Wednesday, 12 March 2008

The Benefits and Blessings of Periods

Periods can be a pain, so why have them at all?
That’s the first line of an article I read today at lunch, titled ‘The Great Escape’, published in the NewScientist edition 29 September 2007, Issue 2623. And I did not need to read the entire article to know that I will be pissed off. Well, for the sake of science, I did read it all, and still pissed off. Hence, this post, for I need to blow the steam. So here, we go, and I hope I can be as systematic as possible.

I could not find the PDF or online version of the article, so I will just scan the four pages later at my more leisure time and post them here as well. The writer of this article is surprisingly a woman. Ms. Hannah Hoag, whom based on my internet searching, is a truly credible writer in her own right. This is her private blog, or at least I hope it is. This post is definitely not to attack Ms. Hoag’s position or article; but rather to criticize from a woman’s point of view how the misinterpretation and misunderstanding of a natural phenomenon as menstruation leads to the findings of any means to avoid or even eliminate menstrual cycle from women’s calendar, an action that may be based on sympathy, but definitely against the rhythm of the Nature herself.



The article talks about how menstruation or monthly periods is a pain for women, and thus, why not delaying it or eliminating it? This is a summary on the article, taken from this site:
Women in western society take it for granted that they must have a monthly period until menopause. Scientists are questioning this. Indeed, many women on the contraceptive pill choose to take the pill all year round and never have a monthly period. There is no evidence that this harms the body. In July 2007, pharmacies in the US began stocking a new type of oral contraceptive that involves no monthly bleeding. This pill can be taken for 356 days a year. Some scientists believe that the painful symptoms involved in having a monthly period, such as cramps, bloating and nausea, are not necessary. Scientists are researching different types of oral contraceptives that have no side-effects and no need for a monthly period.

Right. Eliminating the very privilege Mother Nature has given to women instead of to men. We’ll go back to it later on. But the summary above is the basic idea, and the article thus goes on to explain various methods and products available that will ‘free’ women from monthly periods, for the rest of her life if she wants to. I’m not going into details, but dear readers can read the scanned pages. The first two paragraphs are:

THEY are a rite of passage for young women and a sign of likely fertility and health. For some women they are welcome proof that they are not pregnant. But generally speaking periods aren't much fun. What with radical mood swings, migraines, cramps, bloating and nausea, at best they are an irritation, at worst they require medication.

Now, though, women can choose to opt out entirely. In July, pharmacies in the US began stocking a new oral contraceptive designed for women "interested in putting their menstrual cycle on hold". The pills can be taken 365 days a year with no need to break for a monthly bleed. Other forms of hormonal contraception are on the cards too. Researchers are experimenting with ways to keep periods at bay by blocking the body's own progesterone.

That’s the first two paragraphs. Naturally, the article also quoted and interviewed many researchers. Patricia Sulak, a woman obstetrician at Texas A&M University Health Science Center College of Medicine in Temple, suggested that ‘having fewer periods is a good thing that a monthly period may even be bad for a woman’s health’. Richard Anderson of the Centre for Reproductive Biology at the University of Edinburgh, UK said, “It [Menstrual cycle] really just reflects that you haven’t got pregnant and that there is no embryo trying to implant into the uterus.”

Really. The statement will make a thirteen years old girl scared to death of having menstrual cycles, and she will hate being a woman then. Menstrual cycle is not only an indication of no-pregnancies! On the contrary, it’s an honour!

The article further stated that ‘bleeding every month is not necessarily the norm’, proceeding by discussing the finding of Beverly Strassmann who spent more than two years among the Dogon people in Mali, West Africa. Ms. Strassmann observed how the women of Dogon tribe, have very few periods per annum. Between 20-24 years old, a Dogon woman would only have on average two periods per year, or around 110 periods in her lifetime. On the contrary, women of New York, London or Toronto have on average 350 to 400 periods in their lifetime.

Really. What’s the estimated number of periods of my own then? I had my first bleeding when I was 12, I guess, grade 6 at the elementary school. Assuming I will follow normal life cycle, I will be having my periods till the age of 50. That is 38 years of periods, or a total of 456 period cycles through my entire life. So, I will have more periods than the average NY women have, and am I worried?

No. Nada. Zilch. Iie. Enggak tuh, sori-sori aja.

And why? Because I don’t only think it’s normal to have periods, I also ENJOY it. Seriously. I know some of my dearest friends look at me like I’m a weirdo by saying this, but I truly truly enjoy my monthly cycles. When it naturally comes, of course.


