Only Women Bleed

This blog post is about menstruation. Not a topic that should require a trigger warning, per se, but this is just fair warning.

The other day I went for my morning wee and the toilet paper came out red. I had caught the blood at the perfect time; before it had a chance to get on my undies. I knew it! I thought. I knew my period app was wrong. Two days earlier, when I was crying and having my insides prodded, I looked at the app and it said I was due in four days. Nup, it’s gonna be two days, I thought, and I was spot on.

When I was a teenager, I used to ignore my period and all the sensations around it. My sisters would tease me because I would procrastinate going to the toilet because I was doing something more interesting like reading. I would eventually make it to the toilet, only to find a mess in my undies that wouldn’t be there if I had gone when I first felt something happening, rather than when I finished the chapter in my book.

As I’ve gone through cycle after cycle I have got more in touch with my body. Hence being able to predict down to the day. I’m not normally that good; this time was just freakishly accurate. I usually get a funny feeling about a week before it comes. Then every second month I’m liable to have terrible cramps on the first day of bleeding. You might not know this, but in most menstruating people[1], ovaries take turns releasing an egg. And for some people, including me, one ovary gives me a hard time while the other lets me off easily. It’s not every second month like clockwork, but if I get bad cramps it’s always on that ovary’s turn.

Speaking of ovaries, the ovary releases an ovum about ten days into the cycle (the cycle being measured from the first day of bleeding). Some people can feel the egg release. I sometimes can. It’s pretty exciting, and doesn’t really hurt. I call it the “twang”, like a twinge of pain, accompanied by the feeling that something is beginning. This feeling is called mittelschmerz, because of course the Germans get all the good words. It means “middle pain” because it happens in the middle of the cycle. But really, I think it should mark the start of the cycle. I guess it’s somewhat harder to track, because a twang is a little less obvious than blood coming out of your vagina.

Usually, the body temperature spikes during ovulation. I think it has to do with creating a warm environment for the ovum to nestle into. I remember a friend of mine talking about this, and saying “It always seems to happen on the hottest day in summer, and I feel like I’m burning alive.” I have never had that experience, but often I have had the opposite: on the first day of bleeding, the body temperature drops. Hence the need for a hot water bottle, or wheat bag – for cramps and to warm up. I have memories of being in a public place, freezing cold, cramping, bleeding what felt like pints of blood, and all I wanted to do was curl up in bed with a wheat bag and sleep but I had to participate in whatever the event was.

Which brings me to my next point: looking after yourself. The other day, after I discovered that I was on day 1 and put in a fabric pad, I continued getting ready for the day and started to make a list of all the things I was going to do when I got home from uni. Like: work on my thesis, edit a video, write an article I’ve been procrastinating. Then my gut started to hurt, and I thought, What’s going on? Am I hungry? Do I need to do a poo? Then I remembered, oh yeah, I have my period. Even though I just said that I’m now more in touch with my body, clearly I’m not the best at it if I can forget that I’m menstruating just ten minutes after I find out. So I took a couple of ibuprofen and readjusted my expectations.

What I really felt like doing after uni was lying in bed with my wheat bag. So that is exactly what I did. I went to uni, did my test, went home and for the rest of the afternoon I sat in bed with my wheat bag crocheting and listening to podcasts. Once it got to around four pm, I had the energy to make some dinner.

There is a fair bit of shame tied up in menstruating — I am kind of nervous publishing this blog post. And I think because it is something you would rather not be happening, there is a temptation to plough on as though it isn’t. But that’s not healthy and it’s not caring of yourself. For some people, menstruating really doesn’t have a huge impact, apart from having to remember to change your method of protection however often during the day. For others, getting your period means you’re in so much pain you can’t do anything other than lie in bed and cry and take drugs. I’m somewhere in the middle, depending on the month and which ovary releases. Wherever you fall on the scale, though, I think we do well to tune into what is happening in our bodies, rather than pretend it’s just not, and adjust our expectations of what is possible for “that time of the month” accordingly.

I would just like to note here that this advice comes with a fair amount of privilege. I am a student and can afford to take the afternoon off; I’ll just do the work tomorrow, right? It’s not that easy for everyone. The most sad period story I ever read was from David Levithan’s book Every Day, wherein a hispanic immigrant, possibly undocumented, had to go to work as a maid and clean four houses while suffering the worst period pain. There was no choice, no advantage in “being in tune with her body”. So I’m just checking my privilege here and adding the caveat: “To the extent that you are able to do so.”

 

1If you’re wondering why I am saying “people” instead of women, that is because it is possible to have a body that menstruates but not identify as a woman. I guess this acknowledgement makes the title of this post tongue-in-cheek at best and offensive at worst.

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