A refreshing take on sex, periods…. and all the other things we’re not supposed to talk about

Sisterhood

Guide to Surviving and Thriving in times of Crisis

For those of you who haven’t heard, the past two weeks have been challenging ones for us sisters. Our Grannie (one of our biggest Red Tent Sisters’ supporters) went into hospital on the fourth of this month with a fractured hip. On Wednesday she had hip surgery and has not been recovering well. When you’re an entrepreneur, keeping all the balls in the air when something unexpected and emotionally distressing happens can be quite difficult. But we have both observed that so far (knock wood!) we’re actually handling the whole thing with more grace than we would have a few years ago. There are six major changes in our approach that seem to be enabling us to avoid burn-out and stay fully present. We thought it might be helpful to share these with you, our community.

Here are our top tips for staying sane when life throws you a curve ball:

  1. You don’t have to be a superhero. We live in a culture that glorifies busyness and it often seems like it’s a competition to see who can cram the most into a week (“I work 90 hours and I’m a Mom and I’m training for a marathon!) But the reward for overextending yourself isn’t a shiny trophy, it’s burnout. And when you’re burnt out, you’re not any good to anyone. So, we can’t stress this enough – you need to recognize your limits. Last week we both had moments where we totally hit a wall. Our instinct was to stay at the hospital (we’re both over-givers by nature), but we knew in our gut that we just couldn’t do it. So we listened and headed home for some serious self-care – hot bath, home cooked meal, journaling. Those few hours made it possible for us to recharge our battery, fight off the colds we could feel creeping up, and return to the hospital feeling calmer and more present. While setting limits on our giving (especially when someone else is suffering) can feel “selfish,” the truth is that taking care of ourselves is one of the best ways to ensure we can continue caring for others.
  2. Accept help. We’re fortunate to have a truly phenomenal support network of friends and family. When they heard about our Grannie, we received a flurry of beautiful messages with loving words and offers to help in any way possible. On Saturday, a close friend of ours was getting married. We were all invited, but we didn’t see how we would be able to go without someone available to watch our Grannie. So, we called a family friend who happens to be a retired nurse to see if there was any chance she could cover us for a few hours. Her response? “I’m so glad you called! I really wanted to help, but I didn’t know how. Just tell me the time and I’ll be there!” It can be difficult to speak up and ask for what you need, but you might be surprised how often people want to help. Rather than being an inconvenience, you’re actually making it easier by taking away the guesswork and letting them know the best way to support you.
  3. Fast food sucks. We’ve both made huge changes to our diet in the last few years in an attempt to feel better, both physically and emotionally. It’s become pretty obvious that wheat, sugar, and overly processed foods make us feel bloated, lethargic and generally icky. Knowing that, it didn’t seem like a great plan to be chowing down on the Wonder Bread sandwiches and pop being offered up at the local cafeteria (especially when we were there for three meals a day). Although it can be hard to think about food when you’ve got a million other things to worry about, we highly recommend making it a priority to eat food that will make you feel better, not worse. Whether it’s packing some veggies in your purse, or taking a few extra minutes to find somewhere else to eat other than a fast food joint, try to resist the urge to choose convenience over health. Better yet, refer to point #2 and ask a friend to drop off some dinner – it’ll save you thinking about what to bring and will give them something tangible to do to be helpful.
  4. Be quick to cancel things that’ll drain you and make time for those that will replenish you. When we realized we would be spending most of our time at the hospital we had to make some pretty big changes to our schedule. It was tempting to cancel all the fun stuff and just force ourselves to make it through the “must do” list. But it was clear that would quickly lead to burn out (good old Point #1). So, we listened to our intuition about what really had to get done. It’s amazing how much shorter that list is when you’re brutally honest about what constitutes a ‘necessity.’ And then we thought about what things would help keep up our energy. Kim had signed up for  a “Self Marriage” workshop with our good friend Danette that she’d been looking forward to for weeks and Amy’s husband was visiting from England and had planned a lovely birthday dinner. So, while there were lots of things that we did cancel, we made sure to honour the commitments that were the most nourishing to our spirits, and found a way to make them happen.
  5. Make your own sanctuary (even if the rest of the house falls apart). When you’ve suddenly got way less time on your hands and you’re dealing with lots of emotional stuff, cleaning feels pretty far down the list of priorities. That said, when your whole life feels upside down, it’s important to have somewhere that feels calm and “put together.” While no one’s going to fault you if there are dishes in the sink, it can be helpful to make sure that at least one room in your house feels like a mini sanctuary. In our family, meals and food preparation have always played an important role so we made sure to keep our kitchen clean so that when we went to make ourselves a cup of tea, the room felt peaceful and inviting.

