Being more free about that monthly bleed

by Maggie Dunleavy / Beacon Correspondent • November 19, 2015

The earliest memory I have of menstruation is from first grade, standing in the bathroom with my mom, staring into the toilet she had just peed into, now swirling with red, while she stood and turned to flush. “What’s that?” I asked. “Are you ok? Are you hurt?” I don’t remember what she said to explain it to me; just my utter awe and fascination with what was swept down the pipes, what had come from her body—what she said would come from my body someday. The utter impossibility of bleeding and being unharmed left me awestruck. And still, every month when I find myself standing to flush a toilet blooming red, I am proud of the way my body does the impossible.

I was the last one out of all of my friends to get my period. I don’t remember the first time I got mine, I don’t remember how my parents reacted or who bought me my first pads. Mostly what I remember is the shame of navigating such a natural and normal thing silently and on my own, without anyone to show me how.

That’s why now, I try to be that reassuring voice of period positivity I never got to hear. I unabashedly and unapologetically love menstruation and the many ways that we who experience this monthly visit choose to live with our periods. And I’ll take any chance I get to talk about this with anyone—regardless of whether or not they go through it themselves. 

For me, this began my freshman year at Emerson, when I got my first DivaCup, a menstrual cup made of medical-grade silicone used in place of disposable tampons. It’s inserted into the vagina during a period, forms a suction around the cervix, and sits low in the vaginal canal collecting menstrual blood. This is usually the point in a conversation or presentation where I have to tell everyone to take a deep breath. Maybe you don’t want to think about your period, maybe you’ve never known what it’s like to have one; either way you’ve probably been told your whole life that menstruation is disgusting and embarrassing. 

And here I am, talking about vaginas and uteruses and menstrual blood. And you’re reading this, and maybe you’re eating a pastry or waiting for the train, and you’re probably just about ready to move on to another article. But, as I say whenever I’m talking about period positivity, you could also choose openness in this moment. You could choose to humor me, and imagine a universe in which you embrace this discussion of periods with excitement instead of anxiety. It doesn’t matter whether you menstruate or not, what gender you identify with; this is something we can all benefit from understanding. It’s an opportunity for all of us to shift in thinking towards a new kind of curiosity and openness that will carry over into other areas of our lives.

My DivaCup changed my life because it gave me the chance to see my period and my body honestly and with awe instead of disgust. I was definitely unused to my own anatomy, and unused to experiencing my own period so closely. But gaining that closeness allowed me find a new appreciation for and confidence in myself that I’d never found before. In letting go of my period shame I found that I was able to simultaneously release the fear that told me that I should hide any part of myself.

Those of us that menstruate are told from our menarche (the first period of menstruation we experience) that periods are something to clean up, wrap up in toilet paper, and throw away. A menstrual cup challenges that idea by forcing me to see my blood, to pour it in the toilet, and wash it off in the sink. I am unable to ignore that amazing impossibility that I was transfixed by as a little girl. And at this point, I’ve found that I don’t want to. I don’t find my period to be disgusting. Instead, I’ve found a beautiful and vibrant community that I am right in the middle of, a community of people of all kinds who share one thing in common—the powerful and poetic experience of menstruation. 

My period exists as a monthly reminder that my body is strong enough to create life and resilient enough to take care of itself. It’s easy to spend your life stuck in the cycle of loathing it, commiserating with others about how gross it is, or apologizing for it when it pops up unannounced. But as someone who’s chosen to explore what other experiences of menstruation are out there, I can tell you that once you move past the shame and decide to embrace the beauty and power of periods, you won’t even think of going back to where you started.