When I look back on that day in middle school when I had my period for the first time, I mostly remember one thing–how terrified I was. On the bus on the way home I could feel that something was happening down there and I had the terrifying thought that I had started my period but couldn’t check until I got home. It was still another excruciating couple of blocks before I got home. I walked briskly home leaving my sister behind me in the dust, sweating through my maroon t-shirt to get home. It’s funny, I can’t remember what I ate for lunch last Tuesday but I can remember that I was wearing that maroon t-shirt. Maybe because I remember the irony I’d noticed later looking down at my once fresh, new and pristine undies that were now stained the color of my shirt.
When my dread was confirmed I locked myself in the bathroom for a bit trying to figure out what to do. I knew one thing, I wasn’t going to tell many people. I was embarrassed, nervous and going through an emotional upheaval based on what little I already knew about what the appearance of this blood meant from family members, friends and the media. Not only did I not emotionally feel good, I felt physically bloated and had terrible cramps.
There are so many things I know now that I wish I knew then. The most important being that menstruating is a beautiful, natural thing that should be celebrated and that it should be known that with this monthly menstruation comes a message from your body about what is going on with your health. Something important I’ve learned through school, research, and some wonderful books on the female body, is that your body is always working for you and pain is a message from our bodies to take better care of ourselves and adopt self care habits that will ensure we are a healthy young women who would grow into a healthy adults.
When it comes to menstruating, statistically speaking, there are some women who are more prone to heavier, more irregular periods, PMS and painful menstruation than others. I believe it’s important to know where you lie on this spectrum as it helps to pinpoint what will work for you specifically for your individual symptoms whether it be affirmations and/or therapy for the emotional aspect of your ailment or specific foods and/or supplementation for the physical…
- Women who are children of alcoholic mothers *Mother Daughter Wisdom
- Women who have endured some form of sexual abuse *Mother Daughter Wisdom
- Women who have a history of negative association with menstruating
- Women with certain lifestyle and eating habits– For instance, dairy in all forms has been proven to be harmful for cysts *Mother Daughter Wisdom
- Women who have a history of cysts, PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome, multiple cysts), and endometriosis
- Women who have lost themselves to their families, careers or illness and have lost their creative drive *Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom
With every change in life there are of course many ways to look at the situation, to define and perceive it and as I said earlier, your environment can affect what you think about the subject. Here are some false things I grew up believing about periods..
- It was going to be painful no matter what- It’s all I ever heard from family and friends and saw in the media about periods. Also…..
- I had a ‘family history’ of heavy periods so I was doomed– and serious menstrual symptoms that my Mom believed were sure to follow me throughout my life. My Mom would apologize profusely every time my sister or I went through our ‘monthly pain’ acknowledging that it was common on her side of the family. Which may be true for many people but I am living proof that you can change the destiny of your genes.
- Having your period was something to be ashamed of and embarrassed about-There are many places this belief may have come for me but most notably I think would be the fact that it was, and still is in many cases, the societal norm to not discuss this topic or discuss it in private. It’s not like this for every family, every group of friends or with all men in one’s life but a woman can still associate her period as something negative. The media has defined periods in a generally negative light as men say things like ‘watch out she’s on the rag’ or they blame a woman’s strong emotion’s or bitchiness on her period. While it’s true that hormones around this times cause us to draw inward and evaluate, it’s certainly not true that women are always bitchy during this time. Maybe if we were given some alone time and a break by fellow women and by strong men and we were taught to work on balancing our hormones, we would get through our cycles with much more ease.
- Feminine products were gross and difficult to use–I’m not sure if I created this fear on my own but seeing the many ‘scented’ pads and tampons surely played a part in making me feel like I needed these perfumed, and it turns out, toxic, feminine products to cover up any gross smells. I can’t help but wonder if this caused that shame I felt about this part of my life.
