Healing the Menstrual Cycle

From as young as I can remember, I have been so fascinated by the female body and how it works. When I hit puberty around grade five, I constantly googled information about puberty and watched my body for signs of my emergence into womanhood.

I was one of the last girls in my friend group to reach menarche (the first bleed). I obsessed when friend after friend received their first bleeds, asking millions of questions, usually to the point of discomfort for said friends. I just couldn’t get enough of what this ‘phenomenon’ was all about.

It saddens me that I cannot remember my very first bleed. I know it wasn’t something dramatic like most young girls fear, but I do not remember the first moment of realization.

I do remember my second moon though. It came six months after my first, and it was the most pain I had ever felt in my life. I fainted in my bathroom, and I stayed home from school for two days. I remember thinking how dumb I was for wishing for such a thing.

My menstruation continued to be erratic throughout the first two years, between ages 13-15. I didn’t give my cycle time to regulate though. When I was 15, I went on the birth control pill. I snuck to my doctor and asked for it behind my mother’s back and began an eight year phase on the pill.

My period never became regular. Throughout the next eight years, I got extremely light versions of my moon, maybe every six months – three if I was super lucky. I laughed it off and pushed my fear and confusion aside. Friends of mine told me how lucky I was that I didn’t bleed often. But I never felt lucky. I felt like something was wrong. I felt like I was missing out on this experience that I had waited my whole childhood to receive.

I went to Central America in January 2018, with a return ticket after three months. So, I packed three months of birth control. Little to my knowledge at the time of packing, I would be skipping that flight home.

I had a dilemma, and a decision to make. It felt like one of those kismet moments. It was the moment I had avoided for so long – the time to get off birth control. So, as I was surrounded by women who were supportive and who I could speak to about my menstrual issues, I made the decision to stop birth control rather than getting more from the pharmacy.

I always had the notion in my head that getting off birth control meant I would lose weight and my boobs. Well, the opposite happened. I gained weight. I’m not sure how much, but it felt like a lot. I felt sick and tired and so bloated. And guess what? My period didn’t return.

Six months went by, and nothing.

I felt so discouraged and saddened. I just wanted to bleed.

This is when I started to do research. I spoke with my Naturopath when I returned home, and I made a point to take action for my menstrual health.

I found out through research that there is something called “post-birth control pill syndrome.” I learned that your liver can be put into overdrive from an excess build-up of estrogen. I learned that many gastrointestinal issues can arise due to the gut flora upset related to the pill. I also learned that birth control can lead to vitamin deficiencies, such as some Bs, C and Magnesium.

So, I began to add supplements and herbs into my life – Probiotics, B Complex, Magnesium, C, Milk Thistle and Vitex (Chasteberry). 

Voila, my moon came back.

It was beautiful, bright, flowing and lasted a week.

I was in a euphoric state. I think I screamed and danced when I first saw the proof. And naturally I told almost everyone.

Three months later, I went back to Costa Rica, and my moon did not come with me. I’m not sure if it was the stress of a different environment on my body, but I felt like I was back to square one. I had a bit more hope though.

Our healing is not linear, and this has been ever obvious during this time in my life.

Another six months went by. Nothing.

I went to see my family doctor, who ordered a lot of blood work and a pelvic ultrasound. When I went for the results, I was told I have cysts all over both of my ovaries, and that I probably cannot have babies. Her advice was to see a gynecologist and to go back on birth control. She had me in and out within five minutes.

I may be 24, and not be at a point in my life where I am trying to conceive, but being told that I will probably have miscarriages if I can even manage to get pregnant, did something to me. I was devastated. And angry. I felt like the medical system was bouncing me around like a ping-pong ball and my own body was my enemy.

Maybe the best thing that came out of that visit (and the subsequent gynecologist appointment that ordered more blood work and told me I likely have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and should go back on birth control), was my decision to say fuck it to the mainstream medical system for this issue.

I felt like half this mess was because I went on birth control before my body had time to adjust to my womanhood, and now the medical system was trying to cover the mess up by putting me back on the pill.

I went to see my Naturopath a few days later. She explained to me that PCOS can be a blanket diagnosis for women with all sorts of menstrual abnormalities. Yes, there are women who fit the bill, but many do not, and are lazily diagnosed and put back on the pill as the “only manager” of PCOS.

Based on my blood work, symptoms, and appearance, my Naturopath’s professional opinion was that I did not have PCOS. My adrenal fatigue became the subject, as well as optimism that I could heal my body and one day have babies if I want.

I added a new supplement to my list – an adrenal supporter with adaptogenic herbs such as ashwagandha. I also upped the dosage on my stress-relieving practices such as yoga, meditation, and good old me-time. I tried not to blame my body, and said thank you often. I continued to eat whole foods, and nourish my body the best I knew how.

This healing is still on the center stage of my life and continues to be a challenge. I have had my cycle for three months in a row, but I certainly do not feel like I have solved my menstrual issues.

Every woman’s body is vastly different, and it is impossible to find a “one-size-fits-all” approach to healing our menstrual cycles. I think it is so important though, to have open conversations about women’s experiences with their cycles.

Somewhere along the way – through generations that withdrew from community, ceremony, ancestral wisdom, and the gifts of the Earth – we lost touch with the gift of receiving our menstrual cycles. There is so much more to bleeding than pain, PMS, and cravings.

Though many women today suffer from complications of menstruation, there is a shift happening. We are once again becoming aware and open to discussion. We are learning to take back control of our bodies and of our bleeds. We are remembering the sacredness of menstruation and of being female.

We are healing our menstrual cycles together.