Self Care During Your Cycle // Ep. 020

In this episode, Sandra talks about the important but sensitive subject of self-care during your menstrual cycle. She shares from her own experiences through puberty and pregnancy, looks at what Scripture says about God’s design for our bodies as women, and gives specific self-care suggestions when you’re on your period. Working with your body during this time instead of against it will help you appreciate God’s good design and help you work through the entire 28-day cycle with more energy and grace for yourself!

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Transcript:

April 20- Episode 20 Self Care During Your Cycle

This is self-care and soul care for the caregiver, and I’m your host Sandra Peoples. I want to give you a couple disclaimers before we jump into this week’s topic, which is self-care during your menstrual cycle. First, I’m not a doctor or a medical professional in any way. If you have questions about what we talk about today, please contact your doctor. Second, we are talking about the sensitive subject of periods. I don’t mean sensitive as in shameful, I mean sensitive as in personal. You may want to listen with your earbuds in or when you’re on a walk away from the kids. If you’re thinking, we’re in quarantine and I’m never away from my kids, you can read the transcript instead of listening. Just head over to sandrapeoples.com/thepodcast

Ok, now that we got that out of the way, I think today’s topic is an important one. I’m going to share very personal stories about my own history and where I am when it comes to loving my body and working with it instead of against it. We’re going to pull from a lot of sources, because as I said, I’m not an expert at this. I’m learning right along with you. We’ll start in the Old Testament book of Leviticus and then discuss what I’ve learned from two recent books. I’ll link to them in the show notes, but as with every book, we learn from what is true and can have discernment when it doesn’t line up with Scripture. My hope is that by the end of our time together, you’ll celebrate the way God designed you as a woman and learn to be more gentle with yourself when you need it most. Ok friends, let’s jump into our discussion about self-care during your menstrual cycle. Let me share the journey I’ve been on, starting way back in puberty.

I haven’t always loved being a woman. In the 3rd grade, I was such a tomboy, that I temporarily changed my name to Tom and wore boys’ clothes when my mom would let me get away with it. But that changed in 4th grade when I had to start wearing a bra and was the first in my group of friends to start having a period. I went back to being Sandra, but still didn’t love being a girl. In high school, my PMS symptoms were challenging. On the first day of my period each month I would throw up. When I got close to college age, my doctor recommended birth control pills as a way to manage the PMS symptoms. Like most of my friends in the late 90s and early 2000s, I took them without doing any research myself.

When I was in seminary, we talked more about the ethics of birth control pills. I also read the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility at that time and realized birth control might be affecting me in ways I didn’t want it to. So shortly after Lee and I got married, I went off the pill and have never gone back on it. This episode isn’t about birth control, but know that if you are on the pill, your hormones aren’t doing what they are designed to do, so the discussion we’re having today won’t apply in some ways. Self-care while you’re on your period is still important, but the discussion about your entire cycle each month is different for you.

The way I viewed my body and being a woman changed when I was pregnant with David. We actually got pregnant the first month we tried on purpose (following the recommendations in the Taking Charge of Your Fertility book), but I was very sick the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. I threw up every day and felt so weak all the time. It didn’t help that I was in seminary at the time definitely a male-dominated space. I remember my Greek professor asking the entire class to avoid bringing food into the classroom so I would be able to make it all the way through our 3-hour class without getting sick. My pregnancy with James was similar and came during the last semester of seminary. I had to push through to graduate at the same time as Lee. Even though I was thankful my body was growing babies, I didn’t understand why it was punishing me. I still hadn’t learned to be kind to myself and thankful for my design.

As a boy mom, I haven’t had to think much about female topics over the last decade. My period comes when expected. My PMS symptoms are annoying but predictable. Every 28 days or so I’ll find myself super annoyed by everyone and extra snippy. I’ll look at the app I use to track my period and find out it will start the next day. I’ll realize that’s the reason for the snippiness and try to give myself (and everyone else) some extra grace. No matter what your story is when it comes to puberty, pregnancy, childbirth, and your body since childbirth, we can all learn how to work with our bodies instead of against them.

As I move into my 40s, I want to face perimenopause and menopause with more compassion for myself as a woman than I did when I faced puberty and pregnancy. That has led me to read more about what happens to my body’s design.

So let’s start this part of the discussion off by looking at Leviticus 15 and the purity laws of the Old Testament as they relate to menstruation. These laws cover lots of topics, but we’re only going to look at the verses about regular, monthly bleeding.

19 “When a woman has a discharge, and the discharge in her body is blood, she shall be in her menstrual impurity for seven days, and whoever touches her shall be unclean until the evening. 20 And everything on which she lies during her menstrual impurity shall be unclean. Everything also on which she sits shall be unclean. 21 And whoever touches her bed shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening. 22 And whoever touches anything on which she sits shall wash his clothes and bathe himself in water and be unclean until the evening. 23 Whether it is the bed or anything on which she sits, when he touches it he shall be unclean until the evening.

We can’t know everything about what this would have meant for Hebrews at the time, but we can figure out some of the practical implications of these instructions. First, while a woman was on her period, she had to be away from her husband and children because she was unclean. This would give her a break from the daily tasks of their care. Some scholars believe she would have lived in a tent near her family and rested and taken care of herself there. Throughout the Old Testament we see extended families living together, so we can assume that grandmas, aunts, and friends helped care for the children while their moms menstruated. When her bleeding stopped, she went through a ritual for purification and joined her family again. Instead of a law that punished women for experiencing what their bodies were designed to do, I think we can look at this as a model for extra self-care while we are on our periods and throughout the cycles we experience each month.

