The ‘p’ word: Why period health matters

Today I’m writing about something that’s a little bit awkward…but I think that’s exactly why we need to talk more about it. Many of us ladies (and perhaps men) have a bunch of negative beliefs about menstrual periods — that they’re gross, dirty, annoying, shameful, unnecessary, inconvenient, etc. — and that 6th grade puberty class probably didn’t help 🙂 I want to share a little bit of my journey here, and hopefully inspire some curiosity about your (or your partner’s) menstrual and hormonal health, because it matters.

Getting my first period

The first thing I remember about my menstrual journey is that I was incredibly anxious to get my first period. I was an active fourteen-year-old gymnast and was dreadfully conscious of the fact that every girl around me had started their period, except for me (or so it seemed). I read every Judy Blume book I could get my hands on and worried constantly that there was something wrong with me. I thought that maybe I had a rare, undiscovered disease where I bled out of my nose instead of my vagina, since I had a lot of nosebleeds back then (I wish I were making this up, but I’m not). Finally, while struggling over an assignment on war poetry, I started bleeding for the very first time. The relief!!! I was fourteen, which is a little later than average, but not anything to be worried about.

Unpredictable, painful, inconvenient

Of course, once I started my period, I wished I had never gotten it. I worried about whether I was going to bleed during gymnastics competitions. They weren’t regular at all, which made them hard to plan for. And they were so painful. I remember being in agonizing pain before a French final exam one time. My sweet friends bought me some french fries from McDonalds and prayed for me. I think it’s important to note that at this point, irregularities in the menstrual cycle are totally normal, and everybody’s process is going to be a little different — your body is cranking out a lot of hormones, and it takes a while (several years, actually) to get into a predictable rhythm.

Hypothalamic amenorrhea – losing my period over and over again

In my late teens, I started to under-fuel and over-exercise my body in response to some stressors in my life. I had no idea that I was developing an eating disorder and remained in denial about this for several years, but my body immediately sensed what was going on. I stopped getting my period almost instantly. I think ‘hypothalamic amenorrhea‘ (HA) is kind of an obnoxious term, but essentially it means your brain tells your body, “Stop! We don’t have the resources to sustain a pregnancy, so shut off the periods for now.”

My period came back in fits and starts throughout college and into my early twenties, but whenever I resumed the disordered eating and exercise behaviors, my period would stop like clockwork. I did get worried about this — not necessarily because I wanted to get pregnant right away, but because I am a worry-wart, and possibly because I knew instinctively that something else was going on with my health. However, whenever I raised my concerns with doctors and OBGYNs, they told me that it was no big deal. I wish someone had asked me a follow-up question about my eating habits or my lifestyle. I wish someone had told me that not getting your period was dangerous for your bone health, because making progesterone during your cycle is how your body retains its bone density. Instead, they told me that once I was ready to get pregnant, we could talk about some pharmaceutical interventions.

Charting, the pill

I remained dissatisfied with their answers, but also felt a little crazy and overdramatic for making such a big deal out of what didn’t seem too worrisome in the eyes of medical professionals. At this point in time, I was also starting to get interested in a form of birth control known as the Symptothermal Method (STM). At this point, I actually had been prescribed hormonal birth control (the pill) by my OB/GYN — the box of pills had been sitting in a corner of my bedroom for a long time — but for some reason or another couldn’t bring myself to take them. I read the classic resource, Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler, and had started to give charting a go on my own.

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Wait…what’s charting? Charting simply means tracking your temperature and other fertility signs such as cervical mucus and position on a chart; here’s a recent incomplete example of one of mine. By tracking these patterns, you get a sense of when you ovulated: after you ovulate, your body’s temperatures shift higher. In this cycle, my temperature shift occurred between day 17 and 18, so I likely ovulated on day 17. Side note: it’s a myth that every woman ovulates on day 14! It’s simply not true. It’s like saying, every woman is 5’5″ 🤦.

Anyway, I remember feeling kind of lonely and crazy at the time, because no one I knew was doing this stuff. It seemed a little neurotic. And besides, my charting efforts at the time felt fruitless because my periods were coming once every three months or so, and my temperatures had no clearly-defined pattern. My chart was literally all over the place. However, charting is what first tipped me off to the fact that my body clearly wasn’t functioning at its optimal level — in fact, it wasn’t even close. Other than the fact that my cycle lengths were irregular as an adult, there were two other characteristics of my menstrual health that helped me to grasp that something about my lifestyle – particularly my nutrition – needed to change.

