Hormonal imbalance is something pretty much all modern women are struggling with, to some degree or another. With all the plastics (read: xenoestrogens) in our environment, hormonal birth control and hormone replacement therapy women are put on, and stress of modern lives, it’s no wonder women’s hormones are out of whack. For many women, this hormonal imbalance manifests as chronic migraines, often at key times during the menstrual (moon) cycle. The most common time that a woman gets a menstrual migraine is right after ovulation, a few days prior to menstruation, or on day 3 of menstruation – though this varies from woman to woman.
I’ve written extensively on hormonal or menstrual migraines in my blog posts (Hormones and Migraine Part 1: Glutamate and Histamine; Part 2: Copper/Zinc Balance; and Part 3: Hormonal Birth Control is a Women’s Social Justice Issue). But today I want to explore some of the more social and cultural factors around migraine and moontime – why this time is so special and how we can honor it for greater hormonal, mental, emotional, and spiritual balance. And why I’m grateful to have a red tent in my back yard.
Initiation into Womanhood
When I was twelve years old and got my first moon, I had known with instinctive clarity that it was coming. Two weeks prior, one of my best childhood friends had gotten her first moon, and a week after I got mine, my other best friend did. Living in close community as we did, my and my friend’s cycles fired up for the first time very close together. I remember the cramps leading up to that first cycle and knowing in the depths of my bones that I was about to enter my fertile years, even before I had bled.
My mother and the mothers of my two best friends were so excited for us, they wanted to parade us – their glowing, fertile daughters – through the intentional community where I grew up in a procession, publicly honoring our bleed in a way they had never been honored when they got theirs. But it turned out we are all a bit more shy about this coming of age than our bold hippy mothers had anticipated, so instead they opted for a dinner out together, where they gifted us with beautiful Goddess necklaces they had strung up together.
My necklace had beautiful gold and vintage beads on it, as well as carved turquoise scarab beads. My mother saw me as a Goddess, and wanted to adorn me accordingly. I wore the necklace with pride, but it eventually broke. Every now and then I come across that loose turquoise scarab bead floating in my beadbox, and it’s a fun reminder of just how overjoyed my Mother was when I got my moon.
I was proud too, but it’s also around this time that I started to get mild headaches, and developed scoliosis. I now know this to be a sign of copper deficiency, but it took me 30 years of bleeding to connect the dots. I was also vaccinated for the first time at this age, and developed headaches whenever I ate food with MSG in it – which incidentally is used as a stabilizer in the Oral Polio Vaccine I had received.
By the time I was in my 30’s and my migraines had become chronic, I did not think of my migraine pattern as being hormonal at all – because I lived in a chronic headache 30 days out of the month. But as I healed my migraines, I began to see and understand that there was an underlying hormonal component to them, as the last migraines to go were right before and during my moon.
My chronic migraines coincided with a traumatic c-section (read: poisoning by pharmaceutical meds), total overhwelm from sleep deprivation and breastfeeding while I tried to heal from surgery, feelings of isolation as my family moved constantly with no nearby family support to help raise my son. I had no close women friends and no sense of rootedness in village or place. I was malnourished on every single level, and my connection with my inner Divine Feminine was also severed. All I did was research how to heal from migraines – for years and years.
Even now, I have to be more careful around my moon time. I have done extensive experiments into copper/zinc balance to support different phases of my cycle. But as much as I love mineral balancing, my efforts to understand migraine and why women get migraine so much more frequently have all led me to explore more of the social, spiritual, and cultural aspects of women’s hormonal health and imbalance.
This journey has led me to conclude that healing migraine is a feminist revolution that is calling on us to not only nourish ourselves with excellent nutrition, but also to provide ourselves with the ultimate form of nourishment that only we can provide: the ability to honour our menstrual cycle and along with it our emotional cycles as we learn to remain authentic to who we really are as women. This process involves shedding the programs that use the male as the default icon of humanhood, and instead sink in to the inner wisdom, instincts, and changes inherent to our fertile female bodies.
Clare Blake, founder of Fertility Massage Therapy, says,
“Physically, when we release our bleed, we’re releasing that lining, but we’re energetically releasing all that we’ve taken on for that whole month, and then we’re letting it go. If we don’t slow down and don’t listen to our bodies throughout the month, and we don’t honour our menstrual cycle, then our bodies are going to give us painful periods, and problems with our periods – because it’s our womb literally screaming out at us, You’re not listening to me!”
The hormonal imbalance starts with the loss of the village and is exacerbated by patriarchal culture.
As I’ve already mentioned, the fact that women’s hormonal health is so compromised is seriously affected by environmental factors (read: pollution), not to mention the practice of putting women on hormonal birth control to “regulate” their cycles (no such thing occurs – hormonal birth control is actually a form of chemically-induced menopause).
But perhaps equally debilitating to women’s health is the loss of the village. While some women may live in close proximity to other menstruating women or in close-knit communities, many more of us modern women move frequently, may not live close enough to other menstruating women to sync up with them, and certainly do not live lives in which the menstraul phase of our hormonal cycles is honored as a special time to retreat and take it easy.
