Friday, July 9, 2010

A Post About Periods, Sexuality and Womanhood. Read at your own risk.

A challenge to myself- and to you, should you choose to accept it- to write openly and honestly about the topic of menstruation, without Puritan instincts kicking in to make me cover my uncomfortableness with a liberal sprinkling of humour. If you find the whole thing a bit icky- or, you know, you're a bloke- you don't have to read on. I won't hold it against you. Some people will find this confronting. That's OK. So do I. I promise it won't be a regular blogging topic (Random Ramblings of the Stay at Home Menses, anyone? No? No, I thought not). Hey, Germaine Greer says to be a fully liberated woman you must first taste your own menstrual blood. We're not going quite that far.

The images used are from Vanessa Tiegs series of paintings titled 'Menstrala'. I 'll let you guess the medium.

And much thanks to Wanderlust, who looked over the first draft of this and assured me it was an OK topic for publication. Please forward any and all hate mail to her. 

It's been eighteen months since I menstruated.

I know a lot of you will think I'm unbelievably lucky, and I'm sure that, eighteen months ago, I would have felt the same. My period returned a short four months after the birth of my son, despite round-the-clock two hourly feeds. Hand in hand with the horrid trauma of postpartum depression, it certainly felt as though God was laughing at me.

My daughter's birth, nine months ago, was quick and easy, and the physical recovery the same. She breastfed by instinct, intuitively, but nowhere near as often as my son had, and slept in blessed chunks of 4 hours or more at night. I waited, with a sense of ironic dread, for the return of my cycle, anticipating it as yet another chore in the constant rock tumbler of my life.

Waiting, waiting. As four months slipped into six, I took stock of my good fortune to enjoy what felt like a simpler, easier way of being a woman- sans pregnancy, but also sans menstruation.

Then six months become eight; and eight months, nine. And I peed on a sick. And thankfully only one little blue line showed up.

And so, I wait. I wait, in a way I never thought I would.

I've had an intrepid relationship with my period which begin, painfully, at the age of thirteen. I remember vividly, being curled up in a tight ball, writhing in pain on the flanelette sheets of my single bed, with the cold white glow of a streetlight falling through my window. Aware, what was happening, very much afraid, too embarrassed to call my mother for help or painkillers. The comforting sunlight of morning; pain rewarded with a tiny spot of bright red blood- a moment that would return, with clarity, as I felt the warm wet sluice of a baby slip from within me.

I aged, and thin mucousy redness was replaced by a heavy, russet colored fluid that seemed to gauge my pain with it's volume. My period arrived, a trivial annoyance, predictably, every 31 days, at roughly 10am. Until, of course, bleeding was replaced with the heavy burden of a swollen stomach, a pause in the continual, slipping shedding of my fertility.

So, maybe, you see why I've never really had cause to pay any attention to my cycle until now.

Oddly, I find myself craving the sensation of my abdomen swollen tight like a balloon; the rich, fertile feeling. I am wanting the lushness of glowing skin, of full breasts dry of milk. Talking on a forum the other day, it hit me that this is a feeling of asexuality I have not experienced since the awkward months of being a teenager not yet in the bloom of puberty. Without the tidal pull, the ebb and flow of womanhood, I feel dessicated, stale and without a sexual identity. I ache for the acid rush of estrogen; the buoyant fullness that comes with the monthly cycle of blood and rejuvenation; the cleansing feeling of emptying the vessel of the body, of preparing the menses to begin again, of resetting the pendulum of the hormonal swing.

Being a mother, while it has given me many things, it has taken many from me. One thing I am robbed of, with two very small children, is my sexuality. My husband, bless him, is a patient man, yet he complains- as is his right- that there is little intimacy between us, that making love is just another chore for me to cross of my to-do list at the end of a day; another qualifier to meet, to feel satisfied with my accomplishments as I collapse into sleep.

And, sadly, he is correct. After a day tending to the needs off  my small people, any lingering willingness for intimacy is spent.

Finally, blessedly, once my children are in bed, the requests for my constant attention, that nag and prickle at me from the moment I wake, come to a temporary halt. The last very thing I am able to cater to is the needs of yet another person. After a day of cuddling, kissing, being climbed on and clung to, having my own space within my solitude is sacred to me. After giving of my energy, my nourishment to my baby, to have her literally suckle her lifeforce from me; I simply have no vitality left to give.

