You’ve likely heard about the menstrual cycle, also known as a period. Maybe you have a period, and even if you don’t, you definitely know someone who does. You probably know that once a month, the person having their period bleeds for about a week (sometimes more and sometimes less), shedding the uterine lining. Pads, tampons, or menstrual cups are used to collect blood and bloating or mood swings sometimes accompany this cycle. Although we know these stereotypical things about the menstrual cycle, how much do we know about ovulation?

Where does ovulation fit in the menstrual cycle?

Ovulation typically occurs about halfway through the menstrual cycle, releasing an egg through the fallopian tubes and waiting to meet up with sperm for fertilization. The typical menstrual cycle lasts between 28 and 32 days, so ovulation will occur between days 10 and 19, or about two weeks before your period. When someone is ovulating, that means they are most fertile because their egg has been released from the ovary and is essentially waiting to be fertilized. 

Although ovulation occurs within the female reproductive system, there are external signs that indicate when someone is ovulating. During this time water retention, changes in mood due to fluctuating hormones, and cramps can all occur. These are fairly typical and well-known signs. There are a few more, less obvious signs of ovulation as well.

How can you track ovulation?

During ovulation, the cervix, the area at the top of the vaginal canal connecting the vagina and the womb, becomes higher, softer, and more open. If you are someone wanting to track your ovulation, you can technically feel your cervix. A lot of people also note having a higher sex drive while ovulating, which makes sense because ovulation is the prime time to get pregnant if that is something you are trying to do. During ovulation, your cervical mucus or discharge might also change slightly. When ovulating, cervical mucus will be slightly stretchy and clear, which helps carry the sperm along to the egg. Tender breasts can also be a sign of ovulation because of the hormone fluctuations experienced at this time.

Besides these bodily changes, there have been studies proving a few other changes. Studies have shown that women who are ovulating are more likely to wear red or pink. Additionally, studies have shown that women’s voices often sound slightly higher when they are most fertile, and their natural scent is more appealing to potential sex partners. An increased sense of smell has also been cited as a sign of ovulation. Similar to your scent being more attractive to potential partners, you are more likely to pick up on their pheromones as well. Although all of these changes have been noted in various studies, they are often so subtle that you likely won’t pick up on them yourself.

How does birth control affect ovulating?

With all this talk of ovulation, it’s also important to note that some people don’t ovulate. If you are pregnant, on hormonal birth control pills, or if you are experiencing menopause, you won’t ovulate. Some women also don’t ovulate while breastfeeding, but some can. Additionally, other hormonal imbalances or medical conditions can prevent ovulation.

The human body is a truly complex landscape and taking a closer look at the menstrual cycle proves just how complex our bodies are. Although not everyone ovulates and not everyone shares every ovulation symptom, it is good to be educated and know what our bodies are up to.

The vagina is an absolutely amazing organ. It can bring life into this world, it helps facilitate your menstrual cycle to let you know your body is working properly, it can be used for sex and pleasure, and it’s totally self-cleaning. And since it’s a self-cleaning organ, that means vaginal hygiene products are totally unnecessary.

Why do vaginal hygiene products exist?

If your vagina is self-cleaning, then why do “feminine hygiene products” like Summer’s Eve and other brands exist? To be perfectly blunt, these products exist to make you think your vagina’s natural discharge and odor is dirty and unnatural so you’ll want to buy feminine hygiene wipes and douches to “cleanse” yourself. Not only do vaginal hygiene products use people’s insecurities and shame regarding their vaginal odor to make money, but these products also are harmful to your vagina’s health and can throw off your vagina’s pH balance, leading to infections or other complications.

The vagina is a self-cleaning organ, using discharge to flush out any bad bacteria. Discharge is one hundred percent normal and essential for your vaginal health. A specific odor likely accompanies this discharge, and for some reason, people are made to feel ashamed of the way their vagina smells. Vaginal odor is also completely normal and healthy. In fact, a person’s vaginal odor will likely change throughout their menstrual cycle, and can also change depending on diet. The only time you should be concerned about your discharge or vaginal odor is if either one changes drastically. If your discharge changes color or consistency and your vaginal odor change significantly, consult your doctor. You could have an infection.