Because of my fears and beliefs surrounding menstruation I proceeded to hide that I had begun my period even from my it from my best friend at the time until she ‘started’ too. And it wasn’t just me that was ashamed of having my period that, shame was everywhere I looked, on pad and tampon packaging, the way they made sure to scent everything so we didn’t smell bad, it was in their ads on TV in the faces of the embarrassed women struggling to get through their day with the dreaded curse. It the was the boys at school and the men on television who would be disgusted by the topic only commenting with the same familiar, stale joke, “Watch out for, (insert menstruating women’s name here), it must be her time of the month.”
Outside of the men I saw portrayed in the media and in real life there were other women as well, that held judgements, strong judgements about menstruation. I remember another instance in middle school when an older female student asked fellow classmates in the bathroom if they had a tampon because she had unexpectedly started her period. When I, the only girl to offer help, reached into my backpack and offered her a pad, she laughed.
“I haven’t used one of these in forever.”
I felt mortified for not having a tampon even though at the time I wasn’t really good at using them and they were a lot more uncomfortable for me and as it turns out, toxic for everyone. After this experience I felt the social pressure to use tampons as I didn’t want to stand out and eventually they became my regular form of coverage along with a pad for extra protection because my periods were so heavy.
My first impression of menstruating isn’t uncommon as women around the world hold stories of discomfort surrounding menstruating. How could it be though, that something so human something that is the very essence of creation and life, is such an untouched, unspoken subject? Menstruation is the reason you and I are here, the root of creativity, where ideas are born and achieved.
Over the years I’ve adopted some tricks that have helped me through what I learned to believe was a difficult time of the month. You women know what I mean- large bottles of pain killers, extra thick pads, overnight pads, daytime pads and tampons for light days, regular days, heavy days, extra heavy days, chocolate usually in the form of candy bars, my stretchiest pants and the lest amount of activity possible.
But now as I’ve changed my eating, and in turn, some of my lifestyle habits, many of my period tricks have evolved into more holistic practices that are outside the realm of societal prejudices toward periods. For instance, I don’t have a big bottle of pain killers anymore. It’s not that I don’t still have some painful periods days, it’s just that my diet and lifestyle changes have significantly helped with the pain and I’ve found more natural ways to ease it.
My cravings have also changed. I still crave chocolate but not the heavily processed kind anymore and not in the form of milk chocolate which has dairy and loads of processed sugar both which are bad for cramps. These days I try to stick to raw cacao, (look for at least 70% cacao on your chocolate packages), as much as possible to put drinks, shakes and ‘nice cream’ or just to eat on its own. I’ve also learned that my chocolate cravings may stem from low magnesium during mensus so I’m sure to check my levels before diving into too much chocolate. Sometimes having that knowledge is enough to let the craving pass.
As far as the rest goes, some habits die hard, I still love to put on stretchy pants, get on the couch with some treats and do nothing. And that’s OK. It’s actually recommended that your activities are low-impact during menstruation. I think this important fact has gotten lost in the beliefs we have surrounding menstruation.
Some people think that less activity during this time is just lazy and women are using it as an excuse. Other cultures won’t dare let a woman play a sport or be involved in certain community events because of the belief that women are unclean during this time and may negatively affect ceremonies, etc. If you think think ads like these and beliefs like these are old, consoder these excerpts from an article called “Around the World in 28 Periods” written in 2016.
“In Afghanistan during menstruation, women avoid washing their vaginas because they are told it can lead to infertility. Compounding the issue is the lack of access to clean pads. A single menstrual pad costs $4 USD in Afghanistan. Sixty-two percent of Afghani schoolgirls report using strips of torn clothing, and many hold off on washing them until nightfall to keep it a secret.”
“School girls in Bolivia can often be found carrying around used menstrual pads in their backpacks all day because they are told that menstrual blood is so dangerous it can cause diseases like cancer if it’s mixed in with other trash.”
