It is a taboo topic and there are thousands of ways to describe it: “It’s that time of the month,” “I’m on my rag,” or “It’s mother nature’s week,” and that is just to name a few.
I'm talking about periods, or the menstrual flow.
"The Flow Down" podcast was launched last October with the goal to break the silence around the topic of periods. As more women participate in the fight for gender equality and the right to their bodies through the #MeToo movement, the hosts hope it creates a safe space for women to open up about menstruation and their own bodies.
Podcast hosts Jessica Weiss, WLRN web editor, and Stefanie Kleinburd, women’s health coach, talk about the menstrual cycle, the shame and stigma surrounding periods and self-care. Weiss joined Sundial to share the story behind the creation of the podcast and talk about the importance of normalizing conversations about periods.
WEISS: Women can have their period from anywhere between 2,500 to 3,500 days of their life. That amounts to 10 years. That's a lot of time that women are spending on their periods bleeding. Why is it that this incredibly natural common experience - an experience that's actually really biologically incredible that creates life-, why is it that we're not talking about this?
WLRN: Before the podcast, do you feel like you were comfortable talking about it in your own personal life?
Yeah. It's not that easy for me to talk about either. It's getting easier. The more I am talking about it and the more that the podcast is out, people are actually starting to approach me to talk about it and these conversations are happening. It's really exciting.
Something fascinating too is the two of you share your own personal stories. And this is part of the connection the two of you have with each other. And I wondered, in that process of having the dialogue, how it helped you in dealing with mental health issues but also with the physical issues that you have to go through.
One of the repercussions of not having conversations around periods is that people that bleed don't know if their symptoms are "normal." So what sometimes happens is that, when you can create a conversation, someone might begin to say, 'wait so that extreme pain that I'm having every month that's causing me to double over in pain to miss work' ... You might start to think once you start to talk about it, 'Wait. Maybe that's not all that normal.'
I've always been told that having a period is an experience of suffering so I just assumed that that's normal. And so by not talking about that we're sort of continuing to allow people to stay in the dark about their own experiences.
From the stories that you've heard from different women and the research the two of you did for the podcast, what is your conclusion as to why there's this stigma around this topic?
I think a lot of times women are taught that they have to sort of keep it together. They have to look a certain way, smell a certain way, have to present in a certain way and what a period does is makes that a little bit harder for women. It's something that I think we have learned to deal with privately, to cover that up so that we can exist in the world and be respected.
With different groups, different ethnic groups and minority groups, we talk about education and accessibility. They have less access to feminine hygiene products. How does the accessibility feed into the conversation?
There's a statistic that a woman can spend over $18,000 in her lifetime on menstrual products. That's a lot of money. Think about if you are trying to live, survive, eat and cover your basic necessities, menstrual products -and especially nice or safe or a lot of menstrual products- is not a priority for you. So you're going to do whatever you can to manage the blood in a way that's inexpensive. Sometimes that could even compromise your health and your hygiene. These are things that I don't think we think about. So there are a growing number of organizations that are trying to improve access to menstrual products for all people.