By Hwaa Irfan
One of the problems with the idea of “equality” meaning the same is that the contemporary world interprets that “sameness” meaning that women have to behave like men. The issue of men behaving like women is another issue as the consequence does not mean an entire gender must forsake their uniqueness to do as men do. This “sameness” already presumes that there is something wrong with women, and to compete means to compete on men’s terms. One of the results of this goal is that women are expected to do two jobs, inside the home and outside the home”, and in turn, a woman must do everything to prevent any obstacles from achieving that goal.
Premenstrual tension is one of those “obstacles”, well it must be, because when one looks up PMS on the Internet it is only in relation to a health problem that can be treated in so many ways, or as a cost to industry. There is no or little reference to PMS being a females body’s reaction to the stressful environment in which she lives, and looking at the woman’s body as a creation of God that is designed to function in a certain way. Instead we are confronted with information that declares 80% of British women, and 40% of American women suffer from PMS taking it as a normal state of affairs, and not a symptom of something more fundamental about the way women choose/forced to love their lives. In those statistics, the Catholic women I knew of are invisible, as they have learnt to dislike or even hate their bodies as they were raised to perceive their bodies as a product of sin. Making very little room in our lives for the natural rhythms of our bodies Dr. Christine Northrup (obstetrician and gynecologist of many years of experience) makes the following observation noting that PMS increases in the autumn from her many years of experience with female patients:
“The link between PMS and SAD [Seasonal Affective Disorder] is a profound example of how women’s wisdom is simultaneously encoded in both the cycle of the seasons and our monthly cycles… The natural tendency to turn inwards during the premenstrual time of our monthly cycle is reflected in the natural tendency to turn inwards during the autumn of the year. All of nature reflects this wisdom back to us. In fall and winter, the trees send their energy down into their roots, where profound activity and revitalization goes on even though it is not obvious to us. The early luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, following ovulation, is when our energies go deep into our roots so that we can take stock and then prepare for the next cycle of outer growth in the world. Because our culture doesn’t understand this cyclic wisdom, we have been taught to be afraid of both times in our cycles and the seasons of year when wisdom demands that we go into darkness, withdraw, and take stock of our lives.”
This may seem like superstitious nonsense to those who have become accustomed to equating women with psychologically and emotionally imbalanced, especially in relation to her menses, yet if we were to keep a diary to observe the pattern of when our “Moon time” occurs in relation to the moon, and how we are in relation to the different phases, as well note the environmental factors toms of hat impact on women we might be able to better explain the symptoms of PMS, rather than to continue passing them off as a female disorder:
• Breast swelling and tenderness.
• Abdominal bloating
• Accident prone
• Food binges
• Suicidal thoughts
• Withdrawal from others
• Tire easily and have trouble sleeping.
• Bowel symptoms such as an upset stomach, constipation or diarrhea.
• Aches and pains such as headaches, joint or muscle pain.
• Appetite changes significantly.
• Tension, irritability, mood swings or crying spells.
• Trouble concentrating on regular tasks.
• The feeling of anxiety or depression.
Do not most of these symptoms call for Time Out! Women have always led busy demanding lives, unless they are a member of the middle/upper classes – with the demands of family of differing ages, being the team leader, running the home, attending to two natal family members (husband’s and wife’s), neighbors, the individual attention desired by infants, do you not think Allah (SWT) would build into the lives of women Time Out! Yet we do not acknowledge it as a blessing, let alone take that time out. Would you rather take a couple of pills, so that you can facilitate a schedule that men cannot even meet, or take that Time Out you so desperately need and deserve? Today, more than before that is even more difficult because we still do all of the above, as well as go out to work. Someone is to blame somewhere, and it cannot be with our Creator, because He gave us the time!
Narrated Al-Qasim: ‘Aisha said, “We set out with the sole intention of performing Hajj and when we reached Sarif, (a place six miles from Mecca) I got my menses. Allah’s Apostle came to me while I was weeping. He said ‘What is the matter with you? Have you got your menses?’ I replied, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘This is a thing which Allah has ordained for the daughters of Adam…” (Al Bukhari 6 #293)
Admittedly, there are some worse case scenarios whereby the emotional vulnerabilities of women because of their menses, can make a woman violent. Women face many issues, which we tend to bury deep, but surfaces in many forms. An example of a seriously PMS woman is a case mentioned by Dr. Northrup whereby a woman had self destructive behavior as a result of PMS. This woman’s behavior during PMS led to being gang-raped, another time getting pregnant, and then an abortion. She observed when she started to recover:
“In my premenstrual times, every ounce of anger, bitterness, and sense of betrayal erupted – often at such a rate that it became increasingly difficult to stay in my marriage and to continue to care for my autistic daughter and two younger children.”
After this woman got divorced, this woman spent more time on her own, meditated, ate whole foods, and had a macrobiotic diet. She also exercised more, but still this women went through an emotional nightmare every month.
The emotional demand of menses was demanding the removal of the many layers of denial that this woman had. That involved attending Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, because she had a tendency to be drawn to abusive relationships, which was connected to the experience of childhood sexual abuse. After 9 months of progesterone therapy, counseling, meditation, and a suitable diet, this woman told Dr. Northrup:
“I continue on the progesterone only two days a month and only because of mild irritability.
