It’s time to talk about our periods, period.
This is an entry for everyone, not just menstruating women…so listen up!
First, I’d like to debunk the notion that PMS, feeling crazy, tons of pain and heavy periods that have people in adult diapers is a normal thing, or that a barely-there bleed is normal. It’s not…unfortunately it’s just common. And there is a huge distinction, because what this means is that there is actually an opportunity for those of us who menstruate to have a healthier period and an easier experience.
Not to get all TMI on you, however I know this for a fact because I experience it myself.
Maybe this sounds familiar… Around mid-month if not during bleeding (or both) I can get so freakishly angry that no one can do anything right and I scream and pick-fights with the hubby and then burst into tears with a little asthma on the side. My libido will spike high and then totally bottom out. I wake up on day 1 of my period around 4 a.m. with cramps that have me feeling like my face is turning green, no position is comfortable so I drug up on an OTC painkiller, grab my heating pad and do my best to go into a trance to get through the pain for a few hours before having to get up and do life. Then I pack what seems like an entire box of super plus tampons and pads to ensure I don’t spill all over the grocery store or my clinical office. The cramps will continue, I’ll feel like my uterus was falling out of my body and my low back is totally crunched up and then the pain will dissipate, however I’ll bleed for at least 7 days if not more. It’s like losing an entire week of my life every single month to chaos followed by a second week of insane fatigue and confusion about why I am feeling so…blech.
The good news is that there is a ton we can do to have healthy periods and to eliminate experiences like I describe above and this is just one of the many menstrual horror stories I know is out there. The stories are as unique as we each are.
Over the last 3 years this dance I’ve done with my cycle has improved significantly and it does not look like what I shared above anymore. While occasionally things still get a little wacko when I get out of my self-care routine, I know that life can be brilliant even during my period! Really, it does NOT have to be a bad thing to have a period!
Here are some things that everyone can benefit from knowing about menstruation so we can all start to come back to a healthier relationship with this part of life. Yes, literally LIFE because how do you think we all got here? That’s right…from menstruating women. It is a necessity for reproduction no matter how that egg came together with the sperm – it required some woman, some-where to have a menstrual cycle.
#1 – Having a monthly cycle is a beautiful and important part of life. Women who have a menstrual cycle have an opportunity to reconnect with their bodies every single month in a very primal way, for many reasons and here are just a few. A healthy cycle has an “up” and a “down.” During the upswing, women feel sexy and juicy, typically having a higher libido and more fun with their sexual engagements. This is nature’s way of trying to get preggers! Worry not – if kids are not the plan this is just a super fun time of the month to fool around. This part of the cycle is our ovulatory time and occurs the middle of two bleeding cycles. As things come back down down again we start to bleed and it can be a very cleansing time of every month to let go of any negative stories we created about our life circumstances or any gunk that has built up in our system. So, if you have any stories about how a period is a bad thing, I ask you to reconsider, please!
#2 – A regular menstrual cycle is about 28 days long from start to finish, and often follows the moon. Periods are aligned with the lunar cycle. There are tons of different perspectives about which part of the moon cycle should match which part of our cycle…rather than create a right/wrong about this, I’d prefer to encourage women to track their period along with the moon to get to know their own cycle. Paying attention to what’s happening in the night sky and ourselves. There are even awesome period apps to keep track on your smart phone. I use pink pad (I actually did upgrade and pay for it) and I love it because I can track the moon calendar along with my own, keep track of my symptoms and sync with my digital calendar too (how lucky for Joy and Sam who get to see my fertile and bleeding days whenever they open up our shared calendar, haha!)
#3 – A healthy period: arrives at regular intervals, preferably every 28 days as noted above. It’s 3 – 5 days in length, starts and stops relatively cleanly without too much spotting in or out. It’s enough blood for you to know it has arrived fully and not so much that you are changing your gear every 30 or 60 minutes. Ideally that tampon or pad will last at least 2 hours with no spills if not longer. There are very few clots if any, it’s a rich and pretty crimson color and there is no pain before, during or after. The digestive system stays in tact whether its flow time or not and there are no headaches or really huge emotional waves.
This might blow your mind…so stick with me here. Most of us probably do not have this “healthy cycle” I just mentioned above…or our bleeding friends and lovers don’t… and we can’t wrap our heads around these painful, exhausting, messy periods that people are having. In reality, if you have something close to this, it’s all good. A bit of pain, or a 6 day period…it’s all going to be fine. However if your monthly dance is flipping you out or your partner decides to take a vacation every time you get ready to bleed you probably need a little help getting things back into balance. And, if you are having trouble becoming pregnant it could be related to the health of your period.
An unhealthy period is simply a symptom teaching us that things are out of balance and we need to do some self-care to get things to flow better. Pun intended. And for all of you out there who love a woman with a period, take note of the below…maybe you can help with some of this so she’s not alone in it.
1) See an acupuncturist and/or herbalist. Most of the women I work with have some disharmony with their menstrual cycle and we’ve made HUGE progress in having this time of the month be as beautiful as it is intended to be. I use acupuncture and herbs myself, and this is a big part of why things have gotten so much better.
2) Eat really well. Nutrition is a key piece of having a healthy cycle. Everyone’s nutritional needs are different, keep in mind that there is no “the right way”. If you need help with this please come in to see us or ask us for a nutrition referral. When I clean up my food intake, my period gets healthier (less painful, less clotty, fewer days, less chaotic emotions, etc.).
3) Rest rest rest. We have so much go-time and not enough slow-time. Back in the day (or even in some villages today) women would retreat during their bleeding times (not because it’s dirty!) to rest and not work, this was seen as time when women needed to replenish so they could stay strong and fertile. Aim to sleep by 11 p.m. every night and scheduling in daily rest times every day of the month.
4) Engage an appropriate exercise regimen. Not all exercise is created equally for all women, so it’s important to choose something you love, enjoy and that helps you move all month long, save a few bleeding days. Whether you are a runner, swimmer, yogi, walker, dancer or ball player – make sure you get to move, get your heart rate up and break a sweat a few times every week to keep your body flowing smoothly. Looking for something new? Routeam has a variety of drop-in options.
And if you want to be REALLY WILD, do what I am doing. This month marks the first time I am taking a menstrual health day! That’s right people, you heard it here first and I am coining this movement right now. I am taking back my period and claiming a day during my bleeding time each month that is all about Rachel. I won’t be working so that I can focus my attention inward instead of outward. I will be doing whatever I want – it will include sweat pants, rest, laughter, down time and likely a freezer meal I prepped in advance eaten on paper plates, no cooking or clean-up for this lady.
What would it look like if you, or a lady you love, took a menstrual health day every month? If you’ve banked sick leave or paid time off…maybe now is the time to use some. Maybe I’ll even get political and push a bill for menstrual health days to become a standard piece of health benefits packages in the workplace. The possibilities are endless!
Please share your tips on having a healthy period so that everyone can benefit from your wisdom sharing!