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Category: Period Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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CATHERINE AND LAUREN’S BIOS

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

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

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

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

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

Catherine: Thank you, so excited.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lauren: Yeah, that was that. That’s been a long journey because we started, Matt and I started testing those different plant extract powders. So it was like powder of green tea and curcumin. And I feel like those people have maybe heard of us as far as being good anti-inflammatory as are antioxidants. But we were testing other things, like some thing called resveratrol, something called boswellia, which is from frankincense. Matt had been doing research at the University of Washington about chronic inflammation and aging. So that’s how it was sort of in his mind already about like maybe we don’t address hormones, but we address the inflammation that’s happening every month when you’re on your period. And so after about two years of trying this and Cath and I being the guinea pigs, we opened it up to a larger test group of about 10 women who had period pain. So a couple of them did have endometriosis, but most of them just had general period pain. So not just pelvic pain and cramps, but maybe they got migraines or leg pain. You know, there’s lots of different types of pain that are associated with getting your period. And we had really good results from from that test. And so after getting those results, we’re like, okay, let’s start this as a business and let’s see if we can launch this as a product. And so originally it was, we were just putting the powers in pills ourselves, but we found a manufacturer and we, Matt and I quit our jobs in Seattle, moved to Atlanta, where we’re now living with Cath, so fun. And we focus on this full time. And we started an Indiegogo campaign in the fall to just sort of raise awareness and also a way to raise a little bit of money, but mainly to get sort of the name out there and make sure people are hearing that we’re doing this thing for period pain. And then in February of this year, we launched full time. And so right now, we sell Semaine directly from our web site: semainehealth.com. But we’re hoping to branch into retail so it’s more readily available to everyone. We do ship internationally, but most of our subscribers right now are in the States just because international shipping is really expensive. But we’re hoping, you know, eventually to expand and we could have distribution centers in the UK and Australia specifically because we get a lot of great feedback from those countries. But that’s how that’s how it started. It was literally trying to find something to fix my pain. We weren’t thinking of it as a business at all. But then when Catherine was like, it’s working for me. And the woman we had in our study was like, yes, you need to make more of this. We were like, OK, we want to help other women. You know, it was such a relief to have less painful periods, the fact that we are now helping other people have less painful periods, like I couldn’t ask for a better purpose in life, really, because I just never thought that was possible. I don’t know if it was because of years of being told that, oh, this is the only thing you can do. You can go on birth control. You can take ibuprofen. That I just thought that was kind of it. It didn’t even strike me that, why aren’t there more products out there for women? You know, and I think it’s such a great time now because people are talking about periods more openly. You have this wonderful podcast where people are talking about their first periods and hearing the differences and those stories are amazing. I think it’s so great to normalize those conversations. And I think that will change the way innovation help, that happens around women’s health care. Just the fact that, you know, people are making organic pads or reusable menstrual cups and like all of like The Honeypot Co. I don’t know if that’s big in the UK yet, but it’s here in Target that, you know, having said feminine care wipes like that, you know, something that’s in like the vernacular that we growing up, you know, we’ve never talked about that sort of thing, you know, and that wasn’t on the shelf at Target. And now you see that and women are interested in trying more natural solutions or just any solutions to try to make their periods better or more manageable and not this hush hush taboo thing that you can’t talk about.

Le’Nise: I think it’s incredible what you you both have done. And I love that you you took an issue that you had and you then created something that would not only help you, but would help loads of people with the same problems. So amazing. I can’t wait to see it here in the UK, but to round up our conversation. You both have said so many amazing things. What would you want someone to think to take listening to the podcast, to take away from what you individually have said? 

Lauren: Such a great question, Le’Nise. I would say, as hard as it is always trust yourself and advocate for yourself. You do know your body better than anybody else. Better than any doctor. Better than anybody in your family. Being in tune with your body and knowing something doesn’t feel right. Push your doctor, push your health care provider to give you answers. If I had known that when I was younger, I know I just always assumed, oh, this person went to medical school and is a doctor, they know way more than me. If something was wrong, they would tell me. And I think, you know, doctors are amazing and they’re great. And I’m so glad we have the health care available that we can go to them. But that doesn’t mean that they know you better than you know yourself. Listen to your body if something feels wrong, you know. And also listen to yourself and not just assume that because one treatment works for one person, that that’s what you need to do. I think a lot of the time in the health and wellness space, we’re like, oh, I found this diet that cured me of this thing. You know, my endo is so much better because I stopped eating gluten. That is amazing. And that works for a lot of people. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to work for you and you have to do that same thing. If birth control works for you, if you need to be able to take that in order to get to day to day life, you know, do that. Don’t ever feel ashamed because people are pushing a certain solution on you. I think that’s so important. 

Catherine: At the same exact thing, reiterate, advocate, advocate, advocate for yourself. I think that’s the big thing. 

IF I could go back in time and talk to my 12 year old ashamed self with my period, just giving myself grace, but also telling myself, like, you know, trust yourself and be comfortable with your voice, especially when you’re with doctors. And then the other thing. What Lar said exactly, we’re identical twins and we’ve had very different experiences. You know, I compared to Lar, I eat garbage, you know, like I’ll eat fast food. I love I love to drink Coke. But Lar is much healthier than me. And part of that is driven by the pain that she had and kind of the PTSD left over from her experiences. But for me, diet does help. Absolutely. Without a doubt. But if I had just started looking into not just endometriosis but period pain and seeing all these like wellness warriors who can, you know, eat just kale for a day and, you know, that works for them, that I would feel kind of alienated from that. So I think reiterating what Lar said, like you figure out what works for you and then give yourself grace. You know, you’re not going to be this perfect pinnacle of health and you’re gonna have bad days and good days and and just celebrate the things that do work. But, yeah. That that some women don’t want to use tampons or don’t want to use hormonal birth control. And that is great. But some women would do. And that’s also great. So giving yourself grace and and figuring out, like Lar said, become an expert of your own body and what works for you. 

Le’Nise: Thank you so much. I honestly feel like I could talk to you guys for another hour. It was just so brilliant.

Lauren: Thank you so much, Le’Nise. So much fun.

Le’Nise: You mentioned the website URL before. Can you just mention it again? So listeners know where to find out about Semaine.  

Lauren: Yes, thank you. It’s semainehealth.com And we’re also very active on Instagram. So and that’s just @semainehealth. So thank you so much , Le’Nise. Yes, that’s where you can find us. We’re there all the time. We also have a chat on our web site, and that’s us answering questions. We love when people pepper us with questions about Semaine. So please feel free to do that.

Le’Nise: Thank you so much.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 34: Camilla Hansson, Period Pain Stopped Me From Living Life Fully

On today’s episode, I’m happy to share my conversation with Camilla Hansson, the founder of the CBD brand, Camilla Organics. Camilla shared the story of her diagnosis with endometriosis, her healing journey and what led her to launch her CBD business. And of course, we talked about her first period!

Camilla says that she looked forward to her first period because she felt that it would mean that she was nearly a woman. She said when it finally happened, she was quite excited about it!

All the way through her teens and into her mid 20s, Camilla had what she called perfect periods: no pain, no mood swings. In her mid 20s, she says she started to get excruciating, painful periods that sent her to A&E on several occasions.

Camilla says that she started to become afraid of each of her periods and she felt she couldn’t live her life fully because of the pain. Listen to hear how Camilla found a path to healing.

Camilla says her experience led her to an exploration of CBD and then to eventually found her own company so that she could help other women in the same way that CBD helped her.

Camilla says that it’s important for anyone suffering from period pain and endometriosis to not give up hope and to keep educating yourself and trying new things. Thank you for coming on the show, Camilla!

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CAMILLA’S BIO

Camilla Hansson is the founder of Camilla Organics, a company that provides premium CBD products made for women.

Camilla started the company after suffering from painful menstrual cramps and found that CBD was the only thing that gave her relief. Before starting Camilla Organics, Camilla spent years working as an international model and won the Miss Sweden competition in 2014. Camilla loves health and wellness and has studied nutrition and natural medicine at the College of Naturopathic Medicine in London.

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: Welcome to the show.

Camilla: Thank you for having me.

Le’Nise: So let’s start off by getting into the story of your first period. Do you remember what happened? And can you share it with us?

Camilla: Yes. So it happened where I grew up, which is in Stockholm, Sweden. And I think I was about 12 or 13 years old. So I remember a nurse coming into our school telling, telling us all about, you know, periods. And around what sort of age it would happen. And then I also remember some of my friends telling me that, you know, they have received their periods. So I sort of knew that it would happen some at some point soon at that age. And I remember sort of looking forward to it, almost like I remember thinking that, you know, once I get my period, that means I’m sort of a woman. And so I saw it in quite like a positive light then and also. Yeah. So when it happened, it just felt quite smooth, natural. And I remember being quite excited about it, actually. 

Le’Nise: And so you were excited. And what happened next, so when you actually got your period? Were you, did you speak to anyone right afterwards? 

Camilla: That’s a good question. I’m pretty sure I told my my, mother about it. And so, you know, we went out and we bought the pads and, and then. Yeah. I mean, it’s in our family, it’s not we don’t talk so openly about these sort of things. So I think it was more just like me talking to my friends more like about what they were doing and their experiences. And so it was more like, you know, a little bit of a like a rumour going around, like this is how it is. This is what you should do. So I think that’s where the education came from, a little bit, from my school, because I must say in Sweden, the education system is very good. And then just, you know, just by talking to my friends and, you know, we’re just trying to figure out what it is. Yeah. And how to handle it.

Le’Nise: And you said that the education is quite good in Sweden. And did you find that you, so you live in London now, if you think about the way that people talk about periods and menstrual health in the UK, how would you compare that to the way that you learnt about it in Sweden?

Camilla: Well, I think it’s I guess it’s still a taboo topic everywhere. But in Sweden, they’re not so afraid to bring those subjects, to be honest. Even today, you know, like women talking about it on social media. Swedish women, it’s just like one of these things. I think Swedish people can be quite outspoken. And, um, so. Yeah. And like I said. So it was, I don’t know how it would have been compared to the UK. But like I said, in Sweden, it was quite good in terms of the school bringing in, you know, like nurses and even the teachers of telling us about it.

Le’Nise: The openness around the way that you learnt about your period translated to the way that you felt about your period? So feeling really open and being able to talk about it?

Camilla: Yes, I think I think that makes sense that it would be like that. But like I said, so like early on, I didn’t have an issue with it. For me, my issue is if that’s the right word, around periods actually came later on in life, like more like it. Like late mid 20s, late 20s. So up until that point, you know, my my periods were perfect. Like, I didn’t even have mood swings. Like I didn’t I didn’t feel a difference just because I was on my period. And I remember everyone talking about how bad they feel on their periods. And I just thought, oh, but I just I just feel the same. But then I can’t say exactly what happened. But then, yeah, around my mid 20s, I started getting excruciating, painful periods. Like, I remember, you know, I was going to the A&E several times and just, you know, that couldn’t really do much. Like, they just gave me strong painkillers that didn’t really work very well for me. And I remember just like trying acupuncture, you know, herbal medicine and all these things that I really do believe in. But for some reason, it just didn’t really help me at the time. And and it really started to like, you know, ruin my life because I was so afraid of each of my periods. You know, I knew that, you know, I knew that this dreadful time was to come for me and and, you know, just to have that in your head all the time was like very stressful. And I just really felt that couldn’t live my life fully. And there was such a big part of my life that I was missing out on because I was at home, you know, in pain. And I just felt like there was something really wrong with me as well. Which makes you I don’t know, it it affects how you see yourself. So I really I really, really struggled with my periods for a few years in my mid 20s. And then, yeah, so I, so when I did go to a gynaecologist, eventually he said that he was almost sure that I had endometriosis because he found like a cyst in my ovary and his solution was to do surgery. But I always felt that I don’t know, I just I’m I’m very scared of doing things like that. And then also I’ve read online that even people who do the surgery, it comes back because you haven’t actually healed the root cause of why it’s happening. So. So what happened to me was that, so I tried everything. And then eventually a friend of mine who’s a doctor who lives in Denmark gave me some CBD. And I think a lot of your guests of your podcast talked about this from what I seen. So which is good, actually. You know, it’s good that we talk about it because if people are really suffering, you know, then it’s it’s good to share your experience and you know what’s helped us and maybe it can help someone else. Yeah. 

So basically, a doctor friend of mine gave me some CBD. And one day when I was in a lot of pain, I took some and it was it was like a high strength, like 16 percent. And. And basically, miraculously, the thing was just gone like after 20 minutes, like, I actually couldn’t believe it.

And because I wasn’t sure whether it’s, you know, because time had passed that I felt better or if it was the CBD, you know, I just I took it another time. I remember it was at school at CNM where we both have studied. And I just remember feeling so much pain. I just didn’t know what to do. Like, I couldn’t move. But, like, I. I even thought, like, how am I going to get home? I can’t even go down the stairs to take an Uber. And then obviously, like, as fate had it, well, not obviously. But as luck would have it, this girl next to me, I saw her taking some CBD earlier. And so I asked her if she, if she could give me some. And she did. And then exactly the same thing happened like 20 minutes later. The pain was gone for the rest of the day. And so so this thing kept happening. Right. And so I was like. This is interesting. Like, there’s obviously something here. So I started reading about online, but there was very limited, you know, there wasn’t really any research about it. And, you know, women’s, women’s health is an under researched topic. In any case. And. But I just I felt really strongly liked that this is there is something here. So and obviously my passion in life is natural medicine, holistic health, wellness. So I was I was looking for a business to start in that area at the time. And then, you know, I came across CBD and I had this experience with it. And I just felt like I wanted other women to know that this was something that could potentially help them. So, yeah. So then I developed the product. 

Le’Nise: But before you go into your business and starting the business, I want to talk more about your journey to your endometriosis diagnosis, because what we know is that it takes an average of between 7 to 10 years to get a full diagnosis for endometriosis. Talk about how you, you’ve said that you explored lots of different avenues until you finally got a diagnosis from that doctor who then wanted to do the surgery. Talk about how long it took you to get to that point. 

Camilla: Yes. I mean, I think now the doctors, it feels like they’ve become a little bit more knowledgeable about it. But I’m not, I’m not sure. But in my case, when I did go to the emergency, to be honest, he did sort of mention endometriosis. I never heard about it at that time. But he was like, “Painful periods, yeah, probably endometriosis.” But, but still. Yeah. I mean, he just gave me some painkillers. So how long did that take? I would say I would say maybe three through to six months.

Le’Nise: Oh, OK. That’s very, very, very fast.

Camilla:  Yeah. Maybe I just went, you know, maybe in the UK, they’re quite good. Just went to the right people. But yeah. Yeah. When I said period pain, their immediate reaction was probably they said endometriosis. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: And to go then to have the level of pain that you have to go to A&E and you describe that moment when you were at college where you weren’t able to even get up. That’s, that’s I think it’s when we talk about pain, I often say this a lot with my clients is that we have to describe the pain because pain can be so different depending on the person. But, you know, even if thinking about that, the pain that you were in to have to go to A&E, that must have just been an incredible amount of pain for you to even take the step to go there. 

Camilla: Oh, yes, exactly. Because, I mean, I remember I was actually living with a friend at a time and like she just like, she was watching it. She just she couldn’t believe it. Like, I was on the floor screaming, you know, like my pain was 10 out of 10. Like, I, I, you know, I think at some point I fainted. And it was really like, you know, you really want to die, basically. And I tried to take painkillers and everything, but it didn’t work for me. Like, it just didn’t. Nothing worked. One thing that worked a little bit was to take a very, very hot bath and put a lot of magnesium salts into it, because obviously magnesium relaxes the muscles on, you know, the muscles contracted in the uterus that makes it painful. But no, it was very, very painful. And then to have that fear all the time that, you know, my period is coming up and, you know, I’m not gonna be in this much pain again. Like to live in that constant fear and not, you know, also imagine, how do you plan your life when when when you know that you’re going to be in that much pain? I mean, you have to obviously plan your life in terms of like, OK, I’m going to have my period, so I’m going to have to stay at home. I’m not going to book anything and not any work, etc.. And just for me, it really like took over my whole life, like it was the only thing I could think about, you know. 

Le’Nise: And you got the diagnosis and then you started exploring CBD as a potential solution. You mentioned those two moments where you had tried it. And yes, I’ve had I think I’ve had about three. I’ve definitely had four or five guests on the show who talked about CBD, whether it’s been their business or actually using it as a as a tool to manage period pain. And I, I am personally getting more and more fascinated with it because it’s just the the amount of things that the that it can work on the areas that it can work home from pain to anxiety to depression. It’s just, it’s just mind blowing. In your your business, so you started. You had this experience and you decided to start your company, Camilla Organics. Talk about your journey as an entrepreneur, from having this idea and then going into actually developing the business.

Camilla: Yes. So, you know, so like I said, the pain kept happening. And then I kept taking the CBD and the pain kept disappearing. So I started looking into, you know, as much as I started looking into it. And I read online that, you know, they’ve used cannabis, which ultimately is, you know, CBD comes from the cannabis plant with the hemp plant, but it’s the same family. And they’ve used cannabis in Chinese medicine for, you know, hundreds of years to treat menstrual cramps. And, you know, we know that Queen Victoria was using it for menstrual cramps. But, you know, this is very limited information. 

Le’Nise: And I didn’t know that Queen Victoria, so did she smoke the cannabis or?

Camilla: Interesting question. I just can’t picture it. I just, I just read articles that her doctor talks about, you know, how fantastic cannabis is for menstrual cramps and how Queen Victoria was using it. And I don’t know if it’s more of a rumour, but it’s it’s. But I don’t know how she was taking it, to be honest, it doesn’t actually say any of the papers I’ve read. But that’s an interesting one. And so and so when I started, it really wasn’t much information. There wasn’t even a lot of people sharing their stories, you know. But I just felt like, I knew that CBD helps with inflammation. And so I thought, OK, well, obviously period pain has to do with inflammation. And, you know, now when I read on it, I you know, CBD helps relax muscles in the uterus and we have receptors for CBD in our bodies and especially in our reproductive area. It’s actually the second highest place in our body where we have these receptors for, you know, endocannabinoids like CBD. And but my journey to actually start the product was I just felt that I wanted to talk more about this topic. I wanted to share my experience to that because I felt like that could potentially help other women. And so I wanted to bring out a unique product that would support women during their periods. And so I you know, I’ve studied natural medicine, but I, I still didn’t feel completely qualified to put it together myself. 

So I went to a CBD developer whom I met at CBD sort of exhibition event who is so passionate about CBD and his whole life, CBD and his life work. You know, he’s been studying cannabis for like 20 years. And so he also has a manufacturing company now. And so he developed the product for me. He put together the herbs that we put into it, the strength of the CBD, which is 15 percent. I was, but I felt very strongly that it had to be at least that percentage for it to have an effect. And and we put in specific terpenes. And so together, these ingredients have something called an entourage effect where they become more powerful together than if you would take each one of them on on its own. And so I gave it to, was about 100 women who suffered from period pain. And the feedback was incredible. Like more. It was more if I felt that it was like more effective people taking it for PMS and menstrual pain than for anything else that CBD can do, like, you know, like sleep or anxiety. It was just the feedback from menstrual cramps and PMS was especially good. And so then I just felt really encouraged to to to to go out with this product. And so I did.

Le’Nise: You did this survey of a hundred women who got really. They gave you really good feedback. And did they say that it was something that they wanted to continue using as part of their period or menstrual health toolkit?

Camilla: Yeah, no, exactly. I mean, they said that, you know, because of the product, they can go to work. Now, they don’t have to be bed bound. And some of them, like me, had also tried, you know, everything else without success. And and and, you know, yeah, they had some of them had some sort of like the pain was, is gone after a few minutes. But, you know, everyone reacts to CBD differently. It’s like it’s like any kind of medication or product, like what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for another person. But overall, the feedback was very, very good. And like me, like, you know, it’s like the number one product during your period. For them as well. 

Le’Nise: As I was saying earlier, I really, I really love CBD and I use it during the first couple of days of my period. I use it all across my abdomen. And it’s just, it’s just so, it’s so powerful. And what I love about it is that it’s a growing area. And the industry, because it’s so new, you see a lot of female entrepreneurs in this space. Whereas, you know, in other industries, it depends on the industry, but it can be more male. But this is very much seems like very female, certainly now. Talk about your, your experience being a woman in the CBD industry.

Camilla: Yeah, no, you’re right. I, I met a lot of incredible women in this space who have their own CBD business. I don’t know if it’s because somebody it feels like it can help us women especially because, you know, maybe we suffer more from these things. Like I mean, I’m not sure, but I’m just guessing like, you know, maybe we need that extra support because of our hormones and mood swings. So, yeah, it seems like women especially are just so passionate about it. But no, it’s been really good being a woman in this space. And like I said, I met a lot of incredible people and I felt a lot of support, both from women and men. I’ve had definitely, you know, men especially, also helping me in terms of supporting me to make this happen. And, yeah, I think it’s it’s just been it’s been really an interesting and good journey. And I think, like being a woman has, I know some people say, like they find it more difficult being a woman in business, but I’ve never actually felt that like I’ve never had that experience where it’s like, oh, because I’m a woman this person talks to me differently in a business meeting. I think, you know, if you want something to happen and if you believe in your product, you’re just going to make it happen. You know what I mean? Like, you can always find those negative things and excuses and this and that. But at the end of the day, people can see if you’re passionate about what you do and if you believe it. And. And so I’ve never, I’ve never been a person who let something like that hold me back. Like, I mean, you know, I’ve always just gone for what I believe in and made it happen kind of thing.

Le’Nise: I want to talk a little bit more about your, your story with your period right now. So you went on this journey with endometriosis. You’re using CBD as a tool to manage your period pain. How do you feel about your period now?

Camilla: So now because I’ve learnt more about my body and periods, I actually try. I work for myself. So I’m blessed in that way that I actually try to make sure my schedule is a bit slower when I have my period, you know, because I feel that my body is a bit more tired. I’m not, as, you know, alert. I’m not as happy, unfortunately, in some ways. And so I just feel like it’s better for me not to put in maybe like my most important speeches during that time. And I try. It doesn’t always work out this way, but I try to just, you know, work from home those days and take a little bit more easy, not be a social. And because of that, I actually quite enjoy it. It’s like it’s time for me to just recharge a little bit more. And I actually don’t have painful periods anymore. I’m sure it’s a combination of factors. But I I’ve also heard other women say this, that if they take CBD regularly, like every day, then, you know, it can help not getting that excruciating pain to start with, you know, because you have the CBD in your body. And I also feel like it has a healing effect. So I actually don’t get, like, pain anymore. I definitely get mood swings like I can, I feel very unbalanced. But then again, you know, I think CBD helps with that because it helps you feel more balanced. So definitely helps my mood. But I just try to take it more easy, you know, and in that way, I enjoy it more. Well, rather than trying to do the same things that I do when I’m not on my period, that just really, really overwhelms me and stresses me out, actually.

Le’Nise: You found a way to, to find a balance with your period where the pain has reduced, it doesn’t dominate your life anymore and you’re in a place where, you know, you actually kind of enjoy those days because you slow down. I know people listening will say, well, I have period pain. Tell me what you did. Tell me. Tell me more about the CBD.

So talk a little bit about the products that you’ve been that you’ve been using to reduce your period pain.

Camilla: So for me, the things that worked for me apart from CBD a little bit is, you know, magnesium to take it early, but also to do, you know, let’s say you’re in a lot of pain. I would say, you know, if you don’t have CBD, you just take a super hot bath with a lot of Epsom salt or magnesium salt in it. 

That was the one thing that helped me a little bit, to be honest, before I came across CBD and then obviously just, you know, manage stress, like, you know, if you can meditate, you can do yoga, just, you know, try to reduce stress because also stress will create more, potentially more cramps and pain in your body during your period. And then. So, yeah. So I think for me that’s that’s been like those three things like, you know, maybe magnesium and then to lower my stress levels during my period so I don’t feel overwhelmed. And then CBD, you know, like. But then I would say, like, if you’re going to try CBD, like make sure it’s a good strength. Like I would say personally like 15 percent strength. Because what also happens is like people go and buy like a one percent strength CBD and then it doesn’t do anything and then they discredit CBD. So you always need to make sure you buy a really, really high quality product that’s also high strength. That’s that’s if you’re going to try it. Which I would suggest, because if you’re really suffering from something like menstrual cramps, it is a good thing to try. And I would try taking it every day for maybe three months. Like, for me, it worked instantly. But I think, like any herb, like, you know, or any supplement, you should really, you know, give us three months and take it every day. That’s what I would suggest to try. Yeah.

Le’Nise If someone listening has period pain, you’re saying try and get some CBD with at least 15 percent strength. And when you say 15 percent strength, is that the amount of actual CBD in it?

Camilla: Yes. Yeah.

Le’Nise: And how do you recommend that people take it? Do you take it topically? Do you take it orally? What do I do? What do you recommend? 

Camilla: No, that’s a good question. I personally just take the CBD oil orally and it does the job for me. Then of course, I know some people do suppositories. And I think that probably is very effective because it goes directly into your, you know, into your reproductive area. And balms I’ve heard are effective, I’ve never tried that myself. So I’d be curious to try that as well. But. But for me, the oil just does the job. So we’re definitely going to expand our product range. But for now, because I feel, you know, it does what it needs to do. I’m quite, I’m quite happy and confident just doing the oil for now that you take orally.

Le’Nise: Yeah. Okay. So in your range, you have you have an oil and people can take that or orally and do you suggest taking it under the tongue?

Camilla: Yes. So you have to take it under the tongue because that’s where it gets absorbed the best by the body. And then you wait like one minute before you swallow. And that’s how the oil gets absorbed.

Le’Nise: OK. OK. That’s interesting. I personally have never taken it taken CBD orally, apart from I’ve had some CBD tea, which was nice. I don’t know that it did anything. I usually take it topically, as I say, all all over my abdomen. And it’s incredible. It’s like literally I feel the difference, within about five, five minutes. Wow. Yeah. It’s I just I just love it. And I never thought that I would get into CBD. I remember when I was, even like a couple of years ago, I was really sceptical about it. But now I’m a complete convert, which is probably why I have so many guests on the show to talk about CBD. 

Camilla: You’ve attracted them to you.

Le’Nise: Yeah.

So if people want to find more out more about your product, tell us more about how they can find out about your CBD oil.

Camilla: Well, yeah. So our website is www.camillaorganics.com. And our Instagram is @camillaorganics. So they can, if they want to know and if they have any questions, anything, you can just either email us or send us a DM. We’re happy to chat and just for you guys to reach out. Or if you have any questions around CBD or the products, you know we’re here to help, to educate. So, yeah, I’d love to hear from your followers there. Or they can send me a, you know, an Instagram message at @camillahanssonofficial. I’m happy to chat there as well. And yes, so for now, we sell, we sell the products online on the Web site. 

Le’Nise: OK. And thinking about your story and your journey through period pain, endometriosis and to where you are now, if you could leave listeners with one thing, one little nugget from everything that you’ve said. What would you want that to be? 

Camilla: That if you are suffering from something like endometriosis or menstrual cramps, that there is still hope. You know, I like I have. I was suffering from that. And and, you know, I have found relief like I’m not, it’s not something it takes over my life anymore. So I, just don’t give up hope. You know, keep keep trying things. Keep reading about, keep educating yourself. And I do believe, you know, that that that there is relief out there to be found. Even though I know it’s like it’s a it is a very complex disease. It’s a very serious disease. I don’t want to minimise that. But I can say that, you know, I have it and and and I’m not in pain anymore. So I’ve found ways that works for me. And and and I hope that, you know, if your listeners are suffering from this specific issue, that they will, too, and that there is hope.

Le’Nise: There is there is hope. I think that’s a really inspiring message. And I love that you left us with that with that message because I think definitely that endometriosis, as you say, is a complex disease. And what I’ve seen is that sometimes people, the pain dominates their lives and they can feel hopeless. But so for you to say as if someone with endometriosis to say that there is hope and to talk about your own inspiring journey is so, so powerful. Thank you so much for coming on the show. It’s been brilliant to have you here.

Camilla: Thank you so much for having me and letting me share my story. Yeah. Thank you so much.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 33: Kaysha Thomas, Focus On Health, Not Weight Loss

Period Story Podcast Episode 33 Kaysha Thomas

On today’s episode of Period Story podcast, I’m so happy to share my conversation with Kaysha Thomas, the nutritionist and Pilates teacher. Kaysha has a special focus on eating disorder recovery, body image and diversity, all of which we talked about  in this episode.

Kaysha says she got her first period at around 9 or 10 and she took it all in her stride as she had already learned so much about it in school. She said that going to an all girls secondary school made conversations around periods and body changes easier and normalised.

We talked about Kaysha’s work with eating disorder recovery clients. She says there’s a whole group of men, women and children out who need to hear a different narrative about eating and body image, where the focus is on health, not weight loss.

Kaysha says that feeding ourselves is the ultimate form of self-care. I love that! We also talked about diet culture, the anti-diet movement and how the messages from both camps can be very inflammatory. We also dove into emotional eating  and some of the cultural messages we receive about this.

We talked about the rise in people not wanting to talk about weight loss for fear of being attacked for not loving their bodies. Kaysha says that there’s a culture of toxic positivity, especially on social media and that we need to remember that there are people with individual experiences behind each post.

Kaysha says that you don’t have to love your body all the time, it’s okay to feel neutral and indifferent or not even focus on your body at all! Thank you for coming on the show, Kaysha!

Get in touch with Kaysha:

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KAYSHA’S BIO

Kaysha is a Registered Nutritional Therapist, Pilates Teacher and blogger working to make mental wellbeing accessible and inclusive. Kaysha covers topics such as eating disorder recovery, body image and diversity issues within the wellness industry. She studied at the Institute of Optimum nutrition and BASI Pilates UK and is currently studying for a Masters in Sport & Exercise Nutrition.

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: On today’s episode, we have Kaysha Thomas, a registered nutritional therapist, Pilates teacher and blogger, working to make mental health and wellbeing accessible and inclusive. Kaysha covers topics such as eating disorder recovery, body image and diversity issues within the wellness industry and is currently studying for a M asters in sport and exercise nutrition. Welcome to the show. 

Kaysha: Thank you for having me, Le’Nise. 

Le’Nise: So let’s get to the first question I always ask, which is the story of your very first period. Can you share with us what happened? 

Kaysha: Yeah, so I started my period quite early. I was still in primary school. So I think I would have been 9 or 10 when my period started. And I remember being ready for it, as in I have had the conversation and I knew it was coming. I knew what periods were, I think I’ve been very fortunate in both of my schools that we’ve talked about. We talked about sexual sexual health, but we talked about, you know, menstrual cycle and sex education. So we had all that information quite early on. Back then in my day, it was done in primary school. So when my period started, I was expecting it. And I just remember waking up one morning and it had started. 

And I just said to my mum, like, it was kind of like “the time has come. My period has commenced.” In a like all loud, like God, like voice. 

I felt like I just came into the world like, “Mum, I think you find I’m a woman now. Could you pass me the pads?” That’s pretty much my story. 

And I think I feel very, very aware that my first period was a pleasurable, pleasurable, maybe a bit far, but it was a nice story. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: Nine or 10. So, I’ve interviewed other people who have said that their period has come at that age. And they said that they didn’t feel ready. So I feel like that’s quite different hearing that you had spoken about it at school. And so when the time came, you were ready. Talk about how you learnt about it at school. 

Kaysha: So this is where it gets a bit hazy because I remember just always been the talk about periods. So we we knew that periods were a thing and that they were coming, the actual education about you’re going to have a period is what you need to do came from my mum, but it was initiated from my auntie. So I started developing breasts. And I think this is like the signs that say, okay, Kaysha’s getting boobs now. Clearly, if her periods haven’t started, they’re on their way soon. And my mom’s was and is quite a young mum, hadn’t thought about having a conversation with me. And it was her younger sister, my auntie, that said we need to speak to Kaysha about periods. My mom was kind of like my mom kind of is now was like, “oh, I haven’t done that conversation, although I have to do it.” And then I remember her, I remember quite vividly sitting on her bed on the floor, at the foot of her bed and her telling me about periods at. And she was telling me, it wasn’t news, but I didn’t know about the care, so I didn’t really know. But some of the things that she told me wasn’t quite true. And I think that was kind of old information. So I remember, one of the things you told me was that when you when you’re on your period, you can’t wear trousers and you have to wear a skirt. And to this day, I didn’t understand why she said that, because I couldn’t understand ‘why would I not be able to wear trousers?’ And I’m quite a sporty girl. I was quite a sporty girl and I still am in some ways. And so I didn’t really wear skirts. And I didn’t like that information. I was gonna ask, like, ‘can I still wear my cycling shorts underneath?’ So anyway, we had that conversation. But she was talking to me more about the care. 

So like getting a pad, changing the pad regularly and stuff like that. So. Yeah. That’s pretty much how I was brought up to speed on what to do and what periods were. 

Le’Nise :And when you got your period, were you the first of your friends to get it? 

Kaysha: And this is interesting because yes, I was, but it wasn’t really talked about. I don’t remember it being like, “hey, you’ve got your period, you haven’t got your period.’ It was yeah, I think I was definitely on the first of my friends. I remember a few other friends getting their periods in primary school as well. But it wasn’t this it wasn’t a thing that we’ve really talked about, which yeah, again, I think is quite interesting. I know there can be a lot of stigma around that, who started, who hasn’t. I don’t remember it being the focus at school, but I remember it being again, like another little announcement that you say in the playground. “Oh, yes. So my period started.” “No way!” And and that was as far as it went.  Yeah. 

Le’Nise: Did you feel different in any way to your friends after you got your period? 

Kaysha: I would say it was more the fact that I developed early that made me feel different. The period wasn’t the thing that made me feel different. It was the fact that I had quite large breasts at quite a young age. And that got me a lot of attention from both boys and girls and not always in a positive way. I think that was the thing that made me feel most different. 

And, you know, also the fact that I was, I loved running and I saw these boobs is a look, it’s painful when you know, they’re budding, just coming through, just so painful. And I just remember thinking, this is this is this really sucks. I’ve got to, like, grow these things. I want to run faster. This is what I’d run. And it hurts now. I don’t think we had sports bras these days, or at least I didn’t have one. So it was like a whole, yeah, that was that was more my thing. Like kind of ‘why do I have boobs now. What, what are these. Why?’

Le’Nise: And how long did it take you to come to terms with what was happening with your body?

Kaysha: I would say by secondary school, my secondary school was an all girls school. By that time, it I felt really comfortable with everything, you know. I was by that point, you know, eleven years old settled into my menstrual cycle, was regular. 

Weirdly, didn’t wear a bra for a long time. I would wear a crop top. This is a conversation my mom neglected to have. Was was didn’t didn’t remember to have me. I wore crop tops for a long time. So that was the only time and again I felt quite different. 

I mean, it was like PE. We get undressed and I have my crop top on and all these girls had their bras and they’re like, “Kaysha, why don’t you have a bra?”

I was like, “what? Why do I need a bra?” Bearing in mind, I’ve had boobs for like nearly three years at this point. But yeah, I felt very comfortable, having those, not comfortable, but it feels a bit more normal. I think so. And like I said, there are no boys around so it makes conversations like that a lot easier. 

Le’Nise: You said it was easier to have those conversations. Did that did that contribute to how comfortable you felt with your period and your body? 

Kaysha: Yeah, I would say so. I definitely would say so. And I think it just it just was normalised, I think is how I would describe it. It wasn’t you know, it wasn’t so much something that I had to really focus on because it was just so normal, like, you know, somebody needed tampons, we’d give them tampons. If somebody didn’t have their pad, we’d give them a pad. And it was just very, very normal. You know, we had, I remember there was one girl in my school who had issues. She had really, really heavy periods, actually. And, um, she had a few sort of accidents at school. And, you know, that that sort of gets around, it was kind of like a gossip, but it was more out of, ‘oh my gosh, is she okay?’ It was very you know, it is very sort of um. Yeah. It was very holding in terms of periods. I think, I’ve again, really blessed in the schools that I went to and the way that we were educated about this stuff. And I think that is really, really important. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, it’s very different to the experience that some of my other guests have described of feeling shame or feeling different. Yeah, it’s so it’s very yeah. It’s very, very different. You should be feel very blessed. 

Kaysha: Definitely. Yeah. I definitely am. Yeah, and I think a lot of the conversations I have now with my clients, a much younger generation for the most part, they didn’t have that, they weren’t even really taught, you know, how to look after their vulvas, let alone how to manage their periods. So it kind of I was kind of taken aback when I said we had I mean, I remember it was my friend’s sister came in and did a talk for us. This is in secondary school. Teaching us about like hygiene, feminine hygiene and how to, you know, telling us that, you know, sometimes or for the most part try to go to bed without wearing any underwear. 

Let your vagina breathe.

And so that’s something I’ve always remembered since secondary school. And I run a nutrition group at the clinic, the eating disorder recovery I work for. And I was yeah, I just kind of realised that, gosh, how lucky am I to have had these conversations because a lot of young girls don’t. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. They really don’t. And there is so much so much shame around periods. And I’d say that 90 percent of the guests that have come on have talked, used the word shame or discomfort or feeling different when they’ve talked about how they first learnt about their period. 

How would you describe your relationship with your period now? 

Kaysha: I would say I have a, I wouldn’t go as far as love / hate because I wouldn’t say I hate it. I mean, I do definitely have this thing where I have to slow down when my period is is on its way and when it’s around, those first two days of menstruation for me. Nowadays in particular and for the last I’d say few years. I can’t. I have to really slow down and have to take it easy, the first couple of days are quite heavy. The second day is very painful. 

So this is when, despite my plans, I have to take time out and I have to think about I even think about how I schedule my private clinic because I won’t overload myself in this week. So you know, the work I do is quite is quite deep work. You know, I’m talking with a lot of trauma around your time of the month. Yeah. You know, you’re very sensitive. You’re very emotional. So you have to be so cautious and really think about your own self care in terms of how much you load yourself up. And I, I have to say this information that wasn’t given as a child. And this was something that I learnt in my in my womanhood. 

Le’Nise: So you adjust your work to where you are in your menstrual cycle and you slow down. Right before your period and. Right. And during your period. How does that change when you’re ovulating? 

Kaysha: I think it’s only, quite literally, only those first, so I would say the week leading up to. And then the first two days is the only time where I need to make adjustments. Other than that, I couldn’t, this is going to sound terrible, I couldn’t tell you where I was in my cycle otherwise. 

I just know when it’s coming. I know. 

And it’s beyond that. I think it’s really interesting that this sort of, I saw that you made a post about sort of creativity and your cycle. And I was I actually, that’s interesting. So I guess I mean, I’d be quite interested to learn more about that. Yeah. I don’t terribly I don’t pay much attention to the rest of my cycle. 

Le’Nise: I think that it was worth thinking about is the what the inverse of what you do around your period. So around ovulation when typically energy rises. So I was thinking about when you teach Pilates, do you notice a difference then? Are you able to do longer holds or do more? I don’t even know any of the names of the Pilates poses. But the one where you’re in the V and you’re holding. It’s like…

Kaysha: The teaser?

Le’Nise: Yeah. Yeah. That one. Yeah. Can you hold that for longer, those sorts of things. Look at the difference between your strength and your energy around ovulation and then compare that to how you feel around your period. 

Kaysha: I’m really interested to have a look at that. And there’s a I think she’s a nutritionist, a lady called Stacy Sims and she’s done a lot of work around sort of energy and period. And in particular, looking at sports performance. When you talked about that particular move, the teaser, that is one that I avoid at all costs because I’m just generally not good at it. My legs are generally very heavy. That’s my excuse anyway. But that is really interesting. And I think you. Yeah. I think you’ve inspired me to really have a look at it. It has been something it’s been on my mind. It’s like, oh yeah, I must look into that type thing. But I’m really curious now to see how that have actually works out for me. 

Le’Nise: I want to shift gears a bit and talk about your work around eating disorders. So you’re trained as a nutritionist, but you specialise in eating disorders, which is quite, as you say, quite involved work involving a lot of trauma. Tell a little bit more about why you decided to specialise in this area. 

Kaysha: Yeah, I would say. I so well, I qualified as a nutritionist almost 10 years ago and my early work wasn’t eating disorder recovery. It was never my intention, not never, definitely wasn’t my intention to go down that route of specialisation. But I was always very aware, despite myself at that point being very much a dieter. 

So what I was doing my nutrition training, what I qualified, when I was first practising, I was still the person who was stepping on the scales to know my weight, went into a gym this many times a week and the rest of it. But I always knew that was never the same advice that I would give my clients sitting in front of me. So when I had a client come to me about weight loss, I would never tackle the weight loss head on. I would do the lifestyle around. And if you come into balance, weight might might change. And if it doesn’t? How does it feel that maybe that might be your genetic blueprint and where your body lies? So it was interesting. I always had this little bit of internal battle between what I was doing with my own body versus the advice I’d give my clients. So then what happened was I started working at the Recover clinic and this was sort of me trying to find my place in nutritional therapy because there weren’t many people, you know, particularly not here in the UK. And this is before I even knew, you know, what an anti diet approach was and all this stuff. I couldn’t really find anyone that spoke my language. I you know, or even thought about nutrition in a way that I did. So I just always just felt quite alone. And that’s when I saw it as I did myself. I looked around, see trying to seek my tribe, and I realised that this is, you know, the narrative that we use within eating disorder recovery. So it happened quite nicely as I was doing that research that I found the Recover clinic or they found me.  I’m not really sure how that worked out, but I started working there and I instantly knew that this is the work I’m supposed to do. This is the work that I want to do. And I think it’s just there’s a whole group of men, women and children out there who just need to hear a different narrative. So, yeah, that’s that’s kind of how I fell into it. 

Le’Nise: Talk a little bit more about what you said about an anti diet approach. What does that mean? 

Kaysha: Yeah, I think so. Anti diet just means it’s not focussed on weight loss. So the focus isn’t the weight loss. The focus is health. And when we say health, we’re talking about mental and physical health. And I think that some I think the mental health aspect often gets forgotten. That’s a bit too harsh, but at least sort of side tracked, let’s say, or sort of. 

Well, what’s the word I’m looking for, de-prioritised. Well, that’s exactly the word I wanted. And so anti-diet just means we’re actually looking at the person as a whole and looking at behaviours around food and beliefs about food and lifestyle factors such as sleep. You know, exercise as well. But in a really balanced approach. And that weight loss isn’t the isn’t the central piece, isn’t the central part of that work. Yes, a person may lose weight on that journey. Some people need to gain weight. And that might be the case on that journey as well. And that’s what anti diet is, it’s just sort of, you know, that that focus away from weight loss in and of itself. This idea that weight loss is the most important thing for health, which just isn’t true. 

Le’Nise: And then your work with women or people with eating disorders. It’s quite specialised and you deal with a lot of trauma. How do you, talk a little bit about how you work with your clients to start to separate their food behaviours from what everything else that’s going on with their health?

Kaysha: You know, I think that the thing I love sharing with clients at the beginning is the idea that when we feed ourself, it’s like the ultimate form of self care. And that blows my mind because they’re often not aware that food to feed and nourish oneself is an act of self care when they’ve been manipulating that for for so many years. 

So once they get that idea that, you know, a lot of their, all of these sorts of behaviours are a form of self harm and that it is just a massive red herring that is distracting them from a much deeper issue. And then an eating disorder sort of very successfully, and that’s its whole, I guess, aim is to disconnect the person from their body. So they’re so disconnected, they’re not aware of the emotions that actually, that they hold in the body, they’re not aware that they’re anxious. They’re not aware of their depression. And we think more from the nutritional side, they’re not aware when they’re hungry. They have no connection to their hunger signals. They don’t know when they’re full, they don’t know when they’re tired, they’re usually always tired, but haven’t even connected to the fact that they’re tired. So all of that. So it’s about bringing the awareness to what the real issue is. And this is why we have this cliche saying where it’s it’s not about food, but it is about the food and it’s the it’s not about the food bit, but that you have to hide them like them, too. 

That is this isn’t about you wanting to be smaller. This isn’t about that. This is about a trauma or an emotional issue that you’re trying to escape from, that you’re trying to distract from, that you’re not wanting to deal with because it’s too painful. And I get that. This is why I love psychotherapists and you’re and you’re using food and exercise behaviours as a way to. Yeah. To sort of just skip out on that sort of work of just looking at what’s really going on. 

Le’Nise: Have you seen a rise in eating disorders?

Kaysha: Yeah. Yeah. It’s going up and it is going up. And I am quite literally probably one of the worst people to ask about statistics. But I looked this one up for this very conversation. And actually what we’ve seen, is that from, say, 2005, 2006, there’s been a 34 percent increase in admissions for eating disorders. That’s a lot. And I was surprised at that number. I knew there had been an increase, but I didn’t expect it to be that number. So we’re looking at seven percent each year. 

I think a lot of that has to do with more awareness around it as well. But it’s the issue is huge here in the UK. And, you know, these are the ones that we know, these eating disorders are so nuanced. And we, a lot of people get missed. People of colour often get missed and often don’t get the diagnosis because it isn’t something that’s considered when they present in a GP surgery. But yet eating disorders like binge eating disorders, which is the second most common form of eating disorder. This is one that people don’t often reach out and get help for, because they think they’re just eating loads, because they they think well, they think that because that quote unquote dieting is actually restriction, but because they’re dieting, then they suddenly have this binge eating. They think it’s to do with this sort of play, the restrict / binge cycle. I mean, they often don’t seek help for it also because eating disorders bring so much shame that a person doesn’t even want to tell somebody about the behaviours that they’re engaging in, which is always a real relief when they come into my clinic and I’m just like, you know, what you’re telling me without sort of them minimising or sort of, you know, trying to take away from their experience. I really liked them to know that this is not uncommon behaviour that you’re talking about, not uncommon with eating disorders. And what what you’re you know, how they present. And it’s always such a relief when they hear that, because I just think that the only ones doing these damaging behaviours. 

Le’Nise: Can you talk a little bit more about the types of eating disorders that you see for people who are hearing what you’re saying about eating disorders and think that and think they might have something but aren’t sure what it is. 

Kaysha: So I would say that over so eating disorders is that although we have all these different ones. You have anorexia, which has different different types of subtypes. You’ve got bulimia. You’ve got binge eating disorder. And then you have and I always have to check because it is it recently changed. But you have other specified feeding or eating disorders. So one that doesn’t come under any of those categories. And so the common thing from all of these eating disorders is the restriction. Every single one of those eating disorders does have a restrictive nature to them. So that’s the first thing. But they all are also very preoccupied, preoccupied with their weight and wanting to be smaller and not really, not really understanding why that is and often not being able to see their bodies for what it is as well. If you think about anorexia, in some cases of anorexia, you can have a mix in different body types. But for talking about anorexia in a smaller body, they don’t realise how small their bodies are. And this is the drive to be smaller and smaller and smaller. And, you know, and there there are always going to be nuances to this that, you know, not everybody is focussed on weight, actually, but for the most part, that’s what you most commonly see. So this preoccupation with food, food is everything. It’s something that they think about constantly. But I mean, like constantly, obsessively, because they’re hungry for the restriction. And and so, yes, this preoccupation with food, but also a fear of food. So not being able to navigate social situations, not being able to sit and have dinner with family and friends because they’re afraid of what this this meal in front of them is going to do to their bodies and it’s going to make them gain weight or it’s just going to make, you know, their thoughts around their body really loud, really heightened negative thoughts around body image and self. So these are these are the common things that I would say that people see. 

And then the other part would be in some cases. So I’m always tempted to say some cases here because I want to make sure that, I want to be I want to be clear that not everybody will experience it the same. But these are common symptoms anyway. Overexercising, so really going all out when it comes to exercising. Exercise being something that they say it’s a non-negotiable. So I have to do this. I have to do this, this, this this and this, regardless of how I feel. Which, again, if I’m going to go back to this whole thing, you know, this whole, you know, linking it in with energy and your period and your cycle, which I think is been interesting. But, you know, a person who is is using exercise as a way to distract from difficult emotions will exercise come hell or high water. It’s obsessive, it’s compulsive. Yeah, and so a lot of their brain space, a lot of that time is just taken up by those things, changing my body, making my body smaller, restricting food, counting this, tracking that, weighing myself, measuring myself, body checking. And it just it just keeps going. 

Le’Nise: And given the work that you do around eating disorders and people really restricting themselves, how do you then, what do you think about this whole rise of anti diet culture, which can be quite strong online, whether it be, you know, people saying things like F you diet culture and really taking it not to the other end, but going really tearing up all of the templates around how we’re supposed to think about our body. 

Kaysha: Yeah. It, you know, it’s this is this thing when you, when you when you see the narrative that is aimed towards diet culture, it’s aimed at diet culture, it’s not aimed at people who are on diets. And so I think that’s really important to sort of to sort of to highlight that is this is the narrative of the diet culture that tells you that smaller is better and that I think, you know, you almost and I get it, I try to be a bit more direct, but gentle, I guess. 

And I tend to swear on social media. I don’t think I hope not anyway. But I tend to be more gentle in my in my approach. 

But I am very direct about the culture that I am, in some ways, attacking or at least protesting against, because that culture is actually quite strong and quite inflammatory in itself. And if and for those who are in the diet, for those who are in that diet culture, so those of those who subscribe to that diet culture, I look at some of the messages that you read there, sometimes I think it’s just it gets to the point where you don’t even know, is this is an eating disorder or is this is a diet now because it’s very disordered, the behaviours that they’re trying to promote. And this is, you know, when you’re when you’re passionate about eating disorder recovery and you’re advocating for a group of a group of people who are subscribing to that and it is quite literally killing them. You do get very, very passionate and you do have to be quite strong in your language about around the diet culture. But equally, they. Yes, it’s that narrative that thinner is better and that’s what we’re attacking. And this idea is not just thinner is better. It’s it’s it’s it’s. Yeah. That your aesthetic somehow have some holds some, some kind of value for your worth, which it doesn’t. Our bodies are our bodies. Our bodies change. And so you’ve got people who live in all different types of bodies. We have fat. We have thin. We have curves. We have muscle. Have you want to label it? We are diverse as humans. And then this idea that diet culture where they’ve got this template body. This is what we’re all striving for, as though it was accessible for everybody. Is that even possible for everyone? You’ve got people literally spending their whole lives trying to achieve this aesthetic, which they may never achieve, or if they do, they’ve done it at the risk of their own physical or mental health. So. It can sound quite inflammatory and it can sound quite I don’t want to say violent, but I can get, I get why people get annoyed as some of my posts and some of those posts because they could take it personally. But it’s because they subscribe to the culture and it’s the culture that we’re attacking, not people who are on diets. I’ve been there myself. I was there for over a decade. 

Le’Nise: I want to ask you two questions, first about what you said about people who are on these diets, who then it’s more like disordered eating. What do you mean by that? 

Kaysha: Yes or no? So it wasn’t that people who are on diets like disordered eating but a lot of the behaviours that they will advise and this is particularly, I would say I’m talking about social media here. So I can’t say what dietitians and nutritionists are saying in their office because but particularly the things that I’ve seen and certainly clients have come to me and been told some interesting things from their health care providers. 

But again, you don’t know where that person was trained. You don’t know that person’s qualifications. But anyway, things like this idea that we have to manipulate our hunger. This idea that when you’re hungry, you need to do all sorts of things other than eat to manage that hunger. This is disordered. This isn’t normal. And if you’re hungry. That’s a sign that you ought to eat. Yeah. You get these ideas of like go brush your teeth, just go to bed earlier, avoid your hunger. Hunger is bad. And this this is disordered. And so it’s not to say that a person who engages in this has disordered eating. I mean, I couldn’t possibly diagnose that. But it’s to say that these quote unquote techniques that they’re trying to prescribe are all disordered. They’re not a normal way of eating. That doesn’t create a healthy relationship with food and your body. And that’s an extreme one, sort of the brush your teeth. But when you’re feeling hungry, I’ve seen that out there. I’ve seen at times and I’ve seen it in magazines. And, you know, this is what people pick up on them. Remember, you know, maybe when you’re hungry, you’re not hungry, you’re thirsty. I mean, if you don’t know if you’re hungry or thirsty, then we need to look at why you don’t know whether you’re hungry or thirsty rather than thinking about manipulating hunger by drinking a glass of water. 

Le’Nise: I have to say I do see that, people not being able to differentiate between physical hunger and thirst. And also people not being able to differentiate between physical hunger and this emotional hunger and eating for emotional reasons. And I, I certainly don’t specialise in eating disorders, but it does. Some of these behaviours do come into my work with my clients, especially this idea of delineating between physical and emotional hunger. Because it’s this in this culture, we get we get taught. Oh, you’re upset. Dive into Ben and Jerry’s. You’re feeling great. Oh have some cake. You know, and so people can’t differentiate to differentiate between this. I’m I’m actually hungry. My body is sending me signs, but it’s time to eat vs.. Oh, I feel sad or I feel happy. So I think that really interesting because we see this sort of programming gets taught at a really young age. 

Kaysha: Even with emotional eating and comfort eating, the way I approach that with my clients, who have not been able to differentiate between emotional hunger and physical hunger. Is that, you know, emotional eating isn’t in and of itself a bad coping mechanism. But if it’s your only coping mechanism, then you need to look at some of a, you know, fill up a toolbox of self care because it can’t always be food. And that’s also not helpful. But, yes, I sort of. And we do see we’ve been conditioned. We’ve seen it on films, we see in the ads. So people see tend to turn to ice cream and they’ve had a breakup. Okay. But what about journaling? What about your mum. But it isn’t to say that emotional eating in and of itself is bad. 

Look, I say it’s just when it’s the only coping mechanism that person has. And because I. Yeah, it’s all about connecting to the body. What is the what is the signal that my body’s telling me? What is my body asking for, ie. rest. Is it water? Is it food? Is it. 

Emotions. 

Le’Nise: And you talked about the difference between diets and diet culture. There are always people there will always be people out there who want to lose weight. And what I’ve seen now in my clinic is that people feel ashamed about talking about wanting wanting to lose weight or feel better in their body. And they feel better when they’re at a smaller size. And if they talk about this on Instagram or any social media, it’s like they get attacked. 

‘Look, your body at any size loved who you are. You shouldn’t feel like you have to lose weight.’ But they say, well, but I just want to you know, I want to slim down. I want to feel better in my clothes. What do you say to that? 

Kaysha: I say I have so many responses and my head just went to so many places. I’m just going to try and categorise and line them up and just decide which way I’m going to go for first. 

I completely sympathise with somebody who feels like they need to be smaller in order to feel better about their body. I think it is, you know, my my go to response to that. And is it is that is not about your body being smaller why you want to feel better about it is because of the way you think about your body. You know, our bodies change regardless. So this idea that if my body is smaller, I feel better. I can tell you now that that is not always going to be the case. A person will get smaller in their body and get to maybe that quote unquote goal weight and still have hang ups about their body because it wasn’t the body that was the issue. It was what bodies they they see to be good bodies. So who were they looking at? What bodies are they idealising and what are they trying to do, mimic within their own bodies to try and achieve, like I I say that might not be available to them through their genetic blueprint, through the resources that they have available to them. You know, have they got time to do all these hours in the gym. Have they got the money to buy those foods that people are advocating and advertising. Sorry. So there’s that. So the idea that, yes, it smaller doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re gonna feel better about your body. Not saying it doesn’t, but not necessarily. There’s a there’s an emotional piece that needs to be there in terms of healing your relationship with your body, whether it’s bigger or smaller. So that’s separate from its size. The other part is I think it isn’t helpful when if somebody says that they feel a certain type of way about their body, it’s not for anybody else to comment on their post and come with what we call toxic positivity of just love your body, because if it was that easy, the person would quote unquote, just love their body. That’s dismissive of what that person’s experiencing. And, you know, I appreciate that when it often comes from people, often it always comes from people who already live in a smaller body. So they have what we call thin privilege. And for that person with thin privilege to tell somebody in a bigger body, oh, you should just love your body, has no idea what it’s like for that person to exist in that body. So to just say that you should just isn’t it’s not that simple because of the weight stigma that that person has encountered throughout their lives, which in itself brings a lot of shame. So when you talk about that shame that they feel about wanting to lose weight and people’s reaction, that shame is also past shames of people making comments about their weight, perhaps, and that can come from childhood. That can come from parents, that could come from, you know, even your health professionals. We have a big thing about weight bias that goes on in our health care system at the moment. So there’s that as well. I mean, you know, if a person if that’s where a person is in their life and that’s all they know, then that’s all they know. And it’s about, you know, my work is very much about meeting people where they’re at. So. Ninety five percent, probably even more than may I maybe go as far as is a hundred actually percent of people who will come to my clinic want to lose weight. So it would be so disrespectful of me to sit there and be like you shouldn’t lose weight because that’s is not that easy. It’s so disrespectful to the whole process of emotional turmoil that they’ve been going through. 

