Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

SMCR Member Profile: Studying how ovulation and the menstrual cycle impact women’s health

June 23rd, 2016 by Editor

Jerilynn C. Prior BA, MD; Professor of Medicine/Endocrinology at the University of British Columbia; Scientific Director of the Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research

Jerilynn Prior2When and why did you join the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research?
I joined SMCR at the Ann Arbor, Michigan conference in 1987—I presented a paper there saying that the absence of normal premenstrual symptoms (molimina) could tell women they were not ovulating. I was already doing research on menstrual cycles and bone changes in normally active women and in long-distance runners and wanted the support of other researchers with similar interests.

How did you become interested in doing menstrual cycle research?
I’ve wondered what was normal and how menstrual cycle adaptations occurred since my own cycle went away for the first nine months of my university training. I decided to go into endocrinology as a specialty of internal medicine because it required a holistic view and could focus on balance rather than solely on diseases. When I first moved to Canada in 1976 and sought to become an academic I realized I needed a special niche within endocrinology—I chose women’s reproductive endocrinology since at the time the longer distance running exercise that women were just being allowed to do was being blamed for women’s development of amenorrhea. That felt like prejudice. It also was poorly studied.    

Which researcher or paper influenced or inspired you to pursue research in this area? Why?
I think the desire to study menstrual cycles grew out of my own experiences and questions as well as trying to ensure gender equity in exercise opportunities.

What are the primary areas of your menstrual cycle research?
One of the non-scientist leaders on SMCR in the early days asked me: “On what day of the cycle do women ovulate?” Even then I knew it was highly variable both within and between women. 

My research focusses on:

–adaptation of cycle and ovulation to exercise (e.g. marathon running)

–influence of menstrual cycle length and ovulation on bone change

–influence of menstrual cycles and ovulation on women’s later life risks for heart disease

–influence of menstrual cycles and ovulation on women’s risk for breast and endometrial cancer

–cause, consequences and treatment of hot flushes and night sweats

–hormonal and experiential changes during the perimenopause

–influences of use of combined hormonal contraception on changes in bone and reproductive characteristics, especially in adolescence

–treatment of common cycle-related problems such as heavy flow, irregular/absent cycles, cramps   

Where can visitors to our blog read about your work on the menstrual cycle?
This paper on spinal bone loss and ovulatory disturbances showed for the first time that ovulation influences changes in healthy women’s bone. (N Engl J Med 1990)

This controlled trial showed that medroxyprogesterone (a progestin) causes bone gain in healthy, normal-weight premenopausal women with abnormal cycles and ovulatory disturbances. (1994 Am J. Med)

A meta-analysis of prospective studies showed that ovulatory disturbances are related to bone loss. (2014-Epidemiologic Reviews)

A study in a whole population of women 20-49 in Norway showed that, over one cycle, >33% of women with regular, normal-length cycles were not ovulatory. (2015—PLOS ONE)

Estrogen’s Storm Season- Stories of Perimenopause is a unique fiction book whose purpose is to inform and empower midlife women by telling stories of women who are not real but with whom they are likely to resonate. It is also to show how medicine should be practiced—as a collaboration between the woman who knows herself and her goals, and a knowledgeable, understanding physician. (Vancouver, BC: CeMCOR, 2005, 2007)

The Estrogen Errors: Why Progesterone is Better For Women’s Health,co-written with sociologist/journalist Susan Baxter, is a journalistic critique of current appropaches to perimenopause. (Westport: Praeger Publishers, 2009, available as an ebook.)

What is the most interesting, important or applicable thing your research has revealed about women’s experience of menstruation?
That regular cycles do not predict normal ovulation and at least a third of all are anovulatory in population-based data.

What is your current research or work in this area?
Trying to develop a non-invasive, inexpensive test of ovulation.

How has the field of menstrual cycle research changed since you entered this area?
It continues to be a hard area in which to get academic credit but more women are seeking knowledge and the world is becoming more open.

