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Category: Period Story

Period Story Podcast, Episode 54: Kerrie-Anne Bradley, Try To Match The Amount of Movement You Do With Where You’re At In Your Menstrual Cycle

On today’s episode of Period Story, I’m so pleased to share my conversation with Kerrie-Anne Bradley, a  Pilates teacher, founder of Pilates At Your Desk, and author of Move More At Your Desk. A self-confessed ex-sloucher, her mission is to get us all moving more during the working day, in simple ways, so that we feel better in our bodies and minds. She’s so passionate about movement and splits her time working with individuals, groups and businesses globally. 

Kerrie-Anne and I had a great conversation about exercise and movement around the menstrual cycle, the process of writing a book and of course, the story of her very first period!

Thank you, Kerrie-Anne!

P.S. Kerrie-Anne has kindly offered listeners the first month of Move At Your Desk free with the code MAYDHAPPY! 

Get in touch with Kerrie-Anne:

Website

Move at Your Desk membership

The Move More at Your Desk book

Instagram

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

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

Kerrie-Anne It took me a while to to try to remember. Actually, it’s funny, it’s something I wasn’t at the forefront of my mind, so I was working on a fruit and veg stall as a Saturday girl. And I was 14 and I’d been to sleep at my friend’s house the night before. So it started on Saturday morning because I’d gone into work and actually I didn’t know what it was or what was happening to me. And and I remember just being a bit freaked out all day, working at the fruit and veg stall and really worried about it. And it wasn’t until I got home and I said to my mum, Oh, this is happened. And then she said, Oh my goodness, you got your period. And then I just went from being like, you know, utterly worried to utterly freaked out and embarrassed. And like mum stop it, stop embarrassing me. Stop. And then, yeah, so that’s how it came about. 

Le’Nise So we just go back to what you said about you, you weren’t sure what was happening. So you were 14 and had you had any any menstrual health education at that point or any had any of your friends already got their periods? 

Kerrie-Anne So in terms of education and teaching, I think at school, I went to an all girls school actually, and we did have a few sessions in. I think we called it PSE at the time, but I used to think that I was like to think of myself as a bit of a rebel back then, you know, I wasn’t really. So, so I skipped the sessions on the sex education and periods. It’s just a really rebellious thing to do. So, no, I didn’t. I didn’t make those sessions. 

So so I understood the science of it because we talked about the facts in science, but that’s fairly abstract and removed from the emotional and emotive stuff. Abstract, maybe not so much the right word, but you know, it’s a bit cold and clinical clinical and had some of my friends started their period. I think so. Probably. I mean, I was fairly, I think from memory I was fairly late compared to some of my other friends, so I would have been towards the end of 14. I think it actually was. It was sunny and my birthday’s in January. So it was a sunny day. So it must have been going on towards the end of 14 or the middle of 14. So I think probably my friends had but it wasn’t really something that we talked about. It was something that you would use as a badge of honour, I think, to to show that you are a woman now. But aside from that, I don’t think we we really talked about it other than being in that way. 

Le’Nise And when you when you went home and you, your mum was like, Oh my gosh, did she then kind of explain everything that was going on? And what was that conversation like? 

Kerrie-Anne Not really what I remember. I think I think it was perhaps as awkward for my mum as it was for me. We didn’t really have that much of a relationship in terms of explaining stuff like that. So she did the practical stuff like went out and got all the necessary bits, but too many things and I was like, Oh my goodness, again, I’ve got all this stuff. I don’t really know what these things are. And then because of my reaction to her, I guess she would have liked to have more of a conversation about it because but because I reacted, I guess, in an embarrassed way and leave me alone, maybe that didn’t happen because I put the barriers up. 

Le’Nise How did you then continue to educate yourself about what was happening to your body? 

Kerrie-Anne Well, it’s funny, actually, because I didn’t really do very much of that. I just loved the practical stuff and then went about my, well, you know, my merry way. I was not always, do you know what? I even from a young age, I got very bad period pains and mood ups and ups and downs and up and down emotions. And so, I mean, I didn’t even know I didn’t even document my cycle full until about three, three or four years ago, actually. So it was kind of I knew I was going to be getting my period because I’d get really bad pains the day before. But it was more that I was just sort of, yeah, just I was just going through it, but I wasn’t understanding it. And I wasn’t. I wasn’t really well informed, I’d say. 

Le’Nise So when you say you were just going through through it, was it, you get these pains and these mood changes? And was it a case of just dealing, dealing with it whenever they came up? 

Kerrie-Anne  Yeah, exactly, exactly. So I always try to make sure that I had stuff in the house and then dealing with it when it came up in a really angry way. Oh, this is an inconvenience. Oh, I’ve got it now. I’ve got to wear jeans and I’ve got to make sure I’ve got all this stuff. And quite often I wouldn’t remember all this stuff, you know? So yeah, it was dealing with it, as you say. Yeah. 

Le’Nise And and so now what would you say your relationship with your period is like, are your periods still painful, do you still experience the mood changes?

Kerrie-Anne So I definitely experience the mood changes, but I diarise my cycle now. So I think it helps me to understand when different parts of the cycle are happening and also to eat a bit better as well. So, my friend, she’s telling me you’ve to eat some sweet potato, so and I do that . So I do that helps the pain. .And also, it depends how busy I am as well. So I’ve noticed that when I’m more relaxed going into just before, when my periods comes then, I’m less likely to have such intense pains, which I don’t know if there’s scientific stuff behind that. However, I’ve noticed that that’s the way it goes. So I try to be a bit more, a bit kinder to myself and also to appreciate that because I have, you know, I have my tendency is to go, go, go, go, go, go, go. So even just taking a bit more responsibility for that. So not going all the time has made a difference to that and also I talk quite openly with my daughter about these things. She’s 10. So we were already having that conversation, and she’s understanding as well that we can experience different needs and emotions during our cycle. And she says stuff to me like, is your period coming, Mummy? Stuff like that. So. So that’s where I’ve got to. But that’s only so for the last two years of learning about that. So I’ve still got a long way to go and I’m going to read your book. Yeah, that’s that’s where I’m at.

Le’Nise So what happened two years ago that made you start to look a little bit more deeper into what was going on with your menstrual cycle? 

Kerrie-Anne So I’m actually I went to a retreat called the Self-love retreat, run by two ladies called Deanne and Kerry. Do you know them? So they have this lovely retreat in in Ibiza, and I went along to it. My friend Summer invited me along and I had no idea what I was, what I was going in for. I just thought, Oh, do you know whart? My gut told me this was the right thing to do and and it was amazing. It was all about understanding your cycle and the different phases of it, and also how that relates to seasons and two different female archetypes and stuff like that. And I just learned so much from that. And then I tried to put some of that stuff into practice. And I still like to follow, Kerry’s become good friend of mine, and I got to follow along to them because they just sharing information stuff on Instagram. Not necessarily about periods,just about life in general 

Le’Nise How it feels to learn more about your menstrual cycle in that sort of environment. 

Kerrie-Anne Oh, it’s really good because I felt well previously I would have felt really embarrassed, I suppose saying it was a big group because women about how many, maybe I can’t remember now, 15. I think something like that. And we were sharing all this stuff and talking very openly about all manner of things to do with our lives. And I’d never I’d talk openly with friends and so on, but I never had that kind of conversation with people I didn’t know. So it was a really amazing way of normalizing talking about things that that happened to you, that previously I would have thought, Oh gosh, it’s not okay. 

Le’Nise And were or people quite openly sharing their own stories. The other women on the retreat? 

Kerrie-Anne Mm hmm. Yeah, mostly. And also about things that were going on in their lives. But what was remarkable, actually I’ve just remembered, is that so I was actually not far into my cycle, which I did notice. I mean, I’d know that I had a period like the week before or whatever, but quite a few people within that women’s circle got their periods there. Oh, wow. When it wasn’t time to. So we all sort of what’s what’s the word? 

Le’Nise Sync?

Kerrie-Anne What is that what I’m thinking harmonize. But that isn’t quite the right word. Yes. And it was amazing. So then so then it was just talk about in ancient times about how women would go to a tent together when they were going to have their bleeds. And then and this is where the magic happened because they were very insightful and intuitive at that time. And so that was quite nice because that was a real life demonstration of a, current life demonstration of that story, that story that may well have happened. 

Le’Nise Yeah, yeah, yeah, and it’s interesting when talking about synching because you when you read in the mainstream papers about this phenomenon, it tends to be, get dismissed. When you talk to women anecdotally about it, they will say, Yeah, I was living with this house full of girls or women, and then we all we all synched, your experience that you’ve just shared. So I do think is something something in it, even though it gets dismissed, like scientifically because so many women, they share that they’ve had this experience of synching along with whoever they’re on, maybe they’re on a long holiday or retreat or living or in close contact with other women. And I think there’s something really interesting and quite powerful about that. 

Kerrie-Anne Yeah, I think that certainly I can recall that wasn’t the first time that it happened to me because I can remember friends that we would talk about it and stuff. I mean, I grew up in a household with my sister and mom and dad, but I don’t remember also sharing it. But I think it’s because we didn’t talk about it. We didn’t. We didn’t talk to each other about it. 

Le’Nise That is so interesting because I was thinking about like, if, has that ever happened to me? And then I just don’t know. I can’t recall because we never talked about it. So like when I’m thinking about living in the university, when I I like all of a couple of years, I had another female roommate or first year where I lived in a dorm with, you know, loads of other people I just don’t remember. We just we just didn’t talk about it back then. But going back to what you were saying about how openly you talk about your period and where you’re at with your daughter. What prompted you to be so open with her? 

Kerrie-Anne I’m not too sure if that actually I think it was just it just happened without me thinking that this is what I’m going to do. So does that make sense? You know, it was something that I’m fairly open with my daughter about most things. So I think maybe it was just a natural and natural conversation that we had. And see I’m quite vocal about those things. I know probably too much sometimes. So maybe, maybe that’s just past that. Yeah, I didn’t want her to have the same shame and embarrassment and stuff that I had when I was growing up. So about the whole manners of things. So I think to try to change that, that’s that’s me also where this comes from. Yeah. 

Le’Nise Do you feel any shame about your period now? 

Kerrie-Anne Not really, no. I have to say I said I at the retreat that I mentioned before, the Self-love retreat, Dee and Kerry, they were encouraging us to like, love our periods and embrace it. And so I’m not there yet. Definitely not, and I’m not sure I ever will be. But, you know, I’ve accepted that it’s it’s what it is. And actually, I’m I don’t feel embarrassed about it or anything. I just think…

Le’Nise I think that kind of there’s a spectrum when it comes to our relationships with our period. And I’m our cycle where some people, they really they love it and like, they’re really in that really period positive space and something I talk about a lot is this idea of even just being a bit more neutral about your your period and your menstrual cycle and coming away from this place of hate or discuss or shame because there’s a lot of information that we can get from wherever we are. And it can be quite powerful. So it’s interesting that you, you know, you got to that place and that’s a great place to be. 

Kerrie-Anne Yeah, definitely, and I think, as you say, if you are open to being less well to apply less negative connotations to it, then you can learn so much more and it can make you feel a whole lot better. So. So I think that’s good enough to hold, isn’t it? 

Le’Nise Yeah. Yeah, definitely. And so you are a Pilates teacher and you’ve just released a wonderful new book, which I want to talk about in a minute. But tell us a little bit more about Pilates and maybe how you incorporate your knowledge of your menstrual cycle into your own practice. 

Kerrie-Anne And yeah, sure, I mean, I teach all sorts of different types of Pilates, not so much on machines at the moment because I’ve got a few bits and bobs here, but I’m mostly teaching online, but I can teach reformer and everything like that. Piilates. For me, it’s just this wonderful framework of movement for creating balance within your within your body. So making all of the different body parts work in an even in a way, is possible. And so, so. And it’s centered around the core, the middle. But that’s because it’s trying to create balance. And so if you start in the middle, then you’re more likely to have a closer version of symmetry within an asymmetrical structure. So, so, so, so. So I think I can. That’s it. Joseph Pilates is the guy. He started it. He created a repertoire, a sequence of movements where the movements knew. Now, because, you know, these different movements show up in many different movement modalities. And they’re so, you know, there are so many and only so many ways we can move, although I’m not sure what I remember is going and and. But however, he applied his knowledge and created a sequence of movements and then adapted it for different machines to enhance how people would move. And so so that’s how I see Pilates and I teach mat classes. 

And then I’ve got business called Pilates At Your Desk where I mostly teach people in a corporate setting or a platform for individuals to join as well where I’m doing movement that they can do throughout the day because it’s all very well doing an exercise class for an hour in the day. But then if you’re not moving for the rest of the day then your body is not going to be very happy about it and it’s not moving in the sense that it’s for the next time you had or running a marathon or whatever that takes up quite a lot of your day, and it’s just simple stuff. So, you know, moving your arms, shaking, waving your spine, moving your legs and trying to trying to get a little, there’s a term used by someone in America. Katie Bowman, I think, is the person who created it called movement snacks. So just slotting in, I call the movement breaks actually in my book, but slotting in opportunities for movement. 

How do I then take into consideration my cycle while doing this? Well, you know what? It can be tricky because so part of the time, every every week I teach a set number of mat classes, for example. And and because it’s online, I do it with the with the class while teaching them as well. And so when it’s when I’m in the my, it’s when I get my period or just before, when I want to chill out a bit more. It can be tricky because I’m still teaching and I and so I show up for that bit, but then I’ll be much gentler with myself in general. So just gentle stretches a bit more yoga based, which I know you’re more familiar. Anyway, it’s taking much more time to rest. So I lie down a lot in those in these time, when I can in the day, I teach a lot of one to one, 20 or so week and and I don’t move with them. So say that’s yeah. I think it’s quite a few with my clients. I sort of do a lot of rehab work, actually, so quite a few of my clients come with a medical condition. So, so I’m very much eyes on the person that so. So when I’m in my, you know, my more energetic phase of my cycle, they’re not really going for it. And I’m doing all sorts of like running around the garden. I never make it outside of just about one minute go to my Peloton classes doing it all sorts. And yeah, so so I try do. Try to match the amount of movement I do with where I’m at. Yeah. I hope some of that is unavoidable. Yeah, within teaching. Yeah. But if a client comes in, they say, Oh, I’ve got my period today and I feel pretty rough and I’m not going to make them, do you know, loads of like hundreds and the rest just wouldn’t do fast? Yeah, yeah. 

Le’Nise That’s really interesting how you say that. Like, there are classes where you won’t demonstrate each, all of the poses. And I had my period last week and I I had to remind myself, you don’t have to kind of demonstrate every single pose. It’s fine. You can do verbal instructions, verbal demonstrations, and it’s absolutely fine. Even though I’ve been teaching for a while, I still have to remind myself of that because the tendency is to kind of want to jump in and show them. But it’s actually can be more powerful when you’re just, you know, just talking, talking more and doing less. So it’s interesting that you, you say that. So tell tell us a little bit more about your your business. So Pilates At Your Desk. That is so. And what you said about movements snacks or what you said movement breaks. That’s so interesting because, you know, certainly in the last couple of years, we’ve spent a lot more time at our desks and you see this where people, they’re just kind of they’ve been more sedentary and they’re starting to get back into fitness, but they’re finding it a little bit more challenging. So talk about the concept of pilates at your desk, how you came up with that and what kind of what you what you do with that in practice. 

Kerrie-Anne And so I came up with that, before I taught Pilates, I worked at desk for about 10 years and I had a whole list of aches and pains. I had sciatica, so these sort of constant neck pains, shoulder aches all the rest of it, and I was pretty young to have all those things. So I started going to Pilates classes. I started when my daughter was born, a lovely lady called Grace. It talks about periods a lot, actually. She’s a postnatal and prenatal specialist, so she works with women all the time and she. So I started lessons with her post-natally and then I went back to work and I went to a studio near there, . I mean, my work’s had all these different places and then the lady convinces me to quit my job. So I did. 

And then I was teaching Pilates for a few years, and then I was sort of having clients come to lessons. I was teaching mostly one to one step in and a few reformer classes, and people would come and they’d have things going on in their bodies. And I would fix them or help them to fix themselves in that state in that hour. And then they come back the next week, the same things. So my brain’s thinking. How are we going to fix this? What are we going to be able to do that’s going to change this relationship? Because this is this is only this is only a short term solution here. So so what I did was I put together a programme like a bit like Joseph Pilates, but I’m not calling myself him, just like a program of exercises that people could do during the week. And they were all seated and standing things. And those who did it started to feel better, and those who didn’t tier journey was continuing on the same path. Although, you know, they were making improvements, just taking longer. 

So, so I decided to roll this out because I figured I’ve got all this information and I want to share this information with people because actually, a lot of how we feel in our bodies when we’re walking can be easily fixed by doing, making a few more changes, being a bit more aware about where your body is in space, changing how you position yourself over your feet when you’re standing, if you stand for work or how you sit. And so various things like that. And so then I connected with a few businesses through friends and so on, and I just went in and I trialled the workshop with them. I worked with them, the newspaper, a Japanese newspaper, a PR agency and a finance company. My first clients. And the rest is history really. So now I’ve worked with hundreds of companies, been online for the last two years before I used to run around London. I did some sessions in Jersey, I’m from Jersey, so that’s that connection that. And now I’m doing it globally. And yeah, I’ve been lucky. I’ve worked with loads of the big companies now Facebook, PayPal, Google, those guys and lots of the big law firms and accountancy, ASOS. And I did a great thing with Camden Town Brewery actually where I went in and I spent a few days with them figuring out how the different cohorts of people what so some of them who do a lot of standing, just doing distribution or packaging or the brewing bit. And then I held a little one to one with them and I could give them some bespoke exercises and then do some workshops, and that was a pretty cool thing that was just before the pandemic. Yeah. So that’s it really. So now I’m sort of going back into in person. 

I’ve got a couple of workshops happening in New York this month which a great teacher in New York is going to be running for me, and I’m just trying to build it. And then and then I’ve got a platform as well, which is called Move At Your Desk, and it’s just loads of on demand videos that anybody can join. And and and that’s on. Each month I hold a workshop which is live and it’s a postural clinic, I call it. I’m not sure that’s the best name, but it’s one that people understand. On Sunday, I did a walking and running workshop. How to how to do it was very much focused on feet with a friend of mine, Verity. She’s a gait expert. And then and then we did the clinic. So this all these I’ve done one on hips, back, shoulders. That’s a very long explanation, isn’t it? 

Le’Nise No, that’s great. It’s always really interesting to hear. Well, people who have their own businesses to hear the journey of what what prompted you to give up your corporate, your job in the corporate world and then build your own business and you’re doing something really interesting where you have so ostensibly you’re a Pilates teacher, but then you’ve got all your fingers in lots of different pies where you’ve got, you know, you’ve got your book, which we’ll talk about in a minute. You’ve got your online platform. You do workshops. You do lots of different things. So for anyone who’s listening, who wants to do something similar, you’ve got a great role model here in Kerrie-Anne. And so, yeah, it’s really it’s really amazing. And you created this online platform where you’ve got lots of videos and workshops. So for anyone who wants to join that, can you give us the details? 

Kerrie-Anne Yeah, sure. So you can find it on my website, pilatesatyourdesk.com, and it’s £18 per month and that’s an access to anything or one hundred and eighty pounds for the year. And I also have corporate membership options available to me, and since we’re here, I’m very happy to give anyone listening to this a month’s free. So so I’ll get I’ll send you the details that he can remember if you’re listening and you could do it while you’re listening MAYDHAPPY in the discount box. When you’re signing up, then you get the first month for free. 

Le’Nise OK, OK, great. That’s very generous of you. Thanks. And now talk talk about your book. So are both of our books came out on the same day? So this is three weeks ago now. And what what someone some wise person once told me is that the book publication day is just the start. So talk about firstly, tell talk about how you got a book deal and what it was like writing and in your case, shooting the photos. Tell us a little bit more about that. 

Kerrie-Anne So actually, that happened a bit retrospectively because I already had photos. So so we we matched them by taking the photos. I did have to take some more, actually, but in hindsight, I wish I’d done that to after I’d written it. But that’s not the end of it. Back to how it began. I would say Anya, probably if you’ve met that, yeah, I knew you did work for Watkins. Publishing is someone who I’ve been known on Instagram for a long time. And before I taught Pilates actually as well. And so she has always been saying, I’ll be great, you should write a book. It will be great. It would be good to get that. And then she actually, I think another friend of mine had also just written a book and said, You need to write about this. You want me to put you in touch with my agent was like, No, no, I can’t be bothered with that. I’ve already got a lot of stuff going on. And then I’m you said, Come on, not do it. You can do it. 

And I said to my friend Eloise, Oh, I’ve got this offer, but I don’t think I’m going to do it. And I don’t mean to sound like, you know, like it’s I’m grateful because I’m not ungrateful. I just was thinking, I’m so busy. I’m so busy in lockdown with the workshops and everything, and I just thought, I can’t do this is too much. And my friend Eloise said, Look, you’ve been offered to write, to write a book. People don’t get those opportunities. You have to write the book. OK, fine. Put together the proposal and Anya helped me. And then and then it came about. But I had written quite a bit already because I used quite a lot of information in my workshops. So and all of the movements, of course, I had the pictures and everything so that the actual writing part and I don’t know how you felt about this process, but I actually found it completely exhausting. And I was writing, working sometimes 10 hours a day and writing between lessons and night time and then trying to run the house as well and be a mom and a wife and a dog mom and everything. So. And I just found it. I found it. So I didn’t appreciate just how much it had taken out of me. It’s funny until until I look back now and I think, wow, I was tired, you know, and I thought it was great. And it was really because it was so. It is quite fast, actually, it was a fast. I think I signed a contract in January last year. I think it was January and then I handed to it for the last time before that, the editing rounds say for the first time in June. So it was, I think that’s quite is that quite fast. 

Le’Nise I was that was about the same timeframe as me and everyone I’ve spoken to who has said that’s really fast. 

Kerrie-Anne OK. That’s I mean, I don’t really know very many people who’ve written books if I’m honest, but I think it must be quite hard. And then there were a few iterations, quite a few iterations of of editing and so on. And and then suddenly, you know, there it is published three weeks ago and I find I remember I sent you a message and I was kind of like, you know, I feel like I haven’t done all the things that I should be doing. I don’t really know what to do. And you said to me that about point about the lovely wise words that someone had shared with you about it being start of the process. And and so that was that was really great. Thank you, I’m a lot less worried about it. But now that being, I think it’s scarier having something out there where you’ve got no control over what people say about it. And that’s the biggest thing. I think that’s hard because, you know, that is I mean, I I think I know that not everybody is going to like my book because why would they say it’s, you know, it’s it’s not for everybody. But when you read stuff about what people think about it, I mean, it’s quite mean, you know, it’s it’s hard. It’s really hard. So I’m trying not to look at the book, there’s loads of nice things, reviews, but the bad ones you focus. I’ve been focusing on the bad one, so I need to look. 

Le’Nise Yeah, there is a thing where people, you could have someone like one hundred, ninety nine people saying amazing things, but then one person says something a bit negative, and that’s the thing that sticks in your mind. 

Kerrie-Anne Yeah, exactly. And yeah, but that’s that’s part of the learning. I think it’s a brave thing to do putting putting your work out there. And, you know, I don’t know how you feel about this, but you know, if if I wrote the book again today, it would be different from how it was last January. So I feel that I think that, you know, you learn so much in our in our profession as time goes on. So you could write it differently could present it differently. It’s difficult to present exercise in a book because in my mind, people do exercise by doing it rather than reading it and then doing it. So I didn’t want to make it all exercises in the book because I think there’s limited value in that. But for some people, that is what they want. So, of course, that this book, which is not about information about why we need to move more, thinking about how you stand, thinking about how you sit, then the exercises and then tips on how to integrate movement. This book just is not going to be the one for those people that want to read and do exercises or have, you know, big pictures with instructions underneath because this isn’t what this is. Yeah. So yeah. 

Le’Nise It’s really it’s really easy for people to criticize, but it’s much harder for someone to actually write a book. So I think whenever you get negative reviews or reviews that you just don’t feel that happy about you have to remember that like it’s easy to be a critic and it’s easy to criticize what other people are doing. 

But what’s far harder is the graft that it takes to kind of not only write something and write something so comprehensive, but to put yourself out there. You know what both of us do. We’re both putting ourselves out there. And there’s, you know, there’s a lot there’s something really great about that, having the confidence to be able to say, Well, these are the videos that I’ve created. This is the book that I’ve written. You can take it or leave it. If it’s not for you, then I’m sure there’s something else out there that is for you. 

Kerrie-Anne Exactly, exactly. I like the way you’re thinking. 

Le’Nise When I wrote my book, I was really clear that, you know, my book was very much about the menstrual cycle. Different conditions, but also how food can help. And there’s not a lot out there about that. About like specifically like the detail of how food can help. And I’ve always been clear, if you want something that’s a bit more of a polemic, you know, that’s more about like feminism and the patriarchy and the effect of the menstrual cycle. There are books out there that cover that, but that’s not my book. So you know, you get what you get. If you don’t, if you don’t like it, then there’s something else for you. I’m being I found to be quite quite pragmatic in my viewpoint around this. 

Kerrie-Anne I think that’s really, actually really great because you’ve created boundary there. And I think actually even just saying to you now I’ve said about this is not a book that site written, detailed as well. There are lots of exercises in it, but it’s not one that you intended to go. But, you know, like a routine, there are routines in that, but they’re a very small section of it. It’s made me then say, well, the what the boundaries are really like. This is a book that will help you if you’re experiencing pain, if you’re not moving enough, if you want to know a bit more about how to, when to move forward or why you should do it and then how to do it, then this is for you. Yeah. And then you can find my videos, if you want to follow along. In my mind, that’s how you do it. Yeah. 

Le’Nise And where can where can people get the book?

Kerrie-Anne It’s on Amazon and it’s called Move More At Your Desk. I hope I haven’t put you off, you know? It’s a really nice book on Amazon and that it’s you buy on Waterstones,  Watkins through Watkins publishing. Mostly, . I’ve just been saying Amazon. How about you? 

Le’Nise Yeah, I’ve been saying Amazon or anywhere, anywhere. You buy books. 

Kerrie-Anne Yeah, I’ve got a few copies at home. I’m so happy to hear you. 

Le’Nise So you’ve got your book. And we, as we said, it’s a first. You know, it’s the start of the journey. But from a book perspective, what’s next? Have you thought about the next book you’re going to write? Is there going to be a next book? What have you started even thinking about that yet? 

Kerrie-Anne No, the answer is no. I haven’t thought about that, but I know. Have you? 

Are you going to write another book? 

Le’Nise Yes, I want to. Yeah. Yeah. I want to.  

Kerrie-Anne If I’m honest. But you know, that could change. Maybe I, as I’ve been talking to you and I’ve said to you, if I rewrote it now, I’d do it differently and I’d have extra things to say and so on. Then that’s perhaps planted a seed for something new. But actually, I think I’m a much better verbal communicator. And it probably would be the right. Yeah, right. Yeah. So so I really like doing these kinds of things and teaching workshops and being on panels and presenting and jumping around the stage and stuff like that. So, so, so so I really like to channel my efforts into to that. Yeah, yeah. For the next for the next 10 years. 

Le’Nise Well, it’s it’s amazing. An amazing thing to have written a book. So yeah, no, this isn’t. I’m just like, This is my natural like me, the way I am thinking, always thinking about the next thing. But you know, there is something about it. Just also just enjoying the fact that you’ve written a book. That’s no mean feat. You know, there are a lot of people who would love to write a book. So, yeah, you know, it’s amazing. 

Kerrie-Anne It’s a difficult one because I think I’m also latching on onto the next saying the next thing. And my head is like thinking of all these different things. But one thing that is tricky is to list the thing that you said about enjoying that. You’ve written a book. I don’t think I’m quite there yet. I have like moments of it when I’m like, Wow, I did this, but it’s quite hard. I think if you are someone who’s always on to the next thing. Yeah, to be with. But actually, I put it right next to me everywhere I go. So I can remember you wrote a book 

Le’Nise And you’re on the cover of the book as well. 

Kerrie-Anne You’re on the cover of the book. .I’m on the cover of the book. Yeah, I know. I mean, to be honest, I’ve not even taken it back in, but I’m actually on. Yeah. It’s funny. Isn’t it funny? 

Le’Nise Yeah, it’s it’s something that, you know, you really kind of just enjoy, enjoy the moment. 

Period Story Podcast, Episode 53: Rachel Burgess, You’ve Got To Create The Life You Want To Live

On today’s episode of Period Story, I’m so pleased to share my conversation with Rachel Burgess, the owner of the Rachel Burgess Bridal Boutique, which she opened 10 years ago to celebrate handmade Welsh bridal wear and accessories.

Rachel is truly inspiring and I’m so grateful that she opened up and shared her story. After a routine scan to follow up from a hip operation when she was 22, the results found that there was a cyst making a home on Rachel’s right ovary, which was surgically removed. In 2018, after another routine check up on the remaining left ovary it was clear that another cyst was forming so that too was removed, leaving Rachel with 30% of a working ovary. Rachel just had her first period in five years and we talk about this and her view of womanhood, post-surgery. And of course, Rachel shared the story of her first period.

Thank you, Rachel!

Get in touch with Rachel:

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise So I start each podcast with with one question, which is, tell me the story of your very first period. 

Rachel I can remember, it’s oh, my goodness, so clearly in my mind, I remember going to the bathroom first thing and I was about 14 years old and I was wearing bright pink knickers and I was like, Whoa, what is it? What are what is going on here, team? And I remember having a little bit of a moment and thinking, What is this? Is this what people have been talking about? A period? I think this is happening. So I remember running out of the bathroom, running along the hallway, and I’m kind of like calling my mother out of her room being like, I think something’s happening. And she was like, Oh, you know, those things are left in your bed a couple of months ago. You’ll need those now. And I was like, OK, and this is it. 

And literally that was my introduction to the world of having a period of, OK, I’ll go find those weird pad things that you left on my bed and didn’t say much about other than you’ll need them at some point. And so I I remember thinking, OK, so how do these work? You know, like reading the back of it, reading the back of the label and kind of going, what are these little like wing flap things that kind of go, Well, how does that work? So I remember thinking, I’m being really paranoid when I when I. When I kind of put everything back on of like, can people see this through my school uniform, I was really conscious of it. And can people see that I’m wearing a sanitary towel and myself and my girlfriends, we didn’t really. We didn’t talk about it, really. But I kind of I remember feeling slightly self-conscious to begin with. And then as that kind of week or couple of days went on, I kind of felt a bit like I’m a woman now, like, I am no longer a girl, I am a woman, and I can remember that kind of feeling then. I don’t know it felt like a really. It felt like a an awakening in that in that sense that I’ve definitely come into a new chapter of my life. 

Le’Nise Say more about this feeling of being a woman or becoming a woman and awakening what made you feel like that? 

Rachel So I guess I’ve always been. I’m the youngest of all of my siblings. I was the youngest in like kind of a school year, so I’ve always felt a little bit like the little one, you know? And I kind of just had this feeling of, Oh, I belong here now. Like, I’m I can do my GCSEs now because I’m a woman. You know, it was those kind of moments and. Even though my period is from that day was never regular, it will. I was very lucky that it was never painful, but it was heavy and she made herself known when she did make an appearance. I was like, OK, we’re in this, and we were in this about 10 days. It was never a short thing and where I grew up. So my parents are farmers in mid-Wales. And so there was a little store, like a little corner shop. I will say it wasn’t on the corner, it was in the middle of just the little houses, but I had to run across two fields to get to. 

And I remember thinking one day, Oh my goodness, my period started because it was never like I said it was never. Regular, you never had the same time every month if it did happen every month. And I remember thinking, OK, at the back of my wardrobe, I’ve got these things, so I’ll put them in my pants and I’ll be fine. And then I remember it started. And I was like, Oh my God, I don’t have any of these left. So the next thing I know my mother is, like I said to her, I don’t have anything and I’ve got to go to school. She’s like, I’ll be back. And she runs across these two fields to the local shop. And they had them right high up like above on the top shelf of anything and so much so that the guy had to get his ladder out to go and get the pack with sanitary towels down. And then she she kind of ran back and even that she was so brilliant with that type of thing, she never really spoke about it. She’s like, There you are. Like, That’s that’s what you need. And the sanitary towels, like the ones in the corner shop. I remember they were awful, like I was so thick and was was so uncomfortable. I’m just I was so paranoid all day that they were just going to slip out or anything like that. And so always then made a point of kind of going whenever I’m in town on my own, I will go and get the good, Always sanitary towels. And that was what I will then use. But yes, I did get a little bit caught up with that type of thing every now and again. 

Le’Nise Talk a little bit about how you learnt more about your period and what was happening with your body because you say you grew up in rural Wales. And your mum gave you a pack of pads but didn’t really talk to you about what was going on. So how did you educate yourself about what was going on with your body? 

Rachel So I. Oh, do you know what I think I just learnt as I went along? And because like I said, we didn’t talk about it, even though us girlfriends were really close. We didn’t chat about. What oh, I’ve got my period this month. You might hear it in the in PE  changing rooms. Somebody might go, Oh, I’m in so much pain. I can’t do this this this week, and I’m like, Oh, why? And then I was thinking, should my be painful or? And then you hear people I really need to have chocolate like now because of my period, and I’m like, Oh, OK. Is that something then that I will just have like, like when I’m on my period to do that, I will have chocolate. You know, it’s just I don’t know why we didn’t talk about it. 

