Saturday Features

Period Paranoia-II

  • Why are women so awkward about discussing menstruation and the complexities around it?
- Prateebha Tuladhar
I walked home, holding my handbag over my behind as cover, while the stain got bigger and bigger like a slowly expanding red map on blue sea. By the time I got home, I was weeping

Mar 10, 2018-I sat on the commode, dripping like a tap for what felt like an eternity. And I’m not making this up. I was dripping blood, a couple of drops per second. Or so it felt. I recall flushing the toilet every few minutes to get rid of the strong, metallic smell. But the smell, I guess, had filled the air and I could not get rid of it. I think everything about me reeked of it. I was wearing a red blouse and that didn’t help me, because it was way too strong a reminder of what was passing through me.

All this was happening in a toilet cubicle at an airport in a foreign country, where I was on transit.

It was ages of sitting there dripping, before I started to feel alarmed by my condition rapped on the door calling for ‘help’. A woman’s voice, who later told me she was from Manchester, responded and got me help. Arrival of help felt like an eternity as well, and my rescuer was close to missing her flight, while she gave me company outside of the little matchbox stall.

When the doctor finally arrived, I had somehow managed to draw up my jeans, after sticking on to my panties, the last piece of sanitary napkin I had in my handbag. I got up slowly, opened the door, and fell into the arms of the doctor, who then held me and started talking to me. I don’t remember what she said. But I do remember that I was lying in a pool of blood that had seeped on to the toilet floor somehow.

I still don’t understand how the blood made its way on to the floor. I remember apologising to the doctor profusely as if it was my fault I was bleeding, as she tried to calm me down. I also remember asking her if she could get me a diaper. When she asked me to repeat, I said ‘huggies’. 

I laugh at myself everytime I think of me asking for ‘huggies’. It’s the most ironic thing in the world to be passing out from excessive bleeding and managing to demand for a diaper just as you blank out.Yes, I must have passed out after that, because I don’t really remember what happened besides the flashes in which I see myself being hauled on to a stretcher, flown down an elevator, dragged into an ambulance, and into an operation theatre where they made me sign some document, which I have no idea how I signed.

But mostly, I recall my head being in a pool where I felt so giddy and rapt by disassociation. I often think, if that’s how passing into the other world from this one must feel, then death is probably only respite from suffering. Anyway, it didn’t kill me.

The time after that incident has always felt like a new beginning. It was a new beginning also for how my senses became more open to incidents related to bleeding from the vagina. Had I been bleeding through my nose or from my leg or arm then, I guess, I would have been more alarmed. But somehow, women seem to accept bleeding from down there as not being as uncommon, which makes us undermine our condition to the extent of grave risks at times.

The gory incident I describe above was a miscarriage. I bled for months after that, like I was having a very long period. The bleeding would be quite erratic. I would suddenly start to bleed without the signs of it arriving. Sometimes as I translated sound bytes or edited visuals. Sometimes as I read the news. Sometimes while I cooked. Sometimes, as I sat in a tempo. And I would bleed like I was made up of blood. Again, not making this up.

On a certain day of Nepal bandh, I was returning home in the office van after work. Press cars are allowed to operate on such days. I had started bleeding more heavily than my padding could hold and it had begun to seep through my jeans. The driver on duty that day, was not the nicest person I’ve met. He dropped me off at quite a bit of a distance from home and told me to walk. I explained to him that I was sick and he told me I did not look sick. I walked home, holding my handbag over my behind as cover, while the stain got bigger and bigger like a slowly expanding red map on blue sea. By the time I got home, I was weeping.

Why was I weeping? I should have told the driver I was ‘bleeding’. Maybe he would have changed his mind. I hadn’t told him that. “I’m not feeling well,” doesn’t accurately explain my condition. How did I expect him to understand? A reminder of why and how often I’ve shied away from discussing bleeding or not bleeding from down there.

Last week, I was in a meeting with two male colleagues, when I felt like my over-delayed period had finally arrived and the dam had burst, running a riot of colours. I imagined the red like a river, washing out the spurs and arriving where it would soon be visible.

I could not concentrate on the conversation because I was too nervous I would stain. I had to get up four times to excuse myself to go to the toilet. It hadn’t arrived, but every time I settled into the conversation, the feeling would return and I would head for the bathroom alarmed. I don’t know what my colleagues made of my distraction.

Why could I not have told them that I felt like my period had started and I needed to go? That would not be so hard to understand. After all, I had just been to watch Padman with them a couple of days ago and had discussed how important it is for women to be able to talk about their menstruation freely and for men to understand and support the women in their lives. Why then? 

Why do some women still behave the way we do—apologetically— especially when it is not women’s fault that we bleed? We have been told for decades, centuries and for as long as we can remember that it is embarrassing to bleed, to discuss that we do, and that we should be disgusted with our own bodies for it. And many of us have internalised it to the degree that we pretend before the men in our lives and those around us that we have no clue what menstruation is or what the adverts for sanitary napkins are. We just look away. Because it’s often easier to look away.

Women bleed every month during their reproductive years. We give life to new lives. We also miscarry. We menopause. Pause. I’m trying to recollect the number of times I’ve had such conversations with the male members of my family as openly as I have had with my mother, my sister or my aunts. And there are hardly any instances that come to my mind.

A couple of years ago, after our regular tea break, my friend Sumi and I parted with our two male friends saying we’d join them in five minutes. Where are you guys going, they asked. “Ummm, to buy ST.” “ST?” “Yeah, pads.” “We’ll come with you,” one of them said. We continued talking about whatever it was we were talking about, asked the man at the store for our purchase, paid, and left, still talking about whatever it was we had been talking about.

It was one of those few occasions, when I felt completely accepted and liberated. I felt like I was being acknowledged for everything I was, in a small way but with deep significance. It was that easy. Yet, I continue to suffer on days when I bleed heavily and on days when my period is delayed or when I’m PMSing. Some days, I will advertise my PMS on my social media account. And I’ve once been told ‘I’m like a bitch in heat’ by a close male friend. Is it any wonder then that most women continue behaving like we do? 

Published: 10-03-2018 08:34

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