As moms we tend to know a lot about our menstrual cycle – it is what got us pregnant after all! But there’s still a lot we don’t know simply because we weren’t taught. This week we’re talking to Period Coach Sarah Starrs about everything to do with our menstrual cycle and period! Sarah is not only a period coach but a period coach for parents, so stay tuned for some great tips about how we can make our menstrual cyle work for our lives.
You’re probably thinking about the different stages of the menstrual cycle and what that all means (which we will be getting into) – but what we’re also looking at is using our menstrual cycles to help in our parenting, and also knowing what stages of our cycle are best for different activities. Tracking our cycles, while maybe sounding a little tedious or difficult, can help us to learn the innerworkings of our body and plan our daily lives accordingly.
In this episode we’re going to talk about how the menstrual cycle affects us (both physically and mentally), how the cycle actually works within our bodies, and how we can start having a conversation with our kids about this. Sex ed was really lacking in school and a lot of us missed out on the importance of knowing all about menstruation – which is why we’re here with this episode!
Want more exclusive and amazing content? Join the UM Club! We have a new guest and topic every week, so make sure to join now and never miss out on an episode!
Vulva 101 with Vulva Expert Jo Corrall
Menstrual Health with Stefanie Miska
Pelvic Floor Health with Kim the Vagina Coach
Reclaiming Your Hormone Health with Laura Martire
Preventing Child Sex Abuse and Consent Parenting with Rosalia Rivera from Consent Parenting
Sarah Starrs is a period coach for parents, with parents. She helps parents who feel exhausted and burnt out from doing everything for everyone feel nourished, fulfilled, connected, and joyful through the powers of their menstrual cycles.
In This Episode We Talk About
01:05 – Who is Sarah?
05:17 – The goal of the menstrual cycle.
09:01 – The four stages of the menstrual cycle
29:32 – How do we start tracking our cycles?
34:35 – The different ways we can track our cycles.
38:27 – How tracking our cycles can help us with parenting.
45:03 – Talking to your kids about menstruation.
51:54 – Final thoughts and advice.
54:24 – Where to find Sarah!
Watch the Video
Listen to the Audio
Join the UM Club!
UM Club Facebook page
Sarah’s website: sarahstarrs.com
Cyclic Parenting 101 Ebook
How to talk to kids about periods
Sarah’s Instagram: @SarahStarrs_
Sarah’s email: [email protected]
Code Red by Lisa Lister
The Red Journal by Lisa Lister
This Is A Vulva
Read the Full Conversation
Hello and welcome to another episode inside the Unapologetic Moms Club! Today we are welcoming Sarah Starrs. Welcome.
Thank you so much for having me.
Thank you for being here. She is going to dig in and teach us her wisdom about menstrual cycle awareness and how we can actually incorporate some of this knowledge into our parenting. So, as I’ve mentioned within our community, I’ve personally been more and more interested in all of this. I know you have as well for our listeners here. So I’m really excited to dig into this topic with you.
Oh, thank you. Yeah, it’s one that is near and dear to my heart, and I think has the ability for those of us who do have menstrual cycles. And even for those of us who don’t, whether that’s due to chronic health issues, or surgery, or pregnancy, or menopause, or being born without female sex hormones, you can still get a lot of wisdom from cyclic living as well. So I think there’s something in it for everyone really.
Absolutely. So let’s start out. Let’s just hear a little bit more about who you are, what you do, and why you’re so passionate about this.
So my name is Sarah Starrs, that is my real name. That’s something that people always ask. And I am an accredited cycle coach through the Cycle Coach School, and I will work predominantly with parents with periods, who are feeling usually exhausted, overwhelmed, and often like they’ve lost some important parts of themselves in parenting, and perhaps they don’t fully know who they are anymore. And through one-to-one coaching and workshops and online courses, I really help them use the powers of their menstrual cycles. And we can talk a bit more about what those powers are in this conversation.
But to bring more joy and ease, nourishment, connection, rest, joy, and playfulness back into their lives, using those powers of the menstrual cycle. And I’m so passionate about it because of how much it’s changed my own life. I discovered menstrual cycle awareness seven years ago, I met my now friend Lisa Lister at a workshop in London. And she had just released her book Code Red, which is all about kind of the psycho-spiritual, as well as the scientific basis of the menstrual cycle. And it just transformed so much for me.
And then a couple of years later, I had my son. And I just felt a bit adrift with a lot of the information that’s prevalent in the menstrual cycle awareness kind of field, things like people will recommend taking three days off and fully resting when you’re bleeding. And I don’t think that’s particularly realistic for most people, but especially when you have a young child who’s like literally dependent on your body for sustenance. And more and more, I could see how the wisdom of menstrual cycle awareness and cyclic living was really profoundly transformative for our family and how we want to live. But it was taking some experimentation to see how it could really be adopted to parenting and just find my groove with it again, within parenting.
And as I did, I found it was really powerful for shaping how I wanted to parent as well. So I wanted to really share that with other parents, because I think more and more people are getting curious about their menstrual cycles and what it means to live in alignment with the menstrual cycle. And I think a lot of the information out there isn’t super accessible for parents.
Mm hmm. I love so much about that. I think it’s a really neat perspective. Because so many of us, as we become moms, we tend to lose ourselves in motherhood, where our entire life changes, our sole focus tends to shift on to the kids, and we tend to lose ourselves in that, deal with a lot of overwhelm. And it takes some time to kind of realign after that experience. And as cyclic menstruating people, that is such a big part of ourselves and how our body works and how we’re able to show up for our family and in so many other ways. And so I really like how you kind of marry those things together to help women kind of find themselves again and be happy in creating the different lifestyle they want that does run in sync with their menstrual cycles. It’s really interesting.
