Enjoy the conversation below with the founder of Chalice Foundation Jane Bennett to ask about her career and where it all began.
Q: Hi Jane. I guess it makes sense to start at the beginning, what first sparked your interest in menstruation/periods given that you’ve now spent decades of your life working towards better experiences for women and girls?
A: In my early 20s I was living in Sydney and met Francesca Naish, who through her own needs had researched natural ways to manage fertility and brought the results together in Natural Fertility Management, her secular, health and women’s empowerment style of fertility awareness.
I was intrigued by the idea of being able to read the signs of my body to know where I was in my menstrual cycle, specifically the lead up to ovulation, ovulation and when this was over, as well as lots of other signals about what was going on hormonally. Despite my interest it still took me 2 years, and a supportive new boyfriend, to formally make an appointment to learn these methods for myself. What happened next really did set me on my life’s path.
As I began charting my cervical mucus, waking oral temperature, and other cyclical signs, I felt as if a veil was being lifted and I had a fascinating new and intimate window into understanding myself. My initial motivation of a natural method of contraception quite soon became a side-benefit to the real action – the daily empowerment of knowing where I was in my cycle, how best to care for myself and how to make the most of these natural rhythms, instead of being buffeted about by them.
Once I settled in with these methods a persistent thought was, ‘Why hadn’t I been introduced to this knowledge ten years earlier?’. It would have been so great to understand the changes of my body; why there was more vaginal discharge here, why my breasts were tender there, what my re-occurring headaches were about. Not for contraception at that age, but for all the other ways that understanding and appreciating what was happening as my body matured and became more or less cyclic would have been a great help. The truth is that the people around me either didn’t know these things, or didn’t think it important to share any of it with me. Over the years I have come to see many many women react similarly with anger and sadness at the years of anxiety, embarrassment, ignorance, pain and struggle when well-timed, well-designed education could easily replace that with confidence and enlightened wellbeing.
So, really, my interest is in the whole menstrual cycle, the whole experience for women and girls. It’s just that as a society we have particular problems with menstruation, either in individual experience, or cultural taboo – which still leads to isolation, ignorance and negative health outcomes. Menstruation is, if you like, the flash point of the menstrual cycle. Where the danger, anxiety and shame reside. All of which is so unnecessary.
Q: What is something that keeps you interested in/inspired by your work every day and every week?
A: The experiences of women and girls. For each woman who discovers an aspect of menstrual wellbeing and awareness that lifts her, that makes her life easier and more joyful, that enlightens her, this motivates me to continue. For each girl we’re able to offer a model of menstrual wellbeing that is curious, respectful and positive, where they feel engaged with the changes of puberty and their nascent menstrual cycle, and supported to develop an innate sense of permission and agency to care for their cyclic selves, I am deeply grateful to have been a part of facilitating that.
Q: Why did you start the Chalice Foundation?
A: I had been offering menstrual education and fertility awareness counselling, as well as teaching and writing and running a cloth pad business, for over three decades, when I had a strong, impossible to ignore, impulse to consolidate all of this into a not-for-profit social enterprise; to expand the opportunities and reach of the work, as well as to expand well beyond what I can do as one person, and beyond the time frame that I could do it. I like to think the Chalice Foundation can do for menstrual education what breastfeeding associations have done for breastfeeding and childbirth education associations have done for childbirth education. Time will tell.
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Jane Bennett is the founder of the Chalice Foundation and a social worker, researcher, writer and educator with nearly 40 years in practice. After experiencing the revelations of Natural Fertility Management in the mid-1980s Jane began working as a Natural Fertility Management counsellor, then trainer and later authoring The Natural Fertility Management Kits with Francesca Naish. Jane launched Celebration Day for Girls in 2000, Cool on the Inside in 2002, Fathers Celebrating Daughters in 2004 and Mense-Ed in 2016. Jane co-created The Rite Journey girl’s Year 9 program, and continue’s her long-standing role with Natural Fertility Management. Jane is the author of A Blessing Not a Curse and Girltopia, and co-author of About Bloody Time – The Menstrual Revolution We Have to Have, Woman Wise Conversation Cards, The Complete Guide to Optimum Conception, The Natural Fertility Management Contraception Kit and The Pill – Are You Sure It’s for You?, and is eternally passionate about nourishing healthy curiosity and best-practice self-care for women and girls.