Honouring our menstrual cycle
They say that you don't know what you have got until it is gone - and this is a phrase that continuously haunted me for the four years that I was without my menstrual cycle.
Until just over four years ago - I didn't think twice about my period. I didn't consider it as something to be grateful for, or that I was lucky to have this monthly cycle. In fact it was an inconvenience at times, something that as I was growing up had been called 'the curse', or 'being on the blob', and many other negative words that dis-empowered me and pretty much every woman I knew actually.
It was something that there was a huge amount of shame surrounding.
I distinctly remember the first day of my first ever period. It had actually been something I craved to feel because it made me feel like I was stepping into womanhood - yet when it arrived I instantly felt that excitement dwindle and turn to a feeling of embarrassment and fear of what others would think if they knew I was bleeding.
But it wasn't always this way when it came to menstrual blood. Menarche - which is the name given to a woman's first period - is something that many years ago was celebrated as a beautiful rite of passage. Women were seen as being powerful when they were menstruating and in fact their blood was seen as sacred and often offered back to the land as the most nourishing fertiliser for the earth. Continuing the wonderful cycle of life.
Nowadays menstrual blood is hidden, flushed away and ignored as though it is a dirty secret that should not be aired.
Menstrual products are actually a huge contributing factor to the world's excessive amount of waste. The majority of conventional sanitary products are made up largely of plastic and end up in landfill. Not only is this of course damaging to our beautiful earth, but also the chemicals and bleach that are used to make these products white, are potentially toxic to a delicate and intimate area of the body.
Growing up it was the general consensus that being on your period was something that women had to 'put up with' - and men just felt grateful they didn't get. It was inconvenient, it was a pain (literally for many people), it was something that we didn't talk about, other than to use it as an excuse to get out of P.E. at school.
At the age of 16 I did what many girls did... I went on the pill.
In all honesty - it was partly because all of my friends were doing it and partly because my periods were irregular (it can take several years after your first bleed to fall in to a natural cycle) and I wanted to be able to control them and 'know' when they would happen. It felt like a 'cool' thing to do in all honesty.
Nobody, not once, explained to me that going on the pill meant that I wasn't having a real cycle. Nobody told me exactly what the pill was doing to my body and that it was actually disconnecting me from the natural rhythm of my body's wonderful cycle.
There is now so much more education out there on the contraceptive pill, and there are many different views on it and if you want to learn more then check out the wonderful Lara Briden's article here.
Losing something sacred
At the age of 23 I had been suffering from really nasty headaches on the week 'off' my pill, and something in my body just didn't feel right, so I decided to come off it. It was an intuitive decision and at first I didn't have a period for nearly a year. After that though my periods regulated and came every 28 days on the dot.
But then, around the age of 27 my cycle started to become irregular and my periods would skip, I was given scans and blood tests and told I had polycystic ovaries and it was something that I probably always had had. They said that as long as I was having three periods a year, there was no need to worry. So I didn't.
Until they stopped entirely the year I turned 30. Just like that - no more periods.
When my monthly bleed was no longer there, I felt a void open up within me. I had no idea how much losing this monthly release would turn my world upside down.
I had no idea how much grief and suffering, how much uncertainty and discomfort I would get from NOT having a period.
For four years I sought out every method I could to get my bleed back. I was blood tested countless times, checked for early menopause, had scans and internals, tried herbalists, different therapies, read all the books and literature I could, changed my diet, changed my exercise. I did all the things you are 'supposed' to do - yet nobody could give me answers.
In fact, nobody even gave it a name for years - Amenorrhea - the absence of the menstrual cycle. Hypothalamic amenorrhea is what I eventually worked out I had - which is when the hypothalamus stops telling the pituitary gland to signal to the reproductive system to 'go and do it's thing'.
In all honesty, I had all but given up hope, but in November of 2017, I got my first period in almost four years - and to say that it was a gift is an understatement. Now, while the past few years have had their challenges, I am actually so amazingly grateful that I get to celebrate this rite of passage again.
Not many of us celebrate that first menstruation, not many of us are acknowledged for the wonderful sacred passage from young girl to womanhood.
This cyclical process brings life into the world - how can we not see that as a beautiful and sacred moment?
I appreciate that there are many difficulties associated with our moon time (a lovely way that I have come to name my period) - for some the monthly cycle brings with it so much pain, suffering, anxiety and a whole heap of emotions that we are not 'supposed' to show in the real world. And I could talk about all of these elements for hours and hours (and maybe I will someday!), but I want to take it back to the the celebratory process of honouring our blood.
For those with daughters, these are things you can do to help embrace the process when she reaches menarche, for those who are in their menstruating years now - you can do this at your next moon time and treat it like your first period again. For those who are without a bleed, and whether that is because they are absent at this time of your life for many different reasons, or for those of you who have entered into the next phase of your life into menopause, please don't stop reading here. You can still find a cyclical celebratory time each month to honour yourself as a woman.
Before my bleed returned I began to track my cycle with the phases of the moon. The New Moon is traditionally a time when women would have menstruated, so even if you are not currently menstruating then you can celebrate the cycle of nature alongside the moon.
Here are some ways that we can honour this sacred release...
- Buy yourself a beautiful piece of jewellery that you can wear whenever you are on your moon time.
- Buy or light a new candle on the first day of your bleed, or on the new moon, to honour the beginning of a new cycle.
- Have a releasing ceremony, where you write down things you feel like you want to let go of around the end of your cycle (or just before new moon) and safely burn them.
- Have a support network of women who you share your experiences with, simply acknowledging that you have begun your menstruation can help release some of the shame many of us feel around it.
- Have a special item of clothing that you wear when you are bleeding, perhaps something that is red to honour and celebrate this process.
- Create your own ritual that you look forward to during your menstruation, it could be massaging beautiful oil into your body, particularly your belly, maybe it is listening to certain songs that make you feel good, or treating yourself to beautiful bar of your favourite chocolate.
- Gift yourself rest. You can read more about why I believe rest is so powerful here, but when you are menstruating it is even more of a gift to ourselves.
- Read Wild Power by Alexandra Pope - this book changed my life and my perspective around periods.
For some people this information may be too much, it may make you feel uncomfortable and it may not be something you are ready to absorb yet, but I am so passionate about unravelling the shame and the discomfort around talking about this natural, beautiful bodily process, that I finally feel brave enough to share.
It has taken me a long time to have the courage to share these words, but even if they just offer support to one woman, it has been worth expressing my truth on the subject.
I am forever grateful to my body for giving me the lessons I need to learn, even when those lessons have been extremely challenging and uncomfortable.