Everybody needs a doctor like Dr. Aviva Romm in their lives. I’ve been searching for one since my first visit to the gynecologist. Although I may not have found one yet in my home town community, I’ve always been lucky enough to get what I need from the wise and like-minded practitioners and healers I meet through my Maxim Hygiene community. Dr. Romm or Aviva, as she insists on being called, has been practicing as a midwife, herbalist and Yale trained MD for almost as long as I’ve been alive (30 years), but you would never have guessed that by looking at her.
Like the pioneering work we did at Maxim to educate women about organic and natural menstrual care product alternatives, Dr. Romm has been at the forefront of her life’s work and is one of the original voices of the natural health and wellness space. She trains health practitioners and offers patients a new perspective on women’s health through the benefits of integrative and functional medicine.
She worked the field from the ground up, when she first left college at the age of 16 to learn and practice midwifery, then after having four kids of her own, she headed to medical school at Yale. Today, as a grandma to two and author of seven books (with another on the way) that capture her knowledge on topics ranging from botanical medicine and natural pregnancy, she brings a wealth of wisdom in addressing the challenges of being a modern professional woman whose seeking the benefits of traditional medicine. She not only shares her experiences through the books she’s written, but through the medical and natural health curricular she’s created, the online educational experiences she offers, and the tens of thousands she’s reached through programs, conferences, television appearances like the and her medical practice, where being rushed and hurried is replaced with personalized, holistic and attentive care.
Lucky for us, she took some time out for us to help answer some of our most burning questions around the state of women’s healthcare, how she carved her path in it and her perspective on periods….
What challenges do you face as a champion of natural remedies and why have you dedicated yourself so strongly to the cause?
On one hand, a surprising challenge is creating meaningful and convincing articles that rise above the noise of the sales, marketing, and new normal in which everyone with a blog is an expert. Not all of the recommendations out there are reliable, and can potentially cost women money – and pose health risks – yet are shiny and promise the moon and stars.
On the other hand, there are inaccurate assertions by the media and conventional medical doctors – who set themselves up to ‘wield swords of truth’ – telling us that natural remedies are trash, and lead us to feel that the only truths we can depend on come from MDs – which isn’t true either. Many conventional treatments have poor evidence behind them and can pose very serious risks to women.
We need balanced, accurate, and unbiased information from individuals who truly want to help women heal using the best of all worlds – truly integrative medicine. So many of us are vulnerable to what we read because we are suffering with symptoms. I am dedicated to being a truth-teller, both about the effectiveness of natural remedies and the need to use medical care when appropriate.
Another challenge is helping women to once again believe in themselves. Thousands of years of patriarchy have separated us from natural rhythms, a healthy connection to our cycles, and the belief that our bodies know what to do. As my friend, the midwife Ina May Gaskin has said so clearly – “Women’s bodies are not lemons” – as we’ve been led to believe.
The reason I’ve dedicated myself so strongly to championing natural remedies for women’s health is that I believe in a concept called appropriate technology. This means using the right level of intervention for any given problem. A pill for every ill – which started in the 1930s with an advertising campaign from DuPont called Better Living Through Chemistry – is not sustainable on an individual or ecological level. For individual women, the chance of being over-medicated is substantial – much more so than for men – and the risks of side-effects are much greater as well – in part because of policies that have prevented adequate study of medications on women. Also, our physiology is different, making many medications more risky for us. Pharmaceuticals as our first-line approach to illness is also not ecologically sustainable; the antibiotic resistance crisis is just one example of this, and the amount of pharmaceuticals showing up in our food chain is shocking and disturbing. Pacific coast salmon, for example, has been found to be contaminated with hormones, antibiotics, amphetamines, narcotics, and more – over 80 pharmaceuticals and industrial or agricultural toxins. It’s got to stop and one way we can help is by taking more control of our health – and what we put in our bodies – including pharmaceuticals. It’s a win-win.
What would you change about women’s healthcare or the OB/GYN field if you could?
OB/GYN is predicated on a dominator model of medicine in which just 100 years ago or less, doctors could decide if women’s symptoms were ‘real’ or just a ruse to get something, in which female circumcision was a cure for everything from masturbation to melancholy, and in which even as recently at the late 1970s, only about 9% of MDs were women because our cycles made us unfit for at least a week of the month. When you explore the history of medicine – its origins and evolution – it’s filled with racism, sexism, and misogyny. Interestingly, just because over 50% of all OB/GYN residents in the U.S. are now women, just changing the gender or sex of the practitioners doesn’t change the insidious beliefs that the professional has been built on – which foremost reflect the fact that women’s bodies are a disaster waiting to happen.
We need to unpack patriarchy and misogyny – as well as profit – from the practices and philosophies of modern OB/GYN practice. The entire system which has been statistically shown to disrespect and disregard women’s needs, concerns, and voices needs to be examined and overhauled.
We also need to stop medicalizing normal women’s cycles and natural processes – for example, the 34% cesarean section rate, or the fact that 50% of women over 50 will have a hysterectomy. It’s absurd, dangerous, and frankly, frightening. We know how to give birth and our uterus does not have an expiration date requiring removal! The top surgeries in the US are all women’s gynecologic or obstetrical procedures (cha ching!) – yet we have some of the worst women’s health statistics in the world.
