Me: I hate it when my period is due, everything just feels more tense. I hate everything about myself. I feel bloated and ugly. I binge eat on what could feed a family of four. I feel completely depressed and find myself dramatising everything. I’ll be on the train and see a trapped pigeon or something and burst into tears. I spend an entire week PMSing, feeling like I want to scream. I literally dread its arrival”.
Mum: You’re a woman, Darling. Deal with it.
Before a baby girl is born, around 20 weeks old, the female fetus already has up to 7 million eggs. S E V E N M I L L I O N E G G S. Let that sink in.
I was 11 when I first began to discharge blood and mucosal tissue from my uterus lining (just being technical, here). I remember thinking I must have shat myself because strange stains appeared in my knickers and I didn’t know what the hell they were. After a discreet meltdown, I was relieved to later find my mum at the school gates, box of Always in hands, a pink candle with a ribbon on it and a sympathetic, tearful smile.
Oh. Dear. God.
1920’s, India. My poor grandmother hadn’t a clue on menstruation as nobody dared to educate her. After disclosing to her mother that she was bleeding “down there”, she was pushed into a bathroom and told not to speak of it again. As a result, her monthly bleeding was something that she simply learnt to deal with. Baring in mind there were no tampons or sanitary towels back then, my grandmother would improvise using cloths and string. She spent her first few years of menstruation in secretive shame, believing she would die from a genetically rare disease.
Victorian doctors branded menstruation as a crippling illness, where women were seen as “out of order”, unable to rationalise and focus. They were made to feel unclean and embarrassed of their bodies, not realising their monthly cycle was (and still is) a sign of a healthy working body.
Varying religions have their own views of a woman on her period. Some Hindu’s believe that a menstruating woman should avoid the kitchen, religious temples, bathing and sexual acts. Muslim women are advised not to pray or perform other religious activities, whilst Jewish women are branded as ritually unclean. Growing up in the Catholic church, feelings were mixed regarding my menstrual cleanliness but hey, what does it matter, I’m an atheist now.
As a child, I’d always notice my mum acting a little crazier than usual when that time of the month arrived. Her chocolate supply and hot water bottle were a key indicator to avoid, avoid, avoid.
How was I to know that my mother’s estrogen levels were on the rise? That her shifting hormones caused a sensitive irritability? It was only when my own period arrived and I found myself sitting on the floor, writhing in pain and sobbing hysterically, that I began to understand the challenges women face without any form of deserved acknowledgment.
I’m aware that our periods are no longer a stigmatised taboo, but our womanly plight is still very much overlooked. We endure these agonising cycles, blessing each-other with silent understanding and trying not to leak through our clothing. We carry on as normal despite excruciating pain, tender breasts, sore backs; appetites of elephants and tempers of titans. It’s kind of weird to comprehend that our male-counterparts will never fully understand (no matter quite how hard they try) the physical and emotional depths of what we go through every. Single. Month.