What else would you like our readers to know about the value, importance or influence of menstrual cycle research?
We’ve only begun to piece together the many things that change across the menstrual cycle or the processes that women’s estradiol and progesterone levels influence. Cycle specific measurements need to be built into all studies so that women can participate and the results will be scientific.

For information on becoming a member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research contact us by email: info@menstruationresearch.org. Subject line: Membership.

SMCR Member Profile: Advancing respect for menstrual cycle research

June 20th, 2016 by Editor

Mindy J. Erchull, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychological Science at the University of Mary Washington (UMW) in Fredericksburg, VA 

 Mindy Erchull

When and why did you join the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research?
I joined SMCR during my senior year of college (1997-98). I was a student of Joan Chrisler’s, a long-time SMCR member, doing an honor’s thesis under her supervision analyzing educational booklets girls received about menstruation. I attended my first SMCR conference in 1999 to present my findings. I maintained my membership throughout graduate school where I earned my PhD in Social Psychology from Arizona State University (2005) focusing on women’s health. I began attending conferences again in 2009, once I had a research program established at UMW. 

Which researcher or paper influenced or inspired you to pursue research in this area? Why?
There was no one paper that inspired me, but Joan Chrisler is the person I can point to. As a researcher who studied PMS and other menstrual cycle topics, she made it clear that this was a viable path to follow. I’ve continued to explore menstrual cycle topics in my research because I feel it is an understudied area. Moreover, I feel it is a research area that often does not receive respect or is dismissed as unimportant.

What are the primary areas of your menstrual cycle research?
An interest in how we educate about menstruation led me to my initial study looking at 50 years worth of educational booklets girls were often given around menarche. In grad school, my research focused on women’s decision making about using/not using post-menopausal hormone therapy. Since I completed my PhD, I’ve explored the attitudes of health care professionals towards menstruation and PMS as well as how women are depicted in ads for menstrual products (e.g., pads and tampons). In recent years, I’ve returned to my initial interest in attitudes about the menstrual cycle but have shifted my focus to the attitudes of men. Menstrual cycle research is not my primary line of research (that has largely focused on the objectification and sexualization of women), so I feel able to move to new topics as I am inspired.

Where can our blog visitors go to read your work on menstruation?
My honor’s thesis exploring commercially produced educational booklets about menstruation was published in The Journal of Early Adolescence in 2002.

My research exploring how women’s bodies are depicted in advertisements for menstrual products was published in Sex Roles in 2013. 

In 2015, my research exploring the role of fathers in menstrual education of both daughters and sons was published in SMCR’s journal, Women’s Reproductive Health.

What is the most interesting, important or applicable thing your research has revealed about women’s experience of menstruation?
I continue to be struck by the fact that in my investigation of how women were depicted in menstrual product advertisements, representations of women were often not included in these ads. This despite the fact that menstrual products are inherently related to women’s bodies and the fact that women’s bodies are so often included in ads for every other product under the sun.

What is your current research or work in this area?
I currently have two projects in various stages of completion. One, undertaken in collaboration with Dr. Kate Richmond, explored young men’s attitudes about menstruation and the relationship of these attitudes to their endorsement of traditional masculinity. We hope to prepare this for publication in the coming year. The other project is exploring the measurement of menstrual cycle attitudes by revisiting the statistical properties of a measure developed by Dr. Maria Luisa Marván and colleagues. I am not yet sure where this project will go, but I look forward to exploring the data in the coming months.

How has the field of menstrual cycle research changed since you entered this area?
I don’t believe the field has changed that much. I would say that menstrual cycle research, particularly within the realm of the social sciences, is still not particularly well respected. I also think that more medicalized research about the menstrual cycle continues to be the mainstay for the discipline (albeit not within SMCR). 

What else would you like our readers to know about the value, importance or influence of menstrual cycle research?
To advance knowledge about and understanding of the menstrual cycle, we need high quality research from a wide array of disciplines. Research can inform us about what are typical and less common experiences and about how attitudes and behaviors are/are not changing. Research can let us draw firm conclusions rather than being speculative and draw on data from many rather than the unique experiences of a few. This is why I have always chosen to maintain my membership in and involvement with a research-focused interdisciplinary organization like SMCR.

