THE FEMALE REPRODUCTIVE SYSTEM
On the female falls the major part of the reproductive process; in fact, this is the way it is in most species. The male merely fertilizes the female egg, or ovum, with his sperm to conceive or germinate a new life. The female must grow and develop that new life; birth it, or bring it into the world; and then wean and nurture the newborn until he/she is able to take care of him/her-self.
Accordingly, the male reproductive system is a relatively simple affair focused solely on impregnating the woman. The female reproductive system, on the other hand, is much more complex, and, besides the ovaries, or female gonads, which produce the female procreative seed, contains some other important auxiliary organs as well. These are chiefly the womb or uterus, and the female breasts.
In the reproductive process, the masculine principle is what initiates, germinates and conceives a new life, but the female principle is that which nurtures and grows the new life, bringing it into full fruition, manifestation and embodiment. That's because the masculine pole of creation is the Spirit, which quickens the flesh, whereas the feminine pole is that of matter, the flesh, and the body.
The Female Gonads, or Ovaries
The female gonads are the ovaries; they produce the ovum, or egg. There are two ovaries, one on each side of the uterus. Every month, an ovum, or egg, is released from one of the two ovaries, which travels down the fallopian tubes to be fertilized. If fertilization does not occur, the egg is lost in the menstrual discharge.
Like the male sperm, the female ovum, which contains her genetic information, is the ultra-refined essence of her Radical Moisture. But unlike the male, who loses a considerable portion of his essence with each ejaculation of millions of sperm, Nature has designed the female to be much more conservative of her vital essence in the reproductive process. The female usually loses only one egg during each menstrual cycle.
Rather than at ovulation and conception, the woman loses most of her Radical Moisture in gestation and childbirth. In gestation, the menstrual blood that would have been lost in menstruation, and much more, goes to nurture and grow the embryo or foetus within the womb.
A general comparison of the female body in relation to the male shows that she is more inherently moist than the male. In other words, her flesh is softer and more corpulent, with a greater percentage of adipose tissue, which is moist and Phlegmatic in temperament. Nature has designed a woman's body to be more anabolic and energy and nutrient conserving. It naturally follows, then, that a woman is endowed with a greater supply of the Radical Moisture than a man. A woman has no need to be judicious in her sexual activity to conserve her Radical Moisture, like men, but there may be other reasons - moral, ethical, hygienic and immunological - for her to do so.
Women who have borne many children may wind up with the signs and symptoms of Radical Moisture depletion. Generally, their bones and/or teeth may become soft or brittle, or subject to osteoporosis. Again, this all depends on the constitutional endowment of the woman's Radical Moisture.
The Female Menstrual Cycle
Every month, a woman menstruates, or sheds blood to cleanse her womb. It is through the monthly menstrual cycle that a woman becomes fertile, and able to conceive.
The length of the normal menstrual cycle is 28 days, or four weeks. This is the approximate length of the monthly cycle of lunar phases. Actually, it's the mean or average between the sidereal lunar cycle of 27 days and the synodic lunar cycle, or cycle of the lunar phases, which lasts about 29 days.
Archetypally, the menstrual cycle is patterned after the changing phases of the Moon. It starts at the first day after menstruation stops with a growing phase of estrogen induced proliferation and the Sanguine engorgement of the uterus with blood. This two week growth period corresponds to the waxing of the Moon, which is initially Sanguine in temperament.
Then, at the middle of the month, when the uterine lining is at its peak of fecundity, ovulation occurs, and the egg is released. This is the period of maximum fertility, which corresponds to the Full Moon. Just as the Moon stands directly opposite the Sun when she is full, ovulation is triggered by the release of Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) and Lutenizing Hormone (LH) by the Pituitary, the central Sun and conductor gland of the endocrine system. FSH ripens the follicle to produce the egg, and LH transforms the follicle, after it has released the egg, into a corpus luteum, or yellow body, which produces progesterone, which maintains the uterine lining in a fertile, receptive state.
Progesterone dominates in the second half of the menstrual cycle, when the womb is awaiting implantation of the fertilized egg. The uterine lining remains thick, fertile and developed as both estrogen and progesterone are secreted, with the latter dominant. Similarly, the Moon retains most of her light for a full week past the Full Moon. This post ovulation phase of the menstrual cycle corresponds to the third lunar phase, which begins at the Full Moon, which has a Melancholic nature and temperament; similarly there is, in the uterus, the earthy focus on implantation and the retention of the fertilized egg.