Cleaning your vulva versus vagina

Although the vagina cleans itself, the vulva does not. Your vulva is the folds of skin (labia) on the outside of your body. The best way to clean your vulva is with warm water. Doctors also recommend warm water and mild soap. If you have very sensitive skin, unscented soap would work best, but again, just water is fine as well. Since all you need for a clean vulva and vagina is warm water, the chemicals in vaginal hygiene products can be harmful to users.

Summer’s Eve has a whole host of products such as cleansing wipes, sprays, cleansing wash, body powder, and douche products. It’s important to note that Summer’s Eve is not the only brand that sells these types of products. I am just using them as an example because they are very widely known and easily available. No matter the brand name, these products are unnecessary and can be harmful. 

Most importantly, do not douche

If you gather only one thing from this article, let it be this: do NOT douche. Douching is a method to wash out the vagina using a formula that is sprayed directly into the vagina. Douching products can contain water, vinegar, antiseptics, and fragrances, all of which can be harmful to your vaginal hygiene. People douche to wash out bad bacteria from the vagina and to feel “fresh and clean.” While you are washing out the bad bacteria, you also wash out the good bacteria your vagina needs to maintain a healthy pH balance. Side effects of douching include bacterial vaginosis, Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, pregnancy complications such as ectopic pregnancy, and an increased risk of cervical cancer.

Summer’s Eve website contains no ingredients for any of their products, which I find alarming. Through my research, I found one source that listed some ingredients, some of which include “fragrance” (which the product does not elaborate on what makes up this ingredient), methylisothiazolinone, methylchloroisothiazolinone, cocamidopropyl betaine, and many more. For a full list of ingredients you could of course look at the products in the store. However, if I am using something to clean my vulva or vagina, I would like to be able to pronounce it.

I also found that Summer’s Eve cleansing wipes contain octoxynol-9, which is a spermicide. There is no warning on the packaging that discloses this information. The wipes are not viable forms of contraception, however, it is unclear if the octoxynol-9 is strong enough in the wipes to affect someone’s ability to get pregnant. 

Your vagina’s smell is normal!

This is no joke! Your vagina doesn’t need to be flushed out with water and other chemicals. Your vagina is not smelly or dirty. This harmful narrative that vaginas are dirty and smell bad is incredibly harmful to your physical and mental health. Being told that your vagina is dirty and literally needs to be flushed out with fragrances in order to be clean and desirable harms positive self-image and feeling good in one’s body. I understand wanting to feel clean or wanting to “freshen up” before a sexual encounter, but as mentioned above, all you need is water for that. No chemicals or artificial scents are necessary.

I’m here to tell you that the messages sold to us by these hygiene companies are lies. There is science to prove how harmful these products are and to reiterate that vaginal odor is normal and healthy! Your vagina is not supposed to smell like flowers or baby powder. You are not a flower or a baby. Your vagina should smell like vagina! 

 

In this great year of 2021, there are many ways to manage your period. From pads, to tampons, to the period sponge, to period-proof underwear, you are bound to find an option that makes managing your period fit with your lifestyle and preferences. Menstrual cups have been gaining a lot of popularity in the last few years, and there’s so much to explore with this environmentally friendly invention.

When were menstrual cups invented?

Although menstrual cups have only become extremely popular recently, they were first invented in 1884! They didn’t hit the market until much later, but the first design was invented then. This first model, known as the Improved Menstrual Receptacle, was invented by Hiram Farr, and was designed to hold several cups of blood at a time. This first design never actually hit the market, but big thanks to Hiram Farr for designing this revolutionary device.

In 1937 American actress Leona Chalmers patented another menstrual cup design, and actually followed through on trying to get it to hit the market. This menstrual cup was similar to the menstrual cups we have today, but it was made from latex rubber. After a few redesigns, this menstrual cup was sold by the company Tassette until the 60s, then they went out of business. Menstrual cups made a comeback in the 1980s with the brand The Keeper and starting in 2003 with the Diva Cup, menstrual cups have become more and more popular.  

How do menstrual cups work?