Luteal phase length & anovulatory cycles

I don’t want to get overly technical here, because there is such a wealth of science information and research behind all this stuff, but I do want to share some specifics of what I learned in my charting journey. So first off, a couple of definitions:

Luteal phase: This is the phase within your cycle that starts from ovulation and ends when your next period comes. Counting the start of your period as day 1, this means on average that the luteal phase is between day 15 and day 28, lasting a total of 14 days. Having a luteal phase <10 days is known as luteal phase defect, and can indicate low progesterone and predict infertility and miscarriages.

Anovulatory cycle: This is when you have a cycle in which an egg is not released. It is perfectly normal to have this once in a while, if you’ve just started getting periods (menarche), or if you’re approaching menopause, but can be a cause for concern if you’re not ovulating at least most of the time otherwise.

In summary, charting – even through my wacky cycles – helped me to realize that (1) I had a very short luteal phase, lasting 6-9 days and (2) I often had cycles where I didn’t ovulate at all.

Recovery, progress, and the amazing human body!

Whew. This is a long post. But we’re finally getting to the turning point in the story.

Having the tools and the resources to observe and learn about my menstrual health was critical in helping me realize that my poor eating and self-care habits were sabotaging my overall health and making me miserable. I was cold all the time, grumpy, always in pain… and no wonder, since my hormones were out of whack. Learning about how my choices were affecting my fertility also made me realize that I was impairing my dream of carrying a pregnancy to term some day. I got some much-needed help from a team of professionals – a registered dietitian, a specialized doctor, and a specialized therapist. Learning to fuel myself properly and stop compulsive exercise was excruciatingly difficult after so many years, but that’s a whole other story for another time 🙂

Two months or so into treatment for my ED, my period returned. Just as charting my wacky periods helped me to know that something was going wrong, observing my menstrual health restore itself over the next several months and become regular again has been one of the most amazing signs of recovery and progress. I am in awe of the human body (and in particular, of the female reproductive system!) and sad that this is still such a taboo subject in our culture and in many other parts of the world. My luteal phase lasts for 14 days like clockwork, and I can clearly identify ovulation. A little geeky, but honestly, it’s so cool when you learn how to figure this out for your own body.

All the things I didn’t get to talk about

I’m going to stop here… but I want to acknowledge that there are ton of important topics that I didn’t even begin to address, since this is just my own personal story. Some of these topics are:

  • Charting with PCOS;
  • Charting when coming off hormonal birth control;
  • Endometriosis;
  • Using charting as a tool to either avoid or achieve pregnancy;
  • Involving your partner in this process;
  • The importance of progesterone and your period even when you’re not trying to get pregnant;
  • Specifics on how to track fertility signs (body basal temp, cervical mucus & position, etc)

I’m hoping that if you’re interested, you’ll check out the following resources that have been incredibly helpful for me:

Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler (book)

Kindara (free app I use for charting; their website has a lot of great info too!)

The Real Life RD (blog that talks extensively about hypothalamic amenorrhea)

Fertility Friday (podcast)

And as always, if you want to talk, please reach out!

 

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pre-empting SAD

After several months of anticipation, Fall finally came to Philadelphia…and then left in a hurry. It’s supposed to snow this week (?!), so I’m glad we got to go hiking two weekends ago. Pictured: Wissahickon park.

I love the festive season, but having spent the past three years in an essentially Mediterranean climate, I’d forgotten how bad seasonal depression can be. Some people say there’s no such thing; fine. All I know is that it’s getting increasingly hard to resist the urge to hibernate all day and that everything feels 10x more difficult than it should. I’m sure this has something to do with the fact that I am a Type 4 on the Enneagram (moody…melodramatic…angsty…etc). Oops.

Recently, I’ve been learning that while there is no easy way to feel “all better” in a flash, there are some simple and practical ways I can care for myself. I definitely believe that there are spiritual, social, genetic, etc dimensions to mood disruptions, but I’ve found that physiologically-based self-care can a great starting point when I feel overwhelmed. Here’s my list:

  1. Getting enough vitamin D via a supplement
  2. Eating foods high in omega-3s (sardines, walnuts, salmon, etc)
  3. Breaking a sweat a few times a week…usually dancing to tswizzle in private
  4. Making an effort to leave the house every day
  5. Establishing a morning routine (iced lemon water, stretching/yoga, journaling, hot tea)
  6. Playing the keyboard and singing for a few minutes before dinner
  7. More iced lemon water and more yoga

Some things I want to try:

  1. Light box
  2. More non-screen-related hobbies (like a huge jigsaw puzzle)
  3. Prioritize humor & laughing

That’s all. Stay safe everyone!

