At the age of 26, manipulating my natural hormonal cycle seemed totally out of alignment with the kind of life that I wanted to be living. So I stopped taking the pill.
And… nothing happened.
My skin didn’t break out, I didn’t really feel any different, but my period didn’t return either. Over the next 12 months, I went from not-too-fussed to being increasingly paranoid about whether my cycle would ever come back.
I had blood tests and ultrasounds and was eventually diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) by my doctor. I began reading the work of menstrual teachers Miranda Gray and Alexandra Pope, sought guidance from fertility guru Dr. Natalie Kringoudis and started seeing my friend and Chinese Medicine practitioner Amy O’Brien, for support via acupuncture and herbs, and a lot of invaluable advice like, “Be patient Claire and SLOW DOWN!” and “No, you don’t have to get up at 5am every single morning for yoga, sleep is a good thing.”
With this support and guidance, I committed doing whatever it took to cultivate the deep reserves my body needed to ovulate and menstruate again. Operation post-pill self-care had begun!
I took extra care with my nutrition to focus on good fats and proteins, and continue the low-sugar way of life I’d been working on for sometime. Gut health became a big priority! And yoga. So much yoga. I’ve learned that, for me, keeping my hormones happy really comes down to the simplicity of getting enough sleep, cutting back on sugar, and keeping stress at bay. I also began tracking the lunar phases, integrated practices into my life to embody more of my sexual, creative and spiritual energies, and I took note of the ‘nods’ my body was giving me; glowing skin, clear head, more ‘happy’.
In all honesty, this year was challenging and I felt afraid and frustrated for a lot of it. I blogged about my journey through post-pill amenorrhea and connected with hundreds of women who were experiencing something similar:
“So after almost half a year without menstruating (my inner 16-year-old Claire is going WHAT? THAT’S AWESOME!) I’m starting to get scared. How did I naively believe for so long that taking this little drug everyday for most of my post-pubescent life was healthy and acceptable? Well, basically it’s because it’s what we were told. Mostly. I went on the pill after only 12 months after getting my first period and I know people who were on it a lot earlier than that. I sure hope we don’t look back one day and go “Wow, that was a major fuck up in the history of women’s health”.
I want to have children. One day. And I’ve grown to love the hell out of my body and myself. Which means taking my health seriously and making wellness a priority. Not choosing convenience and letting “Future Claire” deal with the consequences anymore. So I’m off to the Naturopath this week to suss my hormones and work out this where-the-hell-is-my-period situation. I’ll keep you updated.”
I learned much about patience and resilience in the year of 2013.
Almost a year to the day after I stopped taking the pill, I finally got to throw my period party. And on a full moon! I woke up one morning, bleeding, and there were tears of excitement and then tears of pain—hello cramps, nausea and vomiting!—but I was so relieved to have my period back that I couldn’t have cared less. There were phone calls and excited texts, and my then-partner headed out to round up pads, tampons and chocolate. After being in relationships in my early 20’s where I wasn’t even ‘allowed’ (cringing) to keep my tampons in the bathroom because it had made my then-boyfriend uncomfortable (so much cringing), I was inspired by this man’s celebration of my cycle.
I began tracking right away, enthusiastic to implement everything I had been researching over the past year. I was soon to learn though, that even being armed with all of that knowledge and wisdom, there was nothing that could have prepared me for what I was about to discover.
A whole new world of womanhood opened up.
I noticed the physical changes first: I felt my energy increase right after menstruation, with a lightness in my body that I’d never felt before. I realised that I could exercise more intensely in this week, but that after ovulation (and I could actually FEEL myself ovulating) my breasts became sore and my body swelled in the lead-up to my next period. I noticed my appetite and food cravings ebb and flow, I became reacquainted with my libido (hello delicious day 3 erotic dreams), experienced the highs and lows of the pre-menstrual phase and noticed that the texture and condition of my skin and hair changed over the month too.
It soon became obvious that there weeks where I felt more extraverted and social, engaged and chatty with clients and friends, spending hours working at my computer and ticking off my to do’s with vigour—but then the next week? I’d turn into Sensitive Sally, hermit-ing away from the world and wanting only a good book, a block of chocolate and a salty bath.
Through tracking and exploring the archetypes, elements and seasons of my cycle, I realised that there were weeks when my messy creativity flowed effortlessly and other weeks when my logical powers were much stronger. Some weeks were for writing, some for editing, some for splashing paint on a canvas into the night. My monthly rhythms synced up with the moon, I ditched tampons and started using a menstrual cup (cue: blood curiosity, goodbye: period pain).
I discovered that I was able to tap into my intuition and meditate when I was bleeding, enjoying this opportunity each month to press pause, restart, replenish my reserves and reconnect with myself. I could then enjoy the waxing energy I felt grow in the first half of my cycle and prepare and plan for that drop in energy post-ovulation (that’s usually my day 17!), by shifting up my workload and saying no to social catchups in advance without feeling guilty about doing so.
It all began to FLOW.
I was so awe-inspired by my body’s shifting potential and prowess; these changing, cyclic abilities helped me to fully (finally!) realise that my inconsistent weight, wants, energy and cravings weren’t things that I needed to torture myself about. In fact, what I had considered to be my greatest weakness as a woman has become my greatest strength.
As I became more familiar with my cyclic nature, self-care took on a whole new meaning: self-care needed to be a day-by-day approach that shifted and evolved according to how I was feeling and what day of my cycle I was on. I cared less about other people’s ‘morning routines’ and what the current wellness trend was, and became more attuned to what I truly needed to feel good —which is all any of us really want, isn’t it? To feel good? I began to access and work my menstrual magic, structuring my entire life around the changes I was experiencing…
…and life, simply, hasn’t looked the same since.
“My period started yesterday. After a slightly longer than average cycle, I welcomed it gleefully. The red blood on my knickers a relief, a sign to rest. Like a dream I move from room to room, saying little, relishing in the simple sensation of each breath. Now I’m seated at the dinner table, a wide flat bowl of spinach and ricotta ravioli with steamed broccoli sits in front of me, beside my third hot cinnamon tea for the day. There’s a dull ache in my lower abdomen that travels and roots itself in my backside. I tilt my pelvis to find relief. Soft rain patters outside, falling from a darkening sky as stillness spreads across the afternoon. My belly is soft and full and I let it fall open. Calmness reigns.
My forefinger slowly collects the tart sauce from the bowl, greedily plucking the last pillow of pasta before popping it into my mouth. Just as the seasons of the year come and go, so too will this full, heavy phase of my body change. In just a few days my breasts will shrink like inflated balloons, my belly will smooth out and my energy and focus will return. I’ll feel a need for people, conversation, touch, movement, sex. But today I’m content to curl up like an autumn leaf with candles, journal and pens. I’ll pull some tarot cards for guidance on this new cycle. I’ll paint my nails a rich dark red. I’ll nap. But for now, in the quiet, I rest my left hand on my beautiful swollen belly, sit back in the chair and watch the rain fall.”
— Thursday 12th January, 2017. Day 2. Full moon.
Let’s do a little cycle awareness practice together now. Tell me in the comments: what day are YOU on and how do you feel? And if you’re on Instagram, I do my cycle updates in my story a few times a week: you can follow me here!
Love Claire x