Understanding Your Menstrual Cycle with Saschan Fearson-Joseph | TRiBE’s Toolbox

Hi and welcome to TRiBE’s Toolbox
where you will find tips, tricks and stories by Black women, for Black women.
My name is Saschan and I’m the founder of the Womb Room, the support and information service for women who have reproductive health problems. Whether you’ve got a
visit from your aunt in the Red Hills, the bloody buddy, you’re riding the
cotton pony or surfing the crimson wave for over half of the population
menstruating is almost an inevitability yet one in four of us still don’t
understand our menstrual cycle. Over the next few minutes I’m gonna be helping
you to get better acquainted with yours. So hold on to your tampons because it’s
about to get real. The Oxford English Dictionary defines
menstruation as the process in a woman of discharging blood and other material
from the lining of the uterus at intervals of about one lunar month from
puberty until the menopause except during pregnancy. It’s important
to point out that this definition is an inclusive of trans men who may still
have periods because not everybody who has a period identifies or is a woman
and not all women have periods. The female reproductive system is home to
the left and right ovaries, this is where your eggs are stored matured and
released. The matured egg then travels along the fallopian tube and down to the
uterus more commonly termed the womb. Because menstruation is cyclical the
womb prepares itself for a pregnancy each month where the uterine lining
thickens and become soft. If an egg is not fertilised and doesn’t implant in
your womb the uterine lining begins to break down and it passes out of your
body through your vagina as blood and menstrual tissue. This is your period. The
time between one period, or bleed, and the next is called your menstrual cycle
and day one of your cycle begins when you start bleeding. The average cycle
lasts between 21 and 35 days but only 10 to 15% of us will have a cycle which is
exactly 28 days with nearly 20% of women like me having a cycle that’s irregular
this means a cycle that’s either shorter or longer. You’ll probably notice changes
in your body your mood and your vaginal discharge throughout your menstrual
cycle this is because your cycle is determined by four key phases and each
phase is influenced by a key hormone. Phase #1: menstruation. The official
start of your cycle is the first day of your menstrual phase so that’s the day
when you start bleeding. Menstrual period blood is shed from the lining of your
uterus it flows from your uterus through your cervix and vagina and then out
through your vaginal opening. The average period will typically last
between three and seven days. It might seem like more but the average woman
only loses about 60 millilitres of blood with each period that she has but your
flow may be different because each of us is unique. During this phase of your
cycle you might experience cramps, mood swings and headaches so if you can use
this time to relax rest and recuperate because managing all
these hormones is hard work. Phase #2: the follicular phase. This is
the phase where your body begins to prepare itself for pregnancy and this
phase usually lasts around two weeks. After your period ends estrogen begins
to tell the lining of your uterus to thicken to prepare itself for a
fertilised egg. At the same time another hormone follicle-stimulating hormone
stimulates your ovarian follicles to grow. Each follicle contains one egg
usually once an egg is matured this will be released in preparation for
fertilisation each month. Your body produces cervical mucus before an egg is
released this will change throughout your cycle but during this phase it
typically white cloudy or a little bit yellow and can often smell a bit sour
this mucus isn’t sperm friendly however it’s best to use protection if you’re
not trying to get pregnant because sperm can live inside the body for up to five
days. This is usually a great time to get work done meet deadlines and engage in
creative projects as a lot of menstrautors find that they have extra
energy and productivity around this time. If you’ve got issues and sensitivities
or estrogen sensitive conditions like endometriosis for example you’re more
likely to have feelings of anxiety, restlessness, poor sleep around this time
in your cycle so for you it’s probably advisable to get some rest
cut down on your caffeine, reduce your processed sugars and maybe engage in
some yoga or meditation instead. Phase #3: ovulation. Ovulation marks the end of your follicular phase. Prompted by the hypothalamus the pituitary gland begins
to produce follicle stimulating hormones this stimulates your ovaries to produce
between five and twenty follicles, each of these follicles will hold an immature
egg usually only one follicle will mature into an egg whilst the other
follicles will die. During this phase of your cycle your cervical mucus would
typically look like the raw egg whites it should be clear and stretchy in
consistency usually up to two inches. This cervical mucus is ripe and ready
for sperm and it helps the sperm to travel up the vagina for fertilisation.
At this phase in your cycle you can typically expect some cramping or maybe
even sharp shooting pains in your left or your right side of your pelvis. This
can be an indicator that you’re ovulating and a lot of women or menstrautors will be able to tell or track their ovulation at this time because of
those pains. Phase #4: the luteal phase. During ovulation the matured egg bursts
from the follicle this follicle then sits on top of the ovary and forms a
structure known as the corpus luteum the corpus luteum produces progesterone and
small amounts of estrogen which encourage the lining of the womb to
remain thickened in preparation for any fertilised egg to potentially implant.
