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Category: Women’s Health

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!

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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.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 20: Estelle Bingham, Choose To Listen To Yourself, Gently and Lovingly

On today’s episode of Period Story podcast, I had the pleasure of sharing a wonderful conversation I had with Estelle Bingham last week. Estelle is a healer and psychic, as well as a former travel presenter for Lonely Planet.

Estelle and I had a wonderful conversation (her words gave me chills at one point!) about intuition, the importance of boundaries, what manifestation actually is, connecting with the cycles of the moon and of course, the story of Estelle’s first period.

Estelle says that she was very excited for her first period. She talks about the two truths that many of us continue to hold about menstruation: the internal excitement of being part of something bigger and general negativity that society gives menstruation, calling it ‘the curse’.

Estelle says it’s so important that we understand our menstrual cycle so that we can recognise and listen to the internal workings of who we are. She says this part of us gets really demonised and that we need to be kind and find a way to come back to ourselves.

Estelle talked about her experience as a travel presenter and how she felt her period never got into the way or held her back when she was doing things like trekking up K2, climbing down the Karijini Gorges in Australia or speaking to Kenyan tribes. She says it was really empowering not to feel like she had to worry about her period.

Listen to hear Estelle talk about how to notice the connection between our menstrual cycle and the moon cycle. She says that we start to notice how we can feel during full moons and where we’re at in our menstrual cycle. She talks about the effects last Thursday’s super moon in Scorpio may have had on some of us.

I asked Estelle about manifestation, this word I see thrown around a lot and she broke it down in a practical way, saying that you can put things out there, but you also have to show up to those things everyday and do the work.

Estelle says that we should choose to listen to ourselves, gently and lovingly so that we are able to love ourselves more and come home to ourselves. I love that!

Get in touch with Estelle:

Website

Instagram

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ESTELLE’S BIO

Estelle Bingham has been supporting others to find more Love, Purpose and Connection in their lives for over 15 years. 

Fourth generation psychic and meditating from 6 years old, the journey of the soul has been an integral part of her life since the very beginning. She is committed to helping others heal, express truth and embrace and embody their true joy and potential. 

Estelle works with clients internationally, at The Bamford Hay Barn and at Body and Soul Charity. At Body and Soul Estelle inspires and motivates young people from adverse backgrounds to dare to dream. Estelle leads the Love, Purpose and Connection retreats that have become a space for long-lasting healing transformation and manifestation.

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: On today’s episode, we have Estelle Bingham. Estelle is a fourth generation psychic and has been meditating from six years old, so the journey of the soul has been an integral part of her life since the very beginning. She is committed to helping others heal, express truth and embrace and embody their true joy and potential. Welcome to the show.

Estelle: Oh, thank you. Le’Nise. Very excited to be here finally.

Le’Nise: Yeah, happy to have you. So let’s get into the story of your first period. Can you share with us what happened?

Estelle: Yeah, I saw I had a think about this. I’ve been thinking about this all week actually. And but I do remember my first period because I was one of the last people, one of the last girls in my group of friends to get my period, everyone started getting their period quite early at school. And this was the 80s and so they were like 11 – 12 and it was this, it was this moment within our group, it was a sort of that real coming of age, like it’s some, it was quite exciting, you know, like, you’re going to get your period, you’re gonna get your first bra. And I was like hanging around, hanging around, you know, what’s going on. And I got my period at 14. And, and it was actually, I was looking forward to that. So I remember, I remember getting my period and actually kind of being really quite happy about it. And so it was that was quite a positive experience. Yeah.

Le’Nise: Why were you so happy about it?

Estelle: I felt that, you know, it was I was joining the ranks, you know, joining the kind of beat to sort of that, that that moment in our teenage lives where all the sort of preteen and then teenage and, you know, that desire to grow into the young woman and getting a period was, you know, I was very, also very flat chested, and I and I still I wanted to kind of do this thing where I went from, you know, little girl to as like, oh, I want to do, I want to step up now, not that I wasn’t quite sure what that was, you know what it meant, but in the sense of what that would lead to, but just the the idea of growing and, and sort of becoming I was I was really, I was really up for that.

Le’Nise: And when you got your period, was it everything that you thought it was going to be in your kind of previous excitement and imagining of the future?

Estelle: Yeah, I mean, I grew up in a in a sort of, you know, I grew up in a single family with my mom, and, you know, my mom is the, is the reason why, you know, she was it was quite a liberal household. She was a bit of a, definitely a bit of a hippie, but in the sense of, she was a very strong woman. And the period story was a positive one, you know, you know, it was not something that was, though it wasn’t shunned, it was it was talked about. But in wider society, you know, there was this kind of strange split between this excitement, this internal excitement with your friends with your girlfriends, and then the wider experience of the period, which was that it was something, you know, it was at that time it was talked about, you probably heard about this, but it was the curse, you know, or ‘Oh my god, it’s that time of the month.’ So we kind of met it with these two truths. You know, like, one of them was like, oh excitement and the other one was like, ‘Oh my God, I’ve got my period again.’ And it was all like a kind of, it was a story. And there was a thing about Games and you’d be off Games a lot. I quite enjoyed that. But you would be off Games, if you had your period and you could, you know, you could kind of pull a sickie and stuff like that.

But, you know, definitely we’ve held that, we hold that as as young women emerging. We hold these two truths that are that are actually confusing. They are confusing and they, they it’s it’s sort of subconscious confused messaging that we don’t process at the time, but we hold it as we are emerging into our, you know blossoming we, we hold these two truths. So, so one of them is actually to not like who you are. And one of them is kind of quite exciting, but it’s a push pull experience from the beginning.

Le’Nise: What do you think it takes to reconcile those two truths and move away from that push pull of menstruation?

Estelle: Well, what I’m loving at the moment is is a sort of, especially in my work, and what I’m seeing is the sort of with the millennial, millennials or a lot of young people and a lot of interest in wellness, a lot of interest in, you know, that leads to mindfulness that leads to an interest in crystals at least to an interest in you know, the phases of the moon, but ultimately what’s happening there is that there is a, an interest growing for who we are inside and to begin to really tap into that truth. And so for me, it’s about reconnecting to the sacredness of life. And really remembering that we are actually sacred and the menstruation is part of who we are, and it’s a beautiful part of who we are.

And, you know, in, in ancient cultures, and I mean, especially the in the Native American culture. When women menstruated you know, they would have a moon lodge, they would gather they would have a mission, they could take time to rest, to nourish and to dream. And that time, you know, whether it’s three days, two days, seven days is a time to come back to yourself. And it’s just about that, really, it’s just about these, these moments in time, these moments in our days, these moments in our cycles, these moments in the month, where we recognise and listen to the internal workings of who we are, and actually just honour them. So when we are feeling a bit grumpy, a bit moody, a bit emotional, we are emotional, right? Because it’s, it’s, it’s our body telling us I want to rest I need to take some time, I’m, I’m in the process of breaking down so that I can grow again. And that’s really remembering a cycle of what’s happening internally and honouring that cycle.

Le’Nise: What would you say to a woman who say, I don’t have time to honour this cycle? I don’t have time to slow down?

Estelle: Well, one of the things that, you know, I suppose be to not be time specific, but there’s this time that we’re in now, which is this pandemic. You know, this is one of the big lessons at this time. Is, is it showing us about, it’s teaching us about the silence, it’s separating us so profoundly, you know, it’s putting us in the cave. It’s putting us in a hermetic cave, like, we’re all hermits, right? So, but we’re not meant to live like that. But it does teach us something about slowing down. Okay. And I understand that story of, you know, I don’t have time because, you know, it’s something that we have to work on.

Every day, we have to come back to ourselves and remind ourselves, I mean, that’s what meditation is about, right? It’s like, you take five minutes of just being mindful, just for five minutes out of that all of those hours of the day, to just come back to yourself, and I would say, you know, it is tricky. It is tricky. We don’t have moon lodges, and we don’t have time to sit in them. And, but but we can listen, and we can listen, even, we can take time to listen. And even if it’s for five minutes, it’s to listen and not punish, you know.

Often what happens is that, that that part of us gets really demonised or, you know, like, oh, you’re really moody or you’re getting your period, or you’re really grouchy, or you’re this, you’re that and it’s like, because, actually, yes, we are because we’re tired, you know, and from a sort of alternative health perspective, so working as it and also, you know, working energetically and as I do, the, the period or period time is powerful time to show us what happening internally, you know, it’s very raw time because if you’re having real cramps or it’s really heavy or, you know, it’s your body’s showing you something, so I feel be kind, you know, it’s, it’s about being kind and gentle and softening. And we can always find time just for a few moments, every day like, have your period just come back to yourself and be kind.

Le’Nise: Everything you’re saying I completely agree with and what I’m seeing now is a lot of women taking the time to slow down and actually know we know that we need to listen to our bodies, but often we push those signs aside, and taking this time to slow down and actually tuning into, ‘Okay, actually, my body has been pinging the signs to me was just a long time but I haven’t listened’ and it’s there now saying okay, well, what what does this mean? My body has been telling me this for a long time. Now I need to figure out what this actually means.

I want to ask you this, to go to back to your period story. So you were a travel presenter, travelling all over the world, which just sounds easy right now in this moment sounds incredible. How did you manage your period?

Estelle: Yeah, I mean, I, I sort of it’s interesting because I did Lonely Planet. I did a Lonely Planet show. I did three travel shows at one point. I was doing Treks In A Wild World, which would be you know, trekking up to K2, doing crazy things in Pakistan or I was in Kenya, I was all over the place. And it was such a gift. It was a real gift for me. I’d always been a traveller, sort of in my my late teens and my early 20s and I got that job and I was like, this is this is this is it, you know, so if the time has arrived, and it would be relentless, you know, it’s like, five in the morning you’d be showing up to a tribe in Kenya and, you know, you’d be doing, you know, you’d have to get that script and you’d have to be on it and, and ready to go. So this is the idea of having an off day wasn’t really part of that story. But I, I, we sort of took that in my stride. I’ve never, you know, I’ve never felt that my period has got, has held me back or got in the way or, you know, it’s, it’s actually in terms of travelling and in terms of that lifestyle. It was, you know, it was it was positive, it was positive. I just, I just integrated it, and, you know, worked with it, not against it.

Le’Nise: That’s interesting, working with it, rather than working against it. Were you as part of your job were you doing things like climbing you said K2, were you climbing K2?

Estelle: Yeah, I mean we were bumbling around on K2. I don’t want to say I was climbing K2. It was like, we were on the polar ice cap underneath K2 and then the whole the whole crew got you know, they all ended up lying on the on the floor with altitude sickness and it was kind of quite a dramatic time actually. But yeah, we were basically I would I would have to do climbing you know, I was climbing in Australia, they sent me down the Karijini Gorges and I had to also swim away with sharks and you know, all of that stuff swimming and climbing and abseiling. And I suppose it was like one of those moments out of that one of the adverts you know, kind of I don’t want any I don’t want to name any of that, you know, it was, it was one of those moments, I don’t want to product. I don’t want to do any product placement. But, you know, it was one of those moments me abseiling down and it’s all good, you know? So yeah, it’s um, it’s, it’s actually, it’s actually it was actually really empowering to not have to not to not feel like I should worry or I wouldn’t be able to do things or, you know, I couldn’t cycle or I couldn’t climb or I couldn’t you know it was, it was a part of who I is a part of who I am and it was just in. I just embrace that into the whole.

Le’Nise: And in terms of moving into your next life, so your next phase of work. How does your work as a healer and a psychic? How does your knowledge of the menstrual cycle, how does that factor into the work that you do? You mentioned a little bit previously, can you just talk a little bit more about that?

Estelle: About how the in terms of the moon and in terms of… well, it is interesting. I mean, there’s been a study, there’s been a couple of scientific studies around the moon and, you know, women’s periods aligning to the moon. And there’s, it’s, it’s kind of, you know, it’s not set in stone. Some people say, yes, some people say no, for me, I’ve been doing sort of full moon rituals and full moon ceremonies and celebrations for like over 20 years. And my, my period definitely now aligns itself to the moon. But the fact is, is that you know, the moon is is a powerful, is a powerful teacher. It’s a powerful tool in especially in times of the feminine because it is feminine, it’s about it’s about feminine power. And it’s another way to, you know, these are just ways to bring ourselves into stillness to bring ourselves, you know, the new moon. And then two weeks later the full moon, so obviously that goes in that cycle. And we can work with that cycle in terms of period and ovulation. And they’re just ways to bring us into more communication with Mother Earth really, with nature with our environment, with more than we are as we sit here to just bring ourselves into some sort of relationship. And that’s really about the, the wider story of that and especially, you know, where we are at this time, as as a as a species, you know, where are we today like, in relation to our future, so women have this incredible power.

We have this innate rhythm. And you know, we have this this, these, these ebb and this flow, we have this tide, every single month that moves through us, that is so powerful. So if we start to tap into that our own powers grow. So our own sense of intuition, listening to, you know, the gut, listening to the yes and listening to the no. And the moon is a way I mean with it with a full moon meditation that I do. But, you know, all meditation, it’s a way to just bring yourself into relationship with your own voice. And that and that guidance, and really, when we talk about self love, and we talk about, you know, what it means to really heal, and what it means to heal all of these stories and that you know, the period story has been very traumatic for a lot of women and in the collective and we work as a collective, you know, it’s been very traumatic for us. And it’s part of the way that we start to dislike ourselves. Right? It’s part of the way that we start to shut ourselves down, you know, oh, I’m, you know, for three days of the month, I’m unclean, I’m impure, or I’m not okay, or I’m not enough. It’s just very quiet messaging.

And really, it’s like when we start to remember and recover ourselves, you know, these are ways to remember, recover, recover love for self, you know, and we may never have had any love for self. So that’s gonna be some some proper recovery. But as a collective, you know, bringing the period story and bringing the period into a place of love, and softness and kindness. It’s the feminine energy and we hold it at our core, just by being female. So the moon is a way to just start to tap into that.

Le’Nise: How would you recommend to someone that they do this in a practical way? Because, you know, they might there might be people listening who just listening to what you’re saying and saying, ‘Well, okay, the moon. I know it sounds a bit woowoo like I don’t get it.’

Estelle: Yes, it is woo woo. Yeah.

Le’Nise: What’s a practical way that someone who is intrigued by this but doesn’t know where to start can start to connect their, the moon cycle with what’s happening for them on and their menstrual health?

Estelle: Well, I feel like you know, this is the thing about, when we break all of this stuff down. You know, really It’s like being the best, it’s been the best, it’s coming into the best version of ourselves in that very sort of simplistic way. And, you know, when you talk about menstrual health, you know, it’s it’s our, on all levels. So it’s that thing of the, our fertility, our, you know how we come into all of those positive things. And so really, it’s the listening is is what to hold on to right and keep it really basic, just the listening. So, but but you know, I feel that a great way to begin the relationship with self. And this is what this is about, really. It’s about integrating your menstruation in your cycle just into your into relating the relationship with yourself like I love mine. I love this.

So I’m going to take, I’m going to keep a note of like, my period, right, and I’m going to keep a note of my cycle. And I’m going to know when I ovulate and I’m going to you know, I’m going to keep an eye on that. I’m just going to I’m going to journal around that time because we do up and flow in that time. So often it’s it’s that you know, 14 days in or the 10 days and you start to ovulate and the body is creating you know, we’ve been we’ve been creating the follicle we’ve been doing all of that stuff and then inside and it’s really about to release the egg and, and energy changes, right. So you know, some people get cramps as you know, some people get cramps around when they’re ovulating and some people can get moody around that time too. And it’s just about listening.

So with the moon, I’d say, you know, you don’t have to overthink it. It’s just like but keep maybe keep an eye on it like start a journal like start journaling, like when there’s a full moon and you just, you see in the sky, you can look it up online or just, you know, start to keep an eye on it, right. And then you can just in that full moon you can just choose very privately very personally, go out in the garden, connect with nature. Have that five, take that 5 – 10 minutes. And just be a part of your own cycle but within a cycle and just start to kind of take to start to listen like, ‘Oh, well how do I feel on this full moon? How am I feeling?’ Right? Because the full moon affects people’s moods. I mean, that’s a separate thing, whether you’ve got your period, or you haven’t got your period coming on the format, whether it’s synced or not, the full moon affects our moods, right? We’re like 96, 97% water, and the full moon comes in and it’s, you know, the Super Moon coming up in Scorpio on Thursday. And depending on the sign that it’s in, it effects, it has different energy, it holds different medicine, it has different energy and it it comes in and it you know, can kick your it can kick your behind. So, so it’s like a time like, like the period, time is a time for reflection. For release and like what are we letting go of? Like, what are we releasing? And this menstrual cycle offers you that too? Okay? It’s that time of release when it comes to menstruation. It’s like the body’s going, it’s releasing, and it gives us that time to come back to ourselves and what do we what are we? What was that month? Like, what are we releasing? Like, you know, I would start journaling on there.

Le’Nise: So just getting a pen and paper and just noticing how you feel and perhaps noticing what where the moon is.

Estelle: Noticing, wait, how you feel, noticing where the moon is. And and it’s it’s that it’s that sort of beginning a relationship with the self like hidden inside. Because of course, from that place we can start to, when you get really in touch, you become empowered, you become aligned and in terms of manifesting. Right? So we release and we manifest you’re, you’re creating space for real manifest, like real manifestation.

Le’Nise: Talk a little bit about manifestation and what that actually is because, you know if any, if you spend a lot of time on online, you’ll see a lot of people talking about, ‘oh, I manifested this or I manifested that.’ And there will be I’m sure people who just think what is like, Am I just making things come to me from thin air? What is that in? In a practical sense?

Estelle: Yeah, yeah, no, completely. Well, I when I was when I was younger, I was like in my early 20s. I basically you know, the last thing I wanted to do at that time, was be do anything like remotely woowoo. And I was like, running from the woo woo. And I was like I’m so I’m not going to want to be healing psychic this that. I was like forget about it. Okay. I’ve always meditated, meditating has been my lifeline. I’ve done, been doing TM since I was six. But I, but in terms of the rest of it, like externally, I was not for it like, no. So I sat down and I was I went travelling, I was backpacking around India, and doing this and doing that. And then I came back and I was like, I left university and I was kind of having that sort of mid 20s, a little bit of a mid 20s coming up to sort of, you know, you’re like a bit of a crisis, like tiny because people have come out of school, come out of college, come out of university, right, got it together. And I had not got it together. But I knew that I wanted to be a presenter and I was like, right, I’m going to manifest this. And so I was about 25. And I basically did a whole, I created it, but you know what, at that time was I suppose it’s a is a type of vision board. And I went in and I was like, right, I’m doing this and at that time to be a presenter, like, you know, it was it was kind of everyone and then everyone in there everyone and their dogs, friends, cousin wanted to be a presenter. So, but I managed to get a job at the BBC. And as a as a PA, and I manifested it. And so I basically did about a year later, I became a presenter. And that’s, that’s quite a story.

But what I will say about manifestation and I’ve, I’m the big manifestation, manifesting works, it’s about but it’s, it takes two things, you know, it’s about co-creating your destiny, okay? So psychically people will come and see me and, and they’ll have things that are destined for them. But if you don’t show up to those things, you don’t you don’t get to manifest them right. So it’s it’s like you have things on your timeline, but we get to choose every day, what it is that we’re actually manifesting. So that’s why energy meets energy. So when you show up every day, and you’re like, and you’re focusing, but, you know, it’s about focusing and letting go at the same time, so, I’m focusing, I’m manifesting the love of my life. And I let it go to, like I trust, I’m going to trust and you know, so it’s two energies at the same time, the energy of manifestation.

Le’Nise: So you, you put the energy out there of what you want, but you also have to do the work.

Estelle: You have to do the work. You have to do the work. You have to show up. It’s part of being human, right. It’s part of the incarnation. You know, we’ve come here to work it out. Like we come here to learn lessons and figure it out and to refine who we are. And you know, some of that stuff means we have to work at getting what it is that we want to get, you know, what we see for ourselves or vision for ourselves, we have to kind of work to that place. And coming back to ourselves is one of the ways that’s the way that we start to align. Okay? That’s the way that we start to embody the life that we want to truly live. Sometimes we don’t know the life that we want to truly live sometimes. There’s been a lot of trauma and we’re not really sure and you know, some of my clients speak to me and they don’t know what that feels like or means. It’s like well, that’s a million miles away from me. But when, what I say is when you take a step on that path back towards back to self, you will get there and it is possible.

Le’Nise: Okay, it is possible. So, if you’re, if you really want something, vision, you can create a vision board or perhaps even write it down. You have to continue to, as you say, show up, do the work. And don’t just expect things should just fall into your lap.

Estelle: No, things do not fall into our laps, that’s not going to be happening, right? It’s just not, you know, I always say to people like, and this is a truth for me, right. So, I’ve been talking about writing a book, it’s one of the things that I need to get on and do. And it’s like, you know, I can write that book. Or I could be sitting here in 10 years time and not like that book. Okay. I have to write the book. I have to show up every morning to the page and write the book. Okay. And I have to work with all the humanness that comes in, right. All the ego, all that wounded ego stuff of like, oh, I’ve got to write, I’m showing up again, and what if and better, and it’s like, yeah, I have to work with that and I have to refine that. But keep showing up. Because that is a part of dynamic manifestation energy.

Le’Nise: I feel like you’re speaking to me, right now.

Estelle: Get off the podcast and start writing the book. Yeah.

Le’Nise: I want to just lead into your work as a psychic. So you’re a fourth generation psychic. Can you talk a little bit about that work and how you came to know that this was part of you?

Estelle: Yeah, I mean, I, I was lucky enough, you know, I suppose. You know, one of the things that that now as we’re transitioning into a more intuitive time, I feel, you know. And like I said, you know, I’ve been working with crystals for 20 years and back in the day, you know, you’re working with crystals, it was like, What are you on about? You know, it’s an inanimate object. But now it’s sort of it’s big stuff, right? So, but for me, I’ve always been lucky. I’ve been lucky enough to grow up with my mother, who is psychic.

And my world was very interdimensional, it was sort of, we got I grew up with that as just being a truth and reality, you know. And basically, you know, it’s, it was something I didn’t really want to deal with. I didn’t want to really want to, I didn’t want to be I want to be psychic. But I’ve just been psychic all my life. When I was very young, I could, you know, I could feel my mom’s headaches and I’d be able to take remove them. I could feel them in her head and I could remove them. And I’ve always sort of been, I suppose in quite interdimensional I’ve always seen things and felt things and it’s just been part of my life really. And I’m very thankful that I was able to ground that energy because I grew up in a household where it was safe.

So people who are intuitive and psychic and empath you know, empathic people who were born with that the the, you know, the high end empathy will also you know, you are going to absorb and pick up on energies. Interestingly, also, if you’ve been, if you’ve been brought up in a home where it was quite traumatising that you become hyper vigilant, and that’s also creates, it creates a sort of a deeper sensitivity in you and you also pick up on what people are feeling and thinking and doing and you know, that’s there. So one of the things that’s important for people is to learn how to sort of ground that energy because we’re all I mean, I don’t know if psychics the right word, but we are all we all have the power to be psychic in our own lives. That’s just the power of who we are. We all have the power to drop down into that, that depth. And and, and really connect in a deep way and feel and hear and see for ourselves. You may not want to do that for other people, but that absolutely and and really, that’s with my work.

What I’m empowering people to do is to be in their own power and to feel their own energy in their own lives. So that they can rely and on their own guidance or in a guidance. It’s connected. And, you know, we know it’s important then in terms of, you know, when you come out of woo woo land, it’s important. Like in your work, you know, wherever you are in relationship or to be able to, you know, have a line in the sand, you know, this is where I end and you begin, and the I end and you begin that lie in the sand means that we hold ourselves safe.

And holding yourself safe is a very, very, very important, it’s like the first don’t go out without that line in the sand. Hold yourself safe, and it’s okay to hold yourself, say, you know, I can love you completely and still have a line in the sand. It doesn’t mean I love you any less. And so when we talk about, when we think about all of this as a whole, it’s sort of and we and you know, we think about our periods and we think about moon and we think about why we’re having this conversation. It’s it’s really so that you can hold yourself safe, in a safe and grounded and loving way every day in your life, and what that looks like in the world.

Le’Nise: So having boundaries and knowing what those boundaries are, is really powerful in terms of feeling like you’re safe in your body, in your mind.

Estelle: Yeah, absolutely. And energetically, so and psychically, right? So, so energetically, and I suppose that’s what I mean about the sensitivity. You know, that we, even if we don’t think we’re psychic, you know that that sensitivity is psychic, actually, it’s kind of what it is, right? And it’s almost, it’s almost like that has been demonised over time, too. Right. So, women’s psychic ability or their intuitive ability, their healing ability, you know, we we have to that’s been really collectively, it has been collectively crushed through the year you know, over the over the centuries. So it’s just this idea that, you know, I know who I am. And I hold myself say I hold, you know, this is my line in the sand, I hold my energy safe. And I know when to say no. And I know what’s good. I know what’s not good for me, you know, doesn’t mean I love you any less. That means I love myself. I’m allowed to love myself first. And I can love you too.

Le’Nise: I asked you before about how women can connect back with their, their cycle in terms of the moon. And just to kind of expand that question to what we’re talking about now. If someone’s listening and they feel like they have this intuition, but they like you say it’s been crushed over time because of people saying, well, that’s not real. That’s, you know, that’s woo woo nonsense, but they have the sense that something else is inside them. How can they start to re-nurture that?

Estelle: Yeah, I mean, I get this a lot, right. So, with, with my with people I work with, and you know, when they start when we start to move into alignment, and trust, all of these things are very powerful. We start to quiet and we listen, you know, go into the silence, soften. We hear more, right? Our intuition, intuition speaks to us. That voice inside that you’ve sat on forever and a day, like it gets louder. And the voice inside you know, it, there’s this tussle and I witnessed this tussle a lot of like, ‘Yeah, but is it right, like, is it speaking to me? Or is it my fear was in doubt, like, is it right or wrong?’ And there is a difference, you know, there is a difference. And you start to understand the difference and we it’s like it’s a mashed, it’s like it’s all kind of in this ball at the beginning. And then we pull out, you pull out the guiding voice internal intuition, that that real don’t go there. You know, don’t put your hand in the fire, it’s gonna burn you. And, you know, don’t, ‘Oh, I’m getting alarm bells about that guy like, no, no, no’, you know, just that that real powerful voice and then all of this chatter, the chatter, right, the doubt and the fear and that didn’t you know, the maybe and should I and shouldn’t I and all that kind of chatter in the mind.

There is a difference. And the, the inner guiding voice is like, boom, it’s like it all it comes in and it gets stronger. The more you feed that you, the more you allow, like, it’s like, it’s like, you know, it’s that classic. I’m going to water the seed, right? It gets louder and it’s clear. There is a clarity to that voice. Right. So when we show up and these are gentle things, these are not like big deal things. You can just show up for five minutes a day. Okay, or on the full moon, and you can ask or just listen, you can just go into place of quietness, just, you know, jot down how you feel. And then ask, you know, ask your inner guidance, ‘Do you have a message for me today? Or is there something I need to listen to that I need to hear?’ Like, what? And you just write it and come back to it and observe it. You know, and do that for a few months. Just stay out of judgement. Stay out, you know, and I always tell people to just not get into the chatter, just observe like, and you’ll start to see who’s in the room. Right? And you’ll see that they’ll be like the chattering little Le’Nises and then there’s gonna be boom, and it’s gonna be like, Le’Nise like the the you know, she’s in, the voices in and it’s there’s a difference. And then all that’s in the room is the voice right, so that all you just you’re just in that truth, you’re in relationship. You’re in dialogue with that part of you. And that part of you, you were born to be in dialogue with that part of you, you know is the part of us it’s that really saves the day like it’s powerful.

Le’Nise: Wow, I’m getting chills and you’re talking it is it, just wow. If someone is listening and they, they want to work with you, how would they how would they go about doing that?

Estelle: They can they can find me on my website. I’m on my website: www.estellebingham.com. Yes, that’s right. I’m not very technical, technically minded, but I do get those emails. I do 1-2-1, I do workshops, and I do retreats. And so I’m also at this time, Zoom time, I’m doing, I’m doing zoom meditations. So you know, three times a week, and I do a full moon every month. So there’s one coming up tomorrow. I’ve decided that’s going to be a celebration, because I feel like, you know, we’re eight weeks into this stuff, this pandemic, and I just, you know, last week and this is the thing about energy, I was talking to you earlier about it, before we started, it’s within the collective, last week was a very tough week for people. Scorpio and the Scorpio Moon can drag us into the cave a little bit, can drag us into the darkness, that Scorpionic energy, back into some old stuff. But it’s a real cleansing, so tomorrow is a real release and a real cleanse. It was the May Day, which in Celtic culture is Beltane, which is the beginning of summer, and it’s about beginnings and it’s really, one of the things about time is to recognise that these are just moments in time and this too shall pass. And we can have and vision and manifest our new beginnings and it’s important that we do that and we push ourselves to do that too, because it’s very easy to get into a bit of a lull of what’s going to happen, the doubt, the fear and the anxiety and there’s a lot of that out there. But again, when you think about basic manifesting and visioning our futures, we also just need to show up and we need to keep showing up, personally, individually, as a collective and as a community. Cause we are all out there somewhere and we’re all connected and we’re all feeling each other. It’s just that we have to start to feel into that and some of the stuff that I’ve spoken about today is a way to start to feel into that. We’re not alone, we’re all in connection and we’re all connected and the more aligned we are, the more connected we are.

Le’Nise: If someone’s listening and you want to distill everything you’ve said into one soundbite, what would that be? What would you want that one thing they take away to be?

Estelle: Today, choose to listen to yourself, gently and lovingly, so that you are able to love yourself more and come home to yourself.

Le’Nise: Wonderful. So your website is www.estellebingham.com and they can find you there and they can also find you on Instagram.

Estelle: They can find me on Instagram. I’ve only just gone on there. I’ve been on there for about six months and yes, they can find me on there. Look forward to seeing you all.

Le’Nise: Thank you so much for coming on the show, Estelle, it’s been really wonderful speaking to you.

Estelle: Thanks for having me. It’s been great to meet you, finally.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 19: Amy Peake, I Want More Girls and Women To Rise Up And Realise Their Power

On today’s episode of Period Story podcast, I’m so pleased to share my conversation with Amy Peake, the founder of the charity Loving Humanity, which she founded in 2014 with the aim of helping women in war zones by alleviating the health problems associated with a lack of good quality and affordable menstrual pads. Since then, her work has helped to restore dignity and create social uplift for thousands of women in some of the most war-ravaged parts of the world. And crucially, allowed thousands of menstruating girls who would not normally have access to school to receive an education.

Amy and I had a wonderful conversation about the cultural impact of menstruation, disposable vs reusable menstrual pads, how Amy has been educating herself about her menstrual cycle and hormones and of course, Amy also shared the story of her first period.

Amy shares what made her decide to come off the pill and the changes she’s seen in her body. She says having a period without any pain was a revelation!

Amy talks about the importance of menstrual health education and awareness and the impact this is having on her 3 daughters and also how this extends to Loving Humanity.

We talked about Amy’s charity Loving Humanity and the powerful work it is doing in Iraq, Jordan, Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe to make and distribute menstrual pads and nappies to women and girls. Amy shares the story of what inspired her to start this charity and shares some of ways the charity has been able to empower women through employment, menstrual health education and support.

We had a very candid discussion about the impact access to menstrual pads can have on girls and their ability to stay in education. Amy also talked about disposable vs reusable menstrual pads and how access to water and lack of privacy makes reusables mostly a non-starter.

Amy says that she feels passionate about what she does because she wants women and girls to rise up and realise their power

Get in touch with Amy:

Website

Instagram

Facebook

Twitter

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AMY’S BIO

Amy founded her charity, Loving Humanity in 2014 with the aim of helping women in war zones by alleviating the health problems associated with the lack of good quality and affordable sanitary pads.  Since then, her work has helped to restore dignity and create social uplift for thousands of women in some of the most war ravaged parts of the world, and crucially, allowed thousands of menstruating girls, who would not normally have access to school, to receive an education.

A pilates teacher and mother of three girls, Amy’s mission began when she flew from her home in the UK to the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, 8 km south of the Syrian border, with the plan to provide practical help to the women and children, in the form of babygros, coats, blankets and heaters for schools.

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: On today’s episode, we have Amy Peake. Amy founded her charity Loving Humanity in 2014 with the aim of helping women in war zones by alleviating the health problems associated with a lack of good quality and affordable sanitary pads. Since then, her work has helped to restore dignity and create social uplift for thousands of women in some of the most war-ravaged parts of the world. And crucially, allowed thousands of menstruating girls who would not normally have access to school to receive an education. Welcome to the show. So, this is a question I start each episode off with, the story of your first period. Can you share with us what happened?

Amy: Yes. I was 12 and I was on holiday with my best friend and I just remember going to the loo and pulling down my pants and seeing a brown stain thinking, oh, my gosh, this is the beginning. But sort of mildly panicked because I was nowhere near my own mother at the time. And I had that embarrassing moment of having to go and speak to her mother, oh, I got her I think, to go and speak to her mother. And she gave me the most enormous sanitary pads you’ve ever seen in your life. And I sort of had to waddle around with this, like, table between my legs. And I had to ring my mother and dad and tell them it was just one of those moments in life you never forget.

Le’Nise: Well, how did your parents react when you phoned them and told them?

Amy: Mum was sweet. She was like, oh, that’s such great news. But that was about it. It wasn’t sort of anything greater than that. And then I had this awful mild panic of, oh, my God, she’s going to tell my dad. And as much as I loved my dad, I felt very private about my body. And I immediately rang her back and said, “Please don’t tell Dad because I feel so embarrassed.” And of course, she went, “Well, I’ve already told him.: I kind of died thinking, oh, my God, everybody knows about my body. Yeah, that was it. That was my memory really, was kind of like excitement and joy to have kind of join the rest of my friends who had already started menstruating. And at the same time, that sort of sudden realisation of embarrassment and not wanting anybody to know and having to sort of talk about big girl stuff when you’re still quite small.

Le’Nise: And so, had you already known about periods? Did you have any education about what was to come when you got your first period?

Amy: Yes, I had two brothers. I didn’t have a sister which didn’t make it any easier. But I was actually at a girls boarding school. So, by the time I got my period, lots of my friends had already got theirs. So, its kind of made it easier. And there was this kind of, you know, a bit of mystery around pads and tampons and stuff like that that I kind of wanted to join in with, I suppose. So, I knew what was coming. I’m sure I had biology lessons around it, but it was more from just being with friends.

Le’Nise: And so, you got your first period and you were on holiday and then when you go went back to boarding school, did you feel like you were part of the club now?

Amy: Totally. Yeah. Like, I was one of the gang and I’d grown up, you know. My middle daughter has, you know, just got her period and it is that whole thing of wanting to be part of something when everybody else is doing it. You want to be, especially when you’re young. And I forget that now, but you know. Yes, definitely.

Le’Nise: If you think back to when you got your period and how much you knew. Do you feel like your daughters are in a different place?

Amy: Yes, I mean, they have so much better education, I think they call it PSHE and they sort of learn about stuff that I learned about now. I’m like, ‘Really? You’re learning about that?!’ And it slightly shocks me. And I sort of think they’re innocent and then I realise that they’re absolutely not. But yeah, I mean, I think life’s just changed so much. I mean, I was talking about this with my husband the other day. I’m gonna be 46 in a couple of weeks. And I mean, in the last 40 years since we were kids, I mean, you know, the Internet, you know, we had calculators but they were, you know, they were relatively kind of new things and they were quite cool and expensive. So, you know, to go from that stage to having the Internet and being able to Google and find out anything, it’s just quite extraordinary.

Le’Nise: When you got your first period and the education that you had going back to school and being part of this club, did you feel equipped to deal with any issues that may have come up? So painful periods or heavy periods?

Amy: I didn’t. It’s difficult, isn’t it? You don’t know how you’re going to be before you get it. We had a like a medical centre we could go to or house mistresses. I, too, had incredibly painful periods. And eventually, at the age of, I think, 17, they put me on a massive, great pain killer and then quite soon after that, they put me on the pill. Knowing what I know now, it wasn’t great. They weren’t great choices. They weren’t the best solutions. But that’s what was available. And there were people there to help. Definitely.

Le’Nise: So, what? When you say knowing what you know now it wasn’t the best solution. What do you mean by that?

Amy: Well, actually, this is only my second month of coming off the pill. I mean, I’ve had three children, so I obviously came off the pills to do those things. But I started not feeling particularly well or something was off. It was my daughters, they started getting really bad period pains and were saying, “Mum, can I go on the pill?’ And they’re like 15, 16, I’m like, no, there has to be a better way. And when I was in my 20s, I love learning. So, I literally remember going to the library in Putney. Going there have to be books out here to explain how I could manage pain without going on the pill. There was not one book. And I felt so sort of surprised that there was such a massive lack of knowledge. And then I found an acupuncturist in Bath where I live. And this gorgeous person said, Oh, well have you read this book? And this is what you need. So, the girls and I have all had acupuncture, which has helped enormously. And then I read Period Repair Manual.

Le’Nise: Yeah, that’s a great book.

Amy: Amazing book. I mean, I’m reading all of this stuff around magnesium and zinc and turmeric and B6 and all this stuff. I used to take B6 and evening primrose, but I swear, last month I had a period without any period pain. I nearly fell off my chair. I was like, ‘why did someone not tell you this 20 years ago?’ And that’s what I mean when you know what I know now, I would not have gotten the pill at the age of 17 if I’d known that I was just short of a few things. I played hockey all the time. So, my body was probably dying for magnesium. And although as much as I was on B6, I wasn’t on zinc, I wasn’t on turmeric, I just wasn’t aware that my body was lacking stuff and there was a way of healing it without taking Western medicine. So, I mean, I feel like I’ve sort of woken up into a new world at the age of 46 just before I go into my menopause which is great, better late than never.

Le’Nise: Was this just two months ago you went to see the acupuncturist and then came off a pill?

Amy: Yeah, I mean, literally it’s all just happening now.

Le’Nise: Oh, wow.

Amy: And what’s really exciting for me is that I wanted to experience Amy without steroids in my body and the fact that when we’re on the pill, we don’t actually bleed. I was on a pill that allowed me to have a withdrawal bleed, but we don’t actually ovulate. I did have a cycle, it was definitely something that I could still feel, but it wasn’t properly me and I wanted to know me before I became older. And that is fascinating.

Le’Nise: What have you discovered about yourself?

Amy: I like myself more. I don’t suffer horrendous sugar cravings that I used to get when I came off the pill or as I was coming off the pill ready to bleed. I just crave sugar like nobody’s business, and I don’t have that. I thought I was some monster. And I realised that it was all just induced by hormones and whatever, you know. And I’m a massive believer in healing and education. And therefore, to be in this age and there not be better solutions, you know, is beyond me.

But the other thing which I’m really passionate about. So, where we are now, I find fascinating and sad in that we’re in a very male dominated or not male, just a masculine energy. This isn’t about men and women. There’s a very masculine energy, very patriarchal society we’re living in. And women, we expect ourselves to be able to keep up with that same energy as men all the time. And so, what I’m really learning by coming off the pill and by practicing menstrual cycle awareness is that if we can allow this feminine energy to rise and for the world to realise that we work in cycles, not at 100 miles an hour all time. I think that when that happens in the world, which won’t be for a while, but when it does happen, I think that the world will come back into balance and that we will actually have a healing of the planet and a transformation which we don’t currently have or even perceive that we could possibly have, apart from a few people who are a little bit more enlightened. But I think that’s what’s wrong. I think that’s what’s missing. Is that this feminine energy isn’t even allowed to rise because women don’t know that we have it. We just sit on it going gosh, we’ve got a period, how annoying, I feel dreadful, blah, blah, blah. Instead of going, oh, oh, thank goodness, I’m going to go off into my little cave and snuggle myself and stay under my duvet and nurture myself and be in touch with the divine and then come out again. And that’s where the magic is and we’re missing it. You know, for me, we’re missing and denying ourselves the power of the feminine. That’s what I’m really loving learning about and realise that in learning about myself more, that that’s the missing ingredient in the planet, in the world, how we’re functioning.

Le’Nise: And you had all of these realisations in the last two months? I just think it’s amazing that you’ve discovered it so quickly.

Amy: Not so much the last two months as in around the feminine energy rising, definitely around the education of the vitamins and minerals that I can take to support myself more than I have been. I suppose, given what I do, I’m a massive champion of women and equality. I suppose more than that reading, I’ve also just read Wild Power, which is a phenomenal book. I think coupled with learning that there are other women out there who have been studying this stuff and have written such eloquent books, kind of goes hand in hand with what I do, which is, for goodness sake, let’s lift women up globally. And so, to get that I’m not actually out on a limb completely by myself and there are actually millions of women who believe the same thing. I’m like, oh thank goodness, I’m quite normal. You know, it’s something around that. Yes, over the last few months, there’s been this huge focusing of that and the focus of goodness me, if women didn’t deny ourselves our cycles and if the whole culture was revolved around acknowledging women and the power and the wisdom that come through menstruating, I mean, crikey, the world would be a different place.

Le’Nise: All of the realisations that you’ve had and the learning that you’ve had around the menstrual cycle, awareness and energy, have you passed that on to your daughters? And are they kind of trying to live that way as well?

Amy: Well, the middle one, who has to have everything really beautiful. So, we have a circle, you know, with a cut out of 30 days and we have to fill in every day how we feel. And so, we can get at this feeling of the winter, the spring and the summer and autumn and that sort of thing. And she likes it to be so beautiful and so she hasn’t put enough time aside for it to be beautiful enough. So, I’m just putting it in front of her and doing it. The old one just doesn’t want to know. She thinks I’m completely cuckoo and I need to get back in my box. But I’m working on it! Having said that, when I took them both to the acupuncturist, you know, when you start understanding that there’s another world of healing and transformations, empowerment, all of that stuff that’s out there. You know, Lily, who’s 16, was listening with open ears going, “Oh, my gosh, Mum, I didn’t know you knew this stuff” and I’m like, well, you know, I’m 46, maybe I know some stuff. I think it was exciting for her and mind opening, you know, to hear about a different way of looking after yourself and the energy exists. And it’s not just put a pill in your mouth and the problem will go away. It’s how do we best live with ourselves and evolve. And that was really exciting to share with her, really exciting. 

Le’Nise: And what sort of changes have you made to the way that you eat in order to facilitate all of the coming off of the pill and the reduction of the period pains?

Amy: Well, this one’s been a bit of a kind of a struggle for the last 20 odd years. I used to be a personal trainer and a Pilates teacher. So very early on I understood I couldn’t drink alcohol and get up very early in the morning and run with people. So that was just tough. But as I got older and sort of supposedly grown up and you go out to dinner parties or you go out with your friends, I just realised, and I learned the hard way that alcohol kills me, and it makes my cycle worse. It sends me on a binge cycle of eating loads of bad food. And so, since January, I haven’t had a drop of alcohol. I didn’t drink that much anyway, but it was kind of like, how can I live my best life? And it would definitely without alcohol. And equally, I have the same relationship with sugar. So, I really try not to eat it. When I do, I’m afraid it’s my Achilles heel, it’s just like my drug. So, I try not to go there and when I do, I just forgive myself. You know, going off around the mountains, up and down the hills.

The other thing that’s happened, which is really funny and amazing, is that my middle daughter, Amber, has just declared that she’s vegan. She watched one of these films about animal treatment and just went, that’s it, never again. And she was a complete chicken fajita fan so for this girl to say she’s going vegan is like almost like an earthquake. And so, as a result, we’ve all just embraced cooking vegan food. And so, we just live on a huge amount of vegetables and pulses and all the really, really good stuff. And we’re all feeling amazing. And even my husband, who’s longing for that kind of food as well, has embraced it. I mean, not totally, I have a third daughter and she still eat meat. So, yeah, I really, I’m totally aware of how food and my body either makes it or breaks it every month, without question.

Le’Nise: You’ve learned so much and you’ve done so much in the past, we’re only in April. It’s like we’re only April, it feels like so much in like globally has happened in 2020 already. And you’ve had so many amazing changes happen to you. You have three daughters and they’re kind of slowly learning this stuff in their own way, some are embracing it, some aren’t. I wonder how does all of this translate into the work that you do? So, your charity. Can you talk a little bit about the charity and then perhaps how all of the learning that you’ve done have has changed the work that you’ve done or changed maybe any perspective on your work?

