With all of my babies, I’ve followed Sheila Kippley’s Seven Standards for Ecological Breastfeeding. Kippley reports that mothers who follow ecological breastfeeding will experience an average of 14 months of amenorrhea (and associated infertility). Sure enough, with my first baby, right at 14 months postpartum my fertility returned. With my second baby, I said I was going for 18 months and I ended up with 16 months of amenorrhea before my “moon” returned. Now, Alaina is nearly 15 months old, and in what I find to be a fascinating biological twist, I’m experiencing my first postpartum mamaflow in exactly two years—it was my April cycle in 2010 during which I got pregnant with her. I just find that so cool—what body wisdom we have. (I then found my old journal from Zander and my cycle returned with him in September of 2007…again exactly two years from the month in which I got pregnant with him.)
I sensed this was coming and have found myself interested in several related websites and blog resources recently. As part of the Wilde Tribe teleseries, I listened to Deanna L’am, author of two books with a focus on menstrual empowerment (specifically for girls who are coming of age) and founder of Red Tents in Every Neighborhood speak about Red Tents and about honoring this time in our lives with specific quiet time for rest and renewal. I also listened to a presentation about “Honoring Your Crazy Woman” (and her companion, the Creative Rainbow Mama) from The Happy Womb, who has a new book out called Moon Time as well as some super-cool mandalas for charting your cycle. There, I also enjoyed a great guest post about going with the flow and spending time in your own red room.
In one of the classes I’m taking, before exploring any of the above resources, I wrote about planning to take a monthly time of retreat each month during my moontime—kind of a mini Red Tent, whether it is only for 30 minutes or for a couple of hours or a whole day. I’ve read several articles that make the point that one of the causes of PMS, cramps, etc. is the reluctance, unwillingness, or inability to take any time off to listen to what our bodies are telling us and to heed the call to take some time to turn inward. I also thought about how during pregnancy and birth it is so vitally important to listen to our bodies, to take good care of ourselves, to rest when we need to, and to celebrate being female—why not continue that practice of care and recognition each month during menstruation?
I’m almost finished facilitating a series of Cakes for the Queen of Heaven classes (a feminist thealogy curriculum published by the Unitarian Universalist Women & Religion program) and one of the discussion questions we explored was with regard to our first menstruation, how it was treated by our mothers, and whether we felt like that experience was related to our later experiences of birth, breastfeeding, and menopause. Our overall conclusion was that yes, it is related, and we theorized that girls who are taught to feel ashamed of and annoyed by their periods, may well grow up to be women who fear giving birth or view it with trepidation rather than anticipation.
I really looked forward to my own first period and the day it began my mom gave me a special ring that I wore every day thereafter for years until it wore through on the back (I actually got it out today to look at). When I was still a teenager, I picked out a garnet ring that my aunt gave me once thinking that it was the ring I would give to my own daughter someday at menarche. While I went on to have a very challenging and pretty debilitating time with menstruation after that—headaches, nausea, vomiting, clotting, and horrible cramps—my introduction was one of celebration and recognition, rather than any kind of shame. I do think it set the stage for positive feelings and expectations about the rest of the stages of my life cycle as a woman. (Also helpful was having a mother who had homebirths and who breastfed her babies.)
After this discussion, I saw this quote on Facebook:
“Our rites of passage create and sustain culture, our inner culture and the outer culture. The current dominant culture is one of blame and victimhood and unconscious rites of passage reinforce this, within and without. Conscious rites of passage in a likeminded group of folk, creates and reinforces a culture of self responsibility and inner power. It is said that if a young woman does not experience an empowering menarche, then she doesn’t start womanhood with a relationship with the empowered feminine.” –JHC
And, I also came across the powerful phrase, “womb ecology reflects world ecology.”
So, I did take some special time for myself today. It wasn’t a huge amount, but I made myself tea, listened to a recording, drew a picture, went down to my special place in the woods, and spent some time thinking and pondering about fertility and the rhythms and tides of our bodies. I also gave myself permission to finish writing two essays for one of my new classes and to browse through some new books, rather than “catching up” with the house, which feels like it is becoming more and more cluttered lately. I also felt like I will need to re-negotiate my relationship with my period, since we have decided that we really are done having babies. I’ve spent nine years with my body cycling through pregnancies and breastfeeding (with the accompanying ~15 months of amenorrhea for each baby) and thus, all things considered, I haven’t had that many cycles over the last 9 years. It is time for me to become re-accustomed to this monthly experience and to form a new relationship with my body that is not based on planning for a pregnancy or a birth.
I look forward to making a regular habit of spending some moontime quiet time with myself. I often crave stillness, retreat, quiet, and solitude, but I’m so “productive” all the time that the stillness I seek is pushed off until “the right time,” which then doesn’t come as often as I hear the call. I forget if I’ve written that I’ve stopped doing yoga (after 11 years of daily practice—little Miss A basically makes it impossible for me and I was getting so stressed about trying to fit it in, that I just let go and then I actually felt a lot of relief about that, rather than disappointment). I do spend at least 15 minutes of quiet, meditation time almost every day in the afternoon while the kids are visiting my parents. That time is really good for me and very centering. I know that it will also be good for me to plan in advance to take some Red Tent time each month.
I feel strange about this return. Like a chapter is closing in my life and some of the ways in which I have related to myself and my female identity will need to shift also.