Morning Thoughts, On Day 1

by d

... and that would be me.

There’s a point in Tamora Pierce’s Alanna: The First Adventure when the heroine, Alanna, gets her period for the first time. She rushes to the only healing woman she trusts. Eleni sees Alanna’s frustration with her developing body and says, “You’re not used to your body doing things you haven’t asked of it, are you?” I didn’t understand that when I first read it, but now I do.

My body has no respect for anything but itself. It doesn’t care that I have a job now, that I have somewhere to be, or that I might inconvenience others.

My period started yesterday, very slowly. It didn’t get in the way, though I was a bit paranoid. I relaxed once I was home, and, though I saw how heavy it was–a single pad filled in the course of the evening–I didn’t anticipate trouble in the night. First days are often very light, and something about being horizontal means that not much leaks out.

More the fool me. The second and third day have become, over the last six months to a year, very heavy indeed. I didn’t wake to a disaster, thank god, but there was some spillage, and a full pad. I hastily checked for damage, and determined that my sheets were ok, though the pajama bottoms… do I care? Do I care?

There is a point at which one stops caring. It’s too much to keep caring about it, too much to worry about and plan for and clean up. When one reaches this point, it can go one of thee ways.

The first is abdication. “Screw you guys, I’m going home.” Drop everything, throw your hands up, walk away. It’s just too much. I can’t deal with this anymore. I officially resign my position in the course of daily life, I’m going to go curl up with a book, some bad TV, ice cream, something greasy, chocolate. Comfort foods. Wallowing, defiant.

The second is a good, long wail. A hard, wracking sob. Sometimes the only cure is to give in to those treacherous hormones and just have at. Shout, scream, beat the pillows. These tears are motivated by melancholy, sure, but mainly it is anger. Anger that this is happening, anger that I cannot stop it, anger that I did not anticipate better. They are a howling call for help. Mother, please, I cannot do this anymore! lease, please take over my life for me!

The worst is when neither of these happens. The worst is resignation. I already feel deadly tired–on top of everything else, I’m exhausted, too–and all I want is to crawl back into bed, regardless of feminine protections, and sleep it off. Like a fever or a hangover or a cold, the best way to get through it is to disengage.

So, I toss the laundry in the sink. I get dressed, brush my hair, calculate what sacrifices I will have to make in my routine before my ride pitches up. I’ve slept through the time I usually use to eat breakfast. I don’t want to eat, don’t want to do any of this, but I haven’t any choice. Somehow, miraculously, I am put together and ready to walk out the door only minutes late (and anyway, she’s early).

The ride to work is pleasant, normal. You’d never know.

Then I get to work and realize that, despite a super absorbent tampon, I may be leaking onto my pad. It never ends.

But I have a job to do. I can’t abdicate. I can’t break down and cry on the floor like a preschooler. It isn’t like college, when I could curl up on a couch in the lounge and sleep through as many classes as I needed to.

I also can’t tell anyone why I feel like shit, why I look totally wan and zonked, why I need to run to the bathroom every two hours (maybe more?). It’s not workplace talk. I barely know these people, I’m just the temp. One does not discuss intimate bodily functions with temporary superiors, not if one wants to be asked back.

It shouldn’t be this way. There are women way worse off than I, who literally have to take to their beds for several days every month. Migraines, cramps, mood swings–these words do not convey just how hellish life can be. You may think you know this, but unless you’re in that tiny minority of extreme suffering, you can’t. I am not, or, not on a regualr basis. But the little dose I’ve had makes me certain that, should it ever become a pattern, I’m heading right to the gyn.

What if I were immobilized each month? How would I ever hold down a job? I could easily turn this complaint into an dictment of the American health system and work culture. Here, we must work, work, work, nonstop, or be chucked in favor of someone who appreciates having a job. A job is a privilege, not a right.

I could also rail against a work culture developed by men, that is hostile toward female interlopers. Men didn’t think women were capable of holding down jobs for this very reason. We’re weak, we swoon, we can’t take the pressure. Finally, grudgingly, they said, “Ok, girls, you can join the steno pool. But we better not catch you slacking off. You’ve gotta work just as hard as any fella.”

That attitude still exists in places, and its legacy continues. Maternity leave is a source of resentment. In America, you earn two weeks vacation after a probationary period. After ten years, you’ll be lucky to have three weeks, maybe a month. In Europe, they start with six. If I were a menstrually-besieged woman in Europe, I could afford to dip into my vacation time once in a while. In America, never. Even adding personal days and sick days, it isn’t nearly enough. And the days off wouldn’t be a vacation, so I’d burn out.