Amy: Wow. So, in a nutshell, if I talk about Loving Humanity so everybody understands. In 2014, I was sitting in my doctor’s surgery and saw the most horrific photograph of 18,000 people queuing for bread in Damascus. And in the foreground of the picture was a woman. And I thought, ‘oh, my goodness me what if that was me? And how do women cope? Being mothers, carers, women in war zones. I mean, how do you cope?’ In this picture the street was completely bombed out. There were no shops. I mean after you’ve had a baby, you’ve just got to know where the nearest toilet is. And I was like, oh, my God. When I go to the loo, you know, it was kind of basic. And that’s when I started on this journey of trying to import a local sanitary pad machine from India into Jordan, and we set up a sanitary pad factory and a washable nappy factory in the camp because I learned about a huge problem of incontinence with traumatised kids who were bedwetting.

So, we set up this factory. We employed 30 of the most vulnerable women in the camp. And it was absolutely the most incredible thing ever and really inspiring for me to be so uplifted by women who had lost everything and to see how they coped with life. You know, I was thinking this thing is going to last forever, and as it turned out, due to politics, we had to close that factory and move out to the capital city, Amman. And now we have a factory there that makes washable nappies and basically, we make them for the new-borns but also primarily for people suffering with disability and or old age. And we employ eight Iraqis who fled from Mosul from ISIS. And we also, in the meantime, developed our own machine because the Indian solution wasn’t quite an off the peg solution. And we set up our first factory with partners in Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi. And there our partners give away the pads there for free and they help out a thousand girls every month to stay in school. And it’s you know, I’m constantly amazed and uplifted by meeting these incredible people who have nothing. And, you know, here we have everything and not very much spiritually, you know, on another level.

So how does my learning affect my work now? I think I feel even more passionate about helping women to stay in education. I don’t see how this transformation; this shift can happen on our planet until women are educated. And it is so shocking to me that these poor girls and women are unable to just go to school. And part of that problem is the lack of access to pads. And on top of that, they have their domestic chores that they have to be kept at home with, their whole culture’s different. But to have that right taken away from you, to have the possibility or that potential taken away from you as a young person? I mean, UNICEF apparently wrote an article saying that 65% of girls in Kenya traded sex for pads. And someone called them on it saying, well, can you prove that? Well, no, we can’t prove that. So, they said, well, actually, 10%. But the point is that there’s a huge practice in trading sex for sanitary pads in the slums and in poor cultures. And that’s just unacceptable. And so when I have the good grace to recognise how unbelievably fortunate I am and to have all this knowledge at my fingertips and the money to then act on it, I just you know, it makes my heart bleed that other people, other girls, other women, even in my own country can’t access or have this opportunity to learn and to grow and that’s where the planet’s going to change. I feel more passionate about what I do because I want more girls and more women to rise up and to realise their power. And for men to recognise it in their societies and in our society. I mean, even now, we don’t have equal pay and I work with a fabulous woman who’s constantly quoting Invisible Women, saying, well, you know, women aren’t recognised in data collection, so how on earth can we have a world that’s designed for us? So, yeah, I feel more passionate as time goes by about helping and lifting up more women.

Le’Nise: What countries do operate in? You mentioned Jordan. You mentioned Kenya.

Amy: So, we’re in Jordan and Kenya right now. We have a factory which is just crossing the Iraqi border now. And we’re going into an internally displaced camp in Iraq where there are 5,000 people and currently there’s no distribution of pads. So, we’re doing a project there with Oxfam. Basically, I was due to go to Iraq at the end of March but because of the virus that was stopped. We’ve also got work in Uganda and Zimbabwe, but we’re really working on trying to make connections with governments to facilitate tax exemptions because as soon as we have to pay tax and it starts making the whole thing financially not viable and tricky.

Le’Nise: So, when you started the project in these countries, have you had to overcome any cultural assumptions or barriers regarding the importance of menstruation and the importance of getting the sanitary products to these women?

Amy: That’s a good question. The answer is no. It’s really strange. In the Middle East, you know, men and women are very separate, and they live their lives very separately. You know, even at weddings, women dance together, and the men aren’t there, and the men are elsewhere, it’s a very unusual society for us, a very unusual culture for us. And even though there’s a lot of shame around menstruation, shame as in it’s not talked about. There is a massive recognition by men that women menstruate, and men know that it exists. And actually, they facilitated the opening of the factory in the refugee camp because the men were in charge. The fact that they had a white British woman walking around saying, I want to open a sanitary pad factory, they just went, oh, OK. They were amazing, the men were amazing. I suppose when I come along and say, well, you know, this is an issue and we need to sort this out. They go, ‘Yeah, of course we do.’ And since working in Jordan, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees who run the camp and who I worked with, they then started going on courses around menstruation, you know, so it’s kind of like just from a little beginning, lots of things happen.

And the same in Kenya. You know, everybody knows it happens. The fact that it’s not on the curriculum, but it’s against the law to talk about it I think even in schools, you know, it’s kind of crazy, like how can that not be on the curriculum? Everybody knows what goes on, no one’s ever blocked it. And now we’re talking with the Ministry of Health in Kenya, they support our work. And we’ve just partnered with Wash Alliance Kenya. And these are men. You know, these aren’t women. These are men and they’re wonderful. They’re doing great, great work. So, it has to be recognised, a lot of the time, women presume that men are an obstacle in this journey and it’s so not the case. It’s very, very touching that men want to provide for women. The fact that it’s not talked about and culturally not accepted is a different thing. So, I’ve been very uplifted by the support that I’ve had. Obviously, it would be you know, I wouldn’t be doing what I do if it wasn’t a problem and if it wasn’t, except to say it’s kind of a weird one, but it’s kind of everybody knows what’s going on, no one is just talking about it.

Le’Nise: And are the pads that you make, are they reusable or are they disposable pads?

Amy: Well, in Jordan and in Kenya, when we started, they’re disposable, because in certain situations there’s such a massive lack of privacy that a woman would never hang up a pad to dry. She would rather die herself than go, oh, my goodness, I menstruate. You know, they just wouldn’t do that. So, we did research doing washable pads in the camp and the women just went, we won’t use them. And the same in the slum. But having said that, now that the nappy factory moved out of the refugee camp in Jordan into the city, there’s a lot of research saying that 19 out of 20 women would use washable pads because they have more privacy and they also have running water. In the slum, they don’t even have clean water to drink. So, you know, to use water to wash something is sort of a luxury, really, you know. Which is why the virus is posing such a problem in the slum and people are desperately trying to set up handwashing stations and stuff like this.

So, you know, it’s very difficult. And it’s something that I find quite challenging when I talk to people or when people ask me, actually, because sometimes quite aggressively: “Why aren’t your products more environmentally friendly or sustainable? ‘The answer is because some situations it just isn’t appropriate. Or when you have millions and millions and millions of girls needing help, you would have to produce millions and millions of washable pads at great expense and distribute those. So really, my aim is to, first of all, get pads on girls, get them into school, let’s educate everybody and let’s find some fabulous solutions to solve the problems that we’re also creating at the same time environmentally in the world and the way that we live.

I do have quite staggering conversations with usually white middle class women saying, well, that’s absolutely appalling, you know, how can you put something else into the environment which is going to make it worse? Like, well, are you saying that these poor girls shouldn’t have access to education? Because that’s what you’re saying. There isn’t really another alternative which is suitable. I mean, a moon cup, for instance, you know, sounds great and for a lot of girls, they’re very uncomfortable, difficult to insert, they just too much for the mental stage of development. And also, when you go to the toilets in the slum, which are very far and few between, you know, in the school I visited, there’s a hundred kids using three toilets and there’s a pile of poo in each toilet and they flush it with a bucket of water three times a day. Well, if you were to take a cup and empty blood onto that, I mean, you just would not, you just wouldn’t do it. And so, you know, some of the solutions that we have in our culture and our society are fabulous. But we have to remember that when we’re working in places where there’s no running water, where there’s no privacy, you know, then we have to alter what’s possible.

Having said that, when we hopefully one says something to drop a huge pile of gold in our lab, we can actually turn our raw materials over to biodegradable ones. We’re doing a costing exercise at the moment to do that. But it will cost about three times as much to produce a more positive pad than it would do to the one that we have now. So, again, it’s a financial thing. And it’s because the commercial industry in our world hasn’t gone over that tipping point of women absolutely insisting that what we buy is biodegradable.

Le’Nise: Can you talk a little bit about some of the success stories that have come out of the incredible work that you’re doing?

Amy: Gosh, well, on the on the face of it, like just the top line, a thousand girls a month are being helped in the slum which is fabulous. In Jordan last year, we made and distributed over 4,000 nappies. So, the top line is that, you know, the work’s getting done. Eventually we’re really having the impact we want. We, as a result of the factory in the slum, employ five women. In Jordan, we employ eight women. So not only are we helping people with the products, we’re giving jobs and for the people who we give jobs to, they’re able to support their families better. We’re distributing products. We’re creating jobs. I was just saying that I didn’t have any idea that what I set out to do would impact people financially. When we left the refugee camp, the Norwegian Refugee Council, who we were working with, did a monitoring and evaluation report and the people who received and used our nappies saved 25% of their monthly income. Which is huge. So, I had no idea that that would happen. So that was exciting, I mean, you know, 25% is huge amount of money, isn’t it?

And then on the other level, the success for me is in the small things that happens. And I suppose in the camp, one of the lovely things that happened is that in a refugee camp, this may be some kind of presumption that people will just kind of know each other. And that’s not the case, obviously. One day I was working in the factory with the women and I said, “Do you see each other outside of work?” And they said, “You, you know, actually every Saturday night we get together in each other’s tent and we have a coffee and, you know, we’ve become each other’s support network.” And I’m like, oh, how amazing and how touching. And then at another moment, I was working in the church after we moved out of the camp, we were in the compound of a church now. And the women in the refugee camp were Muslim and from Syria. And the women in the church where we work are from Iraq and they’re Christian. So, it was fascinating for me to work with two Middle Eastern cultures, one be Muslim, and one be Christian. And the Muslim ladies were terrified of coming down to the church saying, “Amy, I can’t go into the church, it’s against my beliefs, I’m really terrified,” I said, “Darling, don’t worry, I’ll look after you, the factory is just in a room next door to the church, you don’t have to go to church, everything will be fine.” And so, they come down and we have the Christians and Muslims working together and they were being really funny going, “Oh, I’m better, she’s not very good.” And, you know, ten minutes later, they’re like best mates making nappies and it’s all peace and love. And then it gets to lunchtime. And I suddenly realised that I’m supposed to provide lunch because nobody else is there and whatever. So, I go out with my interpreter. We go and buy some chicken and rice and come back to church. And there’s a cutting table which hasn’t quite made it into the factory sitting in the middle of this compound, this church. And so, there we are, there’s about ten of us standing around this table and one of the ladies lifting up her hijab and eating her chicken and rice very gracefully. And another of the ladies who is Christian turns around me, she says, “Amy, isn’t it crazy that you have to come all the way from the UK to make us friends?” And you’re like, oh, I think I’m, you know, cry ready to get home now. The whole point is that we’re the same and we get so confused by what we look like or by what we believe. And if you have a little magical moment of some people realising in the midst of war, I mean, the interpreter who works for us, his brother was shot by a Muslim in Iraq because he had a cross hanging from his car mirror, you know, he literally walked up to the car window and shot him. And so, these are people who’ve expressed such enormous loss and tragedy and war. So, for me to say, oh, the Christian and Muslim making friends isn’t that lovely, I’m like, it’s amazing when people can set aside what they’ve lost to see the humanity in each other. And that’s just so wonderful and so sad that we can’t see that automatically in each other immediately. Does that make sense?

Le’Nise: Yeah, absolutely. Can you talk a little bit about what’s coming up? I know everything’s on hold at the moment because of Coronavirus, but post Corona, talk about what’s coming up next for you. You said you’re expanding into Zimbabwe and Uganda. What your plans are if you can share any of that?

Amy: Yeah. The first thing will be, I’ll go to Iraq to set up a factory there. The thing that’s going to happen at the same time as that, is that we’re shipping three factories to Kenya, actually two. I beg your pardon. One of them is going to a project north of Nairobi where this amazing Englishman called David Baldwin supports a parish. And the organisation that he runs feeds fifteen hundred kids a day. And they’ve set up the most amazing project, a residential project for girls to go off and spend time for a week with each other instead of being cut. He does amazing work and we’ve really struggled to get tax exemptions into Kenya, but now we’re working alongside the government so it’s all going to happen, so that’s so exciting. Also, at the end of last year, we partnered with the PAD Project, which is an amazing American teacher who made a film about one of these Indian factories, and they filmed the fact that the village before the factory arrived and after and the impact of it and she got an Oscar. Melissa Burton got an Oscar for this. And we’ve partnered because as a result of their work, they’re looking for factories to put into places and ours is very simple and does what it says on the tin. So, we’re working with them, we’re sending them a factory in Kenya and we’re also sending raw materials to resupply the current factory.

I’m also trying to get hold of people in high places in Uganda to get tax exemptions there where we’ve also with the PAD project, got some other factories going in. We’ve got two factories wanting to get into Uganda. And for ages, again, same with Zimbabwe. We’re trying to get tax exemptions into Zimbabwe so we can send a factory there. But basically, the plan from now on is to set up hubs in these countries to send three factories at a time so that the logistical costs of shipping and set up are much, much cheaper for everybody. And we’ll take care of those logistics to enable in-country partners to set up factories more easily without having to deal with that logistics.

Le’Nise: And if someone is listening and they are really connecting with your work, how can people support what you do?

Amy: There’s a few things. One of them would be if you have amazing skills that are transferable to a charity then do get in touch, particularly fundraising, if you have fundraising skills that be cool. The other thing that we set up is called the Heart of Loving Humanity. And the Heart is a group of people who give £5 or more a month and £5 a month translates to keeping 10 girls in school a month. And that’s our lifeline at the moment. And if you’re wealthier than that and you want to give us a lovely big present, then that’s amazing and you can find our details on our website. 

Le’Nise: I think what you’re doing is so amazing and what you said about the cultural perspective around menstruation, but also reusable versus disposable pads and thinking about what these girls and women actually need in the environment they’re in is really important because I think that people do get quite single-minded about, OK, there has to be reusable. We have to think about the environment, but it also has to be practical for these girls and these women, so they don’t put themselves in danger trying to just do the best for their menstrual needs.

Amy: Yeah. And you know what? I’m really passionate about the environment. I mean, it’s so sad what we’ve done collectively. It’s so sad. But our behaviour shouldn’t be translated in not allowing other people who are a lot poorer than us to have access to the things that they need just to maintain their dignity. I mean, in the slum, the girls cut up their mattresses, that’s how they manage their periods. So, you know, it’s kind of like, really, are you going to start stamping your feet about some sanitary pads? You know, one of the things that we’re aiming to do when we’re more in charge of these projects is to put incinerators into the schools so that the girls can automatically take care of their own waste. So at least our bubble of the little world that we’re providing pads to will be sustainable in that sense that we won’t be adding to more, you know, mess everywhere. But, yeah, I mean, we’re so lucky, you know, we’re just so lucky.

And you know, going to Kenya was possibly the most upsetting thing I’ve had to deal with. And the reason we’re working there is because an Australian team of people made a film about an Australian woman who was gang raped in Nairobi, a humanitarian aid worker and instead of going back to Australia, she took her rape case through the courts, and it took her eight years. It was the first rape case that was heard, and they changed the rape law as a result. The filmmakers who made this story when they were filming learned about the girls not going to school because of lack of pads. And they were, Lois Harris, who funded the project. She was having a meeting with the heads of the villages, the women heads of the villages in the slum. So, there were 20 women in the room. And she said, could you please put up your hand if your first sexual experience was consensual? And one woman put up her hand. They are living in such a different world and occasionally I watch films about the girls in Kibera being filmed. And they talk about, you know, we have lots of things to deal with, we have lots of challenges. Oh, my gosh. do they, you know, rape is a normal thing. I mean, how could you possibly say that it’s, you know, physical abuse and threat and, you know, trading sex for pads, these girls are offered 50p for sex regularly by their peers. You know, by boys. And, you know, the violence against women is awful. If you become a widow in Kenya, it’s completely acceptable that you’re gang raped by the rest of the men in the village. You know, these of these are conversations I’ve had with women who go through this. And so, we can’t even begin really to understand. And when I came home, it took me about three weeks to process really the horrible things I’ve seen and the reality of it. So I really wish that women here would just take a moment to fully acknowledge how lucky we are and to realise that the shift in the planet and all the environmental changes, everything that we’re wanting to see will not happen until we lift the whole of the planet up. I believe that, you know, I don’t think I’m crazy. I think we’re not treating each other right. We’re not kind to each other and we don’t respect each other and we’re not kind to the planet and we don’t respect it. And when we do look after each other and love each other, we’ll change overnight.

Le’Nise: If someone listening to this and you want them to take one thing from all of the amazing things you’ve said, what would you want that to be?

Amy: I would love it for women and men to know that they are unbelievably powerful and that they can be the change that they want to see in the world.

Le’Nise: Amazing, how can people get in touch with you?

Amy: My telephone numbers on our website, which is lovinghumanity.org.uk. My email address is there, if I don’t respond, for goodness sake keep at me, I’m best on WhatsApp so if you take that telephone number and put it into WhatsApp, I’m really easy to get a hold of. And if you’re studying, you want to talk about it, you want to know about period poverty, anything, I’m really available. And, you know, I love what I do. And a love the people who I meet through what I do. I actually often say to people, I feel a little bit like I’m in a Harry Potter movie and I’m the person in Hogwarts, because I go around the world meeting people who are changing the planet and who are showing so much love. And so, yeah, you can be absolutely the change you want to see in the world. I think Gandhi hit the nail on the head. Be the change in the world you want to see. And to love each other.

Le’Nise: Thank you so much for coming on the show, it’s been so amazing to speak to you.

Amy: I really enjoyed myself. Thanks for having me.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 18: Mandy Manners, Respecting My Body Has Been Part Of My Sobriety

On today’s episode of Period Story podcast, I was so pleased to speak with Mandy Manners. Mandy is a mindset and recovery coach who coaches women to harness their decision to go sober, to pivot from surviving to thriving in all areas of their lives. She’s also a co-founder of Love Sober, a hub for one to one coaching, workshops and community, and hosts The Love Sober podcast with Kate Baily.

Mandy and I had a wonderful conversation about the impact of alcohol on women, the role the menstrual cycle plays in alcohol addiction, and of course, Mandy also shared the story of her first period.

Mandy shared the moment in her thirties when she felt she really learned about her period and the effect this change had on her.

Mandy talked candidly about the impact going sober had on her period and menstrual cycle. She also shared fascinating research around the points in our menstrual cycle where we will potentially be more triggered to drink alcohol. Have a listen to hear Mandy talk through an insightful example of a woman who planned her alcohol recovery treatment around her menstrual cycle.

Mandy talks about the steps women who are struggling with their alcohol consumption can take to get a better sense of control. She says that support and community is so important, as well as having an open mind about changing their habits and I completely agree!

Get in touch with Mandy:

Website

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MANDY’S BIO

Mandy is a mindset and recovery coach. She coaches women to harness their decision to go sober to pivot from surviving to thriving in all areas of their lives, she also works to raise awareness and to destigmatise experiences of trauma, mental illness and substance use disorders by telling her story.

A mother of two, fluent in both English and French she works internationally and online. 

Mandy is the Co-founder of Love Sober and the Love Sober Podcast with Kate Baily and their first book Love Yourself Sober, A Self-Care Guide to Alcohol-Free Living for Busy Mothers will be published 04/09/2020 by Trigger Publishing. Love Sober is the hub for 1-2-1 coaching, courses, workshops and community.

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: On today’s episode, we have Mandy Manners. Mandy is a mindset and recovery coach who coaches women to harness their decision to go sober, to pivot from surviving to thriving in all areas of their lives. She also works to raise awareness and to destigmatise experiences of trauma, mental illness and substance abuse disorders by telling her story. She’s a co-founder of Love Sober, a hub for one to one coaching, workshops and community, and also hosts The Love Sober podcast with Kate Baily and their first book, which is very exciting, Love Yourself Sober, a Self-care Guide to Alcohol Free Living for Busy Mothers will be published in September this year by Trigger Publishing. Welcome to the show.

Mandy: Thank you for having me. It’s a timely conversation, I think, so I’m excited.

Le’Nise: So, let’s start off with a question I ask all of my guests. Tell us the story of your first period.

Mandy: Well, I got my period quite late, I think I was 14, I’m pretty sure fourteen or fifteen. I remember it feeling very, very late in comparison to my friends. And I was away from home, I was staying with some friends that I used to go and stay with in the summer in Kent. And it was quite funny because it was that summer of, like lots of things happening. I remember having a conversation with my friends beforehand and they both had their period and we were talking about sex. And I was like, so if I haven’t had my period, granted, I’d never kissed a boy at this point, like if I haven’t got my period and then I can have sex and not get pregnant. And they’re like, yeah. And I was like, oh, my God, I’m like, totally just going to have all the sex, even though I’d like, not kissed a boy. And then I got my period and I was really disappointed. Oh, man. And then I kissed a boy and then I got boobs all in that summer. So, I kind of came back to school and ever was like, wow, what happened? You know, that kind of transformation. So, I was really excited. I was ready and I wanted it to happen. And then, you know, after I had it, I was like, oh, it’s not that great. I’d never had any really bad kind of PMT or period pains or anything, I was quite lucky, really. So yeah, that was my first one.

Le’Nise: You were away from home for your first period. How did you know what to do?

Mandy: Friends. I mean, luckily, I was with two friends and they were sisters and they just sorted me out, you know, gave me some pads and their mum was quite open so I talked to her, they just helped me out with it. And I mean, everyone else had had their period, so I’d seen everyone and I’d kind of had sleepovers where people had leaked and, you know, the trauma of all that so I was pretty well prepared. I mean, I didn’t talk to my mum about it. I think being that age, that bit later, I was kind of already shut off to those conversations with my mum. So, I remember she kind of asked me once and I’m like, yeah, it’s fine and that was the end of the conversation. Bless her I mean, I think she would have loved to talk more openly, but I was closed to that conversation.

Le’Nise: You having had your first period, and gotten the support from your friend’s mum, then how did you carry on your education around menstrual health? What did you do?

Mandy: Well, that was it. To be honest, I mean, I had no sort of education around menstrual health up until I’d say, my 30s. I had the basic information from my friends. I read a bit on the back of packets of tampons about, you know, how to use them properly. It was a big shift for me from going from towels to tampons because I really didn’t like sort of external bleeding and I was really ashamed. And also, I had two older brothers. So I had that kind of rhetoric within the home of like, oh, it’s gross and like, you know, so I kind of just shut up about it really, and didn’t have any connection with my menstrual blood or anything until I switched to cups when I was in my thirties. And I think that was when I really learned about periods, really.

Le’Nise: What made you make this switch, so you started with towels and then you went to tampons and then you switched to a menstrual cup, which even now is still a bit unusual?

Mandy: Yes, it was. Well, because I had two kids and I just started to kind of feel tampons and it just didn’t feel very nice. And I had a conversation with a friend, I live in France, and she was like, “oh, you know, I switched to a cup” and I’d seen them, you know, and been intrigued. But she’s really tiny, I mean, she’s a size 6 and I was like, I’m sure it works for you but… and she was like, “No, no, no, I actually have quite heavy periods”, so I think that’s kind of an assumption we make about people. So, she’s like, “Just give it a go” and she gave a really brilliant piece of advice, it was like, just stick with it because it will take about three months. And I’m really glad she said that because at the beginning it was quite kind of messy and I wouldn’t get the position right. And, you know, and there were moments where I thought, oh, God, I’m just gonna give up with this. But I’m so glad I stuck with it because, well, A, I don’t pay for any kind of sanitary pads or anything anymore and it’s good for the environment and I really like it. And I actually really like that connection with my cycle, and I thought I had so much more blood than I actually do. And I probably only have two days where I have to kind of change it really regularly. Other than that, I can change it twice a day or something. So, yeah, it’s been a great change. And I’ve actually recommended it to quite a lot of my friends and I’ve got four friends now that have switched to cups, which is great. And we’re having more conversations about it now, so, yeah, I definitely recommend it to people, but just, you know, it takes a bit of time and work, you know, to kind of get it right.

Le’Nise: Yeah, it definitely does take time. I’ve been using a cup for probably about five years. And I remember when I first started, I was just like, how am I going to do this? I don’t know how this is gonna work for me. And then there were lots of accidents. And at one point, I was just like, should I switch back to tampons? But using tampons never really sat right with me. And I actually noticed that when I actually properly stopped using tampons and really gave the menstrual cup a go, my periods actually got better because I used to have really, really painful periods. And I think that, you know, sometimes with the tampons, some of the cotton, you know, you see it coming out afterwards. And I think that was having a really negative effect on my periods. I mean, this is all me hypothesising, I don’t know for sure, but yeah, I definitely agree with your advice of just sticking with it because it can be really life changing. Financially, you’re not spending so much money on tampons and pads and just in terms of changing menstrual health, it can make a massive difference.

Mandy: I’m so glad I did. I mean, it’s difficult because my daughter’s now 13, so maybe we’ll talk about this a bit more. But, you know, so she’s going through that experience and it’s difficult because, I mean, I think she’s too young. I mean, I don’t know. Do you have any advice for young kind of pre-teens, sort of that age group? I want her to be comfortable and I want it to be easy. But certainly, for me, using towels was the worst because it was just like I just didn’t enjoy having that exterior blood all the time. So, I don’t know. I mean, what do you have any advice?

Le’Nise: I don’t have a daughter myself, but if I think about the other women who’ve been on the podcast with daughters and the other women I’ve spoken to with daughters, have a conversation early and often, you know, let them be really familiar with what’s going on with you. You know, talk to them about your menstrual cup, talk to them about your experience of having a period, but also let them know that about what’s normal and what isn’t normal, because what I’ve seen so far in doing this podcast is that, if women have a period that is what they think is normal but isn’t actually normal, so really painful periods, really heavy bleeding, then they pass down that idea of normality, quote unquote, to their daughters. And then we perpetuate this cycle of thinking that periods are supposed to be painful, they’re supposed to be kind of like a horror show. And it doesn’t have to be that way. So, you know, I guess there’s a couple of people who’ve come on the podcast who talked about giving their daughters like a little gift to celebrate their first period. One woman, she had a period party for her daughter. So, yeah, definitely starting the education early and then just making it not a taboo, you know, removing that idea of shame and just having normal conversations about it, just like you would with any other health issue.

Mandy: Yes. I mean it’s interesting ’cause we live in France and her kind of sex ed at the moment and it’s taken from a very biological point of view. So, they’ve been studying the body and the changes of the body and part of that is periods. And so, she’s had about two weeks of talking about periods which she’s found very uncomfortable. You know, and the boys are making jokes and that whole thing. And they’ve even had kind of exams about it. And she was just like I don’t understand why we have to go into so much detail. You know, everyone has talked about it. And know it’s like I get it that it feels embarrassing right now, but you definitely will feel grateful for this information later and you’ll feel grateful that the boys know about it, too. It just ties in with that time in your life where you’re very self-conscious. So, it’s like, I get it, I get that you’re self-conscious but actually, this is all really good learning. Yeah. I mean, I’m just so glad that people are talking about it more because there’s nothing shameful in that. You know, Sharon, London Artist is my friend, so I listened to her episode with you and that, you know, that shame of hiding tampons up your sleeve and that whole thing that we do, it’s just like, yeah, enough. I wonder from a kind of feminist point of view, I wonder if there is something tied with that patriarchy of, you know, you get to do the thing we can’t do, which is produce life. So, we’re going to make it this whole shameful thing. I don’t know.

Le’Nise: I think definitely with younger people, there’s less shame because the conversations are more open. I mean, we can’t speak for everyone, but certainly the women I’ve spoken to in their 20s, they really left that idea of shame behind and, you know, it is what it is. And so, what if someone sees your tampon, you know, or your pad. Why is it a big deal?

Mandy: Yeah. Long may it continue.

Le’Nise: So, let’s talk a little bit about how your journey from drinking alcohol to becoming sober and what effect that had on your period and the quality of your menstrual health.

Mandy: Yeah, well, it’s really interesting, the cycles of change within women can be very kind of trigger points for maladaptive behaviour with alcohol and there’s so little data. You know, the first research was done in the 1990s of, you know, how alcohol affects the women’s body, which is just incredible, you know and because of periods because I was reading about it this morning, because beforehand, you know, we were seen as unstable data resources because we had such fluctuation in our change of emotional state. And so, they just disregarded women from studies about alcohol and just focused on men. And, you know, now, there’s so much in that, there’s the fact that now the research is mandatory, so we have a bit of data. The fact that, women on the whole, drink to change their mental state, whereas men drink for social bonding. So actually, the reason why we use alcohol is very different. There are periods within your cycle where you will be more triggered to drink than not because they call oestrogen the gas pedal for substance use because it influences the neurotransmitters in the brain and so dopamine, GABA, glutamate, which is all kind of related to alcohol use. So actually, I think it’s actually the luteal period which is when you’ve got more progesterone. That’s actually kind of a better time for women in terms of being able to stop drinking. I mean, there’s never gonna be the perfect day so, you know, I always say to people there will always be another party and another wedding, so do it today. But certainly, you know, in terms of triggering or relapsing, I don’t really like that word, but in terms of going back to re-learning is a nice phrase to drinking alcohol again and then stopping again.

Certainly, you know, before ovulation is a really bad point for women. There’s so much about that we’re learning about the craving brain and stress that modern women have, and that’s a lot of reasons why women are drinking too much. And also, we have generally more fat in our system and less water and so we have more likeliness to get dependent on alcohol than men because they have more water to kind of break down the alcohol in the system or so we don’t have an enzyme, or very little of an enzyme called dehydrogenase, which is what breaks down alcohol in the system and women have very little of that and men have much more. So actually, when you start getting data on women’s drinking, it’s extremely bad for women’s bodies.

And so how has stopping drinking affected my menstrual health? Well, I’ve had to learn different tools to look after my stress responses and my moods. You know, I don’t numb out my emotions with alcohol anymore. So that kind of self-awareness and using healthy strategies have helped. I certainly don’t get any menstrual pain anymore. I made the switch to cups since I’ve been sober so I think that that shows the way that I treat my body and what’s in my body and how I feel about respecting my body has been, you know, part of my sobriety and I feel very strongly, it’s been a massive journey of self-compassion and me letting go of shame, of, you know, past mistakes, me facing trauma, me looking after my mental health, because a lot of my drinking was to do with an underlying anxiety and depression. And so, all of that has had a positive impact on my body and so because of that, my menstrual health.

Le’Nise: So, you said so many interesting facts there. So, you said that oestrogen is the gas pedal for substance abuse. And that’s really interesting because if we split our cycle into two parts. So, the first part where the bodies really focused on conception, we have more oestrogen than we have more testosterone. And typically, this is actually the time when it’s a good thing to start something new because, you know, we’re more confident during this phase of our cycle, we’re more social, we’re more open to change. And so, I can see how that can be a negative as well, in terms of, if you have a tendency towards addiction or substance abuse that rise and that, we call it that kind of exuberance, can be a really negative thing.

Mandy: Yeah, I mean, they call it the party period. So, you know, it’s a part of that excess exuberance, etc. Whereas, I think it’s the second phase when you’ve got more progesterone in the system, it’s called the brake pedal because you’ve got increased GABA. So, you’re more relaxed and you’re more poised.

And actually, I was talking to a woman yesterday who said, using her own language because I don’t like to label people, she’s a recovering drug addict and alcoholic. And when she went into treatment, when she finally wanted to stop, she went in specifically for two months to have a full menstrual cycle, because, I mean, this is back in the 90s. She’s been sober for 18 years, but she felt like she binged, or she went to exccess, you know, within her cycle. And so, it was really important for her to have that two months in order to go through that full cycle, to be able to cope with all those parts of her period, which I just think is incredible insight. And again, it comes back to how we’re treating addiction and mental health in the fact that, as a woman, we need that time, so a program that’s a month long, it’s not going to be particularly accessible or useful. And it’s absolutely fascinating.

So, yeah, I mean, I think there’s a link between progesterone levels and neuroplasticity. Like, we’re more open to changing within that period as well. So, again, all the data’s really, really new but it’s certainly an area that I’m really interested to investigate more. And again, with the menopause, it’s it seems to be a very key point where women are drinking more because of this massive change. We have so much in our lives which is impactful and traumatic as women. Just giving birth is hugely traumatic. And if you look at the brain in the areas that are affected and susceptible to alcohol use disorders, you know, a brain that has any trauma is much more susceptible as well as a brain that has any kind of mental health issues. So, if you’ve got post-natal depression or you had a traumatic birth and then you’re kind of lonely and you’re stuck at home and you’ve got this whole change in your social situation and hormonally, you know, you’re extremely susceptible to alcohol use disorder. And this is a point where marketing and alcohol industry is like, drink wine, have pink gin, take strong alcohol. I think back in the day, I don’t think anyone realised it’s like smoking, no one realised how impactful it was. But certainly, you know, alcohol producers now know how detrimental it is to women’s health. And they still target us, which is why I guess part of being sober is that activism. And that’s what I love, because it’s like actually, I love myself enough to make good choices about my health. 

Le’Nise: You mentioned that the one woman you spoke to who, when she went into recovery, she built in her menstrual cycles. Do you build that way of thinking into your work with other women?

Mandy: We’re in the process of writing Our Sober School so that the first three months to help women with the change and part of that is looking at where you are in your female experience, and especially as a mum, are you a young mum with young kids or are your kids leaving home? And so, you’ve got that kind of, what do I do now? Are you perimenopausal? all of these things are impactful. So certainly, it will be part of the programmes that we’re building.

And I mean, the frustrating thing is, is there’s so little information out there. So, you know, every day I read something and I’m like, oh, my goodness, like, this is another thing. You know, what’s great about it is that we will keep having these conversations. But for sure, it’s hugely important. And for women to know that, okay, like watch out for this, like your oestrogen levels are rising and this is gonna be difficult for you, this part of your cycle. So maybe don’t go to that party that weekend, you know, just sort of go in your woman cave and stay in bed and look after yourself. Be mindful living of choosing when and what you want to do. And so much of women’s drinking is social anxiety and because we’re introverted or we’re highly sensitive and, you know, we’re putting ourselves in positions to be social when actually it’s not the right moment. And, you know, you can feel it. And one of the great things about when you stop drinking is that you become more connected to yourself. And you know you’ve got that feeling in the pit of your stomach of I don’t really want to go, but we ignore that, we ignore all these red flags of I’m too stressed or too tired or I’ve got period pains or whatever. And then we drink because we don’t really want to be there anyway. And when you really want to do something, you really want to do it. There’s no doubt in it, it’s just like, yeah, because it’s people that you love and its people that you trust, and you know you’re going to have a great time. And especially when you’ve got kids, we’re tired and it’s okay to be tired, we’re not we’re not 18 anymore and that’s okay. And the things we did when we were 18 were age appropriate but doing it when you’re 35 or 40 and a parent and responsible for others, it jars with our values, it’s like I know that I shouldn’t, I don’t want to be hung over because that’s not cool. You know?

Le’Nise: What you were saying about the alcohol marketing, and I think culturally in the UK there is a real link between alcohol for women and having a good time and then there’s also this connection with wine o’clock. So, you have kids and you’re just looking forward to that time when it’s culturally appropriate to have a glass of wine and that’s when you can start your drinking. And it’s been really interesting for me since I stopped drinking, to shift away from that, that idea that I need to use alcohol to tamp down my experience of having a child because having a child is so traumatic that I need to drink and moving away from that. You said something about alcohol being really detrimental to women’s health. And I think that’s a really important message because, we talked about hormones, but our livers are where we detoxify our hormones. And when we’re drinking, our body prioritises getting rid of alcohol over all of our liver’s other functions. I see this with my clients where when they actually reduce their alcohol intake or stop drinking altogether, it has a dramatic effect on their health, their hormones, their periods. So, I think it’s really important for women to really take a look in detail in the kind of cultural messages that they’re taking in and really ask themselves, well, why do I need to have a drink because it’s wine o’clock? Do I really want this?

Mandy: Yeah. I mean, people can do whatever they want, I’m not an abolitionist. Well, I don’t think the world would be a worse place if alcohol didn’t exist, but it is here. But it’s about having an informed choice, you know. And we don’t have that. And especially for women, people don’t know this stuff and even stuff I’ve read this morning, I’m like, oh, my goodness, I did not know that. I knew that we weren’t involved in the experiments about alcohol on the body before 1990 but I didn’t realise it was because we have periods and because that makes us unstable subjects, and who knows that? I mean, I read books about sobriety every day but the average person.

And what you said about the social messaging about it being a treat, it’s really, really important and, I’m quite lucky that I grew up, I’ve lived in France for the last 12 years where alcohol advertising is actually really heavily monitored and they can only advertise, it’s called the Loi Evin law, there’s no advertising on sports events for alcohol. And you can’t advertise alcohol to be aspirational or romantic or in any way seen as a treat or part of a social structure. The only thing you can advertise is, you know, where the wine comes from and the vineyard and the heritage of it, that’s all. You can’t use it in any way aspirationally. And so, when I come back to the UK, I have that comparison and my kids say, we’re on the tube and they’re like, oh, my goodness, Mummy, alcohol’s everywhere, and it is and we’re not immune to that kind of messaging. And since I’ve been talking with friends in France about the UK and the US and what’s going on with alcohol for women, they’ve said that they’ve started to notice how much drinking there in American series, people are watching TV and they’re having a glass of wine and you just don’t have that in French culture.

Not to say there aren’t problems with alcohol, there definitely are because it’s a drug and it’s addictive, so it’s still there but certainly the messaging and you know, mummy needs wine and I mean, I saw something yesterday which was for a tin of wine, and it says for your purse, for your desk and for the good days and for the bad or something, and it was like, that’s really wrong. You’re advocating using alcohol to self-medicate. So, there’s a lot of work to be done. But, you know, I really love that you’re interested in this. And, you know, I’d love for you to come on our podcast, because, I mean, it is hugely important for women to see that it does impact on their menstrual health, another good reason to be sober really.

Le’Nise: What would you say to a woman whose been listening to this podcast and she’s starting to question some of the messages that she’s internalised about alcohol and starting to think, oh maybe it is having an effect on my period and the amount of pain that I’m experiencing, what would you say a logical next step would be for her?

Mandy: Be a detective really, take an investigative point of view and just go day by day and go, right, okay, I mean, I will caveat that if someone thinks that they have alcohol dependency, if they are drinking a lot every day, if they struggle to go a day without alcohol, if they have got physical symptoms like shaking, if you are in any way concerned you should see your doctor because there could be withdrawal, it could be very severe for someone that’s dependent so you need help. If you associate as what we call a grey area drinker, so you drink, you know, at a wedding and never think about it between times but you’re not kind of drinking heavily throughout the day, for example, then take a day and see how it feels. Take another day. See how it feels. And just keep that going. If you try and project, right, I’m going to stop for a year, it’s incredibly intimidating. So just take it day by day and just go, oh, how does this feel, write a diary from the start date, how do I feel today? What was hard? What was good? And keep going. Get support, I mean, we have a free community that people can join. It’s really, really helpful to hear other women’s stories and be in connection with other women and then just keep going day by day and just recognise that the first month you will be detoxing, so it’s not the nicest period. So, keep going, after two months, how do I feel? What would three months feel like? And just keep that investigative spirit and note the changes really see like, oh, my skin looks better, my eyes are brighter, I don’t have as much pain when I get my period. That’s how I would approach it. Get support, document the changes and just have an open mind about it.

Le’Nise: What do you think about things like Sober January or Stoptober?

Mandy: I have mixed feelings. I mean, it’s very good because it’s a good excuse for people to say, oh, I’m doing dry January, because it’s quite hard to sort of start. It’s very good in terms of inquiry, like, how easy is this? How hard is this? You know, can I do it or not? And those are all indicators of perhaps where you are on the dependency scale, because, you know, alcohol dependence, it’s not just black and white. You could be very high functioning, doing really well and still have a drinking problem. I mean I, and I don’t class myself as an alcoholic, but I certainly had a problem with drinking and I certainly drank. I binge drank and I drank, to numb my emotions, etc. I think the difficulty in the kind of problem with month challenges is that people tend to just white knuckle it and, you know, just rely on willpower and then they get to the end of the month and it’s kind of like, oh, I’ve done my goal and then you just go back to exactly the same habit and that’s coming from personal experience too because I definitely did that many, many times and then it was like, oh, I don’t have a problem and then I just go back to how I was before. So, I think certainly it’s a good way of having a bit of inquiry but look at it as your first milestone, not a goal to achieve because when you achieve a goal, then you just go back to the same sort of behaviour as before. Whereas if it’s a milestone, it’s kind of like doing a marathon, you know, you’re like, yeah, one mile, keep going, two miles, two months, whatever, keep going. It’s good and bad and certainly some of the marketing around it is slightly interesting, especially Stoptober I think, which is for a cancer charity, and then you’ve got these messages which don’t talk about alcohol and cancer at all. Anything that gets people to investigate and ask questions I think is great.

Le’Nise: What you’re saying is they need to go into it with the right mindset and really look at it as an opportunity to change their habits rather than just thinking of it as one month of white knuckling it, as you say.

Mandy: Yeah, 100%. Yeah.

Le’Nise: Tell us a little bit more about the community that you founded, Love Sober.

Mandy: Kate and I are both coaches, so we work with one to one. I tend to work with people that have already stopped drinking and now it’s the what now question, it’s like I’ve done this, but then it’s, I want my life to represent this change. We’re writing a programme for a sober school which will be very much that sort of mindset and habit change which will be available midway through this year. We have the book that’s coming out in September, which is kind of a quick flip book for mums, because I think we’ve recognised that mums have a lot of stress, a lot of overwhelm, we’re caretakers, we’re looking after everyone else and we lose the ability to look after ourselves or never had it. And so, it’s a key area for women with their drinking. And then we have a free Facebook group, which is great. There’s about 250 women all around the world and we focus very much on positive sobriety. So, you know, it’s not about abstinence and this being really hard, it’s about, what do I get? So, you know, we have treat Friday. So, it’s like, okay, you know, what are you going to do as a treat today? Like have a nice bath or, buy yourself some fresh flowers or, meet a friend for coffee or go to bed early, change the sheets, clean your bed, have a nice cake, whatever. It doesn’t have to be that your life is miserable because you don’t drink. It’s about finding other things to add in. We focus on yoga and health and mental health and just peer support, you know, helping each other out, telling our stories, there’s no shame. It’s for sober and sober curious women. So, if you haven’t stopped drinking, but you think you want to then you’re most welcome to come and blog and we do a daily check in. So, for some people it’s day one again but you learn something, you know, what did you learn? Let’s crack on again, it’s fine. And I couldn’t count how many day ones I had., I had so many. I first stopped drinking when I was 25 and I’m now nearly 40. I stopped before I got pregnant with my first child. Then I stopped because I had a very bad period of depression and burn out from work when I was 32. And then I finally stopped when I was 37. So, you know, it’s not a path that is linear for many, many people and that’s fine because you keep learning and you keep just doing the days and you keep understanding something about yourself and you can always come back and try again.

Le’Nise: And so, if listeners could take one thing away from what you’ve been saying, what would you want that to be?

Mandy: Just that we have one precious life. There might have been things that suited you at one point in your life, but they don’t suit you anymore and that’s okay and we’re allowed to change, and you can change and, but you need support. So, whatever that looks like, it might not be our group, that’s fine, there are so many groups on Facebook. Go on Instagram and follow #sober or #soberlife or #lovesober and reach out and connect with people. The impact on your menstrual health will improve. I’m so happy that you’re sober and it’s helped you, so that’s amazing.

Le’Nise: So where can listeners find out more about Love Sober if they want to join the Facebook group, how do they do that?

Mandy: It’s probably easier just to go to the site so it’s www.lovesober.com and then there’s a click link to the community. You can join our newsletter. We just do one newsletter a month, which is just a little pep talk and then kind of what we’re up to, who’s on the podcast? We have a lot of guests on the podcast. I’m on Instagram @mandy_love.sober or our main page is @love.sober.co so you can just send us a message there.

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

Mandy: Oh, my pleasure. Thank you. I really value what you’re doing and I think it’s amazing and I really, really hope this resonates with people and I’d love for you to come on the podcast and talk a little bit about the female experience and the female body and how what we put inside our body can impact on our menstrual health, I think it’s fascinating. Thank you.

