I haven't been blogging for a while but I do feel today I want to share a little bit of a personal story with you. I have noticed that a lot of people are curious about how I got to where I am today. I went to a Rupi Kaur performance the other day here in Lisbon (if you do not know who Rupi is, check out her work, she is one of my favorite poets of all time!) and via an app group called Lisbon Gal Pals I connected with other women to go to this performance together.
Naturally, when introducing ourselves, people are curious what we do in life, what our work is and sometimes they'll also ask about our passions. In my experience, when I share what I do, most women are hooked and they want to know all about how I got into this field.
So I figured it would be good to open up about my story here as well.
Inspiring stories of how we got where we are today, can serve as a catalyst for more of us to follow our dreams and unique life paths.
My story started way back in 2009. This was the year my dad passed and I made the decision to start studying Anthropology. I moved to an entirely new city on my own to start a new life after this life-changed heartbreaking event of losing my father. I was 19 at the time and motivated to make him proud.
In Anthropology, I noticed quickly enough that the most interesting field to me was Medical Anthropology - the study of how people look at, perceive and relate to their bodies and those of others. I chose as many classes as I could that nourished my desire to learn about all of this. I ended up being accepted at UCLA (University of California Los Angeles) for an exchange year where I deepened my knowledge. This was also the year I started to experience severe side effects of the pill (the fact that I was experiencing all these side effects was confirmed by an incredible OBGYN that worked on campus at UCLA) and I began to learn everything I possibly could about hormonal contraception and what it does to our bodies. I decided to quit the pill and start practicing the fertility awareness method. I was excited but I was also frowned upon and considered 'irresponsible' for not taking hormonal contraceptives. Nevertheless, I was determined to get this method down and make it work for me. I was extremely lucky at the time that I had access to one of the biggest university libraries in the world and with my student login from UCLA I could access every single clinical and research article that was available about this topic at the time - I even purchased and extra external hard drive to save all my articles. LOL😂 I was so passionate about all of this back then without even realizing it and without knowing that this whole topic would become my JOB!
After I got back from LA, I had one more year to study in my Anthropology major. And to graduate we had to do a fieldwork of 3-6 months as well as write a thesis about it. I chose to go to a very small village in India (my art teacher from high school had contacts there and she arranged I could go there, bless her!) and research pregnancy experiences amongst women there. That same year, my friend Aischa and I had become more and more interested in birth, she also introduced me to the profession of a doula, about which she had learned in Brazil. During my research in India, I unexpectedly ended up witnessing birth. This experience had such a profound impact on me on so many levels. I felt the same energy in the room as when my father died - only the direction was different. I was so incredibly amazed by the power of a mother birthing her child. I was also appalled by the disrespect with which this woman was treated by her care providers. I can easily say that this experience became a core memory and changed me forever. Back home, I struggled with writing my thesis and kept thinking I chose the wrong career path. Should I have become a midwife? Is it too late to become a midwife? That same year, my friend Aischa and I went to a conference organized by Midwifery Today, where we met all our heroes (midwives, doulas, activists, scholars writing about things like obstetric violence, humane birth care, birth systems that work, midwifery models of care, etc.). This ignited the fire to start a doula training. - which I started just a couple of months later. Ever since I have been doing doula work - supporting birthing people and their partners on the journey of becoming parents. I am there during pregnancy, birth and postpartum. This work is the most incredible work I ever got to do. And sometimes I am still pinching myself and asking how I got so lucky to see babies being born so often in this lifetime. During my work as a doula, I sometimes also got frustrated... Very often, I was a doula for highly educated people and yet... more often than not I was teaching them basic biology, and supporting them to feel at ease in their own bodies...
This made me question...what would their pregnancy-birth-postpartum experience look like if they would know the basic biology of their bodies, and could fully land in it before they got pregnant?
