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Want a natural way to get rid of menstrual cramps?

For most women, menstrual cramps are a terrible experience. It can feel like you are being torn apart from the inside out. For myself, it is as if my hip bones are being pulled in two opposite directions and my lower legs go completely numb. In other words, it’s hell. In these moments, all I want to do is sink into a pile of chocolate and cozy blankets for a few days, but alas I must continue through the daily grind.

Unfortunately, most of us can’t simply stay home and wallow — we have to continue working and living our lives. Traditionally, women have used herbs to help with menstrual cramps before drugs become available in convenient little pills. Medications don’t always relieve all of the pain or symptoms associated with our time of the month, so why not try some natural remedies. They worked for our ancestors and they will work for us.

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One of the best herbs for cramps is ginger. It is easy to find in grocery stores and is known to soothe menstrual cramps as well as aide in bloating. Simply shave a few slivers of ginger and place into a cup of boiling water with a spoonful of honey and a splash of lemon. Having a mug of homemade ginger tea nightly will help alleviate menstrual pain substantially.

Halloumi salad with fennel, croutons and pomegranate.
Halloumi salad with fennel, croutons and pomegranate.

Another option to help ease cramps is fennel. Fennel contains anethole, which is a compound that helps to ease pain. There are many ways to eat fennel both raw and cooked, and it has a celery-like texture. Slice the fennel into thin pieces and add to a salad. Use the leafy fronds (the top of the fennel) to add to salad. You can also cook chopped fennel and put it in a delicious tomato fennel soup. Roasted fennel is simple, but delicious if you like the liquorice taste.

Cherry tomato and sage pasta.
Cherry tomato and sage pasta.

Another herb that has truly magical qualities is sage. Along with helping menstrual cramps, it also lifts the mood and increases memory. Sage goes well with asparagus and can be added for extra flavour in a variety of Italian pasta sauces. It also pairs well with pineapple. Sage tea also helps with sore throats and in the summer, frozen sage in ice cubes makes a refreshing drink during your menstrual cycle.

Common pain relievers can have negative health side effects for some people, and natural remedies can provide an alternative. By incorporating ginger tea into your evening routine and sage into your pasta sauce, some of the symptoms of cramps may be alleviated. Any solution to helping get rid of cramps is a welcome one, and using herbs is surely a delicious way to get rid of pain.

Mary Ann Shadd Cary: Canada’s first African American female editor

“I have broken the editorial ice.”

This famous quote was spoken by the first Canadian African American female editor, Mary Ann Shadd Cary, in 1853 when she started her anti-slavery newspaper, Provincial Freeman.

The Mackenzie House (82 Bond St.) featured Shadd throughout the month of February for black history month, allowing kids and families to print their own copy of her newspaper as part of the historical tour. A presentation is also offered year-round to school groups on Shadd’s life.

Mary Ann Shadd Cary. Courtesey of National Archives of Canada
Mary Ann Shadd Cary. Courtesey of National Archives of Canada

Shadd was born into an activist family in Wilmington, Delaware that helped run the Underground Railroad. They moved to Windsor, Ont. in 1850 after the Fugitive Slave Law — which ordered all slaves returned to their masters and charged those who helped slaves run away — was passed. She opened the first racially-integrated school in Windsor and also created educational booklets about why African Americans should move to Canada for a better life.

Public Officer at the Mackenzie House, Danielle Urquhart said, “Mary Ann had attended a conference in 1851 at St. Lawrence Hall. She was impressed by Toronto. She felt it wasn’t as racist and it never had segregated communities. Toronto was also not a border town where you might be caught by slave catchers which made it safer.”

Photo provided by City of Toronto, Mackenzie House
Photo provided by City of Toronto, Mackenzie House

In 1853, Shadd founded the Provincial Freeman, Canada’s first anti-slavery newspaper and the first newspaper to be run by an African American woman in North America. The byline of the newspaper was “Devoted to antislavery, temperence, and general literature” and she advocated all three topics passionately. The newspaper was a daily digest, which included interest articles, poems, and tips on how to acculturate oneself to the Canadian lifestyle and weather. “She also connected family members because people became separated when they were traveling on the underground railway. You could run an ad and find your family once you arrived,” said Urquhart.

