It’s my birthday, and this morning I got my period. Fortunately, today is my work-equivalent of Sunday, so I have a rare day off, and I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do. I’m actually okay that Aunt Flo barged in and made herself at home. At least she didn’t spoil my party. That was yesterday. Happy birthday to me!
I don’t have to lift or drive today. I get to write (and tackle the laundry pile – ever the multi-tasker) and I get to do some essential self-care that has been on the backburner: stuff beyond a bubble-bath or an overdue haircut. Stuff I will thank myself for tomorrow. I have the house (almost) to myself and I’ve decided to consciously savour today, knowing that at 51 years old I am already in that slightly dis-regulated phase of peri-menopause. It’s apparent I have a finite number of cycles left.
At 15, quite late by girls today, my first period started politely at the end of the school day. I got to go home and learn to deal with it. Mum taught me how to wash blood out of clothes, which every young person needs to know, whether they bleed or not. She said I’ll get used to it, it is what it is, and she gave me a pad and wrote tampons on the shopping list. From then on, periods were unpleasant, but fortunately not often complicated by cramps or surprises. I didn’t understand my menstrual cycle beyond a window of time marked on my calendar, or a vaguely uncomfortable sensation in my abdomen a day or so before.
Fast forward to university and falling in love and becoming sexually active. The Contraceptive Pill was a modern miracle, but just as I was beginning to share my pleasure with another human, it also flat-lined desire, neutralised my moods, and gave me a reason not to form a relationship with my cycle. My period was an inconvenience and The Pill gave me control over it. God forbid my partner should know when I had a period. I maintained an illusion of never having one.
When the prospect of starting a family became a natural ambition, I figured it’s time to pay more attention to the fertile peaks and fallow dips of my menstrual cycle. I had long stopped marking my calendar. I intuitively knew when my fertile and infertile cycles were, but I didn’t really tune into myself beyond noticing I felt so emotional just before my period. It was still an inconvenience, but I finally acknowledged its purpose.
We didn’t have to wait long. I feel guilty that it was so easy. Menses ceased for ten months while I grew a baby. We never struggled to conceive and we never experienced the loss of a pregnancy or a baby. I know people who have, and acknowledge that I can never speak for them and their journey. So I won’t try. It was a beautiful time of discovery and I rarely doubted that my body would deliver a whole and healthy baby.
Nothing prepares you for the volume of blood loss that follows childbirth. It was shocking at first, but that was when I truly became comfortable with my blood. The placenta peels away from the lining of the uterus, leaving a wound that takes a month to heal. Following that, many blessed months of amenorrhea during breastfeeding. My fertility didn’t return until baby weaned and I was immediately pregnant again. I can count on one hand the number of cycles I experienced between our first baby and our last. For almost seven years, I rarely worried that my period might arrive unannounced, that I might have an emotional outburst, or that I’d accidentally conceive. I was more concerned regulating the eat, sleep and toilet cycles of four little people than my own wellbeing, hormonal or otherwise.
By this stage I understood the rhythms and moods of my cycle more intimately. My husband knew my cycles too and worked in synergy with me. I quit disposable menstrual products and embraced a Diva Cup and cloth pads and found an emotional connection with my period that, while still at times inconvenient, definitely released me to ‘go with the flow’ – even if I was camping, or facing my biggest workload of the week. It isn’t always possible to schedule time off around bleeding, but when it happens, it’s bankable. My cup is filled (quite literally) and my burden is relieved.
Which is why today is a gift. I get to opt out of all commitments and be alone with myself. I get to potter around the house, use my nesting energy for good, eat when I’m hungry and rest when I’m tired. I set the intention to create at the keyboard, and if I’m brave, click Publish on these musings before the doubt creeps in. I’ll celebrate the wonder of the uterus, the work it has done, the injury it has endured, and the finite potential of my reproductive power. Until next time.