I’ll let you in on a little disclaimer, it’s about to get real personal around here. But before you point that mouse madly towards the ‘Close’ icon on your browser, please read on; especially if you are a woman, you menstruate, or you’ve had hormonal “issues” causing a lack of menstruation/crazy cycle.
Now that that’s out of the way and you’ve committed yourself to sticking this out, you might want to settle in with a nice hot cup of tea…
I want to share with you all a little story, I could say it’s about my “friend” but that would defeat the purpose of bringing this incredibly personal topic, to an incredibly public space. Hormones, and specifically, menstruation, are the most naturally occurring phase in any woman’s life and the fact that we don’t talk about it openly only perpetuates the cycle of misinformation and shame we so often encounter.
So, in following the footsteps, or keystrokes as it were, of some of my fellow blog sisters like Elenore of Earthsprout and Emily of this Rawsome Vegan Life, I’m going to share my own experiences with contraception (synthetic hormones), periods and the crazy changes that happen when we mess with Mother Nature.
I was a meagre 14 years old when I first started taking the pill – crazy right! But, I was also only 11 when I first got my period, so I guess you could say I was an early bloomer. I didn’t go on the pill for contraceptive reasons (you can all breathe a sigh of relief there), I actually had pretty bad acne and a fairly inconsistent cycle. Upon a visit to my GP, he recommended I start on the pill to “balance” my hormones. What a contradiction that statement seems now, taking synthetic hormones to “balance” my natural ones! But at 14, who was I to question what the medical professional with years of training was telling me.
While it didn’t help my acne, it did seem to stabilise my cycle, and as a teenage girl, there’s nothing worse than being surprised by your monthly visit from ‘Aunt Flow’, especially at school. So avoiding that with a daily pill was kind of cool. Also, I was one of the first of my friends to start taking it, so I felt super grown up. As the years passed, I started dating and eventually the pill evolved from a hormone balancer to a contraceptive device.
Fast forward seven years and there was a new kid on the contraceptive block, which everyone was raving about – the Implanon. This little contraption is surgically inserted into your upper inside arm between bicep and tricep. It can be left in for three years and it is 99.9% effective as contraceptive. The caveat, you may experience spotting, a heavy cycle, or nothing at all. There is no rhyme or reason for how individual women react; only that everyone is different.
For me, I had two stints with the implant (although the second one only lasted 18 months) and in that time I experienced spotting only once, for the rest of the time, I had nothing. For over four years, not a drop of blood. Kind of strange don’t ya think?!
It was after having the second one implanted that I started getting interested in natural health, vegetarianism/veganism, wholefood and raw food lifestyles, and I immersed myself in exercise and “healthy” living. I was engaged and like most brides-to-be, I wanted to look flawless on my wedding day, which meant I was hitting the gym a lot! I lost a bit of weight during that time, which was considered extreme considering my naturally petit frame – but I actually felt really healthy.
Eighteen months into Implant no. 2, after reading a lot about synthetic hormones and contraception, and the damage it could potentially do, I decided to have the Implanon removed to give my body a “break”.
Sidebar: I want to point out here that when I raised the subject of going contraceptive free with my hubby, his response was somewhat along the lines of, “I hope you don’t go crazy like you were on the pill” – jaw dropped. I was taken aback by his comment because I had actually spent years gloating about how I’d had no side effects while on the pill. Clearly, I was living with rose coloured glasses, and on looking back to that time, I was actually an emotional wreck! My lows were pretty darn low and I would get super emotional over absolutely nothing. I’m happy to report that my natural self is a very happy self!
When removing my Implanon, my GP told me it was normal to take up to six weeks for my period to return, but if it didn’t, to come back and we could discuss hormone therapy. Six weeks came and went and there was no sign of my period returning. I justified this with the fact that I had been taking synthetic hormones for the better part of 11 years, so it would probably take a bit of time for my natural hormones and cycle to kick back in. Soon, it was six months, than a year, and still nothing. While I relished the fact that I didn’t have to deal with the “mess” and inconvenience of menstruating, deep down, I was starting to panic that I had done irreversible damage to my body. I was riddled with guilt and shame.
