This blog post is dedicated to my mother and my daughters.
When I came home from school crying at the age of 13 telling my mum that I had started my period, I was embarrassed and mildly traumatised, as are most teenage girls, by this new experience. But my mum gave me a hug and said “Mazal Tov [congratulations], You have become a woman!” At that time all I really wanted was to remain a “girl”. But with hindsight I realised what a unique and special response that was. My mum had made sure that I understood this was a milestone to be celebrated.
I have tried to respond to my daughters in the same way, as each of them in turn have started their periods. I try very hard (not always succeeding!) to be open with them about their menstrual cycles, making sure they feel comfortable and at peace with this new stage of their lives and the changes it brings.
This is especially important to me as I see how modern society and media relate to periods. We have all seen the sanitary towel/tampon adverts where girls and women are told that they should carry with all their regular activities (swimming, horse riding, wearing tight white jeans, stay out partying) despite their periods. Or the subliminal messages that girls and women get from magazines, places of work, medical professionals etc that they should “carry on like normal” regardless of their period. This has allowed girls and women not to feel limited or restricted in any way.
The feminist movement has been a gift for women. One hundred years after the Suffragette movement succeeded in granting women voting rights in the UK, we should celebrate every movement towards equal rights and equal opportunities for women. However I feel this movement has come at a price. For many women, achieving equal rights has often meant having to deny the very thing that makes us women – our periods, or more generally our natural hormonal cycle.
How many times have you been referred to (or referred to yourself!) as “being hormonal” in a derogatory way. How many times have your mood swings or emotional situation been “used against you” as being unprofessional. How many times were you unable to fulfill a task because your PMS (pre-menstrual symptoms) limited you. We have been taught to either just deal/cope with our natural but “bothersome” menstrual cycle or in many cases ignore it/ make it disappear all together. In doing so, we have denied the very thing that makes us women, the very essence of our femininity.
I want to propose a paradigm shift, a new way of relating to our menstrual cycle, hormones, periods, PMS, as inspired by Yoga Nashit and its approach to women’s health.
My menstrual cycle, hormones and periods are the very thing that makes me a woman. It has enabled me to become pregnant and give birth to my five children. It has allowed me to be in touch with my body, connect to it in a very visible way, monitor its natural ebbs and flows and sense when something was wrong. My hormones have connected me to a deeper sense of intuition and understanding that has helped me professionally and personally. My femininity has allowed me to nurture my children when they are sick, to tap into a unique creativity when decorating my home and setting up my own business.
My personal experiences have taught me to embrace my menstrual cycle, not to fight against it or deny it. And yes, that does mean a totally new approach as to how I relate to my periods and how I educate my daughter to relate to theirs. It means that when they have their period I tell them its perfectly normal to NOT expect too much from yourself. You may feel more tired, you may not be in the mood to go out with friends, you may want to stay home, just drink hot tea and hang out in your room. My daughters know that is totally acceptable. Because this is just one small phase of a larger menstrual cycle. It is the calm before the hormonal and energy storm of the next phase. As they are educated to embrace these days of calm, it allows them to accept and embrace the days to come, with whatever hormonal and emotional changes and challenges it brings.
Give yourself and your daughters the ultimate feminist gift – the gift of connecting and embracing to your TRUE feminine self. Allow yourself to experience every stage of your menstrual cycle, accepting what comes, knowing that it too shall pass. The minute we try to battle against it and deny it, is the minute we allow ourselves to deny the very essence of who we are as women.