Monday, June 30, 2008

Menopause Space for the heart

After all the reading I've done, and notes I've taken on women's initiation into menopause, and the passage we go through, I have come to a startling conclusion.

What I don't need is an intellectual understanding of the process. What i do need is to feel well in my body, mind and spirit.

What provides this most completely is to talk with other women in a group, in a circle, or one-on-one. Even writing this blog is a way of reaching out to other women who may be going through something similar.

I have a huge thirst to be heard and to be seen. It's a point of frustration for many women in their marriages, that women feel their husbands are preoccupied with their work, or with their hobbies and other concerns, and there is not enough 'dialogue'. We worked on this, my husband and I, in a weekend workshop on communication, and even practised the dialoguing for a few months before we fell out of the habit. It doesn't seem to come naturally to some men, to sit and open up, talk about their feelings.

Women on the other hand, usually love a good gab fest, and if they are able to drop down into the deep listening mode and allow the other person a chance to speak from the heart, a deeply satisfying communion takes place. We know each other's troubles because we have lived them too. We empathisize, sympathize and this energizes us, to share what we know, what we feel.

So what I want to offer to women is what I need myself - a space to be heard and seen. A space to explore my longings, my childish heart, the whims and desires of the lost little girl I want to free from her middle-aged cares and concerns.

I don't need to explain, theorize, discuss and debate. I want to encourage free self-expression and remind participants (if it's a workshop setting) that for this to happen we (I) need to button our lips, listen without commenting, and respond from the heart without judgment or criticism, resisting the impulse to give advice or tell the other person what we (I) think she needs.

What I remind myself, here and now, is that I don't have to have all the answers.

My brain is tired of facts, figures, statistics and medical information about menopause.

The best medicine for my heart is this lovely, deep, nourishing, satisfying, timeless space where there is room for the heart to speak.

I'll be away for two weeks, with my daughter while she attends a design course in NY. Will be retreating, treating myself to some soul collage work, some reading and writing time, and some space for the heart. Have a good summer, and be well.

aka musemother

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Monthly period alert

Clipped this out of the Globe & Mail, Canada's national newspaper:

heather Rivers, a student at the University of Chicago, has created a web site to help women keep track of their periods.
You can visit to find out more. Here's a brief snippet from them about how it works:

You register on the site. Each time you start your period, add the date to your Mon.thly account, and it will use your history to predict the next time your cycle will start. This provides you with a record of your menstrual cycles, which can be an important addition to your medical history. If you want, Mon.thly will also email you a customized reminder before or on your next estimated start date.

It will help you predict your ovulation date, tell you what phase of your cycle you are in, calculate the average length of your cycle and your 'normal' date of ovulation.

Personally, I would use my own body as the sign for ovulation, using the mucuous method as explained on this site:

It's especially important in peri-menopause because, as my doctor told me, after age 40 your ovulation may occur any time after the last day of your period, not only in the 14 day range.

But what a wonderful idea to have your own menstrual chart on-line, with monthly reminders that you should carry some pads or tampons in your purse that week. Most of us blithely go along without recording the dates, without looking at the moon, or using any other system of remembering. It's the first step to getting to know your body better.

Check it out.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Grandmothers invented youth?

Here are two reasons that evolution and women's cycles go together.

First, from a theory developed by Leonard Shlain, in Sex, Time & Power, Gyna Sapiens (or women) were faced with an “evolutionary quandary” 150,000 years ago: birthing babies with heads so big they could tear them apart.

Being creative and resourceful, human females through evolution, adapted to having a monthly menses. We are the only female mammal to endure such frequent housecleaning, and the only one to experience orgasm and be sexually receptive all year round. If the pheromones are not right or if the mood strikes, we can also deny a male sex (thanks to a brain that can override sexual urges powered by instinct and hormones).

Our new big brains required a lot of oxygen, and with women losing blood periodically she needed a lot of iron. Ergo, she needed her man to hunt meat. Man gives woman meat, woman gives man sex.

Probably it was a woman who first connected the act of sex to the cessation of full-moon bleedings, followed by childbirth. (and the first to create calendars by marking this on a deer or antelope antler). She would have been the first to comprehend what Shlain calls deep-time, the ability to look to past and future, linking cause and effect: ‘having made this backward-looking link between sex and pregnancy, she peered more months into the future and realized that she had risked her life by engaging in sex.’

