“When I was an undergraduate student, I’d go and see a couple of doctors about my irregular menstrual cycle because when I’d get my period, I’d be weak and too tired to study”.
Read part 1 of this story here.
For as long I could remember, my menstrual cycle has always been irregular. There were times where I would go up to six months without having my period. Growing up, I was a tomboy and hung around boys a lot and so I preferred not having my period. When I did have my period, I was always tired, sometimes weak and often in pain. In terms of flow, it was always a light flow. I’d listen to my friends talk about theirs and how many times they had to change in a day, because the flow was so heavy their clothes stained. And I’d often think to myself, “shit man, either I have it easier than them or something must be wrong with me”.
You know, when you’re a young teen, it’s really hard to talk to anyone about your irregular menstrual cycle. I didn’t really understand how it all worked to begin with, so I wasn’t confident to talk about it. I do remember learning about this stuff in our science classes but I never paid attention and it just never seemed interesting to me. I don’t know, it’s probably because I couldn’t relate to the normal cycles that were being taught. They don’t teach us in school about irregular menstrual cycles. Or did they? Most of the time, the first thing people assume is that when you’ve missed 5 months, most likely you’ve been having lots of sex and you’re pregnant! It is this kind of shaming and backward thinking that prevents young women from seeking medical help early.
The thing about irregular menstrual cycles is that it could be caused by many factors. When I was an undergraduate student, I’d go and see different doctors about my irregular cycle because when I’d get my period, I’d be weak and too tired to study. They’d tell me it could be stress, too much coffee, lack of sleep, too much alcohol, smoking and being overweight. Most of the time they would prescribe some pills “to make me bleed”. None of it worked. Years later when I was working, I saw two different gynecologists and I was prescribed hormone pills to balance my hormones. I didn’t know whether they were meant to do the same thing as the pills I was prescribed when I was in university, but they didn’t work either. My menstrual cycle was still irregular and those pills caused my libido (sex drive) to decrease dramatically. Nobody wants their libido to drop, come on! After years of seeing doctors and taking pills, I still didn’t know what was wrong with my menstrual cycle. So, I stopped bothering about my menstrual cycle and I didn’t think I had any chance of conceiving. Honestly, I didn’t care anymore.
When I first went to see our doctor in 2016, we identified irregular menstrual cycle as one of my symptoms and it is a symptom of both gluten intolerance and coeliac disease. My doctor wanted to strengthen other areas of my body first before we focused on my menstrual cycle. And the reason behind this was that there were many things causing a lot of imbalances in my body that needed to be fixed first. This included the complete removal of gluten and oats from my diet to relieve my body from inflammation that gluten was causing in my body. I was advised to keep track of my menstrual cycle, taking note of how long each cycle took, how light or heavy the flow was and how I was feeling before, during and after each cycle.
On my third appointment we looked at my menstrual cycle and it was still irregular. Some of my cycles ranged from 23, 36, 45, 69, 83 to 94 days (see pic below). I had made notes about how I was feeling before, during and after a cycle. Mind you, this was something I never bothered about or paid any attention to my entire life. So, taking note of this was interesting to me and was a great learning experience.
When I had my period, I’d want to stay in bed all day and when I didn’t have my period I would be celebrating!!! On the days leading up to my period, I would have really painful back pain, stomach cramps, headaches and feeling really fatigued. There were times at the beginning of my period, I would have large chunky dark red or almost brown blood clots. Sometimes it would be bright red. Based on the notes I took, my doctor and I talked about possibilities that i may have had a miscarriage(s). And this made me think back to times when I’d have pain around my cervical area, lower abdomen and back just before what I thought was my period. I remember there were a few times when there were big blood clots and the flow was very heavy afterwards. But I usually don’t have heavy flow.
“The one I clearly remember and I do think I had a miscarriage was in 2017.”
The one I clearly remember and I do think I had a miscarriage was in 2017. Our work team had a regional workshop in Vanuatu. On the week we were leaving, I just felt tired and the smell of food all of a sudden made me feel so disgusted. And I never feel disgusted about food. Never! We Tongans eat anything and almost everything. Moji and I went to Damodar that week and the smell of fried food made me want to vomit. The whole time we were there, I felt really sick and a bit dizzy. Pregnancy did cross our minds, but we didn’t think it would happen. I think we were both reluctant to even think about pregnancy because we didn’t want to be disappointed. Eventhough I was quite weak and had abdominal cramps and pelvic pain I just brushed it off as my period although I do think I had a miscarriage within a few days of conception.
