Today I started bleeding. This monthly rite of womanhood is a reminder of the flow of life. Of time passing, yet always returning to the origin. A reminder of where things begin. A breath. A break. A place I am invited to each month.
I know that many women my age want to be rid of this. If they have chosen to be done with childbearing, they feel ready to also be done with the bleeding. To them, menopause will be a release, a freedom. Freedom from the fear and worry of pregnancy; freedom from the inconvenience of bleeding.
I wonder if I am alone in viewing this monthly ritual as freedom itself. It is this time of the month when I feel that my body is mine and mine alone. No matter how empowered, how informed, and how self-confident I am, I still struggle with those past voices in my head and the training I was given by my culture. The history of my patriarchal society told me that my body belongs to someone else. The story I was given was that in marriage my husband possesses me and in motherhood my children rely on me to be self-sacrificing. I pour myself out for others and there is guilt, a burden that I carry anytime I say “no.” Except when I am bleeding. When I am bleeding I know that my body is mine and mine alone. When I am bleeding there is no guilt. I allow myself permission to make space within myself for me. I allow myself the luxury of boundaries around my body. I say no to sex and feel no guilt. I more readily tell my children that I need space and time for myself. What I sometimes label as grumpiness is really my body reminding me that I exist.
Day one of a woman’s cycle the body stops the process of creating space for the other. Before that moment, it has been preparing gifts, sacrificing of itself to provide for another. It has quite literally created a space within me for someone else. On day one the focus shifts to the body itself. The lining of the uterus is shed, the space that was created to receive life is released and the body heals itself to prepare to do the process all over again.
Six times, possibly seven, that space my body created received a life. My womb began the process of pouring into another human being. Once, possibly twice, that life was lost within days to miscarriage. And five times I had the privilege of joining in the creative act of God. My heart beat not just for me, but for another. The space that was prepared was filled and grew with the life of a child. Five times I labored, gave myself to the painful act of releasing that life into the world, watching it separate from myself to become a separate being.
And every month as my body goes through the process of the preparation for life, I am reminded of the strength of being a woman. I am reminded that we give, over and over again to others. That we pour of ourselves, give gifts, create, and serve those around us. Life giving birth to life. All of this beauty, all of this sacrifice, all of this joy, all of this pain. In the rhythm of the menstrual cycle, all of it is revealed, over and over again. Our capacity, our sacrifice, our strength and our pain.
Day one. Day one, we release it. Our focus turns inward. When I bleed, I belong not to my husband or to my children, but to myself. When I bleed I am reminded that in order to sustain my ability to give to others, I must also give to myself. I do not live in a culture that recognizes this externally. Sometimes I wish I did. Not in a shameful way, but in an empowered way. I wish we as women had the courage to step aside, retreat and reconnect with ourselves, our shared womanhood, and our need to be filled. So that when we step back into the lives of those we love, we can give freely, fully, without restraint. So that when we give, it is not because we have been told to give, but because we know our own capacity to give. So that when we pour ourselves out, we do not worry about being emptied, because we know that each month the time will come again when we will be filled, because we choose to love ourselves as much as the other. I wish that this monthly rite and ritual would free us. Free us to love. Free us to give. Free us to know who we are, so that we can enter the lives of others without losing ourselves.