For information on becoming a member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research contact us by email: info@menstruationresearch.org. Subject line: Membership.

Period positivity still has a way to go

May 31st, 2016 by Editor

Giuliana Serena critiques Newsweek’s period stigma cover story

Note: This piece was first published on  MoontimeRising.com. It has been edited for length for this repost at Menstruation Matters. 

NewsweekCover_BloodI was pleasantly surprised and cautiously optimistic when I caught sight of the April 29, 2016 cover of Newsweek. It obviously got my attention.

I’m elated, and a bit discombobulated, to see menstruation and periods getting so much public and positive attention. But there’s also a lot of misinformation, subtle (& overt) shaming, and even pseudo-period positivity for profit out there, so I read the article with a fair amount of skepticism.

When it comes right down to it, this article wasn’t written for me. Maybe not for you either.

It was written for a broad audience, and I’m delighted it will be read by so many who will be learning about some of these issues for the first time.

In the opening paragraph, writer Abigail Jones goes so far as to say: “This process is as natural as eating, drinking and sleeping, and it’s beautiful too: There’s no human race without it.”

Highlighting the stigma and shame that those who menstruate are faced with worldwide is useful and relevant information for the mainstream.

Although I do take issue with certain omissions and the overall emphasis, I sincerely appreciate the coverage. And Chis Bobel, President of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research, is quoted a few times!

Mentioned are Rupi Kaur’s banned self-portrait, the needs of those in prison and those who can’t afford “menstrual materials,” the very real health and environmental costs associated with conventional tampons and pads, the vast number of women and girls, ESPECIALLY in the Global South, who are ostracized, without resources, and face severe taboos and stigmas.

A lot was covered. A lot was not. It’s a big topic, and they couldn’t fit in everything. But here are a few issues I wish had been addressed:

It’s odd not to see women listed amongst the top “things” affected by period stigma in the subtitle: “Period Stigma is hurting the economy, schools and the environment. But the crimson tide is turning.” Although, it’s interesting to see it framed this way, and the article does address those topics.

Cups and reusables are only briefly mentioned, but deserved more attention with regards to environmental and health benefits.

Also, the opening sentence was not completely accurate: “Let’s begin with the obvious: Every woman in the history of humanity has or had a period.”

It’s true that the vast majority of those who menstruate are women (and girls), some women and girls (for various reasons) never have had or will have a period, and some who are not women and/or girls, will. We are just starting to understand how menstruation relates to transgender experience. In a time when we’re re-learning sex and gender more inclusive language could have been used. At the very least, these arising issues should have been referenced.

And I would love to see more talk about the benefits to young girls in educating and preparing them for coming-of-age, resources for doing so, and the value of ritual and ceremony in that process—but I’m not holding my breath!.

There’s more I didn’t love and I could pick it apart further, but honestly, I’d rather you read it for yourself.

This piece is bound to have a positive impact. Transforming the culture is a complex unfolding. And one cover story won’t do it. Continuing this conversation is crucial.

Periods getting this kind of attention in mainstream media would not have been possible without the tireless work of countless activists, educators, advocates, researches, and ordinary women and people destigmatizing and normalizing menstruation, body literacy, women’s bodies, sexuality, fertility, and all those other juicy topics that make us whole.

One (news) cycle at a time, we are making progress.

As Lara Owen, author of Her Blood Is Gold, commented when I shared a screen shot of the cover on Facebook:

38 years since The Wise Wound, 25 years since Dragontime, 23 years since Her Blood Is Gold: Awakening to the Wisdom of Menstruation, and since then many others. So grateful to everyone who has contributed to hauling this abusive and absurd taboo out into the light and transforming it into health and resilience.