We would love to hear from you, our community, about your own wisdom and experience of thriving during difficult times.

what feminism looks like

Last week two related issues came out that are making waves in the cybersphere and causing a surge of antagonistic Facebook posts and blog comments. A journalist named Holly Grigg-Spall has written a book, Sweetening the Pill, in which she chronicles the health risks of hormonal birth control and also explores why criticizing the pill is so taboo. The book hasn’t been officially released yet, but some people are already so up-in-arms about the subject matter that a petition has been started requesting that the publisher retract the book.

Huh? Seriously? What year are we living in?

What’s worse? The people who want to ban the book aren’t right-wing fanatical religious types… they are self-proclaimed feminists who are arguing that the book is inherently anti-feminist. To which we again have to say?

WHAT?!?

Since when is women sharing their concerns about their health, their birth control options and their bodies anti-feminist?!?

The book prompted an article about withdrawal (a.k.a. the pull-out method) and the many women who (often secretly) use the method either as their primary or back-up method of contraception. Women, including self-proclaimed “sex educators”, have been posting and commenting on the internet about how “stupid” these people must be, even going so far as to say that it is not a valid choice for birth control.

Set aside just temporarily (yes, truly temporarily because we plan to blog about each of these issues separately at a later date) the fact that withdrawal has been shown in some studies to have typical use effectiveness comparable to condoms, and the fact that there are legitimate deaths and health implications of taking hormonal contraceptives. For us there is something even more important at stake here.

Isn’t feminism supposed to be about women’s needs and desires having a voice?

Isn’t feminism supposed to be about women being able to CHOOSE?

If so, and if we want to honour the work of the women who have gone before us, don’t we have the responsibility to speak and listen with compassion? Even if only one woman found the pill was unbearable for her, or even one woman in the world found withdrawal to be her best birth control option, should she not be allowed to speak?

We look forward to a day when people no longer feel the need to debate the “rightness” of someone’s experience or personal choices. It’s not really relevant whether a story is valid for all people. That’s not the point. What matters is that it’s the valid truth for that individual. If the story doesn’t resonate with you, or me, that’s okay! That doesn’t make our story any less valid. In fact, it is a wonderful invitation to share our own story and perspective with others who may be feeling the same way.

One of the guiding principles of Red Tent Sisters is that every woman should feel safe to speak their own truth. Today we want to honour that when it comes to contraception there are many truths.

We know women who have gotten pregnant from using condoms and women who have not.

We know women who have gotten pregnant from withdrawal and others who have used it effectively for years.

We know women for whom the pill has made them so crazy their relationships were nearly ended by it. And we know women who have nearly died from the physical side effects. And, we know women for whom the pill is the best choice.

We know women who love the IUD and women who hate it.

We know women whose lives have been positively transformed because of learning fertility awareness and women for whom it was not a good choice.

What makes us individuals is that we are individual. No one choice will ever be right for everyone.

menstruation blog post_phixr

As many of you who follow us on Facebook will already know, at an event this week a young woman asked us for suggestions to help her 13-year-old sister have a more positive experience with menstruation and sexuality. So we asked our community, “What do you wish someone had done for you at that age?” We received an overwhelming response filled with beautiful stories and suggestions. We want to thank you all for broadening the dialogue on this often-overlooked topic. We thought some might find it helpful to see a compilation of all of those suggestions in one place, so here is our summary!

