I discovered my cycle pragmatically. As a female-bodied person who often engaged in intercourse with male bodies, I guarded myself from becoming pregnant. This was a challenge because hormonal birth-control made me feel too altered and IUDs scared me.
Then a friend told me it was possible to track my menstrual cycle, not just by the blind calendar counting of the Rhythm Method, but by collecting data to quantify exactly when my body was doing what.
I now use the Fertility Awareness Method, which means I am aware of when I am fertile – physiologically, emotionally, and creatively. This practice has shifted my relationship with my body to transcend and complement calendar time.
Every day I take my temperature and check my cervical fluids. This precision is crucial for contraception as well as conception, but if those aren’t of concern, even tracking the first day of bleeding can unlock an understanding of my emotional experience. Why might I feel so confident today? Why might I feel like lying face down on the floor? My cycle is more than menstruation. Every time of the month can be a “that” time of the month, with qualifiers ranging from highs to lows:
Menstruation: a time to rest, reflect, dream, vision. Winter. New Moon.
Follicular phase: a time to grow, build, act, get to work. Spring. Waxing Moon.
Ovulation: a time to create, celebrate, revel, communicate. Summer. Full Moon.
Luteal phase: a time to retreat, look inward, assess, feel darkness. Autumn. Waning Moon.
When I got pregnant, I took on a new, longer, non-repeating cycle. It was disorienting. The days felt relentless as a body continuously grew within mine. I missed the time to return to myself. I value the rhythm of renewal, a steady stream of opportunities to dream, initiate, create, then recollect and move on.
I’ve now grown to celebrate the substances I secrete: first blood, then cervical fluid, and now milk. My uterus and breasts give life in cycles. A three-hour cycle of nursing nests inside the 24-hour cycle of the day, nesting inside the week, nesting inside my ever-dynamic, roughly four week cycle.
My cycle trails the moon’s four-week cycle, inside the seasons’ three-month cycle, inside the sun’s 365- day cycle, inside decades, inside centuries. My cycles cross with yours and everyone’s and everything around us, a series of intersecting, orbiting rings. We are cradled by these cycles, these twisting cords of time that tie us to this nourishing life.
Ilyse Iris Magy is a San Francisco-based artist, researcher, and community organizer. She teaches workshops about the menstrual cycle and is working on a guide to Judaism and menstruation with the organization At The Well. Time feels slow when she wakes up in the middle of the night for no reason, waits and wishes to fall back asleep.
Image: cc, Chris Potter, Flickr.com