Then, usually in the final 3 to 5 days of the menstrual cycle, if implantation of a fertilized egg fails to happen, both estrogen and progesterone levels plummet. The uterine lining, which had been built and maintained by these hormones throughout the cycle, begins to self destruct, and the flow of menstrual blood begins. This phase corresponds to the Dark Moon, and the final waning away of the Moon's light, which happens at the end of the final lunar quarter. The final expulsion of the uterine lining reflects the Expulsive Virtue of the Phlegmatic temperament of the third lunar quarter.
Although I have correlated the phases of the female reproductive cycle and their temperaments to those of the lunar phases, it must be remembered that not all women will begin their own personal menstrual cycle right at the New Moon, ovulate right at the Full Moon, and menstruate in the final phase of each lunar cycle. But women whose menstrual cycle is a regular 28 days will always begin and finish menstruating at certain points in the lunar cycle, and ovulate around a certain point which is roughly opposed to the points of menstruation; these personal set points will vary with each individual woman.
Menstruation may be ugly, messy and inconvenient, and for the unfertilized egg, it's a tragic funeral and burial. But it clears the slate clean, and allows the reproductive fertility process, or cycle, to begin anew, with a new opportunity for fertilization, implantation and pregnancy.
Humorally and metabolically, the monthly menstrual cycle is a great opportunity for the woman's body to clean house. The female body utilizes the uterus and vagina as eliminative organs to expel excessive, superfluous or morbid humors. The premenstrual period, between ovulation and menstruation, is when these humoral superluities build up, creating, according to their inherent nature and temperament, the signs and symptoms of PMS, or Premenstrual Syndrome, which can be differentiated into various types. The catharsis of menstruation finally brings relief as all the humoral superfluities are released.
A woman who is completely healthy and totally in balance humorally and metabolically will not experience any undue signs or symptoms of premenstrual pain, distress or discomfort. But unfortunately, such harmony and balance is rarely seen nowadays, and some form of PMS is the norm.
The astute physician of Greek Medicine will always ask a female patient about her monthly menstrual periods. The monthly period, like nothing else, is a revealing, informative window on the overall state of a woman's humors and metabolism.
Like any bodily product, secretion or exudate, the menstrual discharge and its release are dependent on the ripening action of the Metabolic Heat of the liver. Normally, the cycle is 28 days in length, but excessive heat can speed up the menstrual cycle, whereas deficient metabolic heat can lengthen, slow down, or drag out the cycle.
The liver metabolizes not only the Four Humors, but also steroid-based hormones like estrogen, which are fatty substances, through the bile. Unlike the conventional medical approach of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), the Greek physician prefers to work naturally with the woman's Natural Faculty by normalizing liver metabolism with herbal medicines. Then, the woman's own body will reestablish its own natural, inherent balance of hormones.
In terms of Dry and Wet, the main vector or continuum is the volume of the menstrual flow. A copious menstrual flow is basically Wet in temperament, whereas a scanty or absent flow is basically Dry. I say basically here because there are many other factors that can alter the volume and consistency of a woman's menstrual discharge.
Food and nourishment are moistening, whereas physical activity and exertion, as well as nutrient deficiency or depletion, are drying. Women who undergo fasting, or extreme physical exertion, such as marathon running, will often have missed periods, as will women who are anemic, or who are otherwise suffering from serious nutritional deficiencies.
In Greek Medicine, premenstrual syndrome and menstrual disorders are differentiated into four basic types or patterns, according to the classical precepts of humor and temperament. Each woman, according to her constitutional nature and temperament, has a basic affinity or predisposition towards a certain type. However, acquired conditions and imbalances of humor and temperament can also be reflected in a woman's current premenstrual and gynecological signs and symptoms. The basic types of PMS are:
Sanguine: Heavy or excessive menstrual bleeding; possible bleeding or spotting between periods. Symptoms of Sanguine plethora before periods: lassitude, heavy limbs, much yawning or sighing, headache, pressure behind the eyes. A certain type of anemia, or thin blood, caused by deficient residues of black bile in the bloodstream can also cause excessive or prolonged menstrual bleeding, which is usually of a bright or pale red color; since this is a deficiency condition, there will usually be fatigue and devitalization after the period. With a true excess of blood, a heavy menstrual period will not produce fatigue or devitalization, but rather relief.
