What were you taught about menstruation?

Interview with dr. Preeti Agrawal

Natalia Miuska: Does our attitude to our body and menstruation have influence on our health?
dr. Preeti Agrawal: Definitely, a very important influence. If we understand why we menstruate, what purpose it serves ? we begin to co-operate with our body, to take care of it. And we are healthy.
For this reason it is very important what our mothers, older women taught us about menstruation. If they described it as a problem, a nuisance, which we have to suffer for a few days every month, then we will have negative associations. And we will experience it negatively.
Why is the way we learned about menstruation so important?
The way we perceive menstruation, but also ourselves as women, depends on it. In other cultures girls are prepared for the beginning of menstruating, and the first time is an important experience. If there is a special ceremony connected with first menstruation, if it is treated as a rite of passage, girls can feel important. The ceremony itself is an introduction into womanhood, it helps a girl become a woman. She understands that a new stage begins in her life, new responsibility. It is connected with honouring, appreciating her and women in general. Thanks to it menstruation ? as well as being a woman ? have positive connotations.
Such ceremonies for girls and passing on a positive message about womanhood have disappeared completely in the western world, unfortunately.
Together with the knowledge and awareness that menstruation is a gift of nature, reserved for women only. Thanks to it women can cleanse, rest, regenerate, charge their batteries. They have better contact with subconsciousness, better intuition. Unfortunately, nowadays we rarely talk about positive aspects of menstruation, it is associated with something negative, an obstacle stopping women from doing many things.
So, if we still had such ceremonies, then..
Not even ceremonies, although it would be good if this new stage was celebrated. But the message itself, if it was positive and interesting for young girls, it would help them enter this new phase in life with more joy. In fact each of us needs to befriend this aspect of our femininity.
How in your opinion it would influence women, their psyche, their health?
Women could listen to their body, its natural needs. Menstruation is a time for relaxation, rest, and less for activity, being in a hurry. If we respected our body?s needs, if we had more time for ourselves, we would be more centred, more energetic, we could achieve more in the world. Time after menstruation would naturally be more active, we could give more. That is why it is so important to co-operate with the body, its needs in specific phases of the cycle. If we receive a healthy message, we know and accept that menstruation is the time to rest, to look after ourselves, it is our right. Such attitude is an expression of respect for our femininity.
What if the message was negative? How does it influence us? How to deal with this baggage?
In my medical practice I help many women confront their beliefs about the body and femininity. Becoming aware of them, even if they are negative, is a crucial step. If we identify and name them, then we are in a position to change them, replace with good, healthy ones. If a girl grew up in a family where woman wasn?t respected, her mother wasn?t respected, the body was taboo and women were treated without dignity, it is a painful, difficult legacy. I observe that such women have gynaecological problems, especially very painful periods. They cannot be cured with diet or medication. I often receive patients with different ailments and after a longer conversation we realise that the causes lie very deeply. Women who from a very early age met with negative messages about femininity are a demanding patient group. They are hard to reach. Hard, but not impossible, and realising the problem can already be very helpful.
From my own experience, from conversations with women, I know that shame is one such difficult feeling. Women who are ashamed of menstruation, who are taught to hide it, often suffer from painful cramps. When menstruation is a taboo subject, just the stress that it is coming causes pain. But when women start talking about their feelings, it turns out it isn?t so hard to change this attitude.
Yes, you are right, if it is just shame ? than the change is easier. But if femininity as a whole is rejected ? then the woman has a serious problem. Difficult symptoms are cries for help: accept me, accept yourself as a woman. You can change what you experience. Generally, all problems with the body are cries for help. The same with menstrual cramps ? they aren?t our enemies. They plead for restoring balance in our body and psyche. Its the only way our body can attract our attention.

What were you taught about menstruation? What have you taught, or want to teach, your daughter? Maybe it?s time to start a real discussion about it? Share good methods of passing the knowledge on to our daughters? Create such methods together?