To put it simply, having close relationships with women (women you physically see, not just communicate with digitally) is vital to women’s health. Through close relationship in community and friendship, women learn to validate one another’s experiences as normal, they can feel understood, and they support one another in ways that a male partner cannot.
Women hormonally help to regulate one another as well. I knew I was finally healing after my husband and I bought a property in the beautiful Columbia Gorge, right next door to an amazing Goddess who has since become my best friend. Our cycles started to synch up after about four months getting closer. We now help each other with childcare, inspire each other, hear each other, and generally support one another. Oh, and she has built a Red Tent on her property which borders ours.
Only recently have I begun to develop clearer boundaries around moontime to pace myself better and take on less. As nurturers, especially in the childbearing years, women often feel guilty for taking time to themselves.
As Lisa Hendrixson-Jack points out in her excellent book The Fifth Vital Sign,
“[O]ur worthiness is judged in comparison to male counterparts. Since men don’t share our experience of monthly cycling (and menstruation), we’re expected to actively hide our periods from the world, both physically and emotionally. Beyond hiding any physical evidence of our monthly bleed with menstrual products, there’s an added expectation that our productivity will remain unchanged. . . . Advertisements for tampons and pads convey the message that your periods shouldn’t hold you back. Somehow it’s always a sunny day, the women are always wearing white, they appear to be overjoyed (for no apparent reason), and they’re usually in the midst of some sort of strenuous physical activity. They’re determined to do the exact same activities they’d be doing if they weren’t on their periods. Except they are on their periods.
PMS = “Please Make Space”
Personally, I’ve never had very bad PMS, though I have a constant craving, especially since being a mother, for more personal space. My pattern has been one in which I feel emotionally just fine right before my period, and need more space during it. Either way, it’s vital that as women, we learn to claim our own space in order to heal and simply tap in to ourselves.
As more and more women are faced with hormonal imbalance, some of them are starting to see it as a signal to wake up to the inner calling of their Divine Feminine.
I recently had the pleasure of hearing Allie McFee talk in the red tent at Beloved Sacred Art and Music Festival near the Oregon Coast. I love Allie’s renaming of Premenstrual Syndrome to stand for “Please Make Space.”
Allie is an amazing Goddess who runs an online coaching practice called Modern Goddess Lifestyle. Her own journey waking up to the sacredness of her moon cycle started with a health crisis. Coming off hormonal birth control and going through a stressful breakup while being lead chef at a raw vegan restaurant, she was faced with two week long bleeds, exhaustion, insomnia, and emotional turmoil. She took the health crisis as a wake-up call.
In her article “How Listening to My Womb Changed my Life“, Allie explains her healing process:
I began to study my monthly cycle, to understand my body and its endocrinology of fluctuating hormones. My OBGYN had diagnosed me with high estrogen and low progesterone (Estrogen Dominance), and high cortisol- and offered synthetic hormones for my body to regulate. I chose the path of studying my body as a scientist would, by eating certain foods to balance my hormones naturally and to heal the emotional energetics of what I stored in my sacral chakra, my womb.
The journey of the living from the womb was journey of peeling back unconscious layers of doubting myself and my decisions, feeling guilty over my food choices, shaming my body and my sexuality, and never thinking I was good enough. I released these emotions each month in a ceremonial release ritual as I began my menstrual bleed, which eventually decreased to three to five days.
Looking over my notes from her course titled “Sacred Transitions: Nutrition and Ritual for Ease in Moonstration, Peri-Moonpause & Moonpause”, I really appreciate her emphasis on eating differently at different times of the month to support fluctuating hormones. Below are a few nuggets from her talk:
Let’s rename PMS to stand for “Please Make Space”
As a culture, we talk about the phases of female development as: Maiden, mother, crone. But we’ve left out the enchantress.
Heavy bleeding of long duration is a sign of high estrogen.
The liver breaks down all hormones, so hormonal health involves liver health.
- The spleen suffers with consumption of too many sweets and this affects iron absorption and the thyroid hormones. Eat no more than 26 g of sugar per day.
- During the luteal phase (2nd half of cycle) the veil is thin, and things swept under the carpet in the first half of the cycle start to be released.
- All hormones are made from cholesterol, so we need to eat cholesterol for hormonal balance.
In the follicular phase (fist two weeks of cycle) when estrogen is higher we don’t need as many amino acids and protein as we do when we are in the luteal phase.
We need enough fiber fat and protein to sustain progesterone levels in the follicular phase.
Seed Cycling: Eat pumpkin seeds and flax oil in the first half of the cycle, sesame and sunflower seeds in second half.
- Women are more in tune with spiritual downloads during menstruation. Tune in to your priorities for your next cycle during your moon.
- Allie does a rage practice to release anger during menstruation.
- Ask yourself, “What do I want to birth in my life that I’ve swept under the rug?”
