How Latinas Are Reclaiming The Power of Their Menstrual Cycles

Getting my period was a lackluster experience

Photo: Unsplash/@annikamaria

Photo: Unsplash/@annikamaria

Getting my period was a lackluster experience. I was 13 and riddled in shame about something that I now know to be magical. I told no one for a month. Menstruation, or la luna, is a topic barely broached in many Latino households. What I knew then was that la luna was something to hide. Its arrival meant I was now a señorita, a young lady in a patriarchal world. Modesty, shame and playing small were survival skills in this ‘man’s world’. What I know now is that our menstrual cycle, particularly the bleeding phase, is a reservoir of power that can transform a woman’s life.

Unfortunately, many of us are unaware of this power. As a result, menstrual imbalances like fibroids are on the rise in the US. A 2013 National Institute of Health study found that 80% of women of African descent get fibroids throughout their life. Latinas are a multi-racial ethnic group; many of us are of African descent, so these numbers pertain to us as well. Uterine fibroids are benign tumors that grow on the uterus. Depending on the number and size, fibroids can cause increased bleeding, painful sex, and chronic anemia. Untreated, fibroids can lead to pregnancy complications and, in some cases, a hysterectomy. Racism and environmental toxins are strong risk factors for fibroids. That is, being a woman of color under stress increases your chances of getting fibroids. Sisters, reclaiming our blood is not a fad; it’s about survival.

A woman’s menstrual cycle is linked to lunar cycles. No wonder our ancestors referred to our blood as la luna, or the moon in Spanish. It takes the moon 27.3 days to orbit the earth and transition from new to full. The average menstrual cycle, the time it takes from one bleeding period to the next, is 28 days. Thus, the moon rules over our menstrual cycles. As powerful as this information is, not enough of us know it. What happened to us? We are Latinas in charge of our lives, yet many of us are disconnected from la luna. But is hasn’t always been this way.

Our indigenous ancestors recognized la luna’s power and held red tent ceremonies. Most women in “pre-modern” societies bled during a new moon; our bodies were synched with nature’s rhythms. Red tents were groups of women, on their periods, gathering in ceremony. They’d chant, dance, and go into deep meditation. In meditation, they’d ask for guidance on their personal lives and the collective. Red tents channeled the heightened intuition that accompanies the bleeding phase of our cycles. Our foremothers recognized our menstrual cycle’s connections to lunar cycles as magic. They understood that each phase of your cycle provides insight on how to move in life with more ease and less stress.

Every month, your cycle takes you on an emotional ride from young maiden to wise crone. Each of the four phases (menstruation, follicular, ovulation and luteal) provides its own wisdom on how to move through life with ease. For example, the follicular stage, after bleeding, resonates with a young maiden; it’s during this time that we have the most energy. Hormonal activities lead to increased physical stamina and sharpened mental focus. It’s the best time to plan and create. The bleeding phase corresponds to a wise old sage. Heightened intuition helps us go inward and reflect on the previous cycle’s lessons. Slowing down and taking extra care of yourself, in whatever way you can, is best during your bleeding phase. But many of us don’t know that we carry this power within, so we suffer. We push ourselves when we’re led to rest. The disconnect from our body doesn’t allow us to recognize how certain foods we eat, or company we keep, affects our cycles.

So what does this have to do with you? A fierce Latina, trying to take this world by storm? Mama, everything! La luna, our blood, is the seat of our existence. Menstruation is vital to conception; with no bleeding there are no babies. But it’s not just about babies. As women we create projects, relationships and even the lives we know we deserve.

So how do you access the power of la luna? Some simple, yet effective ways include:

1. Tracking your cycle to learn its length. This way, you can learn which phase you are on and how best to proceed. You then know whether to add on a little extra to your plate or step back and rest. Here is one of my favorite apps, Maya.

2. Take note of your blood. Literally. Is the bleeding heavy? Are there clots in the toilet? Does it smell funny? These are indications that something may be off internally. 

3. Consider investing in healthier, more sustainable products. Menstrual cups, organic pads, and re-usable cloth pads are all options that are growing in popularity.

4. Sugar, caffeine, dairy, simple carbs and sodas feed fibroids. Cut back on these foods, especially a few days before your period.

5. Be gentle with yourself. The process of learning our bodies all over again takes time and patience. The process of embracing our blood requires as much unlearning as it does learning. Honor yourself every step of the way.

Centuries of colonial conquest, etched in the wombs of our foremothers, evolved into the shame that our mothers may have passed down to us. But the magic was not completely stifled. Our foremothers encoded messages of resilience in our DNA, in our blood. So it is via our blood that we become whole. Happy bleeding hermanas!

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Menstrual health Women's health Women's reproductive health
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