“I got my period at 12 in Barbados. The women there use pads, and if you’re in a stall, you can smell when a woman in the next stall is using them. Back in Barbados, women didn’t really wear tampons, or at least they didn’t mention it much if they did. Women wearing tampons were seen as not virgins, and slutty. One times my cousin put a tampon in a cup of water and showed me how it expanded, saying the same would happen if I put one in. I was so freaked out!”
“The first time I tried a tampon was for a Rihanna concert. I was wearing a white skirt, and my blood flow was really heavy. I didn’t find out until after the concert that I had leaked all throughout the back of my skirt. My boyfriend came to pick me up and was like, ‘You’re bleeding all over yourself!’ He was such a jerk. We broke up.”
“I was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, but came to Toronto, Canada, in the early 90s with my dad. When I decided to come back to Brazil, it was to dig deeper into my roots..But it’s so hard finding natural products here. you would think Brazil, being so enriched with nature, would start evoking better and healthier ways of taking care of what we put into our bodies. Recently I found what they call a Diva Cup here in Brazil. There are still not enough people aware of it; they think, ‘this is a hippie thing.'”
“In Chinese culture, women’s sexuality is not frowned upon necessarily, but it’s not talked about. I remember when I was young and moved to Canada from Hong Kong, I would see pad and tampon ads just plastered around. If you were back in Hong Kong, it wouldn’t be like that.”
As you can see, if you felt alone in your period shame you are not alone. Obviously some cultures and areas develop more shame surrounding menstruation than others but it paints a pretty general picture about how we handle the subject.
The habits that I have adopted that have helped me to physically better the symptoms of my menstruation as well as to emotionally change my beliefs surrounding menstruating have truly been a game changer for me. Here are some things that I have found to relieve my menstrual symptoms as well as some things I avoid during this truly magical, maddening time of the month.
- Caffeine– Caffeine can worsen cramps during this time of the month because it restricts blood flow. I try having less caffeine in my diet during this week as well as the week prior to my period.
- Dairy-Avoiding dairy before, during and truthfully, most of the time, has helped my menstrual cycles tenfold. For more info on what may be the cause check here.
- Alcohol–Alcohol temporarily increases progesterone and estrogen levels and stresses the liver which at this time of month is trying to flush out excess estrogen so it’s best to avoid it in the time leading up to your period and during your period so you don’t overwork it.
- Heavily Fried Foods-During this time of the month for women, there is surprisingly an even more hushed topic when it comes to our periods and that’s something else that happens to women, which can be symptoms similar to the flu. In other words, upset stomach and diarrhea. Avoiding fried foods can help with these symptoms.
- Avoiding/Lessening Contact with Men and Women Who Aren’t Supportive of these changes-Eliminating people in my life who joke about and/or don’t understand women’s bodies and have no intention of learning about them have been asked to exit stage left. It seems drastic but but having anyone in your life who isn’t willing to understand what you go through as a female isn’t worth having around. Someone who won’t pick up some extra thick pads for you at the store because they are embarrassed, someone who mocks you about your blood and cramps, these are people who are uncomfortable about the subject which is natural considering our cultural view about menstruation and can be mostly easily forgiven. But if someone continues to berate the process of femininity because they are uncomfortable with it, over time, you will come to realize that it’s not your job to be their teacher. Move on.
- Eat or Drink your Greens-Spinach, kale-any type of green will do and in any form you like. If it needs to be quick and easy, throw them in a smoothie. I try to have them throughout the day, a little with each meal. Spinach in particular helps bloat so consider putting that in a juice, smoothie or juice to start your day.
- Water–Plenty of water helps keep blood flow regular and the body hydrated during this time. Having water with lemon is even better as it helps pass toxins through the liver & reduces symptoms related to menstruation.
- Eat REAL Chocolate and take a Magnesium supplement-Go ahead and give in to the craving, just do it in a way that won’t leave you feeling more bloated or even pounds heavier in the long rung. Try looking for dark chocolate that is at least 70% raw cacao (50 or above is good too if you can’t find 70%).
- Eat Beets-Great source of iron which is lost during this time through menstruation.
