Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

Menstrual Art, Quitting Depo-Provera, Moldy Tampons, and other Weekend Links

March 31st, 2012 by Elizabeth Kissling

Fog Warning Ahead

March 29th, 2012 by Heather Dillaway

As I embark on my 40th year I look ahead to menopause. I guess there is a good chance I’m approaching some foggy years. Brain fog, that is.

In the past week a flurry of online news articles review new research findings on the “brain fog” that many perimenopausal women experience. The brain fog is more easily understood as a slight memory problem, if you take the time to read through the various news stories. A new study analyzed how 75 individual women, aged 40 to 60, rated their memory performance based on factors like how often they forgot details and how serious their forgetfulness was. Researchers also gathered information about the women’s overall health, mood and hormone levels, as well as other menopausal symptoms, and tried to figure out the extent to which this “brain fog” exists. According to news reports, about 41 percent of the women in the study reported having forgetfulness that was “serious,” and those who felt that their memory problems were serious were more likely to score poorly on tests of working memory and attention. Some women who rated their memory problems as serious also reported some depression and other symptoms like hot flashes and sleeping problems. Other researchers suggest that the memory problems women experience are related to changing levels of estrogen in a woman’s body at menopause, but interestingly this new study did not find links to changing hormone levels.

The whole notion of “brain fog” is interesting, and I am suspicious of it as a strictly menopausal symptom. What about the brain fog we all experience when we’re tired or sick or just way too busy? Defining brain fog as a “menopausal” (really, perimenopausal) symptom further defines middle-aged women as somehow less than functional and set them up to be taken less seriously.

Putting this issue aside, though, what I actually find most interesting about all of the news coverage of this study is just how different each report of the study is. I am reminded that we should all be careful of which report we read about a study. For example, the first article I read on this study was placed in the Los Angeles Times and focused on the possible connections between menopausal brain fog, depression, and dementia. I was left feeling like the author of the article inferred that all menopausal women might have depression or dementia and that they should seek treatment. After reading this article I was angry because I felt as if I had been warned that midlife brain fog was the beginning of an inevitable decline for all women. Then I read a WedMD piece that simply described the study and did not concentrate on depression, dementia, or the need for treatment, and I wasn’t really sure what to make of the research study. Finally I read an article by a HealthDay reporter which quoted one of our own, SMCR member Nancy Wood, who reminds readers that “a number of other stressors in life, from work to taking care of children and parents, that pile up around the same time as menopause can hinder memory and ability to concentrate.” In addition, this article’s author states that “memory problems are not necessarily an early sign of dementia” and cognitive ability is regained after other perimenopausal symptoms subside. This third article concluded that the research study is helpful because findings suggest that brain fog is real – that women aren’t crazy – but that it is normal and not that detrimental to women’s long-term cognitive abilities.

Of course, nothing is a substitute for reading the original article published by Miriam Weber and her co-authors this March in the journal, Menopause. But if you need a quick synopsis of what a research study finds just make sure you know its source and think about whether the coverage of the details makes sense! I for one like the tone of the HealthDay news article – that, if brain fog exists, it is temporary and normal and could be caused by lots of things. It is not necessarily an indicator of depression or dementia or even a permanent memory problem.

SHE’S BACK! – AND SHE’S SINGING!!! CARRIE, THE MUSICAL

March 27th, 2012 by David Linton

At a social gathering, if you were to causally ask, “Can you think of a film or novel that includes any mention of menstruation,” it’s likely that the first (and often only) reply would be “Carrie.”  In both movie versions (Brian DePalma’s 1976  classic and the made-for-TV treatment in 2002 by David Carson) as well as Stephen King’s 1974 novel upon which all subsequent versions are based, the opening scene features the menstrually ignorant Carrie getting her first period in the shower of her high school locker room.  The response by the other girls is a quintessential “mean girls” moment: they pelt her with tampons and pads as they chant in evil glee, “Plug it up!  Plug it up!”

Now, as they like to say in horror movie tradition, “She’s back!”  This time the story is given a Broadway musical treatment.  The new production, which just concluded a well attended run at the off-Broadway Lucille Lortel Theater on Christopher Street, was a remounted version of an earlier staging attempt in 1988 that was a colossal failure.  It had only five performances and became a cautionary tale of everything to avoid with producing a Broadway show.

The new and improved “Carrie” employs most of the songs and book of the earlier version but cuts back on the gore and Gothic elements, shifting the emphasis to relationships and character.  In doing so menstruation takes on greater significance than in any of the earlier iterations, including Stephen King’s original novel.  The play evokes Eve’s Curse in all its primordial essence.



