FEMpowerment Fridays, episode 4

Happy FF!!!! I am currently typing this from Stratton, VT with one of my best Female Friends at Wanderlust. I’ll keep this intro short and jump right into the inspiring and empowering stories of Fellow Females. I also want to take a moment to share my experience with my Paragard (the copper IUD – non-hormonal), as I mentioned it on stories this week but didn’t quite explain further. Happy Friday!!!

I decided to get the Paragard my senior year of college. I was on hormonal birth control my sophomore year, and it made me one crazy kitty. The original dose I was on (the lowest dose) resulted in spontaneous crying, zero sex drive, and dry as sandpaper sexual experience. Not the kind of friction you want. Undesirable as heck. I went back to my gynecologist and the solution: go on a higher dose. Not having nearly as much knowledge as I have now, I blindly accepted as I genuinely thought this was a normal reaction and a sensible solution.

When I went abroad for the entirety of my junior year, I went off the pill as I didn’t quite have as much of a need for it. When I returned and was still seeing the same person, I decided to go with the copper IUD, as it’s non hormonal, lasts for 12 years, and is over 99% effective. My GYN was not keen on this decision; I really had to fight for it. It’s difficult to place if your uterus hasn’t seen the likes of a child inside of it, and if placement is incorrect, it can result in infertility. It also results in more painful and longer periods. Despite this list of horrors, I decided to go through with it.

The insertion process was less than to be desired. The first time the GYN tried, she couldn’t quite get it, and had to stop because I was green in the face from pain. It was excruciating. I took a lap around the block (walked around Jordan’s furniture with my mom for awhile), while wearing a diaper as I bled. The glamor of it all!!! I then had to go back to the GYN so she could use an ultrasound to get the exact placement. Again, jaw clenching agony, but she got it the second time around. At the time I was a server at a fast paced restaurant and I had to call out for two days because the pain persisted for at least 72 hours after placement. Definitely not purely good vibes, despite what my shirt my say in the cover photo.

The reality of it all: my periods last 7-9 days, they’re pretty heavy and painful, and the placement process was nauseatingly yuck. BUT, I don’t worry about birth control, and my hormones are my hormones – not affected by synthetic ones. There are pros and cons to each form of birth control, and not everyone’s experience is the same. The friend I am sitting next to, in fact, describes the process as “nothing more than cramps of a period for a day or two.”

Truly everyone is different and unfortunately it only takes trying it on your own to discover which experience you more closely align to, or you could fall somewhere in between.

I am currently playing with a thermometer type of birth control that abides by the Fertility Awareness Method (using the Kindara app), and perhaps that will be the wave of the future!!! The book that references this method is Taking Charge of Your Fertility, and was recommended when I was first seeking advice regarding resources for an all natural approach to women’s health and birth control. Updates and a blog post to follow!

Enough about me, on to you guys:

  1. My junior year of college (after two years of plenty of antibiotics due to the never ending college strep throat) I studied abroad in Florence, Italy. I went out to eat with some friends, we all shared a steak, some pasta and a bottle of wine. At around 2 am that night I woke up with the worst stomach pain I had ever experienced. I tried to get to the bathroom but instead fell to the floor in pain. One of my 9 roommates quickly determined it was an appendicitis, the other claimed it was food poisoning, and another threw a Gas X at me and said, “this should work.” (my first of thousands of Gas X’s I have taken) I called my mom as I rolled around our bathroom floor in sheer pain. For the next 5 hours I sat on the toilet throwing up in a trashcan one way and out the other way and for the next three days I nibbled on rice and apples. Everyone determined it was food poisoning, yet everyone ate the exact same thing as me that night, so I didn’t think it added up. I decided to not worry about what I can’t control and realize it was over, so time to move on. A month and a half later I arrived back in home and my first stop was Chipotle with my boyfriend, within ten minutes of eating that pain returned. I tried to walk it off, no luck and soon enough I was laying on a picnic table in front of 50 people telling my boyfriend to call my mom, probably the lamest thing I have ever done. Once I was home, the same thing happened, minus the throwing up, but this time it only lasted an hour. Again, the three days after were filled with rice and apples and once again I was fine.