Yeah, I think there’s an opportunity for our menstrual cycle to be really this compass back to ourselves. And we can go into a little bit more as, you know, as we dive deeper into the how and the what. But there’s this way through having a menstrual cycle every month that you’re going through this process of creative possibility, of planting the seeds and intentions and bringing them to life, and integrating them, learning from them, kind of pruning away what’s not working. There’s this process of death and decay at menstruation. But there’s this real process of learning more and more about ourselves cycle after cycle. And being super intentional with what we’re creating in our lives is really coded in the cycle.
And I think that’s such a beautiful way for parents who go through that profound initiation, which is really destabilizing and decentering. And often, I think in our culture, like you say, at least losing lots of parts of ourselves in the process, and the cycle can really be this way back home to the self.
Yes, I love that. And like we can be so caught up in being busy and go, go, go and wanting to make these shifts, and I love how you touched on there is the cycle with the death and decay that helps pave the way for rebirth. So let’s get into things. I’m really curious. In your submission, you had mentioned the overall goal of the menstrual cycle. And I know personally, previously for me, I had always thought of things as like, it’s your period. And so it’s kind of you get your period every few days, and you might feel kind of crummy for it. For me, it was personally in my younger days of “woohoo I’m not pregnant.” And that was kind of it. But as I’ve been expanding my own personal knowledge, and Lisa Lister has actually been a big part of that as well, I’ve been kind of learning that it feels as though it’s kind of the cycle of me, and how I’m able to show up in different ways. So I’m really interested in hearing your perspective of what the goal in the menstrual cycle is.
So from a really physiological perspective, like you say, I think most of us grow up and our introduction is like your menstrual cycle is your period. And it’s a few days a month or you know, perhaps a bit longer, perhaps a bit shorter, but that’s your menstrual cycle, it’s your period. And actually your menstrual cycle is this ongoing, repetitive dynamic cycle that you are in all of the time. And, you know, when we talk about this, we often talk about the archetypal 28 to 29 day cycle, but it might be a bit shorter, a bit longer. And those who are dealing with certain chronic health issues, it could be quite a bit longer.
But when we – God, sex ed just failed us so badly. I hope it’s better, but I don’t have a lot of confidence that it is. So you know, it’s kind of just like this idea, your period is your menstrual cycle and don’t have sex because you’ll get pregnant. When really, the overall goal of this menstrual cycle that we are within some phase of it all of the time, in our menstruating years, unless we are pregnant or have other things going on stopping it, but for the most part. And the overall goal of the menstrual cycle is ovulation so that you can get pregnant.
And the reason that I mentioned that is I just think it’s so important to note, in understanding, I think there’s a lot of power in understanding our bodies. And so understanding that through the menstrual cycle, the goal is to ovulate. Well, there’s a few different things there. You can start to understand that there’s actually only about a five to six day window when you can actually get pregnant every month. So you could use a method like fertility awareness to track ovulation and understand your fertility whether to try to conceive or to try to prevent pregnancy, that can be really empowering.
But also, again, you can track ovulation without using it as contraception. And it’s really empowering information to know because you can know then really consistently when you’re going to get your period – which just, I don’t know, I went for a lot of my life with my period consistently taking me by surprise and being like, “oh, okay, that’s what was going on there. I haven’t completely lost my mind. I just was premenstrual.”
And see, I think, again, there are different phases of the menstrual cycle, but really the main goal is to reach that point of ovulation, releasing an egg. And then if pregnancy does not occur, then we move down through the rest of the cycle to menstruation. And, yeah, I think that’s helpful to know. And then it makes sense of the four phases of the menstrual cycle and what they’re kind of trying to achieve at each phase.
Yeah, so let’s dig into that more. Let’s hear what each of those four phases are. And kind of what happens throughout those phases, how it affects us.
Yeah, so we start off in pre-ovulation, and so there’s a beautiful framework that comes out of Red School, and the two women who founded that particular school of thought, and that’s the idea of relating the four phases of the menstrual cycle to the seasons of Mother Earth. So in pre-ovulation, we can think of that as our inner spring. And I think that just gives us something to really relate to and think of how we feel in our bodies. But the goal of pre-ovulation is your body is starting to release the hormones that will stimulate the follicles of your ovaries so that the ovary will release an egg into your fallopian tube, in case you are going to get pregnant that month.
And there’s this real rise of energy that can start to take place there as we’ve just been menstruating and then some energy starts to come back. And a lot of people find this as a time when they are really interested in planning and organizing, you might start to feel like you want to be a bit more social, the libido starts to rise here. But there’s also a real tenderness in this phase, and you’re starting to get your energy back after bleeding. But it’s not fully in its expansive blooming phase yet. So there can be a real tenderness that people experience there.
And then we move into ovulation. So when the egg actually does get released, and you’ve got a real peak of hormones there. I’ve got an ebook on my website, if you want to download it for free, that just kind of shows you, if you’re like nerdy about things like this, just shows you like the chart of those hormones, which can be interesting. But you get a real surge of estrogen there and also a little boost of testosterone. So you can have some big sexy feelings there. And there’s this real peak of energy. A lot of people find themselves feeling really social, outgoing, productive, and confident in that phase.
