Follicular Tracking & Low Progesterone

From the Founder

14 months after coming off the pill and after 8 months of actively “trying”, I went to a fancy fertility clinic to start follicular tracking to see what’s up, and whaddayaknow, it turns out I’ve got low progesterone. 

Low progesterone is apparently a pretty common reason for infertility. But even though a lot of women experience it, when I Googled it, alas, I couldn’t find any real, interesting or inspiring information or stories about it online. So, to help spread the word, here’s mine…

What is follicular tracking?

It might mean slightly different things for different women, but for me, it means having to go for regular scans to monitor the growth of my follicles (where the eggs grow), use a kit to predict when I’m ovulating (hello pee sticks), time sex accordingly (oh joys!), and then have a blood test to check that I’ve actually ovulated. And on my first tracked cycle, my blood test showed that I have low progesterone.

What does low progesterone mean (in terms of conception)? 

A lot, it turns out! Progesterone is a female sex hormone and if you don’t have enough of it, it’s simple: you may have trouble getting or staying pregnant. It’s produced mainly in the ovaries following ovulation each month, and helps to regulate your cycle; but its main job is to get your uterus ready for pregnancy and helps maintain the uterine lining throughout pregnancy.

How do I feel about it? 

Honestly? Fucking relieved. Relieved to know that there’s a reason why, over a year later, we’re still not pregnant. Relieved to know that, whilst it’s my body that isn’t doing what it should (in terms of producing the right level of hormones), there’s really nothing I can do about it. Relieved to know that after months of planning and timing sex and stressing so much that it ended up being too difficult to have that perfectly timed sex, that my planing and timing wasn’t off – my hormones were. And, most of all, relieved to know that it’s treatable.

So what now? 

We keep tracking, and this time during the second half of my cycle, I pop some progesterone pessaries to get their levels up to where they should be, and for the next few months try to conceive “naturally” as if I had a more “normal” cycle. Talk about levelling the playing field!

And who knows, maybe after a few months with a little extra suppository support, and a few rounds of acupuncture – I’ve just started to see the brilliant Mandy Brass to help balance my cycles, (and it was actually Mandy who spotted low progesterone well before the blood test, from previous BBT data I’d give her) – hopefully the mixture of Western and Chinese medicines will work their magic. 

As anyone who has been trying for a while will know, (and I know that my length of trying is fractional compared to so many women) – trying to get pregnant has been a rollercoaster. And up till now, if I’m totally honest, I was more angry at my body for not getting pregnant, rather than actually wanting a baby. But now, for whatever reason – maybe it’s the new year, maybe it’s the new house, or maybe it’s because I finally have answers – for the first time in my life, I actually want a baby. I’m ready for it (or as ready as I’ll ever be).

So don’t you worry, I feel good about this. (It isn’t fucking easy, mind you, but I do feel good). There’s comfort knowing that I’m no longer out there “doing it on my own”. I have help. And answers. And a plan. And hope. 

So wish us luck on this next chapter of our journey. And if you want to, I’m here to talk, always. 

Arianna x 

Coming off the pill after 10 years

I’ve never had a particularly good relationship with my period, or my vagina for that matter. And until recently, I would have never even dared write those words down, let alone share them on an open blog. I expect some of my nearest and dearest are thinking ‘I can’t believe she wrote that about her vagina.’ Well, I did. And if that’s made you squirm, then maybe this post isn’t for you.

So who is it for, exactly? It’s for anyone who’s been taking the pill for a long time. It’s for anyone who’s recently come off it. It’s for anyone with a period. It’s for anyone without one.

I’m hoping that by writing my experience down, it will help break some of the taboos around period chat, and let anyone who might be going through what I’m going through know, that it’s ok – it’s not just you.  I’m definitely no doctor, nor do I pretend to offer medical advice, but when it came to seeking help about what I’ve been going through (and currently still am going through), I found it really hard to get information from my GP, online, or from friends. So even if only one woman stumbles upon this story and feels a sense of relief knowing that she’s not alone, then my job here is done.

To start, we need to take a few steps back.

I got my period when I was 13. I remember it so well. I was with my family at a friend’s house and it came out of nowhere. I called for my mum from the bathroom and she said we needed to get home. As we said our goodbyes she mouthed to the hosts: ‘she’s just got her period’ as if it was some big secret or something that needed to be dealt with in private. And I guess that’s how I’ve always felt about it.

