How I Went From "It's Complicated" To "In A Relationship" With My Cycle in Three Parts:
Part I: The Bloodshed
I first got my period when I was 10 years old.
I will NEVER forget it: it was Spring Break, Good Friday to be exact. I was going to see Sgt Bilko at the Century City mall with my friend Shelly, and my mom was in a different theater.
I was in the 5th grade.
I walked into my mom's theater, whispered "I got my period," but she didn't hear me, so I whispered it again louder and a guy a few seats down looked over at me. Who knows if he actually heard what I said, but it felt like he based on how my mind recollects the horror in his eyes.
My mom took me to the bathroom, got me a pad, told me what to do, and proceeded to mortify me by making the joke: "Okay, now no more unprotected sex." REAL FUNNY.
I silently went back to my theater and sat next to Shelly and finished watching Sgnt Bilko. And while I am sure it was hilarious (Steve Martin is one of my favorite actors in the world), I couldn't enjoy the movie. I was too freaked out by my own body. For the rest of the week, I wouldn't move much when I was with my friends.
I envisioned the opening of my legs causing a geyser of blood to shoot out all over wherever I was and whoever was near.
It got to the point that a few days in, my mom got a call from another friend's mom because my friend thought I didn't like her anymore. (oh elementary school and phone trees) My mom encouraged me to tell my friend my secret, and the next day... our ENTIRE 5th grade class knew. The boy I liked asked me if it was contagious, and another boy told me if I put alcohol on a cotton ball I could fix it...
So, I think you can see why my period and I...we got off to a pretty bumpy start.
Over the last two plus decades I have ruined PJ bottoms, underwear, and sheets. I have written hilarious and accurate monologues that compare my cycle to the Wonderland murder scene. Once, in the 5th grade, my guy friend Evan quietly came over to tell me that I had blood on my white shorts because everyone was making front of me behind my back at foursquare: I never wore white bottoms again until I was in college. I'll NEVER forget how merciless the kids were to me about my period, and about my breasts. Of course as an adult I can look back and know that they were all clueless, that the girls were threatened and that boys are just gross little weirdos when it comes to boobs...but at 10, you just feel and hear the mockery and it's devastating.
I have cursed my body and shamed myself for it simply BEING.
And I am so fucking over that.
The amount of blood I lose on my cycle is incredibly detrimental to my well being: I lose circulation in my hands and nose, I get debilitating migraines, and I have had multiple eastern medicine doctors tell me I can NEVER be a vegetarian because of how anemic I am. I used to have to wear super plus tampons, in addition to thick liners just to feel remotely safe living my life on my period. I also have had the most insane cramps: my fiancé has seen me fall on the ground as if I had the wind kicked out of me from how intensely violent the pain is. I remember one time at 12 years old I was at the mall and they got so bad I got the chills and almost fainted and had to go sit by myself on a bench while my friend's shopped and giggled and all that cute mean girl shit 12 year old girl's do.
People are starting to GET how bad cramps can be for us: but it's still something you don't understand unless you've experienced it, much like migraines. To have the pain in your body be so extreme, so aggressive, no matter what you do: it's unexplainable.
About a year ago, I decided to go to acupuncture to try and regulate my cycle: as it has never been regular, except when on hormonal birth control. I also wanted to try and get the symptoms and extreme bloodshed under control: or at least make it so my body could more or less handle when I was on my cycle (which was usually a TEN day situation.) My acupuncturist is a goddess and promised me that just because I had never had a regular cycle before, didn't mean I couldn't ever have a regular cycle. And so the journey began.
(Yo quick side note: If you live in LA, Carolyn Barron of BOTANARCHY is truly a magical fairy goddess and you should see her for accupuncture)
I started on some herbs, saw her every week for over a month, and then backed it off to once a month or more if needed. I also started tracking my cycle and my symptoms to try and gain a better understanding of what was happening in my body. On top of that: because I am a little neurotic about not creating waste: I decided to also create a better relationship with my vagina by no longer using tampons and pads: but instead a sea sponge and glad rags cotton reusable panty liners. This way, I don't create endless waste by blowing through dozens of tampons and liners every cycle. Plus, there's NO better way to get to know your vag than when you're using a sponge on your cycle.
It wasn't the smoothest start: the sponge was too big, and I didn't quite put it in properly the first few times: but it's been at least 6 months using these more environmentally friendly products: and I am SO much happier! I mean: think about how many feminine hygiene products you trash into our landfills and flush down the toilet?! I am a HUGE fan of the sponge AND the Glad Rags: and suggest and encourage all women to try them out!
Remember earlier how I said my cycle has always been irregular except when on hormonal birth control?
Cue seamless transition to:
Women were finally liberated to take control of when and whether they wanted to conceive or not in the 1960s and now doctors are handing birth control out like candy to teenage girls without any concern for the long term side effects.
Fun fact before we delve deep into the "it's complicated" portion of this story (Oh, did you think Part 1 was the complicated part?)
