This blog is part one of four in our series on The Four Seasons of the Feminine cycle.
Women and womb carriers are cyclical beings by nature. In the space of a cycle, we experience a complex dance of hormones and physiological reactions that make us go through different emotional, energetic and spiritual ‘seasons’.
Why do we bleed?
The cycle starts when your menstruation starts, and a key actor in this show is the corpus luteum. This is the ‘shell’ of your egg that remains in the ovaries when the egg is released. The corpus luteum continues producing small amount of estrogen to build your endometrial lining to host the fetus in case of fecundation and large amounts of progesterone to send nutrients to this lining to feed the fetus before the newly formed placenta can take off after 3 months. When fecundation doesn’t happen, the corpus luteum disintegrates after 12 to 16 days, triggering estrogen and progesterone levels to drop in the body (they are at the lowest of the cycle right before the menstruation). This triggers the endometrial lining to start shedding, releasing in the menstrual fluid a mix of blood, cervical mucus, vaginal secretion and endometrial tissue.
The dance of the cervix
At this stage in the cycle, your cervix is low in the vaginal canal (which may generate pain during penetrative sex) and firm (a bit like the tip of your nose). If you are not familiar with how a cervix looks like, have a look at the Beautiful Cervix Project or if you are interested to dig into the topic, check-out the pioneering work of Olivia Bryant.
That’s bloody interesting…
Menstruation typically lasts 5 days but can also be a little longer. Beyond 7 days, it may indicate some imbalances in your hormones. A healthy menstruation starts and ends with fresh red blood. If you are having a brownish mucus before and/or after having this bright red blood, it is not your periods starting or ending, it's the body eliminating old blood that has stagnated during the finishing cycle. It may indicate that your womb is not in an optimal position in the body (it may be anterved, anteflexed, retroverted or retroflexed) to allow complete elimination of the menstrual fluid from the previous menstruation. The color, the smell and the texture of your menstrual blood are all indicators of your overall health, and in particular of (im)proper nutrition and elimination. Smelly blood can indicate an infection and/or an exchange of fluids between the colon and the uterus, indicating a womb malposition and/or digestive issues. If your blood is light pink or orange, it may indicate a blood deficiency, a severe one if it goes to yellow.
Let’s talk about pain
If you don't have a specific condition like endometriosis, cysts or fibroid, you should not be experiencing more than 30' of mild cramping during your menstruation. Don't let any doctor tell you that pain is a 'normal' part of the feminine cycle. If you are experiencing prolonged and/or intense pain, this indicates imbalances which should and can be dealt with. To begin understanding what these imbalances are and where they are coming from, it may be useful to start a little womb journal, noting how you are feeling on the different days of your cycle, what you eat/drink and how you digest it. Also consider learning more about your cycles and how they interact with the delicate ecosystem of your body through the ‘Reclaim the wisdom of your body’ workshop series.
Honoring your winter time
Energetically, your menstruation is your winter time. It's a time to keep your body warm, eat warm cooked and nutritious food, drink hot or temperature-room beverages. Your uterus is literally shedding, so you want to be gentle with exercising and get a lot of sleep to replenish. It's a detoxification phase and you may want to support your liver in the process by cutting alcohol, coffee, red meat, dairy, sugar and processed food. Add a lot of green leafy vegetables, iron and fiber rich foods and drink a lot of water away from the meals.
This is a time for self-care, where you may want to journal and reflect on the learnings of the previous cycle. It’s a time to slow down and honor your body, through your very own rituals or yummy practices like dry brushing. You are basically preparing the soil for new things to grow and blossom during the rest of this new cycle, whether it is a project, a piece of art, or a baby.
For generations, women all over the world have gathered in different ceremonial spaces during their periods: red tents, moon lodges, no matter their name, they have been, in most traditions, places where women would gather, rest and take care of each other. Modern life has taken us away from such practices but they are being slowly brought back into our lives. In some parts of the world, the ‘taboo’ around menstruation (some research actually trace the word ‘taboo’ back to the Polynesian word tapua or tupua, which means both sacred and menstrual blood...) has sometimes been leading to isolate women during their menstruation. In these cultures, all women are affected by this marginalisation during their menstruation, but the less wealthy they are, the more dangerous it can be, like in Nepal with the ‘menstrual huts’ where many women have died over the years, in particular from cold. Learn more in my conversation with menstruation rights activist Shradha Shreejaya, founder of Sustainable Menstruation Kerala Collective.
What’s good for your vagina is good for mama Earth
For most of us, since we started bleeding, this time of the month is associated with menstrual protections and all the challenges that come with them. What are you using during your periods? After enjoying the menstrual cup for many years, I have switched to period panties, and I LOVE them! I tried many brands, but my favorite so far is Elia, ecological, ethical and made in France (I swear, they are not sponsoring this blog…). Disposable menstrual productions are often full of chemicals that are harmful for our delicate ecosystem. They are also expensive in the long run, with an estimation ranging from €1,500 to €7,500 for a lifetime depending on the EU country, against under €100 for reusables. Disposable menstrual protections are also by definition wasteful (during a lifetime, the volume of waste from sanitary products is enough to fill two minibuses).
Keen on diving into the environmental and health impacts of menstrual protections? Today starts the Environmenstrual Week of Action led by Wen., Zero Waste Europe, and Break Free From Plastic. Until the 25th of October, many environmental and women’s health activists are joining forces to raise awareness, break the taboo, skill up educators, demand action from producers and suppliers of menstrual protections, and ask for policy change at the national and European level. They will in particular shed light on the environmental and health impacts of disposable menstrual products.
I would love to hear your experience about your menstruation! Feel free to share in the comments or reach out directly.
Kris Gonzalez, Feminine cycle 101
Miranda Gray, Red Moon
Christiane Northrup M.D., Women’s bodies, Women’s wisdom
Zoë Casey for Zero Waste Europe, Periods: time to ditch the disposables