Colorado Woman News
Leslie Botha, Women’s Health Educator
Rebecca Cohen, Ph.D.
Women today are confused and distressed about how to cope with the transition into menopause.Doctors treating menopausal symptoms have traditionally handed out relief in synthetic pill form – – “Hormone Replacement Therapy” (HRT).The logic has been that women entering menopause are losing hormones they have always had; therefore the “logical” thing to do is to replace them as quickly and painlessly as possible.
Research, until recently, cited studies where synthetic hormones saved women from osteoporosis, hot flashes, disturbed sleep, irritability, inability to concentrate and memory impairment.
In July of this year, a large multi-center trial, that was a component of the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), scheduled to run until 2005, was halted when it was discovered that study participants on estrogen plus progestin therapy had increases in coronary heart disease, stroke, and pulmonary embolism.The incomplete study revealed that HRT risks far outweigh the benefits and actually pose serious threats to women’s health.
Simultaneously, the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NILBI) of the National Institute of Health (NIH) ceased yet another major clinical trial on combined estrogen progestin therapy in healthy menopausal women this summer, with the discovery of an increased risk of invasive breast cancer in women taking the combined hormonal treatment.
Currently millions of women are perimenopausal or menopausal.The controversy surrounding the risks/benefits of HRT is certainly not new.However, with the major publication of the above studies and the national press attention that they attracted, women are once again reeling from indecision about how to protect their own health.Now those who were or are taking combined estrogen and progestin are seeking more information on how to treat their hormone cycles and how to safely make the transition into menopause.
The current medical model has patronized women’s hormone cycles by defining them through negative diagnosis instead of recognizing this natural transition as a gift.Let’s face it, honey; a lot of money is being made off our bodies.In fact, our society has spent the last few centuries segregating us through our differences: forming prejudices that separate us, and controlling us by seeing only our weaknesses. It appears that we have forgotten what unites humanity.
What does this have to do with women’s hormone cycles?The hormone cycle, which we have come to ignore, deny, and denigrate, is actually intimately linked to a much larger cycle: one that unites every life form on this planet.Life on our planet is governed by cycles; the most obvious examples are the ocean tides and the phases of the moon. Our grandmothers understood that cycles were the foundation for women’s health.With the introduction of Descartes’ rationalism, emphasis on Christian doctrine, and universities and medical schools attended solely by men, the wisdom of our grandmothers was forgotten.The shift to patriarchal culture was so threatening that women were burned as “witches” during one of our darkest times in history.
Women survived these times by forgetting and/or denying the power of our own cycles.As a result, we became ignorant of the beauty and naturalness of monthly transitions.Today we compete to be like men, rather than seeing we have our own strengths.The more uneducated we remain about the changes that our bodies go through, the easier it is for women to be unwittingly controlled by prevalent views of a society that sees menstruation as a “fault”.This viewpoint affects our health and how we are treated at home and in the workplace.
Denying, ignoring, and denigrating our cycles can lead to suppression of who we really are.Our hopes, our dreams, and our values get swept under the carpet as we perform dutiful roles as caregivers – the main task valued by our patriarchal society. The far-reaching mental, emotional, and physical implications of this behavior contribute to increased stress, deepening of sadness, lowering of creativity, and the growth of illness and hostility.We are not saying that being a “caregiver” is not a good thing; what we are saying is that we need to learn to care for ourselves first by learning to honor our natural cycles and taking time to rejuvenate ourselves during menstruation.
Allowing menstruation to be treated as a state of “dis-ease” (imbalance), we find ourselves beset with unexplained moods, irrational behaviors, troubled relationships, and stifled creativity.By the time that we approach menopause, these patterns of behavior have become so imbalanced that this natural transition presents a time of challenge, rather than reward.Menopausal years are supposed to be our time of wisdom.However, with unresolved issues and imbalanced patterns of behavior from long-term disregard of the importance of the hormone cycle- the going gets rough.
Instead of ignoring or pushing through menstruation, we need to be present as we live with our cycles, exploring the changes that cycles impart, taking care of our bodies by honoring the sacred aspect of bleeding, are all part of becoming whole and healthy women.Look at your hormone cycle, as you would view an ocean wave that rolls into shore.There is beautiful ebb to that flow with a crescendo before it is pulled back out to sea.So it is with our hormone cycles.There is an increase of hormones just after menstruation peaking with ovulation.Once ovulation has taken place, our hormones decrease, causing the desire to slow down –physically, mentally, and emotionally.This does not mean that we are any less powerful.Instead of the “active/creative” power that we experience in the pre-ovulatory and ovulatory phase of our hormone cycle, our power becomes more reflective and intuitive – traits that we have forgotten we even had.
Many of our “imbalances” come from not allowing our bodies to slow down.Rather than using our estrogen cycle, we are perpetually governed by another hormone, testosterone that like the pink “Ever-Ready Bunny” keeps going and going and going.Our society places a premium on time and production –hour after hour, day after day, week after week — well, you get the picture.Even a car gets a “15,000” mile tune up, a chance to let the engine cool, add some oil, and check out what might not be working properly.Once a month we need time to cool off; a chance to rest, nurture ourselves, and figure out what is not working in our lives. Many moons ago, Menstrual Huts provided women a sacred healing place to release, rest, rejuvenate and share with other women their deepest thoughts and concerns.We believe that ignoring this very important phase of the menstrual cycle is the root cause of health imbalance, stress, and the possible beginning of disease.
A key aspect of women’s cycles that has been lost today is the sacredness of bleeding. Blood has always been seen as something mysterious; only women were able to bring forth life from blood. In fact, men have historically been awed and afraid of menstruating women. Understanding that menstruation holds power, women elders of ancient societies undertook the responsibility of teaching young women about its influence and how to honor it. Traditions of separation during menses were instituted by women for women.
If we search deep within, we can find the remnants of desire for separation: time for reflection and time for bonding with other women. The inability to have separation during this special time leads to pervasive feelings of alienation and despair in our daily lives. There seems to be no appropriate time in our social structure for withdrawing into ourselves. If we do, we are often called “weak.”
Women who have ceased to menstruate still cycle with the same ebb and flow as menstruating women.Although hormones do not govern their cycles as strongly, their lives are influenced by a grander scheme, the lunar cycle. Menopausal women have learned to understand the wisdom of how the moon’s cycle reflects changes in their own lives: New Moon – New Beginnings, Full Moon – Creation, Waning Moon – Reflection.
This is the rhythm of life.
Botha and Cohen encourage women to explore the power of their own menstruation through connecting with other women on the same path. They both strongly agree with Sherill Sellman, author of Hormone Heresy: Oestrogen’s Deadly Truth that “…. tampering with a woman’s hormones is tampering with her power.”
Nationally recognized experts on women’s cycles, and members of the Society For Menstrual Cycle Research, Leslie Botha, Women’s Health Educator, and Rebecca Cohen, Ph.D., Author and National Certified Counselor, believe that modern patriarchal culture has robbed women of the power that comes from understanding and honoring their hormone cycles.