Le’Nise: Thank you.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 17: Zachi Brewster, Take The Time To Understand Yourself

On this week’s episode of Period Story Podcast, I was so pleased to speak with Zachi Brewster. Zachi is a sex & pleasure educator, abortion & miscarriage doula and a freelance community manager for reproductive wellbeing organisations. She holds space for people to trust and feel at home in their bodies, starting the conversations that matter and building communities around our shared stories. 

We had a wonderful conversation about Zachi’s work, her first period story and how she learned about what is normal for her when it comes to her period.

She says that tracking and sharing about her period and menstrual cycle on Instagram has opened up her understanding. She says that IG’s the first app she’s used to diligently track her period, which she found very surprising.

Zachi says that she’s reduced her resistance to herself and the friction she felt towards her period. She says her doula training helped her drop this resistance and change her mindset around her period.

Zachi talks about her work as an abortion and miscarriage doula, which is so fascinating. She says these experiences can impact us years down the line and it’s so important to talk and get support so you can move forwards.

Finally, Zachi talks about her work as a sex and pleasure educator. She says that pleasure is a huge part of sex and that we need to talk about this more. She believes we’re doing young people a disservice by not talking about pleasure during sex education lessons.

Zachi says that it’s so important to take the time to understand yourself and how you can apply this understanding into different areas of your life: your menstrual cycle, your diet, your mood, your energy and I completely agree!

Get in touch with Zachi:

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ZACHI’S BIO

Zachi Brewster is a sex & pleasure educator, abortion & miscarriage doula and a freelance community manager for reproductive wellbeing organisations. She holds space for people to trust and feel at home in their bodies, starting the conversations that matter and building communities around our shared stories. 

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: On today’s episode, we have Zachi Brewster. Zachi is a sex and pleasure educator, abortion and miscarriage Doula and a freelance community manager for reproductive wellbeing organisations. She holds space for people to trust and feel at home in their bodies, starting the conversations that matter and building communities around our shared stories. Welcome to the show.

Zachi: Thank you for having me. Thank you, lovely to be here.

Le’Nise: Let’s start off with the question I always ask. So, tell me the story of your first period.

Zachi: I feel like as first periods go; it was pretty calm. I remember I had cramps for like two days and it was a weekend. I remember that because I was at home, but I hadn’t realised it was cramps. I just knew that I had this stomach pain and it wasn’t going away and it’s making me upset. And then I think in the middle of the night, I got up and went to the loo and there was blood. And I was like, oh, I was in quite like a dozy state and so I went and wake my mum up and she was like, there’s pads in the bathroom. And I put one on and I went back to bed and that was pretty much it, it’s pretty boring, but I think that as first periods go, I’d rather that than like something public or explosive.

Le’Nise: How old were you?

Zachi: I think I was around 13. But I felt quite late because a lot of my friends had already started. My older sister had, most of my cousins at that time were older than me, so I felt like the last one. So, I was just like, please come, please come. And then when it did, it came and it was like, okay, fine, life goes on.

Le’Nise: And when you’re in the middle of the night, when your mum said, okay, there are pads in the bathroom. How did you know how to put it on?

Zachi: Because I’d actually tried on pads before, I think from school, but also having my older sister, my mum, my cousins, I knew more or less how they worked so it was quite normal and self-explanatory, I guess. And I think that I was just like I’ll deal with it in the morning and then that’s it.

Le’Nise: So, you said you deal with in the morning and then what did you do? Did you speak to your mum or your older sister?

Zachi: So, I spoke to my mum in the middle of the night. And then when I woke up, I think it really hit, but it was more very practical. I mean my mum’s always lovely and she was like, “Okay so now you do this, and you do this.” And I was like, “Okay, that’s fine.” But because I also felt like I was part of this club. I think I was pretty cool about it. I was like, “No, I’ve got this, I know what I’m doing.”

Le’Nise: And when you went to school because you said you were one of the last of your friends to get it. Did you have a conversation with your friends about it? And if you did, how did that go?

Zachi: I think I called my best friend at the time, the morning or the afternoon after. But I remember feeling like pretty cool, like, okay, this means like I’m an adult now or something, which obviously it doesn’t. But I think I probably had a conversation with my friends about it, but I think I played it down like, yeah, no, I just have got these pads in my bag because I’ve got my period or something like that. I’m pretty sure it was something like that. But yeah, I was quite happy. I was really happy when it started actually.

Le’Nise: Did that happiness continue as you, you know, started to get more and more cycles?

Zachi: Yes and no, because I’ve never really had sort of problems, I guess. I think the thing that I found confusing was what you’re taught in school, that it’s a 28 day cycle and you bleed for, I think we were told three to five days. So, from the first day up until now, which is almost like fifteen years of having a period, my period’s always been seven days long and relatively heavy and with clots. And so that was the thing that I struggled with in feeling maybe slightly abnormal or tired, like, really tired during my period of like a is this normal? Is it normal to bleed for this long? Is it normal to have such heavy periods? Are clots normal?

So all of that, that wasn’t a conversation with that sort of phrasing I had with my friends, I just knew that many of them had really short periods or suddenly like from when we were 15 were on the pill, either for like contraception or to manage their periods. So, I think it was like not having the wider conversation of the variations that you can have with your periods. I think I struggled with that because although I could talk to my mum and my sister, my friends. I think there’s a lot of assumption around periods that you just deal with it and you know what you’re doing and so you don’t complain too much because it’s like, well, everyone else gets on with it so I just have to get on with it, whilst at the same time you’re thinking am I normal? Is this how it’s meant to be?

Le’Nise: So, when did you learn about what normal actually is and what that meant for you in terms of your period?

Zachi: I would say I’m still learning, like I found my normal and I was like, okay, seven days doesn’t mean that, I mean, I was anaemic but it doesn’t mean that I’ve lost, like, all the blood in my body and clots happen. I used to have a lot more clots when I was younger. I don’t really get them anymore, but it was sort of like after a while and then having small conversations or someone mentioned something here or there and now especially that I’ve started tracking and sharing it on Instagram as well. I’ve had so many more, like seeing the response from people like, “Oh yeah, I get inner thigh pain and “Yeah like my vulva aches on day one but I never knew that was normal” or “Yeah I never connected my anxiety to the week before my period until now.” And I’m like, oh, all of these things are normal. Like I think when we think about periods, it’s the focus is very much on the bleed, rather the cycle. And I think if we look at the cycle, which is also, I’ve only been doing this for the last few months, so that’s why I said I think now I’m really starting to learn and I’m almost 28 and I’m like, well, why don’t we have these conversations when you’re younger or like when you’re a child before your period even starts? It would help, I think, many people feel a lot more comfortable and a lot more trusting and a lot more able to navigate their bodies, even with healthcare professionals, in knowing what to normal and then when you need to ask for help and what you’re actually asking for help for.

Le’Nise: What made you decide to start tracking your menstrual cycle?

Zachi: I tried with apps before, but I always forget. I think my first day of my period is when I’m bravest and I think I was on Instagram one day and I was like, oh, it’s the first day of my period. And I talk a lot about bodies and womb happenings, but I never really talked about periods. And I don’t know what I was talking about and I would say I’m feeling really bold and energetic today because it’s the first day of my period. And then a few people commented back, well me too, I was like, hey, would you be interested if I tracked it? So, the first app I really use diligently to track my period was actually Instagram, which is very surprising. A lot of the work I do has been very personal and intimate for myself, but what has helped me, and I realised one of the greatest tools of supporting each other is making it a conversation.

Le’Nise: You said that you feel really bold and brave on the first day of your period. Has it always been that way or is it something that you’ve just started to realise that happens on the first day of your period?

Zachi: Um, I think I’ve just started to realise. Also, because it’s not always like that every month, sometimes it’s very much like I do not want to speak to anyone today. Do not speak to me. Do not come near me. Just give me food and I’ll be fine. But I realise more and more that the more I’m aware of myself, I realise my energy drops before. The more I listen to my body and know what works for me, actually, I’m able to manage my energy levels. And so, when it comes, it’s like I’ve had this drop in energy, drop in mood. And then when it comes, it’s like every month I forget, even if I know it’s coming like, oh that’s why I was like that and then it’s like, yeah, okay, now we can move forwards. I think that’s where that energy also comes from in the sense of like, yeah, I’m starting to really enjoy my body and learning more about my body and so when these moments come up, I embrace them a lot more. And I realise having reduced my resistance to myself, if that makes sense, I guess I feel more entertained and curious about myself, which makes the process slightly easier and fun.

Le’Nise: That’s an interesting phrase you use in resistance to yourself. So, talk a little bit more about what that means?

Zachi: I’m saying all of this from having experienced very heavy, very painful periods. Although I was always happy about my period, I did resist it coming. I was like, “Why are mine this long? Why can’t I just move it to another time?” There was always some sort of friction with it. And I realised that I didn’t want to be on hormonal contraception to stop them completely. There’s something about feeding into my body, I knew deep down, like, do you want to feed into this? And there’s something about this that I know I like happening every month. But at the same time, it was sort of dread and irritation and everything around it, especially having heavy periods, like knowing, okay, if I’m out today, this is day three or day 4 so I’m gonna have to be in a place where I can have a nice ish bathroom where it’s so nice enough to change myself and look after myself. And it was those small things that were really like, I don’t want to have to deal with this. And so, I would resist having a period and resent it and not like myself through that whole process for my moods and I think that that just adds to it. One thing I’ve learned, which is sort of like, sorry, there’s a police car, if you can hear that in the background.

And one thing I’ve learned, especially through my training as a Doula and looking at birth is, I mean, it sounds very simplistic when you say it, but the resistance that you have, it doesn’t enable the process, doesn’t help the process, and it actually doesn’t reduce pain. If anything, it adds to mental weight and the physical load as well. So, I think finding ways to work with surges or contractions when you’re giving birth, help the process, understanding what’s actually going on at that time and through that process helps you work with your body. And so, as I was learning more in the birth world, I sort of tried to apply that to myself just through a period. And it sounds like from I mean, it sounds like there’s a world of difference and there is from like birthing a baby and having a period. But if we look at it in terms of mental state and mindset, and again, I’m talking from someone with relatively manageable period symptoms. I know it’s not like that for everyone, but I found at least for me, the change in mindset helped change my experience of my cycle each month completely.

Le’Nise: And so, the work that you do as a Doula and as an educator and tracking your cycle has changed the way that you view your period and menstrual cycle. How has it changed the way that you speak to others in your work?

Zachi: I think sometimes as an educator, you can learn information and then the way you put it out is like, so this is how it works. And I think I’m much less like that and more like actually you have to do the work and to feel into yourself and feel what works for you. And because I realise that that’s what I’ve had to do. If not, we go back to this old way of teaching periods like when you’re in school of, this is the cycle, this is how this works, this is how many days it’s going to be, this is the type of blood you should expect on your first day. When actually I think the aim is not to teach knowledge, but to teach people to understand their bodies. And the only way to understand your body is to know yourself. And so, I think it’s less about teaching sort of an ABC and more like, so what’s your language? What language does your body speak? And giving people the tools to access that for themselves. That’s how I think I’ve grown as an educator and how I feel that I can impact and support my community and the people I work with better.

Le’Nise: So, in terms of the work that you do, you do a lot of different things. How did you fall into this line of work?

Zachi: So, I studied food and lived in Italy for seven years and I studied at the Slow Food University, which is all about good, clean and fair food and looking at food heritage, food science, food culture. And I also did my masters in food design. And in between that time, I had a miscarriage, so I hadn’t really thought about my body before that. And it’s only from that experience that I suddenly thought, ah! I mean, I was forced to connect with my body through that experience. And it’s only through that experience that I realised that the experiences that we go through, at least this was my truth, with our wombs impact every area of our lives. And so, it was from my experience that I thought there is a lack of support and knowledge that really connects with people out there. And I think I started this as sort of like my own healing journey and then realised that this is interesting and necessary and how I want to be of use in my community, because there weren’t that many women, especially around me at the time, that I could see that we’re talking about this, especially black women, women of colour and queer people as well. And so, I’m very grateful, especially I think we’ve connected over Instagram that we are a lot more visible and that people can see us, and we can have these conversations. Like, if I thought about this six years ago, I’d never imagined that I’d be talking about periods with you on a Friday morning or doing the work that I do. So, I think that’s how I came into this world of wombs and periods and abortions and reproductive and sexual wellbeing and growth, I guess.

Le’Nise: I’ve never encountered an abortion and miscarriage Doula before and I know that when I had a miscarriage, I would have loved to have used a service such as this because I was lost at that time. So, this is about seven years ago, but it was still something that wasn’t really discussed. And now my thinking is so, so much different on it. And I talk about it a lot because it’s just, you know, it’s something that just happens, and we can’t sweep it under the carpet. How do you connect with people? How would someone be able to even access your services?

Zachi: So, I’m mostly active on Instagram. My website is coming, I’ve said that for the past few months, but it is. Most of the people I’ve worked with have been through Instagram and through word of mouth because it doesn’t pay my bills and I didn’t start it as a service to make money. It’s more sort of I know I need to maintain myself, but that’s why I do such a range of things, because each of them like fills my heart a bit and also my head. And I’m learning and I’m supporting. And so, for now, I’m happy like that. I’m looking to make more resources so that people can support themselves if they don’t want to speak to me. But yes, that’s how everyone’s come to me. And the support for each person is different with miscarriage. Sometimes it’s a few months or even like a year down the line that people get in touch with me, because I think at least for me, that was as if I look at from the day it happened to when I started to feel back to myself, that was almost a two year process, which I think for some people that maybe haven’t experienced anything like that sounds a bit crazy, but that’s how it is for many people. And a similar thing, a similar sort of time scale with abortion, although some people would get in touch maybe before if they’re planning because they just need to talk it out with someone. Both of them intimate experiences and although you may have a good support network around you, sometimes it’s nice just to speak to someone that’s completely outside. And I just want to say I never offer advice on what should be done. I’m very much a listening ear. And as a Doula it’s in the birth sense or postnatally, it’s someone that’s there to support emotionally and physically, then that’s what I do with abortion and miscarriage. And a lot is talking because I think talking is very therapeutic. But it’s more tailored to help people also feel in touch with their bodies as well through these experiences.

Le’Nise: So, if I was to get in touch with you for, say, an abortion or after an abortion or a miscarriage, can you just talk through step by step how the process would work?

Zachi: So, I always do an initial 15-20 minute call with someone just for them to tell me where they’re stuck and what they need and their story. And that’s for me just to listen and to explain my services and them from there I will always write a follow up email of this is how I can help because I think also, I think it’s a two-way street. Like we said when we started this call, it’s nice to see someone and connect with someone. And I always leave space for if they don’t feel they connect with me and also for myself, if I don’t feel I connect with them. And so that initial call gives me time to also see, do they need help maybe from an actual therapist? Is this bigger than what I’m able to support with? How I can help them if I can’t, to signpost them and also for them to have a chance to sit with, is this the type of support I need? And do I want it from Zachi so then I send off a follow up email.

Most people I’ve worked with has been through Skype or Zoom just because of people in Cambridge, people up in Manchester as well and you can’t sort of organise a meeting one hour every week or whatever it is. And then from there, I’ll see what the needs are. So, when it comes to abortion, it might just be one or two calls before an abortion, like how can I prepare myself mentally? How can I prepare myself physically? For many people after abortion I suggest a four-week programme that I do, which consists of 45 minutes to one hour calls weekly. And it’s a chance for them to talk as well as for me to share exercises and to practice these exercises of getting in touch with their bodies. I have a sort of skeleton and then adapt it to people’s needs, whether they’re pre, post, how post, whether it’s just a listening ear or whether they need maybe more support in connecting with their bodies. And I like to keep that pretty flexible because it’s such a personal and intimate experience that I can’t say this is the course and follow it and it’s a six-week course and by the end of it, you’ll feel like this. So, for many people, it’s 4 weeks then some people we extend to 6 weeks. Some people I’m still in touch with that we’ve become friends. It’s a whole mix of experiences and people.

Le’Nise: It must be so fulfilling the work that you do. Seeing the change that you can elicit in people through just the questions you ask and the tailored structure that you provide.

Zachi: When I think about it, I actually feel quite emotional and also quite sad that it is not a common service. And I know that services are stretched, and I know that after a miscarriage and abortion, sometimes, not even all the time, you’re offered counselling but it’s so generic. And I know it goes deeper than book a few phone calls with an NHS counsellor. So, I’m very happy I do what I do. But I think I would love to find ways and I am working with people to find ways to make it more accessible in terms of, this is something that is so normal in our community that you can speak to someone and I would also say that there are a lot of Doulas out there that do this work, but to anyone that’s looking, I would say, for support around this, of course you get in touch with me, but if you don’t vibe with me as well, do reach out to other Doulas and look for Doulas because some of them it might not be the first thing you see on their website but a lot do offer abortion support. Maybe not like I do, but there are a growing number of resources and it’s still not that much.

But we are growing in this area of support and I hope to see it flourish in the future because it’s very much needed. I mean, these experiences sometimes impact us years down the line, but like even speaking to women like from 10, 20, 30 years ago, they had a miscarriage or an abortion and it’s still this stuck energy in them and it’s impacted on relationships, children, parenthood, how they feel about their own bodies, it’s impacted on sex, that’s how I got into talking about sex and pleasure because I realised that these experiences can impact our sexuality, like even feeling sexual for yourself, some people can’t touch themselves for ages or indefinitely after. And all of this is connected, your self-esteem, how you feel at work, your mental health. And that’s why I think that it should be a key part of reproductive health services, I think.

Le’Nise: And you mentioned your work as a sex and pleasure educator. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Zachi: So, I run womb workshops, I talk on panels, I’m creating programmes for schools now as well. I came about it in a sort of roundabout way, but I realised like with period education, that sex education, I did a course a little while back and I said to the tutor, it was a sex educators course and I said to the tutor, but like, there’s no talk about pleasure in any of this. And it was a really great course, it was a fantastic course. And they were like, yeah, we don’t really talk about pleasure. I was like, how can you not talk about pleasure? When actually I think focusing it from that angle, which is why the main reason that many people are sexually active with themselves, with partners is for pleasure. And for me, it’s like with period talk, we don’t talk about the range of what is normal within the period or the range of experiences. We’re doing a huge disservice, especially to young people, if we negate that that is a huge factor of sex. And I think coming at  these issues, arguments, for want of a better word, from just a very base level, which is something that we don’t often do, can increase engagement and education and learning so much more, and I realise that I’ve worked mostly with adults and older people talking about this. And I realise that many people have never spoken about pleasure and I’m like, well, you’re like 50 and you’ve never spoken about pleasure, but you’ve been having sex for like the past 30 something years and it’s like no, I’ve never thought of pleasure. It’s like, oh, okay, we really need to have this conversation. We really need to have these conversations.

Le’Nise: Why do you think sex and pleasure have been so divorced from each other in terms of education and even think about education that we get around sex in schools. Why do you think those conversations have been so separate?

Zachi: I know it’s because sex education is tricky in terms of society, in the sense that especially with young people, it’s about keeping STIs low and teen birth rates low. And so, I think the fear is if you talk about pleasure, you’re telling them that they should have sex because it can be pleasurable. And so, I think that there’s a fear and maybe people haven’t found the right way to both educate and please the schools and parents of talking about pleasure. And I think those are the two main fears of teachers, school governors, school boards, the general education sector of no, we can’t talk about pleasure because then young people want to do it, like young people want to do it anyway. So, if they want to do it, at least let’s give them the tools to communicate.

And talking about pleasure is not just so that young people have better sex, it impacts communication. If you know what works for you, you can communicate that to your partner, and you can also communicate when things aren’t working for you. So, it filters down into from what pleasure means to me, from like looking at erotic material, from porn to communication to body literacy. It encompasses all of that. It’s not teaching young people how to have better orgasms. Like, no, we need to move forwards from that point of view. So that’s what I hope to bring to the table.

Le’Nise: And you mentioned, you know, looking at erotic material and porn. Have you seen examples of where you have been doing this education work and it shifted the way that people think young people think about sex away from this kind of what you see in porn to a more realistic depiction of sex and pleasure?

Zachi: So, yes, to your answer, I think because we don’t talk about it. So young people’s go to is porn or social media. When actually we could even have discussions about an okay like erotic material, like what about reading a book? And I’m not talking 50 Shades of Grey. There are many like erotic literature on there’s apps now. So, I also wrote an erotic story for Ferly, which is a women’s pleasure app, or there’s Dipsea. There’s audio erotica and that’s gentle. I find that talking about those two ways of accessing material outside of visually is a much gentler way because it allows young people to use their imagination. And although you are reading and absorbing information, you can create a scene in your head and that’s a much healthier way of viewing and creating ideas around sex, rather than saying watch this, condition yourself to only like this, or that this is the only way. And you can have so much more fun with your own mind or saying to young people or this applies to anyone at any age that has never thought about this before, like, okay, write a list, you don’t have to share it with anyone. And I would never also do this in a classroom, just as a caveat. But to say, aside from the porn you watch because most people have watched porn by the time I think the stats say by the time a young person is 13 or 12, they’ve seen some form of porn, whether it’s in social media or someone sharing it in a WhatsApp group or actively seeking porn. But I think that asking young people to use their imaginations and to create scenarios or ideas for themselves puts them in a position to understand themselves more, feel maybe less weird, and be conditioned less. And yes, have better sex and feel better in their bodies. I think that that’s the that’s the whole point. But a lot comes down to self-esteem and if you’re just consuming material, that’s someone else’s idea then you have no chance, especially at that young age, to form your own ideas around it. And I think that that leads also into sexuality, from body image to sexuality to looking at body shape and body positivity or body neutrality is what some people are looking at now. If you only see one or two types of people or two types of relationship, then that leaves no space for your own exploration and your own sense of self.

Le’Nise: What would you say to a parent who knows that they need to have this conversation with their child? So, my son is 6, I talk to him about sex, but not on nearly on the level that we’re talking about today, it’s too advanced. But I know that in, say, four or five years, I’m going to have to have more detailed conversation. What sort of tools would you give to a parent like me that would have to have this conversation with their child?

Zachi: I think sometimes we focus a lot on sex and its more sort of the conversations that come before that. Like you said, the conversation we’re having right now is too much for a 6 year old. He probably doesn’t even get half the things we’re talking about, but it comes before that in the sense of communicating, like creating a space where your son, your child is able to communicate freely with you about their bodies. What’s changing? Even like looking at different the body as a whole, not just sexual organs, like look how your feet have grown or like now you’re this age and keeping it age appropriate. So, the things that are age appropriate, like kids understand their bodies and they can also understand the differences that come with age, but I also think that following your son’s lead and there’s a lot of fear of when do I have this conversation? And some of it is like your son will let you know when he’s ready to have this conversation.

But it first starts with creating that environment where you can have this conversation and the questions will come. And when they come, one thing we learned in our course, which I really liked is, when a question is asked by a child always respond, but you don’t always have to answer directly. And that gives you space to make it appropriate for that child in that situation, in that moment, but always respond and never say, no, no, no, we can’t talk about that because that shuts them down. It starts a shame cycle. And then it’s like, what? I can’t have these conversations. So, follow your son’s lead. It doesn’t have to be a sit-down conversation, just answer questions as they come, and they will come.

Le’Nise: And what would you say to a parent who is less open to sexuality themselves, but knows that they need to have these conversations but feels quite typically British in the way they feel quite embarrassed about having such an intimate conversation?

Zachi: Um, I think making it normal, so I know there’s been a huge movement. I feel like it shouldn’t be a movement, but it is in terms of diversity in children’s books. So, if you are buying books even for your children, like maybe buying a book where the parents are not heterosexual or something like that without making a huge point of it. But having that book is something that you’ve bought, and you’ve decided to read with your child is like, oh yeah, it’s two dads or two mums but the story goes on. And I think that’s what saying before, like there’s a fear of, this is going to be a big, hard conversation when actually it’s just about making these conversations very normal because kids I mean, they’re asking you like, ‘why is the sky blue?’ Next minute and then they’re asking you what’s for dinner? Like two seconds later and you haven’t even finished in your head. Kids aren’t caught on this like, I need to know this answer now, things flow through their brains so fast that it’s just about making these things normal, like, oh, those two guys are holding hands. It’s like, oh, yeah, they’re holding hands like, I hold hands with my partner or whoever, maybe they’re in love. And then you keep the conversation moving. It’s just about making these things normal from periods to sex to relationships and sexuality.

Le’Nise: So, make it normal so we can remove the shame around these conversations and topics. So, you’ve said a lot of really amazing pearls of wisdom during our conversation, if listeners take one thing away from this conversation, what would you want that to be?

Zachi: I would say take the time to understand yourself whether you can apply that into different areas of your life. It can be from looking at how your diet affects you to looking at your period over a month, but not just the bleeding part, but looking at your moods over that month, like is it related to your period? And the more you track yourself, whether it’s food, your cycle, sexually, you could even track the moments over time when you feel super turned on or horny and be like is that related to my cycle? Is that related to my mental health? So, it’s about joining the dots, but I would say try to understand yourself to sort of like one variable that you want to track and then look at that variable in relation to other things and choose what’s of interest to you at the moment? What is an area that you think you want to improve or understand more and pick that? It doesn’t have to be a huge tracking thing of everything of your life from like your diet, your cycle and how many times you did exercise or didn’t that week. Start small and the rest will fall into place.

Le’Nise: Where can listeners find out more about you and the work that you do?

Zachi: Head over to my Instagram, which is @zaz.brw and then when my website is live, it will also be shared there.

Le’Nise: Great. So, they can contact you and find out more about your work and how to use your services?

Zachi: Yeah.

Le’Nise: Brilliant. Thank you so much for coming on the show. It’s been so amazing hearing your story and hearing about the work that you do.

Zachi: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 16: Lina Chan, We Should Celebrate Our Bodies

On today’s episode of Period Story podcast, I had the pleasure of speaking with Lina Chan, the founder and CEO of Adia, a digital health platform empowering women through their fertility journey. 

Lina shared her fertility journey which led to three children and two angel babies and said this is what inspired her to start her company. 

We discussed the story of Lina’s first period, with Lina explaining that because she comes from a conservative Asian family, nobody had talked to her about what to expect. She said found her period embarrassing and shocking, especially growing up in Brazil, where swim classes were held year round in school.

Lina describes the life changing moment when she discovered how she could hide her period. She says now this is one of the taboos she aims to break down with her company, Adia. 

We had a very honest discussion about breaking down the taboo of discussing miscarriage. Lina says that women shouldn’t underestimate the impact that miscarriage can have emotionally and that it’s very important to talk about it and seek the support you think you need.

Lina says that we should celebrate our bodies and I completely agree! 

Get in touch with Lina:

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Lina’s Bio

Lina spent most of her career working as a private equity investor in the UK. After experiencing pregnancy loss and difficulty conceiving, she realised the need to build more companies by women for women to help make health more proactive. She is now the founder CEO of Adia, a digital health platform empowering women through their fertility journey, and mother to three children and two angel babies.

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Show Transcription

Le’Nise: On today’s episode, we have Lina Chan. Lina spent most of her career working as a Private Equity Investor in the UK, after experiencing pregnancy loss and difficulty conceiving, she realised the need to build more companies by women for women to help make health more proactive. She is now the founder and CEO of Adia, a digital health platform empowering women through their fertility journey, and mother to three children and two angel babies. Welcome to the show.

Lina: Thank you so much for having me.

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

Lina: Yeah, I got my period fairly early. I think I was 10 at the time, which was kind of early, I think, when I was growing up. I don’t know. I feel like now girls are having their periods earlier and earlier. So at school, I hadn’t yet learnt about it. And I come from a very conservative Asian family and nobody had talked to me about it. So I remember just one day going to the bathroom and seeing blood and just really being scared and not quite knowing what to do. And my first instinct was to feel really embarrassed. And I remember just putting a lot of, I rolled up a bunch of paper and put it there, but then it went away like literally it was just a day and it went away. And then it didn’t come back again for a few more months, like three or four months. And then it came back and I did the same thing. I didn’t even have pads. It was, I think, a bit serendipitous because my sister had come to visit and she’s a lot older than me. She’s twenty two years older than me and she brought it up and I was like, oh, my gosh, yes. I’ve been having these these bleeds and I don’t know. And she was the first one who gave me a pad. So and it’s kind of like, oh, well, you know, you’re going to get this or I’m going to get get these things for you a that was it. So there wasn’t really much of a conversation. And then I learnt it at school. So it was all a bit shocking.

Le’Nise: You what you said you were embarrassed. Why did you feel embarrassed?

Lina: I don’t know. I think it’s because it felt like a private area. You’re always taught that it’s a very private area and it was something that I had not ever thought of. And I think it’s because also it’s stained. Yeah. There was a lot of shame associated with it and it’s interesting to think of why, already at that young age, I felt shame with that. Because I even remember, once I started having periods, I didn’t want to tell anybody because I must have been one of the first two girls in my class to get my period. So I didn’t want other girls to know that I had my period. I grew up in Brazil where it’s very hot, so you pretty much have swim classes around the year. I remember just being terrified of swimming because I would swim with my period because I didn’t want to tell people that I had my period and I couldn’t swim. And it would always be this like, you know, dashing out of the pool, running to the bathroom, it was awful. Months and months of dealing with it. I remember always struggling with it.

Le’Nise: So you grew up in Brazil. There is a culture of being outdoors, swimming, and you were one of the first in your class to get your period. So the support of your sister, who was twenty two years older, must have been really helpful, to kind of navigate you through this time.

Lina: Well, yes and no, because she didn’t live with me. She was already married and she already had her kids. So she only gave me the pads and I didn’t really have anybody else to talk to. And my mum didn’t talk about it. You know, Mum kind of didn’t really kind of engage with any of that. And so I actually didn’t speak to anybody about it until more of my closer friends had their periods and then that became more of a topic amongst us and we then discovered things together. So we discovered the tampons together, I remember a friend of mine going, well, you can use this to help you with the swimming and I tried it, but I just couldn’t get it. I couldn’t get it in. And I was like, I just can’t. I was like, maybe I don’t even have, like, a hole. But I think because I was so tense that I couldn’t put a tampon in. She had travelled to the U.S. and come back with those plastic applicators rather than just the cotton ones that you had to insert with your finger. And so she’s like, try this one. And then I managed to use a tampon and I remember that was completely life-changing because suddenly you could hide that you have periods. It was only really through my friends that I discovered more about periods and how to manage it and all that.

Le’Nise: And so you were all kind of learning about it at the same time helping each other. If you think back to what you were learning: were there any myths that you were kind of circulating among you where you think back and think that wasn’t right or why did we talk about that?

Lina: I think there’s still a lot of feeling ashamed of it or embarrassed about it and for really kind of no reason. I don’t know what made us all kind of feel like we had to hide it. I think part of the reason was because it always felt like a topic that you couldn’t talk about openly or be proud of and kind of celebrate as being very feminine. There was always something that was associated with being dirty, being smelly, being yucky. It’s almost as if you had a condition. And I think that’s an issue around a lot of women’s health topics. It was also definitely one that I encountered when I had problems conceiving and having pregnancy loss.

And that’s the reason why it was a big push for me to start Adia. It was around breaking down a lot of these taboos that women face. And I think it starts at the very early stages of periods and it happens over and over again as women go through their different life stages. So, you know, you start with periods and being ashamed of those and if you have period problems like endometriosis, PCOS, fibroids, you struggle with it in silence if you’re not comfortable talking about it at work. It’s so debilitating. All the way to struggling to conceive, having pregnancy loss, blaming ourselves, not feeling comfortable, not getting the right support, all the way to menopause and women struggling with those symptoms, not getting the support. So I think now, and that’s why I was saying how I love what you do, is because I think we need to as a society and as women, completely change the dialogue around women’s health and these things to actually be a lot more celebratory, so that when my daughters kind of, you know, go through this phase that I went through, they don’t feel ashamed and they don’t feel like they need to hide about it or they need to speak to their friends in secret, that it’s something that they should be very proud of.

It’s funny, we were we were working with this charity, Bloody Good Period, and we were doing a campaign. So we were trying to figure out like what are some social stigmas, a social norms that we want to break down. And one of the questions one of the girls asking is like, “Do you still hide your tampon or your pad when going to the bathroom?” And I was like, “Oh, my gosh, I do.” I’m working so much with women’s health? It’s just so subconscious. I do, I roll it and push it under my sleeve and I go off to the bathroom. It is still very much ingrained, even in us who might be kind of a bit more progressive already in the way we think. So I think a lot of it was around being such a taboo subject.

Le’Nise: Are there any other taboos that you think we need to break down in order to be more celebratory about our periods?

Lina: Definitely. So what is it? Celebrate that it’s life itself rather than something that you’re  ashamed of. I think sex around periods, I think that’s something that girls struggle in and try to figure out what does all that mean? You know, which then goes to talking about sexuality, talking about fertility. I think that can be the early stages of kind of like the next phase, that’s something women should talk about more and share more and break taboos around that.

Le’Nise: And I just want to go back a little bit to what you were saying earlier. So you were having these conversations with your friends and learning along with each other. And then as you got older, so went into high school, then university. What other things did you learn about your period and what were your discoveries then? And how did you educate yourself?

Lina: So in the teens it’s kind of like the managing it. I think it ends up being sex and contraception, was the next big kind of period health, period management of learning. I remember I tried all these different types of contraceptive pills and I just had such bad side effects from mood swings to hair loss to the point that I just stopped, didn’t take them at all. And I think there’s, again, a lack of knowledge around the contraceptive pill for women and which ones work for them. And I think for a very long time women have taken it and struggled with the symptoms and just kept getting fobbed off as like, “Go take three months for your body to adjust.” But like some women just don’t and it needs to be looked into more. And, you know, there are companies now trying to match women’s DNA or kind of like existing conditions to the right contraceptive pill, because I think people are starting to recognise that there is a link between your hormones, your mental health, physical health, and kind of then how to manage that and then, I think the next phase of taboos and and things that women can learn is, OK, so now I want to start having families and getting off the contraceptive pill, re-learning what their cycle is like, because sometimes, because they’re on the pill, it’s a quote unquote artificial cycle and you get off it and you don’t quite know when your period is going to come back.

So you’re kind of totally re-learning your body and then something that you used to hate having is the one thing you keep looking forward to so that you can conceive every month. So then again, it becomes like this, this relationship that you have with your body and it can either feel very comfortable or very foreign. And because I think somebody who conceives it’s a nice thing, it happens quickly, but for somebody who can’t conceive, it becomes a source of anxiety every month. And we talk about it in Adia about women who struggled for a very long time that it can almost feel a little bit like trauma, because every month, that period reminds you of something that you don’t have and that you really want. So, again, it’s a struggle with your own body.

Le’Nise: And with you having been on hormonal contraception and did you have any bad side effects?

Lina: Yeah, had terrible ones, that’s why I got off it. I think I tried three and then with one and I lost a lot of hair. I mean, I remember they were coming out in chunks. And it’s funny because now at Adia, I was talking to a woman who was working on a business to help match women to contraceptives and she was like, “Oh, so you have the blah blah gene” and I was like, “Finally, 20 years later, someone figured out why I kept losing hair when I go on a certain pill.” And then the other two, I just kept getting extremely bad emotional side effects, so like crying for no reason. I was like, “Why am I putting up with this? Why am I doing this to myself?” So then I just never went on the pill. I literally tried it for a year and then never, ever went on it again.

Le’Nise: Was at the end of your journey with hormonal contraceptives?

Lina: Yeah. I never went on hormonal contraceptives. So it was a lot of condoms or just avoidance and using the tracking system.

Le’Nise: Ok. And so how did you learn about that? Was it trial and error?

Lina: I mean, I guess because I never went on the contraceptive pill. I’ve just been very lucky with an extremely regular cycle. My cycles were always 27, 28 days. The only time that I went to a very irregular period was when I started working and it was extremely stressful. I worked around the clock, I barely slept. So I don’t think my body even knew what was day and night. And I was getting my periods every two weeks. I was too engrossed with my job that I didn’t really think much about it. But then when things calm down, it became regular again. So I kind of always had a sense of when I was ovulating. And I kind of became quite smart about my fertile signs and what to look out for. So I became very tuned in with my cycle, which has helped me in other ways, even now with food. I kind of listen to my body, I can tell when I’m not feeling quite right. So I could usually predict when I was going to start bleeding.

Le’Nise: You said you were quite tuned in and now you’re quite tuned into your cycle and with food as well. What do you mean by that?

Lina: So when we started trying, I struggled. So I lost my first two pregnancies, one fairly late stage at six months and then managed to conceive and I had three kids but during that phase of loss, I really, kind of stopped trusting my body. I didn’t really connect with it and I think it was the trauma. And I went to the doctors to figure out what it was. But during that time of trying and failing, I needed to learn how to trust my body again. And I did it through yoga and I did it through nutrition. So I became a yoga teacher and I did a couple of nutrition courses. And I think all of that was so that I couldn’t kind of feel a little bit more empowered and a little bit more in tune to something that can become can become very foreign. Something that had always given me what I had put into it. I was very athletic. I always did a lot of exercises. So I knew that, OK, if I train I could reduce my time by X. Like what you put in, I could get out like I understood my body. But during pregnancy, I just didn’t. Whatever I did, just didn’t do what I wanted it to do. So I just needed to kind of calm down and and relearn it and I did it through exercise and nutrition. So yoga really helped me kind of move with consciousness, it taught me about mindfulness, it taught me to sit with my feelings. And nutrition kind of helped me because I did, you know, I was athletic, I pretty much just eat whatever I wanted. I never was quite conscious about what I was putting into my mouth. But during that phase, I learned about the vitamins. I learned about what made me feel good, what didn’t make me feel good, when was I eating for anxiety and when was I eating mindfully? And all of that kind of just helped me be more present and more grateful for what I had in my body. And then we went on to conceive and all that. So it was through that journey that I learnt to trust it again and I did it through those two venues.

Le’Nise: You sound amazingly tuned in and it sounds like you’ve been on this incredible journey and of understanding not only what nourishes you physically and nutritionally, but also being really open to what’s going on with your body. Amazing. Absolutely amazing. How long was this journey for you?

Lina: Oh, gosh, so three years from the first time we tried to having my first daughter was three years because we had the two losses and conceiving between them took almost a year each. Our first was born at 32 weeks, so she was born quite early, that was a fairly stressful kind of fourth trimester but then we had two others in quick succession. So from beginning to three children, it took us five years. But to get from beginning to first child, it took us three years. So, yes, the other two came very quickly thereafter. I think it’s you know, part of it was I had a lot less anxiety around it. I knew how to take care of my body to prepare for pregnancy. I also knew that because I had struggled, we started trying six months after me having one. And I think a lot of women prefer to wait a year and I think the recommendation is to wait for a year. But, you know, I was of my age and I that I had struggled. So we tried sooner and then we were lucky to conceive sooner. But I took much better care of my emotional and physical health in the subsequent pregnancies.

Le’Nise: What would you say to women who are going through similar things, who maybe have had a miscarriage and who are trying to conceive again?

Lina: I mean, I think the first thing is to really not underestimate the impact that it can have on you emotionally and to talk about it. It is something that women feel really ashamed about, but it’s very important to talk about it and seek the support that you think you need. One of the doctors that work with us, she actually just released a study last week and was picked up by quite a few of the newspapers showing that one in seven women who experienced even just one miscarriage go on to develop PTSD. And that can have really big consequences. And sometimes we don’t even realise that we have it. So I think recognise that it will affect you emotionally, so seek help. I think, you know, it took me too long to recognise that I needed that support. And I think learn to trust yourself again and your body again and find whatever works for you to feel grateful again about the body that you have. Some people practice mindfulness, some people talk to friends, some people practice gratitude, some people dive into nutrition. Find what works and reconnect with your body so that you can start trusting it again and really get informed. The NHS makes you miscarry three times before you seek a specialist but if you trust your gut, if you think that you want to see a doctor sooner, try to find that support if you can, because there are tests that they can run, there are things that they can do without having to make you wait for three miscarriages. And the more empowered you are with information and the more balanced you can feel mentally and physically, I think the better chances we arm ourselves with.

Le’Nise: Talking about taboos. Do you think that miscarriage is still as much a taboo in terms of talking about miscarriages as it used to be?

Lina: Yeah, I think so. I think there’s definitely waves of it becoming more talked about. So I think it’s positive, it’s definitely moving in the right direction. But I think it’s still is taboo. And I still think that a lot of women attribute shame and faults to themselves. And I think one of the key things is, a lot of women when they fall pregnant, they’re told not to say anything for the first twelve weeks. But that’s when the majority of miscarriages will happen, like 85% of miscarriages, I think it’s 85% of miscarriages happen in the first twelve weeks. And so typically you haven’t told anybody at work, you’ve probably felt rotten because it’s the worst 12 weeks of the pregnancy. And then when you go to the hospital, you know, if you’ve miscarried, they’ll be like, okay, just go home and try again. So we haven’t set it out in a way that women can feel supported during those first 12 weeks, so actually, it’s quite hard. And so then you’ve gone from not telling anybody, to then saying, oh, I’ve miscarried. So women find that it’s a pretty big step, it’s hard to bring that topic up. So I think one of the first things we should think about is why is this this 12 week rule? We should just, you know, recognise that it’s something that’s very common, happens to one in four pregnancies in women. So it’s funny because it’s more common in circles of women who have struggled or tried because as soon as they get pregnant they say, they say, and they fully acknowledge that there’s a very high risk of losing it but you’re recognising it, it’s not something that you’re trying to hide. So I think there needs to be more to be done. But, you hear as more celebrities talk about it, as more women like me and you talk about women’s health, I think then you’re starting to move the needle for the next generation.

Le’Nise: Yeah, absolutely. I remember when I had a miscarriage before I had my son and I wasn’t sure what was happening, but I didn’t know who to talk to because I thought, “Well, okay, like, it didn’t happen for me this time so I will keep trying.” But I think back to how I was feeling at the time and I remember feeling sad, but also thinking, “Well, I shouldn’t really talk about it because you know what’s the point?”

Lina: Yeah, yeah, exactly. And I think that’s why this study is so important, it shows that even if you just miscarry once, you have such a higher chance of actually having a mental distress out of it. So it is something that we should talk about and make women more aware of it. I mean, I think even just the awareness that it could be quite common that it could happen to you and if it happens, these are the things that you need to do. I think this is really key.

Le’Nise: Talk to me about your company and everything you’re doing to support fertility and support women as they go through their journey. Can you tell us a little bit more about what you do?

Lina: Yeah, sure. So when I was going through all the things that I went through, there were two kind of big pain points for me. One, I didn’t feel like I could access the doctors that I needed and two, the information that I got was so confusing. So that’s the two main things that we try to really break down, the barriers we try to break down. So women can come onto our platform, they create an account and they can immediately speak to women’s health specialists. And they range from obstetricians, fertility specialists and nutritionists, clinical psychologists. And we really recognise that it’s important to support somebody from medical information, but as well as nutrition and mental health. So there’s no GP gatekeeper, there’s no waiting three times to miscarry in the NHS. You can come and ask the questions, whichever question it is. And it’s through that information that we can really empower women, and because you’re actually asking experts in the field , it takes out all the noise because you know that the information that you’re getting is trusted. And that’s the key thing that we really want to help women with, because I think the more we can help women get the right support, the quicker they are in that journey. And then we really hope that through the articles that we publish, the community that we’re building, that we’re starting to break this taboo around it, so more and more women can talk about it, feel comfortable getting the support that they need. And then lastly, what we also do is we provide hormone tests and sperm tests that women can take at home because, again, it’s something that the NHS will typically ask you to wait for quite a long time before qualifying for those or if you go privately, it’s extremely expensive. So we’ve partnered with companies that are able to really reduce the price and we can just do it in the comfort of your home. So it’s really kind of disrupting the way health is delivered now to make it a lot more accessible to women.

Le’Nise: And what made you decide to start this amazing company?

Lina: My personal journey, I think it was kind of going through it and just wanting to help women have an easier journey than I had. And my husband, who’s a co-founder, he’s a tech entrepreneur and he’s like, I just don’t understand how technology hasn’t helped reduce the price and the barriers to this, we need to do something. So it’s very much my personal passion and a personal pain point that we wanted to change other people’s journey and improve that for them.

Le’Nise: Do you have any success stories that you can share?

Lina: Yeah, I mean we don’t promise people they’re gonna get pregnant. I think it’s more what we promise is that you’re going to feel supported, you’re going to get the right information and we’re gonna help you then liaise with the right people that you need to. But we’ve had quite a few women come and say that they’ve gotten pregnant or that they’ve felt very supported, that they were able to access services that they hadn’t thought about before. Some women had taken our test, discovered that they had hormonal issues that they weren’t aware of and that enabled them to get the right care. So it’s really kind of heartwarming to get those messages from our users.

Le’Nise: Is it UK only or international?