Even if I could take the time off, then everyone would know. The whole office, maybe people in other offices. “Can’t call D today, it’s the Nth of the month, she’s home with her monthlies.” It shouldn’t be embarrassing. But, since middle school, it’s been clear that no one should know. Your friends know if you tell them, girl friends. The rest, never.

So here I am, skiving off and delaying the start of my work day so I can get all this off my chest. I don’t know how much good I’ll be today. Clearly I’m not fit to be in the work world, not as strong as a man, who isn’t plagued by hormonal fluctuations (unless they’ve done an even better job of hiding it).

This happens. It’s normal. I’m not saying that every woman should be given lavishly special treatment. But it should be understood when something goes wrong, it shouldn’t be shameful. It shouldn’t be something one hides, or resigns oneself to, for fear of losing a job.

“Hi, boss, look, I’m going to be a bit late today. I woke up and my sheets are a total mess.”
“No problem, try to make it in for the ten o’clock call.”
“Will do.”

I need to check my pad.

[Ed: Corrected quote, spelling.]

4 Comments to “Morning Thoughts, On Day 1”

  1. You know you might bite my head off over this but men struggle just as much with semen build up and wives not wlling to give them relief. We feel like we are going to explode. When men are forced to masturbate alone we feel unloved, unwanted, uncared for and just worthless. Men are every bit as sensitve as women, its just that we don’t show it much because it is percieved as weak.

    The connection is that men struggle with hormones as well. So the next time that your guy wants to make love with you and you are not particularly in the mood, cut the guy a little slack because he has hormones too.

    Blessings on you and yours
    John Wilder

  2. Dr Wilder,

    I think you’re making a bunch of untruthful assumptions about us. I want you to know three things.

    1. We’re a multi-author blog. Not a single member of this blog is currently married, though that might change as we attract new writing talent. I have a fiance, but D, my co-author, is not even in a relationship. I’m at a loss as how she could possibly take your advice.

    2. Furthermore, while I am sure that semen buildup and sexual frustration are /real/ problems that face men, I’m not sure what you mean by bringing it up here. It’s completely irrelevant to this post, which is a confessional complaint about a professional woman on her period. This is not a subject that’s up for debate. When we debate emotionally, it always ends up in disaster.

    3. If you would like to engage us in debate (as I’m sure you would) then we can plan a constructive way to discuss the issues. We have not belittled your position or right to have an opinion. But you show us great disrespect when you post an irrelevant comment in response to a genuine crisis.

  3. Please accept my apologies. I did not know the demographics of your blog. If you will, I try and serve as a resoorce for women about men. For example Sex and The City’s main character was Carrie a sex columnist who was clueless about men. She in turn took her questions to her posse who were equally clueless about men. The women’s magaziune also feature women advice columnists. Askiing another woman about the male psyche is about as stupid as a guy asking his buddies what it feels like for a woman to be pregnant.

    I did not mean to be insulting or demeaing and I know how incapacitating periods can be. I only try to get women to think outside the box about men and give them real insight to the male mind. Most men have had their heads bitten off and handed to them because they voice a complaint to the woman about the woman. Many women retaliate with harsh speech and attitudes with the notion of teaching that no good man to never do it again. Men learn the lesson well and early and seethe in silence in the future. This cuts of effective ommunication between the man and woman and breeds resentment on the part of the man.

    What couples need are good conflict resolutioin skiills which do not come naturally. Sadly marriage counselors don’t teach it either.

    So again my apologies

    Blessings on you and yours
    John Wilder

  4. Ugh, I know what you mean, D! I’ve had very similar issues! I’ve never been shy about or ashamed of my period, but it can be embarrassing if someone ELSE notices a spot on your pants/skirt before you do and points it out. Especially if they don’t have the tact to point it out discreetly. Like, pulling you aside and saying, “You have a stain, you should go check in the bathroom.” very quietly. For some reason, tact is hardly common anymore. o.O;

    I am not in that terrible minority of women who have to be bedridden for days when they have their periods, and for that I’m grateful! But, there are times when I have problems like that. It’s just not a common occurrence. I know when it’s going to happen, though, because I feel like I’m going to pass out. Not just lightheadedness, but actually reeling. And a few minutes after that, the cramping starts. And it’s so bad all I can do is lay down and curl up and whimper and beg (literally aloud) for it to stop.

    Like I said, though, I’m quite grateful this is not common for me! But, I know how it is to wake up to a mess on the sheets, and how there comes a point when you just don’t care anymore if your pajamas or nightgown get stained because it’s just too much to worry about RIGHT THEN. And, naturally, blood-removing products safe to use on clothes always seem to be absent when this sort of thing occurs. It never happens when they’re around!

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