Everything (you didn't know) you don't know about your period
I hope you're well and keeping safe in this time. I have been well, although I was really sick at the beginning of the week with a tummy bug. I'm fully recovered now and am settling into working from home as we see where the virus is going. Know that everything will be okay. The best that we can all do is follow the health guidelines and pray for God's protection over us and our families.
Okay, so let's get going with today's post. I am super excited to be writing this today. I've been thinking of sharing this info for a few months, but I held back. We're going to be talking about our periods today. It's still pretty normal to hold some level of shame about being a menstruator. This has a huge host of repercussions on our health as women. In this post I'll share my understanding on the consequences of period shame, and I will also provide you with some resources for your own further research.
In this post you will discover
.the effect of patriarchy and period shaming on your control over your body as a woman
.your inherent power as a cyclical menstruator
.the true underlying problem of period pain, PMS and other hormonal conditions like acne
.podcasts and books for further learning on fertility and hormonal health
Period shame and the patriarchy
There's a massive stigma underlying society about women's periods. It's no secret that periods are associated with shame. You may yourself not feel ashamed of your period, but at some level of your psyche, there is shame. This is a collective shaming, and attempted silencing, of women's bodies. Patriarchy has tried to reduce us to our bodily functions, making claims that women are not fit for the workplace because our hormones are "unstable". Yet patriarchy also tries to deny our right to claim our unique feminine biology by trying to keep our periods a secret. It's an interesting paradox.
What I find amazing is that this system, that is oppressive to women, has infiltrated our minds to the point where we also hold these beliefs. I'm sure you've had the experience of trying to unwrap your pad as quietly as possible because you don't want your neighbour to hear and know that you are on your period. I'm sure you have had the awkward experience of trying to hide your pad or tampon as you take it out of your bag to go change in the bathroom. These experiences show us that we have bought into this idea that periods are shameful and are not worthy of being talked about. It's not our fault though, its just social conditioning. With awareness, we can undo it and take back our power.
Our periods are powerful
I'm currently reading a book called Period Power by Maisie Hill. She, like many other women's reproductive health experts and advocates, describes the idea that our periods are actually our superpower, not our weakness. With proper knowledge of our bodies and how they work, we can heal all our hormonal health issues and leverage our physical, emotional and mental states in the different stages of our cycle.
Unlike men, we are cyclical beings. This means that our reproductive hormone levels vary as we change through the phases of our cycle. Hormones act as messengers in the body; they cue the brain on what to do, and when to do it, to keep the body functioning. The dominant female hormones are oestrogen and progesterone; these are the hormones mainly responsible for our bleed, ovulation, and non-bleeding phases. But not only do our reproductive hormones determine menstruation, they also change our brain function throughout the stages of the cycle. Our brains change up to 25% with each week of the cycle. This means that our mental, emotional and physical states vary week to week. If we know how we function differently in these phases, we can use that to our advantage in our everyday lives.
Our cyclicality is only considered a weakness because female bodies have always historically been benchmarked against male bodies. Given the clear differences in our biology, it's quite clear that this comparison makes just about no sense. Women and men are different, that's just a biological fact. It's more harmful to us to try to deny our unique biology than it is to try to keep up with men like we're trying to keep up with the Joneses.
Consequences of period shame
1. The faulty idea that men and women are the same
I just touched on this, but I'll elaborate a bit more. So, you might be reading this and think that it's totally anti-feminist. I get how it might seem that way. Period shaming has created a social paradigm of women trying to deny their woman-ness in order to be placed on the same ranks as men. But if our bodies operate differently, it's actually oppressive to us to try to dismiss our natural bodily rhythm in order to get on in life. It causes us more suffering while men are just getting on with their lives with more ease. Women and men are certainly capable of achieving the same things, but how we do it may have to differ sometimes, and that difference matters.
