind of, I’d say, the second inflexion point for me. 

And kind of getting getting into it. 

Le’Nise: And all of the all of the information and the tracking that you’ve done, have you? I know you have a younger child. Have you? Did you take that into trying to conceive your next child? 

Maria: Yes. Yes. No, I was very much. I knew that when my second child I kind of the goal was that I would love to not have to have, the medical assistance. I knew there was loads of things that I, linked with diet and things like that, that really, really helped me. The first time around, so about six months before I was even thinking of conceiving, I was like, I would need to get my diet in check. And the diet I was doing was a low sugar diet because I had a lot of inflammation. Again, I think from doing a lot of athletics and things, I had a lot of inflammation in the body, so reducing my sugar, really helped just tons of things. And then but that I really I noticed again, I was I was removing all the sugar and then I actually started to lose a lot of weight. And I think I got down to like the lowest I’ve ever probably been, like in my adult life. Just from just removing sugar, not really doing exercise or anything like that, but just removing sugar. And then my period stopped. OK. I was loving this diet I was on and it was giving me so much energy and I looked great and I was fitting into my clothes. It was cool. And then my periods stopped and I thought, whoa, that stuff is the messing with my body. And so then I started kind of easing up into when my period then started tocome back again. OK. But again, that’s like a whole new view on food. And what that can do and how that connects. So so I did take that into account. And I didn’t need the medical assistance to the same degree to to get pregnant. I did need it make much, much later on in the pregnancy and towards the end. But right at the beginning, it was we actually got pregnant accidentally. We were actually like, OK cool, we’ll have a baby, we’ll start at Christmas. I end up having my baby at Christmas. And again, I do put it down to the fact that one, I’d had a test from before and I knew what I was kind of doing this time. But also I was just so hyper aware of everything that my body was doing and not doing. And then like adding that extra layer of nutrition onto the tracking of what I was eating. So there was a lot of tracking. But that really did then help me find my my natural groove, I think. 

Le’Nise: When you say that you lost your period because you had cut out sugar, was it just like sugar, added sugars into food, or was it carbohydrates as well? 

Maria: Yes, carbohydrates as well. So it was first, it was like sugars into food. It was kind of like a process of elimination. So I was having blood tests done as I was cutting things out. We kind of we didn’t really know what it was going to end up looking like. But the nutritionist I had spoken to was just like the best thing to do is just start by process of elimination. And first, it was just like gluten. And I was like, what is gluten? And I thought, oh it’s in everything! But it was gluten, didn’t really have an effect, so I got the gluten back, which was brilliant. 

And then, yeah, it was like sugars and then it was carbohydrates. 

And then when it was with the sugars I saw, I did see a little step of there was like a reduction in my T cells, how they reacted and they just started to get a little bit less aggressive. So a lot of them and they were very aggressive and they wanted to take the sugar down to kind of chill them a little bit. And then when I took out the carbs, pretty much the numbers of them dropped and they just completely relaxed. So the levels of inflammation in my body started to kind of drop. The more I eliminated all these different things. But, yeah, like like I say, brain fog completely disappeared. When I got rid of sugar because I really suffered from that post, my first baby, like brainfog, I would be talking and all of a sudden it was like when I was like completely like two years later I was still doing it. So it was a really weird moment for me. But then the getting rid of sugar is like really, really helped. But then, yeah, I was eliminating, eliminating, eliminate, eliminating. Then I knew I’d gone too far when my period started to go very light at first and then a little bit erratic and then just it was like two months. I actually thought I was pregnant cause I started to think, well what’s going on? And I wasn’t pregnant. I was like, OK, let me just, I’ve lost a lot of weight. Let me just try and put some weight back on and see if they did.  

Le’Nise: What you’re saying is so interesting because, you know, there is a real, especially with women. There’s a real fear around carbohydrates. And I hear this a lot. You know, if I just cut out carbs, I’ll, I’ll lose weight. And this and that. But then what? A lot of people don’t realise just how important carbohydrates are for menstruation and a healthy menstrual cycle. So it’s really interesting because a lot of the research around this is actually being done on men. And so things like no carb diets and also like intermittent fasting. The studies are typically focussed on men and not that have not been done on women because the researcher say, well, it’s too it’s too comp complicated. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So we see lots of things saying, oh, well, the research shows say low carb diets are great. But that research is on men. Yes. Oh, yeah. 

Maria: Forty five. Forty five to forty five. White male. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. Yeah. So how long did it take you to get your period back? 

