BE HEATHLY…Period

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Periods. Tampons. Pads. Menstrual cups, Period Panties, Toxic Shock Syndrome. If you had asked me two years ago whether I had given any of this much thought, let alone done interviews and wrote about it extensively I would have laughed. Why in the WORLD would I talk such personal things? And then I got sick. During my recovery, I went on a quest for information. I needed facts. I needed to understand what had happened to me and why. I read my discharge papers the day I came home. I searched and searched for answers. I needed to find meaning. I needed to give my experience a purpose.  Without a purpose, it would have been too easy to fall into a depressing thought process of, “Why me? Why was I so unlucky? What did I do to deserve this?” There was another question that will haunt me for the rest of my life. Why did I survive when others do not?

All my research did it’s job. It gave me my purpose. Education, advocacy, helping survivors. The Begin Again Foundation was born. Our initial goal was clear- provide financial assistance to families facing hardship due to medical crises. This blog served as my platform for education and awareness. I am very proud of the work we have done in the one year we have been serving communities. We have helped 27 sepsis survivors, 1 ARDS survivor, over 500 families at CHKD, and four families facing rare childhood cancers through the Leila Rose Foundation. But something was missing. What were we doing for periods? I can tell women to only use 100% organic tampons, or better yet find other alternatives completely. But what about the women who don’t have these options? I started doing research. Did you know that menstrual products are the number one need of homeless women? And then I thought if they do get their hands on a tampon, how long will they leave it in? When faced with leaving a tampon in too long or rolled up toilet paper or socks what would they do? Actually, I don’t want an answer to that question because none of them seem like options to me. At least not options I can live with. I started doing more research and came across the most amazing program: PERIOD.

Please read this from their founder, Nadya Okamoto (who, by the way, is 19 years old and a Harvard student! #goals) 

When it comes to global development, in working to advance families and break the cycle of poverty, women’s empowerment is the key—and a major obstacle that stands in the way of bringing all women to the forefront is the taboo surrounding the topic of menstruation.

Women’s empowerment and feminism are hot topics right now, especially when it comes to creating more educational equity on a global scale. However, no matter how many opportunities we create, women and girls will not be able to take full advantage of those opportunities if menstrual hygiene is not addressed. Periods are the number one reason why girls miss school in developing countries (Femme International) In Kenya, girls miss an average of 4.9 days of school each month because of a lack of access to adequate menstrual hygiene. In rural Uganda, girls miss up to the 8 days of school each term. That is almost a full week of class. 25% of one’s school month. Think about that…because of periods, girls are missing almost a whole quarter of their classes.

In many countries, periods can be scary for what menstruation symbolizes—the transition from being a child to a woman, ready to be a wife and mother. In some other countries, as I have learned, getting your period can be the signifying event that prompts female genital mutilation, child marriage, and dropping out of school.

Inadequate menstrual hygiene management also has negative mental and physical consequences. In India, 70% of reproductive diseases are caused by poor menstrual hygiene, and the effects can go so far as to affect maternal mortality. Unclean methods of maintaining menstrual hygiene caused by a lack of resources, or lack of education on the usage of products, can lead to infections ranging from skin irritation to the something more fatal, like toxic shock syndrome. Poor menstrual hygiene management may also cause strange bodily odors and bleeding through one’s clothes, which causes women and girls to feel nervous and self-conscious when on their period.

This taboo around menstruation causes people to associate periods with weakness. A week in their month where girls feel emotionally on edge, in pain with cramps, confused about new food cravings, and worried about bleeding through their clothes. I myself, before coming to the realization of how human and real it is as a woman to experience periods, identified my time of the month as a weakness point. 

Women (more so, all humans) deserve to feel confident and ready to reach their full potential, regardless of a natural need. Thus, the stigma surrounding the topic of menstruation is an obstacle standing in the way of that natural right to reach one’s full potential. We all need to become advocates for natural needs. In the US, only about 20% of our government positions are held by women, and if that 80% who are men are afraid to talk about menstruation, women and girls all around the world will continue to feel silenced and less capable on their periods. The menstrual movement is a universal movement, and it starts now, with all of us—boys, girls, men, women—let’s all give power to the period starting right now! 