Phlegmatic: Considerable water retention before periods. Weeping, emotional hypersensitivity. Thin, watery menstrual discharge. Dull aching pains, bearing down feeling in sacrum and groin. Hypersensitivity to cold, vulnerability to chills. Periods can be longer than normal 28 days. Possible leucorrhea, white discharge.
Choleric: Menstrual bleeding can be profuse with excess heat and choler in the blood. Anger, impatience, irritability. Blood clots with sharp, stabbing pains in pelvic area, which are relieved after clots are passed. Possible constipation from retention of excess heat and bile in the bowels, which is relieved with the period. Possible fibroids and uterine cysts. Periods can be shorter than the normal 28 days.
Melancholic/Nervous: Severe spasms and abdominal cramping. Headaches, melancholy, mood swings. Appetite irregularities, food cravings. Thick menstrual flow of a dark color; can be scanty, or with clots. Menstrual periods can be irregular. Possible premenstrual constipation and irritable bowel.
Just as all people, including women, can be of constitutionally mixed types, these four basic patterns or types of premenstrual syndrome can also be mixed. A woman's current premenstrual signs and symptoms can also reflect a mixture of aggravated or unbalanced humors in terms of acquired conditions.
The Uterus, or Womb
The female reproductive system has an additional noble organ besides the female gonads, or ovaries. It's the uterus, or womb, which is what makes a female distinctively a woman, or "womb-man", and able to bear children.
Greek Medicine sees the inherent temperament of the uterus as being warm, moist and Sanguine. In fact, the uterus periodically sheds blood every month in the female menstrual cycle. Estrogen builds up the uterine lining and engorges it with blood, and progesterone maintains this proliferation and engorgement in a steady state until implantation, and throughout pregnancy, along with estrogen.
Being Sanguine in temperament, the uterus was traditionally seen to be the seat of strong emotions and passions, and of sexual feelings in the female. Sexual abstinence wasn't considered to be healthy for a woman, because it allowed prurient warm, moist vapors to build up in her uterus, and then rise up to and perturb her brain.
The Attractive Virtue of the uterus, which enables it to receive and hold onto the fertilized egg in implantation, comes from the richness of its blood supply. The uterus' blood supply, and its fertility and fecundity, are rooted, on a deeper and more fundamental level, in the Radical Moisture. The initial fertility and viability of the female egg comes from her endowment of the Radical Moisture, but the ability to receive the implanted fertilized egg and hold the pregnancy to term comes from the uterine blood supply and the strength of its Attractive virtue.
Traditionally, the male sperm or semen was seen as the catalyst that germinated and sparked a new life. The uterus and its menstrual blood were seen as the passive medium, matrix or substrate that was worked on by the male semen, in much the same way that stomach enzymes from a cow curdle milk into cheese. And so, male sperm was seen to curdle the uterine blood into a little foetus, or embryo; the blood from what would have been subsequent menstrual flows then goes to feed its growth and development into the newborn.
However, there were also those who recognized that the female played a more active role in parentage and heredity than merely providing the passive substrate for the germination of the foetus and the newborn. They recognized that the genetic traits of the mother were also passed on to the offspring, and therefore theorized the existence of a female gamete or ovum, even though its existence was less overt and obvious than that of the male sperm.
Traditionally, the uterus was seen to be a mobile, or movable organ. The uterus can be retroverted, or tilted backwards; or it can be prolapsed, or sunken down, for example. The uterus was said to be attracted to pleasant, fragrant aromas and repelled by stinky, unpleasant ones. So, if the uterus was prolapsed, for example, it could be redrawn upwards by applying fragrant rose oil to the nostrils and a crushed clove of garlic or chunk of stinky Asafoetida resin into the vagina or groin.
Because it must shed blood every month in the menstrual cycle, the uterus is very vulnerable to accumulations and congestions of stagnant blood. Stagnant blood clots, creating sharp, stabbing pains in the pelvic and uterine areas, which are relieved once the clots are passed in the menstrual discharge. Most herbs that activate and improve the circulation of blood also encourage the flow of suppressed menses. If stagnant blood becomes chronic, it can develop into gynecological cysts and tumors.