So I think we do have this culture of toxic positivity on social media that doesn’t help. And we kind of have to remember there is a person behind that post. Yeah. And just be mindful of what their experience might have been, existing in the body that they may have. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, I think your words really resonate with me. I have been on my own personal journey with with weight loss and weight gain. And I know even with the work I do, I wouldn’t say I’m 100 percent reconciled with my body. You know, I had messages from when I was quite young about, oh, you know, people meet you and they say, oh, you’ve lost weight. 

Or they say, oh, you’ve gained weight and for a long time, whenever I saw my mother, the first thing she would say would. And it became a joke. It was, ‘How’s your weight? How’s your hair? How’s your teeth?’ Those would be the first things that she would ask me. And that would. That we would. I had to make it into a joke because otherwise I would get really angry. I remember this one time we were I went to see her and I was going through this big emotional time and I had gained quite a lot of weight. And the first thing she said to me was, “Le’Nise, what’s going on with you? You’ve gained a lot of weight.” And we had this huge fight on the street where I said, “why do you always have to ask me about that? You know, can’t you see that? Can’t you ask me about everything else that I’m going through?” So and then for me, it’s been and I’m getting quite personal here. It’s been a real journey ever since. And I know I’m not 100 percent reconciled with with the weight that I am. And, you know, I would be lying if I said that, you know, I feel I haven’t had thoughts about losing weight because I do. So this is where I some of the things that you’re saying on an intellectual level, that makes total sense. But emotionally, I’m kind of like, OK. 

Kaysha: I totally hear you, Le’Nise. Absolutely. And, you know, this idea that this I think even the idea of them. Well, first of all. So I should go back to say that it’s really difficult, that experience for somebody not seeing you and only seeing your weight as as though it were some indicator of how you were. And we do that a lot in our society, too. We do praise people when they lose weight, which which feeds into that narrative of, oh, well, when I’m smaller. That’s a good thing. That means when I was bigger, what were people thinking about me. And it kind of confirms those sort of negative belief that person holds about themselves. That’s really difficult. And I can one hundred percent sympathise with you because my mum to this day does the exact same when she sees me. It’s “I think you’ve lost weight, haven’t you. Oh I think you’ve put on”. 

At this point, my weight doesn’t really fluctuate, so I don’t know what she said. So I mean that’s me. But that’s beside the point anyway. But it is one of the first things that comes out of her mouth. But this is generational. So it’s like we’ve got to think about where they’re getting that narrative from. 

And, you know, it’s not just our mums. That goes way. It’s gonna go way back. Right. So there’s that. But, yes, I hear you, this idea of loving your body. I think it’s a really unrealistic thing. Again, this toxic positivity that we see on social media. It’s not that you have to love your body and be positive about it. You sometimes you don’t love your body, myself included. Some things you just don’t. And oftentimes that’s not because as an issue with your body, oftentimes you just have an issue with something else going on and it gets directed at your body or just sometimes you’re just not happy with, you know, I feel bloated today. And that’s okay. You know, we it’s not about shoulding, there’s are no should here. It’s about thinking about how you want to exist for the rest of your life. Do you want to exist the rest of your life thinking about what if only I lost an extra X amount pounds and that would make everything fine? The likelihood is that won’t be the case? You know, there are going to be days like I say that you love your body, there are going to be days that you don’t and there are going to be days where you’re just indifferent. And I’m very much now doing a lot of work with my clients about feeling neutral about their bodies, because our bodies aren’t who we are. They don’t tell. They don’t tell you anything. I have a real issue with focusing on the body. I’ve had to focus on my body literally all my life. I’ve talked about, you know, breasts at a very young age. Got a lot of attention for that. I was always very athletic, very muscular. Naturally, I get a lot of praise about that. Lots of comments about that, this is just my body, it is not a commodity. I don’t, I mean, give me compliments, like, please. I love it. But it’s this idea that it somehow is it’s something to be praised all the time.

And actually, I think to myself. Sometimes I think of people, are they seeing my intelligence. Are they seeing other parts of my personality or they just seeing my body? That’s difficult. And so and that goes on no matter what your body shape is. That can’t be the thing that people see you as. And it’s about that internal what you have to do as well to think about, okay, I am more than my body. What are my values? What would I tell my what I tell a client sat in front of me? What would I tell my daughter? What would I tell my sister?

Le’Nise: Yes. So thinking about everything that we’ve talked about on the show today, if you want a listener to leave, take one thing away. What would you want that to be? 

Kaysha: I would say. The word that always comes into my mind, and I think the word that I’m really drawn to at the moment is being authentic and thinking about what authentic health means to you. What’s within your genetic capabilities, what’s within your resources of time, money, your mental capacity. So just being really authentic with yourself and just being, you know, really self compassionate in that sense, this idea that, you know, everybody can afford to do the stuff that diet, culture and wellness industry. I would even go that far, prescribes, isn’t isn’t available to everybody. It’s not even suitable for everybody’s palate. 

So it’s just that, you know, that being authentic. 

And also, you know, as a person who comes for Caribbean heritage, I don’t see any Caribbean food in in these recommendations. 

You know, that whole thing of this. Like what? What brings you joy? And then, you know, just honour that. We are and this is a little bit deep, but genuinely, you know, we’re here for a short amount of time we’re not here forever. So really thinking about what do you want to spend your good brain power and time on this earth doing? And I think you find, you know, from a personal point, I already lost ten, fifteen years of my life to trying to manipulate my weight. I refused to do that any further from now. I had to do a long healing journey and just a little self compassion. And it’s ongoing work. It’s not overnight. I still have to do that work. It’s never going to end. I still have to, you know, read. I still have to meditate. I have to do self care things, tools, my body. So, you know. Look after your mental health and your physical health. Your mental health, you know, shapes your physical health. 

Le’Nise: There’s this great Nora Ephron quote where she talks about if she could go back, she would be wearing a bikini. From the age of like twenty one to thirty five, you know, so it’s like this. Just wear the bikini. Wear this swimsuit. Go on the beach. 

And you know, you don’t want to look back thinking, why did I just lay there in my clothes while everyone else was having fun. 

Kaysha: Yeah. Oh I love that. Absolutely. 

Le’Nise: So where can listeners should find out more about you and your work? 

Kaysha: So I’m more active these days on Instagram @kayshathomas. I have my Web site, www.kayshathomas.com. I half laugh there because I’m just like I’m not blogging anywhere near as much as I should be, but that’s what my Web site is. 

That’s where you’ll find details about me. And then as of next week, my YouTube channel as well. So I’ll send you the link, Le’Nise, and you can link it up in the show notes, as they say. 

Le’Nise: Yes. Yes. We will indeed link it in the show notes. Thank you so much for coming on the show today, Kaysha. It was really interesting and illuminating speaking to you.

Kaysha: Thank you for having me. I really enjoyed it, Le’Nise. 

Period Story Podcast, Episode 32: Mika Simmons, We Need To Talk About Desire

Photo credit: Ruth Crafer

On today’s episode of Period Story podcast, I’m so happy to share my conversation with Mika Simmons, the award winning filmmaker, actress and founder of the Lady Garden Foundation and the Happy Vagina. Listen to hear a really tender conversation about navigating trauma and loss, and of course, the story of Mika’s first period.

Mika says that her mum was so excited when she first got her period and threw her a little party to celebrate. This lovely start was unfortunately not mirrored at school, where she was teased and bullied for getting her period. Listen to hear Mika talk about how this led to a time of confusion and pain.

In time for #gynaecologicalcancerawarenessmonth, Mika shares the story of losing her beloved mother to ovarian cancer.  Mika very poignantly talks about how she was able to heal after this seismic experience and how starting the Lady Garden Foundation was a part of this healing. Listen to hear about the incredible work the foundation is doing to raise awareness about gynaecological cancers.

We talked about body image, self-pleasure, orgasms and the importance of female desire. Mika says that it’s important to get past the discomfort of having these conversations and that by starting small or what feels comfortable for you, we can start to find a vocabulary that feels right for us. Thank you so much for coming on the show, Mika!

Get in touch with Mika:

Instagram

Lady Garden Foundation

The Happy Vagina

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MIKA’S BIO

Mika Simmons is an award-winning film maker, actress and host of The Happy Vagina.


Mika has worked on a diverse range of creative projects for stage and screen, including Frenchman’s Creek (ITV), Unforgotten (ITV/PBS), the BAFTA award winning Falling Apart (Ch4) and Film London’s Balcony, which won the Crystal Bear at the Berlin Film Festival in 2017.  Most recently, she can be seen in Dictynna Hood’s Us Among The Stones in competition at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2019.


In 2019, Mika’s directorial debut Rain Stops Play short film won Best Comedy at Houston Film Festival and was nominated for Best Comedy at the BAFTA qualifying CBFF Wales and Portobello Film Festivals; UnderWire and Fragments Film Festival in London. 


Mika’s latest project, The Happy Vagina is a podcast showcasing a huge variety of heartfelt, honest, uplifting, fun and personal experiences. In a world where the word ‘vagina’ can feel taboo or make some feel uncomfortable, The Happy Vagina Podcast opens up a dialogue about fundamental issues, experimentation and lack of education around women’s experiences and gynaecological health; aiming not only to educate but also entertain and enlighten listeners in a supportive and empowering way. Mika possesses an unmatchable capability to relate to and understand people, and is a poised and self-assured interviewer who, when necessary, brings a great sense of fun to any interview.


In 2017 Mika was chosen as one of 40 inspirational British women to front L’Oréal Lancôme’s powerful women campaign.


Mika is also a co-founder of Lady Garden Foundation & Mental Health Mates.

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: On today’s episode, we have Mika Simmons.

Mika is an award winning winning filmmaker, actress, founder of the Lady Garden Foundation and The Happy Vagina. Mika has worked on a diverse range of creative projects for stage and screen. Mika’s latest project, The Happy Vagina, is a podcast showcasing a huge variety of heartfelt, uplifting, fun and personal experiences. In a world where the word vagina can feel taboo or make some feel uncomfortable, The Happy Vagina podcast opens up a dialogue about fundamental issues, experimentation and a lack of education around women’s experiences and gynaecological health, aiming not only to educate, but also entertain and enlighten listeners in a supportive and empowering way. Welcome to the show.

Mika: Thank you so much. It’s so good to be here. Good morning.

Le’NiseLet’s start off by getting into the story of your very first period. Can you remember what happened? Can you share with us what happened?

Mika: I mean, Le’Nise, let’s just drive straight in the deep end.

 I was watching May I Destroy You last night. I don’t know if you’ve been watching it, but there’s an episode where she has sex with a new man and she’s on her period. It’s extraordinary. If you haven’t watched it yet, you’ve got to watch it. Everyone is looking at.

I mean, I started my periods really young. When we were away camping. I had an extraordinary mother who was part of the feminist movement in the 70s, and so it was a really turbulent time in a way for women. I think that women were still trying to find out what being a feminist was. And my mother was definitely on the front line kind of pushing things forwards and writing. She’s, you know, she’s written in books and written essays, so, in a way, her kind of attitude, outlook and then kind of power towards life was a reaction to her upbringing and her upbringing, we’re Irish Catholic working class and immigrants to this country. And as immigrants, my grandmother, I feel emotional, my grandmother was a really hardworking woman and an amazing woman.

But, you know, just worked. I don’t think that my grandmother and also the Catholic Church doesn’t encourage, at that time, did not encourage, you know, kind of biological or sexual talk with women. I think many of the reasons that periods and sex is so damaged and shrouded for women and men is because of religion. So my mother was, you know, kind of fighting against what she’d experienced. And so for me, when I got my period, it was like the biggest celebration in the whole world, you know, like there was no hiding it. And then she threw this party for me. We were camping in the South of France and ,I what I remember, I remember being quite confused. I don’t remember. I think I was, I think it caught us all a bit off guard because I was so young.

So I think that, like, I went to the shower and it started and I hadn’t already had a chat with my mum. There’d been no like, you’re gonna get your menstrual cycle at some stage and this is what it’s for and this is how you should love it. And it’s the most amazing thing in the world where life comes from. It was just like, oh, I’m bleeding. And, you know, when I went off and I came back and she’d bought Viennetta ice cream and bought some champagne. Not for me. I was under age.

But she told everyone in the tents around us cause she was just so unbelievably excited about the whole thing. It was mortifying. I did not consent to the party and I do, I mean, I love her for it. And as you will know, I lost my mother to ovarian cancer. So, you know, I don’t have any resentment towards her for her choice. I do also think it’s really important to talk to, you know, all young women and daughters about what it is that they want, because I think that period of feminism was very bullish, rightly bullish. It needed to be bullish when when change needs to happen. When when people have been oppressed for a long time. Sometimes you have to be bullish to move things through. And then you have to come back into being part of a negotiating an in a gentler way, which I think feminism now is so much more. Everyone’s a feminist, you know, like Obama standing on the stage saying this is what a feminist looks like. Yeah. So, yes, that’s what happened and it was tough because I was young and I got teased loads. I was using sanitary towels. The boys at school saw them in my bag. I got really teased for it. I lied and said, I don’t know. They said, “Have you got your period?” I said, “no.” I mean, of course I have, I’ve got sanitary towels in my bag. It was just, you know, it was painful. It was painful and confusing. 

Le’Nise: What did you say to the boys when they teased you?

Mika: I didn’t stick up for myself. I was thinking about this this morning, preparing to come on here. It’s very poignant for me, this stuff around teasing and bullying at the moment, it’s something that I’m working on a huge amount in my personal development in my life, because there seems to have been a pattern for me where I don’t really stick up for myself or I don’t stick up for myself in the right way. So when the boys teased me, I didn’t say anything and I and I and I and I internalised it. Actually, I internalised the shame.

 I felt other, I felt wrong. And I. And I. And actually, it was during a period of time. I had a bit of a bad start in school where I was in a in a local primary school feeding through to a local secondary school. And some of the girls at the the the bigger school were waiting outside my primary school. When I finished to, to threaten me. And I didn’t tell anyone about that either.

And I went to my secondary school kind of therefore on the back foot. I went to my big school really frightened. I don’t know why I didn’t tell anyone. I think the thing is about bullying is mostly you think it’s your fault. That’s really one of the biggest strands through bullying, is that people somehow it’s so confusing when people bully you for no reason that you just basically can’t, it is a weird sort of paranoia where your brain can’t compute why this is happening. So therefore, it kind of must be something you’ve done. So I didn’t stick up for myself with the boys. 

And if I’m honest, what I did this was the thing I was thinking about this morning, is I got tough. So in order to protect myself, I kind of joined, I think when you were bullied. This there’s there’s three options. One is that you fight them. The other is that you completely come away and take another river. And the other is that you that you join them.

And to a certain extent, I joined that kind of crowd of kids that weren’t that kind. So my first couple of years at school, it was only it was only the first couple of years. But the first couple of the years, I would suggest I was kind of quite naughty. And that’s how I dealt with being teased, was I surrounded myself with people who could stick up for me.

Le’Nise: And so you became part of this gang that was not very kind and would bully others, but then did that stop the bullying towards you?

Mika: Yeah. Yeah, it did.

But then I self-harmed. It’s really interesting because I think that within people that particularly children are so cruel, you know, children are so cruel and I think if you end up, I mean, actually at around 14, 15, I really rightsized it all and started to work really hard at school and there was some interventions that happened that brought me back to, I would say, my real self. But during that period when I was like hanging out with the naughty set, I was over sexualised. I was objectified by the boys that we were hanging out with, the boys at school, very aggressive. Obviously, I started my period. So actually, there was quite a lot of sexual energy around me. I was blessed with some quite good looks so I got a lot of male attention. And I’m hanging out in that, I think, you know, children who bully or are naughty or kind of the wayward gang are often in a lot of pain.

They haven’t learnt it yet because they go, ‘I know or I’m gonna, like, bunk off school and not go to gym class and smoke behind the shops.’ They’re in pain. And when we’re in pain physically, our cells that are in pain orient towards other people that are in pain. So that we can feel safe. It’s not safe, but it feels safe and it feels like what we know.

And so, yeah, it did stop the bullying, but I just self-harmed. I drank way too young. I was drinking, you know, and I and I was and I was and I said, as you know, over sexualised. So I had my periods and I was like, my womanhood started age 13. I started you know, I started behaving like grown-up when I was a child.

Le’Nise: What would you say your relationship with your body was back then?

Mika: Really confused. Confused is the most, you know, poignant word. I think the whole time was very confusing for me. My body was being objectified by a lot of men older and my age and therefore and I didn’t understand it. I didn’t understand.

You know, I hope for every young woman that she has the experience where she gets to know her body in a gentle, timely manner. 

And, you know, we’ve been talking about this a lot on my podcast The Happy Vagina about how self pleasure that in order to really have a great sexual relationship with someone, you have to really learn your own body first. That was not my experience. You know, my experience was it was it was a slam dunk.

I was, I was I was like a horse up and running, but before I had had any conversations, you know. Anyway, it sounds like a sob story, but I don’t feel like that about it. I feel that all of that made me the woman that I am today. So I don’t have any kind of resentment or, you know, hang ups around it. I wouldn’t wish it on other people. I don’t I don’t think that it was the best start, but it certainly, it certainly gave me, I went so far that way, most of the time I’ve been back in the other camp since, so yeah, I think everyone has a time when they’re walking in between one camp and another.

Le’Nise: Yeah. And you went, you had that time of being across two different camps, as you say, when you were in school and then when you left school and went on to the next phase of your life, how would you describe your relationship with your your body and your period? 

Mika: Well, I one of the ways that I, you know, thrust myself out of that naughty period at school was like starting to take acting classes, so I had this amazing year head at my school called Mrs Barrett. And she invited my mother and I to go and have a conversation with her. And she highlighted the fact that, you know, I was wearing makeup at school, you know. Oh, I was renegade. And she she was you know, she she said, you know, Mika’s very, very bright and she’s not using that.

And they asked me what it was that I wanted to do. And I said that I wanted to go, there was no drama at my school. So they they got me some some acting classes and I started to compete.

And that really saved me intellectually and emotionally and really changed my life. I would suggest that the pressure on me from that stage on in terms of my body possibly did not heal itself. So many of the other areas healed, but I went from being kind of objectified for my body to wanting my body to be what I saw in the movies.

That that gap. So there was definitely some periods of severe under eating. I wouldn’t suggest that I was anorexic, but I controlled my food for a very long time. Particularly around my drama school years.

And at university, in leading into going to drama school, you know, it’s a huge pressure on in the industry to to be thin and in in the film industry. Sometimes I think, you know, it’s kept me healthy. I love food.

But I do think that there’s many benefits of needing to be fit and healthy and strong for my work. 

And there was a moment when my periods almost stopped. I think that that was probably the worst moment. When in terms of my my eating habits and from that point onwards, I started to eat properly, you know, and then. And then of course, just after drama school, my mom got sick with ovarian cancer. 

So I you know, I had an extremely stressful late 20s. I think I was in a lot of pain and quite, quite heightened anxiety.

Le’Nise: And how did you deal with that?

Mika: Therapy.

Yeah, therapy mostly. It was a, it was a huge shock. I’d just left drama school and got my first kind of big job and I was up and running really, and all of my dreams were coming true. 

And Mum thought she had fibroids or the doctors were telling her she had fibroids. So we we went we went on holiday together. We came back and she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. And she did get put onto a trial that was a new type of medication, chemotherapy that they thought was going to work. And it did work, but the cancer came back quite rapidly. So she actually passed away nine months after her diagnosis. Yeah. So I was 25 going into 26, so, you know, super young. And I think that had an impact on me and my body. I think I, I really lost my faith over that period. I really lost my faith in life. I had this kind of like, feeling that life was quite a dark thing.

You know, and the, yeah, I lost my faith, I think, for a while.

Le’Nise: Can you tell us a little bit about how you found your way back or if not back to where you were before, back towards something different? Maybe towards a place of healing?

Mika: You know, I think it has taken a really long time. 

I think I feel, I feel it, it’s taken me most of the time since, you know, it’s taken a good 15 years to actually really heal it.

I had a lot of therapy and that helped me come back to a more spiritual way of managing life. And I had a lot of treatment, I had a lot of cranial psychotherapy, which I believe really gets rid of trauma in the body. 

And I think probably the final healing was starting The Lady Garden Foundation because I have a feeling that we don’t fully heal things until we take an action that rightsizes it, so you know, I sort of like when when you fall in love and you break up with someone, you can have completely let go of that person, but I don’t believe you completely let go of them until you meet the next person.

And it is a bit the same with this, that while I’ve done everything I could to heal and let the grief come and then let the grief go. There was an action around the miracle that happened with starting Lady Garden. It really was a miracle that my next door neighbour in the apartment block I live in ended up being Head of Oncology for research into gynaecological cancers at the Royal Marsden, you know, I mean, that’s just a real miracle. Then she asked me if I wanted to do a project with her to raise money.

And for me, I really wanted to do the awareness raising. And I think that was the final, final, you know, the final integration.

 I don’t know if I’ll ever get over it. I would say you didn’t get to you know, I just I talked about this a lot. I, I feel that because I’d only just left drama school. I was still a bit of a child. 

 I think other people at that age are very grown up. They’ve started working since 18 and actually, you know, but I somehow or other was still dependent on my mum. And I suspect there was also a level of co-dependency with my mom because of my earlier experiences.

 I think she was very firmly in my camp. She championed me in a way that was, you know, kind of beyond beyond anything I’ve ever experienced. She really, she was she was my biggest cheerleader, you know, and and so the loss of that at that age was significant for me. And there was a period of time when I was flailing, trying to find where I sat in life until I think the real kind of deep realisation was that it was me I needed to find. I needed to find me and love myself like my mother had loved me and that no one else would probably ever love me like that again.

And that it may not have been that healthy that she did. I don’t know. I mean, I wish I could just say I was thinking about something the other day and just thinking it would be so nice just to ask Mum about that. I can’t. I mean I can in my prayers. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: I love what you said about your mom being your biggest champion. And I love, I have a six year old son and I love, really that I read something once where someone wrote your child should feel like you’re their biggest champion, that you’re always going to be on their side. And that has always stuck with me. And I love that, you know, you said that about your mom because that feeling of always feeling, knowing that someone will be in your corner is so powerful in life, because often you feel like, wow, you know who is actually in my corner. So to have had that experience is so powerful.

Mika: Life’s hard.

Le’Nise: Yes, yes. Yes.

Mika: I mean, sometimes I’m like, what is this thing called life? 

Le’Nise: Can you talk a bit about the Lady Garden Foundation?

Mika: Yeah. So we’re a tiny charity, actually, with a really, really loud voice. When Dr. Banerjee, who is my next door neighbour, asked me whether or not I would do some fundraising to help her explore research into the cancers that I lost my mum to, I said yes. But I said there was an absolute prerequisite that I was allowed to do an awareness campaign alongside it, which is where the Lady Garden campaign came from. And Dr. Banerjee has developed a drug called Olaparib, which has now been green lit, and it’s been rolled up by a pharmaceutical company and it treats women with varying cancer with great results. So that side of it has been really phenomenal. And we fundraised for that by quite high level events. I’ve got an amazing cofounding committee who they love doing kind of fundraisers. So they’re. And they’re amazing at it. I don’t think I’m so good at that part of it. What I’m really good at is using my voice to raise awareness. And the awareness side of it is just absolutely fundamental. So when we started the project in 2014, part of the reason we called it Lady Garden was because we couldn’t really call it vagina. But obviously now you know that it’s a different landscape and the awareness that, I believe the awareness that we started back then has been part of the impact for women all over the world in terms of starting to reclaim our bodies. We started to, we may have given it a nickname, but we absolutely were talking about the fundamentals around gynaecological health. And, you know, and then the Me Too movement happened, which then started a huge revolution in women’s, in women’s bodies and women’s wellbeing. And I think at the moment, one of the things that I’m really interested in exploring and why I started my podcast and the project, The Happy Vagina, is that somehow or other still we are only talking about gynaecological issues or pregnancy in terms of women’s health.

So there’s now a movement towards talking about desire and actually how we integrate talking about gynaecological health in all areas of our life. Because at the moment you kind of get these highlights, you get your period starts, you’re pregnant, your menopause and hopefully not, but you may within that have some illness, gynaecological illness. Most of us have something at some stage, whether it just be from candida through to something more serious like my mother had. And those are when we talk about it, it’s like gynae problem.

And we don’t kind of somehow really talk about that area of our body all the time, like it’s, you know, like we would do about our mental health and there is a movement happening towards integrating it into a more daily kind of chat. I’ve just been part of a book that’s talking about young women and periods and teaching them, which is We Are The Hood. And, you know, so that’s going to be a game changer, you know. But again, the focus is kind of on when you get your period. And I’m just really excited to get women talking more about desire and how to look after ourselves sexually. 

How to look after ourselves in terms of consent. 

How to look after ourselves in terms of, you know, allowing that everybody to be part of our whole being.

Le’Nise: What do you think women need to do if they don’t feel comfortable with these conversations? What do you think they need to do to get comfortable?

Mika: It’s so funny, isn’t it, because I was talking to a really good girlfriend of mine who works in marketing for a huge women’s brand yesterday, and she said, ‘I still find hard to say the word vagina’ and it’s that, it’s just start saying it’s saying it, start talking about it. One of the things that I think as human beings, we do things that we cower together. So identification within friendships is really, really powerful. So if you go to the gym with a female friend and they are hiding their body or go into the changing room. You will probably feel the same shame, we pick up each other’s shame really easily. Just to be super clear, if you want to change in private, that’s totally cool. But what you need to look at is where it’s coming from, if it’s coming from because you’re ashamed of your body, at least acknowledge that and own it. And I think that the identification that we can bring in so we mirror our friends and just to say to a girlfriend, ‘I’ve got candida. I’ve got thrush.’ 

‘I’m struggling with cystitis. My periods are a bit weird at the moment. My period came three days early. I had loads of sex,’you know, like just to kind of start integrating the very light vocabulary and dialogue with your female friends or with your children, if it’s appropriate, or with your partner. 

Just drop it in. Tiny, small things. You don’t have to come out with a big you know, doesn’t have to be a monumental, seismic moment.

I’m now going to talk about periods and vaginas! Sharing in a tiny little way, it’s going to really uncomfortable if it’s something you haven’t done before. Where we’re going to feel really, you know, embarrassing.

Because we’ve been brainwashed to believe that that area of our body is embarrassing and it’s just not, you know, there is an underlying message.

In so many cultures that good girls don’t have sex. 

You know, that good girls don’t talk about this stuff and that we are only lovable if we are a good girl. Well, you know, and being a good girl will stop you from being good to yourself. And also, long term, if you don’t really get to know your body and you don’t share with your partner or friends or whatever is appropriate for you, you may find that you ignore symptoms as something that could be quite serious. 

Le’Nise: So start to have the conversation. It doesn’t have to be small. Start with what feels comfortable for you and then do it often, do it in a way that you can then build up to then having the bigger conversations that are appropriate for you and your body. 

Mika: Also read books. One I still swear by is Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth, which is not just about gynaecological health, but it’s a game changer in terms of understanding why we are sort of hard on ourselves and judgemental of our own bodies and how that actually has come through Biblical text, the media, film and significantly, advertising, the advertising is geared towards making us feel less than and insignificant so that then we buy the products that will make us better. You know, so, really great book. Yeah. And and listen to women talk about these things. There’s so much out there now, you know. Yeah. Find your vocabulary through listening to other people talk about it.

Le’Nise: Find your vocabulary. I really like that. You talked about desire. And this is tied into the conversation about finding your vocabulary, moving away from this good girl image. Or good girl kind of idea that’s drummed into us from when we’re very young. What role do you think owning your desire plays into that? 

Mika: Well, young women out there, there’s absolutely no education at all around desire for young women at the moment. Whereas I think it’s quite normal for parents of young men to understand that young men start masturbating. 

And it’s almost like this kind of God given thing that they can’t help, you know, this sexual energy and power that comes through that means they have to do it. I’m not suggesting that young men don’t go through shame around it. I don’t. It’s not like they’ve got it so easy. But I do believe there’s more vocabulary around young men’s sexual power coming through and that there is absolutely zero, zero teaching around young women’s desire. And I think. Again, just to be super kind of clear on it. It’s up to you. I don’t think you need to start suddenly talking about self pleasure, masturbation or that the moment the millennials are all talking about wanking. You know, for me, that’s not my taste. But I respect them. But it’s about getting the relationship with yourself, with yourself so that you, so that you whatever that is, and it may be that there’s only one person in your life that you talk to about it, and that might be your partner. But dear God, please talk about it. And I really believe that if you don’t, you cut yourself off from that area of your body. And I think disease in the body comes through the nervous system. So if your nervous system is not fully integrated, if you if you feel shame around the area of your body, the likelihood is this is that your mind body connection is probably very disassociated.

So I I really believe that if we don’t integrate the shame that we have around an area of our body, then we kind of get blocked off from that areas of our body. And not only does that mean we probably won’t look out for symptoms if we have any come up. Also might mean that we can’t feel that part of our body as well, which may affect our ability to have an orgasm. Also, there is the potential that not being connected to that area of our body may block energy in that area, probably which there is a suggestion could lead to ill health. You know, there is scientific evidence that’s starting to show that blockages within an area of our body and a blockage can come from not listening to that area of the body. It could be to do with faking orgasms for your whole life. And the reason that you may need to fake an orgasm is because without even knowing it, you have shame around that area of your body. You may not you may not even know that you’ve got shame. You may not know that that’s why. But if you you know, if you if you if you don’t know the irony of what if you don’t know your own desires. If you’re not really fully integrated with yourself as a woman, you’re not free. 

And then your body can’t be free.

Le’Nise: I think it’s also because when we’re younger, we don’t tend to, you mentioned the conversation around boys and masturbation. Girls and masturbation, I remember growing up and having conversations with girlfriends and they would say, well, I don’t masturbate. And I would say, “well, well, why?” And they’d say, “well, I don’t need to.” But when you masturbate, you learn about what you know, what an orgasm actually feels like. You know how to get to an orgasm. And you can bring that conversation into your relationship or any sexual encounters you have. And that’s that element, that’s a way of empowering yourself to get the best out of that situation. So I think it’s really important for women of all ages can get there. It doesn’t, you don’t have to be young. But again, to going back to what you said earlier about being comfortable and starting with those little small conversations and growing there and finding a way to feel empowered about, in your desire and owning your desire. 

Mika: So many women I know find it difficult to get to climax, orgasm. And I, I believe that is because we don’t spend our teenage years practising, whereas somehow there is a, again, really, just to be clear. I think men feel a lot of shame around at that age, too, but they still get on and do it because within media, within films, it may be teased a bit, but it’s still considered normal. And with women, everyone lies about it. No one admits to doing it. I think I said you said I didn’t do it. Someone asked me at university, “Are you doing that?” I thought, ‘no.’ 

You know, it’s just not. Not. We’re not free within it. There are also women who can’t reach climax, and I think it’s really important, to, I don’t know because I don’t know those women. I don’t know whether or not if they did a lot of work on themselves in terms of body release and really integrating, whether or not they would be able to reach climax. 

But I think it’s very important that we take some of the pressure off ourselves to reach climax and understand that sexual pleasure is not just about an orgasm. And if you as a woman, you haven’t managed to reach that point, that’s okay, you just need to enjoy the experience still and not write it off and not over give to your partner. Not deny yourself pleasure in whatever way that pleasure comes in order to make sure your partner’s needs get met. And you don’t. So don’t always seek that orgasm.

You know, it’s not it’s not the essential thing. But open connection is.

Le’Nise: Can you talk about what’s coming up next for the Lady Garden Foundation, for the Happy Vagina

Mika: So Lady Garden Foundation, really excitingly with my co-founders, we have greenlit a piece of research again by Dr. Banerjee into how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected key workers within cancer research. So looking into mental health and resilience and I feel that that’s a really appropriate use of our money at the moment. Alongside also continuing to donate to cancer research into, into medication and continuing to raise awareness around these cancers so that women will go and get checked more often. And then we’ve got hopefully we had to change our run date. We have a run, an annual run that I started. It’ll be our fifth, I think, this year. And. And it was meant to be in April. And we’ve moved it. So it’s going to be in October. Fingers crossed. We’ll see what the government says. Yeah. Lots of just other bits and pieces, fun, fun things going on later. And then I’m just starting to record the second season of The Happy Vagina. And I’ve got an amazing guest list, and I’m really branching out into some other areas. So one of the most fundamental differences is that I’m gonna have men on.

All of season one, I just kept getting all of my male friends that were can be the ones that work in the entertainment industry going, what are you doing? Why are you like ostracising us and being divisive? Oh, no. This is a really divisive project. I get it because obviously with Lady Garden, it’s about gynaecological cancers. One of the reasons I started the Happy Vagina was because I wanted to reach out more into women’s health. And then the men who, like you were being divisive. And I was like, you know what? You’re right, I am. So I’ve got some men coming on who will be talking specifically about experiences that are relatable to women.

So the main focus and story around The Happy Vagina is still around women. So I’ve got George Robinson, who is one of the stars of Sex Education. He’s just joined in season two.

And he’s going to be Maeve’s love interest in season three. I think, although he wouldn’t really tell me. And he’s going to talk about he’s talking about how his relationship to women has changed since doing Sex Education

And also, he had an accident where he broke his neck a few years ago. So he’s in a wheelchair. And so we talk about his relationship to women, which is just fantastic.

And then I’ve got Charlie Condou coming on, who is a gay, three-way parenter. So he and his male partner had a child with one of their friends and they three-way parent. And I’m really excited to hear about that. And then I have Kenny Jones coming on. So I’m really and then I’ve got some amazing woman as well. Emilie Pine and Kate Devlin. And yeah, so it’s it’s kind of. I’m just starting to record it, and I hope it’ll be out in July.

And I just feel really. It’s just an amazing project. The response to it is amazing. People absolutely love what I’m doing with it. And I feel I feel really liberated by it. I feel we liberated by it and excited for the future of it. We’re going to make some pants as well. Oh, I know. 

Le’Nise: Thinking back on your journey from where you started when you first got your period, the party that your mom threw for you to where you are now, if you could go back to speak to your 13 year old self, what would you say to her? 

Mika: I think I’d say it’s going to be okay. You know, just quite simple, soothing. It’s going to be OK, because it always is in the end. I think so many of us go through such trauma. Pain in life. Life can be incredibly painful and human beings can be very mean, very, very mean. I don’t know why, but they can. And I and I think just the very simple. Everything’s gonna be okay. Which was one of the meditations that I used to soothe myself after my mother died. I’d wake up in the night unable to get back to sleep in sheer shock and severe anxiety. Just everything’s gonna be okay.

Everything’s going to be okay. Everything’s going to be okay.

Le’Nise: I can feel that mantra going through me now, everything’s going to be OK. If listeners want to find out more about you, The Lady Garden, The Happy Vagina, where can they find out more?

Mika: Pretty straightforward. I’m Mika Simmons and my handles on social media at @missmikasimmons, which I’m trying to change at the moment. I don’t think I should be a miss anymore.

The Happy Vagina is @thehappyvagina. So never forget the the it’s the most important part, the happy vagina.

And then Lady Garden Foundation is Lady Garden Foundation, which and that’s our handle on social media. And also, if you want to look up on the Web site in the Web site’s really great. It’s got loads of really interesting information, blogs from people who experienced these cancers, symptom checkers, you know, really informative Web site.

The Happy Vagina’s just got lots of fun stuff, really.

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

Mika: I’ve that’s such a nice time.

Thank you. You’re an amazing interviewer, I think.

Le’Nise: Thank you. 

Period Story Podcast, Episode 31: Maria Purcell, We Need To Learn About Our Menstrual Health From A Young Age

On today’s episode of Period Story podcast, I had the pleasure of speaking with Maria Purcell, the co-founder of the Hood, who recently launched their teen wellness journal (a period and mood tracker!), Girlhood: The Story. Listen to hear our conversation about Maria’s experience navigating her period as an athlete, her decision to come off the pill, how she used tracking to help her better understand her body as she was trying to get pregnant and of course, the story of her first period! 

Maria says she hid her period from her mum for a few months, because she felt that she could deal with it all herself and thought it was no big deal. Listen to hear how often Maria first thought she was going to have a period!

Maria’s experience as a student athlete shaped the way she thought about her body and her belief that periods were something that needed to be ‘dealt with’. She says that when she stopped taking the pill, she finally began to tune into her body and said that it was challenging because as an athlete, she was so used to being in control of her body.

We talked about how Maria started tracking what was happening to her body and how this helped during her fertility journey. She says that all the planning and tracking came naturally to her and helped her feel more confident and better about herself.

Maria shares how she lost her period at one point and what she did to get it back. She says that all the tracking and learning she did around her menstrual cycle and fertility eventually led to the idea to launch a journal for teens to help them understand their moods and eventually their periods, when they arrive. Listen to hear how she was inspired by her niece and how the journal helped them connect.

Maria says we need to learn about our menstrual health from a young age, so that we feel empowered and we understand our bodies. She says this will change the narrative and reduce the stigma around female health issues. Thank you for coming on the show, Maria!

Get in touch with Maria:

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MARIA’S BIO

Maria Purcell is a commercial business leader with extensive experience in the fields of strategy, growth, advertising, sales and marketing. She is committed to challenging traditional business models and ways of thinking, and to helping customers to find the solutions that work for them. With over 13 year’s experience gained at businesses like Facebook and Uber,

Maria is a results-oriented digital expert with a passion for all things tech. Maria has a Bachelor’s degree in Advertising and Media Production and a Masters in Design. A dedicated mother of 2, Maria was recently recognised as one of the Top 50 Sales leaders in the UK and is the founder of The Hood, who recently launched their teen wellness journal, Girlhood:The Story.

SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: On today’s episode, we have Maria Purcell. Maria is a commercial business leader with extensive experience of strategy, growth, advertising, sales and marketing. She is committed to challenging traditional business models and ways of thinking and to helping customers find the solutions that work for them. As a dedicated mother of two, Maria was recently recognised as one of the top 50 sales leaders in the UK and is the founder of the Hood, who recently launched a teen wellness journal, Girlhood: The Story. Welcome to the show. 

Maria: Hi. Thank you for having me. 

Le’Nise: So let’s get into the question that I start each episode off with. Can you tell me the story of your first period? 

Maria: Yeah. So my first period, I had my first period when I was eleven. And it was a pretty much a non-event for me, mainly because I was so focussed on something else that day when my period actually came. It was more of a “I’ll deal with that later”. I do think , I’ve been telling loads of people this recently and it shows my age as well. But 101 Dalmatians had come out at the cinema. And me and my mom had this thing because I had older brothers and sisters, but I’m kind of just always missed out on the stuff that they were old enough to do. When they were just old enough, I was still too young. So it was like New Year’s Eve. I think it was that everybody was out, you know, doing their thing with their friends. So my mom was like, okay, well, we’ll go to the cinema. And I’d been so excited about the fact, I love the cinema, I always have, I was just so excited, I was going to the cinema. I was like, you know, all day I was obsessed about it. And then just before we were about to leave, I quickly popped to the loo and then my period had started. 

And I was like, Oh. OK, no problem. So I got a pad because I shared a bathroom with two of my sisters. Got one of the pads, popped it in, didn’t say a word to my mom because I was like, I want to go watch this film. And I know if I tell my mom she’s gonna make a big deal out of it, we might not be able to go to the cinema. So I just completely didn’t say anything and just kind of carried on as per.  I remember having just terrible cramps in this cinema, but really focussing on the fact that I wanted to see this film, which wasn’t even that good anyway. But and it was until months later that my mom found out that I had actually started my period. And I remember she was just like, ‘oh, wait, what? Oh, my God.’ And she felt so shocked that I hadn’t said anything. And I, you know, was typical, typical young girl, ‘Yeah, right. No big deal. Get with it. Whatever.’ That was, was pretty much it, that was how I started. 

Le’Nise: Why did you wait so long to tell your mom? 

Maria: I think, to be honest, at the time, I generally didn’t think at the time it was that big a deal. 

I don’t know why I maybe because being with my older sisters all the time, I just knew I was going to come at some point. And also, yeah, actually, I also remember when I did have a conversation with my mom and she was like, ‘you know, you’re a woman and all this stuff is going to happen. Do you want to talk about it?’ And I was like, ‘No it’s fine. I don’t get what the fuss is about. I got the pads. Sorted it out. And then you, what I’m going to have to do this like once a year or something?’ And she was like, ‘what do you mean, like once a year?’ And was I like, ‘you know once a year, once every six months?’ And she was like ‘No, no, this happens monthly.’

And then I was like, ‘wait, what?’ And she was like, ‘yeah.’ And I was like, ‘to everyone?’ Yes. And everyone knows this. Yes. And I was like, ‘for how long?’ And my mom was like, ‘well pretty much for the rest of your life.’ What! And I remember being like, ‘Wow, this sucks.’

And at the beginning your periods are so irregular, right? You don’t really, you know, put it on, and it’s only when you’re like this is really rubbish now. So yeah, I think I was a bit like, what’s the big deal? Whatever. 

Yeah, very much realised. It’s a pretty important part of your life. Once a month, you know, for the rest of your life.

Le’Nise: And are your are your sisters older or younger?

Maria: Yes. Yeah. I’m the youngest.

Le’Nise: And part of your your confidence around your first period. Do you think it was also because your you had seen what your sisters had been doing? 

Maria: No, I hadn’t. You mean my sisters are actually talking about this the other day and I hadn’t actually seen what they were doing. There was no talk. There was no chat. I remember one time at the dinner table, my sister, you know, mouthing off to my mom. And my mom was just like, hey, just because you’re on your period doesn’t mean you can be a B. I remember the whole table being like ‘oooooh’.

Oh, really? have no idea why I didn’t. I mean, we’re all we’re a bit of a cocky bunch. Me and my sisters, you know, we’re pretty confident, you know, three Black females. All within a couple of years of each other in teenage years. Not a fun place to be for my mom, but confident about everything, to be honest. And also, I think you had that feeling back then that you kind of just dealt with it. It wasn’t a ‘let’s enjoy this. This is so special.’ This is it was more like, let’s just get it done and carry on with our lives. So I think that’s why I didn’t think it was such a such a big deal at the time. But yeah, no, I’m not sure why it wasn’t more of a more of a thing.

Le’Nise: And when you had that conversation with your mom and you, she told you that you get your period every every month. And how did you then get more education about what was what was happening to you? 

Maria: Well, I remember thinking and this is probably a common theme throughout throughout my life. I remember thinking how how is this such a big thing and no one talks about it? I remember being like, really monthly. And this to me, sounds like this is important. But I remember being like eleven, twelve, being like, what do I know I’m eleven or twelve. And and the first thing I did was talk to my friends. So the first thing I did was like hop on my phone and I text my friends being like, hey you started your period? I just talked to my friends about it and then I played a lot of sports. I was really, really into sports. So I think the people I was in the teams with, the girls I was with, teams, I think I relied more on the conversation with them because you’re naturally in the changing rooms. You know, you you talk about your bodies quite a lot because your you’re athletes. So I think it kind of came with them. And again, because of that athletic nature. Athletes are very much like, if I want my body to do something, I then have to do X, Y and Z. And I have to train this way. I have to eat this way so that I think athletes are just a lot more body confident because they understand what their body responds to. And so I think being in that environment helped me just have more open conversations with people. OK. I want to do high jump, but I’m on my period. Suggestions? People being like, yeah, yeah, just use tampons. And I think I graduated to tampons very, very quickly, which I think well, from the research that we’ve done from the from the book that we were looking at, for young girls, we realise that actually that tampons are not necessarily such an early entry product for this age, but for me and non-applicators tampons are also very much far down the line. But for me, it was like non-applicator tampons about three or four months in, again, because I just, I want to go swimming. And yeah, I think it was my network of friends like my my gang of girls I hung around with, they were they were the definitely the ones that gave me most information and even products. Right. So we build on that side shuffle of, you know.

Le’Nise: Do you think that playing sport, you said playing sports should make you more confident and athletes or female athletes are generally more confident? Do you think that that had and did it have any effect on your period? 

Maria: And yes, I think probably that’s why for a while they were maybe not as. Probably not as disruptive. I think to my everyday, because I think I had other things I was focussing on and like some cramps, for example, you know, a lot of people have really bad cramps and things like that. But I had bad cramps. But then I also had really bad muscle pain in general from playing sport like every single day. So I think I just kind of lumped it all in together. Which in hindsight, I wish I hadn’t done I wish I’d focussed on it more, but in my mind, I was just like, that’s just how it is, you’re an athlete and get on with it. And I definitely think I had a lot of girls that were in my kind of circle of athletes on. Funnily enough, actually, I’m not sure this is anything but none of my black girlfriends complained about it. But then I do remember, there was a lot of my white girlfriends, my Caucasian friends. They said they would have like debilitating cramps, that they couldn’t even come into school. You know, it was really, really bad. And I just I do actually remember thinking, like, why doesn’t that affect. I mean, you know, like Black girlfriends. Why does it affect this group of girls but doesn’t affect them? I mean, I can’t really explain it. And then that and they were all athletes. 

Le’Nise: And do you think that your Black girlfriends, they had them, but they just didn’t talk about them? They didn’t complain? 

Maria: Yeah, I think so. I think I because we’ve I’ve grown up with these girls and we talk about it now. We definitely complain about it now. But yeah, to be honest, I think there was a maybe in our culture there was more of a, kind of the things that you don’t really talk about or I think we’re Black females are kind of given this, ‘you know, you’re strong, you’re a strong Black female, you’re a strong Black woman’, you know. So I think that’s kind of rammed down our throats a bit more and we aspire to be like that. I know, I know I aspire to be like my sisters who are badass, very strong, physically and emotionally. So I think yeah, I think that definitely had an impact. 

And also, I think, you know, we just had other things to talk about. 

I don’t remember any of my of my friends having a day off because it was that bad or or not not competing or not playing sport because it was that bad. 

Le’Nise: And when you did you play sports all throughout school and then university?

Maria: Yes. So I, I, yeah, I did I did sport all the way through high school and then I, I kind of switched over from college into more dance gymnastics style and then at university carried on the gymnastics kind of element. So it was at the time it was it was called, competitive cheerleading, but it was the acrobatic style of it. So there’s a lot of being thrown in the air and wearing very tight spandex, that kind of stuff. So again, very physically intensive, which I didn’t stop doing until I was about 24, 25 years old. 

Le’Nise: So there’s a lot of research that shows that female athletes who do a lot of intense activity, especially gymnasts. They have issues with missing periods. Did you ever have that happen to you?

Maria: No, I didn’t have any, I didn’t have any issue with missing periods. I’ve always been very regular. Even when I was trying to conceive, even after having children, my body goes very quickly back to its kind of template of this is how we operate. So which I’ve been very lucky. Lucky in. 

But from for the ages of 15 to 24, 25. No actually, longer than that, 28. I think I was on the pill the whole time and that essentially meant no period for the type of pill I was on. I mean, I would stop and I would get a few periods and obviously they would come back with a vengeance. I would be like, oh my. So there’s a large chunk of my early days where I didn’t have this kind of. Appreciation or exploration of my body. In that my female health, I kind of again, just like, oh, it’s something to be dealt with. And oh, I can have a pill that stops it completely? Absolutely. With hardly any education around what I was taking, and really why I was taking it. And so when I got to 28 and then I stopped taking it. And then I started to really get into tune what was going on. And that’s when I’m to think about, you know, I was going I was getting married the next year and I was like, I know I’m going to want to have kids and I hope I can, my cycle goes back to normal, like quickly. But you hear those stories where it take years and years and years to get back to normal. So, yeah. Unfortunately, I didn’t I didn’t have much of that in my younger life, but just basically because it was in my my periods or something to be dealt with, periods were just something to move along and the pill for me at the time was the answer to that. 

Le’Nise: What made you go on the pill when you were when you were 15? 

Maria: So I think it was one: the no periods and that was a few of my friends was like I just take the pill and I don’t have periods and I was like oh, that sounds good, magical pill. But then also I think the all around kind of I guess it’s all kind of wrapped into one. But the whole education around, you know, sex and getting pregnant and all of that kind of stuff really is rammed down your throat when you’re, you know, in that age is like you have sex, you will get pregnant. And again, when I was there trying to conceive, I was like, that’s not the… But if you have sex, you will get pregnant. Here is a pill. Do something. And nobody wants to be carrying around like, you know, going in to buy condoms, just like sweaty, sweaty palms and asking the guy, you know, all about everything. A little classic narrative of like just being like ownership of your body and ownership of your sexual preferences. This wasn’t a thing when you were a teenager, you know, later on in your life, you’re like, hey, no glove, no love, so do one kind of thing, but you don’t get to have all of that. So I think the pill was also a way of all of the kind of female health, all of the kind of female reproductive stuff pushed to the side dealt with one pill. Go about my life, which is actually quite sad when you really think about it. 

Le’Nise: You you you’ve used that phrase dealt with. Deal with it. You just needed to deal with your period. When you came off the pill when you were 28, how did you transition away from this idea of just dealing with your period?

Maria: So I, I’ll be very honest. It took me a long time to actually. Well actually the reason why I came off my contraceptive was because I was like, I’m going to get married and I know I want to have kids. And my husband at the time was in the military. So he was in the Air Force and he moved around loads. We weren’t always together. So a few months at time, sometimes we wouldn’t see each other. So I knew that was it. I wanted to make sure that timing, if we decided, let’s go now, we could not, we didn’t have that luxury of time. So it was so uncertain of what we were doing that point. Let me just take off and, you know, fully in the next five years or so, then my cycle, be it. We’ll start to think about having kids, but actually the way the things that, life never kind of goes to plan, obviously but the way that things have kind of happened was that my husband shipped off to Afghanistan pretty much straight after we got married. So whilst he was away, we missed each other so much when he got back I was like I want to stop this now, I want to get on this baby making thing right now because we know it’s going to take a while. And, you know. I miss you and I want to get on with my life, and it actually was really difficult for us. And it took three miscarriages before I was able to successfully carry my, to term, my daughter, Bernadette, who’s four now. And it was at that point. That was the real kind of when the penny dropped. I was like, I don’t understand my body. And it was a real struggle for me because my as I said, like, I was used to being an athlete. And I I knew that if I did this to my body, it did this. If I wanted to learn a specific skill, I knew I had to practise and I would do it. I would get it in the end. So it was very disturbing for me to not be in control of my body and also to not understand it because I’m one of these people. If something’s going bad, someone something’s wrong. I’m very much like, OK, cool, but what’s the plan or how do we? What’s the formula? How do I deal with again or work around it. How do we find a solution? And yeah, there wasn’t one. And when I was talking to doctors, they were like, yeah, well you know, sometimes it just happens. I was like what do you mean, it just happens. Surely there are studies, surely there is data. And they were like, not really no. And I was like what? Could the pill have contributed to this? I’ve been on the pill for, like, however many years. And he was like, maybe. I was just like whoa. It was just such an eye opening moment for me, so I, I basically did what every kind of mom trying to conceive does and just go like headfirst into Google, Pinterest, anything that I could find of information. And I start to catalogue just everything from menstrual health to diet and nutrition to kind of mindfulness and anxiety and stress and cortisone levels, just everything. And very interesting. And I’ve never kind of looked back, but that was really the moment I realised, well, this is I’m never touching anything to put in my body ever again. I will never put hormonal. I’ll just never touch hormones, basically any kind of medical hormones. I did have to again when I was pregnant. But that’s a different story. But I was just like, what the hell? This is when you really read about what’s in it. Yeah, I was going through all of the type of things that you put into your the most absorbent part of your body. It was a real mind, can’t say the F word. 

I remember just getting so woke and really quite annoyed at myself. I think, you know, it took that to quite a horrible part of my life to actually start to listen and be interested in my own body. 

Le’Nise: But you know that that’s quite common. Typically, women who are trying to conceive. That’s a point where they come off the pill or they come off hormonal contraception and then they start to get more in tune with their natural cycle and know what menstruation actually looks like for them. What ovulation looks like. So you’re definitely not alone. But I want to just go back to what you’re saying about all of the kind of extensive tracking that you were doing. Was it kind of like an iterative thing when you would start to look at one thing and then you would keep on things on? 

Maria: Absolutely. I think. So obviously, when I first started tracking, I love as I said, I love planning. I just kind of put things together. As an athlete as well, you make a lot of training plans. You make a lot of that kind of stuff. So to me, I had like a whole binder, journals thing that I would like do and it kind of made me feel confident and make me feel better about myself that I was writing this stuff down. I could flip through it. So at first, I was like, when does my period happen? Like, that was kind of it. And then I was doing more reading and it was like, OK, what’s what’s the temperature? What’s your temperature changes? And I was like temperature changing, That sounds pretty militant, every day taking your temperature. But then I spent several weeks on cervical mucus. That’s a terrible word. Obviously, a man came up with that because it’s called cervical mucus. All right, cool. I’m going to have a look at that. And then it was my oh, this is my day of ovulation. OK. This is where I’m at in my cycle. And actually, it was, it was a means to get pregnant as well. It wasn’t a, cause I was interested in it. It was this is the means to get pregnant. And and then I had medical assistance to get pregnant and then I had to take hormones and things like that because they that’s what the doctors advised. Again, probably not something I would do again, but that was something that. And then that kind of through my cycle out of whack. And it was only because I’d been tracking it. And then when I took that, then I had to take quite a few different drugs. But when I took I really started to see how my body then went completely out of whack. And so then when I had these mood swings and when I was having, like, hormonal breakouts and all this kind of stuff, I really did start to connect the dots as to. Oh, this is what’s happening here. OK. And I could say to my doctor, no, this is throwing me out of whack. I know this because every month like clockwork, this is what happens. And I’ve missed this point. I mean, maybe take my little scrapbook and look and see what’s happening. And so, again, it was a means to an end to get pregnant. But then when I was pregnant and then I did have my daughter afterwards, then there’s a whole other kind of stuff of like, oh, my God, nobody tells you about all the other stuff that comes after the pregnancy and children and just how your body react reacts. 

That’s a whole nother podcast.  But what I wanted to do was get back to normal. So then I really started to more appreciate what that looked like in terms of how do I get back to being me? And how do I get back to being pre mom me, which never really happens. But in my mind, that’s what I was thinking. And my cycle, was a massive part of that, it’s a huge indicator of, yes, your body is now back on track. It’s not just thinking you’re here to feed and host another being. And that’s when I started to read more about just the cycle. Just just to kind if not not for a goal, not for anything else, just to generally know what to look for me. And how does that kind of affect everything else I’m doing? That’s really was the kind of, I’d say, the second inflexion point for me. 

And kind of getting getting into it. 

Le’Nise: And all of the all of the information and the tracking that you’ve done, have you? I know you have a younger child. Have you? Did you take that into trying to conceive your next child? 