And then right after ovulation, because that egg once it’s been released. I don’t know how much detail to go into here, but once it’s been released, it’s only viable for about 24 hours. But you will have been fertile for a few days before the egg is released. Because the cervical mucus that you released at that time is, I mean, it’s magical, but it’s like specifically designed to keep sperm alive for those few days until the egg is released. So if you’ve had unprotected sex in those days before you can get pregnant, and then while the egg is viable for about 24 hours, and then it breaks down and will be released when you menstruate.
But there’s a quite a sudden drop off of hormones after ovulation, so you can think of that as the inner summer. But there can also be this phase right after ovulation that you can kind of think, of that late summer feeling almost when things have gotten maybe a bit too much, at least where I grew up in Ontario, like it’s too hot. Now it’s kind of oppressively, there’s like a sense of too muchness, before you start getting a little bit of rise in progesterone and things start to mellow out a little bit.
So once you enter premenstruation, the premenstrum, that is what I think a lot of people – it’s the one that I most commonly hear people having difficulty with. But there’s, again, your estrogen is really low there. So there’s a real mellowness here that’s caused by progesterone, but there’s a real coming into the self, self-reflection, often quite tenderness, a lot of emotions coming to the surface. And the hormones that were helping us kind of get through the day, so to speak, and to put up with a lot of thing, they bottom-out here.
So people experience it as this kind of – I just think of it as like you’ve got no more tolerance for bullshit, right? Like if there are things that you’re putting up with, there’s things that weren’t working in your life, that you’ve been able to kind of cover it up and gloss over them, they become abundantly clear in the premenstrum. And often I think we find this to be a real inconvenience, we think we’re just being irrational. But I think there’s a real gift here if we can look at those things that are being revealed to us as not working and make some changes. But that’s difficult, and it can be very, very tender. Yeah, there can be a lot of emotions coming up here, a real need to slow down and rest, which is so difficult as parents and I think is why a lot of challenges come up here in the premenstrum.
And then obviously right down into the inner winter that is menstruation. So your womb will have been building up a lining, the endometrium, to prepare if a pregnancy was to take place, and the fertilized egg wasn’t too new to implant. And if pregnancy does not occur, then that’s all released. And that’s what your menstrual blood contains. So you know, that’s at a time when our hormones are at their absolute lowest, thinking about those main sex hormones. Progesterone has bottomed out, so has estrogen, and there’s just this real invitation to rest and recharge, which can be so difficult to meet as parents and in our culture.
So I think, again, that’s a space where a lot of difficulties can come up, because the gifts of that phase of the menstrual cycle are difficult to receive in a world where we’re kind of expected to go go go. But that I mean, that’s quite a whistle to stop at. There’s some great books out there. Like we mentioned Code Red. If you want to go really deep in, we could do a whole conversation just on each of the four phases individually. Or I do have a free ebook on my website, where you can get a little bit more detail about that and what to expect in each of those four phases, and knowing that your experience is the ultimate guide.
Your experience sometimes can point to some imbalances going on. If you’re noticing that, for example, you have absolutely zero energy at ovulation, that can be a sign that there’s some different things going on that might need some attention. But overall, it’s absolutely okay if you don’t kind of completely line up with that archetypal cycle. I think that’s always important to say, because our bodies and our experiences and our cycles will always be so unique. So that’s kind of the whistle stop tour. But there are lots of resources out there if you wanted to dive deeper into understanding them.
Yeah, thank you, you really laid that out really well. I personally find it really interesting hearing about specific hormones and how they go up and down. And in terms of the ovulation I also find it really interesting. So like you said that egg becomes viable for 24 hours. But because of our like, cervical mucus, it kind of stores and hosts the sperm in a way for multiple days, would you say like up to four or five days?
Yeah, so I think generally people say there’s like a five to six day window when you get pregnant. And it’s really interesting, and this can be part of fertility awareness, is where you’re tracking your cervical mucus to understand when you’re fertile. And I mean, it’s like a, you know, one of those things where some people hear cervical mucus, and I think, you know, they’re just gonna check out. But that at that time, the cervical mucus is designed to be able to transport and store the sperm and keep it safe, basically.
And there’s actually research now showing – because this is, I don’t know, again, like maybe like a sex ed video kind of cliche of like the fastest sperm that gets to the egg. And it’s now showing that there’s this really incredible kind of relationship of the cervical mucus and it filters out the sperm that it doesn’t want, that’s not as viable. And so it’s actually part of the process of selecting what would be the most viable, attractive sperm for conception. And then other times of the month, because the pH of your vagina changes based on your menstrual cycle, at other times of the month cervical mucus is really inhospitable to sperm. So it’s only at that time that it does this kind of nurturing, protective filtering thing. And then other times it’s not sperm friendly at all, and will kill it.
Our bodies are so freaking cool. And I love that we’re able to just talk about these things so openly too. I have a previous episode with Jo Corrall from This Is A Vulva. And she’s put together this awesome vaginal discharge gallery, because I think it’s something that every woman experiences in one way or another, it’s very different for all of us. But it’s also something that’s not talked about very often. And I know like, for me, it was something I would kind of hide, kind of the remnants that you’d see in underwear always make sure it’s folded or tucked, so no one notices. But it’s a part of being a woman and the cyclical nature. And I love just having open conversations about this so we can be more aware of what this is, what our bodies do, what its purpose is.