And in reference to the article not going far enough, she added, “As we know too well, Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

Our society needs to get over our fear of periods. We need to let go of our fear of bodies and fluids, empowered women, sex, pleasure, self-determination, autonomy.

Yes, there will be blood.

Have a read, and let me know what you think!

Giuliana Serena is a Ceremonialist, Rites-of-Passage Facilitator, Menstrual Cycle Educator, and the creator of MoontimeRising.com.

SMCR’s re: Cycling becomes Menstruation Matters

May 28th, 2016 by Laura Wershler

SMCRPC.BackMay 28 is Menstrual Hygiene Day. All over the world events are planned in honor of this year’s theme: Menstruation matters to everyone, everywhere. 

May 28, 2016, also marks the date that re: Cycling, the blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research, gets its new name:

Menstruation Matters

The Society created this weblog to increase the visibility of both SMCR and menstruation research in September 2009. We named it re: Cycling to represent our view of menstruation as more than merely bleeding, but as a cycle within the larger cycle of life. The name also pays homage to our late colleague, Randi Koeske, who first used this term.

During the blog’s seven-year history, menstrual advocacy and activism have exploded worldwide. Though it all, this blog has addressed and documented all matters menstrual, at the discretion of its many and varied authors. As noted when the blog launched:

“The views expressed are not necessarily those of SMCR, nor even the unanimous views of all blog contributors. Indeed, although we believe in holding writers accountable for their words, we also reserve the right to change our opinions on the basis of new information. We adhere to a vision of academic freedom that is ethical, fair, and responsible.”

This will not change. Readers of our blog know that our writers share and interpret research, report menstrual happenings, express strong opinions, and offer fresh, informed analyses of menstruation matters related to academia, social justice, media, the arts, advocacy and activism.

Expect this to continue as our blog takes on the name of the heavily used hashtag we founded in the lead-up to our 2013 Biennial Conference in New York City: #MenstruationMatters.

The Society for Menstrual Cycle Research has been making menstruation matter since 1977, when this nonprofit organization was founded by a multidisciplinary group of women who were pioneers in understanding the importance of menstrual cycle research to women’s health. Our 150+ members produce, publish, and convey research findings that impact menstrual health across the lifespan, and are involved in a broad range of advocacy initiatives.

We know Menstruation Matters, and now, finally, so does the media.

As leaders in the field, SMCR applauds all of today’s menstrual advocates and activists—including our members—who have made menstruation mainstream news. Our hard work to break taboos, derail stigma, share accurate information, secure menstrual rights, and meet the menstrual health needs of girls and women around the world led to 2015 being named “The Year of the Period” by Cosmopolitan, BuzzFeed, Feministing and NPR.

And the period party continues.

Newsweek Cover_Apr-2016On April 20, 2016, Newsweek’s online edition published The Fight to End Period Shame is Going Mainstream, which became the cover story for the April 29, 2016 print issue. The bright red cover featured a tampon and the bold headline There Will Be Blood–Get Over It.

The Atlantic, on April 28, 2016, published Seeing Red: The Rise of Mensesplaining. The subhead reads: With women explaining periods to men, pop culture is finally treating menstruation as a societal issue everyone should care about.

Menstruation, a societal issue everyone should care about.” 

The Society for Menstrual Cycle Research has been caring for the last 40 years!

 

Menstruation Matters will carry on the re: Cycling legacy as we continue to report, comment, summarize, analyze and opine on all matters menstrual.

Please keep reading.

Laura Wershler is the editor-in-chief of Menstruation Matters, the blog formerly known as re: Cycling

The Period in History: Two book reviews

May 24th, 2016 by David Linton

Menstruation in Early Modern England and Early Modern France

Menstruation in FranceObviously, menstruation has been around a long time, and while its biological purpose has been constant, its cultural significance and social construction have taken on innumerable meanings across time and space. Yet, probably due to skewed gender perspectives, taboos, and prejudices, the meanings of menses, what I think of as “the menstrual ecology,” has received relatively scant attention by historians of cultural practice. Recent efforts to redress that absence are found in two fascinating studies: Cathy McClive’s Menstruation and Procreation in Early Modern France (2015, Ashgate) and Sara Read’s Menstruation and the Female Body in Early Modern England (2013, Palgrave).