I remember feeling really weak, with pain in my lower abdomen, back and pelvis. I had a few blood clots. The first few days in Vanuatu, I wasn’t feeling well at all, but I just braved through it because I was facilitating a few of the workshops. The picture on the left, was during one of our morning tea sessions at the workshop in Port Vila. A few of my colleagues and I were spread out lying down in the lounge area. When I think back to those days of trying to establish myself in my career, it’s sad to think that this is what many women also go through to grow professionally. We focus more on our career rather than our own health and well being.
Looking at the patterns of my menstrual cycle, my doctor asked if I wanted to have children. For me, if we had a child, wonderful, if we didn’t then oh well! It wasn’t something I really dwelled on because I had already given up. We figured that if I don’t find out then I will never know if I can or cannot conceive. So, we decided to find out. We ran some blood tests and had an ultrasound to check whether my ovaries were healthy.
“Next big news, I found out that I had Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).”
Next big news, I found out that I had Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). I was like WTF is that? Is it cancerous? I was literally in panic mode. PCOS is a condition where the ovaries produce too much of the male hormone and it was affecting my menstrual cycle and ovulation (the process when a mature egg is released from the ovary). The ovaries develop small cyst-like follicles filled with fluid. Basically, there was something causing imbalance in my hormones. My doctor then advised me to monitor my ovulation patterns using an ovulation thermometer also known as a basal body thermometer (BBT). We needed to know the nature of my cycle and when I was ovulating. A slight increase in temperature indicates ovulation. We couldn’t find any BBT in Fiji so we ordered it online. The good news was that I was ovulating and was able to conceive, but several factors were not allowing me to be able to carry the baby. It is important to note here, that PCOS is not a symptom of gluten intolerance or coeliac disease.
“Most of my organs were fine but we found out mercury was affecting my ovaries.”
We did another FCT and this time, it targeted different organs. Most of my organs were fine but we found out mercury was affecting my ovaries. Too much mercury was affecting my hormone levels, contributing to irregular cycles, and build up of toxins. We then looked at my medical history to figure out where mercury came from. Between 1991-1994, my family lived in Perth Australia and I had a lot of amalgam dental fillings also known as silver filling while we were in Australia. My family then migrated to the US in 1994 and we had to be immunized against the flu in order to start school. Both are known to contain mercury.
On top of all of that, I also ate a lot of food that contain a high amount of mercury such as tuna and marlin; and a lot of other foods but contain lesser amounts of mercury such as shrimps. During my undergraduate years, I ate the largest amount of tuna I’ve had my entire life. With a student budget and student hall rules that didn’t allow cooking (see pic on left) we ate tuna with crackers a lot. All these factors contributed to the build up of mercury that contributed to problems in my ovaries. My doctor had explained to me that we can be exposed to mercury all the time without knowing, but too much can be harmful and advised me to stop eating tuna. This was to help return my ovaries to a healthier state. We completed this FCT removing the toxins, mercury build up and some other metals from my ovaries.
“Even though my period was still irregular, the painful symptoms had disappeared and I was more energetic than before. I was gaining my life back, every day, bit by bit.”
This was the first time anyone practicing medicine was trying to look deeper into factors that were likely causing my irregular menstrual cycle. I was really glad even though I didn’t know whether I would be able to conceive or not, I was just happy because I could feel the changes in my body. At the end of 2017, my menstrual cycle was still irregular. I had kept to a gluten free diet and stayed away from tuna and anything that was high in mercury. I had another ultrasound done and I no longer had PCOS, all of the cyst-like little things that freaked me out had disappeared.
Around this time, Moji and I were working full time and studying part time to complete our master’s degree. We were also doing morning and afternoon boxing sessions almost every day of the week. Before I started this treatment, I couldn’t wake up early, I couldn’t exercise when I had my period because I’d feel so weak and tired. But at this point, I was up in the morning going to the gym or paddling. I was literally full of life and energy. When I’d have my period, I was still going to the gym without any problems. The first time I went, Moji looked at me and asked if I wasn’t feeling weak. I wasn’t. Even though my period was still irregular, the painful symptoms had disappeared and I was more energetic than before. I was gaining my life back, every day, bit by bit.
“She predicted that by the time I return from the UK, I would be able to conceive. The only month I missed in 2018 was March. I had my period every other month however, the time I’d have it during each month varied.”
