When you think of your menstrual cycle, what comes to mind? When did your last cycle start? Are your cycles regular? Do you start bleeding with the new moon, or the full moon? It's a bit of a misnomer that the time when we bleed (our menses) is commonly referred to as our 'cycle'...when cycles have no beginning and no end! Many amazing changes happen throughout a month to create our experience of menstruation. It's really a beautiful cascade of events when all is well in the body, and reflects other rhythmic transformations in nature...everything is cyclical! Of course, a parallel between our bodies and the moon cycle is commonly made...and for good reason! Our wombs are SO connected to the moon's waxing and waning, newness and fullness. In fact, when humans lived closer to nature and weren't so affected by ambient light (see my last blog on sleep!), women would naturally ovulate at the full moon, and start their menses at the new moon!
In this same light, we could also look at the evolution of one's reproductive system over a lifetime in terms of a cycle. And of course the dramatic changes that occur during and after a pregnancy are a beautiful cycle of their own! Whether your own menstrual cycle is currently manifesting in a healthy way or not, your body is doing it's best to move with the rhythms of nature. Numerous physical and energetic elements are at play, changing every day...so many, it's difficult to understand and keep track of! But let's play with the story of it a bit as a tool for comprehension...and fun!
To better understand the progression of events during a month in the life of a typically menstruating woman, I am going to take some poetic license and draw parallels to the Seasonal Holy Days (of mostly Celtic and Nordic origins) that grace our natural world.* My hope is to inspire reverence for our perfectly designed bodies, increase awareness of our natural rhythms, and give anyone struggling with fertility issues and/or pathologies therein to keep the faith...that your body knows and seeks equilibrium. If your relationship with your reproductive system is a negative one, let's address it! Suffering is not normal, however common.**
*There are amazing parallels between the celebrations of indigenous people around the world throughout time...so many that it would be silly to think of it as coincidence, beyond the fact that many of them are based on the natural cycles. But that's for another blog!
**While it is a myth that only a 28-day cycle is considered 'normal' (25-35 is all good if consistent and not accompanied by undue symptoms), I am going to base this on the 'textbook' version of 28 days long with 5 days of bleeding. Day 1 is the first day of your menses, as always, but not necessarily the 'beginning'. Fear not if you have a shorter or longer rhythm...just modify for human variance!
Imbolc (February 2nd; Candlemas, Brigid's Day)
Cycle days 6-9:
Imbolc is regarded as the first stirrings of spring, as the world thaws around us. As the earth warms, life awakens from the tiniest of soil microbes to the tallest of trees. I chose to start here because this is when the body has recovered from the preceding menses and is beginning to awaken once again. It feels like the beginning, if there was one! In our hormonal life, this means that FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) is being released from our brain, inspiring 15-20 eggs in each ovary to develop, in an attempt to win the race to maturity! Each egg is encased in a follicle, which is also releasing estrogen (estradiol)* in order for ovulation to eventually occur. FSH is produced in the pituitary gland in your brain** and is absorbed by the FSH receptor cells on the follicle walls. Known as the follicular phase, FSH actually starts being released during your menses, but by this time the eggs are actively growing. Contrary to popular belief, ovulation doesn't alternate ovaries from month-to-month...whichever egg on whichever side that reaches maturity first wins!
Traditionally during this time of year, the rhythmic energies in nature are changing from Crone to Maiden, and the sun is reborn! It is a festival of light and of fertility, once marked in Europe with huge blazes, torches and fire in every form. The Goddess has emerged from her cultural equivalent of the 'Red Tent' and is back with the first signs of spring!
Spring Equinox (March 20th, 2017; Ostara, Vernal Equinox)
Cycle days 10-11:
Ostara, or Eostra, is an Anglo-Saxon goddess who represents dawn. While Celtic people didn't celebrate this holiday, parallel holidays can be found in Jewish, Persian, and Christian faiths. The flowers are blooming, the bees are buzzing...it's an exciting time of year!
