Welcome to our Cycledork Letters series! We recently asked people to contribute their candid thoughts on menstruation. The results were period pieces that were funny, personal, reflective, informative, and endearing. This is letter #8 in the series. Read all of the letters here.
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Cycledork Letters: #8
by Richelle Ricard
When I was a young girl, most of what I heard about periods was framed in conversations among the women of my family. Reproductive health was talked about pretty freely, earlier than for most girls I think, but the stories were not the flowery type; no mystique about the power of the woman, nothing about it being special or sacred, but neither was there talk about it being dirty, profane or shameful. Their conversations were direct, technical, pointed, and nearly always about what went wrong.
My maternal grandmother carried three children to term over a span of 10 years, but suffered nine miscarriages in the process. By the time they did a hysterectomy decades later, they nearly couldn’t tell what tissue was what, her uterus was so adulterated by tumors. Her older sister had cervical cancer in her early life, resulting in a partial hysterectomy, and died 30 years later of ovarian cancer. My mother suffered from fibroids so bad that she bled 3 weeks out of every month for years. When they did her hysterectomy in her late thirties, her uterus was more than twice the size it should be. These are just the stories I know vividly…there are others, more vague, about total infertility, struggles to get pregnant and barely-death-defying births.
In my world, the inner workings of the female body were just assumed to be a hassle or a death-sentence. A roll of the genetic dice.
I started my cycle in junior high and felt pretty prepared, having studied the teen magazines at length and dissected many of my friends mothers’ tampons to figure out their exact mechanics. In about my third year of bleeding my cramps became nearly unbearable with erratic mood swings and generalized cyclic depression. I went on the pill when I was 17 in order to help these symptoms and stayed on it for about two years. I just felt wrong when I was on the hormones. So through my sex-crazed twenties my period became the object of anticipation each month because it was a sure fire indicator that I wasn’t pregnant. Most times it seemed to a be a blessing, really. Relief.
Somehow though, even with the blueprint of my childhood horror stories still etched into my psyche, I have been able to shift my perspective. I’ve been immersed in a community that honors this cycle of ours, sees it as a gift. I’ve found a connection to the rhythm that feels so utterly natural, so appropriate. So human.
I am 36 today. At this point I get to see and experience my period through new lenses; as a bodyworker and physiologist, as a student of Chinese medicine, as a yogi, and as a woman who has become so acutely aware of her inner workings that she can tell you which side she’s ovulating on. I measure my cycles by the moon like a true hippie and know that when my ovarian cysts act up, I’m in for a few weeks of back pain and digestive wreckage. But besides that little hiccup, my period is a sign each month that I am still intact, that I am whole. I am not as broken as my matriarchs. I have less to fear from the specter of my family history. Perhaps, just maybe, I got the lucky roll. My cycle is predictable, steady, and helps me mark time as the years seem to move so fast now. It tells me that I am alive, that I am Woman, that I am blessed. Period.