28ish Days Later Review: The Inside Story of Periods

Underfunded, underresearched, undertaught and underdiagnosed: women’s health so often seems defined by what we don’t to know. So when India Rakusen decided she wanted to get pregnant, she was determined to arm herself with as much information as possible about her reproductive cycle. Astonished by what she discovered, she started working on a podcast: 28 days later, a day-to-day forensic exploration of how the menstrual cycle affects our lives, is the result. Each 15-minute episode focuses on a different day in the cycle, which lasts – very roughly – 28 days.

It’s a science-based, yet friendly and accessible podcast filled with interesting anatomical facts that also blends in with history, social commentary, and personal stories. A variety of contributors provide candid audio logs of their cycles – anonymized, cut and inserted into each episode.

[See also: What the dog hears]

Rakusen begins with the first day, the arrival of menstruation. She uses the episode to take us on a tour of the womb – what it looks like, what it’s made of, how it works, and how it’s been seen throughout history. Dr. Dornu Lebari describes the uterus as looking like an upside-down heart in the wrong place: “a bleeding heart”. Dr Elinor Cleghorn explains why the concept of the “wandering womb” was so persistent, from the ancient Greeks to the Victorians: the womb was believed to float inside the body without a baby to weigh it, and it was thought to was hungry for pregnancy. Invested with all this agency, it was considered as a living being as much as an organ belonging to oneself: Aretaeus of Cappadocia described the uterus as “an animal within the animal”.

Rakusen explores the effects of our hormones: high-energy estrogen and progesterone, the “Wednesday Addams” of hormones. She delves into the “data gap” in women’s health, menstrual tracking apps and biohacking in sport, and interviews the first trans man to lead a period campaign. It’s a lively, accessible and extremely informative listen.

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28 days later
BBC Radio 4, weekdays 1.45pm, weekends 2.45pm

[See also: How statistics mislead us]

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This article originally appeared in the July 20, 2022, issue of The New Statesman, The broken party

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