I think it’s a generational thing from my for my parents, they didn’t really charge, and so therefore like they like, well, we don’t know. Whereas now I’m a woman in my mid-thirties, I’m like, I love talking about this stuff because it’s so empowering because knowledge is power, right? And I really could have done with more of that, I think, at that age. So I I wasn’t academic in school. I was definitely there for the social side of things. So I was in the bottom set for science. So the moment you mentioned periods, oh my God, like it was hysteria in the classroom, nobody you like and the teachers, they were trying to keep us focussed. They were trying. But oh my god, if you mentioned ovaries, uterus, womb, anything, I mean, the guys were just in floods of hysteria on the floor because they didn’t know how to cope with the situation. So then I’m like trying to be cool and trying to be cool, but then secretly going, I really want to learn about all this. Like, what? What does this mean? But then we were really taught about the biology side of it rather than the emotional side of it. And that is definitely something in the last couple of years, I’ve kind of really delved into and I’m noticing how my body is feeling, but that’s because I’ve made a huge amount of changes within my life personally to really focus on that and become in tune with what my what my body is telling me. 

Le’Nise So say a little bit more about what you did to to educate yourself about what was happening and also about the changes that you’ve made to be more in tune with yourself and what your body is telling you. 

Rachel So. So basically at the age of I think it was 16, I went on the combined pill and I kind of. Again, that was a moment of like, oh, this is another level of of me owning my body and taking that kind of empowerment side of things. And I think the pill gave me the opportunity to have a regular period or a bleed in that sense. And I loved being able to have the control of I did lots of horse riding and gymnastics and stuff like that and kind of being like, I don’t want to be on my period now. So I was petrified of like in PE for either GCSE PE and we were I think about six of us females on those were 14 males and we had to wear leotards and the guys didn’t. And so I was absolutely then thinking, Oh my God, is this the day that I’m going to come on my period? Is this the day I’m going to come on my period? Then I really appreciated actually having the pill because it meant I could take some control going OK, even though I know I want a period, I don’t want it now. And I stayed on that for a very, very long time until my early 30s. 

So I that was my education in a way of kind of think, OK, I’ll take control. I have this pack. I followed Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and then I have a week off so that I can have a bleed and then I’ll start again. But I went for a routine scan. I had a hip operation. So they’re just doing a little routine scan on that. And it brought up that there were actually some dermoid cysts making a little home on my right ovary. And I was like, Right, then what does that mean? And it meant having my ovary surgically removed. So I think has about twenty five, maybe at that time when that got removed. And that was quite a big kind of conversation. They they said they would like to have a chat to myself, my partner at the same time that if we were thinking about having a family, then these are things that we need to consider. 

All of a sudden that you’re sitting down and like having a glass of wine thinking, Well, we need to talk about, are we going to do that? I don’t. I don’t. I don’t want that. But then when somebody saying that decision might be taken away? Well, hang on a minute. I want to be in control of that. But luckily, we both very much on the same page with that. But that isn’t in our life plan that we’ve that we’ve got mapped out, I say, mapped out. We’ll see, you know, had to go with the flow with all of that. And yeah, so I had the operation, I had the ovary removed. And then after that I was like, Why am I putting this pill in my body? Like, I need to give my left over a chance here to kind of stop seeing if she can create this period for me naturally? So I then. Came off the pill and. I looked at how I was living my life, and it was very, very unhealthy. I ate convenience food. I was a theatre stage manager for a very long time, so I was away on tour a lot, which meant you would have your evening meal after you do your your evening show. So you’d go out for a curry about 11 o’clock at night and then you have quite a few drinks and then you’d stay in bed until midday the next day. Then you’ll get to the theatre and you’ll do a matinee show. So it was very much like. And then you would eat a bag of Haribo throughout the show to keep you going because you need the energy levels. And then there’s always snacks there. A lot of drink was involved, and I thought some things here need to change. 

So at the age of 30. Yeah. 30. I became completely plant based and a completely plant based diet. I haven’t drank now for two years, and that has completely from that, from taking all of those almost allergens away from my body. I’ve become more in tune than ever, and my body speaks to me, what it needs. And I listen to it because it’s not constantly in a fight or flight kind of situation. I find I’m so yeah, and I started moving. I never moved before. I’ve got myself a pair of trainers and I just every day just just get out because I have a body that can move. So and I just want to. I want to see what it can do. I want to listen to it, but I want to fuel it with that. With fuel, it would be with the Like, I want to give it that opportunity to thrive. 

Le’Nise Yeah, yeah. So you’ve been on quite a journey and quite transformative one. What did you use to educate yourself about what was going on? So, you know, having an ovary removed is quite a it’s quite a big deal, and it sounds like you did get some aftercare from from the NHS or wherever you have done. Yeah, but then what happened after that? Where did you find out more about what was going on and how did you educate yourself? 

Rachel So podcasts have been really, really useful. I also did quite a bit of reading up because a lot of people were kind of, I actually kept it very private. To be honest, I didn’t talk to a lot of people about it because I thought, basically, I named them both. So I named them Olwen and Olive, because it was much easier to talk to my father about the fact I have ovaries. And if I was like, I have an Olwen and I have an Olive and olive is completely going and we’re going to keep Olwen and he’s like, right, cool. That’s all I need to know tidy. Great. Thank you. So I didn’t really speak to many people about it. I told my girlfriends after the operation, just, you know, I’ve been in. I’ve had this removed and that was my own way of controlling things. And that was my own way of I didn’t want people to worry because as soon as you start to say to people, I have some cysts in my ovaries, you can see their reaction was more than I was becoming. Try to protect them. I’m it’s OK. This is all right. This is in control. We’re going to be alright with this and I just didn’t want any of that. So I kind of just wanted to park that go in and have the surgery be in recovery and heal as fast as I can and then explain. So I’ve just been through this situation. 

What I after afterwards, though it was it was pretty tough like I remember, so I had. But they were hoping to go in through my belly button. Unfortunately, the cyst was 11 centimetres, so they actually ended up going in. I have a C-section scar at the top of my bikini line. And so they went in that way and I ended up with about twenty one staples across my bikini line after afters. And that was quite that was that was painful. Would like even just trying to sit up and sneeze or anything like that. And anybody that has given birth I applaud you that has had a C-section because I do not know how you hold a baby when you have that because I couldn’t even lift up a cup of tea like you want. And yeah, so I the aftercare of that was great, but I had to go to the doctors to have my these staples removed. And unfortunately, I think whoever was removing them. Hadn’t looked at my notes correctly because part of the procedure meant basically inflating my stomach so they could do what they need to to do. And so I was incredibly bloated and I was wearing very loose fitting clothes. And she saw that I had this C-section scar and said, Congratulations. What did you have? And I was like, Oh no, babe, you want to read your notes? Because I didn’t. I’ve actually had an ovary removed and to me, that that’s OK because I’m not planning a family of my own. But to somebody who is 50 percent of that chance has been taken away from them, that’s an incredibly emotional process for them to have to deal with. 

So I was like, Oh no, you want to read your notes on that because that isn’t actually what’s happened. But healing wise, it took me quite a bit of time physically after that. But I also, like I said, my diet wasn’t in the best place then, and I definitely think I was fueling it with the wrong things. So much so that two years ago, when I went back for another little, which kind of just making sure Olwen’s OK. They noticed that dermoids were starting to grow on her now, basically. And I was like, Oh no, here we go again. So I went in and did what was on one of the boutique’s birthdays, actually. So I was like, OK, what a way to celebrate the boutique turning 8 years old, me going back into surgery. But I went in and they they were hoping to say half of it. We managed to save 30 percent. So I now have 30 percent of Olwen left, but I have to say my recovery from that. I was out on the same day and I was back running 10 days later and I had the same procedure. They went along the same scarline again. But I have to say, like, I can’t emphasise enough the person who I was when I had that first operation and the way I ate and the way I treated my body to the person who I am now, I can only put that down to the lifestyle that I lead now, being so quick in comparison to before I was in hospital for 10 days. I was out in the same day this time, but that was awesome. My partner was brilliant. The hospital food wasn’t, wasn’t they? They had a little bit of a freak out moment when I said I’m plant based and they didn’t have anything that they could kind of get me. But that was OK. My other half came in and he just brought in all this fruit and all this veg and just I just sat there and I just to feel that I can literally feel my body just saying, Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. This is nutrients that can help heal me here. We don’t just heal the internal operations side that’s been going on, but also heal me with hormones, you know, just help help that, really. 

Le’Nise So you’ve been on quite quite a journey with regards to your reproductive health. Did you have you talked about healing, physical healing and emotional healing? Was there ever a moment where you felt like you needed to mourn what what could have been or what? You know, even though you have said that having children wasn’t in your plan? Did you ever feel like you just needed to have a moment of mourning? 

Rachel Most definitely. Yes, especially after the first operation for a good few months, I would say actually, that I was I felt I felt quite angry. But why is this decision been taken away from me, even though I knew I didn’t want that? I wanted to have control of that decision. And of course, then everywhere you look, it just felt like everybody had children or everybody was having children around me. And it was at a time where, you know, I remember saying, I don’t think I’m going to go down that route of having my own children. People would say, Oh, you’ll change your mind, you’ll change your mind. You know, it was definitely in that category. And I was like, Well, even if it did change my mind, I’m actually not sure what the chances are here anyway. You know, so, but I definitely went through that mourning phase and I was a bit like my womanhood. Like I said, these organs make me a woman I love, you know, identifying and being a woman, and I love my body and what it can do. 

But having, yeah, that taken away from me definitely felt like, does it make me less of a woman? Am I less of a woman in that sense? So I had to work through that, and I even know that there were times like. With when people talk about their cycles. Oh, I get this because I can’t identify with that because I don’t have that. And since my last operation, so that was not possible in twenty two now. Yes. So it’s about four years ago, about two years ago. Sorry. And. There’s been a I’ve been not I didn’t go back on the pill after my operation so that I could let see what Olwen the last 30% of her can do like do we have a period naturally here. And no, not at all. So apart from, well, I get so excited about this because I just had my first ever period in four years ago this week, so I’m celebrating. So those really exciting. I was like, Oh my God, what do I do again? I need to remember. But sorry, I completely digress. So if I go back and just explain the lead up to the last operation, I came off the pill so that they were no synthetic hormones in me as such. And then I never had one afterwards. So we’ve been working that way to kind of work out why I wasn’t then having a period. And I found it really. So I found like I maybe couldn’t get involved in some conversations that were happening online or within friendship circles about, Oh, I’m at this stage of my period because I couldn’t identify with that because I don’t know, because I wasn’t having one and I was like, Oh, but I want to know what my spring, summer, winter stages are. I want to be able to to understand that. But I could feel emotionally when I was getting tired, when I was getting exhausted and I thought, Well, maybe that’s something to do with my cycle, but I’m just not having to bleed until last week.

Le’Nise That’s so interesting that you you really wanted to participate in those conversations and also what you mentioned earlier about what you felt as though you may have been less of a woman and this. I just find it so fascinating this strong identification that many of us feel and experience when we have a period, the sense of womanhood. And then when it gets taken away and you know, we most typically that will happen when we are going through menopause, that how that can shake the foundations of how we identify ourselves. Because you hear people say, well, just because you have a you’re having a period doesn’t make you a woman. You know, people will say that, but that’s not how many of us feel, you know? And you’ve articulated your feelings around that so brilliantly. So talk a little bit now about how, if, if this has changed the way you feel about yourself with regards to your womanhood or how you reconciled these changes in terms of how you how you feel identity wise? 

Rachel Sure. So I I’ve come to terms with, Oh, I love my body now more than I ever have done. So I’ve come to terms with, yes, I don’t have these organs as such. These reproductive systems. But what I do have? Oh my God, she’s amazing. You know what? She allows me to do and I love, I love. The way the you know, I can just turn I can do a Pilates class and I might might not be able to do what a lot of the people are doing it for my own physical, like I need to stretch out more. My hamstrings are really, really tight, but I have the privilege to turn up on a yoga mat, a pilates mat and move my body. And so I’ve started loving her, so I’ve changed my outlook around from what she can’t give me in that sense to what she bloody well can give me. And that’s just that is so it feels so peaceful and so empowering a lot along the same lines, like keeping just this morning going for a run. It’s never it’s never easy going for a run. But afterwards I’m like, Oh my God, my body just did that. You know, this is incredible. And I’m surrounded by phenomenal women in the boutique, you know, and I just think it’s so. Every every person is different, every person holds themselves differently, but we if we start celebrating who we are as women then and stop stop thinking about the things that we would change or feel sad about that or I wish I could do that or know why. Look at what we can do. That’s what we’ve got to change. That’s the way that help my mind set. Instead of what we can’t do or what my body can’t do. Let me show you what I bloody well can do, though. You know, 

Le’Nise I love that so, so much is rather so rather than focus on what you don’t have. Focus on what you have, focus on what you can do. I I love that. That is so empowering. I just want to transition a little bit and talk a little bit more about your business and your transition from theatre manager to now bridal boutique owner. Talk about that. 

Rachel So I always knew I wanted to have my own boutique, but I thought it might be something that I would do in my kind of forties. Not when I was twenty four when this happened and I was like, OK. But you just got to go with it. Otherwise you will never know the, myself, my partner. We moved here to Penarth, which is a lovely seaside town in South Wales, about ten minutes outside of Cardiff. And I’m. We went around to our next door neighbours one evening and had this is when I was drinking quite a bit and had a couple of glasses of wine a bit too much. And I said, You know what? There is a shop in Penarth I walk past every day and if it ever comes up for rent, I’m going for it. I’m going to open my own bridal boutique that champions handmade in Wales. And I’m going to do it anyway. I got back home and my other half was like, Wow, Rach? You’ve never said that to anyone before. And I was like, Oh God, did I say to you? Much like, Oh, well, nothing will ever come of it. It was a gift wrapping service beforehand, and the people of Penarth love to have their gifts wrapped beautifully. Well, I ain’t going to go anywhere. I then went back out on tour with Hairspray, and my next door neighbour sent me a text and said This is about two weeks later, sent me a text and just said, Oh, Rach I hope all’s going well. Just to let you know. I’ve walked past that shop in Penarth and there’s a sign on the door that says it’s up for rent. So knocked on the door. And here’s the landlady’s number. And she would say she’d like to meet you when you’re back in a couple of weeks time, right? 

Oh, OK. This is not what I was expecting because I had other contracts lined up beforehand to take on afterwards after her speech finished and I was like, Right, OK, well, we’re just going to go with the flow here team and just see what happens. And I remember it was the 12th of May 2012. It was London Olympics year, awesome. And I was walking up and I was on the phone to my father and I was like, What do I do? And he’s like, Just trust your instincts. See how you feel. There’s no drama. Like, just go, just just meet your landlord. The landlady. Then see what happens. I walked in. It was at two o’clock and yeah, I left at 2:30 with the keys. 

And then I launched in October of that year and I didn’t have any designs. I had never had any retail experience, business degrees, nothing like that. But I just knew that if I hadn’t given, if I don’t give this a go, then I’ll never know. And I think that was probably a little bit how I feel about my body. I’m like, Well, can I go and run an ultra? I don’t know. Let’s give it a go. Or can I become plant based when I grew up on a farm? I don’t know. Let’s give it a go. You know, it’s that kind of thing. So I that evening, I went back to the show and I just said to a friend of mine, JJ, who’s on the wardrobe department, and I was like, I do. I’ve just got this keys for a place to open up a bridal boutique that champions have made. And I really want to champion handmade in Wales because I don’t because I’ve been a bridesmaid 10 times and I’ve been to my fair share of bridal stores. And I kind of just found that when my girlfriends didn’t know what they wanted, they got pigeonholed into categories of kind of saying This is what a bride should be. Yet on a day to day basis, we dress with to represent who we are. What this is, who I am, or I have tattoos or have a piercings or dye. My hair was in colour because this is me. Whereas then when it came to the world of bridal, it was almost like, We’ve got to conform your bride. Therefore, you must wear this on and you must pay thousands, thousands of pounds for an item of clothing that has been mass-produced abroad. They have no idea where that’s come from and where, and I’m a big believer in voting with your money. And that’s the one thing that we kind of have power on and. 

Yes, so she said, Oh, you need to meet my friend who’s a designer. And I emailed that friend. I look to her website is like, Oh my gosh, that’s amazing. But I sent her an email and I had like a bounce back saying, I’m away travelling. And I was like, Oh, I bet she’s just gone travelling. Like, I’m going to, you know, she’s not coming back for a year anyway, Helen emailed back, and she’s like, I’ve just got back from my travels, so we have a meeting and the rest is history. So when I first launched, I had two designers, I had Helen, and I had Claire Hill, who is an accessory designer. Now we have 10. We have ten designers now and the boutique is going to be 10 years old itself in October of this year. And oh my god, it’s the best thing in the world. I absolutely love it. I love how I get to meet every day, and it’s just such it’s just incredible to see how many people want to just do bridal their own way. Champion handmade vote with their money, but also find an outfit that absolutely empowers them like, damn right, this is me. I cannot wait for the world to see me. I cannot wait to exchange my boat. I was wearing this. No. Oh, it’s a joy. 

Le’Nise Wow, you have such an amazing story. And you? You tell it the way you tell it, it just you make it seem like, you know it, it just feels like everything was in the right place for you. 

Rachel I hear you. I know it’s bonkers, right? Like I. I. You’ve got to create the life you want to live. That’s all I can say. And I think there are a lot of people who are unhappy with things will then take control and change it. I know that it’s really easy for me to say that, but I’ve been I’ve been to those hard times. I’ve been through those challenges. I’ve been through those surgeries. I’ve I, I appreciate it. It’s easier to say than do. But my God, there’s no point in looking back thinking, what if? What if I could do that? What if I did do that? What if I did? This job is making me so unhappy, then leave it something better is out there. Make it happen. 

Le’Nise What would you just say to someone who’s listening to this? And it was like, Yeah, I hear you. You know, something better is out there. You’ve got to create the life that you want to live. But they’re really scared. You know, they’re really, really scared of taking that next step. What would you say to them? 

Rachel I think good things happen when you’re scared. I think being safe is dangerous in that sense and I think. I can only speak from my own experience, but if you never know, you will always think, what if I think that is the danger zone? 

Le’Nise Wow, wow. Amazing, like just the bravery in your story and the bravery of what you’ve done, what you’ve done on so many different levels is quite is quite inspiring. So I know that listeners will they’ll hear your story and they will feel really inspired and they might make changes in their own life, however big or small they might be. If listeners want to get in touch with you, find out more about your business, maybe find out if they’re a bride or an upcoming bride. Find out how they can use your services. How can they get in touch with you? 

Rachel So, firstly, thank you so much for your lovely words. That’s really, really thoughtful. I do not see myself like that at all. Just, you know, I just see myself as a very I have a little simple every day on Instagram. I post like a little what I do each day, and it always starts with movement. And then the breakfasts, like they’re the best meals of the day, right? Like amazing. And I will never miss a breakfast and that is a morning ritual and a routine for me. And then I’ll be, you know, come to the boutique and then I’m, you know, I’m in bed by nine o’clock in the evening, team, like, you know, I’m I’m definitely not rock and roll or anything like that. I just enjoy that pace of life, really, shall I say. But sorry, if people want to get in touch. Oh yeah, always email. That’s lovely. So all the information is on the website, which is Rachel Burgess bridal boutique dot com. I’m on Instagram @rachelburgessbridalboutique so you can find me on there as well. 

Le’Nise Great. Thank you so much for coming on here and sharing your story. I know that the episodes where where you have someone sharing a really personal story of the changes in their menstrual health or are always the one that do really well and I get really great feedback on them. So yeah, thank you so much. 

Rachel Thanks for creating a space that I’ve never really spoken about this. But when I came across your podcast, it felt like a space where I can. I can talk about this and I just want people to know that, you know, women of the age of, you know, between for my first operations to now, we do go through this, but we get we, you know, it’s OK. It doesn’t make it any less of a woman now team. 

Le’Nise Exactly. Thank you so much. 

Rachel Thank you. 

Period Story Podcast, Episode 52: Julie McClure, We Need To Open Up A Dialogue About Hormone Health

On today’s episode of Period Story, I’m so pleased to share my conversation with Julie McClure, a clean and clear living expert and the founder and CEO of Hello Me, a wellness & beauty brand empowering women to take back control of their hormones and return to being the best version of themselves.

Julie and I had a great conversation about what inspired her to start her company, her healing journey through breast cancer and medical menopause and of course, the story of her very first period!

Thank you, Julie!

P.S. Julie has kindly offered listeners 20% of Hello Me products with the code PERIODSTORY20! 

Get in touch with Julie:

Website

Instagram

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise So tell me the story of your very first period. 

Julie So my very first period, I mean, it’s I don’t remember the exact age, but I do remember I was later than the rest of my friends because it was one of those where everybody sort of had their period and you’re waiting to get yours. It was almost as milestone you’re waiting for. So I was about 13 or 14. I was a little bit later. And yeah, I mean, for me, it was something that was really quiet. Like, I feel like you’re waiting for it because you hear a little buzzes from your friends. But it wasn’t back when I got my first period, it wasn’t something that a lot of people were talking about openly. And so for me, it was just like, I just needed to know the basics, like when I get it, what do I do right? And that was kind of it was really a discovery phase because I didn’t feel like I was like prepped with a whole lot of information. 

Le’Nise So you got it, and you said it was quiet. Tell us a little bit more about what that means. 

Julie Well, it was something I told my. I only told my mom and my sister, but I didn’t openly talk about it was something I was still shy about. And in one way, you want it. Another way when you get it, you’re like, Oh gosh, like, what do I do now? And you know what? What should I use for products, et cetera? So that’s how it was quiet I wasn’t talking to my friends, who’s maybe my best friend, but that would be it. 

Le’Nise Right, and so were your other friends openly having this conversation and you just chose not to participate in it? 

Julie No, it wasn’t really open. It was like little whispers of conversation. That’s how I remember it. Like you’d be with your best friend and maybe one other girlfriend, and somebody would talk about the fact they got their period. And then you might be sort of overhearing another crowd at some other point. But it wasn’t really like this open dialogue about groups of friends we’re having or we are learning about periods whether it be the media or classes, et cetera. So that’s why it was fairly quiet. It was almost whispers whispering sessions. 

Le’Nise And then as you got your period and this idea of this feeling of quiet, do you think you held on to that as you started learning more about your period? 

Julie Yes, absolutely. I think you know for most of my life, these haven’t really been topics of conversation. I’m forty seven, so it’s been a few years. But yeah, it hasn’t been something that’s really been an open dialogue and I’m finding now with my my nieces who are now in that age, they’re teenagers. It is a little bit more talked about and I’ve had these discussions with them like actually trying to understand because I have this brand all about hormones to understand what is the discussion? Are people talking about it? It is improved, but it’s still not there, which is surprising. 

Le’Nise So what do you think has brought the, not the massive openness, but a little bit more openness that you’re seeing in your in your nieces? 

Julie I think social media has played a big part of that. I mean, you’re seeing on TikTok people, people have been openly out on Tik Tok talking about their period, checking their menstrutal health. Now just look at like a brand like August, right, that they’re really trying to destigmatize discussions around new periods. There’s been ads that have been much more bold over the years, so I think we didn’t have social media when I was, you know, computers are just sort of coming out when I was in my teen years. So it wasn’t something that we had access to these outside information. So if your family and your friends weren’t openly having the dialogue, which would have been ahead of the game if that were the case, you weren’t learning from those mediums. 

Le’Nise And do you think that as you’ve gotten older, have you become more open in terms of the conversations that you’re having with your friends? 

Julie Absolutely, yeah. And I think even more so because you know Hello Me is about destigmatizing what it means to be hormonal. I’m on that mission to really open up this dialogue and make this connection between hormones, wellness and beauty and creating products to do that. So obviously, I am actively talking about this. And then I also find a lot of my friends because, you know, they’re into wellness, they’re into health. And so we’ve, you know, we all realise how much an important part hormones play in our lives and the quality of life. And so the dialogue does open up as we go through these transitions of life, which know a lot of my friends are going through perimenopause right? Or they’ve had just had children and they’re going through postpartum. And so the conversations are much more open now, and maybe my circles are a little bit different because of the work I’m doing every single day. So it’s hard for me to know. I do know it hasn’t hit the masses, absolutely, because we’re still continuing to educate our customers and we get a lot of silent DMs and people asking or calling our hormone hotline and having these conversations with our hormone coaches. So it means it hasn’t gone completely mainstream in terms of everybody feeling comfortable. But I do think we’re making a shift and is going in the right direction. Absolutely. 

Le’Nise So just thinking back to when you were younger, so when you’re in your early teens and you got your period, you said you went on the journey of discovery to figure out exactly what was going on with you, the products that you needed to use. Talk a little bit more about that. 

Julie The one story actually comes to mind. It’s funny because I remember most vividly when the first time I had my period and I wanted to go swimming right, we had us a pool in the backyard. I grew up in the Maritimes, in New Brunswick, in Canada, I’m Canadian. And I just that’s the moment I remember the most is like, Oh gosh, I want to go swimming with all my friends. And I was mortified because I wasn’t sure what to do. I’d never used a tampon and I wanted to go swimming so that it’s really one of those moments where it’s like, Okay, I have to figure out how to use a tampon. And I was it wasn’t taught, so I literally remember trying to figure out how to use a tampon. It was extremely uncomfortable because there is no YouTube videos at the time. This or nobody else is documenting it. I don’t know if they do now. I haven’t searched, but you probably can find it somewhere. So I remember that is my most vivid moment in trying to figure that, and that was clearly a situation of trial and error self-discovery. OK. Tampons must work. I need to figure out how they work. They can’t be this uncomfortable. They can’t cause pain. So obviously I’m doing something wrong and figuring it out, right? So that’s my most vivid memory around my period when I was in my teens because it was something you don’t feel embarrassed if something leaked or they show, like if you had any blood and you also didn’t want everybody knowing that you were on your period like that was kind of a whole like stigma around it. The taboo topic. So you’re doing this quietly, just trying to figure out in your bedroom like, Okay, I’m going to go swimming later today, I need to figure out the tampon thing. 

Le’Nise And so did you figure it out? 

Julie Obviously, over time, for sure. But that first day was I don’t think I did that correctly the first day because it was painful. I remember it being painful. And so I could have used a little bit more open dialogue and conversations to have somebody that I could have been like, Hey, now I was done so that I insert this properly and I had I known, I think, not to leave my mom and educated and not leaving tampons in too long, etc., things like that. So that was never something that I didn’t know, but it’s just the mechanics of it. And then the other piece I didn’t know we didn’t have organic brands back then, and that’s something I discovered much later in life because they had just started to emerge. But wow, what a difference that makes, and I think that’s kind of the biggest thing I wish I had known and had available to me when I was younger. In addition to a little bit of information on how to navigate things. 

Le’Nise So talk a little bit more about the difference that organic menstrual products are meant for you. 

Julie Well, organic menstrual products, I mean, your audience may or may not be aware of this, but I mean just the chemicals that they use in non-organic tampons. So when you’re thinking about, I think, particularly when you think of the need for organic, especially in tampons, I mean, all menstrual products and super important, but tampons in particular because you’re inserting them into your body for several hours and they’re going to get into the bloodstream. So when they’ve got, you know, they had chlorine back then, I think they’ve improved things. But there’s still chemical by-products from glyphosate, which is sprayed on the fields or dioxins and just very various chemicals that can be in these non-organic tampons. And I remember when all the years I used them, my body would try and like, like it would sweat during the time of my cycle, and it was clearly trying to get rid of the chemicals. Because when you have two ways to get rid of it, you have a few ways to get rid of things. But sweating is one way to eliminate toxins, right? And so when I switched to organic tampon products because once they were available, that’s all I ever used. I was like, I noticed that never happened again. And so because that was another level of uncomfortableness, right, because you’re like almost bringing changes of clothes in case you’re like sweaty or you’re having gym class and things like that, and you just don’t feel as you just don’t feel as clean, like, frankly, because it’s just like if you went and had to work out and sweated and you wouldn’t feel great going to class afterwards without a shower. So that was a big game changer for me, and I’ve been starting to educate my nieces about that, just trying to have these open conversations, but also saying, Are you using organic products? Because it’s really important and it’s amazing how many people don’t actually know, like the masses don’t still know how important that is. And, you know, hopefully things are starting to shift and hopefully prices come down. So there’s not this big disparity in terms of who can access organic versus non-organic. But it’s it’s really important for, I think, our reproductive organs and overall health from the inside out. 

Le’Nise Yeah, I’m sure I can agree with you more the way the vagina is one of the most absorbent parts of the body. So as you say, anything we put up there, if it’s, you know, if there’s chemicals sprayed over, it is going to have an effect on our oestrogen and progesterone balance. I want to just go back to what you said about your, you know, the difference that organic tampons made for you. Were you experiencing painful or heavy periods? 

Julie No. Well, I did have some PMS, and that’s something else I didn’t know, but now I’m very well versed. In fact, 75 percent of women have PMS and it’s preventable. Right? Kind of talk I’ll go back to your question, really, your menstrual cycles, really. A lot of people refer to it as your fifth vital sign telling you so much about your body. And we can have a discussion on that. But um. Yeah. 

So did I see improvement? No, it wasn’t a change in my period itself in terms of the flow. And I also just I think they came out when I was in my thirties. So my cycle was always very regular 28 days and it was always four to five days. Not heavy. I never had heavy cycles. But what I would say is that one side effect I told you about, like the sweating that stopped immediately. And that was the biggest aha moment with the organic products because and I’ve since I’ve been immersed in this whole wellness space, which I study about, you know, clean products and the effect of chemicals. And I have chemical sensitivities, so I’m very aware of things affecting my body. And so I’m not surprised that that was the first thing that changed for me. But in terms of the duration or how much bleeding I had that didn’t get affected, I think what affected PMS and things like that was more my lifestyle over time. So if I was going through a really stressful time or not sleeping a lot or my diet had fallen off and I was having a lot more sugars or inflammatory type foods, that’s when I would get very severe migraines three days before my cycle, like clockwork. And I would also, I had some cramping, but it was really the migraines that was the debilitating piece. And then when my when I cut out sugar and adding in very like kind of greens and whole foods and not a lot of processed food or grains, et cetera, prior to my cycle, then like a week or two before or for that month, I would have a completely different experience. The PMS was almost nonexistent. 

Le’Nise What you’re saying is so interesting, because there is this narrative that I see where people talk about my PMS and they take ownership of it and it’s kind of something that they expect to happen. And as you say, it doesn’t have to happen. And what’s really interesting is that you were able to identify that you had you were experiencing these migraines and that you were able to make really in the grand scheme of things where that easy, simple changes that were able to change your experience of that time right before your period, which actually doesn’t have to be that bad. We can get a lot of wisdom out of that time of before our period. So tell me a little bit more about how long that took for you. So you had the migraines and then you made these changes. How long did those migraines take to resolve? 

Julie Well, literally if I had a month of very clean month, so I’m drinking green juice, I’m moving my body, I’m actually sleeping. I’m not under tremendous stress, are pulling all nighters at school or something like that, or working investment banking, pulling all nighters. If I was doing those things, then that next month, literally my cycle would be different. I wouldn’t have. I wouldn’t have these crazy three day hormonal migraines. Now I’ve also since learnt like I was like, nutrient deficiencies can be play a big role in hormonal migraines and PMS in general, right? So when you’re under a lot of stress, which I have had these careers where I was working on Wall Street, I was working a lot of hours and not sleeping a lot, so my body was deficient in magnesium. When you’re stressed, your magnesium just like plummets, right? You’d get depleted and things like your vitamin C, which helps balance out your progesterone, which is involved and it fluctuates around your luteal phase and can cause these fluctuations can cause pain. So things like my B vitamins, my magnesium were definitely depleted. And when I started getting more into the science behind all of like overall wellness and health, and with my migraines, treating them proactively with things like magnesium and B vitamins, et cetera, I wasn’t getting as severe hormonal migraines. 

The other interesting trick that I learnt over time or I had to have in not a trick but a service that really helped me with these hormonal migraines. This is before, like we had the science has caught up, and we created product like top up signs to help women, not happiness. But prior to that, when I would go and get colonic, I would just get colon hydrotherapy. I would get that a week before my cycle and I would have zero also have zero migraine. So what that was doing, it was helping my body because I’m not the best detox, like I’m on the best detox genes or detoxification genes, so hence the chemical sensitivities. But what the hydrocolon therapy did is it pulled out like some of these extra hormones helped my body kind of get rid of things that otherwise we’re ingesting and creating inflammation in my body so that my PMS was also much worse, which meant severe migraines three days before my cycle. 

Le’Nise So for listeners who aren’t aware, one of the ways that our body gets rid of hormones it’s already used is through a bowel movement. So if you’re not having a bowel movement every day, at least every day, then your body can reabsorb those chemicals. So the oestrogen, oestrogen, for example, that is already broken down and that can lead to increased premenstrual symptoms. So for you? You mentioned the colonics. Were you were you constipated or was this just giving you a bit of a helping hand? 

