Scene 1 10: 45 am:
A quiet Sunday morning, sunny and bright. Brunch on the patio. I sat with my daughter, my partner, and my niece. Over pastries and coffee, I experienced waves of menstrual contractions, coming steadily every 15 minutes. And I winced, swallowing my moans.
While my niece spoke of her back pain, and my partner lamented his brief but powerful bout of the flu, I offered no comment about the vice grip around my uterus, the attention-grabbing cramping that hit me again and again. Through these cramping spells, I coached myself to “tough it out” though I noticed that when I was alone, I audibly groaned. I hurt, but I said nothing.
And interestingly, later, while chatting with my stepson and his boyfriend, I kept the cramps entirely to myself. I chose to suffer in silence.
I hurt and yet, it seemed, my menstrual pain was not worth mentioning. It was mundane, even nearly universal. It was not the type of thing you sit around and whine about. I was aware, at some level, that an occasional mention of my pain would garner some sympathy, but beyond that, let the eye rolling begin. And in some company, it might be too-much-information, too private, too gross, even, to mention.
Scene 2 4:30 pm: Returning home after a 10-day road trip. The house, showing the wear of a place overrun by two cats with little human intervention, needed to be restored to order. Piles of mail. Bags to unpack.
But the very first thing I did when I walked through the door was take a shower and then do laundry. I had leaked badly during the last leg of the trip and I was a mess. My partner and daughter, alternatively, immediately settled on the (cat hair-encrusted) couch and reconnected to their wired worlds. While I, 21st century pioneer wife, scrubbed blood stains out of my clothes and hung another pair of “ruined” panties on the clothesline.
I walked past my family several times during my emergency clean up operation. With each glance, I felt envy rise up, and if i am honest, resentment, too. But I did not complain. My body, my period, my mess. My problem.
But is it? Should it?
During menstrual moments like these, (and now I will generalize) we often experience an acute embodied awareness that arrests our attention. At times, the experiences are painful or messy or both. Sometimes these ‘invasions’ are significant ,and we could benefit from some company. And yet, it is the rare menstruator who is NOT socialized to ‘buck up’ and ‘just deal with it.’ There is a persistent voice in our heads: ‘No body wants to hear about your period…. Cramps are boring. And stain stories? Nobody wants to hear about THAT!”
I’ve argued this point before; it seems the only acceptable menstrual discourse is PMS jokes (in which the punchline is a bitchy, out of control woman [see image above].
When it comes to expressing the reality of our menstrual lives—wherever our experiences fall on the continuum from menstrual joy to menstrual misery—we do so in a veritable sound chamber that CAN hurt us. For many of us, our menstrual experiences are uneventful, at least most of the time. But for the rest, they can be catastrophic. Or they may be normal, ho-hum, TODAY until they are NOT, a day later. Things change. Needs change. But the silence persists.
My concern is this: if we don’t open spaces for menstrual discourse, how can we find the support to discern the normal from the NOT normal? How can we get the info and support we need when we need it?
Scene: 3 3:24 am. I slowly came to consciousness and as I did, I instinctively reached between my legs. Yes. I was wet. Yes. My pad had shifted. And yes, so had the “insurance towel” I placed beneath me to protect the sheets. Damn. I didn’t want to get up and change my pad and underwear, but if I did not, I would have an even bigger stain on my sheet, maybe one that would soak through the mattress pad and onto my mattress. Ugh.
So I laid there, trying to will myself out of bed to do this necessary chore, one that would ruin my precious, already too-little rest. The house was silent except for the sounds of my partner’s staccato snoring. I heard nothing in the next room and assumed that my daughter slept peacefully, too. I began to rise, taking care not to disturb anyone. And as I did, I felt envious of their peace, their seamless sleep.