Menstrual cups have clearly been around for a long time, proving they must in fact be an excellent idea. I first heard of menstrual cups a few years ago when I first learned about the Diva Cup. Unlike the early menstrual cup designs, Diva Cup and other modern brands are made of silicone. Not only is the allergy risk of silicone much lower than latex, but it is also super soft and easy to clean. There are many menstrual cup brands available—Diva Cup, Keeper Cup (that same brand from the 80s!), Moon Cup, Lunette Cup, Lena Cup, Lily Cup, plus some disposable cups or discs. Although there are many brands to choose from, they essentially all work the same.

Menstrual cups are made of flexible silicone material and are shaped like a small bell or cup with a little stem on the end. You place them inside of your vagina right below your cervix and they catch your menstrual blood. You use the short stem on the end to pull them out to empty and clean. Menstrual cups can be left in anywhere from 6 to 12 hours, and need to be rinsed and washed when emptied. When emptying your menstrual cup throughout the day, dump out the blood and wash it with unscented antibacterial soap and water before putting it back in. Some menstrual cup brands also sell cleaning wipes so you can clean your menstrual cup if you’re using a public restroom and can’t wash it thoroughly in a shared sink. Wipe that baby down in the privacy of your stall, pop it back in, and you’re good to go.

How do I use a menstrual cup?

There are different sizes of menstrual cups based on if you just got your period or have had any children. Some menstrual cup brands have more detailed size finders on their websites, and that can be a useful tool to find one that works for you.

To insert your menstrual cup, wash your hands and sit or stand. Similar to putting a tampon in for the first time, this might take a few tries, so you should give yourself plenty of time to get it properly inserted. If your vagina isn’t already slick with a lot of period blood, it might be helpful to use some lubricant to help slide it into place. Be sure to use water-based lube if you do so because other lubes are not silicone compatible and could eat away at the cup over time. 

Relax your muscles and body as much as you can, pinch the top of the cup (most brands come with their own set of instructions on the box and recommend pinching it so the top is a “C” shape), then gently guide the cup into your vagina. You will have to get really comfy with yourself here because you need to put your fingers into your vagina to get the cup in place. Once it’s far up in there, slightly rotate the cup and let go of the top of it and it should suction into place. If the cup is inserted properly, you shouldn’t be able to feel it. As I mentioned, this may take a few tries, so be patient with yourself. The first time you wear it, you may even want to wear a liner or pad just to make sure you don’t leak and see if it was inserted properly.

What about emptying and cleaning?

When it’s time to empty your cup, you’ll have to bear down a bit and activate those pelvic floor muscles. Reach your hand into your vagina and gently pull on the little stem at the bottom of the cup and it should slide out. You’ll have to pinch the cup slightly to loosen the suction at the top of the cup that keeps it in place. If you don’t break the suction it could be very painful to pull out.

In between periods, you can disinfect your menstrual cup by washing it with soap and water, and some people even boil their cup in hot water between cycles. Since your menstrual cup sits below the cervix, it won’t get lost inside your body, and even if it feels like it’s stuck, you can get it out! If you really have trouble getting it out, go visit your doctor and they can easily help you and give you some tips on how to get it out easier next time. 

Menstrual cups are a great option for people to manage their periods. You can reuse them for several years, so they are a fairly cheap option because you get a lot of bang for your buck. They are also good for the environment because they’re less wasteful than tampons or pads. If you’re interested in using a menstrual cup, check out some of the brands’ websites and find a size that works for you. 

Polycystic ovary syndrome is a hormonal condition that affects people with female reproductive organs. Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, can cause enlarged ovaries, abnormally long menstrual cycles, intense pelvic pain, excess hair growth, and loss of fertility. This syndrome affects about 10 million people worldwide, but the exact cause is unknown.

What is PCOS?

People are usually diagnosed with PCOS after puberty or when they are young adults—once their reproductive organs are up and running. PCOS is caused by an imbalance in androgens, insulin, and progesterone, but the exact cause of this imbalance is unknown. Doctors believe PCOS can be hereditary, can be caused by excess insulin in the body, low-grade inflammation, and excess androgens. This hormonal imbalance affects the ovaries and menstrual cycle, among other things. 