Julie My I would say because I’m coeliac, so I’ve had my digestive tract has been off and on throughout the years and this is pre diagnosis of coeliac. So I would have made my bowels weren’t moving as efficiently as they should, and I also didn’t have as much knowledge as I do 15 years later in terms of how to have a healthy gut biome. It wasn’t  really talked to go back then? So yes, absolutely with those variabilities. And then you can also experience that as you go through and have your menstrual cycle too. So they kind of compound each other. Then if you’re depleted and things like magnesium to it, just it’s not going to help it right? And so the colon hydrotherapy and I would say it’s really important to go to somebody who’s registered and certified and you’ve done your research, not just anybody, in the closed systems, I think are kind of the best for people if they’re looking to do that. But those really did help pull out anything that I wasn’t getting out naturally. And I think and then a little bit extra, right? Because if my digestion was backed, digestive system was backed up. It was just like making sure things are staying and stagnating into my body. 

Le’Nise Hmm. It’s so interesting about colonics because I had one. I’ve only had one. Just I had. I actually, I think maybe about 15 years ago there was this place in Notting Hill and I used to live in Notting Hill in London, and I used to walk past it all the time. And I was always really curious because that time colonics were kind of seen as this kooky sort of thing, whereas now it’s, you know, wellness and health is become more mainstream. So you tell someone your, well, I think you maybe get a mixed reaction depending on the person. 

Julie I still get a mixed reaction. 

Le’Nise Yeah, but I had this. I had this colonic and I remember back then I was a vegetarian and my diet was really bad. I was constipated constantly. So that was one of the reasons why I wanted to go. And I just remember this lightness that I felt afterwards and I thought, Oh, I must, I must do that again. I mean, fortunately, I don’t feel like I need to anymore because I’m very regular. I have no issues in that department, but it is. I just remember thinking how marvellous that feeling was of just feeling so light. 

Julie Yes, and it’s interesting. And obviously, a lot of people show digestive issues through like bloating or, you know, things like that. Or always having gas and you can get a lot of bloating around your cycle, too, which which of these things help with. So you don’t have to go through a service like that. I’m just kind of that’s one of my sort of like hacks that I discovered over the years with when I didn’t have Top up tonic available to me to balance out my hormones. So it’s just interesting what works for different people. But I think universally that’s if you’re open to it, that can be very helpful, particularly if you’re really severe symptoms around your cycle. 

Le’Nise  Tell us about your experience with your, your period and your menstrual cycle. Now you mentioned you’re forty seven. So are you perimenopause? 

Julie Well, OK, so there’s a little bit more to this, I stopped getting my cycle, I guess, two years ago because I had breast cancer two and a half years ago, so I guess a year and a half ago. And then because of the breast cancer, I have a BRCA2 gene, which means I have a much higher risk of hormone cancers. And so because of the breast cancer, I went through preventative surgery to remove my ovaries and fallopian tubes, which means I was no longer I was thrown into menopause overnight. So I was forty five. And basically, I’ve never had a cycle since because I don’t have the organs to produce a cycle, right? So so as I was getting into my 40s, I can say that shortened to about two days. It was very light in two days, so it was definitely switching sides. I’m sure I was entering perimenopause. I didn’t have night sweats and things like that, which are very common as you start to go into perimenopause. But I did notice a shift in my menstrual cycle and that it was it had always been quite like only one heavy day and then quite light, and it was never more than five days. But then it shifted literally to being two max three days and really only only one day of sort of normal flow and then very light. But it was it was still very much like every 28 days. I might be off one day if I had like a really stressful month or something, but it was like clockwork up until the point that I had the surgery. 

Le’Nise Can you talk a little bit about the impact that going through the medical menopause had on you? 

Julie Well, let’s just say it’s a journey, and that’s my mission now, with Hello Me, as I’m creating products to not make it a difficult journey for women so that they can just literally, you know, avoid all the side effects that I had to go through. So, yeah, menopause, obviously. So for people who haven’t been through it, I mean, your oestrogen, you know, your hormones are declining slowly. Typically, it happens, starts a little bit in your forties. It can go up to, you know, people can be full on menopause and they’re 50 ,55, whatever and it can so people can have symptoms for anywhere from three to 10 years. For me, I went from having, you know, a normal level of estrogen, progesterone, et cetera, and dropped overnight. So I had seven months of very severe symptoms, and I spent my time figuring out how to kind of hack that so that I could be hormonally balanced again. Because really, what the doctors were offering me was nerve blockers and antidepressants to deal with night sweats and anxiety and insomnia, etc. instead of anything else that was more natural. So I wasn’t interested in going on a nerve blocker for the next 20 years. And so that’s why I was kind of determined to hack it through more natural sources. And that’s where Hello Me is also moving to launch products for women in the spring. So it’s a life change, I would say. In Chinese medicine, they talk about as a second spring, and I love that because it’s not something to be feared. You know, you’re in your own skin, your company, you have all this wisdom and you really come into full bloom. And yes, you do have to tweak your body. You can tweak a few things because your hormones have fluctuated, just like post-pregnancy you have tweaks. When you’re in your reproductive years, you have tweaks, and so you have to do that again. But it doesn’t mean that you’re past your prime. It doesn’t mean that you have to live with these symptoms forever. And the science now is really advanced. And there’s so much, you know, so many of us focussed on innovation, the space that I’m excited for, where it’s headed in terms of a category because there’s so much that we can do to make women’s lives better. So, yeah, so my experience was not pleasant because there just weren’t any natural solutions for me. But I’m back in a place where I feel I’m back to normal. I don’t have the same symptoms, so I’ve resolved it. And really what it’s done is just been a catalyst again for Hello Me and a whole other category of products. 

Le’Nise So someone’s listening and they’ve gone through that experience of medical menopause, which is very different from the natural menopause, where it can happen more gradually. Medical menopause, it’s hitting you like straight away. What were the kind of natural solutions that you would recommend to someone going through that experience? 

Julie So one thing that’s really important, and I don’t know that it’s common knowledge, is that your adrenal function, so you know, the organs are a little bit above your kidneys that help support you and give you energy prior to adrenal fatigue or if people have heard of that. It’s really important that your adrenals are healthy and nourishing your adrenals. So. And that’s done from lifestyle factors as well as nutrients. So like, you need to be taking your B vitamins because you’re going to have lower energy. If you’re don’t have all your hormones supporting you, you do need to take things that can support the adrenals. In others, things like ginseng, there’s adaptogens you can take. 

But I’d say I did for me, I did the Dutch test, which is a hormone test, and it really showed me sort of where my cortisol was. And it’s not really that surprised that my cortisol was quite low because I was in the middle of launching a business and I had breast cancer. I had a few things that had gone on. And so those weren’t supporting my body because they typically step in to help when your other hormones are coming down. So I would say the Dutch test if there’s the option to take it to just really understand where your hormones are and then to kind of work with that and understand, like how do I support the adrenals? Usually if you’ve gone into surgery, like in menopause overnight, you want to be working with the health care practitioner to like, help guide you, at least from the beginning. So I was working with specialists who are naturopathic medical doctors or specialists, and we were working on really getting my adrenals back and nutrient IVs, which gives you sort of like high dose nutrients so that it’s a quicker recovery period for your adrenals. And because that was exacerbating my symptoms. And once I had my adrenals in a much healthier state, I slept better. I didn’t have the same low grade anxiety every day. So a lot of things shifted. I wasn’t getting night sweats and waking up in the middle of the night with a racing heart. So I would say that was sort of the biggest takeaway for me. I saw that massive shift. One I spent 8 weeks supporting my adrenals. And it’s also sleep, an exercise like yoga and things that are nourishing and doing things that literally like reduce your stress level so nourishing for you. It’s not just supplements and diet, it’s also, you know, doing things that are going to bring your stress levels down and release those sort of endorphins naturally. 

Le’Nise I think the message you’re sharing sharing is a really positive one because certainly in the UK, the message that we get is that once you’re in your when you’re in perimenopause and then in menopause, it’s all about HRT or hormone replacement therapy. And that’s a kind of drumbeat that’s in the press over here. And you know, as a nutritionist, I know that there are other solutions out there, but the doctors over here are really kind of adamant about women going on HRT. And so I’m really kind of enthused to hear your story because there are alternatives out there. And so for women who are listening, you know to what Julie’s talking about around adrenal support is so powerful because you do make sure you’re making a weaker form of oestrogen in your adrenal hormones don’t all stop and you support your adrenals. You can access this really important form of oestrogen that takes us through to post-menopause. So fantastic. I love the message you’re sharing.

Julie And would say everyone’s individual too, right? So for me, I had like I zero. I like there. They’re so low. My doctor said, I can’t believe you’re feeling worse, not feeling worse than you are. And I said, Well, I didn’t know it could feel worse, to be honest. And and I would also say, like for me, now, I do this DUTCH test just because of the cancer risk and everything else, and I do that test every six months for me. And it’s important because they are monitoring how I’m breaking down. So I have a very, very low dose bioidentical hormones, right? It’s like the lowest you can just so that it made a difference for me and made a difference. So that plus the adrenal support was the game changer. Not everybody is comfortable doing bio identicals, and I’m on as low dose as it can possibly be just because of the cancer risk. But for me, I found it at my age and where I am, I wanted to have a little bit. And so I do this Dutch test every six months to make sure that like, I’m still where the risk is, is when you start to, you know, you take bio identicals and you realise your body’s not breaking down. The by-products are being processed properly and then that can increase your risk. And so some people say don’t ever take anything, you know, even the bio identical hormones. But for me, I’m monitoring it and I take like such a low dose that that plus adrenal support, it gets me to where I need to be, plus my daily nutrients that I take my supplements. 

Le’Nise And so let’s talk a little bit about your, your company and also you, you as a clean and clear living expert. What does that mean? 

Julie So clean and clear living is really about getting to your best version of yourself by first. You know, clean living is many pillars, so it’s hormone balance. But it’s also environmental, right? Like making sure you’re living in an environment that’s clean, not full of toxins that you don’t have a toxic burden that is unmanageable. It’s movement. It’s it’s doing something that’s purposeful in your life. So when I combine these things like my passions is about helping people live their best lives, that means having great health. Because when you’re in great health, we can do so much more and I’ve experienced the other end of things. I also believe that once you’ve got service, clean internal blueprint, which makes you feel great, you have more confidence and you have more clarity in terms of like, you’re your path. You have the confidence to pursue your path and things that are important to you. So you feel like you’re living a fulfilling life. And for me, I feel like when people are following their own authentic journeys is a whole other level of healing that goes on too. And I’m a spiritual person from the sense that I believe like when you’re on, you feel like you’re living a purposeful life and you’re authentic and you’re really being true to yourself. It’s kind of back to those molecules of emotion. You’re not storing all the stress in the body. The body has more levels of inflammation, so you not only make your biggest impact in the world and you give the gift to the world by being authentic self, but you also feel your best. And you look your best because you’re more when you’re happy, right? Or you’re more joyful. So clean and clear living is about those pillars that allow you to have that super clean, balanced imprint on the inside, which provides the confidence and radiance and clarity to do what you’re meant to do and follow your profession, be your authentic self. 

Le’Nise And then in terms of the company that you build. You mentioned that you went through this really tumultuous time in your in your mid-40s or early to mid 40s where you had breast cancer and you were launching a company. Tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind the company. You’ve alluded to it a little throughout our conversation and why you chose to launch it during this time in your life. 

Julie Yes. So Hello Me was born prior to getting breast cancer. So in terms of the idea and the vision, it’s quite interesting that I basically went through all the life phases in a very compressed period to, I guess, accelerate what I can do for women with Hello Me. But that’s the only way to put it into a positive light. But Hello Me. Originally, I was suffering from migraines, all in my twenties and thirties, from a hormonal imbalance. I was on birth control. The science wasn’t caught up. I finally went to a holistic practitioner. They said, Look, these symptoms are low grade anxiety that later develops from the nutrient depletions, as well as the migraines, from being on birth control. Right? Depletes your key nutrients that most women don’t realise, right? Probiotics, antioxidants, et cetera. And so I went off it, and then I dove into the whole wellness world like I was always interested in wellness, et cetera. But I really dove in to heal myself. And so after I spent a year healing myself through studying nutrition, anti-inflammatory diets, really replenishing everything, I’d been putting it through for a decade. You know, I realised what a change in quality like you can have. And fast forward several years I started to look at like, how could I create a company that truly impacts the lives of the masses for women? And nobody was making the connection between hormonal balance and wellness and beauty and the dialogue, really, you know, we talk about with periods like, no one’s really starting to talk about it and shows like yours are a gift to everybody because you’re really sort of opening up this for people. But nobody is making that connection and talking about it. And so it really was a combination my personal experience of having alleviated that hormone imbalance, which completely changed my quality of life. When you’re having six migraines a week to like maybe two a month, and that was those were the hormonal and around the hormone hormonal period time. And so I just felt like this is a way that I can create products that truly address from a root cause level and provide natural, effective solutions. Having been created for women for decades, and so all these women who are suffering in silence or just in the survival mode like I was, can now take our products and actually get back to looking and feeling their best and feeling like their most truest, authentic forms of themselves. So I like to say, you know, we get you firing on all cylinders because we make those tweaks. You do it at the root cause, and it’s amazing what happens to how you feel and your skin and the bloating and everything else. So Hello Me about looking in the mirror, being proud of who you are. You’re back to the best version of yourself and you’re ready to conquer the world and do what you’re meant to do. 

Le’Nise I love that. And tell us more about the products within that you offer. 

Julie So at the moment, we have three products that women can purchase, and we’re launching a fourth one in the spring, which I’m excited about. So we’ve got Top up tonic, which is a once a day capsule, it’s vegan, and it’s got 18 nutrients, probiotics and antioxidants that your body needs for hormonal balance. So what we find is women who are on birth control. Women are suffering from PMS, PMDD or you’ve got hormonal acne that’s happening or just really fatigued a lot. This product is a godsend for women like me in terms of you look, take it for six weeks, up to eight weeks and your body has bio-accumulated these nutrients you’ve been needing and you start to really feel and see a transformation. And so that’s for women, really. I’d say 16, you could take about 18 to thirty five is really the sweet spot for that product. I also had a lot of women in their 40s, 50s, 60s later in life because it supports adrenals, they take it for energy. And so tonic really is going at once a day solution that balances out your hormones through all the key nutrients you need and adjust your gut biome that has probiotics in it. That really helps reduce things like bloating, right? And see how this impacts immunity, too. So Top up tonic is one. 

And then we also have a product called Hydrophoria. So Hydrophoria is my favourite daily product because it’s a ritual for me. It’s a sachet. It’s collagen, probiotics one. So we have 10 billion colony forming probiotics seven strains. So it’s multi strain five grams of therapeutic clean, bovine collagen. So we get different types of collagen. And then it’s got ingredients like snow mushroom, which is a natural form of hydrolonic acid. So this product is all about gut healh, which is a core pillar of hormonal balance and then nice benefit is skin as well. So women who take this product, we take it in the morning. It tastes like berry flavoured water. It’s super clean and it’s just hydrating from the inside out and it balances out the gut. So you get rid of bloating, you get rid of digestive issues, and it balances the hormones and hormones that way. 

And then the last product is Inner Charge, which is all your oil based therapeutic nutrients and antioxidants that need to be in an oil base that help you with hormone balance and mood. So your omega-3 is it’s got GLA from borage oil,  potent antioxidants like Astaxanthin, Zeaxanthin, Lutein. So you take those capsules with the AM and PM sachets, and those really help reduce inflammation, which helps balance the hormones and then add all the healthy oils helps with mood. 

Le’Nise Fantastic. So we’ve got three really interesting products. If listeners want to find out more and purchase these products, where can they do that? 

Julie [Just go to the website, www.hello.me, and you can see the products there and we have a hormone coach hormone hotline. So if you’re curious and you have questions about your own health or you know what’s best for whatever you’re dealing with, you can text us or email us on the website. And I’d also say happy to give all your listeners 20 percent off with their PERIODSTORY20 for the next month, if they want to purchase some products they’ll get 20 percent off their order.

Le’Nise Fantastic. So you said a lot of really interesting and valuable things across the course of our conversation. What’s the one thing that you want listeners to take away today? 

Julie The important thing, hormonal balance and how you feel every day, and if you’re suffering from mood swings, depression, anxiety, irritability, constant bloating, hormonal acne or lots of fatigue. This is very likely a symptom of hormonal imbalance, right? And we can help you. It’s really usually a nutrient depletion that your body needs. You just need some tweaking and you can get back. So I don’t want people to feel discouraged and women who are going through PMS. Those women don’t need to suffer anymore. You know, take a product like Top up tonic for two months. You’re going to have a massive shift. And so, you know, just to really bring that to the forefront in terms of thinking, like, are these symptoms a symptom of hormone imbalance? And if so, yes, we can help you. 

Le’Nise Fantastic. Thank you so much for your time today, Julie. It was really fascinating to talk to you and hear more about your story. 

Julie Well, thanks for having me. I love meeting you and having this conversation. So have a wonderful day. 

Period Story Podcast, Episode 51: MaryEllen Reider, The Ultimate Form of Self-Care Is To Take Care of Your Health

On today’s episode of Period Story, I had a very interesting and eye-opening conversation with MaryEllen Reider, the co-director of Yarlap, a wellness device to treat urinary incontinence and improve pelvic floor health.

We talked about the prevalence of urinary incontinence (did you know this affects 1 in 4 women!?!), the need for better pelvic health education and of course, MaryEllen’s first period story. Listen to hear how MaryEllen’s dad helped her understand what was happening and how he bought her first menstrual products. 

Thank you, MaryEllen! 

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise On today’s episode of Period Story, we have MaryEllen Reider. She is a co-founder and director of marketing for a company called the Yarlap, and she’s doing really amazing work educating about the importance of the pelvic floor. I want to just get into our conversation by starting off with the first question that I ask all of my guests: Tell me the story of your first period. 

MaryEllen So my first period was a little bit, I guess everybody’s different, but I didn’t get mine until I was 16, so I was kind of later than the rest of my friends. The rest of my friends were in middle school or whatever, and I was nearing the end of high school and I got my period. But we never talk about it, ever. I don’t remember talking to my friends about, especially in middle school and high school. Nobody talked about your period because it was thought of as kind of disgusting, gross, dirty. 

And when I got my first period, I remember thinking I can use panty liners like an adult. And turns out that panty liners don’t help on your first few days of your period. And I thought then I thought, Oh my gosh, I’m bleeding, something’s wrong with me because I’m bleeding through all of these things. So I went to my dad, actually. He was also the other co-founder of Yarlap because he always talked to us about our body parts and that body parts are just body parts. There’s no shame if something’s wrong, tell me. And we figure it out. Go to your doctor. We figure this out. So I went to him and I said, Something’s wrong. I’m bleeding. It’s not stopping, help. And well that freaked my dad out because that’s not what you want to hear. And then I slowly told him it was my period. I’m bleeding through panty liners. I don’t know what to do. I mean, he goes, OK, well, we’ll just go to your doctor anyway, just so you have appropriate information. And then he proceeded, while I was at my my doctor getting this full rundown of what I probably should have gotten in my health class. To be honest, I was getting the full down run from her doctor, Dr. Burke. I remember her. I remember it because it was so I remember thinking, Oh my gosh, I’m never going to get over this, this mortifying. And she’s telling me all about what was happening with my cycle and everything and while I was doing that my dad went to the grocery store and bought one box, every tampon and every pad and put it into the box and came. And he was like, You’re going to find out what is comfortable for you and what fits for you and whatever you don’t need, we’ll figure out what to do with the rest. And that was that was my first period story, and I remember it because. I think he had like six bags, six grocery bags of of absorbent pads, tampons. This was way before the Diva Cup or anything like that, just literally just pads and tampons. I remember seeing all of them and I remember I play soccer. I played soccer very intensely, so I was like, I’m going to do the one with the girls with sports and the tampon with the sports. And I don’t need pads because no. And I just remember I remember that so intensely, because then I told my my friends afterwards that my dad was the one that helped me with my period. And they all were. They were like traumatized and I don’t know why. I was like, It’s just my dad. But turns out dads are the ones that back in 2003 or whatever. They weren’t the ones telling, telling their daughters about periods. I guess I was. That wasn’t the norm, but it was at our house. 

Le’Nise Well, this is actually the first time I’ve heard a story where the dad was so involved, and I think it’s beautiful and it really should normalize this idea that your, both set of parents in a heterosexual relationship should be able to talk to their daughters about menstruation. So why do you think why was your dad so comfortable with this? Where did this all come from? 

MaryEllen Yeah. So my dad is a medical device engineer, so he creates these devices to help with muscle tone and muscle rehabilitation. And he has. So he’s what you would think of as like a stereotypical engineer, he’s very practical everything. And so when we were growing up, it was just parts are parts, and it’s all. I hate to say this because it takes the humanity away for people, but by no means means if, but. Our body is essentially just a machine, and to keep it running smoothly, you have to label the parts correctly. And so for us, there was never like a coochie or of a vajayjay or a pee pee, a booty hole or anything like that. It was penis, vagina, vulvovaginal area, anus, rectum. Sometimes you’d call it a butthole. I always thought that that was a hilarious term. And I still do. 

But for us, it was always just talk about your body parts. It’s OK, everybody poops. Everybody farts. Everybody keeps half the population bleeds once a month, theoretically, and that’s just the way it is. That’s OK. There’s no shame in it. There’s shame in being shamed. So I’m very grateful of having that. And I know after doing stuff with the Yarlap, I very. Aware now that that was not that is not the norm, it’s still not the norm, especially for women and especially for women with dads who talk to them openly about their periods like I did. That’s very much not the norm. 

Le’Nise Yeah, I really appreciate that pragmatic approach because I’ve got an eight year old son, and I’ve always been kind of really straightforward about the naming of the body parts and just kind of like, it’s a penis, because over here in the UK, the euphemism is, they call it a willy. Like, that’s the kind of the kids in North America like pee pee. But over here it’s a willy, and I’ve always said, it’s your penis. You may use a proper name and that and that kind of stuff. Although now that he’s gone to school, they his friends, they like joke a lot and they call the body parts different names. But he knows what they’re supposed to be called. And I think that’s really important. Especially, you know, if there’s any trauma happening that children should be able to say the exact name of anything that is happening to them. So what you are saying about your dad is really refreshing. So you then told your friends and they were traumatized because they didn’t get the same sort of education that you got, but just kind of working it back a little bit. You got your period when you were 16. But did you know exactly what a period was because your dad had done that education on the kind of menstrual health side as well? 

MaryEllen No. So that didn’t put my like my menstrual health stuff didn’t really hit until I got my period, and that’s why I was such a big shock. I was like, I had heard the term, and I know like my friends had cotton balls. Turns out those were tampons, and I knew that it made them uncomfortable. They never talked about it. They would sometimes joke when they would exchange tampons or pads in the hallway, and I wanted to be part of that club, but I knew that I didn’t want to be in the pain that they had described, but I didn’t know. Anything about biologically what was going on are really like the basics of what was going on until I got my period. And then it was like a quick run through like a one on one brief five minute thing from my dad. And then we drove off to the doctor’s office and I got a forty five minute description with a 3D anatomical like womb. And then there were charts and all these other things, and I just remember her talking about the female body. But then I remember her also talking about the male body, and I remember thinking, How does this affect the male body? And I, she was giving me a full Health class in forty five minutes. She was like, why didn’t I? She’s like, I’m surprised that more people don’t know about this in health class. I thought, I’m a good student. We don’t. We aren’t taught about this in health class I would have remembered because this is terrible. This is not stuff you forget. And I think that that was definitely the first moment where I remember thinking, Wow, why don’t we ever talk about what is fundamentally going on with our bodies? And I was at age 16, so.

Le’Nise So you got your period, you got this education from your dad and your doctor. And then what was your relationship like with your period after all of this happened? 

MaryEllen I think of her as a, I love her. She annoys me. She’s kind of the best friend that you’ve had since you were born and you have this deep fondness for her. But also at the same time, I have this thought, if we met now, we’re not like you. You know what I mean? And I I I like her. I know when I know everything is running smoothly. When she arrives on time, I know that my diet’s OK. My exercise is okay. I’m hydrated when it aligns within my time frame. But. I know that it’s I get really bad pain and cramps my first two days that are unbearable. I essentially sit on a heating pad. And. That’s basically it. I sometimes worry how that dynamic is going to change when we’re trying to conceive because I’m a little bit on the irregular side. So I’m a little hesitant of how to track her and her welcome party when I’m what I’m doing to start trying to conceive here in the next year or two. Hmm. 

Le’Nise When you got your period, was it painful from the very beginning? 

MaryEllen Absolutely not no. I remember thinking, why does everybody so angry and upset and have these massive craving for chocolate and sweet or salty stuff? Why? Why are people bending over backwards and why is it portrayed as this awful thing on TV? Why does everybody have heating pads and all these other things? And I think up until about four years ago, I was totally fine. And then the past four years, I. That’s when I learned to kind of dislike her. And so it’s kind of at the beginning, it was just like, whatever. No pain, no sensation. Nothing. And I think a little bit after college, she started to get a little bit more painful. Maybe that’s my body telling me maybe to work out a little bit more or change my diet or something, but I and I guess when I was younger now, no discomfort, no pain, nothing like that. I couldn’t understand why it was portrayed that way. 

Le’Nise And then so four years ago, did is, can you pinpoint something that happened that may have changed the way you experience your period? 

MaryEllen Four years ago, I would say no. The only thing that comes to mind is I was often on with birth control for a really long time, and the cold turkey was about five years ago, six years ago. I mean, totally done. And I remember I got insane, chin acne, that I couldn’t get rid of, and I still kind of have it just intense acne on my chin, down on my. My, my cheeks. My t-zone are like my forehead was fine, which was really annoying. And. I think it was really hard, if not impossible, to track for about two years afterwards. And then about four years after we were kind of regular, it was fine, everything. That’s the only thing I could honestly say might have been a difference. My diet kind of always been the same. But that’s been it. And that was that was tough. Now I remember thinking, this is not who I am behaviorally. 

I was so mean. I was so mean. And I remember thinking, this is the words that are coming out of my mouth like I couldn’t. I couldn’t take them back. But like as they were, I feel like I was out of my own body and I was just watching me burn bridges and I just thought, This is, you need to go away, you need to not see anybody until you figure this out. You are not a good person right now. And finally, kind of. Finally was able to balance that out. 

Le’Nise And this was before your period or during your period?

MaryEllen During, it was like the two days before. And then I was delightful afterwards, but I mean, it was just like the two days before was terrible. The first two days were terrible. That’s like a solid week out of my month. I was a monster. That is not OK. 

Le’Nise No, no. Have things gotten better in? 

MaryEllen Absolutely. Yeah, yeah. Now I’ve now replaced anger with cravings for peanut butter. So now we got I think I am single handedly keeping Jif peanut butter in business. But one week out of the year I am, I will eat jars of peanut butter. But I’m I like to think that I’ve been told that I am very pleasant now. 

Le’Nise Well, that’s a big, big shift going from mood changes to cravings for peanut butter. So what is it like protein, fat?  

MaryEllen Salty. I think it’s probably the protein and the saltiness. I’ve never really been a sweet flavor. I’ve always been a salty, like a savory over sweet person. And I think just during my period, especially the first two days and then the first two days of actual bleeding, I I am all over anything savory. Especially if it’s covered in peanut butter. 

Le’Nise And it is just peanut butter, or is it almond butter or so? 

MaryEllen It’s just peanut butter and I I will tell, I tell my partner all the time. I will I’ll message him and say, I need you to bring back peanut butter, peanut butter, covered pretzels, peanut butter like noodles because what he’s like, OK, well, I mean, we we know she’s coming soon. And two days later, without fail, there she is. 

Le’Nise Wow, that’s I mean, you’re not alone with having these really intense, savory cravings, but it’s really interesting how it’s very specific to peanut butter. I want to just go back to what you were saying about the birth control. Can you talk a little bit about why you got started on it? Was it was it the oral contraceptive or was it another type of birth control? 

MaryEllen I always did the oral contraceptive, the little packet with the circle. And then, you know, sometimes it changed the packet of square packet and it went left to right for the placebo at the very end and I changed around. I changed the dosages. I did it because I had really bad acne. I would get hormonal acne and I couldn’t get it to go away no matter what. It was just it wasn’t for period pain. It wasn’t for sexual purposes. It wasn’t anything like that. It was purely for an acne purpose. 

And I had a really bad mood swings any time I changed it or I changed the dose, the higher it was, the more irritable I became. And it got to the point where I was still not myself and I was at the lowest possible dosage and do not do this. I am not a medical professional, so I cannot diagnose but do not do what I did. And don’t take yourself off. I don’t test to see if it’s better off. Don’t take yourself off randomly. Go to a doctor and figure out a good way to do this. Don’t be my 20 year old self and try to do a self trial. That’s a terrible idea, but that’s what I did, and I took myself off and I was awful. After six years of being on it and then I went back on it, still terrible, and I basically did everything that I’m pretty sure a doctor would tell you not to do to take yourself on it, putting yourself on, take yourself off, And. Then I took myself off to cold turkey, and it took a while for me to balance out my mood. But oh my gosh, did I love her, like this girl who was not on on? Oh, I loved her. She was awesome. She is awesome. I I don’t feel intense negativity. I feel a lot of things. It’s wonderful. The journey to do that? Talk to your doctor. Don’t do what I did. It was a tough journey. 

But oh my gosh, I love I love this. And I’m not on it and I can track who I am regularly. My cycle regularly. I do all of that. I have a little handicap that you that I mark on the month to month basis. Is a monthly calendar really tiny, but I can. I can track on the day, usually anywhere between twenty six to thirty two days. But again, I’m not the most regular person, but I I would not for my own purposes and my own body. I’m not going to ever go back onto pill or IUD just because it was not. I wasn’t really proud of who I was, and I think that that was more of a a mood thing of how it changed that the level within me and I know that I’m probably a total outlier. A lot of my friends adore their IUD. I love it. Rave about it. Whenever we catch up, they’re talking about their updates. I have a very,  we’re obviously very open. But but for me, I’m I’m the only one that’s completely off out of my core group of six. And the only one that’s off, four of them have IUDs. Three of them love it. And. But that’s that’s this is my story. So I just don’t I do not like I was. I love who I am now. I know how it’s like with monthly spikes of. Intense negative mood swings, intense negative feeling, because by the time I felt like I was stabilizing out of that. It would be like. Five days until the next period, and I don’t want to have five days of normalcy for the rest of my vague, unpredictable, so I took myself off of it. 

Le’Nise Well, you know, you’re you’re this is not something that is unusual. I do hear this a lot. Mood changes due to hormonal contraception. So it’s really important that you’re sharing your story and sharing the impact that this had on you from a mood perspective. But you know, if you are listening to this and you’re thinking, Wow, this is me as well, I want you to know that you’re not alone. This is actually more common than a lot of people realize. I just want to say something. Go back to what you said about your menstrual cycles because you said that they’re between twenty six and thirty two days. Mm hmm. That’s actually quite common for it to be not like just bang on twenty eight days every time. So you mentioned that you might have irregular cycles, but in my work as like a women’s health specialist, an irregular cycle to me would be going from having one menstrual month, being 21 days and then the next one being 40 days. Like you’re looking at like for me, that’s like an irregular cycle, like a really big differential. Whereas what you’re talking about is like four, maybe five days. And I think, you know, that’s not to me, that’s not an irregular cycle. That’s more your body reacting to things that are happening to around you. Maybe one menstrual month, you’re more stressed or you have a lot going on that might change the length of your cycle. So I obviously don’t work with you. I just wanted to give you that little bit of insight. 

MaryEllen No, I love it. I think that this is one of the first few times that somebody said that normal. Thank you! 

Le’Nise Just to go back to what you’re saying about hormonal contraceptives. So you were you got your period at 16 and then at 20, you took yourself off of the pill. So you that mean that you went on it and you were on it for six years, so you were on it from when you were 14. 

MaryEllen So I guess it was four years, four years or so because it was I remember thinking, Oh, I’m on my period. I get to have birth control because that’s what everybody did, and I don’t know if that was. I think that that might be something that was very generational because. It was if it felt like we were kind of made to feel a little weird for doing that. And I remember going to high school when everybody was birth control. And I live in a I lived in a. A small little town in Ohio and everybody was on birth control, so it wasn’t like a city versus rural situation. And a lot of them were on it for the same reason I was on. It was a hormonal acne situation. A lot of people wanted it to balance out their period. I remember I had friends who like you said they would have months go by and they didn’t have a period or they would have months go on and they wouldn’t stop having periods and. I remember everybody was on it for a different reason, one or the other, but I think for me when I went into high school. I was the odd one out because I hadn’t had my period yet, and I wasn’t on birth control because there wasn’t need to. Why would I be on birth control when nothing’s going on anyway? But I was the odd one out. I felt like everybody who I knew in my circle. And I’m not saying I was a popular kid. Please don’t take it that way. But. It was a small school of about two hundred and fifty people and half of those were girls, and they’ve known each other our entire life, and it’s a small town. And I think that everybody was on. Everybody was on it, and that’s OK. But. I remember thinking, I’m an adult, this is weird. When I got my first packet back, when I first filled it. And it was on that for about four years straight, I guess. And then took myself off and then took myself off cold turkey and that was bad. Don’t do that, please. Please don’t do that. I was. That was rough. That was rough. 

Le’Nise So you’ve been on a real journey with hormonal contraception, with your period and the changes that you’ve experienced where it was fine and then now it’s painful. You have moods. You used to experience mood changes and now it’s now it’s the cravings for peanut butter that are quite intense. For someone listening to you and who who who is on the same journey that you have been on with hormonal contraception and now trying to conceive or on that in getting ready to think about that next step, what would what will your message be to them? 