A male contraceptive pill was created, but of course most men did not want to sign up for the study. Finally, a small group did. And guess what? They experienced some of the SAME side effects we experience on birth control...AND THEY ALL DROPPED OUT. None of them feel that taking contraception was worth affecting how they FELT on a regular basis.
Here's a brief history of me and birth control:
Tried it out in college, took Yaz. My breasts tripled in size: which would have been pretty sweet except my whole body followed suit and I put on almost 20 extra lbs that only came off when I stopped taking the pill.
The Nuva Ring: tried it twice. Both times, the first 3 months were awesome: bigger boobs, regular cycle, super easy. After that third month I put on 15lbs. It didn't go away until I took it out...and left it out.
I gave up.
Now THIS, THIS is when it get's SUPER fun:
When I decided to return back to the wonderful world of birth control (about 8 years later), the IUD had become all the rage! While I didn't quite fancy the thought of stopping my body from getting my period (it's natural so I cannot imagine it's healthy to PREVENT it purposely), as you read in Part I: I really could have done without the massive amount of blood loss and debilitating pain of my uterus basically trying to kill me from the inside, every single month.
So, I gave it a go...well, I TRIED to give it a go:
First appointment: I almost JUMPED off the table from the pain only to be informed by the doctor that my cervix wouldn't dilate, so they gave me medication to take to dilate it and I had to go back the next day.
Didn't hurt as badly, but apparently my body did NOT wanna let that little Mirena in, and so they told me if I would like I could make an appt at a surgical center and be "forcefully dilated."
Let me type that out again but bigger and with a GIF:
My body rejected the insertion of the IUD TWICE, and then I was given the option to FORCEFULLY DILATE my cervix in a surgical center.
My only other option was the nexaplanon! What's that? It's basically the Mirena, but in the form of a small white rod they inject into your arm. It was quick and painless and off I was! Soon ready for this awesome new chapter.
OR WAS I?!
(cue suspenseful music)
Now, just in case you're keeping track of the titles of the last two parts of my saga: THIS part COULD technically be in Part I, but because it is birth control related, I've placed it in Part II. I'm glad we cleared the air, because now I need you to do me a favor:
Imagine a calendar. See how there are 4 rows of blocks for each week in a month? I want you to imagine 7 rows. Those 7 rows are going to represent 7 weeks...because that's what that represents on a calendar. Then I want you to color all 7 weeks CRIMSON BLOOD RED. Then I want you to pick 2 squares here, 1 square there, 3 squares there, totaling in 15 squares (aka days) in the 7 weeks of RED that are NOT red.
Is this upsetting you?
Yeah it fucking upset me too: I BLED NON STOP FOR 7 WEEKS MINUS 15 NON CONSECUTIVE DAYS.
In addition to that, I got moody, sensitive, emotional, insecure AND started gaining weight.
So what did I do? I had that fucker cut out of my arm and swore off hormonal birth control FOREVER.
As you can see: My body has NEVER liked hormonal birth control. And so, then I was left with only one other option: Paraguard. The Copper IUD.
I bet you're saying to yourself: "But Wait! Didn't I just read about how her body wouldn't accept the IUD?!"
Yes, yes you did. But I've never been a quitter, and at this point I KNEW I was gonna marry my then boyfriend (HOLLA NOW FIANCE) and I was CONVINCED I just HAD to be on birth control.
So, into the room I went and not 5 minutes later I had my copper IUD in, and it didn't even hurt much!
I literally teared up in the room because I was SO grateful to the doctor! I was so relieved to not have any extra hormones being put in my system, and since I already had a gnar gnar cycle decided that first year of "heavier bleeding and cramps" would be worth it.
Remember in Part I how I mentioned I was going to acupuncture and started tracking my cycle? CONGRATULATIONS! You've completed the first two Parts of the saga, now onto PART III: In A Relationship With My Cycle!
Here we go, here is how I went from a lifetime of "it's complicated," to "in a relationship" with my cycle, with MYSELF.
So, me and my heavy flow, my gnarly cramps, my copper IUD, my sea sponge, my glad rags, my acupuncturist, my period tracker...we're all just living doing our thing. And then I start to notice, in increasing frequency: my cramps getting worse, my cycle getting less regular...or is it regular and I am just spotting and cramping in between cycles? Wait, today I had cramps. But I finished my period last week so... I'm confused. Okay my app says I should get my period tomorrow...but now it's two weeks late....and I'm bleeding...but it's brown. Is this my period? OMG CRAMPS AGAIN...WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?!
Cue PANIC. Kinda like how it felt to read that paragraph changing from past to present tense in the same sentence.
