Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Let It Bleed

I've been thinking for a few days about what, if anything, I have to say about the idea of using contraception to cease menstruation completely. My immediate reaction is that there is something fundamentally wrong, something of playing god, with putting an end to monthly bleeding, especially for no other reason than convenience. I tend to stand by the idea that evolution has honed our bodies to a darn fine point and we really should not try to modify that.

But then I've never had menstrual cramps. Nor anemia. Nor bleeding that lasts for more than a week. Any of these conditions would no doubt color my view.

If, however, one's primary motivation for manipulating their hormones is to stop the inconvenience of monthly bleeding, then I do not support it. Feminists might say it is liberation from one of the curses/emblems of women's reproductive imprisonment. But is it not also feminist to bleed and be proud of it? To see monthly blood as a mark of distinction? After all, when are women most at their peak of power and ability? Not as pre-pubescent naifs. Nor as aging (however gracefully) crones. My guess is that 95% of women moving and shaking our world are in the midst of their menstruating years.

I think a lot of the "inconvenience" of periods -- at least routine ones; I'm not talking about the debilitating cramping and bleeding -- is cultural, and much of it is dated. When our mothers were younger, it must have been unpleasant to wear the elastic and metal belts and pads. [Indeed, women who deliver babies at one of the local hospitals get to experience this "retro" style after delivery, when the nurse comes in with the belt and pad]. They had to refrain from swimming because their blood would still flow.

But what of it? It is only the social horror at a bleeding woman that would make swimming without a tampon distasteful. For that matter, why not just "flow" all the time? Why sop it up with rags? Practicality, yes. But also something more. A shame, a need to keep it hidden.

If we were truly liberated about our periods, we could walk around with blood stains on our thighs and be self-conscious only to the point of pride. "Yes. I am a bleeder. As my legs show."

Imagine actresses walking up the red carpet at the Oscars advertising their youth, vigor, fertility with a tiny trail of blood.

In such a culture, if women still felt it was necessary to stop their periods, I would be more sympathetic. Then it would be about their physiology, not their society's cultural norms.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good post.
Sometimes there is a really fine line between 'pure' convenience and genuine need for relief from something debilitating. I'm on the pill for the intense pain I was in with every period. Genuine need. However, I am also travelling to Africa this summer for a mission trip through my work and don't want to inflict my emotional state on anyone, so am opting for the convenience of two pill packs in a row (aka no period). Sometimes the line isn't a clear one. But at the root of both, is a wish that it was culturally 'ok' to be a bleeding woman, with everything that means.


4:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't remember the name of the author, but I remember reading something by a female biologist who was always troubled by the fact that most biologists/human ecologists, etc. viewed female menstruation as simply the body's elimination of waste products, because she felt that from an evolutionary standpoint, it just didn't make sense. So she started considering alternative explanations and examining menstruation across species and whatnot and came to the conclusion that it serves a biological function that the vagina, at regular intervals, is "cleansed" with blood (full of infection-fighting white blood cells). And that in the years when a woman is sexually active (in other words, when something potentially infection-causing may be inserted into her vagina), it makes perfect evolutionary sense that during that time period she would have this regular "cleansing" of the vagina to help fight off infection. Anyway, when reading about the decline of menstruation, that was the first thing I thought of. Not that it shouldn't be an option, but that the possibility of increased rates of infection should be examined in studies, and if found, discussed with patients in reviewing risks versus benefits.

4:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've taken two depo shots in my lifetime, both times my flow stopped. It was the most convenient birth control for me at the time, but I didn't like it that it stopped my natural rhythms. Several years back I made myself cloth pads. I felt more "in touch" as it were with myself and my body while I wore them. As the mom of an almost one year old, I'm going on a year and a half with no flow (aside from bleeding after the birth) and feel good about knowing that my body will bleed when it's ready (probably when DD decides she's done breastfeeding, which isn't looking like anytime soon).


11:02 AM  
Anonymous Stephanie said...

Very interesting. In a world that increasingly discounts "gut feel" and intuition, I have to say that the idea of stopping menstruation for convenience is one that troubles me, and I'm not sure why.

I think somehow (this may need more thought) that it's a little (or a lot) like giving an epidural to every labouring woman at the first hint of discomfort. It overlooks the greater good possible when we work with what we have, rather than modifying the experience to suit us.

Sure, there are women for whom this would be welcome medical treatment, just like there are women who benfit from intervention during birth, but I can't help but wonder what we lose when we disconnect entirely from the feminine biology of our real selves.

1:51 PM  
Blogger I am a Milliner's Dream, a woman of many "hats"... said...

A couple of midwives I know say this isn't such a bad thing in small doses.

They said that women did not used to have periods every month for so much of their lives...women used to have children beginning earlier and have them for longer--and breastfeeding continuously.

They said that giving the woman's body a "rest" because women don't do it like "in the old days" may not be a horrible idea.

But not permanently or even long term.

Just a thought...

...however, I do believe that women's bodily functions are _still_ tiptoed over and whispered about and I wish that were not so.

4:11 PM  
Blogger Julie said...

Personally, I'd like to be liberated from one of the curses/emblems of my reproductive imprisonment. My normal 24-day (!) cycle usually includes heavy bleeding, bad cramps, and mood swings. If I wasn't too chicken to mess with my hormones that way, I'd seriously consider it. The line between physiology and convenience is fuzzy at best.

On the other hand, I do see monthly blood as a mark of distinction, no question about it. Especially after two miscarriages, which viscerally brought home to me the connection between babies and bleeding.

9:32 PM  

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