The egg forms, moves through the Fallopian tube, plants itself in the wall, waits to be fertilized, most times it is not, so the walls of my uterus shed, then the cycle repeats. Seemed simple. But what I'd failed to learn or perhaps failed to be taught in school was all the other things that my body goes through in this cycle.
The first lesson came from my mother, telling me after I'd thrown myself on the floor in tears for "no apparent reason", and she didn't understand why I was so upset.
She asked, "Honey, are you on your period?"
Enraged I said, "Yes! But...but..."
She told me to dismiss my feelings because I was hormonal.
The truth was I had a real concern about something that was only amplified by my hormones. I hadn't yet fully understood that my hormones had only amplified my reaction, and that didn't mean I should dismiss what was bothering me.
It's taken almost two decades for me to learn the language of my cycle. And to me, it’s a lot more than the life story of a little egg. It’s a grand opera with many characters, both central and supporting. My whole body and mind take part every month. The opening scenes take on a little different flare each time but it usually begins with my hunger. My body wants more food than usual. I feel bad about wanting to eat so much. Then I get constipated and very thirsty. The increased quantity has me feeling bloated. And although I've consumed enough water to fill a bathtub, I become constipated for about two or three days. This physical discomfort forms mental discomfort. My clothes feel tight, body thick and heavy, my self-image suffers and mean thoughts about my body rule the day. Soon my breasts are tender. My back and sometimes my whole body are sore. I feel exhausted. Then, more irritability from fatigue and pain ensues. Even though I know that it is temporary, that relief will come with blood, every month I fear the discomfort won't end.
My second lesson came after I'd had an experience with early pregnancy. I learned what the function of hunger, bloating, and constipation served in this cycle. That whether for baby or blood, my body was preparing to do a very strenuous function that for two weeks out of the month it doesn't do.
My body needs the extra calories and nutrients to make a bank of soft tissue and so I must eat more and then my body holds onto my food a while longer in my bowels to leech out all possible resources. I need a lot of water, like any factory, to both cool the body, and as an ingredient in the previously non-existent tissue. The water also serves to increase my blood volume and circulation and to flush out toxins so there is a clean work environment. Then it will need all that water to loosen and dissolve my uterine tissue so it can pass through a hole the size of a pinhead.
With the exception of that one time in my life, every month my body is building a home day and night for about a week and then takes five to seven days of non-stop work tearing it down. The home is not just in my uterus, it is also in my blood, bones, organs and mind.
When I begin to bleed, demolishing the house, my body also takes the time to clear out the whole foundation it was built on too, and every piece of garbage is thrown out via my kidneys, bowels, skin, lungs, and thoughts. My face breaks out, my sweat and breath stink, my stool is plentiful and soft, I have to pee three times as often, and all my insecurities rise to the forefront of my mind to be dealt with.
When I actually sit a look at this whole endeavor from an informed position, I begin to have great respect for it. I move into a place of awe and fascination at what miraculous creatures we humans are, what all animals are. If I had to work that hard every month in the outside world I would have quit half-way through the project. But the fact is I do work that hard every month! This is what is happening inside of me, inside of every woman from puberty to menopause.
My third lesson came when I was inside a sweat lodge in Ojai and the Water Keeper told a story, sharing that women are endowed with certain gifts not given to men. One being menses, the others were childbirth, nursing and finally menopause.
Culturally and historically, menses has a bad reputation. It is culturally loathed and and only mildly tolerated, a pesky nuisance of procreation, a necessary evil. Very rarely is menses regarded as a gift. Red Tents of the old tribes were a place of exile for the unclean, but in many tribes it was an honorable place of refuge. And having a refuge each month is a necessary element of life, not a form of exile. So, I create my own Red Tent every month, just for me, on the second and third days of my menses, allowing myself extra rest and time for contemplation in my process of tearing-down the house.
It is only natural that in this state things that I could normally busy myself from or dismiss should have an environment to come through, and I honor those thoughts, no longer writing off their significance to myself and others with, "Sorry, I'm on my period." I do not apologize anymore.
Now I say, "I am on my period, and am more sensitive to this thing that always bothers me and so my reaction is stronger." I ask, "Can we try to slow down today? I will have more energy next week." No longer do I try to fight against my body, pushing harder when I'm tired, no longer fighting my cravings for food and rest. I give in to what my body needs, much easier now that I know what exactly it is that it's doing. I trust the cycle instead of fighting the demands of my body, folding to the demands of a world that is no longer well versed or well practiced in listening to the rhythms of the self. By understanding that most people don't know the true complexities of the female body, knowing only the Tale of the Little Egg, not the Drama of the Extreme Uterine Makeover, I take my leaves, my cravings, and my discomfort with no apologies to my schedule, duties, the world. It is my sole responsibility to listen and take action towards my own needs. Menses is a blessing from nature, a miracle of human existence and I live with much more ease when I honor it as such.