Men’s bodies operate on a 24-hour cycle. Their hormones fluctuate in a predictable pattern when they wake up, move throughout their day, and go to bed. But women’s bodies also operate on a 28-day cycle during our reproductive years. At any point during those weeks my body could be doing something very different from what your body is doing on the same day at the same time. Researchers have broken up our 28-day cycle into the following categories:

The follicular phase, the ovulation phase, the luteal phase, and the menstrual phase. Each phase was designed by God for our good! We were fearfully and wonderfully made, and that includes the cycle our bodies go through each month. In the show notes I’ll share two books I’ve read that have lots of details about these phases, but since I try to keep these episodes close to 15 minutes, let me just hit the highlights for you and then focus more on the menstrual phase.

The follicular phase lasts 7-10 days and is when your estrogen is on the rise. Research shows that your energy and creativity are at high points during this phase. Next, the ovulation phase lasts 3-4 days. It’s when you’re most fertile and your estrogen is at the highest. You probably feel more connected to your spouse during this phase. You may also be especially good at communication and collaboration during this phase. Then the luteal phase lasts 10-14 days. Your progesterone is at its highest. You tend to be nurturing during this phase and driven to get things done before you enter the menstrual phase, which comes next. It lasts 3-7 days, and all of your hormones are at their lowest point. It’s the best time for relaxation, reflection, and self-care. Let’s focus on it now.

Your period is the way your body communicates with you each month. It can tell you if something’s off or if everything is working as it should. The length, consistency, color, and accompanying symptoms can all send you a message. When you notice something is different, talk to your doctor. And speaking from experience, if you don’t like your doctor’s answers, talk to another doctor. Find one who will listen to you and believe you. Fight for yourself the same way you would fight for the loved one you care for.

If you don’t have any issues you feel like you need to see a doctor to discuss, then you can really focus your attention on yourself during this phase. Remember, God created your body to work through these cycles, and as we read in Leviticus, He even instituted this rhythm of rest as it does what it’s designed to do. Working with your body during this time instead of against it will help you appreciate God’s good design and help you work through the entire 28-day cycle with more energy and grace for yourself. 

Let me give you some ideas for self-care practices that will help you do just that:

First let’s talk about things related to your body. You know that your weight can fluctuate each month. Be kind to yourself by not stepping on the scale while menstruating. Wear clothes that are comfortable. As we talked about in episode 13, when you get dressed in the morning is not the time to get mad at yourself for clothes that don’t fit. You don’t have to be slouchy if that doesn’t make you feel good about yourself, but be comfortable. Remember not to say things to yourself that you wouldn’t say to your best friend about her body. You also need to pay attention to foods you may crave. Now isn’t the best time for strict diets like keto or intermittent fasting. If you frequently exercise, you may want to focus on stretching and walking instead of cardio and strength training during these days. My overall point is to listen to your body and to be gentle with it.

Second, as I mentioned from my own experience, I know my period is coming when I get grumpy or snippy. When I notice that in myself, I can turn that temptation over to God and ask for His help to show love to myself and others. But I can also plan to be a little less social than usual so I can save all my friendliness for the people in my family. I may not be able to get away from them the entire time I’m on my period like the Hebrew women did, but I can take some practical steps to help lessen my responsibilities. I can make room in the budget for eating out or heat up a meal from the freezer. I can communicate with my husband about him taking the boys away for a little while so I can get some extra rest. I can go to bed early. I can make sure I don’t have any big work or home projects planned. Taking any of these steps would help my emotional health and my energy level during this time.

Third, I can set routines for this season that help me reflect on the previous month and set goals for the next season. Just like God has a purpose for the cycle my body goes through each month, He has a purpose for me. I like the New Living Translation’s wording for Eph. 2:10. It says, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” During these days of resting, I can praise God for what He has brought me through, for the lessons He has taught me. I can also pray about the good things He planned for me long ago and ask for His guidance to live out that purpose. It’s the perfect time to journal, meditate on passages from the Psalms, and spend extra time in prayer.

We can take these three steps and focus on self-care while menstruating! We can care for our bodies, allow for extra rest, and take time for reflection and set goals for the next month. Before we pray together like we do to end every episode, let me give you a little homework. Figure out where you are in your cycle and make a plan for self-care the next time you’re on your period. If you’re listening in real time, we’re still under coronavirus restrictions, so it’s actually the perfect time to figure out what your body may need. You have extra time at home anyway!

Now let’s pray together:

God, You made male and female and called them very good. You designed our bodies to follow patterns and rhythms that are for our good. We praise You for that! No matter what messages we heard about our bodies and ourselves as we became women, help us now to appreciate Your good design and purpose. If we have struggles or issues, help guide us to professionals who can help. But if what we need is more grace for ourselves and time to rest and reflect, help us to have wisdom to start this new routine in our lives. Help us to listen to our bodies and respond with kindness, just as You have kindness for Your creation. Thank you for the chance to learn and to share with others. In Jesus’s name we pray, amen.       

Friends, thanks for tackling this challenging topic with me! I hope it was encouraging to you. I certainly enjoyed reading and researching to share what I hoped would be helpful. We can talk more about the topic in our private Facebook group, self-care for the special-needs mom. I hope you’ll join me there! Know that I’m praying for you!

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