MaryEllen Don’t panic. Because I’m very prone to going to WebMD or the Mayo Clinic and just spiraling, don’t do I’d, like to a point where my doctor tells me, you know, please don’t do that. If you have any questions, call me and we’ll discuss it. But I would just say, don’t. It’s so easy to self-diagnose and panic. And especially now with the Yarlap, with the pelvic floor, I’m now very firmly on that boat of don’t panic, don’t self-diagnose. It’s OK. Whatever’s happening we can, we can work within the parameters given and. You know, with all of this and a lot of my friends who have already had their first kid and and the few that have let me kind of be part of their personal journey and see how difficult it can be, it’s not always as depicted on social media where it’s it’s flawless and it’s beautiful and. Easy. It’s not, that’s a facade. So. I think my thing would be. If you’re within my world, don’t panic. Don’t freak out. Don’t write yourself off. It’s OK, it’s OK. 

Le’Nise So just switching gears a little bit, I want to just go to the pelvic floor and this is an area that I personally didn’t actually learn that much about until after I had had my son. And then I started learning about the different exercises that you needed to do. Of course, you know, like you learn about Kegels and, you know, like that’s kind of permeated into the cultural conversation about pelvic floor. But I didn’t have a true education until I actually really needed to strengthen my pelvic floor. So can you tell listeners why that pelvic floor is so important? 

MaryEllen So just like you, I didn’t know about the pelvic floor muscles until I started doing stuff with Yarlap, with my dad, so that wasn’t until I was about twenty four. So about. Six years ago, and only because I started working in it did I realize what was going on and even my own friends if I wasn’t standing on a soapbox, you know, yelling about the pelvic floor. I don’t think you would know about what’s going on at the pelvic floor because we we aren’t taught about it. Ah, no, really where it’s located until we have a child or we have bladder leaks. And then it’s kind of an, Oh, did you know that this body part existed? Were you aware that these muscles are in your body and they’re in everybody’s body? Did you know that? And the most common answer is no, I had no idea. So. I’m in the same boat with the pelvic floor muscles, it’s just we never discussed it and we never talk about it, even though they are. Basically, the foundation to hold for women, your bladder, your uterus, your visceral organs into their natural position, and for me, not knowing about that was mind blowing. Even when I got the health class discussion from my doctor who he didn’t talk about it. We still didn’t talk about the pelvic floor muscles because I and I’m not sure why. I don’t know why we don’t put more emphasis on these muscles, especially for women, because it’s more of a laundry list of what does it affect them as to what doesn’t affect them for women? 

Le’Nise And OK. And so it’s a really important muscle. Can you talk about some of the effects that not taking care of it, not through lack of awareness or not pointing any fingers, but some? What are some of the effects of not taking care of it? 

MaryEllen Yeah. So some of the effects can be pelvic board pelvic floor dysfunction. So that can include urinary incontinence, which is involuntary bladder. So when you laugh,  sneeze, cough and you pee a little bit? It can be sudden urges to go to the bathroom. It can also be on the other side where it’s super tense. The muscles are very tense all the time and it can make intercourse, penetrative intercourse extremely painful and not even penetrative intercourse. It can just be inserting anything including a tampon that we’re talking about. Menstrual cycles that can include that you just can’t do it because it hurt so much. Your body’s so tense. It’s just it’s not feasible. And that could be on that spectrum of pelvic floor dysfunction, of not having control or proper tone of those muscles. And it can kind of, I think when we think of pelvic floor dysfunction, your pelvic floor not working. Most of us draw a blank of what that even is. So, you know, the two most common are super tense or pelvic floor weakening, which leads to bladder leaks and. I think that what bites us in the rear is that we don’t talk about these enough business. And then when we do, it’s kind of like, Oh, I didn’t know. Well, how are you supposed to do it when you didn’t know that it existed? Don’t put that. Don’t put that burden on yourself. 

And then we’re told to do Kegel exercises, and we wish there was a study. That so that even with written instructions, women do them incorrectly over 50 percent of their of over 50 percent of the time because we end up using our rear ends and our thighs are. Our abs or something like that, and if you’re engaged in a different set of muscles, you’re not engaging the pelvic floor in its entirety, and if you’re not doing a proper workout of the muscle, how are you going to get the benefits that you’re reading about? So it’s kind of why they do these exercises. Good chance not going to do them around the block the by and. It felt like we were setting ourselves up for disaster or failure, more like we were setting ourselves up for failure because by the time we find out that these that these muscles exist, we already have the issue. So it’s not a preventative measure for a lot of people. And then when we do, it can’t be a treatment method because we don’t know how to work them out. We’ve never seen them and we end up engaging the wrong muscles. And that’s kind of how we as Yarlap came into fruition, how we kind of created a space for pelvic floor awareness that. We didn’t want to create this area of shame and burden for women, we wanted to be kind of a safe space of shelter for like, do you not know what’s going on? Hi. We’re here.

Le’Nise Talking about the pelvic floor itself, so that you mentioned there’s a spectrum where it’s super tense or it’s weak and that can lead to incontinence. So how we normally think about incontinence in the sense of like older older people and then now that I am a mother, there’s another side of incontinence that we hear about, but across the population, and I know you probably can only speak to US figures. But how how common is incontinence? 

MaryEllen One in four women. 

Le’Nise Wow, one in four women? 

MaryEllen One in four women, and that’s what blew my mind in the United States is one in three. And the AARP and the University of Michigan came out with a study a few years ago that it’s almost one and two after the age of 50 in the United States, but we never talk about it because. I’m drawing a blank. I don’t know why we don’t talk about it, if there was any other issue, any other medical issue that affected this many women. And was this common universally? It would be plastered everywhere. It would be at the front of stores. It would be at the he’ll be at ATM machines. It would be a disclosure. ATM machines. But we don’t talk about it because we’re afraid of being a butt of a joke or we’re afraid that it’s not. You can’t treat it because I didn’t have it when I was younger and. There’s a lot of myths and miscommunication about it. And it kind of breaks my heart a little bit because. We believe as women, we believe those myths that we’re alone and that there’s nothing you can do about it, you just kind of live with it, suck it up. And that’s a lot of the health issues. That’s not just incontinence. I feel like that’s a lot of things for women in general. PCOS right off the top of my head. Suck it up and live with it until really, really recently. And that’s one in 10 women. So I I don’t understand why. For women, we aren’t more vocal about what is going on with our bodies because it’s important and your health is important and you are important and your quality of life is of the utmost importance. So. I mean, the one in four figure should blow your mind, the one in three in the United States should blow your mind. One in two over the age of 50 should blow your mind. 

Le’Nise My mind is blown, my mind is blown. I’m, you know, you we we get told that it’s a lot of things, as you say with women’s health, we get told that we need to live with these long, painful periods, mood changes, incontinence. And you know, I’ve spoken to older women who are dealing with incontinence, and they just think that it’s just part of life. It’s part of this natural decline that we go into as we get older. But it doesn’t have to be like that. You know, you don’t have to stock up on Depends or in the UK, the brand is Tena. You don’t have to stock up on these things. There is a lot that you you can do. I want to just go back to the other side of the spectrum, which is having a very tense pelvic floor. What can. What’s because we we often don’t think about that, but what can cause that? 

MaryEllen A lot of it could be trauma. Your body’s reaction to tense up. And I’m not saying psychological trauma, can be physical trauma as well. But it’s just like any other body part, it can just be you were formed like that, and that’s OK, and you just need to learn how to properly relax those muscles. But a lot of a lot of the instances can be from trauma related instances and your body’s just tense all the time as a protective measure, and so you just got to learn how to relax those muscles. But again, that’s so much easier said than actually done. The theory is so much easier than the implementation and, and in that vein, we have a lot of women who have hypertense muscles and they can’t experience the pleasure of. If they would like to do penetrative stuff or they don’t have the option to use tampons or anything like that because it’s excruciating pain and there are therapists, pelvic floor therapists to do that stuff kind of stuff. To help with either incontinence from a weak and pelvic floor or hypertense pelvic floor or having hypertension or having a weakened pelvic floor, there’s all sorts of different resources and tools that are available for this. And I think that that is another another major gap is that we don’t talk about it and because we don’t talk about it, people don’t know the information and they don’t know that the information can lead to resources and tools that can help you get rid of it. And I think that that is is something. Very near and dear to my heart that like I, if possible, I would hire a blimp and just with skywriting and write it all over the world. But. I think that there is an information gap where we assume that, well, this is just part of life and then we don’t look deeper into it and we don’t find the tools and the mechanisms to help with the actual issue and then treat it. The treat, the issue. We, you know, we sometimes treat the symptom by getting absorbent products or anything when it could be just toning up a muscle or learning to relax the muscle and getting the tools to get rid of the root cause rather than the symptom. 

Le’Nise So awareness is a big is a big part of this. How can we? How can we increase education around pelvic health? 

MaryEllen Break the stigma around it. I think that we’ve come really far, we still have plenty of work to do when it comes to the menstrual cycle, but we can now we now talk about it openly and we we joke about it. It’s not at a point where everybody feels comfortable doing that. But I think it’s more. Acceptable, then, to look at people and be like, I peed myself. And I think that if we kind of do take within the same vein that we have with the menstrual cycle and break that stigma and nurture a conversation that helps, knowing that you’re not alone, knowing that you’re not the only person in the world who suffers from this is a huge. A huge step forward. And that knowing that there is something there to help you get rid of it is also very key. Yeah. 

Le’Nise So to that point, let’s talk a little bit about about the Yarlap because these sorts of products are really powerful and you have a country like France where after you give birth, you get prescribed pelvic floor therapy. But in the UK, that doesn’t happen. So people are women are scrambling around trying to figure out a solution. And so you and your dad have created a product which is could be a solution for many, many women who are experiencing pelvic floor dysfunction. Tell us a little bit more about it. 

MaryEllen Yeah. So it’s actually funny that you say that about France, because that is. Perfect. Where my dad actually was on the team to help design the device for pelvic floor muscle rehabilitation for the national health care system in France. And in Germany, Scandinavia as well. So. He kind of knew he knew what needed to be done and then created an over-the-counter one for the United States and also for the for the UK as well. And. There is just this gap, and we fell we fell into it ourselves before we created the Yarlap. It was a big moment is that we had a family member. Well, family member, but not a family member, a dear friend that had urinary incontinence to the point where she knew she had 15 minutes. She had 15 minutes of freedom, and she had to go to the bathroom and it was like clockwork. And it got to the point where she wouldn’t leave the house. And then she became secluded, which led to a whole array of things. And. Destroyed her social life, all this other stuff. And my dad goes, well, there’s stuff in the in in France and in Europe that you can just go and get it and it will be covered. So there’s probably something like that in the United States where you can just easily go and get it. Well, no, it’s not because it’s the United States. And so then we we created something that we knew we had the we had the resources, the quality. We had everything that we could do to bring something that would work. To the United States, it could be easily accessible. And that’s the key that it was easily accessible and that it worked. And. I think that there are so many things out there that you want to look for something that is good for your journey. If you have pelvic floor muscle control and you can do the workouts, but you’re not sure if you’re doing them properly or if you’re engaging in the correct muscles, there are an array of tools, right? There’s like there’s eggs, biofeedback tools and all these other things. But if you’re if you want something done for you and you just sit there or you have no ability to control those muscles at all, those tools may not be of use for you because they could engage the wrong muscle, right? You can end up using your your butt again to hold everything in and just clench and to squeeze. And if you’re using your butt, you’re not using your pelvic floor muscles. And so you’re not going to get the benefit to have a rear end. That looks amazing, but you’re still good, but you’re still going to have these leaks because you’re not engaging the pelvic floor muscle. 

So maybe those aren’t correct for you. You want to use an enemy as a neuro muscle electro device that sends a signal into your pelvic floor muscles. And there are just different there’s different arrays and there are dialators for super tense pelvic floor muscles. There are an array of tools, but you want to find out what works for you and what is beneficial for your journey. Because if you have a tense pelvic floor muscle, getting something that is going to do the pelvic floor muscle workouts and clench for you is not what you want. You want something that’s going to help you learn to relax those muscles. So it’s really important that you find out where you are on this spectrum of tone and then go find a tool that is appropriate for you because you don’t want to be backpedaling and not getting the correct tool for your problem. So you want to find out what, what, where exactly you are on this spectrum of tone. 

Le’Nise So if you are wondering where you are, so if you don’t have the obvious, some of the obvious signs where you have bladder incontinence or you have like a super tense like you can feel it or you have issues inserting tampons or issues having penetrative sex. Would you say that the best way to get a sense of where you are is to see a pelvic floor specialist like that sort of therapist? 

MaryEllen Or your GP, whoever does your. Exams, if that’s your OB or if that’s your gynonow or whomever can tell you where, how, how, how you are in your tone, where you are, if you have any. If you’re good, if you want to use devices that are as a preventative measure or as a treatment measure, it’s a good if you have the luxury of going to a licensed health care professional. That is your best bet. 

Le’Nise OK, great. So if you if someone’s listening to this and they’re on this journey and they they’re feeling scared, they’re really worried about the symptoms that they’re experiencing, whether it’s either end of the spectrum or somewhere in between. What words would you give them to give them a bit of support? 

MaryEllen Go to your doctor kicked out of the door and say, Hey, this is what I’m feeling, because just taking that action step of making the appointment or even going to your friends or your family or your partner, or look yourself in the mirror and say, I have a problem, I’m going to go fix this. It’s is a huge, massive step and you should be so proud of yourself for taking that step because you’re trying to improve your quality of life by no longer having this health issue. And you should never feel alone, isolated or ashamed ever about taking control of your own health. So anybody who makes you feel any type of negative way for taking control of your own body, for taking control of your health? They are the ones that should be embarrassed. They’re the ones that should be ashamed for making you feel that way because you’re amazing for doing this for yourself. This is the ultimate form of self-care. I know that we are not throwing that term around for creating a bubble bath and lighting some candles. And that is a form of self-care for people. But I personally believe that this is the ultimate form of self-care is to take control of your health. And if you are doing that and. And you are going to make an appointment or you’re you know, you’re talking to people about your pelvic floor health or your bladder leaks or whatever, and you’re about to start this journey, know that this is so amazing and you are so great for doing it because not a lot of people do. And they just sit and suck it up, even though they’re not happy about it and their quality of life sucks. And you are doing something good for yourself and you’re putting yourself first and you’re taking control of your health. That is amazing. I do not ever, ever feel alone, ever. 

Le’Nise Fantastic. I think those are really important words. If listeners want to find out more about you and Yarlap, where can they go? 

MaryEllen They can go to www.yarlap.com or they can find us on Instagram or Facebook. Instagram is I live and breathe on Instagram, so Instagram is a great place to be at. We’re at @yarlapotp. And you can send us messages, comments, whatever you want and we’ll get back to you as soon as we possibly can. And usually that’s within like an hour or so, and so we’re pretty quick to respond. 

Le’Nise Great. Well, thank you so much for coming on the show today. 

MaryEllen Thank you so much for having me. So nice to talk to somebody about taboo subjects that somebody who’s not embarrassed to talk about them as well so that was really nice. 

Period Story Podcast, Episode 50: Natasha Richardson, PMS Is A Hypermedicalisation of A Perfectly Natural Phase

I had a fantastic conversation with Natasha Richardson, the medical herbalist and women’s health expert on today’s show. 

After having struggled with debilitating period pain for years, Natasha discovered how natural remedies could help but was disappointed by how difficult they were to acquire. As a result, she launched her own line of products called Forage Botanicals. 

Natasha is an advocate for embodiment and normalising menstruation, birth and menopause. Inspired by her feminist proclivities she has researched the history of how products surrounding women’s health have affected how we relate to our bodies and the inner sexist beliefs we hold against ourselves and each other. 

Natasha and I talked about PMS and how a perfectly natural phase of our menstrual cycle has been hypermedicalised, PMDD, how to manage and reduce period pain and of course, the story of her first period. 

Thank you, Natasha!

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: Thank you so much for coming onto the show, Natasha. Let’s get into the first question that I always ask my guests, which is tell me the story of your very first period. 

Natasha: So I have a really like no memory of it at all. And I I think that this must be hopefully telling that it wasn’t problematic. But I do remember I do have like a light bulb memory. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that term. It means that you can remember exactly where you were. In space and time, when something happens. I remember myself standing in the playground, in primary school and somebody had just told me from, you know, those like girls magazines that have light period like information and because kids like send messages and be like, something’s happening, is this normal? 

They had like they had one of those, which was obviously for teenagers. So I’m guessing somebody some older sibling had had it in the house and it being brought into primary school, which is like four and the 10 year olds and somebody said, Oh, my God, it says here that you’re going to bleed between your legs, and I was like, what? I was like, how could that be? Like, I just remember standing in the playground, looking down at my crotch and thinking, Where is it going to come from? And can it be true? 

Le’Nise How old were you when all of this was happening? 

Natasha So I would have been like potentially just as young as six or seven. 

Le’Nise So like six or seven, you kind of have I’m just thinking about my son. He kind of has a basic understanding of of these things and you know, when you want to ask he what he he’ll ask things like what sex? And then I don’t obviously don’t give him like a detailed explanation, but he just he when he’s had enough, he’ll just turn to a different topic. What was that kind of like? You know, you go questioning it and then did you you got this information from a friend? And then did you go and speak to your parents or a sibling about what you heard in school?

Natasha Yeah. So I think I kept that to myself because I remember kind of trying to really process this concept in the playground that day. But then I do remember that my mum gave me a period education book, and I think she I’m pretty sure she gave us that before they did anything before we had our talk in school because I remember us kind of like as girls all crowding around it in the playground and being like, Oh my God, we’re going to get boobs. We’re going to like, what? What is all happening? And you know, this kind of like secretive, gossipy kind of thing. And we were getting our education through this book that my mum had provided for us. And so I must have talked to her about it. In order for that to have happen. And then I remember us getting like the talk, which I think was more. It was definitely about sex, but then we split up into male and female in order to learn about the menstruation portion, I believe. And I always, like have envisaged that like, like, what were the boys being taught? I mean, somebody then later told me, Oh, that’s when they learnt investment banking, and I was like, Oh yeah, it all makes sense now. 

Le’Nise And how old were you when you were getting getting this kind of sex ed chat at school? 

Natasha Then we would have been like probably nine, I think. And they were aware that some people probably would have already started their periods and they they because they literally would know who had started because. Those poor souls who started really early, they had like this kind of back up plan for those people where they could come to the staff room and say that they need some sanitary pads or whatever and get some. And so I don’t know that, but what I experienced must have been like for those people who started earlier than everybody else. 

Le’Nise Oh my gosh. Like, imagine being eight or nine years old and having to go to the staff room just like, oh, and like knocking on the door and the staff and 

Natasha Everyone looking around. And then you like telling a whisper to a teacher, hopefully not a man. Yeah. 

Le’Nise Oh gosh. Oh, that’s like a horrible, horrible. 

Natasha Yeah, it sounds like traumatisingly bad. 

Le’Nise And so you don’t remember your your first period. But if you think back to the early years of having a period, what was that experience like for you? 

Natasha Well, I remember being eager for it to happen. I remember my other friends got them before I did, and I was very like, excited to get it. I did kind of see it as a marker of becoming a woman, and I’m not sure if I had started to really get geeky about being knowledgeable about paganism and Wicca at that time. That was definitely a big influence for me during my teen years, and I was like so aware of this concept of there being three distinct phases of womanhood. And I was a maiden and I was about to enter into being a menstruating person. Yeah, and I was super excited about it, actually. And as a marker of of me growing up, I guess. 

Le’Nise When you say, for listeners who aren’t aware, so three phases of womanhood in the kind of pagan world, can you describe those? 

Natasha Yes, we have maiden, mother and crone in the pagan world and it kind of denotes like maiden can be anybody who hasn’t had a has had a child, biologically speaking, but a mother could be, somebody who just is motherly and that, you know, those aunties that you might have that are, like, very motherly, but they don’t actually have children of their own, like those kind of people in your life that could be the mother face for somebody as well. You don’t necessarily have to have a child, and then a crone would be somebody who had gone, presumably by going through menopause. But it’s also like it’s more like metaphorical as well for that becoming more wise, which I think is hilarious now that now that I’m older and I look at the older generation in my life, I feel like you actually reach a point of like maximum maturity and then you just regress through like teen aged and then into like being an absolute child again. 

Le’Nise Oh, that’s that’s interesting. I I feel like, well, if I think about all the way…

Natasha My mom is 

Le’Nise [here. Go ahead. Your mom is…

Natasha My mum is going through a kind of teen rebellion again right now, and her mum is It’s like, like it’s like amazing and everything’s grey, and it’s like, Oh, this breakfast is amazing, she’s got terrible dementia. She can’t remember really why she’s there or she can’t remember anything bad in her life. She just like lives from the moment and is just loving it. 

Le’Nise Go back to what you were saying about how paganism influenced your experience of having a period during your teenage years. 

Natasha Yeah, so I think that it gave me a concept of divine, feminine and masculine, and everybody’s a mix of both. And because it has this whole like goddess worship as part of its main functionality or doctrination, maybe that’s the right word, it it’s um, I’m assuming they gave me the basis of what would then become my feminist politics. Because it’s sort of femininity in a positive light, and I don’t know, I guess I’d seen a bit of that elsewhere, but with girl power and stuff like that, that was in the 90s, isn’t it? And I remember getting really into 1960s history. I don’t know why, but I read like late about Haight-Ashbury. I, I think it was must have been the music that my mom was listening to. And then I. So segwayed into that from there, so it’s kind of like living this bizarre like fantasy world where I was a witch pagan in the 1960s and that was my make-believe world that I lived in a teenager. 

Le’Nise I mean, the 60s, definitely like in San Francisco, Haight-Ashbury very exciting time. So to be a pagan feminist, which then would have been quite incredible. 

Natasha Yeah, really. 

Le’Nise And then so this is the kind of know the kind of more theory around what having a period meant to you. And what about in practise? Like how would how what was the practical experience of having a period like during your teenage years? 

Natasha It was like a secret club of lgrowing up. The girls were part of and the boys weren’t and it was like, you didn’t really talk about it much, but people knew. And then. I don’t remember thinking at the time, like, I’m being secretive because it’s shameful. I was like just thinking, yeah, like it was part of being a secret club that I thought was cool. 

Le’Nise You’re definitely not like the first the first person I’ve heard this from, like having a bit of a secret and like the kind of thrill of having that secret. And then was it something with your like girlfriends you would whisper about? How did that secret look like in practise? 

Natasha Yeah. So I think that we would it would. It would be something that we could talk about in female circles comfortably, but that we didn’t talk about in front of other people. So, yeah, it ends up becoming like a bonding experience for a particular gender. And I liked that and I like like we had a we had a period talk in secondary school, which was much more oriented towards like understanding the variety of products that were available to us, and it still wasn’t sustainable at all. It was very much like there are lots of different sizes of tampons and lots of different sizes and shapes of pads. That was kind of it. Somehow managed to fill an hour just talking about that at all. And then at the end, we got a bag, it was like, I think I was like pink metallic jiffy bag, style envelope kind of thing with pads and tampons and stuff in. And the boys didn’t know what we had been taught about at all and we all emerged with like these secretive yet snazzy bags of stuff, which they were this like hypnotised by, you know, they desperately wanted to know what was in and what. And everyone has a collective just, you know what? I’m going to tell you, I’m not going to tell you what’s in here, it’s our stuff. 

Le’Nise What’s interesting about having the having this experience of having a period feel like being a part of a secret club is that that there’s almost two ways that this can go. It could be a secret that feels cool and interesting and exciting. And then it could also be a secret that there’s some shame to it and you feel like that shame is also that shame stops you from talking about it and learning more. What that your experience of it at all? Or was it more like the cool side? 

Natasha It felt cool at the time. In hindsight, I’ve looked back on it and been like, Oh my goodness, yeah, we were doing all of that because of this, like hundreds of years shame that’s been like smashed into our heads. But I think that gets diluted, but and not necessarily transformed, but changed as the different generation goes through that experience of keeping something secret. And and I don’t I’d like to know like what it was like for maybe my mom’s generation are being taught about it. My understanding is there was no secret club. It was just like, Get on with it and you learn the bare minimum and just get by kind of thing. And so I felt like maybe our generation made it cool because we’ve been told to feel positively about being girls in the first place and where you know, we’re in, I think of everything now in terms of like what my research is as a historian is like, taught me to maybe like contextually living in a time where there wasn’t we’re being told women girls can do anything. They can take over the world, they can do whatever they want. It can be a Spice Girl if they really want to. So maybe that’s why we tend to that kind of secretive stuff and made it into a cool club. 

Le’Nise Yeah, yeah. I yeah, I think that I mean, it’s better than it being being like shamed and you just feel like something’s wrong with you for having a period. Yeah. 

Natasha And it came as such a big surprise to me to discover that people my my age group had had that experience. 

Le’Nise Yeah. And then talking about just thinking about the practical experience of having a period, something that you have said is that you struggled with debilitating period pain. When when did your periods start to become painful? 

Natasha So it wasn’t until I went to university that that started to happen. And so it was quite surprising because it just seemed like come out of nowhere and it took me ages to like, really take on board that was even what was happening. Because it would be once a month, and I think that, I don’t know why, but I just, like ignored it for the longest time, probably as much as like a year and then because I was learning herbal medicine at the time, someone was like, That’s not normal though, Natasha. And I was like, I guess, like, it wasn’t even normal for me, and I’m still not picking up on it is something that’s worth doing anything about. And then I have. But then it did get really bad, like I think it was just ignorable for quite some time and I was like, Yeah, that’s fine. But I remember being I worked part time in a in a shop at the time in St Pancras Station and St Pancras station, all the shops have glass fronts on them, so it’s like it’s like you don’t have a wall to the front of your shop in a way and everybody can see, and you’re very much like a goldfish in a bowl. And I remember getting really bad period pain. Painkillers wasn’t helping, and my boss looked over at me and she’s like, Are you OK? And I was like, Yeah, I’m fine. She was like, Because you look pretty green. I was like, what? And I looked in the mirror and I had like, Yeah,I looked kind of grey green. I was like, really just holding it together. And as soon as she said that, I was like, Well, now you mentioned it. I actually have really bad period pain today and  and I’m struggling. And it turns out that she had period problems herself of a different ilk. And so I felt like very like I could be open. It was nice working there because it was a beauty store, almost everybody was girls so it was very easy to talk about those kind of things, and I just had to crouch down behind the till points and no one could see me. And just like I couldn’t do anything, I couldn’t keep a conversation. I couldn’t serve anybody. I was completely debilitated and my boss was lik, I think you better go home, you know? You’re not any use to me here here and I was like, Yeah, probably not. But now, I don’t know if I’m going to make it, I like, remember just really slowly and in a very heavy haze, getting on the train and like sleeping to my train stop. And when I got there, I got off the train and found nearly completely fine again, and I was like, Damn it, I shouldn’t have left work. I should have just stayed at work. And that was the nature of my pain. It was like very extreme, but really short lived. And it was in a way the shortness of it made it more awkward than the actual pain did. 

Le’Nise So when you say short or are we talking like a day, are we talking a few hours? 

Natasha Like hours. So when I went to the doctors about it eventually I was like, I get really bad pain, but only lasts few hours and then it could be completely gone, and they were like, Huh, well, I guess it doesn’t sound bad enough for us to look into it seriously, and they were like, you know, just keep an eye on it and see if it gets worse, then come back to us. Maybe we’ll do some tests and stuff  and they offered me some painkillers, which I didn’t think I wanted or it didn’t work. They offered me the contraceptive pill, which I didn’t want to take. And yeah, but the shortness of it meant that I felt so awkward about explaining to people like I can’t do something that day because I may or may not have debilitating pain at some point during the event.

And it was really just awkward to to explain that it could be that bad for such a short frame of time. And often as a side effect of me being in pain, I would need to rush to the loo at some point, which made me feel really self-conscious about where I was going to be whilst experiencing the pain. Am I going to be near a toilet? Is it going to be a toilet I’d be happy to use. Is it going to be, you know? Oh yeah. It was just like horrible. And then that became a problem in itself that I would start to forebode my period. And I was like, looking forward forwards in time thinking, when is it going to be? What shall I block out of my diary? How much should I block out of my diary. I started blocking out a three day  like time frame. Or I don’t book anything on these days, and it’s likely that that’s going to be your period. And it was just like living like that for ages like and I I think like by that point, other people knew and I was moving in herbal circles and everyone was like, You should definitely treat this. Oh, OK. I have to. 

Le’Nise That is so interesting that like, you’re studying herbal medicine and like, OK, I’m thinking about my experience studying nutrition. And no, I do think that’s nutritionists. You know you you go into study nutrition. You get so like almost like you can. Some people can get really like almost obsessed with what they’re putting in their body and the symptoms that they’re experiencing. Not everyone, but I do know that that is, can be a common experience. But it’s interesting that you had this, you know, this pain and you were kind of like, you know, not acknowledging in that in that you have to acknowledge it when it happened. But it took someone to say in your course, to say to you, like, you know, you need to deal with it. Where where do you think that came from? Why do you think that it took you so long to actually do something about it? 

Natasha Like in hindsight, I can see, like exactly why. And it was just the I thought it was kind of normal. And then that’s what everyone was going through and everyone gets period pain. So this is probably just that period pain that people have been talking about all this time that I just haven’t had, you know, I’ve just been one of the lucky ones that didn’t have it. And now I have it, and this is what everyone’s going through. And yeah, I just didn’t think anything of it for ages. And we weren’t taught menstruation as part of our herbal or course when we were doing anatomy and physiology because our anatomy and physiology was being taught by the same department who were teaching the nurses and nurses, at least at Lincoln University, didn’t learn anything about gynaecology because it seemed to be a specialist subject. 

Le’Nise Oh my gosh. 

Natasha So we didn’t learn about it till later that year in our first year because they had to add it on as additional subject at the end so that we didn’t miss out on that information altogether. And I just remember being like. Where when are we going to learn about gynaecology, when are we going to know about menstrual cycles because I was, like, really interested in them by then and there? And just during anatomy and physiology, nurses just being like, Oh no, we don’t know about that, that’s for specialists, that’s for gynaecologists. We can’t learn about that. Like what? I was livid. I mean, I was like full blown early 20s feminist, righteous white woman, just like we can’t not learn about periods? 

Le’Nise Did it change anything at all on the course or did they add it in earlier, eventually and not as a separate specialist subject? 

Natasha So I think I’m not entirely sure that I imagine that they definitely would have had it, that they knew we were going to have to learn as a specialist thing right from the get go because they’ve been running the course for a few years that way already. At least, I think so. It’s hard to remember. But anyhoo, because it’s a holistic practise that was definitely always going to be a part of what we were going to learn. It just I think that it had to happen right at the end of the course because it is the only time that we have available, I think. 

So it did feel a bit like, Oh, and now we’re going to do a little bit extra about some stuff that you didn’t learn and it was sort of like it felt a bit like optional add ons by that point, because it wasn’t part of the core like modules, but obviously like everybody was just like, this is so crucial and the herbalists teaching it, we’re like, Yeah, of course it is. Yeah, that’s why we learnt we did one on breastfeeding, one on menopause and one on menstruation. I was like, we could have done a whole module on this, though, like, yeah, we know. And then I think we did a lot more from second year and third year. From that point, yeah, became a big thing for us. 

Le’Nise And then when you learnt about the kind of anatomy and physiology of menstruation, did it change your perspective on your period pain? 

Natasha It might have done, but I honestly don’t recall it.  These years like a bit of a funny blur to me. It just feels like you were a different person, doesn’t it? Like sometimes like you’ve never lived three or four different lives by the time you have 30? It’s weird. 

Le’Nise Yeah, no. I definitely relate to that. And so what what how is your relationship with your period now? 

Natasha So now it’s like positive, but it is far different from before I had kids, like before I had, I had my son, I was like. It was like a religious practise, almost like, this week, I shall not be doing any social things because I am in my premenstrual phase. But I think that was the kind of dialogue, at least, that I had in my head. I don’t think, I was that expository about it. And now my periods are like, so unproblematic they like barely hurt, I hardly get any PMS. There was a point where I was getting that really bad pain that also the week before I would get really tired, like tied to the point where I couldn’t do anything, I couldn’t go out and stuff. And that that time frame, I also started to get social anxiety. I couldn’t go out and I could go out, but not without anxiety. So it became, you know, that period pain was wrapped up in a whole, really dysfunctional part of my overall well-being. And then as that all got better, you know, it all gets better together as what I’m trying to say. Then I tried to get pregnant and got pregnant. And after that? It just has gone, forgotten. 

Le’Nise So right after you gave birth, your periods just kind of stopped being painful, then the anxiety, the premenstrual anxiety just kind of went away. 

Natasha Yeah, because I knew one of the key things that actually I was given quite late on and all of that I found that the herbs and stuff could get rid of it nearly completely. And I was really vigilant about taking them for a long time. Then I stopped and it started to creep back in and I went to a doctor who said, Why don’t you try mefenamic acid? Nobody had offered me that before. And I was like, Well, I guess, yeah, I think I’m at this point where I’d rather trying to take painkillers for the day then change everything about the way that I live and eat. And so I think I tried it and I took one and I was like, Holy crap, this completely got rid of my period pain. And as a by-product of that, knowing that I could take this, a single pill and it could get rid of all my pain. For that moment, I was like, Oh, I this is good, and I didn’t ever get period pain as bad ever again. And it wasn’t because I carried on taking the pills because I knew that I had a pill if I needed to relieve the pain. 