Actually, there are two themes and plot lines at work in the play, and one is far more affecting that the other.  One involves Carrie’s plight amidst her adolescent peers who are crudely stereotyped as either slut, air head, dumb jock, nice jock, naïf or the solitary good girl with a conscience.  Scenes involving Carrie and this crew are predictable and unmemorable.  However, the scenes where Carrie’s relationship with her mother is developed are riveting.  And it is in these scenes where the deep significance of menstruation in a girl’s life, in her relationship with her mother, and in her sense of her place in the world are explored.  The staging, costuming, lighting, and especially the operatic delivery of the aria “When There’s No One,” by Carrie’s mother (Marin Mazzie) lay bare the social and psychological meaning of Carrie’s menarche

In part, the elevation of the mother-daughter relationship may be due to the powerful performances of Marin Mazzie and Molly Ransom who plays Carrie.  Both have riveting presence, and their duets churn with love, conflict, and torment.  Carrie’s confrontation with her mother over her failure to provide her daughter with any preparation for the onset of her period, her plaintive cry, “Why didn’t you tell me?” and her mother’s fanatical response are movingly captured in their duet, “And Eve Was Weak.”

A common criticism of King’s novel is that it associates menstruation with fury, danger and destruction, a macabre extension of discredited Freudian notions of menstrual hysteria.  While not completely eschewing these bleak associations, the musical at least softens and complicates them by focusing on Carrie’s desperate striving to become a fully realized young woman which, tragically, requires her to reject and, ultimately, to kill her oppressive, dominating mother.

Some might find he final confrontation between mother and daughter over the top for its pumped up Grand Guignol evocation of blood and horror, but I found it deeply moving.

As her mother thrusts a butcher knife into the cowering Carrie, desperate to keep her daughter from the sin of female sexuality and in fear of losing her, the only way Carrie can try to defend herself is to reach out her hand toward her mother’s heart and, marshalling her telekinetic power one last time, clutch her hand into a fist.

As the genre requires, they die in one another’s arms and, in a closing scene, life goes on for the survivors of Carrie’s rage.

 

Period Parties, Endometriosis Awareness Month, Theme Songs, and More Weekend Links

March 24th, 2012 by Elizabeth Kissling

Via Buzzfeed, March 21, 2012

Things We Don’t Talk About: Healing Narratives from the Red Tent

March 19th, 2012 by Chris Bobel

What would the world be like if young women were mentored by older women?

What would the world be like if we knew we had a place for our stories to be told?

So intones the voiceover at the start of the trailer of a forthcoming film.

And it is right on time.

The recent media attention paid to Tomi- Ann Roberts and Nikki Dunnavant’s research recent re: religious identification and menstrual traditions has got me thinking (more than usual) about women, bonding and menses. Roberts and Dunnavant’s religious women harbored more negative attitudes toward their periods than their secular counterparts, but they reported a sense of woman-to-woman connection during their menstruation that non-religious women did not.

So how do we create community and lose the shame?

Red tents anyone?

“Things We Don’t Talk About: Healing Narratives from the Red Tent” explores the increasing reach of the “Red Tent Temple Movement” seeded by women’s empowerment facilitator Alisa Starkweather and inspired by Anita Diamant’s 1997 bestselling novel The Red Tent – a rich fictionalized treatment of biblical character Dinah. In the novel, Dinah and her tribeswomen gather during their menses in a sacred women-only space.

The practice in a book became a movement.

Starkweather and others in more than 50 red tents across the nation and beyond (in 30 states and 6 countries) believe that the simple practice of gathering women and girls in a space dedicated ONLY to them (whatever their date on the menstrual calendar) is precisely what women and girls need to feel supported and nurtured. This is the stuff of healing, they say.

Red tents are an initiative within what I call the ‘feminist spiritualist’ wing of the menstrual activist movement — a loose collection of activists who emerged in the 1970s and share an earnest celebration of embodied womanhood. This style of activism, I’ve argued, has endured and innovated for more than 4 decades, but remains on the fringe of feminist movements as a mostly white middle class concern.  Liedenfrost’s film, however, may nudge an expansion of the movement (or perhaps, show that it is already slowly capturing a diverse following?). A commitment to inclusion rings through the voices of the women captured in “Things We Don’t Talk About….” Red tents, as one woman explains during the trailer, are safe, welcoming and invite each woman to “come as you are and who you are is enough.”

Filmmaker Isadora Gabrielle Liedenfrost, a seasoned filmmaker specializing in “multicultural motifs and embedded cultures and spiritual traditions” presents a rich palette of reds, auburns, and fuchsias and a haunting soundtrack in this piece. Her camera brings us images of small and large groups of women crying, laughing, dancing and hugging together woven with the heartfelt stories of the empowering benefits of women-in-community.

Photo credit: Isadora Gabrielle Liedenfrost (used with permission)

 

I am left asking: could red tents offer women—whatever their spiritual inclination—a shame-free community? Could they restore a lost tradition now updated in a contemporary body-positive context? Surely, the feminine intimacy offered here is not for every woman, but for many, it might feel like home is a lovely little tent.