And I used to, for a while, I was on birth control pills for so so long. And I didn’t want to take those hormones anymore. So I tried to kind of be cyclic aware, using an app. And I think I had this big disconnection, like you said, like it really is about us and our experience, but I was going to the app for answers. And of course, it didn’t know my body, it’s going by that typical 28 day cycle. And we ended up pregnant and we have our kids. But now with all the awareness I’m doing, I can tell just from my vaginal discharge if I’m ovulating, it is so clear and obvious, now that I have that awareness. So I’d love to hear from you. What are the benefits overall of having this awareness of our menstrual cycles and how we can start to track and kind of be more aware and take more control of this full cycle that we experience?
Yeah, and I will put that as like a caveat out there that do not rely on an app as a form of contraception. There is one that’s really popular called Clue. Basically, if the app is going to tell you when you’re in your fertile window and when you’re ovulating, if the app is telling you that, it is based on the rhythm method, it’s based on an assumption that you have a 28 day cycle and you ovulate every 14 days. And it’s just not true, lots of people get pregnant without wanting to that way.
Generally there are cervical mucus only forms a fertility awareness method. Most of them combine it with another sign, generally your basal body temperature. And you really want to be learning the method from a qualified practitioner. And then using either an app or a pen to paper charting method where you have to interpret the data, which a practitioner will teach you to do to confirm ovulation. Because that is the only tried and trusted way to use it as contraceptive. And it is then 99.9% accurate as most forms of birth control are around that, as well. So it is possible, but yeah, there’s a lot of misleading apps out there. I feel like I should have mentioned that.
So the benefits – I mean, I think they’re so wide ranging. I think this information about our bodies and like changing our relationship to our bodies is so powerful in and of itself. Even just hearing that what you were saying, in reply to cervical mucus, like the things that I grew up hearing – especially from teenage boys who didn’t know fucking anything about vaginas, like they, you know, I am sure there was not a lot of experience there. But certainly the things, you know, like vaginas are smelly, and that any kind of discharge is gross. And it’s just so not true.
I mean, cervical mucu, smells good. Like, it’s earthy and gorgeous and I mean – I know, again, people are like “you are weird.” But if there’s like a really a big smell then that’s obviously a science thing.
But I just think we need to reclaim these parts of our bodies that are so natural, that are so beautiful and interesting when you look at all the things that they’re doing to support us. And that knowledge is really powerful in terms of body acceptance and positivity. But I think the benefits go so far beyond that and beyond the physiological of whether like trying to conceive or preventing pregnancy. Because for me, when you start tracking your cycle, I think it’s like creating a bespoke to you self-help book. And not a self-help book that’s saying, “you have to do these five things to have a good life.” It’s real from your body, but also from those deeper parts of yourself, however you relate to that.
It’s real in the moment information about your needs and your desires, and what you find pleasurable – because whether you pay attention to it or not, if you have a menstrual cycle, your menstrual cycle is impacting you physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually if you believe that. All the time and every moment, it’s impacting how you show up with your kids and your partner and your friends. It’s impacting how you feel creatively, sexually, it’s impacting what kind of foods you want to eat, and how much, and what your energy levels are. So regardless of whether you pay attention to it, that’s happening.
But when you can start to track it, you’ll start to see patterns. Oh, okay, on day 25 if anyone talks to me, I just want them to shut the fuck up, right? Oh, when I’m like, on day 14, I feel really good in my body, and I want to dance or do this. And you can start to see those patterns, which I just think are so helpful to know. And I think there’s this huge self-compassion that can develop when you think – I hear from so many parents who are like, “oh, when I’m premenstrual, I just feel like a terrible mom.” And I get that, I get what it’s like to have a tiny human needing me on a day when I just do not want to be needed, when I want to kind of retreat from the world.
But I think that understanding the why, why I’m feeling that way, and that it doesn’t say anything about who I am as a person, but it’s, you know, this thing that’s going on in my body, and that’s affecting me and it impacts how I show up. It’s not gonna say anything about how I feel tomorrow or yesterday, there’s a huge self-compassion that can come there. But also, when we see those patterns emerge, we can start to make changes to align with them a little bit. So, you know, I kind of know not to make wild involved plans for my child when I’m going to be premenstrual because I know I don’t have the capacity for that. And I know that I can probably do a bit more earlier in my cycle. And so I might plan outings then or I might plan to do some batch cooking. So that we’ve got meals in the freezer when I have less energy. I just think there’s so many little tiny doable things.
And I don’t want to sugarcoat it. We live in a world that’s designed very linearly, it’s set up mostly for people who have a 24-hour hormonal cycle, which is people with male sex hormones. It’s not designed in the cyclic way, but there are so many ways that we can make in attuning to it once we understand it. And I think once you start paying attention by checking in every day about how you feel and what you’re wanting, and you know what brings you pleasure that day. When you start checking in with those things, it just builds this growing self-awareness that, like I say, becomes this compass home.
Because if you’ve really lost yourself – because parenting in this world without a village is overwhelming. And it’s so understandable that most of us end up feeling a bit lost in it and like we’re losing parts of ourselves. And I think we can start reclaiming them, calling them back to us, through this practice of cycle charting.
Yes, I love so many parts of that, and how you touched on just being self-aware, helps create the space for a compass home. A recurring theme within our community in different ways, and with myself, is that there’s so much magic in the pause. I think I even posted about this on my stories this morning. We are in a world that is so go, go, go, go, go. And it’s just kind of one thing after the other in terms of schedules, to-do lists, and things like that. But there’s so much magic in taking time to pause, to breathe, to reset our nervous system, to reflect and really look at how we’re feeling, what we want to do and kind of make those different actions to adjust and do all of those different tiny little habits.