  1. Help set the stage. While a girl’s first menstruation is a one-day event, the events that contribute to how she will experience it start at birth. Set the stage for a positive experience by using proper anatomical names for body parts, being mindful of how you present your own experience of your body and menstruation (shame is very easy to pick up from people’s words and body language), and regularly comment on media portrayals of women’s bodies as a way of encouraging media literacy.
  2. Help them be informed. There is nothing scarier than the unknown. You can help equip young girls with the information they need to understand what their bodies are doing by providing access to such books as Cycle Savvy, Taking Charge of Your Fertility, What’s Happening to My Body, and Cycling. Pay particular attention to the issues not covered well in health education at school – for example, most girls know that getting your period is a part of puberty, but few know that changes to the shape of the vulva and cervical discharge are other natural physiological changes with puberty. You might be surprised how common “vulva shame” is, or how confusing or shameful girls can find “stuff in their underwear.”
  3. Help them celebrate. Too often menstruation is presented as a curse – a painful, embarrassing or inconvenient aspect of womanhood. To counteract these negative associations, create an atmosphere of celebration by hosting a first moon party, offering a small gift (piece of red jewelry, goddess figure, etc.), or providing a book that showcases positive menstrual experiences, like The Red Tent or Red Moon.
  4. Help them feel prepared. Help a young woman be prepared for her first menstruation by creating a first moon kit with menstrual products as well as home remedies for a healthy cycle, like a hot water bottle, tea and magnesium supplement (make sure to check the dosage information on the bottle). Many women only learn about tampons and disposable pads, and don’t know about alternative menstrual products like the Diva Cup and Lunapads. Let them know these options exist (there are some awesome online instructional videos on how they work) so that they can make an informed decision about which one is best for them.
  5. Help them make the connection. Regardless of the age at which a girl gets her first period or becomes sexually active, the connection between menstruation and a woman’s sexual awakening often gets overlooked or ignored completely. Help them make the connection by talking about how this experience is important because it marks the transition into a new and exciting phase of one’s life – a phased filled with pleasure, exploration and the capacity to create life, if and when the time is right. Books like Deal With It and websites like Scarleteen are a great starting point – they can help foster a healthy relationship to masturbation, sexual decision-making, and body exploration while also providing groundwork for further conversation.

Thanks again to all those who shared their suggestions and personal experiences. While our original question included discussion of how to encourage positive sexual experiences, we have opted to turn that into a whole separate blog post which you can watch for shortly!

Motherhood_phixr-2

One of our favourite bloggers, Leonie Dawson, recently wrote a post called “On Choosing to Only Have One Kid.” She’s got a huge following and often writes about intense, juicy stuff and yet this is her most popular post ever. There were oodles of comments thanking her for being brave and for sharing her story so honestly. The overwhelming response really drove home how rarely these kinds of conversations take place and how badly they’re needed. While the focus of her article is about choosing to have one child, the greater context is that you need to choose whatever family model is right for you. And that whatever you choose is okay. This is what resonated for me and I’m sure for her thousands of readers – because it’s a reassurance we don’t often receive. We’re faced with so much guilt and shame and fear around our reproductive choices, and then told we can’t talk about it. It’s time for that to change!

In the hopes of opening up a dialogue, I’d like to share a little note on where I’m at with my motherhood journey. It’s interesting to call it that since I don’t have any children, but it feels appropriate to the process of understanding what motherhood means for me…

I always assumed I’d be a mother. When I was fifteen, my mom gave me a card with a beautiful line drawing of a pregnant woman with the quote, “I carried you under my heart for nine months, and in it every minute of every day ever since.” It hung on my wall for years and I used it as inspiration for a tattoo I designed that I imagined getting when I had a child. Seven years ago I witnessed the birth of my niece and it was one of the most profound experiences of my life. In fact, I was so affected by the experience, I felt called to get the tattoo I’d created. As a society, we’re so focused on having kids that belong to us that we rarely talk about the many other ways that one can ‘mother.’ I have always imagined children in my life, but it is only recently that I’ve started to wonder if that desire means that I need to give birth. I love being an aunt – taking Amy’s daughter to the Science Centre, having sleepovers, sharing my love of books. And she’s not the only child in my life – my stepsister has a young daughter and many of my friends are either pregnant or planning to have children. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and yet many families are separated from their support systems, making the ‘world’s hardest job’ that much harder. As someone without children, I have a lot more time and energy to help the parents in my life, an experience that I find deeply enriching.

I have no idea where this journey will end – whether I’ll decide I am fulfilled by my role as an aunt and godmother, or whether I’ll choose to have a child of my ‘own.’ And if I do, whether I’ll give birth, or adopt, or foster. Whether I’ll have one, or two or three or. . . What I do know, thanks to Leonie’s post and the support of the women I’ve talked to, is that I need to do what is right for me and that families come in all forms. As Leonie puts it, “Family is just about belonging. Belonging to our selves, belonging to each other, building bonds with our hearts.”

Interested in exploring this topic further? Motherhood is one of the six themes we’ll be covering in our new online program, “Portraits of Womanhood: A 6-week exploration.”

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