"A woman might have been first to contemplate death and to realize its inevitability, but when the men were clued in, they refused to go gently into that good night. It became a man’s priority to protect and provide for his own offspring so that he might live on through them. In short, they became husbands and fathers and patriarchs to boot.”
excerpted and adapted from from a review of Sex, Time & Power: How Women’s Sexuality shaped Human Evolution by Leonard Shlain, which appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, written by Julie Mayeda , 2003

Here's another interesting fact about women's cycles: “Orangutans do not go into menopause. Chimpanzees do not need extract of mare pee. …Only in human females does the fertility program shut down years before death.” (Woman, An Intimate Geography, Natalie Angier)

Angier studied a tribe called the Hadza, from northern Tanzania, who are basically living as if they were still in the Stone Age. Here, the grandmothers help ensure the survival of young children so the mother can look after the newborns, by helping to gather food, clothe and protect, or babysit. Because of the long ‘childhood’ (until puberty, or age 13 on average) of humans, they need protection longer, and mothers need help, so they can forage, cook and clean. The grandmothers and aunts help not only their own grandchildren, but the children of anyone who needs it. Men’s hunting is not as reliable as foraging, and nursing women can’t forage very far, so grandmothers who are not lactating or birthing (in menopause) are crucial to tribe’s survival.

Besides which, the old wise women, with their accumulated knowledge of plants and dangers, and their long term memory, are a useful resource. “Before we could stay young, we had to learn to be old.” ie grandmothers invented youth. The brain could develop longer, because youth lasted longer, while granny fed the kids and helped mom have more kids, nurse them 2 years instead of 4-5 like chimpanzees, and the brains could grow and develop.

So there you have it, the case for menopause in evolution is that it frees up the grannies to babysit and forage for food, letting the human brain of babies grow for a longer period of time.

Wow, what a neat cycle!
see more articles on menopause (and poetry) at


Monday, June 09, 2008

Preventing burn-out in middle-age

Over the weekend, I held my first retreat for women, Heart's Rest or The Power of Doing Nothing. Well, it's not true that we did 'nothing', but to our crazy minds bent on staying busy and productive at all costs, it may have looked like 'nothing'.

What it was, was rejuvenating, like drinking cool water from a deep well. Part of the pleasure was in stretching into our bodies, giving each other a light massage and doing some partner breathing - all of which slowed us down, brought us into the moment.

The other pleasureable aspect was sharing such fun and creativity with six other women. We danced, we moved, we played, we told our stories. We did some journal writing and collage to express "what we need right now" - I hope it was as much fun for the participants as it was for me. Especially to sit and talk in a circle about our needs, and about the need for balance, and try to discover what nurturing the feminine means.

One thing I want to provide with these mini-retreats is a safe space for women to explore their stuff, whatever that may be. I can see that the format and exercises will change each time, depending on the need or theme of the retreat. But underneath it all is the need for busy women to 'get away', for however short a period, and be alone, or be with other women who need to 'get away'. To acknowledge our need for leaving the house and family behind occasionally and filling our own cup.

When that cup is empty, we are at risk for burn-out, even if we are stay-at-home moms. I have felt close to that dry, arid, empty feeling that precedes the smell of smoke and actual burning out, and I don't want to go there.

I have also seen friends go through burn-out and seen how long it takes them to get their health, both physical and mental, back again. It's like a coiled wire that has lost its spring, no capacity to bounce back, no capacity to respond to normal stresses, always on crisis mode, always feeling overwhelmed.

So to prevent that 'frying' experience, what can we do? Simple things, but so hard to do. Like establishing boundaries - what my limits are, what I can do, and what I cannot do. Knowing when to say no. Knowing when the tired feeling comes and doesn't leave that I need more than a good night's rest. I need to get away, drop all my 'duties', and swim in the fresh waters of "doing nothing" so I can restore my imagination, pleasure in life, and creativity. I need a retreat.

Even if it's something small, treat yourself to a swing in a hammock, or run outside in the rain, do something fun and unexpected, drink your tea with your left hand if you're right handed, hang upside down from a monkey bar, swing, and pump your feet higher and higher, till you can see blue sky.

