Recently, a male friend approached me and asked me something quite bluntly:
“What’s it like to have a period?”
I threw in the golden one liner: “Bloody hell.” He laughed, but persisted by musing over the fact that we’ve all been taught about female menstrual cycles in Biology class, but other than that, girls are left to get on with it. All my friend knew was that when his girlfriend was ‘on’, it was his duty to turn up at her house with plenty of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and a cheesy rom com to soothe away her pain.
The pain that many of us feel whilst on our periods is difficult to explain to someone that doesn’t have a womb, or hasn’t begun their periods; certainly, even my own Mum’s explanation to me about a “heavy, draggy down pain” couldn’t quite prepare me for menstrual cramps. Furthermore, the concept that it is normal to find a scene resembling something from a Saw movie in your underwear each month can appear rather daunting to male counterparts, who have suffered little more than various scrapes and grazes as children.
And so, when my male friend asked me about my own experiences with menstruation, a question I hadn’t expected was “How do you cope, with so much blood?” That “so much blood” on average equates to 35ml of blood per month, although anything from 10ml to 80ml is considered ‘typical’. This question really got me thinking: how do we get used to menstruating? I realized that after 5 years of it, I just get on with it. It’s something I expect, in fact, if it didn’t appear each month I’d get a bit concerned. Quite a lot concerned, actually. As well as mucking up my sixth form, I don’t plan on being the next Virgin Mary.
But menstruation can be quite an odd experience. As a younger teenager, I’ve both giggled and sympathized with friends about the inconvenience, the months where it stops and starts, the months when a random, breathtakingly painful cramp hits you, the months when you begin craving food you’ve never even tasted. (I mean, can you even crave the ‘taste’ of tofu?) Yet as I’ve gotten older, the more and more grateful I’ve become for the constant affirmation I receive when I ask to nip to the toilet during class, where a teacher trusts you for a whole five minutes. I’ve begun to appreciate the predictability with which my ‘time of the month’ arrives, and the accessibility of feminine hygiene products in public loos. It used to be something embarrassing; I was mortified when one day, a boy in my class unzipped my ‘special bag’ in my rucksack, thinking it was my pencil case.
Now however, I’ve realized, it’s not something to be ashamed of. Despite Instagram and Facebook’s recent censoring of photographs containing menstrual blood, the backlash against this has empowered me to celebrate my period. I see it as part of becoming a woman. I recognized, when a friend was diagnosed with polycystic ovaries (and so cannot have periods,) how sacred they can be. Many many women suffer hugely with them, having all sorts of injections and procedures to cease them completely, which is entirely understandable.
By comparison, my four days a month of exhausting, sometimes excruciating cramps and seemingly endless pairs of black knickers, along with the mood swings and cravings and the actual bleeding, doesn’t seem so bad. I’ve come to see menstruation for what it is: a representation of my ability to carry a fertilized egg, my future child.
One day it will open the door to motherhood, which I personally, see as one thing.
And so, the next time I’m asked “What’s it like to have a period?” I think I shall answer with:
“It’s a blessing in disguise.”
Because it is.
Though that won’t stop me from finishing the tub of Ben & Jerry’s.