But that was not always the case.
Today is the first day of my new moon cycle. For years I cursed this day. This day meant that for the next 4 or 5 days, I would be in agonizing pain. I would be dealing with messy pads, stained clothing, strong smells. Nothing good.
I remember menarche, the day of my first menstrual blood. I had turned 12 about two weeks earlier. It was a Sunday and my mother and siblings had stayed home from church because my mother was sick. When I saw the blood, I went and told my mother who dug around in her trunk (which she had brought from Nigeria and stored all her traditional clothes and fabric in) and fished out a small pack of sanitary napkins. Her face became very serious as she said to me, "You're a woman now . . . you had better be careful what you do with your body." I was confused, of course, although I vaguely understood that I had better not get pregnant and I knew that you got pregnant by having sex although I wasn't quite sure how it worked. The day progressed and the cramps got worse. By that evening, I could hardly walk. I was keeled over in pain and I was ready for my period, which I had anxiously awaited, to be over.
Well, at the time a couple of newly arrived nurses who had come from Nigeria just a few months ago were living in our rental unit downstairs. They heard (now that I think of it, my mother must have told them) that I had seen my period. They called me down and there I was as little as I was (I was bout 5 feet even and at that time, about 105 pounds), surrounded by these big grown women and feeling abandoned by my mother who was conspicuously missing. They explained to me the physiology behind my period saying that the blood was the body's way of showing disappointment that I had not "taken in" or gotten pregnant. I was grateful for the explanation because before then, it had all been a mystery. I had questions but I knew I couldn't ask lest someone think I was "fast".
My period was something that I was made to feel I had to hide; to be discreet about. If my mother overheard me telling someone I got my period she'd say, "A woman knows how to keep some things to herself." She taught me how to carefully wrap pads so no one would know I had used one. I had a special discreet bag for carrying pads. Most especially, men were not supposed to know I was on my period.
I used to come home from school nearly every month in excruciating pain. Even though my father would be home at times (as a professor, his schedule was never set in stone), I would never call him to come get me. I would rather tough it out on the bus to get home. When I got there, he'd see my face contorted in pain. I'd mumble about what was wrong, boil some water for a heating pad, pop some
I never had a good relationship with my period.
I wished that I had been born a boy. As a boy, I would never have to worry about my period, about being raped (someone taking my virginity), about losing my virginity/chastity, about getting pregnant (the biggest shame ever), about my problematic unruly hair (I'd cut it off), about being perceived as a slut, fast, easy, about all these heavy burdens girls carry while boys live carefree lives and are loved deeply by their parents. The love girls got seemed to be predicated and based on so much and was so easily lost if you couldn't live up to the standard.
I watched as the daughter of the pastor of the church I went to, who played the piano and was a sweet and good girl was humiliated and shamed over and over, cast out from the church because she had the nerve to have sex and was "stupid enough" to get pregnant. I listened as my parents used her over and over as the primary examples of why I had to "keep myself". I didn't want to turn out "like that". She was ridiculed, scorned, talked about. No one hugged her after that. Or even looked her in the eye. I knew I couldn't even though I liked her a lot. I couldn't let my parents see anything resembling friendliness and empathy toward such a lost and wayward girl lest she taint me. I understood implicitly that for girls, parents love and acceptance was tenuous at best. And I wanted their love.
I never had a good relationship with my period.
When I hit college, I got introduced to the concept that diet played a role in the severity of my period and that was one major reason why I decided to switch to a strict vegetarian diet. Nothing changed. The relationship with my period remained antagonistic
What did change things in every way was giving birth and making the switch from disposable menstrual pads to cloth menstrual pads.
Giving birth naturally made the way I looked at my body change in unexpected ways. I felt redemption in a way. All that pain and suffering over the years, the pain to bring him forth, was worth it as I held my newborn son. Being a woman was worth it just for that moment. It was just an added bonus that when my menses returned at 4 months postpartum, it was PAIN-FREE, although my flow was still heavy. I didn't need to take any painkillers or use a heating pad. I barely had to slow down. Although I had heard it, I couldn't quite believe that childbirth could bring about such a drastic change in how I experienced my period. My period became a welcome period of the month because it symbolized that I was getting ready to once again hold life in my womb. Because the pain was no longer there every month, I was able to focus on what was actually going on. And it was and is beautiful.
In college I had written an article for my college newspaper about the dangers of dioxin in disposable menstrual pads. Yet the natural options in the health food store were lacking. I was used to wearing overnight pads as my regular, daytime pads. Sometime after Z1 was born, I started learning about cloth pads and decided to give them a try. (I'll talk in more depth about cloth menstrual pads later.) I couldn't believe how they changed the flow of my period. I went from using six to seven disposable pads daily to my flow being so light that I could theoretically wear a liner for every day of my period. It was just unbelievable. At this point in my life, I would never use disposable pads again and when I've tried, it has been so uncomfortable as to make me run back to my cloth.
Giving birth and getting with cloth have completely changed this day, this first day of my moon cycle, for me. I am feeling open spiritually today. Light. Joyful.
Yes, I still feel some pain but it's experienced totally differently. I know if I had a girl, I would do so much differently. I like the ideas that Sis. Raet gives about Honoring the First Blood. I agree with her in so many ways. Girls should never feel ashamed or confused about their first blood. It should be a time of celebration and joy. It should remain a time of celebration and joy.
My sons see me soaking my pads, they are usually with me as I'm using the bathroom. Z1 asks questions and I answer them honestly and lovingly. I'd do the same if I had a girl. It's not mysterious or secret. It's not gross. It's part of what makes me who I am and the very reason why they exist. I want them to know the ins and outs of a woman's menstrual cycle, understand the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of it. I enjoyed this short article (and graphic) on the topic and encourage folks to read it: BooYaa, It's Period Time by Renee of Womanist Musings.
I'm fascinated by my body's connection to the earth and the moon. It is profound to me that as rivers flow with life giving water, I too flow with life giving blood. I'm reminded that my womb is the symbolic source of all life and creativity, healing and unity. I am not turned off by what my menstrual blood looks like and what it smells like any longer. It pleases me now. My relationship with my period is warm. I accept and welcome and embrace the beginning of every new cycle.
Today, I can honestly and without reservation say, I enjoy, no LOVE, being a Woman.