My passion for menstrual hygiene formed during my family’s experience with homelessness during my freshman to sophomore year of high school (I am now 19-years-old), and through conversations with homeless women I met. In the spring of my sophomore year of high school, when my family saved up enough for us to move back into our two-bedroom apartment in Portland, I founded PERIOD. What started as a personal project to use savings to buy and hand out menstrual hygiene products on my way to school, with the help of an amazing and driven youth team of peers, is now an exponentially growing organization. 

PERIOD is a global youth-run nonprofit that strives to provide and celebrate menstrual hygiene through advocacy, education and service—-through the global distribution of menstrual hygiene products and engagement of youth leadership through a nationwide network of campus chapters. In the last two years, we have addressed over 78,000 periods through 43 nonprofit partners in 27 states and 14 countries, and we have 65 campus chapters and universities and high schools around the United States.

PERIOD helps women to feel dignified and clean during their periods by giving them menstrual hygiene products. We also strive to develop youth engagement through our campus chapters. The women that we serve are low income or homeless, and generally, would not spend the little money they have on menstrual hygiene. Our services thereby give these women the materials to take care of their natural needs which they otherwise would lack easy access to. Psychologically, having control over one’s own body is a step towards self-confidence and feeling in control of one’s life. This ability to care for their natural needs is an early step in helping women get off of the street or bounce back from a difficult situation. Additionally, most reproductive diseases are caused by poor menstrual hygiene. By distributing menstrual hygiene products, we help women stay healthier. We are always striving to find sustainable solutions, trying to secure reusable products like menstrual cups and fabric pads. PERIOD empowers women and youth voices, period.

We are so excited to be working with the Begin Again Foundation to work towards menstrual equity and provide menstrual products to people with periods in need, to individuals in Virginia Beach. 

Do you think that lack of access to menstrual products is a women’s problem? It’s not. I promise you that when I was laying in the hospital my father, brothers, husband and two young sons were not worried about it being a “woman’s problem.” They cared that their daughter, sister, wife and mother was almost dying. They also cared that with the proper knowledge I may never have been in that bed in the first place. I am currently celebrating my two year survival anniversary at the Masters. How lucky am I? How do I honor the ones who weren’t as lucky? The answer will always be this: we give back. The Begin Again Foundation is so excited to start addressing the periods of Virginia Beach homeless women. Our period packs will include 15 100% cotton pads, 5 100% cotton overnight pads, and pantyliners. When we were deciding what products to provide in our packs we decided that quality over quantity was essential. As with all of our programs we hope that providing these products can make their lives just a little easier for at least one week a month. 

$8 per month provides safe feminine hygiene products for one woman experiencing homelessness in Virginia Beach. If you are called to help #onemore woman BE HEATHY, Period, then please donate here!


Love,

Audrey

#PSdontusetampons

A Day to Remember 


What a difference a year makes. I remember arriving at the Arnold Palmer Invitational last year feeling awful. I was on my third round of antibiotics for a case of strep throat that wouldn’t budge. We had plans for Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Universal Studios. I made it through the first two parks before my body gave up on me. I ended up at the hospital for IV fluids and a round of steroids. The guilt. Oh, the guilt. No Universal for my boys. I hated being a distraction from golf for Marc. I hated not being able to get out of bed. I was nearing my one year anniversary and I was not better. Sure, I wasn’t dying but I wasn’t really living either. Surviving is not quite the same thing.

If you had asked me whether I thought we would have more children you may have seen tears well up as I said, “Hopefully.” Or, “One day, when I’m feeling better.” But in my mind that when was really an if. Just a few weeks later at the tournament in Hilton Head Island, I was sick again. My tonsils were filled with putrid stones. I was coughing up quarter sized globs of the darkest green mucous. I couldn’t get out of bed. A burden. In my mind that’s what I had become. I was starting to lose hope and was becoming resigned to a life exhaustion and illness.

