Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research

In Defense of Hating My Period

October 1st, 2012 by Chris Bobel

Okay. Enough. I gotta say something.

 

Because I am committed to various efforts to reclaim the menstrual cycle as a vital sign and subvert the dominant narrative that menstruation is obsolete and/or a badge of shame, many people assume my periods are all drum circles, red jewelry and a week-long love affair with my Diva Cup.

More insidious still is the pervasive assumption that thinking differently about our cycles necessarily points to LOVING our cycles. As if there are ONLY two choices on the menstrual menu: I’ll have the Obsolete Shaming Nuisance or My Cycle is Womb-alicious. That doesn’t work for me as I suspect it does not work for others. There’s a whole lot of territory between refusing to see menstruation as meaningless OR as proof positive that my body is unruly, out of control, and a source of deep-seated shame AND embracing my menses as the Sine qua non of my gender identity or the gift that keeps on giving, about every 28 days.

I gotta ask: can’t I resist the shame and still find the monthly uterine shedding a royal pain in the vagina? Because, dear reader, that’s how I feel about MY menstruation. Most of the time, I really hate my period.

I am a heavy bleeder– a seven full days of gushing, clotting, and without fail, staining usually both my sheets and my underwear. My period is a week of carrying an extra pair of underwear with me in my backpack, sleeping on a towel (that always bunches up and makes me miserable as I try to find a comfortable sleeping position) and scrubbing stains out of my underwear.

I do not celebrate my flow during my menses. At the same time, I am grateful that my body is signaling All Operations Normal and Functioning. Yes. I AM appreciative of the reminder to practice self care, to slow down, to pause…. but  I rarely do, if I am honest.  Truth is, even in the context of all this gratitude for what my body is doing to keep me healthy, I groan when Aunt Flo comes a-calling.

But admitting that has not come easily because I am privy toan awful lot of menstrual talk (on this blog and in the wider world) and the two OPTIONS ONLY discourse is pervasive. You either hate it (shame on you for shaming on you) or you love it (Fool. Join the 21st century!). See?

My point is simple. Let’s not trade one dogma for another. Messages on either pole fail to listen to women and instead, PRESCRIBE how we should THINK about our embodied experiences. Some menstruators DO welcome their periods and find ways to celebrate them. Some menstruators spend Day 1 on the floor of the bathroom, clutching the rim of the toilet. Some menstruators are damn grateful to see bloody panties as a signal of Not Pregnant or Right on Schedule and then pretty quickly shift into dogged management mode. Some menstruators  _________________ (your experience here).

The different menstrual world I want is a bigger one, one shaped by a more  (not less) pluralistic menstrual discourse that makes the way for as many menstrual attitudes are they are menstrual experiences. This stuff is personal and individual and yet, because of FemCare ads, industry-sponsored menstrual education in schools and increasingly Big Pharma’s awkward melding of high tech body meddling so that women can menstruate like their Paleo ancestors, it is hard to hear our OWN voices over the din.

Here’s my voice: thanks for the free monthly wellness check but I wish it were not so much work. But I will be damned if I will whisper that I need to change my pad or be seduced by a slick ad campaign that enlists me as a paying research subject. I just need better pads (longer, anyone?) and maybe a terry cloth fitted sheet. And someone to do my laundry.

  

25 Responses to “In Defense of Hating My Period”

  1. Chris Hitchcock says:

    Amen.

    Let’s remember that, while the personal is political, it is also, well, personal, and individual.

    I, too, sometimes wonder how people imagine my menstrual experiences to be, as someone who has publicly questioned the health and safety of replacing unmedicated reproductive cycling with continuous ingestion of birth control pills.

    And the answer is, a lot like yours: heavy flow for most of my life, menstrual cramps from hell, some cyclic moodiness, and, now, in perimenopause, increased migraine headaches that have started to cluster in the days before and after I start flow.

    I’m looking forward to graduating into (post)menopause. And being able to choose sheets that are something other than deep maroon. :) :)

  2. Chris Bobel says:

    Deep maroon sheets–why didn’t I think of that?

    You are SOOO right, Chris. I think the Personal in *The Personal is Political* gets lost some time (we feminists worked so hard to make evident the POLITICAL, CONTEXTUAL, STRUCTURAL and CONTINGENT that sometimes the individual falls off the grid). I think we can have both, lo, I think we HAVE to if our feminism has any chance of being relevant for the largest possible number of people.

    Thanks for commenting!

  3. Tomi-Ann says:

    Wonderful piece! It employs what I think is the very best “solution” to the either/or, hate/love dominant narrative around periods. And that is HUMOR. Laughing helps. Thanks, Chris!