This question just would not let me go.. And I started digging up all the articles I had collected when I was at UCLA. In my free time, I got into deep rabbit holes of hormonal health, menstrual cycle science and fertility awareness. I read every clinical and research article I could get my hands on. I was still in uni at that time so I still had full access to the online libraries. Around that time, I also discovered about harmful chemical in menstrual care products that nobody was talking about. I switched over to using menstrual cups after I got back from India because I met a Finnish woman there who raved about menstrual cups. But I was not aware of the harmful chemicals part. Realizing no one was telling this to people, and observing that no menstrual care product company put their ingredients on the box made me so angry. And this is when I started teaching workshops about menstrual care products and the menstrual cycle in my living room. I started with small groups, and they grew bigger and bigger over time. I also created an Instagram account and started sharing information on there as well. In the beginning, I got A LOT of pushback and people really did not understand why I valued the menstrual cycle so much. It wasn't as "hip" back then as it is now, trust me LOL. I struggled SO much to make people see why this was important. I was one of the first people in the Netherlands doing this work in this way. And it was not until I opened my practice in Utrecht that people started to take me seriously. I started to get clients, people started to notice me more online, and the people who I had helped successfully were spreading the word about my work. It took me nearly 10 years to get where I am today, and I am so very proud I got here! BUT: I could have NEVER done this on my own. There is an incredible group of people who have helped me and inspired me to get where I am today. There are the ones that have been there all along, and there are people who recently became my colleagues and friends. Just to name a few of the people I had the honor to learn from: Nicole Jardim (my favorite teacher!), Francoise Freedman (medical anthropologist and one of my teachers), Robbie Davis-Floyd (medical anthropologist), Holly Grigg-Spall (writer of Sweetening the Pill), Kiran Gandhi (who ran the London marathon free bleeding), Chella Quint (creator of Period Positive and writer of multiple period books), Ashe Milkovic (founder of the International Association of Functional Hormone Health), Jasmine Alicia Carter (world famous period artist), Jade Beall (world famous photographer), Ricki Lake & Abby Epstein (creators of the Business of Birth Control), Dr. Jessica Drummond, Dr. Carrie Jones, Dr. Aviva Romm, and many more. And recently I connected with Nathan Riley (holistic OBGYN) whose work inspires me a lot. And then there are all my dear friends who have been there since the beginning and kept supporting me.
Okay but WHY exactly are you sharing all of this with us Iris?
I will get to my point soon (: I have walked this path on my own for quite some time - and it was very lonely and I am not gonna lie: oftentimes not pleasant at all. It was not until I started attending conferences by the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research that I felt 'home' in this work. Imagine: around 300 people from all over the world, all super passionate about the menstrual cycle and everything that has to do with it in one space! Pheeewww! This feeling was indescribable. I finally felt that people were taking me seriously. That I had a cyclical community where I could both share about my work AND my personal struggles with my cycle (because boy, I have had PLENTY! From excrutiating pain to not feeling my leg anymore in the Colombian jungle after shifting to a new birth control pill before I left.. Yikes!!!). This only got even better when I became a Hormonal Health Coach under guidance of Nicole Jardim and a Functional Hormonal Specialist under Ashe Milkovic. I am currently training to become an Orthomolecular Therapist and it is such a delight to be in a classroom with people who 'get me' - who look at life in the same way, who are passionate about the same things and will cheer on me or be there when we need each other.
My point is..having a community is everything. Feeling like you belong means so much. Feeling that you are being taken seriously is important - especially in a world that doesn't necessarily take your entire biology into consideration.. basically everywhere you go.
Through my work I have witnessed so many people feeling alone, unheard, unseen and lost. And the reason I am sharing my story with you is to just let you know that I get it. I understand you may feel completely lost in how to live your life according to your cycle, or figure out what on earth your cycle is trying to communicate with you, and how to heal your symptoms. I am all here for receiving the support, education and community love you deserve. If you feel on the fence to receive support - to grow, to heal - or you have been thinking about it... I really want to tell you: do it. Choose you. Choose your body. Choose community. You. Do. Not. Have. To. Do. It. Alone. Yes - connecting to your body, getting to know your body and how to live according to your unique cycle ARE things that are between you and your body. But you do not ever have to do it all alone on your own with no one cheering on you, or no one to turn to if you have any questions. Everything is so much better when shared. This is where The Cyclical CEO comes in. If you want to learn how to sync your life, work, and relationships with your cycle, and transform your entire life for the better. this is where you need to be. We start October 23rd and this is the last time we are offering this training.