Menstruation-in-EnglandTaken together, these two volumes offer insights into the often surprising ways both French and English societies strove to make sense of this seemingly gender exclusive phenomenon. Among the many enlightening insights the authors offer is McClive’s challenge to what she calls “the myth of menstrual misogyny,” the idea that menstruation has always been viewed negatively, a notion she convincingly refutes. And Read’s examination of the role New Testament Biblical scripture played in shaping menstrual attitudes provides one answer as to why Christian beliefs surrounding the period diverged from those prevailing in the other two Abrahamic faiths.

Though both books are published by academic presses and, unfortunately, are unlikely to find wide readerships in the general public, they are well written and accessible to any curious reader. And in case contemporary scholars and activists are prone to think they are the first to grapple with the multifaceted meanings and prejudices that comprise the menstrual milieu, McClive and Read provide historical perspectives that are both useful and enlightening.

A more detailed review of each book can be found in the Society for Menstrual Research journal Women’s Reproductive Health:

Review of Menstruation and the Female Body in Early Modern England

Review of Menstruation and Procreation in Early Modern France

David Linton is an Emeritus Professor at Marymount Manhattan College. He is also Editor of the SMCR Newsletter and a member of the re: Cycling editorial board. His research focus is on media representations of the menstrual cycle as well as how women and men relate to one another around the presence of menstruation.

Women comics taking on menstruation

May 12th, 2016 by David Linton

It used to be that menstrual humor amounted to men making crass remarks about PMS and the world of stand up comedy was dominated by male performers. Well, not any more.

In the last few years there seems to have been an explosion of young women comics doing stand-up and TV comedy.  Lena Dunham, Amy Schumer, Nicki Glazer, and a host of others have followed pioneers such as  Margaret Cho, Whoopi Goldberg, Sarah Silverman, Lisa Lampanelli and an even earlier generation’s Joan Rivers and Rusty Warren, whose theme song, Knockers Up, became a forbidden ditty for the post-war generation of comedy transgressors. And at the age of 86, Rusty holds a special place in the arcane world of cabaret comedy acts. This brief list comes nowhere near capturing the richness and diversity of the comedy scene where women crack the jokes and make their audiences gasp at their audacity.

Today’s women comics revel in coming up with the most shocking ways of alluding to their own bodies and their sexual relations. For instance, a recent skit on Inside Amy Schumer had her telling several female friends about a new product that would eliminate all taste from a woman’s pussy, the word of choice when mentioning the female genitalia. To demonstrate the effectiveness of the product she puts her hand inside her pants then offers her fingers to a friend to taste. And what better topic to include when one is striving for ever more ways to shock the audience with dirty words and forbidden subjects than the menstrual cycle. There may be no subject that has more layers of taboo and “ickiness” than menstrual blood. Whoopi Goldberg worked this material some years ago in her Broadway special that was aired on HBO when she did a long piece describing her entire menstrual history from her first Kotex belt to her entry into menopause. Similarly, Margaret Cho developed a riff that was surely influenced by Gloria Steinem’s famous If Men Could Menstruate essay that described how she imagined men would behave if they had a menstrual cycle.

In this episode of Broad City, the girls are forced to improvise when Abbi gets her period on a plane and doesn't have access to a tampon.

In this episode of Broad City, the girls are forced to improvise when Abbi gets her period on a plane and doesn’t have access to a tampon.

The new spate of sit-com styled TV shows that appear on the Comedy Central cable system and elsewhere have been giving the period a full airing. One of the most amusing in recent months was an episode of Broad City in which the two lead characters and creators of the show, Llana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, are aboard an El-Al flight to Israel when one of them gets her period and has no menstrual product with her, which leads to an escalating series of jokes and crises. The episode, titled Jews on a Plane, covers a full range of period predicaments. It’s well worth a look for many reasons. 

