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The end of last month was a unique time for selenophiliacs, folks that are captivated by the moon. We all found ourselves staring at a rare grouping of lunar events. On January 31st, our gaze encountered a super blue blood moon…the combination of a blood moon, a blue moon, and a super moon. (Hold on while I do my juvenile giggle because all I can think about is mooning someone right now). That gorgeous sky jewelry marked the only time that trio could be visualized in America for over 150 years. Pretty astounding stuff.
Historically, there is a profound belief in the lunar effect. Worldwide, people rely faithfully on the moon’s influential effect on human physiology. Included in that lies the ability to engage labor and birth. I can accept the lunacy (see what I did there?) in the theory, but the old wives’ tale seems to hold true. Visit any Emergency Room or ask your local midwife about full moons, and they will go bug-eyed and nod with a hint of a hyena cackle. The phenomenon has been explained by the moon’s gravitational pull and our body’s primary makeup of 80% water. It has been agreed upon that menstruation and ovulation shadow a monthly lunar cycle. With that knowledge, we don’t have to jump far to gather the thought that the moon could have some pull in labor and birth too.
All that to say THE MOON IS COOL!
While the rest of the seven and a half billion earthlings were observing the pie in the sky, I was celebrating a different moon all together. A first moon. A very special young lady in my life was presented with her rite of passage into the woman tribe, menarche or a girl’s first menstrual cycle. Being the awesome aunt I am, we celebrated. I am eternally embarrassing to all of the kiddos in my life, of course, so my moon party idea got vetoed.
In lieu of a shin dig, we did what women love to do, shop and eat. After selecting the perfect trinket to mark the occasion, chowing down on pizza, and singing red light karaoke, we spent some time communing. We talked about the moon. We talked about how special a cycle is and what it means. We talked about how to care for a changing body. It made me take pause and wonder how many girls began their cycles with a distinct lack of knowledge or observance. In honor of my sweet pea’s first moon and the typical dejected lapse of info, I decided to showcase the first visit from Aunt Flo.
Menarche marks the activation of fertility and, typically, the development of secondary sexual characteristics (breast growth, pubic hair, and widened hips). For most young women the first moon is anovulatory (without an ovulation), painless, and can vary in length. 200 years ago the average age for menarche was close to 17, but currently it is 13 years of age. Some theorists claim this vast difference is due to improved health and nutrition, genetics, socioeconomic status, exercise, and general well-being. Interestingly, although the age of menarche has changed drastically, the age of menopause has remained stable at fifty. Research has found that, due to hormones, a later menarche decreases the risk for breast cancer, heart disease, and teen pregnancy. On the flip side, starting your period at an older age has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
- The menstrual cycle refers to the full month phase.
- The bleeding portion of the process is the first phase of the cycle.
- The second phase occurs as our bodies produce more estrogen. Estrogen is a bit of a cheerleader and yells out, “Let’s go tissue! Let’s go!” and the endometrial tissue thickens in preparation to receive an egg.
- Third is ovulation. Simply put, our ovaries release an egg.
- Progesterone takes charge in the fourth phase and tries its best to calm the crowds. Progesterone and estrogen ask the endometrium to grow. If the egg didn’t get fertilized, the hormones chill out and the endometrial lining they were growing starts to shed along with blood. That is the flow and the beginning again.
The entire sequence of events takes about 28 days, give or take a few.
I have found it shocking that young girls don’t stand alone in the dark on that simple process as most women are oblivious to their inner workings as well. This is a serious disconnect. I’m not certain if the divide is due to the taboo nature of the topic or the shroud of shame society places on this normal and healthy part of life, but it needs to change.
Menstruation gets a bad rap because it holds hands with a multitude of difficulties. Cycles can be uncomfortable or painful, messy or even inconvenient, and they smell of earth. However, please, hear my fingers screaming as they type—periods are not always fun, but PERIODS ARE NOT HUMILIATING! We are unfortunately ingrained to accept that untruth. Commercialism tell us to carry our scented “feminine hygiene products” discreetly and secretively so no one knows. That shroud speaks volumes. Young girls are learning that a normal biological function is dirty and disgraceful. Well THAT my friends is what is dirty and disgraceful. This marks the first of many moments we are telling girls and women that their bodies are shameful. The discreditable hush hovering over a key piece of women’s health should move us all to a reform and revolution.
I can’t say I have worn a foam finger that says “Period’s #1 Fan,” but I do have a healthy respect for the cycle’s role. AND…I am not embarrassed. Here is why:
- All women have cycles. They are normal. They are not gross. They are part of reproduction and make us biologically special.
- One of my goals in life is to empower women to make educated choices about their health and reproduction. How can I do that if I am feeling shame about the marriage of those two components?
- I find pride in the fact that my body works and rocks.
- 4. If I behave in a way that reads that “I am disgusting, and this is appalling”, men will treat me as such.
- My cycle can tell me a lot about my well-being and health. For example, irregular cycles or lack of normal cycles, can indicate hormonal imbalances, thyroid disease, or pregnancy. Additionally, other abnormalities can point us to diagnosis including anemia, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and even uterine cancer. Our Red Badge of Courage is so COOL that it actually speaks to us about what our body is doing. Top that!
- Many women around the world don’t have access to clean menstrual supplies. This is partially because our allowance of period embarrassment. Women are forced to utilize filthy rags and suffer with debilitating infections. We must stand together! We must distinguish cycles as normal and natural.
This modern mentality, heavy with a lack of basic body understanding, cannot live in the secretive, antiquated shadow tradition has created for it any longer. Let us drag it out of the darkness and shine a spotlight on it. May it find a common place in family dialogue. Where moms AND dads feel comfortable talking to their children, boys and girls, about the way their bodies work.
Midwives can help in the endeavor. Most people believe midwives’ sole role lies with pregnancy and birth, but midwives certified by the American Midwifery Certification Board (AMCB) are trained and able to deliver primary care to women throughout their lifespan, starting with menarche. In addition, we can provide care to well newborns for the first 28 days of life. A first moon is a perfect time to begin a trusting relationship and establish care with a local midwife.
Periods are special. They are sacred. I for one will be pampering and commemorating the ladies in my world when their first moon comes. Because menarche is just like the unique super blue blood moon—we will only experience that beautiful miracle once in our life, and it deserves a celebration.