All people have a certain level of androgens (known as “male hormones”), but people with PCOS can have higher levels of androgens than the average person, which causes some of the symptoms of PCOS like acne, unwanted hair, and irregular menstrual cycles. Insulin also affects this syndome. If someone produces too much insulin, this causes an excess of androgens, which causes problems in the ovaries. And finally, if someone isn’t producing enough progesterone, this can also lead to problems with your menstrual cycle because progesterone is a hormone essential for your period. Even though this condition affects your ovaries, many people with PCOS don’t actually have cysts on their ovaries but do indeed have complications with this part of their body. Cysts on the ovaries are possible, however, and are caused by follicles or fluids on the ovaries that enlarge them and restrict their function.

What are the symptoms of PCOS?

Unfortunately, PCOS has a lot of symptoms, but fortunately, they can be managed in a number of ways. Many people with the syndrome experience long last periods with pelvic pain that is present even when they’re not menstruating. Excess hair growth known as hirsutism is another symptom due to the increased androgen levels. This excess hair can be on the face, back, chest, and other parts of the body. Infertility is also a big symptom of PCOS, although people can undergo hormone therapy if they have trouble conceiving, and many women with the syndrome can still conceive naturally. Other symptoms include weight gain, fatigue, thinning hair, acne, mood changes, headaches caused by hormonal changes, and sleep problems. 

How can I treat my PCOS?

Because of the varying insulin levels and weight gain that can accompany PCOS, doctors recommend weight loss and a healthy diet to help treat it and avoid diabetes and high blood pressure. The varying hormone levels do make it hard to lose weight and keep it off with PCOS, but doctors say even a five percent weight loss will help treat the syndrome and manage insulin levels. Additionally, doctors may treat PCOS with hormonal birth control to help regulate your period and lower your androgen levels which will help with the excess hair growth.

A drug called metformin can also be used to treat polycystic ovary syndrome. Metformin isn’t approved by the FDA for treating this syndrome, but it is often prescribed to help lower insulin and androgen levels. This drug can also improve menstrual cycles and help with weight management. It won’t treat the excess hair growth though. Because this drug isn’t approved by the FDA, it’s important to have an in-depth discussion with your doctor about taking metformin. Another drug called clomiphene is also used to treat PCOS because it helps induce ovulation, which can help with fertility issues. There are also many products specifically made to treat excess hair growth. 

Getting support for your diagnosis

Although PCOS is a serious syndrome with many symptoms, there are many options for treating it and managing it. If you experience any of the symptoms mentioned above, see your doctor and they can help diagnose you with a blood test to check your hormones, as well as a pelvic exam and ultrasound. 

Polycystic ovary syndrome affects a lot of women and can cause serious problems such as infertility and diabetes if untreated. The PCOS Awareness Association has a bunch of wonderful resources on their website such as in-depth information on each PCOS symptom, as well as specialists who treat PCOS. Although there is no cure for this syndrome, there are many ways to treat it and manage the symptoms. If you have PCOS, talk to your doctor about ways to manage it and know that you are not alone.

Getting a handwritten note from a friend, spending hours with a loved one catching up, your partner doing the grocery shopping, or taking out the trash– these are all ways we can feel loved and cared for. These different methods of expressing love can be boiled down to five main types, also known as the five love languages.

How was the love languages idea created?

The five love languages is a concept developed by a man named Gary Chapman, and he’s written many books around this topic. The love languages are the main ways people give and receive love. I’ve heard quite a bit about the love languages in the past few years, but this idea and Chapman’s writings on it have been around since 1995. Chapman has a master’s in anthropology and a Ph.D. in philosophy and spent many years developing this idea and studying couples.

The five love languages are the five main ways people can give and receive love. Although people may give and receive love in many ways, there are one or two main languages that make them feel most loved and allow them to express their love fully. Love languages can be useful not only in romantic relationships but all relationships you have. Knowing your romantic partner or friend’s love language allows you to care for them in a way that makes them feel most seen and loved and allows them to do the same for you.

What are the five love languages?