Maria: It didn’t take me that long, actually. It took me probably about two months or so, I’d say. I remember being really worried that I’d done some lasting damage, like oh God. But luckily, it took not that I think because I wasn’t training at that point in my life. I was exhausted because I had a three year old. But it didn’t take that long and I, I knew which dial to kind of amp up. I did very gradually, I didn’t just switch because I knew that would throw my body into craziness as well. So I did it by gradually, bit by bit. So I think that helped. Yeah, it took a couple of months, but I was pretty, I was four weeks in before I realised. And then so all in all, I’d say I had a probably a gap of about three months of no period.

Le’Nise: And thinking about all the tracking that you’ve done, your first and second pregnancy, did that feed in to the idea that you had for the journal that you’ve.

Maria: Oh, yes, massively. Yeah. So when my niece saw the whole the whole the story, it all came about because my niece got her period when she was nine. 

And my niece is very different, do you remember I was talking about that confidence that I had when I was younger with my sisters. We still have that, if anything has been turbo boosted as we got older. And my niece is very much not like that. She is not yet a force. She isn’t like, you know, kicking your arse and on your case. Which me and my sisters definitely were and are. But so for me as her auntie, I really wanted to connect with her anyway, just in general. I want to connect with her. And I want to be like I want her to feel that kind of like sisterhood. She doesn’t have any sisters. And it’s always been very difficult to reach her, so it’s been having to kind of kind of get in there without being like, you know, not cool or embarrassing. And I never had this problem with my nephew. You know, he’s like this is fine. But my niece, it’s always been slightly awkward. So when my sister messaged us and said, sisters, it’s happened, I was like, well, she’s not pregnant because that would be a national manhunt. 

And I said what she started her period and said, yeah, we were like, oh, my God. Because we knew it was coming. We could see me, my sisters. We could start to see the changes in her. Even then, we were like, now you’re all safe. So I knew she likes she loves drawing. She loves journalling, she loves like anime. And I love that. When I was younger, I love the drawing and the doodling and making characters and all this kind of stuff. And I also really love now. You know, the kind of mindfulness colouring that you can do and bullet journalling and that kind of stuff. So that’s really where and Girlhood came from, because I thought, what if I could try and make something for my niece that kind of doesn’t feel like it is a hey, here’s a book of periods. 

We all got that book when we were younger. It was like 70s style with full on full frontal nudity and you’re like, oh my God.  

And I didn’t what that. I wanted to give her something. What she was like, oh, this is kind of my half journal, half education. And that’s how we talk about it, part journal, part guide. And in there, the first thing we start with the tracker, is there is a period tracker that you can colour in. And again, just by the habit of colouring it and you start to see the shape, you start to see more visually what’s happening. I think not everybody is like a day ahead and not everybody is kind of doesn’t leadings to technology. And even on the period apps. I have a lot of period apps I’ve used and they’ve always been lacking that certain realness to me, it kind of feels like I’m just dealing with I’m just putting it into an app that I’m dealing with. I’m not really exploring what’s happening. So the we start we have this period track. But really, the emphasis in the book actually is the mood trackers that are there every month, because that to me is really the hormone signal. When you’re a teenager, those mood swings are so much more. If anything, I had more problems daily with my mood swings than I did with my period. My period was like, okay, well, you played. Here’s a product. Take some painkillers. Moods, there was there was no product for that. And that probably more shaped my relationship with my body, with my self esteem, with my confidence, which in turn then kind of knocks on to how I look at my my female anatomy and how I look at everything to do with being being a woman. So really, for us, the mood tracker, it was something we wanted to add as much opportunity to colour and see a pattern that is kind of aesthetically pleasing, but also feels like you accomplished something when you’re colouring it in. And that’s the mood tracker, it actually is more of the focus and the period tracker’s kind of like a you know, as an add on to the book. It’s in there, but the focus really is the mood tracker, because that will that will happen for months and months and months before your period actually starts. And we wanted. I think the best way to say is that when you talk to everyone, I’m sure you have, like six or seven people about the first period. It’s very rare I hear somebody say they were prepared for it and that it didn’t just happen to them. And most people’s first periods stories are absolutely hilarious. Like, I’ve listened. I don’t even know how many because Girlhood: The Story has loads of them included, some really cool women into that. We talk to a lot of people about their period. I’m known now as the period, the period lady because you know what happened. And they’re always hilarious. But at the time they’re pretty much mortifying or embarrassing. And that’s usually because they were unprepared or they hadn’t noticed what was like. They were prepared for it, that they hadn’t really noticed what their body was doing to go something’s about to happen. Oh, here we are. Great. And what we wanted was a journal that essentially somebody could give their daughter, sister, niece, friend before the period begins so that by the period of time the period starts, they can start to see.I think I’m going to start my period soon. And then when I do, I know all of this stuff already. And I know where to go. Like, there’s even a page in there about all the different period products, cups, pants, pads, tampons, because, again, you just I don’t want my niece to have to justdeal with it. 

