Photo: Hot Pantz: Do It Yourself Gynecology zine
I recently went for over six months without my period. When I asked my doctor for an explanation, all I got was a prescription for Provera. "This will kick-start it", she told me. But a prescription wasn't going to cut it; I wanted answers. I asked my doctor questions about what might be going on with my body. Should I change my diet? Start taking a particular herb? What if I don't get my period again next month? She answered each of my questions by saying, "Well, we can't be sure, but for now you should take the Provera."
I went home and took the Provera. A week later, I got my period. Just like the doctor said. A month later, I waited to start bleeding again. Nothing happened. Another month went by. Again, nothing. I felt really cheated and disconnected from my body. I didn't want to take Provera again. I'd looked into the side effects. In addition to the usual side effects listed with prescription medication, Provera is said to increase the risk of blood clots that will move to your lungs or brain, and animals that have been given Provera have developed breast tumors. I also knew that this medication wasn't going to provide a long-term solution to my missing menses.
So I decided to take matters into my own hands. I found a copy of Hot Pantz: Do It Yourself Gynecology and I started reading. I was delighted to find that the Montreal-based women who made this radical gynecology zine in 1994 had dedicated an entire section to bringing on menstruation. The zine provides a number of potential solutions, and recognizes that not every herb is going to work with every body, but that it's worth finding the herbs that will work with yours. I read that ginger is said to bring on late periods, and I'm a big fan of ginger, so I decided to try it out. I started drinking ginger tea three times a day, and a week later I was bleeding! Since, then I've been drinking tea made from red raspberry leaves on a daily basis. According to Hot Pantz, "They are by far one of the best uterine tonics. They stimulate menstrual flow by toning the ovaries and the uterus and improving their functions." In addition to toning my lady parts, if they are "taken during menstruation, red raspberry leaves relieve cramps and regulate the flow." Awesome.
Hot Pantz begins with the sentence, "Patriarchy sucks," and goes on to say:
It's robbed us of our autonomy and much of our history. We believe that it's integral for women to be aware and in control of our own bodies. The recipes we present here have been known for centuries, passed down from mother to daughter, and have survived the censorship of the witch hunts. Our intent is simple and practical: to help break away from the medical establishment's tentacular grip on our bodies and our approaches to health and healing.
Hot Pantz provides readers with an understanding of anatomy, recipes to conquer yeast infections and hormonal imbalances, an extensive glossary of self-healing herbs, a list of aphrodisiacs, and it provides instructions on how to give foot massages that will alleviate cramps! I can't tell you how often I consult this zine, or how excited I've been to share information from this zine with a friend in need.
Herbs predate history; women have been using herbs to treat cramps and bring on their menses for a long time. It's no secret that natural medicine has been swept under the rug because of the pharmaceutical industry (Read a bit about the suppression of natural remedies in the US here). While medical advancements have certainly provided more access to birth control and hormone therapy than ever before, I have a hard time believing the multi-billion dollar industry that creates these hormonal drugs is super concerned about women's health. While we have access to these drugs, we do not have control over what goes into them, and pharmaceutical companies are not required to tell us. That is, until women start suing.
Perhaps part of the reason we talk so little about herbs is because we don't want to knock drugs that have gone hand-in-hand with women's liberation. In a recent interview with Bitch, Laura Eldridge (author of In Our Control: The Complete Guide to Contraceptive Choices for Women) spoke of how it is difficult to think critically of the Pill, especially as "acceptance of the Pill was an integral part of second wave feminism and as such allowed for many of the gains women have made." It is indeed difficult to be critical of the Pill. It is also difficult to be taken seriously while talking about and promoting the use of herbs.
Hot Pantz makes it very clear that the zine is not intended to provide diagnosis or prescriptions. The zine is "an informative guide to help you better understand your body and your health". They also make sure to state that if you are in doubt, you should not hesitate "to consult an herbal practitioner, naturopath, physician or gynecologist." I also want to make it clear that I am not against the use of pharmaceuticals. They work for a lot of people. However, I do have a problem with the lack of transparency within the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry that makes decisions about what is going to be available for women to put into their bodies. And I do think that herbal remedies should be more widely available and considered more seriously.
Hot Pantz: Do It Yourself Gynecology, the wonderful guide to taking back your body, is available as a PDF online. If you're in Portland, you can check out a print copy from our library. If you'd like to buy a print copy online, it is for sale here.