I know in specific relation to this, I’ve been starting to track my menstrual cycle. Haven’t been as consistent as I want to be, working on that. But since around December, I think I went full-blown into loving Lisa Lister and taking in so many other pieces of work. And the different benefits I’ve noticed, just over the last few months, is one I kept in relation to work. I’m doing these different launches and things like that, and just like completely crashing and burning afterwards, because it was this massive energy output.
And I was timing it around my premenstrual phase, and hadn’t necessarily put those two pieces together. And when I was going through my tracking and noticing this, I made the shift to try and time them out with my ovulating period. And there was such a massive change, like I was more excited to show up, I felt better about what I was putting out there. And I wasn’t just completely depleting myself because I was ready to be in that specific state at the time.
And then in terms of like sexuality with my partner, I noticed “oh, in more of the premenstrual phase, I’m extremely ticklish. And like I don’t like certain kinds of touch that I really like in other times.” And being able to be aware of that and communicate it – and it’s not necessarily like you’re doing something wrong, I don’t like that. It’s right now with how my body feels it shows up in that way. And so that is better for this time. But let’s kind of stay away from that when I’m in this phase. And being able to be aware of that and communicate it and the why behind it is being really helpful in those moments.
And then in terms of parenting and things like that I’ve – throughout the pandemic I kind of coined it my like pandemic pre-period breakdown. And it was always like one or two days before my period. But I was very unaware that that was the timing of it. I would have a full-blown meltdown and be just depressed and anxious and like the world is falling apart. But in tracking it and being aware of it now, these last few months, when I start to feel that way, it’s “oh, I know what this is, I know to just kind of like feel it, let it happen, but that there’s an end to it, that I don’t need to like fully just kind of crash and burn thinking of these things, like it’s okay,” and work through those.
And then I’ve also been learning to spend more time kind of journaling and resting and reflecting in kind of the premenstrual and menstrual phases and spend more time kind of going out and enjoying things in the other phases. And so it really has helped me and kind of align my lifestyle in so many different avenues going through that.
So I’m curious for those that are interested in all of this. How can we start tracking our cycles? You had mentioned kind of like digital and pen to paper, like what does that all look like?
Yeah, so tracking your cycle for fertility awareness method is a whole different thing, like I say, if you’re wanting to track your cycle for contraceptive purposes, or for trying to conceive which is hugely empowering, definitely work with a practitioner to do that.
But in terms of tracking your cycle for this kind of more cycle syncing, people call it, but like bringing your life into greater alignment with your cycle and that kind of self-awareness piece. There are lots of different options for apps or pen to paper, or some people like to use something called a cycle Mandala. Again, I do have a free ebook on my website, if you go to it, I list out a lot of my favorite apps and different options. Whatever method you use, the best one is always just going to be the one that’s easiest for you to stick to.
And so, you know, you could get started right now with a pen and paper and you’re just working out the first day of your menstrual cycle. So when there was bright red kind of full blood, not spotting, that is day one of your menstrual cycle. So if you can figure out when your last menstrual cycle started, and then count forward from there, you’ll know what cycle day you’re on.
So it’s just a matter of taking a couple of minutes, it can just be one or two minutes every day as consistently as possible. And writing down what cycle day you’re on, the date – lots of us like to put down the moon phase if you’ve got that kind of witchy lunar vibe going on as well. And then just taking a couple of notes. So my teacher, Claire Baker, talks about doing a four body check-in, which I find really helpful. And again, in that ebook, I’ve listed loads of questions that you could consider, not because you need to answer all of them.
But just to give you some ideas of things that you could write about. So for things like physically, what were your energy levels like, if you have any kind of chronic pain what were your pain levels like? What kind of foods did you want to eat? What was your appetite like? Emotionally are there some feeling words, or you could describe how you were feeling that day? Or kind of the quality and intensity of your emotions? Mentally, what kind of thoughts were on repeat that day? Things like what were the kind of quality and peace and subject matter of your thoughts that were coming naturally that day? Those can be great things to bring note of.
And if you consider yourself spiritual at all, this could be things like, how did you feel creatively, or what was your connection like with your spirituality and yourself, your sense of self. Often I find, in my meditation practice, the kind of connection that I have there can feel really different throughout the cycle. So that can be interesting to note. And it can be really helpful. Like, for example, if you think there’s a cyclic pattern, for example, that you’re wanting to get more information about, whether it’s things like your appetite, or your energy levels, or it could be anything. Just making sure that you take a note of that every day in your charting.
And again, it could just be a few words about that thing, like really hard to sleep last night, had a great sleep last night, like slept for 12 hours, whatever it is, making note of that in your charting every day. And after a few months, you’ll find that you can go back and start to pull out those patterns that are emerging. So like I used to have the pre-period breakdowns as well. So really locating where those are in your cycle, and what patterns are emerging, really seeing what your energy looks like over the course of a cycle, noticing if there are days where you feel more social or less social. And after a few months, you really have a chance to go back over your charts and see where some of those patterns are for you.
So it sounds like it’s really a big self-awareness check. And you can go as full-in as you want but really thinking about your whole being and all of those different facets. And perhaps people who are just wanting to start out, maybe they have particular concerns or things that are top of mind, and they can start out kind of focusing on those throughout the month and then expanding from there.
