Periods, menopause and other lessons on being a woman
My mum has been one of my greatest teachers, particularly when female stuff like periods and menopause are concerned. She’s pretty cool at other things too. The great thing about mums is that they have been through life challenges and can guide you as you stagger through your changes. You would think then that I would realise that when my mum was ripping off her clothes and just as quickly putting them back on again, that I too would go through a version of this. No, instead I laughed. Not even a muffled snigger, no a full bellied roar.
Lesson one – puberty is on its way
As a young girl, my bedroom walls were adorned with posters, my favourite was the one with all of the words to Free’s Wishing Well. The chest of drawers next to said Free poster was where mum placed my special package. If you are of a similar age to me, you will no doubt remember packets of pads and delightful pink (in my case) belts to hold said pads in place.
Mum provided me with instructions on what to do when the blood arrived. What blood I wondered? It’s all very well to have a well-intentioned mum, but to my young mind, there was a disconnect between her words, the package and my body. To be honest, I had no clue about what she was on about. Until that day.
When that day arrived, as luck would have it after I came home from school. Letting myself into the flat, I as usual padded off to the toilet where I was horrified that the blood that mum had previously described was here. I very carefully cleaned myself up and headed to unwrap my package. Unwrapping and examining the contents again, I proceeded as instructed to place the unattractive belt around my waist and hook the pad on as instructed. Within no time doubts filled my mind.
What if, I speculated, this wasn’t one of them period things, what if, I contemplated I was mistaken and it wasn’t blood it was something else, what I wondered might this really be? The doubts circled like ravenous vultures to the point I removed all of my accoutrements and placed them very carefully back in the drawer and waited for mum to confirm that it was ok to wear my lovely new things.
Lesson two – tampons
Later mum tried to teach me how to use tampons. This was her second lesson on becoming a woman. What possessed her to use this day for this tortuous experiment will forever elude me. From the comfort of her bed, she opened up the box of white sticks and suggested that I try one. Much more practical she advised. It seemed like a good idea.
I returned to her bed eight times for a practice sit down, only to discover that I hadn’t got it in quite right, and painfully staggered back to the toilet to try again. On my final attempt, it got stuck and mum, by now in fits of hysterical laughter, tried to get me to relax so that she could get it out. I feared it would stay there forever. If you have ever heard or seen my mum laugh, you will know that once it starts, it takes some time to stop. More humiliation, I couldn’t join the grown up girls club just yet. It wasn’t until I lost my virginity that I realised that they would fit!
Lesson three – examine your vagina
Another of Mum’s lessons was for me to examine my vagina, inside and out. She said if you don’t know what it feels like how can you tell if something isn’t quite right? I was packed off to the bathroom with a mirror and my instructions. Seeing my vagina at close quarters was a shock. It was ugly, pink, chubby and wet. Despite the peculiar creature staring at me with disdain, I duly did as instructed. Finger in, soft and smooth, finger out and up to my nose, no smell. So that was the examination over, I was normal or at least I confirmed to myself that my vagina was normal.
Lesson four – natural fertility
What mum failed to teach me about was the mucus (cervical fluid). Not only did I now have to go through the monthly shedding pain, but something much worse was happening, other stuff was escaping from ‘the thing.’
Sitting in the school toilet scrunching the shiny tracing paper to make it as soft as the words on the packet, there, dangling was something akin to egg white. Only this egg white was at least ten inches long. I examined it from all angles and then in disgust tried to get it off my hands as quickly as possible. Month after month this goo came to plague me, appearing at the oddest moments. Back then I didn’t know that the jelly like substance and other embarrassing secretions were just a part of my natural monthly cycle. If only she had given me lesson number four.
Left to my own devices and getting on with life, my periods flowed with relative ease. Yes, there was the pain, cravings and emotional outbursts, but as I learned more about me the better I became in understanding how to manage all of this.
In my thirties I set up and ran a fertility company, becoming quite the expert on lesson number four. Using my bodies ingenious signs, I made sure I could never become pregnant. It was at this time that nutrition became a more integral part of my healing (not that I always listened). When in my forties perimenopause crept in, I knew, it couldn’t trick me; I was ready. Or was I? By now monitoring my bodies signs had become second nature. Sadly what I failed to take into account was that like my mum, I’d get hotter and hotter.
Lesson five – your menopause is not my menopause
When in my forties perimenopause crept in, I knew, it couldn’t trick me; I was prepared. Or was I? By now monitoring my bodies signs had become second nature. Sadly what I failed to take into account was that like my mum, I’d get hotter and hotter. Unlike mum, mine started in my early forties and not fifties.
What I also failed to realise was that no matter how many books I read on the subject of menopause that my menopause would be just that, mine. My transition into menopause was initially horrible. No sleep shredded me into a thousand useless pieces. Remembering how I had laughed at my poor mum was indeed divine retribution. Luckily my mum did not torture me for being a cow all of those years ago. I came to understand fully that her menopause was different to mine and how I handled it had to be my way. Her menopause would not be my menopause.
In the midst of this period of self-discovery, my doctor had failed to pick up was that I had an underlying thyroid problem which it transpired was causing most of my issues.
Listening to my body and in desperation, I made some radical changes to my diet and lifestyle and I was rewarded with a far easier time. It took me eighteen months to get it right and to solve the thyroid problem and as a result menopausal symptoms, but it was worth every moment. This wasn’t the first time that I had changed my diet because of what I heard my body telling me and it would certainly not be the last. I look back now and feel that the menopause was a breeze. Funny isn’t it pain subsides and becomes a dim memory.
Lesson six – it’s never too late to listen to your divine wisdom
Our bodies will typically follow a particular path. However, we must remember that all of our bodies are unique. If you are lucky, you will have other women in your circle that you can learn from and share your experiences with. Hearing about other women’s bodies and how they navigate through their health issues is one thing. The key, however, to learning about your body is to listen to and notice its signs. Be careful to not be lulled into thinking you are the same as your sister or friend. How you transition through each of your life phases will depend on so many variables.
All things being equal you will have moved from puberty, sprouted some hairs, started to bleed, maybe had babies, slid into perimenopause, until that blessed day when it all stops and menopause arrives or be somewhere on this path. With any luck, you are listening to your body and worked out how to look after it well. If you haven’t it is not too late. Learning about and tapping into your divine body, mind, soul and spirit wisdom will help you. And if you are near to menopause or suspect you are in peri-menopause, celebrate as this is a time to feed your body, mind, soul and spirit like never before.
I’d like to thank my mum for her divine wisdom and support. Most of all I’d like to thank my body for allowing me to tap into its divine wisdom, for listening and helping me to find my unique solutions to my feminine lessons in life.
Later, I’ll share with you how to tap into your divine wisdom. These will only be guidelines as I believe that how we do this differs from person to person.
PS: You can learn about Natural Fertility Planning with this online course