Deeply Personal Sh!t + Learning to Love the OrganiCup
Updated: Nov 22, 2019
This post is highly out of character for this platform so I'm including a disclaimer:
If you're weirded out by "hormone talk" and/or "period talk" then you should just stop reading right now. Also you should think about maybe doing some research on the aforementioned subjects before ever attempting to have a relationship with a woman because both of those things are natural and normal and we should be able to talk about them candidly.
Up until October of this year, I had spent 11 years of my life on continuous birth control (ie, no breaks for the placebo pills). First, I was on the pill which was great but remembering to take the dang thing every. single. day. was really annoying and it honestly freaked me out a little that all of those little man-made hormones were making their way throughout my entire body before doing the only things I wanted them to do: keep me from accidentally procreating and keeping me from having a period. ever. I was among a group of women who would spend the first day of most of my periods sweating or vomiting in the bathroom and wanting to die so I made the decision to just stop having them. I didn't do any research on the subject or consult at length with a doctor, I just made the decision and never looked back. Life became much, much sweeter from that moment onward. No more rushing in almost late to morning classes or popping Advil and Arnica like PEZ, just pain-free sweetness.
Five years later, I took a step in another direction and decided that getting a hormonal IUD (Mirena) was a better option for me. No more daily pills, no more weird hormones thriving in my GI tract or going wherever they go before doing their reproduction-preventing job, just worry-free birth control and the hope of never having a vomit-inducing period again.
And I was lucky (I thought). No periods for over 6 years! No weird scheduling races around my cycle or hoping I wouldn't spontaneously bleed into my ski bibs or my breeches and NO CRAMPS. Mission accomplished... or so I thought...
In 2018, I started noticing some really strange freckle-like dark splotches appearing on my face. I attributed it to too much glacier time and a need to start religiously running in a hat but I didn't put much more energy into it aside from those two thoughts. Fast-forward to 2019 and the dark splotches had worsened to the point of close friends and family commenting on my weird freckles... my naturopath (and my naturopath friend!) mentioned that it was likely due to a hormonal imbalance and could be attributed to hormonal birth control. I'd already been struggling with a host of issues (anemia, chronically low ferritin, low-functioning thyroid) and had discovered a new set of food allergies (corn, gluten, and peanuts were added to my list of foods to avoid) so my bi-monthly meetings with my ND were rich in dialogue. When she suggested that I check my hormones, I decided to bite the bullet and pay *out of pocket* for the Dutch Test, a simple take-home, multi-step urine test. Our original assumption was that my estrogen production was going bananas because of my Mirena, which is a progestin-only device.
Well, we were wrong. Turns out that I have no hormones. I mean, I have some testosterone but my estrogen and progesterone were living the low life down in the depths of post-menopausal women. I am 30 years old and shouldn't even be close to hormone levels that low. Women need estrogen for a billion reasons but estrogen is directly linked to the production of osteoblasts, the cells that produce bone. Without estrogen, I might be setting myself up for early osteoporosis. As an athlete, I put my bones through a heavy amount of strain almost every day so who knows how much damage was going unrepaired with my estrogen levels so low? I don't really want to get into the nitty gritties of the other side effects and potential downstream ramifications of being essentially hormone-less but the plan was to get me off hormones as soon as possible.
So, I made the leap. I switched the the Paragard IUD and made a plan to keep my iron doses on the higher side: 10ml liquid every evening (*barf emoji*) and 25mg orally every morning. I would reassess my hormone levels via a blood test in 3 months to see if things were starting to 'normalize.'
Before making the switch, I also decided to research hygiene products. I do what I can to reduce my environmental footprint to the smallest size possible and the idea of dealing with the increased bleeding reported by Paragard users by increasing my use of single-use products (pads, tampons, etc) made me a little nauseous. It's estimated that women use around 250 tampons or pads in a year. I just couldn't stomach that amount of waste.
A little bit of googling helped me find menstrual cups, weird little contraptions that were completely foreign to my "almost 11 years without a period" brain. But, they were well-reviewed, can last for years, and they are much healthier than tampons since they don't leech healthy secretions out of your vagina and the chances of getting TSS are nearly 0% if you use them properly (see this Put A Cup In It article). They can also be left in for up to 12 hours which is rad for anyone who is on the move and it makes them much easier to deal with in public places.
There are a bunch of options out there based on your age, cervix height, material flex, etc, etc, but I went with the OrganiCup because I was a big fan of the impact work they do. My maiden voyage would likely be on the 10-day road trip Andy and I took around the western US... what a better way to learn than while dealing with AirBnBs, rest areas, and rainy campgrounds? Once I sorted out how to use the damn thing (trial, error, and a glass of wine were my testing friends), it was relatively smooth sailing until the first night we spent in the pouring rain on the northern California coast. I honestly don't ever want to relive that night but, long story short, after dropping the damn thing on a pile of wet leaves, hoping I wouldn't fall on my butt or do something really horrible, I decided that there are better times to learn to use a new product than at 11pm in bear country...
That aside, I have found it to be highly convenient and easy to use AND I don't have worry about carrying around unhygienic, blood-soaked, chemically treated cotton in remote areas (eg, the wilderness and/or on a glacier). After a day or two of trial-and-error (per the above anecdote), I figured out how to really, truly use it so it doesn't leak, cause discomfort, or make me feel like it might fall out. I'm so OK with the the thing that I don't worry about staining any of my $$$ breeches! Cheers!
There is also another upside that I have yet to truly explore and that is the rumor that menstrual cups not only reduce the length and flow of your period but that they can also dramatically reduce the amount of cramping you experience. All of those things sound incredible to me.
So, all of these things said, I'm really writing this post to encourage you to be mindful of the side effects of long-term hormone use and to be open to conversations with your Naturopath (get one now if you don't already have one) about hormone testing if it's suggested... I should have checked mine years ago when it was first suggested by my ND but I didn't think very much could be gained from knowing how my hormones were functioning. I am also encouraging ANYONE who claims to be an environmentalist to look into using menstrual cups. Yes, it's a little weird at first but your concern about using so many single-use products should override your discomfort about putting a flexible piece of silicone into your vagina once a month.
I'm not sure what the future status of my holistic health will be. Hopefully it will all work itself out naturally and I won't be writing any more posts about what it's like to have no sex hormones at the age of 30 but, either way, I hope my weird little story can be helpful to anyone curious about becoming the best version of themselves that they can be.