David Linton is an Emeritus Professor at Marymount Manhattan College. He is also Editor of the SMCR Newsletter and a member of the re: Cycling editorial board. His research focus is on media representations of the menstrual cycle as well as how women and men relate to one another around the presence of menstruation.

Writing Menopause, An Anthology: Preview #2

April 28th, 2016 by Editor

WritingMenopauseWriting Menopause, a diverse literary collection about menopause to be published in the spring of 2017 by Inanna Publicationswas first introduced to the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research in a session presented at our June 2015 biennial conference in Boston. The anthology includes about fifty works of fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, interviews, and cross-genre pieces from contributors across Canada and the United States. With this collection, editors Jane Cawthorne and E.D. Morin hope to shine a light on a wide variety of menopause experiences and to shatter common stereotypes. This week at re: Cycling we are pleased to be able to preview excerpts from the collection. Preview #1 included a short prose piece and a poem by Tanya Coovadia. Today’s preview is by SMCR member Heather Dillaway, a piece that was previously published on this blog.


Fact and Fiction: Two Lists by Heather Dillaway

List One: Things Menopausal Women Would Love to Hear That ARE True

  1. what do i want to hear?It’s okay to be glad to be done with menstruation, the threat of pregnancy and the burdens of contraception. It’s also okay to use the menopausal transition to question whether you really wanted kids, whether you had the number of kids you wanted and whether you’ve been satisfied with your reproductive life in general. It’s normal to have all of these thoughts and feelings.
  2. You’re entering the best, most free part of your life! But, it’s okay if it doesn’t feel like that yet.
  3. Menopause does not mean you are old. In fact, potentially you are only half way through your life.
  4. You are not alone. Lots of people have the experiences you do. You are normal!
  5. I understand what you’re going through. (Or, alternatively, I don’t completely understand what you’re going through but I’m willing to listen.)
  6. It’s okay to be confused and frustrated at this time of life, or in any other time of life!
  7. You’ve had an entire lifetime of reproductive experiences and this is simply one more. How you feel about menopause is probably related to how you’ve felt about other reproductive experiences over time. It might be helpful to reflect back on all of the reproductive experiences you’ve had to sort out how you feel about menopause.
  8. Talk to other women you know. Talking about menopause helps everybody.
  9. Menopause and midlife can be as significant or insignificant as you’d like them to be. For some women, these transitions mean very important things but, for others, they mean little. Whatever it means to you is okay.
  10. Researchers are working hard to understand this reproductive transition more fully.

These represent the kind of supportive comments women might want to hear while going through menopause and, in particular, perimenopause. Items on this list also help us acknowledge that our bodies and bodily transitions cause us to reflect on our life stages, our identities and our choices.

List Two: Things Menopausal Women Would Love to Hear But Might NOT Be True

  1. This is guaranteed to be your last menstrual period. You are done! (Or, a related one: You’ve already had the worst. It gets better from here on out!)
  2. Signs and symptoms of menopause will be predictable and will not interrupt your life.
  3. No one will think negatively of you or differently about you if you tell them you’re menopausal.
  4. There are no major side effects to hormone therapies or any other medical treatments you might be considering.
  5. Doctors will be able to help you and will understand your signs and symptoms, if you need relief.
  6. Leaky bodies are no problem! No one will care if your body does what it wants, whenever it wants.
  7. Partners, children, coworkers and others will completely understand what you’re going through.
  8. Middle-aged women are respected in this society and it is truly a benefit to be at this life stage.
  9. There is a clear beginning and a clear end to this transition.
  10. Clinical researchers are researching the parts of menopause that you care about.

This reflects many of our societal norms and biases about our bodies, aging, gender, fertility and so on. This list also attests to the difficulties that menopausal women have in accessing quality health care or getting safe relief from symptoms when needed and notes the potential disconnects between research findings and women’s true needs during this transition.