  • Words of affirmation: expressing your love or admiration for someone through words, and feeling most loved when they do the same for you.
  • Acts of service: surprising your partner with lunch or doing a chore for them is your way of showing you care, and having someone do acts of service for you makes you feel most loved as well.
  • Quality time: You express your love for someone by spending quality time with them. You spend intentional, specific time with them free from distraction. Someone doing this for you also makes you feel loved.
  • Physical touch: You express your love through touch and feel most loved this way as well. Physical touch can include anything from hugs, to hand-holding, to sitting next to one another, to sex making you feel most loved.
  • Receiving gifts: You feel most loved when someone goes out of their way to give you a gift. You express your love for someone best by giving them a gift as well.

How do I learn my love languages?

Human beings are complex, so of course, not everyone will have one specific love language, but a mix of many. Your main love language is the way you feel most loved; this doesn’t mean other forms of expression don’t make you feel good too. There’s a free quiz on the love languages website where you can find out the ranking of your love languages. There are also different variations of the quiz for children, couples, single people, and teenagers.

My ranking is words of affirmation, quality time, physical touch, acts of service, and receiving gifts. If someone sends me a meaningful text or tells me they love me, that makes me feel so good. I also express my love for others through compliments and affirmations. Quality time is a close second for me. 

What can I do with this knowledge?

Knowing the love language of the people in your life can improve your relationships. For example, I scored a 0 for receiving gifts when I took the quiz. If I had a partner whose number one was receiving gifts and words of affirmation were low on their list, we could easily make each other feel unloved if we didn’t know this. If my partner feels most loved receiving and giving gifts, but I only write them love notes and handwritten cards, they won’t feel my love for them in a way that speaks to them.

Chapman has written several books on the topic, plus the quiz and other recourses are available on the website. I encourage you to take the quiz and start asking your friends, partners, and family what their love language is so you can all love each other the best you can. Being in touch with your feelings and how you feel best expressing yourself is important and will only help strengthen your relationships and enrich your life.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. Although every month should be Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, April allows us to pay extra attention to this issue. The most important thing to know about sexual violence and assault is, it is never the survivor’s fault. The survivor did nothing to egg on the behavior of their abuser. Sexual assault is the abuser’s fault, not the survivor’s. Period.

What is sexual assault?

Sexual violence is an umbrella term that encapsulates all forms of sexual assault and abuse. The exact definition of what legally constitutes sexual assault varies from state to state. Sexual violence includes sexual assault, intimate partner violence, incest, date rape, and child abuse. Other forms of sexual violence also include sexual harassment, stalking, coercion, revenge porn, plus several others. A full list with in-depth definitions can be found at rainn.org

Although there are many types of sexual violence and different types of sexual assault, consent is the main factor at play within any of these crimes. Consent is when someone freely and completely agrees to something another person has proposed. In order to fully consent, the person consenting cannot be under the influence of any drugs or alcohol, they should not be coerced, and there should be no pressure whatsoever. The person is freely choosing on their own accord. Consent exists in everyday life and obviously in sexual relationships as well. Consent is ongoing and can change at any time, meaning just because you’ve had sex with someone before does not mean you have to have sex with them again. You are allowed to change your mind at any moment during a sexual encounter, and you are allowed to communicate that to your partner. The legal definition of consent varies from state to state, and horrifically, Indiana does not have a legal definition of consent., which makes persecuting sexual assault crimes much harder than it should be.

Resources for sexual assault survivors and more

The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, known as RAINN, is an excellent resource for sexual assault survivors, advocates, and people looking to learn more about prevention and support. RAINN offers many examples of types of sexual violence, warning signs, and how to help someone in need. If you are a survivor yourself, they also have a hotline available to call into, as well as a chat. 

An American is assaulted every 73 seconds, and most of the survivors of sexual assault are women. Although people do get assaulted by strangers, most of the time it is by someone they know. The main way to prevent sexual assault is for assaulters to stop assaulting, but unfortunately, that cannot be fixed with a snap of our fingers. There are some things, though, we can do to help.

Teaching consent to children

Teach consent from an early age, and talk about consent openly and honestly as much as you can. We can teach young children about consent from the time they first begin interacting with others. Rather than forcing a child to hug an estranged relative because it’s “the polite thing to do,” ask the child if they feel comfortable hugging said stranger. Give them the choice. Encourage the adult to not react offended or coerce the child if they choose not to hug them. Teaching children and the adults in their lives that consent is a normal, safe part of life can help this next generation grow up to be more gentle with one another and honor each other’s boundaries. 

