It started for me as it does for many of us; inconveniently.
It was the first week of secondary school and I was in the changing rooms of my local swimming pool, when I discovered the crimson message from my womb. Like many 11 year olds, I kind of knew this moment was coming. Yet, still, I stared blankly for a while as I tried to recall the vague information we had been delivered in sex education years before, by our middle aged balding male teacher. Diagrams of a clinical uterus and memories of giggling boys gave no indication of what I should do next. Welcome to womanhood!
After patching myself up with the swimming pools free sanitary pad supply (which resembled wearing a rolled up bath towel shoved in my underwear) I was good to go. And here began my relationship with my period. Hide it, sort it, clean it, ignore it.
It wasn't really until my period became a raging siren of anger 8 years later that I diverged from this prude British approach to 'embarrassing bodily functions'.
One evening, as I was getting ready for bed, one of the most profound experiences happened. I stood up to put on my jammies and a blood clot the size of a golf ball fell out of me. Aside from being throughly freaked out (I mean, who wouldn't be?!) I knew something was up 'down there'. What followed was 30 days straight of heavy bleeding, then 90 days of no bleeding at all.
Here began my awareness of my highly irregular cycle; constant heavy bleeding one minute and no bleeding the next.
I say here began my awareness because, if I'm honest, up until passing a small ball of grossness from my vag, I hadn't really had any awareness of my cycle. I knew periods came once a month, but this information was need-to-know, and its main use was to signify my time to batten down the hatches. I wasn't listening to my body, or mapping my cycle (to be fair this as the 90s when periods weren't publicly even a thing). I just knew that something was up. I wasn't a text book woman.
Like many women, however, I didn't think too much more about my womb warning signals.
I swiftly got into the flow of mega period from hell, or months (sometimes years) of none at all. Aside from a brief stint on the mini pill for acne, I largely went au natural with the meds; convinced that my body would re-align itself if I left it to its natural form. Wishful thinking on my part.
I know realise that my menstrual cycle isn't just some inconvenient function which has a silent role in making babies, and should be ignored otherwise. As someone who has learnt to live without its presence, or been turned upside down by its determination not to end, my period is in fact my compass to myself. A pad or a tampon will never plug the impact it has on my hormones, my energy level or even my immunity. Whatever is going on 'down there' impacts the whole of my body, and essentially my emotional and spiritual health too.
Fast forward 10 years since my 'clot incident'. By now I have tentatively seen a few specialists, received numerous 'normal' hormone test results and inconclusive ultra sounds. I don't have polycystic ovaries, I don't have a hormone imbalance (more on this another time), and in the western medicines view, I am fine. In my doctors words, "this is just the way your body is". Cool, thanks for the insight doc!
But as I delve deeper into my 30s, this is no longer good enough. Not that I am necessarily ready for babies yet, I know my messed up cycle is going to cause issues. In the past I had learnt to just come to terms with my highly unpredictable body. I had even convinced myself it was part of my eccentric personality.
For the last couple of years I have become more invested in mapping my cycle. I track my bleeding, emotions, energy levels and even how gassy I am on my Clue app. I would love to say I have unearthed a hidden code or obvious pattern in my cycle. I have not. My womb is still as unpredictable as the UK weather. But something more important has emerged. Awareness. To be able to track my body I have to listen to my body.
I now have a little more insight into the ebbs and flows of my inner rhythm, I respect my need for silence, and utilise my times of higher energy. I nurture my body when it needs it, and I dance with my strange tempo rather than against it.
I acknowledge how vital self-care is to your the health of your menstrual cycle and slowly - with the help of nutrition, yoga and Reiki - I am giving my womb all the attention it deserved all those years ago. We are getting to know each other all over again, and this time, I am listening to every word she speaks without judgement, just pure love.