Growing up as a pre-teen/teenager in the 90's, my attitudes and ideas surrounding menstruation were by and large formed by various media outlets, health class at school, and by fellow peers who were only slightly more knowledgeable than I was about the function of the female reproductive system (which isn't saying much). My mom and I didn't really talk about menstruation much. She may have mentioned that at a certain point in every young girl's life, she will begin bleeding from her vagina. It's called a period, and it's normal. Health class went over the clinical aspects of how it happened. Stephen King's movie "Carrie" gave me a pretty horrid vision of what to expect if I was an outcast (which I sort of was) and happened to get my period during gym class. And of course, you had the tampon and maxi pad ads that seemed to indicate that by wearing one of these popular company's products (especially if they're scented!) during your period, you will be happier, more popular, and ultimately be able to kick ass playing soccer in your white shorts without embarassment. In fact, it wasn't until a couple of years ago that I was actually introduced to a new way of seeing our menstrual cycles as something to be celebrated, and even honored. It wasn't until my lifestyle shifted and I started meeting like-minded women who felt empowered by their monthly moontime... who felt that their cycles were sacred... that I started to also shift my ideas and feelings surrounding my own Moontime. Our ancestors knew that our blood held power, insights, and gifts which were ours and ours alone. Native Americans created Moon Lodges for females who were bleeding so that they could rest and focus on their dreams, ideas, and messages from Spirit. For an average of four days these women (who usually bled at the same time with the New Moon) did not have to worry about cooking or caring for their children, as the older women who no longer bled would bring them nourishment, and relatives within their tribes would care for their children. The only thing that women in their Moontime needed to concern themselves with is going inward and allowing deeper wisdom and intuition to come. Nowadays, we are made to feel like our periods are something to be laughed about; something disgusting; something that should be hidden. The fact that we should stop the flow of our blood by "plugging it up" with tampons, or collecting our blood in a chemical-filled pad only to be thrown away in the trash, is proof of how far removed many of us have become from Nature and from our own power. Jokes and comments around PMS abound. Most men in our modern day cultures fear our blood, and even we as women have been "trained" to detest our Moontime... to deem it an irritation or a nuisance... Instead of focusing on our pains and allowing ourselves the space to listen to what our bodies are trying to tell us, we suppress them with Midol or Pamprin or whichever other drug that will simply make it "go away." We ignore the messages from our bodies urging us to nurture ourselves and honor this sacred time, and so our pains become worse. There are many cultures in which women in their Moontime bleed freely, offering their sacred blood to the Earth. "The plants that are watered with it seem to grow much faster and are much healthier. It is a natural fertilizer. Blood also carries all information about humans and when it is given to Mother Earth she recognizes it and feels nurtured. Just like plants grow better when they are talked to, Mother Earth is happy when women share their fluids with Her." (Kasia Emilia Bogdan - http://www.taraka.pl/moon_time_is_blessing) Understandably, many women who read this are not necessarily going to want to begin free-bleeding, or water their plants with their blood, or feel like they can rest for four days while someone else takes care of their children and the cooking and cleaning. I wish it were so, but I realize that these ideas are so foreign to so many women that our generation may never make the collective choice to put these things into practice. Even so, I feel like we can at least begin to honor ourselves by being okay with our Moontime. Allow yourself to feel empowered by your blood; to understand that we are the only species who regularly bleeds in order to cleanse, prepare for new life, and move deeper into our primal rhythms which bring us incredible gifts. Just as it is important that we honor ourselves when our Moontime comes, we should also pave a new path for our daughters, and our granddaughters, and for every girl for generations to come. We should try and be brave, and revere this rite of passage from Maiden to Mother, by celebrating their first Moontime in a way that lets them know that they are experiencing something truly beautiful, powerful, natural, and important. Shame, embarassment, and disregard should never be a part of a young girl's first experience with menstruation, as "(t)he reaction of the parents and people around towards the first menstruation usually shapes the attitude for the rest of the woman's life. If the reaction is one of shame and guilt, which is usually the case in a dominant society, it is probable that a woman will not be happy with her body. It is extremely difficult to erase and transform it into something positive." (Kasia Emilia Bogdan) If you are looking for ways to honor your menses in a more natural way, I highly recommend reading