Between The Period and The Final PausePosted: March 28, 2015 Filed under: Body, Feminine Power, Feminism, Woman's Bodies | Tags: Feminism, Menstruation, Perimenopause, Women's Bodies 47 Comments
I stopped bleeding once for a year when I was thirty. I had just gotten off the pill. Not bleeding for 360-plus days worried me although I’d heard that this could be a potential side effect of getting back into rhythm with my natural cycle. After that I decided that there would be no more birth control pill taking for me ever again.
The first time I ever bled was on a January 6—Three King’s Day, which honors the three wise men who brought gifts to Jesus at the manger. I was a month shy of turning 14. I felt as if the three Kings too had brought me a gift. I’d been waiting for my first period ever since reading Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret by Judy Blume. I’d even ordered my first period starter kit in the mail in anticipation of this moment.
I was as excited to start wearing Maxi Pads and pantiliners as I’d been to try on cut-off pants two years before when Madonna debuted the look on her first album. To bleed, to me, felt like an initiation.
But as I grew older bleeding became more of an inconvenience, that time of the month when I couldn’t wear white or go swimming, when I hopefully would not have an “accident.” I’m on my period became something to say to just my closest girlfriends and certainly not in public and especially not in front of men—as if there was something dirty about bleeding.
Ten years ago I went to a women’s retreat where we spent a whole afternoon talking about our periods. The facilitators constantly referred to the female bleeding time as a blessing—as holy even… there is the blood from the body of Christ, there is the blood from the body of Woman. If only we could shed the negative cultural conditioning around a woman’s period.
We talked about the connection and parallels between the female menstrual cycle and the moon. We deconstructed the term “premenstrual ‘syndrome’” –the latter half of the phrase bringing with it a bad wrap connotation, not unlike the way ‘bitchy’ has been dubbed upon a woman who is less willing to put up with crap during that time of the month.
And there is all this power–and not just the wondrous ability the period gives us to create a human life.
There is our heightened sensitivity and stronger hits of intuition. There are the ways in which our emotions, our truth, and our creativity are able to more easily pour out, like our blood, during those three to five days. We talked about giving ourselves permission to slow down on our periods, pay closer attention to what our bodies are telling us, and harness that extra boost of oomph to empower us rather than feel embarrassed or ashamed.
Getting our first period, the facilitators said, was an initiation into our feminine power and an entering into the official tribe called Women. We talked about how so many women have forgotten or were never taught how to cultivate an intimate, empowered relationship with their menstrual blood.
I would go on to explore and deepen my connection to my own period when I joined a Moon Lodge in Venice, Ca. This was a modern day, real life version of the red tent where the women would gather in the bestselling novel of the same name by Anita Diamant. Gathering once a month with the same group of women, together we honored the female bleeding time. (See my post, The Power of the Period).
That was several years ago.
Lately, I’m once again less than thrilled when I bleed— Damn period! My cycles have been heavier and more painful than they used to be and some days I just want to get in bed and stay there. It’s just my period not influenza, I tell myself, forcing myself out the door.
Sometimes my mind is even a little fuzzy and I forget the obvious. What’s the name of that hot guy again? The one who used to be on the TV show ER and has a mansion in Lake Cuomo? Having a period has started to feel like a curse, just as some ignorant person told me once when I was a girl.
At a recent get-together, a few of the older women who were there kept talking about how they were going through Perimenopause. Taking supplements… they said… I know a great holistic doctor.
What the what? Is that even a thing? How come I’ve never heard of it? Is that’s what is happening to me? When I Googled the word a number of articles popped up, including this one that describes some of the possible symptoms.
Perimenopause is the transition phase before menopause.
I, of course, knew menopause would be coming one day. But apparently, first, there will be perimenopause.
Just saying the word makes me worry that I am officially making myself seem unsexy and dated. Which is why I must say it again: Perimenopause. Perimenopause. Perimenopause. I say the name to shed the embarrassment and shame.
I’m not sure whether I’m “officially” in perimenopause. Unlike getting one’s first period or no longer bleeding ever again there are no absolute symptoms. (And I’m loathe to do my usual, look up symptoms on Google and assume I have whatever an article says I do.) There is a test a doctor can give to verify.
Still. Goddamnit, just one more thing! As much as I’m learning to embrace getting older, letting go of all that comes with being younger still feels like a loss some days.
I am also curious and excited. Just as there has been potency in having a period—and from what I’ve read, the surge of power coursing through a woman’s body is the strongest yet in menopause—surely, there also must be gifts to receive during perimenopause.
I can’t wait to find out.
I use this book as one of my favorite middle school books, which told a story and still was informative to so many young girls out there. I have a youngest daughter, aged 29, who doesn’t have periods. I will tell her your story, so it will help her feel better. She had taken for years many different meds that were for JRA, then she has been trying to be more natural in her approach to health and wellness. This was helpful to me, in many ways.