DIY: la colombe-style draft latte

So… if you’ve lived in Philly for any amount of time and if you don’t hate coffee, you’ve probably heard of La Colombe.

Karl recently discovered their “draft latte”, available in cans for $3.49 at our local grocery store. That’s THREE DOLLARS AND FORTY-NINE CENTS for not a lot of coffee and milk, plus you’ve wasted a can.

Of course, I was immediately determined to try and make this at home for a fraction of the cost. Here’s what I came up with — it’s really not rocket science.

Ingredients

  • 2oz strong coffee, cooled (or a shot of espresso if you have the means to make that)
  • 8oz whole milk
  • (optional) maple syrup OR vanilla extract OR chocolate syrup, to taste

You will also need a clean Bonne Maman Raspberry Jam jar. (Just kidding, you can use any old jar, but you need the lid.)

Method

Combine the ingredients in the jar and SHAKE IT GOOD. Serve in a glass over some ice.

Verdict

It was Karl’s idea to add *butter-flavored maple-flavored syrup* (we got it from Save-A-Lot for $1) as his choice of flavoring. I hate to admit that it actually tasted pretty delicious. Shaking the coffee in the jar produced a frothiness that was surprisingly similar to what you would get from the draft latte cans.

Cost? Probably under $0.30.

Take that, La Colombe!

life update

I’m sitting in a café listening to a lady talk. She’s hating on millennials VERY loudly and has waxed poetic about how they’re snowflakes & wimps for at least thirty minutes. My blood pressure is rising, firstly because I am a millennial — and that is a demographic fact, not a lifestyle I’ve opted in to — and secondly because her whining so hateful and unproductive.

Yes, I am going through a quarter-life vocational crisis (after all, that’s what this blog is supposedly about). I am also proud of the fact that I’ve perfected the art of the avocado egg toast with everything-but-the-bagel-seasoning on sprouted ezekiel bread.

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But jeez, lady, you can’t just write me off because I was born between 1981 and 1996. We grew up in completely different worlds.

I think this is pushing my buttons because I’ve been having a hard time having compassion and empathy for people who are not like me and who don’t look like me (clue: almost everyone). For all the volunteering and working with people that I’ve been doing, I still feel stuck in Cultural Humility 101. It really is an everyday work.

On the flip side, I’m learning that it’s okay to keep company with the people who share strong similarities in background. In fact, I’m gonna keep them close. There’s room for more than one type of friend.

Anyway, what I really wanted to do here was to document what life has been like over the summer of 2018. I’m working two jobs: about 10-15 hours a week as a nanny to a toddler, and another 10-15 hours at a produce/juice/smoothie place. Both are tiring and enjoyable in different ways.

I’m getting excited to start school in the fall in a Masters in Counseling program at soon-to-be Missio Seminary.

I definitely feel like I’m in an in-between place, trying to cultivate and sustain the rich friendships & ties I had in the Bay while also trying to muster up energy to be the New Kid all over again.

Some things I am pondering:
– kids and technology and violence and youtube algorithms
– kids need to be bored before their imagination kicks in. maybe adults too?
– kids and fear and identity
– i pay much more attention to how i utilize different tones of my voice w/ kids
– how to make cha ye dan. definitely more difficult than it seems; either too salty or not salty enough, eggs get deformed, wasting so much soy sauce
– i did a brain dump of all the churches i’ve been to in the past 20 years… there are a LOT of them & there is a LOT of variance in theology+culture. maybe this is why i’m so confused??

philadelphia & moving

So, we moved (back) to Philadelphia. This city feels old+new. We live in the intersection of several neighborhoods, right on the dividing line between predominantly white & african-american enclaves respectively.

We still have no wifi at home…I thought I would be dying to put an end to our weird year-long semi-luddite experiment, but oddly enough, I feel kind of reluctant to call Verizon or whatever. The amount of money we spend in coffee shops is probably greater than the cost of high-speed internet at home, but coffee shops are so much more fun. Also, almond croissants. The game-changer is that I get T-Mobile signal in our apartment, which was not the case at our place in Oakland…

Probably the most frustrating part of moving in to our tiny apartment was trying to find a good solution to our curtain situation. We have two square 46″ window panels and zero permission to drill holes in the walls. After some research, I decided to try using jumbo command hooks to hold up an ikea curtain rod, from which we hung blackout curtains from target. These jumbo hooks can supposedly hold up to 7.5lb, and since we were using 3 of them, we figured that they would be able to support a light plastic rod and a bunch of cloth. This was false – they kept falling off in the middle of the night, which was not very conducive to a good night’s sleep. We tried rubbing the wall with more alcohol, using 4 hooks, but nothing worked. Sigh. In the end, I tried using these spring curtain rods from target – worked like a charm. And they were only 3 bucks. Lesson learned.

