I travelled the world, lost my period, then found myself – guest post by Amy Molloy
When I decided to embark on a experiment to see if I could continue to do my day job whilst backpacking across 14 countries, I knew I’d be leaving my creature comforts behind me—a comfy bed, a hot shower, the other half of my toothbrush which my fiancé sawed off to save space in my backpack.
But, there was one element of my regular life I didn’t predict would go missing—my period. Last seen on the day we flew out of Sydney to start our journey, it only returned four months later—the exact week we landed back in our home country.
Perhaps I should have predicted my period would take a holiday during our holiday. I’ve previously written about my turbulent menstrual history—how I didn’t have a period for seven years, and how I finally got it back when I stopped trying so hard to chase it.
But, my body was about to remind me that fertility can be fragile. Even though our trip’s itinerary was healthy (hiking through South America, surfing in Costa Rica, snorkelling in the Galapagos Islands) I hadn’t factored in the emotional toll of trying to work full time whilst travelling, and the knock-on effect on my cycle.
I don’t believe that it is a coincidence that my period stopped as soon as we left home and returned the week we came back again. I also don’t believe it’s a coincidence that it stopped, all those years ago, on the day of my late-husband’s funeral and returned seven years later, two weeks after I met my now-fiancé.
I personally think women need to feel at home—emotionally—in order to feel like we belong in our bodies. I also believe that all humans crave adventure, spontaneity and freedom in order to thrive. So, how can you have both, and also protect your fertility?
Since returning home, I’ve worked (gently!) to discover ways to preserve my period, even when I’m on the road, living out of a hotel room or a hammock strung in a rainforest. These strategies aren’t backed by science and some are slightly unorthodox, but they help me to feel grounded when my world is whirling in newness, change and chaos.
Whether or not you’re a traveller, feel free to adopt them. At times we all feel lost and need a compass. I hope these techniques can help you find your fertile home:
Don’t toughen up. When faced with testing circumstances, I slip into ‘survivor’ mentality. I become sterner, stricter, more brittle—and it doesn’t suit me. Our trip required physical strength (I was carrying a 20kg backpack) but as my muscles became stronger I found myself becoming more ‘manly’ and less nurturing — in my tone, my mannerism and even the way I interacted with my partner. I believe even the strongest women need to find a way to soften. When I toughen up too much, I use the mantra “You are safe, you are free” which reminds me that life isn’t my enemy.
Find a motherly energy. If you’re tired, sick or just feeling sorry for yourself, sometimes a mother’s touch—anyone’s mother—is exactly what you need. When I was travelling through South America, I found myself seeking out the support of surrogate mothers—or they sought out me. At the Bolivian border a group of grandmothers rubbed my arms against the cold, and the owner of a hostel in a tiny Peruvian beach town cupped my face in her hands and whispered soothing words when I was homesick. It’s okay to want a wiser, stronger woman to lean on that so you can let go, even for a moment.
Carry a Care Kit. Even though my fiancé and I travel light (#understatement) we still make space for small items that bring us comfort. I have a friend from the army who calls them ‘one percenters’ — items that aren’t necessary for survival but can boost your mood in an instant. I carry a novel (not an e-book version) because I find ‘real’ books soothing. I also carry incense sticks to transform even the dingiest hostel room. My oddest “one percentile” is a small piece of my childhood comfort blanket which is pinned into the lining of my backpack. No-one else needs to understand your care kit, as long as it works for you.
Strip off and stare. Around halfway through our trip, after a five day hike through the Peruvian mountains, I realised I hadn’t seen my bare boobs in a week. For practical reasons, I had been hiking, sleeping, swimming and washing whilst wearing the same sports bra (also having sex in it! ). I went nearly four months without seeing my body naked in a full length mirror, and I only realised later how much I missed it. Now, every morning after my shower I do a self-massage ritual. I spend just a minute rubbing coconut oil into my body, concentrating on my abdomen and ovary area. Even when life is busy, take a moment to strip off and nurture yourself.
Look at the Moon
I personally believe in the effect of the ‘lunar cycle’ and the idea that the moon has an influence on the body and menstrual cycle. That’s why, wherever I am in the world, I look up at the moon to acknowledge it’s shape. I also give it a little wave as an acknowledgement that there are forces greater than us. It might sound a little hippy but there are practical benefits too. I usually track my period using the Fertile Friend app but it needs internet connection to update. Because I know my period usually arrives with the new moon I can use the lunar cycle as a tracker—and this one doesn’t need Wi-fi to function.