Continuing the follicular phase, both FSH and estrogen are in full swing. The increase in estrogen is causing the endometrial lining of the uterus to thicken, preparing it to receive a fertilized egg and causing your cervical mucus to be more conducive to sperm travel and pleasurable copulation...juicy!. At the end of this time, we experience a burst of LH (lutenizing hormone) which, along with the FSH stimulates and completes follicular growth. LH also prepares the ruptured follicle to form the corpus luteum following ovulation...but we'll get to that later. The growing endometrial wall will be about 3-4 mm thick before ovulation.
This tends to be a time when we feel energy and vitality, and while I don't support many extreme modern 'cleanses', it's a good time to clean house, literally and figuratively. Honoring the body, grieving loss and life's challenges, supporting and nurturing new beginnings...plant the seeds of a new day! Traditionally a day of equilibrium~neither the harshness of winter or the mercilessness of summer, it's a time to enjoy the flowers and the child inside, metaphorically speaking.
*There are many types of estrogen, but the main 3 are:
Estrone (E1): Most active after menopause.
Estradiol (E2): The most prevalent and active type in the function of the female menstrual cycle.
Estraiol (E3): Most prevalent during pregnancy.
**The release of both FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) and LH (lutenizing hormone) from the anterior part of the pituitary are triggered by the release of GnRH (gonadotropin releasing hormone) by the hypothalamus. This is the least understood reproductive hormone, but the hypothalamus forms the floor and lower walls of the brain and it is speculated that chronic stress can have a significant effect on both cycle length and the release of all of the key reproductive hormones because of its placement.
Beltane (May 1st; May Day/Eve, Valpurgis)
Cycle days 12-17:
Ovulation! All of that preparation is manifesting! Once your body reaches an estrogen threshold, a burst of LH (lutenizing hormone) is triggered to release from the pituitary gland, and the biggest egg wins! The egg is released, and it can take as little as 20 seconds for the fimbria of your fallopian tubes to draw it in for the journey to you uterus. Fertile quality cervical mucus and rising temperatures signify this time, and the fun begins! Your endometrium is cozy and ready to host, your cervix is set high inside, inviting visitors with optimally slippery cervical fluid...time to party! The egg will last about 6-24 hours. If not fertilized, it disintegrates and is either absorbed by the body or exits with your menstrual flow. The released egg can be fertilized by sperm that just arrived, or has been hanging around for as much as 5 days! So...if you ovulate on day 14, fertilization can occur with a sperm that has been there since day 9. If, however, you ovulate on day 14 and have intercourse on day 16, the egg has already disintegrated. Multiple eggs can be released during one (24-hour) ovulation event, which can happen naturally or under the influence of fertility drugs, resulting in fraternal siblings, if fertilized. The dramatic drop in estrogen results in a quick change in your cervical mucus, from slippery to relatively dry. Knowing your body and it's signs of fertility can help you greatly in both your desire to achieve and avoid pregnancy! Insert here my plug for the Fertility Awareness Method. It's fascinating to watch all of this happen on a chart, empowering to know so much about your body, and can help you identify general reproductive health issues, beyond fertility.
Summer has gotten everything atwitter, and it's time to dance around the maypole, jump over the Beltane fire, and celebrate your sexuality and the intensity of union...of the heart, mind and body. Enjoy yourself...you are amazing!
Summer Solstice (June 21st, 2017; Litha, Midsummer)
Cycle days 18-20:
Things are really heating up now...quite literally! The longest day of the year, Summer Solstice is a time to honor the sun, fire, and herbal medicine. After today, the sun will begin to decline towards the winter darkness, so all the benefits of light and heat are celebrated.
Internally, the follicle from whence the matured egg previously burst has transformed into the corpus luteum, as it was fed well with LH (lutenizing hormone). From it, progesterone, a heat producing hormone, is being released to nourish and sustain the endometrium (if fertilization and pregnancy occur, it would continue to do so until the placenta takes over to nourish the growing fetus until childbirth). Progesterone (pro-gestation) will cause your body temperature to rise, so you might notice being more heat-intolerant during this time. Estrogen is also released in a more modest amount than pre-ovulation levels. Time to cool off in that lake, river or pool!