Heather Dillaway is an associate professor of sociology at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. Her research focuses on women’s menopause and midlife, and she often writes about the everyday experiences of going through these transitions. She teaches about women’s health, families and gender & race inequalities.

Writing Menopause, An Anthology: Preview #1

April 26th, 2016 by Editor

WritingMenopauseWriting Menopause, a diverse literary collection about menopause to be published in the spring of 2017 by Inanna Publicationswas first introduced to the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research in a session presented at our June 2015 biennial conference in Boston. The anthology includes about fifty works of fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, interviews, and cross-genre pieces from contributors across Canada and the United States. With this collection, editors Jane Cawthorne and E.D. Morin hope to shine a light on a wide variety of menopause experiences and to shatter common stereotypes. This week at re: Cycling we are pleased to be able to preview excerpts from the collection.


Two pieces by Tanya Coovadia:

The Things We Carry

Last January, I attended a reading series during which two distinguished male authors, in separate opening remarks, said derogatory things about middle-aged women. I don’t think I would have noticed twenty years ago, but lately, for some reason, I am particularly attuned to discussions regarding women of my uncertain age, especially when they are uttered in tones suggestive of a shameful affliction.

Benign anal tumours, say.

One of these men, after his reading, went on to add further insult. He described the typical bumbling misapprehension of his work by that admiring but clueless fan who, he assured us, in his laconic drawl, was “always a middle-aged woman.” As a late-blooming member of the midlife sisterhood, this incident sparked a poem in me.

And (in a laconic drawl) it’s dedicated to Tim O’Brien.

Always a Middle-Aged Woman

(because middle-aged men are just men)

Striding up
with her staunchly held head
her opinions bared like wrinkled breasts

And those years she wears
a bitter glory of furrows and lines
etched by thousands of erstwhile smiles.

Who do they think they are,
these ladies (and we mean you, ma’am)
thriving so steadily
from their cloak of invisibility

We don’t see your once young face
we never stroked your once shining hair

We can’t hear your
sweet, barely caught breath
because you’re
Blatantly!
middle-aged

As though ageing is some kind of victory
as though youth and beauty
are not mandatory

As though you can bring
something new to the world
when your womb is too old to care.

My mirror,
I,
we,
you
reflect this, true

We lift our jowls toward our ears
and smile
a spasm, a rictus. Of youth.

Tanya Coovadia is a technical writer, blogger and angry-letter-writer-cum-fictionalist who occasionally dabbles in poetry. She’s a Canadian transplant to Florida who, during the writing of this poem, realized her interminable hot flashes were not weather-related after all. Ms. Coovadia has an MFA in Creative Writing from Pine Manor College in Boston. Her first collection of short fiction, Pelee Island Stories, recently won an IPPY award.

#MenstruationMatters to Newsweek

April 21st, 2016 by Laura Wershler

The menstrual advocacy movement splashes red all over the cover of Newsweek’s upcoming April 29, 2016 edition. The story by Abigail Jones–The Fight to End Period Shaming is Going Mainstream–published online April 20, 2016, continues the mad rush of period stories that prompted Cosmopolitan to declare 2015 the “year the period went public.” Chris Bobel, President of the Society for Menstrual Research, is quoted briefly in the Newsweek piece. For Chris’s cogent analysis of the recent spate of period positivity check out her Nov. 15, 2015 re: Cycling post:  Will this 2015 menstrual moment make room for all bodies?

Newsweek Cover_Apr-2016

When breast cancer treatment leads to early menopause

April 14th, 2016 by Editor

In the same month I went from menstrual cramps to hot flashes overnight.

By Sheryl E. Mendlinger, PhD

Sheryl Mendlinger cut her hair short before undergoing treatment for breast cancer in 1994.

Sheryl Mendlinger cut her hair short before undergoing treatment for breast cancer in 1994.

