Warning: This post contains graphic descriptions of blood...
Yep, that's right, I'm writing about periods. If the thought of lady bits bleeding freaks you out, well then, you should probably keep reading. Because, let's be honest, you need to get over it.
Trust me, I know how you feel. I'm a girl, and for the longest time my time of the month was a source of great discomfort, physical pain, embarrassment, and disgust. I dreaded getting my period - I called it names, I bitched about it, and I did everything I could to make it more manageable.
And then, I had a period epiphany.
But first, let me recap the first 23 or so years of my life in regards to bleeding out of my hoo-haa.
The first time I ever heard about menstruation in great detail was in middle school, during "the movie" (that awful film they show all pre-teen girls; guys were separated and watched a different movie). My mum had told me about menstruation and I'd heard friends whisper about it, but that lovely (read: awful) little film really determined how I felt about my period. In the video, a cartoon lady explained how a cartoon uterus sheds its lining once a month and results in blood leaking from the "vaginal area." She made sure to emphasize that - not to worry! - it was easy to make your messy vagina undetectable to others.
"No one needs to know!" The lady chirped, "It'll be your little secret!"
Secret. Hidden. No one needed to know.
When the video ended, all of us girls gossiped nervously.
Has anyone started their period yet?
Ew it seems so gross!
I know they said tampons don't hurt, but what if they hurt?
What if it gets on my pants. Yuck!
Do the boys know? Don't tell the boys!
My initial - and long-lasting - reaction to periods was one of disgust, discomfort, and secretiveness.
One by one my friends began to find traces of blood in their underwear. With the discovery came disgruntlement and often times embarrassment. Several of my friends bled on their pants (I stopped wearing white completely in order to avoid potential surprise period stains) and had to go home to change. This was humiliating because the boys would inevitably find out, and taunt and tease aforementioned girls mercilessly.
I waited in dread for my period to start. I was twelve when I was subjected to the puberty film, and by the time I was 15 most of my friends had a regular cycle. I still hadn't started. In some ways this was a relief. I didn't have to worry about ruining my panties or getting Toxic Shock Syndrome.
But there was a flip side to a bloodless vagina. The one perk of menstruation - at least according to society - was that it meant you were "a woman." Getting your period meant you were no longer a little girl, you were transitioning into a woman. I wanted to be woman. My lack of boobs, curves, and general femininity made me feel like a little boy. Getting my period, I imagined, would transform me into a bodacious babe. Or at least make me feel a little more womanly.
I turned 16. Nothing.
Finally, right after I turned 18, I pulled down my pants to pee and found speckles of red in my underwear. I did a happy dance and ran to find a tampon. That was the last time I ran to find a tampon out of excitement.
With the rush of blood to my lady bits, so too came the rush of disgust/shame/discomfort that had plagued me and all my girlfriends after watching the terribly ill-informed sex-ed movie.
I loathed the time of the month when I would get my period. I ruined pair after pair of adorable Victoria's Secret underwear (my cycle was very irregular).
I griped about it with my girlfriends, and lamented about how painful and inconvenient it was.
When I started having sex, I stayed as far away from my partner as possible whenever I was bleeding. I told them I didn't like having sex during "that time of the month" when really I'd never tried - I just assumed every guy must find it repulsive. After all, I'd heard horror stories about guys freaking out about and making fun of all things period related, and in my experience, most guys had been exceedingly uncomfortable with even the slightest mention of menstruation.
At 21 I started birth control and my period stopped completely. I was ecstatic! I went two and a half years without a single pair of blood stained panties, cramps, or awkward conversations about sex.
And then, suddenly, I started bleeding.
And didn't stop.
I bled for a whole month straight.
Gyno after gyno couldn't tell me what was wrong.
Finally, one doctor told me to stop taking the pill. I'm not sure why it took so long for someone to reach that conclusion (myself included), but I stopped that night and, lo and behold, the blood stopped flowing. At least until the next month when I bled for exactly one week.
