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Menstruated: Podcast Transcript

Omisade Burney-Scott 0:05

My journey with menstruation commenced in October 1979, marked by a distinctive putty brown color.

My mother and my father's two sisters welcomed me into the shared experience through a thoughtful rites of passage care package. It included seven day a week panties in pastel colors, two slips, two girdles, and an assortment of menstrual products reflective of the 1970s era.

With each cycle my blood carried a rich tapestry of information about my well being. It became a tangible record bearing evidence of my physical and emotional health. I metamorphosized into a blood cartographer, meticulously charting my periods and accumulating data to illuminate my journey.

Some people think that blood is, well, just blood. But for me, menstrual blood profoundly connected me to my evolving identity. It established a rhythm uniquely mine yet intricately intertwined with the ancestral cadence familiar to my mother, sisters, cousins and grandmothers.

And when that profound connection ended after 34 years, I found myself compelled to become my own blood photographer once more, navigating this uncharted path with introspection and resilience.

This is Embodied. I'm Omisade Burney-Scott, filling in for an Anita Rao.

There's a lot that goes on during a period, a complex interaction of hormones causes changes in the uterine lining, and the growth of new egg follicles. But one thing that's always fascinated me specifically, is the blood.

Charis Chambers 2:01

There are schools of thoughts where we just say, you know, menstrual blood is just blood. That's true, in a sense.

Omisade Burney-Scott 2:08

That's Dr. Charis Chambers, she's a board certified OBGYN who is known as the period doctor on social media. She's a huge proponent of menstrual education, starting with what's actually in our period blood.

Charis Chambers 2:22

As the menstrual blood flows down the reproductive tract, it's going to pick up other things. So it's going to have that uterine lining that's also associated with it, there will be cervical mucus, and then there'll be vaginal cells and other things like fluid from the vaginal wall. That blood is not so distant from the blood that comes out of our veins, but it does have a few other elements and have to be considered.

Omisade Burney-Scott 2:43

I think that's really important. And I feel like there are people who want to better understand what they're observing. So what can folks learn from themselves when they observe their period blood.

Charis Chambers 2:54

So when you look at your period blood, blood that is different in color and texture can give you a little bit of information. So if your blood never clots, it just flows out like a faucet, for example, that could give insight into maybe a blood clotting disorder.

Also, blood can have a strange odor discoloration, which may suggest that there's an infection inside, or an infection at work. And then there's just the differences and pattern of flow. So irregular bleeding, changes in the frequency of bleeding, super light spotting, things like that can suggest pregnancy, it can give you insight into issues like diabetes, or even thyroid issues.

And so paying attention to your menstrual blood, paying attention to the pattern of your bleeding is super important for your overall health.

Omisade Burney-Scott 3:42

This is so critical. I also think that our menstrual blood plays some important functions that can have some unexpected benefits. And I'm talking about period sex Charis, I just want to be clear. So anecdotally, many menstruators report that period sex is actually more pleasurable, and that sex— you know, than sex off cycle. Why is that the case?

Charis Chambers 4:05

So that's such a great point. So during your period, the blood flow to your reproductive organs, to the clitoris, to your pelvis, is increased. And so when blood is increased into an area, typically sensitivity increases as well. It's also been shown that period sex can improve cramps. And so by having a good release of those positive hormones during orgasm, during pleasure, you can have improved or decreased cramps as well. And so I'm a proponent for period sex.

I think it's something that is appropriate when both partners understand and have a plan for the inevitable mess, or use something like a menstrual disc which allows there to be mess free period sex and so I love and enjoy that conversation because it really challenges the narrative related to periods and periods being dirty, which I absolutely enjoy challenging on a daily basis.

Omisade Burney-Scott 4:55

You know, there are so many taboos and mythology related to menstruation and menstruating people. And there are also some realities that we don't always associate with having a period. In particular, there are certain times, like during war, political unrest, times of conflict where bleeding might not be safe. So could you tell us a little bit about periods of depression and how menstruators might suppress their periods to protect themselves?

Charis Chambers 5:21

Absolutely. And I think it's important to understand, much like any other, you know, medication or treatment in reproductive health, the reasons for it are plentiful. And I believe what is constant is, everyone has a right to have periods and experience their reproductive health and menstruation with dignity.

