Warning: This blog entry has been rated PG for content. Also, I use the words "blood," "childbirth," and "menstruation." You have been warned.
I am 24 years old, and I started my period when I was 11. That's thirteen unlucky years. I find it strange and disconcerting that I still have a hard time, thirteen years later, waking up one morning a month with that strange feeling between my legs, looking down and seeing myself covered in my own blood. I'm old enough not to be afraid, to recognize that's it's natural, just part of being a woman. But my blood is so red like primary school paint, and there's always so much of it. Thirteen years later, it still scares me.
I've been thinking a lot lately about why God created women's bodies the way He did. I think there's something to Piorczynski's quote that I cited above: for better or worse, I will never forget the first time I saw my hand covered in blood that wasn't the result of a cut, that didn't mean I needed a band-aid. Nor could I ever forget my first "real" menstruation. For whatever reason, the first few times didn't hurt. But I will never forget the first time my body took on a life of its own and sent me doubling over in pain. It felt--and still feels--like someone scraping my insides with a shovel. At an age when I did not want my mother to see me as vulnerable, that was exactly how she found me, lying in the fetal position in the shower, sobbing. Wet, naked, terrified, in physical agony, and lying on the floor, crying like a baby. It doesn't get much more vulnerable than that.
There was a purpose though, even in that incident. My mother never treated me the same way again. It was like I had enlisted in an army. Women are bound to each other in their mutual monthly pain and discomfort and pissiness, in a way that no man will ever understand. That night when I was 11, when my dad tried to yell at me for taking a shower in the middle of the night, my mom told him off, which she never did. My father never questioned my bathing habits again, and he also never looked at me the same way. With him though, it was with a new distance, a recognition that I had gone somewhere he could never go.
It occurred to me today that maybe there's a purpose in that vulnerability. Once again today I was sitting on the floor of the shower, whimpering a little, but not crying, as something inside me kicked and scraped and sent spasms of pain from my lower back to my lower stomach, right where my jeans sit. The hot water helped a little, but nothing really helps that much. Then Pamela came in and handed me a vegetarian egg roll, which I ate right there in the shower. (We like to eat in the shower at this house.) She knows what I am going through, because the same thing will happen to her next week. We take turns being vulnerable, feeling like whales with sharks swimming inside of us. We all know how it feels, so we take care of each other.
I also remember the way Cori's older brother fawned over her when she had her period. He would make her tea and bring her hot pads to lie with in bed. I still haven't figured out if this is a good thing or not, but female vulnerability seems to bring out the best in some men. The good ones at least. Maybe women were created to experience this pain to keep the men around, to keep them taking care of us. I don't necessarily like it, but the idea seems fairly rooted in our evolution. The Bible is full of analogies about walking through the valley of the shadow of death, of bearing children in sorrow and misery. Woe unto those who give suck in the last days, it says. I think it was Martha Beck who wrote about that scripture in particular, saying that a woman by herself can fight or run from danger, but a woman with babies is toast. A lot of times, the pain I feel each month feels separate from me, like a kicking creature, and I wonder if this is what childbirth will feel like. I also wonder how anyone would be able to endure something this painful without holding another person's hand. I don't think I could do it.
My friends who have had babies talk about how it feels like menstrual cramps, but stronger, that it feels like going to the bathroom, but more difficult. "Pooping out a watermelon" is how one friend so eloquently put it . Why do out bodies start preparing us for that experience years before it matters? Why does an 11 year-old need to worry about the pain of bringing babies to earth? It's all there, though. The means of doing it, and the physical foreshadowing of what it will feel like. The other thing I've heard from everyone, conversely, is that once you finish and hold that baby, you forget how much it hurt. You kinda want to do it again. All the pain is worth it--and I like to think they're talking not just about the pain of childbirth itself, but all the pain that led up to it. All the years of spending three days feeling like everyone on earth hates you and is looking at you wrong, then waking up one morning smeared with blood, showering it off until the only thing left is that dull, aching pain, an angry little man inside you stomping on your ovaries, scraping out your uterus with a shovel. A rusty one. It's pointless, I feel like telling him. Nothing there. All this pain is a waste of my time. But when I think about what it's preparing me for, I suppose it isn't.