My Journey with Reproductive Health + Periods
Since I was in high school my period has been a massive obstacle in my life. It’s been such a dominant presence throughout the years, I cant imagine what its like to not feel panic and anxiety mere days before my period got close. When I was in college, one month was so incredibly devastating I actually went to the hospital because I firmly believed something was wrong. No way on earth could the pain I was feeling be coming from a normal, healthy body. Something had to be wrong. Unfortunately, the ER visit provided me with absolutely zero information about what was happening about my body, if it happened to women or if it was a freak incident, or even what I should or could do to prevent it from happening in the future, rather it gave me one massive hospital bill for taking up a bed, and none the more wiser after all of the ultrasounds and blood tests. I was sent off with a prescription for an antibiotic where upon talking to my mom on the phone to pick it up found out if was for chlamydia (yeah that was a fun conversation…telling your mom you’re *unknowingly* being treated for an STD is bound to break some barriers…) and I was given a time and date to show up for my very first OB visit. Two weeks later I make it to the appointment and the OB, bless his very male heart, was extremely apologetic because he had no idea why they gave me that prescription but everything was fine, there seemed to be nothing wrong but he was going to put me on birth control because that’s what you do when a woman has cramps and he sent me on my way. I was about 22 years old when I started birth control for my cramps and I had zero knowledge of what it would do to my body, why exactly they put me on it in the first place, what it was supposed to do to even *help* my body, and how long did I need to be on it for. I just knew that I had to have an exam once a year to receive the prescription and I would just take it indefinitely. Since I was a college student with no health insurance, I paid a minimum of $25 a month for my birth control and yeah, that was just my new reality. Yes, I knew it was important to cover your bases if as a woman I was choosing to be sexually active, but I wasn’t even *asked* if I was and the fact that I wasn’t given any information about what birth control even did to my body made me feel almost shameful. Maybe I should have already known? But the things is, growing up birth control was not a topic of conversation so as I got older, I just didn’t think to look into it. If I had, who knows what I would’ve consented to, because regardless of what I know now about birth control, at that time I just knew that it worked. My cramps became virtually nonexistent and I swore I would *never* get off of it – well, until I wanted kids anyways. Cut to August of 2018 when after many many long conversations, I terrifyingly decided to stop taking birth control so Trev and I could begin our journey into having a baby.
To say I was completely in the dark about my own body and my own reproductive health moving into that journey is a compleeeeete understatement, and while I still have so many questions and I develop questions with each stage I move through, I’m learning something new literally every day. I wish we lived in a society where information on our bodies and reproductive health were simply shared like we do with food healthy foods, or ways to get smooth skin. If you ask 5 women their favorite skin care routine, I bet at least 3 of them would be able to give you a list of their favorite products and which ones to avoid. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not to say anything negative against people who invest in the health of their skin ( I’ve been on my own little journey these past couple of months!) but skin is more widely accepted as a part of the body that everybody should take care of – whereas reproductive health is seen as incredibly private and in some ways, almost shameful part of a woman’s life making it an incredibly difficult subject to learn about on your own. As women, wether you want to exercise your humanly right to bare children or not, knowing what is going on inside your body on a daily basis, on a monthly basis with your period, and even what to expect when you’re older and experiencing menopause, its all *going to happen* whether you are paying attention or not! So Why bring this up now? There are so many reasons why!
The main reason being Savannah. I have a daughter and with that responsibility I want to be able to explain and even go so far as normalizing her reproductive health. I am absolutely ready to be that parent that over shares, maybe even embarrasses her with these talks, because the thing is I want to lead by example and show her she doesn’t have to be embarrassed about this! She should be proud and confident, because knowledge is power and there is nothing more powerful then making educated decisions about what goes into your body and *why* To be able to do that though, I have so much to learn and I need to start with my own body. Mere months before I found out I was pregnant with Savannah I had multiple tests done to see if I had PCOS or even endometriosis. Simply put, when you are put on birth control to try and “control” endometriosis, it masks the symptoms but the damage continues with each cycle. So, by November I was experiencing insanely painful periods like I had all those years prior, but this time around I demanded to be heard and helped. Now what tests I had done for PCOS I honestly couldn’t tell you because as soon as I got pregnant I pushed all of that fear and anxiety surrounding that topic to the back of my mind. But I’m going to dive into both conditions a little bit.