And what I find is, or what I have read is, in times of political unrest and wars, the lack of privacy, lack of access to clean water, a variety of other threats, makes having a period, not safe, wildly inconvenient, it could decrease our ability to be able to mobilize or move or change bases quickly, especially if you suffer from heavier bleeding. And so menstrual suppression is something that is appropriate in those scenarios, as well as in other scenarios.

I have helped patients suppress their periods for something, as you know, impressive as deployment, you know, for military services, and something as simple as prom. And I support all of those reasons. Ultimately, we use hormones to do that suppression, despite what the tiktoks of the world will tell you about, you know, a mixture of lemon juice or whatever, those things do not effectively suppress or delay periods. To do so you really need to partner with a qualified health care provider to make sure you're doing it safely. But it can be done safely for a variety of reasons.

Omisade Burney-Scott 6:49

Is there any myths common misconception that you would like to dispel about periods as we come to a close in our conversation?

Charis Chambers 6:59

You know, one of the ones I think that bothers me most is that periods are a detox. And I think the reason it bothers me is because if it's a detox, it makes period blood dirty, right? It makes it something terrible that shouldn't be handled or touched. You need to be separated, and it further perpetuates some of those patriarchal and even religious claims that helped to keep women and administrators in subservient and lower positions.

I like to let folks know, you know, while menstruation is not one of those detoxes in that typical sense, it can be whatever you need it to be for you. It can be a reset, it can be that moment where you feel connected to your ancestors, it can be that moment where you feel connected to any cyclical process in nature and in life. But when we adopt some of these thought processes, it's important to understand where the harm is, and make sure that we're not harming our future generation or perpetuating any harmful myths.

Nicole Tay 8:04

Hi, my name is Nicole Tay.

Lina Lyte Plioplyte 8:06

My name is Lina Lyte Plioplyte.

Jimalion 8:08

My name is Jimalion.

Nicole Tay 8:12

The first time I got my period, I was 13 years old and it was Christmas Day. So there were a lot of jokes being made about receiving the Christmas gift of womanhood.

Lina Lyte Plioplyte 8:28

I was always the youngest child in the room. So honestly, I was really excited to get my period. I remember, you know, checking my panties monthly to see if it has arrived. Because everyone around me, all my girlfriends have already gotten theirs. And I wanted to really join that club.

Jimalion 8:46

My first encounter with my menstrual period was when I was in the eighth grade. I was getting ready for bed and I went to the bathroom and there was blood in my pajama pants. And I freaked out. I thought that something was broken and I was about to die. I remember going to my mom and I was, like, "Hey, my period started." And I remember crying because I just didn't understand what I was supposed to be feeling in that moment. Everyone had talked about this big— this big moment and it was here and there was nothing. There was no confetti, there was no parade. I felt the same, Like, what?

Omisade Burney-Scott 9:38

About 1.8 billion people menstruate each month worldwide. That's an experience that can be joyful or frustrating, terrifying, or just awkward. For Vianey Blades, periods have been a source of investigation and exploration, both personally and professionally.

Vianey Blades 9:57

I've been very cultured in understanding more about the womb, menstrual blood, because I am the granddaughter of a community midwife who has never been to a school or educational system. She learned through a very grassroots teachings from her mother. So I was already so used to waking up and them talking about pregnancy and women and their wombs and herbs and all of that stuff. So introducing myself deeper into this ace was just a little bit more natural to me because of that.

Omisade Burney-Scott 10:36

Vianey is a certified exercise physiologist, researcher, and menstrual embodiment mentor. I met her and another young woman named Ashi Arora last year at a conference put together by the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research, where she is a board member. Ashi gave a short talk at the conference, which drew on some of her own history.

Ashi Arora 11:01

So for me, my relationship with my period was greatly impacted by my upbringing, and by the generational and systemic trauma I have been navigating from, you know, ages zero to now. And so for me, my period, I got my first period when I was 14, and then I didn't get it for several years. Working with my body and working on healing and releasing generations of trauma and the trauma of being an academic systems and in medical systems, I've been able to now get my period regularly. And every time I get my period, I cry, because it's now a reminder to me that just the power in tending to our wombs, and really building a relationship with them, to liberate ourselves when we exist in oppressive, violent and colonial systems.

