It’s something that’s happening TO me; it’s not part of me.
It struck me when she said that.
It happens to you.
It’s not part of you.
What do you think about that?
Is that how it’s like for you?
Your menstrual cycle.
Blog of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research
It struck me when she said that.
It happens to you.
It’s not part of you.
Your menstrual cycle.
A friend of mine is going camping soon, and getting her period then is the last thing she wants to think about!
Camping and menstruation…That reminded me about the bears-being-attracted-to-menstrual-blood question, and, in case she didn’t know,** I let her know that there is no evidence that bears are more attracted to menstrual smells more than any other smells…
That put a little space between me and her question of how to deal with it while camping.
I didn’t know what to tell her.
No, she didn’t know that about the bears.
That’s good to know.
Back to what to do about her period: what’s the ecologically-respectful way to handle it? I didn’t know what to tell her—other than ziploc bags. [my answer for most travel/packing questions].
I told her I’d look into it, and found my way back to the article on bears and menstruation, and forwarded it to her.
It’s not exactly en pointe, but I thought this part from the Precautions section — “Do not bury tampons or pads (pack it in – pack it out).” — the pack it in/pack it out part was useful.
It goes on with: “Place all used tampons, pads, and towelettes in double zip-loc baggies and store them unavailable to bears, just as you would store food.” [Ziplocs: I knew it!]
So, leaving nothing behind is good, but all that used product is still heading for landfill, right?
So maybe then: the cup?
She made a face.
I know. It’s sticky, wet. And you’re in the woods. Blood feels like more to deal with than pee…
But wait, is it ? –
If you’re staying put, you’ll be washing somewhere, right? Is this designated space actually different than using any shared bath”room”?
I realize you’ll be outdoors, but still it’s not much different than a public bathroom—that may or may not be in working order, and that will or won’t have products and plumbing organized for easily, privately and completely dealing with menstrual blood.
If you know where you’ll be washing up, then you’ll know if there’s going to be a water available for washing, or not. What you don’t expect to be provided there, you’ll have to bring with you. Just as you do with public bathrooms.
If you’re on the move, then it’s harder. There may or may not be water or privacy when you want it. And, the whatever that you’ll be taking with you, you’ll have to carry it. And, water is heavy.
Again, come to think of it: this is the same situation as city travel.
I’m not saying that it won’t be harder, stickier, in the woods than in Manhattan, just that this camping story is highlighting the fact that we still need to figure this out for city life.
Bidets. I haven’t seen one in years, and never in the U.S.
Is that what we need?
How did we do this before (our ill-equipped modern times)? she asked, still looking for what could work in the woods. — Again: I don’t know. Though, I’m reminded of the red tent. Logistically speaking — was that it? How it got addressed — menstrual hygiene?
Does it have to be like that?
Can this be done without the isolation piece?
Can the fact that we menstruate be included in a society where living goes on, where work continues, relationships, commitments, projects, gardening, raising children, caring for those who are ill or need help, first dates, parties and camping trips, it all keeps going.
And so do we. We, menstruators, keep going.
With varying experiences of bloating, pain, etc., living goes on. Varying experiences. I am not representing a group here, just myself—and thinking about others: wondering about your experiences and whether/how your needs are met.
Me — I would like it to be easy and normal to bleed. I also don’t want the world involved in when and how I do, so I don’t want to step off, and I don’t see a reason to stand out: it’s a normal experience, right? Our facilities should match that.
The other day, I was talking with a friend about menstrual synchrony (y’know when your cycle syncs up with your roommates, friends or co-workers), and how it stood out for her as a moment of sisterhood-solidarity, of girl-bonding, in the midst of the usual competition among women at work, and for men…[sigh]…but not there.
Not when it came to menstruation. This was our experience. Men can’t be a part of it, not directly.
And, the thing about synchrony: it’s kind of like a biological validation of sisterhood, a reminder that chicks need to stick together.
I just wanted to share that.
Running late again, I chose the first friend I saw and asked her to help me with my monthly blog post – what should I write about? I asked, not that I expected an answer.
…She leaned in and said: How about –
Y’know those times when your period just takes over, becomes your whole life. When it starts all of a sudden, and you need to. get a tampon. from somewhere. or to just to get to a bathroom.
When you have to leave NOW.
But no one can notice.
No one can know.
I need a tampon.
Why am I apologizing for that?
I’m a woman. My body makes babies.
This is part of how it happens.
I don’t understand.
…Like those tampon ads where they show you how it’s small enough that no one will know.
We’re supposed to hide it.
O, I know – it’s because we’re supposed to be crazy when we’re on our periods, right?
…Also, just last night we were talking about mikvahs. It came up while talking with an Israeli friend, who’s pregnant; we got to talking about religion, and women, and gender roles.