2. Period silencing and lack of information
Because of the idea that our periods are gross and should be kept a secret, we lack crucial information about ourselves. When we silence our reproductive systems, we silence everything else about ourselves. By this I mean that the social tendency towards not speaking openly about periods spills-over into not spreading vital information about how our bodies work. Bleeding is a big part of the female experience. When we silence the part about us bleeding, we basically also silence everything else important about ourselves. On the macro-level, women's issues are silenced because women's bodies are dismissed. When we dismiss the body, we dismiss the whole.
I'm not trying to reduce us to our bodies. In fact, I definitely am not. We have also been led to believe that talking about our biology reduces us to our function as baby-makers. But our biology is about way more than just fertility. Fertility is a huge part of it, but like I said earlier, our whole being as women is impacted by knowing how our bodies work. Whether you're a teen girl who's just started her period or you're a young woman trying to get pregnant, or just trying to live your life, there is a lot to benefit from having this self-knowledge. Consider that lack of information may also be a tool that the patriarchy is using to control us and our bodies.
Things you should know about periods
There's so much that we don't know. I stumbled upon a few podcast episodes a few months ago which totally opened my eyes to how much I don't know about my body. I'll share a few of these, but bear in mind that I'm not a medical expert...this is just a starting point for your own self-learning!
1. Period pain and pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) are not normal
I grew up thinking that I was lucky not to have period pain. I have a cousin who experienced excruciating pain whenever she was on her period, it looked like an awful thing to go through. More recently, I've come to learn that women who experience period pain aren't "unlucky". Their bodies are communicating with them, through the pain, to let them know that their hormones are out of balance.
I also used to think that I was so lucky because I didn't ever really experience PMS. I considered myself to have won the genetic lottery when it came to periods - I had a light flow, no period cramps and never experienced any adverse premenstrual symptoms. But I never stopped to consider why I never seemed to know when my next period was coming, or if it would even come that month. Irregular periods didn't stress me, because like many women I had grown up to view periods as a curse and was ecstatic at the thought of not getting my period. Now all I want is to get my hormones balanced and have a regular period! Isn't it funny?
"Period pain is common, but it isn't normal. We're socialised, more often than not, into believing that period pain is okay and it's acceptable. And it isn't." Maisie Hill, author of Period Power.
PMS symptoms, like intense mood swings, irregular periods and period pain are all symptoms of the same underlying problem: hormonal imbalance. Even acne, which I've had since I was eleven, is a symptom of hormonal imbalance. When we have the knowledge, we are able to snap out of the rhetoric that we should just be okay with our symptoms, because they're "normal", and we can get the information and help we need to heal our hormones.
2. The pill is not the solution to all reproductive problems
If you go through the resources I'll be sharing, you'll hear about how doctors often prescribe the pill as the solution to a host of hormonal issues. Acne, heavy periods and period pain are common symptoms for which doctors prescribe women the pill. But this doesn't actually heal the hormonal imbalance, it just switches off the symptoms that point to it. Every woman's body is different and thus will require unique solutions to reach real healing.
3. Hormonal contraception shuts down the natural cycle
I was on the implant for about a year and a half; I had it removed about three weeks ago. When I got it, I thought it was the best thing ever to have happened to me because of its 100% efficacy rate, and because I didn't have to remember to take a pill at the same time every day (which I previously failed at quite dismally).
But the more I started learning, the more I felt uncomfortable with having it in my body. Essentially, all forms of hormonal contraception mute our natural cycle. On the implant, the artificial progesterone makes sure that you don't ever ovulate (and technically also menstruate). This is the mechanism that prevents you from getting pregnant. The artificial hormones replace our natural hormones, and our bodies don't function according to their natural design. You may be wondering why you bleed on the pill if the hormones shut down the natural cycle. The period you experience on the pill is called a "pill bleed", which is technically not a real period. Because the artificial hormones are running the show and the main event of the menstrual cycle, ovulation, doesn't take place, you're not actually having a natural menstrual cycle on the pill. Another interesting thing I recently learned is that from your first period (medically referred to as menarche), it takes about 14 years for your cycle to mature fully and settle down. So when we go on the pill at let's say 18, we've only been maturing for 3 to 7 years depending on when you start your period. Only when you get off hormonal contraception will your body resume its natural menstrual maturation process. This is really crucial information that I'm pretty sure most women lack. Imagine that.
