I don’t know that I ever anticipated being as open about my contraception use as I am. But after over a decade of using one method or another (and feeling a bit like a guinea pig along the way) I decided to stop all hormonal birth control back in 2017. I had my IUD removed, I didn’t fulfill a prescription for birth control pills (that I hadn’t asked for, my doc just wrote the script assuming I would want them).
A few months after said removal I downloaded Natural Cycles, a birth control app that tracks my cycle and ovulation through daily BBT analysis. Truthfully, I’m not sure what I anticipated, but what I did know if that I wanted to let my body come back to its homeostasis. I started hormonal birth control when I was 16, which means that I started at a time when my body was still figuring out its hormonal levels. I wanted to start to work with my body again, to know who she really was and what it felt like to ride my menstrual ebbs and flows with her.
After two years, I know my body better than I ever have. I listen to her and what she tells me. Regardless of the calendar, I can anticipate the moment I will get my period, down to the hour. I know exactly how long my PMS cramps will last, and when they will end. I know when I’m ovulating and that my right ovary tends to be more active than my left. All based on feel.
Transitioning into hormone-free birth control was the best move I ever made. While it did come with an adjustment period (read: teenage-style acne for a few months) I wouldn’t go back for anything. I wanted to share this with all of you because, as womxn, it’s important that we embrace this dialogue — with ourselves, our care teams, our partners, and each other — so we can learn from each other and about what will make us feel most empowered and nourished in our bodies. The more we know, the more we know.
Natural Cycles is 93% effective with typical use for ages 18+ and doesn’t protect against STIs.
I feel like I have seen dozens of posts like this go up on the past week, so was hesitant to create my own. However, something about several of the blog posts I’ve read regarding self-care over this quarantine don’t sound like self-care to me. They sound like work. They sound overwhelming.
So I wanted to write a little something to you, a person who, like me, is probably feeling overwhelmed right now. And what I want to convey is this: Don’t take on 15 new ‘self-care’, ‘make your life better’ tasks during this time. Your life doesn’t need more complexity, stress, or expectations right now. Most of us are working from home, newly unemployed, worried about family members’ and friends’ health, and worried about our own health. Taking on a new, demanding schedule of working out and meditation and every stereotypical wellness tip will not reduce your anxiety, though it may distract you from it.
Below you aren’t going to find a ‘to-do’ list or a 10-step action plan toward easing your anxieties, because I don’t know what [that] means for you. You deserve a rubric that is dynamic and customized for yourself, and who knows you better than you?
What I suggest is something simpler, like giving yourself a soft place to land or filling your home with a calming scent. Don’t start a new habit, rediscover an old one. Journal, get introspective and ask yourself when you felt peaceful in the past. Use the past to inform your future and commodity forgotten hobbies into current comforts.
“Once stress escalates, it becomes tougher to let it go.”
Caring for yourself, fully, takes more than a bubble bath and a yoga class. It takes boundaries. Working from home can create a grey area between ‘work time’ and ‘home time’. As someone who worked from home for over a year and a half, I can tell you that it’s easy to skip your lunch break and work through, or to work past COB. When your cell phone becomes your work phone it can be like carrying your desk in your pocket. Set boundaries with yourself and within your professional relationships. Learn to say ‘no’, learn to love your limits. During this time of pandemic and cortisol-increasing media, it’s important to respect your limitations. Now is not the time to see how fast and how far you can push yourself. Just as important as teaching yourself to work, use this time to teach yourself to rest.
Slow down and try to embrace the ebbs and flows of life confined to your home space. I’m working on accepting the fact that my kitchen will never be fully at rest, but rather always in flux during this time. Because caring for and loving on myself looks like playing, fermenting, and baking in the kitchen. It looks like waking up a little earlier than the rest of the home to sit quietly in the sun, with no obligation. Find your tiny moment, forgotten past time, or pick one new project during this time to be your space to prioritize yourself.
And, above all, be gentle with yourself because you are doing the best that you can.