Le’Nise  Wow. So and that the MMA mefenamic acid was different kind of mentally to in your experience to taking like ibuprofen or paracetamol. 

Natasha Yeah. It was different, and I think it just had this amazing, wonderful placebo effect for me where it just relieved that. And I was taught this primary and secondary pain and primary pain is the pain you feel in secondary pain is the pain that you create by feeling anxious about the real pain. And I think that you just like, totally got rid of the secondary pain for me because I knew that I could do something about the primary if I really needed to. And I never, yeah, I never got period pain as bad ever again. 

Le’Nise You know, that’s really interesting that you bring up this, you know, primary and secondary pain because I see this a lot in my clinic, which there’s the pain. But then there’s also the anxiety around the pain and the kind of anxiety that the anticipation of getting your period creates. And I see this where you, we address, we address the pain and then but then the work needs to be done around addressing that anxiety about the pain potentially coming back. So it’s interesting that you know that one pill completely changed your whole experience. 

Natasha Yeah, it really did. And that’s not to like pooh pooh like the incredible light healing that I’d experienced through herbs and stuff. It was just that at that point in time, I was just like beyond. It was beyond comprehension to me to do the kind of like legwork that have been involved in me getting the same results a year before that and more in a more holistic fashion.

I think, you know, to an extent. Again, with hindsight, I look at it and I think, you know, it was to an extent it was a very privileged position for me to be in a position where I could be that flexible with my time. I could take time off when I needed it and work when I thought was best, and it was really privileged to me to be able to change my food to something more healthy. Not everybody can do that. Um, so yeah, all of those kind of things is what led me down the route of wanting to launch my own products to help with these things so that people didn’t have to spend literally years of changing their lifestyle on a diet. And that because I just I didn’t think really that all of that was entirely necessary for some of the symptoms I was experiencing. I do you think it was necessary for that deep, deep healing to occur, though? I think I’m a much better person for having done it. Definitely. 

Le’Nise So some people will be listening to this thinking, well, what we know, what can I do, what herbs can I take? How can I? What can I do to address my period pain? What would you say to them? 

Natasha Well, I think the first thing that anybody should do before they even start trying to take stuff is just have a clear record of what the last few periods have been like because otherwise, when you start taking something, you might not really remember what it was like and be able to pinpoint if it was if it’s helping or not. And because one of the trickiest things about a period is it is once a month, it’s hard to remember sometimes what happened last month. 

So, yeah, just like make sure that you keep a record first and foremost and then introduce something. And and if you’re going to introduce five things at once, then you got bear in mind that you won’t know which one of those five things was the one that’s doing the good, good stuff. If you if it not working, so you’ll feel like you have to keep trying all five to keep it up. So I try to recommend people just layer in one thing at a time. Literally one month at a time, but I know when people are in like severe pain, it’s not what you want to do. You don’t spend a month to figure out something doesn’t work. You want to do what I like to call the kitchen sink technique. Yeah, I’m fine either way, but just keep. 

My key thing is keep a record of what the experience was like before and after. So, you know, and you can start taking things like you can start working with like a product that we make in our range. They’re really there to help with period discomfort like things that are not being caused by an illness, but that are a sign that maybe your wellbeing is. There are improvements to be made right because it’s really like a sliding scale from health to illness, and there’s a lot that happens in between and then and that’s really. There’s only like a very finite area at the end of illness where doctors want to get involved? And there’s a lot before that where you could be making improvements and that’s really where our product range sits. But having said that, if you have been diagnosed with something like endometriosis or PCOS or whatever, our, the things that we have in our range will at least alleviate some of the symptoms, and some of them will like the Rested Resilience. Oh my God, everybody could take that because it helps are really deep level with long term stress and healing from like PTSD and trauma and the long term stress that everyone’s going through with the pandemic. So, yeah, anybody can take that and properly benefit and you can look up things online. But it’s really a dodgy world out there, which I usually tell people to get a book called Bartrum’s Encyclopaedia of Herbal Medicine for a book that will tell you what’s top take for literally like everything you can think. It’s incredible. I use it still like 12 years into my practise, and I wrote a book called Your Period Handbook, which will take you through specific like herbs for periods and period problems. 

Le’Nise  So lots of different resources there for people to dig into. And then if they want to check out your products, they I’ll put all the links in the show notes. But can you just mentioned the name of the company again? 

Natasha Yeah, it’s Forage Botanicals, as in foraging for botanicals. 

Le’Nise Great. So what a lovely name. You’ve sent me a few products which I’m going to check out. I’m about to get my period, so I’m going to use you some of the period focused product and see how they they work from me. But I want to just go, go ask you about some of the research that you do, your research around the invention of PMS. And I find that really interesting because we are speaking to women in my practise and in the work that I do. It’s like they talk about, Oh, I’m PMSing. And when I talk to them about, how will you know, PMS is just a collection, a collection of different symptoms, and it’s not inevitable. You’re not automatically going to feel like this right before your period. It’s kind of like, you know, it’s a mind blowing for some women because there’s this kind of cultural programming that we get that we’re supposed to feel like this. And you know what? I really am interested to hear your take on this. 

Natasha So my my concept of PMS is that it is a hypermedicalisation of a perfectly natural phase of someone’s menstrual cycle, and it can be problematic, and that’s when we tend to refer to it as PMS. But it might not be problematic and. The word premenstrual syndrome in it is a bit of a giveaway, right? Whenever you hear the word syndrome, it just means a collection of symptoms. It doesn’t mean they know why it happens,it doesn’t mean they know that there’s a particular hormone at the bottom of all of that. They don’t know what’s happening with it. It’s just a collection of symptoms. So you could call the way that you feel after a big meal, big, post big meal syndrome like you can just create syndromes left, right and centre if you want to. They did not. 

And I think is kind of always place people want that. Generally speaking, like the medical terms that we have for illnesses are just a description of the symptoms that you’re experienced and not much more. And when it comes to syndrome, it’s like anybody who’s got IBS, they’ll also know a syndrome is really something where they don’t really understand what’s called the the pathophysiology of it, like the path of illness that it takes in the body. And you got to wonder, how could we not possibly know for something that apparently women have had since the dawn of time? And we start to if you start to go back through history like, OK, when did we start calling it PMS? It’s kind of like in the early 20th century, twenty first century, and it’s around about time that we start to drop the word hysteria. And if you look at the two. They kind of they look a lot similar. They have a lot of similarities. This momentary madness and it’s specific to women, and even now, like culturally, we deem it as like a time where we go a little bit crazy and a lot of jokes have been made to that ilk. And so. And and so knowing that historically that seems to be a path that we take with women’s health to hyper medicalise, I am very cautious around PMDD as well. Which I know is so like such a problematic thing for a lot of people to hear, but I’m very cautious around it, so it’s not to say that like I think that it might not exist altogether, I think definitely exists, but I think that the way that we’re framing it as something that should be treated hormonally is probably not. Well, we frame it like it should be treated hormonally. They actually give anti-depressants for it. So I think even the way that we’re talking about it is confusing. And yeah, I think we have a lot of work to do with this. It’s just. Sorry, you go ahead.

Le’Nise I was going to say so for our listeners who aren’t aware of PMDD is premenstrual dysphoric disorder, and it’s different to quote unquote PMS because it typically starts right after ovulation where the people experiencing it, they they kind of they have trouble dealing with the rise of progesterone and the second smaller peak of oestrogen. And it’s interesting that you say that it’s it’s people are treating it hormonally and it shouldn’t be treated hormonally. I completely agree because, you know, if you look at the research behind PMDD and some of the kind of mechanics of the condition, there’s a lot around serotonin and the the link between serotonin and oestrogen, but also sorry, progesterone and GABA and the effect that those have on the mood and the energy. And then if you think about the the different symptoms of PMDD, you even wonder, well, you know, you can see why people are saying, well take an antidepressant. I’ve been told by some clients that their doctors have told them that they should only take their antidepressant in the second half of their cycle. Well, doesn’t make sense to me. 

Natasha And so my experience with people who have PMDD has been I haven’t met a single person who asked him who’s had a happy life. So. No, not a single one. Everybody I’ve spoken to has been like, oh, by the way, I was like traumatised as a child or my my mother died five years ago, and I blame myself for, like everybody has some sort of ridiculously massive, traumatising, horrible experience that they’ve been living with for years. And they’re like, Well, I don’t think my PMDD is related to that. And I’m like, Come on. 

Le’Nise I think with PMDD, though, it can be hard to see the wood for the trees because you know that shift after ovulation, where we expect because of progesterone to feel quite calm and balanced. And you get told that you’re supposed to feel like that and then you don’t and then you’re trying to kind of you’re like, you know, grabbing onto a buoy in the middle of a like stormy ocean trying to figure out what’s going on. And then you get your period and then all of a sudden you feel better. You feel better again.

Natasha That light, sudden switching on and off. That kind of seems to be the experience of today. I feel like PMDD is what PMS should have been all along in a way like. So the strength of PMDD is that it’s much more specific. We have a much more finite range of symptoms that are associated with it, which means that only a very small proportion of the population experience that, whereas with PMS, but the list of symptoms is horrendously long, like hundreds, it’s ridiculous. And it becomes so generalised that it’s like literally every person whose had a period will have had that at some point. So, yeah, I think we really totally missed the point with PMS. And so now I just try and reframe it that don’t think it’s PMS. Think of it as it’s just premenstrual phase and we all go through and it’s a time where you naturally anything that happens is going to be magnified. So if you’re already stressed, is going to be more. If you’re already anxious and more if it’s already in your depressed, it’s going to be more. And with PMDD, it’s like that times a million and it seems to go from zero to a million overnight. And I can totally see why if that’s what you’re experiencing that you’d be like, it’s gotten to be my hormones. 

Le’Nise Yeah, it’s what you’re saying is so, so interesting, and it’s I think we need to have more and a really clear conversations about the distinction between the two, you know, really breaking down this myth of PMS. Yeah, but also being really clear that PMDD is something different and there is a trauma element to it that isn’t necessarily spoken, spoken about as much because I’ve seen this as well, that my clients with PMDD. There is a lot of trauma there and they do. My clients typically do acknowledge, acknowledge it. But again, it’s that hard. It’s hard to see the wood for the trees when you know, just trying to deal with all of these different things and also just trying to live your life. 

Natasha Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So, yeah, I always say, like, you know, I can work with somebody with PMDD herbally in terms of trying to help take the the edge of that experience. Like maybe they are also quite sensitive to the normal changes of hormones, like if they get a hormone test and they come back and it’s normal, there’s always the possibility that you’re hypersensitive to the hormones that are at a normal level so you can work with people for that. But I always say, like more than likely, you’re going to also need some sort of like talking therapy to run alongside this to help with any kind of underlying trauma that needs support, ongoing support, you know? Yeah. 

Le’Nise Yeah, there’s a lot of value in just being able to let let have someone really objective to talk to who won’t judge you, who will just listen. And because I think with a lot of people with trauma, especially long term trauma, they’re just holding so much in and also trying. They they there’s just a lot of that just hasn’t been dealt with and they don’t know where to start. And even starting,acknowledging that there’s that you need to start is a really big step. 

Natasha Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, and so PMS is like a whole different thing. I just think we should just bin it basically and talk about it. Talk about a completely different thing. So I’ve had a really bad premenstrual phase. Yeah. This month.

Le’Nise Completely completely agree. So you there’s a lot of really interesting insights there for people listening who say who to think about PMS differently, it might countercultural for you, it might be kind of like something you’ve never heard before, but I will encourage you to take it on. And when you do come to that time right before your period with the week, the seven to 10 days have really have a really good look at what you’re experiencing and see if it really is an exacerbation of something you’re already experiencing where it’s you’re even feeling even more stress, as Natasha says. if someone is listening to this and thinking, I really want to get in touch with Natasha, I really want to work with her. How can they how can they contact you? What do you have coming up? 

Natasha So I have been working on a six month programme with people, a small group of just six people for the last six months, and that’s coming to an end. And because I’m about to finish my masters, I’m probably not up and running again until January. But that’s something you could be joining the mailing list for updates on when that comes about. But I have a team of two herbalists, one of which is about to go on maternity leave. So one herbalist and she’s free, but until September. But you can by all means book a free chat with her in September. If you have something that you think you actually need bit extra support with. They do want one treatment plans for people, whereas I you can always come in like just I asked me a question. I am actually the person running the Instagram account, so you can just send a DM on @foragebotanicals. And I’ll answer, and you can also send me emails to natasha@foragebotanicals.co.uk. And I’ll answer questions there, too. So although I don’t have any one to one tutorial type things coming up from myself as always Jo, who’s there to take patients as well.

Le’Nise Okay, brilliant. So if listeners will leave this conversation with one thing, what would you want them to take away? 

Natasha To start recording their symptoms like start writing down when you last period was start writing down, how long your period is and then put a note down every day how your mood, your stress and sleep is as an absolute bare minimum and start charting up based on the first day of your period being day one of your cycle and moving along till the next period starting another chart, then that would be like my number one thing is just just absolute basic. Charting is such a necessity, and the research has shown that just charting will get rid of will alleviate some of the symptoms because you can see that it’s monthly and that brings you relief. 

Le’Nise [Oh, wow, that’s really interesting. I hadn’t heard that.. So there’s a kind of psychosomatic element of knowing that, oh, actually, it’s not all in my head that this is actually happening to me. 

Natasha Yeah. And like, it makes you feel like, you know, aware that it is definitely happening, but also that knowing that it’s monthly brings people relief that it’s not like part of some sort of hideous disease that is lurking. 

Le’Nise Whoa. OK. Amazing. So at the very minimum start charting, tracking your cycles, understanding what’s happening to you, spotting patterns and that in of itself might be helpful. Thank you so much for coming on the show. It’s been wonderful speaking to you. I’ve learnt a lot. I hope the listeners have learnt a lot too. All the links to contact you will be in the show. Show notes. 

Natasha Great. And I can’t wait to hear how you get on with the products. 

Le’Nise Yes, I’ll let you know. 

Natasha Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure to be on your show today.

Le’Nise Thank you. 

Period Story Podcast, Episode 49: Cherie Hoeger, Use Your Business As A Force For Good

I’m so pleased to share my conversation with Cherie Hoeger. Cherie is the co-founder and CEO of Saalt, a women-owned period care company aiming to modernize reusable period care. In 2018, Saalt launched its flagship product—the Saalt period cup—with the vision of making cleaner, more sustainable period care accessible to everyone. 

Leading Saalt’s social impact efforts, Cherie began networking with impact partners to provide their period cups to underprivileged girls and women so they could confidently manage their periods, stay in school, and lift themselves out of poverty. Now in their fourth year in business, Saalt has donated over 20,000 cups in 34 countries to create a wave of informed cup users who then act as mentors for other donation recipients.

A quick note on today’s show – we recorded this early last year, so please check the Saalt website for the most up to date information about the products. 

Cherie and I had a fantastic conversation about her inspiration for starting a menstrual product brand, her journey as an entrepreneur, how to try a menstrual cup and of course, the story of her first period. I can’t wait for you to hear this episode!

Thank you, Cherie! 

Get in touch with Cherie:

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: On today’s episode of Period Story, we have Cherie Hoeger, the founder of Saalt Menstrual Cups. I’m so excited to have her on the show today. I am a huge fan of the cups, a huge advocate, so I’m really excited to dive into her story and find out what inspired her to found the brand. But firstly hear her period story. So this is the question I always ask my guests to begin with. Can you tell me the story of your very first period? 

Cherie: So I grew up with an Argentine mother, and she was very street savvy, very straightforward. She taught me a lot about periods right away. So I feel lucky to have known a lot more than I think most girls my age. And to be honest, I can’t remember my first period, and I think it’s this indication that it was a pretty smooth experience for me because I was so knowledgeable. So I feel really grateful to be able to have had that experience but I also felt more prepared than most girls my age, but I never loved my period regardless. I remember struggling with it, feeling embarrassed about certain situations and experiencing what so many others do, leaking through their pants when their periods comes early or tampon leaked to their underwear, or having these terrible cramps during school. 

Le’Nise: So when you’re when you said that you felt more prepared than others, tell tell me more about what made you feel more prepared. 

Cherie: It was the knowledge that confidence I had someone walking me through with that freedom and granted there was so much I still didn’t know, but the fact that she took time to prepare for it was something that just surprised me as my underwear. One day I was just really grateful for my love for being proactive. 

Le’Nise:.So your mom prepared you and you feel more confident. You felt like you were more in control about what was happening to you. What about in school? How did you learn about periods, say in health class or from your teachers? 

Cherie: Yeah, so I had classes, just like most do in American schools here, where they had a class where they pull you sside, it was funded by Tampax or Playtex, and they introduced you to tampons for the first time, my mom attended. I think it was overall a good experience for me, but of course I was introduced to disposables right away. Reusable  just wasn’t something that was even in schools and very little taught in schools right now as well. That’s something that I hope to change. But of course, it was embarrassing being there with with so many peers and learning about periods for the first time. And and, you know, everyone just struggles with those with those same stigmas that hush hush talk, that’s still a problem. 

Le’Nise: Why do you think it was embarrassing? 

Cherie: You know, looking at what I know about periods now, I’m ashamed to say that I was embarrassed, but I just think that it’s a reality for so many women and girls all across the world, and it’s because of those learned stigmas that we learn in society, that we learn from our male colleagues and our male peers and also our female peers and even my even my mom would tell me, Hey, hide your tampon up your sleeve. And so it was it was still very much the stigma that shame. 

Le’Nise: So that you you went through high school hiding your tampons, feeling like this was something that had to be hidden. 

Cherie: Yes, very much so. 

Le’Nise: How old were you when you got your first period? 

Cherie: I believe that I was 13 years old. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: And when you got your first period, you felt really confident and then how how was it actually having your period going through high school? Was it painful? Was it heavy? And how did you navigate that? 

Cherie: I used primarily tampons, and I have a regular to heavy flow, and despite feeling prepared for my period, it didn’t mean that I had good feelings toward it and it didn’t mean that I was really knowledgeable about it. It would still surprise me all the time. And I was very active in high school, so I did dance. I did gymnastics, even thought of martial arts capoeira. And you know, we’re we’re wearing white pants, we’re wearing shorts and cheer skirts. And I remember always being scared so you would wear liners. And sometimes it was surprise you and I’d have those embarrassing moments. I think it’s unfortunate that so many women and girls live with fear, with that lack of confidence every single month, not knowing when their period in arrives. So I’m so grateful that we have that are solutions out there. But it just it causes that shame that’s so sad to see that especially young girls, how it’s instilled at a young age. 

Le’Nise: And knowing that you had there was a stigma that around periods of menstrual health for you thinking about where you are now. What have you done to change your attitude towards periods and kind of release the stigma around it? 

Cherie: That’s a great question. It’s interesting because as a business owner entrenched in the menstruall health industry, I think people expect that I must have gotten into this industry because I was an expert, but that’s simply not the case. I’m an average woman who loved menstrual cups and wanted to get the word out to the consumer, and we knew when we started Saalt that we were going to battle these long held stigmas around periods that presented both our greatest challenge and our opportunity. So from the outset, we knew we were entering this product category that’s still really taboo for a lot of people. So we took that stigma head on with beautiful, high end packaging that looked like unboxing a beautiful lipstick. And we wanted to be able to be a clean personal care product that sat on the same shelves as other cool beauty products. We wanted it to be seen as something that was sustainable and healthier and more comfortable. And so we were able to battle a lot of the stigmas by just how we presented our brand imagery and voice, and we tried to do that same thing with just periods in general is get out this messaging to mainstream consumers that periods don’t have to be considered gross or an inconvenience or something that something that should be shameful or sit in there. Beautiful. This is 50 percent of the population that menstruate. And it perpetuates the human right, we just think that deserves kudos, not censorship. And so we actually just released a brand campaign that’s all about flipping the script, the negative script about periods and turning it into something positive and showing it as divine and something beautiful and something powerful, powerful like the cycles of the Earth. So it shows a woman shows cycles of the Earth, and it shows that same power and that same correlation. And we’ve got a lot of great feedback because we’re really trying to take that head on. In fact, I really have a pet peeve in the industry.

Le’Nise: OK?

Cherie: And that that is those ads that show women dressed up personified in red, sometimes in a hazmat suit because their boyfriend is coming for the weekend and it’s showing periods as an annoyance and something gross. And I just think really? Are those the messages that we want our daughters to see that we want this next generation to see to form they feel about periods? And I really believe that type of messaging is damaging and creates a stigma. I have five daughters, so I’m a mother of five and I don’t want my daughters or any young person to be degraded by those same stigmas that past generations have. So it’s something that we’re really trying to combat head on. 

Le’Nise: So you have you have five daughters. Talk to me about how you’ve been teaching them about periods and menstrual health and taking out some of the stigma that you felt towards your period. 

Cherie: So I try to tell them that as menstruators were the ones who set the cues for how other people feel about having a conversations about period, so number one, I tell them to be open when my daughter is on her period, she says, oh, I don’t even want my sisters to know then. That’s just perpetuating stigma. Talk about it when you’re on your period, you can have open conversations. If anything in our household, it should be something very welcome. And yet it’s interesting to see her still struggle. She’s 13 years old, my oldest and her still struggle with the stigma that she gets from school and society in general. But I’ve taught her to have those open conversations and that that’s the way we can progress forward as women and girls. So and menstruators. So I tell her to the way that she speaks about periods and as straightforward as she can be. Those are the cues that her counterparts, her peers see. So if we feel awkward, then they’re going to feel awkward. We feel open. They’re going to feel open and they’re going to be fine. Have. I also like to tell her about how her anatomy works, like, for instance, there is a lot that I wish I knew back then about just cervix height and she uses a cup. Of course, I taught her how to use. a cup and knowing your cervix size is really important when you use a cup. And also that the menstrual cycle has four phases. You have your menstrual, your follicular, your ovulation, your luteal phase. And I think there’s a lot of perception that those PMS symptoms happen just during your period, your bleeding phase when in reality is, you know, they happen two weeks prior and that luteal phase, that’s when you actually. So  just teaching her how her hormones are affecting is and how it’s very natural and her cycle brings awareness to her that she understands her body she’s feeling, and she’s able to make better choices and and really focus on her health because of that. 

Le’Nise: So do you feel like she does, sometimes with teenagers, teenage girls? And I don’t have a teenage daughter, but I’m speaking from my own experience where your mom tells you something and you kind of you kind of pooh pooh it because it’s your mom. Do you think she’s taking on board what you’re saying? 

Cherie: That’s a great question, so when I first, she helped us develop our teen cup, we wanted to make sure that it was a good size for a 13 year old. So she helped to test it. But at first she didn’t want to. She wanted to try tampons first, and it was so funny. I said, Your mom owns a menstrual care menstrual cup business. You need to use a cup for the first time. But of course, when she tried a tampon, I was going to be supportive. I said, That’s fine. When you’re ready to switch to a cup, do let me know and you can take that jump. And she did. She tried it on her own. She didn’t tell me when she did because you’re right, they don’t always want to listen to Mom. But I had a moment, a moment of celebration when she came to me and said, Mom, I tried the cup. I don’t know why more people don’t use the cup. It was so much better. It’s so much cleaner. I love it so much more, and I just wanted to jump for joy. And yes, I can convert my own daughter then other teens can also enjoy the cup. And it’s interesting because our teen cup is a lot smaller than our regular flow cup. And since within the same few months, her next cycle she moved to our regular size. So it really was just just getting over that first hurdle. 

Le’Nise: I want to come back to the cup and the business a little bit later on, but I want to kind of rewind a little bit to find out more about your menstrual health journey. So you did you always have periods that were just that were heavy or you should use a medium to light cup. So did you always have periods that were kind of the same as you went from your teens to your 20s? 

Cherie: I actually consider myself very regular, very regular and know when my periods come, I’ve only missed one period my entire life during a moment of stress. And that was that was interesting and very telling to see where I was at. But otherwise very much like clockwork and I am regular with my flow. The one thing I’ve noticed is I have had a decrease over time. I think part of that is because of the cup. But I remember when I was younger, I would have terrible cramps. I remember traveling to Hawaii once and because of the humidity and because I live in a desert area, it really just magnifies. And I stayed in our hotel room. I went in the closet and just sat in the fetal position while everyone was at the beach. My mom came and found me, and she was so mad that I didn’t ask for a Tylenol. Again, that speaks to that shame I was. I didn’t want my brothers. I grew up with four brothers and I was secretive about my period because sometimes I would be mocked a lot by my older brothers about my period. So, so yes, I I feel like that has changed a little bit over time, mostly in cramping, but my flows make pretty consistent. 

Le’Nise: And you did you use a mixture of pads and tampons when you were younger? Yeah, you said. 

Cherie: Yeah, I started at the very beginning I started, I started with as I moved to tampons very quickly. But as you know, tampons often leak through, especially with the heavy flow and being as active as I was, I couldn’t always go change the tampon quickly. And so I would always wear a liner. 

Le’Nise: And what was the light bulb moment for you when you realized that actually that those weren’t the products that you wanted to be using? 

Cherie: So I didn’t discover the menstrual cup until a lot later in life, about eight years ago. And I think this is the case for a lot of people. The cup was invented in the 1930s and people are always shocked to hear that it was invented … a rubber cup. But the design was very, much very similar to the modern cups. And I just think that because there’s these big disposable conglomerates that make a lot more profit for disposable products, they were pushed quite a bit more. So menstrual cups have really made a comeback in more recent years but a lot of people still don’t know what it is. There was about eight years ago when I was introduced to the cup, and the story is I had been talking to my aunt in Venezuela, and the situation there is very dire. They struggle to get anything on grocery store shelves, food and diapers, let alone things like tampons and pads. So I thought of my five daughters and what I would do in that situation and that dependance we had on disposables really kept me up at night. So I looked at what other reusable options that were out there, and that’s when I was first introduced to menstrual cups and I learned that it was cleaner and it was nontoxic. And it lasted 10 years and you could wear it for 12 hours. And I just thought, where has this been my whole life? So I tried several cups. I tried several different cups out there, and I just couldn’t find one that fit my anatomy. And one that I felt was ideal to be able to share with other friends something ideal for beginners. And that’s when I roped my husband to help custom design a cup that I felt would be great for the consumer. Great for beginners. And one that would be made of high quality silicone that contained fillers like we have overseas but was US made, US sourced and that that’s kind of what started the Saalt dream. 

Le’Nise: What I really love about the Saalt Cup and this is, listen listeners, this isn’t an advert I just like. You know, I when I talk about the products that I love, what I love about the Saalt Cup is that it’s soft and I’ve used other brands that much harder and you know, it’s you have to fold it. So it is malleable, but it is. It is harder. And I personally started using the Saalt Cup two menstrual cycles ago, and I actually see a difference in my period. And I what I love is that you do that. You have that quiz to see the cervix size and the cups are soft. And I used to get this kind of suction feeling, like a deep suction, rather when I used the old cup I used to use and I don’t get that anymore, and it actually has reduced the period pain that I was experiencing where it just kind of I’ve been amazed by it. Absolutely amazed. So tell me how you how you realized that the softer cup was better and that you needed to pay more attention to kind of cervical size in order for this to be the best product for people who menstruate? 

Cherie: Yeah, first, first of all, say that we have a Saalt Cup academy as a private group on Facebook in its made up of 25,000 Saalt users. And they’ve said over and over again the same experience, similar experiences that when they tried the cup, it’s less pressure and it’s just a better, more comfortable experience than other products. So that’s so great to hear. I love hearing how much you love that we did set out to make a cup that was better. And we have two varieties, and it sounds like you might use our softer cup. We have one. That’s an original. Yup. We have one that’s an original and firmer. That one is one we do recommend for beginners, it pops open and stays open, but many people do favour the soft cup over the firmer one. I use the soft cups and it’s a little bit more of a manual open, but it stays in very well. It’s very comfortable. You forget that it’s there. And what we learn is a lot of it has to do with the finish on the cup. Our cups go through this process called cryogenic deflashing. So after they’re made in the liquid, it gets pulled. They go into this tumbler that is called with liquid nitrogen, and they have silicone beads that are blasted all around the cup. And what it does is it creates a super smooth finish. And so there’s no seams like it looks virtually seamless over its sleeve, but it’s part of that cyrogenic deflashing process that makes it so soft. The other thing is that it has a very flexible stem that doesn’t have any of those refrains that you really irritable, especially around the vaginal canal and labia. And so we created a stem that was very soft and flexible so that it wouldn’t irritate people, wouldn’t have to cut it off or cut off their stems all the time because they would say it’s uncomfortable. And I said, why not create a cup that you don’t have to cut the stem off? So that was that was a little bit of a design change that people really appreciated. So I’m glad to hear that it’s so great. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, I’m a I’m a huge fan. So for listeners who are hearing what you’re saying, they’re interested in trying a menstrual cup, but they’re a little bit nervous. That’s something I hear all the time there. I had a conversation with a client a couple of weeks ago, who she said, I want to try it, but I’m just nervous. I’m nervous about the spilling. I’m nervous about the mess. How would you recommend that someone who’s feeling like that starts? 

Cherie: So number one, everyone is there. It’s a big behavior change, we’re asking you to take a big jump from something that’s convenient to something else that’s convenient, but we use a lot and to be able to make that mental switch. So we like to say that it only takes one moment of bravery. Whether you’re in the shower or shower is a great risk free zone to try a cup, but also to find a friend who uses a cup or to look to an influencer that uses a cup. We have great customer service team that’s really dedicated that will help you literally hold your hand through the entire process. We found early on that for those that were scared to use a cup, we have a hashtag called #asksaalt, and it’s because it’s very word of mouth type of product. You need to hear it from a trusted friend or a trusted resource or mentor, like an influencer who can kind of tell about their experience and kind of lose some of that fear factor. And the fear factor is this there forever what we say, take the lead. Take that one moment of great bravery. Put the cup outside your shower when you’re ready to try it, you can do it before your period if you want to take a dry run and just put it in and take it out. But it’s not that scary. It does have a learning curve. So we like to set those expectations that it’s not going to be something that’s going, that you’re going to catch on really quickly. Although there’s a lot of women who do. They put it in and they figure it out very fast, but go with expectations that that there will be a learning curve. It may take two to three cycles to really get you through to make through, to get it positioned correctly. But when you do, you have thousands of cup supporters who are just cheering you on because you’re making that successful product, making the switch to something that’s more comfortable and better for you and less toxic for the environment. 

Le’Nise: Actually, the thing that I’ve noticed about menstrual cup users is that they’re really big advocates for the product. Once they find one that they love, they will just cheer, cheer anyone on who uses it. Recommend that brand, and it’s much more so than tampons and pads. And actually, this I found the same for period underwear, people. They just love them and they’ll just, you know, really, really cheer on their favorite brand. I want to talk about there’s tends to be kind of different benefits that users will focus on when they when it comes to menstrual cups. It’s either the environmental side, it’s the the idea of the hormone support or the potential of having less painful periods. And then there’s also the economic side. What I know you started the company because you wanted to fire. You were trying to find a reusable solution. But what about the hormonal and the economic side of of the menstrual products? You talk a little bit about that. 

Cherie: Yeah, so it certainly is a money saver when you invest in a cup because it can last 10 years, we like to say it lasts just as long as your passport and gives those dividends over and over again. It can save users, you know, between fifteen hundred to two thousand dollars over its 10 10 year life. It depends on how many pads or tampons or what you’re buying, but it certainly can save thousands of dollars to spend on something more fun than tampons, chocolate, travel and so forth. And so, especially during this pandemic time, that’s been a big driver. We’ve seen a very large increase in just interest in renewables in general. We also have a period underwear line that we came out with the December. And so for both our period underwear and our cup together, because it’s such a perfect way to increase sustainability and to try something again because everyone’s at home. And so it’s a risk free time to try that. And then as far as you know, hormonal, like I said, there’s been many users that report that they have less cramping and that it’s really helpful. I think it’s just anecdotal evidence I can’t I can’t promise that that’s going to be the case, but we have seen it over and over. Tampons also create that environment where there’s a lot of microtearing. When you’re pulling out a dried tampon, which increases the risk of TSS and so menstrual cups doesn’t mitigate the risk of TSS overall because you can get TSS with any products which are inserted into the vagina. But it’s vastly lower than something like a tampon because it just doesn’t create that same environment of that just has that humidity and then that moisture, together with the little rayon fibers that are often found the fiber. And so it’s it’s just the healthier option. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, definitely. And for listeners who aren’t aware, TSS, toxic shock syndrome. And that’s when you have, you know, if you’ve been wearing the tampon for longer than the recommended time you can, it can create kind of like an infection that could send you to hospital. So shifting gears to the kind of entrepreneurial side of your story, you founded a company in February 2018. You’ve been running a company that is sustainable, helping users find economic value as well. Talk to us a little bit about your journey as an entrepreneur and also running this business with a very well, in my view, a large family. 

Cherie: Yes, it is a large family, five children is large, and I feel I feel lucky every day that I have five daughters as especially, you know, for my husband as well. We’re really working to make a life for them and and change lives everywhere. Take away the barriers that are created by menstruaation. And I’m going to talk about our impact efforts a little bit and then I’ll go on to our story. But from day one, we knew that we wanted to become a B Corp and we wanted to have a philanthropic dedicate two percent of our revenues to help improve menstrual health, specifically girls education. A lot of people don’t realize just how tied girls is to menstruation,  for instance, in Uganda. Emirates and then you see it dropped 22 percent. Second, you say what happened, right? It’s periods. Periods happen. It’s as soon as girls hit puberty, school dropout rates just set to skyrocket. So if we could create this cup, this little investment in a cup and get it to girls so that they have a long term solution for their period, then suddenly we’re creating economic opportunity. 

