Okay, so the headline says it all.
There's been a movement building steam over the last ten years or so, that actively promotes the idea that women don't have to have periods, that they are unnecessary, burdensome – and if you're not going to have a baby, why not just "turn off your period?"
Well, for one, it's called "menopause," and two, Mother Nature built it into the magnificence of women's bodies. And thirdly, they do stop, naturally, when the time is right.
Are you kidding me? If you could see me, you'd see that I look like one of Daenerys Targaryen's "children." This topic enrages me, and I hope by the end of this article, you'll be angry, too. We need to use our anger as a force for change around women's reproductive rights.
Let's tackle this idea from the standpoint of women's reproductive health and our right to live in a world that actually makes space for, and honors, our biology and the rights inherent in being women.
With all due respect to those who espouse this concept, I strongly disagree with the idea. Medical science (and primarily the pharmaceutical industry) makes women's bodies an experimental playground for new drugs, and it's always around our hormones, which are a rich and complex landscape within our bodies. I also want to clarify that when I say medical science, I am not maligning doctors in particular. They are part of a system of miseducation that is at the root of why women's reproductive health is at risk. But there are many western doctors turning to integrative medicine and working to help women heal from this system.
From the time we are young girls, before our first period, we are taught to fear it, to be ashamed of our blood, and to see it as a nuisance. When we are lead down that path, it becomes what we accept as truth. We are not taught another perspective, one which teaches young women that our menstrual cycle is connected to our psyches and that it's one of the best tools for self-understanding and awareness we will ever know. This is one aspect of my own teachings that I am very passionate about, and those teachings have changed many women's lives in my 20 years of doing this important work.
Instead, we are taught to bond over the pain, the discomfort, the mess, the moodiness.
But what if we had been taught to see our periods as a monthly opportunity to commune with ourselves and to turn within, to see it as a monthly opportunity to evaluate our lives and to clean up the messes that aren't aligned with who we are, and who we want to be?
Many, many years ago I read a book called, "The Woman in the Body," which was eye-opening about how our society and its systems have built into its structures, via language and industry, the exclusion of women's biological processes as a positive attribute in our lives. We go to extreme lengths to uphold Patriarchal ideas that don't make room for women's biological processes, instead of creating a new system that is inclusive of our biology. It's only been fairly recent that women are being accommodated to breastfeed at work.
I believe that we need to make similar accommodations for women's needs during our menstrual cycles, and it's not from a place of being handicapped because of our biology. It's our right. What's been done to women to make us feel bad about our natural processes is as institutionalized as racism, and because of that, we cannot see it, but it affects our lives daily.
Turning off your period is a dangerous idea. When the medical community tells women it's safe to do so; I urge you not to listen. It's designed to sell pharmaceuticals and make money. Women's bodies are the cash cows of that industry. I implore you to dig deep and do your own research. Question everything you hear.
Let's talk a little bit about why it's dangerous. Using hormonal birth control (BC) in one form or another is the medium for stopping your period. These hormones have been labeled safe, but use your judgment if you've been on BC or know women who have had massive issues while taking it. Have you ever read the package insert literature about all of the potential side effects? If you haven't, you should educate yourself by doing so. This is one of my foundational tenets, that information is power, and most women are not educated enough about their bodies – so we turn that power over to "experts."
In my overall life, health and sexuality coaching with women, I've worked with many over the years who have been on various kinds of BC; patches, DepoProvera (one of the worst), IUDs with additional hormones, and across the board have heard all of them say how badly they feel using these methods. Once they have transitioned off of them, they have said how much better they've felt.
Menstrual cycles are a 100% natural part of our reproductive biology. And instead of endorsing an idea that we should stop our periods, we should focus instead on changing society's treatment of women and fostering acceptance of our cycles. Our cycles and our psyches are interconnected. We should be taught to respect this part of our lives as women and how to use it as a life-enhancing tool.
Women have periods for a reason. Via societal messages and the medical community's promotion of our periods as a problem, we make the period the villain instead of the systems built around women that make our lives stressful, which has an impact on how we experience our periods and whether they are painful or empowering.
What do you think would happen if the pharmaceutical industry came out with a new medication that stopped men from making sperm? That would end unwanted pregnancies and the abortion controversy in large part. How well do you think that would go over?
So why is it okay to mess with women's biology and our hormone balance?
