Children receive such conflicting messages about their bodies, and from increasingly young ages are exposed to the widespread cultural notions that as women and girls (and increasingly boys and men) our bodies are ‘less than’ and to become, and remain, acceptable, we must work hard to adjust, groom and alter our physical body and appearance. As adults many of us have internalised these messages to such an extent we no longer even question them. My daughter came home from (primary) school talking about the girls who shave their legs, and everyday adverts and music videos (shown on kids TV channels) bring increasingly over-sexualised images into our home. The messages perpetuated by the porn industry regarding sexuality, relationships, power and body image present a grave cause for concern for our sons and our daughters, and the pervasiveness of social media means our children are exposed to communication and images in a wholly new way.
Connection & Communication
As parents, of course, we navigate and filter these messages, and are there to guide, nurture and communicate with our children to support them in finding their own ways forward. And for our family, talking about our menstrual cycle is part of this process. For as much as there are the messages which tell my daughters their female bodies are not enough, I feel driven to get across to them the tremendous wisdom, power, strength and beauty that lies inherent in each of us. A wisdom, strength and power which is there always, and which we can access and understand through conscious connection with our menstruality.
As a pregnancy yoga teacher, my kids are around when I talk about birth, pregnancy and breastfeeding, have experienced this as part of family life, they feel comfortable asking lots of questions and we take the same approach with menstruation. Yet as I reflected, and shared these ideas with friends, I realised that for us, as adult women, to truly share positive, empowering messages of the wisdom of our cycles with our daughters and sons, we have to have truly experienced these for ourselves. And for many of us, we are not yet at peace with our own menstruality. Therefore, to be able to pass on positive, nurturing messages of empowerment, rather than messages of pain and suffering, many of us first need to begin a new journey of understanding and connection with our own menstruality and this is where we will begin.
Mothering as a Catalyst to Conscious Menstruality
Like the majority of young women, my own menarche (onset of menstruation) wasn’t marked in any way by my family and like many other girls, I didn’t feel I could really ask or talk about this to any extent with my own mother. I experienced periods as an annoyance, and physically painful, and followed recommendations to take the Pill to even out hormones and reduce pain. Even during early adulthood menstruation was just something annoying and draining, a time to be endured where I felt ill and wretched yet had to carry on with everything as usual.
Yet through my pregnancies I began to experience a new way of thinking of my body; the wisdom it held in creating and nurturing my babies, the immense power of birth, a feeling that will never leave you, and the wisdom, nurture, beauty and science of breastfeeding created huge transformation in my understanding of body wisdom. Similarly, like many women, breastfeeding my babies into their toddlerhoods and beyond meant I had years of lactation amenorrhea; a stillness in the menstrual cycle and no periods due to dominance of the breastfeeding hormones. So when my periods eventually did return, years later, I returned to them with a whole new understanding, curiosity and respect.
The popularity of the Red Tent movement, inspired by the matriarchal culture presented in Anita Diamant’s book speaks of conscious menstruation and the importance of women’s circles. The Red Tent movement calls to us to see the inherent gift in our cycles and our bleeding; our connection with all other women, our potential for life, our connection with the moon and the oceans. And calls to us to embrace this gift of our bleeding, rather than hide, resent or despise it. Yet for many of us as women today, this is a journey which at first may feel rather alien; how, and why should we embrace something which brings such pain and disruption, the time of the month which brings frayed tempers, tears, bloating and bleeding? The time where we have to carry on with all that we carry when our own inner resources feel impossibly low? For many of us, the idea of welcoming and embracing our menstruality can be met with ridicule and anger. For we have internalised the years, and generations, of struggle and ridicule that both we, and the women before us, have endured.
Yet when we do begin to unravel the pain, the emotions, the messages and the memories, what we find is the potential to live our lives as women in a whole new way, a way which offers us times for nurture, growth, creativity and letting go each and every month. In Milestones of Motherhood I explore how coming to a new understanding of our cycle as a cycle of creativity and surrender means we are able to live much more consciously, and also, crucially, pass this wisdom on to our daughters and sons for them to take forwards in their own lives.
“Our bleeding is a time of quietening and letting go. I work on how I can bring an attitude of stillness, care and nurturing to myself”
Seasons of Creativity, Nurture & Surrender
As we begin to tune into the rhythm of our cycle, we see that it is not just the stormy feelings before our period and the week or so of bleeding which makes up our cycle, but that there are changes, ebbs and flows in our energy throughout the month. I have come to understand our cycle as the flow of the seasons; each week a continuation of the last, and offering different opportunities for reflection, creativity and letting go. Each cycle a gift of learning and opportunities for deeper growth and transformation. Let us liken our monthly cycle to the seasons of Nature; from which we are a part and begin to think of how we can work with our flow to deepen our understanding of our body and emotions.
The week after our bleeding is our Spring; after the shedding of winter, our womb energy is quiet, yet potential is beginning; we are cultivating new energy to nurture whatever potential we may create. Our womb lays down the lining to nurture a potential pregnancy, and consciously, we can reflect upon the directions we would like to travel, what would we like to bring into our life at this time? What can we do to begin to bring this to life? Like the warm spring sunshine, our energy is beginning to grow. Things feel possible and as the green shoots of snowdrops and daffodils appear, so too do our new whisperings of creative potential.
