Many people have asked me how I came up with the idea for the Female Empowerment Bracelet so here is the story of how Feby came to be.
First, let me start by saying I am no Hemingway but I am earnest.
This bracelet came about when I had an epiphany that there was a glaring and definite need for something that taught young women about the menstrual cycle in factual, relatable, reusable detail.
The epiphany came when I was in my early 40's and my first born child, a daughter who shall not be named at her bequest, was learning about the menstrual cycle in her grade eight health class. She came home with a little booklet that we read together and it dawned on me that in the 25 years since I had my own instruction on the matter, little to nothing had changed. It could have been the exact same pamphlet so similar was it to what I was taught. It was the basic biological facts of an egg being released from the ovary and when it wasn't fertilized, the womb shedding its lining and the period of bleeding begins. It was all quite clinical and cold. It talks about sanitary pads and tampon and hygiene. There was a page about when the egg is fertilized it is by sperm who arrive in the way of penis. They showed us a film on child birth which was horrifying. (In fact, it was this film which shocked and discouraged my friend Jacqueline so intensely that she decided she never wanted children.)
I saw a need for something to teach the menstrual cycle to the average menstruator. (Funny that, menstruator is not even a real word even though it should be. Menstruator. n. People who bleed on a regular basis through their vagina, generally for 3 - 5 days every 28 days.) Think about it; it's something all women do from approximately the age of 13 to 50. If you take the current population of the planet right now that would be in the ball park of one and a half billion people. 1,500,000,000 females who bleed at any given time on the planet. Those who don't bleed either already have or are yet to begin but we all experience this bloody cycle of life. All of us.
And yet there's nothing tangible to teach the younger generation what to expect throughout this journey of blood and honey? Why? It's a specific and relatively consistent hormonal interplay that flows within our bodies all month long. Every day is a different day and unpredictable and yet somewhat predictable in the mood and energy and biological tendency . The first day of your period when the cramps show up and the blood runs wild is nothing like the day of ovulation when you feel fantastic and radiate beauty and youth and are highly fertile which is nothing like the day before your period when you are irritable, sad or angry or a myriad of other generally unpleasant emotions. And the reason behind all this hormonal commingling is to support and encourage reproduction; Mother Nature at her finest. Women belong to a sisterhood of blood whether they acknowledge and embrace it or not. It will always exist if we hope to continue as a species. So, all this importance on something and it's almost completely ignored? WTF!?!? Why must we navigate blind? I think it was Lily Tomlin who said "if you need something that doesn't exist, create it." So, that's what I did.
My personal history of menstruation, fertility and motherhood is relevant to the story of Feby because it's how I experienced the menstrual cycle. I'm an average woman in most ways; average height, average build, middle-class, middle child and now middle-aged. Sometimes I think being average and stuck in the middle is one of the greatest gifts as you can see all around...those above and those below and I recognize the difference between myself and others is minimal. I guess what I'm trying to say is that it makes me relate to everyone easier as there is no great gap to overcome. Anecdotal data is the preferential mode when conducting research and the menstrual cycle is nothing if not anecdotal. We all have our moments of getting caught unawares that Aunt Ruby would soon be visiting or is barging through the door RIGHT NOW and the embarrassment that ensued which sometimes scars us deeply. Something to help understand would be beneficial and yet the only thing we teach is biological based instruction on how to deal with the blood and what it all means? But not what it all feels like; what to expect when you're not expecting. It made me mad.
My menstrual story began in the early 80’s when I was a teenager and first anticipating that pivotal moment when I would begin my womanly journey which I believed would be signalled by that ever so anticipated first period. I was anxious to join my friends in what seemed like a secret club and discover for myself what it was really all about.
I had very little education on the matter. Growing up without the internet was a mixed blessing -sure we had real relationships with our friends that were based in spending quality time together talking and trying to figure out our place in the world with little distractions. We enjoyed healthy pursuits like riding bikes, playing tennis and soccer in the summer or hockey and skating in the winter, going on long walks to the beaches of Lake Ontario where we swam and skipped stones, but information was hard to come by. A lot of what we learned about menstruation was from our older sisters who enjoyed being wiser than us and sometimes scared us about everything that was happening. I was always an avid reader and I would slyly take down my mother’s copy of ‘Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex but Were Afraid to Ask’ and read it in the relative privacy of my room and look up stuff. Even though I could ask my dad most questions and be assured an accurate and knowledgeable answer I was not going to ask my dear old dad about sex and my body. My mom? No. She wasn't somebody who encouraged that kind of communication. Why not? I suppose because she didn’t learn about it from her mother. The circle of life is ignored in the circle of life. The school system taught her and she left it to them to teach me.