In 2018, I was awarded a Chevening scholarship to pursue another master’s degree in the UK. So, I visited my doctor one last time for a check up before I left. We did one last FCT and I was prescribed Chaste berry juice to help balance my hormones and regulate my menstrual cycle (see pic on the left). These were the only tablets I was prescribed throughout my whole treatment. After examining my results, my doctor told me my body was in top shape and assured me that my menstrual cycle should slowly return to normal because the functioning of my entire body seems to be more balanced now. Her prediction was that by the time I return from the UK, I would be able to conceive.
The only month I missed in 2018 was March. I had my period every other month however, the time I’d have it during each month varied. Some months I’d have it at the beginning, other times mid month and sometimes at the end. I cannot describe the feeling of having my period every month without feeling weak, tired and without pain. Throughout my entire life, I dreaded having my period and now, I was paddling and boxing while I had my period.
“My period shifted from mid month in February 2019 to the end of the month from March all the way to July. This was the first time its timing has ever been consistent, ever!”
When I left Fiji in September of 2018, I kept monitoring my cycle throughout my time in Leeds, UK. I still kept to a strict gluten free diet. If I was traveling to another city or country, I’d pack my own food; rice, gluten free bread, gluten free pasta, spices etc. Moji visited me in December 2018 and in July 2019. I never got pregnant and we thought maybe it was the wrong time to get pregnant anyways since I was studying. I exercised almost every day of the week, I joined the university Muay Thai boxing club. I joined the Leeds fun park run almost every Saturday and eventually I was able to run 5km non-stop by March 2019. If you read the first part of my story, before going off gluten I couldn’t run 100m non stop due to muscle cramp and swelling. And here I was, running 5km in the cold Yorkshire weather. I was 34 with so much energy doing things that I could never have done when I was 24.
My period shifted from mid month in February 2019 to the end of the month from March all the way to July. This was the first time its timing has ever been consistent, ever! And I could finally predict my period to arrive at the end of the month. Then I missed August but most likely that could have been caused by the stress and over drive from trying to complete and submit my dissertation by the end of August. I had my period again in September just before Moji came over for a conference in Scotland. And it was on this trip that we believe our son was conceived in Aberdeen. Yes, we kept track of everything!! LOL
“Throughout my pregnancy, my doctor kept reminding me to stay away from gluten to avoid inflammation and food containing mercury such as tuna in case it affects my pregnancy.”
Upon returning to Fiji around early October, I started feeling nauseous and weak. I thought maybe it was the long haul flight back and maybe I hadn’t slept properly yet. But no, it was our little warrior blessing in the making! Throughout my pregnancy, my doctor kept reminding me to stay away from gluten to avoid inflammation and food containing mercury such as tuna in case it affects my pregnancy. It was really hard because during my pregnancy I was craving bread, Big Macs and all the things I shouldn’t eat. I had to really convince myself mentally to ensure I don’t compromise my immune system during pregnancy.
In 2020, I traveled to Tonga when I was just over 6 months pregnant and I got stuck there when Fiji closed its borders during the pandemic. Story of my life! In June 2020, after four years of therapy, following a gluten free diet and making major changes to my lifestyle, I went into labor for more than 48 hrs and gave birth to a beautiful healthy Tongan, Rotuman boy!
I’ve learned so much over the past couple of years. This was a journey filled with sacrifice, perseverance, faith, self-love, determination and evolving. In the beginning I had to set realistic goals and identify my priorities. I’ve never had any regrets on a decision or choice I made. Today, I feel much better than I did when I was 25. I got rid of all my symptoms and I’m so active. Whenever I get any symptoms, it’s usually a sign that something I ate had gluten or oats or something is causing imbalances in my body. Now, I am very aware of my body, how it is functioning and when I need a medical check up. I keep to a strict gluten free and low sugar diet. I look after my nutrition. You may think, I eat a lot of pastries because I bake, I don’t. I bake for my family every once in a while so that we don’t crave products that contain gluten or dairy. I make sure I have carbohydrates, protein, fat, greens, vitamins etc in my daily meals and I try to exercise 2-3 times a week.
Looking back, I walked into our doctor’s clinic in 2016 not knowing that my life was going to change forever! I walked in for just a check up and found out I wasn’t as healthy as I thought. I found out I have a sensitivity to gluten and oats and that I had polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). I also found out I had mercury in my ovaries that was affecting my menstrual cycle and ability to conceive and many other symptoms. I went through therapy for 4 years, changed my lifestyle and diet and became a mother at 35.
Disclaimer: Please note that I am only sharing my experiences and it should not be taken as medical advice or me trying to promote a medical procedure. For any medical advice, consult a doctor.