The uterus is the part of the body where the baby grows, and in order to have a cushy place for an embryo to embed in, every month it grows a thick, lush lining. If no embryo comes along and implants, it lets the lining go, sloughing it off. That's your period and it takes four or five days. Then it begins to build up again. This all happens from about age 11 or 12 until you're in your early 50s, at which point it stops happening.
The monthly cycle is easiest to count by beginning with the first day of the period as Day 1, since that is a big, obvious signal. In fact, though, the thing that really starts your monthly cycle is your ovulation. An egg gets ready in your ovaries, and after it is ready it pops out, is caught by the catcher's-mitt looking end of your Fallopian tube, and sucked down the tube to the uterus. Once the egg gets to the uterus, if it doesn't get fertilized (fertilization also often happens in the tube) by a sperm [from a guy], it stops being a viable egg in about 24 hours. A period will then start 2 weeks after ovulation. That would be day 1 of the next cycle.
Ovulation happens for many women about halfway between day 1 of one period and day 1 of the next. When we talk about your cycle, we are talking about that time frame; 28 days for many women. But it varies. Some women ovulate as early as day 8 in their cycle. The standard expectation is that ovulation would happen about day 14. Ovulation is marked by a change in your cervical mucus (and therefore vaginal secretions), from thin and milky, to clear and stretchy like eggwhite. If you're on the pill, you won't ovulate. The pill tricks your body into thinking it's pregnant, and generally a body won't ovulate if it's pregnant.
If a woman gets pregnant, the doctor doesn't bother with trying to guess when ovulation was. The medical way is to start the count with day 1 of the period (the last one before the woman got pregnant). This actually means the count begins technically about two weeks early, since obviously a woman having a period is not pregnant. But all the medical books are calibrated that way, and it is understood by all medical personnel when computing due dates and measuring embryos by ultrasound and all. This can cause horrible confusion when a woman who has a pretty clear idea she ovulated four weeks prior, comes in to the doc and is told she is 6 weeks pregnant. It's saying the same thing, but doctors don't always realize the person is not up on the way medical people count pregnancy.
Periods don't have to hurt. The cramping is eased by antiprostaglandins like Advil and Nuprin.
If you chart your cycles on graph paper (or use a program), you will begin to figure out after only a few months how to anticipate body events, especially if you're not on a hormonal birth control method. You'll have signals like clear or cloudy mucus, and can look at several months of graphed information and pretty much predict how long your next cycle will be. Some women can also feel it when they ovulate, this is common enough that there is a word for it, mittelschmerz (please check my spelling).
Other random thoughts:
- You can get pregnant any time sperm meets viable egg. It is not prevented by douching, having sex standing up, having anal sex (if there is some clumsiness about placement at one moment or another), failing to orgasm (unless the guy does not orgasm, and even then he has to not have orgasm'd recently, or there might be sperm left in his urethra from the last time). Sperm can live up to five days or more in the woman's reproductive tract, but her egg will only be viable about 24 hours.
Also just for the sake of mentioning it, I just read that gonorrhea is rapidly becoming antibiotic resistant, so please use condoms as well as whatever other birth control you are on.
I just wanted to say that this was an incredibly helpful and thorough explanation! I agree with butterflylee8i8 that periods aren't explain well — or at all — to women. It's kind of incredulous to believe that something so important remains a mystery to many of us! Thanks for the great explanation!
Thanks, kat. My own mom was way too awkward and embarrassed ever to discuss such a thing with me. lol
Thank you soo much. My mom didn't know how to explain it properly and I have siblings that live with me so my older sister I don't know very well and its an awkward conversation in person. So since I'm on the pill I get my period every 28 days. But the last week of it there is nothing but sugar in the last seven pills. If the pill tricks my body so it doesn't release an egg, when does it ovulate? I had a miscarriage last Saturday and since then I've decided to take better care of my body and to learn more so I can prevent pregnancy from happening until my partner and I are more ready and stable.
Sorry bout all the mispells and sentence errors, using my cellphone and the keyboard is being messed. I meant to say I have no siblings living with me. (My sister is 11 years older and lives 7hrs away)
If you are on the pill, the only way to ovulate is by being irregular about taking it such that you are not getting enough coverage, or if it is not a strong enough hormone dose for your body. You need to take the pill every day and at around the same time, i.e., 7:00 one night and 7:30 the next is OK, but 7:00 one night and 9:30 one night and forgetting it one night and midnight another night, is not. Are you sure you miscarried? (I.e., you took a pregnancy test and it was positive, and the miscarriage was confirmed by a doctor?) If so, you did ovulate. If you have always been absolute to the very hour when taking your pills, and have never missed a one, and you had a confirmed miscarriage, then you should see a doctor to discuss a different kind of pill, one with a higher hormone level.
That would explain it. Rarely have a set time for it. I go for 9pm everynight but I sometimes forget till 2am or not at all.
Definitely you don't want to take the pill in that way. You might switch to a morning hour, if evenings are too hard to predict. Or right at noon.
I'm usually asleep in the morning n at noon. I work nights but then I'm up at 7am during the weekends. my shedule is very unbalanced. its hard to remember to take a pill in the afternoon cause during the week ill be getting ready for work and on the weekends I'm outta town.
Possibly it's time to look into the IUD. :)
See your doctor, or go to Planned Parenthood, and ask them about all the different kinds of contraception. An IUD is an inter-uterine device, it is put in at the doctor's office and stays in your uterus. It prevents the embryo from implanting. They are more reliable than the pill if your life is too variable to take the pill on time. There are other ways to deal with contraception also, ask your doc or ask at Planned Parenthood. (There is also saying "no" to the guy unless he is wearing a condom.) In my life I've used the pill, the IUD, and condoms and foam, and all worked. The implant wasn't around before I was married, nor was the sponge, nor some of the other contraceptives the ladies on this site mention. But if they had been, I certainly would have wanted to know about them, because one kind of contraception works better for one woman's life and another kind works best for another, and I might have found one that was a better fit for my own life. Please get educated. Start at Planned Parenthood and ask for information. In the meantime, get very serious about figuring out the best time of day to take your pill, such that you can always take it then. If it's midnight or noon, just pick a time you're most likely to remember, and stick with it. Then the pill will be effective for you.