Omisade Burney-Scott 11:55

That's so important, Ashi and I think that that connects me very well to the next question I want to ask Vianey about the thoughts that you have about the connection between mind and culture and menstrual cycle. And, you know, you've done a lot of work interpreting, culturally, artistically, our relationship with our menstrual cycles. You actually have a spoken word piece called "Be Right Back I'm Bleeding" about your relationship with your menstrual cycle and also have used painting, using your own menstrual blood.

And so I would love for you to speak a little bit about the importance of connecting culture and arts into this narrative and culture shift around mistreating people and the taboos and stigma around menstruation.

Vianey Blades 12:40

Absolutely. First of all, I do want to start off by saying that when we reduce our experience as menstruators to just a biological process, we remove about 80% the wisdom and the knowledge and the spiritual part of this experience that we go through for 30 plus years of our lives. And the more I sat with that, the more I slow it down, the more I give space for all of that wisdom to flow through me, especially during the time that I'm bleeding when I'm on my period, that's when the inner artist came through.

I always tell people I didn't know that I could draw or paint or write poetry until I really started honoring my cycle for everything and the power that she holds every single month. So it completely revolutionized my life when I really took it as a sacred practice, as a sacred time of my life. And it's also been very healing to come back to those cultural ways of tuning into our wombs and releasing some of those patriarchal concepts and ideologies about productivity and always being on the go and do do do.

So that — that spoken word that I wrote came from that time I was in my bleeding phase and just really taking it slow. Sdvocating for myself at work came through that as well because the more I tuned into everything that my body was desperately asking and yearning for. I had to take a stand for myself, and really bridge the gap between the body based wisdom so that there's not this huge separation.

Omisade Burney-Scott 14:38

Yeah, I really appreciate it you bringing your grandmother into this conversation as a midwife or community midwife. I — I think about one of the significant parts of my menstruation experience was the connection to my own family and community. To my mom, to my aunts and ancestors and Ashi, I want to ask you, what examples have you seen In a great community building around menstruation, and what would you like to see more of in the future?

Ashi Arora 15:06

That is such a beautiful question because I think that sometimes when we exist in such oppressive systems towards the bodies of those with wombs, we feel, like, in despair, and we tend to hyper focus on policy solutions, and how do we change the system and hold them accountable. And the thing is, is there so much power and liberation and in grounding and community based models of care. And so there are so many dimensions to wombs.

Beyond, like, so you have your physical womb, which you can tend to, you know, through going to an OBGYN. But there's other ways to tend to your physical womb like a Yoni steam, or herbs, or pelvic floor therapy. And then you have your emotional womb, which impacts how you express yourself, and you can tend to that through trauma therapy, and somatic therapy and doula care. And then you have your spiritual womb, and that you can tend to through ancestral healing and, and then you have your mental womb, which is how your thoughts impact your expression of self. And that's, again, it can be, you can work through that with trauma therapy, and so there's truly an abundance of ways to tend to our wombs and to tend to our bodies when existing in a post-Roe landscape.

Omisade Burney-Scott 16:21

You made me think about the power of time travel the way that you both have brought your ancestors into this conversation. And so I want you to time travel with me. And first I want to ask you, Ashi, to go back to that first period. And what would you say to your younger self as they experienced their first cycle.

Ashi Arora 16:44

So for me as a complex trauma survivor, whose first period came and then I didn't get it for so many years, because I had PCOS, I would I would tell her that my period would be the thing that set me free. That working with my period, and really tuning in to my body and what it's trying to tell me, and working with my womb to release layers of trauma through different forms of wound care. Like, that would be the thing that helped me connect with my gifts, my voice, my power, my creativity, my ancestral wisdom, my wisdom, and it would be my period would be the thing that helped me heal the generational trauma in my bloodline that at age 14 through, you know, age, you know, 18 I was going through at home and so.

Omisade Burney-Scott 17:36

Yeah, that's — that's beautiful. Thank you so much, Vianey, what about you?

Vianey Blades 17:43

What would I tell that sweet little girl? I would tell her to lean into the parts of my menstrual cycle that felt the most scary, the ones that felt really intense, and to know that in diving deeper into that portal that we go through every month you will unravel so many wisdom, words, not acknowledgement, gifts, that one day will be something that creates a ripple effect in your community. So keep going.

