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March 14, 2019

Heavy Flow, by Amanda Laird

I may read a lot, but it’s never a challenge to name one single title in answer to the proverbial demand, “Name a book that changed your life.” Always, it’s Taking Charge of Your Fertility, by Toni Weschler, which I read ten years ago, shortly before becoming pregnant with my first child. And while I’d had a fairly good idea of how to get pregnant before reading the book, and had even been pregnant once before but completely by accident, there was so much more I didn’t know than what I did about the things my body had been doing for years, things I’d never paid any mind to. I learned things about vaginal mucus that blew my mind, and I’ve never looked back. But I’ve also not thought about it all much deeply a whole lot since, especially since I finished having children. My menstrual cycle, I’ve been thinking, is now pretty much redundant—but then it turns out that fertility is only the tip of the menstrual iceberg. (And there’s an image to keep in mind.)

And then along comes Amanda Laird to inform me of what I’ve been missing, first with her Heavy Flow period podcast (which I’ve become devoted to) and now her new book, Heavy Flow: Breaking the Curse of Menstruation. A book that shatters the myth that fertility is what the menstrual cycle is all about. Laird comes as menstruation from the perspective of a holistic nutritionist (albeit one who was making period-positive zines two decades ago and dabbled as an amateur gynaecologist aka the friend you come to with all your weird period questions), and situates the menstrual cycle in the broader perspective of general health. Because your menstrual cycle (which is about more than just those five to seven days in which you’re bleeding) also impacts bone density, breast health, heart health, and your nervous system. Because your menstrual cycle can be a key indicator of other health problems if symptoms go awry—and if symptoms are always awry (for example, painful periods, which too many doctors dismiss as “normal) it often does mean that something is wrong. Although it’s hard to address those concerns, because of menstrual taboos—even in this period positive age in which access to menstrual products is beginning to be a major topic of political discussion, too many people are still expected to put up with and shut about period pain, and remain in the dark about how and why their bodies do what they do.

(I especially love Laird’s pragmatic view on health, and politics, and everything. In everything she does, she resists binaries, and complicates matters in really intelligent ways, which is altogether rare and refreshing.)

Heavy Flow has been a revelation to me, just as Taking Charge of Your Fertility was a decade ago. I’ve learned why my menstrual cycle is still worth paying attention to (and from the podcast, I’ve been more enlightened about peri-menopause and menopause than many other menstruators get to be), how to advocate for myself to medical professionals, and how things like nutrition and lifestyle can impact hormonal health. I also learned how the fallopian tube got its name—which was the first point in reading this book at which I exclaimed. “Oh my god!” in consternation with the patriarchy but it was not the last.

One thought on “Heavy Flow, by Amanda Laird”

  1. melanie says:

    I always list Taking Charge of your Fertility as the book that changed my life as well! It was such an eye opener and taught me so much that I wish I had know as a teenager when I was terrified of my period and my body and, well, pretty much everything. I also learned that I could successfully use the “family planning method” of birth control for about 13-15 months before it would fail on me – hence the three unplanned (but very loved) children. I should read this book because my period is such an issue right now with the cancer drugs trying to throw me into menopause or perimenopause and all that comes with it. Pre-cancer drugs my period was like clockwork and only ever late/off three times in my life. And as someone who doesn’t want her daughters to be terrified of what is coming I want to be more open and informed. Someone turns 11 next month so time is a tickin’.

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