Sunday, 15 April 2012

Book Review: Moon Time by Lucy Pearce

This book has changed my whole outlook on periods and the menstrual cycle, and given me a new appreciation of my body.
I knew it would, that's why I wanted to read it.
My period, like most girls in our society, was something to be hidden, to be secreted away, not mentioned. You would occasionally tell a friend you had it, if you needed to get out of swimming or otherwise, but there was no casual conversation around periods. At least not in my social circle, not in the 90s. Come to think of it, there still isn't.
It's just something you get, you soldier on, doing your work, your chores, your normal events, but with the added twinges, cramps, the hot water bottle in the evening, the bar of chocolate, the odd painkiller. Periods for me were an inconvenience in my life, largely irrelevant for nearly 20 years until I wanted to get pregnant. There were a few times way back in my "dark days", before I started on this natural living journey, where I would keep taking the pill to avoid a period if it was going to clash with a holiday or some other important event. I'll go into the pill and it's effects on me in a future post (ooh, bet you can't wait!), but I just want you to understand that my period was something I always took for granted and never felt a positive emotion about.
Once I came off the pill and started practising natural fertility awareness to avoid pregnancy I started to appreciate my cycle for what it showed, that my body goes in and out of fertility as regular as clockwork. This was not a great revelation to me, I had always been "regular" - every 27-30 days, and despite hearing about people with infertility problems, I never realised how lucky I was.
My period took 21 months to return after Charlie's birth, this was due to me keeping his intake of foods secondary to his intake of breastmilk. It was a fine balancing act. Some weeks if he ate more solids I'd get a bit of spotting, so I'd reduce his solids intake. I wanted to avoid my period for as long as possible, both for the hormonal effects as much as the convenience.

This time around I'm feeling like my period is only around the corner, and Noah is only 9 months old. I'm okay with this, I'm tandem-feeding and I'm quite touched out, so if he eats more solids than Charlie did at this age I'm not batting an eyelid. And after reading Lucy Pearce's Moon Time I'm dying to get back to regular (menstrual) cycling again, to feel its effects, to actually recognise that my mental state is directly related to my hormones, and to celebrate being a fertile woman in a more spiritual way.
The line above makes me a little uncomfortable, but I've left it in anyway. I am not a subscriber to any "religion" or "spiritual group" and don't want to be. But in recent years, since having children and pondering existentialism I have come to realise I'm not content with my purely scientific view of the world. I need more. So I'm beginning to find a new dimension to life in birthing my babies, breastfeeding them, and appreciating my place in the universe. It's not a big deal, it's only a small stepping stone, but I feel more connected to the natural world, to other people and to myself through it.

The idea of the moon having any connection to our behaviour as humans on earth is one I'm learning about. It is common knowledge that at a full moon some people act more erratically (hence the name "lunatic") animals exhibit different behaviours, and the tides are affected. A new idea to me is that women's menstrual cycles coincide with the lunar cycles, having a roughly 29-day span, and before the advent of modern lighting, the moon regulated our hormones so most women menstruated according to the lunar cycle. It makes sense, and it explains why PMT exists, that we are out of sync with the natural hormonally-driven rhythms of our bodies, and have created a stressful, artificial existence for ourselves. PMT is a purely western phenomenon (as is a difficult menopause requiring HRT, medicalised labours, antibiotics etc. I could go on, you are on one side of the fence or the other with this argument, but don't stop reading now if you disagree, you're going to miss some vital points!)