Maria: Yes. Yes. No, I was very much. I knew that when my second child I kind of the goal was that I would love to not have to have, the medical assistance. I knew there was loads of things that I, linked with diet and things like that, that really, really helped me. The first time around, so about six months before I was even thinking of conceiving, I was like, I would need to get my diet in check. And the diet I was doing was a low sugar diet because I had a lot of inflammation. Again, I think from doing a lot of athletics and things, I had a lot of inflammation in the body, so reducing my sugar, really helped just tons of things. And then but that I really I noticed again, I was I was removing all the sugar and then I actually started to lose a lot of weight. And I think I got down to like the lowest I’ve ever probably been, like in my adult life. Just from just removing sugar, not really doing exercise or anything like that, but just removing sugar. And then my period stopped. OK. I was loving this diet I was on and it was giving me so much energy and I looked great and I was fitting into my clothes. It was cool. And then my periods stopped and I thought, whoa, that stuff is the messing with my body. And so then I started kind of easing up into when my period then started tocome back again. OK. But again, that’s like a whole new view on food. And what that can do and how that connects. So so I did take that into account. And I didn’t need the medical assistance to the same degree to to get pregnant. I did need it make much, much later on in the pregnancy and towards the end. But right at the beginning, it was we actually got pregnant accidentally. We were actually like, OK cool, we’ll have a baby, we’ll start at Christmas. I end up having my baby at Christmas. And again, I do put it down to the fact that one, I’d had a test from before and I knew what I was kind of doing this time. But also I was just so hyper aware of everything that my body was doing and not doing. And then like adding that extra layer of nutrition onto the tracking of what I was eating. So there was a lot of tracking. But that really did then help me find my my natural groove, I think. 

Le’Nise: When you say that you lost your period because you had cut out sugar, was it just like sugar, added sugars into food, or was it carbohydrates as well? 

Maria: Yes, carbohydrates as well. So it was first, it was like sugars into food. It was kind of like a process of elimination. So I was having blood tests done as I was cutting things out. We kind of we didn’t really know what it was going to end up looking like. But the nutritionist I had spoken to was just like the best thing to do is just start by process of elimination. And first, it was just like gluten. And I was like, what is gluten? And I thought, oh it’s in everything! But it was gluten, didn’t really have an effect, so I got the gluten back, which was brilliant. 

And then, yeah, it was like sugars and then it was carbohydrates. 

And then when it was with the sugars I saw, I did see a little step of there was like a reduction in my T cells, how they reacted and they just started to get a little bit less aggressive. So a lot of them and they were very aggressive and they wanted to take the sugar down to kind of chill them a little bit. And then when I took out the carbs, pretty much the numbers of them dropped and they just completely relaxed. So the levels of inflammation in my body started to kind of drop. The more I eliminated all these different things. But, yeah, like like I say, brain fog completely disappeared. When I got rid of sugar because I really suffered from that post, my first baby, like brainfog, I would be talking and all of a sudden it was like when I was like completely like two years later I was still doing it. So it was a really weird moment for me. But then the getting rid of sugar is like really, really helped. But then, yeah, I was eliminating, eliminating, eliminate, eliminating. Then I knew I’d gone too far when my period started to go very light at first and then a little bit erratic and then just it was like two months. I actually thought I was pregnant cause I started to think, well what’s going on? And I wasn’t pregnant. I was like, OK, let me just, I’ve lost a lot of weight. Let me just try and put some weight back on and see if they did.  

Le’Nise: What you’re saying is so interesting because, you know, there is a real, especially with women. There’s a real fear around carbohydrates. And I hear this a lot. You know, if I just cut out carbs, I’ll, I’ll lose weight. And this and that. But then what? A lot of people don’t realise just how important carbohydrates are for menstruation and a healthy menstrual cycle. So it’s really interesting because a lot of the research around this is actually being done on men. And so things like no carb diets and also like intermittent fasting. The studies are typically focussed on men and not that have not been done on women because the researcher say, well, it’s too it’s too comp complicated. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So we see lots of things saying, oh, well, the research shows say low carb diets are great. But that research is on men. Yes. Oh, yeah. 

Maria: Forty five. Forty five to forty five. White male. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. Yeah. So how long did it take you to get your period back? 

Maria: It didn’t take me that long, actually. It took me probably about two months or so, I’d say. I remember being really worried that I’d done some lasting damage, like oh God. But luckily, it took not that I think because I wasn’t training at that point in my life. I was exhausted because I had a three year old. But it didn’t take that long and I, I knew which dial to kind of amp up. I did very gradually, I didn’t just switch because I knew that would throw my body into craziness as well. So I did it by gradually, bit by bit. So I think that helped. Yeah, it took a couple of months, but I was pretty, I was four weeks in before I realised. And then so all in all, I’d say I had a probably a gap of about three months of no period.

Le’Nise: And thinking about all the tracking that you’ve done, your first and second pregnancy, did that feed in to the idea that you had for the journal that you’ve.

Maria: Oh, yes, massively. Yeah. So when my niece saw the whole the whole the story, it all came about because my niece got her period when she was nine. 

And my niece is very different, do you remember I was talking about that confidence that I had when I was younger with my sisters. We still have that, if anything has been turbo boosted as we got older. And my niece is very much not like that. She is not yet a force. She isn’t like, you know, kicking your arse and on your case. Which me and my sisters definitely were and are. But so for me as her auntie, I really wanted to connect with her anyway, just in general. I want to connect with her. And I want to be like I want her to feel that kind of like sisterhood. She doesn’t have any sisters. And it’s always been very difficult to reach her, so it’s been having to kind of kind of get in there without being like, you know, not cool or embarrassing. And I never had this problem with my nephew. You know, he’s like this is fine. But my niece, it’s always been slightly awkward. So when my sister messaged us and said, sisters, it’s happened, I was like, well, she’s not pregnant because that would be a national manhunt. 

And I said what she started her period and said, yeah, we were like, oh, my God. Because we knew it was coming. We could see me, my sisters. We could start to see the changes in her. Even then, we were like, now you’re all safe. So I knew she likes she loves drawing. She loves journalling, she loves like anime. And I love that. When I was younger, I love the drawing and the doodling and making characters and all this kind of stuff. And I also really love now. You know, the kind of mindfulness colouring that you can do and bullet journalling and that kind of stuff. So that’s really where and Girlhood came from, because I thought, what if I could try and make something for my niece that kind of doesn’t feel like it is a hey, here’s a book of periods. 

We all got that book when we were younger. It was like 70s style with full on full frontal nudity and you’re like, oh my God.  

And I didn’t what that. I wanted to give her something. What she was like, oh, this is kind of my half journal, half education. And that’s how we talk about it, part journal, part guide. And in there, the first thing we start with the tracker, is there is a period tracker that you can colour in. And again, just by the habit of colouring it and you start to see the shape, you start to see more visually what’s happening. I think not everybody is like a day ahead and not everybody is kind of doesn’t leadings to technology. And even on the period apps. I have a lot of period apps I’ve used and they’ve always been lacking that certain realness to me, it kind of feels like I’m just dealing with I’m just putting it into an app that I’m dealing with. I’m not really exploring what’s happening. So the we start we have this period track. But really, the emphasis in the book actually is the mood trackers that are there every month, because that to me is really the hormone signal. When you’re a teenager, those mood swings are so much more. If anything, I had more problems daily with my mood swings than I did with my period. My period was like, okay, well, you played. Here’s a product. Take some painkillers. Moods, there was there was no product for that. And that probably more shaped my relationship with my body, with my self esteem, with my confidence, which in turn then kind of knocks on to how I look at my my female anatomy and how I look at everything to do with being being a woman. So really, for us, the mood tracker, it was something we wanted to add as much opportunity to colour and see a pattern that is kind of aesthetically pleasing, but also feels like you accomplished something when you’re colouring it in. And that’s the mood tracker, it actually is more of the focus and the period tracker’s kind of like a you know, as an add on to the book. It’s in there, but the focus really is the mood tracker, because that will that will happen for months and months and months before your period actually starts. And we wanted. I think the best way to say is that when you talk to everyone, I’m sure you have, like six or seven people about the first period. It’s very rare I hear somebody say they were prepared for it and that it didn’t just happen to them. And most people’s first periods stories are absolutely hilarious. Like, I’ve listened. I don’t even know how many because Girlhood: The Story has loads of them included, some really cool women into that. We talk to a lot of people about their period. I’m known now as the period, the period lady because you know what happened. And they’re always hilarious. But at the time they’re pretty much mortifying or embarrassing. And that’s usually because they were unprepared or they hadn’t noticed what was like. They were prepared for it, that they hadn’t really noticed what their body was doing to go something’s about to happen. Oh, here we are. Great. And what we wanted was a journal that essentially somebody could give their daughter, sister, niece, friend before the period begins so that by the period of time the period starts, they can start to see.I think I’m going to start my period soon. And then when I do, I know all of this stuff already. And I know where to go. Like, there’s even a page in there about all the different period products, cups, pants, pads, tampons, because, again, you just I don’t want my niece to have to justdeal with it. 

And again, talking about period products. One of the most one of the most hardest things when you talk about periods is that you have to stick something in your vagina or in your pants. Yeah, I talk about blood, and that’s a lot of where the friction comes from about having these open conversations, because a lot of people can’t even say the word vagina. They don’t know the difference between vagina vulva, like all of that kind of stuff. And so we wanted to show that in the book. So it was just like it’s there. So my niece might. Well, now my niece doesn’t use tampon. She uses period pants and she knows, cool, I’m on my period I use these pants when I’m not my period, these pants. 

And how easy is that compared to the conversation you have with your parents were like, well, this goes here. And if you pick the leg up like this. No, it won’t fall out. It was, you know, kind of stuff. It’s just a lot more easier. So. Yeah. 

The tracking element really does guide through the book, but it’s wrapped in all of this kind of colouring and stories from other people and places for them to jot down their own story at the book. What’s your story? So they can remember it and maybe even show it to their daughters when it’s full of friends or whatever. So, yeah. And the tracking element, they’ll probably graduate to an app as well, which would be brilliant. But knowing a bit more about themselves before, because, you know, you put in a lot of data into those apps and you don’t really get much back from. Yes, it’s on Thursday. So you really get it. 

Le’Nise: I used up my Apple Watch to track my menstrual cycle and I got a notification that said your period is due in the next ten days. And I was just thought, like, how is that helpful?

Maria: Yeah. Thanks for that. Yes. In the future. Yes. Yes. So this plan. Yeah. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: Where can people find the journal if they want, if they listen to this and they’ve really connected with what it’s all about. Where can they find the journal? 

Maria: So listeners can’t see this right now. But I’m currently in the Hood HQ, which is the top of my house, and I’m surrounded by journals and books because they all arrived yesterday. So we actually did a Kickstarter campaign to kick off the Girlhood journal.

Because we made one for my niece. Right. But then lots of people said I want want one of these. 

And then we’re like, OK, well, let’s do it big over there and we’ll just do a Kickstarter and we’ll see. And that arrived at yesterday, which is fun for me. So you can go to We are the hood dot com. And on that there is the ability to buy the book. And it was pre-orders. But now, as well as of next week, it will be that you can order it and get it within a few days. And we’ll also be listing it on Amazon soon, that will be going off to a fulfilment centre soon. And also, on www.wearethehood.com you can download those two downloads. One is the book as a download, just if you want to get. A lot of people have their own binders, stickies and with washi tape and they like to customise things a lot. And there is also a lot more affordable, the printable. And so the actual journal itself is 20 pounds. We’re trying our best to get that lower, but we can only do that when we have volume coming in so that we can now. Our aim is to get it as low as we can, but it’s leather bound comes and three colours. Really lovely silk coated pages because we want this to be a special gift. Not the textbook horrible brown paper. We wanted it to be really lovely, but we did understand that there are people who like my mom with three daughters. 

She’s not about to whack out 60 quid on a journal. So we said, okay, well, here’s the five pound option. And also, it gives more people the chance to customise, add in things that they want. And then also we have a free downloadable, which is just the period tracker. So you can kind of get a taste of what that looks like. It doesn’t come with the stories or anything like that. It’s just like a one to print out on an A4 and start to play with, which we’ve had over 500 people download the free tracker. And about half of them have gone on to even buy the digital download or the book, which has been brilliant. It’s a great way to kind of start the conversation with your daughter or nieces, whoever is.  Hey, would this be interesting? Is this cool? So that’s all available. And wearethehood.com and it’s the only product that we have on the site. So it’s pretty easy to find but should be available soon as well. 

Le’Nise: And I’ll put all the links in the in the show notes. So if if listeners take one thing away from everything that you’ve been saying, what would you want that to be? 

Maria: I think, um. I think the biggest journey for me, having gone through this all myself, but then reliving this when we were building the journal with my co-founder and the team very much is I mean, education is power. It’s not covered off in our curriculum. So we shouldn’t rely on schools and teachers to have this conversation with the. 

And I think from a young age, if we care about what’s going on with our body, not just from our biology lesson or whatever, but from female health, if we can start to install that, hey, this is the kind of the way that you can self learn self teach. So it’s naturally embedded in all of us to want to know more about our bodies. Want to know more and take ownership of it. I don’t think it’s about sitting down and saying, OK, I’m going to give you a lesson now, OK? This is how it is. I think you should empower all women to want to know. It should almost be a, you know, as cool as knowing, you know, a different language or as cool as it should be, like. Yeah, I know. Or, you know, what the hell is going on. 

And I really think that’s how we change the narrative. Change the stigma around a lot of female health issues. . But I think just having that knowledge is, they haven’t read a lot of people be a bit too old for Girlhood now it’s kind aimed at more of the pre-teen market, but a book I’d really recommend it. I’m sure you cover this many times is Period Power by Maisie Hill and it is like my go to I had like a whole list, of a whole bookshelf of go to books for females like always like to reference. 

Like Becoming by Michelle Obama, Period Power by Maisie Hill and that one is really good because it’s again, it really does put you back into your shoes when you’re younger and your whole life going. That’s why I never fall. It really does help you to then get that hunger to know more about this. 

I’m not going to accept anything less than this, this and this. You know, empowering yourself, young girls to want to learn about their female health is probably the first step or the most important step, I think, in really making progress in this area and really starting to. Just build a more confident, more happier generation of women. Get a book, any book and start reading and start start learning. I would say, I guess if they’re anybody listening to this podcast, they’re already on that journey. 

Le’Nise: There’s a lot of women listening that will, or mothers. And she’ll have sisters and nieces and all of that. So everything you’re saying about education and empowerment, they’ll be able to pass that on to them, their generation. Thank you so much. Oh, OK. 

Maria: Sorry. Before just before we did, I just remembered this and actually so we had a load of teachers downloading our resources this summer and I reached out to one of them and I said, hey, you’ve got a book. You downloaded the digital version and you download this free planner. I’m not sure at this school. I’d love to have feedback. We’re trying to make some more resources for you guys. And she came out with a really useful information. I did not I wasn’t aware of. She said, actually, yeah, we were looking to put this in the curriculum next term because in PSHE it’s only PSHE has only just started to be mandatory in all schools as of this term, which I wasn’t aware of. I thought everybody had to do PSHE. And she said, and even then, the female health topics, you can choose what you teach. So which I didn’t know that either I thought there was like a curriculum, a set curriculum that you had to teach and that you had to teach PSHE. So it even more so I was just like, whoa. So a lot of parents, I think, assume this stuff is covered off in class. And it’s really important when you’re talking to teachers, when you’re looking at schools for your kids. Ask them if, you know, if you want to, ask them, is this covered off? Because if it isn’t, then that’s on you to really go out there and make sure they have it. And if it is. Have a look at what they’re teaching. Because that really that I mean, it’s very hard to undo. Have a look at the resources.

There was a mom’s group on WhatsApp that someone shared our book there and all 50 of the moms bought the book. And they will put the book because they were like, I’m not taking this into my own hands. I’m not leaving this. They do not teach us in our schools. So they got it. And they all just boom done. And it was so empowering and so cool for me to see these these mothers just just taking it into their own hands and being like, we are not leaving this up to anybody else to educate our daughters. It’s so important. So it’s, I think if you come across that really it’s something that needs to be addressed, that this absolutely should be taught, there’s no reason why this shouldn’t be taught in biology. There’s no reason why this shouldn’t be taught in PSHE, and there should be a really good framework for what’s put into schools on this. That’s just the other thing that I learnt that I think I learnt about a month ago. I thought I knew everything. And then I was like, what? And that’s just something. For all the moms out there. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, I didn’t either, but it was mandatory as well. So that was very eye-opening. And I think that I don’t think that parents should be leaving this to the schools. And that I mean, that’s a whole other topic about the taboos around this. But having a conversation early and often. So your children, even your your sons as well, because they need to know know about this. I talk to my son, about this because they need to be comfortable and they need. It’s about helps them connect with their own their own bodies and minds. 

Maria: My husband, he’s been a he’s been going through that. But I mean, he’s been surrounded by period stuff now. 

Actually, Shawna’s dad had an amazing relationship with her around when she started her first period. And he was actually the one that was showing her the products. And as well as my sister, he was there, too. And I think that also kind of made a big difference for her. But we’ve had a lot of dads buy the book as well, because they’re like, this is great I have no idea how to just start the conversation. This is just a great way to just give it to them and say, hey, I thought you might like this. And by the way, I’m here if you want to talk about this kind of thing. And so we’ve had such a great response for dads as well, because it’s just so nice and easy. And, you know, just lovely way to start that relationship off of your daughter who’s all of a sudden kind of become, you know, into their teens. And, you know, who don’t want to talk to you very much. 

Yeah. It’s kind of a good tool to start the conversation. 

Le’Nise: Brilliant. Well, I definitely will be recommending it to all my friends. Thank you so much for coming on the show. It’s been a real pleasure to hear your story and hear more about the journal. I’ll put all links in the show notes so listeners can find out more about where to get their hands on the journal. Thank you. Thanks again. 

Maria: Thank you very much for having me. It’s been great. 

Period Story Podcast, Episode 30: Trisha Barker, Stick To Your Guns And Fight For What You Want

On today’s episode of Period Story podcast, I had the pleasure of speaking with Trisha Barker, a life coach who helps people manage and overcome imposter syndrome. Listen to hear our conversation about Trisha’s endometriosis journey, how she fought for a diagnosis, how she manages the endometriosis pain, how she’s incorporated menstrual cycle awareness into her day to day work life and of course, her first period.

Trisha says that when she was shocked when she first got her period. She had a stomachache and thought to herself: “Am I dying?”. Her mum was there to reassure her and explain to her what happened. Trisha says that she felt really embarrassed and ashamed about what was happening to her and it took her until her forties to get past the shame.

Trisha went on a long journey of trying to deal with her heavy and painful periods, for years using the pill to do this. She eventually decided that she didn’t want to be on the pill because she didn’t believe it was good for her health. After she came off the pill, her period pain boomeranged back.

Listen to hear what happened when Trisha tried to get the bottom of what was behind her excruciating period pain and the moment where she refused to leave her GP’s office until he gave her a solution that didn’t involve more pills.

Trisha explains that coming off the pill helped her connect with her menstrual cycle. She says she wanted to be back in tune with her own body. Trisha shares how she was able to spot patterns through her menstrual cycles and adapt her work accordingly.

Trisha shares some advice for people struggling with imposter syndrome and the key questions they need to ask themselves to move past it. She says that we can ask ourselves better questions and start to find evidence to prove that our imposter doesn’t know everything. Trisha says that when you change what you believe about yourself, you change how you show up in the world. Thank you, Trisha!

Get in touch with Trisha:

Website

Instagram

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TRISHA’S BIO

Founder of the Imposter Syndrome Solution, Trisha is a Life Coach and NLP Practitioner who is on a mission to help people stop doubting their abilities and believe in themselves, so they can thrive in their career and life.

Trisha’s work brings together her training as a Life Coach and NLP Practitioner, a 20 + year career in Human Resources working for some of the largest FTSE 100 companies in the UK and her own personal pursuit of dissolving imposter syndrome and focusing on her personal wellbeing.

She works with organisations and individuals to help them understand how Imposter Syndrome is impacting their business and careers, whilst helping them to build a toolkit to manage and overcome Imposter Syndrome.

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: On today’s episode, we have Trisha Barker, founder of the Imposter Syndrome Solution. Trisha is a life coach and NLP practitioner who is on a mission to help people stop belittling their abilities and believe in themselves so they can thrive in their career and life. She works with organisations and individuals to help them understand how imposter syndrome is impacting their business and careers, whilst helping them to build a toolkit to manage and overcome imposter syndrome. Welcome to the show.

Trisha: Hi, thanks for having me.

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

Trisha: Yeah. A little bit of a blur. I can’t remember the exact age. I think it was about 11 or 12. So very, I see that as a young age to start. And I’d been at a friend’s sleep over. It was a friend’s birthday. We’d all gone to have a sleepover. And I remember having really bad stomach pains. But I didn’t want to leave because it was this party. But in the end, the girl’s mum had to ring my mum to come and collect me. I went home and just thought I had a stomachache. And then I actually went to the toilet at some point and saw blood. And I remember at the time, thinking, “Am I dying?”. Well, I, I if if I was taught about periods beforehand, at that moment in time, I didn’t remember any of it. Like I just didn’t know what was happening to me. And I remember calling my mum and my mum coming in and saying, “it’s OK, you’ve just started your period, here are some sanitary pads.” And that was my literal experience.

Le’Nise: So your mind just went blank in that moment?

Trisha: Thinking back now. I’m not sure whether it went blank or I’d never had. I can’t remember whether we touched on these subjects at school. I can’t remember ever having a conversation with my mom where this was normalised for me. I can’t remember. I just remember at the time being so shocked that I thought I was dying. 

Le’Nise: And then what happened after you got over your initial shock? 

Trisha: We just didn’t know, in the house, and it’s really weird because I was brought up in a house full of older sisters, just so it wasn’t a subject we spoke about. You know, I was given the sanitary towels, told it would happen each month, and then that was it, really. And then you just carried on. And like I said, I was quite young. So starting to have periods at a really young age at high school was quite a horrible thing. Like it was. I felt so shameful. I don’t know whether other people feel like that, but you’ve got this thing that’s happening to you and you don’t really understand what’s happening. And you’ve got to go around your day to day thing. We know that actually the energy and how you feel at that time, you don’t really want to be going out there into the world, but you’ve got to go out. And back in those days, it were really big, fat, thick sanitary pads. So you’re trying to wear those in your school uniform and you had a skirt on, so you felt a little bit like vulnerable. So, yeah, it’s just I just remember that at that time in my life, I just felt like they were horrible and I felt really embarrassed and shameful about it.

Le’Nise: How long do you think it took you to get over that shame? Get past that shame?

Trisha: Oh, till I was in my forties. Oh, yeah. Because I think you go from school, then you go to college or whatever career path you take, and then you go into the workplace and in the workplace, it’s still a thing that we don’t talk about. I always say this to people. You know, you used to put your Tampax up your sleeve to go to the toilet, you just, in the workplace, it’s another taboo subject. So in school and in the workplace, it’s just as women we’re trying to hide this thing that happens each month. We’re trying to be, peppy, you know, and act like our energy is high when actually we feel really low in energy. And yeah, I just think it’s this whole thing until I was in probably my 40s and started to understand about periods, then that was it. I just I will talk about it to anybody and everybody know that. 

Le’Nise: I want to go back to what you said about you growing in a house with your mum up in a house with your mum and your older sister. But it wasn’t really spoken about. Why do you think that is? Why do you think you didn’t have that? That those conversations? 

Trisha: It’s an interesting one. I’m not really sure because we are very open about lots of subjects. 

I don’t know whether it was the time. 

Whether it’s the education now that I think it’s so important that we should be talking about these subjects. I just think it was the time that we just didn’t talk about those sorts of things. I don’t think there’s any particular reason why it was avoided. 

No, not sure. 

Le’Nise: You didn’t really have the conversations at home and you said that you didn’t really remember being taught about it in school. So how did you learn about what was happening with your body? 

Trisha: Really to really understand what was happening again back in my 40s. When I spoke to my mum, she told me that I would have a period every month and I would bleed for a few days. So once it started to happen, we had that conversation. She did tell me that. That’s all I thought it was. I thought there was this period of time that I would bleed each month and that was it. But never do we really understand as a woman what happens in our body each month and what are the different cycles we go through in that moment. You know, every woman who I speak to now, they know about the maybe PMT, before they have a period, they know about that period. And that’s it. So I think even anybody at any age, the education of what happens to us women is really limited. 

Le’Nise: So for you personally now, you know, you’re talking about going beyond what happened during period and that week before. Yeah. What was that light bulb moment for you? Or was it more of a gradual kind of learning about what was going on? 

Trisha: Yes, I think for a long time, I sort of masked what was happening in my body, so when I was I would say late teens, the pain I used to have with my period and really heavy periods when I was at that age. My mum took me to the doctor and the doctor decided to put me on the contraceptive pill because that would be a really good fix to stop that happening. So for a long period of time, I didn’t have that natural cycle. It was being driven by a contraceptive pill. So for a long period of time, you get out of sync with your body, don’t you, because you’re not really in tune with it anymore. And I wish now we would have said, no, that’s not the reason. That’s not the solution to the problem. Let’s find out what the problem is. So for many years, I used the contraceptive pill. It was only sort of, I would say, in my mid to late 30s, I decided I didn’t want to spend so much time on the contraceptive pill. It’s not, I didn’t think it was good for my health. And that’s when I really started to feel again, what happens each month? And I went to the doctors. I remember it was about, about five years ago, still having these horrendous pains are trying to, you know, I had a job where each month I was just hoping and praying that I wouldn’t be out and about somewhere because the pain was excruciating. Like, I’ve never had a baby and I’ve got a really good pain threshold. But that first day of my cycle is horrendous. The pain is so intense. Nothing stops it. And I went to the doctor and interestingly, again, tried to give me a pill. Well, we’ll give you an anti-spasm. And I was like, no, there’s something. I want to know why my body’s doing this. I don’t want the fix. I want to find what is the root cause. And I had to really push, really push. She was having none of it. And I ended up getting referred. And in the end, I went through this whole process of different tests and I had endometriosis and I probably had it when I was a young girl. So that sort of sparked me into this whole, I need to know more about my body, like, how have I missed this all this time? And hindsight’s a wonderful thing, isn’t it? But I think that sparked this whole interest. And I was chatting to someone about after, I had an operation for the endometriosis. So then I didn’t have the pain each month. But then I was chatting to someone about I felt like I was really full of ideas last month, last week. And I felt like I was really on top of things. And this week I just feel a bit sluggish. I don’t know why. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, thinking there was something wrong with me. And she said, “Have you ever learnt about your cycle, your monthly cycle? And she recommended a book to me. And that’s when things started to change for me. So that was that was only like three years ago. Like, you know, I’m at a stage of my life where I’m not going to be. I’m moving into the stage where I’m moving towards the menopause. I wish I had known this earlier, but, I look at it now that I know this magic now and I didn’t know it before, but at least I do now. 

Le’Nise: Going back to the pain that you were experiencing as a teenager. Yes. And then going on to the pill. Did the pill, you used the word masked. Did it feel like the pill masked the pain that you did you experience any pain or?

Trisha: No pain, took it away completely.

Le’Nise: OK. And then once you came off the pill, what was it like that transition of the pill to then having natural cycles and really and then experiencing the pain again? 

Trisha: I think I felt much more emotional because, you know, I think for me on the pill, you don’t get those different fluctuations in the hormones, so you feel the same, all month long. And I remember coming off, I just felt a little bit like all over the place, like, should I just go back on it? Because I feel really bizarre. But I remember just thinking, let’s just ride through it and see what happens. I want to be back in tune with my own body. I don’t want to be taking this forever. 

So, yeah. I remember at the time. Just feeling a lot of the feels like what’s going on with me? 

I’m a woman and that’s what was going on with me. 

Le’Nise: And getting that diagnosis of endometriosis so far into time that you have that you have your period getting that. How? How did you. You said that, you know, you wish you had known earlier, but how did that information impact, did it impact your day to day life or was it a feeling of, OK, now I know what’s going on? 

Trisha: I think it’s the same with a lot of things, it’s just nice to sometimes have a label to understand what is going on. I think, you know, you go to see a doctor and you’ve got a 10 minute slot to explain what is going on with you. The majority of the time it’s a male doctor who doesn’t under really understand, they might know it from a medical point of view, but from experience in it, they don’t understand it. For me, it was just nice to, now I know what’s been going on, and I felt really proud actually that I’d fought to find out what was happening, rather than accepting another prescription of another different type of pill to mask the pain. So for me, it was a relief. It was a relief and a relief that actually I could, I had surgery. That was the thing that helped me, unfortunately, it has come back so I’m experiencing it again. But at the time, it was just nice to be heard and listened. The surgeon that worked on the endometriosis, he was like, “this is what I think you’ve got. And I am the only person who can find this. Any of the tests that they send you for will not work.” It took to speak to that specialist, to have that conversation about my body that everybody I spoke to along the way kept saying there’s nothing medically wrong with you. 

Le’Nise: And you said that you had, so you had the surgery and then but now it’s come back. Did you change anything after you had the surgery? Did you did you change anything in your life or did it make the way that you approach your life any different? 

Trisha: No. It just gave me, maybe not the fear. So sometimes, like I said, I was working in a corporate job at the time and I could be up and down the country. I could be in a really important presentation day. I never knew what was going to happen. And so that fear was I always wanted to try and work from home my first day of my cycle. So I think when the when I didn’t have the endometriosis anymore, I didn’t have the pain. So then I had this freedom of well, it doesn’t matter where it happens. Like, yes, I would prefer to be able to hunker down and, you know, feel into the slowing down energy. But, yeah, the fear disappeared because it was OK to be out in public and not worry about having to handle this pain situation that I wouldn’t have. I remember once driving along in my car when it started and I couldn’t drive like I couldn’t focus on driving and managing the pain and I had to pull over and wait for it to go. So I didn’t have any of that anymore. Like it was. It was such a freedom. 

Le’Nise: And and now that you said that the pain, the pain has come back, so. Yeah. Is it as bad as it was before? And how are you managing the pain? 

Trisha: I would say now it’s worse, when it does come back so. How do I manage it? Nothing seems to work like I’m very fortunate. I don’t know. I don’t think anything in life is a coincidence, but it always seems to work on a day where I don’t have much, I don’t have any client work or it’s a weekend day when I have no plans or actually I cancel the plans if I have got plans, now, I honour my cycle and know that I just need to rest. But yeah, I need to go back to the doctor’s. But until we can go back to having doctor’s appointments. But yeah, that’s one of the things that I need to push for because they all get into a point where, yeah, it’s really effecting me. And then because the pain is so bad, I’m exhausted for a couple of days afterwards because of the trauma of going through the pain, but also the sometimes that the pain is all through the night. So I miss a night’s sleep. 

Le’Nise: So we’ve had on the show we’ve had three or four guests with endometriosis and a theme that has run through all of the conversations about their endometriosis, no matter what stage endometriosis they they have is this idea of being their pain or their experience being minimised or dismissed by health care professionals and feeling like they’ve really had to fight and advocate for themselves. What would you say in that in in that sort of theme, what would you say that your experience has been? You know, you mentioned the word fight earlier and to fight for a diagnosis. Can you talk a bit more about that? 

Trisha: So when I went to, the doctors, they were very much of the mindset of you’ve got that 10 minute slot, I will give you a pill to fix the problem. And I took that prescription the first time, tried them when my monthly cycle came round again the first day of my period. I tried these tablets. They did not work. So I went back again and I remember him trying to give me a different prescription. And that was at the time that I just thought, this isn’t the solution. You’re trying to give me another, I don’t like taking prescription drugs unless there’s a real need for it. So I think that sort of pushed my decision that I don’t want to take these tablets. And I just thought, this is not the solution. I need a different one and I just pushed. You know, I remember sitting there and just said, I’m not leaving. I need you to refer me to somebody else. I don’t want to take tablets. I want to get to the bottom of this. And I remember I was just quite forceful in the meeting. Like in this 10 minutes slot that you have to refer me. I think he was just shocked. 

And he did. 

But even when I went to see different professionals throughout the whole of that time. They couldn’t understand that I could have pain without heavy periods, like I wasn’t having a heavy bleed, so I saw about three different people before I saw the surgeon who did my surgery for my endometriosis. But each different person who I saw, they were adamant that there was nothing wrong with me, but they just kept trying to tell me there’s nothing there. But I had this just sense of knowing that this is not this is my body. I’m not masking it with any drugs or pain relief. I know I had, I just had this sense of knowing that. This isn’t normal, I know. And I know there’s something wrong and I will get to the bottom of it. So I feel very fortunate that that happened for me. And. When I saw that final surgeon and he said, “yeah, I think you’ve got endometriosis”, it was just like just this massive sense of relief that someone was listening, that I was probably right, that actually there was something, there definitely was something wrong in my body. And there was a male doctor. That was understanding what was happening in my day. It is incredible. 

Le’Nise: What do you think it took for you to be able to fight for yourself in those moments? You know, you mentioned the moment where you wouldn’t leave the surgery until they referred to what poor preparation did you do for yourself in that moment? 

Trisha: I think you just get to a tipping point where enough’s enough. Like. 

Like. 

All the different pain relief you can take. You just decide that that’s not the solution. I think that’s when I decided I don’t want to keep trying to try all these different drugs. That’s not you know, I work a lot through the coaching to find the root problems of what why different things happen. So, again, it’s back to the root cause that’s what’s going to fix something. All of the prescription drugs, all it does is. Like I said before is mask it. So I just went I just as I I’m going into this meeting and I’m not leaving until I’ve been referred. I’ve got a ten minute slot and you need me out of here as possible. So I’m just going to try it and see what happens. And thankfully it worked, so just stick to your guns and just fight for what you want. 

Le’Nise: I want to switch gears a little bit and talk about how you said that, now you honour your cycle. And you mention how through coincidence or not, on the first day of your period, you are able to shift shift gears a little bit and stay at home or stay close to home. Talk a little bit more about what else you do to across all of your your menstrual cycle to integrate that and how you’re feeling energy wise into your work and the rest of your life. 

Trisha: So I like I said, someone recommended a book to me, which was Code Red by Lisa Lister. And that explained that actually what we’re taught very early on about, you know, we have this period of time where we bleed. I learnt that actually I have all this different magic that happens throughout the whole of the month and in different phases. You know, I learnt about there was a spring, a spring season, summer, autumn, the winter and in each of those, there’s different things happen in my body and different energies that I’m going to get. You know, I’m going to be masculine energy, feminine energy. It’s like a light bulb went off. I was like, we should get this at school. We should understand where we start our periods, what actually happens the whole of the month. So I started to. You got a download to track. So you just start to track on the first day of your bleed, and then you just started to notice what’s happened in my body each day. How am I feeling? How do I feel workwise? What’s going on in my head? I just started to track it. That’s the first thing I did. So I did it for the first month. And then the second month I would sort of look at, say, just pick a day. Day eleven where I might feel a little bit flat. And I’d look back at the chart of the month before and look at day eleven and realise, oh, actually on day eleven and I feel a little bit flat. So I started to realise that there was different energies that I was feeling in those times. So then I started to put the dates of my cycle alongside the diary that I have. So now it might say it’s the, you know, the twenty third today, but it will also show that I’m on day 11 of my cycle. So now when people are asking me if I can do things like I’m moving into perimenopause now, so my ability to plan as well as I did, so for about the last 18 months, I’ve had the same regular cycle. So when somebody asks me to do something, I think, where am I in my cycle? So I know that in autumn and winter I’m a little bit more in my feminine energy. So things might feel a little bit like I don’t feel as sociable, especially when I’m in my autumn. Being able to talk and communicate is a little bit more difficult. I struggle to find the words sometimes and articulate what I’m wanting to say. So I found that spring and summer was the times that I’m more sociable. Great for doing things like this. Speaking to you and delivering workshops, all of those different things, I realised that there was different energy like in all of those different times. There’s a time for planning. There’s a time for getting shit done. There’s a time for accepting invitations to socialise and do all of those fun things. And I started to just experiment with it. Like you can’t always do it. You know somebody, if somebody is running an event, you could say, well, I can’t do it because I’m going to be winter. But. I started to say, yes, I would do certain things, and if somebody asked me for a social thing, I’d think, well, I’m in summer now, so I’m dying to say yes to this because I’m in that energy where I want to be around people and be sociable. But when they want to meet with me, I know that it’s gonna be winter and I’m not going to want to feel so sociable. So it helped me to start to say yes and no to things I thought were right for the energy. And that worked wonderfully for about 18 months. Now I’m moving into a phase where my cycle isn’t as regular so I can have a 25 day cycle, I can I have a 29 day cycle. So the the ability to plan has gone a little bit. But I still use that. I still try and guess as much as I can. And the beauty is I will then go and tweak anything afterwards if then my period comes early. I then look at my diary for the week after and think, is there anything I can move around to make sure that I am using the my energy in this week in the right way? So yeah, it’s just for me. Like I said, I found this out at such a late time in my period journey that I. I wish I had known before about it. Like I said, hindsight’s a wonderful thing. It’s been the most amazing transformation for me. Instead of guessing what’s wrong with me, why can’t I do what I could do last week? Why is my inner critic really loud at the moment? Now I just go, Oh, I get it. It’s my hormones. It’s OK. It will pass. This isn’t me. This is my hormones. And ever since that’s happened, it’s just like this huge sense of relief. 

Le’Nise: It sounds like you’ve learnt to really be tender with yourself. 

Trisha: Massively, massively. I recognise that we we work in a, in a society that has been designed for men, you know, the working day is designed for a man, the 9-5 is based on the man’s body clock, like we are trying to fit into a man’s world. And we we want to be treated equally. But we have to recognise that we we have a difference like what happens in our bodies is different. And there’s magic in that. Like, if we can work to our cycle, we can be much more productive. We can perform better if we work with that energy. But we can not be in this masculine energy all the time to hustle, the pushing, always being switched on, always being a hundred mile an hour. We can do it, but there’s a consequence to it. Now I know that there’s a flow between the masculine energy and the feminine energy. I just try and honour it more and just always when I feel it in a funk or I’m feeling like I just, don’t have ideas today or I can’t find my words, I ask myself, where am I in my cycle? I just ask myself all the time. Yeah. OK, that makes sense. Most of the time is down to my hormones. It’s just where I am in my cycle. 

Le’Nise: It’s amazing how when you start to tune into what’s happening to your body, you learn so much more about yourself and you move away from this idea of dealing with your body and dealing with what’s happening to your body to have a better understanding and maybe not embracing it, but being more understanding of yourself. I just wanted to just talk, for listeners who don’t know some of the terms that Trisha has used. So she’s talked about the summer, winter, autumn and spring. So those are the different phases of the menstrual cycle. And so winter is when you have your period. Spring is when you come out of your period with a follicular phase. Summer is ovulation and then autumn is the luteal phase. So this is the kind of terminology that some people use to to describe the different phases of the menstrual cycle. And it’s a nice analogy for what’s happening across the seasons. 

Trisha: That really helped me Le’Nise, because I could think about, well, what happens in winter. Well, animals hibernate, like nothing grows. It’s a really quiet time for reflection in the shorter days. So for anybody listening, it’s really good to start to track that and think about what happens in nature, because that’s what happens in those light, how cool are women’s bodies like we go through four seasons of nature in one month. I just think it’s the coolest thing ever. 

Le’Nise: I really wish that we had been taught this in schools or that there was much more emphasis on this in the schools because we spend so much time fighting it. You mention feminine energy and masculine energy and we spend so much time in this, especially when you have your own business, hustling and this kind of feeling like you have to work 24/7, never let up when really, you’re, this is not the way that our bodies were designed. We are designed to have rest. We are designed to be able to take our feet off the pedal a little bit and kind of tend to ourselves. And I do love the fact that all of these conversations are starting to become, yeah, maybe not mainstream, but these conversations are starting to happen more openly. 

Trisha: Definitely. And it’s interesting. I love to talk about this subject. You know, I had a career in HR for 22 years in corporate companies that would not want to talk about this subject. And I love, I find this companies now that are interested in talking about these subjects that we haven’t spoken about before. And I hope that this is a shift starting to happen that we need to have these conversations. We need to help women in the workplace. Harness this magic as their monthly cycle. Like, let’s get out of this hustle and male masculine energy all the time, because I do think that drives our health. Like if we asked if our bodies designed to rest at a certain time, but we’re not honouring that, then it’s going to show up it it’s going to manifest in some shape or the other. And I do think it will come out in your health in some way. 

Le’Nise: Absolutely. I want to talk about your work as a coach specialising in imposter syndrome and how perhaps some of the learnings you’ve gained about yourself over the last three years have tied into or fed into the work that you do with clients. 

Trisha: Yeah, so I’m obsessed with talking to women about their cycles. So if if I have a client that has been, you know, they’ve made real progress, but then all of a sudden they’ve got a day where they’re feeling like really doubtful. The first thing I asked them before anything, what day what day of your cycle are you on? I do it with my friends as well. But I’m always asking people, where are you in your cycle? So I’ve I’ve been able to to carry on whilst it’s about, you know, my specialist subject is imposter syndrome. That’s why you’re doubting your abilities. Actually, there’s times in your cycle and where your hormones affect that. So there’s there’s two times in your monthly cycle where it will be louder than it normally is. And if you can start to understand that actually this is just because of your hormones. So I’m constantly asking my clients. I encourage them to track their cycle. And I actually don’t believe everything that you think, like this moment in time, don’t be making decisions because this isn’t the perfect time to be making decisions, because you’re being more led by your hormones right now. Maybe we can park that and come back to it. So I think it’s just for me, it’s given me a way to be more in tune with my body. And I encourage my clients just to do exactly the same. To start to understand what is happening with you personally. And yeah. A lot of the times it’s where they say. I just don’t feel it this week. And it’s not it’s the week of their cycle. You know, they’re having their bleed. And I’m like, so how are you going to build some rest in. Your body doesn’t want to be going a hundred mile an hour right now? So, yeah, I definitely talk about it with all of my clients, but also the people that I just speak to on a day to day basis. 

Le’Nise: So you said that there are two points in the menstrual cycle where that inner critic, that self-doubt that it would be louder. Is it right before the period? And in the first couple of days of the bleeding?

Trisha: So it’s when you go into your spring. So if you think about spring, everything starting to come alive. And that’s when it starts to become like you’re wanting to move into getting things done and making plans and bringing things to life. That’s when it pops up. So I always say to people, if it pops up in spring, say, go away, you can come back in autumn. Now’s not the time. I haven’t got time for you right now. So come back in autumn and then we’ll have a chat in autumn. So, you know, kind of push it, to, I’ll have an appointment with you to come back in two weeks. We’ll have a chat then. Autumn is when it is at its loudest. You know, you get into your comparison. Should I be running my business? Should I go and get a job? Should I quit? Is my work as good as everybody else’s? That really good idea that I’ve been doing. Maybe it’s not so good. You’ve just got to watch. You’ve really got to be mindful and look at it. What’s going on with my thoughts this week? Because that’s all they all, we don’t have to believe everything. But that’s normally what happens. I know that if I start to doubt anything and I think, OK, well, that’s what’s happening now. But because my hormones are driving this, let’s look at this so I schedule some time for the week after when it’s out of autumn into winter and I think, or spring. Let’s have a look at this decision then. Is it still the case of most of the time it’s not.

Le’Nise: It’s interesting, what you said about that inner critic popping up in after you finish your period as you go into spring. Yeah, because you you start to your oestrogen starts to rise again, your testosterone starts to rise. And perhaps, I never really had looked at it this way before, but perhaps, you know, that that growing of kind of feeling, lots of ideas, starting to feel more creative. Back being back in your body, that can be a bit too much. Yeah. Your brain for some people, the brain wants to put the brakes on that a little bit like, whoa, whoa, whoa, let’s calm down here. 

Trisha: Yeah. Because our brain is basically, it needs to keep us safe. So if we’re thinking of pulling ourselves out in the world more or being more visible at all of the things which is wonderful in this spring energy, our brain goes, well, this is a bit risky. This doesn’t feel safe. And it wants to put you back in to that comfort zone. And even if you’re miserable in it, stay where you’re safe. So it is it’s it’s it’s very interesting and it’s good that you put it like that. But it’s linked to certain hormones increasing, which is growing. So we want to grow naturally with that. And our brain goes, no. Let’s keep you safe. Let’s get the inner critic putting you down and hopefully you’ll listen to it and keep yourself safe. But you’ve just got to, like I said, just not believe everything you think or tell your brain. Like I said to my brain, sometimes it’s OK. I am safe. If I do these things, I will still be safe. Thank you for letting me know, but I’m OK. I’ve got it. So I chat to my brain and let it know because it, it, it deals like sometimes you can get frustrated with my inner chatter. So horrible. But it is designed to keep you safe. It’s trying and it’s got the best intentions. It’s just not helping you. So you just got to try and do it sometimes like you chat to a friend. 

Le’Nise: Talk a bit about imposter syndrome and why you decided to specialise in this area. 

Trisha: So imposter syndrome, I experienced it for a huge chunk of my life. Now when I look back probably from about the age of 10, I can link experiences of how I experienced it right throughout my corporate career. I had a really successful corporate career. And now I look back and think I missed it all because I was constantly waiting for someone to tap me on the shoulder and go, no you don’t belong here. You shouldn’t be here. You’re not as good as we thought you might have been. Your work isn’t up to scratch. We’re going to have to replace you. Like the whole of that time, I had that niggling in the back of my brain. So when I went to trade as a coach and I kept saying, you need a niche, you need you need to have something that you specialise in. I was looking around thinking I don’t know what it should be. And only through working with a coach, she would say, well, talk to me about what you experienced in the workplace. And I was like, yeah, well, I had all of this going on. And she said, that sounds like imposter syndrome. And I Googled it and I was like, yeah, that’s how I used to feel, wow. And thankfully I’d done lots of personal development and work on myself. So actually, I helped to move myself out of it. Like, I still experience it now, like I’m a recovering imposter. It still comes back every time. Like you said, every time I try and grow and elevate, it’s waited. Whoa, let’s keep you safe. And again, I’d I’d spent 22 years working in the corporate world where we didn’t talk about these things. There was no one I could like. I worked in HR. So there was no one I could go and speak to. But I knew people weren’t coming to me and saying, I’m really struggling with my own self-worth or my stable, my confidence. We were always training people in time management and customer service skills. We weren’t talking about the real stuff that sits underneath us as a human being that helps us thrive more in the workplace. And I was just thinking I experienced this. And I still experience it. You know, the intensity is mild now compared to what it used to be. So I will always be able to resonate with my clients. I’ll understand the journey they’re on. I’ll understand the workplace and how hard it is sometimes to battle with imposter syndrome, while you’ve got all the external factors going on, so I can resonate with that. I will always be working on it myself. And like I said, I’d just like to sort of push the boundaries of the workplace. Like, if we can start to talk about this, then maybe we can start to tackle it from inside the companies as well. A lot of people come to me one on one, but they’re paying for that themselves. But what if companies started to invest in, starting to tackle these things, it’s happening in the workplace. They can avoid it. But if you start to tackle this and let employees know that actually lots of us experience it and we can talk about it and we can look at tools and techniques that we can put in place and reviewing their systems and their processes, because a lot of companies, the way they operate. Actually, it’s a breeding ground. So if you can look at all your policies and your procedures and your ways of working in. You can also change things to help people thrive and overcome their imposter syndrome. Yes. It’s just to me, it’s this big mission of not just helping individuals, but how can we change this whole subject? How can we stop this taboo thing that we all so fearful of letting everyone know that we doubt our abilities? What if we just had these really open conversations? And it’s so wonderful if I do a workshop, you know, the relief that people feel that they’re in a room full of 40 people and then they realise that actually most people in there have those same sort of thoughts going around in their head. It’s such they realise they’re not alone anymore. So for me, it’s just this whole passion of a mission of just just changing the way that people think in their heads, but also that being able to transfer into businesses as well. 

Le’Nise: I interviewed someone earlier in the year who said that imposter, her imposter syndrome. It actually motivated her and it helped her not to get comfortable with where she was in her business and her career. What would you say to that? What would you say to people who say that well actually, imposter syndrome isn’t necessarily a bad thing? 

Trisha: That’s OK as long as it’s from a healthy point of view. So what I find sometimes is people say it helps me to push myself. It helps me to overprepare for things, make sure that everything is right. But you can fall into the trap then of perfectionism and overworking and having, you know, flaky boundaries. Like you’ve got to look at what is driving me. If it’s a good, healthy driver. But what I find sometimes is that you overwork. And what is the reason you’re overworking? You’re over working to prove that you’re good enough. So as long as you get to, is it a healthy thing, that imposter syndrome is giving me that absolutely. Hold onto it. I’m not saying get rid of it. I’m saying minimise it. But if you find it’s holding you back in any way and or it’s making you feel in a negative way or your negative chatter in your head or your behaviours are unhealthy, then tackle it. But if you’ve got a healthy relationship with it, I’m not saying let go of it. But it’s still definitely back to the, is it healthy for me to be constantly over checking and overpreparing things? You’ve got to ask yourself these sort of questions. I can’t answer for an individual. For me, I don’t think that personally healthy, because if I do that, then I’m not doing other things or it’s encroaching into my time where I should be resting, having fun or spending time with loved ones. I think you’ve just got to do a bit of an analysis on. What’s good about it? 

Le’Nise: Yeah. What you’re saying is so interesting, because I definitely say that I have some imposter syndrome, like less so now because I really, really feel like the work that I’m doing. There’s a place for it and it’s important. But definitely when I was working in advertising, I was running a massive account. I was travelling all over the world. But I still had this feeling of this gnawing feeling of, well, you know why, I shouldn’t be here? Why, oh, why am I? Why am I this person? But now I know that, you know, when I go up and I do, I give workshops or do presentations, I know that I’m supposed to be there. They’ve been, I’ve been asked there for a reason. And I know this is the work for me. What would you say to someone who. You’ve given so many amazing tips to people who are feeling imposter syndrome and it’s holding them back. What would you say or your number one tool or piece of advice is for someone who feels crippled by their imposter syndrome. 

Trisha: I think one of the first things I always found, journaling worked really well for me. That’s where I started my journey. And interestingly, I just started writing about what I was grateful for each day. It wasn’t actually even about myself. But because I started to look for things that were positive in the day, started to help my brain rewire and look for positives, and then I just started to journal about, instead of asking the questions, what’s wrong with me? Which is it? You know, we don’t know, but that’s a terrible question because our brain is designed to be, to look for the negative. So if you say what’s wrong with me, your brain is like a loyal servant, it goes, oh, I’ll tell you what’s wrong with you. I’ll give you hundreds of things to tell you. You’ve just got to start asking better questions. So I started to think, you know, I’m a coach, so that that’s what my job is to ask questions. So I thought, what better questions can I ask myself? So I started to. Write down these questions and start to write down the answer, and I find when you get out of your head, like when you just allow your thoughts to go round around in your head, it’s like you give them momentum. It’s like you give them power. And they the negative ones just they sort of like linked together. It’s like a big necklace you’re wearing. But I find when you put pen to paper. It’s like you’re letting that little, I call it like your inner mentor, you’ve got this inner voice inside of you that really knows what you’re good at. Who really believes in you. When you start, I found when I started to write things down, I was quite surprised about, oh, I, I can I write. I have got these skills and yes, I have got these strengths and I started to chip away at the belief that I had for me really all all imposter syndrome is it is a belief that you don’t belong. A belief that you’re not good enough, a belief that you’re not smart enough, a belief that you’re not cool enough to be in this space. A belief that you don’t know enough. It’s all driven by what you believe and your thoughts, your feelings and how you behave is driven by that belief. So you’ve you’ve got to tackle your beliefs. You’ve got to start to question what I believe in. Is this still useful for me right now? Like you’ve said, you’ve got to sit down and go, what are all these beliefs that I’ve got about myself? And I do that with my clients. You know, we we go on a treasure hunt, finding all these beliefs that are driving their thoughts, their feelings and their behaviours. And then you’ve got to start to break those down. And if you start to change what you believe about yourself, like you said, if you start to change how you show up in the world. So even if the first thing you do is just start to ask yourself better questions and write down the answers and start to find evidence to prove that your imposter actually, doesn’t know everything, might think it does, but it doesn’t know everything. And I bet you will have every single person I have never met anybody who doesn’t have skills, knowledge and experience that actually proves that the imposter isn’t right. But I think sometimes we’ve got to also recognise that actually we’re in an environment that can, like I said, can make us feel like an imposter. I was the first person in my family to go to college and work in the corporate world. So I was the first professional in my family, so I didn’t have a role model. So this is how careers go. I was the first one in my family. I worked in a real male dominated, white, male dominated environment. So lots of spaces you you go into was the first person and you don’t always feel like you belong. So it’s our own internal thing. We have to teach ourselves that no matter what the external is telling us, that we have to tell ourselves that we do belong in these spaces. 

Le’Nise: We do belong in these spaces. I think that’s really powerful as a kind of affirmation. I belong. We belong. I love that. If listeners take one thing away from all of the wonderful things that you’ve said on the show today, what would you want that to be? 

Trisha: I would say learn about your cycles like it’s been one of the most precious things that I have discovered in my 40s. So if you’re in your 20s or your 30s, even if you’re in your 40s, it’s good to know because you are surrounded by women in your life. You can help the next generation. We can stop this from happening to women of my age. But let’s stop it. Let’s make sure that we’re teaching the next generations about the magic of being a woman, about power and the energy that we flow in that cycle. If we know that that can change the way that we are. Let’s stop trying to be masculine energy all the time. Let’s. I hate the word hustle. Let’s just not let’s not talk about trying to be a man. Let’s focus on being women, because we are special. We have got something special to offer the world. Let’s use those hormones and all of that energy to drive that. 

Le’Nise: Brilliant. Where can listeners find out more about you? If they want to tackle their imposter syndrome, where can they find you to do that? 

Trisha: Yes, sir. On my Web site, it’s www.trishabarker.com. They can look there. I spend time on Instagram where I’m doing IGTV, et cetera, where I share more stuff around imposter syndrome. Lots more tips and tricks and techniques. That is @theimpostersolution over on Instagram. 

Le’Nise: Brilliant. Thank you so much for coming on the show. I really enjoyed our conversation. 

Trisha: Thank you for doing this work for someone to be getting people like me talking about this. Your your you’re making things happen, you’re changing what it will be like for the next generations. 

Le’Nise: Oh thank you so much. 

Period Story Podcast, Episode 29: Sabi Kerr, I Love Me As I Am Right Now

On today’s episode of Period Story podcast, I had the pleasure of speaking with Sabi Kerr, a self-love coach and yoga teacher. We had a beautiful conversation that got me a bit emotional at one point! We talked about Sabi’s journey on and off the contraceptive pill, the importance of accepting and sitting with ALL the emotions you feel, toxic positivity and moving away from positive vibes only and of course, Sabi’s first period!

Sabi shared the pride she felt when she got her period and how grown up she felt. She says that the conversations she had with her mum and her friends about periods were really open and accepting. How great is that!

We spent time talking about Sabi’s journey with the pill. She went on the pill when she was around 17, 18 years old and only came off it in January this year. She says she was sure that there was a bit of disconnect between her and her period and coming off the pill was her way of changing that.

Sabi had never had any issues or side effects from taking the pill. When she deciding whether to come off the pill, Sabi says she asked herself if she still wanted to be putting it in her body. She was moving back to London from Bali and felt it was the right time to make this transition.

Listen to hear about Sabi’s transition off the pill and what she learned about her menstrual cycle, including how she was able to make space for her emotions and find the permission to accept herself as she is. I confess that I got a bit emotional when we talked about this!

Sabi shared some beautiful affirmations and a mini practice to help name the emotions you feel. Sabi says that to truly love ourselves, we need to start where we’re at. Thank you, Sabi!

Get in touch with Sabi:

Website

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SABI’S BIO

Sabi Kerr is a self-love coach and yoga teacher. She guides women to fall deeper in love with themselves and release the blocks they have to feeling worthy, so that they can create magical lives full of passion and purpose.

Through 1:1 coaching, workshops, yoga, retreats and group programs, Sabi’s mission is to guide as many people as possible back to their natural essence: a place of deep self-love, self-acceptance and joy.