I spent the next year and a half of college popping Gas X’s, looking for the nearest bathroom and relying on muscle relaxing medication given to me by the doctors who diagnosed me with post infection IBS.  The pain would come anywhere from every 6 weeks to every 2 weeks, and it was the exact same thing every time. A wave of nausea would over come me, I would feel light headed and weak, knifes would start to poke my right side, what felt like a rock would sit perfectly in between my ribs and within minutes it felt like 400 knifes were tearing my stomach apart. I would run to the bathroom, hunched over with the thought that, “okay maybe I should call 911.” I would reassure myself that I had been through this before, it will pass, it will pass. I would take out my phone, watch anything on YouTube to distract me, call my mom crying that it just wont go away and anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half it would all be over. I would then crawl into my bed and try to sip on a ginger ale with hopes that I would be okay soon. I graduated from college last May, moved to a new city, started a new job and my stomach issues were now blamed on anxiety. On July 25th of last year, I sat down with some left over Ramen to watch the Bachelor and the pain was like nothing I had ever experienced. Not only was I frustrated that I was missing the bachelor (!!), but I was completely perplexed as to why now? I was eating what I ate last night and had no issue doing so previously and I was anything but anxious. The pain lasted for hours and that was the closest I got from calling help. It passed, I went to sleep and for the next four weeks after I could hardly eat a piece of bread without running to the bathroom. I was anxious to go anywhere, to eat anything and my already small 118 lbs. self was losing weight quickly. I got an appointment with a gastroenterologist a month out. In the meantime I didn’t know what to do, so I ate the BRAT diet and the FODMAP diet, nothing was working. The gastroenterologist was stumped yet again and she quickly scheduled me for a colonoscopy and endoscopy two months out. She didn’t even feel my stomach before saying “colonoscopy” and my mom was skeptical, thank goodness for mother’s intuition!

We cancelled the procedures and it was then that we decided to look for a nutritionist to help me find ways to gain weight without a stomachache. And that’s how I found a naturopath who gave me the OAT test and determined I had candida overgrowth along with some other minimal things. He gave me a probiotic, bacteria killing supplements and put me on a strict 75 grams of sugar a day. Immediately, I started feeling better but within four weeks my symptoms returned and I had a lot of new side effects. I got off birth control in January with hopes that it would help and it did slightly, but it threw my hormones for a swing. Anyway, it wasn’t until February that someone mentioned to me, you should read the ingredients in your food. So I did and that’s when I realized that counting out Veggie straws to get to 10 grams of sugar was so stupid. I decided then to give up processed foods and focus on eating all things that were whole, organic and fresh. It changed the game for me! I had been eating 75 grams of sugar a day for five months and once I stopped counting and just focus on the food I was actually eating, it worked. I had never felt better with my digestion and I was shaking my head at the months I had wasted trying to fit that bag of chips in to fulfill my craving.

I then had the clarity to focus on something that had been subtly controlling my personal life since returning from Florence, painful sex. My naturopath did a hormone test and my hormones were that off someone going through menopause. For example, my progesterone was 195, about a thousand lower than the minimum average. He quickly concluded that that was the reason for my painful sex. I decided to see an acupuncturist to see if she could do the trick and it was then that I realized I hadn’t had my period since the New Year and that that was indeed a bad thing. I was lost, my hormones are painfully deprived, my period has (literally) seen better days and I still couldn’t have sex with my boyfriend without stopping midway and making it the most uncomfortable, awkward and sad moment ever. That’s when I heard about pelvic floor therapy and at my first appointment she told me, “so what you have is really common and I can help.” I was in awe. Not only was that the first time a doctor has told me what I was going through was common, but she said she could help with the upmost confidence and true sincerity in her voice. She explained that a lot of women with digestion trouble have pelvic floor issues, due to our brain protecting (tightening) our pelvic muscles when any sort of pain is occurring in that area. So, with every stomachache was another clinch of the pelvic floor, it made so much sense! Out of everything I had been through that year, the never-ending stomach pain, anxiety of food, weight loss, hormones with complete control of my body, this sex thing was the most isolating of them all. It’s embarrassing to talk about, especially when you are 23 and all of your friends find it to be the best experience ever. So, for nearly three years I let it slide by as something my previous doctor told me, “its just part of being a woman.”

But I am so glad that my stomachaches brought me on this journey, because with out them I wouldn’t be where I am today. I am in a constant balancing act with life. I try to have a budget when it comes to groceries and not spend too much on dark chocolate and organic veggies. I try eat things that will help me gain some weight, but not too much that I get a stomachache. I try to see my friends and go to my twice a week acupuncturist (to help normalize my cycle), once a month pelvic PT and occasional naturopath (to make sure I am still on the right track). I try to still be young and have fun while also realizing I need a little extra self care than most and taking fireball shots is most definitely, in my past. I try to find time for the gym to gain some muscle, but not too much that I lose weight. And I try to wean myself off of supplements while balancing every random stomachache that comes my way, always wondering was it too much sugar or was it just what I ate? And lastly I try to stay in tune with my hormones so I can have a clear mind to body connection and figure out how this being an adult thing works. I may have some stomachaches, some hormonal imbalances and a sensitive area below my belly button but that’s okay, because I am (very) slowly but surely figuring it out. I have even already started my 2018 Christmas list: 1. My period 2. A year long supply of Simple Mills cookies 3. a Yoni egg and 4. A Kombucha brewer. Here’s to hoping for less stomachaches, more progesterone, some pain free sex and smoothie on the side. -Ali (alwaysalida.wordpress.com)


