So… This post is allll about periods. Mine, mostly, since I’m an expert about mine over any other shark-week sister, but there will be other menstrual madness as well, so please, if you just don’t want to know all of this, you might want to skip this one post…
I’m going to talk pretty openly about the progression of my period, so here we go, back to that fateful November day in seventh grade, at the tender age of 12, when I felt super gross and sticky and the thought crossed my mind in choir class, “Maybe I’ve started it.” I wasn’t excited at all. And when I went to check in the bathroom during gym, the evidence was laid out in my underwear. Still, though, I was in denial for the entirety of that first cycle that maybe it would stop or maybe I could hold it in, so I didn’t tell my mom and just raided the emergency supply of pads that had, one day, suddenly appeared in my closet. It wasn’t until Easter, at my grandmother’s house in Oregon when the triple threat of stomach flu, diarrhea and menstruation hit in one night and I had to tell my mom that I had started that damned thing a few months ago and I needed help!
As soon as my period hit, so did my weight. If you look at my school pictures from seventh grade to ninth, there was a significant jump in my weight. I went from looking like a 12 year old to looking like a staff member in one year, and it was all because I got fat. I probably went from a decent 130 pounds to 190 pounds by the end of 8th grade. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had been bitten by the PCOS bug. In fact, I was on a timer from the moment I was born. My period began, I started gaining weight and my period started letting its pattern known. I would get it about six-eight times a year. We assumed this was just teenage irregularity, but it never fixed itself and I just continued to gain weight until I was weighing in at and 240. I lost weight through a starvation diet when I was 17 and just as quickly regained it, finding myself soaring above 250 in my mid-twenties.
It was my former sister-in-law who finally figured out what the doctors couldn’t from a magazine article. I had poly-cystic-ovarian-syndrome, more commonly known as PCOS. As I started looking into my family history in my 20’s, I started seeing a pattern of childless aunts as well as grandmas and aunts who had long spaces between babies, implying irregularty or difficulty conceiving for one reason or another. When I looked a little deeper, I saw my symptoms as well- whiskers, weight gain with difficulty losing and diabetic tendencies. (I have never approached these aunts, cousins or grandmas as these topics make people squeamish and, frankly, talking about someone’s infertility is never something I would ask for. My own journey to having children was peppered with infertility heartache -which we obviously persevered through- and I’d never want to revive those feelings for anyone else.)
When Bradley and I got together we did the same thing most couples do- we enjoyed life, enjoyed food and gained weight. By the time I was trying to conceive my first baby, my periods had completely stopped and I had ballooned up to a startling 340 pounds. I had read online a little about how weight and PCOS would pair up to make pregnancy difficult, but I think anyone would prefer to blame anyone or anything but themselves. We beat around the bush and paid doctors for years, and never once did anyone ever suggest me to lose weight. I knew it would help, but the doctor didn’t say I needed to, so I medicated myself until, finally, my gorgeous daughter was conceived and I had a textbook, healthy pregnancy. Like many heavy women, I lost weight while pregnant and dropped down to 290. I felt absolutely skinny! But again, I gained it all back. Then, two years later, we wanted a second baby. The medications and tricks we took before weren’t working and I was rapidly approaching the dreaded age when pregnancy shifts from the perfect thing for your body and baby to a risky pregnancy.
One day in January of 2006, we were at the end of our rope. We were sitting in the doctor’s office reviewing our options for conceiving this baby. My doctor was wonderful and sensitive, kind to a fault, and he turned to me and said that even losing as little as 5% of my body weight could make a positive difference. I was chagrined- there it was. My demon. The hardest thing. My scariest opponent- fat. Believe it or not it was a hard decision to make. On one hand, I loved my life. I was happy, loved and fulfilled. On the other hand, I wanted a second pregnancy, a completed family, a sibling for my daughter. I had to choose family over fat and it was a terrifying choice, but I did it. Within a few weeks I had devised a plan to slowly make shifts. I decided to lean hard on diet soda, sugar free chocolate and Splenda. I decided to walk every day, and bit by bit I lost a little here and there, and by the time June rolled around I weighed 280 and in July I became pregnant, just as we were on the eve of our final try. I often say that Jude was the best surprise-planned pregnancy that ever happened!
Once again, as soon as my pregnancy ended, I started gaining. Pregnancy is kind to me- it pumps me full of hormones that otherwise get absorbed in my fat, preventing me from ovulating and the rest of the menstrual cycle that comes with it. Regular cycles are healthy. They are a symptom of being healthy, so as they started to go away again, I became alarmed. I finally made the connection that when I have my period, when I have hormonal health that is symbolized by menstruation, I lose weight, feel better and am healthier. As I passed 300 and started to climb up to 310, I freaked out. There was no way I was going to get that big again, so I became determined. If you know my story, you know I started out slow. So, very slow. I was terrified of failure so I only did what I could. Reasonable to me seemed like losing a pound per month. I made the rules, so that’s what I did- what felt safe. I was successful for years until I finally decided to vanquish my fat for once and all and waged a serious campaign against it. I had the confidence and have been really successful so far in my project. I’m meeting my goal to get healthy and feel amazing.
My barometer through the whole project has been Aunt Flo. After so many years of having my period be A symbol of the sad, sick and unhealthy state of my body, I almost thrill at having her visit. I know it sounds cheesy, but my monthly visit is a testament to how far I’ve come with my health. I was so sick, so heavy, so far off the path that I couldn’t complete my primary directive as a human being which is to procreate. My body literally shut down, and as soon as I got my health back I also got my period. While I don’t love any of the inconveniences shark week brings, I glory in what it means! Aunt Flo is my girl! I joke, now, that had we not chosen to get my tubes tied off during Jude’s birth that I’d probably have six more kids- one for each year since he’s been born! LOL! This infertile chick totally flipped that.
So those of you who are struggling with weight and infertility, take heart. If you’re working toward your health, you may very well be working toward your family, too. I only needed to lose 15 pounds before things got interesting and a year later my son was in my arms. Those of you who hate shark week, remember that while you may hate it, it means, HEALTH! 🙂
Thank you so much for this posting this article! I’ve been going through the same thing, and I have came to realize my weight is the main problem. I’ve had irregular periods since I was 12 years old, and I’m now pushing 30 years old. I have never been pregnant, and I’ve been trying for 10 years. Thank you so much. You have inspired me!
It’s funny because when you said weight gain started as soon as you started to have periods I immediately thought PCOS. I have friends with it and having endometriosis I know about other conditions. Too bad we didn’t have that knowledge back then!