When Shadd first released the newspaper, she changed her name to M.A Shadd because she anticipated she would be met with resistance as a female editor. “She received death threats,” said Urquhart. “For her personal safety, she brought a friend named S.R Ward to act as a figurehead, but she kept publishing. She remained the editor and when things calmed down, she resumed her public role as the sole publisher.”

Urquhart explains that Shadd was not only facing racism as an editor of a newspaper, but also received judgement as a woman in a leadership role in the mid 1800’s. Shadd did not back down to though.

In 1856, Shadd married a Toronto barber named Thomas Cary. They had a very progressive relationship and he took on most of the familial duties so that Shadd could follow her dreams. “He would be at home with the kids while she went on lecture tours,” said Urquhart. While Shadd was on lecture tours her sister, Amelia Cisco Shadd, who was also a part of the antislavery movement, ran the newspaper.

Photo provided by City of Toronto, Mackenzie House
Photo provided by City of Toronto, Mackenzie House

William Lyon Mackenzie, the namesake of the house, was also a publisher at the same time as Sadd and advocated for social justice.“They were publishing at the same time and we were equipped to do this with a printing press and she lived in this neighbourhood. We wanted to figure out a way to interpret black history and she was a great choice,” said Urquhart.

Sadd was an intelligent and brave woman who was unwilling to compromise herself despite obstacles of race and gender. She became a teacher, a journalist, and went on to get a law degree at age 60. Shadd is a heroine to all women trying to make a difference in this world. She also paved the way for future female African American journalists, as exemplified in when she proclaimed courageously: “Shake off your shackles and come to Canada.”

My hysterectomy story — Part 4 in a 4 part blog series

I spent one week in a fog of depression. If anyone else has been through it, you’ll know that being alone after surgery can be defeating.

I had been venting to my ex, who had patiently listened to me whine about feeling alone and wondering why my friends didn’t dote on me as I had expected. There were no cards, no offerings of soup and not even cheap flowers from the corner store. Weren’t people supposed to bring you something when you are sick, I asked.

His answer was simple. “You’re not doing yourself any favours by thinking this. Just be glad that they visited.”

At first I was a little annoyed. Visiting was routine. We went out for lunch on a regular day. How could that make me feel special?

But as the words absorbed in my mind, their strength resonated.  Was I building up disappointment in my own mind?

I had truly expected to be pampered while I was sick. I was looking for acknowledgement that yes, I had lost a part of my body that is the key to all life. Wasn’t I supposed to expect attention?

But then I realized something – I don’t need attention. I never have.

I was losing sight of who I was – the strong, independent woman who relies on no one, but who is strong enough to lend a hand when others need support. And now I had allowed myself to become weak. A victim of a simple procedure that rendered me healthier and yet I was crying about a host of unmet expectations, built by myself. I was drifting through unhappiness created by me.

Suddenly, the fog lifted and I could see myself again. Was I still disappointed? Yes, I will always feel a little twang of sadness when I look back on this situation. A sappy card would have given me that little bit of bliss that I needed.

So now I know better. When someone is ill, or in a state of recovery,  I will show up with a token of thought on my way to visit. Because I have always chosen to live by these words: always treat others the way you want to be treated, even if they don’t.

I’m better now. Still strong and still independent. But wiser.

 

My hysterectomy story

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

My hysterectomy story — Part 3 in a 4 part blog series

I’m a fast healer. Two days after having a laparoscopic partial hysterectomy, I was driving. Walking was possible but I tired easily and I could only walk very slowly.

I had no pain to speak of. I took a prescribed anti-inflammatory but no pain killers. I had some cramping in my stomach and the tiny cuts were a little sore, but I was not in pain.

Four days after the procedure, I went shopping. I bought shoes and two belts that went around my slim waist and hips wonderfully. I felt great.

But I cried a lot. I was lonely. I had lots of well wishes before the surgery. Lots of emails and calls and offers to help if I needed help. And really, these emails and offers got me through the actual procedure so they were not in vain.

After the surgery, I waited. But truthfully, people are busy. Their lives go on and although the offers are given with sincerity, the actions don’t always follow suit.

I longed for a gaggle of girlfriends to come over on their own accord, make me tea and talk about the loss of my uterus. I wanted chat about what I was feeling and have some much needed girl bonding time.  But I suppose having a group of girlfriends show up with Entenmann’s lemon strudel  is simply just part of a script from an old Sex and The City episode and not reality.