I made a joke to my doctor, “Can’t we just cut out my tonsils?” He said that wasn’t actually a bad idea. I met with an ENT and she cautioned me about how difficult the recovery of a tonsillectomy was for an adult. I told her it couldn’t be much more difficult than what I was already going through. She asked me to wait a little longer. I was sick two more times and I called the surgery scheduler and begged for a date. They scheduled it for May and it went well. The recovery was exactly what you would expect but I don’t remember it being that bad. I knew the pain was finally for a reason. There was a light at the end of the tunnel. I started to get better. In September my infectious disease doctor cleared me with a clean bill of health and told me to have a good life. That was one of the best days I’ve ever had. I had another one of those days two months later when two little pink lines popped up on a pregnancy test. Eight weeks after that the ultrasound technician told us we were having a girl. There were happy tears that day. And then yesterday Harvey, Ollie and I were able to watch Marc win the very event that I was so sick at one year ago. If you had asked me then if I could have ever imagined taking the boys to two theme parks and walking three 9-hole days of golf I probably would have laughed at you. If you had asked me if I thought I could do that 23 weeks pregnant, I may have called you crazy. 


Yesterday a few reporters asked me how it felt to be there to watch him win.  I couldn’t really find the words. I’m not sure that I’ll ever be able to adequately do that…but I’ll put it simply. Yesterday was one of the best days. One that we will never forget. It was a full of love, laughter, support, gratitude, blessings, and the trophy that Harvey has so desperately wanted. 


From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for supporting us. 

Love,

Audrey

#PSdontusetampons

Dear Baby

Today is International Women’s Day my sweet girl.

Some people will make this political but I like to believe that this is just a celebration of the amazing women who have lived and loved and the women who will continue to live and love. I am so lucky to be sitting here and writing this to you. One day I will tell you story of how you almost weren’t here. About how an infection ravaged my body and I almost didn’t make it. I’ll tell you how I had to have a machine breathe for me. About how I don’t remember any of it but later saw notes of questions I asked my doctors. The first one was, “Will I ever be able to have another child?” You see, I wanted you then, even as I was fighting for my very breath.  I will tell you about the moments in the following year that I would break down and cry because I was sick again. Because I was so tired. Because I questioned whether I was a good enough mother to your brothers. Because I questioned whether I even deserved to have another baby.

My sweet girl, you are the definition of a miracle. You are a dream come true. I imagine every day about how you and your brothers will change the world. There will be challenges but the biggest obstacles you will face will be the ones you set for yourself. I’ve been thinking a lot of things I want to pass down to you and I think today is a good day to start.

God has given you two ears and one mouth. I want you to listen more than you speak. I want you to know that sometimes the louder you talk, the less people will hear you. I want you to know that what you do is more important than what you say. And I want those things you do to be good and kind and full of love. I want you to remember that doing those things quietly and without recognition is important. The moment you start looking for a pat on the back for being a good person is the moment you begin to lose yourself. But don’t be mistaken; I do not want you to be silent. Just like a builder measures three times and cuts once, I want you to think three times before you talk. Are you adding something good to this world? Are you spreading love and not hate? Will you be proud of yourself when you reflect back on it? Do your words come from a place of compassion? Are they based in strength?

I want you to learn to shut out the noise. Oh, there is so much noise! And most of it will tell you that you are not good enough. That you have to lose weight,  make straight A’s, get a job, (no!) stay home and raise your own kids, wear the right clothes, contour your face, or fight for women’s rights, or baby’s rights, or shut up and know your place.  All that noise is so confusing, baby. It can be deafening. Paralyzing. When all that noise starts to smother you I want you to close your eyes. Look inside your heart. Take some deep breaths. Feel the ground under your feet, the wind in your hair. Pray. Hit your knees if you must. Talk to your people. I hope that I will always be the person you run to when it gets confusing. Because I will remind you of who you are.

You are light and love. You will make this world a better place, one good and kind thing at a time.

Love,

MommyIMG_2912

Dear Facebook,

And every other form of social media. I have a bone to pick with you. I spend maybe just a tad too much time on social media and I have to say if I didn’t know any better I would think September is just a normal month in social media. I see the same political angst, some meals, snap chat pictures, etc. I love seeing the photos of your babies, but I do wish I was seeing a little bit more this month.