…And actually, with another friend: we were talking about those times when you get your period, and use it to get past the early stage of the relationship, where you always have sex whenever you see each other.
You let him know that you have your period, and so: no sex tonight.
And then, you do something else together.
What if he’s into having sex after all? I asked.
Well, now that’s interesting. That’s new information.
…Then we got to talking about boyfriends and periods and men actually saying that they don’t want to see tampons, or know about your period. Really?
That’s information, too.
…And, how sex is wet and messy, and so how is menstrual blood outside the scope?
At this point, we were interrupted. There were three of us in the conversation by then, talking over each other.
One story led to another.
Stories, questions, sighing. And this sense that you’re not supposed to do any of this out loud. We were all intimate with that.
Who are we asking for permission?
Talk among yourselves.
I’m sick of being special. I am.
I want to be ordinary.
What brought this on?
I was clicking through some of the July 28th Weekend Links (thank you, Liz!), and the article about birth control advice for women over 40 caught my eye, and while reading it, I became curious about the source quoted there, Jennifer McCullen, a physician at Ob/Gyn Women’s Centre of Lakewood Ranch. That led me to the Lakewood Ranch Medical Center, The Women’s Center:
“Caring for the special needs of women at every stage of life is the focus of The Women’s Center at Lakewood Ranch Medical Center. Separate from the main hospital. Private and with easily-accessible parking, the center’s experienced team of medical professionals coordinate care in areas of obstetrics and gynecology, labor and delivery and urology, with special attention to childbirth and breast care.”
Special needs just stopped me in my tracks.
As far as I know, human reproduction has been happening more or less the same way forever.
In whatever way the moments of conception and birth were reached, whatever the stories of the people involved, they did include a fertile woman’s body ready to hold, to carry, and to nourish through all its phases a zygote, embryo to a fetus, and to eventually deliver, a human baby.
So, why are body-experiences as relate to reproduction, or to the menstrual cycle, considered special situations like in the quote above describing The Women’s Center’s services, or “special” in another way — embarrassing, inappropriate to mention, to-be-hidden, as Fit Chick reminds us is more often than not the case, in her blog post, Breaking the Curse?
Actually, today, I don’t care so much about the whys – but go ahead and add to the comments: because that could help us to understand ourselves, our collective story of how we got here, and that may help us to move beyond this space where our common body-experiences as potentially child-bearing, menstruating humans is treated as other, rather than ordinary.
Deeply and widely quality-of-life affecting, ordinary.
And yet, managing our experiences, just talking about them….these are still special situations.
Special situations – at every stage of our lives?
I’m sick of being special.
I want to be ordinary.
In yoga class the other day (I know!) while holding a pose for a while already, the instructor started asking us about our relationships with our bodies. I’m straining to hold plank pose (a push-up), determined not to be the first to give in to trembling muscles, and he, with an annoying amount of interest and ease, asked us to think about what we expected of our bodies, of how we demanded they work for us, how we neglected them, overfed and under-rested them, ignored them, took them for granted, and complained about them, how they looked, how well they performed, how they failed us—again…(yeh, my belly was on the ground a while ago)
Would you want to be in a relationship with you, based on the way you treat your body?
Think about it. It’s a relationship not much different than your most intimate and important relationships. Only it’s between you and you, and yes, your body doesn’t use words to communicate, but it does communicate, right?
Ultimately, it’s the basis for your relationship with life itself, with living.
Your body is not a machine. It’s not a sealed container. It’s not an object.
What is to you? I wonder.
and would love to hear.
Because it’s our ideas about our bodies that make up most of the relationship. We engage more with what we think than with what is. And, more often than not, tell me if you disagree, what we think is negative, complaining—wanting something other than what is.
What would it be like if we interacted with what was happening instead of what would be easier, neater, or how it should be?
How come those ideas matter more than what is actually happening?
In body-general—and relative to the menstrual cycle.
If you were to give some consideration to what you experience in your body, and in your days and nights, relative to your menstrual cycle, and see it as it actually is, what would you do differently?
Scroll back to the top where my instructor is needling you with how you don’t appreciate, or work with the body you have in partnership, and think it over: would you change anything about how you relate to your body?
THIS ONE is my favorite image among the “THERE WILL BE BLOOD” series of photographs by Emma Arvida Bystrom. It’s of a young woman, in a skirt, reading at a counter that faces a window; you can see blood staining her panties through the glass, and she’s just reading. There’s blue sky, tree branches and buildings, in the reflection, too. A common scene. The colors and shapes in the shot, from each side of the glass fit together in this quiet, familiar way. And, yes, there’s a menstrual blood stain among the colors and shapes.
It’s so matter-of-fact, straight-forward. True.
There will be blood.
[sigh] I LOVE the simple-everyday.
I type that, and my internal studio audience snorts — yeh-right!
When was the last time you did anything but complain about, ignore, speed through or neglect the everyday things?
