Today I decided I’m going to get personal and share something I’ve been struggling with and have been scared to write about. My hope is that I can reach someone going through the same thing and give them hope and encouragement just like I received from a friend who was vulnerable and brave enough to share with others. The selfish part of this is to help me get through it and not feel like I have to put on a fake presentation for people with hope that they may have a little more understanding for what’s going on. So here it goes…(deep breath)
For about a year now, we’ve been trying to get pregnant. There’s a slight problem though…. I haven’t had a period for almost 3 years! Kind of important when you want to get pregnant. And it turns out it’s important for a lot of other health reasons that I’ll get into later.
For as long as I can remember I’ve been obsessed with fitness. Growing up I was involved in sports and I come from a very active family, so I’ve always loved the feeling I get from a good workout and being strong and fit. It became a habit early on in life- wake up, put on gym clothes, workout hard, and then go about my day. If the morning workout wasn’t intense enough sometimes I’d squeeze in something extra later on in the day. A day with out exercise just isn’t complete, I feel blah, bloated, and lethargic.
I started my period in Jr. High, but it was never consistent or heavy. I’d go sometimes 3 or 4 months without it, and then when I did get it it was super light (which I loved at the time!). At every doctor visit for my sports teams, they always said the same thing, that I was just an active girl and it was normal to have an irregular period, so I never worried too much about it. I’ve always loved being strong. Being able to keep up with the boys, take on fitness challenges at the gym, run a marathon with a month of training, whip out some pull ups on the monkey bars.
I began really transforming my body when I was finishing up my Exercise Sports Science degree at the University of Utah. I was getting ready for my wedding, and working with fellow trainers during my last semester as an intern. I tuned up my nutrition a bit, got a little more intense with my workouts, and saw great results. I felt awesome. I was proud of what I had achieved. I love the discipline and the accomplished feeling I get from training my body and seeing hard work pay off. If I had a long day, I would wake up even earlier to make sure I got my workout in. I never missed a day except for Sunday which was my rest day (and even that was hard for me to give up).
I started taking birth control pills right before I got married and for the first time I had regular, monthly periods. I lost about 10 pounds that first year of our marriage but continued to have a period with the pill. I never got to a scary low body fat or body weight, and felt I was properly fueling my body (no eating disorders or crazy restrictions going on), so I assumed everything was fine. I was healthy, felt great, and had muscle tone. It felt good to receive compliments about my body.
Well two and a half years into marriage I realized I hated birth control pills. I just didn’t fully feel like myself (I’m sure you can relate if you’ve ever been on the pill). So we ditched the pill, and shortly after I noticed my periods stopped. I haven’t had a period since.
I continued on through life not being too concerned about it. I just figured that when we were ready for kids, I would be able to go to the Dr., start my period, and everything would be fine. We went to Europe for a year, which was amazing but also a big life stress (moving to a new culture, new language, etc - which I’ll talk about later). I continued to run everyday, work out, and ate even less (mostly because we were poor interns, I wasn’t necessarily trying to restrict my calories), and then ended up with dengue fever to end our year abroad in the hospital for a week (another shock/stress to my body). All of this adding up to my lowest weight (110 lbs.) when returning to the US. I bounced back to my normal/lean weight of 120 lbs. within 6 months of being home. This is a comfortable weight for me that I can maintain, and feel strong and healthy.
Around the time we came back to the states we decided we wanted to start our family (August 2016). Well as you can imagine, without a period to track, I was lost and confused, shooting in the dark. I found an OB and we went through the typical tests. Blood work and Ultrasounds looked fine, so she had me try a few rounds of progesterone pills to try to trigger a period. Nothing happened. She put me under the umbrella term of PCOS and sent me on my way to work with a reproductive specialist. I wasn’t ready to fork out all the cash for that, so I decided to try a different route first. I wanted to try a more natural and affordable route. For the past 6 months I’ve tried everything in the natural healing department (herbal teas, oils, creams, supplements, progesterone cycles, acupuncture) in hopes to have something work, anything!!! Early on in this process I felt deep down that my activity level had something to do with missing my period, maybe my body fat percentage as well, but I was in denial. I was doing everything I could to be at my “healthiest” state before I got pregnant. I was at my peak physical condition, there was no way was I slowing down or gaining weight to get pregnant! My sweet mom was giving me gentle nudges throughout the process to just try slowing down a bit. But did I listen? Nope. There had to be another way, and I was trying to find it. Giving up my active lifestyle and physique which I had worked so hard for just was not an option.
