Your Cycle and Your Health
Have you seen this recent article from the Guardian on why it’s unnecessary to have a period? I saw a post responding to this article on instagram recently and immediately pulled up the article; at first glance I was annoyed and frustrated that someone could write something so misleading and as I sat with it I felt sad and disappointed for all the women who would read it and take it to heart thinking it is no big deal or of no consequence that they are on hormonal birth control thinking it will either “fix” their condition or remove the inconvenience of bleeding. Of course we all have a right to our own opinion and I am not going to point fingers and tell others they are wrong for having beliefs that differ from my own. So I thought I would share my thoughts around the discussion.
Having a menstrual cycle is normal, beautiful, and part of human life. Without it none of us would be here and it is meant to be celebrated! I won’t say I jump for joy when I start my period each month but I do appreciate that I have healthy, regular cycles after working hard to regulate my cycle and treat my own hormonal imbalances. I love seeing periods becoming normalized, talked about, breaking down the walls, and shedding (no pun intended) light on the subject.
Like many women my age I grew up thinking having a period was gross and something to be ashamed of. I hated having my period and was put on oral and hormonal contraceptive at the young age of 15 to “control” my heavy bleeding and severely painful periods. I was unaware of the challenges and imbalances it would create for me and went on and off of it for most of my 20’s. It wasn’t until I was in my early 30’s that I began to realize how much I appreciated having a normal period and learned how to use my cycle to my advantage. (By the way, if you haven’t read Woman Code by Alissa Vitti, I recommend it.) Even though I still experience heavy and painful periods I know I am doing what I can to support my body without added and synthetic hormones.
I’d like to address a few things that came up for me as I read the article referenced above. Oral and hormonal contraceptives were introduced in the early 60’s as a way to prevent conception and control family size. In that time infertility was less common. Today, it is a whole other story. Now it is used to prevent conception, decrease unwanted menstrual symptoms and “treat” or “fix” diagnosed menstrual conditions. These menstrual conditions are serious and need to be seen as what they are, the body showing signs that need to be addressed, not covered up. These conditions often accompany severe symptoms that are debilitating for many women. These conditions show up in my office every day and often are the very things that prevent many of my patients from easily conceiving when they decide to stop taking their contraceptive after years of use. “The Pill” doesn’t fix the problem, it is only a bandaid. It also causes your ovaries to shrink, thins the lining of your uterus, and may worsen hormonal imbalance.
When we experience discomfort during our cycles, instead of reaching for something to cover up the pain, I encourage you to consider why those symptoms are there in the first place. Here are a few examples: polycystic ovary syndrome, fibroids, ovarian cysts, endometriosis, dysfunctional uterine bleeding, amenorrhea, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder. These are just a few, but many are linked to larger health problems that should NEVER be ignored such as insulin resistance, thyroid problems, metabolic problems, cardiovascular problems, anemia, depression, anxiety, endocrine disruption, and hormonal imbalances. They each have their own complications and range from mild to severe that can be detrimental to fertility, carrying a health pregnancy, linked to cancer, and more.
So… yes it is nice to not bleed every month or experience PMS, but is the cost of convenience worth it? My answer is no. My hope is that by raising awareness around these conditions and normalizing menstrual cycles we can help future generations of women to celebrate their bodies and their cycles.