Mammogram Tutorial, Ladybusiness Legislation, and other Weekend Links

March 17th, 2012 by Elizabeth Kissling

Tell me again, why can’t we talk about body stuff?

March 15th, 2012 by Alexandra Jacoby

Tell me again, why can’t we talk about body stuff?

Your body is your home.

It’s your medium of self-expression — your voice spoken and written, your hands gesturing, making things, touching someone, legs walking toward, running away from, hips dancing, butt sitting, with arms folded — are you bored, annoyed, worried, satisfied?

Your body is your receiver and interpreter of the world around you and the people in it with you.

It’s integral to your life.

How can it be weird, embarrassing, inappropriate, [tactless?] to talk about your bodylife?

What happens inside your body is literally defining your experience of the outside world, and of yourself, and your possibilities.

You can’t feel your blood moving, hair growing, cells changing…

…Some things you can feel as they happen inside you, and with those experiences, you interact directly.

Our bodies aren’t sealed containers. They are living— we are living beings.

Nutrition, hydration, elimination of waste, sweating, breathing, menstruating — these things happen in our bodies and outside them.

We make choices about our behavior, buy supplies, clothing, fixtures — we are involved in the care and maintenance associated with these aspects of our body lives.

Why wouldn’t you talk about it?

Why wouldn’t you be interested in ways to improve your experience, or someone else’s?

Why would it be unusual or unacceptable to share your experience, to ask questions, to get advice? (out loud, anywhere) — like you would when it came to any other aspect of your life.

Why wouldn’t it be normal to be interested in the quality of your body-life?

What exactly is more important than that?

 

The woman, the serpent and the cycle

March 13th, 2012 by Chris Hitchcock

According to a recent study, women are best at picking out a picture with a snake during the days immediately before their period. You might think this would be a surprise, given the general idea of premenstrual compromise in women. Mind you, there isn’t much data to support poorer thinking or performance for women during the premenstrual period.

However, the authors were able to salvage the idea of premenstrual compromise here. They argue that about 30% of women have premenstrual syndrome, and most of the rest of us show some kind of cyclicity. And so they attribute the 200 millisecond (1/5 of a second) faster response to anxiety and fear. Either that, or it is maternal instinct, protecting the small cluster of cells that might possibly be an impending pregnancy.

Media has picked this up, with headlines about PMS being good for something after all.

Sometimes it seems that women can’t win for losing.

Menstrual Bonding, Birth Control Brouhaha, and other Weekend Links

March 10th, 2012 by Laura Wershler

Research by SMCR members Tomi-Ann Roberts and Nicki Dunnavan garnered a lot of attention this week. Stories showed up at Live Science – Why Why Women Should Bring Their Periods ‘Out of the Closet, popular ladyblog Jezebel – Your Period Is a Time for Deep Lady-Bonding, and the Daily Mail - Women, start talking about it. Period! Roberts and Dunnavan surveyed 340 religious and non-religious women about their experiences and attitudes about menstruation. As the Daily Mail reported: ”U.S. researchers say women across the world need to be more positive about menstruation – and that means talking about it in public.”

Credit: MK Carroll

There’s been lots of public discussion about contraception, some might say too much!  The birth control/medical insurance coverage brouhaha hit a boiling point last week with Rush Limbaugh’s egregious comments about Sandra Fluke, and the heated debate rages still. Maureen J Andrade at OpenSalon writes that Birth Control Is Not a Women’s Issue: It’s a Human Right, while Asma T. Uddin and Ashley McGuire, blogging at the Washington Post, insist It’s about religious liberty, not birth control.  A group of crafters has come up with a  unique protest action: sending “interfering” male government members a knitted or crocheted uterus, vagina or cervix, while feministing.com has invited readers to Talk About Birth Control For REAL.

Back to women’s experience of menstruation,  Enith Morillo in Menses’ non-sense: Menstruation and the Muslim Woman’s “Red Tent” and Carolyn West in Menstruation – Celebration or Taboo?, explore different cultural menstrual traditions.

Coming Off The Pill: A Mind Map Guide

March 7th, 2012 by Laura Wershler

Everybody can use a good map to help them get to where they’re going. Why not women heading to the land of non-hormonal contraception?

In my post on January 11, 2012 I asked if coming off the pill was a growing trend. I proposed to write a series of posts about the issues associated with the decision to stop using hormonal birth control.  For the purposes of this discussion assume that “coming off the pill” refers to quitting any method of hormonal contraception including the pill, patch, ring, shot, implant or Mirena intrauterine system.