*Disclaimer: This is not professional advice, it is based on my personal experience. This article should not be taken in the substitute of professional advice and guidance. Should you have any health, medical, or disability questions or concerns, please consult a physician or other health care professional. WM makes no claims to the accuracy of the professional resources linked at the bottom of the article.*
When someone breaks their leg we know what to say, we know what to do, we know how to act. “I hope you feel better soon!” “Do you need someone to cook or clean for you?” “Do you have a ride to the doctor?” We follow up, not just because we care, but because we’ve been taught how to care.
Through school, childhood experience, and personal experience, we’ve learned how to tend to those struggling with their physical health. This is referring to certain illnesses (ex: the flu) and physical issues (ex: a broken arm) and does not encompass physical disabilities and stigmatized illness (like STIs, HIV/AIDS, etc). We aren’t taught how to ask, inquire, or care for a person’s mental health, despite the fact that in the US nearly half of adults will experience mental health issues in their lifetime.
When someone is experiencing a low in their mental health we are silent. We think that because we don’t know the perfect thing to say that we should say nothing. I can tell you from my experience with anxiety, depression, and PTSD that I have never once needed my friends to be my doctors, I’ve needed them to be my friends. I’ve needed support, not guidance. You don’t need to have all the solutions to aide someone. You don’t need to “fix” someone.
I’m fortunate to be in a relationship now with a very grounding foundation. I’m also fortunate that I have the ability to workout every day. For me, those two things are better than the world’s best medication. However, there have been several times in my life where I didn’t have those things and was having anxiety attacks nearly every week. Or times in my life that emotion-focused coping mechanisms were not enough to support me.
I can so vividly remember the first time I had an anxiety attack and I wasn’t alone. It was a Saturday night, behind a group of apartments on my college campus. Someone I didn’t know found me as I was doubled over and gasping to breathe. All she did was put her hand gently on my back and say “It’s okay, I’m going to stay with you”. And she did. She walked me home and I still don’t know who she was.
I’m not advocating that you begin touching strangers without their permission, but I am suggesting you reach out to those who may need help. It made all the difference in the world. She didn’t try to fix me, she didn’t try to make it stop, she just let me know I wasn’t alone. I truly think that is the best thing you can do for someone going through the roughest moments in their mental health. Just tell them that you are there and that they aren’t alone.
We don’t need you to have the perfect sentence to make the difference. We just need you. Somethings you can say to someone needing support:
“I’m here for you.”
“Would you like me come over and make dinner for you?”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“I’m checking in to let you know that I care about you and I’m here for you.”
“What can I do for you?”
“If you just need company I can come and sit with you.”
“Do you want someone to go to the doctor with you?”
“How are you feeling?”
Professional sites offering more information and options:
A final note: mental healthcare is still very inaccessible for many people. It’s difficult to see quality doctors, medications are expensive. Look into the leaders you vote for an ensure that improving the mental health system is important to them. Stay up to date on new policies. Look at what you can do in your community to help. If you shop using Amazon navigate to Your Account > Change Your Charity and select a charity that supports access to mental healthcare. Look at what the people around you need every day.
Pennies become dollars. The small things you do every day to support those around you will have lasting results.
A little over a month ago a got into a conversation with a brand I have been fawning over for years. True Botanicals is a beauty product line that rests on the ethos that skincare should be safe, natural, luxurious, and still effective. Unfortunately, as consumers, we rarely get access to all four within one brand. I’d seen the remarkable before and after images online and am obsessed with Laura Dern’s and Olivia Wilde’s skin (two champions of True Botanicals), so I was excited to get started and see if True Botanicals could gently coax my skin back from the mutiny it started several months ago.
For context, it would help to know where my skin was starting in a less than happy place. I never struggled with acne in high school or college, so I’m not as familiar as some with how to get my skin back in line after a break out (a brand new concept for me). In 2017, I stopped using hormonal birth control and while the rest of my body was incredibly happy with this shift, my skin was not and I started to get several deep nodules in the week leading up to my period. So long as I was patient for a few days they weren’t visually too bad, just incredibly painful.
However, at the start of 2019, I moved to New York City and the pollution wrecked my skin. Over the summer of 2019 the humidity, sweat, and pollution layered on my skin and I didn’t have a single day of clear, smooth skin. There’s nothing like several months of break out to destroy your confidence, especially as a blogger that is constantly posting selfies online. The compounding stress of breakouts and all the family struggles I was going through only exacerbated the issue.