Improving culture’s perception of sexual assault

Most people that commit acts of sexual violence are men. We can change the culture of society to value women as equals and break down toxic ideas of misogyny that tell men they are allowed to treat women as they please, rather than as human beings. Of course, men are survivors of sexual assault as well, and women can commit sex crimes too. We must change the culture to stop these crimes from happening. This can’t happen overnight, but continuing to raise girls and boys as equals could hopefully help stop this intense misogyny.

Step in when you see something not quite right. RAINN has a wonderful page on what you can do as a bystander if you notice something escalating that seems dangerous. They use the acronym CARE to provide a guide for bystander intervention. Create a distraction, Ask directly, Refer to an authority, Enlist others. If your intuition leads you to believe the dynamic between two people seems alarming or unsafe, trust that. Create a distraction such as interjecting yourself in the conversation, then when you have a moment with the person you are concerned about, ask them directly if they are safe. Ask if they know this person who keeps talking to them. Ask who they came with. Interjecting as a bystander can be scary, and you might even think, “Oh it’s nothing, I’m just overreacting.” It is much better to overreact than to let something slide that doesn’t seem right. 

RAINN has amazing resources for sexual assault prevention, education, and support for survivors, as well as what you can do to support survivors. The National Sexual Assault Hotline is 800-656-4673. It is free, confidential, and available 24/7.

There are many birth control options available for people these days, which is great because you can find a method that works best for you and your lifestyle. Condoms, hormonal birth control pills, IUDs, Nuva Ring, the shot, the implant—the list goes on and on. One of the most popular forms of birth control is the hormonal birth control pill.

A refresher on the hormonal birth control pill

Typically, the hormonal birth control pill uses either a combination of estrogen and progestin, or just progestin to shut down ovulation in your body so you don’t release an egg for fertilization. These hormones are naturally occurring in your body, and the pill just provides you with amounts of these hormones so your body essentially thinks it’s pregnant and doesn’t ovulate. These pills also thicken your cervical mucus so if an egg is released, your womb isn’t in a state where implantation could occur. The pill needs to be taken every day at the same time to be most effective. Even missing one pill can cause some people to get pregnant, so the pill isn’t the best option for someone with a super unpredictable schedule, someone who travels between time zones frequently, or someone who just isn’t punctual. Not brag, but I could win an award for taking my pill on time.

Since the pill is such an effective method (99% effective when taken perfectly), it is a popular option. It’s also popular because it’s non-invasive, can be stopped at any time, is covered in full by most insurance or is fairly inexpensive if it’s not, and doesn’t affect your fertility. Starting in late 2019, studies have begun to help develop a birth control pill that just needs to be taken once a month. What? Sounds too good to be true, right?

How would a once-a-month pill work?

Because of the stomach’s acids and the way our bodies take in and digest medicine, the pill, and most other medications, needs to be taken daily. Doctors at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and MIT discovered a new design for a slow releasing pill while doing research on drugs for HIV and malaria treatment. After doing some research on these other drugs, the team discovered this same design would work for birth control bills. With this once a month design, the birth control hormones for the month are distributed on six little “arms” extending from the center of the whole pill. When the pill capsule is open and spread out inside your body, it looks like a little starfish with six arms full of hormones. The pill is made out of body-safe polyurethane and is taken all folded up in a capsule. Once in the body, its arms will spread out and slowly release the hormones over a period of 29 days. This is the same cycle for most birth control pills, you would just take this one capsule at the beginning of the month and be good to go until 29 days later.

The initial trials on this capsule design were tested on pigs, and the results were really promising. The little legs of the starfish design broke off and passed safely through the body after the hormones were released, and the starfish didn’t obstruct anything from entering or leaving the body either. Pigs have more similar insides to humans than rats, so the positive results in pigs were a good sign. The scientists behind this hope to build artificial stomachs next, and eventually begin testing on humans.

When could this birth control pill be released?