Over the years I flitted from one natural therapist to another, refusing to return to a GP for fear that the only option would be going back on synthetic hormones. If I’ve learnt anything over the years, it’s that our bodies are the most intelligent cells on the planet. Feed them with the tools to heal and the rest will come – more on that later. After 2.5 years of no synthetic hormones, no contraception, and no period, I decided to try acupuncture (again). It was something I had tried in the past, but being impatient as I am, I never gave it a real chance, only visiting three times before I moved on to something else. (Also, natural therapy is expensive!).
Thankfully, I recently met a Traditional Chinese Practitioner and Acupuncturist who I just love. She’s everything I’m about, and really gets the lifestyle choices I make. And did I mention she’s vegan too! This time, I was determined not to give up so easily, and resolved to give it at least 12 months before conceding and going back to a GP or Gyno. So every 2 – 3 weeks over the past 6 months I have been having acupuncture, cupping and taking Chinese herbal medicine…
Lo and behold, on Monday 8th September, with the full moon coming into Pisces (my star sign), three years after having my Implanon removed, and about 7 years of no menstruation – I GOT MY PERIOD!
I will probably never be as excited about this as I was on Monday. I did a happy dance in the bathroom stall before kind of freaking out about how to deal with it, since I was caught so unawares! I then called my mum, emailed my best friend and texted the people who have been supporting me emotionally and physically in my journey back to womanhood. After all, womanhood is something we should be celebrating!
So why am I telling you all of this? Well, I think it’s important that we women share these stories and really understand how the way we treat our bodies can have such far reaching consequences. Just because a GP tells you there is little to no health risks with being on contraceptive medication for a prolonged period, because it didn’t impact anyone in the test trials, does not mean it is the right choice. It should also not be the first choice for young women, especially teenagers. We should be educated about the risks and about how the reproductive organs/system naturally functions; and the fact that it’s only possible to get pregnant for about six days in an entire month. That’s a pretty small window.
If more women understood their bodies, used charting and spoke openly with their sexual partners in a considered and respectful way, we would all be better off!
Getting here has been a long and arduous journey for me; mentally, physically and spiritually. But I have come out of it a better, more relaxed and self-confident woman. Here are some of the tools I used and changes I made along the way that I think contributed to the return of my cycle:
- Yoga and meditation – taking time out to relax, especially during stressful times, as stress (cortisol) has a huge impact on hormones.
- Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine – while it may not be an instant fix, these therapies have been successfully used in traditional Eastern medicine for hundreds of years.
- Exercising less, and putting on a bit of weight. This is not to be misconstrued as I believe we are all unique and this includes our level of physical activity, fitness and weight. Some people may need to consider their lifestyle and may in fact need to lose weight. It’s about allowing your body to find its naturally healthy weight, and maintaining that. I lost a fair bit of weight in a short time, but over the past couple of years I’ve put a bit back on and I’m not obsessed with working out like I once was. I believe in being active every day and sticking to a wholefoods diet. No counting calories, just listening to my body and loving it for everything it is capable of.
- Supplementing – especially with Magnesium (as an important mineral for a great deal of bodily functions, “Magnesium is important in more than 300 chemical reactions that keep the body working properly.”) and Probiotics (for the balance of “good” bacteria, proper digestion and cleansing the body for optimal functioning).
- Watching, listening and charting your “cycle”. Even if you aren’t menstruating, you can still be ovulating. I found the Kindara App useful for keeping track of my temperature and bodily movements (it’s free to download as well). I never did get the Cervix position tracking though? But, just being in tune with your body is important for nourishment and mindfulness.
- Talking! Being open and honest with your friends and family, and making new friends who actually want to help and understand what you’re going through. We often underestimate the power of human contact, and forget that we actually aren’t alone in this world. Getting things off our chest is far better than supressing our emotions and letting it bubble and boil under the surface.
- Self-love. Remembering to take time out for you, like having a massage, a hot Epsom salt bath or an afternoon reading in the sun. Whatever it is, make sure you fit some ‘down-time’ into your life.
I’d love to know what your experiences, good or bad, have been with contraception, hormones and that life giving, womanly force that is menstruation!