Jimalion 18:43

The cultural reference that I think about the most when it comes to menstrual cycles, would have to be the movie "My Girl."

My Girl Excerpt 18:53

"Oh my God! Daddy, I'm hemorrhaging."

Jimalion 18:59

Because in the movie, we know the main character has lost her mother. So the layer of grieving and then having this big moment happening, you don't have your mother. I can only imagine how she felt, or any young girl or person was feel in that situation because it is such a intimate and vulnerable moment.

Lina Lyte Plioplyte 19:27

We grew up watching "Carrie," and in a menstrual documentary called "Periodical" that I directed, two comedians interpret Carrie's lethal magical powers in the film as a heavy warning sign to not to piss off a menstruating woman. And I really love this, this interpretation of movie "Carrie."

Nicole Tay 19:49

One really big cultural moment that really sticks out to me is probably when Kiran Gandhi was running the marathon and chose to free bleed during the entire duration.

Scripps News Clip 20:03

"Gandhi wanted to destigmatize periods and show women they don't need to be grossed out by their bodies."

Nicole Tay 20:10

And I just remember that being so powerful, really also speaking to me as someone who isn't was an athlete,

Scripps News Clip 20:20

"She ran the entire 26.2 mile race, 'with my period blood running down my legs.'"

Omisade Burney-Scott 20:33

Depictions of periods and pop culture and mainstream media are powerful for the way that they start conversations. Those conversations have impacts not only on our close knit communities, but in our nationwide ones, via politics and policy. One of my good friends, Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, has been starting those conversations on policy for a long time.

Jennifer Weiss-Wolf 20:55

So I will say that when I started thinking about legal and policy and political frameworks around menstruation, I really started looking globally, because you know, there was policy work underway. It's not like it was invented or started here in the United States, or started in 2015, for that matter. And there were a variety of frameworks that were being utilized around water, sanitation, and hygiene around public health, around human rights perspectives. And all of those, while compelling to me as a lawyer and policy thinker, as a pragmatist, I did not see them moving or motivating lawmakers in, you know, our highly partisan and polarized political environment.

Omisade Burney-Scott 21:45

Based on what she thought would be compelling to lawmakers, Jennifer coined the term menstrual equity to refer to the universal right of access to menstrual hygiene products, education, and support that's free of stigma and shame.

Jennifer Weiss-Wolf 22:00

From the get go, access to menstrual products seemed to be a very reasonable and rational policy ask. There were clearly places where the people who exist there, whether it's students, whether it's employees, whether it's people who are being detained by the government, or incarcerated by the government, or, you know, picture all the different places in public life that have budgets attached to them.

That was really where my focus was. Where do people exist, and how do public budgets become a lever or a driver for thinking about menstruation? So, you know, it's a top down and bottom up approach in some ways. Some of the systems in which this exploration are deeply, deeply flawed and imperfect. So economics is surely high on the list, the inability to afford menstrual products at the moment that you need them. So the needs are great, they're certainly financial.

But I think they go beyond financial to a broader view of what it means to exist in society, as a woman or a person who menstruates. And that marginalization becomes part of the story, too.

Omisade Burney-Scott 23:17

Absolutely. You know, there's data that you shared that 21 states have levied a 4 to 7% tax — sales tax on period products. And then if you talk about the experience of people who are menstruating inside of carceral systems, inside of schools, in the workplace, there seems to be a need for a bridge between education and policy work. So I'm wondering about the education pieces, you know, the importance of educating in the schools for young, young menstruators, and I wonder how these policies are impacted by period education or lack thereof?

Jennifer Weiss-Wolf 23:57

Well, I think one big given is that period education generally is lacking as a formal systemic piece of our society. Again, the sort of long standing stigmatization of menstruation has— has had many collateral impact. And so first taking on this sort of umbrella menstrual equity, what are these policies look like? Perspective enables education, right? You walk into a legislature, and you talk to legislators and other leaders, and you discover what they know and don't know about menstruation.