2. I was fifteen when I got my first period. I was the oldest of all my friends and the very last one to get it. By the second month in I could tell things were not right and my periods were just not the same as the ones my friends were describing. I would bleed and bleed soaking through pads, not able to get to the bathroom enough during a school day to change them before they would leak through my pants. The cramps were unbearable, enough to keep me at home in the fetal position for days.
I was sixteen the first time I went to the gynecologist. I struggled for a year trying to use tampons, so not only were my periods absurdly heavy but I couldn’t even use tampons to control them. Once I was finally able to get the tampons in, I couldn’t get them back out. It felt like I was trying to rip my entire vagina out of my body and somehow the tampon still wouldn’t budge. After a painful and traumatic trip to the gyno, the doctor informed me that I had an abnormally large hymen and it was getting wrapped around the tampons as I tried to pull them out. She scheduled a procedure to have it removed and one month later I was finally able to use tampons with no issues.
When I was eighteen I was put on birth control for the first time. My periods still had not calmed down and my gynecologist told me people usually use birth control to treat heavy bleeding and cramps. She put me on a pill that made me bleed for two months straight. She then switched me to a different pill, and I proceeded to try about ten other pills for the next nine years of my life. Nothing ever helped, my periods stayed the same.
When I was twenty two I finally talked my gynecologist into scheduling an ultrasound to look for endometriosis. My mom found out she had it shortly before that, so it seemed like a likely possibility. I showed up for my ultrasound and had to reschedule because nobody explained to me that I had to drink thirty two ounces of water and show up with a full bladder. They did not detect endometriosis, but they did see that I had a uterine malformation and sent me to a reproductive endocrinologist.
When I was twenty three I was diagnosed with PCOS and a septate/retroverted uterus and I finally thought someone was going to be able to help me. I thought it all made perfect sense, and also maybe the reason why sex was so uncomfortable and painful was because my uterus was shaped wrong. I told the doctor I didn’t want to do anymore birth control because it wasn’t working. He tried putting me on norethindrone to help with my low progesterone levels, and when that gave me side effects he put me on birth control.
When I was twenty four I moved to New York City. I studied dance in college and had always dreamed of living in New York. I saw a new doctor and told him about my heavy periods and painful intercourse. He told me I just needed to have more sex, then suggested I get an x-ray called a hysterosalpingogram. The x-ray involved a catheter being inserted into my cervix and dye being injected into my uterus (to see the malformation). It was the most painful and uncomfortable test I’ve had to endure. My next doctor told me that test was unnecessary and really showed us nothing.
When I was twenty five I started suffering from vertigo and my health continued to deteriorate from there. It eventually affected my ability to dance and became the focus of my medical attention. All of my women’s health issues that I had been dealing with for so long took a back seat, and I continued down a road filled with more failed attempts to get better.
I am now twenty eight and living back home with my parents. I haven’t danced in a year and a half. I am no longer on birth control and do not plan to ever go back on it. I still bleed through tampons by the hour. I still have trouble getting through a work shift without constantly worrying that I am leaking. I am still out of commission for at least a day or two every month with cramps. The last time I had sex, I cried. Right in the middle of it. That thing that you are never supposed to do during sex, I did that. And it wasn’t because of the pain. It was because in that moment I realized how completely and utterly defeated I was, and that I couldn’t possibly feel more alone. It is so hard to get a partner to understand something that is anatomically impossible for them to understand. And the harder you try the more frustrating and depleting it becomes. When sex is painful it no longer feels shared with another person. It feels violating and degrading and embarrassing and it makes you feel helpless and the worst part is it feels like nobody is listening.
I have been living back home for the past eight months. I saved my money and went to see an integrative medicine doctor. From my first appointment with them I finally felt like someone was not only hearing me, but was able to make sense of all the madness and actually come up with a solution. I’ve started some treatment, my vertigo is finally getting better and I am getting some of my energy back. My thyroid is under active and I am deficient in a lot of important vitamins and minerals. As far as my periods go, so far the doctor has found that I have an overgrowth of a bacteria in my gut called Beta-glucuronidase. She told me this bacteria often causes the body to hoard estrogen which can cause heavy and painful periods. I’ve had some further testing done and hopefully we’ll come up with a game plan soon.
After years of struggling, the light at the end of the tunnel is finally coming into view. A light that for so long only seemed to get further and further away. Listening and investing in your body are the most important things you can do for yourself. And never ever ever stop fighting. Never stop standing up for yourself. Keep digging, the answers are out there.
3.   I started having really bad panic attacks after I graduated high school. I was really weepy, tired and I gained a lot of weight. I went to doctor after doctor only to get a number of different diagnoses (including a chest cold for the chest pains). I even spent a few days in a behavioral clinic as they deemed I was having an emotional breakdown. Well fast forward about 5 or 6 years later I had a family member recommend I get my hormones checked out. Come to find out I had PCOS and my progesterone levels were in the gutter, which was causing all of these nasty symptoms. I started using natural progesterone cream, and one of the benefits was that I was able to slowly ween myself off of my anxiety meds. It was only after I was able to find out what was going on with my hormones was I able tmy anxiety and my weight under control.
4. I was diagnosed with endometriosis when I was 21 in 2009. I had a laparoscopic procedure to remove a cyst the doctors found on my ovary. The cyst was about the size of an apple.  My gyno had given me no advice on how to deal with endometriosis. I switched gynos and the one I am currently with said to try different types of birth control to help with the pain. I tried the pill but it was difficult to remember to take it everyday and I gained a lot of weight. I tried the patch but it irritated my skin and left rashes. I tried mirena as well but I began to feel an imbalance of hormones and I felt not normal. Currently I am not taking any types of birth control. I found that eating a balanced diet helps with the pain. When I eat more chocolate and sugars my pain becomes severe to the point where it feels like someone is punching my lower abdomen.