I was starting to get really frustrated feeling like nothing was helping, and praying a lot for some direction. Well God has a funny way of humbling and teaching us. I ran a Ragnar race mid July and hurt my ankle! Which meant I had no choice but to rest, and no more running. I didn't think much of it but then it hit me one day that this might be a blessing in disguise. This could be a sign to slow down. But I still kinda shrugged it off and was fitting in as much exercise as the ankle could handle. I was hoping that the acupuncture and supplements I was taking would be enough without any change on my part.
But this last weekend I feel like I got another nudge to slow down. My sister sent me a blog post titled “Fitness made me infertile”, and the crazy part is that it was written by a friend of mine who I had no idea was going through the same thing as me! It spoke directly to me and I was so relieved to FINALLY hear something that made sense and that I could relate to. I called her the next day and we talked for about an hour. She answered so many questions and knew exactly what I was going through. From reading that blog post Friday night, I knew what I had to do and the thought of it was TERRIFYING! I was introduced to the book “No Period. Now What” which you should definitely read if you’re going through this. It’s a life changer. There’s a big community on Facebook that is full of amazing women going through the exact same thing!! This was an amazing answer to prayer. Here is the website if you want to check it out yourself!
The diagnosis: Hypothalamus Amenorrhea - no period due to improper signals from the hypothalamus in the brain. The hypothalamus is the part of our brain that deals with our reproductive system, hunger cues, and other chemical reactions in the body. Basically, if you’re over stressed, over exercising, or have food restrictions your body won’t ovulate, and bye bye period. Your genetics play a part in it too obviously. Your hypothalamus tells your body “with all this craziness going on we need to shut down the reproductive system. Let’s focus on the necessities of life before we grow a baby up in here”. The road to recovery is going to require change. In my research, I’ve learned that in order to reverse HA, I need to get to a place physically where my body can trust me again. Giving it enough calories and rest for it to be able to jump start my reproductive system again. A system that I had been starving unknowingly and unintentionally. The recovery program suggests getting 2500-3000 calories each day and limiting exercise to keep your heart rate below 140 bpm and basically not working up a sweat. You want me to do WHAT?!
What’s so hard about this diagnosis is that the levels and numbers can be different for everyone. I don’t know what weight my body will need to get to where it’s comfortable to rev up the reproductive system again, but I’m going to try being patient with myself until it gets there. Their are women unaffected by HA who can get a long just fine, training for an ironman, keeping their period, and getting pregnant. This has been a frustrating piece of the puzzle for me. Turns out my reproductive system is just a little bit more sensitive than some of the super lean child bearing women out there. And who knows, there’s probably women out there in the fitness world who I follow and admire who could be going through the exact same struggle as me!
Just to be clear, I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea about fitness in general. I’m not saying that working out, eating healthy, or trying to sculpt your body is a bad thing at all. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have fitness goals that challenge you. Probably for the majority of people that’s exactly what you should be doing. What I am saying is that healthy looks different on everyone and WILL change throughout the different times and seasons of our lives. For me right now, healthy is finding my period, and achieving fertility again. If you are wanting to get pregnant, or if you are missing your period like I am, it may be time to put your fitness goals on hold for a season and let your body recover. And if you’re like me, always striving for peak physical fitness, this is a hard pill to swallow. Trust me I feel ya! But I have now arrived at a good place and decided that if I have to slow down for a bit and start eating more food than I’m used to, bring it on! I’m trying to be prepared for the highs and lows that are come with it. Another big factor of infertility I’ve been learning about from this book is that the stress from daily activities can take a toll. After reading this I think that the stress I experienced from our move abroad and getting Dengue fever really had a big impact on me, not to mention the fact that I am a personal trainer and put my body through physical stress daily. Part of the recovery from HA is less stress. (So if anyone wants to join me I’ll be hiring a personal masseuse ;). I wish….