Lina: Now we have users from like 35, almost 40 countries. So people have found us, they come and they chat with our experts, they read the content. So it’s worldwide.

Le’Nise: Oh, amazing. Amazing. So if a listener could take one thing from everything you’ve been saying, what would you want that to be?

Lina: Celebrate your body. You know, be really proud of the body and grateful for the body that we have as women. It is so strong. It’s you know, it gives life. It nourishes and take care of it and love it. And don’t underestimate the connection of your mind and your body and trust it and wherever your mind goes, your body will follow.

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

Lina: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 15: Shiona Redmond, Nobody Knows Our Bodies Better Than Us

On today’s episode of Period Story Podcast, I had the pleasure of speaking with Shiona Redmond, the founder and CEO of Graces London, a CBD cannabinoid skin care and wellness brand. April is Adenomyosis awareness month, and I’m so happy that Shiona was able to share her journey to getting diagnosed and what she does to manage this condition, alongside running a business and raising two daughters.

Shiona shares the story of her first period at 12 years old. She talks about how disappointing it was and how it didn’t compare to what her friends were experiencing. She says that she was really lucky that her mum and school were really good about talking to her about the changes that were happening to her body. 

Shiona talks about her journey to getting diagnosed with adenomyosis, after years of heavy, painful periods and digestive issues. She said that she spent years thinking that her period was supposed to be like that and she just needed to cope. 

It was only after a trip to A&E with breakthrough pain that Shiona realised that her periods weren’t supposed to be so painful. Listen to hear the moment where she decided she wasn’t going to be fobbed off by doctors any longer and how she advocated for herself to get a proper diagnosis.

Shiona talks about her passion for CBD and the power of the endocannabinoid system in promoting internal balance  and how she’s used this as a tool, alongside healthy eating and lifestyle to manage adenomyosis. 

Shiona is very kindly offering listeners a free sample of the CBD oil to try for yourselves. Go to www.graceslondon.com to get your sample. 

Get in touch with Shiona:

Website

Instagram

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SHIONA’S BIO

Shiona Redmond is the co-founder, formulator and CEO of Graces London, a CBD cannabinoid skincare & wellness brand. Graces London was one of the first CBD skincare brands to be launched in the UK back in 2016 and the first CBD brand to be stocked in the prestigious UK store Selfridges.

Shiona’s passion for plant based ingredients, alternative therapies, cannabis, herbs and wellbeing, stems from caring for her terminally ill father Paul for over 15 years. After her father lost his battle to Multiple Sclerosis in 2014, Shiona drew on her experiences of caring for her father to create skincare and food supplement formulations to promote internal and external balance. 

Shiona is a mother of two girls and runs the family brand alongside childhood sweetheart Jason Grace. With Grace being the family surname the brand was named in honour of their two children.  In her spare time Shiona is a singer / songwriter and also sits on the advisory board for CPASS, a UK cannabis patient advocacy and support service. 

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: On today’s episode, we have Shiona Redmond; Shiona is the founder, formulator and CEO of Graces London, a CBD cannabinoid skin care and wellness brand. Graces London was one of the first CBD skincare brands to be launched in the UK back in 2016 and the first CBD brand to be stocked in the prestigious UK store Selfridges. Shiona’s passion for plant based ingredients, alternative therapies, cannabis, herbs and wellbeing, stems from caring for her terminally ill father, Paul for over fifteen years. After her father lost his battle to Multiple Sclerosis in 2014, Shiona drew on her experiences of caring for her father to create skin care and food supplement formulations to promote internal and external balance. Welcome to the show.

Shiona: Oh, thank you so much for having me.

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

Shiona: I can. I was actually 12 years old and I was one of the youngest in my class. So all my friends in my circle had already had their periods. Pretty much kind of, you know, nearly a whole year before me. So I was desperate, Le’Nise, to have my period. I was counting down the days and months. And when it did come, it was just incredibly disappointing. It was a couple of spots and that was it. And I was listening to all my other friends, you know, the blood flow that they were having, it was quite a talk in school at the time when we were having our periods. But mine was quite disappointing. There was just nothing there.

Le’Nise: How did you know what was happening and who did you talk to when this happened?

Shiona: Well, my mum was quite good in that she’d come and talk to me all about periods and the changes my body was going to go through and just kind of giving me heads up that this is something that’s going to happen. In school they were really good as well. So they had nurses come in and talk to us and they had these really informative little five minute video clips that used to play in class that used to give us quite a lot of information. And then most of my talks and learning about stuff was probably just through friends actually going through it. I kind of knew something was happening because I was getting a lot of discharge in my underwear. So I remember saying to my best friend Danielle at the time that this is something that was happening. “Does that mean it’s coming? Am I getting my period?” And yes, it’s pretty much a load of different areas. So school, my mum and friends really. Yeah.

Le’Nise: And it’s really interesting that you say that you got a lot of knowledge from school and the school nurse because so many of the women that I’ve interviewed on this podcast, they said that they didn’t really learn much from school. And it was, you know, they got a kind of cursory education. But what they had to do is speak to their friends and some of them spoke to their siblings or their mothers.

Shiona: When I speak to a lot of other friends that didn’t go to my school, I kind of hear the same. And it wasn’t a lot of information but they did actually take the time out to actually show us what a tampon looked like, show us what a sanitary towel looks like, allowed us to kind of pass them around in class, allowed us to look at them. They then spoke to us about the internal of how the blood flow happens, how the cycle happens. So although it was maybe a tiny little bit scientific for us at that age, it was good that the initial education kind of was there and all girls were taken away from boys to be told this as well. And this was actually in year six in primary school, so this was even before I got into secondary school. So I suppose I was one of the lucky ones because it then made you go home and go, “oh, Mum, you know, this happened today in school.” And then it just kind of the conversation went on more from then. So yeah, I suppose I was quite lucky in that sense.

Le’Nise: And what sort of conversations did you have with your mum that kind of stemmed off of what you learned in school?

Shiona: I suppose it was probably a little bit more sciency in school, more about the human body. So I’d go home to my mum and be like, “But what does it feel like? Is it going to hurt? Why have I got to have this every month? For how long?” You know it would it be all those sorts of questions. I have an 11 year old myself at the moment who I believe is currently showing signs of going through her first period. I believe it’s probably going to come within the next year. And it’s funny to watch her and see the same kinds of questions are coming to me. She’s very keen for me to get her first period subscription box so she can read all about it and see all the different things that she might be able to use. So, God, the times have really changed. Sorry, I probably I’ve gone off a little bit.

Le’Nise: A period subscription box and she’s asking for that? That’s really sweet.

Shiona: How sweet is that? But we didn’t have that back then. But I suppose it was nice that I had that initial conversation in school, was able to go home to my mum, and then off the back of what my mum said, go and check with friends to see what they think as well, you know? But yeah, there’s so much information out there now for my daughter when we speak about it a lot more openly. I suppose, I started the conversation with my daughter Macy at a younger age. I think when it came to me having my period; I think my mum probably waited to a few months before that first period was going to happen. I think I started having a conversation with my daughter when she was probably about eight, nine, ten. Just because, you know, it’s something that us women go through, they see my sanitary towels or tampons or moon cup around the house and it’s something that I’ve just always been quite open with, with them.

Le’Nise: How have they reacted to the conversations that you’ve been having with them?

Shiona: Well, they’re just really curious. They’re really inquiring kids. And I suppose there’s been so many times when I’ve been stuck on the loo and I’ve got two young girls that are 11 and 8 and maybe the sanitary towels in my bedroom, I haven’t bought in with me and I’ll give a call out. Can somebody grab something for me? I suffer with adenomyosis, so I do leak quite a lot. I’m always having accidents and they’re aware of that. They know that “Oh mummy’s got to rush to loo, she’s leaked a little bit of blood” and that’s quite normal to them. I think it’s because they’ve just been they’ve grown up with it, Le’Nise and I’ve just always answered the questions surrounding it. I mean I have a really funny, funny story of when my youngest girl was 4 years old and she managed to get hold of my panty liners and being the artistic creative that she is, she decided to Pritt stick them on a A4 piece of paper and paint them like she just had no idea what they were, she was so interested in using cotton wool and glitter and sequins and oh, here’s some panty liners, they look amazing, let’s just stick those on and do some art. So that’s quite a funny moment with them.

Le’Nise: That’s really funny. That’s so cute.

Shiona: I was in shock. “Mummy, look at my picture.” Is that panty liners?

Le’Nise: I want to go back to what you’re saying about the adenomyosis and just talk a little bit about how your journey with getting diagnosed, because I know that your story is really interesting and it actually fed into a lot of the work that you’ve done with your company.

Shiona: It really did. I suppose if I just give you a brief background of my research over the years. My dad was terminally ill with Multiple Sclerosis and I spent a majority of my time looking after his 24 hour carers and just overseeing every moment of his care, really. And I was obviously a passionate daughter that wanted to keep him well. So I researched the internal systems of the body pretty much from my teenage years up to the age I am now, 34. And it was only when in my dad’s passing in 2014, I was already looking into cannabis and cannabinoids and CBD in particular. The reason for this, my dad was asked to be part of a cannabis trial here in the UK back in 2002 because of his terminally ill Multiple Sclerosis that he suffered with. It was something that he chose not to do at the time, but it really just never went away. It was always there in my head that, that was something that he was offered as a medicinal trial. And it was later it came back, I think I was about 18, 19, 20 and I started to look into MS again and looking into alternative therapies. And I just was always trying to be at the front line of what my dad should be having, if it’s something like garlic capsules or should he be having B12 vitamins. I was just always trying to understand his internal systems, his body.

When in early 2017, I got my diagnosis of adenomyosis, I really hadn’t thought of myself as looking into my own internal systems of my body. I’ve never really looked at my own self-care or my own wellness or how I was reacting to food or what vitamins I may need. The penny just really dropped for me, Le’Nise and everything that I had been researching over the years made me look at myself for my own wellness, and straightaway I knew that having at the time I had an overactive thyroid, I just had a really bad bout of glandular fever and now I was having a diagnosis of adenomyosis and I knew that it was the endocrine system that was being attacked. And now this is something that I had been reading and researching for years was the endocrine system. And the reason being is the endocrine system is one of the internal systems of the body that works and fits nicely into our endocannabinoid system and to try and do it as briefly as I can.

The endocannabinoid system is one of the largest receptor systems in our body, and it’s really a self-regulatory system that tries to create homeostasis amongst the internal systems of the body and which is really all about trying to promote internal balance, whether that be balance of the immune system, balancing the endocrine system, etc.. And I suppose it was really my friends and family that were just coming to me saying, “Shiona, you’ve been making these cannabinoids, CBD balms and oils. We’ve been using them for not only skincare”, but there was a lot of feedback coming back to me from so many different things that my mum was pretty much screaming at me going, “You know, you need to practice what you preach. Have you tried any of your oils?”

And when you’re in the thick of it and you’re trying to help others and you’re a busy mum and you’re working and doing 101 things, the last thing that I was thinking of was myself. And it was only when I started to really look at what I was eating and what I was drinking and I was putting on my skin and what sanitary towels and tampons I was using that I really started to see a change since my diagnosis and really just trying to understand what had happened internally to me to get to this level. So, yeah, sorry I’ve babbled there haven’t I, Le’Nise?

Le’Nise: No, you haven’t. It’s really interesting. So you got your period when you were 12, but you didn’t get your diagnosis for adenomyosis until you were 31, 32?

Shiona: 32, yes.

Le’Nise: Let’s just take a step back. Adenomyosis, I don’t know if a lot of people will be familiar with it. So a lot more people are familiar with endometriosis. And sometimes, adenomyosis, it gets mistaken for endometriosis. But with adenomyosis, you have the uterine tissue or tissue similar to the uterine tissue within the muscular lining of the uterus so that it reacts just like the uterine tissue, that it gets expelled when we have our period. But the tissue actually can’t be expelled because it’s within the muscular lining. So can you just talk us through, if you’re okay with this, your journey to getting a diagnosis and what age you were when you first started to experience the symptoms of adenomyosis?

Shiona: Yes, of course. I’ll briefly mention that when I got to the age of 14, my periods became incredibly heavy, to the point, I remember sitting in science lab and you just get that terrible sensation of just a full flow that you were just being completely flooded. And I spent a lot of my teenage years when I was on my period, at home, and it really had a detrimental effect on my education for that year from age 14 to 15, because I’d spend ten to fifteen days at home every month. So my mum brought me to the doctors and it was advised that I should be put on the contraceptive pill. So I was actually put the contraceptive pill when I was 15 years old to regulate my periods. And it really did help at the time; I was bleeding before going on the contraceptive pill for nearly fifteen days. And it was just ridiculous. The fatigue, I had no appetite and my mum was quite worried about me. And I just didn’t feel great. So when I went onto the contraceptive pill, it really did help regulate things. And then I went on to have my first child when I was 23, and obviously I came off the contraceptive pill when I found out I was pregnant.

And I then noticed after having my first child, the incredible, painful periods and I was bleeding for 15 days again and that feeling of fatigue and general unwellness was all coming back. So I went back to the doctors and it was said that I should probably go on the contraceptive pill again to try and regulate it because I had these problems before. So, I mean, I was just at a loss end at the time and just really wanted something to sort it out because I’d spent four days in bed and with young children, it was just not on, and obviously working as well. So I did go back on the contraceptive pill and that did help. I then came off it again to have my second child and after my second child, I had a bit of a very full on birth and I had some complications but after giving birth to my second child, that same period came back, I was now bleeding for 17 days was one of the months I bled for and it was just awful. And at this moment, obviously, I was still looking after my dad, my dad was alive at the time, but I just didn’t have time to really tap into my own, what was going on with me. So I kind of just put up and shut up, if I’m honest and I was coping with diarrhoea every month, really bad thrush, I was constantly feeling very faint for those first two days that I was on my period, and I suppose I just spent years of just, “well, this is what my period is, this is oh I’m just that unfortunate one that has really bad pain, poor me”, because I had other friends that just would get a dull ache for a couple of minutes and then bleeds. And then I’d have other friends that were kind of pretty much like me. So I just was, I suppose I don’t know, I don’t know if society had taught us or it was just that it was accepted, I’d accepted that, you know, okay, I’m going to have diarrhoea every month, I’m going to have thrush, these are things that I just need to kind of cope with.

It was then obviously through my business with CBD, more and more people coming to me saying, “This is really helped with my hormonal outbreaks on my skin.” A lot of people have found benefit with acne and then it just started to stem into more and more things and more and more research that was emerging in the cannabinoid industry, not really in the UK, but more from Israel and other parts of the world. I was seeing the relation of how it could be linked: CBD, cannabinoids, the endocrine system, the endocannabinoid system. So I took some time out and thought, you know what, I’m going to start looking at myself and the ailments that I’m going through and just try to work what’s going on. It’s probably not the thing you should do. But I’ve done that thing of I kind of self-diagnose myself and said, right, I think I’ve got endometriosis. And I went to the doctors and I said to them, a quick brief outline, how I’ve just done to you, of my history. And I was kind of fobbed off. It was just some periods can be painful, I was told, it could just be something I’m experiencing from giving birth. I was really just fobbed off. I waited a few months and then I had a really, really bad outbreak where I was rushed to A&E, I’d collapsed on the floor; I was projectile vomiting, diarrhoea at the same time. And it was called, which I found out after, It’s actually called breakthrough pain, where the blood flow tries to push through the uterine wall or I’m not entirely sure how it all completely works, I’m sure you’d be able to explain it a lot better than I would. But it’s called breakthrough pain and it literally is in the name, where it just completely takes you out. And I made a stand after going into A&E and being in such a bad way when the male nurse turned to me and was like, “So you’ve basically just got period pain?” And I just looked at him and I was like, “This is really not just period pain.”

And I just took the time to really dig my heels in, if I’m honest. I had to print off articles that I had to show my reasonings as to why I thought this is what I had. And it did pay off. I was one of the lucky ones that on the second doctor that I did see, he was amazing and he really did listen and he really helped and he gave me that referral to the doctor that I needed to see at the Whittington Hospital in North London and I got my diagnosis. I got mine quite quickly, I hear of friends that have been 8 to 10 years that have took a really long time to get their diagnosis. I honestly believe with my mum being a nurse and having doctors and physicians in my family, that I just really took that, right I’m going to print off the file, I’m going to get dividers and put all the research into pockets for them to read if they need. But I really had to push hard to get that diagnosis.

Le’Nise: There are so many things in what you’ve said that I want to highlight. I think the first thing is that you said that you thought that this is what your period was and you accepted that this was your normal. I mean, that really shocked me because you know, everything that you’ve gone through and everything you’ve described with, you know, the diarrhoea, the thrush, the fainting and then even having that experience of breakthrough pain and going to the hospital and having the male nurse say in a kind of dismissive way, “oh, so you’ve just got period pain.” I mean, how dare he?

Shiona: It was that initial meeting, so when you go into A&E, you have your first initial meeting before you then get seen by the consultant or doctor. So I get that it’s one in, one out, and it’s quite a quick thing. But you go in and, you know, you haven’t got long in there. So I was trying to be quite blunt, concise, this is what’s going on, this is what’s happened today, I fainted, I projectile vomited, incredibly bad pain in my stomach, I’m on my period, you know, and his exact words were, “So you’re basically on your period.” And it was such a kick in the stomach. And I couldn’t even cry because I’d already cried so much because I was in so much pain, you know? But that was the moment for me that I thought, “No, I’m not having this, I’m just going to keep screaming and shouting and keep making doctors’ appointments until somebody listens to me.” But it pretty much was me going in and going, “I think I have this,” you know, and me just getting a doctor going, “okay, I hear you, I understand that you’ve really looked into this, you understand your own body, you feel quite strongly about this, I can see why you would, there’s a lot of correlations there”. And then him sending me on my way to then for me to then get the diagnosis of adenomyosis and also fibroids on both ovaries, oh I have this as well. But yeah, it wasn’t a nice moment. No.

Le’Nise: So you originally thought that you had endometriosis?

Shiona: I did.

Le’Nise: Can you talk us through how they diagnose, so what was the medical process that you went through to get your adenomyosis diagnosis?

Shiona: That day for me was probably I mean, it wasn’t painful for me at all if I’m honest, she was very gentle with all the internal examinations that she’d done beforehand, before you go through the procedure, and that day for me was a great day because I knew I wasn’t going crazy, it was the day that someone had gone, this isn’t actually normal what you’re going through this. It shouldn’t be this painful. You actually have got six fibroids, I think, on one ovary and I’ve got quite a lot on the other ovary. The day for me, that somebody actually understood and that she really took her time out, the consultant, I can’t think of her name at the moment, but she really took her time out to talk to me about the different research studies that were currently going on. And there was one going on about high intake of sugar. And they haven’t scientifically linked it yet but there were a lot of research studies that were surrounding that. And it was just it was a great day for me where I just let out a relief, a big sigh of relief that actually this isn’t normal and there may be something that I can do now moving forward to try and cope better and get better coping mechanisms. So I’m not in bed 4 days a month and I’m not dealing with all these different ailments. You know?

Le’Nise: So you got your diagnosis and you said you had a sigh of relief, it was a great day. And it sounds like your consultant was quite switched on, in that she was making the link between sugar and was it the adenomyosis or the fibroids?

Shiona: It was the adenomyosis.

Le’Nise: What did she recommend as a next step?

Shiona: Well, I spoke to her that I kind of wanted to try and do as much as I could through diet. Were there any changes that I could do through diets? And that was one of the main things she said to me was, although it wasn’t scientifically proven yet, there were a lot of research studies that were showing that a high sugar intake may contribute to adenomyosis. Now, I myself, when she said this knew I had a huge high sugar intake; I was probably drinking up to 10 cups of tea a day with two great big spoons of sugar. I mean, now we do the maths on that, just absolutely ridiculous. Although I wouldn’t allow my dad when looking after him to have that entire sugar intake, I just wasn’t looking at myself like that. You know, I was just seeing myself as, I’m a young, well fit person that has you know, I have the period pain and it was getting worse at the time, but I just didn’t see how much sugar that I was actually having but it was really having a massive impact.

So I started to cut sugar out pretty much straight away, I switched to mint tea, green tea. I got rid of my builders cup of tea, although I still have one every now and again  I’m not going to lie, but I really cut the sugar out and I noticed a relief in my symptoms within the first two to three months of me cutting sugar out. Now, I hadn’t done anything else, only cut sugar out. So I really, really did feel the benefit of doing so. And she was great because she also really went in depth on showing me the scans. She showed me how the fibroids show up on the scan like the how adenomyosis looks and it was like dark black patches on my womb. She explained to me the breakthrough pain, the reason why I was fainting. You faint because the body just can’t cope with that pain, it’s such a horrific pain that the body just cuts out. I learnt actually a lot from her that day. She spent a lot of time with me. And from going through, you know, 18 months, two years of not really anyone listening to me. I do feel incredibly grateful that it didn’t take me as long as friends, like I said, that have had to wait eight to ten years of not being listened to or having to wait so long for a diagnosis.

Le’Nise: Yeah. You were really lucky to have such a knowledgeable consultant who was able to make these connections and who was able to guide you through your scans and show you everything in such a compassionate way.

Shiona: I think we have to ask questions. I think I’m that person anyway, that’s sitting there going why have I got this? I look at somebody like my Nan and my Nan goes into the doctor’s, you know, she cracks me up. She’ll go in and, you know, she’ll tell them the problem and whatever they say to her, “that’s okay, thank you doctor, goodbye.” And she just, you know, and she just takes everything at face value.

Whereas I’m really intrigued by how the internal systems of the body work. I’m really intrigued as to how we can impact it through foods and diet and through other external factors, i.e. products we use on our skin. Is that having an impact? So I’m always asking questions. We shouldn’t be fearful or scared that these people are doctors and they’ve trained and the consultants, they are, and we’re very grateful for that. But nobody knows our own bodies like ourselves. You know, we know if we’ve eaten something dodgy and it may have had an impact on us or we know if that period was worse last month than this month or we know if our breasts are sorer in the left breast or the right breast. And I think more and more what I see, especially amongst my friends and family, I think we’re all starting to really tap more into our own bodies. And just really I think we need to go in there and just ask the questions. So I believe that she was brilliant in the sense of giving me such great information and education, but it really was, I think we have to go in there armed with our questions, you know, to really try and get an understanding of what is going on, you know?

Le’Nise: Yeah, absolutely. I am very much about taking a very empowered approach when you go to your GP and making sure that if you get 10, you only get 10 minutes, but you’re using that 10 minutes to the best of your ability and going in there armed with information, symptoms, even like a time line, if that’s available to you. I just want to go back to what you were saying about how you then started to look at how you got your diagnosis and you started to look at food and diet and the products that you were using on your skin. And so, did you do a big overhaul of your diet? You mentioned cutting out the sugars.

Shiona: I actually did, I straightaway went to pescatarian, so I cut out red meat, I cut out chicken, I just started to eat fish, I really upped my intake of green leafy vegetables because I’ve just done lots of my own research. I’m not telling other people what to do, but it’s just what works for me at the time. I decided that I wanted to cut out acidic foods as much as I could. One of the things that I was going through every month was I was so gassy that week before my actual flow, my actual period, the blood flow would come, I would be full of wind, constantly full of wind and it was really, really painful. And I know that anyone that’s experienced wind, that it can be really, really excruciating pain, especially if it’s trapped wind around the back passage area or down below that area. So this was something that I was coming up against every month, a week before that blood flow. And then I’d have that really bad diarrhoea.

So through just my own research, I was looking into how I wanted to implement a lot of alkaline foods and keep away from the acidic side of things, because I just believed personally in my own opinion, that the acidic foods, where just contributing to these gases that were happening in my body. So I went straight to pescatarian, so that means I was eating fish, I still ate fish, sorry, as well as lots and lots of vegetables and I really did notice an impact. So, first of all, I did the sugar, I then done the pescatarian a couple of months later and I tapped back in a couple of months later, I was like, well, I fancy meat again, I’m going to start eating meat again. And, you know, I went back full hog started eating meat again. My period came and wow, it was astonishing how much more painful it was that month, I mean, I never got rid of the pain. I never got rid of the diarrhoea but it wasn’t as much, you know, it didn’t go on for as long. And another thing that I would always come up against was huge clots. So every month I’d have these quite big clots, blood clots as well that would be coming away. And when I tried to go to more of an alkaline rich diet, I really noticed that my clots had lessened, although my pain was still horrific. It was horrific for a day and a half instead of three days. And I was just noticing all these differences. And then when I did decide to go back on the meat and I just went straight, I didn’t implement it slowly, I just went straight back to meat every other day. That period, there was a massive difference and then I think it was a light bulb moment for me of, wow I think that the meat that I’ve just been eating, all the acidic, fizzy drinks, the really high acidic diet that I was having was contributing to how my period pain level and diarrhoea and clots was affected that month.

So I went backwards and forwards, I did a lot of trial and error, so I came back off the meat, I just ate fish and really rich diets and green vegetables again and I noticed the difference and the change. And then I did another month of eating meat again because I’m one of these people that I just had to double check, double confirm. I always want confirmation; I knew I was sure that that’s what had happened to me. So I just wanted to implement the meats back in again, just to be sure. And it definitely was for me, a massive factor.

And then I suppose we get to the skin, which is the largest organ of the body. And my big passion, which has always been the skin. I’ve always been a lover of making my own essential oil creams and lotions since probably about the age of 10, and I just started to look into CBD and how that might be able to help me. I was having a lot of people talk to me about how they use CBD to help with their period pains at that time of the month, it didn’t get rid of their pain, it wasn’t a cure for their pain but what they noticed is that it was putting back a layer, a couple of layers was going back so you could feel that that ache was being dulled a layer or so. And I, of course, had my own CBD cannabinoid skincare business, you know, but because I was too busy running the business and trying to get everyone else to try and use it, I just kind of forgot about myself. I was already using CBD for my hormonal outbreaks and my crazy skin that I’ve always dealt with, which I think was a knock on effect from obviously adenomyosis and all the hormonal imbalances that was going on in my endocrine system and I was blown away how much it was really taking the redness and inflammation out of my spots and that was great but it was only when I started really upping my intake of using it, so applying the skincare oils to my stomach and applying them to the bottom of my back during my monthly cycle. But then I do this now, you know, that’s something that I do every other day when I get out of the bath. I love to apply the oils all over my skin. And what I learned was, CBD will never get rid of my pain because of the pain that I experienced, it’s just too horrendous. But what it does do, is it gives me a coping mechanism to not have them three days in bed, it kind of dulls that pain slightly that I’m able to do the school run, I’m able to walk the dog, I can get up today, I don’t have to stay in bed and do the rocking motion thing that I’d have to do when I was in pain.

I have to be really careful how I do say and word it because I see a lot that CBD will help period pain, but it’s not as easy as that. It’s really your food, your diet; it’s all the balances within your internal system of your body. And CBD is a cannabinoid that is also found in the cannabis plants and when it’s found in the cannabis plants, it’s called a phytocannabinoid but we actually make our own CBD in our own body, which is called an endocannabinoid. So implementing these CBD skincare oils on my skin, it interacts with these cannabinoid receptors and as going back to what I said before, the endocannabinoid system is all about creating homeostasis and balance amongst the internal systems of the body. And when you really dig deep and look into it, it’s really heavily linked with the endocrine system. So I was just like another light bulb moment, “how silly are you? You know, you’ve had a CBD cannabinoid business since early 2016.” I established the business, but I’ve been working and formulating at home for a long time before then. So I just really started to up my intake and just start to use the balm when I wash my face in the morning, I put my CBD skincare oil on my face and then I’d use my balm on my lips and then I’d apply on my stomach, I’d apply on my boobs, I’d apply on my lower back, and it got into a habit of me doing that every day and just waiting for when that period comes, keeping a diary, engaging how I felt, what is the pain level like this month? What is my thrush like? What is my blood flow and clots like?

And it was really just a trial and error and going backwards and forwards to find out what works for me and I’m happy to say that I’m in a position now where I still get pain, I can feel it coming about a week before, I even get ovulation pain, I can feel what side my egg is ovulating from, I’m so in tune now with my body. It’s brilliant the difference here now in 2020 to where I was in 2017, worrying about how I could even run a business, you know and now I’m really pleased. I mean as I said, I get pain but nothing like I was experiencing.

Le’Nise: You said that it was all about trial and error and figuring out what works best for you and I think that’s a really important message because there is no one size fits all in terms of solving period problems, solving hormonal issues and, you know, cutting out meat worked really well for you and for some women adding in a bit of meat is really beneficial. So I love that you’ve said that it is trial and error and you just wanted to make double sure that what you were doing was working for you. So you said it’s been like night and day, what you’re experiencing now compared to what you were experiencing in 2017. So if you could go back and have a chat with the woman who was rushed to A&E with the breakthrough pain, what would you say to her?

Shiona: Well, I suppose the first thing I’d say is you’re not dying, because honestly, that day I just felt like there was a moment where it was just so awful, I just didn’t know what was going on, I was so worried and obviously being a mum and having young children. So I think the first thing I’d say to her is you’re okay, you’re not dying, you know, we’re going to get through this.

And the second thing I’d say to her is to just really take some time out for yourself. I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned from all of this is that I just wasn’t paying attention to myself. I was always looking after others, I was always looking into as I said, I might look into my dad’s health, looking into my nan’s health or my mum’s health, or my friend’s health, or my children’s health. I just saw myself as the person that just got up every day and had to get on with everything. So I think the big important message that I’d say to me back in 2017 is just really take the time to look into your body and how you’re feeling. Horrific period pain isn’t normal, you know, having full on diarrhoea for two, three days every month whilst you’re bleeding isn’t normal, projectile vomiting every month with periods is not normal. It was always in the back of my head that when it starts to get really bad towards the end of the diarrhoea and the projectile vomiting right up to my diagnosis, the symptoms did get worse. I suppose I’d just say that all those things are not normal and that you just need to take time and looking after yourself and tapping into what works for you and yes, doing trial and error, I mean, it takes time, you’re not going to work out in a week how you’re going to fix your ailments. I’m still learning now, you know.

Le’Nise: So tell us about where we can find your CBD brand Graces. If someone is listening to this and your story and how you’ve used these CBD oils and lotions, how can they tap into that for themselves?

Shiona: Well, of course, reach out to me, because as I said, it’s really difficult being Graces London and being a female CEO of a business. I’m not of the wellness therapeutic skincare business; I’m not allowed to make any medicinal claims. So it’s really difficult for me to say go and buy my CBD skincare oils, it’s going to help with your period pain or period ailments, that’s not what I’m saying and I definitely want to just put that out there now.

What I would say is get in contact with me because I’d love to send you a sample to try for yourself. When I notice that the CBD skincare oils, I was using them for skincare, when I noticed that I started to implement them by putting them onto my lower abdomen, my lower back and puts them onto my sore breasts and it was really starting to help. I had to reach out to women and find out if the same would happen to them, one of the companies that I reached out to was a company called OHNE and the reason I reached out to OHNE is because they are an organic tampon brand. And I thought, you know, I’ve used this CBD skincare oil and it’s really helped my periods but I make these products, I formulate these products, I don’t want to be seen going, “Try my products, it’s going to help with this”, you know? So we got in contact with OHNE because they create organic tampons. So who is the best person to go to that’s going to have loads of women that are on their period, and we’d be able to tap into that?

So I just started to put the oils out to a lot of women and we have a feedback group here in my community that I put the oils out to as well. So this wasn’t just me that it was working for, I had to be sure that this was something that was actually working for others as well. And you’re right, it doesn’t work the same way for everybody. One thing I will definitely say is the endocannabinoid system that CBD and cannabinoids fit into is like our fingerprint; it’s so completely unique to us. So that will go the same for our hormones, the levels of everything in our bodies and we’re going to being incredibly different.

So one thing I would say is get in contact me, I’d love to send you a 1ml sample of oil for you to try it, in particular for your period pain. And secondly, all of our stuff and a lot of information is online at www.graceslondon.com and please feel free to just contact me, it’s myself and my partner Jason, who run the business. We called it Graces London, after our two lovely children because the family surname is actually Grace and we have two children so we called it Graces, plural. But yeah, I hope that’s all okay and I haven’t blabbed too much, but yeah, I want to put that out there to just get in contact with me. I’d love to send you out a sample to try; your feedback means everything to me.

Le’Nise: That’s brilliant. That’s such a generous offer. Thank you so much for coming on the show, Shiona. If listeners want to find out more about you, they can go to your website www.graceslondon.com.

Shiona: That’s correct. 

Le’Nise: What is your Instagram handle?

Shiona: It’s @Graceslondon.

Le’Nise: Brilliant. Get in touch with Shiona to find out more about CBD and if you want a free sample, get in touch with her for that. So thank you so much for coming on the show.

Shiona: Thank you so much for having me. It’s been great.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 14: Molly Fenton, Love Your Period

On the latest episode of Period Story podcast, I was so pleased to speak to Molly Fenton, the 17 year old Welsh campaigner who started a movement to help people love periods, called aptly, the Love Your Period campaign.

Molly shares the story of her first period at just 8 years old in year 4. She said because she was so young, she didn’t really understand what was happening and wasn’t prepared.

Molly says that starting the Love Your Period campaign motivated her to better educate herself about periods and menstrual health. Listen to hear what Molly was surprised to learn is and isn’t normal.

Molly talks about the work she’s been in doing in schools in Cardiff to educate different year groups on menstrual health. Molly also shares how she been campaigning the Welsh government to improve menstrual health education in schools across Wales.

Inspired by the work of Amika George, who has been campaigning for free periods in England, we talked about how Molly started a campaign  asking menstrual product companies to remove the plastic in their products. Go to the link in my profile to sign the petition!

Molly talks about the change in her periods after she switched to plastic free products from brands like TOTM and Hey Girls. She says that her allergic reactions stopped and her period pain drastically reduced.

Molly says everyone should know that periods are normal and that no matter how much we try to ignore them, they are always going to be there, so the best thing that we can do is accept them and learn to love them. I completely agree!

Get in touch with Molly!

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MOLLY’S BIO

After coming across the work of Amika George, campaigning for free periods in England, Molly started talking to people around her about period poverty and stigma, something she’d never thought about before. People called the topics inappropriate and disgusting, and she felt that she couldn’t sit back and let this happen. At just 17 years old, Molly started a social media movement to aid everyone to help love periods called the Love Your Period campaign. Today, the campaign has over 5000 followers across social media pages and is nationally recognised.

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SHOW TRANSCRIPTION

Le’Nise: On today’s episode we have Molly Fenton. After coming across the work of Amika George, campaigning for free periods in England, Molly started talking to people around her about period poverty and stigma, something she’d never thought about before. People called the topics inappropriate and disgusting, and she felt that she couldn’t sit back and let this happen. At just 17 years old, Molly started a social media movement to aid everyone to help love periods called the Love Your Period campaign. Today, the campaign has over 5000 followers across social media pages and is nationally recognised. Welcome to the show.

Molly: Thank you very much.

Le’Nise: So, let’s start off with a question that I ask all of my guests. Tell me the story of your first period.

Molly: So, I was eight years old when I had my first period. So, I was in Year 4 when I was in primary school and it was my break time. So, I was out in the playground and something didn’t feel right. I felt I’d wet myself, which, you know, that’s not cool when you’re 8, you’re pass that. So, I went to the bathroom and when I wiped, I had blood and I didn’t quite understand. It was quite scary, but I wasn’t going to tell anyone about it because I have no clue what it was. And I was scared they were either going to send me home or to the hospital. So, I had to go about the rest of the day with this uncomfortable feeling. And I was very lucky because when I got home my mum was brilliant. And I was able to show her, and she explained to me what it was and that it was a period and showed me how to use a sanitary towel and I could get on with my day like that. So, it didn’t start great, but I was lucky that my mum was really good with me afterwards.

Le’Nise: You were eight years old. Wow. So that’s very young. I think that’s the youngest that any of my guests have started their period, we had someone who started at 9 in the last season. That’s very young. You’re 17 now? Knowing what you know now. Do you think you were ready? Was it overwhelming? You said you were scared and uncomfortable. Just talk me through what was going through your mind when you first discovered you had it.

Molly: Well, ultimately, I didn’t have a clue what it was. I haven’t actually come across periods before because it’s not something that’s ever bought up in school briefly, until the last year of primary school. So that’s 11-12 year olds and it hadn’t been touched upon. My mum hadn’t spoken to me about it because I was still at quite a young age for it to come about, really. And you know, all I had was this association of blood and death really or blood and something very, very wrong and something isn’t right with my body. So, it was really scary. And so, I definitely wasn’t ready, and I wasn’t prepared whatsoever. And that’s I think that’s why I like to do what I do, because I don’t want anyone to be in that position because it wasn’t nice. It was scary. And I could have definitely been a lot more prepared for my first periods. And I wish I was.

Le’Nise: When you had it, did you eventually start talking to your friends about what was going on with you?

Molly: Not at all. I’ve never spoken about my periods about my friends until I started this campaign at all. It’s never been a topic of conversation in my friendship group.

Le’Nise: Even as they started getting their periods?

Molly: Yes, which is surprising. And now I look back on it and now we speak about it. And I think, why didn’t we? But I guess that’s how the stigma must’ve affected us. So many of us feel that we should no matter how close we were, it was one thing that we just never spoke about.

Le’Nise: Getting it at 8 and then not really getting any education at school until you were 11-12 years old. You said your mum was really supportive and she helped you get menstrual towels and all of that. How else did you start to try to educate yourself?

Molly: I kind of let my mum tell me what to do. I could have come across this a bit better. I know my mum bought a book, one of those, your body is changing books. So, I spent a lot of time reading through that with my mum. I remember the book very well and it didn’t make a lot of sense to me. You know, there were these diagrams and pictures and all sorts. But it really it didn’t come across to me the way that it would have now. So, I don’t think it was really until I got to high school maybe, I was about 12, 13 that I really started trying to look into it. So of course, you start learning about it a little bit more in science lessons. But I’d say my education properly really didn’t start until I had to, which is when I started this campaign because people have to trust me, and they have to know they can trust me. I feel like I took a degree in menstrual health before I started this company. And I learned so much that I didn’t know that I should have known. Considering I have periods for almost 10 years, and I surprise myself with learning what’s normal, what isn’t, what I should be concerned about and what I shouldn’t. And all these different things that really everyone should know but we don’t ever get taught.

Le’Nise: What was surprising to you?

Molly: That we don’t actually lose that much blood, considering it looks like an awful lot and that your cycle doesn’t always have to be every month. If it comes a little bit earlier or less a bit late, it doesn’t mean something is drastically wrong. And I learnt also as well, which really did help, stomach cramps being a little bit more than just discomfort isn’t right. So I went to my doctor because my cramps would keep me off school and I thought this was normal, I couldn’t get out of bed, they were making me throw up and now I’ve got the right medication, I’m able to do my exams and things normally. Whereas before, I know so many of my GCSE exams were affected by my period because I thought it was normal and that every single person in the hall around me that was on their period had to deal with the same thing. And then I learnt through my research that really, I shouldn’t be experiencing the pain that I was. So that was the biggest shock that I had. But I’m glad I had it because I was able to get it under control and get the help that I needed with it.

Le’Nise: Why did you think the cramps were normal?

Molly: I don’t know. I’m guessing because I was still functioning, and I’ve had a period every month for so many years that I thought this is the way that my body works. And because I knew everyone’s period was unique. Then this is just how my body does it. And I assumed that it was the right way because I was still alive and still going despite, you know, now I look back and see that that totally wasn’t normal, and I shouldn’t have left it like that. But it was something that myself, my sister and my mum just thought was part of it for me.

Le’Nise: So, your sister and your mum also have period pain, period cramps?

Molly: My mum used to yeah, really badly. So, she put it down to, “Oh, yeah, that’s something I had”, and my sister does suffer really badly as well. She’s younger than me but we’ve managed to find natural ways that relieve them for her, but she has exactly the same symptoms as I had. So, she can’t get out of bed, makes her physically sick sometimes. It’s something that’s been in the family unfortunately.

Le’Nise: That’s really interesting that all three of you thought that it was normal and that, you know, you just accepted that that was your normal. I hear this a lot. I hear that period pain is normal, just part of having a period. And I really love the fact that you’ve educated yourself and you learned that it isn’t normal. So, what were the tools that you used to educate yourself about your period and about menstrual health?

Molly: So, I first started with my biology teacher. I approached my teacher in school who is good friends with my mum. So, I felt fine speaking to her, and I said, “Look, I’ve learnt all about period poverty. Looking at this online, I cannot sit still about it anymore. What can you tell me about it?” And so, she basically taught me about periods, which I felt like it was exactly what I needed to know when I was 11 years or well, younger for me. But when I was in year 6 and we were having that education as a class, that 15 minute whistle-stop talk. It would have been really useful to have that lesson. And I then took that on in a debating competition to speak about period poverty and through education and my research for that, I spoke to different organic pad companies, so, Hey Girls, Luck Store Organic and TOTM about how products affect periods as well. So that way I was able to learn about the obvious things like I didn’t think the products we use are absorbed into our bodies and I didn’t think that before. But now it’s such an obvious thing to think about.

And more books, I’ve got Natalie Byrne’s Period book, which was possibly one of the best books I ever got. She gave it to me herself when I met her, which was really kind of her. And after reading it, it just simplified everything and it’s friendly for everyone. So, anyone that needs to learn about periods, it’s definitely the book to read. So, I kind of just accumulated knowledge from every corner that I could. And even today I’m still learning things. Every day I’ll ask a question that I won’t know the answer to. So, I’ll have to pass them on to someone but as I’m passing them on, I’ll be going, “Oh, can you tell me the answer too please,” so that next time I’m able to help that person? Because there are so many things we don’t know. And I feel like we all have to learn together, we all have to educate ourselves, but work as a team to do that. And I think that’s the way to start this education off properly.

Le’Nise: Do you say you get asked a lot of questions? Is it typically from other girls or do boys ask you questions as well?

Molly: Boys, girls, mothers, lots of people from the LGBTQ+ community who feel they can’t ask questions to anyone else and wants an anonymous space. We really have a broad range of people that message us on Instagram daily asking questions, which is lovely to see.

Le’Nise: And can you share the types of questions that you get asked?

Molly: Sometimes it’s little things that I laugh at and I think I actually feel really sorry because I would’ve asked the same question. So, I remember I’ve had some like, “why is my period clear?” That’s not a period, that’s discharge and it’s something like no and or “my period’s been going on for two months and it’s clear” and they thought it’s their periods. And of course, haven’t seen that that’s what it is. But that’s completely understandable because I didn’t have a clue what discharge was, I didn’t know the name up until about six months ago, if I’m perfectly honest with you. So we have a lot of things like that from younger people and we have a lot, unfortunately, of people going, I’ve been following your page for a while and I think I’ve just started my first period but I can’t tell my mum or my mum’s not around and I live with my dad and my brothers, I can’t tell them. Or people at break time and lunch time in school who even go to my school and they message me or go through their period and say, can you come to the toilets with products, please? I started my period. Can you come help me? I don’t know what to do.

So sometimes it’s really upsetting to see the questions or the things that people ask me to do. But unfortunately, the taboo around menstruation has kind is been implanted in everyone’s brains, so some of us have really got to go over the top to try and remove it. You know, sometimes we have some great questions that make me think, like I said, I’ve got to pass people on and they’re like, right, so if my period blood is this colour, what does this mean? And I’m like, oh, brilliant, I don’t know. So, I’ll like, start a group with someone else that I know so it’s the three of us and I’ll ask the question and I’ve been educated as well as the person that’s asked the question. So, we have once again, a really broad range of different scenarios to deal with every day.

Le’Nise: So, based on the questions that you’re getting asked and the experiences that you’ve been having, so friends in school, people in school messaging you and asking you to come to the loos with them. What do you think needs to change about menstrual health education in schools?

Molly: Firstly, we need to have it properly. Menstrual health education cannot be defined as five minutes with a random teacher that was unlucky and drew the short straw. It cannot work that way. We need proper menstrual education, whether that be through PSHE lessons, whether that be through talks or assemblies, which I’ll be doing in my school now, I’m going to be doing groups with all the year groups, with packs of what periods are and we’ve got leaflets explaining what discharge is, what a period is, the different changes, how to check their boobs, different things that they need to know. It really needs to be implemented into the curriculum because it’s not properly and it’s something I keep pushing with the Welsh government. And so many people are. And I think they’re coming around to listening. They definitely are. We’ve just got to keep pushing them because until it’s actually stuck in the curriculum, there’s not a lot we can do about it. And when it is when it’s got its place, then we can build on it and say, right, these are the points we need to cover and it’s really important that we do.