Be it body, home, job, the people in your life…the weather—EVERYTHING needs to be in order, handled, on time, easily maintained, as expected, neat…dry!…
Because I have things to do.
And, anything that interferes with my ability to get things done is not only of no interest to me, it needs to be eliminated. I don’t want to have to deal with it twice. Sometimes, I canNOT believe I had to deal with it once.
The thing is, now that I’m thinking about it, there isn’t much left after you excise the everyday of our lives. Machines function when you flip a switch. You can turn them on and walk away. Human living takes active participation, maintenance. Otherwise, quality of life suffers, relationships die, homes are a mess, businesses fail, feet get wet in the rain…and you become a rushed, bored, absentee for most of what is actually happening in your daily life.
It’s easy to lose sight of that.
That it’s the everyday details powering our lives.
Which is why I love this image.
It reminds me. Plainly.
Of what is.
Among many other experiences, people and things that are integral to my life (rush past it all as I might often do) —
There will be blood.
“How come we even have a Society for Menstrual Cycle Research?
Don’t we already know how it all works?”
That’s what my friend said to me when I was telling him something about something that came up related to the Society.
Well, do we?
—Already know how it all works.
I’ll go first.
I totally don’t.
For example, I didn’t grasp that taking birth control pills meant not having a period—even though I had been taking them for over 20 years.
And, when I mentioned that to someone recently, she said, “What do you mean? I thought the pill regulated your period…” The woman who overheard us, leaned in, “What? I don’t understand. I thought it controlled when…”
This isn’t the only time I’ve been in a conversation, where most of us didn’t know much about how our bodies work when it comes to the menstrual cycle. We just hadn’t given much consideration to the internal processes, nor to the effects of the things we do to manage our cycle experiences (personal and social) as they relate to our day-to-day well-being, sexuality, fertility, relationship with the environment…
It’s not unusual to be involved in things we don’t fully understand. What all the parts do, and how they interact, and why the whole thing is organized the way it is—none of that is self-evident. So if nothing prompted you to ask, or to go deeper, wider than the first level of understanding (I took birth control pills to avoid getting pregnant, didn’t think it any further), then you stopped where you stopped.
In addition to what we individual women don’t know we don’t know, collectively, we do not know all about how the menstrual cycle works.
New discoveries are being made all the time, and not everyone agrees about what they mean, and sometimes they undo what we thought we understood.
I don’t see how we could ever be done understanding how our bodies work in general. Our bodies are continually evolving, as are our lifestyles and our environment. And, specifically, when it comes to the menstrual cycle, I think my friend’s point of view is a typical one, maybe informed by the femcare aisle in the drug store, the condom rack nearby, and that the pill is (probably) available behind the pharmacist’s counter. That about covers it, right?
Must admit: I used to think so.
The mission of the Society is here: http://menstruationresearch.org/about-the-society/. Read it.
What do you think?
Do you feel sufficiently informed, equipped, able and healthy when it comes to every aspect of your life impacted by the workings of your menstrual cycle?
Are new research developments clear to you?
Do you know what to expect throughout your menstrual life stages? What’s deemed typical, within a range of normal, and what’s a sign of a health issue?
How much variation is there among us?
What tells you when to look further, and when to accept the current perspective—and where do you go to get that information and guidance?
Do you feel supported by what is available to you?
In last month’s blog post, I was thinking through why we weren’t supposed to talk about our bodies, and by the end of the post, it did seem to me that talking about our body-lives was a normal, sensible, useful, appropriate —just a big yes— thing to do.
And, then it got quiet.
Not just you.
I got quiet.
…here’s why —
I just re-read last month’s post. When I wrote it, I thought I was writing it for you.
Turns out, I wrote it for myself.
I am uncomfortable in this conversation. Not always, and not always for the same reasons.
And, less so, having told you that…
What about you?
Tell me again, why can’t we talk about body stuff?
Your body is your home.
It’s your medium of self-expression — your voice spoken and written, your hands gesturing, making things, touching someone, legs walking toward, running away from, hips dancing, butt sitting, with arms folded — are you bored, annoyed, worried, satisfied?
Your body is your receiver and interpreter of the world around you and the people in it with you.
It’s integral to your life.
How can it be weird, embarrassing, inappropriate, [tactless?] to talk about your bodylife?
What happens inside your body is literally defining your experience of the outside world, and of yourself, and your possibilities.
You can’t feel your blood moving, hair growing, cells changing…
…Some things you can feel as they happen inside you, and with those experiences, you interact directly.
Our bodies aren’t sealed containers. They are living— we are living beings.
Nutrition, hydration, elimination of waste, sweating, breathing, menstruating — these things happen in our bodies and outside them.
We make choices about our behavior, buy supplies, clothing, fixtures — we are involved in the care and maintenance associated with these aspects of our body lives.
