My periods started at the age of eleven. For as long as I remember, I had very difficult periods, and by the time I was in my early twenties, my period pain had become intolerable and excessive. Things worsened in my mid-twenties and missing work during my moon days became normal. I started experiencing blackouts during my periods. Many a time, I needed assistance to walk from one room to the other. My good intentioned friends and family made me believe this was NORMAL. After all, it happens with all of us and is natures call to give women rest for a few days!! My (lady) boss once screamed at me for finding excuses to miss work. The doctor found nothing unusual in my condition and suggested: “It’s all in my head!”
Having friends and family around wasn’t very helpful. After all, who wants to hear your monthly rants about excessive blood, blood clots the size of golf balls and PMS. I felt lost and isolated. The pain was unbearable. But, so was the ignorance.
So, did periods impact me physically, yes! Did they impact me emotionally? YES YES YES! I started having a very dark relationship with my mummy making organ. I had nightmares before my periods. All travel and holidays were planned around my period date. How it affected my self-confidence is any one’s guess. Planning my life around PERIOD became the focal point of my life.
When I was 29, and at the peak of my fertile age, things took a turn for the worse. I was now suffering from excruciating period pain, PMS, gut-wrenching cramps, excessive bleeding and was diagnosed with Endometriosis. I finally had a name for my misery. One visit to a gynaecologist and one 12-minute abdomen scan started a long 12-year journey of infertility. The scan that day detected multiple cysts (read 8) mushrooming inside my uterus at a mind-blowing speed. Remember I was young and these cysts were feeding on my monthly cycle, in an environment that was fed by inflammation, poor lifestyle and dietary habits. After all, at that age who doesn’t like sugar-rich diet, refined carbs (yes pizza’s and pasta’s!) and the occasional alcohol. It so happened, that those cysts liked them too!
The doctor informed that I will never be able to have kids, will need to take lifelong medications and undergo multiple surgeries. Not the best of news for someone married for 3 years and planning to start a family! This was the year 2009. One laparoscopy surgery later, we were able to begin our family planning on a new more fertile land (my uterus). This was surgery number one, and mentally I was preparing myself for multiple surgeries, because, these cysts were meant to recur.
While I conceived my daughter in 2011, the real challenge began when we decided to have another child. The mind and heart were greedy for baby number two but the body was not willing to cooperate. And so my tryst with IVF continued.
IVF, even then, was not openly talked about, just like endometriosis. The waiting time at each doctor visit was at least 2-3 hours and I dreaded being seen by a friend, acquaintance or a relative even 5 kms away from the clinic. There was a lack of awareness, misconceptions and so much stigma around assisted reproductive techniques (ART) and back then, I did not want people to know I was incomplete. That it was my fault that I could not bear a child. It took several years to learn that it was never my fault and that by no means was I incomplete. Self-love and self-care came with years of practice and introspection and is an evolving process. This was a valuable lesson learnt in my journey and has shaped my personality in various ways.
Between 2012 and 2018 I underwent several rounds of IVF. Every round gave me new hope and in my mind, I planned my life in the following 9 months, imagined my baby’s cousins and friends around my friends who were already pregnant at that time. But, after being pumped several potent drugs, trying renowned doctors in two different cities in India as well as in Singapore, we still did not get any positive results. Every failed cycle, broke my heart a little more and further weakened the innate ability of my body to heal and repair.
During these years, I learnt another important lesson. That science can only go so far. That a body that is broken inside and a soul in despair can only take you so far. And so I worked on myself, both physically and spiritually. After trying several forms of exercises, I fell in love with yoga. I finally rose from my couch and practised yoga six days a week. Meditation, relaxation techniques and physical asanas changed me completely. So much so that I trained to be a yoga instructor in Singapore, to spread the light of yoga and hopefully change the lives of those who crossed my path.
In the meantime, I also changed my diet and lifestyle. I started sleeping at 10 PM, adopted a predominantly gluten-free diet, and said goodbye to my favourite cold coffee aka dairy. Always a poor eater, I also opened my mind to trying new and healthier eating options.
All this helped me tremendously to manage my symptoms of endometriosis and improve my fertility. The cysts came back, but not as a family of 8 this time but a singleton growing slowly. Because unlike before, the internal environment was now hostile to the cysts, thanks to all the changes I was slowly and consciously making.
April 2020, we saw the birth of our beautiful son born with the help of a kind-hearted surrogate. Surrogacy was initially not an option we were considering because again, the society was not open to it. Remember the old age wisdom, bear the child yourself and transfer your values to your unborn child. This time, I trusted nurturing over nature to bring this child to the world. Another lesson learnt.
All of this experience made me realise the huge information gap and lack of support around hormonal issues. Funny how many of us are silently suffering from PCOS, endometriosis, infertility, menopause and the like and are only offered quick-fix band-aid approach by most medical doctors. Take hormonal pills, contraceptives, painkillers, suppress the symptoms and maybe return a few years later with more symptoms and new disease.
My quest for knowledge motivated me to become a health coach with IIN, New York and I am now studying functional medicine with Functional Diagnostic Nutrition, US to help identify and correct the underlying causes and conditions that lead to people’s health complaints.
I am now 41, mother of two beautiful kids and can say with pride that I have come a long way managing the debilitating symptoms of the disease and painful periods NATURALLY, also creating awareness around women’s health along the way. My journey changed my outlook towards health and lifestyle, the conventional and the unconventional as defined by our society. I have also realized how important is it to address the root cause of the disease and at the very least, openly talk about it. Today, I want to help women know that they are not alone. That there are so many options available to us that can help the body to heal and repair. No one deserves to feel isolated and lost. We are in this together!
This is the story of Smriti Suri written in her own words
Smriti is a chartered Accountant turned yoga instructor, health coach, and studying functional medicine to help women improve fertility and balance their hormones naturally.
This write-up has also been published on healthshots.com (A Hindustan Times Venture)