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: On today’s episode, we have Sabi Kerr. Sabi is a self love coach and yoga teacher. She guides women to fall deeper in love with themselves and release the blocks they have to feeling worthy so that they can create magical lives full of passion and purpose. Through 1-2-1 coaching workshops, yoga retreats and group programmes, Sabi’s mission is to guide as many people as possible back to their natural essence, a place of deep love, self acceptance and joy. 

Welcome to the show.

Sabi: Thank you so much for having me. 

Le’Nise: Let’s start off by getting into the story of your first period. Can you share with us what happened? 

Sabi: Yeah, I was thinking about this before I came on. I actually had a chat with my mum and to see if we could piece together the memory together because it was obviously quite a while ago. 

So I was around 12. And my mom remembered this, I didn’t. But it was at home and it was just in the toilet. And I called her in to have a look. 

And I do remember feeling quite, quite proud. Quite grown up. Quite like, I probably like, oh, I’m growing up with the grown up thing to have. 

So I think my feelings around it were feeling proud. Feeling quite happy. Feeling like I was probably like I’m you know, I’m more or about those kind of feelings. So yeah. I was. That was it. 

Le’Nise: Why do you think that you’ve felt so grown up?

Sabi: I guess it’s that that kind of transition when you’re you know, I was around 12. So about to be a teenager. So already that’s the kind of age where you’re starting to feel more grown up. Right. When you when you hit 13, it’s like, oh, I’m kind of a teenager now. So because it was around I was 12. It was around that age. I think any anything in life that happens that make makes you feel a little more grown up. And I guess having your period is one of those things. You’re no longer you’re still a child, obviously. But you associate that with something that a woman has, I think when you’re younger.

Le’Nise: And when you got your first period, you took your mum into the bathroom with you. What was her reaction and how did you how did she educate you about what was happening to you? 

Sabi: Yeah. So I can’t remember her exact reaction. But knowing my mum, I know it would have been quite an encouraging, like, oh, yay. Like, I don’t think she would have said well done. But it would have been quite encouraging and quite supportive. And obviously, she saw that I was feeling quite feeling quite proud about it. So I think it would have just been quite encouraging response she would have given me. 

Le’Nise: And then I guess you would you would have gone back into school and talked about it with your friends. How did they react? 

Sabi: It’s funny how many of these memories are clearer than others, and I haven’t got a particular memory, I just have a feeling. And I think the feeling that I had at that time was, yeah, this was something I talked about with my friends. I think probably some of them had already had theirs. Some of them hadn’t. I remember it being something that I spoke about quite openly with my friends in quite a neutral way. Like it wasn’t that it was great. It wasn’t that it was bad. It was just this is your period, you know. So, yeah, I think I remember speaking to friends about it and being quite an accepted thing to speak about. 

Le’Nise: That’s so interesting because the guests on the show, they’ve shared different reactions about getting their period and their conversations with their friends. And some some of them have said it was there was a lot of secrecy around it and they didn’t want to talk about it. But then others, like you, have said it was an open conversation. And actually, one guest I spoke to a couple of weeks ago said that it was they all thought it made them really cool and everyone wanted to be a part of the period gang. 

Sabi: Yeah, that that and again, these memories aren’t like that clear, but I feel like mine is probably more something like that, probably more, probably like feeling proud, feeling grown up, probably feeling cool was in there too. 

Le’Nise: And that feeling of being proud of your period, has that has that continued as you’ve gotten older, as you went through your teenage years and gotten older? 

Sabi: Yeah. Maybe not. Maybe it’s been an interesting journey, actually. I think after then, I think I probably just saw it as something that happened, you know, just something natural, something I didn’t really give much thought to. I saw it as something kind of neutral, not not nothing terrible, but also nothing in particular to celebrate, just something that happens. For me, it’s been a real process because I went on the pill when I was young, around 18, 17 even could have been until just recently came off it. And I’m 31 now. So around 13 years. It’s a long time not having a natural period. And that’s a long time, you know, suppressing something that’s a really natural part of you. So I think because I haven’t had hadn’t until now had a natural period for so long, there was I’m sure a bit of a disconnect between myself and my period, because it wasn’t a real period. And I knew exactly what was coming. I knew exactly how, you know, it was everything was kind of clockwork. I could stop when I whenever I felt like I could take another path of pills. 

So there was something there about around not fully celebrating it and coming off it. What month are we in now, June? About six months ago. I came off at the beginning of the year. 

And it’s amazing, kind of really getting to know your body better and feeling like now I feel like I can actually celebrate it, you know? And that wasn’t really there before. 

Le’Nise: Wow. So there’s so much I want to ask you. So can you talk firstly about why you went on the pill when you were 17, 18? 

Sabi: Yeah. Just for contraception. Just because that’s so. I didn’t have any. It wasn’t. No. Wasn’t any of the other reasons that people go on the pill, which aren’t contraception, it was purely for contraception. And just for that, feels like the easiest contraception to me. And I will say that my body was absolutely fine on the pill. I had no no negative side effects. Nothing bad happened, which was probably why I stayed on it so long. Because I never I felt absolutely fine. So yeah, so that was why I started going on it. 

Le’Nise: OK. And can you talk a little bit about why you decided six months ago to come off of the pill? 

Sabi: I think it had been a thought in the back of my mind for a while. I kind of thought, do I still want to be putting this into my body. Do I still want to have my body in a natural state continuously? Is it really needed? And that had been, that had been something that had been going on in the back of my mind for a while. But because my body had worked so well with the pill, I’d had I’d never had any. To my knowledge, right. To obvious knowledge, I’ve never had any side effects. Nothing had ever gone wrong. So it was just very easy to continue to take it. And I think that was probably all actually there was a worry of like if I stopped taking it, what might happen? Because you hear all kinds of stories about people coming off the pill after a long time and their bodies not liking the moment they come off. So that was something that was there for me as well. But I think it just got to the point of, like, now is the time. 

There’s no reason for me to continue. Like, this is a good. And I’d also come back to London from from Bali. So I felt like I was in a kind of safer place from a medical point of view, if I need to to the doctors or anything like that. So, yeah, it was kind of like, now is the time. 

Le’Nise: You had a very smooth time on the pill and then the transition off of the pill.  So can you talk a little bit about the last six months and how that transition has been, but also what you’ve started to learn about your body? 

Sabi: So many things. So firstly, I think my transition is, I don’t know. You will know more than me, actually. I only really know from my perspective and from what I’ve heard. I was worried about coming off the pill because I’ve heard, you know, horror stories about how hard it is for people. Actually, for me, it was the smoothest transition ever. I got my, you know. It was so much ever since coming off the pill. 

My cycle’s been 27 days, 28, 29, 30, in that space. Straight away. Straight away. So that was I was surprised. I wasn’t expecting that at all. At all.  Obviously, really happily surprised that my body was able to to go to that natural space so, so quickly. 

And feeling actually not that different. So it was like all of me, like feeling surprisingly like, oh, this was way easier than I thought it was going to be. What other things do I remember noticing? I remember noticing like that, the blood seems different. Like, oh, this looks like real blood now. Almost, I don’t quite know how to to sort of to describe it almost redder, almost just like almost just like how blood is supposed to be. 

So that was something funny that I remember noticing.

And I think what the most beautiful part of the last six months has been is tracking my cycle and making more space for all of my emotions, which is something that I do anyway. And a big part of my my work as a self-love coach when I’m working with clients and also just my personal self development work is really to welcome in all emotions. It’s to welcome in all of the things that I’m feeling and see that they’re all part of us and accept them and love them. And when you track your cycle, it gives you an even even more of a reason to do that. Yeah, I’m feeling like this. Like this is my hormones. This is how my body works. And it gives you even more permission to accept yourself as you are. To love yourself, and however, your emotions are each day in that moment. So I think that’s been a really, really beautiful process. And it’s been really aligned with what I try to practise anyway. So I’ve definitely really enjoyed that. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: What you said is so beautiful about, accept yourself as you are. I just I love that. I actually feel a bit emotional hearing you say that, because I know that that is a journey that a lot of people go through and perhaps they never get to that point. You you said that you’ve you’ve always been really aware of your emotions and you’re open to how you feel. Have you noticed, as you’ve been tracking your cycle over the last six months, any change in your emotions as you go through each of the phases? 

Sabi: Yeah. I need to put it all on a spreadsheet and do some data analysis. Which is something I have been planning to do. I haven’t got round to doing it yet. Sometimes I feel like I have, I’m still quite, you know, it’s quite early on in my tracking my cycle journey. 

Sometimes I find it challenging to know if this is my hormones or this is just what’s going on in my life right now. But a general feeling of the kind of. 

Yeah. Like the spring, summer fades, feeling more productive and being able to do more things. I think I think I’ve noticed that. I’ve definitely noticed that. And then when like moving into the autumn when and I don’t always feel crappy, you know, but if I do feel really crappy and I know it’s that phase in my cycle, that almost gives me more permission to be like, it’s okay. You’re having you’re having a crappy day like, that’s absolutely fine. It reinforces that that’s okay. 

Le’Nise: I think that’s really nice that you’ve been able to say to yourself, you know, that’s OK, and that it’s almost like not giving in to, you know, whatever kind of negative side, because I know that a lot of a lot of people, they they expect to feel bad when they get their period or right before they get their period.  And they you know, in that sense, I think it’s something that we’ve been taught that we just need to fall into this kind of abyss, is too strong a word. 

But this kind of feeling of, oh, I feel really down. I feel really negative about getting my period and how I feel right before my period. And I love the fact that you’ve given yourself permission to say that’s OK. 

Sabi: Yeah. Yeah. That’s OK. And sometimes I feel great. And that’s great too. And I think it’s it’s accepting whatever is without having to expect that you’re going to feel a certain way. But knowing that it’s all it’s all welcome. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: You seem very in touch with your emotions and very self-aware. And as a self-love coach, that’s something that you work with other people on. Can you talk a bit about your journey to getting to this place of openness and awareness? 

Sabi: Yeah, I think I see anytime you have things in life that are challenging, you know, any any moments that trigger those and the emotions, the kind of the shadow emotions. So so if you have if you think like the joy, the happy, the excited, the energetic, those are all the emotions that that we like to label as positive. Right. Positive. And the emotions like anger, the sadness, the grief, the frustration, we label them again, air quotes, negative. And we as humans really like to label those emotions as positive and negative. But I think what that does is it takes takes us out of, like, just the human experience to know these aren’t good or bad. They are all part of the human experience. And when we push away the so-called negative emotions, we push away a big part of what it is to be human. So I think my personal practise has been the times when I feel those more challenging emotions. So, you know, any life experiences that might trigger them. Anything that can happen that feels that feels quite challenging might trigger the anger, the frustration, the sadness, the grief, rather than bypassing them, rather than trying not to feel them, rather than rushing to the joy straight away, rather than numbing my emotions with food, with TV, with drugs, with all of the numbing mechanisms. Can you actually be with them and can you actually allow them and make a little space for them? 

Because it’s you know, it’s like anything that cliche of things often cliche because they’re true. The cliche of like you need to move through them to actually come out the other side. So you need to make space for them. So that’s something that I do personally and work with one to one client. And so I have like a little mini practice that maybe I’ll share. 

Of like actually naming the thing that you’re feeling. Making some space so you can take this as a little ritual or a meditation, naming. 

You can close your eyes, naming the feelings, the emotions that you’re feeling, the anger, the frustration, the sadness, whatever. 

And then, you know, just stay with them. 

Close your eyes, breathe there. Notice where in the body, you’re feeling that anger, that frustration, rather than pushing it away. You can say it’s safe for me to feel angry. I’m making space for myself to feel angry right now. 

And I love the parts of me, that are feeling angry. And that is that is like deep self love. My self love will never be positive vibes only. Self love is about welcoming in every single part of ourselves, including the part that feels angry, including the part that feels jealous. So I’m making space for that. Breathing there without the need to rush away, to push it away and sit there for as long as you need. You know, five minutes, ten minutes, an hour. Sometimes those strong, challenging emotions kind of dissipate by themselves just by sitting with them. 

Sometimes we need to actually release that can be like. Shaking the body, that can be punching a pillow, that can be screaming if you’re in a safe place, that can be like journalling it all out and releasing it with paper onto paper. Yeah. That is such an important process. I think for all humans to realise that these are welcome. And actually, when you welcome them in not wallowing in them, not like wallowing in them. But when you welcome them in and make a little space for them to be felt, that is actually how we get to the joy quicker anyway. You know, the actual actual real deep joy there. Don’t bypass those more challenging emotions. 

Le’Nise: Yeah, I, I love what you’ve said there because it, it’s something that we, we get taught like just don’t be angry, don’t cry. 

You know, you think about it like I think about and I actively do this with my son. 

I say, you know, it’s OK to cry. It’s okay. I know you’re angry. It’s OK to be angry because I remember when I was younger, you know, I was taught, you know, why are you crying? Don’t cry. It’s, you know, stop crying. 

And and I you know, I never cry now because I but when I do cry, it’s always like I am an ugly crier because I feel like it’s because I put I hold so much in and there’s so much to get out. And I actively say to my son, it’s OK to cry. It’s OK. OK, you want to scream right now, you can scream for, you know, a couple of minutes and then let it go and then you need to stop. But we get taught that we have to tamp down our emotions. Especially, as women to fit into this space and we make ourselves smaller and naming the emotions and sitting with them is so it’s different but it’s oh it’s just, it’s so, so powerful. 

Sabi: Yeah. It really, really is. I love what, I love what you just said about. Yeah. Making ourselves smaller by not expressing them because those are parts about our truth you know. Yeah. Those are parts our truth too. The angry parts, the frustrated parts, the sad parts. And we don’t allow ourselves to express them, we’re we’re shrinking our voice. You know, we’re we’re not allowing all parts of ourselves to be to be seen, which can be such a proud, uncomfortable, but really, really empowering when you start to welcome in all parts of your of your being.. 

Le’Nise: You said about how you don’t like, you’re not about positive vibes, only. Talk a little bit about this toxic positivity and what you see in the community, the coaching community, and also perhaps because you’re also a yoga teacher. Also what you see in the yoga community. 

Sabi: Oh, my goodness. Thanks for asking me this question. 

This is such a great question because I’m actually I’m doing a [IG] live tomorrow on the topic of spiritual bypassing. Which is which is just the right. Positive vibes only, like I think the initial intention was good. It would like to make people feel better, which was always a great thing to kind of want and aim for. 

Right. We all want to feel better. 

But the the challenge with positive vibes only is that it makes us feel bad if we don’t feel positive vibes all the time. And it’s like, guess what? It is human to not feel positive all the time and to to make people think they have to be positive all the time is to deny a big part of our human experience, which is all of the emotion. And if you’re positive vibes only, that is saying you have to deny every single one of the more shadow emotions, you know, and then you don’t get to express a big part of who you are. 

And yeah, so on. And that is a big part of spiritual bypassing this this idea that we can use spiritual concepts and terms and words like love and peace and light to bypass the actual real real issues and things that are going on in the world. To bypass the real injustices, to bypass like the the real challenges that people are having. And I see that a lot in the spiritual community, in the yoga community, the preaching of love and light, but then actually bypassing looking at the real issues of how I can really help people. The current racism issue is one of those examples, right? Yoga communities, wellness communities preaching love and light, but actually not doing anything to help the people that really need really, really, actually need help and that have been going on for, like, ever, you know. The spiritual industry is is commercialised now, it’s a moneymaking industry, and I think I struggle with the disconnect between the front facing message of love and light and peace. And then behind the scenes, lots of people not actually doing their real work to actually help people. So, yeah, it’s such is such a big topic. I think now more than ever, for our industry to really look at more. 

Le’Nise: What would you say to someone who they hear what you’re saying and they get that they need to, there’s a place for being angry. Feeling sad. But they they’ve said, actually, I don’t, I really connect with the positive vibes only space idea. But, you know, I just you know, I just don’t want negativity around me. 

Sabi: Yeah. And what I would say, why is anger negative? And this, again, come back to a human like inherent nature of impacting things as positive and negative. I would say, why is anger negative? Why is sadness negative? You know, why is grief negative? I think even just labelling them as negative gives us that connotation that they are bad. And, you know, most people feel like I’m one of the smiley people that I know. Right. I smile all the time like I’m a again, air quotes. I’m a positive person. 

But I’m a positive person that knows I can’t bypass the real stuff, the deep stuff, the shadows stuff. 

So I think anyone that says I just want to be positive vibes only I don’t want any negativity. If they’re then bypassing these more challenging emotions. There’s some stuff deep inside of them that needs to be looked at. A lot of the time. And, you know, the thing is, everyone is on their own journey. Right. 

And it’s not my responsibility, your responsibility, anyone’s responsibility to to make people see things until they’re ready. You know, it’s everybody’s individual responsibility to see the things going on in their lives when they’re ready to see them. And I think that it’s important to to remember as well. We can only do our own individual work. And most people will see the things when they’re when they’re ready to see the things. Yeah. Right now, maybe they’re bypassing because they just aren’t unable to hold space for themselves yet. Who knows? 

Le’Nise: What do you think about the idea that right now we’re going through a great awakening? 

Sabi: Mm hmm. Yeah, we really are. Wow. We so are. And I think. It’s interesting. I don’t know how you feel like being a woman of colour, at a time when so many white people in our industry are awakening to what’s going on with race and with racism. I know for me it feels like. Most of the world is just waking up to what I’ve known my whole life. 

We knew this and you didn’t listen to us. It’s that feeling of like. But that is great. You know, I’m I’m I’m glad it’s. It’s better now than never. And I’m glad that people are finally starting to realise it’s saddening and frustrating what had to happen for people to actually wake up. 

But I’m glad and I’m hopeful. It feels like this kind of a shift hasn’t happened in my lifetime that I’m aware of, you know. So I’m hopeful that more people are doing really important work. More than ever before. So, yes, there is definitely lots of lots of waking up going on. 

And I think that can only be a good thing, but it needs to be continuous. You know, it is like it needs to be something that continues to be looked at. 

I think especially on the topic of racism, it’s like this is not just a let’s do some education for a week and then go back to how we were before. It’s like there is no back to normal. There is no back to normal. This is the new normal. This is a new way of living. This awakening is welcoming in for a lot of people, a new way of looking at the world. And I think that’s what we need to realise that. We’re, yeah, we’re starting a totally new way of living. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: A new way of looking at the world and connecting with the way that a lot of people have already seen the world. And I think it’s really sad that it took these videos of Black death. Black pain for people to open their eyes and see what we already knew and have known for a long time. 

But I really I’m hopeful and I never would have used that word before. 

But I do feel hopeful that this change continues to make people evaluate the way they speak, the way they think about things. And I think, you know, just looking at the industry, the wellness industry, the industry that we both work in, I think there’s a lot of change that needs to happen. And hopefully people are open to that change happening. Yeah. I don’t want to go too deeply into diversity in wellness because I feel like it’s something that, you know, I. I am sure that you’ve been on a diversity in wellness panel. I definitely have. And I would love it if it just stopped being a conversation and just been a thing just to become a thing that people actually do. But I just want to ask you, what are the three things that you think need to be done in the wellness industry to make real change? 

Sabi: Yeah. Firstly, before any of the change happens, people need to know why they’re actually making the changes. I think this is the most important thing. I know. I’ve I’ve shared a lot of things and I’ve said a lot of things. And and maybe what I haven’t said enough, is that before, you know, like having women of colour on your podcast is great, having more people in teaching and yoga classes is great, looking at your teacher trainings and the teachers that are on there, the people that are coming, offering them bursaries. If they’re, you know, a person of colour like all these these things are great, but a very, very, very but, is first of all, this list is not exhaustive. It is not a checklist. And most importantly, you can’t do all those things without actually doing the education first and understanding why you are doing these things. You know that education starts with reading a book. It starts with going to a webinar, but it continues by hiring someone that is trained in diversity in wellness that can continuously, continuously help you or your company do that. So it continues by you hiring and paying a person that is an expert in this area that can help you and your company. And I think that’s that’s what needs to be a continuous thing. The education and the consulting and paying of people that are experts in this area to help you to implement all of the other things that need to be done. 

Le’Nise: I want to shift gears a little bit and go back to talking about the work that you do, because it’s so interesting. I’ve never I’ve never actually met a self-love coach before. So talk a little bit about why you decided to go into this particular area of coaching. 

Sabi: Yeah, so I was definitely. So I did a diploma in transformational coaching. And I’ve done lots of other other types of work beforehand. But I’m a yoga teacher as well. And as I was trying to get more specific on my niche, you know, I was like, I know I want to work with women. I know I want to help them transform their lives, I know I want to help them feel more empowered. And as I was wanting to get more specific on my niche, I realised the links, like all of the women that I’ve worked with so far, the kind of the link that connects all of them with this feeling of worthiness. And for them to have what they were truly desiring in their life, whether it was a more successful business, a more nourishing relationship, a lifestyle that they loved, more stability and whatever it was, the thing that was often blocking them was how worthy they felt of actually having their desires, how worthy they felt of them selves as they are right now. And. Therefore, how worthy they also felt of the things that they were calling into their lives. That was for me, you know, the the link that I saw. And lots of the time I see, you know, it is like to have a life that we are really desiring and that can look like the external goals of the home, the money, the job. But it can also look like the internal goals of just how you feel. And to have that life, we first need to believe that we’re truly worthy of having that life. So, yeah, that was that just feels like something I feel personally so, so connected to and so passionate about sharing. And I just really, really love seeing the transformations that women can make when they see and know that they are truly, inherently worthy just as they are. 

Le’Nise: If someone is listening to this and they they hear what you’re saying and they think I, I don’t I realise I don’t feel worthy in various areas of their lives. What would your message be to them? 

Sabi: Mm hmm. So first of all, it’s OK. We don’t have to jump from like I hate myself to I love myself overnight. 

So almost like almost like the kind of the shadow emotions I was talking about before. Can you learn to love the you right now that doesn’t feel totally worthy. Can you actually accept that you and welcome in that you and if you can work on that, that’s already, that’s already working on your self love. So knowing that it’s okay to make tiny incremental steps in self love to go from like self-hate to kind of just being neutral, to go from neutral to like loving yourself a little bit and knowing that that’s okay. Like, anything, any kind of mindset shift takes takes time, but it’s finding acceptance along the way. Self love is not a destination of you’re there and you’re done. And for me, it is the same. Self-love is something I practise every single day, every single moment. Life gives me opportunities to to love myself more. Especially those challenging times, especially when the shadow emotions come up, because it’s easy to love yourself when you’re happy, when you’re making money, when you’re like when you’re in a loving relationship, when everything’s going well. It’s really easy to love yourself then. But it’s like, can you find and make space to love yourself when you’re not feeling so great, when you’re not positive vibes only. Can you start to find some acceptance for you there in those moments? So that’s why I say start where you’re at. You don’t need you don’t need to conquer self love in a day. Start where you’re at. And a really beautiful affirmation. There’s so many. 

But it’s like it’s safe for me to be as I am right now or I love me as I am right now. 

Le’Nise: Wow. I love me as I am right now. Oh, wow. Chills, I’m feeling chills. So where can listeners get in touch with you? They listen to what you said. They they want to know more. How can they find you? 

Sabi: Yeah. So it’s because I’m really active on Instagram, which is just my name: @sabi.kerr. And my web site is www.sabikerr.com. So both of Instagram and my website, there’s information about me, about coaching if anyone’s interested in working together. So, yeah.

Le’Nise: Great. So if listeners take one thing away from all of the insights that you’ve shared on this show, what would you want that to be? 

Sabi: Hmm. Probably the last, probably that last affirmation that it’s safe to love you as you are right now, that you don’t need to be fixed, that you don’t need to be changed. That right now, as you are, you are enough.

Le’Nise: Thank you so much for coming on the show. It’s just been wonderful speaking to you. 

Sabi: Thank you so much for having me. It’s been so much fun. 

Period Story Podcast, Episode 28: Natalie Costa, Be Gentle With Yourself

On today’s episode of Period Story, I am so pleased to share my conversation with Natalie Costa, the founder of Power Thoughts. We talked about the importance of identifying which thoughts you choose to believe, managing pre-menstrual anxiety, and of course Natalie’s first period!

Natalie shared that her first period was a shock and something she wasn’t ready for. She says that slowly she started to become more accepting of it, but it wasn’t something she looked forward to (I’m sure a lot of you can relate to this!).

Natalie talks about growing in South Africa and how the conservative culture affected how she learnt about her period. She says it’s taken her time to become more open about talking about menstruation and that her former job as a teacher helped with this.

We talked about how Natalie learned to tune into her menstrual cycle more and how she connected this with work and the way she exercises. She says that she really has to listen to her body and resist doing high impact exercise when her body is craving something slow and steady.

Natalie says she asks herself: what can I do to be gentle with myself. She says she’s more aware of negative chatter that happens before her period and is able to manage it and work with it. Listen to hear the morning rituals Natalie uses to quieten down and centre her mind.

We talk about Natalie’s brilliant work supporting children by helping them tap into the power of their thoughts and recognise they don’t have to believe everything they think or respond to every feeling. Natalie shares some brilliant tips and I’ve been using them with my son!

Natalie says that as adults, we need to remember that we don’t need to believe every thought we think and that it’s so important to be gentle with ourselves and I completely agree!

Get in touch with Natalie:

Website

Instagram

Facebook

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NATALIE’S BIO

Natalie Costa is an award winning coach, author and founder of Power Thoughts – a coaching service she created to give children the ‘power’ over their own thoughts!

With a background in psychology and having spent 12 years within the educational sector as well as becoming an accredited Performance Coach, Power Thoughts was born – which blends her past experience and deep understanding of children and their needs, now providing them with the tools to help them cope and thrive in the modern world.

Supporting children from as young as five, Natalie has delivered Power Thoughts to over 6,500 children within schools and online.

Her programs are designed to help children recognise that they don’t have to respond to every thought that they think, or react to everything that they feel. By doing this they are able to grow in confidence, feel happier and be more robust in dealing with the pressures of school, exams, transitioning, making friends etc.

Natalie has been featured in the national press and TV, such as Stella Magazine, The Telegraph, Metro, Glamour Magazine, Good Morning Britain and BBC Breakfast. She is also the co-author of ‘Find Your Power!’  and ‘Stretch Your Confidence!’ – two activity books for children that support their mental wellbeing.

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: Welcome to the show. Let’s start off by getting in to the story of your first period. Can you tell us what happened? 

Natalie: Oh, yes. So I think I was about twelve. No, I was 13. I was 13. And it was round round about my birthday. I remember it was winter, because I come from South Africa. So it was June is my birthday. And it’s it’s cold. It’s winter. And I remember going to my parents loo, and I came out and I was like, I knew what was happening. Like, I’ve been told about periods and stuff. But I remember feeling really sad. My mom was really happy, but I just felt really I think for the first time that that feeling of, you know, what’s happening in my body, I don’t have control of what’s happening. And I’ll be honest, I also I was a little bit grossed out. It’s sort of a harsh word But I wasn’t, I definitely wasn’t embracing it. It was definitely a shock and not a pleasant shock as well. 

It’s not something that I wanted to happen, whether that was I still wanted to be a little girl or I didn’t know I wasn’t ready for the next phase of what was going to come. But I remember it was more shock. But as in a negative way, definitely that feeling of oh, no, what is this? So, yeah, it wasn’t a positive experience for me.

Le’Nise: How long did it take you to get over that initial shock? And did did it change into a positive at any point?

Natalie: I think. 

Yeah, I mean, it slowly, I think I slowly started to become like more accepting of it. But I mean, I, I absolutely hated wearing pads and I felt like I was wearing a nappy. And I used to play hockey and things like that. So I really it was just really it was uncomfortable. It wasn’t something that I looked forward to. And I just found it really messy. So it wasn’t, I don’t think it was a very positive experience early on in my life. I mean, it became one of those things that it was just another thing that happened. And I was quite fortunate not to really struggle with any sort of period pains or things like that. I’d often joke with my friends saying, you know, I never know. It just comes. So it is never like any PMS signs or things that you read about in magazines. Like, I just it just it would just be that I’d be like, oh, shit, here it is. I would say I wasn’t a very positive like relationship with that. And I think as well, just growing up. And obviously my mom always would educate us and you know, she’d be available to talk to. So we were able to talk to her about these things. But it was also something that wasn’t spoken about. If that makes sense. It wasn’t necessarily coming from her. I just think with society in general, just you just don’t talk about your periods and things like that. And it’s it’s something that you should. That’s quite gross. And you shouldn’t know nothing. You shouldn’t have them because I happened like, that’s just what happens. But it’s almost like that was the feeling that I had around it. So not very positive.

Le’Nise: Growing up in South Africa, why don’t you think that these things were spoken about?

Natalie: I think it’s very conservative in nature. Very traditional, very. Yeah, I mean, I did grow up in a bit of a conservative home as well, so you just don’t talk about that, just like you don’t really, you know, in general talk about sex and things like that. And I remember I went to this lady, this sounds really weird, but a group of, me and a group of friends. We went to this, because back then as well, schools didn’t offer sex education or talking about things, I mean, was very, very conservative. And sex was almost like a bad word, do you know what I mean. And we went to this lady. Probably when I was in about standard five. That’s the end of primary school years. And I think what’s that’s, year 7 here. And she, that was like my first introduction to what happens in your body and sex and periods and things like that. It was just it’s just really bizarre in terms of I think that the whole mindset of obviously parents, you know? Well, definitely my parents and friends of my you know, my parents, my friend’s parents as well, just don’t talk about this. Kind of outsourced it to somebody else to tell us about. So it’s just not something that I think and I think even if I had to speak to my mom now, it’s not something that she would have spoken about, really. I can’t imagine speaking openly about it. So something that happens and this is how we deal with it and we move on.

Le’Nise: Do you think your views have changed? Do you feel like you’re, I mean, you’re on the show today talking about it. So let me change the question. What made you more open to talking about periods and menstruation?

Natalie: I think it’s just kind of the change. Various factors, it was the change of times. Like we’re a lot more open in terms of what we speak about. It’s a normal part of being a woman. Why would we have to shun it or try and hide it? I think as well as a former teacher as well and also working with young girls and sometimes in year six, girls having their first period. And, you know, it’s all of those like those feelings that come up. And I think it’s it’s definitely it’s still a journey for myself. So obviously, I’m a lot more open to it. And this is just who I am and it’s what my body does. So I think it’s it’s and it’s also obviously educating myself like the books I read magazines and just what you see in the media. And I suppose what I choose to follow and consume and my social media is very much pro and supportive and open and, you know, being able to embrace all of these areas. So for me, if I look at my media, social media feed, it’s kind of like that’s my world, do you know what I mean. So it doesn’t make the conversation taboo. And I think it’s just why aren’t we talking about this? You know, why is it not just a normal thing? It’s not gross. It’s not disgusting. It can be painful, but it’s it’s part of who we are. You know, I mean, it fascinates me. I’m not very I’m not as informed as what I’d like to be.

But I do have a friend who is very much in tune with her cycle. And I think even becoming self-employed really highlights to me how my cycle impacts my day to day work and what I do. Putting with that though, still unlearning a lot of habits, moving from the teaching world and the push, push, push and the grind, grind, grind and all of that. But I’m aware as well that there are certain times in the months when, OK, this is probably when you’re feeling like this is not this has got to do a lot more with what’s going on inside of you versus what’s going on outside of you. So just even having has power and I think being able to educate people now about that and young girls about that, golly, if I had this at school when I was in primary school, even, you know, just even it is a simple format. I just think it would change so much in terms of how people move forward. Men and women, you know, which is just as knowledge and knowledge is empowerment, you know?

Le’Nise: I just want to go back to what you said about being self-employed and working around your menstrual cycle. Can you give us a few or an example of how you’ve been able to put that into practise? I know you said it’s a work in progress, but in terms of what you’ve started doing, can you talk us still just a little bit about that? 

Natalie: I think the main thing at the moment, and I’m definitely not as good as my friend because she is brilliant in terms that she would not all the time, but she would track where she books in talks and speaking gigs versus when she doesn’t. And I’m not like that because I’m like, cool, they won’t be added to it. But I think the main thing for me at the moment is, like I said, it’s a work in progress, is becoming aware of mindsets. And for me, in the onset, too. When my when my period’s about to start, I know I am hypersensitive. The negative thoughts are increasingly a lot more, more so than what they would normally be. The anxiety, the feelings of anxiety are higher. And even I guess it comes up with me when I do my workouts because I love exercise. I love fitness and not pushing myself. But probably the most it’s it’s not being giving myself such a hard time if I can’t do what I’ve intended to set out to do, because actually I realised, okay, this is my body and listening to my body. So then perhaps having days where it’s low impact exercises versus repetitive high impact kind of things or just going for a slow run is probably a large part at the moment of how I see myself adapting to that.

But I would love to get to the point of being able to book my work around it because I think it would be phenomenal.

Le’Nise: I have to say, even though that this is this is the work that I do, I haven’t got to that point either, because I just you know, when the work comes, you know, you need to do the work. But, you know, it’s definitely a work, a work in progress and once you’re able to do it. But the fact that you’re able to think about your cycle when you exercise, I think is really, really important. I was actually speaking to an athlete today and she was we were talking about menstrual cycles and I was talking about how, the importance for athletes and anyone who does like a lot of exercise to think about their menstrual cycle, because there are times in your cycle, like the first half, where you put on, you’re more likely to put on muscle because of the rising oestrogen and testosterone. But you have more energy towards for those things. Whereas in the second half of your cycle where you have the rising oestrogen and progesterone, that’s actually the time for cardiovascular exercise. And you’re more likely to make cardiovascular gains then. 

Natalie: Yeah, really, it makes sense, though, because if I think about the times, I really want to go for a run. Internally, I’m like, I cannot face doing high reps, high HIIT workouts. It’s like I just want something that’s to move my body but in a slow and steady space. So it’s not even like sprints to things like that. It’s just a slow, steady run or low impact where perhaps, you know, maybe like I think when the gym are open, I can maybe incorporate more of a leg day, but with no jumps and just kind of keep it really low base, you know, low flow, intensity based. And I think that to me has been a big thing because I don’t know. I mean, ever since my teens, it’s always been I had a lot of like there’s a lot of work in terms of me and my relationship with my body. I mean, I had a lot of other girls and men as well. So it’s been a real thing for me to unlearn. That I don’t have to be killing it in every single workout in order to have some positive benefits from that, you know, and that’s a really long journey because for a very long time that was like. Right. I was like maxing out and do as many and, you know, you know, now it’s more constructive. Yeah. So I just wanted to say, I mean, like what you were saying about your work in progress. That’s what I think the main thing is, just it is having that awareness. I think ideally I’d love to be able to book in speaking gigs and like the world goes according to my cycle. You know, I don’t see that that’s that’s available because, like, the work comes in, but it’s in. Okay. How do I show up knowing that maybe it’s day one or all I really want to do is be in bed. So what can I do to be gentle with myself? You know, following what I have to do, I have to perform. Right. Okay. Understanding. And then, you know, what can I do to be gentle with myself versus beating myself up? 

Le’Nise: That is such an amazing point. I think that cycle awareness is so is such an important part of understanding how you can be gentle with yourself. And also this idea of tenderness, knowing that you’re on day one. And so, you know, it varies for everyone. But, you know, you might. Your energy is likely to be lower than it is, say, and day midway through your cycle. So no matter what you have what you have to do. How can you show for yourself in the gentlest, most tender way possible?

Natalie: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Which still it’s still a work in progress. 

So it’s quite funny because even today I got a little I got that I think it’s the Moody app and I’m still learning to figure out how it works, but I just haven’t gone into it yet. But a little notification came up, say it’s a good time to remember to be sensitive and gentle with yourself today and I’m like, oh, this makes sense because this morning everything was in full flow in my bride, I got like, all right. It’s it’s just it’s just having that as an awareness, you know? 

Le’Nise: I love the Moody app. The team there is amazing. So it’s brilliant that you’re using it.

But I think just going back to what you were saying about how before your period you get these heightened thoughts, you know, anxious thoughts or self-doubt. Do you feel, are you more aware now that they’re that those things are happening? And the second part of the question is, what do you do to to help yourself in those moments?

Natalie: Yeah, I do. I definitely notice I’m more aware that it’s happening. So while it doesn’t stop the negative chatter or those feelings coming up and like, I know why this is happening because I’m coming closer.

So that’s like my hormones, that’s PMS and also that I get really, actually the older I’ve gotten, the tearier I get as well. Definitely the more emotional I get. I mean, in terms what helps me. Well, it’s always I’ve always struggled with anxiety as a child and I think into adulthood as well. But it’s been it’s been quite manageable. But it is there. Do you know I mean, I was I was diagnosed with depression in my early teens and into my 20s, but I’ve definitely been able to manage it and to work with it. But in those times especially, I’ve noticed as I’ve become older, because when I was younger, I didn’t really notice so much of the change between not being on my period and being on my period. It just kind of flowed into one. It was definitely more gradual, whereas now it’s like night and bloody day. It’s like, who is this person? But it always comes back to doing those things that I know will keep me grounded. So that is about not looking at my phone first thing in the morning, doing some meditation or mindfulness exercises where I just get to like sit and centre my mind and it’s kind of quieten things down. Exercise in the morning is really important as well. I find that if I don’t exercise, whether that is even yoga or just anything in terms of moving my body, the mental chatter, those feelings are definitely a lot more heightened. And I’ve gotten into such a routine. I’ve been doing it for years in the mornings. So I know that that always sets me up to be clearer headed. Even if I wake up and I in this fog, if I do the exercise, I’m like, oh, well. Right. What was that about? Like, literally, it’s like a night and day again in terms of how it helps. And I think so that’s what I do. And then I try to do it as consistently as possible. I must be honest, since lockdown, it’s been a lot harder for me to have that. Because my husband’s at home. So there’s just more distraction in terms of because before, you know, we’d get up, go to the gym together. There’d be more structure. Whereas now we’re sleeping a bit later and all of these sort of things. So I’ve definitely noticed a bit of a dip. But in saying that, when I come back to the meditations and even if I do them a bit later, I find that that really, really does help. And then even using some other strategies in terms of, what is it that I’m thinking, what are all these negative thoughts, let’s put them down. And what I teach the children, let’s look for evidence as to why these are not true. Let’s look for clues as to why this thought, you’re thinking, no one’s going to buy your programme is not true. Do you know all this stuff you’ve come up with? But yeah, I think it yeah, definitely. The meditation, exercise, movements and then challenging that negative chatter and talking back in a more compassionate way, in a more rational way as well.

Le’Nise: So it sounds like you’ve got a lot of tools in your arsenal and you’re very you’re very aware. I want to just go back to what you were saying about sport and you played a lot of sport when you were younger. And you’re very, you do a lot of physical activity now. You’ve talked about we talked a little bit about how your menstrual cycle might impact your performance. Did you notice when you were younger the impact of sport on your period, on your menstrual cycle?

Natalie: No, no, no. I think like I said, to me, my period was very light. It was also maybe three days or four days. It was very, very light. And I never really noticed this PMS that people were talking about. It’s like, I don’t have that.

I brag about that. That’s cool.

 But I think no. And I think, you know, the sport. So I played hockey in high school and I did some running, cross-country and things like that and tennis, but never excessively. I think when I started going to the gym in my 20s, that’s when I started to get quite punishing. Even, I think might be the thing of high impact. Then I qualified to be a fitness instructor, so I taught alongsidea couple of the Virgin Actives and Gymbox and again the ethos and those, you know, it’s very much. Go, go, go. Push, push, push. Which I love. But it’s not something that is sustainable. But I think it was more so it didn’t have an impact on my periods. It was more my mental, ow my mental health in terms of beating myself up because I’m like I’m exhausted and I’m tired and why I’ve done like 10 burpees and that’s it or whatever it might be at that stage, you know, like I’ve just started and you’re dead and not recognising and being in tune and actually listen to your body. And it’s funny, I had a conversation with a friend at the gym once, she was telling me that she was not pushing herself. And then when I asked her where she was in her cycle, I was like, well, that’s why. And it was an eye opener for her as well. You know, we don’t get talked about this if you’re not actively looking for this material.

Le’Nise: Yeah, we don’t get taught about this stuff, and it’s it’s so valuable and so many different ways.

And I think this narrative that I’ve been seeing at the moment is there’s a lot of conversation about the importance of periods. But some people questioning why we need to have a period in the first place. And, you know, it’s it’s hard to kind of have a counterpoint to those conversations because they know that they’re coming from a very masculine mindset of the world in terms of masculine energy and that go, go, go that you described. Whereas we see that menstruation, that cycle is, so it’s a cycle and there are ebbs and flows. But I wanted to just kind of switch gears a little bit and talk a little bit about your you your work as a teacher and the work that how you transitioned into your company, because you’ve mentioned some of the tools that you use around for the anxious thoughts that you have and how you’ve been able to teach children these tools. Talk a little bit about that.

Le’Nise: Mm hmm. So, yeah, I qualified as a teacher. Primary school teacher back in South Africa also got a background in psychology. So I really wanted to go into this field of psychology. So after my teaching degree is four years. And then I thought, well, I’ll come over to the UK. Because that’s what all South Africans were doing back then, which is golly, 2006, I think. But then I ended up staying here and I loved it. So I don’t want to go back. And then I also realised actually I love the mind. 

I love personal development, but I don’t quite know if I want to go into psychology as such. Like I initially thought, but I knew I didn’t want to be a teacher. So I was teaching and I just it just it just didn’t gel. It just wasn’t. I knew, like, inside there’s like there’s something else. And I’m like, well, what the hell is this? Like you would I tried all different things. I mean, like I said, I then dabbled a bit in the fitness industry, cos I loved it. So I trained to be an instructor and I taught like fight club and spin and body pump and all sorts of things. But again, it wasn’t something I could see myself doing long term. And then the school I was with set me on a coaching course thinking initially it was P.E. coaching, physical education. But when I got the documents, it was a taster to become a life coach with some company. And I loved it. And life coach back then, was very woo woo like what is, you know, very kind of like, what is this? But I absolutely loved it. It covered the field of psychology and personal development. But it was about helping people move forward. And so I was actually in the middle of thinking at that point do I, cos I was exploring becoming a personal trainer. But then the coaching qualification came up and was like, I’m actually gonna do that. So I signed up with The Coaching Academy and I did that. And then I thought, well, I mean, I was still teaching full time, obviously. And I thought, well, let me work with women making career changes like myself. So I tried that out for a couple of years on the side. But again, it just didn’t gel. And people used to tell me, why don’t you use your tools for children. But at that point I was like, no, I want to leave education? I’m so tired of this. I want to leave school. And it was only purely by fluke where I had to I was required to teach an after school club. And I thought, well, I’ll call it mindfulness because I’ve been on a mindfulness training session, but I’m going to get the kids to colour. So I can mark books. That was honestly my strategy and I did it for maybe about two sessions. But then one of the children said to me that they were really stressed about their year six exams coming up. And I’d actually come off a stress training day that I absolutely love. So, I mean, on the spot there I was teaching them about their brain and what happens when you get stressed, much like, are they going to get this? And the feedback I got from parents was following that session was like, whatever you’re doing, please carry on. My daughter’s coming home saying, like, she’s using these tools to help with her worries. What is this? Can you carry on with it? So then I slowly started to try different strategies, like basically apply my coaching tools into lessons for children. And that ultimately was when I guess how I thought the idea for Power Thoughts came. So Power Thoughts is a coaching programme that I or coaching service that I created to help children initially tap into the power of their thoughts and to help them recognise that they don’t have to believe every thought they think or respond to everything they feel. And ultimately giving them the tools to manage their mindset.

So I know we were close with a very dear friend, Lucy Sheridan, because Lucy’s always been on my radar. We’ve been friends and I knew she was doing this mentoring at the stage and I said to her I have got this idea to bring personal development to children. But I need help. And that’s really, where we started to put ideas together and, you know, the name came about. So, I mean, it’s been quite a journey and it really is. And it’s so funny because I remember years ago prior to this, I used to say I love teaching, but I want to teach what I’m passionate about and I’m doing it, like it’s so, I’ve got goosebumps. I never would have believed that I would be doing what I’m doing. But for me, it’s really important. I think, you know, as an adult, I know how I struggle with negative thoughts and feelings of anxiety. And I know not everybody does. But we all have self doubts. We all have those times when we question our abilities. We all have those impostors that creep up or we don’t feel confident. But we create all these negative stories about that. And these are stories that we’ve held on to for years, whereas if we could start to teach children from the age of six, seven, eight, that just because you’re not getting maths or it’s difficult in maths doesn’t mean you’re rubbish with numbers, doesn’t mean you’re stupid. You know, you can start to rewrite that story. So it’s all about bringing the tools that we practically use with adults, but making them into bite sized teachable activities for children, Just to start developing positive habits, as I say, you know, from a younger age, or more helpful thinking habits, really. And how to respond to things just being more emotionally aware, because I don’t think I was taught about emotions the way I know about it now. And I know how vital it would have been if I was. 

Le’Nise: Do you feel like kids are more anxious these days? And you’re having to really dig into that a bit more rather than the kind of positive reinforcement side of what you do?

Natalie: Mm hmm. I think. Well, I. I mean, obviously with COVID and all of that. Yes. There’s been a high like a spike in anxiety. This there’s been a lot of because of all the uncertainty, of course. But I mean, prior to that, I do think. 

There is a lot already on children’s plates now versus when I was a child, even when I was teaching. When I first started teaching, you know, the curriculum has changed. It’s definitely I mean, I’ve been out of teaching now for three and a half, four years. But back then, like the curriculum, it changed a lot and it was more challenging. So I think their plates are a lot more full and also bring in online and social media. And it’s not something that we can choose our children not to be engaged in because actually they need to learn. That’s part of the modern world. And we want to give them the skills to deal with that in a positive way so their plates are full. So I think, yes, to a degree there is. But then also the flip side, I think we’re talking about it a lot more now, whereas in the past it was probably also there, we just didn’t talk about it just like we didn’t talk about periods, we didn’t talk about mental health. We didn’t talk about our feelings, we were told to just like, suck it up and get on with it. You know, like just just let’s not show it was not the right thing to show mental, you know, like mental challenges or things like that. So I think it’s a bit of both now and especially I find I mean, just within the world of education, I set up Power Thoughts when mindfulness was just starting to make its appearance in education. But I know it was some schools embraced it and some schools were completely no, we don’t want to go down this route because they might be religious schools. And this is going to attached into all sorts of other beliefs. So it was definitely, I think. I can sometimes find it was a bit slower to be introduced versus say, I know mindfulness was raiding the corporate sector. It was quite well embraced. So I think. Sorry. Going back to your question, I think it’s a bit of both really. Their plates are full. But I think we’re talking about it more. We’re allowing the space to talk about it.

Le’Nise: If there were parents listening, who would say I I love I love this. What’s something I could do today, too. Because, you know, more parents, including myself, are homeschooling. And they’re seeing kind of the kitchen sink of what it’s like to to teach a child. You know warts and all. I have to say here, there have been tantrums from me and from my son. What advice would you give to parents who know there are a lot of kids who aren’t going to go back to school this year to manage this time and to, you know, keep keep a cool head.

Natalie: Yeah, definitely. I think, first of all and it goes back to what I said ages ago, in another interview. This is not home schooling. Right. Home schooling is where you choose to take a child out of the system and you choose to be their primary. I mean, you already own a primary education, but you choose to step into that teacher role. You’ve not chosen this. This is kind of being thrown at you in a matter of like 48 hours. Right? You’ve just got to deal with it. So understand that it’s not you’re not being the teacher. You’re not expected to know how to do the divisions the fractions, adverbial whatever frontal verbs, whatever they’re called, you know, remove that. I mean, by now as I’m talking to parents, there does seem to be a bit of a structure in place because I do think, you know, structure is important. Absolutely. For children, especially let children know what’s to be expected. So but keep it keep it quite simple. I think the key word here is keep it simple. If schools and again, this depends on the age of the child, the subject, what schools are sending, if schools are sending a lot of things and you’re feeling overwhelmed, pick one thing, pick one thing and focus on that. Rather do one thing well versus ten little things. And they’re all emotional meltdowns.

At the end of the day, we’ve always got to come back to our children feeling and us lowering that stress response right where we are. Because if we’re in that space of stress and anxiety and anger and those big feelings, nothing’s going to get done. And it’s not a very nice place to be. So if your child is, and it’s not about this, that’s a lot of things here because, yes, some learning needs to be done. But could there be other forms of learning then if they’re really not engaging with the maths, could they perhaps go? And I don’t know, sort blocks. So by, you know, buy groceries and putting that inverted commas, you know? So what would you buy? How much would it be? What money? Kind of those sort of things. Somethings that give it more practical and hands-on versus the worksheets or the exercise that they do. The other thing is, well, I mean, just to remind parents is what is that children at school for six hours a day, but they are not learning every single minute of those six hours. And even if they’ve got an hour of literacy at an hour of maths, they’re not working that full 60 minutes because there is a bit of teaching time, there is a bit of carpet time, to desk time, there’s they can go to the toilet time. There’s a lot times that we’re not doing anything, you know. And there’s the banter with the friend. So if you’re able to do a little maths exercise in 15 minutes, 20 minutes, and then they do something that’s a bit more self focussed, that’s fine. They don’t have to be busy for the full 60 minutes. I mean, I do see this with a little client that I worked with recently. His school was quite on top form in terms of Zoom lessons, and I think he was at like Zoom calls from nine o’clock until two o’clock every day. And I mean, he’s eight. But I think children are, I mean, what I’m hearing from children and I think especially now understanding if they’re having a hard time, are there some things that you can take off the agenda? Because the kids I’m talking to are bored with Zoom lessons, the hour sessions and that that looks they say the learning is I mean, but the learning is boring, which you can totally understand because your attention span is only so much for an hour or an especially if it’s the subject. So it’s not quite it’s not something that’s always going to be fun and engaging. It’s maths. So it’s how to write a sentence. So, I mean, obviously a lot more elaborate than that. But, you know, I mean, it it’s there’s only so much I think the novelty of being at home is also worn off. In the beginning, it might have been quite exciting. They are missing their friends, you know, FaceTime can only go so far. And also the school day, they burn off a lot of energy.

So what I would say is, how can you help your child change their state and you as well. So simple things like, I know encourage families to create a power playlist where they put together some songs. And if they start to feel, songs that they like, like upbeat, funky songs, and if they start to feel like in a bit of a funk. Right. We gonna choose a song. We’re gonna dance, we’re gonna shake and gonna move it out to get rid of that energy, you know.

Something else that I teach is move it to lose it, where I move my body in a safe way to lose the big feeling. So it might be that I set my timer on my phone. You’ve got to run as fast as you can for 30 seconds and then we got to go again for 45 seconds and then we gotta go again for 60 seconds, by round four children have been like, oh, what was I so upset about? You know, because it’s it’s the game. And even, you know, if you’re able to take them outside, like burn some of the energy because they’re not burning that much energy. And just in terms of something else as well, that might be something helpful in terms of ongoing is we can start now to help them build their emotional vocabulary, because the richer their emotional vocabulary is, the better they will be able to to express how they feel and recognise how they feel. And I can’t remember where I read it. But I read, you know, first of all, that I read somewhere that, you know, if we’re able to label our feeling, it reduces the intensity of the feeling within the primitive part of the brain, but also children and adults who are able to verbalise how they felt were 40 percent less physically and verbally aggressive than those who had a difficult time, you know, figuring things out. So this is something that’s ongoing, but something that families could do is even print off a feelings chart. Just Google feelings chart and Google print that off and just put that up in the kitchen or communal area and just have, like, little conversation about, you know, when did you where do you went to see? What does jealousy feel like? Where do you notice jealousy your body? If you had to give it a colour, what colour would you give it? You know what might help you if you feel jealous, you know, versus if you feel frustrated or if you feel worried or if you feel disappointed. And obviously the happier emotions as well. But just to start building their emotional vocabulary, because so often children say, I feel happy, sad or mad, but actually there’s a whole wealth of other feelings and even getting the older ones. I do this with some children when I get them to take joy, for example, come up with as many words for joy as you can, you know, and then let’s put them on like a timeline and see lowest intensity to highest intensity. What might it and it’s just it’s just a way to start slowly building that vocabulary as well, because then the more words they have to express how they feel about things and vice versa with you as well. 

Le’Nise: You have given us so many incredible tools. I’m just nodding my head, thinking I got to use this. I’ve got to use that. Just just wonderful. Like the power playlist. Like yesterday, my son really loves The Descendants. And so we we were we had a little karaoke session in the afternoon, and that was really fun. And it was a way of us getting out our energy and like, really just, you know, because singing is so joyful. And also it stimulates the vagus nerve. So that is also connected to good emotional health. So I just I just love I just all love all of that. And for the listeners, all of these, if you’re if you’ve written, trying to write these down, all of this will be in the show notes and the transcription on my website. But, Natalie, I wanted to ask you if you could leave listeners with one thought to take away today from this podcast. What would you want that to be? 

Natalie: And the first thing that came to my mind is don’t believe every thought you think. Especially when it comes to the negative chatter, the self-doubt. And this goes, I think, something we can pass on to our children as well, especially when in terms of the uncertainty and the worry and the anxiety, it is so easy to get caught up in the future tripping and worrying about what might happen. But let’s come back to where we are right now in this moment, whether that is with breathing techniques or changing energy states. And I think as well, coupled with that, you know, being gentle with ourselves and this is something I said that I’m still learning. 

I was having a massive talk with myself upstairs just before I came on. You’ve got to be your own cheerleader. So I know the home schooling, when you come home is incredibly difficult for some parents and children. 

But, you know, at the end of the day, can you. It is a one positive thing that’s come out of the day and again, also just the permission slip to drop all of these things that we feel we should do. Primarily, I think what’s important is you being able to pay the bills, so your job and then the children and you feeling in a happy place. So if that means the schoolwork doesn’t get done the way it would be done. That’s okay. So I think I’ve given you two there not one.

Le’Nise: No, I both are brilliant.

Bothare really important. Where can listeners get in touch with you to find out more about the work that you do and how you help children?

Natalie: Yes, sure. 

 So when my website www.powerthoughts.co.uk. I’m on Instagram a lot. I’m on Instagram the most and Facebook as well. Yes. And if you go to my website, you can pop me a message on there or you can come into my DMs as well.

Le’Nise: Brilliant.

And all of this this will be in the show notes and the transcript. Thank you so much for coming onto the show, Natalie. It’s been it’s been brilliant. I’ll definitely be using the things that you mentioned. 

Natalie: Oh, thank you so much for having me. It’s been so lovely to chat with you. Thank you.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 27: Leanne Young, Your Body Is Whispering To You All The Time, You Just Have To Listen To It

On today’s episode, I am so pleased to share my conversation with Leeanne Young, who bravely discusses her health journey from fibroids to hyperthyroidism and a thyroidectomy to an ice crunching obsession and back to fibroids. Leeanne’s story is really powerful and I really encourage you all to have a listen.

Leeanne shares her matter of fact approach to her first period and how she learned about what was happening to her body. We talked about the classic Judy Blume book, Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret and Leeanne talked about the impact it had.

We talked about Leeanne’s very early endometriosis diagnosis. After a laparoscopy and medication didn’t work for her, she was given the choice of having a hysterectomy at 25 years old. She opted against this and said this taught her how to really listen to her body and tune into the signals it was giving her.

Leeanne bravely shared how she first discovered she had a 10cm fibroid after a miscarriage. She was led to believe that it would be difficult for her to have more children. Leeanne went on to have a daughter, who is now 12.

Leeanne become unwell again and was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism and eventually went on to have a thyroidectomy. Listen to hear the symptoms that made Leeanne realise that something was wrong.

Fast forward a few years, Leeanne felt that everything was going fine. She had started a new job and life was good. Her periods then started getting so heavy that she became scared to leave the house. Listen to hear how Leeanne was able to persevere and get a diagnosis of increased fibroid growth after everyone kept telling her everything was fine.