I learned about the imminence of my period from Judy Blume and her book ‘Are You There God, It’s me, Margaret’, Anne Frank and her diary, my grade 9 gym and health teacher Mrs. R. (who spoke about it in a coldly medical way, stammering and stuttering her way through the lesson on pads and tampons, obviously uncomfortable and slightly embarrassed.) and my friends, especially those with older sisters.
When the day arrived I was 13-years-old and relieved and happy to be ‘normal’. My friend Lucy came over to my house as quick as a best friend could with an assortment of products pilfered from her older sister. Those products were enough for my first period and it was only afterward that I told my mom about it and really only to ensure that I would have the products I needed when the next one arrived.
During the second half of high school when my friends started becoming sexually active it became highly apparent that the lessons we learned were not complete. Melanie was the first of my group of friends to develop. She had breasts long before the rest of us and perhaps as a result was the first to lose her virginity to a much older boy. After a few months of fornicating she discovered herself pregnant and subsequently had an abortion. Melanie came from a highly religious family and these events caused a huge rift in her family from which they never fully recovered, especially not Melanie herself. She changed after that and broke up with her boyfriend, stopped partying with us and spiralled into an isolating depression that I don’t know if she ever really conquered.
Then Lucy got a boyfriend in the final year of high school and got pregnant one of the first times she had sex. “I don’t understand how this happened” she told me. “It was only 9 days after my period and Mrs. R. told us we can only get pregnant on day 14.” She too had an abortion.
I didn’t want the same to happen to me and so I found a health clinic nearby and put myself on the birth control pill just before starting college and all the sowing of wild oats that implies.
During my college years the names of the players change but suffice is to say that every single one of my friends got pregnant and terminated their pregnancy. Every. Single. One. Please don’t for a moment think I say these words lightly. I am not here to judge; I am simply telling the truth as I know it to be. I tried to be a good friend and console these frightened young women as best I could and from those experiences I’m pretty sure no woman has an abortion blithely. All of them were traumatized by their ordeals then and most still are.
When I was 21 and having a routine medical check-up for a new job as a flight attendant it was discovered that I had high blood pressure. The first doctor I went to was dismissive of me and simply wrote a prescription declaring I would have to take a pill every day for the rest of my life. I wisely went for a second opinion and Dr. L. was flummoxed by my situation. I was young and healthy and he knew there was an underlying cause for the high blood pressure and he felt it his duty to discover it, bless him. The first thing he suggested was going off the birth control pill, which I did, and three months later at a visit my blood pressure was normal. He said I wouldn’t be able to take the pill ever again and advised me to use condoms, spermicide and fitted me for a diaphram. I did those devoutly and thus have experienced a natural hormonal cycle ever since.
I met my husband shortly thereafter and we had three amazing children, two girls and a boy in the middle.
Since I have not been on a hormonal birth control pill for decades my experience of the menstrual cycle has been a natural one. This is important. Hormonal therapy, aka the birth control pill (bcp), alters the hormonal equilibrium - that's why women take it; so they don't ovulate so they can't get pregnant. Women on the pill will have different symptoms to that of a female who is taking no hormonal drug. (Hormonal therapy includes the bcp, fertility treatment, menopausal therapy. )
So I've lived my life pretty tuned into my body and it's reproductive working. My period was blessedly regular, every 28 days almost without fail and I kept track of my cycle so as to avoid any more pregnancies, (my three children are a blessing but I don't know if I have the patience to handle any more).
Then the PMS monster started to grow along with my understanding of the intricacies of my body and menstrual cycle. My first glaring lesson was about 10 years ago when my kids were all young and in elementary school. My family and I went to my homeland of England to visit relatives and enjoy the sights and sounds of my native land. We brought my mom along to help with the kids and to allow my husband and I to enjoy the pubs and ales that are such a big part of british culture.
One day we decided to go to Liverpool, which is just a quick ferry trip across the Mersey river from my Aunt’s home where we were staying. That day lives on in infamy with me and my mom and husband (thankfully not the offspring as they were young) as a very bad day. Not because anything untoward happened on our sightseeing excursion but solely because of the foul and nasty mood I was in all day long. Every little thing pissed me off in a big way and I was not shy about sharing my disdain. The weather sucked; windy, cold, raining. The price for a Beatles tour was insane (100 pounds each…no discount for children!!). The line-ups at the cashiers were unbearable. The food was dull and dreadful. The day after this dismal trip I woke up in my cousins twin bed to the familiar gush between my legs. I got my period. Yes. The previous day and my horrid humour made sense now. I mean, Liverpool isn't the most beautiful place I've ever been but it wasn't Liverpool's fault; that responsibility lay solely with my moon and tide.