Let the world glimpse your girlish wildness, (see today's poem Trust, at

and above all, listen in to your body's guidance,

have a great day,

Monday, June 02, 2008

Mothers and Daughters Sex Talk 101

How many times have you wished you could broach the topic of sex with your teenaged daughter, only to shy away at the last minute, or have her give you the yucky face and walk out of the room if you bring it up.

Here are some salient points from Mother-Daughter Wisdom by Dr. Christiane Northrup, (chapter on Love and sex, Aphrodite Rising) which may make it easier.

The good news is that whenever a mother has the courage to heal the unhealthy patterns in her own life, her daughter is likely to benefit as well. What it may have taken a mother half a lifetime to become conscious of, her daughter may learn in a much shorter period of time.” all quotes from Mother Daughter Wisdom

“Good self-esteem sets the stage for healthy relationships with boys --and everyone else!”

Good advice: “If a guy tells you he needs you and can’t live without you, run the other way!”

Wisdom Challenge: Make sure your daughter is protected from STDs or pregnancy; if you are not ready to talk about it openly yourself, make sure she is given the necessary information and protection (whenever she asks for it) by her doctor.

Knowledge is Power: Teens need to know about their own fertility cycle, not just about condoms and birth control. i.e. when pregnancy is most likely to occur.

“A good first step in helping your daughter understand the way in which her sexual being is ultimately an expression of the divine life force is through a discussion of her menstrual cycle. By the age of fourteen most girls will be quite familiar with the mechanics of the cycle- though it’s always good to review it with them, for example when in the cycle they ovulate, for how long do they remain fertile, and so forth. But beyond the mechanics, you need to make sure they know something about the meaning of the menstrual cycle.

“The life force that governs the menstrual cycle is the same life force that governs the waxing and the waning of the moon and the ebb and flow of the tides.” Our bodies are part of this miracle.

Northrup says, the menstrual cycle governs the flow not only of bodily fluids but also of mood and creativity. One thing a conscious mom can do is to encourage her daughter to observe how she feels at different times during her cycle, emotionally and spiritually as well as physically. For example, she may notice that her energy, creativity and libido are full speed ahead at ovulation. And she may notice that she becomes far more inward and introspective just before her period is due.

This mirrors the creative process – at times we have high energy versus down times to incubate a project. Following her cycle will help her develop trust and respect for her body by paying attention to inner processes.

Feeling Safe: Let her know that her body is her own and that oral sex is sex.

“A girl needs to understand that her self-worth cannot be enhanced in any sustainable way by engaging in sexual activity with a partner who has only a physical connection with her.”

Tell her not to let herself be pressured to have sex just to gain status. “Girls may think they’re proving themselves the equals of boys by emulating them in their sexual behavior, ….[but] this culture values males more highly than females”. Our culture still treats females with loose sexual behaviour as ‘ho’s.

Oral sex is degrading for girls, since it is not usually reciprocal. Instead, it’s seen as a service girls provide for boys – what are they getting in return? Fleeting attention of a boy and an increased risk of STD’s. (The recent rise in STD’s among teens is due in part to increase in oral sex practices). The double standard is alive and well.

On the positive side, girls need to know healthy ways of dealing with sexual impulses.
They should not be taught to feel guilty about their sexual desires. Self-pleasuring is a safe and effective way for girls to deal with sexual energy, until a loving committed sexual relationship comes along. Orgasm is good for her bodily health and vitality. This same life force can also express itself in art, music, literature, scientific breakthroughs and doing good works.

Overview: What all Adolescent Girls need to know about Sex:

How to value themselves and their bodies, including their capacity for pleasure
The sexuality-spirituality connection of the feminine cycle
The facts about both male and female sexual anatomy
The facts about how to prevent pregnancy and protect oneself against sexually transmitted disease.

Some interesting statistics from a study in New Zealand:

The average age for first sexual intercourse was sixteen
54 % of women wish they had waited longer.
Curiosity was the main reason for virginity loss in 27 % of women and 35% of men.
7 % of women felt forced into their first experience.
15% of women were in love at the time.
10% of women and men admitted to being a little drunk at the time.
30% of women said the act was ‘on the spur of the moment’.

This certainly reflects my own teen-aged experience : lots of peer pressure, curiosity, fuelled by wanting to not be 'square', and a little too much alcohol. I highly recommend this book for every mother wanting to understand her relationship with her daughter.

Help your daughter be prepared. Arm her with knowledge, and if it's appropriate share your own stories with her.