I heard once that the reason why menstruating women were not allowed originally into Hindu temples was because menstruation was revered — as the feminine was considered divine already, women who were bleeding were believed to be especially attuned to the power of God and their prayers would therefore be heard first. If they entered the temple space, the priests said, God would not listen to the prayers of others. Menstruation was too powerful, it was thought.
Over time, as with all things that once empowered women, the thinking became that women who were on their period were impure and defiled sacred spaces. That, the priests now said, was why they couldn’t come to temple during their menses.
I am not one of those who believes in the inherent or otherwise power of my period. I do understand how it is indicative of life-giving force, but for me the power lies in its mythology and the balance it at least appears to lend to me.
Menstruation sounds like a very academic word for a very primal act. Bleeding, blotting, spotting, etc. are less glamorous, less worldly but more real, I suppose. Every aspect of the act, from the physical sensory feeling of thick liquid on your inner thigh, the faint metallic odor that follows you, or the deep knowing and sense of inclement weather when it arrives, feels like it belongs to a time before.
Of the people in my life who have the capability to menstruate, I am one of the last ones who opts to. My friends have almost all chosen some form of birth control that comes with the added perk of delaying or forgoing their periods. I understand their decision, but I do not want the same. Part of this is out of sheer laziness to change, part out of fear of introducing anything new to a body that feels always in limbo, and part because I like this bridge I have.
I often joke that my period means that at least one week out of the month “I’ll stay out of trouble.” This is a hyperbole but it still resonates — for at least one week out of the month, I know where and what my body is doing. I feel everything more when I’m bleeding and I can feel my whole self sharpen. My body is also very sensitive to slight changes and any weakness, wooziness or otherwise I feel during my period lets me know how it’s feeling and what it’s lacking. I can plan better for the next month.
Having an internal calendar like that, with a regular 28 turn over, is strange. It feels strange to me too. That combined with the fact that I will always wake up at 9 AM on the dot without an alarm makes me feel like there is something more truthful about my body than there is about the rest of me.
I was in the 6th grade when I got my period — it was disappointing and scary in turn. I knew what a period was, one of the few gifts public schooling gave me, but that didn’t stop it from being an unwelcome transition to adulthood for someone too small to understand what that meant exactly. And my mother seemed angry, she gave me a cotton pad without the softness to break down the new adult world for me. I felt like I bled alone.
For the 144 periods since, little about the experience has changed except that I have accepted the reality of it. And that’s where the power of the period, lies, I think. There are so few acts in our lives that force us to return to our bodies and calmly accept what is happening. Obviously there is still a choice here, I can choose to not have a period, but at this point it’s on level with breathing, sleeping, blinking. It is the dog barking at me as I bike straight home.
And there is something so serenely comforting about having at least one connection to an older day. At least one thing that keeps us firmly in connection with the species. To even be reminded that we are a species and not a creature above others. I appreciate that one last angry letter from the old world.