Le’Nise: Tell me more about your campaigning with the Welsh government. So, you’re based in Wales and for our listeners who aren’t in the UK, different countries in the UK have different education systems. So, there’s England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. So, tell me about what you’re doing in terms of campaigning with the Welsh government or to the Welsh government.

Molly: So, with education, I’ve seen a lot of the ministers with Welsh government since I’ve started the campaign and local MPs and assembly members and things like that about various different things. But every time I’m there, I kind of bring in the comment, “oh, well, you know, we need to bring in the education about this.” I came along across a group and I know they’ve got a petition, I think it’s on change.org, I can’t remember the name exactly, who are trying to get it into the curriculum. And I know there was talks saying right, by 2022, menstruation education is going to be a thing. I love that menstruation education, it’s brilliant, brilliant words.

I’m still trying to work out with my team whether we can start a full-blown petitioning campaign on the side with it, because I think it needs to be done. What I’m doing it at the moment is I’m in the experimenting stage by doing it myself, my own school, like I said. So, we’ve been sent by Always, these packs and they’re be like a girl packs and they’ve got pads and tampons inside. And then like I said, they put the leaflets with all the information possibly need to know. So, we’re going to do these assemblies and I’m going to hand out this education, as I’ve done in primary schools across Cardiff. And we’re going to see how that goes. And if it goes well, I’m going to take the evidence and then say, right, this is how it works. This is the feedback I’ve had. These are my suggestions to say, well, I’ve basically done half the work for you now I need you to implement it. So, at the moment, I’m doing more of the practical side because of course, there are a lot of petitions, there are lots of campaigners. So I’m trying to go a different way about it to try and prove the point that it is needed and get the feedback on girls aged 11 to 18 saying that, yes, I think this needs to be implemented in within education and I need to be taught about this. So, yes, definitely at the practical stage at the moment and then hoping to really take it back to the Welsh government again then and present them with my findings.

Le’Nise: So, you’re doing that, and you also have your other campaign, which is about removing plastic from menstrual products. So, you’re very busy and you go to school, you’re 17, you’re doing your A-levels. So, tell me how you started looking into the plastic in menstrual products. So, tell me about that campaign.

Molly: So, when I was having my bad period cramps and before I went to the doctors, because of course if you book an appointment it takes about 6 weeks until you can get one. So, during that time I was trying to actively research myself what the issue could be. So, I spoke to lots of different people and I went back to people that I’d spoken to before and had a great phone call with the founder of Luck Store Organic, an organic cotton sanitary product company based in London, husband and wife, they’re really lovely. And they spoke to me, said, “Right, so what products do you use?” And I was like, “Oh well the cheapest ones I can find in the shop.” So, I got them out and she said, “Well, do they have ingredients on?” I said no, and she went, “So how do you know what’s in them?” And I said “I don’t know.” And so, she spoke to me, said, “Well, you know, try and look into what’s in there, maybe, because that’s causing.” So, I was always having the allergic reactions to products as well and they were really bad. And they would make me really uncomfortable and sore. And it was just a really uncomfortable time, possibly one of the worst places you could have an allergic reaction to something. And I was looking into the research and found that I couldn’t find these ingredients anyway, no matter how deeply I looked, all I found was that it may contain rayon and that was it. Couldn’t find anything else, so I went back to the woman and then spoke to Hey Girls UK as well. And back to Time of The Month, and then approached lots of different organic cotton companies globally. I even spoke to one from Australia and said, “So what is it about this organic cotton that makes it different?” Everyone was explaining, right, so we don’t have plastic in our products, and I was like, “What do you mean plastic?” And they said, “Well your pads are 90% plastic.” I was completely shocked. I didn’t know. One of the companies, like said, “Right, we’ll send you two of our boxes, try them out, tell us what you think.”

So, they sent them to me, and I tried them. My rash completely cleared up; my stomach cramps weren’t gone but they were very slightly better. And then, of course, looking into these products, I saw they had ingredients on the back, there wasn’t all this plastic in. They clearly saw what I was using and what was being absorbed into my body. So, as I used these products more and more, my allergic reaction completely cleared up and now I don’t have one at all. And alongside the medication I was on, I’ve been able to almost completely eradicate my period pain. So, I use the same with my sister who was also having allergic reactions and her rashes completely cleared up as well. And so then, of course, I recommended to other people and 100% I’ve had the same feedback from them, of course it won’t be the same for everyone, but from the people that I’ve recommended it to and have tried it for reusable period pads and pants or menstrual cups, have all said I’m not having the allergic reaction I’ve had before. So, I was thinking, why aren’t these companies telling us that they’re full of these chemicals or plastics if they are potentially harmful and clearly harmful to our body?

So, I was aiming towards the, you need to tell us the ingredients so we can make an informed decision because there are lots of campaigners, one amazing one in Cardiff is Ella [Daish] and she does the End Period Plastic campaign, which is huge now. And she’s really fighting for that. And she meets with the companies themselves, properly campaigning, and she’s an inspiration in this campaign, definitely in all the work that I do. So we’re looking at the, we want you to tell us the ingredients and we want it to be a legal requirement that these ingredients are on the packaging because we have every right to know what is in these products so we can make our own informed decisions about what we are using and work out what’s possibly making such an issue for our bodies. Because, you know, we use shampoo and conditioner and everything, they’ve all got the ingredients on. And sometimes if we’re looking for ingredients that we don’t want to use for our bodies or for our scalp, we don’t use them. So why shouldn’t it be the same for such an intimate area of our body?

Le’Nise: Amazing. What you’re doing is so amazing. And, you know, certainly I see it in my practice where as soon as the woman that I work with, they change the menstrual products that they’re using, whether they switch to organic tampons or they make a switch to a different type of menstrual pad, they see a change in their period, generally their period pain reduces and they see other benefits. So, the campaign is primarily about that menstrual product manufacturers need to show the ingredients in their products. So, transparency, which is super, super important. Have you spoken to any of these kind of big menstrual product manufacturers?

Molly: At the moment I’m aiming to get 10,000 signatures on my petition. Unfortunately, I became ill just after the summer holiday, so I had to kind of put it on pause. But now I’ve picked it back up again as I’ve finally gotten everything back on track with the campaign. And I’m really pushing now, on paper and online we’ve got over 2,000 and we got that really quickly in like a month. So, I’m going to push that again and get even more, which I know we will. And I’ve emailed and the best way to get through to these people sometimes is messaging them on social media because they reply easier. So, I’ve spoken Lil-lets and Always and I’ve said, “Why aren’t these ingredients on your packaging?” And the most interesting response I have was that of Bodyform UK who came back and said, “Hi, Molly,” and I did it off my personal account so they wouldn’t make an association with Love Your Period and said “Unfortunately, we do not have enough room on our products packaging to be able to list the ingredients.” And I was thinking, “how many ingredients do you have to not be able to fit them on that packaging?” So, it was crazy. So, I’ve done that much. And then when I’ve got the petition, I will be booking in meetings and all sorts, I’ll be going all the way. I’m not going to be dropping this one until it’ properly set in place.

Le’Nise: What’s really interesting is that you’d think that they would have started to respond to this because there are so many new companies coming up in this kind of menstrual health fem tech space. So, you’ve got the brands that you’ve mentioned, you’ve got the likes of OHNE, DAME, Daye, who are all really proudly talking about no plastic, organic cotton. You’ve got all the different menstrual cup companies, period underwear. So, you’d think that, you know, these companies would respond because they’re losing sales from people, switching from, you know, always using Tampax or Always or Bodyform to these other products. So, I think the work that you’re doing is absolutely amazing. How has all the campaigning that you’ve done, and all the educating that you’ve done, changed your relationship with your period?

Molly: I found that I’ve learned an awful lot about my period, my whole body through the work that I’ve done, whether it be learning about periods themselves in the first place, learning about other people’s periods, finding about other people’s experiences. I feel also as well, the thing that’s really made a difference in my life is, I’ve learnt the proper ways to cope and manage with my periods. So, yes, I did have to have intervention when it came to the pain I was having because I couldn’t function normally with it. However, I was able to find ways that I almost have been able to work with my period instead of against it, which is something I would have laughed out about a year ago. And I remember it sometimes and it makes me laugh. And I think, how does that work? I don’t understand. But now I do understand, I’ve learnt the right way, So I increased the right food, so I make sure I’d stick spinach in every meal when I’m on my period and I eat dark chocolate in the evening and I find that really actually helps my energy levels and changing my products, using different oils and things and essential oils in order to keep me calm and mood swings and also with any discomfort I do get, I found that I managed to finally find a way that works for me after so long of trying to find something that helps through recommending and hearing so many different suggestions of how people cope with theirs. I finally found my personalised way to work with my period and now, whereas before it was a burden, I really kind of hated it more. I’ve now managed to love it. Hence the campaign, because now that I found the right way to work with it, it works, and it makes sense because it’s your body. It’s part of you. You need to work with your body. So, it makes sense that by working with it, things will become a lot easier. So, I think I have the campaign definitely to thank for that. I finally found a way to live life normally and be thankful for my periods and realise that it’s a gift.

Le’Nise: So, having said all of that, you know, working with your period, seeing it as a gift, seeing loving your period now. What would you say to someone similar to you who got her period early and knowing what you know now, what would you say to her about her period?

Molly: Keep going with it. Of course, you have to just keep trying all the different alternatives you can. Don’t give up on it. Don’t let your periods take a week of your life away from you. So many of us for so long go well, that’s it, I’ve started this week, I don’t care, I’m going to be self-destructive, I’m going to eat everything I want, I’m not going to do any work. I did that so long, my excuse for not studying was I’m on my period this week. I kid you not. I did not study for a week. And that was my excuse because the discomfort of sitting there for so long and you felt like you could feel you’re on your period and I just let the mood swings without doing anything and them really control my life almost. So really, you’ve just got to try and find the best way that you can to continue your life the best way that you can and to the best quality that you can whilst you’re on your period and realise that your body doesn’t hate you. It’s not doing this because it’s trying to punish you, it’s doing this because it’s giving you a gift. Isn’t it amazing that we have these periods and what they’re able to do? We were able to bring life into this world. How incredible is that? I took A level of biology and it’s my favourite, I’m a real science girl. The fact that the human body can do something like that, it completely fascinates me. So really do see it as a gift. Do see it is something you should be really lucky to have and stick with it because it will get easier, definitely.

Le’Nise: So, what’s next for you? So, you’re in the middle of your A-levels, do you have any thought about what’s next with the campaign and where you personally?

Molly: So, I’m hoping to get my A-levels and then I want to go off to university. And I think I want to do nursing. Something period related. For the campaign, I’m definitely going to look into this education now as I’m starting the practical stages with the Welsh government and fight more with this ingredients petition and really just building up on this stigma as well. So, on the social media pages, we have a Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and you know, we’re starting a Tik Tok account just because so many people use that. And you know, if it’s going to help people, then I’ve got some girls in my team who want to start that. We’re going to be starting a Snapchat account as well. We’re really trying to go through ways that people see as normal everyday life in order to talk about periods, if that makes sense. So, we’re trying to incorporate it into aspects of everyone’s lives. So social media at the moment is the way that we’re going. I’m leaving that to the rest of the team because I can work Instagram, but that’s about it. I’m not very good with anything else, which is quite funny considering I’m a teenager. But yes, so they’re doing all that. So really, it’s just our main focus will always be spreading the word and just getting as many people as possible to, even if it’s not love their periods, just accept their periods.

Le’Nise: Brilliant. I think you are amazing and what you’re doing is amazing. Where can people find out more about the campaign? And where can they sign the petition?

Molly: So, our Instagram page is @loveyourperiod. Both petitions are in the link in the bio and they can be signed from anyone all over the world. We have a Twitter page, @loveyourperiod1 and then our Facebook page is The Love Your Period Campaign. But whichever one you go on to, you’ll be able to branch out to any of the other pages from there.

Le’Nise: Brilliant. So, if listeners take one thing away from everything you’ve said, what would you want that to be?

Molly: Periods are 100% normal, and no matter how much we try to ignore them, they are always going to be there, so the best thing that we can do is accept them and learn to love them.

Le’Nise: Brilliant, wise words from a very wise lady. Thank you so much for coming on to the show, Molly. All of the details about the campaign will be in the show notes, including a link to the petition. I really encourage you to sign what Molly is doing and what her team are doing is so, so important.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 13: Jasmin Harsono, Honour and Embrace Your Period

Period Story Podcast Episode 13 Jasmin Harsono

It’s Endometriosis Awareness Month and for the 13th episode of Period Story, I was so pleased to speak to Jasmin Harsono, a reiki master and teacher, sonic artist, intuitive wellbeing guide and founder of Emerald and Tiger. Jasmin shares her 20 year journey to getting an endometriosis diagnosis.

Jasmin talked about feeling like her first period was very strange and unnatural. She said that she was able to piece together what was happening to her from conversations with friends and then just got on with it.

Jasmin shares the journey she’s been on with her period, menstrual health and wellbeing. She says that she now feels very empowered by her period and feels the wisdom and power in it.

Jasmin says that it took her over 20 years of tests, back and forth with her doctors and a trip to A&E to get a formal endometriosis diagnosis. She says this has empowered her to share her period story so that others don’t have to go through what she did.

She says that sharing her story has helped others, when they’ve discovered their symptoms are similar to hers, to reach out to their GP and get help. Jasmin says that anyone with period problems needs to keep going back to their GPs until they get referred or the support they deserve.

Finally, Jasmin talks about her work as a reiki master and how this has affected her relationship with her period. She says that having awareness of universal energy within has helped her get unstuck emotionally, physically, spiritually and mentally.  Listen to hear the beautiful reiki treatments Jasmin gives herself everyday.

Jasmin says that we should share our period stories to help empower others and help break taboos around menstrual health and I completely agree!

Get in touch with Jasmin:

Website

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JASMIN’S BIO

Jasmin Harsono is an Author, Reiki Master Teacher, Sonic Artist, and Intuitive Wellbeing Guide. Jasmin shares a wealth of healing experience offering transformational tools that can be used in everyday life. She is the founder of Emerald and Tiger, a conscious lifestyle brand promoting positive awareness through vibrant connection to the body, mind and spirit. Jasmin has collaborated with brands such as Goop, Selfridges, and Crabtree & Evelyn and has featured in Women’s Health, Vogue, and Forbes publications. Jasmin’s practise is based in London, where she offers one-to-one treatments, training, wellbeing guidance, creative consultancy, group and corporate workshops and retreats.

SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: On today’s episode, we have Jasmin Harsono. Jasmin is a reiki master and teacher, sonic artist, and intuitive wellbeing guide. She is the founder of Emerald and Tiger, a conscious lifestyle brand promoting positive awareness through vibrant connection to body, mind, and spirit. Led to reiki through her own experiences of ill health, Jasmin now supports others, guiding them to tap into their true self and to understand they have everything they need in order to live well and feel whole from the inside out.

Welcome to the show.

Jasmin: Thank you so much for having me.

Le’Nise: This is a question I always start every podcast off with. Tell me the story. Tell me about the story of your very first period.

Jasmin: Well, I remember it was my first year in secondary school. I was aged 11, and I remember that morning before going to school, feeling a little bit off, had pains and sensations that I hadn’t really felt before. And yeah, I guess my mood was a little bit … I was feeling a bit low. And then I went to school. And then after school, I remember rushing all the way to home and dying to go to the toilet. And I thought, “Oh, what’s going on,” had these cramps and stuff. And I went to the toilet. I went to my grandma’s house, my nana, and I went to the bathroom and it was my first bleed, discovered my first bleed.

I remember it quite vividly and very instantly feeling a kind of a shame attached to it. I don’t know why, but it was just like, “What’s going on? I’m bleeding.” It just felt very unnatural, my first bleed. And I felt very shy about it and I didn’t really discuss it with my family, as such, not that I can recall. And we didn’t really have talks about it that much before, either. It was just kind of a weird thing to happen. But yeah, that’s what I recall from my first period.

Le’Nise: If you didn’t discuss it with your family beforehand, how did you know what it was?

Jasmin: I’d heard about it through conversation. I’ve got two sisters who are older than me. It’s not that it wasn’t unheard of, but when you just don’t know that knowing or feeling of what it’s going to be like yourself and it wasn’t a conversation that we had had in the house, like a sit down conversation. But obviously, it was going on and I’d seen sanitary wear and stuff like that around the house, so I was aware of what I had to wear for my period and those kind of things. But it was just not something that we would sit down and discuss as a family. And at school, there was a little bit of education in school and conversations within friendship circles. It was kind of that’s how I knew about it.

Le’Nise: When you had your first period, did you go to your sisters and say, “I need a tampon” or “I need a pad”?

Jasmin: No, I can’t actually remember where I got my sanitary wear from, but I don’t recall going to anyone. Maybe we had some around the house, I would imagine, because I had my mom, my two sisters. And so I’m pretty sure there would probably be some sanitary wear around the house.

Le’Nise: Okay. And so you went and you figured it out on your own. And at what point did your mom or your sisters discover that you had had your first period?

Jasmin: I actually don’t remember the conversation I had probably because it may have been a passing conversation. My mom had five children, so it was probably not something that I felt called to discuss. As I said, I was feeling a little bit strange about it as well. I probably internalized a lot of that and just got on with things. And that’s the kind of thought I remember with my period, just getting on with things and just dealing with it on a monthly basis.

Le’Nise: Why do you think that … You’ve mentioned a couple of words that are quite interesting and actually thread through a lot of the conversations I’ve had on this podcast. You’ve mentioned shame, shyness, feeling strange. If you think back now, where do you think those feelings came from?

Jasmin: I think through conversations in school with friends and the conversations that we had around periods was always … It was periods were gross almost. It was like, “Oh, no. You’ve got your period.” There wasn’t really an empowered message behind having a period. It was more like blood is yucky. It was that kind of thing, your smell, those kind of things. And I had that kind of connection to it. And I suppose I attached to that trail of thought for so long and that’s what I thought about periods. Every time that it would come, it was like, “Oh, no. Here’s my period and here’s a couple of days of really embarrassing moments to come,” almost. That’s how I felt about it.

Le’Nise: You think all of your friends at school felt embarrassed about their period?

Jasmin: Pretty much the conversations that I had. And embarrassment or that it just wasn’t … When you’re on your period, it’s not the great few days. No one would tend to enjoy their period or embrace it.

Le’Nise: Do you think that’s changed for you?

Jasmin: 100%. That was a very long time ago. I’m 38 now. I’ve been on such a journey with my periods, my menstrual health and wellbeing. And I’ve come around full circle. I talk about my period a lot to people and have discovered the reasons why I had so many awful symptoms for many years and suffered. And I am now feeling very empowered by my period. I honour my period, and every month I feel that I see the power and wisdom in it. And I use that time when my period comes as a time for reflection, connection, and self-love and healing. For me, it’s completely different. Before, I used to absolutely avoid any period talk or really feel disconnected from it, and now it’s a time to honour and embrace.

Le’Nise: What created that shift in you to go from almost this embarrassment and shame to the other end of the spectrum, feeling really empowered and honoring your period?

Jasmin: Definitely through knowledge and education, my own curiosity. I suffered with chronic pain from my periods. It would last pre, during, and post. I had severe heavy bleeding. I would flood. I would bleed all the way through my sanitary wear, my pants. That would happen to me every month. I used to go to the GP regularly, inform them of all these symptoms I was having, and it came to a point where I really wanted to know why this was happening to me because the more conversations I was having with other people, I realized that actually my period wasn’t the same as other people. Theirs were shorter. Mine were longer. My periods were heavier. Theirs weren’t so heavy. There was lots of things I was like, “Okay. Mine’s not the same.” And I think through my own curiosity, I began to really learn about myself, and that was in itself kind of empowering.

Le’Nise: How long do you think this journey took for you?

Jasmin: Yes. Yes. I went back and forth. I got my period at 11. I pretty much got the symptoms of heavy bleeds, chronic pain straightaway, and I lived through that for years until I was in my late 20s. I couldn’t go on the pill or anything like that because it caused me severe migraines. I had to really go through this cycle every month. And I had very long periods. They would be around 10 days of bleed, heavy bleeding. And I couldn’t get any answers. I had tests done, and it was kind of like, this is what periods are like. That’s what I was told. And I kept thinking, “This is not it. This is not it.”

But I had an incident where I had a cyst rupture. I didn’t know it was that at the time. But I had this. I went to emergency A&E, and then I had some other tests done, scans. And I was told … I was diagnosed with endometriosis. By that time, I understood. I had a level of understanding that my whole life, all these experiences with my period were because I had endometriosis. Then I had a link to that and the more knowledge I had, the more power I had and the less blame I had on my period. It was like, “Oh, I actually had something wrong with me all this time. I had this condition.” And then I wanted to support myself in getting well. That’s how it became full circle in the end.

Le’Nise: How long did it take for you to get your endometriosis diagnosis? So that-

Jasmin: Over 20 years.

Le’Nise: 20 years. Oh my gosh. And you said that at one point you were told, “This is what periods are like.”

Jasmin: Yeah, the norm.

Le’Nise: And how do you feel about that, knowing what you know now and your experience of your period now?

Jasmin: Now, as I said, I share my period story a lot. I really want the next generation, our youth to be empowered by their period, talk about it, don’t be ashamed by it. And so really now I’m not angry or anything about my life or what happened because I can’t really do anything about that. But what I can do is bring my story to the forefront and like other women, just share my story and hope and enable that that helps to start to strengthen the education system because sexual menstrual health needs to be so much better. It’s more pointed towards men than women. And yet women have our periods every month. That’s something that I think needs to change still.

And then, really, I really honor my period now, as I said. I feel completely different to how I did before. There’s a whole change in me physically, mentally, and emotionally towards my period because now I have the awareness. That’s really powerful.

Le’Nise: What do you do to honor your period?

Jasmin: I use an app so I can really focus on my cycle, my moods. And so I know when I’m due. And so I use that time to reflect and connect to myself. I know that I need to slow down. As I said, I have endometriosis and so I don’t have a normal period as such. I still have symptoms, although I manage them much better. I have to use that time to slow down and rest. And so I use that time to tap into my creativity and really just look after myself. It’s all about tapping into self-care and self-love during that time.

Le’Nise: You’ve really taken a lot of learnings from what’s best for your body during this time. And what do you find that your period is different? If you notice that throughout your menstrual cycle, you’re pushing yourself a lot more, do you see the effects of that in your next period or maybe the one after that?

Jasmin: Yes. For example, last week, my period was late and I very rarely have a late period. And I know that the month before, I was under a lot of stress and I put a lot of stress on myself because I was very busy with my work schedule. I worked through quite heavily through when I had my period, which works against me and can cause fatigue in my body that can be long-lasting. My period came late, and I had a feeling this would happen. Period came late and then I had really heavy bleed on Friday, last Friday gone so that I couldn’t even walk down the road for a few minutes. I kept bleeding through and flooding, and it was just very awful experience.

And that’s the learning in it because I know next month I have to really schedule my work so I’m not doing so much during that time. I need to really honour, embrace that time to slow down. That is the part of the month for me, personally, that I need to slow down and not do so much so that I can honor the bleed that’s happening and just allow myself to take some time out. Yeah. There’s always learning in every month. Every period, there’s something to take from.

Le’Nise: And it’s almost a counter-cultural message where this idea of slowing down for however long your period is and connecting and resting and reflecting because I’ve talked about this before, but I know you have your own business and we get told as being entrepreneurs, it’s this hustle, go go go all the time. But this idea of taking a step back, just even a tiny step back, just you almost feel … Sometimes, for me, certainly, I feel a sense of, “Maybe I shouldn’t be doing it” even though I know it’s the best thing for my body.

Jasmin: Yeah. There’s shame attached to that as well, I think. All of these things like, “Oh, we shouldn’t take a break. We need to work really hard.” I think that’s the system that we work on, definitely in the Western world. It’s like go go go. The harder you work, the more that you achieve and more success you’ll get. It’s that mentality. But I do work for myself and I work seven days a week. But I know that in my body if I don’t take a rest, the consequences are much more, the knock-on effects means that I could then be out, have this chronic fatigue for weeks and weeks and weeks, which means I can’t really function 100%. And so then my work is not … I’m not really doing my work to the best.

I think it’s really good that if you really honor what’s happening with you during your cycle every month, you can see and be aware of how you personally function, to be aware of that, and then work around that. It really benefits you much more. And so the time that you can put into work where you’re energized and you can put 100% into that time and then know that that works for you. I think that’s the best way in terms for me, that’s the best way that I work. Now, that feels very powerful to do that. I don’t have anyone to answer to, so for me, it’s a little bit different.

If you’re in a workplace, I definitely think more and more now with their having discussions within work about period health and so hopefully, you can go to someone in HR and say, “Look, this is what happens during my period. And so can I take a few days to work from home or can I work shorter days so I’m not traveling during busy hours, the commute hours?” and stuff. That’s why sharing and having the conversations are really important. I definitely would be having those if I was working for someone else.

Le’Nise: And March is endometriosis awareness month and you said that you’ve been sharing your stories a lot, your story of endometriosis diagnosis and you symptoms. Have you heard any feedback about the impact that your story has had on others?

Jasmin: Yeah. I think through several talks that I’ve given, lots of people have felt more empowered to share their own story. And also, have discovered that their symptoms are very similar to mine, and then have gone and reached out to their GP and got some help and really gone in there and said, “Look, I’m not leaving until I get seen by a specialist.” They have this information now where they feel like, “Well, she did that, so I’m going to do that” kind of thing. And I have a Facebook group I started a couple of years ago, a community group that’s now grown to 6,000 women across the world. And I know that my message in a subtle way has empowered other people to get their story out. And in my heart, I feel like that they’re sharing their story, that they’re helping someone else, too. Even if it’s one person, you feel like you’re spreading the word. Word of mouth is really strong in this kind of area where women don’t have a strong platform. If we can just do a little bit each, I think that will make a difference.

Le’Nise: Absolutely. One story has the power to change so many other people’s lives, absolutely.

Jasmin: And I’ve also connected with so many people that are studying endometriosis, studying the pain, the science, incredible people that are doing so much work behind it and haven’t got much funding and are just so passionate about really helping people because endometriosis, adenomyosis, lots of PCOS, these conditions are relatively high. There’s lots of people, there’s one in 10 people have endometriosis. It’s something that we should all be talking about anyway, but yet, there’s still a lack of information, a lack of knowledge. People are being diagnosed every 10 years or something like that. It takes 10 years to get diagnosed.

I think it’s really important that we just keep sharing our story. And that, for me, starts an opening where hopefully you’ll get to the point where in the UK, the government will listen to this more and realize that women’s stories need to be heard, whether it’s endometriosis or a mental health condition or something else. Yeah.

Le’Nise: What would you say to someone who comes to you and says, “I went to my GP, but I just felt a bit fobbed off”?

Jasmin: I would tell them to go back and go back again. That’s what I did. I did that for years and years and years. I said to you I had problems since I was age 11 and had gone to the doctor’s regularly. I had been told to go on antidepressants, I had IBS. I had so many different diagnoses and went down different routes until I had my cyst rupture. I know what it’s like to be fobbed off and told, “You’ve got this” or “There’s nothing wrong with you. It’s a normal period.” But now, knowing this information, I can’t really stand for anyone just to sit back and go through it. The message is just keep going back to your doctor. You have the information. There’s an incredible lady called Nancy Nook who shares really all of the best consultants to seek around the world. And so you can go to your GP and say, “This is who I want to see.”

Or the other route is, if you have the money, you can go and book an appointment with a private doctor, have a consultation with them, and ask them to refer you back onto the NHS to see this specific consultant. And this really works as well. Say you pay £150 to see a private consultant and then get yourself back on the NHS to see the consultant, this route works really well as well. And that helped me when I was diagnosed with cancer, which was years ago. But I know that there’s ways of getting to your consultant much faster than through your GP, and that’s one of them.

You just have to keep supporting yourself and know that what you’re going through is something that you really need to support. If I had known how much it had affected my fertility, for example, I think I would’ve been at the GP every day knocking down the door, but I just didn’t have awareness. And so now, I just … The most important message is to get seen and be heard.

Le’Nise: And what would you say, once they’ve got the appointment, they’re in the door, how would you suggest that they prepare for that appointment?

Jasmin: The most important thing is to keep a journal, to really write down all of their … keep a diary of their symptoms, what they eat, their cycle, how long a cycle is, what their bleed is like, what their mental health symptoms, what their digestive experiences are. Just keeping a journal of everything so that they have that information before they go and see the consultant and therefore, they can pretty much show them everything they’re going through on a monthly basis. And that really helps them to be, “Look, I’ve got all the information here. This is what’s going on for me.” So they can’t be told that their situation is that you’ve got a normal period because there’s evidently not if they’ve got all these symptoms connecting them to whether it’s endometriosis or something else.

I think keeping a diary is the most important thing. And then to maybe bring someone with you at the appointment so that they can hear everything because sometimes you’re digesting information and that’s all you need to do. And someone else can just sit there and take the notes for you. Yeah, and just make sure that you stay with that consultant if you’re happy with them. Make sure you create a relationship with them because that really helps. And usually, my consultant was also the person that was operating on me. I think it’s good to create a relationship with someone knowing that they have your best interests at heart.

Le’Nise: Can you talk a little bit about your work as a reiki practitioner and how that has … We talked about energy and slowing and how that’s affected maybe your relationship with your body and your period.

Jasmin: Definitely having the awareness of universal energy within, which is this chi, this life force energy, has helped me to get unstuck emotionally, physically, spiritually, and mentally. I always have this feeling of never feeling alone. I feel empowered by what’s going on in my body. By that, I mean that I have this awareness that, okay, I’m not feeling so good today and I can check in with myself and see why, and I can bring together this timeline and knowledge of why I’m not feeling well. And reiki helps me with that. It just helps to open up this awareness to all that’s going on within. And so you have, in fact, a natural ability to heal yourself because you are not being this person that’s stuck and not doing anything about it.

When you’re more open and embrace what’s going on within, you’re able to really understand that information, that your personal information of what’s going on inside your body and therefore do something about it. It really just helps me to be more aware and in that, I’m able to take something from that and do something about it. It’s the awareness and the action that goes afterwards, if that makes sense.

Le’Nise: And so do you have any particular tools that you use that you would be willing to share with the listeners?

Jasmin: I use clary sage oil on a regular basis to relieve the inflammation, and I massage that into my womb, into my hips, into my thighs, and my back, my lower back, the areas where I tend to get a lot of pain from the endometriosis and keeps everything really moving. In Chinese medicine, they talk about that area, if it’s cold, that you’ll more tend to have the pain and inflammation hanging around in those spaces, so massaging the area regularly keeps it nice and warm and helps everything to stay in flow. That really helps me, and it feels really good. It also feels like I’m honoring my womb as well. It’s kind of like an offering of self-care to my womb.

And I give myself a reiki treatment every day. That’s with my hands placed on my body, scanning the body and just placing the hands where it might need some reiki. That’s just tapping in to see where in my body I’m feeling stuck or I’ve got any pain. And then I place my hands on that area and send reiki there. And reiki is always within you, but the touch element, it just helps to support you more and feel really connected. And it’s a really nice way to meditate, I find. I bring in the breath, take some deep breaths and just allow this healing process to happen.

And I think food is really important to mention. We’re all very different. It’s really important to know what foods you digest well and to digest warming foods during the cold months. I always find that that really helps me to feel better. Soups and stews when it’s cold help me to, again, warm up the body and keep everything in flow. But just making sure that you’re eating well, drinking lots of water. And for me, I have a daily meditation practice, which really helps me physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually to stay connected.

And I think also, a period tracker. I use an app called Moody, which is amazing because you can track your moods, you can track your period, your cycle. You can also leave notes in there. You can journal. Anything that might be a little bit odd that month, you can write about it. And really generally, keep a daily journal of how you’re feeling, checking in with yourself. I’ll do a daily check in, “How am I feeling today?” And then I’ll just check through physically, mentally, emotionally how am I feeling. And that, I really find really powerful because I can look through that and just see if there’s anything that’s spiked, that’s peaked, that might not feel right, and then I can look into that more.

And I think also having conversations with others. If you’re feeling like something is not right or you feel … Yeah, it’s just basically sharing with other people, I think is really important, to find your trusted circle that you can talk about these things and not feel any shame or embarrassment. I called my sister on Friday and said, “I’m walking down the road. My period … I’m flooding through. It’s a nightmare. I’m not feeling well. It’s making me feel quite anxious.” I had all these conversations. And just in having that with someone who can relate with me because I know that she’s gone through that herself, then we have this connection where I feel like it’s not just me. And then it’s like that feeling of oneness, and I’m not going crazy. This is happening to someone else. I think connection with a trusted person who will relate to your story is really important.

And you can find that through Facebook groups or it doesn’t have to be a family member because it can be someone else, a stranger. You can find people online that are going through this, too. If you don’t have a community near you in person, you can find someone online to talk to about it. But I think that’s really important as well, to stay connected and talk about those things.

Le’Nise: You have quite a rich practice of honoring your body and staying connected with body using lots of different methods, which obviously I loved hearing about the food side of it, the meditation. Are there any specific, say, reiki techniques or meditation practices that you would share with someone who is going through something similar?

Jasmin: The most beautiful practice that I have is just a reiki treatment where I place one hand on my womb, so my right hand on my womb, my left hand on my heart, and I breathe into those spaces. I lay down, find somewhere comfortable, and I usually do this before I go to bed and in the morning when I wake up. But I share reiki in those spaces and I breathe into my womb. I just allow my breath to go in there and expand the breath into that space. You can visualize light, bright white light coming into that area, just receiving renewed energy into the womb. And then when you breathe out, you’re letting go of any tension, any pain that you’re holding onto. You’re breathing into the womb and then taking the breath into the heart space and just really opening and expanding these areas. And I find it really comforting. I find it really beautiful to connect in that way, and I see both spaces, I visualize roses in those space to … just an opening of beautiful red roses, which really helps me to feel like I’m loved.

And I think that’s really important for me in particular because sometimes we take on so much of the external world. And so this just gives you this time, even if it’s five minutes in the day, just to reconnect back and realize that your womb is creating so much beauty for you, and sometimes we get attached to, oh, this heavy period every month and that can really bring us down, like it did on Friday. When I reconnect through meditation, I bring an offering back to my womb to say thank you, in a way, for my bleed, for maybe being able to birth a child in the future or for me to connect to my creativity. It’s those kind of practices that I really embrace. And that’s one particular one that I will do on a daily basis.

Le’Nise: I think that’s so beautiful and it really shifts the narrative from … Certainly I see this with other women that I work with who have endometriosis. It’s the shift from this feeling of fighting with your body to honoring it, and that whole visual of visualizing roses, I just love that.

Jasmin: Yeah. Because you can go even further and use your senses. You can smell them and journey with the roses, which is really beautiful and you can extend into a meditation. And that’s just so beautiful when you can just visualize them growing and growing. And rose tea, which I drink regularly, is really beautiful. You can also honor your womb in that way, of just creating, making a little bit of time, a mindful moment of boiling the kettle, putting some rose petals in the cup, pouring hot water in, waiting for that to cool down, taking some deep breaths, and drinking that tea slowly. And just visualize that rose tea moving through into your womb space. Rose is really great for digestion and for your health of your skin and stuff like that. It’s got great qualities to it anyway, but that’s a really nice mindful moment of having a tea ceremony for your womb, which is really beautiful.

Le’Nise: Yeah. Wow, so lovely. Can you talk a little bit more about your work as a reiki master, your business, Emerald and Tiger, and maybe talk a little bit about your amazing book that has just come out?

Jasmin: Self Reiki came out in December in the UK and January, US, Canada. And it’s a book that focuses more on one specific area of reiki, which is hands-on healing and the power of touch. And hands-on healing has been around for a very long time, way before reiki has, the system of reiki has. But what it is in the book is just gives you these tools, these 40 exercises and meditations around health and wellbeing to help you to tap into your natural ability to heal yourself. In reiki, we do give achievements to awaken you, to bring this awareness of life force energy moving within you. But we know that we were all born with this energy. We are all created by this energy.

And so, really, the book gives you a little bit of this background information of what reiki is, history, and insights, and then there’s so many different exercises that you can follow. The wellbeing ones will be … For example, today’s a full moon, so there’s a full moon meditation in there so you can really exercise the process of writing down all the things that you want to let go of under a full moon and feel empowered to let go of those. That’s a really nice exercise to do. Or there’s ones around if you have chronic back issues, you can follow a reiki treatment to help to relieve that pain and see why that pain’s coming up for you because often when we talk about working with reiki, we find that the roots of the problem isn’t the physical back pain, that there might be an emotional attachment to why that back pain is coming up.

Yeah, there’s lots of exercises in there that would be for everyone, generally, on a daily basis. And so it’s really about creating this daily treatment for yourself every day, a little bit of self-care to really honor yourself and be more in tune with yourself personally because although I feel that we’re all connected and we are in so many special ways, we all individually go through things personally. And so it’s really about tapping into that and finding why that is, who am I, what’s going on with me today and having that check in.

Jasmin: And my business, Emerald and Tiger, I offer one-to-one guidance, corporate group workshops, events, retreats, and products such as my book. And Emerald and Tiger fuses the synergies of modern life and conscious living and ancient practices, so practices such as reiki and sound healing to help people to tap into their natural ability to heal. Really, I am the facilitator to help to bring people … come back to their true self. And I offer, for example, a session called Breathe Love, which is about people breathing love back into their bodies. It starts with a breathing exercise for 20 minutes, guided meditation and then lots of sound healing. And all of these tools help to bring us back to the energy that’s within us, that life force energy. All of my work always comes full circle back to the essence of who we are, what we are made up of.

Le’Nise: If someone wanted to get in touch with you … As someone’s listening to this podcast and really connecting what you’re saying about circling back to the energy and the ability to heal yourself and the meditations that you talked about, how would they connect with you?

Jasmin: I have a website emeraldandtiger.com. They can reach me at hello@emeraldandtiger.com, send me an email if they’re curious or have any questions. And I’m also on Instagram, Emerald and Tiger.

Le’Nise: Brilliant. One last question, if listeners, if they take one thing away from all of the beautiful things that you’ve talked about, what would you want that to be?

Jasmin: I would definitely start with keeping a journal of their period and creating their own period story, so really finding out on a daily basis what their mood’s like and tracking their period and understanding their particular cycle because everyone’s is different. That’s really the key thing. But also, if I can add to that, is to share their period story, to have those conversations because that really empowers other people, the youth, the next generation that are coming, we hope that they’ll be talking about it more and more and more so that it doesn’t stay a taboo subject anymore, that we can really honor our full femininity and the amazingness of our womb, that we don’t often do.

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

Jasmin: Thank you so much for having me. It was a pleasure. Thank you.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 12: Toral Shah, We Need More Diversity In Healthcare

For the 12th episode of Period Story Podcast, I was honoured to speak with Toral Shah. Toral is a nutritional scientist, functional medicine practitioner, food & health writer & consultant and the founder of The Urban Kitchen.

Toral shared how a family holiday to Egypt ended in a surprise from her first period and how supportive her mum was. She says her mum had made sure to educate her about menstruation beforehand, so when it arrived, it wasn’t a complete shock. 

She said her mum’s openness helped her see her period and menstrual health in a matter of fact way, which was quite different to her friends.

Toral shared her experience of medical menopause after her breast cancer treatment. She shared the side effects she experienced and how she believes more needs to be done to help women with the side effects of breast cancer drugs.

Toral says that more women need proper education on what menopause and perimenopause actually is and how it can affect them. She says that many doctors aren’t educated in menopause, unless they have specialist menopause certification and believes this needs to change.

We also had a great discussion about the lack of diversity in healthcare, health and wellbeing. Toral talked through research by Dr. Adrienne Milner that shows that BAME community isn’t being represented effectively at consultant levels, which means that they aren’t necessarily being reflected in policies and structures. 

Toral says that we need to listen to ourselves, our bodies and give ourselves what we need and I completely agree! 

Get in touch with Toral:

Website
Instagram
Facebook
Twitter

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Toral’s Bio

Toral Shah is a Nutritional Scientist (MSc Nutr Med), Functional Medicine Practioner, Food and  Health writer and Consultant, as well as the Founder of The Urban Kitchen. She originally went to medical school with a view to becoming an oncolgist but when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, she realised that this was not the career for her. After completing her BSc in Cell Biology, specialising  in cancer, she worked in research, winning a presitigious Royal Society internship where she worked on SRC oncogenes. Toral then went on to do an MSc in Nutritional Medicine at University of Surrey.

She specialises in optimising health and disease prevention through  improving food, diet and lifestyle. She uses evidence based science knowledge along with lifestyle medicine and cooking skills  to help support others to lead a healthier life by eating delicious and nutritious food. She is particularly passionate about cancer prevention and completed her MSc thesis researching the foods that prevent recurrence of breast cancer. As a breast cancer patient and survivor, she understand how patients might want to change their diet and lifestyle post diagnosis.

She also works with a large portfolio of brands, press and individuals within the food and wellness industry from hosting supper clubs, speaking at large health and corporate wellness events, festivals and private events, developing recipes and creating nutritional content for brands sharing her knowledge of nutrition and science.

Toral is also passionate about combatting the lack of diversity in healthcare and ensuring both doctors and patients from BAME groups are equally represented within the NHS and healthcare systems. Currently, BAME  people have poorer health outcomes, even when you take into account socioeconomic factors, and are often diagnosed with cancer later and at later stages. Toral is working with several charities and organisations to ensure that they are creating more inclusive health promotion campaigns with more diversity and inclusivity so that all communities know that cancer can affect them.

She is currently  the process of writing her first book which explores the latest science behind foods that optimise health and illustrates them with some of her favourite recipes. 

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SHOW TRANSCRIPT

Le’Nise: On today’s episode, we have Toral Shah. Toral is a nutritional scientist, functional medicine practitioner, food and health writer and consultant, as well as the founder of The Urban Kitchen. Toral specialises in optimizing health and disease prevention through improving food, diet, and lifestyle. She uses evidence-based science knowledge, along with lifestyle medicine and cooking skills to help support others to lead a healthier life by eating delicious and nutritious food.

Le’Nise: Toral is particularly passionate about cancer prevention, and completed her MSc thesis in researching the foods that prevent recurrence of breast cancer. As a breast cancer patient and survivor, she understands how patients might want to change their diet and lifestyle, post-diagnosis. Toral is also passionate about combating the lack of diversity in healthcare, and ensuring both doctors and patients from BAME groups are equally represented within the NHS and healthcare systems. Welcome to the show.

Toral: Lovely to be here. Thanks for having me.

Le’Nise: We’re going to talk about your very impressive resume later on in the show. But first, I want to ask you about the story of your very first period. Can you tell us what happened?

Toral: I was actually one of the lucky ones. My mom had shared with me what exactly happens before you have a period. So I wasn’t completely surprised. But I was actually in Egypt on holiday with my family, so I wasn’t quite expecting it then. I had just had tummy cramps, and I hadn’t felt great for a couple days. I actually attributed that to some fish we had eaten. So I was like, “No, the fish has made me really ill.” And then obviously, I started my period.

I think the thing that was difficult about that was, we weren’t back in London. We were in Egypt where it’s a slightly different country, where you don’t know where you need to buy what you need to buy, like sanitary products and things. It’s also an Islamic country, so it’s harder to ask someone for help to where to go buy that. I felt sorry for my mum in hindsight, now that I’m older. She had to magic some things up to help me. I know I was really lucky, it was a light early period. But I was only 11, so it was probably a little bit earlier than I had probably anticipated having that happening to me.

Le’Nise: So how did you feel when you got it?

Toral: Surprised, but not… I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t realize that I had to have stomach cramps. No one had actually mentioned that part to me. I understood what it was from a biological perspective. But I didn’t realize that I was going to have it like I thought I’d get. I wasn’t going to feel very happy, and I was going to feel slightly miserable, a bit grumpy. And also, just not being at home. Being in a hotel was a little bit challenging for me. But having my mum there with me all day made it so much easier than if I had been at school or somewhere else.

Le’Nise: You said that your mum talked to you about it beforehand. So you weren’t completely surprised about what you saw.

Toral: No.

Le’Nise: What sort of things did she teach you about it?

Toral: So I think for my mum, it was really important that someone told me… Well, she told me about what a period was and why you had it, and what was going to happen. Because she had such a terrible experience, herself. My mum’s actually one of five sisters. And despite being number four, no one had really explained periods to her. She knew something happened. She knew there’s something mysterious. She knew that there were times of the month where her sisters were a bit grumpy, and things were happening. But she didn’t really know.