We’re keeping girls in school, we’re helping women work and we’re literally breaking the cycle of poverty for generations. So it’s just something that really drives us every day. We’re very driven by our mission, and one of our internal goals is to help 100 million lives. 100 million women and girls be able to live more authentic lives of their elements through our products. And, you know, we’re well on our way for that. So that was a driver right from the beginning. I think that you need a strong why is an entrepreneur because of so many ups and downs and to be able to push through and say, no, this product, this product can really change the game changing. Is what really motivates us and keeps us going every day. So we did we develop the product? It was a big jump and as an entrepreneur, to decide to pull the trigger. For instance, we started with just our small and our regular cup, and the mold itself was the twenty five thousand dollar investment for one size, so fifty thousand for two sizes. And that’s because you’re literally etching it in steel. So we had to be very confident in our mold that it was going to be a product that was going to work well for people, which is hard when you don’t have the opportunity to have them tested. So we went through 14 different design iterations. We pulled the trigger, created these molds and we had a focus group of a thousand people that we built over time that we would ask all sorts of questions to What do you like about our brand? If you like this color better now, what are you looking for in a reusable product? What kind of voice do you like? One that’s more authoritative or one that’s more approachable and we’d A/B test these questions to that group. And then when it was time to launch, we gave them each a free cup. We wanted them to film their unboxing experience. So they did that on social media and it really helped catapult this is a brand and have these. So when we launched our website, it wasn’t just crickets, but we had a team of 1000 ambassadors who really believed in the product. Believe in our brand and we’re excited to be able to share them. So that was part of our journey. And then I would say our next big milestone was when we launched an all Target stores nationwide, and that was just huge to be able to do that in our second year. And that was due to our beautiful branding. She said straight up that she felt that our brand would be best positioned to take the cup mainstream because the way we presented our products and to educate is very validating. 

Le’Nise:I what I love about what you said. You said this earlier is that you didn’t want it to be a kind of typical menstrual product brand. You wanted to be more of a kind of clean, clean beauty sort of brand. And I see that in the branding. It looks, it looks very stylish. It looks like something you could throw in your basket and you wouldn’t. Not that I would hide it, but you know, you could imagine some people hiding those sorts of things and you don’t you don’t need to. And I think that’s very appealing to a lot of people who aren’t necessarily as far as we are in our menstrual health journey. Now you’re you’re launching in the UK. You have launched or you’re about to launch in the UK? 

Cherie: Now we do we do have retailers in the UK, so people are there and you can purchase offer off our website. We’re also on Amazon UK and then we’re in a couple of small retailers there and we’re looking to continue to grow our footprint. Our period underwear is not in the UK yet. You can buy it off our website will be shipped there, but we’re hoping to have it there soon. 

Le’Nise: OK, great. And so you are. So you’re now international as a brand? Great. Fantastic. So thinking about everything that you’ve learned over your journey as through your period and then as an entrepreneur, what is the one message you would want to leave people with who are on this kind of similar entrepreneurial journey where they have a vision? They have an idea, but they’re unsure about whether or not they should pull the pull the trigger. What what would you say to them? 

Cherie: I would say that more and more people want to align with companies that represent their own values that align with their personal values. So I’m a big believer in social enterprise. I love the B Corp movement because I believe that it encompasses the best of both worlds, the nonprofit and for profit business. So for those that are looking at entrepreneurs pulling the trigger on a product that they want to create or brands that they want to develop, I would look into social enterprise and see how you use your business to do good in the world. Use your business as a force. I think that there’s so much that every business do to empower their workers to be able to look and see courts do at not just the bottom line and profit. The taking that triple bottom line approach and looking at people planet profit, which includes your community and includes your customers and includes your suppliers and the factories that you work with, looking at doing everything you do in a clean and ethical way, that’s good for your customers, good for people and planet. So I’m just such a big believer. I think the brand is going to continue to show that those that have a social mission are the brands that are going to grow and those that the millennials Gen Zers are going to continue to support. 

Le’Nise: Fantastic, I love the idea of having a social a social mission, and I definitely see that resonating with a lot of people versus companies who. We’re getting all think of big ones that are purely as you see it, focused on on profit. If someone wants to buy a menstrual cup, they’ve heard our conversation today. They want, they want to dive in. How can they find find the Saalt menstrual cups? 

Cherie: The easiest way is checking our website, Saalt.com. Like I said, we’re also sold on Amazon, were sold on various retailers nationwide Target, REI or Whole Foods. That’s right. 

Le’Nise: Fantastic. Thank you so much for coming on the show today, sharing your period story. And yes, thank you so much. 

Cherie: Thank you, Le’Nise, and such a pleasure. 

Period Story Podcast, Episode 48: Dr. Tosin Ajayi-Sotubo, Ask Questions

I’m so pleased to share my conversation with Dr. Tosin Ajayi-Sotubo.

Dr. Tosin is a medical doctor working in London as a NHS & Private General Practitioner with a passion for spreading health awareness. She founded Mind Body Doctor as a friendly and accessible space to educate and inspire as many people as possible to look after their health. She has a huge focus on diversity and representation in health and wellness to reflect people from all backgrounds and walks of life. 

A quick note on today’s show – we recorded this early last year, so please check Dr. Tosin’s website for the most up to date information about what she’s up to!

Dr. Tosin and I had a fantastic conversation about her work as a GP, how to best prepare for an appointment, especially when you only have 10 minutes, the importance of asking questions, diversity and inclusion in health and wellness and of course, the story of her first period. I can’t wait for you to hear this episode – Dr. Tosin is an inspiration!

Thank you, Dr. Tosin!

Get in touch with Dr. Tosin:

Website

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: I’m so excited to have Dr. Tosin on the show today, we’re going to talk about periods, I’m going to ask her about being a GP and her practice in London and her focus on diversity and representation. So, let’s get into it. So, can you tell me the story of your first period? 

Dr Tosin: Sure! Such a great question to start off with and thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited to dive into this discussion. So, my first period, I remember it was about when I was 13 years old, and I was at school. So, I started well, I was at school, which is always a great and interesting time to start. And I remember just going to the toilet and thinking, oh, OK, my period started. I don’t think it was too much of a shock because I knew it was coming. I have an older sister, so I’d kind of known what was coming. But still, I didn’t have anything on me. I didn’t know what to do, I don’t think I felt comfortable enough to talk to my friends or any teachers about it at the time. So, I remember just getting like loads of toilet paper and stuffing it in my knickers and walking around for the rest of the day, kind of waddling around because I had the toilet paper in there. I think we’ve all done that or been there before. And then I remember just getting home and being like, Mum, I need some help. And then that was my first period when I first started and then kind of just went from there with my mum’s help. I think it was quite an easy transition. I don’t remember it being too daunting. 

Le’Nise: When you got home and you told your mum what had happened, what was her reaction? 

Dr Tosin: My mum’s a very, erm, God bless her heart. She’s absolutely wonderful, but she’s very, you know, straight to the point kind of person, like, OK, so this is what we need to do. Very pragmatic. So, there wasn’t any kind of like, oh, are you OK? How are you feeling? It was just very much like, OK, so let’s get some pads. This is what you need to do and you’re fine. Go off and, you know, take care of yourself. And to me, I think that’s all I really needed because I’d seen my sister go through that transition. You know, I’d seen pads around the house. I’d asked what they were for. So, I really had the idea of what to do and what was coming. So, it wasn’t too much of kind of a daunting task. I don’t think I needed… I don’t think I really needed too much handholding. But it would have been nice to maybe have, you know, more of a sit-down discussion around periods in general and what was to come for, you know, the majority of the rest of my life. 

Le’Nise: When you saw what your sister had experienced with her own period, what did you take out of her experience? when you had you got your period in the loo at school, you were able to say, oh, this is my period. What did you take from your sister’s experience? 

Dr Tosin: I think the normalising of it, and I think if I hadn’t had that older female figure to see actually this is something that comes every month, it’s very normal, is nothing that to be scared of. I think maybe I would have been a bit more worried or maybe a little bit more concerned or a bit more shy around the concept of periods. But because I’d seen my mum and my sister every month getting their pads out. Sometimes, because me and my sister used to share a room at the time, you know, sometimes she’d wake up in the middle of the night when her period started and rush to the toilet. So, I kind of had the idea of what was to come. And, yeah, it was just the normality of it, which I think helped me. 

Le’Nise: When you got your period and then you had the sit down with your mum, how did you then learn about the rest of… beyond just what to do, the nuts and bolts of having a period? How did you learn about, like, menstrual cycle and everything else around having a period? 

Dr Tosin: I would say I didn’t really. I would say mostly through life, and through having a period and just learning along the way. I remember I think we had one session on it in school and I went to an all-girls school, and I think we had one session, which was, you know, they put on a video, we sat down and watched it for maybe 30 minutes, and that was it. There was no discussion about it. There was no, you know, talk to your peers about it, break out into groups. Like that kind of thing would have been nice, but I don’t remember having that at all. So, I think it was just learning along the way and talking to friends at that time as well, because, you know, a lot of girls start their periods around the same time. So, I think just learning along the way and having open conversations with my friends, I think that’s pretty much how I learnt. 

But to be honest, when it comes to the actual menstrual cycle and the complexities of it, I don’t think I learned that, you know, until I became a medical student or a doctor. So, I think I’m fortunate in that position that actually I was able, I was kind of forced to learn it through books. But I think if I hadn’t have gone down that career path, I don’t know if I would actually know all the things that I think women should know, but I do know today because of my job with my career. 

Le’Nise: And this experience at 13, when you did you have any kind of vocabulary to describe the way you felt about your period? Was it kind of… you said your mom was very matter of fact about it? Did you take that matter of factness into your experience and your feelings of having a period? 

Dr Tosin: I probably did. in fact, I probably took that into a lot of my day-to-day life. I probably did, in fact. And I think, again, until I became a doctor or started studying it and started to, you know, know how to talk about it and how to talk to other women about it, I think for me it was just, you know, something that happens every month, something that women or girls have to go through. And there was nothing more to it. You know, I didn’t know about it possibly affecting moods. I didn’t know that, you know, people could have different periods. I didn’t know you could possibly have missed periods – I didn’t know all of this. I think it was just, you know, you bleed once a month and that’s it. You get on with it. 

Le’Nise: And how would you say that your experience was going through your teenage years of your period? Was it, every month it would come and that would be it? And you’d have to deal with it. Or did you have anything else that you had to deal with regarding your period? 

Dr Tosin: I think I was quite fortunate in the fact that my periods weren’t too troublesome. So, it was really just dealing with them once a month and they were never unusually heavy and I never had terrible period pains. However, on the flip side, my sister did. So, I did experience a lot of that through her. And I always felt bad and guilty in a sense, sometimes because she would be in excruciating pain once a month. And I would be, you know, just continuing my day-to-day life. And she would have to miss out on things at school. She sometimes when we were on a family holiday, I remember one family holiday, she was just locked in her room for three to four days because her period pains were that bad, whereas I was out frolicking in the sun. So, although I didn’t experience the difficulties during my teenage years, my sister definitely did. She did grow out of that, luckily, but I think it was a difficult time for her. 

Le’Nise: Did that change the way that you thought about periods at all, seeing what your sister was going through? 

Dr Tosin: Yeah, definitely. I think it did open my eyes up to the fact that actually, you know, our periods are different. We’re not all the same when it comes to this aspect of being a girl or being a woman. And I think that did open up my eyes to that, and I think if my sister didn’t have, if I didn’t see my sister go through that, I would have just assumed everyone had periods like me that were quite easy to handle and, you know, didn’t really affect your life at all. So, yeah, I think I was fortunate. I would say fortunate although she wasn’t, I was fortunate to see that side of things vicariously through my sister. 

Le’Nise: Right, OK. And then you say you have relatively easy periods. And did that continue as you went through your 20s and your 30s? I’m guessing, I don’t know how old you are, but I’m guessing 30s? 

Dr Tosin: you’re guessing, right! 

Yes and no. I would say there’s definitely been changes in my period itself, but also just my cycles and the things that surround your period, being that your mood or how you’re feeling in the run up to your cycle and how your body’s feeling as well. So, I’ve definitely noticed changes that come and go. I say definitely into my late 20s and early 30s, which I am in now, there have been some changes. I would still say my periods are manageable, but it’s more about the surrounding symptoms, I would say, and kind of the lead up to my period that I get some of those mood changes.

Le’Nise: So that’s come as you’ve gotten older. What do you think has contributed to those mood changes? 

Dr Tosin: I think hormones, I think as we get older, our bodies change and with that, our hormones change. So, I definitely think hormones plays a big role in it and I think possibly also being more aware. So, it’s possibly that actually my mood maybe didn’t even change, but I’m just becoming more aware of it, and before, you know, I was probably just a moody teenager those times. So, I think, you know, as you get older, you become more aware of these symptoms and actually attributing them to your periods and your mental cycle. 

Le’Nise: What do you do to manage your mood changes before you get your period? 

Dr Tosin: I think for me, it’s just the being aware that actually this is coming. And I think it’s been helpful for my partner as well because I think it’s difficult sometimes for partners when you’re in a relationship to not understand when your mood changes if it does change. So, I think having those open discussions and conversations with your partner, I think that’s really helpful in a relationship, from a relationship point of view. So, I think just being aware that actually, you know, this is the time of the month, my mood might be changing and actually I find I can cope with it much better. 

Le’Nise: Before you were having these conversations with him, did you find that he would kind of walk on eggshells or kind of tiptoe around you before you had your period? 

Dr Tosin: No, not at all. Because to him it wasn’t a monthly thing. It was just, you know, sometimes I have mood swings. It wasn’t, he didn’t really recognise the pattern because most men don’t understand that there’s a pattern to the symptoms. And I think when I had that conversation, he was like, OK, makes sense. And I think, you know, now he’s more aware, but he’s like, ‘oh OK, it’s that time of the month, maybe I’ll go easy on her’. 

Le’Nise: But what’s really interesting about this is that, you know, we do attribute a lot of mood changes to hormonal changes, which, you know, they’re definitely connected. But as I go into deeper into this space, I do kind of also always want to say that, you know, having moods is something that makes us human. And if we attribute all of our mood changes, especially right before a period to, you know, oh, I’m moody, I’m about to get my period, I’m premenstrual, then that kind of also takes some of the humanity out of it. Like, you know, we’re not allowed not to be happy all the time. We’re allowed to be upset or just a bit blah. And that’s OK, I personally think.

Dr Tosin: I think one hundred percent. You’ve picked up on something like completely important that I think, you know, moods are normal. That’s what I always say – emotions are completely normal is what makes us human. So definitely, I think, you know, attributing mood changes and emotions that we experience, men experience, people experience to just hormones. I think that is a dangerous, dangerous trap to fall into. So definitely, I think there is a distinction. And, you know, we’re human. We have emotions that’s completely normal. So yeah, 100%. 

Le’Nise: You said that you learnt more about the nuts and bolts of your cycle when you were in medical school. Can you tell us, firstly, what inspired you to study to become a doctor? 

Dr Tosin: Yeah, sure. And I think when people ask this question, they expect some significant moment in life when you’re like, oh, my gosh, I’m going to be a doctor – this is it, this is my career, this is the rest of my life. Whereas for me, it was more of a gradual progression. I think I was whilst I was in school, I was absolutely fascinated by biology. I was a bit of a geek and absolutely loved it. And I think when you good at the sciences, a teacher mentioned, oh, how about medicine? I was like, OK, I’ve never thought of it, but why not? So, I think I went on some work experiences. So, I went into hospitals and followed doctors around for about a week or two and I absolutely fell in love with it. I think it was the fast-paced nature of it, but also the fact that you were changing lives, you were having an impact in people’s lives and you were able to help people. And then, you know, the rest is history. I applied to medicine. And that, for me was really the point where I decided that I wanted to be a doctor. 

Le’Nise: And what made you decide to specialise in general medicine rather than going down a specific, a more specific route? 

Dr Tosin: Yeah, I mean, it wasn’t always that way. So, I did I started off wanting to do obstetrics and gynaecology, funnily enough. So, I went into what we call our junior doctor training and thinking that was what I was going to do, and it just so happened. So, when you’re a junior doctor you do rotations in the hospital, so it just so happens that my first rotation was in obstetrics and gynaecology and I very quickly realised that I didn’t like surgery, which is a big part of it, delivering babies. And I was like, OK, maybe this isn’t for me, but I love the gynaecology part of it. Still, I found that really fascinating, being able to help women. I found that really, really fascinating. So, I kind of trundled along not knowing what I was going to do. And then very similarly to how I realised I wanted to be a doctor, I did a placement in a general in a GPs, general practitioners, and just absolutely fell in love with meeting different people, being able to go on a journey with people, and being able to help people from loads of different aspects, from children to elderly people to men to women. And so, I was just like, OK, this is it. This makes sense. And I can also focus on the gynaecology or the women’s health part, which I did do. I did a diploma in family planning and sexual health, which allows me to focus a little bit more on women’s health as well. 

Le’Nise: So, what would you say if someone asked you the typical day of a GP because most people, their experience of the GP is trying to get an appointment, having difficulty getting an appointment, and only having 10 minutes to speak to their GP, and not really getting the information or support that they want. So, what would you say? What would you, just kind of looking at it from the other side? Can you share a day in the life of a GP or your day in the life as a GP? 

Dr Tosin: Yes, sure. Gosh, I don’t know if I can do this in a minute or so, but I’ll try! So, I do both NHS and private work as a GP. So, I split my time half and half, so I’ll come at it from an NHS GP point of view because that’s what we really know in the UK. So usually, you probably get it in the morning, let’s say 8:00 or even earlier, and you’ll sit down, and you’ll look through your list of people for the day. Now, even usually for me, even before I do that, I’ll get in early and catch up with blood results, consultant notes that come in from the hospital, reading them, prescriptions for my patients I’ll sign and then be sending them to the pharmacy. So, I’ll try and catch up with as much admin as possible because it is never ending. So, I try to get as much of that out of the way. 

And then you go on to your morning clinic or consultations, and this can vary anywhere from, I would say fifteen to twenty-five patients, usually in the twenties range and usually back in the day before the pandemic that we’ve experienced in the past year, its back-to-back base appointments, 10 minutes each for each patient. We don’t get longer than that. Now it’s a bit of a mix of telephone calls, but you’ll be surprised that telephone or video consultations actually adds a lot more workload and take a lot longer because you’re not able to examine that patient, you’re not able to be with them in the same room to actually get more of an understanding of what’s going on. So you have to ask more questions and you have to really dig deeper, so it takes often takes longer. 

And so, you’re back-to-back ten-minute patients. And as you can imagine, not every patient you’re going to be able to deal with in ten minutes. If someone comes in and let’s just say they talk about their mood, they’re having difficulties with their mood, it’s very difficult and you don’t want to cut them off at ten minutes. So, with that patient, you might spend 15 or 20 minutes. That extra five or 10 minutes can add on, and obviously, that’s when you start running late and then that’s when patients start to get angry in the waiting room. It is so, so, so difficult. And then after your morning session, you will then do any what we’d say admin that’s accumulated from that morning session, it’ll be that or doing blood tests, doing referrals to the hospital. Again, looking at blood results that have come through, looking at letters that have come through, writing prescriptions, and then you usually have to go off and do home visits. 

So those patients that can’t come into the clinic but still need to be seen. So, you go to their house, you see them, you come back, you have a quick lunch, then you start the afternoon clinic again. And that’s pretty much a normal GP day. Very hectic.

Le’Nise: Wow. It sounds hectic. And it’s very interesting hearing it from your side, because, as I say, there is… I know from the work that I do, there’s a lot of frustration that I hear from my clients and other women I speak to about their GP, their personal experience with their GP. And I just wondered, you know, knowing that you only have ten minutes with a GP, what would you say or what do you say to patients that helps them maximise their time with you? What can they do to maximise their time with you? 

Dr Tosin: Yeah, I think it’s really difficult from a patient point of view. And I’ve definitely been on the other side as well. And I think the frustrations are completely understandable. I mean, as a doctor, most of us wish that we had more time with our patients. Unfortunately, that’s just the way it is at the moment. So, I would say for a patient, the best way to manage a ten-minute GP consultation is be prepared. So, I would say go in knowing what you want to say to that doctor. And write down as well, a few bullet points of what you want to get across. Because often I find patients come in and they’ve said what they thought they wanted to say but actually at the end, they remember actually I had xyz to say as well, and I think with the pressure about 10 minutes, sometimes what you want to say just quickly goes out of your head. So, I say, write down what you want to say, the questions you want to ask and the points that you want to get across. 

I will also say you probably hear this a lot, but one problem per appointment, and we say that not to be difficult, but just that if your GPs trying to deal with multiple problems in an appointment and they often will try to do that, if you have more than one problem, that’s when they run the risk of missing something because they’re trying to rush through all your problems, and it doesn’t do any justice to you as a patient because they can’t really tackle one problem properly. So, I would say try to stick to one problem per appointment. It’s not always easy, but I would say if you go into your GP consultation and you have more than one problem, right at the beginning, say, OK, I have more than one problem, maybe you’ve waited a long time for that appointment and they’ve just accumulated up. But be honest, say you have more than one problem and list them all out and then have the conversation with your doctor. Which one is the most important, which one you might tackle today and then make a plan with your doctor going forward, how you’re going to tackle the other problems. That could be a follow up telephone call or follow up video consultation or another actual face-to-face appointment. And I think that’s the best way to handle it if you have more than one problem. 

And then my last point, I would just say ask questions. And I know this isn’t really about managing a ten-minute consultation but ask any question that you want to when it comes to wrapping up the consultation. Obviously, you might feel like you have to rush out, but the worst thing you want to do is to leave that room and then feel like you have so many unanswered questions or feel like you actually didn’t get what you needed or feel like you just had no idea what that doctor told you. So, ask questions – that one-minute extra can make such a difference in the way that you feel when you leave that consultation room. 

Le’Nise: Fantastic. That is so helpful. And, you know, basically what you’re saying is what I will and always share with my clients, because there is this kind of intimidation factor that some people feel regarding their GPs, whether it’s they’re not sure they’re not going to have enough time or there’s this kind of matriarchal or patriarchal feeling about, well, my GP said it so, you know, that’s kind of law or they feel like they can’t question anything. So, what you’re saying is so valuable and I would encourage anyone listening to write this down, and when you have your next GP appointment or if you are working with any health professional, you know, go in there being really prepared and allow yourself to be empowered through that preparation. 

I want to ask you, you know, just thinking about going and seeing doctors there is thinking about the communities that we both come from. There is, you know, the black African, black Caribbean community. There is a known research, you know, hesitancy around dealing with medical professionals. And as a doctor, what is your take on that? 

Dr Tosin: Yeah, I think it’s such a good question and something that we definitely need to be having conversations around and something I’ve definitely obviously heard of and seen first-hand. I think it’s just this notion or, I think there’s something within our cultures that you just kind of get on with things. You don’t speak about your problems, you know, you just get on with things. And I think that has trailed down through generations and I think is also, you know, the hard-working nature in us as well. And I think that’s what makes people from our culture, you know, very hard working and very resilient. But I think it can be a detriment when it comes to our health that we just, you know, we keep it inside and we don’t have those conversations. And I think even within families, the conversations aren’t being heard. And I spoke about this on my Instagram the other day, that we don’t really talk about our family history. And I think that’s such a detriment to ourselves, and generations to come. That actually we just don’t talk about health within our communities and within our families. Although I do see it getting better, I really do see it getting better. And I see more patients from certain backgrounds and cultures coming in to seek help that actually wouldn’t have before. And I think mental health is a big one in there. When I see patients from certain cultures, especially the older generation, actually coming to speak about their mental health, I feel so proud because, you know, I know how much it took them to actually take that step to come and speak to me or a doctor. So, yeah, I’m not sure exactly what the reason is, but I do think there is something there and there is a big cultural divide, I would say, or obstacle in stopping some people coming forward to seek help. 

Le’Nise: Do you think it’s helpful when people they go to see a doctor who is of the same cultural background to them? 

Dr Tosin: Yes, that’s a good point. I do. And I do obviously think that might be another barrier, and people not seeking help because there’s so much anecdotal and also research theories in that people just don’t feel heard by health care professionals. And there’s been some papers that look at, you know, black women vs. women from a white background being offered pain relief. And actually, black women are offered pain relief lesser than white women. So, it’s difficult to say why these things are. I think that multifactorial, but I think that does add to the barrier because there has been historically people not feeling heard and not feeling like they’ve gotten the right treatment that they needed. So, I do think that adds a barrier to it. And definitely from my own personal experience, I think I worked all over London and also outside of London so I could definitely see the difference when I worked in an area of London that’s very heavily a West African based community. And it was just such a nice feeling to see my patients come in and be like, oh, my gosh, I’m so happy to see a black doctor or I’m so happy to see someone that looks like me. And they would just open up and say things that they said that they’d never spoken about with a health care professional because they felt that I would understand, because we have a certain familiarity or that certain connection. And sometimes actually I, I maybe didn’t understand because we’re from two completely different generations, but it was just that fact that the patients felt they could open up more was absolutely great. So, I think there’s definitely something in that.

Le’Nise: What would you say to maybe a GP from a white background who’s listening to us or a health care professional from a white background, who’s listening to this and thinking, well, how can I, you know, I’m obviously not of the same ethnic or racial or cultural background as one of my patients, some of my patients. What can I do to connect with them? What can I do to make sure that I’m not just listening, but I’m really hearing what they’re saying and not dismissing their concerns? 

Dr Tosin: I think a lot of it is listening and gaining experience and understanding, and I think if you want to learn about something, you will learn about it. And I think taking from your patients experiences and learn from the patients that you’re seeing and asking questions. I think if you ask questions about your patients and their cultures and their backgrounds, what they eat on a day-to-day basis, if you take an interest, the more they’ll feel comfortable in opening up to you. And it’s not always about, you know, a difference in the way we look or a difference in skin colour that patients don’t feel comfortable to open up, it’s just that actually they don’t feel that the other person maybe wants to hear their story. So actually, just that taking an interest in asking questions and listening, I think that definitely helps in allowing patients to feel more comfortable opening up. 

Le’Nise:  That’s really, really valuable information. I mean, you’re just a breath of fresh air. I wish you were my GP!

Dr Tosin: We can make it happen. 

Le’Nise: I wanted to ask just kind of just switching tacks a little bit what you think about patients who come in and they have been working with another health professional. You know, I’m just really interested in it from a professional perspective. When you hear patient and you see patients and they’ve been working with a nutritionist like me, what do you think as a GP? 

Dr Tosin: I think, you know, whatever helps, you know, GPs, we are not the be all and end all, we don’t have all the answers. And, you know, there’s different aspects to health, health is not just a one track for all – I call it a health puzzle. There’s so many different aspects that you have to look at to someone’s health, be that their mental health, their physical health, the nutrition, what they’re eating on a day to day basis, how they’re moving on a day to day basis. So, all of these aspects equal, you know, the entirety of someone’s health, and I think taking a what we call in medicine as a multidisciplinary approach of lots of different professionals, imparting their knowledge and giving patients or people the tools they need to be able to live their healthiest lives, I think it’s absolutely great. And I always say at the end of the day to patients, you know your body the best, so actually, if you feel that you need to see a nutritionist, or you need to see a therapist, or you need to see someone else, then do what works for you. And I think that’s the key thing here. And as much as a doctor, a health care professional can say, oh, well, actually, I think everything’s fine, you don’t need to see this person, you don’t need to do X, Y and Z, I can’t find a specific problem… If you know that something doesn’t feel right in your body, then I would say, listen to that and listen to your body and seek the help within reason that you feel is needed and helpful for you. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. Yeah. OK, that’s really interesting. I want to ask about your focus around diversity and representation in health and wellness. So why is that important to you? 

Dr Tosin: Yeah, for me, I think, you know, health is the one thing that should really be inclusive. Everyone should have equal access, equal understanding when it comes to our health, because it is the most important thing, I think. And I think it’s really difficult, especially in the wellness industry, especially with social media. You have people looking online. You have people looking in magazines wanting to learn more about their health and living a healthy lifestyle. But they’re just seeing a certain representation, a one size fits all approach. And even for me as a health professional, sometimes, you know, I find myself getting sucked into that. I’m like, oh, okay, is this the picture of health? And I can’t relate to that. So how can your average everyday person in society relate to that one size fits all picture of health? So, to me, it’s really important that we are representing everyone in society, so people are able to relate and understand to the person that they see talking about health. 

Le’Nise: And so, what do you think that… what do you think needs to be done in order to increase diversity and representation in health and wellness space? 

Dr Tosin: I think the onus is obviously on both sides, I think. So, definitely in terms of, I would say, the health and wellness industry, which is a massive industry that’s blown up, they need to make sure that they’re representing people from different races, different sizes, different skin tones, just all across the board, different genders. And I think that really needs to be put on the forefront. And I’m starting to see changes, I would say definitely in this past year, which is great. And hopefully that just continues to change, and we will get there. I also say on the other side of things, I would say, you know, people like yourself, people like me coming forward and actually taking up that space and actually realising, hold on, you know, there’s no one like me in this sector. There’s no one speaking about the things around health and wellness that looks like me and actually coming forward and creating that space for people. So, I think the onus is on both sides. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, definitely. Onus is on both sides. And I think what you’ve said about taking up space and using the platforms that you’ve had and creating your own platforms is really powerful because, you know, there’s a great I think it’s Maya Angelou quote, “If you can’t see it, you can’t be it” and I think just seeing someone like yourself as GP, private practise and NHS practice is so, so powerful as that model of, oh, this is something that I can do and you’re not just in and I don’t say just in practice, but you’re not just in practice. You know, you’re out there in the world sharing your experiences, talking about all of this on social media. And I think it’s really powerful, you know, as an example for those coming up to see, to show them what is possible and what they can do if they choose to go into general practice. 

Dr Tosin: Yeah, definitely. And I think, you know, when I started taking my work kind of outside my day to day work as a GP and going online and social media and doing talks, it wasn’t at the forefront of my mind to be representing or to be talking about diversity and inclusivity, but I think it was just a natural progression, and I think it was when I started getting messages from people that are younger than me or medical students being like, oh, my gosh, thank you so much, you know, you’re such inspiration, seeing someone like you doing what I want to do, I know that it’s possible. And I was like, oh, my gosh, this is so true. And I reflected back to when I was younger and actually not having people in front of me that looked like me to say, actually, you know, that’s possible. I can do that. And I think that would have been so helpful. So, I think now that has become such a driving force for me where it wasn’t before, and, you know, I just think it’s so huge for the next generation coming through that they have examples, and they can see what is achievable. So, yeah, one hundred percent. 

Le’Nise: What would your advice be to someone who is in med school right now or they are kind of a junior doctor and they’re struggling a little bit and they just don’t see a path forward for them. You know, maybe they come from a similar background to you. What would your advice be to them? 

Dr Tosin: I would say don’t give up. And for me, when I got through difficult times, I would always say, OK, well, someone has done it before me, even if it’s just one person that I can see they’ve done it, that means so can I. And I think just using that to push you through the difficult times I think is really important. And also finding people to lean on or finding a mentor. I think mentors are so important and it’s not something that I had when I was coming through medical school. But if you can find someone to reach out to and they don’t have to be someone that mentors you on a regular basis, it could just be someone that you can reach out to when you’re struggling or someone that just gives you advice when you need it. And I think that is so, so important. So, if you can find a mentor and don’t be shy about reaching out to people, because I think so many people would love to be mentors, it’s just that actually no one’s reached out to them or they haven’t taken that step to reach out to people. So don’t be afraid of sending the message on social media. LinkedIn, I would say just reach out to people, if you feel actually you’d benefit from having someone who has been through your process that you can relate to being there for you and supporting you along the journey. 

Le’Nise: I think that is such great advice. I personally love it when, you know, nutritionists coming up, maybe they’ve just graduated or they’re still studying. They email me or they message me. I love it because I love seeing other women come up in the space and I love being able to share what I’ve learnt because I didn’t have that you know. I do remember this one time I did, I had just graduated, and I emailed a nutritionist. She was you know, she just she maybe was five years in, and I thought I would email her just to ask her a few questions. And she just never really responded back to me. And I just thought, I will never do that. And it’s so important to be able to know that you have that connection, and that people are accessible. I know, of course, have your boundaries, but you should be able to know that, you know, you’re not just in it for yourself, that you’re able to help others who are coming up in that space. 

Dr Tosin: I think so, because it also, it gives you more of a purpose as well for what you’re doing. And I think that’s so important to have to know that you can actually help someone else on their journey. I think, you know, just fills me with so much joy. I absolutely love it. So, yeah, I think it’s really important. 

Le’Nise: So just thinking about what you’ve got coming up next, is there anything that you want to share about what you’ve got coming next? Anything interesting that you want to point listeners to? 

Dr Tosin: Yeah, gosh, I would say this past year has been such a whirlwind, hasn’t it? And I think just starting to find our feet again. I’m just starting to find my feet again in terms of normality of life and my work life and my separate Mind, Body, Doctor life, which is my separate platform. So, I would say nothing in particular, but lots and lots of exciting things and lots of partnerships. I think I love working with brands for that exact reason that we were talking about earlier, just that representation factor, you know, being able to speak from a different point of view, from a different perspective, and knowing actually that someone might see me speaking about this issue and be able to relate to me. So, lots of partnerships coming up. So definitely have a look, mostly on my Instagram is where I talk about most of the work that I’m doing, but also on my website as well. 