Have you ever loved a child? Then you should care that it’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. You should care that childhood cancer research gets less than 4% of federal funding. You should know that childhood cancer is the leading cause of death by disease in children under the age of 15 in the U.S. And that one in 285 children in the U.S. will be diagnosed with cancer by the time they are 20 years old.


Are you a woman? Have you ever loved a woman? Then you should care that it’s Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. You should know that ovarian cancer is often called the whisper killer and that knowing the symptoms can and will save lives. It is often discovered in late stages because the symptoms can hide in plain site. So please commit these to memory:

• Increased abdominal size / persistent bloating (not bloating that comes and goes)
• Difficulty eating/feeling full quickly
• Abdominal or pelvic pain
• Needing to pass urine more urgently or more frequently


Are you a human being? Have you or someone you loved ever had pneumonia, strep throat, surgery, kidney stones? Then you should care that it is Sepsis Awareness Month. In fact, today is World Sepsis Day. Friends, can you look at the date? It’s September 13th. We are not even halfway through the month and as I type this, 633,885 people have been affected by sepsis worldwide. As I write this, a good friend’s mother is in the hospital fighting this. So please know these facts:

•    Globally, an estimated 20 million to 30 million cases of sepsis occur each year.
•    Sepsis is the primary cause of death from infection.
•    Sepsis causes more deaths than prostate cancer, breast cancer, and HIV/AIDS combined.
•    In the developing world, sepsis accounts for 60 to 80 percent of lost lives per year in childhood.
•    Patients surviving sepsis have twice the risk of death in the subsequent five years compared with hospitalized controls.
•    Rapid intervention for sepsis can halve the risk of dying.
•    Hospitalizations for sepsis have more than doubled over the last 10 years.
•    The incidence of sepsis developing after surgery tripled from 1997 to 2006.
•    In 2008, hospitalizations for sepsis in the United States cost an estimated $14.6 billion.
•    Each year from 1997 through 2008, the inflation-adjusted total costs for treating patients hospitalized for sepsis increased 11.9 percent on average.

And please know these symptoms:

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Will you do me a favor? Will you help me spread awareness? Will you share this? I pray you will.

Love,

Audrey

#PSdontusetampons

#ifyoudomakesuretheyrecotton

They’re Called Tampons

This past Sunday the PGA TOUR did a wonderful piece called Playing with a Purpose. It featured several players who have wonderful foundations. The story focused on the Jason Dufner Foundation, the David Hearn Foundation, and our Begin Again Foundation. We are so honored that they chose to tell our story and immeasurably grateful for the awareness it has already brought to the public. But I just have to say one thing:

They’re called tampons.

In the story, they stated that I became ill from a feminine hygiene product. Yes, tampons are feminine hygiene products. But I did not get sick from a pad or a cup. I got sick from a combination of having my IUD removed and from using a tampon. It is not just part of my story. It’s my entire story. And as I said in that piece, I believe I survived so that maybe my story can save someone’s life. Look, over the past year, I have shared more personal details than I could have ever imagined. I’ve heard my husband get into discussions about periods and tampons. Again, this is not something I could have envisioned…but Marc gets it. We need to talk about this.

This past April Abigail Jones wrote an article for Newsweek titled, THE FIGHT TO END PERIOD SHAMING IS GOING MAINSTREAM. Now, this article is far too brilliant for me to even think about giving you a summary. Just go read it. The fact that they used a tampon as their cover image is the subject of an entirely different post. But here’s a thought: we are having to make a big fuss over the fact that we are simply trying to talk about a period, something that happens to half the world. We need to be able to say tampon, period, menstrual cup, and pad with the same ease that men can talk about morning stiffy’s, condoms, and lube. We need to do this for our daughters. So that if they are using a tampon and they get sick they will not be ashamed to go tell their dads that they need to go to the doctor. We need to do this for our fathers so that they are not embarrassed to talk to the women in their lives. We need to do this so I stop reading more stories of girls contracting TSS from tampons. More importantly, I want to stop reading the comments on these articles, sometimes from other women, calling these warrior women “idiots” and saying, “how did she not know better?” If we’re not even able to say the word how can we talk about the risks?