I received text messages, and a couple of phone calls with more offers. But I wasn’t sure how I could really call someone and say, “Can you visit me today?”

Few visits eventually came, some sadly with a feeling of obligation in the air….and I played the good hostess. The cancellations were difficult. It made me realize that sometimes it’s better not to tell anyone in advance, so when they don’t make an effort, it’s because they didn’t know. And there are no let-downs.

Ironically, my ex came through for me.  It was a surprise since we hadn’t talked in a while, but he remembered the surgery. He offered the help and he visited, helped me, and fed me.

Tylenol 3 can help with the physical pain. Naproxen, which I actually took, helped with the physical inflammation. A smile from someone who makes you a cup of tea and sits with you while you are at your most vulnerable is the medicine that strengthens your heart…and once the main part of your body is strong, the rest can heal.

My theory is that my body heals itself quickly out of necessity. It knows that I’m an independent person who must rely on herself, so it supports me in that way.  Fast tracks my recovery so I can get up and start living again. And in many ways, this is good.

My ex, well, that was a bonus. Who knew? Why he’s my ex, you ask. Well that’s a story for another day.

 

My hysterectomy story

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

My hysterectomy story — Part 2 in a 4 part blog series

Surgery was a success. Dr. Grace Liu performed a laparoscopic partial hysterectomy at Sunnybrook last Tuesday.

I remember being in the operating room and Dr. Liu chatting with me as she held something over my mouth and nose. Then I vaguely remember waking up and asking, “Did she do it laparoscopically?” and touching my belly. The answer given from who I suspect was a nurse, was “Yes.”

The next memory was of being in bed with a nurse asking me a ton of questions and I finally got annoyed and gave up answering. I remember thinking, Why is she asking me so many questions? I can’t even speak…

Five residents came to visit me and asked me the same question asked by the nurses who looked after me for the 30 hours I was in the hospital. “How is your pain?” I was confused. “I have no pain,” I kept answering.

Truthfully, there was no pain. Discomfort in my stomach area when I moved and some cramping, but nothing I would call pain. Perhaps the years of dealing with extreme cramps that would be considered pain to the average person without my condition had made me immune.

When Dr. Liu came to see me the day after surgery, she looked stunned. “Look at you!” she said. “You have colour in your face!”

I thanked her and she shrugged it off. And I thought to myself – such a skilled surgeon who took out an enormous growth of fibroids from my uterus without having to cut me open. It was a procedure I was told was impossible from other medical sources. Her modesty and wonderful bedside manner made the entire experience almost welcoming – as much as surgery can be.

My recovery was not about physical pain but emotional pain. That’s my next blog.

 

My hysterectomy story

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

 

My hysterectomy story — Part 1 in a 4 part blog series

It’s been a while since I posted. I spent a year and a half working on myself and my career and then I was in a place where I could make a long awaited decision. I have decided to have a partial hysterectomy.

I’m blogging about it because it’s a women’s issue and I wanted to share my experiences with other women who may be in a similar situation.

Fifteen years ago, irregular periods, hot flashes (yes, at 30!) and unbearable cramps led me to a specialist where it was determined that I had fibroids. They’re common, I was told. Just leave them alone and if they grow too large, then I’d eventually have to remove the uterus.

I was young and decided I could live with the symptoms because I wanted to keep the chance of having a child.

But the years passed, and the fibroids grew. I dreaded the week every month. The cramps lessened but the flow increased and for three of the days, I was incoherent. I was exhausted and even the simplest tasks took longer than usual. Last year, I knew it was time to make the decision.

Although I don’t have children and after next week, the option to give birth will be gone forever, I haven’t given up the privilege of becoming a mother.

All of my lives I have believed that being a mother to a child doesn’t necessarily mean giving birth. It means loving and caring and mentoring, helping one to grow. There are many children without a home in this world, and if I’m meant to be a mother, I will adopt.

So next week, I will be in the hands of a skilled surgeon who specializes in non-evasive operations. She will go into my uterus through three tiny incisions in my abdomen where a morcellator will dice up the fibroids so they can be removed through the incisions. There is a 30% chance that this procedure may not work, and only then will she opt for a bikini cut.

Am I scared? Yes.

In about nine days I may be able to blog again and let you know how it goes.

Keep reading….

 

 

My hysterectomy story

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4