PERIOD is hosting a Period Week: a week to celebrate and openly discuss menstruation. This series will feature 5 articles all relating to different aspects of periods. This article discusses the science behind menstruation and interviews a teacher who has taught menstruation in school.
by Marjorie Sheiman
The menstrual cycle is the female reproductive cycle that makes eggs available for fertilization. But there’s a lot more to it than just that! Here’s a breakdown of what really happens on your period, courtesy of Dr. Craig Freudenrich.
The menstrual cycle can be broken up into two phases: the follicular and luteal phases. In the follicular phase, the biochemical and physiological events (secretions of LH, FSH and estrogen) support the growth of the follicle (the cell complex that surrounds and nurtures the egg) in the ovary and build up the lining of the uterus to receive a fertilized egg. At mid-cycle, when the egg is ready, a chemical signal -- a surge of LH and FSH -- tells the ovary to release the egg. This stage is called ovulation, and is the optimum time for fertilization to take place. In the luteal phase, the remnants of the follicle keep secreting estrogen and progesterone to maintain the readiness of the uterus. If the egg is fertilized, then the luteal phase continues throughout pregnancy. If the egg is not fertilized, then the uterus sheds its lining, menses begins and another menstrual cycle ensues.
Nina Hanefeld, a teacher from Baden-Württemberg, Germany, kindly volunteered to be interviewed for this article! In her free time she likes writing stories and poems and also likes to walk to a lake nearby and read.
1. How did you find out about Period. (formerly Camions of Care)?
I spend a lot of free time on the internet. Which is where I got to know Period. It was suggested to my by twitter and I clicked on it and have been following it ever since!
2. How long have you been a teacher and where have you taught? What have you taught in schools? Why did you become a teacher?
I studied German, History and Philosophie at the University in Freiburg and then completed my education with the "Referendariat" an intense teacher training that is 1,5 - 2 years long and that qualifies you with a second degree. (So teachers in Germany have the equivalent of two Masters.) So my time as a teacher has been exactly that - two years! Because just now I finished the "Referendariat" and am not currently working as a teacher. While in school I taught German, History and Ethics. But how does menstruation tie in with these subjects?
During my years in university I came in touch with Petra Sood, the owner of Kulmine - one of the biggest clothpad companies in Germany. I did an internship with her company and over the years I started to get more involved and got more and more fascinated about this special work.
And while I did my "Referendariat" it became clear to me that I do not want to be a traditional teacher. As much as I love my subjects, I think there are a lot of things that are very important but not taught in schools. Menstruation is one of these.
So when a friend (knowing about my passion) asked me to teach her fourth grade girls about menstruation, I gladly obliged!
3. Why did you teach kids about menstruation? How did you feel about teaching it students before and after you first taught it?
I think a lot of girls go into the time of menstruation with a lot of fear. I want to give the the knowledge that it is possible to have a positive way of handling menstruation and womanhood.
I was very excited before I did the day - I was very good prepared and was very happy how my lesson plan had worked out.
After the three hours I was absolutely happy. It had been even better than I ever could have imagined. The girls were so thankful for all the information and so respectful about the topic.
4. Do you have any memorable stories from your time teaching students about menstruation?
Between each lesson, the students were asked to write anonymous questions and put them in a box. Even if they did not have questions I asked them to do this anyway and just scribble something. This way nobody would feel bad about putting in a paper.
Through these questions it became very clear how important this day was for them. One girl did not write a question but thanked me for talking with them.
Another girl told all of us at the end of the day: "I came here with a lot of anxiety about my first period. I am still not happy that I will have it someday but I have anxiety about it anymore!"
5. Do you have any advice for teachers who will be teaching about periods in the future?
Get educated and remember to stay honest while speaking about such a taboo as menstrual blood. I truly believe that you first have to free yourself as much as possible from the taboos to be able to really work with girls about this subject. Otherwise it has the potential to become an uncomfortable experience for all involved. I also think it is important to be educated about alternative products for menstruation, to truly give all the relevant information. A very young girl might not want to use a menstrual cup, but if she knows such a thing exists she can use it later! And a girl that used conventional pads and gets very itchy because of them will be happy to know that cloth pads are an alternative for her.
6. How can parents help their children learn about periods outside of the classroom so that the in class experience is positive for everyone?
I think the same applies to parents. They also can look how they personally are affected by the taboo. How do they feel while talking about menstruation? What words do they use? Are they negative or neutral? How do they feel about menstrual blood in knickers and on bedsheets? How educated are they about alternative menstrual products?
7. Did you learn about menstruation when you were in school? What's changed in the curriculum since then? Has any information changed from when you were a student to a teacher?
I did learn about menstruation in a very limited way. A teacher gave us boxes of a tampon brand with tampons and a booklet.
She did not do that because it was in the curriculum and I do not believe it is very much a topic that is discussed apart from the hormonal aspect itself and the cycle.
8. Anything you want to add?
I am looking forward to teach more about menstruation in schools and hope there will be teachers inviting me to do so!
Thank you to Nina and every teacher, parent, sibling, person, etc. who has openly and positively discussed menstruation and created safe spaces to do so. We break the taboo one conversation at a time.