We need to be able to say the word tampon so we can talk about how 100% cotton tampons have not been linked to TSS. We need to say tampon so we can talk about how their makers are not required to list their ingredients… but we do know they are made with rayon or cotton-rayon blends. Rayon is made from bleached wood pulp (Yes, you read that right. Yes, we are sticking them up our vaginas.) Dr Philip Tierno, a professor of microbiology and pathology at NYU, has linked viscose rayon to the toxic shock syndrome toxin.  We need to be comfortable with the word tampon so that we can talk about alternating the use of them with pads. Or to talk about the total alternatives of menstrual cups (although in full transparency there has been a single case of TSS from a cup), period panties and pads. We need to talk about tampons because women use an average of 12,000 in their lifetimes. We need the word tampon to be associated with Toxic Shock Syndrome. Not in an effort to scare everyone, but because women need to know that it is a risk. Not that it will happen, but that it can. THAT knowledge can save lives.

Women should not feel the need to whisper about their periods. We should not be ashamed to talk about the very process that creates life. We should not have to be quiet about something that needs to be spoken about. Loudly.

They’re called tampons.

Love,

Audrey

#PSdontusetampons

#ifyoudomakesuretheyrecotton

The Days of Parenting

I’ve just put the boys to bed and I’m sitting here watching Gilmore Girls and drinking a margarita. Today was a good day. The tantrums were few, the laughs were many. A day filled with swim lessons and slime. Visits with good friends and perfect pool weather. Shopping for bike helmets and trampoline jumping. I take it back…today was a great day.

The past year has been filled with many not so good days. I have spent most of my time just going through the motions. Surviving. Wake up, smile, breakfast, lunch, dinner. Is it bed time? Please tell me its bed time. I did my best to do the “right” things for my boys. Playground, playdates, let’s go see the new movie. I really did try. But did I enjoy it? If I’m honest, very little. I remember so many times I would watch my husband play with my boys and see the sheer joy of it. I’m ashamed to say the feeling I felt most was jealousy. Gratitude that he is the father he is. That he was picking up my slack. Pure, unadulterated love for the man I married and the children I carried. But in the deepest, darkest parts of my heart I was green with envy. Why couldn’t I enjoy things the same way? Why did the simple frustrations of dealing with little humans wear on me that it didn’t seem to wear on my friends? Why wasn’t I enjoying these moments that I almost didn’t get to have? I was always acutely aware of how I “should” be feeling and how actually was. I think I did a decent job of disguising it. I hope I did.

After months of literally getting sick about every other week my doctor referred me to the ENT he trusted most. She told me she didn’t want to perform a tonsillectomy on me unless it was truly necessary. That the recovery was much harder for adults. It would be very rough. I told her that it couldn’t be much worse than living the way I already was. She consented. The pathology report came back showing chronic tonsillitis and a bacteria called actinomyces. My pulmonologist was concerned. This bacteria is part of our normal oral flora but for someone with a compromised immune system it can spread and wreak havoc. I saw the same infectious disease doctor that treated me in the hospital. Two months of antibiotics prescribed. A chest CT was scheduled. Results came back showing a small nodule in my right lung. Tiny, really. 4-5mm. Nothing to be concerned about. Except that it was new. Except that I’ve had a chronic cough for a long, long time. Now it would be three months antibiotics and a repeat chest CT. We’ll go from there. My hopes of having another child have been delayed.

I shed a few tears. I prayed a lot. I asked Him when all of this would be over. I told my doctor I must be allowed a drink here and there. I can’t have no baby and no alcohol if he would like me to retain my sanity. He agreed. It is a frustrating setback. But the amazing thing is that I’m feeling better. Like I am slowly waking up. That I’m making my way through the fog. Sometimes when I wake up I actually feel refreshed. My cough is not as frequent. There are moments when I feel like my old self. My family and friends are starting to notice.

And finally I’m allowing myself some grace. It was not until I started to feel better that I realized just how awful I have felt. I mean, I had a pretty good idea but I never allowed myself to wallow. I was simply existing. My body and mind were always working. Always trying to heal. No, I was not the best mom that I could have been. But I tried. I think they knew I was trying. I hope that they will not remember me at my worst. And thankfully, I have the rest of my life to make it up to them. I have many more years to enjoy them. They make it pretty easy to do.

