The Daysy Dozen: Emily Varnam and Kelsey Knight

Interview with "The Fifth Vital Sign" founders

By: Holly Grigg-Spall Jan. 19, 2016, 6:42 p.m.

Doula Emily Varnam and labor and delivery nurse Kelsey Knight have joined forces to share comprehensive and free reproductive health information in the form of a cross-country road trip. Their Kickstarter campaign for The Fifth Vital Sign project launched last week, through which they're looking for both contributions and connections to broaden and deepen the scope of their plans. At university campuses, clinics, community spaces and homes Emily and Kelsey will use their training and education to share knowledge through classes on birth control, fertility awareness, feminine hygiene products, and breast examinations for optimal reproductive health.

Daysy is proud to support "The Fifth Vital Sign" project. Two Daysy fertility monitors are available as rewards for contributors to the Kickstarter campaign and, as part of the curriculum of these free classes, Daysy devices will be available for demonstration and discussion.

To help you get to know Emily and Kelsey a little better, we asked them The Daysy Dozen.

What’s on your bedside table/nightstand?

Kelsey: My desk doubles as a bedside table, so you would usually find: my laptop, months old "The New Yorker" and "The Atlantic" magazines, a glass of water, half-full, a cup full of pencils, pens, and markers, and my digital thermometer within arm's reach.

Emily: (see title photo or go to our Instagram @daysyusa)

What is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?

Emily: Take my basal body temp. Then get up, look at, and chart my cervical mucus. Sometimes and especially since it’s so cold now, I need to give myself I little motivational speech to get me out of bed!

Kelsey: I'm a labor and delivery nurse and work at night, so mornings and nights are topsy-turvy for me half the week. On my nights off, when I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is stretch in bed and check the weather. I take my temperature first-thing when I wake up, but always make notes about how I slept or if I worked the night before.

If your menstrual cycle was a person what would she look like?

Kelsey: I suppose she looks like me! My average menstrual cycle is 25-26 days, and I’m 26 years old. She’s easygoing like me--not too heavy, and I experience only mild back cramps the second day. Maybe she’s wearing something casual and flowy.

Emily: My cycles are really heavy and very regular. I think that mine would look like a super hero, that’s how I feel she is. I feel inhabited by this incredible force, but also connected to every woman on the planet in some way.

What’s the first word that comes to mind when we say:

Emily: 1) Fertile - the earth 2) Green - nature 3) Natural - birth 4) Red - menstrual blood 5) Body – trust 6) Reproductive Health - cautious

Kelsey: 1) Fertile - pomegranate 2) Green - earth 3) Natural - raw vegetables 4) Red – Dorothy’s ruby slippers (no idea why this came to mind first!)--"there's no place like home, there's no place like home" 5) Body - beauty 6) Reproductive Health - organs

What’s the best health advice anyone’s ever given you?

Emily: Go where the love is. It's life advice, but it applies here as it's about feeling out what is right for me. Also - put a little coconut oil on your menstrual cup to get it in place and rinse it with apple cider vinegar rather than with soap.

Kelsey: Everything in moderation helps our reproductive health.

What’s the one thing you wish more women knew about?

Emily: Their menstrual cycles and the importance of reproductive health!

Kelsey: Their own bodies, their own strength and power and capability. I wish more people knew, listened to, and trusted their bodies. I am amazed every night at work, seeing people give birth and breastfeed and love their families so.

How do you feel about your period?

Emily: Empowered and honored to carry such a force within me. Feminine. Beautiful and strong. When I first became a doula I would bleed every time I attended a birth (really!) and it made me feel so connected to the women who were laboring. Its incredible not only that our bodies have this incredible vital sign within them, but also that they can talk to each other!

Kelsey: There is always underlying gratitude for its presence, regularity, and signal to me that one of my vital signs is reassuring. I feel thankful for the rhythm of my body's cycle and its connectedness to nature. Women’s reproductive health should be taken more seriously.

What did you eat for dinner last night and can you share the recipe?

Emily: Sauteed veggies over rice with lots of herbs and spices and a feta cheese and caper salad. I am cutting out dairy again (on Lara Briden advice!), so I wanted to have one last meal with cheese in it!

Kelsey: I ate at a Mexican restaurant, but I can guess at the recipe! I had a vegetarian burrito, with rice, black beans, grilled onions and peppers with tomatillo sauce on top. A kind woman handed my group a coupon for free churros, so I enjoyed a churro with caramel sauce, too.   

What one new habit have you created this year and why?

Emily: Carrying infused water in a mason jar with me. I can forget to drink water, especially at births and this really helps to remind me. Reproductive health is imperative especially when your work involves staying up for many hours and this small step helps me feel like I am loving myself more and better.

Kelsey: I hope to get in a routine of talking with family members regularly this year. My family is spread out throughout the States—in Georgia, Arkansas, Colorado, Washington state. With all of our different schedules and time zones, it can be easy to get away with texting only, or intending to call but not prioritizing it by better planning that extra ten minutes of time. Family is so important to me, and I want to hear how my brother is growing and what he is learning, how my grandparents are doing and where their thoughts are, to be a stronger, caring presence.

What one thing have you given up doing this year and why?

Emily: Well I don’t have any births booked (I don’t feel like its very fair for me to be on the road for part of someone's pregnancy), but I miss them already and have noticed an overwhelming urge to take care of those around me and do some of the things I do for laboring clients. I hope I don’t start doing random hip squeezes on people. In terms of bettering myself, I’ve given up over-committing. I’ve been on call for 2 years and loved every minute, but I’m saying "no" to a lot of stuff at the moment to focus on "The Fifth Vital Sign." It feels really weird!

Kelsey: I am going to try to loosen my grip on some fears this year. I want to give up fear of failure, or at least stare it down.

Have you ever used hormonal contraceptives?

Emily: Yes. I was on Microgynon and Cileste. They made me irritable and I had unbearably sore breasts. I was also terrible at taking them! Fertility Awareness is SO much easier and more fun!  Hormonal birth control really isn’t the best option when you are cautious about reproductive health.

Kelsey: Yes, I have. I started taking the pill when I was 17, during a gap year between high school and college. I moved to Ecuador, and at the time I saw my reproductive health as more of an inconvenience, something I wanted to “streamline,” so that it could come and go without affecting my life with period cramps and surprises. I hadn’t been tracking my cycle at all; otherwise I could have been better prepared and approached my menstrual cycle differently and more positively. I stopped taking the Pill when I was 22. I experienced spotting and bleeding for about five months straight. I tried a different brand of Pill the third month, with no changes in my bleeding. The doctor and I wondered about hormone changes, stress, and reproductive health. Mostly, it was a wait-and-see if things change the next month, then the next month, until month five. I decided my body must be trying to tell me something, so I stopped taking the pill. I’ve used non-hormonal methods of contraception, like Fertility Awareness and condoms, ever since.

What does feminism mean for you?

Emily: Freedom, equality, celebration, and women’s reproductive health. It means that everyone is safe and respected in the body they are in.

Kelsey: Equality

Head to Kickstarter to check out The Fifth Vital Signtrailer and further details.


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Holly Grigg-Spall

Holly Grigg-Spall

Marketing Consultant and Blog Editor

When she came off the birth control pill after 10 years in 2009, Holly decided to write a blog about the experience. That blog became a series of articles, and then book, "Sweetening the Pill," which then inspired a feature documentary, currently in production and executive produced by Ricki Lake. She is a fertility awareness and body literacy advocate and educator, a Daysy enthusiast, and excited to help more women come off the birth control pill and find a natural, effective alternative.