Leeanne says that we know our bodies best. Our bodies are whispering to us, giving us signs that we need to listen to and I completely agree!

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LEEANNE’S BIO

Leeanne is a people person and classic obliger that operates with integrity and a sprinkle of sass.

She graduated from the school of hard knocks – and is essentially a grafter and thankfully, it paid off. She’s built a solid career in health and safety, specifically, within the utilities industry – which she’s spent the best part of 14 years in. She was recently promoted to Occupational Health and Wellbeing Manager for Morrison Utility Services – a leading utility service provider in the UK and Ireland.

She’s extremely proud and passionate about her current role as her main responsibility is to cultivate and sustain a culture where people are happy, energised and engaged at work – both physically and emotionally.

She’s spent the last two years delving deeper into health, wellbeing and behaviours that enable people to thrive. As such, she’s helped her employer ‘raise the bar’ in regards to increasing the awareness of health and wellbeing topics, dispelling common myths and reducing the stigma around mental health. They’re now embarking on a ‘step change’ that moves them from promotion (which is now fully embedded) to introducing a holistic approach for the effective management of occupational health and wellbeing.

Outside of work, she is responsible for raising a little queen with her extremely patient husband – he deserves a medal, maybe several. Eva is 12 and is her everything. She has been using some of her learnings to help her daughter build resilience through these uncertain times.

Last year she started working with a community organisation called Bro&co – which through food technology, science and mentoring, provides education and leadership opportunities to young boys of colour. She’s very excited about this work and for the forthcoming Sis&co. 

Leeanne is also dedicated to her faith, and says without it, she’s nothing. While the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenging time, it has given her the space to pause and reflect; to practice gratitude, be more connected spiritually and think about how she wants to show up in the world in the future.

What’s on the horizon for Leeanne? She plans to study Social Sciences through the Open University later this year and then move onto Psychology. She wants to find out why we do all the weird and wonderful things we do in order to tap into how to really help get the best out of people and enable them (and her), to live their best lives.

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise [00:00:00] Welcome to the show, Leeanne. 

Leeanne [00:00:01] Thank you for having me. 

Le’Nise [00:00:03] So let’s start off by getting into the question I ask everyone. Tell me the story of your first period. 

Leeanne [00:00:09] Yes. So it was not eventful. I’ve been trying to dig back into the vault going back around 30 years. And I just remember that it was one of those events that, oh, okay, this has happened. I was very matter of fact about it, switched into autopilot, went to the shops, bought some sanitary pads, got home. And then I think I told my mom, I remember her being in the kitchen and I told her. And again, very matter of matter of fact for her. And then I think a few hours later, I remember my dad almost saying to me, “oh, so your mother has told me about your, um, you’ve started your menstrual cycle”, a very formal. And I just felt I just felt like I wanted to die. And he said to me, “Right, Leeanne. So you’ve got to keep your room tidy now and shower every day.” And literally, that was it. That was the extent of my first period. 

Le’Nise [00:01:15] How old were you? 

Leeanne [00:01:16] I think I was 12 or 13 years old when I first started. So, yeah. 

Le’Nise [00:01:22] You said you were very matter of fact about it. 

Leeanne [00:01:24] Yeah. 

Le’Nise [00:01:25] Well, you went to the shops on your own. How did you know what to get? 

Leeanne [00:01:31] I think it was just through ads on TV. I knew that. I remember actually looking in the chemist at tampons and I thought, well, can’t do that. Don’t really know how any of that works. So I’ll just buy sanitary pads, that’s safe. That’s easy. And that’s what I did. 

Le’Nise [00:01:51] And then you have the conversation with your parents separately. And how did you learn more about what was happening to your body? 

Leeanne [00:02:03]  I didn’t learn anything about periods via my parents. I learnt all about it at school and in magazines. And I think Judy Blume was quite significant in my life and taught me everything that I needed to know about relationships, boys, periods, etc.. So that was it. I know, obviously, you know, the standard class that you have in high school when the teacher stands in front of 30 kids or an assembly and says this is what happens to girls. This is what happens to boys. That’s it. I actually remember being in an assembly and we were talking about periods. It was actually quite bizarre. And this boy said, “Miss, my mum said that she bleeds a bucket load. Is that true?” And it was that was the point where I learnt that actually you don’t bleed a bucket load. I remember her that saying that a woman bleeds probably half a, the entire time of that period sorry, can fill up like half a teacup of blood. And I thought, oh okay, I could deal with that. That was it, that was all I learnt at school. The rest was with my peers. 

Le’Nise [00:03:28] Go back to Judy Blume. Yeah. What was your favourite Judy Blume book?

Leeanne [00:03:33] Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret

Le’Nise [00:03:35] Oh, that is my favourite too. 

Leeanne [00:03:39] She was quite significant in my upbringing and amongst, you know, my my friends at the time. We read to all, you know, all the naughty bits and the things that you can’t talk to your parents about. And it was it was really quite nice, isn’t it? And it’s nice to talk to your friends about things like that. And you all are sharing the same experience, aren’t you? All the same time and. Yeah. It was very systematic. No issue, no trauma. That was it.

Le’Nise [00:04:06] When you think back now to the conversations you’re having with your peers. Do you think about things that you said and think, wow, that was totally wrong? Or did you feel like you generally got it right? 

Leeanne [00:04:20] I think that I generally got it right, actually. And it was when I think back now to my childhood, I, I think back very fondly because I, I sound really old saying this, but life was a lot simpler back then. I’m only 41, but actually it was. And we spent so much time with each other and outside away from our parents. And I remember I went to a friend’s house and I used to live in Bristol when I was quite young and we were going to go swimming in Henley’s Lake. And I said, “oh, I can’t go swimming because I’m on my period.” And my friend’s sister said, “oh but Leeanne, you can go swimming.: And I went, “how can I do that? My pad’s going to get soggy or something” and it’s ridiculous, isn’t it? But she said, “oh, no, if you tried these.” And I was like, “no, I’ve never tried it.” It was a tampon. And she said, “look, this is what you do.” And she she was the older sister. Right. And she showed me the tampon and she said, “this is what you do. Blah, blah, blah. And it will be fine. And we can all go swimming and it’ll be great.” So I was like, okay. And I remember feeling really nervous and thinking, oh, God, I’ve got to get this right. But then also I can go swimming. So I went to the bathroom, tried to figure it out, clearly did it wrong because I could feel it. Yeah. And I went I went swimming in the lake and I daren’t cough or anything, just in case the damn thing popped out. But, you know, it plugged me plugging it for a while and. And everything was okay. And then after that point, that’s when I started to use tampons a little bit more because I wasn’t scared of them. Somebody had introduced them to me and I thought, okay, here’s another option. So over the years, I just started to, I suppose, build my confidence in terms of what’s out there and what, you know, could suit me, how I could continue to live the life that I was living. Whilst I’m on my period. 

Le’Nise [00:06:23] So, yeah, to you, that was a real turning point for you, that that moment with your friend’s sister. And then as you as you got older, did your relationship with your period change?

Leeanne [00:06:39] Yes and no. So like I said, it was never really a huge deal for me when I was younger because the environment was very supportive, as I said with my friends. I felt that I was part of a club. Everyone was going through the same thing. It was fine. Things started to change for me when I got diagnosed with endometriosis. I was 21 years old when that happened. And prior to the diagnosis, I thought, oh, this what is this tummy cramp? And I thought, well, as it’s down there, it must all be related to obviously my my, um, my reproductive system and periods and whatever. And that’s when I started to resent, I suppose, having to go through all of this, you know, being a woman, you know, what’s all this about? And then, you know, from dealing with excruciating pain and not understanding what that was to then quickly being diagnosed with endometriosis, to then being provided with options, which obviously at first was medication, just to see, you know, what happened with the meds, which was a variation of the contraceptive pill. And then that didn’t work. It didn’t work for me because I was very aware of how my how I was. I was acting differently, though the hormonal changes changed me as a person. I didn’t like it. 

[00:08:14] I felt like I wasn’t in control of me. So I said, no, I can’t get on with that. And so then to go from that to. Okay, well, a hysterectomy and I thought, hang on a minute, I’m 21. I was quite, um, quite pleased through my upbringing actually that there were certain things that I just think, well, hang on a minute. No, that’s not quite right. I don’t agree with that. So I did feel like what was happening to me at the time was awful. I hated it and I blamed it on, you know, being a woman. Why? Why me? It was definitely why me. I don’t want to have to deal with this. So that’s when things changed for me. But then when I got the endometriosis more under control, I didn’t have a hysterectomy. What I actually did was I started to that’s when I started to really listen to my body and try to tune in to the signals that it was giving me. And so what I did was I controlled my endometriosis. And I’m not saying that, you know, everybody else can do this through a more holistic approach. Breathing techniques, yeah, to breathe through the pain. That’s what I did. And that’s what worked for me. And so the endometriosis didn’t go away. It’s still there. However, I’ve managed it. I managed it. 

Le’Nise [00:09:45] I want to go back to your original diagnosis. So you were 21 and you said that you were diagnosed quite quickly. Yeah. You quite lucky, I have to say, because it it takes an average of between 7 – 10 years to get endometriosis diagnosis. Yeah. 

Leeanne [00:10:04] Wow. 

Le’Nise [00:10:05] But what I find quite interesting and actually very shocking is that at 21, the doctors are saying that you needed to have a hysterectomy. 

Leeanne [00:10:13] Yeah. Yes, that’s right. Yeah. And I had. Oh, no, it wasn’t at 21. Sorry. But that’s when I got diagnosed. And then, when did I get married? I got married when I was 25. So actually from diagnosis through to having a laparoscopy through to the, you know, the hormone treatments or whatever. So that will happened over a period of five years. And then because nothing was getting any better really. They said, well look here, here, here are your options. And I said, well, I’m just gonna keep going as I am then, because I’m not going to have. I’m not going to have a hysterectomy at such a young age. And it was between the age of 21 – 25. 

Le’Nise [00:11:05]  That is I find that really shocking that that they would suggest that, because what I see a lot is that doctors typically want to preserve fertility and then it’s more when women are in their mid forties and beyond that they start suggesting hysterectomies for conditions like endometriosis, adenomyosis,  fibroids. And then it becomes a conversation about, well, you’ve already had your children or you’re past childbearing age. So you don’t need your these organs anymore, which we know is completely wrong. So it’s yeah, it’s very it’s very interesting that you have that conversation quite early. 

[00:11:54] I want to talk a little bit about the techniques that you use to manage your endometriosis, because it is something that I certainly talk about it with my clients a lot. 

[00:12:05] The idea that you’re you can you can reduce the pain, control the pain through breathing, but through different nutrition and lifestyles techniques. How did was it a case of trial and error for you to find the breathing techniques that worked for you? 

Leeanne [00:12:24] Yes, it was. I laugh because when when I got the pain and it is excruciating pain which stops you dead in your tracks and you just can’t do anything. 

[00:12:39] Your body tenses up everything, tenses and you and you’re just, you know, like a solid brick. And I just thought, well, I’ve seen on on TV, I you know, I’ve seen women give birth and they are doing they are breathing and they are breathing, doing the, you know, that kind of breathing. So I just thought, well, if if a woman is able to give birth and use this breathing technique and she’s obviously suffering, suffering with a lot of pain, then how about I try that? And that’s what I start I, I started doing. So I would I I’m just trying to think now whether I get any kind of initial signs, I think I kind of know when something’s going to happen. And as the pain sort of hits me, I then just start that and, and then get slower and slower and slower until it eases and it goes. And I try as much as possible to not tense, to keep my body tense. I tried to just let it go and just almost work through it. Yeah. 

Le’Nise [00:13:50] There’s so much so many interesting things in what you’ve just said there. So firstly about breathing, we know that if we think about a practise like yoga, where breathing so the pranayama is a core part of the practise. And what we know is that when you regulate your breathing, so your the the inhale and exhale that can shift your nervous system and calm down so many different areas. So mentally but also physically. The other the other thing you mentioned, which I see a lot with my clients with endometriosis, is the tensing. Yeah. And you see that they often physiotherapy is really powerful for women with with endo because of that, that tensing and the that the effect that that has on the pelvis, but also on a biological level, because when you’re tensing, your body is using a lot of calcium. But then when you relax, you start to use more magnesium. All right. So that tensin, that process of magnesium and calcium doesn’t happen in the body. So what you’re saying is just it’s your, it aligns with so many other conversations I’ve had. 

Leeanne [00:15:12] Oh, thank God. 

Leeanne [00:15:14] Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s very common with with women endometriosis. They they tense alot, but you then might introduce something like magnesium and other and some physiotherapy techniques that help unwind the body a little. You can make a massive difference. 

Leeanne [00:15:36] Yeah. Yeah I’m sure. I’m sure it. I’m sure it can. Yeah. Pretty sure it can. 

Le’Nise [00:15:41] So you got you got your diagnosis and then you use these various techniques to manage the pain and then. And then what happened next. 

Leeanne [00:15:51] Right. So I got married and me and my husband lived in a lovely little marriage bubble for four years, which was great. And then we decided that we wanted to have a baby. So we fell pregnant. I fell pregnant very, very quickly after we started trying. And again, that was fantastic news. 

[00:16:16] We were in a really lovely, happy bubble. But then I suffered a miscarriage. I woke up one morning and I just knew something wasn’t wasn’t right because I had a blood in my, um. In my underwear. Yeah. We went to the to the hospital and that’s when they told us that we’d lost the baby. And so that was obviously a really awful time. I remember that when they did the internal scan, they said that I had a 10 centimetre fibroid in my way and I was shocked, didn’t know anything about fibroids. 

[00:16:55] And they said that that was what had caused the miscarriage. So I we said, okay, well, what do we do? What do we do now? And the I remember, this is quite a number of years ago, I remember the doctors saying, well, we have to, I don’t know, do some kind of investigation or or something. And we said, well, does this mean that we can’t have. Is it going to be difficult to have children, more children? And obviously, the stock answer, well, we don’t know. But it may inhibit or reduce the chances of a viable pregnancy. But anyway, I think I don’t know what happened. Me and my husband just decided to just crack on and fell pregnant again. 

[00:17:43] And we had a viable pregnancy because I now how we have Eva. But I do remember again, having, well not again, but I had a very significant bleed quite early into the pregnancy and I thought again that I’d lost the baby I’d lost Eva. But luckily I hadn’t. And and we now have a beautiful twelve year old daughter. So yeah. So what happened with that, with that fibroid. I don’t know, but I’m sure we’ll get back, come on to that in a minute. 

Le’Nise [00:18:20] So what’s interesting about what you said is that a lot of women get told who have fibroids is that they won’t be able to have children. And you, unfortunately, had a miscarriage due to the fibroid. But then you had a viable pregnancy. So it’s really interesting because they you can have different outcomes with fibroids. Talk a little bit more about what happened with your fibroids after you you gave birth. 

Leeanne [00:18:53] So at that at that time, I, I gave birth to Eva and then I forgot about it. I didn’t do I didn’t consider it because I had my baby. I won’t go into it. But quite frankly, I don’t think it was the fibroid that was the issue. I think it was something else. 

Le’Nise [00:19:12] OK. 

Leeanne [00:19:13] And anyway, no, I won’t go into that because it would make me very angry. But I don’t I don’t think it was the it was the fibroid. So I left it. I left it for years and years and years continues just to live my life. But then I, I got unwell again. And this time it was my thyroid. So I was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. 

[00:19:39] And my options at the time was to have oh, I can’t remember it now, but a radioactive ingredient that goes in that you ingest or to have the thyroid gland removed. So I was really suffering with the hyperthyroidism. For a number of years, I didn’t know at the time that why I was, you know, the symptoms I had and didn’t realise they were related. So it was, you know, extreme sweating, mood changes again, really quite extreme, you know, loss of memory, just erratic sort of behaviours. I was eating like a rugby player, but I was losing significant amounts of weight. I was never putting any weight on. It was it was quite ridiculous, actually, when I think back on it. But the worst thing was how it affected me emotionally. My mental health, I was really struggling at that time. And so, again, presented with an option to have the thyroid gland removed. 

[00:20:48] And because the years before that were so hard with me and my husband, we thought that this was the best option for me. I had the surgery, but again, prior to that, they try a load of medication and whatever I did all of that, nothing worked for me. So I had a total thyroidectomy. Surgery went a bit Pete Tong. I had to I went in to had to be put into. Well, actually, the surgery didn’t go wrong. It was the after bit. Luckily, I was put straight into intensive care. That’s what my surgeon does routinely for all her patients after a thyroidectomy, I essentially started suffocating when they took out all the breathing apparatus. And so they had to intubate me and I was in an induced coma for four, five days. And and then obviously I came round and then dealt with after that sort of coming coming to terms with all of that and what happened, potential loss of life. I mean, my husband and my daughter went through maybe two, three years of trying to get our heads around all of that. And that’s when I realised, because then afterwards I was told that my parathyroid glands were damaged. So not only did I have to start taking thyroxine, I have I had to start taking a calcium replacement as well. 

[00:22:19] And this is something that I have to do now for the rest of my life. And in terms of the the thyroids as well, it is very, very difficult. It is a long journey to get the balance right. To get the balance of thyroxine right. And I, you know, just completely exhausted by it. And again, that whole. Why me sick of this? You know, this is horrendous. So I forgot about everything else that was going on in my life because I had to focus on that because that was the biggest thing that was happening. I didn’t know what was happening with my periods. Really, I tuned out of that because actually up to that point, I was every 28 days, you know, regular as clockwork. No issue, really. And then I started to notice that my periods were getting really quite heavy, really heavy. But then I thought, well, this must just come with age. This is what happens. And then I started to pin everything on my thyroid issue, my hormones. And I thought, okay, this is maybe just something else. It’s related to that I’ll have to deal with. I’ll just crack on. So if we fast forward a couple of years. So let’s go to 2016. 

[00:23:35] Yeah. I started a new job. This is about four years after my total thyroidectomy. Everything was going fine. After a year into that job. My periods were so heavy that I couldn’t. I was scared to leave the house for fear of driving. I’d live. I live in in West London, but I work in Hertfordshire. It’s a 50 minute drive from my house to the office. And in that time period, I would have filled up a maxi pad and also a super plus tampon in that 50 minute period. And it got to the point where I was so scared that I would get to work, get to the car park and I would have come through, that I would just have to turn around and go home. So really, there was no point in me going into the office when I was on my period. 

[00:24:37] And that’s when things started to change for me, because I thought, well, hang on. This is starting to affect my my life. This is starting to affect my work. I can’t. I can. How can I phone up my director and say I can’t come into the office because I’m on my period? It sounds utterly ridiculous, but it’s the truth. So I had to suck it up. I had to deal with it. I had to do. I dealt well, I didn’t have to, but I dealt with the accidents, you know, the embarrassment, the. This is this just what what’s happening to me right now. 

[00:25:11] And then I started to notice other things. I started to notice a change in my eyesight. I’d be driving and the right side of my eye was which I would almost lose a bit of my peripheral vision, which starts to frighten me. I started to notice that I was extremely tired. I’d go to sleep. I’d wake up and it wouldn’t would I feel like I hadn’t actually slept. And I thought, what the hell? What’s going on? Didn’t connect the dots at the time. Just thought, oh, Leeanne, you know, you’re a mess, but just keep going. Right. So I kept going until I just thought, no, this is probably dangerous. Now, me, me driving, don’t know what’s going on. I started yoga and was loving it. Bikram yoga. Absolutely fantastic for the mind and the body. And then I started to feel really faint in my yoga, in the yoga classes every so I just saw what’s going on. Is it because it’s too hot? But hang on. I’ve been doing this for a while now, but literally feeling like I was just gonna pass out. So I stopped. I stopped going to yoga. I went to the GP. They sent me to I went to the GP, went to the opticians. And obviously everything. Nothing came back sort of conclusive. You know, you’re fine. Everything is okay. But then so I thought, okay, fine. Kept going. Kept going. Things were getting worse. It was worse. I started to speak to my sister when I whenever I speak to my sister in a sign she said, “Leeanne, are you running or something?” 

[00:26:51] I said, no. She said, “Why are you so short of breath?” And I said, “Really? I said, No, I’m not doing anything. I’m just walking around the house.” So shortness of breath, extreme fatigue, loss of memory, not able to concentrate. You know, I could list all these things. Classic signs of anaemia. 

[00:27:13] So I went to the doctor again and had another blood test. I was used to these because of my thyroid condition. And the doctor said to me, “wow, Leeanne, your iron and your haemoglobin and ferritin levels are so low. I actually need to admit you to hospital, like, right now.” So I said, “what, what? What the hell? What what’s all this about? What’s going on? Why?” And she said, “well, tell me about your periods.” I said, “well, you know, they’re really heavy and blah, blah, blah.” And she’s like, “right, okay. Well, I think we need to do some investigation work to find out what’s going on, because it sounds like your periods are too heavy.” So  I thought at that point I’m gonna go via private healthcare. Yeah. Because I’m so privileged that I have this facility. So I thought, okay, look, let’s let’s go down that route and and see what happens, what comes of that. So I saw a gynaecologist and had a scan and the gynaecologist said to me, “oh, you’re presenting four months pregnant. You have about six or seven fibroids in there all the size of a small tangerine. This is what’s causing your heavy periods.” When she said to me, “what are your periods like” and I said, “well, I use a super plus tampon and a pad and I have to change that every hour.” 

[00:28:45] And she went, “Whoa.” And I said, “Is that not normal?” She said, “No.” it sounds ridiculous. Well, I didn’t know. I thought that was normal. I thought that’s what we had to go through. 

Le’Nise [00:29:01] But it’s interesting because at the beginning of the conversation, you said that you remember this lesson from school where they talked about 1/2 a teacup. So what you thought was normal changed for you. 

Leeanne [00:29:17] Yeah. 

Le’Nise [00:29:18] Based on everything you had been going through. 

Leeanne [00:29:20] Yes. Yes. So I pinned it on the experiences over the last five, six years. Right. So I thought, well, it must be that I’m getting older. I’ve had, you know, thyroid surgery. I’m taking a load of hormone tablets. So I think tablets are affecting my hormones. It must be these things that’s causing, you know, the heavy the heavy periods. You’re absolutely right. I don’t know why I didn’t even think about that. So. So, yeah. So that happened. This was just last year. All of this happened. So the first thing was to have an iron infusion. Yeah, to to actually help me feel better sort of immediately. And then my gynaecologist suggested I should have a Mirena coil fitted. So I had the Mirena, the Mirena coil fitted in November last year. Yeah. 

Le’Nise [00:30:19] And what did, the iron infusion I mean, just to give a kind of clinical perspective, to have an iron infusion. You have to have a ferritin level of, I think it’s of below something like eight. 

Leeanne [00:30:35] Yeah, yeah. 

Le’Nise [00:30:37]  I can just imagine how you were feeling at the time. The heavy bleeding, the the extreme fatigue. And I see that a lot with with clients with fibroids. That iron infusion, how did you how did you feel afterwards? 

Leeanne [00:30:57] So the haemotologist said to me, he was a great, great guy. I’ve actually met a load of really great doctors and nurses throughout this this crazy process. I’ve been through a crazy journey, should I say. He explained to me that I would feel I would start to feel different after, you know, two, three weeks, because essentially I was I’d be making new blood. So that would then be oxygenised. I don’t even know if that’s a word, in my body I would just start to feel the benefits then. One of the things that I noticed so I have suffered from anaemia throughout my my life, I suppose, since I started my periods. 

[00:31:49] And it’s always been up and down. Yeah. And I have been going to GPs and saying, “oh, I’m feeling tired.” Not as bad as as, you know, what I’ve experienced recently. Really tired. Oh yeah. Yeah. You you have anaemia. You need to take some iron tablets. And I keep on, I kept on saying to them, these iron tablets really aren’t agreeing with me. 

[00:32:12] I am getting really bad cramping pains in my stomach. I feel nauseous. It’s just awful. Is that no alternative? No. Here’s another alternative to an iron tablet. Okay, fine. I’ll take them off you, but I won’t take them. Yeah. 

[00:32:34] So I tried to introduce iron rich foods into my diet. However, you know, those will only take you so far. Yeah. For me again, in that whole time I used to crunch ice. I used to eat ice. Yeah. All the time. And it annoyed my entire family. Right. And I thought what I do when I want it just felt like the most normal thing for me to do. I’d, you know, go into the freezer, get a load of blocks of ice, sit down and just go on eating all this ice. Right. And the most significant change that happened to me after that iron infusion was I stopped eating ice. I can’t even begin to explain to you how huge this is in my life. Right. Whenever you see Leeanne in ber comfort, you know, in her comfortable space, you see Leeanne with a glass of ice. Right. The ice went. I didn’t know that was a symptom. It’s one of the symptoms of of anaemia. Right. One of the weird and wonderful symptoms. That was the biggest thing that I noticed and stopped eating ice. 

Leeanne [00:33:47] And then slowly but surely, I started to get some energy back, which is quite remarkable. I was able to go for walk to the park with my daughter. Without me, you know, feeling like I was going to pass out. So, yeah, it was quite significant, significant change. 

Le’Nise [00:34:04] So this symptom that you mentioned, it’s something called pica, where you want to eat things that are non food related because your body is just has this intense need for this for whatever the mineral is. In this case, it’s iron. So it’s interesting. I don’t see that a lot. But that’s very interesting that you had that. So you had the infusion and this is all last year. Yes. And then what did they say to about the six or seven tangerine sized fibroids? And I just actually, for listeners who don’t know what fibroids are, they are non-cancerous growths that can be in the uterus, within the muscular lining of the uterus or outside of the uterus. And they can be as small as a cherry and they can be as big as a watermelon. So for you, what what was the next step with addressing the fibroids? 

Leeanne [00:35:04] So the next step with well, the next step was addressing the bleeding. So that’s why we opted to go to have the Mirena coil fitted. So the gynaecologist were recommended having that procedure first and actually seeing if it would stop the bleeding because or reduce it significantly, because obviously then that’s what was causing the anaemia, which then was why I was getting tired of blah, blah, blah. The fibroids have never caused me any pain. So my main issue was the heavy bleeding. So that’s what we thought we’d treat. So we have that. I had that done in November. In so I have the Mirena coil fitted, she said. The gynaecologist also said that if she could, whilst she was fitting the coil, she would also try to remove any fibroids that were in the cavity of the womb. Yeah. And I thought, brilliant. Yeah. Double whammy. Excellent. Let’s go with that. Came round after the surgery and she said we couldn’t. None of them were in the cavity. It was just too difficult. They’re all in the lining, as you said. Subserosal, submucosal. Yeah. It couldn’t be got got to in that way anyway. So she said, let’s just see how you go. And we’ll just keep an eye on it. So I did just that immediately after the surgery. They give you medication, transexamic acid. I was taking to stop you from bleeding too much so that you don’t so that the body doesn’t distort the shape, you know, the the embedding of the of the coil. I stopped taking that in at the start of this year and I thought that everything was OK. I thought, okay, I can deal with this level of bleeding. It was every day. But I knew that there was a certain period that I had to go through whilst the coil embedded in my body. So I went to see the gynaecologist in February this year and I said, “look, everything seems okay. So far, so good.” She said, “Great, fine. Off you go. We’ll just continue to monitor.” And then what I noticed was at the end of April. I. So I was bleeding every single day. Yeah, every single day. Not really heavy, but every single day. But I thought that’s okay. But this is what’s supposed to happen for about six months. Or it could could happen for about six months. 

[00:37:54] This is what I was told. 

Le’Nise [00:37:56] You were told that you would have daily bleeding for 6 months. 

Leeanne [00:37:59] Yes. So I thought, okay, that’s that’s fine. I’ll I’ll keep going with that. But then towards the end of April, the bleeding got really, really heavy. And I don’t want to put anybody off their meals if they’re having meals at this time. But I started to pass blood clots the size of my palm. 

[00:38:20] And I started to get really scared because I thought, I don’t know if this is if this is if this is meant to happen. And the bleeding wouldn’t stop. And it was like I was a leaking tap, but a very quick leak. So this was nothing like I’d ever experienced before. And all that I kept on thinking was, you know what, thank God we’re in lockdown and I’m forced to stay at home, because that would be absolutely no way in the world that I could go to work or do anything right now. 

[00:38:54] I called the hospital. Obviously, we’re in lockdown. I did not want to go into hospital, but I had to call them. And I said, this bleeding is really bad. It’s not stopping, I’m passing these clots. I don’t know what to do. They said call, they said call, you might be better off contacting,the you know, your gynaecologist, the person that fitted the coil, whatever. I obviously explained all the history, contacted the gynaecologist. And I said, look, I just want to know if this is to be expected or if if something has gone wrong here. So she arranged for me to have some and some scans, internal scans. I went and had the scans and the fibroids had changed. They had grown more. And I looked at the lady that did the scan and though she had a mask on her face, I could tell that she thought, well, I really don’t think anything’s worked here. Don’t think you’re going to stop bleeding. And I thought, oh, for goodness sake, you know. I was really upset. 

Le’Nise [00:40:00] Yeah. 

Leeanne [00:40:01] So I then had a follow up with my gynaecologist. And then was presented with some options. She confirmed that my fibroids had changed. They’ve grown even more. I now developed polyps in my womb. And so she said, we can do a hysterectomy, again. A myomectomy. And she also mentioned to me, taking an injection that would reduce the fibroids. So these injections every once once a month for I think a period of three months, something like that. However, they would bring about menopausal symptoms. So I thought, I don’t want to do that because, you know, my history now, I can’t be dealing with any of that. So the decision was between the myomectomy and the hysterectomy. And because everything was just horrendous, I at the time we discussed I discussed it with my husband and said, “I’m done with this. I want this over. I don’t want to deal with any more issues to do with periods, fibroids, further surgery.” If I opted for the might for the myomectomy, they would remove the fibroids, but then they might grow back. So there might be more surgery that follows. And I thought, I can’t be doing with that. I’ve done enough. So I said, I want it over. I’ll go for the hysterectomy. As soon as she wrote that down, I knew that actually maybe no. But she wrote it down. I left the hospital. Me and my husband spoke aloud at everything to settle. And I think I just needed a bit more time. I started to think about my options. Is this really what I want to do? And luckily, you came into my life and you suggested something that I’d never heard of, which was the UFE, uterine fibroids embolisation. I emailed my consultant and I said, is this an option for me? We discussed it. She said that it could be, however, because I have multiple fibroids. I might not be the ideal candidate for that. So where are we today? 

[00:42:36] I pressed pause on everything. I said to the consultant. I need more time. I actually just want my body to settle because it’s been through a lot. I had another iron infusion. I had that two and a half weeks ago because obviously I know the symptoms now in terms of anaemia. So I knew I mean, you imagine if I’d been bleeding since the start of the year. And then, you know, sort of mid to end April. It was a very, very heavy month. 

[00:43:06] I spoke to my mum. I spoke to my mum. And I said, “Mum, this is what’s happening.” And she said, “oh, yes, I remember, you know, so and so”. One of her friends suffered with fibroids and she would be bleeding like a slain mule. Right. Slain mule. Oh, my God. 

Le’Nise [00:43:25] A graphic image. 

Leeanne [00:43:26] Right. And I’m thinking, oh, my God. But. But. Oh, my God. Yes. That is exactly how I was bleeding. Yeah. No one should have to deal with that. Yeah. Okay. So but then what’s really interesting. So. 

[00:43:42] So at the moment what I will say, is I’ve pressed pause on everything I feel I’m starting to feel much better because I’ve had the iron infusion. And it seems like my body is starting to settle down. Yes. Significantly. Now, I don’t know what’s going to happen in in a month’s time or even in a week’s time, but at the moment, I think I’m okay with where I’m at right now. Having a hysterectomy is a major decision. Even at 41, having any kind of surgery. And and that’s the reason why I don’t. Although I said I want it over. I don’t actually take these things lightly. I’ve had surgery. And now I know when you have significant surgery, you remove a part of your body. It doesn’t just affect that part of the body that it’s being taken from that’s being impacted. It impacts your entire body. Yeah, it impacts your mind as well. And for me, having gone through what I went through with my total thyroidectomy and knowing that these tiny little glands are massive and I wish to God that I knew more about it at that time because I don’t think. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I don’t think that I would have opted to have that surgery if I knew more about it and the impact it would have on the ongoing impacts they would have on my life. And, well, what I will say as well is when I did go back to my to my GP at one point and I said to her, I asked her, I said, “Look, in terms of anaemia, so do I. Do I have any other options here? What are my options here? You tell me more. Don’t tell me about medication. Is there. Is there anything else? Can I do my own. Can I take my own stuff? I’ve done a load of research and I know that. And I know that everyone keeps on talking about it now. But, you know, sea moss and bladderwrack and dandelion and Burdock and all these things, I said, you know, can I can I take all these things and will they give me what I need?” And she said, “Leeanne, I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know enough about that.” Yeah. She said, “I don’t know enough about it to advise you, on it?” She said, “By all means, yes, do that.” But she said because of the stage that you’re at right now, I can’t recommend that for you. Yeah. You need to have you need to have something now. And I thought, okay, I hear you. 

[00:46:19] But the learning from that is if you allow yourself time, if you tune into what your body’s actually doing, there are alternatives. Yeah, I do. I wholeheartedly believe that there are alternatives. And I think those alternatives need to be explored. 

Le’Nise [00:46:38] What you’ve gone through is is quite a journey. And what’s really interesting is throughout, as you’re describing it there is this what you just described as you just had to get on with it. You kept going. You kept going. What do you think you would say to someone who is going going through something similar? 

Leeanne [00:47:01] I would say talk to talk to as many people as possible. But experts, I think. If talking about it helps because there are things that other people may be going through that you could probably learn from. I wouldn’t have known about the UFE had my best friend not had a conversation with me about a period podcast. And then, you know, your introduction and then you were so brave to come forward and say, but have you considered this. Right. Um, I think that it’s about time, isn’t it, that we had open conversations. I’ve just said to you that I learnt everything that I knew about period through the conversations that I had with my friends in the playground when I was young. Yeah. And reading Judy Blume books. Why is it that that conversation stops as we grow up? 

[00:48:03] Yeah. Why does why do we stop talking about it? Why do we feel shame or embarrassment? We shouldn’t. As soon as I started talking about the coil. Right. Everyone. Well, most people. Oh I have that. Oh, I have that. Oh, is it, really. What was your experience. Yeah. Oh, it changed my life. Oh, there’s this is really awful period that you’d have to go through where everything is embedding. But actually, when you get past that, it changed my life. These are the conversations that people were having with me almost after the event. If I had those conversations prior, I think they probably would have helped. Yeah. I probably would have done a little bit more digging. Would have been more informed. Yeah. Probably would’ve felt a bit more comfortable about what was happening at the time as well. So I think it’s important to have those conversations with people. Yeah. Yeah. 

Le’Nise [00:48:59] What’s one thing that you want to leave listeners with? You so bravely shared your story today. And I know that my listeners will take a lot out of what you’ve shared. What if you kind of had to distil everything that you’ve said into one thing? What would what would you want that to be? 

Leeanne [00:49:19] I think it’s that we know our bodies best. Yeah. And I remember somebody it might have been a yoga teacher saying something about your body is whispering to you all the time. Yeah. And you just have to listen to it. And as wishy washy as that might sound to some people, it’s actually very profound because your body is telling you it’s giving you signals and it’s giving you signs. And what I’ve learnt is and this is the way that I’m trying to have this conversation with my daughter. I’m trying to get her to understand her body, understand it, you know it best. So don’t have people tell you, oh, you, you need to do this or you need to do that. No, you pose some questions. If I do that, what’s the impact? Yeah. What do other people do? What are the alternatives? Is this the only way? Is this the only method? If you know your body and you do your research, you’ll be able to have very informed discussions with experts. And I say that in inverted commas about stuff. Yeah. So I think that’s the one thing that I would I would say to people. 

Le’Nise [00:50:39] You know your body best. I, I think that’s really powerful and that really helps helps women understand that they when they’re going into these situations with healthcare professionals and they feel like they’re being dismissed or diminished that it gives them the impetus to push on. 

[00:51:02] Because if your body is whispering to you. And my yoga teacher said that to me as well. One of my tutors when I was training, your body gives you whispers and you need to listen to the whispers. And that’s where how we’ve gotten to the situation where there’s pain and this bleeding that so many women experience has become normalised. And we need to change that and go back to the idea of listening to your body. But really listening. And really taking those learnings. 

Leeanne [00:51:35] Yeah. Can I tell you one really quick thing? 

Le’Nise [00:51:39] Yeah. 

Leeanne [00:51:39] I remember the first time I had a conversation about periods with a group of older, older women. Yeah, I was with my group book club friends. Yeah. And I don’t know how we got on the topic. We were reading the most horrendous book at the time. I won’t tell you what it was called, because it’s so embarrassing. 

[00:52:02] And I actually brought it to the table. But anyway, it got us talking about periods and what not. And one of my friends said that she lost a tampon cord and she couldn’t bloody, you know, get the tampon out and she had to get a partner to come and find it. And then somebody else spoke about a cup that they used rather than using tampons and stuff. And you know what? We were laughing. We were laughing. We were joking. And we were having very honest conversations about what is the most normal everyday thing. How about we do more of that.

Le’Nise [00:52:40] Thank you so much for coming on the show. I again, thank you for your bravery. Thank you for your honesty. And I really hope that you find the healing that your body needs. So thank you again. 

Leeanne [00:52:53] You are most welcome. Thank you for having me. 

Period Story Podcast, Episode 26: Allysa Rochelle, Hold Space For Yourself

On today’s episode of Period Story podcast, I’m pleased to share the wonderful and very expansive conversation I had with Allysa Rochelle, the Vulnerability Queen and founder of TING. We talked about trauma and its effect on menstrual health, the vulnerability spectrum, why Black women need to embrace softness and of course, Rochelle shared the story of her first period.

Rochelle says that after she got her first period, she kept it secret for 4 months. Eventually, pain become a big part of her period life and she learnt to just get on with it, which she says was part of the negative programming she had around her period quite early on.

Listen to hear about the pivotal moment where Rochelle changed her perspective on the pain she was experiencing and the role trauma played in this.

Rochelle talks about a light bulb moment when she realised that she had been ignoring her needs because she had always been in service to other people. She says that she had to get really still and ask herself: ‘what do you need? what are your needs?’

We had a fascinating discussion about the stereotype of the strong Black woman and how important it is for Black women to embrace softness too and let themselves be vulnerable. 

Finally, we talked about Rochelle’s self-styled title, ‘The Vulnerability Queen’ and how important it is to lean into vulnerability in a very intentional way.

Rochelle says that we need to hold space for ourselves and never ignore what we’re feeling. I completely agree!

Get in touch with Rochelle:

Website: https://tingonline.uk and https://www.allysarochelle.com

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

Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/AllysaRochelle/

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ROCHELLE’S BIO

Allysa Rochelle is the vulnerability queen, she is a podcaster, and the founder of TING, a social enterprise for young creatives. She combines her experience of significant trauma in her childhood and her love for creativity to curate content that inspires people to begin their own healing process. 

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: On today’s episode, we have Allysa Rochelle. Rochelle is the vulnerability queen. She is a podcast and the founder of TING, a social enterprise for young creatives. She combines her experience of significant trauma in her childhood and her love for creativity to curate content that inspires people to begin their own healing process. Welcome to the show.

Rochelle: Hey, how you doing? Yeah. Good.

Le’Nise: Good. Let’s start off by getting into the story of your very first period. Can you share with us what happened? 

Rochelle: Yes, I can. Oh, I just want to kind of like preface before I even start talking and just be like I. My story of my first period. So I am so happy that you asked me to be on this podcast has actually got me thinking about my period. And and I just want to put some trigger warnings in. Now, there’s a lot of stuff that might bring stuff up for other people. Yes. So I just kind of say that before I start. So, my first period, I think I was about year seven, so like 11, 12, that time of age. And I remember being in my lesson and, and being in, like, uncomfortable, but sometimes something’s happening and it’s like a belly ache because obviously as a kid, I’m like, oh, this is a belly ache. And then I remember at some point in the day, going into the toilet and noticing that something was in my pants and it wasn’t red. It was like blood red. It was like, brown, that kind of colour. So I remember being really embarrassed and being like, Oh, my God, have I shit myself type thing, like that’s just the truth? I literally thought that I had, but I’d also be like I definitely haven’t like, I would have know if I did and just not knowing what it was, it was that there was no I had no information as to kind of what was happening into my body.

So, for the next few days, it kept on happening and I just kept on being confused, like watching my knickers at home and hiding them and then just going through that whole process. And that happened. And I said nothing for about I’d say about four months. And then it got to a point when I was like, something keeps happening to me and I’m not I don’t know what it is. And so, like, just kind of I kind of come back to tell me about your first period. When I think about that, I think about how did I, how was I not prepared for that situation? So, yeah. That’s who it was like. It was traumatic. And I suppose it was my first entry. No, it wasn’t my first entry, I was very used to shame by then. But it was like a massive, shameful thing for me because I was unaware of what was happening to my body. I was in a lot of pain and I wasn’t speaking about it at all to anybody. 

Le’Nise: So your friends hadn’t had their periods yet, or it was just that you just weren’t having that conversation with your friends. 

Rochelle: I think if we had spoken about periods at that point, it was like the same way, like kids talk about sex, it’s like nobody knows what they’re talking about. You’re just saying the words trying to sound like an adult. So if somebody had said something about a period, I probably just pretended I knew what was happening. But I think it was. I don’t know. I probably need to dig into this a little bit more or maybe not, but I don’t know why I never correlated the two, like something. Maybe I didn’t realise it was happening monthly. It was just happening randomly. I mean, I you know, I didn’t have enough information to kind of put the pieces together to figure out that it was it was my period. 

Le’Nise: So when did you figure out what was happening? 

Rochelle: I think eventually I am. I told my mom, the mom, myself, my mom didn’t have a good relationship because she is extremely religious and extremely conservative. And eventually I spoke to her. She was just like, that’s your period, why didn’t you tell me? And I was like. I suppose it’s like how how, how, why did I not know that? Well, also, like, how did you not prepare me to know that type things? There’s a whole lot of stuff going on. So eventually when I told her, she kind of basically just gave me some sanitary towels and told me to get on with it. 

And then I didn’t know is. Once I realised what it was, it. I didn’t. I don’t know if the pain got worse, because I remember I was in pain before I knew what it was, but after I knew what it was, the pain became like. I don’t know, a big part of my period life. Like anybody that knows me, knows that Rochelle has very bad periods. I I’m at times unable to walk. Not much now. And, yeah, lying down. Not going to work. How lucky. It stops my life like that. I got to a point in my life where I was like planning for days off, a month of doing nothing because I physically couldn’t move. And I remember like because of her cultural stance and religion, as I am, say like you get on with it. You do what you need to do. You don’t get to be in pain in you’re a woman now type thing. And so there was a lot of negative programming around my period very early on. 

Le’Nise: This idea of just getting on with it. Your mom gave you the sanitary towels, told you just to get on with it, and you took that message even though you were in significant amounts of pain. So four days of pain a month where you plan to do nothing. That’s 48 days a year. I mean, that’s that’s a month and a half of your year being in pain. And, you know, when I talk about pain a lot with my clients and the rest of my work. And being able to put your pain in context like that and say, you know, for 48 days a year, you expect to be in a lot of pain. And the fact that you you have this and you’ve been and you’ve internalised this message of, oh, I just need to get on with it. It says a lot about our culture and how we’ve tried to normalise women’s pain. 

And I want to understand a little bit more about. So you said that things are different now. What have you done to change the pain or change? Your expectations around the pain. 

Rochelle: Good question. I think it’s also I think I have to say this point, you know, it’s a kind of make my next point. So actually, after I started to have my period. I was probably say after like a year or six months, I started to then be sexually abused. And so I think that. And that lasted a very long time. And I think that my. Because I am I have more of a spiritual kind of like lens on life now. I think that the pain I was experiencing probably got a lot worse because of the trauma was experiencing at the same time. Yeah, I probably would. I’d say I’d probably put money on the fact that it did and my body was reacting. And so now I my, my period pains have only been, I would say, bearable, like I’ve been able to. I remember the last time I had to go home, because of my period. It was last year. So that’s that’s quite a long time for me. Just to have that amount of time not be completely like, on bedrest is a really good time. I would say in the last year or so, I’ve been able to do stuff like that I’ve actually planned to do. And I think it’s because I realised how much trauma I had still stored in my body. And I started it’s kind of like pay attention to it and do like exercises and be mindful of the fact that, like adapting to lose your mentality around pain isn’t normal and maybe the pain is a residue off like, somebody said to me once. And I really hope that I can experience in the way that people understand. She said to me, I was on a retreat and this was in 2018 and the retreat was 8:00 in the morning until 6:00 at night. So we had had lunch and we were supposed to come back and do some activities. I came on my period. And I’m a person. I’m not extroverted. I’m not a look at me type person, I was in so much pain. I couldn’t take part in the afternoon activities and they couldn’t move on without me being in the room. And so one of the founders came upstairs and she said, when you experienced. She came up with magnesium, to give me some magnesium, which is like when you experience trauma, especially in that womb space. She says everything in the universe expands and contracts is how we like things move expansion and contraction. 

And the same for your womb. And she said it’s possible that it’s contracted so tightly that it needs to expand for your period, it struggles to do so. 

And it just gave me a different perspective because I had never you, don’t I? I just had never seen my body in that way, or I never. I was still working out how everything was interlinked and everything is connected like everything. And I’m still I’m still understanding that now. It still blows my mind how much one thing can really affect another. And I just had this kind of image of like my womb just being so tightly held together, tightly constricted because of years of trauma in that space. 

And then. All the pain made so much sense then I was like, well, of course, if you if I if I have to be on my period and my body needs to go through this process, and this used to be because I’m actually quite tight, naturally, as a result, I had to hold it up. And so, yeah, I think since 2008, since I had that kind of realisation and I’ve been more mindful about how the body holds trauma. I think my periods have got better. I think I started to eat better, I’ve started to move my body. I think just having an awareness has shifted for me. So. So, yeah, my period are painful 100 percent. But I realise now it would be for four days. I’m I’m day three and I’m still screaming, you know. I mean now I reckon it’s probably like one day of extreme pain, maybe a bit of pain the next day. Half the day. And then I’m OK. Yeah, it’s it’s not it’s not completely I’m not pain free and there was still time, so I think I take co-codamol like for the pain that I have. But it’s nowhere near as bad as it was like 10 years ago. 

Le’Nise: That’s interesting what you say about magnesium, because I see this along with some of the women I work with who have really severe period pain or who have things condition such as endometriosis or adenomyosis, where it’s a contraction in their body and the pain. It also it almost causes them to kind of hold in like tighten everything and kind of they get so used to doubling over in pain or contracting themselves into a ball because, you know, when there are a lot of pain, you kind of all you want to do is lay down. And I know this from my own experience. You want to lay down and you kind of just contract into that kind of. You’re into that foetal position that can be so comforting. But that contraction is a kind of scientific level. You’re using a lot of calcium in the body and then magnesium. It helps. It’s a relaxing mineral. So it helps to release everything. So magnesium, I mean, I recommend it all the time. It’s one of my favourite supplements. But it’s interesting that you’ve seen being able to identify that kind of contraction and having a tool like magnesium and other things you’ve been doing to release that has been so powerful for you. I want to ask about the pain that you’ve been experiencing. Did you ever speak to anyone about it? Did you speak to a doctor? 

Rochelle: Yeah. So I have been I’ve been to the doctors. But that’s such a good question as well. I think there’s this thing about doctors not really paying attention very much to black women in pain. And so that was my experience. But I’m also very, very desensitised to support and the system. So I kind of just go in there knowing that, you know, this is awful. But I’m just going to call it out. I expect the bare minimum because I’ve been I’m used to receiving it, if that makes sense, especially when it comes to systems like education and health care. And so I had kind of done my own research beforehand. They never went through like I’ve never been tested for endo. They’ve never liked to do this. It’s just never been anything more than contraception. Here you go. And so I was very I didn’t want to do be on the pill or anything. I tried the pill once and I was so sad. I remember the day. I felt like I was heaving like wanting to vomit. And my stomach because I have IBS as well. I have a dodgy stomach situation, believe it came out really and it was really hard. And I was like day one. I was like, I know you probably could try this for like seven days and it might get better, but I’m not going to do that. And so the contraception that I decided I would take was the patch because it just wasn’t internal and and it allowed my periods to stop and less pain.

So when I so I did that and it worked. But then I just. I just wanted to be more natural. And so I kind of just the idea that, like hormones I have like a weight issue, I gain weight quickly. And I just I’m not on top of my health enough to kind of then add hormones. And it’s like I kind of know that, like, this is a slippery slope. I’d rather deal with the issue. So I stopped using the patch probably around the same kind of time, 2018. After the years just doing it. And yes, that was that’s basically all the doctors have ever kind of like offered me. It’s never been more of a conversation around other things. I do have friends who have endo and they’ve had to tell me they’ve had to fight to be taken seriously about the pain that they’re experiencing. And I do. And I have wondered sometimes if it could be something more serious, maybe have PCOS or maybe, you know, maybe you have. And I’m also very aware that like that I have to call it out, I’m on a journey. This is why I call myself the vulnerability queen. For me, it’s a process like I. I know that I have to get to a process where I prioritise myself enough to kind of like kick down the doors at the doctor. Well, just to kind of like connect that again to my upbringing, I wasn’t really taught that your kind of needs matter, if that makes sense, just to kind of go right to the example of my mum being like here’s some pads, just get on with it. And so I think there’s definitely a remnant of that kind of thought process and programming when it comes to my own needs. Even today, I’m continuously working on so, you know, and maybe in the future I will go to the doctor if I can’t fix it myself. I’ll go to the doctors and I’ll probably get tested for something. And I don’t know what it could be, but I know that there’s something not right there. 

Le’Nise: I would really encourage you to explore that because, you know, the pain that you you are experiencing isn’t normal. And I really wouldn’t I don’t want you to continue to live like this. Everything you’re saying is like ticking off certain boxes in my mind. I don’t want to do the whole thing. 

It’s like you’re not one of my clients and I don’t want to go down that road on the podcast. But I would really encourage you to speak to a health care professional and explore what options are available for you for testing, because there’s so much there and it’s. It is part of that journey of you knowing that your needs matter. And I want to ask you about that, that that whole idea of growing up and seeing, hearing this programming of all your needs, your needs, they don’t matter. Talk about how you started to understand that your needs do matter and what you’ve been doing to explore that and reinforce that message to yourself. 

Rochelle: So that retreat that I went on in 2018 is called The Bridge. The Bridge Retreat. Yeah. If anyone wants to search it up on Instagram, The Bridge Retreat they’re amazing. And it’s all about grieving like things that happened to you. So it could be anything. It could be the fact that you has your house burn down when you were a child and you lost absolutely everything each could literally. We don’t grieve, and that’s the problem, that we’re not naturally like, oh, society doesn’t allow us to grieve in the way that we should be. So in that I understood that just kind of telling my story and having a space for me to be heard. How much I hadn’t been heard up until that point. And. That was just I mean, this is two years ago. I think it is a bit of a light bulb for me. Oh, wow. Like, I have been ignoring my needs and I’ve been in service for other people because my job is always in service. I help people. I support people. That’s what I do. And so kind of like looking at my co-dependency and all the things that have come out of the me not knowing what my needs are. So the first thing was to kind of get really still and ask myself, what do you need? What are your needs? Which is a wild question. If you have if you don’t like, you realise you don’t know the answer to that question. It’s like. I don’t know it can be like bomb drops. How could I not answer that question for myself?

And I’m still learning how to answer that question. I ask my question because I asked myself that question consistently now that what do you need at this moment? And you can start off with something like you’re dehydrated, you need to drink water. You know, I mean, I drink because because you need the water. And and you and your programming would actually tell you to complete a million different tasks for other people before you drink that water. You know you need that or you need sleep now or you need rest because you’re tired and you’ve done enough for today or or you need to be seen in your relationship by your partner in a way that they haven’t seen you because you’ve not said that you need to be seen in this way. Do you know what I mean? I think it is just like it was many different ways of identifying what I needed for me to kind of start feeling like my needs were worthy.

And then because I think another thing as well is that this. I just think the way in which society is formed is so detrimental to people like because this whole thing about ego. I mean, there’s there were massive conversations about ego. But I think when it comes to kind of like people being really firm in who they are and what they need, it can come off as quite abrasive to other people. And so I think as women as well, you’re consistently like ‘oh no, I’m okay, oh no, I’m okay’ because you just don’t want to be this abrasive kind of abrasive, egotistical kind of person. And also being a Black woman. You don’t want to be aggressive or whatever, or all of the things they put on you.

Le’Nise: Quote, quote, unquote, “aggressive”.

Rochelle: Yeah. So I think, like figuring out your needs and then voicing them. It’s a task in itself and then especially for people that are from similar backgrounds as me, but then doing that and knowing the way in which society kind of sees Black women. And the way we’re seen as, once again, aggressive, attitude problems. I don’t know. A lot like that. You have to grapple both of those things at the same time. And, yeah, it it becomes political. Like when you just want to be healing, like you just want to be working out like who you are and how to be. good. And you’re now navigate these identity politics at the same time. It’s just it’s just a thing. And so, yeah, I think just kind of identifying my needs and working out what they were was just a series of me asking myself questions on a daily basis. What do you need right now? What do you need right now? On a very simple level, was like water but on a deeper level when it comes to the part I play in relationship with people. Getting really real with myself about how I do too much for other people. Why? Why I do too much. And what does that take me away from doing for myself? It’s journey, isn’t it? It’s an ongoing journey. And yeah, I think it’s just a long journey. 

Le’Nise: What do you think about the the idea of the strong Black woman? And how do you think this plays into this? This idea that we as women, we tend to put our needs second anyway? I think that’s the kind of thing that a lot of women do. But as this idea of a strong Black woman, you you feel like you you can’t show vulnerability. You have to be so-called strong all the time because loads of people are standing on your back trying to get ahead. What do you think about that? 

Rochelle: I think the strong Black women like stereotype is mad interesting is what you said is the strong woman, the Black woman is quote unquote strong because she puts everyone else’s needs. Is that strength? Is that strength? And it’s like, why is that stereotype being perpetuated so strongly, you know, because it’s it’s like the Black woman I know are strong. If I thought generationally, when I think about the elder women that I’m aware I’m aware of in my family, they’re very much so women that do carry their families on their backs, for example. Is that is that strength cos I would have preferred to see strength of a woman that put herself first. But then, like I say, it gets it gets political when we start thinking about the reasons why Black women had to pay those role. You know, the fact that Black men are way out of it, especially in America. I need to know more about the way in which the family structure was affected by systemic racism in the UK. I know within America like the men were like taken out of the houses. And obviously you’ve got mass incarceration and other things. So many things paint into kind of why women have to become these strong, but I think it’s strong by default. 

I especially like, within a little aside, like a commercial break. I was on a date once with this white guy from a dating app. I would just let me just try. Let me just try something different. Right. And I realised at that moment this is not I can’t do this because I sat with him and talking and he said that he loves Black women because we’re strong. And I felt fire in my chest when he said that: I love Black women because they’re strong. And I was like, do you know why we have to be strong like that? I was like, you can’t like, this is not, it’s not. What is that? What is that? This is ages ago before I kind of, I suppose, had the vocab to really understand it myself. But the idea that, like Black women are seen as martyrs that carry everybody and everything and forsake themselves is not strength to me. And I hate that it’s romanticised in a way and kind of like it doesn’t allow for softness. Yeah. And. I can see what you want about me. I’m very, very formidable. I’m like, I’ve got this, like, energy. People think that I’m strong and whatever else, I want to be soft, too. Mm hmm. And I don’t want to be around people that don’t allow me to be soft because I’m a strong Black. I’ve had exes that have said that, oh, you’re you’re so intelligent. You’re so strong and I’m just like you, this is where the relationship ends because I just don’t like it. I also quite zero tolerance. What I’m doing was I just like you need to be able to see beneath that. So I think I think it’s damaging. 