- Try Maca-Introduducing this dried root veggies into your diet may help with menstrual cramps and bloating.
- Nettle Leaf-You can get this dried or in liquid form and drink it to help ease cramps and bloating.
- Muellin Leaf- I use this in liquid form to help relief cramps and bloating.
- Acupuncture-All of my research on heavy periods has led me to try acupuncture for helping with relieving cramping, bloating and for the release of stagnant blood flow which helps you to have better periods.
- Eat More Sea Veggies-Another great source of iron to replenish you during this time.
- Take a Time Out-Since the menstrual cycle isn’t the only cycle we go through in a month, (yes, surprise if you didn’t know that we have four cycles throughout the month and menstruation is only one of them), it makes sense to rest during this time. Consider this excerpt from an article by Alissa Vitti author of Woman Code; “While bleeding women usually fall into 1 of 2 categories: those who need to curl up in a ball on the first day of their periods and those who feel an energy surge. Either way, we recommend giving your body rest during this phase and engaging in gentle movement if anything at all. Even if you feel a rush of energy, it’s not always the best to expend it right away – if you keep the energy contained at the beginning of your cycle, it will better serve you throughout the rest of the month. Examples: stretching in bed, light yoga, walking.” For more info please check out Woman Code the book and visit floliving for all the info and stats that I can’t fit in this post. Her information is vital to women’s health in 2018 and the sooner we start our journey the better. Here’s a good Period Workout with some other great ideas for helping cramping and bloating.
- Reduce Stress-More easily said than done but for me, this was huge. Changing my environment, the people I surround myself with, (or if you can’t at least less contact), reducing stressful situations concerning work, family, etc. has played a huge role in my recovery.
- Join 2018 and Try out the New Products That Are Available to Us- As women living in 2018 today we are so lucky to have so many options for period help and period relief that aren’t toxic for us. Consider trying out some of these products created to make menstruation more of a celebration than a hassle. -*One thing to try is THINX, a new product promised to help ease period woes has caught my attention. This new period-proof underwear is said to save you from leaks allowing women to feel more comfortable and relaxed by having a backup plan. I haven’t tried them yet but reviewers for the undies say they can serve as complete coverage on light days and one reviewer even wore it as a bathing suit. Sign me up! Get yours at: https://www.shethinx.com *Luna Pads-Reusable pads that can be easily attached to your undies and are washable! What a dream 🙂 https://lunapads.com/
- Affirmations, positives thoughts and words surrounding your menstruation-No matter how old you are, looking upon this time of month in a negative way and having negative thoughts surrounding your menstruation will negatively affect your experience just like with anything. A great affirmation that I got from Louise Hay is, ‘I love being female. I love my vagina and I embrace my femininity.’
- Hot Water Bottle-A great way to lessen cramping symptoms is using a hot water bottle. Just put hot water into a plastic bottle, wrap a pillowcase around it and place it on your lower belly for 15 to 20 minutes. It works great and is safe to fall asleep with at night compared to a heating pad.
- Celebrating you period especially a young women’s first one in order to set the tone for the way she looks at her menstruation in the future–Taking the first day of your period to treat yourself to some self care is a wonderful way to ease into your menstruation and to kickstart it in a positive way. Taking Dr. Christianne Northrup’s tips on celebrating a young women’s start of menstruation is also a great way to set a positive tone for her outlook on it in the future.
I’ve come a long way from that first day 22 years ago when I started my period on the on the city bus. It hasn’t been the smoothest of paths to get here but my hope is that from what I’ve learned and all there is to share about the subject that we as a country and a world, come to a deeper understanding of menstruation and how it truly is the root to all life.
What have you found helpful or hurtful to your period?
Do you think society impacted how you see menstruation?
Woman Code by Alissa Vitti (floliving.com)
Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom by Dr. Christianne Northrup
Mother Daughter Wisdom by Dr. Christainne Northrup
Eli Rezkallah has done something amazing, he’s re-made sexist ads. Check it out for some redemption.