I tried everything I could to help my skin. Expensive facials, masks, I stopped using physical exfoliants, washing my face more often, washing my face less often, stopping moisturizer and favoring oils, chemical exfoliants, changing to a “hormone-balancing diet” …
The list went on and on and I didn’t see a change. By the end of 2019, I was feeling pretty defeated.
When I started speaking with True Botanicals in early January the first thing they did was ask questions about my skin to determine what products would be best for me. This research seems so necessary to me, but not many brands offer this level of customer care. I was happy to find that this isn’t something uniquely available to collaborations! On their website is a skincare quiz that is designed to help you find the product line that best fits your skin and goals.
After determining that I had break-out prone skin they suggested that I try out the Clear line and sent me several products to try*. I decided that the best way to evaluate how effective their products are I should only use True Botanicals for a full month and then draw my conclusions.
The product line is naturally scented with sandalwood, helichrysum, and cypress and truly smells like a spa on your face. It quickly became my favorite way to start my morning and end my night. Calming, relaxing, and truly effective.
If I had to choose one “favorite” product it would definitely be the Radiance Oil. I used it morning and night, mixed it in my foundation for a smooth and glowy application, and even used it on my collarbone for date night.
One month later and I’m currently typing this while sitting in a coffee shop, sans makeup. No foundation, no concealer. Do I have perfect, airbrushed skin? Not yet, but I’m confident we’re getting there. I’ve seen a noticeable difference in any scarring I had on my cheeks, haven’t had any large breakouts as my hormones fluctuated over the month, and any nodules I had this month lasted less than a day. I used about half of the bottle in a month and definitely see myself purchasing these products again once they run out.
* The products discussed in this article were gifted, however, all thoughts are my own. This review was written prior to a laser facial I received in February. During the trial month, I did not use other products/brands and I kept my diet and makeup routine the same.*
Back in October, I had the opportunity to spend an evening with Sustain (the newest addition to the Grove Collaborative marketplace), a sexual wellness company that makes shame-free products for periods, sex and body. I was fascinated by what their founder, Meika Hollender, said about the current industry standard (or lack thereof) in feminine care.
Immediately following that dinner Sustain became the only period care I used. Several months later, and they have become my all-time favorite. Tampons, pads, menstrual cups, are all used on the most sensitive parts of your body. You deserve to know what’s in them and Sustain thinks so too. Tampon manufacturers are not federally required to disclose the products’ ingredients on the packaging, so many don’t. The result is that the majority of tampons that contain bleach, dyes, rayons, and synthetic perfumes.
The exception? Sustain.
Here is the complete list of ingredients for Sustain’s tampons, pads, and liners: 100% Organic, Fair-Trade Cotton.
And that’s the way it should be. You deserve the right to know what is going in and around one of the most sensitive, absorbent, and intimate places on your body. In addition to organic cotton, their tampon applicators are made of plant-based bioplastic (90% sugarcane)!
Not only is Sustain working to provide you an array of period care products that are safe for you to use, but they also have a sexual wellness line complete with condoms, lubricants, and massage oils that are better for you and your pleasure. 50% of condoms are made with natural latex. When forming latex condoms many brands use money-saving accelerators (ZDEC, ZDBC, ZMBT, and dialkylamines). A byproduct of this process is carcinogenic nitrosamines. This is such a large issue that the World Health Organization (WHO) has been encouraging condom companies to remove nitrosamines since 2010 as they serve no purpose in the condom’s function.
Sustain is the only brand that has no detectable levels of nitrosamines.
Sustain has also reduced the protein level in its condoms by 75%. Meaning they are less likely to cause irritation or sensitivity.
You deserve a company that cares about you at the individual level and that’s what I’ve found with Sustain. At their core, Sustain believes that gender equality starts with sexual equality and that ethos is evident in all their products and I highly suggest you check them out.
