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Periods: the inside story

28ish Days Later, Radio 4’s day-by-day journey through the menstrual cycle, is lively and wildly informative.

By Anna Leszkiewicz

Underfunded, under-researched, under-taught and under-diagnosed: women’s health so often seems defined by what we don’t know. So when India Rakusen decided she wanted to become pregnant, she was determined to arm herself with as much information as possible about her reproductive cycle. Astonished by what she discovered, she began working on a podcast: 28ish Days Later, a forensic, day-by-day 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 is – very roughly – 28 days long.

This is a science podcast, but a friendly, approachable one full of interesting anatomical facts, which also folds in history, social commentary and personal narratives. A variety of contributors provide candid audio diaries of their cycles – anonymised, clipped and slotted in to each episode.

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Rakusen begins with day one, the arrival of the period. She uses the episode to give us a tour of the womb – what it looks like, what it is made up of, how it works and how it has been viewed through history. Dr Dornu Lebari describes the womb as resembling an upside-down heart in the wrong place: “a heart that bleeds”. 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 around inside the body without a baby to weigh it down, and was thought to be hungering towards pregnancy. Invested with all this agency, it was considered a living being as much as an organ belonging to one: Aretaeus of Cappadocia described the uterus as “an animal within an animal”.

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

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28ish Days Later
BBC Radio 4, weekdays 1.45pm, weekends 2.45pm

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This article appears in the 20 Jul 2022 issue of the New Statesman, The Broken Party