Le’Nise:  And your Instagram, which we’ll link in the show notes  @mindbodydoctor. 

Dr Tosin: Yes, exactly. 

Le’Nise: OK, great. So, if you wanted to leave listeners with one thought from all the different pearls of wisdom that you’ve shared, what would you want that to be? 

Dr Tosin: I would say that accept your body and your health for what it is and know that we are all different and we are all on our own personal health journey, and I think it can be so difficult with social media and the Internet these days to compare your journey and what you’re experiencing to other peoples. But remember that your health is individual, and you are on your own health journey. 

Le’Nise: I love that you’re on your own health journey. Comparison is the thief of joy, we know that… you should be on your own journey. Walk your, run your own race. I love that so much. So, we’ll link to different ways that listeners can connect with you in the show notes. Thank you so much, Dr. Tosin, it’s been wonderful having you on the show. 

Dr Tosin: Thank you so much. It’s been such a great conversation; I can talk about all of this all day long. So, thank you so much for having me.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 47: Erin Holt, We Have A Innate Ability To Heal Ourselves

The podcast is back! Welcome to season 5! We went on an unexpected hiatus last year when I realised that I was running myself ragged trying to do too many things – see clients, write a book, homeschool and sell a house. I have more breathing space again so Period Story podcast is back! 

Today’s podcast is such a good one. I’m so pleased to share my conversation with Erin Holt. Erin is a board-certified integrative and functional nutritionist with a feisty attitude and over a decade of clinical experience. She blends evidence-based practices, functional lab testing, energy medicine, boundary setting & humor for a unique and customized approach to women’s health. She dives deep with women to get to the root cause of their health issues and finally get answers to their mystery symptoms.

A quick note on today’s show – we recorded this early last year, so please check Erin’s website for her most up to date programmes and courses!

Erin and I had a fantastic conversation about boundaries, diet dogma, how to recognise intuition and of course the story of her first period. I can’t wait for you to hear this episode – Erin is a fountain of knowledge and a great person to follow on Instagram! 

Thank you, Erin!

Get in touch with Erin:

Website

Instagram


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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: Hi, everyone, I’m so excited for you to meet Erin Holt on today’s episode, so, yes, enjoy the show. And let’s start off with a question that I always ask my guests, which is tell me the story of your, your first period. 

Erin: OK, so this is really not something that I’ve thought a lot about. So when you sent over the the questions ahead of time or just, you know, things to ponder for this show, it really, really made me think and not just about the actual story, but sort of the whys behind it and what did that tell me? And so I just want to say that this is really the first time that I’ve thought about this. But I got my period when I was in sixth grade. And you can tell that I’m like a kid of the 80s and 90s because in sixth grade we just like would walk to our friend’s house after school. Like no parental supervision. No, like nothing. I have a first grader and the thought of her doing that in five years, like I would never I would never. So I was at my friend’s house. It was a boys house. And there was just a bunch of us there watching MTV back when they actually had music videos. And I remember having to put on a pair of his sweatpants because it was very muddy out. So I was wearing his pants at a boy’s house with my friends and I got my period. So it luckily it wasn’t like a big, huge thing. I was able to go home. But what happened when I went home, as I told my mom and she asked me, were you having sex over there? I’m in sixth grade. I’m 12 years old at this point, maybe even 11 and. I saw right out of the gate I got this impression or this message that this is wrong, right? This what just happened to you is actually like because you did something you potentially did something bad and holy smokes. Now, my mom, I have to say, she had me really young, but we were really open and she was hip. You know, she that was I think that kind of just came from a place of like fear and like nervousness within herself. And probably if she could go back in time, she probably would have done it a little differently. But that that is really my takeaway from the first time I got my period was feeling like, oh, this this this is something that that that happened. 

Le’Nise: So when you got your period at your friend’s house, what did you do? Like you actually like in the moment you’re wearing his sweatpants. So like for the Brits listening, like, they’re like just sweat sweat bottoms, tracky bottoms. And then you felt like you felt your period come. What did you do? Like take us through that actual time at your friend’s house? 

Erin: I didn’t feel it. I went to the bathroom and noticed, like, oh, my gosh, this is something. And of course, I said nothing. I didn’t say anything to anybody and was like, oh, my God, I can I just going to get home as fast as possible. My mom has to come pick me up and got to get out of there because how mortifying to get your first period at a boy’s house while you’re wearing his pants. So it wasn’t a very you know, there wasn’t much of a story to tell because I just hightailed it out of there after that. 

Le’Nise: And did you know what it was? 

Erin: I did. I did know. I did know what it was. And I’m trying to think of how I knew because I had not really had a conversation about this is going to happen. And here’s what we do. I mean, my mom got her period and like I said, she was really open. So I was aware of what menstruation was, what it looked like, all of that. But as far as I knew what it was, but I didn’t know, like, where do you go from here? 

Le’Nise: And so then you got home. Your mom asked you that question, which she said that she probably regrets. And then what did you do? Like, did she give you pads? Did she give you tampons? 

Erin: No, she gave me, we got pads. I remember that. But we I spent the summer times with my with my grandparents. And I remember the very first time I had to use a tampon because my mom hadn’t taught me how to use a tampon. She got me pads and that was sort of it. And the summer, like I said, we were with my grandparents. I was meeting my friends at a water slide and I got my period. So I’m like, oh, I have to figure this out. I have to figure this out like really fast. How do I use a tampon? Because I can’t go in a bathing suit on a water slide with a pad. And so I remember, I totally remember the exact bathroom I was in. I remember it was so uncomfortable. I had no idea what I was doing, but I just went for it and figured out how to use a tampon through my bathing suit. But I there was no there was no guidance. There was nobody walking me through the steps. And in fact, I went I was the first one in the group to get my, in my group of girlfriends to get my period. And so when another one of my friends got it and wanted to start using tampons, I was the one that had to teach her. And I taught her by drawing a diagram because that was easier than actually like teaching, you know, like going into the bathroom with her. So I drew a diagram and then gave her the notebook. I remember the journal that she wrote it in and she took it in and figured out how to do it because we really just didn’t have parents swooping in and saying, OK, here’s what’s going to happen. Here’s the next steps. Here’s how to use this. It was like a total, like, magical mystery tour. 

Le’Nise: And so you became the kind of educator in your group of friends, so then after you figured out how to use a tampon at that, the moment of the water slide, how did you then further and learn about what was happening to your body? 

Erin: Well, I’m thirty seven in two days, and I’m just now learning about it, so that gives you any insight I. I didn’t I mean, of course, we had like. One course in in like middle school, you know, like talking about the birds and the bees type of vibe, but outside of that, there really wasn’t any education around. Why this is happening, like the actual physiological reason it’s happening, what to expect, what the different phases of your cycle might mean, what’s normal, what’s not normal. I’m pretty fortunate in that I have  dealt with a lot of health issues, but none of them really, I didn’t I’ve never had really hard periods. Let’s let’s just say that. And so I just kind of like when went through the motions, really. 

Le’Nise: So then you kind of kind of figured it out on your own and then you never had any hard periods, so no period pain, heavy period or any other issues with your menstrual cycle. 

Erin: The I was I did battle eating disorders for over a decade. And so there was a time when I was in my my early teens and I had lost a really significant amount of weight. I was overtraining, under eating, significantly restricting my food source. And I lost my cycle for a while and didn’t even know that that was. And for a while I would say under a year, not not several years. But I didn’t know that was a problem. I didn’t communicate that to people knowing what I know. Now, looking back, I was like, oh, my goodness, that was a big deal, but had no idea that that that that was a thing. And like I said, didn’t didn’t even talk about it. Never told anybody. But outside of that, no, I didn’t have really horrible cramping or heavy bleeds or big issues surrounding menstruation. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. It’s interesting you say as a student athlete, when you lost your period, I spoke to someone else on the show last year and she was saying that something happened to her, the similar thing happened to her. And she was actually really happy when she lost her period because her and her friends, they always saw their period as a hassle as as athletes. And that was a kind of. Kind of common theme throughout high school and university for her, doing sports, period was, having a period was always a hassle. If you think about you as a student athlete and then your friends who also played sports, did you said that you didn’t notice that you lost your period, but did you, were you getting any other messages, if you think back about it, around periods being a bit of a hassle as an athlete? 

Erin: Totally. And so let me just clarify that. I wasn’t an athlete. I think I was like self-inflicted. So I ran a lot. I joke if my husband could hear you call me an athlete, it would be like the joke of the week. But so I wasn’t really in the athletic group, so I can’t really speak to that. But I absolutely got the message that a period is is not. It’s not something to revere, right, it’s something it’s our cross to bear, it’s this thing that it’s kind of cloaked in shame. You don’t really discuss it with anybody. It’s embarrassing when it happens. And, yeah, it would be it’s a great thing to not have to deal with it. Like I said, like not having a period. I was never like, OK, something something is off here. I was like, cool, you know, like one less thing to have to deal with in this, you know, crazy body of mine. 

Le’Nise:  If you think back to how you learnt about your period and or you’re still learning about your period and your menstrual cycle, what can you take from that into the way that you teach your daughter when she eventually gets her period? 

Erin: Well, there’s going to be a conversation leading up to it first and foremost, and it’s a we even have conversations now because she sees we’re definitely an open parent. And so she sees the fact that I menstruate every month and we have conversations about that. And so there’ll be more conversation leading up to it. But what I really hope to instil in her is this appreciation for what her body’s actually doing every single month, because it took me well into adulthood for me to understand that. And if she can go into it understanding that this is more of a superpower than it is a cross to bear, I feel like, what a gift. And my my my job will be well done if she she can if she can take that away from it. 

Le’Nise: So you mentioned to see it as a superpower. What does that mean for you? 

Erin: Well. Just the the. Miracle that our body essentially creates a new gland every month. I mean, I think as as this is a generalisation, but as a woman, I’ve been extremely hard on myself and on my body. And I tend to look for the broken places and I tend to look for the places that aren’t meeting some arbitrary ideal. And I tend to beat myself up for all of those places rather than the more I study the human body, the more I work with a lot more women, the more I’m like, oh my God, this body truly is a miracle in what it can do every single day, every single week, every single month, over and over and over again. So this the fact that this was a big aha moment, the fact that we’re just creating these things within our body every month is is so significant. And then once we can really get in touch with the phases of our cycle and understand that they each hold a purpose, like a really big significant purpose is is huge. I think that for me, understanding the luteal cycle and what’s happening there. Was a really big eye opener for me, because I tend to be my husband calls it my outrageous temper. I tend I have I’m a hot tempered person, right. And I beat myself up for that a lot. Like, why am I like this? What’s wrong with me? You know, why is this happening? And understanding that there is that we become so much more discerning in the week or the weeks leading up to our menstruation that we’re able to look around and assess, hey, what in my life isn’t working? You know what’s not really like feeding my soul anymore and being able to understand that and harness that? That’s not a problem. I’m not a I’m not a bitch. I’m not broken. I’m not awful. It’s just that I’m more in tune to different aspects of my life. And to me that that’s a real gift. And if we can if we can just teach women that versus telling them why they’re so awful all the time, you know, I think that just creates such a different environment.

Le’Nise: And how have those learnings that you gained about how you behave differently or think differently in different parts of your cycle, have you taken those into the way that you work and the way that you run your business? 

Erin: I won’t say that I’ve gotten to the point where I create my schedule around different parts of my cycle. However, I give myself a lot more grace around how I interact with people. I understand that, you know, in the follicular phase, I really enjoy interacting with people and I have a lot more patience for folks, whereas on the other half of my cycle, not so much. I tend to be a lot more introverted and communicating with people feels like a lot for me energetically. And so I think this really applies especially to social media and my interactions on social media, on that Instagram is the one where I spend my most time. So whether it’s DMs or interacting with people that way, I give myself a lot of grace because I would get really frustrated that I felt like people needed me all of the time and were asking so much of me. And now I just understand that, like, there are times in my, in the month where I’m excited about that and then there are times in the month where I am not. And so that I would say, is how I’ve harnessed that the most in my work currently. 

Le’Nise: I really love that because you you saying that I have never thought about it, but that actually Has connected a lot with me. There would be times where I could be like you. I get a ton of DMs and there are times where I just like why? Why are you DMing me? And even though I say to me, like, you know, and then other times I’ll just be tip tapping away. I love responding and I never really thought about it like that. But I actually want to ask you that now that we’re talking about social media, I love what you say about boundaries on social media. Can you share your stance on boundaries for listeners who may not be familiar with you and don’t follow you on Instagram? 

Erin: Oh, my goodness. Of course I am. Boundaries are is one of my most favourite things to talk about. And I view boundaries as a form of self care. And self care is a term that I don’t really vibe with. I don’t really align with that term. But it’s a good catchall term. People know what you mean when you say it. And I work with a lot of women in my in my work who are really struggling with some chronic stuff. It might be GI, it might be ongoing hormones. It might be just utter extreme burnout, autoimmunity. And what I found over the years is that so much of it comes from our inability to just set and hold boundaries, whether that’s in our life with our family or in-laws or friends or our work. It’s, you know, I think, again, generalisation, but a lot of us are brought up to believe that we have to be the peacekeepers, that we have to walk into a room and make sure everybody’s comfortable. It’s, we’re responsible for everybody else’s comfort level above our own. And we’ve been taught this lie that if we start to take a step forward and say, hey, I matter, though, right? My my energy matters, my health matters, then we’re selfish. Right. And so and the more I talk about about boundaries publicly, the more I get gaslit into thinking that, like, oh, well, you’re just selfish or. Or greedy or your money hungry or you don’t care enough about people. And so this happens like this. Our society teaches us that in doubles down in that message, often infrequently. And so I get why people are nervous to step forward and create boundaries. But it is arguably one of the most important things that we can do. I joke that like Boundaries is my favourite adaptogen because all it’s doing is saying I need to take care of my energy. Right. We are walking around, burnt out, strung out, exhausted, like dragging the limbs all over the place. Just really, really, really tired. And what nobody is going to swoop in and give you an extra few hours of the day to take care of yourself. That will literally never happen. And if it did happen, I’m sure you’d be really good about filling up that space with doing things for other people anyway. So we have to kind of stake a claim on our own lives and say here’s like evaluate our energy and be radically honest with energy leaks, like where’s my energy going in? Does that feel good to me? And if it doesn’t, that’s where we have to create a boundary. That’s where we have to say, I’m unwilling to do this. And I think it’s really challenging when it’s something that we used to be available for and to all of a sudden say, I am no longer available for this. You know, we can use DMS as an example. Maybe now you’re saying, DM me, I love it. I love to chat on DMs and then perhaps your business might shift in restructure to the point where you can no longer DM people back and forth all day. And so you would have to create a boundary and say, I used to be available for this. I am no longer available for this because I took stock of my energy and I realised that it doesn’t feel good any longer to do that or I don’t have the bandwidth for it. And so I think a boundary boundaries is is a must. I think we’re hearing a lot more about them and I’m really glad for that because it’s hard. I think it’s very hard to have a good handle on mental health, emotional health and physical health if you are unable to create boundaries in your life. 

Le’Nise: I I am just nodding along with what you’re saying, because I’m a big believer in boundaries. I like I don’t like it when people behave in an unboundried way. And I always push back against that. I mean, I’ve I think social media is, because you have access to so many people or you feel like you have access to so many people because you can just send them a message. It makes people feel like, well, you know, I have access to you all the time so I can just send you what I want. But and people don’t necessarily think before they send you, you know, their like whole page long health issue. And I love that people feel open and able to share that. But I think there’s a kind of energetic exchange that happens. And what I love about what you said is it relates quite nicely to people who work in healing professions. There is a boundary issue that happens because you are giving so much of yourself when you’re working with people. And there is a kind of, it’s a it’s a challenge to be able to say no, because you’re so used to giving and giving and giving, and that’s certainly something that I’ve learnt in my time as a practitioner that I have to have boundaries like I don’t let people contact me on certain platforms anymore, I just I don’t like it and I need to have my own space to be able to know that I can be there as Le’Nise Brothers, the person rather than Le’Nise Brothers, the practitioner. So, yeah, that’s kind of I’m really connecting with what you’re saying, 

Erin: I think that social media can be the biggest boundary breach if we let it, because to your point, we’ve created this this false expectation that people should be entitled to our time, our expertise, our brain, our energy at any moment in the day. And so I do think there has to be a little bit of a resistance and a little bit of a kickback, because at the end of the day, we’re all human beings with a finite energy source. Many of us have families and other obligations outside of of the app. And we show up because we like to interact. We like to create content. We like to help people. But I think what also some people fail to understand is that a lot of that, especially for for practitioners, is that that a lot of that is content marketing. So we’re willing to show up and to give in the hope that that message will resonate with somebody and then they’ll end up working with us because there has to be a monetary exchange. I am the primary provider for my family. So if I don’t get paid, the lights don’t go on. I don’t have Internet to provide free content. We don’t eat. So I have to get paid. And that is a boundary in and of itself is that that energy exchange of receiving compensation for the energy that I put out in the world. And we have to we have to understand that, too. And a big thing that I get asked a lot by other business owners are like, aren’t you so afraid to set boundaries on, publicly like you do, like aren’t you afraid you’re going to lose clients? A lot of people are afraid to say no because they they they need clients. Right. Understandably. But I look at it a completely different way, because if somebody is going to overstep my boundaries on a on a free platform, then they’re surely going to do it when they’re paying clients. Surely. And so I almost use that as a screening tool to assess who who is a good fit for me, who can work with me. If you can’t respect me here, then you don’t get past this check point. You don’t get access to to my one on one work. And it has been really quite tremendous and helpful for me to to hone my clientele, because by the time somebody is paying to work with me, they’re so respectful, they’re so understanding of my boundaries, they’re so respectful of them that I love the work that I do. And I’m not hitting that that burnout that so many of us practitioners or business owners hit when we’re just saying yes to everybody. 

Le’Nise: So someone’s listening to this and they’re thinking, yes, I just have a huge issue with boundaries, whether they’re a practitioner or whether they’re just a person in this world. What was, what would one tip for them to start with? What would that one tip be? 

Erin: I think it’s putting the responsibility on yourself to understand, because it’s hard to know where where we need to set boundaries if we don’t if we don’t know what’s triggering us. So really, really pay attention to those trigger moments. You know, when I for me, when I get triggered, I get really hot. Like, I physically feel a sensation in my body where I’m like, I have to get up and like, pace my house. I’m just like, walk around because I get this, like, big visceral sensation. So I would like understand what your kind of trigger, you know, clues are and then really think about what’s happening in this moment in time. And then is there a pattern here? Does this happen every single time, X, Y, Z happens? I think pulling it in, if you are somebody who menstruates and has a cycle, pulling it into that luteal phase, because, again, we’re going to be a lot more attenuated to like, oh, these are the things that are driving me nuts, you know, and maybe kind of utilise that. I always say, and I’m sure you say the same like that that period is not the best or that phase of the cycle is not the best time to act on your decisions. Like if you if you have clarity, you don’t necessarily have to take action, because at least for me, that action is usually a little too aggressive. But you can pull it into your menstruation and like think about it meditate on it come from a clear headed spot. But that, I think, is the very first step is to pay attention to where you get bothered in rather than say, oh, there’s something wrong with me for getting bothered, like, why am I like this? Why do we react this way, use it as information. Because there’s probably a boundary that needs to be set. 

Le’Nise: And this actually segues nicely into this. You’re talking about tuning in and understanding what you need. It segues nicely into what I wanted to talk about around your work and intuitive eating. And on your website, you talk about ditching diet dogma and you talk a little bit more about what that means. So ditching diet dogma. 

Erin: So I want to first say, because I’m, transparency and integrity are like the two bedrocks of my business. And so there’s a lot of intuitive eating terminology being thrown around. I do not, have not received training and intuitive eating. And I just say that because that is a trademarked framework. Right. So I don’t want to co-opt that or make it sound like I’m doing something that I’m not doing. I, in my eating disorder recovery, intuitive eating came into play. And I did work with a registered dietitian who is trained in intuitive eating. So I’ve had exposure to it. Ditching the diet dogma means stop living as though your diet is your religion, right, we can get, tribalism is so huge right now, we can see it play out in politics, especially here in the U.S. pretty keenly, but it’s also infiltrated so many other systems like our food. Right. And so we have different camps. We’ve got the paleo, we’ve got the keto, we’ve got the intermittent fasters. We’ve got the vegan, the plant based diet. We you know, there’s so many different camps and everybody shouting from the rooftops, why this is the one way. This is the end all be all this is the thing to finally fix your broken pieces, to finally save you. And so we can get really locked into that. And I just see it do such a massive disservice long term to be so locked in and so rigid. And it’s like, you know, I recently said it’s like when when your food plan, your way of eating becomes more like religion. Right. More like like doctrine than that usually creates problems in the long run because there’s no wiggle room for you to say, oh, jeez, this isn’t working for me anymore. There’s no space for your intuition to come through and say, you know what, this actually doesn’t feel good in my body. Right. So I would say that ditching the diet dogma is more about embracing the idea, because this is a lot easier said than done, but embracing the idea that our own body’s communication and our own intuition should guide the way that we eat versus somebody else’s set of rules. 

Le’Nise: Now, I know we talked a little bit about this over over DMs. And you have recently released a very interesting podcast episode about intuitive eating, intuitive fasting, where you you position this as a position, as an opinion piece. But I just want to go back to what you just said about tuning in and understanding your intuition. What would you say to someone who says, well, I don’t even know what the word intuition means, like what I don’t get I don’t connect. I know that this is something I need to ditch diet dogma, but I don’t get that.

Erin: That is a really, really good question, because that is that’s sort of my the rub for me with any type of intuitive eating approach, whether it’s the trademarked intuitive eating or something similar, because we can’t just turn on our intuition when it comes to food. You don’t just walk into the kitchen, open the cupboard and say, my intuitions on now. It is really something that we have to practise throughout our entire, the rest of our life, not just with food. And so where do you begin? I mean, what is intuition? It’s like the sort of like the quiet whispers that you might hear that you’re like that that can’t be real or even like the gut sense that you’ve got. What I always say is like, has there ever been a time where you just knew something? You didn’t know how you knew it, you just knew it and you acted on it. In looking back, you were like, oh, my gosh, thank God I listened to that. That that that was a big thing. That’s your intuition speaking to you. And where does it come from? I don’t know. I think it probably depends on what kind of spirituality or philosophy or religion you align with. So I won’t go there. But it’s coming from it’s either your higher self or it’s coming from something bigger than you. And I think that the only way that we can access this is by creating space to do it, like having the desire and the willingness to say, you know what, I really want to really want to check in with my intuition. I really want to figure out what these messages mean or where they’re coming from. And I think we have to practise it. And I think we have to create space for it. I call it like mental white space, almost. If if our heads and our bodies and our days are so filled up to the brim with stuff, with noise, with information all day, every day, there’s really not a whole lot of space for your intuition to come in. Right. Whereas with what’s the entry point? And so I think that’s why having a meditation practise or having a mindfulness practise can be really good because it creates that white space in your day. Now, for some people to just sit down, you know, quietly for ten minutes to listen to their intuition, it’s not going to happen. It’s like being hit by a Mack truck. All of a sudden, you know, you’re going, going, going, going. And then they sit down. They’re like, I got to get out of here. I can’t do this right. So I also think that we can access it. One of the ways that I do it is through nature. We live in the woods. So I will go I call it my forest medicine. I will just go into the woods. I think nature has this ability to connect us to something bigger than ourselves. It’s that that sense of all that sense of wonder that we’ve sort of been disconnected from. I think we all have it as children and then we move away from it the older we get. But you go into a wide open space of nature, whether it’s green space or blue space, and you just see if you’re able to feel into this sense that there’s something bigger than me, doesn’t make all your problems go away. But it kind of gives you perspective on your problems a little bit. And for me, that creates a little bit of a pocket in my day. A quiet moment. A pause, if you will, from all of the noise and the chatter and I find that my I can connect with my intuition really, really well there, but I think we all have to find what works best for us. But it really is about one being willing to go into creating a pocket of time for yourself to listen. 

Le’Nise: I I think what you’re saying is so interesting, and it reminds me of one of my yoga teachers, she would always say that you need to listen, listen to the whispers before they become screams and if you take that principle beyond the physical body. When you’re doing kind of asana movement to kind of what’s happening internally and related to your hunger and what you’re what your what your body needs, it’s really interesting. And it’s almost like a muscle that you have to build. But if you give yourself that small space weather is, as you say, a walk in nature or even like just five minutes away from your phone, just kind of looking at your candle, whatever it is, you know, it’s that little kind of white space. I love that, that white space that gives your brain a chance to focus on something else. I, I just think, I love that. I think that’s so interesting. 

Erin: That quote is so I love that quote so much. And I think that’s sometimes for some people my myself, definitely. So I’ll use myself as an example. If we’re not listening to our intuition or we’re not heeding the message, sometimes those messages can come through our physical body. And I use that that quote in relation to physical health, because I’ve I’ve really struggled with I was diagnosed with an autoimmune illness six years ago. And so I’ve had some some battles with with my physical health. And I think looking back, that’s exactly what was happening. I was not heeding my intuitive messages. I was I had kind of gone dark on myself a little bit where I was like, I can’t even listen right now. And so those those whispers started to come through my body and I didn’t pay attention. And then those whispers slowly became screams in the form of a really serious health condition. And so I think it is. And I want I want to just make sure that everybody listening is not hearing me say that if you are struggling with a health condition, you caused it. I’m not saying that, I’m not saying that, but I do think that our bodies try to communicate to us and we’re not really great at listening to those to those signs and those symptoms. And so there’s multiple ways that our, our intuition can communicate with us. And some for some of us we’re like more I don’t know, like I get a lot of messages through my body, some of us are like, that’s how messages come in. Some people are more clairsentient, I think it’s called. So you can hear it’s like somebody speaking to you or something. Speaking to some people are more clairvoyant where they see different energy. I feel like I’m I think it’s clairsentient maybe. I feel people’s stuff. So I think that that’s an important thing, too, is that if there’s if there’s this repetitive message coming through, like whether you go through any of those channels, it’s really important that you listen to it because your intuition usually doesn’t just turn off. Right. It’s going to try to get your attention in there. If it’s not, it’s not getting your attention in a gentle way, then it might ramp it up in a different way. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, absolutely. And in terms of the work that you do with your clients beyond what you’ve said about ditching dogma. So you mentioned that you you have an autoimmune condition yourself and you do work with people who have autoimmune conditions. Talk a little bit about how, because they tend to be more complicated as a practitioner, a little bit about the work that you do with those types of conditions and what you’ve learnt perhaps from what you’ve experienced yourself. 

Erin: So I do a lot of functional medicine, works with a lot of lab testing to assess, to get the data to assess for what could be contributing to the overall imbalanced immune system. So I do that. From a food perspective, it’s interesting because the functional medicine space loves a good elimination diet, right? It is its restriction. It’s a whole new form of restriction where it’s not necessarily restricting calories in order to lose weight, but you’re restricting food as a safety mechanism to keep yourself safe so your disease does not progress, which is equally as stressful. I will say that. So I’ve found I’ve sort of found this weird little pocket of the Internet where I’m deep in the functional medicine world. But I’m also kind of kicking back against the fact that they prescribe these very restrictive diets as a way to cure or treat an illness. Because what that tells me is that you’ve taken the humanity out of it, you’re not looking at the human, you’re looking at the diagnosis and you’re saying, here’s the template, here’s the protocol. Here’s what you do. And you forget that there’s a human being sitting on the other end of that and that human being might have their own restrictive past. That’s certainly what happened to me. I had put myself into remission of 13 years of disordered eating. And I was like, I’m living the dream. I’m feeling good. I’m not dieting anymore. I love my body. And then I got smacked upside the head with this really scary diagnosis. And of course, in the blogosphere back then, it was all autoimmune paleo protocol, AIP, which is extremely restrictive. If no if you haven’t heard of it, I know that you have. But listeners, you remove all gluten, all dairy, all grains, you remove eggs, you remove all nitrates, you remove all spices that have nitrates, you remove all nuts, you remove all seeds. It’s intense. But if you have a doctor saying, hey, this disease could kill you, you’re pretty highly motivated to do whatever it takes. And so a lot of these people are on these really restrictive diets scared, saying I have to do this or something really bad could happen. So it creates the safety structure. And I just find that. When we take you know, there’s a lot of practicality with with removing certain foods, for example, with an autoimmune illness like a Hashimoto’s, for example, it makes sense. It makes practical sense to remove gluten. Right. But if it if it crosses over from practicality to restriction for the sake of saving my life, there’s a whole soup of emotions that go with that. And I just feel like that’s kind of where we’re missing the mark is that we’re not honouring that emotional aspect to these healing therapeutic strategies, and that’s kind of where where I’m at right now in my work is saying like, don’t just don’t just slap a template on somebody, don’t just slap a protocol on somebody, treat them like a human being. And you have to work within within their own emotional situation. Does that makes sense? 

Le’Nise: Yeah, that makes total sense. And where is the balance that you find with someone with with Hashi’s, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, for example? Who they, you know, that they are taking gluten out would be beneficial for them based on what you see in their labs, their antibodies, et cetera, what you know, that there is a history of restriction or disordered eating there. How do you find the balance there with that, with a patient or client like that? 

Erin: So that’s an awesome question. I will say that I have one client right now that we just discovered the presence of Hashimoto’s antibodies, which explains a lot. We’re not just looking at lab data. We’re also we’re looking at lab data and saying, does this explain what this human being behind the data is actually experiencing? And in this case, absolutely. So with the Hashimoto’s. My one of my first things is to say, OK, because of the way that gliadin, in the protein within gluten can cross react with certain tissues in the body. Right. We want to pull out gluten. But you’re saying, OK, that makes sense from a practical standpoint. But what happens if if that doesn’t make sense from an emotional standpoint for her? She, her entire world, her entire identity is gluten because her business. She’s an entrepreneur and her business is making bread. So, I mean, holy smokes, it’s not the same thing as having a history of restriction, but this is a big deal, right? So in these cases, what I do is I say I think this is where it makes sense to invest in doing a test. The one that I run is called the Vibrant Wellness Wheat Zoomer, Wheat Zoomer from Vibrant Wellness in that shows, as is your immune system, actually reacting to these peptides within week, because what if the answer’s no and then we just restrict unnecessarily just based on theory. So for her for a situation like that, I think it’s really makes sense to invest in proper testing to say, is this your bag? Is this something that we have to focus on? And if it is what the next step is, it’s not to just smash her into a gluten free diet, but it’s to assess how does this make you feel? So I just told you that you have a gluten free diet is a practical way to support your health condition. How does that make you feel? And I’m looking for two things. One, does it feel expansive in your body? Or does it feel like contraction in your body because some people are like, oh my God, I feel so much better knowing this. I’ve wondered about this. I’ve thought about this for years now. I have the data. I feel good. I’m excited to get started. I want to support my body in this way, like let’s go and some people get that data and they’re like, how am I going to do this? My kids eat gluten. What if I want to go to Italy? Can I never eat pasta again? I can never eat bread again. This this girl is like, do I quit my business? Like, well, what do I do? And so we want to, I never want people to make a choice, a decision from a place of constriction and contraction if it feels hard, scary, rigid, bad for lack of a better term in your physical body, that’s information. And we’re not going to make a decision from that place. We’re going to wait. We’re going to give ourselves some breathing room. We’re going to talk through it. We’re going to talk about your biggest fears. We’re going to do all of that before we run into this potentially restrictive diet. 

Le’Nise: That is just like music to my ears, because, you know, we’ve talked about diet dogma and we see a lot in this space, we talked about restriction. But what’s interesting is that what you just explained is a very nuanced approach. And that’s something that we’ve talked about before, this lack of nuance and the lack of seeing, even though we get trained to see the person for who they are, the whole whole person, physical and emotional, there is this kind of default of going back to templates and protocol. And this nuance is really important because that’s where the healing really begins, because you’re seeing all elements of the person and what they will actually respond to rather than take out gluten, take out dairy, you know, take it all out. It’s well, actually, how does this fit into my life and where I’m at emotionally, professionally, personally, all of that. 

Erin: And I think the longer that you do this work, the more people that you work with. And this is why I always want to talk to practitioners, not just researchers, because the research is really important. It’s really important. But how that research applies to actual human bodies is the work that I’m most interested in. Right. It’s that is the big stuff and. That’s where we learn about the nuance, that’s where we learn that context matters, is working with lots of people and that’s where we can have compassion for that piece into say, like, I know this is hard. I know this is really hard. Right. I can’t tell you how many people have come to me that have been put on like a leaky gut protocol or like a leaky gut diet or a ketogenic diet or, you know, all of these things. And they’re they’re pulling their hair out because they’re so stressed about it. But they’ve never had anyone say. Does this feel manageable for you? Are you OK with this and what is understood discussed because it’s not as sexy as diet and it’s not as sexy as protocols, but what is under discussed is the role that any type of stressor can have on the gut, on antibody production, on autoimmunity, on any of the things that we’re talking about, on food sensitivities, even. Right. And so if every single time we sit down to our plate to eat, we’re locked into this stressed out, hyper vigilant state that’s going to impact your physical body, too. Right. And so we have to make space for all of those things to exist. It is not just as simple as do this diet. All your problems go away. If it was, none of us would have any problems. It’s not that simple. 