I start my mornings the same way. And while they’ve evolved slightly since I first reported on my morning a few things haven’t changed. I still wake up with several minutes of cat-cow. I still oil pull…most days. I still enjoy a cup of tea or coffee first thing. Newer additions include a few snuggly moments with the cats, this big stretch that I cannot wake without, and a few happy little “start the day” chants to myself as I brush my teeth.
A favorite new addition is The Live Journal Podcast, a series of conversations with powerful women making positive changes in their community and daily life. It is hosted by esteemed life coach Paola Atlason. Both ethereal and grounding, her guidance through the podcast and anecdotal stories feel like gentle mothering from afar. The first episode I listened to was EP31: “Daily Rituals” with Jenn Tardif. I found it because I truly enjoy listening to Jenn speak and hoping a could find a podcast that she had guested on for one of my long runs. After listening to all of EP31 I was hooked and added The Live Journal Podcast into my daily life.
Throughout the series, Atlason interviews women from all walks of life: a chef, an herbalist, an artist, a writer. In each episode, there are major drops of wisdom, some seemingly obvious, that are often overlooked and that can — grain by grain — improve your day. In EP28 Tina Essmaker talks about morning pages and journaling, two things that I have welcomed into my life lately. In EP34 (my personal favorite so far) Zivar Amrami talks about mothering the self and the steps you can take to feel most like you.
As I’ve listened to all of these 30-35 minute episodes I started to realize just how much of this power and wisdom I was soaking in and truly internalizing. I started to be more conscious about it, ex: bringing my journal with me everywhere, and only felt the positive effects compound. I’ve found this, listening to the podcast and using it as a tool, to be a great lesson in the power of surrounding yourself with powerful women.
I thoroughly believe you need to learn to love your likeability, but I also feel that there’s a second step to that. You need to embrace your vulnerability. You need to love and appreciate your sensitivity, view it as a strength. I think for a long time I focused on the aggressive side of my personality, leaning into my Aries Moon & Aries Rising and yang. Listening to so many women speak so openly about their success and failure has been a beautiful teacher in nurturing the yin and mothering the self.
Surrounding yourself with powerful women, whether in person or through your phone, is a powerful way of absorbing the now and the future you want for yourself and if you need a place to start I recommend The Live Journal Podcast.
Last week, I published this piece and ever since can’t help but continually think about taking a sacred pause. Through my day of living in a city of 8.6 million, being packed like a sardine each time I use the subway to migrate around the city, and never quite having a “quiet moment” I seem to be craving it more than ever. Instead of trying to squeeze an hour of meditation into my already 25-hour day I want to cultivate a soft extension of that sacred pause. A way to experience a gentle pause, in snatches, throughout the day.
A few bits to help you create a sacred pause in your day:
“When you stand for nothing, you fall for everything.”
One of my favorite quotes and believed to be said by Alexander Hamilton (but that detail has blurred since the 18th-century). I always find it remarkable how someone living so long ago, in such a different way could have said something that still profoundly resonates today. We live in a world of quick judgments, fast fashion trends, and bandwagon fans where the urge to “stick to your guns” often overshadowed by the desire to “fit in”.
I used to be a people pleaser and the idea that someone didn’t like me was all-consuming. I spent a lot of my time trying to balance scales, curating myself to fit what someone else wanted. It felt like every interaction with someone was a test I needed to pass, and after I got waves of the self-doubt questions.
“Did they like me?”
“Did they have a good time?”
“Was I funny?”
“Was I ‘too much’?”
“Am I cool enough?”
It took a bad breakup for me to throw in the towel and truly not care about what anyone else thought of me. It taught me a very important lesson, one that I wish I had learned well before my twenties, and that is: Not everyone will like you all of the time.
You are not for everyone. You don’t need to be liked by someone else to be worth their respect and time. Your likability is not your responsibility. Your responsibility is to yourself and your honesty. To be strong in your authenticity. Your value is not derived from the evaluation or validation of another.
I learned that to constantly change yourself or strive to be liked by everyone around you doesn’t just hurt you, it hurts your relationships. It hurts your authenticity and the authenticity of your connections. It undermines your ability to truly connect with people. You are not a topiary garden to be curated for another’s enjoyment, you are wild, so embrace it.