about the Red Tent Temple Movement (http://redtenttemplemovement.com/). This is a quickly-spreading phenomena where women are supported and accepted by one another, and encouraged to become their best self by recognizing their beauty and power through vulnerability and connection with other women. It may help you to find the inspiration you need to begin your own journey towards honoring your feminine Self. Regarding tools for collecting your monthly blood, if you wish to stop using commercial pads and tampons which contain toxic ingredients, there are more natural options such as the Lunette Menstrual Cup (http://www.lunette.com/), and cloth menstrual pads. Not only are these safer and healthier for your body - especially when you are using them in such a sensitive area - but they are much more cost-effective and Earth-friendly because you reuse them! To honor yourself during your Moontime, create a sacred space that is only for you. Light candles, play your favorite music, cook (or have someone cook for you) your favorite meal, have a glass of wine, eat some dark chocolate, read, and just relax. Allow yourself to turn inward; keep a journal nearby to record new ideas, thoughts, fears, or images that come to you. Breathe deeply and relish this time. You are a powerful, emotional, beautiful woman, and you ARE sacred!
It's been nine months - maybe ten - and the big day has finally arrived! Labor has started, you are nervous and excited and cannot wait to meet the tiny human being who has been safely nestled in your womb all this time. You give birth, and if you are in the hospital you cannot wait to get your baby home! If you birth at home, you cannot wait for quietude and bonding time. Regardless of how or where you give birth, there are a few things that may happen once the excitement of labor and birth have passed, and it is important to be aware of them should they arise. Even though they are normal, they may cause challenges for you and it is so important that you take care of yourself and ask for help when you need it. 1. Breastfeeding will cause uterine contractions. Our bodies are so amazing, and every natural occurrence that takes place within are so wonderfully synchronized to assist the body as a whole, even if at times they are a bit unpleasant. Breastfeeding causes the body to release oxytocin and prostaglandin which bring on uterine contractions after giving birth. This is necessary for bringing the uterus back down to its normal size over the course of the first few weeks. The pain of uterine contractions is usually the most intense during the first day or so after giving birth, and can be milder for first time mothers since they generally have better muscle tone. Personally I had pretty intense uterine contractions that lasted for a week before they went away with my first child. With my second child, they were actually more mild than with my first, proving that everyone is different and no experience will be exactly the same. Deep breathing exercises can greatly assist in coping with the pain of these contractions, as can warm water bottles. If you feel the need to take a pain blocker, please consult with your OBGYN or midwife for recommendations on the safest method. 2. You may experience vaginal soreness. The simply act of pushing a baby out of our vaginas is enough to cause vaginal soreness, but if you had an episiotomy or tore at all, then you may be sore for a bit longer (and don't even get me started on hemorrhoids). Even though you should be resting, sitting can be very uncomfortable for a woman with a vaginal tear or stitches. Sitting on a pillow or doughnut (we're not talking Krispy Kremes here, folks) can help quite a bit. When you go to the bathroom, use a peri-bottle or cup to wash yourself with warm water afterwards, and try pressing a washcloth or cloth wipe firmly against your wound when having a bowel movement. Ice is your friend! Wrap some ice in a washcloth, or soak a cloth pad in cold witch hazel to keep against you to help with swelling and pain. Because constipation is common after giving birth, your healthcare provider may recommend taking mild laxatives to help ease bowel movements which can exacerbate vaginal discomfort. 3. You may experience night sweats. If only we looked so glamorous. After your baby is born, your body will begin to get rid of all of the excess fluids it was hoarding in order to nourish the growing fetus while in the womb. Again, this is a completely natural occurrence, and can best be handled by making sure to drink plenty of fluids, keeping your room cool enough for comfort, and lying on a soft blanket or towel to prevent having to change the sheets on a daily basis. Night sweats can last for a few weeks, so just try to be patient and make yourself as comfortable as possible until your hormones begin to regulate again. 