Today is the full moon,
day 15 (correction, day 16) of the Moon Cycle blogging project, and two weeks before the official beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere.
What’s up for me to write today? The guidelines I created for myself at the beginning of this experiment included writing daily posts, striving for simplicity over perfection, and covering the topics that held the most juice for me on a daily basis. I didn’t state this explicitly in my original post, but there was an underlying goal behind those guidelines – to encourage bravery on my part. By posting every day and posting about the issues & ideas that were most present, I knew inherently I’d have to face some fears.
And so it is today. In an interesting synchronicity, today’s full moon is the first in many years to coincide with the first day of my period.* And that means that what’s up for me right now are seriously intense menstrual cramps. Pain in my lower abdomen that makes it difficult to concentrate, bloating in my body, a feeling of misery that seems like it will last forever. If you’ve experienced menstrual cramps, you know exactly what I mean, or your own version of it. If you haven’t, I wonder if I can possibly describe the experience. More importantly, I wonder if I should. I write this paragraph and think – am I a madwoman? Am I really going to risk writing about this – and for what, because I told myself a few weeks ago that I should write a post each day about what felt most relevant to me? Is it really worth the risk? What is the risk anyway? I don’t know exactly, but it seems deeply rooted in a broader cultural shame and disgust of bodies in general, women’s in particular. The risk seems rooted in a broader cultural delusion and desire to pretend that such things as menstruation – completely fundamental to human life – don’t exist, and aren’t a part of our daily reality. And so I vacillate between a sense of what is proper (to not write about my period) and the sense that there is some reason to be brave and write about what is actually most present for me at this moment.
So it is that in the experience of cramps, and in the experience of considering whether or not to write about them, a lot of rich material is unearthed. I was born into a body that, at puberty, developed the ability to give birth to new life. In a rhythm much like the moon, functions in my body wax and wane. On a monthly basis my ovaries release eggs which flow down the fallopian tubes to my uterus where, unfertilized, they signal a hormonal shift that marks the beginning of the period and the renewal of the cycle. It’s a process that began for me at puberty and will continue past middle age. It is at times illuminating at others maddening, but it is incredible to think about it – whether or not I ever choose to give birth to a child, each and every month my body is preparing, just in case. What a miracle! No wonder so much pain accompanies the end of every cycle, the release of all the enormous creative potential – the potential to literally create new life.
I write these words and recognize how simple and childlike they seem. In other cultures, they would seem obvious, and yet I feel in our culture we have rarely been given the chance to contemplate menstruation and what it – and all the pain and bloating that often accompanies it – really means. It’s worth noting that both my mom and dad were incredible supportive of me as I navigated the curious and often painful experience of my first few years of menstrual cycle. Yet still, I couldn’t help but learn a damaging message from my broader cultural upbringing – that menstrual periods are a “women’s issue” not meant for polite or professional conversations, not to mention intellectual ones. But why? I think to myself now. Isn’t there some message, some greater wisdom I feel in my body throughout the turning of my cycle? Isn’t there some meaning I can make from the pain? And why should I shield others in my life – especially males – from knowledge of what’s going on for me as I circle through the different phases of my cycle? Wouldn’t I want to know, if I didn’t have a female body to experience the hormonal shifts? When I ask myself that question, the answer is a resounding yes. And then my whole perspective starts to shift. I think – why, writing about my period, about my cramps, that’s not really a “women’s issue” at all … it’s a human issue which some people have less experience of. When I think of it from that angle – as some anonymous man wondering what it might be like to have menstrual cramps – I think how much I wish more women would talk about their experiences with menstruation, what a gift that would be for larger patterns of healing and understanding.
One thing I’ve learned from painful periods is that pretending they don’t exist doesn’t seem to help. Exercise, movement, curling up with a heating pad, talking about it, and, today at least, writing about it, does seem to help. Eating chocolate definitely helps. (Okay, maybe that’s a cliche for a reason). When I acknowledge the intensity of the cramps rather than try to wish them away, their power to derail me diminishes. The pain is still there but it moves.
I finish this post knowing I have more to say about my cycle, and what I’ve learned from it over the years. But these are enough words for one day, and enough of a risk to take. Is it okay, to write about this on my personal blog, even if I also use this blog to write about work, life, dreams? Is it okay to live in a body that is flawed yet miraculous, that changes and shifts and engages with all the messiness of being human? Is it okay to admit that I don’t always have control over how I’m feeling – that although Thursday afternoon might be the work week, it can also be a time when, through no conscious choice of my own, my body has other things in mind than just the work I set out to do today? What do these questions say about the larger assumptions we make about what is and isn’t okay to engage with in conversations about each other?
*More details to those of you who geek out on womyn’s moon cycles: The first day of menstruation is said to match most closely to the new moon, not the full moon. The full moon is more connected to the mid-point of a woman’s cycle, when she is most fertile. My current mismatch – beginning my cycle at the mid-point of the moon’s cycle – occurs in its own pattern that I’m still learning to decipher. Today’s circumstance – to experience the first day of my period at the time of the full moon – took about six months from the last time I was in synch with the new moon & my period.