“I am obsessed with becoming a woman comfortable in her skin.”
— Sandra Cisneros
I know I’ve been focusing on the subject of healthy menstruation a lot lately, but it is has been a persistent interest since my period came back after my last baby. At that time, since we are not planning to have any more children, I realized that I was going to have to redefine my relationship with my cycling body, no longer in the context of planning the next pregnancy. I also had the epiphany of sorts that in not acknowledging or fully experiencing the role of menstruation in my own life as a woman, I have been missing out on an opportunity to connect on a regular basis with one of the core “blood mysteries” of being female—I’ve spent a lot of time on birth and breastfeeding in my life, but my period? Oh, that old thing! I maintain that our attitudes towards our monthly bleeding are reflected in our culture’s attitudes towards birth and breastfeeding—ook! Bloody! Messy! Leaky! Stuff comes out of you! Hide it away! Don’t let anyone see! I shared some of these emerging discoveries and thoughts during my Moontime session at the La Leche League of Missouri conference this month and many women attending expressed similar feelings—that they’d never actually connected the menstrual cycle fully with their experiences of pregnancy, childbirth, and lactation. As I explained to them, as women involved with LLL or birth advocacy we may be well-versed in listening and responding to our bodies when it comes to childbirth and breastfeeding, but many women overlook or minimize the influence menstruation has on their lives. We easily forget that menstruation also provides us with a regular reminder to listen to our bodies, follow their cues, and honor our own wisdom. I’m still working on it in my own life, but I really believe that women benefit from recognizing moontime as a time for rest, retreat, and renewal—a time to re-gather our scattered energy and resources and to emerge with strength and powerful medicine.
A friend came to me recently to ask for resources for her pre-menstrual daughter and said that she wanted something practical to tell her, not just to go sit in a tent, because that sounds nice, but it isn’t realistic in the modern age. And, I thought, but what if it WAS realistic and practical?! I would go so far as to say that perhaps we wouldn’t have such challenges with birth and breastfeeding in our culture if girls were taught that it was normal to need to rest and listen to their bodies once a month rather than to push forward like they’re exactly the same every single day. If this is how we grew up, wouldn’t it then be easier to accept the swell and flow of the energy of birth, to respect the need for rest and renewal during postpartum, and to listen to our bodies’ messages as we learn to breastfeed our babies and fall into sync with the timelessness of life with a newborn and beyond?
(Side note: when I originally chose the quote to open this post, I totally mis-read it and thought it said, “I am obsessed with women becoming comfortable in her own skin” and that is how I feel, but I guess I’m obsessed with it for myself too?)
I just finished reading the book Honoring Menstruation by Lara Own and it was really good. She says:
Our initiation of girls is superficial…how to put on makeup, buying your first bra, using a tampon for the first time. Many women get married and get pregnant without having any sense of their own capacity for endurance, physically or psychologically. Small wonder then than so many girl-women elect to give birth with the aid of painkillers and a technology that robs them of the experience of their own strength…
And she makes a point that I shared during my conference presentation:
As a culture we value stoicism and the overriding of the body. We have schedules, appointments, and timetables which are based on industrial efficiency rather than the moment-to-moment needs of the body. We wait until the end of the meeting to empty our bladders, until the end of the day to eat our main meal. We go to work when we have colds, when we have menstrual cramps, when we have a headache. ‘Not feeling like it’ is seen as a pretty lame excuse.
This is very useful training for all sorts of situations, but not for everything. And there are certain aspects of being female in which stoicism is exactly the opposite of what is required for successful survival. One of the skills of being a woman lies in being very aware of moment-to-moment bodily needs. Being deeply in touch with her body enables a woman to be able to know, and to say, ‘I need this type of food Now,’ ‘I need to rest Now,’ ‘I need to drink Now…’
I’ve previously used the example of listening to the urge to use the bathroom as a core issue in respecting our bodies and preparing for birth. Very, very few people actually go to the bathroom when they first feel the urge, waiting sometimes hours before finally making the time to run to the restroom. If we cannot listen to this simple, basic request from our bodies on a regular basis, can we honestly expect women to magically know how to “listen to their bodies” and give birth to their babies, particularly when we put them in birthing environments that are in many ways designed around overriding bodily requests? (Eating during labor? Sorry, you can just have ice chips. Moving around. Sorry, we can’t monitor the baby well enough like that.) We’ve been trained for years not to listen.
