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April 8, 2009

I started menstruating two days after the waxing quarter moon. Right on time.

The past couple of years, it’s started out slow, just a few drops of brown or red on my underwear, enough warning to put in my cup before most of the blood comes.

Typically, the first day, and perhaps the second, give me enough pain to make me fairly useless. Since I’ve tried to stop taking analgesics, I rest, usually with a hot water bottle pressed against my abdomen, trying to ignore the fork embedded in my gut. Sometimes I eat copious amounts of chocolate, hoping some magical chemical of the ultra-processed cacao will serve as a painkiller. The tension in my belly travels up my body to my shoulders, my neck, my scalp, making my head split. Even if the cramps aren’t enough to make me take a painkiller, sometimes the headache is.

My cramps now aren’t bad compared to how they used to be. I started menstruating right after I turned twelve. Fucking twelve. Bovine Growth Hormone in my milk and an out of wack body fat ratio rammed me into puberty years too early. Sometimes I would have the cramps for the entire seven days of my period. Sometimes for the first three. I remember a day in school where I had to stop my presentation, crying, because I couldn’t concentrate I hurt so much. I felt so guilty. I remember another day moaning and screaming into the couch over the course of an afternoon, pouring bowl after bowl of hot soup down my throat hoping that the heat in my stomach would transfer to my uterus.

So all in all my cramps have been worse than some women’s, less severe than others’. I’ve considered myself lucky that my cramps got better over time.

When I saw the spots of reddish-brown on my underwear, I felt no pain. I wouldn’t have known the bleeding had started if I hadn’t seen it.

One to two minutes later, my abdomen clenched up, the familiar aching, stabbing that would crawl to my head because I had no drugs.

It took me fifteen minutes to put it together.

I had felt no pain.

I saw the blood.

I started feeling pain.

Cause. Effect.

Oh. My. Fucking. God.

I thought back. Every time I see the first blood I know it’s the signal that I’m about to start hurting. I never feel cramps before I see the blood, even if its a significant amount. The pain always comes after.

Over the past two or three years I’ve come to the belief that menstruation isn’t supposed to be excruciatingly painful. I’ve known enough people from non-Western cultures to whom it seems ridiculous that a woman should be miserable, moody, and hurting just because she’s menstruating. I believe that women are conditioned to feel pain, that our bodies are subjected to the ravages of early puberty, synthesized hormones in our food, poor diet, and a culture that is repulsed by our bodies and what they do. How many cultures that made major contributions to Western psychology revile menstruation? Well lets see, the Judeo-Christian-Muslim triumvirate, classical Greek, and Roman, just to pick the ones I don’t even have to research.

I’ve believed that menstruation wasn’t supposed to be extremely painful, but I treated my own pain as a casualty. I’d already been conditioned, and I didn’t yet live a lifestyle that would allow me to explore alternatives.

But I have never seen the pattern in myself, with such perfect clarity.

I saw the blood, I knew I was on my period, and I began feeling pain.

Cause, effect.

I expected to hurt, I was told I should hurt, and I made myself hurt.

Fucking. Hell.

The question was what to do about it. The pain was escalating, and my attempts to keep myself loose were becoming more and more feeble. I am incredibly grateful that I was in the perfect place to explore exactly that. For an afternoon I worked with friends and learned several methods to release the muscles and connective tissue of my abdomen.

And it worked.

I could feel the clenching in my abdomen releasing, and with the clenching went the pain. There was still tension. There was still an ache. My uterus was still contracting away, voiding itself of the blood tissue to feed a baby. Some of the tension still traveled up my body. It was not perfect and I had to keep working at the releases. But for the first time in my life, I have felt practically no pain on my period.

I can’t even comprehend it. It blows my mind. I cannot actually yet understand it, except that I know it happened.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Ireen permalink
    April 8, 2009 2:10 pm

    I had a somewhat similar experience when I started bellydancing. At first I thought the pain disappeared because the dancing was strenghtening all the muscles in the lower belly region (surely there’s a proper English word for it?!). But thinking about it, I guess it’s more that for the first time I actually learnt to feel my body from the inside. Our teacher, if I remember correctly, came from teaching yoga, so she added lots of breathing techniques into the lessons and ways of focusing on certain parts of one’s body, to really be aware of all the different layers between skin and bones.

    So, on the one hand, we learnt methods of muscle relaxation, probably similar to what you did. But what I really loved, and the much more important bit, was that she taught us to understand the body as something not distinct from oneself, but that we are in that body – or rather, that we are the body itself. And when you feel it and breathe it from the inside, when you’re aware of all the great bits and pieces and how they’re interconnected and keep you alive, then the outside world somehow doesn’t matter anymore; none of the beauty ideals and none of the shame around that part of the body, no matter whether it’s do to with sex or menstruation or whatever. Thinking about it, I really miss her lessons.

  2. April 10, 2009 10:38 am

    Wow, this is amazing. This myo-wotsit stuff sounds good. I might have to check this out…

  3. ranat permalink*
    April 11, 2009 2:09 pm

    @Ireen – Yeah, belly dancing was probably the first place I was introduced to the concept (along with my utter ignorance of my own body). I was raised with the idea that the mind, body, and spirit existed as separate entities and that spirit > mind > body. Only in the past year and a half or so have I been open to the idea of integrating all the fragments of self back together– that the idea that it’s not ‘my body’ it’s ‘myself’ because I am my body. Even just being aware mentally of my organs and muscles and connective tissue, rather than perceiving them as invisible and unknown, opens up a whole new angle of understanding for me.

    Lower belly region might be pelvic floor muscles? Dunno. I like the word belly, though. :)

    @Catherine – The myofascial stuff is pretty awesome, from my experience of it. It’s also really helping me reshape my understanding of the interconnectedness of myself.

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