When I was ten years old, just four days before my eleventh birthday, I awoke from my nap and headed to the bathroom, the urge to pee having woken me up. It was the first time I would see the smudge: the bright red spots stark against the white cotton lining of my panties.
In high school, my periods were irregular, heavy affairs: clots that frightened me in their size, shades of red so bright I thought I was hemorrhaging. And the cramps… my G-d, the cramps.
I wore pads until I was 24.
It was during a rehearsal for The Vagina Monologues that my castmates – many of them undergrads and me the “oldie” as a newish staff member to the school where the show was being performed – were astonished to learn that I didn’t use tampons at all.
I had had a bad experience when I was a tween: searing pain from improper placement and general embarrassment to never ask anyone for help in the matter kept me from ever using one again. At the urging (and chastising) of my castmates, I began using tampons. I haven’t looked back since.
Even all those years where I was on birth control, before I ever knew my remaining ovary was slowly sputtering out of function, there would be signs. The uncontrollable cravings for dairy. The “stitch” in my right side, above the crook of my right leg and below my appendectomy scar. The overwhelming exhaustion that required an immediate nap within the first few hours of my period beginning.
When I was in college, I cursed those moments. Heading to the shared bathroom with 50 other women, my flip flops audibly marking my trek. Pulling down pants and underwear to be greeted by this monthly nuisance. “Not again,” I would think.
I even remember joking once how I couldn’t wait for menopause, just so I wouldn’t have to deal with my periods anymore.
And then I had my ovary removed, over Thanksgiving break freshmen year of college. I worried if I would ever have a period again, if I could have children…
And then, once I discovered sex, panicking when it didn’t show up when it was supposed to only to grumble and complain once it finally did show up, because I never remembered to actually carry pads with me in my purse, silently cursing in the bathroom at another pair of underwear ruined by that smudge.
In blood, truth.
I have never been able to stand the sight of blood. The first time I ever had my blood drawn (that I remember), I must have been 11 or 12. I looked over at the giant needle (a suction/vacuum needle, I now know) and watched as the blood filled the syringe with each heartbeat: thick and viscous. Since then, I’ve never looked when my blood is being drawn. This morning, as I could feel the little tube resting against my skin, I could feel the heat of my own blood coursing through as it filled the vial. Even then, with my head turned to the side, I could feel my stomach flip just from that sensation of blood warmth.
And yet, for nearly 10 years, about every month, I’d pull down my pants and there it is: a bloody mess. Bright red, sometimes brown, sometimes almost purple. There were the accidents- pads that folded over, the tampon that was too small of an absorbency, or simply a flow so heavy I hadn’t anticipated- and the stained pairs of underwear with reminders of blood that once was that no amount of stain remover would get out.
It’s the one blood I can look at without feeling faint or squeamish.
When I got married, I began looking at this blood in a new light, finally understanding its fertile implications. After my POF diagnosis, looking at it again as some kind of lie, a betrayal even – a sanguine falsehood told to me by my body as I came to understand the difference between withdrawal bleeding from birth control versus an actual post-ovulatory period. And then clinging to whatever bleeding I could, knowing that something was better than nothing when my body had ultimately failed me all these years.
Reading The Red Tent and participating in the Red Tent Temple movement allowed me to appreciate, honor and reflect on these red moments of my life, conceptualizing my body as vessel, my blood as life and my womanhood journey valid and true no matter my fertility.
Saturday night, as I left the bar mitzvah reception, I made that same pit stop. No pants to drop, but a shimmy of the dress, a familiar feminine bathroom dance. And there it was, again: the red smudge.
But this time, it was perfect. This perfect moment in knowing that my body is doing what it’s supposed to, needs to do right now, however manufactured. Hoping that this would be the last surprise red smudge I might see for the next year. Sitting there on the toilet like so many times before, underwear around my ankles and realizing that my life and my womanhood has been painted in bright red smudges and streaks, a bloody narrative of becoming and knowing.
This perfect moment knowing that in bleeding, my vessel prepares to welcome new life, to create a blood home in just a few short weeks from now.
. . .
This post is part of at Write Mind, Open Heart. Check out all the other Perfect Moments over at Lori’s place and add your own .