If this birth control ends up being developed, in theory, it should be as effective as the daily pill, that is if the user is taking it at the same time every month. One of the complaints of the daily pill is having to remember to take it at the same time every day, but I would argue that remembering to take a pill at the same time just once a month might be harder to remember because it’s not part of your daily routine. Birth control options that you must take orally, or even the shot, is most effective when taken on time. So this design might make birth control seem like less of a hassle for some women, but it might be harder for others to remember to take it.

Human trials haven’t even begun yet, so it will likely be several more years until this type of pill is available on the market. Either way, it’s incredibly exciting that people have more options for how they want to take their birth control and be in charge of their reproductive health.

Believe it or not, it’s been a year since the coronavirus pandemic changed our lives and locked us inside for months at a time. I don’t know about you, but it’s been freaking me out that we’ve hit the one-year mark. It feels like it’s been much longer and much shorter at the same time. If you’re feeling a little tapped out on Zoom calls, staying indoors, and carrying hand sanitizer and face masks with you at all times, know you’re not alone. Pandemic fatigue refers to the general feeling of exhaustion surrounding the pandemic, whether it be feeling exhausted from being inside, working from home, or Zoom hangouts. 

Humans are social creaturescor

The very nature of dealing with the pandemic has forced us to become more isolated from others in order to manage the spread of the virus. Although this isolation is needed for the pandemic, it goes against what we need as humans. We need to connect with each other and share a smile, a hug, or just feel the energy of another human in the same room. This physical isolation from one another can certainly affect our moods. Personally, I can’t wait to hug everyone once I’m vaccinated and it’s safe.

We’re in the home stretch!

Typically when we go through a tough time, we have certain things we can use to help us cope. Going shopping, going to our favorite restaurant and treating ourselves, going on a weekend trip with our friends—obviously these things haven’t been possible during the last year. We are dealing with an incredibly tough time, but we don’t have any of our normal coping mechanisms available. Sure you could still go shopping, but you have to wear a mask, be mindful not to touch your face, and use hand sanitizer when you’re done. I’ve found that even simple tasks can feel overwhelming.

Although we’re all feeling burnt out and slowed down, it’s crucial that we don’t give up on pandemic restrictions and rules yet. We have to stay vigilant to make sure the caseload remains low until everyone is able to be vaccinated. President Biden has said that every American will be able to be vaccinated by May. That’s so close! We’re in the home stretch! 

Activities to prevent fatigue

In the meantime, when the exhaustion from living in a pandemic for the past year hits, there are a few things you can do. With the weather warming up, go outside! Go for a long walk or even just sit outside and feel the sunshine on your face. Go sit somewhere other than your home. Physically leaving and being able to safely enjoy fresh air will do you some good.

Stay active if you can. Even if that just means going for a walk, moving your body will help refocus your energy and hopefully put a little pep in your step. A lot of people are offering workout classes via Zoom as well. Get into it!

Call a friend and share how you’re feeling. As I mentioned, you’re not alone in feeling pandemic fatigue. Call a friend and share your thoughts, see how they are doing, or even talk about anything other than the pandemic. Take a moment to connect. 

Get your vaccine when you are eligible! This is the best way to get things “back to normal,” or a new post-pandemic level of normal. Check your state’s eligibility guidelines regularly!

The coronavirus vaccine has arrived and I am REJOICING! It finally feels like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and we can begin to navigate the next phase of this pandemic. Since the vaccine is newly released, it will of course take some time until the general public has access to it. The newness also raises a lot of questions about side effects and long term effects as well. I’ve seen a lot of people questioning how, if at all, the COVID vaccine affects fertility in women. In short, despite the rumors, there is no effect on fertility due to the vaccine. 

The Vaccine and Pregnancy

No pregnant women were administered the vaccine during clinical trials, but that is not specific to the COVID vaccine. Pregnant women aren’t typically included in clinical trials for any vaccine. There are plans to have trials specifically for pregnant women, but in all of the trials thus far, people who were vaccinated were also able to conceive a baby after receiving the vaccination. 