Actually, that wasn’t the most frustrating part – our mattress got stolen before we managed to even move in to apartment. Apparently someone from FedEx decided it would be a good idea to leave a several-hundred-dollar mattress out on the streets…

But for the most part, the move has been a positive experience. The last time we moved (to Oakland), we prematurely filled our 550 sqft apartment with way too much stuff from our registry. This time, I think we consciously tried to get by with as little as possible & also tried to buy as few new things as we could. We both got bikes for free; we went ‘shopping’ in my in-laws’ basement & emerged with brand new cuisinart cookware and way too many steak knives; I picked up a beautiful mirror from the street. It’s a good life.

Flowers don’t know that rain boots aren’t real pots. I love this so much because I love the idea that life can be found in unconventional places.

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technology practices

I’m still trying to figure out how I want to use technology to relate to the world, but here are some practices that have felt life-giving:

  • Eradicating facebook news feed with this chrome extension
  • Permanently deleting instagram
  • Using simplenote to keep track of everyday to-dos + grocery lists + memos
  • Disallowing cellular data on most of my iPhone apps – this has really helped with cutting idle phone use and also helped me quench the need to know everything instantly
  • Phone stays out of the bedroom
  • Having lots and lots of non-technology things to do around the house! Books, musical instruments, yoga mats/dumbbells, journals, etc

Having been on the ‘other side’ – aka in a position where my job involves figuring out how to get people completely hooked on their technology – I realize I might be overcompensating a little. But I still think that being on this side of extreme is better than being on the other one 😛

mommy-in-law’s dumpling recipe

Because she told it to me last week and I want to remember.

Ingredients

for the dough

  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 cups water (room temp)

for the filling

  • 1 lb ground pork (can be made in food processor)
  • 1/4 lb raw shrimp, minced in food processor
  • 1 egg
  • 2 T corn starch or potato starch
  • 2 cups celery, blanched and minced
  • 2 tablespoons each: garlic, ginger, scallions minced in food processor
  • ground sichuan peppercorns to taste [optional]
  • soy sauce, sesame oil, salt to taste [best guess: 2 T, 1 t, 1 t respectively]
  • vegetable oil

method

  • combine flour and water; knead a few minutes; set aside (covered)
  • fry the garlic/ginger/scallions/peppercorns in a few tablespoons of vegetable oil for a couple of minutes on medium heat, til fragrant; let cool
  • combine all the filling ingredients; add garlic/ginger/scallion mixture
  • make dumplings

carrot ginger soup with miso + tahini

I’ve been coughing violently for weeks and craving soup a lot. Yesterday I bought a cup of carrot & ginger soup from the Ferry Building, which really hit the spot. Now, the ferry building is probably the ONE touristy place in San Francisco that I wholeheartedly love, but it was a little bit painful paying six dollars for a small cup of blended vegetables.

So I had a go at carrot ginger soup on my own, sans recipe. I didn’t have any sort of broth on hand, and I wanted to keep it super simple, so I decided to flavor it with miso. I also didn’t have any cream, so I thought I’d try my luck with tahini, which I am currently eating like peanut butter (aka by itself and on toast/crackers with honey and cinnamon. Do Recommend.). This is not a fussy soup and it REALLY WORKS; the only thing is you will need is a pot and a blending device of some sort. It’s gluten-free, vegan, etc etc but more importantly really, really yummy and creamy but not heavy. Super mellow.

Carrot Ginger Soup with Miso and Tahini

Carrot Ginger Soup with Miso & Tahini
makes ~4 cups

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon oil (I used coconut)
  • ½ onion, chopped
  • 1 inch ginger, peeled and sliced
  • ½ lb carrots, peeled and chopped (~3-4 medium ones)
  • 1 tablespoon miso paste
  • 1 tablespoon tahini

Method

  1. Sautée onion and ginger in coconut oil on medium heat in a saucepan until onion is soft, ~3-5 mins
  2. Add carrots to pan and pour water until it just covers the carrots
  3. Simmer on low, covered, for 15-20 minutes until carrots are very soft
  4. Blend the mixture
  5. In a small bowl, stir together miso and tahini and a bit of water to make it liquid-y rather than paste-y. Add to the blended soup and adjust salt/pepper to taste

I think this would be lovely with some cilantro and sriracha if you’re into that, but it holds its own perfectly well too.

weird and wonderful pseudo-noodle stirfry

Lunch is often a haphazard affair — attempts to coax the neglected bits and bobs lurking in our fridge into a cohesive meal. Occasionally, these attempts are actually successful. Today I had a success, so I decided to record it here.