Be nice, be generous, be forgiving, but know that others will come to their own conclusions about you. Don’t chameleon yourself to fit everyone else’s needs. You cannot control how others respond to you, you can only control you. Stand for who you are, not who you anticipate someone else wants you to be. It isn’t easy, but it’s powerful. Standing for something isn’t drawing a line in the sand, it’s raising a flag that represents who you are.
You are not for everyone, because not everyone deserves you.
As I wake up and try to blink my eyes open, I realize that I can’t, because after crying for about an hour they’ve been welded shut. It’s the same story every time I go under anesthesia. I cry as I get put under, I cry during, I cry after. I’m so thankful I warned the nurse that this would happen because as I finally get my eyes open I can see she nervously watching me, anticipating that I’m in serious pain. She tenderly hands me a saltine and encourages nibble after nibble.
He handles a few of the discharge aspects, sits with me as I get my bearings, helps me get dressed, and drives me home. And just like that a chapter of my life, something I’ve been participating in for about nine months, ends. A few weeks later I’ll get a call, be told that everything went well and asked if I would like to donate my eggs again.
Several Month Prior … Fall 2014
I knew I wanted to be an egg donor since I first learned it was a possibility. I had seen the commercials, explored the website, and found that I needed to be 21 to be eligible. A few weeks before my 21st birthday, in September of 2014, I submitted all the information to get started. I listed information about my background, height/weight/etc, birth control I was on, lifestyle choices (smoking, drinking, etc), and whether or not I had a history of pregnancy, STDs, etc. I noted that I would be 21 at the end of October and asked to be contacted at that time.
On Wednesday, November 12, 2014 I was notified that I had been accepted into the pre-screening process. The pre-screening is a three-step process that covers the medical and psychological aspects of donating your eggs. It’s also very educational and keeps you well-informed of the process and what it looks like.
I went in one day to get my baselines. It was a quick blood draw and vaginal ultrasound. They were checking on my bodily health and the health of my ovaries. I was compensated $50 and went home to wait and see if I was cleared for Donor Day.
About two weeks after I went in for baselines I was scheduled to attend Donor Day. Three other women in their 20s and myself spent the day together and learned about all the ins and outs of the donor process. Broadly that day can be broken into two facets: psychological and medical. Psychologically we took a MMPI test and briefly reviewed what the process would look like (in terms of length and mental strain). Medically we learned a ton about our cycles, short-term effects of the hormonal injections, and gave ourselves an injection of saline. Throughout the donation process we would need to inject ourselves daily with a hormone mixture so the clinic needed to be sure we weren’t squeamish about administering the injection.
The final stage of pre-screening was meeting with a social worker for a psychological consult to ensure that we understood that while this is a “genetic offspring” it was not our child and that we would be releasing any claims to the child. We also agreed to disclose to the facility if our medical history changed in the future (to keep the receiving family informed about their child’s future health). They reviewed all aspects of our MMPI test and pressed on certain answers, asking me to defend or explain an answer. The psychological review took about two and half hours for me. At its conclusion, I was compensated $450 and told that only about 3% of applicants advance past this stage.
On Tuesday, Dec 30, 2014, I was notified that I was approved by my social worker and officially in the program. This meant that my profile went live on their database. Similar to a dating profile, families could sort through and “match” with me if they would like to receive my eggs. My profile included non-identifying information about my appearance, family medical history, psychological information, and a personal note that I could include. You had the option of including a photo and I chose to include several photos of myself as a baby, four-year-old, and adult. While this does remove a layer of confidentiality for myself I felt that it was important for the receiving family to have a chance to visualize their potential child.
Remembering how unruly my hair was as a child I included a joke about several detanglers they would need to purchase. I’m fairly sure that my humor (along with my age and photos) is what helped my profile get chosen so rapidly. Once I had three family matches I would be notified and then the actual donation process would begin. Typically this can take about four to six weeks, I received all my matches by the end of January. Once you are selected the next several processes (pills to injections to retrieval) move extremely quickly.
Once I was matched I started the stimulation cycle, in which I was given new birth control pills to take and a specific start date to begin the pack. This lasted about four weeks (February 2014) and synchronized my cycle with the women receiving.