Yeah you absolutely don’t have to do the four body check. And if you don’t want to, I find it really helpful just for kind of guiding. And you know, it’s not like I go through each of these things physically, I would just whatever was top of mind is like a physical thing. But another really popular thing to do is to just pick like three to four words that kind of summed up how you felt and your day and keep it really simple. I think just start as small and as simple and that will make it super doable for you. It doesn’t need to be pages and pages of journaling and actually keeping it relatively short and concise is going to make it a lot easier to then go through and kind of look for those patterns when you do go back to your charts later.
Mm hmm. I definitely need to check out your ebook and all those different reflection questions. I actually had picked up Lisa Listers The Red Journal. And I liked going into it but I found the more in-depth, especially starting out – I’m just trying to find a page to show – I just wasn’t consistent with it because it seemed like a more involved process. So like that’s kind of what it looks like for those that are listening. And I found in trying to be more consistent – this is a half-done one. But the circle can be really helpful. And I know it can, like looking at this, if you don’t know, it’s like, “what the heck am I looking at?” So perhaps you might be able to explain a little bit what these different charts are? Because it is a nice, like you said, just 1,2,3,4 words where you can quickly check-in. And you have a printout, it sounds like you have one in your ebook?
Yes, yeah. So that’s a Mandala. And I think that’s a great place to start. And you could even put it on your table where, you know, you drink your coffee every morning and just check in with yourself in the morning. And I think that power, like you were saying, making space for that pause, even if you weren’t writing it down in your chart, having that practice of checking in with how you’re feeling and maybe what you want or need is so powerful in and of itself.
But in the circle, in the mandala, you’ve got space to put the date and the cycle day, and you can match it up with the moon, which gets a little bit finicky. And then the larger space where you can write down, some people like to write down a sentence or like one to five words that kind of sum things up for them. And that makes it, again, really clear to go through and create patterns. And if you’re like a stationery nerd, which I am a little bit, you can do things like you could highlight the different seasons of your cycle, or like maybe if you know that you’re having a pre-period breakdown, like we’ve both experienced, that you like make a little star next to that to really get clear on what days that’s usually showing up on.
The one place where it can go – and again, in the ebook there’s a kind of pros and cons of different charting methods. But the con of that can be it does kind of assume a certain cycle length. So I think Lisa added in like four extra days. So you could go up to 32 days, I’ve made a 28-day one, and then there’s space on the side, where if I’ve got a longer cycle I just kind of list it down. I think the thing with all of this is, and it’s true of everything in life, is let yourself and your body be the guide.
If you’re going shorter than 21 days and longer than like 38 days regularly in your cycle, that might be something that you want to get checked out, there could be something going on there. But do not get attached to the 28-day cycle and do not even get attached to like each phase of the cycle being seven days. Really trust yourself to tune into your body and feel like “oh yeah, I can feel something shifted, it feels like I’ve moved into that other phase.” And that’s like, you know, maybe like advanced cycle charting, that is something that will come as you keep showing up and taking that time to check-in. But you really will be able to feel like, “oh, I’m on day six, I’ve gone into that inner spring phase because my energy has really lifted, I can feel that.”
And something that’s interesting is often that crossing over, the crossover days from one phase of the cycle to the next, can be really tender and challenging for people. But that’s just another thing that as you keep charting that you can kind of take note of. And I think there’s just a real chance to be super gentle with ourselves that way as we find those challenging moments in the cycle, and bring awareness to them. And for me, like I certainly have tough moments still, but as I’ve brought a little bit more tending and nurturing into the cycle, I really don’t have those pre-period meltdowns anymore – which is super helpful.
Absolutely. Yeah, as you become more aware and in tune, you learn of the different ways you can support those different needs of each cycle. And it helps the process kind of go a little bit smoother throughout those transitions, like you had talked about. Now I’m curious, like you touched on with parenting, there’s kind of different recommendations with leaning into your cycle. They don’t necessarily relate so well to parent life and having to deal with children’s needs on top of our own. So how does all of this tie into parenting so we’re better able to show up in that role?
Yeah, so I think there’s a lot of things to be – I mean, obviously, this is like my passion. So there’s a lot of things to be said about that. But I think one of them is that I know so many people, as you kind of become parents – and not necessarily but I know for lots of us, our priorities change. And we really realize some of the things that are just not working well in society. And perhaps we just want something different for our children.
And so maybe we want a slower life, or one that’s more connected to nature, or one that’s more connected to each other as people. And I think that the cycle offers kind of a blueprint for all of that, right? It’s got built into it this period of rest and slowing down and recharging which we’re then modeling to our children, which I think is super powerful in this society that’s very much built on like hustling and being busy, to really be able to model rest and taking charge of your creative power and honouring your body and the kind of seasons of life. I think that’s a really powerful thing to be doing.
I also think that once we have this knowledge of what’s going on with us, and how we are affected by our cycles, that that knowledge then allows us to, like I say, make changes to how we’re showing up. So if we know that a certain time of the month, we’re more likely to be impatient, or to have just kind of less bandwidth for things, you know, I’m not going to plan to cook like a really involved meal. Get all the takeaways, or freezer meals, or whatever it is that kind of takes some of that pressure off and means that there’s less of that overwhelm building up that then spills out onto our children when we don’t want it to and we end up feeling bad about that.
