When I was pregnant with my first child, I took comfort in the fact that people birthed babies more than once (if it were that bad, you’d never do it again—right?). I call this birth amnesia because I did do it again, and believe me, it was just as hard the second time.
When things get tough, disconnecting from your body can feel like the intuitive action to take. Block it out, forget about it. I think this is why I also have period amnesia—my bleed finally tapers off and then, 28 or so days later, it returns exactly when it should, and I’m wearing white pants and wondering what the heck is going on.
We say “vagina” when we mean “vulva.” We say “period” when we mean “menstrual cycle.” Bleeding is part of the equation, but it’s not the sum. Until I started trying to get pregnant, I was solely fixed on those seven days—the cramps, the indigestion, the exhaustion—and then I learned about basal body temperature and cervical mucus, and why on day 10 of my cycle I’m in the mood, and on day 21 you’d better not even look at me.
You don’t know what you don’t know, and up until that moment, it was clear I didn’t know much. So I started to educate myself. Here are some of the things I have learned.
Things you can learn about your body and your menstrual cycle
If you said the word “luteal” to me before I had kids, I’d probably think it was a cool baby name, not a phase in the menstrual cycle. Now I know it’s when the corpus luteum is formed, which results in a surge of progesterone—cue tiredness and all those infamous PMS symptoms. Tracking applications like Flo, Eve, and Moody Month make it easy to keep tabs on your cycle, so you always know what’s happening and when. If you’re new to this, journaling how you feel each day for a few months will also offer invaluable insight into how your body works.
Things you can eat and drink during your menstrual cycle
Even amateur herbalists can employ the power of nature to support their cycles. Raspberry leaf tea is a uterine tonic that soothes and tones. It’s especially nourishing during the luteal or menstruation phase, but can be sipped warm throughout the month. When I start to bleed, I like to mix it with iron-rich nettle and forget I know coffee exists. If surrendering caffeine sounds worse than cramping, mixing in a hormone-regulating adaptogen like ashwagandha will do some good.
Things you can do for yourself during your menstrual cycle
Feeling your hands on your body can be a powerful remedy. Make a soothing massage oil by infusing gentle herbs or oils like Lavender, calendula, camomile, or rose in a small jar of almond oil; find a safe, comfortable spot you can relax in, then gently massage the oil around your abdomen, taking time to let your belly feel the weight of your hands. Castor oil packs, while a little messier, work at any time in your cycle except when you’re bleeding; they are a natural way of easing cramps, helping balance your hormones, and even soothing scar tissue and adhesions.
Things people can do for you during your menstrual cycle
It feels good to ask for help and be held. Keeping your nervous system regulated is beneficial for every part of your body, not least your reproductive organs. Anything that grounds you is something you should practice all month long: therapy; acupuncture; foot rubs; long, hot baths. Before and after you’ve menstruated—never during—yoni or vaginal steaming is a natural way of minimizing cramping and preparing your uterus for the next cycle. While it’s possible to squat over a bucket from Home Depot, I recommend finding an experienced facilitator near you and having them guide you through the process. Think of them as your period doula.