Diary Entry 3
All lofty-ambitions-like, I had planned some profound post today. But then, and stop here if you are squeamish, I got my period. It’s the first period I’ve had for 18 months. I’d been feeling a bit strange over the last few days, womb-heavy and slightly wobbly. I called the two Mamatoto midwives who generously continue to answer my calls, for free, nine months after the birth. This is why we need midwives, because which doctor are you going to call at 7.50am to ask, “I think I got my period, but I’m not sure, what do you think?” Of course, like most midwives, they were breezy about it. “It happens,” said Debbie. “Some women bleed even though they are breastfeeding.” “Well, it’s been nine months,” said Marilyn who a week before told me to cut down on pumping breastmilk—and so I had. By mid-morning I had acclimatised and was working steadily at my desk, feeling like a super and simultaneously breastmilk-pumping, bleeding, paper publishing, e-mail-replying, breezy, on-Midol mom.
This minor transition in my post-pregnancy body got me reflecting on how little I know about women’s bodies, even at my age, even as a feminist, even as a proud owner of my own Our Bodies, Ourselves since I was 14. I didn’t know that women bled for a couple of weeks after childbirth. I didn’t even know that women bled while breastfeeding. I thought it delayed fertility and childbirth. I knew you could get pregnant…but I didn’t know you could get a period. So basic, so obvious. For similar reasons, some male and female students in my first-year class created a Menstrual Centre on the UWI campus for their culture-jamming activist assignment. Menstrual leave, I had pointed out is a decades-old workers’ right recognised in some Communist countries. In modern Indonesia, women factory workers continue to fight for two days of monthly leave. Perhaps women should get two days, each month, of leave with pay because female labouring, PMSing, bleeding bodies should not have to work under the same conditions as supposedly “normative” non-bleeding, non-egg, producing male bodies.
After all, women workers are female humans. What about menstrual centres on every corner instead of rumshops? Women could go for massages, consciousness-raising and support groups, delicious and helpful smoothies, information, healthcare and collective organising. First scandalised, the students countered that they should also include support groups for men, sort of like “Friends of Menstruating Women.” Ay, it’s stuff for thought. They built a frame using bamboo, interviewed male students about taboos on buying pads and tampons in a store, painted posters saying Man the species menstruates (If “Man” refers to men and women, then it really should include women, right?,) and handed out pamphlets on how wombs work and why, and natural fruit and teas that help. Maybe if menstrual centres really were on every corner, I might have known more about my own body, and post-birth and during-breastfeeding bleeding. As I keep learning, even with myself, there is clearly more work to do.
(Gabrielle Hosein works in Caribbean feminism, teaches at UWI and is a new mother)