Llamas (August 1st; Frey Fest, Lughnasa)
Cycle days 21-22:
During this time of year, when the world is about to burst with an abundance of food from the fields and trees, the power of the sun goes up into the grain as it ripens. Known as the 'first harvest', all eyes (and hearts) are on the desires planted earlier in the year. The first loaves of bread are baked, and seed is saved for the next years planting.
Back in the realm of the female reproductive system, temperatures continue to rise as the body feeds the endometrial lining, and another increase in estrogen, plus generous amounts of progesterone nourish this process. Cellular proliferation, swelling and secretory development, and an increased supply of nutrients and blood vessels build up to prepare for an incoming ovum.
Fall Equinox (September 22nd, 2017; Gwyl canol Hydref , Mabon)
Cycle days 23-26:
Abundance! All is full and ripe! The balance of night and day signifies your preparedness for the winter months to come. All you will need has been provided, so it is a time to give thanks, reflect on the successes and failures of the last year, and make intentions for the following one. Your endometrium has reached it's pinnacle of fullness (5-6mm); nutrients are flowing in through a proliferation of vessels, life-sustaining capacities are at their most abundant, and the energy to create a landing place for a fertilized ova has been expended...you are full of the good stuff! Your body is working hard to make all of this happen, so it is a good time to nourish yourself, get quality rest...put the 'to-do' list aside for some connecting activities, whether on your own or with friends and family.
Samhain (October 31st; Halloween, Spirit Night, Winter Night)
Cycle day 27:
Progesterone drops the mic. That is, assuming no pregnancy has occurred. After a dramatic swell of supply, your corpus luteum stops producing this gestation-supporting hormone. The lack of progesterone and HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin...released by a fertilized ovum in the uterus) cause the endometrial wall to start breaking down, and in the next 24 hours or so, your menses begin. The first part of the endometrium to exit the body is usually water, hence a watery sensation or slight discharge. Healthy menstruation is bright red from beginning to end, with little to no discomfort...not what pain relief companies have tried to teach us!
As Pleiades rises in the night sky, the summer's end also marks the inauguration of winter. The juxtaposition between these two 'worlds' inspires a spiritual thinning of the veil between our ancestors and ourselves. Known as the Celtic New Year, it is a time to remember and honor the dead. It is also a time to come to terms with our innermost failings, let go of what keeps us stuck in them, and plan for change.
Winter Solstice (December 21st, 2017; Yule)
Cycle days 1-5:
Menses. Over the next notable 'period', the endometrial wall will gradually disintegrate and exit your body. At the beginning, all reproductive hormone levels are relatively low, as their respective tasks are at a momentary lull. It's time for the body to let go of the old and make way for the new...again! In this period of long nights, life turns inward, hearth fires are burning...the body rests. The Solstice marks the longest night of the year, after which the sun will be resurrected, day by day. Call in health, vitality and all types of fertility to accompany the impending light and warmth...and enjoy the respite! The old way is quite literally being washed away, so this is a great time to learn to let go of what does not serve you on all levels. What you do for yourself today will set the tone for the coming twists and turns in your menstrual (and otherwise!) life...so take good care! And remember...you're SO amazing!
Taking Charge of Your Fertility, Toni Weschler.
Garden of Fertility, Katie Singer.
The White Goddess, http://www.thewhitegoddess.co.uk/index.asp
It's fall, really, Kenny Louie.
Last remnant of ice before the big thaw, Anja Pietsch.
Palo di maggio, ComellMare.
Watch This, Justin Jensen.
Apples Galore, Kilgarron.
Ramia, the Ancient Pool of Arches, Flavio~.
© May 2017. Rachael Wilder, LMT. Please credit me with my name and a link to this page when using this material. Thank you!