There is something asexual about the mothers of small children in our society. They dare not engage in wanton, hedonistic activity, lest they are critiqued and branded unfit. A breastfeeding woman is without a sexual identity, as is a pregnant women. The ideas presented by progressive doulas and midwives- to masturbate and kiss your partner during the final stages of labor, to assist in the engorgement and lubrication of the labia and vagina- are positively shocking.

A women, as a vessel for a child, lactating and nourishing, is expected to give all of herself for her babies- an expectation gilded with purity; the unspoken sanction that a mother's body is to be untainted during her children's early years. Intercourse and carnal pleasures are, in the watchful, judging eyes of our society, quintessentially impure.

It is a paradox I find frustrating; more so for my own uncertainty- is this a product of how deeply the expectations on women in our society are ingrained in my psyche- and if so, how disappointingly unliberated of me- or merely a byproduct of my own bottomless exhaustion?

The ultimate sacrifices. The moon cycle of menstruation, the deep chalice of feminine sexuality.

It is only now, within this realisation, in the absence of a menstrual cycle, that I have come to appreciate menstruation as a concept more than pads and PMS - the cycle as a connection to the Earth, the cycle of the moon a altar of sacrament to the feminine goddess within. Unfortunately, another sacrifice has been made here as well- the appreciation of the divinity of the menstrual cycle, in exchange for a consuming, introverted pleasure in my own sexuality.

I yearn for the earthly throb of bleeding, the feminine sensation of my own body's ripe lushness. My comfort is that it shall return soon. And I will be enamored with a whole new sensation of respect for my body, for the way it ebbs and flows, for the importance of this feminine rite; a recognition of the divine in the gory mundane.

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Nerdycomputergirl said...

Great post Lori. As a mother I certainly understand how you feel and how it can make you feel out of sorts with the natural way of things.


Maxabella said...

Beautifully written. I found the images more confronting than your words, which were brave, thoughtful and honest.

Holly Homemaker said...

I'll take you up on your challenge Miss RRSAHM!

This was a fantastic post by the way. I would I have thought I'd enjoy reading a post about menstruation but there you go, I did!

Is your little muffin feeding alot still?

Alex said...

I know that a lot of women feel this way but I find myself shouting out WHY?????

Why can a woman still not be a sexual creature when she is breast feeding and looking after an infant? It's all so natural...and they are all just bodily functions.

Being intimate with your partner post baby is so important and so good for the mother too. You should never look at it as a chore, it's an important part of your relationship with your partner.

Brenda said...

Fuxken A, Lori. That has got to be the bestest menstruation post ever!!

Veronica said...

Brilliant. Simply brilliant post.

ForeverRhonda said...

This is wonderful! Women everywhere will be able to identify with this. It's certainly true.

Jen said...

Wonderfully written Lori. I had my period a handful of times in 6 years as it did not return until two months after I finished breastfeeding each of my children and I would only have a few inbetween falling pregnant once more. I found that without it I was devoid of emotions. That I was on the cusp all the time of feeling, almost like I was waiting..constantly waiting for release and especially this last time I found it frustrating rather than feeling lucky. Now I look forward to the changes in my body and emotions each month (although need to do something about this PMS, i cannot remember it ever being this bad before, however trying to think back pre children, it is not easy to remember). Well done on a terrific post Lori.

Ebonie's Mummy said...

Great post love.

Katie said...

I love this post. I do. I think it's beautifully written.
I couldn't hate periods more if they strangled kittens. Mine try to kill me.
Glad yours behave.

Jess said...

What a beautiful honest and raw post. I can relate to so much of what you have said. Whilst motherhood has taken away my sex drive (as you said too), it has definately given me a greater appreciation and love for my body and it's amazing life cycle. Maybe once we find peace in our new 'state' these things will return and we will feel complete again..

Wanderlust said...

Lori I love this, it's beautiful. I love how you talk about menstruation as a connection to your sexuality and femininity and trying to balance that with the demands of motherhood. This part I found especially beautiful:

"The ultimate sacrifices. The moon cycle of menstruation, the deep chalice of feminine sexuality."

I understand that feeling of being completely consumed with motherhood and spent at the end of the day, of having sex be one more to-do on a list that you don't really have the energy for. So much taken away, so little replenishment.

Gorgeous post.

Can't believe I'm up reading it at 1:30 in the morning instead of sleeping tho. Go to bed, me!

Wanderlust said...

P.S. Will let you know if I get any hate mail. :-P

marketingtomilk said...