So when she started her period, she was actually the same age as me, she was 11. She was at school and she started bleeding, and just literally thought she was dying and didn’t know what to do, and just ended up using loads of tissues and things like that. Then obviously… This in the times before we had all the amazing sanitary products that we have now. So they used to use towels and rags. They used to buy these pads where you used to have to put them in some sort of special contraption so they could stick to your pants, and things like that.

My mum said she just didn’t want me to have that experience, and not know. And also, I was quite precocious. I had already had a really high reading level, and knew a lot about biology. So it made it a little bit easier for my mum. Just to be able to understand what was happening to me biologically, made a difference.

Le’Nise: And then when you got back from holiday and you went back to school, what was it like with the conversations with your friends?

Toral: Interesting. I was one of the youngest ones to start her period. And it was a bit like, “Oh my God. I am so grown up. I’m better than you guys. I already started my period.” It was that kind of conversation. In those days, that was like who grew boobs first and who had their period. That made you just sort of a grown up girl, as opposed to a little girl.

Le’Nise: When you were talking to your friends, you said that your mum had already talked to you about it beforehand. Were you kind of the educator amongst your friends?

Toral: We had already had some sort of sex education and talk about periods at school by then. So whilst I may have talked… I don’t remember talking. I do remember talking to my friends about it, but I don’t remember getting into detail. I think we were already all… Whether our parents had done it or whether it was the school, we had had some information at least. So it wasn’t completely… Actually, I didn’t have a terrible experience. It wasn’t something we talked about a load. It was just more, “Oh, I had it.”, rather than anything else.

No, no, no. It was only I think a little bit older, that we started talking a little bit more about it. I think at that first couple years, it wasn’t something that we maybe talked about.

Le’Nise: So as you got older, you started to talk about it more. Was it starting to be in a context more of sex and relationships with boys, or was it quite more still on the biological functional level?

Toral: I think it was more on the biological functional level. I think it depends on who everyone is friends with. Most of my friends were not the people having sex at 14 or 15, and things like that. There were some in my school. But it was more about like, what can you use? Does it feel great? Does it dirty? What about swimming? What about the gym? This is when there wasn’t much choice of products then. They were very thick. There were tampons with applicators. So it was before the smaller… Shows my age, this does. It was before the kind of smaller little tampons came out without applicators.

I remember when Always came out with the pads with wings. So that was a revolutionary new thing, when I was maybe about 14 or 15. So that was something new, and we were all a little bit, “Oh, this makes it so much better.” It doesn’t fall off, and things like that. We would talk more about the practicalities of it in that way. And obviously as I got older, I think the sex and relationship part didn’t actually come into conversation with the periods part. They were two quite separate conversations. Even though they’re obviously inextricably linked, we didn’t talk about it together that way.

Le’Nise: You said that when you got your first period, you said that you had a stomach ache. Was period pain a part of you having a period?

Toral: Yes, period pain has continued to be a part of me having a period. It is something that I have lots of conversations about, because it’s something that we didn’t talk about. I’m on day five, so I’m going to be very honest about that. I was going to meet a friend on Friday, which was day two, and I messaged him. I said, “I’ve got period pains, and I’m not feeling great. Let’s not meet for a coffee.” Well, I probably wouldn’t have done that with boys before. Ironically, it’s a very good friend. But even then, I think how much more open, just because we as a society, we’re talking a bit more about it. We’re talking more about it being a normal bodily function. Before, we just hid it. It wasn’t something you would ever tell. I think my brother was aware of these things, but he’s definitely much more aware now.

Le’Nise: Why do you say that?

Toral: Because he has a wife. Yeah, he has a sister. He doesn’t have any daughters, he’s got sons. I think we’re much more open to talking about it. Whereas it wasn’t something I would necessarily have said to him when we were 13, “Oh, this is what’s happening.” He must have known, but he didn’t… And again, it was a bit confusing for him too. So again, we need to educate the boys just as much as we educate the women.

Le’Nise: Why do you think society is more open about periods and talking about periods now than it used to be?

Toral: I don’t know, actually. I don’t know if it’s just because we’ve become more open about talking about so many thing. We talk about relationships more. We talk about sexuality more. We talk about sex more. We talk about… I think the world has changed so much. I think particularly in the U.K., where we are a very kind of closed, stiff upper lip society. I think things are changed. The society’s just changed. I think we also understand things a bit more from a biological perspective. There’s a lot more science and understanding all sorts of things around the period. Whether it’s the hormonal and the emotional aspects, or the physical aspects, and what we can do to support ourselves.

I think it’s also having a whole society of women, like my mum, who wanted their daughters to have different experiences, and talked about it. But yeah, I was out with my sister-in-law the other day, and she’s from a different culture. She’s from Kyrgyzstan, and they didn’t… Her mum didn’t explain anything. Her mum gave her a book. So I think it really depends on the other things. From my mum, my mum’s hugely, hugely open. My mum’s also quite scientific, and she works in the healthcare industry. For me, I think that was because of her passion, she wanted it. I’d be really interested to speak to my cousins to see whether they had the same experience, even though their mums were all brought up with my mum. I feel like my mum’s slightly different. I will actually ask them this next time I speak to them, because I think it would be an interesting conversation.

Le’Nise: Do you think your mum being so open about periods and menstrual health in general, changed the relationship that you had with your period?

Toral: I can’t say it did or didn’t, because obviously, she was always like that. For me, it was a part of biological life, and that was what happened to girls. And we always talked about it. I didn’t have to hide it, and I didn’t have to hide buying products. I think it only made it easier. When I hear about some of my friends’ stories, then I think that at least I had someone who was actively engaged in the process, and explaining and buying the products and doing things, and making sure I had everything I need. Obviously, I can’t imagine what it would be like if I had not known. And I do know from friends and family members, that they didn’t really know what was going on. They had to try and find tissues and towels and rags, even in those days. Even now, I feel like when you think about people from different countries, they still don’t really know. So for me, I’m just grateful that I had my mum explain what it was before it happened.

Le’Nise: Yeah, I think that’s very… It’s very different to a lot of the other guests that I’ve had on the show, where shame and secrecy is a big theme. It then translates into the relationship they have with their period. A lot of them have said as they get older, it’s only now where people are more open, that they actually feel like, “Why am I so ashamed of this?” It’s nothing to be ashamed of. I think it’s amazing that your mum’s openness and not having to hide it, has just made you… It sounds like you have a very matter-of-fact relationship with your period.

Toral: I do now. But I do think there was shame and secrecy. I would have told my female friends. I would never have told any male friends. My brother and my dad knew, just because our family is quite open. That’s the way it is. But I wouldn’t have told maybe even boyfriends and male friends, and other family members. Because they’d say, “Why don’t you want to go swimming?” And things like that. You’d sort of make something up. I think that society has changed now. So we are able to talk about it more. The fact that you’re even doing this, I love that you have a whole podcast dedicated to getting your period, because this happens to half the world. Literally, half the world. We’ve shrouded it in secrecy and shame for so long. I still think for me when I think about it, culturally, there are so many aspects of that.

I’m Indian. One of the things about when you have your period is, you can’t pray and go to a temple. You’re not supposed to cook for people. You’re not supposed to use certain things. Yeah, and there are so many things you’re not supposed to do. I can understand why. In some aspects it’s to give people rest, so they can actually rest. And then it became something dirty and something secret. Actually, the whole point of why these rules are created, to give people some time to rest and recuperate while these things happen to their body. It had become something nasty and dirty and secret.

I think it’s partly the whole patriarchal nature of culture and religion. I could go on about that. That’s been forgotten. I think for me, when I hear these stories still in the news of places like Nepal and India, where people are made to sleep outside and are not given food… People are dying. I’m thinking, it’s 2020. This is ridiculous that we are… Well, society and patriarchy is punishing women for having a natural bodily function. It’s ridiculous. It still happens in so many countries and cultures, where you’re not supposed to go to wherever your area of prayer is. Or eat with other people or touch other people, and things like that. I find that horrible.

Le’Nise: Even in yoga actually, they’re still talking about culture. There is this kind of old school mentality where you hear male practitioners say, “You shouldn’t do yoga on your period.” I actually find that quite frustrating, because it’s basically saying that you’re not allowed to listen to how you feel and what your body is telling you. And actually, yoga is amazing when you have your period, especially have things like period pain and cramps because it can ease a lot of that. What you’re saying about patriarchy and cultural experiences drifting into how people talk about periods, goes into loads of different areas.

Toral: Well, I think you have to remember that yoga comes from India and the Hindu culture. That’s part of why male practitioners say that, because they do not want to have people essentially making their yoga place dirty. They don’t want anyone not to be purified. It’s ridiculous, because… You’re absolutely right. Yoga is amazing for period pains. For me, I’m really conscious about how I look after my body and what I do. So yoga is one of the things I’ll do. I will go and do some cycling, but maybe I won’t go and lift really heavy weights the last couple of days, just because it makes me feel really tired. But I think we have to look back at why did this happen. Men made rules about women’s bodies for so many years, and still do. I mean, think about it.

What’s been seminal in the last couple of weeks is that certainly in the U.K., Scotland is going to provide free period products to school, and that England’s following suit. But we pay a tax on these things. Why are we paying tax on sanitary wear, which is an essential item? We’re paying tax as if it was a luxury item. I find this incredibly patriarchal and kind of ridiculous, because it’s not a luxury item. We need it. And actually, we haven’t educated people to understand that. There are still so many things around period pains and work and stuff. People just don’t talk about it. Some women are debilitated with these pains, or whatever’s happening around that. So for them to go to work, they can’t even say anything. It’s not built into our structure.

Le’Nise: There are lots of signs that this is changing, but not as fast as it should. I’d say that it’s certainly when I speak to younger people, people in their teens and 20s, they are much more open, men and women… about periods, menstrual health, sexuality and all of that. I think that’s forcing older people from 30-plus, to start to change their attitudes. I want to talk a little bit about your cancer diagnosis, and how that changed your period. Because I know some cancer patients, they go into medical menopause. I wondered, was that your experience?

Toral: I have had a bit of both. It depends on your cancer. Firstly, I had breast cancer, which was very hormone related. So basically, it grows in response to estrogen and progesterone. What happens in those cases, which is a lot of women, is they want to give you something that will reduce the amount of estrogen in your body or stop your ovaries from producing estrogen. So they’re two different kinds of things. One is by taking Zoladex, which is an injection. The other one is taking a tablet like Tamoxifen. I have avoided Zoladex for a long time. I have an appointment on Friday, where I’m sure we’re going to have the conversation yet again. But I have had Tamoxifen. It has stopped my period, because it’s an estrogen blocker.

It is interesting, because it’s such a part of being a woman. It feels very different. So part of me is like, great. I can just do whatever I want to do. I could swim all the time. But actually, blocking your estrogen and not having estrogen changes your mood, changes how your body works, changes how your brain works. It also increases your risk of certain diseases and things like that. So whilst it does help you when you’re on medical menopause to reduce your risk of having breast cancer again or certainly any hormone-dependent cancers, it does change so much of your body. I think this leads us back to menopause where again, this happens to half the world. We haven’t been talking about it until the last year or so, which I find amazing. Because women are such an integral part of our society and our workforce now. And we’re not actually allowing them the space to understand the menopause, and work through it and make allowances for some of the really big changes that happen in your body.

Again, as a cancer patient, when you go through medical menopause, people just think you’re being a little bit difficult or you’re being hard or something like that. It’s so debilitating, some of the side effects. For me, the hot flushes were one thing. But I had some of the rarer side effects, including… You just seem to have a very, very, very sore and dry vagina. And other parts, the vulva. It’s something that we’re starting to talk about. It happens in normal menopause, too. But because this happens really suddenly, I was in absolute agony. I literally couldn’t walk or do anything, to the point where I can’t take this job anymore.

Not only does your period stop which is a small thing, but it’s actually, why do they stop? It affects all your hormones, because it’s blocking the estrogen. For me, it just ends up being… Both times I tried it, because I had breast cancer twice, it hasn’t been something I could actually tolerate for more than a few weeks at a time because it’s so painful. And we’ve still not really researched or found a cure to help women with these side effects. It’s something I talk about. I’m sure if it had been for men, like Viagra, we’d have discovered it quite quickly. But because it’s for women, the research just hasn’t been there.

Lots of women have to go through medical menopause with different types of cancer, because the chemotherapy can just also stop your ovaries from working and things like that. But there are so many other reasons. And we’re not really still researching what we could do to help. Every time I go to a conference… I went to a conference for young women with breast cancer last year. They were talking about how women, there was such a reoccurrence in younger women because they’ve stopped the hormone treatment. I kept putting my hand up after every single lecture I spoke, and said, “But you’re not helping us with the side effects.” I mean, I know I can do for myself and I work in nutrition and lifestyle medicine. But then there’s very little, and they’re insisting that we keep on these drugs, and I totally understand why. But actually, it’s much, much harder for younger women. And you’re not helping us and we’re finding it really difficult, both emotionally and physically.

Le’Nise: What was the response of your doctor when you went to them and talked about the side effects you were experiencing?

Toral: My own GP this time around, I have a female GP who’s absolutely phenomenal, who used to actually work in AIDS research, also has had some experience of women who’ve had AIDS treatment with exactly the same side effects, because they suddenly go into menopause too. So she had loads of ideas and things to help me, including taking some vaginal estrogen suppositories and cream, and all sort. And just the conversations, and just actually listening to me. That was amazing. The previous time, they just all seemed to be really baffled that this was a side effect. I did end up seeing a gynecologist at Chelsea and Westminster. But again, we kind of agreed that let’s just stop it, and we didn’t know what to do. I think I’m very knowledgeable about hormones and how our body works, so I have a little bit more say in my own treatment with my cancer. So it has been a little bit easier to have those conversations. I’m also quite strong. So in fact, I’m not taking something because it’s making me feel horrible, then I’m not doing it and I can explain why I’m not doing it. But I think a lot of women suffer in silence.

I was at an event on Tuesday about medical menopause and the side effects for younger women, with a charity called Trekstock. So many women had no idea there were things that could help them. They could take some forms of HRT, or they could take some of these creams or patches and things like that. I think again, we need to start educating women. We need to talk about these things. If it’s shrouded in secrecy and again, don’t talk about how it impacts our society and our workforce and women, then we’re not going to help them.

Le’Nise: What do you think your experience of being in medical menopause would do for your eventual journey into perimenopause and menopause?

Toral: I think a little bit of understanding about how difficult it might be, and preempting that I’m going to need some support around this. I’m also conscious that a lot of things that can help people through perimenopause and menopause may not be suitable for me, just because I’ve had an estrogen dependent type of cancer. But I’m also conscious there are people who are interested in this and talking about it. There are things that we can do from a nutritional lifestyle medicine perspective. So at the moment, I am spending a lot of time researching and understanding the estrogen system, we have an estrogen detoxification system in our bodies. So perhaps it’s for me and my body, it’s not all about removing estrogen from my body, but it’s about helping my body and supporting my body to naturally detoxify that estrogen and go through that system.

What’s really interesting about the perimenopause and menopause is that we’ve not talked about this to women. We’ve never ever talked about this in school. We’ve obviously talked about periods and stuff, but we’ve never educated girls to talk and understand what menopause is. We sort of just say, “You have menopause, and you’re period’s stopped.” But we’ve never really educated. So maybe that’s an area where we are… I know that’s on the curriculum now. That will make a difference to women. My own personal journey, I’m just conscious from now on. Being in my 40s, perimenopause may happen soon-ish. I don’t know when I would go through natural menopause. Because my mum had breast cancer too, and she had chemotherapy and suddenly went into menopause, from having her period and being actually quite normal. So we don’t actually know what the natural age of my mum having menopause is, and that’s really the biggest indication for when you would have menopause. So I’m really interested to see what happens in the next 10 years.

Le’Nise: It’s interesting that you’re talking about a mix of HRT and also nutrition and lifestyle intervention. I think that’s actually really positive to hear. Because in the conversations about menopause, they are very dominated right now of HRT, HRT, HRT. I do find it frustrating, and that’s not just because I am a holistic nutritionist. It’s because I just know that HRT, it’s a solution, but it’s not the only solution.

Toral: As long as there is a solution. But from my perspective, when I think about the side effects of the body not having estrogen, how it increases your risk of cardiovascular disease. It affects your brain, so you’re not working as well and have brain fog. And all the other different risks. And osteoporosis, things like that. I do think I kind of want HRT, to continue for my own health. But, agree. I think there are so many things. One of the things I wrote about last year is that there’s been some research on the Mediterranean Diet. It’s a diet full of vegetables and fruits, legumes, a little bit of dairy, lots of fish. It can actually help to delay our menopause by up to three years.

Delaying our menopause is actually healthy, because it means our body has estrogen for longer and will reduce these risks of having cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. But also, when we’ve reduced our estrogen, we also become a little bit more insulin resistant. We’re already becoming more insulin resistant as we get older, particularly if we’re putting weight around our midriff area, which often happens as our estrogen levels decrease. So if we can help people by eating a little bit more differently, then that will make a difference to their long-term health. So it will help because hopefully, they’ll help not put on so much weight by putting on that fat in the midriff area by having… Because if we’re insulin resistant, then we’re going to process our food in a slightly different way. So insulin is not going to work as well, so we are more likely to store extra fat. By understanding that, that helps hopefully for us to understand how to eat.

Also, we need lots of fiber to help detoxify estrogen from our body, and it helps our gut health and everything anyway. And having these kind of legumes and things, we know that there’s so many good things for heart health, for our… There’s lots of good protein in them, there’s lots of really good fiber. So maybe it’s about doing a little bit more research to understand how that’s going to help our bodies. I think that having a slightly lower carb diet can help some women. And again, we’re looking… I think it again, that works again, without insulin resistance. I wrote about this a couple of days ago. So maybe it’s just understanding this a bit more.

Doctors aren’t really educated in menopause, that’s the other thing. Unless you’ve got a specialist menopause certificate, your GP won’t know that much about menopause and what the different options are.

I find it quite scary that lots of GPs aren’t trained in menopause. Unless your GP has a specialist menopause certification, they may not know that much, even if they’re women. Given that half of the population are women and will go through menopause, I find that quite terrifying. So why isn’t nutrition, why isn’t menopause part of the general GP training given that it’s important to everybody, and menopause is going to affect half their patients.

Le’Nise: It’s actually quite frightening sometimes, what you hear secondhand about what GPs have said about menopause. I was working with someone last year, and her GP said to her perimenopause isn’t real. It’s not a real thing.

Toral: Oh my God.

Le’Nise: And that’s actually not the first time I had heard that. It was only when I got her to do some tests, and then she went to her GP with the test results and said, “Well actually, this is what my tests are showing.” And the GP was like, “Oh. Actually, this might be perimenopause.” But then it started being a conversation about HRT. HRT is fine as I said. But I think there are other things, because this client was so young, that could have been done first. That education piece is so important. I know that you’re involved in a lot of campaigning. Have you done any campaigning around more education for GPs within this area?

Toral: Not in the menopause areas yet. It’s something I am constantly talking about, though. You have to pick and choose the campaigns that you do. But one of the things I have talked about is, why are… I would love doctors learn more about nutrition. So I’m really supportive of an organization called Nutritank. They’re trying to get nutrition onto their curriculum for medical school. Obviously, it’s the same with Culinary Kitchen and Dr. Rupy. There’s definitely that.

As far as menopause, for me, it was really getting my head around… I didn’t really realize that doctors weren’t educated until I investigated it for myself. I try to help women with a particular medical menopause. I work with a lot of cancer patients. But also, some of my cancer patients are post or during menopause. And they’re not getting any support. So I think it’s not even the difference between male GPs and female GPs. It’s just that people aren’t understanding. I do think I need to start campaigning for this, because it’s such a simple and natural bodily function and part of life. If it affects our workforce, then we need to support that. I think that’s the interesting… Anyway. I think that’s what will make a difference.

Understanding that people who are most productive, whether they’re male or female, are between 45 and 64. They’re the ones that make the most money. So understand that women who go through menopause are normally within that age frame, and that’s going to impact our economy and our workforce. That is what I think will actually push people into looking and helping people through menopause more, because it affects our workforce. I don’t think the actual fact that women just having menopause, it being difficult, is something that’s encouraging people to necessarily research or learn more. And it’s a shame. Because why must it have to always have to be about the economy?

Le’Nise: I want to just talk a little bit about one of your other passions, which is about the lack of diversity in healthcare. And I wondered if you could speak a little bit about your experience as an Asian woman in having dealt with the NHS with your cancer treatment. Did you feel that your ethnicity affected the treatment you got?

Toral: Actually, I’m going to say no. I am very lucky. I have a really amazing team, they’re quite mixed. I’m also very understanding about my own body, and what wasn’t working. So when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, it actually took me quite long to be diagnosed. Not because of my ethnicity, because I was young. I was 29, and no one really believed me. So I was very lucky that my mum believed me. My own GP at the time didn’t believe me. So I have a new GP who did take into account my history, and then I was diagnosed and looked after. I think why I’m involved with this, is just understanding the statistics. For me, I come from… I went to medical school, my mum worked in healthcare. I understood how the system worked, so I knew… We knew that when my GP wasn’t taking it seriously, what we needed to do to be taken seriously so that my mum would help me to be diagnosed. And actually, I have to be all credit to my mum. It’s because my mum worked in a hospital and she asked her radiologist friends to help get me diagnosed. That wasn’t a problem.

But going forward and working with cancer patients and having lots of friends who have had cancer or have cancer, there is a real discrepancy. So many other women that I meet, are diagnosed much, much later. Because the statistics show that women on average, have to go at least two to three times more to their GP if they are from a Black Asian Ethnic Minority to be taken for their symptoms, to be taken seriously, til they have tests done to be diagnosed with cancer. This means that women are often diagnosed later. Men, too. BAME men, too. The BAME community is generally diagnosed later, at a fairly later stage, which means that they may not respond to treatment because it may have spread. For me, that’s a problem. That’s really scary.

When we come back to the actual research, there’s been some really interesting research that came out in the last couple of weeks in the BMJ. A friend of mine, Adrienne Milner, did some of the work. She looked at representation in the NHS. And despite there being so many doctors who have British Indian, or Chinese or other BAME populations, white men are still over represented at consultant level. Which means they’re the ones forming the policies and the structures around what’s happening in and around different things. So if women aren’t being represented and the BAME community isn’t being represented, then our needs aren’t being looked after. So Chinese people, there are more Chinese people working in NHS, ethnicity wise, than any other group. And yet, they’re not represented at the top, which is really sad.

As far as cancer in particular, I’m lucky. Don’t get me wrong. I have an amazing team, and I have a very mixed team. My main doctor is of Chinese descent, my breast cancer nurse is of African descent. That’s not really a problem for me. My main problem is for other people who are not getting diagnosed, or are being diagnosed very, very late and at a point where it’s not actually able to help them. And they’re not being taken seriously. And the provision of care is less. I was reading something about transplants in the Muslim community yesterday, and over 38% of the people waiting for transplants are of the BAME community, and they’re way less likely to get a transplant. And organ or whatever, partly because of matching. But partly, they’re just lower down the list. So it’s really interesting that we still have this really inherent racism in the medical part of healthcare.

Now I’m going to flip it on its head and talk about the other part. The other part of health and wellbeing is the people like the fitness trainers and the yoga teachers and the nutritionists, the holistic carers. Again, that’s very dominated by white females, despite people having the knowledge. If you look at social media, it’s massively over represented… If you’re Caucasian, female, of a certain age, particularly if you’re blonde. It’s ridiculous, because this doesn’t mean you know more. In fact, a lot of the time you know a lot less, I would say. Not because you’re not educated, but because people are listening to you because you look a certain way. You’re slim and you look healthy. That doesn’t mean you’re healthy.

I find that terrifying that we’re taking… The society is taking advice just from the way people look rather than what they understand and what they know. And actually, how you look. Just because you’re slim, doesn’t mean you’re healthy. For example, how often you get a cold or infections. That’s a good sign on whether your immune system or you’re healthy. How much energy you have, that you’re not feeling tired, that you’re not feeling very moody and depressed. All of these things are much better indication of where your health is… your mental health, your physical health, your social health, than how your body looks in a bikini. So that’s a big thing for me.

Why don’t we have more representation? Because I know so many amazing women and men who are of the BAME groups. Again, they’re not promoted in all these events like Live Well events and all these shows. It’s still very much run by white women for white women, and so are magazines. Health is for everybody. It’s an integral part of society. It’s an integral part of balance. It’s an integral part in equality, equanimity. So why don’t we have that?

Le’Nise: What do you think can be done to change that?

Toral: That’s such a big question. I think firstly, to us talking about it. I’m really privileged that I’m talking to you about this. I’ve talked to Vicky Shilling, who runs a podcast. So many people who have picked up on this aspect of there is not equality between all the different groups. Remember, London is a… And I’m talking about London, in particular. It’s a very mixed group. You know, 52% of people identify as BAME in London. So we should have that kind of representation. Whether it’s in the medical healthcare or whether it’s in the holistic space, we don’t have that.

What’s the answer? I think education, talking about things. I am actually talking to a lot of cancer organizations, because their campaigns are very much using white Caucasian men and women. But cancer doesn’t discriminate. It affects all of us. So one of those things that I’m doing is requesting that they have campaigns which are very inclusive and diverse, of different people of different races, different body shapes, different ages. Some people do it better than others. Also, the information and the literature that’s produced should be inclusive too, because that’s not at the moment. And certainly, I’m thinking about more of the diet and the nutrition literature for both cancer and diabetes is very much based on white Caucasian people and their diets. And remember that different ethnicities have very different diets. If you look at diabetes, we have a much higher proportion of ethnic groups who have… BAME groups rather, that have diabetes. The dieticians aren’t providing them with advice that’s appropriate to their ethnicity and their culture, and the food they eat. I think that’s really important.

So I’ve been doing a project with South Asians since 2004 with a friend of mine, Dr. Natasha Patel, who’s a consultant endocrinologist at Guys. We’ve been working at that. We’ve been changing the food so it reflects the ethnicity and the culture of people and what they like to eat. And how things are very much in the Asian and Indian community. Yeah, celebrations are all about food. So how do you tailor it to help people, given that there seems to be something every single day? How do we then help people? So these are the kind of things where we need to really start asking for things, making a difference, talking to organizations. And there is some white fragility in there, I’m not going to lie. I had a meeting recently with an organization, and they kept insisting that they were doing things. But I’ve asked for examples, they haven’t been able to provide me with examples. I find that ridiculous. I do keep saying, “What’s happening?” They said, “We’re looking at our organization.” If nothing happens in the next few weeks, I’m going to take it to their CEO.

I realize I’ve grown in my own confidence that I know enough about this. I know enough about the stats. I know enough to help people. Before, I felt like I’d often get pushback because I felt like I was bullied back. And there was a lot of pushback, because people didn’t want to do it. Now I’ve just become stronger within myself with my own self development. So I’m able to have those conversations. I’m not saying that I don’t go and have those conversations and then go home and cry. I will. I’m not going to lie, because it’s very emotional. But having groups where… I’m in an amazing group called Yogis of Color, and I know you’re in that group too. For me, just to be able to talk about these things and ask for support, has made a huge difference. Because I think energetically, I have this massive group of people backing me and who have got my back all the time. That makes a difference. I think we need to… There’s a long way to go.

I mean, even right now, we’re at the midst of coronavirus. I’m absolutely disgusted with some of the racism we’re hearing towards Chinese and other Asian people with the coronavirus, because some of the things I’ve heard are absolutely horrific. They’re telling them to go back to their own country. They don’t want to be treated by Chinese doctors. It just shows that we’re actually in a world at the moment where the governments… and I’m going to blame the governments, people are really just trying to divide us. Because they don’t know what they’re doing, they’re trying to divide us and separate us, and make it about us than them. And it’s not. We’re all the same. If you take our skin away, we’re all exactly the same underneath. We’re exactly the same. We’re made of blood. We’re made of muscle. We’re ourselves, we have nerves. And it’s terrifying that we still see the outside skin differences as being so important.

You know, we all have this. I had someone who tried to collect something the other day, and they were really late. I looked at the name, and I was like… You know, culture. I was like, “That person’s just going to be late.” Because I knew that it was about the person. I was like, “Ah.” And I caught myself. I just thought, “Toral, you can’t think like that. This is really part of the problem.” That person was really late. But I was thinking it, not because before they were late. So I think we all have to be conscious where we’re discriminating in our head, and just acknowledging that means it goes away. Just being open about it, being brave to it, being vulnerable. I think Brené Brown has some fantastic things she talks about racism and differences between people in her book, Braving the Wilderness. I highlighted some bits, I’ll be sharing bits and pieces. Because we’ve got a world where we’re trying to be in a tribe. It doesn’t matter. We’re almost believing what the tribe… If we come up with veganism, if it were a vegan tribe, and people were saying things that make sense and not sense, and you just want to fit so badly in that tribe, you’re basically then trying to distance yourself from other people.

But actually, we’re all the same. The person next door who’s your best friend, who’s not vegan, is still going to be the person that’s going to be sitting at your bedside if you happen to be in the hospital or anything like that. I think we’ve forgotten the basic humanity of people, and that’s so important. Does that make sense?

Le’Nise: No, that was brilliant. There are so many amazing things that you said there. I think that one of the main things is supporting other people, having your network, knowing that there are people who have your back. But also, I think what’s really interesting is… and I’ve seen this a lot, is knowing if you have a big platform, being able to lift up other people. So talking about in social media, how it’s a very white space in terms of health and wellbeing, being able to lift up if you have a big platform, lifting up others. But I just want to as we round off the podcast, I want to just take it back to your experience and the way you feel about your body now, your period. What do you know now that you wish you knew back in the beginning, when you were an 11-year-old girl in Egypt, having your first period?

Toral: That’s a difficult one. I think how normal it is. It’s okay to give yourself a bit of space and time on those days, to rest and relax on the day, and listen to your own body. What’s amazing to me is, I’ve had my period for 30 years now, over 30 years. How I feel about it each month, hasn’t really changed that much. But understanding that it’s not dirty, and that you can talk about it, and you’re allowed to say, “I’m not doing that today because I’ve got my period.” It’s okay.

Le’Nise: Brilliant. Where can podcast listeners find out more about you?

Toral: I do a lot of work… I’m going to start again. Thank you so much for asking me. I’m on social media. I’m on @theurbankitchen. I’m on Twitter, but not so much. I also have a Facebook page. Most of the time, I’m sharing ways of how people can eat healthy, nutritious but tasty food, that will make a difference to their health and wellbeing. I am doing some research at the moment. I’m actually putting together a proposal for a PhD, which is very exciting. I’m also talking at lots of events around cancer and the BAME community, and on nutrition and how we can make a difference to our health.

So I’m all over the place at the moment, which is really exciting. I’m working a lot with cancer organizations to create not only this element of inclusivity and diversity, but also it’s talking more about the nutritional lifestyle aspects of what we can do to help prevent any type of cancer, but also particularly, with breast cancer and things like that. So I am working with the Royal Cancer Research. I work with Breast Cancer Now. I work with Trekstock. I work with lots of charities to look at how we could help educate people, and actually support them through that journey if they’ve already got cancer, and to help prevent. So for me, that’s a really big part of my life. So yeah, that’s all that I do.

Le’Nise: Brilliant. If listeners take one thing away from everything, all the amazing things that you have said on this podcast, what would you want that to be?

Toral: In relation to what aspect?

Le’Nise: Any of it. Anything, any nuggets that you feel like you just want to stick in their minds.

Toral: As a woman, and I’m assuming most people listening to the podcast are women, remember that our bodies are so much more than our bodies. And we are so much more than our bodies. But do listen to yourself, do listen to your body, and give yourself what you need.

Le’Nise: Amazing. I think that’s such valuable advice. Thank you so much for coming on the show, Toral. It’s been amazing. You’ve certainly given me a lot of food for thought.

Toral: Thank you so much for having me. It’s been an absolute delight that we’ve finally got to connect after knowing each other for a while.


Period Story Podcast, Episode 10: Lauren Derrett, We Need To Be Better Informed About Menstrual Health Products

Period Story Podcast, Episode 10, Lauren Derrett

For the tenth episode of Period Story Podcast, I had a wonderful conversation with Lauren Derrett, the founder of Wear ‘Em Out reusable period pads.

Lauren shared the shame she felt about her first period and why she kept it a secret. She shares a funny song her friends used to sing and says that her friends used to joke about periods, but that she couldn’t remember any proper menstrual health education.

Lauren credits her 15 year old daughter for giving her the impetus to learn more about menstrual health. She says that she knew that her daughter needed to be better educated than her in this area and more equipped to deal with her period when it arrived.

We talked about periods as a feminist issue and Lauren says that we are duty bound to educate and support each other in order to make this a normal conversation and share our knowledge.

Lauren talks about how she tracks her menstrual cycle, notices the shifts in her energy and how she’s got her husband to pay attention to where she is in her cycle. Wonderful!

Lauren uses a powerful mantra, that she’s passed on to her daughter, that helps her reconnect with her body and feel more grounded. She says that she maximises her self-care right before her period and allows herself a timeout.

We discuss Lauren’s new reusable menstrual pad company, @wearemout and she shares some powerful statistics about disposable menstrual waste and the chemicals in them.

She says that each year, over 200,000 tonnes of menstrual waste is sitting in landfills, each disposable pad has the equivalent plastic of 4 carrier bags and 4.8 pieces of menstrual waste is being found in every 100 metres of beaches. Don’t flush your pads and tampons!

Lauren says it’s so important for us to educate ourselves on the menstrual health products we’re using and I completely agree!

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Lauren’s Bio

Lauren Derrett is a mother of four, a public speaker, a published author, podcast host and founder of Wear ‘Em Out reusable period pads. Lauren is a lover of all things female empowerment and is sharing her message, via her podcast Periodical and social media, that any change we can make individually to help make our personal and planetary health better is a change worth considering.

Get in touch with Lauren:
Website
Instagram
Facebook
Twitter

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Show Notes

Maisie Hill – Period Power

Women with Sparkle

Suzy Reading The Self-Care Revolution

Three Sixty – Tamu Thomas

 Flo period tracker app

Put a Cup In It

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Show Transcription

Le’Nise: On today’s podcast we have Lauren Derrett, who is a mother of four, a public speaker, a published author, podcast host and founder of Wear ‘Em Out reusable period pads. Lauren is a lover of all things female empowerment and is sharing her message, via her podcast Periodical and social media , that any change we can make individually to help make our personal and planetary health better is a change worth considering. Welcome to the show. 

Lauren: Hi! Thanks for having me on Le’Nise, it’s great to be here. 

Le’Nise: Thanks for coming on. So let’s start off by getting into the story of your first period. Can you share with us what happened?

Lauren:  Oh my god, do you know what? I’m one of eight children and I have three older sisters and I still had no idea what was going to happen or when it was going to happen. I was so ill equipped for it and all I remember, this is really weird, I don’t remember the blood. I don’t remember any physical symptoms, the only thing that stays with me, bearing in mind I’m 45 now so it was quite a while ago, 30 years because I was 15. The thing that has stuck with me the most is I remember going into the bathroom and thinking, ‘Jesus what do I do with this’? But I can’t see the blood in my head but anyway, I remember there being some tampons in the cupboard under the sink and I mean your first experience with a period and you going straight in for a tampon is pretty brave, I’d say, but it was all I could find, there was no pads so I got the instructions out, I navigated this tampon in and I felt smug as hell because now, not only was I a woman, like I’d caught up with all my friends but I’d also managed to get this tampon in which meant I was really grown up.  

I felt very alone to be honest, because I didn’t think I could tell anyone or share it with anyone and I just had to navigate it myself but it was a real moment of crossing over and a real moment of ‘I’m now part of their gang’, I suppose, my older sisters, that would’ve been and my friends because they all started really early and I started relatively late, so it was that moment of ‘I’ve made it’. It was quite a positive thing but I did feel really lonely and isolated, it was a secret that I kept, which felt a bit ick.

Le’Nise: Why did you think you kept it a secret?

Lauren: Shame I think, just embarrassment. I’m a very lone creature anyway, which is weird now because I will tell anybody anything, I’m not ashamed of anything anymore. We just didn’t talk about it, there was never a conversation about it, there wasn’t a segue way to me talking about it, you just tidy it up and get on with your day. It wasn’t ever something that was discussed, apart from around my mates jokingly, but I’d already pretended I’d come on about three years before I did, just to be part of it. So there was no big reveal.

Le’Nise: You mention the word shame. Where do you think that shame came from?

Lauren: A lack of knowledge, a lack of understanding, a lack of conversation like this, Le’Nise, thank you so much for holding this podcast because my daughter is going to be listening whether she likes it or not. There was not enough conversation around it, back then there wasn’t even adverts I remember, you know, all these new funky adverts with the hot pants and DJ and all that, none of that was available back then. It was really shrouded in mystery and when it’s something like that, you know, you have to assume there’s shame to be applied to that because why is no one talking about it? It’s just a really natural thing that it must be shameful because no one talks about it. 

Le’Nise: You mentioned that you put on a tampon the first time that you got your period which is amazing.

Lauren: I mean that’s pretty hardcore now looking back, it’s like wow. 

Le’Nise: And so if you didn’t talk about it to your sisters or your friends, how did you learn about kind of the admin around menstrual health?

Lauren: From that tampon leaflet, really. Thinking back to our sex ed classes which were minimal let’s say, I remember there being a banana representing an erect penis for us to put a condom on, I remember that. I do not remember any education around periods at all, like I said my friends used to joke about it. I had one friend who made up a song about it which was just hilarious and we used to sing it all the time and I played along like I was part of that gang although I wasn’t, and I had another friend who always used to talk about her pubes being stuck to the pad she was like “Oh God, my pubes have got stuck to my pad again” so I heard that and I started saying that and I hadn’t even got my period at that point but this was kind of the education I had. A song about lily of the valley, Dr Whites’ came along, it was like all the branding back then was that so she took all the branding, and made this little ditty about it that we used to sing and then the only other association I knew about periods was “oh I’ve got a bit of cramping and my pubes are getting stuck”. Do you know what Le’Nise, when my friend was saying that, I didn’t even have pubes, I was a late developer but I would be going around going, “my pubes are stuck to my pad”, because that was the education that I had, it’s what happened when you had your period, it’s what you talk about. But beyond I literally, I’ve wracked my head ahead of this podcast and I don’t remember ever having a conversation about it or knowing anything about it other than the box of Tampax in the bathroom cabinet, that was it, that was my education, that’s shocking. 

Le’Nise: I think that’s quite common, I hear that a lot, women read what’s on the back of sanitary towels or the leaflet in the box of tampons and then that’s it, there’s no conversation. What about as you got older? Did things change or did you just go on the knowledge you gained from when you were a teenager?

Lauren: Yeah, I kind of just learnt to facilitate it once a month and that’s it, it was just like oh it’s here, deal with it, get over it and it was just really a separate part of my being. I didn’t consider it part of me, it was just an inconvenience that would just rock up every month, do its thing and then leave, but I didn’t have any understanding about what it was for, I mean obviously I knew, actually I don’t think I had any idea it was linked to having babies, actually if I’m honest. It just came and went and it was just one of those things, swimming got a bit trickier, but it’s not until I’m older now and I think one of the biggest impacts for me about learning about this stuff and getting fully involved in it was my daughter, having my daughter. 

So I’ve got a 15 year old daughter now, around the same kind of time I got my period and I knew that she had to have a better education than me around it because it’s only me and her, she’s got three brothers and she lives with her dad half the week. So I knew that she had to be really well equipped to deal with it because she wasn’t going to go into the bathroom cabinet and find tampons. I found it was really important that she had a better education and she understood the power of it and what I do now is kind of make allowances for your cycle and for what your body needs during the month not just deal with the blood and get on with it. She’s leading me really, I’m looking at her and thinking what does she need, which is sad because we never consider what do we need? It’s taken my daughter to wake up to the fact that you know, I don’t want her to feel shame around it, I don’t want her to feel like she can’t ask me anything, so yeah I’ve been doing the reading for her really, which is kind of sad.

Le’Nise: Did you start having this conversation when she got her first period or before that?

Lauren: Before that. I was always really open about it. I think as women, we have a personal duty to all the women in our lives, I really do. We all know women get the real rough end of the stick, we all know we are living under the patriarchy which is a whole other podcast and I think we are duty bound as women to educate and support each other through all the feminist issues. Periods being one of them because if you look out into the wider world, you’re going to get a male slant on it and that’s what happened to me, that’s where the shame sits, that’s where you feel kind of lesser of a person, when actually it’s a bloody powerful force and if you use it right it could really propel you as a person but if you look out into the wider world and look out into the patriarchal state as to what periods are and why we have them then you’re kind of scuppering yourself so I do feel that that as women we have a duty to our sisters, our children, our friends to make this a normal conversation and share our knowledge, which is what you’re doing perfectly and I applaud you. 

Le’Nise: So you mentioned the shame around when you had your period as a teenager, do you think your daughter feels those similar feelings with the conversation with her friends or has that totally changed?

Lauren: I think there’s still an element of secrecy around it, I do, I mean they’re much more liberal than I ever was at that age for sure, around these topics but it’s still such a personal experience, you’ve got to kind of want to go there to share it on a level that you’re actually living with because like me you can pretend your pubes get stuck to your pad but that’s not really what’s going on. 

I wouldn’t know how deeply she shares with her friends, I know they’re very open, I know she’s very open with me but it doesn’t come easy to her. I think she’s open with me because that’s what I promote and because I create a space where she feels safe enough to start opening but I think as a 15 year old girl, often it can still feel that you’re exposing too much of yourself, that vulnerability and again, and us as olders, older women, we have to create that space for our young girls to be able to explore and to converse and to share but I don’t think it’s her natural state, to be honest, I think it’s a lot of me not forcing the issue but opening the conversations and kind of backing her into a corner with it so she does share, because the more you share, the easier it becomes, this is something  that I have learnt through life so it’s kind of like eking it out of them a little and saying “look, the word didn’t stop turning, let’s keep this conversation going “. So yeah, I think she’s kind of begrudgingly open but that’s where we all start right? You’ve got to know that you’re safe and that safety takes time to build so let’s keep building on it. 

Le’Nise: So the ongoing conversations that you’re having with your daughter and the way that you feel about what you know about your period now, what do you wish you could change about your experience as a teenager with regards to your period?

Lauren: I think I just knew, this is a game changer that your period isn’t just for 7 days a month. Like I said, we compartmentalise this week and everything changes in that week but actually it’s happening every single day of the month, there are hormonal shifts, your body is changing. Now, I’ve got to the point where I can tell when I’m ovulating just by the physicalities of my body or where my hormones are, or if I’m a bit hotter, or if I’m feeling a bit sexy which only happens a couple of days a month if I’m honest. I can tell from my physical symptoms and my emotional state where I am in my cycle and when you lock that stuff down  and when you become aware of those times, you can really use every single day of the month to propel you, like I said, rather than just locking yourself down for one week of the month and struggling through the rest, not knowing why you’re feeling XYZ but just feeling grotty, it is kind of a superpower and I’ve spoken to a lot of women who are now doing the cycling and the charting now where there actually curating their month’s work around their cycle and becoming much more powerful because of it.  

I wish they talked about things like that, I wish it wasn’t just a rag week, you know when I was growing up it was rag week that was it, not really, actually you’ve got a month where you can utilise every day of your cycle and work with it and support it rather than just dread that one week a month where you’ve got to go underground and just hate everyone. I think we need to talk more about the power in it. 

Le’Nise: I think what you’re saying is so interesting and this idea of it being a superpower and you being able to know how your body changes and your mental state changes throughout your cycle and not just thinking about your menstrual cycle as just your period, it’s more than that and you mentioned that you know exactly when you’re ovulating and the power in that. Can you give us some examples of how you might structure your life around the feelings that you have around each phase of your cycle?

Lauren: I think firstly, you’ve got to start and charting and you’ve got to start being aware of it. I will get to that, but the reason that it is so important, this charting and acknowledging every part of your cycle is because the current climate would have us believe that we are weak and that our periods weaken us. We have to change that story, we have to take the power, now this sounds like a feminist rant, but it’s not about that it’s honest. We have to start looking at ourselves as powerful humans and the one thing that we’ve got above everybody else is that fact that we have these cycles. And we have to rewrite that whole internal monologue that we have going on: ‘oh God, it’s shit being a woman’, ‘oh God, the curse’. Every time we give power to those stories, where we are the underdog and ‘FML, it’s shit being women, I’m coming back as a man’. Every time we reiterate those stories, we give them power and we become the victim. Actually, we need to use that and rise above and say do you know what, actually, fuck you patriarchy because I bleed, I can create, I can do all of this stuff. 