The uterus is also very vulnerable to cold and chills, which can initiate or aggravate menstrual cramping. A woman should take care to avoid undue exposure to cold and chills during the premenstrual period, which also includes the consumption of ice cream and ice cold drinks.
The Female Breasts
The female breasts are for nursing the newborn, and secrete milk, which is concocted from the blood and phlegm humors by the breast. Lactation is triggered by labor and delivery in the new mother, so there is a close reflex relationship between the uterus and the female breasts.
There's also a close relationship between the breasts and the stomach, as well as the liver, as these are all organs that feed and nourish the body. Toxicity and congestion of the liver will produce swollen, tender breasts. If this toxicity and congestion become chronic, fibrocystic breast disease, and even breast cancer, can develop. Black bile is the usual culprit, and women of a Melancholic temperament are more prone to developing these disorders.
Astrologically, the breasts, as well as the stomach, are ruled by the Moon and the sign of Cancer; being a soft, moist mass of glandular and adipose tissue, the basic temperament of the breasts is Phlegmatic. Women of a Phlegmatic temperament tend to have the largest breasts, followed by those of a Sanguine temperament.
A good, healthy balance of all four humors in the bloodstream makes for the best tasting, most wholesome milk in the nursing mother. Excess bile makes milk that is too thin, yellow and sharp in taste. Excess phlegm makes the milk very thick, white and sour in taste. Excess black bile will make the milk very thick, white and scanty in volume.
A good, healthy supply of blood is necessary to produce an abundant flow of milk. Deficient blood is the most common cause of insufficient lactation, but bad temperament of the blood or an inability of the breasts to concoct the blood into milk due to an engorgement of the breasts with excessive blood can also cause this condition. Women of a moist Phlegmatic or Sanguine temperament generally have the most abundant lactation.
Breast feeding is the natural, superior way to nurse a baby. Most importantly, it provides the baby with a great wealth of immune factors for his/her rapidly developing immune system. Especially important and vital is the colostrum that flows from the mother's breasts during the first few days after birth.
If the breasts are producing too much milk, this is usually a sign that there may be some suppressed menses, or that the menses aren't flowing properly. The right herbal tonics and emmenagogues to get the menses flowing properly will usually correct this condition.
Pregnancy, Gestation and Childbirth
Pregnancy brings about many changes in a woman's overall physiology and metabolism. Right after becoming pregnant, a woman's overall temperament becomes more Phlegmatic as the blood thins and increased plasma and serous fluids enter the bloodstream and circulatory system. This change can be hard to adjust to, and cause what's called morning sickness, whose symptoms are generally worse in the early morning upon arising, when the Phlegmatic humor and temperament are usually at their highest.
Typically, heaviness, sluggishness, dizziness, lassitude and nausea are felt, which are the general symptoms of a Phlegmatic excess, or plethora. These classic symptoms of excess phlegm and dampness are generally most pronounced in women of a moist Phlegmatic or Sanguine temperament. In women of a dry Choleric or Melancholic temperament, the giddiness and nausea will be more pronounced, as well as possible headaches, migraines, moodiness, poor appetite or indigestion. Typically, morning sickness goes away within a week or so, as the woman's body adjusts to these humoral and metabolic changes.
The common saying is that, in pregnancy, a woman must eat for two. But this statement can be misleading, and can lead to overeating and unnecessary weight gain during pregnancy. Rather than simply double the total volume of the food eaten, the effort should be focused on improving the overall quality and nutrient density of the food eaten - its content of vitamins, minerals and protein. Calcium intake is especially important. The eating habits should be regular, with a good three square meals per day. The caloric needs of the growing embryo/foetus are not that great, so only a slight increase in caloric intake is needed; loading up with lots of carbohydrates and calories is not advisable.
The most problematic part of pregnancy is usually the first three months, or the first trimester. This is when spontaneous abortions or miscarriages are most likely to occur.