And again, talking about period products. One of the most one of the most hardest things when you talk about periods is that you have to stick something in your vagina or in your pants. Yeah, I talk about blood, and that’s a lot of where the friction comes from about having these open conversations, because a lot of people can’t even say the word vagina. They don’t know the difference between vagina vulva, like all of that kind of stuff. And so we wanted to show that in the book. So it was just like it’s there. So my niece might. Well, now my niece doesn’t use tampon. She uses period pants and she knows, cool, I’m on my period I use these pants when I’m not my period, these pants. 

And how easy is that compared to the conversation you have with your parents were like, well, this goes here. And if you pick the leg up like this. No, it won’t fall out. It was, you know, kind of stuff. It’s just a lot more easier. So. Yeah. 

The tracking element really does guide through the book, but it’s wrapped in all of this kind of colouring and stories from other people and places for them to jot down their own story at the book. What’s your story? So they can remember it and maybe even show it to their daughters when it’s full of friends or whatever. So, yeah. And the tracking element, they’ll probably graduate to an app as well, which would be brilliant. But knowing a bit more about themselves before, because, you know, you put in a lot of data into those apps and you don’t really get much back from. Yes, it’s on Thursday. So you really get it. 

Le’Nise: I used up my Apple Watch to track my menstrual cycle and I got a notification that said your period is due in the next ten days. And I was just thought, like, how is that helpful?

Maria: Yeah. Thanks for that. Yes. In the future. Yes. Yes. So this plan. Yeah. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: Where can people find the journal if they want, if they listen to this and they’ve really connected with what it’s all about. Where can they find the journal? 

Maria: So listeners can’t see this right now. But I’m currently in the Hood HQ, which is the top of my house, and I’m surrounded by journals and books because they all arrived yesterday. So we actually did a Kickstarter campaign to kick off the Girlhood journal.

Because we made one for my niece. Right. But then lots of people said I want want one of these. 

And then we’re like, OK, well, let’s do it big over there and we’ll just do a Kickstarter and we’ll see. And that arrived at yesterday, which is fun for me. So you can go to We are the hood dot com. And on that there is the ability to buy the book. And it was pre-orders. But now, as well as of next week, it will be that you can order it and get it within a few days. And we’ll also be listing it on Amazon soon, that will be going off to a fulfilment centre soon. And also, on www.wearethehood.com you can download those two downloads. One is the book as a download, just if you want to get. A lot of people have their own binders, stickies and with washi tape and they like to customise things a lot. And there is also a lot more affordable, the printable. And so the actual journal itself is 20 pounds. We’re trying our best to get that lower, but we can only do that when we have volume coming in so that we can now. Our aim is to get it as low as we can, but it’s leather bound comes and three colours. Really lovely silk coated pages because we want this to be a special gift. Not the textbook horrible brown paper. We wanted it to be really lovely, but we did understand that there are people who like my mom with three daughters. 

She’s not about to whack out 60 quid on a journal. So we said, okay, well, here’s the five pound option. And also, it gives more people the chance to customise, add in things that they want. And then also we have a free downloadable, which is just the period tracker. So you can kind of get a taste of what that looks like. It doesn’t come with the stories or anything like that. It’s just like a one to print out on an A4 and start to play with, which we’ve had over 500 people download the free tracker. And about half of them have gone on to even buy the digital download or the book, which has been brilliant. It’s a great way to kind of start the conversation with your daughter or nieces, whoever is.  Hey, would this be interesting? Is this cool? So that’s all available. And wearethehood.com and it’s the only product that we have on the site. So it’s pretty easy to find but should be available soon as well. 

Le’Nise: And I’ll put all the links in the in the show notes. So if if listeners take one thing away from everything that you’ve been saying, what would you want that to be? 

Maria: I think, um. I think the biggest journey for me, having gone through this all myself, but then reliving this when we were building the journal with my co-founder and the team very much is I mean, education is power. It’s not covered off in our curriculum. So we shouldn’t rely on schools and teachers to have this conversation with the. 

And I think from a young age, if we care about what’s going on with our body, not just from our biology lesson or whatever, but from female health, if we can start to install that, hey, this is the kind of the way that you can self learn self teach. So it’s naturally embedded in all of us to want to know more about our bodies. Want to know more and take ownership of it. I don’t think it’s about sitting down and saying, OK, I’m going to give you a lesson now, OK? This is how it is. I think you should empower all women to want to know. It should almost be a, you know, as cool as knowing, you know, a different language or as cool as it should be, like. Yeah, I know. Or, you know, what the hell is going on. 

And I really think that’s how we change the narrative. Change the stigma around a lot of female health issues. . But I think just having that knowledge is, they haven’t read a lot of people be a bit too old for Girlhood now it’s kind aimed at more of the pre-teen market, but a book I’d really recommend it. I’m sure you cover this many times is Period Power by Maisie Hill and it is like my go to I had like a whole list, of a whole bookshelf of go to books for females like always like to reference. 

Like Becoming by Michelle Obama, Period Power by Maisie Hill and that one is really good because it’s again, it really does put you back into your shoes when you’re younger and your whole life going. That’s why I never fall. It really does help you to then get that hunger to know more about this. 

I’m not going to accept anything less than this, this and this. You know, empowering yourself, young girls to want to learn about their female health is probably the first step or the most important step, I think, in really making progress in this area and really starting to. Just build a more confident, more happier generation of women. Get a book, any book and start reading and start start learning. I would say, I guess if they’re anybody listening to this podcast, they’re already on that journey. 

Le’Nise: There’s a lot of women listening that will, or mothers. And she’ll have sisters and nieces and all of that. So everything you’re saying about education and empowerment, they’ll be able to pass that on to them, their generation. Thank you so much. Oh, OK. 

Maria: Sorry. Before just before we did, I just remembered this and actually so we had a load of teachers downloading our resources this summer and I reached out to one of them and I said, hey, you’ve got a book. You downloaded the digital version and you download this free planner. I’m not sure at this school. I’d love to have feedback. We’re trying to make some more resources for you guys. And she came out with a really useful information. I did not I wasn’t aware of. She said, actually, yeah, we were looking to put this in the curriculum next term because in PSHE it’s only PSHE has only just started to be mandatory in all schools as of this term, which I wasn’t aware of. I thought everybody had to do PSHE. And she said, and even then, the female health topics, you can choose what you teach. So which I didn’t know that either I thought there was like a curriculum, a set curriculum that you had to teach and that you had to teach PSHE. So it even more so I was just like, whoa. So a lot of parents, I think, assume this stuff is covered off in class. And it’s really important when you’re talking to teachers, when you’re looking at schools for your kids. Ask them if, you know, if you want to, ask them, is this covered off? Because if it isn’t, then that’s on you to really go out there and make sure they have it. And if it is. Have a look at what they’re teaching. Because that really that I mean, it’s very hard to undo. Have a look at the resources.

There was a mom’s group on WhatsApp that someone shared our book there and all 50 of the moms bought the book. And they will put the book because they were like, I’m not taking this into my own hands. I’m not leaving this. They do not teach us in our schools. So they got it. And they all just boom done. And it was so empowering and so cool for me to see these these mothers just just taking it into their own hands and being like, we are not leaving this up to anybody else to educate our daughters. It’s so important. So it’s, I think if you come across that really it’s something that needs to be addressed, that this absolutely should be taught, there’s no reason why this shouldn’t be taught in biology. There’s no reason why this shouldn’t be taught in PSHE, and there should be a really good framework for what’s put into schools on this. That’s just the other thing that I learnt that I think I learnt about a month ago. I thought I knew everything. And then I was like, what? And that’s just something. For all the moms out there. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, I didn’t either, but it was mandatory as well. So that was very eye-opening. And I think that I don’t think that parents should be leaving this to the schools. And that I mean, that’s a whole other topic about the taboos around this. But having a conversation early and often. So your children, even your your sons as well, because they need to know know about this. I talk to my son, about this because they need to be comfortable and they need. It’s about helps them connect with their own their own bodies and minds. 

Maria: My husband, he’s been a he’s been going through that. But I mean, he’s been surrounded by period stuff now. 

Actually, Shawna’s dad had an amazing relationship with her around when she started her first period. And he was actually the one that was showing her the products. And as well as my sister, he was there, too. And I think that also kind of made a big difference for her. But we’ve had a lot of dads buy the book as well, because they’re like, this is great I have no idea how to just start the conversation. This is just a great way to just give it to them and say, hey, I thought you might like this. And by the way, I’m here if you want to talk about this kind of thing. And so we’ve had such a great response for dads as well, because it’s just so nice and easy. And, you know, just lovely way to start that relationship off of your daughter who’s all of a sudden kind of become, you know, into their teens. And, you know, who don’t want to talk to you very much. 

Yeah. It’s kind of a good tool to start the conversation. 

Le’Nise: Brilliant. Well, I definitely will be recommending it to all my friends. Thank you so much for coming on the show. It’s been a real pleasure to hear your story and hear more about the journal. I’ll put all links in the show notes so listeners can find out more about where to get their hands on the journal. Thank you. Thanks again. 

Maria: Thank you very much for having me. It’s been great. 

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