As I was preparing a list of possible topics, I realized that one way to represent the complexity of issues involved in this decision is with a mind map: “a diagram used to represent words, ideas, tasks, or other items linked to and arranged around a central key word or idea.” It also occurred to me that readers could then add to this schematic, filling in important points based on personal or professional experience. So I got out my colored markers, did a little brainstorming and came up with Coming Off the Pill: Mind Map 1.0. I invite readers to comment, offering additions under the key headings I’ve noted and suggesting other categories that should be included.  Could this become a talking, planning or process guide for women considering the transition to non-hormonal birth control methods?

If you’ve thought about or been through the experience of quitting hormonal contraception, or if you’ve helped others through the experience, please contribute to the development of Coming Off The Pill: Mind Map 2.0 by posting your comments and suggestions. (I’ve already thought about other headings I could have included.) Besides providing me with a guide for writing future posts, what other ways can you imagine this mind map might be used?

What is a hormone?

March 5th, 2012 by Paula Derry

All too often, hormones are portrayed in the media, and even in professional articles, as strangers inside our bodies that control us.   Sometimes hormones are personified as bosses that order our bodies around.  Sometimes they are portrayed as akin in function to gasoline or motor oil, needed to keep the machinery of our body moving or smoothly gliding.  Hormone levels that oscillate rather than maintaining a reassuring stability might be especially suspicious or even uncanny.

Take oxytocin.  According to the website ScienceDaily.com, which summarizes recent scientific studies, the hormone oxytocin is the “cuddle chemical”, promoting positive feelings, especially between mothers and infants, but it also has a “dark side,” promoting envy and gloating.  An oxytocin nasal spray might help shy people behave in a less introverted manner, and can make “surly monkeys treat each other a little more kindly”.

Or, take estrogen.  Teenagers are at the mercy of their “raging hormones.”   Premenstrual syndromes, perimenopausal mood changes, menstrual migraines, and hot flashes have all been attributed to hormones that oscillate (i.e., go up and down), dip, or are present in the wrong amount; thus, the orders barked out by the hormones go awry.   Perimenopausal estrogen changes are feared to destabilize the brain, creating preconditions for cognitive decline, or to increase risks for bone or heart disease.   A recent article (2010, vol. 1204) published by the Annals of the N Y Academy of Sciences was titled  “Estrogen and the aging brain:  An elixir for the weary cortical network?”.  A Science Daily report on estrogen and menopause (Oct. 4, 2011) was entitled “This is your brain on estrogen”.  Of course, not all hormones have this mythic status.  Important as diabetes is as a public health problem, I don’t recall seeing an article entitled “This is your liver on insulin.”

Here’s another view of hormones:  Most introductory science textbooks define them as chemical messengers, typically released from special tissues called glands, into the bloodstream.  In order for a hormone to affect a cell, the cell must have a receptor for the hormone. If there is no receptor, the hormone does not affect the cell.  If there is a receptor, the hormone changes the rate at which cells work, it does not make cells do things they would not otherwise do.  Hormones are chemical messengers that are involved in coordinating physiology, behavior, and development.

Consider a simple case, a person who is sitting in a chair and wants to stand up.  The muscles in a variety of parts of her body have to work together.  She can’t, for example, lift her buttocks before her feet push down on the ground, or lean so far forward that she falls.  Other parts of the body have to get into the act, also.  For example, her blood pressure must go up before she starts to stand; otherwise she would become dizzy since as she rises less blood reaches her head. Mind and body work together; blood pressure rises in response to her mere intention to get up.  In a similar manner, purposiveness is typically coordinated by hormones, the nervous system, and other players.

The way I think about it is that hormones are team players in complex, multi-determined systems that have a purpose. Hormones help to coordinate what happens in the body, but in normal functioning they do not act alone; they are part of a larger whole. They are more like telephone wires than the content of the conversation.

For example, what are some natural effects of oxytocin?  As summarized in the textbook “Introduction to Behavioral Endocrinology” (Randy Nelson), oxytocin does indeed have strong effects on the behavior of female rats.  Rats who have never been pregnant avoid pups, but begin taking care of their own pups as soon as they give birth.  Do their hormones make them do it? Apparently. When the blood of a new mother (which will contain her hormones) was given to a rat who had never been pregnant, the never-pregnant rat began acting like a mother within 24 hours. However, when never-pregnant rats were housed with pups for an hour or two a day, after about 5 or 6 days they also began to behave maternally. That is, being around baby pups also resulted in behaving like a mother.  The hormone speeded things up but didn’t change the animal’s essential nature. Rat mothers retrieve their young if they wander off, but injecting a human with rat hormones does not make the human build nests.

Ovarian Stem Cells, Men Who Trust Women, and Other Weekend Links

March 3rd, 2012 by Elizabeth Kissling
Readers should note that statements published in re: Cycling are those of individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Society as a whole.