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.
There is so much more to a woman’s relationship to her breasts than meets the naked eye. In this post, I am thrilled to have two of my favorite bloggers, KS of Kosher Adobo and Jennifer Berney of Goodnight Already, joining me as we pay homage to this most famous of feminine body parts.
I am a junior in boarding school. Behind me is a “Save Sex” poster and a perfume ad: “Femme Fatale: When the female of the species is more dangerous than the male.” It’s the night before the first day of school. I am tugging on the neck of my shirt, admiring my bra strap. Every bra I owned just a year before was white or beige, looking more like bandages for my then AA breasts. But this 36B brassiere, red and lined with lace, which I bought with my mom, was bold, and I want to show it off. In a girls’ dorm after lights out was the safest place to share my joy. Check out my new bra, I say, lifting my shirt for N., who took me to Victoria’s Secret for the first time. N. owns silky negligees and has more experience than I, but she delights with me, anyway. Having grown up with sisters, these female friendships are as natural as breathing. Beautiful, she says.
I loved the curves of my changing body. It was expanding, taking up room, and it was exciting. I wanted to make out with the world – but I didn’t want anyone to put his hand up my flannel shirt. (Or maybe I did but I hadn’t fallen in love, yet, much less kissed a boy.)
Though I couldn’t express it, then, that first red brassiere became one of my earliest lessons in femininity and self-acceptance. When I think about who I was at sixteen, I imagine a woman, who would be ready for love and men someday, but, until then, she could keep whatever it was – her breasts, her secrets – her own. She would find beauty in her own reflection and in other women’s eyes.
KS is a textbook TCK who was born in the Philippines, raised in Saudi Arabia, and has lived in New England, USA, for the last twenty years. She writes about her intercultural marriage, diversity, and reproductive health on her blog Kosher Adobo.
THE USEFUL BREAST
Once, at a crowded farmers market, an acquaintance of mine broke from our conversation to pull one of her breasts out of the top of her sundress and nurse her infant daughter. Though I tried not to react, I could not hide my alarm. I approved of public breastfeeding, but did she have to make it a spectacle?
As I prepared to welcome a baby, my own approach to public breastfeeding was to conceal as much as possible. I ordered nursing tank tops, nursing shirts, and a hand-made nursing cover—a small curtain that ties around a mother’s neck, designed to hide both her breasts and her baby. Why wouldn’t everyone use these? I wondered.
My son arrived, and our early days together included meandering walks where he would nap against me and wake up, hungry, the moment I settled down at a café. As it turned out, the nursing cover wasn’t so helpful; I actually needed to see my nipple to align it with my newborn’s mouth. And once he had latched I did not want to cover him with fabric. I wanted to see his eyes and his soft whorl of hair. The café was a friendly place, but still, I overheard strangers refer to me as “that woman over there who is breastfeeding.” It didn’t matter that my breast was hidden by my shirt—I was still a spectacle.
I wish that we could learn to recognize the utility of a breast in the same way we recognize the utility of a hand. Bared in the bedroom, or half hidden beneath lace, of course breasts hold erotic allure. But just as I must sometimes remove my gloves to find my keys or write a check, I must sometimes lift my shirt and unhook my bra to perform the serious task of feeding my child.
Jennifer Berney lives in Olympia, Washington with her partner and two sons. She blogs at Goodnight Already.
LOVING MY BREASTS
If my breasts could talk, they would tell me that they like it when I show a little cleavage. Give us a bit of sunlight, let that heat tickle our skin! I’m tenderer with my breasts than I used to be—unwilling to use them to be objectified; more eager to self-savor the sight of them, ripened and full as they peek over t-shirts or hang naked before the mirror. And underwire… my breasts love underwire!
At my last medical appointment, the doctor asked if I knew whether the breast cancer gene runs in the family—we do have a history. No, I replied. Well, maybe you should find out, she said.
My first thought was Angelina Jolie and her mastectomy, reconstruction—two procedures that, even with insurance, I cannot afford. But would I want to if I knew the odds were stacked against me? To lose my breasts, whether by choice or because I must, would be devastating. I’ll take my chances, I tell the doctor. Then again, maybe if I had children, like Angelina, I too would choose differently.
My breasts aren’t that sensitive when it comes to physical sensation—at least not like what you read in romance novels where a suck, a flick, a lick can elicit moans of ecstasy. When I was younger I would pretend all that, worried about what it might say about me if I didn’t make some noise.
These days, my breasts will settle for nothing less than real pleasure even if it means sometimes feeling nothing. Because my breasts, like the rest of me, are no longer afraid to demand tenderness… a little roughness…whatever they need. My breasts know that their worth doesn’t depend on looking good or putting on a show.
My breasts, with their ability to feed a life, are their own kind of superpower.
Diahann Reyes is a freelance writer and performer. She lives in Los Angeles and blogs at Stories from the Belly: A Blog About the Female Body and Its Appetites.
Lately, I’ve been feeling disconnected from my own sensuality and needing a way to plug back into that part of myself. I figured what better way to re-spark that inner connection than to take a sensual movement class.
I didn’t tell my boyfriend that I was going because I needed this experience to be just for me. We’ve been living together for a few months now, and while I love him truly, madly, and deeply, I suspect that being with him is the reason that I’ve shut down my connection to my sensuality.
