Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

Learn from Literature: menstrual magic

In my first year of university, I was offered an incredible opportunity. A sustainable, organic sanitary item brand approached me to become their first student ambassador, promoting and selling menstrual products on campus – and keeping the profits. But I turned it down, for a reason I’m very ashamed of: I was embarrassed and felt awkward at the thought of having to talk to strangers and post in Facebook groups about periods.

Two years later, and whilst my attitude has entirely changed and the shame I once held gone for good, I’ve often wondered why I felt that way. I attributed it partly to the fact that we live in a society that demonises PMS, taxes tampons and where a blood leakage is our worst nightmare. But also, a large part of it was that I didn’t understand my body.

My menstrual mentoring was the typical primary school experience: the boys being taken out to play football whilst the girls passed around wads of sanitary towels and learned that we were going to bleed every month until we didn’t. That was it, really. The rest I figured out along the way, picking up bits from frantic Google searches on how to insert a tampon properly and discussions with friends over who had dared to try their Mooncup first and was it scary?

I’ve never felt more enlightened or empowered by a book

But when I read Claire Baker’s Adore Your Cycle it really hit me just how much I didn’t know about my own body.  A relationship spanning two decades and I was still a stranger to it and its natural workings. And, honestly? I’ve never felt more enlightened or empowered by a book. Baker dedicates it to “any woman who has ever found herself at war with her body”, which is what I unknowingly was all those years before. Cursing my body every month when the tell-tale cramps began. Taking unhealthy back to back contraceptive pills to avoid having my period at an inconvenient time (but every time was inconvenient). I’d started to resent my body for a process as natural and necessary as sneezing, or breathing, because I’d never been taught or told otherwise.

Baker’s philosophy is that we should understand, embrace and work with our natural feminine flow, not against it. She cleverly likens the phases of the menstrual cycle to seasons: Winter (days 1-6), Spring (days 7-13), Summer (days 14-21) and Autumn (22-28) to explain the reasoning behind our bodily reactions at these points.

In Winter, when our periods and cycle begin, we are in “hibernation” and energy is low. Now is when we should go easy on ourselves, and practice ultimate self-kindness.

Once our bleeding ends, we enter the Spring season – a time for renewal and rejuvenation after coming out of the “period cave”. This is the time to harness your new-found energy to make stuff happen, Baker suggests.  

Listen to your body, is her ultimate message

As we move into Summer, the peak of our cycle, we experience the height of our strength, motivation and creativity. Baker writes, “This is a phase to bring projects to fruition and ideas to life in the external world. If we made the most of our menstrual magic in Spring by planting seeds…this is the phase where we begin to see our ideas take shape.”

Autumn draws in. The leaves change colour and fall as the earth lets go of what’s no longer needed. We mirror this as our hormones plummet and our body begins to prepare for menstruation. Claire states that this can often be the hardest time – where many will experience PMS and feel overwhelmed and exhausted in the run up to their period. To combat this, Claire suggests lots of self-care, sleep, walks and simplifying your life: log off Insta (if you can bear it) and prioritise your self-time.

Listen to your body, is her ultimate message. And never think of your period as something that holds you back. Instead, be reminded that each month “we are given an opportunity to embrace each phase of our life and harness the energy of the natural world” – something I never truly understood until I started doing it. And now I’ll never look back.

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