With menopause hormones come from adrenals and fat cells not ovaries. Women going into menopause with adrenal fatigue will have a harder transition.
Vitamin E 400 is important for hot flashes. A yoni steam with Damiana herb is great to help with vaginal dryness in post-menopause.
Energy goes vertical with cronehood. In this time women receive energy from the spirit realm and can enhance their connection to self thru ritual.
I also love the 5 main lessons Allie learned from womb-centered living (from “How Listening to My Womb Changed my Life“):
1) I am a cyclical being with a monthly rhythm: my energy, mood, emotions, and sex drive fluctuate throughout the month. I am not meant to show up every day the same in a linear way; I am primordial Divine Feminine energy and my womb holds the energetics of opposites: death and rebirth.
2) I am microcosm of Nature. Just as there is a cycle of expansion and contraction of summer into winter, my womb has seasons. I shed my uterine lining each month (winter), and rebuild it each month (spring). My ovary releases an egg and I am fertile (summer), and then my uterine lining thickens to sustain a pregnancy if conception occurred (autumn).The types of food I now eat fluctuate in harmony with the needs of my hormones. I eat lighter foods that are high in antioxidants: berries, greens, avocados, nuts and seeds in my inner spring and summer months to aid in fertility, and foods with more fat and protein in my inner autumn and winter months to reduce food cravings and prepare to bleed.
3) My womb is the cauldron of my creative energy. My ovaries generate sparks of new ideas with the release of 15-20 eggs each month and they manufacture estrogen, a hormone that makes me creative and great at multi-tasking. My womb holds this creative energy and grows the ideas throughout my monthly cycle. When I listen to my inner desires: my artistic passion and then take action- I am able to birth what’s in my inner realms into the physical world. I create my life from listening to my womb. My womb shares with me where to place my attention each month.
4) My womb holds lessons from past lover imprinting and any time I shamed my sexuality, doubted my creative ability to birth my dreams, or hid my true self and desires in fear of being judged. Imprinting can occur when I am making choices based on people pleasing. I align with self-respect and self-love to make decisions. I hold releasing ceremonies to release stored fear, guilt, shame, & doubt from my body. I fully occupy my body, mind, and heart with LOVE and clear intentions for all I do.
5) As my womb expands and contracts, it holds the energetics of polarities, and teaches me “Yes” vs “No.” Knowing my boundaries comes from a place of love and clarity for my long-term goals and priorities. This helps me live my desires and creative pursuits instead of them getting stifled in an ever-overflowing task-oriented schedule. When I make space for my juicy yes’s, this builds momentum and energy- so I am actually able to accomplish more and give from an overflowing cup.
Be sure to check out Allie’s website for more insight. I especially love her article: “Can Your Menstrual Cycle Strengthen Your Relationship?”. Keep in mind though that many of her food suggestions for hormonal balance are not necessarily low-histamine or geared towards those with migraine.
What if both migraines and menstruation are actually both a reset feature?
Have you ever considered that your migraines might be an intelligent response from your body? That they’re only a symptom of a much deeper problem, and that your brain might be swelling as an adaptive response to oxidative stress?
Well, Lisa Hendrixson Jack sees difficult periods in a similar way – when we have health problems, they’re trying to tell us something, and they are an intelligent signal by the body – not a malfunction.
“As women, we’ve been programmed with a monthly reset feature. It’s as though there’s a force within you that knew you would be such an amazing light for everyone else that you’d forget to shine it on yourself. Your period ensures that you pay attention to your own needs once in awhile. Oh, and if you try to ignore it, it just keeps banging on your door until you start paying attention.”
I’ve written about the importance of considering that your migraines are your body’s way of trying to tell you something important in this blog post here.
Now imagine a world where we as women (Goddesses) actually not only listened to that call, but regularly took part in rhythmic rituals of self-care that helped us to deepen into our feminine wisdom and changing times of our hormonal cycles.
To Heal Your Migraines, Honor Your Cyclic Nature
I believe it is very difficult to heal migraines if we as women are always putting our center outside ourself, comparing ourselves to men, pretending like nothing unusual is happening when we’re menstruating, or feel that hormones and womanhood are a negative experience. Hormonal imbalance and the problems it causes are a call by our sacred body to come back to our center and honor our uniquely feminine way of being in the world.
If we have migraines during our period, our body is asking us very urgently to slow down and tune in.
I’ll leave Lisa Hendrixson-Jack with the last word on this one:
“What would happen if you embraced the natural ebb and flow of your menstrual cycle? What if you allowed yourself to go deeply into your feelings of frustration, unhappiness, or even anger during your premenstrual phase? What if you allowed yourself to experience these feelings as they arose, without judgement, and took the necessary time to discover what you could learn from them? In case you need to hear this, I give you permission to feel however you need to feel when you have your period.”
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The information in this article is for educational purposes only and not meant to replace diagnosis, treatment, or prescription by a qualified medical professional.