So we all know we get a serious case of the munchies and have to pay tax to enjoy the “luxury” of a tampon each month, but wtf is actually going on down there?
When we talk about the ‘menstrual cycle’, it’s more than just your period. Instead, it’s a whole month of changes that happen in the body in preparation for the possibility of getting pregnant…..(I mean, every month? That’s a body on a mission!).
In general, I’m not a fan of the word ‘menstrual’. I did question why a biological process completely unique to females has to start with the word ‘men’. Anywho, Google tells me ‘menstruation’ is actually derived from the words ‘month’ in Latin and ‘moon’ in Greek – so whatevs I’ll let it go.
Your menstrual cycle officially starts on the first day of your period, and finishes when your next period starts. Generally, a cycle can last between 24 and 38 days, but everyone can get variation from cycle to cycle and over the years.
To make things complicated, there are actually two cycles happening at the same time which overlap. One in the ovaries, and one in the uterus. Our brain, ovaries and uterus all chat to each other via communication networks called hormones to keep our cycle on track each month. We can break the phases down into ‘pre-ovulation’ and ‘post-ovulation’. Just to clarify, ovulation isn’t your period (my mind was also blown).
Here is our take on what is actually happening each month:
Uterus – Phase 1
So, because your period is officially the start of the menstrual cycle, we’ll begin the story here. Old blood and lining of your uterus is shed through the vagina and lands in your sustainable Mooncup. This usually lasts around 5 or 6 days.
Ovaries – Phase 1
Our ovaries are roughly the size and shape of an almond (WHAT?! For some reason I always assumed they were more like an apricot). We are born with all the eggs we are ever going to have in our ovaries, we don’t make new eggs during our lifetime. These eggs are about the size of a grain of sand held within a fluid filled sac called a ‘follicle’. First fun fact: these eggs are 16 times bigger than a sperm (whoohoo!). The highest number of eggs we will ever have is as a 20-week-old foetus, when we have around 7 million eggs. When we’re born, this number has reduced to around 2 million, and by the time we start getting our period, we have between 300,000 and 500,000 eggs left.
However, we don’t just lose one egg a month (because if you did the math, like me, that would mean you have your period for 33,333 years…fuck that). From the time we start getting our period, we can lose around 1000 eggs per month. Over our lifetime, we release around 500 eggs in their mature form. When the eggs run out – we hit menopause.
Now back to phase 1 of the ovary cycle. Firstly, the brain sends a text to the ovaries saying “yo, time to prepare an egg for release!”. This text is in the form of a hormone called follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) which is released from the pituitary gland in the brain.
Each month, around 20-30 follicles begin the process of maturation. These follicles are kinda like pubes after a bad wax in that they each grow at different rates. When our period is coming to an end, one of these follicles will win the battle and be declared the most “well-developed”. We’ll call this follicle the “Queen Bee”.
So, Queen Bee is now preparing her egg for release into the fallopian tube during ovulation. Queen Bee produces a hormone called oestrogen as she grows, which is at a peak just before ovulation.
Second fun fact: Most women have two ovaries, and it’s totally random as to which one will produce the Queen B each month. However, there is sometimes a case where there is a double release (both ovaries have a Queen B that each release an egg). If both of these eggs are fertilised, you get natural twins!
Uterus – Phase 2
The oestrogen from Queen Bee then signals the uterus to get to work on re-building a thick inner lining (endometrium) that you just shed into your Mooncup. This is to create a nice place where a potential fertilised egg can make it’s home.
Mid-point – OVULATION
This whole time, Queen Bee has been producing more and more oestrogen. When the oestrogen levels are high enough, they text the brain to say “release the luteinising hormone (LH)!”. LH then tells Queen Bee it’s time to release her egg into the fallopian tube.
Ovaries – Phase 3
After ovulation, Queen Bee has an empty sac which starts to produce another hormone called progesterone, as well as oestrogen. These hormonal changes are what cause the PMS symptoms (mood swings, heaps of emotions, munchies, aching titties). If some cheeky sperm get in and fertilise the egg, the progesterone helps to support an early pregnancy. But, if the condom works, and no sperm get through, the Queen Bee and her empty sac will start break down. This then causes a drop in progesterone and oestrogen, which leads to….your period!
Uterus – Phase 3
This is when the uterus either begins to make a nice home for a fertilised egg, or breaks down if the egg is sperm-less. At this time, the uterus lining (endometrium) releases heaps of chemical messages. These cause the endometrium to contract, cramp (hence period cramps) and break down. But, if you’re pregnant, these chemical messages are stopped so the cramping doesn’t hurt the fertilised egg in it’s new home.
So, that’s it! The good old menstrual cycle 101. Stay tuned as we continue with our ‘Period Series’ next week!
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