A challenge to myself- and to you, should you choose to accept it- to write openly and honestly about the topic of menstruation, without Puritan instincts kicking in to make me cover my uncomfortableness with a liberal sprinkling of humour. If you find the whole thing a bit icky- or, you know, you’re a bloke- you don’t have to read on. I won’t hold it against you. Some people will find this confronting. That’s OK. So do I. I promise it won’t be a regular blogging topic (Random Ramblings of the Stay at Home Menses, anyone? No? No, I thought not). Hey, Germaine Greer says to be a fully liberated woman you must first taste your own menstrual blood. We’re not going quite that far.
The images used are from Vanessa Tiegs series of paintings titled ‘Menstrala’. I ‘ll let you guess the medium.
And much thanks to Wanderlust, who looked over the first draft of this and assured me it was an OK topic for publication. Please forward any and all hate mail to her.
It’s been eighteen months since I menstruated.
I know a lot of you will think I’m unbelievably lucky, and I’m sure that, eighteen months ago, I would have felt the same. My period returned a short four months after the birth of my son, despite round-the-clock two hourly feeds. Hand in hand with the horrid trauma of postpartum depression, it certainly felt as though God was laughing at me.
My daughter’s birth, nine months ago, was quick and easy, and the physical recovery the same. She breastfed by instinct, intuitively, but nowhere near as often as my son had, and slept in blessed chunks of 4 hours or more at night. I waited, with a sense of ironic dread, for the return of my cycle, anticipating it as yet another chore in the constant rock tumbler of my life.
Waiting, waiting. As four months slipped into six, I took stock of my good fortune to enjoy what felt like a simpler, easier way of being a woman- sans pregnancy, but also sans menstruation.
Then six months become eight; and eight months, nine. And I peed on a sick. And thankfully only one little blue line showed up.
And so, I wait. I wait, in a way I never thought I would.
I’ve had an intrepid relationship with my period which begin, painfully, at the age of thirteen. I remember vividly, being curled up in a tight ball, writhing in pain on the flanelette sheets of my single bed, with the cold white glow of a streetlight falling through my window. Aware, what was happening, very much afraid, too embarrassed to call my mother for help or painkillers. The comforting sunlight of morning; pain rewarded with a tiny spot of bright red blood- a moment that would return, with clarity, as I felt the warm wet sluice of a baby slip from within me.
I aged, and thin mucousy redness was replaced by a heavy, russet colored fluid that seemed to gauge my pain with it’s volume. My period arrived, a trivial annoyance, predictably, every 31 days, at roughly 10am. Until, of course, bleeding was replaced with the heavy burden of a swollen stomach, a pause in the continual, slipping shedding of my fertility.
So, maybe, you see why I’ve never really had cause to pay any attention to my cycle until now.
Oddly, I find myself craving the sensation of my abdomen swollen tight like a balloon; the rich, fertile feeling. I am wanting the lushness of glowing skin, of full breasts dry of milk. Talking on a forum the other day, it hit me that this is a feeling of asexuality I have not experienced since the awkward months of being a teenager not yet in the bloom of puberty. Without the tidal pull, the ebb and flow of womanhood, I feel dessicated, stale and without a sexual identity. I ache for the acid rush of estrogen; the buoyant fullness that comes with the monthly cycle of blood and rejuvenation; the cleansing feeling of emptying the vessel of the body, of preparing the menses to begin again, of resetting the pendulum of the hormonal swing.
Being a mother, while it has given me many things, it has taken many from me. One thing I am robbed of, with two very small children, is my sexuality. My husband, bless him, is a patient man, yet he complains- as is his right- that there is little intimacy between us, that making love is just another chore for me to cross of my to-do list at the end of a day; another qualifier to meet, to feel satisfied with my accomplishments as I collapse into sleep.
And, sadly, he is correct. After a day tending to the needs off my small people, any lingering willingness for intimacy is spent.
Finally, blessedly, once my children are in bed, the requests for my constant attention, that nag and prickle at me from the moment I wake, come to a temporary halt. The last very thing I am able to cater to is the needs of yet another person. After a day of cuddling, kissing, being climbed on and clung to, having my own space within my solitude is sacred to me. After giving of my energy, my nourishment to my baby, to have her literally suckle her lifeforce from me; I simply have no vitality left to give.
There is something asexual about the mothers of small children in our society. They dare not engage in wanton, hedonistic activity, lest they are critiqued and branded unfit. A breastfeeding woman is without a sexual identity, as is a pregnant women. The ideas presented by progressive doulas and midwives- to masturbate and kiss your partner during the final stages of labor, to assist in the engorgement and lubrication of the labia and vagina- are positively shocking.
A women, as a vessel for a child, lactating and nourishing, is expected to give all of herself for her babies- an expectation gilded with purity; the unspoken sanction that a mother’s body is to be untainted during her children’s early years. Intercourse and carnal pleasures are, in the watchful, judging eyes of our society, quintessentially impure.
It is a paradox I find frustrating; more so for my own uncertainty- is this a product of how deeply the expectations on women in our society are ingrained in my psyche- and if so, how disappointingly unliberated of me- or merely a byproduct of my own bottomless exhaustion?
The ultimate sacrifices. The moon cycle of menstruation, the deep chalice of feminine sexuality.
It is only now, within this realisation, in the absence of a menstrual cycle, that I have come to appreciate menstruation as a concept more than pads and PMS – the cycle as a connection to the Earth, the cycle of the moon a altar of sacrament to the feminine goddess within. Unfortunately, another sacrifice has been made here as well- the appreciation of the divinity of the menstrual cycle, in exchange for a consuming, introverted pleasure in my own sexuality.
I yearn for the earthly throb of bleeding, the feminine sensation of my own body’s ripe lushness. My comfort is that it shall return soon. And I will be enamored with a whole new sensation of respect for my body, for the way it ebbs and flows, for the importance of this feminine rite; a recognition of the divine in the gory mundane.