Possible Vaccine Side Effects

As with any vaccination, there are possible side effects. Some people might feel sick for a day or so after their vaccination and might have symptoms such as headache, nausea, or a slight fever. The only possible risk around pregnancy would be if a pregnant person got a fever as a result of the vaccine, but that only happens in 10-15% of people who are vaccinated anyway, and it is likely the fever would be so mild it wouldn’t affect the pregnancy. Any claims that the vaccine would negatively affect people who are breastfeeding is also inaccurate, and there is absolutely no evidence that it impacts someone’s ability to get pregnant. 

Myths around the Vaccine and Fertility

Apparently, the myth around the vaccine and fertility began because a German doctor named Wolfgang Wodarg speculated that perhaps the vaccine might lead to infertility. He noted that there is a protein in the vaccine similar to a protein found in the human placenta. He wondered if the body would attack the placenta incorrectly, leading to fertility issues. This was proven to be false because the amounts of similarities in these proteins is incredibly minute. 

At this point, enough people from the clinical trials have gone on to become pregnant with no complications, further proving that it has no impact on fertility.

For more detailed explanations, check out this article by the University of Chicago school of medicine about how the vaccine does not affect pregnancy, fertility, or breastfeeding. Also, check out this article from WebMD about the details behind the misinformation.

When can you get the vaccine?

It’s incredibly exciting that the vaccine is becoming available. In the state of Indiana, people 70 years old and older are now eligible to be vaccinated. As the vaccine becomes more widely available, I hope you get vaccinated. It’s important to ask questions and do research to debunk myths around the vaccine so you can feel safe receiving it. It truly is incredible that the vaccine was developed within the same year the pandemic began. A little glimmer of hope for the new year. Stay safe, wear a mask and get vaccinated when you can! And then make a baby if you want since it won’t affect your fertility. 

Once several years ago I was prescribed an antibiotic to treat an ear infection. I was also taking the hormonal birth control pill, and ’d heard rumblings of antibiotics making the pill less effective, so I asked the doctor at the walk in clinic I was at why that was. The doctor literally said, “Oh yeah, that’s what they say. I’m not sure. Use a second method of birth control just in case.” First of all, who is “they”? Isn’t the medical professional working with me the “they” she was talking about?! Clearly I wasn’t going to get the answers I was looking for, so I’ve taken it upon myself to do a little research.

Antibiotics work by killing bacteria in your body. This means that when you take antibiotics, some of the good bacteria in your body could also be killed. This includes good bacteria in your gut or in your vagina. That’s why digestive issues and yeast infections are more likely when you’re taking antibiotics. 

Birth Control Pills and Antibiotics

Turns out, there is only one antibiotic that has been proven to decrease the effectiveness of hormonal birth control and that is rifampin. Rifampin is an antibiotic commonly used to treat tuberculosis. More common antibiotics such as penicillins do not decrease the effectiveness of the pill. 

The hormonal birth control pill works by giving your body doses of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. These hormones work to stop ovulation and thicken the cervical mucus, thus preventing implantation and preventing pregnancy. Rifampin can mess with the levels of these hormones, and even causes irregular periods as a side effect if you’re not on the pill. Because rifampin messes with hormone levels, that means this drug makes other forms of hormonal birth control, a.k.a the vaginal ring, patch, or shot, less effective as well. Although you won’t likely be prescribed this antibiotic unless you’re being treated for tuberculosis, it’s still important to tell your doctor or whoever is prescribing your medicine that you’re on the pill or hormonal birth control. 

It is possible for other antibiotics to decrease the effectiveness of the pill if it causes you to vomit up your pill within two hours of taking it. For some peace of mind, it might be a good idea to use a secondary form of birth control, such as condoms, for the time you’re on antibiotics.

Although only rifampin decreases the effectiveness of the pill when it comes to antibiotics, other medications can mess with how well the pill or hormonal birth control is working. Some anti-HIV medications, some anti-seizure medications, and some oral antifungal medications can decrease how well hormonal birth control works. That’s why it’s ultra important to tell your doctor or whoever is prescribing you medicine that you’re on the pill. You can also explicitly ask if it will affect your birth control so you get a clear answer no matter the prescription you’re given. Antibiotics and other medications aside, the birth control pill will be most effective if you take it at the same time every day. Missing even just one day can decrease its effectiveness and lead to unwanted pregnancy.