At that stage of my life I was at an all-girls boarding school, where I stayed until I was 18 years old. Some pretty fucking crucial years spent there. And aside from using my period as an excuse to get out of swim class, I can’t actually remember ever having an open discussion about my menstrual cycle with anyone. It was something that happened to every single one of us on a regular (or sometimes irregular) basis – and it was never spoken about. What’s worse is, when we did talk about it, we’d called it ‘the curse’, as if it was some awful, misfortunate thing that was happening to us. Thinking about that now, I realise how crazy and sad it was that we called it that.

I used to get some of the worst period pains. With some cycles I’d be able to pop a couple of pain killers and get by, but with others I’d have to skip school and lie down for days. On the odd occasion I’d actually vomit from pain.

My relationship with my period wasn’t helped by the fact that I had an even worse relationship with tampons. I don’t know if it was a generational thing or a cultural thing (I’m Persian), but I was always told not to wear them. But seeing all my friends graduate from pads to tampons was really hard, so one night, I took a tampon and inserted it fairly easily. When it came to taking it out though, I couldn’t, and had to be taken to the on-call doctor who told me whilst removing it, that I had got it caught in my hymen. Fucking excellent. I never touched a tampon again after that until years later.

Skip forward a few years: I’m 22, got a steady boyfriend and decide to go on the pill. I end up on a Progestin-only pill – or the cute sounding mini-pill – that I took religiously every day. As is common with this type of pill, there was no break between packs, and because of the way in which this particular pill works – it thins the lining of the uterus and thickens the cervical fluid so sperm can’t get through – my periods went from heavy and horrific to nonexistent.

So for years I had no pads, no pain, no bleeds, no worries….right?!

We’re now in the present day: I’m 33 years old and at the end of last year, that steady boyfriend of mine (who is now my husband) and I, decide that we’re as ready as we’ll ever be to start a family; so the first step is to come off the pill, after ten years.

I was genuinely afraid (still am) that coming off it would alter my personality – one that I’m incredibly proud of, but one that’s also prone to stress-induced snaps and bouts of anxiety. I realised that my husband had never known me to not be on the pill, and was worried that he might not like the non-pill version of me!

I came off the pill in October 2019 and the day I stopped taking it, I ran into Boots to stock up on pads, pills and (believe it or not, having still never worn one) tampons. The NHS website, which I trust whole-heartedly, told me that when you come off the pill it can take up to 2 weeks to get your period, so I was well prepared. But two weeks later, my period hadn’t arrived, and I assumed I must be pregnant. (If only it were that quick and easy)! I wasn’t, so started to panic. I made an appointment with my GP, but they couldn’t see me for another two weeks. More panic took hold as those levels of anxiety got a little higher: “what have I done to my period?”, I kept thinking.

It wasn’t until after I spoke to a friend who had also recently come off the pill and hadn’t had her period either, that I calmed down. Her GP had told her it can take up to six months to get your period back. Six months?! Why wasn’t I told that? Why wasn’t that written anywhere that’s easy to find? I was annoyed, but also relieved.

It’s probably around now that you might be thinking: ‘of course you were going to have problems with your cycle after taking the pill for such a long time.’ And you’re probably right. But each time I’d gone to my GP for repeat prescription – which was every 3 months – I’d always ask if taking the mini-pill back to back without any breaks (or bleeds) would harm my chances of fertility; and the answer was always no.

At this point it might be worth my mentioning the realities of your cycle when taking the combined pill vs. the mini pill. And apologies if you already know this, (I only found it out recently), but it might be useful to know that if you’re on the combined pill (the one where you take a break at the end of one packet before starting the next), the bleed in between those packets isn’t actually your period. It’s called a ‘withdrawal bleed’, and it can take just as many months to get a regular cycle after taking the combined pill as it does the mini-pill.

It took me a total of 2 months and 2 sessions with a reflexologist to get my first bleed in ten years, and my gosh, I’d never been happier about it.

The silver lining in having to wait for what felt like so long for it to arrive, was that for the first time in my life, I was grateful to see blood. I saw it as a blessing (not a curse); a sign that things were working and that I hadn’t completely fucked up my insides by stuffing myself full of hormones for so many years. And along with that gratefulness came a whole bunch of other feelings I hadn’t felt in a while, like femininity and sexuality. Those emotions were definitely harnessed by reading Maisie Hill’s Period Power which I cannot recommend enough. It completely changed my outlook on the female body, my vagina (or vulva, I should say) and periods.