If you're like me, and you want to get to know your body and harness the power of your cycle, you have to get off hormonal birth control. You can't truly experience your cycle in its most natural state and learn how you function physically, emotionally and mentally in the different stages, while you're on the pill or the implant, etc.
Inasmuch as the pill is an amazing tool for preventing pregnancy - it also has its drawbacks. Yet we are never told about these side effect when our doctors put us on the pill. What I'm offering you with this point is the opportunity to decide. I'm not saying that hormonal contraception is awful - but it does have side effects. If you have never heard of this, you didn't consent to have your body go through this when you said yes to whichever hormonal birth control you may be on. Having knowledge gives you the opportunity to choose, based on your circumstances, what you are okay (or not okay) with putting your body through.
I am currently celibate. My boyfriend and I decided to go on this journey together, to grow spiritually and align ourselves with God's desire for our lives. So it's pretty simple for me not to be on any hormonal birth control. Before we became celibate, I had known that I wanted to remove the implant, but I was really stuck. My boyfriend was uncomfortable with the idea of the Fertility Awareness Method (a natural birth control option), and well... it would cause tension if I was just like "screw you, I'm doing this anyway." It's not like at that time either of us wanted to stop having sex, but we definitely didn't want to have a baby either. So it was tense. As you can see, I made the best decisions I could for myself based on my circumstances, do the same for yourself sis.
Now, let's get onto the good stuff! I promise you, I get sooo excited every time I see a new podcast episode about women's reproductive health. It literally sets me on fire (in a good way).
So here's a list of all the resources I've come across so far. These are podcast episodes and books. Within each of these resources, you should be able to find even more books you can read. Happy learning!
The Melissa Ambrosini Show, ep 71: Natural Contraception And How To Fix Your Period with Dr Lara Briden
The Melissa Ambrosini Show, ep 14: The Pill, Periods And Fertility With Dr Nat Kringoudis
The Melissa Ambrosini Show, ep 141: Balancing Hormones, Clearing Acne And Boosting Energy With Dr Libby Weaver
The Melissa Ambrosini Show, ep 36: Your Gut Health Questions Answered By Donna Gates
The Melissa Ambrosini Show, ep 135: Heal Your Hormones And Reverse The Ageing Process With Dr Sara Gottfried
The Melissa Ambrosini Show, ep 275: Heal Your Hormones With Alisa Vitti
The Melissa Ambrosini Show, ep 289: Beyond The Pill With Dr Jolene Brighten
The Bossbabe Podcast, ep 20: Using Your Menstrual Cycle to Perform Even Better in Business, Post-Birth Control Syndrome & Healing Hormone Imbalances with Dr. Jolene Brighten
Period Power by Maisie Hill
Beyond The Pill by Dr. Jolene Brighten
In the Flo by Alisa Vitti
Woman Code by Alisa Vitti
Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler
Just a word of note before you go - I'm not women's reproductive health expert, so the info I've shared is not nearly as specific and detailed as what you'll learn from the expert resources I've shared today. Use this post as a stepping stone on your self-learning journey, not as medical advice.
I am also aware that fertility is different from woman to woman. Reproductive conditions like endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome may come with their own symptoms. I don't have enough knowledge on this right now, so it is not within the scope of this post.
Thank you so much for joining me today sis! I hope you found this post useful. I'm really passionate about making information that is vital for women to thrive in their health and live their best life accessible for all of us. Let me know how you found this post in the comments below! And as always, please share this post on social media and with sisters in your community. We should all have access to this kind of life-changing information!
All my love