So, your original question was how do I know the signs? Well, I know that the week leading up to my period, I have to stop, the overwhelm becomes extreme. I know that I can’t book a lot of stuff in, I’m an emotional wreck, I’m very emotional around that time so I have to be very, very careful with my energy because I’m a natural empath anyway and when you’ve got a really heightened state of emotions, as an empath, it can take you down. I’m really aware of the week leading up to my period that I have to really up my self-care game, I have to be really choosy whose energy I’m in because if it’s a negative energy, it will take me down. I have to ground; I literally have to stop because otherwise I lose myself for 3 days in just a heap. Once my period comes the relief, I get that ‘huuuuhhhh’ it’s here, my hormones are shifting again, I’m feeling a lot brighter, I’m feeling stronger, my brain feels clearer but I know that the week leading up, not to plan too much stuff because I cannot cope and it’s ok to say that because the rest of the month I am kicking it. One week a month I have to be really mindful of my energy and energies that I’m absorbing from others. 

Le’Nise: How long did it take for you to acknowledge the shift in your energy?

Lauren: Do you know what, I’ve only just started noticing this about a year ago, that’s the tragic thing, I’ve wasted so much of my adult life, I’m hitting perimenopause now, so all this newfound knowledge is going to be wasted on me but like I said, I’m passing it to my daughter, I can see her cycle, I can see her moods change, I can see her energy shift, I can help support her though it so the other day, she had massive overwhelm, she was crying and she didn’t know why she was like ,“I don’t know why I’m crying” and I’m like, “you don’t need to know why, just allow it to happen” and I said when I feel like that, I get in the shower in the morning and I, sounds a bit weird, but I touch my whole body and reconnect with my body, kind of absorb all my energies. I’m literally like: ‘I am safe, this is me, this is real’, because when you’re in that overwhelm and you’re stuck on Instagram or whatever and the whole world is in your head, you need to bring it back to you as one single human being and I tell her to do that. I asked how she’s getting on with the shower thing and she said “I’ve been looking in the mirror every day at my whole body and just saying this is you, you are safe” and that’s what we can pass on, and it’s a shame I’ve only learnt that in the last year but I think it’s only just becoming available and accessible now that you didn’t see this stuff before. Amazing women like you and Maisie Hill are talking about period cycles, who else is there? Women with Sparkle, she’s an amazing advocate for it all, it’s so accessible to all different people now that different people that are listening and are absorbing it. For the younger generation, whatever we learn, just feed it back to them so they’ve got it early door, you know?

Le’Nise: I think that’s such a powerful gift that you gave to your daughter, the knowledge that it’s ok to connect with your body because thinking about back to when I was a teenager, there was no connection to my body, I hated my body and to have something like that where it’s been just looking and the mirror and saying ‘this is you, you are safe’, I think wow, it gives me chills just thinking about it.  

Just going back to what you said about your energy and how you’ve been able to connect with it. Do you ever feel you resist this time of either slowing down or on the other side thinking about when you’re ovulating when your energy is at its highest, do you feel like you need to fit everything in to that week?

Lauren: Do you know what I’m human and sometimes life is busier around that week where I’ve got nothing to give, I just have to really up the self-care. Everybody has just one minute a day when they can just lie flat on the floor and actually Suzy Reading who wrote The Self-Care Revolution, I had her on a podcast once and she said to me, “Everybody has a minute a day when they can lay on the floor and say, ‘For now, the world can wait’, and that’s for one minute a day the world can wait”. It’s about those tiny moments of joy that Three Sixty [Tamu Thomas] talks about, that finding your tiny moments of joy and maximising your self-care when you can, I’m not talking about hot baths, I think we’re well beyond knowing that self-care is not just about a bloody bath with petals in it, I’m talking about making a nice cup of tea and sitting in silence with my favourite mug. 

The most simplistic acts of self-care can still have some kind of impact. When I’m in that slow week and I’ve got a load of stuff booked on, I have to do it, I still have a life I have to live out,  but I also have to be really mindful of just lying when you can. The ovulation thing, yes I do feel like when I’m in my spring/summer cycles [follicular and ovulatory phase], I know I’m so creative then that I do try and bulk load a load of work content and stuff because I know that it’s going to dwindle out which also does bring with it a frustration, don’t get me wrong, I’m not the biggest lover of the cycles the whole time, sometimes I’m like ‘… sake, I can’t afford to crash right now’,  I’m too busy I can’t afford to have winter [menstruation], but I got to keep going and can be like you said, a bit of resistance, not so much resistance but frustration that I can’t just keep charging ahead 24/7, 30 days a month, that I do have to allow myself a time out, but do you know what, what are we going to do? It is what it is, we have to expect it, we have to acknowledge it, we have to respect it, it’s not going anywhere babe, work with it, don’t work against it, there’s no point, it’s futile. 

Le’Nise: I think it is really powerful and I think that we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t have some sort of resistance, especially knowing that the culture that we live in really puts a lot of emphasis on this work, work, work, the entrepreneur grind and so taking a different perspective on that there’s going to be resistance probably not only from inside yourself but others saying, ‘why aren’t you working right now’, capitalism demands it.

Lauren: Not just capitalism, feminism demands it. Feminists, we are all fighting to have it all, I question that I want it all actually, I don’t think that I do want it all I think I’m quite okay just having bits of it because to be what is expected of us as women is pretty unachievable when you can factor in our cycles. We cannot be on it all day, every day, we can’t and actually I use the Flo app and on there, you can give them your partner’s email address. This is the best piece of advice I can give to anyone, you give your partner’s email address and they work with the cycles and they will email your partner where you are in your cycle and how best they can navigate that, and that has been an absolute relationship game changer. One, in that he completely understands that it’s not biased information, it’s not me going, “I’ve got my period, be nice to me!”. It’s proper education for him and it’s non-biased, so he knows it’s not me just pulling on him. 

Secondly, for me to be validated in my feelings, you know because can quite often we dumb it down and say ‘for God sake, I can’t just take a day off work because of my period’, it sounds ridiculous blah blah blah but actually validates what you’re feeling it’s like of course you’re tired, your body is doing overtime right now, trying to release these eggs and doing what it needs to be doing, your uterus is twice the size, you’re lugging that around, that’s why your belly feels like it’s exploding, but it validates everything that you’re feeling which gives you then the permission to say okay, this is why I’m feeling like this, it’s okay for me to stop or slow down but the genius, the other day I was totally woman down, I spent the whole day on the sofa, I was fortunate enough I could block everything, I spent the whole day on the sofa eating digestives, my husband comes home and he’s gingerly around me because he knows something’s going amiss and he said something and I snapped at him and he was like “jeez are you alright?” and I said “did you not get your email?!” and that’s it, the conversation could end there because he’s like “I’ll just go and check my emails now” and it gives them a really good understanding, so for a relationship, it’s genius in all areas. 

Le’Nise: I think that’s really interesting and I love the idea of the email being sent to the partner. The other thing is sometimes, it can lead to the area that creates expectations around behaviour, so we’re supposed to be moody cows before we get our period and ‘oh I just got the email so you’ve just got your period so I’m just going to watch what I say around you’ and some of the work that I do is really focussed around the fact that you don’t have to feel like that, you don’t to be a moody cow, your energy might dip but it’s not necessarily inevitable. So, I think it’s such a fascinating way for your partner to have a better understanding of what’s going on with you and your cycle, but sometimes what I see, and I’ve seen this is workshops that I’ve given is this expectation of, ‘I’m supposed to be in pain, I’m supposed to be moody and that’s just the way it is because I am a women and I have a period.’. 

Lauren: Yeah, you’re so right and I’m just sat here wondering if, and sometimes I do use it as an excuse, I may not even be feeling those things and especially with him because I’ll just be like “Bloody men, you don’t have to deal with this” and I do ham it up a bit sometimes that’s for sure and sometimes I’ll be like you need to go and get me a Big Mac because I feel really rubbish. Yeah, you’re right, that’s given me a new slant on it for next month so thank you but let’s not tell him. Can we not tell him please because I quite like the martyrdom sometimes? 

Le’Nise: So you mentioned that you use the Flo app as kind of what I call part of your menstrual health admin. Are there any other things you use as part of your menstrual health admin that you’d like to share?

Lauren: To be honest, no. I’m reading Maisie Hill’s book. I’m just getting involved I think, just read whatever you can, follow the accounts that, I mean your account’s amazing and you know that I love what you do. Your little tiles about nutrition, you know, just absorb information when and where you can, there’s so much accessible information available to us about our menstrual cycle. Podcasts. There’s loads of amazing podcasts around menstruation. Just find those people and educate yourself and be willing to listen to what’s going on with you and like you say it’s not a one fit fits all, we all fit differently. 

Definitely some kind of charting, however you choose to do that, there’s loads and loads of different apps out there, I know there’s drawings you can do, mindful colourings in and stuff like this. Number one is chart, chart your mood, chart your discharge, chart your libido, and chart your food, everything just to get an idea of who you are and how your body is functioning. But I like to keep it basic babe, I’m Instagram and Flo app

Le’Nise: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our listeners about what you’ve learned about your period or what else you want to know about your period?

Lauren: Do you know what? And it’s an obvious one I really want women to be talking about is the disposable menstrual products. It was obviously about to come up in this podcast; I am just about to launch my reusables

Since I have started the process about having my reusables designed, which are made in the UK by the way, they are manufactured in the UK, I’ve got a designer, we’ve laboured over the design for the last 9 months, and we are just about ready to order the first lot. The research that I’ve done in that time about the effect of disposables is horrifying, horrifying not only to the planet which is where I started, I was all about the landfill and oh my God in the UK alone, per year 200,000 tonnes of menstrual waste is sitting in landfill, which when you consider the weight of a tampon or a pad that’s a huge mass of substance sitting in landfill, emitting to the atmosphere. They take 500-800 years to decompose; those figures alone are enough to make you think, ‘Jesus, what are we doing’. Four carrier bags per period pad, if you are not using carrier bags with your supermarket shop because of the guilt, really consider that there are 4 carrier bags worth of plastic in your sanitary pads, the current disposables. 

The other option is of course is the organics which biodegrade in 12-18 months and don’t have all the chemicals but we need to talk about these chemicals. There are up to 3,000 chemicals in disposable products, there are micro plastics being absorbed into our bodies by our vulvas and vaginas and we are taking them in as a chemical disruptor into our endocrine system, which I know you know about and that is affecting our personal and feminine health. 

It is a massive massive issue that we need to start looking for alternatives around, now I’m not like ‘buy my pad, buy my pad, buy my pad’, my message is, have the conversation with women, make informed choices. If you are happy to use those disposable products and you can get your head around all of that then knock yourself out my darling, I don’t judge, this is your life.  But if you’re open to the idea of looking for alternatives, menstrual cups are not as scary as they seem. There’s an Instagram account called Put a Cup In It and it’s completely unbiased advice, in fact my daughter done there little quiz and got herself a cup and she bloody loves it. 

There are obviously the period pants and the reusable pads which I’m bringing out; by the way, Wear ‘Em Out pads by the way

But please please educate yourself on what menstrual products you are using. The impact that’s it’s having on your body, sitting on those chemicals and those plastics, every single month for up to 7 days is having a detrimental effect on your feminine health, there’s no two ways about it. Also, cocking up the planet big time, so you know your personal responsibility on the planet but yeah that’s a conversation I really want being shared. We’ve got to stop looking away now; we’ve got to stop trusting the big disposable brands and actually start saying what’s best for me on a personal level. 

Le’Nise: I think what you’re doing is amazing, but you already know that and I think this is such an interesting angle to get people thinking more about what they use because before it was about ‘try these different period products’ because they are better for your menstrual health and they are, but I think the environmental angle is interesting and I think that actually has the chance of getting more women interested or people who have a period interested in shifting what they use, because when you put it like that, the amount of products that are sitting in landfill, the amount of tampons, women still flush them down the toilet. Don’t flush!

Lauren: Don’t flush. 4.8 pieces of menstrual waste are being found in up to 100 metres of beaches. For every 100 metres of beach, 4.8 pieces of menstrual waste is being washed up because people are still flushing and not only the beach issue but actually that means that it’s getting into our water systems, that it’s getting into our water ways.

Your water bill is paying for emptying the sewers of fricking menstrual waste, so let’s just stop flushing. Don’t do it. I’m so surprised how many women still don’t know that, innocently, and in a completely no judgmental way, because the information isn’t being shared. There’s a little line on the bloody Tampax box, ‘oh by the way, don’t flush’, that should be the very first thing. Toxic shock syndrome and do not flush, that’s the two pieces of information that you’re going to make an informed choice around. Don’t flush it because that’s costing us all a fortune in the old Thames waterways.

Le’Nise: Not to mention that the water needs to be cleaned, all the chemicals, the tampons and even women are flushing pads which I can’t believe and all of these have an impact, the health impact and the environmental impact. I think this is a great angle to get women thinking about what they’re using in their bodies, on their bodies and actually having this as a starting point for thinking about other products that they are using. This whole area, I find it so fascinating because I’ve seen the shift from it being very hippy, the products not being very good, people using crocheted pads, which, more power to you, to it being more professionalised, sleek, better options, more absorbent options. Make up is better, skin care is better in this whole natural green space. So I’m really excited about what you’re doing and I’m really excited about the changes that are happening in this area. Where can listeners find out more about if they want to order your pads?

Lauren: We are doing a 10% off of your first order which is a great saving because we need to honest and realistic as well they is an initial outlay to this change but it’s about prioritising, looking at your life as a whole and prioritising and making a shift where you can and like I said I think your menstrual waste is the environmental and physical shifts you can make, I therefore think it’s worth investing it but just to help you out, 10% off your first order if you go to the website which is wearemout.co.uk and I’m all over the socials at @wearemoutpads so come and find them. 

My podcast is Periodical which is on ITunes, Spotify, Podcast, Acast, and Podbean. Just come and talk to me, I’m open for any kind of conversation, no question is too stupid and I’m not going to give you a hard sales pitch, I just want women to chat about these topics and then make their decisions beyond that, it’s entirely up to them, no shame babe.

Le’Nise: No shame, no judgement, I love it. 

Lauren: Absolutely. Who am I to judge? 

Le’Nise: Who are any of us to judge? Well, thank you so much for coming on the show today, I’ve really loved chatting to you.

Lauren: Yeah, cool. Amazing. Thank you so much Le’Nise.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 9: Susan Sheehan, Find Your Own Rhythm

Period Story Podcast, Episode 9, Susan Sheehan

For the ninth episode of Period Story Podcast, I had the pleasure of speaking with Susan Sheehan, the founder and CEO of Back Yourself Mentoring, a women’s circle and network of women backing themselves and each other.

Susan shared the story of the tough first few years of her period and what she did to cope with the pain and migraines she used to have. She says that this was her normal and considered this her normal until it changed.

Susan says she had to work around her menstrual flow, under it, over it and it was something she had to tolerate. At the time, she accepted that this was part of being a woman, but definitely didn’t embrace the pain she was experiencing.

It took a pivotal moment for her to realise things needed to change. Susan talks about waking up in the middle of the night and being in such agony that she spent hours on the bathroom floor. It was there and then, Susan decided she never wanted to go through that again.

Susan embarked upon a journey of educating herself about her period and using journalling as a tool to understand what she was experiencing in each phase of her menstrual cycle.  She says she started to see patterns in the foods she was craving, the emotions she was experiencing and how certain things such as stress affected her period.

Susan says that journalling has helped her find a deeper understanding and the patterns she was able to spot through journalling helped her change her nutrition and lifestyle and she no longer has migraines, cramps or PMS.

Susan shares the journalling techniques that worked for her to change her period for the better. She says that this is such an important way for us to find our own rhythm and I completely agree!

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Susan’s Bio

Susan wants every woman to connect with herself, returning home to listen to her intuition and be empowered to take action for her life ambitions. In today’s culture of fully scheduled lives, she knows what it feels like to feel overwhelmed and disconnected while knowing you have so much more to offer to the world. By connecting to herself (including embracing her menstrual cycle!) she has changed her lifestyle to enjoy heightened energy, making more conscious life decisions and focusing on what makes her soul sing. She now invites women to live with more ease, while inspiring them to make the changes they desire. 

Susan is the Founder and CEO of Back Yourself Mentoring, a women’s circle and network of women backing themselves and each other. Through mentoring, both mentor matching women 121 or through her group mentoring programmes, she knows that surrounding yourself with creative, generous and life ambitious women enables you to thrive consistently in your career and life. She hosts women circles and mentoring groups in London, Ireland and Mallorca empowering women to create tangible change to lead a purposeful life, with ease and a smile.

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Show Notes

Claire Baker

Red School

Wild Power

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Show Transcript

Le’Nise: Today’s episode we have Susan Sheehan. 

Susan wants every woman to connect with herself, returning home to listen to her intuition and be empowered to take action for her life ambitions. In today’s culture, of fully scheduled lives, she knows what it feels like to feel overwhelmed and disconnected while knowing you have so much more to offer to the world. By connecting to herself, including embracing her menstrual cycle. She has changed your lifestyle to enjoy heightened energy, making more conscious life decisions and focusing on what makes her soul sing. She now invites women to live with more ease while inspiring them to make the changes they desire. Susan is the founder and CEO of Back Yourself Mentoring, a women’s circle, a network of women backing themselves and each other through mentoring, both mentor matching women one to one or through her group mentoring programmes, she knows that surrounding yourself with creative, generous and life ambitious women enables you to thrive consistently in your life and career. She hosts women’s circles and mentoring groups in London, Ireland and Mallorca. Empowering women to create tangible change, to lead a purposeful life with ease and a smile. Welcome to the show.

Susan: Thank you Le’Nise. Hello.

Le’Nise: So let’s get into the story of your very first period. Can you share with us what you remember that happened?

Susan: Oh, I actually do not remember having my first period. Let me share with you a little bit of background in terms of culture and where it was coming from. As you can tell from my accent, I’m Irish, born in the late 70s in a small community, raised Catholic, went to a secondary school with the nuns. So it’s a conversation and a topic that wasn’t something that was discussed or brought up. And when I got my period, I was about 13, maybe 13 and a half, actually was probably I’m sure if there was a therapist on here, they would probably say that I’ve blocked it out. Maybe. 

My introduction in to my period for the first year or two was one of pain. Incredible cramps, being doubled over, being looked after by my mum, hot water bottles and hot drinks and migraines. And for the first couple of years, I used to take a day off school. And while that probably sounded like fun to some young women or girls. I liked school. So it was a very mixed introduction. I would love to be able to share what a wonderful opening and blossoming experience it was, an empowering experience. It really wasn’t for me, which is why I speak about it a lot now. Though that experience continued from 13 to my probably mid 30s actually, and not consistently, thankfully. And my first two years, or I would say probably first year or two  was a day off a month. And it was probably irregular. It’s still irregular. And it was one of cramps, severe cramps and migraines. Yeah, it’s not the experience. It’s experience ahead. Really. And also, which I find really fascinating now, as I embrace it more and more and look back more of my life is that my mum was the same. So we didn’t really know between us, this was normal as well. Right. Even though my sister didn’t necessarily, well I’m not too sure, but she certainly didn’t have the experience that I had. So I think that’s interesting in itself, I think.

Le’Nise: So given that you said that your mum was the same, had the same sort of period and she thought it was normal. Is that how you grew up? Thinking that period pain was normal?

Susan: I think it is more that, obviously I had friends at school and their experiences would have been different because we spoke a little bit about it. I think especially initially it was when we all got it, I can remember there being a little bit of flurry of excitement in the cloakroom and stuff, and remember, it was all girls as well. But then I think less and less we spoke about it. But I do remember there was a certain like almost I don’t know what a badge of honour, but I guess I’ve just used the phrase, around, you know, the different stories. So I knew there were different experiences. But my experience was my experience and my mum’s experience because it was similar; I guess that’s what both of us knew, right? But obviously I was aware that there were other women not having the same experience. And then to go throughout my, I guess, you know, early teens and into my twenties and thirties. I certainly knew that that was not normal, but it was my normal and your normal is just your normal until it changes, I think really.

Le’Nise: So going back to being at school, you said that you were raised Catholic, you went to school with the nuns. Dare I ask if there was any sort of education around menstruation, around periods that you would have participated in?

Susan: No. I was in school from ’89 to ’94 in secondary school. So, no, there wasn’t. I do remember there being Sex Ed, which would definitely not have been sufficient either, so, you know, there was a nod towards that. But I really don’t remember and we certainly wouldn’t have had any of the, you know, there was no products, menstruation products either. When you think about that now, you think, oh, wow. What? What were we supposed to do? And we were a school full of young adults, young women, girls and women. So, no, there wasn’t. There wasn’t any.

Le’Nise: It was the conversation that you were having with your friends and it kind of almost a whisper network of, oh, well, I’m using pads, and I’m using tampons. Was it that sort of thing?

Susan: Yeah. And like I say, initially it was probably more when we were like in the first year. Well that’s what it was called in Ireland right, first year was when you were 12-13 and it was when everyone I guess was flurrying too. And literally it was flowing right? And the conversation started then but after that initial flurry and I guess it was the circle that I was in as well, there was quite a big circle of us. But I guess once it started, then it was just like, now life is like now we get on with things, right. Like just we move on. And, you know, I guess you talk about maybe, maybe boys and maybe or maybe girls or you’re playing, for me I was playing sports and stuff. So I kind of got on with life and so I know that my attitude was very much like, this is it and yeah, that was something, I guess, for me, personally, it was more about, I worked around my menstrual flow. I worked under it, over it, around it on. It was something that I got on, you know, to use these words now pains me a little bit. But it you know, I tolerated it. My attitude was one of, so this is necessary, it is part of being a woman, I was certainly not embracing it. And I was just I guess, putting up with it, you know, like that was the attitude. I’m a very, quite pragmatic woman anyway at the best of times, though, that is to a different level, I think. My approach to it was very much like, this is happening to me and I very much just want to get on with life. I used to play team sports, like I said; it’s called camogie, which is an Irish sport. This was an inconvenience, if anything and very much just treating it as an inconvenience or pain and therefore, let’s make the most of it, I guess.

Le’Nise: So how did you go from seeing your period as an inconvenience and tolerating it to, as I said in your intro, to now embracing your menstrual cycle? That’s quite a big leap. So tell me a bit more about how you got there.

Susan: I was hugely and thank you because it’s quite nice to move on as well, I think it’s important to reflect back but as well. There was a pivotal, so like I said, throughout my teens, that was my experience. There was a pivotal moment, probably about three and a half years ago, so throughout my 20s and 30s, the pain would come and go. I didn’t always have the migraines, they more or less left after being a teen and then in my 20s and 30s, it was more about, I would get cramps and the PMS was sky-high. But about three and a half years ago, I woke up one night in the middle of the night and I got my period and I went to the bathroom and I literally could not get off the bathroom floor. I was in such agony and that was the worst I had ever been, like ever and I just remember lying there for hours and even my husband came in to me, I’m like, you can’t do anything to help me, but he stayed with me that night. And I went I’m never going through this again, I need to find a way through this right? I need to find a way that I am more at ease with this and I would use that word ease now. And so I started looking into it and I started looking for, I guess I just started putting it out there and going, I need to find another way to be around this. 

And I came across a woman called Claire Baker whose teachers are; I’m not going to remember their names now but they’re with the Red School and some people will know their book, Wild Power. I did an eight week online course with her and I started journaling and since then, I have been journaling. And I think just before I get into that, which has been a part of my healing journey and what I would now call a spiritual journey, if you wish, you don’t have to call it that. I think even turning my head towards it put a little bit more kindness and I mean, just even honestly like a little millimeter of more kindness and more acceptance and wanting to understand, I think eased the pain a little bit, like genuinely. You know when you have the outside tap on, outside and it’s really, really tight and it’s the tightest it is, so it’s not leaking during the day. It’s really tense and you’re holding it all in and literally you’re holding it all in and then you just release it, just a tiny, tiny bit. I think that’s what I did. I mean, literally, I can feel it now releasing my body, that little bit allowed some of the pain to go away, not just the physical, but the emotional and the mental as well. And so it was a start of a journey and it is a journey because I’m still learning something new every month. 

So what I started to do was, I learned to start journaling and I’m not a consistent journaler, for anyone listening, this was not my practice of journaling. I had tried and it and never got into the habit but what I would do is get out a notebook and I tried several different ways but at first it was like put down the headings of ‘physically, how do I feel?’ And I might only start with one word and then ‘emotionally’ and I actually put in emotional and mental, it’s better to get into the habit of actually even writing the words associated with it. And so every day I used to do this, so I wait for I think I waited until the start of my next period because I had no idea, by the way what day I was on or anything. I was not tracking in any way. And so I waited until the first day of my period and I started writing down day one physically how do I feel? Emotionally, mentally, how do I feel and choose to spiritually and at that time I was still on the start of my journey. This is really the start to even my spiritual journey, a very conscious start to my spiritual journey. And so I just write down a word or two, that’s where I started. Like literally that’s where I started. 

But of course, once you create a little bit of space and start writing a little bit, you might write, I found myself writing another few words and then another few words. And so, you know, if I’m in spring [follicular phase], I was like, oh, I’m feeling like I’m going back out into the world. And it seems to be a little bit more life around, oh, and I’m getting different ideas coming along, so I did that for a couple of months. And then I started to expand it out because I wanted to see the trends. I guess I started to see a few trends, literally, even after two or three months. This is what I always say to women that I speak to, like even after two months, I started to see these trends and like, oh, my gosh and so I added food because I’ve always been into food. So I wanted to know why do I want certain foods or what would be good for me to have? But it was more about like, what’s going on in the different phases and I’m sure some of your other guests talked about the phases and it was it was so fascinating, like after about four months, I used to go back and day 16, I’d really want leafy greens like I was craving avocados and leafy greens. Isn’t that incredible? So I started adding foods and then I recognised that coming into my period that I really wanted sugary, like really sweet stuff. And look, I’ve always had a bit of a sweet tooth, but I would want sweet stuff and then, you know, I had a conversation with a woman a few months ago at my yoga teacher training and she went, oh, you’re going from yang energy of being out there, performing and to do list and you’re going into this sweet, softer, yin energy and I was like oh! And the sweet stuff is taking me into that Yin energy, that’s why we crave it, I’m like, wow, and then I added… 

So this is the joy of journaling, right, you can journal whatever you want. This is your life. We’re all unique. We’re all individuals. We all have our own challenges. If you’re a mum, you can maybe, you know, look at it from how are you feeling towards your family and juggling stuff? But I also did it for Back Yourself Mentoring because I found myself like literally in Summer going out there and talking about it and Summer being obviously ovulation and going out there and talking about it and being on calls and enjoying it and loving it and loving the community and the circle and the wisdom and the nourishment I was receiving and the other women are receiving. And then literally within, you know, a week or 10 days, I was like, I didn’t want to pick up the phone. I didn’t want to talk about it and the contrast and the swings and the pendulum of going from ‘wayhey I love my business, I love these women’, to; ‘I don’t want to talk to anyone. I want to lock myself away’. I thought it was Back Yourself Mentoring, and I was getting literally so confused by this and it was causing angst as well. So I started journaling it and then within two to three months, again, I was like, OK, this is my cycle. I’m cyclical, I’ve got a rhythm, it’s not linear and my background is high, I mean, I was a CFO in finance, right? So it’s binary, like, you know, one and one and it’s linear and it’s a little bit black and white. The journals are the journey and the lessons from this are forever. I’m learning. 

I learned that I was just going through a normal cycle. I was really creative after coming out of my menstrual flow and I’d have loads of new ideas and often I would go off on tangents and then in summer [ovulation] I was out there sharing it and hearing from other women and then, you know, really enjoying life and bringing to fruition a vision that I would have set. And then in Autumn [luteal phase], to do lists where I literally just, I just ran through those and I was, of course, with the sweet beauty of autumn as well that you come back to yourself, you’re starring to come back to yourself and I think for me, what I found is there was inner truths there that I didn’t know about, like that I hadn’t appreciated before. And this is something I’m more and more in tune with. And it’s when I know that I can almost wait for my autumn now, to go back to my intuition. When it’s something that’s really important that I’m trying to make a life decision on, I wait for autumn to have that little conversation with myself. And I know when I’m in it because I have the most thoughtful, the most heartfelt conversations with my husband or my close friends as well. I’m like, going, either that I’m really struggling on something about where I’m going or I’m trying to let go of something or that I want us to maybe, you know, just to shift or something that might have been bothering me, that’s when I have those conversations. 

And of course, for me, the biggest learning, I suppose, was to let go during winter [menstrual phase] to honour my menstrual flow. I spent years not honouring that, honouring the process of letting go, of avoiding burnout, because like many of us, it was burning the candle at both ends and recognising that it was the time that I could come back to myself, come back home and to allow things to, yeah, to let it flow and to allow myself to have a little bit of time. And I know it’s not realistic for everyone to be able to stay in bed and pull the duvet up and to let that go but even there’s still days like I’m in day 37 at the moment and I’m very irregular at the moment. Actually let me clarify that, I don’t know what my normal is because I only started journaling a few years ago. So I think I’ve always been in irregular. So I can go from being 28 or 30 days for a few months and then going from 22 days to 40 days. There’s no, I guess what I like to say is, there’s no normal there’s only change and there’s awareness. So that’s a long answer. Le’Nise to your question but it was a journey and it was a few years journey and I’m still on it by the way, like I’m completely still on it, I’m still recognising like, I love listening to my favourite podcasts at different times of the month, and which podcasts I listen to at different times in a month. In Summer I love lighter books, I love learning, really, really learning in spring especially, and autumn. There are so many areas; this is what I love about the menstrual cycle. It has so many beautiful ways of teaching us about ourselves, about reconnecting with ourselves.

Le’Nise: I just want to jump in and just to clarify for listeners, because you’ve talked a lot about seasons. So if they aren’t aware of this, the correlation of the seasons to the different phases of the menstrual cycle. So this is something that is developed by the Red School and it’s an analogy looking at so winter is when you’re on your period and then you go into spring, which is the follicular phase so, you’re feeling, your blooming, you’re feeling more energetic and then ovulation is summer and then you go into the different parts of the luteal phase. The second part of the luteal phase is the fall where people most associate this with PMS. And I love how it’s so natural to you that you’ve just peppered this into the conversation and it shows me what a deep connection you now have with your menstrual cycle and how it’s influenced your life in so many different ways. So you’ve said all of this work has revealed some inner truths to you. I also did want to go back to how you were feeling at that moment three and half years ago where you were on the bathroom floor to how comparing that to how you feel now, what changes do you think that this whole process of journaling and being more aware of the connection with food and how much you work? What changes do you think that has made in your menstrual cycle and your period?

Susan: Thank you for asking that. Allow me to join the dots. In the last, let’s say two years, in the last two years, I’ve had two migraines. I don’t have cramps. I don’t have cramps anymore, any and I can’t remember the last time I’ve had period pain, genuinely. PMS was one of the biggest things, especially because, like, you know, I was a c-suite, I was in meetings, just nine to five every day. And I used to have a small level of awareness in that, when I would be coming into my menstrual cycle, that I would sometimes go into the office and go, can you please clear my diary? Like, just get me out of every meeting that I have because I knew that I would be so grumpy. And it would tip over into like taking it out on other people. I really struggled with PMS, if you had my husband on the conversation here, he would confirm that for us. I genuinely have very little these days. I completely contribute that to embracing it, getting softer with it, connecting with my cycle, understanding it. I’m not saying that everything, like I’m not saying that everything is rosy and perfect. When I have a level of stress that I can look back on, I can recognise that I go out of whack. Right. So I know that like in February this year, I had some stress from work and that I remembered that I had some pain and I had definitely PMS and I could just find that the stress levels were raising me a bit. 

It’s about acceptance. I was accepting my body and I was also accepting that I can’t be Wonder Woman or anyone out there that remembers Wonder Woman, I loved her. I can’t be Wonder Woman all month and I love it when I’m up during summer and during ovulation, but I also accept that I can’t and I’m not her all the time and acceptance of that, means that I allow myself to slow down coming it, coming into my period. I also attribute it to tweaking my diets and my food to this day, towards nutrition. So I believe that some of the migraines were due to stress because of, you know, I have tested this out over time and watching and reading back my journals and caffeine, so I’ve never been a coffee drinker, but I was a big black tea drinker, and I knew it was more about the ritual of holding in my hand, but I was drinking it as if I just held it in my hand. So I stopped drinking it in the week before my periods and that made a huge…see I was feeling the waves, it’s almost like there were waves that were going through my head, and there were waves of the hormones. I don’t know if anyone else or if you recognise it, Le’Nise, but when I would get those headaches, and sometimes it didn’t develop into, like I said, most of my migraines were really around my younger years, but I would get them now and then and I would literally feel the hormones going through my head but stopping the caffeine the week before was crucial to that. It’s this reinforcing circle, right? I started looking after myself. I started watching what I was eating. 

I would exercise, do the relevant exercise at the relevant time. So I would slow down, I love running, so I really got running in spring, late spring and summer and so on the middle part of my month and then I would do a slower yoga. I still struggle a little bit with Yin because I am more of a you know, I study Ayurveda at the moment, I’m more pitta, more outgoing, more like I like to be, ah, you know. So I have to really, really focus on when I need to drop my energy. So my relationship is incredible and I know that if I can do it and if I came from that place of, you know, I learned really early on that when I drank alcohol, that if I had one drink or two, my period would stop, right, it would stop, because obviously I now know that it could only detoxify one thing and obviously my liver was detoxifying the alcohol, so it couldn’t do both and then it would return a few days later and I actually used to remember deliberately having a glass of wine or two just to stop it because it was such an inconvenience to have it. Imagine! What a terrible thing to do to yourself and I do feel that when I see someone that I know going through their periods and I see them having a glass of wine, I’m like, oh, just wait a few days because your poor body cannot cope with it. So I don’t drink alcohol anymore, actually, at all. 

I’m vegetarian now. I’m plant-based, actually. I know that the journey that I’ve been on, that it’s set me off on, has been one of self-care, emotionally and physically, and that the ease which it has allowed me to have around my whole cycle, not just concentrating on fixing that few days, that it’s about the whole cycle. So if I look after myself in winter, take it easy, or even by like I said to women, even slow it down to 75%. Right. We’re all going to 120 miles an hour anyway, right? So even if we could slow it down to 75 and to allow it to happen, to allow it to flow, to say, OK, I’m here, I’m here, I’m at ease, the month ahead is better. And I know when I try, and I do this still at times, and I’ve learned this over and over again, that if I push through in winter that the month is a little bit tougher, it is genuinely tougher. So my awareness and my practice and I do call it a practice, has completely changed my whole month. Those 3 days that I have, my period, obviously, women have them for different lengths of times, but those 3 days that I have mine is completely different, as is my whole month, as is my life.

Le’Nise: It’s amazing what you’re saying and you know, it’s a journey and you’ve been through a lot but doing a deep dive into so many different areas and this real self-awareness of how different things affect you. So you talked about alcohol, you’ve talked about caffeine; you’ve talked about the changes that you’ve made in what you eat. I think all of these have created a real difference in your menstrual cycle. So if someone is listening and they really connect with what you’re saying and they say, well, I’m having issues with my period, I want to try this whole journaling practice. Where would you recommend that they start?

Susan: Yeah. So a start is the start, I guess, if you know and you’re somehow, you know, you’re tracking on apps and you know what day you’re on, start today, fill out a little notebook that you liked to write in and get something that you actually really like to pull out, it can just be a little one. You know, that’s nice and soft and a nice pen to write in it and put it by your bed or maybe in your most comfy chair. So if you know where you are already, I didn’t, you can start on that day, if you don’t know where you are, waiting till day one, so day one is the first, it’s not spotting but the first proper bleed. And you can do this in different ways. So what I did was at first I put the headings down so I would put down how I’m feeling physically. You know, if you want to know how you are around your nutrition, put a little header down on the page. 

I used a small little notepad, so this can be really as bullet points as you want, or as beautiful and elaborate or an essay as you want. Pick a couple of ways, a couple of headliners. Do pick about your emotions, because that’s a big one of the biggest things. And you can put down spiritual now because, you know, do you meditate or do sit in silence. What are your spiritual practices? So pick. Maybe if you’re starting off, pick 3 things because 3 is a lovely number, right? And especially when you say it in an Irish accent, pick 3 things that you want to track. And every day at the end of your day, just write down how you’re feeling. So, you know, I mentioned tonight I’ll be writing down that I feel clear because I feel quite clear today and I feel quite grounded, actually, as well. Like I say, if you don’t journal, this might be a bit of a task for you right because you’re like you might be resisting a little bit. Write a word. Start with one word. Ideally three words per each like, you know, if it’s physical or emotional or food or how you feel about your business or your kids, if there might be, you know, whatever way you’re feeling and then if you miss it, do it every day. And if you miss a day, don’t worry about it. I don’t do it every single day. Sometimes I go back to it and I write a couple of words and if I forget. But when I was especially when I was starting out and for the last, you know, the initial two years, every single day but the most important thing is that you’re tracking it. Well, I guess the nicest thing to think about is, I’m going to have this wisdom next month, so I’m going to be able to flip back pages and look at this next month. 

There is another way you can do it as well. You could take one page split it in four so you can actually split it in four and put what day you’re on that page and then you could use it for the next four months. So you could use that 4 quadrant and then use it for four months. Find whatever way suits you best, so each woman will have a preference. And for the more creative women, they might want to draw something. But I think the words are really, really important as well, because you want to really remember. You think you’re going to remember, you don’t, there’s too much going on in our life. So, yeah, and enjoy it, I think, like have a sip of hot water and create a ritual around it. Or if it’s literally I don’t have time for this, I’m really going to have scribbled down a few words, then so be it. I think the best thing to do is start and look forward to your own inner wisdom and intuition and empower yourself by starting.

Le’Nise: Great. And so just start. I think that those are really wise, wise words. So, they start journaling and then they get a set of information. What would you say to the woman who is two months from now said, ‘Okay, I listened to the podcast episode, and I’ve started journaling and now what’?

Susan: I guess, what do you want out of it? So maybe like with the starting, what is it you’re looking for? I’ll look at two schools of thought on this. One is that the women that will take it up fastest will be women like me that want to find out and to solve it. Your trigger is usually if you’ve got some pain or angst or anguish around it. Right. So there’ll be the women, that, like they will have a very clear purpose from what they want, a desired outcome from what they want from it. So you will start to see trends. And for the woman, that’s like, OK, I’m going to give this a go because I want to know more about myself. It’s the same answer, actually. 

Flick back through your journal. So when you’re at a certain point in time, you might be on day four or five, actually, let me give you this, either four or five is when we, it’s a beautiful time, it’s a brilliant time to set your vision for the month or might even be a vision for the next six months, because you’ve got incredible clarity about what is important to you. Once you got past this, all the creative flow comes in. That’s one reason to look at it, right, to go, OK, when do I want to set my vision for my life? It’s looking back at your trends really. So you’ve done two months and you’re like, OK, what now? Start to look back at it and start to reflect and start to look at the trends and the passions that are happening and go, oh, this is interesting. 

What it will do is, it would spur you on, and it’ll spur you on to keep going and to keep doing it. It might create new ideas around, oh, what else would I like to know about? I think it’s nice to read back over it. It might be that you want to change something in your diet, change something in your lifestyle, change, you know, bring in a new habit, maybe you want more sleep. Can you see any new patterns of where need it? Actually, if you’ve been writing that you’ve been tired a lot at different places, I can guarantee that most of us are more tired than we think we are. And sleep will always, always make your periods a little bit and life easier. So I think it’s like picking up little nuggets of wisdom that you’ve shared with yourself and say thanks very much for doing it and hopefully encourage you to keep doing it and to take what you want out of it. I think that’s most important… You will glean whatever intuition that you need. It’ll be individual to each of you.

Le’Nise: Can you tell us a little bit more about Back Yourself Mentoring and the work that you do with women to get them connected with their ambition?

Susan: It’s actually this time two years ago; I set up Back Yourself Mentoring. So it is, specifically, it’s all around empowerment. And, you know, the irony of all of this is that the menstrual cycle is now very much part of it as well. 

So where it started out from was to offer women the opportunity of having a mentor, because sometimes it is really difficult to find another woman and it’s all women. So it’s mentors, matching women who are career women that are looking to make changes in their career and it can be stepping up, stepping out or stepping back in, it can be running your own business, freelance or whatever it is, it is actually empowering her to give new opportunities and new ideas. And that’s what other women gifted me throughout my life and career and so I create relationships between mentors and mentees. And obviously, as I have journeyed over the last two years, so has the circle of women and community and what we’re doing. And I now speak to women in the women’s groups around menstruation because it’s part of the empowerment journey. Unless we accept ourselves and look after ourselves on self-care, you’ll burn out, right? You will be disconnected, which is where I was. So the idea is that we come back to ourselves, we come home and we feel more empowered. 

And so I go into businesses and talk about menstrual cycles and empowering women, about reconnecting with ourselves through different practices, which ultimately will allow women to choose work and life ambitions that are right for them, rather than maybe what they’re being given or maybe having to just take or receive. So the platforms are different, I have group coaching and mentoring programmes for women and women’s circles to do online or face-to-face. But the key for me is that the empowerment journey started with my menstrual cycle, I think, and then came in to Back Yourself Mentoring with the whole premise about we back ourselves and each other and empower each other to choose the life that we want.

Le’Nise: What a beautiful mission. Listeners, if they take one thing from all of the wise words that you’ve shared, what would you want that to be?

Susan: Follow your own rhythm. Each one of us needs to follow our own rhythm, and that rhythm is your inner rhythm and the inner cycle and your inner flow and the outer cycle that have happened. My outer rhythms that are happening all the time. Part of my journey has been to reconnect with the planet as well. So if we care for ourselves and follow our own rhythms, you’ll always choose what’s right for you. You’ll choose what’s in alignment with your body and with your soul. Follow your own rhythm.

Le’Nise: I love that. Follow your own rhythm. If listeners want to find out more about Back Yourself Mentoring and want to get involved with what you do, how would they connect with you?

Susan: You can email me at hello@backyourselfmentoring.com. Our website is the same www.backyourselfmentoring.com. And you can find me on Instagram, it’s @_susansheehan_. Yeah, just drop me an email; I’d love to hear from you.

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

Susan: Thank you Le’Nise, I’ve had such good fun. Thank you. What you’re doing is fantastic. Thank you.

Le’Nise: Thank you.

Period Story Podcast, Episode 8: Kat Horrocks, Coming Off Hormonal Contraception Improved My Mental Health

Period Story Podcast Episode 8 Kat Horrocks

For the eighth episode of the Period Story podcast, I had the pleasure of speaking to Kat Horrocks, a women’s life coach and fellow podcast host.

Kat shared the impact of getting her first period at 10 years old and how by default, she became the one that all her classmates went to for advice and with their questions. Kat says that even now she’s the person in her friend group that gets asked all the period questions.

Kat talked about her journey with hormonal contraception and why she decided to come off of it after 7 years. She says that a conversation with her partner about the impact the pill was having on her emotions and their relationship was the wake up call she needed to make changes.

Kat says she wanted to have a period and now that it has returned, she knows her body is healthy and operating in a natural way. Kat uses her period as a marker of where she’s at, physically and mentally and says it keeps her in check to make sure she’s looking after herself.

Kat discusses the research she did when she decided to come off hormonal contraception and how she geeked out on all the new information.

Kat says that we shouldn’t underestimate our bodies; they’re amazing and they work. She says that listening to our bodies and learning what our bodies are saying is really powerful and I completely agree!

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Kat’s Bio

Kat Horrocks is a women’s life coach and host of the Put Yourself First Podcast. She believes it’s time for you to start putting yourself first and achieving your goals! Her work offers 1:1 coaching and online resources to provide you with practical and emotional support to do just that. You can also hear inspiring stories from badass women on her podcast every Monday morning. From business and careers to personal development and self-care, you’ll get the resources and guidance you need.

Find Kat at kathorrocks.com and on Instagram @kat_horrocks.

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Show Notes

Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler

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Show Transcript

Le’Nise: On today’s episode, we have Kat Horrocks, a woman’s life coach and host of the Put Yourself First podcast. She believes it’s time for you to start putting yourself first and achieving your goals. Her work offers one to one coaching and online resources to help provide you with practical and emotional support to do just that. Welcome to the show. 

Kat: Hi. Thank you 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? 

Kat: Yeah, and I really have to think back to this, because I’m sure like many women being asked this question, you’re like, oh, that was a long time ago. But I do remember being at home, and I think I just went for a wee. I went to the toilet and my mum was, you know, around the house, luckily. And I just wiped myself and there was blood, and I was like, oh. I knew what it was. I knew that it was a thing. So I just remember opening the bathroom door and saying, Mum, I think I’ve started my period. So, yeah, I was quite lucky that I was at home. I was comfortable and my mum was there to help me. 

