Updated: Feb 23
Your menstrual cycle. I'm not kidding. And I don't mean your period when you bleed, I mean The Whole Cycle. All 20-whatever days (if you're fairly regular this will be between 22 and 33 days) are a part of the cycle, each one distinct from the others in that cycle. Each day only to be repeated 13 some odd times each year. It's our Infradium Rhythm, a body clock I shut down with hormonal birth control as soon as I became sexually active. A reliable map to my power that I replaced with the smoke and mirrors of synthetic hormones and sexual desire in a patriarchal society.
So bear with me, as I'll post my own experience of coming to Menstrual Cycle Awareness that began in June of 2020, three months into the mind-fuck-whirl-wind of the onset of covid-19. It's a story to share, but as it unfolds, I want you to gather your resources around you and get this awareness for yourself too. Every woman need not wait for this ANY LONGER!
Through a menstrual month a woman's womb will cycle through four inner seasons, from inner winter, spring, summer and autumn and back to winter again.
Each phase presents specific signals, resources and physiological and psychological challenges that help to move through life with a confidence and a predictability most women crave, but never attain (and we certainly don't talk much about it!)
Start by learning about The Inner Seasons of Your Menstrual Cycle and comb through the wealth of material that Jemma shares in The Well Women Podcast and that is put out by Alissa Vitti with her clear explanation of the Infradium Rhythm among her latest content, floliving.
One last resource to start with (or by now maybe you're as hungry for more as I was by the time I got here....Lisa Hendrickson Jack's recent publication, The Fifth Vital Sign and podcast, Fertility Friday. A note on fertility awareness. Many women will never learn the nuances of their full 28 day menstrual cycle unless they pursue fertility awareness as a natural contraceptive or conception method. But our understanding our menstrual cycles should not be reserved for only managing our fertility. That would center something other than sex and motherhood as a good reason for a woman to care for her body and understand all that she's truly capable of. I mean wtf!
Think about it. When adolescent girls get their periods and as women recover from the incredible act of birthing a baby here’s the subtle message we are sent: Expect to have an experience that will be negative. You can’t avoid it and you can’t change it. Accept that.
So if we haven’t already started to do this because we see other women we admire and learn from doing it, by the time adolescent girls get their periods they have begun a pattern they will repeat over and over as they learn about womanhood, reproduction, and their personal power - they will begin to accept this as regular and normal.
That they will at least monthly, have negative experiences they cannot change and cannot avoid in their physical bodies.
That our periods happen to us and have to be suffered through or at best tolerated, colors the walls of the foyer of womanhood. As she walks in, adolescent girls and young women see the walls decorated with pretty signs warning of intense emotion, blood stains, shame, pain, inconvenience, and littered with lessons on how to make do with dulled comfort, muffled or muted expression, and unmet needs.
She gets good at making do - she begins to expect no more than mediocre and accept good enough as the best it gets.
The walls of the foyer of motherhood are no different, and all the portals to womanhood and feminine power. But it is through awareness of our full menstrual cycle, all that comes with it and all it is capable of, that we reclaim ourselves, gather our parts, and create from a place of wholeness and unity.
So for starters: Do you know that people with a female physiology have something called an Infradium rhythm? No? Never fucking heard of it? I hadn't either until I was 39 years old. Roughly 300 menstrual cycles spent completely oblivious to one of two internal timekeepers experienced by people with female biochemistry. The below is directly from Alissa Vitti's Floliving content. It is a 28-day cycle that regulates the menstrual cycle. The infradian rhythm powerfully affects six different systems of the body:
Stress response system
What’s more, your 28-day cycle (infradian rhythm) works in close concert with your 24-hour cycle: a dysregulated infradian rhythm will mess with your circadian cycle—and a wonky circadian cycle will negatively influence your infradian cycle. In this way, using phase-based self-care not only supports your month-long hormone cycle but also your 24-hour sleep-wake cycle.
So what is phase-based self-care? Basically, start tracking your cycle. Just like you can learn a lot about your financial spending habits by tracking your spending over three months, you will learn TONS about yourself from tracking your cycle. Pay attention to what happens with your energies and your attitudes in your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual states as you also pay attention to which phase or "inner season" you're in.
Just like the calendar might say June 21st, signaling the beginning of external summer, it may be cold, we may not be ready to show up in a swimsuit yet.
Inner Winter is approximately day 27 to day 5 (Day 27ish-5 for me)
This is the Menstrual Phase, it starts on the first day you bleed (not just spot)
The most important thing you can do for yourself during as many of these days as possible is STOP. REST. RELEASE. The rest of your cycle depends on this.
Inner Spring is approximately day 6 to day 11 (Day 7-13 for me)
This is the Folicular Phase, it begins when your bleeding has stopped, estrogen rises and an egg prepares to be released.
The most important thing you can do for yourself during as many of these days as possible is to emerge slowly, witness yourself, nurture your reemerging energy and cherish the "waking up" as the winter fog lifts.
Inner Summer is approximately day 14 to day 21
The Ovulatory Phase is known as High Summer, it begins approximately 14 days after the first day of your bleed, lasts 3-4 days (note, this may vary from month to month, but you can track the signs, you're only really fertile for about a 6 day period during this phase!) It's when your ovary releases an egg into your fallopian tube.
The most important thing you can do for yourself is live big, express yourself fully, but don't overbook!
Late Summer is A THING! (days 18-21) That nostalgic feeling we can get right at the end of external summer right before the leaves start falling and school is back in session....our bodies can detect a subtle sense of grief if an egg is not fertilized. This is predictable for me every Day 18 or so when estrogen plummets and progesterone spikes.
Inner Autumn approximately day 21 to day 26 (until the first day of your bleed)
The Luteal Phase begins once the follicle that contained the egg transforms into something called a corpus luteum and begins to produce progesterone as well as estrogen.
When progesterone levels peak is when many of us experience those common premenstrual symptoms (PMS): Mood changes, headaches, acne, bloating, body tenderness, etc.
The most important thing you can do for yourself as your focus turns inward is to prioritize self care and containment, like a busy squirrel you're gathering what's needed for winter and you can tune in to a laser focus on how best to prepare for a couple days of you a little farther off the grid, a little less plugged into the fast pace of life. For women who've given birth, this turning inward can feel much like the retreat into "labor land" as your body prepares for a big release and your more evolved mental states are not required to do what your primal physiology knows to do.
For me, going with the flow during this phase of my cycle doesn't looks like apologizing for being hormonal. It means making sure I am taking extra magnesium, eating nutrient rich foods, and applying my inner critic to the business tasks that need a critical eye instead of turning it on myself and my loved ones.