How To Cope When Period Pain Gets In The Way Of Parenting

Photographed by Ashley Armitage
When that time of the month rolls around, who doesn't wish they had a handbook detailing exactly why they are simultaneously crying and craving mac 'n' cheese? Period Power: Harness Your Hormones and Get Your Cycle Working For You by Maisie Hill is exactly that.
The book, which aims to provide a scientific background to the rollercoaster of emotions we experience throughout our cycle, is based around Hill's 'cycle strategy', which she describes as "understanding the menstrual cycle as four distinct phases, corresponding to the four seasons of the year". Hill explains how every aspect of our lives – from energy to appetite, sleep to sexual desire – is impacted by where we are in the cycle, and how understanding that cycle can help us better understand our bodies.
In the following extract, Hill discusses how becoming a parent changes our hormonal balance, and how best to look after oneself while caring for a child.
When Parenting and PMS Collide
Rich and rewarding, oppressive and relentless, parenting presents a whole host of challenges. When you’re already struggling to take care of your basic needs, such as staying hydrated, eating regularly, and sleeping sufficiently, how can you tend to the other things that nourish you, like your close relationships, and your personal and professional ambitions? And I haven’t even got onto the complexities of what it does to your hormones and how tricky it is to navigate your menstrual cycle when the neverending demands placed upon you feel crushing, but your cycle forces you to reclaim something for yourself and of yourself, the inner seasons once more providing a way for you to explore your identity, desires, and needs.
Spring [the Follicular phase (oestrogen dominant)] and Summer [Ovulation] are great seasons to parent in. The playful and inquisitive nature of your Spring [Follicular] is a perfect match to hanging out with kids, and the increase in energy and positivity that you hopefully feel in your Summer [Ovulation] can make parenting so much easier, so be sure to capitalise on these seasons and schedule in dedicated time that you can enjoy with them. When it comes to supporting their sleep, committing to nappy training, or implementing a new schedule, start these endeavours in your Spring [Follicular] so that you do the bulk of the work when you’re feeling up to the challenge. Trying to get your kid to sleep through the night when you’re having a hard time in your Autumn [Luteal phase (progesterone dominant)] is not going to work out well.
In raising a human, you are doing the biggest job out there, but it’s one where you don’t necessarily benefit from seeing and celebrating the results of your constant hard work, either because you’re so entrenched in the tasks at hand that you can’t see the wood for the trees, or because you’re not working with others who can acknowledge what you’re doing and reflect back how they see you to you. Spring [Follicular] and Summer [Ovulation] can also be frustrating if you want to do work other than parenting but aren’t able to in the way that you used to, but a lack of time can be highly motivating, and you’ll likely surprise yourself with just how much you can get done. But despite it being the 21st century, it’s our willingness to set our ambition aside as mothers that’s expected and rewarded by society, and your return to work may be met with negativity. Even in writing this book I have been told that I can’t have it all i.e. be a mother and commit to such an intense project, but nobody has told my boyfriend that he can’t have it all.
Photographed by Jo Bridges
Most mums I know are desperate for time out, period, but particularly so during the Autumn [Luteal] and Winter [Menstruation (period)] phases of the cycle when premenstrual irritability and depression make you want to abandon ship. The overwhelming need to walk away and to retreat is often impossible when your children are young, and you can’t even poo on your own, they’re highly attuned to any attempt at separating and spending time apart, but for the sake of your sanity, it’s vital that you do. Remember, whatever bothers you in your Autumn [Luteal] is there all cycle long, but in the first half of your cycle oestrogen camouflages what’s going on, so it isn’t revealed until you hit your premenstruum. The combined effect of the heavy mental load experienced by mums, and the tendency for them to be doing the bulk of unpaid work in a household in terms of chores and practical and emotional caregiving, usually results in a tempestuous time in your Autumn [Luteal], even if all the thoughts and feelings you experience remain inside you. Keep track of what sets you into a fiery rage or a downward spiral of tears and depression and make plans to change matters. Not sure what it is that you need to do? I’ll hazard a guess that it involves doing less for other people and doing more for yourself.
If you suspect that you’re depressed, you’re not alone; 1 in 5 women have maternal mental health issues, and it’s no surprise given the lack of support available to us. We weren’t meant to do it alone and it really does take a whole village to raise a child, mainly because the parents need help staying sane. When you have a child there’s a tremendous shift within yourself and in your close relationships. You’re likely to be getting bugger all sleep so you can say hello to unstable blood sugar and mood, inflammation, and food cravings, and you’re less likely to be eating the healthy, nutrient-dense diet that you prioritised during pregnancy and more likely to be surviving on crappy carbs, sugar, and caffeine, which results in more inflammation and unstable blood sugar. With the combination of massive psychological and physiological changes in the year after childbirth, lack of support and suboptimal self-care it’s no wonder that so many of us experience mental health issues. If you’ve experienced a mental health issue in the past then there’s a 50 percent chance of it returning in the postpartum, and having a child can trigger premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD, the extreme form of PMS), which means it’s essential that you form a support team and develop a care plan before you have your baby.
Period Power: Harness Your Hormones and Get Your Cycle Working For You by Maisie Hill is available now from Bloomsbury, £12.99.

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