But I think that I think that the strengths and stereotype comes from a need to support a family because society has failed the Black family for a very long time. That’s basically that. And if the society wasn’t failing Black families then the strong Black woman wouldn’t need to exist.

Le’Nise: Your story about the date reminds me of this scene. Have you read Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

It’s a must read it, it’s so good. So there’s a scene in it that’s similar to the way that your date went, when she goes on the dating app, she meets this guy and then he talks about how he loves Black woman and he loves strong Black women. 

And it just kind of the date just kind of descends into chaos from there. Yeah. But yeah, I agree with you that it’s damaging and it leads to this idea that we can’t be soft and it’s also damaging internally because you feel like you can’t be vulnerable because people are expecting so much more from you. And it’s certainly an issue that I’ve had in my life. You know, this idea that you have to be strong, you have to be strong. So many people are depending on you, but this leads into what I want to ask you about, you call yourself the vulnerability queen. Tell me why you tell. You talked a little bit about that in the beginning of the podcast. But just tell me where where this comes from. The Vulnerability Queen. 

Rochelle: So I started a podcast, The Vulnerable Podcast in 2017. And it came about because, like I said, my job, I’ve always been in service. I work with people and young people especially. And the role I had at the time was head of pastoral in the school. So I was like looking after the needs of the whole school. And that job was like a combination of all of the jobs I had done that was similar up until that point. So my job has always been everybody else’s needs. And what was happening is I was kind of hearing a lot of stories about people’s, you know, traumas and stuff. And I was realising that I was hearing the same things over and over again and that we were all going through the same things. And shame stopped us from like experiencing those things. Shame stops us from sharing those things with other people, because you didn’t want to, I suppose, feel embarrassed about them. So that was like that was like one point. I was like the reason why I started the podcast. But then I reflected on my own experience with vulnerability and the way how I was raised to, like, not have any vulnerability at all. You do not speak on things that can make me to be seen like I don’t at an extreme level. Like I feel like when I think about my mom and even the way she conducts himself now, I’m just like.  It’s really sad that nobody, she doesn’t let anyone in to hurt her person. And it’s a shame and it’s that guilt that stops having been very vulnerable.

And so to me, I was like, no, no, ma’am. I’m not going to do that. I’m going to lean into my vulnerability and encourage other people to do so, too. Specifically, people that look like me, that are from places that are similar to where I’m from because shame eats us up so much, so much more. And, you know, I think it’s easy. I think it’s fair to say they it eats Black people up way more because outside of kind of like, the internal shame in your community, you’re dealing with the racism externally and how that shame can manifest in other places. In your work life, in your education, in life. Do you know I mean, is you’re managing so many, you’re spinning so many plates? And it’s killing us because we know that stress turns into sickness. Do you know what I mean? And so for me, vulnerability, I think where it’s like. You get to kind of release things that you shouldn’t be carrying for yourself or holding something that isn’t yours. And by no means am I like some kind of guru. I’m figuring this out, but I kind of. 

I want to call it a thing like I want to say that I am. I am consciously and intentionally working in vulnerability on a daily basis to support other people, to kind of decide that by actually modelling, that to me is really important. And not just to find, just to be like, really, honest if I’ve had to find some balance with that. Because when you’re coming from trauma initially, when you think about vulnerability, it’s like I’m going to tell the world everything about me and everything that’s happened to me. And it’s going to be some type of oil spill of trauma everywhere. Right. Because initially, that’s what vulnerability is like when you first step into it. And on the healing journey. Oh, no, I, I don’t have to say all the things, but I can still get to model vulnerability in a different way. So I’ve had to kind of on the vulnerability spectrum, let’s figure out where is the safe space for me to do the work that I know that I’m here to do, but in a safe way for me. And that’s just something I’ve been able to pick up on and develop my therapy and stuff. Yeah, that’s my thing. I think it is modelling vulnerability. And it makes me think I hope one is my ex-students DM me a couple of days ago, I was just talking about the things that she’s been experiencing and the books that she’s been reading and how she likes my Instagram and stuff like that. And I’m like imagining an 18 year old Black girl from South London is so typically not what you would put together. But she’s able to kind of like see the types of things I am posting and kind of apply these things to her own life and her own personal healing journey. And that’s that’s the kind of I that’s the kind of that’s how I kind of want to that’s what I want to do. 

Le’Nise: It’s hard to be vulnerable. And it’s hard to. I love how you said that there’s a spectrum to vulnerability, because I think that a lot of people think that to be vulnerable, you have to completely open yourself up. And if you’re used to holding things for yourself and having everything internalised for so long and the idea of even opening up a little bit is really it’s really frightening. Well, I want to ask, is that spectrum of vulnerability that you mentioned? How can someone who is listening to this and thinking, I connect with that, I connect with that need to be more open, to be more vulnerable. And vulnerability isn’t a bad thing. How can they start on this journey? 

Rochelle: I think journalling. Well. I was thinking, like of some big items and I was like, no, there’s no big answer. I think journalling means is helps me to to tap into those kind of feelings that I don’t want to say out loud to everybody. And. Sometimes I’ll just be, there’s journalling that you’re encouraged to do at night. And when you wake up in the morning, there’s that. And that should definitely be done. I think it’s important to do that before you go to sleep. And when you wake up in the morning, put this to me. I’ve caught some of my best like vulnerable, I think best vulnerable moments not like that there’s some type of like race. Like in the middle of the day when something just bubbles up and it just comes out and I’m like, whoa. And it almost brings me to tears. And then I write it down because that needs to it needs to leave. I find that I think giving the vulnerability a space is important. So when you’re having a moment where you’re feeling vulnerable and it’s come out of nowhere, for example, society’s programming will have you bury it and put it back down. And I’m like, create a table for it. Like, let’s put it on a long time. What is going on? Like the like like you would serve dinner on, like a table that’s set. Like, let’s bring that to the table. Do you know I mean. And what is that about. Write it down. You don’t need to know what it’s about right now. But but I think it’s important to pay attention. And I like the ritual of paying attention to me is writing it down. I think people can start there.

I would also encourage, I find friendship really interesting because I have had the most phenomenal friends in my life. People that I can I can speak to about anything. And I am more mindful now that a lot of people do not have that. A lot of people have really superficial friendships. And that, to me, makes me feel claustrophobic. How do you not get to share a part of who you are? So I would say if you’re in a friendship circle and you feel like you don’t get to tap into that part of you that you’ve seen and heard, then make a new friend like put yourself out there. I’m very much just say, like, I need somebody who I can be friends with and be myself with. Write that down, call in and then go out to these places and meet someone that you that can be your friend in that way, because it’s important that outside of yourself that other people are able to hold space for you too you know, in a way, it’s kind of like validation of who you are because we’re not islands are we as people like we feel the things that we feel. But it’s incredible to be supported by someone else. You know, if you don’t have that family, I don’t, it has become my friends. And if it’s not your friends, then your partner. You know, I think it’s important to have someone. I think it’s important to take inventory of who is in your life and who is actually able to show up for you. And if there isn’t anyone you can identify, call someone else in. You have to. For me that’s a non-negotiable. You have to have people around you that are that allow you to be your complete self. 

Le’Nise: It’s interesting, you talk about details about journalling and then you talk about how you relate and how you’re vulnerable to others. And this idea, it’s two types of vulnerability. It’s being vulnerable to yourself and acknowledging how you feel and really going there and going deep into certain thoughts and feelings. And then also allowing yourself to be open and vulnerable with others and finding that that support network. I think those two areas are really interesting and really powerful and give people a good starting point. So journaling is something that anyone can do. You can do it on your phone. You can get a book. You know, a bit of paper, doesn’t matter. But this even writing a couple of words down and then thinking about those words is really powerful. So I love. I love those two options that you gave there. I want to talk more about your work. So tell us about your your business, the social enterprise Ting

Rochelle: Yes. Like I’ve said, I’ve been working with people for a really long time. And in 2018, 2018 was a really pivotal year for me. I keep saying it, don’t I? I look at my chart, my solar chart or something and see what was happening there. And so I left education that year because it became too much. Once again, like we don’t get to separate identities. And as a Black woman working in majority white spaces, it was way too much for me. And supporting Black students at the same time, so it was kind of being asked to support these kids and then fighting for my own kind of like humanity. And if I could, I could no longer do both things.

So I left and I went to work within the creative industries supporting people to get mentors in the creative industries. I realised that and realised that the issue that I faced in education existed outside too. So spaces weren’t safe for Black and Brown people. There was a lot of opportunities created for marginalised groups in terms of like an internship programme and here’s a mentor or here’s some funding. And it was kind of like plasters on wounds. Let’s just give them something. So we feel good. We feel benevolent. And I was just like this doesn’t feel right, because I’ve spent I’d say the best the best part of the last 4-5 is hooking people up with the most phenomenal opportunities, but also having conversations with them about their ability to access those opportunities. So, for example, their family is being made evicted and they’ve just got this mentor and they really want to make use of that opportunity, but they’re unable to do so because of life and the similar things that are coming up over and over again. Mental health is a big thing that comes up, not having jobs for young people. Massive. And how that’s affecting their mental health. And so I was having those conversations way more. And I’m realising that my job title wasn’t paying me to kind of make do with that kind of pastoral stuff. I was just doing it and realising that if we could kind of put some support in place for that, a kind of an equity piece that allows these young Black and Brown people to access these opportunities and then thrive. 

Then that’s like a that’s a big piece of work that could literally change a lot. In which the way the industry is because they like you know, everyone talks about retention and recruitment and we need to be more diverse. And it’s kind of like. I just want to get into the nitty gritty of the reasons why. And I just didn’t feel like anybody else saw. And to be fair, my jobs and my life experience have allowed me to see things in ways that people can’t. So it’s not like me throwing shame on the industry, it’s more maybe like let me take my lens and what I know, to be sure and do something. So Ting is essentially a personal and professional development service for companies and young people. And so with companies that might look like, what, I’m going to come in. I’ve had conversations with companies that have internship programmes that I just like, ah yeah, a director gets an email and then we just kind of find it two weeks a month. I know this is nepotism first of all, you know. I mean, like, that’s not going to support diversity. Like, there’s so much going on there. And it’s like, OK, I can come in and help you to develop that internship programme and create like an internship scheme that allows you to kind of get into more diverse communities because I have access there.

And then I can work with the young people to prepare them to go into your space because they need to know they need to have resilience to be in that space. We also need to be a safe space and receive them and know what you’re both kind of working with. So that’s why I’m saying my life has kind of allowed me to see things on both sides and Ting is that we provide the personal and professional for companies and personal and professional for young people. And it’s at the beginning stages. And so I’m kind of at the stage and I was kind of starting sounding like a new entrepreneur, figuring out like the best ways in which to kind of get this done, it’s super new, but I feel like it’s I think it’s going to be really good. 

Le’Nise: Yeah. I think it’s incredible. What an amazing idea, because you’re right. These companies have these diversity programmes, these internships. 

But it’s kind of like it’s this idea that you, the the young people going in, they need to be prepared to code switch and they need to know what that code is that they’re switching to. It’s like I think I used to work in advertising for a long time, and the example that always sticks in my mind as young people from various backgrounds coming in and it’s the sushi with clients example, you need to tell them that they need to learn how to use chopsticks and that they might have sushi with clients. And some people say, oh, they’ve never had that in their life. They have no idea that how to use chopsticks and kind of need to have that conversation with them. And there’s a million other examples. Yeah. I really love that. 

Rochelle: It’s the cultural capital. It’s like they’re not coming to the table, like you say, with the same utensils that everybody else has. Because if you think about the advertising is extremely middle-class, extremely white. And if you think about these young people that work in advertising, it’s very likely that they’ve had dinner parties with other people that work in advertising when they were like 12. I mean, I have been in conversations about things and pitches and brands and stuff, and I didn’t know anything about that until two years ago. I’m that person who had to learn how to eat with chopsticks pretty quickly because I had to be able to understand it and explain it to younger people that were coming in. And I think I’ve just got to a place I suppose, once again, going back to the beginning of this conversation about needs and worthiness.

I’ve I’ve I’m starting to kind of understand that I am the best person to do this job. And like, I don’t get to opt out of that because of my own lack of self things that I’ve had growing up. It’s like, oh, no, this is time to step into who you are now. And in spite of everything, it’s I know this is this is what is that you need to be doing, at least for now. And it requires you to show up in full health. So you’re right. I do need to check out my my period situation. I need to do a lot of things because I. Yeah. When you get to a place where you’ve been doing the work, wherever the left looks like for you and you and you have places like this tells me is actualisation. You have to know that you have to step into that wave, firing on all cylinders, operating on your best health, hydrated, well fed, it’s the only way. Because the truth is this: I can be. I can be as ambitious and romanticise this new thing that I’m about to do all I want. If I’m not healthy, it’s not going to work. And the young people I want to support, they’re not going to get the support. So there’s there’s no there’s no, there should be no trophies for martyrdom. And I think I think that this is why this is the the programming and I’m doing the vulnerability for me. I am so just like I have been taught. I have seen a million times so many women from my community have been martyrs, so many because they didn’t know any better. And I do. And to me, it’s like I definitely have been a martyr for so long. And now I’m like, I don’t want to do that anymore. 

Luckily, I’m still alive and I still have my my faculties in place. And I still have I’m so young enough to kind of switch it around. And so I think that there’s definitely a strong call to be like that. We need to kind of, you know, get our house together and really start into the next the next phase of my life. 

Le’Nise: And so to round up our conversation, if someone’s listening and you want them to take one thing away from all the amazing things that you’ve said, what would you want that to be? 

Rochelle: Hold space for yourself. I haven’t said that explicitly, but I think the whole conversation, there’s been examples of me holding space myself and not all the time did I action anything because I didn’t have the tools to action. I suppose even when I was 11, like having my period, like four months before I even said anything, I was I was present and something was happening and eventually actioned it. And I just think that if you can hold space with yourself and be honest about how you’re feeling good and bad. I call the thing a thing like this is not it’s not something that should be ignored. Do not ignore what you are feeling. Hold space for yourself. Do not ignore what you’re feeling. Write it down and speak about it to someone that you trust. And that and that is on everything. Anything like it. There’s nothing too small. Too big. Like literally anything. It’s so important.

Le’Nise: Thank you so much. I think that’s so powerful. Where can listeners find out more about you?

Rochelle: You follow me on Instagram at @allysarochelle. And I’m quite active on Instagram. So follow me there and then you’ll find links to everything I do.

Le’Nise: Great and all of your links will be in the show notes. Thank you so much for coming on the show. 

Rochelle: Thank you. I really enjoyed this conversation. It’s allowed me to tap into a different part of my experience. And so thank you so much. Amazing. Thank you.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 25: Jasmin Thomas, Have Confidence In Your Voice

On today’s episode of Period Story podcast, I’m so happy to share my conversation with Jasmin Thomas, the founder of Ohana CBD

Jasmin and I had a wide ranging conversation, including discussing her multiple sclerosis diagnosis, Rastafarianism, medicinal cannabis, Jasmin’s decision to start Ohana CBD, being Black and female in the cannabis industry and of course, the story of her first period. 

Jasmin says she felt quite isolated and uncomfortable when she got her first period. She says that as she was growing up her period was okay and that as she got older, she started to tune into her body more, understand her menstrual cycles, track her menstrual cycles. 

Jasmin shares her story of coming off the pill. She says she didn’t feel as though she felt real emotions whilst on it and when she came off the pill, she started to feel everything a lot more.

Listen to hear about Jasmin talk about multiple sclerosis and the symptoms that led her to seek out a diagnosis, the support networks she leant on and how she explored natural medicinal options to manage the condition.

We talk about Jasmin’s family links to Rastafarianism and medical cannabis and how this led to the birth of her company, Ohana CBD. She said that she had a desire to live her most authentic life and starting her own company was a part of this.

We talk about Jasmin being a Black female in the cannabis industry and what Jasmin has done to hold others in the industry accountable. 

Jasmin says that we should have confidence in our voices and live as our most authentic selves and I completely agree! 

Get in touch with Jasmin:

Website

Instagram

Facebook

Twitter

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JASMIN’S BIO

Jasmin Thomas is the founder of Ohana CBD, a vegan, functional and CBD-infused skincare company. Ohana products are 100% natural and contain unique formulations that combine powerful plant properties that serve the skin, from seed to self.

Jasmin was diagnosed with MS in 2015.  She started using cannabis to alleviate various frustrating symptoms of her condition. Her medical journey led to her professional one, which now allows her to pursue her passions.

In 2018, Jasmin co-founded entOURage Network, a women’s empowerment organisation that cultivates a platform for people to engage and explore Europe’s legal cannabis market. 

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise [00:00:00] On today’s episode, we have Jasmin Thomas. Jasmin is the founder of Ohana CBD, a vegan functional and CBD infused skin care company. Ohana products are 100 percent natural and contain unique formulations that combine powerful plant properties that serve the skin from seed to self. Jasmin was diagnosed with MS, multiple sclerosis, in 2015. She started using cannabis to alleviate various frustrating symptoms of her condition. Her medical journey led her led to her professional one, which now allows her to appreciate her passions. In 2018, Jasmin co-founded Entourage Network, a women’s empowerment organisation that cultivates a platform for people to engage and explore Europe’s legal cannabis market. Welcome to the show. 

Jasmin [00:00:48] Thank you so much for having me. 

Le’Nise [00:00:50] Let’s get into it. So tell me the story of your very first period. 

Jasmin [00:00:55] So I remember actually very, very well. I was 16. I was actually 16 and a half. It was August. And I was in Newquay in Cornwall. And I was at a post GCSE trip as my first trip away from my parents with my friends. And we were about two or three days into the trip. 

[00:01:19] And I was saying at this hospital with all my girlfriends and I, that’s when I first came on my period. And I remember I didn’t. I was like, oh, what am I going to use, I didn’t have anything with me? And then all of my friends had, like, you know, had started their period, like years before. Some of them had started them when they were 10, 11, others when they were 13. So I was really the last one to the party and they handed me a tampon and I did not feel comfortable using it at all. 

[00:01:52] Like nothing had been up there before. So I didn’t really feel comfortable using it. I was like, oh, crap. And I felt quite isolated. I was like, they didn’t understand why I didn’t use a tampon. And then I had to kind of like, you know, go to the shop and get pads. And I just felt really uncomfortable. And where we were staying in this hostel, it wasn’t really that great. We were. It was a 16 year old’s budget. So I actually just got the train home because I just remember I went to see my mom and I wanted my mom so, like, navigate and it’s time for me. 

Le’Nise [00:02:24] So you were 16 and you said that your friends had gotten their periods much earlier, so one as early as 10. What did you feel in the lead up to your period arriving? Which. Did you have a sense that it was about to come or. And were you. What did you know? What was what was it going to happen in terms of what a period actually was? 

Jasmin [00:02:47] So I knew a period was and I knew some of my friends had started it theirs. And I remember actually when I was much younger, my best ever friends since I was seven years of age when we were about nine, her mom bought us these matching books because we liked everything to be matching our clothes, our books, absolutely everything. She brought us matching books, called Hairs In Funny Places which describe developing breasts, developing your period. So my family is very open. So I was always very aware that I was going to get my period what it was. For some reason, because I just didn’t get it and I didn’t get it to like I don’t know what compared to my peers was quite late. I just didn’t think about it. So I was quite shocked when it happened. Even though I had been in situations before where I could actually also remember now that my cousin came on her period for the first time when we were staying at my dad’s house. 

[00:03:50] But even then, I remember my dad not really knowing  what to do and calling my mom like, you need to come and help me. Like, you know, our niece has just started her period. I didn’t feel any sense of like particular symptoms or anything like that leading up to that date in August when I was just over 16, that first started. 

Le’Nise [00:04:11] So you got your train home because you wanted to be with your mom? Totally understandable. And when you got home, what did your mom say? 

Jasmin [00:04:22] I don’t actually remember that part in a lot detail, to be honest. I remember she was just like she was quite encouraging of me to stay. And she was that, you know, you’ll be okay. Fine. But, I mean, I never really liked. I’ve always been quite a homebody anyway and kind of like being close to my mom. So I was like, this didn’t feel comfortable. But I remember she always wanted me to use pads. She wasn’t really comfortable with me using tampons. And then I didn’t until I did. I didn’t. And I didn’t actually start using tampons until after I had had sex. 

Le’Nise [00:05:03] And did that make a difference? 

Jasmin [00:05:06] It just made me feel more comfortable with inserting something inside me. I think that’s kind of like where my logic was coming from. At the time. But yeah, from then for the next 10 years, I then use tampons like for every period. I never used another sanitary towel. 

Le’Nise [00:05:27] And what was your relationship like with your period after you talked about the transition from pads to tampons? What about the experience of the period? 

Jasmin [00:05:38] So my period when I was younger was always really it was an okay experience. I’ve never really had like a very heavy flow. So things like leaking through my clothes and stuff like that. That’s never happened to me. I’ve always like as, especially as I’ve got older. I’ve got a lot more in tune with my body, so I know exactly when it’s going to come so I didn’t get caught short. But yeah, it was kind of okay, I didn’t really until I was twenty six is when I really started to tune into my body, understand my cycles, start tracking my cycles. Kind of like get up into the key science of when my period was. And then also that’s also when I became more conscious about using tampons and what kind of contraception I used and how that could potentially affect my period. My periods did get a bit more heavy. I do actually suffered from quite sometimes quite severe period pains as well. So the first day of my period is always a bit of a nightmare. I’m exhausted and I can’t really do much. But then it only last three or four days thereafter and it’s really light and it’s fine. 

Le’Nise [00:06:50] Talk about why you started tracking your period and what led you what you how you started that process. 

Jasmin [00:06:59] That was mainly because so 26 was maybe a bit too early, I should think. I started that when I was twenty seven. So from the age of maybe 17 to 20 or 25, I was on the pill. And then obviously when I was diagnosed with M.S. at 25, I started looking at my lifestyle very holistically. So I looked I opted for medical cannabis for my choice of drug. I started looking at my skincare routine and eliminating all toxins and potential hormone disruptors from my my everyday routines, my diet and lifestyle. And that really got me thinking of what the pill could potentially be doing to my body and any adverse effects. And I also felt like I just didn’t really feel like real emotions while I was on the pill. I found it very confusing. So I wanted to get very, very in tuned in my body. I didn’t want to take contraception, so I wanted to look in to natural cycling. And that is when I started to track my period and have been doing so ever since. 

Le’Nise [00:08:14] So was it the MS diagnosis that made you come off of with the pill? 

Jasmin [00:08:20] I was already actually off the pill just because I didn’t have a partner at that time, so I came off the pill when I was 24. I didn’t have a partner again until I was 26. So I think that had a contributing factor to exploring natural cycles in a lot more detail. 

Le’Nise [00:08:43] Talk a little bit about that. What happened to you as you as you came off the pill? I’ve always find these stories quite interesting because they can vary so widely. So you you said earlier that early about how you knew didn’t really feel your mood. So talk a little bit about that process. 

[00:09:07] Well, yeah. I just did it. Really. So I don’t really feel like I didn’t feel like I’d felt real emotions. And I had also noticed how it distrupted my feelings about someone or my feelings within a relationship. And also, like not feeling the like the signs of PMS. So I wasn’t really feeling any of these emotions. And once I came off the contraceptive pill, I really started to feel everything a lot more. So it became a lot. I became a lot more in tune with my body because then I would know when I’m gonna come on my period. I would know when I’m ovulating. I was like, I’m really sensitive. So I really I can really feel even when I’m ovulating, like, I know, like just from like those pains in my stomach or the little twinges that I feel. So I think it just really helped me coming to terms with that. And then also just looked at other things I could support myself with state of mind and mood to other natural supplements to to support me through my monthly cycle. 

Le’Nise [00:10:13] It’s quite in. I’m not saying that 24 is young, but to be able to make that decision that you wanted to feel you moods and you wanted to get more in touch with yourself at that age is quite I think was quite astute. I think what my experience of women coming off the pill is typically in their in their early 30s that they start to think differently about that. So I think it’s really interesting that you made that decision when you were so young. 

Jasmin [00:10:46] It was it was heavily influenced. I think, like, I am basically my mother’s twin. I really, really my mom has never been on the contraceptive pill before. She’s either always on natural cycling or used condoms. And we had had these conversations and, you know, she my kind of like holistic approach to life has very much come from her and probably influenced the type of medicine that I have since used since being diagnosed with MS as well, because we grew up with a homeopath. And, you know, my whole entire time is vegetarian slash vegan. Everything’s very plant based. Everything’s very holistic. There is like a lot of use of natural medicine. And I think that has really influenced me since an extremely young age. So I have always been quite conscious about these things and then just implemented them again and they really came to the forefront of my mind once I was diagnosed and had to kind of like evaluate my life and, you know, put strategic things in place and pillars in place to make sure that I was going to continue living my best life with the with the education that I had. Kind of like, you know, that I received from my my family up until that date. 

Le’Nise [00:12:10] Can you talk a little bit about your MS diagnosis? But before you get into that, can you share for listeners who don’t know what MS, multiple sclerosis is, more about what this condition is? 

Jasmin [00:12:25] Yeah, of course. So MS, as you said, is multiple sclerosis. It is a autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. And to be more specific, it is the protein that protects the myelin sheath, which is the nerve endings in your brain and spinal cord that it attacks. And I was diagnosed on the first of December 2015 and I first noticed symptoms from the summer of 2015. One of the triggers of symptoms can be heat. And that summer I was in Marrakech in July, and it was like 43 degree heat. 

[00:13:05] It was so hot I literally couldn’t do anything. I remember, like, not even be able to get in the pools and pools so warm. And I was like stuck under a parasol the whole time. And then when I got back, I had lost the hearing in my right ear quite considerably, and I was like, this is so weird. I had also been on like 10 flights that year so far. So I was like, maybe I’ve been flying too much. It’s just affected my ear. 

[00:13:31] But then I kind of also had vertigo and I was having extreme exhaustion every day at four o’clock. But I left it a couple of months and then I was like, I also had vibrations down my spinal cord. And I was like, wow, I’m really working out too hard in the gym cause I could really feel this in my back. And I was like saying my other friends that, you know, after doing loads of sit ups, do you really feel it in your spine? And they’re like, yeah. So you get the tremors and they’re like, yes. I said, okay, cool, this is normal. And then by September, October time, my my hearing hadn’t returned. So I was like okay I should probably go to the doctor’s about this now. And I got referred to the Nose, Ear and Throat Hospital in King’s Cross and they checked out my ear. And was that there’s nothing wrong with your eardrum. Everything’s fine. But you do have quite considerable hearing loss. You know, we can give you a hearing aid, but you should probably just go. It’s obviously something to your brain. So go for a scan. And so they sent me off for an MRI and then it came back that it was most likely going to be MS, which I was quite shocked about, because, again, going off my family history, no one’s had any illnesses. 

[00:14:41] And it’s been kind of like, you know, we haven’t even had anyone in the family with cancer. So we had never I’d never really experienced an illness before or any kind of serious illness in my family. So, yeah, that was quite a shock. And then. Yeah, so kind of that that’s how I found out. I had a saying I’d never experience any serious illness in my family was actually not true. Thinking back about I did actually have quite severe meningitis septicaemia when I was 17, which I think could be a contributing factor as to why I maybe then went on to develop MS because I did have yeah, I did have meningitis when I was 17 and I caught it quite late so it was quite severe. 

Le’Nise [00:15:29] So talk about the support that you you had around you when you got your diagnosis. You said you were shocked. So what what sort of support networks did you lean on? 

Le’Nise [00:15:42] So my family were really, really supportive and they still are still to this day. I then went to therapy as well. So I had therapy at the time to deal with that. But if I’m being really honest, the initial shock didn’t really last that long. And then I mean, I remember actually sitting in the room with my mom and the doctor telling us, the neurologist telling us my mom was crying and I just didn’t really cry. And I kind of just thought, like, you know, I’ve kind of always been a things happen for a reason type of person. No point in crying over spilt milk, though. I’m quite optimistic. So I’m like, okay, that’s fine. Like, there is a way to go over there and never really had. 

[00:16:33] Yeah, I was I never reached out like depressed or hard done by by it. I kind of just the yeah, I think the natural reaction in within me was I okay like, let’s go on with this now. How am I going to fix it? How am I going to manage it and how am I  just going to make sure that this doesn’t stop me in achieving any of my goals in life. 

Le’Nise [00:16:54] Wow. So you had you had quite a go getting attitude to then moving forward with it with MS? 

Jasmin [00:17:03] Yeah, definitely. I almost immediately knew that I didn’t want to accept any of the disease modifying drugs just because some of them didn’t really align with my personal beliefs. And, you know, I’d grown up a vegetarian my whole life. I was already vegan by then as well. And a lot of the lot of the medicines were based around animal fats. I didn’t necessarily feel comfortable putting in my body at the time. The other drug options were like things like chemotherapy. I was only 25. I want to have kids one day. So there were a lot of kind of like factors around it. And then some of them give you a 30 percent chance of then living with a thyroid issue for the rest of your life, which you have to take more medicine for. 

[00:17:47] So my rationale and thinking at that time and kind of like I think because of my, because my family influence always has been, there’s a natural alternative way to get on with it. So that’s when I really started exploring natural medicines. My granddad is a Rasta from the Caribbean. So he had been using cannabis for the whole of my life, as had other people in my family. So something that was very open and discussed and talked about. So I was already aware that cannabis was seen as a potential medicine. Also, weirdly enough, on the 2nd of December, the day after I was diagnosed, I started a new job in a business development role. And the first client that I was handed was a company called GW Pharmaceuticals. And they are the biggest medical exporters of cannabis globally. And the drug, the one drug they had approved at that time was a drug called Sativex. And it was medical cannabis specifically designed for MS patients. 

Le’Nise [00:18:58] Oh, wow. So that’s like literally like the universe. Oh, yeah. Whatever you believe. Sending something right in in your path. That is that is incredible. 

Jasmin [00:19:10] It was super, super weird. And my my boyfriend at the time was also a Rasta who ran a hydroponic shop. So he was very deeply ingrained in the cannabis industry already. My granddad had been teaching us our whole lives about that. And then the day after I started that new job. And that was the first client I was given. So I believe in this. Those signs. Exactly. And, of course, I was definitely happy to follow them. 

Le’Nise [00:19:38] Can you just talk a little bit for listeners who might not be aware of, firstly, what Rastafarians are and the role of cannabis within Rastafarianism? 

Jasmin [00:19:55] Yeah, sure. Rastas don’t really like to be referred to as a religious community. They are a collective of people who believe in God, and they do they follow the Bible. And they believe that cannabis can be used as a sacrament and can basically help bring you to a higher state of meditation. And that could also encourage reasoning, which is a compensation to explore subject matters that you can one day become enlightened on, essentially. 

Le’Nise [00:20:39] Wow, that’s so interesting. 

Jasmin [00:20:41]  Very snapshot. 

Le’Nise [00:20:43] Yeah. Yeah. There’s so many questions I could ask you off the back of that. And so there it started in in Jamaica. Is that right? 

Jasmin [00:20:57] Yes, it did. So it starts in Jamaica there proper. It was started, well, what the Rastas follow is the word of Marcus Garvey and Marcus Garvey said, you look to the you know, you look to Africa for the next rising basically. And he will come in the form of, I think I hope I’m saying this right, I think it is direct lineage of King Solomon. And he will be he will be you know, him and his queen will be seen as equals. And they he will be a he will be a leader that has not been conquered. 

[00:21:39] And that. They see that, as Marcus Garvey was talking about Haile Selassie, who, you know, him and his wife were crowned on the same day, so they were seen as equals. He’s seen as having direct lineage, lineage to I think is King Solomon. I really hope this is right. And then also, they were Ethiopia at that time was a country that was that kind of like fought off the Italians from conquering them. So they saw that as their next leader. And Haile Selassie is the second coming to them and who they follow. 

Le’Nise [00:22:20] That’s so interesting. And in terms of the cannabis element of it, you say you grew up knowing this about cannabis and the background and the importance of cannabis to Rastas. So when you got your MS diagnosis, talk about how you said you started using cannabis to start to alleviate some of your symptoms. 

Jasmin [00:22:47] So it’s quite funny because even I grew up like around and knowing the benefits. I didn’t actually ever use it myself. So it wasn’t really like a recreational cannabis user. So it wasn’t my first experience, but it was still one of my very early experiences. So I started to smoke it. So any time that I got aches and pains, frustrating symptoms, I would smoke it and it would literally relieve my symptoms within like 10 to 15 seconds. It was always, always very quickly. However, cannabis affects everybody differently. And I was not somebody who was a functional stoner. So I would always have to wait until the evening until I was done with work for me to be able to medicate. One of the other ways that I liked consuming it was in food. So I quite liked edibles just because I liked cooking and it was quite different creative way of doing it. And then also sometimes it’s just really easy. So if you don’t always want to smoke, then I could just like eat a chocolate truffle that tastes absolutely delicious and it’s going to have the same effects. Another way that I started using it was in topicals. So obviously, like I said when I was at work, I’m not able to consume and I’m also just not able to like function. So I use topical application and I would bring that to work with me. So if I ever did have, like, sore knees or sore hips or muscles like muscles where like my my symptoms at that time, then I would use a topical application which would again give me a lot of relief and kind of hence where Ohana was birthed from through falling in love with the topical use. After about two years I because I was working in the space and that I had really, really good a good overview to the formulation scientists, the pharmacovigilance team, and really understanding for the first time the actual science behind it and understanding the science behind cannabis, how it interacts with our bodies, how it interacts with our brain, the entourage effect and how it kind of like how it was helping me. I was it like I said, I was a business developer at the time. So I’ve always been quite inquisitive and I really had like a thirst for knowledge. So I started to go to expos and events. I’ve dragged my mom to Prague and Barcelona and Vegas. I don’t think my mom would ever begin to attend these kind of this events with her daughter, to be honest. But it happened. And at one of them, we discovered CBD and I took that. And it had the exact same effect that the cannabis did for me. But it was non psychotropic, which just essentially means that I did not get high from it. It just attaches to different receptors. It affects in different ways. And you don’t get high. So I switched from using full spectrum cannabis to CBD. So I didn’t experience that high feeling, essentially. 

Le’Nise [00:25:50] On a personal level, I love using CBD. I use it when, so I still sometimes get really painful periods. So I use it when my periods are really painful. And the effect is just it’s just amazing. It just you can feel the relief within like for me at it’s like ten minutes and I just I really love it. Talk a little bit about your your company. So Ohana, you told us about your journey from smoking cannabis and using topical cannabis with THC to then where you started Ohana with CBD. What made you go into this direction of deciding to actually build your company for yourself? 

Jasmin [00:26:42] So by this time, I think I’m like two years into medicating with cannabis and using CBD. And I just really loved it. It’s like, you know, sit at my desk in the City and it’s like all I wanted to talk about basically. It was a bit distracting, for everyone from work. And on reflection, I think I only ever got away with it because my family member was the CEO of the company, although I don’t think it would have been really tolerated, to be honest, talking about cannabis all day. And it made me very reflective,of wanting to live my most authentic self and my most, authentic life. And I definitely couldn’t do that in the job that I was doing because essentially I was just working with a lot of pharmaceutical companies, which I didn’t you know, I had questions that you probably shouldn’t have when you’re working so closely with them and they can maybe be seen as antagonistic. And it just didn’t really fit my, my kind of my lifestyle at that time and saying that I always like to disclose, like, you know, I’m a hundred percent not against allopathic medicine. Obviously, when I had meningitis, it absolutely saved my life. It just wasn’t the route that I was ready to take then, but I’m still in full support of it and I absolutely love it. And they are very grateful for the purposes of it and the way it serves us in everyday life. But yeah, and I kind of just didn’t feel like I was being my most authentic self. I thought, you know, I’ve got MS. It’s an unpredictable disease. I want to make sure that I am living my life exactly how I want to and to be able to to be able to be myself 100 percent, because that is something else I think really affects people’s symptoms. I think it is a lot of it can be a state of mind and our environment and the people that we surround yourself with. So I was like, okay, I want to leave this job and I want to start a job. And I knew I wanted it to be in the cannabis or CBD industry. I wanted to culminate all my passions. So after CBD, my second passion was clean beauty. So like I mentioned, I’d grown up on a very natural lifestyle. My mom had always made us skin care at home. She was very against me using sort of like, you know, traditional deodorant. And then at the age of 17, 18, I’d kind of like wavered from that path, into using kind of like everyday products that all my friends were using, you know, my friends were using Simple, I wanted to use Simple. If they’re using Nivea, I wanted to use Nivea and kind of just piling all this crap onto my body. Which then again, when I was diagnosed, I looked I thought, you know what? The average woman applies over 120 chemicals in her body every day. It builds up a toxic load. And I need to make sure that I am removing all of this from my body. So I kind of went back to how I was brought up and and looked at clean beauty. I’ve always been very obsessed with skin care and looking after my skin. So, yeah, it basically was a combination of my passions at that time, which was CBD, clean beauty and what I wanted to do to what I really wanted is I’ve always wanted clean beauty, but I really wanted it to work so well. I looked at Ohana is producing highly efficacious skin care products with clinically validated ingredients that have really similar results as a traditional counterpart would to produce highly functional natural skincare.  And so that’s how it came about. 

Le’Nise [00:30:25] That’s so interesting. And I think whenever I hear stories of female entrepreneurs and their journey to starting their business. It’s it’s so different, but there is always that one moment the spark that they have that gets them going. And then, you know, it’s interesting to hear the journey that they take from from that spark. So with the products there, you have a range. I know I’ve spoken to another female founder of a CBD brand, and she says that due to regulations, you can’t say you can’t talk about any kind of medical properties or make any claims about the products. So she has to talk about it as skin care. But she says that, you know, she can say anecdotally in conversation that yet, you know, it can affect certain areas of your health and you can use it forperiod pain. Is it similar for you? 

Jasmin [00:31:33] Yeah. So we try and lead with education. So if we if we leave with education, we are. I think this is really important for this market as well, where education is. It’s still a very new novel ingredient that people don’t know that much about. But if we leave with education and people can, they know what it is, they can make their own minds up with how they use it. 

[00:32:01] I mean, I have my story on the Web site, which sometimes does come up as a bit of an issue. And also we will post blogs. So we do post a lot of educational content. I remember we did actually post a blog a couple of weeks ago of how CBD could actually potentially help with psoriasis because there’s inflammatory properties and the MHRA did actually email me and be like, take this down right now. OK. But how we have overcome that is using the clinically proven plant based actives. So, for example, in our All In One Wonder Bomb our active is called Diam Oleoactif, it’s clinically proven to be double anti-inflammatory, free radical. And it’s in studies it was mostly it was mostly studied with the use of if you suffer from rosacea. So we have an ingredient in which we can make claims for that can help with the rosacea. 

Le’Nise [00:32:59] Where do you think the industry needs to go in order to connect the overwhelming anecdotal benefits of CBD with what’s available right now in terms of clinical research and clinical evidence? 

Jasmin [00:33:19] I think that we need more. There needs to be more studies, which I think will is definitely going to happen now. The regulations in America are changing where a lot of the education come from. And there’s a lot of education that comes from Israel as well. They are kind of like spearheading the the science backed kind of evidence. A lot of the evidence is coming out, as is Canada, because it’s completely legalised country now. I think education is just the most important thing. And empower. I see it one day is becoming like, you know, a vitamin just an everyday vitamin, like vitamin D would be or vitamin C and it becoming an everyday ingredient into into a multitude of products that we use  to wellbeing and our health. But I do think that there needs to be a really strong educational drive from brands. And that’s what we’ve done a year before we launched we just focused on education. So we just put our content and we put out interviews. We just really try to educate our consumer as much as possible so we don’t even necessarily have to make claims because people know what they’re using it for. So, you know, we get a lot of people that are maybe trying to manage arthritis pain or similar to me like MS pain or like knee pain. My cousin’s got fibromyalgia. She uses it. My uncle’s got lupus. And he has a lupus rash on his nose. We use that. My niece has eczema. We’ve used it on my niece. So I think it’s really just the education point that needs to be really driven. And I think there needs to be more quality from the brand owners to drive that basically. 

Le’Nise [00:35:08] And in terms of the industry, what I’ve seen from what I’ve read and different videos that I’ve seen online is it at the moment is very male dominated. And you set up the Entourage Network, which is a women’s empowerment organisation for people to engage and explore the cannabis market in Europe. What do you think needs to be done to bring more women into the space? 

Jasmin [00:35:41] So, yeah, Jessica Steinberg, who is a PhD student at Oxford exploring a subject matter on cannabis, which I can never actually remember off the top of my head, it’s a very, very long it’s very it’s got a very long name. Me and Jess met in a cannabis coworking space back in 2018, we were the only females there. So we’re like, okay, we’re going to be friends. We both have similar interests and there’s there’s no other women about. And what from my research from kind of like, you know, travelled across Europe and America. What I had seen that in America, they had a very high level of women in C level, C suite level positions and above that, but as every state legalised that number would decline because, you know, other industries come into it. It’s the same thing has happened in the UK so that we do have a really high level of female founders and female entrepreneurs in this space. But as legalisation becomes more dominant, you get other industries coming into it. You’ve got the VC world coming into a finance insurance and lawyers like really traditional industries that are already male dominated. So it’s very, very hard to have an equal female representation, however, because there is no blueprint of the cannabis industry. It is a really, really amazing opportunity for there to be equality from the offset. So I think it was really important for us at that time, as in the UK, it’s a nascent industry that we put in place a structure that allows women to be at the forefront of the industry and to have an equal stake in it as well. I think some of the issues that we have is, again, just like I said, you know, it’s not it’s traditional industries coming into it that are led by men. And then also it just comes down to the whole financing piece as well. It’s in securing outside investment. Women are you know, women only get like 0.2% of outside funding for their company as it is. Being woman of colour, being a Black woman that, you know, I’m in a 0.2% bracket of that. So we like to put together sessions and workshops that are going to enable women to overcome these issues. 

Le’Nise [00:38:04] Can you talk a little bit more about being a Black woman in this industry, so, in the US, for, example, the majority of people who are in prison for cannabis offenses are Black. I don’t know where the figures are in the UK. 

Jasmin [00:38:22] Pretty similar.

Le’Nise [00:38:24] OK. And then you see the people, as you mentioned, who are leading this industry. They are overwhelmingly White. So talk a little bit about your your view and your vision as a Black woman in this industry. 

Jasmin [00:38:41] So when I first started, I wasn’t really that conscious of it. But as I have grown in confidence and my voice and my position within the industry, then I have one, started to recognise it a lot more and become a lot more vocal about it. So I’ve been to a lot of the conferences in this industry can be really expensive as well. So I’ve been to 400 pound a day, eight hundred pound a day, thousand pound a day conferences. And that is a significant lack of Black people or ethnic minorities and women at these conferences. So what I make sure that I do is make the people who are holding the events accountable. So I asked them what they are doing, what their initiatives are to increase equality and an increase in equal representation.

One just happened the other day, actually. There is a group called Minorities for Medical Marijuana. It’s an American group and they do have a subset in the UK. And there was an event happening, an online event happening. And I emailed the CEO and I was like, look, I’ve been to one of your events in the past. There is an absolute lack of diversity. And the attendees. Can you give me some tickets so I can distribute them between the and the Minorities for Medical Marijuana group, which they were happy to do so. So I think it’s just about having a voice. I also there’s a lot of I remember once I was also sitting in one of the poshest private member’s clubs in Mayfair. I went to meet someone about investment and they were discussing projects that they had going on. And they had a project going on in Africa at the time. And they were really, really excited about it. And they wanted to distribute money into Ohana. And my question to them was, Okay, can you explain to me what you are then doing to empower the African people in the local areas and then also with jobs and, you know, uplift in the community? 

[00:40:57] And they were immediately unable to answer that to me. And that to me is absolutely unacceptable and expressing, you know, expressing how that needs to change. And I couldn’t I wouldn’t be necessarily willing to work with a company like that because it’s not aligned with my values. So I think holding each other accountable, being aware. And again, back to the education piece is really important for black people because in the UK it’s still not different. You know, you’re still 14 times more likely to be stopped and searched for cannabis if you’re a Black male in the UK and you’re still more likely to get harsher penalties and sentences. So that is something that I feel very passionate about and hope to continue to have a voice that can hopefully make a change. 

Le’Nise [00:41:56] If someone’s listening to this podcast, and  is thinking what can I do to make a change in this in this sector? What can I do, I’m really shook by these stats that that in just Jasmin has said about penalties and harsher, harsher penalties and stop and search. What can I do? What would you advise them? 

Jasmin [00:42:22] I think we’re getting that advise. I think it starts, you know, with everything that’s happening at the moment in the world and the drive of Black Lives Matter. And each and every one of us, everyone just educating themselves more and becoming aware of their unconscious bias. You know, I had this conversation with one of my old colleagues the other day. You know, I said, I know you never realised at the time, but this is every point of which I remember that you expressed a racist remark in front of me that made me feel extremely uncomfortable. 

[00:42:57] And I think, you know, with how much education there is going on, and awareness out there at the moment, this is really a good time to kind of like educate yourself and be mindful of that. And I think we all have to do it. I think nobody is. Everybody has unconscious biases. I think it’s really important that we all just use the many, many tools that are available and out there at the moment that we see every day on social media. We see it. We do Instagram. We see every day in our WhatsApp groups from our friends and family. And just making sure that we’re educating each other as much as possible. And then also just having the confidence to keep those around us accountable. 

Le’Nise [00:43:38] How can people find out more about the product? So you’ve just had a launch? I think it earlier it last week you had a launch. How can people access your products? 

Jasmin [00:43:54] Yep. So we launched last Monday. Our Instagram is @ohanacbd as you can research, our products at www.ohana-cbd.com. You will see the three products that we have on offer. So what we do is think, like we mentioned earlier, we use plant based actives combined with high functioning skin care and benefits of CBD are, you know, the kind of evidence that we have so far to be anti-inflammatory, anti ageing. It’s full of omega 3s and fatty acids. And it’s really good for  controlling free radicals, et cetera. So they are the kind of benefits.  We have three products, we have got an All in One Wonder Balm. We have a Night Repair Oil and we have a Day Defence Serum that is useful anti pollutant. So, for example, we use Marine Cell Shield, which is a clinically active, proven active that helps protect your skin against outside pollutants and Marine Blue Vital C, which is again a clinically proven active that combats signs of ageing and hyper pigmentation. On our website, you’ll be able to see like all our products or the information, we make it very transparent. So, you know, we state that we’re cruelty vegan and palm oil free and we’ll break it down. So, you know, I’m I’ve never really been a fan of this term 100 percent natural because I think that’s very misleading. So we break it down to be very specific. So will our products are, you know, maybe around ninety nine point seven percent natural or ninety seven point three percent natural. And so we try and be as honest and transparent as possible. And yep, you just get more education around our products and what we’re doing differently and how we are leading the CBD skincare industry for the UK. 

Le’Nise [00:45:48] Amazing. Well, congratulations on the launch. I’m really excited to try your products. Dive into the website. Try your products. If listeners take one thing away from everything that you’ve said on this podcast,  what would you want that to be? 

Jasmin [00:46:08] I would say. I always find this really difficult. I’ve actually been asked this quite a few times in the last few weeks, and I always want to say you do have a positive mindset. But I know that is not easy for everybody. I don’t like it. I don’t like it, too, to come across that I’m being nonchalant about that. My one bit of advice for everybody. My bit of advice actually is to always make sure that you have confidence in your voice and your living, your most authentic self. I think everything else falls into place after that. 

Le’Nise [00:46:53] Absolutely. I love that because I really relate to that right now. I was talking to someone yesterday about how I felt like in the last couple of months, my throat chakra had opened up and I have finally found my my voice after hiding it and suppressing it for so long. So I really relate to what you’ve just said. 

Jasmin [00:47:20] Yeah, I love that. I just think I think it’s this is the same I think we all going through a like a conscious shift at the moment where we all are empowering ourselves and all we’re feeling more confident for our voices to be heard, especially as women. Yeah. And I think that’s really important. Our mission for Ohana is first and foremost to just empower, empower women to live their best lives, essentially not. 

Le’Nise [00:47:51] Live your best life like Oprah!

Jasmin [00:47:56] That’s the best thing to live by. I literally every day I wake up and I just try and live my best life. 

Le’Nise [00:48:05] Oh, thank you so much for coming on the show, Jasmin. It’s so it’s been so great to chat to and listeners all of the links and to what Jasmin has been talking about and to Ohana will be in the show notes. So check those out and definitely head over to Jasmin’s Instagram @ohanacbd and check out her products. So thank you again. 

Jasmin [00:48:34] Thank you so much. It’s been a great way to start the day. 

Period Story Podcast, Episode 24: Sarah Greenidge, Think Of Your Health Literacy As A Core Skill

Welcome to season 3 of the Period Story podcast. I’m so pleased to start the new season with Sarah Greenidge, the founder of WellSpoken.

We had a wide ranging conversation about tracking menstrual cycles and symptoms, the important of credible content in the health and wellbeing sector, the value of anecdotal evidence and the importance of diversity and inclusion in the wellbeing sector. Sarah discussed the launch of the WellSpoken diversity charter, which you can read more about here. And of course, Sarah shared the story of her first period!

Sarah shares the very vivid memory of her first period, her shock, overwhelm and shame. She talks about how these feelings changed as she went into high school and having a period became an empowering thing.

Listen to hear what triggered Sarah to learn more about her period and start tracking her menstrual cycle. She says that become knowledgeable about her body has made her more cognisant of how others could be feeling.

Sarah talks about her periods in lockdown and how she saw a shift from what’s normal for her. In the episode, Sarah goes into detail into the symptoms she tracks (with a massive Excel spreadsheet!) and the cues she pays attention to that tell her period is about to start. Listen to hear her top tips on how to start tracking your menstrual cycle. 

We talk about why Sarah founded her company, WellSpoken, the importance of health literacy. Sarah says that in the UK, consumer ability to understand health information and then make an informed decision is quite low. 

We talk about the importance of diversity in wellness and the health implications of lack of diversity in wellness. Sarah says that race and discrimination play a part in the way people can receive health information and how and if they seek help. Go to to this link to find out more about the diversity charter, which asks brands to commit to improving diversity in the wellness industry.

Sarah says that we need to think of health literacy as a core skill so that we can more informed decisions about our health. I completely agree!

Get in touch with Sarah

Website

Instagram

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SARAH’S BIO

After working in healthcare regulation and communications for some years, Sarah broadened her horizons and started consulting for consumer health and wellness brands.

Coming from such a regulated healthcare space, where evidence-based information is king, she was concerned about the quality of consumer content in wellness, and that brand partnerships were largely based on popularity and not necessarily expertise.

After raising these issue to a few people working in the industry, she was met with the response that the industry was ‘different’ and ‘doesn’t need to be as strict with what we say.’

It was here that the mission to tackle this mindset was conceived and a year later The WellSpoken Mark was born.

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: On today’s episode, we have Sarah Greenidge. After working in healthcare regulation and communications, for some years, she decided to broaden her horizons and started consulting for consumer health and wellness brands. Coming from such a regulated healthcare space, where evidence based information is keen, she was concerned about the quality of consumer content and wellness, and that brand partnerships were largely based on popularity, and not necessarily expertise. After raising these issues to a few people working in the industry, she was met with a response that the industry was different, and doesn’t need to be strict with what they say. It was here, that the mission to tackle this mindset was conceived, and a year later, Sarah started The WellSpoken Mark.

Welcome to the show. Let’s start off by getting into the story of your first period. Can you tell us what happened?

Sarah: Yeah. I was 11 years old, and I remember coming downstairs of my parents house… I’ve had the same vivid memory… And going into their conservatory, it’s very specific, I remember this. And I remember feeling something in my underwear, and being really shocked when I looked and saw that there was blood. It was a real distinct memory for me because I was really overwhelmed. I remember just doing nothing for a couple of hours before. Then I told my mom, what had happened. It was interesting, and I question, in terms of thinking back, trying to unpick what that 11 year old Sarah was thinking. I think it was a mixture of shock and interestingly for me, somehow shame, interestingly. Which is why I didn’t say it straight away. I’ve been trying to think about why that was. I can’t piece together that 11 year old mind now, because I feel, obviously so differently. But that was kind of an important part of not saying.

Le’Nise: How long did you wait until you told your parents?

Sarah: It was a couple of hours, definitely.

Le’Nise: Okay.

Sarah: Yeah. My mom was completely normal, and dealt with it beautifully. That was a real internalised feeling because it didn’t match my mom’s response, if that makes sense. But that to me, is really interesting that that is something that I had a view of that for some reason, at 11 years old. Which is sad actually, when you think about it.

Le’Nise: Thinking back on this feeling of shame right now, do you think that it was because of the way periods had been spoken about at the time? Things you had heard at school.

Sarah: Yeah, I think definitely so. At the time, girls were starting to get their periods at school, and for some reason, it was talked about very negatively, within that… So that would have been… I would have been year seven actually, when it happened, which is the first year of middle school or high school, wherever you’re based. At the time, socially, for that group of 11 year olds, it was talked about very negatively.

I remember specifically hearing about another little girl who had her period already, and I remember going on a school trip, an overnight stay, and this girl very, just normally, showing that she had started her period quite early… What I thought was early as an 11 year old. I think she was nine or 10, or something. And the reaction of the girls in the room was really one of, almost shock and horror. And that really stuck with me, then, when that happened to me, I think. It’s interesting even thinking about that because I haven’t thought about that for 20 years. But yeah, actually it was really interesting how in that little, baby, kid society, it was seen as very negative, and I think maybe dirty, I think, without saying those words, because you don’t have that language at 11, but that was the sense…

Le’Nise: Thinking about it now, how long did it take you to move past this feeling? Or, on the other side, have you moved past that feeling?

Sarah: Actually, I think I moved past that by the time I was, probably 13 or 14. The reason is, is that at that point, the majority of the young women I was around at that time had started their periods, and then this stigma, just because everyone had it, dissipated, if that makes sense. There was no longer this… It was just a normal part of our lives. It wasn’t something that we spoke about, but it no longer had that sort of reaction. Then onwards, it was spoken about quite frequently because people would use that to get out of swimming and P.E. class. Then it actually… It became this empowered thing that we’d use to get out of PE: “Possibly can’t do this because of my period.” So, it’s interesting that in two to three years, how the transition happened where… The society I was in, or where I was living.

Le’Nise: Going from being this shock and horror, to being this empowerment and using it as a tool to manipulate teachers.

Sarah: Then there was no problem talking about it, whatsoever. That’s something… Never really thought about that, but there must have been a transition in those three to four years, because I was still in the schooling system at that point.

Le’Nise: Right. The girls were talking about so freely, what about the education in the school around it?

Sarah: I don’t remember, really, anything particularly. There must have been, but I have no memory whatsoever, outside of, maybe when I got a bit older… The first time I remember really talking about periods… Maybe I was in primary school, but it was all very anatomical and I didn’t really understand I think, at that point. Then the next time I really, probably, got education about the reproductive system, I was in college. I was in A level biology, probably. And that’s because I took that course. But I don’t remember, even in… We had a thing called PSHE here that doesn’t exist anymore, it’s kind of like your social class of culture and what happens in the world. And often they talked to you about sex at that point. I remember more distinctly, it being about sex safety and safe sex, than about biological function of your body. There was never really that focus. So, I did all of learning much after.

Le’Nise: So, your own, personal learning?

Sarah: Yeah. Even thinking about my… I don’t even really remember much from learning either. The thing is, I don’t have memory of it, it doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen, but it obviously wasn’t enough for me, to stick into my memory. I think it was brief and fast. So, I think that’s interesting. Then I did my own learning, 16 up.

Le’Nise: How did you learn? Internet? Books?

Sarah: Internet.

Le’Nise: I see.