After a year or more of using hormonal BC consistently, here's what stopping your period amounts to: chemically induced menopause. Menopause is a year without periods because ovulation stops. Suppressing ovulation is the mechanism behind stopping pregnancy but also your period. No ovulation, no period. Unless you have other medical conditions, this is generally a true statement. When a woman goes through menopause, it's a natural condition. The body goes through a process that is as natural as your period is. But when you use BC to suppress ovulation and to suppress your period, you are doing something else that is not healthy for your body. You are suppressing your body's natural production of progesterone, which is made primarily in ovulation. A small amount is made by the adrenal glands, but the largest production is via ovulation. When you suppress ovulation, you create health risks by suppressing progesterone production. Progesterone is known to be beneficial for breast health, cardiovascular health, nervous system health, brain function, mood, and many other things.
Do not confuse progestins, which are synthetic and not molecularly identical, with natural progesterone. Many women I've worked with will say, "But my BC has progesterone in it," and I have to explain that they are not the same, nor do they affect the body the same. Whereas progesterone is beneficial, progestins are not. They were created by the pharmaceutical industry to mimic progesterone, but they do not react in the body the same way.
Instead of wishing your period away, I suggest you step into another world, one where your cycle is a source of female power and wisdom, and where your premenstrual phase is not mainstream PMS, but what I call Powerful Monthly Sight. It's a window into what's not serving you in your life, and when you take the time to slow down, turn inward, and connect with you, that inner wisdom offers you life solutions. When you align with your cycle this way, it becomes a source of power.
I'm a self-taught passionate advocate for women's health, reproductive rights, and sexuality. I see our menstrual cycle as something to celebrate, rather than do away with. What I would love to do is to go into every business that would invite me in to evaluate and offer suggestions on how to change the work climate to accommodate the needs of women in ways that honor our biology.
I hope this article made you angry enough to dig deeper. Please educate yourself and listen to your own inner wisdom, which includes your body wisdom. It's time for women to rise up and say enough already and to reclaim the beauty, wisdom, and power that is built into our biology.
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Following are excerpts from "Unleash the Girls, The Untold Story of the Invention of the Sports Bra and How It Changed the World (And Me)" By Lisa Z. Lindahl
There is an idea that has popped up everywhere from Chaos Theory to Science Fiction and New Age memes known popularly as the "Butterfly Effect." Simply put, it is the notion that one very small thing—the movement of a butterfly's wing say, or the ripple in a lake caused by a pebble being thrown into it—can cause tremendous effect far away: the butterfly's wing a tornado, the ripple a large wave on a distant shore. Cause and effect, does it have limits? The field of physics is telling us that it takes only observation to bring a thing into being. We cannot consider these areas of investigation and not acknowledge that everything—everything—is in relationship in some way or another with everything else.
So, it is evident to me that commerce of any kind is, also, just about relationships. It all boils down, on every level to this simplicity. While we usually think of relationships as occurring between people—it is far more than that.
I used to teach a course in entrepreneurship specifically for women in The Women's Small Business Program at Trinity College in Burlington, Vermont. I made this concept of relationship and its importance central in how I taught the marketing thought process. I would stress that for a product or service to be successful, it had to meet a perceived need. There is a need, and it wants to be met; or it may be thought of as a problem to be solved. Or there may be an existing solution that is less than adequate.
For example: In my universe as a runner there already were a plethora of bras available, but they were inadequate for my purpose. The relationship between my breasts, my running body, and my bra was creating discomfort and distraction. A new solution had to be found, the relationship occurring when all these things came together had to be fixed. Utilizing this point of view, one sees a set of issues that need to be addressed—they are in relationship with each other and their environment in a way that needs to be changed, adjusted.
Nowhere is this viewpoint truer than in business, as we enter into more and more relationships with people to address all the needs of the organization. Whether designing a product or a service or communicating with others about it—we are in relationship. And meanwhile, how about maintaining a healthy relationship with ourselves? All the issues we know about stress in the workplace can boil down to an internal balancing act around our relationships: to the work itself, to those we work with, to home life, friends and lovers. So quickly those ripples can become waves.
Because Jogbra was growing so quickly, relationships were being discovered, created, ending, expanding and changing at a pace that makes my head spin to recall. And truly challenged my spirit. Not to mention how I handled dealing with my seizure disorder.
"My Lifelong Partner"
Let me tell you a bit about my old friend, Epilepsy. Having Epilepsy does not make any sort of money-making endeavor easy or reliable, yet it is my other "partner" in life. Husbands and business partners have come and gone, but Epilepsy has always been with me. It was my first experience of having a "shadow teacher."
