May 26, 2017

FEMpowerment Fridays, episode 1

FEMpowerment Fridays, episode 1

This is a new series. It’s about bringing the voices and the stories back to things that may be kind of uncomfortable or awkward to talk about under the umbrella category of women’s health. Its origin rose from an Instagram story I did about losing my period in college and my experience with the gynecologist there after. The answers and responses that rose from that afternoon quickly flooded 10 pages worth of Word document. As someone entering the medical field who straddles the values and philosophies of western and holistic medicine, having this insight would help me IMMEASURABLY as a future practitioner – knowing what women want from their doctor. But then I got to thinking just how selfish that mindset was. Because not only would it be an absolute tragedy for me and me only to see and hear the stories and voices of other women’s struggles, but quite honestly it would be irresponsible and negligent to keep them to myself and do nothing about them.

So here it is!! I now realize that my singular story is boring and incomplete. It is vanilla and blase and doesn’t represent the rich fabric of others’ experiences – it provides only very narrow insight. So I want to share more stories. Struggles and maybe how women overcame or coped with them or even just about how they suck!! For many of these issues (endometriosis, PCOS, miscarriages, infertility, hormonal imbalance, etc.), women suffer in silence and may be embarrassed to discuss the hardship that accompanies each. So I am thrilled to be a platform to embrace the awkward and the uncomfortable and the embarrassing. Because the more we talk about the things, the less awkward and uncomfortable and embarrassing they become. Normalization nation!!!

So I want this to be a space to talk about those things. Even if the stories are anonymous, just to know that SOMEONE else out there is going through what you’re going through may be helpful for others’ journeys.5 stories each and every Friday. Through more voices, we can FEMpower each other.

If you would like to be featured, please email me!! twistoflemons@gmail.com.