So what if you’re not interested in having kids, does not having a period going to effect you? Women really need their periods for a lot of other health reasons…. why did no one ever tell me this?? The book explains that when you don’t go through a normal menstrual cycle, you’re body isn’t getting the estrogen it needs and this can lead to osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, and brain diseases down the road. YIKES. This alone was enough motivation for me to jump on board to recovery and get damn period back!
This is hard for me to say the least. Exercise is my therapy, it keeps me happy and sane. Being in the fitness world makes this even more challenging for me. Fitness has become my identity. I feel an obligation and pressure to fit the mold of the “trainer body” to show I practice what I preach. Being someone that my clients can look up to. How can I tell other people how to be healthy and fit if I’m not working out? What will people think when I start gaining weight in all of my pictures & posts on instagram? What if I gain weight and sit on my butt for 3 months and I still can’t get pregnant? Why can other girls be fit and lean and get pregnant and I can’t?? These are some of the questions running through my mind.
I coach my clients to feel confident in their skin wherever they are in their fitness journey, to find beauty in strength, which does not mean looking for just a number on a scale or a pant size. But here I am and the thought of gaining weight, softening up my toned body, and not fitting in my skinny jeans makes me anxious. And besides the physical sacrifice, what scares me even more is the yucky feeling I get, emotionally & mentally from not working out. Honestly I LOVE exercising for much more than just the aesthetic results. I love the rush of endorphins, the satisfaction of achieving goals, and I love being sweaty! I have to keep reminding myself that I don’t have to give up exercise forever, but for now I'm on a different track. I’ll be back when the time is right.
I’ve been praying for peace with the situation and I can honestly say I am at a much better place now than I was Friday night after digging into this book. I’ve realized this has already been and will continue to be a be learning and growing experience for me. It will require being comfortable outside of my ideal routine for a short time for something I want even more (to have children of my own). Learning to embrace this discomfort will help me in so many other areas of life. I help clients through weight loss and coach them through things they aren’t used to doing, so now it’s my turn. Already my compassion and empathy has grown so much because of the love and support I have received from my clients.
I am learning to not base my worth as a human being on how I look in a swimsuit. I’m learning to embrace not being at my best physical shape for a short time in my life. I learning to relax and not feel like a failure without my morning workout and I'm going to spend more time with friends and family. I’m going to allow myself some down time, to read some books, and even get in an occasional nap. I am having to come to terms with what “healthy” really means. Am I healthy if I’m lean and fit even if I am not able to have a period because of it? Maybe carrying a little extra weight and having a period is the healthier way to live during my child bearing years.
So here goes nothing! Wish me luck. I hope that my journey can help someone else out, and I appreciate your comments and suggestions as well. Part of this recovery for me is not just about getting my period back. It’s about making fitness a part of my life rather than my whole life. It’s about recovering from the mindset where I tell myself I have to look a certain way to be worth more. The recovery will also include removing all comparison with my body to everyone else. It’s time to change these thoughts that have been engrained into my mind for years. Part of me wants to wear a sign on my chest that reads “trying to get my period back, don’t judge” just to deflect any judgement with the weight gain that may happen ;) But I encourage us all to be kinder and more understanding to everyone around us. We need to remember to look past the outward appearance, we never know what someone else is going through!
Alright my rant is over, thanks for reading!! I’ll keep you posted throughout my journey! And in the mean time, I’ll still be here, posting healthy recipes, workout videos for you, and thoughts of encouragement. I just might be eating a bowl of ice cream while I'm doing it ;)