2014 in review

In the last few years since starting this blog, there has been a significant increase of menstrual-related content online and some of it has excitedly gone viral! As we draw a close to 2014, I wanted to highlight some of my favourites. While I can’t capture all of them in one post, I think most, if not all of these, will make for some interesting dinner conversations.

Reproduction in the Workplace
From advocating for paid menstrual leave to companies like Facebook and Apple offering to pay for women to freeze their eggs, it seems as though women are being given all sorts of “options”. Ideally a woman could “freeze” her job position and return back to exactly where she left off, but I guess family planning doesn’t play a role in company budget plans.

Pelvic Floor Muscles, Periods and Gaming
Whether you are jumping over obstacles with the pelvic floor exercise game, SKEA or attempting to break down the taboo around menstruation with the App, Tampon Run, gaming certainly introduced a new genre into the marketplace.

Policies and Periods
The resurgence of the Robin Danielson act, spurred a fair bit of debate around the oh so popular feminine hygiene aisle. The Act asks the FDA to mandate that tampon and pad manufacturers disclose all the ingredients found within their products on the outside of the box.  There was even a video made to encourage a change by Women’s Voices for the Earth titled: Always Detox the Box.

Menstrual Hygiene Day
May 28th, 2014 marked the first ever Menstrual Hygiene Day. Close to 100 organizations from around the world joined together to draw awareness to the global challenges surrounding menstrual hygiene. Be sure to join in for 2015!

Camp Gyno matures, sort of…
After a hilarious video by Hello Flo in 2013, the follow up was quite the masterpiece. The same adorable character fakes getting her period, only to have her mom throw her an over the top first moon party!

Subscribers Wanted!
And speaking of Hello Flo, period subscription services seem to be generating more buzz than Netflix! From your regular product needs to monthly snack boxes, these services seem to be meeting a need women didn’t even know they had. Of course, for those of us who use reusable options, the subscription features may not be as appealing.

Reusables on Primetime
In the fall of 2014, viewers in both Canada and the United States saw the premiere of The DivaCup commercial. If people didn’t know what a menstrual cup was, they sure do now!

Endo Goes Public
The launch of the ROSE Study by the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in New York is bringing some much-needed hope to the 1 in 10 women who suffer from the disease . If you or someone you know has endometriosis, this study is for them!

Cups Collapse
I first saw the Lily Cup Compact at a gynecological conference last Spring and since then the cup has literally gone viral. The frenzy of media attention surrounding Lily Cup can mostly be attributed to their campaign on Kickstarter which acted very much as a store front (allowing backers to essentially pledge money in exchange for a Lily Cup). Kim at Dirty Diaper Laundry did a great review of Lily Cup (pros and cons) that I’d recommend checking out!

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clinic visits

March is Endometriosis Awareness Month and this year, it feels different. It feels different because last year my diagnosis was new. I was still reading up on everything there was to learn about the disease; hopeful that in time things would get better.

But, since then I have been met with much disappointment and discouragement.

A few weeks ago my referral to a reproductive endocrinologist finally came through and thus began days upon days of blood tests and pelvic ultrasounds at a fertility clinic.

My first trip to the clinic was not like other doctor visits. Walking in you can’t help but feel welcome. You see the Keurig machine, comfortable couches and flat screen televisions and just think, “Am I in the right place?”.

Gyne TableRest assured, as soon as they call you back, the setting quickly changes from one of a living room to the standard clinic examine tables, white coats and medical equipment you hope they will not be inserting you know where only to find out, yes in fact they are going to insert that you know where.

For those not really sure of what goes on in such clinics, your menstrual cycle is basically monitored from day 1 through to the start of your next cycle. They check for irregularities, that you’ve ovulated, any abnormal growths and in my case, the thickness of the endometrium.

Unlike many of the women frequenting the clinic alongside me, I am not going there for assistance with getting pregnant; I’m there because I need relief from the day-to-day symptoms that are making my life very difficult. After once again being instructed to try to get pregnant, and fast, I honestly told the doctor that I can’t envision a life with children, if my life will be as it is today – filled with pain, nausea, diet restrictions, fatigue etc. How can I take care of a new life, when I struggle to take care of my own?

To my surprise, he agreed.