It is easy in today’s world to forget that our menstrual cycle is all about reproduction. Mostly – young women are given information about cleaning up their cycles from tampons to deodorants. Many are given birth control pills which in some cases stops their monthly bleeding all together. There are not many mothers who teach their daughters about the Rhythms of their Cycles – and instill a sense of true self-care and honoring as opposed to a fear of pregnancy, inconvenience and cleaning up. It is important for us to reconsider our relationship with our cycles – and take the time to not only understand our bodies – but connect with our inner compass.
A woman’s monthly cycle has an emotional and sexual landscape whether we are trying to conceive in that month or not. Instead of walking over these natural patterns – let’s try to understand them.
via Listening to our Menstrual Cycle ~ Wild Women Sisterhood.
I also enjoyed this article about Fertility Awareness, which is intimately tied (obviously) to an understanding of menstruation and body rhythms:
…throughout a natural menstrual cycle, hormonal fluctuation can alter a woman’s facial appearance, body odor, waist-to-hip ratio, vocal pitch, mood, habits of dress, and even language. When ovulating, these changes make women more attractive to men because they indicate fertility; in fact, one scientific study I read about later found that strippers have their peak earnings on the days when they are ovulating. These cycles also affect what type of men a woman finds attractive (women tend to be attracted to high testosterone macho types while ovulating and more nurturing men during the rest of the cycle). In short, a woman’s cycles affect how she thinks, how she feels, and how she behaves. Bly explained that our natural cycles are the full expression of ourselves. When a woman takes a birth control pill, which tricks the body into thinking its already pregnant, she is making a bigger change than she may imagine. Beyond obvious side effects like headaches, irritability, and bloating, Bly says, “The birth control pill emotionally flatlines a woman in a way that supports her ability to participate in the workforce, but does not support the ecstatic or transcendent qualities of masculine and feminine union.”
via The Hidden Wisdom of Fertility Awareness | Spirituality & Health Magazine.
And, I downloaded a free ebook about Rediscovering Your Menstrual Mojo from Jo Macdonald. She specifically has resources for mothers and daughters. Check her out!
“Menstruation is an initiatory moment. Women can potentially open to a highly charged altered state, giving them access to a singular kind of power – the power of self-awareness, deep feeling, knowingness, intuition. A power that matures over time with each cycle.”
— Alexandra Pope
Finally, on Facebook recently, I saw this handy reminder card:
I never thought about it this way, but our menstrual cycle trains us to be mothers. Isn’t it interesting that our cycles begin when we should really start thinking about preparing for motherhood and end around the time our children have flown the roost? When we menstruate, we are forced to listen to our bodies in ways we often resent but could learn to embrace or at least accept. When we have children, they require attention that asks for a similar kind of listening and responding. I’m really going to have to think about this…
I am 59 years old and have not menstruated for nearly a year (I think I have reached menopause). My first period was at age 14.
While I had a good understanding of the menstrual cycle, my memory of the early years was of difficulty coming to terms with the practical aspects ie being ‘caught unawares’ at school, dealing with heavy bleeding, night leaks and managing ‘feminine hygiene products’. Pretty awkward, really, and my iron tended to be low.
On our marriage, I took the contraceptive pill for three years. I noticed some monthly mood changes but otherwise this was satisfactory in a ‘mechanical’ sort of way.
In preparation for having children we had instruction in the Billings Ovulation Method of natural family planning and this transformed my understanding and appreciation of my menstrual cycle.
I was much more focused on fertility/infertility, hormones, normality and babies! I had a convenient way of knowing what was happening in my body and the ability to avoid or achieve pregnancy. We had 6 children over 15 years, conceived ‘knowingly’ and spaced by the amenorrhea associated with breastfeeding. My cycles were long (5 or 6weeks) and periods few during this time. I was in tune with my body and the whole reproductive rhythm.
When we felt our family was complete, it was still an adjustment for me to ‘say goodbye’ to childbearing. When menstruation returned about 2 years after my last birth, periods were painful and heavy.
It reminded me of a saying “Periods are the tears of a disappointed womb”. This eased in time and the rest of my female experience to the present has been uneventful and free from menopausal difficulties.
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See, I would disagree with the statement that the pill flat lines women. That same study showed that women had similar physical changes and attractiveness to men, but that it came in two degrees. It’s not a flat line, it’s a subtlety that takes a little bit more finesse.
And to be honest, before I got on the pill I might as well have shut myself in a tent and waited it out. I did everything I could to make the cramps lessen (nasty cramps run in my mothers family) naturally. It’s not practical to have cramps that bad, especially as a college student who can’t afford to not work.