But I think it’s also been really powerful from that self-compassion piece that then if the shouting happens or whatever, like the premenstrual irritability gets a bit intense one day, we don’t have to shame spiral with it. We know like, “yeah, it’s difficult to be parents and be premenstrual in this society. Like, I don’t have to make that mean I’m a bad parent,” right? And again, I think that’s something powerful to be modeling to our children, that we can make a mistake, we can own it and apologize for it. But it doesn’t have to mean something terrible about us.
And so I just find little ways to kind of – I’m not super into the idea of “cycle syncing,” I think people can get a little bit obsessive about it – but cycles syncing family life. So things like, I like to have lots of ideas for horizontal parenting when I’m bleeding. So like, “how can I have connected fun time with my kids, and lay on the sofa at the same time?” So you know, like audio books and movies and popcorn, and yeah, just reading to him or sticker books, things that will engage him, but I don’t have to be expending a lot of energy.
And things that just, like I’ve said, matching my energy level to the family activity. So not suggesting going to a busy place and going to a museum, or we’re going to have to take loads of buses and trains or whatever, when I know I’m going to be bleeding. So similar to what you said, with some shifts you’d be making in your business. Not necessarily doing the big food shop when I’m going to be premenstrual and easily overwhelmed. Just thinking about how can I, in little ways where it’s possible, with what’s in my control, match my cycle and my energy levels to what we’re doing as a family. And that just allows me to show up more whole and centered and patient, which obviously then just has a positive impact on my family.
Yeah, it’s really tuning into yourself and kind of setting up your lifestyle within your family to kind of run in sync with that. And I like how you touched on that self compassion piece, and how that can be a learning tool in itself, not only for us but for our children too. And how like perhaps we’re yelling, or whatever that situation is, we’re doing that repair afterwards, saying like “I apologize for being that way, this is kind of why.” And it’s a great opportunity for us to teach our kids, both male and female, about our cycles and about all of this too. And having those conversations over time they’re going to have so much more knowledge and awareness in this particular area that’s going to help them either with themselves, if they have female sex hormones, or perhaps supporting their partner if they have male sex hormones.
Yeah, yeah. And I think that it’s so important to just be open with children, regardless of their sex, about periods, and I mean all things body-related. But I think it goes a long way to help reduce menstrual stigma and shame, which has this huge knock-on effect to how people feel in their bodies. And it leads to so much misinformation about sex and relationships and all sorts of things.
And the more that we can do to just be open and clear – I mean, my four-year-old probably has a better understanding of what’s physiologically happening in the menstrual cycle than most adults. And it’s because it’s not complicated. Like, obviously, you could get really complicated with all of the different hormones and levels, but like, at its most basic level, what’s happening is not complicated. It’s not gross. It’s not weird. It’s super natural, it’s super beautiful. There’s no reason that children can’t understand it.
And I’m really hopeful about just what that small change could make in people’s lives. It’s just having that information and how that can empower people. And I think there’s a real way which, you know, even just thinking about this relationship with the body and to the seasons, there’s a real pathway there to coming back to nature and connection with the planet and all sorts that can have really beautiful, powerful implications for our children as well.
Yeah, absolutely. And in terms of talking with our kids, I love that your four-year-old is so knowledgeable, and it shows just how approachable this topic really can be in conversations with kids or even with adults. So how do you kind of start the conversation with such young kids and start teaching them things?
Yeah, so I think that there’s nothing like a child’s curiosity about periods to show that like menstrual stigma and shame is completely socially constructed, right? So since my son was able to he’s followed me into the bathroom. And so if he’s in there with me, and I’ve got my period, he’s like, “what’s that? Why is there blood? And why are you changing that?” And, you know, he just has questions and none of it is remotely grossed out or like, you know, any sense of shame around it, that’s totally put on by people from the outside.
And so I just, with anything related to bodies, try to answer in a way that’s factual and age-appropriate. And I think really emphasizing with periods that, you know, I may have some mild physical discomfort, but I am not in danger. It’s safe, it’s natural, I’m okay. With really young children, I love using this analogy of like a nest, that my period is the result of every month my body trying to create this little nest for if we decided to have a baby, there would be that space in my womb, where the baby would kind of grow in this nest.
And, you know, as he gets older, and ask more questions, I can add in more information about the womb lining, the hormones that are taking place, but just I think really gauging based on answering questions in a factual and accurate way and being really okay with saying, “I don’t know, let’s go find out.” Or I’ll get that information for you. Because I hear from a lot of parents who are embarrassed, like, “I’m just learning this as an adult, I can’t even answer a five-year-old’s questions about menstruation. Like that’s really embarrassing. This is my body or this is my partner’s body or their biological mother’s body” or whoever it is.
And yeah, it’s okay, you were failed not being given this information, you have not failed, you know, it’s not your fault that you don’t have this information. And I think kids are always going to have questions that we don’t have the answers to. So just, you can go find out, you can send me an email and ask, I do have a little article on my blog with some different examples of different ages, how you might want to layer information in. And I think once kids, if you expect – you know, if your child has female sex hormones, you expect that they’ll get a period – just how important it is to prepare them with this information.
I don’t have the stats with me, but an extremely high percentage of teenagers when surveyed did not know what was happening when they got their period. And were really frightened, right, like they thought that there’s something happening that was dangerous. Or they were given a really low level of information that they didn’t feel sufficiently prepared them to take care of themselves. So I think the more that we can just explain how natural it is, and give them the tools that they need to navigate this in a way that they feel empowered, I think that can create some really beautiful ripples in the world just in and of itself.
