Menstruation has always been a sensitive topic, maybe even more so in the Asian culture that I was brought up in. It’s something that has always been hushed around the men, and even when only women are present, you have to speak in soft voices. Adding to that is the issue (or gift, depending on the situation) that my mom is a tough woman who never flinches in the face of pain and who expected nothing less from me. No wonder then, that when the first drop of blood flowed from down under and it felt like everything Newton discovered about gravity was dropped on top of my uterus, I still clung on to the tough girl image of myself.
If you have ever kept a secret, however, you would know that inevitably there always comes a breaking point where it all pours out. In this story, the breaking point came quite quickly.
During eighth grade in school, I had one of the worst period cramps of my life. I couldn’t stand up, much less walk to the next class. I was brought to the nurse’s office where I curled up around a heat pad for hours trying my best not to cry until my mom could come pick me up. “Silly girl,” she said in the comforting voice that only a mother could have, “you never told me you had period cramps. Let me make you some tea.”
Although my mom is a licensed doctor who always took care of our family’s wellness, that was the first time she shared with me this near magical remedy that was apparently household knowledge amongst women in China. Every time I had my period, my mom would cut up some ginger, break apart a piece of black sugar, throw in some goji berries and jujubes, and brew the concoction for 1-2 hours on the stove. It was like a heat pad for my insides, and paired with the actual heat pad on the outside, cramps were now a thing of the past. The most wonderful part of her tea, however, was not the relief I felt during my period, but the utter prevention of pain. I drank according to my mom’s instructions, one cup a day the week leading up to my period. Amazingly, and without fail, when the bleeding began the pain did not.
Lovely as it was, this was simply not a wellness lifestyle that I could commit to after I left for college. Without a natural form of relief and with absolutely no time for down time, I turned to popping painkillers instead. They only help with dulling the pain after cramps have already kicked in, so during every period I would still have about half a day of holding my stomach trying not to scream. But hey, still definitely better than nothing.
An estimated three hundred pills later though, they really started to take a toll on me. I felt like each time they were becoming less and less effective, and the mental burden of always making sure I had painkillers in my bag was even worse than the actual pain. I no longer saw myself as the tough, independent person I was raised to be but more than ever as someone who needs pills to make it through the day.
After graduating from college and with more time on my hands, I was determined to find a way to fit my mom’s tea back into my lifestyle without spending hours in the kitchen. Fast forward past the long, boring stories of burnt stove tops, cut fingers and other experiments that I thought were good ideas at the time — I finally found the answer in my home country, China.
Many Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) pharmacies offered really high quality dried ingredients that could be steeped in hot water like regular tea. I sourced them in bulk and packaged the perfectly proportioned herbs in individual ziplock bags to take with me to work and on vacation. They worked like a miracle — just as effective as how mom used to make it. This was a breakthrough moment for me, not just for the pain, but because I realized I could help so many people out there suffering from period cramps. I had found meaning in the pain.
Three international moves, two job resignations, and one Kickstarter later, I am now the proud founder of Dr. Yang’s Crampless Tea, hoping to help change periods for the better.