Sarah: At that point… This is when you could get onto… Not to show my age, but this was the start of when you could get internet on your phones. It was the first time… I was about 16 or 17… And it was slow. Just going on the computer and looking. What triggered me to look actually, was I used to get, and still do sometimes but nowhere near as much when I was in my teens and early 20s, really bad headaches around my period time. I didn’t have cramps so much, it was the headaches before I would come onto my period. And because I found those so debilitating… And then, it could trigger a migraine… I was seeking solutions because of that. In which, I then did more learning about periods and reproductive cycle, if that makes sense. But it actually wasn’t because I was looking for information, it’s because I had a symptom I needed to get under control, or think about how I could manage it. I was looking for ways to stop your headache, that kind of stuff, and that’s what prompted the learning.

Le’Nise: So, what did you ending up doing to stop the headaches?

Sarah: It was a lot of trial and error. I did every change in foods and diets that you think of. I then… Well, I started to talk more to my family, and actually what I found out was, that was something that, on my mother’s side, everyone had. From mother, to grandmother, to… Really bad headaches. So where there’s a familiar link of… Perhaps that’s something how our bodies respond, or… To the hormone change. And it made me understand a bit more about what happens before your period, if that makes sense, in that phase. And try and manage those hormones, trying to get more sleep.

Sarah: It was lifestyle changes that I did. To be honest, I did a lot of stuff in my late teens, early 20s, and not much worked. It was a real combination. Then as I started to get older, that started to go away, which, my mom told me it would. She said that that was something that happened to all of them, from their teenage years to their early 20s, and then it shifts. I guess your body goes through a shift in how it manages the hormones. So yeah, that was how I managed it. But I still do get that sometimes, now. It’s very stress related and it’s very sleep related, for me.

Le’Nise: How has it been in the last three months?

Sarah: To be honest, I’ve had… So, I also… On top of the complication, depending on where I ovulate, what side, what I’ve noticed is that depending on the side, I get quite bad cramps and no headache, or on the other side, I get not very many cramps, and headaches. It will alternate the month, for me, actually, on what symptoms I get. It took a long time tracking that.

Sarah: I think over the last three months, I’ve had pretty… Bar the last one, I had pretty bad periods, in terms of quite a shift from my norm, in terms of symptoms… There’s a couple of things I know for sure is, one, I think just a lot of heightened stress, with just this lockdown and all that kind of stuff, I found that I’m working a lot and not able to switch off because I’m working at home, you don’t turn off. So it’s a heightened level of stress all the time. What I have done is… And also, bad sleeping. Also, super bad sleeping. And that has had an effect…

What I’ve really done over the last month when I thought, I need to get a grip on this… Because my headaches can last two to three days… Is, I’ve upped my exercise, quite substantially, and dropped a lot of sugar from my diet. Which, what I’ve realized is the entire time we’ve been in lockdown, I started to eat badly. It compounds, and then it has an effect. Then my last period was much better because of taking quite proactive action, and sleep. And I think that’s the real trigger for me really. And it’s been interesting, I’ve been relatively okay… I would get the old bad period here and there, but I could tell you why that was. Normally I could say, I had a terrible week of sleep, I was just super stressed, or I ate really badly that month. I could really pin it down. So, I think lockdown has a lot to do with it.

Le’Nise: It’s interesting that you are able to… You have such precision now in the way that you track your menstrual cycle, and you can say exactly, well, this is what happened to me in that week, so this is why my period… Or this is like this, or this is how I feel, why I felt like this. Can you talk a little bit about what you used to track, and how you… You said trial and error. So, what were the kinds of things that you trialed to get to that precision and tracking?

Sarah: Awhile back… I, in terms of a career, worked a lot in Pharma, and I actually ended up training to be a sexual health advisor. I worked in sexual health for a long time, and HIV. So, through my work there, I became super aware of your reproductive cycle as a woman, and just more au fait with stuff that I had no idea. That’s the key thing, is that most of us know very little.

Then, I went on to work with some of the big health tech giants who do tracking for fertility, and got into working in fertility and IVF. What was really great with that is, I suddenly became aware of the science behind reproduction, and also, how we as women, can have cues that we didn’t necessarily pick up on.

One of the things that I really did was, first… There’s a friend of mine, many years ago, who told me to do this. She goes, “Every day write down…” This was the before the apps… “Write down how you feel and if you have any symptoms.” Just bullet points, not enough sleep, slept well, what I’ve eaten, if I ate anything unusual, that kind of jazz. It took me about four months of doing that consistently to then start to pull the data and look at patterns. That was commitment. It’s something I did in my mid 20s. I was also then, a data geek, so that helped with finding patterns and sequences.

In terms of the trial and error, there were a lot of things I thought I saw as patterns, that turned out over the years, to not be. And things that I put very little onus on turned out to be, for me personally, and my body, turned out to be big factors into how I am. I think that the key thing that has… The hardest thing for me has been the food, and eating well, because that takes a level of discipline, and you have to… I guess, you have to be so cognizant, and it needs to become a practice that eating something, or whatever you’re doing, to link this in your brain, as a connection to how this can affect your menstrual cycles. And sometimes I don’t have that, to be honest, and I regret it after, I should have thought about that.

Where I have got better is, with the sleep really… Because I seem to function better as well, and also what was really helpful was I tracked a lot of my symptoms pre period, for me to know when I was going to come on. There’s a lot of cues that I now pay attention to that I would think, oh, I’ve just got this ache, or… For instance, I know, about three days before I’m about to come on I struggle with… I know restless leg is controversial, but I feel my legs… I’ve got almost like… Not cramps, but I feel restless in my legs at night.

Le’Nise: Right.

Sarah: That is that… So I know at that point, that means that my period is coming. So all these little… Whereas before, I would pin that down to, maybe exercise.

Le’Nise: Right.

Sarah: But actually, I know the difference between a DOM feeling of exercise, and this deep ache, which is slightly different. It’s not painful, it’s more uncomfortable. Then, things like breast tenderness, aches in your back. But it took a long time of writing those down. And not every month was the same, that was a key thing for me. So, it took me quite a long time to work out what… Some months, I’d get something, and some months I don’t. I’m not actually very consistent, if that makes sense, with my symptoms. I know some people are like… When I’ve talked to friends they’re like clockwork on, I get this pain here, and then this happens. Whereas for me, it really much depends on how I’ve lived that month. So, it’s just getting really au fait with my body actually, and get to know my body and then sense what is happening.

Le’Nise: So, this journey of you getting comfortable and more knowledgeable about your body, what else has it changed for you?

Sarah: I think it’s made me much more… Really good question. I think… This could sound strange… In general, it’s made me more conscious as a person, as a weird side effect, because I think a lot of the time, we live life on auto-pilot. We go through and just live… But, trying to stop and be present, and think about what’s happening, has spilled over into other areas of my life, weirdly. I never thought that, that would be a symptom but it has, it’s made me much more cognizant of how others could be feeling.

That sounds strange, but it really has made me think about being more in tune with my body in terms of… Sometimes I feel really flat, some days. Like zilch, nothing, and different phases of my period, I can feel that just absolute numbness, and I’m a quite motivated person, so that’s a real drop for me because of my personality, and I can’t get out of it. But sometimes when I go up to people, and I see them in that mood, it makes me empathetic in a way, because it’s made me think about what they could be going through. Not necessarily menstrual cycle, but in terms of our mental health, and our emotional well being. I think that it’s made me more hyper aware of the mind, body connection, I think, as a weird life symptom of being more in tune with your menstrual cycle.

Le’Nise: Yeah. You said that it makes you more empathetic to what people are going through, does it change the way that you interact with them?

Sarah: Yeah. Definitely. I think one of the things that has definitely come out of… Even trying to manage my own periods and trying to figure out what’s happening, is patience and exercising that, and… I’m somebody that wants the answer yesterday, as opposed to… Actually you can’t do that because sometimes… If I have something that feels a bit odd, I don’t know the reason straight away… And then actually, I would get real frustrated by that. Actually that is indicative of, probably who I was as a person, as a personality, and that’s made me really think about, in the way I interact with others, to have that patience and compassion. That sometimes things are happening and people don’t know why, or people may be having a reaction, or an exchange with somebody that you found frustrating, and to think more about why am I getting this reaction? What is stimulating this? As opposed to being, just immediately reactive.

Le’Nise: Yeah. I want to just go back to the tracking, because I think that it’s something obviously, that I encourage all of my clients to do. You get so much valuable information, data, whatever you want to call it.

Sarah: Yeah.

Le’Nise: If someone’s listening and they think, yeah, I know I need to do this but how do I do it? What would your advice be based on your experience?

Sarah: First I would say, find the method that works for you, in terms of that is the ease of tracking. Because, I think one of the things that, with tracking, I find important, is that you need to be consistent, otherwise you won’t get that… You’re not going to see the… I say data. But you’re not going to see the patterns if you miss three days. Within a three day period, there can be such valuable information that happens in those 72 hours. So, you need to be consistent.

If you’re glued to your phone, get an app or do it in your notes. If you’re a journaler, write it down. But I find that… When I was doing this years ago, I was doing this manually, which took a lot of effort. Now, there’s loads of apps that allow you to just tick boxes. For instance, they’re picking up the arduous labor of it. So, I think you can track it, and I would encourage people to do that. In that way, you just build that habit.

The key thing is, just try and do it for a month, one month, and that’s… To be honest, is enough sometimes, for you to motivate you further. I think it just brings such valuable information. So I would say, find the way to track. The one thing about tracking, even though I’m a data geek is, I think you need to track what is intuitive to you, as opposed to trying to tick some boxes because…

Actually, when I first started, the best advice I got is just track what you feel, and I know that sounds vague and annoying but, that gave me the freedom to put down things that seemed innocuous, that then turned out to be really important. So, you don’t have to put how many hours that… You don’t have to be that descriptive, I think it’s just doing what works for you. If you just want to track your mood, or you want to track biological physical symptoms, great. I think that, that’s super important, to not be so rigid that you don’t do it, and it becomes to you, labor. Any data is good data in my book.

Le’Nise: I just have this vision of you with this massive Excel spreadsheet-

Sarah: No, there was an Excel sheet. There was. There actually was.

Le’Nise: Brilliant. That is brilliant.

Sarah: What motivated me is because I had… If I hadn’t had symptoms that really annoyed me, where I found it hard, I wouldn’t have had that motivation I don’t think. But because I wanted to really get to the bottom of these headaches, out came the Excel sheet.

Le’Nise: Yeah. Were there pivot tables?

Sarah: Yeah.

Le’Nise: I want to shift gears and talk about your work and the company that you’ve founded, WellSpoken Mark. Talk to us about why you thought this was necessary, and the steps that you’re taking at the moment.

Sarah: Yeah, sure. As I mentioned before, my career was working in the medical health care setting. I worked with a lot of Pharma companies and NGOs and health care situations, to do work there in terms of improving peoples’ health in, specifically these areas. I then became a consultant at that particular point in my career, and I stumbled into working for someone who needed help with some consumer health stuff.

So, this is the stuff that comes out of the really hard regs that comes around Pharma and medical stuff that is a bit more life and death. And this was more in terms of just healthy living. When I looked at the content people were producing I was really shocked at the standards because, evidently when you have really hard legislation in place when it comes to showing information about prescription drugs, you have to be by the book because, there’s no room for someone to misunderstand a dosing, because the consequences are so huge. Your communication has to work for everybody. Everybody needs to understand precisely what you’re saying.

What I found is, because there wasn’t that rigor, I felt, in the more wellness, consumer field… Because actually, the results and the outcomes aren’t so serious it seems. And that’s why I would say, it doesn’t seem that it’s that serious on the outset. But what I really believe is that health is 360, and I really believe in preventative health, and I think healthy living comes onto that.

And our society is really focused on treatment, rather than prevention, and that reflects in how we treat information about prevention. So, I saw that there was a lot of, just crap and it was chaos. I thought, we need to figure out a way to bring some of the rigor that we have in the medical field, into this field because it equally is important. If you take on a wrong diet regime, or you exercise incorrectly with poor form, you can hurt yourself. So, it’s important.

So there was the spark of where WellSpoken Mark was founded. What essentially we are is, a co-op mark and we work with brands to ensure that the content they’re producing, meets a certain credibility standard before it goes out to you and I in the consumer space. We worked with two universities, one in Barcelona, and one in Sheffield, they’ve both got health information support departments, which is… That’s a whole other world. And that looks at the way that we as humans now interact with health information, especially online and the way that consumer trust works. They may seem like really odd buckets but actually, the way that we engage with health information, our guard is down societally, in a way that it’s not when we deal with let’s say money.

I’ll give you a classic example. I did a focus group and a lady talked to me about, she signed up for a meal prep service that was being advertised on Instagram, loved it, she said she couldn’t wait to get her food, she just wanted to get her macros, and all that kind of good jazz. And she signed up via a promotion on Instagram, she signed up with some influencer’s code, and it was mighty expensive obviously, per month. You’re talking in the hundreds in terms of the cost to do that.

She then said what she then realized is, at the same time she was looking to lease a car, and actually same amount of money per month. But she was going into the fine print of that leasing contract, she was looking around at different vendors to see where she could get the best deal, and her approach to spending her money in terms of a car, was so different to the way that she literally clicked a link and paid hundreds of pounds a month via social media to improve her health as it were. And that’s a classic example of where we are as a society at the moment.

Just the way that we tend to have no guard when it comes to healthy information, which is what a lot of… What we absorb, but all of this information without fact checking credit… It looks glossy on Instagram, we just assume everything is above God. And because of that, and because our health literacy, which is… It’s basically two parts. It’s our ability to understand health information and then make an informed decision with that information. Globally, but in the UK specifically, it’s quite low. Even though we are quite a developed country and strong economically, you would think that those two go hand, and they don’t.

What that means is that, as a consumer base, we don’t have the skills yet. And often, we’re not taught those skills, whether it be in school, or wherever to decipher good or bad health information. We think it’s really important then, if you are a producer of that health information, that you need to take that on board, and you need to think about, how do you… Make sure that your… Whoever’s your audience, doesn’t misunderstand the information you’re putting out, and then doesn’t do something with that information that, then is detrimental.

There was a real big move in terms of clean eating, a couple of years ago and then what you had was, a real spike in orthorexia, for instance. Which is, being obsessive with healthy eating, or you had the… When people talk about mental health, they just move… The naturalist movement to not taking any medication. But actually, if you have a serious health condition, suddenly not taking your prescribed medication because you see this move on Instagram, is not ideal for you. People are making health actions without checking with health professionals because we have this peer to peer learning culture in health, actually that’s great but, there’s some negatives to that. What’s really important for us in terms of working with wellness brands, with all that considered, is them thinking about… When you’re communicating with your audience, you need to think about their health literacy rates, but also what impacts them.

And our next big thing that we’re engaging brands in is, to think about health inequalities when it comes to different socioeconomic groups and actually, race plays a part in that, and we’ve had a lot of talk about the lack of current diversity in wellness. Although, that… From a social perspective, that’s not great in terms of it does not represent part of the community, it actually has health implications, because if you look at the data, health outcomes for black and minority people are much lower than white people, in the UK. And part of the reason for that… There was a real big move in the 90s and early 2000s that, it was due to cultural and genetic factors… I put in inverted commas… But what we now know is, that racism and discrimination plays a part in the way that people can receive health information and how they can seek help. It’s all bundled into one big snowball. If you’re sharing health and wellness information it’s important to think about every one in your audience, not just people that are necessarily wealthy, or highly educated, or have more social mobility.

So, our next big thing is, engaging wellness brands to sign a diversity charter, which makes some commitments to improving diversity in the wellness industry. Which will have, I hope, better implications in terms of making the wellness industry more representative of the population, but also actually, on the content they produce. Bearing in mind that it’s not just for their audience.

Le’Nise: I want to go back to what you were saying about health literacy, and how in the UK you would assume it’s high, but it’s actually quite low. And you talked about this peer to peer learning culture around health, and what’s really interesting is, there’s a lot of statistics that show that amongst black people, trust in doctors is actually quite low. So, how do you connect this idea of low trust in doctors with lack of health literacy, but also this peer to peer learning culture?

Sarah: Yeah. I think… God, that’s a big question… There’s multi layers to it. You’re absolutely right, that is a big ball of chaos because you have all those elements playing at one. I think it’s to… One is to really unpick why there’s this low trust with health care professionals. Often, that’s generationally passed down. I’ll give you an example from my own family, in terms of how that is positioned. It actually does come from a place of personal anecdotal experience, often. That often… If you look at the data, in terms of people’s experiences, what you’ll find is they say they’ve had a very negative interaction with a health care professional, they have perceived that to be because of who they are, and their skin color, and they’ve had poor treatment or poor interactions because of that. And obviously, no one’s going to go back to somewhere that doesn’t engage you or interact with you well.

So, I think on that level, we need to ensure that health care professionals are proactively, and they’re visibly making those changes, to build that trust with those communities. Unfortunately, it’s alive and kicking today. Even when we look at the MMBRACE report, in terms of women dying in childbirth but five times more likely if you’re black, and then even with this COVID situation with band groups who are dying disproportionately, there’s a lot of work to be done there.

I think one of the key things that health care professionals can do is, they need to engage with community pillars. So, have conversations, to bring them into the community to be seen as a safe space. Where it comes into social peer to peer learning, what we have in the community, I think, is some brilliant networks, in terms of people that are connected to each other, sharing information. And health care professionals need to tap in. I think also, the leaders of those networks, or people that are influential within our black community, in terms of… On social media, who are driving a lot of the conversation, I think also need to have a…

It’s a mental move, rather than anything visual, a move to actually not seeing themselves as influencers or just information sharers, and to see themselves as information providers. When you make that shift in your head, there comes a level of rigour because now, as a responsibility, as a person who’s sharing information, and you know that your influence is quite big, and you know that people will take your information and run with it. With that responsibility, then we need to employ some of the practices that we see in other institutions where there’s liability. So that means, providing things like references, moving in from sharing, to education. And it’s a really subtle shift, it’s not necessarily something that you can just do that someone talks about, I think it’s just the way that you communicate, and focus on providing facts and improving someone’s health literacy.

Because when we talk about health literacy, particularly in wellness in general, but also in wellness in the black community, what you’ll see is, people will recommend something and… Because of group think, and the way that we interact in a social setting, people will have an understanding that, this is healthy for me because… Or something. They’re not quite clear when you ask them, why is that healthy? They just know that it is. And then they’ll then do it. But that’s low health literacy because that means that you can’t explain why you’re making those choices.

So, we need to plug where we know those gaps are, to make sure that you communicate to… I always say, it’s the lowest denominator, not the highest… Not the most educated person in your audience, the person that doesn’t know anything, and that’s actually where you need to be based. So, what I’m hoping that in time… It’s going to be a compound move, as opposed to one thing, within the black community. But I think once we… I think there’s a growing acceptance now that… And the science backs us… That this myth that… There are some things that are genetic in all race groups, so not just black community. But, we need to move away as a community to think that everything is cultural, everything is food based, everything is diet based, and once we acknowledge that there are some socioeconomic cultural aspects in play at why our health outcomes are worse, that helps us automatically do better, if that makes sense.

Le’Nise: Yeah. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. You mentioned going from an information sharer to an information provider, and I think what’s really interesting about that is, the idea of referencing is really powerful, but there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence that comes out of working with people, and you see a pattern, and sometimes… I just want to talk a little bit about this because sometimes in the science based community you see a lot of negative commentary around anecdotal evidence. Talk a little bit about your opinion about that.

Sarah: Yeah. I personally think anecdotal evidence has a huge part to play in terms of linking that data and clinical decision making, I actually think. Because, anecdotal evidence… A certain level of anecdotal evidence is required for you to see a pattern in your clinical study. So actually, it’s the precursor to what people see as the most rigorous data driven analysis. But, it has to come from somewhere, you’re not plucking it out of thin air. So I think, there’s a move… Can I use COVID as an example? To talk about where this negative connotation of anecdotal evidence has big health implications.

So, one of the things that I really believe is that, science moves faster, and information move faster, than we could ever publish it. So, just because something’s not published doesn’t mean it doesn’t hold truth, we just haven’t had 18 months to run a study. It doesn’t mean it’s not true.

Again, sorry, going back into geek mode. One of the real interesting things for me, in terms of looking at COVID, was looking at how we got to where we were, in terms of big spikes. People were looking for hard data… And actually, if you look at some of explanations from the way that the WHO and… They’re great, so it’s not to criticize them. I think it’s more to do with their culture. When doctors were reporting incidents of these weird cases… Because it was only anecdotal, it wasn’t taken quite seriously enough, until you hit a number, which was deemed to be important enough to take action. Now, I think in terms of that, having markers is super important I think, when it comes to things like medication and things that you’re ingesting or consuming. Because evidently there’s safety concerns that are associated with that.

So I think there’s a real… Still, there’s a place for having very clear parameters before you make claims, around certain aspects of health, that we have to have them, otherwise we’re going to get into people being quite ill. That’s not to say that’s not the case. I think by not having a positive view of anecdotal evidence, we actually rob ourselves sometimes from foresight and looking ahead at where things could be going because we’re waiting for things to hit a marker when we know it’s happening.

I think…I’ll give you an example in terms of more of the wellness field is… One of the things that’s quite interesting… And we don’t have a lot of data on it, but we know it as a trend… Is that, in some meditation practices what we have seen is… From clinical, small studies… Is that certain meditation practices, for certain people with certain mental health conditions, can actually exacerbate those conditions, as opposed to make things better. Now, what has happened is, because we’ve had the universal communication that meditation and mindfulness is brilliant for all… That has been the narrative. Anyone can do it… I’m thinking about all the messaging that we’ve seen from the big wellness brands… One, we didn’t have, in the western world, so many people doing it on mass, so we didn’t have the data. But when we did start to see some negative effects coming out of very niche groups… This was an example of where… Actually, people didn’t wait for 10,000 cases of this before issuing that advice, and we took anecdotal evidence quite seriously, and then made policy change within, for instance, institutions in terms of thinking about peoples’ mental health conditions.

So, this is where there is a role for anecdotal evidence. What I always say to people in terms of… Especially when you’re working in well being, where… Let’s be honest… Because, there’s no funding. Pharma’s not going to fund a well being study in terms of, there’s no product at the end of it. Let’s be honest. You don’t have the data because it doesn’t exist. Who’s going to fund it?

What I always say to people is, those markers are there for a reason, because it’s a safety thing. However, it doesn’t mean that you can’t share. So, I just think what we need to do is, just be clear to our audience that it is anecdotal evidence, and that is the way, I think, we have a good middle ground. Where we can still share the experiences of people, but we say, look, this is what we’ve seen as patterns with the people that we work with, for instance. This is not indicative that this is a health claim that this will be for you, but it’s something to consider. I think it’s about toning down the language all around health claims and absolutes. What might work for someone might not work for you. And then, positioning things that do, especially based on antidotal evidence, is where we just need to be careful. But, there is a place.

Le’Nise: Yeah. 100%.

Sarah: And I think we need to… Once we accept that science is… I know this sounds strange. Science is not all-knowing, and science shifts. I was a microbiologist by trade. It was funny, I was looking at my old textbooks from 10, 12 years ago, they’re outdated. I couldn’t even give that to anybody that’s studying now because the information there is… We know more. And actually, it’s not relevant anymore. So I think, if you see science as an evolving feat, anecdotal evidence has a role to play.

Le’Nise: I want to talk about the diversity in wellness project that you’re doing. It’s a really important topic, there’s a lot of conversation about race and Black Lives Matter right now. When will this be out? And how can people connect with it?

Sarah: The charter goes live on June the 15th, Monday, June the 15th. It’s super important. We know that within the wellness field… You and I have spoken about this before… There is a certain aesthetic, and there is a certain kind of elitism that is class based also. That’s important to say, it’s class, and then race comes under that. And you have a… In the place that’s supposed to be very inclusive, actually has become not very inclusive. So, we challenge that, and to challenge the people that, I would say, run the scene, because they’ve got the money behind it, they’re the powerhouse of the brand. What we’re calling for is, brands to commit to five pledges.

Now, what they cover is, corporate diversity, making sure that they’re internally hiring people that are from different ethnic backgrounds. To widen they’re perspective, especially within health. Education, so when you get the stuff, actually educating them on what we talked about in terms of health inequality and where race plays a role, and how you have to adapt your marketing instructions to a company. Fair pay, making sure that people are paid equally, that’s a problem in this scene unfortunately. Access…

Let me get it out… I missed one, I’m sorry. You might have to edit this, I forgot my five pledges…

Representation, so making sure that people are represented, seeing themselves in the scene. And then the last one is, all around access, so trying to make things more accessible for more people. When you have high price points… Actually, this is done very well in other fields. And it’s not necessarily that you always have a reduced cost rate, for instance. But there’s other strategies, you could pay it forward, there’s lots of ways that wellness brands can… If they are a high price point, think about supporting communities and low income communities that can’t get in. All that kind of stuff.

So, what we’re asking brands to do is, to sign up to these pledges, and then do the work to actually implement those in their companies. So, they way that it will work with us is, if you sign up as a brand, we will do an audit of, where does diversity sit in this company at the moment, what does it look like? And then we will work with them to basically, put a plan together that works for them that’s authentic, that’s organic, that’s not just optical allyship, that’s just not performative, but that actually has meaningful change, and a lot of that, probably we won’t see, if that makes sense. It’s internal changes. And then we will do annual reviews of how those changes are taking place. Because, I think it’s quite a big structural shift.

So I think at the same time, we need to give companies time to make those changes in a really authentic way, and not in a knee jerk way. Because actually, you end up getting things wrong when you do things in a reactionary state, rather than in really considered states.

As for what we’re asking people to do when we launch is… In the link in our bio what we will have is… We’re hoping to do a pincer movement. I think this is what’s going to bring about change. We will have the charter, which we’re directly approaching brands, to sign up to. But then we’re going to have an email template that people in the community, people in wellness can copy and paste and send to their favorite wellness brands and say, “Have you signed up for this charter?” We had over 150 now, as of this morning, black and minority wellness practitioners, or professionals working in the field, sign up and give their support to this charter. So for me, it’s really… It’s of the people and it’s for the people, if that makes sense. This is what we as a community are calling for, and then if we mobilize both ends, it puts the right amount of pressure, I think, on brands, that this is something that consumers want. They want this transparency, and they want things to change when it comes to racial equality.

Le’Nise: And for all of you who are listening, we’ll put all of the links to the charter and the email template in the show notes. If listeners take one thing away from all of the brilliant things that you’ve shared with us today, what would you want that to be?

Sarah: I would say to everybody, think of your health literacy as a core skill of yours. And actually, we all have… As we’ve gotten older, and grown up, come out of school, had to learn about financial literacy, had to learn interpersonal skills, had to maneuver through the world, and often, just the way that society has been, we’ve neglected our health literacy.

My real passion project is to get people to think about that as a core skill of theirs in terms of… Especially if you’re very engaged with your health, it’s really important that you make informed decisions about your health, and that are right for you as a person. We see lots of trends and core things that go on in health and wellness, but the key is deciphering, is that right for you and what’s going to make your life better, and your health better? So I would say, look into your health literacy. We’re shortly going to have a test of how you can test your health literacy. So, either you can see where you are… And it gives you a gage on how you can think about that. So yeah, that is what I would say. Health literacy all the way.

Le’Nise: Brilliant. Thank you so much for coming on to the show, Sarah. Can you just tell the listeners the link to URL of WellSpoken Mark?

Sarah: Yeah. Absolutely. Our website is www.wearewellspoken.com. And on all social channels our name is WellSpoken Mark, so it’s the same across all platforms. You’ll find us most alive and kicking on Instagram.

Le’Nise: Brilliant. Thank you so much.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 23: Valentina Milanova, Imposter Syndrome Keep You Humble

Period Story Podcast, Episode 23, Valentina Milanova

On today’s episode of Period Story, I was so pleased to speak with Valentina Milanova, the founder of Daye, the women’s healthcare brand. We had a wide ranging discussion talking about period pain, the role of CBD and the endocannabinoid system, female entrepreneurship and of course, Valentina shared her own period story.

Valentina shared the story of getting her period at just 9 years old. Listen to hear why she hid her period for a year and what happened when she told her father.

The gender pain gap is a very real issue and Valentina talked about the debilitating cramps she used to experience, which caused her to miss school and have difficulty concentrating. 

Valentina talks about what inspired her to start her company, Daye. She says that the idea that menstruation could be made easier was always in the back of her mind. She came up with resistance but persevered, making the first tampons herself on a 3D printer and injecting the CBD extract with a syringe.

Valentina talks about the benefits of CBD and the effects it’s had on her period pain. She says it’s made a massive impact on her productivity and her happiness levels and says that she no longer dreads her period.

Finally, we had an interesting discussion about female entrepreneurship. Valentina says that you need to be comfortable making a fool of yourself and making mistakes. She says that imposter syndrome keeps you humble. I agree! 

Get in touch with Valentina:

Website
Instagram
Twitter
Facebook

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VALENTINA’S BIO

Valentina’s educational background is in law and economics. She started her career in early-stage startup investing, before founding Daye. A year and a half after raising a seed round for Daye as a single person business, Valentina’s team set up production for their clinically validated naked & CBD tampons in South London. Daye is on a mission to raise the standards in women’s health, starting by bridging the gender pain gap with their first product. 

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: On today’s episode we have Valentina Milanova. Valentina’s educational background is in Law and Economics. She started her career in early stage start-up investing before founding Daye. A year and a half after raising a seed round for Daye as a single person business, Valentina’s team set up production for their clinically validated naked and CBD tampons in South London. Daye is on a mission to raise the standard in women’s health, starting by bridging the gender pain gap with their first product. Welcome to the show.

Valentina: Thanks for having me. Super excited to be here.

Le’Nise: So, let’s start off by getting into the story of your first period. It’s the first question I ask all my guests. Can you share with us what happened?

Valentina: I had my first period when I was really young, so I didn’t know that what I was experiencing was menstruation. I assumed that I had contracted some kind of disease and I didn’t feel comfortable telling anyone around me. So, my first few periods felt very traumatic. They came out of nowhere and because I wasn’t anticipating them to be there every month, I would just lock myself in the bathroom and kind of agonise over what I perceived was my imminent death from this horrible disease that I had. And then I gradually learned what was happening to my body and what I was experiencing. And then I started navigating how to deal with my menstruation. So, I always had really painful periods, debilitating cramps where I would have to just lie in a hot tub or take a really hot shower to reduce the cramps. And I also had really heavy periods, which meant that most pads really didn’t do it for me in terms of absorbency. So, I would always kind of have my trousers stained when I was in school. I remember we had these white chairs in school, white plastic chairs that were just my nightmare because every day at school when I was menstruating, I was just so worried that I was going to stand up and find a little pond of my menstrual blood.

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

Valentina: I was nine, I had my first period really early.

Le’Nise: Nine years old. Okay. So, you were in year five?

Valentina: I’m Bulgarian, so we have a different system.

Le’Nise: Oh, OK. So, you’re quite young. Who did you talk to when you thought you had a disease and it was really traumatic? Who did you turn to?

Valentina: I didn’t turn to anyone. I just was really worried that’s what I had was very, very shameful. It was about a year after I had my first period that I finally mustered the courage to go up to my father and just admit that there was something wrong with what I thought then, was something wrong with me. And he actually didn’t realise what was going on either. So, we ended up making a trip to the emergency clinic to see a doctor for this mysterious bleeding that I was experiencing.

Le’Nise: And when you went to the emergency clinic, what did they say?

Valentina: They laughed it off. They found it really funny. And they say, well, it’s just your period. It’s just your menstruation, I was like, what is menstruation? What does this mean? This is not helpful. I just felt very uncomfortable to ask any questions, but my father understood what that meant. And we went to the supermarket and we got a bunch of pads and he gave me the pads and kind of half-heartedly showed me how to use the pads and then I read the instructions on the box of the pads, and then it wasn’t until a few years later that my friends at school started having their periods. And I remember when I first found out that there was another girl in my class that also had a period that I was so happy and so relieved and I couldn’t wait to show her the ropes and talk to her about the different kinds of period care that I use and how to change your pad and things like that.

Le’Nise: So, for the first three, three or four years, you were on your own with a little bit of support from your father. And you mentioned the word shame, you were a bit ashamed about what was happening. Why did you feel like that?

Valentina: I guess it was a function of not knowing what was going on and naturally we associate our private organs and our physiology with shame when there’s something wrong. I guess that’s why I felt the shame, I didn’t have an educational experience at that point in time that made me feel extremely comfortable with my vulva, with my vagina. I didn’t know how to name these things. I didn’t understand how to look after myself properly. So, I guess that’s why I was experiencing shame.

Le’Nise: Were your periods painful from the very beginning?

Valentina: Yeah, I always had really debilitating cramps.

Le’Nise: And did that mean that you had to miss school or miss lessons?

Valentina: Yeah, frequently either miss school or just leave school when my periods would come, when I was at school. It was just very difficult to concentrate on anything that was not the pain. I think your first, if you have a painful period, your first few years of menstruation are the worst in terms of the intensity of the cramps. And I remember just laying in the bath or taking a really hot shower was the only thing that would help.

Le’Nise: And did you use any painkillers or were you too young?

Valentina: I think I was too young. I couldn’t access them myself, obviously, so I didn’t know where to find them.

Le’Nise: So, you were on your own in terms of your peer group. And then you found another girl who had got her period. Did things change as soon as your other friends started to get their periods?

Valentina: Yeah, by the time that my older school friends started getting their periods, I think I had like three or four years of being the only girl with her period. So, I had become more confident and become more aware of menstruation and what it meant and how to deal with it. So, I actually kind of turned it into the cool thing at school. After the second girl got her period, you know, we created this little group and then all of the other girls couldn’t wait to get their period so they could participate in the circle of conversations about menstruation. And we would kind of proudly walk down the school halls and we’d go and change our pads all at the same time in the bathrooms while there was another girl that was guarding the door. So, yeah, we made it into the cool thing at school.

Le’Nise: The periods became cool. OK. OK. That’s one way to kind of shift the idea of shame and to become more empowered by what was happening to your bodies. What was your education like at school? Having had the doctor at the emergency clinic tell you what was going on, did that education continue at school?

Valentina: I think the first time that I had a sexual and reproductive health education in any form was in biology class when I was 15. I may just not remember it, but I don’t have a recollection of in primary school, learning about menstruation, safe sex, etc. The school that I went to was actually very progressive, the primary school that I went to, we would call our teachers by their first names rather than by their last names or miss or mister. And we all kind of formed pretty close bonds and really close friendships with our professors and with our teachers but I don’t recall having a formal education. We did have Bible study, which at that time I found really interesting, but we didn’t have a formal sex ed class, that I can recall.

Le’Nise: So how were you learning about it?

Valentina: A lot of it was from books. So, the school that I went to was very encouraging of people reading. We would have these reading competitions where the coolest kid in school was the kid that could read over 90 words a minute and we had a large library and I read Lolita when I was in fourth grade, you know, I read a lot of books that I shouldn’t have read. And I learned about menstruation and I guess I learned my first sexual education from these books. And then obviously I discovered Internet and Internet forums and I remember these Internet forums in Bulgaria in the mid 2000s. People were just so confused, there was so much angst and so much worry and people were always worried they were pregnant. I remember this girl from my class came to me, crying in tears because she had had unprotected oral sex and she was convinced that she was pregnant. And that’s, you know, that was just a fact for her, and we didn’t know any better. So, we were like, oh, my God, commiserating with her on being pregnant. 

Le’Nise: It’s interesting because the Internet is supposed to be this democratising force in terms of access.

Valentina: It is a democratising force now, it just when I was growing up, we didn’t have a computer. It was difficult for me to access the Internet. And also, you have to remember that I was accessing the Bulgarian Internet, which is different from you know, Bulgarian forums are different from forums that are maybe a bit more progressive that you would maybe find in the UK and also the Internet now, like the quality information about sexual and menstrual health, you can find online now has no points of comparison to the information that I was finding when I was between 10 and 15. It’s very different internet to the UK.

Le’Nise: So, thinking about what you know now and thinking back to that girl who was looking on the Internet and, on these forums, and trying to find out information about what was going on with her body, information about sexual health. What would you tell that girl?

Valentina: Stick with it. It’s going to get easier. You’re going to learn the ropes and learn how to navigate menstruation and you’re going to come into your own and start feeling proud of who you are as a woman.

Le’Nise: What was the starting point where you realised you were having these heavy and painful periods? When did you realise that something had to change?

Valentina: Guess the thought was always in the back of my mind. This really strong belief that the way that people deal with their periods and the way we purchase period care products and how they perform is really subpar. When I became a teenager and when I started going to high school, my painful periods persisted. I started using Ibuprofen and Nurofen and all of the pink period anti-inflammatories that are actually the exact same formulation as the generic ones, but only five times more expensive. They never really removed my cramps; they just dulled the cramps. So, it was always this idea that menstruation could be made easier and looking after yourself when you’re on your period could be made nicer was always in the back of my mind.

Le’Nise: They could be made nicer. I think that’s an important message for that a lot of women would like to hear. So, you have this message in the back of your mind and now you have a company which helps women have nicer periods. Tell us about the journey from having the seed of a thought in your mind to starting up your company.

Valentina: I first had the idea for Daye when I was finishing an MBA type course in Bulgaria. It was an evening business education course. And in order to graduate, we had to come up with a business idea that would be socially impactful. So, I started researching northern Bulgaria, which is an area that has the highest rates of unemployment in Europe actually, has really high levels of sexual trafficking. So, I thought whatever business idea I could come up with that would somehow benefit this region in particular would be socially impactful for that reason, and I started researching the history of northern Bulgaria. Turns out northern Bulgaria used to be the number one producer and exporter of industrial hemp in the 40s and in the 30s before the communist government came in and took over. Northern Bulgaria had this industrial hemp research institute that was publishing a bunch of papers surrounding industrial hemp. And I just went, and I found these old papers and I realised through them that industrial hemp fibres are more absorbent than cotton and the extract from the flower can be analgesic. So, then I had this moment of just thinking, OK, so we know there is a plant that both makes more absorbent fibres and pain relieving extract then why aren’t we combining the two? That’s when I had the idea for Daye for our first product and I presented it to my MBA class. Everyone thought it was a very weird idea. No one wanted to talk about menstruation or talk about tampons. I think the most common argument that I heard was people just saying, well, if this was such a good idea, Procter and Gamble would have invented it already. But it really stuck with me, this concept of taking the pain away from periods, seeking the discomfort of, you know, constantly worrying about staining your underwear, staining your trousers with your menstrual blood.

I tried to produce the first tampons by myself initially at home. I 3D printed these moulds and I used a technique called needle punching in order to take the fibre and transform it into a tampon like shape and then I infused the edges of the tampons with CBD with the extract from the hemp flower using a syringe. I tried the tampons on myself first, they really worked on me and I have very painful periods and then I gave them to my friends to try. My friends tried them. They gave equally positive feedback. So that’s when I realised that there’s some merit to this idea beyond it just sounding good on paper and I started trying to produce my product and that made me realise that tampon manufacturing is very monopolised right now, it’s very complicated. It’s owned by a small number of people and there’s limited opportunities for innovation. So, no one was really interested in my pain-relieving tampon or in my more absorbent tampon. I got tons of negative feedback from the early manufacturing meetings that I had, but finally I was able to find a manufacturer whose daughters had really painful periods and they had tried my CBD tampon prototype and it had worked for them. So the manufacturer was incentivised to work with me and we were able to produce the first batch of tampons which we used for the first set of clinical trials too, because obviously they are such a sensitive product, more like a medical device so we need to be extremely careful with the validation that we’re doing. So, doing clinical validation was one of the early most important things.

So, the first tampons we made, they were shipped for the clinical trials. People had to self-install the CBD onto the tampon using a syringe because we didn’t have a machine then to apply the CBD to tampons automatically. And from the results of these initial clinical trials and from being able to secure IP, I was able to fundraise as a single person company. I raised the pre-seed round for Daye in September 2018 and then a few months later we closed a seed round with a San Francisco based investor called Koestler, they’re an amazing firm. They invest in a lot of scientifically backed IP based companies and I was able to slowly start growing a team and get more talent on board. So right now, where we are, is that we manufacture in South London in Bermondsey and we employ women who used to be in the prison and care systems as our production operators. We have just opened our subscription so it’s live for people to purchase as of a week ago. And we’re working on getting Daye with as many women as possible, we’re working on scaling our production.

Le’Nise: So, go back to what you were saying about the CBD as an analgesic. For women who aren’t familiar with CBD and what it can do, can you just walk them through why they would want to use a tampon with CBD in that?

Valentina: Yeah. So specifically, the kind of cannabinoids that we use. We use a pharmaceutical grade extract. The same one that is used in GW Pharmaceuticals drug for children’s epilepsy. And we use a significant dose and a significant concentration. So, we have a hundred milligrams of 30% CBD per tampon. And what that does is it allows us to deliver a potent dose of an anti-inflammatory agent to the area that’s cramping. So, we provide localised pain relief. We’ve developed the technology that allows us to atomise the CBD, so it stays on the surface of the tampon rather than permeating back inside. And by staying on the surface of the tampon the CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system in the vaginal canal and it triggers something called the first pass uterine effect, which is a mechanism by which agents that are ingested through the vaginal mucosa are recycled in the pelvic organs, meaning the result that’s felt is much quicker than if you take a painkiller orally, because obviously then it has to go through digestive system, etc. And that’s the mechanism of action of Daye. We use high quality CBD that’s of a significant dose, it’s applied onto the tampon in a way that ensures that the active ingredient stays on the surface of the tampon and there it interacts with the endocannabinoid system which is known to modulate your response to pain, effectively the CBD tampon turns the volume down on your cramps.

Le’Nise: So, formulating this product, developing it, manufacturing it. How has it changed your period?

Valentina: I don’t suffer from periods cramps anymore, which is really important when I’m building my company. We don’t have 2-3 days a month. I don’t have the luxury to be able to stay in bed and take a bath and not be focused. And 2-3 days a month don’t sound like a lot when you say that, but it’s made such a massive impact on my productivity and just my happiness levels and I no longer dread my period. I’m no longer shakily anticipating the first PMS symptoms and the first spotting, thinking, oh, my God, what am I going to do now. So that’s been the biggest impact for me, being able to have levelled amounts of energy and in cognitive capacity throughout the month and not limited by my cycle.

Le’Nise: Going back to what you said, people might not think 2-3 days is a lot but if you look at that over a year, that’s almost a month a year, being debilitated by pain. So that’s quite significant. And when you look at it like that, I think it puts into context the amount of pain that women experience or people with periods experience and how it can really impact their lives.

So, someone who wants to try to the CBD tampons and what they really feel connected by your story and what the change that you’ve experiences in your period. How would they get a hold of the tampons?

Valentina: So, they’re available on our website right now, yourdaye.com and they’re available on subscription so you can purchase them once and then sync them with your cycle. So, you have them delivered automatically two or three days before your period is due.

Le’Nise: Ok, great. Your story is quite inspiring, you had a problem, you identified a solution, and then you rolled out a product that is quite innovative. There isn’t another CBD tampon in the UK market, is there?

Valentina: There isn’t another pain-relieving tampon globally, not just in the UK market, yeah.

Le’Nise: Right. OK. What would you say to women out there who hear your story? They’re quite inspired by it and they’re thinking, oh, well, you know, maybe I can develop something or maybe I can do something like this, or I have my own idea. The start-up space is notoriously male, it’s notoriously quite sexist. What would you say to these women who want to do something? Do you have any advice?

Valentina: I’d say it’s super exciting that we live in the times in which we live in right now because if there’s one thing to be learned from my stories that a young Eastern European woman who didn’t grow up with a lot and didn’t have a lot of connections can still approach these, on the surface, intimidating brand name investors. And tell a good story and make a good case for why women’s health deserves more investment and actually win that investment, so if there’s any women that are listening to this interview and they’re thinking, wow,  I really want to start my own company as well, I’d say go for it. There’s really nothing stopping you. This mentality was a thing that really convinced me to take out the initial credit cards that I had staked out in order to finance the company before we had venture capital resources. I just thought to myself, OK, what’s the worst that can happen? I lose my forty thousand pounds and then I just have to repay them by working in a regular job. I’ll always be able to find a regular job like even if it’s just washing dishes. How long will it take me? Will it take me 10 years to repay it? What’s the big deal? At least I will have tried, at least I will have learned new things.

Le’Nise: Yeah, definitely. I think that’s such an amazing attitude, at least you tried, you know, what’s the worst that can happen? I mean, it’s only money. And I’m not being glib when I say that. But, you know, there are definitely worse things, you know.

Valentina: And even if you take the conversation apart from the money domain. You need to be really comfortable as an entrepreneur in making a fool of yourself all the time. You need to have a really low ego. You need to constantly be proven wrong. You’re constantly put in these really awkward situations of complex interpersonal dynamics that you have to navigate because as you manage a team, as you manage a board, as you deal with your suppliers. And you just need to be very humble and very low ego and just be at ease in this comfort. Just know that there’s going to be a lot of discomfort, there’s going to be a lot of feeling inadequate and my imposter complex is as strong as it’s ever been. And that’s just part of the human experience, I guess, when you’re an entrepreneur. A lot of people are really worried about their reputation, they never take a risk because they’re worried about how it would look to the world if they make a mistake but at the end of the day everything blows over in 24 hours and you end up gaining more even if you make a massive mistake, then if you don’t do anything.

Le’Nise: I think that’s really interesting. Everything you’re saying is like, I definitely believe it myself, you have to make mistakes, you have to make a fool of yourself because what’s worse? Did the doing it and then making the mistake or not doing it and regretting it? Well, I want to go back to what you were saying about imposter syndrome. Is that something that you’ve experienced?

Valentina: Yeah, I experience imposter syndrome on a daily basis, and I think it’s a very healthy thing to experience because it keeps you humble, and it prevents you from drinking your own Kool-Aid. Something that really bothers me in start-ups and in entrepreneurship is it’s very easy to create this meet of the founder persona, of the superhuman founder who is always switched on, always right, somehow divinely anointed with a greater intelligence and a greater amount of courage than everyone else. And I think that’s just BS, that’s just absolute crap, that just does not exist, and it leads to people being unhappy and leads to people falling off pedestals. So I welcome my imposter syndrome when it comes knocking, it’s a reminder of I actually have no idea what I’m doing most of the time, I’m learning everything from scratch, I’ve never managed a team, I’ve never run clinical trials, I’ve never conducted regulatory approvals for a medical device company. But as long as I keep humble and I keep a low ego, I keep learning and I keep evolving and I keep moving from one point to the next. So, I’m friendly with my imposter syndrome now.

Le’Nise: Ok. I think that’s something that we can all learn from, not shying away it, from being friendly with it. What’s next for your company?

Valentina: Scale is next for our company. Expanding our production capability. So, we intend to continue working with a charity in the UK called Working Chance, which gives women that used to be part of the criminal and care systems a chance to gain fair, meaningful employment. So, as we scale our production, as we build more machines and expand to new factories, we want to remain in the UK and remain working with these women, giving and making an impact in our direct community apart from just making an impact on period pain as a whole. Why we would do that is to deliver the clinically validated CBD tampon to as many women that need it as possible.

Le’Nise: And so how do you feel about your period now?

Valentina: I’m happy when I have my period, I’m excited for it, I look forward to it. It reminds me of my womanhood, it reminds me of the things that my body could potentially do in the future. I’ve embraced my periods, obviously not having cramps helps. Another reason why I look forward to my period is because I’m the resident guinea pig for all of our tampons, new tampon formulations in new sizes, new shapes. So, whenever our design engineering team has come up with a new applicator or a new design, I’m always the first person to try them out. So that’s another reason why I look forward to my period, because I get to test the new things that we have cooking. 

Le’Nise: So that’s quite a shift going from you thinking that you had a disease and it being really traumatic to now looking forward to your period and embracing it. And do you think that’s a journey that’s available to anyone with a period, especially in people who have periods that are painful, that are really heavy?

Valentina: Yeah, I mean, I don’t want to underestimate anyone’s personal experience or anyone’s personal trauma, but from my experience. It’s been great for me personally to have this shift of mindset and have this shift of perception and be able to embrace my menstruation.

Le’Nise: Amazing. If listeners could take one thing away from this podcast episode in your journey, what would you want that to be?

Valentina: Without meaning to repeat myself, I think it’s just the awe of the world in which we live in today, because it’s very easy to get bogged down with all of the wrong that exists in the world right now. But I think we also sometimes seem to just remember to take a step back and just be in awe of the fact that we now live in a world where, you know, a 25 year old woman that comes from nothing, from a tiny country in Eastern Europe can start her own business and run her own business and make a social impact while also creating a profitable product and make an environmental impact while solving a real consumer pain point. So I think that the technologies that exist and have allowed us to exist in this society which we do right now and the environmental changes, in how we perceive women and in how we talk about female health, I think are really something to be proud of and something to be reminded of. So, I guess even though the world is a very hard, difficult place, there’s moments of wonder and there’s moments of awe and I would love for us to celebrate these moments more.

Le’Nise: Wonderful. Celebrate the moments of wonder and awe, I think that’s a message that everyone can get behind. Thank you so much for coming on to the show Valentina, where can listeners find out more about Daye. 

Valentina: On our website yourdaye.com.

Le’Nise: Great. Thanks.

Valentina: Thanks for having me.

Le’Nise: Thank you.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 22: Elaine dela Cruz, Start Having Uncomfortable Conversations

On today’s episode of Period Story podcast, I spoke with Elaine dela Cruz, the co-founder of Project 23, a culture and performance consultancy. Elaine and I had a great conversation about teaching her daughters about periods, how culture affected how she learnt about periods and sex and of course, her first period.

Elaine shares the memory of getting her period during a much anticipated family vacation and how she cringed at the way her mum and aunties were discussing it.

Elaine talks about how culture likely affected the way she learned about sex and period, saying that her family was not one to talk about these things. She says that she learned from this experience and it made her want to be more informed for the conversation with her daughters.

We talk about being laissez-faire about periods in your 20s, the change that can happen after childbirth and what happens when you ovulate.

Listen to hear what happens when Elaine decides to have the first conversation about periods with her daughters and why she had to have a re-do! She says these conversations made her more open about her period.

Elaine says it’s so important for us to have uncomfortable conversations and if we push the conversation and push through the discomfort, we’ll get to the other side and learn and connect in a different way. I completely agree!

Get in touch with Elaine:

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: On today’s episode, we have Elaine dela Cruz. Elaine is the co-founder of Project 23, a culture and performance consultancy, passionate about people. After a successful career working in the media industry, she saw that there was room to do things better and was placed to do something about it. Started in 2018, Project 23 helps organisations to create an inclusive culture, in turn increasing employee happiness and ultimately resulting in better business performance. Their mission is to make the media industry a fairer, happier and more productive workplace. Elaine is an ICF accredited executive coach, consultant, speaker and trainer. She calls herself a positive disruptor wanting to actuate change for good. Elaine’s a proud single mum, a first generation born Filipino Londoner and a lover of music and eating. Welcome to the show.

Elaine: Thank you, Le’Nise. Thank you for having me. That makes me pretty established, doesn’t it? Makes me sound like I’ve done stuff.

Le’Nise: You have. So, let’s get into the question that I start each episode with. So, tell me the story of your first period.

Elaine: Yeah. As soon as you invited me, I did think, you’ve got a rack your brains and start thinking about the detail of my first period and I do wonder whether or not this relatively short story about my first period actually may be is saying something about the way that I am with periods in general and maybe my kind of experience with it. So, the detail that I have is pretty short and stubby, I would describe. I don’t even know how old I was, but I’m going to guess that I was probably about 12. I’m 41 so back then that was pretty much in between primary school or middle school, as we called it, even back then and high school. So, because obviously the years dropped in London back then as well. So, every summer, me and the family and our extended family here in London would get so, so excited about the prospect of going to Newbury, that inverted commas, Newbury. So the place called Newbury, for what we called Newbury was actually where my parent’s friends, she was a housekeeper for huge, huge like what I would describe as a mansion is probably like a stately home in this mansion that had a swimming pool, which was like the best thing ever. They had horses there, tennis courts, they had a big old house. And the family that she was the housekeeper for would obviously allow her every now and then to invite her friends and family over. So, for us, you know, all my friends’ parents, we didn’t have any family here, but that was our family. So, all the kids, every year we would go and that would probably be our annual holiday, actually. And we would get so excited. And I remember, I would count down the weeks, count down the weeks to it then, you know, the drive there and inevitably it’s, ‘are we there yet?’.

And one year, I was absolutely devastated because this was the year that I got my first period. So, my memory of it was sitting on the edge of the pool, paddling with my feet, watching all the kids go nutso in the pool and, you know, splashing everyone. And yeah, with a big bunch of kids, I think probably about 13, 14 kids of various ages. My families actually. And I just remember thinking, shit, well I probably wasn’t thinking shit, I was just kind of sulking. I wasn’t in the pool because I didn’t, I wasn’t allowed to and all I remember thinking was that, I guess, blood would just leak out into the pool like a movie or something. And as I’m sitting there and one of the aunts, in inverted commas, if you know you know, then she was kind of like, “Elaine, why don’t you get in the pool? Come and get in the pool?” And before I could say anything else, my mum just went, “Oh, no, she has her period, she has her period for the first time”, and then they started speaking in Tagalog, like the Filipino, like the native language between them, and I could just get the kind of bits and pieces of the fact that they were talking about me and the fact this is my first period. Oh, my God, that type of thing. Oh, really? Oh, she’s so big now. Oh, and I’m just sitting there like, oh, my God, this is cringe. And that was my memory. So, And I think it was the missing out is the feeling I have and people talking about it like it was this thing that you weren’t really supposed to talk about, and most definitely something that the women did. The women spoke about it, not the girls, but the women. And I yeah, I just remember my mum blurting it out and obviously, I’m sure lots of mums do that. But ‘mortificado’ is the word I will use for it. Yeah, that’s it, and there’s not really a before and an after that. I don’t remember, the experience, I don’t remember, you know, looking into my panties and seeing blood, I don’t remember sanitary towels, I don’t remember anything like that on that occasion, I just remember, I guess, that trauma piece, which I didn’t really recognise as trauma at the time, but maybe it was just absolute embarrassment. Yeah, that was my first period.

Le’Nise: And so how did you learn about what it actually was? So, you said you don’t really remember the actual event, but did you have conversations beforehand with maybe cousins or your mum about what was going to happen?

Elaine: Right, so this is the thing. So, you know, I think knowing that I’m going to talk about my first period and knowing that I have two daughters who are 12 and 11 and talking about periods and understanding about periods, obviously completely relevant and I need to know, I want to know, I’ve always wanted to know how to tell them. So, coming here, I was thinking, OK, what was it? I mean, maybe my memory, maybe I have holes in my memory that I don’t remember my mum telling me or my older sister. My older sister is five years older than me. But genuinely, I don’t have a single memory of my parents, my mum telling me, my older sister telling me.

I have a vague memory of secondary school. So, this is, I’ve already got my period of how to use tampons. I remember that lesson because it was in one of the huts, it was freezing, but not a single memory. I called my sister, I FaceTimed my sister, she lives in Toronto and I called her just a few days ago, “Jude, just thinking to double check with you, you know, did you ever tell me about my period?” She’s like, “I don’t think so, I don’t even remember who told me” and I think I was really curious to know that most people come and tell you that they have a clear memory of who told them, and they have this horrific story, or this joyous story, but I do wonder what, I did wonder to myself, what does it say that I think it never happened? I think the conversation in the household actually never happened, and maybe that was a cultural thing, maybe it was just not what my mum thought was necessary or maybe of an age, I don’t know, maybe of our generation. I’m not quite sure. I’d be really interested to hear what other people will say and what, you know, what you experience, the averages, if you like.

Le’Nise: I mean, it’s so different. I mean, some guests have talked about learning almost by osmosis, seeing kind of pads or tampons around the house, in the bathroom. Other people learned from school. One of my guests, she talked about how she learned from Jackie magazine. So, I think culture definitely plays into a lot of the conversations. And I just wonder, from a cultural perspective. Was there any conversation about sex? Or was that kind of something you learned by osmosis as well?