3. You may be very emotional. Ah, hormones again. Hormones are really the main cause for most of these post-partum phenomenons, and the emotional aspect is no exception. When I brought our first daughter home from the hospital, I went through periods of great joy and relaxation, hysterical crying, and moderate anxiety... sometimes in the matter of a few hours! I sobbed because my baby was no longer snuggled safely within my womb. Even though I could now hold her and smell her wonderful "new life" smell, and let her curl her tiny fingers around mine, I missed her being inside of me where I knew she was safe and warm. My experience in the hospital with her was less than ideal, and I could not stop thinking about all of the ways in which I felt slighted, and disrespected, and how I had wanted so much more for my daughter and myself, and that got me crying uncontrollably, too. Amidst my mood swings, my husband remained extremely nurturing and understanding, assuring me that everything was as it should be, and we were all safe, healthy, and loved. And I am so grateful for that, because I honestly thought that the mood swings would never end! Obviously, they did end, and after the most intense part of my hormonal shifts happened, things calmed down and I felt much more balanced. It is completely normal to experience a wide range of emotions in the first few weeks (even months) postpartum! Try not to feel embarassed or ashamed of these feelings, as you have just done a tremendous task! You brought a life into the world, and now your body is working to release what needs to be released, and readjust itself to accommodate the new requirements of your physical and emotional self. If you find yourself becoming depressed, uninterested in your baby, or are having harmful thoughts towards yourself or your baby, you may be experiencing postpartum depression. It is imperative that you reach out for help immediately if this happens to ensure that you and your baby get loving care and assistance. For more information about PPD, please visit this link: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/postpartum-depression/basics/definition/con-20029130 4. You will bleed...maybe a lot. Now, it makes sense that if you just pushed a human body out of a usually small orifice that you are going to bleed for a little bit afterwards, but the blood released after child birth is actually sloughed off tissue, leftover blood, and vaginal mucous which helps to cleanse the uterine walls and vagina. Within the first few days up to a week or so, this bleeding will be at its heaviest. Laying chux pads down on your bed, wearing menstrual pads (cloth is so much more comfy than disposable, but obviously the choice is yours!), and resting will help to minimize the amount of blood shed at one time, plus it will make you feel more comfortable. This is a time to bond with your baby and take it easy. As women, sometimes we feel as though we cannot afford to (or aren't "allowed" to) take the time that we deserve - at least a month - to relax and be cared for as we connect with our new little ones, but if it is at all possible, it is to your and your baby's benefit that you do. Trying to do too much too soon can create very real complications, not only physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. I tried to do a load of laundry one week post-partum (I felt guilty that I wasn't helping around the house) and ended up with gushes of blood and huge clots! I honestly thought that the midwives were being overly-cautious when they told me to stay in bed or lay on the couch for the first few weeks. WEEKS?! What?! Yeah, right. Who does that? Ahem... women who just had a baby, that's who. 5. Your breasts may be very sore and/or leak breastmilk I remember wondering when my milk was going to come in, and what exactly Maya was getting for nourishment when she was nursing the first couple of days, because I couldn't seem to squeeze anything out, and my breasts didn't appear to be very different than they had been just before she was born. Then, on the 2nd or 3rd morning, I woke up and caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror on the wall. "HOLY $%*!!" I exclaimed, and then proceeded to spin around to my husband and open my robe. My breasts were bigger than they had ever been in my life.... noticeably! It would have been pretty exciting except for the fact that they were extremely sore. So I sat down and began to nurse, and suddenly there was milk dripping down and soaking through the front of my clothing. "Oooooh.... now the milk's come in." It can be pretty uncomfortable for some to sit around in a wet shirt or bra, but cloth breast pads can be a wonderful aid in absorbing excess milk. If you decide not to breastfeed and aren't sure how to deal with engorgement, wearing a snug, supportive bra can help stop milk production. Do not try to squeeze milk out or rub your breasts as this can signal more milk production. 6. Your baby will not sleep through the night. There seems to be some differences of opinion as to what is considered sleeping "through the night" for a newborn baby. You should not expect - or encourage - a baby to sleep a full 8 hours or more at a time! It is necessary for babies to wake at least every few hours to nurse, and babies simply will not sleep for more than 3 - 4 hours at a time usually. That being said, babies sleep a lot during their first few weeks, so even if you aren't getting the sleep you were once used to at night, you can always nap with your baby during the day and know that you will be able to get some quality rest. One of the common factors here is rest, which is so important in the first weeks after your baby is born. It is a time of healing, of connection, and of slowing down and enjoying this new Life that you helped to create. Be kind to yourself, ask for help when you need it, and try to take as much time as you need to recover. What was your postpartum experience like? - Our Resident Mom, Lindsay Lewis