I’m writing this scrunched up in my bed, a bowl with remnants of pasta to my left, a wad of blankets at my feet, and with a packet of ibuprofen within an arm’s reach. I’m leaning back on a heating pad but it’s has long gone luke-warm and I can’t find the energy to get up and microwave it again. It’s that time of the month. The time when I get irrationally sad about things like poor Wi-Fi connectivity and unnecessarily happy about things wrapped in dark chocolate. It’s the span of days where sweatpants feel like the best thing since sliced bread and it consistently feels like God is trying to pull my uterus through my spine and out of my lower back. Sure, I’m dramatic, but this is some serious pain and I’m tired of apologizing for it.
I am menstruating. I am shedding the inner lining of my uterus through my vagina. I am leaking blood and mucus. My body recognizes that the lining, rich in nutrients, is not needed to nourish an embryo and so, like what you should do with your exes in 2018, it lets all those cells go. It’s beautiful and one day it will bring life. A constant rebirth. A testament to the majesty that is the female body. And yet, society shames us for this process we can’t control. Time and time again I am almost embarrassed to place my “sanitary” products on the conveyor belt at the grocery store check-out. Especially if the clerk is male. As if I am engaging in something sacrilegious in wanting to not desecrate every pair of underwear I own. Why are tampons and pads called “sanitary” anyways? Why did boys in school run screaming if I pulled out a neatly wrapped, brand-new pad from my backpack? How many times have I smuggled tampons or pads from my desk to the bathroom hoping that it wouldn’t fall out? How often have I loitered in a bathroom stall waiting for everyone to leave before ripping open the plastic package with the tell-tale crinkle?
How we talk about periods and the necessary products make me feel unsanitary. I feel dirty. We use Band-Aids and gauze to keep blood from gushing everywhere yet we don’t call those Sanitary products. If I sneeze into a Kleenex and it catches a bunch of my mucus, is it then a sanitary cloth? I was a volunteer teacher at a summer camp a few summers ago and near the end of the program we brought a bunch of water slides and games for the kids to play with. In the hot and sticky climate of New Orleans, I was honestly a bit jealous of the kids. The director of the program kicked off the day with a few announcements and then dismissed the boys from the room. She then had what I’m sure she considered to be a sincere conversation “just amongst us girls.” She announced, to this group of middle school girls, who probably had no idea what was going on with their bodies, that they couldn’t get on the water slides or play in the water if they were on their period because that would be “dirty.”
There was no discussion of alternative sanitary products like tampons to make the girls more comfortable and their enjoyment of the water possible. There was no discussion of why certain menstruation products like pads couldn’t be worn in the water. Anyone menstruating was simply marked as dirty and told to stay away from the water. She then let the girls join the boys, some of their heads hanging a little lower than when they had come in. Rather than addressing all issues of safety as a large group she had singled out the girls, labeling periods as a distinctly female problem, and further dismissed those with their period as being a lost cause. Yes, only women have them, but that doesn’t mean men should be ignorant of them.
It’s conversations like these when I was younger, that I’m sure make me avoid eye contact with the clerk as he rings up my Tampax pearls (super absorption). These conversations that make me feel ashamed, and upset when my body cramps to where I can’t breathe and I have to cancel plans. These sort of conversations, and tip toeing around periods that makes me apprehensive to be fully transparent with friends and partners. I once heard a spoken word artist who performed a piece on periods that she made for her daughter. It was this piece that has helped me to rewrite my period narrative, proudly shower the checkout clerk in panty liners, tampons, and pads (the bigger the better), and ask anyone and everyone if they have ibuprofen because “I feel like my Uterus is falling out.” Be bold in your blood ladies. You have no reason not to be.