I have a good friend who doesn’t think about her age. Every year, when I call to greet her happy birthday, she asks me, half-joking, “How old am I, again?” I know her age because she is ten years older than me. She prefers to mark her years not by time but according to how old or young she feels.
In some of the reviews I’ve read of the movie Nightcrawler, actress Renee Russo is described as an aging actress. The “aging” reference really bothers me. Sure, Russo is aging. She’s sixty right now, next month she’ll turn sixty-one. Then again, aren’t we all, every one of us, aging? From the moment we are conceived we age by the second. Yet it is usually women upon whom aging gets pinned and not in a positive way.
Age is a funny number. As a young girl, I couldn’t wait to be older—old enough to drive, to date, to drink, to be considered “credible” as a news anchor, which is what I thought I wanted to be. When I moved to Hollywood after my thirtieth birthday, one director told me that he couldn’t cast me in a role I really wanted because I didn’t look old enough to play a woman my age. “If only you looked as old as you really are, you’d be perfect for the job,” he said, ushering me out the door.
There was a time when I wanted to be famous. I felt that if I could just see myself under bright lights, on the big screen, or the front page, I would finally feel like I mattered. In the last several years, I’ve stopped craving stardom. Maybe it’s in part because fame seems to be an easier feat to accomplish these days. Do or say something super provocative or heartwarming, post it online, watch it go viral, and—Voila! —for at least fifteen minutes everyone knows your name. But does fame even mean anything anymore now that it is so much more achievable? Then again, did it ever?
I’d like to think that the reason for the change in me goes deeper—that it is because I no longer need other people to look at me first before I am able to see myself or know that I have value. I’ve begun owning that I matter, cultivating this understanding from the inside out, rather than looking for that validation from the outside in.
For the longest time, none of this was the case at all. I let culture and the male gaze, especially, tell me who I was and how much I was worth. Often, that worthiness was tied to whether or not men found me desirable.
When women come together
Their bodies can reverberate
Creating a rich stew
Of yummy nourishment
I’m floating in a warm pool surrounded by women. Eyes are closed. Hands gently lap the water. Movements are languid, barely making ripples. One woman sits underwater, as if suspended. Above the surface, her breath rises, forming bubbles.
We look like we are hibernating, which in a way we are. This is, after all, a retreat.
It’s just us ladies, so no pressure to pull in one’s tummy to create the illusion of flatness. No need to wear oversize t-shirts to hide soft upper arms or round thighs or skinny hips. No need to walk sexy or look hot. Each of us is resting, saturating in what it feels like to fully inhabit our own skin. We are hiding nothing.
I saw a woman at the bank the other day. A bank teller. She had the same kind of liver spots on her face that my grandmother used to have, right on the side of her cheeks by her eyes. She had laugh lines like my grandmother did. The shape of her face was almost exactly like hers. So was the texture of her skin. I wondered if the woman’s skin, like my grandmother’s skin, is what old lady Filipina skin is supposed to look like… like a coconut but not so hard, smooth even though it looks rough.
Seeing this woman was like looking at grandmother again, as if she were standing in front of me even though it wasn’t really her. The teller also had drawn in eyebrows, except my grandmother never used black eyeliner to pencil in her eyebrows. She always used a brown pencil. (Although when my grandmother was in her seventies once, she drew one of her eyebrows in blue because she was in a hurry and didn’t notice. When my sister pointed it out hours later my grandmother laughed so hard that she had to put her hand over her mouth to keep the rest of her laughter from spilling out all over the floor.)
I wanted to touch this bank teller’s face. I wanted to press my face next to hers and inhale deep to see if she smelled like Pond’s cold cream and Johnson’s baby powder, just like my grandmother. If I could have stood in front of the teller window longer I would have looked at her hands to see if they were wrinkled in the same places where my grandmother’s fingers had been wrinkled too.
I love to drop into my womb. I first learned about this practice when I started studying The Tantric Dance of Feminine Power™ over ten years ago. “Drop into your womb” is one of the instructions the teacher gives you before you can dance.
As someone who was used to connecting to my body from the outside-in—usually secondhand through the male gaze—I’d never thought to connect to my body from inside of myself, let alone to my womb of all places.
I used to look at my feet and see big… long..ugly. At least that’s what some of my relatives told me they saw when I was growing up . So I stopped taking care of my feet.
In college I walked around the Berkeley campus for four years in Nordstrom style loafers. I bought them in all the different colors: Blue. Black. Beige. And red. When I’d wear out a pair, I’d buy another pair. I’d take the BART across the bay to San Francisco on a Saturday.
Once, when I went home for summer vacation, my aunt looked down and said, “What have you done to your feet? They look like you’ve been plowing the rice fields [in the Philippines]!” Oops. Then again, how would she know?
I decided to name my blog “Stories from the Belly” for a few reasons. The first was that I wanted to tell the kinds of stories about being a woman that aren’t often shared out loud—true tales that might feel too shameful or painful or embarassing to tell anyone. Instead, a woman might store these stories deep within, locking them inside her body and forgetting they are even there.
I’d buried these types of stories in my belly for years. I didn’t even know that’s where I put them until I took a writing class with poet Jack Grapes more than ten years ago. Jack teaches students how to access the memories that we’ve buried in our gut, right in the belly.
I grew up having very strong feelings about this part of my body. My belly, like the earth, has always been round, never flat. Even when I’ve placed myself on a restrictive diet or felt motivated enough to work out five times a week, my belly is full and soft.