Secret women’s business. Something we’re almost baptised into when we get our period. But do any of us know what’s really going on? “Yeh yeh” we’re meant to get a period once a month, we can take contraception to stop getting pregnant, they can be painful, heavy and I can turn into a life sucking demon for a couple of days but it’s all good and normal.
The truth is many of us actually have no idea what is going on and why would we? We base what is normal from what happened with our mum, our aunties, our cousins and our friends, but what if we’re mistaking what’s normal for what is common?
1 in 10 women suffer from endometriosis, 1 in 4 women PCOS, 1 in 6 couples with infertility and 1 in 10 of us will have a hysterectomy.
You might be saying, “isn’t this part of what it means to be a woman?” And I say, no way! I say part of the reason why these rates are so high is that we don’t understand how our cycles work, what we need to do to make sure they’re the best they can be, and what having these diagnosis’ and symptoms actually mean. It starts with understanding that having heavy, irregular, painful periods that change our bowel habits, make us go a little dare I say crazy at times, give us jawline acne, breast tenderness and hair in places we don’t want it or no hair in places we do want it.
I’m sure many of us have had longer or shorter cycles, big dips in mood, heavy clotting periods, those ones that make you poo or the ones that make it hurt when you do. When we accept that these signs and symptoms as normal, instead of signs and symptoms that our hormones are out of balance due to our automatic systems in our body being out of balance that’s when we get into trouble.
You see our hormones almost always don’t go out of balance because a bacteria or virus that is attacking us. It’s not generally from a direct trauma to us. It’s more commonly when our body isn’t prioritising our immune system, gut function, natural hormone cycle and sleep. Seems too basic doesn’t it?
The truth is when these systems aren’t prioritised our brain is busy prioritising something else…. The mechanism to protect ourselves. Our blood sugar elevates, we shunt our nerve and blood supply to the back of our legs, our chest and shoulders, why? It’s all because our brain has been triggered to think we’re under threat and we don’t need to prioritise the non-important stuff like eating, falling pregnant and healing. How does this happen?
It can be different for all of us… It could be an emotional trigger; think about what happens to your period when you’ve just been through a break up? When you’re stressed you may be pregnant but it turns out to be a false alarm? When you have a lot going on at work? Or you’ve just been let go?
These may seem obvious, but what about your chemical triggers; This can be eating foods that are causing micro tears in your gut and triggering load on your stress system. Things like; wheat, dairy, eggs and corn commonly trigger this. You could also be loading your system with xeno-eostrogens like plastics and products in fake tan.
Last but not least, and often the least talked about are the physical triggers; Sure a large physical trauma will trigger a stress response, but what about small day to day changes to your posture. Like boxing class? Hamstring curls and pushups? Or looking down and scrolling on your phone or computer? Anything that works your fighting or running muscles or causes your head to drop forward will trigger this imbalance in your brain and body resulting in those annoying and sometimes debilitating menstrual issues.
So what does this actually look like?
Let’s look at the evolution of a common period situation we women can feel;
At first it seems pretty cool, you’re part of this secret club and you’re officially a woman. Everyone said it would come soon and at first it’s the only thing you want to happen so you can get the first one over and done with.
Then what? We hear all the horror stories from the other women in our lives, we might start to feel the cramping and pain many of us women get. We might be told it’s normal and go on for years and years just thinking you have to put up with it, and then you might be diagnosed with something like PCOS or Endometriosis, (you might not meet the diagnostic criteria of any of these by the way). But then we’re told we just have to live with them, because they’re incurable. Or be told that going on a form of hormone contraception will balance you out and to keep skipping your period so you don’t get the pain and discomfort. This might work or it may not, you could get breakthrough bleeds, gut issues and troubles with your mental health as a result of the underlying imbalance still existing or from possible side effects of common contraceptives.
Years might pass by and all of a sudden you might be ready for a baby, you may have gone the contraception route and now you want to come off it, or you may have tried to manage things yourself and are now stressed because you’ve heard it’s really hard to fall pregnant these days. Stats show that 1 in 6 couples need help falling pregnant and 1 in 2 struggle (Ladies it’s important to remember that it takes 2 to tango, so make sure your sussing out what’s going on in your partner’s neck of the woods)
You may come off ‘the pill’ and fall pregnant with no hassle, you may struggle for a couple of months and then fall pregnant, you may see an IVF specialist, acupuncturist, naturopath or other health practitioner for help, it may work it may not. You may go through multiple miscarriages. It’s all part of being a woman right?
Years go by after having your kids (if you want them that is), and all of a sudden your periods might change, they get heavier and clotting, you have difficulty losing weight and start to feel fatigued all the time. They may pick up that you have uterine fibroids and need a hysterectomy. This leaves you with a soft-ball sized space in your abdomen where overtime and with gravity, ‘stuff’ can start to fall down. You may have a full or partial hysterectomy or you may have neither and naturally fall into menopause. Getting those night sweats, fatigue, mood swings, brain fog, weight gain, decreased hunger, decreased sex drive and migraines. “Just wait it out, ride the highs and lows and you’ll get through it”, but why do some women get no symptoms and some women seem to get everything?
That’s the beauty of our bodies.
They’re always changing, particularly in women. They’re changing every month and they change over our lifetime.
Understanding that this is a common trend that happens is important. It’s important to understand the distinction between common and normal, and understand that when you do have difficulties with these issues that it means something in your body is out of balance, and the best person to help is you!
Get educated, understand your body, have some not-so-secret lady business chats over a bottle of wine and share this with your friends or start a conversation so that we can all grab our health by the lady balls!