The second week, as our womb lining thickens and we approach ovulation, is our Summer. It is our time of greatest power and potential. We have high waves of physical and creative energy and our sexuality may peak. We are rich and ripe and able to bring forth our creations. We have great ideas and we are able to put these into practice, our energy flows and we feel on a high. Flow with this creative energy and bring to life what you began to manifest the earlier week. For many of us, our Summer, ovulation, is the time of the month where we feel most happy, strong, flowing and powerful. Embrace this, and recognise it, and use this energy to its fullest potential, knowing we cannot be ‘on full steam’ all month (or year) long.
As our third week approaches, we may feel more frustrated than creative, and find ourselves more snappy and tearful. This is our Autumn, and as the once green, lush leaves turn red and brown and are blown from the trees, so too does our Autumn bring us the gift of letting go. Far from women being ridiculed for ‘having PMT’ and ‘being hormonal’ it is my experience that this can be one of the most beneficial and transformational times of our month and can bring forth real and lasting change and growth. For rather than ‘silly hormones’ making us ‘irrational’ a more conscious perspective is, that as our womb prepares to shed its lining, so too are we given the opportunity to shed the emotions and situations which are no longer serving our positive growth.
The turbulence of emotions which our Autumn may bring is, in my experience, a gift of the truth. What is it that we have put up with all month (or year) which hasn’t truly sat well with us, but that we have just let continue? I notice that each month as my Autumn week approaches I feel sudden waves of anger at a situation, a shortening of patience with some habit of my children, or lately, feelings of total overwhelm. So I take some quiet breaths and look at the messages that these feelings are bringing to me, for they are what I can work on, unravel, learn from and prepare to let go of in the following week. As the auburn leaves are blown from the trees by an Autumn wind, so too do I welcome these feelings, these gifts of awareness and look at the messages they are giving me about my routines and relationships, how I nurture myself and others, where my energy is going, and I am reminded to take stock and make adjustments.
Here we can use the truths our cycle brings us for our own growth and evolution; we can become more conscious and listen and really take heed of the messages we are receiving ~ these messages of empowerment, rather than just losing it and shouting at our partner and kids, then feeling sheepish and emotional. With the help of our cycles, we can learn to understand ourselves more deeply, and to truly grow, let go, transform and evolve. For is that not truly what we are here to do?
It is often with relief that we approach the fourth week, our Winter, and our blood begins to flow. We understand why it is we felt emotional, we can heed the messages which came up, and we can mirror the shedding of our blood by letting go of anything else which no longer serves us. For our Winter, our bleeding time is a time of quietening and letting go. I like (to try) to have at least one quieter day as my Winter begins. The ideal would be to have a slow morning with Yoga and a nourishing breakfast, a walk, lunch, and journaling. Yet as mothers of one, two, three and more babies and children, as well as everything else we are holding, this isn’t always possible. So instead, I work on how I can bring an attitude of stillness, care and nurturing to myself. I am utterly kind and gentle to myself in these days, I take any pressure off, try to reduce rushing and big days out and make sure I nurture myself alongside my children.
Our Winter is a time for letting go. And as we bleed, so too can we reflect on what came up for us in our Autumnal storms; what can we let go of? What is no longer serving us? And we can reflect, review and gain awareness and truly let go of that which we no longer need. For when we learn to truly let go, we realise that through doing so, we create more space to bring in that which we would like to cultivate. And this too forms the essence of my Yoga teaching ~ we can use our exhale to let go, of stress, tension and emotion, and through doing so, we create the space to bring in the qualities which we would like to cultivate as we take our next breath in.
So as we have some quiet days of Winter and we let go, into this quiet space we hold the seeds of new beginnings. And as we have allowed ourselves some time of physical and emotional renewal, rest and nurturing, we begin to feel renewed once again to begin to nurture and tend to our new, rising energies and ideas as the warmth of our Spring approaches.
Embracing The Gift of Conscious Menstruality
Once we begin to see that our energy ebbs and flows through the month, we can see what a gift our cycle brings. We have times where we are creative, expressive and expansive, and times where we are quiet, reflective and surrendering. And this is how we are supposed to be ~ rather than level and with a constant, steady stream of output, as women we are deeply creative and we flow with cycles of energy.
As we learn to live with our flowing energy, embracing it, rather than suppressing it, we awaken to a whole new way of living. Personally, I have found any physical pains associated with my period have greatly reduced as I have become more conscious of my overall cycle. And if we do experience pain, we can use this to guide us to take a greater care of ourselves and develop a deeper understanding of the overall flow of our cycle. We can grow, create, transform and let go each and every month. Our cycle becomes less of a negative and much more our trusted teacher and friend reminding us of our own needs and wisdom. We learn to know and grow more deeply into ourselves, enabling us to have more conscious connection with others. And a true, authentic understanding of the empowering potential of menstruation means we are much more able to pass on such positive messages of empowerment to our children.
Clare is a mother, writer and Pregnancy Yoga teacher living in Cumbria.
Her first book Milestones Of Motherhood explores the ways in which mothering is a profoundly transformative process.