I think the irregular periods for younger women is less uncommon than is discussed-although it can definitely feel to heroes. I am definitely grateful to Judy Blume for demystifying the growing up process and making it seem fun and exciting and hopeful. Forever is another one of my faves.
Good grief. I don’t like when I have my periods bc I constantly crave carbs then. Every pizza ad on tv or flyers drive me batshit crazy.
LOL, Sam. Chocolate is my period poison.
I stopped bleeding regularly for about a year and a half after going off the pill. Then, it was horrible for a few months (super heavy, super painful), and now it’s back to normal. I wish I had known that would happen when I first got thw pill, it would have saved me a lot of stress! Thanks for sharing your experience, I feel less alone in my experience!
Thank you, too, for sharing, Autumn. Glad to hear your cycle has restored to its natural rhythm.
Wow that was interesting!
Great article. I’m not there yet, but the term “perimenopause” has popped up on my radar screen lately, and I notice I feel a bit of sadness that one day I will no longer have my period. It took until my late 20s/early 30s for me to finally start to embrace and welcome my time of the month. My time. I love having this time to be in tune with myself and take care of myself. I love it…
Thank you, Atim. It’s definitely a great time to practice self-nourishing for sure. What you said really strikes home for me even more that how we shift our relationship to something can change everything.
Diahann, great post! Reminds me of a Ted talk I saw recently on the myth of PMS; that there’s actually a very miniscule percentage of women whose personality/mood/biology is really affected. That it’s not a “real” condition. Also, I strongly feel that my boys should grow up thinking that menstruation is not an icky thing but a natural part of the body’s cycle. They know that mommy has her period and they know about pads and that’s completely normalized for them.
I am going to have to check out the TED talk. That’s wonderful about what your teaching your sons.. the women in their lives will appreciate being around men who get that bleeding is absolutely normal. (I also love what Eve Ensler has to say about periods in her Vagina Monologues.)
Ok, I’m not sure I want the thrill of attending a whole day workshop on menstruation, etc. I also believe this is 1 topic that ALOT of men don’t even want to hear about nor see evidence. You know I even have a blog post that compares a red rock canyon to menstruation and other bloody things.
Yet, it is the biological event that reminds women of their potency..and their vulnerability. I think this is the central reason why women tend to verbalize and think of their own personal health/safety a lot more than men. Nothing to do that we’re conditioned or ‘fraidy cats. We worry if our period is not regular, etc. We are more willing to verbalize health irregularities/pain than men because we want our health problems solved more quickly. Men hide it more: I have found this out recently after reading news articles in the sports world about head injuries in hockey and football: a lot of men didn’t want to admit this dangerous injury!!
I am in menopause… I no longer have a period as of about 2 years ago. I phased out over a 2 yr. period before that. It was all gentle for me… very few hot flashes. Only brief for 1-2 min. once or twice per wk. No unusually heavy last hurrah periods.
And no, psychological weirdness or whatever that other women feel..
I’ve had a history of general normal to irregular periods because I’m lightweight and have had times of heavy exercise. (cycling on long trips).
No, I absolutely don’t miss my periods. I am a woman and really don’t need a period for my whole life to remind me of that. It is freedom …from mess. 😀 I’m not going to romanticize about periods.
Jean your honesty especially in the last paragraph left me grinning. I will definitely check out your blog post. I haven’t heard that before- the link to vulnerability.. thanks for sharing I am going to have to think about that some more for myself. Sounds like your menopause was gentle thank you for sharing and tracking here. I’m a few years from that at least, I think- one thing I’m looking forward to is not having to be “careful” every month.
May you be as lucky as I have been for this womanly phase of life. I certainly was not the woman trumpeting about her perimenopause symptoms for every one to hear. At some workplaces, a woman or 2 would talk about her symptoms for everyone to hear.
Seriously, I’m not interested in hearing it all. Maybe it was a message to men working near her but I doubt that impressed them. They just want to get on with their work or talk about sports.
I remember my first period so. clearly. Not because I had positive feelings about it, though! I was incredibly angry about the whole thing — especially since that first time, I bled for almost seven full days. (It stabilized and shortened after about 6 months.) I felt as though I had been sold a false bill of goods: four days! everyone had always told me it would only last FOUR DAYS!!!! I began to run calculations: if I was going to have to spend a fourth of every month like this, for YEARS, how much time out of my life would that amount to…
And now I, like you, am avoiding learning about perimenopause. As much as I can!
This story has been making the internet rounds in the last few days, so my apologies if you’ve already seen it — but this poet’s photo project around menstruation feels very resonant with your descriptions:
Alice, I love experiencing your trademark fierceness with humor in your telling of your first time. LOL- 7 instead of 4 days as promised sounds like a false advertising for sure. Thanks for sharing.. it’s funny- 4 (including you) people have sent me a link to this story. I think it’s wonderful it is compelling the whole world to see what is a natural part of a woman’s cycle to hopefully shed the taboo/shame element of talking about it.
In Hinduism, women are not supposed to go to the temple during their menstrual cycles. I found this out when I was older and was totally confused by why. It is considered dirty, but it a what gives women the ability to have children and thus continue the human race. It is a shame that it is viewed as so “unclean.”
These transitions are never easy. But you will get accustomed to it just as you did after your first period. If only it were a comfortable experience!
Thank you. I’ve heard that in certain religions intercourse is not allowed for the same reason. So interesting that as you said, this, which gives women the ability to give life would be regarded as profane. I’m always intrigued by the contradictions in Hinduism-I’m not an expert but there are these practices that seem not to honor women as much as men yet there are all these powerful Goddesses that are worshipped!
Women are held to the standard of being like goddesses, needing to always maintain “purity” and devotion to God (also in the form of the husband). But the contradictions are glaring when it comes to how women are treated.
Well, how funny. When I saw your title come up in the reader, I hesitated to read it. Normally I rush to your work. But, by the title, I just knew I would have to face the fact that you were writing about a phase in my world that I am dragging my feet on even as it moves along without me (mentally, that is), I haven’t had a period for months now. The 10 years I felt I’d lost because of my illness isn’t giving me a break on the sense that I’ve aged faster than I could keep up. Maybe I will write about that sometime – when I can truly admit it, I suppose.
I had the same expectations of womanhood at 13, then the periods that required hospitalization, followed by the other inconveniences and issues. Now they are gone, and really, I don’t miss them, but I do miss the years they represent.
I appreciate the issues you bring up, Diahann, even when I don’t want to. I know for certain though, that I am meant to find you; you are a necessary hand to help me face my fears and move on. xxoo, friend.
Robyn, thanks for sharing here. Should you ever feel compelled I have a feeling your post would be a potent one. (And in the feet dragging arena I have a feeling you are not alone. I know I kicked and screamed my way into 40… was fine for awhile and now 44 has been a bit of a head twister.)
Thank you 🙂 It’s funny but I definitely have had a hangover these past couple of days from writing about this.. the usual fears coming up around being too much, saying too much, who really wants to hear about this, etc. But as my significant other says, all the more reason to. Hope all is well in your world.
Thanks, Diahann. Oh my gosh – your significant other’s words just hit me between the fear senses. I feel like that’s a message I need to hear too, because it is truth. Funny how that kind of truth rushes through your heart, eh? 🙂
Diahann, You continue to inspire with your fearlessness and sense of adventure. I find that the women like you who embody these traits lead the most interesting lives and are the most exciting to be around no matter what age they are. The comments you elicit from other readers supports this, as well. Rock on, girlfriend. xo
Thank you, Sirena. As I shared with Robyn I was having a bit of a hangover from posting on this… poster’s worry and fears coming up so I appreciate your words and support. Here and on your blog, of course.
I wish it came with an on-off switch. I have no use for it and suffer too much for it.
What can I say? Change is unwelcome. And we women go through SO many changes!
“We talked about giving ourselves permission to slow down on our periods, pay closer attention to what our bodies are telling us” YES. My understanding differs on the creativity aspect. in keeping with the line I’m quoting. I could be wrong but I believe we are supporting and following (the rhythm of) our cycle when we rest our brain more during the heaviest days of bleeding because thinking sends blood to the brain (and the body is obviously in the business of discharing it at that time). Hence the cognitive sluggishness you allude to.
D, I’ve had the sense that you are fairly healthy. I am inclined to doubt you are in periM, though of course I again could be off. I know that the menses are less trouble with all the ills and discomforts when we’ve been active and keeping fit that month before it came.
Meaningful reflections on the power and associations of our blood to the energy of the cosmos and our own resourcefulness.
Oh interesting I haven’t heard that before that makes a lot of sense although I don’t remember feeling the cognitive sluggishness before. I’m not sure either but from what I’m reading it seems normal and part of the cycle of life if so. I appreciate your insights and wisdom, Diana. 🙂
I’m envious of people who created the onset of their period with joy. Mine came early enough that I haven’t had sex at yet — that would be a few months away — and my mom wasn’t expecting it yet either, Since first didn’t start until about age 16. I was about 11. So I thought I had cut myself but couldn’t figure out how. Once I found out about it, I wondered how many other horrible things I had not yet heard of that would happen to me. Pretty much couldn’t wait for menopause and wasn’t happy to hear that the sooner you start your period the later menopause was likely to start. Loved discovering the pill because then my period was less of a pain — both literally and figuratively!
Loved reading about your varied experiences with this!
