I never experienced cramps when I first got my period. Unfortunately, that all changed for me about five years ago. It was during that time when my period became more and more unmanageable. I called off from work several times due to the period pain. When I finally saw a gynecologist, I was told that it could be endometriosis and the best thing to do would be to take birth control. I remember leaving the doctor’s office that day feeling so misunderstood and invalidated.
What is endometriosis?
I never knew what endometriosis was, but I did know that my Grandma suffered from it. According to womenshealth.gov, “Endometriosis, sometimes called “endo,” is a common health problem in women. It gets its name from the word endometrium, the tissue that normally lines the uterus or womb. Endometriosis happens when tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows outside of your uterus and on other areas in your body where it doesn’t belong.” The most common symptom is severe menstrual pain. From my own experience, the pain gets so intense that my fiancé has almost called 9-1-1 after witnessing me in so much pain.
According to research, 6.5 million women in the United States have endometriosis, and that’s just one country! Endo is also hard to diagnosis since it can’t be determined based on blood work or a pelvic exam. Plus, there are no known causes as to why certain women develop this condition. As you can see, it’s a very frustrating health issue to deal with; one that has definitely impacted my life.
Should you get a second opinion?
I eventually got a second opinion from another gynecologist. My heart immediately sank yet again when she told me that it was most likely endo (even before the diagnostic surgery) and explained my treatment options. I have been adamant about not taking birth control, for various reasons. I just couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of being on medication for the rest of my pre-menopausal life. I was glad that I got a second opinion but saddened that my treatment options were still slim.
From that point on I dedicated myself to researching holistic ways of treating endo symptoms. The biggest goal was to manage the pain. Before, when I didn’t know it was endometriosis, I was downing painkillers every single period. So much so that now my tolerance is too high for over-the-counter pain medications. Fortunately, I’ve decided against medication. Healing the root cause rather than the symptom is something I highly value for my overall health.
How do I holistically manage my endo symptoms?
Here are some tools I use to help with my period pain:
I can’t stress this one enough. Using baths, hot water bottles, and specially designed disposable heat pads for my abdomen have been extremely beneficial in reducing the severity of the pain. Plus, it just feels really good to be in bed enveloped in a cocoon of warmth. The application of heat not only helps to relax the muscles but also helps to increase blood circulation to the affected area.
Clary sage essential oil
This was a recommendation from my health coach who told me about this particular oil that I had never used before. Clary sage, when applied topically, helps to balance hormone levels and ease symptoms of bloating, cramping, and mood swings. During the first day or two of my period, I will apply 4–5 drops of clary sage to some carrier oil (like coconut, almond, or sesame) and rub it on my abdomen. I will apply this mixture a couple of times a day. By massaging and sending attention to my belly, I can sense the pain diminishing simply by bringing mindful loving awareness to the area.
I never thought of getting acupuncture done specifically for my cramps, but when I went to see my acupuncturist and told her about my period pain that all changed. She started placing the needles on specific points on my abdomen. The crazy thing was that the points she activated would either feel super uncomfortable or feel like there was nothing there depending on where I was at in my cycle. After getting acupuncture done twice a month for a couple of months, I’ve noticed a dramatic reduction in my period pain.
The more I learned about the cause of endometriosis, I realized the importance of living and eating in a way that would reduce inflammation. Stress was a huge part of that. I’m still working every day on maintaining a calmer state of being. By using my meals as a way to incorporate more anti-inflammatory foods, I knew I could be helping my body prep for the next period. Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like kidney beans, flax and chia seeds, seaweed, and spirulina. These are all great plant-based sources that are high in antioxidants and will help to relax the uterus.
This list is by no means final. I am always finding more and more natural ways to help manage my endo symptoms. I hope to experiment with yoni steams and CBD suppositories in the near future too. Thankfully, there’s an abundance of resources and products on the market that have been helping women, like me, live a life with less period pain.
One thing that may work for me doesn’t mean it will work for you, but getting to know your unique cycle and what makes you feel better is the goal. Above all, the biggest tool I advocate for is rest. Our periods are a chance to tune out and tune in. So don’t feel guilty watching Netflix for hours on end in your pajamas while eating chocolate. You do you.
Photo: Katherine Hanlon & Hanna Postova on Unsplash