Why wouldn’t you talk about it?
Why wouldn’t you be interested in ways to improve your experience, or someone else’s?
Why would it be unusual or unacceptable to share your experience, to ask questions, to get advice? (out loud, anywhere) — like you would when it came to any other aspect of your life.
Why wouldn’t it be normal to be interested in the quality of your body-life?
What exactly is more important than that?
Am I losing friends when I post menstrual cycle stuff on my Facebook page?
I wonder about that.
Actually, I worry about that. But I post anyway.
When someone “likes” a cycle post, every cell in my body tingles with glee, and sighs a little relief.
The other day, a particularly good post (that I learned about on Liz’s Weekend Links, written by Yashar Ali, “If Men Had Periods, Women Would Know All About It”) prompted a friend of mine to initiate a pre-yoga class period talk; we talked about the article – her thoughts on it and her boyfriend’s, and then she told me that she’d started using the Diva Cup. She liked it better than tampons, and was so happy to use a product that was not adding waste to the environment, and and and …how come she didn’t already know about this!!
Yeah. I know.
I’ve thought about this many times —
I was thinking about that, all that, again, thinking…and then I realized that it was time. Time to take a significant step forward into that space that I worry about, where you can see me and hear what I’m thinking about. Time for me to choose among these three menstrual cycle subjects:
and to commit to exploring and writing about one of them for the next year.
Ok. I’m in. (eek)
I can’t decide on which one (a lifelong condition – I find everything to be interesting!) — so I’m asking you to choose for me.
Vote in the comments, or email me if you want privacy. In addition to your vote, I’d love to hear what prompts your choice, if there is anything in particular you’d like to read about, to better understand it, or change it, improve it… I will keep that in mind as I go forward.
Let’s say I’ll start on Feb. 29th, and you have until then to vote. In March, you can read my first installment in this to-be-named series here at Re: cycling.
Totally posting this on my Facebook page!
I read a blog post about a paper (that I have not read). The post is “Why do women menstruate?“ by PZ Myers, a biologist and associate professor at the University of Minnesota, Morris, blogging at Pharyngula. The paper is “The evolution of menstruation: A new model for genetic assimilation: Explaining molecular origins of maternal responses to fetal invasiveness.” by Emera D, Romero R, Wagner G.
I’m not a scientist and don’t routinely have access to papers like these. Usually, by the time ideas raised in them reach me, they would be solid-feeling facts, authoritative and done — not inspiring questions and wonderings that I can pursue in my way.
They might be about the products that were developed in response to, or as a side-effect of the research, or maybe I’d hear about newly discovered dangers to my health.
Rarely, do I get to be in on the “why.” To think about the story of it–my body–alongside the scientists when they are exploring what might be the origin of, or deciding factors in, why we are the way we are. As human bodies.
(So, thank you, internet. Thank you, bloggers).
This paper (as I understand it via the Pharyngula post) focuses on the conflicting interests of the relationship between a fetus and the woman carrying it: the fetus acting for its survival and development, and the woman as agent for her life, health, and the ability, should she want to, to carry more pregnancies to term.
The research notes a difference among mammals who spontaneously initiate the process of building up the uterine lining, regardless of whether there’s an implanted embryo (like us, with our monthly-ish menstrual cycles) and those who build up the lining only when triggered by an embryo, and asks why do we do this? Why not wait until you need it?
The answer seems to be because you won’t be ready if you wait. Maybe it’s like having guests over last-minute. You might have food and drink enough for all, but you might not. And, you might have stuff laying around that is more personal than you want guests to see. Or, maybe it’s all fine enough. Last-minute is frequently doable, but it’s better to be prepared. Prepared gives you options. Prepared gives you a chance to make it really comfortable and welcoming. Prepared sets you up to have the experience you wanted to have.
Women menstruate to be body-ready to handle the situation of pregnancy in the context of their whole lives, and their family’s whole life.
The monthly preparation of the uterine lining establishes optimal conditions for the relationship, the active give-and-take, between woman and fetus. And, while there are conflicting interests in this shared space of blood and nutrients, I see it as like any relationship between any things living — on a continuum of interaction between self-expressing creatures, cells or trees. There are intricate, elegant processes taking place to make it all happen. There is preparation and desire on both parts — blood, nutrients, and soil, air and water being exchanged and used up among us. There are points of contact, expected and understood, or surprising, or painful, or deadly. We’re in it together for better or worse. All of our relationships are active. Everything is interrelated and contingent and based on routines and cycles. On those we build, change, evolve…
I think only we are impatient about it — want it done faster, with less work and no mess. The stuff of life is messy, though.
For me, when I understand the purpose of the mess, the effort required, the time and attention, become meaningful — I am able to recognize participants (rather than adversaries), to value the work we do and remember the vision and desire that infuse it all.