Riddle me this? What visits once a month, sometimes overstays its welcome, can be a pain in the neck (or more likely in the breasts and lower abdomen) and has female-bodied women between the ages of 12 and 51 often rolling their eyes or sighing heavily?
If a relative comes to mind, my sincerest apologies, but I’m referring to your period. Or “Aunt Flo” or “That time of the month” or “Shark Week.”
OK, I’ll stop. Do you find it interesting that there are over 20 slang terms for being “on the rag” (see what I did there)? My own name, “Carrie”, is one of them. I knew I was born to teach period education!
While euphemisms can make it easier to talk about more “taboo” topics, they also imply that our menstrual cycles are something to be ashamed of or hidden from others. I mean, how many of us have slipped a tampon into our shirt sleeve or back pocket like Houdini?! You can’t see me but I’m raising my hand, and I’ll keep it up for using this space to also share some reasons our bodies are AMAZING and why we should be PROUD to get our periods!
First of all, did you know you have all the eggs you’ll ever have (6-7 million) by 20 weeks gestation? That means that if you choose to have a child, your offspring will have also spent some time in your own mother’s body at some point. By the time you’re born, that number reduces to 1-2 million, by the time you’ve reached puberty you’ll have approximately 300,000 eggs left, and by the time you reach your early to mid-50’s you will not have any of your own eggs left.
Even though you have an “army” of eggs, only 300-400 will ever be called into action. The sac that contains an egg is called a follicle and although the follicular phase of your cycle only lasts 2-3 weeks, it takes 100 days for your follicles to complete their race to ovulation.
As Dr. Lara Briden says in her book Period Repair Manual, “If your follicles were unhealthy for any part of that maturation process, the result could be a period problem months later. When you see it this way, you can understand why period health is a long-term project. Your period problem now could be the result of something that was happening with your health months ago.”
One follicle will win the race and release an egg, and then as a reward, the emptied follicle gets to transform into a temporary endocrine gland called the corpus luteum where it will secrete the key hormone for period health: progesterone.
Progesterone has so many benefits for your body. Besides just counterbalancing estrogen, it also reduces inflammation, builds muscle, promotes sleep, protects against heart disease, and makes it easier for you to deal with stress. This is one reason why women need to think long and hard about whether hormonal birth control is the best option. Most hormonal birth control contains progestin (NOT the same as progesterone) and can keep us from ovulating and thus experiencing the benefits released by the corpus luteum.
The follicular phase is just one of the four phases of your cycle (follicular, ovulation, luteal, menstruation) and each one is marked by a rise and fall of hormones that cause a variety of physical and emotional changes in the body. For example, women are more “primed” to want to have sex around ovulation, and evolutionarily speaking that is beneficial since fertility is at its highest during this phase.
According to Ellen Barrett and Kate Hanley in their book 28 Days Lighter Diet, progesterone makes you a homebody in the Pre-Menstruation phase that occurs in the week prior to the onset of menstruation. Many of us will crave solitude (defined as being along without being lonely) where we have permission to not overextend ourselves socially. After all, we are shedding more than just blood during our periods, we are letting go of a month’s worth of pent up emotions as well.
Barrett and Hanley say “During this highly intuitive time, your true thoughts are right at the surface. If you acknowledge them and give them a healthy form of expression, you can make important decisions and changes now that would seem impolite or uncool at other times of the month.” Perhaps the solitude we crave in pre-menstruation could be used to ask ourselves what we’re not saying or doing throughout the month that might change our lives for the better.
If you pause for a moment and appreciate the orchestra of events happening in your body to bring about your period each month, maybe you’d see menstruation as your “Monthly Friend” instead of “Code Red.”