Here’s where two things can happen: if you become pregnant the egg moves into
the lining of the uterus and a pregnancy will begin. If not your progesterone
levels will begin to diminish and you’ll shed the lining of your womb, this is
when your period starts, and essentially your cycle starts all over again.
After ovulation your discharge is likely to change it will typically be a little
bit more cloudy, more gooey in consistency and it may return to looking
very similar to your discharge in the follicular phase. During the luteal phase
you might notice that you dream more vividly but you might also be prone to
headaches, migraines, symptoms of PMS, feeling very emotional or very angry and
if you’ve got existing illnesses such as Lupus, Sickle-cell anemia, or Sickle-cell
trait or possibly even fibromyalgia you might find that a lot of the symptoms of
these conditions flare up and get worse. Ultimately you’re the expert on your
body as you have periods and they change and they develop over time you’ll become
accustomed to knowing what feels right for you. Sometimes your periods might change because you’re stressed or you’re taking
certain medications or perhaps you’ve been unwell with a cold for a long time.
If you think that something’s wrong intrinsically then you should get it
checked out and do something about it because you know you better than anybody
else does and that includes the doctor. Nearly every woman in the UK will
experience a reproductive or menstrual well-being issue at some point during
her lifetime, so what do you do when things start to go wrong? If you haven’t
had a period in a while this is typically called Amenorrhea this
essentially just means the absence of periods. The absence of periods occurs
for multiple reasons weight gain, hormonal disturbances and
sometimes changes to your lifestyle or stress factors. If you have conditions
such as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome you might also experience Amenorrhea
quite frequently. If you haven’t had a period for over six months and you’re
definitely not pregnant you should 100% get this checked out by your doctor. If
your periods are extremely painful this is termed Dysmenorrhea. Although some
mild discomfort is completely normal around or before the time of ovulation
and throughout the time that you’re bleeding or on your period if your pain
is so significant and severe that it’s disrupting your daily life and your
ability to do basic tasks like get out of bed or go to work or school then that’s
not normal and it could be an indicator that there’s something else more
seriously wrong. Sometimes conditions such as Endometriosis or fibroids
present themselves by being extremely painful at key parts of your cycle. You
might want to try using a heating pad to alleviate some of the pain and
discomfort but you can also try some pelvic stretches to help relax the
muscles around the pelvic area . If you find that your regularly bleeding
through your pads, your tampons or your overflowing your menstrual cup it’s safe
to say you probably have a heavy flow. If you’re changing these more than
every 60 minutes then you definitely got Menorrhagia or heavy bleeding. Heavy bleeding can be caused by a number of factors including
bleeding disorders, endometriosis, fibroids and polyps but it isn’t limited
to these so if you don’t have one of these diagnosed conditions it’s
definitely worth keeping a diary and getting this checked out by your doctor
just to double check. Bleeding or spotting in between periods can be
caused by many different factors it could be the sign of an untreated
sexually transmitted infection or it could be a condition such as
endometriosis, fibroids, polyps, a thyroid disorder or in some cases it could be a
sign of gynaecological cancer. It’s important to note that some medications
or contraceptives can also trigger bleeding and spotting in between periods
but if you find that this is happening regularly it’s definitely worth
consulting your doctor because it’s not a normal sign. The list of reproductive and menstrual
health conditions that you can struggle with doesn’t end here, this is an
introduction not an encyclopedia so if you think that you’ve got the sign and
symptom that something might be wrong or you just want more information, you can
head over to the Womb Room to find out more. Before I go it’s important to
remember that as Black women we’re typically taught to believe that pain is
a normal part of our experience of womanhood and that it’s a normal part of our growth and development as we go through
life. This isn’t true. If your periods are disrupting your life, if you’re experiencing a lot of pain it’s definitely worth getting them checked
out. Nobody’s asking you to be a martyr for the cause, at the end of the day your
health comes first and is the priority. And statistically we’re more likely to
live in poor socioeconomic areas, have reduced access to medical care and
doctors and less likely to seek early intervention and help for any signs and
symptoms that something might be wrong. So if you think that something’s wrong
don’t delay get it checked out because you can’t put a price on your health,
your life or your reproductive capacity and more importantly don’t be shy, talk
to your friends, your family, talk to men, talk to women, talk to other people
around you who might be experiencing the same things and they’re just not talking
about them, it’s nothing to be ashamed of having a reproductive health problem,
bleeding every month and even infertility, their facts of life but they
don’t have to be your whole life Thanks for joining us for this episode
of TRiBE’s Toolbox. Make sure you like and subscribe. Comment down below and
tell us what you’ve learned from this video and don’t forget to check out the
other videos in the TRiBE Toolbox

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