I cried with joy when I felt the warm, syrupy blood on the inside of my thighs. I let it drip down my legs in the shower; I watched with a newfound fascination as the red swirled beautifully in the clear water. I vowed, in that moment, to stop hating on my period. Instead I began reading about menstruation - poetry, scientific pieces, essays by feminists. One book in particular (which rest assured I will write about again on this blog) was "Cunt" by Inga Muscio - do yourself a favor and read this book. I researched the different ways to catch the blood, to naturally ease cramps, and to chart my cycle in relation to the moon. I began to photograph the blood and to write about it. I paid attention to the way my body felt at all stages of my cycle, and I realized I felt more creative, more in-tune, and more alive when the blood seeped between my legs. I met women who were open about and loving towards their cycles. I began to cherish the way my body felt before, during, and after my period. My cramps have gotten increasingly milder over the past year or so, but even when they hit me hard, I let go and let the pain rock me - I try to appreciate it. I've stopped seeing my period as a thing to be disgusted by. On the contrary, I find it so incredibly beautiful. When I bleed, I feel connected. Connected to women everywhere, to Mother Nature, to the moon. I feel spiritual in a natural, earthy, whimsical sort of way. I'm no longer ashamed of my period. I no longer view it as something to keep secret. I have found that a lot of people are still unnerved by this. Most people (guys and girls) don't want to talk about menstrual blood, or Diva Cups, or having sex when you're on your period. Society has conditioned us - from a very young age - to feel shame in relation to our bodies. Particularly shame in regards to menstruation. Perhaps that's because our periods have to do with reproduction and sex. Perhaps because periods are something only women deal with.
Well, I think it's time we change all that. Menstruation - in every and all stages - is beautiful, incredible, and magical. I'm determined to help change the stigmas surrounding periods. Menstruating should be celebrated, and it should not be greeted with shame or sadness. I'm so incredibly thankful to finally feel the way I do about my period. I love it; I cherish it. Yes, sometimes it makes me cranky and hungry and bloated. But it's also a connection to womankind and it's a part of my beautiful body. And I will never again consider it anything other than amazing.
As far as feminine products go, these days I pretty much only use reusable pads. Yes, reusable. Now, before you click off of this page on the assumption that I'm crazy, hear me out. Reusable products are not only good for the environment, they're totally sanitary and easy to use (obviously you have to wash them). You're going to save a lot of money, help preserve the earth, and you won't have a store bought pad ruching up your bum. Another awesome product that many women in my life love is the Diva Cup. This nifty little bell shaped cup is super cool in that, by catching your flow, it allows you to really educate yourself about your period and your overall health. My lovely, super sweet friend Aurora Lady actually bought me a Diva Cup this weekend while we were shopping in Portland. I haven't had a chance to try it yet, but I'm looking forward to trying it out! I never use tampons. Not that there's anything inherently wrong with them. I personally just don't like the way they feel. And I honestly don't like the fact that they're mass produced and cost waaaay too much. Also, a lot of those companies are owned and run by men. That seems a little backwards doesn't it? I feel like my feminine products should come from females. Duh. The Diva Cup was created by a mother and daughter, and it's made specialty for and by women. Glad Rags is an awesome company that makes cute reusable pads, and it was also started by women, for women. Why not provide our bodies with the best possible products, while also supporting our fellow gals?
And - on that note - let's support our own bodies. Let's love and nurture and take pride in our bodies and our periods. I urge you to rethink menstruation - I encourage you to reconsider any negativity you feel toward bleeding once a month. Tune in to your body, relish every part and every stage of it. It might take some time to change the way you feel about your period, but believe me, it will change your life in amazing ways.
Inga Muscio says it perfectly, "It takes a lot time, focus and energy to realize the enormity of being the ocean with your very own tide every month…When we're quiet and bleeding, we stumble upon the solutions to dilemmas that've been bugging us all month. Inspiration hits…and routinely reinforces our cuntpower."
Source: Muscio, Inga. Cunt: A Declaration of Independence. Seattle: Seal, 2002. Print.