We need to create an environment in which women are heard – and believed – when they do have troublesome or concerning symptoms. We need to be given options for the most appropriate treatment – which is the basis for fully informed consent, something that has also been lacking.
One more thing: I would have every obstetrician attend a few homebirths with a qualified, experienced homebirth midwife to witness the power of women’s bodies and the natural flow of birth in an unmedicated, unhurried, and less litigious environment.
What is the most important message within your new book Adrenal Thyroid Revolution and does it apply to everyone or just those suffering from adrenal failure or other thyroid related health issues?
The most important message in The Adrenal Thyroid Revolution is that we do not have to sacrifice our lives and health on the altar of a culture that demands our life’s blood 24/7. Most of us have gotten stuck in “survival mode” and it is leading to devastating impacts our health. Autoimmune diseases, reproductive health and hormonal problems, diabetes and obesity, mental health issues –can all be traced back to being stuck in this mode. The book suggests a departure from this: Choosing to be healthy is a radical vote for systemic change.
I don’t know of any human being – even hardcore social activists – who wouldn’t benefit from hitting the pause button and allowing ourselves to rest and recover more. In the end, our work in the world is more effective – our performance, health, and happiness all go up. So give yourself Permission to Pause more often, learn to value yourself and believe you deserve to do this, take what’s going on in your environment seriously, and make changes to keep yourself healthy for the long run.
Is there a concoction of herbs that you recommend for super PMS healing power?
Ah yes – I recommend any or all of the following: Magnesium, Vitamin B6, Ginger Root, Turmeric, Motherwort, and Cramp Bark. And for some women, Vitex (Chaste Berry) for mood, reducing cramps and amount of bleeding. We’ve been led to believe that period pain and suffering are to be expected. I promise you – this does not have to be your norm!
Over the course of your career, how have you seen your clients’ and the general public’s perspective and openness to talking about menstruation evolve? Do you think it’s still a taboo topic?
Taboo is the perfect word! In case you don’t know this, ironically, the word taboo actually means MENSTRUAL BLOOD.
The conversation is absolutely changing, As I talk about in my upcoming book – currently titled The Hidden Hormone Epidemic and coming out from Harper One in April 2019 – I remember from my childhood, my grandmother couldn’t even say the world “period” out loud. She called it a whoosits or a whatsits! Now, Rupi Kaur is lauded (or more accurately, “liked”) for posting an Instagram image of her bleeding through her clothes sweat pants and onto her bed (like who hasn’t had this happen to them – or who doesn’t worry about it!) and Kiran Ghandi can be on the international news, running a marathon au natural – as in no pad, no tampon, blood on her running pants. It’s brilliant. It’s bold. And it’s part of a critical change in the conversation. Which means a critical change in how we see ourselves and our bodies. It’s ending shame. We’re seeing menstrual blood not just in the bathroom on our own pad or tampon, we’re seeing it on TV, in the newspaper, in our Instagram feed. In the new series Anne with an E, and remake of the Anne of Avonlea series/books Anne gets her period. Red blood on the sheets. Not the blue stuff we’ve been seeing in sanitary pad commercials for decades. We’re hearing the words period, vagina, masturbation. We’re coming out of the dark ages. But the stigma is still there. We have to just not shut up about it until it’s as normal as talking about baseball, or a burger and fries. Because not talking about it means women are not always getting important attention for bleeding problems, which can be serious and life threatening. Women bleed for something like 4.3 years of our lives. Not talking about it means we’re being silenced about something that’s happening for 1800 menstrual days in the course of a lifetime for women). Changing the conversation means ending shame, confusion, and unspoken discomfort that can mean hidden medical problems.
What is one #healthymenstruation habit you’d like to see more women adopt?
Celebrating the creative flow of our cycles. Giving ourselves permission to practice self-care for at least one day of our cycle, whether before, during, or after our periods, and keeping this practice alive throughout out lifecycles – even when we no longer bleed anymore. Creating some delicious cozy space for deep relaxation, or sacred space for creativity and ritual. Listening to our feelings when we’re menstruating rather than dismissing them as ‘hormonal’ – because the thoughts and emotions that come up during ‘that time of the month’ are often our unfiltered truth. And going green with menstrual products. What you put in your vagina affects your total health. It’s another way we have control over environmental exposures. It’s a must. Which means making sure all women have access to healthy menstrual products.
We know all too well how the lack of access to menstrual care products or education about menstruation have kept women from feeling and achieving their best, but unfortunately it doesn’t end there. The stats on Dr. Romm’s site are staggering and truly indicate the need for better women’s healthcare practices is dire. For example, 78% of women in the US are dangerously over medicated and 78% of autoimmune disease sufferers are women. That’s why to help close out this month of Maxim’s 10th Anniversary and Women’s Health celebrations, we’re inviting you learn more about and take care better care of your health. Start with a visit to Dr. Romm’s website, maybe sign up for one of her online programs or read one of her books. We’re giving away a signed copy of her latest book, the Adrenal Thyroid Revolution, and a year’s supply of Maxim products, to one lucky winner who joins us in spreading the health to others by clicking here to share this story.
So if you’re just like me and always on the hunt for new and natural perspectives on women’s health, or like Dr. Romm, “fiercely protective of women’s and children’s health care rights,” you’ve come to the right place. The journey continues with you and with us, together.