Elaine: Like I said earlier, I’m 41, I still haven’t had a conversation about sex like that. I think it’s cultural to a degree, but I also think it is, like many things it’s down to you know, it is about who my parents are as people, the generation that they grew up in. And definitely, I don’t know, maybe, they came from the Philippines in the early 70s. They were completely able to speak English. But maybe I don’t know, maybe there is a language barrier thing for them as well to talk about things that are much more uncomfortable. I think they definitely come from an era, a culture, a family where we don’t talk about certain things. We don’t talk about periods; we don’t talk about sex. We will talk a little bit about the things that you’re not supposed to do. So, you know, I had many one-way conversations about drugs, which were basically you don’t ever do drugs. And so, it was mentioned like that. But I think in general, they don’t have, I suppose the vocabulary, the capabilities to be able to talk about things as a whole piece. So, if we’re talking about periods, I think that my mum and dad, they both were hospital workers. My mum worked for the NHS for ages, she was haematology lab technician. My dad was a theatre technician, so he worked in operating theatres, both very, very practical and able to deal with the medical and physical things. But actually, obviously, when you talk about periods or sex, a huge part of it is also about emotion and how you deal with it, how you cope with it as a person and those things, I don’t think they have the vocabulary to be able to really express and I think that’s another reason why they kind of shied away or stepped away from it. And to be frank or to be honest, I don’t even know if they know that they stepped away from it. You and I, we grew up with Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Phil, and we’ve been given that vocabulary, right, you know, you’re not deep if you don’t have that kind of thing, which obviously I’m just joking but they just don’t know how. But also, I think there is 100% a part of it, which is, we don’t talk about periods because that’s periods and they’re private. You know, they are shut away, as we all know, that the society has made us do. They are things that we don’t talk about.

Le’Nise: So, having grown up with this, not really remembering how you learned about your period and how to deal with it. What have you taken from that experience and how are you now speaking to your daughters about what has come or is about to come for them?

Elaine: Yeah, great question. With all the parenting challenges and aspects that you have, so, you know, we all want to be amazing parents, right? I always loved this phrase when the kids were first really young, which is, I mean, this is so generalising here. So, everyone can hate me for this. But it just it meant something to me at the time. Mums, they want to be the best mums ever, the best mum ever, dads, they just wanna survive that shit. I thought it was just funny and I definitely experienced that as a mum. But I want to be the best mum I could possibly be. So, as I have got older, as I’ve got more informed, and that’s still a growth goal line for me now. Obviously, I want to be, I hate to say it, but I want to be a better parent than my parents were to me. And I don’t mean that in a disrespectful way. I mean that in a more informed, educated way and I take what they gave me as an essence, and I add onto it. So when it comes to what I’ve learned about my experiences with periods and how I can inform my girls, that’s just one example of that, where I can look back and I can see that, yeah, I didn’t have, not even the practical tools, because clearly I did. But it’s the empowerment that comes with being more informed about knowing about periods, the statement of the fact that it shouldn’t be in the background. Why does it have to be in the background? So that’s the part I want to bolt on. Yes, my mum never told me about how I should do it. But I think the bit that I really only got later that I want to put on them earlier from the beginning, is the feminist bit. Which is the bit about, you know, this is nothing to be ashamed of, this is everything to be proud of and actually the privilege that’s attached to having your period. Yes, I complain about it, but that’s a huge privilege. So, I suppose when I started to think about ok, I’ve got to tell my kids this at some point.

And I remember at the time my sister was on holiday here and her youngest, she has three girls and her youngest is the same age as my oldest. And at the time I think they’re about 10, she’s calm and then they’ve gone back to Canada, we’re face timing and I remember the subject of periods came up into our conversation as mums, and because her older two are that much older, like 10 years old, 8, 9 years older, Jessie, her youngest already knew about periods? That’s I was given. She was like “oh, yeah but, you know, I’m sure Jessie’s going to start puberty soon.” And I just thought, oh, shit, the kids aren’t babies anymore. And that was the moment I just thought, I need to start thinking about how I’m going to do this. And then what I did, obviously, like any first timer in the situation, I went to my friend Google and I was like, how do I do this? How do I check it out? So, I did that. I thought, OK, what’s the structure? I went very pragmatic, what’s the structure of this, how am I going to do this? And I kind of took what I wanted to take from it, which was the first one, I need to tell them about the physicality of it, the physical stuff, the human body stuff, the biology of it. And then the second thing was to talk to them about what you do about it, the resources, how you how you manage with that. And then the third one was, you know, the reality, the practicalities of it, if you like, because that was helpful to me, Google was helpful to me because I was gonna go in it with the science thinking that’s how it’s approachable for them. But actually, obviously, they would have a trillion questions about what does this stuff just leak down my leg or how does this work? So, I found that really helpful. But before I had that talk and I do have a funny story about that talk because I had it twice. I did think a lot about how I, like everything else, normalise things for them, that this is about periods just being something that is as every day as breathing or whatever else it is that we need to deal with or think about. 

Le’Nise: You took your experience and you want your daughters to have a different experience. And I think that’s really powerful because, you know, I really relate to what you’re saying about, you know, just trying to be a better parent than your parents. And I think that we have so much access to information now that we know so much more. And it’s easier to get informed about, oh, how should I potty train my child? How should I teach my child about periods? You know, it’s so easy to learn about whatever you need to learn about. But before you go onto this funny story that you have, I just want to ask you, so how did you eventually learn about your period? Was it reading magazines, do you actually have any memory of that?

Elaine: You know, I really genuinely don’t. I really, genuinely don’t. When you said earlier on some people talk about learning about it through osmosis. For me, when you said that, I thought, oh, yeah, that must be it. That’s all I’ve got, really, which isn’t the answer. It’s not the great anecdotal answer for you, but I don’t know, I was thinking about this last night, particularly, just thinking, I don’t know what that says, but I do think it might say something. Just the fact that it’s maybe, as much as I’m sitting here saying, you know, I want to teach my kids about the privileges to have periods and how strong and powerful we are as women. You know, it’s the absolute opposite of the fact that we have to hide this stuff and not talk about it. And I think that the experience that I have, or that lack of memory, I have nothing else but to think that it’s because it’s just not been a conversation in my life that I’ve had at what should be perhaps a profound moment. So, whether it was my mum and I don’t mean that as a disrespectful thing at all. But whether it’s a lack of conversation or my sister, who I was always close to and was definitely my big sister. At school, I don’t remember it happening really at school. The school thing I think must have happened, surely the conversation whether I remember it. But I think I would 100% know if I had the conversation with my girlfriends at the time. And I don’t that ever happened, I have no recollection of that. And I can’t you know, I think it was only until, you know, many, many, many years later where I think I might have had a conversation with my girlfriends about it actually, which I think is telling.

Le’Nise: Did you ever have any issues with your period? Did you have painful periods or any conditions where you may have kind of sought out some medical advice, if you would like to share?

Elaine: Yeah, no, not luckily, no. My experience with my periods was always a bit, I was always very laissez-faire about it. I did not keep track of when my periods were, I just would get caught out on the hop all the time. I never learnt, I mean, what a fool. I probably went through a time, probably like uni days, early uni days, early 20s, maybe when we first met, actually, I was a party girl. I was always out, and I was doing things I shouldn’t probably be doing. And I think that probably affected my period, too. So, I remember I would miss a period sometimes or I would be weeks late. And it would take me a while to notice, like an irresponsible while to notice and then it would come. And obviously in that period of time where you notice and you’re like, please, Lord, no, let my period come. In that time, you’d get a panic and then let her come. And actually, I put it down to the fact that I was partying so much I was having irregular sleep, I wasn’t looking after my body, I was having a ridiculously too good a time in that sense. And that was what was making my periods become very irregular.

Other than that, I noticed that I would hear or read, or someone would say that that period lasted seven days or eight days, and I would be like shit, mine lasted for like 4 days, 3 days, start to finish. And then I would think, well, I’m obviously pretty jammy here with this. And then I had kids in my late 20s and then after that, I noticed that my period was different. It did change everything. So, they were a lot more like clockwork. Although I still was very laissez-faire about it but I felt like they were much more clockwork and they were heavier. They were longer and heavier. And it was a bit like, goddamn why, you know, that kind of thing. And I would get cramps and PMT like I never did before. And actually, as I got older, I started to notice that I get PMT in a way that I’m pretty sure I didn’t before. Like clockwork, actually.

Le’Nise: And when you say PMT, what does that mean for you?

Elaine: To me, it means a frikkin mood. To me, it means, you know, it can be a mixture. It’s definitely mood based for me. And it can be either just feeling quite heavy like a dark, you know, just heavy in mood or most definitely a shorter temper. I wouldn’t say I’m irrationally so, but the fuse is so much shorter and it’s always four or five days before, rather than a day before, Two days before. I’m fiery as a person anyway, so, yeah, my pride gets in the way of warning people that it’s here or my boyfriend that it’s here. But, you know, and heaven forbid, if he was ever to bring it up with me and say, well, clearly, I probably would go to jail. But I know it’s happening after the effect, if you know what I mean. At the moment, in the moment, I just think I’m perfectly sane, thank you very much, do not criticise me, do not tell me I’m overemotional. And then maybe two days later, I’m like, oh, shit, I was a dragon. So, yeah, I guess that’s what it means, I turn into a bit of a dragon.

Le’Nise: Do you track your cycle?

Elaine: I started track my cycle only about three or four months ago, not long ago at all. I don’t know why I did it, it might have even been something as superficial as a frickin Instagram ad that got me. I used Flo and I only track it. I only wanted to track it because I just thought, OK, I’m a big grown woman now, I need to know what day this comes before it never comes again. And so, yeah, I do track it. And then as I’ve started to use the app, I started to track PMT and that’s pretty much it. I couldn’t even tell you what functionality there is in the app besides that. I remember having a quick look at like what other content there was that what other things are more I find useful. But I just thought nah, I don’t need that. Maybe I’m missing in a whole world of resource I don’t know about.

Le’Nise: What I say to my clients is you need to track it the best way for you. Some people, they love getting really into detail and they actually kind of journal on how they’re feeling each day. And some people, it’s literally the start of their period, end of their period. That’s me, actually, because I’m kind of in tune with how my body is. I track when it starts, when it finishes and then when I’m ovulating, I kind of notice that and that’s it. So, you just do what’s best for you. There’s so many different apps and options out there.

Elaine: Can I ask, how do you feel when you’re ovulating?

Le’Nise: So typically, that’s where you have the highest energy in your menstrual cycle. So, for me personally, I know when I’m ovulating because, and I really have to control this because I have like a manic energy and I want to overschedule. I try to do too much and it’s like, go, go, go, go, go. I know that I can, I have more energy to do workouts and I can do long runs, or I can do super long yoga sessions. And that’s because, you know, oestrogen is really high, testosterone really high. Obviously, libido is highest at that point. But there are also physical signs. So, you know, you have the cervical fluid, it changes, you notice that in your underwear, our temperature will increase as well. So, I think typically, women start to notice ovulation when they’re trying to get pregnant. But actually, it’s something that we should all be aware of because that’s actually where our menstrual cycle, I believe, focuses on ovulation rather than where everyone focuses on having a period.

Elaine: So true. As soon as you start saying that, I’m like, I have another date to mark in my app. I’m going to start tracking. I’m really curious to know if that’s how I feel when I’m ovulating, because I think that’s what it is. How do I feel when I’m ovulating? I want all the energy. I want to do something with it. And I’ll just steal from you and the fact that I just cap it, I know not to overextend, but I’m going to get back to you and tell you if happens to me as well.

Le’Nise: I want to go back to what you were saying about how you talk to your daughters about their period and what was their reaction to the conversation?

Elaine: Rewinding back to that moment when my sister was like, you know, you should tell them, I was a bit like, oh shit. It’s been the three of us in the house, I’ve been a single mum since my youngest, there’s only 13 months between them and since they were two and one. And so, it’s a very female house, obviously. And I have always tried to be a parent where I’ll just tell them the way it is, nothing is taboo or anyway. That’s how I tried. For all I know, I’m just a walking version of my mum. Whereas, you know, maybe I whisper the bad words or something, I try to be very open. So, you know, when they first, I don’t know, saw on TV, a gay couple, you know, how come they’re kissing? Because they’re gay, that’s it. Well, there’s a trans person, but he’s trans, that’s what it is, here’s the background. This is, you know, as much as I possibly can about the world, but for some reason, unbeknown to me, maybe because we’re just a product of our mums and dads. I never really told them about periods, like most mums, I could never go to the toilet without it being a party in the toilet, right. And they’re asking me about frickin homework or whatever in the toilet. But I would always lock the door when I had my period or when I was changing my tampons or whatever, maybe because when they were really young, I guess, exactly the opposite of what I’m trying to teach them, I just thought maybe it’s too much for them or whatever. But I found myself, you know, beyond their two or three years old to now they’re eight or nine and I still haven’t really said anything about it. The way that I would tell myself anyway, and I still think it’s fair is that they’ve got years to think about that shit. Like you can get away with that for now, don’t worry about it. I think I just wanted to maintain that for them. Innocence is the wrong word. For want of a better phrase. Just give them that kind of freedom and innocence.

Anyway, so now, you know, unlike most topics in my life with them, I don’t have any run up, I’ve got zero run up.  You know, I got scared. My sister was like, it could happen any day and I know some girl where it happened when their 9 and I’m like, oh, fuck. So, I know that at some point I’m going to sit them down. And we happened to be watching a TV show and I can’t remember what, but it was slightly adult. But I’ve always let them watch TV that’s a bit more mature, but comedy wise, particularly and something happened and there was a bit of banter on the TV and it was about sex. And I just found this moment, I thought, OK, this is the moment and it’s like 8:45, so it’s nearly bedtime as well and I learnt later that wasn’t a good time to have these conversations. And I just launch into this conversation and I start with the science of it all and they are engaged, they are on it and I was like, this is going well and I knew that that would be how I get in. You know, this is science. I’m proud to say that they’re both very bright girls and are very into school. I think I went slightly birds and bees first and then it gets to the point where I’m like, so if you don’t have a baby, then what happens is your uterus lining and then, you know, they’ll be blood, and I think I said it like that. Before this point, there’s questions, loads of questions and I’m like, you know, I’m a frickin great mum, this is going well.

And then, as I say, there’s blood and I’m like, yeah, it’s blood but it doesn’t hurt in the way that, you know, we think about blood when you get cut, it doesn’t mean that, there can’t be some pain. And then before I knew it, the old one, Mia, she is bawling. She is just crying. And I’m like, “you don’t have to cry, you don’t have to cry.” And I just had this, what I now know was pretty hard. You don’t have to just worry. And I’m like, “no, really, you really don’t need to cry, don’t worry about it, there’s nothing to be scared of” and she’s still crying and she said I don’t want to talk about it anymore, and I’m holding her there in this conversation. And then I have this moment where I’m like, I am the trauma, I am giving her the trauma now by keeping her in conversation when she is literally saying, I want to go upstairs. I want to go to bed. Right. I messed this conversation up so much in that moment that my daughter actually asked me to go to bed. So, I’ve gone okay, go upstairs.

And then Tiggy, she’s left and I’m like, OK, I start to carry on the conversation with the younger one and she’s like, “I want to go upstairs as well, I want to go upstairs as well.” The younger one definitely idolises but would never admit that she idolises the older one. So, I have this moment, she copies her, so I have this moment where I say, “you don’t have to do what Mia does, you can stay here, you will have this conversation with me, Tig.” She’s just a bit like, “no, I don’t want to.” I kind of push her. I’m like, “why do you want to?” And she just kind of blurts out and they’re like cats and dogs these two, and then she says, “because she’s my sister, I love her and I love her, I want to be with her.” I was just like, I was taken aback, and I was just like, OMG and I was like, “OK, go, go upstairs.” And then that was it, that was the conversation. I went into work the next day and I was like, “oh, my God, listen to what I did, this is how I messed it up” and it was just this funny anecdote where I was the trauma and it was all going so well and then I just held them in this space until I realised that, oh, no, you’ve got to let them go and then we left it at that.

And I think what that did was just served to break the ice for the time when we had the conversation after, which actually, I did in two parts. I did it separately. Neither of them had their periods yet but that conversation went that much better and it was broken down. It was all about let’s do it when you’re on your own, which is very rare, they’re always together. And I did it when my other daughter was at a sleepover. And it just gave us the space to do everything and she was then able to ask the questions, rather than it be the dynamic between the two of them, which is what that was. You know, that first conversation, they’re looking at each other and thinking, what are you thinking? What are you thinking? What are you feeling? Oh, my God. I want to go with you. Oh, my God, I love you. Which, you know, she has never said since by the way.

Le’Nise: So, having after having those conversations with your daughters, do you find that you’re more open now about when you have your period and how you’re feeling?

Elaine: Yeah, yeah, I definitely am. I still keep the door closed and actually sitting here, I’m thinking maybe I don’t need to do that anymore, but I think there are certain things that I want my own privacy for. I’m sitting here thinking it could be good education for them to see how you do things and perhaps when those moments come and they really need to be more practical, then I will be there. But actually, I don’t think everything I do has to be a lesson for them because I’m my own person. And so, you know, I don’t really want the door open when I’m changing my tampon or there’s certain things that I kind of think I want to reserve my privacy for. I haven’t actually said to them, I think I’m in a bad mood because my period. I tend to just say I’m in a bad mood if I’m in a bad mood. So, it’s not necessarily attached to that. And maybe that’s a conscious thing, I don’t know, I’ve learned as a parent, you know, you have to show them how you feel because we are a dynamic. If I’m telling you to go to bed because I’m tired, I know you’re not tired but it’s 9:30, it’s past your bedtime. But I know you’re not tired. But if I tell you, do you know what? I need you guys to go to bed. I know you might not be tired but it’s your bedtime, but I’m tired and I need my own time. I need you to go upstairs so I can have my own time because that makes me happier and then I can do what I need to do. So, I always try to address moods like that. I’m going to share it with you so that you know, because then it’s up to you to do something about that or not.

Le’Nise: It sounds like you have been more open and perhaps maybe things will continue to shift as they get older. I just want to shift a little bit towards your business and the work that you do to create inclusivity within media organisations. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Elaine: Yeah, of course. So, I had a good just under 20 years, maybe 18 years in the media industry, and I fell into it like a lot of people do, I think. And I was in the commercial side of things. I was selling advertising and running teams. And by the time I left the last organisation I was in, I was running a team of about, I don’t know, 30 odd people. And before that, maybe a team of the department of about 50 or so people. And I was the head of digital advertising. So, in there you’ve got different teams doing different things, not just salespeople, operations, client services, things like that. And what I started to realise was that, yes, I could still sell. Yes, I was a technical salesperson. And I still loved that part of the job getting out there. But actually, where I gathered all my energy from was the fact that we had a great culture, we had a great team culture within our team, which I almost felt, not in an arrogant way, our experience told us that people gravitate to our department. So, you know, people wanted to work for us. People were happy to work for us when we weren’t there. People, you know, they respected us. They enjoyed their time there. They learnt and there was a palpable energy that belonged to us and our identity. At the time I just thought that was what team was, that was definition of team. As I started to think about exiting the business and thinking about what to do next. I started to realise and see that not all teams operated like that. And not all teams put energy in to building a culture where we were all part of what made it really work and there was less hierarchy. Yes, I was the boss, but I need you, you’re the person I’m helping to deliver here and I’m just here to facilitate that. 

What I started to notice in my last couple of years working in media was that I had a growing feeling inside of me about the kind of unfairness of it all. I was a step away from the board and I was literally working for five white male middle class men who were on the board who had actually been working together for 15 years plus. I don’t think I ever was a woman to pull out the feminist card at all, not really. I would never think ‘ahh it’s because they’re white men and I’m a woman of colour’, I wouldn’t think that, I would think ‘this is what the frickin world is like and you need to work your ass off if you want to get up there. And you know what? You can’t complain about these people. You just have to be good enough to get a seat on there. This is the reality.’ And I was starting to get more and more into it and so I started to think, ‘actually, this is the reality, but it shouldn’t be like this, and there are people like me or others who literally can’t get in because actually it’s closed.’ And that just was growing inside me as a bit of resentment, actually. And then I started to realise, that’s not my problem, that’s not resentment, that’s just me observing.

So, what we did with Project 23 is we launched a company that a understood the value of culture when it comes to performance because if people are happy then funnily enough, they’ll do great work. But also, the lack of diversity and the lack of inclusion of that diversity within the media industry became the other thing. We are culture experts, but actually our passion is about building inclusive cultures and getting the value and the equity of diversity to be seen at CEO level. If we were an industry that’s been desperate for innovation for years and years and years and it’s the answer to so much, then how come we don’t realise that diversity is the answer, not the problem? So that’s what’s effectively what we do. We go around and we help organisations understand that this is an answer to some of their strategies, rather than something that the HR department has to do or the BAME Group on the side that is really passionate about this stuff. This should be part of your core corporate strategy.

Le’Nise: Amazing. I think it’s so needed, I know from my background in media, on a certain level it’s quite diverse and then as you get more senior, I know that as I got more senior in advertising / media, I would look around and I would think there’s no one really that looks like me. So, I love what you guys are doing, I think it’s really, really positive. I just want to round off the conversation by asking you, if listeners take one thing away from all the brilliant things that we’ve talked about. What would you want that to be?

Elaine:  It’s a great question. I think for me, like almost everything, it’s that, and this goes for some of the work that we do in the main, actually at its core, it is about talking about a topic and really listening to what comes back to you. You know, the fact that today we are in a world where I can be invited on to a podcast, which is just about periods, is incredible, it’s incredible. And I think the reason why it’s so important is because these conversations need to happen. So, I think if there’s one thing that I want everyone to consider is that you just have to start having the conversation to begin with. And if you’ve started already, then we can push the conversation a little bit more too. There tends to be for most of us, I think that tends to be a barrier that we tend to not go past. So, for me, it was you know, maybe it’s talking about moods with, you know, how you can get PMT, what that does with my kids I haven’t done it yet. So, push the conversation and if we want things to get better, then sometimes you’re going to feel slightly uncomfortable, but that’s OK and you can push through the discomfort. And when you push through the discomfort, you’re probably going to get to the other side and realise something or learn something or hear someone in a different way or be connected in a different way. So, yeah, have the conversation, push the conversation and ultimately listen.

Le’Nise: Brilliant. So where can listeners find out more about you and your company?

Elaine: Yeah. Thank you. So, we have a pretty basic website called www.project23works.com and it tells you everything that we do. In essence, though, what we try and do is say have a look at what we do, get inspired, get a gist of what we do but please just reach out to us. There’s two of us so myself and Gary Rayneau and we’re both on Twitter, we’re both on LinkedIn and you can find us Elaine dela Cruz and Gary Rayneau. We’re always open for people just to have a conversation with us, because actually, before you come up with a big strategy on any of this stuff, all we try and do is have more honest conversations out in the market, because often conversations particularly around diversity & inclusion can be overly sanitised. So, we try and promote honest conversations. So, reach out to us, ask those things and that’s usually where things start.

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

Elaine: Thank you so much. Thank you so much. And honestly, I think this is brilliant and what you’re doing is incredible. And, you know, I love seeing people that I’ve met years and years ago doing much better things than selling banners and buying banners.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 21: Katy Lindemann, I Really Wish I Had Paid More Attention To My Cycles When I Was Younger

On today’s episode of Period Story podcast, I’m very happy to share a very candid conversation with Katy Lindemann, the founder of Uber Barrens Club. Katy is a writer and patient advocate in addition to her day job as a digital strategist.

Katy shared her journey through infertility and pregnancy loss, what she learned about her body, her inspiration for Uber Barrens Club and of course, the story of her first period.

Katy talks about reading the fabulous Judy Bloom book, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret? as a period rite of passage. She also shares the moment at the school gate that prompted her mum to make sure she understood the birds and bees 😄

Katy says that she went on the pill because she wanted to control her period and talks about what prompted her to eventually come off the pill and get diagnosed with lean PCOS.

We had a very candid discussion about what this diagnosis meant for her fertility journey at the time, what happened next and why Katy wishes she had paid more attention to her menstrual cycles when she was younger.

Katy says that she started Uber Barrens Club because she only ever saw one narrative of infertility, after people have been successful. She says that she wanted to write a different story and take back the word barren, reclaim it and make this silent sisterhood more visible.

Katy says that you don’t have to do this alone. She believes we should reach out, read up, learn about our bodies and not be afraid to ask questions. I love that!

Get in touch with Katy:

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KATY’S BIO

Katy Lindemann is a writer and patient advocate, in addition to her day job as a digital strategist. Following multiple rounds of IVF and two miscarriages, in 2017 she was told her body would never be able to sustain a pregnancy.

She now writes about infertility and pregnancy loss and advocates for better understanding of the patient perspective of fertility issues.

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: On today’s episode, we have Katy Lindemann. Katy is a writer and patient advocate in addition to her day job as a digital strategist. Following multiple rounds of IVF and two miscarriages, in 2017 she was told her body would never be able to sustain a pregnancy. She now writes about infertility and pregnancy loss and advocates for better understanding of the patient perspective of fertility issues. Welcome to the show.

Katy: Hi. Thank you so much for having me. Great to be on.

Le’Nise: So, let’s start off with a question I ask everyone. Tell me the story of your first period.

Katy: I was 14. I was the, I was the girl who had, like, the flattest chest and, you know, at school where you could see everyone’s bra and I was the one who, like, thank God, Marks and Spencers made a crop top with a bra back. There was nothing going on. And my mum was 16 when she got her period. So, because I’m like identical to her in every way, I assumed, it was going to be then. And so, I remember at 14, there was some blood in there, I thought, oh, man, I might have caught myself or something like that. It just didn’t occur to me because in my mind, I was like, oh, it’s like 16 or something, I didn’t have boobs, so I was like, I wasn’t expecting it even though 14 is late. I just literally was like, ‘What’s happened?’ Then suddenly, like, it was just like … I was like, oh, maybe that’s a period. I was so stupid because anybody else, but because I just wasn’t expecting until like 16. It is so ridiculous. So that was it, it was just like, oh my God, that’s actually a period. I just felt really foolish.

Le’Nise: When you got it, what did you do next? Who did you talk to? 

Katy: Probably had a conversation with my mum. I thought probably needing a bra would come first and they still hadn’t turned up. I didn’t think I’d had any towels or anything in the house because I just don’t think, oh, maybe there was the one from school when the woman came around. Honestly, I can’t remember. And I think she was like, OK, well, we’ll buy some pads or something like that. So, I think maybe she went out to the chemist or something or maybe she had a panty liner or something and kind of did that. Honestly, I can’t remember. But it was fine, it was all very, you know, it was all very easy. And I remember reading, you know, it was the rite of passage, the Judy Bloom, you know, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. And I do remember having a conversation I think was a few months later with my dad. And again, like, my period was so easy, which we will come on to, but having like some cramps, I was like, “This period thing is not all it’s cracked up to be”, he was like, “Yeah, sorry darling.”

Le’Nise: You spoke to your mum, it sounds like you had a really good conversation, it was very open. How did you learn about everything else surrounding periods?

Katy: Well, it was again, like it’s one of these things where I wish I had, like, more visible, you know, more salient memories. Again, I didn’t have anything traumatic or anything. I’m told by my mum, at primary school, that she was having some conversation at the school gate with some other mums and basically she said they were doing ‘the have you told them about the birds and the bees’ and Mum was like, “Yeah, I think I’m going to need to buy a book, I’ll get them a book or something.” And then basically, apparently, my mum quizzed me and then the next day she told them, “Don’t worry, Alex North has told them everything and it’s all correct.” We then obviously had the conversation and she explained and but again, it was one of those things that, you know, and then we, a few years later, there was the school talk. I remember very clearly having a conversation, I was having a sleepover at a friend’s house and I remember having a conversation. We were all chatting with her mum about periods or something and her mum was saying, “I never connected what the period had to do with the egg”. And we were like, “Yeah”, because you kind know there was the cycle thing. And again, you were like, OK, well then there’s bleeding and duh duh duh but I just never really paid attention. So now when I started going through fertility and suddenly it was like, well, what happened to your periods? I was like, well, I vaguely remember that I didn’t get them very often, but I couldn’t tell you, like, whether I ever had a regular period because I just didn’t pay attention to it. And of course, they say, you know, oh, it’s quite normal for them to be irregular. So, I didn’t pay attention except for the fact I think I think because they were so irregular, when I was in sixth form or whatever grade that is doing my A-levels, I was a loser, I wasn’t having sex at that point, but I decided I wanted to go on the pill because I wanted to control my periods because I was like, well, boys don’t have to deal with periods during their exams, so I don’t want to, I don’t want to have to deal with having cramps. So, I went on the pill because that way I could back to back and not have to deal with it. And the thing is, I had super easy periods, what I now know, and I guess that’s the other thing, is that you have no idea what a normal period is. So, when people go, are they heavier? No idea! Who knows what normal is? So, the honest answer is, I don’t remember very much, except that they were irregular, and I just didn’t really want to have to bother with them.

Le’Nise: After you went on the pill at 17, 18, did you kind of just put your period to one side and just think, OK, the pill was taking care of it?

Katy: I know I came off it because I went to college in Florida for a semester and my grandmother lived over there and kind of ‘Costa Geriatrica’, she and my grandfather had retired to South Florida, you know, median age 85. I think I’d mentioned something about that I hadn’t had a period for like six months or something and I wasn’t on the pill at this point. And she was like, “Oh, my God, you must see your mother’s gynaecologist.” I was like, “Well, why would my mum have a gynaecologist?” because obviously in the US, it seems like everyone has a specialist and my grandmother was like, “That’s ridiculous. What does she get her pap smears?” I was like, “The GP with everyone else.”

And then, of course, my period turned up at Thanksgiving. You know, when everything was shut, I was at my grandmothers who unsurprisingly didn’t have anything. I didn’t have anything with me because, again, I just didn’t really have them very often. I don’t think I carried pads with me or tampons. I don’t think it happened often enough for me to be like, oh, I might get caught short with my period. So, then I had to go driving around trying to find a drugstore that I could get tampons on Thanksgiving.

Le’Nise: Did your period start to normalise at any point?

Katy: I don’t think so. So again, it’s one of those things that, you know, I wish I had been more aware and tracked because the answer is, I don’t know. I know I was on and off the pill, you know, various points on and off throughout university. And basically then when I got together with my now husband, so pretty much all of my 20s until I came off to try and have my fertility checked out because I had always suspected there might be something not quite right down there, because I knew I’d never really had regular periods. I couldn’t remember how often or this, but I knew again, that kind of six months, my horrified grandmother just stuck in my mind. I know I didn’t have that thing of, oh I’m late, you know, there was no sense of that. So, I was on the pill for most of my 20s and as far as I was concerned that was great because I was like, well, why would anyone want to have a period if you don’t have to have a period? And, you know, the doctor was like, yeah, you can back to back, you know? So, I kind of, you know, I’d have one every couple of months, again, not a period, but a breakthrough bleed. And as far as I was concerned that was great. I was like, OK, why would I want to have a period? So, the answer is, I don’t think they were ever regular, but I couldn’t tell you how often, you know, until I came off to find out at 28 to find out what was going on because I just don’t remember. So, again, I wish, if I had my time machine, I wish I’d paid more attention.

Le’Nise: And when you came off the pill at 28, can you talk a little bit about your journey of coming off the pill?

Katy: I was very settled with my now husband. And, you know, it was that thing of becoming more aware of getting older and I knew we weren’t ready to start trying for children, but I knew that I was like, yeah, you know, we want this in our future. And I think I remember being on the tube or something and reading something about fertility MOT, which is the egg counting thing. And again, it was one of those things that egg freezing had started to be talked about. I didn’t really know what that involved, but essentially I was sort of becoming more aware that, you know, if we wanted children in our future and being the sort of person that likes to plan, I was like, you know, maybe there’s something going on because I knew I’d never had a monthly cycle when I wasn’t on the pill. So what I decided to do was come off the pill so that I could then, in my mind, it was so I could go and get the egg counting thing, you know, to find out, because my view was, OK, this might not tell you everything, but at least if there is a problem that we know about and we can maybe make a decision. I think I had a vague idea in my head, I was like, maybe I’ll ask about egg freezing. I didn’t know what it involved, I just thought maybe I’ll find out about it. And so, I came off the pill and about six months later when I still hadn’t had one. And again, they say, you know, it can be a few months, but at six months, I asked the GP and they said, yeah, it’s six months, it’s reasonable to do some blood tests. So, they did some blood tests and they said, oh, this might indicate PCOS, so we’ll send you for a scan. So, you know, I got the letter in the post saying, come to this place and they explained in the letter that, you know, we will do an abdominal and we’ll do an internal one. I go along and the sonographer does the abdominal scan and kind of wiggles it around and he goes, yeah, you know, again, I now know he was obviously counting follicles and went no you’re not PCO, so we don’t need to do internal scans. So, then I basically left going, well, if it’s not PCOS, why don’t I have periods? So basically, I think they just sort of said we’ll just wait and see, you know, essentially because it didn’t say there was a problem, they were just like, well, I’ll just wait and see.

And the thing with the fertility MOT is in order to have bloods done, because they do your base hormone levels and antral follicles count scan when they do egg counting, you have to have it done at day 3 of your cycle, or day 2-4. So, you have to call us when you’ve had a period and I was like, but the problem is I don’t have periods. Now, what I know now is that I could have easily asked for a small course of Norethisterone or Provera, which is a form of progestogen that would just induce a bleed. I didn’t know that at the time. And so, they were like, “OK, you have to wait for a period”, I was like, “but the reason I to come is because I don’t have periods.” So, it took 10 months between coming off and getting a period. Oh, yeah, and that was it, they said, “no, no, no, it has to be at least another one,” I was like it could be another 10 months! I do remember it was about another month or so, for all I know, that could be my first regular period, no idea. So, I go to the clinic and I have the blood. This is a private clinic so you pay for the egg counting thing and the nurse does the scan and immediately she does the internal transvaginal scan, and she goes, “I can’t see anything.” That was it. So, I looked immediately like I’d done some Googling before then going what could it be? And essentially Dr Google said you can’t really see anything through the abdominal scan. So, for lots of people didn’t show anything on the tummy scan, but then when they had a vaginal scan, it was like everywhere. And so immediately, as soon as she put the wand in, sometimes known affectionately by fertility patients as ‘Wanda’ or ‘dildo cam’, it had the classic PCO, so they have like a ring of pearls, there was just follicles everywhere. And she was like, well, that’s a polycystic ovary. And there’s a difference between polycystic ovaries and polycystic ovarian syndrome, which I know, you know, lots and lots of people have PCO, and that doesn’t mean you have any symptoms.

If your PCOS is where you have the syndrome and there’s three criteria that you need, you have to have clinical or biochemical signs of hyper androgenism. And so, my testosterone was fine, but I had acne. You need to have irregular or absent ovulation. Yes, 10 months, no periods and PCO on ultrasound. And you have to have two of those three and I had all three. And I remember when I then saw the consultant with the bloods and again that showed there’s another one, where it’s a balance of your FSH and LH which is supposed to be around the same but if you have LH which is through the roof, then that often is a sign of PCOS although it’s not in the diagnostic criteria. And he said, “I know what you’re going to tell me. He said, “I know you’re going to say, how can I be PCOS if I’m not fat and hairy?” Which I stress his words, not mine. And essentially what he said was that there is the typical phenotype with PCOS, which is associated with insulin resistance and obesity and often hirsutism, he said: lean PCOS is actually very common, but very often not diagnosed because it doesn’t exhibit the symptoms of classic PCOS. And then when I actually came to see a gynaecologist for fertility, he said, “Yeah, lean PCOS is actually a lot harder to treat from a fertility point of view because classic PCOS actually very often lose weight change of diet, very often that can restore ovulation and that’s much easier to treat.”

He said, “Yes, lean PCOS is still an endocrine disorder, it’s still associated with insulin and that you’re sensitive rather than resistant, but it’s a lot harder because you can’t just”, and there is no just about it because, you know, when you’re fighting against insulin resistance, trying to lose weight is hideous. But he said it’s a lot harder to treat. And then when it actually comes on to fertility treatment, Clomid, which is an ovulation induction drug. It’s just a simple tablet and it helps to try and kick your ovaries into gear. He said very often women with classic PCOS will often respond very well, very easy to treat. He said women with lean PCOS, are often Clomid resistant, they’re more likely to not respond to that. So, he said if women end up having IVF due to PCOS, it’s very often women with lean PCOS because they are more likely to not respond to the simpler treatments.

So, again, it’s this misconception that there’s only one type of PCOS. And they essentially, they said, look, you’ve got loads of eggs, from an egg reserve point of view, there’s no major issues there. But because we knew that I have PCOS, essentially it was well, the warehouse is fully stocked, but the merchandise doesn’t ship. So, we expected that I would need some kind of help, to help with ovulation induction. So, what that meant was I actually went to see a private gynaecologist. I actually went to see him because I got diagnosed with epilepsy not long after we got married and so I wanted to understand, they call it preconception counselling, you know. What would the pathway be? Because obviously the NHS won’t see you for anything fertility related until you’ve been trying for a year or six months, if you’re over 35. But as we knew, I could have gone ten months without a period. It was like, OK, well, let’s try and find, you know, if you’re not even in the game. And then things kind of went catastrophically wrong with my ovaries in various different ways, which we can happily talk about.

But I am not a typical story in terms of fertility. My gynaecologist, fertility consultant said and he’s an expert in PCOS, like he’s written textbooks and he said, “I’m stumped, and I’m not usually stumped.” And actually, it turns out that the reason I can’t have children is actually nothing to do with my eggs, it’s to do with my womb lining and my periods. So, it’s to do with the bleeding rather than the eggs. Various things happened with kind of my PCOS disappearing and then coming back, which again, no one has an answer for, but it turns out that the reason that I can’t get or stay pregnant is actually to do with my womb lining. So that’s the reason I really wish I had paid more attention to my cycles when I was younger. My periods were problematic in the sense that they didn’t happen very often, but we thought we had an answer for that because I had PCOS. Okay, fine. That’s an explanation. What happened when I came off the pill because we wanted to start to try and we’d expected to have issues to do with my ovulation. It turned out, I won’t even go to the egg saga because it’s long, boring and very complicated but essentially what transpired to be the problem is that my womb lining wouldn’t grow and more importantly, it wouldn’t shed. So even when we did manage to get it to grow. Obviously, what a period is, is your womb lining breaking down and shedding as a menstrual bleed. And the first half of a cycle, is your womb lining, getting really juicy and getting to a nice big snuggly mattress for an embryo to snuggle into. And then if you don’t get pregnant, then it’s the womb going, right, let’s clean out, refresh, let’s reset. So, it’s, you know, it’s cleansing, etc. Mine wouldn’t do that. And it never did this before. So, we don’t know what happened between, you know, when age 28 or, you know, any time before that. To them, when I came off the pill at 33 and all throughout when I’d been on the pill, I’d had normal light bleeds, but they were red bleeding. Then when I came off the pill, essentially that just stopped. I had brown spotting, there was no red bleeding. It was you know, I didn’t need a tampon, didn’t even need a pad.

And I’ve seen one of the world experts in womb lining, there’s a guy in Coventry who’s a professor. Most of the literature that’s been written on the role of womb lining in implantation and miscarriage has been written by this dude. It’s at the Tommy’s National Miscarriage Research Centre in Coventry. And, you know, he’s “Professor womb lining”. And he said to me when I went to see him, and this was kind of at the end of our fertility journey where we tried all sorts of experimental treatments. And he said, “Miss Lindemann”, he said, “you are without a doubt the weirdest case I have ever seen. He said most people that come through my door are medically boring, but you are anything but that, I have never seen what happens in your womb in humans, only in mice.”

And then I had these womb biopsies that they do for these tests. I wasn’t going there to have these tests because actually the problem was, I couldn’t get to an embryo transfer because my lining just wouldn’t grow. And I’d had various surgeries and we can touch on that. But essentially, even when they did these womb biopsies, which aren’t very pleasant, but essentially, they kind of go in with the equivalent of a hole punch into your uterus and kind of essentially punch out to get a sample of your womb lining. I think out of four different punch samples there literally wasn’t any usable tissue for the lab to even look at. Like it was just gunk that was there wasn’t womb lining there. I’ve spoken to doctors on both sides of the Atlantic. No one has a clue; they’ve never seen this before. So, I am not typical.

But essentially, I spent I mean, we spent a couple of years, you know, between IVF, just trying to get me to have a period, trying to get me to have a bleed. And it was really upsetting, too. And actually, after our first miscarriage, we still, you know, we couldn’t get me to have a bleed. I had two surgeries, but we still couldn’t get me to have a bleed, we could get my lining to grow and we did some egg collection. Even when we got my lining to grow and you could see there was this, you know, quite juicy looking lining on ultrasound. I was like, ‘well where does it go?’ All I got was this kind of black gunk. And we could see that it thinned on the ultrasound. How did we go from 11 millimetres to three millimetres without having had a bleed? So, whatever happened, it’s reabsorbed and compacted. And it was just so upsetting because, you know, it’s supposed to be cleansing and regeneration and we knew from my surgeon that I still had pregnancy tissue in there and so I just felt like my womb was this, like, toxic place where, you know, my baby, had died, it was a miscarriage. And so just not being able to see that healthy red bleeding. And I still don’t have that. It’s really upsetting. And so, again, I wish I had been more aware, and I know that there wasn’t anything weird or abnormal when I was younger but it’s a very strange feeling, particularly when you’re going through fertility and infertility, that most of the time you’re supposed to desperately hoping you won’t get a period and you’re trying for a baby and you’re desperately hoping when you’re pregnant, if you’re pregnant, not to bleed. And so, you kind of have ‘knickerwatch’ where you’re constantly checking to see if you’re bleeding. Mine was the reverse for most of my fertility treatment. We were just desperately trying to get me to have a period as in to have a bleed. So, I am not the typical. None of this, we think, is to do with my PCOS. That’s the thing is. Is that we don’t know. But there is no reason that what happened with my womb and my periods, as in my bleeds, is necessarily anything to do with PCOS, because PCOS is a very common endocrine disorder. And so, I am not typical.

Le’Nise: What would you have done differently if you could go back? And I know it’s easy to play they should have, would have, could have game. With all of the knowledge and all of the experts that you’ve spoken to, if you had a time machine and I know you used a time machine analogy before. What exactly would you have done differently?

Katy: Be aware of your cycles. Be aware of your body. I would probably have, again, knowing what I know now, said, get a copper coil, so non hormonal contraception and then if you’re really, you know, if there was a holiday or exams or something, you know, knowing what I know now, then you can delay your period or take it to make sure that you don’t get a period for those important times. And I would not go on hormonal contraception. I would have got a copper coil and tracked my periods and been aware of my fertile signs. And again, it was a clue when I came off the pill and started, you know, I had bought Taking Charge Of Your Fertility and started charting and following your cervical fluid. And that with ovulation sticks that I thought that wasn’t something quite right, because you’re supposed to get cervical fluid, that is an indication of oestrogen and I wasn’t getting that. And so, I was like, what’s going on with my oestrogen? I’m not getting these proper periods. And I was convinced from the start there was something wrong with my lining. And it turned out that that was right. But again, it’s putting the pieces of the puzzle, so I would say with my time machine, track your cycles and I would not have gone on hormonal contraception, but I would have been aware that it is still possible to use hormones, if there’s something important or a holiday, a short period of time that you can control your menstruation in that way. So, yes, that’s what if I had a time machine that I would have done.

Le’Nise: Has your experience changed your view on hormonal contraception?

Katy: I think for me personally, yes, because my issues are so strange. What I would again say, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. And again, I think, you know, the Mirena is a wonderful thing and particularly for women that have heavy periods or endometriosis, because, again, in my writing and the stuff that I do now with fertility and my consultant was an endometriosis surgeon, he wrote the text books and endometriosis and fibroids are debilitating. And so, for many women, using hormonal contraception can be life changing. So, I’m not anti-hormones. What I would say is, to anyone who’s thinking about getting pregnant, if you are on hormonal contraception, come off well before you want to start trying. And particularly if you’ve got the Depo Provera, because that particularly can take up to a year that’s a lot longer, the washout time. So, I would say to anybody, if you’re thinking about wanting to start trying, come off hormonal contraception well before you want to start trying and track your cycles.

Le’Nise: What would you say is your feeling towards your period now?

Katy: It’s a horrific reminder of what my body can’t do. I mean, my cycles vary. I do have cycles of some kind. So, anything between like 35 – 70, but it may be about 40, 50 days. But I still don’t bleed. When I was doing my fertility treatment, I started using a menstrual cup because it was really important. And again, this is the other thing is saying take track of what your bleeds are like. And I was talking to somebody yesterday who’s had Asherman’s syndrome and that’s a problem that can happen, very unlikely but can happen post D&C surgical management and miscarriage or caesarean section. Notice what your bleeds are like, how much spotting is there? How much red bleeding? How many days? How many pads or tampons do you go through? Pay attention to that. And for me, it’s really upsetting because it’s still this horrible gunk. I had a copper coil put in after we finished treatment. Copper coils are used in the treatment of Asherman’s syndrome, which is to do with when you’ve got scarring in the womb. I don’t have that. But essentially, if you have problems with thin womb lining it is part of the treatment, ironically part of the fertility treatment, having a copper coil because the copper generates an inflammatory reaction in the endometrium and so it can essentially cause the lining to get thicker, which is why women who do have a copper coil very often will have heavier bleeds. I had one put back in after I’d had finished treatment for two reasons. One was that we needed to draw a line under the hope of wondering would we be that unicorn couple who had sex and oh, my God, you know, after all the failed IVF, and oh, my God, they’re pregnant. I couldn’t live in that permanent limbo. But the main reason was to do with in the hope that at least it would make my periods a bit more like a period than literally, I mean, I’m going to be completely TMI, if I didn’t know it was a period, I would have thought that it come from the other hole, like brown. It’s distressing because it is a reminder of how my body’s broken.

Le’Nise: You said some of your cycles are 50, 70 days long so every time you have a period, you have this reminder. And so, what have you done to give yourself the emotional tools to deal with that reminder?

Katy: When we reached the end of the fertility journey with my body, we tried all of these crazy experimental treatments, I used Viagra, we used blood thinners, I used a drug that’s used for chemo where we had intrauterine infusions squirted into my womb, all these kind of, you know, lots of supplements that are supposed to help with uterine blood flow. You name it, we tried it and none of that worked. Having lining problems is unusual. But when it was very clear that we were on the road to nowhere and we couldn’t even get off the starting block. And then when I went to see “Professor womb lining”, it was after that I decided I wanted to try and, there’s a bit of a sense of going when you can’t have children, or at least with my body, of going, I feel like, well, what’s my legacy? And you get quite existential about it or can do with infertility. I am not for one moment saying that having a life without children, albeit whether its childless not by choice or childfree, is in no way inferior. I am not saying that at all. I’m talking about my personal feelings, about how I felt about my body and my own journey.

Essentially, it came from a place of being p-d off that I only ever saw one narrative of infertility, the only narrative that we see when people do talk about it, is after they’ve been successful, particularly in public discourse in the media, if anything, you see a story about, you know, somebody talking about their IVF struggle, their infertility struggle or I had X number of miscarriages, it always ends with the miracle baby. Or they say, oh, we had this problem after they go and they announced the successful pregnancy and actually it’s very sanitised, the narrative is always stay strong, you’ll get there, it’ll be worth it when you have your baby in your arms, don’t give up hope.

And actually, that wasn’t how I felt. And that wasn’t how so many women that I got to know through these kind of infertility communities online, you know, these kind of secret Facebook groups and online forums and so on. You know, it was difficult and messy. And, you know, physically, emotionally, you know, we didn’t feel positive. And particularly when you’re in that situation and the only way out that is presented to you and you’re in the pit of depression, anxiety, you know, suicidal ideation is not uncommon with infertility and pregnancy loss. The only way out that is presented to you is having a baby, when you’re there going well, what happens if we don’t? Am I going to feel like it’s forever? And there aren’t many role models for actually the people who come through the other side who weren’t successful with that fertility journey, but also just acknowledgement that, you know, it’s desperately unfair, utterly unrelenting and really hard.

And so, I was fed up with the fact that in order to kind of have these conversations with other women about what it was really like, you know, you have to go looking for them. I would not have got through my journey if it was not the incredible system, solidarity and support of all the incredible women I’ve had the privilege to get to know through online communities. But it’s this hidden world because you have to go looking for it. And also, you have to find your people. You know, there are plenty of people who were hope and rainbows, and that’s great but that wasn’t where I was. So, I came from actually just being annoyed and frustrated at there only being one narrative. So, I decided that I was going to try and write about what it’s really like or at least the experience that I knew and experience that I knew a lot of other women that I got to know and had spoken to. And so, I decided to start writing a blog and I had a thought that I wanted to try and write a book because, again, the only other books always ended with the miracle baby. And that has been incredibly healing. And it’s actually taken me on this incredible journey of broadcasting and being in a film and, you know, going on radio and meeting so many people. And that has been what’s helped me emotionally, is being able to find my voice. That’s been what’s very long and convoluted answer to your question.

Le’Nise: No, it’s wonderful. And that actually leads into the next question. So, your blog is called and the organisation. Is it an organisation, the Uber Barrens Club?

Katy: So, I talk about infertility or, you know, anyone experiencing fertility problems. And I use that as shorthand including pregnancy loss. Anything about not being able to conceive or carry a baby to term. So that includes infertility, primary or secondary miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, molar pregnancy, late miscarriage, stillbirth, anything that’s wanting to have a baby and not being able to. It’s a club that no one wants to join. But as with so many things, when you speak to other members of that same club, there is an instant understanding and a sisterhood that you have a common understanding and there’s a language and a shorthand and a vocabulary that need not be explained. And it’s just that, oh, it’s not just me, oh, you get it. And actually, the kind of the barren, barren is a hideous word, it’s been used throughout history as a slur, you know, incredibly derogatory, you know, devoid, lacking, inferior, dried up, you know, it’s an awful word, but actually it came as a sort of label. It was actually, ironically, on Mumsnet, you know, the largest parenting forum for infertility boards. And we jokingly, some of us kind of more irreverent, once jokingly referred to it as the Barren Ghetto, because we were like, well, that’s where the barren women go. How do you drain a slur of its power? You know, we’ve seen this so many different, you know, language, whether it’s dyke, queer, you know, you know, if you can reappropriate oppressive language and reclaim it, you can drain a slur of its power. And so, we kind of jokingly referred to ourselves as the barrens and the uber barrens saying we’re not just infertile, we’re really, really infertile. Now that happened to be on, you know, a thread on the forum.

But it isn’t a club or a community to me, it is anybody who has you know, we are a silent sisterhood, we are a sorority, there is 1 in 6 or 1 in 7 depending on the statistics you look at, couples experiences, trouble conceiving, 1 in 4 pregnancies ends in miscarriage. We are a very large sisterhood, but we’re also a silent sorority. Yes, I have Instagram and I’m involved in lots of different communities, but it’s not my club. To me, it’s a way of talking about the fact that you are not alone. So, it’s not my club, but it’s sort of my handle that I use for my blog, potentially the book that I’m hoping to write and anything I talk about. So, it’s not just about me, I am not Uber Barrens Club, anybody who has experienced fertility or problems, you are not alone, it’s a club that no one wants to join. Membership of our club is defined by exclusion from the club that we want to join, which is the parents club. And it’s a club that no one wants to join, but it means the world when you know you’re not alone. So that’s why I kind of use that as, I guess it’s not just a metaphor and that’s the kind of name I have but it’s really trying to hold space for a conversation. 

Le’Nise: And so, tell us about a little bit more about the book you said you’re hoping to write.

Katy: So as I mentioned before, I just got frustrated that there’s lots of books about the beginning of the journey, that are about how to get pregnant or about your fertility, you know, practical guides, and, you know, there’s a couple of memoirs. Apart from a couple, the vast majority end with the miracle baby. And as I said, that there was a narrative that I knew with these online communities and the experience that I knew that I didn’t see reflected, was it was messy. And it wasn’t that I was ashamed being infertile, I was ashamed of all the feelings that came with it. And, you know, the guilt, the grief, the desperation, all that crazy, nasty things that you feel and that you think and the jealousy and what it does to your identity.

What I got from the online communities, you know, I have this incredible support, but you have to go looking for it. So, I wanted to try and kind of make the invisible visible and go well, how can I raise women’s voices to have a different conversation? So, I thought, well, that’s the book I would have wanted to read. I didn’t know if anyone else wants to read it, I thought they probably would. I knew women would pull their hearts out on forums and in anonymous communities and on Instagram and so on. So, I put up a website and I put up a survey to see whether those kinds of women would share. And this isn’t about your journey in terms of the practicalities or how many cycles did you do? Or how many losses? It’s about the emotions, because that’s the thing that binds us. That’s the thing that is a club, is that it doesn’t matter whether your journey is long or short, successful, not successful, it’s not about identities, there are emotions that bind us that we will all have experienced in one form or another. So, I put up a survey to see whether people would be willing. And I was amazed at the amount of responses that came in. And, you know, I asked in the survey, would you want to read a book like this? And again, so many people said yes, because I would have felt less alone, I would have known that the feelings that I have are normal. So that was the thing, my sort of three goals that I would like is one to, you know, help people know that they’re not alone. Two, to try to normalise and validate that whatever you are feeling, however weird or uncomfortable, somebody else has felt that too. And then the third thing is to actually help them to know that not every story ends with a baby, the sense of you’ll get there might not mean but me a baby, but you will get there and you will be okay whatever happens. So, I’m now trying put together and assemble that into something resembling a book. I’m now writing about it. I’ve written in The Guardian and it’s just taken on a life of its own and it’s very healing.

Le’Nise: That’s a really nice message. You will be OK, no matter what happens. And I think that’s you know; you mention the kind of hope and flowers and rainbows of the fertility community. And I think this more realistic message with a dose of realism is really nice for people who just don’t really vibe with that kind of uber positive message.

Katy: Everyone is different. And that’s fine. That’s the thing. There is no right or wrong way to do this. There is no right or wrong way and so I’m not doing that down at all. But that wasn’t where I was and it can feel very oppressive, especially when you’re told, just relax, think positive. No. Stress relief is not going to get you pregnant and it’s not preventing you from getting pregnant. Infertility causes the stress; stress does not cause infertility. In times of acute stress that might affect your ovulation but when you look at the fecundity rates of conflict zones and famine zones, women still have babies, you know. So, it’s okay, you’re allowed to feel the feels.

Le’Nise: How can women get in touch with you or men?

Katy: Yeah. Men are so important. Men are so often forgotten. And the thing is it takes at least two people to make a baby, sometimes more depending on donor, or conception or surrogacy. You can find me at uberbarrens.club. I’m on Twitter and Instagram @uberbarrensclub and you can email me at Katy@uberbarrens.club. And if you go to the website, there is a survey, you just find the share button at the top, so it’s uberbarrens.club/share, there’s a survey there for both women and men. It’s in sections, you can save each section as you go along. Lots of people have recommended saying if you do want to take part, it’s quite helpful to write your answers offline and copy and paste them in because then you can kind of come back to stuff and don’t worry if your browser crashes. I really want to hear from anybody wherever they are in their journey, whether they’ve been successful or not. There is actually a section about pregnancy and parenting. Primary or secondary miscarriage. Anything that has experienced or has experienced or wherever you are successful or not. I would love to hear from you.

Le’Nise: Ok, well, one last thing you would want listeners to take away with them. If you could distill all of the amazing pearls of wisdom you’ve shared, what would that one thing be?

Katy: Reach out so, you know, reach out, read up, learn about your own body, reach out. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Reach out to other people. You are not alone. You know, if I had said in one sentence, you don’t have to do this alone.

Le’Nise: Wonderful. Thank you so much for coming on to the show, Katy.

Katy: Thank you so much for having me.

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