Le’Nise: How old were you? 

Kat: I was quite young. I was I think I was 10. 

Le’Nise: 10 years old. OK. And were you the first of your friends to get your period? 

Kat: Yeah. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: And so how do you think that affected how your education around your period and menstrual health and the conversations that you had with your friends about it? 

Kat: Yeah. So I’d say it was a very different experience being at home vs. being at school. At school, I felt a bit like an alien or not an alien in the sense that I was treated negatively. But obviously, for all the other girls, it was like a mystery. And they were, oh, my God, like this has happened to you, you know, it was just such like a new world for them to even imagine. So, yeah, I had a lot of, you know, girls, and we can get onto like school period stories, I’m sure. But I did have a lot of girls like circling me at playtime asking, you know? Oh, what’s it like? Like what? So have you got something in your knickers, what is that? How does it work? Yeah, as a kid, I was quite shy, so it was definitely awkward, but luckily at home, it was completely a conversation. It had always been a conversation. And my mum is amazing. So she always made me feel, you know, she said, this is normal. This is healthy. You know, every woman experiences this, so never feel embarrassed about it or never feel like it’s a shameful thing. 

Le’Nise: So you’re educating your friends and then you are getting this education from your mum. So when your friends got their periods, did they come to you for advice?

Kat: I think so, yeah. Yeah. Just because I was obviously the first in my friendship group. So over the next sort of few years, five years or so. Some people yea, they came and asked me about, and to be honest, I still speak to friends about it now just because, even as adult women we don’t often talk about it. And I think you always have that friend who you can go to and ask the most TMI questions. So a lot of my friends still now to this day are like ‘what’s a moon cup? How does that even work? How do you put it in?’. Oh, yeah. I’ve always been very like, I’m just happy to chat to friends about it. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: So you’re kind of like the period expert amongst your group of friends? 

Kat: I wouldn’t say expert, but more just, I genuinely, I’ve never been embarrassed about it. So I’m always happy to have a conversation about it yeah. 

Le’Nise: Getting a period that young. Do you feel like that affected your knowledge of your period? And did it change the way you thought about your body? 

Kat: I don’t think so, to be honest. And I do think, again, my mum is getting a lot of air time in this chat just because she is genuinely, I mean, has been so amazing about it. So I always knew that it was normal. And I always knew that it was going to happen and had that education at home before it happened. I think it was interesting in terms of obviously being one of the earlier developers at school. That was an interesting shift in my relationship with my body. Because it was also around that time that of course I got my period, but then my boobs grew a lot, so I had like the biggest boobs in my year group. And then obviously that meant that, you know, unfortunately, like I got unwanted attention from boys and that definitely shifted. It was like that was probably the year where I went from being feeling just like a regular kid to feeling like, oh, my body is this is this, you know, different, different thing now. Like, I’m not only growing into a woman, but what the sort of implications of that meant in terms of how people viewed me and acted around me. 

Le’Nise: You said you got unwanted attention. How did you deal with that? 

Kat: Not very well because I was so young. And I didn’t know what that meant, what it was, whether it was anything serious. Well, it was never anything serious. I do feel like I should say that but, I didn’t even have the vocabulary to say, oh, I don’t want to do that or I don’t think you should do that. Because when you’re a young kid, it’s almost like kids don’t have any boundaries, do they? They just play and there’s no reason behind it. So, yeah, it was interesting. So I don’t think I really dealt with it, but I would say, it took maybe more into high school. That was when my confidence developed a bit more. And I was able to, you know, stand up for myself. And obviously at that point, other girls were experiencing it, too. So I probably dealt with it by speaking to other girls about it. And, you know, all of those sort of say, yeah, that’s really dumb or that boys really horrible or don’t go near him or don’t speak to him. 

Le’Nise: Having got your period so young and having made that transition from, I guess we can call it transitioning from a girl to not necessarily a woman but a young woman, that seems so weird to say it. You know, to talk about a 10 year old in that way. How do you feel about your period now? 

Kat: I love it so much, so much so that I was on hormonal contraception a few years ago and honestly, one of the big reasons that made me want to come off it was that I didn’t have my period. So I had the hormonal contraceptive implant. So a lot of people, a lot of girls experience just not having periods at all when they have that in and I think it’s because it’s a progesterone only one. And you don’t have a break like you would if you were taking a pill. So you don’t even have a withdrawal bleed. And I genuinely was questioning like oh, so I’ve not bled at all in years. Will my period come back when I stop, when I could take this out? And I actually missed that cycle, I just yeah, I felt like I don’t want to say I felt like less of a woman, but I did miss my period. In a way, I know that sounds really odd to some women who really struggle with their period. But I just feel like my body is so much healthier now I’m having my period. So yeah, I do really love it because of what it means. 

Le’Nise: So what does it mean to you? 

Kat: So for me right now, it obviously means that my body is healthy and operating in a natural way. And that’s obviously because I’m not taking hormonal contraception but even just the like what your hormones do for your body. I think a lot of people underestimate how powerful hormones are and how much they affect. So being able to work with that and work with my cycle to know that I’m looking after my physical health, I’m looking at my mental health and all these other areas. My period is kind of a real marker of where I’m at physically and mentally, which I really like. I feel like because I know it so well now, I can work with it and it tells me things,  if makes sense? 

Le’Nise: What sort of things does it tell you? 

Kat: So what I’m learning is if I’ve had a stressful month, my period is going to be horrible, and having that horrible period is enough to be like, OK, something needs to change here. I need to make sure I’m, you know, I meditate a lot more now, making sure my diet is on point. Think, you know, basic things like water, enough vegetables, fibre, all that kind of stuff, so that definitely affects it. I also think sleep is huge for me. So again, I notice that my mood, my mental health is worse, particularly on around my PMS when I’ve not slept. So it’s all those little things that keeps me on track and keeps me in check to make sure I’m looking after myself. Yeah. 

Le’Nise: And so you seem to be really aware of what’s going on with your body, what’s going on at different parts of your menstrual cycle. How did you learn about all of this? 

Kat: Honestly, through the Internet, I think and I, of course, had a basic understanding of my period and my cycle through school. But I’m sure many of us can agree that it is very basic and we don’t really learn about what hormones do, different types of hormones, how that affects, how they fluctuate throughout our cycle? So when I had this revelation that I wanted a period again, I wanted to feel “normal”, I went on this journey to research and learn and I stumbled across the fertility awareness community, which I don’t actually use myself but that was so valuable to me because these are women who track their cycle and know the ins and outs of their hormones almost every single day down to really specific things in terms of the changes in the body and all that kind of stuff. So I just dove in, I’m a bit of a geek anyway when it comes to a new topic that I’m passionate about. So I just Googled, I listened to, I know that sounds bad when it comes to health but I just listened to so many podcasts, I read so many books, I bought that book Taking Charge Of Your Fertility, even though I actually don’t want kids. But I just wanted to learn about my fertility and what it means and how it worked. So, yeah, I would say that was a huge revelation, an education for me. 

Le’Nise: That’s so interesting what you said about wanting to learn more about your fertility, but not wanting kids. Because what I see, and also from my own personal experience, is that I only started learning about my menstrual cycle and ovulation and all of that in more detail once my husband and I decided that we were going to have a baby or we’re going to try to have a baby. And then this whole world opened up for me. So hearing you talk about wanting to learn more about your fertility, but not in the context of trying for a   baby, is so interesting and I think there is a lot of power, as you talked about, in knowing about your menstrual cycle and almost divorcing it from this concept of having a baby, because it’s much more than that. 

Kat: Absolutely. I mean, like I’ve said, my hormones speak to me and they, like my cycle, tells me so much about where I am at in terms of my health and wellbeing, how much I’m taking care of myself. And yeah it is a lot deeper than just like I know it’s the modern day but it’s still seen as you know, it’s still seen as this one thing with this one specific outcome, which is you’re a woman, you have a period so that you can have a baby. But I think when you look below the surface of that, it’s so much more powerful and amazing whether you want kids or not or whatever stage of life you are. 

Le’Nise: You’ve said that your cycle speaks to you. And what kind of things does it tell you? So if you’re speaking to a listener who is on the beginning of the journey that you’ve been on, so wanting to learn more about their period, what kind of clues does your cycle give you and what should they be looking out for? 

Kat: So I’m no expert on this I just want to say and everyone is so different that if you feel that you’re experiencing abnormal side effects through your period then obviously that’s something to look out with a health professional. For me, I think or for everyone, I think it’s all about understanding what your normal is and what is normal for you. Same with, you know, we talk about, let’s say thrush or, you know, some sort of infection. Some women might think that there are certain things going on down there that they think, oh, is that an infection? But, if we start to notice and understand what is normal for us, what, you know, feels normal for us, what smells normal for us, what looks normal, all those kinds of things then that’s where you hopefully should be in that if anything changes, then you’ll notice. 

So a big thing for me is flow and the heaviness of my flow. So I know what a good period looks like in terms of, yes, it’s always going to be heavy at the start but if I’ve had a particularly bad one, it’s really heavy. Same with cramps, yes, I am going to experience cramps because my uterus is literally squeezing out the excess but, should I be like keeled over and unable to work without taking, without, you know dosing up on tons and tons of painkillers throughout the day. No. So they’re two big ones to me and I also think mood. So one of the big reasons I came of hormonal contraception was I really struggled with my mental health taking it and I felt like I was out of control of my emotions. I felt like I was depressed or definitely going in that direction and now my cycle has evened out a lot more and I feel a lot better day to day. Likewise, I know what is good for me and again, when you’re having PMS, you’re going to be more tired, you’re going to be more short tempered, you’re going to probably need a bit more space but if you’re feeling really, really, really down or really, you know, snapping at everyone, or you notice that around that time, you just experience a lot of mental health side effects. Then again, that is a marker that something potentially needs looking at. 

 So, yeah, I would say they’re the big, they’re the main ones for me and I think for a lot of women listening, they are having really, really heavy periods or really abnormal. I hate that word. I shouldn’t say word, really, really harsh and debilitating side effects from their period and that’s not good. But you don’t know that until you know what is healthy and then you can be like, oh,  it’s not really healthy that I can’t work when I’m on my period. 

Le’Nise: And that’s a really interesting way of putting it, because I do talk about, in my practice, what’s normal and what isn’t normal and debilitating pain, as you mentioned, isn’t normal. But just coming back to what you said about understanding your normal. I think one of the issues that we have in our culture is that so many of us think that period pain is normal and having mood swings is normal. So when you tell people that it’s not normal, they’re really surprised because that’s what we’ve grown up with this expectation, you see, when women talk about their periods on TV or movies, it’s always in connection to, ‘oh, I feel terrible’  or they’re with a hot water bottle or they’re being really bitchy so kind of unpicking that idea of understanding your normal also with a bit of education, I think is really important. 

Kat: Yeah, definitely. 

Le’Nise: You have listed three areas that, so your flow, your mood and any pain you’re experiencing as markers for you of what you look out for in terms of if you’re going to have a good period or if your period isn’t going to be as good. Do you think that your period has changed over time? So if you think back to when you started to where you are now? 

Kat: Definitely. So when you say started, do you mean physically started having periods? 

Le’Nise: Yeah. 

Kat: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. And I’m sure many women will relate. I just think when you’re younger, it’s just worse. I don’t know why. I don’t know the science behind it. But it is worse when you’re younger; in general, it was like that for me. It’s been like that for a lot of my friends. So I don’t know whether that’s your body getting used to it or your hormones are just like erupting you’re a teenager anyway. So that’s having a lot to do with it. So, yeah, definitely had a few horrendous periods when I was growing up. But I’m 25 now and yeah, it’s, it’s evened out a lot more, it’s very predictable, which I think is another key thing to look at. So I know like the day that it’s coming which hasn’t always been the case and I’m sure many women can relate to that not being the case. So I think as I’ve got older, I don’t get any surprises, which is good. And I generally know even things like how long it’s going to last, what I’ll need.  So if I’m headed out the house and I know I’m starting my period, I know roughly what I’ll need to take with me to make sure I’m covered, things like that definitely happened more over the years. No leaks or embarrassing clothing ruining stories. Like, I’m sure many of us have from when we were younger.

Le’Nise: The white jeans moments. 

Kat: Never. Never. I mean, I would never risk that anyway, even now. 

Le’Nise: So you have a really healthy relationship with your period. From what you’re saying, it seems like you use it to really inform everything else that’s going on and really gain a deeper understanding of what’s going on with your health. I just want to go back to what you were saying about coming off of hormonal contraception. Can you talk a little bit about why you went on it? 

Kat: Yeah. So, I mean, for most people I went on it because I had a boyfriend and I wanted to have sex. I think when you’re growing up, it is just drilled into you that if you don’t want to get pregnant, you have to take contraception. And to be honest, like, thank God I did because I didn’t have a clue how I got pregnant or how that would even happen. So, yeah, I definitely would have been that girl at the clinic taking a pregnancy test if I didn’t go on contraception. So that was like over about 10 years ago. So I was on it for a while and in terms of coming off it, do you want me to talk about that? 

Le’Nise: Yeah, would be great. 

Kat: Yeah. So I think when I was younger, my hormones were mad anyway, as a 15 year old. So I didn’t really notice any particular side effects or anything that was a side effect of the pill I wasn’t experiencing any way, mood swings, you know, maybe a little bit of anxiety or being difficult to be around sometimes, that kind of thing. But definitely as I got older and I got into my second relationship, which is my partner now, things started to come up that were signs that it wasn’t normal and something needed to change. So I was taking the combined pill and I remember we were just arguing all the time, I was so moody. I had such low confidence. I was like a rollercoaster. And I was difficult to be around because one moment I’d be so happy and laughing and then the next moment I would be hysterical, crying, screaming like starting an argument. And I remember my boyfriend at the time and again, I don’t know why I said boyfriend at the time, cause we own a house together so it all worked out but at the time I remember him saying something like I think you need to come off this pill because it’s like it’s changing you and it’s making things really difficult for us and we’re arguing a lot and essentially was like, if something doesn’t change in you because it’s not fair to be in a relationship with you, if something doesn’t change, we’re going to have to split up, essentially. 

And that was obviously a wakeup call for me. So that started this whole journey of trying to find the right hormonal contraception. I went to the doctor, talked about mood swings, tried a ton of different types of combined pills and then settled on the progesterone only type. So I had the injection for a while and then I had the implant and that was that and I think because of the change in the structure of it, it did help some of the side effects. I almost describe it as it was like the best of a bad bunch for me and my body. So I wasn’t completely hysterical, crying, screaming all the time, just maybe like a few days out of the month. So it was less, but it was still there and there was still like the depressive episodes and just really, just really not good side effects. So the thing with the implant, as you’ll know if anyone’s ever taken it or had it in is it last for three years. So I actually had that one in my body for five years. So I had one for the full three years and then I got a second one put in and I don’t know whether it was because it was the second one it changed things for me. But again, I just started to notice something isn’t quite right. I’m not feeling myself. 

And then obviously I was learning, stumbled across all this fertility stuff on the Internet. I was like, oh, maybe it’s because my body’s hormone levels aren’t operating normally and healthily. So I remember thinking, what have I got to lose? I’m just going to get it taken out and try and just see what happens. I thought I can always go back on it, you know, I think it can feel like a really scary decision but condoms exist, they work, and you can always go back on it if you think, OK, my cycles come back, I want to go back on it. So that really helped. And then obviously, I came off it and I’ve never looked back because it felt like a weight. It felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. It was crazy. 

Le’Nise: How long were you on the pill? And then the implant and injection in total? 

Kat: Probably about seven years. Six to seven years. 

Le’Nise: And so how long have you been off of it? 

Kat: About three. Three, four. Yeah, that’s about right. Maths lesson of like calculating back the years of like, how old am I now? When did I come off it? 

Le’Nise: How long did it take for your period to come back? 

Kat: I am really lucky. Mine came back after maybe like two months. So after about three, four weeks or so, I got a withdrawal bleed. Because again, when you come off hormones and the first bleed you have isn’t always going to be a period because you might not have started ovulating yet. So I had that withdrawal bleed and then from then my cycle kicked back in and I remember like feeling ovulation for the first time. I was like, oh, I can’t even remember this feeling. Yeah. So I was quite lucky. Some people obviously it takes can take a year or so, which is obviously frustrating for them. 

Le’Nise: So go back to what you said about feeling ovulation for the first time. Can you describe that for listeners who might not be showing what you’re what you’re talking about?  

Kat: So again, if you’ve taken contraception, you’re not ovulating, so you don’t know what it feels like. And obviously, you have two ovaries and the weird thing about ovulation is you always ovulate from one or the other, each month. So you can physically feel on one side of your body, it’s almost like a little pinch and it’s in a really like small, localised area. And if you could, like, take your skin off and see, all your organs underneath, you could see that it was coming from your ovary. And it’s like, the funniest thing. I remember thinking, oh, what is this? And then obviously, thankfully, I had all these resources on fertility awareness so I knew what it was. But yeah, I think some women think like something’s wrong or they’ve started their period. But yeah, it’s just your ovary popping an egg out.

Le’Nise: If you could say one thing to listeners who are thinking about coming off of hormonal contraception, what would that be? 

Kat: I couldn’t say one thing. I would probably say, you know, all you can do is try it and see, it’s not a final decision if you don’t. If you decide to go back on, you can. But you’ve not really got anything to lose. If B you, please go and buy some condoms if you don’t want to get pregnant. Because I think that’s another thing that, your body is amazing and it can surprise you and it could literally bounce back like that. Please don’t go thinking that, you know, you can just have unprotected sex if you don’t want kids, but equally, I would say, again, if you want kids and you’re thinking about coming off to start trying. I would buy them. I’ve heard from a lot of friends that they have had surprises in terms of I didn’t realise how quickly it would happen. And they almost have said it like I wish it happened in the next year or in the next three months or in six months’ time. 

And I just think, don’t underestimate your body. It’s amazing and it works. And if you’re having sex without a condom, then your body might surprise you, even if you’ve not ovulated for years. So, yeah, I would say I’m such an advocate for condoms and I think once your cycle kicks back in and you can learn about it, you can obviously make the best decision for yourselves whether you want kids or not. But yeah, I think having that adjustment period where you just wait and see what happens and getting to know that cycle as it kicks back in. Just like take your time and let it happen, but use condoms if you don’t want kids. 

Le’Nise: So that a really powerful message. Taking your time, listening to your body, letting it happen and it’s almost countercultural in a way because we hear these messages like go, go, go, it has to happen now and this idea of waiting and listening is something that, you know, a lot of people could really benefit from internalising that. 

Kat: Definitely. And I would also add to that, being really present with the changes that happen. So not only in your physical body, but any other side effects that you’ve been experiencing on contraception just be really present with how you feel because things might stick around, but they also might drastically change, which was luckily my experience. So to note, to recognise that as well and to link the two together. I feel better because this isn’t in my body anymore. That’s great too. 

Le’Nise: So is there any last bits of information or advice that you’d like to leave our listeners with? 

Kat: Good question. I think I’m just going to reiterate what I’ve just said if that’s ok. I know I sound like a broken record, but I just think listening to your body and learning to listen is so powerful because not enough of us are doing it. You know, we are taking this pill or we’re doing this, you know, we’re having this period. And just because it’s normal to you doesn’t mean that it’s OK or doesn’t mean that, you know, you should be able to choose, you should have to put up with it forever. And I just think so many women are not taught to listen to their body and they’re completely out of touch with what’s going on internally. And if we could just pause in a moment in our day, in our busy lives to just check in with how we’re feeling and how things are changing, then we would be in a much more empowered position to make the best choice for ourselves. So just pausing and listening. 

Le’Nise: Thank you so much for coming onto the show, Kat. Where can listeners find out more about you? 

Kat: Thank you so much for having me. I’ve loved this chat. You can head to my website, which is kathorrocks.com and I’m always hanging out on Instagram, which is @kat_horrocks so I would love to chat on there as well and continue the conversation. 

Le’Nise: Thank you so much. 

Kat: Thank you. 

Period Story Podcast, Episode 7: Karen Arthur, I Won’t Shut Up About Menopause

Period Story Podcast, Episode 7: Karen Arthur

For the seventh episode of Period Story Podcast, I spoke with Karen Arthur, the fashion designer, sewing tutor, stylist, speaker and model.

We talked about a first period that felt really frightening at the time, but in retrospect, was quite funny.  Karen talked about learning about periods and sex through conversations with friends, feeling squeamish and embarrassed and learning that having a period didn’t mean she was pregnant. 

Karen says that having a preacher for a father meant that conversations about most things to do with women, and anything to do with bodily fluids were taboo. She had been brought to believe that bleeding was bad and the Problem page in Jackie magazine was how she mostly learned about sex, relationships and periods. 

We talked about what Karen felt she should have known about her body and how becoming a teacher and head of year made her determined to learn as much as she could, in order to teach her students and her daughters. Karen shares how her daughters have educated her the most on periods and sex through their openness and willingness to have frank conversations. 

She says it’s taken her time to unlearn her feelings of shame and recognise that the more people talk about these things, the better it is. This has helped her talk about menopause as well. Karen talks about the events she’s run to help open up conversations around menopause and how they’ve help women feel less alone. 

Karen says that menopause is a transition to another life and we need to think about how we can thrive, rather than how we can just get through it. 

Karen says that no one should suffer this alone and I completely agree!

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Karen’s Bio

Karen is a 57 year old woman flourishing through menopause. She is a fashion designer, sewing tutor, stylist and speaker with a bit of modeling thrown in for variety.

Karen was a full time teacher for 28 years and a pastoral leader for 15 of those but, after a breakthrough in 2015, left to pursue a more authentic life. She has been sewing for over 40 years creating beautiful clothing for women who appreciate hand crafted care and slow fashion. Karen teaches people of all ages to fall in love with their sewing machines. She runs workshops to teach all ages about sewing, textiles and fashion.

Karen enables women to harness the power of fashion to support good mental well-being using #wearyourhappy on social media and penned an e-book 8 Ways to Wear Your Happy as a helpful guide. She has held two successful Wear Your Happy live events to date and launched Wear Your Happy Style, a personal styling offer for women who want to rediscover the ‘Happy’ in their wardrobes.

Karen speaks publicly on fashion and mental wellbeing, ageing and loneliness. Her most recent video feature for @StyleLikeU ‘Getting Dressed: A self-acceptance project’ has reached over 88k views on YouTube.

Finally, Karen is also a co-founder of Craft Moves, a social initiative committed to ending loneliness amongst London’s commuters through handheld craft. 

Find Karen on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and on her website.

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Show Transcription

Le’Nise: On today’s episode, we have Karen Arthur, a 57 year old woman flourishing through menopause. She is a fashion designer, sewing tutor, stylist and speaker with a bit of modelling thrown in for variety. Karen enables women to harness the power of fashion to support good mental well-being through the hashtag where you’re happy on social media. She’s penned an e-book called Eight Ways To Wear Your Happy as a helpful guide. 

Karen speaks publicly on fashion and mental wellbeing, ageing and loneliness. Finally, Karen is also co-founder of Craft Moves, a social initiative committed to ending loneliness amongst London’s commuters through a handheld craft. Welcome to the show.

Karen: Thank you. Thank you. I’m glad to be here. I’m so happy to have you on the show. 

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

Karen: Yeah. Yes. So I was 14. And I went to the loo as normal and I sat down and looked in my panties and realised and in the toilet itself and realised there was blood there and I panicked and I screamed for my mother. We’d never had these conversations. We never talked about periods. I just knew it had something to do with being pregnant. So I had younger siblings. Two boys, two brothers and a sister. And of course, they came running as well. But I wouldn’t obviously wouldn’t let them in. I just want my mum to come in and she scrabbled around and got a massive pad for me, which she told me to put in my knickers, which I hated wearing because it made me look like I walked like I’d just gotten off a horse. 

I think my sister had asked one of my brothers what was going on and he’d said something like, Oh, it’s something to do with being pregnant. So that would have been fine, except that the next day when I went into school, everybody thought that I was pregnant because my sister had told everyone that I was pregnant because I’d had my period. And she didn’t understand. I didn’t understand. So, yeah, my first experience was actually quite scary, if anything, because it just felt so, I felt like I was a grown up. But at the same time, I didn’t feel that way. I knew it was something to do with growing up, but not a lot else. So, yeah, that’s my first experience.

Le’Nise: And how old did you say you were?

Karen: So I was 14 years old. Yeah, just coming up to my 14th birthday and I realised that my mother was 14 when she started a period. I think my sister was as well. And both my daughters were.

Le’Nise: Oh, that’s so interesting. And you said that your sister went into school and told everyone that you were pregnant. How did you feel about that?

Karen: Well, I was shocked at first, but then I realised it was quite funny. She was tiny. She was like, what is it? What’s the difference between us? So she would’ve been about eight. She didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t know what was going on. And I don’t think anybody took her seriously. So, yeah, it was fine.

Le’Nise: You had that first experience, which you said was a little scary. And how did you learn about what was actually going on? How did you learn that you weren’t actually pregnant?

Karen: I talked to my friends, I read books. We certainly didn’t learn it at school. Definitely did not learn it. Our sex education was the teacher showing us a video of a woman giving birth and basically saying, just putting me off ever having sex at all. So, yeah, I learnt through chatting to my friends. I had two worldly friends, Joy and Katherine, and they knew everything there was to know about sex way before I even ventured there. And they’d been having their periods since they were about 11 or 12, which in those days, we’re talking early 70s, was unusual. I understand it’s more common [now] for young women to have their periods in primary school, but in those days, that was not a thing. And I know that certainly my two worldly friends had started their periods quite early.

Le’Nise: So learning through your friends, if you think back to what you learned and then think back thinking about what you know now, were there any big myths that they were sharing or do you think everything that they were talking about was basically correct?

Karen: No, I don’t. We didn’t talk a lot about it because I was squeamish. We didn’t talk about these things. You didn’t mention, it was blood and it was embarrassing and it was, yeah. We didn’t have a long conversation about it. It was just that they reassured me that I couldn’t possibly be pregnant because I wasn’t the Virgin Mary and I hadn’t had sex. That was that, really. In terms of it being truthful, the biggest myth I got from them wasn’t about periods, it is about getting pregnant. And they disabused me of the notion that  if you sit on a toilet seat after a boy’s been in there, that you wouldn’t get pregnant, because I thought that was a thing until I was in second year.

Le’Nise: Why do you think you were so squeamish and so embarrassed?

Karen: Because like most things to do with women, we didn’t talk about it. It was taboo. You didn’t. So my father was a preacher, so that wasn’t happening. We weren’t having conversations about bodily fluids and anything, really. He left around the same time anyway and you just didn’t talk about it, no one spoke about. It was like menopause, same thing. You just didn’t talk amongst yourselves, it was like a little secret, like a taboo secret. 

Certainly my mother and I never discussed it. I remember buying those little Lillet tampons. Cute little things they are, thinking, oh, you know I’ll try one of those and I read in Jackie that you couldn’t lose your virginity by putting a tampon up your bits, so I tried. It was so painful. My goodness me. My goodness. I thought they were the devil. So I used pads for ages. Yeah. It was pads all the way for me.

Le’Nise: Well, you didn’t really learn about menstrual health in school. You said the school didn’t really teach it. You read, you spoke to your friends and you kind of got a cursory knowledge of what was happening. But you also said that you had read some books. What were the books that you had read at the time?

Karen: Now I think about it. They wouldn’t have been books they will have been magazines. I was heavily into Jackie, the Problem page. I learned a lot of my things to do with relationships, sex and period through the problem page, but it was usually around shame. So it was girls who wore white and had a leak and what to do, that kind of thing. So when I think about it, if I did read a book, no it will have been in magazines now I think about it, yeah.

Le’Nise: You mentioned the word shame and you also said that people didn’t talk about it, it was embarrassing, it was shameful. What does that mean for you? Like, I’ve talked about shame a bit with other women on this podcast? What does that word mean for you and how would you kind of unpack those feelings now?

Karen: I would say that growing up, anything to do with women or my body was something that I wouldn’t discuss. And it meant that when it came to, it was just a giggle. Like if we talked about things like this, it was funny, you made a joke out of it to kind of lighten the mood. It meant I took it into my relationships, actually. It meant that I never asked my partner to go and get me tampons or pads. I wasn’t in the greatest of relationships I would say; it meant I never wanted to let anybody know that I was having my period. It meant that I didn’t really understand myself as much as I do now. 

I will say that going into teaching and going into the pastoral side and having to learn and be a step ahead of the kids that I was teaching about sex and periods and that kind of thing, I was a Head of Year with the girls at a girls school and if you’re at a boys school and having two daughters as it meant that I learnt as much as I could and sometimes I was teaching myself things that I should have known, I think when I was growing up, it made me more determined to ensure that my girls didn’t grow up not knowing this stuff.

Le’Nise: What sort of things did you have to teach yourself? What sort of things do you think that you should have known?

Karen: I think I should have known mostly that my body isn’t anything to be ashamed of. I think, you know, I think I should have learned about not just the anatomy stuff, you know, giving out a worksheet with the, you know, diagram on it and filling it in. I think it’s more about how we feel as women and how powerful and important it is when you start your menstruation and what it means. 

You know, it’s not just about being a woman and therefore staying away from boys so that you don’t get pregnant. I didn’t understand the power that, you know, a period holds. And actually, I had friends who were bedridden, had friends who had really heavy periods. I had friends who had a terrible time. Actually, my periods were on the whole, came by clockwork and lasted five days, which is quite fairly, you know, I’d have my day of eating all the carbs, forgetting that I’d have a week before where I cried if somebody looked at me, then I’d have the day before where I’d be eating all the carbs, completely forget that there was a reason for this and then the next day my period would start and I’d be like, Oh, that’s why, and I’d have a day of feeling URGH around my abdomen and my lower back and then I’d be fine, you know. So I’ve forgot the question.

Le’Nise: So you didn’t really have painful periods. You had a little bit of emotional upset, like maybe a little twinge and then it was it was absolutely fine.

Karen: Yeah. Yeah, I would I would say it was just an inconvenience, if anything. But not pain like I’ve spoken with my other friends and that kind of thing.

Le’Nise: You said that you learned about the power of having a period. What does that mean for you?

Karen: The power of being a woman. When I was growing up, being a girl wasn’t something, didn’t feel like something to be celebrated. Not a girl. Sorry, being a woman, I liked being a girl. But growing into womanhood wasn’t really something, you didn’t see anywhere where that was celebrated unless it was the way you looked, if that makes sense. 

So if you an hourglass figure or you had a flat stomach or had boobs or long flicky hair or that kind of thing, you would celebrate it that way. That’s what I saw. But in terms of the power of being able to you know, menstruation is a gateway to being able to give life. That’s a big deal, that’s a massive deal. You didn’t get that at all. It was shame you whispered it. You know, if you’re a party or a friend’s house and you came on and you didn’t have tampons or pads, it was a whisper. It’s like a scramble around to find another woman who might possibly have something that they can lend to you. I remember an awful time, I still remember going to a barbecue in the height of the summer wearing white and the woman tapped me on the shoulder and kind of came up close behind me and she said, I’m really sorry to have to tell you this, but I think you might have leaked and how mortified I was that she’d noticed, which meant that somebody else probably noticed. And then worrying about how, I wanted to go home and that was awful. Awful.  Awful. 

Or you’re staying somewhere and leaking at night, leaking onto the sheets and not knowing how to explain that, even though it’s a completely natural thing to do. You know, it’s awful.

Le’Nise: Why do you think it was so mortifying? Why do you think at the time you found it so awful?

Karen: Because I’d been brought up to believe that bleeding was bad. Not brought up as in no one said that, but the messages I got were that doing something natural was a bad thing and showing people that you were a human being and not perfect was a bad thing. So yeah, and I was busy trying to cultivate this, you know, I look great, I know what I’m doing like most people do when they’re in I don’t know, well, a lot of women do, all the time. But do you know what I mean?

Le’Nise: Yeah. And what about now? How do you feel about all the changes that are happening now and how educated and empowered people with periods, women with periods feel and all the conversations that are happening about it.

Karen: Okay so I have two things to say about this one. When I first noticed that the world was talking more about periods and I’d see like graphics of different like people talking, especially on Instagram. So people talking about periods. People talk about their flow, that kind of thing. I won’t lie, I was quite taken aback. This is, you know, 50 years remember, of upbringing. And I was like, oh, you know, there’s a part of me that was like, oh, I don’t wanna see that, I can’t, you know? 

And I would kind of scroll past but I have to say, it’s my daughters who have educated me the most because especially my youngest, well both of them, they’re very open and vocal. And so they pull me up on or educate me I would say, not necessarily pull me up, they don’t have to pull me up, but certainly, you know, we have much more open conversations about whether it’s flow, whether it’s anything to do with sex or stuff like that. But it’s taken me some time to, is adjust the right word? Unlearn, maybe unlearn my feelings of shame and recognise that the more people talk, the better it is, what everybody does naturally, it is better. And it’s how I feel about, I suppose that’s helped me to talk about menopause as well in the sense that ageing is that, it’s lifted the veil off, you know. And that can only be a good thing.

Le’Nise: Do you think what’s happening with periods now and the openness that’s happening around the conversations around menstrual cycles and menstruation is also happening with menopause? Or can you not compare the two?

Karen: I think you can compare the two because it all boils down to how women are shamed. Full stop. That’s what it boils down to. It boils down to society’s expectations of women. So it is the same thing. And I think, yes, it is a difficult one, isn’t it, because I was talking to somebody else about this recently, about how because our peers and the people we hang out with talk about the things that we want to talk about. It’s easy to assume that everybody’s talking about it, it’s the Brexit effect. You know, it’s like, well, you know, all Londoners on the whole where like yeah, we’re never going to leave and were lulled into a false sense of security and then woke up on that Friday and where like are you kidding me? Do you see? 

So there’s part of me that’s like, yes more and more people are talking about it, and I agree and you can compare it to menopause, but there’s another part that still having these conversations, you know, and being slightly trying not to be surprised when people don’t know what I’m talking about or are like, oh, my God, people don’t talk about this and I’m thinking well, I’ve been talking about it for ages. Do you see? So I think, yes more and more people are talking about it. But I’m thinking we’ve got a long way to go, there’s a whole world to educate, let’s face it.

Le’Nise: You said some people will say, oh, people don’t talk about this. Do you mean that in the sense that they’re trying to get you to stop talking about it like it feels taboo to them or what does that mean?

Karen: No, it’s a positive thing. It’s, I thought I was on my own, that there’s nothing better than a connection when someone opens their mouth, whether it’s about periods, whether it’s about menopause, whether it’s about mental well-being, whether by anything, that that shame eats us up. And that feeling that you’re alone, it’s awful. 

So when you hear, when you see someone talking about something and it resonates with you, and then you can think, oh, my God, I’m not going mad or oh somebody else has two week periods as well or oh that happened to me. That is the most connecting and empowering thing, thing, could’ve thought of a more intelligent word but whatever, that people could do, particularly women, because we’ve been taught to keep it to ourselves. Does that makes sense?

Le’Nise: That makes total sense. And I remember in the past, you said, earlier on in this conversation, you said that you mentioned the word whispers and in the past you’ve talked about how you would have your friends over and you’d have conversations about menopause and everyone would start to open up. And do you think those conversations sparked anything within you to take those conversations about menopause a bit wider and have them be a bit more open?

Karen: Yeah, absolutely. I feel when I started, when did I? So I had my first kind of, we called it self-care for midlife goddesses because I’m so up myself. And I just invited five friends around because it occurred to me that I was going through menopause and I’m a few years older than some of my friends. And we were having individual conversations about how we felt, but not a group one. So I invited them round one Sunday afternoon and being the teacher I am, I did a worksheet and I had everybody share around the table the best things about getting older, worse things about getting older. It was it was an amazing day because the number of times, I’ve lost count the number times. One woman said something and another woman, Oh my God, that’s me too, and so I had it the following year. 

And the following year, my girls this year, my girls said, can we come? Because no one talks about these things. So, you know, I’m in the middle of, it is a couple of things, I have plans, one of those plans, one of those many plans is to take that conversation wider and open a group up, a membership site, but a group where women can not just talk about menopause, but talk about, just support each other in ageing and growing older. So it’s not just for menopausal women, but also to break that taboo that I have to say that I’ve lost count of the number of conversations, I’ve had women who have sent me an email or slipped into my DMs saying, I think I’m going through menopause, I’m 37, you know, because there’s this assumption that menopause, you don’t have to worry about it until you get to 50, that’s just not true. 

It’s just so happens that my menopause started at 52, as did my mother, you know, and I was going through perimenopause, not even knowing what it was and not even knowing that it was a thing actually, I’d never heard of the bloody thing, you know. So the same thing with periods, if young girls are hearing, if we normalise this conversation about our bodies, if we’re normal and take away that, I suppose it’s because society has as a habit of sexualising everything, which is why it feels like you can’t talk about it. If we take away that, if we take sex out of the equation then and we just talk about natural things that happen to us, then that’s got to be a good thing. No one should suffer alone. That sounds like a quote, doesn’t it? Probably is, but yeah. It’s not to be suffered with and menstruation isn’t a bad thing and not everybody has the same symptoms, just like menopause, not everybody has the same symptoms. You know, so, yeah, we absolutely need to talk about it and yes, I do want to take it wider. I won’t shut up about menopause.

Le’Nise: You said that in that circle, the conversations that you’re having with the worksheet, which I love, I love that.  You asked what the best and the worst thing was about getting older. What sort of things came up?

Karen: So the best thing was about not caring what other people thought, menopause is great for that, it’s that, you know, not giving a shittery moment. It’s like, I don’t care what you think of me, it’s liberating. And I think to a degree, to a woman, that’s what people were saying. 

The worst things, there’s a list as long as your arm, you know, it’s changing bodies, it’s not realising what’s going on in your head, it’s all the physical stuff, and hot flashes are only one of those things. You know, it’s nights sweats, it’s tingly legs, I could go on and on and on. And also tinged with that is shame because. There’s that whole, well, if you started menopause, that means that your a certain age and women are not rewarded for getting older, men are, women aren’t on the whole. And although fashion and parts of society is kind of catching up, the cynic in me thinks that catching up because they’ve worked out that there’s money to be made as opposed to caring about us, basically. 

So I feel that the biggest thing was how liberating it was not caring. But you know, you get to 50, you’ve been in the world, you’ve been on the earth for 50 years, you’re knackered and you give and you give and you give. It’s no coincidence that one of the biggest growing demographics of small businesses are women over 50. It’s like we have this epiphany. It’s like effort, you know, I’m not doing this anymore. I left teaching, my teaching career when I was 52, I’m not the only person who’s kind of like, you know what, I don’t want to do anything, it’s people who leave abusive relationships, it’s all sorts of things. But the other side to that is there are millions of women suffering, part of the reason their suffering is because they think they’re alone and I’m here to tell them that they are not.

Le’Nise: What would be your message? Do you want to tell these women they’re not alone? And what would be how would you expand upon that message to reassure them and to help them connect with others who are in the same sort of situation?

Karen: I would say, and this is easier said than done, the first thing to do is let go of the need to be young. Being young is great, but being old or getting older is also great. Menopause isn’t something that lasts for a year and you get over it. It’s a whole transition to another life. So rather than thinking, how am I going to get through this? It’s how am I going to thrive during this, do you see? Because otherwise you’re waiting until, well, you could be waiting until you’re 65, that’s long, 65, 67, because menopause is long. So rather than putting 10 years of your life on hold, why not work out ways, and by work out ways I mean, it’s not just the physical stuff, it’s the whole package, so it’s working at doing new things. 

But the biggest thing I will say is talking, took me opening my mouth, has allowed me to, like different things happen every day, so at the moment, I have a thing going on with mouth ulcers, apparently it’s a thing that the lack of oestrogen in your mouth means we don’t produce enough saliva, you know all this stuff, I don’t know, anyway, but instead of me thinking, my life is over and oh, God, you know, it’s just another thing, it’s actually quite fascinating because I didn’t know this stuff. 

But I think my message to find someone to talk to, to not be ashamed, to embrace your changing body to be grateful to, I’m grateful to my body for carrying my two children. You know, I do that whole, what is it? The mindful shower where I’m thanking my feet for allowing me to stand in the queue at the post office so that, you know, little things like that, that help you to enjoy everything that menopause is going to throw at you. I will also say that whilst there are many women who reach for HRT, I think the doctors seem to be pushing that, that’s not my thing personally. I think women also need to know that HRT doesn’t stop menopause it just pauses it and then it comes when you stop and whilst it does have health risks, if we can do this naturally, I’m not knocking anybody who does it because that’s your thing and that’s your journey, but if you can try and do that naturally, that’s about lifestyle, it’s about diet, it’s all sorts of things. Then for me, that’s the way forward but the biggest thing is open your mouth. That’s what I think.

Le’Nise: You said so many beautiful things there. I think what you said about menopause as a transition to another life and I love looking at menopause as a phase of life. We talk about puberty and then if a women who chooses to become a mother, you know, that’s a phase in life and then menopause being another phase of life and I think that’s a really powerful way of looking at it, because so many women, they do look at it as the end, you know, the end of their fertility, end of their womanhood and, you know, they call themselves being dried up and it’s so negative and it’s just, it’s so detrimental for mental well-being when you think about yourself like that.

Karen: I will say that you know, when you’re 20 you think 50 is dead, I’m 57 and I’ve done more in the last five years than I’ve done in, I would say a lifetime. I mean really if I think about it, you know, I feel that menopause and growing older and embracing this stage of my life has meant that it’s like, well, I’ve got nothing to lose, you know, if I’ve lived those 52 years I can do the next, do you see what I mean? And it’s not just about, yes, there is a sense of urgency as well and closer to death but at the same time, it’s also about appreciating my experience, you know, appreciating the skills you have, appreciating the wisdom you have just as we get to a stage where we’ve got so much to offer, it almost feels like we’re encouraged to kind of be a little bit quieter. But actually, this is where I found my voice and so it’s a time to experiment, it’s a time, I mean, what if you got to lose? Do you understand? 

And I know everybody thinks like that but I really do want to reassure women that it’s not the end it’s the beginning of something else and it’s more fun because you don’t care. Yeah. So I recognise that I’m having an easier time the most physically, I understand that. 

I recognise the privilege in that, please don’t get me wrong but I tell everybody, my clients. I had a client come to me a couple of weeks ago, potential client who is now a client and we were having a conversation. I always asked my clients, what do you love about your body and what is it that you’re not so hot on and they were always very vocal on what they don’t love. And this particular woman was talking about how she wanted to lose weight for her wedding and people were saying to her, she should lose the weight for her wedding and of course that sent me into orbit, didn’t it? Because I’m like, why? What? Why? Your partner fell in love with you based on the way you look now. So, you know, embracing the way you look and accentuating your gorgeous body, she didn’t see it that way.

You know, I think that women just need to understand how bloody remarkable we are, you know? And I think that starts, I think it’s important that the younger generation have that now so by the time I hit menopause, it’s just, they’ve got that mind-set already. What’s difficult is that we’re unlearning, my generation is unlearning a lot of things, whereas I think the people coming up, if we are talking about it, that it makes it easier for the generation below and easier for the generations that they birth.

Le’Nise: If you could say one thing to listeners, to the generation and below and like Millennials, Gen Z, what would you say to them?

Karen: Oh my god, I don’t know. Let go of everybody’s expectations of you. That’s what I would say. I think we, I know this isn’t one thing but I’m going to expand, our downfall, men and women, but we’re talking about women, is that we do what we think we’re supposed to do instead of doing what is in our heart and that makes us ill and that permeates everything, you know, you thought I was going to say, Wear Your Happy, didn’t you? But that’s part of it, wearing, you know, clothes that you love and not worrying about whether you’re in fashion or whether it suits you, whatever that means or whether someone will fancy you, is part of the letting go of other people’s expectations of you. So it does fit, sort of.

Le’Nise: I think that’s really beautiful. You’ve said so many beautiful things and I just, I just love you. I think you’re amazing and you’re such a wonderful role model. Where can listeners find out more about what you’re up to, what you’re planning?

Karen: I think the best thing to do is to join my mailing list and you can do so if you’re an Instagram fanatic that I am. You go to my link in my bio, you can do that, or go on to my website reddskin.co.uk. I’m very active on social media, so I guess that’s the best place to find me but certainly my mailing list is the way forward.

Le’Nise: And all the links will be in the show notes. Thank you so much, Karen, for coming on the show today.

Karen: Thank you. Thank you so much for inviting me.

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