All lofty-ambitions-like, I had planned some profound post today. But then, and stop here if you are squeamish, I got my period.
It’s the first period I’ve had for eighteen months. I’d been feeling a bit strange over the last few days, womb-heavy and slightly wobbly, and was hoping (kind of, well mostly, well I was prepared to live with whatever) that I was not pregnant. I woke up this morning, saw the unexpected blood and, as a first time mother, got slightly confused and worried.
I called the two mamatoto mid-wives who generously continue to answer, for free, my continued calls nine months after the birth. This is why we need midwives because which doctor are you going to call at 7.50am to ask, ‘I think I got my period, but I’m not sure, what do you think?’ Of course, like most midwives, they were breezy about it. ‘It happens’, said Debbie. ‘Some women bleed even though they are breastfeeding’. ‘Yes, well, it’s been nine months ‘, said Marilyn who a week ago told me I could cut down on pumping and breastmilk during the day – and so I had. Hmmm, I thought, hoping I hadn’t been pregnant and then lost the baby moving around my entire stock of office furniture in a grand getting-ready-for-Semester-1-move that happened yesterday evening.
By mid-morning I had acclimatized and was working steadily at my newly-positioned desk, feeling like a super and simultaneously breastmilk-pumping, bleeding, paper publishing, email-replying , breezy, on midol mom. I’m technically on vacation and could have stayed home but there is that ‘you are up for tenure next year’ letter I referred to in Post 1.
This minor transition in my post-pregnancy body got me reflecting on how little I know about women’s bodies in general, even at my age, even as a feminist, even as a proud owner of my own ‘Our Bodies, Ourselves’ since I was fourteen (a gift from my older brother Sean). I didn’t even know that women bled while breastfeeding. I thought it kept away your period, and delayed fertility and childbirth. I knew you could get pregnant…but I didn’t know I could get a period. So basic, so obvious.
This is like when I first realized that women bled for a couple of weeks after childbirth. I was waaay into my pregnancy, probably in early second trimester, when some woman made an offhand comment about it. My jaw literally fell open. I had no idea. I thought you had the baby and then it was out and then…well, I guess I hadn’t really thought after that point. Kind of like when you are a kid and you don’t really imagine your life after, say, 28.
‘Really?’ said my husband when I told him, ‘that must suck’. For the first time since I was thirteen, I had no menstrual cycle and had gotten into the swing of taking its absence for granted. Yes, it did kinda ‘suck’. Yet, I got a little internally defensive when, before hanging up and in response to a few sticky details I had added, he perfectly innocently concluded how glad he is to not be a woman. But Eh heh!
‘Well!’ I wanted to say, ‘it’s really only a problem because there is no paid menstrual leave, no menstrual centres, no menstruating goddess worship and no elevated status attributed to this amazing moon-tidal elixir of fertility. It doesn’t suck. Patriarchy sucks! ‘.
In this vein, I had convinced some male and female students in my first year Introduction to Women’s Studies class to create a ‘Menstrual Centre’ on the UWI campus for their popular action, a culture-jamming activist assignment …gotta love teaching Women’s Studies!!
Menstrual leave I had pointed out is a decades old workers’ right recognised in some Communist countries. In modern Indonesia, women factory workers continue to fight for two days of monthly leave: http://www.cleanclothes.org/newslist/252-labour-rights-in-indonesia-what-is-menstruation-leave.
Perhaps, women should get two days, each month, of leave with pay because female laboring, PMSing, bleeding bodies should not have to work under the same conditions as supposedly ‘normative’ non-bleeding, non-egg producing male bodies. After all, women workers are female humans. What about menstrual centres on every corner instead of rumshops? Women could go for massages, consciousness-raising and support groups, delicious and helpful smoothies, information, health care and collective organizing. First scandalized, the students countered that they should also include support groups for men, sort of like ‘Friends of Menstruating Women’. Just stuff for thought.
The students built a frame using bamboo, interviewed male students about taboos on buying pads and tampons in a store, painted posters saying ‘Man the species menstruates’(If Man refers to men and women, then it really should include women, right?), and handed out pamphlets on how wombs work and why, and natural fruit and teas that help. Many students went through the centre that day (see photo!)Students at the UWI 2009 Menstrual Centre.
Maybe if Menstrual Centres really were on every corner, I might have known more about my own body, post-birth and during-breastfeeding bleeding. Anyway, as i keep learning, even with myself, there is clearly a lot more work still to do.