The right herbal tonics and superfoods can enhance pregnancy and the retention/stability of the embryo/foetus, as well as the general nutritional staus of both mother and foetus. The wrong herbs can endanger pregnancy, and possibly even abort it; these are generally herbs which are hemolytic, or blood thinning; strongly stimulant; or strong harsh laxatives and purgatives. If in doubt, check with a qualified herbalist; generally, it's better to stick to the milder herbs and spices.
The anatomical changes of pregnancy are primarily caused by the rapidly growing foetus and the expanding womb. The uterus starts out as about the size of a pear, right in the lower pelvic cavity, over the pubic bone, and grows to fill the whole front of the abdominal cavity, extending beyond the navel, even all the way to the lower tip of the breastbone. The expanding uterus puts pressure on many organs and organ systems.
The expanding uterus presses downwards on the bladder, decreasing its holding capacity and increasing the frequency and urgency of urination. The kidneys and urinary tract also take on the added burden of eliminating the metabolic wastes of the foetus.
The expanding uterus puts pressure on the stomach and intestines. Constipation and bowel troubles are generally more common during pregnancy. These problems should be treated conservatively with the right dietary adjustments, and with mild bulk laxatives; strong or harsh laxatives should be avoided.
In the latter stages of pregnancy, the rising and expanding uterus may put undue pressure on the heart, lungs, diaphragm and breathing aparatus. Heart or respiratory problems may appear or become aggravated towards the end of a pregnancy.
Posturally, the added weight of the foetus may accentuate the normal lumbar curvature, a condition known as lordosis. Postural stresses may also aggravate hemorrhoids or varicose veins, particularly with prolonged standing. Many pregnant women who are heavily laden with child will walk with a waddling gait.
The term of the normal pregnancy is about 9 months. It may be more, or it may be less. The exact timing of a birth is a matter of the incarnating soul's destiny. The ability to hold a pregnancy to full term depends mainly on the fecundity of the mother, and her endowment with uterine blood and the Radical Moisture.
Women of a Melancholic temperament, or those with aggravations of black bile may suffer from an excess of the Retentive Virtue, and not be able to deliver a baby in a prompt, timely manner. For obstructed labor, taking a vigorous laxative like Castor oil or administering an enema may solve the problem, and provoke delivery.
Whatever the speed or timing of labor and delivery, it must be remembered that each woman will do it in her own sweet time, and according to her own body's natural rhythm. Wherever possible, childbirth should be done naturally, and surgical intervention kept to a minimum. Although deplorable, there have been cases of a doctor choosing to do a Caesarian delivery merely because he got impatient and tired of waiting.
Doulas and Midwives: Servants of the Mother
In traditional cultures, experienced women were always used to assist and facilitate births. The best people to assist with and deliver a baby, it was reasoned, were older women who had actually been through the birthing process itself. Both Hippocrates and Galen advocated the use of Doulas and midwives in the birthing process.
A midwife is a woman who is professionally trained to deliver babies. She may work in a hospital, clinic or birthing center, or she may even deliver babies in the mother's home. A good midwife will be able to recognize the warning signs for the complications of labor, and have training in how to handle the more common ones. She will also have access to medical intervention if necessary. Many women who are registered nurses are also certified midwives.
A Doula is a birthworker or birthing assistant; her job is to assist the mother and the person who's delivering the baby, whether they be a doctor, nurse or midwife, providing physical, moral/emotional, and informed choice support for the mother during the birthing process. A Doula will also coach a woman through the preparations for childbirth; a post-partum Doula will counsel the new mother on proper nutrition and breastfeeding, and help the mother's family make the transition of accommodating the new arrival.
The word "Doula" comes from ancient Greek, in which it means "servant", or even "slave". Doulas are the servants of the mother.
If a difficult birth and delivery are expected, it is generally best to have a doctor deliver the baby in a hospital. But if a normal, uncomplicated delivery is expected, midwives and Doulas are generally the best way to go. Childbirth is, above all, a natural process, and should not be complicated by needless medical or surgical intervention.
Studies have shown that the use of Doulas and midwives tends to shorten the duration of labor and make it less painful and difficult; it also tends to lower the incidence and necessity for medical and surgical intervention. After birth, the use of Doulas and midwives lessens the incidence of post-partum depression, and increases the probability that the mother will breast feed her baby.
For more information on Doulas, contact Doulas of North America (DONA) at: