Embracing God’s beautiful design for your cycle

The last time I checked, Christina Valenzuela’s book, “The Language of Your Body: Embracing God’s Design for Your Cycle,” was on backorder. Probably because the book includes wisdom from saints like Hildegard von Bingen and Pope St. John Paul II. Also because it approaches menstruation not as a curse but a gift.

Christina is a wife, mother of four, and a Lay Dominican who has a conviction and passion for teaching others about Natural Family Planning, and has been doing so for over a decade. Read on to find out how Christina got started, and to learn more about her project, Pearl and Thistle, which aims to uphold marriage, family and the dignity of our bodies.

The importance of the language of the body

Radiant: Understanding a woman’s menstrual cycle is so important and incredibly empowering. What sparked your passion for wanting to learn more about it?

Christina: I’ve always loved biology. I started college as a pre-med major, but I also felt very strongly called to serve the Church, and so I ended up pursuing theology instead. The biology interest came back into my life when I experienced a really difficult time trying to get Natural Family Planning support after the birth of my first baby. I didn’t actually manage to find an instructor until my second child was born, and she was the one who encouraged me to become trained as an NFP instructor.

Through the crafting of my Cycle Prep: First Period Course for Girls, I began to envision a completely different model for cycle education — one that didn’t exclusively focus on fertility but was rooted in the concept of body literacy: learning to read and understand the way our female bodies work. That was the exciting part, because it was a very natural blend of my biology and theology background, specifically through the lens of JPII’s theology of the body and the concept of the “language of the body.”

Radiant: What is the mission behind Pearl and Thistle?

Christina: My mission, broadly, is to provide lifelong body literacy education for Catholics. What that practically looks like is a smattering of courses, books and support materials to ensure that girls, women and couples have access to quality menstrual cycle, period and fertility education at all ages and stages of their reproductive lives. Literacy is a skill, which necessarily takes time.

Why should the Church care?

Radiant: Why is it important for the Church to have a knowledge of a woman’s menstrual cycle?

Christina: This is an entire chapter in my new book, because I think it’s a very multifaceted question. It boils down to the fact that the Church does require a certain level of literacy with regards to the menstrual cycle, specifically as it relates to the shared fertility of a couple and NFP. But beyond that application, it’s important for the Church to take seriously the questions we have about our bodies, because human persons are body-soul creatures. Unfortunately, if the Church doesn’t speak on these issues, or is mistaken or ignorant about these functions, it can create a silencing effect because women don’t feel that our bodies are actually worthy of care and attention. So I think this topic straddles the Church’s dual mission of education and healthcare as a way to honor the dignity of the human person.

Radiant: I love that you include women in religious communities in your book. How can cycle charting help consecrated women both individually and as a community?

Christina: Practically speaking, cycle charting can help women identify health issues and plan for their basic needs. Women religious still experience endometriosis, PCOS, heavy bleeding and all sorts of other complications with their cycles, and that can negatively impact their ability to actively contribute to community life. I think religious communities would do well to consider cycle charting as an investment in the overall health and care of their sisters. Beyond that, I also observe that cycle charting can be a healing experience for many women. Every woman should be able to contemplate the goodness of her body. For some women, learning to listen to, respect and appreciate this aspect of our femininity is an important part of that journey.

Tying in our prayer lives

Radiant: I’ve heard about cycle-syncing your workouts, but what does it mean to cycle-sync your prayer life?

Christina: In the book, I put forward the idea that because our moods and even our attention span naturally shift throughout our cycles, it makes sense that some types of prayer may come more naturally to us in one part of the cycle than another. Unlike the concept of cycle-syncing with workouts, this doesn’t necessarily mean that we need to plan our prayers around our cycle. But it can mean that we learn how to struggle less in our prayer lives simply by acknowledging that it’s normal for us to feel that one type of prayer is easy one week but takes a lot of work the following week. I have seen the personal fruits of acknowledging and accepting those shifts as part of my relationship with God.

Radiant: How can a woman’s fertility be a source of prayer when she is either a consecrated religious, one who suffers signs of infertility, or is going through perimenopause?

Christina: “Fertility” is only possible in the presence of the other. Fertility is a shared reality between a man and a woman (and God!), so it necessarily points toward a unity of persons. My book puts forward a lot of different areas women can contemplate and pray about the design of our cycles in and of themselves, as a sort of prerequisite for deeper contemplation about the concepts of fertility and motherhood — in both the biological and spiritual dimensions. For women facing perimenopause, there are also ties with the Church (as the body and bride) of Christ and our very rich theology of crossing over from one part of life to the next.

Radiant: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Christina: I want to acknowledge that sometimes prior healing is needed before women are able to pick up the practice of cycle charting and have it bear fruit. But there is something rich and beautiful, which God has written into our bodies through menstrual cycles; so my goal with this book and with my work in general is to simply call the Church to take seriously the new medical knowledge we have about cycles and how vital they are to women’s health, and to be the voice that expands that knowledge to contemplation of woman as a whole creature — body and soul — made in the image of God.

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