Yes, it’s painful, it’s bloody (duh!), I have swing moods, and I don’t like it when I’m having swing moods. My body parts are bloaty, and I am usually uncomfortable. I used to dislike my menstrual cycles so much, I questioned the necessity of being a woman with added ‘bonus’ of bleeding every month. But, a couple of years ago, I learned that it is not only natural to have menstruation; menstruation is actually women’s natural cleansing process. You will find it there in any book of yoga for women, ayurvedic healing, and homeopathic therapies. Do not resent your cycles; they come to tell you that you have the luxury to rest that day. Treat yourself with a nice hot bath, with lavender scented oil burning in your room, nice hot chamomile tea, and a good uplifting book to rejuvenate you. Take a day off, it’s your Woman’s Day. Celebrate it! And throw away those painkillers, you don’t need them. Just boil ginger, added honey into it, and sip it blissfully. That’s how I’ve been living my periods in Australia here, without Indonesian jamu (traditional herbs), and I survive. Healthily.

The only time I ever took menstrual-eliminator or whatever they call it was after I had a surgery to take out my uterine fibroid back in March 2004, four years ago. It was necessary at that time, for I need to have the Caesarean stitches recovered, and thus expansion of my uterine walls were counterproductive with my recovery. So I took pills and injections, and did not have periods for 3-4 months. It was a relief at that time not to have periods. When it started coming again, I was rather afraid. But then, when it came, I found myself relieved and happy to have my monthly period again. Weird? Perhaps not.

And let’s look at NewScientist's statement again: ‘bleeding every month is not necessarily the norm’. No, it’s not an obligation for women to bleed every month. I cannot explain what happen to the Dogon women, other than they live a very different lifestyle and eat different dietary to NY, London and Toronto women. So, yes, it’s not an obligation for women to have monthly periods. BUT it is very natural. Woman’s body is designed in such a very delicate way that enables her to flush away excesses of metabolism through the blood flow, and – if she chooses to – carry another living being for 9.5 months. 

So, perhaps it’s not a norm. But to me, it certainly is a blessing that I am grateful for. Imagine, regular natural cleansing of unnecessary substances in our body. And now we want to get rid of the gift?

Hence, I’m returning back to my early statement that menstrual cycle is actually ‘the very privilege Mother Nature has given to women’, with or without child, with or without partner, with or without the desire to bear a child. Perhaps this short article is insufficient to articulate what I want to say, but I truly belief that monthly periods is a gift for women. And it’s not any kind of gift, it’s a SACRED gift that is bestowed to the Shakti of the Universe. The energy carriers of the Universe, named Women.

Read this wonderful site of Sacred Dance by Iris Steward in relation to women’s periodic moon visit to further understand what I mean.
 
Healthy women of childbearing age have always bled once a month with no harm to the body. In innumerable cultures and across time, women withdrew from everyday life during their "moon" or menstrual cycle, ceasing all social and other intercourse with men, meditating, and performing various rites. In their seclusion, freed from immediate worries, creative psychic energy would flow inward again. The myths of many cultures tell how the moon herself withdraws for the same reason women do: to have her period and renew herself. The menstrual period would often lead to increased consciousness and was the purpose of rites and ceremonies of devotion and possession. It was women's vast moon-based wisdom and understanding of life's cycles that provided the foundation for agriculture, astronomy, and even mathematics. 

The earliest known offering of blood was the freely given menstrual blood of women, a symbol of regeneration or rebirth, like the red ochre used in innumerable Paleolithic and Neolithic burials. Over time, however, women's blood gradually became redefined as contaminating rather than sacred, and the self-imposed seclusion of sanctification turned into forced exclusion from the community. For men, who did not experience birth or the non-reproductive blood flow of menstruation, blood was connected with death: in order for blood to flow, a living creature had to die. Thus, in the patriarchal model, menstruation and even birth came to be seen as a consequence of death; menstruating women became taboo, as unclean as if they had touched a corpse. Prohibitory laws were developed that dehumanized and isolated women.

And so on, and so forth. What Iris says could not be closer to Truth.

We women have lost our ancient connection with the Nature, with Mother Nature I should say. Drawn into the busy, competitive, modern life, our perception of menstrual cycle shifted from appreciation and gratefulness to annoyance and bitterness. We think of menstrual cycle as a burden, something uncomfortable that we must experience every month. Hence, when some pharmaceutical companies offer us the magic pills that can get rid of the burden for a year or more, we go after it. Shazam! We’re free from our troubles. Or so we think.

Yet, is it not the time to return again to our very nature as Shaktis, Energy carriers, and honour our gift bestowed by the Universe herself? Is it not the time to be grateful for our menstrual cycles, merely because of their existence, and take the precious moment given by Mother Nature to just withdraw from worldly businesses and connect with ourselves? With the tiny voice and tiny but shiny space within us? With the Sacred Feminine within us?
Such moments are very precious; when it comes, I will not trade those moments with anything else. I will just be grateful for its arrival, and enjoy myself as a woman with her full moon. Or at least, so I have been, and so I will always try.


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