With an aPUNdance of love,

Katie “Twist of” Lemons

  1. When I was about 12 years old, I got my period for the first time, like any other girl. I usually had some light period cramps on the first and second day, but my period was mostly regular for about two years. Then, it started to disappear for two months, come back, disappear again for six months until, in 2012, I lost it completely. I went to SEVERAL gynaecologists, got my thyroid gland checked up multiple times, nobody could help me. They told me it’s normal for younger girls to loose their period for a time and get it back when they are a little older, which I supposed it was.In 2013, I was hospitalized for anorexia. It was quick, I had lost about 20lbs in five weeks and my pulse was down to 30 beats per minute. They watched my heart rate at nights in fear my heart would stop beating. I was never really underweight, but I had been a very overweight child (I lost most of the weight naturally when I grew and reached puberty) so I guess the weight loss just had more severe effects.To be honest, I had always been anxious about my weight. I am a highly sensitive person, and I think my weight was just an outlet to have some control over my life. However, I slowly recovered – honestly, I think one can never get rid of a mental illness, but since I started uni two years ago, I finally feel like I’ve overcome the anorexic way of thinking, finally gained the weight back which I failed to accomplish the years before and was happier than I have ever been before.However, I still didn’t get my period. It had been nearly five years. Doctors wanted me to take the contraceptive pill, but I didn’t want to. Why confuse my endocrine system even more when something’s wrong with my hormones? Every gynecologist told me I lost my period because of my anorexia. Nobody wanted to listen when I told them I had lost my period BEFORE I lost the weight. I still don’t know why.In December 2016, I suddenly got my period. I couldn’t believe it. I sat on the bathroom floor, crying in my sister’s arms for a good half hour, my boyfriend and dad anxiously pounding on the door. I was SO happy. Since then, I had three cycles. My period is not regular at all, I got it every seven to eight weeks and right now, I am waiting and my cycle has been nearly nine weeks.I know my hormones must be wreaking havoc in my body; I get nauseous a lot, experience sudden cramping, my digestion is SO off (bloating, pain, you name it, I get it), I have joint pain, energy voids and I just don’t understand it.Why me? What’s wrong with me? Is it hormones? Was my eating disorder the cause for all of this? Is something wrong with my digestive system? WHAT IS THE CAUSE FOR THIS?Right now, there is a mile long list of foods I can’t eat because it pains me and I STILL get pain and bloating and fatigue weekly if not daily. I had finally found a love for food, and now I came to fear it again, for another reason. I’ve been to various gynecologists, naturopaths, gastroenterologists. Nobody knows what’s wrong.I am a happy, bubbly person, I get good weeks, but I can’t stop wondering if I will ever get fully better again. I’m sorry if this sounds depressing, it kind of is, but please know that I am trying to make the best of everything and live life 🙂 It would help me so much if you shared this on your platform, to see if any other girl struggles with something like this. I haven’t found any and it made me wonder if I am alone.” -Anja
  2. “When I was newly graduated from college and on my own health insurance, I made an appointment for my annual exam at a family medicine clinic in the hospital where I work (I’m a nurse). I was scheduled into a resident (physician in-training)’s clinic. The resident doctor did a very brief health history on me, focusing mostly on past medical and surgical history and family history, without getting into any holistic details about what I do for preventative care or who I was as a person. She then stood up, asked me to change into a gown, and left. I had barely gotten into the hospital gown before she came back in with a medical assistant for my exam. She began with my Pap smear (didn’t even listen to my heart or lungs first), and she was very forceful with the speculum. She twisted and turned it every which way, saying, “I just can’t seem to find your cervix.” My thought: well I promise you it’s there. But I stayed quiet because this was only maybe my second pap ever and I felt that this doctor should know what she was doing. For what seemed like upwards of five minutes (I’m sure it was less time than that but it felt like forever), she struggled with the speculum to visualize my anatomy. Eventually the medical assistant requested that she stop and get the attending. Bless her. The attending came in, scolded the resident for not asking for help sooner, apologized, and completed the rest of my exam. By this time, I felt like I had been violated even though no malice was intended. I left without making a complaint, and was sore for days afterward. When it came time to make a return appointment, the scheduler tried to put me back with that doctor. I requested that I see someone else, and the scheduler said there would be a long wait. It was only then that I said I’d prefer to have anyone else than this doctor. The scheduler took the hint and I was directed to the medical director of the clinic to discuss what had happened. I’m not sure what came of that resident physician but I was connected to a physician who is holistic, strongly supports preventative care, and has made each exam as comfortable as possible. I’m extremely thankful for that.It’s my hope that no woman goes through the experience that I had. Fortunately I’ve found peace with it, but my annual exams always bring a little bit of anxiety.” –@kp_ingitsimple
  3. “I love your idea of sharing stories regarding women’s health so I thought I’d share mine. In the beginning of 2016, I decided to go off the birth control pill after being on it off and on for 9 years. I was advised by a doctor to go on it at age 14, because I was only getting my period once a year. Thinking back on that now makes me sad but I didn’t know any better and neither did my mother. Every time I tried to go off the pill my periods wouldn’t make their monthly visit so I’d always end up back on the pill. But last year I said enough was enough. I couldn’t stand being on that little pill any longer. I researched for weeks, reading up on things that could happen once you go off the pill. I felt like I was somewhat prepared for whatever would happen when I came off the pill. Boy was I wrong. Within a couple months of being off of it, my face exploded in cystic acne. My hair starting falling out even worse than it was before. And worst of all, my period was nowhere to be found. I researched so much during this time because I was determined not to return to the pill. I started taking maca powder in my smoothies, vitex capsules in the morning, and incorporating  things like collagen and Ashwaghanda into my diet. I also made sure to get a good quality probiotic and eat probiotic rich foods. During this time I went to atleast 5 different doctors, had all kinds of blood work and tests done, only for them to tell me everything was normal. It was really discouraging. After about 6 months of horrible skin and no period, things finally started to look up. And I can proudly say I naturally got my period back and my skin has returned to normal minus a few scars here and there. Tjank you for letting me share my story and thank you for speaking up about women’s health. Last year was really hard because I did feel very alone in my journey. And no one should feel that way because I’m sure there’s so many girls out there struggling with their hormones as well. So thank you from the bottom of my heart!” –@kailaodren

4. “Now, to begin with, my story starts with a eating disorder like 5 years ago. I was dealing with so much stuff during that time. So basically controlling my food and what I was eating, was kinda like an escape and the only control I had on something at that moment.

With my mom and dad helping me and being super supportive I finally got through the eating disorder. But during that process, I started realizing other things. To start with, I lost my period, and it hasn’t come back yet. Also, I have a lot of digestive issues. I don’t tolerate dairy, I have troubles digesting food, I stoped eating any kind of meat because ( I couldn’t digest red meat) of sustainable reasons. So at the end of the day I’m vegan but I still can digest food properly, and now I’m rethinking all my diet because it’s really confusing for me to know what do I should eat and what I shouldn’t eat.