The thing is, as soon as a fertility clinic hears that you don’t want to get pregnant, they treat you differently – as if you are less of a woman and a waste of their time. My referral wasn’t for the fertility services, but more so the expertise that I could gain from seeing the endocrinologist on staff.

When the tests first started I was excited. The idea of new knowledge and support was appealing. I let myself become vulnerable to the medical system, lying back in anticipation that the awkward (and sometimes painful) examinations would lead to something better. Yet, visit after visit the hope I began to allow myself to feel again, quickly started to fade. Like all the others, this doctor really only knows to prescribe two things to assist with endometriosis: pregnancy or birth control.

What else is there if you can’t tolerate birth control and pregnancy is not what you want this day in your life? To my doctor’s knowledge, there is nothing else that is medically proven to suppress ovulation and aid in the pain.

The Hormone Health Network defines endocrinologists as follows:

Endocrinologists are trained to diagnose and treat hormone imbalances and problems by helping to restore the normal balance of hormones in your system.

Given my experience over the past number of years, I feel like they should add, “… helping to restore the normal balance of hormones in your system through fake, synthetic and unnatural hormones… and if you’re lucky some pretty risk laden chemicals. Most endocrinologists get over ten years of training which includes four years of medical school and then additional years in residency or an internship program. Pretty impressive… or is it?

MirenaEven with all that schooling, these doctors have a very narrow viewpoint. I’m beginning to realize that no matter how much unusual growth they find, at the end of the day, they really aren’t there to help you overcome endometriosis, they are there to simply manage the symptoms through their trusty aid: Bayer Pharmaceuticals (or insert pharmaceutical giant of your choice) .

The doctor had asked me to think outside the box in my initial visit – to try to think beyond the endometriosis and to be open to new ideas. Imagine my frustration when he fails to do the same, visit after visit. I will finish this round of testing, hear the final verdict and will most likely have to take my results to get a second opinion.

I’ll still go every three days to get poked and prodded until this month’s period arrives. I’ll go because maybe, just maybe something will show up that will make the doctor take a second look.

To all those living with endometriosis, my love goes out to you.

second guessing

Some of you may have read Elle Griffin’s post The Emotional Causes of Endometriosis. The post, although interesting, and a new way to approach the disease, lacks understanding and credibility in relation to medical and scientific evidence.

For those who want a quick overview,: In her post Griffin identifies three emotional causes of endometriosis: The Dependent, The Business Woman and The Reluctant Woman. She then goes on to say that

“by turning inward, women with endometriosis can discover a wealth of wisdom about what it is she truly wants. And by realigning her life to the wisdom of her womb, she can find healing, comfort, and yes, ease from the pain.”

If you read through the post and specifically the emotional causes any woman who works outside the home, has a close relationship with her family and is pushing 30 without children, can easily be classified into one of the causes, but only of course if you have endometriosis.

If you can identify with one of the causes and don’t have endometriosis, well I’m not sure what to tell you. And if you have endoemtriosis and have turned inward to discover what you want (most people do have some good moments of self reflection every now and again) and you are still living with the disease, then you may be living a lie and should search harder, because your mind and womb are not centred.

It appears that Griffin, rather than provide a solution that women can easily access, merely perpetuates age-old taboos surrounding the topic of menstruation, all the while promoting her services as a feminine vitality coach.

The idea that endometriosis (a disease) can be cured by “realigning one’s life to the wisdom of the womb” is reminiscent of the Hippocratics description of menstruation being a sign of women’s wandering womb (Dean-Jones, 1994, pp. 69-70).  Their solution of course, was to encourage women to stop menstruating all together, but the idea of the womb being linked to one’s mind and having influence is prominent, and as science has taught us, incorrect.

More specifically, when Griffin talks about the cause of both the “Reluctant Mother” and “Business Woman” is she not echoing the discourse of the seventeenth century where Immanuel Kant described the fluid nature of the female body as irrational and warned against taxing the minds and bodies of women with educational or employment training (MacDonald, 2007, p. 345)?

And what about the ideas prevailing from the 19th century when entire books were written warning against what would happen if women didn’t follow through with their reproductive purposes? Melissa L. Meyer (2005), in her book Thicker than Water, draws on Edward F. Clark’s 1874 book, Sex and Education, in which the nineteenth-century doctor states that menstruating women should be excluded from the “mental strains” of learning as these were seen to weaken them, leaving them susceptible to disease (Meyer, 2005, p. 151).

