Monday, July 19, 2010

On feeling blue on a red day

menstrual crampsI think it was when I read The Red Tent several years ago that it first occurred to me that being confined to home or a certain location (aka a Red Tent) during one's period might be not a punishment but a release. Ever since getting my first period at age 12, I have sought to dissemble, to conceal, to pretend nothing was happening once a month that was out of the ordinary. Even when cramps were threatening to bend me double and I felt my intestines roiling with a sure certainty that they would be pushing something out soon, I tried to sit primly in social studies class, not letting on that anything was amiss — especially not to the boys.

Because women were supposed to be strong. Because one of the reasons given throughout the ages for why women couldn't be in leadership was that their "special time of the month" might at best alter their concentration and judgment, and at worst incapacitate them. I had to be a model of strong feminist womanhood and show I was not affected by the stickiness between my thighs, by the pitchfork tossing my innards, by the chemicals coursing through my bloodstream.

In The Red Tent, the women have cycles that swell in time with each other, as is often the case when feminine hormones adjust to each other in close quarters. And once each moon is a time to withdraw, to relax — for there to be no obligation, no guilt or pressure, no need to please the men or to work for a living. It is a time of renewal and release, of the young learning from the old, and the beauty of the cycles bringing the women close to each other.

I began to be quite envious I had no red tent of my own.

Yesterday, Sunday, we had a glorious hike to a waterfall, Franklin Falls. We got a late start, and the two-mile walk over gentle inclines but plenty of tree roots and rocks and log steps took longer than we expected (about three hours all told), and we were by far the last hikers to return. But it was wonderful. I'd forgotten the ERGO wasn't in the trunk but hanging on the coat tree at home, and we worried we'd be carrying a 38-pound three-year-old the whole way, but in fact Mikko walked by himself almost all the time (with only mild cajoling), enjoying the ramble, and I was so pleased to see him so taken with nature. I can't believe we don't do hikes with him more often.

Late that night, my bleeding started. Also late that night, Mikko was still awake. We had thought he'd have worn himself out and would be out like a light the minute we got home — or perhaps even in the car still. Nope. Eleven o'clock came. Midnight. Still he soldiered on, pinging out of my lap, flipping himself over on the bed, chattering merrily to me, resisting all my wiles of back rub, lullaby, nummies — and then my stern insistence that he must, in fact, be very tired indeed and didn't he want to sleep? And then my whining that Mama had work to do, and please wouldn't he go to sleep, pleeeeaase? I think he finally drifted off at 1:30 a.m.

So we none of us got much sleep, and then today I posted my paltry quarter of the weeklong collaboration about nursing in public vs. public smoking, and … gah. I don't know. No one's attacking me (I think), but I feel defensive. I felt like I was repeating myself over and over in my comment responses, putting out fires (ha) — reminding readers that this was only one of four articles, and that I just had the bad fortune to go first, with an article that was more of a moral argument than a direct comparison. Of course it's ludicrous to compare smoking with breastfeeding! That's the point of the weeklong series. But that wasn't my part to write, and it's my fault for assigning myself such a bizarre take on the issue. I don't like smoking. I like breastfeeding. But that wasn't the point. I wanted to write something quite snippy about how analogies are — you know — analogies. They're not perfectly like the thing they're comparing, or you wouldn't need the analogy! But I tried to restrain myself.

Fortunately (I feel), I had no time left to be a self-absorbed jerk to my own dear readers, since Sam and I went to a movie, Inception. Sam wanted to see it before all the mystery was spoiled for him through reviews and online and real-life speculating, so we pulled our babysitting co-op into use and dropped Mikko off at his little friend's house. Mikko was so excited about the idea of going to play with this friend, and I was pleased he would have such a wonderful time, despite being tired from the late night and still needing to poop (which is, frankly, why we think he couldn't get to sleep — and why he's still not asleep, tonight, at 11 p.m.). Only, it wasn't until just before we left him at our friends' house that I saw the stricken look in his eyes and fully realized: He had no idea we were leaving him there. He thought we were all going to play. He bore up all right as we left, but I spent the whole movie racked with guilt. What had I done to my child? How could I have betrayed and abandoned him? Would it be too too much to sneak out and call to see how he was holding up?

Every time I furtively checked my phone to see if the babysitter had called to beg us to return and clasp my wailing child to my bosom, I saw that I had a new email, and I wondered: One more comment about how smoking and my article both suck?

So. The movie was good. Very good. But I had this clear thought in the middle of it: This is not a good day.

And I even thought, How weird. Because this should be a good day. I'm at a movie, on a date, with my husband who loves me. My child is being cared for by a friend who likes all of us and has a son who enthusiastically loves to play with mine. I am seeing a movie that is making me think and yet is not in the least boring. I have the prospect of a food-court meal to look forward to. (Oh, you laugh, but the grilled veggie sub with gooey melted provolone we had afterwards was divine.) I am rolling in privilege and comfort, and I am out enjoying myself on a Monday afternoon while decent people work, and yet …

We picked up our child, and he was fine — for awhile. And then the screeching at us began, the just reward for leaving our overtired, constipated child with near-strangers for hours, and I took it as my due. We got some food into him, and had him pee, and he calmed down. He calmed down so much that he's still happily zinging around now.