So basically right now I’m a mess ?.
But I still feel positive about getting to know what is good for me. But the only way to know that, it’s by research and asking other people who has been through similar experience or has knowledge about this thinks. That’s why I’m writing this. So thanks again for reading my story and for doing this. We all have experience to share, so it’s great to be able to do it in such a nice space. – Bianca Barbato
PS: I’m sorry if there are way to many writing mistakes, my native language is Spanish

5. As I sit here on my couch tonight, nursing my 7 week old daughter, I have a beautiful moment of realization. Of how the world works in mysterious, meaningful ways, and how I truly have the diagnosis of an “incurable” disease to thank for this whole divine experience.

Recently I wrote about my decision to start tracking my monthly cycle, and I briefly touched on my journey with Endometriosis. I saw this as an opportunity to share my personal history with others. I hope women find comfort in relating to my experience and encourage themselves to research health options. I also hope to challenge medical professionals to stop the habitual “treatment” and instead explore the power of nutrition.
My junior year of college I lived in a house with three of my girlfriends. I remember waking up one night with excruciating pain in my abdomen. I wasn’t sure if I was had to vomit or if my insides were exploding- then, I woke up on the cold tile. I had passed out on the bathroom floor from the pain. I was so confused and slightly concerned, but decided to go back to bed. The next day my abdominal aches reminded me this was something I needed to get checked out. I was nearly 5 hours away from my primary doctor, so I went to a local urgent care facility. I explained what happened and the woman seemed confused. She tapped my abdomen, asked me some questions, then told me to get some laxatives because I was probably “backed up.” Personally, I had never passed out from constipation before, nor have I heard of others doing so, but, sure thing lady.
Weeks later, as I had almost forgot about this freak incident, it happened again. I ran to the bathroom again with nauseating pain, but this time I threw up. It was miserable. My lower abdomen ached horribly for two days and I knew something was wrong, something much more than “constipation.”
After a bit of internet research (yeah, I’m THAT girl), I realized my symptoms were similar to a ruptured cyst. I mean, the signs were pretty obvious, so how the medical PROFESSIONAL couldn’t figure it out is still beyond me. I immediately contacted my gynecologist back home and set up an appointment.
My OBGYN ordered an ultrasound to look at what could potentially be an ovarian cyst. What they did find was a mass on my ovary, but unlike ordinary cysts (which can be common) this one seemed abnormal. The mass appeared to either be an endometrial cyst, or a tumor. Off to a great start, obviously..
After monitoring the mass for months and noticing its’ growth, we decided surgery was the best way to go. One of two things would be discovered: a tumor which would be sent for a biopsy, or an Endometriosis diagnosis.
I was terrified. I had never experienced anything that required surgery. Although this was an outpatient procedure, it was still scary. It all seemed to happen so fast. Unexpected AND under-explained.
This timing was terrible; my senior year had just begun, and I had to schedule my surgery within a few weeks. This meant traveling back to school and starting the semester with a heavily distracted mind, just to travel back home and take time off for surgery.
The day came and I went into surgery with such unclear expectations. I could wake up and be diagnosed with cancer, I could have a total hysterectomy, or “best” case scenario, Endometriosis. This uncertainty paired with my anxiety disorder – quite the cocktail.
When I woke up, I was reassured my reproductive organs still called the inside of my body home. My gynecologist then confirmed the diagnosis, Endometriosis. During the laparoscopic procedure, they found a cyst attached to my ovary that was larger than a lime. The cyst was then ruptured, and removed by laser along with the scar tissue that was wrapped around my pelvic organs. These lesions are notably what causes the pain associated with this disease.
Prior to my follow-up appointment, I obviously did diligent research on the disease- my disease. What I found was little to no answers. A whole lot of possibilities, but no real answers. And I didn’t get much more from the doctor.

Basically, it’s like this:

What causes it? Don’t know.
How do we cure it? Can’t.
What are the side affects? Possibly infertility, possibly cancer, possibility of reoccurrence, and probably surgery again.

Promising.

The purpose of the surgery is more diagnosis and maintenance, than a cure. The Endometriosis can only technically be diagnosed through surgery, where the endometrial cell growth can be seen outside of the uterus. And any “treatment” for Endometriosis is only treating the symptoms, not the disease itself.

Now at the time I was 22, and a full-time college student with no plans for children in the near future- but I was devastated. I’ve always had an innate desire to be a mother. It just felt like it’s what I was meant to do. And now I felt hopeless. Hopeless and useless. I felt that I, as a woman, was put on this earth with ovaries, a uterus and a natural obligation to bear children. And I was told that my reality might not include that opportunity.
I had a really, really hard time with this. It was difficult to talk about because it involved my lady parts, and that made people uncomfortable. And because everything was still so unclear. I mean, I went into surgery not knowing if I would have ovaries when I woke up. Seriously?!