Le’Nise: I yeah, I’m just I’m just nodding my head. I just I’m just agreeing with everything you’re saying. I know that listeners who will be connecting with what you’re saying. Can you tell them about what you’ve got coming up in your business, how they can get in touch with you if they want to find out more? 

Erin: I think the best place to start is with my podcast. I’ve been podcasting for three and a half years now, and I really do a lot to put a lot of good information and well researched and well thought out information there. So that’s the Funk’tional Nutrition podcast. That’s a really good starting place to just get your feet wet, you know, understand who I am, whether or not we would even be a good fit. And then from there, I run different nutrition programmes and then also functional medicine programmes. So the next one coming up would be my carb compatibility project, which is going to be in May. And that is a four week process to explore doing a lower carbohydrate template, because for some people that can be really health healthy or really helpful to manage GI issues or other things that are going on, blood sugar regulation. And so we talk a lot about that. But we do it from a place of compassion and we also do it from a place of there’s a template, there’s a framework, but we do it from a place of accessing your own intuition so you can keep coming back to your body and saying, but does this work for me? And every single time you have a question, I’m going to remind you to do that same thing. People are like, yeah, OK, OK. I know, I know, I know. You’re just going to tell me, like, listens to my intuition, but many cups of blueberries should I eat in a week? You know, it’s like still I totally get it. We want the easy answer because it it makes it less work. But if we choose the path of more resistance, we choose to really listen to ourselves and kind of do the working and like what we are talking about practise that it helps us in so many more ways than just food. So that is the next thing that I have on the horizon. But lots of different programmes. And then there’s always the option of working with me one on one as well. 

Le’Nise: Great. And all of all of Erin’s links will be in the show notes so you can check out her website, check out her podcast, her Instagram. Now, if you could leave listeners with one thing, one thought based on all of the amazing things that you’ve shared on the show today, what would you want that to be? 

Erin: I would say that and this is right off the cuff. I really want people to understand that our bodies are like Wolverine. My, my daughter and my husband are really into like superhero movies right now and Marvel and all of the things. And my daughter was like, if you could have one one superpower, what would it be? And I’m like, I would be Wolverine, because he has the ability to self heal. And I’m like, I am Wolverine. I do have the ability to self feel like our bodies truly, truly do. We’ve never been taught that. We’ve never been taught that that’s an option for us that’s available to us. And because of that, we don’t know that it is. And so my mission is to help people understand that we have this innate capacity to heal ourselves. And once we understand that, that it’s available to us, we like unlock this massive superpower. 

Le’Nise: Wow. Again, I’m just nodding my head as you’re speaking. Thank you so much for coming on the show today, Erin. It’s been fantastic speaking to you.

Erin: Oh, thank you so much for having me. It was a pleasure to be here. 

Period Story Podcast, Episode 46: Lola Ross, Moods Are What Make Us Human

For the last episode in season 4 of Period Story podcast, I’m so excited for you to hear my conversation with Lola Ross, a fellow nutritionist and the co-founder of the amazing menstrual cycle and mood tracking app, Moody Month. If you haven’t downloaded the app already, I definitely suggest that you check it out!

Lola and I talked about her work as a nutritionist, female entrepreneurship, starting the app and of course, she shared the story of her first period.

Lola comes from a really big family of women, so she says the conversations around periods and bodily changes were always free and open. She says that after having her son at 23, she started to notice changes in her period, which she managed through eating in a different way.

It was this journey that led her to go on to study for a degree in nutritional therapy and health sciences. She says that working with patients in student clinic brought home the the impact of diet and lifestyle in helping to modify and improve menstrual and reproductive health symptoms.

We talked about the emotional shifts that can occur across the menstrual cycle, which led us nicely into a conversation about Moody Month, the menstrual cycle and mood tracking app that Lola co-founded. Lola says they wanted to reclaim the word moody.

Lola says that moods are what make us human. Moods can be reflective and positive and they can equally be negative. Lola says that we need to delve deeper into our moods and why we experience them and move away from negative associations around being moody. Thank you, Lola!

Get in touch with Lola:

Website

Instagram

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LOLA’S BIO

Lola Ross (BSc Hons NT, mBANT, CNHC) is a registered nutritional therapist based in London with a specialisation in women’s health, and a personal interest in female reproductive health issues, including those that disproportionately affect black women. Lola works with women, and all female identities on concerns such as menstrual cycle health, weight management, fertility, skin imbalances, to sleep and mood disorders. She is a passionate advocate for health education in harder-to-reach groups and has managed and delivered nutrition initiatives for children at-risk programmes, NHS nutrition initiatives and a women’s health charity offering low cost treatment to vulnerable women.

In recent years, Lola has been integral in the building of the Apple ‘health pick of the day’ app Moody Month. Moody Month is a tracking app that provides daily wellness for women, tailored to their cycle, co-founded in 2017 alongside Amy Thompson (former Seen Presents CEO) and Karla Vitrone (NY).

Lola is an expert contributor to publications such as The Times, ELLE, Red, Shape, Brit + Co, Forbes, Dazed & Confused, and has contributed to the 2021 Penguin title – ‘Moody’, authored by Amy Thompson. Lola has also led workshops for brands including Adidas Women, Matchesfashion.com, and run period health sessions for secondary schools and female health events in London. Lola is also a brand consultant, and recently advised on formulations for the luxury CBD brand Apothem Labs.

Lola runs a clinical practice online, and in Notting Hill, West London. She works on the principles of functional medicine – treating system imbalances by addressing the underlying causes of disease using nutritious foods, supplements, and simple lifestyle changes. Using tools such as in-depth, patient-centred consultations, functional testing, genetic testing, behaviour and symptom tracking, Lola is able to personalised nutrition protocols and help to optimise patient’s health. Lola is starting an MA in Food Anthropology exploring culture and diet, medical anthropology, gender and the impact of climate change on food systems and communities.

A north London native, Lola is a mother of two, and has previously lived and worked in Trinidad and Tobago. She spends quality time with her family and soul sisters, loves yoga, her Peloton, and live music and festivals are a big love.

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: So on today’s show, we have Lola Ross, so I’m really excited to interview. Lola is a registered nutritionist like me, and she’s founded an amazing period and menstrual cycle tracker Moody Month. Welcome to the show.

Lola: Le’Nise, thank you for having me. 

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

Lola: Well, it’s actually funny because I was thinking about that quite recently, just because I was having a conversation with somebody else about about their first period, and actually I took my first period really in my stride. I was, I think 12, maybe 13. And I already have, I’d already kind of experience it through my older sister, who’s only 18 months older than me. So she kind of had her period. We were talking about it and really excited. And then I was just kind of waiting for mine to arrive. And so when it did, I was just happy to kind of join the club, so to speak. And yeah. And so, so the reason why I’m laughing is because I was quite geeky when I was young. I used to archive lots of things, collections of like laces and, you know, stinky stickers and, you know, all these kinds of like collectable things. I even had like stamps at one point. And I remember and I used to write a diary avidly when I was younger. And I remember cutting up, taking my first period stained knickers.

And I actually cut them and stuck inside my diary. And I covered it with, like plastic.

And that was like the moment. And I had it in my diary. So I kept this diary for years and years and years. But for some reason it’s disappeared. So I’m hoping that it hasn’t ended up in some random book sellers, the second hand store. And someone’s going to be like, what is this period stain about? Yeah, so that was my my first period. 

Le’Nise: Well, so you you saved your knickers for posterity. Do you remember what you felt around that time and what perhaps you wrote in the diary?

Lola: You know, I can’t remember what I read from the diary, but as I said, I felt good about having the period. I felt like I joined the club with my big sister, kept bonded. And I guess I probably wrapped up in that, I felt more mature and more grown up, and, you know, I could have those conversations with the other girls in the, you know, in our locker room about that kind of thing.

Yeah. 

Le’Nise: And you said you felt grown up. So you had the conversations with your friends at school. How did you learn about, apart from the conversations with your sister? How else did you learn about what was happening to you and beyond just getting your period?

Lola: So I come from a really big family of women. I have lots of aunties, some of them are not with us, but I had aunties who were very close female cousins, similar age to me, my sister. And so when we spent a lot of time together in my childhood, so those conversations around periods and kind of changes, bodily changes and adolescence and stuff were very free and open. So I guess I learnt a lot from within my family setting. But again, at school, you know, the standard, standard menstrual health, education that was churned out, go I got a bit of that which that end of the day is biology.

And, you know, it was informative. I mean, even if now we look at that kind of teaching as so kind of bizarre that, you know, I need the girls were allowed to learn about, you know, it was treated in a very hush hush, kind of like, “OK, well, this is what happens to you each month. So get on with it, girls, but keep it quiet.” Now, that is changing, obviously. But but yeah, obviously, I found it useful at the time, for sure. And then we got, we got free tampons at the end of the session.

Le’Nise: So when you got your period, you said you felt like you were part of a club. Did you continue to have a positive experience with your period as you went through your teenage years? 

Lola: I think so, yeah, I mean, I never kind of, I didn’t ever really go on any hormonal contraceptive in my teenage years, so I didn’t ever have that kind of, so I never I never sort of was advised to take that because I was managing menstrual health problems or even being that starting to be sexually active. You know, I wasn’t using hormonal contraception, so I was very kind of in tune with my period. And I don’t recall it being a problem until actually I got into my 20s. When I noticed it starts to get a bit heavier. I noticed issues around sort of mood changes, you know, each month. So, yeah, but on the whole, not really a problematic thing. I think my experience of periods were pretty good. However, I got, I was pregnant when I was 23 and I had, yes I had, I had a pregnancy when I was 23. And I do recall that, that after having my son, there were some changes to my menstrual cycle, just noticed that things were sort of heavier, my symptoms around my menstrual cycle were different, you know, and perhaps not as you know, not pleasant symptoms. And it was around that time that I kind of really got switched on to understanding my body and being more in tune with that, realising that actually, you know, when I kept my bodyweight to a certain level, you know, I would experience perhaps of better health for me or if I ate certain things, I would feel better around my menstrual cycle. So that’s actually kind of partly what led me into studying my degree in nutritional therapy, health sciences.

Le’Nise: So you started to tune into your menstrual cycle and then when you made the changes around what you ate, did you notice a difference in the bleeding? 

Lola: With what the flow? Yeah, yeah, yeah, I mean, certainly.

I mean, so interestingly, when I was at university studying for my degree, we had a polyclinic, which was a, you know, a working clinic where we would have, you know, live patients. And we saw them for, you know, two or three years, two years of the degree. And lots of women who came into the clinic and we would treat and who I was learning through or learning with had menstrual health problems. And that’s where it really started to kind of click for me, that the impact of diet and lifestyle in helping to modify and improve menstrual health symptoms and reproductive health symptoms. So, yes, in theory, yes. And for me, certainly, adopting certain changes, incorporating certain nutrients, you know, exercising in a different way, you know, limiting stress in my life, that type of thing for sure. Reduced issues around the sort of heavy bleeding and menstrual kind of emotional side of things. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: After you were able to resolve those issues, what would you say your period, your relationship with your period was like as you went through your 20s and then into your 30s?

Lola: So I felt I think, that understanding my body more obviously was doing my degree. 

I you know, I graduated. I then, you know was using this knowledge, you know, in my work, you know, in working with women and in this area and seeing the results and seeing how incredible if you just focus on, you know, these natural approaches to menstrual health imbalances, how beneficial that can be. So I was really charged up and energised by seeing those results in myself, because obviously, you know, you do things for yourself, but you don’t know if that’s just you and you don’t know if it’s going to work with lots of other people. But, you know, I see this in clinical practice. I see the benefits of this, as you probably do as well. So that really changed me, charged me forward and my relationship with my period, sorry, Le’Nise, I’m think I’m meandering with the question. I think I was answering the question I wanted to answer. So what did you say? Sorry.

Le’Nise: What was your relationship like? What did it become after, you first got your period? It was cool. 

You were part of the gang, part of the club, and then through your 20s and 30s, after having gone through a pregnancy, your period changing, how did your relationship change as you started to resolve some of the issues that you had had? 

Lola: So. 

I guess just being prepared, you know, thinking about my period in a different way, in a deeper way, trying to kind of understand the rhythm of my cycle, and this was before the kind of language that we have now around the four phases around, you know, tapping into your superpowers and looking at those, that sort of cluster of symptoms that are associated with PMS as a positive, as a potentially positive thing. So I was certainly tracking my symptoms and tracking my experience, but more in my head. It wasn’t something that I was, you know, writing down or logging. We didn’t have those apps and in those days. And so, yeah. So I guess that was my relationship. I was much more aware of what was going on for me. And then and then if I found that there were changes, for example, if I did have a particularly heavy period, one month for, you know, there were, I was suffering for some reason around my menstrual cycle, I would stop and reassess and look at my diet again and maybe even review my supplement protocol and address my health through that and through those methods. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: Given the work that you do and your vast clinical experience, why would you, why do you say that we don’t get taught about these things in school? You know, we get taught about the biology of periods and potentially the menstrual cycle. Why do you think we don’t get taught that we can be proactive about managing our mental health?

Lola: Why do you think we are not.

Le’Nise: Yeah. 

Lola: I mean, it’s a really good question, I guess it takes a long time for, you know, the science that, you know, is published and and discussed and discussed with NICE and and, you know, the Public Health England and all of these different kind of bodies to filter down into the kind of accessible language and that we know now and that many of us use and is out there. 

But I guess it will come. 

You know, I think that it would be really, really useful, actually, for the NHS, for example, to employ more nutritional therapists, for example, who you deal with this kind of language to help consult on any sort of education around menstrual health in schools, for example. That would be really great. 

And it would bring things into, it would modernise the approach in teaching this area of science and biology to children from the digital age who have access to so much information. That’s easy to digest. 

Le’Nise: It’s interesting because you, you said that this this this like the language has changed and people have a different vocabulary now to talk about their periods and their menstrual health. And I certainly see it. And it’s becoming more accessible.

In your clinical practice, what are the things that you most typically see?

Lola: In terms of the mental health and mental health, OK? So I would certainly say we’re looking at. So the emotional side, so looking at emotional shifts, that anxiety and depression, so lots of mood related issues that are cyclical, so they come within the ovarian cycle at specific times. And usually, you know, my patients are very aware of that and very aware of the association between the natural cycle and these mood swings. So, yes. So looking at that is major, I would also say that weight is also a, weight management is also quite key when you think how hormonally driven our appetite is and, you know, weight, how we manage weight, sorry, we metabolise weights and our energy. It is. Yeah. And it’s very much connected to the menstrual cycle. So yes, weight issues and mood anxiety and depression really key.

Le’Nise: It’s interesting that you say weight issues because it’s not, you and I both as health professionals, as clinical practitioners know that weight has an impact on health, but it feels sometimes that it’s hard to have those conversations because there is so much, you know, there’s rightly so. There’s a big conversation about anti-diet culture, but it feels like some of the nuance around that has been lost because, as you say, weight management is important because of, you know, certainly if you have a lot of adipose tissue, it can be oestrogenic and that can have an impact on, on hormone and menstrual health. So it feels tricky to have certainly have these conversations in public without then almost not getting attacked. But people are saying, oh, well, you’re just getting into diet culture when there’s a legitimate health conversation around how weight management affects hormone and menstrual health. 

Lola: Absolutely. 

 I mean, as I said, you know, when you know, when I’m dealing with my clinical practice, women who come to see me around the weight issue are bringing it up themselves. You know, it’s not me saying, well, I think that you need to they come to talk about this. 

And as you’ll know, you know, as soon as you start that listening to the patient’s story and understanding, you know, what’s the history there? You know, what’s you know, what were the triggers, what’s mediating the situation and and and starting to make these connections between perhaps overweight and mood issues around, you know, menstrual cycle health and perhaps this acne involved or perhaps this, you know, these different issues. And actually, as practitioners, we’re able to see that. Well, that sounds like imbalance. But and so actually, your weight management is something that you see and you may want to try to address. But actually, we’re also going to address some of these underlying things that you can’t see necessarily, but you’re feeling them and experiencing. And because there’s an imbalance there, you know, your body is out of balance. So and then it is up to people to, you know, if they want to. Kind of listen to that and hear it in that way rather than. 

Thinking that that’s a focus on an aesthetic level or whatever, but, yeah.

Le’Nise: So separating it out from legitimate, a legitimate health conversation from it being more of an aesthetic, a conversation that’s kind of steeped in diet culture. So separating those two. I completely agree with that. And that’s what I do in my practice. I never say to any anyone, oh, I think you need to lose weight. I couldn’t imagine having that conversation. But if they come to me and say that, as with you, that’s a concern, then I will help them address it. 

Lola: Well, yeah. I mean, you know, completely. And, you know, that’s kind of, you know, as good practitioners, you know, we’re going to, you know, look after, you know, the people that come to see us and and treat them sensitively and and all of that, of course. And I think you would, you know, totally agree with this. You know, if we are identifying a condition like polycystic ovarian syndrome, we know the relationship between insulin that and, you know, weight gain. And we know that by modifying and and reducing weight in that picture, you can really help reduce, you know, the polycystic ovary kind of symptomology across the board. So, you know, in that instance, yes, I would suggest weight loss as part of that protocol for sure.

Le’Nise: Mm hmm. OK, I want to ask about some of the work that you do. You said that you take a personal interest in female reproductive health issues, including those that disproportionately affect Black women. Let’s talk a little bit about that, because I’m personally interested in that myself. What do you, what issues are you, do you typically see when one looking at Black women?

Lola: So, again, it may not be something that’s a sort of named condition, you know. You know, I see mood disorders as a common issue in some of my Black patients, female patients. So that’s actually something that’s quite common. And actually, when you look at the numbers there, you know, Black women in the UK have very high rates and risk of mental health disorders, which is why? And, you know, how how are they being supported? And that’s a major thing. If you don’t have your mental health in check, you know, I mean, it’s difficult. You know, life is very, very difficult and you’re not living your best life. So that in itself is a is a major one. However, you know, there are issues that, you know, that we know about, such as fibroids, uterine fibroids, which is now being discussed. You know, in America, I understand that they are putting in, you know, millions of dollars into the research of uterine fibroids and the risk in Black women, which is a major thing because this is a condition that can affect fertility. This is a condition that can affect quality of life enormously and Black women have been living with that for a long time, so, you know, to try to understand more about why, you know, this is going on is going to be really, really, you know, important and. Yeah, great and great research. 

Le’Nise: Well, yeah, I think. going in deeper into fibroids and how they affect women, Black women is going to be so powerful and hopefully will move away from I. I was speaking to this doctor who specialises. He’s out and I think I want to say Georgia in the US. And he was saying that in the US, hysterectomy is the number one treatment for fibroids. And I just think that’s so crazy because you have these women who, who can, don’t need to have a hysterectomy, who have there are other routes that they can take who are having these unnecessary hysterectomies and then having to deal with the aftermath, whether they have a partial hysterectomy or a full hysterectomy. And I just, you know, speaking to clients who have come to me and said, “Yeah, my doctor, I have these fibroids. And my doctor says to me, the only route for me is a hysterectomy.” And then talking to them about the potential alternatives for them. They’ve come to me and said, you know, it’s really, it’s life changing because they can then think about, “well, perhaps I can then go on to have a child.”

Lola: Yeah, absolutely, but you know, what’s really exciting, Le’Nise, is that there are some brilliant Black doctors here in the UK who have, you know, so much knowledge around this issue and, you know, have researched in their degrees, you know, their medical degrees. And I’ve been chatting with quite a few, you know, in recent weeks. And, you know, so, you know, the the interest and the qualified people to do, undertake, you know, and carry out this research, you know, they’re out there and, you know. Yes. So I’m really, really optimistic that we’re going to be moving into a time where Black women’s health is, you know, going to be a focus and more of a focus and research. The money is going to be put into the research.

Le’Nise: I want to go back to what you were saying about mood issues and the effects that they’ve they’ve disproportionately had on Black women in the UK. So, firstly, can you tell me a little bit more what you mean when you say mood issues?

Lola: So mood issues, so that could be anything from anxiety, low mood, mood fluctuations, depression, mild depression, you know, clinical depression.

And just negative thinking, I mean, there’s a whole spectrum of things that come onto to mood disorders, obviously, if someone’s dealing with something much more serious, like, you know, whatever schizophrenia, that’s out of my remit.

But those types of issues that can be affected by hormonal issues or can be exacerbated by obviously we never know all the aspects that are going on in a person’s life until they come into the practice and we talk and hopefully we get that information out to them and we can look at the issues, the other things that are going on in the environment. But often diet, when you’re not feeling good, diet can be disrupted or it can be not a focus. And actually, the very act of looking after themselves through improving diet, perhaps looking at different nutrients, perhaps getting on a supplement protocol, it could be that they are also experiencing very heavy bleeds, perhaps like the iron lost and the iron deficiency then that hasn’t been addressed. And that can obviously affect mood, regulation, mood balance. 

So there are lots of things to look at. And I’m not saying that nutrition is going to be the fix all for a mood disorder, but it’s definitely one part of the plan. 

Le’Nise: You’re the co-founder of an app called Moody. 

So this kind of segues nicely into the conversation about the work you do here. So tell, tell listeners more about why you decided that building an app called Moody was the right thing to do.

Lola: Are you talking about the name or the actual app content?

Le’Nise: Both.

Lola: Oh yeah. OK, so. I don’t know if we’ve discussed it before, maybe we have it since, obviously some people ask us about the name all the time, so I’ll go back to the story. So Amy, who is our CEO and the founder of Moody. We met maybe four years ago, and it really was a kind of stars aligning moment where she was ready and she was exiting a business that she had set up and she was ready for creating something new.

And she had this incredible idea that was in its embryonic stage. And it was just ideas and, you know, a few calculations and things. And we met and we just used to meet in these cafes and just like flesh things out and come up with ideas around this, the concept of this, of this app. And, you know, we did this for about six or seven months and just really enjoyed each other’s energy around it and company. It just felt so right, you know, more right than anything I’ve pretty well done in my work career.

So we, we were doing all this. And then very quickly we started to put some of these ideas down and create a platform. So a web platform. And we wanted to kind of own the space and and start putting this content. We were kind of writing articles and doing something on a very low budget. But we we got it out there and then we basically thought we needed a soft launch and we launched the the concept of Moody and, you know, with our networks in sort of creative agencies and in media and stuff like that, we managed to have this incredible launch and there was so much excitement around the products and the idea of it.

And from there we raised money. So we raised money based on the concepts, based on the existing Web platform and these amazing ideas for the app.

So when, so talking about the actual name, Moody, so it just felt like a no brainer. I mean, actually we it was just that idea that we wanted to kind of reclaim this word, you know, the the moody cow, the you know, what happens, you know, in your period. And it’s all these negative associations around your menstrual cycle being moody. But actually moods are what makes us human and moods can be positive and more reflective. Sometimes we can certainly experience moods is a very negative experience. But actually we are delving deeper into that. We are looking at why do you experience that kind of mood? Is that a time for you to be reflective and during your cycle, is that a time to be quiet and insular and get from something that’s quieter? If you’re not feeling social and gregarious and all of those things, it doesn’t have to be seen as negative, I guess. And it’s that whole kind of talk about tapping into your superpowers. You know, during a cycle and looking at each of those moods is something to. 

Kind of tap into and and utilise and and and help to optimise, you know, sort of day and experience. 

Le’Nise: I really love that because we get taught, there’s this kind of cultural message that we get taught that mood, mood swings and being, as you say, a moody cow is inevitable and something that we just as when we have a period or we have periods, we, we that’s just part of having a menstrual cycle, having a period. And it doesn’t have to be that way. And I really, really love what you said about how, you know, we have moods, their, their range from all their, all ends of the spectrum. And we need to embrace these moods rather than looking at them as something to fight against. And that’s really that’s quite countercultural, I’d say certainly at this at this moment.

Lola: And I think that, you know, we’ve had I mean, you know, it’s been such an amazing space to be part of, you know, growing Moody Month. You know, we’re obviously so proud of the product that we’ve created. You know, visually, conceptually, the amounts of work and the experts that we’ve had involved in creating the app has been, you know, it’s just been a privilege to be part of it.

And, you know, we know from our feedback that lots of women have found it, you know, of use and continue to.

And, you know, as we go forward, we’ve got some amazing ideas for the app that are coming over the next years. We’ve actually got a book coming out as well. Amy’s Amy is actually authored this book called Moody, which is coming out in March 2021. So, you know, that’s that’s exciting as well. So that’s kind of going to kind of condense and kind of expand and some of the concepts around human behaviour and the female experience. 

Yeah.

Le’Nise: Oh, amazing. Well, I’ll definitely look, look out for that. So with the app itself, what you how long has it been? It’s been around for three years. since you launched the app. Getting into the more into the idea of female entrepreneurship. What kind of things have you learnt being a part of this, this app?

Lola: So going back to that moment that I met Amy and our clicking, you know, that that feeling of something feeling right was.

Really insightful, actually. Now, I realise that, you know, you can, you can know those things, you can know because stepping into a business partnership with somebody can you know, it’s daunting because, you know, it’s a long journey. There’s blood, sweat and tears going into the project. You just want to make sure you’re working with the right person. But she really was that person for me.

And obviously I was for her and the team that we grew.

I can’t, I mean, Le’Nise, you’ve met these you’ve met some of our team and the amazing women, you know, women who are friends, you know, women that I’ve learnt so much from.

And we’ve managed to have a kind of beautiful experience while working incredibly hard. So. I guess we know just answer your question, I think that people, you know, obviously, your vibe tracks your tribe. I know that feels kind of a bit frivolous, but that’s really how it felt, you know, growing Moody. And everyone that was engaged with that and came on board has felt completely right. The right fit. Yeah. [00:33:36][34.9]

Le’Nise: So work with people that you connect with not only on a kind of business level, but on a personal personal level as well. 

Lola: Well, I think that we, maybe it’s kind of too much for me to to say, you know, you must connect with them on a personal level because, you know, maybe that’s just it was a luxury and it was a real gift for us at this time to me. And it was just a lucky, more of a luck thing as well. But yes, obviously, if you can work with people that you enjoy and that you get, then that makes the experience of working such long hours and giving your all to much more enjoyable. But I guess it’s also interesting that, you know, we were creating a product that a bunch of us women were creating a product that, of course, there have been other apps and there are other apps, very successful ones that period trackers.

But how we were doing our app, or how we presented it was different. And we were looking at we were the, you know, the four phases and kind of breaking things down and in a slightly different way and very much focussed on moods as well.

And. That coming working as women, working on an app like that was obviously, you know, that’s kind of like what connects us, like we were all in our different ways, experiencing our periods and or cycles or hormones or whatever.

And so we had lots to talk about and we all knew we all knew when anyone was on a period because we had it on a on a, you know, a board. 

So we’d know who’s who’s who’s in which phase so we could give tasks to them based on the on their, you know, phase of the menstrual cycle.

Le’Nise: That’s amazing. I love that. For listeners who who don’t really know what that means.

Can you talk about what sort of tasks you would you would typically suggest for each phase of the menstrual cycle?

Lola: OK. I mean, I was probably exaggerating a bit more, but we were well, I was saying that we were definitely more gentle or considerate or whatever around around people’s phases. But, you know, as as you know, you know, the phases have quite common patterns with most women and most women. So, you know, and of these these patterns of emotional and physical experiences are following the patterns of our hormonal fluctuations. So the rising of oestrogen and progesterone, the dropping of these things, the rising of testosterone throughout the cycle can influence how we feel energetically, how we feel around sleep, how we feel sexually, how we feel emotionally. So, yes, you really want me to go through the four phase? 

Le’Nise: Oh, no. No, you don’t.

Lola: Go check out check out Moody Month and Le’Nise’s Instagram or something, and you’ll learn all about it. 

Le’Nise: If there are listeners who want to know more, there are quite a few episodes where we get into each of the four phases of the menstrual cycle. But as Lola says, the Moody Month app is an amazing resource and I would encourage anyone who hasn’t downloaded it, to download it and really dig into how you can track your cycle across each of the four phases through the app and connect it with your moods and then go deeper if you want to or just, you know, do it at a really high, high level. 

If they want to download the app, how do they do that?

Lola: So downloading the app is free download from the App Store so you can just put in Moody Month, you’ll find it and yeah, then that’s it. 

I would also like to say and I’ve, I’ve mentioned it before, but, you know, with Moody Month it, it was also such an exciting project to start because it was this idea of being able to provide for free at the moment, this incredibly sort of detailed and, you know, progressive information to women across the world that, of course, you know, there are books now that are written about a lot of the work that we have in our app. But in terms of an app, in terms of nutrition, in terms of medical content, you know, often this kind of information you would get from a private consultation, as we do and being in private practice as a nutritional therapist, you know, you unfortunately, the NHS here in the UK, they don’t do, don’t employ nutritional therapists very regularly. So, you know, the only way that we can offer our services is through paid for service. So I love the fact that I’m able to put all this information out there in the app, the content that I’ve written and studied hard for and share with my private practice. But I can actually put put this in the app and it’s great, brilliant information.

Le’Nise: What I love about your journey is that you studied originally. You had your degree, you studied and you became a nutritional therapist, but then you took a different path.

So, of course, you still have your clinical practise. But I think it’s a really good example for anyone who’s listening, who is currently studying and thinking, well, I don’t necessarily want to strictly work in clinic or work with people on a one to one basis to show them that there are other routes that that can be taken. You know, you can found a business, you can go deeper into your area of specialism and then build a business around that. So I think what you’re doing is incredible. I love the app. And if listeners want to learn more about you and working with you, how would they connect with you? 

Lola: OK, so the first part of that question about learning, about taking your nutrition knowledge after graduation and and looking at where which other avenues you can take and rather than just being in private practice, so you may decide not to be in private practice at all. But what can you do with this qualification is such a great question, Le’Nise, because I know that when I was studying, I found it really intense as a full time degree. I was just totally like in this kind of like serious academic zone for so long. And by the time I finished, I felt like, oh my God, I’ve just been so serious for so long. And I just wasn’t sure if I could sit in a clinic space, kind of quite solitary. I wasn’t sure if I could do it. So I had to take a small break before I actually stepped into clinical practise. But yeah, I guess if I had known that there were options like working or either working for an app or starting your own and working with a team, that would have been really, really exciting to have known that that’s a possibility. And it’s a whole other thing because, you know, as I say, I have been working with a big team, meeting people I deal with on a daily basis, connected to a whole kind of world of, you know, female tech, amazing people. And so the whole load of learnings that I’ve had through that, but obviously alongside it, I’ve had to always have my clinical practice because, you know, those living, breathing skills, you know, you have to have them. You have to understand what that clinical encounter is in real life. Otherwise you’re only being theoretical. So my advice around that is never, you know, keep, definitely have your clinical experience. You don’t be scared. Just go for it, find your niche, find what it is that interests you and become good at that area because you can’t be good at all areas. Well, you can, I suppose, but you’ll be very good in one particular area and people will come to you as well if they know that you’re specialised in one particular area and then look around even. I mean, there are some colleges I don’t know where you studied, but I remember advertising when we first started Moody and I was looking for practitioners, naturopathic practitioners to come in to write content and stuff. And I advertised at some well-known natural health colleges in London. So always look at noticeboards as well and see who’s publishing what’s and also who is advertising what kinds of positions. And yeah. So that was part one of your question. And I’ve talked too long. 

Le’Nise: If listeners really connect with you and they want to find out more about you and working with you in in your private clinic, how would they connect with you?

Lola: OK, so for sure, email me is the best thing. You can find my contact details on my Web platform, which is www.lolaross.com, which is the preferred method, and we can take it from there. But at the moment and you have probably been doing the same, you know, since lock down and everything, you know, on my clinic, actually, cause which is sad and my clinical physical space closed, which is a shame. 

But so, working on virtual sessions has been absolutely brilliant and actually, you know, expanded my clients and my patients to a much broader, you know, different countries around the world. So there are limitations with that. But, you know, I love that that clinical encounter that, you know, seeing and and seeing someone in the flesh, but I guess that will come back. So, yeah, but at the moment, yeah, I’m online.

Le’Nise: OK, great. And all the details will be in the show notes. If listeners take one thing from all of the brilliant pearls of wisdom that you’ve shared today, what would you want that to be?

Lola: I think it has to be for women listening who, I think yeah, I think probably the thing I leave is that. Keep listening to your body, tap into the intelligence of your body and realise that. What’s happening, happening here now may not be what’s happening for you next year. You know, our bodies change, our cycles change, our environment changes, and all of those things can contribute to menstrual health changes. So. Yes, I would say just keep aware of that and and remember that, you know, your period is your menstrual cycle is important, an important part of your kind of health and well-being in terms of keeping it in balance.

Le’Nise: Tap into the intelligence of your cycle. I love that. I think that’s so, so important. Thank you so, so much for coming onto the show, Lola. It’s been wonderful to speak to you. 

Lola: You’re so welcome, honey, you’re so good and thank you for doing this brilliant podcast. I mean, I know you’ve been at it for a while and, you know, you’ve had some amazing guests. 

And, you know, I think you’re hearing, those sharing those stories, those period stories is it’s just one of those important steps of breaking that, continuing to break down taboos and understanding that we’re all sharing a similar story. They may be different stories, but ultimately they’re around our hormones.

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!

Get in touch with Melissa:

Website

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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

Instagram

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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:

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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.