In one of his wild clawings of my hair and attempts to climb bodily over me and blast an improvised trumpet in my ear and shine a flashlight into my eyes, I finally had to tell him: "You might not be tired, but Mama is."

And I really am.

That was when it hit me: This is why.

I am tired. I am in HALT TOT. And I am having my period.

This is why I am out of sorts, why everything seems bleak and hopeless. It's not, not really, but I can't see that now. I can see only that I can't see, and that will have to do for now.

What I wouldn't give for a red tent. An excuse to withdraw and release and be weepy and mopey in peace, and in communion. To stop pretending that my monthly cycles don't affect my emotions. To stop pretending I am stronger than the need for good sleep and consistent meals. To allow that physical pain stops me in my tracks and makes me want to curl into a ball, and to do so. To acknowledge that bleeding between my legs makes me want to slow down instead of doing a tampon commercial showing how I can still swim and teach aerobics and run a marathon. To admit that, sometimes, I get cranky when I'm on the rag, and that that's OK. Because it isn't a contest, and I haven't let our side down.

Tomorrow — oh, blessed tomorrow — if (if if!) our child ever poops and ever goes to sleep — I will feel better. I will drink some wine tonight, and wear my hot pink undies (for that is the closest I have to this) and enjoy (for they are fascinating me) the cloth pads I am testing, and veg on the couch with my husband who loves me, congratulate myself that I have not completely lost my temper today and that, indeed, many beautiful moments have happened right in front of me, and eventually, yes, stop feeling sorry for myself for no good reason. But wouldn't it be lovely to have some women surrounding me right now, as we all bed down in the red tent as one, saying to me, "Me, too — ah, me, too!"

Evocative photo titled menstrual cramps courtesy 欠我兩千塊 on flickr (cc)


Arwyn said...

This post deserves so much more, but: yes. Me too. Oh, me too.

Also this: "This is why I am out of sorts, why everything seems bleak and hopeless. It's not, not really, but I can't see that now. I can see only that I can't see, and that will have to do for now." Applies to SO MUCH. It's both profound and mundane truth.

Just... yes.

Have a psychic hot pad on me.

Lauren Wayne said...

Thank you, Arwyn. I was near tears, and now they are truly here. Thank you.

Annie @ PhD in Parenting said...



Me too.

And I'm sorry. I'm sure my comments were some of the ones that made you feel defensive. They weren't intended to (not much consolation, I know....sorry). I think the post just triggered my own anger about the stupid neighbours, their party, and the smoke that ruined what would otherwise have been a very pleasant evening.

Sorry.... :(

Marilyn (A Lot of Loves) said...

You know, I think I wouldn't mind a red tent of my own either. I read a book on orthodox judaism a few months ago and these people still followed the Bible literally where it says that a man can't sit on the same chair, etc that a menstruating woman sat on. This couple had a separate room with a bathroom in the house that the woman lived in for a week each month. During that week her husband prepared the meals and brought them to her. I thought it was terrible, but she said she liked the break. Sometimes, I can see what she means. (although I'd be okay with the break of a day not a week).

Rachel said...

Ah, Sweetie,

I've spent the past couple of days intermittently thinking about coming over here and leaving a whiny little note in the comment section of your Diva Cup review, because I'm having an uncommonly cranky-making period and your blog feels like a safe place to vent about "women problems." (Cup worked great last month; having trouble with it this month. Damn learning curve. And my cramps are worse than usual.)

Maybe what we need is a virtual red tent.

As for those comments on your other post -- I got the impression that people just couldn't wait to jump into the conversation until the post that best matched their key concern went "live," so they posted their comments on your post, even though you clearly indicated that others were going to address things like public health and legal issues. Thanks for writing such a thoughtful and irenic introduction, and for going first.

You rock.
Love you.

Lauren Wayne said...

Annie: Thank you. I think it was the combination of most all the comments being on smoking, not any one in particular. I didn't mean to point fingers at specific commenters, for sure. Because I do totally understand that being around smoking when you're not a smoker sucks. Our neighbors, as I said there, smoke under our windows, and I can't stand it, and I have been known to call the cops on loud music before (though many years ago) — because being loud till all hours actually is against the law where I live. Just to let you know that I am a curmudgeon. Or something. And I feel for you and the annoyance of being exposed to that. So, thank you, and I look forward to reading your post and the comments there today. I think yours will be an appealing topic and a great addition to the conversation.

Marilyn: I have that feeling, too, of wanting solitude sometimes but not wanting to be forced into it (for the times I don't want it). I suppose it's hard to find a middle ground in such matters, culturally speaking. When I was reading the Bible growing up, the menstrual laws always seemed restrictive to me rather than liberating, so it's intriguing to think that it could be either or both.