I could happily review each chapter of Moon Time in detail, taking each sentence, discussing it and it's relevance to me and us as women in the western world. I have had my eyes opened, I've been educated about my body and my emotions, I've started a whole new area of research that links up to areas I've been interested in, proving that EVERYTHING is related in the Universe!
What I especially loved was her description of the emotional journey during a menstrual cycle. I've always struggled to understand why one day I can be all happy, gung-ho for starting new projects, and a day later I feel like a lump of lead, and just want to hibernate. I'd have blamed diet in the past, and that has a bit to do with it, but it's also just a normal female thing to have different energy levels at different stages of the month. That is a relief to read, and such a basic fact that I was never educated about.
More "mainstream" readers who aren't into "all this new-age stuff" will still get so much out of the book. There is a fantastic section on avoiding PMT and how to really care for yourself during your period, creating a warm retreat for yourself to just curl up with a hot-water bottle, and read or listen to music etc. There is a beautiful chapter with suggestions on how to educate your daughter about her periods, and suggestions on how to mark the event, like a meal out, or giving her flowers etc. I don't think that would occur to many mothers, but it would be something your daughter will always remember. In many cultures there are initiation ceremonies as youngsters "come of age", but in Ireland anyway, they've all been overshadowed by the Communion / Confirmation rituals.
More "new age" readers (don't you love how I so effortlessly categorise you all!) will love the moon myths and legends, from native tribes. I especially loved the one about the mother taking on all the suffering and pain of her family, and her "blood time" being the one time in the month she sheds their worries and cares, purifying herself to get strength to go on mothering. As Pearce says, women are "three weeks on, one week off" and we should respect that rhythm, and go easy on ourselves when we are not feeling "up to it". There is a lot of encouragement to embrace yourself, flaws, mood-swings and all, and to speak up and verbalise or write down your feelings. I agree we do a lot of "internalising", which suppresses all our negativity, and we then get depressed or blow-up at our loved ones because of the buit-up stress. There are practical suggestions on how to express yourself in a safe, loving and creative way.

The whole book is full of practical advice, how to deal with the physical side of being a menstruating woman, how to straddle your emotions and integrate them into your life in a healthy way. One stand-out part talks about our inner Crazy Woman, the emotional, irrational side to us that comes out in PMT. Pearce says not to fear her, not to hide her or deny her, but to express her through art, words, physical exercise etc, unleashing all the energy, so we don't end up bingeing on chocolate / wine or anti-depressants. Anyone who's ever felt stressed out at the pace of life, who's wondering how she's managing to "keep it together", who's feeling burnt-out, or at her wit's end will get a huge amount out of the book. It's like a therapy session, and I've picked it up and read relevant parts out of it every couple of nights since receiving it a few weeks ago. Even if the idea that the moon has an influence on our bodies makes you smirk, even if you think you'll just continue to pop a painkiller and ignore your bleeding each month, even if you have reached menopause and think this could not apply to you, every woman will get some life-changing advice out of this.

I have to admit, I am usually one of the "smirkers" and I am happy to say I'm open-mouthed at the simplicity and relevance of the points in the book. It's like when I found out about my fertile time of the month - the egg-white cervical mucus which had always appeared like clockwork, but I'd never given it a minutes thought. Once I learned about it's role in aiding my body get pregnant it took on a whole new significance. This book had the same effect on me about my "blood time". There are still a couple of chapters that to me are a little "out there", I am not really ready to meet with other menstruating women, to sit in a red tent and share wisdom. I love the idea of it, but I know I am not there yet. I love that the book has more to teach me, it's not stuff I already knew or had read anywhere else. I'll be referring to it for years to come, and I hope someday to have a daughter to pass this wisdom down to. Not only did I enjoy the new light in which I now see my body, I have also become inspired to sketch and draw again, thanks to the artistic expression Lucy Pearce encourages in "Moon Time". This is so exciting for me, and I'm going to enjoy creating art for the first time in my life!

I have not received any payment for this review, though I was sent a complimentary copy of the book to review. Readers who are interested in buying the book, it is available with a 20% discount here using the code: MBLP20. Amazon stock it too, but the author gets no share of the profits, so please support this Irish mother and buy it off her own site. There is a paperback version, and an ebook too.

Link to Lucy Pearce's site:

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Niamh - just to add that I will be at the Home Birth conference in Dublin next weekend (29th April) where Ina May Gaskin is keynote speaker, and will be signing copies of the book there too, at the same special price. I will also have beautiful moon dial mandalas there and JUNO magazine.


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