No one wants to admit it, but it’s true. This whole childrearing thing, it’s a veritable freak-show for the female body.
I’m thinking about blood today, having just got my first period since terminating a pregnancy for medical reasons just over a month ago. Oh – I guess this is the bit where I warn you that I’m going to talk about blood coming out of vaginas in this post. Anyone who wants to pretend this doesn’t happen all the time, or thinks it shouldn’t be spoken about should probably opt out around now.
So today, I’m filled with excitement and relief – seriously I think I might feel happier than when I last found out I was pregnant. How weird is that? It makes sense, of course – I’m relieved to know everything’s working, glad to stop wondering when it’s coming, excited to try again etc – but still, there’s something decidedly weird about it.
And this isn’t the first time I’ve had this realization either. When I started bleeding during my miscarriage earlier last year (yeh, it’s been a fun few months), I felt exactly the same way. I’d been concerned that the pregnancy might be ectopic and really wanted to avoid surgery and/or medication, so knowing that my body was sorting it out made me really happy.
As I celebrate today’s blood, I’ve been musing over this journey that ‘the fairer sex’ goes on with the red stuff.
In Western society, we tend to receive our first periods with a sense of dread. We learn about the equipment needed to deal with this annoyance. We read Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. We hide what’s going on from the boys and men in our lives. We feel awkward and broken and alone.
A few years later once we start having sex, the arrival of our monthly blood comes with a sense of relief – we did it! We avoided getting pregnant and don’t need to admit to the adults that we’re having sex! And of course the awkwardness persists – we still hope swimming parties don’t fall on days when we’re bleeding. We master tampons. We avoid boyfriends during our time of the month so we don’t have to discuss our monthly disability. Or maybe we’re among the more liberated of women, and we do talk about periods – even to men. Maybe we like having sex during our periods, and we have to deal with weird looks and wives tales if we’re brave enough to talk about it.
And then five or 10 or 20 years down the line we start thinking about kids, and again, the blood takes on a different meaning. We get more in touch with our bodies and (hopefully) come to appreciate a regular cycle. We get off birth control and notice differences in our physical selves. Perhaps we start to appreciate this blood for what it really is – a part of our complex and brilliant reproductive systems, rather than just a monthly nuisance.
When we’re actively trying to get pregnant, the period takes triggers different emotions again. Now the blood signals failure, disappointment. It means we didn’t get pregnant, not this month. It means we’ll have to wait at least another month for that coveted positive pregnancy test.
All going well, at some point we do indeed miss a period, yay! But the thought of blood is still there at the back of our minds, always. As we tick off those days and weeks of the first trimester, holding our breaths every time we wipe, just hoping not to see anything red.
And meanwhile the blood is all just building up in there, providing a cozy home for little blastocysts and then embryos and then fetuses… until eventually we’ve got a baby in our arms, and week after week of bleeding that makes us cackle evil laughs thinking about how we used to complain about our periods.
And I can only imagine, on the other side of childbearing and childrearing, after menopause – what happens then? I guess I’ll have to write a follow-up post in a few decades.
Either way, it’s clear – this whole being a woman thing is a weird and wonderful journey. But despite the highs and the lows, the physical and emotional pain, and the gruesome nature of it all, I feel pretty grateful to be in this body, on this path. Every cramp I feel as I’m writing this fills me with a sense of hope and empowerment, and a connection with the women of the world – past, present and future.
One day, I hope to tell my imaginary future daughter: embrace this bleeding! Each and every time. Let it anchor you to the strong women in your life who inspire you, and to a future in which you get to join the sisterhood of mothers. It’ll be the most important, life-changing and empowering thing you ever do – and all that blood will be more than worth it.