This is a spectacular post. Thank god you decided to post it. So interesting. So resonant. Just brilliant Lori. On form again!

Lucy said...

Oh lovely lovely lovely!

Makes me grateful to be a chick.

And I shall take you up on your challenge.......xx

Amy xxoo said...

Seriously? That was unbelievably well written, and i found it strangely moving. I've never thought about my periods like that, and though i cant relate to the loss of sex drive or sexual identity ( i actually feel sexier now that i'm a mum because i appreciate what my body is capable of... ) i can appreciate where those feelings would spring from.
Good on you for being so honest, and brave...

ezymay said...

Fantastic Lori!!! It is all true, we have this monthly cycle for a reason. For a long time I denied it by never (I mean never ever) taking my sugar pills but she would fight me and eventually I gave in and now I go with the flow (no pun intended)

planb said...

Hello. First time here, and what a post!

But I'm afraid I don't agree. You see, despite appearances, large breasts, big hips, three children, all naturally conceived, I don't get periods. I haven't since I was about 22. Up until then, all fine (if excruciating pain can ever be fine). Since then? Oh, if I'm not on the pill, I maybe bleed about once every eight months. It doesn't seem to affect my fertility, so I've never bothered about it. (Other than that we started trying for a baby earlier than we would have done otherwise because we were so convinced we'd need wrong were we?!)

And you know what? I love it. I love it so much that I won't go on the pill, because it means periods.

I hate the mess. I hate the smell. I hate the feeling grim and not wanting sex (OH wouldn't mind. I do). I hate the pain, and the blood on the sheets, on the knickers, on the toilet roll.

So it's not the lack of periods that makes me feel like you about sex. It's all the other stuff. The non-sexification of the mother (although I find the idea of OH fiddling away at me while in labour frankly ridiculous), the exhaustion, the endless to do lists, the just wanting ten minutes without someone pawing at me...

But, and I realise that this wasn't your intention, what your beautifully written piece has done is made me question whether I am less of a woman because I don't have periods. It's never occurred to me before.

And to be honest, if someone suggested it to my face, I'd be furious. As it is, I'm going to push it to the back of my head, and forget about it, lest it becomes another thing to add to my list of insecurities and wobbles...

Sorry this is so long.... it's in lieu of the fact that i'm not brave enough to post this on my own blog. Too many people know who I am, and while I'll chat about it with friends, I'm not sure I could ever look my brothers-in-law in the face again...

Kakka said...

What a great post, gutsy, honest, raw - I hope your period returns, I hope mine does not - I finally think mine is gone for good and at nearly 55 I hope so. I may just take up your challenge too, although I am sure my children will think me mad. See mine are old enough to read my blog - LOL.

lori said...

Very beautiful. I love your way with words. I guess it is a limbo we're in when we have no period and we're not pregnant and we're not in menopause. I'm in the same place. Mine is probably pre-menopausal I suppose but it does make me feel a bit lost - this not knowing which phase of my womanhood I'm in.
I hope yours returns soon.

The Richardson's said...

I do think you are super cool for being so honest.

I absolutely do not feel that way about my period- but I can relate with feeling drained. To me, my period is just one more thing that drains me.

Mrs Woog said...

Speechless (in a good way)

The Fat Lady said...

Wow! I don't really know what to say, but I applaud you for your honesty and overall gutsiness :)

toushka said...

I also applaud your post. But am not brave enough to be as open as you in my blogs. Sad? perhaps. society and all that blah blah blah. I don't have the relationship with my period that you seem too. But I'm not envious. You can have mine too if you want. lol. It's on holiday right now as I am pregnant. But as soon as it comes back I'll send it on.

Jodie at Mummy Mayhem said...

Lori - it takes guts to write such a post. Well done. You're amazing. xx

mummydiaries said...

I totally understand your feelings, I felt like a robot after months of not having them. People were saying i was lucky, but I felt asexual. I wrote about it here

mummydiaries said...

Sorry didn't mean to post twice!! feel free to delete one

Miss Ruby said...

I've just found this post and I come at it from the other side. I get my period month after month and I feel asexual because it keeps coming. Because I don't get pregnant, because when I do get pregnant, I can't hold onto it.

My period, for me, has become a sign of failure, it's become a sticking point in my ability to see myself as a female, a woman, a sexual being and yes my sex life has suffered tremendously for that.

Beautiful post and one that has inspired me to be honest about my own situation on my own blog, so thankyou.


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