Yes, I completely agree. And everything you touched on I think makes it very approachable. I love that nest analogy for kind of explaining things in an age-appropriate way to our very young toddlers. I’ve had similar conversations, being in the bathroom, pulling out a tampon, it’s like, “oh, what is that?” And kind of explaining, like I insert it, it helps collect what is coming out of me. And I really like how easy it can be to help them picture and understand by using that nest analogy.
And something you said actually triggered a bit of a memory for me. And I do think my mom did a very great job of sex education. I know I had a lot more knowledge than many of my friends and I was the one teaching them about a lot of things. But I also, as a young kid, I want to say I was probably around 10. And at the time in playgrounds here, there would be like two horizontal bars that would go into the ground and they would just be to play on. And at the time I was walking on them and I fell and had one land right up in my vulva area. And I ended up having to get put under and have stitches and things like that, actually caused some extensive damage.
And I know at the time I was so worried that it was going to impact my period and I know many times I’d say to my mom, like, “am I going to be able to have my period? Is this going to prevent it?” And being really concerned about it. And my mom did her best like, “no, no, you’re going to be okay. It’ll come in your own time.” But just as you were talking, I had a bit of an aha moment that, wow, it could have been even more empowering to have the knowledge in knowing that this accident had affected my vulva and was an outside issue. And then learning that the menstrual cycle is more internal with everything that is happening, and so therefore that accident didn’t necessarily affect my period coming in one day. And so there is a lot of reassurance and being so aware of what’s happening with our bodies too, even when we are very young.
Yeah, and I mean, there’s big – I think you’ve talked about it before, you know, that naming the vulva and the vagina, they are distinct parts of the body. Vagina is used as if it sums everything up, but it doesn’t. And I think there’s so much power for children in just knowing the names of their body parts and having those spoken to really frankly. I’ve had some experience, I think when I was pregnant, of doctors not even being able to name those parts of my body. When a doctor says “where women have ovaries,” just like you mean, my ovaries? And like another doctor who used the “your down there.” Even doctors are using that kind of vague language.
I mean, there’s research showing that it’s a real safety concern for children to not know the names of their own sex organs. But just like you say that information, I think, again, in that situation, it would be power, right? And I think our parents probably just did the best they could at a time when this information wasn’t as widely available. But understanding what’s happening, it can just take away some of that fear, can’t it?
Yes, it really can. And like you said, because it is another topic I’m very passionate about, in just knowing the names of our body parts and how it is a big safety issue, we have another episode on consent parenting. And when many kids are taught, like, oh, it’s your cookie, or all these different names, if something does happen, they’re not able to communicate that as well.
I’ve heard stories of teachers who the student kept saying, “oh, this person touched my cookie.” And they didn’t really put two and two together until it was like a parent-teacher meeting and something came up, and it was like, “oh, my God, this child has been telling me this multiple times.” And so it was really important that we do teach kids our proper body parts.
For me personally, I think like vulva, vagina, penis, all of that we should be teaching it the same way as we teach our arms and our elbows and our legs and all of that. It’s really important. But we are coming up to time, this has been a fantastic, very informative episode. Do you have any last thoughts that you would like to share with listeners before we sign off?
I guess just like, if this is your first time hearing all about this, and then it’s like, “oh, and then I’m gonna have to try, my life is really overwhelming as it is and it’s hard to get food on the table and get the laundry done. And now I need to do it in tune with my menstrual cycle!?” Okay, take a deep breath, just know that this is all out there. And honestly for me, just knowing the information about the four phases of the menstrual cycle, like that was my gateway, I guess, and reading Code Red. Just let the information land and settle and see what you start to notice.
And if it feels good to you, and you’re drawn to it, start a charting practice in whatever small – or in-depth if you’re like a really big, long-form journal type of person. But whatever feels right to start with, it doesn’t have to feel so overwhelming, it really doesn’t. Like I said, I came to this work seven years ago. So I’ve been implementing and studying and practicing things for a really long time. And it’s still like an ongoing journey for me as well. And it’s one that involves lots of compromises because like I say, this is a very linear world and we are cyclic beings making sense of it as we go and kind of pioneering a lot of these things.
So yeah, I realize that a lot of what I could say could sound overwhelming, and none of it needs to happen overnight, just like see where this information takes you and let it land. Because it can absolutely come in like little tiny drips and still be really powerful.
Yes, I really appreciate that. Because this can seem like “oh my god, this is a lot.” But as with most things I always recommend like take what you’re really feeling drawn to and little bit by little bit. There’s no need to go into full-blown research mode, making all these changes. But if you’re drawn to something, start feeding your curiosity in that area. You don’t have to know everything all at once. But perhaps like get your ebook, start learning things little bit by little bit and see where that takes you. So thank you so much for being here with us today. Thank you listeners for following along with all of this. Where can they find you if they want to connect with you more and learn from you?
Oh, yeah, well, thank you so much for having me. I am at SarahStarrs.com. I’m on Instagram as well, where I share lots of things. So definitely grab the book if you feel drawn to it. And if there’s anything that you’d like to ask or chat about them, feel free to pop me an email at [email protected]. It’s all on my website.
Fantastic. Thank you and we’ll make sure we have everything linked for those that are listening. And for our UM Club Members, you can head on over to the Facebook group or group chat where we can chat about this more. I’m really looking forward to having more of these open conversations with other women. So till next time, take care!
Thanks for listening this week! If you want to chat about this episode with me and other moms, check out the exclusive UM Club Facebook page! Thanks again, and we’ll see you next week!
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