Blood, we all have it, it’s the sticky substance that carries oxygen to our cells and cleans out our insides. Women have a special relationship to blood – because our reproductive cycles clean themselves out once a month. Translation: we bleed. Monthly. It’s a love it or hate it thing – and I think it’s especially interesting that my relationship with my period seems to be changing as I get older. In my mind I’d like this post to be profound and say something spiritual but I feel that may not actually be at my maturity level: this post will be about my personal experiences, attitudes, spirituality, and lessons in Sisterhood (because nothing builds Sisterhood like bleeding fiascos). Studies show Gen Y guys will read this – I’m very much into those guys. So I’m going to use a cut for (im)mature audiences… You’ve been warned there will be periods.
As a girl, and the first in my class to bleed, I loved my period. Okay, love might be a strong word for being 11 and basically wearing a diaper. Thank the gods and Always for “ultra thin” and “with wings.” So it wasn’t comfortable, those pads were AWFUL, I was super paranoid about being found out by the boys, and I hid my body in baggy jeans. However, I was still really proud of having my period. I kind of liked it. I was also aware this attitude toward bleeding was a little unacceptable. We talked about it in whispers, away from our moms huddled in a circle impervious to boys. Male teachers terrified us: my teacher when I started was a really nice young guy probably late 20s early 30s. I got my first period on picture day. I was terrified to ask him to go to the nurse. What if he asked what was wrong? I remember stuffing toilet paper in my pants determined to ask a female teacher. I waited until we went to math class to whisper in the ear of a female teacher what happened and ask go to the nurse. I wonder if she eventually told him or kept it a secret. After that though, I made it through the rest of the year okay – bleeding regularly. Skip to 6th grade with a female teacher: worst experience ever. First, I had to tell my teacher I was on my period to be able to go to the restroom: on the first day of school. I had asked to go to the restroom repeatedly and been denied. I wasn’t even wearing dark jeans, I was wearing khakis (panic). Next, I remember one of my best friends who was my “look out” when I went to the bathroom during recess to change my pad got caught. Yup, it was raining and we got caught sneaking in to the bathroom by the male (gasp) gym teacher. So, we explained we had our periods and needed to go to the restroom. Now, let me say I don’t know what health class this guy took but, he did not seem to believe we both could be cycling at the same time. Totally normal and likely, she however did not have her period yet. I’ve always appreciated that she did not throw me under the bus: first lesson in Sisterhood.
Next came junior high with little change in attitudes. Except well, I never worried about having to ask to use at the restroom again since I could easily slip in during class change periods. However, my friend did let it slip to a boy that I was the first one who had her period. At the time I was super embarrassed but totally proud still – and he was NICE. There was no teasing, telling everyone, pointing, or anything else I had been told would happen (or already experienced with my family). He just smiled and asked if I felt all right. Now, I think “damn – why didn’t I like him more” but then I was mortified. I guess my family had already done their part to instill a sense of shame of my joy in my body. I was more developed than the other girls in my grade – and this made me different. I did the best I could to fit in, hanging out with other girls who needed bras instead of wearing them for modesty. I learned to wear baggy jeans and big t-shirts… I also learned to hate my body. My joy and pride in bleeding somehow turned into “it’s not the WORST thing… that’s my ass.” My friends got their periods by 8th grade, and a few even lost their virginity. I felt pressured to move more quickly just because of my body’s early time-table.
High school seems to be a state of constant mortification for anyone in this stage of life. I was so busy destroying and hating my body – I starved, binged, purged, dieted, and took every diet pill I could get my hands on that I didn’t even notice periods. I forgot about the simple joy of bleeding; I lost all connection to every aspect of my body. While I didn’t hate my period, when it stopped I didn’t notice at first. Then, after two months without a period, I panicked. I ran to an adult I trusted and begged them to take me to get a pregnancy test. It was negative – I was confused. I did kind of miss it. I’d get “better” – meaning I’d gain some weight, I’d start bleeding again – and then the cycle would start all. My senior year was mostly void of periods. When they came, they came with a vengeance; twisting, gripping pain that left me doubled over and desperately trying to stretch the small of my back flat. My hormones tried to stop the madness with monthly migraines lining up with the week before my period. I started to become squeamish about the blood. Periods became an inconvenience, I sighed with relief when they did not come.
By college, I had irregular cycles and it wasn’t a big deal. I was a little disgusted seeing the blood but I would get over it. Then, everything changed: I actually got pregnant. I miscarried. Ever since then, I’ve cherished every premenstrual cramp. In an ideal world I suppose I wouldn’t have cramps but I can deal with it as long as it means I’m not knocked up. I got used to the blood again. I hung out with women more open and happy with their bodies. Eventually, I began to share in their positive attitude toward bodies. As I started to change my perceptions about my body, the cramping and migraines slowly began to fade away. I started to cultivate relationships with goddesses that embraced their blood like Lilith. I felt drawn toward the divine feminine in a way I hadn’t been when I was younger. I found that my goddess and my pagan path affirmed my body, cherished my body, and loved even the blood. This was not something I had experienced in my predominately Christian family. There were no menarche rituals when I was a kid: I hid getting my period until I ran out of supplies and had to tell my mother. My dad never could deal with it. Sometimes it was the butt of jokes – never sacred, never special, and I was never honored or given space to meet my needs as a woman. This is what I really learned in college above all things.
As I grow older and attempt to love my body, I find myself making peace with my periods again. I defiantly don’t hate them or see them as inconvenient – though they are still sometimes painful. I pay more attention to my body, I notice how my breasts change throughout my cycle. How much more sensitive I am depending on my cycle. I notice now how much my cycle really and truly does influence not just my physical body but my emotional and spiritual bodies as well. I pay attention to my sex drive… and trust me, my cycle definitely rules my sex life. I am more driven by hormones sometimes than a 13 year old boy. I am more receptive at some times of the month than others (and yeah, I used to roll my eyes at a lot of that kind of literature in the past). Some times of the month I feel extremely close to my goddesses and sometimes I feel more physically present and active – not prone to do anything spiritual at all. I don’t mind this. Occasionally, I even smile when I realize I am being a “crazy” girl. We’re not crazy but we are different. And that’s okay. Nice, even. I like my body’s natural rhythms. I find a peace and grace in it. I enjoy feeling my body and being connected – I enjoy the greater spiritual fulfillment I have now that I know my body’s signs of ovulation and am more aware of how to best take care of myself during different points in the cycle. This is part of taking care of me – in all ways.