  4. Jay says:

    Oh yes…I love my periods, but I have excessively heavy flow that often sees me needing to change clothing several times a day (despite diet changes, medication, menstrual cups and big cloth pads)…I still love my periods and am not looking forward to when they stop, being a ‘menstrual activist’ I do sometimes feel guilty for feeling like I just really can’t be bothered with my period and even…*gasp*…thinking ‘I hate my period today’.

  5. Chris Bobel says:

    Exactly, Jay…it is the sinking guilty feeling that I would like purge……and I have it too. I haven’t yet felt a guilty reaction that was productive (guilt can motivate, but the cost to our egos and our self esteem is too high, I think). Shed the shame AND the shed the guilt, I say (but that’s easier said than done).

  6. Sharra Vostral says:

    In reference to the cartoon, there IS a vibrating tampon. First named VIPON, it is a cotton tampon that has a small vibrating mechanism in it similar to a cell phone. A Swiss company purchased the patent and renamed it Tamia, which according to the website “relieves your menstrual cramps by means of gentle vibration.” But, as we all know from Rachel Maines, vibrators come in many forms.

    http://www.tamia.com/Home-en

  7. Chris Bobel says:

    Oh Sharra! How I love historians! Thanks for this. And wow.

  8. Josefin Persdotter says:

    Thanks Chris! And Tomi-Ann (and everyone else) what about a menstrual humor event on 2013 conference?

  9. Jeffrey says:

    I think this piece is wonderful in establishing how a political and cultural stance on something does not make it a persons favorite activity above everything else. As you said Chris, just because you appreciate the health reminder doesn’t mean you enjoy everything thing that comes with it. If a woman states she is not having the time of her life dealing with her flow or potential cramps does not mean she should be accused of not loving her cycle, or dare I say, not being a feminist. This is such an important stigma to break because it transcends to some many other issues. For example, just because a person is pro-choice does not mean they feel everyone should have an apportion all the time for every pregnancy. Pointing out the stigma and making people aware will go miles in ending it.

  10. Chris Bobel says:

    Josefin: We do have a Menstrual Poetry Slam planned for the conference and a comedic sketch performer slated as a featured speaker as well!

    Jeffrey: I appreciate the connections you are making here! I agree. Disentangling appreciation from say, celebration and recognizing a right for all does not necessarily imply a personal preference for an individual is crucial. Thanks!

  11. Sofija says:

    Hilarious and well-phrased! I wanna add that the stigma attached to menstruation as one filled with mood swings, overwhelming cramps, and nasty odor is so last year! We need to embrace menstruation for what it truly is, not just what it is perceived to be. And it is a wonderful phenomenon that certainly does not hinder women from engaging in their normal daily activities. The medicalization of the phenomenon by linking it to psychological issues such as irritability, anxiousness, or lack of interest further distorts the image of it in society. Yes, there are some “bad” things associated with the period, but not for EVERY woman. The generalizations need to stop.

  12. Chris Bobel says:

    Thanks for writing Sofija. Precisely, one size fits all is inadequate (except when sizing scarves, perhaps?)

  13. HeatherD says:

    I love this, Chris. It’s funny, I’ve had to explain to audience members who listen to my presentations on menopause that just because women might feel positive about reaching that life stage doesn’t mean they’re positive about symptoms – or vice versa. I’d like to make the point, then, that probably mixed feelings or multiple feelings are probably the most common of all about menstruation and about menopause.
    And what I’ve been thinking a lot about the last few years is that so many of these reproductive activities we participate in are SO MUCH WORK, day in and day out. While we do enjoy moments of them, we can’t discount the burdens they place on us. Radical feminists are right in part about that….

    • Chris Bobel says:

      I like your point about ambivalence, Heather. I think that’s the gist of it…we have lots of reactions/feelings, and they can even be contradictory at times. That’s the reality…and until we reckon with the reality, we can’t get very far in in developing a truly usual menstrual discourse that shapes and empowers true embodied agency.

  14. Jo says:

    Spot on. Just absolutely spot on.

  15. ollie says:

    This is a really great post. I’m commenting to point you to my post about periods, which is kinda … opposite but the same? Or, similar but completely different. I’d be interested to know what you think! check it out

  16. You’ve really nailed a key issue with menstruation, Chris. As someone who advocates for greater menstrual cycle awareness and education, and, yes, learning to chart our cycles, I certainly had my fair share of unpleasant menstrual experiences including lots of stained underwear and bed sheets, and wicked cramps. Now that I am menopausal, although I don’t miss any of that, I do miss the cyclicity of menstruation. But what I miss the most is ovulating. I loved how I felt physically and emotionally during the several days of my ovualtion phase. The thing about cycles is they are just that – cycles. Up and down, round and round, highs and lows.