After completing cycle synchronization I started injections. These can last for 10-12 days, mine lasted 14. Each day I had to mix and administer an injection of hormones to my abdomen. The needle was tiny and it didn’t hurt, but I was dotted with smile-like pattern of bruises about my belly button. The hormones I was injecting were designed to stimulate my ovaries to mature a larger quantity of eggs than I typically would for a period. During each of your menstrual cycles, your body matures about 15-20 eggs within the follicles in your ovaries. Then your body chooses one egg to reach maturity and be released for ovulation. The other eggs stop growing and are discarded during your period. When you go through egg donation the injections you are administering tell your body to mature all the eggs in your follicles (15-20 instead of just one) and those eggs are then retrieved. In short, you are losing no more eggs than your body would typically put out and lose in a cycle.
There were a few side effects, similar to PMS. I had some cramping and a few mood swings (not atypical for me) and a lot of fatigue. I was exhausted every single day, most likely because my body was working in over-drive and I was in the midst of my college senior year, final semester, mid-terms.
Throughout the process, I was getting nearly daily blood tests and vaginal ultrasounds that measured the size of my ovaries. They were to monitor the medications and confirm that they were working well, dosing was accurate, and to maintain my wellbeing as a donor. Because my ovaries were getting so large during this process I was told to stop running as it would heighten my risk for ovarian torsion. Initially, the visits were every other day. As my body got closer to a potential retrieval date the visits became every day.
Wednesday, April 22, 2015
On Tuesday, April 21 I was told that my eggs were ready for retrieval and that tomorrow would be the day. Because I was going to be put under I had to stop eating and drinking at midnight (like any anesthesia procedure). My retrieval time was 6:45 am. All the retrieval times are early morning and the receiving women are scheduled later in the day. That day was a bit of blur.
I went in super early, was seen immediately, had my blood test and ultrasound. Once it was confirmed that I was at the proper part in my cycle I was called back into a room that strongly resembled a surgery room, put under and woke up about an hour later, process completed. To retrieve the eggs a physician used a transvaginal ultrasound probe to guide a needle into each ovary and remove the egg in each follicle. The retrieval itself lasted only 20-30 minutes and at its conclusion I was told they were able to retrieve 31 eggs. In-facility recovery lasted about an hour, I got a little anti-nausea medication (my stomach is not a fan of anesthesia) and sent home. In its entirety, I spent about three hours at the retrieval facility that day. I received a check that day for $6,500 and a small gift: a bracelet with a charm that read simply, “Give”.
The retrieval itself doesn’t leave a mark (aside from the bruises from my injections) as there aren’t any incisions, but my body definitely knew that something had happened. I went home and slept for most of the day with moderate cramping. It just felt like a day you’d want to spend in bed with a heating pad. I emailed my professor for an extension for my sculpture (it was due the next day, April 23rd), which was denied, and at 11 pm drove myself back to college. At 2 am on Thursday I was in the studio, up to my elbows in plaster, completing the project for my 8 am class. Definitely not the ideal 24 hours post-retrieval, but a good example of how resilient your body can be and how low-stress donating was for me.
Ultimately, I decided not to donate my eggs again. The timing didn’t work out for me later in life and it was the right decision for me to be a one-time donor. That being said, being a donor was an incredibly special and fulfilling experience. I wouldn’t change it for the world. Knowing that a family or families out there have a special little someone (who is turning five this year!) is incredibly rewarding.
I get a lot of questions about why I decided to do it and I don’t know how else to explain it but a calling, like I had a duty to do it. I have friends who utilized donor services, friends who had trouble conceiving, friend born of egg donation, and I’ve watched families want a baby so badly. I could help, so I did. I’m not a martyr, it just seemed like the right thing to do, I had a gift that I could give.
How much were you paid for the retrieval?
I was compensated a total of $7,000, prior to taxes (totaling approximately $1,100).
How did the hormones affect you?
Truthfully, they didn’t affect me very much on an emotional level. Throughout the hormone injection process, I was dating someone and we didn’t have any major arguments or issues. I would have expected to see an emotional issue show up in the relationship, but nada. The hormones we take are the same that your body naturally produces, just at a different ratio to sync your cycle with the women receiving the eggs and mature more eggs. After the retrieval, my period was irregular for two months and then everything normalized. Within eight to ten weeks it was just a memory and I didn’t feel any different.