At this point I had the Copper IUD in for over TWO years, so that initial year of side effects should have subsided. And as you can see...it wasn't JUST a heavy period and excruciating cramps anymore. If you had a poster in front of you that listed the symptoms of endometriosis you would have a poster of ME. Unfortunately, I am under state health insurance because I cannot afford regular health insurance (just a side note: our country really needs to get it's shit together when it comes to healthcare), which means if I want to see a gyno...I have to pay out of pocket. So, I started doing some research and found a book that is now THANKFULLY blowing UP all over the internet: WOMAN CODE. I also did a bunch of research, and spoke with other women that have endometriosis as well as fibroids, and it turns out...if you have either of those, and don't need surgery, you'll be prescribed HORMONAL BIRTH CONTROL.
Cool. Cool. Soo if I do have one of these conditions which is causing all of these extreme problems I'm going to be told to start taking a pill/put something in my body that basically has always made me feel even worse?
Yeah so... fuck that.
I dove head first into the Woman Code to try and balance my hormones through food. My acupuncturist and I were in constant communication throughout the whole process and at one point I sent her a few frantic emails because I was sitting on my couch with a headache and my right underarm was emanating the most INTENSE smell!
It was ROUGH. Just a heads up: I've never had an issue with B.O. before. If I forget deodorant, it isn't a big deal. So to just be laying down on the couch and stink: I flipped out. I showered, I piled on my deodorant, I even went back to traditional antiperspirant deodorant. (I use all natural deodorant either by Meow Meow Tweet Tweet or Schmidt's Naturals). Nothing helped. I was also getting moody. She explained she had a similar experience and it's the liver working OT as a result of the body detoxing, so just to ride it out. Which I did, and doubled up my chlorophyll intake, and in a few days the smell AND the mood swings passed.
When I had my next appt with her we reviewed all the symptoms I had before during and after my cycle, and she gently brought something back up she had mentioned previously: had I considered taking out my IUD yet?
She had mentioned it twice now, because of how my cycle had changed while seeing her: I didn't come to her because I was spotting and cramping constantly IN BETWEEN periods, I came to her to regulate and better manage my periods. So she had a feeling my body was rejecting the IUD. And because going to a gyno would cost hundreds of dollars just for the appt (not to mention the thousands it would cost for a pelvic ultrasound and blood test) she gently urged me to really consider taking it out.
Again, this is NON hormonal birth control. I want to stress that, because you won't really find much on people having symptoms from NON hormonal birth control. And I have felt really fucking alone and distressed a lot because of my cycle. My fiancé would come out of his office and find me crying because I didn't know what was wrong with me, because of how much I hurt, and I because I was terrified this would mean I wouldn't be able to get pregnant later on. Even in Woman Code, only the negative effects of hormonal birth control is discussed (with good reason: that stuff is really bad for us!)
SO I want to be here and tell my story just in case there's another girl out there trying her damnedest to be good to her body, to the environment, and to be natural: and is still having cycle issues.
I had a couple conversations with my best friend (who is a doctor and was a HUGE proponent of me getting on birth control.) She agreed with my accupuncturist that the first thing I should do, before considering spending thousands of dollars I don't have to find out if I have endometriosis, is to get my IUD removed.
So, I made an appt that day.
And I also ordered and downloaded Natural Cycles so that I can not only be tracking my period symptoms, but know when I am fertile and not so that once we are married and ready to start a family I can more easily track and know when the best times to conceive will be. (I also use the My Flo app so I don't have to constantly open the Woman Code book each day. The app let's you know what phase you are in, as we all go through 4 phases a month, and also tells you the foods and activities to eat and do to support yourself and your cycle. It's amaze!)
I don't know why: for some reason, the thought of being off birth control terrified me. And for no reason: I'm going to be married in a few months, protection is our friend, and the pay off could be so great. But I felt like by removing my IUD I was all of a sudden being incredibly irresponsible. It's fun how society shames us if we are NOT on birth control, and yet our government is constantly in turmoil trying to take it away when a particular party comes into "power." We can unpack that another time.
Regardless of how nervous or "irresponsible" I felt, I couldn't handle another month of the spotting and cramps and confusion.
Just like that.
Painless, at first, then I had some really gnarly cramps. A little spotting. Two days later a little more spotting.
THAT WAS IT.
LET ME TYPE THAT AGAIN AND BIGGER:
THAT WAS IT!
That means there was nothing "wrong" with me! I was having the "foreign body response" my acupuncturist felt strongly about!!
Now, I take my temperature every morning. I don't have ANY symptoms to track when I am NOT on my period, so I use the MyFlo app simply to make sure I am eating the proper foods to support my cycle, and the last cycle I just had...
It lasted 7 days. SEVEN DAYS. And I had ZERO cramps!
Moral of the story: we can ALWAYS take our health back into our hands. It took me a long time, a lot of different methods: but it turns out trusting my body, taking herbs and seeing an acupuncturist, and NOT being on birth control was all I needed to create a harmonious relationship with my period, and ultimately with myself.
So if you're struggling with your cycle, and your relationship with yourself: know you're not alone!! Every woman has her own story with her cycle, and for most of us...it's complicated. I hope that we can continue to break down the stigma around our cycles, share our experiences openly, and all make our way towards being in a healthy relationship with our cycles, and thus with ourselves.