Broken 

When I started writing this blog I made the decision to be honest and transparent. I saw no point in glossing things over or hiding the unpleasant details. But I also didn’t want to throw myself a pity party. So I wrote about the struggles and demons I have had to face but I did not write about every struggle or every demon. Many people have offered their help, repeatedly. For that I am forever grateful. But there are only a few I am ever willing to ask it from. The result is that only my nearest and dearest truly know just how hard the hard has been. I have been sick. A LOT. I have been on antibiotics more times than I can remember. I have tried supplement after supplement. Reiki, yoga, protein shakes, pilates,  dry needling, green smoothies, etc. But I’ll never give up my gluten so let’s not suggest that to me again.  When time after time the next hopeful thing didn’t “fix” me I truly started to feel broken. And a little bit hopeless. I’ve tried often to resign myself to the “this is as good as it’s gonna get” and “suck it up buttercup” mentality but I’ve always been an overachiever. Quite frankly I’ve been a bit pissed off at this body of mine that has refused to keep up with this mind.

I have had strep throat and tonsillitis 5 or 6 times over the last year. The last bought of strep brought about tonsil stones. They are vile and make me feel dirty even though I have excellent oral hygiene. My tonsils are little stone and bacteria factories. Then in the past two months I have been hit with one upper respiratory infection after the other. I don’t want to deal with this anymore. Being grateful for being alive only goes so far to outweigh the everyday shit show my health is. I am going in for a tonsillectomy on Thursday. At the very least I won’t get anymore stones.

All of this led me to sit in our rental last week at The PLAYERS Championship and have a man named Randy Grant prick my finger. I heard about Randy shortly after I got sick last year. He owns a nutrional supplement company, Divine Nature, based out of Scottsdale and works with several of the golfers. His process is simple, and mind blowing. Randy and I spoke last year and we tried to get together but our schedules just never lined up. I wasn’t willing to ask him to fly to Virginia just to see me alone. And so it wasn’t until last week. Oh how I wish it had been sooner. Randy arrived and gave us a short lesson on what he was about to do. He gave me a peice of paper that had many pictures of what blood can look like depending on the condition of your body. He pointed to one and said to me that he was positive that’s what mine was going to look like. I thought, how the hell do you know what my blood is going to look like? But then he hooked up his microscope to our tv screen, pricked my ring finger of just a drop of blood and placed it on a slide. Sure enough he was right. Before I describe my blood I will show you a picture of Marc’s. He has normal blood, albeit a little iron deficient.


Those are his red blood cells. There’s a lot of nice space that they are just floating around in.

This is mine:


Just a little different…

It’s called Rouleaux, which are stacks or aggregations of red blood cells. This is a often a sign of chronic infection and inflammation. Welcome to my life for the past year. A little science lesson for you- red blood cells contain a special protein called hemoglobin, which helps carry oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body and then returns carbon dioxide from the body to the lungs so it can be exhaled. Because my blood cells are stacked this way they have trouble getting through my capillaries and therefore I am not getting enough oxygen or nutrients throughout my body. Not enough oxygen = not enough energy. Haaaaaaallelujah! Finally a real, tangible answer. My blood slide also showed uric acid crystals and lots of bacteria. I sat there stunned, relieved and a little depressed. It’s one thing to know and feel like you are messed up. It’s another for someone to show you. Randy has started me on many different supplements to try to correct this issues. Between my tonsillectomy and the use of these supplements I am hopeful for the first time in a long time.

One of the many things I have learned since I got sick is that there has been very little long term research done on survivors of Sepsis, TSS, or ARDS. Talk to any survivor and they will tell you. Doctors don’t know what to do with us. I’m blessed to have a doctor who tries everything and anything to help but you can only do so much with the knowledge you have. I would be so, incredibly interested to see if rouleaux may be something survivors have in common.

So friends, I still feel broken. But not shattered. I’m just in repair.

Love,

Audrey

#PSdontusetampons