I can imagine the surprise and shock if you weren’t expecting it to happen. I love that perspective of eagerly anticipating menopause. I definitely had the opposite experience w/ the pill- bad cramps all the way through!
Diahann, this touched me:
“As much as I’m learning to embrace getting older, letting go of all that comes with being younger still feels like a loss some days.”
I think it’s okay to mourn past seasons. Looking forward to reading what your perimenopause looks like (if you care to share). Thanks for the education. 🙂
Thank you, TImi. And for the reminder that mourning the past is just as much a part of life and perfectly okay.
Great post as usual, Diahann! I was like some of your commenters: got it too soon (age 10) and thus not at all happy about it. Thank you for bringing up a subject that affects all women one way or another and yet is “taboo” for no good reason.
Thank you, Lisa and for sharing. I’ve been wondering if there really is a when girls are “supposed” to get their periods. Seems like there are lots who get it “early” and “late”- what if the spectrum for when a girl should “normally” get theirs is broader than what modern medicine thinks? Kind of how the “normal” period is on a 28-day cycle when a lot of women don’t fall under that either. Thanks for your support as always!
I love that you talk about both the sacredness of bleeding and also the straight-up pain-in-the-ass-ness of it. When I was in my early twenties, I was complaining about my period one day to an older friend and she advised me to be kinder to my body about the whole process. She said to mark it in some way even if I just lit a candle and said, in a grumpy voice, “My period, my period.” I’ve always remembered that–her suggestion that I could have some kind of ritual that would still allow me to be annoyed by the whole thing. Oh! and did you see this link that’s been going around about the period photo that Instagram removed? So great–it made me think of you. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/11503621/Instagram-deletes-womans-period-photos-her-reply-is-great.html
I love that image of you lighting a candle a grumpily saying those words. Very real in my book. Yes- I loved that it went around the world and that it was removed because then it was put back and people are having conversations about this!
How did I miss this post which is so right up my alley?? I think you fell off my reader (yet again!) and so I came here out of the blue to see what you were up to and I see that perhaps I should start calling you “Little Miss Perimenopause?” Teasing, of course! I really think you have all the healthy attitudes I need to cultivate. I HATE my period. The only reason I actually DO embrace menopause is because it means losing it. Although, that hasn’t happened for me yet. Darn it! I detested getting my period at age 15, (like my huge breasts, I saw it as my body betraying me and forcing me into adulthood before I was ready) and have never been comfortable with my own daughters. I really need to grow up. And it’s not about being squeamish either. There’s something else. I need to explore more. I betcha you have some beautiful insight. You always do. I loved this post and been missing you.
Hello Stephanie. 🙂 Thank you. I so appreciate your honesty about your own relationship to your period. Sounds like you have some very potent feelings about it, which I feel like is so important to speak of because I’m sure you are not the only one. Even though I don’t have daughters I have wondered about how I might handle passing on lessons and wisdom to them about their bodies and being a woman. It always strikes me as an intense responsibility fraught with joys and challenges. So good to connect with you.
For women, I think getting our period is our ‘coming of age’ story. We remember it as our rite of passage. In my case, I was terrified that it would come – the film they showed us (just girls) in 6th grade made it seem like a horrifically complicated medical ‘thing’ that ‘we shouldn’t be worried about,’ thus worried me much. I felt a sense of ‘oh shoot, now I’m growing up into an adult’ when I got my first trace of blood at 12. Then, in my 40s, I began ‘perimenopause,’ and the opposite reaction – sadness that I’d never be able to conceive again (not that I wanted to!), sadness that my ‘womanness’ was leaving me. We women need to talk about these misconceptions!! BTW, my perimenopause lasted over a decade. Good luck! :-0
10 years – wow. I didn’t know it could go on for that length of time so thanks for sharing that with me. You reaction to the film makes me think about how sometimes society tries to downplay something rather than healthily exploring it, which can make one worry. I feel like our relationship to our cycles and the transitions get overlooked so much- similar downplaying int terms of lack of acknowledging by society in general that it makes it hard to be in our feelings about what’s going on. I so agree that getting women to talk about all this gets rid of the misconceptions!
Call it the ‘pregnant pause’. Howz that for vocabulary expansion?
For me, menopause holds danger only in terms of calcium deficiency and the loss of protective estrogen cover. I would say estrogen is a woman’s best friend.
Pregnant pause- So true and I like that. I have heard that supplements are necessary. A friend of mine is an acupuncturist and she strongly recommends herbs and other holistic stuff so good to know there are other options out there aside from modern medicine.
Hmm, maybe Naturopathy is the solution. As for estrogen supplements, allopathy isn’t in favor of them, since they do lead to endometrial hyperplasia and possibility cancer.
By the way, I must add that I love this title!
Thank you, Georgia!