I used to curl up on the bathroom floor the day my period started. I wanted the cool hardness to counter my writhing body, and I’d lay there for hours, uninterested in books or television, until the pain calmed. The blood and the discomfort seemed unjust then, and now, for me, and especially for women in even less understanding places, where periods mean no education and debilitating stigma.
I’ve always wondered, why women and not men? I felt the unfairness of it all especially keenly last summer. I was six months pregnant with my fourth baby, and hurting. Everything hurt. Laying down, standing up, walking. And the hurt, I knew, would get worse before it got better.
And I resented that my husband could bring four children into the world so cleanly, so painlessly, and so effortlessly.
One day in summer, my daughter rubbed my belly with her small hands, fascinated by the transformation and the process of new life. She asked, incredulously, if boys got to carry babies.
No, only girls.
She was incandescent with delight.
Mom! Girls are so lucky!
Who could rain on her parade? Not me. The more I thought about it, the more her happiness shook me.
Are we lucky?
I mean, aren’t we?
In Holy Labor, Aubry G. Smith quotes Debra Rienstra:
We women don’t shed blood for sins, ours or other people’s. But we do shed it, typically, amid some sadness, and we do shed it for the possibility of new life. Does this not give us a kind of connection to Jesus that has been very little discussed or appreciated, a kind of automatic stigmata? Because I see Christ’s bleeding at the center of redemptive history, can I also see women’s bleeding resonate outward from this, across all ages and history and races of women? …wherever women participated in the world and suffered its blows, our bleeding testifies to pain and hope, uncannily combined.
Yesterday, I started my first postpartum period. I promptly soaked through my pad, my underwear, my sweats, and the bed.
While I cleaned myself, my husband cleaned my sweats and our sheets and the mattress pad. He told me later, quietly, “I’m so sorry you have to bleed like this every month.” Good man.
I surprised myself by not being sorry. Tentatively, I mean. I’m tentatively not sorry, and I reserve the right for my feelings to change. And to be clear, I’m not thrilled about the mess.
But maybe for the first time in my life, for literally the first time in my entire life, I’m curious. I’m curious about my period, and my body who houses my period. I’m curious what my body, the bearer of the periods, the bearer of myself, has to tell me.
I’m listening. I’ve never listened to my body before. I’ve railed at her for not holding my babies well enough. I’ve shamed her for not being strong enough when I needed her. I’ve ignored, overlooked, been disgusted by her. But I’ve never listened to her, in the midst of all the disappointments and charged moments. What would she have told me? What would God have told me, the divinity who fashioned this body to carry itself, who made me and her in its own image?
This is the first winter I’ve ever wanted a heating blanket. Not because it’s been such a cold winter (WE. LIVE. IN. TEXAS), but because I’ve been so cold.
Am I getting old? Is this a sign my thyroid is dying? Some days it’s so cold my bones hurt. I wear socks while I sleep, all night. I turn on the heater, turn on the kettle, order more sweatpants from Amazon.
There’s something about January—about the cold and the dead of everything—that sort of forces you to listen. It’s the quiet, maybe. It gets down in your bones. And perhaps it’s appropriate that my first postpartum period arrived in January, the month I’ve also weathered mastitis, the flu, my baby’s fever, allergies, and all this coldness. Been a month.
My bent is to grimace at the sight of blood, to suppress a “sorry” over the mess, but I’m delighted to find this spark of curiosity in me, this listening, now, at the beginning of this new year, the year I’ve become a mother to four.
After all these years of speaking for my body, maybe I should stop. Maybe she doesn’t hate me. Maybe she loves me. Maybe she’s inviting me to slow, to rest.
Maybe the physical more of me—bloat and extra pounds from double fisting bread—is an invitation to be, well, more of me.
Maybe she’s an Ebenezer, reminding me of strength I found when I thought I had none, reminding me of adaptability and endurance and flexibility—the female kind of strength that’s overlooked and unmentioned. Perhaps this is my opportunity to push back, to resist, with my own small celebration, in my own small corner of the globe. Perhaps it’s my opportunity to celebrate the ancient wisdom of seasons and cycles, to gain strength from the ancient wisdom tucked away deep in my own body.
Maybe she’s reminding me of redemption, inviting me into a communion of sorts.
My body, broken for you. My blood, shed for you.
Maybe she likes me, my body. Maybe—maybe—maybe I like her.