Similar “concerns” were found by the authors of The Curse: A Cultural History of Menstruation (1976) who borrow from the message of Doctor Azel Ames’ 1875 book Sex and Industry, stating that allowing a woman to work “would mean the destruction of their menstrual cycles and thus the end of the human race” (Delaney, Lupton & Toth, 1976, p. 58).

Now we read these and think: really? People actually though these things and put them into action? They most certainly did. And it appears that still today, any irregularity of the menstrual cycle is somehow a woman’s fault and in some cases viewed as a punishment for her being successful, or a working mom, or not a mom at all, etc.

Erin Luyendyk, RHN wrote an excellent response to Griffin’s post, drawing attention to the science behind the disease and the raw reality that unfortunately no matter how hard you try, you cannot will a disease to disappear.

Griffin’s post could have done a lot of good for women with endometriosis and based on the comments some do find comfort in her words. Sometimes your emotions can influence your health, but emotions don’t cause diseases like endometriosis. We wouldn’t dare suggest that emotions cause reproductive cancers, and so why would we suggest they cause a disease like endometriosis?

I would argue that while a horrible disease to live with, endometriosis has taught me to live a much healthier life and to be more in tune with my emotions. It’s taught me to hope, to be patient, to chart my cycle, to sympathize as well as the importance of a healthy diet and exercise. 

I’ve had a reason to research, to investigate and to ask questions when my doctor prescribes medication and treatment. I’ve learned that although just the patient, I can, and often do say no!

So dearest Elle, your formula is simple, but flawed. You assume that women with endometriosis are ignorant of the root cause of their pain and discomfort. You feel the cause can be found deep within, and it can… along my bladder, my bowel and the outside frame of my uterus.

You tell me to state what I am looking for? Well Elle, I’m looking for what most women with endometriosis are looking for: a cure. Many women (not all) with endometriosis have faced our desires and our true selves, we have a profound understanding of reproductive health, are in tune with our emotions and don’t have the energy to (nor would we want to) rage a constant battle with our mind and heart. It is because of these reasons (coupled with sound evidence from the medical community of course) that your post is hurtful.

Here at dropsofscarlet I do on occasion have heated conversations with my uterus. Sometimes I sympathize with my U while other times I’m just plain mad, but either way it’s not the reason for my endometriosis. While everyone hopes to be able to pinpoint the root cause and solution, a lot of grey area still remains.

One things for sure, I am more certain of what I want, what I feel and who I am as a woman because I have endured endometriosis.

And yet, still I suffer.

Does this mean that the life I am living (the life I enjoy) is not the life I really desire?

Provably not the case, but the tone of Griffin’s post seems to suggest that I need to re-evaluate most every aspect of my life, quit my job, maybe have children and possibly move very far away from my family.

End Note: (Written after writing my initial response to “The Emotional Causes of Endometriosis”)

“The Emotional Causes of Endometriosis” is just one post of many written by Elle Griffin. If you take the time to read through the other posts on her site you will probably not respond in the same way to this post. I probably would have still found it offensive, but if I had an understanding of Elle and the work she does, her beliefs, her treatment strategies etc. I probably would have written this post a bit differently. Griffin draws deeply from the spiritual and while her post can be viewed as lacking medical facts, often “medical” anything is seen as disruptive to the holistic healing process. She herself also has a history of disease and cycle problems and so while her treatment may fall outside of mainstream methods, she does bring experience to her writing. 

That being said, it is because of some of the content of her other posts, like the ideas found in Why I Love my Period, that I feel responses to her diagnosis of endometriosis should be called into question and most definitely reframed, removed altogether or rewritten.

my grammys

In June I attended a conference that in the realm of menstrual cycle research could be classified as something akin to the Grammys.  Although it only had one award ceremony it truly was a showcase of the best of the best in menstrual cycle research! 

Being among the writers and scholars who help organize my thoughts for my Masters MRP was inspiring. I was quoting and citing studies in my presentation to the very people who wrote the texts. Engaging in conversation with like-minded individuals, people who “get you” and are just as enthusiastic about analyzing a femcare ad is a wonderful feeling.

I am talking about the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research Biennial Conference.

