What does a normal period look like?
Many of us know more about the workings of our car than we do the reproductive cycle.
-Jeannine Parvati Baker
“What does a normal Period Look like?” This is a very common question from anyone who menstruates. We spent so many generations not talking about periods to anyone. It was our personal, private burden to bear. No one was supposed to know if you were bleeding. In schools, you would quietly go to the front and softly ask the teacher for a bathroom pass, and when they scrutinized, we would say “it’s an emergency” because if we bled through a pad or tampon the shame we felt would become an emergency.
Any mention of symptoms were written off by men as being whiny or just in the heads of those with this monthly curse. And it was viewed as a curse, not only in the biblical sense because Eve wanted her apple a day, but that belief bleeding is ‘bad’ or ‘gross’ has been internalized in the way we view our monthly cycles. Periods were a time to dread: a time of exclusion from activities or complete disregard of our possible pain and discomfort from those around us. The shame was so internalized we didn’t even speak of it to other women, not our mothers, our friends or our sisters. We took our Midol and tried to pretend like nothing was going on.
But that is changing. The unspoken realities of experiencing menstruation are being shared.
Maybe it’s not a simultaneous shift across all regions and all cultures to acceptance of menstruation, but it is moving this way. Check out the Netflix documentary Period. End of Sentence or put “Periods” into the Books section of Amazon. What once was a sad selection of 300 page books from the 80s or teenage manuals from 90’s health classes, now has a thriving selection around the menses: physical, spiritual, historical and cultural.
Women, and men for that matter who are bleeding, are starting to see it, and use it, for the super power it is. It is connecting us. The red tents are returning and becoming a space to exult this connection to the cycles of nature, of experiencing the passage of time, the changing of the seasons, and most importantly to one another. (Yes, people can and do sync their menstrual periods together, and yes it is symbol of the magic in us every time.)
Periods are a gauge to the body’s overall health. Each aspect a signal: are you missing periods? Are you bleeding for more than 7 days? Or less than 2? Are you having a predictable menses? Is your cycle 26 days long or 32? Do you change your pad/ tampon multiple times a day or use one all day? And what about PMS symptoms? Does everyone break out? Have mood swings? Or get swollen, achy breasts?
What is Normal?
There is no normal. No one size fits all. The experts can give us some wide guidelines, but without knowing what is normal for our body, we won’t know if they are starting to go whack. Additionally, if we aren’t talking about our periods, then we don’t know what is “abnormal” and needs to get some medical attention.
The first step to knowing our periods is to pay attention to our periods. The only way we can know if something is off in our cycle is to know what our unique menstrual cycle generally looks and feels like.
How do we get to know our cycle?
Tracking days is the first step. Mark it in your calendar or get an app on your phone (there are a ton these days). The first day of your period is considered Day 1 of your cycle.
Tracking symptoms is the next. This can be the lightness or heaviness of your bleeding, cramping, pain and other notable things like mood going on while you are bleeding. But the symptoms also extend beyond the days of bleeding. It’s not just a period you are watching, it is a cycle, and each part of the cycle holds clues. So watch for symptoms through out the month. Make note of mood, energy, sleep, acne break outs, food cravings, libido, bloating, and whatever else jumps out at you. Sometimes rating symptoms on a scale of 1 -10 can be helpful.
If you are watching your cycle for fertility reasons, you will be predicting ovulation by using basal body temperature, cervical mucus examination and perhaps noting the location of the cervix.
Make a habit of paying attention and keeping a journal or taking notes. Maybe you tend to get yeast infections around day 6 or after a few months you notice you always get a pimple on your chin around day 20. This will be invaluable to you and if you choose, a practitioner, as you look at how to support regular menstruation, manage symptoms and balance the hormones and endocrine system as a whole.
Even if we get into tracking our cycles and understanding our symptoms, what was normal in our 20s won’t likely be the normal in our 30s. Add to that, things like if we get pregnant, travel regularly, or go through grief or crisis our own normal can vary quite a bit.
But the first step is know what’s normal to you. And if as you move through your cycle there are times with intense pain, uncontrollable skin breakouts, or mood swings effecting your home or work relations your body may be sending out alarms for you. You will know what isn’t normal.
By learning about yourself in different times through the month, you will begin to see how to support those needs with diet, exercise and herbs. You should be able to move in a relatively stable way through all parts of your cycle.