A few years later my family and I decided to visit my husband’s homeland of Peru. This time we travelled with the three kids and my mom and dad. We elected to take advantage of our proximity to one of the New Seven Wonders of the world and natural heritage site of Machu Picchu; the lost city of the Incas built on the top of a mountain in the Andes range. Machu Picchu is a very remote location and difficult to get to; it takes a lot of time, money and effort. From the nearest city of Cuzco it was a 3.5 hour train ride and then the craziest bus ride I have ever (and hopefully ever will) be on to the top. The road zigzags the mountainside up to the top as it is too steep to navigate otherwise. Once at the summit my husband wrangled an English speaking guide to show us the best of what this magical place has to offer. Well, again I was in a foul mood and made the entire experience less than magical for my family. My parents wisely separated from our group in order to retain a pleasant experience for themselves but my kids and spouse weren't quite as lucky. Again, I couldn't seem to control my foul mood and shared it fully with my travelling companions whose experience of this place I regretfully sullied. After our day long escapade on the mountaintop we spent the night in the quaint town of Aguas Calientes and tried to enjoy what was left of this adventure. The Inkaterra hotel we stayed at was lovely with an all white theme throughout and a sauna hut, plunge pool, orchid garden with over 300 varieties, waterfalls and lush cloud forest foliage. It was there that I distanced myself somewhat from the group for benefit of all, enjoying the spectacular gardens and the pleasing sight and sound of the Urubamba river. In the morning when I awoke I again had that familiar surge between my legs and was not only surprised by it but worried about what I would do. I did not predict that I would get my period on this one day excursion and so had not brought anything with me. My mother was a senior and so she had no feminine protection and my eldest daughter was nowhere near getting hers. I sent my husband out very early on this Sunday morning to find me something. I was afraid that no store would be open and I would have to make do with wadded up toilet paper for the 3.5 hour train ride back to civilization. Fortunately, he came back triumphantly with a package of pads. This dreadful junket really highlighted to me in a very profound, cannot be ignored way that biology trumps all. Here I was in a spiritual and beautiful place and yet all I felt was lousy.
A year after that impactful trip my family went to Cleveland for a hockey tournament was my son was in. Let’s just say the ‘Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’ became the ‘Rock and Roll Hall of Shame’ for me. I embarrassed myself. I honestly couldn't help it; I was overcome with a spirit of black and sharp and unloving and argumentative. Sorry not sorry.
All these incidents emphasized to me in a very loud and inescapable way that PMS was very real and living inside me and would probably come out every 28 days or so, usually a day before my period would poetically punctuate it. I think the reason it became more apparent during holidays is because during regular life I could excuse myself from bothersome company and go to the gym or have a hot bath and an early bedtime when I felt my mood darken. On vacation it was much more difficult to leave the group and indulge selfish needs (however serving of the greater good). PMS is an inherent element of the menstrual cycle and it's importance shouldn't be diminished. I like the idea that the bracelet shows three black days. Maybe you only have one or two, maybe you're lucky and don't have any, but the important thing is knowing that however dark your day may be, you are normal and this too shall pass.
So, now we come full circle and my eldest daughter is beginning puberty education. She and I have always enjoyed a warm, communicative and open relationship and she asked me a few questions and I asked to look at her class notes. I was dismayed to see that in all these years nothing had changed. It’s like the school gives girls the coles notes of menstruation; just the basics and all acutely biological and medical with little to no reference to mood and management which I believe is exceedingly important.
It was then that I decided to put my personal experience to use and create some sort of learning tool that I could share with my daughters, and with other girls in the hopes that they would know what to expect when they weren’t expecting.
One day while I was enjoying a cocktail and conversation with my bestie and she remarked how her period had snuck up on her again I made a flippant comment about how we should have some sort of reminder for it, like a bracelet or something. That idea stuck in my head. Something circular would definitely fit the bill as obviously a cycle is a circle. (This was all before smart phones became such a popular item and I'm glad for that. There are many great apps to track your period now but I believe a tangible tool can help young girls learn the menstrual cycle more clearly and with lasting effect.)
At this same time I was reading ‘The Heroin Diaries’ by Nikki Six which is different from most books (in more ways than one) as it’s not just black and white but black and white and RED. I was also in the habit of watching ‘The Hour’ with George Strombolopolous as it came on from 11-12 at night and I think George is one of the best interviewers in the game. This hour was mommy time. The set for the show was stylized and it was black, white and red. So, I guess subconsciously those colours were stuck in my head; black, white and red. And they made sense to me. Red is obvious for blood. Black for the dark days and white for the clear days. How could I delineate the days of ovulation and fertility? Pink. Of course. It's all about being a girl so pink is the most popular and fashionable representation in a colour.