So it's a huge opportunity to normalize menstruation, to normalize discussion about it to the people who are actually making decisions about our lives. But when we think about menstruation in schools, in particular, I think has a special level of importance because for so many young people, that is the laboratory in which they're learning to experience menstruation. If somebody has their first period, you know, anywhere between the age of say, eight or nine and 13 or 14. School is their civic life. There's a whole lot of discussion that could and should be happening.

And what's super interesting is the legislative push for a period products to be freely provided in schools to all students had a lot of traction. And I think that especially because they're young people, you know, engage in the activism and leading the activism. It's really compelling to lawmakers when they hear what students go through, and what could help them.

Omisade Burney-Scott 25:32

I think that the same case is about menopause, don't you think? So I think that, you know, the work that you and I have had an opportunity to do around menopause is shifting the landscape. And I want to shift a little bit from talking about menstruation in the beginning of our cycles to menopause and the end of our cycles. And, you know, I would love for you to share a little bit more about the work you're doing on policy as it relates to menopause research. And also, can you share a little bit about your understanding of menopause in the workplace and what we've been learning from the UK?

Jennifer Weiss-Wolf 26:09

Sure, well, I'll start with the policy piece. Now, menopause hasn't been ignored, as much as it's been misunderstood and misrepresented. And that includes cultural stereotypes, that includes social implications, that includes what we think we know about interventions and treatments and medical ways of approaching menopause. So there's a lot of actually undoing to do, which is a little bit different than the menstruation space.

It's interesting because menopause in the workplace, as listeners probably would know, just from opening up, you know, the internet or their newspaper, it's a really heavy topic these days. This journey, that this experience, that this transformation and this transition, are not just as simple as a couple of bandaids that a workplace can offer, thinking that it'll, you know, get them through the week or get them through the months. This is a journey and it impacts people in so many ways, that it's not that the workplace needs to, you know, have a completely synergistic relationship with our bodies at all times. But if we actually want to see workplaces and an economy that values us at all ages, and stages, their investments that they should be making in the kind of bigger questions we're calling upon our lawmakers and leaders to answer.

Omisade Burney-Scott 27:43

Exactly I think that you have really nailed the head of this connection between our bodies, body sovereignty, bodily autonomy, menstruation, and menopause. And here we are approaching another presidential election later this year. And as we get ready to close out this segment, I want to ask you, what role do you think menstruation or menopause will play in the debate stage?

Jennifer Weiss-Wolf 28:07

I would love to see both of them front and center. It's probably a pretty big wish for the wish list, but I will say that in states where we are seeing such horrific rollbacks of reproductive rights and our bodily autonomy on so many levels, menstruation, over the past decade at least, has has proven to be something that had the capacity for bipartisan support and an opening to different kinds of stories. And so I would love to see it take that place on the stage, and create maybe a discourse that isn't quite as polarized or partisan. But again, as part of a broader movement policy is just one spokes in the wheel, but we have a turning wheel.

Omisade Burney-Scott 29:07

There's a potent wisdom and understanding of menstrual cycles. A multiverse lives inside of us and is a place of power, healing and discovery. This multiverse fueled by the blood of our ancestors and the blood of our bodies and lived experiences has messages for us too. It is asking us to remember, to rewrite our own narrative, to practice radical love, to seek truth and continue to learn and to maintain a sense of curiosity about our own humanity.

Embodied is a production of North Carolina Public Radio-WUNC, a listener-supported station. If you want to lend your support to this podcast, consider our contribution at now.

If you want to check out Dr. Charis' social media channels, learn more about Ashi and Vianey's research, or dig into menstrual policy with Jennifer, you can find links in the show notes of this episode. You can also find out more about my own work in menstrual and menopause spaces.

And while you're at it, make sure to follow us on our socials. We are @embodiedwunc.

Special thanks to Lina, Jimalion, and Nicole for contributing to today's show.

This episode was produced by Paige Miranda and edited by Kaia Findlay. Gabriela Glueck also produces for our show. Skylar Chadwick is our intern and Jenni Lawson is our sound engineer. Anita Rao is our regular host, and Amanda Magnus is our regular editor. And Quilla wrote our theme music.

If you liked this show, we'd love for you to tell us about it. Write a review and let us know why you listen or text your favorite episode to a friend.

Until next time, I'm Omisade Burney-Scott.

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