So my period came, and with it, my first cycle. I’m a type-A planner, so I started tracking my days to better understand exactly what I could expect from my hormones during the different sections of my cycle. I went from being almost disgusted with the thought of having a period in my teens, to openly telling people what stage of my cycle I was in, and almost boasting about being able to use tampons (yeah, fuck you hymen!) My menstrual cramps were practically nonexistent compared to how they were when I was growing up – I think this has to do with leading a healthier lifestyle now compared to when I was a teenager – and I see them as sign that things are working just as they should be. So at 33, I not only find my period empowering, but also genuinely exciting.

That said, things are still far from back to ‘normal’. It’s now April 2020 and I’ve only had two periods since my first one back in December 2019. My husband and I are now actively trying to conceive, and I don’t know what the lack of periods mean (if anything) or if I should be worried about them. I can’t find any information online, and unfortunately now with Coronavirus racing through the world, there are far more pressing matters that the NHS is dealing with (and rightly so); but it means I’m back to square one of not really knowing where to turn to get the information I need about my body. Cue anxiety.

My friends try to comfort me by telling me that it’ll take time for my cycle to regulate as my hormones are still adjusting, but I’m worried that missing periods might mean something more serious (like a lack of ovulation). Unfortunately there’s not much I can do about it at the moment, so I’m trying not to overthink it (that definitely doesn’t help with baby-making), and instead, make the most of the quarantined-time at home with my husband, by having more regular sex (which definitely does help).

So who knows whether or not what I put into my body for all those years has impacted my chances of getting pregnant now. I hope not, and I honestly don’t believe it has. I just wish the information about all this was out there in a much more obvious way, and that my GP had been much more upfront about the realities of long-time pill taking. If I had known, then maybe I would have come off the pill years ago. Maybe I wouldn’t have. I don’t know. But I do know that it would have saved me from a lot of worry and stress over these last few months.

That’s why I felt it necessary to share my journey with this so far. So that anyone who has experienced this or who is going through it right now knows that they are not alone. We need to share our stories and experiences, however icky or uncomfortable others may feel hearing it – in fact, that’s exactly why we need to keep talking about it. If you have anything you want to share or talk about, then to please get in touch.

And in the meantime, I’ll keep tracking and we’ll keep trying. Wish us luck. x

Meet the Founder

Who are you?
Hey, I’m Arianna Radji Lee. I’m Pachamama’s Mama. I freelance as a corporate event consultant and I used to be an instructor at London’s spin studio, PSYCLE, so knowledge, health and a sense of community are all things that I very much present in my every day and are incredibly important to me.
What is Pachamama?
Pachamama is destination to help inform, inspire and connect new and expecting parents. I wanted to create a space for women to connect, meet, grow and support one another along their journey through motherhood.

What does that support look like?

At the moment, we’re running online events and courses for new and expecting parents. We have a range of workshops and workouts for both pre and postnatal women, as well as activities for little ones to keep them occupied, stimulated and learning during the pandemic.
Ultimately though, we’re working on opening a physical space that women can come to with their friends or on their own to meet like-minded women, have a coffee, attend a talk, get a treatment or workout, all the while knowing that their child is being well looked after in the same space. 
Full disclosure – I’m not a mother yet – but I’ve spent a lot of time talking to mothers and mothers-to-be and listening to what they want, and I’ve noticed that the current systems in place aren’t catering for their needs. What I’ve also come to understand is that whilst motherhood is a beautiful and rewarding experience, it can also be exhausting, overwhelming and lonely at times.
So that’s why I’ve created Pachamama, to offer a safe space with community at its heart, to meet the needs of modern motherhood.
Why is creating something like Pachamama so important to you?
It’s important because now, more than ever, people are understanding the value of self-care. Unfortunately though, the current systems that are in place – in the UK at least – don’t, or aren’t able to support that care when it comes to new parents, particularly mothers, and that needs to change. I think that’s why, maybe selfishly, I’ve been hesitant about starting my own family.
From the many women I’ve spoken to, I’ve come to understand that as a parent, particularly with a newborn, finding time for yourself becomes incredibly difficult, especially if you don’t have support at home or family close by.
My hope with Pachamama is that it gives women the necessary support they need all under one roof, which makes carving out time for themselves that little bit easier.
What’s the meaning behind the name?
I read once that Pachamama is a goddess revered by the indigenous people of the Andes who is known as the Earth Mother. In other beliefs she is the goddess of grounding and fertility. She’s an ever-present and independent deity who has her own self-sufficient and creative power to sustain life on Earth. Given how strong mothers are, I like to believe that they embody her spirit. Basically, I think all mothers are goddesses!
Click here for our calendar of events. Follow us on Instagram for more details.
This post was updated on October 27, 2020.