5. As we know hormonal BC is a general no-go zone but I totally understand that for some women it might not be an option to use a more natural method.

Anyway – I went to university in England and went to the GP from the NHS for general BC consultation. They recommended the Nexplanon implant – which goes into your arm and is mainly progesteron based so reduces the amount of periods you get.

I cannot even begin to explain how much this implant f*cked me up. I felt constantly nauseous and didn’t eat at all, but was gaining weight anyway. I became depressed and just generally felt totally out of whack. Once I got back to my home country my gynaecologist was appalled and literally immediately cut it out of my arm. He compared it to a medieval device that should not ever be used.

So to summarise:
1. Don’t get nexplanon
2. Don’t get an implant more generally because you have to surgically remove it if it doesn’t work for you
3. Every single forum is full with horrible reviews of the implant
4. Don’t necessarily trust one doctor’s opinion – if you are going to get something permanent its best to have more than one opinion
5. This is not for everyone – but my dr recommended the mini IUD which does contain some hormones but they only reach the uterus and not the blood stream
6. Educated yourself about your body’s tolerance for hormonal BC before taking it

Stay safe!

6. “Two years ago, I switched my birth control and seemingly ruined my life.

Now 34, then 32, I have used various birth control for about half my life. The one that changed everything was called Nexplanon, a device that implants into the arm/bicep. I came to this decision after two problematic IUDs and a string of other unsatisfactory methods.

Less than 3 weeks after the Nexplanon was implanted, I was in the emergency room with a faulty gallbladder. After two surgeries, it was removed the next day.

I’ve spent the past two years trying to repair my wrecked digestion and a plethora of other symptoms that began as a result. I’ve changed jobs even, due to a ton of auto-immune-type responses I was having from the frequent travel my last job required.

I’ve recently had two doctors confirm, one including the doctor who gave me the Nexplanon, that it was completely likely to have caused the demise of my gallbladder sending me into a downward health spiral.

I’ve had the Nexplanon removed just over two months ago and am feeling somewhat better, but still recovering from wonky hormones, terrible digestion, a slew of food intolerances, and a raging case of adrenal fatigue.

I would be glad to elaborate for the sake of helping others avoid this nightmare through your cause. I applaud you for using your voice for this topic! Please feel free to reach out if you’d like to know more about my experience. I’ve also shared some of the details on my blog at bloomingplanted.com.”

7. “I have nexplanon, and have not had a SINGLE side effect from it. (I’ve had it for a year and a half) Except that I’ve lost weight, am more emotionally stable, and have better skin since switching to it instead of the pill. I personally would recommend it. I really hope that some of the BC horror stories don’t scare anyone away from trying something they may truly want. If you don’t want to go on birth control (in any form), then you shouldn’t. If you tried one and it didn’t work for you, that is fine. But that does not mean it won’t work for other people.”

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6 Responses

  1. I have nexplanon, and have not had a SINGLE side effect from it. (I’ve had it for a year and a half)
    Except that I’ve lost weight, am more emotionally stable, and have better skin since switching to it instead of the pill.
    I personally would recommend it. I really hope that some of the BC horror stories don’t scare anyone away from trying something they may truly want.
    If you don’t want to go on birth control (in any form), then you shouldn’t. If you tried one and it didn’t work for you, that is fine. But that does not mean it won’t work for other people.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing this, Samantha! I am adding the input to the blog post to show that one woman’s reaction isn’t indicative of every woman’s reaction. The more stories we compile, the more we are able to flesh out a complete picture of the device. So grateful you took the time to write about your own experience!

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