While a child who isn't feeling she has power over her world may have a tantrum, as we grow older, most of us find other more subtle ways to express our powerfulness or powerlessness. We adapt, learn coping mechanisms, how to persuade, manipulate, or capitulate when necessary. These tools, these learned adaptations, give a sense of control. They make us feel more in charge of our destiny. As a result, our maturing self generally feels indestructible, immortal. Life is a long, golden road of futures for the young.
This was not the case for me. I learned very early on when I started having seizures that I was not fully in charge of the world, my world, specifically of my body. There are many different types of epileptic seizures. Often a person with the illness may have more than one type. That has been the case for me. I was diagnosed with Epilepsy—with a seizure type now referred to as "Absence seizures"—when I was four years old. I have seen neurologists and taken medications ever since. As often happens, the condition worsened when I entered puberty and I started having convulsions as well—what most people think of when they think of epileptic seizures. The clinical name is generalized "Tonic-clonic" seizures.
In such a seizure the entire brain is involved, rather like an electrical circuit that has gone out as a result of a power surge. I lose consciousness, my whole body becomes rigid, the muscles start jerking uncontrollably, and I fall. Tonic-clonic seizures, also known as "grand mal" seizures, may or may not be preceded by an aura, a type of perceptual disturbance, which for me can act as a warning of what is coming. The seizure usually only lasts for a few minutes, but I feel its draining effects for a day or two afterwards. Although I would prefer to sleep all day after such a physically and emotionally taxing event, I have often just gotten up off the floor and, within hours, gone back to work. It was necessary sometimes, though definitely not medically advised. I'm fond of saying that having a grand mal seizure is rather like being struck by a Mack truck and living to tell the tale.
Having Epilepsy has forced me to be dependent on others throughout my life. While we are all dependent upon others to some degree—independent, interdependent, dependent—in my case a deep level of dependency was decreed and ingrained very early on. This enforced dependency did not sit well with my native self. I bucked and rebelled. At the same time, a part of me also feared the next fall, the next post-convulsive fugue. And so I recognized, I acquiesced to the need to depend on others.
The silver lining of having Epilepsy is that it has introduced me to and taught me a bit about the nature of being powerless—and experiencing betrayal. I could not trust that my body would always operate as it should. Routinely, it suddenly quits. I experience this as betrayal by my brain and body. It results in my complete powerlessness throughout the convulsion. Not to mention an inconvenient interruption of any activities or plans I might have made.
Hence, I am the recipient of two important life lessons—and I was blessed to have this very specific and graphic experience at a young age. It made me observant and reflective, giving me the opportunity to consider what/where/who "I" was. I knew I was not "just" my body, or even my brain.
So, who or what did that leave? Who, what am I? Much has been written about trauma, and about near-death experiences, both of which seizures have been classified or described as. I won't delve into that here except to say that experiencing recurrent seizures and the attendant altered states of consciousness that sometimes accompany an episode (the euphemism for a seizure) changes one. It deeply affects you. It is both illuminating and frightening. It opens you up in some ways and can close you way down in others. For me it made it easy to consider the possibility of other ways to perceive, of other realms. And as an adult I became interested in quantum physics, where Science is pushing and challenging our long-held perceptual assumptions. Me, who was poor in math and disinterested in Science while in school! So if not merely body and brain, who am I? Spirit. And with Epilepsy's tutelage, I was encouraged to question, seek, try to understand what lies beyond.
Living with Epilepsy has also given me great strength. In realizing the futile nature of trying to have "power over" Epilepsy, I developed a deep well of "power within"—that inner strength that comes in the acceptance of that which one cannot change—and looking beyond it.
Through my experience building the business of Jogbra with the unique lens afforded me by my Epilepsy partner, I came to understand more fully the nature of power and what it means to be truly powerful.
Specifically, that having power and exercising it is not simply a manifestation of the ego. It need not be "power-tripping." It is how I wield my power that matters, making the all-important distinction between creating a situation of power over, power with, or empowering and having and creating strength in oneself and others.
Being powerful is a big responsibility.
To put all this another way: do I choose to create situations in which I am able to wield power over others? Or do I choose to empower others, sharing my strengths with them, while nurturing their strengths as well? The first is not true power. It is control. The second I believe to be the essence of true and positive power: strength. And integral to creating a more harmonious world, oh by the way.
While this may be apparent, even basic to others, it was an "aha!" moment for me. Too often in the years ahead I would give away my power and question my own strengths,. Time and again, however, my inner strength, my shadow teacher's gift, helped me survive and thrive until I could take responsibility for and embrace more fully my own power.
© Lisa Z. Lindahl 2019