As far as endometriosis goes, the only known test to see if you even have it is to surgically go in and look at your ovaries to see if there is any signs of the condition – meaning if there is any noticeable scaring or tissue growing outside of the uterus . To some, these two conditions may sound scary and completely foreign, but contrary to popular belief they are actually way more common than we may think! Since the only way to basically find out if you have endometriosis is through surgery alone, the percentage is pretty unclear – but research shows anywhere from 10% of women to 20% have it. That’s a lot. While that difference is pretty dang broad, it just goes to show you how few people know the symptoms, ie incredibly painful periods, irregular periods, significant lower back pain during your period – and basically just go on living thinking *this is absolutely normal because every doctor I have ever met says its normal and to just suck it up* I am truly grateful that we now live in a time where these things are changing – very slowly – but I have seen such a change in the past 10 years. Here is a very thorough website that talks about endometriosis if you would like to know more about it!
PCOS, or polycystic ovary syndrome, is honestly a lot more complicated and I still have a lot to learn about this, but essentially it is a disorder causing enlarged ovaries with small cysts on the outer edges. Symptoms usually range from irregular periods to acne, excessive hair growth, and obesity – but they aren’t limited to those. The Mayo Clinic has good information on the basics if you’d like to check it out here! What a lot people don’t understand though is that those symptoms are only par or it, it can potentially lead to infertility, miscarriage, type 2 diabetes, depression, and even cancer. The only reason I have any idea about PCOS is because my sister has it, as well as endometriosis – so she has been incredibly helpful and vocal about her journey though it, which has prompted me to be proactive about my own journey simply because PCOS is believed to be genetic. But again, just like endometriosis, there isn’t a lot of information on it. Which is crazy! It is believed that 5-10% of women of child bearing age have PCOS – that’s about 5 million women, making it one of the most common hormonal endocrine (glands that produce hormones) disorders among women of reproductive age. This page from the University of Pennsylvania has helpful information on sorting through truth from facts on PCOS – its called the top 5 myths of PCOS.
These are just two conditions that can effect a woman’s body – not just for reproductive reasons too. I found out about both of these well into my 20’s, which is actually the most common age for women to be diagnosed with either because of its lack of awareness. While I truly believe no one should be living a life based in fear, i think its pivotal to understand these types of things *before* something feels off. While I don’t believe we all need to learn every known possible condition/disease out there and their symptoms, I do think its so important that we understand *our own bodies.* understanding what’s normal medically and what’s not, what symptoms are normal and what’s not. At this point in my life, I know my body pretty dang well – but that’s only because I learned what it meant to becme an advocate for myself. I learned the things I felt weren’t in fact normal, I wrote them all down before going into doctors appointments so I wouldn’t panic under the pressure and not say anything, I told myself that I didn’t have to live life being terrified of something as natural as a period – and that I can and *should* demand help. While I was getting tested for PCOS before I got pregnant with Savannah, I also had an ultrasound where they found a cyst on my right ovary. I had been experiencing piercing pain on my pelvis that I *knew* wasn’t normal and demanded to be taken seriously. The thing with cysts is that they can be so unpredictable – completely harmless at times, but completely deadly other times. I was truly lucky that upon my pregnancy, my body just completely healed it on its own – something I had no idea was possible either! While they told me they were very common and they usually clear up on their own, it was still terrifying when they told me they wanted to watch it because it could grow and then possibly twist my ovary – what? What do you mean twist my ovary?? I still don’t really know what that means, but being almost a year postpartum I am feeling the painful stirrings of my periods again and I think its time I return to the topic I had temporarily laid to rest. Just because I did get pregnant with Savannah doesn’t mean I don’t have PCOS or endometriosis, and while it scares me to deal with it, I know I wouldn’t want Savannah to dismiss something like this. My 1 year appointment is at the end of March and I plan to bring this topic to that table again and see where we should go.
To all the women out there wanting more information about this but feel too insecure about asking your doctor about it, I have found that talking to people who have experienced it to be incredibly helpful. go on Facebook and find that community, I guarantee you there are far more women out there feeling the same way you do. Now my goal isn’t to have you all immediately go get checked for endometriosis or PCOS, rather that at the end of the day, we must be our own advocates – for ourselves and for each other. No matter how terrifying as it might sound! But one thing I have learned these past 2 years is that if I want to raise a brave daughter, I myself need to brave too 💛