“I hit an occasional emotional wall, but the difference now is that I am able to cope much better knowing where it is all coming from. I believe that when a woman has PMS, the physical, emotional, and spiritual all have to be addressed so that a human being can feel whole again.”
“When I become angry at al, I give myself quiet space, go within, and ask myself, ‘What is it that you’re afraif of or what pain are you trying to escape?’ I almost always get an answer that I can then work with.”
Professor Ussher of University of Leicester, U.K. points out:
“A classic case of PMS is a woman who’s working full-time, looking after everyone at home, shopping after work, picking up the kids from school, finding very little space for herself.
“Women are able to keep up this superwoman performance three weeks a month, but, premenstrually, they are not able or willing to do it any more.
“They either withdraw and feel depressed or they can become very angry with the family. I would say it isn’t biological – it’s to do with what’s happening in the family and the relationship.”
Ussher supports the above by noting that women in lesbian relationships are less likely to have PMS, but this is no recommendation to go and have unhealthy relationships, but does point to a practice that is dying, which is that women would not be around men during their menses. However, instead of seeing the wisdom behind this, feminists of today, view it as second class citizenship. How many women would not like Time Out from the routine of 3 – 10 days of the month!
PMS and Diet
When looking at our lifestyles, we must include patterns of food consumption as possible contributory factors. Researchers have found that PMS patients consume 62% more refined carbohydrates, 275% more sugar, 79% more dairy products, 78% more sodium, 77% less manganese, 53% less iron and 52% less zinc than women who are free of symptoms. The increased consumption of meat, poultry and their products that have been nurtured on hormones creates accumulative deposits within our bodies. Those hormones include the sex hormones progesterone, testosterone and estrogen. Introduced this way into our bodies they can lead to obesity, infertility, diabetes, dwarfism, gigantism, kidney disease, hypertension, early puberty, hypoglycemia, the masculinzation of females and cancer. They can also cause abortions, change the menstrual cycle and cause excessive breast and uterus tenderness.
Patterns of food consumption must be taken into consideration. One woman who visited nutritionist Annemarie Colbin complained of painful swelling of the breasts due to PMS. Annemarie recommended that the woman cease taking her daily quart of milk. Milk is a product of the reproductive system, which is expressed out of the body. It can lead to congestion and swelling/soreness in the breasts. This of course happens as a result of cows being given estrogen which is passed on through their milk and other products of the cow. This is less likely to happen with organically raised cows. In addition, processed food should be excluded from the diet.
For those of us who might find the task more difficult, there are self-help approaches that can be made. As a step towards eliminating the causes, naturopaths recommend a high fiber diet, low fat, increased vegetable proteins, fruit and whole grains. They also recommend a diet high in calcium and iodine as that found in beans, leafy greens, alfalfa and kelp .
A Natural Remedy for an Age-Long Malady
A medicinal tree renowned of old for helping women through the menopause is the chaste tree also known as Vitex Agnus or in Arabic as bengenkusht, kef maryam or habb el-faqad. Recent studies have found it to be effective in PMS and even in reducing acne associated with PMS. The dark berries imitate the action of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. It acts on the pituitary gland and balances the ovarian hormones by increasing the level of progesterone in relation to estrogen. Consequentially, this regulates the menstrual cycle thus alleviating PMS symptoms.
A recent German study found chaste tree to be more effective than Vitamin B6 supplements in PMS. This double-blind study involved 175 women who were followed over a period of 3 menstrual cycles. The women took either chaste tree together with a placebo, or Vitamin B6 supplements. When chaste tree was taken, milder symptoms of abdominal bloating, breast tenderness and irritability occurred. There were improvements in 77% of the women who took chaste tree and 61% of the women who took B6 supplements.
Chaste tree is known to reduce symptoms of premenstrual syndrome
In the 1987 trials of Exeter University and Gerard House (UK) led by statistician Susan Turner, 600 women who had a suitable range of symptoms were selected. Utilizing the double-blind method, there were good results for 3 categories of PMS sufferers:-
a) PMT-H – fluid retention, breast tenderness, abdominal bloating, weight gain.
b) PMT-A – irritability, nervous tension, mood swings, and anxiety.
c) PMT-D – depression, crying, confusion, forgetfulness and insomnia (Mills p.39).
In the German authorities’ listing of chaste tree no contraindications are listed. However, under ‘Side-Effects’ chaste tree occasionally causes menstruation to start earlier after childbirth due to its action on the pituitary gland.
An infusion can be taken by pouring a cup of boiling hot water on 1 teaspoon of the ripe berries. Leave to infuse for 10-15 minutes. Drink 3 times daily. It is also available as a tincture whereby 1-2 ml can be taken 3 times daily. Health and well-being expert Alix Kirsta recommends more sleep and relaxation exercises for PMS sufferers. Wearing loose clothes also helps to allow the body to relax, as stress is an underlying trigger to PMS. There are many ways to reduce stress if one is not so inclined to enjoy the benefits of withdrawing from men. This includes exercise which would help to release any built up tensions. However, instituting a practice of relaxation into one’s life, and getting the rest of the family to appreciate that time could do wonders in the long term as a wife and as a mother.
Narrated ‘Aisha: The Prophet used to recite the Quran with his head in my lap while I used to be in my periods (having menses). (Al Bukhari 93 #639).
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