For two and a half days I was immersed in menstrual cycle knowledge and teaching. I learned about organizations that I never knew existed. Met with artists that make beautiful works inspired by the menstrual cycle. I had dinner with scholars that have written texts that have transformed society’s view of the menstrual cycle and brought to light the dangers of disposable femcare products.

Because the menstrual cycle is so dear to my heart, and due to my everyday management of endometriosis, this conference really challenged me to think about my reproductive health and what it is I want the next year or so to look like.

Children, or no children, prescription drugs or holistic care, the disease will always be something I have to manage.

Discussion of endometriosis and the medical treatment of such a disease were ever-present at the conference. Dismissal of symptoms, experimental treatment, side effects of treatment… I’ve experienced it all and it was refreshing to know that the way I am feeling is not out of the ordinary.

I also realized that even though I don’t agree with how society pushes women to terminate their cycles completely, for some women, and maybe even for myself, this option… may just save our lives (or our sanity at the very least).

I hope all who have an interest in menstrual cycle research will join the SMCR as well as attend the 2015 conference! Hope to see you all there!

preservations aside

stem cellsLately, I’m seeing more and more news about stem cell therapy from cells extracted from menstrual blood as well as cord blood and tissue. Since I have never experienced pregnancy, I’m going to share a bit about menstrual blood banking and leave the cord talk for someone else.

Banking your menstrual stem cells is actually quite simple. Right now there are two ways to do this.

You can either order a kit from a bank like LifeCell Femme or have your flow collected in a doctor’s office using a bank like CryoCell.

As an avid menstrual cup user, I’d prefer to collect my flow in the privacy of my own home rather than in a doctor’s office, but I’m sure there are some hygienic concerns with going this route.

The home kit comes with a menstrual cup, instructions and something to sterilize the cup before insertion. You also get personal barcode labels, frozen packs and a vial for storing the flow.

After doing a bit of research on the LifeCell Femme webpage I learned that Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSCs), are important for cellular therapy and those obtained from menstrual flow are the best to use because they have a high concentration of “stem cell growth factors”.

This video by CryoCell offers a bit more insight on the overall process of menstrual blood banking:

Your very own priceless portfolio… (I think I’ll save my critique on the discourse of how this is marketed to women for another post).

The main question I’d like to ask: “Is banking menstrual stem cells something women should consider?”

An article from time.com suggests that there is less controversy and more benefits to banking menstrual blood stem cells from others such as the cells found in bone marrow. For one thing, it’s minimally invasive (another great reason to try a menstrual cup!). Next, it’s a pain-free retrieval process. And lastly, there is little controversy attached to this method. Most women don’t have strong opinions about what happens to their flow after it has made its way to whatever femcare product they use during their cycle.

If women, each month, have the capability to bank their flow, flow that can be life saving, why aren’t we?

Cost most definitely plays a part. CryoCell’s initial processing fee is around $500 and to store the cells is about $100 each year. That’s a fair bit of money to spend “just in case”. Obviously the arguments for and against this will vary based on an individual’s perspective and values of the life process.

Regardless of cost, it is exciting to see that more and more doctors are seeing how menstruation, that icky, taboo “women’s” issue, is actually quite awesome (minus the cramps, discomfort and change in mood of course).

Recent studies are proving what women have been trying to say for years; there is a reason for our periods besides pregnancy! The Endometrial Regenerative Cell is stirring up quite the conversation from both a proprietary and clinical perspective.

I find it fascinating that cells extracted from menstrual flow can help treat heart failure patients! However, I also wonder if certain individuals would refuse treatment if they knew where the cells came from?

If there is a chance of disease (proven by family history or gene testing) that could be helped by menstrual blood stem cells, I’d certainly consider “banking” on such an investment. 

couch time with my U

The delay in writing something here on dropsofscarlet has been due to a.) work b.) life c.) my recent surgery. The three together have led me to more topics and discussion about menstruation and the uterus that, at the end of the day, I just can’t bring myself to write another word on the topic. Silly I know. Most bloggers jump at the chance to write about personal experiences and those things that are weighing heavily on the mind.

So here goes…

Back in August I had the opportunity to see a specialist regarding my U. This was not my first encounter with a specialist.

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problems with management

I recently noticed that my menstrual experience is rooted  in a “culture of I” mindset. I make my own decisions with what product I will use, the pain reliever method I will carry out and the activities I will participate in.

This “culture of I’ is very different from cultures that view menstruation as a social experience.

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