Do you know your kids from the donation? Or can you meet them someday?
No, this is done similar to a closed adoption. Once I donate I relinquish all rights to my eggs and any children that come from them. This is something that I want to make super clear: these are not my kids. Genetically they have my DNA, but that’s where our “connection” ends. The only time we would have a channel of communication in the future would be through the agency and only if there was pertinent medical information. For example, earlier this year I went through testing for Celiacs. If those tests had come back positive I would have reported to the agency that I tested positive and they would have communicated this to the receiving families. There would never be direct communication between myself and the families.
How long until you felt “normal” again?
Pretty much the next day! I was back at college and in class like nothing had happened. Actually, no one at college knew I was even going through this process. Aside from some lingering PMS-like symptoms (for about two days) and an irregular period, I felt like myself.
Will you run out of eggs earlier now? Like, hit menopause sooner?
No. It’s a common misconception that egg donation=losing eggs. The reality is that every period you are losing multiple eggs, this was all reviewed on Donor Day to keep us fully informed of the process. Quick science lesson, as a woman you are born with your lifetime supply of eggs (about one to two million). When you reach puberty you have closer to 400,000 eggs. During each of your menstrual cycles, your body matures about 15-20 eggs within the follicles in your ovaries. Then your body chooses one egg to reach maturity and be released for ovulation. This is how you get pregnant. If your body releases two and both are fertilized this is how you would have fraternal twins. The other eggs stop growing and are discarded during your period. When you go through egg donation the medication you receive tells your body to mature all the eggs in your follicles (15-20 instead of just one) and those eggs are then retrieved. The retrieval itself fits nicely into your natural cycle and (in short) you are losing no more eggs than your body would typically put out and lose in a cycle.
*I want to start this off with a disclaimer that this is what I have found to work for me. Everyone’s mental health needs are different and require unique, nuanced treatments and coping mechanisms. I am not a doctor and this is not intended to be taken as medical advice, this is based on my own personal experience.*
Let’s start at the beginning
When I was in elementary school I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), at the time they were separate disorders. At the time the best course of action looked like medication and as a 4th grader, I was put on a daily dose of Concerta to help me pay attention in class. After a little under a year my mom stopped the medication, she said that it made me less like myself and that she didn’t like how it changed me. I can honestly say that for that time in my life I have very few memories, almost like I was there, but not there. I found my written evaluation when I was in my early teens and was instantly embarrassed and self-conscious about what the observing psychologist had written about me.
Finding those notes was the first time I had that feeling of being different, being watched, and being evaluated in social situations. I believe that if you can track a mental disorder back to one moment finding those notes is what spurred on my social anxiety. It changed how I interacted with people every day. I was always a little extra chatty, but I was never embarrassed by acting a way that felt natural to me, and never felt that I had to overcompensate for an innate difference between me and the person next to me.
After finding those notes I became hyper-aware and fearful of how other people were perceiving me. Social anxiety can turn you into a different person. Personally, I am very introverted, which for someone who knows me may be a surprise. I truly am happiest when I am in the background, quieter in the conversation, and taking it all in instead of being the center of attention. My anxiety makes me feel that, in a social situation, I am constantly being judged and therefore constantly have to prove myself. Being “on” like that can be extremely taxing on and draining for me.
One of the biggest mistakes I ever made was enrolling in a small college. I had always wanted to go to a large school, being completely anonymous was extremely attractive to me (I grew up in a small town, in a family of seven, and more often than not was referred to as “one of the Shephards”. I absolutely hated how people would know me without knowing me at all.) Another attractive quality to a large school was the class size.
Lectures of 100+ students initially seem like the exact opposite someone with ADD/ADHD would need, however as a young adult I was much better at handling my attention issues and was able to learn quite well in those “fly-on-the-wall” situations. Of course, I would always have a tape recorder (thanks, Dad!) in case I spaced out in class and needed to listen to the lesson a second time, but in a lot of ways lecture-based learning was how I had been taught to learn all through middle and high school. It was familiar.