In 1994, at the age of 43, I was diagnosed with stage 1 invasive breast cancer. At that time, treatment options were very limited, it was more a “one size fits all,” unlike the targeted therapies available now 20 years later. Taking into account the size of the lump—1.5 centimeters; my age—young enough that I was still pre-menopausal; and lymph nodes that all tested negative, my oncologist recommended I undergo a lumpectomy, a procedure that removed the lump and the surrounding breast tissue, followed by adjunctive chemotherapy and six weeks of daily radiation treatment. I became a statistic; although chemo was not a necessity, I was told that it would increase my chances of long term survival. I had been married to the love of my life for almost 22 years and had two teenage children, a son, 19, and my daughter Yael, 17. When I heard my diagnosis, I welcomed all options on the table, even the most extreme, as an answer to the frightening diagnosis of cancer, with hopes for a long life to see my own children grow into adulthood.

The doctor informed me only about some of the side effects of chemotherapy including: nausea, loss of appetite, hair loss and the possibility that my period might cease during treatment. However, no one addressed the fact that I would most likely go into overnight early onset menopause, which meant that not only would my ovaries stop working and vaginal dryness would set in, but my brain and cognitive abilities would experience a major shut down as well. One day I was bleeding and puking my guts up from the chemo, while days later I started to wake up in the middle of the night, in a pool of sweat, sheets kicked off the bed and I soon realized they were hot flashes. Menopause had arrived in full force.

At the end of her treatment she had short white hair and a full face.

At the end of treatment she had short, thin, white hair and a full face.

Whether from the chemo treatments or menopause, I started to gain a lot of weight and most of the clothes that hung in my closet no longer fit properly. As I wrote in my book Schlopping: Developing Relationships, Self-Image and Memories

“I ballooned from a size 8-10 to a 12-14. The additional fifteen to twenty pounds on my short frame and the new menopausal body made me feel extremely self-conscious, and the only way to continue to look good and feel better was to hide the bulges under baggy clothes, oversized blouses, or sweaters and leggings. The only pants that fit over my rounded belly were those with stretch elastic waist like old ladies wore….I dealt with the extra weight by buying clothes that fit my new changing body. I just accepted the changes that were taking place because it was a sign of me getting well….I felt the additional weight was good for me…and that my body was overcoming the illness… At the end of the treatments, I had very short, thin, white hair and a very puffy, fat, and full face…”

I remember approaching my oncologist very early in my chemo treatments and telling him that I felt my brain was fuzzy and that the connectors didn’t seem to be connecting; it was as if the entire “hard drive” in my brain had crashed and all the information was deleted. At that time, in the 1990s, doctors were convinced that “chemo does not pass the brain membrane.” To say the least, it was a strange, frightening, and terrible experience. I began to forget sentences in mid-thought in addition to having a lot of other medical problems. This memory loss happened at the onset of chemo, even when I was still getting my period. Once my period ceased, near the end of treatment, my cognitive abilities seemed to take a turn for the worse.

Several years after my treatments, in 2000, when I saw one of the first papers on “cognitive function and chemotherapy” in which the word “chemo-brain” was used, I felt a sense of relief that I was not the only person to have experienced this. Although this concept has finally been accepted in the medical world, and scientific research is being conducted in the area, there are still questions as to what causes the cognitive decline. Is it the inflammation from the cancer itself, is it the chemo, is it changes in thyroid functioning or B12, or is it the sudden loss of estrogen with the early onset of menopause? When speaking to young women who have undergone hysterectomies, they too complained of many of the same issues of cognitive decline.

Early onset menopause can affect so many aspects of overall health and the quality of life. More research, knowledge and information will better equip young women in coping with their changing bodies and understanding that it’s not “only in their heads.”

Sheryl E. Mendlinger, PhD, is an author, advocate for women’s health, daughter, wife, mother, and grandmother. She co-authored, with her daughter Yael Magen, “Schlopping (schlep+love+shopping): Developing Relationships, Self-Image and Memories” a book about finding answers to life’s challenges through schlepping with a loved one while shopping. Sheryl’s expertise is inter-generational transmission of knowledge and health behaviors in mother-daughter dyads from multicultural populations with a focus on menstruation.  

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