Following surgery, I was put back on birth control pills and told that we would do follow up ultrasounds to monitor the cysts. When I asked if I’d be able to ever get pregnant, he said we won’t know until it’s time to try. The fact that there was essentially no way for me to prevent or treat this disease drove me nuts.
Understandably, I wasn’t content with hormone therapy and a waiting game. So, I got back online (seeing a pattern yet?) and searched everything I could about endometriosis, hormones, and how I could manage this. So began my journey for a healthier diet. I started with anti-inflammatory foods, avoided endocrine disrupting foods, adopted a vegetarian diet, then vegan, but eventually I began to give up. It just felt like a struggle with too much uncertainty. I couldn’t find a perfect fit for what I was dealing with.

Soon after, I also experienced a series of irregular blood work. I was pushed back and forth between labs and CT scans that were just useless. I was suspected to have a thyroid issues because my TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) would spike, but then appear normal in the next test. It was such a damn headache. After the thyroid seemed to be a bust, next up was the pituitary gland. They suspected I may have a tumor that was messing with my hormones. Wrong again. Looking back, those symptoms (along with my irregular cycles, extreme Premenstural Syndrome, heavy clotting menses, and terrible back pain) were all such CLEAR signs of hormone imbalance. Something that I now believe could absolutely be managed with diet.

So after years of just dealing, I made the decision to find another way to manage my symptoms that didn’t involve artificial hormones. Since the diagnosis, I had modified my diet to avoid dairy and meat from cows pumped with hormones as well as soy products. I also cut out toxic cosmetic products that disrupt the endocrine system, but I was still taking this little pill every single day. It seemed so backwards. I had been on hormonal birth control for 9 years, and if endometriosis wasn’t going to hinder my fertility, I believed that these pills sure would do it. So about a year ago I quit oral contraceptives . I decided after those pills ran out I’d let my body do its’ natural thing. It was time to find another way to prevent pregnancy and manage my symptoms of Endometriosis.

Those birth control worries were soon halted when I found out I was pregnant. This pregnancy was a surprise, but a very welcomed one. I believe that if I would’ve been complacent, and taken hormone pills every day until I wanted to try to get pregnant, it would’ve been too late. I think even another year of those pills could very well have hindered the function of my reproductive organs. I’m not certain of the long term affects of hormonal contraceptives, but this is purely the way I felt. I am grateful in every way for my chain of events.

My pregnancy was very special to me. I don’t think I realized it at the time, but Endometriosis was the reason I chose a natural birth. I got a lot of questions throughout pregnancy like “what’s the point?” in denying an epidural or labor induction. I didn’t know my answer at the time (pregnancy brain?) but it was because of my diagnosis. What if this was my ONLY chance to experience birth? What if I never got this opportunity again? I felt lucky to be pregnant and I wasn’t going to take it for granted.

During this pregnancy I tried my very hardest to keep eating healthy and avoid those hormone-hating foods. My body was responsible for developing the fragile reproductive organs that would serve my daughter for her lifetime, and I was conscious of that.

Then on April 2nd, I delivered a healthy baby girl out of a hospital, without the use of medication, into a pool of water. Exactly the birth I DREAMED about (and you can read about it here ).

Now that my body has been “reset” by this natural birth, I will continue the trend. I plan to practice the Fertility Awareness Method, and track my cycle, avoiding hormonal contraceptives. Fertility gurus like Alisa Vitter and Toni Weschler have inspired my newfound appreciation for the female body, and I look forward to learning about what goes on in there. I will continue to adjust my diet to work in sync with the phases of my cycle, and support my natural hormone production.

During one of the most stressful years for an undergraduate, I was given a lifelong diagnosis, little hope and almost no support.  This created a lot of stress that I battled alone. I realize now that I’ve suppressed these emotions associated with my disease. I’ve pushed these memories deep down and tried to move on. But I want women who are struggling with similar issues to find support and know their options. To know that they can talk openly about what they are experiencing, and it not be an uncomfortable conversation. Sharing my story has been a part of an emotional healing long overdue. But my strength was found in the stories of women courageous enough to make their voices heard, and I hope to pass that on.
Girl power. ”

Here is the link to my birth story : https://f3malien.wordpress.com/2017/05/24/the-birth-of-avery-rion/

 

I AM SO GRATEFUL FOR EVERYONE WHO SHARED THIS WEEK. Thank you feels inadequate, but I guess I’ll have to settle on that until I can unearth a better phrase from the English language.

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