In the small college I ended up going to only one of my classes was lecture-based, all the others were based on small groups and roundtable discussions. It was not a learning style that suited me. To sit and read the 30+ pages needed per class was extremely difficult, and then to be put in a social situation where, in front of your peers, you needed to demonstrate not just a retention, but a comprehension of the reading was consistently challenging. Social anxiety makes getting a question wrong feel like taking a bullet. It’s not just the moment of making a mistake, it’s the inability to move past it. While the conversation pivots and weaves its way throughout the classroom you are still locked into that moment. Reliving it over and over.
Each class felt like a punishment and I spiraled, barely doing the readings, skipping class, and doing anything to distance myself from the fact that I was not getting it. After my first semester, I had a 1.5 GPA and was on academic probation. Before that day my GPA had never been below 3.75. I’m happy that I was able to retake classes, turn things around, and graduate with a 3.87 GPA.
Looking back I am, genuinely surprised that I graduated at all, much less with honors. I have reread some of the work I produced in my collegiate level courses and feel it was worse than my high school level work. I was not in the right environment for me and my learning. I had immense anxiety about disappointing my professors, my parents, and my peers and felt that transferring college would be an admittance of the fact that I couldn’t cut it.
My anxiety held me to stay in a situation where it was crippling my ability to succeed.
The purpose of sharing all of this is two-fold. For one it’s a self declaration that I am not the person I was in high school or college and that that person’s mistakes or short-comings don’t determine who am I or who I can be (if you are someone who lives with anxiety you know how difficult it can be to release yourself from previous mistakes). The second is to explain how I was able to make changes for myself to make my anxiety more manageable. There is no one-size-fits-all for managing a mental illness, but for me, a few foundational changes to my day to day has made all the difference.
Checking In. There’s a meditation technique of the “swinging door”. Essentially it’s a way to cope with those moments in meditation when a thought enters the mind. Instead of getting wrapped up in the thought and panicking about your inability to focus the idea is to acknowledge the thought and then let it go like a swinging door. This is similar to what I refer to as the “check-in” that I give myself. Instead of forcing myself to relax and trying to bury or compartmentalize anxiety I acknowledge it. When I feel I’m getting anxious, I take several deep breaths, try to make my mind go blank, and then approach the problem or trigger again. Does this work every time? Not at all, but it slows me down and gives me a moment to focus on something else.
Caring for Myself Physically. I’ve been an athlete my entire life. Taking care of my body is just as important as taking care of my mind. When I am physically active and nourished I genuinely feel better. I’m vigilant about how much I go out and drink, how often I eat foods that lack the nutrition I need, and especially how much I eat gluten. I’ve been diagnosed with a gluten allergy, but even if I hadn’t I would still avoid it. I’ve noticed that when I lower the amount of gluten in my diet I sleep better and feel less anxiety. If I notice anxiety building over several days I’ll check in with my physical health and make sure I’m still caring for myself in the ways that I need to be.
Taking a “Time Out”. I’m a naturally introverted person with social anxiety who grew up in a family of seven. “Me” time wasn’t something I ever realized I needed. As an adult, I worked at a retail store and found it to be completely draining. I would work from 3 pm to 10 pm, come home and sleep until 1:30 pm the next day. I wasn’t energized, inspired, excited, it was like I was living on auto-pilot. If I have a lot of events one week / weekend I will be sure to clear my schedule for the following few days to recharge. It’s important for my mental health to be able to take a step back and spend time by myself. This is also something I openly communicate with any partners I have and they will often schedule things on nights I need my me time so that I can have the apartment to myself. If you are co-living with a significant other I highly suggest asking for the same if solo time helps you.
Reevaluating my Relationships. Sometimes you create relationships that take more than they feed you. Growing up in a family of seven made me very co-dependent and I know that I need to be in friendships, relationships, and groups of people I feel I can rely on to truly relax. If I feel like I am consistently stretching myself for one particular friend or group I will carefully vet how often I let them in my life. Especially if I’m having a “rundown week”. I prioritize the things and people that will feed my happiness and keep my mind clear.