I struggled with what exactly would be the marker and how would I get that to work. That flummoxed me, I cannot lie. After leaving it simmering in the back of my consciousness, one night I was awoken from my slumber by the light of the full moon shining on my face and immediately upon waking I knew the answer. The knot. Yes. Of course. It's easy. It'll work. It's symbolic. It's perfect.
The bracelet is based on the average cycle. You can't please all the people all the time but isn't pleasing or aiming to please, most of the people most of the time noble and commendable? Maybe you're a rule breaker and don't have a 28 day cycle. We all break the rules sometimes. Isn't it wise to know the rules even so?
I was going to start by writing a profile of myself and my life. That's a really awkward task and one I did badly as I found myself embarrassed trying to make myself sound cool and interesting , it occurred to me during that excercise that this is not my story. It's the story of Feby. I gave this bracelet a name, like a friend should have, because it exists to help you. It's for all the women in the world who don't have access to information for whatever the reason. Female empowerment bracelet. Why the y? Yes. You. Why not? But honestly my intention was to make it user friendly and Feby sounds like a name (and apparently is a common Indonesian name for both girls and boys) and it is simple. Simple is good. Simple is best as nice and easy works for everyone and my goal is to help as many women as possible.
We need facts. We need to be able to relate to our bodies and to each other. We needed it for a long time, over and over. I don't know about you but I'm still learning things about my body, every day, as I move and I live.
As I was making the first pro type bracelet I did tons of research (books, internet, friends) and then once the first bracelets were made I passed them around to family and friends and got their feedback. I also discussed it with my doctor who gave it her professional thumbs up.
#YesAllWomen has been a popular hashtag of late. Let me add my two cents in with #YesAllWomen bleed. Poor, rich and everything in between, black, white, brown, pink, yellow, cafe-au-lait, albino, ginger, no matter her religion or ethnicity, her social status or her iq, sheltered, alone, hunted, hidden, every race and every religion, every size and shape, we speak every language under the sun and we all bleed once a month.
So, since we all do this one thing every month that men don't do, why don't even teach each other about it very well?
I resent this. Not being taught well. Why has the menstrual cycle been a hidden code that we have to navigate on our own? Why doe so many women have to learn the hard way? Hasn't every woman who's ever lived gone through basically the same thing? Month after month after month, year after year after year? So why all the mystery? It honestly makes me so angry.
I am especially pissed with advertisers. Why did they always sugar-coat the experience and make me feel like I had to do the same in order to be "normal". I don't feel like playing tennis in white, or pirouetting in a field of flowers when I get my period. Maybe on day five but definitely not on day one. I feel like curling up with my hot water bottle, my cat and a good book. Leave me alone. Why couldn't just one company think to target PMS and show a woman all bitchy and loud and mention that if we're feeling like this, make sure we pack something to catch our blood in the very near future? And why not be blunt about it? Don't parents and teachers tell us early on that the truth shall set you free? Honesty is the best policy (except apparently when it comes to menstruation).
Why is menstruation so bloody awkward?
Why do they sell tampons and pads that are wrapped in the colours of candy? What's the point of all that waste if not to oppress the reality from reality? It's simply absurd and I'm not buying it.
Adolscents are highly impressionable and if an adolescent female is instructed about menstruation in a comfortable yet serious manner it can inform her relationship with her body in a positive, plentiful way. She will become body literate and through that will be born acceptance of it and respect for it.
I am a third wave feminist and this wave is red and white and pink and black. This is girl code.
So, now I go around to schools as requested by caring teachers and mothers and camp counsellors who want to make sure the girls in their care learn everything there is to know about periods and managing them to the best of their ability. It's inspiring and incredibly fulfilling.
There are so many interesting and validated things to know about our changing hormones and moods. The monthly flow of ups and downs that once understood can be relied upon and believe it or not, kind of enjoyed. Then we can throw the moon into the mix and it's a big, cosmic puzzle and we fit right in. We feel connected.
Welcome to the sisterhood.
You were a member all along my dear. We all were. Maybe we just didn't know it. We didn't have the secret passcode. Now we discover there is no secret password. No special language. It's just the willingness to talk, to share what we've learned and listen to others journeys. To openly acknowledge our feminine experience and enjoy this journey. I know I am and I sincerely hope you do as well.