Rachel: Thank you, my friend. I had the same issue with the Diva Cup working perfectly and then going all wonky and then, blessedly, back to perfect. Although, no joke, I tried to put it in upside down tonight and it took me three tries to figure out what I was doing wrong (!!!). So here's hoping it's just a learning curve, and all will be better next month, and meanwhile we'll enjoy the protection of our virtual red tent. I agree with you on the comments. I totally agree with everyone who wrote and also have a legitimate beef with smoking being compared to breastfeeding (so asinine). I just had this feeling of, Did I not write my post clearly at all? Because I hear there are some FB comments that I haven't looked at yet (too chicken) saying that my article wasn't strongly worded enough against smoking. So, you know, whatever. I'll face that and figure out a gracious response tomorrow. Thank you for the kind words.

All & delightful sundry: I suppose I should really get some sleep, now I'm done wallowing. It was very pleasant wallowing, however, and how glad I am to have you friends chime in before I go to bed. I feel very much cheered up.

Jenny said...

First of all I'm so sorry if I sounded like a jerk in my comment on the smoking/breastfeeding post. I really only hate smoking, but I liked your article! I am probably too judgmental of people who are addicted to tobacco. Many of them were sort of born into it, and I've seen what a hold it has on my brother. Many smokers are slaves to it, planning their travels and visits and work around it. It's sad.

Last time I had my period I was mopey to the extreme. My mom kept asking what was wrong and I finally told her I was on my period and it was really bad. She was sympathetic. My period is bad enough by itself; all it takes is one little additional thing to totally ruin my day. I hate my period, it's heavy and painful and makes me empty my Diva Cup way too much and it's coming up in about a week. Boo.

I hope yours is over soon and you feel better! The day when it's over is always a happy day for me.

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

I haven't read the rest of the comments on your post (going there after I submit this), but I did read a couple on FB and thought . . . are they missing the larger point?
I wish we would have changed the order. I think your post would have been better received at the end. I had no idea people would respond negatively, and I'm sorry :(
In other news, I woke up this morning to a gush of blood and the realization that this cycle was the last one that I could have gotten pregnant while still 34. (weep) May 35 bring new wisdom and new life.

Lindsay said...

Ugh I definitely know what you mean. I hate pretending like I don't feel terrible and simultaneously feeling wimpy for feeling icky. When I ran cross-country all the girls on my team ended up on the same cycle and it was certainly

I wouldn't want to be off in a red tent though. Backrubs from Hubby and kisses from Baby make me feel about a million times better-I like being where they are when I feel bad! But I'm naturally very very snuggly when I'm not feeling well and I know not everyone is. :)

Anonymous said...

Love, love LOVE this post. As someone who is also hanging out in the Red Tent this week, I do want to say that I considered cloth menstrual pads years ago and dismissed them as too icky. Then I had a baby. And fell in love with cloth diapers. And I said to myself a few months ago, you know self, your period is going to show up sometime this summer, more likely than not and suddenly now that you're washing diapers twice a week, cloth pads don't seem so crazy. And I love them. They're actually less "icky" to me than the disposible pads now. Talk about paradigm shift.

Kat said...

When I have my period everything sucks, everything is just not right. But the good thing is that it doesn't last'll feel better tomorrow. Hugs!

P.S. I loved your Smoking/NIP post. You did a great job brining up very important points. Don't feel bad about the comments, I don't think anyone was trying to diss your article, I think they just got bogged up with the idea that BF is not harmful whereas smoking is and it seemed impossible to compare the two...which is the exact point you made: that even when someone is doing something harmful, if it's not against the law, you have no right to make them stop.

Feel better soon!

Brooke said...

Love this post, you've hit the nail on the head again. I seem to be suprised each month when I am moody, sad and overwhelmed - and then my period arrives the day after. I have gotten to the point now where I feel like I should leave a reminder note in my diary each month "Dear self, please do not plan anything important on these days. Be very, very kind to yourself. Apologise in advance to your husband and son".

You wrote: "stop feeling sorry for myself for no good reason". You're wrong there, there is very good reason why you're feeling sorry for yourself. Perhaps now is time for some of that self compassion you blogged about a little while ago ;)

Thanks for such wonderful posts. I love the way you write.

Lisa C said...

When I read that book I was really envious that I didn't have a red tent, too. I even wondered if I could create one somehow ("So any ladies on their period come hang out at my house!"). Instead, I just thought of different ways I could pamper and indulge myself for my three heaviest days. I buy pomegranate juice every month, sometimes rich chocolate cake (you know, the kind that cost $5 a slice), and I light a special candle, wear red lip balm...I'll add new things to it as time goes on. I try to only do things I want to do on those days, too.

Anyway, my sympathies to you.

Anonymous said...

I heart "The Red Tent".

And I have a day like this pretty much every month. A day when nothing can go right, and I don't know why, and then it comes clear. I think we really need a better way of honouring those days. A much better way.

geeks in rome said...

Amen!! There should be a PMS tent, too! I love the whole retreat idea.

In Italy, it's still common for women to not go to work when they are menstruating. They even have a code word for it 'indisposta' (indisposed) and it's an acceptable excuse for not going in. Or for getting out of anything, really.

It seems co-workers would rather have a bigger workload than face a cranky, miserable colleague.

I used to think they were wimps, but the culture accepts that it's normal you would feel awful and crampy and that you should rest and be near a toilet/bidet all day!!!

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