We're talking all things periods... everything the "video" never taught you.
Recently I listened to a podcast "The period talk you never got" on NPR's Life Kit by Margaret Cirino who did a variation of the same podcast on NPR's Shortwave. As a young woman in my twenties taking control of my reproductive health has never been more important. Especially as I am getting older, my reproductive health has become more of a topic of conversation between my friends and I as we are approaching that next stage of life.
For me, the period talk began with the aforementioned "video." The one with the techno brain-wave music playing in the background while a narrator explains puberty and the changing parts of a female and male body. Closely followed by the American Girl Doll book: The Care and Keeping of You that my mom gave to me with a note saying to talk to her whenever. While, we have come a long way since then, there are a lot of parts to the menstrual cycle that I had to discover on my own. As I've gotten older, I have begun to realize how much my body changes throughout the menstrual cycle. Each phase (which we will touch on below!) causes my body, mood, energy levels, etc. to change, which is all totally normal.
There are many parts of women's health that often feel very taboo to talk about. If you're like me, it can often feel like we are expected to know these things and it can feel wrong or embarrassing to ask questions. But how else are we going to learn?! Whether we are talking about fertility, reproductive health, vaginal health, or the menstrual cycle women should feel confident in asking questions and taking initiative to learn more. There is no shame in wanting to better understand your own body.
So, let's get into it!
Most cisgender women go through a menstrual cycle each month that consists of four specific phases. The menstrual cycle is when the uterus prepares for a possible pregnancy by thickening the uterus lining and then shedding it at the start of the cycle. Most of this information was not necessarily new to me. However, it wasn't until recently that I learned that there are specific phases within the cycle. Let's break them down...
This is the first phase of the cycle and the phase when you get your period. During this phase your uterus is shedding its lining because the egg from your previous cycle wasn't fertilized (aka you are not pregnant). The thicker lining helps support a pregnancy, which is why if you are not pregnant at the end of your previous cycle, your uterus will shed the lining and start again!
This is the second phase of the cycle when the level of estrogen rises which causes the lining in your uterus to begin to thicken again. The follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) is also released to stimulate follicle growth in your ovaries. Follicles are small sacs that contain an egg. During the follicular phase one of these eggs will fully mature.
This leads to the third phase, ovulation. The rising levels of estrogen from the follicular phase trigger the pituitary gland in your brain to release luteinizing hormone (LH) which starts the process of ovulation. The egg that matured in your ovaries during the follicular phase is released. This phase of the menstrual cycle is when you are at the highest chance of getting pregnant.
This is the final phase of the menstrual cycle. Your egg leaves the ovary causing progesterone and estrogen to release. These hormones help to keep your uterine lining thick and ready for an egg to implant. If the egg is fertilized by sperm (meaning you've become pregnant), it attaches to the lining on the uterine wall, which is referred to as implantation. If the egg is not fertilized (i.e. pregnancy has not occurred) the uterine lining will shed during the menstrual phase, restarting the cycle.
If you do not become pregnant, then during the luteal phase you may experience symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) before the menstrual phase begins.
Common symptoms of PMS:
changes in libido (sex drive)
breast swelling, pain, or tenderness
When it comes to the menstrual cycle, I think there is one thing we have to get a lot more confident with: talking about it! I encourage you to start the conversation, because chances are, you and I aren't the only ones who are thinking about it.