    And just a note. This is the most commented on post in a long while at re:Cycling. The post is great, but it is the compelling title that grabbed attention. Brava!

  17. Chris Bobel says:

    Thanks…..wish I had spoken up sooner. I appreciate the reminder–for all of us–that cycles are er…..cycles. Funny. We use the word so much I think we have perhaps drained it of its meaning…..good to remember to put the dynamism and movement back in the cycle!

  18. Cherie says:

    Aloha ladies!
    I have to agree. And disagree.
    No, leaking onto sheets and through underwear and scrubbing out stains on clothes is not pleasurable. And do I enjoy cramps from hell – nope, definitely not.
    I hear many women saying they have tried everything to relieve heavy bleeding and gnarly cramps, but I have got to ask – what does “everything” mean? What things exactly have you tried, who recommended them, and for how long did you try them?
    Everyone is so different, the same generic protocol definitely does not work for everyone, AND many truly helpful solutions exist only in the realm of womenʻs herbalism, which is certainly not mainstream.
    What about staying in bed all day during bleeding? Two entire days and nights if you need it. Every month. Regardless of what you have to miss.
    This sounds like blasphemy – but it is what your cycle is demanding if you have heavy bleeding and cramps. Heavy bleeding often gets heavier for moving around, and slows and stops for lying down and resting.
    Rest has been vilified, made forbidden. God help us if we miss out on something, say no to a party, donʻt go to work, miss a meeting, cant meet up for book club and on and on.
    And yet it is rest that our bodies are crying out for. Our cycles are heavy and cramps are bad because our adrenal glands are spent. Our endocrine systems out of whack. Our spiritual selves are starved for attention. Womenʻs bodies were never meant to drive on and on with constant “go go go” energy. They are designed, not to just slow down, but to STOP during bleeding. Every month. This is the time for checking in with intuition – to cease the busy-ness that consumes us the rest of the month.
    Think of all those months you “sucked it up”, you “pushed through it”, you didnʻt call in sick because you were afraid to look like the weak female who cant handle her menses. This is the madness that must stop.
    We are designed differently. We are NOT weak because we are different. We simply have a different cycle. We have profoundly productive and energetic time, and then we have profoundly quiet, contemplative restful time. This is the truth of the nature of the female body. In order to return to optimal health and a menses we can look forward to, we must honor the truth of our female physiology.
    I am not suggesting this is easy. I have a terrible time saying “No”. Oh, that first dance performance by my five year-old, yeah I missed it because I was bleeding. NOT.
    I pushed through it many times, even recently. But the sooner we ALL start to take back this time, and plan our calendars just a little more thoughtfully, the easier it will get. We simply need to take it back.
    It takes practice, and it takes willingness to prioritize OUR needs over everything else.
    Radical.
    To help with the immediate physical complaints, there are simple and inexpensive plant remedies and natural (food) supplements that can relieve severe cramping and heavy bleeding for most women. Most of this knowledge comes from the realm of “wise woman” herbalists, who continue to hold sacred the remnants of plant healing wisdom, especially around womenʻs reproductive issues.
    A few tips: Low iron levels (common in women) lead to heavy periods, resulting in lower iron levels, creating a negative spiral of heavier bleeding and potential for clinical anemia – eat plenty of healthy, iron rich foods (leafy greens!) and take a natural iron supplement (Floradix liquid iron is the best). There are also iron rich soup recipes and iron rich herbal teas. Any meat sources of iron you choose must be organic, or you may make the problem worse with unnecessary hormones found in commercially raised meats. Commercial dairy products are especially bad at the moment. And remember, most coffee shops do not use organic milk or half and half. That reminds me, did you remove coffee and caffeinated teas completely? Both of these make the heavy clotting much worse, even one cup a day, due to adrenal reaction to caffeine and dehydration. We need to drink far more clean water than most of us do – sipping four ounces every hour throughout the entire day is ideal. Heavy, clotted bleeding is often a signal of dehydration.
    Daily intake of seaweed is also indicated in heavy menses – and if you cannot stand to eat it, you can take powdered kelp in capsule form. There are many excellent seaweed products available.
    Before you bleed – be sure to have supplies on hand for relief of heavy bleeding and cramping – its too hard to go to the store and get them once you are already flowing and in pain. Shepardʻs Purse tincture works for many women to slow and stop bleeding. It is safe and can be taken one dropperful every hour until bleeding slows. Iʻve been using this and it works wonders.