Broccoli Century Egg Noodles

Of course, you can use any noodles (cooked) in place of the shirataki, but I think that even aside from the supposed health benefits, I like these noodles because of their convenience: they don’t require cooking, and they hold up remarkably in a stirfry. No need to worry about them turning to mush or becoming over-cooked.

I have a soft spot for broccoli stems because they are often cruelly composted after having been separated from their more desirable floret counterparts. But they are so delicious, especially after a short stint in a hot pan.

Finally, I was so relieved to be rid of the three-month-old century egg hanging out in my fridge (we bought a six-pack to make century egg porridge). It turned out to be a delicious, creamy counterpart to the rest of the dish. You could really throw in any leftover protein here, though.

Ingredients

  • 1 crown broccoli; stem part, thinly sliced
  • 1 scallion, chopped; white and green part separate
  • 8oz package tofu shirataki angel hair spaghetti
  • 1 tsp chilli bean paste (豆板醤; doubanjiang)
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp rice vinegar
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 century egg (皮蛋; pídàn), chopped into small pieces

Method

  • Stir-fry broccoli stems and white part of scallions on medium-high heat until golden brown; turn heat to low
  • Drain shirataki noodles and add to pan
  • Add seasoning (chilli bean paste, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil), and toss to combine
  • Add chopped egg and green part of scallion
  • Serve with chilli oil!

Sabbath #1

noun. Old English, from Latin sabbatum, via Greek from Hebrew šabbāṯ, from šāḇaṯ ‘to rest.’

The church community I’m a part of is doing an experiment in the practice of Sabbath. It isn’t very complicated; the experiment is just to try it, and to see how it goes. It can be on any day and for any amount of time, and there aren’t any pre-defined rules about what you can or cannot do. Just rest intentionally. Sounds pretty basic, right?

It’s been 112 days since I quit my full-time job, and one of the most striking things about this time is how little I have rested. Two days after I quit, I jumped into a month-long intensive yoga teacher training program. Then, I started a granola business, signed up for all the volunteer things I could find, enrolled in an online Psych class for credit, did graphic design, traveled, researched grad schools, and meal-planned til I was blue. It’s surprising how the whole day can get totally lost in grocery shopping, dish washing, budgeting, laundry, emails, errands, library books, etc…and we don’t even have wifi at home! From the moment I’m up at (~7a), I’ve noticed that I’m constantly and compulsively doing stuff: packing Karl’s lunch, making granola, buying airplane tickets. I still believe all (or most) of those things need to get done, but my total inability to stop and take a break, much less plan some sort of small recreation for myself, has been a little alarming.

Most of my afternoons are occupied with nannying/babysitting jobs, but I have Fridays off. In light of this experiment our church is doing — as well as how difficult it’s been to just stop — I’m deciding to take Fridays as my ‘rest’ day. Well, today was my first Friday sabbath! Here’s what I did:

  • 6:45a – wake #1. feel determined to ‘sleep in’ because it’s sabbath. lie in bed.
  • 7:20a – wake #2. give up on sleeping in, decide just not in my DNA; get up, make tea, have breakfast, clear dishes, plan day.
  • 8a – force karl out of bed. pack his food, get dressed.
  • 8:30a – bike to coffee shop to use wifi, end up researching real estate. treat self to expensive almond latte.
  • 10a – meet friend & her sweet daughter at playground for hangout.
  • 11:15a – bike home, make granola for order i need to deliver on sunday and don’t have any other time to make.
  • 12:15p – heat leftovers for lunch.
  • 12:30p – decide i haven’t really done much resting.. read book in bed with big cup of tea.
  • 1:30p – walk to temescal pool, swim there for the first time.
  • 2:30p – take a long walk home.
  • 3:30p – write a letter, bike to post office, get bike brake repaired (for free!!), call mom.
  • 7p – dinner with friend in sf.
  • 10:30p – catch up with karl over white tea.
  • 11:30p – bed.

Notably, I (intentionally) didn’t do any grocery shopping or cooking, which is rare. I think having the day for rest encouraged me to do things I have wanted to do for a while but that never quite made it to the top of the ‘urgent+important’ list in my head, like going swimming and writing that letter. Swimming was extremely enjoyable; hopefully that’ll become a weekly thing (or more). At the end of the day, I did feel well-rested and generally grateful for life.

Saturday note: Woke up the next day with extremely painful sore throat and cough.. so not sure what to make of Sabbath on hindsight. All in all, still worth repeating :p