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Breaking the Cycle
Are you in the dark about what really happens to your body during your menstrual cycle? Let's change that. By Body of Knowledge Editor-in-Chief, Mia Clarke.
Like many, I lived with my period for years without giving it much thought. It didn’t start that way. At 10-years-old, I was the only menstruating chid in my school in a seaside town in southern England. My teachers requested that I used the adult bathroom for those few days every month. That was where the sanitary bin was located and, for whatever baffling reason, they didn’t consider it appropriate to install one in the student bathroom. I may as well have announced to the entire school when I was on my period. It was mortifying and the teasing was relentless. Later, during my teen years, my period-related thoughts largely circulated around the inconveniences of running out of tampons and the embarrassment of bleeding through my jeans in front of boys. We barely touched on periods in sex ed. Just some dry, fleeting anatomical basics and the repeated reminder that its arrival meant you could now get pregnant. Then, well, I just kind of stopped thinking about it. For 15 years. I dealt with cramps, bloody bedsheets and PMS. But I didn’t really stop to consider how my cycle worked or what I might learn from it. I just dealt with it on autopilot and accepted its arrival each month as an inventible inconvenience.
Then I spent three years trying to get pregnant. And I learned a whole lot, real fast. I started reading about the luteal phase, ovulation, and uterine lining. I realised, at the grand age of 31, that I barely knew anything about what was happening to my body every month. And is it any wonder? Twenty-five years after my first sex ed class, periods continue to be steeped in a culture of shame, misinformation and missing information. A recent study revealed that nearly half of girls (44%) in the U.K. don’t understand what is happening to their bodies when they start their period (Plan International, 2017). In the U.S.A., a 2021 survey of female students revealed that 8 in 10 agreed that they were taught more about the biology of frogs than of the human female body in school while 40% were confused and unprepared for their first period. How are young people meant to move confidently into selfhood, autonomy and advocacy, when the education system continues to fail them? Global studies show that the average age of puberty is falling, meaning that we are not just failing pre-teens and teens but often children as young as eight. Adult women in the U.K. would rather talk to young children about Brexit and politics than periods. This has to change. And the change starts with us.
By breaking down the taboos and talking openly– with the correct language– about a healthy bodily function, we can help change the narrative and combat the stigma, making what can be a confusing and frightening time a lot more comfortable. With this in mind, Nyssa just launched a free guide to Starting a Health Period Care Practice as well as a checklist to help young people get to know what a typical cycle looks like for them. Authored in collaboration with paediatrician Dr. Rupa Mahadevan, the guide is available to download for free right here.
Periods: A Re-Education
I recently spoke to Nicole Jardim. She’s a certified Women's Health Coach, writer, speaker and the creator of Fix Your Period, a series of programs designed to ignite lasting hormone balance and improve everything from PMS, period pain, and heavy periods to irregular cycles and missing periods. In this interview, Nicole covers a wide range of subjects related to period health, with a focus on topics that are typically under-discussed and in many cases still unknown by many such as:
How and why hormones play such a big role in maintaining a health cycle.
How and why blood sugar imbalances can impact our cycle.
The intricate links between period health and fertility.
How the pandemic has reshaped our cycles.
The benefits of seed rotation for period health.
Talking to teens about starting their period and why it’s so important to address potential cycle issues early in a person’s menstrual life.
Watch the Video:
“It’s up to the grown-ups to change things. We bring our own period stories and baggage to our kids. We need to shift our culture’s beliefs about menstruation and female bodies as a whole– that’s what is going to create the collective healing that’s really needed when it comes to our menstrual cycles.” – Nicole Jardim
Did You Know?
Count the first day of your period as the day when full flow begins, not when you’re spotting.
Over 90% of women get some premenstrual symptoms, such as bloating, headaches and moodiness.
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder is very real. PMDD is a severe and disabling form of PMS affecting 3–9% of menstruators. Without management, it can cause impairment in physical and psychological health and severe dysfunction in school or at work.
Almost 70% of girls aren’t allowed to go to the toilet during school lesson times– and it's contributing to the shame and stigma they're already made to feel when they have their periods.
The brilliant Maisie Hill, author of Period Power, has a great podcast that helps people being held back by their hormones to get a handle on their menstrual cycle.
Nyssa speaks to ‘period preacher’ Lucy Peach about how she links each phase of the menstrual cycle to a verb– a topic she covers in-depth in her Explore Your Power course, and explains why it's so important to understand our cycles.
Check-out Claire Baker’s free resources to help you chart your cycle.
The Prison Flow Project is a doctoral research project focused on access to menstrual supplies like pads, tampons, and panty liners for incarcerated women in the U.S. and is the first database of its kind.
Freedom4Girls is a UK-registered charity fighting period poverty.
Period chapters are led by fearless and motivated activists who are fighting to eradicate period poverty and stigma in their communities across the United States and globally.
Win a Book!
Comment below with a question, a reflection on this issue, or a personal story related to period health. We’ll select one comment at random on the 15th of April and will send the winner a copy of Maisie Hill’s Period Power (open to all people, anywhere in the world). If you have a question you would like us to ask an expert in our network, please flag your question with a loudspeaker emoji: 📢
Thank you so much for reading the first issue of Body of Knowledge. We’ll be back next month with a guest post from my Nyssa colleague, Ellen, about a stage of life she calls ‘The Lightyears’– that strange, wild, wonderful time between our psychological childbearing years and perimenopause, during which life seems to be moving at the speed of light.
See you next month,