    There are many cramp relief herbs that can be purchased in dried, bulk form very inexpensively. You can make a tasty infusion (steeped overnight in lidded jar) and drink it during cramps, or you can experiment with drinking it several days before bleeding to see if you can reduce the flow before it starts. It is best if you can locate a well-trained herbalist to create a formula for you based on your whole BE-ing, your constitution and/or your other symptoms. Generic formulas do not work for everyone. That said, if you are ready to experiment and test out your self-healing intuition (which I HIGHLY recommend), here are some common plants to choose from – or make your own tea blend using several of them (you might want to add peppermint or spearmint leaves for taste):
    Cramp Bark (Viburnum opulus) : A “uterine nervine”, cramp bark relaxes uterine muscles. Its sedating and relaxing action is magically specific to the reproductive system, making it especially useful for painful menses. Because it is also high in tannins, it helps reduce excessive flows. Safe to use over an extended time, with no toxicity or side effects.
    Black Haw (Viburnum prunifolium): Used when there is tension and stress in the uterus. A powerful uterine relaxant, it is sedative and anti-inflammatory with pain reducing effect. Excellent for “quieting” the uterus, it has long been used as a prevention for miscarriage. No toxicity and no side effects.
    Valerian Root (Valeriana officinalis) Use tincture if you do not care for the taste of it in tea. A potent nervous system tonic with anti-spasmodic action on tense muscles. Can be combined with chamomile for general or digestive stress, cramp bark for menstrual cramps and/or lavender for stress headaches. Also a remedy for insomnia. It is non-habit forming and safe.
    Raspberry Leaf (Rubus idaeus): A simple, yet powerful tonic that tones and relaxes the pelvic and uterine muscles. It is a rich source of many vitamins and minerals, particularly high in calcium, iron, phosphorus, potassium, and vitamins B, C and E. Its astringent properties are helpful in excessive menstruation. Used for hundreds of years, raspberry leaf is one of the least expensive, most nutritive, safe and effective herbs for supporting womenʻs cycles. Drink a quart a day all month long for more dramatic results.
    Nettle Leaf (Urtica dioica): Long valued as a food and a medicine, nettles provide one of the best plant sources of digestible iron and is rich in calcium, vitamin A and chlorophyll. It is a premier female tonic, good for all phases and cycles. It reduces water retention, corrects PMS symptoms and is specific for excessive menstruation due to high Vitamin K content which controls and prevents hemorrhaging. Also supportive of the endocrine system, nettles is another plant that is good to eat and/or drink daily.
    Ladyʻs Mantle (Alchemilla vulgaris): Used throughout history to treat menstrual irregularities and difficulties, it is valuable in curbing heavy menstrual flow and alleviating cramps. No toxicity or side effects. Hard to find for purchase, you may consider growing this womenʻs ally.
    Lavender, Chamomile and/or Hops may be added for additional nervous system support and relaxing effect.
    The truth is that every women IS different. And every cycle can be different. Our cycles are intimately tied to our nervous and endocrine systems which are affected by everything! It is our greatest teacher and our greatest signal for what needs tending to in our lives. It reflects our mental, emotional, physical and spiritual state. To view it as only physical is extraordinarily limited, and ignores the profound messages our body (and spirit) has to share each month.
    To pursue a long term, physically nourishing program requires a commitment to dietary change, regular exercise, proper hydration, supplements and herbal infusions over a period of several months to a year. This is a big commitment. Changes are not immediate. Our systems have taken many years (since we started bleeding) to get to the point where they are this exhausted and crying out with symptoms. Our bodies may take longer than a few cycles to heal. We need to give our bodies time to rebuild and and readjust. And without adding at least one total day of bed (or couch) rest, I am not sure any lifestyle overhaul will be effective, since resting is the most important piece. This process is empowering and the results are long lasting. You will cherish the commitment you have made to your personal well being.
    AND, just maybe you WILL start to enjoy your menses. Once you allow that time to become your monthly personal time out, and you make space on your calendar for it, planning out your reading list, your movies, your hot bath and your facial mask and your teas, you might just find you do start looking forward to it!
    “That time of the month” turns into “radical self care time”.
    PS: I agree we need better products – what about cute boy shorts or panties (black, brown and maroon colored) with soft absorbent padding sewn right in?

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Readers should note that statements published in re: Cycling are those of individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Society as a whole.